Monthly Archives: October, 2004

Microsoft Powerpoint and the Decline of Western Civilisation

[Original Link] A nice commentary on BBC Radio 4. The RealPlayer stream is here, but in case that link doesn’t last, you could also try this.


[Original Link]

OK, I’m starting to see what the fuss is about. I finally got around to playing with Konfabulator, and it’s really cute. Possibly even useful. I can see why Apple decided shamelessly to rip it off for Tiger.

Basically, Konfabulator lets you install ‘widgets’ – small chunks of functionality – on your desktop or as floating, possibly translucent, windows. They’re typically clocks, calculators, wifi-signal-strength-meters etc. Some of them talk to the net, and keep you updated with share prices, or the image from your favourite webcams etc.

Well that’s nice, you may be thinking, but it’s hardly revolutionary. And you’d be right. What’s revolutionary is just how easy it is to create these widgets for anyone with any familiarity with programming. Basically, a widget is a directory containing an XML file describing the layout – put this image here and this text box there – and the functionality – do this when the mouse moves over the image. The functionality is written in Javascript and there are lots of helpful predefined commands to open a URL in your browser, for example, or to play an audio file. So you need a bit of XML knowledge, but not much, a bit of JavaScript know-how, but not much, and a certain amount of Photoshop expertise if you want it to look pretty! This is simple enough that there’s a huge and growing collection of third-party widgets available from the Konfabulator web site.

Anyway, I put together a ‘Status-Q’ widget. (Shown below with the rather nice standard Weather widget). It has two buttons which bring up my browser ready to read or to post new articles. I predict that something like Konfabulator will be the new AppleScript before too long. And about time too.

Google, Google, everywhere

[Original Link] Searching is definitely The Big Thing at present. On the desktop, Apple’s Tiger will have it before Microsoft’s Longhorn. Google’s preempted them both, though I think you probably need a bit more operating system support than Google’s application will provide.

Google Print

[Original Link] Google is starting to list the contents of books as well as web sites.

Poppycock of the day

[Original Link]

I understand myself a lot better now, after reading this page, which can tell you all sorts of things about yourself simply based on your first name:

Although the name Quentin creates executive ambitions, we emphasize that it causes a blunt expression that alienates others. This name, when combined with the last name, can frustrate happiness, contentment, and success, as well as cause health weaknesses in the reproductive organs, and tension or accidents to the head.

Your name of Quentin gives you the desire for success and financial accumulation and the confidence and drive to go after your ambitions, regardless of obstacles. Your thinking revolves around business and ways of making money, rather than on music, art, drama, or philosophy. You start new endeavours and incorporate new ideas, but seldom if ever receive the full benefits and financial accumulation for your efforts. You tend to feel very frustrated in being unable to realize your ambitions fully. An extremely independent and self-sufficient person, you dislike taking orders or advice from anyone. You believe in speaking directly and to the point, so you are candid and abrupt.

“…health weaknesses in the reproductive organs, and tension or accidents to the head…”? Little did my parents realise how dangerous the name was. It’s good to know that we now have the internet to warn us of such things. Fortunately, they also gave me the name “James”, which seems to be more encouraging and involve fewer accidents to the head.


[Original Link]

Groovy is a scripting language for Java, and it looks as if it’s appropriately named. A good introduction here. It has a lot of the best features of Python and Ruby, but integrates really well into the Java environment – Java code can be called from Groovy and vice versa very easily, the syntax is similar, with the Java rules relaxed a bit to suit the typically more informal nature of scripting, and Groovy code can be compiled into .class files and executed with the standard ‘java’ command. It has a neat syntax for XML/HTML generation and can be used for creating Ant scripts which are rather more readable than the standard XML.

Must find time to play with this.

Notational Velocity

[Original Link] Notational Velocity is a very simple Mac app for taking and retrieving notes. It’s getting a fair bit of attention for something which, when started, presents you with little more than a blank windows. You can find more detailed descriptions here and here, or just do a Google search for it. There’s no shortage of references.

Who owns the North pole?

[Original Link] It might be part of Greenland. If not now, then soon.

The Joglet

On one of the occasions in my youth when I was dragged onto the school sports field, I was made to take part in a 100m race. At the end of it, the games master looked at me and said, with genuine puzzlement, “Quentin, what on earth were you doing with your feet?”

From that moment on, I’ve known that I was not a natural runner. And since almost everyone I know who has done any serious running, including my father, has ended up with knee or ankle problems later on, it’s not something I’ve had much inclination to take up.

Recently, though, I’ve been doing a little bit of it again. Actually, to give the name ‘running’ to what I’ve been doing is a bit like describing Christopher Robin’s hoppity-hop as ‘flying’. I’ve sort of given myself permission to get out of bed and put on some sporty clothes and go outside before breakfast as a way of waking up. In fact, this normally translates into a pleasant tour of the nearby meadows consisting of about two-thirds jogging and one-third walking. No Olympic aspirations here. But you know what? I come back feeling good, heart racing, and feel much more awake for the rest of the day.

And so I’m proposing a new fitness activity, which I predict will take the world by storm.

  • Do you feel you ought to take some form of exercise but are too embarrassed to be seen pretending to do anything seriously sportif?
  • Do you feel that you probably couldn’t run more than 50 yards in one stretch anyway?
  • Do you find all that messing about with changes of clothes in the middle of the day to be a bit too time-consuming?

Well, rejoice! Your solution is here! When you get up, instead of jumping straight into the shower, put on an old tee-shirt, shorts and trainers and go for a joglet. It can be as long or short as you like. 10 minutes is just fine. The running/walking proportion is up to you – it’ll probably change over time and depending on your energy levels. No pressure, no embarrassment.

Tell your doctor, with pride, that you go for a joglet twice a week. By naming this new activity, we give it respectability. By not pretending that you’re running, you don’t need to feel ashamed of your initial level of stamina. In fact, be proud that you’re doing something much more energetic than all those walkers. If this catches on, you can come back to Status-Q for all your joglet merchandise in future…


[Original Link]

GMail is very cute, though I would never use it seriously until it has a supported way to export my email to somewhere else. I keep almost all my email, and I’m not going to put it into a system from which I might never be able to extract it. And that may take a while – they wouldn’t want you reading your mail via IMAP and so avoiding the web-based advertisements.

On the other hand, there are various utilities which do let you interact with it other than simply through the web interface. Here are some for Mac users.

X Prize won

[Original Link]

SpaceShipOne has successfully been into space and back for the second time in a week, and has won the Ansari ‘X Prize’.

I think this is fabulous. Since most governments no longer have the adventurous spirit that lets them do manned space missions, or since the people who elect them don’t, we have to rely on individuals. One of the participants, (Burt Rutan, I think), said something along the following lines (from memory):

The way space travel has been done in the past makes people think that only governments could do it. Part of the importance of the Wright Brothers’ flight was that they were just in a bike shed, and people thought, ‘Hey, if he can do it, so can I!’.

Wilbur and Orville didn’t have $20M of Paul Allen’s money behind them, but the concept is right. This is still a completely different ball game from the Space Shuttle and I think it does mark the start of a new era.

Alpine iPods

[Original Link] If you have a car stereo from Alpine, you may be able to plug in your iPod and control it directly through the stereo.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser