Matthew Daly's Blog

I'm a web developer in Norfolk. This is my blog...

18th April 2010 8:09 pm

Election Time

As you may be aware, election time is looming in the UK. As someone who considers themselves old-school Labour (as opposed to Tony Blair’s New Labour) there isn’t really a party I feel I can align myself with anymore, so I tend to vote more based on issues than habit. I have, however, always felt that if you don’t vote you can’t complain about the government so I make a point of always doing so.

Like many others, I was appalled by the way the Digital Economy Act was pushed through by a Parliament that clearly didn’t understand its full implications. Its primary architect, Peter Mandelson, clearly didn’t understand a thing about how the digital economy works. This piece of legislation is ill-conceived at best and downright scandalous at worst.

So I’m very pleased to learn that the Liberal Democrats are calling for it to be repealed. I’m even more pleased to learn that the Lib Dems have experienced a significant surge in support. Realistically I don’t think they are likely to win the election, but there is a fair chance that they may gain sufficient votes to force the majority party to enter into a coalition with them, meaning they may well get the opportunity to repeal the Digital Economy Act. Plus, there’s the possibility of the extremely capable Vince Cable (who unlike many other politicians actually realised that people taking on unprecedented levels of personal debt was a bad idea) being Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I have a strong dislike of Tories in general, and David Cameron doesn’t actually appear to stand for anything much - he’s one of the most superficial politicians in government at the moment. I still remember the shambles of the last Tory government and there’s no way I’d want to repeat that.

While I would love the Pirate Party to be standing for election in South Norfolk, sadly they aren’t. While the Green Party have also said they are opposed to the DEA, they remain a fringe party. I feel that the Labour Party have had their own way for too long and it would be good to either get rid of them or make them share power so they don’t have the opportunity to force objectionable legislation through.

I’m therefore throwing my support behind the Liberal Democrats. I intend to vote for them, and if you’re concerned about the consequences of the Digital Economy Act too, I recommend you vote for them as well. They’re the only major party who actually seem to understand the issues at hand. Hamstringing the digital economy to benefit the analogue one is not the way to guarantee this country’s future, and only the Lib Dems seem to have grasped this.

18th April 2010 7:57 pm

Comments Policy

As you may be aware, I recently started moderating comments as I’ve had problems with spammers in the past. I felt it might be helpful to set out a more formal set of guidelines for comments so people know what I’m willing to accept. I’ve posted them to the right. Essentially they boil down to the following:

  1. English language only (this is an English-language blog, after all, and I’ve had a lot of Chinese spam comments on here). I don’t care how bad your English is (seriously, I have seen some terrible written English from native speakers, so don’t worry too much if you’re not good).
  1. If you’re clearly just spamming and quite blatantly have nothing to contribute to the discussion I will not approve your comment.
  1. Finally, I will not accept any comments that are hateful. I’ve got no problem with colourful language but anything I consider genuinely nasty or unpleasant will not be approved.

As long as you obey those rules, I’m happy to accept your comments here, so please don’t be dissuaded from commenting by the fact that comments are moderated.

20th March 2010 9:52 pm

My New Website

For a while now I’ve been considering setting up a website on my own domain name, as this would provide an excellent way of showcasing my abilities with HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and provide a URL I can put on my CV when applying for jobs. I’ve had my eye on the domain name, and last night I bought the bullet and paid for it (bargain at about £6 for 2 years, including VAT).

I’ve wanted to put a blog on there, but I couldn’t find a blogging engine that I could easily integrate into it. I was thinking that the way to go would be to write a custom blogging app using Django, but right now I really don’t have time to sit down and learn Django properly, what with doing an unrelated day job and studying in my spare time. So, I thought rather than put it off, I’ll get some free web hosting and put something on there now, even if it’s fairly basic.

And here it is! Please feel free to have a play around with it and let me know what you think, or any problems you’ve had with it. I’ve used a little CSS3 in making it, partly because it was by far the easiest way to implement drop shadows and rounded corners, but it degrades fairly gracefully in browsers that don’t support CSS3 yet. I didn’t have too many problems with adjusting for IE6 thanks to the reset style sheet I used, and the PNG fix.

In future I will expand upon this fairly basic site (and naturally I’m going to have to stump up for paid hosting in future) but for now this is my first hand-coded website!

14th March 2010 1:56 pm

Switching to Slackware

I’ve had my Dell Inspiron since 2004, and it’s worked very, very well for me (it’s still going strong), but I can’t deny that it’s too slow and old for many modern operating systems. I’ve been running Kubuntu Hardy on it for a while as that was the last version which shipped with KDE3.x but I was feeling the pain of running an older release, so I started hunting around for a replacement. KDE4 is just too heavy for this computer, so that wasn’t an option.

I’ve tried a number of Ubuntu derivatives, including CrunchBang Linux and Xubuntu, but Xubuntu was too slow and I didn’t really get on too well with CrunchBang (too basic for my liking). What I really wanted was a fairly default XFCE desktop (I really like the base XFCE desktop and it’s not as bloated as Gnome or KDE).

Unable to find an Ubuntu derivative that really met my requirements, I decided to look elsewhere. I was considering Debian with XFCE as I have had a lot of good experiences with Debian-based distros outside Ubuntu, including sidux and SimplyMEPIS, but I felt like a little distro-hopping as I haven’t done that for a while (since my trusty Philips X58 died at Christmas time I’ve only had one Linux machine, that being the old Dell, so I’ve relied on my MacBook a lot).

I’ve always been interested in the sound of Slackware, and I had a copy of Slackware 13 that came with Linux Magazine, so I thought I’d give that a go. I’m familiar with the installer so the only issues I was likely to have were with configuring my wireless network. Fortunately, Slackware nowadays ships with wicd included on the disc, and I’m familiar with this. Once I’d finished the install (not hard by any means, just more involved than, for example, Ubuntu’s installer), I booted it up and installed wicd from the DVD, and it worked straight away.

I’ve heard that Slackware has a lot less bloat than most other Linux distros, and my experience certainly bears that out. Compared to Xubuntu, my new Slackware install with XFCE is lightning-fast. As of right now I’m running slackpkg to update my system and while it may not be as flexible and powerful as apt, and not have a nice graphical front-end, it’s perfectly usable and I’m happy with it. I’m used to sudo from both Ubuntu and OS X so I’ve set that up, and all in all I’m very pleased with my new system.

I’ll let you know how I get on with it over time, but for now I think Slackware is a great distro for what I want on this machine, and one that’ll help me learn more about Linux. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Ubuntu, but Slack has its place too, and I have my own reasons for liking both.

18th February 2010 8:30 pm

The Great IE6 Switchover

OK, this subject has been done to death, but Internet Explorer 6 needs to die. It’s old, it’s dated, it’s insecure, it’s not standards compliant, it requires web designers and developers to spend countless hours adjusting perfectly standards-compliant websites to render correctly in IE6 when they could be adding cool new features. You know the drill by now!

So, how do we get people to dump IE6? I think Microsoft have probably done everything reasonable to get people to move to IE7 or IE8, but a hard core of users just won’t budge. By and large these users fall into the following groups:

  1. Corporate users- that is, people using IE6 on their desktops at work. It’s well known that IE6 usage drops substantially at weekends so this probably represents a lot of people. Where I work we’re still on Internet Explorer 6, but the reason for that is that we use a lot of custom web applications which were designed specifically for IE6, and if they changed browsers they’d have to convert these web apps to be standards-compliant. One day they’ll have to update them, but there’s no sign of that happening anytime soon. It’s not the user’s fault (there are many, many posts on the intranet forums at work bemoaning the fact we’re still stuck with IE6) and most of them would rather use a better browser at work since there are a number of very useful web applications which IE6 works terribly with (Google Maps is a good example).
  1. People who don’t know any better and don’t see the need to upgrade -this might include the elderly or other non-computer savvy people who’ve disabled Windows updates for some reason (maybe because they find it makes things slower).

But why are we letting these groups hold the whole future of the web back? By bending over backwards to support these people, we’re prolonging IE6’s shelf life, and making it easy for people to continue IE6 when we really don’t want them to! It’s simple to upgrade your browser or switch to a new one, so why are we propping up a minority who can’t be bothered?

I’m beginning to think that we ought to draw a parallel with digital television. In many countries, the digital and analogue signals have been coexisting for some time, and now we’ve begun switching off the analogue signal. We aren’t bending over backwards to support people who haven’t got a digital television or Freeview box yet - if you haven’t got one when they switch off the signal, you’re going to be watching a blank screen. With web browsers, we don’t expect people to make any financial outlay - we just want them to click on a link, so I think it’s much more reasonable to cut them off from our content unless they switch browsers.

Ultimately, it’s the decision of the person who wants to make a website whether or not to support IE6, but I think we need to be a little harsher than we have in the past. Google are beginning to drop IE6 support, and I’m sure more people will follow. By catering for the remaining IE6 users, we may well be prolonging its usage, and perhaps we need a big stick to encourage users to switch to a newer browser. Of course it’s a difficult decision to make if you’re hoping to attract customers to a commercial website since if website A and website B both sell the same product but the customer’s browser doesn’t work on website A, he’s going to go to website B instead.

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About me

I'm a web and mobile app developer based in Norfolk. My skillset includes Python, PHP and Javascript, and I have extensive experience working with CodeIgniter, Laravel, Django, Phonegap and Angular.js.