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Friday October 22 2004

Learning songs,

new songs. Weird songs. Will be back when learnt.

Posted at 3:44 pm by Jim Woods

Tuesday October 19 2004

Driven mad by reading

the sites of all sorts of bloggers and techno-hippies and cyber-people, with their seemingly endless budgets for gadgets and their lives which will be preserved for all eternity (or until the hard drive dies) by all the articles they write and pictures they take and sounds they record while listening to their iPods, I ponder my future as a "geek". Contrary to popular opinion a geek is properly defined simply as someone akin to a hacker in the old-fashioned sense. This means someone who will go to obsessive lengths with the study of some small discipline. Probably quite a lot of small disciplines. So, and I make no apologies for somewhat simplifying all this but the web is hardly lacking in stuff if you want more precise definitions, I am a geek. I am a geek because I pick on the kinds of things which people generally regard as peripheral and I put them at the centre of my life. I will spend hours pissing about with my extensive collection of almost entirely cheap-as-chips wristwatches, or figuring out the intricacies of coffee-making or fiddling with sound equipment. I tool through the firmware in my electronica for hours, doing stuff to see what happens. I obsess about my frogs in the garden, and play Myst-series games compulsively. I contemplate for hours which trousers to wear although, of the three pairs available, one is falling apart and another seems designed for a human with no balls. Apparently humans without balls do exist! They're called - oh, I forget.

Anyhow, as a child (i.e. up to the age of fourteen or so) I spurned almost all forms of activity other than reading and occasional brutality. This seems suitably geekish and maladjusted, and I feel my credentials here are good. How, though, do I establish whether or not I am completely able to fit into this amiable sub-culture? I feel that a bullet list must be used at this point, chiefly because it's about the only concession to fancy layout you'll ever see here and geeks like fancy layout. Let's list.

Pro Jim's a total geek and can fly his nerdy colours with pride:

  • Obsesses with the trivial, while ignoring his pension and sensible plans and goals utterly.
  • Frequently found hunched over the computer, and well aware of the scope of the web generally.
  • Carries mobile phone virtually without exception, as well as penknife and torch and so on.
  • Has little interest in clothing save for the number of pockets it involves.
  • Reads loads, listens to odd stuff as a matter of pride and watches much documentary TV in binges.
  • Likes what-if's, but does not like decision-taking when irrevocable.
  • Fully aware of all available gadgetry and pros and cons thereof.
  • Obsessive list maker.
  • Views posting letter as exercise in advanced logistical forward planning.
  • Keeps all (currently tiny) financial details in finance package.
  • Regards access to information (perhaps abstract rather than specific) via web, satellite or whatever as bodily function.
  • Interest in life-organizing software.
  • Has backed up SIM card in mobile phone to specifically-designed keyring device.
  • Uses digital camera.
  • Early owner of largely-useless-to-me GPS.
  • Keeps this blog fairly dutifully.
  • Did three of four years full-time degree in computing and electronics.
  • Loads of other stuff I can't remember right now.


On the other hand:

  • Has never owned laptop, and is unlikely to because of cost and tendency to be in un-laptop-friendly environments.
  • Gets nothing, really, out of The Lord of the Rings either on film or in book.
  • Has lowish opinion of Matrix film trilogy, although does own it on DVD. It was cheap. People talked of it. Had to see.
  • Keeps Good Housekeeping diary rather than electronic organizer.
  • Has almost medieval (Catweazle - Google him) distrust and hatred of batteries as practical source of reliable power.
  • Knows ancient civilizations probably had battery technology of a primitive kind nonetheless, from pop-sci lit.
  • Never was one for fantasy literature (mostly ugh) or much sci-fi. Loves sci-fi films though.
  • Focussed rather than un-focussed, but in an out-of-focus way.
  • Actually uses mobile phone about once every three days, usually at instigation of caller or texter.
  • Favours quality of sound over usability features.
  • Uses (borrowed) digital camera the size of head only when having noticed it by tripping. Physically.
  • Fantasizes about tech-free existent in theory.
  • Is unlikely to tart up this blog visually or functionally any time soon. Or learn scripting languages.
  • Fled three of four years full-time degree in computing and electronics with mind half-gone.
  • Much else currently mentally offline.


Well, this seems to prove only that the human is a complex and self-contradictory animal. And that I felt I'd be better off writing something between today's engagements rather than reading random stuff on the web. I have, of course, run out of time. But I think I may add to this post in future, perhaps using it as a barometer of my tech-ness. Have a good day...

Posted at 1:03 pm by Jim Woods

Oh yes,

and I forgot the little favicons - the technical term, believe it or not - in Firefox. These are the little square pictures which appear in tabs, the address bar and the favourites menu. Quite an aid to quickly locating a particular site in a list of bookmarks. Except that they seem to have a mind of their own. They get transposed between sites, forgotten or lost, displayed in one of these locations within the application but not another, and so on. Buggy, buggy, buggy.

Nowt wrong with the core browsing functionality of the Firefox though, I say again. Nice.

Posted at 12:57 pm by Jim Woods

Sunday October 17 2004

Bookmarks, favourites, links

or whatever else you want to call them, they can be a pain. Well, they just sit there like little green hamsters pointing at whatever location on the web you've asked them to. In themselves, they're pretty harmless and well-behaved. It's when browsers get involved that the ex-curry hits the ventilation arrangements.

I can turn anything into a browser rant, as you see. Never mind - when I'm back on dial-up in some quiet corner of Southern Europe I'll probably lose interest in the whole thing anyway. But for now, my rage - compounded by having somehow managed to sleep for only two hours and having spent that dreaming that my problems were over only to wake up - is incandescent. I like to spend a Sunday morning either catching up on recorded TV, of which today I have none, or pootling about the cyber-manor killing a few dead bookmarks or whatever. Essentially, I do not want to end up with thousands of bookmarks (it's the term I'll use, since it's what they're called in Firefox and that's the current best bet). I don't want a lot of hassle managing them. I want to add and delete them with maximum speed and flexibility, and I want them sorted. Maybe it's the way my mind works, but the quickest way by far for me to pick a known thing from a list is by having that list alphabetized; good old A-Z ascending, nothing too arcane.

Clearly, however, my demands are regarded as unreasonable. Bookmark management is shocking in IE, and it's shocking in Mozilla browsers. For why I don't even care about Opera, search Opera on my site. IE and Mozilla stuff are the only browsers that you can pretty much use the whole web with without some f*ckup along the line. Okay, neither is bug-free, but they substantially work. I don't use IE for the same reason I don't walk around in public with a target painted on my bare arse, and anyway Firefox is a vastly better browser in terms of facilities.

What's my beef in brief? Okay, here you are. Internet Explorer bookmark (favourite) management first.

  • Up pops a crappy little window, showing about ten items by default. Throwing aside your remaining hair, you resize this to get a decent view of the overall story with your bookmarks. Now you have a bit of lebensraum to work with. What a relief. The kind people at Microsoft want to continue to experience this relief, so this window will never remember its size, forcing you to resize it every time you open it. Handy. Not.


  • Once you can see what you're doing, things are not too bad. By not too bad, I suppose I mean that while there is minimal functionality it all works properly. You can't do a lot, but you can safely enough do it. You can move stuff, delete it and so on. Given the years since IE first appeared, you'd expect some more features. Duplicate checking is an obvious one which could easily have been added by now, and checking for updated links would hardly be rocket science I'm sure. The old Netscape had that, and it was great. "Replace by" would be nice, where a link that's changed or now redirects you could be updated easily without having to delete it and re-mark or manually edit its properties. Still, Microsoft has no real interest in doing things with its browser, so you have to be thankful for what you get: A very basic set of bookmark-management features.


  • When adding a bookmark to a folder there is a nasty little dialogue with the same vice as the management window re the size and failure to retain it. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have to scroll about a bit just to make the bookmark. Irksome, because every extra mouse action is a bloody chore when you spend a lot of time on the web.


The long and short of it is that IE does basic housekeeping of your link collection adequately but not ergonomically. Power users need more. Perhaps that's one of the reasons that many are defecting to Mozilla products. But although Firefox (I have rather less experience of the full-blown Mozilla suite, but believe its bookmark bits are much the same) is a cracking browser in nearly all regards, the bookmark management is a total hound. In fact, if it were canine it'd be the sort of dog which you returned home to find mounting your missus and drinking your last can while also managing to crap on your new rug. Succinctly, it'll make you really, really angry and then lose you everything. It's that bad. Here's the Firefox sin list:

  • Although I've yet to just suddenly lose all my bookmarks, any cursory examination of the support forums on the Mozilla site reveals that this is a depressingly common occurrence for many users. Handy dandy. This is the crowning achievement of Satanic bookmark management really, isn't it? There you are trying to keep things organized, writing your little rants on your blog about how it'd be nice if this or that were different or better, and then your cumbersome manipulations are suddenly brought to an abrupt halt. Because you have no bookmarks. You've had many of them for years, but now you have nothing. Super job. You'll have backups, because you're not an utter mollusc, but you may well have reasonably assumed that the purpose of such backups was to guard against crashes and dead hard drives and the like. The concept of backing things up because the application itself is prone to throwing a random Van Morrison and wanting your data out of its sight is a little annoying. Bad, wicked, naughty Firefox.


  • Sorting. You can define different sorting orders for your bookmarks. You can sort away to your heart's content, and maybe it'll look as though sorting has occurred. Maybe not though. One thing you can rely on is that when you close the bookmark manager and resume browsing using the bookmarks menu there will have been no effective sorting of its contents. This bug has been around forever, and still it is not fixed. Better, more richly comedic, is the fact that it's not even on the list of things hoped for in the final 1.0 release. Un-f*cking-believable. Whatever happened to the good old principle of consolidating gains? Of not running 'til you could walk? Something as simultaneously trivial and irritating as this needs fixing now. It creates a very bad impression indeed to have simple things broken on what is becoming a mature, mainstream product.


  • Loads of fun, if you look at the support forums. The ways in which your innocent reorganization of a few bookmarks can mung up the whole plot are myriad. I really can't be arsed to enumerate all the problems I, and others, have had (regardez les forums etc etc) but they include loss of right-click menus and a particular favourite of mine: the rogue bookmark which you delete in the manager over and over again, but which still appears on the drop-down bookmark menu winking cheekily and ejaculating into your metaphorical airing cupboard.


Oh, I give up. The bookmark management in Firefox is chronic. A bag of nails. If the rest of the browser wasn't so good I'd never touch it just because of this, and probably nor would anyone else. I mean, bookmarks aren't an adjunct to the browsing experience. For most of us, most of the time, they are the browsing experience. They're your little beat on the web, which you pound all the time. Your local weather (it'll be cold and wet), the news, your web-based email, the telly guide, the lesbian lavatory lust - whatever. Bookmarks are the heart of the browser.

Of course what you can do is use an external bookmark manager. I'm really into this one at the moment; I mean, there is a certain elegance to calling your bookmark manager "Bookmark Manager" for a start. This beast will cheerfully import or export bookmarks, favourites and what have you. for IE, Mozilla browsers, Opera, XML and its own format. And it'll sort beautifully, check for duplicates, check which bookmarked sites have changed, merge lists and everything else. It's a real gem. You can do anything, and get yourself out of any sort of hole with it. Praise be. It's just that it's a real pain to have to bunny-run back and forth to a separate application just to have a bit of a surf. Still, it does enable safe and effective use of your bookmarks with the ability to do all the things you'll need to do at some point, and so it's probably the answer. It's also free and open source. Hurrah!

Now I'm not a programmer, but I do have an idea. And the Mozilla team are dedicated to creating an excellent open-source browser(s), just as the Bookmark Manager lot are. So why, when the Mozilla lot cheerfully admit that their bookmark management code is bolloxed and archaic, have they not got together with the Bookmark Manager lot and arranged to use that code instead? Surely this is a tactic that at least bears thinking about?

To be fair, why have Microsoft not exactly upped the bar either. I attribute this to the whole issue of the integration of IE into Windows itself. You may recall that they pretty much had to do this to get off the hook for messing up Netscape's chances. The long and short of it is that as more of a rendering engine for Windows than a freestanding browser, many people probably don't dwell in the favourites menu so much. As you can have links all over the place, like on the desktop for example, so easily there is a tendency amongst naive users to be very casual about the whole issue of organization. Fair enough - if you're happy to browse from your ISPs home page portal or have your web sites arrayed on your desktop then so be it. It's operating system integration that makes IE such a security nightmare of course, but whatever floats your boat. Integration's king with many people, and I'm not going to get into it here. IE is a product of a different paradigm from Mozilla, clearly. All that unites them, when you think about it, is that they are both browsers with crap bookmark management.

That'll do for now. Oh, and if you're a programmer then do me a favour. Nip over to Mozilla and fix that code will you?

Posted at 1:56 pm by Jim Woods


this is a laugh.

Posted at 1:55 am by Jim Woods

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