A little corner of the Empire on the web.

01 November, 2003

Some great stuff for Londoners

A couple of great things to look at for Londoners (for those who live there, those just passing through and those like me who just work there).

From the LRB, Peter Campbell's : Why does it take so long to mend an escalator?

Also The Open Guide to London a new Wiki dedicated to London (and especially its bars and restaurants).

25 October, 2003

SWG Pets

Excerpt from chat log from Stratics chat with SWG developers Official SWGHoC Log - from SWG Stratics:

"(Csavin) with mounts coming in game, are there any plans to skew the game back to star wars and away from pokemon? CH's being so prevelant is starting to ruin the 'starwarsiness' of it all
(oodBnar) oohh..
(Q-3PO) Actually I hear George is going back and adding CG pets behind all the main characters in the special special edition of the original films... I'm kidding (don't kill me Ronda)
(oodBnar) We are actively working on vehicles.
(ronda_lucasarts) sigh @ Q3PO"

22 October, 2003

Extensions I have browsed

A follow up to a previous post on my favourite Mozilla (and other Gecko browser) extensions.

Just put Mozilla Firebird 0.7 on my laptop, and I've noticed that the style sheet switcher that I used to add in as an extension is now included by default. Excellent! Hopefully this will encourage a few more web sites to take advantage of alternative styles, and show us what they can do.

So now that I don't have to install that any more, what extensions should I use? Well I took a quick trip over to the Mozilla Firebird Extensions page to have a look around.

So what have I installed now?

  • Well first had to be the Link Toolbar that restores (and enhances) the link toolbar found in the main Mozilla suite.
  • Second, the Live HTTP Headers, a great tool for anyone who writes server side web applications, because they don't always work perfectly and this is just the best and easiest way to debug so many problems.
  • I've been getting into RSS quite a bit lately, and until I get around to writing my own web-based RSS reader, then the RSS Reader Panel is simply the most convenient way to keep up with events.
  • Text Links is great for extracting URLS from so many different places where people don't bother linking them, or mess it up (a couple of forums I visit and a couple of email newsletters I get).

And I think that's my lot for the moment, all installed and ready for action!

22 April, 2003

Potential Poo

Q: How much potential poo am I in at the moment?
A: An awful lot!

19 April, 2003

Do I look like a construction industry recruitment specialist?


Well stop sending me your CVs.

Further to my earlier email concerning the above, I attach my 
CV for your evaluation.
I have five years East Africa experience and several years 
experience with overseas water utilities. My experience has 
covered Zoning , Water meters, bye-laws , water legislation 
and related activities.
I am currently in Thailand on holiday.I can be reached 
through this email.



Dear  Mr.Xxxxxx  Xxxxxxxx,
      I  write in response to your recent advertisement for "chief operating officer" in Tanzania.
      I would like to be considered for the employment and would welcome an early interview.
      I have attached my recent c.v. and look forward to an early and favorable reply.
      I wish to highlight my broad experience in Tanzania and Africa in general as seen in my c.v..
      Thankful and grateful for your kind cooperation and response,hoping you would kindly consider my c.v. for any other position would fit me in future.
      Thank you for your time.
      Kind  regards. 

(The above reproduced complete with all spelling and grammatical errors. "X"s inserted to protect the [mostly] innocent)

And quite a few more in the same vein.

After a little investigation found out that there is a company called Jared (nasty colour scheme, pointless Flash menu, massively invalid code). They publish some of their jobs on a site called "Careers in Construction", they even have their own special page, the problem is that page links to lots of pages full of jobs, many of which have the wrong contact details: remember "Jared" is only one letter different from "jard".

Well being the good netizen that I am, I've replied to each of the applicants letting them know about their mistakes, and sent a letter to one of the HR people asking them to update their contact details, but, given that this is the middle of a double bank holiday weekend (wahoo, four day weekend!) I'm expecting that I'll be receiving these until at least Wednesday.

Ho, hum, guess I'd better have ago at exercising Mozilla Mail's rules filters.

17 April, 2003

Thoughts on default and recommended security modes and what it reveals about the people expected to use the systems.

When you have a large network, with a large number of servers, and a number of network/server administrators there essentially two different ways to set up the supervisor/administrative rights and which route you go down reveals a lot about your overall philosophy.

Method 1: Restrict each person's network rights to exactly what they need for day-to-day work and precisely no more. If they do need to do anything else they can use a specific administrative account (or supervisor account, or superuser depending what world you inhabit) to carry out their business.

Method 2: Give all of your administrator's network accounts full administrative privileges to each resource that they might need (or even everything depending on the size of the network, and the person's role).

There are definite advantages and disadvantages to each approach.

Method one means that your admin's own network accounts only have limited rights, this means that they are a less worrying vector for viruses, they're less likely to cause catastrophic problems by accidentally clicking the wrong thing and you can control who needs the passwords for various resources.

The downside is that you can't control who knows the passwords, someone extra will always need it for some reason, or will notice it whilst it is used for some othert reason and you can only control it by regularly changing your admin passwords, and keeping a (secure) database of them all.

Method two means that you can audit who did what, every admin level action on the network will have an actual person's own ID against it, it means that work for admins is less of a hassle: less passwords, less logging in and out all over the place with 30 different passwords, less time spent performing quick and easy tasks.

The downside is that if any of your admins happen to become infected by a virus, or are simply having a bad day and making an awful lot of mistakes, then they can wreak havoc on an unparalleled scale.

From what I've seen experienced, method one is the method that pretty much every network admin training course reccomends, and most Linux/Unix networks actually carry out ("su" is your friend) whereas despite the official guidelines most Microsoft based shops tend to either be configured as method two (or a mixture of the two).

16 April, 2003

Wow, just had Mozilla crash on me. What a shock!

I'm running Mozilla 1.3 at the moment and this is the first time I can remember Mozilla crashing since I had a corrupt plugin install back when I was using Mozilla 1.1!

I'd completely forgotten about the feedback agent, so it was a real shock when that appeared.

Still I guess that's a fairly decent MTBF: two major milestone releases!

14 April, 2003

OK I've just spent the last few days converting jardBRAIN so that it can export an RSS feed. This involved rewriting and generalising some of the internals (which wasn't such a bad thing as I'd been meaning to do it myself for ages anyway, I just needed some external stimulus to give me a good reason, and a boot up the jacksie).

So all's going well, I settled on RSS version 2.0 in the end. Created a simple test template, looked everything up in the specs (RSS v2.0 spec) looked up things that aren't clear in the previous specs (even as far as going back to 1982's RFC822 to find the date/time format for various entries).

Unfortunately at the end of this I still have two questions about two ambiguous properties:

  1. What content type (MIME type) do I serve my file as?
  2. How do I use the GUID field?
Taking these one at a time:

After a bit of research on the 'net there are three content types in common use for RSS files; text/html, text/xml and application/rss+xml. Of those the first is obviously wrong, the second type fits in a general sense, and the third seems right (and is recommended and used by Mark Pilgrim). So I think that I'll go for application/rss+xml, but that's still not quite settled yet.

The second question is still a little unclear, at least for a bear of little brain like myself.

From the RSS v2.0 official specification:

guid stands for globally unique identifier. It's a string that uniquely identifies the item. When present, an aggregator may choose to use this string to determine if an item is new.…
If the guid element has an attribute named "isPermaLink" with a value of true, the reader may assume that it is a permalink to the item, that is, a url that can be opened in a Web browser, that points to the full item described by the element.


A frequently asked question about guids is how do they compare to links. Aren't they the same thing? Yes, in some content systems, and no in others. In some systems, link is a permalink to a weblog item. However, in other systems, each item is a synopsis of a longer article, link points to the article, and guid is the permalink to the weblog entry. In all cases, it's recommended that you provide the guid, and if possible make it a permalink. This enables aggregators to not repeat items, even if there have been editing changes.

And from Userland's backend pages, Guids are not just for geeks anymore:

Aggregators and readers can use the guid in one or two ways:

1. To determine if an item is new or not, allowing the authors of weblogs to make minor editing changes without making all their readers figure out if a post is new or not.

2. If it's a permalink, make it easy for the reader to go directly to the item on the Web. This is cool for people who want to quickly include the link in their weblog.

The second feature is a nice convenience, the first, imho should be a feature of all aggregators, readers and content systems.

Ok, that's all well and good and I can see the reasoning behind it, people often take an existing entry, edit it to correct the spelling and then republish it to the same URL. My question is which way round does this work? Is the GUID there to always identify the one article through all of its changes, so that even if other things change, the GUID will stay the same (like my addeddate ID used in permalinks in jardBRAIN), or is it there to say that although this looks like the same article that was here ten minutes ago, its actually had the wording changed, and had some offensive phrase edited out, so the GUID changes (like my full recordid, or possibly something like an MD5 digest)?

Maybe I'm reading too much into all this, but I just can't get my head around this one.

04 April, 2003

What really annoys worries me about Windows XP are its silent failures.

I've been using XP Home edition on my personal laptop for about nine months, and I've been using XP Professional at work for four or five months. During this time it's had its little quirks, annoyances and, I'll even grant, it's moments of brilliance and overall I've learned to tolerate it as an operating system, maybe even learned to like it in some ways.

However the one thing that has really made me reserve judgement on it are the silent failures it seems to have at the quirkiest of moments.

What do I mean by silent failure?

I mean all those times that you try to do something, and nothing ever happens: there's no visible feedback, there's no error message, and most of all it just doesn't work.

As an example I regularly use two different applications as part of my job, to protect the (mostly) innocent we'll call them app A and app B. Now I really use these, push them hard and so I've discovered a couple of sure-fire ways to crash them both, this isn't a real show-stopper because both apps have more than one way to accomplish these particular tasks, so I can just avoid the problem and try it the other way.

The thing is that I discovered all of this running the apps on my Windows 2000 box. When app A crashes on my old Windows 2000 box its screen image freezes up, and then 5-30 seconds later up pops an error message, such as "App A: invalid aaaa to bbbb in cccc. [OK]", so I scan the frozen screen image to double-check the reference that I was working on, click [OK], restart the app and carry on working from that reference again. App B's crashes are similar, except it also writes something to the Windows error log as well as giving me an on-screen error message.

Under Windows XP the crashes are slightly different, I'll be happily working away in the app, then, without thinking, I'll click the button that I know will crash the app, and just as the ONM hits, the app just disappears from the screen. No frozen image left on-screen. No error message. No feedback whatsoever, its like it never existed. There are even a few tasks within Windows XP and Explorer itself that can trigger this behaviour (such as assigning groups in the ADS rights to folders and shares in the NTFS file system on a server through the local Windows Explorer) so its certainly not just a problem with 3rd party apps.

I'm sure when the Microsoft programmers demoed this to their managers that everyone starting giving out mutual back-pats and congratulations, "Look, no error messages, so no one can complain any more that Windows is riddled with bugs and freezes all the time!"

Unfortunately no one stepped back from the whole self-congratulatory circle w--- and thought, "Well maybe people will want some feedback when jobs fail? If only so they have a clue what to do/not do next time?"

It's a triumph of marketing over common-sense, and it really signposts some of the thinking behind a lot of Windows XP's interface and features.

If they don't absolutely need to know it, or it might make us look bad if they see it, then hide it from them at all costs.

02 April, 2003

Well, I've just spent £200 on a watch, what have you done today?

(But it's so cool, I can barely contain my excitement, and at least I didn't go fo the £499 version, even if that one is so cool I nearly wet myself looking at it)

27 March, 2003

Telewest Incompetence

Glad to see I'm not the only one having problems with them, I'd hate to think that they were singling out members of the Imperial Galactic Navy Remnants for their customer dis-service, see Telewest Review: "I hate them with a passion reserved only for them!" and of course Incompetence, thy name is Telewest, not forgetting Telewest help desk and organisational incompetence.

26 March, 2003

It's true, I really can't browse with any other web browser any more. I've tried I really have. I've tried to wean myself off Mozilla and its Gecko-powered siblings, but I really can't do it. I know I need to lose this feeling of absolute power and control before it goes to my head, I know I need to watch this feeling of safety and contented happiness and redevelop my healthy sense of paranoia.

What it boils down to is this Mozilla just does what I want it to, what I expect it to and doesn't do anything unexpected or unwanted. I haven't yet found any other browser that creates this euphoric feeling in me.

What brought all this on? I've been spending a bit of time creating an all CSS layout for a web site that I'm redeveloping at the moment. Now one important phase of this is testing the effect in other web browsers.

Installed on this PC I have Mozilla 1.3 (plus a couple of more recent Mozilla nightly builds) , Phoenix 0.5, Opera 6.05 & Interenet Explorer 5.01 SP3. Other PCs within a (long) arm's reach also have Netscape 4.7x, some recent Phoenix nightly builds, Internet Explorer 6.x and Opera 7.03 installed.

I've been spending time flicking between some of these browsers checking what things look like, checking the different pages still hang together and that the end result is still readable and usable in all of the above (even if it looks a bit plain in some of the older browsers).

The big problem is that I'm just so used to Mozilla's features and its many power user features that I just plain have trouble navigating around the web without them any more. I can't count the number oftimes that I've clicked the middle-mouse button over a link in Opera or IE and been surprised when something odd happens (Opera) or nothig at all happens (IE) rather than opening a page into a background tab like my muscle-memory expects.

Or I want to jump straight from a sub-page to its parent whilst the page's nav menu is offscreen, easy in Mozilla (and assuming a well designed web site) you just move the mouse up to the Site Navigation Bar and click the "Up" arrow. No other browser I've seen implements this most useful of features (although I've heard that iCab on the Mac might have a subset of this). (if you can't see the Site Nav Bar in Mozilla then click the View menu and select Show/Hide -> Site Navigation Bar and pick your setting, I use Show Only As Needed).

However the worst problems come with something as simple as dragging and dropping links. Opera just seems to have no concept of drag and dropping links whatsoever, you can't drag into it, and you absolutely can't do any draging for any purpose whatsoever within it. IE scores one better, you can drag links from one window, drop them into another and it opens the linked page, you can also drag from other browsers (such as Moz) into IE, but you can't drag out of IE into other browsers (just other MS apps). Mozilla, of course is the most drag-and-drop friendly letting you drag between windows, to other browsers (as long as they'll accept d'n'd) and from other browsers, you can also drag and drop into most other apps and it does what you expect it to (either pasting the link in plain text apps, pasting hyperlinked text in capable apps).

Last, but by no means least we have to mention Mozilla's stylesheet switcher controls (View menu -> Use Style) I can't over-emphasise just how useful it is to be able to quickly and easily swap betwen two or three different style sheets or even temporarily disable them entirely. (This is available as an XPInstall add-on for Phoenix from the Phoenix Extensions page).

And that's all without going into the major failings of the other browsers, that's a subject for another time!

07 March, 2003

I always love it when someone new discovers and learns to love something that I've loved for ages, and Mozilla is definitely one of those things that I've managed to evangelize friends to in the past.

So it's great to see someone else not only discover and learn to love Mozilla but also write a great page evangelizing Mozilla for bloggers.

13 February, 2003

Things that wind me up, today:

  1. Forms on web sites that don't use the label tag, especially with radio buttons and checkboxes. Why should I be forced to aim my mouse pointer at some tiny, little target just because you so-called professional web developer can't be arsed to learn and utilise some incredibly easy part of the HTML spec. It's not even as if it's difficult to use:
    <label for="control_id">Some text<label>

    And as an added bonus it means the form is easier to understand for anyone using a screenreader (eg the visually impaired) and it makes the form far easier to go through and debug using something like Mozilla's Page Info dialog screen.

  2. Why can't I search for entries in a Livejournal blog such as jwz's? All I want to do is track down a link he posted about a month ago, how do I do something that simple?

(And yes I do seem to be in a bit of a mood for using the different HTML list tags today)

Word of the day:
To be a retarded fuckwit. some complete fucktard flamed me today. See also Slashdot ;-)

23 January, 2003

Great article on blogging over at O'Reilly network - My Blog, My Outboard Brain. Starts off with a Douglas Adams quote (form Dirk Gently if you must know), then goes on to explain exactly how and why I currently use the jardBRAIN. Really connected with me.

And here's the DNA quote:

Take the VCR, for example. Not only can it watch TV for you, it can watch more channels and watch them better than you can. Similarly, the Electric Monk does your believing for you. Instead of having to wade through mountains of propaganda, you'd tell your Electric Monk to pick a few random hopeless causes each week. - Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

(anyone watching carefully has just spotted my first ever, in the wild, grown-up usage of the <q> <cite> tags. Mmmm felt good)