Thursday, January 12, 2006

Blogged Down

Not my day with blogs.

Here's another experience of a niggle, and I truly hope our site
doesn't do the same thing to anyone, as it does seem prevalent
because we've had it a lot when signing up (or at least trying to) to
various newsletters, etc.

The irony is that this time I was trying to get on a blog networking
site. Again free, so it's hard to be too grumpy.

But of course it had a registration, and of course there was a
requirement for a username in addition to email, passwords, etc.

Fair enough.

But I have a very unique user name, so having got to the end of the
form it was not happy bunny time to have the whole thing go back to
square one because: 'User name already exists'. Pretty unlikely, but

So I tried again. Only this time the same thing happened because:
'email already exists'. I don't think so! I suspect it had logged my
previous attempt, but now I couldn't apply with my own email address.

With luck they will sort it out as there was a contact form, but...
sheesh. As I say, if we do it to you on sorry!

It reminds me of a time I had an online account with BT that required
a password, and it kept rejecting all my attempts, no matter how
obscure and how much I jumbled the letters and numbers up.

Eventually one worked. But I was well narked by then. So imagine my
embarrassment at a later date when I was discussing the account with
a very nice telephone support lady who asked for confirmation of my
password, which was: BTsuxbigtime4wastingmine. Fortunately, she
thought it was funny.

Stop press!

The previous one was sent in by email, but I'm adding this subsequently via blogger using Firefox. Hope it works!

No sooner had I sent this blog off than I got a confirmation from the site I was now subscribed. Go figure. This has happened before, with an error or failure message actually itself being in error. Trouble is this often results in repeat attempts and all sorts of fun creating duplicate entries without realising it.

Oh, and I also got a very nice email from the admin guys syaing they had got my feedback and would respond shortly. Hope they won't think I'm a nutter!

The importance of being Martin

As a Martin, I am always drawn to anyone who shares my name. I actually get two cracks at it, because it is my surname, though of course there are many for whom it is their first name.

One such is a chap called Martin Lewis. He runs a website called Money Saving Expert, and perhaps as a consequence of this (or it may have been the other way around) is a regular feature on a variety of broadcast outlets, such as Radio 2. He is very popular, and very successful (probably as a consequence of the former). 

No wonder. He offers a lot of very useful free, money saving advice. I have to say that I find his weekly email newsletter a chore to read in layout terms, and the site is if anything even more difficult to get grips with (don't get me started on trying to figure out the Forum pages, let alone participate), but an audience of several hundred thousand is not something to be sniffed at, and he is to be applauded for attracting, and helping, so many.

Without him, I would not have found out this week about , which does just what it says on the tin. Got me to the cheapest fuel in may area right away. I also liked the fact that they did have a lot of additional extra info that are of relevance to our mission, so I have written to see if we can hook up.

Martin is another one we wrote to to do the same, and invested one of our TwelvE-ways of Xmas packs to do so. But by golly he has some firewalls and gatekeepers in the way, so I am hoping our message will get through.

Blog (below) standard

Writing this on a website that provides neat, free stuff makes it a
bit rich for me to grumble about another similar entity, but the
blogger I/we use for this very blog can be very frustrating at times.

When it works, it's great. But when it doesn't, it is hair-tearing
out time. And at the moment that's proving almost daily.

For one thing, it seems to be totally schizophrenic depending on
which browser I use, be it for reading or uploading. IE, Firefox,
Safari, Mozilla... all produce a different result, and seldom the
same one twice.

Sometimes I can edit, check spellings, play with type, add a picture
or insert a URL, and sometimes I can't. Often the feature to do it
isn't even there, or on other occasions it is, but doesn't work.

For this reason I started using the email upload feature, whereby you
create the blog as an email and 'send' it off to be published. This
has worked reasonably well, and at least enables hyperlinks, but you
still need to go back via a browser to add pictures. One frustration
is that if I create in Word (to check spellings), and then import as
an email, what uploads to the blog can be a real mess.

But lately even this is playing up, with typefaces bouncing around in
size and shape like yoyos. Often they appear off the blog format
screen. And when I try to correct them via the admin section, I end
up with a screed of code that is impossible to decipher. And the
latest quirk is sending it off only to find it never gets there. So
one day three will doubtless appear at once.

The long and short of it is that until I can bring this blog 'in-
house' (meaning money we don't have to spare), please bear with any
oddments that we can't sort our end. Including things like sloppy
spelling. I can see them, but I can't sort them out.

I wouldn't mind, but 'they' do have a help desk, and I have tried to
use it to resolve this, but no one has yet answered. As anyone using knows, we do try and answer with issues on the site, and as
quickly as possible. So I can't figure why you'd have such a feature
and then not live up to it.

Now, let's see how this comes out onscreen. Fingers crossed!

A million housewives every day...

...knock back the bubbly, way hey!

Apparently, Sainsbury's sold more bottles of champagne than tins of
Heinz baked beans over Christmas.

The rest of the article goes on about all sorts of marketing and
affluence-related issues.

But I just can't get the fact that booze outsells a family food
staple out of my mind.

If you buy into some woods today, you're in for a big surprise

Let's start with some good news. It seems that to my growing list of enlightened media (with the exception of The Economist, who have just announced their updates are going paid subscription. Boo) giving at least some measure (extent and/or duration of access tba) of free access to information I can add the Guardian. At least I can now add a new political and social balance to those news feeds I have traditionally had access to (Telegraph, Times) and used (mainly by virtue of being delivering daily to my desktop, free... and with archive access), and whose news and opinions have doubtless shaped, if not influenced, some of my factual knowledge base... and possibly opinions. 

Now it kinda goes downhill from here. The Guardian is not what you call enviro-sceptic (no op-ed's from Jeremy Clarkson I'd hazard, though I'd bet a small nuclear plant he has something to say about the following within the week), so the front page I saw in the newsagents this morning stopped me dead.

Anyway, I came straight to the net to read more, and was greeted by this e-version, which was equally striking:

Global warming: blame the forests 

as it goes on to share, in what they deem a startling discovery, living plants may (let's cling on to that word for now) emit almost a third of the methane entering the Earth's atmosphere. And methane is not helpful, warming-wise.

In what I'd say was masterful understatement, they go on to opine that it will also intensify debates (ya think??! I am braced for a reaction from 'interested parties' which will make the reaction to the Beeb's landfill expose look tame) on whether targets in climate change treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol should be based entirely on carbon emissions.

In an associated very interesting fact, bearing in mind my target-based systems phobia, is that suits like these  because, surprise, surprise - they are easily measured. Taking sinks into account is less popular, even though they remove carbon from the atmosphere. But they are more difficult to measure. So.. it may be wrong, but at least it gives us an easy result. Nice career if you can get it.

Before your break out the chainsaw, the report doesn't see planting forests as a bad idea, thank heavens, though that seems at odds with the headline to me. Author Dr. Mahli at least feels that "Putting a tree where there was no tree before locks up a lot of carbon and this [new research] perhaps reduces the overall benefit of that by a fraction". Phew.

However, on balance I must to confess to a having felt a bit of smug 'toldyerzoism' momentarily, but for all the wrong reasons. I just have a major niggle about the culture of keeping on doing stuff and buying off the guilt by whacking a tree in the ground to compensate. It seemed/s the wrong way to tackle things, sending a compromised message, and looking all too easy to fall into the hands of every shyster around trying to play it for what they can get. 

But I have alwasy felt that greenery.. was good. And I'll take some convincing I need to cut down my back garden and turn it into a forecourt. But John Prescott must be thinking the rapture has come, so look out Sussex!

Anyway, this blog is more often than not a way to see policy getting shaped, and this is a case in point.

On balance, we'll stick with reading stuff, sharing what we think is for real and valid, and let you decide. It isn't exactly the purest journalism (we don't, yet, have the budget to maintain 'Our Man In Havant'), but then I don't think very much of what the mainstream reports is either these days. We all see an item, maybe follow up, ask a few questions (but often not), and then whack it up there and see what happens to the ratings. 

At least this report was by a team from the Max Plank Institute (supported by an expert from Oxford University), published in Nature and picked up by various news organisations, including the Guardian, and thence via me to you here. And that's not a bad provenance chain, at least for the facts. I'm not quite so sure about the interpretations and/or reactions.

However, at least we will keep on sharing such stuff with a sprinkling of eye-twitch, a hint of 'is this really the case?', and wherever possible with a counter view to put beside it. But I do think we're going to play down our focus on the information side of such issues, at least in areas such as climate change. For one, a lot of other, bigger guys are already doing it. And frankly, it's just getting us in a spin, so I can only imagine what it's doing for those with less chance to collate and review the various resources daily. First something is good, then its bad. Where the heck does that leave you to do for the best?

But mainly I think we'll focus a tad more on doing what we are desingned to do best, and I know can only help: which is try to reduce waste and promote efficiencies through end-benefit driven ideas, information in a form the general public can engage with and respond to, along with support and, where possible, associated rewards of saved time, effort and money. Sound like a plan?

Computer says Woah!

With our reporting of news kicking into a higher gear now, and our Forums getting equally active, I am especially sensitive to the fast-evolving nature of story-gathering via the internet, both active and passive, along with the opportunities and problems presented by being open to contributions from individuals and organisations alike, whose provenance we are not always in a position to fully assess.

With the ramifications of the Wikipedia affair (previous blog(s)) still fresh in my mind, I therefore read with interest an opinion piece in a recent Sunday Times entitled "Still a place for marshals on the wild web's frontiers', authored by Barry Collins:

Starting with the potential problems presented by citizen journalists who can spark serious public unrest with irresponsible, if not plain inaccurate reporting, he goes on to raise the much more (and all things considered, this really is serious) worrying fact that the BBC has begun to remove the human “moderators” who filter comments by contributors to its website forums. Of course, I am sort of proving a few points here by assuming this to be true simply because it was in the Sunday Times, but I don't think my sharing this will result in riots, so I'll press on.

Apparently, instead of such moderators, Auntie has computer software primed to weed out obscenities and libelous comments is being tested during allegedly “noncontroversial” debates, with plans to extend it further. According to Pete Clifton, head of interactive news at the BBC, “We can trust our audience.” 

I am afraid I must share Barry's doubts on this, with a bit of an 'err, no'.

Even in the relatively uncontroversial world of's Forum, passions can run high. You need a human to keep things on track. And it's also hard to appeal to a computer to rectify things when matters of fact or opinion stray from what is true or acceptable. 

There is by all accounts a code of conduct being drafted by the National Union of Jounalists, and we will try and aquire this and obvioulsy abide by it. 

But frankly we think common sense and a practical appreciation of sound ethics should suffice.