Hiding In Plain “Site”

I’ve written a program called PicInHTML, which makes web pages with concealed images which are shown when text on the page is selected. What’s clever about these page are how they work: they’re a single file, with no dependence on images nor Javascript, and they work by leveraging the little-used ::selected CSS selector. Each individual letter on the page is given a CSS class to associate it with the colour of a corresponding pixel in the source image, and selecting the text changes the background colour to that pixel colour.

That’s a wordy way of putting it. Let’s try an example:

An example of a special page - selecting the text in this page reveals the Reddit alien. Click on the image to see the discussion about this example on Reddit.

Give it a go on any of the following pages. You’ll need to not be using Microsoft Internet Explorer, I’m afraid, as it doesn’t support the ::selected CSS selector. All you have to do is select the text on the page to reveal the secret image!

If you’re interested in the mechanics of how it works, or you’d like to get a copy of the source code and have a play yourself, see my project page on PicInHTML. You could also try looking at the source code of any of the pages, above: they’re not too-hard to read, especially for machine-generated code.

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An example of a special page - selecting the text in this page reveals the Reddit alien. Click on the image to see the discussion about this example on Reddit.

T

Aberystwyth Escape Velocity

It’s been said that Aberystwyth is like a black hole, and that once you’re sucked into it, you can never leave. Sure, it’s okay to fly-by, so long as you keep it at arms’ reach for, say, three to five years… but if you get caught in the pull of the place, it becomes harder and harder to ever leave.

I realised this early on. When I visited Aberystwyth on a University open day, back in 1998, I was so impressed with the place that I came down for a second open day, in 1999, even though I’d already decided that this was where I wanted to be. Later, after I’d settled down, I promised myself that no matter what, I’d get out of here before ten years was up. That was the personal limit, I’d decided, to the strength of the emotional rocket boosters required to reach escape velocity once you’re spiraling into the Aberystwyth black hole.


It’s a nice place to live for a while, as anybody who’s spent any amount of time here knows. And I’m sure it’d be a great place to retire, too. But sooner or later it’s time to move on: time to escape from the dodgy brownouts and the shaky Internet access, to go somewhere where there are transport links and cinemas with more than one screen and shops that don’t close on Wednesday afternoon. Time to live in a place where English is the only language of which a long-term resident is expected to have a working knowledge and where graduate salaries actually appear on the same scale as the national average. Time, in short, to move on.

It feels like the end of a chapter. Give or take a few years, it feels like I’ve divided these almost-thirty years of my life into three distinct chapters, each set in a different locale. Each new chapter feels like a fresh start, like opening a brand new diary for the first time, and each brings new challenges, new experiences, new friends, and new opportunities. And that’s almost as exciting as it is terrifying.


For the greatest time, I never expected to be here this long. When I was doing my degree, I couldn’t have forseen that I would stay here for long after I finished my degree – perhaps to hang around in academia for a few more years, or perhaps not. But by then I’d met Claire, and that was a game-changer for me: the end of her (extended) degree would have conveniently put me close to my ten-year limit, but when she was offered the opportunity to stay on and do a PhD, funded, in the specific area of her choice, that gave me reason to rethink. Eleven or twelve years can’t be so bad, can it?

Of course, after Claire and I broke up last year, my plans changed, and it wasn’t long after then that I announced that I’d be leaving town in 2010. I spent some time considering all of my various options for habitation, work, and the like, and it’s only this and last month that plans have really begun to become concrete. So here’s the plan:

I’ll be leaving town in the first fortnight of next month, and moving to Oxford. There, Ruth, JTA and I (and later to be joined by Paul) will be living in the house that we’re renting, a little to the North-East of the city. Ruth will still be working where she is now, and – confusingly – I’ll still be working primarily for SmartData, here in Aberystwyth. While everybody else in the world is looking at living where it’s cheap and working where it’s expensive, I’m going to be doing exactly the opposite, at least for the time being.


That’s our new house! And for those of you of a The Sims-playing bent, there’s a floorplan below for you to print out. You’ll have to make your own dollies of the four of us to play with in it, though. You freak.


I find myself filled with apprehension and anticipation at what seems to be an exciting new step forwards in my recent life, but also with an almost-overpowering sense of nostalgia for everything that’s happened here in Aberystwyth. In a way, this blog so far represents precisely that – the Aberystwyth chapter of my life – the last decade. I’ve had some great times with some of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met: some of them since moved-on themselves, and others still here, caught in the Aber tractor beam. Packing up the remnants and artefacts of my life here, it’s easy to let my mind wander, find my way back to all the things I’ve done and been.

It’s a happy chapter, overall. And this upcoming move, next month, is a fitting end. When you heard the tone, please insert the next CD to continue the story.

Oh, and now the important bit: we’ll be having a fire on the beach (probably including all of the furniture that we don’t want!) on the evening of Friday 28th May, instead of Troma Night. This will be the “goodbye Dan & JTA (and Paul, later)” party – I’ll be around for another week and my final Troma Night in Aber, the following week, but JTA will be gone. Anyway, I’d love to see you there, whoever you are. I’ll announce more details closer to the time through the usual text-message based channels, but if you don’t usually receive those and you would like to come, leave a comment and let me know. Ta!