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Previous ramblings are stashed away under Replays.

Friday, January 31, 2003

GOOGLY NONSENSE

From time to time I’m driven to look at what Google searches have brought people to my site. One of the latest is ben hammersley is a twat. If the searcher had the same Ben Hammersley in mind, there’s nobody less deserving of such an ungracious description.

Isn’t Google clever, though? More so than the searcher, perhaps:

Your original search: ben hammersly is a twat returned zero results. The alternate spelling: ben hammersley is a twat returned the results below.

Ever since I mentioned inebriated Scandinavian waxwings, a number of folks have landed here while looking for swedish birds. I presume they’re not looking for the likes of blue Swedish ducks, appealing as they sound. (“This is a striking looking bird and the genetics of achieving the colour make it a challenging breed for breeders. Friendly and a good size.” Sounds like an ideal bird.). They might be looking for a shag, though.
7:40 PM | permalink

THE TWAT GETS A FACE

And a hat. And a scarf. And a pair of shades. Yes, on Wednesday Zoe showed us pictures of her Twat (figuratively speaking). With something inflatable.

I’d give you a link, but she doesn’t put permalinks on individual posts — so you’ll just have to visit and explore. Now featured under Regularly Watches…
7:03 PM | permalink

DID SOMEBODY SAY “CHOMSKY”?

Hello to anyone past or present who may have arrived here via Odessa Street, following a forgivable linkage slip by Lee. I hope you haven’t been too confused or disappointed.
7:02 PM | permalink

NOT THAT YOU’LL GIVE A DAMN, BUT…

When I left Gothenburg this morning, it was bloody freezing — but bright and sunny. I arrived back in Edinburgh this afternoon, where it’s bloody freezing — and grey and snowing.

Makes me wonder where I should really live, especially since the client who sends me there requires that I carry on making weekly visits to Sweden’s second city for as far as I can see into 2003. No change there, then.
7:01 PM | permalink

Sunday, January 26, 2003

THE INTERNET WAS BROKEN — IT IS NOW FIXED

You might have noticed on Friday night or Saturday morning that the entire internet appeared to have ground to a halt. The reason was exploitation of yet another one of those pesky Microsoft security flaws. Perhaps I shouldn’t say “yet another”, because this one has been known about for some time. Ben reflects:

So, now the aftermath. Here's my predictions: Microsoft will get shouted at, Slashdot will be full of people calling for BillG's head, the worm writer will turn out to be 14 and just messing around with something that got out of control very very quickly. It will not have been terrorism, but the US government will pretend it was and try to install some wacky firewally thing. And still no one will patch their machines.

“People need to do a better job about fixing vulnerabilities,” said Howard Schmidt, one of President George W. Bush’s cyber-security advisers. Nah, it’ll never happen. Microsoft need to do a better job of writing software.
3:23 PM | permalink

SADDAM’S SURPRISINGLY SENTIMENTAL LAST WILL

Bruce McCall invites us to review the codicils to Saddam Hussein’s last will in The New Yorker magazine.
2:55 PM | permalink

BLOGGING IN BELGIUM

I’ve just found a recently-started weblog, and it could turn out to be a little gem. A little reminiscent of Mil Millington’s Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About, the gorgeous (she says so) Zoe takes the female perspective in My Boyfriend Is a Twat. An excerpt: distressed that her boyfriend will not attend to a problem on her blog because he is working on another web site, she writes

The Twat was also kind enough to point out that no, I do not come second to this website he's working on, there is also coffee, cream buns, medieval siege equipment, large parts of Cumbria, almost all of Africa, novels by Grahame Greene, anything written by George Orwell, garden sheds, bacon rolls - at this point I hit him.

Once his lip has stopped bleeding the Twat will do as I say.

I’m rather fond of women with that spiky kind of wit. If she should ever get fed up of her current Twat, well, I’ve always liked Brussels…
2:27 PM | permalink

Saturday, January 25, 2003

IS PORN SMARTER THAN MUSIC?

How the music business could learn from the porn industry is the topic of this Wired article.

Interesting idea, but the nettle that the music business would have to grasp is that, legit or not, people will only want to pay a modest price for each track they download. After all, there’s no packaging involved, no retail overheads, and the delivery mechanism costs the buyer, not the seller.

I’d quite happily purchase music this way, and maybe start getting some value for money. Think how many times you’ve squandered up to £15 on a CD that carries maybe a couple of decent tracks, and seven or eight steaming piles of crap. Now instead, if you could legitimately download just the two decent ones, for no more than, say, 50p each…
1:52 PM | permalink

CGI MALARKEY

A product of something I needed for myself recently, this might be useful to you, or it might not (anyway, it’s free): bounce.cgi, a script for controlling access to a web page so that visitors can only get to it after they have visited another page you specify. For example, if you want them to read or accept terms and conditions before seeing your special page.

If you don’t know much about using or installing CGI programs, these notes might help.
1:17 PM | permalink

SLIMEBALLS

I receive a few hundred spam messages every week, many of which the excellent MailWasher zaps for me. Recently I’ve started receiving messages from one of the companies that sells spam tools, namely these bastards. Their all-in-one-single-huge-page web site provides an interesting insight into the minds of these people, notably how they are always looking for new ways to get around the system. For example:

Software that will "spam check" your email promotions and newsletters. Automatically avoid the dangerous words and phrases that'll trigger the spam filters. Without this special software, 50% (or more!) of your subscribers may never see your emails!
Outsmart the "bulk mail filters." When you email a group list, most ISPs will mistake your email for spam, and filter it before itís ever received! My Email Manager delivers each message as a "solo" email, keeping your opt-in subscribers (and their ISPs) from seeing that you mailed to a group. Only the recipientís name appears in the "To" field!

The people who make these kinds of tools are as repellent as the people who use them. It’s interesting how often they mention subscribers and opt in lists on this page, but I didn’t opt in to anything before they started sending me e-mail.

Their e-mails to me didn’t trigger MailWasher’s SpamCop filter. They will in future… I’ve reported ’em.
1:03 PM | permalink

Thursday, January 23, 2003

BUSH ON NORTH KOREA

As usual, the very best in satire is to be found at The Onion.
5:57 PM | permalink

“CONGRATULATIONS, HERE’S YOUR DEGREE — OH, AND YOUR OVERDRAFT STATEMENT”

That leading member of the Not Terribly Good Club, Estelle Morris, must be glad she bailed out of the Education Secretary’s job before the going got really tough. It takes a robust old stager like Charlie Clarke to stand at the despatch box and make himself heard above the jeers and cat-calls while announcing the “good news” that universities will be able to charge tuition fees of up to £3,000 a year — meaning graduates could leave university with average (average, mind) debts of £15,000.

Not surprisingly, a good number of the noises of dissent come from the government’s own benches. Not surprisingly, because a good number of those currently parking their backsides on the green leather are graduates, some from the country’s most prestigious universities, and who graduated at a time when they paid precisely nothing for their tuition. Doubtless they never expected to see the day when a Labour government would introduce such fees.

Of course, education has to be paid for. But in this country we’ve become used to it being paid for out of the public purse. I have no problem with that. Everyone needs the basic education furnished by the school system, and for the social and economic well-being of the country (which benefits all of us), we need graduate-calibre people to carry out research, to power our industries, to look after us when we are ill, and the list goes on.

Perhaps the difficulty the government now seems to be facing with the finances is one of its own making. After all, it came up with the stupid target of having 50% of all young people go into higher education. Stupid, because you can’t arbitrarily mandate how clever people are going to be. Whether someone gains admission to a university or college should be based on their ability, not simply on the fact that they want to go (or that the government wants them to go). Allowing everyone the “opportunity” may be a noble aim, but it is flawed in its logic — and it is exactly that kind of half-baked thinking that has led to the proliferation of Mickey Mouse courses (yes, I’m with Margaret Hodge on that one) from which just about anyone could walk away with a degree that “may not have huge relevance in the labour market”. (Which not only makes those specific degrees worthless, but devalues degrees in general, as some folks make the mistake of tarring all graduates with the same brush.)

Perhaps if we reduced rather than increased the number of people going to university, we could pay for it from Treasury funds as we did in the past. How about ditching some of those Mickey Mouse courses? We will always need engineers, physicists, chemists, doctors — but how many more “art historians” or media studies graduates do we need? (We also need plumbers, a perfectly respectable trade from which, we are told, you can pull down as much as 70 grand a year, without need of a degree.) Or here’s a thought: how about all those people who want to study art history or tourism should pay for their tuition, while those taking useful subjects don’t? After all, I have to pay to indulge in my hobbies…

And of course, under this new regime, I get to decide what qualifies as “useful”.
1:38 PM | permalink

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

21 REASONS WHY…

Francis Strand might think learning Swedish is difficult, but think how it must be for Swedes learning English (which despite everything, so many of them manage to do so well). Just consider these little follies, all of which make learning English somewhat tough (tow? too? or maybe tuff?).

Francis’ Swedish word for the day is one of my own favourites, skitbra — which he translates as “shit-good”; I suppose in the current idiom you might say “shit hot”. Scots wouldn’t have too much difficulty understanding what it means, since when spoken, it sounds pretty close to shitbraw — and that fine Scottish word for “good”, braw, has exactly the same root and meaning as the Swedish bra.
11:09 PM | permalink

DRUNKEN SWEDISH BIRDS

I feel that 2003 has really begun now, since I made my first trip of the year back to Sweden last week. This week, I’ve been immersed in a sea of admin tasks, trying to catch up on a huge backlog that I thought I might clear over the Christmas/New year break, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. And some things (like tax returns, damnit) really must be done before I head back to Gothenburg next week.

Anyway, back to our topic for this post. Yes, over the years I’ve met a few drunken Swedish birds (perhaps some of them were vodkabirds), but I’m talking here of a different variety.

I couldn’t find any articles about drunken Swedish blokes, though there ought to be. In real terms, booze is a lot cheaper in Sweden now than it was when I first wen to the country more than fifteen years ago, and it was common then for Swedes to nip across to Denmark to stock up. Denmark was expensive enough compared to UK prices then, but it was cheaper than Sweden. Even on a very short crossing like that over the sound between Helsingborg in the south of Sweden and Helsingør in Denmark, a lot of Swedish guys felt obliged to see how much they could get down their necks while still on board the ferry. As a native of Helsingør once said to me, rather unkindly, “You can spot the Swedish people in this town. They’re the ones lying drunk in the gutter.”
10:23 PM | permalink

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

INTERNET INFO PROVES OBSCURE AND MEDIOCRE

I missed this gem when it was published, but thanks to an ace graphic designer buddy, I can point you to this article in The Guardian media section, concerning a study made of the FTSE100 companies’ web sites.

Amongst other things:

The report also found that more than a third of the sites were difficult to read using software other than Microsoft internet browsers. One in 10 of FTSE 100 company websites could not be viewed using other browsers. A further 28% of sites had "significant problems" when displaying pages using non-Microsoft browsers.

"It is in our view indefensible that so many sites have not been constructed to the standards which people rightly expect from our top companies," said Adrian Porter, author of the research.

You said it, Adrian. You also said in the report that 72 of the 100 sites "vary from needing some substantial attention in one area or another, to needing a lot of urgent attention, to being irredeemably bad and in a state where they should be thrown away". Quite.
12:07 AM | permalink

Monday, January 13, 2003

ONE FOR THE TYPOPHILES

If, like me, you’re a bit of a typography nut, you’ll know that Matthew Carter is a leading type designer who was responsible, amongst other things, for two of Microsoft’s core fonts for the web: Verdana and Georgia.

FontHaus’ x-height magazine has an interview with the man himself, in which he gives his own short history of twentieth century American typography.
11:54 PM | permalink

Sunday, January 12, 2003

I WISH…

I wish when Ev is frigging around with things at Blogger Pro, he would make it more obvious. I haven’t been able to post anything for three days, until just a short while ago I found a note hidden behind a link saying that they are testing some code fixes. Code fixes that, apparently, broke my ability to post. Why not do testing on another server, instead of the bloody main, live Pro server? Grrrr…
1:43 AM | permalink

SHORTEN LINKS WITH METAMARK

Ask Bjørn Hansen, creator of Organica which regularly crawls this blog, has also built Metamark, a service for shortening long URLs. It’s not the first, of course, but it has a few tricks that perhaps the others don’t. And Ask provides a handy little Bookmarklet for making it just a click away.

Here’s a piece of recursion: Ask’s own example of a long URL shortened by Metamark, linked by a URL shortened by Metamark: http://xrl.us/bm!
1:07 AM | permalink

ON SAFARI

In the same way that I was thinking it would be useful if Safari had a CSS parsing error that could be exploited to hide CSS from it until it is in a better state of compliance, so too has Mark Pilgrim: Should safari be intentionally buggy? and, much work later (what a guy): How to hide CSS from Safari. After all that work, though, there doesn’t seem to be a simple way of hiding CSS from Safari that doesn’t affect other browsers.

While Dave Hyatt’s reluctance to build a bug into Safari deliberately is understandable and admirable from the point of view of a good software engineer, I feel that from a practical standpoint, it’s highly desirable. And as Mark says, no-one is suggesting that a bug be introduced into Safari’s CSS rendering, but rather its parsing.

Ask Bjørn Hansen says:

Maybe I am missing something, but isn’t the obvious solution to make a valid syntax that will say “Only read this if you are browser X”?

Except that Javascript can be disabled, is there a reason to not just do that in Javascript?

Actually, that’s precisely the reason why not to do it in JavaScript. I’ve developed an overpowering resistance to using JavaScript for anything that will detrimentally affect the functioning or accessibility of the page if JavaScript is disabled or simply not available. And we have all got so tired of building (often error-prone) browser-sniffing code into our pages to cope with flaky browsers.

I think there is a good, simple solution; and it doesn’t involve using scripts, ugly hacks or invalid code. The parsing error most commonly exploited by web developers is probably that related to the @import rule. Importing a style sheet by placing something like
<style type="text/css">@import "style.css";</style>
in the HEAD of the document will successfully hide the stylesheet altogether from the atrocious Netscape 4, and the “pre-version 5” variants of the most common browsers — so they can be delivered a completely unstyled but perfectly readable version of the page. Perhaps Apple might consider deliberately building this same parsing error into Safari until such time as its level of CSS compliance is comparable with that exhibited today by, say, Mozilla. At that time, the parsing error could be fixed (or perhaps that should be “un-un-fixed”), and in the meantime, web builders wouldn’t have to go through extraordinary hoops to prevent their pages being trashed by a significant new browser.
1:01 AM | permalink

Thursday, January 09, 2003

WANNA BUY A GOOD BOOK?

Actually, you don’t need to buy it, you can have it for free. Take a look under Displays at the new Free HTML books page. You’ll find out about some work I began on etexts from Project Gutenberg (the source of the text for The Diary of Samuel Pepys, which I mentioned recently). Then get yourself a classic piece of Scottish fiction. For nothing. Nada. Rien. Zilch.
5:17 AM | permalink

NEW KID IN TOWN

Frankly, I’m not sure how I feel about the (not entirely unexpected) announcement from Apple that they have built their own web browser for OS X. As web developers we’ve just got used to the crop of browsers that we really need to cope with; we’ve found hacks to get around IE5.X/Win’s incorrect box model, IE5/Mac’s incorrect positioning of background images, and so on… and we even hide style sheets completely from the most incompetent browsers. And damnit, along comes another one, which by virtue of the fact it comes from such a major and important source, will doubtless gain some popularity.

Oh, Safari looks great on paper (well, OK, on the Apple web site):

Precision layout
Rest assured, Safari renders Web pages properly according to the latest Internet standards. So pages that use advanced HTML, XHTML, DOM, CSS, JavaScript and Java specifications just look right.

“Rest assured”, eh? I guess that must be a wish list for a full release, because it certainly doesn’t describe the current beta, as Mark Pilgrim found when he dived into it.

So, I suspect we’re going to have to come up with another batch of workarounds for the CSS bugs that Safari will surely bring with it. Actually, I hope that one of the current hiding methods will work with Safari, and I’ll just deliver a plain vanilla presentation to it until it has developed such that it really does render pages according to the latest Internet standards. I have less and less patience with browsers that can’t comply with years old W3C recommendations.

(Of course, I have another problem. Right now, I have no convenient way of testing sites on Safari as it only runs on OS X — and so far I have steadfastly resisted upgrading from OS9. Why? Oh, that’s a whole other story…)
5:11 AM | permalink

“PAGING MR. MORGAN — MR. EDWIN MORGAN…”

If you’re reading this, Edwin, will you get in touch? I wanted to drop you a note but you don’t have any contact details on your site. (Nothing sinister, man, it’s just about this.)
5:08 AM | permalink

SCOTTISH BLOGS

Another little linky-dink has sneaked in at the bottom of the “Regularly watches” list (see the sidebar). I confess I’ve tended to think that webrings are rather naff, but that might be an unfair generalisation based on my observation that so many of them are dedicated to — how shall I put it? — unusual special interest groups, and some of the member sites I have been curious enough to look at have been amongst the worst train wrecks I have seen on the Web.

But… I’ve been getting more and more curious to know who in Scotland (and particularly my own city of Edinburgh) is regularly pouring out their thoughts on the Web. I’ve found it difficult to track down blogs from the region, so this ring caught my eye. It’s all still a bit new and doesn’t have many members yet, but I’m keen to see it grow and to find some quality writing and design. We Scots can rant, rave and write with the best of them. As they say:

Here’s tae us!
Wha’s like us?
Damn few…
And they’re a’ deid!

(Traditional Scottish toast, which alternatively might be expressed as: “Raise your glasses and let us toast ourselves; for who on this Earth can stand comparison with us? Frankly, an infinitesimally small number; and they are without exception long deceased.”)
4:53 AM | permalink

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

SANITY PREVAILS IN NORWAY

Jon Johansen, the teenager that the Motion Picture Association of America dragged through the courts because of DeCSS — his software for unscrambling the content of DVDs so he could play them on a Linux box — has been acquitted.

I suppose it remains to be seen what impact this decision will have elsewhere in the world. Undoubtedly the reaction of the MPAA will be to say that it’s easy for the Norwegians to make a decision like this, because they don’t have a significant film business — and will lobby hard to maintain the kind of protection they believe the Digital Millennium Copyright Act affords them in the USA. Norway, of course, isn’t in the EU. Had it been, it would have made the ruling very interesting in terms of precedent for the rest of the Union.
2:47 PM | permalink

Monday, January 06, 2003

HOLY COW, BATMAN — NEW CONTENT!

Yes, at last you can find something under the Displays section: and it’s a freebie. Looking for a blog/web page template? Can I interest you in my Bauhaus-inspired Bloghaus design? Full of XHTML 1.0 and CSS2 goodness, and not a table in site (not for layout purposes, anyway). All ready-equipped with the necessary tags for use with Blogger, should you so wish. And did I mention it’s free?

From time to time, I’ll add further designs; in fact I have another Bauhaus-style job in mind already. I tend not to do things by halves, so you’ll find pretty comprehensive instructions, graphics, style information, and the like with each set as it becomes available. Check out the first.
6:10 PM | permalink

1 JANUARY 1660 –

I know everyone is linking to this, but I must too: The Diary of Samuel Pepys. It’s just such a brilliant idea. Why? Well, lots of people would like to read Pepys’ diary. But the diary is a Rather Large Book. Lots of people are put off by Rather Large Books. So here’s a way to read the diary in bite-sized chunks, one day at a time, as Phil Gyford publishes it on the Web. And yes, had Pepys started writing his diary today, I’m sure this is how he would have done it. Though he might not have posted some of his racier entries.
4:15 PM | permalink

WRITING PROPER, LIKE WHAT I DOES

My little aside about common misuse of the word “presently” towards the end of a previous post reminded me of a couple of pages I came across recently:

  1. Talk Good - 10 Useful Hints for Everyday Grammar by Sean Nelson.
  2. How to Write Like a Wanker by Matt Olson.

Even discounting users of l337-speak (who are clearly //4|\||<3rz anyway and merit no further discussion), the abuse of language I see sometimes on the Web and in e-mails makes me cringe. Some of it may be laziness attributable to the common perception that internet communication is quick and informal — though surely that depends upon the purpose and audience, no? — but I wonder.

(Hmmm. Sometimes I catch myself sounding like Joe Clark.)
4:10 PM | permalink

A HANGOVER FROM HOGMANAY

In my recent absence, I missed posting this from December 31 — a rather appropriate date for the story. Substituting one alcohol with another is an interesting cure. Or maybe the real idea was more like, “No, madam, this won’t actually cure you — but you’ll feel a lot better before you leave us.”
4:03 PM | permalink

Sunday, January 05, 2003

HAPPY NEW YEAR, AND ALL THAT

Regular readers (both of you) will have noticed it’s been mighty quiet around these parts for some weeks; a silence uninterrupted even by the wish to offer the traditional compliments of the season around Christmas (I really ought to have said God Jul!) and the New Year. So what’s been going on?

So there we are. Six or seven weeks in as many paragraphs. Maybe I should be aiming for that brevity anyway…
7:51 PM | permalink

My momma told me there'd be days like this

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