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Friday 31 August 2007

Stanford robot car "drives like Grandma"

How long before we trust a robot car coming down the street? Will I live to see it?

Wired: "It drives like my grandma," exclaimed one bystander, as Junior cautiously pulled up to an intersection, turned on its blinker, waited ten seconds, and then pulled cautiously and jerkily around the curve.

Pathetic for a human -- but pretty damn impressive for a completely self-contained, autonomous robot.

Whereas this ...

.. I could live with.

Thursday 30 August 2007

Can we help you?

These are animated beat officers that pop up on a Chinese user's browser and walk, bike or drive across the screen warning them to stay away from 'illegal' internet content.

The cartoon alerts will appear every half hour on 13 of China's top portals, including Sohu and Sina, and by the end of the year will appear on all websites registered with Beijing servers, the Beijing Public Security Ministry said in a statement.

The introduction of the animated figures will be part of a campaign to weed out "harmful material and information" and "illicit activities" on the Internet.
"The existence of these problems has affected the healthy development of the Internet, brought harm to the youths' minds, contaminated the social ethos and disrupted the social order."
The male and female cartoon officers, designed for the ministry by Sohu, will offer a text warning to surfers to abide by the law and tips on internet security as they move across the screen in a virtual car, motorcycle or on foot, the Ministry said.

From Beijing Youth Daily, via Chinese E-Govenmence Net: (translated by CDT) , hat tip China Digital Times:
Starting today, when netizens visit all the main portals of Shenzhen city, Guangdong, they will see two cartoon figures "Jingjing" and "Chacha" (Jing Cha = Police). The image of Shenzhen Internet Police will officially be online. From now on, when netizens visit websites and web forums of Shenzhen, they will see these two cartoon police images floating on their screen. Our reporter learned that these are the images of Shenzhen Internet Police, presented by Internet Surveillance Division of Shenzhen Public Security Bureau, for the first time in China.

"The main function of Jingjing and Chacha is to intimidate, not to answer questions," our reporter was told by officials in charge of The Internet Security and Surveillance Division of Shenzhen Public Security Bureau.

What is a mole?

Possible questions for a new Australian citizenship test --- filtered by Catherine Deveney at The Age.


1. Do you understand the meaning, but are unable to explain the origin of, the term "died in the arse"?

2. What is a mole?

3. Are these terms related: chuck a sickie; chuck a spaz; chuck a U-ey?

4. Explain the following passage: "In the arvo last Chrissy the relos rocked up for a barbie, some bevvies and a few snags. After a bit of a Bex and a lie down we opened the pressies, scoffed all the chockies, bickies and lollies. Then we drained a few tinnies and Mum did her block after Dad and Steve had a barney and a bit of biffo."


1. Macca, Chooka and Wanger are driving to Surfers in their Torana. If they are travelling at 100 km/h while listening to Barnsey, Farnsey and Acca Dacca, how many slabs will each person on average consume between flashing a brown eye and having a slash?

2. Complete the following sentences:

a) "If the van's rockin' don't bother …

b) You're going home in the back of a …

c) Fair suck of the …

3. I've had a gutful and I can't be fagged. Discuss

4. Have you ever been on the giving or receiving end of a wedgie?

5. Do you have a friend or relative who has a car in their front yard "up on blocks"? Is his name Keith and does he have a wife called Cheryl?


1. Does your family regularly eat a dish involving mincemeat, cabbage, curry powder and a packet of chicken noodle soup called either chow mein, chop suey or kai see ming?

2. What are the ingredients in a rissole?

3. Demonstrate the correct procedure for eating a Tim Tam.

4. Do you have an Aunty Myrna who is famous for her tuna mornay and other dishes involving a can of cream of celery soup?

5. In any two-hour period have you ever eaten three-bean salad, a chop and two serves of pav washed down with someone else's beer that has been nicked from a bath full of ice?

6. When you go to a bring- your-own-meat barbie can you eat other people's meat or are you only allowed to eat your own?

7. What purple root vegetable beginning with the letter "b" is required by law to be included in a hamburger with the lot?

some citizens ...

1. Do you own or have you ever owned a lawn mower, a pair of thongs, an Esky or Ugg boots?

2. Is it possible to "prang a car" while doing "circle work"?

3. Who would you like to crack on to?

4. Who is the most Australian: Kevin "Bloody" Wilson, John "True Blue" Williamson, Kylie Minogue or Warnie?

5. Is there someone you are only mates with because they own a trailer or have a pool?

6. Would you love to have a beer with Duncan?

Wednesday 29 August 2007

Response to COI

Well, to Seb anyhow ;] - [The COI is the Central Office of Information who do big government marketing stuff]
Seb said...

Hi Paul,

Just for clarity I'll repeat these: Firstly, I'd better declare my interest - I work for COI. Very quickly secondly, I had better state that these comments are my own personal views only, not those of COI, but I felt it only fair for readers to know the context of my response.

Clarified! It's easy to forget that this is the public web and given past experience who knows who might take Seb's words out of context to whack not Seb but someone else. Easy to forget when Seb's a colleague in the wider and real sense.

On to Seb's points, in response to my post UK Gov goes backwards on net marketing and comment in Milton Keynes betrays Keynes.
I'm not quite sure what you mean when you say:
The disconnect between their new world and the land of the OPSI's and most politicians is vast and agencies like OPSI and the COI are letting them down.

I think COI are trying to help as much as possible. However, we have little influence and no control over these things. COI has to persuade other government departments to do things, but only if they choose to use us. COI does not have any policy making role in this are or funding to make these things happen (yet?).

The COI has influence, of course. It's been the COI quoted throughout the Facebook episode, that's what I started from.

'Letting them down' was about how the media of choice for youth has now changed so revisit the rules, if necessary, to follow them and be where they are. Otherwise we're letting them down.

I can imagine the embarrassment ahead - in game ads? - and someone needs to start facing the MSM down.
Sorry, it's take a while to get around to responding to this.

Firstly, I'd better declare my interest - I work for COI. Very quickly secondly, I had better state that these comments are my own personal views only, not those of COI, but I felt it only fair for readers to know the context of my response.

So, to my substantive points:
1) don't believe everything you read in the press. There has been a lot of mis-information about this story; although in substance what you link to and state is generally accurate, as I understand it. The Times did rather a hash of it in a later story posted a few days later.
The press is generally crap at reporting these issues. I may have mentioned how they don't challenge and in fact promote ignorance.
2) To say that COI pulled the advertising isn't quite fair. It was only suspended while some question regarding the issues were explored; it was always the intention to re-introduce once satisfactory assurances were made.
That's the point really, what could be a 'satisfactory assurance'? All the options being offered by marketeers are really sticking plasters over the main problem - social networks means different contexts. Plus throw up other potential problems.
3) Tom's report certainly has reached COI. Unfortunately, he doesn't have complete knowledge of the machinations of government and the status of COI. COI on its own cannot do much of what was recommended as we are not funded centrally, like other government departments. We have to convince those central government department to spend their money in ways we recommend, not an easy task - especially in the digital world, which is still typically an after thought last minute thing.
So convince :] More power to you Seb. Your boss? [Let's run that mug shot again] Not so sure.
4) Not all the key players have a good understanding of these technologies as we do. They have to react in a way that our client's wish us to in reaction to concerns raised by press/public. So, while we may understand that context is not the same in digital as it may be in print or on TV our clients and other civil servants don't necessarily. The imperative is to go into damage limitation mode, rather than lose trust in the medium altogether and therefore harm potential future digital communication activity, while we work behind the scenes to persuade and sooth.

So, overall I don't disagree with your post/points, but I don't entirely agree with your angle. I think it is to the benefit of society that we take steps forwards and backwards as necessary to ensure the integrity or the messages we are conveying to the users in all appropriate mediums.
Thanks for "as we do"! I hope to understand at least some but I know technologies have amazing power to transform in a positive way. That I know.

To answer your main point - yes, there is a balance but what's really important is effectively reaching audiences - that's your job.

Thinking 'appropriate mediums', well Games is a challenge and probably a good way to reach certain audiences, certainly it would have more metrics attached than doing Second Life would — but government ads run in titty mags Nuts and Zoo. As they should.

If tabloids and others are making your life difficult your bosses, and that eventually means Ministers should support you, not undermine you. Their public words would tend to suggest they're on your side but not when the Sunday Times/BBC/ScotlandOnSunday have 'exposes' to make.

More birth pangs of government 2.0

Public Sector Forums, which is a only forum, goes gangbusters today on one "wheeze" from the local council website (aka 'take-up') publicity campaign, run out of Whitehall [their bold]:
Take-Up Campaign's Accessibility-Busting Web Poll

[Whitehall's] 'Connect to Your Council' Take-Up Campaign is set to unleash its latest wheeze to get punters flocking to council websites: A national online competition to find England's 'favourite local attraction'.

The Pride of Place' poll, due to launch in a few weeks' time, will be accessed via council websites thus – so the thinking goes - 'raising awareness' of local authority online services.

The Campaign's PR agency, the Central Office of Information-owned Government News Network, are co-ordinating the nationwide poll. The GNN are in the throes of writing to every council urging them to do their bit and promote the poll prominently on their websites.

Unfortunately, the bad news is that web poll created by the Take-Up Campaign fails to comply with even the most basic web accessibility guidelines, having been purposely designed in a way which makes it impossible for certain users to access.

PSF point out some other problems with the Poll, which all sound fixable, such as use of Pop-Ups and lack of a link to another route to voting. [The latter is easy but easy to forget. We've added alternates to Google Maps page's content as we've discovered issues for some.]

It doesn't sound like a brilliantly executed Widget. Most notably, as PSF finds:

The guidance prepared for councils notes that "participants will be able to vote more than once" but "if possible votes will be limited to one per session to stop frivolous multiple votes". Very interesting...

But the biggest gap is missed — only council websites are being used (promoted to), as far as I can see. Thus missing the most obvious use for widgets. It's very unclear what possible reason there might be stopping making this more widely available - there's nothing to stop anyone using the code, although I'd be reluctant to use a unnecessary pop-up.

It's just like other netmarketing campaigns. Earlier this year Hasbro through Monopoly ran one in the UK as they have elsewhere, making use of town pride. They didn't have a widget though, so we had to plug it in other ways on our council site. Got lots of hits!

With accessibility, this is an acknowledged problem with Web 2.0, given the reliance on JavaScript and the lack of proper tools.

Thoughtfulness - alternative routes to voting - and engagement with your audience helps but there are basic issues which yelling doesn't fix. This blog tool, for example, could easily build in accessibility fixes to authoring tools. They haven't.

None of this should stop Web 2.0 and can't. PSF's tone suggests some think it should. Widgets can be made more accessible so advocates should talk to industry if they aren't already. If a provider advertises themselves as 'accessible' or at least being inclusive and making real efforts, people should flock there.

I'm referred to the Connect to your council media plan (PDF, 430kb)

And notice that they're saying in a section on Google that:

As in phase two of activity, relevant Google key-words will be purchased for the duration of phase two of the Campaign. Keywords are used to target the Campaign home page to potential customers who enter relevant search terms and improve advertising performance accordingly by making a top Google search listing.

In terms of overall Campaign strategy, it is recognised that the majority of referrals to council websites come from Google. This is reflected in the low key approach adopted for Campaign branding, with creative executions designed to:

• make councils the 'heroes' of the advertising;
• create a call to action;
• build the association between councils and the services represented;
• Communicate the online message.

I don't understand exactly what they mean here except that there's no branding or creativity in your keywords ads! But this should give notice that in key areas Council landing pages connected to certain terms may have some traffic redirected.

A lot of councils (most definitely not all) are #1 on key terms right now. So what are those terms? Would help stop double-bidding for one thing.

I've posted before about the issue of fine-tuning with keywords bidding.

And it turns out I can now actually ask these sorts of questions directly as those responsible for the 'Take-Up campaign' can now be addressed directly! In public space! Sort of!

Very discreetly on Monday the Department for Communities and Local Government rolled out it's new 'Have Your Say' web 2.0/social networking/most of the shebang website (yes, there's a tagcloud).

It's public facing and according to the - hard-to-find, more later - instructions posts will be read by civil servants. And responded to. It appears they mass signed up circa 2500 of the lucky 'policy officers' straight off and they appear to have added another 1000 users since yesterday.

We value your opinions and undertake to publish all comments, so long as they do not break the discussion rules outlined in our terms and conditions. Please ensure that you read the terms and conditions before posting a message. All comments you post on this site will be read by relevant policy officials, who will also take part in each debate.

Please note: That some topics will run for a specified time period and then close. Closed topics will remain available to read in our archive.

'Famine to feast' as I just emailed. It's not really a forum for other government web workers to talk to them through, although we could.

The introduction doesn't say that it's just for one class of people, so how the civil servants actually cope if it takes off like the Number Ten petitions, I'm not sure. It appears to be a fairly generic and 'beta' terms and conditions/introduction and use will change it to be much clearer on how contributions actually work.

It's not 'about us' and the only way to find it is via the 'home' link, which only appears on the Forums pages. This adds to my impression of it being kindof out-of-the-box web 2.0. Not properly introduced or explained but all working and well-styled.

It's a very good start and worth noting that very few other governments are doing this that I'm aware of.

They promise wikis and more and have one blog they're hosting thus far, which leads to a very good Olympics Authority blog which looks and acts like a blog and has got top brass contributing.

Lastly in egov Whitehall vs. local government updates, their advice on usability and other basics for web workers is finally available again, a simple lack of a redirect blocked it for many months.

It's a bugbear of mine when smaller governments manage to provide their hard-pressed and under-resourced web workers with proper advice and help. As far as I can tell, this is all Whitehall has planned for UK workers and it's already partly out of date plus the attitudes on display are distinctly unhelpful.

It's instructive that despite top-down, much publicised instructions to cull public websites in the name of 'transformation', web workers are offered endless specialist sites and forums, most of which have no traffic, a fair few of which are abandoned, defunded, and endless 'help' which is really aimed at bean-counters and bureaucrats and not the front-line.

The FAQ answering the question posed by amongst others me — Whilst accessibility requirements and guidelines are well documented there seems to be very little information available regarding usability. Can you please give some authorative [sic] sources for usability requirements and guidelines? — is really bad. Usability is essential to anything claiming to be 'customer-focussed' and about 'transformation' and the entire tone is take-it-or-leave-it.

The answer, written by Nomensa I assume, a usability company contracted by Whitehall, claims that: "no usability guideline is black and white, and the context and users have to be taken into consideration."

Whoever wrote this has a vested interest, pushing their expertise— are they really saying that someone like Jakob Nielsen doesn't make basic, apply to all, guidance? That ordinary web workers have nothing to learn from Nielsen or any of the others in my links list? That only filtered and packaged government-approved usability guidance is kosher?

This goes to the heart of the problem about our alleged specialness as websites ... leading people to believe that norms don't apply to them because they're an egov site is a big mistake.
"Other guidelines will tend to be generic, i.e. unhelpful and potentially open to a great deal of interpretation for someone without usability expertise.

I think the best advice is to use the CDs provided and come back to the helpdesk to fill in any gaps or answer any remaining questions."
You come back to me, darling. If our guidance isn't usable is confusing you. Can't do anything yourself, you need the professionals. You'd think they were selling used cars ...

Here's a link to my presentation about how, yes, YOU can do some of this yourself. The use of Homer Simpson on the first slide is very deliberate.

Postscript: Doh! I've posted about SlideShare several times - here's the presentation using SlideShare! n.b. some images have been lost in the translation.


Postscript: just saw a great 404:

The page title is 'technorati is borked again'.

Pegah Emambakhsh update

Stop press: Italian and French campaign sites are reporting that she's been saved, reprinting a message from the 'Friends of Pegah Campaign'.

Today is the day when the UK Government was planning to deport Pegah Emambakhsh, an Iranian lesbian, to certain torture and possible death.

It now looks unlikely as they have been shamed by an international campaign, led by the Italian Government, involving protests at UK embassies.

Venice, in particular, has offered her refuge. The Mayor, Massimo Cacciari, saying:
"In its recent past Venice has already been a refugee-town for persecuted people, and within this tradition it is ready to host the Iranian woman, at least for the first period of time: the city of Venice, in cooperation with other bodies committed to save Pegah Emambakhsh, places a secure living facility at the woman's disposal.

"By launching this appeal and offer, I am certain I am expressing a common feeling of the whole town and its traditional culture."
Interesting that, Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, similar historic home to and friend of exiles and the persecuted, hasn't joined this campaign yet.

(Requires RealPlayer)
Note to BBC: this ^^^ is how to distribute content.

On Monday, Italian MPs and several Ministers were amongst those protesting outside the British Embassy in Rome. Campaigners say that they were told by an Embassy official that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown “is paying particular attention to the case of the Iranian refugee” and that the British Government is approaching the case with a solution that respects the conventions for the Human Rights”. This might be because, according to Barbara Pollastrini, the equal opportunities minister, Prime Minister Romano Prodi, is following the case.

Two years ago, UK Gay News ran the headline “Ashamed To Be British” on an article about how a gay Algerian was treated over an asylum application.

Ms. Emambakhsh’s asylum application was said by her supporters to have been denied by the Home Office because she was not able to prove she was a lesbian.

The Guardian quoted a Home Office spokeswoman:
"All applications for asylum are carefully considered by trained caseworkers based on accurate up-to-date information, taking into account all the circumstances of an application. We examine with great care each individual case before removal and we will not remove anyone who we believe is at risk on their return."
Presumably this is why these cases - which are shameful, I don't think there would be many British people who'd agree with sending gay people back 'home' to their possible death - keep happening. If you come from somewhere like Iran, how do you 'prove' you're a lesbian, and at risk?

Gordon Brown's support for LGBT has been questioned - his support has tended to involve voting the right way rather than visible support. He could do something about this image, and answer Romano Prodi, by publicly asking the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, to take some meaningful steps with the rules and practice. Changing them would help stop this sort of episode happening again. And by not backing down when the right-wing tabloids start up.

Fab Gmail promo

Last month, we invited you to join the Gmail collaborative video, pull out your video cameras and help us imagine how an email message travels around the world. Two Rubik's cubes, a few jaunts in a bottle, beautiful sand animation, and one dog's trip to the Southernmost point of the continental US later, we'd received more than 1,100 fantastic clips from Gmail fans from more than 65 countries. It was impossible to fit all of the great submissions into one cut, but after hours of fun watching jugglers, firemen, camel-riders, and original animation, we edited highlights together into this video and used the Google Maps API to put together a map showing where many of the clips came from (you can also see these at<

The map bubbles include the clips used. Like so:

Tuesday 28 August 2007

Widgets do have issues

I've updated my widget and, previously, added a Feedburner widget. Both are neat stuff.

The widget is Flash 4.0 I think and caused a print preview crash (was in IE6) on another PC for me today. That may well be availability - problem caused by an old Flash installation which the Network isn't ready to upgrade yet

Blog's waiting for Feedburner to load as I type, at Internet peaktime. Waiting, waiting ... make tea ...

I can find myself waiting for YouTube elements to load too.

This might be me and might be my network right now but the Amnesty widget, coming via them, not a third party, is showing me 'unavailable'. It's happened before. Too popular?

This is one of the less stated problems with widgets — availability and accessibility (in its widest sense).

I've previously dropped widgets (like Chimp-o-matic) which kept holding up pages (or the right-hand column); the market, especially the mass-market of bloggers, will be just as ruthless. Plus decisions will be as much about 'how much do I really need this?' as 'is there an alternative?'

Postscript: as I look at sorting a tagcloud, I notice this ... > Our dirty little secret: that's all been done on one single server. Many people have written us frustrated that we haven't been able to keep up with the demand, and they've been correct. We're happy to announce that we are now sponsored ...

Monday 27 August 2007

Paxman's involuntary elitism

The Guardian comments today about Jeremy Paxman's MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival:
Listened to live, his speech - Never Mind the Scandals: What's it All For? - had a far greater impact than any reported version could convey. This is because it was really a condensation of three separate lectures rolled into one, a passionate and deeply personal cri de coeur about the current state of television, from a master practitioner.
Yet The Guardian is the one making only two clips of the speech available on it's YouTube channel, the second of which makes Paxman sound like he's having a go at the Net (funny, that choice for this channel).

This was from shortly before the clip:
I feel uncomfortable saying this, because I know that some colleagues may take it as an attack upon them. So let me say that I think the young people entering television now are more technically able, more visually creative than at any time in the short history of the medium. I admire them, not least because I have no idea how they do half the things they do. My point about the vaccuousness of much news reporting is not to lay into them, but to plead for them to be given the time and the space to do a better job and for all of to stand back and ask what we’re using this medium for.

More in context, Paxman did not comes across as a luddite; that's one tiny bit of the speech. He barely referred to the Net. On it's website, The Guardian makes no reference to the video, instead referring you to the text.

The other clip is about faking it:

Their partners at Edinburgh, the BBC, told us, after discussing Paxman's speech, on Friday's Newsnight that:
"You can see the whole of Jeremy's speech on the Newsnight website"

'Read' isn't the same as ' see' in my book. Here's the old fashioned text. When the video is available, this stuff is elitist behavior. I'm not impressed and neither should you be.

The Guardian's 'highlights' selection, the lack of the speech in it's entirety online when the live context is important. The industry was there applauding - at what? - and silent - at what? Maybe I'd like to know how they reacted when Paxman drew attention to Tony Blair calling journalists "feral beasts" that tear people and reputations to shreds?
I found the media’s response – and particularly the response of the television industry - to the Blair challenge pretty depressing. Hardly anyone engaged with the substance of the criticisms – of our triviality, our short-sightedness, our preoccupation with conflict. The immediate and almost universal reaction was not to examine the charge sheet, but to utter a blanket plea of ‘not guilty’, usually followed by well, you misled us about WMD, as if that somehow entitles us to say whatever we like. Well, it won’t do.
The industry were there because the event was important. Who wasn't there? Us.

I would have liked to have seen the clip of Paxman saying this:
Just look at almost any regional news programme, with its tawdry catalogue of misfortune, recited in deadbeat vocabulary. You’d think that every child in the city was being sexually abused, every journey every day disrupted, resulting in ‘pure misery’, every teenager a drug-crazed psychopath. Does it alarm? Sure. Does it help us understand? You must be joking.
Or this:
Take, for example, the outbreak of bird flu in Suffolk this spring. The thing was contained and dealt with effectively. There was no panic, except in so far as it was generated by television news coverage. An expensively coiffed presenter is driven up to Suffolk to stand in a field in the vague vicinity. A helicopter is put up so a reporter can speak of the incident as if it was the scene of a major tank battle.

For me the nadir was an interview with a woman who owned a chicken coop. The reporter knew what was wanted. ‘We have a dead chicken over there,’ the woman wailed. ‘Whether that chicken was knocked down by a car, we don’t know.’

And that was it. There was a dead chicken in Suffolk. Cause of death unknown. What, precisely was this chicken’s owner interviewed for?

There are plenty of definitions of news. But whether you subscribe to the view that it is something out of the ordinary, or – my own favourite – that it is something someone doesn’t want you to know - the fact that a chicken has died in Suffolk, possibly after colliding with a car, doesn’t cut it.

Saturday 25 August 2007

Butch Russian mature top seeks brokeback

Gay men responding (unedited) on a gossip board to Vlad's come hither glossy pix - hot! hot! hot! - and he's not at all a hypocrite for using homoerotic tropes ...

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, President of the Russian Federation.

Владимир Владимирович Путин

on holiday in Siberia....
Really not appealing to me

loon.gif shaky.gif

Well....I might.
Me too.
But only to sell the story. biggrin.gif
Siberia looks great though.
Then I'm sure You would Quietly go Missing or Mysteriously be Chucked out of a Window.. Oh, or Poisoned...
I'd vote for being irradiated with polonium 210.
I was gonna post something sarcastic.. but a black van has just parked up across the street and I'm scared that something is.. (click)........
You don't mean you fear a guy with man boobs do you? jordan.gif
I think all gay men are better d*** in his books anyway so you're already condemned. bleh.gif
You still there? blink.gif

Wow, he can plant his flag in my Arctic territory any time...
(that was sarcasm by the way!)
This post has been edited by varoistus: Today, 21:18
someone tell him that the cold war is over... and they lost (I think) :S
Apparently, Russian women are going crazy over him since these pictures were published: International Hearld Tribune
Political leaders' popularity based on what they look like stripped to the waist?

"Hi, my name's George Bush and my hobbies are poetry, the environment and world peace."
"Hello, my name's Margaret Tha - "
Bizarre. Just doesn't bear thinking about.
george bush and 'world peace' don't really go together....hey- I wouldn't mind looking like Putin when I'm 55- and I wouldn't mind injecting a few ex boyfriends with nuclear poison....

No he's not bad looking for his age.
But my personal opinion, which I know doesn't count for anything, is that politicians are a somewhat controversial and thus not entirely suitable subject for a forum such as this.
Sorry for sounding pompous, this is my honest opinion.

Putin's blog - [Pix] REPUBLIC OF TUVA. During the trip to Tuva.

Putin's English site search for 'gay'

+ 'homosexual' ... ('error')

Friday 24 August 2007

Wikipedia Edits Cause Australian Political Scandal

This is too good to be true. Dorothy, we're back in Kansas ...

Duncan Riley


The Australian Prime Minister’s Office have been caught editing Wikipedia, the latest in a growing line of Wikiscanner entrapments.

Postscript: Obama and accessibility

Response to Your Message to Senator Obama
>>> "Obama for America Correspondence Team"
22/08/2007 17:59:44 >>>

Dear Friend,

Thank you for contacting Senator Obama and Obama for America with ideas for the use of technology on the campaign. Barack greatly appreciates the outpouring of support he has received from across the country and from Americans around the world, and on behalf of Obama for America, we appreciate hearing from you

There is a lot of work to be done, and we appreciate having the benefit of your ideas. Senator Obama is traveling around America listening to the thoughts and concerns of people from all walks of life, and reading letters and emails from many more. Barack knows well that Washington does not have a monopoly on good ideas, and neither does he. That is why it's important to hear from everyone, and we will take your ideas under consideration.

In the meantime, please bookmark and visit often.

We've built a set of easy-to-use web tools that empower you. At you can:

- build your own profile and connect with supporters near you
- find or create your own local or national group
- create your own personal fundraising page and track your progress
- find events near you or plan your own
- chronicle your campaign experience on your own blog

And there will be much more to come in the weeks and months ahead.

Thank you again for contacting Senator Obama.


Obama for America

Donate Monthly:
Join the Team:
Donate Once:

Look, tweak the software to at least think I might be DISABLED and tell me why I might care to vote for you because you CARE. This auto-email is telling me OBAMA DOESN'T CARE ABOUT DISABLED PEOPLE and I have to go and raise my voice somewhere else on line — is that accessible? Not if it's AJAX, which is most of Web 2.0 ...

They have fixed the Alt tags though.

Thursday 23 August 2007

Milton Keynes betrays Keynes

google search milton keynes
The Guardian reports today that:
An independent website about life in Milton Keynes has failed in an attempt to win access to data on the same terms as the local council's official site. The decision by the government's watchdog on public sector information illustrates the weaknesses of rules supposed to encourage the re-use of official data.

The Milton Keynes case concerns a four-year battle by a web design company, Zero-Now, for access to information about public services held on a council database called the Community Online Information Network. Zero-Now wanted up-to-date information for use on its website However the council preferred to make the information available through two official websites, run by a contractor partly owned by the council, and

The opsi logo (OPSI) [Describing themselves at "at the heart of information policy, setting standards, delivering access and encouraging re-use of public sector information"] failed to uphold the complaint - on the grounds that the contractor with access to the database was performing part of the council's "public task". So, as no re-use of the data beyond the public task was taking place, Zero-Now had no grounds for complaining about unfair terms. However OPSI decided there was "room for improvement" in the way Milton Keynes handled information, and made five recommendations.
These are:
  • OPSI suggests that the PSIH [Milton Keynes Council] should implement its draft re-use policy as soon as possible, and encourage the re-use of its information.
  • OPSI suggests that the PSIH considers undergoing the IFTS Online assessment process.
  • OPSI suggests that the PSIH publishes a standard licence on its website or considers mandating OPSI to license the PSIH’s material through the PSI Click-Use Licence.
  • OPSI suggests that the PSIH should publish details of any exclusive licensing and publishing contracts on its website.
  • OPSI suggests that the PSIH should publish a statement of what constitutes its public task.
However ...
PSIH would only be under an obligation to allow re-use in circumstances where re-use had already taken place either by the PSIH itself or by a third party.
So, the Council is entitled to deny access just so long as it refuses access to everybody. Great logic there. Plus it is entitled to 'exclusive contracts'. Somehow this 'encourage the re-use of its information'.

Sounds like OPSI needs to stop handing the job of reconciling these two opposites to someone else.

What's interesting is that there is a huge shade of grey here, because Zero-Now are nothing but a commercial enterprise and the Council dominates MK Web traffic.

The 'Official website for Milton Keynes'?!? Ya gotta love the chutzpah.

One look at MKWeb - #1 in Google for 'Milton Keynes' - tells me that it's taking it's community responsibilities online far more seriously. You'd like to hope it would be because it's council- sub-contracted and presumably Zero-Now's management there is suitably managed.

But despite all that, this still doesn't mean that Zero-Now shouldn't have rights to the Community Online Information Network stuff to use elsewhere, as a 'council person' (or OPSI) might think.

As The Guardian explains at length in the Free Our Data Campaign, this is about boosting the economy, amongst other reasons.

If this company - who do have a strong website of their own, marketing-wise - can do interesting things, imaginative stuff taking ideas from other websites, then surely the Council can reuse that elsewhere? Surely that helps the city? Put that in Zero-Now's contract.

It's worth noting that this also supports women in the economy.

There are many ways, through providing widgetised access to edited content, for example, like many a website does, that the Council can deal with them and everyone else. And can also provide access to - say - the local paper. or the local college or the local history buffs.

Even though the Council sites dominates on 'Milton Keynes' local sites thrive because people use them. Increasingly. Hence target the elderly, youth and radio four listeners (I'm characterising). They can have some screens, maybe one can be a (revised) 'PSI Click-Use Licence' - click - and you get a widget ...

I know there's this and there's that with government rules and scales and balances but this is 2007 and the Web is now several years ahead of government, especially slabs of it like the OPSI.

Where's the leadership to drive the changes which are needed? Who in government is doing that job? Gordon Brown? The Millibands? When did you last see a politician make a joke about their web-ignorance in public and be called on it by a MSM journalist, or themselves laughed at like they're an idiot and they need to get with the program? Huh?

One of the reasons I sound annoyed is because I was on a train the other day surrounded by teenagers talking Myspace this and Bebo that. The disconnect between their new world and the land of the OPSI's and most politicians is vast and agencies like OPSI and the COI are letting them down.

Another point which I doubt the Council is considering is that if Zero-Now really are as good at SEO as they claim then maybe they have something to worry about. However, given that a quick Google search reveals 933 incoming links to MKWeb versus 3 for, and given that this represents the standing start trusted sites have, then they shouldn't worry about too much traffic disappearing into a commercialised front-door.
"The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones", John Maynard Keynes.
Give them access, manage that access and leverage benefits for yourself. Like other websites do.

Wednesday 22 August 2007

Network TV · Eyeballs crashing but TV ads still work

Jeff Jarvis has looked at a new IBM study (he hat tips Om Malik) of (First World) media use.
  • TV networks’ share of online TV viewing is only about 33 percent, below YouTube and barely ahead of Google and social networks in the U.S. — and the alternatives are only beginning (in the life of internet video, it’s only 1954).
  • Says IBM:
    The global findings overwhelmingly suggest personal Internet time rivals TV time. Among consumer respondents, 19 percent stated spending six hours or more per day on personal Internet usage, versus nine percent of respondents who reported the same levels of TV viewing. 66 percent reported viewing between one to four hours of TV per day, versus 60 percent who reported the same levels of personal Internet usage.
  • 63 percent in the U.S. said they would watch advertising before or after quality, free content (34 percent said they’d be willing to pay). Speed up, advertisers.
  • “Content” is now, at last defined as conversation as well. Use of content services: 45% social networks; 29% user-generated sites; 24% music services; 24% premium video content for TV (not sure what that means); 18% online newspaper. Ouch.
  • 58% have already watched online video and 20% more are interested.
  • DVRs are good for TV: 33% watch more TV as a result (58% the same)
  • 74% contributed to a social network; 93% contributed to a user content site. Who says that forums are only for nuts, blogs for early adopters, and photo services for geeks? Everybody’s making content.
  • Why do they do it? Feel part of a community, 31%; recognition from peers, 28%. Conversation.
  • Primary reason for viewing content on a user site: 46% said the recommendation of a friend.
  • But here’s the fly in my future-of-advertising ointment. Asked which ads “most affect your impression of a product or company,” TV commercials on major networks got the lion’s share.

NASA's Second Life

Great cartoon from Federal Computer Week.
At least three agencies have property in Second Life: CDC, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NASA’s Ames Research Center has been particularly innovative in its use of Second Life, which gives the center a global tool for reaching and educating people they might not otherwise reach. NASA has even hired an intern in Second Life.
Still can't see the relevance for Borsetshire Council though ...

Conversational Marketing

Marketing is undergoing a dramatic shift as social media takes hold.

In this podcast, Eric Vidal of WebEx speaks with John Battelle, entrepreneur, journalist, professor, and the founder and chairman of Federated Media.

John also helped launched the Web 2.0 Conference. He has some great insights into the transition the industry is in the midst of, and vital information for anyone involved in marketing in the current media landscape.

Council website usage: huge differences?

We have started exchanging Google Analytics view access with six other councils and one thing stands out like a sore thumb: huge differences in usage.

It's a wide variety amongst us - big city, little city, rural, Scottish city etc. And between our relatively wealthy city and the poorest one we're exchanging with the web use is different by a factor of 3.5, taking population into account of course.

Even taking special factors, like tourism, into account that's an enormous difference.

Here's Visits Per Capita, based on Feb 1-Aug 14 total visits, excluding internal traffic and just counting the Council website (not other sites):
  • 1.1 - poorer district
  • 2.4 - city
  • 2.4 - small city
  • 3.0 - large city
  • 3.6 - small city

DirectGov's new boss

Michael Cross interviews the new chief of central government portal DirectGov, Jayne Nickalls, for the Guardian.

Not wanting to slag off the poor women as she's just walked in the door but this sort of thing is a bit of a warning:
A report, Power of Information, published in June by the prime minister's strategy unit, has questioned the whole basis of the way government works on the web. Rather than trying to control electronic information, it argues that Whitehall should let go, for example, by giving citizens' groups access to (non-confidential) government data to create self-help websites and encourage civil servants to chip in openly to blogs, wikis and social networking sites.

One of the report's authors was Tom Steinberg, interviewed in these pages in January, whose MySociety group fired a warning salvo at the government's ambitions when it created one of the best running jokes on the web: It mocks Directgov by racing its search engine against Google's. (Generally, Directionless wins.)

Unfair, says Nickalls. "Directionless does work a lot of the time. But it misses the point that Directgov joins up information for the citizen in a way that they understand. If you do a Google search you will get the information from a number of places and the citizen has to do the linking up for themself."

Why not just say 'one of our priorities is going to be to ensure we're #1 in Google so we're there for the citizen right at the gate and we can help them find what they want from where they actually are.'

The rest of Cross' article suggested to me that Nickalls thinks success online is all about branding. It's not, the thing's got to work for one thing and it's got to give the customers what they want and, actually, anticipate what they want (back to the BBC Web Principles).

Many a brand has been burned online by focusing just on branding. And see yesterday's Jakob Nielsen post for a warning about how easy it is to put money down drains chasing that.

I wonder if Cross edited this out but Nickalls take on Power of Information would, actually, be interesting. Has she read it?

Another concern is the coverage of local government in DirectGov — absent in this article, as usual.

The biggest source of friction between DirectGov and local government is that they appear to want our traffic but on what basis? Where's the evidence that customers want to deal with my council via DirectGov?

Last year's £12m marketing exercise for local services (via DirectGov) gave very little benefit to local government - handing us the cash, or spending it on something like the American government's Web Managers University, would have had better, more sustained, effect.

Another source of friction is the absence of any channels whereby DirectGov supports local government in other ways — an excellent example of which is their new relationship with Google (they're partnering with them on mobile) and leveraging that for all our benefit.

It is a major hole that local government by-and-large hasn't got it's act together with search engines. Many councils just don't have the capacity. That's best accomplished in partnership with Google (my posts ad nauseum), and DirectGov could facilitate that but, unfortunately, experience tells me that this may well just not occur to them. Another example would be sharing what they've learned about usability.

Cross says:

Her empiricist training left a mark - she comes over as someone who prefers facts to opinions.

Let's hope that's true. I'll give her the benefit of the doubt, for a while!

Tuesday 21 August 2007

Jakob Nielsen comes clean: unethical ads pay

In the current Alertbox Jakob Nielsen sez:
I've been reluctant to discuss one of the findings from our eyetracking research because the conclusion is that unethical design pays off.

In 1997, I chose to suppress a similar finding: users tend to click on banner ads that look like dialog boxes, complete with fake OK and Cancel buttons. Of course, instead of being an actual system message -- such as "Your Internet Connection Is Not Optimized" -- the banner is just a picture of a dialog box, and clicking its close box doesn't dismiss it, but rather takes users to the advertiser's site. Deceptive, unethical, and #3 among the most-hated advertising techniques. Still, fake dialog boxes got many more clicks than regular banners, which users had already started to ignore in 1997.


We know that there are 3 design elements that are most effective at attracting eyeballs:
  • Plain text
  • Faces
  • Cleavage and other "private" body parts

Users don't fixate within design elements that resemble ads, even if they aren't ads ... Even when we did record a fixation within a banner, users typically didn't engage with the advertisement. Often, users didn't even see the advertiser's logo or name, even when they glanced at one or two design elements elsewhere inside an ad.


Several readers have asked whether banner blindness extends to search engine ads. It doesn't: text ads on a SERP get a decent number of fixations. The other exception is classified ads. Finally, it's possible that commercials that are embedded within a video stream get viewed; we haven't researched this yet. So there are either 2 or 3 exceptions to the general rule that users avoid looking at ads on websites.

  • The more an ad looks like a native site component, the more users will look at it.
  • Not only should the ad look like the site's other design elements, it should appear to be part of the specific page section in which it's displayed.

When you advertise through an advertising network, your ads will get fewer fixations than if you contract directly with the publisher for a specific placement and design your creative to fit that spot. As a result, you should bid less for network ads than for customized ads that you place yourself.

The honesty and rigour displayed in this post shows why Jakob is still someone worth reading, whatever web designers say.

New citizen video activism

Speak. Truth. To. Power.

Great story from New York. Guy calling himself Jimmy Justice videos Traffic Cops breaking traffic rules — parking by a fire hydrant whilst getting lunch for example. Here's his YouTube channel.

He hides his identity because he fears retaliation.

“The complaints have not been answered,” he said. “So I had no other method of recourse. I had to bring it to YouTube and bring it to the people what life is like in the city for the average man who has to live in the city.”

Jeff Jarvis reports that when Jimmy got onto the Today Show (NBC's breakfast show) they labeled him: “It’s a little obnoxious. Do you not worry about coming off as an obnoxious, aggressive guy here?”

My local cycling campaign is doing the same - showing the risks cyclists are under from motorists at various 'pinch points' around the city.

Gee, that's close ...

How would activists have shown this problem before YouTube/GoogleVideo? You couldn't. And how long before someone catches a UK official in-the-act and that goes mainstream?

UK deporting Iranian lesbian to likely stoning

An Iranian lesbian, Pegah Emambakhsh, is to be deported from the UK even though it is well known that her life will be in danger if she returns to the theocratic state.

I have posted before about the Deathzone for gays and lesbians which is Iran and Iraq — she fled after her lover was arrested, tortured and subsequently sentenced to death by stoning. It is certain that she will be arrested and tortured if deported back to Tehran.

The local MP, Richard Caborn (office: 0114 273 7947), should be ashamed of himself for not supporting her. She was due to be deported yesterday but he finally spoke up at the last moment, after being exposed by gay activists and local campaigners, thus postponing her deportation.

If you want to support her, I'm told that raising this publicly and widely is the best support for her — now it's only legal moves and pressure that will save her, she is now due to be deported next Monday (August 27).

Iranian Queer Organisation has more. She is being supported by asylum campaigners in Sheffield (but their website is down).