Category Archives: General

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It’s lovely to see someone stand up and take the blame for a mistake they’ve made. I’m not talking about the Government (obviously), I’m talking Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World-Wide Web. He’s come out and apologised for the redundant slashes that appear in every web address (url).

Good man. But what of the rest? The “www.” that was so unpronounceable is already obsolete, and personally I think twitter can take credit for popularising the contemporary non-dubbed url form. Boffins in lab coats has worked tirelessly to make memory ubiquitous and cheap, but we’ve just stuck some character limits in there to be fashionable or something. Hey ho. But the “www” is gone.

Can anyone tell me why there’s a huhtetep, “http:”, still shown in my address bar? What’s it for? What does it tell me? I don’t actually have to type it in these days, but it appears there anyway. Why?

Is it to show that I’m looking at a document provided by HyperText Transfer Protocol? I don’t care about that!

Is it to show that I *could* be looking at an FTP site, using the same browser? Ok, fair call, but that’s so rare to do so, that you could default to not showing “http:”, and then only show “ftp:” when FTP sites are used. It’s not like every browser has a built-in FTP client anyway. Same goes for local files.

Is it to show the “s” when I look at an “https” page, meaning that the connection between my browser and the website is encrypted? Well, ok, but what was wrong with the padlock? Why is there such a strong connection between certificates and https anyway? They mean completely different things. I don’t need a certificate to know is Google. Equally, a certificate costs about 20 bucks and has so few checks that I’m hardly reassured when dealing with a new site by the presence of the certificate. What I want to see is a padlock. Drop the “https” and show me a padlock.

Is it for future extensibility, to enable a future Internet to use new and unusual protocols? Like “about:”? Again, it would be simple enough to recognise a default of http. If you go to about:config, then display the protocol. Why is this hard? If a new protocol came along to overtake http, then I think a bigger browser update would be needed anyway.

I think browser manufacturers should take treat it like the port. Every web page is served by a port, and for most of the web, that’s port 80. You could look at this website by typing But mostly, the 80 is assumed. You only ever type in a port if you’re not using port 80, such as for local development. If you type “:80” into a web browser like Chrome, it disappears. Let’s do that for “http://” as well. if you’re thinking there might be confusion between ports and protocols, you’re wrong. Protocols are letters-only, Internet domains need at least one dot, and ports are only numeric.

I’m using Chrome version 5, the latest in a long history of browsers. Surely it’s long past time to kill off the http://. And if you look closely, you’ll see the iPhone already has.

What the Chancellor could learn from the Open Web

One of the government’s most unpopular policies in the past few years has been the national ID card scheme. Although they’ve got quiet on all this and other huge IT projects in the past year or so, the project is still under way, albeit with so many compromises that any benefits that could have justified the excessive cost (estimated at £6bn) are now invalid.

But the Chancellor’s Budget introduced a new scheme which could give him a complete solution to everyone’s satisfaction, without him spending a penny. It’s not clear if he’s seen it.

Identification is vital to many forms of communication on the web, and we all have dozens of logins and passwords distributed across dozens of system.

OpenID is not software or a service. It’s not a company or organisation. It is simply a method of allowing you to use a single login for multiple websites. The key to this is that you choose who to handle your details, whether it be Google, Microsoft, Twitter or even your own server. You’ll have seen this when you see one of these “The application xxxx would like to access your Facebook details. Do you trust them?”.

The Chancellor announced bank accounts for all citizens. Effectively, everyone will have a bank account. Bank accounts issue credit/debit cards to their account holders. And these are forms of ID.

Those IDs could be used anywhere. If the government want to check your ID to give you a passport/pension/health/benefit, they could check your bank card. The banks will be able to add any security methods they like in order to secure the identity of the provider, be it biometric, photographic or secret key.

The government doesn’t have to spend a penny on issuing unpopular ID cards. There will be no national database of people. I can choose who to trust with my ID. And most people are already signed up.

That’s £6bn saved. Now all we need is to swap the NHS database for Google Health, and we’ll have saved ourselves the national debt.

Man walks down the street

Man walks down the street. Takes him ten minutes every morning.

One day, his watch breaks and starts running fast. It takes twice as long, according to the watch. Completing the same distance took twenty minutes. He buys a new watch.

The following week, some wanker at the council moves his tube station 400 yards further away. According to his new watch, the journey again takes twice as long as usual: twenty minutes. The man blames cheap foreign imports, and buys a new watch.

I have a grid in three dimensions. It’s held together with wires, will balls at the joints. Each wire is 10cm long.

The next day, I measure my grid with a ruler. Each wire is now 20cms long. But none of the balls look any further apart. I buy a new ruler.

I throw away my grid and buy a new one. It’s bigger.

A lot bigger.

My grid has balls one light-year apart. Each ball is held in a rigid cubic system as before. My grid extends to infinity in all six directions: up, down, to the left, to the right, in front, and behind. Infinitely.

I know what you’re thinking: “You must have huge balls”. But I don’t like to brag.

I measure the distance along the wires between the balls, not with a ruler, but with light and a stopwatch. A ball sends out light, and I time exactly one year before the light reaches the next ball. That’s one light-year.

All over the grid, it always takes one year for light to reach the next ball.

The next day, a fine summer’s day in 1665, Newton invents gravity. This does not go unnoticed.

Each one of my balls has a large mass, and so a strong gravitational pull. Each ball attracts every other ball around it, not just the nearest, but all of them. It’s quite a shock to my grid, but my grid still hangs together. I rush out and measure my wires again. To my relief, each wire, measured by pulses of light, is exactly one light-year long.

All is well and good, and my grid holds steady. Of course, it does not collapse in on itself, because it extends infinitely in every direction. As each ball pulls those around it, they are equally pulled away by those more distant. Each ball has an equal pull on its left and its right.

For 250-odd years, my grid hangs together, perfectly happily. Occasionally I step outside to admire my balls (steady), by the light of the moon.

In 1915, some bloke called Einstein completes his General Theory of Relativity. In it, he invents several fundamental principles. Mass-energy equivalence, for example, as shown by the famous equation e=mc^2. Woo.
Something else he does is change gravitational theory. Newton is now proved wrong, for gravity is not a force, it is a distortion of space and time caused by masses.

I have to admit, this funny-looking bloke has me scared. I rush out to check on my beautiful, infinite, gleaming grid and see whether it has been affected. And I find some disturbing results.

Near each of my massive balls (by which I mean, my balls with mass), there are some weird effects happening. Close to the surface of each mass, I find that time is running more slowly.

I dig out my trusty stopwatch and wait for the light. A ball emits light, and the light travels more slowly than usual near the ball. Further from the ball it picks up speed as it moves along the wire away from the ball, but then slows again as it gets near the other ball. In total, my stopwatch shows that two years have passed.

Shit. The bastard’s only gone and ruined my grid. I go back inside to sit down and have a calming cup of tea.

Edwin Hubble catches my attention in 1929. He’s spent ten years looking closely at my grid, and he’s found something more peculiar still. He watches as many balls as he can, from the one ball he’s sat on. He’s been looking at the light beams all over my grid and he’s worked out that my grid is expanding.

I’m incredulous. “Where would it expand to?” I ask, “It’s infinite, FFS.” But the arrogant fool is insistent. Look at the evidence, he says.

The distances, as measured by light, between each ball, are getting further apart. Ipso facto, the grid is getting bigger. I have a quick check, and he’s right. A beam of light now takes 3 years to get from one ball to another.

But if I’m honest, those balls look a bit smaller. They’ve taken some of the mass that was hanging between the balls, and they’ve pulled it in. They’ve squeezed themslves together. Effectively, they’ve become bigger and denser masses, I wasn’t expecting that. With tighter, more compact masses, the light travel time is more affected by the gravity, and so it takes longer to get between the balls.

But my grid is still the same size. Or is it?

Did my watch break, or did someone move the tube station?

The App Store

I was amused by a comment I overheard in the office last week, just after the announcement of the iPad. It went something like this:

People will buy the iPad instead of a MacBook because the iPad has Applications.

My initial reaction was “how daft”. A laptop running MacOSX, or Windows, has access to billions of application, built through the ages. It’s ridiculous to think that there could be more applications available to a souped-up mobile phone.

But it immediately struck me that he had a point. Shareware died in the land of sophisticated web browsers, and the proliferation of viruses and spamware. Thinking back, they were awful. “Proper” software, like Office or Photoshop is priced beyond the realm of individuals.

Really, I can’t believe that we missed it for so long. What people wanted was a safe, reliable, place where they could spend pocket money on little apps that were beautifully built. They found it in the App store. And you know what? I think Apple underestimated it too. Otherwise there would be an App Store for MacBooks.

  • So there’s a review process, hated by developers. But equally, there’s no spamware.
  • There’s no multi-tasking. But equally, there’s no battery intensive, memory-hogging, background-running daemons.
  • Apps costs money. But Apple already has your card details from signing you up to iTunes. They had a micro-payments model, beating Facebook and Paypal (whose customers have been begging for one) by miles. £1.50? That’s only half a pint these days. No problem.

In the land of the laptop, the only competitor (excluding webapps and shareware), is the widgets. We have widgets for weather, clocks, telling the time, calendars, weather forecasts, clocks, and the weather. Handy.

It’s here that I’d like to see the App Store. Why can’t I drop an iPhone app onto my dashboard (or sidebar)?

The iWork for iPad apps are $10 each and will be available at the iTunes App Store.

4 easy fixes for Apple to make iTunes better

1) I expect you to manage my files. Maintain a list of my purchased files and let me download them whenever I want. Why am I expected to keep backups? It’s just weird.

2) I expect you to allow me to deauthorize a computer remotely. For example, I’ve just lost my hard disc. How do I deauthorize it? You tell me I’ve got 5 out of my 5 computers authorized. Ok, which ones? Unlike 1975, five is not a big number of computers. How about automatically deauthorizing a computer after 12 months?

3) I expect you to tell me that I can’t play HD films on a non-approved TV BEFORE I buy it. Or, to be honest, never. I’ve never heard of such ridiculous bullshit. I’m not about to go and buy a new TV, just because it doesn’t have your DRM built in.
The discussion here has 8 pages, and the last one says “Apple Support has no idea this problem exists.”

4) If I tell you I own an MP3 I expect you to trust me. Allow me to copy and transfer it like any other file.

We like our iPods, we love our iPhones, and when our wives aren’t looking, we might secretly give our MacBooks a cuddle. But no-one likes iTunes. And not because it’s a bad idea. It’s just clunky and unusable.

If I were the EU, I would consider Apple bundling iTunes in the same light as Windows bundling Internet Explorer. Let’s start the fine running at €1m/day and start talking openness.

Leaving Digitas

I’ve been at Digitas for five years. Five years. As I’ve recently learned, that’s about thirty-five dog years. Which is about four years older than I am now.

Here, I’ve worked on websites for Hewlett Packard, the Cannes Film Festival, Persil, Nicquitin, General Motors, Opel, Vauxhall, Sega‘s TotalWar, Nakheel and the Palm Jumeirah, Bayer‘s Xarelto, MSD’s Propecia, Procter & Gamble, Eukanuba, Digitas of course, and a few sites so cool, I still can’t tell you about them.
That’s not a bad record.
Estimates suggest that on average*, I have been involved with more than seventeen percent of your household purchases , and although I have a three-percent chance of killing you with a car, there’s an extra four percent chance of saving your life after an operation.

Somehow I’ve been sent to Brussels, Warsaw, Geneva, Minsk, Basle, Kiev, Zurich, Paris and Bangalore.

Ninety-two of my facebook friends, I met through Digitas. That’s sixty-one percent.

Since I joined Digitas, I’ve started and finished a three-year degree in Physical Science, with a two:one. I’ve got married, and twenty-five percent of my guests were from Digitas. I’ve run twenty-six point one miles in the London marathon, and they helped me raise three-hundred pounds for the NSPCC.

I loved working here.
I wish them all a great 2010.


* some estimates may be approximate to the point of complete fiction.

Shortcut Tutorials

Probably the first real coder I met was at school.

He was just some kid in an older class who knew how to code the BBC micros that littered the computer room with the heavy metal door. This guy was a genius. Except he wasn’t really. He just learned a lot of stuff from old type-ins in BBC micro magazines. You’d describe him as the guy with glasses, but he didn’t wear glasses. You get the picture.

One of the most astonishing things I saw was that he abbreviated every single command he typed in, which was allowed, using a dot. Instead of typing “BASIC”, you could type “BA.”. My favourite was that he typed “RU.” instead of “RUN”. Eh? You haven’t even saved yourself a keystroke there. What was the point?
Continue reading Shortcut Tutorials

First Hackday

We’ve just tried out our first Hackday: our attempt to produce a website without the usual demands of work-related stresses. And all in 36 hours.

The result is “Confessions of a T-Shirt”. Follow this link to have a look:
Funny T Shirts

I think we’ve got a few learnings to share. I’ll report on it later.

For now, I’ll sign off with great thanks to my two friends who’ve helped me through this mighty effort: coffee and dropbox. I appreciate it.
Oh, and cheers to the other lads too.

Campaign to Legalize Thankyous

Thankyou isn’t a word.

I was taught this in English class, and it’s official.  It’s not in dictionaries, and Google doesn’t recognise it.

Correctly, it should be two words.  “Thank” and “you”.

But hold your horses there.  As I understand it, one of the key benefits of the English language is its flexibility.  The first Dictionary was, I believe, German, and it laid down exactly how all the words of the language should be.  The English huffed and puffed about this, and openly mocked the idea.  They then sat down in a library and formed the English language by reviewing every English word ever written.  They set out to be descriptive rather than prescriptive.

And our dictionary evolved.  The scholars in Oxford smugly release a new set of words every year, which they promise we’ll all be using a year from now.  Now they didn’t invent these words.  They acknowledged their use somewhere, and described them.

Ok, so I accept that another idea of a dictionary is to provide a single spelling for each word.  In a language with few rules, none of which are not broken, a defining way of spelling helps us all be understood.

But thankyou is a word.  It has become a word through common usage.  It has a specific meaning and use.
It has 12,500,000 matches on Google.

Let us not reject it.  Let us accept it.

Please sign my petition here: