MonthJuly 2006

“Dodgy”. What does this word actually *mean*?

I’m editing pieces ahead of a two-week break, so I’m doing lots in a rush.

And I keep coming across the word “dodgy”. In a quote: “If it’s not fraudulent, it is at least dodgy,” he says.

Or: “it uses dodgy websites”.

What’s the linguistic distinction that we’re drawing here? Are we saying that dodgy is legal, only in danger of veering into illegal? I don’t get it. I’m tempted to just replace it (out of quotes) with “fake”, and to see if the quoted people can’t be made to be more precise.

Ian Hargreaves, as editor at The Independent, once put out a ban on “Hey” – as in “Hey, but that’s how it is.” It adds nothing to the sentence but a spurious familiarity. I’m thinking that dodgy doesn’t really tell you anything about the object or activity being described. Either it’s illegal, or it’s not, surely; and either it’s done with the intention of defrauding people, or not. Intention counts. You can’t accidentally come up with a scheme that relieves people of their money against their will.

North London taxi practices; Malcolm Gladwell on what blogs feed on; and searching for Wil Shipley

  • Prize For Stupidity

    Somewhere in the depths of North London, a young man falls over and injures his leg. He thinks it might be broken. He hobbles to the telephone and dials the number of his local taxi firm. Yes, that’s a real taxi, not one of our Big White ones. He then limps outside to wait for the taxi. Ten minutes later, it arrives, and he eases himself into the back seat.

    “Where to?” asks the cab driver, starting the engine and pulling off.

    “North Middlesex Hospital, please,” says the man. “The A+E department. I think I’ve broken my leg!”

    “Oh my god!” says the taxi driver. “You can’t be getting in taxis with a broken leg. Hold on a minute!”

    The consistently enjoyable NeeNaw (say it out loud) blog. The really scary thing is that this is true. The only amazing thing is that it didn’t happen in south London – I’d have found that easier to believe. (Seen at Nee Naw)

  • The Derivative Myth
    Has the level of self-regard in the blogosphere really reached such dizzying heights that it can’t acknowledge the work that traditional media does on behalf of the rest of us? Yes, the newspaper business isn’t as lucrative as it once was (although it’s still pretty lucrative). And it doesn’t seem as exciting and relevant as it once was. But newspapers continue to perform an incredibly important function as informational gatekeepers—a function, as far as I can tell, that grows more important with time, not less. Between them, for instance, the Times and the Post have literally hundreds of trained professionals whose only job it is to sift through the mountains of information that come out of the various levels of government and find what is of value and of importance to the rest of us. Why Where would we be without them? We’d be lost.

    Malcolm Gladwell – not normally a person one thinks of with a green eyeshade on – making the point about where blogs find their food. (Seen at gladwell.com)

  • Dude, Kyle’s Not Here
    There are some really strange data, particularly in the search terms with which people find my site.

    I mean, sure, lots of people google, say, etrade (6.73% of all visitors on Friday, which means that they really, REALLY shouldn’t have screwed with me), and often people will just google wil+shipley (3.85%) instead of remembering my non-mnemonic url (wilshipley.com).

    But, how about the guy who was looking for custom+pimp+puppets? My first thought was, why’d this link to my site? And then, “What’s a pimp puppet? Is it just a puppet of a pimp? If so, why the hell does someone want one?” (Unless it’s named Frank.) The really bizarre part is the person didn’t find what he wanted, so he followed up by googling custom+made+pimp+puppets. Vive la diffrence!

    Wil Shipley (of Delicious Library) with a stellar runthrough of the weird Google searches that bring people to his site. BTW, does Kyle Orton like drinking? And where can I find naked women pirates? Wil knows. (Seen at Call Me Fishmeal.)

Why isn’t there a Pauline Kael of games reviewing?

  • Esquire:Feature Story:The Lester Bangs of Video Games
    I realize that many people write video-game reviews and that there are entire magazines and myriad Web sites devoted to this subject. But what these people are writing is not really criticism. Almost without exception, it’s consumer advice; it tells you what old game a new game resembles, and what the playing experience entails, and whether the game will be commercially successful. It’s expository information. As far as I can tell, there is no major critic who specializes in explaining what playing a given game feels like, nor is anyone analyzing what specific games mean in any context outside the game itself. There is no Pauline Kael of video-game writing. There is no Lester Bangs of video-game writing. And I’m starting to suspect there will never be that kind of authoritative critical voice within the world of video games, which is interesting for a lot of reasons.

    This is a really, really interesting article. Expository followup at Gamespot with a longer interview with the author.

Please, don’t send me your Office-beta-created documents

In the past couple of weeks I’ve received some copy from freelances with the mysterious suffix “.docx”. Uh? What’s that? I thought it would be a normal document – you know, the sort of thing that Word would open. (Because you know how much I love Word’s quirks. Ah, I still delight in its refusal to open RTF files that it hasn’t created.)

But – no dice. It won’t open them, or if it does, it finds junk: ticks and umlauts and so on, as if I’d tried to open an image as a document.

So what’s going on? Turns out that people have been downloading the Microsoft Office 2007 Beta, which has gaily taken over their machines and begun churning out their documents in this non-compatible XML format which no XML parser in my reach can, uh, parse.

Kind of an own goal there, guys – both Microsoft guys and writer guys. I don’t see that Microsoft can honestly believe that we’re all going to rush to upgrade to Office 2007 just because a few people running the beta have produced documents in it. Time for a downgrade – if it’ll let you. (I’ve had people saying it’s crashed horribly on them.)

When you stop reading news.. nothing happens

  • When you stop bothering with the news…
    Fraser Spiers discovers that he has much more time to, well, I dunno, but he’s stopped worrying about the bits of the world that are blowing each other up. The extract from The Day Today is priceless – if horribly true. Except I can’t help thinking that one ought to be more interested in stuff beyond one’s purview, if only so you can work out why someone would let off a bomb or three in the underground. (Seen at Fraser Speirs)

Greenslade lets both barrels go at the fake sheikh

  • Mahmood – yet another disturbing case from Greenslade
    But there is now a catalogue of high-profile “fake sheikh” cases that give credence to the many complaints – not least from journalists, lawyers and some senior police officers – about Mahmood’s activities. He should be curbed, and so should his newspaper. It was interesting that, during his summing-up in this latest case, the judge remarked: “The press is policed by the Press Complaints Commission”. Is it? There is no way that the PCC would ever dare to involve itself in the sordid world of Mahmood’s brand of journalism.

    Nice to see Roy Greenslade (who’s so effective at the Gdn, much more so than anywhere else) making a really good go of it with his blog. (Gotta say I prefer this sort of thing to Jeff Jarvis..)
    I have to admit to a sneaking admiration for George Galloway, who’s the only person whom Mahmood has attempted to set up who has turned it around and exposed him.
    He falls into my rarely-used category of “unlikely heroes”; the other is Peter Tatchell, for his attempted citizen’s arrest of Robert Mugabe. Now that takes real cojones; no number of silly protests in churches will ever quite erase my admiration for someone prepared to put life and limb at real risk (but – adds thoughtfully – in a non-violent manner) for their belief.

Trouble in Lebanon; wait goes on for Eudora

  • Beirut Apple reseller facing difficult times
    The lone authorised Apple Centre in Beirut, Lebanon, has been forced to shut its doors since the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah ignited a week ago.
  • Understatement of the week, one would think. iPod to protect your hearing, sir? (Seen at Macworld UK)

  • Looking for Mac Eudora 7
    Our apologies for the longer than expected delay in the release of Eudora 7 for Mac. We are reworking Eudora to make the most of Apple’s MacOSX Tiger environment, and are incorporating the new features of SpotLight and WebKit HTML display/authoring.
  • The plan for Universal Binary is also on the agenda for the Mac Eudora 7 release. However, Eudora’s current performance is as good on the Intel-based Macs as on Power PC based Macs.

    It’s not clear from this whether Eudora 7 is being rewritten in Cocoa (as was rumoured) or not, but at least it’s an official statement. Even if it’s a dull official statement. (Then again, when did you last hear an exciting official statement?) Eudora 7 might be my next upgrade; I’ve not seen anything in Eudora 6 worth paying for, so I’m still back on 5.

How to get bilateral cochlear implants for a child (it’s not easy)

This is likely going to fall under the category of “not very interesting to lots of poeple”, but it also falls into “health economics”, and that’s something which in one way or another will affect a lot of us, at some time. (Say, when you’re old and need a care bed..)

Through this blog I’ve come into contact with two fathers of deaf or deafened children (here’s one; the other’s not blogging it) who have had a single cochlear implant. But they’re interested in the possibilities of doubling it – because, some studies suggest, if you have two CIs, you’re better at localising the source of a sound, and distinguishing a sound amidst noise. (The folk at Addenbrookes tell me it’s mixed. But anyway.)

The fathers want to find the answer to the question: how do you persuade your Primary Care Trust (PCT) to OK the extra spending – about £68,000 once you include the cost of the implant and the surgery – involved in a second CI?

I’ve thought about this quite a lot. Here’s one argument you could try: if someone came into Accident & Emergency with two broken legs needing surgery, would you stop at mending one? Would you say “Sorry, it’s too expensive to mend both”?

That’s an OK argument – except it strays into the “mending things” line of argument. Deaf children aren’t broken. No, they’re not; they’re deaf. CIs give them “access to sound” (to use the charming phrase) but don’t stop them being deaf. Take off the CI to play on a slide or have a bath, and you don’t get any access to sound.

So here’s the long and short of it. Deaf children do get care – lots of care from all sorts of people: social workers, teaching assistants, disability living allowance, and so on.

Care is expensive. It costs.

So here’s the argument. You can justify a second CI if you can show the PCT that the cost of putting in the CI – and its associated care – is less than the cost of care for a child with a single CI through its life.

The second part should be fairly well known. Proving the first part is the hard one. There aren’t many studies on bilateral CIs around. But that is how you do it.

So – over to you, guys.

Come and hear me drone on about PR and blogs and stuff like that

I can’t resist an invitation from Peter Kirwan of The Fullrunner, so on Monday 31st July I’ll be giving a talk at a not-so-secret venue on, oh, the future of media, PR, blogs, RSS, where it’s all going, and anything else you’d be interested in (if you’re coming along). Leave something in the comments to this post if you’re coming and have a topic you really want covered.

Ticket details: call Fullrunner’s events hotline direct on 0870 4325880. Alternatively, visit http://www.fullrun.com/calendar.html.

Tagged”: my five top social media/ blogging tools: actually, the top one is Applescript

So, Antony Mayfield wants to know about my five top social media/ blogging tools.

Nothing like his, I have to say. But let’s pitch in:

Reading: NetNewsWire. Started out (in 2003? 2004?) using NetNewsWireLite, but quickly realised that I would want the Applescript functionality of the whole thing. Applescript is a sort of glue for writing small programs that will communicate between different programs, or just make a single program do something.

It’s really Applescript that makes it feasible for me to do stuff, because it takes out the repetition and hand-crafting from so much. As the documentation says, “If you want your application to become an essential tool for many users, make it scriptable.”

So for example, because NNW doesn’t have a “sort all posts by time”, I’ve written a script that generates an RSS feed of whatever has come in in the past four hours; that shows up as a feed in NNW.

The big advantage to me of NNW is that it can be used to read offline – which I’ll do while on the train, trying to plan or pick stories or themes that need writing about. Presently I have 600-odd feeds. It’s not always easy on the CPU, but it is indispensable – as much as anything for its sciptability. And what would be the use of a reader that’s only available online?

So I browse with NNW and spot interesting things: A script helps me out. For instance, I’ve written a script that lets me highlight something I’m reading in NNW, then with a keystroke, copy that to the clipboard, make a comment on it, and format a part of a new post that will show up in..

Marsedit. The other side of reading is writing; Marsedit is for writing blog posts. I’ve been using this tool for ages. What I do like is the simplicity of the interface: you can have multiple blogs and generate new posts for it. I have actually paid too for Ecto, but never use it because the interface is split into multiple windows, and that’s not a useful presentation.

Marsedit, besides being Applescriptable, has keystrokes for common operations (such as adding a URL or an image; plus you can define your own text operations, and give the custom keystrokes) and a “web preview” (which lets you see how the raw content of the post will look on a web page, if that web page is Safari). I’ve had my issues with it – particularly with the web preview, which eats up CPU like there’s no tomorrow (even) if you leave it open doing nothing – a fact I find mystifying.

But overall it works on a better paradigm than Ecto, I think: it uses a main window and “drawers” for the extras (like which blog you’re posting to – I have six: an internal one on my machine, my own, the Guardian’s Tech blog, the Free Our Data blog (it’s a campaign I started at The Guardian, aiming to get Ordnance Survey and Royal Mail and other government organisations to provide their raw data without charge for us taxpayers), Ask Jack, and Gamesblog. That doesn’t mean that I’ll post to the Gamesblog, or Jack’s, but it does mean I can get the content of the full posts from them if I need to.

I’ll also use Technorati from time to time, because I use a script there to find out what people are saying about stuff that’s appeared in the paper the previous week. Here’s how it works:

Everything Thursday morning the script uses curl to download the Guardian’s Technology supplement front page. A bit of cleaning up (again, by the script), and you’ve got a chunk of HTML with the links to the stories. The script creates two new posts in Marsedit: one for my machine’s internal blog, the other for the Technology blog, so I can crosspost a list of the stories there. The internal blog is simply a list of the URLs to the week’s stories.

Then each Monday (say) I run another script, which grabs that week’s links from the internal blog, and creates a proper Technorati and Google blog search (you have to twiddle things like spaces into “%32″ and so on). Then for each link it opens a new tab in my browser of choice (that would be Camino) and queries either Technorati or Google Blogs search. Typically that means about 30 or so tabs (two per item), but quite a few lead nowhere because nobody’s commenting on the story. (Sniff.)

And if while I’m in Camino I spot a blog from those links that I think I’d like to subscribe to, it’s another keystroke to send the main URL to NetNewsWire (yes, by Applescript, a four-line script I wrote myself); NNW will automatically subscribe to it. Neat, huh?

So: NetNewsWire, Marsedit, Applescript, Camino, Technorati. (If I’m honest I also have a Bloglines sub set up to find mentions of me, but that only rarely finds anything that I’ve not already subscribed to.) The one I couldn’t live without, though, is Applescript. And the thing that I never use (even though my NNW licence gives me a free Newsgator account) is an online reader.

Actually, I should also give an honourable mention to Dr Dave’s Spam Karma 2, since that means I don’t have to spend any time at all clearing spam comments. That used to be the bane of my life; evenings would be anxious times as I wondered how many there would be to clear, and devised strategies to beat them. Spam Karma is that strategy. Another example of letting the machines do the work.

And of course Spam Karma wouldn’t work without WordPress, which is how you’re seeing this, whether as an item on the page or in your feed reader.

So in all… I could use any newsreader, as long as it was scriptable and worked offline; any blog post writing tool, as long as it was scriptable; any operating system, as long as the apps on top of it can be scripted. Excuse me while I press a key combo to run the script to format this for the blog…

Oh, five more people to tag?