Since 2010

Best, first, favourite: The West Wing

In episode 221 of Reconcilable Differences Merlin Mann introduced the world to the the idea of “best, first, favourite” for things like TV shows, movie franchises, book series etc. It sounds like a simple premise, but when you stop and try to apply it to something you love the results can be surprising.

Here are my answers for the greatest TV show ever created: The West Wing.


I reckon almost every The West Wing fan would give the same answer for this one. Season 2 episode 22: “Two Cathedrals”. It’s the final episode of season 2, and it ties the preceding 4-or-5 episodes together magnificently.

The final scene is more of a bombshell than a cliffhanger, but one of the best traits of The West Wing is that it doesn’t treat the audience like idiots. We’re hungry for the next episode because it’s great TV, not because the last episode drops a cheap teaser or leaves some business unfinished.


This is the episode you’d recommend to someone if they’d never seen the show, but you wanted to wow them with a representative sample of what it’s like.

This one is tricky - most of the episodes stand by themselves really well (perhaps less so in the last couple of seasons where continuity does matter much more). That being said, some of the episodes that made my short list for this category do contain spoilers for some common threads, so were immediately eliminated.

So my answer is season 1 episode 6: “Mr. Willis of Ohio”. It’s got aspirational politics, great humour, and running-a-country realness. All of our heroes are featured, and there are a couple of scenes that take us outside the west wing which is relatively unusual, but I think perhaps make this episode more approachable to a newbie.


Another difficult one to answer but only because there are so many to choose from. But I think my favourite episode is season 2 episode 10: Noël.

It’s an award-winning episode, and it kicks me right in the feels. I love when Aaron Sorkin plays around with time like he does in this episode, and the execution of the transitions between past and present are done perfectly. This episode introduces us to Stanley Keyworth, and we get to meet the hilarious Bernard Thatch. The set looks amazing when they Christmas it up as well, so bonus for that.

Honourable mentions to “The Stackhouse Filibuster”, “Twenty Five”, and “20 Hours in America”.

It is OK to use Unicode everywhere

Terence Eden being right, as per usual. I challenge his opening statement though:

We live in the future now. It is OK to use Unicode everywhere.

It should be OK, but in the world of enterprise software we most certainly do not live in the future and it definitely is not OK to use Unicode everywhere.

I like Eden’s pre-emptive “but what about” arguments though. I’ve heard all of these, always from people who forget English is not the only language in existence.

Firefox bug 1750706 has been resolved

Hey look! That’s my bug!

The piece of software I’ve built my career around defaults to checking the HTTP Referer header with each request, and if it doesn’t get exactly the value it wants, it invalidates the session. Game over.

It’s infuriating: the header is optional and was never intended to be used for anything remotely related to session security. And yet, back when I logged this bug, I had to really fight with the software vendor to get them to disable this check. We found that a lot of mobile browsers don’t include the Referer header when reloading a page, and services like Microsoft’s Defender SmartScreen and Google’s Safe Browsing don’t include the header at all when doing their remote scans. Ad blockers often strip the header, privacy-conscious users might disable this header, browser plugins that intercept file downloads - like Abode PDF plugins - don’t include the header. Heck even duplicating browser tabs and opening browser developer tools was enough to trigger an abrupt logout.

It affected a lot of our customers - they simply couldn’t use our service. But the vendor stood firm on their belief that this behaviour enhanced the security of their product, and didn’t seem concerned that it meant hundreds of our customers couldn’t even use the product. We were never able to come up with an explanation we could give our customers that didn’t make us sound like idiots either.

Anyway, that’s the story behind the reason for me logging that Firefox bug.

My iPhone Home Screen

Every once-in-a-while I’ll take a screenshot of my iPhone’s Home Screen (Apple capitalise it so I’ll do the same even though it’s stupid) and just leave it sitting in Photos. Why? Well because every time I edit my home screen to swap something out or replace a widget the whole fucking thing gets rearranged whether I like it or not. I am heavily reliant on muscle memory when stabbing at icons on my Home Screen but it’s a bit like typing - I know where the button I want should be, but if you asked me to draw the layout I would fail very badly.

So when I accidentally or otherwise rearrange my Home Screen, I refer to the last screenshot to put things back to where my brain thinks they should be.

Anyway, just for fun here’s my Home Screen right now:

Screenshot of iPhone Home Screen

I only have one page of icons: if I swipe to the right I end up in App Library. If I don’t use something regularly enough that it deserves a place on the home screen I’ll swipe down and search or use Siri Suggestions (which is surprisingly good at anticipating my needs) anyway, so maintaining other pages of icons would be a waste of time.


Is it called “Dock” on iOS? Anyway, the 4 things I reach for all the time: Messages, Fastmail, Safari, and Overcast.

Top row

Clock, because why not? I do actually use Clock when I need to see what time it is in Scotland, or the current time in UTC. Then Settings, Photos, and Camera. Camera is only really there because it’s been in that position since my first iPhone. See “muscle memory” above.

Second row

Phone, the fantastic TripView, Maps (Apple Maps is way better now than it used to be so I was happy to dump Google Maps a while ago), and WillyWeather. The last one uses data from our Bureau of Meteorology which is very accurate, compared with whatever-the-hell garbage is fed into Apple’s own Weather app.

Third row

Netflix, Macquarie, 1Password, then a folder with some “security” stuff in it: Macquarie’s Authenticator, Microsoft’s Authenticator, Duo Mobile (the last two are for work), and myGovID.

Fourth row

Genius Scan, WhatsApp, Spotify, and PCalc. I think Apple’s Notes now does the clever document scanning stuff that Genius Scan does, but Genius Scan also lets me edit, convert, and send files anywhere (e.g. to WebDAV services). I hate that I use WhatsApp as much as I do, but what’s the alternative when the people you need to contact only use it?

Fifth and sixth rows

A 2-icons-by-2-icons Things widget, then the Things icon itself. I friggin’ love Things. I paid a few bucks for it years ago and must have added tens of thousands of entries into their cloud-backed service for no additional cost ever since. I’d happily give these guys money on the regular! And to finish things off it’s Streaks, Callsheet, and Strong. I don’t think I’ll be keeping Callsheet around once my subscription expires.