September 2004 Archives
September 30, 2004
I'm slightly disappointed that Johnny Ball didn't slag off my shows, last night. He was the guest speaker at the graduation show for the Imperial College Science Communication and Science Media Production MSc courses; I toddled along because I infrequently employ people off the course, and while they're often a bit cocky they're also usually quite good.
A useful evening, though the assemblage of 'students' and 'TV/print/charity types' led to a somewhat amusing atmosphere of touting and sharking, à la early university parties. While it was more about work than other pairings, the age differences made it seem agreeably seedy.
Johnny was rather good value -- just gloss over his views on the greenhouse effect -- and it was a pleasure to chat to him. He's dead keen to write some maths items for How2, on which offer I might actually take him up.
Right: today, Pioneer Productions (hopefully -- bumped into a contact at the bash last night and we're going to try to meet up this morning) and Initial. Tomorrow: Maidstone for The Foundation and maybe Media Merchants. Must get cracking.
Walking from Euston Station to South Kensington -- and no, I'm not quite sure why I did, either -- can take one down Warren Street. Which features a wonderfully eclectic array of shops:
- Samuel French's theatrical bookshop.
- A shop selling only flutes and flute-related items.
- A supplier of clay-gouging implements for sculptors and model-makers. They also sold clay, I believe, but very little else.
This sort of thing always catches me unawares: that it's so obvious one is in the capital city of the land. Edinburgh has an obscure antique scientific instrument shop, and another selling wicker products. Glasgow has more limousine companies per capita than anywhere else I know. Leeds has a shop selling exclusively ugly teddy-bears. But only London has all of these on the same street. Remarkable.
September 29, 2004
Yes, it's surprised the heck out of me, too. They've agreed not to cut me off while I'm in London, since they've clearly spent most of the year to date being stupid. Which is rather reasonable of them, I reckon.
Right. To the train station! Mark -- I've got your number. Looks like a bunch of folks are gathering in Wimbledon (!) Thursday evening. They're not all TV types so you should be safe. Or I'll be around on Friday, Saturday morning.
Business cards, of the DIY inkjet variety, are fairly crummy. They're either microperforated -- which leaves a nasty serrated edge effect -- or precut and stuck onto backing paper. Which is all well and good, but peeling the not-very-clean-printing card off the backing results in a curly card that instantly looks like it's been floating around in one's pocket for a few weeks. As opposed to the crisp rectangle of implicit professionalism one might have been aiming for.
My latest batch, therefore, have been coaxed into spending the night under... shall we say 'inverse traction'? The weighty matter of the weight exercised me momentarily, until my eye came to rest on the perfect volume from my extensive, if not somewhat eclectic, library. The cards are beneath a charming little text, appropriately entitled Reinforced Concrete Bridges.
That should sort them.
Courtesy of the incomparable cult media store Fopp: the first series of Vic & Bob's Randall & Hopkirk (deceased) on DVD, cheap. Hurrah!
OK, so it had hugely glaring faults the first time around -- not least Mortimer's acting -- but for some reason I thoroughly enjoyed the few episodes I managed to catch. They were nicely written and mostly well shot, to be sure, but I think I was most impressed by the devil-may-care approach to plausible plotting: 'hang it all, we're having a hoot' being an approach to programme-making I recognise, approve of, and attempt to echo at every possible opportunity. And we'll forgive Emilia Fox for looking occasionally out-of-place, since it's not her fault she's capable of emoting on camera (one can almost smell her frustration at times; 'For heaven's sake man, stop being so wooden!'). Mind you, one would likely be willing to forgive Fox just about anything.
So: diverting fun, even if it's not objectively very good at all. Available from Amazon for the foppless. Frustratingly, the discs are cropped to 4:3 and not even done pan&scan -- they've just been chopped, which is quite pathetic. Season 2 escapes such a travesty, apparently.
I genuinely toyed with the idea of starting this post with an ampersand, just to see what it looked like as a drop-cap. Must try harder. Got one reversed-out in the post title, though.
September 28, 2004
I've finally sent the email introducing the first bunch of testers to the web project I've been hacking away at for the last few weeks. This is the first genuinely collaborative website endeavour I've launched in I think three years, and I'm unexpectedly scared about it.
We'll see what they all think, once the stunned silence/apathy wear off. With luck they'll find most things working and I'll be able to launch publicly in about a week. Not that it's intended as a particularly 'public' site - it's a rather specialist target.
I'll echo the formal announcement here, when it happens.
September 27, 2004
Given Branson's existing involvement with Scaled Composites, it always looked likely that he'd get involved with future developments of Scaled's launch system. But I wasn't expecting an announcement this soon; BBC story, Virgin Galactic. Approx. £100,000/passenger, from about three years hence. They're going to build five larger versions of SpaceShipOne, starting with the VSS Enterprise. Yes, you read that correctly.
Blimey. I may have to start playing the lottery. Meanwhile, I guess we now know which direction the future lies: straight upwards from Mojave.
Hello London, this is Glasgow calling!
I shall be in the capital of our fine and treasured democracy from late afternoon on Wednesday 29th September, until shortly after luncheon on Saturday 2nd October. Wednesday evening I shall be attending a gathering at the Dana Centre (Science Museum), but Thursday and Friday evenings I shall make myself available for soirées & c.
Early booking is advised.
Edit: Baskerville has the most amazing italic ampersand. Sincere apologies to non-Mac users, you won't be seeing this, and it looks fantastic!
Hopefully this will be my last extreme-geek post for a while, but somebody out there Googling might like to know that mod_rewrite actually does work with PHP-CGI at Dreamhost, contrary to my rant the other day.
For some reason that's not entirely clear, index.php is not rewritten, but renaming the main script and fudging that way works fine. However, every single example I could find for the specific script I'm using was wrong. So I read the incomprehensible Apache mod_rewrite docs and built the simplest possible example case, then worked up from there.
If anybody really cares, here's my full write-up at Dreamhost's user forum.
Can I please stop being this kind of geek, now? It's really not what I'm cut out for.
September 23, 2004
One of the subsidiary religions of Mac users is that there is One True Text Editor, and Its Name is BBEdit. All gainsayers are decried as fools, unless they use Emacs in which case they're sort-of tolerated as being clearly harder than us, or vi, in which case they're clearly insane.
I've used BBEdit myself since... uh... gee, I don't know, was it out in 1992? I'm not sure. Anyway, for most of that time I've liked it, apart from the way it handles indenting, wrapping, and folding. See, it's common practice with program code to indent it to aid readability. Most people do the same thing with HTML, but BBedit's handling is optimised for the (typically short) lines of program code. The longer paragraphs of text in web pages wrap awkwardly. There's a neat work-around via a very clever manual-rewrap function, but I've always wanted that to happen automatically as I type.
Sadly, the recent v8.0 update, whilst brilliant in many respects, still doesn't change this behaviour. It also inexplicably fails to use sheets for file save operations, despite using them just about everywhere else, which is bonkers and unexpectedly narks me more than not using sheets at all did.
For a while I used BeOS-refugee Pepper, despite it being buggier than the banks of Loch Lomand in a particularly midge-infested Summer. But Pepper broke some time ago (amidst unfortunate acrimony), and the continuation PepperX hasn't been updated in over a year. Last time I tried it, it featured a radical new code-simplification technique: every time the document became sufficiently complex as to verge on the interesting, PepperX fell over catastrophically and junked it. While this did successfully encourage the writing of simple code, it was also mind-numbingly irritating.
jEdit does what I want, and even adds some fantastic outline-folding whackiness that's genuinely useful. Unfortunately, it also does a million things I don't want, and it does them in a well-disguised but still Java-application sort of way that simply doesn't 'feel' right on a Mac these days. I still use it occasionally, but it makes me wince.
Cue TextMate, about which almost nothing is known. But one can hope, right?
It turns out that mod_rewrite doesn't really work with PHP-CGI... which of course is how my server is configured. I could turn that off, but then I'd have horrible security problems. Or I could do something really freaky with rewriting to a non-existant dummy file handler, but frankly...
If none of the above makes any sense, pray that this continues to be the case for you. As Vinay puts it, regular expressions are straight out of the realm of Satan.
Posted to the British Interactives Group chat-list:
"Interesting stuff, Marmite. I recently started a large new jar, and apart from the seasonal shock at how damned expensive the stuff is, I find myself musing on the yeasty material's viscosity. As one does.
Marmite-haters will, tragically, not be aware, but it's an extremely stringy substance, doing near-everything it can to land somewhere between the jar and one's toast, with a secondary goal of clogging the jar-top thread. By the end of a jar it's not unusual to find more Marmite clinging to the thread (and the lid) than to the sidewalls. However, the flow rate of the material is exceptionally low; even after several months, the Marmite surface within the jar will not be absolutely level. High crests and troughs left by the gouging actions of a table knife will be smoothed, but not completely flattened.
The possibility occurs that Marmite is thixotropic, or possibly that it may be used to illuminate the distinction between viscosity and ductility. I confess, however, that material properties and the underlying mechanisms are not my strong suit.
I then find myself pondering whether it might be possible to measure Marmite's surface tension. Indeed, could one blow Marmite bubbles? Alternatively, could one produce an analogue of Kelvin's tar drop experiment, only with a rather more 'interactive' period between drips?"
Posted by, yes, me.
September 22, 2004
Fascinating conversation this evening with Colin, who's sitting on some grand BBC committee that's trying to work out how they're going to use their flashy new base in Glasgow once it's finished in a few years' time.
Which means they're trying to work out not just how one goes about making television, but also how one could go about it if given a free hand to write the production model from scratch, and a serious equipment budget if that's justifiable in the medium-to-long term. Which is not a simple problem, by any means.
I'll confess to being profoundly jealous of Colin on this, since this sort of systems thinking fascinates me. The central management problem of production is stark -- bringing together a small group of highly creative individuals for a short project against tight deadlines is a bold approach, but it's absolutely routine in the industry. What makes it work, and which parts do we only think we need?
We spent some time tonight musing on the rôle of Executive Producers, who too often symbolise the unwanted extra layer of bureaucracy but occasionally provide essential backup at a critical juncture. I've been on the receiving end of both sides of that balancing act -- indeed, with Colin as the Exec. in question! -- but I've also made a series with absolutely no exec involvement at all, and that was bonkers: "I've just spent a third of a million quid. Here are your tapes. If you want me to change anything it'll cost you, ’cos I'm off contract." No way to run a business, that.
And of course, I'm only looking at it from a production viewpoint. If you're the BBC you've other constituencies to please too. I can't help thinking, however, that one could progress considerably via the guiding principle that the process of making a programme should be as straightforward as possible. Which sounds obvious, but in all the ITV companies I've worked actually going out and filming something has been unbelievably complex. The contrast with one of the indies I've worked at couldn't be greater - they had their own camera and edit suite. We filled in a risk assessment, emailed people with an address and a rendezvous time, and... that was it. Result.
- Yes, Colin does have an entry in the Internet Movie Database. As do Patrick, Kim and Dougie. Cool. Though none of their entries are remotely up-to-date. Less cool.
- I now find myself choosing the first word of a post carefully, trying to imagine what the drop-cap will look like. Is that wrong of me?
- I've spent the day rewriting wikitext documentation to make it less comprehensive (and thus more comprehensible), for reasons which will become clear shortly. And I've spent the rest of the evening with my head stuck in the mod_rewrite documentation, for reasons ditto. These are, I fear, amongst my less transferable skills.
- The mod_rewrite docs lead off with a quote that it's voodoo. This marks a refreshing openness and honesty in technical documentation, as well as being quite funny.
Mirrors have never held much fascination for me, perhaps because being in the bathroom usually involves quantities of water, and that in turn involves not wearing my glasses. At which point I can't see as far as the end of my nose: the utility of a reflecting surface a few feet away is thus moot.
I've compensated for this admittedly unusual foible by developing spectacular skill at shaving by feel alone -- on average I only fill the sink with blood once a week, now -- and I'm far better at tying ties with my eyes shut than with some insane lunatic standing opposite me doing it the wrong way around.
Or at least, the above is what I've thought for the last eight years or so. It turns out that I must have had mirrors in my previous flats, since I find the curious lack of mirrors here in Glasgow irksome. Both mirrors lurk in the bathroom, one safely but inexplicably above head-height, and both are steamed up for the entire period between showering and leaving the flat.
Wiping the droplets away, I'm invariably greeted by an horrific apparition, his hair lurching across to one side at some insane and improbable angle. For a while I assumed this was because I'm rubbish at getting my hair shorn, but no -- as I write, it's short, and it's still making a bid for freedom. The only rational conclusion is that, in previous dwellings, I must have sorted the unruly mop while it was still wet.
But that would require having had mirrors extra-bathroomia, as it were. Mirrors I do not recall ever possessing.
I do like starting the day with a good mystery.
Currently playing in iTunes: Erase-Rewind by Cardigans
September 21, 2004
Oh, sorry -- you wanted to know if it was any good? Well... depends what you expect. Personally, I was expecting a well-delivered reminder of Adams' incomparable turns-of-phrase and leaps of fancy. Flolopping matresses, the man who hates Sunday afternoons so much he's resolved to insult every individual in the universe in alphabetical order, time-travelling Chesterfield sofas. That sort of thing. That's what I got, and I'm happy.
Anyone seeing deep and nasty weirdness on this page should hit 'refresh'; sometimes your browser will fail to catch the most recent versions of things, and thanks to iMark there's a new stylesheet which fixes a couple of niggles with my ham-fisted version. Thanks!
September 19, 2004
This month, five people have arrived at this page directed by Google, after searching for 'Jem Stansfield.' [snigger]. Also this month, I've had 4706 page requests from 'MSNBot'. That's equivalent to crawling every single page on this site every two and a half days. And note that it's a development project -- it's not even producing anything useful outside Seattle. It's been doing this for more than a year.
Search optimisation from the company who -- let's not forget -- were until recently making a big deal of including proper search in the next Windows filesystem. Sheesh.
Very minor stylesheet tweaks only this morning. Slightly more white space around the main content block; body text leading a pixel greater, which not only makes it slightly easier on the eye, it also helps the slightly improved dropcaps. They now look pretty good in Safari and OmniWeb as well as FireFox. There's still far too much right padding in Internet Explorer, but... ach, just get FireFox. It's betterer.
The only other blemishes I can see are the lined corner under the date heading, which doesn't quite join up in IE6 - tough luck, see above - and the faint lines above peoples' names in comments on the individual item pages. Fixing the latter would involve tweaking templates, and frankly it doesn't bother me enough. I make TV shows, I'm not a graphic designer! Sheesh!
So, onward to other things. But if anyone does spot anything amiss, do leave a comment.
Listening to: IV : Nachtmusik 2 from the album "Mahler - Symphony No.7 in E minor" by Klaus Tennstedt. (don't you love incongruous templates?)
September 18, 2004
I went to the loo. I came back. It was still annoying me.
OK, now I'm done.
Listening to: Strange Happenings from the album "Come Get It I Got It" by Rex Garvin & The Mighty Cravers
See, the whole point of this exercise was to finally get to use a picture I took of some millstones, about fifteen years ago. They're a little large for quernstones, but they're the only grindstone images I have to hand, so they'll have to do.
Quite why Photoshop is bending colours on me, I don't know. And quite why I can't composite a transparent PNG against a solid background colour, I don't know. Frankly, right now, I don't much care. I have quernstones, and fairly nice line demarkation things, and proper curly quotes, and as of this precise moment the bally thing even validates, for heaven's sake. So, I'm content. The orange is... wrong, frankly, but that will have to wait for another day. Which, on the evidence of my last redesign interlude, will be about two years hence.
For the moment -- enjoy. MynameisJonathanSandersongoodnight.
Listening to: Awake The Unkind from the album "Never Never Land" by Unkle
Well, John Gruber's Smarty-pants, despite not advertising itself as being tested with MT3, does the job rather nicely, converting quotes and dashes into real quotes and dashes. Most pleasing.
Less successful is the MT pluginpack's 'DropCap' module, which is terribly clever but, out of the box, shoves the first character in rather precisely the wrong place for a drop cap. Shame. So I diddled with it, changing the setup from good old table-hackery to nice clean never-going-to-work CSS... there followed 40 minutes of futzing with the stylesheet to produce something that looked good on my Macs, and still vaguely works in IE6.
The result, on a Mac, is quite nice. On IE6... it's pretty ghastly, actually. But I'm stuffed if I can find a better compromise, and I'm not about to get into conditional stylesheet madness. If you dislike the way it looks on your system, use FireFox, for heaven's sake! But I might ditch the dropcap anyway. I'll sleep on it. Justified text, however, is the very beagle's По-русски.
Just one more thing I'm going to try tonight... and that's never going to work in IE. :(
Listening to: Very Yeah from the album "Quattro" by Corduroy
I've been playing around with the stylesheet here, before iMark gets his grubby mitts on the thing. Several changes still to come, possibly including the orange, which is currently in place more as a convenience than anything else. Don't be alarmed if it turns deep green on you.
Serifs are, of course, the new slate grey. The font, if you've got it, is Baskerville, which in the default Mac OS X install has much more pleasing italics than Garamond. Those watching on Windows will likely get Palatino Linotype; if not, everybody should have Georgia. I could have just picked Times and been done with it, but dahling, everybody's doing that these days.
Looking at it again, I think the leading needs increasing a gnat's. I also need to figure out how to educate quotes, since that's suddenly annoying me. Did I mention I was a type snob?
Listening to: Beyond Skin from the album "Beyond Skin" by Nitin Sawhney
September 17, 2004
Richard, silly boy, has managed to get a loop going in VNC. Twit.
And hey, if the machines are side-by-side, it's much more convenient to run Teleport, which comes close to extending your desktop onto another Mac. Scoot your mouse off one Mac's screen and onto another - very neat. All that's missing is being able to drag windows between systems, but that's asking a bit much. [coughNSHostingcough]
Unfortunately, Abyssoft's webserver seems to have gone into casters-up mode, so here's a local mirror of the current test release (160Kb zip file). Clipboard sync doesn't work for me in this release, so I'm still using Clipboard Sharing for that.
I'm over three million pixels, by the way. Nuts. Perhaps Apple's 30" screen isn't so bonkers after all.
Anybody still reading this through a web-browser - rather than having it read for them by an aggregator - will notice a subtle change. The page is no longer mud-brown, it's white. With an orange masthead. It's... fairly unpleasant.
I've finally got around to updating all my templates to the new MT3 ones, so things like Trackback should be working again. This, of course, broke my stylesheet, so I've had to use one of the defaults - and the one with the nicest type settings also has this ghastly orange heading.
Perhaps, this time, I might actually get around to customising the thing. There's a considerable incentive to do so, after all.
September 16, 2004
From Richard Grant's blog: the Cross-Party Cycling Group of The Scottish Parliament discussed bicycle helmets (pdf) back in May, and published a presentation (slides, notes (PDFs)) about risk factors by Malcolm Wardlow. So far as Google can tell, Wardlow is 'just an enthusiast,' but I'll take an amateur who's published in the BMJ over most analysts, thanks.
I've known for a while that the upshot of Australia's dalliance with compulsory cycle helmet wearing was not as clear-cut as one might expect; Wardlow fills in the story with a decade's dose of perspective also. The bottom line? Helmets do little to prevent serious injury to cyclists, and even appear to contribute to increased fatality rates. Nevertheless, cycling is getting safer - apparently because there are more cyclists. The more of us there are, the safer it gets for us all.
Thus, making helmets compulsory is counterproductive not only because they might not actually be of any use, but also because the perception of danger puts people off cycling. And that has a very measurable effect on all the remaining cyclists.
The paper's an excellent read, and at the policy level is fascinating and fairly clear. What's unclear are the implications for individuals: does my wearing a helmet actually do me any good? Also: whenever I show presenters cycling on TV, I always ensure they're wearing a helmet. I'm no longer as convinced that I should do that, despite the deluge of complaints I'd receive if I didn't.
On the BIG-Chat list, we've been discussing what to do with the hazard represented by an unexploded pop bottle. They'll take (apparently) up to about 150psi before they burst, which they do with a hell of a bang, spinning shards of plastic, blood, gore, the usual. So: what happens if you have one sitting at, say, 130 psi, resolutely failing to explode but still, potentially, a bomb?
My suggestion is to equip a heavy radio-control car with a gas-powered soldering iron to melt the bottle side-wall. A comedy analogue of those army bomb-disposal robots.
Can I do this? Please?
September 13, 2004
My PowerBook is on the sofa in my lounge. I, however, am sitting in my office, working on the old battleaxe of a desktop Mac. At some point, I realise that I want to send a text message to a friend. While my phone is to hand, I find it simpler to:
- VNC screen-share to my PowerBook next door, over WiFi.
- Bluetooth-pair back through the wall to my mobile phone.
- Type the message on the PowerBook, via Address Book and the screen sharing thing.
Is it possible for wireless networks to become tangled? Should I even worry, given that this felt like a perfectly natural chain of events? Or am I just a l33t M4cus3r?
Or maybe I should simply redouble my efforts to find the USB Bluetooth dongle for the Power Mac. Or call someone with, you know, voice.
September 11, 2004
Somewhere, in one of William Gibson's genre-defining, bafflingly seminal cyberpunk books - possibly Neuromancer, which was written on a typewriter, for heaven's sake - there's mention of a woman with fabulously beautiful eyes. They're blessed with a remarkable clarity and depth of colour... and tiny 'Nikon' logos on the edge of the iris.
I mention this because it's actually happening, only with Dior rather than Nikon. Well, kinda. Dior are apparently jumping on the special effects contact lens trail, making lenses that outline the iris in black or gold 'for a more dramatic effect,' but according to today's Guardian they also feature a Dior logo. In Gibson's world, as I recall, Nikon were engineering entire eyes. But the visual effect is the same.
Tick another prediction off the list.
September 8, 2004
Holy PDA, batman! Somebody just failed to sell a Siemens Newton NotePhone on eBay! I'd thought these things were only produced as prototypes, but apparently not. I wonder if the rumoured A4 slate hospital prototypes ever saw the light of day?
The wonderfully crazy folks who strapped a miniature gas turbine to a skateboard for me were, at the time, working on an order for a matched set of eight such engines for a scale B-52 project (scroll down for pics). The result flew earlier this year, and was utterly magnificent. At over 7m, the span is greater than some light aircraft.
Sadly, it crashed, in what from the video (Windows Media Player) looks like a textbook copy of a real B-52 crash from years back. There's much discussion in the R/C model forums about the cause, but the bottom line seems to be that roll spoilers do not provide adequate control authority when low and slow: B-52s apparently cannot recover from bank angles over about sixty degrees, which I think is how I've come to grief in them in X-Plane as well. Also, flying downwind in 25 knots and gusting is tricky. Still, builder/pilot Gordon Nichols was seriously experienced with flying large models, and the poor chap must be devestated.
There's also ongoing debate about whether such huge models are safe to fly at all - the B-52 weighed more than piloted ultralights. I think it'd be a tragedy to rein these guys in, but by the same token, I wouldn't want to have been close to the crash site. However, the Large Model Association is already involved in inspecting and certifying these things with the CAA. Hopefully the situation can be managed rather than bluntly legislated against.
From an interview with Sukhoi designer Mikhail Simonov, on attempts to break the F-15's time-to-altitude records with an Su-27 Flanker:
"The aircraft must be standing still like a sprinter on the start line. But when the engines are working the wheel brakes alone are not enough to hold the aircraft. To keep the fighter still we tried using a tank. A cable was connected to the hook on the lower part of the fuselage, but we weren't celebrating for long. After just a second of afterburners being engaged we heard a screeching sound and observed how the Su-27 started pulling the tank down the runway. We had to find something else to hold the plane. A nearby runway was under construction and we have noticed a huge "Caterpillar" bulldozer. We attached it to the tank, which was in turn attached to the aircraft. The fighter's start from dead stop was guaranteed."
Great toys. Rock on.
And no Richard, Harro: this isn't here solely for your benefit. Other readers might be amused too. Like... er... Alan. And... no, that's about it, actually.
September 7, 2004
My mum, it seems, has been invited to join some sort of West Yorkshire underground art mafia. A breakaway splinter sect of the Menston Art Club, meeting in secret in a church hall in Adel on alternate Thursdays. Presumably to trade illicit gouache, or something.
"Were you followed?"
"No, I lost my tail."
"Excellent. Do you have your portfolio?"
In comments, Alan wonders whether MT-Blacklist is doing a decent job, given that a junk comment made it through the filters today. In its defense... according to its logs, it's blocked 163 junk comments since yesterday.
Not ruddy bad, I'd say.
September 6, 2004
It's a little too early for chicken-counting, but I think we're back in business. Though I've a nasty feeling that orange nonsense is going to return at some stage. First impressions: MT3 and MT-Blacklist are really very good indeed. Next impressions: I need to update the template and stylesheet here, which means picking apart the (minimal) changes I made last year, and then - gasp! - working out what this page should look like. Strangely enough, I've never been a fan of the chocolate-brown background. Sends my eyes funny.
So, yes, we're back in business. Paging John Coombes - are you next up for the giant leap to MT3?
September 5, 2004
I think... perhaps... I'm now running MT3.11 on MySQL.
A relatively smooth process, though there's a sort of ten-minute communications blackout where it's not clear if MT is updating stuff, or nuking it. Next challenge: MT-Blacklist, the comment spam system.
September 4, 2004
Having had basically no sleep last night, thanks to this dratted cold, I declared myself unfit for travel to my niece's party in Leeds. Which sucks, and about which I feel rubbish.
By way of penance, I'm about to attempt the miraculous conversion of this blog to the MySQL back-end. If it all goes very 404 suddenly, you'll know why.
Apparently waiting until I was asleep before they pounced, Six Apart have now released a quickie 'bug-fix' update, 3.11. Hilariously, the upgrade instructions do not cover the case for updating from 3.1, and while the release notes hint that the database scripts have been fixed, different postings of said notes contradict the first set. Looks like imprecise wording to me, but the intended meaning is not obvious.
I've filed a formal bug report on the documentation.
September 3, 2004
OK, so I've avoided writing this rant for about... oh, three months, I think. But I've just wasted almost two hours thanks to nothing more involved than bad documentation, and I'm hopping mad. So here goes:
The whole MT3.x update thing has been a but of a marketing farce, thanks in part's to Six Apart's inevitably difficult growth from a couple of well-meaning geeks into a serious middleware empire. John Gruber covered the initial faux-pas and associated fallout with his customary insight. In short: Six Apart promised a free feature release, and delivered a paid-for cleaner-code release. Oops.
Apparently unnoticed in all this, they goofed in what, to my mind, was a more significant fashion. When MT3 was finally let loose, what we got was a 'Developer Release.' "OK," I think, "I'm not a developer, so I guess I'll stick with v2.6x, and continue to install that for my hostees." Only, MT2.6 was removed from the file servers. Yes, folks, for the last - what, three months? - there's been no evident user release of Movable Type. Am I missing something, or was that a bit brain-dead?
A month ago v3.1 was announced. Finally, we were promised, a release for more normal people. Stay tuned, we were told (twice), for more details prior to release. Evidently not learning from their past communication and marketing mistakes, Six Apart proceeded to post nothing more before actually releasing the software.
MT3.1 finally appeared a couple of days ago. With chums clamouring for something - anything - that will stem the flow of comment spam, I tonight took the plunge. Two hours of angst later, it turns out the upgrade install documentation is plain wrong; see my post here. In short, if you're using Berkeley DB, you don't need to run the mt-upgrade* scripts. Oh, and incidentally, MT installation is basically the same as it always has been. That is, harder than it might be.
OK, so what's the lesson here? For Six Apart, it's very simple: if you promise your customers something, however, trivial, you must deliver. At the moment, the main thing they have going for them is the vague vibe in the blog community that they're decent people. That's pretty thin, especially when WordPress is as good as it is.
For the rest of us, my take-home is this: who, exactly, is the target audience for Movable Type? As the features and complexity layer up, it seems aimed increasingly at hard-core digerati and blog envelope pushers. But those of us with a modicum of geek savvy and - crucially - established hosting are not necessarily the target market for TypePad, either.
I hope Six Apart's market profiling is of better quality than their upgrade documentation. If it's not, I think they risk splitting their products either side of their customers.
...completely unfathomable. Overnight ratings were all over the shop, but could essentially be described as 'crap.' On the other hand, the BBC were also all over the place, and there's no apparent correlation between their ups and downs and ours. I've seen this before with summer schedules - my guess is that the BARB sample size is so small, most of what we're seeing is the noise. It's a crying shame, however: it's the best series of the show yet, and more kids deserve to see it.
Compare with: presenter Sam agreed to do a personal appearance for his local gym tonight. They thought they might get thirty or forty kids; he just rang me to say that he's nervous as hell, because three hundred have turned up. Yow!
September 2, 2004
Note to self: buy some newspapers today.
So far as I can tell, we've had surprisingly little press in the UK about the protests around the Republican National Convention in New York. For example, we've not seen reports of the Critical Mass cycling meet (New York Times - free registration yadda yadda), nor stories of the subsequent arrests. And we've certainly not had reports of the more bizarre protests, such as John Perry Barlow's 'dancemob' initiative, which... well, have a look.
In fact, all I can find in the UK press - at least online - is a single picture from the Guardian. Which reminds me of a recent discussion with a local political hack: are mass protests a remotely efficient form of political engagement?
They are a perfectly reasonable means of bolstering group spirit and cohesion, I'll admit. But in terms of expected impact it's surely too easy to dismiss an entire protest outright, rendering the exercise a monumental waste of collective time? One suspects that Amnesty got it right years ago with mass letter-writing campaigns, which are both more personal and harder to deal with.
Disclosure: I'll admit to having been jaded about mass action for a very long time. Ever since the particularly nasty experience that was the original Gulf War protest march, back in 1991. Hint to first-timers: don't go to these things if you're not affiliated to an existing group. You'd be surprised at how personally dangerous they can be. And no, I'm not talking about the police being heavy-handed.
September 1, 2004
Movable Type 3.1 is finally out. Why should anyone care? It'd be easy to be snide and mutter something about having jumped ship to WordPress long ago. It'd also be easy to note that MT3.1's release marks the first time MT's been available to end users in three months (3.0 was a 'developer' release, but they nevertheless pulled 2.661... then updated all the sample stylesheets without telling anyone. Which was all a bit braindead, frankly).
Anyway, rants aside, 3.1 is out. Shortly - perhaps as soon as this evening - I shall move quernstone.com over to it, and try out all the gee-whizz new stuff. Particularly the comment blacklisting features.
Once I'm happy it works, I'd be delighted to upgrade the blogs of my hostees on deletetheweb.com, at your request. Please note:
- Your templates will likely break. I'll know more when I've fiddled a little, but from what I've seen the entire layout hierarchy has changed.
- Backups will be mandatory. For which:
- I'll need access to your blog back-end. Please check if I'm still an author on your installation, and add me if I'm not (then give me admin authorities).
- While MT3.1 costs money, it's still free for individual private use (within limits). Thanks to a quirk of how I set up deletetheweb.com (ie. badly, at the time), we each fall into this category, so long as we're sole authors on our blogs.
- I plan to install MT-Blacklist or similar. The comment spam is driving me crazy, too. If I can, I'll set this up as a shared system, so we each benefit from the others' blacklists - this used to be possible, I'll see what I can do.
- When I update your blog, I'll also port it across to the MySQL back-end. You know that ten-minute wait when you hit 'rebuild'? It's history.
- In the event that MT3.1 really narks me - quite likely - I'll offer instead to move your blog to WordPress. Which has its own problems, but generally works extremely well.
Please note, dear hostee, that I won't do any of this without your express permission and request.
Incidentally, I bought some soap the other day. 'Non-comedogenic,' said the packaging. Does that mean it's not been tested on... no, I guess not.
There's an awful lot of green slime in my life today. Which is something of a bind, since as a result, last night I missed Gavin's stand-up act again. After he was mentioned in The Times, no less (sorry - they're subscription-only, so no link. He was quoted offering less than encouraging words to a Times journo who's trying the stand-up thing. 'But... don't you know? Glasgow's death for stand-ups!').
Not much else to report. Windows SP2 has broken all sorts of unexpected things, but on the plus side, XP no longer attempts to mysteriously wrest DHCP duties from my LAN. Which is a good thing. Also, my absolute favourite Windows website (at least in terms of frequency of visits), Windows Update, is dramatically better than it used to be. Make no mistake, Microsoft's stuff is getting better. It's just getting better less quickly than Linux and the Mac OS. Which, in the medium term, is a bit of a problem for them.