Category: Uncategorized

Moving away from WordPress

So yes, as the title says above, I’m trying to move away from WordPress. Not that WordPress isn’t any good. I just want a nicer way of creating a blog, I can’t be bothered to keep a server up and running and I wanted to try something different. So I’m using Jekyll combined with Github’s Pages way of doing things. It means that I’m not hosting anything, pages are fairly simple to create and update and they all use Markdown which I quite like.

Creating new pages on the move could be a bit of a pain in the backside, but I’m going to see if I can come up with a solution using the Dropbox API or something similar.

I’m using the basic layout that a few people use to start with, based on Tom Preston-Werner’s blog but I’m hoping to get something a bit different done. Maybe over Christmas.

I’m also going to add disqus at some point. Not that many people actually comment, but I’d certainly feel better about it.

Letting consultants: the latest pain in my arse

I’m in the process of looking for a flat to rent. Just a studio flat, nothing
fancy (if you’re reading this and you have or know about one to rent, you can
get in touch with me using one of the methods
here
).

Now, if it weren’t difficult enough to find somewhere within your budget,
there is now something else to deal with – the letting “consultant”. This
breed of company appears (from looking at sites like Rightmove) to have many
properties available to view. There are probably a fair few that don’t have
photos on, but if they’ve got that many it’s acceptable that they haven’t got
around to photographing all of them yet. So you get in touch to arrange an
time to view and then they suggest that you go and visit them to see if there
are any similar available for less.

This happened to me today. I went to talk to someone at this firm. The lady
seemed nice. She wanted to help me find somewhere. Then I find out that they
charge (up front no less) £100 for me to become a “member” so that they can
find me a property. As soon as I heard that I upped and left.

I’ve come across one other such company over the last couple of weeks and I
doubt that will be it. They pull you in with lots of nice looking and sounding
properties or flats for rent, then you find out that actually, those
properties probably don’t exist (or at least aren’t on the books of these
consultants) and then drop the bombshell of a fee to find the property.

At this point, I should probably say that I’m not cheap. There is a price for
most things in this life, and usually I’m happy to pay it if necessary. And
they obviously make enough money (this one had nice offices, considering the
cheapness of the flats they supposedly were managing). But moving is expensive
enough as well as stressful so why would I want to pay even more money, and
especially up front when I’m trying to save money to put on the deposit.

So not only are there letting agents (yet another one of those “don’t get me
started” topics that I will talk about at some point, but not yet) out there
who try to keep the majority of your deposit as a way of maintaining their
profits, there are now these “letting consultants” who want even more. Don’t
get me wrong, I’m sure if you’re very busy and have the money to stump up for
someone to do the leg work then it would be great. But when you’re just trying
to find somewhere affordable and nice, spending more money is the last thing
you want. Added to that, they make it even harder to find said property as
their “listings” (and I use quotes because I’m pretty sure that a lot of the
ones you find on places like Rightmove don’t exist) take up half the space.

In case anyone is wondering, I am doing the leg work myself and I’m viewing a
flat on Saturday, so there are proper letting agents out there who want to
help (yes I’m sure they want my money as well, but if they’ve got flats to
show me now and they don’t want to charge me just to view the place, I’m
interested).

Blocking Social Media in the UK? Can’t be done

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock over the past week, you will have
undoubtedly heard that in certain areas of London as well as other cities in
the UK gangs of teenagers have been looting and stealing high value (as well
as not so high value) goods from various shops. It got to the point that David
Cameron cut short his holiday and recalled Parliament to discuss what was
going to happen next.

Apparently the way that these riots (although I’m not so sure if riot is the
right word since it just seems to be mass robbery) have been organised have
been through Blackberry’s BBM service as well as the usual scapegoats, Twitter
and Facebook. So the government in their usual kneejerk fashion is talking
about the possibility of cutting off access to these services if the rioting
continues.

So this brings me onto why this cannot be done. There are (at least) two
reasons why.

Firstly from a Democratic point of view:

If the government had its way and blocked access to these services, that would
affect me and the millions of other residents of the UK who have nothing to do
with these acts of violence. Admittedly I don’t own a Blackberry, nor do I
have aa Facebook account, but I use Twitter on a daily (if not hourly) basis.
I haven’t been involved in what’s been going on. The only thing connecting me
and the so-called riots is that I’ve been using Twitter to keep myself in
what’s going on from a grassroots level. So why am I getting punished? I, like
I’m sure many of my fellow tweeters, would not stand for it.

The second reason why it cannot happen is a purely technical one. In an age of
virtual servers, where it takes less than 5 minutes (usually far less) to have
a fully functioning server, connected to the internet and serving content the
government would basically have to completely cut off the UK from the rest of
the world as far as the internet goes.

There is nothing they can do to stop me from setting up a proxy server in the
US and routing all my traffic through that. Or setting up a server (again,
outside the UK borders) as a proxy and connect that to the Twitter API to make
and read tweets. Obviously if the government were to take the step in blocking
UK citizens from connecting to these services then this would probably become
illegal and so I would never do it, nor would I suggest that people would do
the same.

So what can the government do? Firstly I would hope that they can see this
stance as it is: nothing more than a knee jerk reaction. Secondly they can
look to the causes of these problems: the fact that most of these kids (most
seem to be under 18 so I think that justifies me calling them that) are bored
and have nowhere to go except their homes since the government seems to be
cutting various facilities where they could be; they also need to be taught to
respect both the law and those who protect it. I don’t want to go as far as
suggesting that military service should be brought back but some kind of
activity to teach both respect and discipline would go a long way.

Why I’m loving Quora at the moment

I asked my first question on Quora back in
October of last year. Since then I’ve asked 54 questions and given 140
answers. Not a huge amount, but recently I’ve noticed that it’s very easy to
get answers from people who have worked on some pretty major stuff.

For example, a couple of days ago I was watching Toy Story and had a question
about it. Within 12 hours, I had an answer; not from a film buff (although
that too would have been good) but from someone who actually worked on the
film! This, to someone who has no connections to the industry, is a fairly
remarkable thing.

More and more people are getting into Quota and this means that more and more
questions can be answered by people who actually know the answers, as opposed
to those who have an opinion. This is where Quota will become a phenomenal
tool I. the future. And why I love it. The people on it are knowledgeable,
friendly and, above all, rather than write a condescending answer to a silly
question, take the time to answer in a way that enables both the asker and
those who come and read the questions later to come away knowing something
that hadn’t known before.

Quitting Facebook

I’ve been talking about doing this for a while now but last night I took the somewhat large step to delete my Facebook account. Not deactivate it, but delete it completely.

Now to those that have steered clear of the behemoth that Facebook has become you might not think that this is very impressive, but it’s very easy for it to become the very hub of your social life; planning social events through it, keeping in touch with old school friends etc. and that’s why it’s very easy to become slightly addicted to it: logging on every couple of hours to see what’s changed, what your friends are up to and so on.

I’ve only told one person (up until the point of writing this post) that I’ve done this so I’m wondering if I’m going to get any texts or emails asking me what’s happened to my account and I think some of those people will ask why I’ve done this.

To me, Facebook over the past six months or so has been used to share links and message people; both those tasks can be done elsewhere. Therefore I don’t really have a need. If people want to get in touch with me there are ample ways of doing so, be it Twitter, Google talk or even (god forbid) email.

At some point over the next couple of weeks I’m going to de-do my website. I currently use things like Posterous for blogging, Twitter for microblogging, Flickr for photos and YouTube for videos, so why do I need something like Facebook to do all of the above? If I want one location to do all of the above I can stream them into one site and allow people to view stuff there. Which is exactly what I plan to do. So goodbye Facebook. It was fun.

Alternatives to your standard or common login procedure

Facebook. MySpace. Twitter. Foursquare. Your email client. All fairly
different, but all have one thing in common. To get access to your
friends/followers/the service you need to provide a username (or email
address) and password. But is this the most efficient way. People who work in
the security side of the IT industry say that it’s not a good idea to have one
password for everything – I (not that I’m suggesting I’m any kind of IT
security expert) have said it to people who use the networks that I
administered. But we all do it. It’s not surprising that we do. We only have
so much space in our heads for storing memories, so we use words or phrases
that are easy for us to remember. I myself have two or three passwords and use
combinations of those, depending on the requirements when we first sign up, be
it that the password has to have a minimum length, or that it needs to contain
at least one number or punctuation mark, or depending on how highly we regard
the information that is stored within that service and want to keep it secret.

So what are the other ways that we can access these services? Some (such as
large corporations) provide their users with a smart card to use with their
workstation or a fob with an ever changing sequence of digits that are
synchronised with a server deep within the bowels of the datacentre. Even
Blizzard, the producers of World of Warcraft allow their users to purchase an
authenticator to add that extra layer of security to their account. They’ve
even gone as far as to produce applications for the iPhone or the Android
phones that will produce this random sequence to make it easier.

These systems and procedures make it harder to crack the security of an
account, but nowadays some services make it easier to provide authentication
by outsourcing their logins to others. OpenID, OpenAuth, Single Sign On (SSO)
are terms that are banded about and mean that rather than having passwords for
each account, you have one username and password to remember, so you can make
your password as secure as you can. OpenID is one such application; Facebook
Connect is another. One web developer, Elliot Kember (@elliottkember) for
example has taken to using Twitter as an authentication method on some of his
web applications. It means that he doesn’t necessarily have to store such
things as usernames and passwords. As more and more people use sites such as
Twitter and Facebook (and I think it’s my dad who has neither) we’re going to
see more and more options to pass on the authentication of other sites to
these. We already give them so much in terms of our data, so why not make them
work a little for it?

World Cup 2010 Calendar

So the World Cup is nearly upon us. In fact as I write this it’s something
like 23 days away. So I decided to put all the matches in a handy to digest
format, otherwise known as a Google shared calendar.

The iCal version can be found here:
http://bit.ly/worldcupcal2010ical

The XML version can be found here:
http://bit.ly/worldcupcal2010xml

The HTML version (easily viewable in a browser) can be found here:
http://bit.ly/worldcupcal2010html

So far it’s just the Group Stages, and as soon as the results are out, I’ll
add the stage 2 dates in there as well.

End of one era, beginning of another

Today, whether you had an interest in it or not, was a major day for the UK.
It marks the end of a 13 year reign by a Labour government and the beginning
of a Conservative/Liberal Democrat one.

I believe it’s the first coalition in about 30 years and past coalitions
haven’t faired too well. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the shortest one
lasted about 3 days so it will be very interesting to see how long this one
will last. Having said that, if the government breaks down, I think that the
Conservatives have enough seats to change it to a minority government, if
that’s possible.

The cynic in me says that another election will be called within the next 6
months, for the simple reason that the LibDems are too different from the
Tories to agree on major policies and I think that will cause a large rift,
which will then cause a breakdown in the coalition.

However, we shall have to see. For now, we have a new Prime Minister. There’s
nothing we can do about that. And a big boost in turnout, many more than was
expected, which we can see from the queues at the polls and those people who
were angry at not being able to execute their democratic right. At least the
UK is not as apathetic as it used to be.

A bit of downtime for some

Just a couple of things… the first is that I’ve moved my blog to a Rackspace
Cloud server. I don’t get many hits, so it was cheaper to get a bigger server
than staying on Slicehost. From the off-set it seems faster, although that
might be because it’s from a clean install rather than an upgrade.

Therefore, as I stupidly deleted my old server a little prematurely. Those
who’s DNS have already updated (like Google for example) will see it, but some
(like T-Mobile) who haven’t updated will have to wait.

Other than that I’ve changed the theme of the blog. I quite like this, but who
knows how long I’ll keep it like this until I get bored and switch to another
one.

General Election

So today, if you haven’t heard already, is the day when Brits all around the
country take part in the election of the people who will govern them for
possibly the next 5 years.

The pollsters are saying that it’s going to be very close, with a possibly no
clear outright winner in terms of parties. Whatever the outcome, tonight is
going to be a very interesting result, with what is expected to be a much
higher than average turnout. This probably has a lot to do with the three
leader debates that have been broadcasted over the past month.

Usually it’s a two horse race, with either the Labour or the Conservative
parties the clear winner, but thanks to the debates the Liberal Democrats and
especially the party leader Nick Clegg have been thrust into the limelight
more than in past years.

The polls close in about two hours and the results as they come in will make
for very interesting results. Will there be an outright winner or will we have
the first hung parliament in approximately 30 years? Hopefully we’ll find out
tonight, but apparently there are about 20 constituencies who’s votes won’t be
counted until the morning and those might be the crucial ones who sway it one
way of the other.