Saturday, December 01, 2007

Three wheels on my wagon

The only justification for including this video on this blog is that it is a Google Video. It appears on Mr Motorvator's website, to demonstrate the efficacy of attaching a Cyclone motor to a Pashley powered tricycle.

Mr Motorvator (aka Tony), wearing the Valkyrie wings on his cycle helmet, personally delivered my trike to me last year. He specialises in customisation of bikes with motors.

I am the supporting actress.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

YouTube - in defence of human rights?

Today's issue of Global Voices Online featured YouTube's removal of the account of Wael Abbas, a well-known and respected blogger in Egypt.

In one stroke, this arm of the mighty Google has removed the ability of Egyptian human rights' activists and journalists to broadcast to the world the inhumanity and brutality of the Egyptian police, who are presumably working with the cognisance of the Egyptian authorities.

Why? Because, strictly speaking, Wael Abbas has broken the rules.

Graphic or gratuitous violence is not allowed. If your video shows someone getting hurt, attacked, or humiliated, don't post it.

Wael Abbas had posted video clips of Egyptian police torturing and abusing people in custody.

Whether YouTube will provide a fuller explanation of its censorship remains to be seen, but the ironic explanation of its action is that it was reacting not to pressure from the Egyptian authorities, but to the squeamishness of American users, who really don't want to see the very nasty side of life endured by ordinary, poor people in this token democracy, heavily subsidised by American aid.

I did watch one of these videos a few months ago. It's not for the fainthearted I agree. But where else can people post full, factual information about abuse and corruption?

One of the strengths of YouTube is that it is universal.

The video service is caught between a rock and a hard place. Scenes, for example, "of an Egyptian bus driver, his hands bound, being sodomised with a stick by a police officer" are not what I would want my kids to watch, even if I could understand the genuine anger and motivation of the blogger who posted it.

On the other hand, my kids would complain if I didn't give them the space to view what they wanted.

Even if the blogger was able to post and stream his own videocasts on a server elsewhere, it's quite likely that someone would object to his ISP about the content, and the offending items would still have to be removed.

Overall, however objectionable the material, its removal does seem to me to strike at whichever Amendment it is that defends free speech.

I do have just one query. How did Abbas get hold of these videos in the first place? Presumably he is not a police officer. I can't help but suspect that his motivations may be mixed. He probably wouldn't be able to say since that would compromise his sources.

Also see The Hub.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Free wi-fi hotspots throughout the UK!

Yes, it really might happen - providing you subscribe to BT Broadband, or are a Fonero.

Fon has been around a little while now, starting in Spain where the network is pretty good, even with hubs in Corralejo, Fuerteventura.

You buy a small Fon router, plug it into your existing router, and hey presto, you get your own secure Fon network PLUS an unsecured network which anyone in the neighbourhood can use, as well as your existing network.

If you've registered with Fon and operate your own Fon router, you can access anybody else's unsecured Fon network for free. If you haven't signed up, you can still pay for Fon network access, at a cost rather lower than that of The Cloud.

BT have combined with Fon to extend the range of wi-fi hotspots in UK. It's got to be a great idea, at least until Wimax gets here.

I'm not sure if Wimax has met technical problems or if there is a major hitch with the economic model. Keep hoping it will work. VoIP could knock the socks off mobile networks.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Who's watching you?

There you are, gaily adding all those little apps to Facebook, which Facebook says it doesn't support. Throwing sheep, buying drinks for your friends, battling it out with Zombies and Vampires and telling the world how you feel every five minutes.

Originally, Facebook was aimed at college kids and professed to confer privacy in a way that MySpace couldn't. Then its reach widened, so that even wizened, well, not so wizened, but certainly elderly people like me could join up too.

I've been amazed to see what some of my peers get up to on Facebook.

You thought you were safe didn't you. It was all harmless fun and a bit of jollity between friends.

Think again. Facebook is opening up to Google search, so anybody could find anybody. Which means that when you apply for a job somewhere and you get offered an interview, the company can undertake reverse research and find out all about you online. Just like you're supposed to research the company ready for those trick questions face to face.

Think of all that personal information in Facebook and MySpace. Is that the image you would want to present to your employer? It's already forced me to revise my profile, hoping against hope that the searcher doesn't use The Internet Archive as well.

Oh, and before we get on to targeted advertising from Google, both Facebook and MySpace intend to do it too.

Friday, June 01, 2007

THANK YOU Microsoft!

Microsoft has been awfully nice to me. I had participated in online surveys about Microsoft Office for over a year with the prospect of receiving a reward.

But I never realised just what a reward it would be. Free copies of Windows Vista Ultimate and Microsoft Office Ultimate!

The only problem was that I didn't think my current PC could take them, even though the upgrade tool says it could. It's awfully slow to power up, and sometimes complains when I have several apps open at once, so I gave the software to my daughter who has a more up-to-date PC.

Today I discovered that the combination of software costs £777 on Amazon. Hmmm.

Was I TOO generous?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Boys in Blue

No, no, not the quintessential English bobby, but the Microsoft lads who wear a uniform of a pale blue shirt over a whiter than white t-shirt.

I went to the MSDN roadshow presentation in Nottingham a few weeks back. I'd realised when I signed up that much of it would be over my head. Which meant that I was very pleasantly surprised when I did get the gist of the first presentation showing streamlining and tidying up of Visual Basic and C# 3.

I imagine that the Technet Day was probably more my level, but frankly, I don't want to find out about Windows Vista yet. My systems won't be able to operate it effectively and I hear that there are incompatibilities. It's a beast in terms of size. Neither do I intend to upgrade to Microsoft Office 2007 in the immediate future. Other than when I got my Microsoft Office Master certification, which required me to use a wide range of options in Office 2000, I make very little use of the 'gadgetry' other than basic word processing.

I use dedicated freeware or shareware apps for building websites, having given up Front Page three years ago.

All in all, the MSDN content appealed to me more with presentations on Ajax and XAML, even if I didn't understand it fully.

I was very taken with the potential of Visual Studio, which seems to offer an entry point for building some quite complex Web 2.0 applications without having to get buried by coding.

And it was useful to see a demo of Windows Expression, the successor to Front Page, even if it was still in beta format.

I continue to be concerned, though, that using Microsoft products will add an inordinate amount of code to websites. I like the lean approach of minimal coding.

I had to admire the presenters who were missioned to show off products which even they admitted were not truly ready for the market. And I like the way that when the MSDN emails arrive, I recognise the name of the chap who wrote it, thinking, Oh yes, he talked about that at the roadshow I went to.

The air conditioning system at the East Midlands Conference Centre was extremely efficient. Perhaps the benefit was that, although one risked getting a chill, one wasn't inundated with the aroma of The Great Unwashed, which has been the case in gatherings of this nature in the past.

I am supremely impressed with Microsoft's civility. Not only did I receive reminders before the event, but also an email afterwards thanking me for attending. Old school gentlemanliness. It makes me rather wistful.

And I made a discovery. Between each presentation, some very enjoyable music was played, which sounded vaguely familiar, but I didn't know the artist. Sitting with Rosie in the champagne bar in Leicester the following week, one of the tracks was played. "Oh, that's what they played at the Microsoft event. What is it?"

"Oh Mum," replied Rosie, "That's Jack Johnson. It's easy listening." I now have the CD.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Quark! Quark!

I've been pretty pleased with myself over the last month or so. I'd bought a copy of QuarkXPress 7.0, the self-proclaimed king of desk top publishing and print preparation software, and actually produced an issue of a magazine.

I had to learn to use the software on the hoof, and was very grateful to for its structured online training exercises. I'd never have got the hang of it with the manual, nor a book.

The basics are quite easy to learn and implement. It's the more 'advanced' features that are going to take some time to master. And version 7.0 is supposed to be able to help you build websites.

I've been running the software on a PC with XP. I haven't found the software particularly intuitive. Formatting that you could do so easily in Microsoft Word seems to involve going round the houses in Quark.

Perhaps it's easier to implement on a Mac. My Mac Book Pro is in the post and I intend to transfer the licence from the PC to the Mac.

Ten minutes ago, I got an email from Quark advertising a series of free seminars at Apple stores throughout UK, which would highlight the new features introduced in QuarkXPress 7. It was a bit late. The nearest seminar was in Birmingham yesterday. OK, so I could go to Sheffield on Friday, but I've got another engagement that day. No mention of Nottingham. Perhaps the company's gone out of business.

A link invited me to find out more. I clicked. I could hardly believe it. Problem loading page in Firefox, so I looked at the domain name in the status bar. Well, that doesn't seem right, particularly when the published text says

I put in the address bar, and hey presto, I get offered the option to choose between English, French and German.

Once at the English Language site, I was apalled at the very poor quality of the text (have they never heard of anti-aliasing?) and the mixed fonts. The navigation is a travesty. Hover over a main heading such as Training, and a sub-menu appears. Move the mouse to click on a sub-heading, and the whole menu disappears.

For a company that professes to market top-notch software, this is amateurism in the extreme.

I suppose we're stuck with Quark because no other software provides quite the right kind of flexibility for the task of desk top publishing. But I would never use it for web design, if they used their own product to build their website.

I've discovered that there is an open-source version of DTP software called Scribus, but I haven't loaded it yet. Could be worth looking at.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Not altogether Yahoo!

Yahoo! did reply to my emails with the headers of the offending spam messages. Yahoo! also wanted me to send copies of the emails themselves.

Well, if I had done that, my own email account would have been declared spam. Spam catching software usually filters out the kind of stuff I'd been receiving. If I had forwarded it, I would have been identified automatically as a spammer.

Much to my annoyance, I felt obliged to remove the Contact form on my website and substitute an encrypted email link.

Guess what, since I did that, the spam from has petered out. I STILL am not sure whether it was the email address or the script that was vulnerable.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Useless Yahoo!

I am TERRIFICALLY fed up with Yahoo! so-called support services.

On my very first website hosted at Geocities, I have a contact form based on a script that Yahoo! has provided to divert enquiries to my named email address.

Within the last four weeks, I have been receiving spam email from civics at My login name is in the message body along with lots of links to websites I certainly don't want to visit.

Will I be able to stop this? It certainly won't be as a result of trying to contact Yahoo! "support" services. I drilled down on the Help page through to the point where I had to fill in a contact form. You can't telephone or message anybody.

I tried, believe me, to explain the situation. I received what appeared to be a personalised email, fairly quickly, informing me that action had been taken to rectify the situation.

The next time I downloaded my email, I received another two spam messages supposedly from civics at geocities.

I wrote back, receiving an inane reply referring me to an online document about terms and conditions which was absolutely no use in my situation, because I don't think we're dealing with a phishing page on a website, but a possibly compromised script supplied by Yahoo!.

I wrote back again. I seriously question whether the people at the other end in the Yahoo! offices can be bothered to actually read the complaints. Either that, or they are simply ignorant about anything beyond what is in front of their noses. The woman, because it was the name of a woman who signed, told me to explain fully what the problem was. All she had to do was scroll down the email for goodness sake. AND I'd included the headers of four offending messages.

I wrote once more. This time, the reply wasn't even individually signed. I was told that the support service I needed related to email. Get this Yahoo! It's not my Yahoo! email address that's compromised. It's YOUR script! Or is someone picking on me? Now that would be paranoia!

I was about to give up when I realised that there might be a different way. And I'm hoping it will work.

The messages also contain the Remote IP.

Thanks to that, maybe I've got their number. I'm using Visual IP trace to track down the souce of the spam, which apparently is Japan and China. The software enables me to report the abuse to Yahoo!, producing a nicely formatted email including the offending headers and asking Yahoo! to let me know what they've done about it.

Let's see if it happens.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Galapagos Galloper, or how I came to love social networking

I first heard about ARPANET, an ancestor of the Internet, while I was taking a postgrad library course at the end of the 1970s. The US government funded research in the 1960s into how to establish a communications network that would work regardless of damage inflicted in a global nuclear war.

By 1993, not only had academics caught on to the use of ARPANET and its descendants in communicating scientific progress and discoveries, librarians had recognised its potential too, as a vital tool to finding and sharing information.

I am reminded of that famous line in 'The Mummy', when the character Evelyn Carnahan rises in front of the campfire in a state of intoxicated euphoria and declares, "I, am a librarian!"

Inspired by news from the library world about this marvellous information medium, I subscribed to CompuServe and was one of the first to experience the delights of using http:// Librarians had become accustomed to using tools such as FTP and Gopher.

Let's come up to the present, when a whole new sphere of commerce and creativity has been unleashed by the Internet. Let alone using a computer, today's kids probably couldn't conceive of a world without a net connection.

But it's what you do with it that counts.

The first net users would probably have taken the notion of networking entirely for granted. Now, the emphasis is all on social networking media. MySpace, Live Journal, YouTube,, Digg, Reddit, and so on.

Google has got in on the act with its involvement in Blogger, Picasa and YouTube, while I see strong legacies of Yahoo! in Flickr, MySpace (uses Google search) and I have found the services very useful at times, and have even made one or two contacts as a result. It's people like my daughter who use the 'social networks' ruthlessly to raise awareness of both themselves and their ventures.

This is by the by. My little tale concerns a blog which I have created and defined myself using open source software. Last week, I posted about the absurdity of the price and concept of three days' bed and breakfast in a rather beautiful outpost of Arabia. I ruminated on the alternatives and value for money. Quite by chance, I had been reading an article online about the Galapagos Islands and visited the website of the company used by the journalist. The Galapagos, and its rich haven of wildlife which has evolved separately on the islands, appears to be quite enchanting. I mulled online about whether I should go. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity could put you back a mini fortune, particularly if there is more than one in the party.

Next day, I discovered that John Gallagher, based in the Galapagos Islands, had left a comment on the post announcing that he could help adventurous people with trips around the Galapagos, accommodation and advice on cheapest fares. For one thing, how soon would that type of communication ever have happened without the Internet.

I sent him an email to thank him. Your eyes should widen even more at this point. At 3.30 pm the same afternoon, my Skype phone rang. John was calling me from the other side of the world via Skype having used the Call Me function on my website. We chatted for half an hour. I became truly inspired.

I asked him how he had come across my original posting. He uses Google alerts. Every time someone, somewhere in the world writes 'Galapagos' in a newspaper article or blog, Google sends him the link.

Ten years ago, this COULD not have happened. My ambition would have waned into wistful memory.

Now, this trip is on my mental itinerary. The stumbling blocks will be my husband and my son. My husband, who spends a lot of time abroad, will remonstrate because I intend to travel to the other side of the world without him. "It's too expensive!". I can hear him saying it already. I can't really leave my 16 year old son on his own for two weeks or more. I asked him if he'd like to come with me.

"How far away is this place and would I have to fly on a plane?", he answered. "You know I don't like flying."

Why do the men in my life have to be such wimps?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Gothic bellydance and Gothla UK

I know this video is very dark. It was taken at a Goth nightclub in Leicester in December 2006, and shows my daughter Rosie performing gothic tribal fusion dance to 'Kiss them from me' by Siouxie and the Banshees.

Those of us who are not really in the know, and don't really care, would say, 'Ooh look, she's bellydancing!' There's nothing more calculated you could say to stir up the 'bellydance police', who have a very purist idea of what bellydance is. The moves should be slow and controlled. The emphasis should be on erect posture and isolated control of muscle groups.

But hey, Rosie is dancing and performing well and evidently enjoying herself.

Why, you may ask, was she dancing in a Goth nightclub? Rosie and her friends are putting on a Gothla UK weekend in Leicester in mid-June. Three exemplars of gothic fusion bellydance, Sashi, Tempest and Ariellah, are coming over from the States to perform and to conduct workshops in aspects of core control, muscle isolation and dance.

They will perform at a hafla (hence gothla) on the Friday evening and will be joined by performers from UK. The wonderful thing about haflas is that ladies can dress up extravagantly and dance themselves between performances. It's a very egalitarian affair.

The workshops will take place next day, and in the evening, participants can try out their workshop-learnt skills at a Goth disco.

The action will take place at Darkscape in Leicester, the Goth nightclub where Rosie and her friends exhibited their talents to raise interest in their venture, and to spread awareness of the universality of dance. (Sorry if that sounds pretentious - was a bit stuck for words.)

You can sign up to keep informed of what is happening at Gothla.UK. You can watch more videos of the Gothla team and exponents of gothic and tribal fusion dance at GothlaUK on YouTube.

Monday, January 01, 2007

To YouTube, or not to YouTube?

Now that Google has taken over YouTube, it would be remarkably easy to add a link in a blogspot to the unofficial video showing Saddam Hussein's execution. Google offers to link any YouTube video for you.

I hesitate to do so. I will not say that I am deeply concerned by the so-called morality of whether it is appropriate to increase the visibility of the event. I'd be more inclined to admit that I would not wish to be accused of prurience to see a man in his death throes. On the other hand, I would have turned away at the point of execution if I had been there. Violent killing of any kind is totally repugnant.

Debate has continued all day on BBC Radio 4 as to whether it was appropriate to:
  • film the execution
  • screen the execution
  • watch the video of the execution

Dismay has been expressed about the taunts at the dictator in his final moments. I believe it is this which detracts from what was portrayed in the official video. The unofficial version could be accounted as the most truthful. It only highlights the widening differences between Sunni and Shi'ite in Iraq. It doesn't pretend that the event was in any way truly dignified.

Some say that Saddam appeared calm. Some say that he could not believe what was happening right up until the end. Some say that he wore a great coat to stop himself shivering. Some say that he was shaking in fear.

Given the way he responded to his tauntors and his recitation of the Muslim prayer as he fell, I would doubt the latter.

I did see the photo of Saddam hanging on the rope which was printed on the front page of the Gulf News website yesterday. He seemed to me to look as if he were at peace. He looked much younger.

We judge by what we think are our standards, without acknowledging that standards are different between people and between cultures. We won't even admit that we could shift our standards only too readily if circumstances changed.

I admit that I was puzzled that the Iraqi authorities carried out the execution on the first day of Eid al Adha, the holiest day in the Muslim year, rather as Good Friday is in the Christian year. This is the day when the pilgrims on the Haj return from Muzdalifah where they have gathered stones to throw at the devil at Mina.

It's quite menacing to consider that it was the first day of the Eid for Sunnis, but the day before Eid for Shi'ites.

It doesn't matter who responds in the US, and nobody has so far as I know, they will not be able to contradict the belief of many Arab citizens that the execution was carried out at the behest of the US Government as one more strike in its 'war against Islam'.

Just in case anyone reads this, consider this paragraph from an article in the Washington Post of 2nd January 2007, which would appear to counter that last suggestion:

"Shiite leaders have begun to push harder for more independence from their American backers. Most recently, the government ignored U.S. objections to hanging Hussein too hastily. He was executed, amid jeers from Shiite witnesses, four days after an appeals court upheld his death sentence."

And Reuters published this yesterday:

'A senior Iraqi official told Reuters that U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad had urged Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to wait another two weeks, until after the long Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, and had insisted on a variety of documents including approval from Iraq's Kurdish president.

U.S. forces had declined to give Saddam to Iraqis for fear of abuses of his prisoner's rights. They only agreed to hand him over for execution hours before the unannounced hanging. Apparently, the prime minister's office provided all the documents they asked for and the Americans changed their minds when they saw the prime minister was very insistent.

An advisor to Iraq's prime minister said that the government would look into how guards in the execution chamber had smuggled in a mobile phone camera.

He said: "They have damaged the image of the Sadrists. That should not have happened. Before we went into the room we had an agreement that no one should bring a mobile phone."'