Archive: October, 2004


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Sunday, October 31st, 2004

Let sleeping iPods die

After a Friday afternoon meeting over at Semantico, I decided to swing by the local Cancom shop and browse through whatever Apple goodies they might have in stock.

I spent a little while sitting in front of the new 17 inch G5 iMac. One of the first things I tried to do was to push the screen upwards. I forget that the screen can now only be tilted but not raised or lowered. Maybe I’m just spoilt by the G4 iMac but I’d really miss the ability to adjust the display height.

Overall, the G5 iMac is a very neat machine. If you were switching from a Windows machine, it would be a whole new world of comfort and ease of use. But if you were upgrading from a G4 iMac, it may seem like a step backwards in terms of ergonomics.

I had my iPod with me and I took my earbuds out long enough to ask about skins and speakers. Once I had finished pestering the shop assistant, I plugged up my ears once more and resumed walking around Brighton.

The iPod had been playing for a total of maybe an hour when it suddenly stopped. The screen showed the image of a battery with a superimposed exclamation mark, international symbol for "you’re out of juice".

This struck me as somewhat strange because I knew for a fact that I had charged it up the previous day. Either my iPod’s battery was giving me less than 10% of its advertised life or else the battery was somehow losing as much power when it was off as when it was on.

There seems to be a whole black art to understanding batteries. You’d need a degree to understand all the vagaries of the science of cells. Nonetheless, I endeavoured in my entirely amateurish way to apply the scientific principle to my particular conundrum.

The first thing to determine was battery life. I charged up my iPod and, once it was charged, I set it to playing.

I’m happy to report that after more than the advertised 12 hours, the iPod was still going strong. I ended up squeezing close to 13 hours of continuous play out of it. Admittedly, that would be considerably shortened in a real-life situation involving starting and stopping as well as forwarding past songs. Still, it was pretty clear that the battery itself was in tip-top shape.

So my problem must be related to how I was charging the iPod. Sure enough, I noticed the following strange behaviour:

I plug my iPod into its dock. The dock is connected to my iMac by FireWire. The iPod charges and remains charged. At the end of the night, I put my iMac to sleep. The iPod also goes to sleep. The next morning, I wake up the iMac. The iPod also wakes up and begins charging again. This is to be expected: some charge is lost even when the iPod is not in use. However, when it continues to charge for hours and hours, it’s clear that something is wrong.

A bit of googling turned up some reports of people with the same problem:

"If he leaves it connected to his G4 overnight (computer turned off), the iPod battery is dead in the morning. If he unplugs it at night the battery is fine in the morning."

There is also an explanation:

"When the computer is off the current flow is reversed and dissipates into the computer via the Firewire port."

So that’s what’s happening. As long as the dock is connected to the Mac and the Mac isn’t awake, the iPod is actively draining its battery down the FireWire cable.

Apple are somewhat economical with the truth when they describe battery charging over FireWire:

"The computer must be turned on. iPod won’t charge if the computer goes to sleep."

They don’t mention that power could actually be drained if the computer goes to sleep.

At least I now have a solution to my problem thanks to my keen detective skills… and Google of course. I need to disconnect the iPod (or the dock) before putting my Mac to sleep. Dashed bothersome, that.

Friday, October 29th, 2004

Anger is an energy

Last year BBC Radio One came to Brighton and organised a week of live music. This year, there’s no sign of auntie Beeb but local promoters have organised a week of music anyway.

As part of this music-filled week, Salter Cane headlined a concert on Wednesday night. The turnout was very very good and yet there was a strange atmosphere, as if a pall was hanging over the proceedings. It wasn’t just the miserable weather. Something was missing. More accurately, someone.

John Peel.

Everybody missed him… The sound man, the promoter, the DJ, the other bands. The night was dedicated to him, as is presumably every other gig going on in Brighton this week.

We paid tribute with a cover version of Joy Division’s Shadowplay. Four minute’s noise seemed more fitting than one minute’s silence.

Now, I don’t want sound superstitious but on the day that Johnny Cash died, Salter Cane also played a concert. I hope we’re not jinxed. Maybe we shouldn’t book any more gigs without first checking that say, Bob Dylan is in good health.

Anyway, Wednesday’s performance went off well in the end although it was definitely a lot more angry and raucous than our typical live show. I can’t blame that entirely on John Peel either. We were also trying to deal with the technical issues attendant with trying to record the concert for a local radio station.

We succeeded in the end (sort of) and you can listen to the radio show online. Honestly, we’re not normally that punky.

With all of the technical and musical issues to be dealt with, I didn’t even have the chance to hang with the the Brighton Bloggers who came along. For that, I am extremely sorry.

The rock’n’roll excesses continued last night with a fun Clearlake gig followed by a post-concert chat with some of the Caramel Jack folks.

It would seem that I am not as young as I once was. After two nights of loudness and beer, I need at least one night of staying in with a movie, a pizza and perhaps a nice glass of wine.

I’m even going to give tonight’s BD4D event a miss.

Tuesday, October 26th, 2004

D'ye ken John Peel?

“Then here’s to John Peel with my? heart and soul”

“Let’s drink to his health, let’s? finish the bowl,”

“We’ll follow John Peel through fair?and through foul”

“If we want a good hunt in the morning.”

Words from an 18th century ballad that seem entirely appropriate today…

Well, except for the bit about fox-hunting. But replacing all the references to hunting with references to The Undertones and The Smiths might seem a tad anachronistic.

In any case, the song’s original composer said upon completion of the song:

“By Jove, Peel, you’ll be sung when we are both run to earth.”

Monday, October 25th, 2004

JavaScript tweaks

I’ve been getting some feedback on the toggle-able sidebar sections I implemented last week.

Okay, so it was just one email from Jamie but hey, feedback is feedback.

Anyway, the main feature request I received (stop laughing!) was to make the toggling sticky. In other words, once a section is clicked and becomes hidden, that section should remain hidden no matter when the page is revisited.

Cookies to the rescue. I rejigged the JavaScript file a little bit so that a cookie is set or unset whenever a section is hidden or revealed. When the page loads, the cookies are read and the corresponding sections are hidden.

Now, the only downside I can imagine to doing this is if a browser has been set to "ask me" every time a cookie is set. Then again, if anyone is browsing with that kind of configuration, they’re going to be used to clicking a lot of confirmation dialogues.

There’s another unrelated bit of JavaScript that I wanted to introduce to the site but unfortunately, that hasn’t worked out too well…

Cameron Adams wrote a clever little script to address an accessibility issue with select menus, namely that using "onchange" to submit a form only really works when using a mouse. If you use a keyboard then the form will submit before you’ve had the chance to choose the option you want. Cameron’s script solves this issue by intercepting key presses and checking whether tab, enter or escape was pressed.

The script works well for keyboard navigation but unfortunately it breaks the mouse navigation in some browsers, specifically Mac browsers.

In theory, when you select an option from a menu using the mouse, the following events are triggered: the <select> element is focused, then it’s clicked and (once an <option> has been chosen), it’s changed. The corresponding event handlers are "onfocus", "onclick" and "onchange".

I did some testing in Safari and I found out that, in reality, the "change" is triggered before the "click" and that "focus" isn’t triggered at all. Internet Explorer 5 on the Mac does something similar.

There isn’t much I can do about IE5 but I clicked that little bug icon in Safari and sent a report off to Dave Hyatt’s team of busy bees.

In the meantime, I’m just relying on the "onchange" event to submit the theme-switching form. Obviously this is less than ideal for anyone navigating with a keyboard.

I’ll keep working on it.

Wednesday, October 20th, 2004

The Stephensonsian System

Following on from a posting on the Brighton New Media mailing list today, I just found out that the third book in Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle is now available. It’s called The System Of The World.

I think I’ll have to go into a bricks’n’mortar bookshop to get this. Any saving in price I’d make by ordering it online would probably be offset by the shipping costs associated with sending such a brick-like tome through the mail.

Besides, I want it now! I’ve been on tenterhooks since finishing The Confusion.

Neal Stephenson must be one of the very few authors whose promotional tour would involve an interview on Slashdot. Even if you’re not a regular Slashdot reader (heck, especially if you’re not a regular Slashdot reader), head on over there and check out the great questions and even greater answers.

Here’s my favourite:

“In a fight between you and William Gibson, who would win?”

“You don’t have to settle for mere idle speculation. Let me tell you how it came out on the three occasions when we did fight. The first time was a year or two after SNOW CRASH came out. I was doing a reading/signing at White Dwarf Books in Vancouver. Gibson stopped by to say hello and extended his hand as if to shake. But I remembered something Bruce Sterling had told me. For, at the time, Sterling and I had formed a pact to fight Gibson. Gibson had been regrown in a vat from scraps of DNA after Sterling had crashed an LNG tanker into Gibson’s Stealth pleasure barge in the Straits of Juan de Fuca. During the regeneration process, telescoping Carbonite stilettos had been incorporated into Gibson’s arms. Remembering this in the nick of time, I grabbed the signing table and flipped it up between us. Of course the Carbonite stilettos pierced it as if it were cork board, but this spoiled his aim long enough for me to whip my wakizashi out from between my shoulder blades and swing at his head.”

Check out the whole interview for more gems. I just hope that the Slashdot servers areable to cope with the bandwidth onslaught that may result from what’s known as “the adactio effect”.

Tuesday, October 19th, 2004


I’ve been doing some spring cleaning around here (if you’re reading this in an RSS reader, you might want to visit the site to investigate some of the changes).

I’ve tweaked and streamlined the CSS a bit. I’ve also made a few subtle graphical changes to some of the themes on over (most notably TateModern and Sci-Fi). Hopefully everything will be looking much the same as before. If things look screwy, refresh. If things still look screwy, let me know.

There’s also been a couple of little Information Architecture changes. Instead of listing every past month for the journal, I’ve simply added a link to a list of earlier months. Similarly, instead of listing all the picture galleries on offer, I’m just showing one link to a directory of galleries. The random image link is staying though, and I’m also highlighting the most recent gallery to be added.

So the sidebar has been trimmed a bit. While your attention is focused there, let me draw your attention to a feature that has been around for a while but you might not have noticed…

In the sidebar (which may be to your left or your right, depending on the theme you’ve selected), all those subsections are toggle-able. For instance, if you click on “Current Status” or “Customise”, the content in question will fold up. Clicking the headline again will reveal the content.

I toyed with the idea of making all the sidebar content boxes hidden by default but, for now, I think I’ll leave it as it is. Feel free to peruse the JavaScript if you’re curious.

Sunday, October 17th, 2004

Real horrorshow

Is it just me or do the new Apple mini stores look like the Korova Milk Bar from A Clockwork Orange?

Not that I’m complaining. I can certainly imagine hanging out with my droogs in an ultra-hip cube of digital consumerism:

"And we sat in the Korova Milk Bar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening. The Korova sold milk plus, milk plus velocet, synthemesc or drencrom which was what we were drinking. And this would sharpen you up for a bit of the old ultraviolence."

Although, in reality, I think we’d content ourselves with some nice iPod accessories.

I guess I’ll have the chance to find out for sure if an Apple store opens in Brighton:

"A source told Macworld that, in addition to London and Birmingham, Apple is rumoured to be considering: Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Oxford, Cambridge, Brighton and Southampton."


Wednesday, October 13th, 2004

Good night, good luck, win awards

While I was off galavanting around Dublin, the 2004 Virtual Festival was hosting its Web Awards ceremony here in Brighton.

As I mentioned before, I was nominated in the Best Personal Site category, a somewhat uncomfortable category for which to be shortlisted given its subjective nature. The award rightly went to Jonathon from the band Assistant who clearly puts a lot of time and thought into his blog (as opposed to the hastily scribbled ramblings that I throw up here).

Most of the categories were shortlisted by a panel of judges before entering a round of public voting. Thank you, by the way, to anyone who voted for me… you shouldn’t have, really.

Anyway, there were one or two special awards which were judged separately by experts in the relevant field. I am proud to say that this website won the somewhat grandiously titled Humanity Accessibility Award.

The judging was carried out by someone from a group called HumanITy (which, I guess, explains the title of the award):

"Rosario Garcia-Luque has conducted the judging for HumanITy every year. She has seen a marked change in each year, as accessibility becomes a more mainstream part of web deisgn and this year was notable in that the winner achieved the first ever 100% score!"

"Whilst ostensibly fairly simple the winning site - - includes a blog, gallery and various details about the work of its author, Jeremy Keith. It is easy to navigate and well designed, with adjustable type sizes and clean clear use of colours."

That tooting you hear is the sound of my own trumpet being blown.

Speaking of proud accessibility achievements…

I recently put together a little holding page for local band Mudlow. It’s very bare-bones but it does include a little Flash movie that streams MP3 clips of some songs.

By styling the size of the Flash movie using a relative measurement, the movie grows and shrinks along with all the textual content when you change the browser’s magnification level. Try it and see.

Of course this nice little accessibility perk is somewhat offset by the fact that the page is trapped inside a horrible frameset thanks to a very primitive "domain forwarding" service.

You can’t win ‘em all.

Tuesday, October 12th, 2004

Apple documentation

There’s a very old joke about a man who goes to the doctor and says:

"Doctor, it hurts when I do this."

To which the doctor responds:

"Don’t do that."

I was reminded of this recently when I was having some troubles with my iPod and my iMac. I was trying to drag over some songs in iTunes. The iPod would freeze up and iTunes would give me the spinning beachball of death.

Using the scientific method, I was able to determine that it wasn’t a software problem and it wasn’t a cable problem. The only weird thing I noticed was that my iChat graphic would sometimes switch from video to telephone when I plugged in the iPod.

The iSight and the iPod both use FireWire and my iMac has two FireWire ports. A little bit of googling confirmed my suspicions that there was some kind of conflict going on.

It was this support article on the Apple website that reminded me of the old joke. Here’s the description of the problem:

"Connecting or syncing an iPod via FireWire can cause a computer to stop responding (hang or freeze) if you’re also using an iSight."

And here’s the prescribed solution:

"Don’t use iSight at the same time as your iPod if connecting over FireWire."

A very helpful piece of documentation, that. Not.

Then again, Apple are (in)famous for not documenting stuff. Here’s a really useful feature that I just came across. Basically, you can access OS X’s spell checker from any Cocoa app:

"Just type the first few letters of the word in question in a text input box (like the Safari URL bar or iChat’s input area or TextEdit or … you get the idea). Once you have a few characters, hit Option-Escape to see a pop-up list of possible completions…"

It also works with F5. I can also confirm that it works fine with <textarea>s in Safari: I just wrote this entry with extensive help from this feature.

Farewell to Erin

I’m back from my trip to Ireland. It was a short visit but I managed to pack in quite a bit of activity.

The day after we showed up, Jessica and I took a daytrip to The Hill Of Tara and the magnificent passage tomb of Newgrange in county Meath. Newgrange really is a remarkable structure. I took some pictures but they don’t come close to capturing what it feels like to enter a structure that was built before the pyramids were conceived.

On Saturday, I was left to my own devices while Jessica attended lectures as part of a symposium organised by graduates of Mount Holyoke College. I strolled around the streets of Dublin and wandered in and out of museums before meeting up with my good friend and Dublin resident, Diarmaid. We used to be in Art College together so, appropriately enough, we went to an exhibition of Jack B.Yeats paintings at Trinity College and perused the offerings on display at the National Gallery.

That same evening, I donned my glad rags to join Jessica and her fellow alumni in attending a banquet in the salubrious surroundings of the Royal College Of Surgeons. One of the lectures that Jessica had attended there was given by Dr. Garrett Fitzgerald. Throughout my teenage years, he was Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland. Irish politicians aren’t generally known for instilling feelings of respect, much less admiration, but Dr. Fitzgerald is almost universally regarded as a gentleman and a scholar. I was extremely pleased that he also came along to the post-lecture banquet. I was even more pleased when he came over to myself and Jessica to shoot the breeze.

All in all, it was a most stimulating weekend, filled with constant reminders and connections to Ireland’s history. But don’t get the wrong idea: it wasn’t all academia and culture. Many creamy, black pints were consumed with relish in the smoke-free environs of pubs that stayed open ‘till civilised hours.

Thursday, October 7th, 2004

Across the Irish Sea

I’m off to Dublin for the weekend.

Jessica’s old college is organising a gathering for ex-alumni living in Europe. Along with some lectures and dinners, a day trip to Newgrange is on the cards.

Basically I’m going to be a tourist in my own country which should be kind of fun. I aim to balance culture and stout in equal amounts.

Tuesday, October 5th, 2004

Web video roundup

Clean out your fat pipes, here comes some bandwidth-sucking fun.

What do you get if you cross He-Man with John Woo? You’ll find out.

What do you get if you cross He-Man with The Big Lebowski? Masters of Lebowski!

If you’re looking for some more video fun, check out this month’s selection for the 2004 Ad Awards.

Also, ever notice that the more you repeat something over and over, the less sense it makes?

And finally…. Best. Music Video. Ever.

Saturday, October 2nd, 2004

Earth shattering

My brother-in-law lives and works in Seattle. That’s his workplace they’re talking about in this article in this Newsweek article about Starbucks.

Earlier this week, everyone at his place of work received an email with a PDF attachment on Volcanic Ash Preparedness. This was prompted by the rumblings that had been emerging from Mount St. Helens. Web traffic for the VolcanoCam has been going through the roof.

Yesterday, the volcano decided to let off some steam. Luckily, the eruption was small enough and Seattle far away enough that little Volcanic Ash Preparedness was required.

Besides, I’m not even sure that my brother-in-law, sports fiend that he is, would even notice. I’m sure he was too busy joining the rest of Seattle in celebrating the new record set by Ichiro, the ridiculously cool and zen-like batter for the Mariners.

You’ve just got to love this over-the-top quote from Sports Illustrated:

"No. 258 for Ichiro Suzuki was like so many others, a little ground ball up the middle. Only this one made history - a hit cheered ‘round the world."

That would presumably be the same "world" defined in the term "World Series" whereby the planet Earth is reduced to the United States, Canada and maybe Japan.