Because I forget stuff. Part of

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February 2005

Posts made in February 2005

Google Autolink

The new beta of Google’s famous IE (Windows only) toolbar introduces a feature called Autolink. Essentially this provides a toolbar button that when clicked converts an ISBN, a street address, etc. into a clickable link taking you to the appropriate page of sites like, Google Maps, etc. This sounds a lot like Microsoft’s ill fated Smart Tags and is stirring up much the same controversy—somewhat tempered by Google’s historical position as the “good guys”. The big problems produced by Smart Tags/Autolink technology are neatly summarised by Zeldman. And from a few places comes a link to a still relatively obscure script to disable Autolink on your web pages. I actually installed this script on this site last night (along with installing the IE—shudder—toolbar and putting up a test page), and linked to it in the Links of the Moment section. And then this morning I read Phil Ringnalda’s response, where he introduces a favlet to disable the Autolink disabling (itself quite simple for the designer to circumvent—simple change the function name in the original script), but more importantly gives his reasons for doing so. Some of them make good sense.

So now I’m wondering, just how much of a king is the user? It’s not like I’ve never messed around with a site myself. I’m skilled enough with CSS to completely re-skin a site if I feel like it, but that’s just playing around with presentation. Then again, it’s not like I’ve never used display:none !important; to completely hide some aspect of a page and I have adblock installed to block the loading of certain images, etc. Those two things are undoubtedly playing around with content. The difference seems to be that these techniques remove content whereas Google is adding content (in the form of additional links the author didn’t code). It’s still playing with content though, on a local, not redistributed level.

The other objections to Autolinks aren’t really for the designer to deal with. It’s the user’s choice if they wish to expose themselves to the risk of being tracked using these links for instance. The only real problem is a larger social one in that the companies linked to with Autolinks become (even) bigger to the detriment of others, and the unilateral introduction of such a potentially powerful way to control the internet’s usage by a for profit company is worrying.

The conclusion is I’ve decided I’m undecided on the issue. On the one hand such a technology by a large mega corporation (that’s Google which ever way you look at it) stinks. On the other the user’s life might be made easier, and there is an argument they can run whatever CSS and scripts they like with their browser. So for now I’ve disabled the disabling script. It’s still linked to (because that’s easier) but does nothing. For now.

The Vast Dark

Seems that the first “dark galaxy” may have been discovered. For years astronomers have believed that a lot of the universe is made up of “dark matter“—matter which does not emit or absorb light—first detected by its influence on the rotation of visible galaxies. Now advances in radio astronomy seem to have revealed a galaxy made of dark matter with no visible component (i.e. no stars).

Further info: Astrophysical Journal preprint


The list of corrections are in for the recently submitted and examined thesis. Final stretch now.

Broken Home

Some long while ago I mentioned I don’t blog about personal matters much. Well, this is one of the posts to buck that trend; and exploration if you will of a certain recent event—as such, even with a couple of draftings, it may not be the most coherent of things. The event in question was revealed on Sunday in a telephone conversation with my mother (and subsequently father). It seems they are joining the large number of marriages which finally end with divorce. It is, as best I can tell, on friendly enough terms. It is not necessarily too huge a shock or surprise. Of course I am here and somewhat out of it, and yes, I’m happy that is the case.

This is all relatively easy for me really. I’m a 28 year who recently finished his doctoral degree and doesn’t even live in the same city as his original home. I have about enough life experience to cope with this sort of thing. It does not prevent the feeling from being rather strange however. The thought that the two people who most moulded me to the person I now am (good and bad parts) will no longer be together is one that is familiar to thousands but still a little jarring. The question presents itself internally to wonder, if they came together to produce me and now are apart then what does this say about the suitability of the offspring of such a partnership? Of course I know such musings are patently ridiculous, yet it is a question which seems a surprisingly compelling one to ask. I don’t feel a need to answer it, rather I’m just a bit bemused by it occurring to me.

Possibly the most tumultuous part of this isn’t actually directly this breakup, saddening that it is. Rather it is the sense of change brought about by it. The house my parents currently share is the place I lived from the age of one until flying the nest (and even then having left for university I briefly returned before heading off to York). It holds a certain attachment for me it would probably lack if we had moved around more. Due to my being “down the road” I’ve missed many of the changes wrought to the city of my youth. While much stays the same on visiting I do sometimes wonder if it isn’t just the Tyne Bridge and the room I sleep in which are unchanging. Perhaps they will paint the bridge red…some of my earliest memories are the twinkling street lights seen from the wonderful view out of the bathroom window. I shall miss that house.

I suppose I will have to rescue whatever possessions I still have stored there. Which is another thing. Finally forced to relinquish that childhood tie – grown up now.

Life deals whatever it hand deals and it we deal with it. I hope everyone comes out happy at some point. Ah well…

I’d Watch That

I’ve never really liked Star Trek. The first series has its charms as ground breaking, but it’s never done it for me. Now what would do it for me is if J. Michael Straczynski did a series. Shame it looks like it isn’t even a dream. Babylon 5 was always way ahead a Star Trek, even with the rushed/squashed fourth series “in case the idiots don’t give us the money for series five” fiasco.

On the theme of things I’d watch has a new Hichhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trailer up. It’s worrying to think that it may have been adjusted for the US market, but there’s some alright people in it, so it may turn out alright (or not, but I’ll be seeing it). Shame the Good Omens movie seems dead though. And how about the much delayed Red Dwarf movie(though with the bad replacement Kochanski, not the good original one :-(

Trust Me

The traditional continuation to the title of this post is “I’m a doctor” and, well, I pretty much am (though not of the medical kind). Attentive readers will know from a previous post that my viva in defense of my thesis was yesterday. Well, despite the fact that I’m sure I spent most of the time wibbling like an idiot and forgetting basic physics, I actually passed (corrections to be completed of course but I haven’t got the list yet so still feel happy!) The viva was actually a pretty surreal experience, it seemed to take both a shorter and longer lenght of time than its actual around 2 and a quarter hours. It was followed by quite some relief ;-)

I should thank Sarah Thompson, my internal, and especially Chris McConville, my external, who managed to just about recover from flu in time to give the viva. And of course, thanks to the surface physics group.

Firefox Advanced Search

Way back when I switched from the Mozilla suite to Firefox, one of the things I missed was the advanced search sidebar. It seemed that the extension to restore that function had been killed by some pruning of code, which it had. However, after what must have been quite a bit of hard work, the advanced search extension is back. There are still a couple of issues and the interface is currently somewhat ugly, but it does work. Yeh!

On a related extensions note, Journal looks like it could be an interesting addition to sit with Thunderbird, or Sunbird (which can’t handle extensions yet) or even lightning. Also, if I did a lot of online research I might consider Research Buddy useful. And for collaborative browsing Jybe looks pretty interesting, though I haven’t found a need to try it out yet (it’s not an original idea, the now defunct derTandemBrowser comes to mind but I don’t know if that ever worked).


Although I’m not in the slightest religious it has always been tradition in my life to observe “pancake day” (i.e. Shrove Tuesday, the last day before lent—hence all the making of pancakes). Having almost forgotten about it (it is quite early this year and sneaked up a bit) this year’s pancakes were covered in Lyle’s Golden Syrup, Maple Syrup and Jiff Lemon (not all on the same pancake of course). Yummy.


Viva, 14:30 this Friday. Ahhhhh.


Due to the recent increase in the amount of comment spam I’ve made a couple of improvements. I’ve already mentioned that links related to comments now have nofollow applied, but that isn’t going to change anything any time soon. Mt-Blacklist is also doing a good job of at least moderating most spam. However, I thought I’d make it that little bit harder and so took some of the advice detailed in the MoveableType guide to fighting comment spam. Notably I’m now blocking comments from public proxies (anyone with a legitimate reason for using one can easily find my email address), using MT-DSBL. I’ve also made a couple of other changes to hopefully make it that much more difficult, we’ll see how it goes. As best I can tell non-spammy comments are still working, so I hope I didn’t break anything.


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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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