Turn Flash Off in OS X: NoScript for Firefox and SafariBlock for Safari

January 10th, 2007 § 10

One of the banes of the modern web are Flash advertisements. They are popping up all over the place, from the New York Times to our beloved MacSurfer.com. I have nothing against advertising but I don't like anything which makes it impossible to read or difficult to work on one's computer.

I've been searching for a way to easily turn flash off yet keep my computer stable. With the amount of Flash video turning up on the web, I am not as tempted as I used to be to just rip the Flash code right out of my plugin folder.

In any case, for work reasons, I have to keep Flash around just to see what other people are doing with their sites.

Until two weeks ago, I still hadn't found anything lightweight to kill Flash in either Safari or Firefox, my two primary browsers. But good things come in twos. There are two great plugins to kill Flash, one for Firefox and one for Safari.

Amazingly enough, neither have destabilised my browser.

Minus the flashing lights and used car salesman in the side bars, I might even start liking the web again.

Turn Flash Off in OS X: NoScript for Firefox and SafariBlock for Safari Continues »

Le Monde moves to WordPress

November 28th, 2006 § 1

Who says the French don’t know what they’re doing? I wasn’t surprised to see Le Monde move to WordPress. In fact, I was surprised to see them on Typepad in the first place.

Le Monde just relaunched their blogging services. Their several thousand blogs are now powered by WordPress (they used to be on TypePad).

Why would a large French media organisation want to hamstring their operation with a cooperation with a closed-source American company which would like to become the Microsoft of weblogs?

Answer: they got out as soon as they got a chance. Good move.

For example Skipper had about the same negative experience of Typepad which I’ve had (and continue to have):

We cancelled our paid Typepad account about a week ago, after only 3 months of use. After using the typepad for only a few months, it became clear that we could not continue to run a professional people search and public record blog for our visitors using their unreliable service.

We installed WordPress directly on our site at http://www.skipease.com/blog and couldn’t be happier. We got out just in time to save our blog information, but now we are 3 months behind in building our traffic thanks to Typepad.

New and experienced bloggers would do well to take the time to register a domain name of their own and install WordPress or other blogging software directly on server space provided by a reliable service provider. We should have done that right from the beginning.

Absolutely right.

As I mentioned to Anil Dash recently, the only thing Typepad could have going for it over any other weblog system right now is support. And due to the shoddy support from Brenna and her crew, they don’t even have that.

As usual the rot starts from the head, the head of Typepad Doug Bryan being extraordinarily unhelpful. Instead of issuing instructions for someone to enable a couple of templates for me (five minutes work), Doug Bryan turned in into a three week correspondence course on how not to help customers.

Unbelievably shoddy service.

iSync with Multiple Telephones – Mastering Apple’s Address Book

November 18th, 2006 § 1

After three months with two telephones and two weeks with three telephones, I couldn’t take it any more. My Apple Address Book was a mess. Lots of numbers without names. Lots of names which didn’t make any sense to me. Some names on one phone but not another.

I have clients and a circle of friends and colleagues in five countries – five locations – so the disorganisation was getting to be very confusing.

Steps to clean up:

iSync with Multiple Telephones – Mastering Apple’s Address Book Continues »

Printing PDF Documents to Read in Hard Copy

November 18th, 2006 § 1

Often when printing out PDF books, I find that there are often graphics in the margin which would go through ink cartridges very quickly.

Preview-Crop

If you are using Mac OS X, you can just use the select tool – command-3 – and then choose to crop. Crop is command-K.

Nasty black/red border gone. If the PDF is encrypted you won’t be able to save it, but you will be able to print it once on your printer. Buckets of ink saved.

This little hint is important to me as I almost never read long works on the computer screen anymore. I print them out to be read offline and where I can easily make notes on the pages.

There are probably similar techniques which would work with Adobe Acrobat or Acrobat Reader.

The next thing I do is set up my printer to print fast (which uses less ink and is much faster) and to put two vertical pages side by side on a single A4 or 8 1/2 x 11 page. This saves time, ink, paper and storage space. Most ebooks and reports use large enough type that one ends up with material which looks more like a book and is easier to read.

Ageism in Slovakia: Recruitment

October 28th, 2006 § 8

The elephant in the room about which people are reluctant to talk is the effect of age group on calibre of candidates. Eighty per cent of the employees at IBM Slovakia are under 25. Similar numbers apply to Dell (I was at their autumn party at the Design Factory in Bratislava and saw the phenomenon with my own eyes). I don’t have the Siemens numbers.

In my own recruitment project, I had a mixed group of resumés for what ended up being two positions. CV’s for the most part came with date of birth. The best candidates were almost invariably younger. I had no bias against hiring someone a little older.

My inclination for a more mature candidate went against the recommendation of my recruitment manager. He recommended hiring young and training up. But I was specifically seeking someone around 30 with good experience who would be ready to work. I’d rather not lose my time in training and we could afford to pay well for someone who can do the work properly straight away.

Amazingly enough the older candidates for the most part were unexceptional. The work they had done in the past was not great. Their salary demands were excessive in line with their talents. They had a bunch of skills next to useless to Foliovision (.net, ASP, Flash, java: what we needed was CSS, PHP, Rails if you’re interested).

For the most part, their demo sites were atrocious flash messes. In the best case some horrible CMS with some very basic graphics slapped on top of its out of the box layout.

One older candidate (thirty-four) who I interviewed turned out to be a catastrophe with made up stories of employment and perennial conflicts with his boss. A slightly older candidate (just over thirty) whom we took on a short trial didn’t turn out well either: competent but very inflexible in her way of doing things with no inclination to learn new things.

In the social scene, I’ve noticed similar traits as well in the different age groups. The people who are inclined to work hard and learn here are the young. These findings are only in Bratislava. I have not yet been to East or South Slovakia.

So despite my best intentions of hiring older and more experienced workers, I had to follow George’s advice and take on younger individuals. For instance, our new junior programmer is just twenty-one. While he is somewhat less reliable than an older person (he sometimes forgets appointments both in and out of work), he does some very good work and learns very quickly.

Recruiting Standards and Performance: IBM, Siemens, AT&T in Slovakia

October 28th, 2006 § 0

Today when out on a beautiful autumn afternoon walk near the castle in Bratislava, I ran into someone else working in the IT sector.

We fell to speaking about international companies coming into Bratislava in the IT sector. IBM has moved 1800 jobs to Slovakia in fulfillment and logistics.

Apparently, IBM employees are free to use IM (instant messenger) as well as personal email during work hours. They are judged on performance. Over at AT&T Slovakia, the network administrators band IM clients full stop period, while using personal email is a punishable offense.

Siemens in Slovakia has something like 7000 employees doing varied things, but also including a customer service section.

IBM pay starts around 30,000 Sk/month (about 810 euros). Siemens pay starts around 18,000 (about 480 euros).

I have a pretty idea of which company is going to get the better talent. I have a pretty idea of which company will provide better service.

Curiously enough my acquaintance at IBM is a graduate of the top commerce university in Slovakia, with a year of study in an international business school in Western Europe.

My acquaintance at Siemens is a trained teacher, with a degree in Geology.

I respect and admire teachers but one has to believe that IBM has set the bar higher here.

This was very useful knowledge. At my company, we want to attract personnel as good or better as those going to work in the major international companies. To do that, we have to provide a congenial work environment. We also have to provide better opportunities and better salaries. From what I can see, we are on track to do so.

But with IBM hiring thousands at a time, the battle for talent will be fierce. We are not really competing for the same personnel as Siemens, so they are less of a factor.


We also talked about motivation for bringing the jobs to Slovakia and Bratislava. The savings in salary for the international company in comparison to personnel costs in Vienna. I imagine people of the same caliber as the IBM crowd would cost about 2000 to 2500 euros per month. The big savings is as much on the social charges as on the salary. The employer in Slovakia will pay about 400 euros in social charges on the Slovakian salary. The employer in Austria will pay 2000 euros in social charges on the Austrian salary.

End cost to IBM of high calibre junior personnel in Slovakia = 1200 euros/month
End cost to IBM of high calibre junior personnel in Austria = 4000 euros/month

Styling Images in WordPress

October 7th, 2006 § 0

There's some good advice on styling images in WordPress over on Pearson's Cutline Theme*.

I’m glad you asked! Cutline has been constructed so that images that do not have classes applied to them will still be styled. In fact, they’ll receive the same styling as any image that receives the right class, meaning that the image will be right-aligned with a frame. Oh, and text will wrap around the image, just like it does here. See? You don’t even have to go out of your way to be fancy with Cutline, and that’s how we like it.
Update: As of September 28th, 2006, Cutline has been revised so that unstyled images no longer receive default styling. This is a move that I hated to make on many fronts, but I also realize that it’s just really inconvenient to have every image styled by default.

It's not that tough to add a class to an image tag however. I much prefer my system built on wrapping the image in an h5 tag, and styling the h5. Here's an example.

Anne Schmitt
Anne

Why? This way you can add centred captions to your image.

Syntax is h5 > a href > img > close a href > br > text > close h5.

CSS for the above is:

div.entry h5 {font-size: 10px; font-weight: normal;
margin: 0; padding: 0; margin-left: 4px; text-align: center; clear: both;}

h5 img {}

div.entry h5 a, div.entry h5 a:visited, div.entry h5 a:hover
{text-decoration: none; color: black;}

Highly recommended.

*Unlike most people, I actually really dislike this theme and find it quite primitive. I suppose that makes it a better starting point for somebody wishing to build something more sophisticated.

Internet Boom – Bust – Boom

September 18th, 2006 § 0

If you’ve ever tried to save music videos from your browser onto your hard drive, you’ve run into then name Akamai. Usually the final video, once you’ve removed all the frames and html and everything surrounding it, is hosted from an Akamai address with a bunch of numbers as the URL.

It turns out Akamai is a very old compamy, originally founded in 1995.

Like other Net infrastructure plays, Akamai got swept up in dot-com fever. Following its 1999 IPO, the stock price soared from $26 in late October to $345 on New Year’s Eve. But when the Internet bubble burst, many of Akamai’s customers went bust or just disappeared. Then Lewin was killed on September 11 on American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York. In 2001, Akamai lost $2.4 billion; a year later, the share price bottomed at just 56¢.

Akamai stock has tripled over the past year to $43.

Lessons to be taken here:

  • the value of persistence
  • the foolishness of financial markets (i.e. the lemming effect)
  • the value over time of good ideas
  • the importance of load spreading for speed in web applications (i.e. almost all the big companies including Google, Apple and Microsoft are using Akamai – if there were an easier or cheaper way, they’d be using it)

Internet Boom – Bust – Boom Continues »