Sunday, May 28, 2006

Web 2.0


If you don't know what it means, the answer's nothing really. It was invented by a couple of web pundits presumably to increase their esteem and to add more punditry to the saturated media. It refers to the current look and feel of sites and to their being in 'perpetual Beta' (a marketing term which means they update the technology occasionally).
In practice, it boils down to using Ajax and boxes with rounded corners. Some claim drop shadows are 2.0, too. Ajax if you haven't come across it, is a means of bridging client side coding in javascript to server side (e.g. ASP, PHP). It's actually been around ages, if you've signed up to hotmail you might have noticed when you select a country the page reloads to let you select a region from a list of those within that country. It's a nice trick but in my days of running an internet cafe in Thailand it used to annoy the hell out of me; hotmail's unlikely to break any speed records, the connections in Thailand were then pretty lousy and that page was large.
If you're considering using Ajax, bear in mind that it won't work on any browser that has javascript turned off so you need to also add in an alternative (doubling your workload) or just put up with losing a slice of the market.

Anyway if you do want the cachet of 'Web 2.0' just go ahead and put it in on your site in a nice large flourescent font. There's no body policing it and it's pretty meaningless, anyway. Just remember to take it off as soon as it's no longer trendy. You wouldn't want to be seen wearing last season's outfit, would you?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

My local

Jolly Colliers, Potters Green

It's here

The Electronic Mug's Game

I wrote a book. Tried to get it published. Got a whole bunch of rejection slips. Publishing seems a lot like the music biz. Better to make it as a soap star then try to get into it. Then they'll even write the book for you. Never mind. You can read the opening chunk of it for free.
So there we all were, sitting around in Vince’s gaff, waiting for Charlie to arrive. We seemed to be there ages before that knock came, and all the waiting had put us on edge a bit. Vince said,
“Ere, Tel, get that will yer?” and Tel went up to the door. He knocked again before Tel had managed to get down the hallway, and Vince went,
“That’s got to be Charlie, any other cunt woulda rung the bell”.
Spider said, “Hope it’s not the bloke to read the electric meter or sumfink”.
“Better not be,” said Vince, “I got the meter legged”.
We could hear Tel talking to somebody, bringing them in, and sure enough, Charlie stepped into the room.
Charlie basically looked like a bag of shit with a length of string tied round the middle. Honestly, you could send him to the best tailor in Saville Row, and he’d still look like a bag of shit tied up with string. Wrinkly skin, rotten teeth, stooped over shoulders, and thin, mousy hair. He was only about fifty but he looked about seventy. He was a bit of an arsehole, all right, I remember once when there was some lads from down the East End hanging round our way. They flogged him 48 bottles of vodka for 250 quid out the back of their van. Oldest trick in the book, they got him pissed out of one of the bottles, which was the only genuine one, while all the rest were full of tap water. He had to nick his mum's life savings to pay for it as well.
The good side of Charlie was that he was living proof that no-one's completely useless: once every now and again, the urinal down the Duke would get blocked by all the dog ends, chewing gum, vomit, pubes, bogies and ripped-up betting slips that accumulated there and could only be got out by hand. Charlie always got the job and Ray, the landlord, would give him a free pint in return. Charlie, bizarrely, reckoned he was on a winner there.
Charlie looked a bit surprised to see we were all there, and went,
“I hear you wanted to see me, Vince”.

If you're nice to me I may post some more.


Pamela the Dog
My favourite dog of all.


Seems they're anticipating a hard sell for the latest version of Office.
Microsoft's main problem is that Office already has more than 400 million users, and the general opinion seems to be that it is "good enough". Getting users to pay for something better is a challenge...

Well, quite. I haven't bothered checking out what the latest version will do. I switched over to OpenOffice a while back, which is the free, open source clone of (presumably) an older version of Office. I've never used more than some small percentage of its features, and apart from a handful of 'power secretaries', I doubt anyone, anywhere ever has. So what's the point of loads of cost and disruption to get more features I don't need? In fact I preferred WordPerfect, simpler and easier to use, but Word became a de facto standard, so like many others, I was lumbered with it. Let's not forget the annoying animated paper-clip st this point...

Similarly, I haven't bothered finding out what the new version of Windows, Vista, will do. All I've heard so far is better graphics and controlling technology such as DRM (digital rights management) more closely tied. For which your pc will need a gig of memory and a good graphics card. In order to give Microsoft more control of your pc? Frankly, I already find their EULA outrageous. If you want to sell your pc or even give it to a charity you have to wipe Windows from it if you want to stay within its bounds. By way of analogy, if you want to sell your car, do you have to rip the dashboard out first?

The pc where this blog's being written is dual boot, Windows 2000 and Mandrake linux. I've no interest in upgrading Windows past 2000. In the days when I had my internet cafe on Samui, my pc's there came with XP pre-loaded. After a couple of months of being horrified by its sluggish performance, I went to Bangkok and bought legit copies of 98SE for all my machines. Shortly after, Microsoft announced they were no longer supporting 98. XP is, granted, excellent in the way it handles drivers, and if you turn off all its features and have at least 256MB of memory it works reasonably well.

Which brings me to another objection, upgrading hardware to run software that does more stuff I don't need. I don't mind getting more hardware on board to run applications, I don't mind throwing memory at applications like Photoshop (although, again, I started with version 4 and there's very little from the later versions that I use a lot, the history palette would have to be the best advance that Adobe have come up with in all those years). It's an attitude that probably dates from being an RSX-11M systems programmer. It was a multi-user, multi-tasking operating system that in practice, ran in about 90K words of memory. I nearly laughed out loud when I came across MS-DOS, primitive by comparison, yet needing 640K bytes to run.

The supreme irony, here, is the main man behind RSX was a guy called David Cutler. From RSX he went on to be the brains behind another great OS, VMS. Microsoft then poached him to work on Windows NT, which incorporated some of the ideas from VMS (there was a law suit over it) from which 2000 and XP are descended.

Does good software inherently need more hardware to support it? Not at all, I use AnalogX (free) products a lot. They're all small, lightweight and do discreet functions rather than create huge, clumsy architectures.

Windows 2000 won't last forever. One day I'll push myself down the linux route completely. I use Windows purely to use Dreamweaver, Photoshop and Illustrator. I don't suppose Adobe will ever port them to linux, so I'll have to get used to the Gimp and find a new HTML / PHP editor. Some of the stuff I currently use is already cross-platform, such as Firefox and Eclipse, so it won't be that much of a hardship.

I like my software small, clean, well-written. It goes back to the RSX-11M experience, getting to know the code intimately, I was amazed just how tight and efficient it was. I once discovered a place right in the core of it, where with a change of an instruction, it was possible to save a word of memory and the tiniest smidgeon of execution time using one of the most exotic addressing modes (I actually used it on the project I was working on at the time, a driver for use in factory automation software. "You flash git" was my project leader's comment on discovering it).

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Portrait of the artist as a consumer

Newspaper: the Guardian (though usually only on Thursday and Saturday)
TV programmes: The Simpsons, Dr. Who, Shameless, Channel 4 News
Films: Blade Runner, The Matrix, Marx Brothers, Zorba the Greek, Apocalypse Now
Authors: James Joyce, JG Ballard, Umberto Eco, Phillip K. Dick
Artists: da Vinci, Vermeer, anything Art Deco, Chinese, Japanese, ancient Egypt
Pop music: New Order (and Joy Division), the Clash, Magazine, Buzzcocks, Fairport Convention, the Fall, Gang of 4, Jimi Hendrix, early Pink Floyd, Specials, the Jam, Iggy & the Stooges, David Bowie (up to Let's dance), Julian Cope, Groove Armada, Nirvana... plus loadsa funk, drum'n'bass, trance... one day I'll get round to creating a synthesis of the whole lot
Instruments: guitar, keyboards, mandolin and in my next life, bass
Cameras: Nikon Coolpix 4600, F4 and FG
Designer clothes: no f**king way
Footwear: trainers, para boots, sandals
Beer: Singha, Chang and in the UK, Stella
Football team: Cov City, though my interest in football seems to shrink as the game gets ever more money-oriented
Tattoos: dragon on right arm, Thai equivalent of an angel on left
Piercings: ears (6), did have a navel piercing but it broke
Former homes: Cov, Brum, Peterborough (shit), Fulham, Tooting, Melbourne, Southfields, Koh Samui, Krabi
Politics: left of Labour
Games: Civ (haven't got round to 4 yet)
Food: Thai (and not mai pet), Indian
Non-alcoholic drinks: Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon
Pets: None now, but owned a few dogs
Cars: Don't like them and can't drive, but did co-own a tiny Daihatsu at one point
Hair: none on my head, some on my chin, loads on my body
Children: none, prefer dogs :)
Mobe: cheapest I could find as I always lose them / break them / get them stolen
Drugs: none for the last 10 years or so

Where I'd like to be: bar on a tropical beach


SWM, 51, living on the oustkirts of Coventry in a dull, downmarket suburban area next to the M6. My personal life is of little interest to anyone, myself included, but for the record: I'm a Nichiren Buddhist and a self-employed internet developer. I don't really have any hobbies these days outside the internet (apart from drinking down the local), so this blog will concern mainly net type things. I'm occasionally to be found on urban75, spouting forth on all manner of subjects but mainly booze, sex, politics and computers.
Formerly, as sidelines, I was a photographer and musician, one day I'll get round to putting together a site showcasing as much of this stuff as I can, but what material I have left is rather limited. I've also run a record label, Stone Tiger, singularly unsuccessfully.Until about 1.5 years ago I was living in Thailand and over the course of time there, just about all my personal posessions were lost or stolen. It's a rather peculiar existence when that happens, but on the bright side, I won't have too much trouble letting go of stuff when the time comes to croak it.
Latterly, I've been busying myself with developing a discussion board, the Lotus Matrix and an e-commerce package, factorXkiosk.
For work I've spent most of my life as a programmer / analyst. I started out on COBOL on IBM and ICL mainframes, then moved on to being a systems programmer using RSX-11M on DEC PDP-11s. I've worked with loads of other platforms, 14 programming languages at the last count, but now it's mainly pc's under win2K and linux, PHP and Java, and mySQL.
I've also been a porter, cleaner, warehouse operative, barman and telephone answerer. I was crap at all of them.

That's enough for an intro. I may expand on some of these things later, but now it's time for gongyo.