Archive: July, 2005

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Saturday, July 30th, 2005

Veer: Ideas: Etched In Stone

The unstoppable rise of Trajan.

Wednesday, July 27th, 2005

Battle of the maps

Microsoft have launched Virtual Earth, their new web-based, Ajax-fuelled mapping application.

Apparently they’ve been working on this for quite some time but of course, now that it has debuted after Google Maps, it seems like Microsoft are playing catch-up.

Virtual Earth works quite well although it doesn’t quite look and feel as polished as it could be. Still, it does have some nice features. Try navigating by clicking, holding and dragging within the compass.

There’s one area where Virtual Earth seems to have the upper hand on Google Maps: there’s a whole website dedicated to the API. It’s run by Dr. Neil Roodyn, who seems to be quick off the mark in responding to feedback. I wrote to him not long after the site went live to point out the JavaScript file he was linking to over on MSN was unreachable due to a server redirect. He immediately hosted a copy of the file.

[MInd you, I just went over to the site to find that file and the whole thing seems to be FUBAR. The links in the sidebar aren’t actually links anymore. Ouch! There I was, all set to praise the site and now I find I can’t navigate around it.]

I wonder if anybody will build anything with the API as cool as what Eric did with Google’s.

To be honest, I got more excited about Virtual Earth from watching a video of the developers than I did by the application itself. It looks like some of the best features are yet to come. The eagle-eye view should be pretty nifty. These video interviews that Robert puts online are well worth checking out (hint, hint, Apple).

Here’s one big plus point for Virtual Earth: it works in Safari and Firefox, straight out of the gate. Remember, Google Maps wasn’t available for Safari to begin with.

So, while Microsoft’s newest offering is far from perfect, credit where credit is due: there isn’t an ActiveX control in sight and the API is available and documented. Not too shabby.

Monday, July 25th, 2005

Tim's WSG Ajax Presentation

Download the PDF of the slides and play around with the demo from Tim Lucas' recent presentation.

BBC interview with Gary McKinnon

The BBC talk to the hacker/conspiracy theorist awaiting extradition to the US. He's a bit of a loony but he's harmless.

Geekend in the country

I spent the weekend in Oxfordshire in the company of my fellow geeks and Brit packers. A photo pool has been set up on Flickr so you can see exactly who was there and what merry japes we got up to.

It’s always good to have face to face contact in meatspace with the people at the other end of an email or a blog. Many thanks to the Cotswolds contingent for organising a most splendid outing.

We were blessed with nice weather on Saturday afternoon (despite forecasts to the contrary) so we spent most of our time in ye olde Englishe beere gardene.

Sunday, on the other hand, turned out to be a very wet and rainy affair. Jessica and I made a cursory exploration of Oxford but, because of the weather, we didn’t really spend too long out and about. In fact, I was outdoors just long enough to exasperate a cold I was already coming down with.

The cold threat level has officially been elevated from bothersome to nasty. I’m hoping it will have subsided somewhat by tomorrow when I’m playing a concert, supporting Spear Of Destiny (ah, nostalgia).

Saturday, July 23rd, 2005

Virtual Street Reality

If Holbein had been a street artist, the results might have looked something like this.

The Effects of Line Length on Reading Online News

Suck it up, ya fixed width losers: your favourite escape clause has just been deflated. "Twenty college-age students read news articles displayed in 35, 55, 75, or 95 characters per line (cpl) from a computer monitor. Results showed that passages formatte

Friday, July 22nd, 2005

SOUTH

Own a mile of Ben Saunders' trip to the South Pole.

Wednesday, July 20th, 2005

Make Your Site Mobile-Friendly in Two Minutes

Mike has a really nice stopgap technique for improving your site on mobile devices.

Google Moon - Lunar Landing Sites

A wonderful commemeration of the first Apollo landing, courtesy of Google. Be sure to zoom all the way in.

Ajax shopping cart

I’ve been working together with Message on a couple of different projects recently. Some of the more exciting work has involved building a new back end for the award-winning Rapha website.

The new revision of the website launched today. Like I said, most of the changes are on the server side but I did take the opportunity to add one or two enhancements to the front end.

If you’re in the market for some cycling gear, head on over to products section of the site. Perhaps I can interest you in a nice jersey. Select the one you want and add it to your basket. You’ll see that the shopping cart updates without refreshing the page.

Yes folks, it’s yet another sighting of Ajax in the wild. It’s also an example of the kind of progressive enhancement I’ve been banging on about. The functionality was already in place using old-fashioned form submissions. I just used JavaScript to intercept the default action and update just part of the page instead. I did the same thing on the separate shopping basket page.

It’s working pretty nicely but it’s not without its problems, namely accessibility issues. When a portion of the page is updated, there’s nothing to indicate that to a screen reader. I have the same problem with Adactio Elsewhere.

Now, this is where Derek’s modest proposal comes into play. Because the functionality has been added in such a way as to guarantee that it will degrade gracefully, then encouraging users of screen readers to actually disable scripting is not the same as giving them a reduced experience… quite the opposite in fact.

Progetto NINFEA

Here's a really nice implementation of my JavaScript slideshow script.

Wedding Crashers: Andy Budd and Jeremy Keith

Viral marketing gone so, so wrong. Thanks Cindy.

Tuesday, July 19th, 2005

two point three

This is a beautiful blog.

EBA: Web ComboBox V3 - AJAX - Fuzzy Search Autocompletion - LiveSearch

Yet another Ajax implementation, but this one is making some bold claims regarding accesibility. I must investigate further.

Monday, July 18th, 2005

May the Task Force be with you

It is with great pleasure that I direct your attention to the latest press release from the Web Standards Project:

"In an effort to boost the quality of scripting on the world wide web, the Web Standards Project (WaSP) today announced the formation of the WaSP DOM Scripting Task Force."

Together with Dori Smith, I’ll be leading the Task Force. We’ve got a lot of work to do. As well as evangelising the benefits of well-written, usable JavaScript, we plan to lead by example and publish articles and tutorials that illustrate best practices. These will be published on the DOM Scripting Task Force website and elsewhere.

Right now, the website is a humble, bare-bones affair. The design and the content will be expanded before too long. For now though, there’s a blog where the Task Force members will be posting snippets and titbits of JavaScript-related news. Subscribe to the RSS feed to keep up to date with the activity.

Needless to say, I’m pretty excited about all of this. It’s one more sign that JavaScript has finally come of age.

Sunday, July 17th, 2005

40 Things That Only Happen In Movies

"On a police stake-out, the action will only ever take place when food is being consumed and scalding hot coffees are perched precariously on the dashboard..."

Fun with Google Maps 2

You'd think someone in the architect's office would have spotted this.

Fun with Google Maps 1

Why look to Mars for anthropomorphised geographical features when we've got them right here on Earth?

Saturday, July 16th, 2005

A hello-and-goodbye kind of post

So long and thanks for all the puppies.

Thursday, July 14th, 2005

NASA's biometric robot head

This is deep, deep, deep within the uncanny valley. *shudder*

Wednesday, July 13th, 2005

AJAX: Usable Interactivity with Remote Scripting

A nice introduction the XMLHttpRequest object by Cameron Adams.

HYDESim: High-Yield Detonation Effects Simulator

This is cool and frightening in equal measures. Eric uses the Google API to demonstrate the effect of nuclear detonations on American cities.

Tuesday, July 12th, 2005

One day training in DOM Scripting

I’m going to spend Wednesday, July 20th delivering some hands-on training in DOM Scripting. If you’ve got the time and the means, please do come along to The Leathermarket in London.

The one day training session is limited to just six places to keep it nice and personal so, if you do want to attend, you might want to sign up soon.

If you are going to come along, you could do me a big favour by dropping me a line to let me know your skill level in CSS, XHTML and JavaScript. I’m putting together the lesson plan right now and I’m trying to decide what level I need to pitch things at. I imagine that the audience will be similar to the one I’m aiming for with my book: designers who really know their CSS but are eager to learn standards-based JavaScript (if a little apprehensive).

If that sounds like you, I’m hoping to be able to give you some Neoesque “I know Kung-Fu” insights into using JavaScript and the DOM. You can find more details of the training session on the Vivabit website.

Speaking of which, ain’t she a beauty?

I really like the visual design, courtesy of Cameron. But what I love, love, love is the wonderfully fluid implementation. Shrink your browser down to 640 pixels wide, expand it to 800, 1024, 1440, or any other width you want. Bump up the font size, knock it back down. Hey, it’s your browser.

This is true web design. Patrick clearly hasn’t shied away from the challenges. Rounded corners? Bring em on!

Here’s the final proof that this is envelope-pushing stuff: the nitpickers hate it. Reading through some of the comments on the WSA site is an object lesson in how to give petulant, unconstructive criticism.

There are some potentially interesting approaches, like using JavaScript to generate non-semantic markup (well, I would mention that, wouldn’t I?), but it’s all handed out in classic Simpsons comic-book guy style.

Thankfully, Andy came along and delivered a bitchslap. Booya!

Monday, July 11th, 2005

The Law West of Ealing Broadway

The fascinating anonymous blog of an English magistrate (Justice of the Peace).

SVG in WebCore

Weep not, Ethan! SVG lives... possibly in Safari and Dashboard.

HOUSE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION NO. 29 - Napoleon Dynamite, production

This is for real. The text of a bill being proposed in Idaho to commend Napoleon Dynamite "for showcasing the positive aspects of Idaho's youth, rural culture, education system, athletics, economic prosperity and diversity."

Apple - Support - GarageBand - Recording Your Podcast

Scroll down to the end - Apple are offering a command line tool for adding chapters to podcasts. You can also add images which will show up in the artwork window of iTunes.

Smithsonian Global Sound

A fantastic online music store from the Smithsonian. You can download MP3s and liner notes.

Thursday, July 7th, 2005

BBC NEWS | In Depth | london explosions

BBC coverage of the bomb blasts in London

Flickr: The London Bomb Blasts Pool

A photo pool of pictures relating to the bomb blasts in London today.

Bomb blasts plunge London into chaos from Guardian Unlimited: Newsblog

The Guardian blog is keeping a running update on events in London.

7 July 2005 London bombings - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A Wikipedia entry on today's bombings is proving to be a valuable resource.

I'm okay

Following the attacks in London this morning, I’ve had messages from friends abroad asking if I’m alright. Thank you all for your concern. I’m fine.

I was actually going to be in London today for a one-day training course but that was pushed back to the 20th. I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so relieved about a postponement.

Richard is in London but he’s doing okay.

All public transport in London is down so everyone is staying where they are… or possibly going to the pub. Brighton station has also been closed down, probably as a precautionary measure although there was a message on a local mailing list about a suspicious package in a phone box around there.

Update: there was a controlled explosion (probably someone who left their briefcase behind them) and trains will resume running from Brighton shortly.

The news reports on BBC television have been very calm, clear and collected, much like the general populous of London (although I’m sure the tabloid press will alter that image by tomorrow morning).

The terrorists responsible for these attacks are clearly not only a bunch of murdering bastards, they are a bunch of murdering bastards who don’t know their history. London made it through the blitz and through years of IRA bombings. Londoners react to explosions not with fear and terror but with resolution and bravery.

The eyes of the world are on London today. The world will see a display of stiff upper lips and unity. If there’s one thing that Londoners can do well, it’s this: they cope.

Wednesday, July 6th, 2005

Behaviour : Using CSS selectors to apply Javascript behaviours

An excellent alternative to the inline cruft so common in most Ajax applications.

Monday, July 4th, 2005

No more beating about the Bush from Guardian Unlimited: Newsblog

Amazing news! George Bush says, "Let's get rid of all subsidies together. Let's join hands as wealthy industrialised nations and say to the world, we're going to get rid of all our subsidies together."

kickAAS

Kick All Agricultural Subsidies. Here's a blog I can really get behind.

Sunday, July 3rd, 2005

Live 8: music, politics and network theory

I have just one or two things I need to get off my chest and then I’ll stop banging on about Live 8.

My first thought is to do with music. Based on yesterday’s experience in Hyde Park, it’s clear that there are economies of scale involved with musical events.

I don’t want to sound like a whinging indie kid with an obscure band name on my t-shirt, insisting that any concert in a venue bigger than a toilet isn’t worth going to, but there is definitely a cut-off point after which a concert ceases to be a performance and becomes simply an event. The speed of sound alone is a limiting factor. There were times yesterday when the sound was one second behind the images being displayed on screen.

But, as I keep reminding myself, it’s not about the music. Then again, if it’s not about the music, why go to the extraordinary effort to organise huge concerts all over the globe?

Awareness, we are told, is the key. And I agree. Raising awareness (and ire and indignation) is clearly a hugely important first step in solving problems. My issue lies with the method. I don’t think that giant concerts by famous rock stars are the way to do it.

From one look around the blog neighbourhood this morning, it’s clear that the performances have divided as much as they have united. People are talking about debt relief but they are also talking about the music industry, celebrities and the motivations of well-off musicians engaged in this enterprise.

Putting on a huge concert certainly seems like the obvious choice for creating a media event to draw attention to important issues. Messrs Geldof and Vox have plenty of experience in the logistics involved. But I don’t think it’s an efficient way of really spreading a meme.

We were reminded many times over the course of yesterday’s events just how many people were watching all over the world. That’s good, but spreading an idea isn’t just about raw numbers. The broadcast model is an outdated way of reaching a connected world.

Organising a massive concert is the media equivalent of a broadcast search. What’s really needed, in my opinion, is the media equivalent of a distributed search. Instead of trying to reach everyone, it makes more sense to reach the connectors and mavens in a network (to use Gladwell’s terminology), who can then pass on the message to the nodes in their network neighbourhood.

The world isn’t so much a giant network as it is a network of small world networks. I’m not sure myself how best to translate this knowledge into an effective campaign but I’m fairly sure that the broadcast model isn’t it. It is too short-lived, its actors too far removed from the audience, to be effective over time.

The music played at the Live 8 concerts was, to a large degree, a distraction.

At the same as Dido, Travis, et al were playing in London, people were marching on the streets of Edinburgh. This is certainly preferable to standing in a field listening to the alpha males of popular culture, it has become such a common protest technique as to be almost pedestrian. The largest protest ever seen in the history of the United Kingdom was the march on London against the Iraq war. It made no difference at all to policy.

I wish I could offer an alternative but I can’t. All I know is that it involves utilising the power of small world, peer to peer networks in society. The top-down approach of having a politician or a rock star pontificate to the masses no longer works. We need a many to many, rather than a one to many, relationship.

I don’t have the smarts to connect the dots but I hope somebody else does. The broad brushstrokes are already there… Six Degrees: The Science Of A Connected Age, Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks and Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution.

The second thing I want to get off my chest involves the politics of Live 8. Everyone is talking about aid. Everyone is talking about debt relief. That’s good. But there are a couple of elephants in the living room and everyone is tip-toeing around them.

The first is the arms trade. It is insulting and condescending to think that we could relieve countries of their debts and double their aid while at the same time continue to sell weapons to those same countries. We cut them in half with a gun and then we give them a band aid.

The arms trade to developing nations needs to stop. Now. I have yet to hear a cogent defence of the blood-sucking arms trade other than "it creates jobs." On the scale of social issues, domestic employment pales in comparison to mass killing and starvation.

The other issue touches on a subject that will really test whether people are willing to follow through on their declared commitment to helping Africa. I don’t just mean politicians, I mean the average man in the street.

Not once in the course of the Live 8 event did I hear the word "subsidy". Yet subsidies are the very boots we are using to keep the African farmer pressed into the dust.

Unless we start talking about the evil consequences of subsidies, we are likely to end up with a doublethink situation whereby people deplore the plight of people in Africa whilst insisting that farmers in their own country deserve an artificial prop for their business model.

Please, please, please read The Hunger Barrier, a post by Tim Bray:

"There’s no nice way to say this: The world’s richest countries are deliberately, and as a matter of policy, promoting poverty and starvation in the world’s poorest countries."

It is uncomfortable and it doesn’t come with a soundtrack, but this is important.

If you are reading this, you are connected to me. We are adjacent nodes in some kind of invisible network. I’m asking you, node to node, neighbour to neighbour, to please read The Hunger Barrier.

And when you’re done, pass it ‘round the small world networks, online and offline, that collectively form your world.

That was Live 8

I couldn’t take any more punishment. The cumulative effect of Joss Stone, The Scissor Sisters and Velvet Revolver drove me out of Hyde Park. If I had stuck around to endure the pain of Robbie Williams and Mariah Carey, I fear that my exploding head would have made a terrible mess all over the happy families.

The up-side to bailing out early was that I was whisked back to Brighton in a near-empty train. The down-side is that I missed Pink Floyd. But to be honest, I think it would be better to just watch it on television anyway. Just being in a five mile radius of a stage doesn’t really feel like being there.

I’m afraid the whole day has left me feeling quite depressed and cynical about popular music. I’m trying not to let that cynicism bleed into my thoughts on the political agenda of Live 8. It’s tough though: I know the concerts were supposed to raise awareness of very important issues, which is admirable. But my awareness of the political situation was already in place before going to Hyde Park. Now it’s coupled with an awareness of just how crap most popular music is these days.

Ah, well. I’m sure it came across a lot better on telly.

I’ve put together a Flickr photoset which captures my impressions of the day in the park.

Saturday, July 2nd, 2005

Live8blogging

I’m at the Live8 concert in Hyde Park in London. Andy had a spare ticket and kindly invited me along. I bet he’s regretting it now: he has to listen to my curmudgeony whining all day.

So here I am. Madonna is warbling away in the background while I make use of some internet-enabled laptops provided by AOL.

The logistics of the day so far have been less than impressive. Andy and I queued up for over an hour outside Hyde Park and we moved less than 100 metres. Then suddenly, as the concert started, it became a free-for-all, with everyone running down the street towards some kind of entrance. We made it in eventually but we missed U2 and Coldplay.

Never mind… we’ve been entertained by the likes of Snoop Dizzle and UB40. I tell ya, this event might make me optimistic about the chances of making difference in world politics, but it makes me very depressed about the music scene.

By the way, I’m now convinced that Coldplay, Travis and Keane are actually the same band.

At this stage, we’re just waiting around for Pink Floyd. I’m sure they won’t play until it gets a bit darker so I’ll have to suffer through Mariah Carey and Robbie Williams before then.

I’m not looking forward to getting back to Victoria station later: apparently there are going to be crowd control measures in place. Sounds like fun.

Well, Madonna has finished entertaing us with her unique brand of Kaballistic pop. Maybe I’ll queue up for a very dodgy hamburger and await the next act.

Anyway, it’s not about the music. Which kind of makes wonder why I’m here, listening to some very average acts.

Wait… they just made an announcement that things are running late. Now the show is expected to finish at 10:30 (two and a half hours behind schedule). I’m not sure I can hold out that long.

Friday, July 1st, 2005

Crabapple

I wrote a little while back about an extremely frustrating problem I was having with Mac OS 10.4, Tiger. I know I wasn’t the only one having suffering from infuriation: Dave was in a similar pickle.

Fortunately, the update to 10.4.1 seems to have fixed the immediate problem. The "update" process no longer hogs all available CPU.

Still, even with this glaring problem solved, Tiger still isn’t cutting the mustard for me. Jon agrees. Tiger just doesn’t feel finished. Maybe by 10.4.4 or 10.4.5, all the problems will be ironed out, but right now it feels kinda kludgy.

I never used to spend much time thinking about Apple’s operating system. It just worked. It never got in the way of letting me get on with my work, which is probably all you can ask of an OS. These days, I find myself thinking about Tiger and how it isn’t quite as out-of-your-face as I would like.

Even with that major problem (the "update" process) fixed, I’ve still had my computer freeze up once or twice. That’s once or twice more than I’m used to.

What really bothers me though, is the way that Apple is dealing with these issues. Or rather, the way that Apple refuses to deal with these issues:

"Apple seems to be "pulling a Windows." Rather than addressing the problems in Tiger, they are ignoring them publicly and talking about all the new features to distract us from the truth. They recently announced a new version of iTunes with support for podcasts. That’s great, but where is it and in the meantime why can I no longer transfer pictures and files via iChat since I upgraded to Tiger? Why does Spotlight decide to bring the Finder to a screeching halt every once-in-a-while? Why does iPhoto crash every third time I launch it?"

At the same time that Microsoft seems to be emerging from its corporate shell - allowing developers to blog, embracing and extending RSS, not firing Robert Scoble - Apple seems to be getting more and more insular.

Take the recent addition of Podcasts to iTunes. In of itself, this is a great move and one to be welcomed. But the cracks appear when you look at the way that Apple has added extensions to the RSS spec. As Dave Winer says:

"It would have been really smart to review this stuff with the community before releasing their software."

I’m not completely pessimistic. Surfin’ Safari has moved to a newer, bigger home to reflect WebKit’s new open source status. But, on the whole, Apple could really do with being a little less secretive and do more to involve developers and users.

I never thought I’d say this but Apple might want to pay attention to what Microsoft are doing.

Google Maps API Documentation

Documentation for the new Google Maps API. Unlike most web services, this one is run entirely over JavaScript.

Mark Boulton | Information design | Journal | Five simple steps to designing grid systems - Preface

Mark is beginning a new five part series similar to his one on typography. If you haven't done so yet, subscribe to his RSS feed.

: : Speak Up > Design Clichés : :

It's funny because it's true.

Archbishop hits out at web-based media 'nonsense' - Times Online

He described the atmosphere on the world wide web as a free-for-all that was “close to that of unpoliced conversation.” Um... I have to admit that I've never had a policed conversation, online or off.