The One with the Thoughts of Frans

Archive for March, 2010

Acceptable Advertisements

I agree with everything that Faruk Ateş wrote about ad blockers and flash blockers, but I would like to add one more point, with which I presume he will agree; I think it’s implied by his writing by referring to certain advertisements as being beautiful and fitting with the content, but never explicified. My point is simple: the advertisements have to be compatible with the type of media I’m viewing.

I don’t block Flash as it typically crashes separately from Opera on Linux, nor does it seem to slow things down for me. I don’t typically block ads, either — though it is really annoying if one ad is making the entire page load slowly. However, I will generally close a page while it’s loading if I am annoyed by the ads. When do ads annoy me? Simple: when they do not fit the type of content I’m looking at. If I want to read some text, I’m fine with static textual or image-based ads. I don’t want animation, although I suppose it’s possible to change ads now and then without it being too obtrusive. Anything that utilizes Flash typically breaks these rules and comes with distracting animation. Worse, it often even comes with sound. It doesn’t really matter what I’m doing; as long as I’ve got my sound system turned on I don’t want any sound to come from my speakers that I did not explicitly ask for.

Now if I’m going to watch a video, like on Uitzendinggemist, then I’m perfectly fine with a video-based advertisement with audio.

After all, I’m requesting video with sound. A 10-15 second advertisement prior to actually viewing the particular video I requested is perfectly acceptable. Similarly, I welcome short audio clips or endorsements in podcasts if they help pay for the podcast. But don’t start playing such messages at random. Although I don’t frequently use Firefox for regular browsing, my favorite extension is StopAutoPlay. This isn’t just about ads of course and applies just as much to people who decide to stick background music on their site, or to start playing videos automatically (I’m looking at you, YouTube), though if I opened a video somewhere it’s usually not too hard to figure out where the noise is coming from.

What could be an acceptable form of a video-based advertisement on a non-moving Internet page would be something akin to YouTube embedded videos. These don’t autoplay, but you have to click the play button first.

Everything I said applies just as much to things that aren’t advertisements, but too many advertisements seem to be made as annoyingly as possible on purpose. I hope that nobody has ever gained any business from such advertisements. They sure haven’t from me.


Tubes Beats Yahoo Pipes: Feed Fixup

Although it has only been a couple of weeks since I started work on Tubes, the mechanism I put in place to output feeds is already serving me very well. So well that it’s approaching all of my personal needs. This may potentially be bad for other people, but it’s great for me. Besides, I put the code out there; it should be easy enough to fork it if you wish it to do more! Bitbucket is also said to make it easy to merge such changes in later. I should also point out that the large majority of the work was of course done by the people who made SimplePie.

Anyway, I wanted to subscribe to the UN News podcast. To my surprise, gPodder was incapable of handling it. No surprise, as it turns out, because it’s not even proper according to the iTunes enclosure specification (although I imagine it works in iTunes). SimplePie had a nice get_enclosure() function already, so the first step, adding a proper enclosure to my Tube’s output feed, was a matter of minutes. The UN also fails to specify any size information, however, which I can’t say I was too enthused about in my trusty gPodder interface. Another 10 minutes or so later, I finished adding some cURL magic to my application. I should probably stash it away into a class later and see if I can somehow make it utilize SimplePie’s cache system to minimize useless traffic, but for now I just stuck it straight in the feed generation code. Now the UN feed is transformed from something gPodder couldn’t handle into something that essentially fixes all the UN did wrong. Thank you SimplePie for providing this great foundation!

Before (RSS):

  <title>UN Daily News 12 March 2010</title>
  <itunes:author>United Nations Radio</itunes:author>
  <itunes:subtitle>News and features from United Nations Radio.</itunes:subtitle>
  <enclosure url="" length="" type="audio/mpeg" />
  <pubDate>Fri, 12 Mar 2010 11:42:32 EST</pubDate>

After (Atom):

   <name>United Nations Radio</name>
  <title>UN Daily News 12 March 2010</title>
  <summary> </summary>
  <link rel="enclosure" type="audio/mpeg" href="" length="6720384" />
  <link rel="alternate" type="text/html" href=""/>

I realize the alternate link currently has the wrong type attribute, which I’ll look into fixing, but at least my gPodder can handle the feed now.

I also set up a little demo so you can check the difference with the original feed for yourselves. I’d be curious to hear how different podcatchers handle both feeds.


A Morass of Rules and Regulations: Dutch Immigration Policy

Nearly a month ago, the Dutch cabinet fell. Because of this, national elections will be held on June 9, 2010. Dutch immigration policy plays an important role in these elections, though there is no real debate on the matter. The immigration debate (or lack thereof) is controlled almost exclusively by Geert Wilders and his PVV.

A couple of days ago, ppk published his party profile of the PVV. One commenter remarked, “On immigration, the CDA/ VVD ideas a couple of Cabinets ago were novel and more creative compared to the rest of Western Europe.”

This pushed my buttons and I replied that I prefer to call it “illegal fascist xenophobic nonsense.” I don’t think fascist was the right adjective, but other than that I stand by my statement. However, especially the xenophobic part of my opinion regarding Dutch immigration policies embodies much more than merely language and cultural tests, and the income requirement. This post will list what I consider most important regarding Dutch immigration policy, how I think the implementation is horrible even if you do agree with the basic principle behind all of the rules, and to a lesser extent how I also think the principle behind some of the rules is improper.
Read the rest of this entry »

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Microsoft and Video on The Web

Opera employee Haavard posted an open letter to Microsoft regarding video on the web. I’m just going to quote the last and best part.

I know you are a patent licensor in the MPEG LA, and this would actually make your actions even more powerful and meaningful. You could show just how serious you are about interoperability on the Web by supporting the free and open codec rather than the one that would best suit your short-term interests.

This is a unique opportunity for you to win back the hearts and minds of people who might have otherwise dismissed you as carrying on with “business as usual”.

Are you up for it?


Lighttpd and PHP on Ubuntu

I prefer Lighttpd over Apache on my personal computers because of its phenomenal speed and reduced memory usage. It’s surprisingly easy to get Lighttpd and PHP running on Ubuntu. For an extensive guide, including how to enable MySQL, Ubuntu Geek is the place to be.

This entry only deals with the basics of getting Lighttpd up and running with PHP. To get started, use:

sudo apt-get install lighttpd php5-cgi

Then run lighty-enable-mod and enter fastcgi.

Then you can edit /etc/lighttpd/lighttpd.conf. Stick the following at the end:

fastcgi.server = ( “.php” => ((
“bin-path” => “/usr/bin/php5-cgi”,
“socket” => “/tmp/php.socket”

Recommended: sudo apt-get install php5-curl php5-tidy to be able to run Tubes with all functionality, and of course any other modules you might like. There’s nothing to it; you don’t even have to edit php.ini.

When you’re done customizing things to your liking, use sudo /etc/init.d/lighttpd restart to see the changes.


The Way Alternative Text Should Be Rendered

Vlad Alexander describes how browsers mess up horribly on alternative text. I noticed the deficiencies in Opera and Firefox before, but what Webkit does is simply ridiculous. I don’t entirely agree with him since I don’t think that the alternative content should display without any indication that it’s alternative text whatsoever. I consider Opera’s behavior best in this regard (as opposed to the obtrusive icons most other browsers throw in there), except for the part where it applies width and height meant for images to the text thus cutting them off.


Opera 10.50

For those of you who read my blog, use Opera and don’t follow the latest releases, Opera 10.50 for Windows was released yesterday. Download it now!