Archive: November, 2004


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Tuesday, November 23rd, 2004

Go go go

I’ve been busier than a fly on feculence for the last few days.

On Saturday, despite the best efforts of the British railway system, I made it up to London for the Mac Expo. I picked up a nice set of portable iPod speakers and a cute cover for my iMac.

On Sunday, I went to see Mark Lanegan in concert. Support was provided by Nick Oliveri, another erstwhile member of Queens Of The Stone Age, who gave one of the most dreadful performances I’ve seen in a long time. It was like a heavy metal open mic night - the worst of both worlds. Mark Lanegan wasn’t bad though.

On Monday, I was working at Message all day before heading out in the evening with an old pal from Germany.

Today, I’ve been in the studio for eight hours with the rest of Salter Cane putting some vocals over a couple of tracks we recorded last week.

It would be nice to stop now and relax for a bit but that’s a luxury that will have to wait. Jessica and I need to get up early tomorrow to get in a taxi to take us to the bus station so that we can get on a bus to Heathrow where we can get on an aeroplane that will take us across the Atlantic to the airport in Baltimore where a car will whisk us off and take us straight to the wedding rehearsal of our dear friends Dan Brown and Sue Albrecht who will be tying the knot this Saturday.

At some stage during the flight over I hope to find time to catch my breath.

Friday, November 19th, 2004

Mac madness

I was thinking of heading up to the Mac Expo in London tomorrow. It’s pretty much an annual event for me (anyone remember this post from three years ago?).

I might swing by the brand new Apple Store later in the afternoon. I don’t think there’d be much point trying to my luck before midday: some intrepid souls have started queuing already.

It’s worth pointing out that the temperature outside is officially at brass monkey orb destroying levels.

I don’t care what’s in those lucky bags, it’s not worth it.

Wednesday, November 17th, 2004

Client communication

There’s a great interview with John Allsopp over at the Web Standards Group. John is the author of one of my all-time favourite articles over at A List Apart: Dao of Web Design.

The interview contains some great nuggets of information about line heights, image replacement techniques and font-sizes. My favourite is this pearl of wisdom about interacting with clients:

"Your job, amongst other things, is to point out to your client, in the nicest possible way, when they are being moronic. You can put it more nicely than that of course."

Indeed. I wonder if he has any stories he’d like to submit to Clientopia. I have the feeling that Paul Scrivens also has some client issues to deal with.

Help is at hand thanks to a communications course in punctuation substitution.

Monday, November 15th, 2004


London was the setting on Saturday for another gathering of geeks. Patrick managed to get everyone from the last get-together to come to the big smoke (excluding Dunstan, seeing as he’s in San Francisco and all).

There were some new faces too. I had the great pleasure of meeting John Oxton, Simon Collison and Andy Clarke.

In brief, we had pretentious art at the Tate Modern, tasty noodles at Wagamama and lots of chin-wagging. Ken Livingstone even put on some fireworks for us. Cheers, Ken!

Here’s the pictorial record.

Tuesday, November 9th, 2004

Party on, dudes

I’m a torn geek tonight. I was tempted to stay in and watch the new show on BBC that should be called Walking With Planets. In the end, I decided to come out to a WiFi pub for a Firefox release party.

So here I am, surrounding by the remnants of chocolate cake and party poppers while people play "pin the cursor on the <div> tag" and "guess the number of lines in the source code".

You can tell that you’re a real web geek when you get more excited about the release of a web browser than the release of Halo 2.

Happy Birthday, Firefox!

Andy and Richard party on

Alive, alive-o!

Maybe it’s just because I was visiting the city recently, but I’m getting a real kick out of this Dublin-based blog, Twenty Major.

It’s typically Dub humour (read: not very politically correct). As anyone in Ireland will tell you, Dublin is different from the rest of the country. Dubliners will tell you this with a note of pride. Those from beyond the pale will tell you with a hint of pity.

I like this little nugget in praise of a Dublin bus route:

"Going up Rathgar Road towards Terenure we were stuck in traffic. A 15B going into town was also stuck in traffic directly opposite our bus. I saw a girl looking at me and motioned to her that I wanted her to tap the bloke in front of her on the shoulder as he was a friend of mine. When she tapped him on the shoulder I looked away and she looked like an eejit."

Then there’s this idea for a new reality TV show:

"Invent a new TV show called ‘Justin Thyme’ where teams of contestants have to scour the country looking for people called Justin. When they get 5 Justins they have to disembowel them and stuff them with thyme. To avoid capture any Justin can use high powered weapons of their choice, including handguns, swords and the music of Enya."

But as funny as that blog is, it can’t match the unintentional hilarity of the weblog entitled simply ‘Dublin Sucks!’.

It would appear to belong to a non-native who has moved to Dublin. To say that this person is less than impressed with the city would be the understatement of the century. The writing fairly boils with indignation and righteous anger at every aspect of Dublin life: the cost of living, the people, the dirt, the people, the dilapidation, the people, etc.

What’s funny is that his tagline is:

"Dublin, Ireland. Birthplace of great writers… who usually got the hell out of it."

It’s almost as if he feels tricked into moving to Dublin by the city’s output of great writers. One can’t help but feel that he’s never actually read any of them. The works of Joyce, Kavanagh and Behan aren’t exactly filled with descriptions of a sunny, happy land bedecked with rainbows. It’s all snotgreen seas and stony grey soils.

You can’t say they didn’t warn you.

Sunday, November 7th, 2004

Generating thumbnails with PHP

Looking through the family photo diaries over at the Guardian website made me realise how much I like having thumbnails in picture galleries.

“Physician, heal thyself!”, I thought. “Ideally, my picture galleries should all have thumbnails too.”

The thing is, I’ve already got quite a few folders of images. It would be a lot of work to make thumbnails for each and every one. I also don’t want the added hassle of making thumbnails every time I have a new gallery I want to upload. As it is, when I add a new gallery all I have to do is upload a folder with the images and everything else is generated on the fly.

The way that my gallery script works, all you have to do is point it at a folder of images and it generates a link list. So if the folder has the images “01my_first_picture.jpg” and “02my_second_image.jpg”, a list would be generated with the link texts “My First Picture” and “My Second Picture” in that order.

I needed to replace the text with thumbnail images generated on the fly. Luckily, PHP allows me to do just that using its image functions.

The links in the unordered list now contain an image tag with the “src” attribute pointing to a PHP script. This PHP script takes a few parameters in the query string. There’s the “image” parameter which points to the image that needs to be manipulated. Then there’s a choice between sending a “percent” value to scale the image or else sending a “maxwidth” and “maxheight” in pixels.

I’ll show you what I mean. Let’s take the image that resides at /articles/writing/photoshop_actions/images/photograph.jpg

Here’s what you see if you pass a percent value of 10. Here’s what you get if you pass a maximum width and maximum height of 200. Try hacking the URLs to see different results.

For the random image in the sidebar, I’m simply generating the picture at 50% of the original size. For my picture galleries I decided to go with setting the maximum width at 56 pixels and the maximum height at 42. You can see it in action by looking at, for example, the pictures of Newgrange.

On the whole, the quality of the generated thumbnails is pretty good. There are some JPEG artefacts but that’s to be expected considering that most of the originals are already compressed at around 60% (I try to keep the file size down to around 15K).

I was pleased that I didn’t have to change the JavaScript for my picture galleries at all. As long the links have “title” attributes (in this case, it’s the text generated from the image’s filename), then there’s no problem using thumbnails instead of text for the links.

Thursday, November 4th, 2004

Photo journalism

When I wrote an article about my JavaScript Image Gallery and released the code into the wild, I allowed anyone to use the code freely without any attribution. I did ask, however, that anyone using the script drop me a line and point me to where I could see it in action.

Since then I’ve seen some wonderful implementations from pictures of flutes to a multi-page expansion of the script to the front page of the beautiful Twinsparc site.

This week I got an email from a web developer pointing me to what must be my favourite use of the script so far. The Guardian ran a detailed photo record of the lives of five American families in the run-up to the president elections:

"Five photographers from the Documentography collective are living for a week with five very different families in California, Florida, Georgia, Ohio and Texas. Each day we will publish 10 photographs of each family and brief audio clips documenting their daily lives."

The project has wrapped up now that the election is over. What’s left is a fascinating pictorial overview of the intersection between family life and politics.

It’s a great combination of images, words and the web. Needless to say, I’m completely chuffed that my humble script is being used for this project.

Schrodinger's election

Last night, I decided not to watch the all-night long election specials on television with their swingometers, pundits and talking heads. Instead, I went to bed to dream of the possibility of waking up to a different world.

I went to bed not knowing who had won the presidential election in the United States. When I woke up this morning, I still didn’t know the outcome.

As I lay in bed this morning, it struck me that the entire world had become a giant Schrodinger’s cat:

“The Psi function for the entire system would express this by having in it the living and the dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts.”

I couldn’t lie in bed forever. It would be irresponsible to let the world linger in live cat/dead cat state of flux (unless Einstein was more right than he realised when he said “there is no cat”).

I got up. I walked into the kitchen. I turned on the radio and tuned it to Radio 4. In doing so, I killed the cat. This cat is no more. It has ceased to be. It’s expired and gone to meet its maker. It’s a stiff. Bereft of life.

I’ve quoted Schrodinger. I’ve quoted Einstein. But the quote that is foremost in my mind comes not from a European scientist but from an American writer. I believe it was Mark Twain who first said:

“The people have spoken… the bastards.”

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2004

Viva La iPodDownload

I wrote a little while back about a nice little plug-in for iTunes called iPodDownload. It plugged a glaring usability hole in iTunes whereby you aren’t able to simply drag your music from your iPod to your computer.

For some reason, Apple have decided to reopen this hole in the newest version of iTunes. iPodDownload no longer works. There are other ways to get your music off your iPod but they all involve using separate applications or fiddling in the Finder. The nice thing about iPodDownload is the fact that it works from within iTunes itself.

As Cory points out, this is all very silly. This kind of developer cat and mouse game is also just plain frustrating.

Never fear. The French have come to the rescue. It turns out that it’s relatively simple to refill that hole.

You can follow that link to find the instructions but I’m also going to repeat them here so that they’re nice and googleable. Information wants to be free (and anthropomorphised).

First of all, download and install HexEdit, a hexadecimal file editor.

In the finder, navigate to Applications > iTunes. Control click the application and select "Show Package Contents".

Now, in the new Finder window, go to Contents > MacOS. Drag the file iTunes onto the HexEdit application.

In HexEdit select "Find" from the menu (or press apple key and F). Search for the string "iPod Download".

Here’s the important bit: change just one character of that string. Change it to read, for example, "iPod Downlood". But don’t delete or add any extra characters.

Save the file.

That’s it. Start (or restart) iTunes. iPodDownload rides again!