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Monday, 23 December 2002

Still on holiday

Not dead. Back next week.

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Tuesday, 17 December 2002


Some pictures (1:47pm): lotr-ttt-1.

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In Starbucks next to cinema. Line party for midnight showing of The Two Towers. Free wireless net access!

Sorry, I think my geek is showing.

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Thursday, 12 December 2002


  • I do not want a mortgage
  • If I did want a mortgage, my decision would in all likelihood not be swayed by unsolicited mail
  • If I did want a mortgage and, for some godforsaken reason, I were swayed by unsolicited mail, I would be put off two copies of the same unsolicited mail
  • Or three
  • Or four
  • Even seven
  • Especially ten, all sent in the space of a minute

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Step one, Blog...

Nick Denton on, amongst other things, Gizmodo and profitable blogging:

Gizmodo is a weblog for the gadget addict, with at least half a dozen new items each day on the skinniest laptops, tiniest cameras, as well as electronic toys too absurd to buy. Gizmodo launched in August 2002, and is already one of the leading destinations for hardcore gadget fanciers. Gizmodo earns commission on its readers' purchases from Amazon.com, and will be introducing display advertising. Gizmodo is edited by Pete Rojas, and was designed by Mena Trott. [more]

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Thursday morning links

And now I'm spent.

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Three down, one to go

Bored now.

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Wednesday, 11 December 2002


You're being cheeky (funny).

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A fun, if not slightly depressing, article from Brad DeLong. Scratch that. Not fun. Interesting. Anyway:

Suppose that you are a bomber pilot flying a B-17 in the European Theater of Operations during World War II. You know that 4% of bombers get shot down on average on each mission. You want to calculate the chance that you would successfully fly all the missions of your tour of duty--to make things simple, let's say 50 (a larger number than was actually asked of air crews)--without getting shot down. [more]

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Tuesday, 10 December 2002


Steven Johnson has a new article up on Slate about interface uniformity--that just maybe "one-fits-all" is not necessarily the best approach and sometimes just using the best tool for job may be better. Excerpt from the article:

[By] bundling iPhoto with OS X, Apple is basically saying: The desktop metaphor is great for certain types of files, but not for files that happen to be photos. Some types of data need a new kind of interface. But the fascinating possibility right now—and it's only a possibility—is that Microsoft's next major upgrade to Windows, code-named Longhorn, will move in the exact opposite direction. For some time now, rumor sites have been speculating about Longhorn's integrated database, designed to tie all your different types of data together under a unified interface.

The ultimate goal is to prevent you from having to learn entire new programs to interact with your mail messages, your contacts, and your home movies—to ensure that each data type doesn't become the exclusive province of a specific application. (To take an example from the iApps, iPhoto is great at organizing your photos, but it's useless if you're trying to figure out which snapshot you e-mailed to your mother last week.) Think about searching for text strings in four different contexts: in a Word document, in your inbox, on the Web, and in your hard drive. There are four distinct search tools for those four tasks, each with its own interface, each "belonging" to a different application. But in each case, you're just searching for text. Why use a Swiss army knife when one blade will do? As Bill Gates put it on Charlie Rose last month, "Right now when you use Windows, the way that you step through your photos, the way you step through your music, the way you step through e-mail or files, they're all different. You have to learn different user interfaces, different search commands. ... The idea of Longhorn is to have one approach, one set of commands that work for everything, including all of those things. And so the number of concepts you have to learn is dramatically less."

A big fan of Pinker, Steven says on his blog:

One interesting analogy here, which I'd originally included in the piece, is the way this struggle mirrors debates about the brain: is the brain a swiss-army-knife of specialized modules, or is it more of a general intelligence? The evidence right now certainly makes it seem like evolution selected the modular approach. It will be interesting to see if our interfaces follow a comparable path. [more]

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Hiptop Nation gets iCal

The Sidekick or Danger Hiptop or whatever gets an iCal to Sidekick converter.

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Tuesday morning links

Best experienced with Diet Coca-Cola, the preferred pick-me-up of ext|circ:

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Monday, 09 December 2002

It's only an hour's drive away

Space. Apart from being really big (yes, and you thought a walk down to the chemist's was a long way away), it's also surprisingly close by: only an hour's drive away by car. If your car could drive upwards. And fly. And was airtight. And had heat shields. And was man rated for survival in a vacuum. But anyway, let's not nitpick with Hoyle.

Instead, what we'll do is take a trip in the Delorean and go back to the 1970s, when men were real men, women were real women and oil crises were real oil crises. Oh, and NASA was brimming with optimism (as much as it could be, after the incredibly stupendous feat of actually putting a man on the FUCKING MOON was relegated to the back pages of news) and actually wanted to, say, do something fun and ambitious like colonise the rest of the universe.

The thing is, before you can colonise the rest of the universe, you've got to colonise, say, the little bit of space around your planet. Think of it as camping out in your back garden before you fly off to another continent for six months. Sometimes you just want to start small. Or, as the case may be absolutely bloody huge.

NASA commissioned a whole slew of artwork that promised to show us Where We'd Be: elegant white villas in a torus the scale of which seems now to be absolutely insane. Why insane? Because right now, we've got this, a pitiful thing with noise levels that are an occupational hazard and requires so much maintenance that there's hardly any time to do any real research. Oops.

Best get back to being absolutely gobsmacked or nearly tearing up with nostalgia from pictures you saw as a child (yes, that is a suspension bridge. In a space station. They seriously thought we'd be doing that.)

As an exercise for the reader, compare and contrast with The Collectibes Exhibit: 2001 A Space Odyssey.

Space. We're not really living in it.

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Good Morning, This Is Interactive TV

An interview with one of the creators of the Push, NV online campaign:

TenNapel: ...the drama of the TV restricted everything. Push had to work as good TV first... so there were lots of web ideas and puzzle ideas we had that just couldn't be done because it was too intrusive or required too much work that sucked away from the TV show... further, lawyers... need I say more? [more]

Required reading, if you're into this kind of thing (clue: I am).

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Afternoon pickings

Other things today:

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Packet Loss

Matt writes a brilliant piece for Upsideclown, Packet Loss, which is exactly the kind of thing Nature used to publish in its short-run Futures section.

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Monday morning links

Post-caffeine hit links:

This week, we're into the home stretch of lectures: finishing up with theory of algorithms, drudging through the last dregs of EER modelling of databases, being gently introduced to Swing and wrapping software engineering up with QA, maintenance and management. I expect at least one reference to The mythical man-month next week. After next week I'm in the 'states for a fortnight (yes, a fortnight, how terribly quaint) on "holiday". Unfortunately, I just don't know when to quit, so expect rantings and ravings about the revision I'm cramming in even though I should experiencing some semblance of relaxation.

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Sunday, 08 December 2002

The Evil Site

My friend Arie made a site called The Evil Site (don't panic, there's a Good section), and after a while enabled commenting on the entries. Here's an excerpt from a comment on the Fox News Channel:

Jesus Chreeeiist! Okay, so this morning I wake up for a job interview and the Fox news live morning show is on (I dont recall the name.) featuring the typical 2 snarky guys and the perky blonde woman that is de rigeur for every morning 'news' show regardless of what channel it's on. So apparently Nelson Mandela said something yesturday that they took exception to ( as I recall he said something about how the United States isn't listening to the UN about their opinions vis a vis Iraq and the 'war on terrorism'. I may be somewhat off but anyway; this is where it gets good.) So the perky blonde woman says: "What does Nelson Mandela have to say about terrorism? I mean, he was imprisoned, unjustly, for 17 years but once he got out what has he done? What has he done about terroism?" Bitch PLEASE!!! [more]

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Saturday, 07 December 2002

My new fighting network is unstoppable

I never knew this, but apparently RAND publish all of their non-classified material online. All of it. Completely. Online. Once you manage to get over the wonderfulness of that, dig into this:

Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy
The fight for the future is not between the armies of leading states, nor are its weapons those of traditional armed forces. Rather, the combatants come from bomb-making terrorist groups like Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda, or drug smuggling cartels like those in Colombia and Mexico. On the positive side are civil-society activists fighting for the environment, democracy and human rights. What all have in common is that they operate in small, dispersed units that can deploy anywhere, anytime to penetrate and disrupt. They all feature network forms of organization, doctrine, strategy, and technology attuned to the information age. And, from the Intifadah to the drug war, they are proving very hard to beat.

The entire text of the above is available online.

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6,800 Languages (and nothing on)

The Ethnologue language name index has an A-Z listing of 6,800 world languages, and covers 41,000 alternate names and dialects.

Not one of them is H4x0r, though.

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Smart mobbed

I can't do much more than nod my head vigorously in emphatic agreement (along with a side order of petulantly stamping my foot and screaming I want it now) at this article that hits all the right buttons--wearable computers, ad hoc wireless networks, smart mobs, reputation management, trust, spontaneously generated communities on mayfly timescales:

Kortuem and Jay Schneider, another graduate student, began assembling hardware/software packages capable of automatic wireless interactions. In 1999 the team completed its first ad hoc community application called Walid, a program that negotiates chore sharing among parties with complementary tasks on their to-do lists. The software agents representing each party might determine, for instance, that one person could pick up some blank CDs at the store if the other would return a book to the library. The playlist-sharing application, known as Piraté, came next, followed by mBazaar, which mediates swaps of CDs, books, bikes, furniture, and electronics.
It soon became apparent that ad hoc community applications relied on a common set of functions, having to do mostly with detecting nearby parties, querying and comparing information, and keeping track of contacts. Kortuem realized that putting these functions in a common code library would speed up development. Completed in mid-2001, the Proem peer-to-peer platform consists of 135 Java commands optimized for spontaneous social organization. "You can have a message that's sitting in your buffer delivered whenever you meet someone," Kortuem explains. "You can say, 'This message is only for people nearby,' or you can send it to nearby devices and have them route the message further." [more (MIT Tech Review)]

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Friday, 06 December 2002

MyLifeBits, redux

Wired is currently covering Microsoft Research's MyLifeBits project again in what seemed to me to be a double take, but then I realised it's December (this will become obviously relevant later). Anyway:

Although the project is still in the preliminary stages, Bell envisions MyLifeBits evolving into a database application that would form part of the MS operating system. The program would have both a practical and personal side: users could employ the system to record every bit of data relating to a business venture, for example, or to document every stage of their child's development.
To test the application, Bell is downloading his own life onto a hard drive at the MS media lab. His database spans more than a century of data: the first entry consists of photographs of his parents taken as children in 1900 and the last entry (as of Thursday morning) was a website he browsed before he was interviewed for this article. (A technical glitch kept him from recording the interview itself.) [more]

Last time I wrote about MyLifeBits , the papers by the media presence group at Microsoft Research's San Francisco Lab had not yet been made available online, because ACM Multimedia 2002 hadn't actually happened yet. Well, now it has and the Word document (1.4mb) and PDF (297kb) are now available as well as a paper by Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell. Again, major points for referencing the memex.

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I kill me

Why do segways need 15 inch monitored computers on them?

To get to the other side!

Ithenkyew, I'm here all week.

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An IKEA designed world

Two interesting articles on IKEA in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine (catch them before Sunday, otherwise they disappear into the pay-for archive). THe first is about IKEA creating Disney-style communities:

BoKlok represents the new frontier of Ikea's design ambition. Instead of just selling furnishings, the company is trying something much bolder: actually building homes. Groups of homes, in fact -- housing developments built according to the same principles that guide the design of Ikea furniture. The homes are small modernist units, prefabricated and mass-produced to minimize the price and organized to maximize interaction among residents. ''I don't think we're creating communities,'' said Joakim Blomquist, one of the five members of the BoKlok team, measuring his words. ''It's up to people to create their own. But this is not only housing.'' [more]

The second about the juggernaut that is IKEA in the US:

Last year, 29.3 million people worked their way through the directed Habitrail of an American Ikea store. In the slog of recession, Ikea sales for the year that ended in August were up 5 percent over the previous year. Such success says a lot about the evolution of the company. ''If you look at the history of Ikea, in the early years their design was quite horrible,'' said Alexander von Vegesack, director of the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, who in 1999 mounted an exhibit on the history of the company. But in the last decade, he said, the company has pushed a more ambitious aesthetic. ''They became more and more interested in design. Today if you go to Ikea, you always will find some pieces which are good designs and very reasonable in pricing.'' [more]

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Smart Llama

Perfectly in time for the Christmas season is Smart Llama, a tailored research service, a little like Google Answers, but somewhat faster and much more fun (it has Llamas, for goodness sake). What's more, there's a great promotion running until 24 December - gift ideas!

You tell us a little bit about your hard-to-buy-for spouse, relative or business partner, and we'll give you five personalized gift ideas in your price range. Now only $5 per recipient!

Check them out, they're worth it.

Disclaimer: I am a friend of Andrea, SmartLlama's CEO, but beyond that I have no connection with the company.

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Friday morning links

Some quick ones:

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Thursday, 05 December 2002

Thursday evening links

Some quick ones while I pause from tearing my hair out at documenting a Java assignment:

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I've spent my whole life searching

An interesting talk with some of my friends yesterday about the way that people use Google. The danhon.com site gets a not-inconsiderable number of hits from people coming in off search engines, mostly because about three years worth of accumulated ramblings and ranting opinions have enough keywords and links to make Google explode in an orgy of delight.

What was weird, though, and something that I only noticed yesterday after it'd been staring me in the face for a couple of years were the sheer number of people coming in from a URL that had a start number greater than 20, meaning that these people had looked at the third or later page of default Google results.

I've found that if Google doesn't throw up what I'm looking for in the first ten results, I rephrase my query. Results 20+ don't matter, they're more or less likely to be relevant. That and just by looking at the first ten results I get back, I can normally tell how to narrow my query anyway. It's as if I have a blindspot past the number 10. Most of my friends have tolerances that are about the same - none of them would consider going past the second page of results. If it's not in the results 1 to 20, then it's time to rephrase your query. Forget about trudging through the rest.

There's probably something important here about the way that people are trained to use search engines and whether they understand the best way to look for information--don't relentlessly explore the space generated by your initial query. What I remember, though, is that when Altavista was the search engine of choice, results 10+ were significant.

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What you think is wrong

Interesting Times article on Wednesday about the (inaccurate) beliefs that the British public has. Some excerpts, since the article will disappear from the Times article next Wednesday:

  • the public think that 52 per cent of crimes involve violence, whereas 22 per cent do
  • the public believe that 32 per cent of people in Britain are black or Asian, whereas just 7 per cent were last year
  • [voters think] that 28 per cent are paid more than £40,000 a year (in reality just 8 per cent)
  • [voters think that] 23 per cent of secondary pupils are in private schools (against 9 per cent)
  • [voters think that] 27 per cent pay privately for operations (against 13 per cent)
  • in areas closest to most people’s direct experience, such as car use, people have a more accurate view
  • [voters] correctly identify social security and health as having the biggest budgets, [but] wrongly place defence ahead of education
  • 44 per cent [of voters] think the largest share of social security is spent on unemployment benefits (actually 6 per cent), and only 28 per cent think it goes on pensions (actually over 66 per cent)
  • Spending on the disabled is vastly underestimated, while spending on single parents is exaggerated.

The report is the newest edition in the British Social Attitudes series, published by the National Centre for Social Research. Their website lists the 2001 edition, but I expect that you'll be able to order the newest one for only £2.50. Shame they're not online.

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CSS Triumph

ext|circ now renders properly on the following browsers: Chimera 0.6+, Mozilla 1.0+, Internet Explorer for Mac OS X 5.21+, Internet Explorer for Windows 6+ and Opera 6b3 for Mac OS X.

ext|circ does not render properly on Omniweb for Mac OS X (the sidebar disappears).

This is probably as good as it's going to get. Any problems with any browsers that I haven't listed above, please leave a comment on this entry.

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Wednesday, 04 December 2002

What Tom Said

Tom talks about what it means to manufacture scarcity in response to assertions that Scott Reynen made:

  • Difficulty should never be created. All work should increase ease (in a general sense, work should be self-destructive); and
  • When Tom says the lack of scarcity of avatars is a consistent problem for community spaces, he is wrong. The inability to associate avatars with real people is the problem

To the first, Tom's got a great example. There are times when we don't want to make things as easy as possible. Drawing examples from Norman's The Design of Everyday Things, we don't want to make it easy for people to run into the basement in a blind panic when the fire alarm goes off. We don't want dangerous functions of dangerous equipment to be easy to perform. There is a whole area of psychology of design which is focussed not on making certain things easy, but on making certain things hard.

To the second: with all due respect, Scott is wrong. Multiplicity of anonymity is one of the main problems, and that is distinct from not being able to tie an identity to a physical person. One good example is the history of The WELL (the concept of owning your own words). The problem here is that when there is anonymity, there is no responsibility. However, you don't have to have an avatar as a real life person for responsibility to exist: I can have an avatar that for all intents and purposes is untraceable back to me and yet that avatar can easily have a reputation held in high esteem and act in a socially responsible manner (i.e. doesn't find trolling an enjoyable pasttime), yet the allowing real life people to have a multiplicty of anonymous avatars is a problem: it results in the situation where I have an interest in ensuring my avatar has a good reputation and yet those who don't have such an interest are not dissuaded from creating yet more anonymous avatars and trolling.

When you've watched a community slowly go up in flames thanks to one person's anonymous avatar and its multiplicities (you will only practically be able to ban n-1) you realise that one of the problems isn't anonymity, it's plurality.

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Free Fiction

Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross have written Jury Service, a new piece of fiction for SciFi.com. Here's what Cory had to say about the piece:

Last spring, Charlie Stross and I co-wrote a story called "Jury Service," an extremely gonzo post-Singularity story whose writing was more fun than any other story I've ever written. Charlie and I pitched the manuscript back and forth to one another in 500-1000 word chunks, each time trying to top the other. We have very little "meta" communication -- just sent the story around and rewrote what we had, then added our own bits. I can remember chuckling so loudly while considering what I would do with Charlie's latest challenge in an airport lounge that the security guard came by to ask if everything was all right. [more]

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Sounding like you're not quite there

So, I did that radio interview thing today and realised half way through that I was probably sounding a little disorientated - at least one time during the interview I completely lose track of what I'm saying, which doesn't really put across the right kind of impression.

The reason for this was that while I was down in the BBC Radio Merseyside studio with my headphones on and sitting in front of the microphone, I suddenly realised that I could hear myself faintly with a two second delay. My brain thought this was incredibly interesting, moreso than actually concentrating on the task at hand: what happened was that I got distracted by the sound of my own voice (cue cheap shots) and lost all track of what it was I was going on about...

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Starting a blog

Get here from the Gary Robertson show and interested in starting a blog? Everything you need to get started is at Blogger.com.

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Tuesday, 03 December 2002


The astute and those with too much time on their hands will have noticed that a new section has subtly insinuated itself into the sidebar on the right: "Last 5 Articles", "Articles" being a new part of this site where I get to stuff all my long rambling posts. The sidebar will show (usefully) the last 5 articles posted, but you can get to the full list here.

Yes, I know they're old and they've been duplicated from ext|circ. This is because a) I thought they were rather good and liked them, b) I didn't want to delete them and thus lose all my Google karma and c) this is my site.

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On blogging

I'll be on BBC Radio Scotland's Gary Robertson show tomorrow morning from 10:00-10:30am GMT talking about blogging and what it means when hundreds of thousands of people put their lives online, which is funny because now I've gone all self-concious. The show will be archived for seven days, so if you've got a burning desire to hear me talk, you can listen again and again to your heart's content.

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Ten Year Text

BBC News on ten years of text messaging:

On 3 December 1992, Vodaphone engineer Neil Papworth sent his boss the text "MERRY CHRISTMAS". The rest of us were lucky if we had access to SMS (short message service) to wish anybody "HPPY MLLNIUM". [more]

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Two-tier legal system

Via Politech:

The Bush administration is developing a parallel legal system in which terrorism suspects -- U.S. citizens and noncitizens alike -- may be investigated, jailed, interrogated, tried and punished without legal protections guaranteed by the ordinary system, lawyers inside and outside the government say. [more (Washington Post)]

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BBC Loving

A couple of stories about the BBC: the first is that the Digital Domesday laserdisc, which couldn't be read by today's computers, has now been unlocked thanks to emulation. Some have pointed out that the original printed Domesday Book is perfectly readable after approximately 1,000 years, though that seems to me to be missing the point: the printed Domesday book is "perfectly" readable if you're well versed in eleventh century English. Which I suspect the majority of people aren't. Besides, the original Domesday book isn't much accessible either, seeing as it's under temperature controlled lock and key (as well it should be). Quite why it isn't available online (such as the portions of Beowolf is a different story.

Of course, the BBC is still going strong on collaborative projects, and Matt Jones points out the Book of the Future, built on the rather nifty DNA hub.

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RSS feedreaders people are using to read this site:

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Tuesday morning links

Some quick ones:

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Monday, 02 December 2002

Posh Frock

Well, that didn't go too badly. For those of you reading via a feedreader such as NetNewsWire, you really won't be seeing the terrible new design inflicted upon ext|circ--I suggest that you go there now and express your disproval.

Anyway. There's a little niggling thing with the new design. I'd really love to get a border between the two columns (the content on the left, the sidebar on the right), and the way that the layout is set up at the moment is this:

  • a header div for the site banner
  • a container div of 620px, which has inside it:
  • a left-hand div
  • a right-hand div

Which is somewhat of a simplification, but hey--you can always take a peek in the code. Just make sure that you're fully prepared for a bout of css horror.

I could stick a border-right on the left-hand div, but that's no good as it means the border may not extend to the bottom of the container, leaving it dangling at some position down the side of the right-hand div. Not good.

Alternatively, I could stick a border-left on the right-hand div, but that won't work for pretty much the same reason.

You may now have gathered that if you're still using something like Internet Explorer 4.0 or below, or any version of Netscape Navigator below 6.0, not only should you be taken out and shot with the same kind of vigour that The Two Towers is going to storm the Christmas film charts, but you really should upgrade to a better browser such as the latest version of Internet Explorer or Mozilla--you'll make your life and mine much more bearable. Even those using lynx or some other text-based browser are probably having a better time than you.

Flames, comments and suggestions about the new design in the comments, please, and a big fat prize to whoever can point me in the right direction with my border troubles (which sounds more like a territorial dispute on which one side is about to announce the possession of weapons of mass distruction than a css layout problem).

Aside: dear mother of god this looks terrible in IE 5.22 for the Mac. I really do apologise. To be honest with you, there's a rather large chance that this won't be fixed for IE on the Mac because IE on the Mac is not so much as pants as the hugest pants factory ever. Anyway, you really should be using something like Chimera, which is much better on OS X. On the other hand, I could try and fix it. Rock, hard place, bloody Microsoft.

Yet another aside: sneaky fix, I've tried to shorten the right hand div for cases where the left hand div may be short, i.e. make sure the left hand div is always longer.

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Sunday, 01 December 2002

Link and Think - World AIDS Day 2002

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