The setup wrap up

June 22nd, 2017

Wow! Yesterday I asked everyone who was participating in #blogjune to answer 4 questions about what they use to get their jobs done. There was a fantastic response to my request. I hope I got to read everybody’s posts, I did my best following on Twitter & seeing who linked back to my request.

I really enjoyed stopping and thinking about the tools I use. I kept my answers to those things I use on a very regular basis. There’s a mass of utilities that I use for specific purposes, but I didn’t start listing them as I thought it could go on and on. Maybe they are the really interesting things?

From the feedback I got, it seemed like you all enjoyed the task too. We ended up with a really good overview and insight into how we get things done. I feel like I know a little bit more about everyone, things that you don’t pick up in 140 characters. Thanks everyone!

I use this

June 21st, 2017

Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Paul Hagon, web developer at the National Library of Australia. I’ve been working in libraries and museums for nearly 20 years now – always on websites. I’ve been so lucky to work in major institutions and magnificent buildings. I don’t know how much strict designing I do these days (in the sense of picking colours etc). My job covers so many aspects of front end design (HTML, CSS, JS), user experience, analysis and accessibility.

What hardware do you use?

I spend most of my time at work on a late 2014 27″ iMac. The massive retina screen is beautiful. I use an iPad Air 2 for testing sites and apps, meetings etc.

My personal machine is a mid 2011 11″ MacBook Air. This is the best laptop I’ve ever owned & I can’t believe that it’s just about to hit the obsolete list in Apple hardware. It’s 6 years old & still going strong. I am glad I maxed out the processor, memory and storage when I bought it, although these days it would be nice to have more than the 4Gb memory in it, but I can cope.

I communicate and develop websites on an iPhone 5s. I seem to be on a cycle where I keep my laptops for at least 5+ years and my phones for 4 years. You’ll see a little trend developing here. I’m not one to be replacing my gear on a regular basis if it still works fine. Money spent on a holiday provides much better memories than money spent so I can use my phone as a credit card. The only reason I would like to upgrade is for the better cameras you get in the latest models.

I’m not a big gamer or video editor so my hardware needs are fairly basic.

Whichever machine I’m using there’s usually music in the background. I’ll be listening in my own little world via Bose AE2 bluetooth headphones. I can highly recommend bluetooth headphones. Not getting caught up wires is so liberating.

I use an EyeTV USB receiver that handles recording TV shows when needed.

To get from point A to point B and for general exercise I’m on my bike. It has Campagnolo components. I’ve been riding with them for 25 years & the design, quality & efficiency is fantastic. These components just work.

All this coding and cycling makes you hungry – in the kitchen a good set of knives is a must, I use Global. I’m always making pasta using pasta rollers and cutters attached to a kitchenaid mixer. Having both hands free to manipulate the pasta is so convenient. My current favourite gadget is Global pinboning tweezers. I also love my Alessi kettle. It’s always used as an example of impractical design (you burn yourself on steam removing the bird), practicalities aside it is a thing of beauty and doesn’t drip when it pours.

And what software?

The most valuable and essential piece of software I use is 1Password – this password manager holds everything – my life would be a shambles without it.

Much of my day is spent in my preferred code editor, Coda. I’ve tried various coding fonts but have settled on SF Mono at the moment as it complements the rest of the Apple interfaces. I configure Coda with the Monokai theme. Spending so much time in an editor, a nice colour scheme and font become important. Generally if there is a dark theme for software it’s enabled.

Being a web developer I have all the different browsers installed. I use Safari for personal use, Chrome for work (only because it’s what most users out there are using so it makes sense to use it). Both have great developer tools & do the job just fine.

I use Sequel Pro for wrangling with MySQL databases.

All code is in Git repositories managed by Tower. Generally if there’s a GUI interface for something that’s my preference. There’s some things that need to be run from the command line so a Terminal window is always open in the background.

For making things look pretty I now use Sketch for prototyping designs. I did use Fireworks for layout work & was so sad when Adobe stopped developing it.

To keep up with my RSS feeds I use Reeder. It uses Feedly behind the scenes to sync between all my devices.

iTunes is always delivering tunes & the occasional movie or TV show. I prefer to own physical copies of media rather than digital only versions.

Keynote handles all presentation tasks and sometimes layouts and interaction designs. I try to avoid any of the Office apps as much as possible although it’s inevitable that I have to use them. I always feel like I’m fighting with them to get it to do what I want.

All my backups are handled through a combination of Time Machine and Carbon Copy Cloner.

What would be your dream setup?

I don’t know if I have a dream setup. My needs are limited. I value portability over power. I get excited by the thought of all the fancy features in OS releases, but in reality I don’t use them as the promise isn’t delivered. I’m sure it will one day & I’ll be able to just think of things and it will be done. Until then I just want software that works and a stable configuration.

Oh … and knives that never need sharpening.

Digital detoxing

June 20th, 2017

You might have noticed that over the course of #blogjune, I haven’t been posting anything over the weekends. This is deliberate. A few years ago, my head was full of ideas & I would spend time in the evenings and at weekends working up ideas. I spent all day at work in front of a computer and a fair amount of my free time in front of a computer. This isn’t really healthy. I wasn’t switching off from work mode at all. My mindset was always revolving around problems and trying to find clever solutions to solving them. This lead to a burden of more and more problems and an impossibility to find solutions and implement.

Now I deliberately switch off. In the evenings, sometimes I might do some tinkering, but mostly if I am on a device, I’m doing something different. At the weekends I might read the news over breakfast, do a sudoku with coffee and really that’s about my limit.

To help switch off here’s some tips I use.

Keep seperate email accounts. On my phone/tablet/computer I have my personal email/calendar configured to use the default mail client. This keeps things consistent across various devices. Any work related email/calendars are configured using the Outlook iOS app. If I go on holidays, I actually delete Outlook from my phone, that way I’m never tempted to just check in and see if everything is OK. I quite like the right to disconnect law that France has introduced.

Notifications. I’m selective on what notifications I receive. On my phone I turn off all email notifications for both work and personal accounts. My personal email is configured to not automatically check for email. I have to make a conscious decision to open mail and connect. I only keep a VIP contact list of family that are allowed to trigger email & messages notifications. I have Twitter notifications, but as I’m not that prolific on twitter, this is manageable. I also disable sounds on many notifications. I would love it if there were time sensitive notifications and I could configure work email with notifications restricted to 9am-5pm on weekdays.

Do not disturb. I configure do not disturb on my devices so from 9pm till 7am nothing gets through. My phone gets put into airplane mode each night when I go to sleep, no wi-fi, no 4G.

FOMO. Once you go 48 hours without checking everything religiously you realise that if there’s anything really important you’ll end up hearing about it. The rest, you don’t miss it. Whatever you do, don’t check your phone as the first thing you do when you wake up. Wait a little while. Enjoy other more substantive things. Which leads to…

Carefully select your online communities. There are online networks that I very rarely log into anymore – particularly Facebook. I’ve never had a big network there & for me it’s never proven to be beneficial. Every time I have to go there I’m reminded by just how vacant so much of the content there is. For others I know, Facebook is just what they need to be part of their network. Don’t be afraid to be selective in where you decide to be active. What works for me and what my family/friends/community use is going to be different to yours. You don’t have to be part of everything.

The downsides

I haven’t had too many downsides to this. It has probably contributed to the current state of my site. My photo cataloguing is a bit behind where it should be. Neither of these are really major issues. Since I implemented this approach, there’s probably a handful of situations that have occurred where it would have been nice to have a notification, but in reality it’s never proven to be a critical issue.

The positives

I feel so much healthier. I’m not as tired and agitated. I’m focusing on a range of different things throughout the day. I’m focusing on others around me rather than being focused on a machine. Physically I’m much better off. I haven’t got that permanent laptop/tablet hunch that is so easy to succumb to. My eyes are focusing on things further than 50cm away. Shoulder, back and leg aches and pains have reduced.

I’m probably still finding that balance between maintaining my online life vs offline life. I still feel part of my online community and still feel as through I contribute, just maybe not as much as I once did.

Find your balance. It’s working for me.

Trove zone relevancy bubbles

June 19th, 2017

I often set myself little challenges to come up with a method that solves a problem or improves something (usually somehow related to something at work, or something from the GLAM sector). It will usually involve some technique, or programming feature that I’m trying to learn. Practical learning. In this case, I was looking at dynamically generating SVG files for some visualisation work and it took me on a bit of an unexpected journey. I thought I would talk through where this ended up – exploring the relevancy ranking of result zones in Trove and resulting in my Trove bubbles.

Bubble chart for Sydney Harbour Bridge


Some background to where this came from

When you go to Amazon and undertake a search, like most sites these days, you start to get autocomplete suggestions as you type. In this example below, when I search for headphones, there’s some clever mathematics going on behind the scenes that along with suggesting product titles for my term, it suggests the most relevant subject areas that relate to my term. In this case there’s higher relevance for headphones in Electronics than in Cell phones & accessories (or maybe a clothing option where there might be prints of headphones on a T-shirt).

Amazon autocomplete search for headphones

This search suggestion serves exactly the same purpose as a traditional website structure in trying to deliver the user to the right area of content on the site as quickly and easily as possible.

In Trove terms, lets relate these back to zones. When we undertake a search, we get presented with results for each zone and are given a number of results for each zone. What we aren’t given is how relevant each of these zones are. Each zone is presented with the same level of importance as every other zone regardless of the search term. As a designer, how can I change this so that I could present the most relevant zone for a search term to the user and potentially structure the page differently to do so & hopefully lead the user in the right direction?

Let me walk through a little experiment that shows how I might come to a solution to this problem.

When querying Trove through the API, one of the responses that is returned for each record in a result is a relevance score.

relevance: {
  score: "8.01584",
  value: "very relevant"

In the most simplest terms we could plot this relevancy score for the top results in each zone (by default this is 20 results per zone) on a chart to easily compare the difference between various search terms.

Relevance for Paul Hagon

Relevance chart for a search for “Paul Hagon”

Relevance for Sydney Harbour Bridge

Relevance chart for a search for “Sydney Harbour Bridge”

It becomes obvious that different searches deliver very different types of content as their top results. We’re starting to get an indicator as to what might be the most relevant zone for a query.

If we look at the chart above for the search on my name – what would the most relevant zone be? Would it be the archive zone that has 1 very relevant result and then very little or the picture zone that isn’t quite as highly ranked in relevance, but has a lot more content that appears relevant?

We could look at the basic statistical types of measures such as averages, means, standard deviations to come up with a figure. For my purposes, I’m going to stay with the chart I’ve generated and measure the area under the line to make my determination. This can easily be measured by calculating the area of a trapezoid for each result as it’s plotted and adding these together: (x + y)/2 * w

So we could use the following formula to calculate the area under the line (assuming the width of each trapezoid is 1):

(result 1 relevance score + result 2 relevance score)/2 + 
(result 2 relevance score + result 3 relevance score)/2 +
(result 3 relevance score + result 4 relevance score)/2 +

and so on until we get to result 20.

Chart showing trapezoid areas

Plot showing the areas of trapezoids to calculate the area under a line

If we return to the search for “Paul Hagon” we get results for areas of:

  1. picture: 47.425
  2. article: 44.195

We now have an answer that for this search, the most relevant result for this search is pictures, the zone with less relevant but more results, compared with the articles zone that has one highly relevant result and not a lot of other relevant results.

We could tailor the display of results to provide an emphasis on pictures and deliver the most relevant result.

 Moving beyond the maths

We live in an age of visualisations and so in addition to tailoring the display in a certain manner, we can expose these calculations to a visitor without bombarding them with the maths behind the result.

I love the UTS ribbon, that lives of on the catalogue of the library at UTS. This is a rainbow of dewey classifications for a result. It enhances your search results without taking away from the results themselves.

UTS ribbon

Could something similar be used to enhance the zones for Trove? We’ve already done all the maths for each item in the results – we know the averages of relevancy scores, the area under a graph, the standard deviation. Let’s combine some of this and turn it into something interesting. This is where my initial purpose of generating some dynamic SVG’s to visualise something came to life.

By plotting the average relevance of the zone on the x-axis and making the area of the bubble the same as the area under the line chart, we can create a simple little visualisation of the zone relevance breakdown. This provides a user with an indication of which zones are likely to provide the most relevant results for their search term. You can click through a range of sample searches below to see all the details about the search term & click on a bubble.

Bubble chart for Harry potter

Harry Potter

Bubble chart for Frank Hurley

Frank Hurley

Bubble chart for Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Bubble chart for Paul Hagon

Paul Hagon


So that is my Trove bubbles. From starting off looking at how to generate some SVG files, this lead to looking for something to visualise, which in turn lead to looking at Trove zone results. Sometimes it’s a very strange path that you take to learn something, but in the end, it’s not necessarily about the end result, it’s about the journey. The random discoveries you make along the way can be really fascinating.

A blogjune proposal

June 16th, 2017

One of the blogs I follow is The Setup. This site, run by Daniel Bogan (ex Flickr Commons staff) interviews people and asks what tools they use to get their jobs done. Although it’s kind of based around tech, there have been interviews with people from all sorts of professions – anyone who uses something to do their job.

I’m suggesting that everyone who is participating in #blogjune take part and on Wednesday the 21st June, create a post answering these 4 questions.

  1. Who are you, and what do you do?
  2. What hardware do you use?
  3. And what software?
  4. What would be your dream setup?

You could talk about work, a combination of work & home or what you use in a hobby. Once you’ve posted, make sure you let Daniel know by tweeting @usesthis a link to your blog post.

Daniel releases everything for the interviews under a CC-BY licence and is keen to see how his idea is used.

What do you think? Let’s do this!