ABC Playback shouldn't be hard to hack

Despite ABC Playback being touted as Windows/Mac support only, it should be pretty easy to hack up. Looking at it on Windows this morning with the trusty Live HTTP Headers Firefox extension switched on, I've grabbed what seem to be the important URLs, which are XML files.

The actual interface is embarrassingly tedious. They've tried for the latest and greatest in Flash crappiness, which probably means it'll be slow as a dog on a low-end computer. Fortunately, the data is passed through XML, so it'll only be a short time before someone writes a MythTV plugin to grab, parse and play.

There's a channel list, which corresponds to the three channels: ABC CatchUp, ABC Real and ABC Shop. Loading up one of the URLs given for a channel, you get a listing of the content on that channel, including where to get the file. Seems to be you need "rtmp://" and then the bit after.

So, despite being annoyed they're blowing our money not supporting all operating systems and instead building crappy Flash stuff, we should be able to bend it to our will.

Google Transit includes Perth

Google have launched Google Transit support for Perth's public transport system.

Hopefully, and it would seem likely given they're based in Sydney, they'll start work on the appalling Sydney transport system timetables. The "Plan Your Trip" functionality isn't bad, but the timetable display across the various agencies is insane. I fail to see that when you go from the 131500 site and select a train station (say, Stanmore) and want to see the timetable, you inntead get a list of all the train lines. For the record, Stanmore station is services by two train lines: Inner West and South. WTF? Oh but they, handily, provide exactly the same dropdown again in the top-right, which this time tells you which line services your station. Joined up government.

Then when you drill down into the timetables, instead of anything resembling sanity -- say, defaulting to "when is the next train", you get... an HTML rendering of the printed timetables. And do you think it might be customised to only show the trains that stop at your station? Oh no, you get to know exactly when there'll be an express train whizzing through your station.

Who the hell are the people that wrote this crap? Do they even use public transport? Have they ever tried to use their own site? Unbelievable!

Screen scraper writers, start your engines.

Online ordering systems

Quick as a flash after my last post about online ordering systems, Hadley Rich suggested shopify, which while a hosted system, seems to be written by people with a clue. Railsy kinda clues, which means the designs are lovely, and they've focussed on doing one thing well.

Moments later, Lindsay suggested almost the same thing: Active Merchant which is the system shopify built for the merchant stuff. Synchronicity?

Anyway, the nice thing about the shopify service is it's got a templating system you can both hack and understand nice and easily. So even though all these systems are set up for multiple products, I should be able to steer it into being a single-product system. What's more, the really cool stuff I actually want to play with, Google Website Optimizer, will be very easy to integrate.

Now to decide if the tax bollocks is worth the effort. The ATO material seems to suggest you don't have to charge GST if your turnover is, or is expected to be, under $75,000 per year. That would simplify things greatly, but they don't actually come out and say that. Guess for such things you need expert advice.

Online ordering should be easy

Mary, I'm totally with you about online ordering. So many companies just don't get it. Worse yet, utility companies in Australia are just appalling. Origin Energy, I'm looking at you, dickheads! Their online "order" form seemingly goes absolutely nowhere. How useful!

So on that note, I've been thinking of setting up an online ordering site myself. More as an experiment in marketing and conversion rate improvement than anything else. If I decide the tax crap isn't going to make it onerous, I'll be doing it shortly.

What software should I use? This will be a single-product site, but I'd like to have proper order management and notification, along with rudimentary stock control ideally. Online payment is essential. And I want to run it all (except perhaps the payment) on my own server. Not written in PHP would be good.


Why I read the Guardian

Buried on page 15 of this week's Guardian Weekly is how they treated this important story:

Heather Mills has been given £42m in a divorce settlement with Paul McCartney.

That's why I read this newspaper. Important things are given prominence.

Roland Juno 106 Lego Mindstorms: on eBay

I've just put a bunch of stuff on eBay, and I'm sure some of you might be interested.

Roland Juno 106

A Roland Juno 106, one of the first ever MIDI analogue synthesizers. This sucker has a wonderful sound, but since I've finally admitted to myself that I have zero musical talent, it's time to clear it out of the house.


Lego Mindstorms was another of those purchases I wish I'd played with more. Loads of fun and all, this robotic lego stuff. But I never really had the time to get right into it. I bought this as soon as it was released in the US, and ended up getting raped on import duty when it went through Australian customs. You can program it in a number of languages developed outside of Lego.

Elegant retro bathroom basin

Rather less geeky, we pulled this out of our bathroom during our renovations. It's gorgeous, but doesn't match our new decor. Would really suit someone doing up an old school bathroom in the period style. Absolutely nothing wrong with it.

Transport Plan 2010

I got a letter in today's Herald about my lack of faith in the delivery of this North-West metro the NSW government is promising. The bit they chopped off was: You'd be hard pressed to find Action for Transport 2010 on any NSW government web site. Now why do you think that might be?

Thanks to the legends at the National Library of Australia, I've managed to find it. That's right, you can see Action for Transport 2010 in all its undelivered glory.

A quick run through press release confirms what I said.

Opened on time, but due to exorbitant prices, patronage has been well down. If you live anywhere in the inner West, it's much faster and cheaper to catch a cab.
Killed. Bondi NIMBYs didn't want bogans from the Western Suburbs competing for space with Eastern Suburbs bogans, plus the important point that it was going to be a privatised railway, with associated huge ticket increases
Only got halfway, Chatswood to Epping, which completely defeated the purpose of allowing passengers from the Western Suburbs to get to major trip generators like Macquarie University and the growing North Ryde technology parks.
Never built. This new promised metro effectively re-announces it, but work won't start until 2010 which according to this press release was when it would be open.
Sunk without trace.
Never heard of again.
Built. But just remember, this is a glorified bus lane.
Still on the drawing board, despite the touted 2006 opening date.
Still on the drawing board, despite the touted 2004 opening date
Still on the drawing board, despite the touted 2009 opening date
Opened in March 2007, which is actually ahead of the schedule they set
Still on the drawing board, despite the touted 2002 opening date
Still on the drawing board, despite the touted 2008 opening date
Built, gona broke.
Built, still a nightmare road.
Built, still a nightmare road.
Built, still congested.
Partially built
Built. Didn't help congestion.

So do you see the pattern? All the road projects got built. A couple of the public transport project got built, partically, and mostly with private money.

Not a charity

I've just had a very bizarre exchange with Rodney Gedda from IDG, a big magazine and book publisher. I used to write for some IDG publications and was, briefly, editor of a micro-magazine they had, Online World which became Webmaster.

Anyway, Rodney opens with: I'm interested in running more technical content on IDG's online network. Please contact me if you are interested in contributing. I presume he'd found my writing on one of the Planets, probably after reading my comments about Joel Spolsky's latest piece.

A little flattered, and always wanting to keep my hand in IT journalism stuff, I followed it up with some questions and proposals. In my dealings with IDG in the past, I've been pretty shocked by what they insist you sign over before paying you, perpetual, universal rights basically. So I brought this up and he suggested IDG own the copy and I get "perpetual publicity and bragging rights". Hmmm.

I came straight out and asked if this was a paying gig. Unfrotunately I don't have a budget for that yet, but you'll get free publicity. Meh.

When I write for a corporation, I want a lot more than publicity. Some help paying the mortgage would be nice. You'd be using my knowledge, experience and work to enrich a giant corporation. Err, no. I don't think Patrick McGovern needs my charity.

Those of you out there also receiving offers like this, be aware that your work is worth something. At the minimum, you might use something like this to get your foot in the door and have some publications you can point to, but you certainly wouldn't be signing away perpetual and universal rights to your work!

For the record, my writing is available, for a fee.

Web developers are from Mars

I imagine most of you reading this blog already read Joel on Software, but today's post is destined to be a classic. Joel worked at Microsoft on the Excel team from 1991 to 1995, where he clearly learnt a lot about programming in the real world, with real world pragmatism and real world ugly hacks. His writings are always a good antidote to assuming that Microsoft is the evil empire, intent on owning the world. In reality, it's a bumbling megacorp making sensible, rational decisions that end up hurting someone, somewhere no matter which way the decision goes.

Today's post is about the war between the web standards sticklers and the poor saps who have to implement browsers. It's a really hilarious description of why standards aren't the panacea, and why writing useful stuff for the web is hard.

I have a sneaking suspicion that his prediction that IE8 will revert to buggy IE7 mode by default before release is spot on. But at least in the meantime enough web developers will notice that their pages are broken and fix them.

Me? I'm pushing the change to our site tonight that will force IE7 rendering mode, because I don't have time to fix the buggy behaviour just now. Pragmatic, but I hate it. However, you try telling your boss you need to spend a week hunting down tiny little bugs caused by a software upgrade that's a few months away from being out in the real world.