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w/e 10 June 2018

It’s been a good couple of weeks for strangers discovering my old projects and telling people about them. A few days ago Joshua Benton who runs the Nieman Journalism Lab was wondering on Twitter:

Fellow web old-timers, help me out.

Circa…2008? there was someone who built, using the @guardian‘s API, a visual version of each day’s “issue,” where all Guardian stories were put on a long sparkline-looking thing where the length of the line was the story length.

Any ideas?

He even gave a few clues:

I remember that the guy who did it…Paul? Phil?…was a UK guy who did lots of interesting web projects, and I even seem to remember we wrote about a later one at @NiemanLab. But my searches have failed.

Even then, NO ONE KNEW THE ANSWER. I am nothing. But it must have been a relief for Joshua when he remembered:

I FOUND IT! @philgyford. And holy hell, it still actually works!

Yay! I must admit my initial thought was, “Why wouldn’t it still be working?” But, yes, I guess it’s rare for sites to last eight years. Anyway, nice to have people remember a piece of my work, find it again, and still think it’s good. I clutch tightly any positives I can find these days.

And then the week before Jason Kottke tweeted a link to my sporadically-ongoing-since-2011 Crazy Walls tumblr, which Cory at Boing Boing picked up on, and then, presumably via one of those, Michael Bierut tweeted a link to it, to his 169,000 followers. This week he and Jessica Helfland discussed it on Episode 82 of their Design Observer podcast, The Observatory (starts at 26:21). Their editor even emailed me to check the pronunciation of “Gyford”, which was nice.

It’s gratifying to one’s ego to have old projects, kept gently alive for years, noticed anew. I guess if they were projects designed to require users, and to generate money, I’d put in some effort to expand the audience. Otherwise, I assume everyone who’d like to know about them knows about them. Which is probably silly after eight years.

I spent a sweaty couple of hours on Friday evening watching Half Man Half Biscuit. I’m not a massive fan but I like their lyrics and have never seen the band play, so why not? A quick google suggests no one has put them in the same category of well-observed Englishness as Alan Bennett and Victoria Wood, so now I have.

I can see why the superset of Bennett and Wood fans wouldn’t also include many HMHB fans — aside from having to like the music enough, the observations are less cuddly. e.g. from Paintball’s Coming Home (on YouTube, lyrics):

They went up in a hot air balloon
They declared their love in a hot air balloon
Yeah, they drank champagne in a hot air balloon
And had a row on New Year’s Eve

They’ve got nothing but total respect for
They’ve got nothing but total respect for
They’ve got nothing but total respect for
Annie Lennox

And if I’d known they were coming, I’d have slashed me wrists

But still, they compare favourably to those other English observers, and they can almost be touching too, e.g. on a Cambridgeshire town not being the same without “you” (on YouTube, lyrics):

Like a game-bird reserve short on pheasants
Weavers’ cottages devoid of tenants
A market town that lacks quintessence
That’s Chatteris without your presence

Three good butchers, two fine chandlers
An indoor pool and a first class cake shop
Ofsted plaudits, envy of the Fens
Prick barriers at both ends

But what’s Chatteris if you’re not there?
What’s Chatteris if you’re not there?
What’s Chatteris if you’re not there?
What’s Chatteris if you’re not there?
What’s Chatteris if you’re not there?
What’s Chatteris if you’re not there?
I may as well be in Ely or St Ives…

Browsing tweets afterwards was fun. “Never has such a narrow band of personality types been collected so densely in one place 😂” by @Superbreeze_Bex. And, “The grandparentiest moshpit I’ve ever seen” by @ereuben. The majority were white men over 40, possibly over 50, and most of them singing along to all the words. Before long I expect HMHB will be able to get a grant from Age UK to increase their good work in combatting isolation, bringing all these men together.

Finally, I finished playing Uncharted: Drakes Fortune this week, which I enjoyed a lot at first, although it became a bit of a chore towards the end. Maybe following a walkthrough tends to make it feel a bit more chore-like, because there are parts where I’m simply following a set of instructions; it doesn’t feel much like “play”.

For one section, which was fiddly and so dark I could hardly see where I was, I followed along with a video, which seemed particularly pointless: I watch someone make Nathan Drake turn a corner and walk up some stairs; then I make Nathan Drake turn a corner and walk up some stairs. At that point, why not just watch someone play the whole thing and stop doing it myself? But then I wouldn’t have the satisfaction of knowing that somewhere a database has had rows added to it associating my unique user ID with the unique IDs of a few of Uncharted’s trophies. You have to work for that kind of satisfaction.

Have a good week. And if no one else is going to give you a trophy, why not award yourself one?

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