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Not getting privacy in 2008…

February 19th, 2008

Last year I asked: “Can we still get some privacy in 2008?“. At the time I was mainly thinking of all the web 2.0 sharing options that appeared not so optional, and human error that accidentally got people’s personal information out on the street. Of course, human error will never cease to exist, but at least I have control over which web 2.0 communities I join. So I should be reasonably fine, right? (well, except for that FBI plan to store our biometric info of course)

Today I read that three major UK ISPs are planning to give away your surfing habits. Unfortunately, you can’t surf the internet without using an ISP’s services, so basically, we’re stuck. The reason they have to share our surfing information with a 3rd company, is so they can force-feed us targeted ads, next to the websites we see, or even in them.

As both a web author and a user, I feel this is invading my privacy on both sides. First of all, my website does not have any ads. Now, when BT users surf to my site, they will be served ads with it? Not what I want! And then, more importantly, when I surf to a site about hamsters, the ISP records that and tells a 3rd party I went there, so they can serve me hamster ads next time I go anywhere on the web. Or worse, the next day my kids will be surfing the web, and they will see the hamster ads on the Lego site, and figure out I’ve been watching hamster sites!

There’s also mention of an opt-out plan. But even if that works, it only means you won’t get served those ads. It may not mean that your surfing habits aren’t given away, and it certainly doesn’t mean that my site will not be accompanied by ads when being looked at by those who didn’t opt out.

From the comments on various sites I can see I’m not the only one who’s concerned with this, but will it stop them? Seriously doubt it. The amount of money these ISPs could gain from this set-up, is just too big.

So, if you would be (or are!) with BT, Virgin Media or the Carphone Warehouse, would you be thinking of changing to a different ISP?

Can we still get some privacy in 2008?

December 29th, 2007

2007 was the year in which it became obvious that our perceived privacy is actually non-existent.

I’m not affected by any of the above yet, as

  • I don’t live in the USA
  • I don’t live in England
  • CZ is not my insurance company
  • I don’t do Facebook
  • I have never liked the idea of adding my contacts to online webmail address books

But..
I realise it’s only a matter of time before everyone will be affected. I’m on Linked In, I use gmail accounts occasionally, sometimes I make use of my credit card, I appear to have friends who tick “yes” and hand over their passwords to companies who want to send spam (“your friends will love this information as much as you do”) to their entire MSN contact list. Any company that has my details legitimately could make the error of misplacing a couple of CDs or have their database hacked, and if biometrics are hot in the USA now, no doubt it will happen on this side of the water soon enough too.

Instead of people with identities and privacy, we’ve become a global mix of consumers and potential terrorists. We’re trading our privacy for a false sense of security, and sell out our friends to advertisers.

Is it reversible? Could it be if we all wanted it to be?

Sometimes I wonder how many people are really aware of the fact that their privacy doesn’t actually exist. I’m amazed at comments by people on various forums who like all those new “features”. Just because they want this one feature in their app, they seem to be blind to the fact that it just is not as good if you were *not* planning on sharing your private data.

So, in order to safeguard myself from privacy leaks in online social networks, should I delete my LinkedIn account? And will I have to stop using MSN too?
And if I do, and get all my contacts to switch to Jabber (yeah right), will Jabber too become a privacy threat?

What I’d like for 2008:

  • to be able to contact my friends, family and clients when I want to, and send them the information I want to send them. Entirely by myself, at the time chosen by me.
  • people to wake up to the fact that even if all our irises, finger prints and DNA would be scanned and filed in a database, this would not stop any terrorists.
  • Oh, and world peace of course, but hey, I’m not that dillusional.

Good posts on other websites on more or less the same subject:

Also, I’m reminded of this song by Anti-Flag, which ends with the proclamation “I’m a human being”. I think we need to wake up to that fact, and refuse to be treated as numbered potential terrorists.

Last but not least I have a request to anyone who has my email address: please stop sending me requests to join Facebook, MySpace or Hyves. I’m not interested. If you plan on giving your MSN password to anyone, please delete me from your contact list first. And if you feel compelled to type my email address on *any* site that wants your friends to be as happy as you are with their services: DON’T! Please.

Italian bloggers to be silenced?

October 25th, 2007

Is this really possible?

Of course I can say I’m glad I don’t live in Italy, but if they would pass a law like that, who says other countries wouldn’t follow?

Airtight

October 21st, 2007

Today I bought some chocolate chip cookies. Not a roll, they were in a bag.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

In a zip lock bag. So I can open it, eat a cookie, and what – save the rest till later? Do people actually do that? With chocolate chip cookies??

Yes, the bag in the picture is empty. No, it didn’t take long. (must admit I had help, but I’m sure I could have managed by myself just fine :-))

Blogosphere or Techiesphere?

October 16th, 2007

What is the blogosphere?

I’ve always assumed it means something like ‘all the blog websites’, or perhaps ‘the sphere around all the blog websites’. Apparently I’m wrong.

Google Reader is now publishing the numbers of readers for any blog. That is of course, the number of readers who use Google Reader. Last weekend, some “important bloggers” (such as TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington) started comparing readers per blog, and reading those lists, Fav.or.it discovered that “the blogosphere” readership is dominated by techies. Apart from the fact that in my opinion Google Reader by no means can be normative for all the blog readers on this planet, I notice that there seems to be a big difference between what I would call blogosphere, and what those “important bloggers” would call blogosphere. They seem to focus only on other “important blogs”. I’ve never heard non-techie bloggers about ‘the blogosphere’.

What about someone’s blog about cats, my friend’s blog about life in Mexico, or a cooking blog that gives me tips on new recipes? My brother’s blog about his perception of stuff, or this very blog you’re reading which is about literally anything that pops up in my mind? Aren’t those part of the blogosphere just like the blogs by more prominent bloggers? Every time the word blogosphere comes up, it is used in the context of a tech-related part of it. Am I just missing something, or is that just too narrow a scope for “blogosphere”?

Yes, if you look at the tech part of the blogosphere, all you’ll see is techies for readership. Maybe techies like to use Google Reader. I know plenty of bloggers and blog readers alike (there’s a good overlap between those two groups) who don’t use Google Reader. I use NewsFire on my MacBook. My brother uses FreeRange on his Nokia 6120. We’re both non-techies (mostly), but we both read a good bunch of blogs on a daily basis.

So far I haven’t seen any stats about blogs that I can believe are even remotely true. As long as it’s only the prominent tech bloggers who look at it, you’ll only get the tech stuff to use for statistics. “Google Reader is by far the most used RSS reader” ? How do you know if you only have access to statistics from major online RSS readers? To find uses of offline RSS readers for example, you’d need access_log statistics from blogs. Which blogs are used to get those statistics? Most likely only the prominent blogs, as I sure never handed anyone my access_log. Online polls? My guess is that those polls are filled out by people who see them, and since those polls are living on techie blogs, it’s techie readers who vote.

No matter how hard they try, as far as I can see it’s impossible to conclude that “the blogosphere readership” is dominated by techies. Unless you’re a techie and you only look at it from the techie angle, and use techie blogs as the basis for your statistics. Excluding loads and loads of bloggers who don’t use Feedburner, and who don’t read other blogs through major online RSS readers. i.e. me 🙂

It must be a boys’ thing…

August 25th, 2007

We’re camping, and it’s a hot day.

I just got back from buying the necessary groceries for the weekend, cycling about 5 kilometers, and am happy with the shade next to our tent so I can relax and read a book and not be bothered by the sun too much.

The kids deal with the heat in an entirely different manner; they decide that right now is the perfect time to test and build their stamina by setting out a track: 5 times around the tree, on the bench, over the table, off the other bench, twice around the sand pit, straight to the inflatable mini pool, ending the race by jumping in it.

I get tired just looking at them – is it a boys’ thing or am I getting old?

TextPad for Mac

August 5th, 2007

If you read my post about my search for a good email client for Mac, you know that I’m also looking for a good usenet client, as well as a text editor. This post is about the latter.

Sorry for the misleading title – there is no such thing as TextPad for Mac. I wish there was though, as I’m very much used to the program on Windows, and really miss it while typing this on a MacBook.

Back when I started writing HTML, I was happy with Windows’ own native text editor, Notepad. My friend John advised me to use TextPad, as it was so much better, he said. I refused, saying I didn’t need anything better than Notepad.

Then one day he just installed it on my pc without asking (!) and I decided to try it, even if only to stop John from nagging me about it. Soon enough I realised it really was better than Notepad (duh!), and I got hooked. Not a big problem, right? Sure. Until you buy a MacBook and discover there is no TextPad for Mac! Thanks a lot John! 😉

Looking for an alternative, I asked a Mac using friend for advice, and she said ‘TextWrangler‘. That’s the prog I’m typing this in, and initially it looked like it could do the same things as TextPad — I’d just have to remember new keyboard shortcuts. Now that I’m actually using it though, it looks like it doesn’t. Most of it is likely because I haven’t figured out how to use half the stuff that’s listed in the menu yet, but there’s one thing I’m pretty sure can’t be set, which annoys me already.

When I’m coding web pages, I like to minimize the amount of typing. So, if I’m writing a list of navigation links, I start like this:

<ul>
<li><a href=""></a></li>

I then copy and paste that last line as many times as I need, say 8 times:

<ul>
<li><a href=""></a></li>
<li><a href=""></a></li>
<li><a href=""></a></li>
<li><a href=""></a></li>
<li><a href=""></a></li>
<li><a href=""></a></li>
<li><a href=""></a></li>
<li><a href=""></a></li>
</ul>

Then I place the cursor inside the <a> element, and type the first linktext:

<ul>
<li><a href="">Home</a></li>
<li><a href=""></a></li>
<li><a href=""></a></li>
<li><a href=""></a></li>
<li><a href=""></a></li>
<li><a href=""></a></li>
<li><a href=""></a></li>
<li><a href=""></a></li>
</ul>

While my cursor is behind the word ‘Home’, I want to go to the right spot to start typing the second link text. And that, is where TextPad does it right, and all the others do it wrong. How so?

Well, in TextWrangler, BBEdit, TextMate, TextEdit, jEdit, skEdit, Smultron, SubEthaEdit, Tag, and probably any other editor — but I couldn’t be bothered to continue testing — I need to navigate to the right place by moving the cursor one position down and several to the left. In TextPad, one press on the down arrow key brings me where I want to be: in the same spot as where I started typing in the previous line, regardless of how many characters I typed. Call me spoiled, but I want a text editor that behaves exactly like that.

I’m not the only one who swears by TextPad by the way, already back in 2004 Andy Clarke was worried how he could be living without TextPad, even though for different reasons. Several people advised him to use BBEdit, and perhaps it does what Andy wanted it for (haven’t tested all its features), but it doesn’t do the job for me.

I went as far as installing CrossOver Mac, a commercial version of Wine, to run TextPad even on my MacBook, but it’s not optimal, and I find myself using TextWrangler for anything that needs a quick edit or for blog posts like this, while firing up my XP box for serious work.

So, anyone know of a text editor for Mac that does what I described above plus of course preferably also the other TextPad features I use on a daily basis such as search & replace, macros, extension defined tag and text colouring, infinite undo, compare files, search in multiple unopened files, regular expressions, different character encodings and split views?

Please?

Update June 2008: the above described behaviour in TextPad is only apparent if you’ve set “constrain cursor to text” in the preferences, as Jason Penney discovered.

The Blue-Green Conspiracy

July 19th, 2007

Is it just me, or is there an (un)written rule that says everyone should make their websites blue and green? Just looking around the 2.0 area of the web, it seems to be the standard.

Peek You Answers Yahoo Moji Owl Music Search My AOL TalkBean LicketyShip Bokardo Oyogi Twitter StumbleUpon AgeSter ViewPoints Zillow Shelfari

Of course there are exceptions, and plenty of them, but really a large portion of all new web 2.0 sites seem to be in the same two colours.

Why do they all think green and blue are it, and who are they copying – who started this? Microsoft Messenger perhaps? There’s a green and a blue little figure in the MSN icon on my desktop. Can’t remember if it used to be a different colour before web 2.0 started booming.

Or was it Google, with the blue links and green urls in the results?

Anyway – my advice to anyone who is thinking of starting a new 2.0 site: go have a browse around COLOURlovers for some decent colour inspiration, then get a piece of paper and a bunch of colouring pencils, and find yourself an original colour scheme.

But first give the bright green and light blue pencils to your toddler, and tell her to make a nice drawing for you. That way you can still look at the green and blue when you put the drawing above your desk, but at least I won’t have to when visiting your website! 😉

Finding a good email client for Mac OSX

July 10th, 2007

About 3 weeks ago I finally got myself a Mac. The initial plan was a second-hand one, as I also needed a laptop, and money still doesn’t grow on trees where I’m from. But then it dawned on me that I could combine these needs and just buy a new MacBook. No idea why I never came up with that idea before, but there it was. Such an obvious choice!

Anyway – I’ve been experimenting with Mac OSX Tiger for just over 3 weeks now, and I can honestly say I like it. Lots of fun stuff to explore, and a very easy GUI. However, being a spoiled user when it comes to email programs, usenet clients and text editors, it’s proving less than easy to find equivalents for the Mac.

I’ll probably write a couple more posts on the latter two, but first here’s me searching for the perfect Mac email client.

On my Windows XP pc I use Outlook Express, with OE-Quotefix. I’m used to how that works, and I want a similar thing on my new MacBook. Of course I prefer a free client, but I don’t mind paying if a program meets my expectations.

These are the programs I tested:

What I wanted:

  • support for multiple accounts
  • 3-pane view
  • text-only view for received mail, even when it’s sent as HTML only
  • proper re-wrapping when replying
  • adjustable line-length

Not too much to ask I thought?

Apple Mail

http://www.apple.com/macosx /features/mail/

Apple Mail comes with the OS, so naturally that’s the first one I tried out. Three pane view right away, nice. Multiple servers, no problem, and it even allows for browsing mail per mail account, as well as all accounts together. Plus: built in spam filter, that learns from being corrected.

Works very nicely, except for one thing: HTML mail is viewed as HTML mail. Once the message is displayed in the window, you can choose “plain text alternative” from the menu, but there is no way to set that as the preference for all incoming mail. Unless I missed a setting somewhere of course.

So, I Googled for other mail clients for Apple, and looked through the descriptions of each one I found. Only a few mentioned a separate HTML or plain text setting, so I picked the first one of those that sounded familiar, Eudora.

Eudora

http://www.eudora.com/email /features/mac/index.html

First thing I notice, is the toolbar that’s positioned at the top left, taking valuable vertical screenspace off my 800px high widescreen. Also there isn’t exactly a 3-pane view, but rather a 2-pane one, with an optional ‘drawer’ that lists the mailfolders. On the right, I want it on the left. Yes I’m picky 🙂

Browsing the preferences window looking for multiple account options, I find an interesting thing: Mood Watch. From what I can see, it scans your mail and detects whether the content is likely to be perceived as insulting. This is for outgoing mail, and might be a good thing to use when you’re sending email to clients for instance 🙂

There doesn’t seem to be a multiple mail account option, but there’s an equivalent: personalities. As long as you make a personality for each mail account, it works. The drawback is that you need to check mail for each personality separately, and each opens its separate window. Not what I want either, so, despite all the good reviews I remember from my Usenet past, and the extra features like Mood Watch, Eudora is out.

Mulberry

http://www.mulberrymail.com/

Next up is Mulberry. The description warns me that it is so complex (or feature rich) that it could appear overwhelming at first. Without trying it for myself, I’ll never know exactly how complex, so I download Mulberry.

Upon opening the program, I’m asked to fill out my preferences – my real name, username, mail address, pop3 and smtp servers. Not complicated at all. On the right, there are two radio buttons, one labeled ‘simple’, the other ‘advanced’. I change the setting from simple to advanced, and there’s the complexity.

On the left, 14 tabs appear, all with settings for this one mail account. Two of them, ‘message’ and ‘display’ I consider to be the most likely to hold ‘plain text only’ settings, I press ‘display’ first. The window now shows ‘display preferences’, with 5 different tabs. Each of them just leads to a bunch of tickboxes to indicate what type of text should have which colour, style or font-weight. Nothing to prevent HTML email from being displayed as such. The ‘message’ tab says nothing about either HTML or plain text, nor do the other 12 tabs.

While searching for plain text options, I encounter so many settings, that it becomes evident that for me, this client is way too complex. Not over my head, but just a useless load of settings I will never use. All I want is a simple mail client that can display my incoming messages as plain text instead of HTML. All the extra features don’t get me closer to that, so that’s the end of Mulberry on my MacBook.

Mailsmith

http://www.barebones.com/products /mailsmith/index.shtml

Next up is Mailsmith – not free. Right away it detects the other mail clients that are present, and offers to import data from them. Perfect, that saves me setting up my different mail accounts again.

The settings look promising; there are many options, including setting the line-length, configurable colours and actions, as well as setting my own keyboard shortcuts. I can even set the spell checker to British English instead of American. No more errors when typing ‘colour’ or ‘favourite’!

Wrapping is almost perfect – when replying, a keyboard shortcut gives a nice re-wrap of the quoted text. The imperfection: hard returns get overlooked, so a list of items will result in a paragraph instead of a list. The good part is, that you can select which parts of the email you want re-wrapped, so you can omit lists. A bit of a hassle if you are having a list with items that consist of long lines that should wrap, as you’d need to re-wrap each item separately.

Multiple accounts are supported, and the way the different accounts are set in the preferences is very logical. Mailsmith even allows you to add extra custom headers, and fake the mailclient ID.

HTML in incoming messages isn’t an issue, because there isn’t any. Everything is plain text only, while messages that were sent as HTML, are available as an attachment to the plain text email and can be opened in a browser, just like I’m used to in Outlook Express.

So, why didn’t I choose Mailsmith (yet)?

Well, it’s $75 to register. A bit steep I think, especially if I can get what I need elsewhere, so let’s keep this program in the back of the head for now.

Entourage

http://www.microsoft.com/mac /products /entourage2004 /entourage2004.aspx?pid=entourage2004

First of all, it won’t work unless you’re using an account with administrator rights. Also, it’s part of the whole Microsoft Office for Mac package, which I don’t need.

After a bit of browsing the help files on this program, I found the deal breaker: “You can turn off HTML formatting in messages you send but not in messages you receive.” I would have thought Entourage to be a step up from the free Outlook Express, but apparently not. And that at $399. (not a typo – Entourage only comes with the entire Office package)

SeaMonkey

http://www.mozilla.org /projects/seamonkey/

Quite a few settings, but no way to display messages in plain text. There is a setting to view in plain text in the menu, but it has no effect whatsoever on the content of SeaMonkey’s first own welcome message in HTML that’s in my inbox.

It has support for multiple pop-accounts, but.. only one SMTP account can be used. That is, one can set up multiple SMTP servers, but only one can be used at a time. That’s just not good enough, so SeaMonkey is dismissed as well.

PowerMail

http://www.ctmdev.com /powermail/

Seems to do pretty much what I want: multiple accounts, filters, HTML can be switched on or off, classic three-pane view, nice interface.

Wrapping however, is done properly only for the text I write, not the quoted text. While within PowerMail, this is a non-issue, as the program seems to only count the characters of the actual words in the line. When sending and receiving from other email clients that have a different set line-length, the wrapping gets messed up. This means that if I’m having an email conversation with more than a few levels of quoting, things get to appear less than pretty.

Also, I can’t seem to set the line-length, or the quote character at the start of each line. The standard character happens to be exactly the one I prefer though.

Cost after trial period: €49 (currently about $62) – just a bit better than Mailsmith.

GyazMail

http://www.gyazsquare.com /gyazmail/

While I was looking at SpamSieve (a spam filtering program to combine with your mailclient), I saw another email client that I hadn’t tested before. GyazMail. Gave it a testrun, and it’s very intuitive. It allows for multiple accounts, including multiple smtp servers, all menu choices can be set to use custom keyboard shortcuts, and it integrates with SpamSieve naturally.

The problem, as with PowerMail, is with the wrapping. No problem when sending a message, it nicely wraps at whichever line-length I pre-set in the preferences. The problem is with replying; lines do get wrapped after the set number of characters, but the paragraph isn’t re-flowed, so after going back and forth a couple of times, the email looks like this:

>>>>>> This is one line that's longer than 72 characters, just to check what
>>>>>> this program does when replying to messages with long lines,
>>>>>> especially
>>>>>> when replying to them more than once.

Since I have a habit of having long conversations by email, this behaviour isn’t acceptable to me. I’ve sent the makers my feedback about this, and if they could fix this one problem, GyazMail could well be my pick of the pack, especially at its low price of $18.

Another reason to keep an eye on GyazMail, is that they have plans for NNTP support. Finding a good newsreader is next on my to-do list, and so far things are looking pretty bleak in that respect. Who knows GyazMail could fill that void.

Conclusion

I would certainly consider GyazMail, as soon as the re-wrapping of replied to paragraphs has been taken care of. Until then though, I’ll have to decide between only two options: Mailsmith and PowerMail.

I’m not sure yet which I would like most in the end. I’ve been using PowerMail for over two weeks now, and have 13 days left on my trial account. That is, if I’m willing to delete a bunch of messages, as the demo only allows for 200 messages, and the number is up.

Mailsmith has been waiting in the background for proper testing, and since I have 18 days left on the demo of that one, I think I’ll switch to Mailsmith for now, and see if I think it’s better than PowerMail. If it really is better, I don’t mind paying a bit more.

While I’m testing, if anyone has any motives for liking or disliking either of these programs, please don’t hesitate to comment – you never know what I may have overlooked that would change my opinion on them. Same goes of course if you know of any other Mac email client that meets the requirements I listed at the start of this page. I still have 13/18 days to decide on a different program 😉

What I’d like especially, is a ‘Quotefix for Mailsmith or PowerMail’. One that does re-wrapping of quoted text automatically, while keeping the hard returns in. Anyone know of such a thing?

Update August 5:

After having tested both PowerMail and Mailsmith for two weeks each, I’ve decided on Mailsmith. The price was actually better than I thought, as it includes a copy of SpamSieve, thus saving US$ 25. But what made me decide, was the wrapping. Although not exactly like Quotefix, it still actually does the trick when I press a key or two, while PowerMail doesn’t offer a manual way out at all once the re-wrapping gets messed up. That, and I like that Mailsmith lets me assign sounds to different events, so I can actually hear *who* is sending me mail when I’m not looking at my screen 😉

Easy Money

July 10th, 2007

Last month I was reading one of the feeds I’m subscribed to, followed a couple of links, and ended up on Jens Meiert’s site.

Jens has a goal – he wants to eliminate typos and grammatical errors from his site. He also has a plan; instead of waiting for people to point out the errors that escaped his attention out of the goodness of their hearts, he offers them money.

The deal is that you write an email to him pointing out what you think is wrong, and at the end of each month, whoever sent him the most real errors (obviously, Jens has to agree they are errors) receives a whopping 30 euros.

This sounded just too good to be true (or rather, too easy) but I decided to take my chances. Within 10 minutes of browsing his site, I happened to find two errors.

Earlier this week I received 30 actual euros in my PayPal account 🙂

Thanks Jens!