The whiff of life

I think we're getting close to something big, very big. The European Space Agency's Mars Express probe has confirmed earlier findings that the Martian atmosphere contains traces of methane. Apparently there are only two plausible sources of methane in a planet's atmosphere, volcanic activity and biological processes. What's more, as methane only persists in the atmosphere for a relatively short period, it must be being constantly replenished. As Mars seems to be devoid of any obvious volcanic activity, well, draw your own conclusions, at least until someone sends up another probe with a methane sniffer on board. Ironically, the doomed Beagle 2 probe had such an instrument on board. Perhaps the Martians knew we were getting too close.

Comment Watcher tool first release

I’ve put together a simple tool for Radio Userland weblog owners that allows them to track comments on other people’s weblogs. Basically, the tool uses a bookmarklet to capture the URL of a weblog comment window, subscribes to it and checks it every hour. If the comment thread has been updated since the last check you get a notification email. Simple as that.

This first version is pretty basic but seems to work. The next version will be a little more sophisticated and I’ll try to incorporate comments/suggestions from users. I also have a Manila version if anyone’s interested.

Get your copy of the tool here. Probably best to right-click and save the link to disk. Put it in the ‘Tools’ folder in your Radio application folder. Once you’ve downloaded the tool and put it in the right folder, you access it’s home page here:

Full instructions are contained on the tools’ web pages. Usual caveats, this is a work in progress. Let me know how you get on.

Tracking weblog conversations

I’ve declared in several places that I find it difficult to keep track of weblog comments I’ve made, and the conversations that arise as a result. In fact I’ve even lost track of the places where I’ve declared that, case in point!

So I’ve created a tool for Radio Userland and Manila weblogs that allows you to keep track of all the weblog comment threads you’re interested in, whether you’ve contributed or not. This tool is currently working for me so I’m fast approaching the time when I’d like to release a version out into the community to see how it works for others. If you’d like to try out the first release please let me know. Once I’ve had a couple of people test it for obvious bugs I’ll release a public version for anyone to try. Please get in touch if you’d like to try out the pre-release version.

Comments about how you’d like such a tool to work are also welcome. Presently, without giving too much away, the tool alerts you via email if a particular comment thread on any weblog is updated, regardless of the platform or blogging/comment software.


Markup vs Markdown

John Gruber has written an interesting piece on, amongst other issues covered, markdown. Markdown is the opposite of markup (cf. HTML markup) and attempts to reclaim readability and simplicity in weblog post by eschewing non-essential HTML tags. I can identify with a lot of what John says in his post but with my own posts there are a couple of areas where I feel I must use HTML markup, so this got me thinking about my own weblogging work flow.

I used to type directly into the edit box for a new post. As I’m on a Mac I can’t use the clever WYSIWYG editor features that come with my weblogging software (those features are Windows only) so any HTML I want to include in my post I had to add manually. This got to be too much of a pain, so in that respect I can totally sympathise with John’s markdown principle. But then I discovered the joys of using a stand-alone WYSIWYG HTML editor, specifically Adobe GoLive. This application takes all of the headache out of writing a post and allows for simultaneous write/edit/preview.

Now here’s the bit of my own work flow that’d be just too darned tedious to do by hand, embedded images and links. I tend to use a lot of these and to do them properly¬†e.g.¬†add ALT tags to images and assign titles to links is just too time consuming without an editor. Now, with the exception of posts sent straight from my mobile phone, I try to correctly use ALT tags and link titles as I think it provides a better reading experience and is probably more compliant in terms of accessability.

Lastly, I noticed another advantage of writing in a stand-alone HTML editor such as GoLive. If I want to write about writing HTML¬†i.e.¬†include HTML tags in my posts as part of an illustrative code listing for example, then this is all taken care of for me as GoLive automatically converts the tags I write in WYSIWYG mode into encoded tags. For example, <br> in WYSIWYG mode becomes¬†&lt;br&gt;¬†in source mode and therefore doesn’t confuse the browser.

Taken together with other useful editor features such as spell checking and a drag-and-drop library of HTML objects, I’m very happy with my present work flow.