dScape and BD4D | October 31, 2004

Local business development agency Wired Sussex put on a really good show with their dScape event this week. It’s the second time they’ve run the event and it looks to be going from strength to strength. The venue was decked out even better than last year and the free beer went down a treat.

The Short and Sharp session they had on Thursday was lots of fun and showcased a load of local talent, many who I’d never come across before. However that’s the problem with Brighton. There’s just so many cool digital companies working down here, it’s impossible to know everybody. I was lucky enough to have Ryan from BD4D staying at my place that evening so after the event we went out for a drink with Darren from Littleloud and the multi-talented Paul from StudioTonne

Friday evening saw Brighton’s second BD4D event and the reason why Ryan was down. BD4D was packed and the speakers were very different from the previous day. While the previous days speakers were showing off some great commercial work, the BD4D speakers were much more conceptual and art oriented. All the local faces were there and I had a great time hanging out and chatting with everybody. Sadly the free beer run out a little too early so I finished the off the evening hanging out with Ryan and Josh from LooseConnection at Above Audio on the sea front.

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New Home | October 31, 2004

Some of you may have noticed a few odd little glitches on this site the last couple of days. Internal links going to strange looking URL’s, comments going missing and a broken bookmarks page. Well after my recent spam hassles I finally decided to bite the bullet and swap host.

My old hosts weren’t bad, but they weren’t particularly good either. Tech support was usually pretty fast, but this was soured by two major outages caused or prolonged by poor customer service. My main gripe however was cost. Hosting in the UK does seem to be more expensive that the US but $70 a month for hosting and 6GB bandwidth seemed a bit steep. I asked if they could use HTTP compression to cut down some of the bandwidth usage, but they obviously make their money from charging for extra bandwidth so said no.

So last weekend I finally decided to make the move and started moving my site to a new server. The first step was too install the latest version of Movable Type. I’d expected the move to be fairly simple but the combination of moving servers and upgrading MT caused a few more hassles than I’d expected. With MT installed I first tried simply doing a mySQL dump and then importing it into the new database. This worked surprisingly well, however something weird was going on because a number of the SQL dumps turned out to be incomplete. No matter how many times I tried or what settings I used, the data was always being truncated at the same point.

I decided to use a more manual approach and so started again from scratch inputting settings and templates into MT through the admin section and then using MT’s import/export function for the posts and comments. With all the settings correct and all the data inserted, I set about bug fixing. I believe MT has changed it’s plug-in architecture slightly so most of the bugs involved plug-ins not working. Thankfully many of the plug-ins I use have been re-written to work with MT3.x so I spent a good couple of hours downloading and installing the latest versions.

Things were now mostly working on the new server so I changed the DNS records on Tuesday morning and by Thursday evening the propagation had started to take effect. A couple of comments were lost in the process and I had a few emails from confused people thinking that I’d moderated their comments. There have been a few glitches, mostly involving links, but thanks to the eagle eyes of some of my readers, these have been cleared up pretty quickly. I’m sure there will still be the odd glitch crop up over the next few weeks, so please let me know if you spot any weirdness.

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Bookmark Management, Faceted Classification and Intelligent Agents | October 24, 2004

Tom Coates observations on bookmark management really do mirror my own experiences. All those years ago I started off just adding bookmarks to my favourites folder. The folder grew in size very quickly so I started adding sub folders with names like ‘Favourites’, ‘Web Design’ and ‘Fun’. As I added more and more links, I was forced to add categories ad hoc, and it wasn’t long before sub folders were needed.

How my bookmarks used to look

Eventually I realised this add hoc method of categorisation just wasn’t working so decided to spend a whole weekend re-organising my bookmarks � basically the computer geeks version or reorganising your music collection. This proved to be a huge IA exercise but eventually things started to make a bit more sense.

How my bookmarks currently look

One of the main problems with bookmarks is the classification model they use. Bookmarks are basically organised in a hierarchical structure similar to the classic computer file structure. This is great for small amounts of easily classifiable data, but quickly falls down with large amounts of multifaceted information.

For instance, take this site. Would you put it in a folder marked “blogs”, or possibly a folder marked “web design”? You may even put it in a folder marked “photography” if you were feeling particularly generous. Rather than use a hierarchical structure, things like bookmarks require a faceted classification. That way you can categorise a website by a variety of properties including topic, author, date published etc.

The other main problem is that of synchronisation. I quickly realised that my bookmarks would be useful at work as well as at home, so every now an again I’d export them from my home browser and import them into my work browser. Unfortunately because my home bookmarks form my master copy, every day I’m forced to email home half a dozen links to add to my bookmark list, which isn’t very efficient to say the least. I toyed with the idea of getting a .Mac account which allows you to sync your Safari bookmarks but decided it was a little overkill.

Instead I’ve been thinking about using del.icio.us. If you don’t know what del.icio.us is, it describes itself as a social bookmarks manager. It’s basically an online application that let’s you categorise your bookmarks with keywords and then store them online. Adding bookmarks is done using a favelet and if you don’t like the online GIU there is a simple OS X application called cocoa.licio.us available. If you want to sync your online links with your safari bookmarks you can do so with delicious2safari.

I’ve had a bit of a play with del.icio.us and it seems like a nice, simple idea. Whenever you bookmark a page you type in a list of keywords to describe it. However this means that each time you add a site, you need to think about it’s classification and what meta data you want to add. This really can cause a huge burden and forces people to create their own, ad hoc classifications and essentially their own controlled vocabulary. So while I like the concept behind del.icio.us, even if I did know how to upload my existing Safari bookmarks, I don’t have the time or inclination to go through 2403 links and classify them.

What’s needed is some semi automated classification process. Toms suggestion of using the sites Keyword meta data is an excellent one. Rather than force the user to classify each site they bookmark, you get the author to classify it. Another way to handle this would be to use pre-existing user data. When a user adds a bookmark that is already in the system, they would be given the option to add new keywords or choose from a list of existing keywords being used to describe the site. That way you’d end up organically creating a controlled vocabulary.

When personal computers debuted all those years ago, nobody really knew what they’d be used for. I doubt when the first hierarchical file systems were conceived, their creators had any idea that an average home computer would be able to store 60GB+ of data. Being lumbered with such an inflexible file system, software manufacturers came up with the idea of intelligent agents. Rather than hunt around in the file system to find information, you would use smart programs to sift through the data. An excellent example of a current intelligent agent would be iTunes.

Apple realised that people were likely to have thousands of music files on their system and wouldn’t want to organise them by album/song name alone. So they created iTunes, a basic intelligent agent that allows you to navigate your music library in a variety of ways. You can create simple playlists that you drag and drop items into. However you can also create smart playlists that help organise your music intelligently. For instance, most songs contain a certain amount of meta data like the album they came from, the artist and possibly a genre. iTunes can add it’s own meta data like when it was added to the collection, when it was last played and how many times it’s been played.

Images of my iTunes library and smart playlists

Imagine if you could do the same with your bookmarks. An intelligent bookmarks agent could analyse the keywords and even the content of the page to come up with a variety of classification facets. It would know that a specific page was from a specific site and who the author of that page was. So if you wanted to you could create a list of all the articles by Jefrey Zeldman you’ve bookmarked or all the articles on ALA you like. If this intelligent agent was linked into your browser you could create a “Favorites” bookmark list based on how many times you’ve visited that site in the last 6 months. Link it in with an RSS feed and you could create a list of all the sites updated in the last week. Conversely you could clean out the garbage by creating lists of sites you’ve not visited in over a year or have only visited once. You could even get your smart agent to ping these sites to see if the pages even still exits.

A smart favourites edit page could look very similar to a smart playlist edit page

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The Cost of Spam | October 16, 2004

So I’ve been having a bit of a connectivity nightmare of late. I’ve just moved flats, but the new place doesn’t have cable. As my phone, TV and net access are all through the cable company, this has left me a littlle stuck. I’ve been playing phone tennis with them for the last two weeks and there does seem to be light at the end of the tunnnel. However it’s very diffcult to play phone tennis if you work full time and don’t actuallly have a land line. What’s worse is that I get almost no mobile phone coverage in my house, making life really tricky.

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Shanghai Chestnut Vendor | October 15, 2004

Shanghai Chestnut Seller

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Shanghai Temple Offerings | October 11, 2004

Here are a couple of pics taken at a temple in Shanghai. I've also added a new Shanghai gallery to my Travel Photography Section if you're interested.

incense-burning4.jpg

incense-burning5.jpg

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Ornate Buddhas in a Shanghai Temple | October 9, 2004

Buddhas

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Hong Kong Pictures | October 7, 2004

I really enjoyed my recent trip to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing, taking around 12 rolls of film (mostly Fuji Velvia ) on the 2 week trip. Using film can be pretty expensive and this trip cost me over 150 in film stock and processing alone. Quite a few people have said this would be an excellent reason to go digital, however I really love the clarity and colour saturation you get from transparencies.

I wanted to get the photos up as soon as possible, along with a trip report. However it took a week for the slides to get developed (another plus for digital) and I've just moved flats which put a bit of a spanner in the works. However I was up till 2am last night bashing the first set of images and have uploaded some of the best to my photo gallary. I've also added some of the ones that didn't quite make it here and hope you enjoy them.

While I was very happy with the pics, I was less than happy how they scanned. I've got quite a cheap scanner and It's just not done the images justice. I've tweaked the curves to get them as close in colour and saturation as possible, but they have lost a degree of detail in the shadows and there seem to be quite a bit of noise. Apart from tweaking the curves to repair the dodgy scanning, I've not done any other manipulation to these images.

Flowers in the flower market.

The peak tram.

The view from Victoria Peak

Hong Kong skyline at night.

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The G5 iMac | October 4, 2004

G5 iMac

When the G5 iMac was launched I have to admit that I was less than impessed. While the specs were great, I just wasn't taken by the design. To me the G4 iMac was revolutionary. It's a beautiful piece of equipment that looks great in any home. In fact It's probably the nicest looking thing I own and still gets people talking when they come round to visit. By comparison then G5 iMac looked fairly plain and awkwardly proportioned.

One thing I love about the G4 iMac is it's ergonomic design and the fact that you can move the screen into pretty much any position you want. Apparently Apple did some research and found that people never really adjusted the height of the screen, so I guess that I must be one of the odd ones out. I share my iMac with my girlfriend and while I like to have the screen up at eye level, she usually has it lower and tilted up (I find this gives me neck ache). Also we'd occasionally watch a DVD on the iMac in which case we'd lower the screen completely so it was closer to our sitting height. This was one of the coolest features of the G4 iMac and one reason why the G5 felt like a step back.

However I thought it was best to reserve final judgement till I saw one in person. When the iPod mini was launched I also wasn't impressed by the design. The images on the apple store made them look a little cheap and garish, yet in real life they were actually pretty cool. So despite moving flats over the weekend (remind me not to buy any more stuff), I took half an hour out to check out the new iMac at my local Mac dealer.

My first impressions were a lot more positive than I'd expected. While the images on the Apple site make the G5 look a little dull and lacklustre, in reality they have quite a nice finish. The large space at the bottom of the screen looks much more prominent on the images than in real life, so the G5 iMac doesn't look as out of proportions as I was expecting. So while not as attractive as the G4 iMac, the G5 isn't as ugly as I thought it was going to be and could possibly even grow on me.

The machine was easy to swivel on it's base and the tilt range was pretty good, just no where near as nice as the G4 iMac. The pics made the stand look a little unstable which was confirmed by "bump testing" the table at the shop. I could quite easily see the whole thing coming crashing to the ground if you accidentally knock the table it's on a little too hard. I had a play with Photoshop, running through some actions. I have to admit that I'd expected blisteringly fast results, so as a little disappointed as the speed. However this could have been a memory thing (256MB is far to little memory for even a consumer computer these days). They didn't have Halo installed but Nanosaur 2 ran pretty smoothly. Just a shame you can't change the graphics card yourself or even get a better one as a built-to-order option. As such while the G5 iMac will be fine for the current slew of Mac games, It probably won't do so well with the next generation of games.

So on the whole I was pleasantly surprised. While I love my ageing G4 iMac, it just doesn't have the power or storage I need, so I think upgrading to a new G5 may be on the cards. You do get quite a bit of bang for your buck, but it's still gonna set me back over 1,500 for the 20-inch model with a bit of extra RAM, WiFi, Bluetooth and a wireless keyboard. That's quite a lot to spend on a home computer, especially as my G4 is only a few years old. I guess I better start saving.

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