Monday, May 29, 2006

three-wire generator

post town rift valley
half-solid dew snail
top-secret load factor chimney swallow
soul-adorning line hunter
net value all-land
screw-eyed thunder-splintered thick-rooted body
circuit breaker all-shrouding nuns
zeta function she-peace
tender-hued river-front cobra plant

[Yes, it's another spam poem.]
Thursday, May 25, 2006

Against Web Standards

Following on my article on web standards and my attempt at getting a Blogger page to conform, I thought I would address some of the common critiques of web standards. I have formatted this page as a FAQ. If you have any further questions, please post a comment. I'd like to see this become a lively debate.

Who or what is the W3C?

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) was founded in 1994 by Tim Berners-Lee with the involvement of MIT, CERN, DARPA, Japan's Keio University and the European Commission.

Who cares about the W3C?

Apparently, some of the largest technology firms in the world, including Adobe, AOL, Apple, AT&T, BBC, Cisco, Ericsson, Fujitsu, Google, Hitachi, IBM, Intel, Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK), Lexmark, Matsushita, NEC, Nokia, Nortel, Oracle, Siemens AG, Sony, Sun, Toshiba, Xerox, Yahoo!... even Microsoft. The full members list is impressive.

But the W3C site is ugly

The W3C site is designed for developers and bears the look of a specification or technical document. Taking its audience into account I find it about 6 on the ugly scale. I also think Yahoo! is quite ugly but use it every day just the same.

Ugliness does not translate into lack of usability, though I prefer sites that are easy on the eyes.

Won't using web standards make my site ugly?

Following the standards does not have anything to do with the aesthetic of a website. Conforming sites can be ugly or pretty, boring or exciting, just like nonconforming sites.

However, following standards makes it significantly easier to modify the look of your site and try out different designs. A good example of this is css Zen Garden which invites outside designers to redo the home page. Switchable stylesheets allow you to view the page in radically different designs. You may be amazed that none of these alter the HTML in any way!

The W3C has no standards so why follow them?

The W3C publishes what it calls "recommendations", and has done so more than ninety times. Whether you want to call these "standards" or not is a matter of semantics. For the record, the W3C themselves use these terms interchangeably.

Why should I support standards if [insert popular site here] doesn't?

There are several parts to this complicated issue.

First, it depends on which validation standard and tool you are using. Google produces 33 errors in the online W3C Validator but zero in the W3C tool Tidy.

Second, and related, standards are not an absolute target. Some large and complicated sites must support older browsers (eg: Internet 5 and its ilk). These user agents did not support standards and so the site cannot if it hopes to render properly. (There are partial ways around this.)

Third, there is the problem of inertia. A large firm may in fact be updating pages to be standards-compatible, but hasn't got there yet. If a mix of technologies for generating web pages is not compliant, it can take a lot of work and investment to reach that target. All the more reason to start off on the right foot.

Fourth, some sites may not see all the benefits, so the organisation is not pushed to change. Yahoo! and Google are the search engines so they obviously care less about good SEO!

Fifth, while there are bad examples, there are also surprising cases of shining goodness, for example Microsoft.

Sixth, despite all the above, some sites do in fact need work. For example, Google does not state a doctype on their page. This is poor behaviour I cannot explain! They should hire me (or maybe you) as a consultant. Who said big companies never make mistakes?
Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Secrets of Digital Cameras

Want to buy a digital camera? Confused by all the choices, the hundreds of models, the thousands of opinions? Well, I am here to help! Over the next few days I am going to gift you with the wisdom of a decade of experience. This first article will cover some basics, revealing the key principles that will guide you through the complicated evaluation process. It will focus (ouch!) on compact digital cameras.

First some background. I first learned shooting and film development on a completely manual SLR, mostly for journalism. That was back in the early eighties. Because of my involvements with media and the arts I had a chance to use the early Apple QuickTake digital camera, which had no removable storage, a serial interface (!), 640x480 resolution, and only three focal positions*. But I could still see, in those ancient days of 1994, that the writing was on the wall for chemical photography.

Since then I have used only a few models and would not consider myself a photography expert. Nonetheless, I am good at two things: research and cutting the crap. I hope these abilities will help you!

Your decision-making experience will be a lot easier if you bear in mind some basic principles.

It's all about the light. A picture is a visual representation of the outside world, and the more light that enters the lens and hits the CCD^ the better. This means that the size and quality of the lens/CCD is the first thing to look for in evaluating a camera. With an SLR one can switch lenses, so when purchasing you have the luxury of compare bodies more-or-less equally. But for a fixed-lens compact one is generally stuck with what one gets in the initial purchase.

You can't take a photo if you don't have a camera. Ignoring low-end technologies like camera phones, you need to have a camera with you when that once in a lifetime moment pops up. A small easy-to-carry camera is more likely to be with you when you need it than the large full-featured SLR. I believe in compact cameras for this reason. Even if you own an SLR, be sure to get a companion compact for shots where you just don't have the time to set up the SLR, or happen to have left it behind.

Don't get fixated on the numbers. Marketing folk will blare with triumph the new 4 megapixel, then 5 megapixel, then 6 megapixel models. But simply counting the pixels tells you nothing about the image quality. More megapixels mean fewer images on your memory card, longer transfer times per image, more disk space used, more backup disks burnt (you do back up, right?), longer software processing times, etc. All of these disadvantages must be balanced against the advantages:

1. The ability to print larger images at the same quality. Ask yourself how often you need large size prints? Do you ever need larger than A4?

2. The ability to crop the image to extract details. But if you're the sort of photographer you spends the time to frame in-camera, this will not be a high priority.

3. The ability to do more software post-processing. But you can only correct bad images to a degree. Buying a better camera in the first place will make the process easier and save endless hours at the computer.

At some point there is no valid reason to increase the pixel count, since the light entering the camera through the lens simply doesn't justify it. For compact cameras we have already reached that point. Manufacturers are moving to other attributes in order to distinguish their wares.

You can't add information to an image that is not there. If the CCD is poor, the lens cheap, or the camera firmware deficient, you are stuck with what you get. Noise reduction software and sophisticated software techniques can help to a degree, but do you really want to spend 30 minutes retouching an image?

There are two critical factors that are rarely disclosed by manufacturers, and so can only be inferred by comparing images. First, what compression rate is used in the JPG image? When buying an SLR we have the advantage of being able to shoot a raw image. But compact cameras use JPG and this means that information has been lost in order to compress the file size. This is why 1200x800 pixel images from different cameras will be a different size°.

Second, what in-camera post-processing has been performed? Some cameras allow you to control factors like sharpening, contrast and colour saturation. In my opinion it is best to leave these "off" so that any processing can be done manually in software, if need be. But what setting is "off" and can this even be set? Usually this is a big unknown.

Buy the features you need. Cameras are overloaded with bells and whistles, but no compact will do everything equally well. Decide what you need and make a priority list. Do you need wide-angle? Greater than 3x zoom? Good macro~ performance? Fast response time? A particular memory card format? Manual modes? List what you absolutely need and what you do not care about. This will eliminate a lot of buying decisions (perhaps entire product lines) immediately.

I hope these principles will help you. Coming up soon will be the result of my decision-making process and a review of my latest purchase.

Be sure to look through the Photos category for some of the photos I have taken.

Single-Lens Reflex cameras have the distinct advantage of using the same objective lens for the viewfinder and the CCD (or film), so what you see is what you get. Commonly these offer removable lenses and larger apertures, meaning more light.

* This ancient review calls it "sexy"!

^ The Charge-Coupled Device is the actual image sensor. How this operates is of primary importance to the image quality. The larger the size, the better (all else being equal).

It is unlikely one can see the benefit of more than 6 megapixels for a 1/1.7" CCD.

° Of course one must be sure to be taking pictures of exactly the same image, something remarkably difficult to achieve.

~ Macro is a special mode that lets you get near an object for extreme close-ups.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Obscuring Your Email From Spammers

Fighting spam is a full-time job for some, an annoyance at least for others. Those of us who have a website and want to plainly display an email address for the convenience of our readers have a problem: we are also plainly displaying this for spam-friendly web scrapers. Over the years a good number of techniques have arisen to deal with this, which I will outline in this article.

For each technique I will discuss any drawbacks. There is no perfect method but even a small effort is better than none. The theory is this: spammers operate on the basis of volume. It is not worth their while to slow down to do any sort of complicated parsing since the payoff is only a few more addresses out of millions (how many people bother with these techniques?).

That said, I will embark upon this wonderful journey of discovery as a testament to the inventiveness of those who have pioneeered these methods. Whether they are justified or not!

Plain Text
Code as: <a href=""></a>

Looks like:

This amounts to not doing anything. Your email address is displayed openly. Any spam can be dealt with on the receiving end. Your readers need no special browsers or capabilities and can click on the link with expected results.

Character Entities
Code as: first&#46last&#64;domain&#46;com

Looks like:

HTML character entities are decoded by the browser back into displayable type, but look like some sort of gibberish at the markup level. However, they are easy to automatically decode, and so cannot be recommended as a way of avoiding spammers.

Typographic Obsfucation
Code as: first dot last at domain dot com
f i r s t . l a s t @ d o m a i n . c o m

By spelling out parts of your address, adding spaces, using synonyms, or including obviously extraneous words, you are relying on a reader to visually decode and rewrite your email. This technique, like most of those that follow, precludes the use of a convenient mailto link, because if it's convenient to the reader then it is to the spider as well.

Unfortunately this means extra work, which will reduce the number of messages you get. Presuming you want to communicate, this is a bad thing. Also, web scrapers may be smart enough to piece together a valid email, since there are only so many substitutions that must be tried. (Removing whitespace is almost too easy.)

Substitute With A Graphic
Code as:
<img src="myaddress.png" border="0" alt="my email address">

Looks like:

Converting the text to an image file definitively foils spiders, but is a barrier to your users and may break usability guidelines. The reason is that you cannot safely put your address in the clear in the ALT attribute, so those without a visual display get no useful info. (A similar technique uses Flash files, but has no additional advantages.)

JavaScript Generation

There are many possible variants on the theme of programmatically creating the email link. This is my own, which contains some enhancements.

Note that significant strings that a spider might be set to recognise (eg: "mailto") are broken up. Also, character entities are used for the symbols, plus the components of the email address are listed backwards.
<script language="JavaScript"> <!--
function InsertEmail(t) {
var chardot = '.';
var charat = '@';
var commune = new Array('com', 'domain', 'last', 'first');

document.write('<a href="ma');
// --> </script>

In practice one would remove the function to an external JS file, making it even less likely to be found and parsed. The problem with this technique is that it restricts your readers to JavaScript-enabled browsers. In practice this may not be a significant limitation.

JavaScript Generation With Obsfucation

To take the previous technique even further you can obsfucate the JavaScript. The online tool Enkoder creates something like this:

<script type="text/javascript">
/* <![CDATA[ */
function hivelogic_enkoder(){var kode=
;var i,c,x;while(eval(kode));}hivelogic_enkoder();
/* ]]> */

This has no real advantage over the more comprehensible JavaScript technique unless you believe spammers possess high intelligence and cracking abilities. I don't think so.


This technique stores only an encrypted address on the page, decrypted by JavaScript. It certainly stops spam, but is overkill for most purposes. If you wish to use it, try Email Protector, which uses 10-bit RSA encryption.

Form With CGI

Some sites refuse entirely to publish their addresses and accept email only through a web form. Since the email address is only used on the server side, this fully protects the site from spiders. Unfortunately readers receive an interface inferior to their email software and are restricted from keeping a record of the sent email. Though popular, forms are a barrier to communication and I do not recommend them.

CSS Display None
span.hide {display:none;}
first.last@domain<span class="hide">null</span>.com

This technique interrupts the email address with some HTML which is set to not display by way of CSS. This could be useful in combination with some of the plain obsfucation techniques but likely adds little to them.

CSS Pseudo-Class
address:after {
content: " <first.last\>";

I found this tricky method at Newt Edge. It relies on the CSS2 pseudo-class :after, so older browsers plus Opera and Safari are out of luck. Again, if the style is in a separate file it reduces the chance the address will be found. But it's still almost in the clear.

CSS Backwards Text
.backwards {unicode-bidi:bidi-override; direction: rtl;}
<span class="backwards">moc.niamod@tsal.tsrif</span>

This technique is taken from the CSS Play site. It works only in current browsers which support a full range of CSS2 attributes, which means only Explorer 7 and FireFox 1.5. It's cute though.


It's easy enough to set up an experiment and see what techniques resist spam. Back in 2004 basic obfuscation and JavaScript worked just fine. I do not think more complicated techniques are justified, though it's fun to see what people come up with.

1. When almost finished this article, I found a similar one, though the author does not credit any of the techniques.
2. It's a shame I cannot properly demo some of these techniques, but Blogger gets in the way.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Three Abstracts

oil bottles
I have a new camera. And that means new photos for you, plus a review and some buying tips coming up, whenever I have the time to formulate my ideas and not just go "Click -- cool! Click -- cool!"

This was originally a chalkboard.

south lights
And these are some lights at a local pub.
Friday, May 19, 2006

Best Software: Graphics

Here is another in my series of software recommendations. As usual I will stick close to open source apps and will avoid advising you to spend any money. Adobe tools are excellent but too expensive. Thankfully, there are alternatives.

In this article I will not cover tools for media viewing or playing, but rather those that will help with media creation. I am not a graphics expert but do occasionally get paid for design work. I know lots of students and struggling artists, and am often surprised that they are not aware of the free software that is out there and can make their lives easier.

Inkscape x o is the canonical vector drawing application. If you wish to create diagram like flowcharts, charts, etc. then Dia x o may be more appropriate.

The GIMP x o is a popular bitmap graphics programme that competes with PhotoShop. If you work in a demanding domain, say film, you will want to investigate CinePaint x o. It's a 32-bit paint program that was forked from GIMP code. It has "been used on many feature films, including The Last Samurai where it was used to add flying arrows." I have yet to try this out, since it seems too much for my modest needs. Looks fantastic, however!

A further bitmap programme is PhotoFiltre w, which is free for private use, noncommercial or educational use. It is optimised for image retouching, but I haven't spent much time coming to terms with it. The forum is in French and documentation is minimal.

I don't do any video or animation work, but have used Wax w, a flexible video compositing and special effects package.

When it comes to utilities I sing the praises of ColorCop w, a brilliant eyeglass / magnifier and pixel colour grabber, essential for matching colours in graphics, screen shot manipulation, and so on.

Exifer w helps you manage the metadata (EXIF/IPTC) of digital camera pix. It's postcardware. Exif Image Viewer w lists EXIF photo information, presenting thumbnails and histograms.

IrfanView w is predominantly an image viewer, but I find it invaluable for two tasks: converting images to icon format and grabbing screen captures.

Last, but not least, I must encourage you to spend money on one single product. Noise Ninja is an almost magical tool which removes noise from images, particularly those from digital cameras. The cheapest version is $35, and will make you think your camera is far more expensive than it really is!

If you think I've saved you hundreds of [insert your monetary unit here] then make a donation using the PayPal link. Thanks!

o Open Source
w win32 only
x cross-platform

Friday, May 19, 2006

Validating a Blogger Page

Since writing my article on web standards, I have been trying to eliminate validation errors on this blog. Of course I am hampered by the fact that Blogger inserts HTML codes of its own accord. Here are the steps I've taken and the successes I've had. Hopefully this case study will aid others.

I thought that the most appropriate page to focus on was my article on web standards. Validating this page requires changing the markup on the page itself, as well as the overall blog page template. A trial run through the W3C validator produced well over one hundred errors -- yikes!

The first issue is that Blogger uses an XHTML doctype, which I am not overly familiar with. There is no point me trying to change the doctype, since tags inserted automatically are going to conform (we can hope) to XHTML. So I needed to get used to this and alter my coding to suit. A trip to the spec was called for.

I started with the easy stuff. The validator discovered many "empty" tags, such as <br>, <meta> and <img>, which needed to be written with a closing slash, like so: <br />. (And to write that out explicitly in HTML requires even further strategems. View the source for this page if you are interested.)

I have some coding habits left over from HTML 3 days. For example, I add border attributes to <img> tags and language attributes to script tags. These are deprecated, so I removed them. I noticed that some of the code I've got from other sources makes the same mistakes, the Paypal and StatCounter markup for example. There was also one use of a literal ampersand, which is to say & as part of text. This needs to be represented by the proper character entity, namely &amp;.

Further issues with code I'd copy'n'pasted included the omission of a block-level element within <noscript> tags, easily remedied by adding in a <div>. Or so I thought. This still caused some odd problems, so I ended up removing the block entirely. The justification is that I'm not concerned with tracking readers without Javascript. Presumably the RSS feed is good enough for them.

I use an inline stylesheet, since there is no way to upload a separate file to Blogger. The <style> tag was missing the attribute type="text/css". In other places validation found actual typos, like a missing quote in an attribute.

Two specific errors caused me problems. In order to get posts showing up on the home page with a "more..." option, I use a method that wraps part of the post in a <span> that is set to be hidden on the main page but visible on item pages. This is a problem because within a page I might use header tags to indicate structure. This nesting of a block-level element inside an inline element is invalid. The fix is to use a <div> in place of the <span>, with exactly the same stylings. I fixed this for the page in question, but doing so across the site is going to mean editing every single article, something I'm unlikely to want to do. Some things are better to get right the first time!

The other issue is that Blogger inserts breaks automatically to space out content in articles. This means that even between list items there are <br /> tags -- again invalid syntax. The only fix for this is to not use line breaks between a closing </li> and the next <li>. Ugly, but it works.

I encountered an issue with the Paypal form, and this one took me quite a while to investigate. All of the <input> tags within the form generated a nesting error. The only way I could think of fixing this was to put a <div> immediately within the <form> tags, and since this worked I deduce that it is a requirement. I can find no documentation on this, however.

One problem I did not encounter, but which is worth noting, is that XHTML requires tags in all lower-case letters. I write this way already, but for some of you that could be difficult to get used to.

With all of this done, I took one last pass through the validator and got only two errors. Both of these are for the same reason, use of the deprecated name attribute, and both are in the code for the Blogger Bar at the top of the screen. That will have to stay.

Following standards is not an all or nothing affair. Reducing validation errors gets you closer to conformity, and even if you do not reach 100% your page will reap some of the benefits. I'm happy with the progress I've made and what I've learned from the process.
Thursday, May 18, 2006

Why Web Standards?

I am converting a client's website to follow accepted web standards. Specifically, I am validating the HTML and CSS using the W3C tools. Besides following the standards because it's the "right thing" to do, there are many tangible benefits to businesses. I have compiled a comprehensive list of these, along with a set of references. I hope this helps you make the same decision... it's one big step towards a friendlier world wide web!


In this case I am using the phrase "web standards" to refer to the series of recommendations made by the W3C and promoted by WaSP. Besides ensuring proper syntax, these standards mandate that tags are used for the appropriate task.

The biggest change in development from the pre-standards mode of working is that tables cannot be used to dictate page structure. Rather they are reserved for their designated task: containing tabular data. It is not easy making this switch, since a number of browser quirks and lapses in standards enforcement complicates the target environment. But it's still a lot better than abandoning standards entirely, and the time spent learning the new methods is an investment in the future.

Standards Benefits

Proper separation of style (CSS) from structure (HTML) allows:
  1. easier customisation (for example by swapping stylesheets) for a more customer-centric experience
  2. reduced maintenance time and costs

Page size is reduced, resulting in:
  1. reduced bandwidth and lower hosting costs
  2. faster page response improving user experience

Conformity increases device compatibility for:
  1. better compatibility with older browsers
  2. increased usability by people with vision and other disabilities*
  3. increased usability by mobiles, PDAs and other browsing technologies
  4. greater accessibility to search engine robots
  5. more predicatable browser rendering (to a point!)
  6. fewer problems with future browsers (eg: IE 7)

Development process is standardised and time reduced, specifically it's easier to:
  1. find errors using validators
  2. gauge conformity across multiple developers
  3. convert compliant documents to other formats
  4. process web server error logs when errors are reduced
  5. hand off development to a new team

Besides these benefits, there may be contractual or legal ramifications if your website is found to be deficient in meeting codes for disabled access. For example, if you are building sites for the US Federal Government, you need to conform to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. In the United Kingdom you should be aware of The Disability Discrimination Act.

The single biggest difficult in standards compliance is finding developers who understand and appreciate the standards. As usual, the world is swimming in developers, most of whom are far from capable in this regard.


Why Websites Look Different in Different Browsers

The Business Case For Web Accessibility

The Business Value of Web Standards

The Way Forward with Web Standards

webXACT accessibility tool (once Bobby)

List of Checkpoints for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0

Should my Business Website be Compliant?.

* There were an estimated 31 million visually impaired people in the Americas and Europe in 2002. Depending on your business segment, that's a large potential market.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006

MentalWealth Updated Yet Again

Here I am another week older with yet another update to my MoinMoin theme MentalWealth. Version 0.95 adds some custom icons and allows additional actions to be displayed in the sidebar. Will the features never end?

A helpful user alerted me to the fact that additional actions were not accessible from my theme, since I had done away with the nasty-looking pull-down menu. Not wanting to throw that particular baby out with the bath-water, I have implemented an additional panel, "More Actions", but also added an easy switch in the code so you can turn it off.

In some ways MoinMoin is not very easy to customise, unless one starts hacking code. Today I came across a situation where I wanted to add some icons that could be easily accessed throughout a wiki. It seems that the smilie protocol* would be the neatest way to go. But, although each theme carries with it a repository of icons, there is no way to customise the smilies that will display, beyond replacing existing files.

A small code hack was required, as discussed in the readme file. Now you have access to a nice set of bug tracking icons:

bug icons

To display these on a page, you simply type the following smilies: |b |a |r |g and |z, remembering that they must be surrounded by whitespace. These correspond to the icons for black, amber, red, grey and zap. What you use them for is up to you.

As usual, MentalWealth is available at the MoinMoin ThemeMarket and for convenience also here.

* The Smilie Protocol sounds like a new spy flick, no?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Fahrenheit 451 Extends Its Run

Fahrenheit 451
Breaking news: Impact Theatre, who recently had a successful fundraising concert, have held over their production of Fahrenheit 451. Their first week, from last Tuesday to next Saturday, has sold out completely, perhaps not surprising given their intimate space and increasing local profile.

Three new dates have been added: next Thursday 18 May through Saturday 20 May.

Fahrenheit 451 is based on Ray Bradbury's own script of his novel. It concerns a society in which books are banned and fireman are tasked with burning them on sight. I saw this production on opening night and was impressed, as usual, with how the play has been staged. The use of sound and lighting convincingly created a futuristic world without recourse to cliched devices.

Like most SF writers, Bradbury was more concerned with the world of his present (the nineteen-fifties) than any future. Nonetheless, the ideas are timeless and some seem to ring true more today than when the book was published in 1953. For example, the idea of playing out daily psychodramas for a television audience has been instantiated in the world of reality TV almost exactly.

Strangely, Waterside Theatre in Derry is also mounting a production of this play, this time in early June. And there's a new movie in the offing. Produced by Mel Gibson's company, and with The Green Mile's Frank Darabont directing, it is sure to be another piece of Hollywood pap.

Well worth your time, however, is the unusual 1966 version by Truffaut. This film stars adopted Irish actor Cyril Cusack as the fire captain and Julie Christie in two roles. It offers a peculiar view of the book, with certain elements cut out (eg: The Hound) that are very effective in Impact's version. I love the wordless title sequence, perhaps my favourite ever, and some of the strange dialogue, rendered more peculiar since Truffaut barely knew English (this is his only film in the language).

You can buy the DVD through these links and support this site at the same time.

buy from Amazon buy from Amazon buy from Amazon 

"Now, what do you think... Linda?"
Thursday, May 11, 2006

Dances Solo(s)

Dances Solo(s) poster
Angie Smalis, dancer with Daghdha dance comnpany, has a performance entitled Dances Solo(s) on Saturday 20 May at 2.30pm. Six choreographers have contributed four different works.

As usual the event is at Daghdha Space, John Square, Limerick. Admission is free and refreshments will be provided.

This is perhaps the last time you can see Angie in Limerick, as she is soon moving back to her native Greece. Show up to wish her well!

I am happy to have designed the poster for this show.
Thursday, May 11, 2006

Sound Creation On LINUX

Are you trying to produce music on LINUX? Though personally I stick with win32, I thought I'd share some primary resources in the spirit of supporting open source initiatives.

The first thing you need to know is that LINUX is not an operating system, it is merely an OS kernel. You need lots of other components in order to have LINUX work on your computer, and these are provided in various distributions. Some distributions have been optimised out of the box for audio; for others there are software collections available. Getting up and running is then a two-step process: first, install your distribution; next, install the application suite. This is certainly simpler than trying to get all of the various packages working happily yourself.

Here are three popular choices:

Planet Karma is an audio suite for Fedora Core or RedHat 9.

Ubuntu Studio is an audio suite for the Ubuntu LINUX distribution.

AGNULA is an audio suite for the Debian LINUX distribution.

For further information you may wish to start at LINUX Sound, an extensive list of sites. is an organisation to assist and promote the development of software for that OS.
Friday, May 05, 2006

Life During Wartime

wartime image
A group of artists from the Limerick School Of Art & Design (LSAD) have gathered like-minded people together into the exhibition Life During Wartime. They have repurposed an empty nightclub at Baker Place into a space part gallery, part club, and part abandoned war zone.

The opening last night, 4 May 2006, saw sound artists Danny McCarthy and Mick O'Shea creating a shifting din in an alcove at the back, while a flux of interested parties examined the visual art strewn about the walls, floors and disused washrooms. Later the offensive DJs opened up with a set strongly oriented to the motorik rhythms of krautrock and early Talking Heads. A supposed appearance by Twenty Two never materialised (unless it was after I left) but there were surprise performances or things that could have been performances.

The exhibit is running for two weeks only. It is open every afternoon until May 18. Access is rather peculiar. Go in through the Wicked Chicken Bar, on Tait Square, Limerick. Head down the back stairs to the toilets. Opposite the Men's is a door and through there is the Wartime space. Take a wrong turn and you may end up in another zone entirely, which only adds to the charm.

This Saturday is a concert headlined by Finland's Circle, who have been making varieties of space and drone rock since 1991. This is part of an Irish tour. Here's another site with older info.

This concert also features Dublin's collective United Bible Studies plus a whole slew of near-local groups: Boxes, Sea Dog, Not Abel and Eczema The Teen Flake. It's 8 euros.

For more information on Life During Wartime, go to the exhibit website, but be aware it is a Flash-only affair with broken functionality.

Makes sense really.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006


This is a short article to keep you up-to-date with some of the changes happening around here. The most significant of these I discussed in the article Three Ways To Show You Care. Besides trying out some revenue ideas I've increased the sidebar width, tweaked the page banner and adjusted some of the layers and graphics to fit.

You may have noticed that for a while the category pages were stale. I recently updated them to include the last 17 articles... and by the time I did that I had five more...and then several more.

I have spun out the music reviews into their own category, since they have proven popular and I am likely to do more. Send me your encouragement and feedback, corrections and complaints, so I know what you like!

I have removed the Bloglet subscription service since I really dislike how the emails get formatted. Use RSS instead. Anyone currently subscribed will stay subscribed but I recommend you switch to a syndication feed.

If you want to learn about RSS, try parts one and two of my beginner articles.

Behind the scenes I've integrated three javascript files into one. The fewer the hits on a web server, the faster a page can load. Though it is logical and convenient to keep different functionality in different files, it is not wise in terms of performance.

With these modifications I am up to version 25 of my Blogger stylesheet. Further changes are in the cards, but I have learned from many years of development experience to do things in incremental stages.

So here am I: incrementing
Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Request: Heidelberg SM 74-4 and GTOZ

Here's another strange piece of spam. What are these people selling? How do they expect to get my money? Is it all just a postmodern prank? Is there any difference?

Dear Sir or Madam,

Our company is looking for following machines 
for our clients in Iran:
1- Heidelberg SM 74-4
Age: Over 1996

2- Heidelberg GTO 52-2 (GTOZ)
Age: 1994 to 1996

Please let us have photographs of your offers 
including answer of following question:

1- Nearest Airport
2- Inspection is possible?
3- Payment terms
4- Condition
5- Best Actual dealer price
6- Delivery Time
7- SN Number

Looks forward to hearing from you.

Kindest Regards,
Farzam Habibi
Business Manager
Pooya Machine International Trading Company