All entries for April 2009

April 30, 2009

2666 reasons to read 2666

2666Not really, that would take forever. Instead, here’s just five reasons to read Roberto Bolano’s book, 2666.

  1. It’s like The Wire. Endlessly complex, multiple sides to every story, characters that are rarely good or bad but usually a bit of both. It’s also in five parts, one of which is about the death of journalism.
  2. It’s not like The Wire. It’s tougher. If you thought the crime rate in Baltimore was bad, wait until you read Part Four of this book. It also makes less sense than The Wire, but if you’re prepared to read a 900-page book, that’s probably not going to bother you much.
  3. It’s unfinished. Roberto Bolano died before he completed the book, so any fault you might find in the book isn’t really his fault.
  4. You’ll struggle to find a critical review.
  5. In fifty years time, people might well ask you if you’ve read this book yet. You might as well get it out of the way while you’re young.

April 28, 2009

Bye Trees!

Media companies love giving you bundles. Bundles of telly, phone calls, broadband etc.

But they’re not very good at realising you’ve got a bundle.

Here’s two envelopes of ‘stuff’ I got from BT this morning…

BT junk mail

One envelope contained a bill for my phone calls (4 pages). The other contained a bill for my TV package I get from them (3 pages).

And both contained the same junk mail. Much of it’s promoting products which I already have.

Couldn’t BT save themselves quite a lot of money by just sending me one bill, in one envelope, containing (if they must) one lot of junk?

=====

Footnote: BT is one of the contractors working on the NHS’s highly successful new IT system.

Footnote 2: BT’s slogan is, no word of a lie, “Bringing it all together”.


April 23, 2009

From dunce to developer

Bill Thompson is something of a Great Uncle of the world wide web. He’s not the daddy – that’s Tim Berners-Lee. He’s more of a godfather, who Berners-Lee might trust if he had a nasty accident with some html.

In his latest posting on the BBC News | Technology site, he points out one of the many ways in which IT education in Britain is rubbish and how more of us are going to need to at least know about programming and development.

I’ve been writing websites since about 1999. My first was a sort of primitive blog, without comments. I reviewed music, films and games. It had about one reader. Me.

Then in 2001 I created a community website for my home town called Tetbury Online. Miraculously the internet archive has preserved my earliest efforts from 2002 and 2003. The site’s changed cosmetically since, but not a lot. It’s still just a static load of html with some code from Google thrown in to make it seem a little more dynamic.

I was already thinking about it before Bill Thompson’s column came out, but he might have tipped me over the edge: I’m scrapping the whole site and rebuilding it in something a little more Web 2.0.

I’ve chosen Drupal as a content management system as it seems to be well supported, relatively simple and infinitely flexible. Oh, and free. That unfortunately means heaving the whole website to a new hosting company and shared server so that I can install the cms. My old hosting provider didn’t allow databases, which I’ve recently discovered is what makes the internet go round.

Drupal’s based largely on php – a programming language with which I am as familiar with as veganism or Hungarian. But from what I can tell, that shouldn’t matter. Drupal, and other CMS’s, like Joomla are based on a system of menus, buttons, drop-down boxes and remarkably little code. All the hard work goes on under the surface.

The biggest advantage of using a content management system over just html is that for the first time, I’ll be able to let other people fiddle with the site. I’m hoping that local groups will add events, businesses will update their directory listings and employers will post their vacancies. In short, while re-writing the whole site will be a chore, once it’s done I can share the load of updating the site with others.

The new site will also be about six billion percent more dynamic. I can enable comments on any page at the press of a button. No coding. Just a click. I can have every article appear on an RSS feed without having to understand how. And I can create event calendars, audio slideshows, aggregated feeds, and Google Maps in 30 seconds.

It’s an awesome bit of kit – it’s just a shame the barrier to entry (having your own shared server space = £30+ per year) is high enough to put people off having a try.

Hopefully by the summer when the site should go live, I’ll be able to call myself a developer, of sorts. All without learning any code. Now that they should be teaching in schools.


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Tetbury Online

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