Thursday, August 24, 2006

moving to a new home

That's it. I've had enough of this beta blocker Blogger business. This blog has now moved to The Valley of Lost Things. Please come on over and join in.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

blogger blooper

Switching to the new beta version of Blogger is proving to be a rash decision. It's probably fine for new blogs starting out, but the legacy of old posts is creating all sorts of difficulties.

Because I'm still having problems uploading images, and specifically the drop caps for the Alphaphot project, I decided to switch over to Wordpress and host the blog on my own site. This is something I've been toying with for a few weeks now, and today I tried to import my posts from Blogger to the new one, also called The Valley of Lost Things. Unfortunately, the import wizard in Wordpress doesn't recognise my blog now, presumably because it's been transferred to the beta version, and won't let me log in.

I briefly considered cutting and pasting every post since I started the blog back in July 2005, but that would be painfully laborious and I can't see a way in Wordpress to change the apparent posting date to reflect the original dates. It's probably possible to do it directly in the MySQL database, but I don't really want to meddle with that if I can help it.

Perhaps I'll just leave links between the old and new blogs and start anew at the new address.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

gainful employment once more

(I still haven't worked out how to get those drop caps to appear.)

Since my last post, a lot has happened: I've attended two interviews and accepted a job offer from one of them.

Both interviews were remarkably positive experiences, which contrasts strongly with many interviews I had when I was starting out about twenty years ago. (Strange interview experiences could make an interesting series of posts...)

The first of the two recent interviews was particularly stimulating, comprising an observved group discussion between the three candidates followed by individual interviews.

We didn't complete the set task for the group, which was to produce a prioritised work plan for the first three months of the job, mainly because the discussion revealed widely different assumptions about the job, but it led to useful (though polite) challenges to those assumptions.

The whole atmosphere of the event was friendly and relaxed, and I appreciated the opportunity to see the list of questions fifteen minutes before the individual interviews.

For the second interview, there were six candidates, each interviewed for an hour, so we each arrived for our set time rather than all wait around all day. I therefore only caught a glimpse of one other candidate, and the event felt more isolated.

Nevertheless, the questions asked were interesting ones, with several parts, and I found that I had plenty to say in response to each. I may even have answered too fully, because I suspect that at least some of what I said was irrelevant, but never mind. I was assured at the start of the interview that there was plenty of time, so I used it all.

It was this interview where I was offered the post, and I gladly accepted. I hadn't been completely sure beforehand that I would, but it became apparent from the discussion that the post is in an exciting area of development, and I'm looking forward to starting.

Friday, August 18, 2006

web 2.0 reaches the World Service

I've posted occasionally over the last nine months or so about Web 2.0. Originally it was in connection with a research project I was undertaking at College, with the final posts on my conclusions in June, but my interest in the subject continues.

It was exciting to research a subject as it developed, watching the types of articles change, from discussion and disagreement about whether there really is such a thing as Web 2.0, through concern that this was merely repeating the Dot Com bubble, disbelief that Web 2.0 sites could generate sufficient income to remain viable, to long lists of new services starting.

Almost all of my research material appeared on the Web or in newspapers, but as I neared the end of the research, some of the monthly computer magazines publised articles on the subject. Now the BBC World Service has broadcast a section on Web 2.0, and it is available on the BBC website until 22nd August (thanks to Dave Wood for the link).

It's a really good introduction to the topic, with interviews with people in different areas, including Jeff Jarvis, a professional blogger, and the person in charge of the Guardian's website. They not only explain how Web 2.0 is challenging traditional media, not necessarily in the short term but over the next few years, and also suggest that some of the social networking sites such as MySpace, which Rupert Murdoch paid $60m a year ago, could soon be out of date itself.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

more on blogger 2.0

Continuing yesterday's musings about the beta version of Blogger, I find that there are definite improvements to the service. Publishing (at least so far) is much quicker, since the whole blog is no longer updated, just the most recent post. The interface is clearer and no longer has to be refreshed to avoid strange arrangements of post headings.

I started to investigate the new drag-and-drop methods of changing the blog's layout, but was informed that I would have to update the template which it is based on, and this would mean losing most of the changes I had introduced. The message tried to comfort me by saying that a backup of my changes would be taken, but I'm concerned that restoring might not be straightforward.

I also searched for the promised use of tags, but so far haven't found them, which is a nuisamce since I can no longer use the Greasemonkey script to generate tags myself.

My conclusion about the Blogger upgrade has to be that, when the problem of uploading images is fixed, it will be great for people setting up new blogs. Exisiting blogs, however, should not make the transition until the final version is ready, and only then when the implications of change are clear.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

blogger 2.0

Following soon after the launch of Microsoft's desktop blogging tool Live Writer (PC only), a lot of web commentators such as Mark Evans have pounced on the news that Google has released a beta version of Blogger, the first major update since acquisition in 2003. Just about everyone, such as Wired, is impressed with the new features, though favourable comments are usually accompanied by the suggestion that it's about time too. On the downside, Steve Rubel found problems with the privacy settings, and the software isn't fully compatible with the Safari browser yet.

Techcrunch says that the beta version is still too unstable to be reliable, but in a spirit of adventure, I switched my blog over to the new system anyway, despite the fact that once you make the change, you can't go back to the old one.

Visitors may not notice much difference at first, but the benefits include a better publishing system and a drag-and-drop method to change the layout. Other changes include privacy settings and the ability to use tags without workarounds like the Grease Monkey script that I've been using for a few months (though it sounds to me more like having categories that are specific to each blog rather than tags which can be searched at Technorati, but I may be wrong).

There is now integration with Google accounts. I'm not sure what the implications of this are, though it's probably part of Google's plan for world domination.

I've had a GMail account for a while, but never used it. I visited it today and found lots of messages from a weekly news group that I'd apparently joined. I might now use the option in Netvibes, my RSS reader, to link up to my GMail account so that I can automatically see when I have new mail.

Update: Presumably because of the change to the new version of Blogger, I'm having difficulty posting drop cap images from Flickr. As a result, the Alphaphot project is temporarily suspended until I can resolve this.

Further Update: Other people also seem to be having problems posting images with the new beta version. Some have found that using a different browser helps, others suggest posting images before posting text, while still others found that disabling cookies can help. Unless this is resolved quickly, it might be enough to prompt the move I've been secretly experimenting with in the background, preparing to move this blog to Wordpress...

Monday, August 14, 2006

worth a thousand words

he Visual Dictionary is a collection of images of words photographed in different locations. Anyone can submit, and already there are over 3,000 images of over 2,000 words.

Friday, August 11, 2006

new services from banks?

artoon double-takes have always amused me, almost as much as the dynamic poses often struck in cartoons immediately prior to dashing off screen.

There was therefore a hint of humour in the otherwise serious business of announcing the names of nineteen people accused today of plotting to attack passenger planes, because it took me a couple of seconds to react to the fact that it was the Bank of England that was publishing the names, not the police or government.

The Bank's role in this affair is to freeze the assets of the suspects, on the instructions of the Treasury. Indeed, the Bank's website has a list of several hundred individuals and organisations in different regimes who are the subject of similar sanctions.

I understand the argument for doing this, but I still think it odd that Scotland Yard should have 'no immediate comment' to make. Shouldn't the police take the lead in such circumstances? What precisely does it mean for the Bank of England to be an agent for the Treasury? Is the Bank in the private sector now? If some or all of the suspects are found not guilty, could the Bank be sued for libel? What might other private sector organisations end up doing?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

tiled and fractious

hile looking for tiles for our bathroom recently, I overheard several squabbles and disagreements. One young couple, complete with small child in pushchair, were attempting to calculate the cost of some tiles in B&Q.
She: How big is a square metre?
He: It's about this big (points to a tile about 20cm by 30cm).
Are you sure?
He: I think so.
She: Well, this is no good. You should have measured the bathroom before we came out.
He: Look, firstly, I didn't know we were coming out. Secondly.... (the couple grump off down the aisle, muttering acrimoniously...
Elsewhere that same day, in a specialist tile showroom, an employee was speaking on the phone...
He: ...But I haven't done anything!... Well, I didn't know that... Look, I'll sort it out... I told you, I haven't done anything!...He's my brother, I'll talk to him...
And this all before trying to reach agreement on which tiles to buy.

Is there something about tiles that generates discord? Are their cold, sharp, hard characteristics also reflected emotionally or psychically? Just think what they could do to someone who spends a lot of time fitting them... What do the theories of feng shui say about tiles, I wonder? Surprisingly nothing at this feng shui bathroom site, despite having a lot to say about energy, light and mirrors, and the obligation to modernise every six to eight years.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

global viewpoint

ome Dutch students have come up with the neat idea of Globe 4D, where animated films are projected onto a sphere, and visitors control the playback either by rotating the sphere to get a different viewpoint or by turning a disc around the middle to get a different point in time.

Their website shows the movement of continents over millions of years, but equally the data could reflect current weather patterns or predictions of future trends. I'd be interested in seeing the ebb and flow of empires and civilisations. That might help to remind us that we're not the pinnacle of anything on this planet - just a brief moment in constant flux.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

never mind the buzzards...

ut at a garden centre late in the afternoon at the weekend, Lisa spotted a huge bird of prey flying round a tree in the near distance. We only got a brief glimpse, but could see that it was mid-brown and had upturned feathers at its wingtips. For quite a while after it disappeared from view, we could hear its distinctive keening cry, and other birds continued to flutter about in a dither.

We wondered whether it might be an eagle being flown in an organised demonstration, but after talking to others who know more about such things, it seems more likely to have been a buzzard. Not that I'm complaining at all - I've never seen a buzzard in the wild before.

Friday, August 04, 2006

the other side of shopping

y apologies for writing little over the last week or two. I've been distracted by evaluating two rival software packages for creating an online shop for April Young. As part of this, I've had to upgrade my webhosting package to allow the use of PHP and mySQL databases. (That means I could switch this blog to Wordpress - more on this another time.)

The first option, called easyGen, has the main benefits of being cheap and highly configurable. The drawback, however, despite the many claims of ease of use and various tutorials, is there are no explanations of the principles of how it works, so I find it impossible to apply the techniques to my own ends. I think you would have to be a programmer to get the most out of this.

(Actually, that's the polite version. I felt that I ought to be able to understand the easyGen packgage. I've developed relational databases in the past, so this shouldn't be beyond me, but I was beginning to wonder whether my brain had stopped working.)

The other option, called Actinic, is much more straightforward but has less potential for using your own designs and is far more expensive - £1,500 + VAT for the developer version.

I was reluctantly coming to the conclusion that developing an online shop was beyond my skills and budget.

Yesterday, however, I received a phone call from Actinic. They had already sent me a letter by post after I'd registered for the 30-day free trial, so my initial reaction was one of caution against heavy-handed pressure selling. The conversation, however, turned out to be very useful.

Version 8 of the software is in the beta testing stage just now, and may be ready for release as soon as next week. The pricing structure has been drastically changed, and is much cheaper now, and there is much more opportunity to incorporate the shop into web pages designed elsewhere.

I've downloaded the beta version, and will investigate further, but this looks promising.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

come to my arms, my bee-mish boy - L Carroll

umblebees are quite common in our garden just now, investigating the flowers on the buddleia and lavender, but yesterday's honey bee was a first. Bees are generally thought to fly up to three miles from their hive to find food and water, so it could have come from anywhere in a wide area.

A recent test however, suggests that it could have come from much further away, perhaps up to eight miles. Relative to their size, I estimate the human equivalent to be about 570 miles. And then they have to find the hive... Amazing.

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