Wednesday, 29 November 2006

Funny caption: George W Bush and Thanksgiving turkey






As Thanksgiving is still topical... a friend was in a competition to provide a caption for a funny photo of George W Bush pardoning the Thanksgiving turkey
Her suggestion was deemed too rude to read out aloud. So I'll post it here. Ready for it?
"Is that a chipolata, or are you just pleased to see me?"

(The typical combo of roast turkey with chipolata, geddit?)

I think she should have won, myself!

Funny paraphrase






I saw this very funny paraphrase by Jonathan Guthrie in the Financial Times a few weeks ago:
"If giant companies seem good at spotting opportunities, it is, to paraphrase Newton, because they sometimes stand on the toes of midgets."

I like. (I can imagine the cartoon that could go with that quote, poor lil midgets going Ouch, if only I had the artistic talent!)

Blogging, censorship and libel: US bloggers better off?






According to Out-law, bloggers in the USA are better off than in the UK in terms of the risk of being sued or gagged, after a case where an Ilena Rosenthal was sued by a Dr Barrett in the US after she posted a supposedly libellous email about two doctors to a newsgroup (but without changing it).

If you publish someone else's libellous statements, even after you've been warned that they're false and libellous, because of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act the US courts won't entertain a lawsuit against you - the person complaining that they've been defamed has to sue whoever originally made the libellous statement in the first place, not other people who've simply allowed that comment to be published e.g. in a blog, website, discussion board or - in this case - passively passed it on to a newsgroup.

Contrast the position in the UK. The Out-law article says "In the UK, service providers have a duty to remove or block access to defamatory material that they host once they are made aware of it. They can be sued if they fail to do so expeditiously... The same approach is taken across Europe; but the US considers this to be an impossible burden on service providers and anathema to free speech."

So bloggers and others in the UK who passively pass on a potentially libellous statement can be shut up or gagged merely by someone complaining (rightly or wrongly) to the ISP or host that the statement concerned was libellous; whereas in the USA they can't be silenced by the courts (unless they're the original source of the defamatory comment, in which case they can be sued). This does as Out-law observes make it harder for someone who's a true victim of a false and defamatory statement to stop its publication by others by suing in the US courts, though at least they can still sue the person who originally made the statement.

But it's not a blanket licence to US bloggers to excuse themselves by saying "It weren't me who first said it, guv" (oh awright, I know you Americans don't say "guv"!). The US court did point out that "At some point, active involvement in the creation of a defamatory Internet posting would expose a defendant to liability as an original source. Because Rosenthal made no changes in the article she republished on the newsgroups, we need not consider when that line is crossed." So I guess if you not only repeated someone else's criticism or other defamatory comment but added "Too right!", and more so if you embellished the statement, then you're still at risk of being sued in the US. It still pays to be cautious about what you say or repeat in your blog, I think.

Nice London?! Niceties project






Call me cynical, but the BBC report last week, about Liz Akers' Niceties project and Team Nice's efforts to institute a scheme passing "Niceties Tokens" round to people who have been nice, in order encourage Londoners to be nice to others, just had me raising an eyebrow and shrugging.

It's a nice idea, indeed. But - but - I can't see how it'll work. Their website lets people log tokens they've received, but to me it's too much trouble because if you received a token and want to check it out you have to fill in a form about its colour, number of grooves etc (and about yourself); and it's not at all obvious that you don't have to have received a token in order to view the "log" tracking a particular token. The novelty of viewing logs kinda wore out for me after I looked at just two!

To me, the best way of getting people to be nice is to be nice yourself. Good manners, common courtesy and civility are all too rare, especially in big cities (and that's another rant in itself!), but hopefully kindness engenders kindness, or at least you're setting a good example for others. And recognition and gratitude are good, but I don't really think that's why most people who try to be nice are nice. I've done "nice" things which others haven't known about, just because I think it's the right thing - like silently holding the lift door open at a Tube station for a blind person who won't of course have seen or known that I was doing it.

At best, the Niceties project is a nice gimmick. I suppose it's served to draw some attention to the issue, but then we all know anyway that people in many big cities tend not to be that nice anyway, for all sorts of reasons. Saying that niceness ought to be recognised isn't going to make people nicer. But maybe that's just me...

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

The economics of sustainable energy and climate change; and UK renewable energy grants for householders






There seems rightly to be more focus now on the problems of global warming, climate change and environmental issues, following the publication on 30 October 2006 of the Stern review on the economics of climate change (press release, executive summary).

For those interested in the economics of alternative energy sources, I just thought I'd mention a summary of a roundtable discussion on the economics of sustainable energy at the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation (the CSFI is a right-ish independent think tank).

It was with economist Dr. Horst Feuerstein, a visiting fellow at the German Institute of Economic Research (DiW) in Berlin, who's working on the potentials and economics of renewable energy on secondment from the European Investment Bank (where he was, until 2005, Director of Operations Evaluation). From the mid-80s to mid-90s, he was in charge of the EIB’s energy division, and before that he worked at the World Bank in Washington. So, a pretty authoritative figure.

He feels that "the solution, whether one is looking to find a new energy source or seeking to tackle climate change, is renewable energy... Sadly the West has failed both to pursue a rational use of energy and to make progress in achieving energy savings among consumers, households and the transport industry."

In his view the key weather/geological-based sources are wind and photovoltaic power (solar power) i.e. wind turbines and solar panels; and biomass (making energy out of products such as wood fibres or oil) also has great potential, e.g. biofuels such as ethanol. I am certainly one of those who finds the clean lines of wind turbines aesthetically pleasing, and I'd rather have a row of wind turbines near my home than a nuclear power station any day!

He concluded that the world could not afford to do nothing about the lack of alternative energy sources. He said there was an optimal combination of market forces, regulatory frameworks and government support systems that was needed to maximise the potential.

The trick, of course, is to find that optimal combination... Cutting government grants for householders installing environmentally-friendly energy sources in the UK didn't exactly help, although the DTI did at least replace it with a low carbon buildings programme (LBCP) with grants available (if you and your building qualify) for certain microgeneration technology products from accredited installers: solar thermal, wind turbines and inverters, ground source heat pumps, small scale hydro-turbines, wood fuelled boilers, photovoltaics (solar panels) and pellet stoves. (The Energy Saving Trust or EST site is also worth a look.)

Monday, 27 November 2006

Google Page Creator: claim your extra website names






It's received attention already but I thought I'd mention, for anyone who doesn't yet know it, that Google Page Creator, the free web hosting and webpage creation service offered by Google to anyone who has a Gmail account, now allows you up to 4 extra website names or URLs on googlepages.com, i.e. 5 in total - see the Page Creator What's New page for more info. (For more on Page Creator see my previous post on free webspace via Google Page Creator).

So, originally when I signed up my web address there was http://improbulus.googlepages.com/ and I was stuck with that because my Gmail login is Improbulus. But now, there's a link at the top of the page, after you login to Page Creator, which lets you create another site with a new URL, and you can check if your URL of choice is still available and grab it if it is.

After you've created one extra site, you can use the "Choose another site" dropdown at the top of the page to create more extra sites, up to the maximum of 5 in total.

I've grabbed http://consumingexperience.googlepages.com/ and similar, needless to say, though there's nothing visible at that URL yet, just as a preemptive measure to stop anyone else getting what I think of as "my" blog name, till I get around to using it properly.

So if you have a Gmail account (see my previous post) and you haven't grabbed your sitenames of choice yet, best go ahead soon before the good ones all go.

As well as now allowing multiple sites, the What's new page says image editing features have been added (resizing, cropping, rotating, mashups etc), and - I really like the sound of this - each webpage on a Page Creator site will automatically have a "mobile edition", i.e. a mobile version of the page automatically coded to suit smaller screen mobile phones, presumably only if you create the webpage online rather than by uploading an HTML file you've written on your computer offline. I've not had the chance to test these extra features yet - I still feel Page Creator needs to be a lot easier to use for those who want to get at the underlying code (e.g. having to click and edit each part of the page separately) and I find it frustrating that part of the editing icons are still cut off at the bottom left in Internet Explorer, so I admit I don't use it as much as I probably ought to. But I look forward to trying out the new features.

Privacy & photos or videos of you






Just thought this Times article "Snap... privacy and 33.5m camera phones" from a couple of weeks ago was worth pointing out, for those concerned about privacy and how easy it is for people, especially with cameraphones, to take pictures or videos of you and share it with the world on the Net.

Not that the press would be willing to pay for photos or videos of me, anyway... but as I blog anonymously, I do want to keep pics of my face off the Net if identified with "Improbulus".

The article, by Christina Michalos, a London barrister who wrote The Law of Photography & Digital Images, says that "Broadly speaking, if a person takes a photograph of you in a public place there is no legal basis to prevent either the taking of the photograph or the publication of it. But this general principle is subject to some exceptions which are largely dependant upon what the subject of the photograph is doing or whether there is harassment by repeated photography".

It offers a few suggestions e.g. the Press Complaints Commission for people to try who want to protect their privacy, but data protection law doesn't seem to help here and basically it says that (in the UK at least) "as things stand, the citizen in the public street is fair game for the mobile phone photographer."

I guess we have been warned!

Why I blog anonymously






I've said before that I don't blog about my day job, and I've linked to some resources for anonymity and privacy in blogging (I've not started using Tor yet, but I plan to try it).

But there are lots of reasons why I blog anonymously, and it's not just worry that potential future employers may check out my online writings and count them against me (as per the well known "Bloggers need not apply" article). Many women in academe seem to blog anonymously, for career reasons (as in, it's tough enough for women to get jobs in the first place never mind get ahead, why give them more potential ammunition to shoot you down with?). But, while I share those concerns, my main reasons are different - and before anyone says it, it's not to stop anyone teasing me for gooily posting videos of cute widdle animals or my Mom from seeing my occasional slightly naughty posts, either!

Privacy and security

First, privacy and security. I have friends who have been stalked online, and it's very stressful as well as frightening. In many ways I believe life is a lot easier and simpler for men, on this as well as possibly other fronts.

The relatively recent web rage incident (reported in October 2006), where a man was hunted down in real life and beaten up with a pickaxe handle after online altercations, is surely reason enough not to give out personal details online. Of course you can't fail to let some facts out sometimes: it's easy for anyone who reads my posts to know I'm female, live in London, and love the Net, computers, technology, gadgets and music. But so do a zillion others. Add in a few more facts, though, and trust me any intelligent stalker will be able to find me without too much trouble.

There is no way I am going to allow sufficiently identifying details of myself to be easily available to the world via a few clicks of the mouse. Someone once tracked me down on the Web just from knowing five facts about me including the type of job I do, my gender and the university I went to - without even having to know my name. It was someone I trusted, who tried it just to see if she could, but it just shows how easily it can be done; let a few details out and you just don't know who they could get passed on to.

I've had threatening phone calls in the past too, I think they caught the guy who I suspect just happened to have chosen my number randomly amongst many others he regularly called (because I read about his capture in the news and it was the same MO - modus operandi in case anyone doesn't know the slang by now!, plus the calls to me stopped after they caught him, so I think it must have been him). It would be very easy for a stalker to find my home address on the Electoral Register with very few details as my real name is fairly unusual (here's a clue, it ain't Jane Doe) - and alas I don't have the money to get a big house with barbed wire and bodyguards.

I even go so far as to have separate identities for the different things I do online, e.g. one for things related to this blog, others for other things I'm involved with (and no, I'm not going to say if it's macrame, Morris dancing or trainspotting forums, chatrooms or even blogs!). I don't hide out completely from the world though - I do go to geek events in person (and yes just hope that I don't bump into someone who knows my real name. Though my interests are fairly distinct so it's fairly unlikely, and the one or two who do cross the boundaries like I do are pretty discreet. So far..)

I feel it is better to be over-cautious and safe than not. I know it may be unlikely that some nutter will take a fancy to me (or conversely want to harm me), but it's better to be safe than sorry.

Impartiality and integrity

Second, impartiality and personal integrity. I don't have the luxury of being a self-employed independent consultant answerable to no one but myself - I have to have a day job. I don't work in technology, although obviously I have a very keen interest in it, have taught myself a lot and have made a few geek friends. However my employer (not a technology company) has some customers who are in technology (I may be being over-cautious here again, as many companies are bound to have some mega corporations as customers, whether it's for supplies of stationery or indeed advertising services), and of course they might be customers of some technology companies (e.g. it's a rare business that doesn't buy and use Microsoft Office).

But my personal life is personal and my opinions are my own, and I don't wish to feel inhibited about expressing them if there is a chance they might be attributed to my employer or anyone else associated with me (obviously if my real name is not shown online, that minimises the risk of someone ringing up my employer to tell me to shut up or else they won't buy or sell to them! Although I like to think that when I am critical, it is constructively so).

If I genuinely think a Web service or product needs improvement, I want to be able to be say so without worrying about whether that might reflect on my employer, or more importantly, whether my employer (possibly being even more over-cautious than I am) thinks there's a vague chance it might reflect badly on my employer. And contrariwise there is absolutely no way I am going to praise some product I don't like just because the company is a customer of my employer, and I don't want to be in a position where I might feel under pressure to do so. Anonymity as regards the world at large again minimises that risk.

As I don't work in technology I don't have any particular allegiances and my only "competitors" are other bloggers and Websites. I approach things very much from a user's and blogger's viewpoint, because that is what I primarily am. My only allegiances are to good, usable, accessible products and services, and to honest, clear writing which I hope others will find thought-provoking and useful.

UPDATE: for possible reasons why it may be a good thing to blog under your real name whatever your antics, or indeed to be found out, see this post. All the same though, it's very unlikely most of us would be offered a book deal. So, cautious type that I am, if others want to lead the charge to out themselves and their pecadilloes on their blogs, so much so that it all becomes commonplace and ignored, all power to them - but I won't be doing so!

Sunday, 26 November 2006

Joining the cool kids?!






I thought I ought to join the cool kids and post a video (though I did post a YouTube video ages ago).

Just to immediately ruin my cool credentials though, rather than a hard rock video, it's of cute furry animals i.e. pikas (in case there was any doubt as to my gender!):



All together now - awwwwwwwwwwwwww!

Friday, 24 November 2006

Happy Thanksgiving weekend!






So I missed the boat yesterday - but I can still say happy Thanksgiving weekend to my American friends. :)

I've been frantically busy, having to juggle certain commitments with health issues, but after tomorrow it should get a bit quieter (sounds familiar...?). It might even be Commenting Day at last this weekend! But don't hold yer breath...

Sunday, 19 November 2006

Technorati link count; plus Blogger Beta widget for linkcount






Technorati have finally released a link count widget - basically some code to paste into your blog template so that your readers can see immediately how many blogs have linked to a particular post of yours. Previously they'd provided code to let users click to find a list of linking blogs, but it didn't show the number of linking blogs against each post as you get with comments, unlike say the "link tracker" code provided ages ago by rival blogsphere search engine Icerocket. The new link count widget does that, so Technorati have finally caught up with Icerocket on that front.

They've provided code for the main blogging platforms:plus generic code for other blogging software.

I'd blogged before about how to display links to your blog via Google's Blogsearch (backlinks), Technorati's Cosmos and Icerocket's link tracker - I use a combination in my own blog, as you can see. I've now updated my template (I'm still on classic Blogger, they've not given me the link to move across yet) to use the new and whizzier link count code instead of the Cosmos code.

However Technorati have not provided anything for Blogger Beta, so below is a widget I prepared earlier - based on another by my Magical Sheep pardner Kirk after he spotted Blogger's new help page on creating widgets (added later: which they've not really officially publicised much, except in passing in this post - I wonder why? it's potentially so useful), as I couldn't get my own efforts to work (I tried to put the code in the widget.content bit first as the Blogger page seemed to suggest, but I couldn't get it to do anything), so any mistakes are mine and the good clever stuff is his, as usual! This "one click to add" is as I've said before an excellent innovation.

Magical Sheep Technorati Link Count Widget for Blogger Beta

UPDATE - Blogger keeps messing up the code in the form on publishing, so I've given up: To use this widget, click the appropriate button above on this page; it will ask you to sign in to Blogger Beta if you aren't already signed in. Then you get an Add Page Element page:


Choose the blog you want to add the widget to, from the "Select a blog" dropdown.

Change the stuff in the Title box if you want to: it's what will appear as the heading or description of this widget on your Page Elements tab, yeah I know it's a bit long the way I've set it up.

The Edit Content bit, if you click on it, just contains the default text that will display on your blog for this widget, that people can click to see the list of linking blogs on Technorati - change it if you like (e.g. to "View blog reactions").

But I seriously wouldn't recommend changing the code you get in the box on clicking Edit Template unless you really, really know what you're doing! And on your own head be it if you do and it all goes horribly wrong..

So, once you've picked your blog, and tinkered with the title/content if you wish (but you don't have to), you can click Add Widget, and the widget is added to your sidebar and you get taken to that blog's Page Elements tab:


See the new Technorati Link Count page element added under "Add a Page Element" on the right in the sidebar section? That's where widgets get added using Blogger's new system. This particular widget won't be much use in the sidebar. You can drag it to wherever you want it, e.g. the bottom of the Blog Posts box (or the top of that box if you prefer):



Then, click Save, and the widget will be added to your blog.

Note that this widget will only be visible when viewing an item or post page; it doesn't display at the bottom of posts shown on the main page. Here's an example post page showing the widget installed (scroll to the bottom of the page to see the link, there's no link count displaying as no one's linked to that test post! A better example, on Blogger classic rather than Beta, is this post).

Kirk will I hope be rustling up a proper widget that shows the Link Count info for each post on the main page as well as the post or item page; the above is just to get you started for post pages if you just can't wait.. (update: nope, you can't have a widget inside a widget apparently, it would be rather complicated to do, one area where Beta falls down compared with classic - so pretty please, Blogger?)

Wednesday, 15 November 2006

Google Analytics: exact referring URLs of blog visitors






Google Analytics has been free to all website/blog owners since August 2006. It tracks traffic to your blog or website, providing statistics, graphs etc on visits to your blog, and on your visitors.

The Google Analytics blog now gives a tip on how to set it so that you can see the exact pages from which your visitors clicked a link to get to your blog, not just (as is the default) the referring domain, by (as they put it) "cross-segmenting a referring source by Content". Don't worry about the jargon, they do provide a step by step in that blog post.

They also suggest you can use Google Analytics to monitor your blog in some other ways:
  • find out what posts readers liked the most by looking at daily visits and popularity of permalinks. (Knowing this can influence what you write about.)
  • see if you're keeping your readers by comparing new vs. returning visitors
  • find out how people exit your blog, as well as measure subscriptions to your feed using UrchinTracker on your links
  • see how long readers spend looking at your content by looking at average length of visits
  • monitor visitor activity after you make a post to see when daily visit levels taper off. (That means it's time to post again.)
There's no howto on those though. Maybe they think it's obvious but I for one have never felt entirely comfortable finding my way round Google Analytics, with its proliferation of marketing-speak and PR jargon.

I wonder when Google will fully integrate into Analytics the good stuff from Measure Map, which they acquired back in February 2006 (Valentine's Day, did they tempt them with flowers?). Or maybe they've done that already, but I just hadn't noticed... The Measure Map site certainly says they're "making improvements", I wonder if it will be kept separate?

Google Docs & Spreadsheets: blog posting






When I was tinkering with test Blogger Beta blogs earlier, there was a new note on one of the pages saying you could post to Blogger using Google Docs & Spreadsheets. I'd not seen that before (maybe it was in Docs but I don't use that much, or hadn't so far).

I wish I'd taken a screenshot, because I can't now find it again - perhaps Google are adding that note randomly to various blogs?

However I thought I'd try taking a look at Google Docs & Spreadsheets, and there is indeed now an option to publish to a blog when you go to the Publish tab:

You then have to click to set your blog login settings from that page:


Note that they're offering a choice of blogging platforms, not just restricting it to Blogger, i.e. BlogHarbor, BlogWare, LiveJournal, SquareSpace and even WordPress:


One trap here, if you use Blogger you may forgiven for not bothering to click on the dropdown because at first sight you might think you don't have to, but in fact if you're on Blogger Beta you have to make sure you do that and select the second option, or it won't publish to your blog, even when you use the correct username and password for Beta.

My attempt to do a test post to a test Blogger Beta blog didn't work for that reason:

But posting to a test "classic" Blogger blog did - when you click Post to blog you get a popup to confirm it's OK to post:


And after it's posted you get confirmation it's been published plus the option to Republish or Remove from the blog:

My test post via Docs, a deathless (untitled) asdf, is here - nothing much to see, really!

I'm sure it will work with Blogger Beta too, provided the correct option is chosen from the dropdown.

I was whinging before about Google not integrating their products/services enough, but clearly, from things like this (and a recent interview given to the FT which I read), they do realise the importance of coordinating their services. Good on Google.

As there are some standard keyboard shortcuts in Docs & Spreadsheets (still not enough though, in my book!), as a keyboard fan I may even try using it for drafting future posts now - and I'd be interested to see if posting a spreadsheet will work too, haven't tried that yet though. Hats off to Kirk, who had speculated to me not too long ago that Google might get us to use Docs as the post editor for Blogger. I thought it might be too soon for them to try that as they were still sorting out Blogger Beta, but he was right!

Saturday, 11 November 2006

Blogger Beta: new accounts all Beta; language support






Well, all new Blogger accounts from now on will automatically be created on Blogger Beta, according to Pete of Blogger Buzz, which requires creation of a Google Account. Guess we shouldn't be calling it "Beta" anymore...


However, Pete adds that "You can still create a new account on the old Blogger if you need to claim a mobile blog, join a team blog, or are using a language we haven’t added to the new version of Blogger."

Language support

On the language support front, at the moment Blogger say that "The Blogger Beta is now available in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. More languages will be coming shortly. Update (Nov 10): We've added Japanese, Korean, Brazilian Portuguese, and simplified Chinese support to the new version of Blogger."

Blogger Beta: rollyerown widgets, one-click add to Beta blogs






My Magical Sheep pardner Kirk, who is THE man in my book (biassed, moi? Never!), has figured out via some new help entries on the Blogger Beta Help pages that you can now create your own widgets for Blogger Beta which other Blogger Beta bloggers can add to their template layouts with just one click, and then drag it to where they want it.

By way of illustration he's created a "puppies pics from Flickr" widget, see the results in his blog's sidebar. Yes, if you want to display photos tagged "Puppies" on Flickr in your Blogger Beta blog's sidebar, you can just add his widget with one click (though I don't think he's made that widget link available publicly yet).

What he has done is to suss out how some more mystifying aspects of Blogger Beta work, and created a widget tester to grab and display all the available blog data in Add Widgets: Title, Page Type, URL, Homepage URL, Page Title and Encoding (here's what the results of adding the test widget look like in a test blog's sidebar, though you can drag it to the bottom of the item page too if you prefer).

Expect an explosion of third party widgets as developers/coders get cracking! I hope that Google or Blogger will provide a central listing and storage place for Blogger Beta widgets, that would be very helpful.

What a lovely, lovely feature of Blogger Beta, and one which may make it well nigh unbeatable as far as blogging platforms are concerned. (Though as Feedburner my fave feed service reported, Fox Interactive Media, who own MySpace, earlier this week launched Springwidgets, Flash-based widgets which can be used on any blog or website as well as computer desktop - more on that to follow - so Google may be in for some competition there. I wonder if the Fox release is what triggered Blogger to make info available about creating third party widgets on Beta? Well, in this corner...)

Friday, 10 November 2006

Creative Commons London Salon: Barcamp free beer Friday 17 November 2006






To quote from Christian Ahlert's email to the CC-UK mailing list:
I know all of you like to discuss and think about web 2.0, music and film sharing/remixing, p2p, or Creative Commons. San Francisco has the Creative Commons Salon, other cities regular BarCamps, or so called new media gatherings. But there is no regular meeting space for this London. It should be a good opportunity to meet new and interesting people, discuss creative ideas and have some fun.

So we - Creative Commons England&Wales, Openbusiness.cc, OpenMute and The People Speak - are organizing the first MiniBar on Friday the 17th in the Truman Brewery. There will be some free beer (as in Free).

More info at: http://barcamp.org/minibar
RSVP: info@openbusiness.cc

Plus for this first meeting:

John Buckman of Magnatune.com and Bookmooch.com will say a couple of words about music sharing, p2p philosophy and Creative Commons.

We will also be trialling our very Situated Social Tagging system! Think people, not URLs, and sticky-backed tags! More on the night...

I've signed up, myself, and will hopefully be there. Spread the word!

Free Dreamweaver Google tools: Google Maps, search, Checkout etc






If you have the well known web authoring software Adobe Dreamweaver you can use Google Maps on your website or blog without having any expertise in the Google Maps API or indeed any coding skills.

Just download the free Dreamweaver Tools for Google plugin from Webassist.

This add-on "walks you through a simple wizard to add a Google Maps API powered map to your web page. The properties of the map can even be edited via Dreamweaver's WYSIWYG editor" (according to the Google Maps API blog). You can "easily add multiple markers, each with custom pointers and messages - and retain pure Google functionality."

But the plug-in does more than that. It seems to let you off having to struggle with the Google AJAX search API too (phew!). You can "add powerful Google Search capabilities targeted to your site, drop a Google Map on any page to highlight multiple locations with custom markers or sell goods and save money with Google Checkout" - which includes "...Add a Google Search control with an option to search just the sites you want, without complex coding." I've just mentioned that you can try Google Checkout for free, e.g. to accept donations, until the end of 2006.

Now I usually don't post about something till I've roadtested it. But I should say that in this case I've not tried it yet as I'm swamped for at least another week (I will get back to dealing with comments on my blog soon, I promise! Emails go to the bottom of the pile though, unless you know the secret handshake... ). I've got an old version of Dreamweaver knocking around somewhere (might not even have re-installed it on this PC) but usually I'm a Notepad kinda gal.

So - I've not tested this, but it looks good, and seems to have Google's stamp of approval in the form of the blog link, so go download and enjoy!

Google Checkout: try for free till end 2006






Various Google blogs have mentioned that an offer to allow sellers to use Google Checkout (Google's online payments system) for free from 8 Nov to 31 Dec 2006.

Theoretically they even allow sellers to accept donations via Google Checkout (e.g. with a button), which might be good for bloggers who are thinking of accepting donations or having a tipjar. However, they only support sellers with US bank accounts at the moment (and indeed a US address, judging by their sign up page).

So if you're thinking of signing up for Checkout as a seller, e.g. to accept donations for your blog, too bad unless you're in the U.S. But if you do try it, let me know how it goes. (Here's the help pages for sellers).

For donations for bloggers, if you're not in the USA you're stuck with Paypal at the moment, though I don't like it for various reasons (not least because it seems virtually impossible to accept donations via Paypal anonymously to the donor, and their support people are hopeless), so I refuse to use it. (Yes that means I barely Ebay too, dinosaur that I am. But at least I own a mobile phone...).

Hurry up and extend Checkout to the UK, please Google!

Firefox: problems posting on Blogger?






When I got the security upgrade for Firefox 1.5.0.8 it completely screwed up my Blogger posting in Fox - nothing happened on clicking Edit HTML or clicking Preview.

I could Save as Draft and even Publish a full post from the Compose box, but if I tried to edit my saved draft the compose box flashed up with the text for a second, then went blank.

My Technorati tags box completely vanished too.

But there were no problems with the post editor in Blogger Beta.

However, I found that when I upgraded to Firefox 2 it was all fine & dandy again. And all my other Greasemonkey userscripts seem to be working fine too.

So that's the answer if you just got the security update for Fox and then your classic Blogger posting got messed up - use Firefox 2 instead. (Or switch to Blogger Beta, if you can - i.e. if you don't have a large blog or team blog).

Blogger Beta: ftp blogs can now switch






The official Blogger Buzz reports that you can now switch your blog to Blogger Beta if you use FTP. I don't, so I don't know how well it works but they say they've tested it on the four most popular hosting providers for Blogger such as Your-Site (I wonder what the others are?).

But note that: "We do recommend that, before you switch, you create an account on the new version of Blogger by signing in with a Google Account at http://beta.blogger.com/. Try creating a test blog there and verifying that it can publish to your hosting provider. You can then switch your current Blogger blog to this Google Account. Or, just ask around on the Blogger Help Group to find out if other people have had success publishing to your particular hosting provider.

If publishing to your hosting provider does not work — especially if it did work with the current Blogger — send a message to Blogger Support. We want to fix all FTP publishing problems that we are able to.

Extra tip: ask your hosting provider if they support SFTP. If they do, you should use it instead of FTP. It’s more secure than FTP and we’ve found that it will often work when FTP does not."

Also be warned (from the Known Issues Blog) that if you switch to Blogger Beta, your most recently updated 25 posts will appear as new in feed aggregators.

I still have no ability to switch from classic Blogger on my Dashboard, presumably as my blog is large. Just as well as I've not had a chance to get to grips with the new nuts & bolts of Beta yet!

Tuesday, 7 November 2006

Blogger Beta: show-hide peekaboo navbar update






I've updated my post on Avatar's show-hide peekaboo navbar for Blogger with a link to his Blogger Beta version - see that post for the links and some thoughts about whether Blogger's legal requirements (terms of service or TOS) allow hiding of the navbar.

Thanks to Avatar for the info.

Monday, 6 November 2006

Digital rights, intellectual property (IP), internet and UK law: update - CD ripping, etc






Just to add to the chorus of approval for the 29 October 2006 report Public Innovation: Intellectual property in a digital age by William Davies and Kay Withers of influential thinktank The Institute of Public Policy Research, which report has been widely covered e.g. by the BBC, by Creative Commons driving force and luminary Lawrence Lessig, even by the Financial Times newspaper.

You can get the executive summary PDF (requires brief registration) or, as an IPPR blog post mentions, download the full PDF report for free (NB it's 104 pgs long).

The contents of the report will hopefully be taken into proper consideration by the Gower review on intellectual property in the UK. I mentioned the IPPR research in my previous post on IP and digital rights in the UK.

CD ripping for personal use should be legalised

The main focus of the press was on the IPPR report's call (which many have been sounding for ages) to legitimise the copying of CDs for personal use (but not of course copying by commercial pirates). Yes, that's right, in the UK ripping bought CDs to transfer music that you've paid to your MP3 player or MP3 phone is a breach of copyright and illegal, although many people don't realise that. Indeed, back in May 2006, a survey by the National Consumer Council found that "Over half of British consumers are infringing copyright law by copying their CDs onto other players they own... highlighting the absurdity of current copyright law. Three in five (59%) thought copying was perfectly legal, despite the fact that current UK law does not provide a right to reproduce copyrighted material for private use - including CDs, DVDs and downloads."

As I've banged on about before, in the USA there is a general concept of "fair use" of copyrighted works, with factors to be considered in deciding what is or is not fair use; in the UK (see the unofficial version linked to from the UK Patents Office's page on copyright) there is no longer any GENERAL concept of fair use, but rather certain narrow categories of things (like private research or reviews/criticism) which are specifically considered to be "fair dealing". If something which would violate someone else's copyright is not within one of those specific categories, it just can't be "fair dealing" legally, in the UK, and would not be allowed even if in common sense terms one might consider it "fair use". (There used to be a broader concept of "fair dealing" but its scope has been significantly reduced, and I happen to think it's gone too far in the direction of rights holders).

The report notes that:
"Fair dealing in copyright is unclear, for example, and often left open to interpretation by rights-holders and users alike. Attempts by private firms to define fair dealing has increased risks that certain actions that have previously been thought of by citizens as ‘fair’ are now restricted. In particular, there are demonstrable problems with contracts and licences and, in enforcing these, DRM tools. This report argues that this has serious implications for society in general, but in particular, negatively impacts people with accessibility
issues, academic researchers, archivists, and consumers where problems arise with interoperability and access."
If a law is an ass, if a law is perceived to be unfair, people are going to lose respect for the law, and cease to obey it - and that's the start of the thin end of the wedge. Outdated copyright laws that aren't appropriate for modern times need to be updated so as to maintain a fair balance of interests between producers and consumers.

"The report’s key recommendations include:
Developing a model of IP policy that places knowledge as a public resource first and private asset second and promotes recognition of the overall coherence of this model. We argue that this should not be perceived as ‘anti-business’; instead it will deliver both cultural and economic benefits and will underline the economic importance of IP protection as benefiting the rights holder in order to ultimately benefit the public.
Creating as strong a political voice for public domain as currently exists for other interests. This is not to diminish the claims of these other interests, but to ensure the full picture – in both the short and long term – is taken into account to enable effective policy development. We assert that high quality public domain is both a cultural and an economic good and that the Government should make steps to develop and defend it, through initiating the establishment of a UK Centre for Public Domain.
Providing better legal protection to ensure that consumers, librarians, archivists and commercial researchers can pursue non-commercial objectives without fear of recrimination.
● Assisting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and individual creators to better utilise the IP system, by creating cheaper routes to enforcing IP rights and reforming the process of registering patents on a European level.
● Renewing the Patent Office with a wider mission that encompasses the public interest and takes a lead in promoting and undertaking research to assess the effectiveness of public policy in this area."

I especially support the bits I've put in bold, not surprisingly. I say again, the UK's copyright laws just aren't suitable for the digital age, and don'need to strike a fair balance between copyright holders on the one hand and consumers and society as a whole on the other.

There are positive signs that the world is finally moving in the right direction, e.g. in Canada the CEO of telecomms company Telus being reported as publicly recognising that the copyright regime no longer struck a fair balance between creators and consumers, and the call for an international treaty on Access to Knowledge or A2K (info mainly via Quicklinks).

Other recent developments

I've updated my previous post to include mention of the IPPR report and also some other recent developments where UK governmental bodies are considering and possibly thinking of changing the law in the UK to deal with digital or internet issues, which I won't repeat here, e.g.

No to software patents

Hooray. Out-law reports that in August 2006 the UK Court of Appeal refused to grant a patent for certain software, in the case of Aerotel (Neal Macrossan). The report says the court "ruled that Macrossan's invention was both a business method and a computer program and therefore not patentable."

So it's now clear that we won't be following the US line, hopefully. Patenting software can stifle development, in the view of many (including me).

UK second state pension or SERPS: FSA guidance on whether to contract out






For UK workers - extracts from the UK Financial Services Authority's factsheet "The State Second Pension
– should you be contracted out?"
, just issued (which you should read in full if interested):
"Nearly everyone can expect to get a basic State Pension when they reach State Pension age. You will also qualify for the State Second Pension (S2P) if you are employed and earning above a certain level on which you have paid National Insurance contributions. S2P is paid in...

It is important that you compare the differences between being in and out of S2P and understand the risks. Independent analysis that has been done for us [the FSA] suggests that most consumers are likely to be financially worse off by contracting out or staying contracted out during 2006/07. This position may change in future years... You should make sure you review your decision every year."

There's a table in the leaflet comparing the main differences between being in and out of S2P which you should think about in the context of your own personal circumstances.

Google: strategy to sell Google Web services to businesses?






It's interesting that just the day after Blogger Buzz announced that Blogger Beta was finally "feature complete", a post in Google's Adwords blog targeted owners or managers of small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) that use AdWords - we tend to call them SMEs (small to medium sized enterprises) here in Europe - plugging Blogger (particularly the non-techieness of Beta), Google Apps for Your Domain (introduced in August) and Google Docs & Spreadsheets (which Google recently launched as a combo) as free tools that businesses can use.

I wonder if, given the increasing competition for the online advertising dollar, Google plan as part of their future strategy to market their other Web services to enterprise. Yes, those Web apps are free for now but maybe they'll start charging at some point, as they do for their Google search appliance. Diversification sounds a sensible strategy for Google, to me.

But, with so many different apps and services to their bow, I believe it's more vital than ever for Google to approach them in a consistent, co-ordinated way (that common phrase "joined up thinking" comes to mind). I have examples of inconsistencies, which I shall be blogging about, but for now let me leave you with this random funny - I noticed that the Adwords blog post, instead of linking the word "Blogger" to Blogger Beta, links to "http://big.corp.google.com/beta.blogger.com" (which, if you try to click it, simply leads to a "file/server not found" error message. I tried http://big.corp.google.com too, and nada). Hmmm, "big.corp"? Maybe Google will be targeting the big corporations next...

No doubt Google will correct the link when they spot it, so here's a screenshot for proof! (see the cursor and status bar bottom left?):


Internet freedom of speech: visit Reporters without Borders' site to support cyberdemo against online censorship






Tomorrow, between 11 A.M. on 7 November to 11 A.M. on 8 November (Paris time), Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) are asking Internet users to visit their site to show support for RSF's campaign against internet censorship. You can click on an interactive map of the world showing "Internet black holes" (countries which censor Net use e.g. imprison bloggers), send a message to Yahoo against their censorship of search engine results in China, etc.

Freedom of speech and privacy on the internet are increasingly under threat. Just a couple of weeks ago, Amnesty International made a statement at the opening of the Internet Governance Forum in Athens and issued its own call to bloggers to stand up for freedom of expression on the Net - "The organisation says this is a critical time when fundamental rights – particularly freedom of expression and privacy – are under threat from governments that want to control what their citizens say, and what information they can access".

Ironically, Greek authorities recently arrested a Greek blogger after a complaint that his aggregation blog linked to, yes just linked to (not made or repeated), slanderous material. As The Register commented, "the arrest highlights an endemic misunderstanding of internet technology and policy, where authorities try to enforce laws over the net by charging whoever they can in their own country, who are nearest to the problem."

So, do consider visiting the RSF site between the times stated, tomorrow (check the current time in Paris). I will be.

Saturday, 4 November 2006

Traffic: funny, if frightening... respect!








Scary, and makes me glad I'm not motorbiking or cycling in India, but I also had to laugh! Total respect to everyone who drives or walks there. Though maybe the lack of traffic lights means people are more careful?

Blogger Beta: no more features? Team blogs, large blogs?






As many have noticed, Blogger Buzz announced the other day that Blogger Beta is now "feature complete" with FTP support, and that classic Blogger users notably FTP users should be able to move over to Beta soon.

But what about the migration of classic Blogger users who don't use FTP but haven't been given the option to migrate for other reasons, e.g. team blogs or (as in my case) large blogs? I don't know... it would make sense that all existing users will be able to move soon, not just FTP users, but does anyone know?

Also, it's good that we now have labels, comment feeds, privacy restrictions etc (and as my pal Kirk has noticed, label feeds), but does the "feature complete" announcement mean Google are now not going to introduce any further features for a while? For example, are they sticking with backlinks and not introducing any trackback facility? What about proper management of uploaded images?

It's interesting to take a look at Blogger's original list of features for users to vote for, on their Features and Suggestions page. It seems a bit out of date (e.g. the reference to custom domain name, which I guess means publishing using Blogger via FTP, which has of course been available for yonks).

Most of the items on that list, which presumably are organised in a "just click the blob" format because they're the most commonly requested, have certainly been addressed in Beta. But the ability to upload other files besides images hasn't been provided, nor excerpts, nor export/import to other blogging platforms. I wonder if the "feature complete"-ness statement means we won't be seeing those features any time soon?