Wonder Boy

There are video games that I’ve spent many years playing (sometimes on-and-off) before finally beating them for the first time. I spent three years playing Dune II before I finally beat it as every house. It took twice that to reach the end of Ultima Underworld II. But today, I can add a new contender1 to that list.

Today, over thirty-five years after I first played it, I finally completed Wonder Boy.

Entryway to "West View Leisure Centre", decorated in a bright, abstract, 80s style.
I first played Wonder Boy in 1988 at West View Leisure Centre, pictured here mostly as-I-remember-it in a photo by Keith Wright (used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license).

My first experience of the game, in the 1980s, was on a coin-op machine where I’d discovered I could get away with trading the 20p piece I’d been given by my parents to use as a deposit on a locker that week for two games on the machine. I wasn’t very good at it, but something about the cutesy graphics and catchy chip-tune music grabbed my attention and it became my favourite arcade game.

Of all the video games about skateboarding cavemen I’ve ever played, it’s my favourite.

I played it once or twice more when I found it in arcades, as an older child. I played various console ports of it and found them disappointing. I tried it a couple of times in MAME. But I didn’t really put any effort into it until a hotel we stayed at during a family holiday to Paris in October had a bank of free-to-play arcade machines rigged with Pandora’s Box clones so they could be used to play a few thousand different arcade classics. Including Wonder Boy.

A young girl in a pink leopard-print top plays Wonder Boy on an arcade cabinet.
Our eldest was particularly taken with Wonder Boy, and by the time we set off for home at the end of our holiday she’d gotten further than I ever had at it (all without spending a single tenpence).

Off the back of all the fun the kids had, it’s perhaps no surprise that I arranged for a similar machine to be delivered to us as a gift “to the family”2 this Christmas.

A large, arcade-cabinet-shaped present, wrapped in black paper and a red ribbon, stands alongside a Christmas tree.
If you look carefully, you can work out which present it it, despite the wrapping.

And so my interest in the game was awakened and I threw easily a hundred pounds worth of free-play games of Wonder Boy3 over the last few days. Until…

…today, I finally defeated the seventh ogre4, saved the kingdom, etc. It was a hell of a battle. I can’t count how many times I pressed the “insert coin” button on that final section, how many little axes I’d throw into the beast’s head while dodging his fireballs, etc.

So yeah, that’s done, now. I guess I can get back to finishing Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, the 2017 remake of a 1989 game I adored!5 It’s aged amazingly well!

Footnotes

1 This may be the final record for time spent playing a video game before beating it, unless someday I ever achieve a (non-cheating) NetHack ascension.

2 The kids have had plenty of enjoyment out of it so far, but their time on the machine is somewhat eclipsed by Owen playing Street Fighter II Turbo and Streets of Rage on it and, of course, by my rediscovered obsession with Wonder Boy.

3 The arcade cabinet still hasn’t quite paid for itself in tenpences-saved, despite my grinding of Wonder Boy. Yet.

4 I took to calling the end-of-world bosses “ogres” when my friends and I swapped tips for the game back in the late 80s, and I refuse to learn any different name for them.[footnote], saved Tina[footnote]Apparently the love interest has a name. Who knew?

5 I completed the original Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap on a Sega Master System borrowed from my friend Daniel back in around 1990, so it’s not a contender for the list either.

A young girl in a pink leopard-print top plays Wonder Boy on an arcade cabinet.× A large, arcade-cabinet-shaped present, wrapped in black paper and a red ribbon, stands alongside a Christmas tree.×

It Is Only Q

The programmers at British Gas are among the many who don’t believe that a surname can be only a single character, and their customer service agents have clearly worked around their validations (or just left a note for themselves in the problematic field!)… leading to hilarious postal mail1:

Letter from British Gas addressed to "Mr Dan Q (it Is Only Q)" and opening with "Hello Mr Q (it Is Only Q)".

Update

This is getting a lot of attention, so I just wanted to add:

Footnotes

1 I’m ignoring for the moment that they’re using the wrong title for me.

Letter from British Gas addressed to "Mr Dan Q (it Is Only Q)" and opening with "Hello Mr Q (it Is Only Q)".×

They See Me (Blog)Rolling

Tracy Durnell’s post about blogrolls really spoke to me. Like her, I used to think of a blogroll as a list of people you know personally (who happen to blog)1, but the number of bloggers among my immediate in-person circle of friends has shrunk from several dozen to just a handful, and I dropped my blogroll in around 2008.

A white man wearing a spacesuit sits on a pebble beach using a laptop.
On the Internet, a blogger is only as alone as they choose to be.

But my connection to a wider circle has grown, and like Tracy I enjoy the “hardly strangers” connection I feel with the people I follow online. She writes:

While social media emphasizes the show-off stuff — the vacation in Puerto Vallarta, the full kitchen remodel, the night out on the town — on blogs it still seems that people are sharing more than signalling. These small pleasures seem to be offered in a spirit of generosity — this is too beautiful not to share.

Although I may never interact with all the folks whose blogs I follow, reading the same blogger for a long time does build a (one-sided) connection. I may not know you, author, but I am rooting for you. It’s a different modality of relationship than we may be used to in person, but it’s real: a parasocial relationship simmering with the potential for deeper connection, but also satisfying as it exists.

My first bloggy pan pal, Colin Walker, who I started exchanging emails with earlier this month, followed-up on this with an observation that really gets to the heart of the issue (speaking as somebody who’s long said that my blog’s intended audience is, first and foremost, me):

At its core, blogging is a solitary activity with many (if not most) authors claiming that their blog is for them – myself included. Yet, the implication of audience cannot be ignored. Indeed, the more an author embeds themself in the loose community of blogs, by reading and linking to others, the more that implication becomes reality even if not actively pursued via comments or email.

To that end: I’ve started publishing my blogroll again! Follow that link and you’ll see an only-lightly-curated list of all the people (plus some non-personal blogs, vlogs, and webcomics) I follow (that have updated their feeds within the last year2). Naturally, there’s an OPML version too, and I’ve open-sourced the code I used to generate it (although I can’t imagine anybody’s situation is enough like mine for it to be useful).

The page is a little flaky and there’s things I’d like to do to improve it, but I’d rather publish a basic version now and then come back to it with my gardening gloves on another time to improve it.

Maybe my blogroll has some folks on that you might recognise? Or else: maybe you’re only a single random-click away from somebody new you never heard of before!

Footnotes

1 Possibly marked up with XFN to indicate how you’re connected to one another, but I’ve always had a soft spot for XFN.

2 I often retain subscriptions to dormant feeds and it sometimes pays-off, e.g. when I recently celebrated Octopuns’ return after a 9½-year hiatus!

A white man wearing a spacesuit sits on a pebble beach using a laptop.×

The Underground Blog

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

theunderground.blog is an experimental blog that is only available to read through a feed reader.

If you would like to read the latest posts, you can subscribe to the feed at https://theunderground.blog/feed.xml, using the feed reader of your choice.

Chris first suggested this idea in the footnote of a post that talks about something I’ve been witnessing recently: that blogging seems to be having a renaissance1. I’ve for a few years been telling people that now is the second-best time to start a blog. The best time was, of course, ~20 years ago, but if you missed out first time around (or let your blog die as big social media silos took over): now’s the time to join the growing resurgence!

Anyway, he only went and actually did it! The newest member of RSS Club is likely to be… an entire blog that’s only accessible via a feed reader2.

There’s two posts published so far, and if you want to read them you’ll need to subscribe to theunderground.blog using your feed reader. There’s tips on that page on getting an easy-to-use one if you haven’t already.

Footnotes

1 He also had interesting things to say about OPML, which is a topic close to my heart. I wonder if I ought to start sharing a partial OPML file of my subscriptions?

2 Or by reading the source code, I suppose: on the open Web, that’s always an option. The Web is, indeed, magical.

Magician Roles

Because I work somewhere hip enough to let people tweak their job titles, mine is “Code Magician”.

Employee directory photocard showing "Dan Q, Code Magician on Fire (Woo), started Oct 18th, 2019".

LinkedIn isn’t as hip as Automattic, though. That’s why they keep emailing me sector updates… for the “Magician” sector… 😅

Email from LinkedIn with the subject "Hiring trends for Magician roles".

Employee directory photocard showing "Dan Q, Code Magician on Fire (Woo), started Oct 18th, 2019".× Email from LinkedIn with the subject "Hiring trends for Magician roles".×

Blogging Stats

During a conversation with a colleague last week, I claimed that while I blog more-frequently than I did 5-10 years ago, it’s still with a much lower frequency than say 15-20 years ago.

Only later did I stop to think: is that actually true? It’s time for a graph!

I’ve previously graphed my blogging in an ad-hoc way, e.g. in 2016 I did a word-count and in 2021 I graphed posts-by-month-of-year, but I’ve never made an “eternal”, automatically-updating, interactive1 graph. Until now:

Generating a chart...
If this message doesn't go away, the JavaScript that makes this magic work probably isn't doing its job right: please tell Dan so he can fix it.

If you consider just articles (and optionally notes, which some older content might have been better classified-as, in retrospect) it looks like I’m right. Long gone are months like February 2005 when I posted an average of three times every two days! November 2018 was a bit of an anomaly as a I live-tweeted Challenge Robin II: my recent output’s mostly been comparable to the “quiet period” from 2008-20102.

Looking at number of posts by month of the year, it’s interesting to see a pronounced “dip” in all kinds of output roundabout March, less reposts in Summer and Autumn, and – perhaps unsurprisingly – more checkins (which often represent geocaching/geohashing logs) in the warmer months. Even on this scale, you can see the impact of the November “Challenge Robin spike” in the notes:

Generating a chart...
If this message doesn't go away, the JavaScript that makes this magic work probably isn't doing its job right: please tell Dan so he can fix it.

Anyway, now I’ve actually automated these kinds of stats its easier than ever for me to ask questions about how and when I write in my blog. I’ve put living copies of the charts plus additional treats (want to know when my longest “daily streak” was?) on a special page dedicated to that purpose. It’ll be interesting to see how it looks on this blog’s 25th anniversary, in a little under a year!

Footnotes

1 Try clicking on any of the post kinds in the legend to add/remove them, or click-and-drag a range across the chart to zoom in.

2 In hindsight, I was clearly depressed in and around 2009 and this doubtless impacted my ability to engage in “creative” pursuits.

Lightboxes Without JavaScript

Because I like my blog to be as fast, accessible, and resilient, I try not to use JavaScript for anything I don’t have to1. One example would be my “lightbox”: the way in which images are blown-up if you click on them:

A toasted sandwich containing bacon, lettuce, and tomato.
I used to use this bacon sandwich picture more-often. Let’s dust it off so you can try it (the picture, not the sandwich).

My solution ensures that:

  1. You can click an image and see a full-window popup dialog box containing a larger version of the image.
  2. The larger version of the image isn’t loaded until it’s needed.
  3. You can close the larger version with a close button. You can also use your browser’s back button.
  4. You can click again to download the larger version/use your browser to zoom in further.
  5. You can share/bookmark etc. the URL of a zoomed-in image and the recipient will see the same image (and return to the image, in the right blog post, if they press the close button).
  6. No HTTP round trip is required when opening/closing a lightbox: it’s functionally-instantaneous.2
  7. No JavaScript is used at all.
Visitors can click on images to see a larger version, with a “close” button. No JavaScript needed.

Here’s how it works –

The Markup

<figure id="img3336" aria-describedby="caption-img3336">
  <a href="#lightbox-img3336" role="button">
    <img src="small-image.jpg" alt="Alt text is important." width="640" height="480">
  </a>
  <figcaption id="caption-img3336">
    Here's the caption.
  </figcaption>
</figure>

... (rest of blog post) ...

<dialog id="lightbox-img3336" class="lightbox">
  <a href="large-image.jpg">
    <img src="large-image.jpg" loading="lazy" alt="Alt text is important.">
  </a>
  <a class="close" href="#img3336" title="Close image" role="button">×</a>
</dialog>
The HTML is pretty simple (and I automatically generate it, of course).

For each lightboxed image in a post, a <dialog> for that image is appended to the post. That dialog contains a larger copy of the image (set to loading="lazy" so the browser have to download it until it’s needed), and a “close” button.

The image in the post contains an anchor link to the dialog; the close button in the dialog links back to the image in the post.3 I wrap the lightbox image itself in a link to the full version of the image, which makes it easier for users to zoom in further using their browser’s own tools, if they like.

Even without CSS, this works (albeit with “scrolling” up and down to the larger image). But the clever bit’s yet to come:

The Style

body:has(dialog:target) {
  /* Prevent page scrolling when lightbox open (for browsers that support :has()) */
  position: fixed;
}

a[href^='#lightbox-'] {
  /* Show 'zoom in' cursor over lightboxed images. */
  cursor: zoom-in;
}

.lightbox {
  /* Lightboxes are hidden by-default, but occupy the full screen and top z-index layer when shown. */
  all: unset;
  display: none;
  position: fixed;
  top: 0;
  left: 0;
  width: 100%;
  height: 100%;
  z-index: 2;
  background: #333;
}

.lightbox:target {
  /* If the target of the URL points to the lightbox, it becomes visible. */
  display: flex;
}

.lightbox img {
  /* Images fill the lightbox. */
  object-fit: contain;
  height: 100%;
  width: 100%;
}

/* ... extra CSS for styling the close button etc. ... */
Here’s where the magic happens.

Lightboxes are hidden by default (display: none), but configured to fill the window when shown.

They’re shown by the selector .lightbox:target, which is triggered by the id of the <dialog> being referenced by the anchor part of the URL in your address bar!

Summary

It’s neither the most-elegant nor cleanest solution to the problem, but for me it hits a sweet spot between developer experience and user experience. I’m always disappointed when somebody’s “lightbox” requires some heavyweight third-party JavaScript (often loaded from a CDN), because that seems to be the epitome of the “take what the Web gives you for free, throw it away, and reimplement it badly in JavaScript” antipattern.

There’s things I’ve considered adding to my lightbox. Progressively-enhanced JavaScript that adds extra value and/or uses the Popover API where available, perhaps? View Transitions to animate the image “blowing up” to the larger size, while the full-size image loads in the background? Optimistic preloading when hovering over the image4? “Previous/next” image links when lightboxing a gallery? There’s lots of potential to expand it without breaking the core concept here.

I’d also like to take a deeper dive into the accessibility implications of this approach: I think it’s pretty good, but accessibility is a big topic and there’s always more to learn.

Close-up of a champagne-coloured French Bulldog wearing a teal jumper, lying in a basket and looking towards the camera.
In the meantime, why not try out my lightbox by clicking on this picture of my dog (photographed here staring longingly at the bacon sandwich picture above, perhaps).

I hope the idea’s of use to somebody else looking to achieve this kind of thing, too.

Footnotes

1 Where JavaScript is absolutely necessary, I (a) host it on the same domain, for performance and privacy-respecting reasons, and (b) try to provide a functional alternative that doesn’t require JavaScript, ideally seamlessly.

2 In practice, the lightbox images get lazy-loaded, so there can be a short round trip to fetch the image the first time. But after that, it’s instantaneous.

3 The pair – post image and lightbox image – work basically the same way as footnotes, like this one.

4 I already do this with links in general using the excellent instant.page.

A toasted sandwich containing bacon, lettuce, and tomato.× Close-up of a champagne-coloured French Bulldog wearing a teal jumper, lying in a basket and looking towards the camera.×

Mental Elf Day

Christmas Jumper Day at the kids’ school. Because I’m the “embarrassing parent”, I joined in for the school run too.

(Also for my meetings today, obviously.)

Selfie of Dan wearing an "elf costume" Christmas jumper and matching hat with bell.

Selfie of Dan wearing an "elf costume" Christmas jumper and matching hat with bell.×

I don’t want your data

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

The web loves data. Data about you. Data about who you are, about what you do, what you love doing, what you love eating.

I, on the other end, couldn’t care less about your data. I don’t run analytics on this website. I don’t care which articles you read, I don’t care if you read them. I don’t care about which post is the most read or the most clicked. I don’t A/B test, I don’t try to overthink my content. I just don’t care.

Manu speaks my mind. Among the many hacks I’ve made to this site, I actively try not to invade on your privacy by collecting analytics, and I try not to let others to so either!

My blog is for myself first and foremost (if you enjoy it too, that’s just a bonus). This leads to two conclusions:

  1. If I’m the primary audience, I don’t need analytics (because I know who I am), and
  2. I don’t want to be targeted by invasive analytics (and use browser extensions to block them, e.g. I by-default block all third-party scripts, delete cookies from non-allowlisted domains 15 seconds after navigating away from sites, etc.); so I’d prefer them not to be on a site for which I’m the primary audience!

I’ve gone into more detail about this on my privacy page and hinted at it on my colophon. But I don’t know if anybody ever reads either of those pages, of course!

FreeDeedPoll.org.uk, Punk Rock Edition

A Birmingham-based punky trio, Luxury Nan Smell, have released an EP called (Derogatory). The first track on that album? freedeedpoll.org.uk. Named in reference to my website of the same name.

Album cover art for (Derogatory), showing the title in pink cursive script over a three small white ovoid pills dissolving on the ground. The words "luxury nan smell" are carved into the pills.

Naturally, I was delighted, not least because it gives me an excuse to use the “deed poll” and “music” tags simultaneously on a post for the first time.

Don’t ask me what my “real” name is,
I’ve already told you what it was,
And I’m planning on burning my birth certificate.

The song’s about discovering and asserting self-identity through an assumed, rather than given, name. Which is fucking awesome.

Screenshot showing freedeedpoll.org.uk
The website’s basically unchanged for most of a decade and a half, and… umm… it looks it. I really ought to get around to improving and enhancing it someday.

Like virtually all of my sites, including this one, freedeedpoll.org.uk deliberately retains minimal logs and has no analytics tools. As a result, I have very little concept of how popular it is, how widely it’s used etc., except when people reach out to me.

People do: I get a few emails every month from people who’ve got questions1, or who are having trouble getting their homemade deed poll accepted by troublesome banks. I’m happy to help them, but without additional context, I can’t be sure whether these folks represent the entirety of the site’s users, a tiny fraction, or somewhere in-between.

So it’s obviously going to be a special surprise for me to have my website featured in a song.

Screengrab from a video in which a vlogger holds up their freedeedpoll.org.uk deed poll.
Out of curiosity, I searched around for a bit and discovered a surprising amount of chatter about my site on social media, like this charming guy who talked about his experience of changing his name.

I’ve been having a challenging couple of weeks2, and it was hugely uplifting for me to bump into these appreciative references to my work in the wider Internet.

Footnotes

1 Common questions I receive are about legal gender recognition, about changing the names of children, about changing one’s name while still a minor without parental consent, or about citizenship requirements. I’ve learned a lot about some fascinating bits of law.

2 I’ve been struggling with a combination of the usual challenges at this time of year and a lack of self-care and also a handful of bonus household stresses: everything seems to be breaking all at once!

Freezing Fog

Gorgeous freezing fog over the fields on the school run this morning.

Frosty meadow with frozen fog, with low sunrise barely cutting through, with beginnings of a blue sky barely peeking through.

Frosty meadow with frozen fog, with low sunrise barely cutting through, with beginnings of a blue sky barely peeking through.×