Matchbox 20 tickets

My brother Scott has got himself, Angela, and me tickets to see Matchbox 20 in Glasgow in September. Scott’s been a big Matchbox 20 fan for years. When he and Ange were in the US last month, they went to see them in Phoenix. They both thought they were great, and they’re looking forward to seeing them again in just a few weeks’ time. So am I!

Scott has lent me their three CDs, Yourself of Someone Like You, Mad Season, and More Than You Think You Are. There’s some fantastic stuff on there, especially on More than You Think You Are, their latest one. “Unwell”, a hauntingly beautiful song, has become the anthem for my working day:

All day staring at the ceiling

Making friends with shadows on my wall

All night hearing voices telling me

That I should get some sleep

Because tomorrow might be good for something

Hold on

Feeling like I’m headed for a breakdown

And I don’t know why

But I’m not crazy, I’m just a little unwell

I know right now you can’t tell

But stay awhile and maybe then you’ll see

A different side of me

I’m not crazy, I’m just a little impaired

I know right now you don’t care

But soon enough you’re gonna think of me

And how I used to be…me

And I only work 4 days a week part-time. Sometimes I don’t know how my full-time colleagues cope.

Anyway–I’m looking forward to the gig!

Amazon Links

Yourself or someone like you Yourself or someone like you Yourself or someone like you

Five Days of TypePad

I don’t think a web site has actually made me physically moan with anticipation and pleasure before now. But for goodness’ sake just take a look at TypePad.

For those of you who don’t know about it, TypePad is the “managed” blogging service from the people who developed Movable Type, the software that makes this weblog–and thousands of others across the web–work. When TypePad goes live, you’ll be able to sign up for an account, pick a couple of basic settings, and be up and running with your own blog within a couple of minutes. No need for your own server, no complicated setup, and no worries about having to maintain your own backups and stuff.

Details have been scarce for those of us who haven’t made it into their closed beta programme, but they’re currently in the middle of “Five Days of TypePad,” a teaser campaign for some of their drop-dead, eye-popping, killer app features:

Droooool. Much though I love tinkering with Movable Type on my own domain, unless Movable Type Pro is going to have all of these feaures, too, I’m going to be seriously tempted to move to TypePad myself.

Disaster recovery was off the air for about nine hours from 2am (GMT) last night. Our site is histed with EZPublishing, whose are either resellers for, or they have their servers co-located at the same facility. Whatever the case, had a fire at their server facility last night. According to their recorded phone message, a power transformer exploded and set the cooling oil on fire.

The fire has been put out now, they have a backup transformer/generator in place, and their servers are starting to come back on-line again. It doesn’t look like we’ve lost any data on the web server, but I’m not sure what has happened to our incoming mail in the time that the server was out. If you’ve sent us anything in the last 12 hours, you might want to re-send it in case it got lost…

Note to self: must finish off those backup scripts…. I’ve got a script that creates a backup of our server database every day, but I haven’t got round to making it do anything useful with the backup afterwards…like email it to me, or FTP it to a different location. Fat lot of good that was going to be if the machine had gone up in flames. Keeping your backups on the same machine as your original files–or even in the same building–is about as useful as the proverbial chocolate teapot.

Mozilla Firebird

I’ve been using the Opera web browser since version 5.11. Until now, it has been simply the best web browser available for Windows. It is lightweight, fast, and highly functional. When I wrote a review of it back in 2001, these were the five reasons I preferred it over Internet Explorer:

  • Tabbed browsing
  • Mouse gestures (in particular, the right click/left click “rocker” combination that equates to pressing the browser’s “back” button)
  • Open all bookmarks in a folder
  • Toggle images on/off
  • Open a new page in the background

Since then, I’ve found two more favourite features:

  • Fast searching in the address bar. Instead of going to Google and typing a search in the text field there, in Opera I can just type the letter “g” in the address bar, followed by my search query, and when I press <enter>, and go straight to the results page of this query. Likewise, I can use “a” to use the AllTheWeb search engine, or “z” to search These searches and their shortcut letters are also very easily customizable.
  • HTML validation. The right-click context menu in Opera includes an option to submit the page you’re viewing to the W3C HTML validator for checking. This is great for doing web development: validation checking is just a mouse-click away.

When the Mozilla project started releasing final versions (1.0 and above) of its browser (May/June 2002-ish?) I started playing about with it, but I found it slow and unresponsive. It had some great technology behind it, primarily XUL, but as an actual web browser it was in no position to threaten Internet Explorer’s dominant market position. Actually, it sucked.

A lot has changed since then. Realizing that the Mozilla application suite (which included the browser, and email app, a HTML editor, and various kitchen sinks) was a dog with too many masters and no legs, the project team issued a new roadmap for development. The browser would be split off into a stand-alone component: Firebird. The email program would also be isolated: Thunderbird. These products would still use all the cool underlying Mozilla technology, but no longer would they try to be all things to all people, all at once. Now they were cooking!

I had a look at Firebird when it was still called Phoenix (versions 0.4 and 0.5, I think). It was okay, but still a bit flaky. The current version is 0.6.1, and it has become my default browser.

That’s right, it’s better than Opera.

First of all, it had to be as good as Opera, and that involves the list of favourite features I noted above:

  • Tabbed browsing: check!
  • Open all bookmarks in a folder: check!
  • Open a new page in the background: check!

But wait… that’s not everything I wanted.

Well, it turns out that two of the other features are available as extensions:

And unlike many other programs that allow plugins, Firebird extensions are very simple to install (just go to Tools -> Options -> Extensions). There are lots of them already, and many are being added all the time.

That still leaves two things: toggling images on/off, and quick one-letter search shortcuts in the address bar. Well, now that we have broadband, the ability to load pages without images has become a lot less important. You can still set the whole application not to load images at all, and doing this in Firebird is still easier than in Internet Explorer, but there doesn’t seem to be the one-button option to switch them back on for a single page that you get in Opera.

And as for the one-letter search shortcuts in the address bar, this feature is actually there by default–and has been there since the early days of Mozilla–but it’s not very well advertised. Eric Meyer has whole article explaining how to use it, but here’s the short version:

  1. If you have a default installation of Firebird, you should have a bookmarks folder called “Quick searches” with a bookmark called “Google Quicksearch” inside it. If you don’t have this bookmark, go to Google, and create a new bookmark for it.
  2. Right-click on this bookmark, and select “Properties” from the context menu.
  3. On the “Info” tab of the properties page, set the location to “”, and set the keyword to be “g”
  4. Click OK.

You can now type “g” followed by a search term in your address bar, and you will jump straight to the Google results page.

You can use this technique to create any number of your own custom one-letter address bar searches. They key to doing it is knowing how the search engine formulates its search query. For example, Google’s home page is But to actually display a list of search results, Google needs to know what it’s searching for. If you type some search terms into Google’s search box (say, “cow tipping”) and press the “Google Search” button, you’ll notice that the URL displayed in the address bar changes to something like

Depending on the search engine you use, the URL won’t look exactly like that, but it will most likely have your search query sitting in it somewhere. Sometimes the spaces between your search terms will have been replaced with “%20”, and sometimes they will have been replaced with a “+” sign. Don’t worry about that.

Copy and paste this whole URL, including your search phrase, into the “Location” field in the properties of your newly created bookmark. Then, select the search phrase, and replace it with “%s”. When you do your one-letter search, this “%s” in the location will be replaced with whatever text you’ve typed after the search letter.

If you can’t be bothered building these search queries for yourself, here are a few I prepared earlier. All you have to do is create a new bookmark for each of them, and then change their properties. Give them a one-letter keyword, and copy-and-paste the URL below:

Search Engine Search URL
Google Groups (Usenet)

So far I’ve covered why Firebird is as good as Opera (for me, at least). Why is it better? Two reasons:

  • Opera is still very lightweight and fast. But it has been gathering more and more features recently. It hasn’t been slowing down under their combined weight, though, which is a great testament for them. But Firebird feels smaller and more nimble.
  • It’s those darned extensions. Firebird seems to have a very flexible extensability architecture, and it’s all completely open. It has kept the core features to a minimum, while allowing developers to produce their own widgets. Ordinary users reap the benefits: you pick and choose the ones you want, and ignore the rest. That’s just so nice.

So it’s not a huge advantage that Firebird has over Opera…but it’s enough of an edge to make me switch.

Related Links:

Hoarding games

Abi and I are book hoarders. We buy lots of books, and we keep them. Even after we’ve read them, and even if we have no real intention of re-reading them, we usually hold on to them. Most of them (about twenty-five carboard boxes full) are sitting in our loft right now, but some day we would really like to have a house with a library so we can have them all out on display. Mmmm. Lovely boooooks. Our precioussses.

I’m starting to turn into a bit of a games hoarder, too. There are a bundle of games that I’ve played, and have little intention of re-playing, that I can’t really bear to get rid of: Grand Theft Auto III, Ico, Metroid Prime, Ratchet and Clank. I can sort of understand myself holding on to racing games, beat-em-ups, sports games, and other things with decent multi-player options (Mario Kart), but is it really worth keeping story games?

A book is guaranteed to be backwards-compatible. If I really enjoy a book this week, I won’t re-read it immediately, but I might want to read it in ten years’ time. I know that won’t be a problem. A videogame, however, is not likely to stand the test of time quite so well. For a start, I’d have to hang on to my PS2 and GameCube to make sure I’ll still have the hardware to play the games on. But will the televisions a decade from now still be compatible with all the connectors and wires from the early 2000’s?

Games like Metroid Prime and GTA III are cutting-edge right now: MP in terms of its immersive graphics, sound, and music; GTA in terms of its wide-open environments and freeform gameplay. But games are going to take enormous leaps forward in the next ten years. Dusting them off and playing them again won’t be the same experience as it was the first time. It’ll be retrogaming. The games will look old-fashioned and quaint. They may allow me to revel in the nostalgia of the age, but I’m sure that I’ll long to return to the wonders that game developers and publishers will have in store for me in 2013.

Some books don’t age well, but classics remain classics. I can pick up one of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels from the 1970s and enjoy it just as much as his latest adventure. Classic games like Elite still have their fans, but how many of them did not play the game the first time round? Is the original version of the game still atracting new players in the same way that, say, Jane Austen is still attracting new readers?

So does it make any sense for me to hang on to these games when, if I were to sell them on, I could use the cash to fund new acquisitions? Intellectually, I’d have to say “no”, but my heart is currently exercising its veto. I might never play them again (well, apart from Ratchet and Clank, which Alex is very fond of), but they have great sentimental value. And so…I hoard.

Blake’s 7: The comeback?

Via Blogdex comes news of the return of Blake’s 7:

“One of the stars of cult sci-fi series Blake’s 7 has signed a deal to bring the show back to screens more than 20 years after it ended.

“Paul Darrow, who played the ruthless anti-hero Avon, is in a consortium that has acquired the rights to the show from the widow of its creator, Terry Nation.
“…A new TV mini-series, starring Darrow, will have a budget of $5-6m (£3-3.7m), the show’s website said.”

Which leads to the show’s web site. Looks vaguely promising.

The Register warns not to be too optimistic for a succesful relaunch, though:

‘But don’t hold your breath for A Rebellion Reborn. Planning is at an early stage. In a message on its flashy web site, B7 Productions says it will not be entering pre-production “until April/May 2004”.

‘Which marks a step-up on the last time the show was supposed to return to the screens. Reg Reader Andrew Larcombe has pointed us to an almost identical piece of pre-production puff – from three years ago.’

But the BBC’s article from 2000 says that the producers were “lining up” Paul Darrow to play Avon again. Yesterday’s article refers to Darrow as being part of the consortium that is producing the show. That somehow sounds a bit more definite.

I just hope they’ll remember what made Blake’s 7 great: strong story lines, snappy dialogue, and excellent characters. Blake’s 7 was never about special effects, which is good, because they were rubbish. And even now, in the age of digital effects, the BBC has consistently proved that they are still rubbish at them.

If I want to see cutting-edge space special effects, I’ll go and buy the latest Star Wars film on DVD. (Actually, I did…and it was still pants.) Nothing the BBC (or any other sub $100M production facility) can do will even come close, so don’t even try because it’ll only disappoint. Spend the budget on some decent script writers, some half-decent costumes, a couple of well-built sets, and the hire of a Welsh quarry for a couple of days’ filming. The space ships are just cut-scenes to get from one place to another.

What I really want to see is Avon snarling and plotting and scheming. I want to see his predatory, ice-cold grin as he cuts the heart out of his enemies’ fiendish plans. I want my childhood back….