tola: well I went to see the cookie monster and he said he marked them three weeks ago
tomleech: i dont think the cookie monster is one of our lecturers
tomleech: you may be confused between real life and a childrens program

Today in an exam when asked how to increase the range of a transmitter given certain conditions, I wrote “hold on to the antenna and wave your arms around in the air”.

You can tell its towards the end of the exam period, I may be joining bouncykaz in a padded room shortly.

Exam Stress

Argh! I’ve so far managed to almost completely avoid talking about exams on my blog, but no longer.

It will all be over by 3:30pm Thursday, and that’s what worries me.

Where does all the time go? I seem to have lost three days to some freak illness during which I have slept lots, sweated lots, dreamt lots of weird dreams and achieved very little.

It doesn’t help that I have a paper deadline, job seeking, late student loan application and house contract signing looming over me.

Must stay focussed. Not sure what to do about my messed up body clock. Do I give in to it and work until 4:30am another night or try and fight it into some kind of sane rhythm which actually involves seeing daylight?

Google Co-op, Notebook, Trends

All those fed up of hearing about Google, look away now.

In the Google Newsletter today were a few useful tools I didn’t know existed.

  • Co-op – Another way of getting users to help organise the world’s information
  • Notebook – Basically a wiki for Joe Public, you can have private or public notes. The intereting bit is “AJAX” UI for inline WYSIWYG editing, pretty much exactly what I meant by my WizziWiki idea on my ideas wiki.
  • Trends – An incredibly useful tool (for some people) for graphing search trends on just about anything – kind of a build-your-own zeitgeist. For example, Good vs. Evil

.mobi, homebrew mobile phones, Gumstix


The .mobi TLD was launched on Monday. This is good because it is promoting the (currently struggling) mobile web, but bad because I think it’s the wrong direction. Why have separate domains for the mobile web than for the desktop web? We shouldn’t be making assumptions about how people are accessing our web pages. I think that web pages should be in a device independent language which can be transformed to be rendered in different formats (see previous post). It’s an issue of properly separating content and presentation, not of marketing.

Homebrew Mobile Phone Club

Following in a similar theme, I recently discovered the Homebrew Mobile Phone Club who work on open mobile platforms (with, I think, the ultimate goal of creating their own mobile phones.) They share the frustration that I have for the current range of available mobile phones. My frustration is that I know exactly what I phone I want, it just hasn’t been invented yet!


And to finish off, take a look at these awesome little Linux computers, the size of a stick of chewing gum.
Gumstix. There is lots of development support and a range of expansion kits.

“Device Independent Authoring Language”, how about a “Device Independent Web Server”?


Thanks to an anonymous poster for pointing me towards the first public release of a working draft for the W3C’s Device Independent Authoring Language. This was released by the Device Independence Working Group four days ago.

DIAL may possibly be the UIDL (User Interface Description Language) I’ve been looking for. It does seem to be quite content focussed rather that UI focussed like something like UIML, but it might do the job. Being W3C recommendation will be a huge bonus. It is based on elements from existing xml formats like XHTML(2) but also XForms, which has some very interesting features. (see the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (not W3C) for an alternative take.)

RFC: Device Independent Web Server


Each web “page” is stored on the server as a DIAL document. A page is requested by its name and a client-specified extension (e.g. .xhtml, .svg, .x3d, .voicexml, .xul), usually with an HTTP GET. The server first performs any server-side scripting, then performs a server-side transformation on the output using XSLT with an XSL stylesheet to return a document in that format. If a stylesheet for the requested extension does not exist, a .dial document is passed to the client which can attempt to perform a client-side transformation or return an error.


Could this same DIAL document also be bound/translated/tranformed into a GTK or similar user interface using something other than XSLT?

Could an XMLHTTPRequest type request be sent to the server and the server return a fragment which is either pre-transformed on the server or transformed on the client into a suitable format?

Is this RESTful?

DISCLAIMER: I have been drinking whisky

Develop “AJAX” applications in Java

The Google Web Toolkit allows you to write an application in Java and “compile” it to “AJAX”.

This is cool because it means that you could use Eclipse to develop these sorts of applications and not have to worry about the ridiculous variations in web browsers. Whilst insanely useful (and interesting to know how GMail and Google Calendar were written!) this does still feel like a bit of a hack to me.

It all feels like a stop-gap solution to a bigger problem which is using the web as a platform for applications as well as webpages. The ideal solution would be a standard which all browsers actually follow for asynchronous communication with a server and a new markup language for user interfaces other than HTML, sort of like XUL but more generic like UIML. I guess the problem is that these things take time, lots of time.

I’ve mentioned before the need for a very generic User Interface Description Language (UIDL) which can be transported over networks and mapped/bound/transformed into various different graphical environments on the fly – ranging from a web browser to GTK to a physical device with buttons and LEDs!

Live 8: Email President Putin

Last year Live 8 pushed the G8 leaders to make big commitments, including debt cancellation for 300 million people and an extra $50 billion in aid for the world’s poor. These steps are urgently needed to help end the extreme poverty in Africa that kills 30,000 a day.

In July, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is hosting the next G8 summit in St. Petersburg. We have to make sure that the G8 keep their promises and that real progress is made towards trade justice.

You can email President Putin via the Live 8 website or directly via the Kremlin website

You can use the Live 8 template or write your own letter. My letter reads as follows:

Dear President Putin,

I am writing regarding the G8 in July. Tens of millions of people have made our concerns about Africa perfectly clear and leaders have pledged to:

* Make AIDS drugs available to all who need them
* Guarantee care for all AIDS orphans
* Train up enough doctors and nurses to cope with the demand for care
* Commit to free Primary education for all children and train people to teach them by 2015

Sustained work is needed by all the G8 leaders to turn these words into actions and make practical plans for progress. You are the leaders of a generation of great nations who have the ability to leave our mark in history as the generation who cared enough to do something. Your leadership is key in making this vision a reality.

Please, make this a priority.

Yours sincerely

Benjamin Tola Francis (20)

Internet, housemates, canals and revision

Plugged back in!

W00t! Our block’s Internet connection is back.

It disappeared last Friday, usefully the ISP only work Mon-Fri 9-5 so they didn’t know about it until Monday at 10am when I told them (I expected our site management to have reported it because of all the complaints, but they didn’t).

They came to look at it, turned the switch on for our block and it promptly turned itself off again a minute later, turned it on again, turned itself off. They did this 7 times, I know this because I was sat tailing my message logs like some kind of Internet-deprived maniac. They decided that the RCD was faulty because it kept tripping so they tried their own RCD which worked fine. It stayed connected for about 20 minutes, I thought it was fixed, then they disconnected it all and went home having decided it was site maintenance’s responsibility and they could fix it the next day.

By this point I was starting to get Internet withdrawl symptoms. You’d think that losing my Internet connection would be the best thing that could happen to me during revision time, but unfortunately all our lecture notes are stored on WebCT, I desperately needed to transfer some money between bank accounts and I couldn’t get to my online exam timetable. I was getting grouchy.

I stomped around our block following all the trunking on the walls figuring out where the network cabling was routed. I figured out where the switch must be (inside a locked wooden box) and was seriously considering breaking into the box, plugging my Linksys router into an adjacent power outlet, spoofing the MAC address and patching in a temporary connection to our entire flat. Luckily I had to meet samwwwblack and some people at the Guild (see later) and he talked me out of it 😛

Today they managed to send someone over by 1pm and promptly removed the RCD switch, replaced it with a plain old on/off switch and everything suddenly started working again. Providing it doesn’t short out and catch fire we should be fine!

A question about voltage and current

On a related note, the transformer for my Linksys router has suddenly stopped working for no apparent reason, so now I have to either go through a returns procedure to get it replaced under warranty or buy a new one.

Question: I have a transformer for my Creative speakers which outputs 12V/~4.2A DC, the Linksys transformer is 12V/1000mA DC. Would it be unwise to plug the higher current transformer into my Linksys router (bearing in mind it is switched on 24/7)? Will it just draw the amount of current it needs or could it do it harm? I know I know, I’m in an Electrical Engineering department and I should definitely know this, but I know it will work, I’m just not sure if it’s a good idea.


Yesterday samwwwblack and I met two guys called Phil and Pat who are looking for somewhere to live next year. It’s looking a lot like we’re going to rent a place together (the house me and Sam have our eye on) but it’s very daunting having only met them yesterday. samwwwblack agreed to take the box room in return for paying less rent, I hope he didn’t just say that because he’d been drinking beer 😛

The landlord wants a £100 deposit between us by next Monday to secure the house and then he wants a months rent up front, is that reasonable? He’s said that he’ll fix the cracked front window (which I’ll get in writing) and give us reduced rent in July when he’s working on the place.

It looks like I may finally have somewhere to live next year!

Canal Walk

lauperr and I walked along the canal from the Vale all the way into central Birmingham and I found a really nice area of canals I didn’t realise was there (they do say Birmingham has more canals than Venice). I think I’m going to take my family for a walk along there and then up to see the big wheel to try and show them that there are very nice parts of Birmingham 🙂


Five exams left ranging from Cognitive Psychology to Assembler programming and microprocessor design, first one tomorrow, last one on June 1st.

I’ve taken to drawing girly mind maps 🙂