Apologies for the confusion, and for moving my blog just a year after the last time I moved it. I promise this will be the last time I move.
I hope to see you there.
Today I received an HTML email that is amazingly user-unfriendly. We have all become accustomed to image-laden emails and dodgy table-based layouts in HTML emails (it is, after all, more-or-less the only way to do it).
But this takes it to a whole new level. Horizontal scrolling is enough of a no-no as it is. I was amazed when this one just kept going and going.
I actually had to take two screenshots and join them together. Believe it or not, the bit where the text jumps around is not where I joined them — my join is pixel perfect.
I can’t imagine what made them think this would make me more inclined to do whatever it is they want me to do with my phone. I haven’t read it yet because the sentences can’t fit on my monitor.
I was going to include the screenshot in this blog post at full size, but it is so bad I decided I couldn’t let it on the front page. However, if you click the more link you will find it over the jump, where I have recreated the woeful user experience.
Early on during this morning’s Japanese Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso overtook Felipe Massa. Massa didn’t make it difficult for Alonso — not that you would expect him to.
Scuderia Ferrari immediately tweeted on their official Twitter account:
Just for fun, I cheekily replied:
I have to admit to doing a little victory dance in my chair at having riled Ferrari enough to provoke them to reply.
I wasn’t being terribly serious with my tweet. It’s not especially that I thought Massa let Alonso through, or even that doing so would be wrong. Nor was my tweet about team orders. It was more about how Alonso can assert his authority at Ferrari.
But it’s interesting that Ferrari are touchy about the suggestion.
All good banter though.
Beneath the jump, an image of the tweet for posterity.
Is there anything more annoying than those security questions you need to login to certain websites? I cannot understand how they are supposed to make websites more secure.
I understand that passwords can be cracked and the security question is a safety net. But let’s face it. All the advice on passwords is that they are not to be real words. You should insert numerals, use mixed case, special characters; the works. If a password like that can be brute forced, a “security” answer made up of dictionary words, and based on known facts about your life, will be a piece of cake.
Facts like my mother’s maiden name, my hometown or my first primary school are not exactly secret. They can be easily answered by anyone with the slightest knowledge about me.
As far as I am concerned, it is the security equivalent of sticking a Magic Eye puzzle in your porch just in case someone manages to break down your door.
Worse still, a bad security question can lock you out of a website for good. I have seen a security question that was actually impossible for me to answer because it was asking about a life situation that simply did not apply to me. It was offensive as well as being shockingly unusable. I decided not to register for that particular website after all.
What am I supposed to do in that situation? Maybe I could just make an answer up. But how could I remember it? The only way is to write it down. Then it will only get lost in an obscure drawer, or maybe some criminal hacker’s pocket.
Then there are those questions on topics that you simply don’t care about. One certain website that I tried to login to recently left me stumped. It’s the sort of website I might only login to once every few years. So my answers to questions like these really could be anyone’s guess:
When you add in the fact that answers are case-sensitive, and that you don’t get repeat attempts at the same question, it soon became clear that I wasn’t going to get access to this website. There is no way for my password to be reset.
Apparently my only recourse is to use the electric telephone. But unless they subject me to a similar barrage of obscure questions, I don’t see what advantage this offers from a security perspective. I can picture it now.
“You are Duncan Stephen?”
“Yes! Yes I am!”
“And you have changed address?”
“OK! No problem at all! On the basis of this phone call we will now send your new password through the post!”
I was pretty excited to learn this week about Domesday Reloaded. The Domesday project aimed to take a snapshot of British life in 1986. 25 years on, the BBC are looking to update it to document the changes that have taken place since then.
I have been interested in the Domesday project for a while. The idea that a snapshot of Britain was taken, in the form of maps, photographs and text. Yet, the data was unavailable to most people.
The Domesday project was as much an ambitious experiment with technology as anything else. The technology was just about available, but a lot of pioneering work had to be done, and the hardware required for it was prohibitively expensive, leaving many of the contributors somewhat miffed.
Since then, it has become one of the most famous examples of digital obsolesence. This was due to a combination of the technology required to read the discs becoming increasingly rare, and idiosyncratic code.
The Domesday project came at a time when the technology was available, but the standards were not yet there to make it stable enough for long-term preservation, or even easy access in the short term. It’s a reminder that digital technologies are hugely enabling, yet frighteningly fragile.
Then there are the copyright issues surrounding both the content and the technology.
The BBC should be applauded for finally managing to open up some of the data to the public on the web. The Domesday project was created before the web was invented. This isn’t how the content was designed to be viewed, so navigation is a bit cumbersome.
But aside from this gripe, the Domesday Reloaded website is turning out to be a fascinating resource.
I was born in 1986, the same year in which the Domesday project disc was published. So the Britain described here is a place that I don’t remember. But enough of it is familiar for it to feel incredibly relevant to me. It’s almost like being given a little upgrade to my memory, so that I can have snippets of knowledge from just before I was born.
Take the photographs for D-block GB-328000-690000 — the centre of Kirkcaldy, my hometown (D-block being one of the 4km by 3km areas the UK was divided into). It took me a little while to recognise “Kirkcaldy’s busy High Street”. But once I spotted British Home Stores, I was right there.
Yet, despite the familiarity, it is almost a completely different world. My memory of the High Street before it was pedestrianised is very limited. But it is just within touching distance of my memory for me to feel a strong connection with it.
The text entries are also fascinating. Most of the contributions were provided by primary schools. A decision was taken by the Domesday project not to edit the contributions, so the quality and style of writing varies from area to area.
As such, what strikes me the most is that it informs you as much about the prejudices of the school pupils and their teachers as it does about the area. It also retains their poor spelling and strange grammar.
For instance, an entry from Dundee (D-block GB-336000-732000) called ‘Traffic in and out’ is a basic survey of vehicles travelling on a road, with guesses as to where the vehicles are going and why. It lacks the academic rigour you would ideally want from a historical document.
But while some of the entries may seem banal, it was designed to be this way. The aim was to genuinely document society by capturing childrens’ curiosity with everything. This way it wouldn’t leave out what adults perceive as being obvious, when it wouldn’t necessarily be so obvious to someone in 1,000 years.
The really big shame is that not every part of Britain was documented. I could understand remote rural areas not being included. But sadly some highly populated areas have also been missed out. For instance, two D-blocks that cover the centre and east of Dundee lie blank, as does much of London.
But what exists is a joy. Even in the little amount of scanning I have done, I have already learned new information about the area I live in, which has set my mind racing and inspired me to investigate further.
What also struck me is how we actually already have readily-accessible modern-day equivalents of the Domesday project, almost by accident. The BBC is asking for users to update the content for D-blocks that were documented in 1986, to take an equivalent snapshot of 2011. I may go out and take some photographs for that.
But this sort of local information is staggeringly well documented already. We have Wikipedia, which can be edited by anyone but retains an academic approach that the Domesday project lacked. As such, it is a treasure trove of local information that can probably be relied on more.
Meanwhile, Google Earth and Google Maps provide masses of images of all corners of the country. It absolutely dwarfs what’s on Domesday Reloaded.
But the big question, which can’t be answered at the moment, is whether the wealth of information available on the web can be packaged up into a Domesday-style snapshot and preserved forever. The challenges of web preservation are massive.
Like the Domesday project, we could find the digital information almost slipping through our hands. The BBC know that themselves. With a stroke of a pen, it was decided that a significant chunk of British web heritage will be removed when the BBC removes some of its archived pages from the web.
I was surprised to see listed among the ‘notable integers’ were a few telephone numbers, such as 999 and 911. I guess these were included on the basis of their “cultural meanings”, although they are not integers. (They have since been removed from the article.)
But I was surprised that the most culturally significant telephone number of the past decade — that’s right, 118 — was left out. So I decided to fix that.
(Don’t worry, I only did this in Firebug, not on Wikipedia itself.)