Manu Sporny recommends me on LinkedIn

November 28, 2009

I hope you will forgive me for immodesty repeating Manu Sporny’s kind and fulsome recommendation of me, from my LinkedIn profile, for the benefit of those of you who don’t have accounts there:

I had worked with Andy in the Microformats community, developing international standards for the Web. During this time Andy not only excelled at providing technical feedback and review, but led several bold initiatives to standardize the classification of planetary-geo-location and living species on the web. While a logically consistent and wise technical contributor, his influence on the direction of the community was also vital. Andy’s role in questioning and influencing the core philosophy and community process was and continues to be deeply appreciated.

I’m genuinely touched by that. Thank you, Manu!

Manu Sporny is CEO of Digital Bazaar.

Twitter: A microformat in lieu of a protocol

November 21, 2009

In May of this year I wrote about the problems of URLs for a given Twitter user’s profile, or for an individual post or “status” being different, depending the Twitter client in use. I suggested a new protocol for Twitter links. [You might want to read that, before the rest of this post]. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this simpler solution sooner!

The answer (in the short term) is to use a microformat (or a microformat-like “poshsformat”, if you prefer to call it that) for each case. Let’s say we use the classes twitter-user & twitter-status.

User-agents (that’s jargon for browsers) could then employ a script (such as those used by GreaseMonkey, or a Firefox extension) to ignore the encoded URL and substitute the equivalent for the user’s preferred Twitter client instead.

For links to user profiles:

<a
href="http://twitter.com/pigsonthewing">
Andy Mabbett
</a>

would become:

<a
class="twitter-user"
href= "http://twitter.com/pigsonthewing">
Andy Mabbett
</a>

and:

<a
href="http://accessibletwitter.com/app/user.php?uid=pigsonthewing">
Andy Mabbett</a>

would become:

<a
class="twitter-user"
href=" http://accessibletwitter.com/app/user.php?uid=pigsonthewing">
Andy Mabbett</a>

Likewise, for individual statuses:

<a
href="twitter.com/pigsonthewing/status/1828036334">
something witty</a>

would become:

<a
class="twitter-status"
href="twitter.com/pigsonthewing/status/1828036334">
something wittyg<a>

and:

<a
href="accessibletwitter.com/app/status.php?1828036334">
something witty<a>

would become:

<a
class="twitter-status"
href="accessibletwitter.com/app/status.php?1828036334">
something witty<a>

and:

<a
href="m.slandr.net/single.php?id=1828036334"
something witty</a>

would become:

<a
class="twitter-status"
href="m.slandr.net/single.php?id=1828036334">
something witty</a>

To simplify matters, the rules for extracting the user ID or the status update could be the same in both cases:

  1. Parse the value of the href attribute of the element to which the class applies.
  2. If there is a question mark, use everything after that.
  3. Otherwise, if there is an equals sign, use everything after that.
  4. Otherwise, use everything after the last slash.

That would deal with all the examples in my earlier post.

So, if you’re using a user-agent which is aware of this microformat, and find on a page:

<a
class="twitter-user"
href="http://twitter.com/pigsonthewing">
Andy Mabbett<a>
said
<a
class="twitter-status"
href="m.slandr.net/single.php?id=1828036334">
something witty<a>

but your preferred Twitter client is Dabr (one I recommend, BTW!) then your browser would treat (and possibly render) that as:

<a
href="dabr.co.uk/user/pigsonthewing">
Andy Mabbett<a>
said
<a
class="twitter-status"
href="dabr.co.uk/status/1828036334">
something witty<a>

Simples!

Bacchus Bar, Birmingham. Awful.

November 21, 2009

I spent yesterday evening, from 7-11, in , Burlington Arcade, Birmingham, one of Mitchells & Butlers supposedly “Classic Pubs”. Had I not been there as a guest of others, for whom I have great respect, I would have left.

The only guest ale was off.

The dirty plates left by the departing people whose table we occupied, and their and our empty glasses and bottles, were not collected once. The plates included uneaten food, which sat festering for four hours.

The men’s toilets were an utter disgrace: stinking, awash with urine – footsteps caused audible splashes; I’m going to have to have my trousers laundered – and clearly not attended to all evening. Everyone who entered, each time I was in there, commented. I was told the women’s toilets were little better.

A pile of vomit on the carpet outside the toilets was marked with a “wet floor” A-frame, but otherwise left for over an hour, remaining until after closing.

I have never seen such bad practice, even in run down inner-city pubs; let alone a supposedly prestige, and pricey, city-centre venue.

Update: I have contacted Mitchells & Butlers, and asked them to respond here. Their contact form includes several unnecessary yet mandatory questions, such as wanting my postal address (which I declined to give, using bogus data instead) and the number in the party, which must be a number, making it impossible for me to say “over 15″.

Machine Tagging Flickr

July 16, 2009

I’ve posted some more thoughts on machine- (or triple-) tags and microformats on Flickr, in their Flickr Ideas group.

Update: There is now a tool to automatically generate tags for Flickr images of living things; iNaturalist tagger.

I am not a Twitcher!

June 8, 2009

Three times this week, people have referred to me, in good faith, as a “twitcher”. I’m not, and I blame lazy tabloid hacks for creating this misconception, which I will now try to lay to rest.

I am a birdwatcher or, if you will, a birder. I like to be outdoors, with my binoculars and sometimes a telescope, to watch birds. I like to travel to different places, such as hills or the coast, to see different kinds of birds, but I also like to watch common birds, like Starlings, in my garden, or as I move around my home city.


[Picture: Common Starling, Sternus vulgaris, from Creative Commons, by Paul Stein; licenced under Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic.]

I like to know their life histories, and to read about and study their behaviour, their conservation and their contribution to human folklore.

All together, this brings me a great deal of enjoyment, and helps me to de-stress after spending long hours at a desk in front of a computer, or in stuffy meetings, in my day job. I try to pay some of it back, by sharing my interest with non-birders, and beginners, and by doing voluntary work for the RSPB and the West Midland Bird Club, of which I’m a trustee.

Occasionally, I am pleased to chance upon a rare bird, or to travel a short distance to a local reserve, knowing one is present. The interest in seeing a new species this way is sometimes tempered by the fact that, if it’s a rare vagrant from Siberia or the Americas, it is likely to be exhausted and near death. At the very least, it will never get home or find a mate.

Twitchers, on the other hand, enjoy an extreme, compulsive type of birding, whereby they will hunt out such rarities, competitively, often travelling great distance, at great cost, and enduring considerable discomfort, to do so. They will often prefer to see one bird of a new species, involving a day or more travelling, over the opportunity to spend time looking at a whole range of other, more common birds (which some of them refer to as “trash birds”). There have been cases of twitchers paying hundreds of pounds to charter a boat or plane to get them to The Scillies or The Shetlands, and one once famously left his own wedding reception and missed the start of his honeymoon, to chase after a rarity.

Unlike some birders, who disdain them, I make no judgements about twitchers, and I know that some are very knowledgeable, and are just as likely as other birders to be involved in voluntary and conservation work.

But I’m not one of them. I trust that that’s now clear.

Triple-tag references to Twitter posts

May 30, 2009

Further to my post about a protocol for Twitter posts, you can also triple-tag blog posts, Flickr images and similar web utterances, which refer to a specific twitter post (or status) like this: twitter:status=1975532392 – and this post is tagged with that!

[Update: See also my Flickr screenshot of a Twitter post, triple tagged with #twitter:status=1828036334 to reference the same post.]

Poorly lawnmower

May 25, 2009

One thing that really irks me is when an otherwise working product fails because of one component which is not easily fixed or replaced – “built in obsolescence”, as its called. It may be good for the maker’s bottom line, but it’s bad for mine; and really bad for the environment.

Black & Decker GR280C - blade in situ

I have a Black & Decker GR280C rotary lawn mower, which still works, but the blade keeps spinning loose once it’s switched off – as it decelerates, the bolt which holds the blade in place unscrews.

Black & Decker GR280C - blade and spanner

Can anyone suggest how this can be repaired, or a part replaced, before I have to junk the whole mower?

Twitter: canonical URLs and Protocols

May 17, 2009

On Twitter, I’m twitter.com/pigsonthewing, but in my preferred twitter client, Dabr, I’m dabr.co.uk/user/pigsonthewing. We might refer to the former as the “canonical” URL.

There are a number of other web-based Twitter clients, too, and people using them can find my twitter stream, variously, at:

Likewise each of my Twitter posts, or “tweets”, has a URL on each of some of those domains (though not on all, it seems). For example:

Twitter

Dabr

are all the same tweet. We can again regard the first of them, on twitter.com, as canonical.

Anyone using one of those services, and who wants to link to my profile or one of my tweets will either post the URL as it appears in their service, which isn’t much use to people not using that service, or expend time and effort translating the URL into the generic, canonical, Twitter format — which even then may not be of much use to someone using something else.

In the short term, we could do with some recognition of this fact from the above services, which might provide a link to the “standard” or canonical URL for that tweet; and when doing so on an individual page, should link to it using rel="alternate" and/ or rel="canonical".

Better still, there could be browser tools (such as FireFox plug-in or Greasemonkey script) to do that task, automagically.

Ultimately, though, as Twitter becomes ever more widespread, perhaps we need a pair of protocols for linking to Twitter profiles and posts. Using this, authors would be able to mark up links to me and my comments on Twitter as, say:

<a href="twitter:pigsonthewing">Andy Mabbett</a> said <a href="twitterpost:1827840116">something witty</a>.

Then, each reader could set their computer to open those links their choice of browser-based or desk-top/ mobile phone client. The setting to do could even be changed in the installation package for such tools, to aid non-technical users.

Footnote: if you know of another URL for my Twitter stream, please let me know!

25 things about Andy Mabbett

February 20, 2009

I’ve been wondering whether anyone would tag me to give “Seven Things you Never Knew About Me”, and how on Earth I would come up with that many. My friend and colleague Emma Routh tagged me on Facebook in a similar exercise, but requesting twenty-five factoids!

For the benefit of those of you not on Facebook (where I’ve already tagged another 25 victims), here they are:

  1. I come from a long line of horsemen (following the paternal line). My grandfather was a cavalryman in India in the 1920s, then delivered bread from a horse-drawn cart. His father was a carriage driver for a wealthy Birmingham family, before that, my ancestors were stablemen for a Duke; and were from Fairford in Gloucestershire. I’ve contacted someone called Mabbett whose family has been in New Zealand for generations, but also harks from Fairford.
  2. I love flying and watching or reading anything to do with aeroplanes. I had an hour piloting a helicopter as a 30th birthday present, I’ve been up in a microlight, and I sweet-talked my way onto the cockpit of a commercial airliner for the landing at Birmingham International Airport on the return leg of my first flight (to Amsterdam) in 1989; yet I haven’t flown since a business trip to Dublin in 1996.
  3. I’m a pacifist.
  4. My spelling is appalling. I particularly have trouble using double letters when I should not, and vice versa. This is, apparently, typical of people of my generation, who were taught to read using the “” (ITA) system, which had no double letters. Nonetheless, I’ve always been a good and voracious reader (my reading age was over 16 when I was 9), and could read “proper” English while still being taught ITA. Forbidden, as a child, to read at the meal table, my mother says I would read sauce-bottle labels.
  5. I am a published writer: I have written two books on Pink Floyd ( an update of a previous work by ; all my own work), contributed to another, and written articles on the same subject for Q and Mojo, among others. When Pink Floyd were inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Seattle, I wrote the programme notes. I was subsequently invited to the induction ceremony in New York, but couldn’t go as I was in the middle of buying my house. My second book is a set text on a university course in the USA.
  6. My hair used to be waist-length. Female friends were aghast when I cut it. I sold it to a wig-maker.
  7. I used to be a professional computer programmer, in COBOL and suchlike, for Cadburys. There was a time when every bar of chocolate which left their factory at Bournville had been counted by a stock control programme which I wrote. I haven’t coded for many years, though. I’d like to learn to programme again, for the web, perhaps using PHP.
  8. My books came about because, for ten years, I published and edited, with friends, a fanzine about Pink Floyd, ““. It was read in every continent except Antarctica (I really must get around or sending a copy to our research station there) and even smuggled behind the iron curtain. We had a subscriber in Kuwait, but sadly I never heard from him after the Iraqi invasion.
  9. I hold a certificate in counselling skills. I was encouraged to take my training further, but a job change took my career away from working with unemployed adults and towards on-line work. And how does that make you feel?
  10. I absolutely love dogs, but my domestic situation means I can’t keep one. My friends laugh at how often I stop to pat dogs in the street.
  11. Through my writing, I’ve met many famous people, and become an unashamed name-dropper. JohnRabbitBundrick, the Texan keyboard player with Free and The Who, once cooked me chilli and cornbread. James Galway and the London Symphony Orchestra played just for me (but he still owes me £15). The picture researcher on my first book was Mary McCartney, daughter of Paul. Bob Geldof once called me a cynic.
  12. I am a certified first-aider, and once saved a man’s life with CPR.
  13. I’ve always done voluntary work. I now do so for the RSPB, such as entertaining children at events (I’m very skilled at making dragonflies from pipe cleaners), and as a trustee of the West Midland Bird Club, for whom I am also webmaster and chairman. In my schooldays, I did conservation work at Moseley Bog Nature Reserve. Later, I was a volunteer for the Birmingham Railway Museum, doing almost everything from engine cleaning to shop sales, and from manning a level crossing to booking guest speakers. I also acted as steward on mainline steam trains, looking after the passengers as we went all over the country. The only place I never worked was on the footplate.
  14. I only passed my driving test at the third attempt, and have since been involved in four collisions requiring insurance claims. Only one, the most minor, was my fault.
  15. I’ve been managing websites since 1994 — the year Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented them founded the W3C (he invented the web in 1991, of course). I’ve been using on-line fora for work and socialising since 1995 since October 1994.
  16. I’ve been stalked online for years. If you search the Usenet archives, you will find fake accounts (including someone pretending to be me) announcing that I’m both a convicted “cottager” and a child abuser (I have a police safety-check certificate which says otherwise), have been sacked by the people who still employ me, and more.
  17. I collect things. If I had unlimited space, I’d collect everything, but I really have to stop myself, and limit my collecting to books, original artwork showing birds, fossils, and old artefacts related to Birmingham, such as bottles and badges and beermats and coins and 78-record sleeves and… Oh dear.
  18. I’m a grammar pedant: I say “fora” not “forums”, and detest the use of “bored of”. I love copy-editing and proof-reading, too.
  19. I had the job of demonstrating the World Wide Web to Michael (now Sir Michael) Lyons; the first time he saw it. He’s now head of the BBC Trust, and ultimately responsible for bbc.co.uk, ““.
  20. The Guardian‘s Ben Goldacre once referred to me as “the ever-vigilant Andy Mabbett“.
  21. I own an original drawing by Bill Oddie, from one of his books, “Birdwatching with Bill Oddie”. It cost just a couple of pounds on e-Bay, in a job lot with a signed photo of Liberace.
  22. I love old street furniture, especially the old cast-iron stuff we have inherited from the Victorian era. One of my achievements was to save the street-urinal from where Birmingham‘s International Convention Centre now stands, for Birmingham Railway Museum (though I don’t think they’ve yet re-erected it).
  23. I hate bananas. I really wish I didn’t as I know they’d be good for me, and are handy to carry when out in the countryside, but I can’t stand the taste or texture. Even the smell makes me feel nauseous. I love almost all other fruits and, as a child, would usually prefer fruit to sweets.
  24. If I go near fresh paint, I can still smell it for a week or more afterwards.
  25. The Duke of Edinburgh once trod on my cousin’s toe.

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