Tuesday, August 02, 2011

IE6 is dead. At last.

Amidst mounting frustration when editing some CSS today I decided to check the latest stats for IE6. And, joy of joys, we are finally at the point where we can ditch support for this most ancient and incompatible of browsers.

Whilst it still contributed a significant proportion of visitors to the site (which we judged to be >5%) it was worth making sure that sites still displayed well (if not perfectly) in IE6. 5% might seem like a small number but we thought about it the other way around - we often go to great lengths to increase readership by 5-10% so why not take care of the same number of people that have already found your site?

Well, IE6 usage is now down well below 5%. Depending on the site we analyse it's somewhere between 2% and 4% and falling steadily. Also, in total, IE represents less than 50% of the site visits which is also new - and the trend is downwards so it looks like people are seeing the light and branching out to Firefox and others.

So, hooray (HOORAY!) the time has finally come where we can drop support for the grand-daddy of browsers and get on with our lives.

The only question that remains is... how long until we can put up a message to visitors using IE6 telling them that they are not allowed to access the site at all until they sort out their browser? :)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Massive folders in Thunderbird? Compact them down to size.

A little tip that I thought I would share, because I just found out about it.

I just backed up my computer and, when choosing the files to backup noticed that my inbox was several gigabytes. I'm a busy web designer and receive all kinds of files, so didn't think too much about it.

I backed up the computer and then went about cleaning up the inbox. I moved all files older than 3 months out, cleaned up the trash and then checked again. Still 2.1Gb. Even though there were 'only' 300 messages in the inbox. Very strange.

Much searching later and learning about things like 'expunge' and I found the answer.

Thunderbird does NOT delete your messages from disk when they are deleted from view. Deleting them just hides them from view:

This is from Mozilla's website:
When you delete or move a message most e-mail clients simply hide the message and mark it as ready for physical deletion later on. These hidden messages still remain in the folder. Even emptying the Trash does not physically delete them. These hidden messages are not physically removed until the folder is compacted. If you don't compact your mail folders periodically, they can grow very large, and erratic program behavior may occur.

The next paragraph was more enlightening:
Many users have never heard of compacting folders (not to be confused with compressing a file). However, most e-mail clients do this to improve performance by not requiring the e-mail client to rewrite the entire folder every time you delete a single message. The reason you might never have heard of compacting is that most e-mail clients default to automatically compacting the folder whenever a certain amount of space is wasted, while you have to enable this in Thunderbird.

And there was me, all this time, thinking that "compact folder" meant that it would be compressed (e.g. with a zip algorithm) and that this would REDUCE the performance of the folder in favour of using less disk space. Little did I know that it would IMPROVE the performance AND use less disk space!

So, there are two recommendations.

  1. If you want to clean up your folders manually, right click them and then click "Compact".
  2. If you want to automatically compact your folders go to:
    Tools -> Options -> Advanced -> Network & Disk Space -> Disk Space
    Tick the box and put a sensible number in the "Compact folders when it will save x kb" box (e.g. I just put in 10000 for 10Mb)
For your amusement, you might like to see some stats:
My inbox before compacting: 2149840 bytes
My inbox after compacting: 9816 bytes
A reduction in size of 99.5%

Now, if only I had done this before buying all those extra Gb of offsite backup from Mozy...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Apocalypto (Film review)

We went to see Mel Gibson's Meso-American action film last night, Apocalypto.

It's a very good movie (8/10) - so watch it first (but be warned that it is quite bloody in places), then read on!

As is my preference, I went into this movie without reading a word about it (save the tagline on the posters in the foyer - "Nobody can outrun their destiny"). And, having looked at a few reviews today, I am glad that I can still see a film fresh without reading someone else's opinion first and forcing myself to view the film in a predefined context.

So again, I tell you - go watch the film first and then come back and read!

Now that you've seen it, what do you think. Really think?

I came out and was struggling a little. Was it a film with a message, and if so what was that message? Twenty-four hours later I have realised that, first and foremost, it's an action movie. As such, it's one of the best. I was physically tense in my seat for large parts of the movie. I cared about the characters. I jumped, I held my breath, I willed the hero on, I ignored some of the ridiculous handicaps the hero overcame (running for days with an arrow wound through his abdomen...). It's very pretty, quite thoughtful, and non-stop action - adding up to an excellent action movie. A modern day 'Gladiator' if you will. A simple tale of a hero overcoming great odds to save his family, a victory of love over revenge.

But I came out of the cinema wondering about the message. There were three narrative scenes in the film that I took to be hints at the message.


Is the film about fear, and the wasting effect of fear on a person and a civilisation? The village chief gives his son a lecture on fear as they return to the village; the chief refuses to show fear in the face of death (and then does not fall, even when dead); the hysteria (and hence ultimate downfall) of the city is driven by fear; Jaguar Paw finally starts to defeat the pursuers when he stops fearing and starts to fight back with resolution.

I don't know anything of Gibson's politics but it would be an interesting subject for the film in the current political climate. Is he suggesting that we are allowing fear to guide our civilisations down doomed paths?

Insatiable greed

During the village feast the Story Teller tells a tale of the greed of man, and the musings of the wise owl that suggest that man is doomed always to want, until the earth can give no more.

The contrast of the (heroes') village and the (villains') city might suggest this. The city is a place of sickness, hysteria and an idle ruling class (compared to the villages active, hunting, chief). It would be easy to extrapolate this to say it is a city of overstretched resources, suffering in the face of failed crops. The village is a place of ingenuity and cameraderie, with teamwork and clever traps to catch their dinner, and a compassion shown to the wanderers they pass from the other village. Again, this could be extrapolated to suggest that Jaguar Paw's new village, with it's small footprint and sustainable ways, will better survive the coming invasion.

But it's all hinted at, never clearly spoken, so perhaps I am reading too much into things.


In the same way that I am not familiar with Gibson's politics, I know nothing of his spirituality. The brutal depiction of the City's religious activities as bloodthirsty hysteria would suggest an outsiders commentary on religion as a whole. But perhaps he is just saying that that religion is misguided.

Anyway, I would have thought the commentary was generally anti-religious if not for the importance played by the prophetic elements. The smallpox infected (well, I'm assuming it's smallpox - please set me straight if I'm wrong) girl prophesises quite accurately the downfall of the warriors' city. To me this suggests that the writer believes there is something beyond the physical, something that can be tapped into. If only something that men might call 'Destiny'.

And then I read some of the online reviews. They cried about the brutality on the screen (which, to my mind, was no worse than Braveheart or Gladiator). They were shocked that Native American actors could work on a film that portrays their ancestors in such a negative light. Heads on poles! Shock and horror! Human sacrifice! Pits full of bodies! They scoffed at the depiction of Christian saviours coming to save the barbarians from their evil ways and set them on the path of righteousness. To my eyes, I saw the invaders in one shot, looking quite menacing armed with steel armour, wooden crosses and invisible, domesticated, germs.

I have to disagree with all of these and say that I fear they are all a case of people finding their favourite axes to grind within what is a grandiose and visually rich movie.

First, I thought that it is currently widely accepted that Aztecs made human sacrifices, often in great numbers, as part of their religious ceremonies. Some sources claim that they sacrificed up to 80,000 people in four days while consecrating the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan [Hanson, Victor Davis (2000), Carnage and Culture. ISBN 0-385-72038-6]. That's 14 deaths per minute.

Now, I understand that it's uncomfortable to see that or references to it in an action film, especially if you have some Native American heritage, but I personally see no problem with it. Europeans, Africans, Asians and Americans - people of all races - have passed through periods of dark history, that a modern mindset can barely comprehend.

To me, it would seem that we should face that, try to understand why such things happened, decide that we do not wish to return there and act accordingly.

The second thread I disagree with is the implication that the film depicts the Christians as saviours of the barbarians.

Now, perhaps this was Gibson's intent, but I'm not so sure. The film's tagline of "No-one can outrun his destiny" to me suggests that the bigger picture is the almost utter destruction of the Aztec civilisation by the invaders.

I could be wrong, but the scenes of smallpox-decimated villages hint at this. Smallpox spread through the Americas ahead of the Conquistadores and killed of 90-95% of the natives before they ever started fighting [Diamond, Jared (1999), Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. ISBN 0-099-30278-0]. The invaders were destroyers, not saviours.

Anyway, that's my tuppence worth. I hope it doesn't offend anyone! It is a good film and recommended to all (but the most squeamish) fans of action movies and fans of films that give you enough content to be able to reflect a little.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Pan's Labyrinth (film review)

Saw Guillermo del Toro's modern day fairy tale last night, El Laberinto del Fauno or "Pan's Labyrinth" in English.

It's an excellent movie (9/10) - so watch it first (but be warned that it is quite brutal in places), then read on!

This is the first film I've seen by this director and it encourages me to seek out more of his works. The story is very good, but not perfect - I feel there could have been more intricacy and neater parallels in the fairy-world with Ofelia's real-world life.

The character design and acting, though, is absolutely perfect. The baby-eating terror in particular is one of the most menacing characters I've seen in the cinema. Ofelia is wonderfully portrayed mixing youthful dreams with the realities of life as a twelve year old ( and the look of dejection on her face where she emerges from the burrow only to find her neatly folded dress blown into the mud is priceless). Mercedes is also powerfully realised and the Captain is sadistic and delusional (assured of his cause and what's 'right' in the world) to the bitter end.

Elements of the story, especially some of the narration, are also excellent - weaving a magical web around the events in the story - but I left feeling that the tale could have - should have - had a little more bite. There was a chance to really leave the viewer wondering about whether the fairy-scenes were real or imagined, but to do this there would need to be clearer parallels between the fairy-world characters and the real ones. As it is, it's 9/10 instead of 10/10.

The toad under the tree could be conceived of as Franco, or fascism, sucking the life out of Spain. If the faun is possibly imagined it's a neat touch that she seems to trust it unquestioningly until Mercedes warns her that "Faun's are tricky". But what is the inspiration for the hand-eyed terror? But perhaps this is an allegory to some part of Spanish culture or history that I do not know.

Still, it is an excellent movie and probably the best I've seen recently.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

How to use Skype in Dubai

The national carrier, Etisalat, has blocked Skype, and apparently all VoIP applications, from being used in Dubai. I clearly wasn't happy with this, so searched for a way to circumvent this restriction, to find a way to unblock Skype in Dubai...

After playing unsuccessfully with Tor I found that using a VPN was the way forward and there is a very cheap solution for this. Here's the step by step guide:

  1. Go to http://ultravpn.lynanda.com/

  2. Read about who they are if you're interested (their primary aim is apparently to allow people in censored countries to connect to news sources that would otherwise be blocked)

  3. Click 'Download now', save the file to your computer and then run it to install Ultra VPN

  4. Go back to the site, and click "Test and Buy" (http://ultravpn.lynanda.com/account.htm)

  5. In the "Register a new account" section, choose and enter a username and password

  6. Make sure UltraVPN is started - it's a small icon next to your clock if it is, and in your start menu if not

  7. Right click the UltraVPN icon and click "Connect"

  8. Enter your username and password

  9. After about 10-15 seconds you should be connected via UltraVPN

  10. Skype should now connect and work perfectly and you will appear to the world as if you are based in France (so some sites might start showing you french options or french adverts)

  11. After a 3 day trial you will need to pay to continue to use UltraVPN - go back to the site and use the "Recharge you account" option on the "Test and Buy" page. It's $2.90 for a month - which isn't a lot of money to have unlimited free phone calls.

  12. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Hallowe'en party at Coborn Mansions

Thanks to Ali, Koprinka, Eili and Vincenzo for throwing a fabulous Halowe'en party at my old haunt, Coborn Mansions. And an extra-special thank you to Yesim for cooking up an incredible feast, despite not even living there any more.

My camera wasn't charged, so I only have a handful of photos (which, to my shame, I haven't managed to upload onto the net yet). But others were better prepared. Here are some links to galleries from the night:

Gisele's photos
Michael's Photos
Dan's Photos
Mehmet's photos
Mine coming soon...

Photos below were all taken by Michael Bel, photographer at large (and for hire).

The Gang
At Hotel Delta before the party.

Jim the Reaper
Perhaps I missed my calling and should have been a make-up artist?

The Butcher and The Eye
Sweeney Todd and... a... zombie vampire?

Cat Woman
My Evil Twin appears as her alter ego

Your host for the evening, the fifth musketeer, A(nsa)ramis.

Foxy Roxy
More bite than bark (do foxes bark?)

The Wartless Witch
Looks like she's already released her spiders...


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Say no to 0870

Don't you just hate those 0870 numbers (and 0845) that cost a fortune to call from your mobile? There is now a way to circumvent these so called "non-geographic numbers"...


Go to the site, search for a company by name or number and you'll be given a normal number to call. Very handy, although the site sometimes gets a little slow - I guess that's the price of fame.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Departed (film review)

Went to view Scorsese's latest film last night, The Departed.

It's very good (8/10) - go and see it, then read on.

Scorsese seems to be developing quite a love affair for DiCaprio - after proving he could hold a fight scene in Gangs of New York and showing that he can act in The Aviator, DiCaprio combines both talents to steal the show in The Departed, his third(?) Scorsese film.

Perhaps part of it comes from acting alongside the ever-wooden Matt Damon, but the viewer is drawn in by DiCaprio's underdog character and finds themselves rooting for him to win the day/girl/battle/war.

Overall the film is engaging, twisted, raw, occasionally bloody and yet in some places laugh-out-loud funny. It's the kind of ride that I believe the best cinema should take you on, but it clearly would not be to everybody's taste.

Some (rhetorical) questions are left with me, though...
- Why was Sullivan studying law? He seemed to be rotten and remorseless to the core, interested only in self preservation and making money.
- Why does Dignam return? Does Madolyn send him Billy's package?
- Why does Billy run when Sullivan goes to sort out his files? He's seen the envelope but does he just freak out or is he afraid of something in particular? He doesn't take any particular evidence and it would have seemed more in character to play along, smile sweetly and *then* settle the score.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth (Film review)

Last night's Orange Wednesday trip was to see Al Gore's environmentally friendly film 'An Inconvenient Truth'. It's well made, and the content is interesting at best and outright scary at worst.

The film does a good job of reminding us of the things which, in the back of our minds, we know and yet we so often try to ignore.

We have an impact on the world in which we live

Can this be denied? I don't think so. 'Carbon' (ie. CO2) levels in the Earth's atmosphere are continually rising - and way above any natural fluctuation, as Mr. Gore so eloquently demonstrates (including the use of his elevator to emphasise the concept of being 'off the scale'). This is either due to global industrialisation or some natural event that has not occured in the past 60,000 years (which is as far back as the Antarctic ice record goes).

On top of this one should also pause to consider general consumption of raw materials - every time we use and then discard an item it is usually thrown into a landfill pit. Unless future generations find a way to 'mine' materials from these pits we are reducing the future availability of all these natural resources. Yes, there's a lot of iron, or coal, or oil in the world. But can we consume it as we are for another 500 years? Or 100 years? Or 20 years? At what point do we need to reconsider our habits and try to live in a more sustainable way?

It is our moral obligation to minimise our footprint

Gore's stance in the film is an interesting one. He tries to remove partisan lines and emphasise that these are not political issues, but moral ones. Without change now, there may be no comfortable life for our grandchildren, or possibly our children - or even for our own old age. Monetary gain can never be balanced against the Earth itself, especially not short-sighted profiteering.

On the individual level we should try to take the steps we can - and here the film was sadly lacking in detail. In summary, though, I think the main steps are:

  • drive less,

  • fly less,

  • offset carbon when you do fly or drive (by paying organisations like The Carbon Neutral Company or the World Land Trust to plant trees that absorb CO2),

  • use energy saving light bulbs from ebulbshop for example,

  • use a green energy suppier (e.g. npower 'Juice'),

  • insulate your house,

  • buy produce that hasn't been flown half way around the world,

  • minimise energy use and

  • recycle when you can.

Yes, these things can cost money. And yes, they can be a pain in the backside. But they are things we all know that we ought to do - so what excuse are we hiding behind?

Change can be very fast

In the film there were also some well presented illustrations that change is not always on the geological timescale of millenia. Whole ice shelfs can collapse into the sea in a matter of weeks, once weakened. And, unfortunately, some of the most important ecological systems for regulating temperature at current levels (such as the north atlantic current, or 'conveyor') are positive feedback systems. This is not a good thing!

It means that change in these systems accelerates further change. For example, as arctic ice melts there is less ice to reflect sunlight back into space, so the water gets warmer and the remaining ice melts faster. So the question is - when do we choose to act? When the snows of Kilimanjaro are all melted? There's only a sliver of glacier left. When 10,000 year old ice shelfs of Antarctica start falling into the sea? They already have. When the Arctic ice disappears? There's less than half now than there was 50 years ago. When atmospheric CO2 is at a higher level than at any point in the past 60,000 years? It already is - and climbing fast.

Surely we have enough warning signs already? It must be time to take some form of action. Act on a personal level. If you own a company, try to make the company as socially and environmentally responsible as you are yourself. If you are employed, ask your employer to make the company carbon neutral. If you believe in politics, lobby your MP. If you believe in a higher power, pray.

In the film Al Gore mentions that it is easy to flip from denial to despair and then use this as your new excuse for non-action. Is despair your new excuse or is it time to do what we can?

Thursday, August 24, 2006


I got dinged... apparently because of one of these:

- Each submission must be approved by 3 Judges before being put in the running.
- Improperly sized thumbnails and designs
- The design has too many colors
- The design has a gradient or halftones
- Submission did not use the templates
- Inappropriate material within the design
- The design contains copyrighted material
- The design is too large to print

I think I did all the middle ones, so it's either too large or just not good enough (almost definitely the latter!). I'll try again some day soon...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Threadless, not threadbare

I posted my first design to Threadless today, I'll find out in about a week if it has been accepted to be scored and scrutinised by the masses. The basic premise of the shirt is a play on CTRL-A meaning "select all". Yes, I'm a geek, but geeks rule the world (and hopefully buy the T-shirts to prove it) so fingers crossed :)

This T-shirt design is my first ever attempt at using a vector illustration program. I downloaded the trial version of Zoner Draw 5 (rather than paying several hundred pounds for a copy of Macromedia Illustrator) and it was relatively painless, once I figured out the basics... like how to join shapes together and fill them with colours.

For those that have never heard of it, Threadless is a T-shirt site. "Great!" I hear you say. But there's a twist... Threadless is a Web 2.0 T-shirt site, which means that community collaboration is the key.

The designs are created by users. The designs are voted on by users. The most popular ones (via the black box of Threadless' final decision making process) get turned into T-shirts. Users then buy them and send in photos of themselves wearing them. They also tell all their friends to visit Threadless and buy them too.

So Threadless, as far as I can tell, needs no designers, market research, no models, no photographers, no advertising budget... just a website, a warehouse and a bank account. Now why didn't I think of that :)