Stalk Me!

I have a FaceBook account, but find its walled garden too restrictive, and hate having to login to share something. I’m a child of the World Wide Web (man) and all the sites that I want to share with my social network are out there. Inspired by Dean Shareski’s “Lesson #1: Share“, I got myself an account on and added all my available accounts.

So now you can stalk me (and become my friend) on the interweb. I also have a Tumblr Blog which acts as a “Life Stream”. It shares some of the same feeds, so there may be some duplication on FriendFeed until I decide which, if either, of these provides the most complete picture of my life on-line. However, the real advantage of these sites is that they take no extra effort. Once you add your sites, they update automagically without any further effort.

Google I/0 2008 Keynote

I have just finished watching the keynote of the [Google I/O 2008]( conference that took place at 9.30 am Las Vegas time yesterday and was posted on [YouTube]( almost straight away afterwards. The conference is aimed at developers, but there’s a lot that is of general interest and gives insight into Google’s aims for the future. The main message is that Google wants to
– make the cloud more accessible;
– keep connectivity pervasive;
– make the client (browser) more powerful.

Discussed and in some cases demonstrated (in rough order of presentation) were:
– [Google Gears]( which allows richer browser experiences by storing and
manipulating data locally in the browser. This has been used to implement a
search feature in MySpace.
– The new [Android Mobile Phone SDK]( which provides [WebKit]( views and allows applications to be built using web browser technology as a User Interface platform.
– The [Google App Engine]( which will allow developers to build web applications that will deploy and run on Google’s “cloud” platform.
– The [Google Data]( (GData) and [Google AJAX Search]( APIs which allow the development of application mashups using read-write access to Google services (GMail, Calendar, Google Docs, Picasa, etc.) and read-only access to services like Google Maps, Google News, Google Serach, YouTube, etc.
– Release Candidate 1.5 of the [Google Web Toolkit]( which allows developers to build rich internet applications in Java
– [OpenID]( (single sign on for the web), [OAuth]( (universal authentication) and [Open Social]( (social network development) which will help interesting Web2.0 applications to be developed.

The technical sessions will (or already have) go into these in more detail and will no doubt be made available on YouTube in the [Google Developers]( channel over the next few days. The impression that you get is that Google is really committed to Open Source and the Web. Downstream, I’m sure that they see dollars and cents in these technologies, but for now it seems that they are keen to get developers developing browser-based web applications.

If this blog entry has sparked your interest in these Google Code projects (or you are one of my Project students!), I suggest that you visit the [Google Code]( site to gain an insight into what Google is doing in and for the Open Source and Web developer communities.

History of Electrical Engineering on the Web

One of the highlight’s of yesterday’s [History of Computing Collection launch]( was Steve William’s presentation of the history of the University’s web site which he gathered from the *Way Back Machine* at the [Internet Archive]( As I developed the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering’s web site from 1996 through to around 2006 I thought I’d visit the Way Back Machine to look at how that web site [](*sa_/ developed. I will probably have to write down the technical details one day, but for now, here are the key development stages:

– [![](
In [January 1998]( the site looked like this. You’ll possibly note that the home page isn’t even about the department! Instead it contains a link to the [actual home page]( [![]( I clearly didn’t know much about Information Architecture then. However to ensure that the site was consistently formatted, I *was* using a templating tool called HTP (which is still [available]( from sourceforge).
– [![]( [January 1999]( the site was formatted to a corporate style using table layout and had a guestbook!

– By [January 2000]( we had style sheets (note that the links turn red [![]( hover) and custom bullets. The University’s site at this time was using images of text in order to use the Palatino font that the consultants had decided that its corporate branding needed! I was using Times [![]( Italic! The three column layout was done with tables.

– From 2000 to 2005 the web site design stayed pretty constant. The only thing that changed behind the scenes were that I moved from HTP to the [Perl Template Toolkit]( for the site templating.

– [![]( 2006, the Department finally turned off and the [engineering web site]( was established. This is run inside the University’s Content Management System (CMS). That site is undergoing a relaunch this summer.

I no longer maintain a large web site, but if I did, I’d use a CMS like [Drupal]( For small “vanity sites” or group home pages, I’d recommend using a wiki: my [homepage]( these days is a [Dokuwiki]( wiki.

History of Computing Collection Launch

The British Computer Society (BCS) was founded in 1957 so this is the tail end of its half century celebration year. As part of its local contribution to celebrations, Professor John Tucker took the opportunity of using the Annual General Meeting of the South Wales branch of the BCS to launch his History of Computing Collection (HOCC), which is being developed in conjunction with Library and Information Services (LIS) here at Swansea University. John hopes that this web site (implemented in Open Source CMS Drupal) will develop into a rich archive of the history of computing in, and its impact on, South Wales.

The evening started with an introduction to the HOCC project from Professor Tucker, and was followed by two entertaining talks by welsh IT pioneers Noel Cox and Rod Delamere. The first on the hardware changes seen in large company accountancy since the 1950s, and the second on a programmer’s apprenticeship at Glamorgan College of Technology (now the University of Glamorgan) in the early 1960s. The meeting concluded with an introduction to the HOCC Website itself by its principle developer Steve Williams from LIS.

When the HOCC website launches properly, it is hoped that it will be open for people to record their own recollections of computing. There are certainly plenty of stories to tell: I know a few myself and I’ve been in IT only 29 years! John and colleagues are busy gathering audio testimony from pioneers from the early days, examples of equipment and programs, and other artefacts of computing in Wales which presumably will eventually find their way onto the HOCC site.

On a personal note, the meeting was especially nice in that several retired colleagues from my early days in Electrical Engineering at Swansea turned up and it was great to see them again.

I wish John well on his project and will watch it with interest. Oh, and happy birthday BCS: only two years older than me! and Firefox integration

Continuing the saga of the Firefox 3 (FF3) trial, I just installed the beta version of the plugin for Firefox 3 (see previous post). Bookmarks are one of the key new features of have FF3 (see Top 10 Firefox 3 Features (Lifehacker) and Create Your Own Smart Bookmarks on Cybernotes), and I was interested in seeing how they worked with the new plugin. I made a small Jing screencast (sorry no sound) which shows that the plugin works much the same way as it did on FF2 with one small difference. If you bookmark using FF3 bookmarks, a pop-up asks you if you want to also bookmark at too. This might prove either to be useful or annoying depending on how you regard pop-ups! [A similar feature was already present in the Flock browser]

Personally, I rarely use browser-local bookmarks because I move around from machine to machine and rely on the internet to keep my collection in one place and available everywhere. However, perhaps with the advanced bookmarking features added to FF3, the integration and FF3 bookmarking tools may prove to be a winning combination.

Firefox 3 RC1: Plugin Incompatibility

A problem with Firefox 3 is that not all plugins are ready for deployment. The attached image shows my current set (on my laptop I have a couple more). Of particular note are, ScribeFire (for in-browser blogging) and Zotero (bibliographic database).

Google gears is also not yet compatible so support for offline working for Gmail, Google Reader, and Google Docs will not work. I find that I don’t travel enough with my lap top for this to be an issue.

I assume that most plugin providers are waiting on the final release before upgrading their plugins, but if any plugin is important to you, it might be worth holding off installing Firefox 3 for now. If you want to try it, a portable version of Firefox 3 RC1 that runs from a USB memory stick is also available. Alternatively you can run Firefox 2 and 3 on the same machine if you create a new profile for the latter. I wish I’d done that!


I just discovered that there’s a beta version of the plugin for Firefox, so that’s one indispensible tool that I won’t have to live without!

Upgraded to Firefox 3 RC1

I installed release candidate 1 of Firefox 3 today. I will be giving it a trial run and reporting on any nice features in a future blog. First impression: nice sexy Windows Vista look and friendly welcome page (illustrated). I’ve only installed it on my office desktop so far because my laptop is my main machine and it has a few plug-ins that might not work. So I’m hanging fire there which gives an opportunity for comparison.

Really Simple Surveys with Google Docs

I have just posted an article with demo screencasts on my work blog @the.coalface. The article is concerned with using a new feature of Google Docs Spreadsheets: web form data entry. I intend to use it for project allocation this year, but there are loads of other uses both within education and without.

To get some additional context, read the following articles first.

Although lacking in features provided by subscription sites like SurveyMonkey, it’s a lot simpler to set up and use than most of the alternatives provided by Outlook and SharePoint.

Most of us want data we can analyse in our spreadsheets and that’s exactly what Google Docs Web Forms provides. For a quick and dirty solution, it probably can’t be bettered!

Gone Phishing

On returning to work after the bank holiday I found that my email inbox was full of phishing attempts. Unfortunately for the phishers, I have no accounts with the banks I was being phished by, so it was easy to delete them. But I have to ask, why are phishing scams so random?

Furthermore, why don’t email phishing filters put on a big notice “DODGY” on such emails? They seem to recognise the links as false, so why can’t they be a bit more proactive at marking the messages themselves? It would also be nice to be able to tell your email client which banks you bank and web services you use with so at least they could ignore the false ones.