Archive: May, 2005


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Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

CSS Beauty | Designer in Action

I've been suckered into another debate on fixed width layouts: "Discussing whether 800 is better than 1024 is like discussing whether Coke is better than Pepsi when all you really want is a nice drink of water."

Friday, May 27th, 2005

Second impressions of Revenge Of The Sith

I went to see Revenge Of The Sith again, this time with Andy in tow. As I suspected, I was able to concentrate on the film in its own right as opposed to the experience of viewing "the last new Star Wars film".

It’s interesting that all the negative reviews haven’t really been reviews of one film. Instead, they’ve been reviews of the prequels as a whole. I get the impression that Lucas could do no right in their eyes. The positive reviews have generally been along the lines of "well, the other ones were crap but this one saves the day".

I enjoyed the film the second time ‘round. I enjoyed it a lot. In my humble opinion, this is a film that has been well crafted and executed.

I picked up on a lot of things I missed in the excitement of the first viewing and I don’t just mean cameos and Easter eggs. There are some surprisingly subtle twists and turns to the dialogue and plot.

Revenge Of The Sith is already taking in its place in the pantheon of my mind alongside its forebears from the original trilogy. I’m looking forward to seeing it again (and again).

That said, I’m not sure if I’ll be making another trip to cinema. The shared experience is vastly overrated in my opinion. Instead of adding to the enjoyment of the movie, I usually find my fellow audience members simply irritating. The quality of the film itself is also not commensurate with the admission price. Every time there was a reel change, the flow of the story was interrupted with a blurry transition and pops in the soundtrack. The scratches on the film didn’t help either. It’s just one week old, for crying out loud!

If I do find myself watching the film in a cinema, it will probably be one with digital projection. Otherwise, I may just wait till it comes out on DVD when I can control the viewing (and listening) environment.


Heather Powazek-Champ joins the Flickr team.

Monday, May 23rd, 2005

Rob Weychert's Daily Haiku: “Pallor”

This one's just for me and Rob.

Web Standards Group - Ten Questions for Derek Featherstone

Some good thoughts on accessibility. I'm really looking forward to seeing Derek again at @media.

Thursday, May 19th, 2005

First impressions of Revenge Of The Sith

There are certain things that figure heavily in the psyche of any self-respecting geek: a history of role-playing games, the ability to channel Monty Python, an encyclopedic knowledge of Tolkien and, of course, Star Wars.

Every time I get together with my fellow members of the Brit Pack, the conversation inevitably turns to the prequels. I think they do it just to goad me on. Y’see, I’m seen as something of a Lucas apologist. The truth is that I happen to think that the prequels are good fun.

In the interests of full disclosure, let me also state that I really liked the Matrix sequels. I also happen to think that The Village is a damn fine film. With that in mind, you may wish to take everything I say with a large pinch of salt.

Still, I’m glad that I can get so much enjoyment where others find only frustration and disappointment. I think many people, especially die-hard Star Wars fans, bring a lot of baggage with them into the cinema. You’ve got to meet these films half-way.

Sure, The Phantom Menace is unforgivably slow and unengaging. But it’s not the turkey that most people now say it is. It’s a flawed kid’s movie.

As for Attack Of The Clones, I think it’s downright good. Yes, the love story is heavy handed but that’s just one part of the bigger picture. I found the overall story to be a real humdinger.

So, for me, Revenge Of The Sith didn’t have to do much to win me over. If it’s as good as Attack Of The Clones, I’m happy. As it turns it, it surpasses that film in just about every respect.

The overall impression I got from watching Revenge Of The Sith was just how frenetic it seemed. There’s barely a pause for breath. Wham, bam, thank you Obi-Wan. In that sense, it’s a return in spirit to the original Star Wars.

When A New Hope was released, its overall effect was quite overwhelming. The story never stopped to explain any of the technology. Every spectacle was simply taken for granted. Looking at the film today, it almost seems sedate in its pacing. That’s because the locations and technologies are now so familiar to us.

Watching Revenge Of The Sith, I had the same feeling of being clobbered over the head that I received from the first film. My first thought once the film was over was also a familiar one: "I can’t wait to see that again".

It’s always weird seeing a new Star Wars movie for the first time. For the past three years I’ve been following the filming on the website. Every Star Wars fan has a film in their head of how they imagine things should be. I think a lot of the disappointment that people feel results from comparing this internal idea to the celluloid reality.

This feeling is similar to watching a Lord Of The Rings film for the first time. If you’re a fan, you’re going to spend the whole time comparing the movie to the book. It’s not until the second viewing that you get to enjoy the film on its own merits.

Watching Revenge Of The Sith for the first time, I felt like I should have had a clipboard. I could have ticked off all the things I knew had to be crammed into this movie. Wookies: check, the purge of the Jedi: check, Anakin becomes Darth Vader: check, Yoda goes into exile: check, the birth of the twins: check.I really need to see this film again without the button-counting mentality.

There’s another reason why I want to see it again: it’s really good fun. That may seem like an odd thing to say about an overwhelmingly dark plot but it’s true. The galaxy goes to hell in a hand-basket and just everybody loses either their lives, their limbs or their liberty. But it’s still a rip-roaring ride.

Revenge Of The Sith is exactly the kind of over-the-top space opera that made the original Star Wars so great. People may find issue with the dialogue and the acting. Those same people should take a long hard look at the original trilogy. The Star Wars films have never been noted for their prose. They work like silent movies. Actions (and music) speak louder than words.

It’s true that if you quote the dialogue in print, it sounds ridiculous. Reviewers relish in quoting Harrison Ford’s infamous, "you can type this shit, George, but you can’t say it". But in the context of the film’s over-the-top action, the script works just fine.

That’s not to say that the performances aren’t good. I think everyone rises to occasion. But this isn’t the kind of film that rests on any one person’s acting abilities. These figures are larger than life.

As well as a sense of fun, there’s a delicious feeling of frustration to the film. The fall of Anakin is handled in a believable way that allows plenty of moral ambiguity.

As Obi-Wan and Anakin prepared for their final duel - a fight I had been anticipating since I was a child - I found myself willing them to stop. I thought I would be rearing to go, excited by the promise of the mother of all lightsaber battles. In truth, I felt more like crying than cheering. I didn’t want it to happen. I knew how it would end. We’ve all known how it’s going to end for decades now. But when the time finally came, I just wanted these people to stop. "Don’t do it!", I wanted to shout, "Have a nice cup of tea and a sit down".

Perhaps that’s the greatest testament to this film. I knew it would be enjoyable. I knew it would be a great spectacle. I didn’t know it would make me care so much.

I hope you can get as much enjoyment out of this film as I did. But if you didn’t like the other prequels, if you think the ewoks are an abomination on par with Al-Qaeda and if you think phrases like "George Lucas raped my childhood" qualify as reasonable discourse, then you may not like Revenge Of The Sith very much.

Of course, if you’re one of those people, you’ll have to decide pretty quickly whether you absolutely love it or completely hate it. There doesn’t seem to be room for nuanced opinions these days. Either something "completely sucks" (see the aforementioned Matrix sequels) or "totally rocks" (see the aforementioned Lord Of The Rings films). It’s interesting to go back and read reviews of The Phantom Menace from six years ago. Opinion was divided but certainly not extreme. It’s only in the intervening time that the consensus emerged that the film’s a stinker.

Every magazine and television channel sports "best one hundred this" and "worst one hundred that". It’s rare to see lists of "pretty darn good" and "not half bad". Maybe that’s why we feel the need to place everything in categories of "best ever" and "worst ever".

Revenge Of The Sith isn’t the best film ever. Revenge Of The Sith isn’t the worst film ever. It’s flawed but it’s fun. It’s hectic but it’s touching. Most of all, it’s just a movie.

I have a feeling that sentence may come back to haunt me at the next Brit Pack gathering.

Wednesday, May 18th, 2005

Kate - 4hrs old

Pete Barr-Watson is a daddy again. Congrats!

Shopping list

I made a brief foray into town yesterday to pick up a few items.

Two tickets to the half-past midnight screening of Revenge Of The Sith tonight.

One copy of the Revenge Of The Sith soundtrack to get me in the mood.

One copy of Computer Arts Projects which has a little piece about yours truly in an article on freelancing. Andy Clarke is in there too, illustrated with this candid shot I snapped in Austin.

A page from the magazine with my portrait and some screenshots

Tuesday, May 17th, 2005

A musical baton

I got back from the States yesterday to find that I’ve been handed musical batons by Andy, Richard and Andrea. If I could juggle, I’d put on a show. Instead, I’m going to pass them on like hot memetic potatoes. Here goes…

Total volume of music files on my computer:

23.36GB (5700 songs)

The last CD I bought was:

Well, I just bought “She Loves You” by The Twilight Singers but I didn’t get it on CD. I bought it in the iTunes Music Store (and subsequently cleansed it of DRM with JHymn). The last physical CD I bought was a live Dead Can Dance performance but that was also purchased over the internet and hasn’t shown up yet.

Song playing right now:

Here’s what’s currently playing in iTunes. Right now it’s “Cold Girl fever” by The National.

Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me:

Hmmm… I think the two are mutually exclusive for me. I tend not to overplay the songs that mean a lot to me for fear of diluting their impact.

1) “Waterloo Sunset” by The Kinks. Pop perfection.

2) “Three Days” by Jane’s Addiction. It starts with the best bass line ever and moves into the best guitar solo ever. And it’s got three way sex with aliens: what more could you ask for? The rest of Ritual De Lo Habitual paled in comparison to Nothing’s Shocking but this song is a gem.

3) “A Pagan Place” by The Waterboys. I used to play lots of Mike Scott songs when I was busking my around Europe and Canada with my mandolin. I was playing this song on the street in Freiburg when I first met Chris, a fellow Waterboys fan. Now we play together in Salter Cane.

4) “Farewell to Erin” by The Bothy Band. Not a song, technically. It’s a reel. But what a reel! When Donal Lunny kicks in with bouzouki power chords on the second run through, it’s like listening to the trad equivalent of The Who.

5) “Punishment Kiss” by Therapy? There were only a couple of hundred copies of this double A-side single made (Meat Abstract was the other side). Every person who got hold of a copy came to see them play live again and again. The mosh pit in Sir Henry’s in Cork was a good place to be in the early nineties.

Five people to whom I’m passing the baton:

Paul, Jina, Britt, Ben and Jessica.

Sunday, May 15th, 2005


There's a new microformat on the block.

The Strange Zen Of JavaScript: Ajaxed out

A nice round-up of the Ajax summit.

Saturday, May 14th, 2005


I really like the layout of this blog about design details. Nary a dropped shadow and barely a gradient in sight.

Friday, May 13th, 2005


Based on this sneak peak, it sounds like that Dead Can Dance disc I ordered is going to be very good indeed.

Missing the summit

I’ve had an absolutely great time in Alaska…


I really wish I could have made it to the Ajax summit.

It was great to be invited and if I hadn’t already made plans to be in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness at that time, I would have booked a flight to San Francisco in a flash (or should that be an ajax).

Thursday, May 12th, 2005

End of the endeavour

My cruise around Alaska’s Inside Passage has come to an end. The Spirit Of Endeavour docked in Juneau and we disembarked this morning.

Yesterday was a full day; Skagway in the morning and Haines in the afternoon.

My helicopter trip in Skagway went very smoothly. There was no resurgence of the quesiness I felt in the floatplane in Petersburg. Then again, the floatplane had the soundtrack from Titanic pumped through the headphones. That would explain why I felt slightly ill.

The helicopter deposited a bunch of us on top of Denver Glacier, the location of a camp of sled dogs. Riding around on a sled is a much more primitive mode of transport than a helicopter but it was equally fun. Also, you don’t get to scratch behind the ears of your helicopter pilot.

After the excitement of the morning, Haines offered a nice relaxing counterpoint. It’s a very small town. I enjoyed just wandering around in the sunshine.

Today I’m adjusting to being back on dry land after ten days on a moving vessel. Right now, Juneau is bustling. Three gigantic cruise ships have docked in the harbour. The Endeavour looks like a lifeboat next to them. I’m extremely glad that I was on such a small and sparsely populated ship. I’m pretty sure that those big ships don’t alter their course just to follow whale spouts.

I’ll be heading back to Seattle tomorrow with a head full of memories. I’ve taken a lot of photographs. I even managed to shoot a short movie of bow-riding porpoise.

Being unfamiliar with the poetry of Robert Service, I’ve had some lines from Yeats going through my head:

"Come away, O human child!"

"To the waters and the wild"

"With a faery, hand in hand,"

"For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand."

BBC Backstage

The BBC is going to be offering an API. Hallelujah!

Monday, May 9th, 2005

Greetings from Sitka, Alaska

The Spirit Of Endeavour has docked in the lovely town of Sitka. I’ve tracked down an internet cafe and I finally managed to upload some pictures to Flickr. I’ve also updated the gallery right here.

The voyage so far has been idyllic. The weather has been consistently sunny and warm. When I was preparing for this trip, I packed thermal underwear and thick shirts. I didn’t expect to be hanging out on deck wearing a t-shirt.

In theory, this is a working trip. I’ve been sequestering myself with my iBook in my cabin and getting some writing done. But it seems like every time I do that, a shout goes up that a whale spout been spotted or that porpoise are bow-riding at the front of the ship. Both sights are unmissable.

Yesterday we were treated to the spectacle of humpback whales breaching. It’s an awesome sight to see these behemoths lift their entire bodies out of the water.

You can never count on seeing these kind of things but for this trip, it almost seems like Alaska is putting on a show just for our little ship. Humpback whales, orcas, northern lights… they’re all showing up as if on cue.

Life on board the ship is most convivial. It’s a small vessel that can berth one hundred passengers. On this cruise, there are just 32 of us. That makes for an intimate, friendly atmosphere amongst the passengers and the crew.

The shore excursions have great so far. The weather helps. I saw Ketchickan, the rainfall capital of America, in gorgeous sunlight. The town of Petersburg looked equally picturesque under clear clue skies.

Whilst docked in Petersburg, myself, Jessica and Jeb took the opportunity to take a floatplane ride up to Le Comte glacier. Viewing conditions were perfect and the glacier looked truly spectacular. Our pilot, Butch, took us in very, very close on occasion. This necessitated some fancy flying that began to upset my internal gyroscope.

Towards the end of the flight, when I was really wishing I had taken some dramamine, I spotted a humpback whale in the waters below. I excitedly pointed out its location and almost immediately wished I hadn’t. The plane executed a ninety degree bank that left my stomach churning. I was able to overcome my quesiness but I was pretty happy to get back to dry land… or water in this case.

Jessica’s parents and grandmother also went on a floatplane ride up to the glacier. Of course they felt just fine. I’m such a wimp.

My next excursion involves a helicopter ride to a glacier where we’ll go dog sledding. I hope my stomach doesn’t let me down again.

It’s time for me to wrap up my shore leave here in Sitka and make way back to the dock. At least my sea legs haven’t let me down. I think I’m more suited to nautical, rather than an aerial, adventures.

Friday, May 6th, 2005

Ship's log

I’m on the Spirit Of Endeavour, four days out from Seattle.

We’ve been sailing past the coast of British Columbia and we’re just about to reach Alaska. After two solid days of cruising, we’re going to get some shore leave tomorrow when we reach the town of Ketchikan.

I’ve seen some beautiful scenery and wildlife. Yesterday our vessel came close to a pod of feeding orcas.

Amazingly, there is an internet connection on the ship. It’s a satellite connection so it’s horrendously expensive but at least I can download all my spam.

Unfortunately, all web traffic is being routed through some kind of nanny proxy to protect my innocent eyes from indecent websites. For some reason, it doesn’t like Flickr. If I could only have access to one website right now, it would be Flickr. I want to post and tag all these pictures I’ve been taking.

Maybe I can find an internet cafe in Ketchikan. In the meantime, I’ve put together a little gallery right here. I’ll keep adding to it as the trip progresses.

Now it’s time for me to retire to my cabin. This is the Spirit Of Endeavour, signing off.

Monday, May 2nd, 2005

Weekend in Seattle

Seattle is my kind of town. Whenever I’m here visiting, I always find myself thinking about what it would be like to live here. I think I could get used to the lifestyle.

I’ve spent a glorious weekend soaking up the sights and sounds of the city. I love wandering around Pike Place Market. There’s so much good fish and veg on display. This place is a foodie’s paradise. I’m a sucker for Pacific Rim and Northwest cuisine.

On Saturday night, I met up with Mike Davidson for some Japanese food at Benihana. A most pleasant time was had by all (especially by the boisterous table next to us which had a disproportionate amount of silicon bling on display - something that Mike assured me was unusual for this city).

Later on today, I’ll be getting on a boat bound for Alaska. I hope to have internet access so that I can post regular updates.

In the meantime, there’s always pictures on Flickr.

Sunday, May 1st, 2005

Juicy Studio: Generic Form Validation Routine

A nice bit of unobtrusive DOM scripting for validating just about any form.

CSS Reboot - May 1st 2005

Some nice CSS based redesigns this year. Of course, most of them are fixed width. C'est la vie.