A tiring day…

I know this isn’t traditionally geeky, at least it’s nothing (directly) to do with computers, but I had to say it. Today la inamorata and I went for a walk across the Humber Bridge, which is a huge suspension bridge (one of the biggest in the world I think) over the Humber estuary. We had a discussion about what constituted a river mouth, an estuary and a delta. I decided this was an estuary, mainly because I’ve heard people describe it as the “Humber estuary”.

Anyway, that’s beside the point. The walk itself was simply down one side of the bridge, cross over, and back over the other side. About 4.5 miles in total I think. I can’t say I thoroughly enjoyed it, as I have an aversion to heights and this bridge is very high. It’s made slightly better, or perhaps worse, by the fact that the water seems not that far away. Perhaps it’s the nature of the ripples of the water, but they only seem a few yards away. But they’re not.

Anyway, here’s the geeky bit. This bridge is so huge that it couldn’t be built on site, it had to be contructed elsewhere and shipped in bit by bit. In fact the two main spans were “swung” out from level with the shore to their final resting place by huge cranes. It really is an awesome bit of engineering, and it’s easy to be awestruck by a monolith to human ingenuity of of such scale when you’re stood underneath one of those huge suspension towers. In fact it was frightening.

Are there parallels we can make in the internet industry? Of course, lots of them. However the best thing about working in this area is that it is, mainly and extensively, a grassroots operation. The public face of the web has been created by individuals and small groups of designers, not huge multinational corporations or teams of architects like the Humber Bridge. And that’s a good thing, because it means that no matter how powerful, rich, good-looking or influential you are, if your websites are rubbish you won’t get the respect from your peers. It constantly amazes me that for every BBC website (which is of course run by a large team of developers) there are dozens if not hundreds of quality sites developed by small teams working to tight budgets.

So what’s happening now, today? Standards compliance and open source are making big waves, with governments looking seriously into Linux, and people like Dave Winer and Jakob Nielsen influencing thousands and thousands of web developers – tomorrows developers of Google, BBC, Microsoft, Linux, XML. The web is continuing to be a grassroots operation, which I think it a great thing. Let’s not lose sight of the vision that, on the web, whether you’re building a 2-mile long bridge, or just jumping over a stream, that you are Somebody.

Some code … and news…

I had an email yesterday from a French journalist (salut, cava?) via the great Dave asking if they could feature this very Wiblog, among others including Dave’s, in a publication about the different types of blogging. I forget what the publication is called, I will post that when I get back to my emails. I found this very strange because a) this blog is pretty geeky, and therefore boring to many, b) I am by no means a talented writer and c) this blog has only been live for a week. It’s a strange world. I’ll see if one of my friends in France can get a copy of the magazine for me, as it would be nice to read what they say about blogging in general, and Wiblog.com in particular.

So, the code. I do want to make a regular feature of this blog little code snippets that may be as useful to you as they have been to me. Last time (see the entry from the 23rd October 2004) I posted quite a large chunck of code. So large, in fact, that there are bound to be errors in it. So this time, I was going to give you something a little smaller, but just as useful.

However due to technical difficulties (ironic, I know) I can’t. I’ll make sure I set something up that allows me to post code easily, but for the time being this blog will be PHP codeless. Ah well, that’s the life of a coder.

Good ol’ 56k…

Firstly, apologies. I should have been displaying lovely colourful screenshots in this post, but I’m not. Tomorrow, promise.

I decided to write a little bit about 56k modems, one of whice I am currently using to connect to the internet (a Pace Micro internal PCI one, no less). They are great. or rather, they were great – 56k modems I mean. A few years ago I remember being mightily impressed by how fast the web seemed when I moved from a 28k modem to the wonder of 56k. Oh, how happy I was. And it lasted a long time. many is the night I would download perhaps even a dozen MP3 files from mp3.com (alas, no more) whilst watching a film. I could time a standard MP3 file to download in about 15 minutes, so that gave me enough time to get about 8 before the ISP kicked me off. NTL and the old “kick uses off every 2 hours because we want to” routine. Happy days.

Then along came broadband, and things weren’t quite as innocent any more. I was an “early adopter”, having a 500k cable modem installed way back in March 2001. While in some ways I haven’t looked back since (apart from a few months without cable, where 56k had to be my lot at home), but in other ways I miss the old days. Forexample, when you can download an MP3 in less that 30 seconds, it seems taste gopes out the winow. The same for websites. I often find a really good website when browsing, but because a minute later I am 6-10 sites further on, it gets lost in the melĂ©e of dross. When we were all shackled by 56k we were all a lot more careful about what we did online, at least I was.

But, saying that, it’s not all bad. Online gaming for one thing has been, at times over the last year, my favourite passtime. Imagine trying to play Black Hawk Down on 56k. Blimey, even network soltaire would be taxing for that. And the music thing is pretty good as well, for instance I found two whole albums for download earlier tonight, so, after a quick email to a place with broadband, I prepared the way for a couple of hours of listening pleasure. And that’s not to mention the frankly amazing things I’m doing at work with hugely complicated database driven sites, all thanks to fast, always-on connections.

So hurrah for broadband, but let’s not forget what brought us to this point. Let us all, with one voice, sing the Ode to the 56k Modem:

Weeeeeep diddlediddleclickclickclick weeep weep drrrrrrrrr ditdit dit dit click click

A confession…

I must admit to being influenced by blog templates greatly at the moment. Which is why I’m having great fun with a new work intranet system I’m developing. Picks yer style, makes yer smile. I may even put some ‘hidden’ extras (easter eggs, I think they’re called) for those that want them, involving people from work … hmm, ideas ahoy.

This also links in with my general excitement about web applications. How many other programs do you use where you can “skin” it with a single click, and even develop your own skins very easily? OK, OK, Winamp, Firefox etc. But they are all freeware/open source things (we open source people tend to be interested in making the whole of a program a positive user experience) so have thousands, perhaps millions, of potential developers and beta testers. Still, it’s an exciting area to be working in. Do you want screenshots? OK, they’ll be here in the next post…