Archive: March, 2006


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Friday, March 31st, 2006

The Blog | Larisa Alexandrovna: MSM Plagiarism Strikes Again – AP Welcome to the Party | The Huffington Post

The Associated Press feels that blogs are good enough to steal from, but not good enough to credit.

YouTube - Best fight scene of all time (is this gay?)

Put this one in the "so bad, it's good" category. The movie is called "Undefeatable" if you fancy trawling eBay for it.

Best fight scene of all time

Prime yourself

Last year, there was a lot of positive hum travelling through the blogvine about the film Primer. It has finally shown up here in the UK in DVD form.

I rented and watched the movie last night. Then I watched it again, this time with the director’s commentary. Then I went online and started reading discussions about the movie. Now I’m beginning to get it. I may watch it one more time before I have to get the DVD back to the shop.

I would like to offer some humble opinion and some advice:

  1. Try to not read or hear anything about the plot before watching the movie.
  2. Watch it. It’s great. It looks great, it sounds great, the acting is great… it’s just great.
  3. After watching it — but not before — read this bulletin board discussion. It helps clarify things better than the Wikipedia entry or this very detailed diagram.
  4. Now watch it again.

You may want to just go ahead and buy the DVD rather than simply renting it.

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

Mike Davidson: Who Would You Be... If You Were A Woman?

Mike follows on from his original question "who would you be?" by adding the subclause "if you were a woman". My answer: Hedy Lamarr.

Tuesday, March 28th, 2006


Douglas Crockford has written a wrapper function to allow the easy interchange of JSON data between servers.

The New Wisdom of the Web - Next Frontiers -

Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake are on the cover of Newsweek. How cool is that?

In Defense of Web Developers, Again (by Jeremy Zawodny)

Jeremy Zawodny rails against the continuing snobbery towards front-end engineers.

Monday, March 27th, 2006

Simple Storage Service

Amazon’s new S3 service looks very interesting indeed. At first glance, it just looks like a very cheap way of storing and retrieving files — which it is — but the really fascinating aspect is that there is no user interface. It is purely a web service. As Sam Newman says:

When you get down to it, Amazon S3 is simply a large, distributed hash map with an API. Unless people build applications on top of it, it’s useless.

The creators of S3 have gone out of their way to keep the architecture as simple as possible. This is a smart move. I’m a great believer in the power of stupid networks.

Leaving aside the underlying technology, S3 is good news in purely practical terms. If nothing else, this should start a price war for data storage. Yet another barrier to entry has been lowered for anyone looking to publish anything online. Odeo and YouTube are good for audio and video respectively, but the agnostic nature of S3 means that you can store and stream on your own terms.

Hardware has been getting cheaper and cheaper for some time. Now it looks like bandwidth is heading the same way (for some amusing anecdotes on bandwidth issues, be sure to listen to Bernie Burns’ keynote from SXSW).

I’m looking forward to playing around with S3. For a service with no face, it sure looks like it’s got legs.

Sunday, March 26th, 2006

Find Similar Sites

This is a mashup of and

Friendster lost steam. Is MySpace just a fad?

Danah Boyd writes an essay that would've been a blog post but it got too long.

Design View : Andy Rutledge - No Comments Here

Someone else who doesn't have comments enabled on his site explains his reasons.

Don't Fuck With Love by The Sad Little Stars

A beautifully shot pop-up book style video.

Darwinian webolution

Odeo have released an embedded recorder that you can add to your own webpages. now offers private bookmarks.

Flickr now marks up profiles using the hCard microformat.

viewing source on my Flickr profile

Something that became very clear — both at the Carson Workshops Summit and at the many web app panels at South by Southwest — is that websites like these are never finished. Instead, the site evolves, growing (and occasionally dropping) features over time.

Traditionally, the mental model for websites has been architectural. Even the term itself, website, invites a construction site comparison. Plans are drawn up and approved, then the thing gets built, then it’s done.

That approach doesn’t apply to the newer, smarter websites that are dominating the scene today. Heck, it doesn’t even apply to older websites like Amazon and Google who have always been smart about constantly iterating changes.

Steve Balmer was onto something when he said “developers, developers, developers, ad nauseam”. Websites, like Soylent Green, are people. Without the people improving and tweaking things, the edifice of the site structure will crack.

I’m going to make a conscious effort to stop thinking about the work I do on the Web in terms of building and construction: I need to find new analogies from the world of biology.

Update: Paul Hammond told me via IM about a book called “How Buildings Learn: What happens after they’re built”. Maybe I don’t need to abandon the architectural analogies completely.

Friday, March 24th, 2006

May I take your order?

A menu with some great Engrish translations like "burn the spring chicken", "domestic life beef immerses cabbage" and "a west bean pays the fish a soup".

Design Melt Down

Design elements, trends and problems in Web Design... via John Oxton.

Wordridden revisited

Jessica’s site, WordRidden has been tweaked, redesigned, realigned, reiterated; call it what you like.

Like this site, WordRidden had been running on a crufty old CMS I wrote four years ago. It did the job fine but it was a bit of a pain to edit entries and comments. It’s now been switched over to the same home-rolled blogging framework that powers adactio, the DOM Scripting blog and Principia Gastronomica.

The hierarchal structure of the site has been flattened. Previously, there were separate areas for journal entries and articles, with the articles themselves being broken down into four categories. Over time it became clear that these distinctions were fairly arbitrary so they’ve been swept away. Now there’s simply writing.

The visual design is a bit of rush job but I’m quite pleased with how it has turned out. Graphically, it’s very, very minimalist. There’s a slight gradient on the page background courtesy of a 4K .gif. Then there’s an RSS icon, also 4K. That’s it. Everything else is text… in a liquid layout (what else?).

I aim to add to the design over time, perhaps introduce some wear and tear or the occasional graphical flourish. For now though, I’m enjoying the simplicity of a handful of fonts, ample proportions and some tried and tested typographical techniques. Needless to say, such a text heavy site looks its best with nice font smoothing — Windows users, please, please turn on ClearType.

Mostly I was trying to get out of the way and let the writing take centre stage. The writing has been refined over the past seven years. Seven years! It’s practically a proto-blog.

Have a dig through the archives to unearth the gems. Some of my favourites include “Dog Lady”, “The Making of History”, “Moon” and “Dirkie” (make sure to read the comments on that one… especially this one).

Brighton Daily Photo - Dean Harvey

This blog has a picture taken in Brighton every day.

Microformats Extensions - The Web Standards Project

Drew adds support for microformats to Dreamweaver. Awesome!

Thursday, March 23rd, 2006 - Aircraft carrier entirely made of Lego

It's an aircraft carrier. Made entirely out of Lego.

Respect the DOM t-shirt

Respect the DOM t-shirt

Design, old and new

One of the very first panels on the very first day of South by Southwest was Traditional design and new technology. The subject matter and the people couldn’t be faulted but there were some technical difficulties with the sound. I was at the back of the room and the dodgy mics made it hard going at times.

Khoi and Mark had some really good insights into the role of traditional design disciplines in the brave new media world. I enjoyed the fact that the panelists weren’t always in agreement: I like it when things get stirred up a bit.

Towards the end of the discussion, a question came up that turned the subject on its head: how has new technology affected old media. I didn’t get the chance to mention it at the time, but I immediately thought of last year’s Guardian redesign.

There are a lot of very webby touches to the new-look Guardian: blue underlined “links”, sidebars with the acronym FAQ, etc. Perhaps it’s a result of this webbiness, but I really, really like the paper’s new look and feel.

I’m not the only one. When Shaun came to visit, he was quite taken with the Guardian. The custom made typeface — Egyptian — sealed the deal.

I didn’t post my initial reaction to the paper’s new look because I wanted to allow some time to live with it for a while. My feelings haven’t changed though. I still like it a lot.

I do wonder, though, whether my emotional response to the design stems from the fact that I’m web-based kind of guy with a web-based aesthetic. It would be interesting to compare my reaction (or Shaun’s) with that of someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time browsing websites.

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

Talking about microformats

My Adactio Austin mashup proved to be very useful during South by Southwest. It was very handy having instant access to the geographical location of the next party.

Austin being Austin, I didn’t have to worry much about getting online: the city is swimming/drenched/floating/saturated in WiFi. After attending Tantek’s birthday celebrations at La Sol Y La Luna restaurant, which is not located downtown, a bunch of us stood on the street and began hailing taxis to get back into the town centre. In an attempt to ascertain exactly where we needed to tell the cab driver to take us in order to reach the next party, I whipped out my iBook, hoping for a net connection. There were five networks. That’s my kind of town.

While I had anticipated that Adactio Austin would make the evenings run smoother, I had planned on it affecting my daytime activities. As it turned out, my little experiment landed me a place on a panel.

When Aaron and I were preparing our DOM Scripting presentation for this year’s conference, I made sure that we nabbed ourselves a slot on the first day. I wanted to get the work out of the way so that I could relax for the rest of the conference. It was a good plan but the use of in my mashup prompted Tantek to ask me to sit it on his Monday morning panel. That’s how I found myself sitting behind a microphone together with Tantek, Chris and Norm, talking about the practical implementations of hCard and hCalendar.

I have to say it was one of the most relaxing and enjoyable talks I’ve ever given. We began the morning in a cafe geeking out about microformats, then we were in the green room geeking out about microformats and finally we were on stage geeking out about microformats. The movement from one location to the other went so smoothly that I felt as relaxed on the panel as I did in the cafe. I’m really glad Tantek asked me to say a few words.

Mind you, I probably came across as a complete booze hound. Tantek talked about the philosophy behind microformats, Chris talked about the tails extension for Flock, Norm talked about microformats at Yahoo! Europe… and I talked about where to go to get free beer. At this stage, I had also been doing some practical research in the field so I suspect my voice was somewhat raspy.

It was really interesting to compare the change in the perception of microformats within the space of one year. At South by Southwest 2005, there were two standout presentations for me: Eric and Tantek independently gave talks about this new fangled idea called microformats. At the time, I hadn’t even heard of the concept, so it was a real eye-opener for me. This year, microformats were a recognised, exciting technology. One week after SXSW, Bill Gates announced that “We need microformats”. That’s a lot of recognition.

From my experiences with my own humble experiments, I think there’s a lot of value to be had with mixing up events (using hCalendar) and mapping (using ). Throw into the mix and you’ve got some pretty big steps towards a good lowercase semantic web.

Think about it: if you’ve got some kind of application that’s native to a web of data (as Tom so succinctly puts it), you’ve already got addressable objects (using the most basic RESTful interface of all: URLs). Now, if you can add geographical, temporal or semantic data to those resources (using geotagging, hCalendar, and tagging, respectively), you can increase the value of that data exponentially. Just think of all the mashup potential of that content.

Dammit! In hindsight, I wish I could have nabbed Tom, Reverend Dan, Thomas and Tantek in Austin to have an impromptu brainstorm in the corridor about this stuff.

Carl Sandburg: The People Yes (excerpt)

This is the poem read by Bruce Sterling during his closing remarks at South by Southwest 2006. "This old anvil laughs at many broken hammers."

Tim Berners-Lee Quote'o'matic - fictitious quote generator

Writing a presentation on web accessibility? Tired of the usual "The power of the web..." quote?

Tuesday, March 21st, 2006

Newsvine - Comments on community

In a very meta move, I've seeded Newsvine with my post about comments (and Newsvine) with an eye to soliciting comments.

B Vitamin Case Reaches Supreme Court - Yahoo! News

Finally, questions are being asked about some of the more ludicrous patents out there. "Have inventors been busy patenting laws of nature, natural phenomena and abstract ideas?" Duh!

Sunday, March 19th, 2006 | popular urls to the latest web buzz

An aggregator of aggregators... and I'm posting a link to it on one of the aggregators.

Saturday, March 18th, 2006

Gladwell in Gatwick

After getting off the plane from Texas, I made my way through Gatwick airport towards the train station to catch a train down to Brighton. I saw Malcolm Gladwell walking by.

Maybe it was the spirit of South by Southwest still coursing through my veins or maybe it was just tiredness from the long flight, but I decided “what the heck?” and I went up and introduced myself to him, told him I liked The Tipping Point and bid him a good day.

It was one of those snap decisions.

Friday, March 17th, 2006

Rotation Of Earth Plunges Entire North American Continent Into Darkness | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Millions of eyewitnesses watched in stunned horror Tuesday as light emptied from the sky, plunging the U.S. and neighboring countries into darkness. As the hours progressed, conditions only worsened.


Dan has redesigned. Or maybe that should be realigned. Either way, it feels just perfect. Talented bastard.

A proper podcast for South by Southwest 2006

The South by SouthWest website erronously lists a series of downloadable audio files as “podcasts”. Hugh, don’t make me come over there and give you a patronising scolding like the one I gave to Ryan.

Confusingly, there is an RSS file available but it doesn’t use enclosures so podcast playing software like iTunes can’t find the audio files.

Jason Landry to the rescue. He’s hand-rolled an RSS file with enclosures pointing to the audio files. Point your podcast subscribing software of choice at the SXSW 2006 Interactive Panels Podcast.

Back from Austin

The interactive portion of South by Southwest is over. It’s been quite a whirlwind.

It was great to see old friends and meet new ones. Wherever I went, I met great people and I was able to put more faces to blogs I read. If I had one complaint it was that there just wasn’t enough time to really talk to everyone. I wish I could have cloned myself for the duration of the conference. There are a lot of people I would have liked to have spent more time with.

To anyone who came up and introduced themselves to me, thank you. Thank you very much.

To anyone who I went up to and introduced myself to, sorry. Extra special apologies to the woman whose foot I stood on while I was having a fanboy moment with Derek Powazek. I finally get to meet the person responsible for me “getting” the web all those years ago and I go and ruin the moment.

Just about everyone who was in Austin last year was back again this year except for Dan, Doug, Elsa and Joe who were greatly missed. Those who did attend came en masse. To paraphrase Bruce Sterling, people were showing up in buddy lists.

Attendance was up; way up. Fortunately everything scaled up pretty well. The rooms were bigger and the venues booked for parties were expanded. The Brit Pack contingent was at least twice as big this year, but we’re being given a run for our money from The Oz Squad.

The really gratifying thing about SXSW this year was the increase in the number of women attending. As Leslie put it, it’s a very good sign when there’s a queue for the women’s toilets at a tech conference. Compare and contrast to the Carson Workshops Summit here in England where, out of 800 attendees, the number of women was a low single figure percentile.

I think BlogHer helped enormously in raising the profile of women at SXSW this year. I really, really hope that this trend continues and spreads to other conferences. It just remains for us men to get over the ‘boys will be boys” jokes and downright sexism that rise to the surface with depressing predictability.

For the most, I kept myself offline for the duration of the conference. I kept my laptop firmly closed during every presentation and enjoyed them more for it. I’m relying on the audio files and Cindy’s l33t liveblogging skillz to refresh my memory. I have lots I want to talk about: microformats, tagging, accessibility and more on the role of comments and online communities.

Expect to see some rambling posts prompted by panels and corridor conversations.

Wednesday, March 15th, 2006

YouTube - Simon vs Shrimp

Simon sqeels like a little girl. Classic.

Simon vs Shrimp

Wednesday, March 8th, 2006

Buzzword Bingo

This <a href="">looks familiar</a>. Great minds think alike. (For some reason, this page has 76 divs and 50 tables. Yikes!)

12 perfect cases for Ajax

Yes, Ajax is over-used but here are some cases where it really helps.

Google Earth for Mac

Google Earth is now available for the Mac. Get downloading.

Comments on community

I was an early beta tester of Newsvine, Mike’s nifty new website. I like it.

There are two ways of using Newsvine. If you want, you can simply use it as alternative to Google News, a way of catching up on the latest stories appearing on the wire. The other way of using Newsvine is to read and comment on what other users are linking to and writing about.

Personally, I find myself using the site the first way. I don’t just confine myself to the Associated Press stories though, I do also investigate intriguing things that other users are linking to. But I don’t really participate in the comments. The simple reason for this is that the comments mostly suck.

This isn’t the fault of Newsvine, it’s simply the nature of the beast. Most comments suck.

This shouldn’t be surprising. According to Theodore Sturgeon’s infamous take on the , 90% of everything is crud. One look at the music charts should be enough to confirm that this signal to noise estimate is about right.

Take Digg. It’s a nice way to find out what links people find interesting (a la but the comments attached to each link are mostly a waste of space. The more popular the link, the more useless the comments. That’s revealing. There seems to be an inverse relationship between popularity and the usefulness of accompanying comments. Slashdot also testifies to this. I’m worried that as Newsvine grows in popularity, as it inevitably will, the comments will get even worse.

So why have comments at all? In a nutshell, comments are a great way of fostering a community. But that doesn’t really answer the question; that assumes that a community is necessarily a positive thing. But is it?

Clearly, the minds behind Digg, Slashdot and Newsvine feel that the value of the 10% outweighs the ballast of the 90%. They’ve made a conscious decision that having a community built into the site is important, perhaps even the whole point of the site in the first place.

Joshua Schacter, on the other hand, made a conscious decision not to have a comment-based community built directly into A community still exists around the site; it’s still social software — it wouldn’t work unless lots of people were using it — but any benefit gained by adding comments would be accompanied by a corresponding increase in the general level of crapiness.

Clay Shirky nails it in his speech A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy. This is a fundamental problem with social software (more so than real world situations because of The Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory). The more popular the community, the more likely it is that comments are going to suck.

Should we abandon comments completely then? Absolutely not! I’m a great believer in Tim Berners Lee’s dream of read/write web. But we should think very carefully about when and where to enable comments.

And so to blogs…

Blogs are susceptible to the same problems as social software sites (as well as having to deal with comment spamming scum). The more popular the blog, the bigger the problem. Just ask Heather or Jason.

Most blogs allow comments. There’s no doubt about it; having comments enabled is likely to increase the popularity of your blog.

But that, in and of itself, is not a good justification. It assumes that popularity is desirable. The truth is that, when it comes to personal publishing, it’s not the amount of people who visit that count, it’s who those people are why they’re visiting that’s important.

Comments are a shortcut to a Pyrrhic victory of popularity at the cost of having your pages cluttered with pointless remarks (by pointless, I don’t just mean the negative stuff: “me too!” and “great post!” achieve as little as “you suck!”). If popularity is your aim, it’s better in the long run to claw your way towards that goal on the strength of your writing or design skills.

But comments can add value. They are particularly useful on sites that have a narrow, focused scope. The focused nature of the subject matter ensures that visitors share a common interest — otherwise, they wouldn’t be there.

The more general a site’s focus, the less chance there is of it receiving quality comments. A site that covers everything from politics (Republican vs. Democrat) to computing (Mac vs. PC) is going to be flame-war central. A site that deals exclusively in the appreciation of chihuahuas stands a much better chance of forming a cohesive community.

I have three blogs. Comments are enabled on two of them. Those two are narrowly focused. One is about JavaScript and the Document Object Model, the other is about good food. While the number of comments on those sites remains low, the quality of those comments is disproportionately high. My third blog is the one you’re reading now, which doesn’t allow comments. That’s because this journal is, quite frankly, all over the place.

Sometimes I’ll write about design or code, but I’m equally likely to rant about the government or rave about a good book. My audience is, therefore, also all over the place. Geeks visit in the misguided hope that they might learn something useful but this site also functions as a way for my friends and family to keep track of what I’ve been up to (Hi, Mum!).

The inverse relationship between a blog’s diversity and popularity on the one hand, and the usefulness of its comments on the other, would seem to fly in the face of the wisdom of crowds. The two central factors in the creation of a wise crowd are that it is large and diverse. But there is another crucial factor: the individuals in the crowd should be unaware of one another’s decisions. You can be sure that the “ask the audience” section of Who wants to be a millionaire? would yield very different results if every audience member could see how every other audience member was voting.

The fact that comments are observable by default means that they effect the outcome of their own experiment. This cat of Schrodinger’s is clearly dead.

If you solicited feedback through the more private medium of email, the wisdom of the responding crowd would be greater and the quality of the feedback would increase. But that would defeat the community-building aspect: there would be no real conversation amongst your audience.

I don’t think we should be looking at comments to see conversations. It isn’t much of a conversation when the same person determines the subject matter of every dialogue. The best online conversations I’ve seen have been blog to blog: somebody posts something on their blog; somebody else feels compelled to respond on their own blog. The quality of such a response is nearly always better than a comment on the originating blog for the simple reason that people care more about what appears on their own site than on someone else’s.

The difficulty then is keeping track of these conversations. would be a good option but it relies on a certain level of techiness on the part of the responder and again, the issue of spam raises its ugly head. These days, it should be possible to replace trackback with search using third-party tools like Technorati and Google Blog Search. Expect to see that kind of functionality built in to more and more blogging tools.

I think the fundamental issue with comments is that are often enabled without reason. I wrote already about the need to justify every design decision. The same should also be true for community decisions. Does every little blog post really need to accept comments? Wouldn’t it be better to save them for special occasions?

I’d like to propose a corollary of Sturgeon’s Law for blogs:

Comments should be disabled 90% of the time.


Saturday, March 4th, 2006

Hiding in Plain Sight: An Interview with Adam Greenfield - Boxes and Arrows

Adam Greenfield talks about his new book, Everyware: The Dawning of Ubiquitous Computing.

Adactio Austin

In less than a week, I — along with the rest of the Brit Pack — will be flying out to Austin, Texas for South by Southwest 2006.

I will be speaking with Aaron. If you fancy learning how to bluff your way in DOM Scripting, swing on by.

The standard of panels looks really good this year. As usual, it’s going to be difficult to choose which ones to attend and which ones to pass up. I remember at last year’s conference, I had the constant feeling that there was probably something really good happening somewhere at every moment and I was missing it… but I was missing it for something equally good. That’s a nice, if somewhat frustrating feeling.

But the panels and presentations are just one part of Southby. The real value of Geekstock is the pressing of the flesh and the meeting of the minds. I met so many wonderful people last year, it was astounding. I mean, by the sheer law of averages, I should have come across at least a few assholes, right? Nope. Salt of the earth, those webby geeks.

I am so looking forward to once again being surrounded by fellow nerds, imbibing Shiner Bock and consuming Texas barbecue. This year is going to be all the more fun for the presence of Jessica.

Instead of posting a list of panels I’m thinking of attending, I thought I’d put together a page of much more useful information: parties I plan on going to. To use the term du jour, I’ve “mashed up” hCalendar with Google Maps and here’s the result:

Adactio Austin

If you’re going to be in Austin, and just in case you’re wondering where I’m going to be on any given evening, just make use of Austin’s ubiquitous WiFi to pull up that page. I want to make it easy as possible for you to join me for a beer.

Update: After some inspiring banter with Tantek, I’ve added some more microformat goodness to Adactio Austin. The list of parties is now outlined in xoxo and the venues are marked up as hCards.

Samuel's Blog

The working example from Richard's chapter in Blog Design Solutions. It's a home-rolled PHP/MySQL blog for Samuel Pepys featuring beautiful typography... natch.

Friday, March 3rd, 2006 Using Ajax from Perl

My fellow Brightonian geek, Dom, has written an article about using Perl and Ajax.

feeling random?

If you take a picture of anybody at South by SouthWest, be sure to tag your picture on Flickr with stylemastersxsw. You could win an iPod nano.

Thursday, March 2nd, 2006

Getting Real: The smarter, faster, easier way to build a successful web application

The PDF book of the T-shirt of the philosophy from 37 Signals. There are 4 chapters online for you to sample.

Wednesday, March 1st, 2006

< = >

Less is more. That’s the increasingly popular mantra, typified by folks like 37 Signals. Andreas Pfeiffer has coalesced recent minimalist trends into an article entitled Why Features Don’t Matter Anymore: The New Laws of Digital Technology:

As the iPod abundantly shows, user experience (along with a strong brand, and clever marketing) is much more important for the success of a device then technical specifications. Web designers have grasped the importance of good user experience a long time ago; now it is time the big technology providers to understand where the industry is headed.

If you are more visually inclined, this video of the Microsoft iPod packaging parody makes much the same point. It’s a theoretical comparison of the design styles of Apple and Microsoft. For a real-world equivalent, compare and contrast the presentation styles of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

The minimalist aesthetic seems to be gaining traction in web design circles with an emphasis on the big, clear, simple interfaces typical of so many Web 2.0 apps. But the wisdom behind this design philosophy isn’t new. I remember reading a comment by Joshua Davis back in 2000, which I still think is a superb approach to take to visual design. When asked, “What would you say is beauty in design?”, he replied:

Being able to justify every pixel.

Flickr: The Tilt-shift miniature fakes Pool

Take a photograph of something big and blur the foreground and background, leaving a narrow strip in focus. The result looks like a macro shot of a model.