Category Archives: Rants

So what’s wrong with 3-Column WordPress themes?

A while ago I fired off a tweet about WordPress themes. Gary responded, as did Oliver.

I can’t seem to find one that just works out of the box.

So, in order to demonstrate what I see as a problem with a theme, here are couple of examples.

Firstly, this one was a perfectly good theme, however notice how the Comments (1) has lost the trailing )

And this one was great too, but why does the post count have to appear on a new line?

Yes, they are probably easy enough to fix, but that means hacking the theme…and when an upgrade to the theme comes along, I’ll have to remember to extract the hacks and re-apply them. Not fun. I’m probably going to have to write my own theme, who knows when I’ll have the time do to that.

In the meantime, whilst I’m happy enough with this Clean [BlueHaze] theme (it’s a 3-column theme, but the left-most column makes it feel like a 4-column theme), I’d be happy to receive recommendations for 3 column themes, minimal, fluid (i.e. wide content area), decent configuration for the column widths, WordPress 2.3 compliant and no hacks required.

Is that a too big an ask?

Technorati Tags: ,

More hassle at airports


Last year, 2006, when I was traveling back from Dussledorf, my flight was “rearranged” on my behalf by the airline.  This meant that I had to spend a few hours hanging around the airport.  After you’ve browsed pretty much every shop available, including those that you would never think of even going into, never mind browse, you have to concede and find a seat.  This is what I did at Dussledorf airport (back in 2006).  I found a seat near a plug, opened the laptop out and started typing.  I found myself sat in front of some over-zealous credit card touts who were going out of their way to try and rope in punters.  And this being Germany, the touts were leggy blondes…


Over a year later, I find myself hanging about Edinburgh airport, for today I have chosen not to fly on the red-eye (first flight of the day at 0600ish).  Instead I chose to fly on the second flight of the day, heading to London on the day when there is a Tube strike, smashing.  Anyway, I digress. 

My arrival at Edinburgh airport took the usual route: park in the multi-story car park then enter the airport on foot.  Entering the airport is fine, however getting upstairs to security/departures and onward to airside is a problem.  The escalator is the primary and most obvious route to departures – it’s protected by a couple of credit card touts, usually ladies. 

Avoiding eye contact is the key, then pretending to be deaf as it can be difficult to ignore “excuse me sir”.  Having props, like a passport and a slip of paper in hand (this could easily be your pre-printed boarding pass) whilst hurriedly looking towards check-in, then sharply running towards the escalators is another trick that works. 

However, I have a trick that is guaranteed to get you past the inconvenience of the credit card touts.  Upon entering Edinburgh airport from the multi-story car park, instead of turning to the right to head up the stairs and into their trap, turn to the left.  Here you will be greeted with access to lost property and a lesser-known set of stairs that takes you upstairs without any hassle at all.

This is all very well and good, and you would think that once you are airside, you are free from touts and their fishing lines. Sadly, the touts have got wise and have also installed themselves airside.  Slap bang in the middle of the primary shopping area of the departure lounge.   Instead of leggy blonds, we are presented with middle-aged balding blokes with glasses.  it just doesn’t work for me.  Of course, once they’ve made that first step towards you, closely followed by “excuse me sir, do you live in the UK?” (to which the answer that seems to work is “no”), eye contact inevitably follows. 

Why should they be here at all?  For most people, being at an airport is a stressful enough time, without them believing that they have to sign up for a[nother, unwanted] credit card as part of the “airport experience”.  Business is business, but when business become invasive, it becomes annoying and puts people off.  Whilst I still use the bank that was rather over-zealous in Germany last year, I can’t see myself using the bank that employed Rowan Atkinson for its advertising campaign.  Over-zealous and invasive marketing  techniques are analogous to shooting yourself in the foot.

Technorati Tags:

At airports, there are two kind of people…

Spending time at Dussledorf airport reminded that there are two kinds of people at airports, excluding the staff. Any airport, not just Dussledorf. Indeed, some train stations exhibit the same problems…

There are those people who are going places, they walk with a purpose. Then there are those people who don’t really understand what their purpose is, they just lurk about in small groups. These small groups are geographically dispersed in such a manner that it makes it rather difficult to walk from point A to point B (as a purposeful walker). They just stand there, hanging about, looking around, looking for screens to give them a clue about where they should stand next. To these people, anybody who is walking with a purpose is as good as invisible – they do not see us coming and make no effort to rearrange themselves such that there is a “fast track” through their self-arranged minefield. It just gets worse when they rotate through 45-90 degrees…their luggage carefully re-positions itself to inflict pain on the purposeful walker with creation of a most inconvenient trip hazard.

Technorati Tags: ,

Gig: Bryan Adams: Edinburgh: 21 July 2007

For the third time this year I found myself at Murrayfield. Two gigs and one rugby match. I don’t know what was worse, watching Scotland getting beating by Italy in a matter of minutes or the two gigs.

The first gig, back in May was a truly bizarre mix of tribute bands: The Beatles, Abba, Queen and Led Zeppelin…that was 50% “ok” for me. Except that it wasn’t, Led Zeppelin (tribute) weren’t at all good and Queen (tribute) was recognisable, but nowhere near as good as One Night of Queen from 2006.

Today’s gig, Bryan Adams, should have been a “dead cert”. After all, I’d seen him live in 1991 at the Milton Keynes bowl (along with Thunder and three other metal acts that can’t have been that memorable). Sixteen years ago, he played to a full stadium, glorious sunshine. Today, he played to a pitch load of wet fans and some less wet fans in the lower east stand – no sign of the summer sunshine that we should have at this time of year. With the weather we’re having, anybody would think that we’ve done something to alter the weather over the last forty-fifty years.

After this disastrous gig, I have a number of recommendations:

1. Umbrellas should not be allowed. If the band don’t need them, why should you?

2. Camera ‘phones should be banned. It felt like everybody had one of these damn things, filming and photographing, all I could see was a huge array of 2″ screens. People: you are there for the gig – why spend half of the gig trying to get a handful of shots on a low-resolution camera? Not 10 years ago, cameras were banned at gigs, heavyweight bouncer-types would descend upon you and relieve you of your spool (film).

3. Open-air venues only work if the sound system is designed and installed by people who are expert at it. The sound system use at this event and the tribute acts was appalling. Unless you were close to the front at the centre, which was impossible for Silver ticket holders for reasons I will discuss in a moment, the sound was grossly unbalanced, tinny and very distant. I’d like to bet that Metallica at Wembley earlier this month sounded awesome…I won’t be missing my next opportunity to see them live. I was thwarted from getting to the gig because of the excessive cost of that “Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” show in the West End – my missus wanted to go to that whilst I was getting a sore neck at the ‘tallica gig. I lost out because of the cost of some other show…how does that work? [rhetoric, of course]. I digress.

4. Scam 1. Never have seen a sizeable square shaped area in front of the main stage reserved for people who bought Gold or VIP tickets. That’s just extortion. I don’t believe for one minute that Bryan Adams would entertain scamming his true fans in this way. I believe that it was a venue scam, designed purely to raise more cash to compensate an ailing events business. With the exception of Yngwie Malmsteen (great video here), I’ve never attended a gig that wasn’t sold out…except at Murrayfield. Don’t scam fans.

5. Scam 2. Just after the ticket desk, there was a portacabin with a banner: “food/drink tokens, 3 for £10”. Naturally we challenged the vendor, “what, can’t we just pay with cash money?” I’m sure you can imagine the response: “no, but you can buy tokens inside, but there will be a queue”. So we bought a 9 tokens for £30. One token == one beer OR one item of food OR two soft drinks. Net result after we got home – three tokens left over. So the venue/event organisers scammed us out of an extra tenner. Well done. This act alone is enough to make me never attend a gig at your venue again. And since everything was served in plastic bottles, I do wonder what the plastic recycle policy is at such an event? Don’t scam fans.

[photo via here]

Oh, I almost forgot, the music. Adams did the right thing by opening the gig via the centre stage, as can be seen the photograph above. This meant that the Gold/VIPs folks got a raw deal. However it didn’t last, after a couple of tracks he retreated to the main stage, only to return to the centre stage for the third encore which saw him hand pick the local talent from the audience. Incidentally, the centre stage performance was much better than the main stage, even though the main stage speakers were still in use. Centre stage performances, a’la Def Leppard at the Glasgow SECC, are far better, giving the whole audience a sense of involvement – event organisers, please note.

I couldn’t help but notice what I thought was miming on more than one occasion, it turns out I wasn’t alone in my thoughts about this either. This was confirmed when I spotted Adams running from one side to the other, no microphone in sight, yet still the vocals could be heard…I got the impression that Adams’ primary guitarist (almost a look-a-like) was also chipping in as and when required. Summer of 69 arrived fairly early in the set…which was odd, perhaps because that was one of the few songs I was there for. Anyway, I put up with the rain, the idiots with umbrellas, the pratts with their camera ‘phones, the selfish fans who put their 5 foot tall offspring on their shoulders thus blocking the view for a lot of folks behind them, including my party.

Overall, Adams stage performance was pretty damn good given the weather. However, I don’t think those were his speakers of choice. The event sound did not fill much past the main stage and lacked any depth or power. The light show was basic, little use of the late evening darkness was made. That said, the centre stage lighting was reasonable.

So I’m sorry MurrayFieldLive, I won’t be back at a gig until things change for the better. The truth hurts, but honesty is my only excuse. I’m gonna get me some of those “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” icons from somewhere…

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Too many MSDN DVDs?

Much that I don’t like rocking the boat, I have to admit, I agree with Phil’s comments about excess MSDN language content DVDs. It seems that most of us here in the UK have an MSDN DVD mountain -Phil has a good photograph to demonstrate this!

I’d like to see the money that could be saved being ploughed into UK Community Events, perhaps being used to purchase 8 * HDD camcorders for community use? (such as this, or this, or this)

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,

UK credit card marketing

If you live in the UK you’re probably quite used to receiving junk mail. For me, and I know that I’m not alone here, a lot of the junk mail I get emanates from credit card providers. It seems that everybody else’s credit card is better than the one I have currently. There’s the usual carrot and stick, offers of 0% interest for 12 months (longer with some of the more desperate providers), cashback or famous-name High Street store vouchers, etc.

I don’t like naming names, but Capital One would appear to be the worst culprits. I think it was one of their envelopes that has a return address on the back of it – it has a disclaimer stating that a fee will be charged if the item is returned. I find that astounding, albeit I won’t be paying the fee, whoever attempts to deliver it will probably have to, and even then it’ll be very much subject to a response of “two fingers“, “up yours” or “not on your nelly” from the person attempting the return delivery. This weekend, I spent many hours in my study clearing out old magazines, old mail, etc. I lost count of the number of Capital One envelopes that I had to process. I say “process” because I had to open each one – there’s a plastic replica of the “credit card you could have” inside most of the envelopes. My shredder doesn’t like plastic, nor does my paper recycling facility.

Now this presents another problem: a large proportion of the general public will probably just throw the whole envelope in to the general trash. This then opens them up to possible identity theft. This has negative effects for both the individual concerned and the credit card company. Granted, in order to successfully apply for a credit card you do need more information than is present on those forms the credit card company pre-print for you, but it’s a start. The prospective credit card company have essentially established a relationship with you by pre-printing some information on the forms. By making it as easy as possible for you complete the form, they are of course hoping to get you to sign on the dotted line and join their debt mountain.

What’s the solution? Well, I believe that the credit card companies should pull together and rationalise their junk mailings. They should offer their own Mailing Preference Service – and we should be able to register with our current credit card provider. This would mean a huge reduction in the amount of pure junk mail that is sent around the UK and as a side-effect, will see a very small reduction in indentity theft and case of credit card fraud. This approach does have a downside: our current credit card providers will have to wise up and offer existing customers better deals. Existing customers get it in the neck: rarely do they get preferential APRs or 0% offers. But at least they would get to keep their customers, and that has to be a good thing, surely?

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Advert overload?

I came across a .net related site today, content was pretty good…after I got through all the adverts:

Without checking, I think that there are too many Google AdSense blocks on the page, I’m sure it’s limited to three per page.

Hint: the yellow bits were part of the site content.

Just to stay in keeping, here’s my gratuitous ad block:

Technorati Tags:

UK Pensions – State of the Nation

I received a letter from the company that I am hoping will be able to provide me with a pension later in my life. I was a little bit stunned by its contents. Here’s a snippet:

I’m a little worried that the procedures required to prevent such an error were not already in place. It begs the questions: what other procedures are not in place and what other mistakes could happen? And given that this is an illustration of what I might get from my fund, how do they know that it’s precisely 15% higher than it should be? And why should I really care? After all, they could have corrected this supposed error over the course of the next 20 years and I would have been none the wiser.

Frankly, the UK’s pension industry seem to go out of their way to confuse and baffle the general public (of which you and I are members). They [the pension providers] make transfers between policies and providers either impossible or very costly, frequently citing government regulations for their inflexibility and inability to honour the customer’s requests. Since we are no longer in a job-for-life culture, this means most of us have at least one pension fund for each job that we’ve had. I’ve given up trying to consolidate some of the small pension funds, every time I’ve tried: no can do.

The UK pension providers and those who are responsible for writing the government legislation behind the crazy rules that make the pension industry so rigid, so inflexibile and so incapable, really need a rocket up their backsides to make them realise how daft they’re being. They’ve created a real mess with today’s pension industry. Either they realise this and go about sorting it out, or they should hand over their operations to some folks who do know what they’re doing (although, I can’t say that I know who those folks might be, sorry!)

Perhaps I’ll just have to hope that I win the lottery or the premium bonds?

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Cyclists in the UK – above the law?

As a car driver, I find myself waiting at traffic lights quite frequently.

Today, I was at the head (front) of the queue, patiently waiting for them to turn from red to green. There were two lanes of traffic, I was in the outside lane (2) – it was a pedestrian cross too. Whilst waiting, I was dumbfounded to see, in my offside wing mirror, a cyclist approaching at speed, straddling the centre line between us and on-coming traffic. The lights were still red. The cyclist, a he, proceeded to weave through two pedestrians using the crossing. He then returned to the inside lane (1) and continued his journey.

I see this a lot. I know that as a car driver, I am obliged to stop at red lights. Do cyclists have some sort of exemption that allows them to go through red lights? Surely not? [of course, this is a rhetoric question]

Technorati Tags: , ,

Typing: Elevated to an art form

A few days ago, my colleague Jim was lamenting about the noisy typing he had to endure whilst travelling on a train from Edinburgh to Aberdeen.

Today, I was forced to endure a similar noisy typist. It seems that some business travellers are practicing some serious finger ballet, making their fingers almost dance over the keyboard…but instead of their fingertips gently touching each key, they’re coming down with thud, only to bounce right back up again for the next qwerty waltz. In fact, Jim advises me that this kind of typing, when applied to the piano, is often referred to as a Bobby Crush moment

So, dear reader, if you are one of these noisy typists, I have been empowered by the general train-travelling public to order you to Cease And Desist! You know it makes sense.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Yet another instance of software that sucks…

Last year I lamented about how BT expected me to contact my administrator to solve their problem.

Tonight, whilst trying to book some flights via AirMiles, I stumbled upon this unbelievable error message:


Amazingly, I had used the drop-down menu to select London Heathrow. Even when using the “type destination” option that forces the correct destination airport to be selected, this error still appeared. And hey, where’s the magnifying glass icon on this page?

Frankly, this isn’t the first problem I’ve endured with this particular web-site. It’s virtually impossible to book British Airways flights through it. I ended up buying flights through because it was easier. Here’s the kind of nonsense it presents us with when we endeavour to pay for a flight:


I wouldn’t mind, but there are no items “highlighted below in red”. Clicking on “Get available flights” and changing any or all of the flight combinations makes no difference. Personally, I don’t believe that “the system” should allow us to get this far if there are problems with availability – in fact, I’m sure there’s a conspiracy theory behind this.

Now, you might be thinking that I’m perhaps being a little harsh with this posting. Perhaps you’re right. However, since I went to the effort of writing to this particular flight vendor back in July 2006 when I endured my first failed booking, I got back a pretty nondescript response. Now that I’ve gone through the same pain again tonight, I’m going to be taking the matter up with them once again. However this time, I’ll bypass customer services and write to their top man. Be afraid.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Grr – Internet Explorer 7 crashes, twice in 24 hours…


Yesterday morning I lost a fairly carefully prepared collection of web-sites that I was visiting using tabbed-browsing. I chose to right-click and open a URL in a new window…boom, IE disappears completely. Now, this morning, it did the same…except I had a page full of text in a fresh blog posting…gone. I’m too tired to recreate it now, but will do so later on today – you’re not missing much, just me muttering on about a blog re-vamp and how cool WordPress widgets are.

Windows XP Version 5.1.2600 Service Pack 2 Build 2600
Internet Explorer Version 7.0.5730.11

Note-to-self: press ‘save and continue editing’ quickly and more frequently (at least until the move to Vista is complete).

Technorati Tags: