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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Blogger: bug with posted pics, & temp fix

Saturday, December 01, 2007
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Kirk spotted that if you upload a pic or photo to Blogger using the built in Add Image icon in the Blogger post editor, a new bug now means that anyone clicking on the picture in your blog post to see a larger version gets prompted to download it instead.

Kirk posts, and Team Blogger immediately see and leap into action...

Blogger acknowledged the issue and published a temporary workaround the very same day.

Here's a step by step to fix the problem, at least for now:
  1. After you've uploaded the pic, go to "Edit HTML" view in the Blogger post editor.

  2. Find the code for the image, which will look something like this (I've put the bits that you need to change in bold red):
    <a onblur="[stuff]" href="http://[stuff]/AAAAAAAAAps/l45SRB9MHmc/s1600-R/16112007023.jpg">
    <img style="[stuff];" src="http://[stuff]/AAAAAAAAAps/mde1x2JIA7c/s200/16112007023.jpg" [stuff]/></a>
  3. Go to the second tag that starts <img... and find the bit that starts with src.

  4. Copy into your clipboard the jumble of letters and numbers immediately before the s-something bit, which in the above example is s200 (it could be s320 or s400). Just copy the bit between the / slashes, not the slashes themselves, so in the above example I'd copy mde1x2JIA7c, marked bold green.

  5. Go back to the first tag that starts <a... and find the href part.

    1. In the s-something bit, change the -R to -h. But don't touch the rest e.g. the s1600 in the above example.

    2. Find the s-something bit and delete the letters and numbers just before it, between slashes (in the above example l45SRB9MHmc), or highlight it and paste in what you copied from the img src bit. Don't delete any of the letters or numbers before that bit, so in the above example don't delete or change the AAAAAAAAAps bit or the letters/numbers before it.

  6. So in the above example the first bit of the image code would end up looking like:
    <a onblur="[stuff]" href="http://[stuff]/AAAAAAAAAps/mde1x2JIA7c/s1600-h/16112007023.jpg">

Hopefully Blogger will fix this soon!

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Blogger Play: fun, but secretly evil?

Monday, October 15, 2007
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Blogger Buzz previously announced the release of Blogger Play, a slideshow of images recently uploaded by users of Google's Blogger, and have now made available a Blogger Play Google Gadget to add to your iGoogle home page (and also to your blog), and introduced some keyboard shortcuts too.

You can visit the Blogger Play webpage to see the slideshow or photostream, which apparently the Google team themselves have open permanently on big screen.

One of first my thoughts was, had Google considered converting that photo stream into a feed for Google Pack's screensaver - indeed had they used that technology for Play? Great opportunity for integrating Google services there. But then I wondered about aspects like bandwidth, copyright and privacy, which I'll come to.

Blogger Play - Pros

It's a fun time-waster. The constantly changing nature of the display of random pics certainly helps in this age of short attention spans, and there's a certain fascination with seeing photos by total strangers march across your screen, perhaps in the same way as it's fascinating to search for music by singing into your computer's mic and playing back total strangers' attempts at singing popular songs on midomi.

Blogger Play can also help bloggers publicise their blogs. Clicking on a particular image that grabs your interest takes you to the blog post it came from, where you can read what the blogger wrote. So you may get readers who might otherwise not have encountered your blog, and who knows, maybe they'll decide to stick around and even subscribe.

Blogger Play - Cons


But it's also a bandwidth waster for us consumers and Net users who are on metered packages. Blogger Play eats bandwidth like nobody's business. When I first tried Play, I noticed constant Net activity when my browser was open on Play, so I opened Netmeter and, looking at the average change in totals, which I timed on a few occasions, it was using up about 2MB of my capacity per minute. That means that if I had it on in the background for 7 or 8 hours a day, I could get through my 8GB monthly allowance in 2 weeks, just on Blogger Play alone! The Blogger Play FAQ also confirms that "on a fast setting, Blogger Play can download as much as 200MB an hour", so that's about a gig in 5 hours - a month's bandwidth allowance in a week or less, for me!

I'm not sure if Google can do anything about that - is it somehow downloading the full size photograph or picture in the background instead of a reduced version, and if so why can't Google tweak it to download a smaller sized version to display? I really think they should do that if they can.

If you're on a limited bandwidth per month package like I am, you really ought to watch it. Just leaving a web page open on Play may be enough to churn through your monthly allowance in hardly any time at all. I've also noticed that the Buzz blog now has the Play gadget in its sidebar. If I leave my browser open on Buzz, that is also eating through about just over 0.3MB per minute on average, which is still using up 18MB an hour, or 1 GB in about 2 and a half days. I wonder if it's running through bandwidth allowance at about the same rate if you have Play on your iGoogle home page too (I've not tried it). It's all very well for the Google team, they no doubt have unlimited bandwidth to play with, but it's just not the same for the rest of us mere mortals in the real world!

In other words, I have now stopped using Play, except for very short periods at a time, and I no longer leave a browser page open on Buzz as I used to as standard. It's the same with any blog that displays the Blogger Play widget - I may skim it quickly but I'm going to leave that blog fast in order to save my bandwidth (so having Play in your sidebar may be a visitor killer in time, in my view). If you're a blogger I would ask, pretty please, be good to your readers and don't have Play in your sidebar, because many of them may be on limited bandwidth packages (or even worse for them, dialup access rather than broadband).

Privacy and copyright

There are surely also issues about privacy, copyright, draft posts etc. I upload pics to my blog in order to use them in my posts. I expect people will see them when they're reading the published blog post. But I have lots of draft posts on the go at the same time, 20-30 usually. I'm not sure I like the idea of people seeing my uploaded images till I've finished the post and am ready for the world to view them. However, to me it's not entirely clear whether Play only includes pictures from published posts, or any images uploaded to Blogger, even to draft posts.

I'm hoping it's only pics from published posts, as if you click on a photo in Play it takes you to the post it came from - but maybe I just haven't clicked on a pic from a draft post yet. It shouldn't take you to a private draft post for sure, for privacy, security and other reasons, so hopefully that means Blogger are only drawing on published images (if you'll forgive the mild pun) for Play. Does anyone know?

There's also the copyright aspect. I don't think copyright law has kept up with technology (see e.g. my post on the complicated position on using music in your YouTube videos), and there still are too many uncertainties. If you publish a blog post with your uploaded photographs, I think it's clear that you have at least given implicit permission for people to view the photos on their own computers when reading the blog post. But surely that doesn't mean that you knew or expected that your pics would be taken and used for things like Play? There's a similar privacy angle too, e.g. as one user put it (who wasn't comfortable with the idea of their children's photos being on someone else's blog or gadget), do most people even realise that their uploaded photos could get shown on someone else's blog or iGoogle page?

I'm no copyright expert and this isn't legal advice, but I wondered about it. And, looking at the Blogger TOS (terms of service), I see that it says in item 6 that "By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through Google services which are intended to be available to the members of the public, you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, publish and distribute such Content on Google services for the purpose of displaying and distributing Google services." Which is interesting.

I never knew that uploading anything for public use on any Google service means Google can use it on any other Google service they like. Did you? That seems very broad. Does it mean they really can do what they like with our pics and text? Could they put up advertising on Play and not give bloggers who uploaded pics any cut? Could they even take our blog text content and distribute it via a new Google aggregator service, charge for it or run ads, and not pay us a penny for it ("royalty-free", innit)? Is there a copyright expert in the house...? But I digress.

Back to Play, yes, I know Blogger say in their FAQ that you can opt out of having your pics on Play. But that's a bit like direct marketers saying "Ah, but you can always opt out". What's more (and what's worse), the only way you can opt out of having your images on Play is to completely remove your blog from Blogger's listings. Which will also stop your blog from being indexed on Google, and reduce your blog's profile, visibility and visitors. That "all or nothing" approach hardly seems fair, does it? And perhaps even a bit dictatorial. I think it's only a slight exaggeration to suggest that it's like saying you can opt out of receiving marketing emails if you agree to cut off your email access altogether, because publicity and search engine indexing are the lifeblood of many blogs. Personally, I think Blogger should provide a way for people to opt out of having their pics displayed on Play without having to lose out on the search engine and visibility front. And I'd like some clarity on the draft posts issues too.

I am generally a huge Google and Blogger fan. But as you can tell, for a number of reasons, I don't like Play as it currently is. It's fun and interesting, yes. Maybe most people won't mind or care if their pics are used on Play. But why not be non-evil and play nice with Blogger users by making very very sure they appreciate that their children's pics are liable to be displayed on some random stranger's blog or iGoogle page and by providing a rather less drastic opt out option, and why not be kind to Play users by warning them very clearly that Play chomps through bandwidth, or alternatively make it a less bandwidth-hungry service?

(Yes I should be doing an environmental post as it's Blog Action Day. But I am doing my bit for the environment. I'm saving energy as well as Net capacity by not having Play on all the time!)

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Animated GIFs fun

Tuesday, September 04, 2007
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Just to follow up on the "What's an animated GIF?" question which I suspect was rather tongue in cheek...

Some of the images may not be worksafe, i.e. don't view the feed on your work or office computer! But with that warning in mind, check out this fun animated GIFs from Del.icio.us feed (RSS feed) from Brett O'Connor's Negatendo.

He's put together a feed of all the animated GIFs saved on social bookmarking site del.icio.us. It's rebuilt every hour, so there should be new stuff on it regularly. It's whatever people have thought worth saving on delicious so it's variable, depending on your tastes, and some items are repeated, but there are some pretty funny ones there. Hours of mindless animation-watching fun!

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Picasa: no animated GIFs

Friday, August 31, 2007
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Google's Picasa doesn't support animated image files, so if you try to upload an animated image via Blogger, you'll have a problem as it'll stop being animated - because, behind the scenes, pics uploaded via the Blogger post editor are stored on Picasa Web Albums.

So if you want to post an animated pic on Blogger - perhaps an animation you've created from several separate images using a free animated GIF creator - the solution is just to upload it elsewhere to a free file host which allows hotlinking and supports animated GIFs, like Fileden, and then link to it from your post using the "Or add an image from the web" option of the Blogger toolbar's "Add Image" icon.

(Via Blogger's Known Issues blog.)

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Blogger: Internet Explorer 7 Compose mode problem with pics too

Saturday, August 11, 2007
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Blogger's Known Issues Blog includes a note about a problem which can happen when you drag a pic in Compose mode using Internet Explorer 6 after you've uploaded it: after publishing, it may not be possible to click through to the full size version of the moved image.

However I've noticed a separate issue, not sure if it's related, to do with uploaded pics and photos in Compose mode using Internet Explorer 7 - spotted when my beloved Firefox decided to go on the fritz again so I had to switch to IE temporarily (requiring scream therapy on account of the loss of uploaded pics, as I'll come to mentioning. See, I'm avoiding all mention of comfort icecream this time). And the issue is repeatable, so I suspect it may also be a bug.

This is the issue: if using Internet Explorer 7 you upload a pic to Blogger, and in Compose mode you select the image and cut it using Ctrl-x (if you're a keyboard shortcut fan), then try to paste it elsewhere in the post with Ctrl-v, well you can Ctrl-v till you go blue in the face, or rather fingers, but nothing happens. You've lost the code and URL for the pic, and you'll have to upload it all over again - well it's quicker than looking for the URL of the uploaded pic in PicasaWeb isn't it, though you could do that instead if you prefer. The solution is the same as for the earlier known issue: go to Edit mode instead, and cut and paste the code for the pic from there.

I did a quick screencast showing that you can drag a pic in Compose mode in IE7 and that the code moves with it in Edit mode, but if you try to use Ctrl-x and Ctrl-v on the pic in Compose mode, nothing happens at all and you lose the code completely. The nothing visible happening at the end of the video is me trying to go Ctrl-v without, well, anything happening! In case you wonder.

I used that as an opportunity to try out Jing but I'm not going to embed the video to display it in this blog post because you can't resize the video and it'll muck up my blog by covering up my sidebar (see what I mean on a test blog? - that's one of the issues with Jing, I've encountered a few). So just check out the video direct if you're interested. A fuller review of Jing will follow at some point.

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Editing JPEG photos, thumbnails and your privacy - edited out bits may still be visible

Friday, June 08, 2007
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Many know this, but some don't, so I thought it worth a reminder. If you crop a JPEG image, typically a photo taken with a digital camera, in order to cut out part of the photo (e.g. people who don't want their photo on a website), or you obscure or edit it to try to hide someone's identity, be warned that there's a gotcha. Sometimes the original photograph can still be recovered from the JPG, in its full unedited unexpurgated glory.

Now I don't really know the ins and outs of how it works and I haven't researched it fully, but it seems that JPGs often contain what's known as EXIF metadata, including a small thumbnail copy of the original image. If you edit a JPEG file using photo editing or graphics software, sometimes the original thumbnail is still preserved and saved along with the edited final image - and can be extracted from it.

UPDATED with quickie explanation: You take a digital snapshot. Behind the scenes, a small thumbnail version of the original pic usually gets automatically created and saved as part of what's known as EXIF data, which is stored with the image as standard. You then edit the original pic e.g. to crop out someone else in the photo, and save that. Well, that also saves the thumbnail with the same file, behind the scenes. Sometimes the original thumbnail info in the EXIF gets updated to reflect your new edited pic. But other times it doesn't get updated - it still shows a thumbnail of the original snapshot. So the large (edited) pic and the thumbnail may no longer match. If you get that situation you might be able to edit the thumbnail too to match, but I don't know how.

The famous nude thumbnail

This "bug" became well known in 2003 when Cat Schwartz posted JPEGs on her blog of just her face, after cropping out bits from the original photo. Unfortunately in the original full photos she was, well, mostly unclad, and someone managed to recover the thumbnails of the naked versions from the published edited photos (there are pics of the original versions around on the Net but I'm not going to link to them, yep I can be a spoilsport sometimes). UPDATE: Oh all right, as so many people have been good enough to stop by, here y'go:

UPDATE: the following links no longer work, so for example of cropped image vs. thumbnail see the links above. You can check out some real life examples of extracted thumbnails which reveal the person's face or body, even after they were mosaiced out or tweaked - which can even reveal e.g. two entire people who had been cropped out. For a fuller low down and other example pics showing originals and extracted thumbnails side by side, see Hutta on embedded thumbnails (I was tempted to ask, is that like in Hutta the Jab? But I won't...).

How to get rid of the original thumbnails?

So the tip is, from a privacy and security point of view, if you want to protect your identity (or someone else's) by editing a JPG photo, you need to be very careful that a thumbnail of the original photo isn't still embedded in it, before you upload, publish or email the edited pic. I gather (but haven't tested it) that you can use EXIF editing software to get rid of the thumbnail, and that Adobe Photoshop's Save for Web function also strips out EXIF data automatically.

Again I've not tested this myself but I'm told by a reliable source that Blogger, in Old Blogger at least, removes EXIF data when you upload a picture file. Picasa Web, to which New Blogger images are now uploaded, probably preserves EXIF data on uploading, but I don't know if that would include the original thumbnail. Anyone know, or care to do more research on this?? JPGs may be better than PNGs or GIFs if you use Blogger, in terms of speed of loading for your users, but obviously you need to be careful about the "hidden thumbnail" possibility if it's important that only the edited image can be seen by visitors.

(This post was triggered by Robert Castelo's recent uploading of photos of the May 2007 Drupal event to Flickr, including ones with anonymous me in them (why I blog anonymously). I'd said it was OK to include the pics of me as long as he blurred out my face, and in fact he mosaiced out all of me, but it then occurred to me to wonder about the edited versions. No dodgy embedded thumbnails there, though, before anyone tries to look - thanks Robert! My secret identity is still safe, phew. And you can forget about trying to see more of the anonymous model in the Lara Croft "lookalike" pic, so there!)

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