Archive for the ‘Websites’ Category

Blog Redesign Launched

May 8th, 2010

I’ve gone ahead and pushed out the blog redesign. I expect there will be a few teething issues, especially with elements which it wasn’t easy to test in either the mock-ups, or using WordPress’ preview function. It is just these kind of situations when running a local server would be useful.

I also intend to try and improve some of the shortcomings of the theme over the next few weeks, and add a few functions. For example, as it stands the site looks somewhat less exciting in Internet Explorer than in most other browsers. I haven’t even dared test it in IE6 yet, partly because I don’t even have access to a copy. With WordPress 3.0 launching soon I imagine I will also try and adapt the theme to take advantage of any improvements made.

Google Wave

Oct 1st, 2009

I first saw the Google Wave videos a few months ago, shortly after Google first announced the product.

It looked quite exciting, although admittedly it wasn’t something I was entirely sure exactly how I’d end up using. The simple benefit of a communication system which fused E-mail and chat was obvious, especially when it was also media rich, something that is becoming increasingly important in modern communication. However, at the same time I realised that Google were providing a toolset, which would quickly offer up novel uses, discovered by those who used it. Just as my twitter account has morphed over time, and is now used for far more than just simple “I am eating a sandwich” tweets, so I could picture Google Wave expanding rapidly beyond some of the uses concieved of at its exception.

Of course, the only real way to find all these uses is by using the thing, but at the moment Wave is still in its closed stages. Google have started giving out invites, although I imagine my somewhat late discovery of the application form, not to mention my admittedly limited skills in web development, have lead me to being somewhat low down on their list. Fortunately however, I managed to get hold of an “invite nomination” from Andrew Badera, whose blog I happened to stumble across by accident. Andrew was very kind to drop one my way, especially as I admitted to not being a regular on his blog, so I thought it only fair that I drop him a link in return.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress of the invite nomination, and should I get some invites of my own, I’ll make them available here, and via my twitter feed.

Update: I recieved my invite this morning. Unfortunately I don’t have anyone to talk to. If you have a Google Wave account, then feel free to wave at me.

Political Compass

Apr 22nd, 2009

I first played around with the political compass a few years ago, and was vaguely worried that I may have betrayed my old self, and have darted to the far right without quite realising it. As it happens I haven’t, and indeed I think the score is somewhat more extreme in the other direction than it had been previously.

Your political compass
Economic Left/Right: -7.88
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -8.62
Political Compass

Now in practice of course I realise that asking everyone to march to my drum would be ineffective, impractical, and immoral. While I’m not prepared to indulge every contradictory philosophy, finding some abhorrent, and still others mutually exclusive, I realise that expecting everyone to become raging liberal-lefty is not going to work in political terms, or even practical terms. As a result were I ever to become a mainstream politician, I’d probably have to take a bit more moderate a position. This is probably why I’d never be a mainstream politician.

There are also many points raised on which my opinions are far more nuanced than a four point scale will allow. I don’t think this changes my idealism in my approach to them, but believing something is a good idea is still fundamentally separated from knowing how to implement it. I also realise that any ideas I may have will almost invariably need to work in our current social climate, and complete political upheaval required to achieve some ideals will cause more problems than it solves. While I may be less than enamoured by the pandering to popularism democracy results in, I’m far less keen on many of the alternatives which have been seen. I may very well love everyone to live governed by rules of sunshine and happiness, but unfortunately I fear that the rules of Kalashnikovs and power would find a way to take hold.

One question intrigue me, and I’m not sure I see it as a left-right argument.

There is now a worrying fusion of information and entertainment.

The question itself could be interpreted to apply to many facets of the modern entertainment and information industries. I’m currently a big fan of Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe, but should that push me more to agree or disagree? The program is entertainment undoubtedly, but also informative, but paradoxically one of its prime thesis is to attack the way in which the news has allowed the need to deliver facts to be hijacked by the need to entertain. Is there hypocrisy in this situation? Secondly, infotainment has been one of the primary driving forces of the web and internet, with sites like Wikipedia being both methods of entertainment and sources of information. While I think letting entertainment get in the way of your facts is a Bad Thing™ I don’t think I could say the same for the reverse, although perhaps the end result is inevitable.

Favourite WordPress Plugins

Apr 10th, 2009

One of the benefits of using an extremely popular blogging platform, such as WordPress is the diverse range of plugins available. This allows for the easy addition of new features to a blog, and the latest versions of WordPress provide excellent tools to make it easy to install plugins and keep them updated. In this post I will mention some of my favourite WordPress plugins, and describe what they do and why I like them.

Akismet

Akismet is one of the most popular anti-spam plugins, and has replaced spam karma 2 as my plugin of choice after the latter was discontinued. Akismet is incredibly simple to use and configure, requiring just a WordPress API code. It then sits quietly by, monitoring all comments and trackbacks and filtering out the spam. At the moment it is working overdrive, thanks to an overzealous spambot operating form a small set of IP addresses.

Unlike some anti-spam solutions, akismet uses a centralised server which serves as a filter for thousands of different blogs. This allows the service to take advantage of the repetitive nature of a lot of comments spam, and to rapidly isolate dodgy IP addresses. Of course, it also adds a central point of failure, but I haven’t noticed any issues in this respect.

Obviously the most important stats with respect to a spam filter is accuracy, and while Akismet has a low rate of misses, I haven’t been able to assess false positives as this blog doesn’t get enough traffic.

Spam: 257
Not Spam: 13
Missed Spam: 2
False Positives: 0

BackType Connect

A recent addition to my blog, Backtype Connect is the offspring of the excellent Backtype website. Backtype initially began as a comments aggregator, bringing together a users comments across the entire blogosphere, all under one page. This move helped to solve one of my major problems with the blogosphere, a dispersed identity which can lack cohesion. A user visiting my blog would be completely isolated from comments I’ve made elsewhere, despite these comments being as important as those made on home turf.
From this beginning Backtype went on to consider another issue of the social web, namely that a lot of conversation remained divorced from the article being discussed. If someone were to tweet a comment about this blog post, I’d have little idea, and systems such as bit.ly and tinyurl.com obfuscate the connection even further. Backtype worked to index these references, extending pingback to places such as twitter and comments threads.
It is this latter service that the Backtype Connect plugin integrates directly into the blog. For example, a look at the comments of this entry will show the tweet I made to advertise this post, as well as any other conversations about it that may arise on other places, such as Digg or Reddit. (God forbid this blog should ever get dugg, it would be dead before it hit the front page.)

iBegin Share

Given my fear of getting dugg, it was possibly a mistake to add this plugin. There are many plugins which add share-this links to the bottom of blog entries, making it easier for users to share the content over different websites. I was already familiar with the author of iBegin Share after having used the fantastic lifestream plugin, discussed below.
iBegin share is particularly appealing, as it adds a compact link which opens up an in-stream list of possible options. The plugin is free and open-source, and thus is easily extensible with further options. It also offers the option of sharing the article via E-mail, and provides statistics regarding exactly which articles are being shared, and via what services.
You can see it in operation at the bottom of this post.

Lifestream

Lifestream is absolutely amazing. Just as backtype unifies comments made across different blogs, lifestream unifies activities across the social web. It does this my making use of RSS feeds and API’s for a diverse range of services, and combines this into a timeline for your activity across the web. Developer David Cramer is still adding to an already impressive list of services which can be monitored by the plugin. As it currently stands my lifestream tracks my activity on:

  • Twitter
  • Flickr
  • Steam
  • GfW Live
  • Backtype (obviously)
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Last.fm
  • Delicio.us

It also supports many more websites which I don’t use, as well as any generic RSS feed. As well as generating a dynamic stream, the plugin is also able to generate regular digests, much like my summaries of weekly tweets.

Twitter Tools

Twitter tools is probably THE tool for intergration between your blog and twitter. Not only does it allow one to make tweets from within WordPress (admittedly a fairly useless feature), but also allows one to generate automatic tweets when new blog posts are made. This blog also makes use of its API for retrieving recent tweets, both for the status bar at the bottom, and for the widget in the sidebar. The option for weekly tweet summaries is also useful, although the ability to make a blogpost for every tweet is somewhat more questionable.

Others

I have plenty of other plugins running on this blog, many of which have been active from the beginning. WordPress.com stats allows a self hosted blog to make use of wordpress.com’s stat tracking tools, WP-Footnotes1, Collapsing Categories is a simple javascript widget which collapses down subcategories in the sidebar, Better Blogroll helps you configure the number and order of the links in your blogroll, while Configurable Tag Cloud provides additional layers of customisation for the tag cloud.

  1. Makes it very easy to add footnotes to blog posts, and is surprisingly customizable []

Good Old Games

Sep 9th, 2008

Good old games is a games download service that allows gamers to buy older titles, especially those which may be a bit difficult to find without trawling the depths of eBay. Like all the best download services, its titles are free of DRM, which means that they aren’t suddenly going to break on you should the company go bust, or if you decide to reformat your computer. Quite nicely, they also promise everything will be XP and Vista compatible, something that can be a bit troublesome for older titles.

A few months ago I though this sounded quite snazzy, so signed myself up for the beta. Today I got access, so thought I’d give things a whirl. As a favour to their beta users, GOG are doing a buy one get one free offer on the first order, Sign-up was quick and easy, and didn’t seem to require too much in the way of information. Unfortunately it did decide to send my password and security question to my E-mail, a questionable security practise. I’ll E-mail them on this one.

I had a bit of trouble with establishing a secure connection, but that seemed to be due to OpenDNS. It seems to cause problems on secure sites if some of the page content is hosted at an invalid domain.

Payment allows visa or Mastercard only, which means those without a credit card are possibly out of luck. I’d try my debit card, but I’d prefer the added security of a credit card on an unfamiliar website. So can’t say if delta is also accepted. However they claim that they are adding more cards shortly, so I assume this limitation won’t last long.

On purchase of Sacrifice at the bargain price of $5.99 (About £3) the game was added to my account page for downloading when I saw fit. The account page also provides links to forums, articles and additional downloads.It also gives me the opportunity to rate the game and review it. The articles address technical issues with the game, such as the requirement to run the installer as administrator on Windows Vista.

The downloads for the game include the manual, reference card, desktops and avatars. The game itself downloads as a single exe, and the 562.6MB file is downloading hovered around 140kB/s-160kB/s, it looks like it will take about an hour.

While thats happening I’ll talk about the rest of the service. Much like Steam, GOG provides forums for all the games available on its service, as well as a General Discussion forum which currently contains mainly feedback and feature requests.

The website provides a nice console, listing games you own, providing download links as well as links to relevant support articles and forums. According to GOG purchased games will be available for download forever, which should sound like a no-brainier, but some download services fail to provide this. The website also encourages you to make backups to CD, something I’ll do as I don’t fancy re-downloading half a gig regularly.

Unlike something like Steam, the service doesn’t require any background tasks. This will please many people and hopefully means that games installs will be virtually identical to the CD versions, only without a CD requirement.

Interestingly the license covers any number of PCs/laptops in the same household. In practise of course many people will do this anyway, but its nice that they allow it implicitly.

Now onto the the most important aspect, the catalogue. GOG promises to add new releases each Tuesday, which should ensure a constant flow of games. Currently it just hosts titles from Codemasters’ and Interplay’s back catalogues. This includes among them classics such as Fallout 1 and 2, Sacrifice, Giants: Citizen Kabuto and MDK, all at $5.99. There are also a few $9.99 titles thrown into the mix. Currently they only have 34 titles listed, and a few of those are flagged as ‘coming soon.’ Notably key Interplay titles like Baldur’s gate aren’t present, I suppose Atari’s continued interest in the D&D license, or Bioware’s cavorting with EA, may be holding this one back. However the forums are full of requests so we’ll see what happens.

The developers currently seem to be fairly active on the forums, but this is may be just due to the beta period.

With the download done, we are on to installation. As suggested, I’ll install as administrator.

Hmm, bit of a slow start here, but its a huge file and the problem could be with Vista’s paranoid security. Still, we are in to a customised installer. Seems to be very easy to use, if you don’t want to charge the default installation directory it is installed and launched in three clicks.

Game works first time, and adds itself to the vista games manager, uhh, twice, once with a shiny icon, and another time with downloaded box art. The shiny icon has links to the manual etc, and the box-art icon appears to be the version Vista ads automatically. The game appears to be fully patched.

So overall the process was extraordinarily simple, and doesn’t have any unnecessary gubbins to get in the way. One downer is that they don’t provide an automatic update tool, but seeing as these games are pretty ancient I expect they are as patched as they are going to get.

Currently the selection is a touch limited, as are the payment options. However, it is still early days, and GOG already show intentions of addressing both these problems. I hope early sales will be sufficient to encourage other publishers to join the fray. The low prices means that I’ll certainly be using the service in future, to catch up on missed titles and to fill in gaps between modern releases. The benefit of not requiring the CD, of having everything patched up and easy to use, and having it all only a few clicks away, makes GOG an attractive alternative to scouring eBay and the pre-owned bins, and charity shops.

Good Old Games can be found at http://www.gog.com/ and is currently in beta phase.