Archive: June, 2004


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Wednesday, June 30th, 2004

Good evening, Portland!

I’m back from the wilds of Dorset. As I suspected, the weather wasn’t entirely conducive to camping outdoors so my nights were spent tucked away in a warm bed between four walls under a roof.

The music festival was very well organised and executed. In fact, the only thing lacking was people. It felt a bit Spinal Tapesque when we showed up to play to a mostly empty field. I believe the technical term for this sort of gig is "paying your dues".

Actually, the Salter Cane gig went pretty well. We sold CDs to a few people. Bear in mind that "a few" was a significant proportion of the audience.

One advantage to the paucity of people was that we enjoyed a blinding set by The Sadies in a nice, intimate environment. They are <napoleon dynamite voice>probably the best live band around</napoleon dynamite voice>.

Most of all, it was a fun weekend of hanging around listening to and playing music. I took pictures, mostly of the good people with whom I spent the weekend.

pictures of people

Friday, June 25th, 2004

Have a good weekend

I’m off to spend the weekend on a windswept promontory in the West Country.

Salter Cane are playing at a three day festival down there. It’s like a cheaper, smaller alternative to Glastonbury.

We were planning to camp out for the weekend but if they weather continues in its present blustery form, we’ll just beat a retreat to the house of our drummer’s family down the road.

Web applications are the new black

I almost gave myself a sore neck from nodding my head in agreement as I read John Gruber’s latest article entitled “The Location Field Is the New Command Line”. He talks about the differences (or lack thereof) between desktop and web-based applications:

“It’s not so much that switching to web apps is cheap, as that it’s easy. In fact, in many ways, switching your employees to web apps is even easier than upgrading the Win32 apps they’re already using. I.e. it’s easier for corporations to migrate to web apps than it is for them to stay Windows-only.”

This is exactly what happened on a project I was working on with Message. The client was a large property consultant. They had been using an outdated Windows application to manage their huge list of addresses. If an employee wanted to use the software, they had to be running the right operating system. They also had to jump through ridiculous hoops just to synchronise the company data.

The web-based (or, in this case, intranet-based) solution we came up with requires nothing more than a web browser. John Gruber takes the words right out of my mouth:

“Custom web apps are easier to develop than custom desktop apps. That’s not to say it’s easy to make a web app that looks and feels like a desktop app - that’s not really even possible. But it’s easy to write a web app that looks and feels like a web page, which is apparently good enough for most purposes, especially data-entry and data-retrieval apps that tie into server-hosted SQL databases.

And if you think the 90-percent market share of computers that can run Win32 software is huge - how many computers do you think run a typical web app?”

Another company I’ve been working with a lot lately is Semantico. A lot of their clients are large publishing houses. When it came to creating an electronic version of the Oxford Reference series, a web-based solution was the only logical choice.

A few years ago, the choice might not have been so simple. These days, it’s hard to find a computer that isn’t connected to the internet but that hasn’t always been the case. Before we had almost ubiquitous net connections, CD-ROMs were the order of the day. If you were unwise enough to actually buy an encyclopedia on CD-ROM you’d find it obsolete within a year. There’s no easy way to update CD-ROMs.

It certainly does seem that the age of the web application has dawned. Just take a look at the hottest apps of the moment: Movable Type, Basecamp, GMail. All of them have a common philosophy:

“If you have access to the internet, you can use this application no matter what operating system you are using.”

But there’s a dark cloud on the horizon. It seems to me that the core philosophy of Microsoft’s XAML technology is:

“If you have access to the internet, you can use this application… as long as you’re using our operating system.”

Maybe I’m misjudging XAML. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood what it’s all about but it seems to me like a return to the darkest days of the browser wars. It seems to me that Microsoft have a drawn a line in the sand with XAML on one side and standards like XHTML, XUL, SVG, JavaScript and CSS on the other.

Today, existing web standards offer a relatively primitive interface for applications that work in almost any environment. Tomorrow, XAML will offer a sophisticated interface for applications that work in a limited environment.

It will no longer be a case of web apps vs. desktop apps. Instead we’ll have browser-accessible web apps vs. Longhorn-only web apps.

I wonder which horse John Gruber would put his money on? He’s a smart man.

On the strength of “The Location Field Is the New Command Line” alone, I forked over the money to become a paid-up member of Daring Fireball. Not only will I continue to receive his words of wisdom, I’m also going to get a cool t-shirt.

Thursday, June 24th, 2004

Back of the net!

The iSight madness continues…

Dunstan, stuck in San Francisco, can’t share in his countrymen’s fixation on Euro 2004. We were having an iChat about JavaScript during the England vs. Portugal match which went something like this:

"I guess you should report it through the bug-tracking feature in Safari and… PORTUGAL SCORES!!!!"

Having piqued his interest, there was nothing for it but to grab the iSight and point it at the telly.

I’m not sure what I enjoyed more: seeing England get beaten in extra time or watching Dunstan’s face as it happened.

the face of defeat

It's a small world after all

I’ve had my iSight for almost a year now but lately it’s been getting a real workout.

Dateline London: Richard buys himself an iSight. He tests it from work by having a video chat with me. I get to see his office.

San Francisco: Dunstan gets an iSight on the same day as Richard. He also puts it through its paces by having a chat with me. Not only do I get to see his apartment, I get to meet Simon Willison who is in town for a web standards world domination gathering. As a regular reader of his many blogs, I felt like a “long time listener, first time caller”.

Sydney: Jeremy Bogan uses his iSight to show me his new-fangled RSS-reading phones.

In return, I can point my iSight out the window and show the world just how miserable the weather has been here in Brighton.

This iChat thing is really taking off (if you decide to follow that link: I am sincerely sorry for the pun).

I’ve also discovered that you can achieve some very trippy effects by pointing an iSight at the same screen on which iChat is running.

a screenshot of iChat

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2004


Jamie pointed out something funny to me the other day.

If you browse through any of the major Mac magazine publications, you’ll come across full page adverts for Office 2004. The software suite consists of four applications and each one is listed with a corresponding letter:

P for Powerpoint, E for Entourage, W for Word and X for eXcel.

Put ‘em all together and what have you got?



Monday, June 21st, 2004

Salva--, I mean, SpaceShipOne

There were a lot of unremarkable television shows made during the seventies and eighties. But because those were my formative years, those shows have an unwarranted prominence in my memories. Tales Of The Gold MonkeyScarecrow And Mrs. King… these and other Bruce Boxleitner crapfests were the order of the day.

I’ll never forget a programme called Salvage One:

"Once upon a time, a junkman had a dream…"

"’I’m gonna build a spaceship, go to the moon, salvage all the junk that’s up there, bring it back and sell it.’"

"So he put together a team. An ex-astronaut… a fuel expert… they built a rocketship… And they went to the moon. Who knows what they’ll do next?"

The answer to that rhetorical question turned out to be "not much". The show was cancelled after just half a season.

I think the reason why I can recall Salvage One so clearly is that the premise really appealed to my young self: ordinary people building a spaceship.

My memories of Salvage One were particularly strong today as I watched the footage of SpaceShipOne making its historic flight.

Can a Bionic Man be far behind?

Friday, June 18th, 2004

This Year’s Document Object Model

The Document Object Model is a working standard approved by the World Wide Web Consortium that is correctly implemented in most modern browsers.

Thursday, June 17th, 2004

Blooming wit

Yesterday was Bloomsday. I wasn’t in Dublin: I was on stage in Brighton with Salter Cane. Still, I couldn’t let the occasion pass unmarked.

During a break between songs I took the opportunity to wish everyone a happy Bloomsday. I was met with nonplussed stares. Philistines!

I’m kidding. It was a most cultured crowd. Not only were the cream of Brighton’s web scene in attendance (thanks for coming along, Andy and Richard), the very charming Andrew Miller was also there. I managed to avoid geeking out immediately and it wasn’t until later in the evening that I blurted out how much I enjoyed Oxygen.

For those hoping to take the easy path to Bloomsday enlightenment, the BBC have provided a Joyce-lite primer for Ulysses:

"CHAPTER 6: Bloom attends a funeral at Glasnevin Cemetery, his symbolic encounter with death mirroring Odysseus’s descent into Hades. It’s a real barrel of laughs."

They’ve also opened up comments and it’s interesting to see just how divisive Joyce’s work remains to this day. The first comment makes for especially juicy reading, coming as it does from one "Stephen Fry, London".

All of which reminds me of the old joke about the Irishman looking for work on a building site in England. The foreman wants to make sure the Irishman knows his stuff so he asks him:

"What’s the difference between a joist and a girder?"

To which the Irishman responds:

"That’s easy: Joyce wrote Ulysses and Goethe wrote Faust."


Thank you folks, I’ll be here all week.

While I’m in a joke-telling mood…

I guess all you Europeans saw that football match a few days ago when France beat England 2:1 in extra time. Right after the game finished, I got a text message from a friend of mine in Ireland that read simply:

"Carlsberg don’t do football matches, but if they did…"

As you can imagine, there was something of a Franco-hibernian cultural appreciation society formed that evening. Every Frenchman became an honourary Irishman thanks to their football team’s achievement in bringing the English down a notch or two (though not quite enough to put a dent in the alarming number of St. George’s crosses festooned on cars and buildings).

It wasn’t until today that the Irish wit truly came to the fore. I received from the same friend in Ireland the following gem condensed into the 255 character limit of an SMS:

"Why do the English make better lovers than the French?"

"They can stay on top for 89 minutes and still come second."

Wednesday, June 16th, 2004


The iTunes Music Store has launched in the UK. Hallelujah!

The price per song isn’t as bad as people feared: 79p instead of the expected 99p.

Like Jon, I immediately prepared myself to deplete my bank balance. However, like Richard, I soon discovered that my money was relatively safe.

It seems that there have been some negotation problems between Apple and the Association of Independent Music. The upshoot of this is that there is a distinct lack of good music available.

The Corrs and Jamie Cullum just don’t cut for me, I’m afraid. My credit card is staying firmly in pocket until I’m in a position to bankrupt myself by buying the entire Rough Trade back catalogue.

Saturday, June 12th, 2004


The Brighton Food and Drink Festival has started.

Jessica and I have just spent three hours at the the "feastival boulevard", a collection of fifty stalls selling local and international produce.

We sampled sausages from France, sweets from Morocco and oysters from Ireland. For later consumption we purchased wild garlic, apple and calvados gelèe, peas, tomatoes, green beans, stag sausage, quiches, dried chipotles and four types of cheese.

There’s something about seeing these things in the context of a bustling market that makes them irresistable.

The stalls are closing now. Jessica and I have retired to the leafy environs of the Pavillion gardens. As well as refreshment in the form of ripe, white peaches and a bottle of apple juice, I’m also enjoying the free WiFi courtesy of Loose Connection.

Thursday, June 10th, 2004

On Her Majesty's Secret Sea Power Service

It seems that a number of the bigger Brighton-based bands haven taken to giving quirky, secretive concerts lately.

Supergrass played last week. The only way to get tickets was to go to one local record shop and pre-order their forthcoming compilation by slapping down a deposit of a fiver. Two concert tickets were provided with every album ordered. That’s pretty good value: a free gig with every album. I thought about going to the record shop and pre-ordering the album but by the time the notion entered my head, all the tickets were long gone.

Clearlake also played last week. There was no cover charge. They played in a bar about fifty yards from my house. It was, geographically speaking, like having a band play in my living room.

Earlier this week, Richard sent me an urgent communication via iChat. He informed me that a speedily sent email could secure a place at a British Sea Power concert in the local diminutive venue, The Freebutt. A musical flash mob, if you will. I sent my email and prompty informed Jessica.

That’s how it came to pass that Richard, Jessica and I spent last night squashed into the hot, sweaty confines of The Freebutt listening to British Sea Power turn their amps up to eleven.

I would like to buck this trend for secrecy by announcing with plenty of advance notice that Salter Cane will be playing on Wednesday, June 16th at Po Na Na on East Street, Brighton. Feel free to tell everyone.

Best. Simpsons reference. Ever.

From Idle Words:

"Lille is the capital of French Flanders (bon-diddly-jour!)."

Tuesday, June 8th, 2004

Everything in its right place

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a big fan of Apple but even by my kool-aid drinking standards they’ve really outdone themselves this time.

Airport Express seemed to come out of nowhere. Now that it’s here, the obvious question is "why didn’t anyone think of this before?". It takes a series of topical vectors from the Mac world; portability, music, WiFi and sharing, and joins them all together in one neat little package.

In a nutshell, Airport Express is a lightweight, portable wireless access hub. If you have a wired network, you just need to plug an ethernet cable from your router into Airport Express and you’ve got an instant wireless network. If you already have a wireless network, place Airport Express anywhere in the range of your signal and you can piggy-back the signal and boost your network’s range.

That in itself makes it a neat product. But, as they say in all the best infomercials: wait!… there’s more.

Plug a printer into the USB socket and you’ve got instant printer sharing. Plug your stereo into the audio mini-jack and you’ve got instant music sharing.

Some of the possibilities of this technology are immediate and obvious: turn your ethernet-equiped office or hotel room into a wireless hotspot; make your Apple laptop the life and soul of the party by streaming shuffled iTunes tracks.

Further applications are less obvious but potentially more exciting. Is it possible that a WiFi-enabled iPod is on the cards? Throw music-streaming into the mix and you open the door to all sorts of social networking goodness. Combine it with Salling Clicker and you’ve got remote-control for your mac mixing desk.

In the meantime, I can think of some immediate uses. If I have one of these in my laptop bag, it’s going to make hot-desking much simpler at any of the Brighton web companies for which I do contract work. Right now there are surprisingly few companies that have wireless networks. The ability to instantly create one would be very useful.

Outside of the work arena, being able to extend existing networks could significantly improve the quality of my leisure time. Let’s say, hypothetically speaking, that the wireless network at Jessica’s family’s house in Arizona didn’t quite extend to reach the patio. All I’d need to do is plug in Airport Express, climb into the hammock, surf the web and gloat to colleagues via iChat.

The move

In an article called Stress and Emotional Health over at BBC Health, there’s a list of "top stress makers". The "very high" category lists "moving house".

If you have your own website that list should probably be augmented with "changing web hosts". It’s a notoriously stressful time. I know some people stay with hosting companies that they’re not satisfied with simply because they don’t want to go through the hassle associated with moving.

Over the past few days I made my move. Thankfully, it wasn’t nearly as stressful as I had been dreading.

I don’t want to sound like Jon Hicks’ parrot but the Bogan brothers really did do everything to make the transition as smooth as possible. Do believe the hype about Segment Publishing.

The domain name seems to have finished propogating, all the relevant scripts in my spit’n’gum home-made duct-taped CMS have been updated. If you find something I may have missed, please drop me a line and let me know.

In the meantime, I’ll be settling in to my new home.

Sunday, June 6th, 2004

A host of problems... again

Notice a few things missing around here?

I mentioned the other day that I was having problems with my current host, Web Serve Pro. They are entrusted with housing of Adactio, The Session and Salter Cane. They used to be a really great hosting company, providing good service and excellent support.

I wrote about how I’m planning to move my sites to Segment Publishing, about whom I’ve heard nothing but good things.

That post, along with a few others, is now gone. The conspiracy theorist in me would like to concoct a suitably mischievous motive but never ascribe to malice, that which can be explained by incompetence.

Before the past few days’ postings disappeared, this site (along with Jessica’s) was down for half a day. Whenever I called to get updates I was told this was due to the server having “hardware problems”.

When the sites came back online, everything had been rolled back by about four days.

One of the services that Web Serve Pro claims to provide is daily server back-ups. Clearly, this is a lie.

As it turned out, the “hardware problems” (and presumably the earlier “network problems”) were due to the company physically moving office. If it had been told that earlier, I would have been more diligent in making my own back-ups.

So I’ve lost a few days of postings. They weren’t any great pearls of wisdom but I know that at least one of them had been linked to from elsewhere. I am, against my will, guilty of link-rot. For that, I apologise.

Hopefully, the move over to Segment Publishing will go smoothly and these problems will soon belong to the past. Jessica is already in the process of moving her professional site. This has all been very wearying and disheartening and the only comfort I can take is that I can pass on my pronouncement to future googlers of this phrase:

Web Serve Pro sucks.

Addendum: as I was in the process of writing this, Adactio went down yet again. My pronouncement stands.