Monthly Archives: December, 2005

A new use for BlackBerries

You may think that a BlackBerry is only for use in the cities, for those who can’t be parted from their email at any time. But today I found a good use for mine in a most unlikely environment, and it actually helped me get away from the hurly-burly of modern life…

Snowy field near woodbridge

Rose and I are on a short break in Suffolk, and we wanted to visit the town of Woodbridge. I found a web page with a description of an interesting walk around the town and the surrounding area, but in my hotel room I had no way to print it out. Then I realised that by cutting and pasting the contents into an email to myself, I would have a copy in portable form on my BlackBerry.

This worked exceedingly well, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the BlackBerry was a great deal easier to slip in and out of a pocket than a sheet of A4 paper. And believe me, in that weather, I wanted my hands in my pockets for as much of the time as possible. And secondly, the jog-wheel on the side proved to be a great way to follow a long sequence of instructions. When we reached the end of a field or a fork in the path, I’d pull the BlackBerry out of my pocket, scroll down a little to read the next bit, and put it back. It took much less time than finding my place on a map or even on a sheet of printed instructions. One rare time when a smaller screen was much better than a bigger one!

following a route

Anyway, it was a great walk, and kudos goes to the railway company for publishing their station walks, which showed us more of Woodbridge than we would ever have found otherwise. Recommended.

Update, April 2007: The ‘station walks’ page has moved to a new location here. I hate it when people do that. It should be part of the contract when a company moves to a new web designer that old URLs will be preserved or redirected, especially, as in this case, when it was an eminently sensible URL in the first place. It’s in your best interests, too, to keep things stable where possible – it’s foolish these days to assume that the majority of visitors are going to find the page they want by coming to your front page and then following your links…

Another thought… I bet this doesn’t work as well on the new Blackberries with trackballs as it did on the old ones with jog-wheels!

God’s Keynote

Catholic Insider

I’m not normally a listener to the Catholic Insider podcast, but I think, at Christmas, if you know anything about Apple’s products, and especially if you’ve ever watched one of Steve Jobs’ keynotes, you will enjoy God’s Keynote Speech.

First heard on the MacCast.

My (new) mate, TextMate

I wrote about TextMate a couple of days ago. Giles Turnbull is also a new convert.

Follow that car!

According to The Independent, the UK police are going to be using number-plate (license-plate)-reading software with CCTV & traffic cameras around the country (of which there are many) to allow them to track the movements of all vehicles in the country, in the interests of crime prevention. They talk about big crimes like vehicle theft, though it could also be used to detect things like road-tax evasion. If they can get their act together with the insurance companies and use it to reduce the number of uninsured drivers on the roads, that would be a major benefit, though that may require a little too much competence on the part of the organisations concerned.

Anyway, no doubt conspiracy theorists civil liberties campaigners will be up in arms about this one, but I have other things on my mind, like the interesting algorithms you could come up with to detect license-plate duplication.

I’m anticipating a renaissance of James Bond’s rotating number plates, or, even better, highwaymen on horseback…


Protopage is really very impressive. With this, and Writely, and GMail, and Google Maps and so forth, the in-browser experience is becoming amazingly rich. There will be a viable Open Source desktop environment after all. And it will be called Firefox.

Interesting question… At present, more than half of the machines sold are laptops, because people are getting more and more mobile and they really want their data with them everywhere. Will we ever see a reversal of this trend, as less and less of our data is stored on our own machines and it becomes accessible from anywhere? Will we see a ‘desktop PC’ renaissance?

Ring In the New Year

Quentin at Newnham

Today was my last day consulting for my old company Newnham Research. Over the last six months I’ve been doing some work for them, some for Exbiblio, some for Cambridge Research Systems, and one or two others. It’s been fascinating, but exhausting!

In January, however, I’m going back to Ndiyo, the non-profit that my friend Martin and I started just over three years ago. Ndiyo exists to promote a model of network computing which is more environmentally friendly, more reliable and maintainable, more affordable and generally more sustainable for the world than the traditional PC network. We find that the vision really captures people’s hearts and minds, and our trials show that it can really work in the real world, too.

I’m looking forward to getting back into it again.

What is it with the Wikipedia?

A good post by Bill Thompson on what has been a rather interesting last few weeks for Wikipedia.


Follow-up to the spoof corporate stock photos: Dave Hill pointed me to the nice ‘demotivational calendars’ at Despair Inc:

1% inspiration

Click for more…

(I only feel able to post such things about engineers because I count myself as one of them 🙂 )

Stock Images

A UK design firm has released a set of spoof corporate stock images, in categories such as ‘Team building’ and ‘Success’. Here’s one you can use when your company does a circular on ‘equal opportunities’:

Equal opportunities

Mac Editors

There are some very good text editors for the Mac.

SubEthaEdit is nothing short of wonderful for its collaboration features – if you haven’t tried this, you should find a friend with a Mac and do so – and it’s not at all bad as a general-purpose editor.

TextWrangler has a somewhat nostalgic Mac-classic feel to it, but has a wonderfully useful feature of being able to browse, open and save files on a remote machine via SFTP/FTP. You simply pres shift-cmd-O and shift-cmd-S instead of cmd-O and cmd-S. If, like me, you spend a lot of time editing config files and web pages on remote servers, this is very nice.

But the one I’ve recently converted to is TextMate. I’d seen people starting to rave about this app, but hadn’t quite worked out why. The more time I spent with it, though, the more I liked it, to the extent that I forked out the 39 EU to buy a license within a few days, not something I’d often do for a program that didn’t even have documentation. The Bundle system, which groups together the functionality associated with particular types of file, is very nice, and I find I’m starting to miss the various shortcuts, completion mechanisms and auto-expansions when I’m entering text into anything else.

It doesn’t have TextWrangler’s convenient access to remote files, but I’ve long been a fan of the Transmit FTP utility, and if you specify TextMate as the editor then everything’s pretty seamless.

And then this week, not only did documentation arrive, but people are starting to produce screencasts, showing how to get the most out of it. More info here.


OK, so this is a quick test using Xinha Here, a rather neat Firefox add-on which gives you WYSIWYG html editing in any text-edit box.  Quite sweet if you end up creating HTML posts, for example for your blog, and you do it through the browser.  I like it. 

I’m using Firefox more and more now, but it still hasn’t quite replaced Safari as my main browser on the Mac.  There are just too many convenient drag-and-droppy-type things you can do with Safari.  It may only be a matter of time, though. Here are the current stats:

Fun and beauty

Jim Bumgardner, better known as KrazyDad, does some wonderful stuff. He does things with Flickr, he does things with Flash, and it’s all great fun.

This is his Mona Lisa, for example, made entirely from Flickr photos with the tags ‘mona’ or ‘lisa’. Click on the image to see some more. And make sure you know about possibly the most important button in Flickr which is the little thing labelled ‘All Sizes’ just above a photo. You really want it for these! You can get some of them as posters, too.

Go to his site and browse around. It’s worth it.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser