Rob Tomlinson's blog

These posts are on a broad range of topics – mostly about web design and development — but off-topic posts are scattered about.

Bridget Riley at the Hayward Gallery

London’s Tate Modern is home to some gorgeous Bridget Riley canvases, huge rectangles of rhombic mosaics, in shifting colour that one can stand in front of and lose oneself in. A fifteen minute stroll west along the embankment, the Hayward Gallery seems to have all of them and then carpet bombs the place with a massive selection of the artist’s extraordinary, life-long output. The gallery’s airy spaces are filled with a veritable cornucopia of her work, spanning from 1947 to today. It is an authoritative exhibition, showing the artist’s 70-year development, a grounded and playful exploration of human perception.

Farewell Drupal 8. Hello Backdrop CMS

I have written before of my love affair with Drupal 7 and, separately, of my anxiety about Drupal 8. Drupal 7’s abandon-ship, event-horizon end-of-life looms on November 2021 and, although this is long enough away to do something about for a single website, I decided earlier this year to crack on and address this matter. Here is what I learnt.

Free and easy: OCR and file conversion on the web

The best things in life are free, as the song has it. In software terms, it’s also when they work faultlessly and with minimal labour. Here are two fine examples that came my way recently and which I recommend without hesitation.

Online OCR courtesy of

Online OCR courtesy of

Field can contain HTML

For those for whom web standards matter, the devil is always in the detail. The content-management system Drupal throws this at us by the bucket load. No doubt other CMSs do the same. Fortunately, Drupal (both 7 and 8) comes up with its own solution to the problem.

A common scenario is to create a list of links to posts — and to include in the list a snippet (or teaser) of each post’s text. This list may be in the form of a grid or just a vertical stack of posts. Each item will typically consist of a title, a publication date and then the all-important snippet of text. Sounds simple enough. There’s an example on the home page of this website.

Reader View

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s dictum that “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away” can be re-deployed most helpfully when discussing Reader View, a topic that touches on web page design and browser behaviour. But before we get there, consider this: Saint-Exupéry (whose books The Little Prince and Night Flight / Flight to Arras are examples of brevity — appropriately — and poignancy) was so keen a reader that he was once known to circle his single-seater air force reconnaissance plane above an airfield, delaying landing for an hour so that he could finish reading a novel.

Website accessibility

The perpetual churn of new technologies and techniques can sometimes blind-side us to some fundamental issues in web design that we need to keep in focus all the time. One of these is accessibility which — for me — has been sharpened up by the brief but high-value book on the subject by Laura Kalbag, Accessibility for Everyone, published last year (2017) by A Book Apart.

Charles I, King and Collector

No better insight can be gained into the character of King Charles I — the king who in 1629 dissolved Parliament to begin an eleven-year stint of Personal Rule — than by visiting The Royal Academy of Arts’ exhibition entitled “Charles I, King and Collector”. His art collection was at the time the largest in Europe. Tranches of it were inherited; much of it was commissioned or purchased from the public purse. Paintings, sculptures, tapestries, manuscripts and miniatures totalling the best part of two thousand in number decorated the royal palaces.

Flowers in a glass vase

Flowers in a glass vase by the Dutch painter Jacob van Walscapelle is only midway in size between A1 and A2 paper sizes, an oil painting dwarfed by many of the larger canvases around it at the V&A Museum in London. What it lacks in scale it makes up for in quality. It is as if the light-infused oil paint applied just after the middle of the 17th century is still blazing off its canvas some 350 years later.

Website building resources

The business of building a website is sufficiently detailed. Anyone engaged in this detail comes to depend upon a wide range of resources. Amongst these, there are some on whose giant shoulders we alight almost routinely. They deserve mention.

This list is something that I should have posted long ago. So here it is, better late than never. Most are agnostic in the sense that they apply regardless of the technology that any one web developer or designer uses. All but one are free.

Database alley

Here’s my pseuds’ corner post for the year, which will be of especial interest to all who have worked with databases.