January 2008 in the Life of Ben (Blog)

  1. January
  2. February
  3. March
  4. April
  5. May
  6. June
  7. July
  8. August
  9. September
  10. October
  11. November
  12. December

IE7 aka Nostalgic Instability Update (31st January 2008)

If you’ve used Windows for a decade or more, like me, you’ll probably remember when any application could crash at any moment.

You have performed an illegal operation in the early days of Windows 95. Frequent BSODs in the early days of Windows XP. Instability was so common it became part of popular culture. Mainstream stand-up comedians like Jack Dee used Windows’s instability in their sets.

But after a few years, Windows 95 and Windows XP became stable. Some users of Windows have never seen a BSOD.

Well, all that changed with IE7. My parents use IE7. It has taken us back down memory lane. Back to a time when normal people become frustrated and helpless on a daily basis. Once more they must seek out technically adept friends, family members and colleagues.

This is all very nostalgic. It is also a completely unnecessary pain in the arse.

1st Cycle of 2008 (29th January 2008)

Finally, a sunny day with no rainclouds and fairly dry ground! I rode for 1 hour 20 minutes.

Got lost several times, in the sense of having no idea where I was. But returning to a “last known good” position would have been easy at any point. I like venturing into the unknown. Do more of that.

Whilst riding through the woodland, seeing the sunlight rippling through the nearly bare trees, computer stuff gains a different perspective. Whether people say <img> or <img /> seems less important when birdsong is all you can hear, apart from a wild squirrel scampering through the branches of trees with improbable agility a few metres from you.

Accurately Describing Human Intuition in Data Tables (27th January 2008)

As a sighted human being, I can look at a regular table and the header relationships are intuitive. Even in irregular cases, the relationships remain fairly intuitive.

I find expressing these intuitions in words and algorithms challenging. Much more challenging than I expected.

Brightening Up (26th January 2008)

Recently the Sun is getting high enough for sunlight to stream through my bedroom window in the early afternoon. There’s sometimes enough light in the computer room to avoid having the energy-saving lightbulb switched on in there.

It’s actually very cold during the day due to the lack of cloud cover at night. But the sunlight cheers me up.

Mouse Acceleration and Me (25th January 2008)

Mouse acceleration in Windows XP is turned on by default, as is the case in Mac and other modern operating systems. It separates the speed of the pointer on the screen from the speed of the mouse in your hand:

This lets you do pixel-precise work in a graphics program whilst still letting you whizz around the text in a word processor. More commonly, it lets you reach the menu bar quickly with a flick of your wrist, then lets you pick the correct item with slower movements.

In theory, anyway. In practice, it can feel weird and uncomfortable. Mouse acceleration adds a layer of abstraction between the direct way you move your hand and the indirect resulting speed of the pointer.

I’ve always disliked this and always overshot or undershot the targets I tried to move to.

More annoyingly, web browsing often involves fast movements up and left to reach navigation links or the Back button, followed by moving the mouse more slowly back to where it was. The same distance is travelled by the pointer but the mouse travels further each time you move it back. It gradually creeps across the desk, like longshore drift.

Years ago I turned off mouse acceleration in Windows and never looked back.

More recently, I noticed my parents were being very innaccurate with the pointer on the other PC. I turned off the acceleration without telling them. They didn’t mention the mouse feeling different but now seem more accurate with the pointer. This is only anecdotal, of course.

Increased accuracy at very slow speeds with normal behaviour at any other speed makes sense to me. That would keep the pointer predictable whilst being pixel-precise when needed. But that’s not the default and is difficult to make happen. Maybe it’s just me?

What Should IE Do? (23rd January 2008)

Big news in website development:

This is the core of our problem - single content that expects different behavior from different browsers today. Many of you are treating this as if it doesn't exist, while I expect nearly every single web-developer-for-hire in the world has written workaround code at one point or another.

Re: Versioning and html[5] by Chris Wilson.

...including me. A few CSS tweaks sent to IE via Conditional Comments are a necessary evil on roughly half the sites I work on. Plenty of other developers use selector hacks.

I sympathise with how complicated the ecosystem is for IE. Forking CSS among the browsers is much rarer, in my experience.

If I were Microsoft, I would:

  1. Freeze IE’s rendering:
    • On IE7, to fit the new generation of hacked-up websites?
    • On IE6, erasing IE7 differences from history via Automatic Updates?
  2. Spend the next 15 years:
    • Making a perfect CSS implementation.
    • Feeding back into CSSWG to refine CSS2.1.
    • Supplying editors and resources to help move useful CSS3 modules forward.
    • Collaborating with other browser makers to get identical behaviour.
    • Releasing occassional developer previews for wider review.
  3. Once complete, ship this as a new mode in IE, with an opt-in switch such as the HTML5 DOCTYPE.

New releases would be made in the meantime, featuring:

But what would I know...I’m just a “web-developer-for-hire”! :-)

SEO & Spamming (23rd January 2008)

Coming to an inbox near you, some spam I received (twice) today:

Suggestion Re: projectcerbera.com/misc/contact

Dear Website Owner,

If I could increase the amount of relevant traffic to your website by 500% , would you be interested?

[Unethical SEO company] is one the leading Search Engine Marketing firms, consistently bringing our clients excellent organic ranking results. We deliver more TOP RANKINGS than any other company ,and at less than half of what other companies charge, and we can prove it. Using proprietary techniques - some of the industry’s most closely guarded secrets - we can drive relevant, targeted traffic to your site. Our methods are honest, ethical, and above all, highly effective

Here’s what you can expect from [unethical SEO company]:

Find out how Search Engine Marketing can improve the traffic to your website - I would be happy to send you a proposal using the top search phrases for your area of expertise. Please contact me at your convenience so I can help you make more money on the web. If you have any questions, or would like more information, don’t hesitate to email or call me.

With advertising on the internet growing as by a 25% compound annual rate, we really don’t want you to be left behind.

(The typos with punctuation and grammar are original.)

Just in case there was any doubt: all SEO is unethical. Honest content wins in the long term.

Improving on Perfection (19th January 2008)

On the blog of Matthew Paul Thomas ([mpt]), I found the famous quote of what perfection is.

The supplied translation to English:

It seems that perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

He gives a series of reformulations, ending with:

Perfection is not when there’s no more to add, but when there’s no more to remove.

Matthew Paul Thomas.

The original text always seemed riddled with multi-negatives to me. His reformulation retains them, it just phrases them more concisely. But it’s an improvement, for sure.

Maybe my attempts are better:

Optimising Crockery-based Sayings (18th January 2008)

If you say someone is doing something wrong when you also do it:

That’s like the pot calling the kettle black.

You are the pot and you are saying the kettle is black when you are also black. This is out of step with modern culture in 2 important ways.

There is a similar saying without these problems. But it’s rather blunt:

That’s rich coming from you.

I’ve thought up a new saying for this case:

That’s like the sea calling the sky blue.

Swapping “sea” and “sky” produces a tongue-twister, for me. Bonus!

Parents’ 25th Anniversary (15th January 2008)

My parents have been together for 25 years today. Both are ill at the moment, probably the weather.

Here Lie the Remains of Site Surgeon, © 2005–2006 (9th January 2008)

On Site Surgeon, the copyright line at the bottom of the homepage says:

Copyright © 2005–2006 Ben Millard

It is now 2008, proving Site Surgeon cannot survive as a real website. It will become a business card; a summary of what I do and how to hire me.

A few days ago I began moving the articles to Project Cerbera. I’m revising them one by one, which is quite nostalgic. The data tables study might come to Project Cerbera, too.

I hope to own both domains for my whole life. So the redirects will always work.

New Year’s Party (1st January 2008)

Zoe, Sarah, Simon and Racheal (aka Rarch) saw in the New Year with me. I had met Racheal briefly when Zoe and Sarah moved house. We got along well with each other.

Vodka and Coke was my drink for the evening. Alchohol has a loosening effect seemingly without side-effects when taken in moderation with food. Spekaing of food, I ate a Spring Roll to make Chinese another first for 2007.

I successfully avoided phrases like “probably disintegrated irrecoverably”. This helped.

10 Years of Content (1st January 2008)

Some of this website dates back to 1998. That’s a decade of putting content online.

5 Years of Blogging (1st January 2008)

My Blog Archive goes back to January 2003. It’s now January 2008. 2008 - 2003 = 5 years of archived blogging.

Incidentally, the sidebar now lists the past 12 months rather than the current year.

Although nobody reads this, I’m glad I blog.