Writing from January 2003

It’s all gone a bit Warchalking

When I built the Pepys' Diary site, I assumed it'd be the usual thing... Lots of very welcome "ooh, that's nice"s from friends, maybe a scattering of links from other weblogs not too socially distant from the Haddock circle, and then little else. That's what happened to the much neglected (on my part) Byliner for example. I thought I'd be lucky to get that to be honest, especially given the site went public at the end of Christmas Day; not the best time to launch something...

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In Pepys' Diary on 2 January 2003. 1 comment. Permalink

"They both hated DLT"

I recently started reading The Nation's Favourite: True Adventures of Radio 1 by Simon Garfield which chronicles the changes at Radio 1 that began around 1993 with the appointment of Matthew Bannister as Controller of the station. Long-serving DJs such as DLT and Simon Bates disappeared, and more re-organisation happened backstage. To be honest, I wasn't looking forward to it that much, as it could have been a very dry piece of non-fiction. But this is the most gripping book I've read since Kitchen Confidential as it almost entirely consists of statements direct from the DJs and management of Radio 1. It's a fascinating exercise to navigate between these colossal egos to divine the truth of what happened, and to whet your appetite I present a few of the best snippets so far...

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In Misc on 3 January 2003. 3 comments. Permalink

More Pepys and me

To continue from where we left off, on Friday Pepys' Diary was Slashdotted, which is nice although doesn't hold nearly the same thrill, cachet or fear it once would.

Later that day I recorded an interview for NPR's All Things Considered show, which is now online. I'm not quite sure why old media is more exciting than new, but it's wonderful. Going into Broadcasting House, into a room packed with strange electronics and a handful of BBC engineers, into a tiny room with two microphones was thrilling. One engineer explained that, "this is going via Bush House and onto Washington," which seems a technological marvel even when I'm picking up email from a computer in California every day. And talking through a microphone to Americans in a studio in the US seems far more space-age than my daily transatlantic online communications. I've always found radio somehow more magical than any other medium; the internet, TV, movies, CDs don't seem a patch on a voice coming out of the little box in the kitchen.

But all this is beside the point. The point is, I don't hate my own voice, which is a relief.

In Pepys' Diary, Personal on 5 January 2003. 1 comment. Permalink

An introduction to weblog terms for weblog readers

[This article is now also available in French. 5 March 2003]

The audience for Pepys' Diary can be split into two groups: Those who write and/or read weblogs and those who have come to the site purely because of an interest in Pepys. The former group are familiar with the language of the weblog world (Weblog, Blog, RSS, Trackback, Permalink, etc) while the latter aren't. And why should they be? This kind of language is a hangover from when weblogs were written largely by and for web geeks. And that's fine -- this is a new and fast-changing environment where the technical underpinnings of website construction always lies just beneath the surface. But at the same time sites like Pepys' Diary, that cover non-technical matters, must be aware that such words often mean nothing to new readers and should explain such concepts in terms normal people can understand. Otherwise it is impossible for a reader to tell whether to ignore an "RSS feed" or learn how to use it. So, here's my brief guide to weblog terms for readers, not webloggers...

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In Misc on 5 January 2003. 15 comments. Permalink

Bye bye Byliner

After months of agonising over the decision I've decided to close down Byliner from the end of this month. It's a real shame as I do think it's quite a useful service and could be developed into something even better, but I just don't have the time. It feels horribly like defeat, but I guess I'm finding there is actually a limit to the amount of stuff one can put online and not spend every waking moment staring at a computer screen. The site has sentimental value for me, being the site on which I taught myself PHP and MySQL, although this does mean the code's a little ropey. Anyway, here's the email I've just sent to the 299 people who had signed up for the service...

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In Byliner on 11 January 2003. 2 comments. Permalink

They all start blogging in the end

My friend Ted has just started a weblog. He lives in Santa Barbara, makes films, writes film reviews, knows far too much about the Pizzicato Five, has several gazillions of obscure CDs (many from points far east), and introduced me to Brian Eno's music about 15 years ago in a large cottage in the Lake District. So it's got to be at least worth a look.

In Misc on 13 January 2003. 1 comment. Permalink

Akufen

Last week the New York Times had an interesting article about about the most underrated albums of 2002 (read it either at the NYT or pasted into this Yahoo! Group message). I haven't heard of most of the artists listed, although a growing liking of country, thanks to John Peel, means I have a passing recognition of Mary Gauthier and Nina Nastasia. The article cropped up because this post on the Peel mailing list mentioned Akufen, who I'd never heard of. There's an interview with him here. Turns out that he produces some rather wonderful music consisting almost entirely of samples, usually only a fraction of a second long. Frenetic and fun, his My Way album (US, UK) has my foot tapping rapidly in a freakily jerky and alarming manner. Which is always a good sign.

In Music on 13 January 2003. Permalink

Mexican food and restaurants in London

My original post is old but this page is one of the top pages to discuss Mexican food and restaurants in London. So I'll now keep this part of the page up to date with a summary of the many comments people have posted below, but you should also check out MexiLondon for more information.

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In Misc on 14 January 2003. 217 comments. Permalink

Validation tools

So, there is of course the great W3C Markup Validation Service for checking the HTML of your pages. I recently came across Checky, a very handy plug-in for Mozilla that lets you instantly access a whole host of different validators and checkers from a contextual menu. And if that's too much work, just pressing F10 can open a new tab with the current page ruthlessly judged in your validator of choice. I've only tried it on Windows, but it makes life just that little bit easier.

Also, I recently, and belatedly, came across Amaya, the web browser the W3C use "to demonstrate and test many of the new developments in Web protocols and formats." Yes, it has all sorts of Berners-Lee type things like a built-in page editor and collaboration tools. But for the purposes of this post, it also provides some kind of validation -- open a page and if there are "Parsing Errors" it tells you what's up. Well, it does for the XHTML pages I've tried anyway. Clicking from page to page and having each tested in some way is nice and easy. Not a substitute for the proper validator, but handy nonetheless.

In Web Development on 17 January 2003. Permalink

Hello Byliner!

Damn and blast. It took me weeks of agonising to decide to shut Byliner. And the moment I did I had second thoughts. Was I really going to close a site after so long just because I couldn't be bothered to do the small amount of maintenance? Of course, it didn't help that Pepys' Diary was taking up so much of my time. Now I can't bear the thought of saying goodbye to a useful site, or, to be honest, of handing it over to someone else. So, I'm going to rewrite it, redesign it. and add new features starting with RSS feeds, as suggested by Yoz and Ben Hammersley. It's a relief to have belatedly reached the right decision.

In Byliner on 17 January 2003. 1 comment. Permalink

Laser Squad by email

One of my favourite games on my Spectrum, most of my life ago, was Rebelstar. There were two small teams of intergalactic soldiers, with the computer optionally controlling one, who took turns to move, shoot and perform other actions. It doesn't look or sound that great, but the elements of the game were balanced just right to make it amazingly compulsive. Later I graduated to Laser Squad on the Atari ST, which was very similar but added more missions and other goodies and was even better.

Now, the brothers who were behind these games and more have come up with Laser Squad Nemesis, a version of the game you play via email. It sounds fantastic and is thankfully only available for the PC or else I'd have had to spend even longer staring at this screen than I currently do. (Via Boing Boing.)

In Misc on 18 January 2003. 1 comment. Permalink

Flapjack

I've been experimenting with making flapjack and the current batch is a winner. Here's the recipe...

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In Recipies on 19 January 2003. 54 comments. Permalink

Interview on BBC Radio London Tuesday lunchtime

Apologies for posting exactly the same thing here and on the About Pepys' Diary weblog, but... On Tuesday 21st January at around 1.40pm GMT I

In Pepys' Diary on 20 January 2003. 2 comments. Permalink

Thayer’s Pork Pies

I shared my latest batch of flapjacks around the office today and in return got a slice of one of Thayer's tasty home-made pork pies. I love pork pies but rarely buy them from shops as I shudder to think what peripheral shreds of pig are forced into those gelatinous and crumbly husks. But now I can make my own wholesome pies using Thayer's recipe. She adds:

I reckon the next batch I make will be 1/2 butter, 1/2 lard pastry, as the pastry is yummy yet lacking a little wetness (fatness?!) so I think that will sort it tip top.

In Recipies on 22 January 2003. 17 comments. Permalink

Gadget bag

At some point in the future I'll need to buy a new little bag for carrying expensive and fragile items and I'll immediately think "where did I see that immensely practical bag? If only I'd 'blogged' it then and there!" At that point I will travel back in time to January 2003 and I'll write this entry, which is, in fact, what I'm doing now. (Take a tip from me: don't eat a large meal before time travel.) So now I can find the bag here or, for those in the UK, here. (I'm not going to tell you which continent I will be on when I need to refer back to this entry because you might use this knowledge of the future to alter the course of time to your own wicked ends.) I'm not so keen on RoadWired's general laptop bags however; they all look a bit too suitcasey (apart from this pricey number), unlike my many-years-old laptop backpack from the other Wired, which feels like a relic of bygone days even back in 2003.

In Misc on 23 January 2003. 2 comments. Permalink

My x and my y

I've geo-encoded this site, which weirdly does actually make me think of it as a bit less floaty, to actually have some location in the real world. Anyway, if you look at the HTML source of the front page you'll see these lines...

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In Web Development on 24 January 2003. 1 comment. Permalink

Yay for Rosie!

Sometimes it's nice when you have to take something off the web. The Rosie Butler Ideal Man Application Form has been active for around three years now and many men have tested themselves against her stringent requirements, often repeatedly until they achieved the magical 100%. But now Rosie has found her Ideal Man and so the applications must cease. Hurrah! However, it now appears the form was calibrated wrongly; the undoubted Ideal Man manages this achievement even though he'd have scored less than 50%.

In Misc on 27 January 2003. Permalink

More weblogging friends and Trackback confusion

When I first got online I only knew one other person in the world with email. Gradually this number increased until today when only a couple of people I know aren't online and I can barely keep in touch with them. Similarly, it seems like over the past year or two everyone who wasn't already weblogging is starting to. One anonymous friend has slowly started Sofaville and hopefully he'll keep it going (although he's anonymous I can reveal I've known him since the age of 7 when he told me he didn't like my tracksuit). Tim, with whom I had the pleasure of sharing a house some years ago, started his Bandwagon last year but I'm not sure if I'd noticed it until now.

I came across Tim's Bandwagon because he was experimenting with Trackback and pinged one of my posts. In one of those coincidences that should no longer be surprising Tom and I were playing with Trackback only yesterday because, like everyone else who's ever used it, he was trying to get his head round it. Trackback Makes No Sense. It's a wonderful idea but it's so complicated as to be useless by anyone but the most dedicated or lucky weblogger.

For example, at the end of this post you'll see the "Trackback URL." What is this for? I hunted through the Movable Type documentation while rewriting this site to figure out why I needed it. I assumed it must be important but I couldn't find anything that told me how to use it, or why this ugly URL bearing no relation to the URL of its associated post should be visible to the majority of readers who don't care. I now know that if you paste it into Movable Type's 'URLs to Ping' input field then you can put a link to your post on the site you got the URL from. Still with me?

Another Trackback oddity... Handily you often don't need to know this URL because Movable Type does magic things (that I'm not even going to attempt to describe) to handle Trackback for you when you link to a Trackback-enabled post on someone's site. However, if you link to a post on your own site it doesn't work. But you can use the weird "Trackback URL" to force a link to appear on the old post you wanted to Trackback to. If you got this far you're brave, or now have a glazed look on your face. It's a great idea but if a great idea is impossible to explain, or even demonstrate, understandably it needs to be simpler.

In Movable Type on 28 January 2003. 1 comment. Permalink

The stationary city

I'm pretty sure that if Londoners were ever to explode into violent anarchy it would be because the transport infrastructure had come to a halt. When everything's running smoothly tempers already flare at the traffic jams and crowded tubes. But it just takes one or two more things to go wrong to bring the city close to utter gridlock.

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In Personal on 31 January 2003. 2 comments. Permalink

How many Americans own passports?

One of the reasons America is sometimes described as being an insular country is the low ownership or passports, and thus the low rate of international travel. Which in some ways is fair enough; in comparison to Europeans, for example, popping over to another country is often a bigger deal than jumping on a train. But Ted read that only 7 per cent of Americans own passports and wondered where the figure comes from. It seems the statistic varies, for example:

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In Misc on 31 January 2003. 446 comments. Permalink

Byliner is reborn

Byliner, my site that lets you keep track of when (some of) your favourite writers publish new articles, has been completely rewritten and is now in a position to get some new features (more on that here).

I'd appreciate any comments, especially if you notice something that's broken. I haven't had a chance to test it on Windows browsers yet but hopefully it's not too bad; I'll fix PC compatibility next week. I managed to rewrite all the PHP, HTML and CSS in a couple of weeks, thanks to having the existing logic and SQL to work from and the set of PHP classes on which I now base all my sites. Even so, it's been pretty hectic.

It's pretty safe to say that what with this and Pepys' Diary I've been more productive in the past six weeks of my free time than I have in the past six months at work. But then that's not much of a challenge.

In Byliner on 31 January 2003. 3 comments. Permalink