Niall’s virtual diary archives – Saturday 14th March 2009

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Saturday 14th March 2009: 9.48pm. Just a little entry to let everyone know that I'm not dead (yet) or anything, just as always very, very busy and not a huge amount to report of much interest. Astute readers may have noticed the magic appearance of a feed icon next to the latest entry and indeed in the address bar of most web browsers. So what's one of those then?

Well, that's a syndicated feed which lets people "subscribe" to this virtual diary and be notified whenever a new entry is posted. I say this like it's the newest most magical thing you've ever heard of, but I'm making myself sound foolish - this is ancient technology and the only reason I haven't had it on here before is that is an entirely static HTML website which makes generating an automated feed somewhat tricky. Any modern "blogging" software is database driven and can churn out feeds easily, whereas static HTML need to be scraped by a server-side PHP script.

Now for my group project for the BIS Masters I had to teach myself a lot of XML based technology - which to be honest I had mostly avoided until now because XML is a fairly stupid idea given what SGML could have enabled. Nevertheless, despite XML's many, many flaws and failings, it is a major improvement on what came before - HTML in particular is an arse due to be inconsistent. Long time readers will remember me upgrading the site to use UTF-8 based XHTML back in April 2007 and at the time I retrospectively applied the XHTML conversion back to October 2006, so the feed consists of all diary entries since October 2006. I wrote a PHP script which loads in each of the XHTML files as an XML DOM tree, extracts the diary entries, patches up any CSS styles, images and hyperlinks to point at absolute URLs and spits it out as an Atom feed though because processing is expensive (and repeating it unnecessary), it maintains a cache of the output and it optionally gzips the output too to save on bandwidth. I then set up a Feedburner account and that's what you have linked in above.

So, Niall's virtual diary is now in the 21st century! Other news that I have is that it proved impossible to find a literary agent nor publisher interested in any of my books - without peer reviewed academic publications I sound like a crank to them, so they dismiss me out of hand. My plan currently is to set up my own publishing company to publish my own books and indeed anyone else's too using the Print On Demand technology which Ingram offers.

All that has to wait for another two weeks though when I can finally get the albatross of academic indoctrination off my back. Just two short weeks, and I'll just have exams to go and then I'll be finally, at long, long, last, free! I have so many plans for my freedom - it's literally like getting out of prison. It'll take a while to turn them into money, maybe a year, but to be honest given the current economic climate I have little to lose - every one of us fresh graduates has no better a choice than between the dole and a near-minimum wage job during unsociable hours (like Megan has just obtained for her weekend mornings). So, all in all, life is okay - and we'll be visiting Edinburgh to say goodbye to the St. Andrews lot in early April which should be fun - be happy!

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