Archive: January, 2005


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Saturday, January 29th, 2005

Best. News story. Ever.

In his seminal 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language, George Orwell outlined some simple guidelines for writing. These include:

"Never use a long word where a short one will do."

"If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out."

"Never use the passive where you can use the active."

Whenever I’m writing, I try to bear this advice in mind. Clearly, someone who writes for Ananova has been similarly influenced.

The story entitled "Man peed way out of avalanche" is a superb example of the power of economy in the use of English. It begins by using the inverse pyramid rule of journalism to convey a summary of the story in one sentence:

"A Slovak man trapped in his car under an avalanche freed himself by drinking 60 bottles of beer and urinating on the snow to melt it."

My favourite sentence appears halfway through the story:

"He had 60 half-litre bottles of beer in his car as he was going on holiday, and after cracking one open to think about the problem he realised he could urinate on the snow to melt it, local media reported."

In the past, I have waxed lyrical on Joyce’s command of the English language. I’m sorry, James. I think Ananova’s got you beat.

For full effect, read the story out loud.

Without laughing.

Wednesday, January 26th, 2005

No comment

Paul Haine got in touch with me and asked:

“I’m being idly curious whilst at work, and wondered - how come you don’t have a commenting system on your journal entries?”

Well, basically because I don’t particularly want to run a community on adactio. I think that there’s quite a bit of responsibility involved in having a commenting system and that one should be prepared to put some effort into it.

I already run one community site and that takes up quite a bit of my time. I have quite a lot of experience in moderating discussions, deleting off-topic/abusive comments and posting comments myself. I’ve been doing it at The Session for years. It’s probably no coincidence that Matthew Haughey, who has the unenviable task of running Metafilter, doesn’t have comments on his own site.

To be honest, I don’t think comments would be suitable or welcome for about two thirds of the stuff I write about on adactio. There are times when I would like to actively solicit feedback but that’s usually when I want a specific question answered and, in those cases, mailing lists are usually the more suitable place to ask.

Then there’s comment spam… I don’t even want to go there.

To be honest, most of the comments I see on blogs just seem to repeat the mailing list paradigm: the same people making the same remarks. The real gems turn up once in a while when someone stumbles across a blog post (possibly via Google) and, by coincidence, has something very relevant and new to offer. I don’t see too many of those though.

Mostly I see comments by people who, at least to some extent, know the blogger. I leave comments on other people’s blogs and those are usually chatty in nature because I know the blogger either personally or professionally.

They don’t make for very interesting reading though. I wonder sometimes if they would be better suited to email or instant messaging… which is pretty much what visitors to my site have to do if they want to respond to something I wrote.

I have seen some blogs where the comments themselves are more important than the original posts. But then I have to wonder, is that really personal publishing any more? I’d be more inclined to call it a community rather than a personal, site. I wouldn’t like to get into a situation where an audience literally dictates what I should write. Adactio is very much a personal site.

I know it’s pretty unusual to have what is obstensibly a blog without having comments (or trackbacks). Some would say that they are part of the blogness that makes a blog bloggy. Then again, I’ve never claimed to have a blog. I use the term “journal” which I think is more accurate.

Jessica uses the same home-grown CMS as me but with comments enabled. Again, they’re great for people who know her already and for complete strangers who stumble across single entries that they really connect with. But a lot of the time, they can be more hassle than they’re worth: some of the comments posted by kiddies who haven’t figured out how to use the shift key can bring down the tone of the site. The control freak in me would find that hard to accept.

I guess with any decision regarding a personal site, it comes down to personal preference. So the most honest answer to the question “why don’t you have comments?” is a bit of a cop-out. The answer is simply “because I don’t want to”.

Tuesday, January 25th, 2005

An email to Wired News

Hello Wired News people,

I was just wondering if you had any plans to offer full articles in your RSS feeds?

Y’see, normally I really enjoy just reading the description in my RSS reader and then clicking on the link to the full story. Let’s face it, the elegant design of the website is far more pleasing on the eyes than plain old unstyled text. But I’ve been put off visiting the site ever since you started running that ridiculously annoying banner ad that makes noises whenever my cursor inadvertently brushes it on the way to the scrollbar.

I’ll check back every now and then to see if the campaign of annoyance has ended but for now I’m stuck with the brief, tantalising descriptions of news stories in the RSS feeds. Hence my question.

By the way, I have absolutely no idea what that satanic banner ad is actually selling. I’m far too busy closing down my browser window to actually figure out what’s being so rudely forced upon me. What I really ought to do is make a note of what company’s marketing genius is responsible so that I can begin a lifetime boycott.

Your tormented reader,


Monday, January 24th, 2005

It was 21 years ago today...

When I was back in Ireland for Christmas, I helped a friend to clean his parent’s PC of spyware. There were about 30 separate pieces of malware lurking inside the computer. His cousin’s computer had over 100.

I guess I’m part of the tech-support generation. I like to help people to clean up the mess. Last time I was in Arizona, I tired to help my mother-in-law to get the inside of her Dell scrubbed clean.

Spyware and adware has become a royal pain in the butt for the average PC owner. I’m sure the problem could be cut in half if more people used Firefox instead of Internet Explorer but, at a fairly basic level, Windows itself is responsible for the ease of infection.

Now, as a Mac user, I could feel pretty smug about this situation. But I don’t. I don’t get any kind of schadenfreude from seeing regular people getting annoyed with computers. I make websites for a living. Anything that puts people off using computers is bad for business. As it is, most people associate the internet with frustrating pop-up windows and viruses.

I can’t help but wonder if the situation would be any different if Apple were today’s computing behemoth.

Exactly 21 years ago today, Apple released the Macintosh computer. The arrival of this revolutionary computer was heralded by an equally revolutionary television commercial that aired during the superbowl, promising that “1984 won’t be like 1984”.

Things didn’t go quite as Apple planned. Bill Gates ripped off the WIMP interface (Windows Icons Mouse Pointer) and conquered the world with Windows. Now the Macintosh computer occupies what is effectively a niche market while Microsoft has, in many ways, become Big Brother.

Now, there’s a whiff of change in the wind. People are getting excited about the new Mac mini. Windows users who are frustrated with the insecurities of their current operating system can now get a powerful Mac at a great price.

I’m not suggesting that Apple is about to become a serious threat to Microsoft’s dominance. At the very least though, Apple has become a viable alternative for a lot of people.

The Mac mini is a nice little package. It strikes just the right balance of size, power and price to make it appealing across the board. It’s not perfect but, for the price, it’s a good, all-round machine.

The versatility of the Mac mini might just make it into a decent-sized hit. Already, people are talking about using it as an entertainment centre.

Personally, I think it’s the perfect reverse-entertainment centre. Instead of being a machine for viewing movies and listening to music, I think it’s better suited to making movies and music and managing digital photos. Don’t underestimate the power of the iLife suite. It comes free with every Mac mini and there’s nothing to match it on an out-of-the-box Windows machine.

A lot of Apple fans are hoping that this new machine will further help the healthy financial fortunes of the company. Personally, I don’t really care. I don’t own stock in the company. As long as Apple continues to produce high-quality products, I’ll be happy.

What excites me is the thought that my friends, neighbours and family members can find out for themselves that using a computer can be fun and creative instead of frustrating and toilsome.

Diversity in the desktop (and browser) market is a good thing. If nothing else, maybe the combined strength of Firefox and the new Mac mini will force Microsoft to get their act together. Viruses and spyware may be a part of everyday online life for the majority of people but that doesn’t make it right.

I don’t think the Mac mini is pushing the boundaries of home computing but at least it’s generating some excitement. It’s like 1984 all over again.

Saturday, January 22nd, 2005

Yub nub!

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that Jamie, head-honcho at Message, has a brother who is a famous act-ohr.

"Hi. I’m Martin Freeman. You may remember me from such comedies as… The Office: it’s funny because it’s true, and… Love Actually: it’s funny because it’s not true."

Martin has finished principle photography on the forthcoming film version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. He plays Arthur Dent. The film also stars Sam Rockwell, Bill Nighy and John Malkovich.

Nobodies, the lot of ‘em.

They are, however, very privileged to be acting alongside a true icon of the silver screen. The part of Marvin, the paranoid android, is being ably played by Warwick Davis. Yes, THE Warwick Davis.

He may be more easily recognisable from his role in Willow but to me, he will always be Wicket the Ewok.

Needless to say, ever since I found out that I was two degrees of separation away from my childhood icon, I’ve been bugging Jamie to secure me an autograph. Jamie bugged his brother who secured the autograph then lost it, then found it, then lost it again. Finally, Warwick Davis himself sent a new autograph in the post straight to the Message office.

I am now the proud owner of a glossy 8" x 10" photo signed in English and Ewokese. Now I just need to get a frame.

Jeremy \'yub nub!\' - Warwick Davis 2005, Wicket

Wednesday, January 19th, 2005

Delicious raw materials

It is no coincidence that industrial manufacturing plants aggregate close to sources of raw material. The North of England and the Ruhrgebiet in Germany were both rich sources of coal and centres of industry.

In the case of software manufacturing, it makes sense to locate a business near to the raw materials required for programming. The people at Delicious Monster understand this. That’s why they’ve located their business in a coffee shop:

“It’s cheap rent and a fun environment,” said Matas. “We go down there every day with our laptops and work. It’s an incredible place. They have two or three of the top baristas in the country (the awards are on the wall). We pay our rent by buying coffee…. They love us. We’re some of their best customers.”

The move appears to have paid off. Delicious Monster have produced a terrific Mac application called Delicious Library. It’s basically a piece of cataloguing software. The kicker is that you can use your iSight to scan in barcodes. The app then uses Amazon’s web services to retrieve info about the item.

I downloaded Delicious Library a while back and had great fun scanning in books, movies and games. To begin with, the application was very US-centric but a recent update improved integration with and

Right now, the app is a lot of fun and reasonably useful. This is just the start. It sounds like there are a lot of very cool improvements in the pipeline:

“Version two, due later this year, will allow users to browse each other’s libraries. It will be location-aware, letting users know who has what in their neighborhood or city.”

That’s what we need: Amazon meets BookCrossing wrapped up in a real-world social networking tool.

In the future, we will all be librarians. Personally, I find that prospect very exciting.

Sunday, January 16th, 2005

Portfolio piece

I’ve been tinkering with my portfolio. I decided that rather than having a long list of all the work I’ve done, it would be better to highlight just a few pieces that I’m particularly proud of.

It’s no coincidence that many of the sites listed under "Featured Work" are ones over which I have direct control. My hand-crafted, valid mark-up doesn’t always survive too well when it’s sent out into the world under the supervision of an uncaring client.

More importantly though, I decided that I wanted the portfolio to feel fresher. I intend to rotate which piece gets highlighted. I’ve been working on a few projects lately that I intend to showcase just as soon as I get ‘round to snapping some screenshots and writing up the processes involved.

While I was tinkering with my portfolio anyway, I also decided to do a little searching and replacing to bring the terminology up to date.

a screenshot of BBEdit

Friday, January 14th, 2005

DHTML is dead. Long live DOM Scripting.

Just in case I haven’t completely hammered the point home lately, I have a feeling that 2005 is going to see a big surge in the use of the Document Object Model with JavaScript.

We’ll start to see plenty of more resources for standards-based JavaScript which will definitely be a good thing. Right now, most of the resources out there are fairly outdated. A lot of people looking for scripting resources might try googling for DHTML. If they do, they’ll discover a lot of browser-based scripts dating back to the nineties.

Rather than trying to rehabilitate and redefine DHTML, I think it’s time we ditched the term entirely.

For a start, it sounds like another flavour of HTML. You’d be forgiven for assuming that DHTML had more to do with HTML or XHTML than JavaScript.

Secondly, just what the heck is DHTML supposed to mean anyway? It’s a buzzword coined by browser makers who wanted to get us using the latest technology. I’m sure that calling something “dynamic HTML” is very useful from a marketing perspective, but it’s fairly pointless as a description.

Just look at some of the definitions of DHTML floating around out there:

“The next generation of HTML, the language that specifies exactly how text and images will be displayed on a web page. Dynamic HTML, developed by Netscape and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), is based entirely on industry-standard HTML and Java.”

Now that’s just plain wrong.

We need a term that doesn’t confuse. Something descriptive that doesn’t sound like an off-shoot of HTML.

I have a modest proposal. The Document Object Model is the glue that binds together (X)HTML, CSS and JavaScript so let’s give it the recognition it deserves. I propose that the technology formally known as DHTML henceforth be called…

DOM Scripting.

We could still use DHTML in its historical context to refer to old-school browser-based forked code of the late nineties. But seeing as we’re doing web development in a new, standards-based way, let’s use a new term to describe it. For example:

“I used to code DHTML but I find DOM Scripting so much easier.”

Take this meme. May it serve you well.

Wednesday, January 12th, 2005

Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking...

Waterloo: Napoleon did surrender. What better way to commemorate that event of 1815 than naming a train station after it?

Fast forward almost 200 years. In June 2005 that same train station will be the debarkation point for some of the brightest geek minds on the planet. Just a short walk from the station, the Franklin Wilkins Building of King’s College will serve as the venue for @media 2005.

Jeffrey Zeldman, Doug Bowman and many others will be gathered to disseminate their wisdom and experience. The topics will range from accessibility tutorials to CSS autopsies.

In amongst all that, I’ll also be stepping up to the podium to deliver an impassioned exhortation on "The Behaviour Layer: Using JavaScript for good, not evil":

"The aim is to encourage developers to think about the DOM in the same way as CSS: a powerful technology that works best when separated from the actual content. Remember, with great power comes great responsibility."

As well as some great presentations, I anticipate that there will be much "networking" going on in the pubs of London afterwards. Do try to make it if you can: it should be fun.

If London is too far away for you, like if the Atlantic ocean has been inconveniently placed between you and it, how about getting along to South by SouthWest?

I’ll be talking there as well. The somewhat tongue-in-cheek topic is "How to bluff your way in CSS" and I’ll be presenting it together with Andy (who’s also speaking at @media 2005).

If you’re going to be at either event, let me know if you fancy meeting up for a chinwag and some drinkipoos.

Tuesday, January 11th, 2005

It's a small world network after all

I’ve been spending most of my time over at Message lately working on a big intranet project. It’s not just a website behind a firewall. It’s more like a desktop application on the web that happens to reside in a walled garden.

I came across a great word for web apps like these: Weblications. I recommend reading the whole article which makes great use of hyper-linking and quoting. It begins by discussing weblications in general but quickly moves on to JavaScript and the DOM, GMail and GoogleSuggest in particular:

“I think that increased leverage of the browser and the DOM is a good thing. It’s also a clear trend and for many applications, the browser is good enough. Good enough for Google, good enough for Yahoo, good enough for me.”

With all this talk of 2005 as the year of the DOM, I’m beginning to think that JavaScript may be approaching a new tipping point.

I can’t casually throw in a phrase like “tipping point” without mentioning the book by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s an interesting exploration of social network theory and it makes for an entertaining read.

That said, if you really want to get into the nitty-gritty of network theory I heartily recommend the book Nexus by Mark Buchanan. It goes into far more detail than Gladwell’s book and looks at the ramifications of network theory on a huge range of topics. Where The Tipping Point focuses purely on social networks, Nexus examines the formation of river basins, the synchronisation? of fireflies, the structure of the internet and the human brain.

The topics may, at first glance, appear completely unconnected but if you have any experience of object-oriented programming, you’ll soon experience a familiar sensation. You know that feeling you get when you start to “smell” a pattern? Well, this is the definitive pattern-smelling book.

Actually, that accolade should probably be bestowed on a work of fiction that brings network theory right back to social networks and epidemics. But then, William Gibson is always worth reading.

Thinking about it… read all three books. They’re all connected and they may just come in handy next time you’re programming a weblication.*

*Y’know, maybe “weblication” isn’t such a great word after all. I’ve just used it four times and I’m sick of it already. I think I must be buzzword intolerant.

Sunday, January 9th, 2005

Free as in beer

A few weeks ago I spent a most pleasant Sunday evening in a Dublin bar called Solas. Myself and my friends were enjoying the free WiFi and the excellent range of cocktails and beers on offer.

The soundtrack for our evening of tippling was also very enjoyable. The DJ played a great mix of indie music.

At the end of the evening, everyone in the bar was given a free CD. The CD was a compilation of 18 tracks that the DJ had played over the course of the evening. Every one of the songs had been legally downloaded for free over the internet.

Non-commercial use of works that artists have provided while maintaining their intellectual property rights? That’s just the kind of pinko commie activity that really annoys Bill Gates:

"There are some new modern-day sort of communists who want to get rid of the incentive for musicians and moviemakers and software makers under various guises."

He must be really ticked off with all the free downloads available at That red menace, Jeff Bezos is allowing artists to give away their songs without any kind of DRM whatsoever. It’s downright un-American, I tell ya.

Saturday, January 8th, 2005

Stepping out of the page

While I was relaxing in Ireland over Christmas, I was blissfully cut off from my usual diet of a constant stream of RSS feeds. I didn’t mind missing the latest news stories, magazine articles and blog entries but I did feel a twinge of guilt when I returned to a backlog of unread pages of Ulysses in its page-a-day XML format.

I was tempted to just carry on without going back to read what I had missed while I was away. In the end, I decided to do the electronic equivalent of flipping back a few pages. I’m glad I did. Otherwise I would have missed this passage describing Leopold Bloom as he sits in Davy Byrne’s pub at lunchtime, finishing a ham and mustard sandwich with a glass of Burgundy wine:

“Stuck on the pane two flies buzzed, stuck.”

“Glowing wine on his palate lingered swallowed. Crushing in the winepress grapes of Burgundy. Sun’s heat it is. Seems to a secret touch telling me memory. Touched his sense moistened remembered. Hidden under wild ferns on Howth below us bay sleeping: sky. No sound. The sky. The bay purple by the Lion’s head. Green by Drumleck. Yellowgreen towards Sutton. Fields of undersea, the lines faint brown in grass, buried cities. Pillowed on my coat she had her hair, earwigs in the heather scrub my hand under her nape, you’ll toss me all. O wonder! Coolsoft with ointments her hand touched me, caressed: her eyes upon me did not turn away. Ravished over her I lay, full lips full open, kissed her mouth. Yum. Softly she gave me in my mouth the seedcake warm and chewed. Mawkish pulp her mouth had mumbled sweetsour of her spittle. Joy: I ate it: joy. Young life, her lips that gave me pouting. Soft warm sticky gumjelly lips. Flowers her eyes were, take me, willing eyes. Pebbles fell. She lay still. A goat. No-one. High on Ben Howth rhododendrons a nannygoat walking surefooted, dropping currants. Screened under ferns she laughed warmfolded. Wildly I lay on her, kissed her: eyes, her lips, her stretched neck beating, woman’s breasts full in her blouse of nun’s veiling, fat nipples upright. Hot I tongued her. She kissed me. I was kissed. All yielding she tossed my hair. Kissed, she kissed me.”

“Me. And me now.”

“Stuck, the flies buzzed.”

The English language doesn’t get much better than that.

Friday, January 7th, 2005

Divination of the DOM

As one year wanes and another waxes, it’s traditional for newspapers, television programmes and websites to post lists. Usually those lists offer a backwards-over-the-shoulder look at the year gone by as they posit the best movies and music of the last twelve months. Occasionally however, some brave soul dares to post a list of predictions for the coming year.

Roger Johansson has stepped up to the plate and listed his hopes and predictions for the world of web design in 2005. His forecast of increased JavaScript usage is particularly enlightening:

"Increased usage on sites built by professional developers that are aware of web standards and accessibility. However, this time around it will be used to increase usability without decreasing accessibility, not to decrease both usability and accessibility, as was very popular during the dotcom era."

He’s hit the nail on the head there explaining why developers are wary of making full use of DOM scripting. As I explained in "This Year’s Document Object Model", we were once bitten during the browser wars and now we’re twice shy.

There could be another reason for the tardiness of world domination by JavaScript and the DOM…

Dave Shea weighs in with his similar augury for 2005:

"It’s this kind of low-impact scripting that’s going to take off this year, I agree with Simon on that count. The name of the game is script that enhances HTML functionality, rather than provides core functionality in a non-scripted or older and less-capable environment. HTML is a fine building block to begin with, and responsible DOM scripting is going to take it to new levels."

but in the ensuing comments, someone asks:

"Are you aware of any good resources for learning ‘responsible’ JavaScript? Esp. for those of us (ahem) who have never had particularly well-developed JS skills, so are not necessarily unlearning anything…

to which Dave responds:

"I’d be interested in some good resources as well. Most DHTML scripts you’ll now find are steeped in 1997."

There’s the rub. While there is no shortage of up-to-date articles and zen gardens about using CSS, there’s a lack of good DOM scripting resources. My prediction for 2005 is that that situation will change.

As web developers finally begin to wake up and smell the JavaScript, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the pioneers who have been telling us all this for ages. Simon and Stuart, it looks like this is going to be your year.

Wednesday, January 5th, 2005

The turning of the year

Belated Happy New Year

This site has been on silent running for the last few weeks. I hope you don’t mind. I was concentrating all my energy and time into doing some serious relaxing. I believe it was John Lennon who asked "so this is Christmas and what have you done?" to which my reply is a resounding "bugger all!".

Christmas in Ireland was fun. We even had a white Christmas in Cobh, a very rare occurrence. There was no snow before Christmas day and there was no snow after but on the day itself meteorology delivered the goods.

Christmas is a time for doing things you wouldn’t normally do at other times of the year: giving and receiving presents, eating Christmas pudding, watching daytime television, etc. All in all, I had a thoroughly enjoyable winter festival.

Mind you, it was somewhat shocking to wake up on St. Stephen’s Day to the shocking news of the Asian Tsunami. If I were superstitious, I’d label comet Machholz a portent of doom.

The international community has mobilised, charitable donations are flooding in and Andy has even created Blog Aid to allow bloggers to pledge money from their affiliate schemes towards helping the relief effort. I don’t have any money-making affiliate schemes so I’ll have to donate by more traditional means. Apple has a list of charitable organisations that, for a while, replaced the front page of their site. You can even donate straight from iTunes.

If the Asian disaster is last in a long line of 2004’s craptacular events, let’s hope that the generosity and sympathy shown in its wake is indicative of a new spirit in 2005.