:Ben Metcalfe Blog

Archive
Uncategorized

Sarita just left the following comment:

“And responses are MODERATED? If you were that offended by the comment, just reject it! Just because someone annoys you doesn’t mean you have to try to smear them, much less expose them.”

So why do I have comment moderation on this blog?

Well, this blog seems to attract a level of comment spam far above the blogs of many of my friends, colleagues and peers (even ones with higher Technorati rank or Google PageRank).

A quick peek through Akismet, the excellent anti-comment-spam module in WordPress, shows that it is currently zapping a comment spam every 7 minutes. It’s not uncommon to have 10 or 20 comment spam attempts in the space of a few minutes.

With the above volume in mind, it’s perhaps not surprising that a fair amount manages to sneak it’s way past the security measures I have enabled – of which Akismet is just one of many. For example:

SGML. Girl spanking free pictures

(link removed)

This is why I continue to have first-comment moderation active on this blog.

(…which means the first time you leave a comment with a new email address, it must be green-flagged by me before it is published to the blog. Any future comments under that same email address are automatically published, of course.)

I would so really like to be able to turn this off – but at this time it’s just not possible with the amount of spam.

Akismet is such a great tool – but it needs to get a little better before I’ll trust it 100% for my comments.

In the meantime, let me be absolutely clear with my moderation policy:

I only dump comments that are spam or totally off-topic to the original subject. I do not remove comments that are critical of me, in case people think that’s why I have moderation on. Check out [1] [2] [3] for examples of that!

Read More

Do you know anyone who is upgrading their old Apple PowerBook G4, perhaps to a new Intel MacBook or MacBook Pro? Would you/they be willing to donate your/their old laptop to a freshman university student?

Apple PowerBook G4

Sofia and I have a friend back in the UK who has just started university at York to study for a BSc in Physics. He’s a bright and ambitious young man who is pretty excited to be able to go to uni – but like most students doesn’t have the kind of disposal income many of us have (/I once had – oh welcome to startups!). Without wanting to go into too much detail it’s fair to say it’s going to be somewhat tight financially for his mother to support him through his studies too.

Our friend (who we’re not wanting to name directly as we know he reads this blog and he’s pretty shy!) needs to be run a number of software products for his studies including Maple (it’s a powerful maths and engineering package that requires a fairly good computer to run).

Unfortunately it won’t run on his pretty old linux-based workstation – but will run on an Apple Powerbook G4 which I know many people are getting rid of as they upgrade to the new fancy Intel-based Macs. I also know he would be dead chuffed to have a laptop he can take to his lectures, the library, etc.

Sofia and I are therefore wondering whether there are any generous souls out there who would be willing to donate their old Apple laptop that they don’t want anymore? We’d be extremely grateful, and I know our friend would be too!

I’d be happy to chip in a hundred dollars or so if necessary to cover shipping costs if you’re not in San Francisco (our locale) and any other expenses you incur. We can arrange getting it to UK – unless you’re already in the UK in which case that makes it even easier! :)

Because of the hardware requirements of the software and the interface we’re on the look-out for an Apple Powerbook G4 733 MHz (or better) with 15″ screen.

If you think you might be able to help, please could you send me an email: ben [--at--] benmetcalfe.com? And if you can’t personally (hey, I don’t use Apple products either!) perhaps you know someone who might or could post this on your blog? Any help gratefully received!

Many thanks
Ben & Sofia

PS: I’m also wondering whether there are any match-making websites for people who have laptops they no longer need and those who need them? I know there are companies that serve corporate-size companies to dispose of old equipment, but not sure if there’s anything for individual owners? If not, perhaps that’s my next project…

Read More

I’m not a big fan of the iPod, for reasons I’ve discussed before and won’t bore you with now. But I have to say the Nano is perhaps the most interesting addition to the iPod family.

Apple iPod Nano in white and black versions

So, I was very interested to be sent this link to some “naked nano” shots… In otherwords someone has stumped up the cash to by a Nano and then photographed it being taken apart (in Japanese).

iPod Nano circuit board

Arrhhh, that mentality takes me back to my days as a young boy – when I would take anything I could apart in order to find out how it worked (radios, 35mm cameras, remote controls, you name it).

Yes, the hacker force was strong in me even at an early age.

Read More

Sofia is addicted to Traffic Control, a Flash game from Geheee Games.

(I want to go to bed, but she’s not coming until she’s beaten the high score!)

Traffic Control is an example of one of those games that’s devilishly simple yet fiendishly addictive once you’ve gotten into it. Just like Tetris.

Check it out, and let me know if you can beat SK in the high score (that’s Sofia) – ha ha!

You can also obtain the source code for the game for £1.

Read More

Looks like Alice was doing the same thing as me last night: check how her site rendered on the PSP’s new web browser.

I took a few grabs of the PSP in action with the BBC News website, including the “High PDA” site I built for this specific use a few years back.

PSP showing BBC News website

The web functionality has arrived as part of the PSP’s V2.0 firmware. The new firmware is Sony’s attempt to further prevent so-called “home brew” (unofficial, unlicensed) applications being run on the unit. Whilst I’m actually very much in favour of such hacking, ultimately I will actually find a browser in my PSP very useful having recently stopped using my mobile’s GPRS functionality.

The browser itself is a version of Access NetFront. The Japanese company first made a name for itself with an excellent rival browser to Pocket Internet Explorer on Windows Pocket PC 2000. Back then PIE couldn’t handle CSS, and was essentially IE3. Access NetFront was the only near-IE5 browser available for a Pocket PC at the time.

Unfortunately the PSP browser was a slight disappointment. Despite it being having a “tabbed browsing” approach, flicking between tabs seemed to require the unit to re-render the page – unfortunate seeing as a lot user behaviour around tabs is being able to quickly check content on different pages.

The other annoyance is that authentication username and password details are not cached or stored, which is particularly frustrating if you have to type a 15 digital alpha-numeric code on the push-button entry mechanism every time you want to view your email!

[Check out more photos of the PSP browser in action lot on Flickr]

Read More

Life Hacks? How to be better organised using white boards? Pffft, c’mon – I need real life hacks!

And this might just be one of them…

According to TheDamnBlog.com it’s possible to send an elevator directly to the destination floor by pushing both the floor button and the door close button at the same time:

The designers of some elevators include a hidden feature that is very handy if you’re in a hurry or it’s a busy time in the building (like check-out time in a hotel).

While some elevators require a key, others can be put into “Express” mode by pressing the “Door Close” and “Floor” buttons at the same time. This sweeps the car to the floor of your choice and avoids stops at any other floor. This seems to work on Most elevators that I have tried!

Apparently it works in most lifts (English term for elevators), including:

  • Otis Elevators (All But The Ones Made In 1992),
  • Dover (Model Numbers: EL546 And ELOD862),
  • Most Desert Elevators(All, But Model Numbers ELD5433 And ELF3655)

(Although I believe Dover and Desert are North American brands not seen in Europe).

The lifts here at work are Otis, so I’ll give it a go tonight and report back…

Read More

No, it’s not another one of those remote-viewing webcam rifle ranges, Deer Park Alpha 2 is the latest alpha release of the next version of Firefox.

Deer Park Alpha 2 is an alpha release of our next generation Firefox browser and it is being made available for testing purposes only for developers and the testing community. Current users of Mozilla Firefox 1.0.x should not download or use Deer Park Alpha 2.

Despite what it says on their website, I’m sure if you’re up to testing alpha software than the Mozilla people will let you download DP Alpha 2 even if you are a current Mozilla Firefox 1.0.x user.

[link]

Read More

I’ve just posted the details for the first backstage.bbc.co.uk competition.

From the backstage.bbc.co.uk site:

For the first backstage.bbc.co.uk competition, we are offering you the opportunity to innovate and build prototypes that demonstrate new ways of exploring the BBC TV schedule. Plus we have arguably the ultimate “geek bling” prize for the producer of the winning prototype.

Some possible ideas you might like to incorporate include:

  • Combining schedules with web services such as del.lici.us, furl, flickr and technorati to open up each programme to external annotation.
  • Focusing on specific genres (contained within the TV Anytime metadata). Promotion of signed programmes, etc.
  • Introducing a social element to a schedule or channel (such as bookmarking programmes, rating/voting, vertical searches by genre).
  • Alerts, SMS, email broadcasts and other client-push delivery mechanisms.
  • Combine the schedule data in interesting ways with existing BBC feeds or non BBC information feeds (such as IMDB, Google images, Wikipedia, Google Video, Yahoo Video).
  • Explore new ways of users tagging the TV data and aligning that with tags attached to existing tag based web services

The winner will receive a brand new Dell rackmount server (I’m not allowed to tell you the brand of the server on the BBC website, but I don’t see why I can’t here!).

I think this is a wicked prize, even if I did choose it myself. I kind of wish I could enter it’s that good. :)

Two runners up will receive iPod Shuffles or some other 1Gig MP3 Player – not decided which ones yet (I hate iPods as people probably know, but I realise they are the “in” 1Gig player at the moment).

Read More

Those of you who have read my blog for sometime will know I’m a big UK Garage + Grime fan.

Wired have written a great article about the dynamics of kids on the street of East London using their mobile phones to listen to, share and MC over grime tracks.

The success of a U.K. music genre known as grime, championed by the likes of Dizzee Rascal, has made rapping to mobile phones a popular pastime for a lot of British young people.

On the street, cell phones enable impromptu rapping, or “spitting,” over music played through speaker phones.

“If I’m not at my house and not got a pad and pen, I go to the note pad (in the phone) or type into a message and save it into the outbox,” says Vortex, an 18-year-old MC from East London whose first mix tape will soon be released. “It can be just a punch line or a metaphor.”

Fifteen-year-old Sparx, a South London schoolgirl and aspiring MC, agrees.

“If I was on the street and I had no music, I’d write it into my phone,” she said. “The phones are so important round about here. (If) I didn’t have my phone, I don’t think I would do it.”

As you will notice from the use of “cell phone”, this is an American article – which makes it even more cool that grime has been picked up by a fairly mainstream US magazine.

The article goes on to look at the spending habits of this audience:

While a lot of people in the grime scene may not fall into the target age range for mobile music services, they are not all low spenders. Vortex might spend 50 pounds ($87) a week with U.K. operator 3, but he’s not prepared to buy their music videos.

“I’d rather just watch them in my house than pay money to watch them on my phone,” he said.

Which just goes to show the tech-savvyness of the people on the scene. They aren’t caught up in the hype of getting “music on your phone”. They know it will be a crap experience, and instead know exactly how they would prefer to consume their media instead. The article also touches on the popularity of bluetoothing media between phones – further demonstrating such concepts as ubiquity are important.

Don’t forget, these are the people leading the “Playstation Generation”, and many will also be familiar with producing sophisticated loops and beats on music production software on their home computers.

Anyway, it’s a great article so check it out!
[Full article from Wired.com]

Read More

So, yesterday was the backstage.bbc.co.uk Open Tech 05 event. I think a good time was had by all.

The feedback from my presentation suggests it went well, which is good as that was my main objective of the day.

A number of photos up already on Flickr. You can check out all photos tagged for the event or have a look at these of me:

Some ok:

Some not so ok:

We all went out for “the best curry in the world” (according to the restaurant’s website, funnily enough). Much of the enjoyment and benefit of these conferences is the networking and socialising that takes place afterwards, so it was good to go and meet some old friends and gain new ones.

The curry was ok, but despite ordering about 10 different curries, they all tasted pretty similar to me. I think they were one of these places that has 5 source pots from which they can make hundreds of different dishes. 6/10 – but hardly “the world’s best”

We went on to “Garlic & Shots” bar in Soho – some gothic themed joint I’ve never been to before (laced with subtle Swedish references in it’s decor). Fortunately my trademark versatile all=black attire came into its own once again, ensuring that I didn’t look out of place despite my lack of body piercing and tattoos.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s event, which I hope the BBC will continue to be heavily involved in.

Read More