Archive: August, 2005


                    5th                     10th                     15th                     20th                     25th                     30th     

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

Hot town, summer in the city

Southern England is experiencing some glorious weather right now. I don’t just mean that in a relativistic way, like it isn’t constantly pouring rain, I mean it’s genuinely hot, hot, hot.

It’s times like this that I do like to be beside the seaside. Oh, I do like to be beside the sea. My mother was in town over the weekend and we had a great time sampling all the delights that Brighton has to offer.

Today looks like being the hottest day yet. There are probably better ways to spend it than travelling in a hot metal train carriage for an hour to reach one of Europe’s largest cities but that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Jessica and I are going up to London. I have to be in the city bright and early tomorrow morning for the one-day workshop on accessibility. I just couldn’t face the thought of the ridiculously early start required to travel from Brighton to London tomorrow morning so I’ve booked into a hotel for tonight.

So I’ll be in the big smoke today and tomorrow. If you’re in town, grab my vcard and give me a call:

"Calling all Brit Packers. Calling all Brit Packers. Joe Clark needs a posse. I repeat: Joe Clark needs a posse."

If you’re going to be attending Joe’s workshop tomorrow, I’ll see you there. If you’re not… well, you really should. There are still some places available. Snap one of them up. You won’t regret it.

Tuesday, August 30th, 2005

Overcaffeinated : I'm moving to San Francisco

If you live in San Francisco, now's your chance to snap up a great roommate: Sergio's coming to town.

Monday, August 29th, 2005

The Graphing Calculator Story

The fascinating story of an application built by ex-employees sneaking into Apple.

Saturday, August 27th, 2005

Google Talk on iChat

Here's how you can set up iChat to work with Google Talk.


Citizen justice, Flickr style.

Thursday, August 25th, 2005

A List Too Far Apart?

On the off-chance that you’ve spent the last few days living under a rock, let me be the first to tell you that A List Apart has been redesigned.

There has been no shortage of opinions expressed about the new look. Like the old saying goes, opinions are like assholes: some are more well formed than others. No, wait… everybody’s got one. Yeah, that’s it.

Assuming that the internet won’t collapse from the weight of having one more opinion piece piled onto it, I’m going to weigh in with my mine.

What is it that it is, this opinion of mine? Well, this is what it is: my opinion that I have (that is to say, which is mine) is mine.

My opinion that belongs to me is as follows.

Ahem. Ahem hem hem.

This is how it goes. The next thing I’m going to say is my opinion. Ready?

I really like the new design.

Oh, you want more? You want all the sordid, seedy details, do you? Alright, you scavengers… how about that typography? It’s classical. It’s beautiful. It’s elegant.

Elegance is something that permeates the visual design: elegant use of whitespace, an elegant colour scheme, elegant rollovers, and just check out the elegant issue number bug.

But (there’s always a but, isn’t there?), I can’t say I find the rigid layout very elegant.

Here we go again; yet another fixed, liquid, elastic debate (sounds more like a topic for baby diapers than web design). Run away now!

Still here? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I have a problem with the fixed 1024 pixel wide layout of A List Apart. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that they should have stuck with 800 pixels. Arguments have already started raging about this with some people fighting for 800 and others campaigning for 1024. To me, the whole debate seems pointless.

Arguing about 640, 800 or 1024 pixels is like arguing about whether Pepsi tastes better than Coke when really, a nice glass of water would be much more refreshing. The numbers game is a red herring. A big fixed-width red herring.

When you nail a layout to a set number of pixels, you’re bound to alienate some people. It’s inevitable. The best you can do is try to alienate the least number of people possible. No doubt this is what the folks at ALA are attempting. They know that their audience, web designers, probably have nice big wide monitors so they’ll probably appreciate a nice big wide site.

But I’m a web designer. I have a nice big wide monitor but I like to keep my browser open at about 800 pixels (although I enjoy having the window taller than it is wide). That’s my choice.

Now, if a site is 800 pixels or less wide, I don’t get horizontal scrollbars. But it’s not true to say that the site is accommodating my needs. It’s just a coincidence that the website happens to fit within my browser window.

For a site to truly accommodate me or any other visitor, there shouldn’t be any content that requires horizontal scrolling to view. Oh, and I also want readable line lengths no matter how wide my browser is.

A tall order? Certainly. Liquid designs are hard, that’s no secret. That’s one of the reasons why you don’t see very many of them. And when you do find them, they are often badly implemented. But the rewards gained from successfully creating an elegant liquid design are proportionally greater.

Liquid designs aren’t always the right choice though. Context, context, context. That should be what drives the decision.

Now, every site is different but there is a bit of a formula for deciding between fixed and liquid: count the columns. If you want to create a single column design like the Web Standards Awards, I think fixed is probably the way to go (or rather, elastic, but that’s another story).

If you want to create a four column design like say, A List Apart, liquid fits the bill. By employing some concertina padding, you can ensure grace and readability at almost any size.

Jon has beaten me to the punch, but I too was somewhat concerned to read Jason’s remarks to Andy:

"ALA has always tried to be one of those sites at the front of the pack. We don’t support 800 x 600 anymore, nor do we 640 x 480. Do you? People flipped when sites stopped supporting 640 x 480… now no one says a word. Things change. Trust me, you are going to see more sites stretching out their legs and putting their feet up."

There’s nothing trailblazing about using a larger fixed width. Unless, that is, your definition of trailblazing includes those Flash sites that pop up a new browser window that then expands to fill the whole monitor. I’m sure those designers thought they were leading the pack.

There is a tension that exists between the designer’s preference and the user’s. There is a line that, when crossed, results in one pissed off user.

But enough. This is starting to sound bitchy and that’s not my intention at all. There’s been enough snarkiness about the new ALA design and, like I said, I really like the design. I would just like to offer some constructive criticism. To that end…

I’m not asking Jason and Eric to rebuild A List Apart for me (although a nice width-switcher a la Simplebits would be nice). Lord knows Eric has enough on his plate as it is. Instead, I have a very modest proposal:

Give me an ID on the body tag, something like <body id="alistapart">. I’ll then put my money where my mouth is and come up with a user stylesheet that frees the site from its prison of pixels.

Then I can read my favourite article of all time at whatever width I want.

DOM Scripting: the website of the book

The countdown begins. I’ve finished writing my book. It’s being hammered into shape at the print foundries as we speak. It should hit the shelves by the middle of September.

I’ve put together a website to go with the book… or maybe the book will be the dead-tree version of the website, who knows?

There’s a blog. I don’t know exactly what I’ll be writing about there other than it will be JavaScript related. That may come as a relief to those who tire of the geekier posts here at Adactio.

For a while at least, the blog is likely to be filled with book-related news and thoughts. And yes, it does have comments enabled. Happy?

The other major component of the site is a section all about the book. In time-honoured drug-pushing fashion I’m offering some samples there to whet your appetite. I’ve posted a sample chapter and the wonderful foreword by Dave Shea.

The site isn’t enormous but I’ve been putting a lot of work into the back end. A normal person requiring a blog would simply use Wordpress, Textpattern or some other readily available blogging tool. Being a glutton for punishment, I decided to write my own.

I wouldn’t call it a finished CMS just yet, but it’s capable of handling all the tasks I’ve thrown at it so far. I’m going to continue to tweak it. I’ll probably end up using it for some other projects and I’ll release it into the wild at some stage.

But enough about that. Who cares about the back end? Perhaps you’d be more interested in the pretty liquid rounded corners on the front page of the site? For whatever reason, I hope you’ll pay the site a visit. You can sign up for email updates about the book while you’re there or simply subscribe to the RSS feed.

The website has landed. The book cometh.

a portion of the book cover

Wednesday, August 24th, 2005

He's baaaack

Ladies and gentlemen.... John. Fucking. Oxton.

Google Talk

Google gets into instant messaging.

Saturday, August 20th, 2005

Bunny suicides

Don't worry: it's just a comic strip.

Magazine Cover

Make Flickr photos into magazine covers - another fun use of the API.

Friday, August 19th, 2005

Backstroke of the West

Hilariously mistranslated subtitles for a pirated copy of Revenge Of The Sith.

eChalk colour perception

This is the most amazing optical effect in the world... or at least a good mind hack.

Thursday, August 18th, 2005


A nice app for browsing and buying audiobooks - but why isn't it a website?

Wednesday, August 17th, 2005

From Web page to Web platform

CNET's explains why web services are so cool.

Tuesday, August 16th, 2005

Joe Clark in the flesh

Ryan Carson, one of the minds behind BD4D, has started putting on some pretty darn excellent one-day workshops in London. He’s already had Eric Meyer over for CSS training. Next week, Cal Henderson will be talking about the building of Flickr.

It doesn’t end there. In November, the unstoppable of force of Andy Clarke and Molly Holzschlag will be demonstrating the power of CSS to web designers. That sounds like an unmissable event.

Before that, Ryan’s managed to score a real coup for September 1st. Mr. Accessibility himself, the king of closed captioning, Joe Clark will be in town for a one-day workshop on the secrets of Web accessibility.

If you’ve been in attendance at one of Joe’s talks, then you’ll already know how entertaining and informative this will be (he was a smash hit at the @media conference a few months back).

I’ll definitely be going. If you’re planning to go, you’ll need to do two things. First of all, sign up quick before it’s sold out. Secondly, let me know so we can meet up for post-learning refreshments.

Unbeknownst to the organisers at Carson Workshops, I have a plan to kidnap Joe and whisk him away to Brighton for a lost weekend of seaside fun. Look out, Kemptown, here we come.

Blogging from Word

In April 2004, Tim Bray wrote:

"I think that any word processor without a ‘Blog This’ button is just broken."

In August 2005, the folks over at Blogger fixed Microsoft Word.

Monday, August 15th, 2005

When Blobjects Rule the Earth

Bruce Sterling SIGGRAPH 2004 speech

Sunday, August 14th, 2005


A video blog (or vblog, if you prefer). It's fun.

How to Use Google Maps EZ

A handy guide to using a wrapper for the Google Maps API.

Web 2.0

Everybody’s talking about the new meme on the block: Web 2.0. But what exactly does it mean?

Tim Bray doesn’t like the sound of it. Tim O’Reilly, on the other hand, is all for it:

"Web 2.0 is the era when people have come to realize that it’s not the software that enables the web that matters so much as the services that are delivered over the web."

Over at Wired News, Kevin Kelly says it’s all about joining the hive mind. Digital Web, meanwhile, are starting a whole new series about Web 2.0 which aims to cut through the hype and get down to brass tacks, examining the technologies that are driving the new paradigm.

[I can’t believe I just used the word paradigm in a completely unironic way.]

There’s still no quick and easy definition for exactly what Web 2.0 is. It’s kind of a "I know it when I see it" type of thing. In any case, it looks like the moniker is here to stay so let’s get used to it.

Ligers, Lamarr and Eliza

When I first started reading this National Geographic article about ligers, a creature named in Napoleon Dynamite (it’s probably his favourite animal), I thought it was a parody. When the article began quoting actress Tippi Hedren about ligers and tigons, I was convinced that National Geographic had turned into The Onion.

But no, Tippi Hedren (of The Birds fame) does indeed run a wildlife preserve and yes, ligers are real.

Now I have a new respect for Napoleon Dynamite and Tippi Hedren. When it comes to truth-is-stranger-than-fiction stories of actresses though, you can’t beat the life and times of Hedy Lamarr:

"She was known as The Most Beautiful Woman In Films and also as a co-inventor of the first form of spread spectrum, a key to modern wireless communication."

This isn’t one of those parodies to get young men interested in science. Following a daring escape from Nazi Germany, Lamarr made her way to America where she found fame on the silver screen as "the Olivier of the orgasm". Together with composer George Antheil, she invented frequency-hopping spread spectrum, a way of rapidly switching a carrier signal for say, radio controlled torpedoes or WiFi.

She sounds like a latterday version of Eliza de la Zeur from Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle: the hottest fictional character ever imagined.

Saturday, August 13th, 2005

Powazek: Just a Thought: I suspect that I am part of a teaser campaign

Flickr will be doing publishing on demand. Looks good.

Ruby on Rael

Your geekiness quotient is directly proportional to how funny you find the title of this picture.

Ruby on Rael

Friday, August 12th, 2005

The Bacon Show

A blog devoted to bacon recipes: one recipe a day... forever.

Thursday, August 11th, 2005


A nifty app for OS X that allows you to browse your iTunes music by album cover.

The next Web revolution

An over-the-top article at Salon about 37 Signals.

Google Gulp

Parody from Google... and it isn't even April 1st.

Wednesday, August 10th, 2005


A very cool mashup of two APIs: events from EVDB and maps from Google Maps.

Tuesday, August 9th, 2005

Berners-Lee on the read/write web

An interview with Tim Berners-Lee. He likes blogs.

Monday, August 8th, 2005

Upload to flickr using Quicksilver

Clever. This gives me a warm tingly feeling.

Upload to flickr using Quicksilver

Rocking out

If you’re in Brighton and you’re wondering what to do with yourself on a Tuesday night, why night come along to the Hanbury Ballroom to watch my band Salter Cane raise the very ornate roof.

If you can’t make it, you can always listen to the radio interview that was broadcast last night on Brighton’s local Totally Wired show (we show up towards the end of the programme).

If streaming radio isn’t your cup of tea, you can always download the MP3s of our songs, but somehow that’s not quite the same as seeing us live so do try to make it to the show.

Weakend Productions : Jeb's Jobs

Hilarious tech support animation.

Dog Toilet

The world's most reliable news source. Like The Onion, but made by my mate Jamie.

Web design and cultural identity

Andy "Malarky" Clarke penned an editorial a while back entitled Look out Johnny Foreigner in which he talked about web design and national identity.

At the time, I didn’t think that much about it, and I filed it away somewhere in the back of my mind. It crept back to my frontal lobes last week. I was given a design brief that was fairly broad and vague but with one important directive: it shouldn’t look American.

That really got me thinking. Is there such a thing as American web design or European web design?

I think that a nation’s artistic history can have an effect on the web design produced by its citizens. After all, if you’re constantly exposed to a number of motifs or design patterns, you’re bound to be influenced by them.

But enough of this wishy-washiness: how was I supposed to recognise American design so that I could avoid it for this particular job?

After some exploration and research, I began to see some patterns in web design from the US and other patterns in web design from Europe (at least on commercial sites). Similar underlying differences would probably emerge in comparing commercial advertising on television.

It seems to me that American web design is overtly friendly. The desire to project a friendly image might manifest itself in any combination of rounded corners, gradients and warm, unthreatening, naturalistic colours.

European web design, on the other hand, appears to be more concerned with authoritativeness than friendliness. This can result in a "cooler" design based on a strong grid system with blocks of colour and perhaps a preponderance of dotted lines.

Needless to say, neither approach is superior to the other. The American approach lends itself well to a friendly, informal dialogue but runs the risk of appearing condescending. The European approach should result in an elegant, dignified web presence but may well end up appearing stand-offish and snobby.

As I said, this is just what I’ve seen from examining commercial sites. When it comes to personal sites, all bets are off. But even there, differences still emerge.

For instance, the "wicked worn" retro look can have different connotations in different cultures. A faded 50s postcard or a piece of aged tiki-bar memorabilia might be the starting point for an American retro site. In Europe, the inspiration is more likely to come from Victorian or Edwardian times (but perhaps that’s just because the 50s were a grim, drab time in Europe while in America, they were the zenith of space-age optimism).

You’ll notice that I haven’t linked to any specific examples: that would be too easy. I don’t think there’s any one site that I could point to as quintessentially American or European. Globalisation and cross-fertilisation ensure that there’s no such thing as a "pure" cultural design identity.

Still, it’s interesting to spot the patterns in a finished website and wonder if the final design would have been different had it been designed by someone from a different cultural background.

Sunday, August 7th, 2005

U2's City of Blinding Lights

William Gibson gives a first-hand account of U2's redristribution of the future.

Saturday, August 6th, 2005

Robin Cook

I just heard that Robin Cook died today. I have to say I’m somewhat shocked.

Along with Tony Benn, Robin Cook represented the antithesis of the archetypical deceitful politician. Robin Cook was a man of genuine principles: someone willing to give up his career when Tony Blair trampled all over the ethical foreign policy that he had helped draft.

I would have given that man my vote.

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2005

delimport - Spotlight Plugins

This excellent little plug-in allows you to search your links from Spotlight.

Surfin’ Safari » Multiple Backgrounds

Multiple background images (from CSS3) is implemented in Safari.... and has been for months!

Sour Apple

Hot on the heels of the updated iBooks and Mac minis, Apple have announced an all-singing, all-clicking mighty mouse.

Normally, this is just the kind of productive design that would garner my praise. But I’m not feeling very well disposed towards Apple after reading of a different forthcoming innovation:

“People working with early versions of the forthcoming Intel-based MacOS X operating system have discovered that Apple’s new kernel makes use of Intel’s Trusted Computing hardware.”

Trusted Computing… an Orwellian term for Digital Rights Management, which in turn is a euphemism for vendor-imposed restrictions on what I’m allowed to do with my data.

I’m with Cory on this one. If this turns out to be true, I’m switching to Linux. I love Macs but not enough to live with this kind of digital lock-in.

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2005

Monsanto files patent for new invention: the pig

This, my friends, is the number of the beast.