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New! Improved?

Monday, April 09, 2007
So I finally finished the new version of the CrimeSpot programs, and secretly rolled them out early last week. A couple of days later, with everything running smoothly, I was all set to announce them to the world - then I received a letter from a sharp-eyed reader (the ubiquitous Stephen D. Rogers) who told me that the site was jacked up in Internet Explorer 7. So for the approximately one-in-six of you who use IE7, sorry.

Not to go into too much detail, I ended up recoding the "X minutes ago" tags in PHP instead of JavaScript. And now it works in IE7. The only change is that many of the pages now have a ".php" extension instead of ".html". Since I have redirected the old pages to the new ones, you probably won't notice.

The site should work and look pretty much the same, with a few key changes:
  • Greater reliability. One of the blogs here on CrimeSpot upgraded to the new version of Blogger this weeked. As I was sitting at my computer, I noticed immediately. The big flaming red error message was hard to miss. No new updates could be processed until I changed the blog type in the database.

    This won't happen in the new version. Better error checking ensures that any problems are logged and the program continues to execute.
  • No more Calendar. The Calendar page never worked the way I wanted, so I junked it. Use the Events page at Crimespace instead.
  • Category pages that work. I don't know when I dorked up the Category index pages. They now work properly, so you can see all blogs in any particular category by clicking on the appropriate link.
  • No post-dated entries. The old version of the Collector program used the date and timestamp of the blog entry to determine when it was really posted, but occasionally blog entries are post-dated - to make sure they stay above subsequent entries, for example. Not a problem on your blog, but annoying on CrimeSpot. So now post-dated entries are timestamped with the date and time they are collected.
  • No more double posts. Similarly, the old version displayed the most recent post from each blog. If an author happened to publish two posts with the exact same date and time, his blog would be listed twice (Stephen Blackmoore does this all the time). Now only to top entry will be displayed.

Best of all, it will be much easier for me to update the program and add new features. For example, I'm working on a "suggest a new blog" form that will allow you to type in the URL of a blog you think would be appropriate for the site. Also in the works: automatic feed detection, daily "new post" digests by email, and other fun and interesting features.

If you can think of anything new you'd like to see, drop me a line and let me know.

posted by Graham Powell at 7:10 PM

Donald Hamilton, 1916-2006

Monday, April 02, 2007
Earlier today, Steve Lewis of Mystery*File reported that author Donald Hamilton died late last year, November 20th to be exact. Hamilton was best known as the creator of secret agent Matt Helm, who dispatched the enemies of America in a series that stretched over thirty years. Charles Ardai, whose Hard Case Crime recently reprinted Hamilton's Night Walker, has now confirmed the news.

I've read at least a couple of Hamilton's books just in the months since his death. His thrillers were told in a straightforward style that kept you turning the pages right until the end. Too bad that the Matt Helm movies were reworked as vehicles for sodden playboy Dean Martin. Any resemblance to the rugged outdoorsmen of the novels is strictly accidental.

These days the Helm books seem dated and rather chauvanistic (females smitten by the rough-hewn Helm invariably call him "Darling"), but they still have style, humor, and the power to entertain, though not the sophistication of, say, Len Deighton. I also suspect that the Helm series, along with John D. Macdonald's Travis McGee, was a large part of the inspiration for the "men's adventure" series that sold so well during the 70s and 80s.

As I noted upon Richard S. Prather's death, it seems like so many giants of the mystery genre have passed on lately. Let's hope that Donald Hamilton is noted among their ranks.

posted by Graham Powell at 11:10 AM