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* Posts by Matthew Karas

8 posts • joined 18 Jul 2007

Scoop! The inside story of the news website that saved the BBC

Matthew Karas

Re: Fairly biased article

You are right, I definitely got needlessly wrapped up in all sorts of petty squabbling and side-taking at the time.

I'd forgotten about those bloody Windows servers. The technology team at News was originally led by an ex-Microsoft guy, who was somewhat enthusiastic about his former employer's technology. The News International and Sky systems we left behind were all HPUX or Solaris. He left around the time of launch. The question for the team then, was where, in the long list of priorities, should we put the migration to more stable technology. As you so rightly point out, there were instabilities in the hastily built CMS, and many other problems.

First, was removing the MS replication system, as mentioned. Another tricky migration done long before the web servers, was from from Windows/MS-SQL to Solaris/Oracle. Oddly enough, I think it is precisely because web-serving was shared with IS from early on, that getting rid of the Windows servers was less important, than the database and other elements.

I don't think that anybody at News ever wanted to roll out the CMS to anyone else. However, after the success, senior executives kept suggesting it. The CMS did not intrinsically restrict the look and feel to any particular style: you will remember that the "text only" version was created with the same CMS.

The problem was that it used some complex publishing logic to cope with the fast-changing link dependencies of the News site - several thousand automated link changes a day. Learning about how to write the templates would have been expensive and pointless for other types of site. So, for instance, when the Olympics came along, it was decided to keep the templates which already existed, making it look suspiciously like the News site.

Whatever happened to the Capt Pugwash site? Another scandal.

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Matthew Karas

Re: bonus tracks (tech speak alert)

Sorry Jude! I'm starting to realise that I have little memory of precisely who did what.

So whose was the 1-pixel-gif-stretching idea?

And, before i make another blunder, who got the all-time high-score at Pnickies?

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Matthew Karas

Re: bonus tracks (tech speak alert)

Pete Lane was another superstar. He had actually interviewed me for my job at Delphi, when he was just 18, and had realised that they needed experienced software engineers as well as HTML experts. He was one of the BBC News Online launch team, and did almost all the client-side code single-handed for the first year or so. We signed off on the Lambie-Nairn design without consulting him or any HTML expert as to whether they were even possible. The only way he could do the skinny black lines was by stretching a one-pixel square gif in a table cell. There was no other way to get a line that thin. I think he was simultaneously proud and ashamed - proud of his ingenuity but ashamed of trampling on HTML best practice.

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Matthew Karas

Re: Boston Business Computers

I think it was actually the Boston Brick Company.

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Matthew Karas

bonus tracks (tech speak alert)

After reading this, it occurred to me that I should have name-checked more people when I was interviewed. It was an incredible team, so here are a few more tales.

One of Jason Birch's many contributions was the said "FTP script" which replaced MS Replication Server. It wasn't so much a script as a highly scalable, fault-tolerant replication system (written in 36 hours), a direct descendent of which is probably still running today.

Matthew Wood was the chap who turned us all on to WebObjects. Convincing me really took some doing, because we didn't have the server muscle to use it in its intended dynamic mode. Instead, we wrote a system to capture dynamically published pages as files, then push them out. This was fantastically cheap, because Apple's licences were based on the number of simultaneous connections to the server. Using dynamic serving, there would have been thousands of connections. Using our system, there were only six.

Antony Tittle had the thankless task of dealing with the sports, weather and financial feeds. All the providers would make unannounced and undocumented changes to their formats, usually during the wee small hours of a New Year's morning. Ant would remotely log in and tweak the parsers, probably without putting down his pint.

Our original sys admin, Chris Hughes, personally attended every server crash within minutes, day or night, with a level of discipline which almost compensated for the anarchy reigning throughout the dev team. His first move was to eliminate novelty server names. He was also the only person who shared Jason's surprising taste for European dance music - Encore Une Fois!

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Orbitsound T3 mobile 3D stereo speaker

Matthew Karas

I suppose that an azimuth coordinator...

...would need to be incorporated for a proper appreciation of Interstellar Overdrive

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Google's spycar revs up UK privacy fears

Matthew Karas

"so, what can you photograph?" (reg)

so long as they aren't doing it in Trafalgar Sq or the Royal Parks, they're OK by me.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/06/23/police_photographer_stops/

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/06/23/photography_law/

Or, are they creating "document or record containing information”... “of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism"

matthew karas

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Official: BlackBerry gets Wi-Fi, VoIP

Matthew Karas

Pedantic, I know, but...

...your comment that the RIM 8820 is "the first handset in its history to feature built-in Wi-Fi connectivity" is not true. There used to be a wi-fi model called 7270, though that model did little else, and was probably aimed at internal corporate Wi-Fi networks. The specs are still available:

http://na.blackberry.com/eng/devices/device-detail.jsp?navId=H0,C65,P324

Matthew Karas

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