Archive for the ‘Tech’ category

What domain should I use?

February 13th, 2010

I have now decided to move my blog to WordPress following Blogger discontinuing there FTP service. Thank you for the words of advice.

I have another decision to make now and your input would be appreciated. The question is… Should I move this main “tech, rant, fun” blog to another domain.

A while ago I registered “” and “”. My intention was to use these as my professional front-end and keep my “” for more personal projects. Last year I managed to register “” that I was planning to use instead of the “.org”. I also have a few “” domains that I never used in the end including “Millisecond”, “Multitrack”, and “Stereophonic”.

I know a few people don’t like my “” address. The reason why I like it is that it is short, AGM (my initials) are memorable, and it is controlled by Nominet so subject to UK and not oversees law. The down side is that the domain does not instantly identify it’s self as mine, the “” is often sometimes with “”, and more recently people have been missing off the “.uk” with the addition of the “.me” top level domain.

No matter what happens I anticipate still using “” for my pet projects and micro sites. I am also actively moving some pet projects to the domain in a cost saving exercise.

So, what are your thoughts?

My blog will be moving

February 3rd, 2010

My blog here is managed by Google’s Blogger and hosted on my own web site on a Rails Playground server. This is done by giving Blogger FTP access to my site that is used to upload the pages when they change. Sadly Google are deprecating this FTP feature and I will either have to run the blog from the Blogger’s servers (but I can use my own domain name) or host the my blog myself.

I have always had a plan in place to move my blog from Blogger to WordPress. This will continue to be hosted on my web site and the URLs will not change. You never know when a service will disappear so I tend to plan ahead like this. There is a nice migration path and this is currently my favoured solution.

My main concern about moving to WordPress is the amount of comment spam that friends get despite using recaptcha. I have had to disable the comments on the BarCampNorthEast web site that was receiving a couple of spam comments a day.

So, do you think I am doing the right thing. Should I use WordPress or something else? Should I use another comment service like Disqus to cut down on spam, or should I host the whole thing somewhere else? All comments welcome (unless they are spam :-) ).

USB printing on Ubuntu 9.10

January 31st, 2010

Last year a purchased an Aspire Revo R3600 with a 160GB HDD that I installed Ubuntu on. It has been a great little machine and I am very pleased with it.

Somewhere down the line my old LaserJet printer (from Freegle/Freecycle) that is connected using a cheep USB to Parallel adapter (off ebay) stopped working. It is a problem that many people appear to have had when they upgraded Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala). After a bit (okay, a lot) of debugging I have figured out that you need to treat the USB device as a parallel printer and not the default USB printer. To do this change the URL prefix from “usb:” to “parallel:”, or if that is nonsense to you use the following instructions.

  • Go to the printing devices by selecting “System”, “Administration”, and then “Printing”.
  • Right click on the old printer (if one is there) and select delete.
  • Click the “New” button.
  • Select “Other” and enter the device URI as”parallel:/dev/usblp0″.
  • Select your printer as you would normally and it should then work (a reboot may be required).

Remember this is only for if you are using a parallel printer with a USB converter. I hope this helps you, and if it does and you have posted for help elsewhere, please help someone else by going back and posting the answer (or link back to here). Finally, before you smug Windows users start having a go, it took me longer to get the converter running on my XP machine. :-P

Mr Duck's Amazing Web Site

January 15th, 2010

So, at long last Mr Duck has his web site. I have been taking pictures for Duck 365 for the last year, and stupidly have agreed to continue by popular demand. What I never quite got round to was making a web site for it. Eventually I managed to find some time by using the good old excuse of it being a learning exercise.

The site is a little tong in cheek fitting in with the Mr Duck back story. It is the web site that a small yellow plastic duck would have asked for. :-) It has a lot of new CSS layout in it that I have used as an experiment, but it does degrade gracefully. The thing that most amazed me is that the CSS font-face actually works, although there are bugs that I needed to work around. Also I accidentally I created a new simple templating system using an error document to catch the requests and build the web page. I shall probably build on this for other projects.

I have also found a new way to work on IE computability. It appears that IE6 and IE7 have very close layout problems. The markup for IE6 also fixes the problems for IE7. So what I have done is built the site using Chrome and Firefox, and then fixed the layout in IE6 for IE7 and below in a separate conditional CSS file. Then all I needed to do was work around the PNG transparency issues for IE6 and below in a second conditional CSS file. Everything else just works then, and I only needed one version of IE installed for development.

The best thing about the site from my point of view is that it should be zero maintenance. It automatically pulls the pictures from flickr and even uses flicker to manage the comments. I decided not to display the comments on the site at the tims as there a security implications of allowing users to add content to your site, but I do display a comment count and link back to flickr. I even dynamically generate the site map and RSS feed.

There are a few more things I would like to do. I plan to add some slow cloud animation, improve navigation, and intermittently add a few more random Mr Duck images to the background. For now though I will leave it or I will just not get anything else done.

So please check out “Mr Duck’s Amazing Web Site”, and you can also follow his antics on Twitter. Also please let me know if it works well or not on your browser and if there is anything else you would like to see.

I like Twitters Retweet feature

December 3rd, 2009

Can I just put on the record that I like Twitter’s Retweet feature.

In March I blogged about how I would like to see a Retweet feature built in to Twitter and we have recently seen such a feature slowly rolled out.

It takes a little getting use to seeing other peoples’ icons in your stream, but I have grown to find that useful as well. I was also worried that because it is so much easier to retweet that people might get carried away, but this has not happened, and you can block the retweets from just one user but still see there own tweets. What I love the most is that fact that when several friends retweet something I only get it once instead of several times like in the past. I am back in control.

As with most things the reception has been mixed, but on the whole most of the people I am following are using it, and although some like it and some prefer the old way of doing RSs, I don’t think it can be described at “Hated”. I only mention this because of the Tech Crunch article who’s title annoyed me enough to write this post. I feel that article just a personal view of Mike Butcher and not a valid statement of fact.

Chocify, it's the future

November 23rd, 2009

Today I came up with a cracking idea for a web service called “Chocify”.

People have been using Spotify to jointly build up playlists for the day, the season, or events. Why can this not be extended to chocolate? For example I like the idea of starting off with a KitKat Chunky, followed by a slightly more sticky Twix, and throw caushion and commen sence to the wind and top those off with a Double Decker.

Now, someone could see my mistake, that being the lack of a Crunchie bar, and insert it in to the eat list for me. I can also share this list with anyone I am visiting who needs to get supplies, or anyone who shares my taste in chocolate.

I know what you are thinking, but there is a revenue stream here. Yes people can take the lists and head down the sweet shop, but just imaging the convenience of a “buy it now” button, and within two or three months the postman (or woman, we don’t want to be sexist at Chocify) will deliver them to your door.

The domain name is still available but won’t be for long with such a great idea. It’s a winner. Anyone want to invest?

Happy Twitter birthday to me

November 17th, 2009

It was three years ago today that I first signed up to Twitter. I was user number 12838, and you can check your own number by clicking on your RSS feed and looking towards the end of the URL. Luckily the user name alistair was still available at the point.

I can not remember my first tweet, and Twitter removed all the older ones before I was able to make a backup, but like so many people’s first tweet it was along the lines of “Figuring out what Twitter is”.

Although I have not used it continually for three years I have for the last couple and and frighteningly it has become part of my life. I have made some great friends through it, keep in contact with a lot more, become part of one of the best (and possibly maddest) photo walk groups, know what is happening in the tech and non tech world as it happens, and feel part of a great set of online communities.

Originally it was a great way to keep in the loop and know what friends are up to. Today people are more open and broadcasting to the works when then tweet, but as a result they are [very sensibly] less open, and that in many ways is a shame. I am considering doing the same by being slightly less open and unprotecting my updates.

I think the secret of Twitter’s success is naturally luck, but also adapting it’s self and allowing user to almost add functionality. I don’t know if it can maintain it’s position forever, but unless it does something really stupid I see it continuing for quite a while.

Dorkbot NCL is back

November 10th, 2009

Some good news. Dorkbot NCL returns for a second time on November 17th. This is when we get together to have a look at what exciting things we have made.

This month we will find out about the mystery of Humanaquarium, Brendan Ratliff will be composing using tracking techniques, and Touchscape will be showing off touch technology.

More details can be found on the Centre for Life web site.

PayPay security key

October 27th, 2009

Earlier in the year I waffled of at BarCampLeeds about multi factor authentication and tried to persuade everyone to get a PayPal security key.

I learned at Charity Hack that PayPal were discontinuing the security key. I don’t know the full story, but it has been suggested that it could be because of cost.

The security key has essentially been replaced by SMS in the UK. So now you can register your mobile number, and when you try and log in as normal PayPay will send you an SMS message with a one time password to enter. Although not 100% secure or reliable this does overcome the authentication security concerns affecting most PayPal users. Because of this I strongly recommend you use it if it is practical for you to do so.

Now the good news. You can still purchase a PayPay security key for £3 from the US PayPay site, and it is the amazing credit card sized hardware key pictured above. This key can also be used on ebay and other VIP web sites. There are no excuses, even if you only log in once a year you should please get one now.

Hardware Hack Day in Newcastle?

October 6th, 2009

At last night’s Dorkbot Newcastle the idea of organising a hardware focused Hack Day before the second European Maker Faire in Newcastle was floated.

A “hack day” is when like minded people get to together to create things. This would create interesting things to demonstrate at the Maker Faire, bring people together and introduce others to our local tech community, and help support anyone stuck on an element of there home brew projects.

This will not be a massive event with lots of the razzmatazz of larger Hack Days, but should still be a fun event focused on producing interesting things.

It could be a one or two day event, or perhaps even spread over several evenings. It could also be a weekend event, or potentiality in the days before the Maker Faire. It all depends on what people and when we can squeeze it in.

So…. What are your thoughts? Are you interested in attending? When is good for you? Please let me know your thoughts.