Martin Joiner's Blog

Confessions of a binge thinker
Posted on January 31, 2015

Sketch: A fight at a funeral


In my happy place, with a pint and sketch book. Spent the afternoon in The Cornubia with Ashley. A bloke at the bar challenged us to draw a fight at a funeral and we happily obliged. We concluded the most likely justification for such a ruckus would be that a member of the procession has given the deceased a "flock of seagulls" hair style and that the most likely suspect would be the master of ceremonies himself.

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Posted on October 27, 2014

Responsive re-design damages ad revenue started as a desktop-only site, then it gained a mobile version hosted on the "m." subdomain, recently I replaced both with 1 responsive version. Most interesting is the unexpected negative affect this has had on advertising revenue compared to the positive affect it has had on the Google ranking. Obviously the new responsive site scores massively higher when run through Google's PageSpeed Insight tool. I've minified all the right bits, leveraged browser caching and of course it is legible and delivers a great user experience across all screen sizes, including the tabletty ones in the middle which traditionally got left out by the mobile/desktop version split. As Google are clamping down on desktop-only sites by adding mobile-friendliness to the pagerank algorithm I had no choice but to move to a responsive redesign which, I am sad to announce, has cut my earnings by a very painful 50%!

So to summarise the key differences before and after the change:

  • Before: Most users saw a site with 3 MPU adverts. Apart from those on really small screens who got a pop-up suggestion to view the mobile site on the m. subdomain which had 1 mobile banner.
  • After the redesign: Only the biggest screens get the 3 MPUs, notebooks get a leaderboard and a banner, tablets get 2 banners, mobiles get 2 banners. On all screen sizes the ad units are now beautifully in-lined with the content and proportionately sized for the user's screen.

In essence I have followed all Google's "advice" (read pressure) and coincidentally happened to slightly increase the number of adverts that each user will see. Naturally I expected revenue to increase with usability but in fact it is much worse.

I have not discovered a definite reason why, so all my current thinking is theoretical, but it basically looks like MPUs are measured as performing better, even if the user's screen is too small to display the site and pinch-zooming is required to navigate (as would have been the case for about 50% of users before the redesign). This could be because Google Adsense charge more for showing an MPU (I have no way of looking up their prices), it could be because media agencies for some reason focus on producing the best performing artwork only for  MPUs and leaderboards and neglect the new sizes which I have introduced such as banners and mobile banners. It cannot be coincidence, the graph shows a distinct and sustaining drop immediately after the launch.

There is one other potential cause that is harder to measure. The redesign also involved me applying the latest standard of moving the Javascript to the bottom of the document, a method not supported in the Google Adsense integration documentation.  I felt this was appropriate because it enabled me to query the user's screen width to calculate which ad-units are being shown by the CSS media queries and do the responsible thing of only loading the ad units which will actually be seen by a human. A lazy developer would have stuck with Adsense's recommended method, which would have resulted in ad server requests hits for all ad units, regardless of visibility, a behavior which directly contravenes Google Adsense's terms of service.

It is sad to think that the only way I will be able to test this theory is to build a branch in my code repo that temporarily - but deliberately - breaks Adsense's rules and it's even more sad to think that the outcome might incentivise me to keep it that way permanently. Adding to my woe is the thought that an alternative outcome might be that I have to move the Adsense chunk of JS back up to the document head and block rendering until the ad server responds, a process which would feel very much like moving backwards, especially with the great adsense blackout of 2014 that brought down millions of websites.

The necessary evil of adverts just got uglier.

Posted on August 12, 2013

Coldfusions cfDump / writeDump() for PHP


phDump is a PHP-equivalent of Adobe Coldfusion's excellent debugging feature, CFDump.  The screenshot above shows phDump neatly and clearly displaying the complicated nested data structure returned by Twitter's API. A visual tool like this makes it so much easier to understand during development.

I built this to serve the niche group of developers (of which I am one) who have worked seriously with Adobe Coldfusion and grown to love the native CFDump function but who also code in PHP and find themselves wanting the feature available there too!

Download the phDump repo from my GitHub account at and enjoy a visually pleasing debugging experience.


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Posted on June 21, 2013

Bristol geeks and their remarkable spec keyboards

This Bristol geek has paid over 130 happinesses in order that his fingers experience the satisfying recoil of a Buckling Spring keyboard. Often described as the 'older' style, back in the 90s you could expect one of these as standard with your new IBM PC but these days you actually have to make an effort to own one. For professionals who spend the majority of their day at a computer it's a small investment for a user interface that is both tactile and satisfying on the ear. Additional bonuses include it's ability to register a greater number of keys depressed simultaneously, enabling button combos that are simply not achievable on your common-or-garden device. +4 geek points awarded. +1 bonus point for having a ginger beard.

But woah! Here comes Gavin (photographed at Bristol Web Folk Hack Night), trumping Zac by having the same buckling spring setup but this time with no markings on the keys.  Because...  well isn't it obvious?! Seriously, I have no idea. +8 geek points.

But out-nerding both of them is Brizzle's favourite div lopper, Nic Alpi who uses a keyboard with the buttons in the wrong place. He explains: the backspace and return keys are positioned in the center and the buttons are aligned in vertical columns which is kinder on the wrists and more comfortable to use, leading to greater accuracy. It takes a few hours to get used to.  +10 geek points awarded and a further +2 for wearing a HJKL vim evangelist t-shirt (he didn't even know I was coming to snap his picture, he actually wears that t-shirt normally).

Who didn't make this list? Not included here is the über hipster who actually uses a typewriter (yes the ones that hammer an ink-infused ribbon against the surface of the paper) to compose letters and the guy I met at Bristol Hackspace who has hacked a BBC Micro to a Raspberry Pi enabling him to send Tweets on a device built in 1981. Why not included? Because no matter how fun and quirky these exercises are, they just ain't practical for getting things done. And if there's one trait that can help explain the recent rise to power and great sexual magnetism that geeks are currently enjoying, it's their practical abilities to succeed.

Filed under: The Web Tagged as: 1 Comment
Posted on June 17, 2013

Bristols Biggest Bike Ride 2013

"This is what motorways will look like when we run out of oil" I joked. But seriously, the pleasure of cruising along a wide stretch of road, surrounded only by other peddle powered vehicles is bliss. Bristol's Biggest Bike Ride took place yesterday (Sunday 16th June) and it's the most peaceful gathering of 5000 people you will ever see. If you'd like to see Bristol council equip the city's roads with proper cycling facilities sign the petition at

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Posted on June 8, 2013

Scotch On The Rocks 2013 in Edinburgh

My employer sent the dev team up to SOTR13, a 2 day web conference in Edinburgh. Talks ranged from the technical to the philosophical and comical with titles like "HTML5 Mobile App with Phone Gap", "Quit your boring 9-5er" and "Zombie Code: How to suvive an apocalypse". I learned a serious amount of very useful knowledge and met some great contacts.

Photographed above is us, the development team. And yes contrary to prior stereotyping Scotland does have sunshine. However in balance I must mention that due to my massive dirty ginger beard I blended in with the native to such an extent that two teenage girls actually stopped me in the street and asked me for directions to the sexual health clinic. I am actually not kidding. I like Edinburgh, I will visit again.

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Posted on June 1, 2013

Bristol IT Megameet

The Frenchay campus of Bristol UWE was the location and the graffiti in the toilets did not disappoint. Elements of the Megameet did though but that's alright because the organisers are honest about it's fledgling nature and keen to improve. Many of the presenters were first or second-time speakers so there were some awkward audiences watching embarrassed presenters hurriedly attempt to fix broken demos. However in contrast I enjoyed a slick talk by local developer, Frank West who convered my area of expertise, front-end development.

One confusing aspect of the Megameet was the unnecessarily long (or maybe just unnecessary) award ceremony that took place at the end of the day. Drop that, help the presenters tighten up their talks and the event will be fantastic. I will attend next year, I may even volunteer to help.

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Posted on May 27, 2013

Painting at Upfest 2013 in Bristol

Bristol's urban paint festival, Upfest, was fantastic this year. On the Friday night I joined a whole bunch of artists in painting the shop shutters on North Street, Southville. I painted the shutter on the side of Rare butchers. Knowing this piece was going to be displayed for at least a year I stuck with an image I have done before and saved my experimentalism for the main day.

The finished piece.... Many people asked if I cut the stencils myself. It's not a stencil.

On the Saturday I painted my finger legs image. I was working next to the mysterious Louis French; nice guy.

Amazing atmosphere. I recommend everyone get behind this fantastic festival.

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Posted on January 20, 2013

Werthers Original Vodka

Stick 330 grams of Werthers Original butter candy in with a litre of triple filtered vodka and wait a couple of weeks. If you're a graphic design geek, make a label too.

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Posted on October 3, 2012

Adobe Create the Web conference in London

My developer colleagues and myself sitting in the audience at Adobe Create the Web confernce held at Vue Cinema, Leicester Square, London yesterday. The day was basically a keynotes talk by Adobe covering their new Adobe Edge suite of products with a couple of non-Adobe employed speakers thrown in for balance. Get details at but my personal highlights were the following:

  • Adobe are pushing for Custom CSS filters to be supported by future browsers
  • SoundJS is a Javascript library attempting to make xBrowser compatible sound possible!/SoundJS
  • Adobe Edge inspect making xPlatform, xBrowser, xScreensize testing easier allowing you to connect all manner of devices to your developer machine and Refresh, Navigate, take screenshots, and inspect developer console. See

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