phil wilson :: a geek commodity

7:59 PM

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Thursday, July 31, 2003

Playmobil tarot cards! Nice. :)

11:56 AM

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At work I’ve been asked to write a (very small) SWT app, being the only member of the development team with any Java GUI experience at all (I’ve written some Swing apps before).

Of course, there are hundreds of SWT resources out there on the web, notably on web site and the eclipse wiki, but by far the best I found were notes written for Computer Science students (in pdf) – if only my lecturers had been able to make things this clear, simple and understandable!

It’s interesting to note that Eugene Belyaev has also started to look at SWT, and in whose comments, someone has also posted a link to the resources I mention above.

Serendipity is clearly afoot though, because his previous weblog entry is about how to
Launch the default browser on Windows
with this bit of code:

String url = "";
Runtime.getRuntime().exec("rundll32 url.dll,FileProtocolHandler " + url);

which I was also looking for!

7:50 PM

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Wednesday, July 30, 2003

It always depresses me when Gareth talks about Joel's test. My company scores two. Out of twelve.

Monkeys deserve better.

At least they'd get bananas.

3:59 PM

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Like the Mozilla DOM Inspector?

Linked from the wdf-dom mailing list you download and install a very good DOM viewer for IE from and if you’re not already using the appropriate webdev bookmarklets (if not, why not?), you can grab Source Tree which will show you the CSS and JS of a page, and all these from an explorer bar!

Excellent stuff!

3:47 PM

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I hate crashes in the middle of blog posts. But anyway..

JabRSS has been playing up all today, so I only got the news via the old-school method of visiting Danny’s site, but Peter Saint-Andre (aka King of Jabber) has posted on the rdfweb-dev mailing list that they’re thinking about using FOAF to identify Jabber entities. Currently Jabber uses vCard to identify users, and a hacked vCard-temp namespace to identify Jabber Components (IIRC); the use of FOAF would be a great, great move. These are currently the two technologies I’m most interested in, so perhaps I’m biased, but I can’t see of anything but good coming from this.

On a more downbeat note, I can’t quite get my head around what the simplest way of linking a Jabber account with a pre-exisiting FOAF file could be, except for some kind of smushing based on the jabberID property.

Interestingly, Peter points out that It [FOAF] defines data elements for things like projectHomepage and geek code, but not for things like marital status or sex. This hadn’t even occured to me before. The file says who I am, who I know, where I went to school and what my interests are, but not if I’m a boy or a girl. Is this an oversight, or defined elsewhere? I’ve not seen it in the relationship vocab or biographical vocab, which seemed the only likely candidates.

9:26 AM

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Hooray! Danny finds the FOAF Topic Finder by the FOAF-tastic Morten Frederiksen.

Like I commented on his site:

I found this about two weeks ago, lost it, and have been meaning to look for it since! This is probably the algorithm the FOAF-a-matik mk2 should be using to detect the principle user when opening a FOAF file.

4:23 PM

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Tuesday, July 29, 2003

The guys at MeFi got this right – The kid in the orange shirt has no bones.

10:15 AM

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Friday, July 25, 2003

Bah, the bugtracker post was supposed to be a complete rant, but work is clearly exhausting me too much to build up a full head of steam.

Anyway, the original xurble bugtracker is actually available here.

10:20 PM

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Thursday, July 24, 2003

I've removed comments temporarily. Mainly because they were taking forever to appear. Replacements soon. You can still contact me via Jabber as specified in my FOAF file </raises the bar>
10:15 PM

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And so finally, as promised – bug trackers.

Only free bug/issue trackers, and only ones I’ve tried, natch. If you don’t have a Live Demo, I’m not coming in.

And why not start at the top? The daddy of Open Source bugtrackers? Bugzilla.

I can only talk about Bugzilla as a user, I’ve tried to install it to manage my own collaborative projects, but never managed it successfully. To do so is a feat in and of itself.

So how did I manage with it as a user? Trying to see if a bug had already been logged? Failed. Simple search to return all bugs? Failed.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just a dolt, but even when I bring up a page detailing a single bug, there’s so much going on on the screen that I can only just about tell what the bug even is, let alone who opened it, what its status is etc. The only thing I really like is the comments section after it which shows progress and direction the bug solution is headed in.

The functionality it provides may be great but the awful experience of actually a) installation and b) use means Bugzilla is a big no no.

IssueTracker, powered by Zope, is great. Really simple, easy to use. No real complaints, although I’m sure I could come up with some if I really tried. Like the use of Zope. ew. ;)

The sourceforge bugtracker – pretty decent, it works, but stores comments in the opposite order to the way I’d expect. Pretty good otherwise, and probably the most solid of all the ones I tried in terms of a balance between usability and functionality.

I’ve looked at loads of free bug and issue trackers over months, and I’ve been really disappointed. What makes it so hard to make a decent bugtracker? Do I ask too much? Do I even know what I’m asking for? Is it because bug trackers are knocked out by people who need them for purely practical reasons and so don’t spend much time on the interface? Surely this can’t be the case? All in all fairly depressing.

So why was I even looking at issue trackers? Well, the developers at work don’t have one, and I thought it might be kind of handy (duh! how did everyone cope without one?!), but in the end I wound up splitting the bugtracker code (originally written by Gareth Simpson) out of a much larger project I’d worked on called Xurble into its own entity. Sadly the original xurble bugtracker isn’t running anywhere for a compare and contrast at the moment, but the one we’re now using at work is an improved version of this. Which seems to be easy enough, and is in daily use. It’s Java and runs within Tomcat, Jetty and JBoss (and most other web containers I’d imagine). That’s right, this post is really a shameless plug and taster for when it’s finally released. ;)



FogBugz from Fog Creek Software is basically the nemesis of bugzilla, it’s very powerful, but with a far simpler interface (although not as good as I’d expect from Joel Spoelsky). It does pretty much everything you’d want it to, is better than IssueTracker, has more functionality than my version and you don’t have to have used an issue tracker before to understand what’s going on. Nice job, now release it for free. ;)

10:05 AM

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Given ten divs all with float:left one after the other (let’s call each div “box”), all inside a containing div (which we’ll call “boxholder”, they won’t be displayed as such due to the floats taking the boxes out of the normal flow.

In order to make the boxholder expand to the size of its contents, you can put another box at the end with clear:left.

Is this the only way to make the boxes sit visually within boxholder?

Screenshots of what the boxes look like without the final empty div:
IE screenshot and Mozilla screenshot

9:57 AM

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Monday, July 21, 2003

via Danny comes a link to an article which in turn links to the Getty Thesuarus of Geographic Names. Sounds a bit tedious, but fortunately for all those who want to add accurate GeoURL data to their webpages and don’t have GPS systems available to them, this site could be the answer.

Type in your city and country, or use the popups to select where you mean, and get the co-ordinates back! Easy Peasy.

(Of course, for those in the UK, we can always use the more accurate MultiMap, which shows the co-ordinates under “Map Information”, although I’m not sure it always did so)

2:29 PM

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Friday, July 18, 2003

I know how involved Edd Dumbill is in the FOAF community, but I’d never taken the time out to read the FOAF section of his website.

I’m glad I finally did; his three tutorials: Adding people into the FOAF web, Digitally signing FOAF files and Limiting who can read a FOAF file are excellent beginners tutorials, just like I was after yesterday.

4:09 PM

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Thursday, July 17, 2003

We had to make a decision at work the other day as to whether a site we were making should be able to support people with 800×600 monitors. I said no, that no-one used this resolution any more, that 1024 was the norm, and we should go with that (most websites we do support both of course, but there were special considerations with this one).

I was wrong.

A quick look at the monitor resolution stats for May 2003 shows that the largest proportion of users, 44%, were still using 800×600 displays. I was shocked.

It also rates the cumulative number of users using IE to be at 94%. I was not shocked.

Although allegedly, tracked around 38 million visitors in May, and 350 million in April. I can’t help but be suspicious. Do these sorts of numbers really exist? is really used that widely? Answers on a postcard.

3:52 PM

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In yesterday’s ramble about Netscape, I suggested that a Mozilla browser needed to be branded to make any decent headway onto home users’ desktops.

Anil Dash has floated the idea that this branding should be done by Google, and Simon Willison has also posted about it.

I really think this would be an excellent move. Obviously the main stumbling block would be the business model to base this around, but as Anil suggests, built-in hooks to Google services and ads could do this.

But would people use “The Google Browser”? What on earth would it be marketed as? Googlezilla? What a mouthful!

3:36 PM

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It’s about time the information about FOAF was pulled together. There’s quite a bit of it, but it’s spread over the web, with no guarantee of everything pointing to everything else. Gathering it all together on a website (not a wiki, and the foaflog is slightly too developer-centric) is something that really needs to be tackled (as Marc Canter has been calling for on the rdfweb-dev mailing list). Fortunately someone’s made a go at doing just that:

Example FOAF website

It links to the specs, the tools, the foaflog, pulls together articles posted on disparate weblogs all to make one big excellent FOAF resource. The design is slightly too garish and the text line-spacing slightly too tight for me, but I can live with this. A few contributed “beginners” articles and this would be excellent.

Keeping to the web theme, has a new site, designed to be more appealing to end users instead of developers. It’s OK, but will be a hell of a lot better once the “What Is The Mozilla Foundation?” box has gone. Also, it’s particularly strange that the website of one of the most standards-compliant browsers was designed with tables, luckily Tom Gilder comes to the rescue with a version of the site just in CSS – take note! (side note: Tom also has a really nice line in “CSS3 quickies”, like wavy underlining and the ::outside element. For those who can’t be bothered to trudge through the CSS3 draft (although if you like this kind of thing, and I do, it’s very interesting), this is great stuff.

3:09 PM

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The Good, the Bad and the Partially Frozen

The Web Fridge Project

12:52 PM

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Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Netscape is dead. Everyone’s shouting it from the rooftops, and if it wasn’t such a major thing I’d assume it was covered well enough in other places.

Comments like this though, just make me worry. Netscape closing is a big, big deal. Whether people like it or not, or think that it makes sense or not, Netscape is the name the public identifies with. It’s the name managers and support staff in I.T. companies know. Nobody outside of the web development or open source worlds knows what Mozilla is. Really. They know even less what Phoenix was, Firebird is, or will be (Mozilla again, I believe).

Netscape provided a good base for distributing Mozilla by virtue of being a company that people had heard of, one that they trusted to provide a usable application. You mention “open source” or try and explain who writes Mozilla to a normal person, and they’ll think it’s shit. “What? Made by some guys in their free time? How good can that be?” I honestly don’t see this changing unless Mozilla is licensed by or used in another, branded product.

I have a lot of computer literate friends (i.e. people who aren’t developers of some sort), like techs, and people who like to think they’re computer literate (like sales and support staff ;) – none of them care about Mozilla, even if they know about it. Whenever I try and evangelise, they just say “Yeah, but I like Internet Explorer”. Despite all its horrendous faults, which are so obvious to all the web developers, IE is “good enough” software. It works, it’s easy to use – why should a normal person move from that?

The first thing one of our designers at work said when I mentioned the Netscape closure was “But that’s good isn’t it? Now you’ve only got to support IE”, and that is exactly the attitude of anyone outside of the web dev and OS communities.

Firebird is Mozilla’s best chance of success and market penetration – a low weight, fast, standards compliant web browser, but if it doesn’t a) settle on a name and b) get to 1.0 c) get an official installer (as opposed to the unofficial installer ) soon, then it’ll have scuppered its own chances.

I love the fact that on the front page of the new is a quote by Joel Spolsky – if you read the whole article he goes on to say:

Now, if you’re a programmer at AOL working on Mozilla, and you like your job, you might want to think about what it’s going to take to make your happy little division actually useful to AOL so you aren’t jettisonned. ... Yo, Netscape employees! ... Wake up.
1:26 PM

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Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Second only in editors’ dreams to Lord Lucan riding in on Shergar and carrying Diana’s secret love child comes today’s tabloid front page (via 2lmc via davblog ):

Popstar secret sex romp with glamour model! American GI pervert snatches child! etc.

3:25 PM

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Sunday, July 13, 2003

Can weblogs change polictics?

Only as much as Ben Elton’s relentlessly scathing commentaries are widely regarded to have brought about the ultimate downfall of Margaret Thatcher.

I tend to disagree with a lot of what Don Park says, but the other day he wrote that Blogs will fade away within two years, and to me, this seems perfectly obvious. Blogs are just websites; before “blogging” took off as an entity in its own right, with a thousand different applications specifically tailored to writing them, people were still updating their websites with personal thoughts on a daily basis. The weblogging tools just make that easier. Hell, some of them have even actually managed to lower the barrier to entry by abstracting away the need to go anywhere near HTML. But lets not get carried away with the difference between weblogs and websites, weblogs are just free and simple CMS systems for the masses.

10:34 PM

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Friday, July 11, 2003

Sick of all the hype? Then why not mentally search-and-replace the fancy high-tech term “weblog” with a more down-to-earth equivalent – “soapbox”, for example – every time you hear someone using it.

so true.

(he says, on his weblog)

9:09 AM

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Weblogs don’t need comments

Weblogs are different from threaded discussion groups or mailing lists. They allow you to carry out a distributed discussion where the thread can be assembled remotely using an analysis tool such as Technorati. The advantage is that weblogs are personal, down to the look and feel of an individual blog, with all the functionality of a threaded discussion implicitly available.

To add comments within someone else’s weblog is surely a retrograde step? In true trackback style the comments box should pull up a list of references to the post from Technorati – with a box that posts to your own blog or signs you up to start one.

I think this is wrong, and a fundamental misunderstanding of the differences between trackbacks and comments. If I just want to leave some pithy remark about someone’s jocular ramblings, my own site isn’t the place to do it (assuming I even have a site, of course).

The only way to have this make any sense would be to mirror the entire conversation on each of the people’s sites who are participating in it – but then how do you get the initial post that started it? Copy and paste onto your own site? Seems like that is the retrograde step to me.

12:08 PM

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Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Marc Canter: Getting FOAFy

Marc now includes links to the FOAF explorer and “Add me to your FOAF file” links as well as one to his plain FOAF file.

Something for me to pick up on too, I think.

9:32 AM

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Both Brad Choate and Dean Allen had already mentioned it, and now it comes to fruition – Textile 2.

Featuring such stuff as tables, spans, lang= attributes as well as nifty linking shortcuts, this is good news for everyone except the people who have to update their own textile implementations.



9:40 PM

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Sunday, July 06, 2003

I’m a very argumentative person. I like arguing; and not only do I like it, I’m always right. Also, I’m much better than you. This isn’t just vanity, it’s a fact. I’m faster, cleverer and braver. I’m stronger, more attractive and more versatile. If there’s an area I appear to not know anything about, it’s because I’ve never had the need to look into it, but I’m sure that if I did, I’d be much better at it than you anyway.

Of course, arguments on the web are hard to follow. They’re spread across websites, mailing lists, wikis, comments in articles. A thousand flowers may bloom may normally be a good principle, but it makes a bastard of finding them all.

At this point, with frustration looming (“who is right?”, “did he really say that about him?”, “where did he gets his facts from?”), all is solved by The Pixie Test

This reduces any argument to one simple question: “Who’s a lovely little pixie?” (see the above link for some good examples of this in practice).

Fortunately for me, my age-old nickname “Pip” (and the origin of my Tripod account name) stems from Enid Blyton’s stories of Pip the Pixie (amusingly enough, listed just below “Operation Homicide”), so serendipity has spoken, and, with the combination of my assumed moniker, high cheekbones and delicate nose I automatically win all arguments. Huzzah!

9:15 PM

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I was going to write about the ID cards in the UK. How they’re a bad thing, how we’re going to have to pay for them, and how they’re simply not going to work.

Fortunately, Jack Mottram has done it for me :

Blunkett’s £40 ID Cards

The Sunday Times reports that David Blunkett has made up his mind to foist ID cards on the British public.

Well that’s just dandy. Not only will we have to carry a bit of plastic containing ‘biometric data’ and submit personal information for storage on a central database, we’ll also have to pay for the privilige of having our civil liberties eroded.

In the leaked letter, Blunkett identifies ‘a highly organised minority who will campaign vocally against a scheme’ – Stand, I assume – and claims ‘strong public support’ after the recent consultation process. Bullshit. My concerns didn’t count, nor did those of five thousand others alerted by Stand’s recent campaign to raise awareness of the consultation.

If you want to read (a lot) more on why ID cards are A Bad Thing, you can view Stand’s submission to the consultation or check out the Privacy International . If you are convinced by the arguments against the introduction of ID cards, please Fax Your MP without delay.

Worth reading is Stand’s original response to ID cards

I really don’t understand how anyone can argue, in all sincerity, that ID cards are somehow going to stop, or even slow down terrorism. Hello? The September 11th hijackers had legal flying papers, thousands of credit and debit cards are cloned and faked every week. How are these going to be secure enough to stop someone stealing my entire life?

3:44 PM

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Saturday, July 05, 2003

Some interesting stuff:

Writing FOAF in XML – I know RDF is supposed to be a machine language, but the majority of my FOAF file is hand-rolled, and I suspect most other peoples’ are too. Being able to write it straight off in XML would certainly cut down writing time, as well as lowering the barrier to entry and hand-editing, and since it’s just run through an XSLT, could be turned into a web service.

IE in SWT – this is good. I’ve been looking for a way to have an embedded browser in a cross-platform application, and can’t decide between SWT and wx4j (Swing is just far too clunky a UI). This makes me lean towards SWT.

AOL will blog – interesting news about how AOL-ers will be able to blog from their IM, and shows that AOL are actually aware of the blogging world and such tools as Technorati.

Of course, I’ve been able to blog from Jabber for weeks and weeks now, run through JTextile to make for easier formatting. I must release that to the general public soon (it’s a jabber server component).

2:17 PM

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Friday, July 04, 2003

Today, the BBC have an article about how the north-south divide in the UK is getting worse

Articles like these, focussing on what the government could, should and is doing really don’t highlight the drastic difference there is between actually living in the south, and in the north.

To put things in perspective, I lived for 18 years in Bristol[1] (location), then for four years in Reading[2] (location). Both are very affluent, modern, have great shopping and nightlife.

I’ve been living in Sheffield[3] (location) for two years now. And the difference still amazes me. It’s cold and miserable (yes, even the UK has degrees of cold and miserable). It’s painfully obvious that it’s a much poorer city (I live in the media quarter, almost next-door to BBC Sheffield, and even that’s still grotty); it’s dirtier, more rubbish-strewn, the people are less friendly, and so on.

Sheffield is one of the largest cities in the UK (the 5th most populous), but also one of the fattest .

Sheffield centre looking its best and Bristol looking a bit better.

I’m sure there’s an intelligent point to be made in here somewhere, possibly with reference to the seven new heads of regional investment (London gets a region all to itself) who are going to be the ones specifying where the government should be doling out its cash; or even about the complete under-investment in anywhere north of the Watford Gap, London-centric population and job booms, airport focus etc. etc.

Sadly, it’s Friday afternoon, I’m tired and ill, and applications don’t write themselves.

1 Home of Massive Attack, Portishead and Tricky; Aardman Animations (Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run); John Cabot and Isambard Kingdom Brunel; spiritual home of FOAF;)

2 Birthplace of Kate Winslet; locations for IBM, Oracle, Microsoft et al.; where Oscar Wilde was imprisoned; home of the Reading Festival ; half an hour from London by train

3 Home of The Full Monty

11:42 AM

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Seek and ye shall find. Mere moments after looking for the foafnaut update page I stumble across Leigh Dodds’ Ping FOAFnaut bookmarklet.

Just what I was after!

11:29 AM

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Blogstop (via evhead) - I love games like this. Spot the guy who reads James Joyce for fun. ;)

10:47 AM

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Wednesday, July 02, 2003

RSS Bru-ha-ha

When I originally created my RSS feed, it was version 0.91. I’d read the spec, seen the example feed, and based my own feed on these.

Then I “upgraded” it to 2.0. I started to read the spec, but I was short on time and patience. So I looked at other 2.0 feeds to see how I should create my own, notably Sam Ruby’s and Mark Pilgrim’s

This is the typical “view-source” approach that most people took when they were learning HTML.

But I did it wrong. I did it like I thought it should be, like I thought it would be used by others, not how it’s supposed to be.

Mark had done the same. So he’s changed his feed. His very, very popular feed, and made it how the RSS spec author intended it to be.

A lot of people think he’s taking the piss, showing how “useless” RSS is, and why everyone should get behind the Necho project. I don’t think he is. I think we all took RSS as something more than it was intended to be.

This is not a stunt, and itâ??s not a satire, and youâ??re not going to wake up tomorrow and visit and see a post that says “ha ha, just kidding“. This is an honest attempt to “do RSS right“, according to the spec and the intention of the spec author [...]

Think of it as the RSS Standards Campaign.

(I, incidentally, couldn’t give two hoots for what my feed’s supposed to be, and shall probably move to RSS 3.0 any day now ;) )

p.s. I was hoping to be able to send trackback pings to a number of weblogs critisicing Mark for this change, but I can’t, because they all use Radio. The cynic in me arches an eyebrow at this.