The Big Server-side Programming Language Smackdown | January 31, 2005

Maybe you’re a die hard PHP programmer, or possibly a Python fanatic? Perhaps you’re a newly converted Ruby fan or you may even use all three. What server-side programming language do you think is the “best” and why?

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Sit Doggy, Good Boy | January 31, 2005

Pictures of my girlfriends toy dog. Isn't he cute!

Pictures of my girlfriends toy dog

Pictures of my girlfriends toy dog

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MovableType Comment Vulnerability | January 26, 2005

Apparently a large vulnerability in the way Movable-Type handles comments has just been found. This vulnerability allows spammers to use your MT comment script to send unsolicited email, and servers all over the world are feeling the brunt. To stem the flow many hosts (including my own) have shut down commenting for the time being. There is a patch available in the form of an MT Plugin, so I advise all you MT owners out there to grab it now.

Unfortunately most people are slow to upgrade and I’m guessing my hosts won’t be turning comments back on in a hurry. As such, I’m wondering if this could be the tipping point that causes a mass defection to other systems such as Textpattern, Wordpress or Expression Engine. I know I’ve been thinking of changing systems for a while so this may be the push I need.

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Site Maps | January 26, 2005

Personally I like the idea of site maps, especially for larger sites that burry important information like contact details so deep in their site hierarchies that you need a miners lamp to find it. From a website accessibility standpoint the Web Accessibility Initiative recommends that sites…

“Provide clear and consistent navigation mechanisms — orientation information, navigation bars, a site map, etc. — to increase the likelihood that a person will find what they are looking for at a site.”

Guideline 13 of WCAG1.0

A good site map helps give you an overview of the site structure and allows you a quick way of navigating to the content you’re after. Site maps aren’t used by many people, but they provide an important navigational contingency when the sites regular navigation has failed users. As such, site maps need to be as clear and concise as possible and “clever” graphical site maps are a definite no-no.

There is a temptation to put every page on the site on a site map. This may be fine if the site isn’t too big, but can lead to very complicated site maps on larger sites. A good site map needs to be large enough to give people an overview of what is in each section and subsection, without bombarding the user with too much information. Depending on the size and scope of your site, two to three level of hierarchy, on a page no longer than a couple of “screens” worth of info.

What’s your personal take on site maps? Do you love them or do you think they are pointless? What are the best sitemaps you’ve ever seen and what are the worst.

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Show Non PR Links Bookmarklet | January 21, 2005

After a brief discussion on a local mailing list this morning, I created a simple bookmarklet that will highlight links using Googles new rel="nofollow" comment spam prevention method.

Show Non PR Links

To install this bookmarklet, simply drag the link to your bookmarks/favourites bar. It’s been tested on Safari, Firefox and IE6 but should work on any modern browsers that support the DOM. If you want to test it out now, click on the bookmarklet and this link should highlight.

If you’re interested in how this bookmarklet was created, it’s very simple.

// grab all the links on the page
var links = document.getElementsByTagName('a');
// loop through all the links
for (i=0; i < links.length; i++){
  //check to see if the rel attribute is set to nofollow
  var theLink = links[i];
  if(theLink.getAttribute('rel') == 'nofollow'){
    // set the desired styles
    theLink.style.backgroundColor = 'red';
    theLink.style.color = 'white';
    theLink.style.fontWeight =  'bold';
    theLink.style.textDecoration = 'none';
  }
}

This code was then pasted into the Bookmarklet Crunchinator and spat out as a loverly bookmarklet.

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Google's Comment Spam Prevention Method | January 21, 2005

As I’m sure most of you are aware, Google have introduced a means of preventing comment spammers getting any search ranking benefit from your site. Google works by assigning every page in it’s index a value known as a Page Rank (after co-founder Larry Page). Page Rank (or PR) is essentially a measure of a sites popularity and is worked out based on the PR of the other sites linking to that site. Because blogs tend to have lots of incoming links, they often attract a high PR and are a prime target for unscrupulous site owners intent on increasing their own sites visibility. By adding comments on high PR sites with links back to their own site, they hope to give the target site a PR boost.

To counter this Google are making use of the rel attribute. By adding rel="nofollow" to your outbound links you’re telling Google not to count your vote towards the sites final PR. Most of the better known blog publishing organisations have already released plugins for their applications to automatically add this attribute to sites left in comments., and more will follow.

Site owners hope this will go some way to help prevent comment spam. It seems logical to assume that if the benefits are taken away, people will stop, and for casual comment spammers it probably will. However the vast amount of comment spam–like regular spam–is automated so it’s possible that as effectiveness decreases the amount of automated comment spam may actually increase.

As well as stopping spammers, it gives the site owners more control over who benefits from a link on their site. On several occasions I’ve had designs stolen and I’ve reluctantly posted links to the perpetrators knowing that the link would give them a PR boost. Now site owners have the ability to link to whoever they want without giving that site a PR boost.

On the surface this seems like a good idea. However I wonder if people will go overboard. Not wanting to give away their precious PR, many site owners may mistakenly start applying this attribute to all their links. I say mistakenly because outgoing links are also beneficial to your own PR in a roundabout way. Alternatively some people may still link normally to high PR sites but try to minimise PR leaching by applying this attribute to low PR sites. I’m sure some clever SEO’s are already thinking of ways to use this attribute to maximise a sites PR.

The other concern is that people will start selectively using this attribute depending on their feelings for a site. Rather than all links being created equal, some will be more important than others. You could probably forgive web developers for using this attribute when linking to Microsoft but how would you feel if the next time somebody linked to your blog they used this attribute because they didn’t like something you said in recent post? I could see things getting messy fast and this anti spam method could have far wider implications.

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How to Build a Professional Database-Driven Website | January 20, 2005

If you didn’t catch the side bar link a few months ago, Ryan Carson of BD4D has put together an excellent one day workshop entitled How to Build a Professional Database-Driven Website. The workshop will be given by Mike Buzzard (K10K, Cuban Council, Newstoday) and Chris Lea (Newstoday, Media Temple) and is shaping up the be the UK’s answer to The Building of Basecamp.

A one-day practical workshop that will give you everything you need to build a powerful enterprise-level, database-driven website - focusing on PHP, Apache and MySQL. Find out how to plan the project, design the database, structure the code, develop and test the site, deploy it effectively, promote it professionally and maintain it efficiently.

If you’re a UK based web developer, this workshop is definitely worth checking out.

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Backup Solutions for OS X | January 19, 2005

At Message we’ve always been very diligent with our backups. We run Retrospect Backup on our server every night. Originally backing up to CD, we now backup to one of two external hard drives which we alternate daily. This means that if one drive fails we only ever lose a days work.

Unfortunately my home backup up routine is far more sporadic, involving burning key files to disk every few months when I remember. This is really bad and I definitely need to implement some kind of cheap and easy home backup solution. Any solution would need to be automatic as I’d forget otherwise. As well as restoring individual files, it would also need to provide me with an easy way of restoring all my files, prefs etc. in the event of a complete system failure.

So I’d be interested to know what backup systems you use for your home or small business, and what backup solutions you’d recommend.

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Using a Sony Ericsson K700i Mobile Phone to Remote Control Your Mac (OS X 10.3.5) | January 17, 2005

I’m doing a SkillSwap presentation on Thursday and wanted to use my mobile phone as a bluetooth remote control. I was planning on grabbing a copy of Salling Clicker but it turns out that OS 10.3.5 already has a simple remote control facility built in.

When paring your K700i mobile phone using the Bluetooth Setup Assistant in OX 10.3.5 or higher, you’ll notice an option entitled “Use phone as a remote control for this computer”. If you select this option your phone should pop up a message asking if you want to “Start Remote Control Now”. You can either click yes now and it will take you to the remote control display on your phone, or you can navigate there via the Bluetooth option in your connectivity menu.

Initially there are 3 controllers, Desktop, MediaPlayer and Presenter. As I’m using S5 for my presentation the Desktop controller is perfect. However you can also download Salling Remote Basic for free and this allows you to install controllers for iTunes, EyeTV, DVD Player, VLC, PowerPoint, and Keynote. The remotes are quite nice as they show a visual representation of the keyboard on screen and highlight what each key does. Apparently the GUI is called a HID or “Human Interface Device” and is made up of an image and an XML like file. They give you access to all the basic features and are great if you just want a simple remote control.

However I thought I’d give Salling Clicker a go by way of comparison. The current version of Clicker doesn’t support the K700i, however there is a beta version that does. Installing clicker is a two part process, first installing the preference pane on your Mac and then installing the app on your phone. The preference pane was a little counterintuitive at first but made sense once I’d read this article at MacDevCenter. It probably would have made more sense if I’d RTFM but I’m notoriously lazy when it comes to manual reading.

I had expected Clickers remote option to also use HID concept. Unfortunatly the GUI (if you can even call it that) was a lot more basic. Entering the iTunes remote a quick note flashes up saying “use # for more info” before the song details start to display. Pressing # brings up a very hard to read “menu” outlining what the various keys do. Unlike the graphical HID, I guess you’re expected just to remember the what each key does. The Clicker iTunes controller has lots more features than the free controller, allowing you to browse by artist and playlist, add a rating etc. Also–unlike the free remote–it allows you to operate iTunes even if it’s not the active application. However for these benefits you’ve got to suffer a fairly clunky navigation system.

The real selling point for me are Clickers proximity events which let you set an AppleScript to execute when you leave or return from the computer, get a phone call etc. This is a really nice feature that allows you to do things like pause iTunes and set your iChat status when you leave the room, automatically sync your phone and keep your address book connected.

Because Clicker works by essentially allowing you to define various AppleScripts to execute it’s much more flexible than the free remotes. Unfortunatly the lack of a HID makes using the free remotes a lot more pleasant. If you want to be able to execute specific AppleScripts or take advantage of the proximity events then Clicker is great. If however you just want to operate iTunes from the living room or remotely operate a presentation using your phone, the free scripts are more than up to the job.

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Top 5 Purchases of 2004 | January 17, 2005

I’m not a very materialistic person, spending most of my savings on holidays and adventures rather than the latest gadgets and gizmos. However this year I seem to have bought an unusual amount of stuff. At least that’s what my bank balance was telling me at the end of the year. Here are my top 5 favourite purchases of this year. Why not worship at the alter of consumerism with me and share your best buys of 2004 and what you’re looking forward to getting your hands on in 2005.

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New York Travel Tips | January 13, 2005

After SXSW I’ll be stopping over in New York for a few days. Amazingly I’ve never been to NYC before so I’d love to hear your top tips for the city. Also if anybody can recommend a good, reasonably priced hotel I’d appreciate it.

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SXSW Interactive and @media 2005 | January 12, 2005

As some of you may already know, I’ve been asked to speak at South by South West this year. I’m really excited as this will be my first big speaking engagement, although I’m a little nervous about being on the same bill as so many talented and experienced speakers. The talk will be a joint presentation between myself and Jeremy Keith and the title of the session will be “How to bluff your way in CSS”. If you’re interested in learning more, here’s some blurb about the session.

“Don’t know your id’s from your class selectors? Feel left out at parties when the talk turns to CSS? Then this is the session for you. Andy Budd and Jeremy Keith will walk you through the basics of CSS, demystifying the jargon and clarifying commonly held misconceptions along the way. After just 60 short minutes this presentation will have you talking like a CSS expert.”

As well as an excellent line up of talks and presentations I’m really looking forward to meeting all those people who’s blogs I’ve been reading over the last few years. As such I’ve a feeling there will be a lot of socializing and few early nights.

There already seems to be quite a large UK contingent booked to go out, including the likes of Jeremy Keith, Dunstan Orchard and Richard Rutter. However it would be great get even more UK web developers to attend, so if you are planning on going, get booking before it’s too late.

If you can’t make it all the way over to the states for SXSW, then @media 2005 should be well worth attending. The line up looks great and includes the likes of Jeffrey Zeldman, Douglas Bowman and Joe Clark to name but a few. It also includes more home grown talent including Andy Clarke, Jeremy Keith, Ian Lloyd , Patrick Griffiths and myself.

I’ll be presenting a session on the first day entitled Making the Jump to Tableless Design. Here is the blurb about that session.

“You’ve seen the benefits of ‘Web Standards’ and understand the basics of CSS, but how do you build a whole site using Style Sheets alone? In this session, we will show you a typical table based site and then demonstrate how the same design can be accomplished Table Free. You’ll walk away from this presentation with all the ammunition needed to build your first tableless site.”

I hope you can make it to one of these great events and look forward to seeing you there.

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Most Common Browser Bugs | January 10, 2005

As we all know there are a lot of buggy browsers out there. Some browsers are more buggy than others and some bugs are more prevalent than others. The first CSS bug most people experience is Internet Explorers 5’s box model problems. This bug is so common that many people learn to hack it before they even understand what the box model is.

The second most common bug I experience is the IE Doubled Float-Margin Bug. Once you’ve experienced this bug once it’s a pretty easy one to spot, especially if the margins in question are big. The next most common bug I experience will be familiar to anybody who’s tried to turn a list into a vertical nav bar. I’m not sure of it’s official title, but it’s one that causes gaps to appear in IE5 between the list items. It could be some variant of the IE Three Pixel Text-Jog, the final bug in my “most common” list.

Most of the other bugs I experience are random one off bugs. Some of them are known bugs like the bizarre Duplicate Characters Bug but the majority are ones I never manage to identify.

What are the most common bugs you come across? The ones you’ve had to deal with so many times you know what they are immediately when you see them?

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Top 5 Weblogs of 2004 | January 5, 2005

So apparently nominations have opened for the Fifth Annual Weblog Awards, or Bloggies to their friends. I know this because my RSS feed was inundated today by posts from people asking to be nominated. I did think about doing the same for a second, but if my site couldn’t even get into the shortlist of best blogs in Brighton the chance of being shortlisted for best British or Irish weblog seems slim to non-existent. I have to admit that I don’t actually read the site, but from the hype it’s created (and a forthcoming book no less) I’d be prepared to lay money on Belle de Jour winning that award.

Lots of great new web development blogs have arrived this year, while many old favourites seem to have faded away. Here are my favourite weblogs of 2004. What were yours?

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Top 5 Films of 2004 | January 5, 2005

I found it quite easy coming up with my “Top 5 Films of 2004” list, because there really haven’t been many films that have stood out to me this year. Spiderman 2 was fun, and is possibly the best comic adaptation I’ve seen. I had high hopes form both Hero and House of Flying Daggers but neither lived up to my expectations. While they both looked stunning, the flow and narrative just didn’t capture my interest in the same way as Croaching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Even Farennheit 9/11 failed to impress, being far too crude and emotionally manipulating for my liking – The BBC’s The Power of Nightmares documentary doing the same job, much more intelligently.

So here is my top 5 list. What were your favourite movies of 2004?

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100th BlogAid Pledge | January 3, 2005

BlogAid. Support the Asia Relief Efforts.

Since launching BlogAid on New Years eve, the response has been extremely positive and we’re already up to our 100th pledge. However with over 6,000 visits a day to this site alone, I’m sure we can do better. So if you run a blog and would like to pledge your site earnings for January to help the victims of the Asian Earthquake and Tsunami, please head over to BlogAid and register your support now. With people only now starting back to work from their holidays and catching up on their RSS feeds, I’m hopeful we’ll reach the 200 mark even faster.

If your site doesn’t currently carry ads, programs such as Google AdSense and affiliate programs like Amazon Associates are very easy to set up and can be used solely for the duration of BlogAid. Alternatively simply donate a set amount to one of the many charities featured on the BlogAid links page.

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