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29 January 2006  

Talk of the Tyne

3:46 PM

As New Model Army would have it..

They started work this morning down at city square
They're pulling down the statues of our great grandfather's hero
The new books said he wasn't such a great man after all
And anyway remember that the times they are a-changing  

Or in other words, the Talk of the Tyne building in Gateshead, that despite being an odd-looking thing, is something that's been there through all my childhood and it still feels a bit weird seeing it demolished.

But I'd take a sledgehammer to the carpark myself if they asked...

Anyway, I've written a little piece on the Talk of the Tyne which includes some photos during the demolition process.

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28 January 2006  

Accessibility Testing

2:01 AM

I've just written an article on accessibility testing. Basically, it's how to carry out a limited form of accessibility testing that should be fairly quick, fairly easy, cost nothing and should highlight the most major accessibility problems that could be found.

If anyone would like to take a look at it and offer their comments, they are more than welcome to do so. Either leave comments here or on the appropriate AccessifyForum thread.


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25 January 2006  

A pint, a pint, my local for a pint

11:47 PM

As it happens, I'm out with the lads tomorrow night for an evening of convivial company, alcoholic beverages, fruit machines and hopefully non-IT related conversation. Otherwise the lads who don't work in IT might well bugger off early.

Anyway, we're meeting in The Aletaster at around half eight. It's my local. Well, I say it's my local, it's about six miles or so from my house (some five and three quarter miles further away than the nearest pub). However it used to be my local and it's still the pub I frequent most regularly.

Aaah... beer. What could possibly go wrong?

3 comments on permanent link



I've been memed

11:10 PM
With thanks to Pixeldiva for giving me something to write about.

Four jobs I've had in my life

See if you can spot the theme.

  1. Junior Programmer
  2. Programmer
  3. Analyst Programmer
  4. Development Officer

Four movies I can watch over and over

  1. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
  2. Alien
  3. Monty Python's Life Of Brian
  4. Heat

Four places I have lived

  1. Gateshead
  2. London
  3. Lancaster
  4. Other Parts Of Gateshead

Four TV shows I love to watch

  1. Lost. Sadly. The amount of my life I've wasted on this.
  2. Friends. Didn't turn out to fit my preconceptions of it at all.
  3. Father Ted.
  4. Blackadder

Four places I have been on holiday

Slight change here. You'll not catch me using the word 'vacation' without the appropriate safety gear. Vacation? Bah. It'll be soccer next, and before you know it you'll be spelling colour without a u.

  1. The Lake District. Aah. Bliss
  2. Corfu. My honeymoon island (and also my wife's, incidentally).
  3. Crete.
  4. Spain.

Four of my favourite dishes

  1. Tikka Chicken Madras.
  2. Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding
  3. Beer
  4. Do crisps count?

Four websites I visit daily

  1. BBC News
  2. NUFC.com
  3. Whatever my firefox homepage is set to
  4. Google

Four places I would rather be right now

  1. In the pub (but make it before last orders)
  2. At the match. Ideally pre- or post-Souness era.
  3. The Lakes
  4. Collecting a big check for £100 million from the Euro Millions people
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Work in progress

10:58 PM

I've not really got much to say. Nothing new on the site.

What I have been doing is pretty much as follows:

  • Having a look at WCAG 2.0 with a view to a possible article or posting
  • Taking pictures of the demolition of the Talk of the Tyne building in Gateshead with a view to a possible article or posting
  • Having a bit of a look at the family tree pages with a view to producing a new page showing the origins and distribution of the surname 'Pickard'
  • Set up a flickr account - the images on my gallery are now via my flickr account
  • Writing short stories with a view to entering the Gateshead Council Short Story Competition 2006.

Unfortunately, none of the above are in a state anywhere near publication. For a start, they've not finished demolishing the Talk of the Tyne, so my planned time-lapse demolition judders to a sudden halt, the WCAG 2.0 guidelines are only a working draft and if I want to enter stuff in the short story competition it has to be unpublished work. Which really limits what of the above I can post on here, doesn't it?

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21 January 2006  

Blogging as vanity/touting for business

7:56 PM

A colleague at work mentioned the other day that he had been reading my blog, and had I ever contemplated writing for a living? By which I presumed that he meant he enjoyed my writing style, rather than him thinking I was an incompetent developer and should quit the day job.

I pressed him on this issue, and sure enough, it turns out that was what he meant. Good.

Well as I have mentioned before, I have always wanted to be a writer ever since I was a child. I used to write short stories regularly for my own entertainment, and indeed even turned my hand to (may I be forgiven for my sins) poetry once or twice. However, that paled when I realised that most of the stuff I wrote had an audience of one. Or two if my mother read it. I have probably written about six or seven short stories in the last ten years. But don't worry, I'm not going to start sticking them on here.

And that was about it. I attended a couple of creative writing classes at Gateshead college. I can't say I learned much to be honest, but I enjoyed the fact that I was forced to write every week to have something to read out the next week.

On the other hand, you had to sit around with a group of people, only half of whom could be bothered, and one of whom didn't attend after the first two weeks because he had misunderstood what the course was for, and thought it was a course to teach English to non-native speakers. Understandable really: after all if you don't know the language well enough to know which course you're signing up for, you probably do want to improve your grasp of it.

And then this blog came along. Blogs by their very nature are a form of vanity publishing. I'm paying for the webspace, I'm spending my time writing it without gaining anything in return, and it's entirely up to the visitors whether or not they want to read it. Which is why people can (and do) post any old nonsense on there. Still, people will read any old nonsense, so that's ok. Indeed I have had more than one person say thet are a fan. Which I guess is one of the things that keeps me blogging.

Although if no-one read my site, and no-one seemed interested in what I have to say, then I still don't know whether or not I'd stop. I enjoy writing it too much, and I enjoy being able to see it 'out there' on the web.

So, in short, thanks for reading. If you want to leave comments telling me how wonderful I am and how you don't know how you'd cope without my blog, that would of course be fine. Alternatively, if there is anyone out there who likes my writing style sufficiently to want me to write something for them, I'd be even more interested!

3 comments on permanent link




10:49 AM

The more astute amongst you will note that my site now boasts a favicon. Those even more astute than that might realise what it is. Basically, it's a little graphical identifier for my site, and you can probably see it (assuming you're using a graphical browser that supports them) next to the URL in your Navigation window.

Thanks are due to:

  • Dan Champion, for pointing me in the direction of various favicon creating resources, and telling me where I should stick it.
  • Dynamic Drive who provided the favicon creating tool that I used
  • And last but not least, my cat Einstein for being the favicon 'model'.
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19 January 2006  

Anally retentive

11:13 PM

Some time before Christmas, those bastions of swearing and crudity Viz released their 150th issue. And to mark such a glorious event, they had a competition. There was a picture of 150 characters who had graced the pages of Viz since the beginning. The challenge was to name as many as possible, and in the event of a tie, complete a potentially libellous tiebreaker question involving Jimmy Savile.

Fairly straightforward concept, then. And for the winner there was what's commonly known in the trade as a buggering great telly, sometimes also described as a 42 inch plasma screen TV.

Having always been of the belief that swearing is both big and clever, and also being a fan of puerile innuendo, I have long been a reader of Viz, and decided to have a go at this. After a couple of hours, I'd named 130 of the characters. Hmm. So, I dug out the annuals, and shortly after got the last 20. Fantastic.

Next I'm thinking well, I've got the tiebreaker question, and I don't know if it's going to be the best, but I've certainly got top-notch swearing in there. So that's a start. And after that, it's just really a case of are there any other sad cases out there who read Viz as much as I do?

Turns out there are. I got a Viz annual in the post just before Christmas and a Viz runners up T-shirt. Still, not too bad, eh?

And then yesterday, I see the latest issue of Viz. It turns out 10 people apparently got all 150 characters, and after the winner's name was listed, the rest of us were described as 'housebound anal retentives'. I'm not entirely sure whether I was more proud to be officially listed in Viz as an anal retentive, or upset that they accused me of being housebound. Pub-bound maybe.

I'd therefore like to take this opportunity to set the record straight. I may be a sad-case, I may be an anal retentive, I may remember an awful lot of Viz characters, but I'm not housebound. Okay?

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17 January 2006  

Who's stopped eating all the pies?

11:11 PM

You know those new year resolutiony thingies? Where you insist you'll cut down on the drinking? You'll never, ever, do anything that stupid again, and so on? Well, one of the common ones - come on, join in if you know the chorus - is "I must lose weight".

So I thought shall I join Weight Watchers, or something like that? No, 'cos I'm a bloke and I'll feel silly. Besides, I've got the (probably quite wrong) impression that these sort of places think you're naughty if you slip an extra carrot on your dinner, and they will probably think that going out drinking is a bad thing.

And if that's not enough, they charge you money to tell you you're too fat. Well, bugger that.

So I'll do it by myself. Of course, that way, you remove the incentive of everyone publicly knowing if you've done well or badly in any particular week. Unless....

So I had a plan. Record how much I weigh at various points (those of you who have tried dieting before may know this by the terminology "weighing yourself"), store it in a database, and report it here. Except quite frankly all I care about is the incentive to lose weight. Not telling you lot how much I weigh. Which frankly is none of your damn business - no offence.

So what I have decided to report on is my average weekly weight loss since the 1st of January 2006, how much weight I've lost in the last week (or whatever the appropriate time period is that I actually remembered to get weighed in), and when the last time I stored my weight in the database was. This means that you can see if I stop recording it, and choose to infer that I'm doing badly.

Anyway, here we go...

Latest Standings

Okay, on average, I have lost 1.2 pounds per week since January 1st 2006.

The last measured time period was from Tuesday 17 Jan 2006 to Tuesday 04 Apr 2006, during which time I lost 10 pounds.

Finally, the last time that I recorded a weight was 1672 days ago. Dearie me. That's a good while ago. Which seems to indicate that I've either forgotten about this completely, or I'm not doing very well and don't want to share it with you.

1 comments on permanent link



Credit where credit is due

10:40 PM

I decided it was about time I had a custom 404 page, as I've mucked about with the site organisation in the past, and it's entirely possible that I might do so again.

So I created one. Unfortunately, it's not quite that easy as I don't host my own website. No problem, I thought, I'll send my hosting company an email. They can sort it out while I'm at work tomorrow.

Except half an hour later, I got an email back, telling me they'd set it up. That goes down for me as very impressive support, particularly considering it was 10pm by the time I sent my support request. I mean, I know it's not the most complicated request in the world, but still, well done to (shameless plug) Titan Hosts for the impressively quick support.

1 comments on permanent link


14 January 2006  

Missing words meme

9:42 PM

I found myself inadvertently contemplating the word 'inadvertent' the other day and trying to decide whether or not I ever did anything 'advertently'. This led me on to thinking about other words which seem to have part of a pair missing.

  1. Impregnable - who or what is said to be pregnable? Keep it clean...
  2. Impeccable - for example, my own dress sense could be seen as peccable.
  3. Incognito - and then obviously you're cognito once you've been recognised?
  4. Uncanny - although if you're a Geordie or a Scot you might still use canny in something approaching the sense of this.
  5. Uncouth - Madam, I have never been couth, and resent the implication!
  6. Antidote - Yeah, you know what an 'anti-venom' is. But an antidote? The nearest I can think of is that it might stop people doting on you...

Of course, they aren't always half a pair. Dishevelled comes from the Old French deschevelé and therefore you would not expect to find someone looking 'shevelled'. Inept is another, coming from the Latin ineptus meaning foolish.

For more information on Unpaired Words, read Michael Quinion's article.

However, your meme mission, should you choose to accept it, is a tripartite task. Firstly, think of two words not already mentioned here that fit into the category. Secondly, use them in conversation as regularly as possible over the next week. Thirdly, if you can, repost the details of this entry, together with your new words, and challenge others to do likewise.

Permission is hereby granted to repost this blog entry anywhere for non-commercial purposes providing you tell me about it so I can keep an eye on how we're doing!

3 comments on permanent link



Badly Drawn Cat II - The Desk

9:33 PM

Well, first of all I'll hold my hands up and admit I'm no graphic designer. It took me all evening to produce these pictures and style this layout, so I don't expect I'll be doing another one in a hurry.

The reasons why I've redone by styling to look like a desk are much more prosaic. Basically I decided the site looked graphically poor and I wanted to improve it. Secondly, I needed to come up with an idea that would not only give me spaces to put content but would give me a unifying theme to hang it all together.

Theoretically of course, I could have gone for a more abstract design, but as I say I don't have the graphic design skills. I could have just taken a nice template from Blogger and used that, but for the same reason badly drawn cat first appeared I said no. Because I wanted to do it myself.

The first step was therefore to come up with a theme. A blackboard? Discounted because I'd need to make the text look 'chalky' plus I didn't fancy a black background. A carpet, with things lying on it? Naaah. I considered Christmas wrapping paper, with the text information being found in gift tags and the like... then I considered it a bit more. Then I decided January was the wrong time of year for that, and if I still liked the idea later in the year I could try it then (and read up on stylesheet switching, while I'm on).

So, after briefly considering a cork noticeboard with things pinned to it, I decided to plump for the desk. It's based on my desk at work. Well, I say based, the background image is actually a sample from a photo of my desk. Although my real desk has more paperclips and coffee cups lying around on it.

3 comments on permanent link



Newcastle Meetup

8:59 PM

It was good to get together and see the other developers (the 'digerati') in and around Newcastle and it was a good chance to get to know some people from the forum who I'd not met before. We briefly touched on the subject of IT before settling down for an evening's drinking.

A good time appeared to be had by all, so thanks to GarethR for organisaing it. We all drank lots of beer and had lots of fun, including McSkiver (aka Lee28) who was prompted to write about it on his blog. This is worthy of note, because as Lee himself says, he doesn't post on there very often. I believe that the prior report to that was about the the latest operating system he was testing - Windows® Stained Glass™.

I think we'll be doing that again...

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11 January 2006  

@Media 2006

1:51 AM

Hurrah! I'm going to be attending @Media. For those of you not in the know, it's a conference held in June in London. It's billed as "the event of the year for anyone interested in learning about and discussing the latest approaches to web design with some of the world's most highly respected experts", and having heard people talk about last year's event, and seen the line up for this years, who am I to argue?

It's quite possible it might clash with England v. Trinidad and Tobago, but that doesn't bother me: I know people who are very keen to go, so I'm simply grateful for the chance to go. Besides, with a bit of luck the kick off will be late enough for me to see it anyway.

I'll just need to make very sure I take copious notes, learn lots from it, and come back and tell my colleagues all about it and get everyone to produce much more efficient and accessible code from there on in. That way my employer will be able to see the benefit and I might get to go to @media 2007 as well!

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09 January 2006  

Here, what's happened to your comments then?

10:56 PM

Comments are now to be found only on the specific page for that individual blog entry (follow the 'permanent link'). The front page and the archive pages will simply tell you how many comments have been posted to date.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that if you aren't interested in an post, chances are you'll be even less interested in the comments that relate to it, so it made sense to move them off the front page, and it's only one mouse click away (or 'link selection away', to avoid using device-dependent terminology) for those people that are interested.

The second reason is that if I'm going to go around telling people about accessibility, I should really ensure that my site is accessible and validates. This can be more difficult when I allow anyone to post comments on my website - because I can't edit individual comments, I can only choose to delete a comment, or hide all comments for a particular posting. The compromise of moving the comments only onto the post-specific page means that if my front page fails to validate, you can guarantee that it is indeed my own fault.

On the other hand it is still possible that the specific item pages will fail to validate for some reason relating to a comment. I want my site to validate, but I don't want to delete people's comments, so if this occurs I'll probably decide what to do on a case-by-case basis.

2 comments on permanent link



Badly Drawn Cat

10:44 PM

I'm sure some of you are thinking, "Why?". And presumably the rest of you haven't noticed.

Well, there is, kind of, method to my madness. The original logo for The Pickards website was simply an image of the words 'The Pickards' with each letter in a different, unusual font. This is the sort of logo that generally people who can't do any better will produce. In fact, you can see that I can't do any better, because of the badly drawn cat I've replaced it with.

Firstly, I was writing over the weekend on how Double-A accessibility wasn't really that easy to achieve. One of the points was (checkpoint 3.1) that you should not use images to represent text. Now, I'm sure no-one would argue this means you can't show a logo, but I was finding it hard to defend the idea that you can generate a logo by simply placing letters in a different font. So, the choice was to drop the image and just use text or instead use an image which is more than just text.

So why use a cat, and a badly drawn one at that? I happen to like cats. I have a grey one (check the gallery). I decided it would be more fun to draw one myself that to take an existing image. So there you go. My new logo.

If for any reason you want to look at my old logo you can see it by following the link to my old logo.

I have also taken the opportunity of the increased space in my header bar to move the page titles up there.

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