I Ain’t Dead

You may have noticed that lately I’ve been somewhat absent from, uh, everything. Dead to the world for most of December, and just brief ghostly appearances so far in 2013. I’ve posted a couple of times on Twitter about why, but I wanted to write something a bit more substantial about it all, now that I’m able to do so. Thus begins my tale of woe and boredom…

Once upon a time (1st December 2012), in a land far far away (New Zealand), there lived a great bearded wizard (that’s me), tormented by an evil troll.

Old garden shed

Ok, so that’s not a troll — it’s our old garden shed. Although I do consider it to be slightly evil now.

Notice the grape vine creeping up the trellis; I was attaching the trellis to the wall of the shed one bright Saturday afternoon. I bent down to pick something up, stood up and turned around, and in a fit of bloody revenge the shed viciously attacked me. Or I may have just hit my head on the corner of the shed — I don’t specifically remember that part. I vaguely remember feeling well enough afterwards to finish the job and clean up; though afterwards I did need to retire inside for a rest on the couch, then have an early night.

Sunday morning was quite the opposite of “feeling well enough”. “Awful” is a much more accurate description. I’m usually very resistant to see any doctor, but I got there as soon as I could on Monday. The medical field seems to involve a lot of inexact science (or as I like to call it, “guessing”), and my doctor’s best guess was a pinched nerve in my neck and a concussion. I knew very little about concussions, but my doctor warned me to stay away from computer screens and books.

Now, I’ll admit to a fair amount of ignorance here, as at this stage I expected to have an easy (if somewhat boring) time and be back at work after a week. Obviously, that didn’t exactly go to plan.

In fact, I was so wrong that on Tuesday Anne and I planned to take a trip out of town (Anne driving, of course) so I wouldn’t be completely bored out of my mind. We got as far as the emergency department of the hospital. Nothing serious, but I did learn that even sitting as a passenger in a moving car was enough to bring on some very worrying symptoms. Confusion, disorientation, difficulty focusing attention, blurry vision, double vision, atrocious headache, nausea, etc. All of which turned out to be normal, for a concussion — but nevertheless scary to experience.

I think most people don’t have much of an understanding as to how a concussion (or any brain injury) can affect a person. I certainly didn’t. This lack of understanding, and the types of symptoms and limitations, can be very isolating. As it turns out, being a programmer involves doing everything that you’re not allowed to do when you have a concussion:

  • In front of a screen
  • Reading
  • Concentrating
  • Thinking

Yea, really — I was pretty much banned from thinking. And for good reason — thinking made my head feel awful. Interestingly, I was also banned from doing much physical exercise. I found I was very easily physically exhausted, as well as mentally exhausted. Conversations with people overloaded my brain very easily, and I couldn’t cope at all with listening to groups of people. Both the mental and physical symptoms are caused by what’s called neurogenic fatigue — which apparently is remarkably similar to sleep deprivation. And so the trouble with a concussion is that you can’t push yourself to recover faster — it just ends up making things worse.

So I was stuck for most of December trying my best to do as little as possible. I plan on writing a separate blog post about this, but it’s actually quite difficult to do nothing — really do nothing. I spent a lot of time sleeping, or laying on the couch or outside trying to keep my mind blank. Some forms of meditation worked, but many involve too much concentration. Most days I had a short trip into a quiet café somewhere — I’ve never been in cafés so often before in my life. Needless to say, it was a remarkably boring time. But thankfully this was during a very pleasant New Zealand summer, which permitted plenty of time lounging in the sun and quiet walks along the waterfront of St Clair beach (yea, such a hard life).

Oh, and of course it helped having my attentive friend Harley keeping me company:

Harley, our ginger and white kitty

On 18th December I was given the all-clear to start slowly returning to normalcy. On 3rd January I was told I could start reading work email for an hour, spread out over a day, every second day. It took me until 1st February to build up to being able to work half a day, albeit still not coding. If this seems slow, it was — agonisingly slow.

It’s 14th February now (for me, at least – yay timezones) and I’m still doing roughly half days, but building up what I’m doing. So I’m finally getting through my review queue, some technical reading, and generally catching up on things I missed. Hopefully I’ll soon be able to get back into some serious coding, help finish that little project I started last year, and generally be back into my normal routine. In the meantime, I’m a delicate little flower, so please don’t bury me with too much work :)

7 Things About Me 2

Meme time again. Dave tagged me. And I need to blog more often… this ended up being a couple of weeks later than intended. So here we go!

4 Rules:

  1. Link to your original tagger(s) and list these rules in your post.
  2. Share seven facts about yourself in the post.
  3. Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  4. Let them know they’ve been tagged.

7 Things:

  1. I have two pet sharks – a silver shark and a rainbow shark. They live in two freshwater tropical aquariums along with angel fish, tiger barbs, neon tetras, bleeding-heart tetras, upside-down catfish, bristle-nose catfish, black-line flying-foxes, algae eaters, apple snails, black ghost knife-fish, a skunk loach, and a plecostomus.
  2. I’m acrophobic. This isn’t vertigo or not liking heights. This is full-blown irrational extreme fear. Panic attacks, complete disorientation, uncontrollable shaking, visual and auditory hallucinations, physically ill, vomiting, and losing consciousness. Getting up to the 3rd step of a step ladder is a huge accomplishment for me.
  3. I’m co-founder of the Dunedin Makerspace, which was established in late 2010. We do both hardware and software, and I organise the software-related talks for every second Thursday night. My current project there on Saturday afternoons is building a 3D printer.
  4. My online nickname, Unfocused, has no deep meaning. Some people read too much into it, but “Unfocused” was just a synonym for “Blur”, a nickname I originally gained offline. When I was around 9 years old, my classmates thought it would be funny to mispronounce Blair as Blur. It stuck.
  5. I am the southern-most Mozillian (AFAIK). I live in Dunedin, which is 45° 52′ 0″ S.
  6. I can’t drive. I never learned to drive a car. It’s not that I’ve never had the chance – I just don’t want to learn to drive.
  7. I hate timezones. Seriously. They suck.

7 People:

  1. @peregrinogris
  2. @geoff_lankow
  3. @nigelbabu
  4. @whimboo
  5. @felipc
  6. @2braids
  7. @heycam


A good and safe Internet

I noticed recently that some visitors to this site are still using ancient versions of Internet Explorer (ancient being anything before IE7). This is, frankly, unacceptable. Using these outdated browsers is not only bad for you, but also bad for the internet as a whole. Its akin to driving through the city in a car that has no brakes.

I’m not sure why anyone would still be using these browsers. Maybe some people are simply unaware. If this is the case, then I can at least do something about it. So for now on, if anyone visiting this site is using an outdated browser, you’ll get an ugly warning like this:

IE6 Warning

IE6 Warning

I don’t care what browser you use, whether its Internet Explorer 8 or Firefox 3. Just make sure its a modern one.

If you’d like more information, the following websites are dedicated to educating people about why IE6 is bad:

If you have a WordPress blog and would like to have such a warning as well, I’m using a plugin called Shockingly Big IE6 Warning.

7 Unsolicited Things

In case you’ve been living under a rock (one without internet access), or somehow survive without sipping from the firehose that is Planet Mozilla, there’s been a new meme circulating recently. One or two people have been posting a list of seven things that their colleagues/friends may not know about them. And then, like a virus, this is has been passed on to seven more victims, and so on.

Here are were the rules:

  1. Link to your original tagger(s) and list these rules in your post.
  2. Share seven facts about yourself in the post.
  3. Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  4. Let them know they’ve been tagged.

And as we all know, rules are meant to be broken – so lets obliterate them one by one.

  1. No one tagged me, so I have no one to link back to. Maybe I’m unknown, or maybe I’m just unpopular. And even though I’ve included the list of rules, breaking part of a rule is just as good as breaking all of it. So rule #1 gets the boot.
  2. No real reason for breaking this rule, but why quit so early? So I’ll do 6 things and throw rule #2 out the window.
  3. I’m lazy, and this meme has been going for awhile now. As such, its too much effort to find 7 people that haven’t done this already. Rule #3 bites the dust.
  4. With rule #3 out the door, I’ve got no one to tell that no one has been tagged. Ergo, bye-bye rule #4.

So without further a do, here are my seven six unsolicited things you may not know about me:

  1. I once considered becoming a full-time professional artist. I’ve had my paintings displayed in galleries, as well as published, and have had unsolicited bids on my work.
  2. I’m gluten intolerant. Basically, this means I can’t eat anything with wheat, rye, or barley in it (although I’m fine with oats). One bite of bread is enough to send me to bed for 2 weeks.
  3. I’ve spent an unusually long time at university, and yet technically only have one BA degree (in Computer Science).  I’m a hair’s width away from getting a BSc in Psychology. I’ve also dabbled in Art History, Philosophy, Latin, and Archeology/Anthropology.
  4. I grew up in what has been described as the most conservative town in New Zealand. I didn’t like it much, and I still don’t like going back there.
  5. Most people I know in real life have never seen my face. This includes my partner.
  6. I just turned 24. I have my own house, a beautiful partner, a playful kitten, and my dream job. Few people reach this in a lifetime, and I cherish every moment of it (except mornings).

Mozilla and Me

Today is a very special day for me. Today I official start working on Firefox/Ubiquity/whatever full time. That’s right: no more real life getting in the way. No more having to balance my day job with “Mozilla stuff”. Now the Mozilla stuff is my day job.

I’ll be working from home, in the beautiful city of Dunedin, New Zealand.

Here’s a quick-n-dirty list of what I’ll be working on, in no specific order:

  • Catching up (after buying a house, then going on holiday, I’m a bit behind)
  • Ubiquity architectural changes
  • Ubiquity metrics
  • Development related Ubiquity commands (not just Ubiquity-specific!)
  • Take over the world
  • Integrating Ubiquity into the Firefox awesomebar
  • Improving Firefox’s Library window

And of course, that’s just for starters. I’ve got plenty of ideas I haven’t had time to flesh-out, let alone start implementing – ideas relating to not only Ubiquity and Firefox, but other Mozilla-related projects as well. So I’ve got plenty to keep me busy for a very long time!

On top of all that, I’ll also be blogging more on what I’m working on. Not just to share my progress, but also to gather some all-important feedback from the community. I’m also going to try to use this newfangled thing called Twitter. I may have written the original Ubiquity command for Twitter, but I’ve never actually used the service myself. I guess this is a good of a time as any to start. And as always, I’ll be on IRC – my IRC nick is Unfocused.

Note: By “today” I mean Monday 12th January. But since New Zealand is UTC+13, it’ll still be Sunday for a lot of you. Too bad. I’m excited, and I can start early if I want to! :P

The New House

Well, Anne and I finally found a house on the market that was not only in our price range, but also fitted both of us! And as a bonus, its not far from where we’ve been flatting – since we rather like this area of Dunedin. The lease on the current flat doesn’t end until 17 January 2009 (my birthday!), so there’s no big rush to move like last time. And we’ve got some extra money to let us do some fixing up and re-decorating – so we’ll be doing a lot of that before moving in completely. And that will continue after we’ve moved in too, as we have quite a bit planned. We’ve still got other things going on (university for one), and my health still isn’t 100%, so we’ll be taking our time. Anyway, here are the initial photos of the new house. They were taken on the day we made the offer to buy the house.

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An Introduction

I believe a formal introduction is in order, as this is a shiny new blog. I haven’t blogged since high school, so bear with me as I reacquaint myself with the non-academic writing style of blogging.

Firstly, a short introduction about myself and what I’m doing. My name is Blair McBride, and I live in Dunedin, New Zealand. I’m enrolled at the University of Otago and I’m interested in amateur photography, programming, and making things easier to use. At Otago, I have completed an undergraduate degree in Computer Science, and continue to learn and work with computers outside of academia. Now I’m working on completing an undergraduate degree in Psychology, while also exploring other areas of study such as Art History, Latin, and Anthropology/Archeology. Computer Science and Psychology may seem like an unusual mixture, but I believe its important to understand how the brain works so that computer interfaces (and physical objects) can be designed for the people using them, rather than designed for computers/manufacturers.

This leads me to a topic which is likely to be featured a lot in my blog posts: Ubiquity. Ubiquity is a project from Mozilla Labs, the virtual lab responsible for various experimental browser addons such as Weave and Snowl. The principle aim of Ubiquity is to experiment with connecting the Web with language. In doing so, we’re attempting to find new user interfaces that could make it possible for everyone to do common Web tasks more quickly and easily. Instead of being forced to do things the way the computer thinks, it allows you to tell your computer what to do in the way that you understand it. In other words, it lets you control the computer, rather than having the computer control you. We recently reached the stage where Ubiquity could be useful for normal people, and so the first public release was unleashed upon the world. In conjunction with the official launch, Aza Raskin posted an introduction to Ubiquity and an more in-depth followup, each of which covers the basic concepts and usage. But as he explains, Ubiquity is more than just an interface – its also a development platform that lowers the bar for entry into augmenting the user’s browsing experience. In plain English, that means Ubiquity makes making Firefox addons easy. Really easy. Just be aware that Ubiquity is still in its early stages of development. There are bugs. There are things that will change, some drastically. But all for the better, because Ubiquity is going to change the way people interact with their computers.

I started contributing to the Ubiquity project sometime after the basic foundations had been laid. But since then, I’ve been able to find bugs, fix bugs, add features, contribute ideas, and meet some great people. And the development process is made as transparent as possible, so everything is public and anyone can contribute.