Back in a Bit

Professional parallels

People often comment that the leap from coding to carpentry seems giant. Not so: the two professions are more closely related than is initially obvious. In the IT industry, it’s tempting to think that we’re riding on the leading edge of existence: that every day we’re breaking new ground, advancing ever forward, and taking or species to new and uncharted heights. Again, not so. While the materials and language may be new and sparkly, we’re merely recycling our aptitude for much older skills.

I work closely with a decorator, and it interests me that we have almost perfectly complementary skills. While he is highly skilled at painting, preparation, plastering and puttying, he freely admits to being disasterously bad at anything to do with wood. Similarly, I can’t paint for toffee and my plastering skills are a joke. The moment I crack open a can of paint, you know disaster is only minutes away. Fortunately we know our own and each other’s limitations, meaning we can usually avoid major tool-throwing, expletive-inducing catastrophies. It also means that if we’re tacking something new, and either he or I are finding it frustratingly difficult or boring, the chances are that the other will probably take to it much more easily.

Continue reading…

Less of a bloody stupid idea

Last year, it was the Best British Blog Competition, and this year it’s the British Weblog Awards. Last year, many weblog authors, myself included, were very critical of the whole affair, and boycotted the competition. This year, however, such criticism is noticably absent. If anything, it has been greeted with comparative nonchalance.

For the 2002 awards, the basic idea was that a panel of judges would pick out the best British weblog, and give the author £1000, as well as five runners-up who would receive £500. What’s so bad about that? To start with, as was debated in great length at the time, defining the “best” weblog seemed to be an attempt to quantify the unquantifiable. It implies a set of criteria, and it was hard to imagine any criteria that were appropriate to use for this purpose. What is it that makes a weblog “the best”? The look of it? The content? The number of gizmos? I lost count of the number of times I asked “what is the best vegetable” in an effort to highlight the challenge the Guardian had put before its appointed judges.

Continue reading…

Improving on reverse-chronology

The reverse-chronological arrangement of weblog posts has frustrated me for years. It’s a format that works for about the first week in the life of a weblog, and after that it becomes more and more of a headache.

One of the most basic principles of information architecture is that the good stuff should float to the top. Of course, what that means in real terms comes down to your definition of “good”. In the world of weblogs (and many, many other varieties of sites), this refers to the most recently added content, hence the reverse-chronological ordering of posts. But is the most recent thing you’ve written necessarily the good stuff?

Continue reading…

Disused Stations on London’s Underground

Look through the window as you travel between Tottenham Court Road and Holborn on the Central Line and you’ll see a station – where no passengers have alighted since 1932. This used to be British Museum station. Or perhaps you may notice the tunnel wall change from cast iron tubing to bricks as you travel on the Piccadilly Line between Green Park and Hyde Park Corner. This also used to be a station. Down Street, closed in the same year as British Museum. These stations are often referred to as ghost stations.

There are about 40 abandoned or relocated stations on the Underground network along its entire 255 miles (408Km) of trackway – some subsurface and some above ground. Some have vanished without trace whereas others are almost intact, grimey time capsules of the era when they were closed.

PicoPhone

I made Picophone, because all the Internet phones around are quite heavy and use complicated protocols, such as H.323, which has problems with NAPT routers. PicoPhone uses a simple UDP-based protocol, which works very well with NAPT. PicoPhone allows multiple concurrent calls, but the audio device should allow multiple output streams to be opened simultaneously.