Your friendly neighbourhood über-browser

Vivaldi01There’s been a trend in the browser market in recent years – streamline and strip out features that ‘nobody’ uses, let someone else add them back via extensions or plugins.

This makes sense for those who only use the basic features, but for power users, developers, geeks and tweakers, all those plugins just slow down the browser, add bloat and risk causing the whole thing to fall over like a washing machine with a brick in the drum (google it).

Now, however, there’s Vivaldi.

Vivaldi03The beta is super-fast but still with tons of features and configuration options, even before it’s been officially released.

Stacked tabs, tiled browsing (side-by-side comparisons anyone?), keyboard shortcuts, customisation settings for EVERYTHING, the ability to use arrow keys to move between links (instead of just tabbing), etc, etc.

All your settings are belong to us...

All your settings are belong to us…

There’s also a really cool feature where the tab changes colour to match the favicon of the website you’re viewing. Plus, Sync and a minimal email client are in the pipeline.

Vivaldi is built from JavaScript – React and Node.js, plus other – and is based on the same Blink engine (WebKit fork) used by Google Chrome and Chromium.

It’s closed source, but you can’t have everything…

It’s like having the good old Opera back (before it lost the plot), with all the best bits of Firefox and Chrome as well.

The developers say they’re only just getting started – expect much, much more from this app.

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Preston Hackspace

Yesterday evening, I went to the first meeting of the newly-formed Preston Hackspace group, held in the civilised surroundings of the New Continental – one of my favourite pubs in Preston, and very well stocked with beers and ales of various kinds.

We met in the very warm and bright conservatory area, which made looking at laptop screens a bit of a challenge, but luckily the evening was mostly about chatting and getting to know each other, rather actual hacking.

There were plenty of ideas being chucked around, and it was interesting to hear about the breadth of experience across the various people who attended.

Should be interesting to see how this one pans out…

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Free at last!

My IT shackles have finally been removed!

After four years of struggling to deliver against the constraints of a locked down PC, I’ve finally managed to persuade the powers that be to allow me a ‘developer build’, along with other members of the team.

This allows us a small measure of additional control over our Windows XP boxes, not least of which is the ability to defrag the HD (at last!), and install applications.

Right off the bat, I installed PowerPivot for Excel, Firefox, Chrome, GIMP, LibreOffice, Notepad++, Eclipse, WinPython (python 2.7 and a whole load of useful libraries and applications), Git, MySQL and PostgreSQL.

Just having the tools available to streamline my workflow is already paying dividends. Plus, I’m now enjoying my work more than ever…

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Getting my HEAD around Git

Since getting involved in a Python development project at work, I’ve also had to start using Git.

There’s a lot about Git that I don’t fully understand, but I found the term ‘HEAD’ and the concept it refers to particularly opaque until I had a chat with a colleague about it.

Apparently, HEAD can be viewed as the currently checked-out branch, ie the one that you’re working on. My understanding is that HEAD is akin to a setting or property that tells Git where to point the details of edits you’ve made.

Just to confuse matters, it seems there is also a difference between ‘HEAD’ and ‘head’; with the uppercase version being the currently selected branch, and there being more than one ‘head’ for each branch in the repository.

A quick search of YouTube brings up this talk about Git, including explanation of key terms like HEAD/head.

Slight tangent, and it may be an old blog post now (2007), but I like Zack Rusin’s Git Cheat Sheet too – I’m a visual kind of person, and the commands sequence diagram suits my ‘scribble it on a whiteboard’ thought patterns quite nicely.

Hopefully the information above will help someone who’s where I was a little while ago, struggling to understand what Git is all about, and developing migraines in the process! Of course, if you feel my interpretation is incorrect, please feel free to leave a comment. Any input or clarification is welcome!

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#2 – learn to code

Original Image Attribution: Tim Lucas,

Original Image Attribution: Tim Lucas,

Well, that’s one of my New Year’s Resolutions anyway, to learn programming.

So, this is how I’m planning to go about it.

First, I’ve started Mozilla’s School of Webcraft at the ‘Peer To Peer University’ (P2PU). I’ve got some basic experience with HTML, but it looks like things move on fairly quickly to CSS and there seem to be modules on PHP and Python too. I like the way this site is set up. When you’re starting out on your learning journey, there are peers and mentors to help you through. It’s free to join and participate. Once you get competent at a subject, you can put yourself forwards as a mentor, and give something back to the community that helped you. I’ve yet to really see how that works in reality, but I like the idea.

Next, I think I’ll work through some of the courses at Codecademy, which is also free to use, by the looks of it. They have courses in jQuery, Javascript, Python and Ruby.

Then, it’s off to Learn Python The Hard Way by Zed A. Shaw, which is available to buy as a book, with the material on the website kindly made available for free. This course uses a technique that I’ve tried in the past, and I know works with me. You’re given clear instructions to carry out, which you do step-by-step, and repeat until they sink in – after that, what you’ve just done, and its significance, is explained. Zed has also written courses on Ruby, C, SQL, Regex and the Command Line Interface, most of which I’d like to work through at some point.

Finally, I’ve also bought a book: Python Programming for the Absolute Beginner by Mike Dawson (Amazon UK link). I haven’t properly looked through this yet, but it came recommended.

If you have any advice on which programming languages are good to learn, or of great resources to do so, please feel free to leave a comment below – I’m interested to hear your opinion.

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New Year’s Resolutions 2013

OK, I’m finally done – it’s ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ time.

In the spirit of social accountability, I’ve decided to go public this year, so feel free to harass me about my progress at any time in the coming year. Here goes…

In 2013, I plan to:
1) Run my first marathon.
2012 was supposed to be the year, but I was thwarted by injury a month before the marathon I signed up for.

February will be spent recovering from an operation, but sometime in March, I’ll be back out on the streets and trails, building miles and working on my pace.

By June, I’ll be ready to take part in the Freckleton Half Marathon again, with a full marathon entered for later in the year.

2) Really learn how to code.
By the end of the year I will be able to:
– write shell scripts and administer Linux using bash,
– confidently contribute to php/mysql/html5/js projects,
– write applications in python.
I also want to gain a better understanding of big data and cloud technologies (eg hadoop, openstack).

3) This year I’d like to help my wife make even more of a success of her online businesses. Seeing sales gradually creep up week on week over the past few months has been exciting, and has brought home to me how ecommerce success, although not instant, is rewarding the consistent hard work that my wife has put into these ventures (over years). It’s important to state that I do enjoy my day job and the challenges it offers, but I also enjoy working alongside my wife, and I’d like to do more of that.

4) Write an ebook.
I’m still undecided on the subject for this, but I rediscovered the pleasure of writing in 2012, and I’m going to capitalise on that this year. The book needn’t be especially long for me to achieve some sense of achievement, but I’d like to produce something that at least one reader will find useful.

5) Compose a four track EP.
I’ve been neglecting music for too long, and I still get ideas and snippets of tunes popping into my head regularly, so I’ll stop procrastinating and get some ideas down this year. Four tracks isn’t too onerous a target, so this won’t take much focus away from everything else I’m doing in 2013. I’ll also use it as an opportunity to learn/re-learn to play the guitar properly.

6) Take a holiday.
It’s been far too long (years!) – this year we are going to take a proper holiday as a family… and relax. It would be nice to take our boy to Disneyworld; he’s been saving his pocket money towards that for about two years. In any case, it must be somewhere warm, and the UK doesn’t count. I know that’s not politically correct in some quarters to say that, but I’m fed up of being cold!

7) Buy a car.
Time for an upgrade. We’ve been umming and ahhing about it for a good couple of years now, and it’s time to do something about it.

8) Get back my pilot licence.
Revalidate my lapsed PPL and start flying regularly again.

Well, that should keep me busy. All feedback, advice, support, encouragement or ribbing welcomed!

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