Archive: October, 2003


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Monday, October 27th, 2003

Banksy in Brighton

It looks like graffiti artist Banksy was in Brighton recently. I spotted some of his work near the North Laine.

It’s nice to see that he hasn’t let the fame of doing a Blur album cover go to his head.

Still, he’s just like any other artist in his quest for fame. He took matters into his own hands at the Tate Britain recently:

"After several hours hanging next to a 19th century landscape, Banksy’s painting, entitled Crimewatch UK Has Ruined the Countryside For All of Us, crashed to the floor and the stunt was discovered."

a winged figure

Thursday, October 23rd, 2003

Wi-Fi wants to be free

Here’s an interesting article about Wi-Fi that makes the point that trying to make people pay for wireless access is often more trouble than it’s worth:

"Panera Bread Co., based in Richmond Heights, Mo., has also embraced free Wi-Fi as a marketing tool and plans to offer the service in 130 of its 600 bakery cafes by year’s end, eventually extending the service chainwide. Ron Shaich, the company’s chairman and CEO, says he views free Wi-Fi as an amenity that has already started to attract and retain customers at what he calls a "minimal cost."

In fact, Shaich considers free Wi-Fi to be such an essential marketing tool that he dismisses any discussion of ROI. "What is the ROI on a bathroom?" asked Shaich, pointing out that the day of pay restrooms in restaurants has long since passed."

Last time I was in a Starbucks here in Brighton, I noticed that it had been turned into a T-Mobile hotspot. I opened up my iBook to see how the prices compared to the US where I had already used the service.

The prices are, quite frankly, shocking: £5.50 for 60 minutes.

I think I’d rather walk a little further and use one of the Loose Connection hotspots.

With that experience in mind, it galls me to read idiotic articles about Wi-Fi’s "business model" by the persitently idiotic Andrew Orlowski:

"Who’s going to pay for the great Wi-Fi revolution when the roaming public expects Wi-Fi to be free? Where, exactly, is the business model? On Friday, T-Mobile helped provide an answer. In the United States, T-Mobile has been trying to entice the public to its network of over 2000 hotspots without much success."

Get a clue. Don’t charge for Wi-Fi if what you’re really after is more customers.

Here’s another extract from that first article about Wi-Fi:

"John Wooley, chairman, CEO and president of restaurant chain Schlotzsky’s Inc. in Austin, isn’t so shy in sharing details of what he calls the "strong ROI" from the company’s free Wi-Fi service. Schlotzsky’s currently offers free Wi-Fi in 30 of its 600 company-owned or franchised Schlotzsky’s Delis. Wooley says he figures that the free Wi-Fi results in an additional 15,000 visits per restaurant per year by customers who spend an average of $7 per visit."

Thanks to Tom Hume for the link.

Tom, incidentally, is facing some serious temptation right now to splurge on an Apple laptop. Over on the Brighton New Media mailing list, I’ve been the proverbial devil perched on his shoulder whispering into his ear, goading him into joining the ranks of Mac users.

Updates abound

A List Apart is back! But you probably knew that already.

Speaking of great things returning in new and improved form…

Everyone’s been talking about the recent port of iTunes to Windows but Apple have just announced some truly great updates to their hardware product range: G4 iBooks.

That’s a heck of a lot of bang for very little buck.

Mind you, I’ve never found performance to be a problem with my trusty old G3 iBook. It’s proving to be a rock solid Apache/PHP/MySQL developing environment while I’m working on a big project over at Message.

To stop myself hunching over its little keyboard for eight hours a day, I’ve got the laptop sitting on top of a handy, um… "thing" with an external keyboard and mouse attached.

Is there a word for that thing? Platform? Riser? Robotic arm?

an iBook atop a thing

Monday, October 20th, 2003

Zoot alors!

My Onion Article Generator is showing up in strange, far-flung places. Sacre bleu!

Sunday, October 19th, 2003


Yesterday’s magazine section of The Guardian included an extract from a forthcoming book entitled "Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin" by Francis Spufford.

The extracted chapter details the fascinating story of the duo responsible for creating what is, in my humble opinon, the greatest computer game of all time: Elite.

"Suddenly, the player’s spaceship wasn’t just a nimble 3D firing platform: it was a cargo hauler as well. And trading implied places in which to trade. The game needed serious three-dimensional geography. And things to trade. And prices. And markets… The new wishes multiplied. They kept going.

Perhaps the reason they kept going was that they wanted the universe they were building to feel solid: like a science-fiction novel that rings true because all its inventions are consistent with each other."

One of the game’s developers, Ian Bell, has a website where he posts published versions of Elite for various aging platforms. He and the other developer, David Braben, don’t get along much these days.

Ah, nostalgia… it just isn’t what it used to be.

Saturday, October 18th, 2003

A Free(lancer) Lunch

Contrary to conventional wisdom, I have discovered that there is, in fact, such a thing as a free lunch. I know because I experienced it myself courtesy of the good folks at Nixon McInnes.

Nixon McInnes consists primarily of Tom, Will and Martyn but they farm out work to a pool of freelancers including myself, Alex, Trevor and Cathy.

Yesterday, we all got together for some genuine face to face, real world interaction in a Chinese restaurant and Nixon McInnes footed the bill.

It was all most civilised, yummy and pleasant. Cheers, Tom, Will and Martyn. Much appreciated.

Time restaurant, Brighton

Wednesday, October 15th, 2003

Frank Black, I presume

I went to see Frank Black in concert last night.

At least, I think it was him…. but how can I be really sure?

Well, whoever he was, he rocked.

live at the Concorde2

The Matrix Rewound

Because I enjoyed it so much when I saw it in the cinema, I made sure to snap up a copy of The Matrix Reloaded when it came out on DVD a few days back.

I got a nasty fright when I first inserted the DVD and my iMac refused to play it. My first thought was that Warner Bros. had introduced some kind of crappy “copy protection” mechanism that meant I wouldn’t be able to watch the movie. I prepared myself for getting rightously indignant.

As it turned out, the actual problem was with my computer and it was caused by yours truly installing an old version of Developer Tools. A quick google on the error message turned up an Apple help article that fixed the problem.

With that taken care of, I swivelled my iMac’s screen ‘round to face the comfy seating area where I plonked myself down with my T68i in hand to use as a remote control.

DVDs are the perfect format for films like The Matrix Reloaded. It’s great being able to watch the best bits in high quality over and over. I’m not talking about the special effects, either. I’m talking watching about a leather-clad Trinity using Nmap and sshnuke to do some hardcore hacking.

a screenshot of Trinity\'s laptop screen

Sunday, October 12th, 2003

Okkervil River

Another day, another great gig courtesy of local promoters The Gilded Palace Of Sin.

Last night it was the turn of the wonderful Okkervil River from Austin, Texas. They look like software developers but they play like demons. Have a listen for yourself.

Support was provided by local band Hart Crane. I had a chat with them about whether Brighton was big enough for two bands with names ending with “ane”. Perhaps together, Salter Cane and Hart Crane could form a new musical genre like… anecore or americ-ane-a.

singing his heart out

Friday, October 10th, 2003


Words fail me:

"SunnComm Technologies, a developer of CD antipiracy technology, said Thursday that it will likely sue a Princeton student who early this week showed how to evade the company’s copy protection by pushing a computer’s Shift key."

Don't fear the Terminal

This is going to be yet another entry of pure OS X geekery so if that’s not your cup of nerd tea then look away now.

First off, here’s a great tip from Tim Bray:

“If you boot a Mac while holding down the “T” key, it turns into a passive FireWire drive, and another Mac that you plug it into sees a big fast disk drive.”

He’s right, y’know.

I had a 7GB iMovie project sitting on my iBook ever since someone brought a DV camera to a Salter Cane gig and I downloaded the results there and then. I had been meaning to transfer it to my iMac for some time but I knew it would take ages over a wireless or ethernet network. With FireWire it took about ten minutes. I just used the FireWire cable that came with iSight to hook up the two machines.

Now for even more geek happiness…

Remember I was talking about the cool calendar files that are hidden away in OS X:

“Now LazyWeb, how about fixing me a cron job that runs that command and emails me the output every morning?”

Well, both Jeff Croft and Dave Phelan wrote to me to tell me how to edit my crontab to add just such a cron job. Unfortunately, I neglected to mention that I didn’t have Sendmail up and running on my machine.

I figured it would be a horrendously complicated process to get Sendmail going but thanks to this page of instructions from O’Reilly, it was a very simple matter indeed.

Sendmail is running. My crontab is updated. I’ve also added the great command line tool iTerm to my dock.

I’m starting to feel like a proper geek.

Tuesday, October 7th, 2003

Updating Flash sites to work in future Internet Explorer releases

I’m not sure who is most deserving of my anger and contempt: Mike Doyle of Eolas for pursuing a wilfully destructive court case, the US Patent Office for allowing such a ludicrous patent to be granted in the first place or the judge who found in favour of Eolas.

In any case, the upshot of all this is bad news for Microsoft, bad news for web developers and bad news for everybody who surfs the web.

Here’s the backstory:

The elvish sounding Eolas have a patent that essentially covers the embedding of any external multimedia content in a web page. This conflicts directly with the <object> tag in HTML.

Eolas, claiming philantropic motives by going after a monopoly, took Microsoft to court for building a web browser (Internet Explorer) that supposedly violates this patent.

I never thought I’d find myself rooting for Microsoft but, for once, they were doing no wrong.

Microsoft lost that court case. They plan to appeal but they’re also preparing for the worst.

An update to Internet Explorer, due for release early next year, will feature a deliberate stumbling block that will be put in the way of users visiting any site with embedded multimedia content e.g. Flash.

The court victory by Eolas is now damage that the internet must route around. There are two proposed ways of dealing with this:

1) Instead of writing out your <object> and <param> tags directly, use an external JavaScript file to "document.write" the tags.

2) Insert a proprietary attribute, ‘noexternaldata="true"’, in the <object> tag.

Neither of these solutions are ideal or even desirable. The first solution would completely lock out any visitors to your site with JavaScript disabled while the second would stop your pages from validating by using non-standard mark-up.

I spent a lot of time banging my head against the wall today trying to figure out how to deal with these issues. I wanted to make sure that the Salter Cane website would continue to work seamlessly in future versions of Internet Explorer.

For a while I thought about writing a custom doctype to include the "noexternaldata" attribute but that just seemed like overkill.

In the end I settled on a compromise solution.

I went down the JavaScript route, writing a JavaScript function that I can call from anywhere on the site, passing the Flash file location, width and height as variables (I hardcoded things like quality and background colour as they are constant for this particular site). I then call this JavaScript function from within the web pages.

To ensure that visitors without JavaScript don’t miss out, I then have all my <object> and <param> tags (Flash Satay style) wrapped up inside the <noscript> tag.

The Salter Cane website still validates and it should continue to work in the forthcoming crippled version of Internet Explorer.

I’m lucky. I only have one relatively small Flash site that needed updating. It cost me a few hours work. Other developers may have to spend a lot more time and money on this problem.

Eolas have earned the undying hatred of web developers and users everywhere. Maybe Mike Doyle can use some of that $521 million to buy some sort of magical device that will enable him to sleep at night.

Alice Texas

Another week, another rock’n’roll gig. Last night I saw the New York band Alice Texas in action.

I didn’t even have to lig it this time. My band, Salter Cane, was the support act.

We played a good set despite an extremely rushed soundcheck due to the lateness of the arrival of the main band - their van broke down on the way to Brighton.

Despite their late arrival (and some mix-up with the equipment they were playing on), they also played a good set of dark, brooding songs.

I spent most of their set sipping on beers and taking the occasional picture. I’ve put together a gallery of pictures of their show.

thumbnails of Alice

Sunday, October 5th, 2003

Olde England

I spent the weekend with my old pals from Hamburg, Schorsch and Birgit, who were in town for a quick visit.

We passed the time engaged in typically English activities; eating Indian food and drinking imported beer.

Yesterday we took a trip to the nearby medieval village of Steyning to see what life outside of Brighton is like. Here are the pictures.

Friday, October 3rd, 2003

Coca Crazy

Coca-Cola have unveiled a giant hi-tech billboard in Picadilly Circus with all sorts of gee-whiz gadgetry:

“When it’s raining, big drops will appear on the screen and when it’s breezy, the Coke sign can ripple as if it’s being blown by the wind.”

I think somebody should tell them that much the same effect can be acheived by using a great big piece of cloth.

It reminds me of the mobile ‘phone manufacturer speaking of the utopian visions he had of the future of SMS:

“In the future, people will be able to send messages simply by speaking into the device.”

Thursday, October 2nd, 2003


I’m feeling a bit fragile today after a somewhat hedonistic night out.

Yesterday evening I got a call from Catherine, the drummer in my band, to say that she was on the guest list (plus two) for a concert by New York hip young things, The Rapture. Jessica and I accepted her invitation and we all headed down to the seafront venue.

When we got there, we had "Access All Areas" stickers slapped on us and in we went. The Rapture turned out to be pretty darn cool. Very 80s but good fun.

Afterwards, we took full advantage of our privileged status to go backstage and steal their beer.

This liberated beer was then transported to a club in town where local psychogrungeretrorockers The Guillotines were playing. Being at a Guillotines gig is like living a Tom Waits song so naturally more drink was flowing.

We ended the evening back at Catherine’s place listening to Dean Martin records. An altogether civilised way to end a night of raucousness.

live music at Concorde 2

Wednesday, October 1st, 2003

On this date...

I’m taking it easy today. It is, after all, Labour Day in Australia, Independence Day in Nigeria, Armed Forces Day in South Korea, National Liberation Day in China and a public holiday in Botswana.

Oh, and Happy Birthday to Jimmy Carter who’s 79 today.

“Why Jeremy”, you may be thinking, “you’re quite the font of date related knowledge, aren’t you?”

Not at all, dear reader. It’s all courtesy of some geekery in OS X.

I stumbled across a site called xlab which has a wealth of OS X tips and tricks. In one post, Paul Bissex points out the existence of an unusual folder in the filesystem. Open up the Terminal and see for yourself:

cd /usr/share/calendar

Within that folder, there are a number of calendar files. Type:

ls -la

and you’ll see:

calendar.birthday, calendar.christian,, calendar.history,, calendar.judaic,, calendar.usholiday

“All very interesting”, you might (not) be thinking, “but what does it mean to me?”

Patience, beloved peruser of my journal, I’m getting to that.

Open up the Terminal and type:

cat /usr/share/calendar/* | grep `date +”%m/%d”`

You’ll get a list of events that happened on this day.

“Pretty cool”, you may remark, “but I’m not going to remember to type that every time I want to see what’s what.”

Would I forsake you, beloved and now slightly irritating reader of mine?

Open up Terminal and type this into your command line:

sudo pico .tcshrc

You’ll be asked for your password and then you’ll be editing your .tschrc file. Add this line to it:

alias today “cat /usr/share/calendar/* | grep `date +”%m/%d”`;”

Write it out (ctrl+o) and close pico (ctrl+x) and then close the terminal window.

Now whenever you open up the Terminal, all you have to type is “today” to get a list of the day’s birthdays and anniversaries.

Don’t thank me, dear OS X using reader, thank a site called xlab.

Now LazyWeb, how about fixing me a cron job that runs that command and emails me the output every morning?

What's on Your Dock?

Here’s one for the OS X users amongst you. There’s an article over at O’Reilly called "What’s on Your Dock?":

"You know how it is. You’re sitting somewhere, next to another Mac user you don’t know (at a conference, in the Apple Store, on the plane, wherever), and you just can’t resist the urge to send a sideways glance at the other person’s Dock."

Brent Simmons, John Gruber and Jason Kottke all offered their docks up for inspection. You can always spot the real geeks because they’re the ones that keep the Terminal in the dock.

The author of the article must have plumb forgot to ask me what’s in my dock. Never mind. I’ll tell you anyway.

From left to right:

Finder, Mail, Address Book, iCal, Camino, Safari, Internet Explorer, NetNewsWire Lite, BBEdit, Transmit, Photoshop, Virtual PC, iTunes, iPhoto, Preview, TextEdit, a Photoshop droplet, Quicktime, iCal, my home folder, Trash.

I keep the dock on the bottom - on a seventeen inch iMac screen, that’s where there’s most room. Magnification is on (but not massively) and bouncing is off.

Incidentally, if you’d like to know more about my hardware, software and development environment, you’ll find all the details on my "about this site" page.

my dock