Archive for April, 2011


April 27, 2011

Running for a bus in Crouch End last week (and pleasantly surprised to find that I could still run reasonably fast) I spoilt it all by falling over, grazing my wrist, and cutting my upper lip.

Why share this apparently inconsequential information?  Partly because it’s a blog, and blogs started as places to record mundane matters.  Partly because in the remote possibility that anybody who sat next to me on the bus ride, or the tube ride immediately following, is reading this, I’d like to point out that yes, I had been in a fight, it was with a bus stop, and it’s a slightly moot point which of us won.

And also to make a usability point.  Having arrived in Oxford Street I went into the Gents in a well-known large department store, to clean myself up and banish the battle-scarred look.  Which was great once I’d overcome the challenge of finding out how to turn on the high-tech taps provided for hand-washing.

WiFi vulnerabilities

April 27, 2011

Earlier this week the Guardian ran a piece about an experiment setting up spoof WiFi hotspots which could be used to harvest user information.  The fundamental problem is that it’s very difficult to identify for certain that a particular wireless network that a device is connected to is exactly what it claims to be.

Some of the commenters raise the question of whether this is a new vulnerability.  It isn’t: what’s new is that small mobile routers are widely and cheaply available, and you could set one up in one of the cafés at St Pancras, as in the photo, without attracting any particular attention from passers by. But in other ways, this just a new twist on one of the oldest techniques of all to harvest information about computer users, that is the programme that puts up a fake login screen but actually collects a whole set of usernames and passwords.

Analytics and advertising

April 21, 2011

WordPress offers some simple analytic tools which I can use to find out which posts people have been reading, and I’ve been a bit surprised to find that my post from November 2009 on a sustaining technology (the washing machine) attracts a steady stream of ‘hits’.

Maybe these readers know something that I didn’t, because our 18-month-old washing machine has developed a leak in the door.  Fortunately this looks to be a guarantee claim, since John Lewis sells washing machines with a two-year guarantee.  But it’s very striking that, since clicking on the John Lewis site a couple of times yesterday to find out about how to claim, several other sites have displayed prominent banner advertising for John Lewis whenever I browse them from my laptop.  I know that analytic tools are used by websites to place targeted advertising – I just assumed that usually their use would be a bit more subtle than it has been on this occasion.

Gagarin day

April 12, 2011

Today it’s 50 years since the first manned space flight by Yuri Gagarin – among other ways of marking the anniversary, a short film called First Orbit is being distributed by very 21st century means (YouTube, iPhone and Android apps, and a creative commons licence) to give an idea of what Gagarin might have seen on his flight.

Fools rush in

April 12, 2011

Commodore’s launch of their pastiche 1980s computer (mentioned in my blog last week) very early in April led some people to wonder whether it was an April Fool.  It wasn’t, as far as I can tell, but the Internet was the vehicle for some interesting hoaxes on April 1st.  I liked Google’s Gmail motion where you could compose emails just by gesticulating at your computer, complete with a convenient PDF reference sheet for useful phrases.  But there were also interesting dynamics when the national newspapers published April fools in a blog format, particularly among the comments.  The Guardian invited its reporter Olaf Priol, who appears to be on a one-piece per year contract, to provide a live blog on preparations for Prince William’s wedding, prompting quite a few readers to post messages of outrage, totally unaware that they had been duped.  Presumably the note series: April fools only appeared in the margin after midday on 1st April.  In any case it raises issues of what you should do if you need to point out something that makes the readers of a blog look stupid.  And the Telegraph also invited comments on this spoof report related to another forthcoming marriage .  Again, not all the commenters seemed to have noticed the date.

A product for the computer history geeks

April 7, 2011

Commodore is bringing out a 21st century version of its classic Commodore 64 computer – interesting idea but I’m not sure what market it’s aiming at beyond that of pure nostalgia.  It’s difficult to see how it can function in exactly the same way as a modern computer.  Of course there are plenty of retro products around (Roberts radio offers some fine examples) but they are usually instances where it is straightforward enough to devise something which is contemporary in function but from a past era in appearance.

Bluebells on Twitter

April 6, 2011

I know it’s spring when carpets of bluebells appear in my localpark.  This year, the National Trust (purveyor of days out at country houses and much else) is using Twitter to track the progress of bluebells across Britain.  It’s a true web 2 project, with bluebell sightings as user-generated content, Twitter as a data gathering tool, and a mashup with a Google map to display the results.

Incidentally I notice that the National Trust’s own Twitter feed partly uses a social media tool called Sprout Social – whether this is supposed to make us think of Brussels Sprouts is not clear…