Don’t worry, it’s not that I don’t want to eat your cake

Photo from Flickr, by Hudson, The @diskoponySo you’ve offered me cake, and rather surprisingly I’ve turned you down. I know, odd isn’t it. Ryan never turns down cake. So it can only mean one thing, your cake is bad.
Well, no. What it means is that my body is bad.
I’m not on a diet, I have no need to lose weight, instead I have Coeliac disease.
Every time I eat gluten my body reacts and damages my gut. So unless a cure is found, for life I can no longer eat gluten. If you have ever watched The Great British Bake Off, it’s the stuff which makes cakes and bread sticky (and tasty).

Which means unless it’s been specially made, no:
Shredded Wheat;
and three months ago these were a very large part of my diet.

Fortunately fresh meat, veg and fruit are fine, as well as chocolate without biscuit.
Unfortunately the wheat substitutes are expensive. £2 a (half) loaf of bread.
At the moment the government and local health authority allow me to get gluten free products on prescription, hopefully this will continue, as it helps keep the costs down.

So if you do offer me anything don’t feel embarrassed that I turn it down, or spend a couple of minutes reading the back of a packet, it’s not you, it’s me.

Why I like Twitter

Recently I discovered that the Environment Agency published water levels on it’s website, however other than a two day graph it didn’t have an real historical data.
So I went about and created a script to scrape the data for me. This ensures that I have data past the 48 hours and allows me to see exactly what kind of changes have taken place say in the last week.
Now as I was already collecting the data, it seemed sensible to create a twitter account to publish key changes. So I set up @sincildrain. It has some pre-defined boundaries which if the levels go past it sends a new tweet.

With the Twitter for Android app, you can then set notifications whenever an account tweets, like the old days when you used to get an SMS from each one. So now I near time information on the water levels of the drain just meters down the road.
However the great advantage of Twitter is it’s one-to-many broadcast method.
Previous bots I built would either email or MSN message an update, but to scale required building in subscriptions, anti-abuse and stop methods.
But Twitter does this already, my bot just needs to tweet and with public visibility anyone can follow the account to also get the latest updates, at present 44 people are checking to see if the water levels are too high.

WTF? Instagram are selling my photos?

So the news all over twitter, the tech blogs, even the BBC is the change to the Instagram terms of use.
Mainly this bit:

1. Instagram does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or through the Service. Instead, you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, except that you can control who can view certain of your Content and activities on the Service as described in the Service’s Privacy Policy, available here:
2. Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you. If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision (and the use of your name, likeness, username, and/or photos (along with any associated metadata)) on your behalf.

Now I’m no insider, but what I read of this is:
Now we are part of Facebook, we are going to try to do those crap Facebook ads. You know the ones you all moaned about months ago, in which an advertiser who you liked can use your picture to tell your friends that you like their product.
So to allow the local coffee shop which you tagged the photo of your latte, to try to get your friends to also take photos of their lattes, Instagram need to change a couple of the terms.
Instagram / Starbucks Ad
Now in theory this also allows them to sell my photos for a huge billboard ad at every train station, but then the highest res photo stored on Instagram is 600×600 pixels. Not the greatest for print media.

The biggest PR problem for Instagram is the failure to explain.
People will leave, but like those who wandered off to, without your friends all following, what’s the point of being part of something if it’s only you?

Broken Twitter Tools

Do you use Twitter Tools on your blog to autopost your new posts, or to show a daily record of all your tweets?
Did is suddenly stop working yesterday?
Unfortunately twitter removed the end points which the plugin spoke to. They did announce this would be happening over a year ago, and have since even released a new version of their API.
Whilst you are waiting for an official fix, you can make this small change to the plugin code to sort it now.

In WordPress admin go to Plugins, Editor, select Twitter Tools from the drop down.
In the code box find

define('AKTT_API_POST_STATUS', '');
define('AKTT_API_STATUS_SHOW', '');

and replace with

define('AKTT_API_POST_STATUS', '');
define('AKTT_API_STATUS_SHOW', '');

Then hit the Update File button.


Several years ago I was looking for a vanity URL. You know the type that are short and sweet.

My first thought was artes.ea however there isn’t a country with .ea as their top-level domain.

Then playing about with how I say artesea I realised I could get .tc is the top-level domain for the Turks and Caicos Islands and at only $39 it seemed a bargain. So for the last 2.5 years I’ve been using the domain name as a shorter to my blog posts, but mainly for my version of Dabr dab.argh.

However I was rather surprised to find out that my registrar this year sent me an invoice for $130 for the renewal.
So come two months time I’m letting the domain expire. I’ve already started on the work to move to including a nifty cookie transfer script so you don’t need to authenticate with twitter or change your settings again. Short URLs are no longer needed now Twitter forces the links, and the other projects with be mothballed as a backup on my PC.

I couldn’t really afford to keep in my domain portfolio at $40/year so the price rise has helped me put an end to my rash purchase.

LibDemBlogs Delays

So whilst at work this morning I noticed I had several alerts from LibDemBlogs telling me it had been unable to create the half hourly updates. I get these once in a while, but as long as it’s just one it will be fine on the next build. However these were pretty much every 30 minutes.
With a spare few minutes I could see in the logs that a request to read an RSS feed of a site had gone from taking a few seconds to over a minute, and LibDemBlogs reads the RSS feeds of over 400 sites.
However I had no time to take a further look, but managed to send an email to the hosting company to see if they were aware of any issues. A reply later in the day informed me that indeed there was an issue with packet loss in to the datacentre and they would let me know any more updates.
On getting home I’ve been able to activate a couple of settings, the first is to stop reading the blogs of anyone who hadn’t posted anything in the last 60 days. This reduces the number of blogs it needs to read to around 200, but means that if you haven’t blogged for a while, and just created a new post it won’t be spotted.
It’s helped and the site managed to build the 8pm update, however as it’s giving up on reading the RSS feeds of some blogs there is a chance your post just now won’t appear for a couple of hours.
My hosts have a plan of action late tonight, so there will be some downtime near midnight. Hopefully this will fix the issue, and I can role back some of the tweaks.

As a side affect this also impacts Liberal Tweets, LibDig and dab.argh where you might see random errors or timeout messages.

Raspberry Pi

Raspberry PiSo on Wednesday morning I was up at 6am, along with a large number of others trying to get their hands on one of the 10,000 Raspberry Pi which were currently finishing Quality Assurance in China.
Unlike what had been answered several times, they weren’t to be sold directly and we now being offered by third party companies RS and Farnells.
Straight away browser tabs were open to both sites.
Searching for “Raspberry” on RS loaded a “Register your interest” page, with no sign to buy I filled in my details and hit enter. However I ended up on the same page I was just at. So I tried again, hit enter and nothing, server errors, so through out the morning I was hitting refresh. Finally it submitted, but again taking me back to where I began.
Then on Twitter Liz running the @Raspberry_Pi account said:

Maybe if I had an RS account I might find this magic purchasing page, so I tried to sign up. Again server errors all over the place, but eventually I managed it. Then typing “Raspberry” in to the search box, just took me back to the Register page. So one final time I entered my details and this time was taken to a Thank You page. This was two hours later and clearly put me back to the end of the queue.
Whilst all this was going on, my luck with Farnells was even worse, pages just wouldn’t load at all, until they finally stuck up a “Maintenance” page. Then after 8am, it looked better, I could add a Raspberry Pi to a shopping basket, then the pages timed out as I tried to complete the order process. Finally at 8.24 I managed to complete the order.
I joked at the time that:

but a short while later I got an email with a delivery date of 26th March. Wow, that was fast, but the speed of the email still left me thinking May. Later in the day a second email arrived, this with a new delivery date of 26th April, a month later. As it’s not far off my expected date I wasn’t too upset.

So the morning was long, but I got an order placed, my Pi will arrive one day and I’m happy.

Some people however appear to be far from happy.
They were disappointed that RS and Farnells websites couldn’t cope with the pressure (these are companies who sell electrical components, I doubt they have ever had a rush to their sites, and have any of these people tried to buy tickets to gigs before?).
That shipping wasn’t available to their country (on the wrong country website).
That the price wasn’t $35 (mine cost £31.86, around $40 + vat + postage, giving Farnells some profit, shock!)
That they only heard it was on sale due to the news/twitter/facebook/friend, yet they were subscribed to the Announcement list (my email arrived the night before, but I had @raspberry_pi open in a tab on my phone for the last week and knew within an hour that 29th Feb 6am was the time, not only that but the blog and other sites had covered the annoucment. Relying on one email, which could end up in a spam folder is the worst way to be ahead of the game for a limited sales run).
That @Raspberry_Pi wouldn’t answer their questions directly on twitter (they were getting around 100 @replies every minute).

However I would say that comms were poor, it appears that Farnells and RS hadn’t made their plans clear to the Raspberry Pi team, and no one from either company appeared to be around at 6am to clear things up.

What could have been done differently? I’m not sure, whenever there is limited supply and hyped demand it’s going to result in a lot of unhappy people. Maybe a lottery, one day to register your interest, then the next day email people, one a minute for a week, with a unique code to purchase one Raspberry Pi.
This way the demand on the order day can be spread stopping people rushing at 6am DDOSing sites (although I’m sure they would still try), the emails would be manageable, avoiding most spam rules, and people clicking through to purchase wouldn’t reach a broken website.
However you still end up with a large number of unhappy people who didn’t get one.
But unlike tickets for the come back gig of Steps, more Raspberry Pi’s will be made, and the reason for using Farnells and RS is that they can now start making them to order, meaning there is no “second batch”, just lots more rolling of the production line.

Cheap Video Playing Android Device?

At some point I want to get my soon to be 2, daughter her own touch screen device. She often “borrows” my Samsung Galaxy SII or Heathers iPhone 4, and they are rather valuable.
It doesn’t need to be great spec, but should:

  • Play most video formats (MP4, DIVX) without a struggle, nor need for me to convert them first.
  • Play the BBC iPlayer
  • Play Youtube
  • Play MP3s (if it’s doing the above, it really should be doing this)
  • Have games like Angry Birds available
  • Not be massive (ie, not a tablet)
  • Cheap
  • and most importantly it must not be able to make phone calls

So far this leaves either an iPod Touch or one of the Samsung Galaxy S Wifi 5 / 3.6 models, all under £200 but not as close to the £100 mark I would prefer.

Now I’d rather have an Android device, but willing to accept that at the moment the iPod might just have the advantage, however I was wondering if I’ve missed anything else on the market, or you know of a cheap phone in which you can completely disable the phone part (even if it requires rooting and hacking) as I don’t want her calling anyone including 999 (which by law should be possible on any phone, even when flight mode is enabled and has no SIM card)?

Let me know in the comments if you’ve got any ideas.

LibDemBlogs AdFree

I’ve been running LibDemBlogs for over 7 years now and it’s displayed advertising to
a) help pay for the hosting costs and
b) put some cash back in my pocket for the hundreds of hours I’ve spent on the site.
Originally I used GoogleAds and was one of the first political sites to run with the MessageSpace network.
Now whilst both have brought in money, recently it’s not been enough to cover the hosting costs. To ensure that the site could continue to run it has the begging box each month asking for donations to help meet them, and happily every month £25 (and in the past £35) has been received.
Then last night I wondered why I still had the adverts. Google were trying to push dodgy miracle wrinkle cures, and MessageSpace had some roll over film flash ad, did I really need them anymore?
Checking my Google Adsense account it showed that I had reached the magical £60 mark in December to have the money wired to my bank at the end of January. It also informed me the last time this happened was August 2010. On average the last 3 years it’s been about £5 a month.

So thanks to the kind generosity of the readers who every month provide the money to host LibDemBlogs I have just removed the adverts from the main page. Historical archived pages will still contain them, the odd information page might still have them until I can go through and edit the code and this site (my personal blog) will continue to have them, if only just to see what Google thinks is relevant to each post.

Time to stop using

Recently I’ve seen a large number of tweet moaning about “New” Twitter, whether it’s the layout, lack of old style retweets, or the constant pestering at the top that there are New Tweets for you to read.

This surprises me, as I really didn’t think anyone was still using the website to read twitter, but then checking nearly everyone has “via web” at the end of their tweets.

So how do you avoid all these problems? Use a webclient instead. I’m going to recommend dab.argh, why? Because it’s my webclient. It’s a branch of dabr an open source project which was first created to improve the dreadful mobile client. Continue reading Time to stop using