Thursday, 31 January 2013

A valid DTD...

I've had a quick look at the DTD we produced in class and found the problem.  The attribute declaration we had down as:

<!ATTLIST attraction type CDATA (restaurant|museum|bar|gallery|other) "other">

Should have been:

<!ATTLIST attraction type (restaurant|museum|bar|gallery|other) "other">

The erroneous type declaration of the attribute "type" (we should have chosen better labels for our attributes!) meant that the parser expected the material in parentheses to be the default, hence it asked for quotation marks.  I've uploaded a corrected version into dropbox (hacking_2_4_dtd_master.dtd).  If you want to try and validate it, cut and paste the code into this validator:

If you want to go a step further and want to check that the xml document we created validates against our DTD, you can use this validator:

First cut and paste the XML file into the box and then click 'validate'.  The site will then ask you where the DTD is.  Cut and paste the DTD into the next box and then click 'continue validation'.  It should validate, meaning that the xml document conforms to the rules set out in the DTD.

A question: how does the online validator know what our DTD is called? See if you can find the bit of code that says this.

Caught between multiple worlds

I often feel that I am in a costant struggle between different worlds: Home and University, Microsoft Office Word and Pages and finally the Physical and the Digital world. In the last post Victoria discusses whether technology is headed towards a cyberpunk reality where technology is part of ourselves and I am suprisingly  quite partial to any reality where I feel whole and not floundering at the border of Physical and Digital reality.

I am a home student without a smart phone that has an hour and a half commute each way, which inevitably causes a few technical difficulties. I am not bothered by the length of the commute I use it to listen to Cabin Pressure on my iPod but the distance it signifies causes multiple problems. I feel caught between worlds: the place where I keep all my notes and paperwork, my bedroom, and the university with its 'wealth' of resources made 'accessible' to students. The result is that I have at most an hour each night to decide what I will need for the upcomming day and then what I can feasibly carry. It is in no way an easy decision; instead it is one full of sacrifice and angst.

Just today I was making my commute at 7am and when I had got far enough away from my house that I would have to catch a bus to get back I realsied that I had forgotten: to write this blog post, to pick up my timtable because I am having my first Literature Project Prep seminar and I do not know the room number, my iPod, my iPad and lunch.

The first thing on my list are easy enough to sort. I arrived at University found an available computer and then waited for it to load, a most frustrating waste of time. But then I hit a snag. My timetable is at home and while WebCT has a 'wealth' of information it rarely contains the information you need. so once again i was trapped between the two worlds of the Digital and the Physical. Despite searching there are no digital copies of timetables available to students, therefore, I will have to seek another copy at the office.

Next is the problem of the iPad. The iPad unlike the iPod is essential; it contains all of my University work, articles, ebooks and prompts for where I left off my research; whereas the iPod is solely for pleasure. There is not way to circumvent this issue; physical distance makes this isurmountable. These are the times where I long for the technology speculated in SF. Data always held on my person that wont be forgotten and left at home because it needed to charge and was not put in my bag last night. Another issue with the iPad is the sacrifices I make becasue of it. I chose an iPad over a Laptop becasue it was small, compact easy to carry, light and fast on the internet, however, this casues diffuculties when sumitting essays becasue thte formatting between Word abd Pages is different and can lead to major presentation issues.It also means that I cannot access things that people post on dropbox and that i always have to find a PC if it concerns this course.

Life is full of sacrifices but i long for a realisty where Digital and Physical are fully intergrated where if I go on WebCT the notes and handouts are available and that I am not having to juggle retaining things on paper and also being glued to the computer waiting for my lecturers to post something. I long for consistency where things either exist in both realms or soley in one.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Public Service Announcement

Judging from the number of emails I have realised that the current portfolio task is not phrased very clearly–apologies for that!

I have now added a further bit of explanation to it, which will hopefully make it easier to understand. I also added a few more days to the deadline.


Monday, 21 January 2013

SF and real tech: what might the future bring?

My laptop broke early last term. I can't say it was a particularly frustrating experience; I keep my most important files on USB sticks as well as the laptop's hard drive, so I could plug one of those into my mother's (largely unused) laptop and keep working while my machine was sent for repairs. My internet activity was only slightly affected by the change in machines, and if anything I did start working harder than before. For a while, anyway.

The temporary loss of my laptop did, however, remind me of how I spent quite a lot of my first year at university: alone in a terraced house twenty minutes from campus, without television or internet. Although I could easily make the journey into uni, laptop in tow, and use one of the many wireless internet networks available to access the various sites I typically do of an evening at home, I was also rather lazy. Some nights, I'd be in bed by seven or eight o' clock and just lie there, waiting to drift off to sleep, instead of doing something productive.

I imagine things would've been different if I had a phone that could access the net, or even had some means of getting online instantly whenever I wanted, something that I could just hook up to and lose myself in, or maybe something inside my body that allowed access to the data-rich realm of the internet with just a thought...

Where exactly is computer technology going at the moment? The first computers were massive things that filled rooms; now you can hold more power and memory than they had in the palm of your hand. The market seems to be filling with increasingly slim phones, tablets and notebooks; the room required in a device for hardware appears to be decreasing, with large (touch)screens being the primary reason for larger models to exist – and even then, they still have thin profiles, if not always thinner ones than in their previous incarnation.

To detour into the world of console gaming for a moment, compare the size (specifically the thickness) of the original Nintendo DS with its descendants; with the exception of the 3DS and 3DS XL, which use rather new technology, almost every incarnation of the platform has got thinner and more streamlined, its applications more varied and its hardware capabilities more powerful than the last. The wiring and circuitry of the DSi XL is pretty much identical to that of the much smaller and more compact DSi, its predecessor; it's a lot of hardware in a small space. And what of the games themselves? Cartridge size decreased from Game Boy Color to Game Boy Advance, and now more data than either of those carried – for different graphics and means of gameplay – can be kept on what amounts to a glorified SD card. Things have changed a lot in only a few years.

I don't think it would be too great a stretch of the imagination to say that eventually, technology might get so small (and yet be so powerful and advanced) we wouldn't need large screens to enjoy what it offers, at least not in the case of the internet; the tech could just be implanted and integrated into our bodies somehow, as in so many cyberpunk-inspired sf stories, and the information would flash across our retinas whenever we wanted – the ultimate hands-free experience – or we could dive into the net itself for a time, leaving our bodies behind as our minds wonder. Maybe this seems a little far-fetched right now, but who's to say what the future might bring?

Would we let technology literally become a part of ourselves, and have our bodies and minds be so immersed in it? How long would it take for such technology to appear and be accepted by society? What sort of ethical implications would it have? Would it completely displace our current technology? If we became dependent on it, what would we do if something went wrong with it and we lost access to it, or it became faulty? What else might change as a result of it? What alternatives to this might appear instead?

There's a lot of questions surrounding this sort of thing, hence its popularity in sf – the 's' stands for 'speculative' as well as 'science', after all. The possibilities of technology have had massive impact on fiction for a long time, and the relationship has proved reciprocal in the past. H.G. Wells imagined something like the internet might appear, and lo, it did, somewhat influenced by his ideas, if not necessarily in the exact form he might have expected. Other technology might come about in a similar way.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

XML: What I have Learnt

XML (Extensible Mark-up Language) is a way of storing data by electronic means  that is easily readable by human eyes. It has very few restrictions in terms of application because you are not limited by what tags you can use and it is widely compatible in a way that means data can be moved separately from formatting and without risk of losing data due to incompatibility.   It does this through a series of tags that can be used to group together information to make it simple to search through and easy to transport. Accurately coded, XML can store vast quantities of data that can be searched through with the tags used to define different categories. The easiest way to describe how this works is through explaining its application in the real world. Although I could not find a specific example of a company that uses this we can look at almost any product selling business to see one way in which XML can be applied. If we take a clothing store as a basic example, XML could be used to store information on stock, organised with a number of parameters such as type, colour, size and fabric. These elements can be grouped together for each individual item so it is possible to discover with a few key strokes whether a red, cotton dresses in a size 12 would be in stock.

The great thing about XML is the lack of restrictions that are placed on it: as long as you are able to correctly create tags (XML doesn’t handle errors well) you are not really limited in information you can store and to what purposes these can be applied.


XML is a language understandable both to human readers and computers - it is vital for the creation, and distribution, of RSS feeds.

An RSS feed, or Rich Site Summary, is a simplified way of delivering updates concerning webpages that are always changing. The BBC, Twitter and Facebook are prime examples.

By standardising the format in which data is delivered, it also becomes possible to publish data once that is then readable by a huge number of devices and websites - it rids us of the necessity to republish for each end user. Your phone, desktop and tablet can almost definitely access these feeds and display them in a uniform fashion without any extra tailoring on the part of the publisher. By bringing all feeds into one place (ie a single app, such as flipboard) it is possible to aggregate a huge number of news feeds into one location, this saves the consumer having to open facebook,
                                                    then twitter,
                                                            then tumblr,
                                                                then eMail
                                                                     then BBC News,
                                                                           then, well - you get the point.

On a theoretical level the presences of RSS means that we do not need to visit webpages as often, or indeed at all, via our browsers, as any updates or new material will be brought directly to us, thus saving time.

 - when posting blogs and comments via blogger - you'll be asked whether to share the (exciting) news that you've posted via RSS - this will automatically alert any subscribers to your new output.

XML and Microsoft Office

XML, or Extensible Mark up language is a ‘meta language’ that can be used to create a set of rules for encoding documents, which is both human-readable as well as machine-readable. It is used primarily for securely transferring and storing data. However, it has a variety of uses with many different resources. In particular, it is used frequently in relation to electronic publishing and can be also used in the creation of new internet language such as XHTML and WAP.
Nevertheless, it also plays a prominent role in the document formatting of the Microsoft Office package. In 2007, Microsoft changed their formatting to use XML and ZIP technologies. This had a range of benefits. One key benefit involves the exchanging of data. XML is a plain text file format, which therefore simplifies the process of data transfer as it can be read by different incompatible applications. In addition, the XML format enables a greater level of security in the exchanging of documents which may contain confidential information.  XML enables easy and simple identification and removal of personally identifiable information as well as business sensitive information. Furthermore, by using XML in conjunction with the ZIP container allows for the creation of much smaller file sizes due to the ease of compression. Moreover, the Microsoft format uses XML to define the connection of the parts which relate to create a document. These relationships between the parts are stored in XML and make it possible to manipulate documents without having knowledge of content mark up. Therefore, XML simplified many of the traditional processes used within Microsoft Office, whilst also improving security.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The XML Superstore(r)

XML coding, unlike HTML, is used to help store and transport data rather than just describe it. To give you a clearer idea, it works a bit like a library cataloguing system, or even isles in a superstore. (I use the more American term purely because it contains the word "store" which is what XML does best.) Imagine you own a superstore; you get to pick exactly what goes in what aisle, what shelf, even what inch. XML works in a very similar fashion, as there are no set words you must use to define the items, but you do have to tell label the information using "< >" and "</>" so that the computer knows what items are the same and need to be grouped together. Now imagine you want to set up a new shop, or move location; because you know exactly what goes in what aisle and on what shelf, you can move stuff in quickly and it will look exactly the same. This is how XML data works, because everything is tagged nothing gets lost when you transfer the data or copy it. However, your coding has to be perfect for it to work correctly.

XML is frequently used in the publishing industry, business documentation and databases as it is easy to understand. Both coding and content are readable for the user. There is a logic to the coding that is fairly easy to grasp, because it is mainly user defined. For example, even when the data only needs to be understood by the computer, we can still understand what it is:

<item number="00001">
  <phone type="voice">
  <phone type="fax">

If we read the tags we can work out quite easily that this is "Jane Q Public's" contact information, and that she is the first in the database. XML is great for this type of information, as you only need a name, number, or email address to find out the rest of the persons information because all of the information is grouped.

Essentially XML is a great method of organising data. It's easy to understand, things within the code are much easier to find, and because everythings tagged and grouped it's very difficult for something to go missing when you want to transfer the file. It's not hard to see why it's becoming more and more popular.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

XML and Electronic Publishing

XML stands for Extensible Markup Language and is used as a set of encoding rules that can be read by both humans and machines. While similar to HTML, XML was not designed to describe data but transport and store it.  HTML focuses on what the data looks like not what the data is, unlike XML. The tags used in XML are not pre-defined, and must be defined by the user, therefore allowing for it to be more specific, as it’s purpose is to store information and self-defined tags allow for that information to be more instructive.  XML cannot be used without a piece of software or hardware to receive or display it.

Many different applications, programmes and sites use XML, as it can be manipulated to fit specific needs.  XML is becoming particularly more important in electronic publishing, as it allows for e-books to carry extra information that allows for them to exist in a number of different formats such as MOBI, EPUB and PDF files.  This means that an e-book using XML can be used by a variety of e-reading platforms such as the Amazon Kindle, Nook, and Apple iPad.  The ability to use self-defined tags means that information within the file such as the author or publisher can have their own tags without causing any confusion.  For example:

<title>The Fault in Our Stars </title>
<author>John Green</author>

The fact that XML can be used across a variety of systems means that the information will be safe despite any changes to software and hardware, allowing for the data to survive throughout the evolution of technology.
As outlined in our presentation, the Planning team have been working to categorise and distribute cultural sites around Birmingham ready for information to be gathered and written up for the app. After discussing the focus of the app, we have pinpointed 11 different areas, each with 1-3 sites, which have been posted up on the group Facebook for people to choose from. The groups were chosen through reference to a map, in order to make the collection of information as easy as possible; sites are therefore grouped by location, rather than app section. We have produced a form denoting the information needed (image size/format, name, price per visit etc.) from each site, which is accessible via. Dropbox.

 The groups are:

1: Old Rep Theatre / Electric Light Cinema / The Alexandria Theatre

2: Bullring / Moor Street Station / Odeon Cinema

3: Town Hall / Symphony Hall / BMAG

4: CBSO Centre / Cineworld / Icon Gallery

5: St Martin's / Birmingham Cathedral / China Town

6: Bourneville / Selly Manor / Cadbury World

7: Weoley Castle Ruins

8: Thinktank / Millennium Point

9: Barber Institute / Old Joe / Rooster House (lol)

10: The MAC / Harbourne Cricket Ground / Nature Centre

11: Botanical Gardens

Already, several people have offered to collect images and information about some of these groups, which is brilliant. We plan to gather and collate this information via Dropbox, ready to be coded up for the app. If you would be interested in helping gather some information on any of these places, please refer to the Facebook group: here

Monday, 14 January 2013

XML benefits Excel.

XML stands for Extensible Mark Up language and often divides structure from content. The mark-up language is extensible unlike other languages such as HTML, which has a fixed vocabulary. The benefit of this is that the user is able to easily read and edit the XML to their own advantage and purpose. The use of XML occurs in particular programmes used for businesses such as Microsoft Excel. As XML is text based, the divide between content and structure can be clearly defined.  It is also useful as describing a store of information which is often what spread sheets are used for.

The role of XML is to carry information rather than to display it.                 In programmes such as Excel, this means that information only needs to be stored once – after this, it can be reused many times. It is an important part of business documents in particular as XML can easily withstand change without the xml document breaking as a result of a change in structure. If another attribute was added to another attribute necessary for the programme to process information, this change can be encompassed easily within the extensible mark ups without causing error. XML is often preferred as it has the capacity to display structured and semi structured information; this information can come in the forms of charts, tables and graphs. XML is also beneficial to these types of documents as it is a platform independent mark-up which means that is can be used, opened and edited across a different variety of programmes and operating systems- particularly useful for those businesses that use a range of systems.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

This week's blog post: Is technology going too far?

I’m sure everybody would like to be able to claim that they could live without technology. I know I would, but quite honestly a day without my phone would probably prove a serious challenge. No instant access to the Internet to Google who ‘that actor in that film’ was, or to check Facebook pointlessly, just in case something mildly interesting has happened for once.

Are we becoming too dependent on technology, or are companies causing this dependency? Constant progression in the technological world means we’re constantly seeking an improved version to what we already have. Clearly, we don’t NEED what they’re offering in this progression as we’ve lived for years before without, say, Apple’s ever-so-pointless Siri. Yet, we as consumers get sucked in and decide such features are essential; that we could never go back.

But are companies now taking this too far? I would certainly say they are. Samsung’s new bendy smartphone, as shown off at the Consumer Electronics Show 2013, has got to be a step too far. For years we’ve lived with stable, rigid screens, but here we have a company shoving something completely new and unnecessary in our faces. Yet again, eventually we’ll fall for it and see it as a necessity, just as mobile Internet did.

At the end of the day, we’re all a little bit powerless to technology, and companies absolutely know this.

Design Team Presentation Overview

This is our summary of what we have pulled together so far. We are currently tidying up our Dropbox folder, and trying to make it as accessible to you all as possible. You should be able to get our output directly from our folder, but we recommend that you check it regularly for any updates.

As you will see, in our Dropbox we currently have three separate folders:

Design Objects:
In here are the individual objects that we have for the app. It includes things like images of maps, pins to go on the map, logos etc. It is essentially the ‘raw materials’ that we are working with. If you have created anything for the app (such as the logos which have been appearing) then feel free to put them in there along with a Facebook post telling us where to find them.
This folder contains our research on other similar apps to ours. The ‘App Research’ document is especially good.
In here, you will find the documents that we are using to plan our app. This is the kind of thing that will be sent to Oliver and Jim (once they are more complete) as well as to the rest of you in order to get feedback on the design of the app. This is a good place to find a summary of where we are headed with design if you are looking for an overview, and your opinions are more than welcome.

If help is needed on other parts of the project then please let do us know!

XML and Facebook

XML stands for 'extensible markup language', and allows the passing of information including data and content in a variety of ways. XML takes a simplistic approach to structure, meaning that resulting files are easy to understand, move and translate into other environments. XML marks sections of a document with a descriptive label. These labels are extensible (not limited to a fixed set) and allow XML to break the document down into the marked sections that a machine (or developer) can read. This therefore allows the platform to act independently of software, as the data is able to be moved through software upgrades without risking incompatibility- something that is incredibly important in the case of sites like Facebook, as if the abundance of data were to be inaccessible due to incompatibility with new software, large issues would arise.

Many applications, programmes, sites and resources use XML. An example of a site that uses XML is Facebook. An open platform, Facebook allows 3rd party developers to add to the site. In this instance, the use of XML allows the creation of an interactive user interface, which is one of the main attractions of Facebook. This level of interaction allows the user to customise and adapt those pages to his or her specification, within certain limits. This results in the creation of an online presence reflecting- (in most cases, that is!) the user through statuses, profile pages, comments and likes.

Benefits of XML also comes through in the 'security' settings on Facebook. XML allows data to be stored once, but allows the user to render this content for different viewers- in the case of Facebook: Public, Friends, Only Me or Custom. This is done based on style sheet processing using an extensible style language (XSL) processor. As a result of this, different people are given different information, even though the 'base' of the information remains the same. XML therefore allows the freedom to repurpose and reuse data in multiple situations, rather than repeatedly and painstakingly recreating it.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Marketing Presentation Overview

In the presentation we spoke about all the areas of marketing that we had covered as well as the ones that we were looking into.  Firstly, we commented on the name and logo of the product.  The logo incorporates three iconic images of Birmingham as well as the university colour scheme as we felt that the app was aimed at tourists, younger people, and students.  The red, blue, and yellow contrasting with the black is bright and bold and catches the eye.  

We also pointed out that the demographic we had chosen was realistic because it would be easier to market something towards our own peer group.  Younger people are also more likely to use smartphone apps.

We discussed the launches of iBrum's Twitter and Facebook pages, and how we will use them to gain more interest in the app.  The app will also be advertised on posters and our personal websites and social media outlets.

Screenshots of the website that is currently in development were shown to the group and plans and ideas were discussed, as well as requests for any suggestions.

The market research that we had undertaken was also discussed.  Below are some examples of the questions and their responses:

  • In this kind of app what features would you expect? General information about Birmingham, pictures, links
  • Do you think the name ‘iBrum’ is appropriate? Yes, modern and fits the brand.
  • If not, what would you suggest instead? Most said don't change it.
  • Does the logo appeal to you and would it make you download it? Yes, it’s bright and fun.
  • Would you use this app? Yes.
  • Would you be willing to pay for this app?
  •   Maybe, depends on the content. Many said they would not be willing to pay for an app being as since Birmingham has it's own information kiosk and information is widely available on the internet, so preplanning a trip would be more beneficial than losing out on money.
  • Which sections of the app would you use? Tourist sites, food, shopping.
  • What would make you more inclined to download this app? Secret places not many people know about
We would also like to have events such as a launch party and a Facebook event, and want to look further into a mobile friendly version of the website.