"A unique, wry and often satirical look at the Internet, the modern age and life in general" (there is way too much search-engine competition for the phrase "incoherent ramblings")

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Burn your books, get your reading life back on track!

Reading re-Kindled
I've been wanting to remark on this for a while but haven't got round to looking into it properly - the new "Kindle" from Amazon (what kind of a name is that?!) Well, having read up on it a bit more, or at least Amazon's blurb I can say it has certainly caught my interest. What is the Kindle? In short, an e-book reader, one that initially retails at $399, which seems a bit steep given that they are probably looking to sell lots of titles on the back of it, titles downloadable via Amazon.com of course. In particular it features some kind of "electronic paper" display, which means no backlighting needed, and a good contrast and quality of print which can be compared to a "real" book. Also, claim Amazon, it is about the size, or smaller, than a "real" book.

How many books do you read? Do you read e-books? If you are an avid reader, you may well have disdained e-books until now as being "not like the real thing". If you don't read at all, why is that? Is it the lack of time?

I "got into" e-books about a year or two ago when I bought a Palm PDA and installed an e-book reader on it. I have never looked back. After the initial period of becoming accustomed to reading off a screen my reading habits were revolutionised. Suddenly I was carrying a "book" everywhere with me - lots of them in fact - and using those odd bits of spare time (waiting at the post office, riding on public transport) to read a few pages here, a few pages there. I must have read dozens and dozens of books since then, all in e-form. I am working through all those titles that I never thought I would ever get round to reading. Currently I am reading Asimov's entire works - perhaps I'll get round to reading some serious classics too!

Get your reading life back on track
Forget all that sentimentality about "curling up with a good book" (by which people usually mean a real, paper book) - if you want to get your reading life back on track you need something like Kindle, and Amazon should be patting themselves on the back for a great move.

I can think of only one main disadvantage with this system, and that is that the Kindle is a dedicated e-book reader and is therefore yet another gadget you have to carry around with you. I may well even stick to my Windows Smartphone for my e-book reading pleasure for now, even though it will probably ruin my eyes with its little screen! But whether you go with the Kindle or some other system, think about it - maybe it is time you burned your books and started reading again! And maybe e-books and Kindle are the way to make it happen.

P.S. The Kindle is currently sold out, according to the Amazon page (click picture above) and will not be available to ship before Christmas. High demand perhaps another hint that this is where the future is...

Blogrush - a trickle of targeted readers...

As Agloco dies a much-predicted death, my thoughts turn to Blogrush, another much-virally-publicised scheme, supposedly for "Driving a flood of targeted readers to your blog" by installing a sidebar widget which syndicates articles from related blogs in the widget, and in return syndicates your articles to other related blogs. Like a big, happy, network of blogs. It gained initial publicity by way of a referral scheme which promised even more torrents of visitors by way of a credits scheme, though was slightly more salubrious than Agloco in that it did not promise any money per se!

What happened?
It should have worked, I am still scratching my head to figure out why it has been such an abject failure. But the fact is, after TENS of thousands of impressions (i.e. syndications of my blog article links to other people's sites via the widgets) I have received a grand total of something like 7 visits through this channel. Are they just plain incompetent, is the widget not catchy enough (it would have to be positively repellent to give me a clickthrough of 0.01% - give or take), or was it all just a scam of some kind (hmm, let's run a failed business, cunning scheme!)?

I probably left the widget in prime position on my blog for longer than most. But now it's got to go, here and on my other blogs. I won't bother waiting for the announcement like I did with Agloco...

Monday, December 10, 2007

STOP PRESS! Agloco dies a death!

If anyone was in on the wild and crazy, make-money-to-surf Agloco scheme they would have received this email during the day:

We would like to update you on the status of AGLOCO's operations. We continue to believe in the AGLOCO concept, but our revenue is currently not sufficient to give Members a meaningful distribution. And though there are increases in membership, the resulting revenue is not enough to support operating costs. As a development team we are unable to continue to use our savings to fund the operations. If any Member would like to pursue continuing the operations of AGLOCO, you may contact us at agloco1@live.com.
Just in case you need my wise interpretation of this missive, it means - "the idea never worked, it was doomed from the beginning, Agloco has gone &^%&%-up".

The history
If you didn't know, we were told that Agloco was going to help us all make money online, just by installing a "viewbar" which showed ads while we surfed, the toolbar being programmed by poor underpaid Chinese workers in Shanghai. (well, that was my slightly biased take). The idea had MANY detractors from the beginning, but also had gazillions of people promoting it, not least the mighty John Chow - who will no doubt still defend his decision - indeed, there were people actually paying for major Adwords campaigns which were still running until about, ooh, 12 hours ago!!

Now it's all gone pear-shaped. I don't want to gloat, I kind of feel sorry for them. Maybe it was worth a try. But something stank about it from the very beginning.

We can discuss the reasons for the much-predicted death of Agloco, but one thing is for sure - there is still seemingly NO evidence that anyone will ever be "paid to surf" in "any meaningful way" to use their own expression...

Facebook: Take the money and RUN!!

I am not the first to notice this, but Facebook is becoming ANNOYING!

Yes, it is clever, darned clever, fiendishly effective at drawing you in - it ensures that unlike with MySpace you are basically in contact with people who are genuinely your friends, and who is going to refuse to click on a link that says, "Your friend xxxx has sent you a message..."?

But this viral vivacity could be its downfall. Things seem to have gone downhill since I wrote I scorn your Facebook "friendship" - I am now daily assailed with these messages of the type "Your friend XXX has...", and do you know what you most often get when you click on these? An invitation to install yet another application, which a friend of yours has installed, probably after being similarly prompted.

The main problem is that most applications upon installation also automatically tick your entire friend list and if you don't UNtick them, ALL your contacts also get an invitation to install the same application. And like I said, your friends will hardly refuse you...

This is out of order and it's got to stop. Facebook should return to the original reasons for its success - the creation of a genuine, consensual, fun social network. Either that, or TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN Facebook, because I am not the only one mumbling dissent. If Facebook continues on this path I can see it rapidly declining to the point where they'll be lucky to get tuppence ha'penny for it.

And my advice to you is - start pruning that friend list (hey, erm, what DOES happen if you delete a friend, does Facebook tell EVERYBODY, or can you do it, quiet-like?) and ignoring some of those notifications. And if you really must install yet another application, UNTICK all your friends before you do so! Facebook must be kept under control lest it mutate and die the death of an out-of-control virus...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Goodbye darkness my old friend

There's no real darkness anymore. And it's all technology's fault.

Example: when I was a kid, probably in around 1980, I visited a cave system in Slovenia called Postojnska jama. Maybe you've been there? It features spectacular natural subterranean beauty, with the most amazing stalactites and stalagmites and other geological features.

But the highlight of the trip for me as a wee nipper was when they turned off the artificial lighting for a few seconds, and we were plunged into UTTER darkness. I mean there was not a single photon of light anywhere to hit my eyes so far underground. It was an amazing experience (and I lost my parents even in those few seconds!) - to "see" what REAL, total darkness is!

Now, I revisited Postojnska jama last year on honeymoon (aaahhh!). I wanted my wife to experience Postojna with me. In particular I wanted her to experience the moment when they would turn the lights off and we would be in utter darkness.

Except when the moment came...

But you know what I am going to say. For there is no true darkness anymore - the lights went out, and the scene was immediately filled with a tens of twinkling lights. No, not some subterranean phosphorescent phenomenon - it was the lights of the mobile phones, camcorders, mp3 players, digital cameras and a dozen other electronic appliances born by my fellow visitors. There's that Pink Floyd song that says, "When I was a child, I caught a fleeting glimpse,"...

Goodbye darkness...
So there is no more darkness. Even lying in bed at night, I am assailed by the flashing of my monitor LED, charging mobile phone, extension socket switch...

Is this the latest form of light pollution, and is the only solution to close my eyes...?

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Maybe I am preaching to the converted, but I have to get this off my chest. Because it seems that this crime is still being committed with impunity across the Internet.

Only this morning, I received an e-mail from someone who I thought knew better. It was a legitimate marketing mailing, sent to some 100 recipients, advertising a relevant product. Nothing wrong with that.

But how do I know how many recipients there were? Because the e-mail address of every single one of them was there for all to see in the TO: field of the e-mail. Including mine. Why do I have a problem with that? Because I have a problem with receiving spam (let's say I don't take kindly to it) and so I guard my e-mail address jealously, giving it only to those who I think will not misuse it. But now my e-mail address has been freely distributed to a hundred people, many of them unknown to me.

I think it is not unreasonable to fear that in the coming weeks and months I can expect all kinds of unsolicited mail, including chain letters, signups to various sites and probably eventually spam, as my address gradually widens its circulation.

The solution?
Actually, it's not a solution, it's a piece of basic netiquette. If you are writing an e-mail to more than one person, where those people are not known to each other or not part of a team, you MUST use the BCC: field, NOT the TO: field in your e-mail program. You can find out how to do this in your particular e-mail program very easily, so there is absolutely no excuse.

By placing all the recipients' e-mail addresses in the BCC: field, and a dummy address of some kind, or perhaps your own address in the TO: field, you will still be able to send your e-mail to multiple recipients, but they will not be able to see each other's e-mail addresses and in fact will have no idea of the circulation of the e-mail.

E-mail users have a right to privacy, and they certainly have a right to protect their e-mail address from spammers. If you are not using the BCC: field then you are part of the problem.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Meta-money-making blog

You probably know this, but a lot of blogs are not just written for the good of the blogger's eternal soul, but they actually make money from them as well!

But there is a growing phenomenon of blogs about how to make money from blogging. Some of the most successful such blogs are those of Darren Rowse (ProBlogger) and John Chow, where you can find a constant supply of good information about how to achieve this feat.

However, lots of people have realised that this is also quite lucrative and have got on the bandwagon, even though the "How to make money from blogging"-blog pie is getting pretty thinly sliced now.

So I have hit on an idea - I will start a meta-money-making-money-making blog which tells you all about how to make money from telling other people how to make money from their blog! Watch this space!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

I scorn your Facebook "friendship"

Having firmly established that Facebook is better than MySpace, I must comment on something I feel warrants the attention of you Future-Phobics. It is the friend-collecting phenomenon, which was absolutely rife on MySpace and which you need to actively consider if you are to avoid it on Facebook.

Facebook is quite different from MySpace in that the connections you make are strictly "friend of a friend". In other words, it is not possible for anyone to request to become your Facebook "friend" unless they either have your email address, or they are already a "friend" of some friend of yours.

The problem is, all too often these friends of friends for some reason known only to themselves will send you friend requests, even though to be perfectly honest you are barely acquainted. In fact, let's be even more perfectly honest and say that you are actually NOT friends at all.

Now what do you do? Think carefully, do you really need a Facebook account packed with dozens and dozens of people, many of whom you do not know in real life, and have nothing to talk about with? Or do you want a Facebook profile that really is a reflection of your circle of actual, real-life friends and where there is a fighting chance you will have some benefit from the service?

I know what my answer is and I say, next time that "friend of a friend" sends you a request, politely press that "ignore" button. Trust me, they won't be offended. In fact, if I have correctly assessed the psychology of such people, chances are they won't even remember they sent the request...

Friday, October 19, 2007

You can die, and Amazon doesn't care

I was thinking these days how much Amazon has diversified. I mean, weren't they originally a bookstore?! That does seem a long time ago!

Now when you go to their site, you are confronted with an almost unfathomable array of different windows displaying bestseller lists, "related products", new products, wishlists, customer reviews and a dozen other features which most of us ignore.

Not only that, but they have expanded their range such that there seems almost nothing you CAN'T get on Amazon. In fact I tried to think of something they didn't sell and couldn't. I was going to joke, "tourism" and then realised they do actually offer travel deals! I think the only thing I couldn't find on Amazon was funeral services. As I implied in the title of this article, their customers might justifiably feel Amazon were abandoning them in their hour of departure from this world. If Amazon want to be with their customers unto death, then there's a little tip for them, a niche they might be missing out on.

A brief trawl revealed that on Amazon you can buy just about everything else, including the following:

riding lawn mowers
cowboy boots
inflatable pools

...to name but a few distinctly un-book-like products available there (yes, my affiliate codes are in there - *shrug* - how do I know, maybe you were looking for riding lawn mowers!)

And just lately, they have got into video downloads (the "Unbox" service) and the other day - da-da-daaaaa... mp3 downloads!! Well, they got there in the end!

So that's it - unless you're planning the interment of a loved one, or indeed yourself, Amazon has now got just about everything. And if they don't, they will have soon.

P.S. Oh yes, they've got books, too

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Technology is making us talk funny!

I am racing down a mountain road on my bike, the wind whistling past me, yelling seemingly to myself, "Paaaaaaarzzzzz, paaaaaarrrrzzzzz!!" How did things come to this pass?

To go back a little way, I was recently reviewing a new mobile phone, the HP iPaq 514/512/510 Voice Messenger, on my mountain-biking blog (long story, go and check it out, maybe this rant will make more sense) and I was reminded of an article I wrote a while back called Internet affecting the "color" of English? in which I pondered the effect the Internet is having on the English we use in writing.

Well I have realised with horror that technology in general is making us talk funny too! The case in point is the above-mentioned phone, which has a voice-activated feature, allowing you to issue commands such as Play Music, Call mobile, and the really cool What time is it? (or is it What is the time? - I can never remember) Now this doesn't require "training" - the phone just recognises your speech. This is great! A dream for the cyclist - ok, car driver too, I suppose - who wants to be in control of his cellphone and still have both hands on the handlebars.

Except, the phone expects you to be talking with an American accent. And herein lies the problem. If I want to be understood by my phone, it's no good saying Pause ('Porz')) with my British accent, because it won't understand me. I am sure of this, because it misunderstood it as Call several times, with embarassing results. No, I have to try to approximate an American accent and say Paaaarrrzzzz! Hence the scene depicted above.

Even worse is the fact that it will not understand the names of non-English people, of which there are a great number in my phone address book. So for example, to call my friend Jovan Jovanović I have to say something like, Kaaaaarrrrlll Joe-vaaan Joe-vaaan-er-vick! I don't know how hot your Serbian is, but trust me, that ain't how his name is pronounced.

And now imagine me walking down a British street, in public, seemingly talking to myself in this strange unnatural language.

Technology is making us talk funny, no two ways about it. But then again, we got used to housewives calling from the supermarket just to ask their husbands if they needed frozen peas, so maybe we'll get used to this too...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Digital Point readers confirm Facebook is better than MySpace!

Following on from my article, Google confirms Facebook is better than MySpace, I can reveal that DigitalPoint forum members agree! In fact the discerning users of this well-known forum for webmasters started a poll a few weeks back (nothing to do with me guv'nor!) asking the simple question, Facebook or Myspace?

And guess what - the results are almost exactly the same as my scientific Google-based research. Just over 60% of DigitalPoint members ALSO confirm that Facebook is better than MySpace!

If that doesn't settle the question, then I don't know what will!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Your site can be the second page of the internet

The position of First Page of the Internet is already taken. But your site can be the second page of the internet! What is the second page of the internet? It's the page that is linked to from the first page of the Internet, right?

Have a wander over to the First Page of the Internet and get your site (or someone else's!) listed as the Second Page of the Internet, at least for a fleeting moment in history! Choose wisely though, you can only make one submission!

It's better than Digg, and all those voting sites, because EVERYONE gets a chance, albeit a brief one! And who knows what dizzy heights of fame your 15 minutes (well, probably more like 15 seconds actually) could catapult you to...! Well, what are you waiting for!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Google mired in grinding poverty

An article at ZDnet today has highlighted the plight of poverty-stricken Google.

Google is projected to earn $19 billion in revenue in 2009, and yet the company, and the markets, have their sights set on $100 billion. How are they going to claw their way out of the "tens of billions" poverty trap and ensure a normal third-world-economy-sized financial future for their children and their children's children?

Surely Future-Phobia can do something! Our loyal band of readers are a kind and caring bunch - won't you spare a few coppers to help out a floundering .com monolith?

Donations will no doubt be gratefully received via Google Checkout and hopefully we can do our little bit to see Google's fortunes turned around.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Google confirms that Facebook is better than Myspace

The debate rages on - which is better, MySpace (sh'yeah, right) or Facebook?

I like to do things scientifically here, and in an unbiased way, which means I will use the mighty Google to settle this debate once and for all, democratically.

My method is as follows:

1) Search Google for the phrase "MySpace is better than Facebook" and note the minuscule number of web pages which contain this exact phrase

2) Search Google for the phrase "Facebook is better than MySpace" and noting the huge number of times this phrase exists on the Internet

3) Compare results. This will indicate the number of web pages expressing each opinion, even the ones which say Myspace is better, which it's not.

The results

"Facebook is better than MySpace"
"MySpace is better than Facebook"
... and so it is confirmed! Proven by democratic means and with the blessing of Google, over 60% of the Internet says

Facebook is better than MySpace

But you knew that anyway.

UPDATE: Digital Point Forum subscribers ALSO vote 60% to 40% in favour of Facebook! Conclusive proof, if ever you needed it!

Facebook is better than MySpace
Facebook is better than MySpace
Facebook is better than MySpace
Facebook is better than MySpace
Facebook is better than MySpace
Facebook is better than MySpace
Facebook is better than MySpace
Facebook is better than MySpace

Erm, just chatting to Goog... I mean, myself, don't mind me...

Monday, September 3, 2007

end now... End...now... END... NOW!!!

I wonder, what particular part of the phrase "End now" is it that Windows XP does not understand?

Similarly foreign to our favourite operating system is the mystical operation "Cancel", particularly useless when you have removed a CD from the drive and have not intention of putting it back in, whatever stupid reason the OS has for wanting it.

Windows should just have one button that pops up every time, saying:

Please press here to do what Windows was planning to do anyway, regardless of your plans for the morning.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Domain names - going, going...!

The year is somewhere around 3007, and the Galaxy is poised on the brink of war. This will be the conflict to end all conflicts, making the oil, water and Moon wars of the mid-third millennium look like mere skirmishes in comparison.

This is the battle for the Last remaining Domain Name. Slowly but inexorably, for the last thousand years, the domain-squatters, spammers and Google subdivisions have been buying up all the possible combinations of the 256 allowed characters. All permutations in languages known and unknown have long been spoken for and for the last 500 years the race has been on to lay claim to zxzxzxzzxzzzxzxxxzxzxzxxzxzxzxzxzxzxxxzzxxxzzzxxxzzxxzzxxzxzzzxxz.com, zxzxzxzzxzzzxzxxxzxzxzxxzxzxzxzxzxzxxxzzxxxzzzxxxzzxxzzxxzxzzzxxx.com and other still relatively desirable combinations.

But the end has finally been reached - battle lines have been drawn across the galaxy laying the ground for a Final Battle that will determine the owner of the Last Remaining Domain Name:


Poo-poohed by most a mere century ago as being "too hard to remember", this is now the most desirable piece of cyber-real-estate of all time, and many will die before the final victor lays claim to it.

Let battle commence!!

(suddenly, future-phobia.blogspot.com doesn't seem half such a bad choice, most of it was decided for me, for a start!)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Top 6 list of top lists to list on your blog

It's a Well-Known Fact (I read it in some Top 10 list of top list tips) that "lists" are The Future if you want to "drive traffic" to your site/blog, so here we go - this is a Top 5 List of Top Lists that I desperately hope will top the list lists:

  1. Top 10 lists - the original, the Granddaddy of all lists, the figure 10 suggesting an authoritative and comprehensive, if not exhaustive overview of the matter in hand. These always carry the risk of a couple of lamers towards the end just to bump up the total.
  2. Top 5 lists - a shorter, more compact, snappy form of list. Less comprehensive but better suited to a low-attention-span readership. Always the danger something really important might get left out.
  3. Unnumbered lists - these show a touch of daring. They suggest that you are a mine of useful information and would not be so petty as to try to enumerate the treasure-trove of wisdom you have at your disposal. Only problem is you can't really then call it a Top n list (where n is the number of items) - it has to be something like Essential list of....bla bla which defeats the attention-grabbing purpose of Top Lists.
  4. Top 9 lists - this is a no-no, tantamount to publicly confessing that you were essentially scraping the barrel and could not think of a 10th thing to put in your list.
  5. Lists longer than 10 - these can be a double-edged sword. They can make you seem frightfully knowledgeable, but at the same time nobody actually reads beyond about 7 anyway (did I not mention that under Top 10 lists?). Also, you don't want to use up all your ideas on one list. A Top 15 list can almost certainly be broken down into a couple of manageable Top 10 lists by adding a few more items, or better still, into three Top 5 lists - now they really could go a long way!
  6. Wrongly-numbered lists - an avant-garde approach whereby the title of the article refers to, say a Top 12 list of ways to make stacks of filthy cash off the Internet, when in fact the article only contains 11 such tips. Though you may appreciate the post-modern irony of this, your visitors may be forgiven for thinking you just forgot to count them, or couldn't think of any more clever things to write.
  7. Top 6 lists - to be avoided at all costs. A top 6 list is an open admission that you thought the 6th item was just way too clever/witty/important to be left out in favour of a straightforward Top 5 list. Even a Top 7 list is the lesser of these two evils.
Well, we must conclude our list of Top Lists before we get too carried away. Until next time, happy listing.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Do NOT send Shane Bernier a card!

I knew this would happen sooner or later: the "virus" hoax would turn out to be true! Not actually a virus hoax, but one of those "sick kid" emails. The usual scenario is that there is a child sick in hospital whose life will be immeasurably improved by your sending the email on to all your friends. This child, in almost every case, does not exist, except in the mind of the original email prankster and the gullible recipients of the mail. The only truth in the email may be an echo of the story of Craig Shergold (see later).

Well, this time the child was Shane Bernier, and the email was true! Shane wanted to top the record for the most birthday cards received and, contrary to my prediction in the above-quoted article, years of "wolf-crying" did NOT deter gazillions of well-wishers from getting into the spirit of the campaign.

Now, I have to be careful here, I have every sympathy for Shane and his family and wish them well in their fight against this horrible disease. But I am really not sure if they thought this through. They should perhaps have first talked to the family of Craig Shergold to see what it is they are getting themselves into. Craig was the original get-well-card-kid, whose campaign was launched in 1989. To this very day, three hundred and fifty million cards later, Craig, now a fully-recovered, healthy young man STILL receives countless get-well cards. The family were forced to move house, unable to halt the deluge of cards, which now go to a special post-office box number and get pulped on arrival. According to the Wikipedia article, the Guiness Book of Records is NOT taking any more record attempts in this category, (though it is not clear whether the birthday-card category is still up for grabs). The Shergold family has pleaded many times for people to stop sending cards - in vain it seems.

Shane Bernier's family limited the appeal to Shane's birthday on the 30th May 2007, and some sources suggest that he had received some 5.6 million cards by then. But the family could have courted disaster by fulfilling Shane's request - one site even suggests that Shane wanted to hit a figure of 350 million cards, which sounds suspiciously like the Craig Shergold record. Chain emails have a way of sticking around, evolving as they go, and this may be happening already. Details may change, but the address could stay the same and the family could be saddled with a burden for years to come that could approach the disease itself in its magnitude. What seemed like a nice idea at the time could turn into a curse like it did for the Shergold family.

Future-Phobia says - and I know I am out on a limb here - the appeal is OVER! Do Shane Bernier a favour and DON'T send him any cards. And we hope that when he recovers he will thank you.

Silly things to email

This page is intended to become a growing list of silly and/or stupid things to email, or rather NOT to email. It was born mostly from being on the receiving end of "stupid emailed things", although I must confess to having sent a few silly things by email too. By silly things I do not mean those viral emails your friends insist on sending on a frequent basis, by silly or stupid I mean just plain irresponsible!

  1. Files with double-digit-megabyte-sized attachments:
    Now that IS a silly thing to email. It may surprise some to learn that back when email was invented, it was intended to carry basic text messages totalling a kilobyte or two in size. Not to send that 3072 x 2096 resolution, uncompressed bmp file of your Aunt Maureen to all 64o members of your extended family. Especially as at least 30% of them, if you have third-world or eastern European relatives, will still be using dial-up Internet and will need 17 hours to download the message at the cost of a week's wages.
    ANY picture can be compressed down to a JPEG of less than 100KB. Look up on the net somewhere how to do it, and help free up valuable Internet bandwidth for more spam and porn.
  2. Emails addressed simultaneously to 1600 recipients using the TO: field:
    Anyone who simply MUST send the latest viral funny to the entire contents of their address book REALLY ought to consider NOT listing them all in the TO: field of the email, where each recipient's email address will be visible to the other 1599 recipients. There is a field called BCC: just for that purpose and it will do wonders for delaying the (admittedly inevitable) moment when your friends' email addresses fall into the hands of the spammers. It will probably stop me from wishing injury to your person too, so think of it as a philanthropic exercise - you will be saving me from myself.
  3. ANY email WHATSOEVER that ends with the words "send this to as many of your friends as possible":
    There is no exception to this rule. None. ANY email that pleads with you to send it to as many friends as possible, usually accompanied by threats/bribes/emotional appeals (misfortune will strike you down/you will win some fantastic prize or experience statistically improbable good fortune/some kid will die if you don't) is automatically disqualified from being sent to ANYONE! Got it? (Sigh... I know I am preaching to the converted, but it makes me feel better to get it off my chest). Please see also: Virus hoax will one day be true!
  4. Anything you don't want anyone else reading/seeing:
    Stating the obvious? Well, some Robert Mapplethorpe wannabe obviously hadn't considered this when he sent my wife some frankly pathetic birthday-suit pictures of himself, evidently having accidentally transposed some of the letters in the email address to which he had intended to send them. Don't do it, emails wander and you might come across a husband who is less tolerant than myself (he only lost good standing with his ISP together with all self-respect - a lucky escape as he probably had little of the latter anyway).
  5. All the previous correspondence you have ever sent on the same subject:
    This happens when your mail program is set up to include the entire text of the previous mail when replying to an email. It of course ends up including ALL of the previous emails on this subject. It is fortunate that the message size merely increases incrementally and not exponentially, otherwise a typical exchange of messages would be hitting the gigabyte range after 20 messages. As it is, it would be an interesting exercise to calculate the approximate quantity of space wasted on hard disks the world over by this duplication, and the consequent environmental impact. Think of our children, and our children's children, won't you?
Well, these are five of my top silly things to email. Perhaps you can add to this list and hopefully make email more sensible?

(P.S. Just come across a post by Jeff Gross, who covers this whole issue far more cool-headedly than me)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Call for a radical new PC connector

Remember those "hole-and-peg" sets you may have had when you were a kid? Still a tousle-haired toddler, new to the world, you struggled to insert a star-shaped peg into a triangular-shaped hole. This exercise was meant to teach you a lesson - the lesson that the world had rules: square pegs go into square holes, round pegs into round holes

If only this could have prepared you for owning a PC. Hair no less tousled, you grunt and strain on two knees and one hand, the other hand unnaturally bent around the back of your PC case, only your twitching feet indicating to the casual passer-by that there is anyone under the desk.

You know exactly where the connector is in the PC case (USB, keyboard, mouse, monitor, take your pick). You even know which way up it is. There should be no need to actually have to SEE it. It ought to be a simple matter to just insert the cable you had correctly orientated prior to plunging yourself into the dusty netherworld that is the space under your desk.

But... It is the old "square peg in the round hole" situation. No amount of fiddling or twiddling seems to produce any result. You blindly try the USB connector both ways up - neither way fits. You rotate the keyboard connector through 720 degrees, yet at no point does it slot in and end your misery.

The temperature is now at dangerous tropical levels under the desk. You have inhaled several kilograms of dust. The quiet weeping which has been filtering up from the depths of your being now threatens to turn into a primal howling born of helpless rage.

You give up and drag the entire PC case out from under your desk, whip it around with a little more force than was strictly necessary so you can access the rear panel and, now that you can actually see the socket... in goes the connector first time, slotting into place as though it were the simplest thing in the world.

This is a call for a radical new variety of connector - one that can be inserted, blind, in one simple move. This will take a new breed of inventor, one who can think out of the box. The rewards could be huge - Nobel fame, riches beyond your wildest dreams, a happier humanity that will be able to forget the connector-based frustrations of yesteryear and focus on making this world a better place. Are you that person?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Internet sweat-shops, coming soon to a slum near you

Surely it is only a matter of time before the Internet becomes as exploitative as the real world (if it already hasn't) and we are forced to deal with examples of forced/bonded labour and modern-day slavery even in the online world!

I will give you a couple of examples where things seem to be going that way already:

1) you may not be aware of this, though it is not an especially new story (see here for example). Did you know that there are companies who employ workers solely for the purpose of "farming" online "gold" in online games like World of Warcraft? A "day's work" in one of these places means playing an online video game all day every day, solely in order to collect the in-game "gold" (the inverted commas means it's not REAL gold, ok!?), which the company's owner sells for real money to players, usually those with cash, i.e. from Western countries.

Why is it exploitative? Perhaps because as usual, very low-cost (i.e. "low-paid") labour is being used to supply a need in the western markets, but more to the point, it creates a class system within the online world. Well-off, western players play games for fun, poor underprivileged 3rd-world workers slave away within the same game, collecting resources for the rich people so they can continue to have fun.

2) a market exists for extremely low-paid web services, particular blogging. Simply put, someone wants to start up a blog which they will make money from, usually by selling ad space. But they need content for that (content being the current reigning male monarch), and they ain't got none. What do they do? Employ someone to write the content for them, preferably for a pittance. See the Problogger Jobs board for examples of blog-writing jobs that are paid as little as a few dollars per blog post.

What's the problem here? Well, no high-quality blog writer is going to agree to write a blog post a day for $5 per post, unless of course they live in a less-developed country and there we are again... Problem there is, you pay for what you get - I get really cheap Chinese-made T-shirts on my local market, but the sleeves usually fall off after two washes. Likewise, if your blog is in English and you employ a non-native speaker to write it at below-the-breadline wages, you will get what you paid for... A sleeve-less blog. But there's a market for those, too...

So much for the internet being some kind of egalitarian Utopia...

With all this in mind, I would like to hereby declare that no cheap 3rd world labour was used to create any of the posts on Future-Phobia, and incidentally, no animals were harmed in the site's making either.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Dehumanising webmaster jargon! (Did you know you are a hit?)

Did you know that you are just a "hit", a mere statistic, a "click", an item of traffic? Well you would know this if you followed some of the webmaster chat that goes on, on forums such as Digital Point. The most important thing for most webmasters who are in it for business, is that they get as many people visiting their sites as possible, and as high a percentage of those people as possible clicking on advertisements, buying stuff or whatever other way it is they are earning money from their site.

Only thing is, they do not use words like "people" most of the time! In fact, to read some of the discussions, you might not realise they are talking about human beings at all! Here are some samples from a thread chosen completely at random from Digital Point:

"I checked my logs yesterday and I found that so far in June google has sent me as much traffic as they did in all of May...."
Say what? Traffic? What, like cars, buses, etc?

"The funny thing was that i also got a few from Yahoo also - and this is rare."
"A few"? A few what?! Lesser-spotted marsh-warblers?

"so most of the traffic there was only one or 2 hits per keyword phrase."
Now you've really lost me! Hits? Keyword phrase?

In fact, at the time of press, this thread did not mention human beings one single time!

Now, all business is dehumanising to an extent, but still, in the majority of businesses, their operators at least come into contact with the end consumer in some way. In this world of web business the only point of contact with the "customer" (aha, didn't know you were a customer!) is through looking at statistics in web-server logs (or bank account). So it is understandable to an extent that they can only refer to you by a logged IP address, or a "referral code", and that, in direct proportion to the popularity of a site, you simply become a statistic.

But this goes much further: for example, webmasters often make tiny tweaks to their sites - say by moving an advertisement to a slightly different part of the page, to see what the result will be on their "stats". This result usually translates to a different "CTR" - click-through rate - (the percentage of visitors that clicks on an ad), or "conversion rate" (the percentage of visitors that buys whatever they are selling) and these minute changes often yield slightly better "results" over a longer period. So you might not know it, but you are really just a tiny blip in a number-manipulation game.

The real-world equivalent might be something like a soft-drinks manufacturer making a minute change to the flavour of their beverage and seeing what that translates into in terms of sales over the coming year. But in the web-world, the results of these changes can sometimes be seen in minutes!

This kind of impersonal treatment of humans as statistics is the sort of thing that could boil over into revolution. The question is, are you and I, my precious hits, I mean, dear visitors, going to stand for this? And another question is, what can we really do about it? Perhaps in the long-term, web users will get wise to this, and companies will be forced to return to good old, personal customer service.

In the meantime, say with me, "I am not a hit, I am a free man...!"

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Agloco Holy Grail viewbar cometh out (and just sitteth there)!

NOTE (added after following post): I did it! I actually GOT the mythical Agloco Viewbar (you know, the one they had us all buying into before it even existed). I feel like some medieval crusader, recovering some jewel-encrusted cup from a Jerusalem treasure-store. Could this be the Holy Grail?! He takes it in trembling hands and places it on the table, and just gazes at it for a while, expecting perhaps something miraculous to happen. The cup does nothing. A bit like the Agloco Viewbar.

Well, it's finally here - those poor exploited Chinese workers in Shanghai probably gave up their last breath to get it to us, but we are finally all able to download the Agloco Viewbar! It says so in an email everybody received in the last few days. All you have to do is go to the site... erm... oops, seems to be down. Oh wait, got in after the 15th attempt. Then all you do is do what we have been waiting with bated breath to do for months: click on the "Download Viewbar" button that has appeared on the main page... Er... "Connection Timed Out"...

Agloco Viewbar-mania must be reaching fever pitch. It's all those 17,000 referrals of John Chow's flocking to start making him huge piles of money and clogging up Agloco's poor servers! Or perhaps it's MY FIVE referrals adding the straws that broke the server-camel's back (oh yes, FIVE! You think I have been sitting twiddling my thumbs!?) .

Anyway, once you succeed in actually downloading the viewbar, you are going to start making 10s and 10s of cents JUST FOR SURFING, think of that! Not only that, but the people YOU referred will be bringing you in loads of money too! Well, you won't actually be making it straight away... Only when they think they might have enough money to pay anyone out, which seems perfectly reasonable.

The moment of truth has finally come though - after months of obfuscation, speculation, titilation, expectation, we will finally get the chance to install a spurious bit of software that doesn't actually seem to do anything and start raking in the filthy lucre! What are you waiting for!!!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Why you will stop using ICQ at the age of 30

Remember ICQ? It was the first widely popular chat client, far more user-friendly than IRC, allowing Internet newbies suddenly to chat to people all over the world for free (though a lot of us were still using it over dial-up).

The thing about it was that you got a lot of unsolicited chat requests, and probably still do if you use it. If you are a girl you get a lot of guys of similar age, or older, wanting to chat, and I can say as a guy that there were a fair amount of girls initiating chats with me. I won't go into my opinion of the motivation behind these chat requests, though you should definitely be careful, especially as a girl.

Now, on ICQ, the way you search for someone to chat with is via certain criteria, and one of them is age. So the guy searches for girl, 23-29, say (the latter being one of the age ranges ICQ offers you), maybe adds his city or some interest, and out pop a number of "victims" (ahem, excuse the expression).

Well, it WAS kinda nice getting the occasional girl aged 24-25 initiating chats with me when I was 28-29 - even though I used ICQ for talking to known friends and really did not do much "blind" chatting - I did not (and still don't) rate it much as a way of getting to know someone. But it was sort of flattering.

But then I turned 30, and what happened? Of course, I started getting "hit" by ladies searching in the 30-39 bracket! There is nothing you can do about this short of lying about your age - ICQ just lumps you into this new, rather arbitrary and wide-ranging age-bracket! The 23-29s vanished overnight, and suddenly I was no longer the focus of interest of young ladies of this age group, to whom surely, until this fateful event, I represented an older, more worldly-wise guy. Now I was running scared from the aggressive advances of the "older woman", me, a mere stripling, the prey of femmes fatales, some of them, like, nearly 40 years old!!

Well, that was very quickly the end of my use of ICQ - along came the relative anonymity of Skype and I could use my computer, safe from the clutches of Thelma, aged thirty-eight from Theydon.

And that is why, when you turn thirty, you will stop using ICQ...!

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Blogfish - the next generation in blogging

The Blog-Fish (not a reference to the Gnome panel applet of similar name) is like the Babel-Fish of Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy Fame. What you do is put the Blog-Fish (actually a sophisticated electronic mind-reading device) in your ear and there it stays indefinitely.

What it does is eliminate the need to write blog entries anymore. No more minutes and minutes of thinking up new stuff to write. The Blog-Fish simply interprets the electrical signal caused by the constant stream of thoughts in your brain and converts them into a blog entry!! This saves lots of time and makes sure your blog is always up-to-date too!

Plugins for the Blog-Fish are available for all the major blogging platforms, and more expensive models of the device are available which will auto-ping the major blog services direct from your brain, tag your thoughts with key words and protect the precious contents of your mind from comment spam.

It is thought that the Blog-Fish is already being used by some of the major bloggers, still with mixed results, hence the recent details of John Chow's Mother's Day Dinner and a stream of recursing, never-ending Top Five Top Five Top Five Lists Lists Lists from Darren Rowse.

Once the technology is perfected, though, we can expect the death of the classic blog, and a new era in stream-of-consciousness direct-brain blogging where (brain-) content will be king and Google Ads will be served to tailor whatever the brain-blog reader is currently thinking about!

NB: to avoid brain overload, remember to unsubscribe from all blog feeds BEFORE installing the Blog-Fish!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Web 2.0 sites - painfully, agonizingly slow

I will point a finger (actually two) straight away: Squidoo and Feedburner. These typical Web 2.0, AJAXy sites are agonizingly, painfully slow! I have nothing against them, in fact I use both of them a lot, but their grinding, ponderous, slothfulness drives me crazy!

I am one of these people who opens 37 tabs in Firefox and another 43 different programs in Windows, so I can see how I might be contributing to this. Not to mention that my old 512Mb RAM, 1800Mhz AMD system is getting a bit long in the tooth. But the fact remains that I dread the moment when I have to switch from one active tab in Firefox to another where I have one of the aforementioned sites open (like I did just now whilst writing this post, to copy/paste the url's of the two sites). It can sometimes take up 10 seconds for the tab to activate, or the page to render, or whatever the heck it is doing!

Sure there are other factors involved here, sure it may be unfair to single out these two sites - I just happen to use them a lot, and others, Flickr and YouTube, say, seem to work quicker - but the fact remains that on a consistent basis I spend way longer waiting to open Squidoo (never mind trying to edit anything!) than any other site!

If that's Web 2.0, then it is obviously not for the chronically impatient like me... Roll on Web 4.0!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Digital photography will eat itself!

According to data from IDC published in ZDnet's blog, almost 30 million digital cameras were sold in the US alone in 2006. Future-Phobia confidently predicts that this massive market penetration of digital cameras will eventually result in a similar effect to the "pop will eat itself" and "net advertising will eat itself" effects and an uneasy equilibrium will soon be reached, if indeed there is not a major downturn in digital camera sales.

The theory is straightforward: as more and more people buy digital cameras, and upload digital photographs onto the net, slowly but surely everything and everyone in the world will have been photographed at some point. Thus at some point it will become superfluous to take pictures, say like I did last weekend in the mountains in Serbia, because there are already so many photos, even of these relatively unknown mountains, that there is no point in photographing them, I might just as well have downloaded them from the web. In fact, there is not much point even in downloading them, just save a link somewhere so you can see where you were.

Imagine the situation with a popular spot, like the Eiffel Tower in Paris! Think how many photos there are on the net of that scene! What is the point of photographing that again!?

No, a time is soon to be upon us, when everything worth photographing will have been photographed, and the bottom will fall out of the vastly overinflated market for digital cameras!

But I must be off, I think there is a small corner of my balcony that I had clean forgotten to photograph...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Wednesday's blog is full of woe!

I have been observing this phenomenon for some time and, though I do not really have the global web traffic stats to back me up on this (help anyone?), I have become convinced that Wednesdays, as far as blogging and the Web are concerned, are best skipped over.

There just seems to be this mid-week lull that takes hold on Wednesdays - the major bloggers seem slow to post, my own web stats take an overall dip, and the net just seems to find itself in the digital doldrums for a day.

Perhaps we could just agree to forget Wednesdays altogether, or maybe use them to do something more useful, like wash the cat.

I took the opportunity to start up a little blog I have been planning to start for ages, called Word Tips World. Seemed like a good way to make the best of a bad deal.

I suggest the next Shutdown Day should be on a Wednesday, then we can sit that day out, and wait for Thursday which, according to the rhyme should show a lot more promise!

Word Tips World!

I have made the most of today's lull to launch a new blog (still in fairly rough form) where I want to provide medium-advanced tips for using Microsoft Word. It's called Word Tips World and is looking very rough, still plenty to do on it.

But I have been wanting to do this for a while: I use Microsoft Word an awful lot and call me Future-phobic but I think this software package is going to be around for a long long time to come. There is a huge number of shortcuts and tips that you can use to make using Microsoft Word a whole lot easier and quicker, yet many people use Word for years without learning them.

Some of these tips are not to be found on the major online Word-related sites simply because they are supposedly too "obvious", so that is why I have decided to start covering some of them.

The inaugural post tells you how to capitalize an entire sentence with one keystroke, and sort of sums up just how useful I hope you are going to find these tips!

Why not have a look, and subscribe to email updates, or the Feedburner Feed and get fresh tips on a regular basis? And if for some reason Word Tips World doesn't live up to your expectations, well, you can unsubscribe any time you want!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Amazon launches context links - get sold stuff in context!

Just a quick note about a new service Amazon are providing to their affiliates.

To quote the notice that they sent round today:

Context Links automatically identify and link relevant phrases within your page content to Amazon products, unlocking new ad inventory and saving you the time from having to manually create links. You can add the links to your pages in minutes, and we provide a wealth of options to customize how they are displayed.

Basically, the system works by identifying key words on a site which relate to certain products Amazon has on offer. These words are highlighted as links, and when you hover over them with your mouse, you get a little balloon popping up with a related product, which you can check out if you want.

This sounds like another useful idea, as long as it doesn't get too intrusive to site visitors. It could get annoying, I mean, let's face it, not everyone wants to buy stuff all the time!

I have got Context Links working here finally. As Blogspot is strict about XHTML, I used the really useful little tool at Blogcrowds to convert the Javascript, though I am not sure it wouldn't have worked anyway, since it takes a little while for Amazon to index your pages which might have been the reason they the links weren't showing straight away.

Check out Amazon's Affiliate Blog for more info.

The PC mouse to become history thanks to Launchy!

The mouse is soon to be no more! A time is coming when we will finally be able to rely on the keyboard alone to use our computers!

Now, you may be used to not taking this blog entirely seriously, so let me just say I am taking a little rest from the cynicism, satire and parody to tell you about a neat little open-source program you may not know about, called Launchy (all credit to its writer, Josh Karlin).

If you are like me, you find the mouse a real hassle if you do a lot of typing. Why? Because it is a real pain to keep moving your hand over to the mouse and hunting around in menus for what you need when your hands are in full flight over the keyboard. I far prefer to learn the keyboard shortcuts in the common programs I use, such as MS Word, it drastically speeds up work, and I don't know about the business you are in, but in mine, time is... $$. And it is especially a pain trawling through your Windows Start Menu when you know exactly what you want anyway.

Launchy is a neat little program which lives invisibly on your system (Windows only AFAIK!) and is only activated when you press ALT-SPACE (configurable). When you do so, you get a floating window like this:

Launchy indexes all the programs on your Windows Start Menu (so if you want it to work with a particular program, you have to make sure you put a shortcut to that program on your Start Menu), and when you type in the first few letters of the program you want to run (in this example Firefox), Launchy offers you a suggestion, or more than one, as to which program you are after.

As soon as the desired program appears in the main window, or you have chosen it from the dropdown menu (not usually necessary), you press enter, and away you go, the program will be launched!

If your response is, "What's the point of that, surely it's much easier just to find what you want with the mouse?" then this program is probably not for you.

For passionate (and impatient) keyboard users, this program is a life-saver because it saves TIME, not to mention increasing productivity.

Now if only I could just do, "ALT-SPACE - Go make coffee"...

Monday, March 26, 2007

Start making money using a tried and tested method!


I used to DREAM about what I could do if I had MONEY!

Well stop right here if that is you too!

Because I have found the money-making formula that can make your dreams come true! And I am so excited about it, I am going to share it with you, free of charge!

You can earn money every day just by putting my simple principle into practice. And you can start doing it right now!

Just think, you could get your first check within the month just by following the simple one-step plan I am going to reveal to you!

Are you ready (remember, this could change your life!)?

I am about to reveal the technique that is making people just like you money all over the world, every day!

(scroll down a little)

(here it comes)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

It's Shutdown Day, go away!

What are you doing reading this?! It's the 24th of March, Shutdown Day! You shouldn't even have your computer switched on, never mind be surfing the net! You ought to be out there doing something healthy, talking to someone, learning about the outside world!

But seriously though, what if people really did all close down their computers for the day! What would the Internet do while we were away? I was wondering about something similar recently. But unlike at the end of the world, I doubt there would be time for the Internet to evolve into a superbrain. Indeed, if everyone turned off their computers - servers, routers, everything, there would be no Internet! Spooky thought, huh?!

Actually, probably what would happen when we booted up again is that would be no massive changes, but it would be little things that we would notice - a menu moved slightly, an icon in a shade of orange lighter... Like when you come back home from a long holiday and notice something unusual that you are sure wasn't there when you left it!

Let's be real though, it's never going to happen. Why would people leave the comfort of the Web for the cruelty and harshness of the outside world? Here it's cozy, safe. When I die, I want to be buried on the Internet! Shutdown Day indeed!

(man, it's quiet...)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Table-tops to replace notebooks and laptops!

Dell Home Systems

Future-Phobia is always first with technology news! Today we have another exclusive! We can reveal that exciting developments are afoot in the field of personal computing. If research at a leading computer company (who shall remain nameless - they usually do here) produces the expected results, we will soon be rid of the "laptop" or "notebook" computer for good!

No more carrying around that bulky bag, the new so-called "table-tops" or "static computers" (working title) will allow you to use your personal computer in the comfort of your own office, or even home!

This is because the new technology will eliminate those tiny keyboards and flimsy screens, replacing them with a full size keyboard and monitor, the latter sometimes even optionally being of that nice cubic shape, rather than the paperlike, delicate thin things that computer users are currently forced to live with. The "brain" of the computer, or if you like, the CPU, will be housed in a half-meter high case, thus ensuring you are unlikely to lose it.

Just imagine, no more working in airports, cafes and parks, with your "laptop" (aptly named!) balanced precariously on your lap, or perhaps risking a spilt drink in a cafe! Work in the comfort of your own home, with no fear of your notebook or laptop being stolen, avoid the stares of curious children and eliminate the problem of short battery life forever (or at least until this happens)!

It's time to get those notebooks and laptops off our laps and onto the table! "Table-tops" are the future!

NB: Those old defunct notebooks and laptops can be sent to the Future-Phobia charitable fund, where we promise they will be treated with the contempt they deserve.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What happens to the Internet at the end of the world?

The internet, especially the Web, is an incredible, organic, constantly shifting, growing, moving pulsating mass. Some of this motion is automated - crawlers, bots, daemons. But most of it is due to human activity. It's the humans who are mostly creating the content, making the links, clicking the links, voting, buying, "Digging", advertising, selling, surfing...

I had a bizarre thought - you know those films where the entire population of the earth gets wiped out, taken up to heaven, or in some other way removed from the scene? Imagine for a moment what would happen if this did occur, while all the infrastructure remained intact. Imagine that everything the Internet needs to keep going remained in place - power, servers etc.

What would happen? If all the "energy" that is currently pumped in - all the human activity we outlined above - just ceased? The net just sort of... sits there. Suddenly no content is updated, no links are clicked, no pages are viewed, no ads are read or followed, nothing is bought, nothing is paid for. The only activity is by the automatic crawlers and bots, for the purposes of indexing, spamming or whatever else it is they do. And their only purpose anyway was to analyze the human activity and regurgitate it to those same humans in different form.

So what now? Does the Internet keep on humming away to itself, oblivious? Does entropy gradually take hold and the system start to break down into some amorphous mass of random spam-like content? Or is the theory of evolution confirmed by the gradual development of the Internet into some kind of global super-mind?

My personal theory is that the entire Web will eventually resolve down to a single page which says:

Please click to exit

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Human-readable captchas soon to become a reality!

New advances have been made in the technology of "captchas" which will soon render them human-readable!

If you are not familiar with what a captcha is, you are sure to have encountered them - they are the funny little graphic you are sometimes presented with when you try to log in somewhere, or post to a forum. You are asked to decipher the hieroglyphics you see on-screen and enter them in a field below, and their intention is to stop human beings from actually performing the desired action (see here for more details).

Well, it is hoped that with new breakthroughs in captchas it will soon be possible for a human being to read one of them and successfully enter the required text.

Here are some that are currently being tested and that show promise:

This one (taken from a popular forum and beginning to see common use) is beginning to show vague signs of human readability, but more work is probably required. This form of captcha would be best used to prevent entry to commoners to a forum for use by the exceptionally visually gifted.

These two examples are served up on Reddit.com and show a quite remarkable development in the concept of the human-readable captcha.

In this beta version we can see that up to 80% of the letters are human-readable, but the reading is hindered by the white letters on a white background which the scientific team behind the project is still struggling to eliminate. However, it has been shown that a 11-year old with pristine vision can in some cases correctly identify the letters. This form of captcha would therefore be useful for adult-content sites.

This captcha, used on digg.com, is probably the most impressive example of a potentially human-readable captcha. However, its readability is deceptive, using letters of different fonts and cases, thus sowing confusion in the mind of the human reader. The bleary-eyed viewer may well mistake the second letter for a capital "I", or perhaps the last letter for a small "a", forcing multiple login attempts.

While we welcome positive moves being made in the area of human-readable captchas, we would like to use the full authority and weight that this blog carries in the industry to call on science to do more!

To read the rest of this article, please type the text that you see into the field below:
(Uses Future-Phobia's proprietary HumanProof Captcha technology. All rights reserved.)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Playstation 3 Emulator in a glass of water!

Future-Phobia can exclusively announce that scientists in America (yeah, bit vague, we know!) have managed to achieve a high level of emulation of Sony's new, next-generation console, the Playstation 3, using a glass of water!

This emulatory (?) feat has been achieved, it is thought, by lashing together a chain of Cray Supercomputers, resulting in a near-perfect reproduction of all Playstation 3 games! Our source, when pushed, was forced to admit that he wasn't exactly sure where the glass of water came into it and allowed the possibility that it might have "just got left there".

Currently the Playstation 3 Emulator takes up an area approximately the size of Belgium, produces enough heat as to raise average global temperatures by 2 degrees C by 2009, and so is not considered practical for most bedrooms.

Usually when a new games console such as the Playstation 3 comes out, and the drooling begins, it is not long before you will hear, or more likely read on some forum, some optimistic kid ask "is there an emulator for the PS3?", as if there is the faintest possibility that he (Mum and Dad) is going to avoid forking out for the real thing.

But until a way is found to reduce the Playstation 3 Emulator to more practical proportions, kids desperate to play the latest generation of video games will have to wait. Though they could do worse than keep a glass of water handy...

The dream of the Playstation 3 emulator lives on. But that's still all it is, a dream. This was just a little joke. Sorry, there is no PS3 emulator - that's the point. The Playstation 3 is way too powerful to be emulated on any other platform. By the time your average PC becomes able to emulate the PS3 there will be something bigger and more powerful out. The only solution, I am afraid, is:

a) to Buy a Sony PlayStation 3!!! If it is any consolation, Playstation 3 prices have come down quite a bit since my original post!

b) The other possibility might be to buy a PS2! They are REALLY cheap now, around $130! Click here for the PS2!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Google honeymoon drawing to an end?

We love Google
We all love Google, right? The cuddly upstarts who have created an internet revolution (not to mention a multi-billion dollar business) from humble student beginnings. Most would agree that this has been achieved thanks to their huge creativity, their willingness to "think outside the box" and - this is in my opinion the most important factor - the huge added value they provide. More than any other company, they have invested their success back in creating valuable, useful and unrivalled free services for the end user. This can be a precarious balancing act, but I think that this is what has most contributed to their success. Think how often you use a free Google service on a daily basis, and you will see my point.

Google backlash coming?
I have been thinking for a while, though, about how it is only a matter of time before a serious Google backlash happens. You know what I mean - it always does happen. We humans are fickle, we get emotionally involved in someone or something, and then when things get strained, the relationship turns to hate (I'll save the talk about relationships for another post!) Just think of any popular public, or TV characters - last year we loved them, this year we hate them! I will name two examples (one British, one American):

Jamie Oliver
Orange County Choppers

See my point?

So how long before we see the end of the honeymoon, and a more familiar corporate-customer relationship with Google, such as that "enjoyed" by Microsoft?

Google foul of regulators
Today, privacy organizations welcomed steps to be taken by Google to limit the quantities of private data that their search indexing servers store (see the BBC story here). While this is not yet a major sign of serious crumbling in the company's public image (nor the first, remember the Chinese search results censorship story?), it makes you wonder.

How long before the love affair ends and Google matures into a full-on corporate monster, with all the pressures and forces which this involves, and we begin to regard Messrs Page and Brin with the same love/hate ambivalence as we do Bill Gates now?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Silly things people search for on the net

Amazing abilities of Web 4.0 search engines - recap
I recently wrote a not-entirely-serious blog post about how Web 4.0 was imminent, and how one of the amazing things about Web 4.0 would be the ability of search engines to find anything for you, even lost car keys!

Silly things people search for
Well looking through my logs for the search terms that people key into search engines to get to my site, I see people looking for really weird stuff!

The silliest example I had today was a hit on this blog using the Google search term:

fear of poo phobia (whaaat?!)

The hit came from Australia, so maybe that explains something :D. I don't know whether to be more concerned that someone is searching for this expression, or that the result took them to my site!

Concealing my searches
OK, I search for some pretty weird stuff too, sometimes, which probably makes sense to me at the time, but could seem pretty weird to others. However, now that I am more aware of how the technology works, and I know that webmasters can see what I searched for in order to get to their site, I sometimes actually (this is so embarassing) mask what I was searching for by not clicking on the Google link that gets thrown up (that's where your search terms are appended so the site you go to can see what you searched for), but by Copy/Pasting the link into my browser.

Pretty sad, right! I mean, what do I care what a complete stranger thinks about what I am searching for on the net?!

Have you got any examples, either from your own site logs, or of weird stuff you search for on the net?

P.S. Once I got into this topic, I found that I wasn't the only one bemused by weird search terms. Check out a few of the following:


buttcrack cookies is one of my favourites! I thought I was gonna die laughing!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Reddit is better than Digg!

If you were following my little experiment yesterday, you will know that I was trying to discover which of the two services, Reddit.com or Digg.com is "better".

What do I mean by "better"? Well, I am looking from the point of view of someone trying to spread the word about a particular piece of news, perhaps a news site, or a regular web site hoping to draw attention to a new feature, product etc. They want to know which of these two services is going to bring their site the most visitors, right?

I devised an incredibly scientific (ha!) experiment whereby I submitted the same gripping story to both services at the same time, and then kept an eye on my server logs (actually, I use a great little freeware PHP-based program called TraceWatch) to see how much traffic came my way as a provable direct referral from each site in the subsequent 24 hour period.

The results
Well, first off, don't expect to hear huge figures! The story headline was pretty weak and you have to have a pretty good leadline to create a buzz on these services. I may well try again at some point with a slightly more, shall we say, sensational headline (just gotta wait for something sensational to happen!)

But even these feeble results confirm what I had already believed to be the case:

  • Digg - 12 hits
  • Reddit - 41 hits!!
And the winner is.... Reddit! For Digg, all 12 hits happened in the first 8 hours, while Reddit continued to provide hits, albeit tailing off drastically, for the whole 24 hour period.

I have noticed with any stories I submit to both services that Reddit consistently sends more visitors to my site/blog/whatever (I have had hits in the 100's before, with a more interesting story!), but I had never officially tested it.

Quality or quantity?
Now the question for web publishers is what is the "quality" of those hits in terms of actual interest of the reader in my site, my company, my product (although I must mention that they are primarily news sites, and should not be abused for the promotion of products - such submissions get "buried" or shunted down the line pretty quickly anyway)?

That will be another experiment, another day. I would like to hear readers' comments though - maybe you have your own take on this, and I bet you can rip my methodology apart too!

Is Reddit really better than Digg, or am I just asking to get buried!?

Video-on-demand will help reduce piracy?

Amazon seems to really be pushing it's new product, Unbox, a video-on-demand/download service that it launched at the beginning of this year. Another mail went around to us affiliates today, reminding us of the service.

The service ties in with the TiVo system (Series2 or Series3 TiVo) and allows you to effectively buy or rent videos by downloading them to your TiVo DVR device for a fee. In the case of rentals you then typically have 30 days to watch the video, but only 24 hours to complete the viewing once you have pressed Play.

This seems like a case of the industry finally trying to catch up with rampant piracy. I believe one of the reasons piracy may be so prevalent, apart from people just plain not wanting to pay for stuff, is simply the convenience of downloading frankly easily-accessible pirated material.

Perhaps the advent of quick and easy services like Unbox will finally help the industry recover lost sales by offering customers a simple and relatively cheap way to buy videos.

Give it a go and let me know how you get on. I would be interested to hear what people think of Unbox, whether it will affect the buying habits of movie-viewers, and whether I need to go out and buy one of those TiVo doo-dabs.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Which is better, Digg or Reddit?

If you reached this blog entry via one of the above-mentioned services, then I hope you won't mind the fact that you are part of a little experiment to see which of the two sites, part of the contemporary social bookmarking phenomenon, is more effective at publicizing a story.

This is not much more scientific than the old "my Commodore 64 is better than your Spectrum" debate (though we all know the answer to that, right!), just a little ad-hoc poll to see, in terms of pure visitor numbers, which of the two services, Reddit or Digg is "better".

The experiment was launched by publishing the "story" to my blog and then simultaneously (or as near as...) submitting the story to both services, at a time of significant net activity (about 16.00 GMT). Digg additionally allows the submitter to add a comment, so it seems reasonable to use this facility and add the description, "An experiment to see which of the two sites, part of the contemporary social bookmarking phenomenon, is more effective at publicizing a story.", since this might be a key advantage of Digg's.

After a 24-hour period, I will examine server logs to ascertain which service sent the most visitors.

Once again, I hope you won't see this as abuse of these services, or as a bit of cheap publicity for my blog (perish the thought). It is intended to provide a useful bit of data for publishers thinking about which services to use in publishing their news stories. And I hope the final result, to be published after the 24 hour period is up, will actually amount to a proper news story!

You can either keep your eyes glued to Digg or Reddit's "new/upcoming" pages, or you can subscribe to the Future-Phobia feed to find out the results.