Friday, 30 April 2010

Calling 0845, 0800 phone numbers - tell Ofcom they should be inclusive / free!

UK comms regulator Ofcom are reviewing (full document) the rules on non-geographic calls services delivered to consumers using telephone numbers beginning with 03, 070, 08, 09 and 118 "to consider whether and if so how regulation might need to be adapted or reduced, in the interests of consumers. We want any reform to enhance (or at least preserve) the features consumers value, and encourage new services for the benefit of consumers."

As UK readers will know, if a UK user calls a non-geographic number from their mobile phone, e.g. 0845 or even supposedly freefone 0800 phone numbers, they'll get charged for it - and it doesn't come out of your free monthly call time allowance either. This consumer rip-off bugs me so much it was on my Christmas 2008 wishlist, and I've also blogged about an iPhone / Android app that helps you find non-geographical alternative numbers using the brilliant SayNoTo0870 site.

Ofcom now seek views from all interested parties, including consumers, about the main issues relating to non-geographic numbers, before developing detailed options and proposals. The responses will help them identify the issues and frame their thinking and approach to addressing so they "urge all respondents to be as full and frank as possible in responding to this call for inputs."

They've given a surprisingly short time-scale - people only have less than a month to get their views in to Ofcom. There's a contradiction in their webpage says the deadline for when the consultation closes is 30 May 2010, but the full paper says it's 28 May - so I'd get your views in by 28 May for luck.

So do get your blow in to Ofcom to influence their review - and tell Ofcom what you think, fully and frankly!

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Public Bank of Malaysia phishing scam

To my Malaysian and other Asian readers - and I know I have some, thank you for the links to this blog! - just to point out that there's a phishing scam targeting Public Bank of Malaysia customers, so be extra careful before clicking links in emails supposedly from that bank. Spotted by TrendLabs.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Word overwrites tho Insert key is pressed?: fix

A troubleshooting tip: sometimes Microsoft Word (I use 2003) goes haywire and starts overtyping everything instead of inserting new text without overwriting existing text, no matter how many times you keep pressing the Insert key.

How to stop it typing over your text: try doubleclicking the OVR in the grey bar at the bottom of the Word window, so that it becomes greyed out.

A combo of that and the Insert key should work to stop it from over-typing or over-writing when the Insert key alone doesn't.

I guess occasionally it just happens, or maybe you've accidentally done something to grey out the OVR. It's happened to me quite a few times and I spent ages trying to solve the problem. Hope this helps others.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Online shopping - get refund of delivery charges too

If as an EU consumer you order goods from an EU website or indeed by mail order or telephone sales, and you decide you don't want it, under the EU Distance Selling Directive you are entitled to return it and get back the price you paid - as long as within 7 days after receipt you tell the retailer / supplier / vendor that you don't want it (with some exceptions, e.g. you can't return perishable goods like food or cut flowers, or travel-related things like plane tickets).

You have to cancel (i.e. exercise your withdrawal rights) within that time period in writing, but email to their official email address is fine.

Out-law now reports that the European Court of Justice has recently said in the Handelsgesellschaft Heinrich Heine case that not only do you have the right to get the full purchase price back, you are also entitled to a refund of the delivery charge, postage costs, courier fee or whatever they've called it. I.e. what they charged you for the original sending of the goods to you.

What it costs you to post or courier back the goods to the seller is a different matter. It's up to your home country's laws whether you can get a refund for your costs of returning the goods.

In the UK, the seller doesn't have to refund you for return postage, although some decent retailers do it for the sake of customer goodwill and brand reputation (most will refund your expenses for the return, e.g. your postage costs, only if there was something wrong with the product).

So, consumers unite - if an online shopping website doesn't refund you for the original delivery costs, demand it! (But be prepared to pay the full return costs - though they can't charge you an admin fee or restocking charge).

Also note:

  • you can cancel within a "cooling off period" of 7 working days beginning with the day after the day on which you receive the goods; most retailers tell you it's just "7 days", which is wrong, and probably designed to make consumers think it's too late to return something when it isn't
  • if the seller doesn't give you certain info required by law, you have even longer than that to cancel. Most people don't know this. It could even be as long as 3 months and 7 working days after receipt!
  • but the cancellation right doesn't apply to e.g. downloads of software, movies or music
  • if you cancel you obviously have to look after the goods properly (take "reasonable care" of them) till they are collected or you return them, but they don't have to be returned unopened. Equally obviously, you have to package them sensibly so they don't get damaged in the post, and you may have to pay for them or get sued if you didn't look after them or pack them properly and they get damaged etc.
  • strictly, it seems you can even make the seller collect the goods from you if their original contract didn't say you have to return the goods if you cancel! (most website terms will, of course) - but it's safest to return them, reasonably well packaged, even though you have to pay the return costs, as then you're no longer responsible for the goods
  • if there's something wrong with the goods, you still have your normal consumer rights e.g. if they're faulty or defective and the fault only shows up after the 7 working days, and they'll have to pay for your full return costs then (especially if the fault cropped up in the first 6 months after you bought it)
  • the retailer has to reimburse you within 30 days beginning with the day on which you cancelled in writing. Yes, even if they haven't received the goods back yet
  • if the seller tries to say you can't get a refund unless you've returned the goods within X days, actually they shouldn't. It's the cooling off period that counts. See the OFT guide referred to below.

More info:

All this is of course only general info, and up to date only at the date of this post; this isn't legal advice etc, and you ought to consult a suitably qualified lawyer about your own situation if you have an issue.

Monday, 19 April 2010

How to backup your Google Calendar automatically, regularly, for free

This post shows how to regularly back up your Google Calendar automatically from Google's servers to your local computer or external hard drive, using free software.

I started using "the cloud" in earnest when trying to install and use Acronis True Image for backup killed my computer. (Ironic, innit? I'm never going near Acronis again - it took them 3 months to respond to a support request marked "Urgent"!).

As a result, I now use Google Calendar instead of Outlook for my schedule. I can access it easily from my T-Mobile Android G1 mobile phone, as well as from any computer connected to the internet, and share it with others as needed.

But even though Google's probably backing stuff up better than I did, I'm now paranoid about backing up. Especially when, a couple of times when I needed to check my timetable, Google Calendar was down.

Hence, I also back up my Google Calendar file to my own computer (to 2 separate external hard drives) daily.

You can save your Google Calendar as an .ics file (usually called "basic.ics"), which you can open e.g. using the free open source email software Thunderbird with the Lightning extension (I explain how below).

So here's my tips on how to back up your Google Calendar regularly to your own computer. I use the free open source software Free Download Manager:

  1. Download Free Download Manager and install it, if you don't already have it.
  2. Login to Google Calendar.
  3. Under "My Calendars" click the down arrow (outlined in red in the pic below) that's at the right of the name of your main calendar, the one you want to backup

  4. Then click "Calendar settings".
  5. In the view that appears, scroll down to the bottom, and find the bit headed "Private Address", see below.
  6. Now rightclick the green ICAL button under "Private Address", which provides the URL or web address of your own calendar file (don't email or give that address to anyone else, never ever, if you want your Google calendar to be private to you!).
  7. If you're using Internet Explorer to view your Google Calendar, FDM provides an option "Download with Free Download Manager" in the rightclick context menu, and you can choose that:

  8. Otherwise, choose "Copy Shortcut", "Copy Link Location" or "Copy Link" depending on which browser you use, and go to step 10.
  9. If you used Internet Explorer:
    1. If you used Internet Explorer and chose "Download with Free Download Manager", you get this:

    2. Under "Save to folder", click the folder icon immediately to the right of "C:\Downloads" (or whatever it says on your computer), outlined in red above, to navigate to and OK the "output folder" in which you want to save your calendar backup, which will be in the form of a .ics file.
    3. Now go to the Start section of that window, bottom left, and click the blue square icon to the right of Schedule (first select Schedule if it's not already selected).
    4. This brings up a window where you can set when and how often you want your Google calendar to be backed up:

    5. I go for daily at 8pm, myself, as shown below, because my computer is almost always on then. But check out the options to see what suits you (you could choose "On event" at FDM startup, for instance, if you reboot daily).

    6. Then OK it.
  10. If you didn't use Internet Explorer:
    1. Open FDM, click the Downloads tab if you're not already there, and then click the Add Download button, white cross in blue circle, outlined in red below:

    2. You'll get exactly the same box come up as in 9.1 above, but without your calendar address pre-filled in.
    3. Just hold down the Ctrl key and tap v to paste the calendar URL that you copied from Google Calendar earlier (if necessary, click in the URL box first).
    4. Then follow steps 9.2 onwards, as for Internet Explorer.
  11. Ensuring future downloads happen. Nearly there now - in FDM click the Scheduler tab. Rightclick on the "Start download" item just added (you should only have one if this is your first time using it) and choose "Task properties".

    Next, and this is important - you must tick "Restart completed downloads", outlined in red below, then OK it. Otherwise the scheduling won't work i.e. future repeat downloads won't happen.

  12. Load FDM on startup. Also, in FDM go to the menu Options > Settings, and make sure that under General, Essential, the "Load on startup" option is ticked, and OK if necessary. It'll then live in your system tray (bottom right) where you can rightclick its icon to bring up the main window etc.

  13. Download it the first time. You should now go back to the Downloads tab of FDM, rightclick your download item and choose "Start Download" to do your first backup:

  14. Check it. After it's done, go check it's OK by opening the downloaded .ics file in your email / PIM software e.g. Outlook 2003 (menu File > Import and Export, select "Import an iCalendar or vCalendar file (.vcs)", yes I know it's ics not vcs, go complain to Microsoft about the misleading line!) or Thunderbird with Lightning (menu File > Open > Calendar File), then navigate to your downloaded ics file.
  15. Check the scheduled downloads work! Now, FDM should regularly backup your .ics file according to your settings. But you might still want to check that by going to the location of your file after the time the first (or second, etc) scheduled repeat download should have happened, and checking that the date and time of the file matches the repeat timing. Added: also the Scheduler tab shows a short history of downloads so you can check the date/time of the latest ones are as you expect.
  16. Multiple backups. If you want to backup at different times or to a different drive in case the worst case scenario happens i.e. the hard drive you normally back up to dies but Google Calendar is unavailable or loses your data too, just rightclick the calendar link again and add yet another download item for the same calendar URL. FDM will faithfully do all of them according to your schedule - as long as you make sure you don't forget steps 9-11 above.
  17. Multiple calendars. Obviously if you have several calendars on Google Calendar you can also rinse and repeat using the calendar settings for the other calendars to get their URLs.

How to save new versions of your calendar

As you'll have noticed, the above method simply overwrites your .ics backup file with the latest version.

If you prefer to have different versions of your .ics file saved, just do the following and FDM will give each backup with a different name, ending with (1), (2) etc - but you will have to remember to delete old versions manually yourself from time to time, though!

  1. Launch FDM.
  2. In the Downloads tab, rightclick the download item and choose Download Properties:

  3. Go to the Miscellaneous tab and make sure:
    1. "If the file already exists" is set to "Rename", and
    2. "Rename at Restart" is ticked, and OK.

If Rename at Restart isn't ticked, it'll never rename it on the next scheduled download but will keep overwriting the file even though it's set to "Rename".


FlashGet is a very popular free downloader, but I couldn't get its scheduling to work properly for my Google Calendar backups, personally - which is why I stick to Free Download Manager.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

What App?: security & privacy ratings of applications; tools to protect privacy

Before downloading and installing a new application, whether on your computer, Facebook, iPhone or Android or other smartphone, you can now check reviews of web and mobile apps for their privacy, security and openness.

Reviews on the What App site, by a team of about 15 lawyers, computer scientists, and privacy and security experts from Stanford University and other institutions, were recently thrown open to all visitors (who can request as well as post reviews). "Think Consumer Reports blended with Wikipedia and Yelp, but focused on the narrow issue of Internet security and privacy."

The site also reviews web browsers like Firefox and Safari, social networks including Twitter and Facebook and mobile platforms like Apple's iPhone, Windows Mobile and Google's Android.

According to the Stanford news item, "The reviews come in the form of written comments and badges that award applications up to five green bars for privacy, security and openness. Wikis accompany the reviews to summarize what the app does, and the site immediately serves up a list of links to news stories about an app's privacy and security issues.

The site also allows app developers to sign in and write notes about the privacy and security of their creations."

Check out the most privacy-friendly applications on What App? - including tools to help protect or enhance your privacy online.

How to increase your online popularity - blog, Twitter, Facebook: just post more, research says! - & my new experiment

A tip: to make your blog (or social media posts e.g. on Twitter, Facebook) more popular and attractive, to be liked more and get more visitors and friends online, it seems it's quantity not quality that counts.

According to recent research undertaken on Livejournal blogs by associate lecturer Susan Jamison-Powell at Sheffield Hallam University (who I think is @mooglove on Twitter based on basic searching!), the more words contributed, the more attractive the person is considered.

She said "The strongest factor was found to be the total number of words they had contributed over the week. It's not surprising then that we also found that the quantity of material a person had contributed was linked to their network size. Again the people who contributed the most had the most friends in their network."

But the actual tone of the posts (whether negative or positive) had no effect at all!

It seems "the popularity of online participants was to do with their activity within a social media community and not the tone of their posts".

(Seen in a New Scientist news item. And more info is in the Sheffield Hallam press release and BPS release. Also covered in the Telegraph.)

OK, I'm now going to conduct an experiment. I'll be tweeting more (I'm @improbulus on Twitter). In the past I've tended not to tweet unless I felt I had something useful or interesting to say, or was chatting to friends, as I really didn't think anyone would want to know what I've had for breakfast. And I've not cared about how many followers I do (or rather don't!) have, either.

But I'm going to try tweeting more for a few weeks, just to test Jamison-Powell's research. I'd post more here on this ACE Blogger blog, but I actually prefer my blog posts to be useful, and writing even one of my posts takes more time than you might imagine, so we'll see.

Day 0 - I have 274 followers. I ask forgiveness in advance for the inane blatherings I am about to engage in. Follow me & prepare to be bored. But hey, as long as you like me more and think I'm more attractive, that's the point innit? :D

UPDATED - Yes, I gave up on this experiment. No time.. but really my followers didn't increase in the short period I was doing this. Not unexpected perhaps.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

GoogleSharing - fix certificate issue with update

If you've been using the excellent GoogleSharing privacy add-on for Firefox by Moxie Marlinspike, which helps protect your privacy when you're doing a search via Google, you may have noticed a problem with using it last week, with an error about "invalid security certificate" saying it's not trusted:

That was due to French registrar revoking the site's SSL certificate without prior notice or proper timely explanation.

So a tip: you can fix this problem and get GoogleSharing working properly again by upgrading to the latest version of the extension (even though Firefox doesn't notify you that an upgrade is available, that one worked for me).

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

How to edit webpages to print etc

To edit a webpage in your browser, e.g. if you want to delete some stray images or text before printing the page out (to save ink and paper, ever eco-friendly of course), here's a simple trick.

Go to the webpage you want to edit. Paste the following text (all the way to ""void 0") into your browser's address bar (hold down Ctrl and tap l to get there quickly), then hit Enter:

javascript:document.body.contentEditable='true'; document.designMode='on'; void 0

After that, if you click the mouse pointer in the webpage, e.g. on an image, you can delete it, or click in the body and you can change or delete text etc before you print out the page, save it, take a screenshot...

You'll notice the mouse pointer becomes a four-headed double arrow if you click or hover over certain areas of the page, so you can even drag text, photos or images around.

You can also resize certain areas by clicking and dragging. Just experiment and see.

Here's an example where I mucked around with my pal Kirk's blog:

Hat tip: Quick Online Tips. (A bookmarklet is also available, see e.g. Lifehacker, but I've found it doesn't work in all browsers. Where it works, you can just click it to make the current web page editable. For beginners: what are bookmarklets/favelets and how to use them.)

In Chrome the URL shown in the address bar actually stays unchanged!

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Thunderbird & Lightning - can't dismiss reminders, again?

Previously I fixed the inability to dismiss reminders in Thunderbird (the free Thunderbird email software, which with Lightning and Provider add-ons enables me to view and update my Google Calendars within Thunderbird). That time, making sure that Read Only was UNchecked and that the Cache was UNticked in the Lightning calendar properties worked.

Recently, the problem recurred. Funnily enough it only affected my own calendars, not the Google calendars which friends hadshared with me.

This time round, unticking Read-only and enabling and disabling Cache didn't work. I spent ages trying to sort it.

Here are my tips on what worked. Basic, perhaps, but it solved the problem for me. I don't know exactly which step fixed it, but I'm sharing what I did in case it helps someone else:

  1. In Thunderbird's Options for Lightning (menu Tools > Options > Lightning), choose the Alarms, sub-tab, UNtick everything in the first "When an alarm goes off" section (outlined in red below) and OK.

  2. Delete the affected Google Calendars from Thunderbird (just select the calendar in the list at the left of Calendar view and hit Delete key, or rightclick it and choose Delete, see screenshot at 7 below).
  3. Disable Provider add-on (menu Tools > Add-ons, scroll to find it and click the Disable button).

  4. Restart Thunderbird.
  5. Re-enable Provider (as 3 but click the Enable button).
  6. Restart Thunderbird.
  7. Re-add the affected Google Calendars to Thunderbird (in calendar view rightclick on the calendars, New Calendar, On the Network, choose Google Calendar and use your Google Calendar address).

  8. Re-enable alarms (as in 1, but tick those boxes now and OK).

Now, finally, my Thunderbird Google Calendar reminders can be dismissed. Hope it works for others too.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Happy Easter holidays & choc chomping!

Eat chocolate (in moderation!), it's good for you.

Enjoy the many April's Fool jokes e.g. on the Google blogs - my favourites are the mobile "Where am I?" one and the Gmail vowel outage, although storing anything (including your luggage) in Google Docs come close.

And see also, for the privacy-conscious, this on biometrics plus: the printing and scanning of bottoms.

Happy holidays!