A Consuming Experience

Blogging, internet, software, mobile, telecomms, gadgets, technology, media and digital rights from the perspective of a consumer / user, including reviews, rants and random thoughts. Aimed at intelligent non-geeks, who are all too often unnecessarily disenfranchised by excessive use of tech jargon, this blog aims to be informative and practical without being patronising. With guides, tutorials, tips - and the occasional ever so slightly naughty observation.

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Guess who? (prize!)

Monday, November 19, 2007
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Guess who this girl geek is on the very very pink beanbag?

Email, post a comment or text me by end of Sunday 25 November if you want to enter this little contest...

Winner will get a (size S only, for a change) T-shirt from MobileCamp - totally unworn, brand new I promise you! (If more than one person guesses the right answer I'll draw their names out of a hat.)

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Language & "translation" fun

Sunday, October 28, 2007
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OK, some of this isn't new at all, but I missed it before and I know I wasn't the only one. So - here's a collection of (kinda) language or translation funnies or just plain fun.

Google is hyperglotic, we all know that. But did you know that Google's Language Tools page, which lets you use Google's interface in the language of your choice, includes as options:
(as well as the more expected Esperanto and Interlingua)?

I'd completely missed those before. If you did too, try those links above - they really work. And your selected "language" is maintained in the interface in your search results too. Plus, those languages are offered as options in the "Google in Your Language" program!

I also like these:
  • Flip - create upside down text - it's fun to enter stuff and copy/paste the upside down result in emails to your mates! noʎ ǝɹɐ ʍoɥ ǝɹǝɥʇ ıɥ. Not quite translation, but hey.

  • English-to-12-Year-Old-AOLer Translator - self-evident. Converts English to text speak etc.

  • Pop Culture Translator (Flash) - click on a still photo to play the accompanying video clip complete with "English translation" voiceover. Absolutely hilarious, I especially like the "translations" of Sean Paul and Ozzy Osbourne. And Brad Pitt's Oirish. Oh, I love all of them.

  • The Dialectizer, the granddaddy of them all I believe, and still funny - translates entered text or a web page into Redneck, Jive, Cockney, Elmer Fudd, Swedish Chef, Moron, Pig Latin, or Hacker, in case anyone has managed not to have come across it yet. Shame that some sites have actually asked not to be "translated", including Google - despite the great sense of humour they showed in doing the language thang on their own site (if you try to enter http://www.google.com/ to translate on that site, you get "We regret to inform you that the owner of the web page you are trying to dialectize has requested that it not be translated by The Dialectizer.") Well I'm hopefully enough of a good sport that here's A Consuming Experience in cockney.
And of course, in case you haven't seen it before, I still like the text to speech tool where you can type in anything to have it read out in your choice of voices and accents, and even download the WAV audio file to email to a friend.

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Blogger Play: fun, but secretly evil?

Monday, October 15, 2007
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Blogger Buzz previously announced the release of Blogger Play, a slideshow of images recently uploaded by users of Google's Blogger, and have now made available a Blogger Play Google Gadget to add to your iGoogle home page (and also to your blog), and introduced some keyboard shortcuts too.

You can visit the Blogger Play webpage to see the slideshow or photostream, which apparently the Google team themselves have open permanently on big screen.

One of first my thoughts was, had Google considered converting that photo stream into a feed for Google Pack's screensaver - indeed had they used that technology for Play? Great opportunity for integrating Google services there. But then I wondered about aspects like bandwidth, copyright and privacy, which I'll come to.

Blogger Play - Pros

It's a fun time-waster. The constantly changing nature of the display of random pics certainly helps in this age of short attention spans, and there's a certain fascination with seeing photos by total strangers march across your screen, perhaps in the same way as it's fascinating to search for music by singing into your computer's mic and playing back total strangers' attempts at singing popular songs on midomi.

Blogger Play can also help bloggers publicise their blogs. Clicking on a particular image that grabs your interest takes you to the blog post it came from, where you can read what the blogger wrote. So you may get readers who might otherwise not have encountered your blog, and who knows, maybe they'll decide to stick around and even subscribe.

Blogger Play - Cons


But it's also a bandwidth waster for us consumers and Net users who are on metered packages. Blogger Play eats bandwidth like nobody's business. When I first tried Play, I noticed constant Net activity when my browser was open on Play, so I opened Netmeter and, looking at the average change in totals, which I timed on a few occasions, it was using up about 2MB of my capacity per minute. That means that if I had it on in the background for 7 or 8 hours a day, I could get through my 8GB monthly allowance in 2 weeks, just on Blogger Play alone! The Blogger Play FAQ also confirms that "on a fast setting, Blogger Play can download as much as 200MB an hour", so that's about a gig in 5 hours - a month's bandwidth allowance in a week or less, for me!

I'm not sure if Google can do anything about that - is it somehow downloading the full size photograph or picture in the background instead of a reduced version, and if so why can't Google tweak it to download a smaller sized version to display? I really think they should do that if they can.

If you're on a limited bandwidth per month package like I am, you really ought to watch it. Just leaving a web page open on Play may be enough to churn through your monthly allowance in hardly any time at all. I've also noticed that the Buzz blog now has the Play gadget in its sidebar. If I leave my browser open on Buzz, that is also eating through about just over 0.3MB per minute on average, which is still using up 18MB an hour, or 1 GB in about 2 and a half days. I wonder if it's running through bandwidth allowance at about the same rate if you have Play on your iGoogle home page too (I've not tried it). It's all very well for the Google team, they no doubt have unlimited bandwidth to play with, but it's just not the same for the rest of us mere mortals in the real world!

In other words, I have now stopped using Play, except for very short periods at a time, and I no longer leave a browser page open on Buzz as I used to as standard. It's the same with any blog that displays the Blogger Play widget - I may skim it quickly but I'm going to leave that blog fast in order to save my bandwidth (so having Play in your sidebar may be a visitor killer in time, in my view). If you're a blogger I would ask, pretty please, be good to your readers and don't have Play in your sidebar, because many of them may be on limited bandwidth packages (or even worse for them, dialup access rather than broadband).

Privacy and copyright

There are surely also issues about privacy, copyright, draft posts etc. I upload pics to my blog in order to use them in my posts. I expect people will see them when they're reading the published blog post. But I have lots of draft posts on the go at the same time, 20-30 usually. I'm not sure I like the idea of people seeing my uploaded images till I've finished the post and am ready for the world to view them. However, to me it's not entirely clear whether Play only includes pictures from published posts, or any images uploaded to Blogger, even to draft posts.

I'm hoping it's only pics from published posts, as if you click on a photo in Play it takes you to the post it came from - but maybe I just haven't clicked on a pic from a draft post yet. It shouldn't take you to a private draft post for sure, for privacy, security and other reasons, so hopefully that means Blogger are only drawing on published images (if you'll forgive the mild pun) for Play. Does anyone know?

There's also the copyright aspect. I don't think copyright law has kept up with technology (see e.g. my post on the complicated position on using music in your YouTube videos), and there still are too many uncertainties. If you publish a blog post with your uploaded photographs, I think it's clear that you have at least given implicit permission for people to view the photos on their own computers when reading the blog post. But surely that doesn't mean that you knew or expected that your pics would be taken and used for things like Play? There's a similar privacy angle too, e.g. as one user put it (who wasn't comfortable with the idea of their children's photos being on someone else's blog or gadget), do most people even realise that their uploaded photos could get shown on someone else's blog or iGoogle page?

I'm no copyright expert and this isn't legal advice, but I wondered about it. And, looking at the Blogger TOS (terms of service), I see that it says in item 6 that "By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through Google services which are intended to be available to the members of the public, you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, publish and distribute such Content on Google services for the purpose of displaying and distributing Google services." Which is interesting.

I never knew that uploading anything for public use on any Google service means Google can use it on any other Google service they like. Did you? That seems very broad. Does it mean they really can do what they like with our pics and text? Could they put up advertising on Play and not give bloggers who uploaded pics any cut? Could they even take our blog text content and distribute it via a new Google aggregator service, charge for it or run ads, and not pay us a penny for it ("royalty-free", innit)? Is there a copyright expert in the house...? But I digress.

Back to Play, yes, I know Blogger say in their FAQ that you can opt out of having your pics on Play. But that's a bit like direct marketers saying "Ah, but you can always opt out". What's more (and what's worse), the only way you can opt out of having your images on Play is to completely remove your blog from Blogger's listings. Which will also stop your blog from being indexed on Google, and reduce your blog's profile, visibility and visitors. That "all or nothing" approach hardly seems fair, does it? And perhaps even a bit dictatorial. I think it's only a slight exaggeration to suggest that it's like saying you can opt out of receiving marketing emails if you agree to cut off your email access altogether, because publicity and search engine indexing are the lifeblood of many blogs. Personally, I think Blogger should provide a way for people to opt out of having their pics displayed on Play without having to lose out on the search engine and visibility front. And I'd like some clarity on the draft posts issues too.

I am generally a huge Google and Blogger fan. But as you can tell, for a number of reasons, I don't like Play as it currently is. It's fun and interesting, yes. Maybe most people won't mind or care if their pics are used on Play. But why not be non-evil and play nice with Blogger users by making very very sure they appreciate that their children's pics are liable to be displayed on some random stranger's blog or iGoogle page and by providing a rather less drastic opt out option, and why not be kind to Play users by warning them very clearly that Play chomps through bandwidth, or alternatively make it a less bandwidth-hungry service?

(Yes I should be doing an environmental post as it's Blog Action Day. But I am doing my bit for the environment. I'm saving energy as well as Net capacity by not having Play on all the time!)

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Animated GIFs fun

Tuesday, September 04, 2007
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Just to follow up on the "What's an animated GIF?" question which I suspect was rather tongue in cheek...

Some of the images may not be worksafe, i.e. don't view the feed on your work or office computer! But with that warning in mind, check out this fun animated GIFs from Del.icio.us feed (RSS feed) from Brett O'Connor's Negatendo.

He's put together a feed of all the animated GIFs saved on social bookmarking site del.icio.us. It's rebuilt every hour, so there should be new stuff on it regularly. It's whatever people have thought worth saving on delicious so it's variable, depending on your tastes, and some items are repeated, but there are some pretty funny ones there. Hours of mindless animation-watching fun!

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Text to speech fun

Monday, May 28, 2007
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If you've not seen this AT&T text-to-speech page yet, it's fun. It's a demo of their Natural Voices™ TTS software.

You pick your choice of voice - i.e. gender and accent (including US English, UK English, Indian English, Latin American Spanish, French etc, see the pic above), type in the words you want said, in the language you want (300 characters tops), and hit Speak to hear your text read out aloud, or Download to produce an audio file in WAV format which you can save to your computer (for private non-commercial use only like "bugging your friends", but only if it's for temporary use with a very small distribution - so emailing a file to a few people may be OK, but uploading one may not be despite the small distribution of this blog so I'm not going to risk it!).

And yes you can get a German voice to read out English text, and so on, though the results won't necessarily be what you expect as they're designed for words in their own language. But type out naughty phrases and then email the file to others? Moi? Oh no, I'd never do that. Nor would you, I'm sure.

Be warned it doesn't work all the time, Charles was clearly having some time off when I just tried, couldn't get a word out of him. If you're really mustardy keen you can modify the way it works e.g. mixing voices, inserting pauses etc. by adding commas, tags etc - see the help. There are some links to ads, movies etc. that used their technology too.

This site's been around for a while but I only recently got sent the link myself. Posted for Colin Donald who wanted the link - have fun!

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