The journal of Paul M. Watson.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

People who don't want to know us

"There go the Spicer Willcoxes, Mamma!" a daughter exclaims to her mother. "I'm told they are dying to know us. Hadn't we better call?"
"Certainly not, dear," replies the mother. "If they're dying to know us, they're not worth knowing. The only people worth our knowing are the people who don't want to know us!"

from Satus Anxiety by Alain de Botton

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Punte, Gim, punte!

Good Natured Rivalry by Paul Watson Had a lovely day today with Carine out in Paarl. Picnicked under the Taal Monument and then went down into the town to watch the anual Rugby derby between Paarl Gim and Paarl Boys High.

These were two teams that struck fear into my second-team Rugby playing heart back in school as they were bigger, faster and a boat-load meaner. After a game against even their second-team you knew that you would need a few days recovery.

Paarl Gim kept the trophy this year with a commanding win of 22 - 10.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Internet Explorer 7 Beta 1

Internet Explorer 7 Beta 1 by Paul Watson

The IE7 Beta 1 is out (for MSDN subscribers only though your local bittorrent site will have it too).

I can't say it is very pretty. I know it is a beta but IE7 needs all the support it can get.

Feature wise it now has tabs, supports RSS and has a search box (Google, MSN, etc.) So pretty-much catch-up with every other browser out there. Apparently CSS support is improved. The sites I have visited with it seem fine, no rendering problems. It is pretty fast too, faster than FireFox from just my initial testing.

The tabs are done quite differently. The URL bar sits above the tabs while the normal window menu (File, Edit etc.) sits inside each tab. It is a nice idea. What I don't like though is that the toolbars are no longer adjustable. One thing I loved about Internet Explorer 6 over FireFox was that you could really maximise page real-estate by shifting all the toolbars up and next to one another. Now in IE7 you have a big whack of toolbar space up-top and there is not much you can do about it. The dark-grey makes the black text of inactive tabs hard to read too.

The RSS support is nicely done too. If you click an RSS feed it displays it in a formatted style along with some helper text. All very FeedBurner like.

There is also some extra security in the form of an anti-pishing feature and pop-up blocking.

All-in-all this is a catch-up release. Good to see MS updating Internet Explorer but I hope the final release has more than this or FireFox, Safari and the rest will have nothing to worry about.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Windows Schwarzenegger

Windows Schwarzenegger by Paul Watson

Factoid: Blood

19,302km

The average distance that your blood travels through your body during the course of a single day.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Far off


Far off, someone was practising piano. It sounded like tripping down an up escalator.

From A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Tsunami

Tsunami by Mahks
Tsunami
Originally uploaded by Mahks.

Rainy Days [Bus]

Rainy Days [Bus] by slight clutter
Rainy Days [Bus]
Originally uploaded by slight clutter.

curls


curls
Originally uploaded by fubuki.

The Skyscraper Of Self


The Skyscraper Of Self
Originally uploaded by drp.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Fancy windows

Quicktime window

This is just a quick gripe about fancy application windows.

You know the type; iTunes, QuickTime, Windows Media Player 10 and so on. They reinvent the wheel to look cool, and cool they do look. But cool they do not play. The QuickTime window shortcomings in particular were recently highlighted when I tried to play a Ruby on Rails video which in native format was taller than the resolution of my wide-screen. The player bar sat somewhere below the edge of my screen, completely unusable. Normally this is easy to fix as you then just grab the top-right handle of the window and drag it smaller. Only there is no top-right, top-left or bottom-left grab-handle on the QuickTime window. The only grab-handle is on the bottom-right which as you have so rightly guessed is off the screen. In QuickTime 6 I then had to visit the View menu and click Half Size before I could do any resizing. QuickTime 7 Preview for Windows goes a small way towards rectifying this in that double-clicking the title-bar fits the player to your screen-size.

The point though is that the window does not function like other windows on my desktop. Bloody annoying.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Harry the milk-man

6.9 million sales in 24 hours. $100 million in opening sales. 1.5 million pre-orders. Hordes of fans queuing for hours outside. Children commando rolling under security gates as they were inched open at midnight.

Sounds like a movie premier but of course in this week I can only be talking about Harry Potter.

Even I joined the mania, though at the more leisurely pace of picking it up for my girlfriend the next day while buying toilet-rolls and some milk.

I am glad a book is generating such sales. I am glad millions of children and adults alike are pouring over printed rather than Jolie-pouted words. I am glad a publishing house, an author, many bookstores and everyone else in the book industry is getting fat on Potter cream. No doubt more than a few Potter readers have branched out to other books they may never have read but for Rowling's literary train. No doubt a few have discovered the joy of reading.

But to be fair it is a mania. This is social pressure at work. I will wager my book collection that a good percentage of Potter readers do so because their friends do so. Who does die in The Half Blood Prince? If you are 10 and you don't know that then you can kiss your peer standing goodbye. What do you mean your kid doesn't have a student-wizard hat? Poor sod, he is going to have a lonely lunch break from now on.

Still, there are worse books to be riding a mania. That Dan Brown crap for one. At least Harry has a good, basic message to it. But there are better books. The Narnia series for instance, or one that might make a come-back thanks to the Depp movie; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I doubt it though. J.K. Rowling and her entourage have become expert milk-maids, the farm of young minds is lining up at the milk-shed begging to be fondled.

Friday, July 15, 2005

ROaR

Ruby on Rails Read and follow Rolling with Ruby on Rails, then do Part 2 and go on to Ajax on Rails. Then come back and tell me you are not the slighest bit impressed and interested.

I have just spent the past two days pouring over this brush-fire technology and I am very impressed and very interested. Every bit of Ruby on Rails shows that it was made by web-developers wanting to solve everyday problems. By developers who want to cut through the repetitive and time consuming bits and leave you time for the important part; What your app does.

If you have any programming know-how then you will pick it up very quickly. Even for someone like me who has been developing excusively on Windows this Ruby stuff is straightforward and refreshing. So don't be put off by the open-source and LAMP conotations. Just give it a go.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Group fun

I am a big fan and user of Flickr, the photo sharing service. I have uploaded over 2014 photos to Flickr, have 715 contacts and my photostream has been viewed 77,342 times. I participate in a number of groups and leave countless comments everyday. I have made many friends, viewed many incredible photographs and learnt a lot thanks to Flickr.

However all is not perfect. One problem I have with the Flickr community are Group invites. There are countless Groups and it is quite a big thing to have an active, growing Group base. The most popular members on Flickr are admins of more Groups than I can count, where they get the time I don't know.

Now a lot of these admins administer their Groups well. They do it politely, quietly and with respect. If they invite you and you say no thanks then they don't invite you again.

But there are many who don't do that. I just got invited to a Spanish Group, a group dedicated to an area in Spain I have never heard of, never mind taken a photo there. The Group rules even state that all comments and Photo Pool submissions must only be of that area.

The admin obviously went into his contact list, selected everyone and invited them. They will probably do it again tomorrow, and the next day and the next until we all give up saying No Thanks and join.

Now as I mentioned I have 715 contacts on Flickr. I get 5 or so new ones everyday. And every single day I get about 15 Group invites. I am finding I am saying No Thanks to 90% of them as they have very little relevance to my photographs, where I am from or who I am.

Half of those invites are repeat invites, Groups I said No Thanks to just yesterday.

A "Ignore Invite from Group XYZ" would be a handy feature for Flickr. Leaving invites unanswered does prevent repeat invites but then you end up with a huge list of ignored invites and that is not a solution.

What I really hope for though are Group admins who go through even a part of your photostream, select a relevant photo and then base their invite on it. e.g.
"Hi Paul,
I have started the Ulcers Are Us group and I noticed your photo of an ulcer medicine bottle. Would you be so kind as to join and add the photo?
Thanks, Bleedin Ulcer."


Every admin who has done an invite like that has been successful with me. Ones who leave a comment on a photo of mine with a link to a Group are welcome too.

So there you go. My too-perfect friend Flickr does have its irritating side.

Silvermine hike

Tips

Carine, Sibylle and I went on a fantastic hike yesterday to the Silvermine National Park just outside of Cape Town. I have often driven past and even visited the reservoir inside the park but this was the first time I had gone on one of the trails.

If you know the area but haven't really thought about it, like me, then you don't realise that a short hike up the west side of Silvermine takes you to viewpoints overlooking Noordhoek, Chapman's Peak and Hout Bay. It is quite literally a breathtaking view. You are high up above the usual roads and homes, a view from one side to the other of the most beautiful kind.

If you have the time then get to Silvermine and do the easy 3 hour hike up to the East Fort or Chapman's Peak points. You won't regret it.

RSS Digest

More and more I have been wanting to start drawing together all my disparate information services, presenting them in an easily digested page. For now this Blogger.com blog will do and the sidebar will have to do double duty.

One of the services I use a lot is del.icio.us, often adding 10 links a day to it. It provides a view of what I browsed, read and was interested in on that day. I then wanted to present a list of the last 5 links added to the sidebar of this blog.

For this RSS Digest comes to the rescue. It is a dead simple to use but quite powerful service which takes in an RSS feed, lets you customise a few options and then spits out a JS script that you can include in your Blogger template. You can see the results of it on the right-hand side.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

A pint of SMS

Getting a beer down at the local today was almost as bad a nightmare as the game of Rugby playing out on the big-screen. Four waiters and just two barmen for four rooms of at least a 100 people each just doesn't work. Order anything more complicated than "1 pint love!" and you might get it by the start of the second-half.

As I sat with the need for alcoholic oblivion growing I fiddled with my cellphone, anything to avoid watching the spectacle on screen. It struck me then that a single SMS with my order to a handily displayed number in the pub would solve a lot of problems. Just include the table number, what you want and it could get slotted into the order queue without any problems.

Just a thought. And then I went home to drown my sorrows. Bloody Rugby. Bloody Aussies. Bloody barman.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Completely Varnished, aka Curriculum Vitae

I just had to dredge up long forgotten C.V. writing skills and create a short but "hired yesterday!" document. The last time I did this was 7 years ago when going for an interview with Bluegrass Technologies. In those days the document was long on personal and educational information and short on experience. In this latest incarnation there are a few lines of personal info and zero educational information; I doubt "high school and a 4 month COBOL course" is worth even one sentence.

Having recruited many developers in my years at Bluegrass I have seen everything, from the sublime to the ridiculous. The ridiculous normally hit novel length and can be used as hot-air balloons while the sublime had you arranging a meeting by the end of the first page, the first page of just two. Short was always better. Head of the Chess club back at school? I really did not want to know, at least not until a few months later and you had invited me over for a braai around the pool after a hard week at work.

So having to write one again was strange. I put in what I would want to know were I the hiree and then sat there staring at the 3/3 glyph at the bottom of Word. 3 pages, is that what 8 years of work amounts to? Surely they want to know something about my exploits at school. How about my antique Peruvian stamp collection? My girlfriend is beautiful too and can play the harpsichord, I must mention her.

No, no and no!, I yelled. New email, attach, send. Done, finished, klaar.

Managing your media library

Media Man

You have a leaning tower of Pisa inspired stack of CDs, a T.V. shrouding collection of DVDs and your book shelf is propped up with extra nails as the wood bows beneath the accumulated years of words. The other half of your collection is spread amongst a dozen friends and family, much of it never to be seen or heard of again. When you visit your mate Ronny he proudly displays his first edition Catcher in the Rye which you swear blind you lent to him last year, only you aren't that sure because you have twelve copies of the book. When your mother-in-law asks if you have the b-sides of Prodigy, her mid-life crisis you understand, you mumble and scratch your head hoping to remember.

You need more than scribblings on a bit of paper stuck between two books to keep track of all this. You need a media manager, a legible, easily updateable system that will show just how many U-Hauls you will need for your CDs when you move house.

There are many of these applications out there but instead of doing an objective review of all I'd like to point out one that is working well for me; MediaMan.

Its biggest feature is its simplicity. Load it up and you can quickly start adding books, CDs, DVDs, games, software and VHS cassettes. The key is its integration with Amazon.com. You enter in a keyword or the ISBN of the item you are adding and it gives Amazon a call, retrieves all the details for you and adds it to your collection. That means you don't end up transcribing hundreds of titles, authors, bands, publish dates and track names. If you have a barcode scanner or even a webcam you don't even need to type as it will scan the barcode, hook up with Amazon and bob is your uncle, a recorded library.

I also rather like the presentation. You can go with a dull list or you can view a virtual shelf showing the item's cover sitting alongside other items.

Really, it just works. It is also free.

(Thanks to my mate Brian for twigging me onto MediaMan.)

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Lean into it



Back from Namibia I am. What a beautiful, stark and incredible country is between those borders. Real desert, the Namib, simplicty hiding complex life. Horizon stretching depths of the Fish River Canyon. Towns beset on all sides by sand and sea, forests of aloe reaching for the sky. Dirt roads bringing horizons together, winding through rarefied passes.



I have many photographs to go through, but here are a few to start.