Great post by Genevieve Valentine over at io9, on the Jonny Lee Miller/Lucy Liu Sherlock Holmes update ‘Elementary’ for CBS. It’s very different to the BBC’s Benedict Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman update, and it would be wrong to regard it as a cheap knock-off. While I still don’t warm to Liu, Miller is outstanding and the show’s scripts, while patchy, had moments of brilliance. Long moments. Even entire shows.

I particularly liked the late-series episodes which were allowed to find their own languid pace. This isn’t an action-procedural show where everything has to happen quickly to squeeze in the next plot reversal before the ad break: it’s (mostly) more thoughtful.

Also check io9’s previous piece lamenting recent portrayals of Irene Adler. It predates Elementary’s unorthodox take on the character, but is worth a read for those of us who liked, you know, the book version.

Tumblr, blogging, and all that jazz

Where Tumblr Came From – Anil Dash

many of us who were familiar with blogs already saw tumblelogs as “just a simple blogging template”, similar to what we were already doing on Movable Type or WordPress at the time, rather than a fundamentally different medium.

Despite that myopia, there was a lot of momentum around simplified, media-rich blogging at that moment in history.

Just read the whole thing. Blogging: it’s not as simple as it seems, and history is littered with the corpses not just of dead blogs, but of dead blogging systems.

(– via everyone)

The Distributed Me

High time I noted here: I’m also blogging (again) in a few other places, notably:

  • StoryCog, mostly work/video/scicomms/public engagement stuff, and

  •, a revival of an old failed wiki site by a small group (yet to be fully revealed, and maaaaaybe taking applications) who really care about demonstrating science: the demos themselves, and the issues around them.

Meanwhile, I’ve cobbled together a hub of sorts at

The Police > News > Revolver

Terrifc article reproduced from Revolver circa 2000, interviewing The Police:

Copeland: You are absolutely correct. I remember when we did our first album, I only wrote these punk songs so we’d have something to play, then I realised, ‘Ah… lyrics…’

Summers: Stewart and I were jumping on the bandwagon. Totally insincere! But I wrote all of ‘Omegaman’. Can we talk about ‘Behind My Camel’ some more?

Revolver: Oh shut up. One World is the most ‘old-school’ Police song on the album.

Copeland: And it was my favourite song at the time because it did have that early Police vibe, where we jammed on one chord for hours.

Summers: Unfortunately, I never did find out what that one chord was.

Hilarious, fiery, oddly moving — the interview both traces and mirrors the arc of the band’s career. Also:

Sting: No, no, I’m a simple man. A simple man in my huge Tuscan villa, so piss off.

See also the thread at MeFi trying to work out whether it’s an April Fool or not. Consensus: it’s good enough that everyone’s going to claim it’s real anyway.

Everything’s moved

One of the disadvantages of being an old-time blogger is that I signed up, long ago, to the idea that good URLs remain stable. See, it must have been a long time ago: we still called them ‘URLs’.

Turns out, pretty much everyone reneged on that pact. Looking back through my archives, I’m stunned by how many links are broken. Usually, the linked-to article still exists, but the address has changed and there’s no redirect in place (or the redirect is itself broken).

Given how hard I’ve worked to maintain stable URLs for my sites — including, at one point, manually coding 400+ rewrite special-cases from a particularly crazy CMS-from-hell — I’m disappointed. You hear me, internet? I’m disappointed in you. All of you.


Let’s hear it for Bundler

Turns out the solution to my broken Staticmatic install was as simple as:

bundle install

Yeah. That simple. Durr. But big respect for Bundler, a simple tool that solves a subtle problem – in this case downgrading the versions of a bunch of gems, rolling them back to whatever I built this system with in the first place, but doing all that only within this project.

Yeah, I know that’s what it does, but I didn’t really know that’s what it does. I should probably RTFM for some of this stuff.


I have an Aperture library named ‘Fish and Stirling Engines’. It contains pictures of fish… and Stirling engines.


They’re not very good photos.

Back in the Saddle III – Octopress

For giggles, another exploration in this series is a completely different animal, namely Octopress. Now, I’m not a complete stranger to command-line static site generators – I built in StaticMatic, later adding a blog using the same templates and stylesheet driven by Melody (the open-source Movable Type 4 fork). Both are now dead projects, so I’ve some interest in revamping that site too.

Problems strike immediately, as the Octopress install instructions require a recent Git (currently: some old crap), and RVM (broken, somewhere). These are easy enough to fix, but in installing Ruby 1.9.something under a new RVM I seem to have nuked my gem set. Which means I’ve now completely broken StaticMatic. Oh, drat. This, incidentally, is why normal, sane, well-adjusted people shy away from command-line tools. If you live in them every day then all is well, but if you only sort-of understand them there are so many ways of screwing things up by accident, it’s just not funny.

Aaanyway: with the prerequisites sorted, time to move onto Octopress itself. And it works. OK, so I had some path problems with the configuration system, but once I’d got those sorted rsync deploy locally worked well, and the default output is pretty nice. I’m a big fan of the prebuilt video player, too. That’s the sort of thing that makes my life an awful lot simpler.

The rake/Jekyll import from WordPress worked well, and in principle I could redeploy my blog on Octopress almost immediately. So why haven’t I? Well, I may yet, but my hesitations at the moment are about time.

Publish time is an issue. On my Mac Pro, rebuilding after adding a new post takes about four minutes. It’s a single-threaded sort of thing, so I suspect my laptop would be slightly quicker (SSD, and all that), but I’m concerned that’s long enough to discourage quick posting. I note with interest that one of my favourite bloggers, having jumped to Octopress, set up a Kirby blog for quick posts. Well, to replace a Tumblr, but the point remains.

My other time issue is tinkering and learning time. While the default theme looks nice enough, it’s not completely to my taste. Delving into it is where the wheels start to come off, for me – hence my brief post yesterday. Notably, there’s precious little documentation and very few code comments on what the heck is going on in the templates and stylesheets. I love Compass, but I need help getting my head around someone else’s code of this complexity, and I suspect this is why so many Octopress blogs have stuck with the default.

Now, they’ve also stuck with the defaults because there’s plain good decision-making involved here. Octopress is opinionated software, and while I don’t agree with the choice made by the Hibari folks, most of Octopress slots nicely into my thinking about blogging. Which is cool.

I doubt I’m going to take the plunge just yet, but it’s good to know the option exists. It’s a radical platform, but I can see why so many geeks are enjoying it.

Back in the Saddle II – Habari

My assumption, when embarking on this little series of posts, was that I’d jot a few brief notes about the blog engine alternatives I explored by way of review. Pretty much, that would be that.

Trouble is, each of the projects I’m trying is more-or-less freeware, built and maintained by volunteers. They’ve made decisions based on how they want to use their product, and to a some extent any ‘review’ I might offer would be more a comparison between my preferences and intentions and theirs. Which is of stuff all use to anyone else.

So the short version of this post is: I wanted to like Habari, I really did. But I’m not using it because… well… I don’t. I’m sure it’s great. But it’s not for me. Here’s an example:

habari-menuThis is the top-level Habari menu, and pretty much the main bit of interface offered up by the system. I thought this sort of menu was cool when I first saw it in NeXTSTEP circa. 1992, but in practice I find the waggling-the-mouse-like-a-gear-lever dog-leg manoeuvre annoying as anything.

The apparent goal is to present a thoroughly minimal interface, to get out of the way as much as possible. That’s admirable, but there’s always a trade-off involved in simplicity, and for me this falls too far on the side of ‘absent’ rather than ‘simplified.’ Besides, poke only a little deeper and you quickly stumble across modal dialogue pop-ups. Habari is not, at this stage, impressing me as a system which aligns with my ideas of good taste.

Importing my blog archive (from a WordPress database) was seamless and trivial, which is great. But can I find an off-the-shelf theme I like? No. Not even vaguely. Now, again, I have very particular tastes here, but almost everything in the theme repository looks like dodgy ports from WordPress circa 2009. It’s not at all clear which remain maintained.

OK, so let’s take a brief look at how themes are built. I’ve never been a fan of WordPress’ ‘pepper PHP throughout the template’ approach, much preferring Movable Type’s template tags. Intriguingly, Habari offers both alternatives, the former via RawPHPEngine, the latter via HiEngine. But:

If you’re looking to start building themes in Habari, and you’re not accustomed to building templates using a syntax similar to this, then you should most definitely not use HiEngine. Instead, you should look into the native PHP support provided by RawPHPEngine, which is faster and better at teaching you real PHP, which can be useful when creating more complex themes.

–(From the project wiki).

Ouch. Yeah, we’re not going to agree on that. Heck, the last few sites I’ve built I’ve done pretty much in HAML, I’ve really no interest in going back to ?php if ( blah ) ?whatever?php? nonsense.

Upshot: Habari might be great, but I’m not the right user for it.

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