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All new content on my restarted blog is here

Friday, April 13

Bishop to c8

New York Times:15 minutes ago

Google Buys DoubleClick for $3.1 Billion — Google reached an agreement today to acquire DoubleClick, the online advertising company, from two private equity firms for $3.1 billion in cash, the companies announced, an amount that was almost double the $1.65 billion in stock that Google paid for YouTube late last year.

Crazy idea? Try selling it to Google

April 12 (Bloomberg) -- Google Inc. looks for ideas that are ``really crazy'' when sizing up potential purchases, the Internet company's top dealmaker said.

``We look at everything very carefully,'' Salman Ullah, Google's director of corporate development, said yesterday in a speech at a meeting of the Los Angeles Venture Association. ``The really crazy ones do really well.''
Mountain View responds to every e-mail pitching a company, while phone calls have a 10 percent response rate, he said.
.. ``The crazy ones mean they ignore the usual restraints of investment levels required or design parameters or `Gee I need more servers than anyone ever thought was possible','' Ullah said. ``When you free yourselves from these constraints, you create crazy, cool things.''
.. We believe the following issues have weighed on the stock: litigation with Viacom over YouTube; partnerships (such as with Fox) not being quite as robust as expected; expense creep related to Checkout; and a perceived lack of focus in trying to service traditional media.We believe Google's core search business remains strong, however.
... We rate the stock Overweight.
Christa Quarles of Weisel [SF-Based merchant bank]

Thursday, April 12

More Tesco BS

Tesco have now stated their reasons for not accepting online the Debit Cards which come with basic bank accounts.

"We do not accept Visa Electron cards, because these cards were not designed to take payment where the cardholder was not present, nor do we plan to do this in the future."

"I can also confirm that Electron Cards could not be used online this was because the card issuers insisted that the cardholder was present at the time of the transaction which is not possible for online purchases. I would suggest you to check with your issuing bank as they can upgrade your card to allow you to shop online with us."
This is obviously rubbish as Electron cards are used with other online retailers all the time.

Plus, it's a Debit Card: where's the risk?

Visa confirms on its website that its Electron Cards can be used online — as MoneyBox reported five years ago.

I made a point of getting my local Halifax Bank to check this — as Tesco is blaming them — and (thank you Haley) she made a point of absolutely confirming this. It is Tesco refusing to accept them not the banks insisting that they can't.

The impression that Tesco is creating is that they are essentially discriminating against a particular class of people for no good reason and, secondly, that they don't appear to care about the impact of this policy on very vulnerable people.

Maybe if more people contact them, they might move, although you have to be suspicious that there isn't some commercial reason actually lying behind this (though I'm always inclined to the stuff-up theory).

Every little helps!

Here's your chance to do something — contact Tesco and tell them to start accepting Electron (they could do this TODAY).


Addendum - Africa is ahead of us:

A study for the World Savings Banks Institute (WSBI)
Avoiding exclusion by design and condition
One of the biggest tangible commitments a savings bank can make to maintaining access for vulnerable groups is to retain a basic savings passbook system with procedures to allow this to be accessed at any outlet. This is specifically mentioned by Caisse d’Epargne, France as a product of fundamental importance to “fragile groups” but is common among the savings bank movements around the world. This is not to say that savings banks are wedded to old technology – in the same submission Caisse d’Epargne, France describe their VISA Electron card programme as a budget management tool for the same fragile groups and proximity banks in South Africa are following exactly the same strategy (Teba Bank – ACard).

Wednesday, April 11

Moral Panic #6,235,985 Postscript

Alan Johnson's speech about 'cyber-bullying' was — n'est ce pas? hole-in-one — classic Today Show fodder.

But Sarah Montague failed to land one on the founder of (link to BBC readaudio for seven days), Michael Hussey, who has been through this and more for five years.

He eloquently explained the difference between them and YouTube (clue not Montague have).

Apparently teachers are being subjected to "criticism or ridicule". She launched off with "why he allows youngsters to have an unfair advantage over their teachers?"

They're moderated and teachers (verified by their unique email addresses) can get comments removed.



Yeah, but, goes the voice of Middle England, it "only takes a couple to make their lives hell in the classroom".

But "we're doing a great public service!" (They are). RateMyTeachers is completely different to unmoderated "anarchy online" and — take his advice Alan — Hussey encouraged Johnson to look at their rules. (Or ask your Secretary to print them out).

Montague tries one last heave (I think the "public service" comment floored her) with Johnson's rather tasteless association with porn.

Hussey nailed that and slagged off the hideous, ignorant British news coverage (even The Guardian made very basic errors).

"The right information needs to be put out there before people form an opinion." — right on brother!
The potentially negative impact of knee-jerk, 'ban it' type press coverage on politicians and then people in the Real World was pointed out by the BeatBullying charity:

"The most important thing for those involved in creating these offensive videos to remember is that if you upload a criminal or immoral video onto YouTube, you are leaving a digital fingerprint of your crime."

"Deleting this potential evidence could be interpreted as perverting the course of justice."
But what about the effect on a teacher's future employment says Montague? Couldn't a headmaster look up these comments?

Now she has a point. Fact is that the Web is creating a trail for all of us that will have implications and some smart people already know this.

In his remaining few seconds Hussey tried his best to say "user generated content" "on the cusp" and "Web 2.0" — 'wake up, we're the nice guys', another wing of the BBC put it this way "this might not be what teachers want to hear" — and Montague tried thrashing regulation, forgetting the real point she'd just made.

Here's a sample RateMyTeachers page and literally the first comment (abridged) I found:
April 9, 2007
Let tell you why I am so grateful why this site exists. My son used to come home from school complaining about some teachers ... I believed he was just super sensitive ... I was shocked as the comments they were making were identical to what my son had been telling me for a year. I felt so guilty. I immediately reported the three individuals to Ofsted and the teachers were no longer in a position to bully and humilate my son or any other child in that school.
The site is also praised by parents and teachers here:
..I looked at the site. Looked up the schools I worked in and the teachers I know. I must say one thing: the ratings were , qite frankly, pretty honest. I would haev said pretty much the same, havong observed lessons.
Then I asked my daughter about her teachers (the ones listed on her school's site) without her knowing about the site. Her "verdict" was quite congruent with what I had read so it does seem that this is not a slagging-off-site at all.
Still.................I'm not on (yet)................shiver...........
ir Iever AM mentioned, I might comment on it, only if it's
really nice. Because - waht else could I possibly rate as. eh?

This was Hussey when he started the website:

More or less I wanted to have an outlet to praise the stellar teachers and there was only a handful of teachers in my previous experience where I didn't feel there was much value. I thought that, for both sides, particularly to praise teachers who deserve it and also to let other students know who they might want to avoid.

INTERVIEWER: Forgive me for being a cynic, is this not students' revenge here?

HUSSEY: You could -- you could probably assume that on a first impression. But if you get into the Web site, you'll see that's not the case at all. The clear majority of the ratings are positive, as one would expect when you walk through America's classrooms. I think most teachers are doing a great job and that's reflected on the site. Seventy percent, some schools much more than that, of the ratings and comments are positive.

Why can't they just simply think of this site in the same way they think of Hussey is right to be angry with the press.

And all this at the same time that Minister for the Cabinet Office Hilary Armstrong "wants Government to harness the phenomenon of internet advice sharing sites and empower people with information that could help improve their lives" and announces The Power of Information Review.


Addendum: I've managed to avoid downloading RealPlayer somehow, it exhibits Spam like properties, but had to to listen to this Radio Four extract. There is a specific BBC version - so off I went.
  • File size is never mentioned
  • Makes me reselect my default player than laboriously reselect media type
  • Of course I end up filling in a form - which, note, is opt-out on their newsletters (see, spam).
Why doesn't this just play in the Media Player like everything else on the BBC?

Or even in something far simpler, since this is radio audio!

Tesco responds

I wrote to Tesco following my post on Tesco's so-called accessibility.

To recap, you cannot use Visa Electron debit cards, which many basic bank account holders have, on (you can use them in store, which makes the anomaly even more annoying). This means that many housebound, poorer people are blocked from online shopping.

Not a very useful response from them, no actual answer to my question:

Thank you for your email.

I am sorry to learn that you cannot purchase groceries using your Visa Electron card on our home shopping website. I sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused due to this.

I have checked and can confirm that when you order online you can use debit or credit cards, but we're unable to accept cash or cheques.

All of our online stores, Tesco Direct and our online Photo Centre accept Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Switch/Maestro, and Delta.

Our Grocery store also accepts Solo cards. But if you have an Electron card, please check with your issuing bank, as they can upgrade your card to allow you to shop online with us.


I hope this has made things clearer for you. Please accept my apologies for any disappointment caused on this occasion. Thank you for showing an interest in

If you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact us at quoting TES3349367X.

Tuesday, April 10

Moral Panic #6,235,985

Here we go again, another moral panic about the web. This time it's teachers and 'cyber-bullying'.

The Pollie leaping on the bandwagon here is aspiring Deputy Alan Johnson, speaking today to a Teaching Union AGM:

The internet has been an incredible force for good in education... But there exists a sinister downside as well ... The online harassment of teachers is causing some to consider leaving the profession because of the defamation and humiliation they are forced to suffer.

The new powers allow teachers to confiscate mobile phones which film them maliciously but I believe there is a wider responsibility upon the providers of the sites which broadcast this material. These are big companies we are talking about: they have a social responsibility and moral obligation to act.

I am therefore calling on the providers of these sites to take firmer action to block or remove offensive school videos, in the same way that they have commendably cut pornographic content. By removing the platform, we’ll blunt the appeal.
What EXACTLY are you (portentously) asking them to do, Alan? Because unless you can offer some sort of definition of what constitutes 'offensive' then actually you're calling for self-censorship and for "big companies" to have power over what gets online and what's taken off!

Those companies already remove material willy-nilly.

Teachers can get material removed the same as anyone else. Libel law has already been found to apply online.

Yes, "big companies" should spend money on enough staff to cull material but they already need to to cull spam. It's basic customer service to provide this as many providers learn to their cost.

That's the market: but you either have free speech or not — what is 'offensive' Alan? And who decides?

I notice on his Deputy website that he even has a Twitter account, but from these comments he's either:
  • a complete no-hoper computing/web-wise like most older senior politicians, or
  • just another cynical politician prepared to wager basic freedoms for tomorrow's headlines.

Online news readers last longer

The Poynter Institute
has released their annual eye-tracking study of American news sites. This year they compared the differences between how people read the news online vs newspapers.. Their main finding?

Readers select stories of particular interest and then read them thoroughly.

And there's a twist: The reading-deep phenomenon is even stronger online than in print.

At a time when readers are assumed to have short attention spans, especially those who read online, this qualifies as news.
They weren't expecting this result.

As well, it found:
  • Online readers read 77 percent of what they chose to read with broadsheet newspaper readers reading an average of 62 percent, and tabloid readers about 57 percent.
  • Nearly two-thirds of online readers, once they chose a particular item to read, read all the text.
  • People paid more attention to items written in alternative story forms such as a question and answer format or as lists, and preferred documentary news photographs to staged or studio pictures.
  • Subjects paid an average of 15 percent more attention to alternative story forms than to regular story text in print. In broadsheet, this figure rose to 30 percent.
  • 75 percent of print readers were methodical compared to half of online readers. Methodical readers tend to read from top to bottom .
  • Large headlines and photos in print were looked a first but online readers went for navigation bars and teasers.
Although, as some commentators have pointed out, the headline spin about long stories isn't exactly the case simply because print stories are different to online (where they can be shorter, or longer, or enhanced), Poynter says that in the study's details the claim holds true for comparable length stories (medium and long) — people are more likely to completely read stories online.

It's only just out and more holes will be picked but that would be astonishing if it's true.

Monday, April 9

'Outing' is back

Out magazine's May edition features two models holding masks of actress Jodie Foster and American TV news anchor Anderson Cooper in front of their faces, with the headline "The Glass Closet: Why Stars Won’t Come Out And Play."

Also named inside are David Hyde Pearce, of Frasier fame and Will and Grace star Sean Hayes.

Writing in Out, columnist Michael Musto says:

"Gay is inching toward becoming more OK in the entertainment world."

"In an increasingly gay-tolerant environment, these stars can enjoy actual relationships, they don’t have to constantly dredge up opposite-sex dates, and after a day of pretending for the cameras they can go back to almost being themselves."

"Even at their most controlling, straight stars never seem to leave out the fact that they're straight in interviews. Whenever a subject tells me, 'I won't discuss who I'm dating' or 'I resent labels,' I generally know not so much that they're passionate about privacy but that they're gay gay, gay."
Said Ian Mc Kellen,
"With all that liberal attitude (in Hollywood), you have a local industry which is saying to local people who live in the area, 'When you come to work, you are not gay.'"

"And I think to myself, 'Can people whose minds work like that make good films? And if at the heart of Hollywood there is that lie, how many other lies are there?"
It's not surprising that Outing's back as very little has changed in the past twenty years, especially in Hollywood where there are virtually no out gay actors but many gays and lesbians behind the scenes.

Foster defined the Hollywood closet in her 1992 Oscar acceptance speech:
“I’d like to thank all the people in this industry who have respected my choices and who have not been afraid of the power and the dignity that entitles me to”
Hollywood operates a 'no closet, the glass closet, the cast iron closet, and the closet you get buried in' policy — Rupert Everett has written about how being openly gay has cost him work.

Outing originally came out of AIDS and in particular the anger of American gays at hypocritical gay men in powerful positions — the first modern day occurrence was by the Act-Up activist Michael Petrelis of a right-wing closeted gay Senator who supported an anti-gay Bill.

It caused furious debate at the time.

Michaelangelo Signorile continued from Petrelis in the short-lived but very influential NY Magazine OutWeek, most notably outing Malcolm Forbes. He has continued to out others including Senator Barbara Mikulski and Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman.

In the UK, it was most pointedly used by campaigners against the hypocrisy of the Anglican Church. And Matthew Parris's inadvertent outing of Peter Mandelson is infamous.

The author Gabriel Rotello, once editor of OutWeek, called outing "equalizing", explaining:
"What we have called 'outing' is a primarily journalistic movement to treat homosexuality as equal to heterosexuality in the media."

"In 1990, many of us in the gay media announced that henceforth we would simply treat homosexuality and heterosexuality as equals. We were not going to wait for the perfect, utopian future to arrive before equalizing the two: We were going to do it now."

"That's what outing really is: equalizing homosexuality and heterosexuality in the media."

Amistead Maupin:

"I've always felt that the only way around the enormous stigma and the bigotry that's been placed on homosexuality is to be matter-of-fact about it, to assume that there's nothing to be ashamed of."

Because semi-closeted people invite others into the lie, says gay columnist Richard Mohr:

"The point of outing, as I have defended it, is not to wreak vengeance, not to punish, and not to deflect attention from one's own debased state. Its point is to avoid degrading oneself."

Signorile argued in Queer In America: Sex, Media, and the Closets of Power:

"Average people have been outed for decades. People have always outed the mailman and the milkman and the spinster who lives down the block."

"If anything, the goal behind outing is to show just how many gay people there are among the most visible people in our society so that when someone outs the milkman or the spinster, everyone will say, 'So what?'"

Google Board rejects shareholder challenge to its ethics

Google's board of directors has voted down a shareholder petition put forth by the New York City Comptroller's office, which would have compelled its management not to engage in "pro-active censorship," and not to host users' private data in countries that place restrictions on their citizens' Internet use.

Google did not explain why its board recommends shareholders vote down the anticensorship proposal from the Comptroller's Office, which is a trustee of pension funds with $276.2 million in Google shares on behalf of city employees. A similar shareholder petition was issued at the same time to the board of Yahoo, in which the pension fund holds $110.5 million in shares based on last December's value.

Google did not offer further explanation for the decision.

Google was widely criticized last year after it worked with the Chinese government to ensure its search engine in China,, limited results to searches on the Dalai Lama, human rights, and other topics.

Comptroller William Thompson, Jr. proposed that company executives institute the following "minimum standards" to protect freedom of Internet access in such countries as Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam:

  1. Data that can identify individual users should not be hosted in Internet restricting countries, where political speech can be treated as a crime by the legal system.

  2. The company will not engage in pro-active censorship.

  3. The company will use all legal means to resist demands for censorship. The company will only comply with such demands if required to do so through legally binding procedures.

  4. Users will be clearly informed when the company has acceded to legally binding government requests to filter or otherwise censor content that the user is trying to access.

  5. Users should be informed about the company's data retention practices, and the ways in which their data is shared with third parties.

  6. The company will document all cases where legally-binding censorship requests have been complied with, and that information will be publicly available.

"Political censorship of the Internet degrades the quality of that service and ultimately threatens the integrity and viability of the industry itself, both in the United States and abroad," the petition reads.

"Technology companies in the United States such as Google, that operate in countries controlled by authoritarian governments have an obligation to comply with the principles of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights...[and] have failed to develop adequate standards by which they can conduct business with authoritarian governments while protecting human rights to freedom of speech and freedom of expression."

Said Reporters Without Borders, "More and more initiatives are being taken by individual shareholders and investment funds to force Internet companies to respect certain ethical principles when operating in repressive countries. The New York City Pension Fund's involvement is excellent news because it is an investor with both financial and symbolic weight."

Bored of blogging? Let a machine take over

The Australian

Online CyberTwin will talk on owner's behalf

By Sam Holmes
April 03, 2007

AN Australian company has found a way for bloggers to chat with their friends online without having to be anywhere near a computer or communications device.

Sydney-based outfit has developed an application that uses artificial intelligence (AI) technology to simulate intelligent conversations.

While such applications, known as chatterbots, have been around for a couple of decades now, MyCyberTwin is one of the first programs to allow users to actively educate their online personas to best suit their own.

The online clone can chat on a user's behalf through social networks such as MySpace, blogs, dating sites and MSN instant messaging.


In an online chat with Tracy, a 31-year-old surfer from the Gold Coast, her CyberTwin is able to openly tell you that her owner is a lesbian who's been in a stable relationship with her partner for about 10 years.

She also has a cute dog and likes to spend her weekends playing computer games.

Ms Capper says the tool allows users to develop their online personalities and keep their answers as generic or specific as they like.

Through the chatterbots, a MySpacer can get feedback from her visitors in a far more interactive and interesting way than she can through a message board.

Or she could feed answers to questions such as "are you and Tim really an item?"

She can also go back and view all the conversations visitors may have had with her CyberTwin.

While the program is some way off recreating the depth and coherence of a conversation with a real human, Ms Capper says it opens up AI technology to the ordinary internet users.

"Our CyberTwins don't always say everything absolutely perfectly but given where the state of AI technology is at the moment, we're actually quite happy with the result," she said.

"And obviously it's an ongoing work.

"There's a saying – you never finish building AI, you just stop working at some point."

Behind-the scenes @ Google

Google lauched MyMaps with a game (prize, not some new Google hardware product but a Nintendo Wii). Some employees got in on the act:

  • The Googleplex: A photo essay on life at the Google headquarters in Mountain View

Oh, and they've also added live traffic reports - this is Miami.

Sunday, April 8

Bytes · Apple isn't Green - Craigslist’s gay profits - GodTube

  • Apple Inc. has the worst environmental policies among major electronics companies, according to Greenpeace.
  • First placed Lenovo, who are Chinese, "offers takeback and recycling in all the countries where its products are sold," Greenpeace said. Lenovo also says how much e-waste it recycles as a percentage of sales.
    Greenpeace environmental scores
    1. Lenovo: 8
    2. Nokia: 7.3
    3. Sony/Ericsson: 7
    Dell: 7
    5. Samsung: 6.3
    Motorola: 6.3
    7. Fujitsu/Siemens: 6

    8. Hewlett-Packard: 5.6
    9, Acer: 5.3
    10. Toshiba: 4.3
    11. Sony: 4
    12. LG Electronics: 3.6
    Panasonic: 3.6
    14. Apple: 2.7

    · More about Apple's environmental record at Green My Apple.

  • Microsoft has released a new mobile browser called Deepfish. Users are able to zoom in on the part of the page they want to read or click on.

  • Fab Google Gadget (and general widget) World Sunlight Map by, who also do one showing moon phases.

  • Woolworths is the latest company to add user-generated content to it's website. They're using Reevoo to collect and publish reviews of many of the retailer's products including music, video and mobile phones. They say:
    We aim to publish all reviews – good and bad. However, we have to reject reviews with bad language, confusing or offensive content. So what they say, is what you see.
  • have dropped Google Maps citing fears that they'll ad ads and start charging brands. Instead, they signed up to Rocket Map.

  • Tagging has seen explosive growth as a locator for Web content according to Technorati report The State of the Live Web, April 2007.

    Blogging continues to grow exponentially. Japanese grew as the dominant language for posts — Farsi moved into the top 10 languages.

  • Google released MyMaps, a point-and-click add-on for Google Maps, aimed at a mass market. The product mimics Platial, who responded thus on their blog:
    "While no entrepreneur is excited about potentially competing with Google, it had to happen… There are a number of friend/foe relationships that spring up when you have alliances and markets with rapidly evolving needs. Our business will be disrupted too in some ways but it was time."
    MyMaps doesn't match Platial functionality though - you can't use it to embed maps in your site for example.

  • In another new move there's Google Voice Local Search, which offers a free '411' (local information) phone service.

  • Stephen Bagg exposes Craiglist's 'Dirty Little Secret' on his blog.

    Turns out that by far the most popular categories are men-seeking-women etc. with some interesting breakdowns by category by city.
    "But that’s not the entire story. A deeper look into the metrics reveals a real power group behind Craigslist’s impressive numbers: men seeking men. Even though they only enjoy Top 5 status in two cities by visitor volume, each month these Craigslist constituents view over 50% more pages and 20 more minutes on average searching these posts than any others – from apartment rentals to items for baby."

  • Tony Blair has launched a YouTube channel.

  • ReleMed is a new search engine for PubMed, the largest database of medical literature, which assigns relevance to results in addition to just looking for keywords.

  • After the Evangelical Christian version of Wikipedia comes their version of YouTube. GodTube, however, The Times reports, has been attracting the most viewers for the unintentionally hilarious videos.
    In one of the website’s most-watched videos, Ray Comfort, a New Zealand-born evangelist who lives in California, employs a banana to demonstrate the genius of God’s creation.

    “Notice how gracefully it fits in the human hand,” declares Comfort. “The maker of the banana, almighty God, has made it with a nonslip surface.”

    Comfort goes on for several minutes, seemingly unaware of the dangers of double-entendre in his reverent handling of the banana.