Category Archives: Site design

Overall design (eg structure)

Database war stories

Databases have long been part and parcel of web development, but it seems that some of the big 2.0 sites have a few things to say on databases. Some love them, others hate them, and all are dealing with really big databases.

Second Life (database has grown and grown and split), Bloglines and (lovers of flatfiles), Flickr (almost a Tb of data – and we’re ignoring images here), NASA, Craigslist (dealing with masses of data), O’Reilly (doing interesting data mining / transformation), Google (not much gets said here), Findory and Amazon (Findory try to keep it all in RAM), finally MySQL repsonds saying “Flat files suck”

Broken URLs still abound

The mob I work for, eVision, are looking for an extra person, so they put an ad on Seek for the position.

Seek’s URLs are broken. The only way to get a URL that you can link to or send to somebody is to use their own “Email this job to a friend” feature and send it to yourself. That way you get a sensible, working URL, such as:

rather than the broken one you get by copying it off the browser (even after clicking through the above), which is something like:

which goes to an error page that complains that your browser doesn’t take cookies (even if your browser does take cookies).

Dick Smith Electronics’ otherwise excellent web site suffers from a similar problem.

Jakob Nielsen’s article URL as UI remains as relevant — and as unfollowed — as ever.

AJAX and Screenreaders: Screw the blind, this is the new web!

Sitepoint tries to figure out how well the Web2.0 works for blind people.

Basically, no US gov website, and none that loves blind people, will be able to implement a AJAX-only site – a noscript verson will have to be available. And this stems from the fact that it’s too hard to make the various screenreaders act in a standard way in response to changes to the document. Which sounds to me to be a perfect problem for World Wide Web Consortium standardisation.

Ajax = Chocolate = Happiness

FogBugz 4½ has been released, so that amazing new ajax features can ship:

In the last year or so a lot of web developers have been working hard on improving their applications using techniques now known as Ajax. These applications use JavaScript code so that when you click on something, you get immediate feedback, rather than waiting for the web server to send you a new page at its own leisurely pace. When they do need more information from the server, they often download the small fragment they need, rather than waiting for the server to build a whole new page. The net result is faster, crisper feedback that makes you feel in control and creates “subjective well-being,” a.k.a. happiness, a feeling that is biochemically NO DIFFERENT THAN EATING LARGE QUANTITIES OF CHOCOLATE.

Who doesn’t like chocolate? – what kind of domain name is that?

I found this ad for an amazing site when doing a google search:

      Sponsored Links
Photos Of Australia
Find out everything you need to
about this amazing destination!

Someone has just paid money so that I’d click on that link, and see that site. Look at the photos along the bottom. First, there’s a left-hand-drive vehicle, then a naff sunshade and beachchairs at sunset, followed by a grey road with a yellow centreline driving through a conifer forrest, and finally some people skiing past a maple or something. Search the entire continent, you’re not going to find any of that stuff.

I don’t know if it’s covered in ads, perhaps it is (my ad blocking works really well, and there’s no way in hell I’m going to some dodgy site with IE).

Somebody: Please explain what the hell is going on here? I’d especially love an economist to explain what the heck that site is about – rational decision making my shiny metal butt.

Update: This is a Made For Adsense site. Still doesn’t make sense, but whatever. They too shall pass.

Where are the aliens?

Coffee drinkers are easier to persuade.

Fermi’s Paradox is explained by aliens getting adicited to computer gaming.

Strom reckons he knows how to make money with a website: ads! Plus a little other stuff.

An Irishman has a rather good summery of how to negotiate an intial salary.

Cross-platform rounded corners without images, extra markup nor CSS. The holy grail of web-design dweebs.

Stupid broken web sites

Dear Australian Communications and Media Authority,

Re: Sorry, your browser is not supported.

There is no godly reason why you should have a web site that only supports IE, or at least doesn’t support Firefox. (I’d love to check it in Safari, but the iCapture Safari checker is down at the moment.)

This is particularly stupid since part of your responsibilities include Internet services in Australia. Fix it please.


Looking for Quicktime Pro

I really don’t appreciate nag screens. Quicktime nags me to buy Quicktime Pro, but when I click the Why Go Pro button to let Apple put their case for handing over the readies, all they’ll tell me is that it’s available for Mac, when I’m using Windows.

I also like the bit where they ask me not to steal movies, or “in ten years, it will cost $50(2) to see a movie in the theater”, with (2) being a footnote saying “(2) Exaggerated estimate.” Oh, very helpful. Not much of an estimate then, if it’s exaggerated, surely.

Apple storeSo anyway I found the link to buy Quicktime Pro for Windows, even though version 7 is still in beta. It then asks me which country I’m in, and when I choose Australia, throws me onto an Australian Apple shop page, with no hint of where to find Quicktime to buy it. I eventually had to use a search box within the shop site to find it again.


(Not that I’m buying it at the moment, you understand. Just looking for ranting ammunition.)

System capacity planning for major incidents

Transport for London web siteThe terrible events in London overnight do have some relevance to us as humble IT workers. While there are many critical jobs performed in such situations by the emergency services, communications and other systems are also important.

Obviously top of the pile in this respect are the systems dealing with the emergency services themselves: their communications and despatch systems — and we know that mobile phone networks were affected by the chaos. A few notches down, but growing more significant, are the web sites (and background systems that feed them) to inform the public.

While the BBC News web site seemed to generally cope as events unfolded (I’m sure they’re well-versed at this kind of incident), their live video and audio streams were swamped. Likewise CNN responded okay, though ITN was sluggish. The Transport For London site didn’t respond for some time, before they switched to a plainer, less server-intensive basic information page.

Last week Connex in Melbourne suffered a shutdown, and similarly, their web site didn’t cope. While most disruptions are also communicated to SMS subscribers, the shutdown itself was caused by problems with the same systems used for sending out the alerts. Melbourne’s public transport umbrella site Metlink was responding, but the problem there was a lack of updates.

As the web becomes more pervasive, and media outlets also use it to gather information, capacity planning for peak demand becomes important. Obviously no organisation wants to spend up big on servers that never get used, but for mass communication of detailed information, the web is cheaper than employing operators or even installing masses of phone lines, and will play an increasing role in keeping the general public informed of events.

The bandwidth hogs at

It seems like some others my sites are being bombarded with hits from a mob called AllResearch. Apparently one of the things they do is hit RSS feeds and suck down every page referenced, for some kind of indexing. Judging from the amount of traffic they’re burning up, they suck big-time, in fact. I mean, indexers usually put in a lot of hits on web sites, but these guys are hitting more than 10 times as much as the next one down the list, MSN.

These are the top hitters over at

  • 45541
  • 3448
  • 3110
  • 1328

Time for a little .htaccess magic:

order allow,deny
deny from 38.144.36.
allow from all