Saturday, July 29, 2006

Dawn trapezing

Posted by Chris @ 5:54 PM

The eagle eyed amongst you will have spotted a new video on the videos page of Dawn trapezing. It is only a short minute or two long, but you get the idea of what she has been up to all these Monday evenings! I'm very proud of her, she looks very good flinging herself around quite a small wooden bar suspended by two pieces of rope!

That's it for the video part, what follows is a bit more techie. You see, when the video was taken they held the camera portrait, so when you view it back on the PC, you have to cock your head to the left to see it. No problem I thought, I'll get that rotated in a jiffy and uploaded. Hmm, not that simple. Windows Movie Maker or Picasa don't do stuff like that, so I had to find another way.

The way I did find was VirtualDub, a great little open source application that takes a movie, and allows you perform batch operations on it. It then exports the movie to an AVI file. Ideal for what I wanted, as it had a rotate filter. Take a look at it and see if it is useful for any video processing you commonly do, beats paying for video software!

For those of you who may have found this post wanting to rotate a video, here's how you do it.

  • Download and open VirtualDub.
  • File > Open video file... and choose the movie you want to rotate.
  • Now go to Video > Filters. In the dialog box that opens click on Add, and scroll down to rotate and rotate2.

Rotate will rotate the video as is, no cropping, but won't keep the resolution, so will be stretched in services like YouTube. rotate2 on the other hand keeps the frame size the same, and fills in the blank space with a black background (you can change the colour), but it does clip the image slightly. In order to keep the same resolution and avoid stretching, I chose this option, but play around to fully understand how each option works.

  • Click OK, and enter the rotation angle, either 90 or 270, don't click expand frame to fit.
  • This adds it to the filter dialog, click OK.
  • You should now be back to the main window. Move the timeline slider a little to see the results of you rotation on the right hand side.
  • To avoid your outputted AVI file being GBs in size, you now need to choose a compression.
  • Go to Video > Compression and choose a compression Codec, I used the DivX® codec, but just experiment and see which results in the best output quality for the best file size.
  • Now you've chosen a codec go to File > Save as AVI, choose a location for your file and save.

And voila, your video has been rotated! Any questions ask them in the comments, otherwise enjoy Dawn, the right way up, trapezing!

The West Wing is no more

Posted by Chris @ 4:57 PM

This afternoon, after a busy morning putting a load of changes live to the order system I work on, I treated myself (tret mi self, if you will) to watching the last two episodes (ever) of The West Wing. As always the final episode was a very good send off to this amazing TV series.

I'm a huge West Wing fan, having watched every single episode and loved every minute of it. And that has taken some doing. Whilst it was on E4 only and I was at uni with no digital TV, I actually had my Mum and Dad tape it and post it to me! It is a shame it has come to an end, the brilliant writing, amazing cast and genuinely intriguing plot lines have kept me hooked.

However, as Chris has pointed out, Aaron Sorkin, the genius behind The West Wing, has written a new TV show called Studio 60 on The Sunset Strip, which Channel 4 have bought the rights to. I've just watched the trailer and am very excited about this, not least because it is written by Sorkin, and has Matthew Perry (Chandler in Friends) and Bradley Whitford (aka Josh in TWW) in it. It'll be interesting to see if I can watch Whitford without associating him with the character of Josh. We'll have to see!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Are tags useful? Are there better tag visualisations?

Posted by Chris @ 9:00 PM

I've been pondering tags and tagging recently. It is popular throughout the web these days, with Flickr,, Technorati,, etc all allowing us to tag things. But are all these tags actually useful?

(I'm never too hot at articulating my point, but here goes!) I myself got swept up in the tagging craze and started tagging my posts automatically using the Yahoo Content Analysis API, to produce a nice tag cloud. But what since then? I hardly ever use it to find things on my site, I either use the archive or search. My tags, to me, are pretty useless. But that raises the question, what use did I expect to get out of them? For services like Flickr and where the content, photos and music, is not text based, tags make sense. They provide an easy way to describe the objects in text, so you can find them again. And everyone describes images and music fairly similarly, (e.g sunrise, classical).

For me tags become less useful with textual content. How I tagged something one day can change, you adopt new ways of tagging, it becomes more confused. But maybe that's an issue for me, maybe tags aren't for me, perhaps I prefer a more structured way of marking things, like favorites in folders. As Tony rightly pointed out at work, the moment you start think how you can organise tags hierachically, you've missed the point of tagging.

So in conclusion, are tags useful? I guess given the right application yes, but I want to know your thoughts. Do you tag things, and actually use the tags, or do they just sit there looking pretty but useless?

So on to my next point, tag visualisations. The obvious one is the tag cloud. The tags are ordered alphabetically, and the size and colour of a tag is larger / brighter the more it is used. It is a simple and effective way of visualising tags, but I'm sure that we can do better.

Yahoo researchers have been playing with new visualisations for tags (taglines) but I'm not sure its particularly useful in its current incarnation. It raises some questions though. How can we show tags over time? How can we cluster related tags together and show that? How can we show the actual items these tags represent? How can we display / understand the relationships between tags? Lots of questions, but no obvious useful tag visualisations out there. And this is where you can help, I've had a look, but if you have found anything you think covers the above let me know!

I could go on for ages about this, but I'll stop here and see what comments I get in. I want to get a little discussion going about this, so please, let me know your thoughts on tags and their usefulness, and any good tag visualisations that beat tag clouds in their usefulness (they must be useful.) Go!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Posted by Chris @ 9:11 PM

A few things have been floating around in my head, so I'll get them out of my head by writing them here.

Firstly as mentioned I've been playing with the Yahoo! user interface library, and I've found a use for their animation. When looking at a photo page (like this one) the header will shrink up, allowing the normally (hidden beneath the fold) description to become visible. Useful (a little bit)!

Secondly, bad manners, in particular barging onto a train before everyone has gotten off. That is really annoying. Stop doing it.

When you're on a train on your phone, instead of repeatedly saying I can't hear you (no shit, you're sat on top of a noisy diesel engine trying to haul tons of metal along metal tracks), don't hang up, stick your finger in your other ear, thus blocking the noisy engine, muppets.

Finally, announcements. For a while now Sheffield station has had this stock announcement played every 5 minutes or so; “Items left unattended may be removed without warning, or destroyed or buried by the security services.” I've always found it quite odd that they felt the need to tell us items, once removed, may be destroyed or buried. I don't really care what happens to items left unattended. The fact they may be removed without warning is more likely because its been nicked than taken by the “security services” (although that is possibly a little harsh, Sheffield station doesn't seem too dodgy these days.) And why bury items? If you could destroy them, surely you'll take that route, way more fun, and you don't have to find somewhere to bury things then.

And finally, “safety posters are scattered throughout the train” - nuff said.

There, that's better, my head is empty and ready to be filled with more useless stuff now.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean 2

Posted by Chris @ 7:06 PM

Just been to watch Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Unfortunately Chris was right, Pirates 2 wasn't as good as the original. I found it to be too long, the action slow in places, and the camera work during the action sequences made me queasy (although I am also nursing a hangover from Tony's very successful BBQ in a thunderstorm experiment!) It seems to have been a film made simply to lead us on to Pirates 3, which I hope is better than this one.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Photo gallery update

Posted by Chris @ 10:31 PM

I've been dabbling with the Yahoo! User Interface Library, a set of JavaScript and CSS files that help to standardise and introduce funky features like animation across different browsers. (I know there are other similar JavaScript libraries out there, but I like Yahoo's because it has good documentation / examples and is backed by Yahoo!)

Anyway tonight is the first time I've sat down, downloaded the files and tried something out. The result - photos now fade in when viewing them in my photo gallery. Coupled with detecting when they've loaded, it makes it look a bit better. Not really a feature I had to add, but a good one to start with as a practical example. Truth be told it might even get removed again once I've moved onto another project that uses the YUI library.

Anyway, now I've dabbled I have some new found knowledge, so any questions fire away.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

It's only a car

Posted by Chris @ 9:39 PM

It's only a car.

A car, is a car,
Is a car, is a car.

With nuts and bolts,
And leather and cogs,
And steel and wood,
And glass.

Intelligent wipers and head up displays,
Alloy and oil,
Sensors and sound.

Digital mapping and satellite tracking,
Twists and turns,
And smiles, and miles.

Infra red eyes and self drying brakes,
And one...little...key.

A car, it's only a car.

I like this advert. As much as I dislike marketing types there are good ones out there who come up with adverts like this. You'll probably find a whole bunch of them work at WCRS, who I finally managed to track this BMW advert down to. (And their website uses Google Analytics for web stats, so much kudos for that too. However kudos points get removed for it all being in flash.) This lot (Weiden + Kennedy) seems quite good too, they're responsible for the current slew of good Honda ads.

Hmm, I find this quite interesting, maybe I should create a website that passes opinion on UK tv adverts...(he files this idea under websites to do before he dies, then wonders why he's talking about himself in the third person, nut job.)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Front garden makeover

Posted by Chris @ 5:36 PM

For our first anniversary (last weekend) Mum and Dad gave us some garden gift vouchers. Dawn and I had been chatting about doing the front garden, so this weekend we decided, lets do it. So we did!

After getting Mum and Dad to come across for the Saturday I set to hacking back the big bush, we removed the crazy paving, bought the new plants and blue slate mulch, and got it pretty much finished on the Saturday. Sunday I got another load of slate, some more plants and finished the job off. Luckily for you lot, I took pictures along the way, so you can see how the makeover came about.

Front garden complete!

For those who are of a gardening disposition, the plants are: along the wall - English and French Lavender, in the middle - some herbs (Compact Marjoram, Tricolor Sage, Lemon Variegated Thyme, Oregano) and the spidery type plants (Cordyline autralis “Torbay Dazzler” (the yellow one) and Ophiopogon planiscapus “Nigrescens” (the black one), I've lost the label for the red one.) We're told by gardening experts (M&D) that the plants will like the sunny conditions in our front garden.

All the plants and materials came from the magnificent Wentworth Garden Centre, that we discovered a mere 10 minutes from our house, and in the beautiful country setting of Wentworth. It's amazing what you find when you take a different road out of Wombwell!

A final note, paving and slate is heavy stuff, as my back and legs will testify, but it is truly amazing what you can achieve in a weekend if you put your mind to it, get your parents across and work in hot conditions!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Nikki has been evicted!

Posted by Chris @ 9:36 PM

Holy crappo, the British public are insane, they've only gone and evicted Nikki from the Big Brother house. What were they thinking!

Still, the housemates reaction was fantastic, completely stunned (like the nations), and them trying to figure it out for the next week or so, deepening their paranoia of how they are all being perceived on the outside, should make for interesting viewing. Big Brother rocks, yeah!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Poker Face

Posted by Chris @ 10:07 PM

Dawn and I caught Ant & Dec's new TV show today, Poker Face. Once again it is a show that is annoyingly good and a great format (that they can sell and make money off, grrr).

They've got to the point now where I don't want to enjoy their television programmes, but I do, because of their cheeky geordie faces! I've got no more to say really, I guess I'm just wanting to know what other peoples feelings are towards Ant & Dec?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

New Film4 logo

Posted by Chris @ 10:14 PM

As Film4 (not FilmFour anymore) is launching as a free to air channel on July 31st 23rd, they've rebranded with a new logo.
Film4 Logo
© Channel 4

I have to say I really like it. It really wraps up the whole identity of Film4 as a clever, stylish film channel (whatever one of those is). I want to say its post modern, 30s inspired art deco, but to be honest I have no idea which one of those styles it is, or what those styles really represent. But they sound good.

I'm not in the mood to do research right now into art history, so if anyone has any ideas as to what design era (or artist maybe as Tony mentioned at work) they've drawn inspiration from let me know. If I do drag my lazy fingers across the keyboard to do the research myself, I'll post an update here, if anyone cares!

Search update

Posted by Chris @ 10:09 PM

I've updated my search page to allow you to search just my site (default) or the entire web (well the entirety of the 4 services providing my search). That is all.

Modern Toss

Posted by Chris @ 1:05 PM

Modern Toss - “the stink of excellence in a world gone tits up” - started on Channel 4 last night, after Lost at 11pm. If you didn't watch it kick yourself, then kick yourself again, then see if you can find it somewhere as Channel 4 don't seem to be repeating it.

“Why should I go to all this bother” you're wondering? Because Modern Toss is fantastic. It is hard to describe, so I won't, you can read about it on the website above. What I will do is continue to rave about it as I loved it.

The comedy is laugh out loud in places, subtle genius in others. And I have acquired a new swear word - Shitcasket. That alone is a reason to watch the show. It does contain bad language, so if that offends you don't watch, but otherwise it is fresh genius. Fly talk, voiced by Mackenzie Crook (Gareth from the office) is particularly enjoyable, as are the very short, but well executed “work” segments.

I've probably forgotten a lot of even greater moments, but suffice to say make sure you watch it next week! And for those of you who did see it and can't get enough, apparently it all started out from the Modern Toss website, so be sure to check that out, I know I will be (outside of work of course!)

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Walnut Club

Posted by Chris @ 10:56 PM

As I mentioned earlier we went out to The Walnut Club in Hathersage for our first anniversary. Having read the blurb on their website (strictly organic, Michelin star aspiring, etc) we were looking forward to fantastic meal.

We arrived just before 7pm, and were the first diners of the evening. We were followed about 5 minutes later by a further 4 diners, and that was it for the entire evening! Sure, this could have been because the world cup final was on, but I expected a little more buzz for such a restaurant. But there was some gentle jazz playing, and the place is done out pretty nice.

Anyway, onto the food. As we were choosing our meals we ordered water, and were given two bits of bread and butter. Literally, two bits, and just plain white French stuff, I thought we might have had sun dried tomato, or seed varieties, and a bit more of it? But still, lets order...

For the starter Dawn chose the smoked salmon on a buckwheat blini, and I had mackerel escabeche. Both were well presented and cooked well enough, but having tried Dawn's salmon it had more flavour than my mackerel. For main course we both had the lamb with potato rosti, white bean puree and a red pepper salsa. Again the presentation was spot on, the lamb was cooked to perfection and tasted fantastic, but the potato rosti was a let down. We both felt it was a little over cooked (and thus hard to cut and eat) and a little greasy. However we both finished it off and ordered desserts.

Dawn ordered the chocolate fondant with honeycomb ice cream, and I ordered the poached peach with sable biscuit and mascarpone sorbet. Both were delicious and made us struggle just enough to finish them off.

One amusing side note, whilst waiting for our desserts I got a phone call from the waiter in The Walnut Club asking if we were going to make our reservation. When I said "we're here" there was much laughing, apparently they had crossed off the wrong name on the diary, a tad embarrassing for them!

After dessert we ordered coffees and got the bill. It came to £95.00. Now I didn't expect it to be cheap being strictly organic etc, but that is quite a bit. So given all of the above, what are our conclusions? It was a good meal, as good as any meal we've had before. But it wasn't outstanding, and for that price, I expect outstanding. If they are aiming for a Michelin star I don't think they are there quite yet, but there is certainly promise.

Try it if you're feeling flush.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Superman movies

Posted by Chris @ 4:17 PM

Having bought the Superman boxset the other day Dawn and I have spent yesterday and today watching Superman: The Movie, and Superman II. The main reason has been to get us back up to speed on the Superman story before Superman Returns hits the cinema, but also to rekindle some old memories.

And rekindle them they did, I sat there watching the films fondly remembering some bits, having completely forgotten others.

But the most surprising fact I unearthed was during the opening credits. The screen play for Superman: The Movie and Superman II was written by Mario Puzo (amongst others), the guy who wrote The Godfather! I guess after writing The Godfather: Part II he was the writer de jour in Hollywood and got the Superman gig, who'd have thought it!

Our first wedding anniversary

Posted by Chris @ 11:46 AM

Today is our first wedding anniversary. I know, you're going "how did that happen? Where did the year go?" Well, so are we, so don't worry!

Many thanks to all of you who have sent us cards or wished us well on our happy day. We're quite surprised at just how many people did remember!

For the nosy amongst you Dawn bought me some paper shaped chocolates, and I bought her the latest Gordon Ramsay book. This evening we shall be dining at the posh looking The Walnut Club, a strictly organic Michelin star aspiring restaurant in Hathersage. (I'll post a review of the meal later this week.)

Finally as its our anniversary we'll be getting all nostalgic later on (and you can join us) by watching the wedding video, and looking through all the photos.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Marketing people

Posted by Chris @ 9:33 PM

I have a very severe dislike of marketing people - they make ridiculous decisions based soley on their selfish greed to make money to hit their targets so they get their bonuses. Don't believe me? Then check this out, some guy wants to disable the fast forward button on new DVR's (digital video recorders) so we have to watch the adverts so he can make more money from the ads we have to watch, so he can hit his targets and get his bonus (I reckon anyway). Argh, why can't they let us live our lifes instead of meddling with them! [via Boing Boing]

Friday, July 07, 2006

Burbage Rocks walk

Posted by Chris @ 11:55 PM

Just found this picture and realised I hadn't uploaded it.

Burbage Rocks

Cinderella at the Crucible

Posted by Chris @ 6:31 PM

Thursday evening saw Tony, Suzy, Dawn, a few of the Agency girls and I go out after work to see fellow colleague Sarah Mills perform in Cinderella at the Crucible theatre.

We started off the evening by going for a meal at the HaHa Bar, where the service was quite literally laughable. Our meal was late, and two of the meals (one of them mine) didn't turn up at all! Needless to say Debbie employed her managerial skills and got us what food did turn up for free.

Despite all of that we got to the Crucible on time. It was the first time a lot of us had been to the Crucible, and having only seen it on TV for the snooker, in real life it is smaller than it appears on TV. Which I have to say I liked, because I can imagine watching some Shakespeare, or other involved drama, being very absorbing.

Anyway, Sarah is part of the June D Gill School of Theatre Dancing who were performing Cinderella as part of the Sheffield Childrens Festival 2006. It was a delightful performance, with children ranging from the smallest (4 or 5 years old?) up to women in their 20s. Obviously the youngest performers were the cutest, with one girl in particular struck with stage fright, standing still, whilst the others danced around her, aww! There was also one little lad who did some wicked break dancing moves.

There were many styles of dance on show (the usual ballet and tap), and the story of Cinderella was stretched to its max to accommodate dances such as disco and jazz into show, although these were still very good routines. Sarah will have to show us all some of her moves on the dancefloor at the next office outing!

Helping the show along were the classic ugly sisters played by a couple of blokes in drag, with obvious adult jokes to keep us all amused - "The Princes balls are getting bigger every year", "I love balls!"

All in all it was a very good performance, and all of the dancers involved should be very proud of their achievements, especially as there were a lot of routines to learn, that looked quite tricky for the youngsters involved.

One last thing, on the train home after all of this, it got very busy after Meadowhall, where a slightly slimmer Toby Foster lookalike went to the head of the train and tried to get us all singing "The wheels on the train go round and round..." surreal to say the least!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Google Sitemaps and a site wide HTML validator

Posted by Chris @ 9:06 PM

Friend and colleague Tony Ruscoe recently made a post about Google Sitemaps, showing how it can be quite useful, not just for submitting your site to Google, but also for discovering certain key bits of information about your website in Google.

Well, apart from all of this SEO stuff, there is another use to Google Sitemaps. A Google sitemap is simply an XML document containing all of the files you want Google to index. But what is to stop us using it only for Google? With an XML data source of our sites structure, publicly available across the web, it presents a really useful way for us to mashup our site with other APIs on the web. And because sitemaps are structured in a certain way, we can start to build new services that take a sitemap as a parameter and do something with the users entire website.

And that is exactly what I have done with my latest code project. I've written a handy validator that takes a Google sitemap URL, (or individual URL) and validates all files in the sitemap against the DTD in the file, for any sitemap. So for the laymen out there, it allows you to validate your entire site to XHTML strict (for example) for your entire website in one go, rather than submitting each file 1 by 1 using the W3C validator. It really is rather useful, and I hope you find it useful too.

But this is just one application I have created for the Google Sitemap XML file. I'm sure there are others you can create. How about using the API to pull out a report for tags for each URL in your website, then build your own tag cloud using that data? Or use the Technorati API to see who's linking to each page in your website? Or create a short URL for each of your pages using Qurl, which you can then put back on each page of your site for easy bookmarking?

There really are loads of options available using the Google Sitemap XML file to drive a new web service or mashup. And if you create your sitemap dynamically, why not create a second version of your sitemap to include only files you want to use in mashup services like my validator (e.g. create a sitemap that excludes .txt, .pdf, .zip files that don't validate to a DTD).

Go on, take a second look at the sitemap format, and have a play! If you do build a service to take a sitemap URL and do some cool stuff, let me know about it! And if you like the validator, let me know, I want it to be useful!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Photos from the weekend

Posted by Chris @ 10:32 PM

We were in Carlisle for the weekend for Dawn's Gran's 70th birthday party. It was a fun weekend, with a party, football on the tv, a walk along the river, a round of golf, a BBQ, and torrential rain on the way home! A selection of random photos can be found, as always, in the photos section.