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4 September, 2010

Gave it a fair try

I've tried the 'new' Google Images interface since it was released several weeks ago, largely because I thought it was compulsory.

I still don't like it.

8 July, 2010

Could catch anyone

Ooh.  Nearly been phished.  That's a first.

14 February, 2010

Look and think

Operating a site called 'Ministry of Information', I'm accustomed to people mistaking it for a an official government publication, despite all the evidence in the visual design and content; I even received an enquiry from a professional BBC researcher recently.  People just don't look, nor question their presumptions.

8 October, 2009

I said: no adverts. None. Ever.

I rarely visit those affected (and none of the filesharing sites specifically named), but certain websites attempt to force visitors to view adverts (even those of us using adblockers) by inserting intermediary pages: to reach the intended page, one has to click through an unexpected and definitely unwanted full-page ad.  Often, one has to wait for a minute or more before the onward link or download becomes active.

6 October, 2009

Where have you been?

According to a trawl through my office PC's browser history by 'WhatTheInternetKnowsAboutYou', I've visited 19 of the 5,000 most popular websites and 50 of the top 20,000.

2 October, 2009


Why is it that pretty much the only website I can't access via Firefox, but which works fine in IE, is my administrator login page for iTunes U, at

16 August, 2009


Anyone else notice that in the BBC's iPlayer applet, the volume goes to '11'?

11 June, 2009

It's all in the results

In an attempt to separate the effectiveness of three search engines from testers' brand loyalty/hostility, Michael Kordahi has set up a 'blind search' interface.  Given keywords, this performs the same search on Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft's Bing, and asks visitors to select the column of results which best matches their requirements.  One isn't told which column is which until after voting.

5 June, 2009

No second-guessing

Microsoft calls Bing a decision engine. Why? "That's our goal of not just providing links but helping you solve the key task that you're trying to do," says Program Manager Nathan Buggia.
Does that mean the return of the ****ing Microsoft paperclip?

2 June, 2009

Assisting .NET Framework's departure

A while ago, a standard monthly Windows Update installed a Firefox add-on, without (informed) consent and without the option to remove it.  Needless to say, I wasn't impressed: neither by Microsoft's action nor Mozilla's failure to prevent what has to be a significant vulnerability.

18 May, 2009

Pictorial communication

As part of a Graphic Design Diploma, Melih Bilgil produced an animated  'History Of The Internet'.  It's excellent, not only for the documentary content – not too techie, but neatly explaining & contextualising half-familiar acronyms – but particularly for the minimalist, icon-based graphics.  Very inspiring.

13 May, 2009

No adverts. None. Ever.

For a horrible moment I thought I might have to look for a new adblocker for Firefox, as the developer of Adblock Plus is talking about revising that extension.

12 February, 2009

Another nail

According to Slashdot, a Wikipedia 'prankster' added an additional middle name to the genuine eight of a German politician, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.  The inaccuracy was widely quoted by such mainstream newspapers as Der Spiegel before anyone noticed and the Wikipedia entry was amended.

11 February, 2009

Opportunity discarded

Following a link at User Friendly, I discovered a Flash-based online game.  I knew no more about it than that: a popular website had instilled a vague curiosity and directed me to a lesser-known site which could then grab and develop my mild interest.  A powerful opportunity.

25 November, 2008

Free CSS book

If you're interested in a totally free copy of Snook et al.'s 'The Art & Science of CSS' (£26.59 at Amazon), you have until 23:59 next Tuesday, 2 December, to download it.

17 October, 2008

Hello (new) world!

Normally I take the internet for granted, but I'm occasionally struck by the enormous impact it's had on everyday life for millions.  So is Randall Munroe.

13 October, 2008

Safer webmailing

If you use webmail, there's always a risk of its security being compromised and, worse, of someone changing the login details to prevent the legitimate owner gaining access.  Hence, it's important to verify that one's account is correctly configured NOW for security and restoration of access after an attack; as Lifehacker says, "test your webmail's password recovery (before someone else does)".

27 September, 2008

Iron forged

I'm not overly concerned about Google receiving my browsing history, nor particularly interested in trying Chrome, but for those who are, a remix of the Google browser is now available.

12 September, 2008

Download finished. Forever.

One of the few trivial annoyances of the Firefox interface is a flag which pops up from the staus bar when a download has completed.  Thanks to Mozilla Links, I've finally disabled it.

9 September, 2008

The penny drops

The blog's activity log has been recording something slightly odd for a few days: since 07:23 on Saturday, Movable Type's internal search has been receiving a large number of enquiries for individual search terms, all from exactly the same IP address, which I've identified as the Googlebot.

3 September, 2008


Ah.  Just thought of a very good reason to avoid Google's 'Chrome' browser.

2 September, 2008

Chrome: first thoughts

'Chrome', the forthcoming web browser from Google, technical details of which were 'accidentally' leaked as a comic strip, looks very impressive, but I don't see myself becoming an early-adopter.

30 August, 2008

Not so smart

Some people like the auto-complete feature of Firefox 3's Smart Location Bar  (aka 'Awesome Bar', unfortunately), whereby the software suggests potential destinations whenever one begins to type in a URL, based on previous activity.  Yet it also acts as a visible record of one's browsing history, which is less than ideal on shared computers.

15 July, 2008

Still no hitching

After the well-publicised criticism of Apple in March, when their 'Software Updater' tried to trick people (who didn't already have it) into installing the Safari browser as an essential update, I'd thought the company had learned its lesson.  Seems not.

26 June, 2008

How to update Firefox (again)

Rather sooner than I'd intended, I've had to 'upgrade' Firefox on my work PC to v.3 – a rendering issue I encountered in Safari 2 was reported as having reappeared in Fx3, so I needed to see and hence resolve it.

14 May, 2008

Bookmarks obsolete?

According to Lifehacker:

In the age of social bookmarking and blogs, old fashioned browser bookmarks are teetering on the edge of obsolete. When you can save a bookmark at, say,, tag it, and have it accessible from any computer, storing a link in your browser seems almost archaic.

13 May, 2008

Play nicely: IE & SP3 precedence

Just in case anyone still hasn't 'upgraded' to Internet Explorer 7, or, more importantly, those who have but are considering reverting to IE6, be aware that installing WinXP Service Pack 3 with IE7 already installed prevents subsequent removal of IE7.  If SP3 is installed before IE7, the latter remains removable.

28 March, 2008

No hitching

John Lilly has pointed out that Apple is pushing the Safari browser at all users of iTunes, semi-covertly as an 'update' rather than openly as newly-installed software.

26 March, 2008

Third-party cookie blocking in Firefox 2

In Firefox 1.5, I was accustomed to accepting cookies from most sites I chose to visit, but automatically blocking 'third-party' cookies set by advertisers, traffic counters, etc.

25 March, 2008

How to disable Phorm

It goes without saying that online traffic analysis imposed by certain ISPs should be opt-in, never opt-out, but given that Phorm is being propagated by the wrong means, it's worth mentioning the easiest way to partially disable it.

18 January, 2008

Communicating change

Fragment of overheard conversation:

... I'll Facebook you about the...
(... and then I was out of earshot; I walk quickly).

9 January, 2008

RIP Netscape

In the primeval times before the first browser war, Netscape was the browser, having a 90% market share, but its popularity has declined dramatically, to a point where a 0.6% market share is no longer viable.  AOL (which is arguably to blame for a lack of innovation since 2003) has closed the project, and will cease active product support on 1 February.

18 December, 2007


How many HTML 4 elements can you name within five minutes?
I managed 70 of the 91 defined by the W3C, probably because I tend to hand-code rather than use intermediary editing software.

13 December, 2007

Talk techy, big boy

Yes, he's an acknowledged polymath, but it still feels odd that Stephen Fry is writing a column for Guardian Technology.
This week he offers a gentle introduction to Firefox for those still using their OSes' default browsers.

14 November, 2007

Muzzle Flash

Searching for something else, I've discovered a web-based interface for configuring security/privacy settings in Flash Player.

1 November, 2007

Face fits

Lifehacker slightly mistakenly reports that:

Firefox 3 will see an interface refresh complete with tighter integration with the operating system that's running it, meaning it'll look more like IE7 on Windows and Safari on the Mac.

21 September, 2007

Circle line

If one searches Google for 'google', how many servers will implode?

31 July, 2007

Page Saver

Here's a useful Firefox extension, discovered via Lifehacker.

15 June, 2007

Safari saordinari, except for...

I hadn't considered adopting the new Windows-compatible version of Safari *.  It seems the Lifehacker editors see few rational reasons to switch either, though they suggest there are certain worthwhile features – to replicate in Firefox.

13 June, 2007

Configuration Mania

In October 2006, I itemised the amendments I made when installing Firefox 2, some of which were performed via the somewhat impenetrable 'about:config' interface and some by directly editing files.

30 May, 2007

Welcome step back

It's a little disturbing that no-one has noticed this until now (presumably we're too conditioned), but it is entirely possible to remove IE7 from Windows XP, automatically restoring IE6.

23 May, 2007

Ads do matter

Research appears to show that banner ads on web pages have a subliminal effect; even if a visitor ostensibly ignores an advert and certainly doesn't click through, its mere presence alongside content which is of interest causes a measurable favourable impression about the advertised product.

27 April, 2007

Posting and YOU

As a public service to anyone who is a member of, or especially an administrator of, a threaded discussion forum, here's a useful link to bookmark (warning: it's a Flash movie with sound, if that's a problem).

4 April, 2007

We know where you've been

I won't give details, as it's in closed beta, but a new type of web stats tracker is being promoted to the webmasters of UK universities.

9 February, 2007

Shove your toolbar where you want

I'm disinclined to promote any usage of Inert Exploder at all, but if you're one of those unfortunates who is obliged to do so by employers, you might be interested to know that it's possible to repair the menu bar arrangement in IE7.

29 January, 2007

Get back

In case some people hadn't noticed, Google Image Search implemented a new interface last week.  It's supposed to be 'cleaner', hiding file information until mouseover, but that's precisely the problem – many people particularly want to see the file information for all images on the page 'at a glance'.

5 December, 2006

Cleaner searching

Informit offers tips to improve one's usage of the Google suite of search resources – read, inwardly digest and reduce the number of merely inefficient random queries reaching the Ministry.

2 November, 2006

Back off, M$

Microsoft has a new product they wish to promote via another of their products, so it's not surprising that they're pushing IE7 via Windows Update, especially considering the degree of integration between the browser and OS.

30 October, 2006

Repolishing the Firefox chrome

Lifehacker offers further tips on customising the default Firefox user interface ("chrome") using the browser's in-built settings rather than extensions.

26 October, 2006

How to update Firefox

I've just updated Firefox to Firefox 2 on my office PC.  On reflection, I think I acted too soon, as a number of core extensions (er...) and themes aren't compatible yet.  I won't be updating on my home PC, at least until the automatic 'check for updates' pushes it at me.  For my own future reference and perhaps the interest of others, this is what I've done:

25 October, 2006

Firefox 2 is out

In case anyone didn't know, Firefox 2 is out.  If you aren't already using Firefox 1.5, why not give it a try?

20 October, 2006

Not on safari

Bugger.  The css error I've been picking-at for two days is a browser bug.

It seems Safari 2 doesn't like nested "absolute" and "relative" -positioned <div>s, in a way Firefox and even IE handle okay.

20 October, 2006

Nostalgia vs. Progression

In a post primarily about the decline of e-mail based discussion groups, Hippydave discusses the alternative career routes of long-established bands: nostalia or progression.  Or a combination of the two, though polarity is undeniably more common.

11 October, 2006

Closing In

Was Imogen Heap on TV in N.America on Monday night? *

4 October, 2006

I know, you know

I hope people realise that access logs are perfectly capable of tracking content saved to other computers, not only those served directly from the website itself.

29 September, 2006

Note to web store managers

I prefer the option to make one-off purchases.  I don't want to have to register with a site, obtaining a username and password, merely to buy one item from a web store I might never visit again.  If, for example, I buy a scarf as a gift, that doesn't make me a regular customer of a certain clothes retailer, and I'd rather not have to provide personal details (beyond those essential for payment & delivery) which might be used against me for marketing purposes.

28 September, 2006

Anyone can play GUI

"A website's navigation interface is no more than a filing system, right?  Anyone can design that; it's easy."

Clients.  What can I say?

14 September, 2006


If I set up a .htaccess file to serve a custom 'Error 404' (page not found) page, but mistype the name of that 404 page (so the server can't find it), will the server explode?

7 August, 2006


Anyone who's ever bought goods/services via a credit card and web browser might be interested to know that I've been able to recover my main card number and the security number from the back of the card by reading the 'autocomplete' log of text/numbers I've previously typed into dialog boxes.  As the same log contains my name, e-mail & postal addresses and other personal parameters, that's quite a security risk, especially on a shared computer.

20 July, 2006

Creativity for all

The '1% rule', as the Guardian explains, is the emerging pattern that

if you get a group of 100 people online then one will create content, 10 will 'interact' with it (commenting or offering improvements) and the other 89 will just view it.

18 July, 2006

Friends don't send friends virus warnings

Never, ever, under any circumstances, circulate a virus warning message.  Ever.  Almost invariably – no, there's no 'almost' about it; invariably it's a hoax and the warning itself is the virus, inflating e-mail traffic and spamming discussion groups.

4 June, 2006

No AdBlock? No chance!

I don't like adverts.  No, really, I don't like adverts.

11 May, 2006

Quick e-mail tips

I've been doing these for a while; they're fairly obvious, but are still worth passing on.

When drafting an e-mail which simply can't leave your computer until it's finished, don't complete the 'To:' field until last.  Any earlier, and it's too easy to accidentally send it.
I tend to put the address at the start of the message itself, then cut-and-paste it to the right box when proofreading.  I do the same thing when composing replies; my e-mail package autocompletes the 'To:' field, but I delete it until I'm ready.

3 May, 2006

Too many vests

Having run the update installation* of Firefox, I've seen the 'update successful' page, which reminds users that we can add extra search engines to the Search Bar.  One recommended by Mozilla is "Wikipedia - An incredible, free, online encyclopedia".

Aye, 'incredible' in the sense of 'not credible'....

26 April, 2006

Avalanche warning?

Uh oh... USA Today, one of the few national US newspapers, has linked to the Ministry....

It's currently accounting for 30% of traffic, but has only been up for an hour or so, and it's still morning across the USA – there could be a bit of a spike later in the (US) day.

24 April, 2006

Leave No Trace

One thing that won't exactly assist Anathema's attempts at promotion is the fact that when one searches for 'anathema' or 'anathema band' at, the band's own site doesn't appear*.  Searching for the specific term 'anathema official website' finds it as the no.3 result, but it should really have a high ranking for more generic terms, and for a range of terms.

12 April, 2006

Internet clipboard

Nice idea: copy-and-paste between computers.  I routinely e-mail blocks of text to myself, which is adequate, but if one wishes to save even the small amount of time taken to log into an e-mail account, try, 'the internet clipboard'.

6 April, 2006

Block ads with Adblock

According to the BBC, major UK media companies are moving away from charging for web content, instead deriving income from display advertising.

27 March, 2006

No longer missing something

At long last, the 'Delete' button reached the UK version of Gmail (aka Google Mail) this morning, some months after it became available to US users and UK users willing to use the US English interface (which I wasn't).

22 March, 2006

Whois tip

If one wishes to trace an IP address , there are a number of 'whois' search utilities on the web.  However, it's not always obvious that the best results tend to be obtained by searching the correct regional database.

23 February, 2006

Disable error reporting

Whenever a program crashes, Windows attempts to send an error report to Microsoft.  This is particularly annoying if it's Firefox that's crashed!  I always hit 'Don't Send', but thanks to a quick tip at Lifehacker, I've permanently turned off error reporting in my copy of WinXP Pro.

21 February, 2006

Aha! There you are!

This is almost – but not quite – amusing.

Specifically to avoid future junk mail, a BoingBoing reader used a throwaway e-mail address to enter a competition, then discarded the account.  A few months later, the company started sending junk mail to her main e-mail account, having researched her real address.

7 February, 2006

The end of cyberspace?

An article in Wired acknowledges that the concept of the internet as 'cyberspace', a virtual destination where people go in order to interact with one another and computers, has become obsolete.  Development of Virtual Reality (headsets & gloves) foundered years ago, and immersive alternate realities remained in sci-fi (I don't count the recreational examples of World of Warcraft or Second Life).  The distinction between on- and offline activities is fading, and nowadays the internet is simply a facet of everyday, 'real world' life. 

3 February, 2006

IE7's out - and?

A certain Mac fangirl makes the (absolutely correct) observation that the IE7 interface looks awful, the probable consequence of having been prepared by a coder rather than a graphic designer.

However, Siobhan's missing the point: it's Inert Exploder, FFS.  Of course it totally ignores accepted UI (GUI and otherwise) design standards

27 January, 2006

Am I missing something?

It's been announced and well-discussed that Gmail now has a 'Delete' button, as Google has acknowledged that not everyone wishes to archive absolutely every e-mail received.  However, the button hasn't appeared in my UK-based interface yet.  Has anyone heard anything about when non-US accounts can expect this very welcome feature?

9 January, 2006

Bugmenot will return shortly

If anyone's concerned about the fact that Bugmenot is currently unavailable and the domain is parked, don't worry – it's only a temporary problem.  Eric promises to work on it this week.

7 January, 2006

Through the keyhole

Sometimes eBay amuses me, both for the sheer variety of items available and the insights into sellers' lives.  I love to click on the 'View seller's other items' link, to see that someone is offering a Jethro Tull LP alongside a latex dress and a car's offside wing miror – only the offside mirror.  There has to be story there.

4 January, 2006


A nice round number, though 'unlucky for some'.  It's also the number of sp*m e-mails received by my work account overnight.  Not over the week I was away, but overnight.

31 December, 2005

Unleashing the demon

I've just taught my mother how to compose an eBay auction, and she's had a splendid idea:

"Hey!  I could copy all my CDs and sell the originals on eBay!"


20 December, 2005


El Reg reports that Microsoft is to 'formally kill' the Mac version of IE at the end of January – no more downloads, nor support.
I'm hardly going to complain about the availability of IE declining, nor about software distribution ignoring Macs, but it's undeniable that some web designers unaccountably still use Macs, and it'd be rather useful for them to have access to IE for testing purposes.

27 November, 2005

Firewall repointed

This is going to be irrelevant to 97% of typical visitors and boring to the rest, but anyway:
The incompatibility between ZoneAlarm 6.1.667 and Windows Me, which caused the latter to hang rather than shut down, seems to have been resolved in ZA 6.1.737.  It's safe to update.

23 November, 2005

Setting my boundaries

It's taken me a while to find this article (via an El Reg response I didn't quite understand), but it expresses my opinion: that Creative Commons licences are pointless other than a naïve political statement, and existing copyright laws are more than adequate.

The most favourable interpretation I can find concludes that CC overlies, but certainly doesn't supercede, copyright, defining the additional rights (beyond standard fair use) the content producer permits the content recipient.

22 November, 2005

Prioritising results

It's really trivial, but why does a Google search for 'burrow beck hala' (results: 388) suggest "Did you mean: burrowbeck hala" (results: 6)?

Could it be that the former, correct spelling takes one to non-commercial entries merely mentioning the stream, whereas the latter provides links to estate agents i.e. a variety of advertising takes priority?

17 November, 2005

Greystone Inn's gone evil

In case occasional readers like me weren't aware, Brad Guigar's web-published strip cartoon, 'Greystone Inn' is in the process of changing address.  The story has moved on and the setting has changed (I'll miss the disembodied Narrator), so a rebranding as 'Evil Inc.' makes sense.

3 November, 2005

Wasting everyone's time

For the past week or so, I've been receiving what looks a lot like comments sp*m – via the Ministry's 'Contact' form.  It's mildly irritating, not least because it's utterly pointless, both for me and for the sender.

2 November, 2005

Emergency internet access

This isn't an advert, honest!

I've just discovered that my normal ISP also offers an 'emergency' service whereby anyone in the UK can access the internet for 'free' (no fee for the service, just a standard local-rate phone call).  One doesn't have to register for an account, and there's no login or password - just dial the phone number via a modem.

31 October, 2005

Scary security

Last Wednesday, for a reason I've yet to have explained, I was kicked out of Yahoo! Groups.  I received an automated e-mail saying that usage of my account had been "identified to be in violation of the terms of service", and shut down.  I could no longer log in.  I contacted Yahoo! immediately, demanding reinstatement or at least some explanation, but I've received no reply.
Accountability isn't on offer, apparently.

19 October, 2005

Google Mail in the UK

It seems another company has claimed prior rights to the Gmail name in the UK, and Google are either concerned that the claim might have legal merit, or legal action to keep the name might become too expensive (in terms of financial cost, time and bad publicity) to pursue.  It's been announced that from today, new Gmail accounts issued in the UK will be '[whatever]'.

13 October, 2005

Ranting from the backwoods

In a bizarrely arrogant letter to the Guardian, someone in Oregon says:

America generates the internet and some international group wants to steal it

11 October, 2005

Search deeply

At the time of writing, Google is considered to have the largest search engine database, indexing about eight billion web pages.  However, it's estimated that the public web contains about 250 billion pages overall, and that's only the public web.  Something far more glamourous-sounding is the 'deep web', or 'invisible web', thought to be 500 times bigger than the directly searchable web.

21 September, 2005

Why'd it take so long?

I've always said that I'd never use Opera, for one simple reason.  I believe that one should never, ever have to pay for a web browser, however good it might be (see my earlier thoughts), so Opera's pricing model (a free version containing adverts or ad-free for a fee) was unacceptable, totally disqualifying it from consideration.

Well, Opera is now available for free.

19 September, 2005

Properły coded

Just for reference: a summary of the 252 core character entities in HTML 4 and XHTML 1.0; not only the everyday '&' (&amp;) but more obscure (yet occasionally useful) ones like 'µ' (&micro;).

If one requires further, nation-specific characters like the Polish 'ł' (&#322;), they're summarised here.  However, remember that they require the page to be using UTF-8 encoding, which isn't supported by all browsers.

15 August, 2005

Redefining spam

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about companies using contrived 'information' entries to promote themselves via Wikipedia - blatent spam, really.

As Boing Boing reports, the BBC has been accused of doing much the same thing, in a viral marketing campaign for an online game.  The BBC denies involvement (I'm not saying "they would, wouldn't they?" – I believe them), but one side effect is that a pro marketer has admitted abusing Wikipedia for viral marketing.

5 August, 2005

Flash pop-ups downed

This has been known for several months, but only seems to have received wider circulation in recent days; I might as well join in.

Web spammers have been evading pop-up blockers by launching them from Flash.  Pete Bevin reports (has devised?) a simple technique whereby Firefox renders the spam technique obsolete.  Well done!

21 July, 2005

What do you want?

Can I make a suggestion?

It may seem obvious, but when composing a search engine query, it's best to include search terms likely to appear in the target page, rather than a description of the subject, phrased in words not actually on the page itself.

14 July, 2005

Crafty linking

Just attempting another experiment with Google.

A friend and colleague designs handcrafted silver jewellery, sold in such prestigious locations as Manchester City Art Gallery and Urbis (the Museum of Urban Life), also in Manchester.  She has a website, but it is considerably outranked on Google by the portfolio page of the site's designer.

I'm going to try a little search engine optimisation/promotion, but before doing that, I'm curious whether my merely mentioning it here will have any effect whatsoever.

11 July, 2005

Now we are 1M

That took me by surprise: I've just glanced at my web tracker, and seen that the millionth page since 28/11/01 was served this morning, to something like the 328,400th visitor.

9 July, 2005

Strolling around

Just in case there's anyone left who hasn't already tried it, the Gmaps Pedometer is pretty good.  I've just traced the route of my daily commute, and it's calculated it to within 0.25 miles of the actual distance measured by my bike computer, a discrepancy easily explained by road details below the scale of the map.

29 June, 2005

That has to hurt

Very odd, and rather disturbing, this Flash... thing has to be one of the most compelling... things I've seen for a while.


8 June, 2005

Custom prices

I'd be surprised if it was legal in the UK (though I was also surprised to hear it's legal in the USA) but here's an example where lack of online anonymity isn't only an issue of privacy but also of financial rights.

A number of online retailers in the USA are able to identify visitors, if not by name but more importantly by purchasing history and usage pattern, and price their goods accordingly.

Read the article for details (there's little point in my just paraphrasing it), and the EFF's comments about it, and take care!

6 June, 2005

Put the boot in while they're down

I'm happy with Firefox, so hadn't paid much attention to the release of Netscape 8, but there is one amusing detail to note.

It seems that installing the updated browser accidentally (of course!) disables functionality in Internet Explorer.  What a shame.  Microsoft recommend removing Netscape until a fix has been discovered.  Yeah; right.  How about taking the opportunity to just dump Inert Exploder?

26 May, 2005

Home from home

Quick tip via Lifehacker:  It's possible for Firefox to automatically open multiple homepages at once, in tabs.

From the 'Tools' menu, Select 'Options->General', and enter the required URLs, separated by the '|' character.  Alternatively, if you already have the required pages open in tabs, just use the 'Use Current Pages' button in that dialogue box.

22 May, 2005

Hands off

To quote MozDev:

Greasemonkey is a Firefox extension which lets you to add bits of DHTML ("user scripts") to any web page to... easily control any aspect of [it's] design or interaction.
If, like me, you object to visitors modifying one's published content, Greasemonkey can be blocked.

21 May, 2005

Cut bait

Interesting idea.  If criminals can infiltrate unsecured servers and set up phishing websites (i.e. clones of bank websites , eBay, etc., which merely capture peoples' account details for fraud), then it's at least as easy for vigilantes to infiltrate the same servers and deface the phishing sites, alerting visitors to their true nature.

I'm undecided whether criminal action against criminals is really to be condoned, but all credit to them for lateral thinking.

29 April, 2005

Yet another nail

Heh.  I'm no Mac fan, but even I have to applaud Apple for the fact that they haven't bothered to include Inert Exploder with the new edition of their OS.

20 April, 2005

Goodbye Firefox?

Oh, marvelous.

I'm back to using IE, at least at work, seemingly indefinitely.  Firefox is dead.

19 April, 2005


Google Maps has reached the UK.

I'll say it again: Wow.

16 April, 2005

Boundaries blurring

A couple of weeks ago, a man in China was killed, for stealing an item from his murderer in a computer game.  That's a real stabbing for a virtual theft, of a 'fictional' in-game item.

That's odd enough in itself, but an even more surprising part of the BBC report is an incidental comment that unlike China (and the rest of the world), South Korea has a (real world) police division specially dedicated to in-game activities.  I wonder if they ever struggle to claim jurisdiction in Raccoon City, San Andreas, or wherever.

15 April, 2005

Quicker linking

Here's an excellent keyboard shortcut for Firefox, just in case you weren't aware of it:

Control+Enter adds the 'http://www.' prefix and '.com' suffix to words in the address bar.
Incidentally, Alt+D moves the cursor to the address bar, selecting all content for immediate overtyping.

[Via Lifehacks]

1 April, 2005

Ooh! So close!

If there had been 32 days in March, the Ministry would have broken the 40,000 hits/month (from 15,000 visitors) barrier.

Maybe next time ;)

17 March, 2005

P2P's bad, 'kay?

One of the more common types of search term bringing visitors from Google to the Ministry is for music downloads, so I'd better address the subject directly.

I've mentioned that Porcupine Tree released a download-only single of 'Shallow', but a statement that such a thing exists is as much as you're going to get.  Personally, I have absolutely no interest in downloading music, especially that which will be available soon on CD and DVD-A.
No music is offered for download from this site.
I used to trade unofficial concerts recordings on CD-R, but I never participated in bit torrent or other p2p communities, and I couldn't direct people on to more appropriate sites even if I wished to.

7 March, 2005

Better desktop searching

Back in October, I commented unfavourably about the beta of Google's Desktop Search, as it was almost exclusively tied to Microsoft products I just don't use.  In the interests of balance ;) I ought to mention that the finished version, just released, supports Firefox as standard, and plugins extend coverage to other non-MS packages, such as Open Office.

That said, I still don't plan to use it myself, but now because it's just not a facility for which I perceive a need, not because of any apparent inadequacy in the utility itself.

7 March, 2005

What's your high score?

So long as it doesn't take over, a little time spent on a mildly-stimulating computer game can improve productivity.

If you're having a tough day, reinvigorate yourself by spending a few minutes with the new Tetris variant publicised as User Friendly's Link Of The Day: Tetris 1D.

23 February, 2005

AutoLink 'blocked' (twice)

A quick update to that previous posting about Google's AutoLink 'feature': Jeffrey Zeldman, of A List Apart, offers a JavaScript, er, script to automatically remove any links added without the author's permission, defeating AutoLink.

23 February, 2005

AutoLink unfriendly

The latest version of the Google toolbar is out in beta (i.e. finished but subject to revision).  It's only available for Internet Explorer, and I certainly wouldn't recommend that, so I won't bother to offer a link.

One new feature of the toolbar is attracting a lot of attention: the AutoLink button.  If a block of text mentions a street address, the toolbar will render it clickable as a link to an online map (by default, Google's own).  Other information is treated in the same way.  For example, an ISBN will become a link to that book at Amazon.

This replicates the Smart Tags functionality tested by Microsoft and rejected due to user criticism.  Other sites have discussed the issue at length, so I won't, but I do have a concern I haven't seen expressed elsewhere.

13 February, 2005

Stupidity tax

Not that I want to say "I told you so", but it's reported that internet privacy certifier TRUSTe has taken the virtually unprecedented step of instructing the main 'free iPods' company (and its subsidiaries), to remove TRUSTeís privacy seal of approval from all of its sites*, for alleged misuse of private information, including the contact details of minors.

7 February, 2005

Ads in RSS

A large number of people (including me) read the Boing Boing RSS feed, in my case via Bloglines, rather than visiting the website itself.  One result is that we're not exposed to the adverts on the site, and Boing Boing are suffering a loss of revenue.  Their response is to insert ads into the RSS feed.
Damn.  I didn't realise that was technically possible.  I can understand the reasoning behind the new policy, but that doesn't mean I'm pleased.  This minor annoyance isn't so bad as as to dissuade me from reading Boing Boing, but I really hope the idea doesn't catch on elsewhere.

5 February, 2005

Gmail Explosion

Don't all rush at once, but I have fifty (50!) invites to distribute.

I presume this means Google are about ready to launch Gmail as 'finished' (they've been calling it 'beta' up to now).

If you're interested, let me know, stating your first and last names and an existing e-mail address to which I can send an invitation.  Use the 'Contact' form if you'd rather not include them in a Comment.

1 February, 2005

Link spamming from the other side

The Register features an interview with a comments spammer (aka ****ing parasite), anonymous but unashamed.  It's the expected mix of self-justification (apparently it's all the search engines' fault) and 'nothing personal, mate' insincerity, but there are a couple of interesting points.

27 January, 2005


Just received an irate e-mail from someone who received a virus-infected e-mail from 'me'.  No, it was clearly from an infected copy of Outlook which happened to include me in its address book, thereby borrowing my address as an alias.

Common enough, but the reason for that <sigh> was that the recipient, thinking the attachment was a virus, opened it (on a computer without up-to-date AV protection), to confirm it was a virus.
Congratulations!  You were right!

26 January, 2005

Yeah, but where from?

A mundane aspect of my job is to repair broken links across the University website; as individual departments maintain their own subsidiary websites, and don't always notify each other, or me, of changed addresses, links from the main site are sometimes broken without my knowledge.  I always appreciate fault notifications, but those reporting always seem to make the same mistake.

25 January, 2005

Fx 20M

Twenty million copies of Firefox 1.0 have been downloaded in the 76 days since its launch.  After the initial surge of five million downloads in twelve days, that's a more-or-less linear growth, which has yet to even slow down.

Rather impressive, eh?

20 January, 2005

Why Opera?

"Schools jump to take up free Opera licence offer".


8 January, 2005

Firefox auto-disconnect

A fairly frequent route into the Ministry is via a Google search for 'Firefox auto-disconnect', so I thought I might as well mention the main options.

7 January, 2005

Not exactly extortion

I was briefly amused to read that Microsoft have released a beta version of an anti-spyware utility, since that company's packages, Outlook and Internet Explorer, are the world's leading vectors of malware.  I suppose it's only right that they attempt to make amends, but I still recommend Ad-Aware and/or Spybot S&D instead (plus Thunderbird & Firefox, of course).

3 January, 2005

Think of the mice

Here's a quick web design tip, demonstrated (as a negative example) by
If using a mouseover effect, whereby text changes colour when the mouse cursor passes over it, denoting a link, don't apply it indiscriminately to the whole document.
In the stated case, the text changes from black on white to lime green on white, which is illegible.  That's barely acceptable for inline text, where one probably reads each word before passing the mouse pointer over it, but it's awkward to select items from a dropdown menu in which all options are suddenly lime on white, and when one can't read what one has just typed into a form's text entry area, it's more of a hinderance than a mere annoyance.

22 December, 2004

That one? Maybe that one?

Having spent all morning wrestling a departmental website into a form which might scrape through accessibility legislation, though certainly not an aesthetic awards ceremony, I'd like to make an appeal to all web authors.

15 December, 2004

Accurate or intuitive?

I seem to have posted about Firefox quite frequently recently.  That's not deliberate - I'm no evangelist.  This entry isn't really about specific software, except as examples of more general concepts.

This afternoon I helped a colleague install Firefox.  There was a problem importing items from the Internet Explorer 'Links' toolbar' to the Firefox equivalent, the 'Bookmarks' toolbar.  Once resolved, an interesting difference became obvious.
The user had numbered a few key items, from 1 to 12, so they'd appear in a specific order in the header toolbar rather than be lost in the overspill sidebar.  In IE, the order was as required: 1,2,3,4,... whereas in Firefox the order was 1,10,11,12,2,3,4,....
Strictly speaking, Firefox was more correct, but IE was more intuitive and met the user's requirements.

13 December, 2004

Firefox hits 10M

Wow!  Ten million downloads in a little over a month!  Was yours one of them?

13 December, 2004

Google Suggest

There's a new service (in beta) at Google.

As you type into the search box, Google Suggest guesses what you're typing and offers suggestions in real time.
Apart from the straightforward use, this will be helpful in search engine optimisation, as suggestions are provided in order of popularity, with the number of results displayed for each term.  This is as good as a recommendation of which keywords to target for one's own site.

12 December, 2004

Extending Firefox

If anyone's vaguely interested, I use Firefox 1.0 with the following extensions, all available from

9 December, 2004

Below the fold

This isn't specifically a Blog Explosion issue, but since BE exposes one to a large number of page designs* and restricts the visible height of each window by imposing its own header, the effect is particularly apparent when browsing at BE.
As Betsy notes, far too many blogs feature huge, graphic-intensive page headers, the modern equivalent of splash pages.

8 December, 2004

Gmail invites: don't call me

If you'd like an invitation to open a Gmail account, simply find someone who has Gmail invites available to be shared, and wait for that person to offer them.  Do not find someone who has previously offered invites, and drop him/her an e-mail 'just on the off chance'.

If someone has Gmail invites, he/she will either offer them publicly or will be saving them, for distribution amongst friends or for reasons of his/her own (which you don't get to question).  Either way, speculative requests will never have a positive effect.

1 December, 2004

New Netscape

It seems AOL's new version of the Netscape browser is out as a prototype.  It's a hybrid, based primarily on the Gecko browser engine from Mozilla Firefox 0.9.3 (not the securest version, but never mind...), yet also integrating Internet Explorer's Trident engine, for a reason I don't quite grasp.  I think the latter is a commercial/legal obligation on AOL, rather than a sound technical or user-led purpose.

Initial reports have been unfailingly negative, or at best, unimpressed.  See Neil's World for a roundup of significant criticisms; also see Mozilla's own review.
So far as I can see, this is one to avoid.

29 November, 2004

Odd idea©

Cory at BoingBoing reports that Canada Heritage (a government agency?) wants to impose a blanket fee on internet usage, on the basis that everything is copyrighted by someone, and copyright holders should be paid for their material.  As Cory says, this might make some sense if it gave fee payers licence to substantially use copyrighted material in some way, but it doesn't. 
For more on the subject, see Cory's summary and discussion - he's far more knowledgable about such matters.

25 November, 2004

Browser share

Just thought some might be interested to know that of those visitors arriving from BlogExplosion, 51.61% use IE, 46.08% use Mozilla, 1.38% use Netscape and 0.92% use AOL (I'm surprised any use AOL, but that's a different matter).

Go Firefox ;)

24 November, 2004

Literally fantastic

Just spreading the word about something Neil has already commented on.
A article about Firefox driving Internet Explorer's market share below 90% (in the overall market - in tech sectors Firefox is doing even better) quotes Gary Schare, Microsoftís director of product management for Windows:

"I still believe in the end that most users will decide that IE is the best choice when they take into account all the factors that led them to choose IE in the first place."
But they didn't choose IE - it came pre-installed with the operating system.  Many people don't even realise an alternative exists, and believe 'IE' is a synonym for 'the internet'.  In what sense can that be described as informed choice or preference?

22 November, 2004

Are YOU safe?

There was a minor crisis at tech-news website The Register at the weekend, as visitors were exposed to the Bofra worm.  This exploits the well-known 'malformed IFRAME remote buffer overflow vulnerability' (no, I don't really know what that means, either), which affects Internet Explorer running on any version of Windows other than XP SP2 (and remember, due to conflicts with other software, a large number of institutions, including my own employer, have banned staff from installing SP2).
Put simply, if you use IE at all and don't have SP2, you are at constant risk.

22 November, 2004

Firefox UK

Mozilla have released a Brit English edition of Firefox 1.0.
That link was to the Windows version, but there's one for Linux here.  They offer a Mac version too.

NP:  OSI 'Office of Strategic Influence' - one of my favourite albums.

20 November, 2004

Don't blame me

I'm working today, though not from my own office, so I'm online from a computer I've never used before.  It has none of my bookmarks, so I loaded the Ministry for the links page, using IE.  Okay, not great, but it did highlight that something on the website was attempting to set a cookie - I certainly didn't configure the site to do that!

It seems that the Google logo on my site search attempts to collect user data as it loads.  I don't recall giving permission for Google to use my website that way, so will have to investigate further.

15 November, 2004

Knowing no better

Sorry if this sounds like Firefox evangelising; that's an activity I generally find counter-productive.  In the following, I don't mean to emphasise the fact that I like Firefox (though I do), my intention is to (re)state my belief that Internet Explorer is awful.

A posting at Neil's World brought a good anti-IE article to my attention.

14 November, 2004

Simply inadequate

I needed an animated gif editor in a hurry yesterday.  The quickest and cheapest route seemed to be to pick up a copy of .net magazine, featuring Gif Movie Gear 2.52 on the cover disc.

Having placed the cover disc in my PC, it didn't autorun, so looked for the appropriate launch file in Windows Explorer.  There it was: 'ierunner.exe'.  Uh oh.  I could guess (correctly) what that was going to do: launch the html-based disc interface in Internet Explorer.  Once in, I could see immediately that the interface was standard html pages, so I hurriedly shut IE and opened the relevant page in my primary browser, Firefox.  No luck.  The pages have been 'optimised' for IE, so don't display or function properly in a real browser - external stylesheets, javascript files & some images fail to load, and internal links are dead.

10 November, 2004

End of the line?

Reporting today's announcement that AOL are to split into four autonomous divisions, the BBC mentions that:

AOL has seen its number of subscribers shrink in recent years amid fierce competition in a crowded sector.
In 2003 the firm lost 2.2 million internet members, though Time Warner chief executive Richard Parsons said earlier this year that AOL had been 'stabilised'.
I wonder whether this reflects a maturing in general web-literacy.

10 November, 2004


It looks like Lycos Tripod web hosting is in decline, at least in the UK.  I've just received an e-mail from them, congratulating me on the fact that my long-abandoned first ever website (no link - it's a little embarrassing!) received 97 page impressions within the last 30 days, making it one of the most popular of the Tripod community in the UK.

Ah.  97 page impressions per month.  Isn't that sweet?  At the time of writing, the current incarnation of the Ministry receives more than that every two hours, on average.

Maybe Lycos is targeting the Tripod service at entry-level web authors who don't expect many visitors, but if 97 hits is considered noteworthy, it rather suggests Tripod is not the place for anyone wanting to be seen!

9 November, 2004

It's here

Firefox 1.0 is out.  Though millions of us have been using the 'beta' or 'pre-release' versions quite happily for many months, some have been waiting for a 'proper' release.  Well, stop waiting - download it today.

The owners/maintainers of certain non-standards-compliant websites have also used Firefox's pre-release status as a feeble excuse to avoid making their sites usable: "we don't support beta software".  No more.

6 November, 2004

Traffic blip

While I was away last weekend, the blog was quite badly spammed.  Only one domain name evaded MT-Blacklist, but there were 500+ instances.  A nuisance, but at least it gave a little insight into Google response times.

15 October, 2004

Searching some desktops

The BBC reports the beta release of Google's new Desktop Search utility which, once it has indexed one's hard disk:

... lets people search e-mails in Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express, as well as files in Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and in plain text.  It also searches web pages viewed in Internet Explorer and instant messages in AOL Instant Messenger.
Nothing for me, then.  I don't use any of those packages.  I wonder if Google have heard of Thunderbird, Open Office, Firefox and er, people with no interest in instant messaging.

Okay, it searches plaintext too.  That's something, but hardly an incentive to download a new application.

[07/03/05: See update]

5 October, 2004

Beating up the victim

Worldpay, the e-commerce clearing house for 30,000 web stores, suffered a denial of service attack at the weekend, its second in a year.  As with most DDOSs, virus/trojan authors were able to infect and take control of a huge number of 'zombie' computers, which in turn sent a mass of junk data to the Worldpay servers, overloading them.  The vulnerability is in the 'zombies', not Worldpay, which could do nothing against the volume of traffic.

3 October, 2004

Post case

Just a quick summary of something trivial I'd never been quite sure about, finally answered at Guardian Online: are e-mail addresses case-sensitive?

Each email address has two parts: the 'local' name and the domain name, separated by '@'.
The domain name is never case-sensitive, by definition.
The local name is rarely case-sensitive, though it may be.

However, if one uses an e-mail address as a login name, that may well be case-sensitive.

25 September, 2004

Search results

I've always resisted the introduction of commercial advertising into the Ministry, so with the announcement that the site search feature remotely hosted (for free) by Atomz is soon to become ad-supported, I've re-examined it.
I'm glad I did, as even though I tweaked the coverage in June, I think there'd been an unannounced 'upgrade', and the script was crawling an area I'd thought excluded from the search.  This put the page count over the 494-page cap, so a proportion of the Tull Tour History had been omitted from the database.  Reconfigured, the script went too far the other way, failing to crawl any of the photo pages.  This isn't adequate, and would require a high-maintenance workaround, so a little reluctantly I've switched provider.  Atomz has been pretty good, but I seem to have outgrown the free version of their site search.

23 September, 2004


A conference in Manchester has heard the suggestion that illicit file sharing of music should be legalised but taxed, a surcharge on internet subscription fees being shared among artists whose music is being downloaded.  For a moment, I thought that membership of file sharing networks, and hence specifically those people downloading albums would be taxed, but it seems the proposal is to tax all internet users through their subscriptions to ISPs, irrespective of whether they personally are downloaders (aka freeloaders...).

22 September, 2004

Still opening windows

One item in my html repertoire is the target="_blank" attribute of the <a href> tag.  In short, it opens a clicked link in a new window (though in Firefox, the 'Single Window' extension opens it in a new tab - much better!), leaving the original website in the first window/tab.
This promotes access to content outside a website without encouraging visitors to totally leave the primary site.
I like it, as do my employers ;) and I use it a lot.  Quite a while ago, I republished instructions on how to make this the default link behaviour in Movable Type blog postings.

20 September, 2004

'Igniting the web'

On 12 September, Mozilla launched a campaign to encourage a million people to download the Preview Release of the Firefox browser (i.e. virtually Firefox 1.0) within ten days.

It took 100 hours - the millionth download was logged with six days to spare.

16 September, 2004

Another nail into Internet Explorer?

The BBC reports the emergence of a new virus vector: the way Windows and related programs display .jpg images.  A number of common packages are vulnerable, including MS Outlook, but Internet Explorer is an especial risk, since it's theoretically possible for someone to be infected merely by visiting a web page containing the specially-prepared images.

Those who have already installed Win XP SP2 should be protected, but that's SP2: the one which many organisations (including here at the University) have firmly instructed users not to install, due to compatibility problems.

8 September, 2004

I do recommend Firefox

Respected developer Adam Kalsey set a cat amongst the pigeons (well, maybe just a kitten) on Monday, with a blog post entitled 'Why I don't recommend Firefox':

I think the browser has some way to go before Iíd recommend it to the general population... itís still not okay to the average user.
Wildly summarising (please read the full posting!), his central point seems to be that Firefox is still only suitable for the fully web-literate, and it's too soon to market Firefox to entry-level users who don't even understand the term 'browser' or who only know the internet as 'My Yahoo!'.
That's undeniable, but I'd have to question whether it's relevant.  That class of user isn't going to be interested in changing browser anyway, irrespective of whether Firefox is ready to offer the amount of hand-holding they'd need, yet that's no reason to avoid promoting Firefox at all, particularly to those with a little more technical knowledge.

5 September, 2004

Gmail open to all

Ten days ago, I posted that I had six Gmail invites to give away, and offered them to active bloggers, preferably those willing to link to the Ministry.  It seems that Gmail is indeed embarking on the 'big push' to market saturation: as I've given each invite away, it has been replaced immediately, so I still have six available!

I'll open the offer to everyone reading this, whether active bloggers or just readers: if you'd like a Gmail account, just drop me an email.

Of course, if you do have a blog, a link would still be a pleasant 'thank you' ;)

[Update 07/10/04: For a month, Google replaced each invite as I gave it away, so I had an ongoing pool of six to offer.  However, this replacement process stopped at the weekend, and all remaining invites have been allocated.  I'm sure there'll be more at some point, unless Google start taking direct applications rather than invitation-only sign-ups.]

27 August, 2004

Gmail invitations

It looks as if Google are ready to roll out Gmail a little further, as I suddenly have six invites to give away.  Who wants 'em?

To reduce the flood of replies from total strangers, I'll set a couple of conditions:
You need to have a blog of your own (a link to the Ministry would be nice, but not required!)
You need to have previously posted a comment at the Ministry blog.

So non-bloggers who are just drifting through can forget about it ;)


29 July, 2004

Cross-browser design

Doug Bowman at Stopdesign offers a useful article about CSS-based web design.  I won't go into detail about his central point, that tables-based design is obsolete and to be avoided; the part I want to highlight regards a suggested approach to web design for all browsers.  It begins in the second paragraph after Doug's screenshots of the Microsoft home page, if you'd like to read his full text (as I'd recommend).

7 July, 2004

Insert shoe size to continue

I might as well mention this in case people had missed it: offers "a mechanism to quickly bypass the login of web sites that require compulsory registration and/or the collection of personal/demographic information".  Whenever you encounter a website requiring registration, don't provide your own details, log in with a fake id from Bugmenot.  At the time of writing, they claim to have 'liberated' 10904 sites, and whenever a new one is encountered, the discoverer is encouraged to register with false details and submit the login and password to bugmenot, for the use of future visitors.

4 July, 2004

IE Foxed

Wired gives more information about the security improvements inherent in switching from IE to Firefox.
However, I agree with Neil's slight criticism of the Wired article: 'security through obscurity' is unlikely to be a dominant factor, and slightly detracts from the other, more compelling arguments.

It's good to hear that takeup of Firefox is currently running at about 100,000 downloads per day (which doubled on the day after the US government's CERT issued its advice to totally avoid IE until further notice), and the user base apparently doubles every few months.

1 July, 2004

MSN recommends Firefox

When Microsoft itself advises users to switch away from Internet Explorer in favour of Mozilla Firefox, it's to be hoped people will take the hint.

30 June, 2004

Searching revised

Apologies to those using the 'Search' function at the main MoI site, as the last few updates have been failing to index some pages, as it seems the script has been attempting to index blog posts too.  This is the 379th, there are 194 indexable pages at the main site, and the search database is capped at 492, so 81 pages have been skipped.

That 'Search' facility is now restricted to the Tull Tour History, annotated 'Passion Play', and the blog's image galleries.  Blog entries themselves have their own 'Search' facility anyway, built into MT, so everything is searchable.

It's unfortunate that one no longer covers both, but I don't get the impression that there's significant crossover between users of the two wings of the Ministry.

19 June, 2004

I've got Gmail


Many thanks, Anders!

3 June, 2004

Never do too good a job

A couple of weeks ago, I threw together a mini-site promoting one of the University's courses, and was gratified to be praised for it.
Today the parent department tried to book my services to redesign their entire site, of 150+ static html pages.  It'd take ages....  And no, a database-driven site isn't an option at present; I'd have to hand-code each static page one-by-one.
I hope they'll accept revision of the existing site, perhaps with a fresh page header tacked onto an updated stylesheet, plus extra images scattered amongst the existing pages, rather than a total overhaul and recoding.

2 June, 2004

Web gallery design tip

If your website has a gallery of photographs, some landscape-orientated, some portrait, the positioning of the 'next'/'previous'/'back to index' links matters.

If above the images, the links will tend to appear in exactly the same place on each page.  This means a visitor could hold the mouse cursor over the consistently-located 'next' link and easily browse through the whole gallery.

If below the images, a visitor may need to scroll to find the links, and varying image orientation means they won't automatically line up, so the mouse will need to be repositioned on each page - a tiny inconvenience, but the sort of thing that makes a difference to the browsing experience.

17 May, 2004

Acrimonious -nyms


It might seem I've been ranting about IE recently, but I've just found that it inadequately supports an important HTML tag I've used here rather frequently; some of my postings presumably seem even more confusing than the way they left my head.

14 May, 2004

Regrettably useful

A web page properly written to meet web standards should be rendered flawlessly and near-identically in any modern browser.  Conversely, a poorly-coded page might be displayed oddly in some browsers, if at all.  However, Internet Explorer is a very forgiving browser, able to compensate for sloppy coding which technically shouldn't work, so may display some page elements or even whole pages which other browsers can't.  That's a fault of the page author, not the browser, but having acknowledged that, ascribing blame doesn't solve the problem.

10 May, 2004

Browser switch campaign

There's some new content on the blog's main index page, exclusively for those viewing it in Internet Explorer.  Lucky you.
Not for everyone else, as that'd be preaching to the converted, but I'll explain anyway.

Following the lead of Neil Turner, I'm suggesting that people make the switch away from IE.  I'm not inclined to criticise Micro$oft (ahem, Microsoft) merely because it's fashionable to do so; I genuinely believe IE is an inferior product, in several respects.

10 May, 2004

BBCi debranding

I see the BBC website has dropped the 'i' from its brand name: 'BBCi' has reverted to the rather more meaningful '', which is not only more intuitive but avoids the problem of people trying '', a minor but avoidable source of confusion.  The elimination of a superfluous brand name will presumably streamline links mentioned in broadcasts, too, as presenters will no longer have to refer the audiences to "BBCi at ''" for supplementary information.

29 April, 2004


The HMV website has a marvellous feature on its ordering pages: provide a postcode and house number, and it'll fill in the rest of the address.

It's great to be told that I live at 70 Teston Rd, Wateringbury, Maidstone, Kent, ME18 5BG.  I don't, of course; that's 289 miles (465.1 km) from here, according to Multimap.  The puzzling part is how it derived the house number and postcode wrongly when I'd already provided the correct ones.

Worse than useless.  I wonder how many packages have been lost.

22 April, 2004

A real barrier to spam?

There's an interesting idea in the Guardian, suggesting a way to combat spammers: introduce a charge for sending e-mail.

My immediate reaction was very negative - I'm not prepared to pay an arbitrary financial charge to a government agency or commercial company, and there are both administrative/technical issues and moral ones of social exclusion.

Yet I read on, and found that an elegantly simple solution was proposed: rather than invoke a financial charge, slow down the process of sending an e-mail by forcing the computer to perform an additional calculation, such as generate a digital signature before sending each message.  For individual e-mails, this might manifest as a pause lasting under a second, but when multiplied to the volume of a spammer's mail shot, a million individual pauses would make the exercise far more difficult.

30 March, 2004


In case it's ever needed, there's a mirror of the Google site here.

And I do mean a mirror.

24 March, 2004

Medium or message?

CSS Zen Garden is a project showing the capacity of CSS to radically modify the appearance of a web page without touching the underlying html itself: a standard page is presented, to which a range of css stylesheets (contributed by different designers) can be applied, changing the page layout, colour scheme, behaviour of page elements and embedding graphics files.  As well as a showcase of designers' talents, it's a valuable educational resource; study of the stylesheets imparts a lot about design, coding and best practices.

One of the highest-rated examples has recently been withdrawn from the site, after the stylesheet was copied by a commercial web design agency and used in a client's site, passed off as the agency's own work.  This is obviously despicable, but careful examination of the original designer's Creative Commons licence suggests that the agency wasn't entirely in the wrong.

3 March, 2004

The mind recoils

It seems the value of Google's search results have been somewhat compromised by keywords spamming.  For quite a while, I've been mildly annoyed by the irrelevance of highly-ranked search results, dominated by commercial companies and celebrity directories, but this one sets a new standard of irrelevance.

29 February, 2004

Firefox settling in

Well, I did it.  I'm now using Firefox 0.8 as my primary browser, at least for a trial period.  I have to agree that doubts about the lead developer's personal attitude are a poor reason to avoid trying the browser at all, though I'm still concerned that similarly draconian measures might be built into the browser itself at a later date, which I definitely wouldn't support: technology needs to be inclusive, and that means including IE users, too.

18 February, 2004

You WILL use Firefox, or else...

I'm considering installing Firefox 0.8 as a second browser on my home PC (I use IE6 ordinarily).  Or I was, anyway.
Doing a little casual research, I found that Ben Goodger (one of the lead developers of Firefox) has reconfigured his blog to block access to anyone using IE; such users are redirected to a page encouraging them to upgrade.

3 February, 2004

Web address bigifier

It's not a new concept to convert large, typically automatically-generated, URLs into shorter versions readily cut-and-pasted into e-mails; indeed, there's TinyURL.

Now there's HugeURL, too, for those occasions when one just has to have a 1,700-character, fully functional URL.

1 February, 2004

Who feeds who?

This is a useful resource for planning search engine submissions, highlighting the incestuous heirarchy of search engines: which are top-priority for optimisation and direct submission, and which will receive results from others, making direct submission unnecessary.

It's probably worth mentioning that the chart reflects the US situation; a UK or European diagram would be a little different.

8 January, 2004

Google Search tips

As The Guardian notes, few people exploit the full power of Google searching, so a few tips are worth repeating.  See the original article for elaboration.

6 January, 2004

Here comes the flood...

The blog received its first comments spam this morning.  Three comments on the same entry, pleasant but generic ("Hi.", "Nice site", etc.), all from the same IP address, but from three different anonymous e-mail addresses (yahoo!, msn, etc.) and citing three different commercial URLs.
Presumably I was expected to leave the URLs on the page, for search engines to register on their next trawl, thereby logging and boosting the link popularity of those sites.  That's not going to happen; the comments are gone.

I'll have to monitor things for now; at present I can catch everything within a few hours of it being posted, but if I become a permanent target for comments spam or the volume increases, I'll need to install a filter.

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