Archive for February, 2006

So, films then

I’ve seen a lot of them lately…


A tale of friends, enemies, competition, love, demons, food, suicide, murder, and a girl in a bear costume – all set in Budapest’s underground system. Absolutely brilliant.

Hotel Rwanda

Not quite the heart-wrenching tale I expected it to be, and probably all the more watchable for it. It’s one of those films that makes you think long and hard about just how fickle western governments can be, and just how nasty the human race can be. Oh, and Owen – you’ve seen Sophie Okonedo in ‘Spooks’, ‘This Years Love’, ‘Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls’ and ‘The Bill’ (I know you’re a big fan) amongst other things.

Corpse Bride

Nobody told me it was a musical! I enjoyed it despite that and the singing didn’t make me cringe once. I must be ill or something.


I finally managed to see it on Saturday night. Its a feel-good film of the highest order – I defy you to watch this and not feel happy afterwards. You can tell it’s a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film a mile away, and not just because Dominique Pinon is in there. He has a certain style that really stands out.

City of God

It’s about boys growing up in Brazil’s slums. Despite the dark subject matter (life in the slums, drugs and gang warfare), it remains upbeat, good humoured and very enjoyable.

Æon Flux

This is complete tosh, but in a good way. There’s some fantastic fight sequences, special effects and stunts in there, not to mention Charlize Theron in very tight clothing (hummmna!). It’s just a pity that the cast appears to be made almost enitely of wood.

Right, I’m off to watch Magnolia. Wish me luck… [and then a little over three hours later]


Wow. I know several people who really didn’t like that, but they’re clearly all wrong :-) It’s an amazing film. I think I’d struggle to sum it up, simply because there’s so much to it. So I won’t, I’ll just recommend it, lots.

WordPress 2.0.1

Just a quickie to say that I’ve upgraded to WordPress 2.0.1, and moved things around a bit. Things are bound to be a bit screwy for a while – bear with me while I get them sorted out.

The home page is at plain old as opposed to /journal/ now for a start. You should get redirected cleanly, but I can’t promise anything.

So far, WP2 looks quite nice. The wysiwyg preview is a great little addition.

Update (Monday 20th Feb)

OK, so I might have ever so subtly redesigned the place aswell. I still need to do loads of tweaking, aswell as find somewhere to put my interesting asides.

The really bonkers bit? It’s needed approximately no tweaking for Internet Explorer so far. Crazy biscuits!

Update II (Sunday 26th Feb)

‘Photos’ and ‘Interesting Asides’ make a return to the sidebar. Is that better Matt? You may need to hit ‘refresh’ to get the latest version of the stylesheet or things might look a little odd.

Clearleft Ajax Workshop: Javascript, the DOM, Hijax and the downside

Man, it’s taken me over a week to write about this. Slacker extrodinaire. Anyway, I got up very early indeed last Friday morning and made my way across the country to the Victoria Park Plaza Hotel for Clearleft‘s Ajax Workshop. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but what I got was very good indeed.

So the Clearleft crew took a bunch of web designers and developers and threw them together in a room. I had a few wierd moments where I looked around and recognised various faces from my travels around Flickr and the blogosphere [1]. I also felt ever so slightly jealous as a variety of Powerbooks were unfurled onto the desks around me.

Jeremy Keith spent the morning taking us through Javascript, DOM Scripting, the basics of Ajax and how it’s done (JSON looked particularly interesting). If you’re scratching your head and asking “WTF is Ajax, man?” Suffice it to say that it lets you refresh only the parts of the page that you want to, rather than fetching a whole new page from the server every time a user clicks a button.

All good stuff, but not the main reason he had gathered us there at all. No, that came after lunch:


Hijax is a best practise methodology for building web applications. It basically says:

  • Build your pages in a completely modular fashion.
  • Build it such that it will work for users without Javascript enabled.
  • Add the AJAX functionality in once you’ve got the pages working without it.
  • Only add the AJAX in once you’ve thought very carefully about the usability and accessibility issues involved with them.

It takes it’s name from the fact that you hijack the default actions of a web page and bend them to your will. Clever huh? Jeremy does a much better job of explaining it, so I’ll leave the rest to him. One more comment though: When Google built GMail (one of Ajax’s poster children), they delivered a complete Ajax application first, then months later managed to produce a completely separate plain HTML version. They had to do all of the work twice: If they’d done it the Hijax way, they could have had both versions of GMail at once and in the same application. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Ajax: The downside

Ajax is a fantastic technology which has far reaching implications across the web. However, it has some major issues: Usability and Accessibility to name but two.

Say the user clicks a button and something updates elsewhere on the page. How do we inform them that something happened? There’s a number of answers to this question: Animations and special effects are just two of them. But what if they have a low-resolution screen, they’re using big fonts, or they’ve simply scrolled too far, leaving the vital animation or effect off-screen? What about screen-reader users – how do you tell them that only part of the screen has updated?

Then there are the problems with bookmarking and the back-button. In a traditional web application, every move you make is added to the browser history. Ajax apps suffer many of the same issues as Flash and Frames-based sites: Because you aren’t refreshing the page every time, you aren’t updating the browser history. Hitting back will likely take you right out of the app and bookmarking simply doesn’t work. Jeremy’s answer was that if the user felt the need to bookmark, maybe you’re changing too much of the with page using Ajax?

There is currently no clear answer to to a lot of these issues, but a lot of good work is going on in that direction. Recent work by the likes of Mike Stenhouse and Robert Nyman is showing us the way. Some people are advocating that we should get screen-reader users to disable Javascript. Others disagree and say that improved software will come in time. I share the latter point of view – besides, what about those in-between cases, like low-res screens, big fonts, mobile users and so on? There’s definitely lots to think about when you’re putting together Ajax apps.

Coffee Break!

On top of all this, I found the time to chat to the likes of Adam (from the DiH mailinglist), Molly, Mike and Paul about IE7, it’s implications and how Microsoft are changing, then later to Jeremy, Bruce and others about haircuts, earrings, Flickr and social networking.

After the workshop, we all trudged upstrairs to the hotel bar and indulged in a couple of beers. At some point my sister, Alice, phoned me and demanded that I go and see her. We met up with Angus and dined in a very good turkish restaurant, before hooking up with various friends of hers for the evening. I think we left Tru Thoughts @ Cargo at about 3:30am. A long day, but a good-un.

Oooh, that got a bit stream-of-consciousness there for a while didn’t it?

[1] Did I just write “blogosphere”? Gaaah… shudder.

Jet-set lifestyle

Replace the “Jet” with “Train” and you’d be getting there. But that sounds rubbish. Anyway, I digress.

I had a meeting up in Knutsford today, so I jumped on a train out of Cheltenham at silly o’clock this morning. I changed at Birmingham, then progressed to Crewe where I discovered that my connecting train had been cancelled. WOOHOO! I eventually arrived over an hour late, which was just wonderful.

We apologise for the late running of this train…

Fast forward to the return journey this evening: I get all the way back to Birmingham New Street before they thwart me again! This time the train was over half an hour late leaving. Truly fantastic service.

I’m really growing to love travelling by train.

So tomorrow I’m off to London to see a man about some AJAX. Again, I’m catching the train at silly o’clock. This one should be OK in theory – it’s direct. Going by today’s experience though, anything could happen. Wish me luck…

I’m a danger to myself

For once it wasn’t the other traffic endangering me on today’s morning commute. It was me.

I was absolutely flying this morning, despite the constant whinging from my legs. “What are you doing? That really hurts, I can’t be expected to maintain that sort of pace!” The roads were a bit damp but it’s nothing I can’t deal with. Or so I thought.

I’m approaching a right turn, pedalling like I’m an a sprint on Le Tour (really must fit a bigger gear). I look back, signal, carry on for a bit, then throw the bike over into the corner. It tracks cleanly round the bend and I carry on as usual, pedalling like fury to the next obstacle. Except this time it didn’t quite work like that.

This time I threw the bike into the corner and the front wheel decided it wasn’t going to grip. At all. BAM! My knee hits the floor followed by the rest of me. Traffic comes to a halt and a lady is asking me if I’m OK. I get up, smile at her, tell her I’m alright and the world carries on as normal again.

Perhaps turning in at ludicrous speed wasn’t a great idea in the wet – my tyres were never going to grip the white lines and knackered tarmac all that well were they? The best bit is that I’ve managed to bruise the knee and elbow that didn’t hit the ground. It seems that my bike is made of pretty solid stuff :-/

Another weekend on two wheels

I hadn’t ridden the 222 for ages. It’d been in the cupboard since Rheola and was in need of a blast. So on Friday night I dragged it out kicking and screaming, made the siezed bottom bracket and freehub spin again and then changed the oil in the forks. That last job is one I’ve been putting off for months, or is it more than a year now? Either way, they had too much oil in them, which meant I was only ever getting about two thirds of the available travel. So I changed the oil, put less in than Marzocchi reccommend, and huzzah! All the travel is available. Winner!

So on Saturday, Anton, Garry and myself dragged our Oranges (two 222’s and a 224) up Leckhampton hill, covered ourselves in body armour and ragged them down the trails all afternoon. I discovered that I had completely forgotten how to ride a bike and had to re-learn the skill over a few hours. Still, I conquered a few more bits of trail, fell down a few others and generally had an ace time. It wasn’t even all that cold. Anton had just fitted his new 888 RC2X forks (you can buy me some if you like) and was getting used to riding a bike without a 25 tonne boat anchor attached to the front.

Avid readers of Weon’s pages (is my jacket really that pink?) will already know that Sunday took me out on my other silver single-pivot full susser. It’s bonkers how bikes have progressed in the last few years. My XC bike isn’t far off having as much suspension travel as the DH bike. Luckily it weighs quite a lot less, or the climb up Cleeve Hill would have been even more painful than it was. We managed to offset the pain with attacks of the giggles – inventing things like Arse Knuckles and the Wheelie-activated Hunting Horn tends to do that to you. Luckily the descents were a lot more fun than the climb, even if the mud made them as slippery as a slippy thing. The trail down to the washpool was ever so slighly sketchy, but the rocky run down to the Rising Sun and then the Devils Steps more than made up for it, even if Owen did nearly run me over on the final stretch down to the road. You haven’t got disc-brakes mate – you need to slow down before I do!

Speaking of which, I nearly went deaf on the ride back into town – my front brake developed a horrendous banshee-like wail that didn’t relent until I put the bike away at home. Must remember to sort that.

I finished the evening off by returning to Weon and Anne’s for dinner. We watched the very good House of Flying Daggers, whilst gorging ourselves (an understatement) on Anne’s fantastic cooking: A chicken-based cottage pie (alas not made of real cottages), then crumble and custard for pudding. Very good pie. Mmmm pie. Thanks Anne :)

Subtle Changery

I’ve been wanting to redesign this place for ages, but I’ve never really found the time or indeed motivation to do it properly. I needed to change the look with absolute minimum effort for me: I figured a new header image was probably the easiest way to do it, so that’s exactly what I’ve done (it should look like this – you may need to hit reload or clear your cache if you’re not seeing it).

G-Dog gets his five minutes of fame this time. You can tell the pictures are quite old – he’s riding an Orange 222 (You’re my bike now Dave!). They were taken back in July of last year up on Leckhampton Hill , then amalgamated in Photoshop. Yes, I know it all needs a bit of tweaking – especially the navigation. I’ll get around to it at some point.

Oh and a completely unrelated HAPPY BIRTHDAY BAGGUS!