Reply to An Accidentally ‘Anti-January’ January

Siobhan said:

I fell off the blogging bandwagon just as everyone else was hopping onto it.

I was just thinking the same! It felt like everybody and their dog did Bloganuary last month, meanwhile I went in the opposite direction!

Historically, there’s been an annual dip in my blogging around February/March (followed by a summer surge!), but in recent years it feels like that hiatus has shifted to January (I haven’t run the numbers yet to be sure, though).

I don’t think that’s necessarily a problem, for me at least. I write for myself first, others afterwards, and so it follows that if I blog when it feels right then an ebb-and-flow to my frequency ought to be a natural consequence. But it still interests me that I have this regular dip, and I wonder if it affects the quality of my writing in any way. I feel the pressure, for example, for post-hiatus blogging to have more impact the longer it’s been since I last posted! Like: “it’s been so long, the next thing I publish has to be awesome, right?”, as if my half-dozen regular readers are under the assumption that I’m always cooking-up something and the longer it’s been, the better it’s going to be.

Reply to “I was permanently banned by Facebook”

Donncha Ó Caoimh said:

My Facebook account was permanently banned on Wednesday along with all the people who take care of the Cork Skeptics page. We’re still not sure why but it might have something to do with the Facebook algorithm used to detect far-right conspiracy groups.

If you have a Facebook account you should download your information too because it could happen to you too, even though you did nothing wrong. Go here and click the “Create File” button now.

Yeah, I know you won’t do it but you really should.

Great advice.

After I got banned from Facebook in 2011 (for using a “fake name”, which is actually my real name) I took a similar line of thinking: I can’t trust Facebook (or Twitter, or Instagram, or whoever else) to be responsible custodians of my content, so I shan’t. Now, virtually all content I create is hosted on my WordPress-powered blog, at my own domain, first and foremost… and syndicated copies may appear on various social media.

In a very few instances I go the other way around, producing content in silos and then copying it back to my blog: e.g. my geocaching/geohashing expeditions are posted first to their respective sites (because it’s easiest and most-practical to do that using their apps, especially “in the field”), but then they get imported into my blog using a custom plugin. If any of these sites closes, deletes my data, adds paid tiers I’m not happy with, or just bans me from my own account… I’m still set.

Backing up all your social content is a good strategy. Owning it all to begin with is an even better one, IMHO. See also: Indieweb.

Reply to @ADumbGreyHam

Adam Graham tweeted:

@scatmandan I’ve just been in a meeting with with some people who were saying some very positive things about the legacy of work your dad (I think) did with buses in the North East

That seems likely. Conversely: if people are still talking about my work 7½ years after I die it’ll probably be to say “who wrote this bit of legacy code this way and what were they thinking?”

CC @TASPartnership @bornvulcan @TheGodzillaGirl

Reply to: Indelible

Bryn wrote:

The surgery had happened at a weirdly transitional point in my life. Only a few days earlier I’d performed improv on stage for the first time (see “Yes And” and “Memory Lane“), I’d changed jobs and was contemplating another move. The scar from the surgery seemed to be part of that too, and I had an idle thought to have a tattoo done on the scar as a permanent reminder to myself not to let work swallow my life up again.

Every time I consider getting a tattoo, I’m stopped by the fact that I’m sufficiently indecisive about what I’d get and where. Somehow, a tattoo would represent a sort of irreversible permanence that I feel is difficult for me to commit to. (I fully accept that this may seem a strange sentiment to many, coming from a sterilised-without-breeding man – I didn’t say I was consistent!)

But to add personalisation to a scar, especially one with a personal meaning and message: that I can really get behind. Unfortunately my only likely-permanent scars don’t have any messages behind them more-significant than, for example, “don’t let Dan play with knives”. Is it possible to get a tattoo on top of an emotional scar instead?

Reply to: A modern font loading strategy with the vanilla JS FontFaceSet.load() method

Chris Ferdinandi‘s daily tip for yesterday addressed a common familiar to Web developers using custom fonts (i.e. basically all of them):

In many browsers, if a custom typeface is declared but hasn’t finished downloading and parsing yet, browsers will leave space for the text but not render it until the file is ready.

This is often called a Flash Of Invisible Text (or FOIT).

In a now slightly outdated article, Ilya Grigorik, a web performance engineer at Google, reports:

29% of page loads on Chrome for Android displayed blank text: the user agent knew the text it needed to paint, but was blocked from doing so due to the unavailable font resource. In the median case the blank text time was ~350 ms, ~750 ms for the 75th percentile, and a scary ~2300 ms for the 95th.

To make matters worse, some mobile browsers never timeout a failed font file, and therefore never show text in a fallback typeface if the custom one fails to load. You get nothing at all.

Let’s talk about how to fix that.

Chris is right…

He’s right that the FOIT is annoying, and he’s right that for most text (and especially body text) the best result would be if a fallback system font was used immediately and swapped-out for the designer’s preferred font as soon as it becomes available: this maximises usability, especially on slower devices and connections. His solution is this:

  1. Set the font to a fallback font initially.
  2. Set the font to the preferred font once a CSS class is applied to a root element.
  3. Use Javascript to set apply that CSS class either when FontFaceSet.load() indicates that the font is available, and (via a cookie) for as long as the font file is expected to appear in the browser cache.

This approach is not without its problems. It requires Javascript (users for whom Javascript fails for some reason won’t see the font at all, but may still have to download the font file!), conflates cookie lifetime with cache lifetime (the two can be cleared independently, cookies can sometimes be synchronised across devices that don’t necessarily share caches, etc.), and uses Javascript techniques that don’t work in some browsers (Edge and Internet Explorer are both capable of showing custom web fonts but both will use the fallback font unless either (a) further Javascript is added (which Chris doesn’t supply) or (b) browser detection and/or conditional comments are used to trigger different behaviour in these browsers (which is icky).

…but he’s also wrong…

If only there was a better way to prevent the FOIT. One which degrades gracefully in older browsers, doesn’t require Javascript, doesn’t make assumptions about user cookie/cache configuration, and ideally involves a lot less code. It turns out, there is!

The font-display CSS directive exists to solve this exact issue [MDN]. Here’s what it looks like being used to solve the problem Chris presents (example taken from my blog’s CSS!):

  src: local("Raleway"),
       url(/wp-content/themes/q18/fonts/raleway-v11-latin-regular.woff2) format("woff2"),
       url(/wp-content/themes/q18/fonts/raleway-v11-latin-regular.woff) format("woff");

Setting font-display: swap in the @font-face block tells the browser to use fallback fonts in place of this font while it loads. That’s probably exactly what you want for text fonts and especially body text; it means that the user sees the text as soon as possible and it’s swapped-out for the preferred font the moment it becomes available: no Javascript necessary! Conversely, font-display: block is a better choice for icon fonts where you want to force the browser to wait as long as possible for the font file to load (because any content rendered using it makes no sense otherwise).

font-display works out-of-the-box with Chrome, Firefox, and Safari and with the next version of Edge; older versions of Edge and Internet Explorer will simply fall-back to their default behaviour (FOIT where-necessary) – this is a progressive enhancement technique. But instead of a couple of dozen lines of Javascript, it’s a single line of CSS.

The only downside is that Google Web Fonts won’t add this directive, so you’ll need to self-host your font files (which is really easy, by the way: there’s a tool that’ll show you how). You should consider doing this anyway, of course: CDNs introduce a number of problems and no longer provide the relative performance benefits they used to. So self-host your fonts, add font-display: swap, and enjoy the most-lightweight and well-standardised approach possible to combatting the FOIT.

Goodbye Google Analytics, Hello Fathom

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

Big news! This site is no longer using Google Analytics and I’ve switched to a self-hosted version of brand new analytics product Fathom.

Fathom Analytics dashboard


Fathom is very simple. It only tracks 4 things: Unique Visitors, Page Views, Time on Site, and Bounce Rate. It shows me a chart of page views and visitors and then gives me a break down of referrers and top performing content. That’s it. And to be quite honest, that’s about all I need from my blog analytics.

You know what, Dave:me too! I’ve been running Google Analytics since forever and Piwik/Matomo (in parallel with it) for about a year and honestly: I get more than enough of what I need from the latter. So you’ve inspired me to cut the line with Google: after all, all I was doing was selling them my friends’ data in exchange for some analytics I wasn’t really paying attention to… and I’d frankly rather not.

So: for the first time in a decade or so, there’s no Google Analytics on this site. Woop!

a kind of synth bagpipe on Twitter (Twitter)

“the local part of my email address is just the letter ‘d’ by itself, which means microsoft has imposed the interesting restriction that my randomly generated password cannot contain the letter ‘d’”

@notrevenant @PWtoostrong you wouldn’t believe how often I’m told I’m not allowed to use the letter “Q” in passwords, because “my password mustn’t contain my surname”. O_o

Reply to Hardware Issue – when did hard drive space get like this?

Hardware Issue (Aquarionics)

So, I am a professional system administrator. It says it on my business cards and everything. Every couple of months, when I have to explain to the receptionist at the London office that yes, I do work here, and so

Nicholas Avenell (Aquarionics) wrote:

(My first hard drive for the Amiga 600 was second hand from my dad’s old laptop. It was SIXTY MEGABYTES. It held DOZENS of games. I would need over EIGHT HUNDRED of those drives to hold a 50Gb World of Warcraft install).

I remember my first hard drive. It was 40Mb, and that felt flipping MASSIVE because I’d previously, like most people, been using floppy disks of no larger than 1.44Mb. My second hard drive was 105Mb and it felt like a huge step-up; I ripped my first MP3s onto that drive, and didn’t care for a moment that they each consumed 2%-3% of the available space (and took about 15 minutes each to encode).

Nowadays I look at my general-purpose home desktop’s 12TB RAID array and I think to myself… yeah, but it’s over half full… probably time to plan for the next upgrade. What happened‽ Somewhere along the line hard drive space became like mobile phone battery level became before it: something where you start to worry if you have less than half left. I don’t know how we got here and I’m not sure I’m happy about it, but suffice to say: technology today is nuts.

What is a “Bag of Choppy”?

dobegood posted to Reddit:

My mum just used the phrase “we’d be in for a bucket of custard.” I’m not sure if this is a real phrase or she’s having a stroke. Please advise.

My mother once described her new cat, which was very skinny when she got it, as looking “like a bag of choppy”. I asked her what “choppy” was and she admitted that she didn’t actually know – all she knew is that her mother used to describe things that looked like that cat did as looking “like a bag of choppy”. We tried to look it up or work it out but we couldn’t get to the bottom of it – what is “choppy” except for something that comes in a bag and looks like a scrawny cat? – and so we decided to ask her mother, who was then still alive.

My gran was a proper Hartlepudlian, the kind that you could genuinely imagine hanging a monkey, and she was full of old phrases that defied definition. If you ate with your mouth open she’d tell you off for “clacking”, babies were “baens”, and we were always told not to sit on cold doorsteps or else we’d get “chin cough” (I’ve no idea to this day what chin cough is; all I know about it is the mechanism of transmission, and I’m skeptical of that!). Anyway, on our next visit to the North East we resolved to ask my grandmother what exactly was a “bag of choppy”.

Turns out she didn’t know either; it was just a phrase her mother had used.

tl;dr: what is a “bag of choppy”?

8 words

Ruth wrote:

Coming out to my mother as bisexual was something I thought about for years before finally taking the plunge. Braced for tears and recriminations, I was amazed and pleased to be greeted only with love and support.

Which was why telling her I was poly remains one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Through an unfortunate set of circumstances, I ended up telling her at a very bad time (middle of the night, after a long day, when I was only there for that night, and as if that wasn’t enough, on her birthday). All the painful words I’d braced for before, and many more besides, came flooding out.

I told her because I felt like it was my fault that she didn’t really understand me; with retrospect, probably one of the most selfish decisions I’ve ever made. I’m certain that nothing else I’ve ever done or said has hurt her as much as hearing that I was in more than one loving relationship and that I see nothing wrong with that.

We’re slowly patching up our relationship, and trying to rediscover the things that we do have in common. Just now, on the phone, I was telling her about how well things are going on a voluntary project Dan and I are involved with. I may have sung his praises a little, just to see what reaction I got. I could feel that she wasn’t completely happy about it, but she didn’t shy away from the conversation in the way she used to whenever his name came up.

And then, at the end of the call, eight little words that made me well up. I’m probably reading far too much into this. She probably was just being civil and didn’t mean to confer acceptance. But I can’t help wondering.

Give my regards to everyone at your end.”

As you know, I’ve always considered myself very lucky to have a family that both understand and approve of my sexuality, relationship structure, and the other little curious quirks that I’m known for. I’m really impressed that you’ve been able to try to help your mother to understand where you’re coming from and why you feel the way you feel.

And yeah, those eight words sound positive to me.

strange dream

Beth wrote:

Last night I had an utterly bizarre dream in which I was at the Q party, which for some reason was at Dan and Claire’s huge sprawling country bungalow. The sun was shining and everyone was running about in the garden. I wish I could remember more, I do remember having a random cuddle with Dan. But yeh, fingers crossed the actual party goes as well as my dream one :) Have bought a new dress for the occasion so everyone had better look damn smart!
Missing Aber terribly and will be visiting asap after the party, maybe a weekend in early October. Work is going fine, about to enroll to do AS Biology evening classes and also will be volunteering for something. Can’t decide between assisting mentally handicapped people with arts and crafts, reading with children or working at a nature reserve. Living at home is having its ups and downs, the ups including free food and wine and the downs including being driven insane by my overbearing father. Ah well, tis free, can’t complain. Other than that, not much to report, just very much looking forward to the party next weekend.
Well, there’ll be no bungalow and there’ll be no garden, but everybody will look smart (Claire‘s just now bought a dress) and you’re welcome to a cuddle.

Dumping for Dummies

Ruth wrote:

Wow, it’s been nearly a month since I put finger to key for the sake of this old thing. In case anyone’s wondering, I was feeling hurt and a bit isolated due to the total lack of concern you all showed when I had my first taste of bereavement (with the notable exception of Bryn). I’m over it now though, so no hard feelings, huh?

Anyway, the very briefest of updates: Back from the Cropredy festival, tired, sunburnt and quite ill, but the music was fab and the company fabber. It was especially good to see Bryn and Heather again.

And so to the reason for breaking my silence. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the best way to dump someone. Obviously, ending a relationship is often going to be pretty hard on the other person, but I think there must be some ways of doing so which are more considerate than others. Here’s an example of a way which seems a bit bastardy:

A young couple have been together for just shy of two years. For reasons which we will assume to be sound, the girl decides to end it. She calls her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend and tells him “I don’t know if I love you as a boyfriend or as a person”. He tells her to cut the crap and just dump him if that’s what she’s going to do. She gets pissed off and hangs up. The next day, he logs in to facebook to update their relationship status, and discovers a message from a friend on her wall which says “Congrats! You and [guy she met on a latin course] were meant to be!”. He calls her and tells her he wishes they’d never gone out, then goes to a club with his cousin, gets drunk, causes a nuisance and gets beaten to a bloody pulp by four bouncers. He goes home, calls his sister in tears to say he thinks he must be cursed and his life is worthless, and falls asleep, bleeding, miserable and alone.

This, I think, would be a prime example in the how-not-to-do-it column, even if the dumpee in question wasn’t my little brother. It’s left me wondering if there is a way to do it that’s just a bit less selfish?

I haven’t often been involved in dumping scenarios, most of my relationships having fizzled out without the need for The Talk, and hopefully I’ll never have to get good at them. However, from my inexperienced position, it seems to me that the onus ought to be on the dumper to try and be honest, in so far as this is necessary to prevent the dumpee from making the same mistakes again, and to be as unhurtful as possible. They also ought to resist the urge to use bullshit lines, even if there is some truth in them. Cliches may be cliches for a reason, but you could at least do the person you’re telling isn’t good enough the courtesy of saying so in your own words. Finally, I think the dumpee needs to be willing to take it. Dumping isn’t – or shouldn’t be – easy, so if someone has taken the plunge, chances are that the decision isn’t up for discussion.

It seems to me that this is an area which is woefully under-represented in traditional etiquette. Given how many relationships end in one or both parties deciding to move on, perhaps it’s time that ‘Good Manners’ came to include how to tell someone to get lost in a polite way?

Part The Widget

Sorry I wasn’t able to offer you any support after your last post and during your bereavement. I’m disappointed in others for not helping, of course, but I’m more disappointed in myself. I hope you got the emotional assistance you needed.

Genuinely really sorry. Could post excuses, but I’m sure they’re not very good ones, so shan’t bother.

Part The Brother

In the cases where my relationships haven’t just “fizzled out,” I’ve more often been the dumpee than the dumper – in fact, I’ve only been on the “giving” end of a break-up once. In my experience at least, it’s harder to be the initiator of a break-up than to be dumped, although that’s possibly more to do with the circumstances than anything else (in the case where I was the dumper, I cared more about my partner than at any time that I was the dumpee).

In any case; at that time, I – like your brother’s ex- – lied. Not so well as she did: I explained that I was leaving her for somebody else (Claire), but I didn’t at that point expose that I’d been cheating on her. Why? Because I’d already upset her (and me) and I didn’t want to upset her further or risk sounding like I was gloating (“hey, and look what I got away with!”). Instead, I planned to talk to her about that later (which went a bit shitty for other reasons, but that’s beside the scope of the story).

The bottom line is that, in my opinion, your brother’s ex- was unethical, but I can possibly see why she chose to do it the way that she did. I’d hope that in her position I’d do better (in fact, I’m pretty sure I would – I’ve learned a lot about relationships in the last five-and-a-half years). Moreover – in my mind – it’s not her fault that he got drunk and beaten up; that’s a detail that (while sad and upsetting) doesn’t actually change the moral validity (or, rather, invalidity) of her actions.

Still, I do feel sorry for your brother. I hope he’s getting by.

Part The Ways

Perhaps you’re right about relationships and etiquette, but it’s hard to say for certain. Every relationship is unique, and – even during the break-up – what is right for one is not necessarily right for another. It’s impossible to lay down a rule that says “when you break up with somebody, tell them exactly why and how long you’ve felt that way” because in the end there are relationships that will end better (cleaner break, happier parties, better ethics) if they are done in a different way (drift apart, white lie, outright lie, whatever). Unfortunately, at the point of the break-up the dumping party may well not care so much as they might once have what’s best for *both* parties, and may well be thinking more selfishly (“how do *I* want to feel out of this break up?”). And sadly, unethical as this may be, it’s their right to feel however they want, and it’s hard to tell them that they can’t…

…it’s a big emotional minefield.

I’d like to think that if Claire and I were to split up, we’d make a good job of it. We’ve laid the groundwork, and talked about it, and we’re pretty good at talking about the status of our relationship with one another anyway. Moreover, we’ve got a healthy grip on the frequently-transitory nature of romantic relationships, and – while it sounds a little pessimistic – we find it’s a great way of keeping things in perspective. Of course, it’s impossible to say. Time – perhaps – will tell.

Ultimately, I’d just like to see people communicate better with their partners: feeling capable to talk about how they feel and able to be honest about what they think. It *should* be okay to say “I love somebody else more than you. How do you feel about that?” It *should* be okay to say “I’m only with you for the sex. But the sex is good.” It *should* be okay to say “I’d like to spend more time alone, but I’m not ready to commit to breaking up.” And it should be okay to say “No, that doesn’t work for me. Can we find a compromise? Or shall we call it a day?”


I’ll fix the world some other day. Far too much going on right now. If you want to debate any of this, drop me an e-mail or call me (haven’t heard your voice in too long anyway).

Love and hugs.

Contraception advice please Claire Q!

Liz wrote:

A huge thank you to everyone who posted support last week. I felt alot better knowing that other people believed me.

Thankfully simon believed me too and the whole thing has made us a lot stronger.

Could I please ask for some advice from claire. Simon and i are having incredibly bad luck. The second condom in a month broke this morning and I am going to go yet again to have the morning after pill when the shops re-open tomorrow. I have been reading about getting an IUCD fitted and i was wondering about the logistics of it. I read that a doctor would need to fit it which is fine but do I ring my GP 3 hours drive away and ask for an appintment to talk about it, or can I get it sorted more quickly by contacting the sexual health clinic here and asking them if they can fit me in some time. I have no idea what questions i should be asking to be honest. i know the general things that the NHS can tell me about what the IUCD is and what the side effects are, that I will need a local anaethetic etc. I just need to get it sorted soon and i don’t want to go on the pill agai. I was crap at remembering to take them.

Oh my goodness though, guess what? I crashed my car into a post on friday night.

I’m really not having good luck at the moment.

At least i’m in love.


I’m sure Claire will post something soon. In the meantime, a quick conversation with her yeilded the following suggestions from the pair of us (we’ve been drinking, and we expect you’ll appreciate a sober answer from her tomorrow):

  • Before diving into the IUCD as a solution, be aware of some of the alternatives: Claire and I successfully used the injectable contraceptive for about a year, maybe more, without problem. You get an injection once every three months, so it’s hard to forget (and you can be up to a week late and still be covered), and it works in the same way as the pill, so if you’ve taken that without side-effect before, it’ll “work” for you. Plus, after the second or so injection, your periods will stop as your hormones become “levelled out”. Downsides: well, it’s an injection in the arse. It can be performed by any sexual health nurse, so you could probably get it done, like, tomorrow if you so wished.
  • Also consider the implant. Works the same way, again, but lasts 3-5 years. You *can* feel it in your arm, if you know where to fondle, but it’s otherwise very discreet. It’s added under local anasthetic, and is apparently only uncomfortable for a couple of days (and again when it’s removed or replaced).
  • Okay, now we’ll get onto the coil. I’ll share with you some of my experience of it, but bear in mind that Claire will undoubtedly have a lot more to say. Claire initially reported some discomfort and pain when having it inserted, owing to her small cervix (before 1990 or so, the IUD would typically only be offered to women who had given birth before, to reduce the risk of repeatedly jabbing the cervix with what is essentially a plastic tube from a biro). We decided on the IUCD based on several factors, including the fact that it lasts longer than the implant and that there is no local practitioner qualified to do the implant – factors that may not be relevant to you or have different importance weightings. In addition, there have been half a dozen times when I’ve felt the (quite sharp, be warned) “tails” of the coil during sex, and on one ocassion even managed to leave a mark. It’s always possible to maneuver the tails into a different position (either with a well-placed finger or simply by shifting sexual positions). Okay, disadvantages aside: the IUCD works from the second it goes in, can be used as a substitute to emergency contraception (so if you can find a doctor tomorrow, you’re laughing), and you’re theoretically fertile again from the second it comes out. Apparently there’s a risk that it can come out of it’s own accord (happened to an aunt of mine once), but again, for a non-mother, it’s very unlikely.

Did I mention you have to have check-ups on the coil for weight gain? Perhaps you do for the implant, too, but – if you can stomach it – the implant seems to me to be a preferable option. Just my thoughts.

Oh; and if you’re considering switching from a barrier to a hormonal method of contraception, and you haven’t already, it’s a great excuse to get tested for all the other things a barrier keeps you safe from. Make a day trip of it and see the STD nurse: you know you want to!

Good luck with it. Claire and I are, I’m sure, available for whatever questions you can throw at us – between us, we’ve tried pretty much every contraceptive method under the sun.

Sian wrote:

I’m hoping to get a laptop for me birthday, any suggestions people who know about these things? Before I end up buying one just because it’s pink or has Hello Kitty on it or something. I just want something basic, but not rubbish. Help?

Before somebody suggests that I will be the best person to ask: I’m not. I’ve owned several shitty laptops and one reasonably good one, I’ve never enjoyed using one, and I’ve broken all of them. But that’s more to do with me than the laptops in question.

IBM, Toshiba, Dell – all respectable names worth considering (although Toshiba can be ludicrously expensive). Look at weight and battery life and how hot they run. All I can help with.