Archive: November, 2009


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Saturday, November 28th, 2009

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

Audio Atrocities (TM)

"This site is intended to be a constantly growing and changing museum for the study and enjoyment of truly terrible video game voice acting in video games from the very first CD system, the Turbografx until the present day."

Full Frontal JavaScript 2009

Remy recounts the Jedi mind trick I used to get him to move Full Frontal to the Duke of Yorks cinema.

Solar System Scale Model

This web page is half a mile wide.

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009 / Weekend columnists / Tim Harford - Given the choice, how much choice would you like?

Finally, some debunking of the "paradox of choice" oversimplification.

"It's like twitter. Except we charge people to use it."

This is just wonderful. "Please design a logo for me. With pie charts. For free."

Cause and effect

On November 14th, Cork City was the location of a wherein a crowd of people sang Mister Blue Sky on the city’s main thoroughfare.

One week later, the city suffered its worst flooding in 800 years.



In the latest ruckus around search results, a spokesman for Google proudly declaims that the company is sticking to its principles:

Google views the integrity of our search results as an extremely important priority.

Accordingly, we do not remove a page from our search results simply because its content is unpopular or because we receive complaints concerning it.

Oh, really?

If you change the word “complaint” to “DMCA takedown notice” then it’s a different story.

So the lesson is: complaining about the offensive nature of a search result will get you nowhere but sending a spurious legal claim will result in immediate action.

101 Things I Learned in Interaction Design School

A set of short, easily-digested lessons from the world of interaction design, inspired by "101 Things I Learned In Architecture School."

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

apophenia: spectacle at Web2.0 Expo... from my perspective

A vivid first-person description of danah boyd's talk at the Web 2.0 Expo. I have to say, I'm not entirely surprised that she had a such a humiliating experience at such a douchebaggy conference.

Aza’s Thoughts » Identity in the Browser (Firefox)

Aza Raskin share's some mockups of ideas for incorporating identity management into the browser.

Humanising data: introducing “Chernoff Schools” for Ashdown – Blog – BERG

Matt gets an opportunity to use the Chernoff effect for visualising school data.

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Adding “1UP notification” with jQuery - O! Mr Speaker!

A jQuery plug-in inspired by the interaction feedback on Huffduffer, which was in turn inspired by retro games.

QuirksBlog: Apple is not evil. iPhone developers are stupid.

PPK offers a rebuttal to Paul Graham's attack on Apple's App Store policies by placing the blame firmly at the feet of developers who refuse to embrace web technologies.

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Cadence & Slang is a book about interaction design. — Kickstarter

If you want to see this book published (and you should), why not pledge a little something to the cause?

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

SPARKLINES IN THE GRID - Patent Application 20090282325

Microsoft are trying to patent sparklines. Twunts.

Glossary | HTML5 Doctor

A very handy glossary of HTML5 from the medical professionals at HTML5 Doctor.

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Statistical significance & other A/B test pitfalls

Cennydd delivers a slap of common sense to A/B testing. With science!

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Log in or sign up? - Leah Culver's Blog

Leah has some great ideas on combing "log in" and "sign up" forms into one.

Thursday, November 12th, 2009


An in-depth study mapping all the permutations in "choose your own adventure" books.

Collective action

When I added collectives to Huffduffer, I wanted to keep the new feature fairly discrete. I knew I would have to add an add/remove device to profiles but I also wanted that device to be unobtrusive. That’s why I settled on using a small +/- button.

The action of adding someone to, or removing someone from a collective was a clear candidate for Hijax. Once I had the adding and removing working without JavaScript, I went back and sprinkled in some Ajax pixie-dust to do the adding and removing asynchronously without refreshing the whole page.

That was the easy part. The challenge lies in providing some meaningful and reassuring feedback to the user that the action has been carried out. There are quite a few familiar devices for doing this; the yellow fade technique is probably the most common. Personally, I like the Humanized Messages as devised by Aza Raskin and ported to jQuery by Michael Heilemann.

I knew that, depending on the page, the user could be carrying out multiple additions or removals. Whatever feedback mechanism I provided, it shouldn’t get in the way of the user carrying out another addition or removal. That’s when I thought of a feedback mechanism from a different discipline: video games.

Super Mario Bros. Frustration Speed Run in 3:07

Quite a few arcade games provide a discrete but clear feedback mechanism when points are scored. When the player successfully “catches” a prize, not only does the overall score in the corner of the screen update, but the amount scored appears in situ, floating briefly upwards. It doesn’t get in the way of immediately grabbing another prize but it does provide a nice tangible bit of feedback (the player usually gets some audio feedback too, which would be nice to do on the web if it weren’t to likely to get very annoying very quickly).

It wasn’t too tricky to imitate this behaviour with jQuery.

Collective action

This game-inspired feedback mechanism feels surprisingly familiar to me. Sign up or log in to Huffduffer to try it for yourself.

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Phonetikana - the johnson banks thought for the week

An interesting experiment in making Katakana self-describing.

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

iQ Font

How to draw a font with a car. With. A. Car.

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Saturday, November 7th, 2009


Huffduffer was launched thirteen months ago. I almost missed the one year anniversary but for an astute huffduffer who pointed it out.

It’s been quite a year. Just over 2000 people signed up and huffduffed over five and a half thousand audio files. I’ve been tweaking the site fairly regularly—and blogging about it here—fiddling with forms, machine tags and sparklines.

Today I launched the biggest update to the site so far. I’ve added a type of social networking …kind of …not really.

Let me explain.

Right from the start, I was pretty sure that Huffduffer didn’t need to be Yet Another Social Network. The site was all about finding and listening to audio. If you wanted to listen to everything huffduffed by a particular person, you simply subscribed to their podcast. Simple.

I did offer a kind of low-level recommendation feature using tags. If you tag a file with for:username, it will show up as recommendation in the sidebar of that user’s profile. The for: syntax was something I shamelessly ripped off from Delicious.

When Brian was over to visit a while back, I was showing him that feature. He then went on to show it to Mike who, next time I saw him, said I get Huffduffer now; it’s a way for friends to put things into iTunes for me.

That really struck a chord with me. I realised that I needed to do more to allow for that kind of sharing on Huffduffer.

There are two problems with subscribing to individual podcasts from people on Huffduffer:

  1. If you subscribe to the podcasts of three different people and they all huffduff the same file, you will get that file three times.
  2. If you subscribe to the podcast of somebody else and they huffduff something that you have also huffduffed, you get an unnecessary duplication.

So, as of today, you can now subscribe to a podcast created by a collection of people. There won’t be any duplicates and the list won’t include anything that you have already huffduffed.

This is collective huffduffing.

To add someone to your collective, just click the + button on their profile. Subsequently clicking the - button, as you would expect, removes them from your collective.

You can take a look at everything huffduffed by my collective—and here’s the list of the people in my collective.

That’s pretty much it. You can create a collective and either subscribe to the resulting podcast or you can treat it as a pool of potential material for you to huffduff.

You can also drill down by tag. Here’s the tagcloud of my collective and here’s everything tagged with “psychology” in my collective.

Programming this (sort of) social functionality wasn’t too tricky. But once the code was written, I spent quite a while trying to figure out what to call it. I definitely wanted to avoid the inaccurate label “friends”.

Initially I chose the word “network”. But that sounds like it implies a degree of reciprocity. So I trawled through the thesaurus, trying to find a good word for the output of a group of huffduffers; a circle, a clique, a club, a clump, a cluster, a congregation, a coterie, a crowd, an ensemble, a flock, a gang, a league, a mass, a posse, a society.

I could have left it to the wisdom of all-sorts but I ended up settling on the word “collective”. That’s because it’s a good word for describing the people (the collective) and the (collective) output. It works as a noun and an adjective. Also, it has a nice mid twentieth century socialist ring to it.

If you’re already on Huffduffer, try creating your own collective—the link to “similar people” on your profile page is a good place to start. If you aren’t already on Huffduffer, you’ll need to sign up to start enjoying the benefits of collectivisation.

As always, your feedack is welcome.

Friday, November 6th, 2009

Burge Pitch Torrent

entreats us to:

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

While states that:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Mash them up and that leaves us with :

Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.

I have experienced a textbook case of extremely advanced incompetence.

When I wrote about the shenanigans of Perfect Pitch, in which a DMCA claim was used to remove a perfectly innocuous discussion on The Session from Google’s search index, I pondered about whether malice could be ascribed:

Could it be that the owner of sent a DMCA complaint to Google simply because another site was getting higher rankings for the phrase “perfect pitch”? If so, then that’s a whole new level of SEO snake-oilery.

In turns out that the correct cause is incompetence at a stunning level. I got an email from Gary Boucherle at who explained:

Periodically we’ve contacted Google to submit the following complaint:

We believe our copyrighted works have been illegally copied and made available for free download at the web sites listed below …

The following URL was one of hundreds of URLS (mostly torrent sites) found with the Google search terms Burge+Pitch+Torrent:

While we try to check every URL to make sure it either contains torrents, or is a torrent file sharing site (not the case with this site), it was included with our complaint inadvertently.

So here’s what’s happening: A company is doing a search for a phrase on Google, making a list of all the URLs returned by that search and then submitting that list to Google as part of a DMCA claim. Google then removes all those URLs from its search index without verifying any infringement.

I subsequently had a phone conversation with Gary and he was quite contrite about his actions— although he did try to claim that the mere mention of torrents in an online discussion might be justification for a take down (a completely indefensible attitude).

The more I talked to him, the more I realised that he simply had no idea about the DMCA. He was completely oblivious to the potential consequences of his actions were he to lose a counter-claim in court.

Gary Bourcherle abused a piece of extremely poor legislation in a scattergun approach without even understanding what he was doing. It’s like putting guns into the hands of small children.

Well, Gary is very sorry now and promises he won’t do it again. He is going to contact Google and ask them to reinstate the discussion on The Session in the search index.

Here is an official statement of apology, sent by email for redistribution here or anywhere else (try to ignore the bits where The Session is referred to as “a blog”):

To All Readers:

Here at we made a big mistake.

We instructed Google to block a blog site managed by Jeremy Keith, citing that they were in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyrights Act (DMCA). As per our request, Google did indeed remove this page from their search listings.

We wish to formally apologize to Mr. Keith and his bloggers for this mistake, for which we are deeply regretful.

Please understand that we had no intention whatsoever to suppress the speech on Mr. Keith’s page. Please know that we are ardent supporters and advocates of free speech for everyone.

We recognize this was a careless error, and there is really no excuse for this. Nevertheless, please permit us a moment to explain.

Here’s what happened:

We were actually submitting to Google a list of sites that were illegally distributing copies of our copyrighted intellectual property. We of course have every right to request that Google have these sites removed from their search engine results because we believe these sites violate the DMCA, which prohibits the illegal distribution of copyrighted materials over the internet.

To our shock and horror, an employee of ours mistakenly included Mr. Keith’s site in our list, merely because it made a reference to illegal copies of our course. Naturally, this is not grounds for removal of this page at Google. Our intention was only to remove actual pages where the course is being illegally distributed, and not any pages of free speech, such as Mr. Keith’s blog. This was a misjudgment and error on our employee’s side, and on behalf of our company, we sincerely apologize.

This event has never happened to us before when reporting illegal distribution of our materials. Please rest assured that we will redouble our efforts to ensure this never happens again.

We have requested that Google immediately reinstate this page in their search results, along with our apology to Google as well.

If we have offended any potential musicians who wished to purchase our best-selling, university verified ear training methods, again, we sincerely apologize. To make it up to you, we would invite you to try our courses at a substantial discount not offered to the general public, valid until the end of this month. Please go here to retrieve your special offer with our apologies:

Again, please accept our sincere regrets for this goof.

Happy blogging, everyone.

Sincerely yours,
Gary Boucherle


Apology accepted. Now don’t do it again.

No word from Google on their “obey first, ask questions never” approach to DMCA claims.

And if you thought the DMCA was a bad piece of legislation, just wait till ACTA arrives.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to change my email signature to “Burge Pitch Torrent.” It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? Like “”.

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency: Letters from the Hellbox.

In praise of Gutenberg's contribution to typography.


"Lose/Lose is a video-game with real life consequences. Each alien in the game is created based on a random file on the players computer. If the player kills the alien, the file it is based on is deleted. If the players ship is destroyed, the application itself is deleted."

Calligraphy by Nancy Howell

Wonderful calligraphy — something we don't make much use of on the web.

PF/XTech/HTML5 - ESW Wiki

Your one-stop shop for ongoing accessibility work related to HTML5.

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Smell of Books

An aerosol e-book enhancer.

Snap Bird - re-finding the ones that got away

A very handy way of searching a Twitter user's timeline, courtesy of Remy.

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Jonathan Harris . World Building in a Crazy World

I don't agree with everything in these vignettes but they make for an good, thought-provoking read.

Why do we have an IMG element? [dive into mark]

A fascinating trip down memory lane to the birth of the IMG element.

Perfect Pitch

We were having a chat in the Clearleft office today about site stats and their relative uselessness; numbers about bounce rates are like eyetracking data—without knowing the context, they’re not going to tell you anything.

Anyway, I was reminded that I have an account over at Google Webmaster Tools set up for three of my sites:, and I logged in today for the first time in ages and started poking around.

I noticed that I had some unread messages. Who knew that Google Webmaster Tools has a messaging system? I guess all software really does evolve until it can send email.

One of the messages had the subject line Blocked URLs:

For legal reasons, we’ve excluded from our search results content located at or under the following URL/directory:

This content has been removed from all Google search results.

Cause: Somone has filed a DMCA complaint against your site.

What now?

I visited the URL and found a fairly tame discussion about Perfect Pitch. Here’s the only part of the discussion that references an external resource in a non-flattering light:

I think that is referring to I’m not saying anything about such commercially-oriented courses because I don’t know them, but I think we’d all be wise to bear in mind the general comments voiced in the first two posts on this thread.

That single reference to a third-party site is, apparently, enough to trigger a DMCA complaint.

Google link to the complaint on Chilling Effects but that just says The cease-and-desist or legal threat you requested is not yet available. It does, however, list the party who sent the complaint: Boucherle.

By a staggering coincidence, Gary Boucherle of American Educational Music, Inc. is registered as the owner of

So let’s get this straight. In a discussion about perfect pitch, someone mentions the website They don’t repost any materials from the site. They don’t even link to the site. They don’t really say anything particularly disparaging. But it all takes is for the owner of to abuse the Digitial Millenium Copyright Act with a spurious complaint and just like that, Google removes the discussion from its search index.

To be fair, Google also explain how to file a counter-complaint. However, the part about agreeing to potentially show up in a court in California is somewhat off-putting for those of us, like me, who live outside the United States of America.

There is another possible explanation for this insane over-reaction; one that would explain why the offended party sent the complaint to Google rather than going down the more traditional route of threatening the ISP

The Session has pretty good Google juice. The markup is pretty lean, the content is semantically structured and there’s plenty of inbound links. Could it be that the owner of sent a DMCA complaint to Google simply because another site was getting higher rankings for the phrase “perfect pitch”? If so, then that’s a whole new level of SEO snake-oilery.

Hmmm… that gives me an idea.

If you have a blog or other personal publishing platform, perhaps you would like to write a post titled Perfect Pitch? Feel free to republish anything from this post, which is also coincidentally titled Perfect Pitch. And feel free to republish the contents of the original discussion on The Session titled, you guessed it: Perfect Pitch.

Update: Thanks for inbound links, everyone. The matter is now being resolved. I have received an apology from Gary Bourcherle who was being more stupid than evil.