phil wilson :: a geek commodity

11:54 AM

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Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Yesterday’s link list on includes a link to the SWT Designer. When I was trying to find out which Java GUI toolkit was the quickest to get something up and running in I started with SWT and found my way to the SWT Designer. Visual Café is the most non-intuitive GUI creation tool I’ve ever used (I’m from the Borland school of thought), but this comes a close second.

To be fair it’s only version 1.0, and only just been released, too, but still, it’s not just obvious enough for me.

Just my ha’pence worth.

2:57 PM

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Monday, September 29, 2003

I seem to have been overwhelmed by people saying “display: table-cell doesn’t work in IE” recently. Once on IBeBloggin and twice at work, by the other two other web developers (who, incidentally, are working on different projects). All today.

table-cell does work in IE.

For it to work properly in Mozilla you must have a containing element which has display: table set. IE just doesn’t care.

I’ve chucked up a working demo here which is based on the code I wrote the first ever time I used table-cell, namely for the Xurble homepage.

This is a working example of the CSS rule display: table-cell. There are three spans (marked by red borders) each of which contains an image and has a width ~33% to take up the width of the page.

The containing element is the body tag which has display: table set and therefore also needs a width: 100% rule.

Without an explicitly declared table-row in sight, everything within the element which has display: table set (in my case the body) will appear on the same row. For multiple rows you'll probably need a containing element with display: table-row for each row.

This is all wrong wrong wrong. See my later post about why.

10:50 AM

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Comments have now been re-enabled. It’s a third-party system so a bit slow. My apologies, I’m “working on it”.

9:49 AM

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Of course when I first started looking at manipulating RDF with Mozilla for some reason it didn’t even occur to me to look at “Creating Applications with Mozilla” (buy it or read it online).

Chapter 10: RDF, RDF Tools, and the Content Model.

2:33 PM

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Saturday, September 27, 2003

Just before I went on holiday I finally managed to complete The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker on my Gamecube. I’m completely addicted to LoZ games, and have been since I played the original on my NES years ago, although it always takes me ages to complete them because I never seem to get enough time to just sit down and play for a few hours, sometimes it can be weeks between goes.
Anyway, it’s an excellent game, although a mile too easy, especially the end of game boss. I’m now playing LoZ: Ocarina of Time which was the preceding LoZ game on the N64 (I never owned any of the previous generation of consoles, but now have both a PS2 and a GC), and despite being constantly frustrated by the camera (the position of which you can control in WW but not OOT), it’s very good. I’m only a little way in but have already found a cow in a cave and the Great Fairies appear to have triple-F cup and Madonna-coned breasts. Bizarre.
I’m also playing Oracle of Seasons (in which I’ve been stuck at the end of game boss for weeks!) and am a little way into A Link to the Past of my GBA.

2:30 PM

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Almost all the sites we saw in Rome that were filled with statues and other objects only had descriptions for a limited few. To me these are screaming out for investment in a mobile technology, something like a PDA with a built-in barcode reader maybe. Some of the museums had personal audio systems (like a basic CD walkman) which you got by placing a deposit when you entered the museum, but you could only really use these when you were in rooms or museums with relatively few things to see, otherwise you’d lose track of what you were supposed to be looking at. They invariably talk too slowly, and you have to listen through the descriptions of everything else before you get to the bit you want to know about. How much better to have a barcode next to each item which you can point your device at and read about instantly. Hell, it could even keep the audio system, and have it prompted to play certain parts when a barcode is scanned.

Apparently some art museums do something similar with GPS systems, where your device detects your current location and displays a small map of what’s around you, and what each piece is. The closer you get to a particular item, the more it displays about it. This is also a great idea, but seems to be better suited to art galleries than to the museums where you could have twenty pieces within a metre of each other.

2:21 PM

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The adventure ends

Apologies to anyone who has no interest in Rome whatsoever, because that’s probably all the next four or so posts are going to be about. I promise I’ll try and make technology points where I can, when I remember.

And so on with the show. On a couple of nights I jotted down some notes about things my girlfriend and I had seen and heard that day. Hereafter are those notes for mine and anyone else’s reference, with a little added detail. This is not a tourist guide.

Qurinale (occasional residence of Italian President and Pope)

- heard: "This must have cost a pretty penny" - my girlfriend.
- other things: Berlusconi has the same carpet as us.

Roman Forum

- heard: "Nothing but a heap of rocks" - unknown American male.

Spanish Steps

- look unimpressive from the bottom.

Our Hotel (4* Hotel Torino)

- Nice roof terrace which almost makes up for the lack of hot water in the mornings.

Someone should have told us to bring earplugs for the traffic in the morning (as most people know, the Roman traffic is insane, second only in Italy to that of Naples. A Roman motorist in London would be arrested within about five minutes for dangerous driving. They use their horns all the time. For fun, to get people’s attention, to warn people they might be about to run over that they’re going around corners, and perhaps for sexual fulfilment. This begins at about 6.30am and lasts until about 9.30 before starting again at about 4.30 and lasting until about 7.30. Because of the busy roads, the bin men (U.S.: garbage collectors?) make their rounds at about 1am and make no effort to be particularly quiet. Don’t count on getting any sleep, and remember that cold shower that awaits you when you finally get up.)

Capitoline Museums

- jam-packed with statues and busts but very few pointers as to what or who they were of.

Guided tours are the abomination of modern holidays (during the Quirinal where the roped-off corridors are very narrow and there are tour groups of 40 or so people in front and behind of you).

Jesuit Church (Gesu)

- very austere front. splendid ceiling. very impressive.
- heard: "shiny and woo" - my girlfriend

Spring water from taps in and around the Roman Forum is very cold and very good.

Dorling Kindersley Travel Guides:Italy (ISBN: 0-7513-0105-1) is excellent for on-the-street navigation but very heavy. If there’s one for Rome only, get it.

Lonely Planet guide to Italy is good for practical travel tips and hiking in the mountains or backpacking in India. If you’re the kind of person who feels the need to see "the real Rome" and won’t be staying in a hotel then this is for you. Rubbish for "normal" holiday-makers.

The Palatine is exquisitely peaceful.

Good ceiling in the church of Sant’Ignazio di Loyola but my favourite was still Santa Maria supra Minerva. Detailed and amazing, one of Rome’s only Gothic cathedrals and I thought more impressive than any of the others (warning: low "shiny and woo" factor).

I’ve been to the Vatican before but not the Vatican Museums, of which I knew very little. They’re surprisingly immense containing Egyptian (mummies et al.), Roman, Greek and Etruscan statues, monuments and tablets, which all seems a bit strange when you remember that you’re in the seat of Catholicism. Both my girlfriend and I ranked it as "very impressive".
The "Modern Christian Art" section was rubbish apart from a couple of good pieces, but they were overwhelmed in about ten rooms.
The Sistine Chapel was good. There were too many people in there at once, and there were too many talking.

- heard: "It’s small isn’t it?"- unknown American male II
- heard: "It’s pretty small. I suppose it’s not a cathedral after all." - unknown Australian woman
Indeed, that would be St. Peter’s.

Raphael’s stuff is really good. Michaelangelo’s nice but didn’t seem to be alive in the same way, maybe the distance of the chapel ceiling induced this.
Dull maps and tapestries.
We now have a nice new book for our coffee table. We just need a coffee table.

The Roman Metro is rubbish. If I’ve ever cursed the London Underground, I take it back. The Metro is far worse. Unbelievably it’s more packed and more grafitti-ed. Single tickets are the completely insane price of 77cents. Who has exactly 77 cents? And how are ticket machines supposed to carry enough change for all the people who put in a €1 or €2 piece? It’s a stupid stupid idea which guarantees none of the machines ever work. Which means that you have to buy your ticket from a real person. Except not all stations have ticket offices. So you have to buy your tickets from a newsagent close by. Except that the ones that do sell tickets aren’t signed, so you just have to wander between newsagents until you cross one that does. Utterly fucking useless. Spagna I’m looking at you in particular.

It was amazing to see rainbow-coloured "peace" flags hanging up all over the place, shops, restaurants, newsagents, hotels, apartment blocks. I’ve really never seen anything like it. It makes you wonder what major cities in other countries who officially opposed the war are like in this regard.

Learn Latin. Really. How else can you ever understand statues, monuments, plaques etc.? I studied it for seven years and it makes picking up other European languages a doddle. Latin rules.

Fiumenco airport sucks. I think I’m right in saying it’s Rome’s main airport, well, I arrived back in Birmingham International, and it’s just so much cleaner, better signed, better designed and better everything else that it’s amazing. Sadly of course, it still doesn’t have Gucci.

6:37 PM

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Tuesday, September 16, 2003

And now rome for a week!
1:44 PM

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All new contact system. Very high tech. Honest.

Works via Jabber. Look at the form source to see how you can use it on your own site. If you want.

Try it.
11:50 AM

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Some time ago, back in 2002, someone at generated the CSS1 spec with Mozilla bug annotations.

This kind of thing is absolutely excellent, and definitely the kind of thing developers benefit from. If someone at would please please re-generate this to bring it up to date (it was last generated on 21st of July 2002) and perhaps also generate an annotated CSS2 spec hundreds of web developers across the world would be extremely grateful!

9:44 AM

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I was wrong when I said Firebird was now providing all my needs. This is because Firebird doesn’t currently support Mozilla sidebars.

Under Moz, my sidebar looks like this. Under Firebird I just only have the default choice of “Downloads”, “Bookmarks” or “History”.

Thanks to EditCSS I now also have an inline Firebird CSS editor which installs itself as a sidebar. Hopefully by picking this apart I can find out what changes are needed to the current Moz XPIs to make them available for Firebird (my J2SE and EE API sidebars are the result of hand-hacked RDF as opposed to the result of installers).

2:12 PM

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Monday, September 15, 2003

Must. Remember: Rosco – a non-judgemental RDF schema and document checker (thanks to Jim for the reminder)

12:28 PM

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Refresh your browser

Because I'm moving to a new design, and it probably doesn't work properly yet. Most of the links are probably broken too. Joy!

hmmm...on second thought - perhaps the day before I go to Rome for a week isn't the best time to be doing this. :)

12:13 AM

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Iiiinteresting. In my last post on Friday, I inserted <del> tags around the first two paragraphs, because they were wrong. This should a) make the text italic and b) draw a line through it, and indeed in Win/IE it does, but not Firebird. Now why’s that I wonder? My CSS looks like this:

del {
  text-decoration: line-through;
  font-style: italic;

However, if I add display:block or change the selector to div * { then the line-through works as expected. Is this correct behaviour? I wouldn’t have thought so, and if I had any patience with Bugzilla whatsoever, I’d bother find out. As it is, it’s just something to remember.

11:52 PM

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Sunday, September 14, 2003

Inspired by Jim’s FOAF updates I’ve taken a five-second look at my own FOAF file and done some minor updates, including adding the new foaf:gender.

Jim’s included his Ecademy information, but whilst I signed up to it, it was really only because Danny mentioned that they were using FOAF, and I was curious.

Are any of these things (Ecademy, Friendster etc.) actually worth it? They all seem to require far too much time investement to bother with.

10:30 AM

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Friday, September 12, 2003

Danger Will Robinson! I have completely broken my support for loading remote PHP files in all my browsers, all, I suspect, a result of reconfiguring my default application handling of PHP files for MozPHP.

Not very good.

OK. I ‘fess up. MozPHP is fine. The server I was trying to a load a file from was incorrectly configured. Apologies.

9:50 AM

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Two computers. One monitor. The tale of a boy and his operating system, separated by fate.

My machine, four and a half years old. Creaking.
My girlfriend’s machine, a year old, blisteringly quick.

My machine, Win XP Pro and Linux
My girlfriend’s machine, Win XP Home.

Me: Slackware Live CD
Slackware Live CD: Good, needs more apps.

Me: Gnoppix Live CD
Gnoppix Live CD: in German.

Me: Changes language to English
Gnoppix Live CD: in German.

Me: Cries.

3:48 PM

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Thursday, September 11, 2003


I finally decided to give Firebird a proper go at the end of last week, and it was doing very very well, having become my default browser by virtue of being better and faster than full Mozilla (my previous default browser) in all but one way. That way was that Jesse Ruderman’s edit CSS bookmarklet only works in Mozilla. Being a web developer, I can hardly live without this bookmarklet anymore.

Fortunately today I found the EditCSS extension for Mozilla, which is based on the bookmarklet, but appears as a panel to the left of the main browser window (EditCSS screenshots page).

This now sits happily alongside Tabbrowser extensions, Tabbrowser preferences, Live HTTP Headers, Optimoz Mouse Gestures, Web Developer’s Toolbar, Things They Left Out and LinkToolbar (all from Texturizer) to give me the browser I want.

I’ve also installed (slightly unstable) MozPHP which lets the browser (it works in full Moz and Firebird) render PHP files without having to be served from a web server. Of course, you still need PHP installed. This is really neat. I can just point my browser at any PHP file on my hard drive and it will render the page, no having to change DocumentRoot in Apache! Installation is not quite as simple as the normal XPI point-and-click, but is still very easy (although Firebird users will either need the Things They Left Out extension or to visit the URL chrome://communicator/content/pref/pref.xul to set files with the text/php mime-type to load with Firebird). Apparently it has problems with accessing session variables, or so the site says, but I don’t care. :)

7:20 PM

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Sunday, September 07, 2003

Christof asked (via JabRSS growth by Jim) and who am I to disappoint? To add to the current feature request list I’d like:

  • import/export OCS
  • import/export OPML
  • ability to force an update instead of having to wait until the next system-wide update
  • should be a transport/component instead of Bot user

um, and I think that’s it for new requests! Overall I’m very pleased with JabRSS. Because it’s Jabber-based my subscriptions go wherever I go, they’re easy to turn off, it’s easy to use, it’s unobtrusive (depending on your Jabber client settings, obviously). I love it.

With Charles Miller’s words on voting for bugs still echoing loudly in my ears, as a technical user I’d like to be able to get more information on feeds which have some kind of error. For me, that currently means:

8:46 AM

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Friday, September 05, 2003

The most unintentionally funny post I’ve read on a blog for a long long time: Generating a nonce is easy

I’m sure cryptologists are stony-faced. :)

2:15 PM

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Wednesday, September 03, 2003

The Metro is a free UK newspaper aimed at commuters (it’s available from train, bus and tube stations). It has a massive daily readership (distributing 886,912 copies every weekday morning, and most people leave it behind for other passengers) and is actually pretty good.

Whilst it comes from the same stable as evil tabloid The Daily Mail, it’s not awful like that rag because it doesn’t usually contain mindless tirades against asylum seekers, single mothers and foreigners.

Its letters page is great. A bit of politics, current affairs and a fair bit of humour. Many people I know who read The Metro read the letters page first (OK, second, after the front page. ner). That’s why it was nice to read this today:

To [people] plagued by pop-up ads on the web – try another browser. For PCs and Macs there is Mozilla (from, which allows you to specify different sorts of advert and pop-up to block as well as ‘images’ that don’t come from the same server as the page you’re looking at. There is also Apple’s own browse Safari (, which has pop-up blocking built in as standard. Both these browsers also have other useful features such as tabbed browsing that make Microsoft Internet Explorer look pretty poor by comparison.

But a big “Boooo!” to balanced reporting for also printing this letter:

To stop pop-ups from, well, popping-up download the new Google toolbar for Internet Explorer. I’ve been using it for about two weeks and its been working perfectly (

But still, nice to see Mozilla getting coverage in a the national daily press.

12:23 PM

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Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Following up on those notes to myself, there’s a decent RDF and Mozilla tutorial I just found. It’s pretty ancient, and the examples probably don’t work any more (I’ve not tried yet), but I was messing about with Mozilla a year or so ago, creating XUL documents, learning jpw tp use the chrome stuff and how to call web services from within a webpage, and enjoyed it loads. Since then I’ve found out about RDF and FOAF, and am enjoying that loads too.

If I can find any time (chance would be a fine thing), I’d love to have a play with loading and manipulating RDF with Mozilla. Cross-platform RDF apps built into the browser…..mmmmm.

(of course, this is where Neil Deakin is supposed to be going with Topicella)

10:19 AM

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It’s not quite my thing, but seeing as I posted a bit about XUL recently I thought this might be interesting:

Zulu is a layout engine for producing rich cross-platform user interfaces, using XUL standard and Flash MX technology

9:56 AM

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As I may have mentioned before, we have really bad documentation and specification practices at work (i.e. none).

That’s why we love tools like the great ESSModel. UML diagrams and documentation from Java source! Hurrah!

3:59 PM

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Monday, September 01, 2003

Having spent the day doing some maintenance work on one of our legacy sites, I can hand on heart say that old sites using tables for layout are far, far, far harder to edit than current sites using CSS for layout.

Even given its weaknesses (the web dev department’s favourite this week has been inline-block, or lack thereof), give me CSS any day of the week.