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Updated: 2009-09-24T19:33:59Z

 



Optimising for iPhone Using CSS

2009-09-24T19:32:16Z

I’ve done some simple optimisation of this site for iPhone using only CSS.     I picked up some good tips here and here. Now if you visit Blog Relations on an iPhone or iPod Touch you see a page that is easy to read straight away.   There’s no need to pinch to increase the text size, or […]

(image) I’ve done some simple optimisation of this site for iPhone using only CSS.     I picked up some good tips here and here.

Now if you visit Blog Relations on an iPhone or iPod Touch you see a page that is easy to read straight away.   There’s no need to pinch to increase the text size, or to scroll around to find the navigation. For those who are technically minded, I included the iPhone style sheet in my header with this snippet:

–>


The  ie negative conditional is to make absolutely sure that Internet Explorer doesn’t use the iPhone style sheet.  And the complicated media attribute is because mobile Safari does not obey media=”handheld”.  (Microsoft gets hammered for not always supporting web standards, but Apple gets away with it. That’s image for you).

My iPhone style sheet make the  width of containers “100%”  so that they stretch to the edges of the iPhone  whether it is held upright or horizontally.   I’ve also set a larger font size than usual – 4em – which is the equivalent of 40px on this site.   And the sidebar is set to “float: none; clear: both” so that it comes down the bottom.  To improve it further I could add a link to skip to the story navigation down below.   I might also consider setting the articles on the front page to summaries so that there is not so much text to scroll through.

Next to take a look at Storynory.   That’s not going to be quite so easy, but I’m sure now that CSS is the way to go with this.  An alternative style sheet is so much simpler to make and to maintain  than serving up a mobile version of the site.




Mobile Apps or Optimise?

2009-09-24T19:33:12Z

I know I’ve been a bit behind the curve on this, but I finally got a mobile device that can cruise the net efficiently – an iPod Touch.  I was prompted by the fact that Wizzard are making an app for Storynory.   (Wizzard host our audio, sell our sponsorship), and I wanted to view it.   […]

I know I’ve been a bit behind the curve on this, but I finally got a mobile device that can cruise the net efficiently – an iPod Touch.  I was prompted by the fact that Wizzard are making an app for Storynory.   (Wizzard host our audio, sell our sponsorship), and I wanted to view it.   In fact all the online marketing people I meet are talking about iPhone aps – the small pieces of software that sit on your iPhone or iPod.

But I’m not fully convinced that apps are the best way to deliver media content to mobiles.  Yes, they would be great to do more complicated things like games.  But perhaps not media.  First of all, apps are for Apple products.   Lots of my friends – the ones not in the image conscious media and marketing circles – have different types of smart phones.  Apple Apps won’t play on them. Then people have to find them in the App Store.  This could bring a new audience (but a limited one).  Most of your regular users will go to your site.

iTunes is still a great way to deliver audio and video to a mobile device.  But  not everyone knows how to find podcasts in iTunes. It seems to me the most important thing is to have site that works on a mobile.  This means it should be written in good xhtml that works on a desktop and on a mobile.   It’s also perhaps a good idea to offer a  different version of your site to mobile visitors (though this can be problematic).

I’ve had my iPod Touch since Thursday night.  I’ve used iTunes a fair bit – for instance listening to the latest episode of For Immediate  Release as well as music.   But the internet site I’ve visited most often is BBC iPlayer. It serves up a mobile version of itself that is easy to navigate on a small screen with video in a format that plays on a mobile.   TV looks pretty good on it.  But I’m listening a fair amount to Radio 4 programmes that I’ve missed.   I know that would not be everyone’s taste, but a mobile device is fantastic for audio. I know that Storynory is in a good place.

I’ve concluded that every site, and especially every site offering media content such as video or audio, should be optimised for mobile.  For many sites it’s good enough to have an alternative css style sheet. Media is a bit different, because you probably need to use a different media format (not flash, but say QuickTime).

An app is nice, but it’s of secondary importance.   Storynory, I’m glad to say, works on a mobile, but it could work so much better.   I’m planning a mobile version.   We’ll have an app too.  I’m just wondering whether to “sniff out” which device people are using, and automatically serve it to them.  Or just to provide a link that people can bookmark.  Sometimes simple is best.




iPhone, Smartphones and Flash

2009-09-24T19:33:34Z

Adobe Flash powers most of the multimedia and interactive features of modern Web sites, yet it still doesn’t work on many smartphones. Many people complain about the iPhone’s lack of Adobe Flash support, but the iPhone is hardly alone. The Palm Pre and the BlackBerry Storm don’t have Flash support, and neither do most Android […]

Adobe Flash powers most of the multimedia and interactive features of modern Web sites, yet it still doesn’t work on many smartphones. Many people complain about the iPhone’s lack of Adobe Flash support, but the iPhone is hardly alone. The Palm Pre and the BlackBerry Storm don’t have Flash support, and neither do most Android devices (except the HTC Hero). Nokia’s S60 and the Windows Mobile browsers provide limited, scaled-down Flash support.

Source: PC World

I am constantly amazed at how many websites are  entirely dependent on Flash – a technology which has long been known to frustrate both users and search engines.   Now more than ever, website owners should avoid this blunder.   Flash websites don’t work on the increasingly important mobile web.

Flash has its place.  It’s great for games and multi-media – but even then alternatives should always be provided, where ever possible.   Storynory has always had a flash player for its audio.  It’s also always had a simple html download link.   It’s the simple link that works anywhere, anytime.

Flash websites are for “brand conscious’  businesses that don’t understand the net. They buy websites like some people buy cars – for their image.  But the first job of a car is to get from A to B along any reasonable road.   The first job of a website is to deliver content on any reasonable platform.    So it’s important to run on a ‘go anywhere’ technology – e.g. (x)html.





A War Reporter I was at School with

2009-09-24T19:33:59Z

My generation at Hampton School turned out two war reporters.  One, Stephen Farrell, has been in the news after he was kidnapped and rescued in Afghanistan.   The other, Peter Beaumont, has recently published a book on the trauma of witnessing war horrors for years.   Last week Peter wrote about Stephen in the Guardian. I played […]

My generation at Hampton School turned out two war reporters.  One, Stephen Farrell, has been in the news after he was kidnapped and rescued in Afghanistan.   The other, Peter Beaumont, has recently published a book on the trauma of witnessing war horrors for years.   Last week Peter wrote about Stephen in the Guardian.

I played rugby with Stephen.  He was rather better at it than me, although I had plenty of enthusiasm.  When I recall his ruby-playing, I can understand how he acquired the reporter’s nickname, “Robohack”.   I do recall that the troubles in Northern Ireland were raging at the time, and like a lot of  Irish people then,  he was rather anti- British army.   That was a very long time ago.

In Stephen’s vivid account on his blog he writes:

There were some celebrations among the mainly British soldiers on the aircraft home, which soon fell silent. It later emerged that one of the rescue party was also dead, mortally wounded during the raid. His blood-soaked helmet was in front of me throughout the flight. I thanked everyone who was still alive to thank. It wasn’t, and never will be, enough.

I’m extremely  glad indeed that a brave reporter – and somebody who was a friend at school – is safe.   It’s a great shame that  both his Afghan colleague and a British soldier  died in the rescue.    Sometimes the pursuit of  truth comes at a very high cost.   I think that’s what drives the best journalists like Stephen – not so much the short lived glory of the byline – but a determination to clear away the fog and the lies, and let the truth out.   Sometimes that determination can drive journalists too far … and I think in this case Stephen probably miscalculated the risk against the benefit.

There had been some criticism of Stephen for taking this risk – but reports also suggest that the troops who took part in the rescue thought the mission was worth while.   I can see why.  Journalists are important to soldiers.  The worst sort of war to be fighting is a forgotten one.    Is the Afghan war worth fighting?  I can’t say.  But without people like Stephen, there would be no facts in the open, no public debate, and politicians would quietly forget about  the soldiers and civilians who are dying there.  Getting a true picture out to the world is important.

Hampton School produced a third journalist around that time – myself – who followed not quite such a distinguished career.    I’ve ended up writing children’s stories – a slightly different turn .   That’s fate for you.  I think stories do good for the world.  I’m happy with my lot.




Rockford’s Rock Opera

2009-09-12T13:43:37Z

Rockford’s Rock Opera is a site that has quite a bit in common with our own Storynory. It’s made in the UK and offers high quality audio stories for children. There are some differences – for example Storynory is totally free, while Rockford is “freemium” – (six episodes free, the rest paid for). But the […]

Rockford’s Rock Opera is a site that has quite a bit in common with our own Storynory. It’s made in the UK and offers high quality audio stories for children. There are some differences – for example Storynory is totally free, while Rockford is “freemium” – (six episodes free, the rest paid for). But the dedication to children’s audio over the net is the same. A couple of years ago, we helped create Rockford’s iTunes feed. Yesterday I caught up with Rockford’s impresario, Matthew Sweetapple, in his club – the Union in Soho.

Matthew is a musician as well as a marketeer – and music is one of the big features of Rockford. We were talking about our early memories of music from – dare I say it – circa 1969. We both agreed very much that there is a big overlap between the music   that children and adults enjoy listening too. Too much children’s music is sing-along, clap-along – when actually there is no need to be patronising to kids.  The same goes for stories.  Everyone enjoys a good story, however old they are. While talking about this, we  discovered that we were born within 2 days of each other. Perhaps there is something in the stars after all.

Rockford has a message about maintaining animal and plant diversity, and Matthew has struck up alliances with good causes ranging from Battersea Dog’s Home to The World Wildlife Fund. Storynory doesn’t really campaign with a message. I see stories as an end in themselves.

One thing we discussed is having a Rockford page on Storynory. A couple of years ago, I didn’t feel we were quite established enough to carry third party material, and I was worried about diluting our brand. Now I think we can benefit from widening our offering. Rockford and Storynory seem like natural partners. So look out for Rockford on Storynory.




Women’s Songs from Afghanistan

2009-08-25T09:23:23Z

A Storynory listener in Afghanistan has been traveling and collecting women's songs which give a fascinating glimpse into women's lives in this troubled part of the world. One of the things I love about Storynory, is the way that users from all over the world get in touch. Last year I had a message from Noorjahan in Afghanistan, asking for permission to translate our stories into a local language, Dari (Eastern Persian), for use in schools. Of course I agreed. More recently an instant message popped up from Noorjahan about her latest work. She has been traveling through North Eastern Afghanistan (Takhar and Badakhshaan) collecting women’s songs and formatting them into a booklet. She also has some recordings which I would love to hear. I can’t give you the lyrics, because they are in the local language, but her English introduction to her book is fascinating. It gives a glimpse into rural life in this remote and troubled part of the world. “In some houses women would sing with low voices to avoid informing the male family members who would have prevented them from singing. Some women made me promise that I wouldn’t tell any of their relative that they sung. “Fearful whispers about the hardships women go through were common. For instance once I was invited to a friend’s house in Takhaar where about 20 women had gathered to sing, but as soon as one of young girls started singing everyone in the room started crying and the music stopped. Later, I learnt that the young girl was married to a violent elderly without her agreement. “To enrich their songs, women use daira, chang and clapping. They use commonly known themes such as “Anar Anar Anare Naw Bare Man” with their own couplets. Most of these rhyming and rhythmic couplets are made on the moment and they carry a heavy weight of the thoughts of the singers. Even though Badkhashi women sung in Dari and women I met in Takhaar sung in Uzbeki, which I am not much familiar with, most of the songs were about the pain women go through in life, for example they emphasized on the relationship of mothers with their daughters. “Daughters view their mothers as their shelter against the injustice they face from the male family member and as someone who has gone through the same pains, and sometimes mothers are looked upon as helpers of the fathers and brothers in their unfairness. “Through their couplets for their mothers, directly and indirectly, young girls complain from the unfair traditions in their communities. Many Uzbeki and Dari couplets express women’s unhappiness in their marriages and about being away from their families after they marry and in most of these songs brothers and fathers are held responsible for the miseries women face. “In most rural areas, even today, women sit around and take turns to sing with daira in weddings and other parties. Talks around water springs, tailor houses and cookie cooking ceremonies provide women with the opportunity to sing. In every village, there are a few young girls and women well known for their voices and skill of singing. These women are invited to weddings and they sometimes receive some money in exchange for their songs, but as the usage of cassettes and CDs become more common, women’s songs lose their value and listeners among the people. Even though this change in people’s musical taste and their interest to new musical styles might be a natural effect of globalization, but because the original music of these areas are not preserved a huge damage is done to the richness and diversity of music. Therefore; before we lose this beautiful and rich music of the country, musicologist must try to preserve them as a national heritage for humans. Peace, Noorjahan Akbar .” Now Newsweek has picked up the story as part of its coverage of the elections in Afghanistan. From the article, I learned that Noorjah[...]



Matt Mullenweg at WordCampUK

2009-07-19T14:13:29Z

Effervescent and quotable,  Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress , lends a huge feel good factor to the occasion.   He wears a trilby hat and a handkerchief in the breast pocket of his jacket.  He speaks with animated gestures and a twinkle in his eye. He talks with enthusiasm about the next stage of WordPress […]Effervescent and quotable,  Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress , lends a huge feel good factor to the occasion.   He wears a trilby hat and a handkerchief in the breast pocket of his jacket.  He speaks with animated gestures and a twinkle in his eye. He talks with enthusiasm about the next stage of WordPress – “Facebook in a box”.  WordPress will bundle its multi-blog platform (WordPress MU) into WordPress, and with that comes  the potential to  plug-in BuddyPress and transform a WordPress installation into a social media site. His aim is to “connect all the WordPresses together” via this ecosystem.   Anyone who contributes to WordPress – say a plugin – can be ranked by their peers. Although he uses social networks like Facebook he says: “I think it’s important that for anything that’s a big part of our lives, there’s also an open source alternative.” There’s a potential problem with the current social networks: “You don’t own the fruits of your labour into the service, their interests are not always aligned with yours, and even the ones that have been good in the past, are not necessary going to be as good in the future..” He mentions communities using BuddyPress including boy scouts, churches, and down syndrome families. They might not necessarily want to be part of a bigger community like Facebook.  He adds that  you might also want to keep your social networks separate: “Things you do in the bedroom, and things you do in public, and those might be two social networks that you don’t want to connect.” He talks a little about the history of WordPress.  How in the past, if you wanted to change the title of your site, you had to hack the code. If you wanted to extend it, you had to copy and paste your plugin into a hacks file. “I feel really old when I talk about this stuff”. Making WordPress open to plugins has created a huge community of developers with 5000 plugins and 5000 themes. As a result we configure our own set-ups. “We all have our own personal WordPress. None of us are using the same software… kind of cool, but also a big challenge.” He wants to make sure that any upgraded plugin warns you if it’s going to break the system.  And now themes include more functionality they will have to be managed too.  But the trouble is this kind of automation is hard to implement. “We had been talking about automatic upgrade for five years.  We needed someone who didn’t know how hard it would be to come in and do it. That’s the story of  WordPress. I didn’t know enough to know what was hard to do.” The young founder – born in 1984 – has an eye on the future. He believes that its open source license is a “bill of rights” that helps to guarantee its future.  Even if Automattic – the developer of WordPress – goes bust, WordPress will continue to have a life of its own. He feels more comfortable now than ever before that “WordPress will be around for a very long time, even after my involvement, even possibly my own mortality.” [...]



Import Excel into WordPress

2009-09-06T14:39:39Z

Importing bulk data from an Excel Spreadsheet into WordPress is fiddly and frustrating, but it can be doneI’ve just uploaded data from a spreadsheet with hundreds of posts into WordPress. It nearly drove me crazy in the process, but I think it saved time in the end. I could see this sort of data import being useful for something like an e-commerce site. I have actually done this once before, but it didn’t seem any easier the second time.  If only for the sake of my own remembering, here’s how it’s done. First of all you need to add a plug-in of sorts to WordPress. I say “of sorts” because it’s more of a hack than a plug in proper. Many thanks to Site 2nd for this though. You can download Site 2nd’s modified CSV Import Script here. Site 2nd has modified this script from one by Zac Preble. You can read Zac’s instructions here. But you are also going to need a few Excel tricks. So here’s some full instructions. I hope they make sense to you. First of all, upload the modified CSV Import Script into /wp-admin/import/  (NOT into your plugins folder).  Now in your WordPress admin , look under Tools, Import. You will see a lot of options for importing data including one that wasn’t there before – CSV, or Comma Separated (I’m not sure what the “V” is for !). Now in Excel you need to prepare or modify your data.  You are going to need some columns. The first are going to be as follows: wp_title   wp_post_date    wp_category   wp_content    wp_tags If you need custom fields, you can add some columns on the end with any names you like Apples, Pears, Oranges, etc … these will be the keys for your custom fields. Fill your data under these columns. If you are familiar with WordPress it should be fairly obvious what goes where. Just one thing. The date has to be in this format, and it has to contain a time. 2009/01/30 12:00:00 It’s a bit of a B***er but Excel doesn’t have an option to covert dates into the this format. I had to change them all by hand. Tags should be comma separated. In the data I received, they were all under separate columns.  I had to create the tags under the wp_tag column by copying them from the other columns. I did this using an Excel formula. It’s like this: =A2 &”,” & B2 &”,” & C2 Let’s break that down. = means, well, equals. It tells Excel that this is a formula. A2 is the first cell that I want to copy over into the column called wp_tags. &”,” puts a comma after the first tag & B2 copies over cell B2 Then, to make this formula work the whole way down the column called wp_tags, you have to grab the bottom right corner of the cell where you wrote the formula, and drag it all the way down. In the next row the cells A2 B2 C2 should be converted to A3 B3 C3 etc. Now we are going to have to do something similar at the end so we can grab all our data and dump it into a text file with the extension CSV. This is the file that we will actually upload into WordPress. I did this by creating a final column and copying all the other columns that I needed, over into it, and separating the data not with a comma, but with a Pipe | as per Zac’s instructions. The formula I used looked like this: =A2 &”|” & B2 &”|” & C2 &”|” & D2 &”|” & E2 &”|” & G2 &”|” & H2 &”|” & I2 &”|” & J2 &”|” & K2 &”|” & L2 &”|” & M2 &”|” & N2 &”|” & O2 &”|” & P2 &”|” & q2 &”|” & r2 &”|” &CHAR(10) Yo[...]



WolframAlfa Isn’t Sure Most of the Time

2009-05-18T14:31:09Z

Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input.

What is the recipe for apple pie?
Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input.

Who is the Prime Minister of Great Britain?
Input interpretation:
prime minister of United Kingdom
Result:
Gordon Brown
Basic information:
official position | Prime Minister\nstart date | June 27, 2007 (1 year ago)
Sequence:More
November 1990 to May 1997 (6 years) | John Major\nMay 1997 to June 2007 (10 years) | Tony Blair\nJune 2007 to present | Gordon Brown
Government structure:
prime minister | Gordon Brown
Personal information:
full name | Gordon Brown\ndate of birth | 20 February 1951 (age: 58 years)\nplace of birth | Glasgow,Glasgow City,United Kingdom
Timeline:
Timeline

Who is the speaker of the House of Commons?
Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input.

What’s on at the Odeon Cinema Marble Arch?
Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input.

Personally I wouldn’t give £5 for it. I don’t think Google is going to fork out zillions for something that isn’t quite sure yet.




Tweets about Storynory

2009-05-14T14:31:39Z

Twitter provides a window onto the audience of our podcastIt still intrigues me up to look at the latest tweets about Storynory. Some of them are mine, but many are by listeners. It’s a window onto the world of our audience.. And it’s nice to see that some the people listening are adults. Some comments are good, some bad (one mother seems to think it’s annoying…. or does she mean her daughter being hyper?) . I try to join in the conversation where it seems to call for it – to point out that we do have pictures, for instance. Here are the latest tweets. # storynory: The story behind the story of the Wicked Uncle http://bit.ly/VhwIu (expand) half a minute ago from web · Reply · View Tweet # Valla_me_normal gaileroy: @TheNDM I parked mine listening to storynory.com and then opened the bottle of red. 2 days ago from web · Reply · View Tweet # Silver-fern-128x128_normal MiramarMike: Today is brought to you by Podcast Updates with new Storynory.com, The Perfect 10, Jon Richardson and @wossy http://ff.im/2Ny0k 2 days ago from FriendFeed · Reply · View Tweet # Awesome_avatar_normal erima: Totally digging the Storynory podcast (children’s stories read aloud) http://storynory.com/ 2 days ago from Tweetie · Reply · View Tweet # Audiotweets_04_normal CelleCast: The Wicked Uncle cellecast now live! Listen/Interact by ph:415-707-3017 http://cellecast.com/storynory/ 3 days ago from CelleCast Talkback · Reply · View Tweet # Feb-april_2007_012_2_normal JaminLietze: Free audio stories 4 kids http://storynory.com/ Thanks @sharpjacqui 5 days ago from Twitterrific · Reply · View Tweet # Hugh_100_normal storynory: I meant this url http://bit.ly/7Zlyy (expand) 7 days ago from web · Reply · View Tweet # Hugh_100_normal storynory: Storynory has a picture with every story, and some have specially commissioned sets http://bit.ly/7Zlyy (expand) 7 days ago from web · Reply · View Tweet # Dsc_0053_normal jessrisser: http://storynory.com/archives/ has audio stories for kids but no pictures. So sad… 7 days ago from web · Reply · View Tweet # Hugh_100_normalCopy_of_100_0015_normal storynory: @JennieTanner Thank you ! I’d never thought of our listeners as a giant back up before. There’s a new story every week. 8 days ago from web · Reply · View Tweet · Thread Show ConversationHide Conversation # Copy_of_100_0015_normalHugh_100_normal JennieTanner: @storynory Don’t tell my son! I think I’ve downloaded most of them already! If u lose ur archive u can always contact me!! 8 days ago from TweetDeck · Reply · View Tweet · Thread Show ConversationHide Conversation # Hugh_100_normal storynory: @JennieTanner There are over 150 stories on the storynory 9 days ago from web · Reply · View Tweet # Vpprectangle_normalTahoe_normal vppartners: @p2173 Try Storynory – brit voice not too annoying. Probably best for 10 and under – free! http://ow.ly/4YXC 10 days ago from HootSuite · Reply · View Tweet · Thread Show ConversationHide Conversation # Audiotweets_04_normal CelleCast: The Monkey and the Boar cellecast now live! Listen/Interact by ph:415-707-3017 http://cellecast.com/storynory/ 10 days ago from CelleCast Talkback · Reply · View Tweet # Photo_579_normal anaed: Lauren hyper and annoying in room with her listening to storynory, meditations next! 11 days ago from TwitterFon · Reply · View Tweet # N514188328_461657_9676_1__normal MarleyGang: @RebelLemming Thanks!!! I just found a bunch of classics from storynory.com too. Going to the site now! 11 days ago from web · Reply · View Tweet # Copy_of_100_0015_normal JennieTanner: How many stories are there on the Storynory website? 11 days ago from TweetDeck · Reply · View Tweet # Hugh_100_normal storynory: @PockhuhnFilm Great, I didn’t know you could catch [...]



The Story of the Wicked Uncle

2009-05-13T12:58:25Z

Storynory has a Wicked Uncle

Storynory has developed a friendly alliance with an ecommerce site called Wicked Uncle.

Wicked Uncle sells children’s toys. It’s not aimed at kids, or even at parents, but at uncles and god parents who are terrible at remembering birthdays. It remembers the date for them, and even suggests a selection of gifts suitable for the child’s age.

I met Wicked Uncle’s owner, Mike O’Shea after a mutual friend put us together. We thought it would be nice to do something together and so I wrote a story about a Wicked Uncle which you can listen to here.

The uncle in question is more irresponsible than wicked, but all the same, you probably wouldn’t want him to look after your kids for the weekend. Mike’s previous business, Splendour.com, which sells lingerie, was probably just a touch more wicked.