John Smith's Blog

Ramblings (mostly) about technical stuff

Steve Jobs' grinning turd

Posted by John Smith on

Given the App Store's reputation for prurience when it comes to approving things, it's slightly eyebrowraising to find this delightful fellow in the iOS Unicode character set:

Screengrab from an iPod Touch showing unicode character e05a in Mobile Safari

This came to my attention via this post on Asiajin, which is largely derived from this Japanese-language blog post.

I recalled seeing some weird colour bitmap icons hidden a long way down, when using UnicodeTable a while ago. Digging around again, it turns out that this is character 0xE05A in the private use area (PDF link), where vendors can - and do - put whatever they like.

On Windows 7, OS X Snow Leopard and Android 2.1, nothing seems to be defined for these characters in the default browser font. On Fedora, they are a mix of Asian (?) glyphs and dingbats; 0xE023 is a smiley with an eyepatch, for example. On iOS... well you can see for yourself in the above screengrab, or go to this link if you don't believe me. The character entity itself is , which will render as a placeholder box or similar on machines without a glyph defined for it.

Don't believe everything you read (including this post)

Posted by John Smith on

The Guardian/Observer have just put up an article that at first glance makes one of my recent posts look pretty stupid.

Whereas I was disparaging newspaper execs belief that the iPad would be their saviour, according the Graun/Observer's headline:

iPad 'newspaper' created by Steve Jobs and Rupert Murdoch
Apple and News Corp reportedly set to launch joint iPad news publication exclusively via download

From that, and the following article, you might well think that Apple is as involved in this as News Corp.

However, if you go and dig out the original article - which is the sole attributed source for the Graun/Obs piece - you'll note that:

  • Steve Jobs isn't mentioned until the very final paragraph
  • Whilst it does say that Jobs and KRM have been in discussions, it shouldn't be any real surprise that two corporate moguls talk every now and again - and bear in mind that the Murdochs seem to be frequent guests aboard Larry Ellison's navy, yet I don't recall seeing any stories about Oracle and News Corp being close business partners
  • There's no mention of Apple having any involvement, any more than any of the thousands of other apps on the App Store

which gives a rather different impression.

The Daily project certainly exists, and it may well be that Steve Jobs has some sort of presence at its launch, but there's no evidence of any real Apple involvement at this point in time. I also have to wonder how strategic this project is - with a quoted headcount of just a hundred people, and more of an emphasis on light news and features than "serious" journalism, it seems more akin to the late UK freesheet TheLondonpaper than any of News Corp printed titles.

The iPad is not the saviour of the newspaper business

Posted by John Smith on

There've been a couple of bits of (IMHO) crazy talk from UK newspaper execs reported in the past couple of days, that I couldn't let go without adding my two-penneth.

First off we have James Murdoch proclaiming:

Our flagship newspaper products are now the iPad apps.

Yeah, and the Titanic was the flagship of the White Star Line.

We then have Sylvia Bailey piping in:

Bailey looked forward to platforms like tablets and Apple’s desktop app store, “without the design limitations of the web”.
I just can't see why a consumer would pay for something where they can get the same thing at as high a quality for free.

Now, I agree 100% with that last comment. Thing is though, the iPad newspaper/magazine apps I've seen so far [1] don't actually seem to be much of an advance from their website equivalents - and in some aspects, they can be inferior, such as how rapidly their content is updated:

Photos of The Telegraph's website and iPad app, taken 1:20pm on 2010/11/16.  The iPad app has no coverage of a story that broke earlier that day.

Whilst it's unfair to use a rival's products to critique someone's opinion, I think you'd be hard pushed to say that the Telegraph website shows has "design limitations" compared to their native app, quite the contrary in fact. Not to mention that if you're going to be comparing custom iOS (or Android for that matter) native apps to the web, then it'd be only fair to look at webpages built with CSS3, HTML5, AJAX, etc which aren't crippled by the need to support the likes of IE6.

Going back to the original JRM quote, surely the flagship product of a newspaper organization - for now at least - should be the newspaper itself? I haven't looked for recent figures for News International, but a couple of years ago, the printed product accounted for 85% of Guardian Media Group's revenues, and I'd be surprised if things are radically different now.

JRM talks about the "cannibalistic effect" of apps on the printed product, and I assume he's talking about that from a user/income point-of-view. But what about the "cannibalistic effect" internally? If your flagship is actually a niche product, then all the focus and attention it has taken away from the core business is more likely to accelerate than prevent your demise.

Not to mention, burning 20 million quid and several hundred man-years on these sorts of frivolities can't be healthy in an organization that's had to make fairly big cuts elsewhere.

Doubtless a year-or-so back, Steve Jobs did the rounds of all the big media conglomerates, using the notorious reality distortion field, to sell them on his "magic". Now, if you were in the desperate ruler of a declining kingdom, and a wizard came along saying that all of your problems would be solved if you had some of his magic beans, then it wouldn't be surprising that you bought into that fairy tale dream.

Personally, I'd be surprised if Steve Jobs has any more love in the interest in the publishing business than he does for the music industry. Selling the world a new type of device is/was a tall order, especially when apparently similar products had previously flopped. Who better to help spread the word than a desperate bunch seeking a saviour, but who still retain a good degree of influence and audience?

Footnote: I hasten to add, I've not actually spent much time with many iPad/iPhone newspaper/magazine apps. Those which I have seen I haven't found overly inspiring - they're either fairly basic text/image rendering that could be done just as well in HTML, or humongous archives of JPGs or PDFs pulled straight from the print version. I haven't checked The Times' Eureka app, which is supposedly quite good, but reeks of "mid '90s multimedia CD-ROM" to me, and we all know what happened to that line of electronic publishing...

Experimental rhythm action game using HTML5 video and Safari 3D CSS3 transforms

Posted by John Smith on

UPDATE: this is currently broken on my iPad, suspect it's iOS 4.2 related. I think I might be able to do a hacky fix, but I'm still working on it. It should work OK on regular Safari though.

It's probably not the most sensible thing in the world to publicize a >10MB video file that's being hosted on an Amazon EC2 'micro' instance, but let's see how long this lasts before I take it down to avoid too much damage to my credit card...

Photo of an iPad running the game

One of the things that surprised me when I got an iPad was that in Mobile Safari, embedded YouTube videos would play within the browser, rather than launching the standalone app as they do on the iPhone/iPod Touch. (Assuming that they've been embedded using the iframe method, rather than a Flash video.) This inspired me to start playing with HTML5 video, which previously hadn't struck me as that interesting.

Unfortunately, the embedding of YouTube video in an <iframe>, coupled with the way the underlying video file URLs are uniquely signed - presumably to inhibit hotlinking - means that it's difficult to impossible to have a lot of customized interaction with the YT video itself, but by hosting the video myself, I've able to build something really, simple but (hopefully) effective.

Anyway, at is a very basic rhythm action game. It's primarily aimed at the iPad, but will work acceptably on Mac/Windows Safari. Other browsers will have mixed results, as currently none of them support the 3D transformations added into WebKit's CSS, not even Chrome. The 3D stuff is super-simple, and could probably be 90% faked using regular CSS/JS/images, but as this is purely experimental, I've not been inclined to try. If this was a serious project, I'd probably do it in Objective-C, but I was really only interested in the HTML5/CSS3 aspects.

Tweet me to let me know how much you hate it...

About this blog

This blog (mostly) covers technology and software development.

Note: I've recently ported the content from my old blog hosted on Google App Engine using some custom code I wrote, to a static site built using Pelican. I've put in place various URL manipulation rules in the webserver config to try to support the old URLs, but it's likely that I've missed some (probably meta ones related to pagination or tagging), so apologies for any 404 errors that you get served.

RSS icon, courtesy of RSS feed for this blog

About the author

I'm a software developer who's worked with a variety of platforms and technologies over the past couple of decades, but for the past 7 or so years I've focussed on web development. Whilst I've always nominally been a "full-stack" developer, I feel more attachment to the back-end side of things.

I'm a web developer for a London-based equities exchange. I've worked at organizations such as News Corporation and Google and BATS Global Markets. Projects I've been involved in have been covered in outlets such as The Guardian, The Telegraph, the Financial Times, The Register and TechCrunch.

Twitter | LinkedIn | GitHub | My CV | Mail

Popular tags

Other sites I've built or been involved with


Most of these have changed quite a bit since my involvement in them...