Wallpaper April Fools Prank

It’s April Fools day tomorrow so I wanted to share one of my favourite april fools pranks.

When a close friend is away from their computer, minimise all their windows and start moving all the icons around on their desktop into random places. Take a screenshot of this new disorganised desktop and save it as an image. Now go back to the desktop and move the icons around once again. Once you’ve finished, set this screenshot you took earlier as the desktop wallpaper. For extra laughs, hide the system taskbar.

Happy April Fools!

Using more than 10 2p coins not legal tender?

I was researching international trade on Wikipedia for a essay assignment when I went slightly off topic and landed on the article for Pounds Sterling. If you want to find out all about the history of sterling that’s where to look.

Anyway, this section on legal tender really surprised me. “When settling a restaurant bill after consuming the meal, or other debt the laws of legal tender do apply”

The article then goes on to give a maximum usable legal tender for each of the coins:

Coin Maximum usable as legal tender
£5 (post-1990 crown) unlimited
£2 unlimited
£1 unlimited
50p £10
25p (pre-1990 crown) £10
20p £10
10p £5
5p £5
2p 20p
1p 20p

Now I’m not a lawyer but as I understand it, that means using eleven 2p coins at once (a total of 22p) is not legal tender (For US visitors the exchange rate is 1 british pence = 2 american cents).

Of course, we tend not to even bother using 1ps and 2ps these days: it is barely even worth collecting the obligatory pennys change from every transaction. But it is interesting that coins have a maximum legal tender.

It confuses me why the US keeps using dollar bills: the smallest value note used in the UK is worth £5 (10 US dollars). And even the £5 note isn’t dispensed by cash machines any more and is rarely used. Perhaps it’s time we switched to using a £5 coin and scraped the 1p and the 2p. Or the Monster Raving Loony Party suggested the 99p coin as a way to get around the problem of penny changes.

BBC News

The new BBC News website just looks absolutely fantastic. This comes just weeks after the redesign of the BBC homepage. The editors wrote a bit about the new design on their blog. But its a shame that the BBC don’t update the design of old articles on their site although I suppose that it’s nice they’ve kept the old pages as they were originally intended. Congratulations to the BBC News web team.

On the topic of BBC News, check out Bill Bailey’s BBC News Rave.

Google Mail Trend Visualiser

The Google Mail Trend Visualiser is pretty cool. It’s a Python script which connects to your Gmail account using IMAP and then produces some pretty graphs, tables and distributions on information such as who is emailing you, subject lines, mailing lists and so on.

Check out the example output for the Enron e-mail dataset and if you’re interested, have a look at the getting started guide. I’ve tried installing this but so far no luck… I get “ImportError: No module named utils” but I’m running Python 2.3 on Windows… your mileage may vary.

Instant Messenger Wishlist

I love instant messaging for it’s speed, low costs and ease of keeping in touch with others. But here’s my wishlist:

  • Facebook Friend List: The main reason I use MSN Messenger because all of my friends live on it. Not because MSN is a superior network; in fact it can often be frustrating when the MSN network goes down across the world. It really doesn’t matter how technically superior your protocol or client may be – it’s whether you can actually get the job done: to chat with the people you want to. Saying that, my friends list does not live on MSN – in fact my MSN contact list is a small subset. Instead, it lives on Facebook. For me, the perfect IM client would allow me to everybody on my friends list – not just those on the MSN list. So support for the Facebook Friends list.
  • Distributed Network: Nothing is more frustrating than MSN Messenger downtime. It’s true that in many ways it’s positive: I wouldn’t be surprised if GDP and grades would double overnight if MSN Messenger went down. But there are the times you really need it and it’s just not working. Jabber/XMPP has a distributed network but it falls short on the lack of a decent client and users.
  • Integration with Social Web: I often get invites to events via Facebook these days and many of my friends also maintain blogs or “Twitters”. It would be great for these to be integrated into IM: after all IM is a social utility.
  • Selectively Online: Until recently, it has been impossible to talk to people on MSN Messenger without first coming online. That means when you just want a bit of help with your maths homework on matrix transformation, you open yourself up to conversations with the people you met at summer camp five years ago or a distant cousin, who as much as you’d love to chat to, the assignment is due in in a couple of hours. It’s why college students both love and hate IM as it is built for procrastination. These days, you can “appear offline” in order to achieve the same effect, but wouldn’t it be great if there was some way of appearing online to just your maths class?
  • Smarter Statuses: You might be reading about the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands or the history of the Circle Line on the London Underground. Or perhaps you’re filling in a tax return online and setting up direct debits on your bank website. In the first case, you probably don’t mind being distracted, but in the second case it could be a costly distraction. It would be fantastic if a smarter IM programme could try and work out whether you want to be distracted. If I’m working on a 10,000-word essay due in tomorrow morning, the IM programme could be more subtle: silencing alerts and displaying messages as a system tray icon rather than a flashing taskbar item perhaps.

Apple EULA forbid install of Safari on Windows

This is pretty funny. Apparently after Apple installed Safari through the backdoor on millions of computers, it turns out the EULA for Safari actually said that users are only permitted to install Safari on “a single Apple-labeled computer at a time.” In other words, it’s illegal to install “Safari for Windows” on a Windows computer.

Now, if everybody has indeed installed “Safari for Windows” knowingly in the ways that Apple fans claim: users read through the dialogs and specifically choose to install Safari, it is a surprise that it has taken a week for somebody to notice this clause in the EULA. I mean, if a couple of million of people have agreed to a license they obviously haven’t read (and this clause is near the top), what are the chances that anybody even bothered reading the software update dialog, finding out what Safari even was and whether they wanted it on their computer?

The EULA has been updated since this story broke.

Earth Hour

Tonight is Earth Hour – an opportunity to send out a big message about our commitment to cutting our energy usage and safeguarding the future of our planet. Earth Hour is asking you to turn off your lights and non-essential electrical appliances at 8pm (your local time) tonight.

The first Earth Hour was held in Sydney, Australia between 7:30 pm and 8:30 pm on 31 March 2007. The 2007 Earth Hour is estimated to have cut Sydney’s mains electricity consumption by between 2.1% and 10.2% for that hour, with as many as 2.2 million people taking part.

You’ll all have noticed that Google has turned the lights out on their homepage today!

Of course: this won’t really cut energy usage or help the climate. Because the power stations will still be running and producing the same amount of energy. But this is an opportunity to send out a really strong message to others and to our neighbours and to raise awareness of climate change issues. So I’ll be participating in Earth Hour from 8pm to 9pm tonight and I call on readers to join in!

document.getElementsByClassName compatibility

Firefox 3 and Safari 3.1 introduce an important new compatibility problem for many webpages. The problem originates from Prototype.js’s document.getElementsByChildName function which is implemented like this:

if (!document.getElementsByClassName)
document.getElementsByClassName = function(instanceMethods){
// …
};

The problem is that the native browser implementation works differently from Prototype’s function which was created before the document.getElementsByClassName specification was written. The native implementation returns a live nodelist whilst Prototype’s function returned a object array.

This compatibility issue affects websites using versions of Prototype.js older than 1.6 as well as other scripts which have used the document.getElementsByClassName function (including Reflection.js versions 1.8 and older).

Prototype.js users should use $$ or Element#select instead.

For my script, Reflection.js, I have renamed my function to document.myGetElementsByClassName. Sure it’s ugly but it means we preserve compatibility with older browsers which don’t support the new document.getElementsByClassName function natively. Also, we don’t need to test for whether the browser supports the function natively (and use a different codepath depending on whether a nodelist/object is returned). The downsides of course are that we can’t benefit from the faster native implementation.

Anyway, hope this helps someone out there.

Online Social Networks and Email

The Economist runs a fantastic article this week about online social networks. The article compares online social networks today to web-based email services last decade.

I think it’s interesting how Facebook isn’t actually worth much; the biggest asset of Facebook perhaps is the social graph. This is the “web” of connection between different people. I’ve discussed this in the past, my online social graph lives on Facebook. This is why I would instantly switch to an IM client which utilised Facebook’s social graph with a seamless interface to other IM networks.

But it is true that the quality of social graphs tend to decrease over time. It takes time and effort to update your social graph which nobody does. I’ve actually seen it in my usage of Facebook applications. Some applications will ask you questions about your friends and probably more often than not, I barely even know the person it’s asking me about.

But it looks like the guys at Mozilla Thunderbird have a fantastic new vision for e-mail as an online social network:

“E-mail in the wider sense is the most important social network,” says David Ascher, who manages Thunderbird, a cutting-edge open-source e-mail application, for the Mozilla Foundation, which also oversees the popular Firefox web browser.

That is because the extended in-box contains invaluable and dynamically updated information about human connections. On Facebook, a social graph notoriously deteriorates after the initial thrill of finding old friends from school wears off. By contrast, an e-mail account has access to the entire address book and can infer information from the frequency and intensity of contact as it occurs. Joe gets e-mails from Jack and Jane, but opens only Jane’s; Joe has Jane in his calendar tomorrow, and is instant-messaging with her right now; Joe tagged Jack “work only” in his address book. Perhaps Joe’s party photos should be visible to Jane, but not Jack.

He goes on to talk about privacy:

This kind of social intelligence can be applied across many services on the open web. Better yet, if there is no pressure to make a business out of it, it can remain intimate and discreet. Facebook has an economic incentive to publish ever more data about its users, says Mr Ascher, whereas Thunderbird, which is an open-source project, can let users minimise what they share. Social networking may end up being everywhere, and yet nowhere.