Links

Links

Wales photos

I’ve uploaded a set of photos from Welsh trip to Flickr. Here’s one of them, a singing whitethroat:

Singing whitethroat

I somewhat felt the lack of a wide-angle lens, with all that scenery all over the place, and I’ve held back some of the best ones for my photoblog Clouded Drab (there’s a couple already posted), but I hope you can find some you like. Over the next week or so I’ll decide which others to post to Clouded Drab and post the ones which don’t make the cut to Flickr.

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Galapagos pics

I finally got round to uploading some photos from the Galapagos to Flickr. The whole set is here. It includes some sealions:

boobies:

and of course tourists:

More vespal entertainment

Sherry mentioned my wasp nest on her blog and via the comments was revealed this hand-made hornet’s nest by papermaker Gin Petty. You can read her full account of making it here.

And browsing around Flickr I found these pictures by Andrew Dill of a wasp nest built on a window:

Here’s something I learned today. ‘Hymenoptera’ (i.e. bees, wasps and ants) are not called that because of all those virgin workers, as I’d always vaguely assumed. Rather it’s

from Greek humenopteros ‘membrane-winged,’ from humēn ‘membrane’ + pteron ‘wing.’

Which perhaps I should have realised, since Hymen wasn’t god of virginity but marriage.

And here’s a good word: haplo-diploid.

Ajax and the common man

One of the hot new(ish) things in web design is Ajax – standing for Asynchronous Javascript And Xml. To quote Wikipedia, “The intent is to make web pages feel more responsive by exchanging small amounts of data with the server behind the scenes, so that the entire Web page does not have to be reloaded each time the user makes a change.” You’ll have seen the results on websites like Flickr, where you can edit the descriptions on your photos without having to load a new page. An impressive example of an Ajax-rich WordPress theme can be seen here; click on the buttons at the top to get the full effect.

Which is great, of course. Except that one of the joys of the internet is its accessibility for the casual user who wants to make a webpage. HTML is, really, an extremely simple system to use. CSS means a bit more to learn, but once you get the hang of it, it actually makes your life easier. And that’s all you need to arrange content on a page. If you just want to create a static webpage, you can do it entirely from scratch just with HTML and CSS, and how good the content is and how good it looks are entirely up to you.

Even using software like WordPress, it’s easy enough to just use some knowledge of HTML and CSS to restyle the output. The software is built in PHP, and you just have to work around the PHP tags, moving them around as necessary; it’s usually obvious from context what they do. So you can completely change the look of a site without doing any of what I’d call real coding. The various changes to the appearance of this site and its predecessors have all been done without me knowing any PHP. Ajax kills that, as far as I can tell; hacking around a theme to change the styling becomes a suddenly much more technical exercise.

I completely see the point of Ajax – when it’s used well, it transforms the user experience. And I’m not suggesting that anyone stop using it just for my sake. New software makes it easier and easier for people who know little about computers to share their thoughts and pictures on net; it’s just an unfortunate side-effect that as the software gets more sophisticated, it gets harder for a dabbler like me to get my hands dirty and tinker with the machinery.

I guess it’s a natural progression with all technologies. In the early days of motoring, you *had* to know how to do basic repairs to your car by the side of the road, and the engine was simple enough that you could probably do it with a couple of spanners and a can of oil. The fact that cars are now so reliable that you barely need to know how to check your oil and tyre pressure is a Good Thing, of course. But it still seems a pity when things get professionalised out of people’s hands to the point where they never get to do things themselves from scratch, whether it’s baking bread or creating a webpage.

New Theme

I’ve come up with a new design for the site, as I think should be pretty obvious. If you prefer the calmer qualities of the old look, there’s now a theme switcher in the sidebar so you can pick your favourite. The scarab picture is used by kind permission of elina. Fab, innit?

The main problem with the new theme from a design POV is that it looks a bit peculiar if you’re looking at a single post which isn’t very long. But I can’t think of an easy answer to that one. It’s also a wee bit visually aggressive, but hey, that’s what the theme switcher is for – you can take your pick.

Flickr field guide

There’s a group on Flickr called Field Guide: Birds of the World. Pretty self-explanatory, really – they’re trying to form a collection of photos that can be used to help identify birds. It’s a great idea and they’ve already got a lot entries, though it’s weighted towards European and N American birds, not surprisingly. But it quickly exposes the failings of Flickr as a content-management system. Although it’s possible to search within the group pool for photos tagged with a particular name, it’s not obvious how to do it. More crucially for a field guide, it’s not easy enough to add information to a photo in an organised way – for example, to provide a link from a species to any confusion possibilities. Or to give distribution info.

In some ways, like most reference works, it’s a good candidate for a wiki; there’s a network of people who are very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the subject, it’s naturally modular and so on. The internet would allow for many pictures attached to each species, as well as audio and even video. You could easily establish a standard template for an entry, to encourage people to include all the useful information – distribution, easily confused species, call, and so on. I suppose I could set it up – the Wikimedia software which Wikipedia runs on is open-source and I think I could set it up on my server space, although I suspect there would be a bit of a learning curve to cope with. More seriously, if it ever really caught on, especially with a lot of audio and video, it would be quite bandwidth-heavy.

With mobile broadband on the verge of becoming widespread, people might even start using it in the field to complement traditional field-guides.

the coolest use of Flickr EVER!!

Sorry for the exaggeration marks.

But it is pretty cool. It seems to be this guy‘s idea, but this is the recipe I’m most tempted to try:

You need to click on either the link or the photo above to see why it’s such a fab idea. I’m almost tempted to try doing one of these myself.

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Flickr interesting photo meme

Well, it’s not actually a meme unless anyone copies the idea, but hey-ho. Or at least, I guess technically it still is a meme, just an unsuccessful one. Don’t get me started on evolutionary theory.

Search Flickr for photos tagged with your first name. View them ordered as ‘most interesting’. Post the most interesting photo to your blog. The most interesting photo tagged with ‘Harry’ is a Dutch cuckooflower:

cuckooflower

Free bit of trivia – cuckooflower is also known as ‘milkmaid’ or ‘ladies smock’.