Friday 29 July 2011

Complaint Sent to BBC Regarding F1 Coverage

It was announced today that from 2012, broadcast rights for Formula One races will be shared between the current holder, BBC Sport, and Sky Sports. The BBC will show a selection of races live, including Monaco, Silverstone and the final race of the season, while Sky Sports (a premium rate pay-TV channel) will broadcast every single race. Twitter is fuming with rage over the announcement, and I felt compelled to make a formal complaint:
As a license fee payer, I would like to make abundantly clear that I find the newly announced Formula One broadcast arrangements abhorrent. BBC Sport director Barbara Slater's 'delight' over the matter fills me with ire, as I know of not a single follower of F1 that will share her sentiments.
This is a monumental betrayal of those that have supported the BBC and F1 in recent years, and an appalling slight to the BAFTA award-winning production team and presenters that have raised the sport to its current heights.
No, broadcasting 'some' of the races live is not cause for delight or celebration of any kind. The loss of any F1 races to a non-free-to-air channel is a disaster for the sport, and signals the advent of a dark age for Formula One, and a complete loss of trust in BBC management.
Update: McLaren team principle Martin Whitmarsh questions the legality of the deal, as it may breach the Concorde Agreement that binds the F1 teams and management, and dictates the broadcast rights principles.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

How to Find a Facebook User ID

The Facebook Like button is ever more prevalent, with countless uses all over the web, but many site administrators will want to control the way that 'Likes' for their sites appear on users' news feeds, in particular by specifying their own logo or graphic to accompany the story.

In order to do this, Facebook requires that the 'Liked' page participate in the Open Graph, so that an Open Graph image can be specified.

This is a relatively straight-forward affair, involving the addition of a collection of <meta> tags defining og: properties (which, annoyingly don't validate as compliant HTML, but that's another story), but there is one requirement that appears to have been added after the initial roll-out, as pages that omitted it worked before and then suddenly stopped working.

That requirement is for the specification of fb:app_id or fb:admins in order to provide administrative authority for your pages within the Open Graph.

While fb:app_id (Application ID) is easy to find, fb:admins requires the user ID of one or more administering users - and this ID can be rather difficult to find when the users have deployed vanity URLs, which mask their normal profile page URL, which includes their user ID.

There are all sorts of crazy ways documented on the Internet to find the ID of a user, but thankfully Facebook provide a proper way that doesn't involve hiring a private detective.

All one needs to do is request the information for the user in question directly from the Open Graph, like this:

I've documented this in more detail in the XenForo User Manual, and even provided a form to make the process as easy as possible:

How to Find the ID of a Facebook User

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Barefoot Badminton

For the most part I play badminton with bare feet. This may draw gasps of horror from some players, who question whether I end up with blisters and burns and twisted ankles, but I have never had any of those things. In fact, the last time I put my badminton shoes on, I quickly ended up with a sprained ankle due to the higher centre of gravity and less-stable platform provided by padded footwear.

At the risk of stating the obvious, playing badminton barefoot is not the same as playing with shoes.

It's not possible to simply plant a foot and rely on the mechanical grip of the sole to begin a change of direction. It's also imperative to keep legs flexed and weight forward so that contact with the floor is primarily through the forefoot, as landing on, or striking the floor with heels is not to be advised.

A light step and swift footwork are required to move effectively around the court. While sliding and heavy landings are precluded, jumping and agility at the net are greatly improved. I am completely free of ankle or knee pain after badminton, which can be a common complaint from those who land heavily in shoes.

Last night, I decided to play a few games in my Vibram FiveFingers, about which I wrote recently.

I have a few observations:

Firstly, the degree of grip with the floor is definitely improved, but I'm not entirely sure that this is a good thing, as it encourages actions that place a great strain on the lower legs and knees, as the momentum of the body is arrested in an artificially rapid manner by the contact with the floor.

Secondly, even though there is almost no padding in the FiveFingers sole, the lack of sensation from the floor into the plantar surface seems to convince the mind that there is a degree of padding available, and as a result I found myself landing much more heavily in the Vibrams than I would normally expect when barefoot. While I think I was still relatively light-footed, I could see a potential situation where this false sense of security could result in injury to the foot, perhaps even stress fracture in extreme cases.

The sensation of playing badminton in Vibram FiveFingers is comparable to playing with bare feet, but it's not a switch I would make permanently. For the time being, I plan to limit their use to a few games per session.

To anyone thinking of shedding their shoes to play badminton, I would certainly commend you to do so and experience the benefits - it's a great way to teach yourself to stay light and agile on court. It may not be suitable for very high-speed competitive play, but for club nights it has served me very well for several years now. It may be a bit of a system shock the first time you play barefoot, so take it easy and stay on your toes, but with a few games' practice you'll be in the swing of things.

Yes, the soles of you feet will end up black by the end of a session, but that's why we invented soap, right?

Friday 3 June 2011

Google PlusOne HTML 5 API Broken

Google's new +1 Button normally mandates a somewhat cumbersome <g:plusone> tag, but this tag is not HTML compliant without a custom DTD, and worse, is unselectable by jQuery using normal selectors.

Thankfully, they also provide an HTML 5 <div class="g-plusone"> option.

While the <g:plusone> tag is configured with 'size' and 'url' attributes, in order to be HTML 5 compliant, the <div> version passes parameters using HTML 5's 'data-' attributes, such as 'data-size' and 'data-url'.

Or at least, that's what the documentation says.

In actual fact, the HTML 5 version ignores data- attributes, and responds only to normal, non-data attributes.

I have put together a test case to illustrate the problem:
Test case demonstrating the broken +1 HTML 5 implementation.

Hopefully Google will address this quickly.

Update, June 14 2011
The test case now renders correctly, indicating that Google has fixed the problem. Hooray!

Thursday 26 May 2011

How Comparable are Barefoot Shoes to Bare Feet?

As many people already know, I spend most of my life barefoot. I view shoes rather like gloves - sometimes they are necessary for warmth or protection, but most of the time they are redundant. I like the lightness, agility and freedom of bare feet, and the extra awareness of the environment that they provide. I wear shoes only when I absolutely must and even then, the footwear of choice tends to be cheap plastic flip-flops.
Various people are very surprised when they learn that I rarely wear shoes when I go out. I am frequently asked if my feet aren't cold or if walking is not uncomfortable. The answer to both is negative. Americans in particular question whether it is even permitted to go barefoot, referring to the abundance of 'NSNSNS' signs that adorn US establishments.
Perhaps it's a difference in culture, but here in England I've only ever seen a written prohibition of bare feet in places where to be unshod would be genuinely dangerous. In this country, I've only ever been accosted once in all my barefoot years, and that was by a weaselly jobsworth security guard at a branch of Tesco in Kent, but a quick talk to the manager resolved the matter and I was free to proceed.
Most people in this country don't seem to care what anyone else wears on their feet.
The human foot is an engineering marvel. It has twenty-six bones, thirty-three joints and an arch capable of absorbing the shock of the full body weight landing upon it. At the same time, it is a highly sensitive receptor of environmental stimuli.
In recent years, various manufacturers have developed 'barefoot' or 'minimalist' footwear, ostensibly to allow the natural mechanics of the human foot to function, rather than the somewhat limited range of motion afforded to the shod. Notwithstanding the 'barefoot' misnomer, minimalist shoes are lighter and more flexible than their traditional counterparts, and often have a very thin sole with little or no arch support. The most visible example of these products is the 'FiveFingers' range from Vibram - a bizarre looking creation, the most obvious characteristic of which is the individual pockets for toes. These shoes, and a book called Born to Run have spawned a new generation of people to rediscover their feet.
You might think that as an advocate of bare feet, I would have jumped on the minimalist footwear bandwagon ages ago, but the fact of the matter is that minimalist or not, these products are still shoes and thus, I have avoided them up to now.

Yesterday, I succumbed to curiosity and ordered a pair of Vibram FiveFingers 'Speed' from They arrived this morning, and I wiggled my feet into them (which is quite a task in its own right).
So, what's the verdict? Am I a convert to the minimalist footwear way? Is the feel of wearing them anything like being barefoot?
In short, no.
Let's start with the good points. This particular style is far less ostentatiously styled than earlier offerings, so I don't feel like a complete freak wearing them. The range of foot motion is very good, with the soles bending freely with the movement of my feet. The shoes are extremely light - possibly even lighter than my 'emergency' flip flops, so I'm pleased with that.

On the other hand, my toes feel somewhat constrained in the individual pockets. Most peoples' toes don't point straight out of the end of their feet, as the pockets are arranged, but obviously it's not possible to cater for every foot shape. The soles on the toes are relatively thick, and as I walk I don't feel my toes grasping for grip as I normally do without shoes.
The biggest down-side is the lack of sensation from the soles of my feet. A large part of the experience of being barefoot is the intimate physical contact with the ground on which one walks. The soles of the feet are covered with sensitive nerve endings (which is why feet are so very ticklish) and these nerves communicate the texture, temperature and firmness of the ground to the brain in order to make tiny adjustments to the way your feet approach and rest upon the ground.
With the shoes on, this sense is extremely dulled, much as one's dexterity and sensation is hampered by thick gloves, and one is only able to detect much larger features on the ground. I found that this affected the way I walk - I was far more heavy-footed wearing the shoes than I would normally be without them, as I was receiving little to no feedback about the hardness of the ground from my soles.
Over and above it all, I miss that sensation. I like to experience the ground, it gives me a sense of connection to the place on which I am standing, and those plantar nerves provide a sensory banquet for your brain at all times.
In conclusion, I like the shoes and will wear them on occasions, but the default state of my feet will remain bare for the foreseeable future.

Barefoot Shoes?

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Friday 28 May 2010

'Remove from Friends' - The Ultimate Modern Insult?

In the modern, online world, it is common to find oneself slighted in many ways. The relative ease and anonymity with which comments may be posted can often lead to insults being levied that would make eyes water if expressed in face-to-face exchanges.

In my time as lead developer of vBulletin, and previously at AP3D, I grew used to throw-away comments from people I didn't really know, summarily hurling abuse at me or the products of myself and my team. When dealing with a large customer or follower base, this sort of thing is to be expected. One can not expect to please everyone all of the time.

However, while it's possible to learn to live with hurtful comments from relative strangers, there is another, far more subtle form of insult that has reared its head with the emergence of social networks, and Facebook in particular.

The inter-user networking basis of Facebook is one of mutual friendship. John searches for or comes across Jane and requests that they be identified as friends. If Jane accepts, the connection is made and is visible to the rest of John and Jane's friends. Things that John does appear on Jane's news feed and vice versa.

It may be that at some point in time Jane finds that John is spending a lot of time interacting with annoying applications that 'spam' her news feed, and she grows tired of hearing about John's trivial exploits. Facebook offers a tool to deal with this situation, allowing Jane to 'hide' John from her news feed. The friendship is still in place, but Jane will no longer hear about John unless she goes looking for information.

However, there is another option. Jane could break her friendship with John. John will not be notified that this has happened, and will only find out when he either notices that Jane's information no longer shows up in his news feed, or when he visits Jane's profile page and finds the dreaded 'Add as Friend' button sitting there. Why did Jane break the friendship? When did it happen, and what precipitated Jane's decision? Should John re-request friendship, in case Jane made a mistake?

How can Jane's actions be interpreted by John? In the worst interpretation, John can read the following into Jane's termination of the bond:

Once, I considered you a friend. I read about you and I allowed you to read about me. However, you subsequently changed into a person with whom I no longer want a friendship. Your repugnance is so great that simply omitting your activity from my news feed was not enough, and I felt compelled to remove you from my friends list. I do not intend to inform you of my action or to explain my reasons for taking it. I will not even grace you with a goodbye.

And that, my friends, is a cutting insult.

Use 'Remove from Friends' judiciously.