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29 June 2007

Get your blog iPhone-ready

11:29 pm

Apple’s releasing a new phone today (if you didn’t know that, you’re lucky). Beside curing all manner of ills, the phone has a great web browser that should get people really interested in using the web while on the move.

Now, the thing is lots of other phones have decent browsers — many phones run Opera, for example, or at least the Opera Mini. And with reasonable data plans becoming increasingly common, it definitely makes sense to get your site ready for mobile browsing.

I used a media="handheld" stylesheet declaration on this site, but that wasn’t very well supported. So here’s a better solution that requires very little work, if you run Wordpress:

  1. Get the Wordpress Mobile Edition plugin and install it. This will create a wp-mobile.php file in your Wordpress plugins folder, and a wp-mobile folder in your Wordpress themes folder.
  2. Open wp-mobile.php in a text editor and search for the word 'iPhone'.
  3. If you don’t find it (I’m sure it’ll be added as soon as the user-agent string is confirmed) add this text exactly as shown (without double quotes) somewhere in the middle of the list of browser user-agents:  " ,'iPhone' " (search for the text 'small_browsers' to find this list). When you’re done, save the file.
  4. Optional — you can also tweak your site’s mobile appearance by going into the wp-mobile folder (under your Wordpress themes folder) and editing the files there (mainly index.php). Some knowledge of PHP is required, but you can avoid the PHP and modify only the HTML inside the file.
  5. Test your mobile site using the Opera Mini applet, iPhoney (if you’re on a Mac) or even a real iPhone ;-). Emulators for most other phone browsers are also available.

The other advantage of a mobile-ready version of your blog is that mobile versions tend to very accessible and compact. Most accessible browsers already support disabling stylesheets, images, etc, but they still have to load other text, such as blogrolls, sidebars, etc. You could use the wp-mobile theme along with a theme switcher that would allow users to switch to a compact, accessible version if they wish.

Comment »

26 June 2007

Most Brits spell "organize" wrong

9:30 pm

Using -ise for words like ‘maximise’ and ‘organise’ is a relatively new phenomenon in Britain, probably because maximize with a z looks too American to British eyes. In fact, the -ize form originated in Britain and is the preferred international form.

Comment »

19 June 2007

The Ladies of Grace-Adieu

8:34 pm

I enjoyed reading Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, and so was especially glad to be able to read The Ladies of Grace-Adieu, her book of short stories (apparently her next novel is a ways off).

The stories, (mostly?) all written before the novel, foreshadow the excellent intermingling of dry wit – and surrealism and darkness – that made Strange so popular. Strongly recommended to Strange fans and to all those curious about all the fuss but unwilling to pick up an 800-page tome.

And to give you some idea of what you’re getting into, here are some examples. Clarke’s writing tends to combine finely crafted prose with droll humour, and these extracts demonstrate both.


Comment »

6 June 2007

CNN-IBN covers Blackle, gets most of the story wrong

3:22 am

According to CNN-IBN “Google has done its bit to save energy by launching Blackle — a Google search page that saves energy”, based on the theory that black pixels take less energy to display than white pixels. (Here’s a screen-grab of the story.) There are at least two problems with this.

First, this is not applicable to LCDs — the backlighting on LCD displays uses energy no matter what colors you use on the screen. The good news is that LCD displays use far less energy than CRTs do, completely eliminating the need for display hacks. LCD monitors are still not ubiquitous in India, so if you wish to save energy you should probably buy one.

Second, Blackle wasn’t launched by Google. A quick look at its About Page would have told IBN that. Or a whois check. Apparently a “Google Custom Search” logo is enough to confuse IBN’s tech reporters. Good to see that India’s mainstream media continues to remain cheerfully clueless about technology reporting.

(Update: IBN has now corrected the story. See the screen-grab if you want to see the original.)

Comment »

1 June 2007

I’ve always liked Weird Al Yankovic, but I had never heard his Lasagna song, sung to the tune of La Bamba. (And if you’ve never heard of Weird Al before, listen to his Jurassic Park and his hilarious retelling of Star Wars Episode 1, sung to the tune of American Pie.)

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30 May 2007

The Web Just Got an Upgrade

11:25 pm

Google Gears is an open source browser extension that enables web applications to provide offline functionality using JavaScript APIs. According to TechCrunch, one of the first demos to use Gears will be

… Google Reader, which will add a green download button to the user interface. When you click the button, Reader will download the last 2,000 messages to your computer, preparing your computer to work offline or under a spotty internet connection.

As I’ve written before, offline capabilities are an important step towards making the Web a truly ubiquitous platform. Wifi is still not everywhere, and it’d be great if browsers were useful when you are away from an IP tone.

The next logical step would be for browser vendors to get their act together and bake this into the browser. The last thing I need is a bunch of different “lite” SQL databases and replication engines consuming cycles in the background.

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10 May 2007

Happy 50th, Helvetica

3:04 am

The BBC celebrates Helvetica’s 50th birthday. Check out the comments, where amateur font geeks have gathered to make bad font jokes (sample: “Two fonts walk into the bar, and the barman says, ’sorry lads, we don’t serve your type.’”) and wistfully talk about their favourite fonts (”Helvetica’s sexier sister, Verdana”) (!).

PS. Windows users take note — Arial looks a lot like Helvetica, but isn’t.

Comment »

13 March 2007

Pins and Labour

5:39 pm

That the new 20 pound note would feature Adam Smith is old news. What I hadn’t known is that his pin-manufacturing ‘case study’ would be immortalized on banknotes as well:

New Twenty Pound Note - Adam Smith

Comment »

The Network is the Computer (except from 11pm-12.30pm)

5:11 pm

This story about IIT Bombay (IITB) disabling internet access in its hostels between 11pm and 12:30pm is not at first glance as hair-raising as the one about Chinese Internet de-addiction clinics, but it improves upon acquaintance.

Consider the consequences: one of the finest research tools invented by man is effectively off-limits to students for half a day (Is that really right? Or did the Economic Times flip an AM into a PM?) Of course, in the name of compulsory ’socialization,’ students will crowd into university clusters, which never quite have enough machines to accommodate the crowd.

Involvement in Open Source and Web 2.0 projects will drop because budding programmers at IITB will lose access just when many of them are most productive — given extremely hot Indian summers and the lack of air-conditioning in most (practically all?) dorm rooms, night-time is often the most comfortable time to start a long hack session.

Of course, the most enterprising students (especially in departments like Electronics and Computer Science) will probably use their ability to access department networks to get around this interruption in service, but a more interesting question is: in 2007, should students really have to wrangle for network time?

The point about regulations like these is that they demonstrate the knee-jerk short-term thinking that passes for leadership in many Indian institutions. Apparently the drivers for this decision included the death of IITB’s “hostel culture” (by which they mean late night vodka parties, night shows at cinemas and card games — oh wait, that was my misspent youth) and, rather more seriously, a string of on-campus suicides by some loners. Of course, while it is regrettable, it has to be asked: are the vast majority of well-adjusted (and not-so-well adjusted, trying-to-cope) students well-served by over-paternalistic regulations? Pre-Internet hostels weren’t exactly idylls.

And if IITB is scared of internet in the hostels, wait until they hear about this newfangled thing called wifi in classrooms:

“At any given moment in a law school class, literally 85 to 90% of the students were online,” Professor Herzog says. “And what were they doing online? They were reading The New York Times; they were shopping for clothes at Eddie Bauer; they were looking for an apartment to rent in San Francisco when their new job started…. And I was just stunned.”

There’s the paternalist, knee-jerk reaction of banning the undesirable, so typical of India (Here’s another great example). Then there’s the embracing of the new, and treating students like responsible human beings:

I also tend to wander around the room a lot (I’m one of those don’t-stay-behind-the-lectern professors), which may discourage some of that behavior. And I tend to call on the students who don’t seem engaged. But I don’t make any particular effort to ensure that students aren’t surfing or IM-ing or whatever. They’re grownups. If they’re willing to risk their grades, and to look dumb when they’re called on, well, I’m willing for them to do that too.

1 Comment

22 February 2007
Aneel Karnani and CK Prahalad lock horns on whether hawking Fair and Lovely cream to India’s poor constitutes socially responsible selling (argument, counter-argument, counter-counter-argument) (via Salon). Comment »


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