2005 in review: Radio Sunpig

Around Christmas last year I put together a CD to represent what I’d been listening to a lot in 2004. It didn’t consist just of my absolute favourite tracks of the year–instead, I wanted a slice of them that fit together nicely as a compilation. I’ve done the same this year, and taking a leaf out of Alan’s book, here they are with a bit of commentary. (Note that not all of the tracks are actually from 2005, but they are all tracks that I heard for the first time this year.)

Radio Sunpig 2005

  1. Ash – Orpheus

    Ever since I bought Ash’s CD Meltdown, I knew this song would make a fantastic opener for whatever compilation CD I chose to make for 2005. It’s so full of energy and sunshine that I can’t help smile every time I hear it. It puts the bounce back in my step whenever I’m feeling down.
  2. Foo Fighters – No Way Back

    In Your Honor has so many great rock songs on it, but No Way Back meshes well with the opener by Ash: hard and bright, and full of energy.
  3. Editors – Bullets

    Ignore the lyrics, and just feel the way every aspect of the composition pounds the song forward. The insistent drums, the looping vocals, the crashing guitars, and the battering bass–pure magic.
  4. Sondre Lerche – Virtue and Wine

    I have no idea what this song is about, but I love its musical richness–the way that every millisecond is filled with layer upon layer of textures and mini-melodies. That, and the killer drums that start off jazzy and end up in a crazy, perpetual solo. Keith told me that Faces Down was a better album than Two-Way Monologue, and he was right.
  5. Jason Falkner – Afraid Himself To Be

    I’m a great lover of rhythm, and there’s a particular vocal technique that gives me a great thrill: it’s when the singer lays down a clear beat with their voice that hits a subtly different rhythm than the main melody. The chorus here pushes that button for me. Have a listen for the part that starts, “One-thing-I-know-is-true…”, which is where Jason Falkner’s voice takes the lead, and everything else just follows. This is another find I owe to Keith
  6. System Of A Down – Radio, Video

    Speed metal polka. How can you not love that? Brilliant insanity.
  7. Glen Phillips – Finally Fading

    I love pretty much anything Glen Phillips does. This song is him in full power-pop mode, and it just sounds great.
  8. Athlete – Tourist

    The album has its ups and downs, I liked the melancholy loneliness of this title track.
  9. Imogen Heap – Hide And Seek

    Rarely does a song have the power to completely knock the wind out of me on a first listen, but this one did it. I vividly remember exactly where I was (just passing Dreghorn junction on the Edinburgh bypass) when I first heard it, and I practically had to pull of the road to listen to it properly. It still gives me goosebumps. It’s not a style of music I listen to much, and I was a bit wary about buying the album (Speak For Yourself) in case it was all like this, and the rest of the songs didn’t match up. The reality turns out to be a fantastic electro-pop disc that has turned into one of my favourites of the year.
  10. Queens Of The Stone Age – Broken Box

    I liked Lullabies To Paralyze a lot, but I don’t think that I really grew to love it. Broken Box is one of the easier tracks to listen to. It has a strong backbone on which to mount its curious diversions.
  11. Danger Doom – Old School

    I came to Danger Doom via Gorillaz–Danger Mouse co-produced their album Demon Days, and MF Doom raps on the track “November Has Come”. Danger Doom is a collaboration between Doom and Danger Mouse. There’s a lot to like on the album (The Mouse and The Mask), but this track is my favourite: fun and funky, and exactly as old school as the title suggests.
  12. Gorillaz – Feel Good Inc.

    Didn’t like this when I first heard it. I was wrong. It’s awesome.
  13. Charlotte Hatherley – Bastardo

    Mad props to anyone who can put the phrase “two-faced lothario” into a catchy power-pop chorus. “Bastardo” is a twisted love story about a girl, a boy, and a guitar. Charlotte Hatherley (guitarist for Ash) is the queen of the “ooh-ooh” backing vocal, and “Bastardo” shows off these talents as much as it does her songwriting skills.
  14. Maximo Park – Going Missing
    From one of my favourite albums of the year (A Certain Trigger) comes an achingly beautiful post-punk anthem about longing, loneliness and desperation.
  15. Snow Patrol – Spitting Games
    I love Gary Lightbody’s lazy, rounded vocals. When they’re wrapped around a fast pop-rock belter like this one, sparks fly.
  16. Imogen Heap – Daylight Robbery
    Another song from Imogen Heap, this one a massive electro-pop-rock mash-up, complete with bips and bleeps, synthesizer-mangled vocals, and burning electric guitars. Love it.
  17. Glen Phillips – Courage
    Glen Phillips again, this time with a gorgeous ballad full of hope and persistence.
  18. Sondre Lerche – On And Off Again
    As before, even though I know the lyrics by heart, I have no idea what Sondre Lerche is singing about. But he does it with such emotion, and such a beautiful arrangement that this song regularly gives me a lump in my throat.
  19. Foo Fighters – Cold Day In The Sun
    The most surprising song from In Your Honor. Light and airy, with a touch of Hammond organ in the background, it sounds like a sunny day in the summer.
  20. Robert Downey, Jr – Broken
    This is the song that plays over the end credits of the film Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. It caught my attention, and I thought it was Dave Matthews until the music credits came up. Wow. This track is from his album The Futurist, and its laid back groove provides a perfect ending for the compilation.

Wiggle stereoscopy, follow-up

Almost immediately after putting up my posting about Wiggle stereoscopy with Javascript, I got reports of funny behaviour with Internet Explorer. I can’t say this came as a great surprise.

To recap on the technique, the core idea was to:

  1. replace a composite image with a <div> of a fixed size,
  2. set the background-image of this div to be the same as the replaced image, and
  3. flip the position of the background image every 120ms

Replacing the composite image with a div

Toggling the background image position

You can see the original script in action in Example 1.

The problem lies with the way Internet Explorer handles CSS background images. If IE’s cache settings are at their least forgiving (i.e. check for newer versions of stored pages “Every visit to the page”), changing the background-position of the background image causes IE to requery the web server for the image in question. The answer will generally be “HTTP 304: Not Modified”, so at least it doesn’t re-download the image again, but there’s a good chance that 120ms (the flicker rate) is not long enough for the server round-trip to complete. Result: IE spends all of its time checking for a new version of the image, and no time at all actually displaying anything.

Internet Explorer set to check for a newer version of a page on every visit

This problem is comprehensively documented at FiveSevenSix.com. There is a workaround involving server settings, but that goes against my desire for a keeping the technique nice and simple to implement. Alternatively, I could probably have used a variant of the double-buffering technique to fix it. But upon reflection I wondered if it was worth using background images at all.

Background images are perfect if you want to transform a piece of naked markup (like a <ul> list) into something graphically pleasing. But the wiggle technique is specifically designed to animate an existing in-line image. So: the new version of the script (1.1) does the following:

  1. It wraps a <div> around the <img>,
  2. sets the overflow property of the <div> to hidden, so that the excess parts of the image are masked off, and
  3. changes to position of the <img> itself every 120ms.

Example 2 is running with version 1.1 of the script.

Another problem that the original wiggle script had was that even with IE’s cache settings at a more normal level, it interfered with the mouse hovering over any hyperlinks in the same page: the hand cursor would change immediately back to an arrow, and in some configurations the url of the hovered link would also instantly disappear from the status bar. Version 1.1 fixes this, too.

Movieblog podcast

Richard, who writes for The Movie Blog, has been trying to get an all-Scottish version of their regular podcast going for some time now. On Thursday he finally made it happen! And I got invited along as a guest for the session! So if you feel like hearing the two of us ramble on about the best and worst movies of 2005, head on over to The Movie Blog for the download.

We had some technical troubles that prevented Louise from doing her “Voice Of God” thing, the output volume has ended up quite low, and you can hear the nerves shaking our voices at times. However, given that this was our first podcast ever, I think we managed to not totally suck. Might we do it again? Time will tell…


Over the last year, Alex and I have been practicing a bunch of acrobatic moves. With me lying on my back, he has been standing on my hands. I’ve been throwing him up in the air and catching him. And just this last week, we managed to nail his first somersaults. The picture below links to a (20MB) video clip of him doing backwards somersaults in our garden. I’m still giving him the initial boost, but just wait another year or two…

Alex doing somersaults

My Christmas rant

‘Tis the Season of Obligation, and I hate it.

If you’re feeling full of Christmas cheer and good will to all men, look away now, because reading this will only make you feel sad, angry, or insulted. Possible all three. I mean it. Really. Stop reading.

I love giving presents, but I hate giving them because the calendar says I must. I love my friends and family, but I hate having a massive list that we must methodically and mechanically run down to see that everyone receives at item appropriate to their status and closeness. And because everyone is buying presents all at the same time, I hate having to coordinate to ensure that the unwanted trinkets I plan to buy won’t clash with someone else’s purchase.

Likewise, I don’t care about getting presents for Christmas any more. I have everything I want already, and I would far rather you got me nothing than that you bought me something I don’t need and will never use just because you feel you have to. In fact, you know what’s the greatest gift you could get me next year? To tell me that you haven’t bought me anything. I would truly appreciate knowing that I have saved you that small measure of hassle, and that your Chistmas workload has been lightened just that little bit.

You think I’m kidding? You think I couldn’t possibly mean it? You think it’s just because the preparations for this Christmas have been getting me down? Absolutely not. I am being completely honest. Stop. Giving. Me. Shit.

(And please don’t give a charitable donation instead of getting me a gift. That’s just as bad. Give to a charity because you want to give to a charity, not because you feel some residual obligation to me. Charities need our money all year round.)

I have a wish list, and I hate not being able to buy anything from it in November or December, just because someone might selected something from it already. As of 2006, the wish list is going away.

If you really want to get me something, get something for ME–not for Christmas. If you have some music you particularly like, and you want to share it with me, send me a CD in the middle of March, out of the blue. If you’re browsing through the Autumn sales and see a T-shirt you think would suit me, give it to me in September. Show that it’s me you’re thinking about, not just another item on your shopping list.

I’m having a tough time keeping up appearances for the kids, and trying to keep things magical for them. I don’t want my grumpiness to ruin their pleasure. But equally, I don’t want them to grow up into Christmas Want-monsters. The American Thanksgiving tradition seems to me a much better model for a mid-winter holiday: the absence of gifts keeps things focused on the family, and the togetherness. There’s only so much preparation you can do for a big meal, and the shops don’t play psychosis-inducing festive music for two months solid leading up to it. (Honestly, the next time I hear “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” someone is going to get their nose bitten off.)

Finally, anyone who wants to call me a “Scrooge” can just fuck off. Get an original thought once in a while, you sheep.

Second best

If you’re feeling a bit technical, you might be interested in a new blog I’ve just started: Second Best. I’ll be using it as a place for writing about my professional interests, i.e. web standards, usability and accessibility, and software development.

If you don’t care, that’s okay, too.