Archive: March, 2002


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Sunday, March 31st, 2002

Ketchup Packet Bear

Picture an attacking polar bear fashioned out of tomato ketchup packets:

"The sauce packet bear emerged from a discovery that ketchup packets burst open when you hit them with a BB gun."

Just one in a series entitled "Incredible Stuff I Made". The series was originally going to be titled "ordinary junk any moron could slap together".

The sauce packet bear reminds me of some the more original work I saw when I was at Art College.

I remember the pedal-powered life-size car that someone built out in the courtyard. It was in this same courtyard that some kind of giant effigy was erected and then set alight. The burning of the effigy was filmed (hey, it’s Art).

It almost burned down the College. We stood watching the flames licking the side of the building.

"Where did you get the petrol from?" asked Andrew, the biker art student.

Later on I saw Andrew trying in vain to get his motorbike started. The tank was empty.

Friday, March 29th, 2002

Backwash Blowback

It looks like I owe Starbucks an apology.

I wrote here previously that Starbucks were attempting to sue for the mere practice of linking to them.

Well, it turns out that that’s not quite true. I received a response from Starbucks:

"We wanted to take this opportunity to respond to what appears to be an inaccurate portrayal of what has occurred.

There has been no lawsuit filed against "" by Starbucks Coffee Company. We merely sent a letter asking that "" respect our rights by ceasing any "framing" of the Starbucks web site."

So, it turns out that weren’t just linking to Starbucks, they were displaying the Starbucks site in a frameset from their site. That’s a no-no.

They were also lying when they claimed that Starbucks were in the process of sueing them.

I’m glad that this has been cleared up. I’m afraid has lost all credibility for me.

Thursday, March 28th, 2002

iLife is an iBeach

Here’s a cute pixaresque movie of iMacs limbo dancing on an iBeach.


Wednesday, March 27th, 2002



I’ve just spent hours trying to figure out what films these invisible people are in.

That’s some nifty Photoshopping.

Paying lip-service to usability

Here’s an article about usability in The Guardian.

It has some good (if somewhat obvious) points but it’s not very well written.

I found it funny that the author, like the rest of us, was decrying the use of pop-up ads:

"…the web is already too slow, it is insane to make it even slower by making users wait for a pop-up that most will close in less than a second anyway. It just drives users away."

Guess what happens when you visit the Guardian website? That’s right - a pop-up window appears.

Still, at least the Guardian site is reasonably uncluttered. That’s more than can be said for the website of Smart Business magazine which has another article about usability.

Read the first page of the article, all about the user experience, click on the link to the next page and what happens? Yup - another pop-up window.

People, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars hiring usability testing companies. I’ll tell you this for free: we all hate pop-up ads.

Google hates pop-ups, too. We love Google.

Tuesday, March 26th, 2002

New Arrival

Jessica’s iMac arrived yesterday.

It really is a treat for the eyes. Sitting in front of a screen like that makes working at the computer a real pleasure.

Geek that I am, God help me, I took pictures during the ritual unpacking of the new machine.

Welcome, Jessica, to the other side. One of us. One of us. One of us.

The new iMac

Sunday, March 24th, 2002


I can’t believe the idiotic behaviour of Starbucks.

They’re suing the site The reason? linked to Starbucks.

That’s it.

The mere of fact of hyperlinking (like I’m doing right here) is enough to have Starbucks’ lawyers set loose.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to write to Starbucks and tell them that an evil criminal mastermind at is wantonly flinging hyperlinks around.

Starbucks Starbucks Starbucks Starbucks


The movie "Wall Street" is on television right now. The film is set in the year 1985 yet in an early scene a trader makes a reference to the Challenger disaster which happened in 1986.

Aw, shoot - somebody beat me to it over at the nitpicker’s movie site.

Who would have thought Oliver Stone could make a movie and not get all his facts straight…

Wah-ha ha ha ha ha!

CNN, CIA, See No Evil

CNN really need to get a fact checker.

An article entitled "Complaint prompts CIA to curb cookies" contained the following piece of misinformation:

"The agency removed software from one of its Web sites this week after a private group discovered that the CIA was using banned Internet tracking technology called "cookies," said Mike Stepp, who manages the CIA’s public Web site."

Cookies, banned? Hardly. If they were, this site would be breaking the law by allowing visitors to set preferences for which theme they want to view.

It’s also worth noting that the CNN website itself sets quite a few cookies - try surfing there with your cookie preferences set to "Ask for each cookie".

Ah, CNN - that great bastion of investigative reporting - as long as they’re reporting something stamped with the White House seal of approval - exposing the nasty, illicit doings of the CIA.

Never mind if the Central Intelligence Agency helps to overthrow democratically elected governments or fund islamic fundamendalists, they’re setting cookies from their website, goshdarnit.

CNN’s priorities, like their fact-checking process, are dubious to say the least.

Saturday, March 23rd, 2002

Flo Control

Face recognition software is, it’s well known, crap.

Cat recognition software is a different story.

Flo is a cat. Flo likes to bring home dead animals sometimes. Flo’s owner doesn’t like this. Flo’s owner rigs up an electronic cat-flap attached to image recognition software.

It works. Flo only gets it when unencumbered by small dead animals. It also helps to keep out unwanted visitors like skunks and birds.

It’s like 1984 for cats.

Friday, March 22nd, 2002

Apple - Bluetooth

It wasn’t all bad news from Apple this week. This USB Bluetooth adapter looks very interesting.

I’ve been thinking of joining the twenty-first century and finally getting a mobile ‘phone. The prospect of having GPRS access from my iBook is what’s really tempting me. Right now, that would involve a cable connection.

But with a bluetooth enabled mobile ‘phone and a USB Bluetooth adapter on my iBook

Thursday, March 21st, 2002

iMac Price Hike

It looks like Jessica ordered her iMac just in time.

There’s going to be a $100 price-hike across the board for the new iMacs.

I guess this was kind of expected given the nature of the LCD market but it’s still a blow for people like me hoping to be able to afford such a great computer.

Ask Netsol

This is too much…

Check out this screenshot that Jeffrey Zeldman took of the Network Solutions helpdesk.

Wednesday, March 20th, 2002

Pong: The Text-Based Game

There are many online emulators of classic arcade games.

But rather than take the easy way out and port a classic game like Pong to Shockwave, why not combine it with the strengths of hypertext?

All the excitement of Pong; all the possibilities of the HyperText Transfer Protocol: text-based Pong.

Monday, March 18th, 2002

Invoice Past Due Letters

Here’s some proactive product placement marketing.

Jim Munroe wrote a science-fiction novel which included references to a number of brand names. He felt silly about giving companies free advertising so he invoiced ten of them them for product placement.

Nobody paid up so the companies were sent follow-up letters. Amusing stuff.

Sunday, March 17th, 2002

Bodiam Castle pictures

I’ve just spent a nice sunny Sunday at beautiful Bodiam Castle and I’ve got the pictures to prove it.

Saturday, March 16th, 2002

Which HTML tag are you?

Excellent! I am the <style> tag:

"You’re the STYLE tag- you are very dramatic, but when you mess up or overdramatize something, you know it and you change."

I’m just glad I’m not some table hack or a proprietary tag.

Which HTML tag are you?

Friday, March 15th, 2002

Steak 'n' eggs

I just love this picture:

"Went to Denny’s for breakfast and there were little shrunken children crawling around on the plate! AAGGH!"

I read the caption first and it took a moment for my brain to adjust to the actual perspective.

This is one of a series of pictures taken by Bryan J. Busch on a recent trip to Dallas (including a trip to the grassy knoll).

Thursday, March 14th, 2002

Booklend: A Lending Library By Post

I like this:

"Booklend is the creation of a man with a postage meter, a roomful of books, and an urge to share. Borrowing a book is free, and you’re welcome to keep the book until you’re done. Read it at your leisure — nobody likes to be rushed while they’re reading. When you’re done, pop it back in the mail."

What a great idea! It may not have offer the physical pleasure of browsing through a library but it does offer the same kind of practical altruism.

Y’know, I’ve always thought that the library was one of humanity’s greatest ever inventions. One library book can enrich and educate in a way that a one-off sale of a book never can.

The principle is simple: to each according to his needs.

If you tried to invent the library today you’d be shouted down by pragmatic naysayers asking "where’s the revenue model?"

Bush or chimp?

Tuesday, March 12th, 2002

Cheese Racing

You know it’s only a matter of time until this is an Olympic sport.

Episode II Teaser Trailer: Clone War

Excuse while I indulge in a moment of geekness.

The new Star Wars trailer is online. It looks pretty good in an un-Phantom Menace kind of way.

While the trailer is the most obvious new promotional piece for the film, a far more subtle marketing tool has also been launched:

Holonet News is a fake news site set in the Star Wars universe. Like similar promo sites for films like X-Men, it drops hints about the contents of the upcoming film.

What I really like, though, are the fake banner ads. These are spoofs of some of the more (in)famous Internet ads (X-10 spy camera, click the monkey, etc.).

The tables are turned - Star Wars is making fun of the Internet instead of the other way around.

Monday, March 11th, 2002

Cat Hospital starring Frank the Cat

You can keep an eye on the progress of poor Frank the cat who has become something of a celebrity:

"Frank the cat was run over at the end of January near his home in Cambridge, UK, and has been recovering from a broken pelvis ever since."

If you don’t want to jeopardise Frank the cat’s recovery, then abstinence from onanism might make all the difference.

Sunday, March 10th, 2002

Fame at last

Welcome visitors from - have a look ‘round, make yourselves at home.

It was nice of Jason to link to me. I wrote him an email a while back about the re-opening of The Millennium Bridge.

However, I can’t take the credit for discovering all that nifty stuff about the fixing of the bridge. The man to credit is Ben Hammersley.

Creationists in Gateshead

It looks the Bible Belt now extends to England.

Teachers at the city technology college in Gateshead are persuading pupils of the literal truth of the Bible at the expense of evotionary theory.

Needless to say, Richard Dawkins isn’t happy.

While creationists may take comfort in the new development, flat-earth theorists will be dissapointed by this statement from the school:

"The evolution/creation debate is all about to what extent the scientific evidence is there to support or undermine the other view… I don’t think [evolution] is as proven as the world being round."

Saturday, March 9th, 2002

Trout Thursday

Only 327 days to go.

I love trout. I also love beautifully designed websites.

Friday, March 8th, 2002

Sierra Vista Piracy

Oh dear, oh dear. This is just wrong.

Jessica’s hometown of Sierra Vista, Arizona (where I spent Christmas) now has a Community and Business Networking website.

Unfortunately, the site is a complete rip-off of SitePoint, an online magazine for web developers.

Stern Internet Services Corporation, hang your head in shame. Actually, judging from their website, they should be feeling pretty ashamed already.

Thanks to the good folks at for pointing out this travesty.

The Big Lebowski Random Quote Generator

Re-live some of the best moments of the Coen Brothers. Random pearls of wisdom from the lips of The Dude and company:

"Dude: They kept saying they believe in nothing.

Walter: Nihilists! Jesus. Say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos."


Coffeehouse is a nicely designed site. It’s a place to share and critique poetry.

If that sounds a bit la-di-da, don’t worry - there’s some funny stuff there too.

Thursday, March 7th, 2002

Text Editor Love

I love BBEdit, too. I’ve never composed a song in its honour, though:


I confess

I love you

You suck less."

Flashy Accessibility

I attended two of Macromedia’s seminars over the last couple of days.

Yesterday was the unveiling of Flash MX. It certainly looks like it has a lot of improvements over version five. The ability to stream video (and treat it like any other movie clip) directly from Flash is probably the feature that’s going to generate the most excitement amongst developers.

Personally, I was far more more interested in the accessibility advances that Flash has made. Movie clips can be given descriptive text that screen readers will be able to read (although search engines won’t). It’s also possible to insert named anchors into movie timelines that are treated just like pages in the browser’s history list.

Interesting as the unveiling of Flash MX was, today’s seminar on accessibility was, to my mind, far more interesting.

Julie Howell of the Royal National Institute for the Blind gave a great talk outlining why accessibility matters.

One of the most interesting points she made (and it’s something I’ve been saying for some time) is that accessible sites don’t need to be boring. In fact, they shouldn’t be.

As she pointed out, people with visual or any kind of disability want to have the same kind of rich, immersive experiences as the rest of us. Like anybody else, they like to visit beautiful websites and play games online - not just find information.

In fact, I believe that Jakob Nielsen and, to some extent, the W3C have done a great disservice to the cause of accessibility and usability by having such boring websites. The myth that accessible websites have to be boring is just that - a myth. But, looking at Nielsen’s site, it’s easy to see how the myth got started.

I don’t doubt for a minute that Macromedia are pushing the whole accessibility issue in order to make more money but, frankly, I don’t care. I’m happy to see the accessibility flag being flown by people who want to create cutting-edge sites.

Meanwhile, I’m going to endevour to do my bit down in the trenches. It isn’t always easy convincing clients (and indeed, fellow developers) of the need for accessible websites but today’s seminar on accessibility gave me some good ammunition.

The only slight sticking point for me was purely semantic. I didn’t mention it at the seminar but if I had I would have put on my best Simpson’s "comic book guy" voice:

There is no such thing as an "alt" tag - it’s an attribute.

Tuesday, March 5th, 2002

Bag Tax

It’s about time: a tax on plastic bags is being introduced in Ireland:

"The 13 cents per bag levy, thought to be one of the EU’s first of its type, is meant to pare way back the 1.2 billion bags given out annually in the state of 3.8 million residents."

I’ve often thought that charging money for plastic bags would single-handedly clean up the Irish landscape. It’s depressing, taking the train from Cobh to Cork, to see the sheer quantity of plastic that clogs the river Lee.

Of course, in a nation of moaners, some people are upset. Stop using plastic bags, then. Or at least stop using each time you buy one single item in a shop.

After living in Germany, going back to England and Ireland is like going into the past, environmentally speaking. As for the States… don’t even get me started!

Macromedia Unveils Macromedia Flash MX

Flash 6 …sorry… Flash MX is about to be released.

There are quite a few new features and, interestingly, a lot of them are geared towards making Flash sites more accessible.

I’m intrigued to see just how far these new features can go. Luckily for me, Macromedia are coming to town.

There’s a seminar on Wednesday morning showcasing this new version of Flash and another on Thursday morning highlighting accessibility issues.

Needless to say, I’ll be reporting on how I fare at these seminars.

Actually, Wednesday is shaping up to be quite a busy day. There’ll be a seminar in the morning, band practice in the afternoon and a new-media social gathering in the evening.

Note to self: must find time to eat.

Sunday, March 3rd, 2002

Domesday Book outlives electronic version

The Domesday Book, commissioned by William The Conqueror, is 1016 years old. It is still readable today.

An electronic version of the same book, less than 16 years old, is now completely unreadable.

Saturday, March 2nd, 2002

Information Wants to Be Worthless

Here’s a great article by Bruce Sterling who’s going to be speaking at the South by Southwest festival in his native Austin.

He talks of web designers:

"Lotta Web designers. They’re always there. They travel in clumps. Because they speak their own unique languages, these people. Specifically, they speak ActiveX, ASP, CGI, HTML, Flash, and Java. It’s a wonderful thing to see a profession so young, yet already so arcane."

and Open Source:

"I’m not trying to wax all Noam Chomsky here, but those Open Source people … they are, like, a multinational, leaderless, heavily networked outfit with little-known agents and sympathizers in dozens of countries. Countries like Finland. And Norway. It’s definitely the Axis of something, I dunno what, but something Scandinavian and fishy."

If you’re more interested in reading Sterling’s science fiction, I can recommend his book of short stories, "A Good Old-Fashioned Future" which I read recently.

Cross-Platform Testing

There’s a new article up at A List Apart on cross-platform testing on the Mac.

It’s very, very comprehensive and quite complicated. If you have a reasonably new Mac there’s a much easier way of setting up a good testing environment: VirtualPC.

Installing browsers on the Mac for testing purposes is generally a piece of cake. You just install it and go. You might need to reset your internet preferences if the newly installed browser tries to make a bid for "default browser" status but that’s basically it.

On a Windows machine, you can only do that with Netscape and Opera browsers.

See, part of the big fuss with that whole monopoly court case thing was that Microsoft were integrating their browser very tightly with their operating system. One of the effects of this is that you can only ever have one version of Internet Explorer installed on a Windows machine (unless you partition the hard drive, that is).

So setting up a cross-browser testing platform on a PC can be a pain. On the Mac, VirtualPC comes to rescue (actually, it’s also available for Windows now but you won’t be able to emulate a Mac on a PC).

You can set up multiple drive images and install a different version of Internet Explorer on each one. I have one drive image with version 5, another with version 6.

The funny thing is, at the recent Mac OS X roadshow, there was a guy from Connectix at the web publishing seminar who failed to mention this great advantage of the software. I waited for the "any questions?" bit and took it upon myself to point out how useful this can be.