Monday, 26 February 2007

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Me 2.0

What is it with all these new 'bleeding edge' web technology upstarts churning out useless online services people neither want nor need just to get in on the Web 2.0 'revolution'? Take Tumblr for instance (I wish that was a typo, yawn).

It's pitched expressly towards Webizen X who allegedly has a burning desire to post unblogworthy information, in a blog format. Stuff like disorderly scraps of half-baked ideas and other miscellaneous, incoherent flotsam and jetsam. The urge to verbalise neural hairballs when exhibited by infants or psychiatric patients is known as echolalia. Apparently in the Web 2.0 sphere it's called a 'tumblelog'.

Something else I can't quite wrap my head around is why this theoretically untapped cluster of niche publishers require a separate software solution in order to find their voice. Start a blog, turn off any snazzy features, disable comments, fill it with copious fragments of nothingness, and hey presto, you're Tumbling!

So how do they work in practice? Well the Tumblr FAQ proudly points us in the direction of by way of example. See what they've done there? (again!)

I swear if the likes of Davidville (the inventive chaps responsible for Tumblr) keep this up I'm going to dislodge a spoke or two and re-patent the whl (or should that be whe.el?) just to make them look silly.

...and if you think you've tasted the bottom of the barrel, think again.

Saturday, 24 February 2007

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Subscribe to podcasts without iTunes

Lots of people don't like iTunes and would rather not use it to keep up to date with their favourite podcasts. I'm one of them.

One alternative is to subscribe to RSS podcast feeds using an RSS to email service such as Rmail. You can do this by submitting the feed as you would with any ordinary blog feed. The MP3 files themselves aren't attached to the emails; what you get instead is a description of the episode as it would appear in iTunes, along with a direct link to the MP3 file so you can decide whether or not you wish to download it.

Create a podcasts folder to save your audio in and you have the most lightweight, portable, platform-independent podcatching client available.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007


Energy saving ace in the hole unveiled

The business manager of Hazel Grove High in Stockport, England has shaved £16,000 off his schools' £100,000 per year energy and water bill and slashed its 530 tonne carbon payload in the process.

How was this possible? You'd expect some fairly imaginative and dramatic compromises to be implicated wouldn't you. If you guessed that they've revised the dinnertime menu so as to feature nothing but salad and sandwiches, or ditched the traditional boiler-powered heating system in favour of an exercise-while-you-learn personal heat-generating programme you'd be way off the mark.

The solution - as proposed by an eco-friendly 'hit squad' - was to switch off their 500 computers when they weren't in use i.e. after the kids' home time, at the weekends and during school holidays when not a soul would be on the premises to even consider making a single key press.

Pure genius! If you're in the market for a cushy career change you could do much worse than becoming an energy consultant.

Monday, 12 February 2007

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Ultimate Mac hack: turn your iPod into an MP3 player!

Pin back your ears, this is a Kookclusive! Thanks to Isaac Huang and his new application, iPodDisk, you can now access songs stored on your iPod via OS X's Finder. When plugged in, your iPod appears alongside your other drives and folders through the magic of iDisk drive emulation. The mounted drive can be explored with non-iTunes applications, copied from and used as a launchpad for the playback of MP3 files... just like a real digital music player device.

Readers should note that iPodDisk doesn't enable you to also copy music to your iPod - the emulated drive is essentially read-only. If in future revisions Isaac can somehow manage to wangle his way around this impasse, I can really see this iPod thingy taking off. Call me crazy if you like, but I envision the iPod enjoying a worldwide mainstream adoption and going on to become the world's best-selling range of digital audio players. You read it here first!

Sunday, 11 February 2007

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'Friendly fire' muppet is a hero!

Nearly four years after Lance Corporal Matty Hull was gunned down in a gung-ho fly-by shooting in Iraq, 'POPOV36', the trigger-happy pilot responsible, has been identified as Colonel Gus 'Skeeter' Kohntopp.

Despite evidence of numerous grave errors and the conclusion of a British Army inquiry - "that procedures were not followed" - neither Kohntopp or his still unnamed wingman, 'POPOV35', have been disciplined. On the contrary, Kohntopp has since become a full colonel (at the time of the incident he was a lieutenant colonel), been "awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service as the chief of A-10 mission planning for Operation Iraqi Freedom" and promoted to the esteemed role of 'top gun', the man in charge of training hundreds of fresh-faced US pilots in the fine art of ground attacks.

Kohntopp can be seen proudly posing for the cover of the autumn 2005 edition of Pearls and Rubies, a local Boise magazine. Inside, ironically, he claims that "My best piloting experience has been flying the A10 in Iraqi Freedom. After all the years of training, to go to war and use my experiences to help dispose Saddam from power was the epitome of my career". Clearly putting this minor blip behind him hasn't posed too much of a challenge. The hypocrite goes on to preach: "Honour your values and be true to yourself. You have to live with your actions so make them worthwhile to your loved ones and this great nation".

His best pal and neighbour, Eldon Anderson, goes so far as to call him a hero and accuses the British media of making a fuss about nothing and failing in their duty to show sufficient support for the US-led war on terror.

Meanwhile, in a pitiful damage limitation exercise, PM Tony Blair has said he "deeply regretted" the distress caused to Matty Hull's family by the inquest delay. Apparently the MoD "acted in good faith". That is aside from colluding with the Pentagon in lying about the very existence of the video in the first instance, and then pretending that it couldn't be released to the coroner because it contained highly sensitive classified material, which, if leaked, could pose a serious threat to national security.

All things considered it's a farce worthy of a Blackadder script! No doubt backwater redneck, Eldon Anderson, and his ilk will still need this wholly absurd anti-Americanism thing explained to them.

Thursday, 8 February 2007


Of warm mice and screwdrivers

In winter my extremities (fingers and toes) swell up, itch and ache like hell due to poor circulation. The condition is known as Raynaud's and it's a pain in the posterior. To combat the vasospasms which cause your blood vessels to contract (vasocontriction) and reduce the blood flow, you have to induce the opposite phenomena (vasodilation) by keeping warm. I tend to blast my wrists with the hand dryer in the toilets, or run hot water over them.

You can't spend the whole of winter in the toilets so another solution is needed. That's why I bought the *commence breath-holding, drum roll* Thanko USB Warmer Mouse II. It may seem like an odd strategy considering it will only defrost one hand at a time, but it actually makes sense because the wrist you're putting pressure on by using a mouse all day long is going to be the point at which blood flow constriction is at its most severe.

So, the mouse arrived from Hong Kong, worked pretty well-ish for a few hours and then all of a sudden the cursor movement became highly erratic. The very nice, helpful Brando people promised to send me a replacement, and in the meantime I decided I'd dissect the ebbing rodent to see what makes it tick. Despite me using a screwdriver to open it up, I didn't unscrew any screws with it. There aren't any on the external housing so the mouse has to be broken open by force to see what's inside.

With the top part of the shell removed you can see that the heating element consists of a thin fibrous mat with a copper strip attached at either side. This is segregated to prevent damage to the circuitry under the second layer of the shell.

Each strip is connected to the innards of the mouse by a single red wire. I'm probably asking too much for such a cheap device, but I expected to find some sort of oil-filled miniature radiator under the hood so was underwhelmed by this scrap of material which will only radiate heat into the centre of your palm.

The only other aspect of the design worthy of note is perhaps the switch built into the USB cable. This is used to enable or disable the heat function so the mouse can also be comfortably used in summer. It does its job, but I think it was silly to place it so close to the mouse itself because it gets dragged around like a dead weight as you navigate. I might end up Blu-Tacking it to my desk when the replacement arrives.

Maybe I'd be better off buying the Finger Mouse. No awkward wrist positions or pressure should equal no constriction, though I wonder how you stop the cursor flitting back and forth across your screen like a ping-pong ball while you type. None of the reviews I've read mention this.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

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Autoasphyxiation can be fun kids

As a rule Mondays are not worth getting out of bed for, except the one just gone was marginally better because it marked the return of Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe.

He spent a good chunk of screen time divulging the intricacies of the BBC's programming code of conduct. Unsurprisingly they take a dim view of advocating behaviour which might induce harm to minors. As an example of a cartoon you're unlikely to catch on CBeebies (tot's TV from the BBC) we were treated to a clip of The Magic Noose in which the narrator explains that by putting their heads through the eponymous tree-mounted hoop, children can be spontaneously transported into the realms of a kiddy nirvana.

I know child murderers come in all shapes and sizes, but this is certainly a novel modus operandi. What I'd like to know is if it's for real, and if so, when, and on what channel it was broadcast. Google searches reveal next to no information about it, and even YouTube which is home to video snippets of every other form of retarded depravity draws a blank.

Monday, 5 February 2007

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Business applications are the devil's work

Anyone who spends a significant amount of time managing great wads of data for a living will know exactly what I mean. Business applications are clearly designed by robots who will never have to use them, for people who spend 8+ hours a day pleading with the retched things to do as they're told.
Take the Oracle E-Business Suite for example. Firstly it's designed to run inside a web browser which, let's face it, wasn't the most forward thinking decision ever made considering most corporate users are obliged to use Internet Explorer on their AOL-style, walled garden systems.

As if that wasn't bad enough, it's a Java application. Yes, the same Java home users hastily disable altogether on their home computers to avert a psychologically damaging web based encounter with one of these toe-curling applets. The same Java platform human web designers abandoned back in 1996, 1. because everybody hates them, and 2. because they have the resource guzzling clout to bring a small country to its knees.

And every little task takes so damn long to carry out. Pressing the print button won't print a purchase order. Oh no, that would be too easy. There's a whole chapter of the manual dedicated to the procedure. Once you've done it a few times, you can do it with your eyes shut, but that's not the point. Why does it have to be so long-winded? Is the intention to evoke a sense of penitence? Are the Catholics behind it?

Make a simple mistake and there's no going back. If you've committed your changes you can't simply return to a field and, let's say, replace an A with a B. It's not uncommon to be confronted with ever so helpful tool tips like, "I'm sorry, you've made your bed and will have to lie in it (complete with accompanying Nelson-ha-ha). To adjust this field you must clamber up all five peaks of the Kangchenjunga mountain range with a ten tonne boulder strapped to your tender bits, leap through a dozen flaming hoops whilst balancing a kerosene-soaked chimpanzee on your nose and play the Lithuanian national anthem backwards with a bagpipe fashioned from a dodo's digestive system when you reach the summit". That's a genuine quote.

Fashionista favourite, 'random', is currently being shoehorned into every conceivable sentence in a vain attempt to sound chic, but if ever there was an appropriate occasion to use it, it's to describe Oracle. No two clicks are ever the same. Sometimes they'll action a change. At other times the same two clicks will cause your session to spontaneously terminate.

More infuriating still, getting a change to stick, or coercing a field to accept a keystroke, often requires you to enter a seemingly unrelated menu, untick a box, save your work, exit the menu, re-enter the menu, re-tick the box, save and withdraw from the menu again and finally return to the field you want to stick some trivial bit of information in.

To make doubly sure everything goes smoothly it doesn't hurt to offer up a small sacrifice (a hamster or goldfish is fine) to an effigy of the divine Oracle god.
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Link checking with Firefox

OK, so checking your blog or web site for dead links is never going to be glamorous or fun. Really the best you can hope for is to make the tedious process as painless as possible. I checked several hundred links in a matter of minutes with the aptly named Firefox extension, LinkChecker, and didn't blub like a baby once so I reckon we're on the right track.

Unlike most other link checkers this one embeds the results within the very page it's probing in real time in the form of multi-coloured highlights. Invalid links become red, valid ones turn green, forwarded, forbidden or otherwise inaccessible ones get a splash of yellow, while skipped ones are greyed out. Because these colours emerge sequentially and piecemeal(ially) you can manually test and fix broken links as the extension continues to chug away in the background.

If your pages contain links that you'd rather not have tested, maybe because they are sure to work, or connect to internal sign out, delete et al commands, you can opt to exclude them from testing. Note that while the exclusions list refers to 'keywords', they do not necessarily have to appear in linked text. Entering domain or sub-domain names works just as well providing you don't include any dots as they seem to confuse LinkChecker.

You might find that some links are automatically skipped despite them not containing any of your banned words. I assume this is because the extension respects rules declared by robots.txt files. How thoroughly decent and considerate. Pfft!

That aside my only other gripe is that it fails to skip excluded links if they happen to be internal anchors - something about the # symbol seems to be knocking it off balance.

Sunday, 4 February 2007


Subscribing to blog labels or categories

There will be times when you're only interested in receiving RSS blog updates which revolve around a particular theme. Many blogging platforms allow you to monitor individual categories via RSS even if their feeds aren't immediately apparent. Below I've compiled a list of the URL structure required for each kind of blogging software. Note that several links to further information have had to be removed as they are now 404s.

Blogger -

Drupal -

Expression Engine - Reliant on individual blogger configuration.

Movable Type - Bespoke configuration required so feeds vary.

MySpace - Don't care and you shouldn't either. Nothing has ever been written on a MySpace blog that's worth reading.

Serendipity - (hover over the category link in the sidebar to reveal its ID number)

TypePad - Depends on the way the blogger has configured the software.

Vox -

Wordpress -

Additions, corrections and any other feedback would be very welcome.