Skype Buddy List Spam

It seems people are catching onto Stuart Henshall’s trick of playing with your Skype name to get it at the top of people’s buddy lists. Two people on my list have put period marks at the beginning of their profile name, messing with the alphabetical order to get their names above all my legitimate friends. This is what it looks like (names changed to protect the embarrassed):

Period

Now, I’m all for letting people call themselves whatever they like, and the owner of the buddy list is always at liberty to rename but what’s the point of this? Is it a form of spam, and if so, should we call it Buddy List Spam? And, taken to its logical conclusion, are we going to see folk adopting profile names like @(!#)!BoogieMan, just so BoogieMan can be at the top of my list (until of course, I delete him in disgust or rename him zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzZob.)

What I’m not clear about is what happens once you’ve renamed a contact. Does that name stay forever, whatever the owner of that profile does to their profile name? Seems to.

Wikipedia, Porn and the Airbrushing of History

An intriguing part of the story about Wikipedia and John Seigenthaler, the maligned journalist who found his Wikipedia biography had him as a JFK assassination suspect, is that the savvy folk obsessively monitor their own Wikipedia biographies, including Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales himself

who has edited it frequently, removing references to a credited “co-founder” of the encyclopedia and obscuring the nature of a pornographic web site he once published. Though some Wikipedia editors believe that it’s always wrong to edit subjects in which you are involved, this idea is clearly not shared by Wales. The edit history of his biography reveals that he’s made 18 changes with the account Jimbo Wales, most recently on Dec. 2.

The alleged co-founder in question is Larry Sanger, who coincidentally is setting up a ‘rival’ to Wikipedia, called Digital Universe which

aims to build on the model of free online encyclopedia Wikipedia by inviting acknowledged experts in a range of subjects to review material contributed by the general public. Called Digital Universe, the project is the brainchild of, among others, USWeb founder Joe Firmage and Larry Sanger, one of Wikipedia’s earliest creators.

By providing a service they’re calling “the PBS of the Web,” the Digital Universe team hopes to create a new era of free and open access to wide swaths of information on virtually any topic.

According to Roger Cadenhead’s piece, Jimmy Wales is energetic in refuting any role for Sanger in the emergence of Wikipedia:

On seven different occasions, Wales has altered sentences that gave Larry Sanger credit for cofounding Wikipedia. Sanger, a former employee of Wales whose job was eliminated in 2002, led the project as “chief organizer” from its January 2001 launch and gave the site its name. He described himself as Wikipedia’s cofounder in a 2004 Kuro5hin article. Wales does not share this view. On Oct. 28, 2005, he changed the text “Wales and Sanger set up Wikipedia” to “Wales set up Wikipedia.” He made the change again later that day and repeated it on Nov. 9 and Dec. 1 — other editors kept putting language back in that credited Sanger.

It’s an interesting conundrum. Of course, Wales is not alone in monitoring his biography, and I’m sure if I had one, I would monitor it obsessively too. But when does ensuring that you’re not being accused of masterminding the assassination of presidents become Stalinesque airbrushing of history? And the logical result of this is that every biography on Wikipedia becomes an autobiography, which may keep the subjects happy, but may mark the end of Wikipedia as a useful tool.

Love Hertz, Cos I Don’t

Booking online is, sadly, still sometimes as mindless and time-wasting as dealing with an automated phone system. I’ve just tried to book a rental car online for the UK. OK, so Christmas is a busy time, but some of these sites take so long to navigate it would be quicker to walk. Actually, Budget and Avis weren’t all that painful. They told you straight out what was available and what wasn’t (although call me old fashioned, but I still feel that online should offer deals for more expensive cars if less expensive ones aren’t available).

The one I have a problem with is Hertz. They don’t tell you what’s available, they only tell you what’s not available. And even then, you have to ask for it first. It’s the online equivalent of a Monty Python sketch (or an Indonesian shop manned by undertrained staff) where you only find out by trial and error what is actually for sale. Click on a kind of car and then submit your request for a quote. Some time later, you’re told

Hertz

So then you try selecting another vehicle, and then another, and then another…. until eventually you get to the bottom of the list — seven or eight car categories later — without a single vehicle available for the timeslot you’re looking for, and you begin to wonder whether they actually have any cars at all. What do they keep there in their lot? Santa’s sleigh fleet? Herds of reindeer? I must confess I didn’t try the extra categories that were a little out of my league, from the “Landrover Discovery 2.5 or similar” to the “Ford Transit 17 Seater – Corporate rentals only or similar”. Next time I will bring the extended family along, just so I can rent a car.

But, Hertz, come on. This is 2005, nearly 2006. Surely you guys have figured out that websites like this don’t cut it anymore? Web site navigation has got to be intuitive, imaginative and should anticipate what the customer needs, not just a bolt-on interface for your lousy car database. A simple “This category of car is not availalble, can we recommend a category F car instead? The following models are available at this station” would be enough in this instance to have kept my interest as a customer. Now you’ve lost one more customer who’s off to catch a bus.

How to be a Inventor

The Boston Globe writes about Ron Magers, a toy designer for the past 28 years. It’s no game:

Magers’s shop produces 20 prototypes per year; there have been years when he has sold none. His average is one to two toys per year, and there is a storage area filled with things that never sold. Included in that is a Merry-Go-Round, a radio-controlled dynamic one-wheeled vehicle, and a painting shooting gallery. ”There’s not a lot of enthusiasm about shooting anything these days,” Magers said.

And it is important to be prolific, he said. ”I always give young inventors a piece of advice: ‘Never marry one idea,’ ” he said. ”If you continue to put ideas on the table and produce, eventually an idea will sell. For every 20 prototypes that I do, I’m happy to put two into the marketplace that are actually selling and producing royalties.”

Changing the Way We Drink

Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway has invented a device that lets him drinks his own urine:

Dean Kamen, famed inventor of the Segway vehicle, drank his own urine to the delight of a South Carolina audience. He was participating in a presentation of his latest gadget- a pee-purifying device that his company DEKA Research has developed.

He intends to solve the world’s water problem with this new invention– an energy efficient filtration system that can transform any water and convert it into drinkable H20. The device, still in prototype form, is ‘the size of a dorm-room fridge’.

Kamen owns one hundred and fifty patents and owns an island in the Long Island Sound. Bono is apparently interested in supporting this project and is being tapped for his high profile.

Actually sounds a great idea.

Restoring Corrupted MyInfo Files

Here’s a tip for a piece of software I love, but which I know is not exactly mainstream. It’s an outliner called MyInfo, and it’s a great example of how versatile outliners can be. However, files can get corrupted, and, despite a good backup mechanism, it’s not impossible both the backup and the main file is rendered irretrievable. This is what happened to me, and despite the best efforts of the software’s inventor, Petko Georgiev, things looked hopeless.  But actually there is something you can do if your MyInfo file (MIO) and the back up (MIB) won’t open:

  • Open the directory or folder in which you keep the MyInfo file (using a program like ExplorerPlus which lets you preview the contents of the file helps here);
  • Look for the most recent TMP file that containts RVF files (these should appear in ExplorerPlus’ preview window as a directory tree). Many of the TMP files may appear to be a decent size (i.e. not empty) but in fact contain no usable data. So this will only work if the TMP file contains those RVF files.
  • Rename the file with an MIO extension.
  • Open the file. Your MyInfo file should now be restored.

Domain Names as a Tool for Political Control?

A case that addresses all sorts of issues, and, at the same time, none of them. Reuters.com reported a few days ago that

The authorities in Kazakhstan, angered by a British comedian’s satirical portrayal of a boorish, sexist and racist Kazakh television reporter (Borat Sagdiyev ), have pulled the plug on his alter ego’s Web site. Sacha Baron Cohen plays Borat in his “Da Ali G Show” and last month he used the character’s Web site www.borat.kz to respond sarcastically to legal threats from the Central Asian state’s Foreign Ministry.

A government-appointed organization regulating Web sites that end in the .kz domain name for Kazakhstan confirmed on Tuesday it had suspended Cohen’s site. “We’ve done this so he can’t badmouth Kazakhstan under the .kz domain name,” Nurlan Isin, President of the Association of Kazakh IT Companies, told Reuters. “He can go and do whatever he wants at other domains.” Isin said the borat.kz Web site had broken new rules on all .kz sites maintaining two computer servers in Kazakhstan and had registered false names for its administrators.

Actually Borat has been around for a while, saying these things, as have Kazakh officials been trying to put the record straight about their country, but it appears to be a U.S. series, a movie in the works and an appearance at the MTV Music Awards that has been the catalyst for the Kazakhs to take action:

Cohen, as Borat, hosted the MTV Europe Music Awards in Lisbon last month and described shooting dogs for fun and said his wife could not leave Kazakhstan as she was a woman. Afterwards, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry said it could not rule out that he was under “political orders” to denigrate Kazakhstan’s name and threatened to sue him.

Kazakhstan has also hired two PR firms and, according to the London Times, earlier this month published a four-page ad in the New York Times. Cohen must be lapping up the free publicity.

Reporters without Borders are upset about this abuse of the country domain name , linking it to the alleged stage-managed closure of opposition Kazakh web site Navi.kz, calling it censorship and beyond the competence of bodies that manage domain names:

In this way, it infringes the principles set out by ICANN, which requires that the management of the ccTLDs should be fair and non discriminatory.

Oddly, a piece in today’s IHT (which also, intriguingly, carries a 4-page ad for Kazakhstan; the story originally appeared in Wednesday’s European edition) quotes the Kazakh foreign ministry spokesman, Yerzhan Ashikbayev, as denying it was the government that had blocked the site. Whoever made the decision, this isn’t exactly censorship. Borat just moves his website here, and loves the attention. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of examples of government crackdowns on press freedom, including using the the Kazakh network information centre (KazNIC) to harass the opposition website Navi into changing domain name — twice. It can now be found at Mizinov.net. If Borat’s case does nothing else, it might raise public concern about political manipulation of those last two letters after the dot.

Synchronize Outlook with Others

Collaboration is the next big thing for software. Not that people aren’t trying, but I’ve not yet come across something that really solves the problem of people working together, needing to be able to see the same information etc. Here’s a new and quite simple offering that will synchronize your Outlook folders with other internet users:

OLFolderSync can synchronize any Microsoft Outlook folder with anyone else’s (except Drafts, Outbox, Sent Items and Deleted Items). The folders you allow to be synchronized will do so in the background by e-mail. You can easily synchronize Outlook folders through the internet without the need for both parties to be online at the same time.

If you have private data elements on Outlook you can exclude them from the synchronization process. It is also possible to synchronize only objects of a user defined category.

The German company that does this, Somebytes Software, suggests this would be useful for letting your

    • PA add and amend appointments, tasks or other Outlook objects while on the other side of the world.
    • Synchronize birthday dates with friends and family.
    • Work with a synchronized Outlook calendar, tasks and other documents across your team.
    • Synchronize Outlook data on your laptop with your desktop.
    • Check appointments with those of colleagues on the road.
    • Check club/association schedules with that of other members.
    • Facilitate schedules to team members.

All pretty useful stuff, though a little steep at $72 for a two person license. The web site is not easily navigable, but there seem to be other products that focus on synchronizing particular parts of Outlook, such as the Calendar, Tasks, or Contacts.

Earn Credit by Recruiting for Basecamp

Expanding on their brick by brick, basics for free, pay for what you need approach, the guys at 37 Signals are now offering an Affiliate Program where users can earn free services:

The Basecamp Affiliate Program allows you to earn credits that are applied towards your Basecamp account. These credits reduce your subscriptions fees and allow you to earn free service. It’s your reward for helping us spread the word about Basecamp. EVERYONE who has a Basecamp account is eligible! When someone uses your affiliate code/link to sign up for a new account, you’ll receive a credit on your account after they’ve paid for their first month.

It’s not particularly new in itself, but for products like Basecamp and Backpack it makes a lot of sense. The basic features of these products — some of which are hived off as separate tools, like Writeboard and Ta-da List — are free but users who like the tools will quickly find they want the paid product. Now they can by corralling others into coughing up.

The Mobility Mouse

The mighty mouse has never really worked for anyone on the road — and those poor suckers you see who try and use the laptop’s trackpad need our help — but one or two folk have tried to ease the navigational pain. Here’s another one, out early next year: The MoGo Mouse:

Mogo

The website ain’t public yet, and I have yet to play with the thing, but I’m told it’s a business card, Bluetooth-enabled mouse that stores neatly inside a laptop computer’s PC slot when it’s not being used. It uses Bluetooth to communicate with your laptop, so no need for cables. The two indentations on its top enable left- and right-clicking, while a “kickstand” locks into place, automatically levering the full-width MoGo MouseBT into a natural position in the user’s hand. And in case you’re wondering, MoGo stands for “mobility on the go.”

I look forward to playing with it. Anyone who can make mobile mouse usage better has my attention. Launch is planned at CES in January.