phil wilson :: a geek commodity

1:36 AM

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Saturday, November 29, 2003

Through the eye of a Mac browser

View your site in Safari without having either a Mac or Safari – not bad!

You pass it the URL of the site you want to view in Safari, and on Dan’s Mac it loads the page in Safari, takes a screenshot and posts it to the web, where it remains for 24 hours for you to check.

The machine was getting a complete battering on Wednesday, which is when I saw it, but since then, traffic seems to have calmed down considerably, and the turnaround speed is high.

Match this with the news last week of being able to run multiple versions of IE on the same Windows machine, and web designers’ lives are getting a lot lot easier.

Remember, this is a free service being run by Dan Vine, so please click on the ad links and send him some extra money. This is a great service for those of us who don’t have access to Safari at all.

1:23 AM

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I take back what I said about this site working in Safari. Bollocks.

1:00 AM

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Saturday night is the UK Webloggers party in London. Which I won’t be able to make because it’s a four hour train journey away.

One of these days I’ll make an effort.
Actually, I might have done if I had heard about it earlier. And knew any other UK Bloggers. ;)

Details on the party from Funkjunkie and Tom Coates.

9:28 PM

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Friday, November 28, 2003

Website redesign! Work in progress – it looks pretty bad in IE (especially Win98 and 2000), but ace in Mozilla-based browsers, and not too bad in Konqueror, Safari and on WinXP.

2:46 PM

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Way to start the working day: A nice cup of tea followed by “Main Offender” by The Hives.

Anyway, despite internal protestations nearly a full year has passed since last December, meaning not only that Christmas is a short while away, but also that my birthday approacheth. All of which means my mind is being drawn inexorably to think about presents. Sad, but true; and whilst a new laptop (or in fact just any old laptop) would be very nice, it’s also just as unlikely.

So here are Some Things Off The Top Of My Head Which I’d Quite Like, on sites other than Amazon:

Viewtiful Joe
Kill Bill Vol.1 Soundtrack
Golden Sun 2: The Lost Age
Kiki’s Delivery Service
Castle in the Sky

5:31 PM

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Thursday, November 27, 2003

CSS hacks, a short summary:

1:53 PM

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Tuesday, November 25, 2003

The BBC 4 Screensaver is elegant, relaxing and beautiful. Worthy of any desktop (so long as it’s Windows or Mac).

11:43 AM

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Sourcesafe is shit.

Using the built-in Sourcesafe 5.0 text-file editor appends random characters to the end of a file. Quaility. Thanks for fucking up my Java classes Sourcesafe!

10:01 AM

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Friday, November 21, 2003

Whilst doing some cursory work at home (Windows XP) on my new weblog design (I promise I’ll move one day!) I realised that the page title was perfectly smooth and rounded, despite being quite large, and being plain text. I was very pleased with this, thinking I had in some way contributed to it by use of good colour and @em@s for sizing.

So imagine my disappointment when I came into work to look at the same page in Windows 2000 at found that it was horridly jagged,

After testing on another machine I confirmed that it was the XP/2K difference which was changing the smoothing, and I assume this is because of ClearType.

I’d always thought that ClearType only affected LCD monitors, but clearly CRT benefits in just the same way.

(I’d like to have included some screenshots, but my XP access has been cruelly snatched away from me here at work)

4:16 PM

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Thursday, November 20, 2003

Hurrah, Blogger comes back to life and publishes the posts I made the other day, since when Danny has already linked to my online Rome Photo Album.

These are some (if not most) of the photos my girlfriend and I took whilst in Rome (she’d never been before, so for the most part it was Ancient Rome we took in).

I keep meaning to mark them up with RSS/RDF (as per picdiary), but seeing as we haven’t even put the real photos in a photo album yet, I think I’m already ahead of the game. ;)

None of the pictures have been touched up in any way, which some of them could probably do with. Tim Bray takes good pictures (amongst, you know, doing other things) and wrote fairly recently about the kind of things he’s learnt to do to images to make them nicer for the web; sadly I can’t find it now as he doesn’t have a search facility on his weblog.

Also, the album was generated by JAlbum, using all the default settings (the templates are all just JSP), so that could probably do with some tinkering to make the layout slightly nicer (in particular stop the navigation moving around depending on the image width when scrolling through the images!) and the thumbnails a slightly higher quality. I might also provide the images in the highest resolution I have (each image is actually a four MB PNG on my hard drive – I thought it best to only publish the JPG :).

11:59 AM

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Wednesday, November 19, 2003

The Matrix Trilogy: Deleted Scenes. Absolute class.

(via Fishbowl's QuickLinks)

9:39 AM

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Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Seemingly hidden from public view, Ananova actually have an excellent Personal TV and Radio Guide, which presumably uses the same database that powers their XMLTV listings.

related: XMLTV2RDF.xslt by Matt Biddulph (related weblog post).

2:19 PM

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Friday, November 14, 2003

Labour MP for Ealing Acton/Sherperd’s Bush now has a (Typepad) blog

12:03 AM

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Back in July, I wrote

Keeping to the web theme, has a new site, designed to be more appealing to end users instead of developers. ... [but] it’s particularly strange that the website of one of the most standards-compliant browsers was designed with tables.

To which, Brendan Eich (mozilla.organ, inventor of Javascript, and otherwise genius) replied:

Of course, we mozilla.organs can write CSS-based, table-free pages too. But they don’‘t work very well in browsers run by less enlightened folks we’‘d like to win over. Good end-user marketing trumps standards purity any day.

I look forward to the day when we can have a painfully-correct front page.

Which makes a lot of sense.
So whilst on the one hand I was very pleased that was switching to use a CSS-based layout (with the new design by Dave Shea no less), I was worried that the intended mass audience of the site, users of IE, Opera and Netscape 4 (because yes, it *is* still out there!) would now find the site unusable.

Fortunately, the front page of the site renders pretty much identically in IE6 as it does in the latest Gecko engine. The rest of the site doesn’t quite match up. This is pretty much to be expected – after all, the new site has only been up a few days at the most, but the beta had been up for weeks. Surely things like the misrendering of all the project pages, the owners pages and so on should have been noticed? And if the very latest version of Microsoft's browser (which, lest we forget, is easily the most used browser on the Internet) can't display the pages, what chance have other browsers? I haven't tried with Netscape 4, but unless a completely different version is being served up to that browser, the site is going to appear as plain text. Why should someone upgrade their browser to a browser whose site doesn't even work properly (to them) ?

I like the new design. A lot of good work has gone into it, but overall, other than to please the standards compliance and semantic relevance brigades (waves membership badges), I wonder whether it would have been better to keep the tables-based layouts, but with the new design. After all, like the man says, Good end-user marketing trumps standards purity any day..

2:32 PM

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Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Of course, talking about iCan (which in case you didn’t know is the new activism service from the BBC), there’s an excellent campaign to provide MP3 Downloads from the BBC. Visit, endorse. Then join and endorse again.

It’s an absolute tragedy that the BBC ogg trials (which I participated in) never seemed to get anywhere. Ogg is an open and free format, unlike mp3 or the current service they use – Real Media. If I had the choice I’d use the Ogg streams every time. Not only does it mean higher quality for the same file size, but it also means I can use the client of my choice to listen, and on any platform I so wish. It also means I can do a lot more with it, like stream it to more my hard drive for listening to later, or re-encode and copy to my mp3 player so I can listen to Newsnight on the train. All sorts of worlds start opening up once you begin using a more flexible format.

Of course, the problem could be in the stability of the broadcast platform. The Real Media Server is supposedly very good at dealing with high demand whilst providing a high performance level. On the other hand, I (sadly) have no idea as to the scalability and performance of OGG servers. I’ve used IceCast before, and I suspect that it’s probably the most reliable streaming server available for OGG, and the BBC will probably know already from their trials the reliability of various servers and how feasible it would be to replace their Real Media streams with OGG. At the moment the BBC seem to be running around forty Real Media Servers and you can be sure that they’d need a reason and a half (at least) to convince them to dedicate the time and effort it would take to switching over all these machines.

9:57 AM

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what kind of social software are you?

Well meaning and well mannered, as you cycle home in the pouring rain, you mutter to yourself about the rubbish, crime and decay, before locking the front door and spending all night on the Internet.

so true....

1:30 AM

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Saturday, November 08, 2003

The Monkey Shakespeare Simulator.

After a few hours I still only had eight letters. Beat the record. Prove the point.

4:51 PM

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Thursday, November 06, 2003

Andy made an excellent post about the Firebird menubar. The Firebird menubar is extremely configurable, and you can put anything just about anywhere, including the Home/Refresh buttons to the same line as the File/Edit menus.

This is great for me, previously I had the main menu bar, navigation/address bar, my bookmarks toolbar (for web dev stuff) and the Web Developer’s Toolbar extension all on different lines. Now I’ve gone through, taking out what I don’t need and am left with two thin lines like this:

The buttons next to my bookmarks are what remains of the Web Developer’s Toolbar once I’d removed what I didn’t need and moved the remaining ones. Absolute genius stuff, and my screen real estate is restored!

4:39 PM

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Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Following on from my post the other day about XUL there is now an XUL index page for this site (Danger Will Robinson! Not where you think it’s going to be!), with only basic stuff in it at the moment, and no behaviour, but that’s all stuff I’m working on. I’d love to have a more interactive site via XUL.

11:06 AM

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This is just getting ridiculous. AtomAPI search proposal

Below, as a way of demonstrating this idea I have taken a copy of Sam’s Atom feed and augmented it with two kinds of navigation information.
<nav rel="next" title="Next 20 Entries" href="http://.."/>
<nav rel="previous" title="Previous 20 Entries" href="http://.."/>
<nav title="Last 20 Comments" href="http://.."/>

Hello Mr. Wheel. My, aren’t we round today?

12:25 PM

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Monday, November 03, 2003

I feel cheated. Having felt ecstatic about the fact I had new context menu commands meaning I could navigate within my sidebar, I find that the context menu doesn’t actually appear for links in the sidebar, thus rendering me impotent to use the extension in the way I wanted.

Alas, the Netscape Devedge Sidebars remain beyond the reach of usage by mortals in Firebird.

9:51 PM

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Sunday, November 02, 2003

To keep me from moaning quite so much, there’s now a web panel enhancer extension for Firebird which allows you to turn the sidebar on/off via the “View” menu and adds an “Open in sidebar” option (as well as some others) to the context menu. Thank God.

9:48 PM

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Blogware now ships with functionality for blogging reviews and using the RVW RSS extension. Marc Canter says this is great, whilst I agree in theory, this system uses Amazon as its core item reference, and a cold shiver runs up my spine when I think what Amazon could do to monoplise on this.

The problem of course is that there’s no “open” alternative. There’s MusicBrainz for music, but what else? Even IMDB are owned by Amazon. I’m surprised they don’t have more product placement (although I’m sure they’re working on integrating their systems).

1:10 AM

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I saw this article a few months ago and promptly lost it again; the wonders of Google.

XUL: rendering GUIs with PHP

The important part of the article isn’t actually the PHP bit (I know very little PHP), but the fact that it shows you can deliver an enhanced browsing experience to people using Gecko-based browsers. The example they give is found at – if you try and view this file in a browser that doesn’t support XUL you’ll probably be asked to download the file. If, on the other hand, you’re using Mozilla, Firebird, Camino or one of the others you’ll see a some menus across the top of the screen (there’s a screenshot in the article).

In fact, if you can redirect requests based on the user-agent you can give your website proper tree widgets, tables, radio buttons, checks, the works. Your website becomes a mini web application.

Of course this isn’t necessarily an ideal situation, and at first glance has at least a few drawbacks, the most obvious of which is that you lose bookmark-ability for web pages. There’s possibly a workaround, but it’s too late at night to think of one now.