tenpastmidnight blog

Making hay while the sun shines

Snowy Brighton

It's snowing in Brighton. At the end of February, that's very unusual. Damned cold too - obviously!

As an aside - what's with the people wandering around with just t-shirts on? I've had layers, scarf, coat and hat on. What do they have to do in summer, peel their skin off to get cool?

Warthog launch

Jeremy pointed me towards the lovely little Flash game Warthog Launch.

It's based on the even better Warthog Jump, which was 'filmed' within the game Halo.

FuturLab launch

It was the FuturLab launch party last night, with lots of Brighton's new media community turning out to wish James and Andy good luck, watch their displays, listen to music, and drink their beer. A good time was had by all.


Last night's meeting of the 'cream of new media talent in Brighton' met at the Wetherspoons pub in Brighton. We chose it after Alex (B) suggested it last week for somewhere that has a non-smoking section.

I used to go in the Wetherspoons quite a lot as it has their trademark cheap but decent beer and food served well in to the evening. Unfortunately during the summer it seemed to get lots of groups of lads out getting bevvied up before clubbing / fights / both and as it doesn't have very good acoustics, when the pub is full of people you can't hear each other speak.

Anyway, Wednesday night is understandably quieter that Friday or Saturday and it was quiet a good venue, especially as there was a couple of groups of young women in wearing only their pyjamas or nightshirts. This made for a lot of distracted conversations, but in a completely agreeable way. Hopefully it'll turn out to be a Wednesday tradition.

My World

Tom's world inspired me to make my own map of where I've been:

I have quite a way to go to catch up with Tom's travelling. He must have itchy feet or something.

Wander over to World66 to create your own visited country map

South Downs Ecademy Club / online social networks

It was an interesting Lewes Ecademy meeting last night as I bumped in to Phil Booth and we chatted about social networks, wifi, post-.com bubbles and other things. We agreed that there's now so many new ideas and software coming out for new areas of organising to do with the internet that it's almost impossible to keep track of them, let alone decide which one is going to be big. It's become a matter of something catching on and you thinking "Damn, I read about that months ago. Who knew people would like it?"

I enjoy talking to Phil because not only is he very energetic, but we have a similar thinking when it comes to new software or processes - that the human is at the centre of what you are trying to achieve, not the computer, or whatever you are using to deliver what you are creating. That can be so easily forgotten when a group of people are putting something together, whether it be a ten page website about recipes or a four-year massive software project.

Also being talked about was the large number of on-line networking organisations that have sprung up recently. LinkedIn, Okrut and a variety of others. Some will succeed, many will fall by the wayside or be absorbed in to other offerings.

As with anything on-line, social networks have the problem of not only getting people to sign-up, but come back and do things. 'Stickiness' as it used to be called, or how often people come back and see what you're doing, and what your advertisers are selling, is a tricky thing to manage. All mailing lists, forums and newsgroups have a natural attrition rate. People forget to check a site, or they change computer and can't remember their password, or just generally don't find it interesting enough to come back. This last one is a killer, and fighting it generally involves creating content that people are interested in, making them feel part of the site, and getting people to contribute themselves.

For business-type social networks it is important that registered users feel they will gain work or customers through the network, either directly from other users of the site, or from people they know.

I think Ecademy is doing quite well for keeping alive and interesting. On-line it has blogs, clubs and articles that people can contribute to and comment on. Off-line it has regular meet ups across the country and a league of signed up users encouraging others to sign up. I do know several people who feel they do not and will not get anything from Ecademy, but I also know people who have had work through it. As with anything, you get out what you are willing to put in and I think those who put in the effort to show they know what they are doing and are contributing to the system tend to be the ones who get an advantage out of it in the long run. Unfortunately there's no network you can sign up to and expect to just get work straight away, or if there is can you please tell me about it.

Webmonkey is closing :-(

According to Wired News the excellent Webmonkey site, which has helped many a thousand web designer, developer and production person, is about to close.

I'd noticed the newsletter had gone sporadic, then died off, and the blog never really had the energy of the newsletter, so I'd guessed maybe something was up.

It's a great shame, I'm always referring new people who want to get in to working in the web across to Webmonkey, and soon it will be no more.

Search Beyond Google

Search Beyond Google is a good article about what's going on with the different search engines trying to beat Google, and what might happen in the near future.

Gibson Aliens

I've tracked down the (alleged) script of Aliens 3 by William Gibson, which was apparently labelled 'unfilmable' at the time. Reading it now, it seems eminently possible to create, but then again 14 years have passed, and computer generated sets and stunts have come on a long way in realism and affordability.

It's difficult to tell if it's really written by Gibson, touches like "artfully ragged concrete Disneyland" and "oily forest of steel" sound like how he was writing at the time. Reading how a man best known for highly stylish, intellectual science fiction takes on what's basically a high-class B-movie series is interesting. This is post-Mona Lisa Overdrive, but well before Virtual Light, a stop-gap moment for a different media than he was known for.

There has been talk of some of Gibson's stories being turned in to films for several years now, but apart from Johnny Mnemonic which, lets face it, could have been a hell of a lot better. I'm actually not disappointed that he didn't get sucked in to writing films, although he did do an X-Files episode. One of the reasons I like his writing is that he's very good at painting the picture of a society and leaving large amounts to the imagination of the reader. Lots goes unsaid in his books and it's up to you to fill in the blanks as you see fit. That's not the way Hollywood has been working over the last several... well... many years, and I'm glad that so far he's managed not to get caught in the process where original scripts are ground down in to just another pap movie.

Oumou Sangare

Yesterday I went to see Oumou Sangare with David at the Brighton Dome.

I haven't heard a great deal of African music, and there's nothing like being introduced to it by a great group headed by a diva. The band played a mixture of African and standard Western instruments, including something that looked like a small banjo being played by a hacksaw, but sounds like a clarinet.

The support act were a fast replacement as the booked support couldn't get in to the country and I didn't catch their name. Two guys, two instruments and two voices managed to give a great set, even with the occasional sound problem. I actually found their section more accessible, when Oumou Sangare sings, nothing can compete with her voice, but I found it easier to get a handle on the music from the support act, just because there were less layers to deal with and it was all new to me.

New look for main tpm site

I have started putting in a new look for my main personal website tenpastmidnight. I'm not completely happy with it yet, but it's an improvement over what was there before.

Soon I'll try to fiddle about with my Blogger templates so this blog matches with the look of the main site.

Shockwave Rider / Mr Apology

Jeremy Clarkson has been fronting a show on BBC2: 'Inventions That Changed the World.' I caught up with one about the telephone the other night and 'Mr Apology' was mentioned. Apparently this is an answerphone service that was started by an artist for people to apologise for whatever they felt guilty about. I thought in the show they mentioned it started in the 1960s and I thought "Ah, they inspired Hearing Aid" a similar service mentioned in the book Shockwave Rider, by John Brunner, which I read a few weeks ago.

Doing a bit more research (well, Googling) and found an old article from Wired magazine about Mr Apology, and it actually started in 1980. As Shockwave Rider was written in 1975, I'd have to guess it was the inspiration.

John Brunner has written some of the most prescient science fiction I've found. In Shockwave Rider he coined the term 'worm' for a computer program that would distribute itself around a system. He also wrote about people using terminals, well, telephone keypads, to re-write their centrally-held personal history across a world-wide information system. Hmm, a world-wide information system, sound like anything you might be reading this through? Also in the same book, ideas around gathering together huge amounts of data and extrapolating trends from it (data mining, rather popular at the moment.)

All of these ideas are in the background to the main story of the developing character of, well, the-man-with-no-name, the man of the chameleon identity. A semi-hot-housed preacher / systems analyst / hacker-for-hire, depending on the day and the personality he has adopted. Much of the story takes place as an interrogation between him and Paul Freeman, a later graduate from the same hot house system. This allows arguments over the different ways society could have developed, and who it affects the people living in it. The future Brunner suggests, a 'plug-in society' where having short-term jobs and shallow relationships is seen as the norm and to be encouraged seems to still be just around the corner, especially resonant as I'm contracting at the moment.

Shockwave Rider is interesting, although I think Stand on Zanzibar was a better read, and has lot of interesting ideas and predictions in it as well. While authors like William Gibson and Neal Stephenson get mentioned whenever the internet and science fiction are linked, but Brunner was there, thirty years ago, writing about what's happening now. He's not right about everything, thank goodness, but he is right about a hell of a lot, and most of his stories are not about how good things are, they're about how things could have been better. Those are warnings we should be listening to, before more of his predictions come true.

Sterling / Dollar exchange rate

The One Pound Sterling is currently worth 1.89 US Dollars. This represents an eleven year low for the Dollar. I remember when the Pound first dropped below 2 Dollars, which feels a long time ago now.

Normally, this wouldn't really bother me, but I've been helping an American company with some consultancy work recently and I'd really rather the Dollar didn't drop any lower or I'm going to end up taking a pay cut! This is rather a selfish view to take, but as all the rumours I read are that America is letting it's currency drop on world markets to effectively reduce it's national debt, I feel I can be a little selfish about it.

MM ColdFusion forums reprise

Happily, Macromedia seem to have sorted their forums problems out. The rest of my posts re-appeared during the week and now the message sorting has been fixed as well. Good ho.

Macromedia ColdFusion forums

Macromedia have been changing their forums and instead of 'webforums.macromedia.com/coldfusion' there is now a new ColdFusion forums address.

There have been some minor interface changes, which I don't really mind, but they seem to have lost 200 of my posts (I'm now registered has having 40-odd posts, intead of 240-odd) which is quite annoying. Not just for the number next to my name, which doesn't really indicate a lot as you can get excellent answers from people with very few posts, and very odd questions from people with 400-500. I'm hoping they've actually still got my posts in their archives somewhere so they are searchable.

I did check the search interface, which has changed slightly. Before you were able to choose which sections of the forum to search on via tick boxes, now you have to ctrl-click inside a list box. This saves some space on the page, but is bloody horrible for usability and really just means you click 'select all' and the system has to spend time searching parts of the forum unnecessarily.

Also, at least right now, there hasn't been any speed increase to the forums. Even when under Allaire, the CF forums weren't sparklingly quick, but the update last year to the new MM style, which has various pieces of Flash interface on every page, seemed to slow it down further and I often get page timeouts when submitting. If they're going to update anything it would really be better to do something to speed up the server, and at the moment there are no indications of that.

Also, the forum now has a search 'current posts' and 'archive' section. This is great if you're the system admin, because you can relieve stress on the database, but is bad from a usability perspective because you potentially have to run two searches to find there are no results, rather than one. And if you run one and find a batch of posts, this doesn't mean you will find the answer you want if that is in the archive. There is no indication as to what is regarded as a 'current' post or not, so it could be week, a month, or a year. This too is very unhelpful. In part this may have been brought in because the ColdFusion server product and language has changed a lot over the years, especially now it has become MX (version 6.) but splitting the archive in to eras, e.g. 'archive 2001', 'archive 2002' would give you an indicator that you should search in a certain era if you are using an older version of the product.

It must be a nightmare updating a live forum, and I would imagine old posts might suddenly appear as they are being ported over, and other things will sort themselves out. However, at the moment on the main pages for each part of the forum the sorting by date is up the spout, with new posts appearing in the middle of the page with older ones above. That really is the sort of thing that should be caught in testing, especially from such a large organisation.

Tim K for President

Political cartoonist Tim Kreider, the man behind The Pain has used his latest comic to announce, nay suggest, nay mock the idea of, his own running for the USA Presidency.

He has to have one of the best political sound-bites ever: "No more of this invasion bullshit, which is strictly for Nazis and Martians."


My cousin Michael is moving his forums, 'Digitalaudience' and the database of previous posts isn't going with it. For posterity here's my most useful post, dating from 8th Sept 2003:

Severing the corpus callosum, the main connection between the two halves of the brain, is still used as a treatment for very severe epilepsy, though usually only if it is life threatening. It is an effective treatment for these extreme cases because it stops the chaotic activity of the fit spreading from one hemisphere to the other. This stops it feeding back and forth between the two sides of the brain, breaking the loop and keeping it to a less severe form.

It's a very drastic procedure (if you're interested in how they do it it's worth seeing a video, but you need to have a strong stomach) and can have some side effects, though oddly most are not noticeable to other people and only come up in psychological tests looking for the effects of the operation. The strangest side-effect is usually only temporary and is called the 'alien hand' syndrome, where one hand will try and interfere with what the other is doing.

In the case I remember about this, a woman who'd had the operation to split her brain was having trouble afterwards with one of her hands. If she was loading the washing machine, her hand (I think it was her left) would pull the washing out as her right was putting it in. If she got out of the swimming pool and someone handed her a towel, her right hand would take it and her left snatch it and throw it in the pool. Not only was this quite disturbing, she was getting fed up with having to shove the washing in the machine quickly and run away from it before her other hand could take it out or fiddle with the controls.

Usually, this effect is very short lived, and AFAIR she did eventually get over this. It turned out the effect only happened when it was a one-handed task and seemed to be her other hand trying to help out, but that side of her brain didn't know what was going on so was messing things up. When she did something that took both hands, e.g. driving, it was fine.

Very odd.

For some tasks, like finding an odd-one-out element in a field of something similar, people with split-brains are actually quicker than those of us with a normal brain. So, if they had to look for a colon in a load of semi-colons like this:

; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; : ;
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;

They'd find it quicker than you (unless you happen to have a split-brain.) Because both sides of the brain can concentrate on slightly different parts of the overall field. NB: This doesn't mean the different sides of the brain look out of different eyes. The right side of your brain receives messages from the left side of both of your eyes, and the left side of the brain receives the stuff you're seeing on the right side of your eyes. So if you look directly at a vertical line on your screen, the left and right sides of that line go to the opposite sides of your brain.

There's stuff from the perspective of someone who's had the op. here: World view from a split-brain perspective

MSN search toolbar

MSN have launched their own toolbar for Internet Explorer, so you can search direct from a toolbar rather than going to their search page, and it has some other utilities as well.


It seems to duplicate pretty much what the Google toolbar does (right down to being Windows only), without the Page Rank indicator, or a version for their results - it'll be interesting to see if they add one once they're doing their own results. I wonder whether Google regret having the PR indicator on their own toolbar as it gives people doing search engine optimisation something to argue / market themselves through and almost encourages abuse in going for a high page rank for their clients pages. Still, I suppose if Google doesn't like it, they can always turn that functionality off at their servers. I'd almost like to see them do that for a while, it would make the fuss in the SEO world over the recent Google updates (nicknamed Florida and Austin) look like a few old blokes muttering in the pub. The forums would go insane.

Also mildly interesting is that they have introduced pop-up blocking with the MSN bar, which I would have thought is what makes the Google bar popular with a lot of people who aren't interested in page rank or doing lots of searching. Personally I find Mozilla's pop-up blocking more useful than the Google bar, so hopefully Microsoft have copied that. Mozilla blocks pop-ups that open when you first go to a page (or leave it) but if you click on a link in a page that causes a pop-up, it lets it appear, whereas the Google bar blocks it unless you alter it's settings. That can be annoying when you're using a website where the pop-ups are part of the useful nature, rather than just irritating adverts.

The MSN bar seems to represent a stop-gap for features that they would have used to launch IE 6.1 or something similar in the past. It's interesting that having said they won't launch a separate browser in the future that they're now putting in features people want via another method. Still, I suppose this might come from the search engine group within Microsoft rather than the browser group. I'd expect all of this to be in the next version of IE, whenever that comes out.

Shame they don't have a decent-CSS-support toolbar add-on, that would help a lot more than this will!

E-mail filtering of mailing lists

I'm on a few mailing lists, with the Brighton New Media (BNM) List having by far the most posts per day (getting about 2,500 posts a month.) Being that it's for web bods like myself, there are some tools for searching and getting other info out of the archive, mainly being put together by Tristan Roddis.

Tristan has a script compile statistics for each month on who is posting the most (e.g. January 2004.) I was thinking of tying this, or more likely a home-brew version of the same thing, in to an e-mail filter which would send messages from the top 3-5 posters of the previous month direct to the Trash folder.

This is not to say that the people who post the most have nothing interesting to say, but I've noticed over several months that generally the top posters do post a very large amount of rubbish, and it could well out-weigh anything interesting they might have to post. I'm including myself in this as I have been in this top rank of posters in the past.

The inspiration for this sort of filter comes from a few months ago, when two members of the BNM list were arguing a lot on the list, and consistently both would be top of the posting statistics. Really, nothing they were arguing about was interesting to me and I could have filtered all posts from both, but then one of the parties started arguing with someone else, whereas the other poster calmed down and started posting both less, and more useful messages. Therefore, the idea behind a dynamic filter would be to catch the people who are posting a very high amount, and likely have a low signal to noise level in their posts, but to start allowing them through again when their behaviour has improved / they've got less free time and post less to the list.

This wouldn't stop me reading posts from someone who constantly posts drivel at relatively low frequency. For them, I'd still need to set up a particular rule to filter their posts, but that's easy and there are very, very few people who it's worth doing that to anyway.

This type of filtering is quite brutal and therefore useful, interesting posts would be missed. However, I have noticed on popular mailing lists generally if someone I've filtered posts something interesting someone else replies and leaves in enough information for me to see the original message, or at least know whether I ought to dig around in the Trash folder and find it. Therefore, most useful information will be visible, if not in it's original form.

Hmm, perhaps a beta test with me setting the rules manually for a few months is called for.

New aerial wooness

After an inspection by my letting agent (Leaders) recently some chaps arrived today to put up an aerial for me. This is so I can get rid of the small TV aerial which sits on my television.

Having been given a digital TV box for Christmas, I can now pick up the channels offered through 'freeview.' Apparently I'm in the wrong bit of Brighton to point the aerial at the Whitehawk transmitter, which has been upgraded for digital, but am instead pointing at the 'Theobald' transmitter, or some spelling thereof. However, the 'Island' transmitter, presumably on the Isle of Wight, is digital, so they reckon I'm picking up transmission from there. Wherever it's coming from, BBC News 24 is very welcome.

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