Friday, 27 February 2009

Internet Explorer links bar moves, won’t stay in one place?

Does your links bar in Internet Explorer 7 annoyingly change position when you open a new tab (or if you switch away from that window, then back again) – it just won’t stay in its original position, even though you’ve locked the toolbars?

Here’s a tip for one possible solution to the "disappearing Links Bar" problem. It works fine on my Windows Vista machine (though it’s not guaranteed to be permanent - I’ve had to do this twice now over several months).

  1. Best close all existing Internet Explorer windows first.

  2. Click Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools, and then click Internet Explorer (No Add-ons):

  3. This opens up a new special IE window.

  4. In that window, unlock the toolbars if necessary, so that you can move them, by making sure "Lock the Toolbars" is UNticked (if it's ticked, just select that option to untick it). Do this through the File menu if you have one visible:

    - or if not then use the Tools icon:

  5. Then move the Links bar to where you want it by dragging and dropping.

  6. When you finish, lock the toolbars again (i.e. follow step 4 above to make sure that "Lock the Toolbars" is ticked again).

  7. If the Links bar was already in the right place in this window, well try just unlocking and locking the toolbars!

  8. Then close that Internet Explorer window.

  9. Hopefully new IE7 windows that you open from then on (though not existing ones that you didn’t close yet) will now show the Links bar in the right position. Until it disappears on you again, in which case rinse and repeat…!

If you’re having to do the above several times, then probably the best troubleshooting step you can take to stop your Links bar from continually vanishing is to find the add on responsible for the issue (normally it’s the fault of an addon and not Microsoft, I think!) and then disable it permanently, unless the usefulness of that add-on to you outweighs the annoyance factor of the disappearing Links bar, of course (here’s how to disable add-ons).

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Your privacy: cloud computing report & tips; privacy notices & ICO consultation

1. Cloud computing and your privacy

The World Privacy Forum on 23 February 2009 published:

For those not familiar with the term, ”cloud computing” is basically where your data is stored and available online e.g. Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, emails on Hotmail etc. Very convenient as you can login from anywhere you have a Net connection, but it involves risks to your privacy and private information.

To quote from the WPF summary (my emphasis):

“The report finds that for some information and for some business users, sharing may be illegal, may be limited in some ways, or may affect the status or protections of the information shared. Even when no laws or obligations block the ability of a user to disclose information to a cloud provider, disclosure may still not be free of consequences.

In its analysis and discussion of relevant laws, the report finds that both government agencies and private litigants may be able to obtain information from a third party more easily than from the creator of the information. A cloud provider’s terms of service, privacy policy, and location may significantly affect a user’s privacy and confidentiality interests.”

The report’s warnings on cloud computing and privacy seem particularly timely given the recent furore over Facebook’s Terms of Service or TOS allowing them to keep and use all your data even after you closed your account (see e.g. New York Times report and BBC reports and Facebook’s resulting “Bill of Rights and Responsibilities”). And, last year, there was a furore over the TOS for Google’s new Chrome browser too.

Using Chrome isn’t exactly the same as putting your data and information into the “cloud”, granted. But the Chrome TOS incident illustrates the same general issue. And in fact these issues aren’t new, even in relation to cloud computing – e.g. the Pew Internet and American Life project issued a memo on the use of cloud computing applications and services in Sept 2008, noting their increasing popularity amongst Americans but that “their message to providers of such services is: Let's keep the data between us.”

So, for instance, some time back I blogged about:

But the fuss clearly illustrates users’ increasing awareness of the fine print in the TOS of Web / internet services and their increasing concern about the risks to their privacy.

About time too, I say.

2. Privacy notices & your personal details – ICO consultation

As another sign of the growing realisation that this kind of problem needs to be addressed properly, on 12 January 2009 the UK information regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office, had launched a consultation on a new draft Privacy Notices Code of Practice “designed to help organisations provide more user friendly privacy notices”. Particularly on their websites, of course, but it relates to all organisations that collect / store personal information about people.

To quote from the ICO (my emphasis):

“The ICO believes that some existing privacy notices contain too much legal jargon and are written to protect organisations, rather than to inform the public about how their information will be used… we want to ensure that privacy notices provide clear, user friendly information to the public about how their personal details will be used and what the consequences of this are likely to be”.

Not surprising and again about time too, I say!

If you do it by the closing date of 3 April 2009, us mere members of the public can respond on the draft Code of Practice on Privacy Notices too (e.g. if you don’t think it goes far enough to protect private individuals) - see the consultation page and their consultation response form (not a Web form but in RTF, and you have to save it in Word format and email it to

If these issues interest you, you may also be interested in:

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Blogger: how to promote your blog; & drafts now bear correct dates when published!

It’s worth pointing out a couple of recent Blogger developments:

1. How to promote your blog - tips

Team Blogger highlighted their help page listing their accumulated wisdom on things to do to promote and publicize your blog, and how to add your blog feed to your Facebook profile.

The tips are small but perfectly formed, and many are quite general and don’t just apply to Blogger blogs – so go check ‘em out!

(I confess to violating some of their “rules” – my posts are often too long, and these days I rarely have time to reply to comments on this blog let alone comment on others’!)

If this topic interests you, you may also be interested in "Six Sayings for SEO Success".

2. Draft posts published with the correct date, at last!

One of the biggest flaws with Blogger: if you create a draft post on day 1, then tinker with it a bit over the next few days, and finally publish it on day 8 – the post will actually bear the date of day 1, i.e. the date you first created the draft post; not day 8, the date you published it, which is the date it should really bear.

That’s why I and many others resorted to Greasemonkey scripts like Keep Current Date and Time which Jasper produced and Aditya updated (and Kirk has tweaked!).

The good news? Team Blogger have finally fixed this niggle, with what they call “automatic date and time”.

However, it only works in Blogger in Draft at the moment. (How to use Blogger in Draft.)

It’s hidden there under Post Options (that’s another of my Blogger bugbears, that Post Options is no longer permanently open – in my view it should be):

Click the Post Options link to expand it and you’ll see the new feature on the right, “Automatic” is ticked by default which is fine (Blogger Scheduled posts most already know about):

In order to use this feature, these are the steps:

  1. Disable Keep Current Time if you have it (Tools, Greasemonkey, Manage User Scripts, leftclick once on “Blogger Keep Current Date” to select it, UNtick “Enabled” in the bottom left hand corner, then click Close). You won’t need it if you use Blogger in Draft, and keeping it stops the new Blogger in Draft feature working

  2. Login via Blogger in Draft (instead of via the usual Blogger site).

  3. Create your post there in the usual way.

  4. If you do any intermediate edits of your post, the best way is to do it by logging in via Blogger in Draft – not “non-draft” Blogger.

    (Note: If you login to non-draft Blogger and edit the post there while Keep Current Time is enabled, the interaction between the two seems to mess things up and then when you try to publish it, even from within Blogger in Draft, it may revert to just showing the date of creation. You have been warned! That’s why step 1 is to disable KCT. If you temporarily disable it before opening the post for editing, then save and leave the Edit post page, then re-enable KCT again, it may be OK – but the safest course is just to disable it altogether. Of course when this feature is rolled out you can permanently get rid of KCT so this will no longer be an issue.)

  5. When you’re ready to publish the post, again do not login to Blogger, make sure you sign in via Blogger in Draft, then publish it from there. Otherwise, it won’t work – the post will still bear the date of its original creation, not the date of publication.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Funny cut-off Twitter

As a fan of surreal absurd humour, I love unintentional funnies that result from text being cut off or truncated at just the wrong place.

For instance, the "Doomsday Cod" - visions of small fish weaving menacingly towards you... you'll never get awaaaaaay!

I just spotted another one today, pictured above, where Twitterfox cut off text from a Twitter update (tweet, twitter, twit or whatever you wanna call it).

For screenreaders & search indexing bots - it said:

"Airbag jacket 'could save lives': Dozens of lives could be saved every year if motorbike airbag jackets were mad.."

Monday, 9 February 2009

Kids’ funny bloopers on history, music etc

Telling Alaric about the wonderful books of Richard Lederer (official site), which no lover of English language puns and mistakes can be without, inspired me to look for online examples of his famous collections of bloopers - notably humorous errors from children’s history essays / exams which he’d painstakingly put together to hilarious effect.

I was delighted to find lots of them. Here are my fave Lederer links, on history, music etc – enjoy!

Unofficial history of the world (excerpts: Ancient Egypt was inhabited by mummies… A myth is a female moth… Socrates was a famous Greek teacher who went around giving people advice. They killed him. Socrates died from an overdose of wedlock… Nero was a cruel tyranny who would torture his poor subjects by playing the fiddle to them… During this time, people put on morality plays about ghosts, goblins, virgins, and other mythical creatures… The government of England was a limited mockery. From the womb of Henry VIII Protestantism was born. He found walking difficult because he had an abbess on his knee… Queen Elizabeth was the "Virgin Queen." As a queen she was a success. When Elizabeth exposed herself before her troops, they all shouted "hurrah."…)

The revised non-standard bible (excerpts: The first five books of the Bible are Genesis, Exodus, Laxatives, Deuteronomy, and Numbers… Saddam and Gomorrah were twins... The Seventh Commandment is thou shalt not admit adultery… The greatest miracle in the Bible is when Joshua told his son to stand still and he obeyed him… He preached holy acrimony, which is another name for marriage. A Christian should have only one wife. This is called monotony…)

American history, the unofficial version (excerpts: Christopher Columbus discovered America while cursing about the Atlantic… Finally, the colonists won the War and no longer had to pay for taxis… Thomas Jefferson, a Virgin, and Benjamin Franklin were two singers of the Declaration of independence, which says that all men are cremated equal and are well endowed by their creator… The difference between a king and a president is that a king is the son of his father, but a president isn't. Washington was a very social man. He had big balls, and everyone enjoyed them… Lincoln debated John Kennedy in 1960. Kennedy won because he looked better than Lincoln, who had pallor due to his assassination… Thomas Edison invented the pornograph, and Cyrus McCormick invented the McCormick Raper, which did the work of a hundred men… World War I made the people so sad that it brought on the Great Depression. Then the New Deal tried to make sure that the stock market will never happen again… the Watergate Scandal, which ushered in a new error in the anals of human history.)

Shakespeare according to students (excerpts: He lived at Windsor with his merry wives, writing hysterectomies, tragedies, comedies, and errors… In one of Shakespeare's famous plays, Hamlet rations out his situation by relieving himself in a long soliloquy… During the banquet scene, Lady Macbeth is afraid her husband will expose himself in front of his guests. Then Lady Macbeth gets kilt… Romeo and Juliet are an example of a heroic couplet… In Anthony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra reclined to become Mark Anthony's mistress. She took the Roman Empire one man at a time… The next great author was John Milton. Milton wrote Paradise Lost. Then his wife died and he wrote Paradise Regained...)

Classical music stuff (excerpts: The principle singer of 19th-century opera was called pre-Madonna. At one time, singers had to use musicians to accompany them. Since synthesizers came along, singers can now play with themselves… A virtuoso is a musician with real high morals… I know what a sextet is but I'd rather not say… Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a great many musical compositions and had a large number of children. In between, he practiced on an old spinster which he kept up in his attic… Beethoven wrote music even though he was deaf. Beethoven was so deaf he wrote loud music…)

Books by Lederer which I own:

If you like this kind of humour, see also my posts on:

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Artificial intelligence shows that laziness is smart!

A couple weeks back a Google Research post mentioned some fascinating research into “emotional agents”, i.e. intelligent software agents that can autonomously rewrite their own behaviours, the rewriting being triggered by charged emotional events.

They reported that, for agents created by Manish Mehta using the ABL agent language originally developed by Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern for the Facade project (emphasis added):

“… using two agents playing tag, Mehta was able to make them revise their behaviors based on how well they played the game. However, it had an unintended consequence: one of the agents decided it was less stressed out when it was "IT". When it was "IT", it wasn't being chased and wasn't feeling stressed, so it just let itself get tagged, enabling it to "chase" the other player at a leisurely pace.

… Mehta realized this had exposed one more property of human behavioral change: emotional events can prompt change, but we also have a self image - a model of what we think our personality should be like. As our personalities change, we audit the changes to make sure they fit our self image and apply further corrections. For a computer game character, that "personality" is really the designer's intent, so Mehta augmented his emotional learning system to check potential behavioral changes and make sure that they did not violate the original intended design. With this change, both characters were able to learn from their good and bad experiences playing tag, and neither "quit playing the game" just because they didn't want the stress of being chased.”

I love that effectively they had to program in a “personality” (conscientiousness?) in order to get the intelligent agent to keep playing tag.

And that, without that personality check, the agent decided that the intelligent thing to do in order to minimise stress is to let yourself get caught so that you can then take your time ambling along chasing the other player as slowly as you like!

See, this proves what my friends say: I’m not being lazy. I’m just being efficient.

Monday, 2 February 2009

BBC: how to produce websites

For those who may have missed it, Michael Smethurst of the BBC has produced a helpful presentation with guidance on how to design and produce websites, based on the BBC’s wealth of experience in creating their own excellent web sites.

I’ve embedded the slides below for ease of access, but anyone interested should read the full BBC blog post on how to make websites for the detailed exposition.

Very practical and sensible, business-oriented, lots of tips and advice, and a must for anyone (even those new to creating web pages) who wants to learn to build a web site properly from the ground up (another tip being, perhaps, to minimise the number of pages you may find you can't keep on updating, ahem!)

Other points on making web sites which may be of interest to budding web page builders and site designers, plus a couple of website funnies for light relief: