Sometimes, Life really does turn around and bite you on the ass. Regular readers will know that back in the summer I had a stroke. Since I was released from Hospital care things had been going a lot smoother. I got married, I went back to work, and life in general was getting back to normality. Until yesterday morning, that is.

On Monday morning, before I started getting ready for work, I had an epileptic seizure (dislocating my shoulder in the process). Just as I thought everything was getting back to normal, this comes along to throw a spanner in the works…

At the end of the week I need to get a battery of tests done. Until then, the hospital are trialling me on some medication to try and prevent any repeat episodes.

It really sucks that until the tests are done, I’m not going to know how how any of this is going to potentially effect the rest of my life.

For something different to do on a Friday night, Nicola and I went to see the new Harry Potter film on Friday. Both of us thought it was very good. Ron’s brothers, Fred and George are hilarious. I was a little dissapointed with the cut of the film; it was so fast-paced that a lot of stuff got left out—stuff that is important later in the series (Harry learning the story of the Longbottoms from Dumbledore, for one… it was glossed over far to quickly for my liking.). To be fair though, they did have a lot of material to cram into a 2h 15 min movie! Over all, it’s a good addition to the series and if you’ve enjoyed the previous films you’ll love it.

I know, I know, in theory we should be developing sites that work in every browser and not just targeting specific applications. However, the reality isn’t quite there yet. Support for the different web standards varies massively from vendor to vendor.

Usually we make the decision on how much effort we put into making a site work in a particular browser down to the visitor statistics of that site. If your site only receives a handful of visits from a certain browser, why spend hours – or even days – trying to work around its faults?

So my question is this: just how low should the numbers be before a particular browser gets ‘cut off’? Take, for example, the top 5 browsers in Pixel Meadow’s Mint logs:

  1. Firefox (54%)
  2. Safari (31%)
  3. Internet Explorer (8%)
  4. NetNewsWire, Camino & Opera (2%)
  5. Shrook (1%)

From those numbers it’s clear that I need to support Firefox and Safari (which by extension means support for NetNewsWire and Camino), but what of IE, Opera and Shrook? Do I go out of my way to make sure any future revisions of Pixel Meadow work fully in these browsers, or do I just make sure they’ll degrade gracefully if need be?

Of course, this is assuming an existing site… It stands to reason that a new site with no clear visitor demographics should target as wide as possible until their visitor statistics are known.

The iMac announcement yesterday has me intrigued (yes, the pissed-off feeling has abated). All of a sudden, it seems that the iMac is being positioned for a stab at the media centre market. There has been wild speculation about what Apple’s plans for the living room computer market might be. I think now we might be seeing the start of a push into that area.

A 2005 Widescreen iMac has a big screen. Not quite big enough for [most] living rooms, but close. It’s big enough for most “dens” I’d say. It has everything built in to the screen, so fewer are extra boxes needed. It does three of the four basic requirements for a media centre: music, movies (both DVD and downloaded/ripped) and pictures all tied together in the new Front Row software and accessible from your sofa via IR remote control. The only thing missing is [a native solution for] connecting live TV. Sure you can download yesterday’s TV abc programming via iTunes, but who wants to watch yesterday’s shows all your friends/colleagues were talking about this morning?

So the current iMac isn’t quite there as a media centre solution, but it’s close. If Apple were to, say, release an iMac based on the 30” Cinema display (or even larger), with some sort of TV-in and PVR capabilities, and they could own the media centre market much like the iPod owns the portable music player space. Why have another box under your screen for your media centre, when it could be built in to the screen?

When the new iPod was announced, I was a little concerned about the video playback capabilities. All the marketing blurb was referencing movie trailers, music videos, home movies… short video clips in other words. This got me worried that there might be some sort of restriction on video length/file size (which would be a similar ploy as the ROKR’s stupid 100 song limit). Thankfully, my fears were unfounded – I’d simply missed one of the announcements: TV shows for download via iTMS (would that now be the iTunes Media Store?). Interesting… These new iPods are getting more attractive the more I read about them. Back, Credit Card! Get back in your wallet!

Today was a bit of a milestone in my recovery from the stroke – I started back to work. Not full-time, mind you. On the advice of my Occupational Therapist, I’m starting back on reduced hours for a couple of weeks.

To say it was weird would be an understatement. In the time that I’ve been away a lot has changed. The company completed a merger and subsequent rebranding; moved office to a much bigger (lots of stairs… yay), much nicer building; and a lotof new people have started to work there.

On top of that, I had to use a PC for the first time in 4 months. Every 5 minutes I had to correct myself before I issued a OS X keystroke command that would possibly have spelt disaster for whatever I was working on at the time.

Footnotes seem to be all the rage at the moment. While some other CMS may require a plugin to get them working, we Textpattern users have been able to create them since day 1. However, the problem with the footnotes Textpattern generates, is that once you’re down there, you have to manually scroll back up the page o where you were. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have “return links” like at Daring Fireball? Well, it’s easy enough to do and requires only a minor change to the code1. Simply change the following two lines of code to read as below:

475: $content = '<sup>' . $fns<sup><a href="#fn1" id="fn1-link">1</a></sup> . '</sup> ' . $content ."<a href="#fn$fns<sup><a href="#fn1" id="fn1-link">1</a></sup>-link">↩</a>";

729: '<sup><a href="#fn$1" id="fn$1-link">$1</a></sup>$2', $text);

1 Note that I’m still running RC3 on this site, so line numbers might be slightly out compared to 4.02

2 Update – in TXP 4.0, these lines are 482 and 736 respectively.

I’ll start this one by quoting a comment I made over on Joshuaink –

I go through phases where I don’t feel a lot of enthusiasm for my blog. Usually, I find this is an indicator that I’m fed-up of the design… strange as it may sound, I find the design of my site dictates the type of thing I want to/feel I have to write about. When I launched the current design, I went through a phase where I felt that I had to write “professional”-style posts on web development techniques… but that’s not really something I can write about for long. It’s like taking your work home with you – you soon get fed-up and pissed off.
I guess my point on that is that a design can not only influence a visitors perception of your site, but your own. Yeah, something like that…

I’ve added my own emphasis to the important bits.

Until yesterday, this wasn’t really something I thought too much about. I think (as a web developer) I get too wrapped up in how I think others perceive my blog (including the design) to remember the number one reason to blog – as a personal form of expression. Our blogs are for (usually) for ourselves and I think it is something many of us forget. Maybe it’s why some of us take criticism of our blogs so badly.

A blogger is a writer, and a writer needs inspiration. One of the closest and easiest sources of inspiration to hand, is our own blogs. The problem is, I think many of us (and I count myself here) try too hard to please and impress others. Particularly the “showcase” sites (Stylegala, etc) perhaps, but that’s another rant.

In a post over at Binary Bonsai, Michael Heilemann acknowledges his site design influences his writing and for that reason he is currently having trouble with inspiration/motivation. He specifically mentions I need to carve out a more personalized space for me to feel at home – this is exactly how I am feeling at the moment.

Do you also feel you have to write about certain subjects or with a certain writing style, due to the design of your blog?

Related to my previous entry, is a little peeve about the MovableType API, or perhaps it’s just its implementation in Marsedit. Who in their right mind decided that the process for creating a new post via XML-RPC in this API should involve the following steps from the client software?

  1. send new post data. Don’t send category information. Set the publish flag to false.
  2. send the category information for the new post in a separate XML_RPC call.
  3. finally, send all the data from step 1 again, in an edit post function call, this time to set the publish flag to true if need be.

Kinda a silly and wasteful way to do things, IMNSHO. The standard MetaWeblog API (from which Movabletype’s is derived) does it better:

  1. send post data, including category information. Set publish flag to true or false, as appropriate
  2. that’s it.

Much simpler, with no wasted bandwidth or processing time.

I’ve spent the last two days looking at the same line of code, trying to work out why the fuck it’s not working right.

It’s one of those annoying situations where the code looks perfect for doing what you want it to do, yet for some reason, it refuses to play nice. There’s only a finite number of ways to write a conditional statement, after all…

Hrm. Perhaps it’s time to say “enough for today” and move on to something else. Fresh eyes always help solve problems. Maybe “third day’s a charm”?

I was having an informal chat with a former colleague1 today. After shooting the breeze about this and that, he announced how he had become a big fan of 37Signals’ Get Real methodology and was applying it to his own work. Fine, I thought… Until he started going on about how it allows him to start a project without much of any sort of planning. “Oh no it doesn’t” says I. You still have to know what you’re building and why, before you jump in and code. Without some sort of plan, you end up with a mess. A big unwieldy app that doesn’t focus on the job (nor do it well). You end up missing one of the big points of “Getting Real” – Lean Software

You Have to Know Where You Are Going, Before You Can Get There.

I never managed to convince my ex-colleague of this point, but the very article at 37Signals he thought was telling him to “dive right in” describes what he should be doing instead:

So what do we do in place of a functional spec? We write a one page story about what the app should do. If it takes more than a page to explain it, then it’s too complex. If it’s simple and it takes more than a page to write it then we’re not writing clearly enough. This process should take no longer than a few days.

Personally, I don’t even go this in-depth. A simple list of bullet-points describing what I need to achieve is usually sufficient. This then gets tape to the edge of my screen as a constant reminder.

1 He’s an ex-colleague because he left to try and cash-in on the success of Flickr and Basecamp et al. That was 9 months ago or so and he’s still not got anything to show for it.

I guess I should apologise – I was actually discharged a week ago (which was a week earlier than expected), but as I’m sure you can imagine, everyone has wanted to come by and see that I’m OK. This is the first time I’ve had a chance to sit at my iBook for longer than the time it takes to download (but not yet read!) mail.

Thank You All

I’d like to share my appreciation for all the get well soon messages and all the support. Thank you.

So how Am I Doing?

I’m doing good. Definitely not 100%, but I’m improving daily. Simple things still tire me out real quick, but apart from the small matter of my wedding in 4/5 weeks, I have roughly 8/9 weeks of nothing but recuperation to get back to full health and fitness.

I’m glad to report that I have nearly full mobility back, with only a small amount of strength and dexterity missing from my left hand and wrist. My Occupational Therapist thinks that typing is as good an exercise as any for fixing these – which I suppose is a good thing?

I have a heap of other exercises to do at home that the physios gave me. So by the end of it, I should be fitter than I’ve ever been! I’ve already dropped 2 stone (28lbs if my maths serves me right) in weight, which was a pleasant surprise 🙂

The War Wound

for those with a morbid fascination for such things, I present the lovely scar that now adorns the side of my head:

It gets a bit itchy and uncomfortble at times, but I guess I’m glad it’s there at the end of the day!

A lot of catching up to do, so I might go into post overdrive for a little bit.

While I was away, a mini-meme appeared where people posted pictures of their set-up/working environment. Prior to hospital, my set-up was simply my iBook on the kitchen table – nothing to write home about. One thing that my family did for me when I was about to come home, was buy me a proper desk. Over the weekend of my discharge, I set about gathering all the bits and pieces I needed to give myself the work environment I really wanted.

The Set-up

The new set-up is:

  • 1.33GHz iBook G4 with 768MB RAM, resting on a
  • Griffin iCurve and next to a
  • 17” Acer LCD screen, which I dual-screen thanks to this handy script
  • there’s also a 30Gb External USB2 disk connected to
  • a 7-port USB hub which also connects my
  • Apple keyboard,
  • 20GB iPod with colour screen,
  • an HP Deskjet Printer,
  • an HP Photosmart printer and
  • a Belkin Bluetooth dongle which lets me use my
  • MS Bluetooth Intellimouse

Much better than just the kitchen table, no? Plenty of cables though – I may invest in a couple of these sweet cable-tidies

4 weeks without an update? Dear me, that won’t do! No, I didn’t disappear because I became an online gambling addict. Instead, I’ve been spending time in hospital 4 weeks ago, I suffered a stroke that lead to a brain haemorrhage (Now there’s a fucker of a word to spell!) which required surgery. The upshot being that I’m OK (now, though I’m now sporting a lot less hair on my head and a lot more facial hair), though I have to go back to hospital tomorrow evening to complete my physiotherapy (I’m out for today and tomorrow morning on “weekend pass”) as the stroke let me temporarily paralysed on my left side – I’ve got most motion back, though my left limbs are pretty weak at the moment. typing is a fucker – this entry was almost done as a podcast from my hospital bed, but I couldn’t get peace on the ward to record it.

All change.

So I’m back in the outside world today, trying to catch up on all my communications/playing Blackjack. While I’ve been inside, heaps has gone on in the world. A new Harry Potter book. Bombs in London (and now Egypt) Mr Oxton has given up blogging – again. Can someone let me know why? The little ‘un is now a fully-fledged member of the terrible-twos club… Loud doesn’t even cover the half of it.

Some thank-yous

Before I sign off for another 2 weeks of therapy, I’d like to thank a few people: David Currie: the surgeon who saved my life, all the nurses on Ward 40 of Aberdeen Royal Infirmary for looking after me post-operation, and the Staff at the maidencraig unit of Woodend Hospital for helping me get mobile again. Until next time!

I’ve been “on holiday” this week. With everything that I’ve got going on at the moment, that simply means I’m not working the day job for a week. It’s given me a chance to sample working from home, which has been a good – if somewhat strange – experience.

The most interesting part has been trying to get into that psychological state where you know you’re “at work” and you have to get things done. It’s taken me a few days (well, plus the odd weekend here and there prior to this “break”) to get into the swing of things, but I think I’ve learned a few pointers that hare helping me be more productive, which I’d like to share.

1. Get Up Early.

The temptation is to lay in bed for hours after you would normally have to get up and leave for work. Don’t give in. Get up early, with a clear head, knowing what you have to do that day.

2. Get Showered/Dressed/Fed ASAP.

I don’t know about anyone else, but given the chance, I’d laze about for a couple of hours in the morning – leaving food/showering and dressing until the last possible moment. Don’t do this. A good shower, a fresh set of clothes, and a fine breakfast all leave you motivated to do something.

3. Take Time-out to Exercise.

You might want to do this before #2, or you might want to use it as an excuse to “take a break”, but getting in some exercise during the day can leave you with that ready-to-achieve-something feeling. Besides, it stops you turning into the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.

4. Don’t Work in the Kitchen.

Until I get the cupboard under the stairs converted into an office, my desk is the kitchen table. Bad idea. Easy access to snacks is distracting. Besides, the kitchen can be the busiest room in the house, leading to many, many interruptions.

5. Train Housemates/Partners and Children.

The people you live with need to know that they can’t just interrupt you. This is very important!

6. Enjoy It

Probably the biggest tip here – if you’re not enjoying it, go do something else for a while. Fix those shelves. Clear out that cupboard. Anything to get your mind out of a “this sucks and I’m not getting anything done” moment. Clear your mind and come back with a fresh head. This is the big difference between working in an office and working at home – you have the choice of finding something else to do in those unproductive moments. As long as you do actually come back and finish the job of course!

Different Strokes…

As these are just a few thoughts I’ve had over the last couple of days, I am in no way am I claiming to have found the “golden rule” of working from home. Heck, I’ve probably listed off a load of “well, duh!” statements that every home worker knows. Likewise, I’m no doubt missing off a load of obvious tips. So if you know of any other best practices for home working please share. If you work at home, how do you make sure you’re as productive as you can possibly be?

John has just passed me the new meme that’s doing the rounds. This one’s something to do with a literary stick. Is that a book club? (ok, ok, that was a really bad joke!)

Well, as it’s Sunday and I haven’t had any more elasticy thoughts this weekend, I suppose we better get started!

5 Random Tunes (iTunes Party Shuffle)

  1. Laura – Scissor Sistors
  2. Teethgrinder – Therapy?
  3. Stories – Therapy?
  4. Stand Inside Your Love – Smashing Pumpkins
  5. Steve Berman – Eminem

Currently Reading

I haven’t got anything lined up at the moment.

Ok, Last Book you Read?

Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Last film I saw

Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (noticing a connection?)

The Next Victims

Next to be beaten by the stick will be:

Elastic layouts have been getting a bit of talk over the last few months. JohnRoger and Patrick have all talked about them. I use an elastic layout in the new design.

What is an Elastic Layout?

Traditionally, web designers talk about either “fluid” or “fixed” layouts. Fluid layouts change width with the size of the browser window, while fixed layouts are set to a specific width. There are arguments for and against each type. Where elastic layouts fit in, is to try and combine the best of both worlds.

The Theory.

Text sized in em units is scalable in browsers (theoretically). So what if we were to specify the widths of our page elements in ems? Our page elements should scale inline with the size of our text.

The Reality.

Using em units to size page elements does work pretty much as expected. However, there are a few things we need to do to avoid some problems.

Global Reset for Less Hair-Pulling

If you let the browser apply its default font-sizemarginpadding and line-height, you’ll be in for a very rough ride. Make things easy – apply the global reset:

*{ font-size: 100%; line-height: 1; margin: 0; padding: 0;} /* Global Reset */

This resizes the text on everything to 100% of the default size (16px by default), sets the height of a line to the size of the text, and removes any default margins or padding. By doing this, we remove a lot of the guess work. I use a percentage value because I’ve found that this makes scaling text a little less error prone in browsers. 1em is now equal to 100% or 16px.

Browsers are Crap at Maths.

All the major browsers suffer from rounding errors to some degree. I must admit that it’s been a while since I checked on this, but both Opera and Safari used to render text sized in ems and percentages wrong – 10px would render as 9px, for example. To get around this, the fix was to size text slightly larger than 100% on the top level element. 100.01% was found to be the magic number. So our global reset becomes:

*{ font-size: 100.01%; line-height: 1; margin: 0; padding: 0;} /* Global Reset */

Make the Maths Easier.

I was never very good at maths (much like the browsers), so working things out in multiples/fractions of 16px wasn’t appealing. It’s also harder to visualise how big 16px is, compared to, say, 10px. So to make things easier to work out and visualise, we reduce our base font size down to 10px (using percentages, this is 62.5%). We can apply this to the html element and it will inherit down the line:

html{ font-size: 62.5%; } /*Resize text to 10px */

1em is now equal to 10px. Much better!

Make Everything an EM.

Well, almost. I’ve found that some browsers (the Gecko ones, mostly), will not render a 0.1em thick border, when 1em = 10px. Any border you want to be equivalent to 1px by default, just make it 1px – it might not scale but it will render. Other than this small caveat, the rest should be sized in em units: margins, paddings, widths, font-sizes… Doing so will make everything proportional to the text size, stopping things looking crowded at larger sizes.

Remember – EM Sizes Compound!

By that, I mean that if you apply a font size of 1.2em to the body tag in our example, then for all elements contained in the body, 1em now equals 12px. So a 3em h1 would be 36px high, not 30px like you might have expected. It’s something you need to be on the lookout for.

A Note About Background Images

Elastic design is geared towards using repeating background images. Unless it’s something like the “Latest Little Thing” icon on the homepage, using non-repeating images will land you with holes in your design where the container is wider than the image. A great example of using repeating background images in elastic layouts is the Elastic Lawn CSS Zen Garden entry.

Give it a Try

With all this talk about maths, compounds, et al, I’ve probably put you off elastic layouts. Don’t be afraid to try them. Once you get in the swing of things, it soon becomes second nature. Practice does make perfect, so all I can say is have a go!

Last night I finally went to see Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. The place was packed, but I managed to grab one of the few remaining seats with a decent view. It was also hot – the guy in the Wookie costume, 3 rows back must’ve been sweating his arse off. Despite the warnings that Episode 3 wasn’t suitable for younger viewers, there were a lot of young kids in the audience.

I won’t spoil the film for those that haven’t seen it yet, and I don’t really want to “review” it, as such. Maybe later.

Leaving the cinema was kinda strange. Everyone seemed kinda muted. Normally the line coming out’ve a film is loud, full of people gossiping about what they just watched. But there were only handful of people that were chatting and even they seemed aware that most people were quiet. It was one of the wierdest experiences I’ve had at the cinema.

I honestly don’t know how ROTS has left me feeling. I can’t honestly say whether I thought it was good or bad. Perhaps I need to see it again. Maybe watching the original trilogy before going to see it spoiled it. Reading the book might have thrown my hopes and expectations off. I just don’t know.

But the important thing is that the saga has been completed. The missing piece is in place. There’s closure.

At least until the DVD comes out!

Star Wars was an integral part of my childhood. I was too young to see the films when they first came out (I wasn’t even born when A New Hope was first released), but my love of sci-fi from an early age pulled me towards them. Unfortunately, in my formative years it proved near impossible to get to see any of the original trilogy from start to finish, for one reason or another. Instead, I had to wait for the “Special Edition” re-release to the cinemas. Even if it wasn’t the true Original Trilogy, it was still a special moment for me. After that, school finally got in the way and the only real contact I had with Star Wars was at my friends’ house. His mother’s boyfriend was fanaticalabout Star Wars – he had so much merchandise you couldn’t see the walls. I used to sneak a read of his comics if he was at work.

When I first learned the prequels were being made, I was as giddy as a schoolgirl. It may have been a disappointment to most but The Phantom Menace marked a turning point for me and so will always be special. 1999 was the year I left school behind for the Jedi Academy University and started to really grow up.

Although on reflection Episode 1 is not the greatest, at them time I loved it and immersed myself in every scrap of information about the “new” universe. I was fascinated by this glimpse into what that Galaxy, Far, Far Away was like before the Empire and the Rebellion. I guess it was always the back stories that interested me. Not the What, but the Why.

Episode II was released just as I was leaving uni and starting work. I remember finishing a radio show (I helped out on a show on local radio for a summer) late at night (about 10pm-ish, I think) on the night before it was officially released and heading down to the cinema in the hope there were still tickets for the midnight showing left. I was in luck.

Despite Anakin Skywalker being played by a moody plank of wood, Attack of the Clones blew me away. An army of Jedi. The start of the clone wars (and the first glimpse of the future Imperial Army). Jango freakin’ Fett. You can pick holes in the acting/directing/plot/effects all you want, but Ep2 is just a damn fun movie to watch.

Which leads us to the present day. Episode III. “The Saga comes full-cirlce”. The fall of Anakin and the rise of Vader. The fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire. The end of the old Jedi Order. The end of an era – the final part of a series that has captivated people for 28 years. When the end credits roll, there will be mixed emotions. Joy at finally seeing the final piece in the puzzle, the missing chapter that completes the story. Sadness that it is the end.

There won’t be any more Star Wars after this. There is talk of a TV series, but it could never do justice to the mythology George Lucas has created. Star Wars belongs on the big screen. You can’t fit it into 30 minute TV episodes. It’s too vast, too detailed and too complex. It would be condensing War and Peace into a single page comic strip.

Part of me hopes that this is the end. This year I will be getting married. I find it fitting that the final Star Wars film is released this year, the year I will be starting a new phase in my life, with my new family. It’s like some big karma thing telling me it’s time to move on. After all, Star Wars was an integral part of my childhood – and I grew up a long time ago.

We interrupt our scheduled Star Wars programming to bring you the latest meme spreading through the blogosphere. Pete passed the baton to me, and before I pass it on, here’s the skinny on my music collection:

Total volume of files on my computer is…

8.19GB, although some of it belongs to the Missus.

The last CD I bought was…

Promises/Warnings – Idlewild.

Song playing right now is….

There isn’t one, as I’m at the office. Last one played on my iPod before getting to work was Creeping Death (live) by Metallica.

Five songs I listen to a lot or mean a lot to me are…

Like others, this is just what’s been played a fair bit recently.

  1. Why Do You Love Me? – Garbage
  2. Galvanise – Chemical Brothers
  3. S.O.S.B*Movie Heroes
  4. Duel of the Fates – John Williams
  5. Bleed American – Jimmy Eat World

Five people to whom I’ll be passing the baton are…

  1. Rob Mientjes
  2. Ben Sekulowicz
  3. Andrew Hume
  4. Tom Werner
  5. Jonathan Leighton

I’ve been browsing more than a few blogs recently, to get some ideas for some projects. One thing that I noticed, which I’ve never picked up on before, is the “Recent Entries” list. More specifically, its inclusion on a site home page.

Call me crazy, but unless you only have one or two entries on your home page, isn’t it just duplicating content? You (usually) have your most recent entries as the content of the home page, so why also include a sidebar menu that lists the titles of the same recent entries?

Fair enough, having it on an archive page – it gives visitors an inkling to what else can be found on your site. But on the home page? Is it worth the screen space it takes up? Couldn’t something more useful be put in its place (says he with the near-empty sidebar)?

Or am I missing something? Is it a usability thing? An SEO trick to increase Google traffic? Or are people so used to seeing it they put it in automatically?

I’ve googled and I’ve browsed various forums and haven’t found the answer, so I’ll put my plea here. Is there an easy way to share one iPod between 2 computers? Normally, I just sync my 20GB iPod at home and leave it at that. However, the full-sized iPod started to feel a bit bulky to be carrying around all the time – so I’ve just bought myself a 1GB iPod Shuffle for the daily commute. Now I’d like to be able to sync it at home and at work.

When you plug an iPod into a machine with a different iTunes library to the one you have it set it up for, the software asks you if you want to associate the iPod with the new library. Doing so wipes out all the tracks on the iPod and if you wanted to sync with your original library, you have to repeat the process. I read somewhere that if you click “No” when it asks you to associate with the library, the iPod should work in “manual” mode – it shows in iTunes but you have to drag tracks onto it to load them in. This doesn’t seem to work for me, as the Shuffle never shows in iTunes.

My home library is on my iBook and my work machine is running XP, if that makes a difference.

I would prefer to stick to using iTunes, if possible, but if there’s a good bit of cross-platform software that will do what I want, I’d be willing to give it a try. So… anyone got any ideas?

Since rolling out Windows XP SP2 around the office network, I’ve come across curious differences in the way Internet Explorer handles file form inputs (input type="file"...), before and after SP2 is applied. At least I think I have…

Some Context.

Pre-SP2, it seemed possible to just type in a value to the input (rather than use the Browse button). For example, a user could type in ”/home/chris/my_file.txt”. In the context of our intranet, “not applicable” was a valid value that the user could enter.

The Issue.

Once SP2 was applied, this no longer worked. In our Intranet system, typing in a value produced an error in our server-side validation script – the script thought that the input had been left blank. Curiously, the page returned by the server had a javascript error warning (“Object Not Found”), despite there being no client-side scripting done on this particular page.

If the input was given a value by clicking on the browse button and selecting a file, everything would work fine.

This issue has caused us a few problems, as a few of our intranet apps suddenly “broke” with no immediate or obvious explanation.

Over to You

Has anyone else come across this little quirk? Could someone else confirm or debunk this?

I must admit to not testing this in any great depth, but I have come across this problem on a number of different pages (not all on our intranet), using a couple of different machines. I did a quick google search and nothing related came up.

Or is it all me fault? Actually, don’t answer that…

Some pure geekery ahead – and possibly a lot of misinformed rambling. You have been warned! This is as much for me as it is for you guys… I had a load of this stuff going around in my head so much today that it was getting distracting.

One thing anyone who really knows me will tell you, is I’m very interested in the whole media centre PC thing (also known as HTPCs). I really like the idea of storing/accessing all my media content (music, TV, film and photo) through one networked device which connects to my TV/speaker system and has a nice, friendly, interface. Heck, to be honest, I’ve been eying up having a decent home cinema system in any shape or form for some time – the HTPC route is just the most appealing of late. At the moment, I have a fairly cheap DVD player, my Gamecube, and a Sky digi-box – not exactly the most cutting edge setup!

The HTPC has been begging to be built for some time. In fact, I’ve got all the bits except the case. I did make one previous, aborted attempt, using a VIA Mini-ITX board and Linux – but hardware compatibility issues killed that one off. This time, I have a 3.2GHz P4 monster just waiting to find a new body. I’ve got my eyes on a DiGN HV5 case, but it’s expensive enough to make my wallet whimper in fear.

The biggest problem, however, is when the time comes to connect everything together.

Here in the UK (I don’t know about anywhere else), most AV connections are done through SCART sockets and leads. It provides good quality audio and video connections using just one cable. The Sky Digibox produces best results when connected via SCART. My lovely widescreen TV has only two SCART connectors and an RF connector (it also has an S-video and RCA connections, but these are on the side of the TV – not practical when you have a toddler). The HTPC doesn’t do SCART. Doh.

What the HTPC does do, is S-Video and SP-DIF audio in and out. It also does good old RF in. This is where a new box of tricks is introduced: the A/V Receiver. A good A/V Receiver will take all your audio and video inputs and let you switch between them. It will output your sound to your speaker systems (after running the sound through an internal Dolby/DTS decoder and amp/preamp) and will give you a variety of ways to output the video signal. So in my case, the inputs would be my HTPCs S-Video and SP-DIF, and my Gamecube. The output goes to by TV by way of a component to SCART converter.

You may have noticed something missing from the above – the Sky digi-box. This is where I’m not sure where to go. The digibox really, really, really wants to be plugged into a SCART socket. Unfortunately, I want to run it through my HTPC so I can record TV and do all that other cool DVR stuff. The simple thing to do would be to run it into the RF socket of the TV tuner card, but I’m not too sure how much the picture/sound quality would suffer… Does anyone know by any chance?

While I’m canvassing opinion, I will add that if anyone has any suggestions for my setup, please give them. I’ll point out that I’m on an extremely tight budget, but I’ll hear any and all advice!