2007 — Yearly Archive
The final Harry Potter book comes out in less than 24 hours, and while the media hype has been immense, it does not take away from the fact that these were very good books indeed — much better than the vast majority of children’s lit and a good swathe of “adult” lit.
It’s pretty rare that books make the news anyway (this doesn’t count): the last time a book there was this level of popular interest in a literary character was (this doesn’t count either) probably when Arthur Conan Doyle brought Sherlock Holmes back from the dead in 1903. So it’s great to live through something that probably won’t be repeated for quite some time.
So here’s to Harry and the Gang, and thank you to Jo Rowling for bringing them to us! (the picture above has been tested by independent experts and guaranteed to make you go “awww”)
In an ideal world everyone would have full-content RSS feeds. Until then making your own isn’t that hard — and it’s getting easier by the day with mash-up tools like Yahoo Pipes. Here are some I’ve created:
- Digg Direct – links directly to the stories, instead of wasting your time with Digg’s comments page (Python source).
- BBC’s 10 Things We Didn’t Know Last Week – they have their own feed, but it isn’t full-text. This one is (’source’).
- Archie Comic of the Day (Python source)
- The Joy of Tech Comic – they have an RSS feed, but it doesn’t have images (Python source).
Update: added links to source code.
Apple’s releasing a new phone today (if you didn’t know that, you’re lucky). Beside curing all manner of ills, the phone has a great web browser that should get people really interested in using the web while on the move.
Now, the thing is lots of other phones have decent browsers — many phones run Opera, for example, or at least the Opera Mini. And with reasonable data plans becoming increasingly common, it definitely makes sense to get your site ready for mobile browsing.
I used a media="handheld" stylesheet declaration on this site, but that wasn’t very well supported. So here’s a better solution that requires very little work, if you run Wordpress:
- Get the Wordpress Mobile Edition plugin and install it. This will create a wp-mobile.php file in your Wordpress plugins folder, and a wp-mobile folder in your Wordpress themes folder.
- Open wp-mobile.php in a text editor and search for the word 'iPhone'.
- If you don’t find it (I’m sure it’ll be added as soon as the user-agent string is confirmed) add this text exactly as shown (without double quotes) somewhere in the middle of the list of browser user-agents: " ,'iPhone' " (search for the text 'small_browsers' to find this list). When you’re done, save the file.
- Optional — you can also tweak your site’s mobile appearance by going into the wp-mobile folder (under your Wordpress themes folder) and editing the files there (mainly index.php). Some knowledge of PHP is required, but you can avoid the PHP and modify only the HTML inside the file.
- Test your mobile site using the Opera Mini applet, iPhoney (if you’re on a Mac) or even a real iPhone . Emulators for most other phone browsers are also available.
The other advantage of a mobile-ready version of your blog is that mobile versions tend to very accessible and compact. Most accessible browsers already support disabling stylesheets, images, etc, but they still have to load other text, such as blogrolls, sidebars, etc. You could use the wp-mobile theme along with a theme switcher that would allow users to switch to a compact, accessible version if they wish.
Using -ise for words like ‘maximise’ and ‘organise’ is a relatively new phenomenon in Britain, probably because maximize with a z looks too American to British eyes. In fact, the -ize form originated in Britain and is the preferred international form.
I enjoyed reading Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, and so was especially glad to be able to read The Ladies of Grace-Adieu, her book of short stories (apparently her next novel is a ways off).
The stories, (mostly?) all written before the novel, foreshadow the excellent intermingling of dry wit — and surrealism and darkness — that made Strange so popular. Strongly recommended to Strange fans and to all those curious about all the fuss but unwilling to pick up an 800-page tome.
And to give you some idea of what you’re getting into, here are some examples. Clarke’s writing tends to combine finely crafted prose with droll humour, and these extracts demonstrate both.
According to CNN-IBN “Google has done its bit to save energy by launching Blackle — a Google search page that saves energy”, based on the theory that black pixels take less energy to display than white pixels. (Here’s a screen-grab of the story.) There are at least two problems with this.
First, this is not applicable to LCDs — the backlighting on LCD displays uses energy no matter what colors you use on the screen. The good news is that LCD displays use far less energy than CRTs do, completely eliminating the need for display hacks. LCD monitors are still not ubiquitous in India, so if you wish to save energy you should probably buy one.
Second, Blackle wasn’t launched by Google. A quick look at its About Page would have told IBN that. Or a whois check. Apparently a “Google Custom Search” logo is enough to confuse IBN’s tech reporters. Good to see that India’s mainstream media continues to remain cheerfully clueless about technology reporting.
(Update: IBN has now corrected the story. See the screen-grab if you want to see the original.)
I’ve always liked Weird Al Yankovic, but I had never heard his Lasagna song, sung to the tune of La Bamba. (And if you’ve never heard of Weird Al before, listen to his Jurassic Park and his hilarious retelling of Star Wars Episode 1, sung to the tune of American Pie.)
… Google Reader, which will add a green download button to the user interface. When you click the button, Reader will download the last 2,000 messages to your computer, preparing your computer to work offline or under a spotty internet connection.
As I’ve written before, offline capabilities are an important step towards making the Web a truly ubiquitous platform. Wifi is still not everywhere, and it’d be great if browsers were useful when you are away from an IP tone.
The next logical step would be for browser vendors to get their act together and bake this into the browser. The last thing I need is a bunch of different “lite” SQL databases and replication engines consuming cycles in the background.
The BBC celebrates Helvetica’s 50th birthday. Check out the comments, where amateur font geeks have gathered to make bad font jokes (sample: “Two fonts walk into the bar, and the barman says, ’sorry lads, we don’t serve your type.’”) and wistfully talk about their favourite fonts (“Helvetica’s sexier sister, Verdana”) (!).
PS. Windows users take note — Arial looks a lot like Helvetica, but isn’t.
That the new 20 pound note would feature Adam Smith is old news. What I hadn’t known is that his pin-manufacturing ‘case study’ would be immortalized on banknotes as well: