A Consuming Experience

Blogging, internet, software, mobile, telecomms, gadgets, technology, media and digital rights from the perspective of a consumer / user, including reviews, rants and random thoughts. Aimed at intelligent non-geeks, who are all too often unnecessarily disenfranchised by excessive use of tech jargon, this blog aims to be informative and practical without being patronising. With guides, tutorials, tips - and the occasional ever so slightly naughty observation.

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Google online calculator and converter

Saturday, May 10, 2008
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Did you know Google's search page includes an online calculator & converter? One of my very IT literate friends didn't know this trick, so I thought I'd post this tip.

In the standard Google search box, if you type in a calculation then hit enter or Search, it'll actually do the calculation online for you, and provide the answer where you'd normally get search results displayed.

Use * for multiply, / for divide, and +, - and brackets in the usual way, then Search to see the results (more operators and full instructions here - I do wish they'd allow x for multiply though). There's a limit though, if you type in a very very very long calculation it won't do it, I'm not sure how long but I've definitely hit it.

Online conversions

Google also converts from and to units like Roman numerals (very useful in this here 21st century), as well as the more common conversions. And you can enter your query in normal language - e.g. "3.5 lbs in kg" works, just try clicking that. Or even Google's example of 0x7d3 in roman numerals! Tip: you may need to experiment, it seems to work OK with no space, but sometimes it works better if you add a space (e.g. before the lbs in the previous sentence).

Note also that the converter is case sensitive - so converting MB to GB will work but not MB to gb.

But although Googlers showed their sense of humour in allowing you to change your Google search interface language to Klingon or even Pig Latin, they don't yet let you convert into polar bears or Golden Gate Bridges. For that, you have to use the Weird Converter, though even that doesn't have baby elephants. However, if you want to, you could convert into Jenifer Anistons or human tongues, or even right whale testicles or flaccid penises, if you really can't resist the urge to try those! (Heh heh, I bet no one ever thought I'd be able to legitimately work testicles or flaccid penises into a blog post, did they?).

I can use the trick for speeding up searches on Google and other sites with a keyword, to do even fast calculations too: Ctrl-l to call up the Open URL box, then type g then space then my calculation or conversion.

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Gmail: . dots + aliases & spam, been there done that…

Thursday, March 06, 2008
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Google's Gmail Blog have finally posted about the use of dots in Gmail addresses and appending a + symbol with other stuff for filtering and combating spam and evil marketing emails.

Been there, done that. I already posted (with my usual detailed but hopefully practical take, of course) on those productivity / trivia tips and tricks - as far back as 2005!

(Gmail is known as GoogleMail in the UK & Germany.)

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Google beats BBC to no. 1 brand for businesses

Tuesday, February 26, 2008
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In the eyes of British businesses, Google has now beaten the BBC to the number 1 spot as the top B2B (business to business) brand in the UK, according to the 2008 Business Superbrands UK Top 500 business brands league table - compiled by a council of senior business leaders and an independent survey of 1,500 professionals to reveal "brands that have established the finest reputations in their fields and make the most impact on the UK business sector" (Superbrands' 25 February 2008 PDF press release).

Most of the top 500 brands are long-term UK businesses. Media brands (by which Superbrands mean Google and BBC Worldwide as well as the FT and Reuters) are having more impact than traditional commercial sectors like manufacturing. Some brands more traditionally associated with consumers are making an impact on the business sector too, notably eBay which entered the league at no. 43.

The top 10 Business Superbrands for 2008, from the combined results, were:
  1. Google
  2. Microsoft
  3. BP
  4. BBC (Worldwide)
  5. GlaxoSmithKline
  6. Rolls-Royce Group
  7. Financial Times
  8. British Airways
  9. Fedex Express
  10. Hertz
Interestingly, the business professionals surveyed ranked Microsoft 4 and Google 6 while the Business Superbrands Council went for Google, Blackberry, Apple, BBC (Worldwide), The Economist and Nokia as the top 6, with Microsoft as no. 9 (see the end of the press release).

For all 500 top brands, see the full PDF list of the UK's top 500 B2B brands for 2008.

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Blogger: how to use a www custom domain for your blog

Sunday, February 17, 2008
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This post explains how to get http://www.yourblogname.com/ to work for your blog when you're using Blogger and want to use your own www domain name for your blog (instead of http://yourblogname.blogspot.com), and not just the "naked" http://yourblogname.com. I know lots of people have had problems with the www part, so I explain the fix.

It includes a step by step on how to change over smoothly to a www custom domain on Blogger, with screen shots for popular domain registrar GoDaddy and your Blogger dashboard.


For bloggers on Google's free Blogger blogging platform, for over a year now since the introduction of the now feature complete fancy New Blogger, formerly known as Blogger Beta, with its widgety goodness and enhanced developer-friendliness, you've been able to blog via Blogger's service and enjoy free webspace on Blogspot.com, but use your own domain name for your blog instead of http://YOURNAME.blogspot.com/.

For example this blog's main URL is now http://www.consumingexperience.com but it used to be http://consumingexperience.blogspot.com (and that web address or URL still works to get you here, and my blog's files are still stored behind the scenes on Blogspot.com).

This custom domain service is excellent, and for SEO reasons I very strongly advise using it as soon as you can after you start your blog (ideally from its inception), because then:
  • you can build up search engine cred under your own domain name, rather than under "whatever.blogspot.com"

  • you won't suffer so much the pain of the sudden big drop in search engine rankings if you've built up decent Google juice under blogspot.com, then switch to a custom domain, and

  • you won't suffer so much through the effort and time and worry that it will take to build up search engine cred all over again under your custom domain name.

I've blogged the benefits and reasons for using your own domain name ASAP, previously - after I suffered myself through a drop in this blog's PageRank and its placing in Google's search results, when I switched this blog's domain from consumingexperience.blogspot.com to www.consumingexperience.com. I'd say it took at least 6 months for my visitor numbers to get back to roughly where they were, though luckily in fact during the last couple of months they're starting to better the old figures. But basically, I've lost 6 months of increasing my rankings. And I'd mention that my AdSense earnings, though they're not anything I can live on, dropped significantly too during those 6 months.

I think using a custom domain is easier than FTP publishing, where you use webspace on your own server (or space you rent from a hosting provider) to host your blog's files instead of Blogspot. (See Blogger Buzz for some advantages of custom domains over FTP).

There are decent Blogger help pages on custom domains. However people had trouble getting the "www" URL to work to take people to their blogs after switching to a custom domain on Blogger. I thought the teething problems had been ironed out by now, to mix a metaphor, but I recently had a comment that suggested otherwise.

So, here's how to switch to a custom domain on Blogger that starts with www (e.g. "www.yourblogname.com").

How to get a www URL for custom domain to work on Blogger

The main thing to note is that technically "yourblogname.com" is separate and different from "www.yourblogname.com".

Blogger will only let you use one of them. Most people are used to the "www" URL, so it's best to use that, and then redirect the "sans www" version (yourblogname.com), the "naked domain", to the www version.

There are two main things you have to do - set things up on the domain name end (your domain registrar), and then set things up on the Blogger dashboard end.

To do that, the steps to take are these, in this order (to avoid downtime on your blog) - assuming you've already bought your own domain name from a provider:
  1. Go to your domain name provider's site (not Blogger) - i.e. your domain name registrar or domain name hosting service, from whom you bought your domain name.

  2. Login to your account, and set things up so that the www version of the domain name you bought points to ghs.google.com (geek speak: on your domain name provider's DNS server create a CNAME record for www.yourblogname.com, and associate the www "alias" or hostname with ghs.google.com as the value or destination - see also Google's helpful guide on the domain name system).

  3. Now Blogger has a help page with step by step instructions on how to create CNAME records if your domain name provider is a common one like:
    1. GoDaddy.com
    2. ix web hosting
    3. 1and1
    4. EveryDNS.net
    5. Yahoo!SmallBusiness
    6. No-IP; or
    7. DNS Park;
    8. and even generic instructions for Other hosting services

  4. The most important point to note is that you must create the CNAME record for the www "alias", not for the "naked" domain.

  5. Blogger do provide helpful a step by step (see the links in 3 above), but I always find screenshots more helpful, so here are the steps for my own registrar GoDaddy, pictorially - if you use another registrar hopefully they'll still be of help. The things to click are outlined in red, and obviously you should select your own domain, the one you want for use on Blogger:

    If you've already got a CNAME record for "www" then click to edit it (see the bit outlined in blue below), otherwise click to create a new record (outlined in red).

    Now the next bit is the trickiest bit for non-techies to get, in my view. Note that for the alias box you enter just "www". NOT "www.yourblogname.com", not blank, just "www" (don't worry about the TTL line, no need to change that). Then OK or Save everything:

  6. It'll take a few hours, maybe a day or so, for this to "take". So give it a day or so, then check that "www.yourblogname.com" really does point to ghs.google.com. To do this, you can do a nameserver check using services like Pingability.com (which is free) - in the box enter "www.yourblogname.com" (obviously changing it to your own real domain name, with the www), click Check Domain, wait a bit, and the results should say that your www points to ghs.google.com:

    Don't worry that if you try www.yourblogname.com and you get a 404 error. That's because you've not quite finished yet. But it's best to test that the switch to Google on the domain name end has worked, before you go to the next step.

  7. Now you're ready to switch things over on the Blogger side. This Blogger help page shows you how (see the "Blogger Settings" section there) but here are screenshots again. The important thing here to note is that you should enter the "www" part also when you give Blogger your domain name, and of course Save your settings:

    (Google Apps aside. Blogger now provide the option to buy your domain through them. If you do that, I suspect that the "www" should be easier to set up than before, but I've not tried that option so I can't say for sure. That's because you'll get a "Google Apps for your domain" account with it, and in the past people have had problems if they had their domain on Apps then wanted to use the same domain as a custom domain on Blogger because Apps took over the "www" name so if you tried to use it for your blog you'd get a "Blog already hosted at this address" error message. If you already have GAFYD and had that problem, you had to delete that service from Apps in order to use www on Blogger. Or if you had set up the www on Blogger, then tried to use that Google Apps for that domain, Apps would take over the "www" subdomain. But I'm not sure if it still does. Effectively you couldn't have a domain hosted on Apps and use the www for that domain on Blogger at the same time. If anyone knows whether when you buy a domain name via Google from the Blogger dashboard page you can use www for your domain even though you get Apps, or indeed what the situation now is with Apps vs. Blogspot and the www issue generally, please let me know!)

  8. And that should be it! Test the "www" address in your browser and hopefully it should now go to your blog and show your shiny new domain name.

How to forward your naked domain to your new custom domain

It would also be sensible to make sure that your bare domain, e.g. yourblogname.com, will forward to your new custom domain hosted on Blogger / Blogspot. Again, you do that through your domain registrar, after logging in, via their domain forwarding option.

Here are screenshots showing how it's done with Godaddy, after you've selected the domain to amend:

Make sure you fill in the "Forward to" box with your "www" domain URL, and that "301" is selected rather than "302", then OK and save etc:

(With thanks as always to my Magical Sheep pardner Kirk, without whom I'm sure the www would have gone wrong for me too!)

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New Google Open Source Blog (& search with other Google dev blogs)

Friday, February 08, 2008
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Just noticed that Google started a new blog for coders yesterday: the Google Open Source Blog (with associated Google Open Source Blog feed of course).

It's a spin off from the Google Code blog (which continues to develop apace e.g. with news of the formation of Google Technology User Groups). It's dedicated to, you guessed it, open source software / code and open source developers' projects hosted by Google. There's only one post there so far, but no doubt there'll be more soon.

It's so new it hasn't even been added to the feeds or webpages for combined Google blogs or combined Google developers' blogs yet.

I've added this blog to my custom search engine for all Google English language blogs and search engine for all Google dev blogs.

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Doctors shouldn't be using Google!

Saturday, December 08, 2007
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A while back there was a fuss about judges relying on Google searches for info related to their cases, rather than on expert courtroom testimony. Yet despite the hoohah about that, it seems the rot has spread. More people ought to be concerned about the fact that:
  1. Doctors are using Google to search for medical information, instead of using authoritative medical sources. And what's worse -

  2. They don't seem to be very good at it, at least in my experience!

Doctors using Google

I have a medical condition, genetic and not infectious. It's not life-threatening in me, luckily, as I inherited it from only one parent (if you get it from both you're pretty much snookered and will die before your 20's unless you have certain uncomfortable treatments which you're then stuck with for your entire life). And I shouldn't have kids with anyone who has it too. I don't want children, so that's not an issue.

However, I get tired and cold more easily than than most, and I will always have one mild symptom which I'm supposed to take stuff A for, because something in me is not the same as in ordinary healthy people. I have the right quantity of it, but I suffer the mild symptom because the quality of it is not normal. People who sneer at me or think I'm acting up or attention-seeking due to the measures I take to anticipate or prevent the tiredness and cold don't know about my condition, and frankly I'm not going to waste my time telling that sort of person.

My genetic condition was fully investigated when I was a child (as one of my parents has it). My parents consulted experts and even now keep nagging me to take the stuff I'm supposed to take to help alleviate the mild symptom.

Now I suffered a similar symptom in spades recently, due to a completely different health issue. Note that I said similar, not the same. Superficially it looks the same if you don't know I have the genetic condition and don't do fuller testing, and the end result is pretty much the same, but in fact the cause is slightly different.

Now the normal treatment for that symptom - taking stuff B, which is different from the stuff A I was told to take as a child - is aimed at increasing the quantity of the thing which I already have in sufficient quantity but is just not up to scratch in its quality. That treatment therefore doesn't assist someone with my genetic condition (increasing the quantity of something which is not right in its quality won't help), and in fact taking stuff B can be positively harmful to people like me if continued over time.

I went to see a GP (general practitioner, family doctor type for the non-Brits) about the other health issue I'd developed recently, because it just wouldn't go away even after some months. Now in order to alleviate the similar symptom the GP told me to take stuff B, which would certainly have helped someone who'd got the symptom from other causes and didn't have my genetic condition. But, as I said, I'd been positively told not to take that.

So I queried it with the GP, explained my genetic condition, and asked: are you absolutely sure I should be taking this stuff B?

The GP said they'd investigate and consult with their colleagues and get back to me. Get back to me a few weeks later they conscientiously did, but cue shock to the system number one.

What did they say? "I can't find anything about that on Google. So I'll ask my colleagues". Yes you heard that right, Google.

And that was the last I heard from them. They never got back to me ever again.

So much for asking their colleagues and reverting.

Now no one expects GPs to be experts in everything. After all, they're "general practitioners", family doctors, they wouldn't be able to know everything. But they should at least know the right sources to consult if and when they come across something they aren't familiar with.

Aren't there official medical databases, even books or manuals, which might be a tad more reliable than some random website that Google has picked? What happened to checking specialist medical databases or medical texts? Asking other doctors? And why couldn't they have asked their colleagues at least at the same time as doing a search on Google? They did have a a few weeks to do that in.

That was the first thing that worried me.

Doctors need training in using search engines and assessing the value of the results!

Here's the second worry.

Doctors, or at least that particular doctor, really aren't very good at finding information on the internet.

I tried searching about my condition on Google myself, doing two slightly different word searches. Both times, I found more than one webpage on the first or second page of the search results (including on Wikipedia), which not only described my condition but also confirmed that taking that particular stuff B that the GP had originally suggested wouldn't help that condition. True, they didn't say anything about taking stuff A, but at least they'd flagged that I shouldn't take, or at least didn't need to take, what my doctor had suggested.

Whereas my doctor said they'd found nothing about it on Google. They probably hadn't even spelled the name of the condition correctly. I wouldn't be at all surprised.

If medical professionals are going to use Google, Yahoo or other search engines for research in the course of their work, they at least need to know how to use them properly.

And even more importantly, surely they should be trained in how to evaluate the results - can a particular Webpage turned up by Google be trusted, is it authoritative, is it accurate, is it by someone who knows what they're doing or just some unknown person sounding off about a disease, condition or medicine or drug online, perhaps just to bring in ad money for their Website?

What should be happening? Professional ethics or even laws!

Now professionals who ought to know better have been turning to Google instead of official sources because of its simplicity, power and ease of use. I even found a University College academic paper based on research users, "‘I’ll just Google it!’: Should lawyers’ perceptions of Google inform the design of electronic legal resources?", on how the way people use Google and why they like it could help improve the design of electronic legal resources like LexisNexis.

But legal, health and other professionals need training on using the Net properly, and they need to remember to always use their informed critical judgement when assessing the search results. An American Bar Association paper on "Judicial ethics and the internet: may judges search the Internet in evaluating and deciding a case?" outlines the history of judges using the Internet as a research tool, concerns raised by that increasing practice (including fairness to the parties), and a proposed revision to the ABA's Model Code of Judicial Conduct (which was supported by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York Committee on Professional and Judicial Ethics and Committee on Government Ethics). This would at least make judges use the Internet with more care:
"judicial searching and citing of Internet materials raises concerns of accuracy, fairness, and permanency. Judges should
exercise caution in accessing factual information on the Internet, taking care not to let questionable Web site materials improperly influence case outcomes. Those bodies charged with making and applying state judicial rules should assess the need for clearer rules... a judge who intends to rely on materials obtained by searching the Internet must first inform the parties of the substance of the materials, and then offer the parties an opportunity to respond. Thus, before a decision is rendered, litigants would be aware of the Internet information and be able to contest its accuracy and relevancy."

For whatever reason, this proposed Judicial Canon still doesn't seem to have been finalised or officially released - at least, it was discussed as still a proposed Model Rule 2.10(B) at an ABA meeting in 2006 (original link).

Personally, I think that lawyers and indeed lawmakers in all countries should get their fingers out and make this sort of thing a law or rule which all lawyers and other professionals simply have to follow. Or risk being banned, disbarred or losing their licences to practice.

And furthermore, medical boards, ethics boards and the like should be issuing the same rule for doctors and other medical professionals.

And all of the official bodies should police it carefully.

Otherwise - well, do you really want a judge to make a ruling which could affect your life, or your doctor or nurse to diagnose your medical condition or prescribe drugs for you, based on some haphazard searches they perform on the Internet?

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New Gmail Greasemonkey API - & Blogger, please??

Sunday, November 11, 2007
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Tucked away in an update to a recent official Gmailblog blog post about future behind the scenes changes to Google's Gmail was some good news for Greasemonkey fans.

Greasemonkey is a free extension for the free and wonderful Firefox browser, which lets people write userscripts to do all sorts of clever things to webpages like change the way they look and work, improve your browser security etc - see this post for instance for a Technorati tagging script for Blogger /Blogspot.com, and instructions generally on how to install Greasemonkey and install user scripts too.

Lots of scripts have been written for Google services, even Book Search.The Gmail team appreciated that when they tinker with the underlying code for a web service for which Greasemonkey user scripts have been written, that can mess up existing Greasemonkey scripts. (Previously new releases of Google Reader had broken Greasemonkey scripts too, and there are many Greasemonkey scripts for Reader including with Google Gears).

So to help us all they've released an experimental Gmail / Greasemonkey API which should make Greasemonkey scripts for Gmail easier to write and more resistant to being broken when Gmail code is changed. (The forthcoming changes will apparently involve a new Javascript implementation for Gmail.) Greasemonkey has been used for Google Reader and Gears too

Yay, I say! That should make Greasemonkey gurus like Kirk and Jasper happy.

However, Greasemonkey scripts have been known to stopped working not just when Gmail code changes are implemented, but also when other web services have been changed. Or indeed when Firefox has been updated, or Greasemonkey itself has been updated. You get the drift...

As this blog is on Blogger, personally my biggest use of Greasemonkey scripts is in order to get Blogger, particular its post editor, to work the way I want it to, making up for several shortcomings or gaps I feel exist in the current interface (e.g. prettying up the font). I'd go so far as to say my Blogger Greasemonkey scripts are absolutely indispensable to this blog.

Unfortunately, something must also have changed behind the scenes in Blogger's code these last few weeks, because the Keep Current Date/Time script (essential if you save drafts on Blogger for later publishing), which Aditya had updated for New Blogger, no longer automatically ticks the "Keep current date/time! box when you're editing a saved draft. Also, my script to enlarge the Blogger template editor doesn't work anymore either, boohoo.

So here's hoping that the Blogger team will similarly roll out a Blogger / Greasemonkey API soon too for those interested in the Blogger API, which saw a new Javascript client library recently.

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Search all Google blogs: update - developers & others

Sunday, October 28, 2007
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