Matthew Dawkins » blogging I'm a web developer, musician, Christian, father, geek. Not necessarily in that order. Sat, 03 Jan 2015 15:29:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Making my blog more personal Sun, 22 Aug 2010 14:33:08 +0000 Continue reading

Successful bloggers, and indeed writers in most fields, will tell you that the key to success is to pick your target market and stick to it.  No surprise, then, that the most read blogs are ones where their authors talk religiously about their chosen topic, whether that be a blog about programming methods or a blog about one man’s journey to become a vintage bus driver.

In spite of this well-acknowledged fact, you’ll notice that my blog is still littered with a whole plethora of categories, covering all sorts of topics and areas of life.  I have chosen not to focus on one target audience, but to write infrequently about everything instead.

Now, finally, I’ve got round to introducing a way for you, the reader, to take control of my blog and only show the articles you’re actually interested in.

On the left hand side of the home page, third box down, you should see a nice little list of categories about which I write.  By default, all of these should be ticked, indicating that you’ll see absolutely everything when you first visit.  You can un-check any topics you’re not interested in, click the ‘Save preferences’ button, and you’ll never be bothered by those boring articles again.  So if you’re really not interested in my Technology or Internet articles, or if Twitter rubs you up the wrong way and you’d rather not read my tweets, feel free to un-check those boxes and revel in the bliss of your new-found power…

This clever little system actually isn’t all that revolutionary, for those of you in the know, and only took me half an hour or so to put in place.  It uses cookies to store your preferences, and tweaks the WordPress query depending on what categories you want to see.  If no cookie is found (i.e. you’ve not been here before, or with this browser) it automatically assumes you want to see everything, which I guess is fairly optimistic but at least it gives you the option.  And of course if your browser doesn’t accept cookies you’ll see everything, just as you did before.

So take a peek (go back to the home page, it won’t show anywhere else) and let me know what you think.  I also have plans to give the same sort of customisability to RSS feeds.

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The Competition Sun, 18 Apr 2010 20:00:12 +0000 Continue reading

I remember when I first started blogging.  My friend Phill was responsible for starting me off, back when we were at uni together.  He had a blog, and said that I should have one too.  So I registered a free domain name – – and pointed that at some free webspace that came with my Dad’s dial-up internet connection (with permission… I think), and wrote my first blog.  If memory serves, it said something along the lines of ‘hey, I’ve got a blog, not sure what to write here, but we’ll see how it goes’.  Once the bug had bitten, there was no stopping me.

That first blog was a straight HTML page.  I edited the HTML, probably in Notepad, put the latest post at the top of the page, and re-uploaded the file.  Simple but effective.  But over time it became a little unwieldy.  So Phill got me to beta-test his PHP-MySQL blogging system that he’d been tinkering with, and that opened up a lot more options.  Before long though I felt it necessary to migrate to something more substantial, made the move to WordPress (importing my old blog posts), and have been a blogging sensation ever since.  Well, maybe not the sensation bit.

But now, an ominous cloud hangs on the horizon.  A tiny ripple out at sea that has the potential to grow into a tidal wave that will rip through all that once was safe and secure.  My wife has a blog.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.  I’ve not exactly discouraged her, after all.  Quite the opposite.  I can hear the words echoing round the doldrums of my memory even now – “you should get a blog too”, I said.  How strange, then, that I should feel so threatened, so intimidated that she’s finally taken my advice.  Okay, that’s perhaps a slight exaggeration, but I’m well known for those.  Even the Queen knows about my exaggeration.  Oh no, wait, there I go again.  Anyway, where was I…

So far (as of 18th April 2010), there is only one post.  There is no apparent content to it, it’s just a rambling mess of an introduction.  And as rambling introductions go, it’s brilliant.  I love the irony of this seemingly endless inward debate about where to begin, even more so because it actually finishes without officially starting.  Inspired.  Take a read, if you will.

She tells me she doesn’t know what to write about yet.  That’s fair enough.  I didn’t know what to write about when I first started.  I suppose there are two schools of thought on blogging: some use it as an online diary, documenting their lives in varying detail; others use it to talk about ideas, ideals, inventions, and other interesting things beginning with ‘i’.  I have grown into one of the latter.  To put it another way, I see myself as more of a columnist than a reporter.  It will be interesting to see which way my wife wanders as she walks the road of a blogger.  Maybe she’ll talk about ideas she has for plays and sketches.  Maybe she’ll tell everyone what our son is getting up to.  Maybe she’ll complain about how her husband doesn’t do any housework.  Maybe she’ll reveal my own deep, dark secrets.  Maybe she’ll become a more prolific blogger than me.  Maybe the tables will turn and I will be shoved off the podium as the primary blogger in the household.  Can you sense my fear and dread and trepidation and fear?  Oh wait, I said ‘fear’ twice.  It’s clearly important.

Maybe I’m getting paranoid about nothing.  Maybe, after all, it is possible for two bloggers to live in peace and harmony under the same roof.  Maybe we’ll blog in different directions, with different writing styles, with different audiences, and there will never be any crossover and everything will be fine.  Maybe.  We’ll see.  In the meantime, feel free to read my wife’s blog from time to time.  But not all the time, and not at the expense of reading my blog.  I’ve spent years building up my readership, I would hate for either of you to desert me…

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Cooking with Julie and Julia Sat, 12 Sep 2009 20:56:04 +0000 Continue reading

No post today about Lego.  One my wife’s old school friends is with us for the weekend, so the Lego has been diligently packed away and hidden in the garage again until it’s safe to resume my private geekiness.  Unless I suddenly lose all interest overnight, I expect the boxes will reappear on Monday evening, if not before…

What I’m actually blogging about now is the film we went to see this afternoon.  Now, being in the middle of the countryside, our nearest cinema isn’t exactly on our doorstep.  In fact, Cineworld in Yeovil is a good 40 minute drive away (albeit along beautiful country lanes).  The film in question was “Julie & Julia”, a film based on two true stories, one of a prestigious cook from the 50s and one of a modern day blogger who finds purpose in life through cooking.  Yes, this is a film review.  Read on if you’ve already seen the film, or if you have no intention of seeing the film but want to know what happens, or if you are planning on seeing the film but don’t mind knowing beforehand what happens.

For a film dealing with two parallel timelines, constantly swapping between the two, I think it pulled it off very successfully.  It was all filmed in the same style, but they managed to make it just clear enough which era we were in at each point; it provided enough separation that we didn’t get confused, yet enough connections and parallels to keep it relevant.  Meryl Streep’s accent was, so I hear, very accurate to the original Julia Child’s, but I actually found it the most annoying part of the film – hats off to her for pulling it off, I just wish it hadn’t been so squeeky.

The portrayal of relationships was interesting, I thought.  Both Julie and Julia had what can only be described (in cinematic terms, at least) as near-perfect husbands.  Or, to be a little more fair, near-perfect relationships with their husbands.  It was refreshing to see loving, successful relationships in a way that wasn’t trite or unrealistic.  That’s not to say they didn’t ever have disagreements, but the love never fell apart despite what they went through.  I thought it added an interesting dimension to the drama – our conditioned eyes were all expecting everything to fall apart, and the fact that it didn’t probably will have disappointed some critics, but to me it made it more believeable.

Another aspect of the plot revolves around blogging.  In the modern-day part of the plot, Julie works her way through Julia’s cook book, one recipe at a time, all in the space of a year, and writes a blog about the whole experience.  To begin with no one reads it, only her mother, who doesn’t understand why she’s doing it.  But eventually it gathers momentum and she gets lots of readers following her adventure.  It raises an interesting facet of the blogging world – just because you’re writing doesn’t mean anyone will take any notice of you.  And once people do start taking note of your opinions, you then feel an obligation to these strangers to keep on writing.  I think it’s a shame really that at the end of Julie’s adventure the blog loses its purpose and probably stopped being written.  To my mind, if a blog is directly related to a particular time frame it is almost invariably doomed to fizzle out once the content stops being written.  There are very few people who would find a blog that hadn’t been updated in months (or years) and read it through from beginning to end.  Blogs are read one post at a time, starting with the most recent one and usually disregarding anything older and just waiting for the next post to be published.  I guess that’s just another illustration of how technology is so often misrepresented in film – on the big screen computers always work faster than in real life and do far more than they are actually capable of!

In conclusion, then, I liked the film.  Not something I’d watch again, necessarily, but it’ll do as something to pass the time.  Certainly not going to go down in history as a fantastic must-see film.  I came out of the cinema not thinking how wonderful an experience I’d had or how beautiful the plot was, but reinvigorated to continue blogging.  I had a similar feeling watching “Marley and Me”, inspired by the writing theme, though that was a much better film altogether.  So if nothing else, I’m more determined to keep writing.  Even if no one reads my ramblings.

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Blog update Thu, 08 May 2008 18:10:47 +0000 Continue reading

Just quick note to say that I have updated my blog template to the new design I’ve been working on.  It’s not quite finished yet, and there are some links that won’t work yet, but I’m out this evening so those things will have to be added tomorrow.  The basic functionality is there though, and I’m much happier with this design than I was with the previous off-the-shelf one I tried a while back…

Anyway, once it’s all settled in, feel free to let me know what you think of it.

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Making time for… everything Thu, 17 Apr 2008 19:37:03 +0000 Continue reading

Work has generally been quite busy recently.  Which is a good thing.  More work means more money.  However, there is more to life than work, and there are a whole load more things I need to squeeze into my week than just work.  I’d like to share just a few of this week’s additional bits and bobs with you.  It gives me something to do after all.

This afternoon I took the opportunity to put work on hold briefly while I went outside and mowed the lawn.  It has needed doing for a while now, and I’ve been putting it off, but today I figured I ought to take advantage of the sunshine and get out there while I can.  Looking at the forecast, the weekend isn’t going to be too promising.  The lawn actually needs treating at some point, as one half of it looks to be more moss than grass.  We’ve got some moss-killer, it’s just a case of spraying it on and letting it do its job.  I didn’t get round to that today, but I did cut the grass and do the edges, so the garden is looking nice now.  I also noticed that the peas in our vegetable patch are beginning to grow too!  We’ve got carrots and parsnips in there too, but I only planted them last week so it’s no surprise they’re not topside yet.

This weekend is going to be pretty busy too.  Saturday I’m off to a friend’s stag do, which promises to be lots of fun, if somewhat energetic… I’m not giving any details, just in case the person in question doesn’t know about it all yet.  In fact, part 2 of the stag do is on the Sunday, so it’ll be a hefty weekend of fun and frolics, and a fair amount of driving too.

Also on Sunday I’m skipping church.  Doesn’t happen often, but occasionally I take a day off to go to a Mini event, pretty much all of which tend to be on Sundays.  This weekend it’s the Manningtree High School Vehicle Show, and Colchester Mini Club will have a stand there with several of our Minis on display, mine included.  Which means at some point I really ought to clean the car.  I’ve also got a couple of electrical items to install eventually, now that I’ve got all the required bits and pieces for it: I’ve got a rear brake light to go in the back window, some LED side repeaters, a cigarette lighter socket, and all the necessary wires and connectors for installing it.  All good fun.  But since I’m going to be out all Saturday I’m not sure I’ll have time to install them before the show.  Never mind.  It’s not a particularly big show, and apparently it’s going to rain anyway.  Ah well, there’s always next time.

Firefox 3 with UNOOn the computer front, I’m now testing out Firefox 3 beta 5.  It’s not quite finished yet, and isn’t even a Release Candidate, but it’s interesting seeing where they’re going with it and what improvements they’ve made.  For a start, it’s much quicker than FF2 was on the Mac, and significantly faster than previous betas too, which is good.  Speed and responsiveness was one of the main reasons I stopped using Firefox on the Mac in the first place and switched to Camino.  There are still some bugs to iron out before it goes live (I’ve seen some problems handling frames), but the big thing I don’t like at the moment is that it won’t work with UNO.  For those of you who don’t know, UNO is a cool little extra that straps itself (harmlessly) into Mac OS X Tiger and allows you to unify the messy interface, getting rid of the brushed metal windows and allowing me to make everything look consistent.  Unfortunately, FF3 seems to break UNO – it’s not dangerous or particularly problematic, just an annoying visual thing.  Basically, UNO is supposed to unify – join together – the top part of the window and the menu bar underneath.  As standard FF3 does this anyway, which is nice, but as soon as UNO is working, regardless of whether it’s actually supposed to be doing anything with Firefox, that unity is lost.  Curious.  Without UNO, FF3 displays unified, but nothing else does.  With UNO, everything displays unified except FF3.  Grrr.  As I say, not a huge problem, just a niggling frustration, but one I’m hoping will be sorted by the time FF3 is released properly.

Finally, on to this blog.  Astute blog readers will notice that I’ve changed the theme back to the way it was last week.  Sorry.  It just got to the stage where I was annoyed by enough of the new design to warrant just reverting back to the previous design.  I’m working on ideas for a refreshed theme, which I’ll be designing myself (rather than picking an off-the-shelf theme), and you’ll be pleased to know that I’ve found a way of testing themes without the general public seeing them, which should allow me to develop it and test it before actually letting it loose on you lot and letting you pick holes in it.  So, again, apologies for messing you around with visual styles, but hopefully the end result will be better.

Right, after all that, I need another cup of tea.  And maybe I’ll see if I can persuade the gerbils out – Ellie’s much better at it than I am, but she’s at work and the girls need the exercise.  Time to show the little furballs who’s boss…

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Missing media buttons in WP 2.5 – partial fix! Tue, 15 Apr 2008 14:58:22 +0000 Continue reading

I’ve been hovering on the WordPress forums recently, keeping my eyes peeled for a solution to my missing media buttons following up my upgrade to WordPress 2.5 a week or so ago. Today, prompted by a post by jeenie involving looking at the source code, I had a poke around and managed to get half way there. As you can see from the attached screenshot (which proves it all works!!), I can now access the functionality, even though the images still don’t show. It’s a curious thing, given that it looks like a fairly simple bit of code that oughtn’t to have any problems at all.

The code for this bit looks like this:

<div id="media-buttons" class="hide-if-no-js">
Add media:
<a href="media-upload.php?post_id=439&type=image&TB_iframe=true&height=500&width=640" class="thickbox" title='Add an Image'><img src='images/media-button-image.gif' alt='Add an Image' /></a>
<a href="media-upload.php?post_id=439&type=video&TB_iframe=true&height=500&width=640" class="thickbox" title='Add Video'><img src='images/media-button-video.gif' alt='Add Video' /></a>
<a href="media-upload.php?post_id=439&type=audio&TB_iframe=true&height=500&width=640" class="thickbox" title='Add Audio'><img src='images/media-button-music.gif' alt='Add Audio' /></a>
<a href="media-upload.php?post_id=439&TB_iframe=true&height=500&width=640" class="thickbox" title='Add Media'><img src='images/media-button-other.gif' alt='Add Media' /></a>

I’ll quickly explain what this does: everything is contained within a DIV, with a unique id “media-buttons” and a class “hide-if-no-js”. The one that really stuck out for me was the class, and a quick look in the CSS revealed that the class “hide-if-no-js” did exactly what you’d expect – it hid everything inside it. I simply commented out that line in the CSS file, and found that the links suddenly worked!

If you want to try this yourself (if you’re having the same trouble as me), the file you want to look at is …/wp-admin/wp-admin.css, and the offending item is right down at the bottom of the file, and looks like this:

.hide-if-no-js {
  display: none;

Now, this is only a partial fix, as although I can click on the links and access the functionality behind them, the icons for those buttons still don’t appear. I’ve checked, and the image files themselves are definitely there. I’ve even manually edited the HTML using a bookmarklet to temporarily remove the link around the image, and then it displays perfectly, just without the link and hence without the functionality associated with it.

So I had a look at the link, to see if that’s where the problem lay. Sadly, that yielded nothing of use; the #media-buttons CSS had nothing relevant, neither did the .thickbox in the link. So I’m at a loss again. For now.

Still, at least I’ve got the functionality working now, that’s a significant improvement. Unfortunately it hasn’t resolved the problems I’m also having with the Add Link buttons, which give me a blank popup. Ah well, I’ll just have to investigate further, or make do with the HTML editor.

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WordPress woes Wed, 09 Apr 2008 20:18:00 +0000 Continue reading

This evening I upgraded my blog to WordPress 2.5, the latest version of the famous blogging software.  It’s pretty neat, has a nice revamped interface, and introduces a few nice changes along the way.  They’re not differences you’ll notice as a reader though, which is partly why I loaded up a new theme, so you’d have something different to look at!  The theme isn’t mine, incidentally, I couldn’t be bothered to spend all that time developing it and wanted something quickly, so used someone else’s.

On the whole, WordPress 2.5 works well.  Apart from one issue that remains unsolved.  When editing posts (like this one) there should be a little icon that lets me add images; that icon, sadly, does not appear.  A quick search of the WP support forums show that actually a lot of people are experiencing the same problem, and no one seems to have produced a definitive solution yet.  For the moment I think the best bet will just be to wait eagerly for WP 2.5.1 and hope they fix the problem, and in the meantime live without images.  Not a huge problem, as I don’t often include images in my posts, but it would be nice to have the option!

I’ve also just discovered that the link button doesn’t work in Safari.  Fortunately I can edit the HTML and insert it manually, but it’s a bit of a pain.  Ah well, no one said technology was flawless…

I’m also looking for ways to customise this theme to make it a little more personalised.  Any suggestions?

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