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wulf

wulf
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Member since: 02.08.2001

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    • flickr.com / Internet Site / 23 Readings / 21 Ratings
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      28.11.2006 12:27
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      Flickr is a fantastic place to publish and share your images

      How comes nobody else has reviewed Flickr yet? It is the epitome of all that is exciting about the development of the web over the past couple of years, stuffed with amazing images (photo 300,000,000 has just been uploaded at time of writing) and can be used for free! I have been been taking digital photographs for several years. I often wanted to share the results with family and friends (and anybody else who was interested) and solved that by rolling my own web galleries. However, coming back from a trip along the Camino de Santiago (Northern Spain) last year, I found it arduous to get my collection of pictures online and decided to check some of the new generation of online services I had heard about: Flickr was the one I settled on. The free account allows up to 200 pictures and the ability to group them together in three sets. Unless you are a real shutterbug, that is more than enough to give the system a thorough testing. I have since upgraded to a "pro-account" (unlimited storage and sets and an upload limit of 2GB a month - I struggle to top 1% of that!) but all the photo management tools are available whether you have paid up or just want to share a few holiday snaps. Flickr is packed with features; far too many to list here! These are some of the key things to help you look for: 1. You own the photos. Share them with the world, limit them to a small circle of contacts and permanently delete them whenever you want. Flickr is guided by the idea that the photos are your property and also provides plenty of tools to mark them with appropriate permissions and licencing. 2. Surround the photos with relevant information. You can give each picture a title and description, or even highlight specific areas with a note-making tool. In addition, you can assign "tags" (short descriptive words or phrases) which help you find your pictures (eg. all my pictures tagged "autumn") and to explore what other people are posting on the same subject. 3. If you want, you can begin to interact with other users of the site, exploring their images and inviting comments on your own. There is a massive, active and generally encouraging community. The easiest way to get involved in this is to sign up to some of the numerous groups on offer and submit your pictures on a relevant theme to their "pool". There is much, much more: see your pictures on a map, create new images with online "toys", and more and more and more! The site is not perfect. For example, it helps to have a fast Internet connection, certainly to make the most of organising your pictures and exploring other people's galleries. Also, while there are guidelines on suitable content, you may sometimes stumble across images you don't want to see (although you can flag them as "may offend" which could remove them from the public stream). However, when all is said and done, those kind of issues are inevitable for such a high-volume site. Overall, it is a fantastic example of a well-designed website that can become an invalable tool and source of inspiration for your own photography. Since it is free to try (now owned by Yahoo!, you can sign in with an existing Yahoo! ID) I certainly recommend taking a closer look.

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      • LG B2100 / Mobile Phone / 13 Readings / 13 Ratings
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        27.11.2006 17:22
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        A great choice if you are looking for a useful phone rather than a mini-entertainment centre

        In early September I was on the look-out for a new phone; fashionable and feature-packed were not high on my list of priorities compared to cheap and reliable. After searching around, I was won over by Virgin Mobile's offer on the LG B2100. With an airtime offer, this worked out as inexpensive as their most basic phones but promised to let me experiment with features such as the integrated camera. Fast-forward three months and I have had time to become very well-acquainted with the phone. As a device for calling and texting, it works very well. The display is clear with strong colours and plenty of room for information. The phone is light-weight - arguably, somewhat plastic-feeling but sturdy enough for normal usage. The buttons are fairly small but well-lit and responsive. I have also enjoyed playing with features such as the voice recorder. One thing I haven't used as much as I might have done is the camera. The quality is fairly basic and I haven't figured out a way to do more with the images than use them as "wallpaper" on the phone; I'm not interested in picture messaging and there is no way to hook it up to my PC. The LG B2100 is not a premium product but no-one is pretending that is the case. For a cheap and simple phone with good presentation and a couple of "free" toys to play with, I think it makes an excellent choice.

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          06.08.2002 15:00
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          Transcription is an important skill for musicians - to listen to a song, make useful notes and figure out how to play it. Having recently joined a couple of bands, I've had a stack of tunes, many of them unfamiliar, for which I've had to pick up the bass line and so I had a look for computer-based tools to assist me. What I found was Transcribe! (http://www.seventhstring.demon.co.uk/xscribe/), a shareware package designed to assist with this process. It costs about £28 ($40) but has a 30-day trial period, so one quick download later I was ready to put it to the test. The starting point is a digital recording of the music you want to work on. Transcribe! does have a record facility (which I haven't tried), but I've been using other tools I've collected to take tracks of CDs for closer examination. You can store the files in a number of formats - I've settled on MP3; .wav files are higher quality but ten times the size, and I've found .mp3 to be more than sufficient for my needs. Having loaded your audio file, you can play it round and round until you learn the song. This is much easier than 'the old days' where I had to keep rewinding my cassette tape and then playing it until it broke but this is only the beginning with Transcribe!. The sound file is displayed at the top of the screen and at any point during playback you can select a portion of it using the mouse, causing it to loop round and round that section. Once you've heard the same two bars ten or fifteen times, you can probably sing the part you're trying to learn and thus you're well on the way to being able to figure it out on your instrument. However, there's much more you can do. Apart from the freedom to loop any section, there are three other features that I make a lot of use of: 1. Markers: as the track plays you can mark sections, measures (aka bars in UK parlance) and beats. This makes it easy to work ou t the structure of the song. These markers can be saved (in Transcribe!'s .xsc, text-based format), so you can work on the intro one day and then jump straight to the chorus when you return to the song. Marking beats also makes it easy to figure out how to write down the rhythms being played. 2. Altering the Speed: there are buttons to drop the play back speed to half or quarter time without altering the pitch of the recording (and there are controls to reach other speeds and adjust the pitch as you desire). This is very useful when listening to a fast lick - you will be able to hear exactly what goes on, even if playing it up to speed will still be a challenge. The quality of of the slowed down track is still usable, although the slower you go, the more choppy it becomes. 3. Pitch Analysis: the top of the screen shows the wave pattern of the current portion of the sound file (and you can alter the duration of this 'window' with a slider control); the bottom of the screen shows an analysis of the currently selected section. Using a mathematical technique called Fourier Transforms, Transcribe! works out what pitches are played in the chosen slice and maps them as a graph above a piano keyboard. It doesn't always tell you unequivocally what note to play, as most sounds are made up of a series of overlayed pitches (overtones) and you've got an analysis of the overall sound, not a specific instrument, but it is a useful guide to use. These are the parts of the package that I use a lot - there's more, but I haven't explored it fully yet (too many songs to learn to risk getting side tracked). In conclusion, Transcribe! is exactly what it advertises itself to be - a tool to help musicians learn a piece of music by ear. It won't work it all out for you and it won't make your playing any better; however, it's the best way I've found of assisting my ears in the process of learning a song inside out. Need I say more than that I had no hesitation in paying for this Shareware, with the hope of many years of future use.

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            26.03.2002 18:18
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            Gaupatti Restaurant, Carrer dels Tellers (near Placa de Catalunya) My introduction to Barcelona was less than propitious. It was raining, hard, and the umbrella was still in London. Our shoes were soaked and my normally good sense of direction had gone on a walkabout. Our mood was slightly improved by the efficient welcome at the hotel, another review to write. However, we were getting hungry and so the immediate priority was finding somewhere to eat. My wife and I set off down a sidestreet in the direction of Las Ramblas, Barcelona's most famous boulevard. Casting an eye around Carrer dels Tellers, we saw a blackboard advertising an appetising 'menu del dias' (menu of the day) for a reasonable sounding 7 - 9 euros (up to about £6), depending on whether you wanted the vegetarian or meat option. Thinking it foolish to pass an opportunity to satisfy ourselves with food we ventured in to find out whether we going to love or hate the city. The city council of Barcelona should be grateful to the proprietors of the Gaupatti. From the moment the owner greeted us, realised our ineptitude at Spanish, and switched to explaining the food on offer in friendly and fluent English, we felt quite set at ease. Let me describe the layout of the restaurant followed by a taste of the food on offer. it is a small and homely establishment - organic food served in an organic setting. There are about eight tables with enough space for thirty or so diners. Eating at an English 1pm or 1:30 there was plenty of room, although it did seem to fill up by about 3pm (perhaps a more Spanish hour for dining). Most of the tables had tiled tops, but there was some variety - not to mention a whole range of different chairs and a very diverse assortment of light fittings. The lighting was not overly bright, although I'd characterise this as low key rather than dingy. In fact, reflected off the tan coloured walls, the effect was very warm and co mfortable. Maybe I could sum it up, with the title of a song by ZZ Top, as a 'groovy little hippy pad', although the background music was low key 'world music' and classic jazz rather than hard boogie rock. The decor was rounded out by a selection of textiles from India, bags, cushions and the like. As far as I could understand, Gaupatti is an outlet for 'Comercio Justo' (fair trade) and supports an enterprise based in India. As a subscriber to the concept of ensuring that producers from developing nations get a fair return for their labour, I was glad to have found an establishment that was working with that end in mind (although, not being in need of any of the colourful selection of bags and pillows they had on display, I didn't investigate that side of their business any further). For our money, we got a three-course meal, with complimentary bread (wholegrain brown) and water (bottled). The menu varies from day to day but will provide you with a starter, a main course (with or with out meat) and a pudding. None of the portions were massive, but taken together they provided an ample feast. The food was very good, with a natural feel. It tasted like good home cooking rather than the pre-packaged goods dished up by some restaurants; I suspect the organic ethos permeates the kitchen as well as the dining hall. Presentation of the food was very good, especially the starters (which were small enough to leave some room on the plate for arrangement). Should you be feeling hungry in Barcelona, and find yourself towards the top end of Las Ramblas, walking towards Placa de Catalunya, look out on your left for Carrer dels Tellers which will lead you to this haven of tranquillity (and wholesome wholefood) in the heart of bustling Barcelona.

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              12.01.2002 02:13
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              Coffee. Marvellous stuff. Over the past couple of years I've got into the habit of using a single cup cafetiere to start the morning and using my percolator to fill a flask which will last me through the working day. Recently I began to toy with the idea of getting an expresso machine - generally I like my coffee strong and black, and the only exception is when I choose to have a cappuccino. Then I looked at the prices and decided to wait a while... Recently however, my wife and I were shopping in my local Sainsburys and found this device for all of £30. Since we had £25 of Sainsburys vouchers to use, it seemed like a pretty good deal and worth a shot. That was just under a week ago and, since then, I've I been engaging in extensive testing before venturing to write this review. The machine is smartly finished in black, and constructed to a reasonably good standard of quality. I particularly like the space underneath for coiling up excess power lead (although at first I thought it was just fitted with a very short lead - that's how tidy it is!). I suspect I'll have many years of use out of it - although if something drops off, I'll come back and make a note. It's relatively small but you do need to put it somewhere with good access to minimise the risk of scalding yourself. As kenjohn mentioned in his review of the product, it comes with a metal filter, so cleaning is easy and the only ongoing expense is the coffee (and, obviously, the electricity, although I doubt it uses much more than boiling the kettle). When you've set it up, as per the instructions, it heats the water in a strong container until it turns to steam and then forces that steam through the coffee, which extracts every last drop of flavour. You don't get a huge quantity at the end but it does have that distinctive 'expresso' taste and strength. If you want cappuccino, you make yourself a shot or two of expresso as normal but use a va lve on the side to direct some of the steam into a cup of milk, causing it to become hot and foamy. The results are certainly very drinkable, and distinctive enough from my other coffee making methods for me to give it a thumbs up. Rather than finishing there, let me run through the experiments I have tried out this week. There are one or two points where I felt the manual was not particularly clear, so I present the following observations to help: 1. Hot milk seems to froth up better than cold. Because the device is quite small, it doesn't have a lot of steam to spare, so I've found you get better results by warming the milk in the microwave first. However, it has to be said that you get better results still by warming the milk and then using one of those inexpensive little hand pumps. This may be due to the machine only having a pressure rating of 3.5 bar - more expensive devices quote 15 bar - but I don't think I've missed out by not making the extra £70 investment for what is really nothing more than a lot of froth... 2. If you fill the filter less than halfway, the steam seems to displace it and ends up dripping straight through and watering down the resulting brew. However, I have found that I still get a strong brew even if I use four measures of water against two measures of coffee. 3. You can also use non-expresso coffee. Again be generous with the amount you put it. The result is a little stronger and richer than you will have been used to. This morning, I had a very palatable cup of French blend (coffee and chicory) brewed in this manner. 4. Don't bother trying to reuse the coffee. When I first emptied the filter, I noticed that the coffee seemed almost dry. However, when I used the grounds in my percolator, it soon became apparent that most of the flavour had been leeched away. 5. I wouldn't recommend tea either. To finish off my experiments I tried using the machine with some Turkish tea I've had for a while. I suppose the sharpness could be due the half lemon I squeezed into it, but there's a tang in there which is more redolent of overbrewed tea. Still, it had to be tried, in the interests of science and all that. In summary then, I'd recommend it with a few reservations. I found the manual wasn't particularly thorough, and I'm not bowled over by the milk frothing function. On the other hand, it produces the expresso taste that I haven't been able to get in other ways in a quick, easy to use, and easy to clean fashion. If I'd paid £100, I would have been disappointed, but for £30, I think I've got my money's worth.

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              • Opera Web Browser / Communication / 1 Reading / 20 Ratings
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                17.12.2001 14:09
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                As a professional webmaster, I like to keep informed of what browsers people are using. When Opera 5 was released under an 'adware' licence (ie. no charge in return for banner ad space embedded in the browser) a few months ago I installed it and have been happily using it alongside Internet Explorer ever since. A couple of weeks ago I found out that Opera 6 (Op6) had been released and so made the 3Mb download to find out how it was coming along. The biggest problem faced by Opera 5 was that some pages didn't display properly, largely due to those pages have been written specifically around the strengths, weaknesses and peculiarities of Internet Explorer. I'm happy to report that many of these problems seem to have been dealt with now (although I'd still urge my fellow webmasters to write pages that are not 'tuned' for one specific browser to the detriment of others). Here are some of the features that pull me towards using Op6 as my primary browser: - Multiple Document Interface: when browsing, I tend to keep several windows open at once (so I can read one while the others are downloading). With IE, each browser runs in a separate window; with Op6 you now have the option to do that, but can also keep all your browser windows together in the one Opera interface. - Page Ready Icons: each window can have one of three icons, reflecting whether it is downloading, ready for reading or has been read. This saves wasted time flicking from window to window to see what is ready. - Themes: you can decorate Op6 with your choice of background and foreground skkins and customised buttons. The default theme is very attractive, and there are several other very usable examples on the Opera website. - Progress Feedback: When a page is loading, you can see how much has downloaded, how many images it contains, and other statistics. This lets you make a judgement about whether you need to wait for the r est of the page. For example, the textual content of a DooYoo page loads relatively quickly; what slows it down are the graphics... and a handy button lets you display the page either with no graphics or just the ones that have already come down the pipe. The slower your internet connection, the more useful this feature is. - Page Zoom: Text too small? Page not fitting on your screen? Opera lets you zoom in and out - anywhere between 20% and 1000% of the original size. - Mouse Gestures: Most programs now allow you to make use of the right mouse button to produce a context-sensitive pop-up menu. Opera also lets you hold the button down and move the mouse around to give instructions from 'Open a New Window' to 'Go back to the Previous Page'. Learning one or two of these gestures can save a lot of time - it's even easier than 'right click, move to item on pop-up menu, left click to run'. There's more, plenty more, but this will give you a flavour of some things that Op6 can do, most of which are not available in other browsers. If you're using one of the releases of Op5, you will have several of these options, but I've mentioned several enhancements worth considering (although the greater compatibility with existing pages is probably the most important reason to think about upgrading). You may try it and dislike it (like I've done with the recent Netscape releases), but its worth a try; it's certainly clear evidence that web-browsing on the Windows platform can be smoothly accomplished with something other than Internet Explorer. [nb. as you would expect, this review was posted using Op6 ;-) ]

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                • dooyoo Addiction / Discussion / 0 Readings / 28 Ratings
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                  12.12.2001 14:03
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                  • "Too long before tangible benefits"

                  I have been a very frequent visitor to DooYoo but, truth be told, I think I've found the cure! I first started using the site in the Summer when a colleague showed it to me. Immediately I started writing reviews - not 'churning' but managing a fairly good output, and was pleasantly satisfied to see my DooYoo points mounting up. At the same time, I made diligent efforts to read, rate and often comment on the opinions of others. Mucho fun.. However, it seemed to me that every time I started to get towards the stage where I might be able to cash in those points either the bar would go up or the rewards go down. It was depressingly similar to when I'd gone through my AllAdvantage surfing period - after months of putting up with the AA bar at the bottom of the screen I finally cleared their limit, only to eventualy receive a check in dollars that was worth virtually nothing by the time it was banked. I don't write just for the points, but I have to say that I'm not short of things to do with my time beyond writing snappy little reviews. Whereas back in July and August I would check the site two or three times a day and submit one or two items a week, it must be two or three weeks since I last had a good look round. So, in my humble opinion, the best cure for DooYoo addiction is the universal law of diminishing returns. Of course, if it became easier to get tangible rewards (even if it was £3 off Amazon to pay for the postage rather than £20 off to pay for a DVD) that addiction might return with a vengeance. I'll continue my occasional visits and watch with caution! Good night and thank you for reading ;-)

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                    09.11.2001 14:10
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                    My name's Wulf and I'm a bass player... Last year, my addiction to the art of the low reached the point where I wanted to be able to make the deep notes even when I couldn't plug in, and so I started looking round for a decent, affordable electro-acoustic instrument. The answer I found was a translucent blue, four string Tanglewood Odyssey bass (see picture at http://www.web-den.org.uk/bassist/). Firstly, let me give a run down of the physical characteristics of the bass: 22 fret neck (with diamond inlay markers) 34" scale length Tuners mounted two a side, on a small but curvy headstock Dark fretboard, medium profile neck, gloss finish on back. Spacing 40mm at nut to 65mm at bridge (string spacing 18mm) Wooden bridge (as on most acoustic guitars) Body - front: translucent blue burst over woodgrain. Circular soundhole at base of neck. Body - back: rounded black plastic Body - overall: cutaway on bottom of neck (so all frets accessible). Size about the same as a dreadnought style guitar (although less deep) Electronics: EMC Piezo pickup system (bass, mid and treble tone sliders, volume control and battery check button) The bass is comfortable to play; the contour on the plastic means it won't dig into you. The neck is not too fat, and the cutaway allows easy access to the upper frets. The quality of the construction is very good, although there is a slight gap visible where the fretboard joins the body. Intonation is fairly good, although there is a patch around the ninth fret where the notes are not perfectly in tune (this is more apparent when playing chords than when just running along linear basslines). The acoustic tone (with roundwound strings) is smooth; it has a woody richness without being indistinct - maybe a benefit of combining wood with plastic in the construction. The projection of the sound is good - it works well with a small number of other acoustic instruments. It doesn't have the same power as an amplified bass... but works as well as any other electro-acoustic I have tried. The electric sound is a bit harsh - I also found that the G and D strings were louder than the E and A. However, I've got other instruments for when I want to play amplified, so this doesn't unduly bother me. What have I used it for? Practise: one of the best things about such basses is that you can pick them off the stand and start playing straight away. This is brilliant if I haven't got round to setting my amp up. Playing outdoors: I've taken the bass with me on a couple of camping trips. I've also played in the local shopping centre - I got blisters the first time, but later found that playing with a plectrum (and adopting a strumming based style to keep up with the guitars) worked well. Small group meetings: I get involved with various small groups through my church and it's handy to have the Odyssey around for when I want to play bass rather than guitar. Most of these points apply to all electro-acoustic basses. The specific merits of the Tanglewood is that it's relatively inexpensive (compared the the general market level) but a compentent performer. You can certainly buy a better electro-acoustic bass - but this is the best I've found for anywhere near the price (price given included strap, stand and gig bag - I can't remember how much it cost on its own). It looks gorgeous, plays well and, apart from a few minor niggles that hold me back from giving it top marks, no major complaints as far as my needs go.

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                    • Pegasus Mail / Communication / 0 Readings / 11 Ratings
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                      23.10.2001 03:41
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                      I've been using Pegasus Mail for about six years and, although I've gone through other email clients in my professional capacity (as an IT Technician and now as a Webmaster), I've stuck with it for personal use. Let me track my personal history as a Pegasus user. Initially, I wanted something I was familiar with. Pegasus, a favourite in many educational institutions, was the program available at the college where I worked. Therefore, my first choice was decided by nothing more complicated than simple circumstance. I imagine that's why so many people today use programs like MS Outlook (which is on a high proportion of business desktops) or MS Outlook Express (hard to avoid if your machine comes preloaded with Windows). After a while, I decided to think again about my choice and I looked around at other packages, such as Eudora. Pegasus didn't stand out as completely unique; on the other hand, nothing else had any features that I felt were missing, and so I decided not to change. After all, I could send and receive, create a folder structure to store old messages, save a message to finish later, etc... and that was aside from all the tricks I have still never got round to playing with (like putting photos in the address book). As I started to send and receive more emails, my next evaluation was based on what would help me make the best use of a slowish modem on a pay per minute dial up connection. Pegasus made it easy to queue up mails for sending in a quick burst once I'd turned the line on, and never once tried to connect without my permission). It also let me check the messages waiting on the server before downloading them. Voila - I could instantly wipe out spam and oversize files before wasting valuable seconds of connection time. Even now that I'm using BT's surftime package to give me free offpeak access, I still tend to avoid such things, which has doubtless helped protect me from all manner o f email-borne viruses and useless junk. The bottom line is that Pegasus Mail is an extremely capable email program. It can do everything that I need - I've only mentioned a few of the features I use most often and skimmed right over others that I also find important; multiple email accounts and user accounts (fun for all the family!), distribution lists (for contacting groups of people), and more. I've not even begun to think about email related tools that I don't currently use at all (IMAP support, LDAP client, etc). There's more than enough to do most things you'd want to do with email. I think that's really the heart of why I haven't ended up turning to anything else - Pegasus works really well for email and doesn't confuse matters by trying to include newsgroups, web browsing, diary, to-do list, and the like. Consequently, it is very good at its job and doesn't open up all the security holes found in a more 'multi-talented' package, such as MS Outlook. If you've got other programs to surf the web and sort out your appointments, and want something that just does email very, very well, I'd recommend looking at Pegasus. Oh, and did I mention that it's free... ;-)

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                        01.10.2001 19:59
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                        The most important qualification for working as a webmaster can only be got from one place... the University of Life. Proven experience is what really counts - and I've looked at the market from both sides of the interviewing desk. My own background is that of starting with an honours degree in history. That may not make me a historian, but it certainly doesn't make me anything else either! After finishing at university (after dropping out of a post graduate teacher training course), I wound up getting a job at a Higher Education college in the village where I grew up. At this point (in the early 90's) I was a keen email user and knew my way around WordPerfect (for DOS) but only had the faintest idea of this thing called the World Wide Web. Officially, I was employed for various administrative tasks, but I gradually developed a better understanding of computers both through using them and talking with the computer engineers we called in when things went wrong. By the time I moved on, I'd not only started to use the Internet at work, but I'd also made some small beginnings in designing web pages. My next job, won on the promise of my skills as an IT technician and my formative ideas of what an Intranet should be about, was in a VIth form college. When I finished there, I had not only started using the Internet from home (and designed the first incarnations of my 'WebDen' with free space from Xoom and Tesco.net - current version at http://www.web-den.org.uk/) but significantly shaped the college's Internet and Intranet sites. In fact, they're still using most of the pages I designed (although this could be more about problems finding someone else to update them than any particular merit of the pages themselves). Finally (after a short stint as a Network Administrator at another company) I landed the job of webmaster for my local NHS Trust. Since then, I have developed a wide range of additional skills - I& #39;m now quite happy creating dynamic pages built on databases and XML frameworks, as well as the nitty gritty of HTML coding and website layout. What each of these jobs has in common is that rather than coming to them with a sheaf of papers certifying me as competent, I was able to provide clear evidence of experience as a webmaster. At the interviews I could answer technical questions and also explain why I was so keen to work in the area (because I'm passionate about making information easily available to those who need it). I was also able to point to a string of URLs, both personal and professional, each of which demonstrated my competence to build and maintain websites. I'm not decrying the value of formal qualifications. However, when I've been either interviewee or interviewer for positions with a web component, I've looked for a demonstration of the candidates skills (a virtual portfolio) and evidence that they can learn new skills as the opportunities arise (because new technologies are always arising and you need someone who can be flexible). By all means take some courses, but make sure you don't neglect your studies at the University of Life - read, learn, try things out and demonstrate that you ARE a webmaster. If you can show that you have made best use of the tools and information at your disposal, particularly with several examples of good practise from your own work, you will be well on the way to convincing potential employers that you are the kind of dynamic, flexible and self-motivated person they need.

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                        • HTML - scripting / Web Design / 1 Reading / 14 Ratings
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                          26.09.2001 22:54
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                          What program do you use to write your websites? There are plenty to choose from - CoffeeCup, Cute-HTML, Netscape Composer, FrontPage... and countless more. They come with bells and whistles all the way from automatically finishing tags for you to providing a interface like a Wordprocessor or DTP package and just generating all the HTML code behind the scenes. In fact, a lot of modern Wordprocessing software comes with the ability to save your pages as HTML, so on the face of it, there's no need to even buy any special software. However, what I've generally chosen to use, over the course of years of experience and professional web design work, are just plain text programs that let me write the HTML directly. Why have I chosen to fly in the face of time-saving modern conveniences? Here are my reasons: 1. Text editors are free, easily available, and don't take up a lot of system resources. That becomes less of an issue as computer power increases - but I want to learn skills that I can transfer between different machines and operating systems. If I learn how a particular HTML editing package fits together, then I'll become dependent on that particular tool, which may not be so portable. 2. Writing HTML is the quickest way to understand HTML. Sometimes your pages will not act the way you expect, forcing you to either abandon what you're trying to do or look 'under the hood' at the HTML code. If you're used to dealing with raw HTML, this isn't as hard as it would otherwise be. After all, HTML is hardly rocket science - it essentially consists of wrapping your text in a limited range of angle-bracket enclosed <tags>. 3. What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) is a dangerous illusion. What you see in an HTML editor is the way that HTML editor displays your page. Unless you are writing for a very specific audience (maybe a company intranet where everyone has a standard browser) you need to test your p age on a range of different browsers. Writing raw HTML reminds me to think about the structure of the information more than the layout, and makes it easier to find solutions that will work for all visitors to my sites. 4. Related to the previous two points, getting your hands on the HTML allows you the maximum degree of control in fine-tuning it to your needs. Many HTML editing programs produce very messy code that is hard to read (and thus very hard to maintain if your original tool is no longer available). Even worse, some programs will take your hand-finished HTML and uglify it back to their own standards, undoing all your painstaking work. 5. When you use a specific tool, you are often quite limited in what you can do. You might be able to write basic HTML pages quickly, but will your editor start to frustrate you when you try to get into scripting with something like .asp or .php. Text editors are general purpose tools and can be adapted to all sorts of purposes. Maybe this sounds too polemical for your tastes. Maybe you are quite happy with whatever program you have chosen and feel that it makes you more productive. It's not my place to censure the tools you choose to use. However, I have found that using text editors for most of my work has given me a very good understanding of the medium of web design. If you haven't tried handcrafting HTML, then maybe it would be worthwhile digging up a text editor and seeing what you can learn. Nb. On Windows I normally use Editpad (http://www.jgsoft.com/); on Linux I opt for vim (http://www.vim.org/)... but even Windows Notepad will do at a push.

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                          • Rotastak Cages / Small Pet Accessory / 4 Readings / 15 Ratings
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                            25.09.2001 00:23
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                            • "Not as adjustable as you might first think"

                            It has to be said that the Rotastack range of small rodent housing looks really good. When you see the intricate mazes on the back of the boxes, you feel that you'd have to be a hard-hearted soul to deny your rodent such an amazing environment. As you look at everything from Burrow Basements to Space Modules, you can imagine your furry friend thanking you for such a gift. And so, more than a few quid poorer, you leave the store with a bagful of plastic housing. I began my Rotastack collection with a basic starter home and attic extension. It was was somewhere for my new hamster to live, but I soon began to hit problems I hadn't anticipated: - There's actually not that much room inside the cylinder and it wasn't long before I was starting to contemplate an extension - It's awkward getting your pet in and out through the hole in the roof (the best way seemed to be taking the waterbottle off the side rather than reaching down from above and grabbing the hamster out through the small opening at the top) - Young hamsters or smaller breeds such as Russian Hamsters will have problems climbing up the tubes (you can solve this by cutting some notches in a kitchen towel tube and inserting it down the middle of the Rotastack tube, with a doorway cut out at the bottom but this is a weakness in the basic setup). The most annoying thing of all was the first time I picked the dwelling up to clean it, forgetting that the plug at the bottom (designed to be removed when you add an extra section below) was not particularly secure. Cue scene of soiled sawdust cascading onto the floor! Obviously, I hadn't hit it off entirely well with the Rotastack range but each time I found myself in a petshop I was hit by the strange notion that what I needed to improve the setup was such and such an add-on. I'm now the proud owner of a Rainbow Runner wheel, Maze, Spaghetti Junction tubing and more: I'm also now even less sure about the virtues of the design. A major problem, from the point of view of hamster health (and household smells), is that the more you add onto the complex, the harder it becomes to clean. Maybe your hamsters go by the book and find regular corners for eating, sleeping and going to toilet. Both of the hamsters I've owned have been far less predictable, so the whole set up frequently needs a thorough clean. In turn, this requires a certain measure of disassembly and, as I snap the components apart, I often find the sawdust and litter pellets flying through the air. Deja vu! My final gripe with the Rotastack setup is the tubing. I spent yet more money on a set of tubes with the intention of creating a series of linked burrows for the furry wanderer to explore. However, despite the enticing illustrations on the packaging, it turned out that I was very limited in the number of combinations I could put together. Back to the shop to get more crossovers and bends - and then yet more frustration in finding that not all the pieces fitted neatly into one another. I've managed to create an interesting free-standing tubular sculpture for use during hamster playtimes, but have abandoned the idea of linking lots of units together. I just don't have the space to make the right connections - the tubes require wide curves, and you also have to avoid making the slopes too steep for small hamsters to climb (hard plastic gives very little traction for them to get their claws into). The unit I've had most success with is from the competing Habitrail range. This Safari dwelling has a rectangular base (making maximum use of the floor space), no loose plugs in the bottom, bars for the hamster to climb on and other features that seem to work well. I think I've weened myself off buying more plastic estate for my little friend... but if I decide I need another extension it is far more likely to be Habitrail than Rotastack.

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                            • Homemade Cocktails / Recipe / 0 Readings / 14 Ratings
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                              15.09.2001 15:48
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                              Have you ever tried Greek Retsina? It's white wine made in a process which involves pine resin somewhere along the line, and has an aromatic taste. Recently, I was drinking some wine and had about half a glass left. Being quite thirsty, I topped it up with apple juice. I was amazed to find that it had a similar flavour! I wouldn't presume to say that it was the same, but I'd stumbled across a very pleasant combination. Further experimentation revealed that red and white wines, mixed with orange or apple juice all turned up very refreshing drinks. Doubtless other fruit juices would also have their merits, and next time I get a bottle of rose, I'll try with that as well. I know this suggestion will be a disappointment to those of you who are trying to keep down the blood content in your alcohol stream ;-), but if you need to eke out your last bottle of wine - or if you want a refreshing summer drink, mix the fermented grape with some other fruit juices and see what you think.

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                              • PHP 4 / Programming Language / 1 Reading / 11 Ratings
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                                14.09.2001 21:53
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                                In 2000, I started getting to grips with dynamic webscripting using Microsoft technology - VBscript in .asp pages. Having reached a good level of profiency with that, in 2001 I have been branching out and getting to grips with PHP4. Why learn a second approach? PHP is Open Source software, free to download and use. I prefer this from a philosophical standpoint and this instance the software built for love and liberty seems more powerful and flexible than the software built for profit; this is not least because I can run PHP on my Windows machine, but can't put .asp on my Linux box (not without paying a lot of money for the one program that might be able to do the job). Last year I redid my personal website using .asp pages (mainly as a way of helping me learn the technology); this year I have done the same again, but moving everything across to PHP. Take a look at http://www.web-den.org.uk/home/ and I will highlight some of the things PHP is doing behnd the scenes. 1. The whole look and feel of the page is dynamically generated. If you're using Internet Explorer or Opera, you will see a design involving several nested tables. If you look at the source code you will see this inevitably gets quite messy. However, should I want to make a change (either something small, like adding a new navigation button, or large, like creating a whole new look and feel) I don't have to do the same thing on every page of content. Instead, I update one central file that is used in the building of every page. Combining this with the use of cascading style sheets makes it very easy to maintain or alter the consistent appearance of the site. Each page of content consists of four sections: a) include('../referenceto/mypagebuilder.php'); This loads the tools needed to automatically create the page. b) writepagetop(); A function I've written to write the HTML head section and the consistent details at the top an d left of each page. c) The page content (including the code for any other functions unique to that page) d) writepagebottom(); This writes the fixed content at the right and bottom of the page. 2. Text / Graphics Mode If you look at my page with Netscape, you'll get a plain white background and all the tables will have been removed - if I hadn't added the browser detection routine, you would just get a page of green leaves and nothing else at all! However, I've added a function that allows you to toggle between the full version and stripped down version at will. In order to pass this information from page to page I've made use of PHP4 session variables - these are one of the new features that PHP3 is lacking, but they make this kind of feature much easier to implement. You'd also use the same kind of trick if you wanted people to log into a website and then open up certain content to them; a session variable would let you know if a given page request came from an authorised user. 3. Current Date and Time Every time you load the page, you see an indication of the date and time in my part of the world. The changing content is expressed as follows: echo date("l j F Y @ g:ia"); The quoted string, "l j F ..." is giving PHP instructions to write particular parts of the current date and time (day of the week in full, day of month, month name in full, etc). It looks a bit cryptic, but I've found that PHP can handle date/time information much more flexibly than .asp. 4. Random quotation Every time the main page loads, it calls a function I've written to select a category of quotes for the current month. Each batch of quotes is stored in an XML file, and I use another function to read through the XML, extracting the name of the collection (shown in bold) and a random quote (between 10 and 20 options, depending on the particular XML file). Reload the page a few times and you'll see what I mean. It's silly, but it's helped me develop a useful set of tools. Eventually I will also store the news items in an XML file and then use a PHP function to extract only those within the last couple of months, again reducing the time it takes to maintain the site. Having learnt how to use server-side scripting, I would find it very hard to go back to running a website made up of static pages. Having made use of two of the major scripting approaches, I would recommend looking into PHP first. There's nothing on this page that couldn't be done with a .asp page but some of the tasks (eg. formatting the date) were a lot easier and presented more options. If you want to learn more, I would suggest visting the official website (http://www.php.net/ , or the UK mirror http://uk.php.net) - the online manual is particularly helpful both to illustrate what can be done and as a reference tool when you're trying to do it yourself. Happy Scripting!

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                                • More +
                                  01.09.2001 02:05
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                                  Printers have come a long way from the days when your only choice was a noisy dot matrix machine which knocked pages at a rate measured in lines per minute. Nowadays, most budgets can stretch to machines capable of photographic quality and glowing colour. The problem is that you are faced with a bewildering choice. Where do you start? I would begin by writing down a list of what I wanted to use it for. Pretty pictures? You'll need something with colour and might want to look how much quality you can gain by stepping out of the range of budget inkjets. Lots of letters or news sheets (home office, whether professional or for a voluntary organisation)? May a laser printer would be better, due to higher capacity and higher speed. Next, I would pay close attention to all the printers I have access to. At work I can see lots of laser printers and some inkjet machines. I can also visit friends to build up a better picture of what their machines can and can't do. First hand experience is invaluable in making good choices. Thirdly, I'd do some reading. Check DooYoo. Check computer magazines. Check the Internet. Find out what printers are easily available. At this stage you're measuring what's out there against your list of requirements, helped by the background knowledge you've picked up. Don't just think about the cost of buying the printer. Consider the other costs: - ink or toner (how much do the cartridges cost? how long do they last for the kind of printing you will be doing) - time (how much time will you waste waiting for your printing to be done) - space (how much room will it take up - including room for the printout to be delivered?) - service (are the supplier and manufacturer likely to help you out if you encounter problems?) Once you've laid these foundations, you should be in a good position to make a wise purchasing decision. Here's hoping it work s out well for you!

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