Tag Archives: blogs

Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog

He hath indeed, and I discovered it yesterday. Here’s a sample of what you’ll find there:

O my gentil rederes, it hath been a thinge of muche difficultee and laboure for to type euen the smallest entrie in myn blogge. For somer, lyk vnto a songe of Barry Manilow, hath ydrawn alle the spirit and vigor from my limbes and hert. For the gretre part of the hot moneth of July ich laye in my garden on my comfortable lawn-chaire and langwisshed lyk vnto sum yonge lover who hath ydumpede been. Ich daubede myn foreheed wyth a moyste towel and did drinke mvch of somer drinkes swich as margaritae and daquiri.

That’s from the introduction to his post Ich pwne noobs! in which his son Lowys (who has an Exboxe CCCLX)  introduces him to the wonders of “games of video”:

Ther were no swich games of video whanne ich was a yonge man, and thus ich knewe litel of the sport and mirthe that ys in hem. For soothly, thei aren quite clever and also do improue the coordinacioun of the hande and the eye. Lowys and ich dide sette at pleyinge of the games and we stoppid nat vntil the cokke of morwenyge dide crowe. It rockede, and from thenne on ich was caught in the trappe. [. . .]

Syn ye, my rederes, are folke lyk myself who kanne noght of games of video, ich thoghte ich wolde here descriven the wondirs of thes tales, and liste the names of sum of the moore notable games, as Lowys hath informede me of hem and shewn hem to me on hys manye computirs and consoles of gamynge.

Descriptions then ensue of such games as Donkey-Kynge (“Ye playe a peasaunt who hath yn his care a smal donkeye. Ye use the gentil beeste to dryve yower carte and to transporte donge”); Civilisatioun; and Grande Thefte, Collusioun, and Mayntenance (“Ye run arounde and commit various actes of trespass with force and armes, and then use yower patrones and affinitee groupes to get yow out of prisone”).

I found the posts I read very entertaining. But it’s also worth mentioning that the sidebar includes a number of links to background resources about reading Middle English and about the real Chaucer.

The home page of the blog is at houseoffame.blogspot.co.uk.

Why I hate infinite scrolling

Note: if you already know you hate infinite scrolling are looking for instructions on turning it off, details are here.

Nasty surprise

A few weeks ago, something unpleasant happened to my blog. The top of the page looked OK, but if I scrolled down more than a small distance, a semi-transparent box would slide up at the bottom of the screen, obscuring the last few lines of text.

blog title on translucent background, floating on top of one of my posts

The first sign that something was wrong.

I dislike unsolicited popups on web pages anyway; I particularly dislike ones which can’t be got rid of but follow you down the page as you try to scroll past them. For me they have same distracting effect as, say, a moth landing on something I’m reading and walking around on it, or someone plonking things down on a book while I read. So I really didn’t want things I hadn’t even put there messing with the behaviour of my blog in this way.

I’ve known about this blemish for a while; yesterday I finally got round to trying to cure it.

It looked like some kind of CSS trick, so I expected I’d need to change the custom CSS I’ve paid WordPress a small annual fee to let me use.

First step: find out what needs modifying. My browser, Opera, is pretty useful for this sort of thing. In particular, the View menu lets you display various features of the code for the page. So I got it to show the Class and ID attributes which label blocks of text and so on for CSS purposes. I expected one would have a label like “floating-footer”, and I’d then write a CSS rule to make anything with that label invisible.

The actual labels I saw were more worrying:

The floating box, showing attributes called "infinite-footer" and "infinity-blog-tit[le], together with my comment "Oh bugger!"

I don’t like the look of those ID names . .

What were infinite and infinity doing there? I’d set the display format ages ago to five posts per comfortably-sized page—or comfortable for me, at least. I’d experimented with different page lengths, and that seemed the one that worked best. Five posts loaded acceptably quickly, even over my mobile broadband connection, and resulted in comfortable scrolling via the scrollbar. Please, no . . . !

I experimentally scrolled down to what was meant to be the bottom of the page. Then two posts further, to the actual bottom of the page. Sure enough, the ubiquitous and annoying “Sorry, you’ve got to wait while this goes round and and round and your browser goes all sluggish while we readjust your scrollbars” symbol appeared, jerkily rotating as my connection erratically downloaded things I hadn’t asked for. It was followed eventually by the next page of posts. On the same page. Or rather, posts 8 to 14. I’d now effectively got nearly three pages of posts filling up the browser with one idiotically long page.

So I hurriedly went to the blog settings, found the one responsible for infinite scrolling, and turned it off. I was relieved to see on my return that there was now no annoying floating popup. Phew.

OK, let’s scroll to the bottom again. Everything will be OK now. The Older Posts link will have come back, there won’t be any horrible stretchy page, I’ll be able to click the link for page 2, and . . .

screenshot showing "Load more posts" button at the end of the page

Sorry. We’ve taken the link away.

Oh. No. No! No no no no noooooooo! That’s just the same thing, but with a button! I don’t want to create an ultra-long page. I’ve just turned it off, for goodness’ sake! I simply want to go to the next page, where the next five posts will be. What are you doing to me?!

So, back to the settings page. (I must have missed the setting that give me normal pages . . .  Oh. No sign of it. Off to the user forum, then . . . What, discrete pages is currently not an option?! Good grief  . . . ! ) . . . And, finally, to an enthusiastic announcement from WordPress about how wonderful infinite scrolling is and how pleased they’re sure we’ll all be to have it.

That’s why I can’t find the setting, then. They’ve got rid of it. There’s a glimmer of hope in the word currently. But at least for now, I seem to be stuck with one long page which will contain all 103 of my posts if anyone’s determined enough to scroll all the way down. I can choose between having it load automatically when it feels like it, and on request when I click a button. But it’ll be the same unwieldy, user-hostile, browser-hogging, single page.

What’s so bad about it?

Um . . . Everything?

For a start, consider the experience of scrolling through the page. Now, I know that many people are using a scrollwheel. Maybe others like to use the arrow keys. For myself, I’m mainly browsing with a netbook that has a trackpad. Since the screen is quite small, I like to have fine control over the positioning of the page. This is often important if something is nearly the height of the screen. So I navigate using the vertical scrollbar.

Because the trackpad is so familiar and scrolling with it so instinctive, I mostly scroll without needing to look at the scrollbar. I know where it is, and that the pointer is already on it; my finger hovers over the trackpad as I read, ready to make a small, automatic movement when it’s time to scroll down a little. I do look occasionally, mainly to check the pointer hasn’t drifted off to one side, but mostly I’m just looking at the page content. Occasionally I’ll check the scrollbar to see how far through the page I am. It’s a pleasant, relaxed way of reading.

Now, suppose the page has infinite scrolling.

As I approach the “bottom” of the  page, the next section starts to load. I don’t really notice, since I’m engrossed in reading someone’s wonderful blog post. If I did notice, it would be a distraction from reading.

The browser, however, does notice. The page is now longer; the scrollbar adjusts itself accordingly, moving upwards the appropriate distance. But I don’t know this, since I’m still busy reading.

I scroll down to read the next line, or to move the page by half a line or so to get an image positioned where I can see it properly . . .  and then all hell breaks loose. Instead of the small adjustment I’m expecting, the page starts hurtling upwards. When I thought I was dragging the scrollbar down, I was actually clicking just below it. Or rather, holding my finger down and sending a stream of auto-repeat clicks. They’re still happening since my reflexes haven’t yet taken my finger off the trackpad.

So the browser is now frantically trying to load the next 5, 6, 10, 20, God-knows-how-many pages. Once my reflexes catch up enough for me to look to the right,  the rapidly shrinking scrollbar is whizzing up the screen, several inches above the pointer. I chase after it. Not only is it running away from me, but it’s doing so erratically and jerkily since the browser and the internet connection can’t keep up.

I manage to catch the scrollbar and can finally start repairing the damage. Now, where was I on the page?

Well obviously I haven’t a clue where I was, have I? Not in relation to where I am now. Before the browser went insane I was three quarters of the way down, but that’s irrelevant now.  The scrollbar is up near the top and I obviously need to be somewhere above that, but how far? No idea.

So I start scrolling back up, trying to find my place. And because the page is now so long, I have to use very very very tiny movements if I’m to move the page at a speed where I can actually see it.

It’s the equivalent of happily reading a book only have it suddenly and unexpectedly snatched out of your hands by someone who then deliberately loses your place, mangles the pages so they won’t turn properly, then throws it back at you. Horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible.

And seriously, what sort of web designer is unable to anticipate that this will happen? They must have used a web browser. With scrollbars. And they must know that people use scrollbars for scrolling with, surely?

Of course, the wilfully autonomous scrollbars are only one of the problems, even if they’re the worst. Here are some of the others.

  • Pages never finish loading. The browser is forever connecting to the server to fetch the next bit of the page.
    Maybe with a wonderfully fast computer and internet connection this is fine. For me it’s not fine: whenever something is loading, scrolling is erratic, jerky and sluggish. This applies especially when I have a lot of tabs open, which I normally do.
    Scrolling becomes comfortable once the page has finished loading; infinite scrolling ensures that it never becomes comfortable.
  • Navigation. With discrete pages, you always know how far down a page you are, so you’ve an idea how much there is left to read.
    You also know which page you’re on. Maybe you’ve decided to browse your way through a few pages of posts, skimming through for anything that looks interesting. Remembering that you wanted to look at something a couple of pages back, you click the Back button twice and there it is.
    Maybe you want to close the browser for now and and continue  later from where you were: you bookmark page 16 and come back to page 16. Even if the blogger adds a new post in the meantime, you’ll be in more or less the right place.
    Infinite scrolling makes all of that impossible.
  • The ever-lengthening page. As you scroll down, the page gets longer. As mentioned above, this means smaller and smaller movements of the scrollbar are needed. Eventually they’re so tiny that trying to go any further is just too irritating to be worth it. Anything further down might as well not be there since reading it is too much hassle.
  • Sequential-only access. To get to page 50 via infinite scrolling, you have to scroll all the way from page 1. You can’t just type ?page=50 or whatever into the page URL. And you don’t know where page 50 is anyway; you have to guess its position on a page whose length is continually changing. Imagine a book where the only way to get to page 50 is by opening every single page on the way to it!
    . . . Well of course there was a time when books were like that. You navigated them by scrolling because they were scrolls and nobody had yet come up with anything better. Then, around 2000 years ago, books with pages were invented, and nobody in their right mind uses scrolls any more. Quite why web designers suddenly want to revert to an unwieldy system that’s 2000 years out of date is beyond me.

Yes, I know that a properly organised site will have archive links and so on for navigation. Scrolling won’t be the only way to get to things. But navigation links aren’t actually the same as, say, jumping forward a few pages to see what you find. They only work when they happen to coincide with what you’re looking for. Links and post titles won’t tell you there’s a hilarious cartoon on page 17. (They can’t; you don’t know it’s hilarious until you see it.) With infinite scrolling you can’t do the equivalent of flicking through the pages of a book until you find something interesting then making a note of the page; all pages are page 1.

Also, sites like Twitter don’t have archive links; you can’t really have thousands of 140-character links to individual 140-character tweets.

I think programmers who inflict infinite scrolling on us should be forced to use a programming language in which all access to memory, databases and arrays is sequential. And to use programming manuals written on scrolls. Let’s see how they like that.

I don’t like infinite scrolling.

A music-and-science blog

The two things I find the most immensely interesting and continually impressing are music and neuroscience . . . Philosophy and politics are my second loves.

Science and music often go together—many of the best amateur musicians who I know are GPs, for example—but they aren’t all that often explicitly put together in blog form.

Today I finally got round to having a look at Science with Moxie, which is Princess Ojiaku‘s blog on the Scientific American Blog Network. If you’re interested in both science and music you should probably have a look. And if you’re interested in the science (not solely neuro-) of music you should definitely have a look.

The most recent post, for example,  describes brain-imaging experiments designed to look at the brain’s processing of words, pitch and rhythm. All three elements are present in both singing and speech, so (for example) is there a difference between the brain’s processing of pitch in speech and its processing of musical pitch? It also includes a nice video illustrating the way in which a fragment of speech, when repeated, begins to sound like a fragment of song in which the individual notes are so well defined that a listener can sing the tune back.

I’m tempted to list more of the posts but really, the best way for you to find out what’s there is to go and see for yourself . . . which I hope you will.

Another beautiful photo blog

Ninebark Imagery has been on my blogroll for quite a while now, and I thought it was time I brought it to your attention. It’s the photoblog of Debbie Campbell, a web designer in Colorado who also describes herself as an “amateur nature photographer”. Here’s one of her recent photos:

Poudre River. © ninebarkimagery.com

Poudre River. © ninebarkimagery.comUsed with permission

One thing I like about the site, apart from the pictures which I find very restful, is the simple page layout with one picture to a page against a nearly-black, unobtrustive foliage background and minimal text. This lets the photos speak for themselves, one at a time, as they should. The mood of the photos is mostly quiet and reflective, with a feelling that a lot of care has gone into the composition. (And yes, reflections in still water do feel reflective mentally, so allthough I wasn’t trying to create a pun it’s quite an apt one.)

These aren’t photos for looking at quickly, in my opinion: one needs to linger and enjoy them, as you’d enjoy being in a peaceful place. I hope you’ll visit the site and see the others.

Thanks to Debbie for permission to use the one in this post.

Easier access, more posts?

You probably know that so far, I’ve mostly not been able to post easily to the blog. My web access at home has been restricted to what can be done in Opera Mini on a Sony Ericsson k750i phone. (In case you’re wondering, that’s still quite a lot, but there are restrictions; see my post about mobile access.)

Well, now I’m trying out (maybe temporarily) access via a PAYG mobile broadband dongle. So far I’m liking it, but having to keep an eye on the data usage. £10 for 1GB lasting 30 days: that comes to just over 34 MB per day. The antivirus software used up most of today’s “average allowance” simply by updating itself, and some people put a lot of graphics on their blogs, and a lot of graphics-filled posts per page too, so I’ve got to be a bit careful.

Hopefully though, I’ll now find it easier to post short things I want to share as they occur to me, and might update the blog more regularly rather than making special trips to the library to post things I’ve written at home.

One interesting realisation though: now that I’ve got easy access from the PC, there are still Web things I find much more comfortable to do on my little phone screen in Opera Mini. One is reading mainly-text blogs: I don’t need to sit at the PC, or sit the PC on me, but can relax and read on the phone. It’s easier on the eyes, to: shorter lines of text which take less concentration to stay focused on, and only a square inch or so of screen shining in my eyes.

And that’s helpful, because it means I can use my unlimited web access on the phone for those things, instead of using up my Dongle Allowance.

The good news is that posting here seems not to use up too much data.

Let’s see what happens.

By the way, I once read somewhere that a recommended line length for readability in a given font is 1½ times the length of the alphabet. That’s about


and I’m expecting that these lines will turn out to be a bit on the long side . . .

Edit: I’m confused now—was it 1½ times the length of the alphabet, or double? I’ve got a nasty feeling I’ll want to look it up now, because not being able to remember properly will niggle me.