Blog Archive

24 July 2008

JavaScript: The Missing Manual (featuring jQuery)

I know what you’re thinking. “Three posts in one week Ruscoe? You neglect your blog for all this time, managing to squeeze out a maximum of one post per month and now all of a sudden you’ve got blogorrhea? What gives!?!”

Well – to answer your question – “what gives” is that I’m not as busy as I have been so far this year. I’ve pretty much finished going to the gigs (actually, there are a couple more coming up this year), I’ve partied like it’s 1985, I’ve moved house, and I’ve reviewed two books for O’Reilly’s Missing Manual series, which is what this post is about...

Google Apps: The Missing ManualGoogle Apps: The Missing Manual was finally released on 27th May 2008. It’s a book aimed at people who want to get the most out of Google’s online applications, such as Google Docs, Gmail, Google Talk, Calendar, iGoogle, Page Creator, Google Apps and Google Sites.

Reviewing a book like this, which covers Google’s ever-changing online services, meant that I had to keep right up-to-speed with all the features as they were being released. Even after finishing each chapter, I kept emailing the editor with updates when Google changed the Google Docs toolbar and Google Speadsheets kept adding new features! Of course, as soon as the book was released it was inevitable that some parts of it would already be out-dated. That obviously doesn’t mean the book was immediately worthless though. Only a few parts now contain minor errors, and it’s mainly omissions as new features have been added rather than outright inaccuracies. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed reviewing this book and am pleased that all my (what many people probably see as being useless) knowledge about Google could finally be put to good use!

You can read a bit more about it on Google Blogoscoped. And while you’re there, check out Philipp’s book, Google Apps Hacks.

JavaScript: The Missing ManualJavaScript: The Missing Manual was released yesterday and I just got my copy today. After reviewing the Google Apps book, I was approached to do this one. I figured that I would probably know everything the book had to offer but how wrong I was! Not only does it cover standard old-fashioned JavaScript techniques, it also covers the jQuery JavaScript library in quite a lot of detail.

For anyone who’s only ever used raw JavaScript, jQuery is like a programming language from the web of the future. It’s everything that JavaScript should have been. It really does make pretty much everything so much easier to implement. Whether you want to create a simple image rollover (which is one of the first pieces of JavaScript I wrote or, more accurately, copied and pasted!) or a highly dynamic AJAX website, this book helps to explain how you can go about achieving it quickly and easily using JavaScript and jQuery.

So if you think you’re a JavaScript guru but you’ve never bothered looking into jQuery, this book is a great place to start and will help to completely change how you think about developing dynamic websites!

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Google Account Phishing Attempt Using Orkut

Earlier this week, I received a greetings card from someone called Shelia who was using “Orkut Greetings” (supposedly a service offered by Orkut, Google’s social network). Or at least that’s what the sender of this email wanted me to believe:

Those extra details are usually hidden by default, but I expanded them to verify that the email genuinely came from Google. It appears to have been sent from an Orkut email address and was even signed by the domain. Seems genuine so far? Take a look at the domain in the link:

As you can see, the email isn’t sending me to Orkut at all. It’s actually sending me to a page hosted on Google Pages, a place where Google allows users to create and upload their own web pages. And here’s what the page looked like, which was asking me to sign in using my Google Account:

Everybody should already know not to enter their Google Account username and password on any website that isn’t being hosted on a domain, so most people would hopefully spot this before handing their details over to the phisher. But what makes this email more convincing for the unsuspecting recipient is that the email was genuinely sent by Google. So how did the phisher do that?

If we take a look at the very bottom of the email – after 137 carriage returns, which are used to try and make sure you don’t see it – we can see this:

By creating an Orkut group – called Orkut Greetings – they were able to send messages from an Orkut email address which automatically gets signed by since it’s being sent my Google’s systems and, therefore, make it appear to be genuine at first glance. By hosting their phishing doorway page on another Google property, they were able to make their sign in page appear to be almost genuine too.

After contacting Google shortly after receiving the email, I can confirm that the website on Google Pages was disabled some hours later due to violations of their Program Policies.

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22 July 2008

Back To The Future: Doc Brown Costume

I was invited to an “80s Movies” themed fancy dress party last month. After a quick brainstorming session at work, I decided to go as Dr. Emmett Brown from the classic 1985 movie Back To The Future. Just in case anybody out there ever wants to do the same, here’s what I did for my costume...

Doc Brown CostumeWig

I struggled to find a good white wig that looked like Doc Brown’s hair and eventually took my chances with a Smiffy’s Madman Wig. For some reason, this wig has ridiculous black frown-lines implanted in the forehead which I decided to cut off, meaning I had to wear the wig a little further forward than it was intended to be worn. But given that Doc’s not that bald anyway, this looked much better.


Although I wanted to go dressed as Doc at the end of the first BTTF movie – where he’s just returned from the year 2015 – finding the bits and pieces for that costume would have been a nightmare. Instead, I opted for the costume that we first see Doc wearing when he introduces Marty to the DeLorean.

For the radiation suit, I bought a ‘coverall’ disposable boiler suit and made some alterations to it. After cutting off the hood, I created the radiation symbol, broke it into parts (PDF download) and printed it onto an iron-on transfer.

Doc Brown CostumeWarning: Disposable overalls melt at fairly low temperatures – I learned this the hard way – so make sure you use a piece of greaseproof paper and put your iron on its lowest setting!

I also removed the elastic from the ankles to make it flow a bit more like the original costume, added the various bits of detail using a pink highlighter pen and made a slit for the top pocket so that I could attach a pen and a piece of paper with a bulldog clip. The Doc can also be seen to be wearing a wrist watch on each arm, so I did the same!

If you watch the film closely, you’ll see that the Doc is wearing a green shirt over a long sleeved cream t-shirt or vest, with the sleeves on his radiation suit rolled up. I couldn’t find the right type of shirt or vest, so reversed this and just wore a green t-shirt under a cream v-neck jumper.


For the gloves, I got some yellow rubber washing up gloves and cut them off at the wrists and made a small template to draw the radiation symbols on the back of each hand.

Doc Brown CostumeProps

I couldn’t find an old-fashioned square stopwatch like either of the ones used in the movie, so I unfortunately went without. But for the belt, I bought a tool pouch and threaded it onto an old leather belt, along with my camera case (for practical reasons) and a small portable speaker set so that I could play the BTTF theme from my iPod on entrance!

A while ago, I managed to “acquire” some fluorescent plastic test-tubes from a bar which was serving shots in them. These would become my plutonium rods. I tried to push one inside an old plastic bath gel bottle filled with water but it was too wide, so I ended up cutting it off short. I then filled the test-tube with some watered-down tomato ketchup. I tried some fruit cordial but it wasn’t red enough. For anyone who doesn’t remember the film too well, this does the trick!

To complete the costume, I downloaded and printed some of these paper props from the excellently obsessive BTTF Stuff website, including the Save The Clock Tower flyer, the letter from Marty and the drawing of the Flux Capacitor.

And there you have it – a complete Doc Brown costume from the brilliant Back To The Future movie. Now, before all the hardcore BTTF fans start telling me about all the inaccuracies, I’d like to point out that I know it’s not an exact replica of the original costume, but I tried my best given the small about of time and money I had to put it together. It was definitely good enough for everyone to know who I was supposed to be though and that’s the main thing!

Thanks must go to Travis Goodwin whose site I found via The Project Vixen DMCNews Mailing List Archive and was the only good example I found of somebody else trying to make a Doc Brown costume! During my research, I also stumbled across the fantastic BTTF Blog, an excellent blog for everything related to Back To The Future to which I’m now subscribed.

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21 July 2008

iPhone 3G: One Week Later

When the iPhone 3G was announced on 9th June, I was immediately convinced that I was going to get one. Then I realised it still had a crap camera, no MMS and would probably cost me an arm and a leg. And then I changed my mind again just last week and ended up queuing outside an O2 store in Sheffield on Friday, eagerly awaiting their 08:02 opening and the launch of the iPhone 3G in the UK. (Queuing was actually pointless as the store quickly ran out of its stock of just ten iPhones, but I was luckily given a tip-off at lunch time and managed to get one from another store.)

iPhone 3GAnyway, I’ve now been using the phone for just over a week, so I thought I’d post some of my early and honest observations. I’m likely to go on a bit, so don’t read this on your iPhone because your battery will be dead by the time you’ve finished... ;-)

First impressions

It’s slick, easy to use, has a really smooth user interface, has some great features and, perhaps most importantly, it’s shiny! However, it does lack some features that many other phones have. And I’m not talking about a one billion megapixel camera (because the camera produces really good, sharp pictures), voice calling (who uses that?) or MMS (because I can live with using email instead); I’m talking about different profiles (e.g. silent, sleeping, work, meeting), the ability to delete individual text messages, display how many characters are remaining when sending an SMS to someone and other little things like that – but the innovative features definitely outweigh all these minor annoyances and these are all things that may still (hopefully) be added in future software upgrades.

App problems after first sync

Putting aside all the initial problems of getting my phone line activated with O2 and then activating the handset through iTunes, I was pretty happy with my new phone’s capabilities after playing with the App Store and downloading a few free applications. (If you’re interested: iPint, Alarm Free, Banner Free, BubbleWrap, TapTap Revenge, Facebook, Shazam and Midomi.) The problems came when I synced my iPhone with iTunes for the first time.

I don’t know whether the problem occurred because I had originally activated my iPhone on a different computer, but after syncing with my main desktop PC none of the apps I’d downloaded to my iPhone would work. Each time I clicked one of the icons, it opened the app for a second or two and then immediately closed it down again. After removing them from the iPhone and re-syncing, everything worked fine though.

Contact syncing issues

Given that my old Nokia N73 made a complete mess of my Outlook contacts when I tried to synchroise them, I decided to enter all my contacts into my iPhone manually with the intention of syncing them with either Outlook or my Google Contacts later. Last night, I decided to sync them back to a folder in Outlook (since my Google Contacts are a real mess due to all the times Gmail added people to my contacts just because I’d emailed them a couple of times). Oddly, not all of my contacts were transferred to Outlook. They were literally nowhere to be seen. I deselected the folder in iTunes, removed all my contacts and tried again. This time, iTunes managed to copy all my original contacts from Outlook to my iPhone – despite still not being able to see them all in Outlook!

After much confusion and experimentation with various configurations, I somehow managed to wipe all my contacts from my iPhone apart from the few that I could see in Outlook. So I then tried to sync with Google Contacts just to see what that would do. This was a complete waste of time because it synced all my Google Contacts, including the new “Suggested Contacts” groups which seems to include everyone I’ve ever emailed!

In the end, I decided to export a spreadsheet from Outlook based on my old N73 contacts, clean them up a bit and import them back into Outlook before syncing again. So far, everything looks good but this should have been so much easier! Things weren’t helped by the fact that iTunes has no contacts manager of its own which allows me to select which contacts to import (like it does for tunes and podcasts).

Something else I’ve noticed is that my contacts list can be pretty slow loading at times, although it does seem quicker when accessed through the Phone icon rather than the Contacts icon.

Visual Voicemail setup problems

Since I was porting my old mobile number across to O2, I waited until this had been done before I tried to setup my visual voicemail. After following the on-screen instructions, entering my chosen password and failing to save my greeting several times (the last step in the process would just keep reloading the page) I decided to phone O2 Customer Services. They suggested dialing 1750 to switch on Visual Voicemail (which I’d already done), switching it off and on again by dialing 1760 and then 1750 (which I’d already done) and even suggested a full software restore (which I had done before trying to setup it up for the first time). After being passed through two iPhone specialists, they decided I had a faulty handset and would need to return it. However, before I managed to hang up they suggested that I could dial 901 just to prove to myself that my voicemail was up and running. And guess what. Dialing 901 asked me to choose a password and record a greeting, after which my Visual Voicemail worked fine!

Actually, one further problem was that when I accessed my voicemail and selected a message, my screen was going black. After a few quick tests, it seemed this was due to my screen protector interfering with the proximity sensor. As a quick solution, I got my hole-punch and made three holes in the protector to line up with the light and proximity sensors which means everything now works fine! (And it doesn’t look as bad as it sounds either because you can’t see the holes for the case.)

3G and battery life

When the original iPhone was announced, many UK and European users were puzzled why the handset didn’t have 3G. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal last year, Steve Jobs basically said that they didn’t include 3G because the chipsets were too big and would drain the iPhone’s battery too quickly. I seem to remember people all over the world complaining about this, demanding that Apple should let its users make that decision for themselves. This time around, Apple added 3G and many users are choosing to switch it off to gain more battery life.

My last phone had 3G, and moving from a 3G device to a non-3G device would obviously be a step backwards for me, so I had no intention of buying the original iPhone whatsoever. Of course, the irony is that now I’ve got an iPhone 3G, I’m using it with 3G switched off most of the time in order to save battery life! Generally speaking, I don’t even notice the speed difference though. The websites I use a lot while I’m on the move – like Google Reader, Facebook and FF To Go – have all been optimized to make them fast to download on mobile devices (including the many first generation iPhones without 3G).

The main problem with the iPhone is that it’s such a great mobile device that you want to play with it all the time, and that obviously means the battery isn’t going to last very long!

If I discover anything else about the iPhone which I fancy sharing, I’ll be sure to make a short post about it straight away, instead of making one massive post like this each month, which is what I seem to have been doing recently...

[Image courtesy of Apple.]

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Google Rooms, the Early Lively

Before Google’s 3D chat world Lively was released, the product was called Google Rooms. Here are some left-over screenshots that we discovered on Google’s servers shortly after Lively was launched:

The Google Rooms logo used in the rooms directory, showing a palm tree from the island room

Selecting an avatar from the directory, which included URL references to Google’s 3D Warehouse

The login dialog for the Goth Room; this looks more like traditional minimalist Google style than the current Lively login dialog

The FAQ part of the long help page that Google had for this service

The avatar dialog, taken from the "Create" section of the Getting Started Guide

The list of character animations, taken from the "Communicate" section of the Getting Started Guide

Also see the Lively FAQ.

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