Another change to the photo gallery

My photo gallery runs on  Gallery2, which I like as a storage and display system but it’s not one of the most flexible photo gallery systems out there. Other than changing the themes and templates, it’s hard to customise the key functionality of it without using plugins – and if there isn’t one to do what you want, then you’re stuffed unless you can write your own.

In particular, what I miss in Gallery2, compared to some other galery systems, is the ability to easily show lists of albums in ways that don’t fit within the existing plugins and themes. The default front page of Gallery2 is just a set of thumbnails to albums, without any significant descriptive text or stats. So, I thought I’d do a little hackery and create my own.

My new gallery front page is completely standalone – it doesn’t hook into any of Gallery2’s internal routines – which has the advantage of being a lot more flexible and easy to write (once I’d got my head around the rather complex database structure). The disadvantage is that I’ll need to manually edit it if I ever change the main gallery theme or change the database structure, but that’s not really a major problem.

My four new features are: a list of the most popular albums (currently the top ten, but that’s simply a variable in the script), a list of the most recent albums (again, currently ten), a niftly little Ajaxy “people are currently viewing…” box and, on a separate page, a full text-based sitemap in tree format.

I think it looks better than the default front page (which is still there, it’s now the “thumbnail view” link from the new front page). It’s not complete yet – I want to add a few more things like “top photos this week” or similar – but it’s good enough for now.

Comments are welcome – I’d appreciate opinions on how to improve it, or anything that looks wrong to visitors.

APEVOCT: Big Cook Little Cook

(Note: APEVOCT = “A parent’s eye view of children’s TV”, the overall name of this series).

Big Cook Little Cook is, as the name suggests, a programme based on cooking. This CBeebies regular is based in a cafe staffed by, well, Big Cook and Little Cook. Big Cook, also known as Ben, is a normal sized human, while Little Cook, AKA Small,  is about 12 inches tall. Why Big Cook has a proper name and Little Cook doesn’t is never explained.

The basic plot of each episode is pretty much the same every time. Some fictional character (often from a fairy tale or other traditional literature) visits the cafe, where Ben and Small prepare them an appropriate dish. We never see the visitor themselves in the live action part of the programme – they’re just assumed to be the other side of the serving hatch. When the identity of the visitor is revealed, Small tells a story (illustrated by basic animation) about the visitor in which he appears as a main character, usually as the hero helping the visitor out of a difficult situation. Then the two of them select a recipe from Big Cook’s recipe book, but there’s usually a key ingredient missing so Small flies off on a wooden spoon to obtain it – an action providing a link to an educational insert at a farm or factory telling us more about the food in question. Having retrieved the ingredient, Big Cook prepares the dish (with minimal help from Small) and serves it to the visitor.

So far, so good. I like the idea of teaching children about the concepts of basic cookery, and it certainly has its good points, from an educational perspective.  However, given that this involves cookery, it’s not something that most pre-school children can do on their own – in fact, there are often times when Big Cook explicitly tells his viewers that they should get their adult helper to do something for them (such as put something in the oven, or open a tin). So for this to work best, it needs to be the sort of programme where parents and children can watch together, and then go away afterwards and put into practice what they’ve just seen.  And there’s a really, really big problem in this respect. The elephant in the room, so to speak, is the fact that the programme is hideously unwatchable for anyone with a mental age of more than about six. If the food was as overcooked as Ben and Small are overacted, then all they’d ever serve up would be cinders. And the characters aren’t portrayed sympathetically – Small, in particular, with his “I’m the hero” stories and his incessant “can we play now?” requests comes across as an arrogant, insufferable little prick. If I found him in my kitchen while I was trying to cook something, he’d be straight out through the catflap. Meanwhile, the special effects required to make a full-size and a 12-inch human appear together in the same room have all the realism of a 1960s episode of Lost In Space, and the programme is topped and tailed by the kind of irritatingly catchy songs that make you want to wash your ears out with soap to stop you thinking about them.

So, unfortunately, despite the best of intentions, this has to go down as  a Fail, in my opinion. I am aware of the existance of an alternate point of view, but then for every opion someone is bound to hold the opposite. Some people like fleas, as well.

Random APEVOCT Fact: Ben and Small are played by Stephen Marsh and Dan Wright, who have alternate real lives as comedians.

A Parent’s Eye View of Children’s TV

I’m a bad parent. I must be, because I let my daughter watch far too much TV. Well, not really, but that’s what some people would have us believe, if all the alleged dangers of TV are real.  Anyway, for the benefit of anyone out there in my position, this new blog category is my take on the various programmes that my daughter watches. It’s mostly biased towards what’s on CBeebies, since I’m not over-keen on letting her watch commercial channels – even at two and a half, she’s aready learning the value of pester power – but it might occasionally veer into Nick Jr and Disney territory if I can be bothered to actually watch any of the stuff myself.

Geek for Hire

A bit of shameless self-promotion: I was made redundant from my previous job late last year, so I’m in the market for something new. I’m happy to consider either freelance, contract or permanent work, provided that it’s the right job at the right price, so if you’re looking for an Internet and web geek to do something for you or join your team then get in touch.

You can read more, including a copy of my CV, at my Geek for Hire page.

Linking madness from a con-artist

Back on the subject of websites that somehow think they have the right to stop you linking to them, I found this really stupid clause at this one:

Unless expressly authorized by website, no one may hyperlink this site, or portions thereof, (including, but not limited to, logotypes, trademarks, branding or copyrighted material) to theirs for any reason. Further, you are not allowed to reference the url (website address) of this website in any commercial or non-commercial media without express permission, nor are you allowed to ‘frame’ the site.

Apart from framing (which has been determined to be a copyright violation by the courts), the rest is totally unenforceable. But why, you may ask, don’tthey want people linking to them? Well, probably because they don’t want people pointing out that they’re a bunch of con artists trying to rip off the unwary by selling them a get-rich-quick scheme. And their over-protectiveness of their own intellectual property seemingly doesn’t extend to other people’s, given that they reproduce the logos of Google, MSN, CNN and various other legitimate organisations. 

The slightly worrying aspect of this is that this organisation has been advertising this site, and similar ones (they’re generally just throwaway accounts – the real HQ is which, oddly enough, has exactly the same terms and conditions) on Facebook. I don’t expect many people have been taken in by it, but if you do come across one of these ads then I’d suggest you do two things: Firstly, click the ad (since it’s probably being paid for on a cost-per-click basis, every time you click it costs the scammers money) and then report the ad as a scam. See here for some background on reporting ads to Facebook.