Monday, June 22, 2015

A Plethora of Thoughts

Sometimes it's difficult to put your ideas into place.
Sometimes you have no ideas you want to share, and others
You want to tell the world about
Put them somewhere safe
Within your mind
And there they will remain safe
Only trouble is ...
You might forget where you put them.
Hang on ... they'll come back to you ...
... I hope

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Netflix, Marvel & Me

How One Major Player Has Embraced The Benefits Of Inclusive Technology

As a sighted person who works in the field of accessible technology, I was overjoyed to read that Netflix has added audio description to its latest original show 'Daredevil'. Throwing on the headphones and selecting the English - AD setting from the languages dropdown I was blown away by the quality of the narration and found myself lying on my sofa with my eyes closed, just enjoying the story.

This is a huge step in the history of Accessible Internet Services. Regardless of the initial underlying reasons Netflix decided to provide such a feature, whether it be legal requirements or moral change of heart, it has provided an opportunity for some very positive marketing as well as one for discussion on web inclusiveness.

Figures vary but it is estimated that around 10% of the world's population have some form of disability, ranging from visual impairments, hearing loss, cognitive disabilities or motor weaknesses. The spending power of this demographic is quite large to say the least.

Therefore, by increasing the user base of a product via accessible inclusive technology you are thereby increasing the market potential of the product, which by association has a huge impact on the bottom line. As Luke McGrath states on his website:

"The web is an amazing place to build projects and share your content – but if you’re not making accessible websites, you’re missing the point. Building things online opens your work up to the world – but only if you let them in."

Accessibility makes the web a better place to do business. It provides for a  more inclusive online environment, doesn't cost a lot to implement and when you learn more about it, you find that it is very very cool.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Listen To Everyone - Follow No One

Does anybody else find it tiresome how quickly new products come on the market that claim to solve the latest web headache? “Track your twitter followers quicker!” “Gain better insights into the women who liked your FB updates recently!” “Discover what really makes those Pinterest fanatics tick tick tick.” “Engage with more people.” “Jump on this bandwagon.” “Look at all the shiny colours.” “Like me.” “Love me.” “Follow me.” “Connect with me.” It can become quite pain in the fundament.

If you kick your hexadecimal ball into my accessible garden you’re not getting it back.

But as the emphasis has been placed on speed, instant gratification and getting the next big thing now, I feel that something is missing. I work in the field of inclusive technology, particularly the creation and provision of accessible educational materials. In a personal setting, I am extremely interested in creating experiences and environments that foster inclusion and promote discussion on something that has always fascinated me - human nature and the human spirit. And I believe that accessibility is quite often pushed to the end of the design process; an afterthought, a tick-the-box exercise. And whose fault is this? It’s mine. It’s yours. Mainstream designers and accessible technology specialists have grown apart; happy to remain on opposite sides of the wall and if you do ask for our advice on the proverbial ball, we’ll promptly puncture it before restitching so it can be played on every possible surface imaginable.

“Where did I leave my padding-bottom?”

The current buzzword in application design and development for the last while is “mobile-first” - i.e. focus on the mobile experience from the get-go and work your way up to a desktop environment. It’s a more fluid process to code for smaller viewports and build your code up rather than adding in media queries after initial CSS markup and subsequently deleting repetitive lines of code thereafter. IBM released a statement last year that 90% of mobile users keep their device within arms reach 100% of the time. I can well believe it. But another important factor is making your content appealing to the widest array of users and potential customers via mindful inclusive practices. If this is moved from the final step of the waterfall design mentality to a ubiquitous part of the agile one then so many more web environments and experiences can be transformed overnight.

Looking Forward

I hear a great deal of chatter online at the moment on this very topic. “We should do this.” “We missed the opportunity.” “The big corporations need to see that there was benefits to using 24 px sans-serif font on their landing page with ARIA role=”navigation” on the navbar. You tell them sonny!”I could be totally wrong but I’ve heard these points raised since 2010 in various settings and it seems like it’s the same people talking about the same stuff they were 5 years ago …….

Snooze. Fest …..

It’s the designers and coders and project managers who are the ones who understand the complexities and intricate nature of moulding a digital product into something that can be enjoyed by everyone of any ability.  If you complain, it’s called criticism. If you complain systematically, then it’s called testing. Stop talking about what could be done and actually go out and do it.

And fear not, fellow users. Trying something new won’t break the internet. Bend it? Maybe. Piss a few people off? Possibly.  But hey, if we’re right we’ll know it and if we’re wrong we can fix it.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Long Run

Dublin really can be a beautiful place when the weather is good.

This morning I decided to do my final long run in preparation for my first marathon, taking place in Belfast on May 4th. Leaving the house at 9.30 I was ready to spend a few hours slogging it out in the sunshine on the roads of North East Dublin. Honestly, worried is an understatement. For the past few weeks I've been struggling with an injury to my left foot. Plantar fasciitis or something I believe. Basically it hurts. And I was literally a kilometre in before it began to throb. But, throwing caution to the wind (and understanding that the two ibuprofen I had swallowed would soon kick in) I powered on. And I couldn't stop smiling as I ran. Perhaps that was the painkillers doing their job; possibly it was the beautiful weather or maybe it was just the fact that I feel great when I'm running. As a good friend once recounted to me on one of our training sessions in the Phoenix Park: "You don't have to run Dan; you get to run."

Basically to cut a long story short - I finished it. 3 hours 35 minutes. 30 kilometres. Burnt face. Sore legs. What a rush! I don't want to bore you with split times and nutrition tips but rather give a brief summation of the area I live in. It is beautiful and I feel very lucky to be fortunate to be able to explore it.

I live 3km from the seafront on Dublin's North East Coast. Having reached the sea I journeyed out to Howth. It's a beautiful area, as seen here:

Turning around then I headed back south towards the Bull Island along the bike track which runs all the way around the north and south sides of Dublin's seaside. Turning east I headed onto the Bull Island and headed back in the direction of Howth for 2.5 km (which you can see here on the right of the photo} before turning 180 degrees and running the length of the island (5km).

Having reached the other end I ran across the famous Wooden Bridge in Clontarf and turned north once again in the direction of St. Anne's Park.

St. Anne's is a public park which is situated on the grounds of what was once the Guinness family's estate. It's a fantastic place to go walking, running, biking or even just for a picnic. There are around 40 playing pitches, children's playground, rose gardens, dog park, tennis courts and one of the best par 3 golf courses in the country. Every Saturday morning at 9.30 the parkrun event is held there which is a volunteer-led 5k event open to everyone, from beginner runners to seasoned athletes.

The main avenue (seen above) is 1500 metres in length and it is always packed with people walking the dogs and jogging up and down. I was at 25km in my run at this point and I did two lengths of the avenue. Here I began to hit the wall. People were looking at me as if I had a few too many drinks taken. Thinking back now it was actually quite funny.

I headed for home at this point and ran back through Raheny towards Mecca (also known as Donaghmede where I live). It was "fun" but thankfully I'm done now with long runs before the Belfast Marathon. Time to relax and take it easy for the next few weeks.

I never thought I would be grateful to only have to run 13km next Saturday. So the point of this post is ... well I suppose it is to enjoy your surroundings when you're out exercising. Appreciate the beauty of the land and sea around you. Sometimes it's better to leave the headphones and music at home and just be one with nature and the present moment. I love it. Give it a go sometime.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

One Foot In Front Of The Other

Why I Started Running

I can still remember that first day I set foot outside the door, wearing an old pair of tracksuit bottoms, heavy and torn, a U2 Elevation tour t-shirt, Penney's hoodie and bomber jacket. I had downloaded the couch to 5k app on my phone and wanted to start getting fit. My daughter had been born 5 months previous, my son was 2 and my weight was steadily increasing. Oh, and I was wearing a pair of unsupportive cheap shoes that can only be summed up by the word "skaterboy".

It was a new year's resolution that didn't start until the February. All I wanted to do was be able to run after my kids without getting out of breath and possibly lose a bit of weight in the process. Perhaps I would take part in a 5km race at some stage.

Now 3 years later I'm training for a marathon and actually feel relieved when I see on my training plan that I only have to run 10km mid-week. My name is Daniel and I am a running addict.

Running is much more than a good way to lose weight. It's a cure for depression and a potential path to personal growth and self-fulfillment. I'm a much happier person because of it. The buzz I get during but especially after a run cannot be rivaled by anything else. I'm a better husband and father. I can see things clearer. I get time to think about things during the countless hours I spend on the road. Manufacturers of painkillers love me. My confidence is through the roof. I no longer dread the mornings and go into work with a smile on my face. I'm hardly ever sick and I'm full of energy.

Why did I start running?

No idea.