September 2005

Album Cover: New Skin for the Old Ceremony

"You told me again you preferred handsome men, but for me you would make an exception."
Leonard Cohen / Chelsea Hotel #2

Dual Tuner Dilemma

September 30, 2005 6:22 PM

So what do you do when your TiVo only allows you to record two TV shows at once and you've got three shows all playing at the same time? You record two of them, and then fire up your favorite BitTorrent client, of course!

One of the unfortunate side-effects of the major TV stations packing all their good stuff into the Thursday night, 8pm timeslot is that us "dual-tuner" folks have to choose our favorite two shows to record. In my case, this means Survivor and Smallville (did I actually just admit to that in a public forum?). However, Everybody Hates Chris is a close third, and so tonight I turned to the magic of BitTorrent to satiate my TV needs. As is usually the case with BitTorrent, I was not let down.

At the time of writing, episode 2 of Everybody Hates Chris is available from the main page at Seedler, my new favorite BitTorrent search engine.

I suppose one of the fortunate side effects of the timeslot issue I mentioned above is that I'm not the only one in this boat. Everyone else seems to have missed it too, so there is currently a buttload of people downloading the file. And thanks to the beauty of BitTorrent, that means everyone reaps the benefits simultaneously.

Long live BitTorrent.

Television | Post Comments | View Comments (0) | Permalink

Comment Spammers are Nuggets

September 30, 2005 1:10 AM

Why are comment spammers so stupid? It's gotten to the point where I'm no longer depressed about it and can actually muster a chuckle or two when I see spam slip through the cracks.

Can't these people come up with anything unique or creative? Does it always have to be either "phentermine" or "online/internet casinos?" What is up with that? I just want to get these nuggets in a room and play dodgeball with them. Seriously. They're so dumb.

What, you need proof? Take a look at the latest culprit to hit my site:

Hello, I'm astonished! Actually I'm working in gambling thematic internet casino ( http://www.free-internet-casino.us ) and not really understand everything, that is discussed here, but, anyway it was really interesting to read everything here. Thanks for pleasure I've got while visiting your site.

And of course the original is peppered with links to God knows where, simply to try and get some old fashioned lovin' from the Google Bot.

Typically these types of spam get removed from my blog in a matter of hours, and incidentally they've become much easier to track given the new "Recent Comments" section of my site's subheader. However, I've decided to leave this one around just 'cause it's so obnoxious and absurd. I added the rel="nofollow" attribute to the outgoing links (as Google suggests) to, in effect, neuter its sole purpose in life and yet still preserve it for mockery's sake.

"Thanks for pleasure I've got while visiting your site?" No, really, the pleasure is all mine.

Blogging | Post Comments | View Comments (2) | Permalink

Disabled Form Fields in Internet Explorer

September 28, 2005 9:49 PM

One of Internet Explorer's many annoyances is how it displays disabled form fields. As most web designers know, disabling form fields is a handy way to ensure that form input gets submitted in a logical and useful way by eliminating the chance of certain fields being submitted when other fields' information will suffice.

One practical example of this technique is disabling an address field when a zip code field has been filled in (either partially or completely). If you're familiar with most location-based services on the web, they frequently give you the option of searching for services based on your address or your zip code, but not necessarily both. In fact, when a zip code search is performed, chances are any address information you've filled out will be ignored.

To make things easier on the user, disabling the unnecessary field or fields makes it clear that that particular information is no longer necessary given the information that has already been provided. So, upon entering your zip code into a form, the web designer can ensure that the address form field gets disabled (via JavaScript).

This is all fine and dandy, but unfortunately not all web browsers make the fact that a form field has been disabled incredibly apparent. Let's look at an example. The following image illustrates the difference between disabled form fields in Firefox and Internet Explorer (incidentally, Opera 8.5 displays disabled form fields exactly as Firefox does):

Comparison Between Firefox and Internet Explorer's Rendering of Disabled Form Fields

As you can see, while Firefox makes it very clear that the form field has been disabled, Internet Explorer does not. Clicking on the field, of course, makes it evident in that neither browser lets you edit the contents of the field, but visually there is a very big difference here.

So how do you remedy the situation, you ask? Well, typically when you are disabling form fields on-the-fly, you're doing so via JavaScript. Given this fact, we can assume that you'll be able to insert some code into your disabling function to update the style of the form field being disabled (or enabled, in order to get the state back to normal). The following code does the trick:

document.getElementById('foo').style.backgroundColor = "#ddd";

As long as your form field has the "foo" id associated with it, you're good to go. It should look something like:

<input type="text" name="box" id="foo" />

So next time you disable form fields on-the-fly, keep this tip in mind so you know the big three browsers (on Windows, at least) are all rendering your disabled form fields in a similar fashion.

Web Design | Post Comments | View Comments (5) | Permalink

Debbie Downer on DVT

September 28, 2005 6:45 PM

I didn't realize that Debbie Downer was now employed by Google and posting at their official blog.

Waaaaaah, waaaaaah, waaaaaaaaaaah.

Elsewhere | Post Comments | View Comments (2) | Permalink

Bernzilla Redesign 2005: Submerged

September 25, 2005 5:18 AM

Using image maps an old, dead technique? Says who? :)

Introducing "Submerged," the latest design of bernzilla.com. As you've probably noticed by now, as long as you're not reading this in one of those new-fangled news reader thingies, I have completely redesigned my website. I've dubbed it "Submerged" simply because it just has that kind of feel to it.

I'm actually pretty amazed at how long I was able to stay with my previous design. I got a lot of positive feedback about both the "Snow" and "Gecko" themes that were available, so that probably helped a bit too. However, as obvious by my recent refresh, I was getting a little antsy last month, and it eventually led up to the complete overhaul that led to what you see today.

Yes, I am using an image map for my main header, but I've employed techniques similar to those put to use by Dave Shea to ensure that getting around my site is as efficient as possible with the new header. I've also moved back to a smaller font size for my main content, simply because I agree with Ryan's opinion that it makes for a "crisper" look. As always, though, thanks to the beauty of CSS and non-fixed-width font sizes, you can hit CTRL/+ or CTRL/- at any time (in Firefox at least) to change the font size to your liking.

As is apparent in the preceding paragraph, I've also added permalinks to comments so that interesting or useful comments (I find they are usually more interesting than the original content I post) can be linked to directly. Those are available via the arrows next to commenters' names.

I think probably the most monumental change, though, is the move from a sidebar to a subheader. The thing about a sidebar is that eventually it loses its usefulness as you expand a page vertically. Since I'm only interested in linking to a few of my recent posts from the main page, and because I usually only list a few of the most recent B-Sides anyway, it made sense to move those items into a subheader. The list of recent comments is just icing on the cake that became possible with the aforementioned permalink addition.

I've taken a gander at the new design in Firefox on Linux and in Internet Explorer 6, Opera 8.5 and Firefox on Windows. Not surprisingly, it actually looks the niftiest on Linux, but I think that has more to do with Redhat's native font handling than anything else. Of the Windows browsers, the new design seems to look the best in Opera 8.5. I'd love to hear how it looks in other browsers on other operating systems.

I've still got a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to my blog, but most of the aesthetic changes are now complete. As always, I'm open to feedback and criticism so let me know what you think!

Web Design | Post Comments | View Comments (4) | Permalink

RSS By Any Other Name

September 24, 2005 2:18 AM

Last month geeks were up-in-arms about Microsoft's desision to refer to RSS feeds as "web feeds" in Internet Explorer 7. Robert Scoble quickly defended the move, and not surprisingly, so did Asa Dotzler, calling RSS a "silly name." Asa also raises the point that RSS feeds are called "Live Bookmarks" in Firefox.

A month later, the uproar seems to have faded away, but that doesn't make the topic any less interesting. I have to agree with Scoble and Asa, simply because RSS isn't the only dog in the fight. Referring to all feeds as RSS is a bit like referring to all cola as "Coke." Oh wait, people do that, don't they? Well, I think you get my point.

It should also be noted that Microsoft and Mozilla aren't the only ones to put a friendly label on feeds. Another technology powerhouse you might have heard of, Google, calls feeds "web clips" in their latest version of Google Desktop.

You might be able to make the argument that everyday web surfers have figured out what XML and HTML are, but you won't be able to win that argument. Ask a fourth grade schoolteacher like my mom (I'm beginning to sound a bit like Blake Ross here) what HTML is and she'll probably give you the same look her students would give if she asked them to give an example of a quadratic equation. Ask her what a web page is, though, and she'll probably show you a few of her favorites.

The geeks who are shaping the web need to realize that they're shaping it for primarily non-geeks who really, really, really want to understand their computer right from the get-go without needing to understand fancy mumbo-jumbo. Intuitiveness is a serious problem requiring a lot of thought on the part of software developers. Sticking with RSS simply for the sake of being stubborn is nothing more than a Really Stupid Solution to that problem.

XML | Post Comments | View Comments (0) | Permalink

The State of the Browsersphere - Part 2: Opera

September 22, 2005 8:35 PM

Of all the browsers I'll be reporting on as part of my "state of the browsersphere" series, Opera probably has the least to offer in terms of screen real estate, but that doesn't mean that you won't get any bang for your buck.

At the end of last month, Opera celebrated their 10-year anniversary by giving away free registrations for one day. Just three weeks later, apparently in response to the number of people who downloaded the free version, they decided to release Opera 8.5, a version free of banner advertising and not requiring any registration at all.

In just two days, the free version of Opera has apparently already surpassed the one-million download mark. Just for a reference, it took version 1.0 of Firefox over 4 days to reach the 1,000,000 download mark.

Here comes the part where I leave you hangin', wondering if I'll cover Firefox or IE in my next installment ;)

See also:
Part 1: Safari
Part 3: Internet Explorer
Part 4: Firefox
Part 5: The Minor Players

Browsers | Post Comments | View Comments (0) | Permalink

All You Need to Know About Hotmail 'Kahuna'

September 21, 2005 2:35 AM

Robert Scoble has linked to a video of the next version of Hotmail code-named "Kahuna."

As you'd expect, the new version utilizes the same AJAX techniques that have made GMail and Yahoo! Mail Beta so impressive.

However, at 12:30 into the video, Scoble asks the million dollar question and gets an answer worth about 39 cents:

"Now does it work with non-Internet Explorer browsers?"

"Well so right now, right now the technologies we're using are primarily targeting IE 5.5 and IE 6 *cough* that is the majority of our customer base."

Hopefully they don't plan on that changing.

I can't tell you any more about how cool or not-cool the new version of Hotmail is. That's where I stopped watching.

Browsers | Post Comments | View Comments (2) | Permalink

The State of the Browsersphere - Part 1: Safari

September 20, 2005 8:12 PM

This is part 1 in a series of posts about the current state of affairs in the "browsersphere," or the world of web browser development. I originally intended to encapsulate the current goings-on in a single blog post, but because now is such an exciting time for web browser development (and because it has taken me so long to get off my butt and actually post), I will be breaking them out into logical parts. The first part involves Apple's web browser, Safari (which they now seem to be referring to as "Safari RSS").

Over the course of the past two months, the Safari team, headed by David Hyatt, has made some pretty significant improvements to their browser, all the while expanding the capabilities of WebKit so that other web-related OS X applications can reap the benefits as well.

Multiple background support has been added, as specified in CSS3. This effectively allows for the Sliding Doors effect to be achieved with one element rather than two.

In addition, two new form controls have been implemented in WebKit: checkboxes and radio buttons. After setting the -khtml-appearance property to none in his or her CSS, a web developer gains full access to all states of the form control so that he or she can effectively define what a checkbox or radio button will look like when checked, hovered over, pressed, disabled, etc. This means applying background images, borders, background colors, and anything else he or she desires.

Finally, Safari's support for CSS3 Backgrounds and Borders has been almost completely fleshed out with the addition of the border-image, background-clip, background-origin and border-radius properties. David Hyatt eloquently explains what these new properties do over at Surfin' Safari.

Look for part 2 of this multipart series very soon, when I'll cover what the folks working on the Opera web browser have been up to lately.

See also:
Part 2: Opera
Part 3: Internet Explorer
Part 4: Firefox
Part 5: The Minor Players

Browsers | Post Comments | View Comments (1) | Permalink

Flight of the Conchords

September 18, 2005 10:06 PM

A couple nights back I happened to catch an airing of One Night Stand on HBO. The episode featured a two-man band/comedy act called Flight of the Conchords. I immediately recognized the tail end of the song they were performing as Business Time, a hilarious song about married-life lovemaking that a co-worker had sent to me a few months back. Apparently it had been played on 103.7 The Mountain, a local radio station here in Seattle (more on that over at defective yeti).

My girlfriend and I ended up watching the final 5 minutes or so of the episode and then I immediately took advantage of my TiVo powers and set up a recording of the full episode. We ended up watching it in its entirety tonight after coming home from the Seahawks game and could not stop laughing for the life of us ("get your hand off my tail, you'll make it dirty").

Now that I've seen the episode, I want another fix, so I've spent the last half hour or so scouring the web for any audio clips I can get my hands on. Unfortunately, since the band is still relatively small (this won't last) there isn't much to be found. However, it's amazing what interesting tidbits you'll come across when you reach into the far, dark corners of the web:

An actor whose three-second appearance in the film Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring earned him thousands of fans around the world, has been performing incognito at a small Fringe venue.

Bret McKenzie, half of comedy music duo Flight of the Conchords, played a part so small in the film that it didn't have a name, let alone dialogue. But his fleeting appearance in the Council of Elrond scene was a cult hit with Rings boffins, particularly female Rings boffins, around the world.

Fans have since dubbed his nameless elfin character Figwit and set up at least three websites in honour of the New Zealand actor and musician.

One of the sadder things I uncovered was the fact that Flight of the Conchords were at Bumbershoot in my own backyard only two weeks ago! I'm seriously kicking myself right now. Seeing them alone would have been worth the aroma of Birkenstocks and BO that usually permeates the air at that festival.

If you've come here looking for information on Flight of the Conchords, be sure to check out their official site and buy their album, Folk The World Tour - Live Album. I believe the episode of One Night Stand I mentioned will be re-airing on HBO in October.

Oh, and there's also apparently an audio/visual page over at What the Folk! but I haven't been able to access it tonight. At the moment I'm checking out some audio of the group that is available from BBC Radio 2.

God these guys crack me up!

Music | Post Comments | View Comments (2) | Permalink

Online Journalism

September 18, 2005 12:01 PM

Asa Dotzler ripped Nathan Weinberg a new one yesterday for basically getting on his knees for what Asa appropriately calls "Microsoft's FUD engine."

My question is, does anyone actually read articles that start out with something like "On eof the biggest moves involves search...?"

When I come across an article with a mistake like that in its opening sentence, its credibility immediately sinks to a level slightly lower than a junior high school's online newspaper and I usually just leave the page.

I am constantly awestruck by how poorly online articles are written, even at sites like News.com where I'd expect nothing but professionalism. Afterall, these people are getting paid to write...the least they can do is follow the accepted rules of writing...grammar, spelling and all. Or, if you're not intelligent enough to do so, go become an anchor for Fox News Channel or something. That way if I do run across your journalism I'll at least be in a state of mind where I'm expecting a little entertainment anyway.

Okay, time to get off the soapbox and back to adding a few more thousand search engines to my web browser.

Elsewhere | Post Comments | View Comments (0) | Permalink

AJAX: Not Just for Maps and Email Anymore

September 17, 2005 1:50 AM

While the talkers are out there talking (about things like thick and thin clients), the doers are out there doing.

Meebo and Writely are just two of the latest AJAX apps to storm the web (as apparent at del.icio.us).

At this point it's hard to deny that AJAX provides an excellent method for emulating a traditional desktop application in a web browser. It allows web developers to do things that only "hard core" programmers could do in the past. A few years ago if someone asked me to create a web application to compete with the likes of Trillian I would have politely laughed in their face. Then I probably would have sat around thinking about how cool it would be if you actually could. Well, the time has come.

The one thing that scares me about AJAX is the same thing that scares me about blogging and the latest wave of social software – longevity. Sure, I'll admit that certain aspects like tagging aren't going anywhere for quite a while, but with the sheer number of people blogging, I can't help but feel like the overall novelty of it will at some point wash away. As bandwidth becomes more and more transparent, I don't see any reason why people would continue to write their thoughts when they can speak them and share them in a aural or visual fashion. At that point the Internet becomes something like a seemingly endless channel lineup with everyone running their own personal radio or TV show (or both). Isn't TV bad enough already? :)

I can't help but wonder how long AJAX will remain in the spotlight when so much effort is being put into making web-related applications easier to create with things like XUL and XAML. Then you throw in something like Sparkle for the not-so-technical crowd and you can begin to comprehend how "development" on the web is evolving.

I guess the fundamental pillars of web and application development will always be there. Until the power grid goes down of course, but that is a fatalist theory for another time. There will continue to be smart people doing smart things in smart new ways. I guess that is what makes the web so exciting. I just wish I had some conception of the things we will see over the coming years.

Web Development | Post Comments | View Comments (0) | Permalink

What I Don't Like About Google Talk

September 15, 2005 9:32 PM

Now that some of the hype surrounding Google Talk has subsided, one can get real about the new entry into the IM space and not be looked at as some kind of heretic. So here I go...

First off, Google Talk has its fair share of bugs. This is probably to be expected of beta software, but that doesn't make their existence any less annoying. Afterall, I'm a believer in the app and have already shunned MSN Messenger and AIM in favor of Google's new offering.

One of the bugs I've noticed is that exiting out of Google Talk as it is still initializing sometimes hangs the app and it ends up sticking around in the taskbar long after it has disappeared from the system tray. The only solution I've found is to kill the application from Task Manager. Lame.

Another bug seems to have more to do with the underlying Gmail network than the software. When you've invited someone to Google Talk, if they were already in your Gmail address book their name gets replaced with their Gmail address. So for instance, if I send an invite to my brother's email address but already have Michael Zimmermann stored in my address book, Michael Zimmermann goes away and someaddress@gmail.com shows up in its place. Again, lame.

Another annoyance shows up when you've invited somebody and they haven't accepted. In this scenario, you have the option of withdrawing the invite. However, I've found that no matter how many times I withdraw, they somehow keep showing up in my buddy list as invited. How I remove them permanently, I have no clue. The whole notion of anything I do in my buddy list inadvertently changing something in my Gmail contact list gives me the heebie-jeebies anyway.

One of the things that bothered me right off the bat was the fact that I couldn't use Google Talk as a replacement for the Gmail Notifier Firefox extension. There is no option to show up as offline in Google Talk and still get notifications when new email arrives. I've also noticed that clicking on the new mail popup notification opens up a really awkward window containing only the message and not the rest of the Gmail interface. Strange.

I haven't quite verified this, but it seems to me that Google Talk very infrequently checks to see if I've read new email. So if it says I have 2 new messages and I go to read them, it will continue to tell me I have 2 new messages until I right-click on the icon in the system tray and choose "Check Mail Now." What's that all about? I'd also love to hear a sound when I get new email in Gmail, but for some reason they left that option out when it was available for all other notification events. Why Google, why?

Now for the grain of salt. Google Talk is beautiful in its simplicity and serves the majority of my needs. Seeing some of the aforementioned bugs and features squashed and added, respectively, would truly make Google Talk the all-other-IM-clients killer.

Computers | Post Comments | View Comments (1) | Permalink

Form Post Hijacking

September 12, 2005 10:50 PM

I've been sans DSL for over a week now, so forgive me for the lack of posts. Using dial-up is almost as bad as having to listen to Clay Aiken on repeat. But anyway...

While I've been away, some nugget has been trying to hijack my contact form. He's done it about 10-15 times over the course of the past few days, and he's easily recognizable by the email address he includes in the attempts, jrubin3546@aol.com.

All it took was a Google search for that address to uncover other victims. That also led me to Form Post Hijacking, a very informative look at what is going on when these hacking attempts are made. Not only is there a very in-depth explanation, but a good description of preventative measures to take as well.

Even though I don't believe the hacker, if you can even call him that, has been successful in exploiting an open relay on my domain, I've gone through and followed the measures explained at Form Post Hijacking anyway, eliminating all carriage returns and line feeds from entries in that form. However, it should be noted that I used PHP's ereg_replace function instead of preg_replace and combined the two calls into one, like so:

$message = ereg_replace("\r|\n", " ", $message);

I'll still probably have to deal with the annoyance of receiving worthless emails for a while, but at least I know that loser isn't getting anything out of it.

Web Development | Post Comments | View Comments (0) | Permalink

Katrina

September 03, 2005 12:17 AM

There are over a million words' worth of pictures over at Flickr demonstrating the seriousness of Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath.

Let's hope the worst is over. My thoughts go out to all those involved – be it directly or indirectly.

Elsewhere | Post Comments | View Comments (0) | Permalink

Making a Name for Myself

September 02, 2005 11:53 PM

My brother likes to tease me about how he can type my name in to Google and get so many search results. He also sometimes likes to refer to me as "HREF HREF," but that is a story for another time.

I did a little narcissistic investigation tonight, and noticed that I have started to make quite a name for myself...literally. This wasn't the case several months ago, but you can now do a Google search for my last name and find a link to my blog on the first page of results (you won't have as much luck if you Americanize it). In addition, Googling my first name will get you to my site by the second page of results.

I suppose I should put things in perspective though. If you've got a name like John Smith and end up on the first or second page of results, you deserve a big pat on the back. If you've got a name like Bernie Zimmermann, though, you've probably still got some work to do. Rest assured I intend to do it.

One of the funnier things noted in all of this, however, is that a Google Image search for my name returns quite an interesting set of results. In fact, it's quite a revealing look into the bizarreness that is being me.

Blathery | Post Comments | View Comments (0) | Permalink