Because I forget stuff. Part of

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December 2004

Posts made in December 2004


Just thought I’d mention I’m around. The whole christmas/new year thing has meant I haven’t been online that much, so no recent blog updates. I’ll probably whack a few posts up next week once I’ve gathered my thoughts together. Anyway, Happy New Year!!

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas (or personal choice of holiday) one and all. Hope you’re all well and happy!


Right, I’m off then, to visit my parents. Won’t be back until late Friday. Internet access will be at best patchy (and I probably won’t really be online until Boxing Day). Hope you all have a good holiday!

New Look

This is a warning in case it remains visable when you happen to look. Things are about to break. Changes to the underlying templates are ongoing. Please don’t attempt to do anything to complicated with this blog right now!

Update: Things are almost sorted. A few things still broken and a couple of pages needing to be rebuilt. Nearly there. Changes are ongoing.

Update: Right, I think we’re done. Seems to work in Gecko, IE (6 – I think 5.x will probably fall over due to my not fixing the box model for it) and Opera (all tested on Win XP). Hopefully it works in other browsers as well, though I haven’t done extensive testing yet. Look out for a more detailed post about the redesign and rebuild!

Oops: Of course I probably should have ran things through the validator before getting excited about being done!

Update: Errors corrected. All seems well, until I find the next bug!

How Does He Know?

So yesterday a load of christmas shopping (groceries mainly) ordered via this wonderful internet thingy arrived. Amongst the many bags were two small frozen turkeys (don’t ask why two). Anyway, they got left out to slowly defrost before the big day – looking nothing more than a couple of lumps of frozen stuff in blue wrap. Later that night I wandered downstairs to the darkened kitchen. When I turned on the light I nearly fell over my cat just sitting there staring upwards…at the turkeys. Now, how the hell does he know? Suffice to say the turkeys (should that be turkies?) are now in a slightly safer place, just in case.


You might normally expect a link to Ian Hixie’s blog to have something to do with web design but actually this is a neat demonstration of evolution (simplified yes, but a lovely clear way to make the basic point). Now, if only we really could breed those coins, we’d all be rich I tell ya, rich.

Good Riddance

I haven’t actually cheered out loud at the fall of a politician since Maggie finally went. David Blunkett, until very recently the UK home secretary, has resigned. Ironically an “invasion” of his privacy was his downfall. Now hopefully his draconian ID card ideas and the rest of his fear mongering policies can go the same way.

You Know When…

You know when you’ve spent to much time reading rubbish on the internet when you’ve already seen half the links in the B3ta newsletter. And when you’re posting to your blog at ten past eleven on a Friday night of course…

Not The Odeon Website

So the Odeon distinctly failed to fix their website properly (and managed to marginalize people in the process). Well, I was going to tack this on the end of my previous post but hey, why not a new entry :-) Via Adactio (via Mezzoblue), we now have the new unofficial accessible Odeon. Apparently there’s a bunch of Perl trickery available now too. Let’s see if the Odeon can finally get the point.

Edit: Seems the Odeon must be doing good business. A quick hunt round that accessible site seems to display every show as “sold out”. Presumably a little bug there :-)

Gmail and Spam

Suddenly I seem to be getting a lot more spam to my GMail account. Ed first drew my attention to an increase in spam regarding his account a couple of days ago. I’m using POP3 to access my GMail account so hadn’t really noticed, but out of curiosity I just logged in to the web interface. I can date the increase pretty accurately. I tended to only ever have a couple of things in the spam folder (from a couple of “newsletters” I don’t really want and have been consistently spammed since I first got). On 1st December though a lot more junk started to appear (starting with some quality software at reasonable prices ;-) ). So, either my GMail address got trawled (perfectly possible) or the spammers are suddenly taking more notice of GMail addresses. GMail’s spam filtering seems to be doing a fine job though.

The Thunder Roared

The email answer to Firefox, Thunderbird, has just reached version 1.0; Yeh! Upgrade was smooth (I cheated a bit and played around with the max version number of extension in my profile to save on the whole “not compatable” issues).

Now That One I Do Remember

I recently discussed how I don’t really remember one of the traditions of my youthful christmases. Whilst browsing around the same newspaper site I did find something I do remember though. Lego is undoubtedly the greatest toy ever (along with Sticklebricks which I loved when we had them the first year I went to school) and the World Show was, to a ten year old boy (who had another tradition of wandering around Fenwicks toy department in awe), was simply fantastic. I seem to recall it was my father who bought me my first Lego; think he bought a big tub of it from someone he knew at work when I was very young (and not really old enough for bricks on which I might choke), so there was always Lego in my childhood (I think that also meant I skipped the whole Duplo stage). Looking around it doesn’t seem much of the stuff I remember is still available. It all seems a lot more strictly themed now. I know my favourite was always the space theme (probably influenced by this being the 80s. Star Wars and the original Battlestar Galactica spring to mind) but now it seems we make do with actual Star Wars models and models of historically real space missions. The space is gone. Which is a shame. Half the fun was always Lego’s very unstructured universe. Yes, you bought the sets for the thing on the box, which you invariably made. But a week later you’d have pulled it apart to add those pieces (and concepts) to your own creation. Are you really going to be as willing to do that with you’re X-wing or Space Shuttle?

I’ve still got my Lego away in storage (i.e. my parent’s attic). Maybe when I visit at Christmas I’ll just have to hunt some of it out :-)

Edit: Link changed to Battlestar Galactica series entry rather than that for the Pilot/Movie.

A Very Edible Dormouse

Nice food with Rachel last night, at the Dormouse pub, York. What started as “come and pick me up from town” turned into three courses accompanied by some nice beer. I had the chicken strips, steak, and profiteroles. Rach had Irish muscles, three shires sausage (though only one of the sausage’s county of origin is actually a shire) and mash, and the caramel apple granny. The beer was Old Speckled Hen. Very nice all round. More minutiae of my life coming soon to a blog near you ;-)

Can’t Resist

I mentioned a while ago that I was looking toward making the markup of this blog a lot more semantic. I’ve made a start and just to give myself something to do the design is also going to change a bit. The idea is to bring the blog pages more into keeping with the rest of the site (the design of which I’m much more taken with). It won’t be based directly off as I think that format’s a little too restrictive for the amount which is going on with the blog (that may indicate that the blog is a bit too on the busy side but hey, I like to play). In fact the layout will probably stay pretty much unchanged; just more semantic and with a colour scheme and design choices closer to the main site.

So far I’ve just been working on a mock up of the front page, hacking the markup to be much more semantic. I’m writing the stylesheet from scratch—the old version is top heavy with legacy and I can’t tell what half of it’s doing anymore. Layout is mainly done but the only design aspects are currently just scaffold so I can see what’s going on. I haven’t even mocked up a quick image of something like the final design yet. Of course I haven’t started fixing in IE yet either. And I’ll have to translate all those lovely semantic changes into the MoveableType templates too…

I’m sort of documenting this process as I go using the ScrapBook Firefox extension so some time in the deep future a write up is threatened.

Spellbound Monkey

While on the Mozilla and browser theme I’ll mention that one of the coolest extensions for Firefox, the integration of the spellchecker for use with text boxes in forms, etc., Spellbound is now available for the suite

New Netscape

Talking of new browsers, the supposedly dead Netscape are releasing another one. It’s based on Firefox but tweaked around to be “Netscapey”. I don’t know why they’d bother but there is one interesting feature. There will be the option to switch between Gecko, Mozilla’s superior rendering engine, and Trident, IE’s engine. Basically they’ve embedded IE so there is a choice. Why anybody would want to use a Mozilla based browser and ruin it with IE is beyond me, but it might be interesting from a designing point of view. Of course, what are the odds there are particular quirks in the Netscape version not present in Firefox or IE :-/ Looks ugly too.

Odeon Still In The Dark

Anybody paying attention a few months ago may remember the whole Odeon accessibility thing. Well I’ve just noticed that the Odeon website now has an “accessible” version. Well, what they actually have is a text only version of their film times. Still no way to book online through that though, or register for exclusive special offers and film news, or even get your favourite cinema’s film times emailed to you each week. The design is terrible, as if some novice had simply hacked it together to look and feel as poor as possible. It took them that long to come up with this. I think I could have hacked something better than that together in a couple of days, so a professional…

Never mind, at least I can use the normal Odeon site. No, wait. Trying to simply continue to the normal site in Firefox (I don’t have accessibility problems, I just use a better browser) still lands on their original, broken Javascript front page. In other words they haven’t exactly been listening. The really annoying thing is that the accessibility information page shows they really have gone to some effort in most areas of their business. So why let the website suffer, when hiring a vaguely competent web design firm should quickly solve most of the problems (at least the main site might work in something other than IE—it’s obvious they believe there text based film times non-solution is acceptable for anyone not running the most outdated browser around). Hell, people have offered to fix it for free.

Odeon had a chance to regain some face after the bad publicity of shutting down the unofficial accessible site. Instead they’ve simply produced a botched job.

To be fair though, it’s not just the Odeon. In fact, they may be one of the better cinema sites. A quick trip in Lynx to my local cinemas’ websites: Vue got me nowhere. City Screen at least I could get to the film times though it took some navigating (gif is not appropriate alt text for an image). Unfortunately the promising Book Online link got me to a frames site, so I couldn’t go all the way. :-(

Firefox Experiment

Sometime ago I said I’d dump the Mozilla suite for a week and try out using a combination of Firefox, Thunderbird and Sunbird. Well, the week’s over (for quite a while). This post has been in draft status and added to since almost the moment of install—I’m posting it now because I think it’s about time it went out the door, so to speak. So, what do I think?

Well, first the things I sort of miss/find annoying:

  • Lack of advanced search. One of the great features of the suite is the advanced search sidebar. That allows all those search plugins to be organised into categories and, even more importantly, searches to be performed over several at once. The search bar now has about three dozen search plugins installed—and when I was using the suite I had more than that; I was trying to be conservative. A simple drop down list just doesn’t cut it as a UI after the first 10 or so. It used to be that advanced search could be brought back as an extension, but apparently code pruning means this is no longer possible.
  • I want control-enter in the search box to search in a new tab. Come on, this is simple usability stuff. Come to that, I want control-enter in the location bar to open the address in a new tab (I’ll have to have another hunt around to see if there extensions to do this). Apparently that would be Alt-Enter I’m looking for. That doesn’t make much sense to me. Accel (that’s control on windows)-T, Accel-click and Alt-Enter?
  • I want a keyboard shortcut to the Bookmarks Manager. I use this quite a bit, adding descriptions to bookmarks (and keywords), especially with the Flat Bookmarks Extension. I’ve got the Openbook extension installed because the whole bookmark handling in general is poor. Control-Shift-B doesn’t seem to be doing anything…
  • Given the whole pushing of tabs as a GoodThingTM the default ability to use them really needs some work (I mean, you even have to customise the toolbar to get a new tab button).
  • There are so many extensions installed just to get back up to the functionality of the suite
  • I don’t like the default theme It’s grown on me quite a bit—I think I might actually like it :-)
  • Removing the Control-I shortcut to page info was just silly
  • I understand the reasons extensions have a compatible maximum version number but from an end user point of view its pretty fiddly waiting for extensions to be updated with each new release. Of course, it also might help if wasn’t rubbish

I did get External Applications Buttons working in the end, after uninstalling and deleting every trace of it I could find from the profile’s chrome files etc.. Worked perfectly when I then reinstalled :-)… Except that now it doesn’t again, but I got it working long enough to install the buttons I wanted.

Having said all the above, will I be going back to the suite. Another alpha of 1.8 has just been released. Well, I’m shocking myself somewhat by saying, No. The fox is swift and despite all the extensions still feels lean. The coolest add-ons exist for the fox. I can arrange the toolbar how I want. I’m not sure how to do backwards porting. Thunderbird feels as slick, though it’s still only at 0.9. I suppose Sunbird could do with some work, but it’s really early in its development and it’s sort of my choice to use it rather than the more mature calendar extension—the only thing that really gets me is the lack of password management. There aren’t many 0.2 releases of such a large piece of software that good and it will be interesting to watch its growth.

I would like to say I still encourage development of the suite however. That integration is the thing missing from the family of standalones. It will be a crucial time come the release of 1.8 final and building Firefox 1.1. I believe it is vital that Thunderbird, FireFox and others find a place truly together whilst having the strength to stand apart. It looks like that’s the intended direction though, at which point it might well be time to say a gracious goodbye to the venerable old suite.

The leadership of Firefox will also be interesting. So far it has benefited from the strong willed direction shown by its driving forces. That attitude has served it well when it was the runt of the pack being reborn from the flames. It is not the small offspring it once was however, and it is important for its leaders to bear that in mind. There has in the past been a lack of communication and a sense (just or not) that the views of the community are oft ignored. Well that community has grown much larger now and must be allowed a correspondingly louder voice. The strong leadership is still important to produce a path through the howling storm but it may just need to bend to the winds a little more.

In some sort of rambling conclusion, Firefox is now a browser worthy of its 1.0 status, and it’s growing popularity. Mozilla really has come from being the off cast browser of geeks to something your grandmother could use, and probably should rather than run the security gauntlet which is IE. That’s not to say this is a perfect browser. It just has different failings. Hopefully the 1.0 momentum won’t fade and it will continue to grow from the flames to burn like a star.

Edit: List items should go inside the unordered list. Oops.

Update: Advanced search extension is back, as explained in this further post.


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This Crazy Fool

Dr Ian Scott
Croydon (and Gateshead), United Kingdom
Bullding Services Engineer (EngDesign), PhD in Physics (University of York), football fanatic (Newcastle United), open source enthusiast (mainly Mozilla)

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