Saturday, July 31, 2004

Culture Vulture

Cycling home one day this week, I spotted a couple with their young lad walking along the side of the road, enjoying the countryside. He was wearing T-short, shorts and sandals, as was the boy, being comfortable wear, in so far as anything was comfortable in the hot humid overcast. Alas, the family being of *ahem* ethnic persuasion, she was top to toe in yards of black.

Now there's the double standard - dress yourself for comfort, and let the chattels suffer.

Drive Time

A while ago, while driving into town for a work-out, I looked at the display in the car and thought “That clock's not quite right” — then realised that what was showing 1135 was the odometer, while the (analogue) clock was showing closer to 11:50. Since then I've kept an eye out to see if the odometer would ever be correct as a clock. And it's never quite managed it, being just a few minutes out, like being at 1935—40 when driving home from a meal out at ten to eight in the evening. I don't think it'll ever do it now.

Meanwhile, this week was five days cycling to work and one cycling into town. Bliss. Even if the weather has generally been very humid.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Don't lose your head - the h-tag debate

Well following the recent ruckus, and true to my comment on CollyLogic, I've reworked the tabular data in the sidebar to be tables, with the caption element used instead of headers. This keeps the validator outline happy, as all the sidebar is, is text between the headline and the first topic (date).

Just a pity that the ads insertion won't validate at either HTML 4.01 or XHTML any.

And I hope the weatherpixie hasn't gone for a complete burton.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Nature Notes

Very quiet on the ride into work this morning - can tell it's the school holidays. After getting past the first batch of villages, the next bit of traffic going the other way was a hare. Who turned and went back the other way on my approach. Then a couple of girls out strolling, though it was still only just after 8am, and finally a horse and buggy.

Meanwhile my colleagues driving to work on the main road are fuming in traffic as there's been a crash or breakdown or something, causing the into-town heavy traffic to impede the out of town flow.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Media mayhem

On the positive front — some time in the last few months, we actually got BBC digital radio locally : rebooting the DAB system I bought last year, to force it to look at all the multiplexes, it actually came up with the Beeb. Which meant we were actually able to listen to hiss-free radio on Saturday night. (Remember when that was what we were promised when we went from AM to FM?).

Of course that doesn't mean a content upgrade, alas. Saturday Review covered a new TV series aimed at the over 50s. While that's not me yet, it's not so many years away now. The program under review was something terribly earnest Play for Today thing about an ageing football hooligan/cabbie and a public school teacher on the verge of retirement. Fortunately one the panel at least had the guts to denounce it as patronising class stereotypes that ought have been called “Mr. Chips gets his nose bobbed”. The sort of thing I'd say to people now, “If you ever find me watching that sort of thing — or agreeing with the Daily Mail — that means it's well past time to put me out of my misery!”.

So after that we went and watched half a dozen episodes of Shoujo Kakumei Utena, purchased from to take advantage of the current weakness of the US dollar. As part of the official Peter Pan generation, I expect to be more in sympathy with stuff aimed at Japanese high-school girls than focus group designed 50+ fare for many years to come.

Summertime Blues

Well, Friday and Saturday actually provided some fine, crisp, sunny weather in amongst all the cool cloudy and humid standard fare. A preview of post-warming climate, perhaps?

Still, it was pleasant enough to get out and do some destructive stuff in the garden, clearing off the canopy that had stealthily grown over the last decade or so to overhang the vegetable plots at the end of the garden. Which revealed that the last major encroachment was due to the recent windy weather having snapped the main trunk of one of the elder trees, causing it to lean over, as far as the other branches and the climbing rose permitted.

So now I have a green wheelie bin full of shreddings, and that's only shifted about 1/3 of the debris. *sigh*

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Hiding HTML from IE with Conditional Comments

After having failed to find the incantation before, a slightly different bit of Googling turned up this trick, that saves the needless <span> in IE that I had in the previous entry :

where I've folded this at necessary whitespace. The <acronym/> is IE only, the <abbr/> is non-IE (or back version IE, which won't know what to do with it...).

Road Rage

Sometimes I just wish other cyclists would stop trying to be “helpful”. Yesterday, and not for the first time, I received unsolicited advice to change down gear, this time when just cresting a hump-back bridge over the disused railway line. At that point, I'd spent nearly all the kinetic energy I'd started the ascent with, and was working slowly to manage the final inches. Under these circumstances, where the chain is under tension and needs to remain thus to maintain forward way, a deraillier (or Shimano) gear will not operate in any useful fashion to effect a gearshift!

I'm a low-gear sort of person, with a normal beat of about 50rpm, which is a walking sort of pace, where I can make best use of major muscles in aerobic mode to convert most energy into forward motion. I don't do the supposedly standard the 100rpm jog, as at that sort of pace I find most of the effort goes into moving my knees up and down. If the lowish top gear on my current bike doesn't work, it's far less effort, and just as fast, to just get off and push. The only times I don't are when it's not practical to get off (e.g on the Pont de Ré), and there it is just a matter of having to grind away in a manner that tires the muscles far more than pushing does for no significant gain (if any) in forward velocity.

If nothing else, the grey hair and beard should tell them that I'm old enough to have some idea of what I'm doing and that it works for me. So, next time you're tempted to advise, stop, think, and shut up.

Solving my IE issues

Goal — fix things so I have a validating page for compliant browsers, where I can use <abbr> and max-width; where I can print in a stripped down style; and I can feed IE with condtional code to make it play as best it can.

In the <head>

For an <abbr> — fortunately infrequent —

where "not" is a class that translates to display:none. This may not be as light-weight as putting a <span class="abbr"> with an IE-only style inside the abbr, but does make the bits where I'm pandering to IE obvious in the code, so that better browsers only get what they need.

The iescreen.css stylesheet is

using the expression hack for IE. The main style sheet sets the content div to 670px max width, but it is offset with an em-based left margin. Alas, the expression hack appears only to work off the whole-body width, so I have to factor that in to the expression with a multiple of the current font-size.

The amazing thing is that it actually seems to work reasonably fluidly without too many jumps at the margin when the transition happens.

Monday, July 19, 2004

IE7 print media gotcha states (of version 0.6.1) "IE7 does not currently support print media"

That led me to expect that IE7 would simply be a no-op when it came to printing a page (that nothing drawn from the IE7 extensions would appear). It isn't. The correct form of words, deduced by experiment, is

"IE7 will currently completely discard any print media style-sheets"

which is somewhat stronger. So it's all OK unless you have a site that's also geared as much to printing as to on-line browsing.

So for the moment I'm addressing my “I can't stand IE any longer” issues — lack of proper <abbr/> and CSS max-width — by hacks that are guarded by IE conditional comments.

Alluvial deposits

I took the weatherman at his word today, and cycled in for the first time in almost a week. To find that the rain over the weekend had converted one of the newly resurfaced bits of road into a stream-bed, with soil and gravel washed down from the banks several inches deep in places, and the start of a new set of pot-holes already being scoured. Not fun cycling terrain!

The sticky and/or wet weather also means that I only managed to get less than half the tree surgery - opening up the canopy that has stealthily extended itself over the back vegetable plot in the last few years, and feeding the remains to the shredder, to increase the effective carrying capacity of the green wheelie-bin - done that I'd wanted to. Hence the web-site fiddling alluded to in the previous post.

IE7 .PNG background-image

Having finally gotten fed up enough of having to mis-use <acronym> where the semantics strictly demand <abbr>, so that the majority browser will actually recognise a similar tag to the one intended, I installed IE7 on my main site (uploads of affected pages to happen in due course).

The one thing I discovered that was not obvious from the docs was that if you use a .png as background imagery, it will be stretched to fit the containing block, regardless of repeat setting. This turns out to be a consequence of the repackaging as an IE filter (so as to handle alpha transparency), which appears to lose any information about the underlying image.

The work-round is to look in the samples sub-directory at how to set up the xml config file to change the the file ending needed to trigger the png-to-filter transform from ".png" to e.g. "-alpha.png"; in this way:

  1. in the /IE7/, add the line <xml id="settings" src="/IE7/modules/ie7-config.xml"></xml> (I'm not sure how position dependent the file is - I added it immediately before the ie7-debug.js line)
  2. take the /IE7/samples/ie7-config.xml, and edit the value=".png" to taste, e.g. value="-alpha.png"
  3. install the ie7-config.xml file to /IE7/modules/ie7-config.xml
  4. Enjoy!

.PNG files that use simple binary transparency e.g. the ones you converted from transparent .gifs before the Unisys patent finally expired world-wide a couple of weeks ago, will display with that transparency just as they did in IE anyway. And for alpha blended .PNGs, ensure that they are contained within something that fits exactly.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

End of Festival

Well, that just about wraps up the Film Festival for the year. Today we went to see the last film we'd booked - the digitally restored print of Chaplin's Modern Times. Well, we did have to go to one of the "worthy" films, and this was less heavy-weight than any of the deMille's or The Big Red One.

All in all, not as good as last year's - only six films against 10 plus a short.

Too many worthy films, including documentaries that have been hyped so much that there's no longer any need to see them, a secondary track of horror films that didn't even sound like amusing schlock; and definitely not enough quirky ones like last year's.

Friday, July 16, 2004

XHTML and IE — so close

I prefer to code against XHTML 1.1, primarily because it is quite spartan in its overlap with HTML 4.01, so pushes me to think about fancy effects. And yes, it really should be served as application/xhtml+xml. But that makes IE choke.

Now Dean Edwards has shown that you can persuade IE to take XHTML 1.0 served as application/xml, if you feed it an XSLT stylesheet (with perhaps a questionable MIME type).

My experiments have shown that

  • IE can handle either flavour (strict or transitional) of XHTML 1.0 this way, but not XHTML 1.1
  • IE always tries to find the DTD from the DOCTYPE, so you can't test your pages off-line with the DTD
  • If you make the DOCTYPE URL relative, IE will look at it, but not look for entity definitions - so &nbsp; has to be replaced by &#160; &c.
  • You need to add a body {margin : 0;} rule to your CSS
  • While IE conditional comments can hide a local URL DOCTYPE from other browsers, it doesn't work in reverse; IE's downlevel conditional comments don't work in e.g. Firefox, and are invalid code in any case
  • and even if you live with a local DTD, and any nagging validation doubts for doing so, if your web server doesn't serve up an .xsl file with a suitable MIME-type, Firefox gives you the yellow screen of disdain.

Conclusion: it's a neat idea, but not yet ready for prime-time. If you are always on-line and control your own web server to get the right MIME-types, maybe you might make your pages as .xml files. And we still can't get XHTML 1.1 shown properly on the majority browser. *sigh*

Film — Infernal Affairs II

I liked the original when it came around a few months ago, and all very contemporary HK actioner. This is actually the prequel (#0 rather then #2). Consequently, there are a lot of characters with plot immunity, while at the same time there is a feeling that this isn't quite the same past as was in the "what went before" section of the earlier film. And inevitably, it can't resolve the issues of tangled loyaly that suffuse the first, sticking with a intro and outro about the ?Bhuddist? Continuous Hell, which is psychologically, roughly where the characters remain throughout.

Watching it this way around, one defiitely notices the comparative low-tech of the early-mid '90s (the film ends at the handover of Hong Kong); the iconic use of mobile phones in the first film makes one very conscious of the clunky period handsets in this one.

Maybe not quite worth staying up past 01:00 to see, but not bad for all that.

Also seen : Film review — The General

Prefaced with a short piece about the digital restoration, and sub-titled in French, this crisply restored version of the Keaton classic now only shows its age in the style of cinematography. Switch off from the cynicism of the modern world, and enjoy this work from a bygone age on its merits.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

CD — Noir Soundtrack #2 : Yuki Kajiura

Obviously, the most in-yer-face numbers went on to the first collection, so this one is more of a sleeper than its predecessor. And there are a number of songs (like, with vocals) which come out as generic Celtic/folksy and thus "mostly harmless". Along with the minor-key versions of the main themes, the tracks worth the price of admission in this one are the world-music style Black is Black, Killing, and the Celtic sounding Colusseum : plus the one that makes the whole disk, Le Grand Retour, for which Colusseum is almost a rough sketch.

Funny little things

The one thing that I miss in my new car is that its compactness means that there is no front bonnet - and hence no convenient shelf to put bike helmet and panniers on while opening the garage.

Decline and fall

Well, the autumnal weather carries on, blustery, drizzly, and grey. And the evenings are definitely closing in - no longer is it light enough to read outdoors at 10pm. July, and I'm already feeling seasonally affective. *sigh*

Monday, July 12, 2004

That's me taped...

I tried the Better Personality Test — and got the following that reads as frighteningly accurate:

You are an SRCF--Sober Rational Constructive Follower. This makes you a White House staffer. You are a tremendous asset to any employer, cool under pressure, productive, and a great communicator. You feel the need to right wrongs, take up slack, mediate disputes and keep the peace. This comes from a secret fear that business can't go on without you--or worse, that it can.

If you have a weakness, it is your inability to say "no". While your peers respect you, they find it difficult to resist taking advantage of your positive attitude and eagerness to take on work. You depend on a good manager to keep you from sinking under the weight and burning out.

Wackiness: 22/100
Rationality: 68/100
Constructiveness: 62/100
Leadership: 46/100 

Cross-dressing on-line

The Gender Genie purports to determine your gender from your prose style. So I fed it a couple of chunks of my writings (excerpts from something written 28 years ago, and something written less than three months ago) - and the first two came out female, though later ones did get the right value.

So I tried a couple of blog entries from women whose blogs I read. And yep, you guessed it, both showed up as male.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Film — Warriors of Heaven and Earth

Wuxia meets Western in this Chinese film from last year, with a lot less of the wire fu of, say, Crouching Tiger, and more of the feeling of Stagecoach.

Lai Xi, a Japanese emissary to the T'ang court is sent out to capture Li, a renengade Chinese soldier, who deserted rather than murder non-combatant prisoners, far to the west along the Silk Road. Li meanwhile is one of the handful of survivors of a caravan, after a sand storm, slowly putting together enough people to bring it through to the Capital. As Lai catches up with Li, the local warlord, backed by the Khan of the Turks, is after the caravan, leading to series of running battles, culminating in the siege of a remote fort.

The bleak deserts and the lush lake country of central Asia lend all the atmosphere the film needs; and the battles are played in a generally understated way, up to the final moments.

Highly recommended.

Happy Blogiversary

Well, today marks the first anniversary of my first post; and it looks like this is likely to be a habit. If only to rant about things I've bought, under the name of reviewing it.

Film — The Cat Returns

This year's Studio Ghibli film suffers by the comparison with last year's Spirited Away. It's good, but is somewhat slight by comparison.

Haru, one of the chronically late for school girls that seem to populate anime, rescues a cat from traffic - and the cat stands up, bows, and thanks her for her actions. She is later visited by the King of the Cats - plus entourage, including cats-in-black who keep off the neighbourhood riff-raff - who is determined to reward her, whether she likes it or not. Including marrying her off to his son, the cat whom she rescued. But the Prince is not the first cat whom she had rescued, and aid is soon forthcoming to help her escape from the Kingdom of the Cats. Slapstick and drama ensue, identities are revealed in good Shakespearean style, and with an ending that should bring a sentimental tear to the eye, all is made right.

Get over it!

Thinking on the review of Stage Beauty, two things occurred to me. First, that the tedious sex scenes that clutter up movies these days are really the progression of the "smoochy bits" that I saw as time-wasters when I was younger (and they still just pad out the films in which they are found); and second, that in books - at least the sort I read - that they got over the obligatory sex scene some time in the mid-90's (the last I can recall being the excruciatingly bad stuff in Greg Bear's Slant). Perhaps in F/SF writings, the realisation has been made that the target audience are likely to be on-line and thereby able to seek out smut à la carte to their own particular tastes if so desirous.

If only movies would move similarly with the times... *sigh*

Saturday, July 10, 2004

The same river twice

While in Borders today, having not found the the new Sigur Ros CD/EP, and wondering what else I might buy, I spotted, in the ex-TV DVD section, the complete Space Patrol with Captain Dart.

I remember the series fondly from 40 years ago. I looked over the DVD, and put it back on the shelf. It wouldn't be fond watching in these cynical days. Even if I am the market demographic that such things are aimed at.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Film — Stage Beauty

It's Cambridge Film Festival time once again, opening with the UK premiere of the new Richard Eyre (Iris et al.) film, Stage Beauty.

The setting is the London Theatre in the 1660s, and the changeover from all parts being played by men, to the requirement of no cross-dressing by royal decree. Ned Kynaston — recorded by Pepys as the the most beautiful woman on stage before the decree — is left floundering while the new actresses are in the ascendant. It takes some dramatic licence, collapsing events into a short span, especially in the transition from the mannered acting of the stage at the beginning, to the highly naturalistic scene from Othello that concludes the film.

Inevitably it will attract comparison with Shakespeare in Love, given the setting and plotlines.

I found it a worthy piece of costume drama, but could have done without the predictable romance sub-plot (and the inevitable “Where's the fast forward button, this is so boring?” ever so coy sex scene). And at times the modern idiom grated — devotees of Mr Kynaston describe themselves as “fans”, and the leading players are called “stars”

Overall verdict — Mostly harmless.

[Now playing — Le Grand Retour — Yuki Kajiura]

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Seasons' End

So, yesterday, with the cherries just starting to ripen on the tree, we had a truly autumnal - October autumnal - day of rain and stormy winds.

CD Review - Fiction - Yuki Kajiura

What is not immediately obvious is that most of the tracks are performed by an outfit called "The Pearson Dunn Strings Orchestra" - yep, soupy lite-classic easy listening style. This includes the Salva Nos, which is also sung by in a style more akin to opera than Church Latin chant.

If one replaces the tracks from Noir with the soundtrack versions, you get a harmless enough easy listening disk.

Monday, July 05, 2004

It's a washout

April shower type weather persists; so the garden is going to pot - it's either too wet, or too hot and sticky to want to do anything to restrain the rampant vegetation. Meanwhile it's not even weather for cycling in, or enjoying the long evenings *sigh*


So there's a lot of fluttering in the meejah about whether the Labour Party will put a commitment to introduce a smoking ban in public places in their next manifesto. Like the one about banning fox hunting a while back.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

The sorry state of British SF

I think I should stop tormenting myself by buying it.

In the "recent" past - that's c1990 up - we've had Peter Hamilton, whose early sub-cyberpunk UK (Mindstar Rising et seq.) held promise, even if it was soft-ish (psi-powers). But then he produced the unutterably prolix The Reality Dysfunction, which took 400 pages (what used to be two whole novels, and is still more than many single books) of scene setting (which introduced no character I felt moved to care about, and an inconsistent economic system with cheap battlefield-surgery capable nanotech that somehow also left bulk timber a viable commodity of interstellar trade) before any semblance of plot emerged - and then it was Dawn of the Dead. And subsequently, I've not found anything of his to tempt me back.

And there's Stephen Baxter, who is intermittently brilliant, but hides it with a preference for Apollo-era nostalgia, and for primitive squalor as a setting. Still not too bad at short-story length, but the last one of his I'd seriously recommend is Space

Not forgetting points north - Ken McLeod, whose The Star Fraction was brilliant, but he has pretty much been serving up variations of it ever since. The recent Cosmonaut Keep was pretty badly written - scenes are described as the characters would describe them, with no clue as to what the things they are seeing actually look like; the characters are not well introduced (I needed to revise my first estimates of their ages down by about 30% after a couple of chapters); and the romance sub-plot is weak. The "Take me to your dealer" reptoids are not enough to rescue it, and I couldn't bring myself to struggle through the second of the sequence.

which brings me to:

Book Review - Natural History by Justina Robson

Her first book, Silver Screen was harmless sub-cyberpunk. The next, Mappa Mundi didn't excite me. This one teased, with its background of post-human development. The first chapter gave me a bit of pause, with its apparent incomprehension of even basic Newtonian mechanics, but the story picked up a bit - but alas the all it did was continue to tease, up to the moment where it suddenly noodled off into psychobabble and ended.

Book Review - British Summertime by Paul Cornell

I should have been warned. His earlier Something More was appealingly British in the way that early Hamilton was (one has to have some respect for an author who contemplates having the 50+ year old radio soap The Archers carrying on for another 450 years through all sorts of social upheaval), but the resolution moved the story into the God-bothering territory that Hamilton also disappeared into.

This one was in the same sort of territory. There were bits that I did want to like. But I really couldn't stay with it - the style was lumpen, and the characters all quite unsympathetic. The only character development was such as to alienate me from the ones I might have followed.

I have to remember, if I want theological SF, to go back to Blish or to Dante.