March 2005

March 24, 2005

What is Ajax?

JJG on Ajax: “Ajax isn’t a technology. It’s really several technologies, each flourishing in its own right, coming together in powerful new ways. Ajax incorporates:

  • standards-based presentation using XHTML and CSS;
  • dynamic display and interaction using the Document Object Model;
  • data interchange and manipulation using XML and XSLT;
  • asynchronous data retrieval using XMLHttpRequest;
  • and JavaScript binding everything together.”
  • provides unlimited hosting for audio, video, images, and text, for free, forever, provided that it is licensed under the Creative Commons. Backed by the Internet Archive.

March 23, 2005

To single quote or not to single quote?

If ever in need of some practical information on optimizing PHP code, John Lim’s howto is a great resource. The article has been kept up to date with changes in PHP, and serves as a reminder to focus on what really matters in optimization.

There has been some discussion lately about whether it worthwhile to use single quotes over double quotes in PHP. Yes, it’s faster to use single quotes since PHP doesn’t have to look for variables within a string. But no, it’s not really worth the effort to use single quotes exclusively. Why? Most significantly, the performance gain is neglible (if you need more speed, this isn’t where you’re going to get it). And secondly, if you have to change code (or coding practices), you’re only making it harder to read and creating more work.

I’ve heard people advocate extreme optimization before. My favorite was the tongue-in-cheek school of thought that recommended that all HTML code be parsed so that tags with long names are replaced with shorter ones, and all “unnecessary” whitespace be removed. The browser doesn’t care what your code looks like, and the less whitespace there is, the less data there is to transfer.


Usable XMLHttpRequest forms

Baekdal demonstrates usable XMLHttpRequest forms in practice. He makes a good point that plain-vanilla HTML forms actually have some things going for them in the usability department; designers need to be aware of these when creating forms with more advanced features and behavior.


March 14, 2005

Concurrency is coming, ready or not

Processors can’t get much faster, so they’re going parallel, and sooner than you think. From a sidebar: “Today’s single-threaded applications as actually used in the field could actually see a performance boost for most users by going to a dual-core chip, not because the extra core is actually doing anything useful, but because it is running the adware and spyware that infest many users’ systems and are otherwise slowing down the single CPU that user has today.”

  • FontForge is an open source outline font editor.

March 13, 2005

In search of Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica was a childhood favorite of my sister and brother and me. We loved scifi and fantasy, especially space operas. While I found out later that the Galactica film we had watched so many times had been edited from a TV series, I have never seen any other episodes beyond what was culled from the three-part pilot.

Last Wednesday, I found Mission Galactica: The Cylons Attack at the local movie rental shop. The Cylons Attack consists of episodes 12 and 13, titled “The Living Legend,” of the original 1978 series.

Roosa has never seen Battlestar Galactica, so I started looking around the Net for the original pilot movie. Easier said than done. There’s now a new Galactica series running, and of course all the search results are inundated with episodes of the 2003 series.

My search continues (and I’m afraid it could become a minor obsession to find and see the whole original series). But I discovered another interesting fact, one that makes perfect sense in hinsight. There’s a reason I have such a clear image of what “the decayed future” looks like. There’s a reason why the spaceships in Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars are so similar — they all share the same father, Ralph McQuarrie.

But wait! There’s more. I’m a big fan of John Williams. (I suspect this is a standard nerd thing.) He’s the composer of the theme songs of not only Star Wars, but Indiana Jones, and Superman, to name a few. However, I had no idea that he’d written the theme of Battlestar Galactica. It seems so obvious now.

The fact that Williams’s work is so recognizable is probably a clue that his music is not exactly high culture. But I suggest that his influence is staggering. I’m willing to wager that most kids who grew up in the 80s and 90s and watched American movies feel a pull at their heart when they hear the swell of a Williams theme.


How geeks and other people use computers (to get stuff done)

While I haven’t jumped on the GTD bandwagon (yet), I really like Cory’s transcript of Danny O’Brien’s talk about the productivity of alpha geeks.

I have a dozen text files on my desktop with various lists. Mainly URLs, but also song names and notes and books recommendations. I never used the desktop until I stopped blogging for a while and started keeping this miscellaneous stuff in flat text files.


March 12, 2005

On fonts, lists, and weblog structure

Janne’s always-excellent Kuutio has moved. No links are broken, but the old site is still up and there’s no forwarding.

Via Kuutio: Fontleech, a weblog for free fonts, and some recommendations on free fonts that all designers should have, Vera and Libertine. This is a topic that has crossed my mind often, and Janne whistfully says that it’d be nice (if he had time) to upkeep a list of must-have typefaces.

While on the topic of keeping comprehensive lists, I will now meander into a little talk about weblogs, a favorite subject matter of oldtimer-bloggers everywhere.

One of my principles of running a weblog is to collect, in atomic entries, items that could be collected later into a list of resources. While categorization is one way of providing this kind of structure, it generally fails due to the difficulties of using categories in the first place. In my own blogging system I also use a freeform textfield called “topics”, in which is meant to tie entries together by other factors than their topic.

For example, when I was importing old posts into Fathom this, I noticed I had many posts in which I mused about Sunday evenings. Now, Sunday evenings is not something I would give its own category, but it is a topic I had returned to several times, and might do so again. How then, to connect each post without manually linking to each one? Topical keywords.

While I do have a tool that shows me all my existing topical keywords, I decided when I was designing the system that I’d leave the field as open-ended as possible. I hoped it’d allow me to accidentally create unexpected connections and complementary two-way links between entries of superficially irrelevant nature.

My excitement over topical keywords has so far proven unfounded — I have the same problems with keywords as I do with categories. How many keywords should I assign? What should they be based on? Feelings, moods, people, places? General or specific topics? Some of the problems of categorization go away with keywords, but others arise.

Tags have created a big stir lately in blogland. I like the idea. What I would really like to see would be open ontologies to map different tags together. And then I want automatic categorization. CS (that’s computer science, not Counterstrike) gods, do you hear me?


March 10, 2005

  • Samsung to release a 7 megapixel camera phone. Great resolution, but who needs it? People who can’t take decent photos, or those who can, but who won’t be using a cell phone to do so.

March 3, 2005

From the subject line of a spam message

“Photoshop, Windows, Office cheap! Aphorisms tolerated.”