Archive: January, 2007


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Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

The Web 2.0 show

This is quite possibly the best thing I’ve seen since breakfast: Cerado’s Web 2.0 or Star Wars Quiz. The premise is simple: decide whether a silly-sounding word is the name of an over-hyped web company or whether it’s really the name of a character from Star Wars.

I scored a reasonably good 41 thanks to my knowledge of Star Wars, I’m glad to say… I’d hate to have scored well by actually recognising half of the companies listed:

31-40: As your doctor, I recommend moving out of your parents’ basement.

nasty nets » 2001 2006

Here's some clever CSS: one YouTube video inside another YouTube video. Press play on both.

MINUSCULE site officiel, official website

A very cute short film that mixes computer animation with live action.

Editors' top noise cancellation headphones - CNET Reviews

I need to get some noise-cancelling headphones for the flight to Vancouver. Those Sennheisers are looking good for the price.

The tyranny of mouseover

If I click on a link, I am initiating an action. If I fill in a form and press a submit button, I am initiating an action. But if I move my mouse over a page element, I am not initiating an action. Chances are I’m on my way to initiating an action (like clicking a link or pressing a button) but if I brush past a link on the way, that does not mean that I want something to happen in response.

Most browsers display the value of a title attribute as a tool-tip after a suitable pause. Generally this works pretty well as long as the tool-tip is relatively small and self-contained. Ever come across an instance of a title attribute with a large amount of text? It just feels wrong. There are economies of scale when it comes to displaying information triggered by a mouseover.

All of this is by way of introduction to the topic of those bloody annoying Snap previews that are quite literally popping up all over the place.

I’m not alone in my annoyance. Lorelle VanFossen has put together an excellent list of the problems caused by these rude and intrusive interlopers. As well as listing the accessibility issues for low-vision and motor-impaired users, she makes the very valid point that these pop-ups actively destroy the act of reading:

There’s a small author-part of me that hopes what I write resembles some action-packed-page-turning-thriller and that people are glued to their screens eagerly embracing every word I write. I’d hate to have that experience be interrupted by an annoying pop-up window of any kind. Destroys the interaction of the reader with the written word, doesn’t it?

The way that the developers at Snap view web pages reminds of the Far Side cartoon:

Blah blah LINK blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah LINK blah blah blah blah blah…

Lorelle’s frustration is particularly acute because the Snap previews showed up on her blog because Matt thought it would be cool to roll out this “feature” to 10% of users.

Luckily, Lorelle and other hijacked blogs can turn the feature off. As pointed out by John Gruber, Jason Kottke and Michael Heilemann, the rest of us can also deactivate these annoying things. I should also point out that you can deactivate them directly from a preview by clicking on the “options” link in the pop-up and setting either a local or a global cookie to switch off the previews.

But this is like opt-out spam. I shouldn’t be confronted by these intrusive and annoying pop-ups to begin with. Offering them as a feature to users who want them strikes me as a perfectly reasonable implementation. This is the perfect example of something that should have been implemented like a Greasemonkey script: give users the choice and the power to activate this flashy feature. But don’t foist it on us and then claim it’s our responsibility to disable it.

If you haven’t seen the Snap previews in action, you can find them on TechCrunch and Vitamin, to give just two examples. Their presence on TechCrunch isn’t really surprising given that the site is devoted to pointing out all that is flashy and pointless on the web. But the gang over at Vitamin really ought to know better.

Monday, January 29th, 2007

Urban Dirty: Free texture stock photography for your artwork, desktop and design

A nice collection of royalty free texture photos using the Flickr API.

Saturday, January 27th, 2007 » LinkedIn Launches hResume

LinkedIn is now implementing the hResume microformat. That's a lot of hResumes.

Do the right semantic thing

Jason Kottke wrote about a new site on the block called Do The Right Thing:

The site works on a modified Digg model. If you see a story you like, you click a button to declare your interest in it. But then you also rate the social impact of the subject of the story, either positive or negative.

As soon as I read this, I immediately thought of vote-links. I wrote about vote-links before in an article for 24 Ways.

Do The Right Thing is already linking to other sites with “impact” ratings shown next each link. Depending on how people have voted for the social impact of the linked resource, this rating is either positive or negative. With the addition of rev="vote-for" or rev="vote-against" the community judgement could be explicitly encoded in the links.

I signed up for Do The Right Thing so that I could use the members-only feedback form to suggest this addition. Alas, the overly clever feedback form couldn’t be submitted in Camino, my current browser of choice.

Update: The feedback form has been fixed. Not only that but the guy doing the fixing turns out to be Jarkko Laine, who I once had dinner with in Copenhagen. Small world.

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

Map games

At last year’s FooCamp, Tom, Simon, Paul, Suw and others had fun creating giant pictures for the benefit of a Google fly-over. The results are now visible and they look pretty good.

I mention this because if you’re in Sydney tomorrow, you might want to arrange something similar for the Australia Day Google fly-over. No rude words or Firefox logos, please.

Whither Twitter?

Twitter is a funny little beast about which I’ve had plenty to say. The service has been growing in popularity and lots of new people are showing up to try it out.

I know quite a few people who don’t like it. Eric is frustrated. Meanwhile, on a mailing list, some other friends of mine expressed similar feelings of frustration and even disgust.

Most of the frustrations stem from Twitter’s crappiness as a communication tool for a social network. It’s like a crippled version of IRC. It’s not as good as instant messaging. Creating a network of friends is too time-consuming.

All of these accusations are true. But they don’t matter one little bit to me. I can understand why coming to Twitter now — when you know that lots of your friends are already using it — must be so frustrating: it looks like a communication tool so why is it so hard to make it work like one? But when I started using Twitter, I didn’t know anybody else using it (except for Dunstan). So I use Twitter to broadcast, not to converse.

Since then, with the influx of so many of my friends, I find myself occasionally participating in ad-hoc conversations but they are, by nature, fragile. I’m far more likely to use the “direct message” feature if I’ve got something to say to someone specific on Twitter.

So if Twitter isn’t much good as a collaborative communication tool and all I really use it for is to broadcast my current state of mind, newcomers to the service might rightly ask, “what’s the point?”

It’s not the first time that this question has been asked of online tools. A few years back, that same question was the mantra chanted by most people when they heard about blogging; “what’s the point?”

For anyone coming to blogging now of course, there are plenty of good answers to that question. Most of the answers are to do with “building brand”, “networking”, and other valid but, in my mind, shitty reasons for starting a blog.

Twittering is like blogging: I would do it even if no-one was going to read it.

I don’t blog for other people. I don’t twitter for other people. I do both for myself.

What’s the point? It’s fun.

Flickr: Flickr API

Machine tags will now be available through the Flickr API (that's triple tags to you and me).

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

The B-List: A chronicle of the Ages of the Web

Supremely geeky but funny look at the history of the Web via Tolkien.

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

A List Apart: Articles: Paper Prototyping

A great hands-on article on the benefits of playing with paper.


A cute blog that uses ingenious diagrams to "make fun of some things and sense of others."

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

Where I Had My First Kiss . com - where was your first kiss?

Here's a mashup for ya: Google Maps meets young love.

Saturday, January 20th, 2007

In Saturn’s Shadow

This picture of Saturn, taken from the Cassini probe, is literally incredible: it doesn't look real.

Explaining Ajax, transcribed

Vicki recently Twittered that with the increase in podcasts, the net is increasingly inaccessible to her.

I had the pleasure of meeting Vicki at Web Directions South in Sydney a few months ago. I was there to give a talk called Explaining Ajax. The audio of that presentation is available on the Web Directions South podcast.

I had the presentation transcribed and I’ve posted it in the articles section. Don’t forget: the RSS feed of the articles section itself doubles up as a podcast.

As usual, I used the Mechanical Turk-driven Casting Words service to get the transcription done. For the most part, it turned out okay but it was really clear that the transcription was done by many people with varying degrees of competence.

See for yourself. The original transcript begins well enough but about three quarters of the way through it turns into complete gibberish. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t suddenly lose the ability to speak intelligibly during the presentation though others may disagree. I had to tweak the final quarter of the transcript so much that I might as well have transcribed it from scratch myself.

If you can’t get enough of hearing the dulcet tones of my voice, you can listen in on a chat I had with Brian Oberkirch for his Edgework podcast. I’m afraid that Skype was acting up a bit on my end so I sound like Max Headroom with a voice box. It was a very pleasant chinwag nonetheless but I fear that—given the issues with the audio—running it through the Casting Words grinder might result in a dadaist abomination.

Friday, January 19th, 2007

Explaining Ajax

A presentation I gave at Web Directions South in Sydney, Australia in September 2006.

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

Bringing it all back home

Given how much I travelled last year, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’m leading some sort of transient lifestyle. But Brighton is where I spend most of my time and quite often it’s as eventful here as anywhere else on the globe.

There’s the renowned Brighton music scene, for example. I’ll be contributing to its vibrant ecosystem next month. Salter Cane will be playing a concert at The Joogleberry Playhouse on February 25th, which is, incidentally, my birthday. If you’re in town, come along and celebrate. You can add your name on Upcoming or Last FM.

On March 2nd, I’ll be giving an Ajax workshop. I’ve given workshops before in London, Manchester and Sydney. This time I’ll be doing it on home territory. Not only will it be in Brighton, it will be in the Clearleft office building, right in the middle of the trendy North Laine. If you’re interested in coming along (and helping me celebrate the release of Bulletproof Ajax), sign up before February 12 to get the early bird discount—£100 off the full price!

Twitter / darthvader

Darth Vader signs up to Twitter. Hilarity ensues.

Monday, January 15th, 2007

Flash Element TD | Novel Concepts

This Warcraft/Starcraft-style Flash game is really addictive. You have been warned.

Announcing Bulletproof Ajax

When I wrote DOM Scripting, I can’t say it was the most pleasant experience. I found the act of writing to be quite laborious. As anyone who has written a book will tell you, it’s a hell of a lot of work.

But then when the book was finished and I finally held it in my hands, I experienced a great feeling of satisfaction. Once the reviews started coming in — mostly more than favourable — I felt even better. Before too long, I had almost forgotten the pain that had gone into writing the thing in the first place.

It was while I was in this vulnerable state of the newly-chuffed author at last year’s South By SouthWest that I was wined and dined by a charming representative from New Riders. Before I knew it, I found myself agreeing to write another book, one about Ajax this time.

Once the contract was signed, I was back behind my laptop staring at a blank Word document. That’s when I started remembering the pain of writing the first book. Bugger.

Fast forward to today. I’m done. The book is called Bulletproof Ajax and it will be released in one month’s time.

As yet, I don’t have a physical copy in my hands but already I’ve got that warm glow of achievement. I’m really, really pleased with how the book has turned out.

Now, here’s the thing: I think that people will either love this book or hate it. I didn’t write a typical programming book. Instead, the book has a strong sense of narrative and a distinctive tone of voice. I’m hoping that this will appeal to a lot of people but I expect it’s equally likely that it will put other people off.

I wouldn’t have written this book if I didn’t feel there was a need for it. On the face of it, another book on Ajax doesn’t seem to be filling a niche. After all, there’s no shortage of Ajax books out there. But most of those Ajax books are written for programmers. Generally they’re aimed at server-side programmers well-versed in a “proper” programming language like Java, and who must now come to grips with JavaScript.

Bulletproof Ajax is different. It’s aimed at front-end developers and designers: the kind of people who are already well-versed in web standards; CSS, (X)HTML, and maybe a dab of JavaScript. But it’s certainly not aimed at hardcore programmers.

Just to be clear: this book is not a cookbook of code. Yes, there is code in there to illustrate the concepts but it’s the concepts that are really important. The code is meant simply as a starting point. I go into far more detail on the design challenges and philosophical implications of Ajax. That’s why I think people will either love this book or hate it.

Personally, I love it… but then I may be a little bit biased—like a parent talking about how special their child is.

I’ve created a website to go with the book. It’s got the introduction, the table of contents and the code samples. Rather than start up yet another blog, I’m going to continue talking about Ajax and JavaScript on the DOM Scripting blog and then pull in the latest entries on the front page of the Bulletproof Ajax site.

Oh, by the way, about the title… I have Dan’s blessing. I just thought it was such a great adjective to apply to my approach to Ajax that it fit like a glove. So minus points for originality but plus points for accuracy.

Bulletproof Ajax is available to pre-order from Amazon. Some of the details listed on the Amazon page have been plucked from thin air and will get updated soon: the book is closer to 200 pages than 300.

If the release date listed on Amazon is correct, then the book will be available just in time for Valentine’s day so you can go ahead and get a book on Ajax for that someone special in your life. XMLHttpRequest is a geek’s best friend.

Sunday, January 14th, 2007

The Best Songs I Acquired in 2006 Ever

Richard has published his annual round-up of the past year’s music available, as usual, on CD for anyone willing to reciprocate. It’s a great idea that always reminds me of Thurston Moore’s essay in Wired magazine on the subject of mix tapes:

Once again, we’re being told that home taping (in the form of ripping and burning) is killing music. But it’s not: It simply exists as a nod to the true love and ego involved in sharing music with friends and lovers. Trying to control music sharing — by shutting down P2P sites or MP3 blogs or BitTorrent or whatever other technology comes along — is like trying to control an affair of the heart. Nothing will stop it.

Inspired by my esteemed colleague’s example, I hereby present a short list of songs from some of my favourite albums of 2006. To say that I bought all these songs would be stretching the truth beyond its elastic limit.

Saturday, January 13th, 2007

Five things you may not know about Jeremy Keith

Cindy tagged me so let’s get this done.

Five things you may not know about me:

  1. My PIN.
  2. The root password for my computer.
  3. Where I put the front door key.
  4. My sexual peccadillos.
  5. What I’ve got in my pocketses.

There. That wasn’t so hard.

I don’t think I’ll tag anyone because everyone else seems to have fundamentally misinterpreted the question.

Friday, January 12th, 2007

A New Sith, or Revenge of the Hope

An interesting re-evaluation of Star Wars: Episode IV in light of information from episodes I-III. Could R2D2 and Chewbacca, as secret agents of the fledging rebellion, be the most important characters?

Nick Dunn's stream

A very nice life stream implementation that uses APIs to pull in images (though the underlying markup is a bit weird).

Fundamentos Web 2006 Podcast

The website for the Fundamentos Web conference provided audio and video files but no RSS feed to enclose them so Nick Dunn has created one for us.

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

Semantics in HTML - 1.”traditional semantic HTML” at microformatique - a blog about microformats and “data at the edges”

A superb article by John Allsopp on semantics in the broad sense, from philosophy and linguistics right through to markup. And this is just part one! Read, enjoy, and prepare for part two.

Stopdesign | Swing low

Douglas is blogging again. "To chronicle the bits and information around me. Short posts or long ones; on-topic or not; doesn’t matter. Just write."

iPhone, uPhone, we all scream for iPhone

Like everyone else in the geekosphere, I was vicariously attending MacWorld through all those Mac rumour sites as well as Twitter. Unsurprisingly, the iPhone has a lot of people excited.

Jason Kottke got so excited, he immediately whipped up a cardboard scale model of the iPhone. Jeff Croft is really excited that the iPhone is running Leopard.

A lot of people are talking about how to get their heads around this thing. Is it a phone or is it a PDA? John Allsopp wouldn’t mind losing the phone functionality altogether.

Mike Davidson thinks that the iPhone is worthy of the moniker Steve’s Amazing New Device. He must be pretty pleased that his prediction that Apple would no longer be just a computer company became reality with the official change of the company’s name. Khoi Vinh, on the other hand, will be disappointed to hear that the iPhone does indeed use iTunes to do its syncing.

I spent part of the keynote chanting Get to the web browsing! Get to the web browsing! Then Steve Jobs got to the web browsing… with expando-Safari.

Dave Hyatt may be slightly biased but he thinks that this may spell the beginning of the end for a separate mobile web. Dan Cederholm is pretty impressed too. Cameron Moll, on the other hand, believes that the iPhone won’t revolutionise the mobile web landscape for most people. Brian Fling disagrees. He thinks the impact of the iPhone will be huge.

Bursting Apple’s reality distortion field with Photoshop, Jon Hicks demonstrates the problem with the iPhone’s screen. Roger Johansson also throws a cold bucket of reality on proceedings when he asks where the tactile feedback is supposed to come from when there’s no keyboard. That’s a valid concern according to David Pogue’s hands-on experience.

The biggest downer probably won’t be anything to do with the device itself but the lock-in with some crappy provider, as Dave Shea explains. That’s still not enough to dissuade Jason Santa Maria from wanting an Apple mobile device.

I met up with Brighton’s own mobile guru, Tom Hume, for lunch today. He’s taking a pragmatic and somewhat pessimistic approach with his thoughts on the iPhone.

Only time will tell how Apple’s baby will fare once its released into the wild. For some historical perspective, I invite you to cast your mind back to a Slashdot article from 2001 announcing the iPod.

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

New Year’s Resolution

In a comment on Roger’s post about fixed and liquid layouts, Cameron wrote:

This issue seems to generate a heated debate every time it’s mentioned. I imagine one could pen an article with the headline “Fluid or fixed?” and nothing else, and yet dozens of comments would inevitably appear.

But rather than use that title, I couldn’t resist borrowing a pun from Andy, prompted by a post from Scrivs called What Resolution Will You Design for in 2007? (a classic example of the fallacy of many questions).

Now, firstly, we need to draw a distinction between monitor size and browser size. In other words, the difference between screen resolution and the viewport size:

There’s a real danger in thinking that “the numbers speak for themselves.” Numbers don’t speak for themselves; numbers need to be interpreted.

The numbers clearly show that monitor sizes and resolutions are getting bigger. The most common interpretation of that is more and more people have bigger displays. But an equally valid interpretation of the numbers is the range of displays is bigger than ever. It’s a subtle but important distinction. One interpretation focuses solely on the size of the highest numbers; the other interpretation focuses on the range of all the numbers.

The way I see it, the range is growing at both ends of the spectrum. Yes, desktop monitors are getting wider (though that doesn’t mean that viewports get any wider above a certain size) but handheld and gaming devices are likely to remain at the lower end of the scale. The Wii, for example, has a resolution of 640 x 480.

Mind you, the iPhone turns the whole question on its head with its scalable browsing. At MacWorld, Steve Jobs demonstrated this by visiting the New York Times, an unashamedly wide fixed-width website. On the Apple site, Wikipedia—a liquid layout— is shown fitting nicely on the display. The iPhone deals with both. Still, rather than letting my liquid layouts scale down to the iPhone’s width, I should probably start putting a min-width value on the body element.

Speaking of which…

A common argument against using liquid layouts is the issue of line lengths. On the face of it, this seems like a valid argument. Readability is supremely important and nobody likes over-long line lengths. But it’s not quite as simple as that when it comes to readability on screen compared to print, as Richard noted:

Surprisingly, I find short line lengths tiresome on screen; I don’t really subscribe to the empirical prescription of 7–10 words per line for comfortable reading. Most novels have 10–15 words per line and I think the upper region of that range is more appropriate for screen.

In any case, the idea that liquid layouts automatically means long line lengths on large screens is, I feel, a misconception. The problem is that a lot of the examples of liquid layouts aren’t very good and line lengths do expand without limit. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In my opinion, the most important addition to Internet Explorer 7 is the max-width property. It means that we can now really start to look at creating fluid layouts within defined parameters, as demonstrated by Cameron in Andy’s book. In fact, I think we’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible in creating seamless adaptive layouts (and, more importantly, seamless adaptive page elements) using the dual power of max-width and min-width.

That still leaves Internet Explorer 6 and below. Should they get unbounded fluid layouts or should they get a fixed width fallback? The second is certainly an option using conditional comments, which is the Microsoft-approved way of dealing with rendering inconsistencies. I think that the lack of support for max-width certainly falls into that category. Call it transcending CSS if you will; I call it routing around damage on the designer’s network.

I want to hear what you have to say… if you’ve got something new to say. Let’s not just rehash the same old arguments that would inevitably appear had I simply asked “Fluid or fixed?”

Some Hands-On Time With the iPhone - Bits - Technology - New York Times Blog

David Pogue gets down and dirty with the iPhone. The good: "It feels amazing in your hand." The bad: "Typing is difficult."

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007

A List Apart: Articles: Whitespace

Mark has written a great article for ALA, focusing on one aspect of good typography: whitespace.

Sunday, January 7th, 2007

A brief word

As if further proof were needed that Hollywood is, in fact, not run by Jews, Mel Gibson has a new film out called Apocalypto.

For the past week, television ads have been running in continuous rotation. The plot of the movie is teasingly summarised and the most exciting segments are shown to titillate the senses. These advertisements finish with an announcement that the film can be seen in cinemas from “jan five”.

That’s exactly what’s said: jan five. Not “January fifth”, or “the fifth of January”, or even “January five”. Nope: jan five.

I guess it’s fortune that Mel’s movie is being released in such an easy-to-pronounce month. I’d hate to hear the announcer have to wrap his mouth ‘round dates like “sep one” or “apr three”.

What is the point of this? Is any time really being saved by pronouncing abbreviations as if they were complete words?

Of course, this is nothing new to sports fan. Not a week goes by without an advertisement for a match like “Arsenal vee Chelsea.” At first I wondered what the hell “vee” meant. Then I realised that it was supposed to be shorthand for “versus”.

Considering that this is the country where English was invented, they do a remarkable job of butchering the language sometimes.

Friday, January 5th, 2007

Web 2.0 how-to design style guide

This is cargo cultism in action. Reductionism at its worst.

Monkey Bites

A brilliant list of New Year's Resolutions for Coders.

Cá Bhfuil Na Gaeilgeoirí? | The Guardian | Guardian Unlimited

Can you really get by in Ireland by just speaking Irish? Not in Dublin, it seems. I'd love to see the TV show that this article is based on.

The New Yorker: Game Master

A profile of Will Wright. I'm really looking forward to hearing him speak at SXSW this year.

YouTube - Star Wars

Star Wars and Lego: two great tastes that taste great together.

Lego Star Wars - For the millionth time, i didn't make this

Monday, January 1st, 2007

Time and motion

One year ends. Another begins. This is the traditional time to cast one’s gaze downwards towards one’s navel as Mark, Jonathan and Tom have already done.

There appears to be a meme circulating wherein the past year is tallied by places visited. This dovetails neatly with one of my busiest travel years yet so I’m going to run with it:

The highlight was visiting Australia. That really was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was also a New Year’s resolution I was very happy to have fulfilled.

I’ll be reliving some of that Web Directions magic this year, but in Canada this time. I’ve never been to Vancouver and I’m really looking forward to it. By the way, if you’re still wavering about whether to go to this fine conference, take note that you have been granted a reprieve: the discount pricing has been extended to January 14th, so waver no more.

With Web Directions North looming, and South by Southwest still to come, 2007 is already shaping up to be another fun and busy year. It looks like this will be the year that I finally make it San Francisco.

In between the travelling, I anticipate that I’ll be doing more a lot more work with Clearleft. I spent most of 2006 slacking off real work by writing another book (more on that soon). This year, I want to sink my teeth back into some design work. I can feel my skills atrophying from too much writing and talking and not enough doing.

This year’s resolutions are:

  • to get back to some “real” work,
  • to keep travelling and speaking (I do love it so!),
  • to not write a book,
  • to play more bouzouki.

That last one is probably as unrealistic as “to get in shape” but I’m including it to induce the feelings of guilt required to motivate me.