Archive: May, 2004


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Tuesday, May 25th, 2004

Web Services

I had so much fun playing with Amazon’s Web Services over at The Session, I decided to give Google’s APIs a whirl.

I put together a search form with options for site-wide or web-wide searches. The site-wide search is just a little hack really, putting " " in front of the query.

It wasn’t quite as much fun to play with Google’s APIs as it was with Amazon’s. That’s partly because it’s not really aimed at PHP developers but mostly because they don’t offer the chance to use XSL for transforming the XML that gets sent back. Thanks to a package of PHP classes called NuSOAP, I was able to accomplish everything I wanted but it would it have been nice to have an XSLT option.

All in all, it was fairly straighforward. I’m thinking about using the same sort of thing here at adactio.

Sunday, May 23rd, 2004

Came not so far for beauty

Ever have one of those dreams that are filled with a bizarre mish-mash of famous people in a familiar setting but doing things they wouldn’t normally do?

No? I have them them all the time. Take this for example:

Nick Cave is on stage in Brighton where he is joined by Beth Orton and Jarvis Cocker. Then Laurie Anderson starts performing with Kate and Anna McGarrigle. The Handsome Family, Rufus Wainright and Linda Thompson all drop by. They spend the whole time singing Leonard Cohen songs with help from some of his backing singers.

That was no dream.

It was a wonderful evening. Although… it was a little offputting to see so many of the performers clutching lyric sheets. It made me nervous. I started to worry that they’d flub the lines. Then I stopped being nervous and started being slightly annoyed. The songs were fairly evenly distributed: how hard would it have been to learn all the words by heart? Heck, I thnk I know all the words to most of the songs that were played.

But I’m nitpicking. It was great.

The great revelation of the night was Teddy Thompson. Every song he did, he made his own. Laurie Anderson was amazing too but that’s hardly surprising: she’s always amazing.

Tuesday, May 18th, 2004

That's all I can stand, I can't stands no more

Please excuse me while I have a little grammar rant. In the space of one day I have seen the words "resource" and "author" used as verbs.

This is from the Brighton New Media mailing list:

"We have some PHP work available (maximum 3.5 weeks) that we need to resource."

For the record, the entry for "resource" lists five definitions, all of them nouns.

This is from Digital Web:

"Richard Rutter has authored a great post about How to size text using ems."

I’m not arguing about the claims of greatness for Richard’s post (he uses the same techniques as I do for defining font sizes). It is indeed a great piece of writing. That’s writing… not authoring.

While I’m on my soapbox, indulge me while I bring up another recurring annoyance.

The word "definite" is spelled D-E-F-I-N-I-T-E. There is no A in definite. Likewise, "definitely" has a complete paucity of the first letter in the alphabet.

I’ve noticed something recently that’s almost as annoying as seeing "definately" and that’s seeing the word "defiantly" in place of "definitely". See what happens when you rely on an automated spellchecker?

Finally, here’s a gentle reminder: "disinterested" means unbiased and impartial. It does not mean uninterested. For example, juries should be disinterested but not uninterested.

Curses! I’ve been tricked into using "not uninterested" in a sentence instead of "interested". That’s almost as bad as "not dissimilar". And now I’ve gone and used an exclamation mark. Not to mention starting a sentence with the word "and". Not to mention starting writing two sentences beginning with "not to mention".

I’d better proof-read this very, very carefully before I post it.

When geeks gather

My last post might have given the impression that I’ve been doing nothing but programming lately. While it’s true that I have had some late nights, writing XSL files ‘till four in the morning, I also found the time for some R’n’R.

Last week I made an excursion to the pleasant village of Rodmell one evening. Jamie invited me out there to record some bouzouki for a new song his. The results should be available on his website before too long.

I also spent an evening in the company of fellow Brighton webmonkeys Andy and Richard. We met up in the WiFi-enabled Earth And Stars. We even managed to include Dunstan, late of San Francisco, in the conversation via iChat.

We talked, Richard and I browsed each other’s iTunes libraries, we drank the vaguely open-source sounding Freedom lager. It was this last activity that made me so susceptible to Andy’s suggestion of continued drinking at the (also WiFi-enabled) Spiegeltent.

As it turned out, I couldn’t get a WiFi signal inside. It’s not that I’m such a nerd that I wanted to surf the internet in the midst of drinking and dancing: it’s just that I wanted to iChat with Jessica to let her know why I would be late getting home. In lieu of iChat, I sent an SMS via bluetooth.

Jessica was very understanding. I hope Richard and Andy met with the same understanding when they got home.

late night tomfoolery

Sunday, May 16th, 2004

Tempus fugit when you're Amazoning fun

Forgive me reader, for I have sinned. It has been almost a week since I last wrote anything here.

A sin of omission, then; neglect. Sloth, perhaps? Nay, gentle reader, think not such uncharitable thoughts.

Perhaps you just assumed that the lack of communication meant that I’ve been outside frolicking in the sunshine, taking advantage of the apparent commencement of Summer’s inclement ways.

Alas, I’ve been sitting in front of my computer pretty much the whole time.

So I’ve been sitting in front of the computer all this time and I couldn’t even find five minutes to write something here? If you were kind in thought, you would assume that an urgent work-related project is to blame.

Alas, this is also not the case. In fact, my workload has been relatively light of late.

Now your thoughts must surely turn to those great usurpers of time itself: computer games. Which one could it be? Halo? Unreal Tournament, perhaps?

Alas and alack, even those demon-spawned succubi cannot be blamed for my silence.

I confess to a new addiction. It gives me such thrills of pleasure, the like of which I have not felt since I first dabbled in the arcane arts of Cascading Style Sheets. It has robbed me of time and yet I do not begrudge its theft.

The name of this new-found vice?

Web Services. Specifically, Amazon Web Services using XSLT, a technology that is new to me and most wondrous.

Share with me, dear reader, the fruits of my labour of love: I present to you… The Session Shop.

That is what has taken up so much of my time of late.

Well, that and reading too much Umberto Eco.

product info on Baudolino

Monday, May 10th, 2004

Got Blog?

The RSS grapevine is fairly humming today with the news of the Blogger redesign.

It’s one of those dream collaborations between Doug Bowman, Adaptive Path and Google that turned out like a cross between 37Signals and AOL (taking the best elements of both).

It’s a clear, friendly and attractive design although I must say I’m begin to grow weary of the ubiquitous drop-shadow motif. Perhaps I’m quicker to tire of these trends than the average web surfer but designers, beware: I could be a canary in a coalmine in this case. If I’ve got a case of drop-shadow fatigue, an epidemic may not be far behind.

For the web, and indeed the world, the Blogger redesign is A Very Good Thing. For myself, however, it’s a slap in the face. It mocks me.

"Aren’t you supposed to be writing your own Content Management System?", it says in a sardonic tone.

Smug anthropomorphised bastard.

Mind you, the voices in my head do have a point. Why am I writing a CMS when Blogger and Movable Type are already out there?

Mostly it’s because I’m a stubborn control freak but there are a couple of other issues that I’d like to address:

I want to have a CMS that scales well from single posts (like blogs and news stories) to multi-page articles (like magazines), all in the same interface.

I also want to address the two trickiest parts of allowing anybody to update a web page: links and images.

That’s it really. Oh, and I want to use XML files rather than a MySQL database for storage.

The problem, as usual, is scope-creep. Just how "bare bones" can a CMS be without running the risk of being practically useless? And how "full featured" can a CMS be without running the risk of becoming an overwhelming piece of vapourware.

I clearly need to scope out my little home-grown CMS a bit better.

One thing I would like to include when the specification is finally worked out, is this great Flash image-cropping tool from Max Ziebell. He continues to plot world domination from his isolated Mediterranean island. It’s only a matter of time before his visage appears on a wallscreen in the UN, enumerating his demands.

Saturday, May 8th, 2004

Brighton rock

The Brighton Festival is in full swing. Everywhere you look, there’s theatre, music, dance and art.

Still, if you’re in Brighton and fancy some alternative entertainment on Sunday evening, come along to The Candy Bar on St. James’s Street in Kemptown. For a mere £3, Salter Cane will entertain you from nine o’clock onwards.

If you want a taste of what’s in store, feel free to download some MP3s.

Friday, May 7th, 2004

A musical interlude

Here’s a song guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of anyone who owned an 8-bit machine in the eighties… Hey, Hey, 16K:

“Hey, hey, 16K, what does that get you today? You need more than that for a letter: old school rampaks were much better.”

I played every game name-checked in that song.

Still not smiling? Check out the best iMix on iTunes: the WORST music on iTunes.

That iMix is responsible for introducing me to Richard Cheese. Holiday in Cambodia will never be the same again.

It certainly makes my latest iMix look very tame by comparison.

Punk is dead: let\'s dance.

Wednesday, May 5th, 2004

Cinco de Mayo

Won’t somebody please think o’ the my-oh!

Tuesday, May 4th, 2004

Prints charming

I have a new gadget.

When I was in Arizona last Christmas, I was playing around with my mother-in-law’s photo printer. It’s a lot of fun turning something digital into something analogue. I began lusting after a nice portable device for printing out photos.

I started browsing Amazon and looking in electronics shops but I couldn’t really justify the expense: the nice ones are kinda pricy.

Earlier this week, I stopped to press my face against the local branch of Jessops to drool over their range of photo printers. That’s when I spotted it: a Canon CP-300 reduced to less than £100.

After some self-deliberation, I slapped my money on the counter. It’s still not cheap but, relatively speaking, I got a bargain.

It’s small, though not exactly what I’d call lightweight, and it comes with a rechargable lithium-ion battery so I can print photos just about anywhere. I can also print straight from my camera but I can’t imagine not wanting to check levels and curves on my iBook first.

The printer does come with some lock-in: I have to use the specific paper for this printer. Or rather, the specific card. All the prints come with postcard-style backing; space for a stamp, lines for writing the address, etc.

At first, this struck me as a little strange but then I started imagining the possibilites: travelling somewhere, snapping some photos, printing one out, slapping a stamp on it and mailing it…

…or I could just find a Wi-Fi hotspot and send the photo by email.

Perhaps this photo printer marks the beginning of a luddite-like regression to a pre-digital lifestyle. I hope I don’t catch myself eyeing up an abacus.

Sunday, May 2nd, 2004

Now with even fewer wires

Brighton has some new wireless hotspots thanks to the good folks at Loose Connection.

The Sidewinder in Kemptown and The Earth And Stars near the North Laine are the newest Wi-Fi pubs. For the duration of the Brighton Festival, the Spiegeltent in the Pavilion gardens will also have Wi-Fi.

That’s where I am right now with Jessica. It’s a very pleasant place indeed. I may just have to come some evening to see some of the acts performing here, like Tina C for instance.

Or I could just watch the webcam.

in the tent of mirrors

Saturday, May 1st, 2004

A new look for Spring

It’s the first of May, a day when workers the world over take a day off… except for web designers, like the very talented Nathan Borror, who use this day to launch their redesigned websites.

I decided to have a more analogue reboot in the form of a haircut. I’d like to think that it makes me look like Hugh Grant but I have a sneaky suspicion that it actually makes me look more like K.D.Lang.

my shorn locks