Sunday, 24 April 2005

Statcounter: key to cryptic referring URLs

I'm listing for reference the main mystery referrers (or referers) I get against "Referring URLs" on my page at Statcounter - the free Website traffic tracker which I use for monitoring and analysing the web stats for my blog, i.e. the statistics about visits and visitors to my blog:

The link is to and when I click on it I get:
"Not Found
The requested URL /blockedReferrer was not found on this server."
Answer: The visitor's browser has been set to block the sending of info about where they've come from, e.g. they've used an anonymiser.

No referring link
Answer: the visitor has come to the blog direct (not via clicking a link), e.g. typing the URL in their address bar or via a bookmark/favorite or newsfeed link.

Weird referers that look like a path to a folder on a computer e.g. file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/somethingorother
Answer: the visitor previously saved the blog post (including the Statcounter tracking code) to their own computer, and they've just opened it on their computer to read.

Referring links that end ""
Answer: I'd linked to someone else's site or blog from one of my blog posts. A visitor to my blog clicks my link to visit the other blog. The other blog is also using Statcounter to track its stats so the "Referring URL" shows up on that blog's Statcounter page as my blog post, and the owner, in checking their statistics, has clicked that Referring URL link to see where their visitor came from, and landed back at my blog.

Referring links that point to another blog at which contains no links whatsoever to my blog
Answer: the other blog is on Blogger, and publishing to Blogger's free Blogspot hosting service. Sadly for me they've not linked to my blog, they probably haven't even heard of it. But a visitor to their blog has clicked on the 'Next Blog' link button in that blog's standard Blogger navbar - and it happens to be my blog's turn to be the target of these random clicks. (It seems to go in fits and starts! Suddenly I'll get loads of these for an hour or two, then nothing for ages. They must be doing something to try to give every Blogger blog a fair crack at the random traffic).

Referring URL is
Answer: this is a mystery. That link is to Statcounter's script which is incorporated when someone includes Statcounter code on their website or blog. There shouldn't be clickable links in the javascript so it shouldn't be possible to get that as a referer. Spammers, perhaps? [Edited 30 August 2005:] Mystery solved. Not spammers, but hackers trying to get your Statcounter user/password details. See this post.

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Tuesday, 19 April 2005

Organising your blog?

Have you ever wondered about how best to organise your blog?

For example, would readers prefer your list of popular posts to all be visible, or in a dropdown list only? Or, if you want to blog on lots of different things like techie/bloggy stuff and life/health generally, would readers welcome the variety or be put off - would it be better to split out the non-techie posts into a separate blog (the person who prompted this question will know who they are!)? How important are categories to readers and how do they like them displayed? Do people prefer comments to appear in a popup or peekaboo style? etc etc etc...

Well I'm volunteering to draw up a Web survey which we could then get others (and us too of course) to answer. As many people as possible, for more accurate results (I've tried out a free survey tool before so I've some experience of it now). The results page can't be made public in the free version (and I'm sure not forking out for a paid one!), but what I'll do is copy out and post the summary of the results.

So - if there are any questions you've always wanted to ask about how readers would like to see blogs organised and set out etc, just feed them to me by posting a comment, and I'll incorporate them into the survey. (If you're too shy to post publicly here then feel free to email me at the address in the sidebar of my blog - I promise I'll not tell anyone who wants to know what!).

But keep it clean, people, jokey questions will entertain me (and send 'em in if you must!), but they sure ain't gonna make it into the survey... and I reserve full editorial rights anyway!

To cater for those who don't visit here much I'll give it till noon GMT on Sat 30 April 2005 for people to suggest questions, then I'll put up the survey ASAP after that. (And leave it up for say a month before posting the results). (I won't have a huge amount of time to whip up a survey much before then anyway.)

If people think this is a bad idea I won't get many replies but I expect I'll probably post a survey anyway with just the stuff I'd like to know about, and see if any kind souls will answer as they did my first survey...!


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Friday, 15 April 2005

Gmail aliases and filters: screenshots

I've updated my post on Gmail aliases and filters to include some pics to illustrate the process of setting up the filters.

As with my code posts the pics are intruding into the sidebar, but oh well...

Help others bookmark your posts on or Furl

You can make it easy for others to bookmark your blog or individual posts on or Furl (the free services which let people save their bookmarks online and, most interestingly, share them with others and see what Webpages others are bookmarking - hence their description as "social" bookmark managers).

By adding some simple code to your template you can produce links which, when clicked, will open a new window to let your readers add your blog or post to their bookmarks on or Furl, pre-filled in with your blog or post title and its URL (just the same as if they had clicked on a (non-popup) bookmarklet for or Furl installed on their own browser toolbar). To see how it works just try the links at the top of my blog's main page, or the top/bottom of my individual posts. (Obviously it will only work for people who already have accounts with or Furl!)

The only twist is that there will be a prompt to log in to Furl, even if the reader is already logged in - i.e. they have to login again (that's what I've personally found, anyway), and I've not figured out how to fix this yet while keeping the links generic. Still, I hope this code will be useful. ([Added 3 July 2005:] I've now tweaked the code so that you don't have to login again with Delicious, though you still have to for Furl. See this post.):

So, here's the code for producing a link to bookmark your blog, which you can copy and paste into your template anywhere you like:
Bookmark this blog on <a href="<$BlogURL$>&title=<$BlogTitle$>" target="_blank"></a> or
<a href="<$BlogTitle$>&u=<$BlogURL$>"
[Added 5 Feb 2006:] Note also that following the comment below from Michael of Furl, you can change the Furl code as follows so the reader can save your post direct in Furl if they're already logged in; however I've not changed my original code because from testing I've found out that if they're not already logged in, while there is a prompt to login, after logging in the post doesn't get saved on Furl at all, in fact nothing happens. I'd prefer to make the reader login twice than not have the code work at all, obviously. Here's the code incorporating his suggestion:
<a href="<$BlogTitle$>&url=<$BlogURL$>" target="_blank">Furl</a> target="_blank">Furl</a>
The code above is Blogger-specific but for other platforms just change "<$BlogURL$>" to whatever is the code on your platform for your blog URL or just change it to your blog URL direct e.g. "" (without the quotes) and change "<$BlogTitle$>" to your blog title, with "+" instead of spaces if there are multiple words e.g. "A+Consuming+Experience" (again without the quotes) - or you could change them to whatever template tag is the equivalent shorthand on that platform for your blog title. Here's an example (I've put the bit to change in bold):
Bookmark this blog on <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or <a href=""" target="_blank">Furl</a>
For bookmarking an individual post, this is the code to copy/paste - put it between the <Blogger> and </Blogger> tags in your Blogger template (again it can be tweaked for other platforms by changing the bits in bold for whatever is shorthand on your platform for the item permalink (<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>) and item title (<$BlogItemTitle$>) respectively, e.g. change "<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>" to "<$MTEntryPermalink$>" and <$BlogItemTitle$> to <$MTEntryTitle encode_url="1"$> for Movable Type, but it must be placed between the template tags which cycle through to display your individual posts):
Bookmark this post on <a href="<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>&title=<$BlogItemTitle$>" target="_blank"></a> or <a href="<$BlogItemTitle$>&u=<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>" target="_blank">Furl</a>
Obviously you can change the "Bookmark this blog on..." or "Bookmark this post on…" text to anything you like, or delete the code for, or delete the code for Furl, as you wish. And similarly if you don't want a new window to open, delete the "target="_blank"".

[Added 5 Feb 2006:] Note also that following the comment below from Michael of Furl, you can change the Furl code as follows so the reader can save your post direct in Furl if they're already logged in; however I've not changed my original code because from testing I've found out that if they're not already logged in, while there is a prompt to login, after logging in the post doesn't get saved on Furl at all, in fact nothing happens. As mentioned above, I'd prefer to make the reader login twice than not have the code work at all, obviously. Here's the code incorporating his suggestion:
<a href="<$BlogItemTitle$>&url=<$BlogItemPermalinkURL$>" target="_blank">Furl</a>
How did I get the idea, Mud wanted to know? Well I'm no hardened coder (though I'm starting to pick up bits of Javascript etc). What I am is basically idle, but quite good at noticing pattern/structure, and from that working out generalised rules and shortcuts which can help me save time and work.

In this case, there's probably some fancy programming that can be done to get the same result, but I just noticed that if I wasn't already logged in to and I clicked their bookmarklet (the non-popup version) to bookmark webpages, in the resulting window there was a pattern to the URL in the location bar which reflected the URL and title of the page I was bookmarking. (You can find the bookmarklets on their "About" page but they are only visible if you've logged in.)

I figured that if I entered that URL direct into a browser, it would have the same effect as if I clicked the bookmarklet while on the Webpage (exactly as with my code to auto-translate blog posts or to add a post to a Technorati watchlist, etc) - and so it proved when I experimented. I just adapted that basic URL structure to incorporate the special shorthand template tags which I'd learned can be used to insert the blog or post's URL and title. [Added 5 Feb 2006:] I've since figured out HTML forms, get and URLs - see this post.

With Furl it took a bit more doing, but applying the same principle I checked the page properties/info for the popup window you get on clicking their bookmarklet to find out the right URL to use, and looked at the code for their bookmarklet to figure out what to add to fill in the URL and page or blog title. (I had until recently included on my blog only the links, and not Furl, as Furl were in my bad books for not answering some (unrelated) queries I'd put to them, plus I got some traffic from but virtually none from Furl, so it seemed to me Furl was very much less popular. When Furl finally replied, some 2 months later, I decided I'd include their links. I'm still waiting for their replies to my follow up queries though. Maybe in another month or two…?).

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Wednesday, 13 April 2005

Leave my cookies alone!

Cookies that you can't delete? A marketing technology company, United Virtualities, has developed just that:
"Implementation of the PIE technology is instantaneous and requires the insertion of just a line of code. UV plans to sell the PIE technology to publishers and Networks who are worried about cookies being deleted."

There have been lots of reports about this new "PIE" or "Persistent Identification Element" already. So I'll just add my voice to that of those who say: it's my life and my cookies, I want to be the one in charge!

Having a marketer control my cookies to the extent I can't get rid of them is downright creepy and scary, and feels very invasive. I already delete cookies routinely before every shutdown in IE anyway, and only have per session cookies in Firefox except for certain sites where I want to keep the cookies for ease of login (e.g. Blogger).

So - no no no no NO!!! to PIEs. I hope someone works out a way to bring up a warning flag if you're about to visit websites that uses PIEs, because I would simply refuse to visit them at all. General consumer boycott, anyone?

Better still, I hope someone develops an anti-PIE fix, for those sites you have no choice but to go to. I'd be one of the first in the queue.

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Biometrics: your finger or your life?

Biometrics may seem just the ticket for enhancing security, but those gruesome half-jokes and fictional stories, about people being killed so that their eyeballs can be removed to fool iris scanners, may not be so far fetched after all.

The 9 April 2005 issue of New Scientist magazine reports that a man car-jacked in Malaysia had his fingertip chopped off when the robbers discovered that they couldn't start his car without his fingerprint, and there have (not surprisingly) been calls to ensure that biometric systems work only if the body part concerned is still attached to a living person.

Now that may be an urban myth. I sure hope so, it won't be the first time the media have reported urban myths as truth, though I have a great deal of respect for New Scientist and don't think they'd be so cavalier as to fail to check their facts (unlike The Observer, a UK newspaper which announced that cows can use tools... based on an escalation from a typo in relation to Betty, the well-known hook-making Caledonian crow!).

But wherever there are opportunities people will exploit them, and we all know from history that human beings can do unspeakable things to other human beings for the sake of money, or religion, or just because someone is in the "wrong" ethnic or social group. And even if it's just a retelling of an urban myth (which I doubt), the story does go to show that I'm not the only person who has little faith in the humanity of man. Whether or not it actually happened, people obviously think it could.

I'm concerned about biometrics generally anyway because of the implications for privacy and civil liberties and the potential for abuse by the authorities, never mind the huge cost to the public purse of installing the required technology and getting it to work properly (in the case of ID cards or passports for instance).

This story just reinforces my misgivings. I know I certainly won't be installing any fingerprint recognition technology for my laptop in a hurry, let alone my car. I'll stick with locks and other things that aren't an irreplaceable part of my anatomy, thank you very much!

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Tuesday, 12 April 2005

Safe blogging

I blog anonymously however innocuous the subject matter, and I don't blog about my work, ever.

Some good links on privacy/anonymity in blogging, and blogging and your job:

(via Quicklinks)

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Saturday, 9 April 2005

Technorati tags: related tags officially launched

Are Technorati using something clever behind the scenes that analyses how people manually tag their own blog posts, and generating "related tags" from that? Well Technorati have now officially launched "related tags", according to Dave Sifry's blog and the Technorati main page. Perhaps they now have enough of a critical mass of tagged posts that they can analyse them to a degree of accuracy that they're now happy with?

In fact I hadn't realised that related tags were only unofficial before, when I first noticed them and posted about them in early March, observing that they don't exactly match each other - if A's related tags are said to be B and C, B's related tags aren't necessarily A and C.

I hope Technorati will now reveal more about how they decide which tags are a particular tag's "related tags", as it's obviously not a simple association or grouping.

As I speculated in my previous post, depending on how they're doing it, this may be the start of possibly the next stage of development in folksonomies and tagging - namely, thesauri of synonyms generated automatically by looking at what people consider to be synonyms, weighted according to the number of people who make the same word associations (or maybe combined with some other kind of weighting, who knows)?

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Wednesday, 6 April 2005

How to use Gmail aliases to organise emails and handle spam

Delicious bookmarks before domain name change:

(how to set up a custom Delicious badge like this one for your own blog or website)

[If you want to know about Gmail username formats or email address formats or criteria (e.g. dotted), whether you can have a dot or dots and other characters in a Gmail email address, etc, see this post.]

The "aliases" feature of Gmail seems relatively little known, but can be very useful to help organise your correspondence and fight spam.

What's a Gmail alias? Well if your Gmail username is "user", then a Gmail alias is an email addresss in the format "". All emails sent to an alias in that format will be received by you at the account.
(Gmail usernames in fact can't be less than 6 letters long (see this post for more on Gmail usernames), so I deliberately used "user" in my example to avoid inadvertently hijacking someone's real username).

The beauty of aliases is:
  • you can have as many aliases as you like per Gmail username
  • the bit after the "+" sign in the alias can be just one character long (e.g. "") or longer if you wish, and can consist of letters, numbers, dots/periods and even stuff you can't have in a normal Gmail username (as to which see the end of this post), e.g. some punctuation like "!" or symbols like hyphen, underscore etc, or a mixture (but not "@" or spaces, commas or semicolons or quotes; backslash won't do either though forward slash will - just experiment trying to send all sorts of combinations to yourself, if you really want to know!). Bear in mind though that some email programs won't let allow email to be sent if there is e.g. a slash or ampersand in the email address, so the safest bet really is to stick to letters, numbers and dots for the bit after the "+" sign
  • you can apply Gmail filters to individual aliases to help organise your correspondence (see below), and
  • by the same token you can use Gmail aliases as disposable email addresses to handle spam more effectively.

Aliases and Filters

Here's an example of using an alias. Suppose you're filling in a Webform for company X because you want to buy something from them or ask them a question. You give them as your email address, not "", but say "".
Some companies' staff can get quite confused if you include their company's name as part of your email address, especially if you give them the address on the phone. One solution may be to use something like "" if you get someone truly dim who utterly refuses to accept "". Hopefully you won't!

Now, you apply a Gmail filter. Suppose your correspondence with X is about your truck (nod in the direction of redryder52 aka Kirk!).You could automatically tag all emails sent to this alias with the label "truck" (so that when you click on the "truck" label you can see all the correspondence you've tagged with that label, grouped together).

To do this you'd first click "Create a filter" (to the right of the search box):

Then in the To box enter "user+X" (without the quotes - in fact it works with or without quotes, it's just less work if you leave them out):

Then click "Next Step" and you'll get something like this:

Now, choose your options - in this case against "Apply the label" select the "truck" label (or create it):

Then click "Create Filter".

That's it. All future email addressed to the "user+X" alias will automatically be tagged or labelled with "truck" (and can be archived to bypass your Inbox, starred, etc too, if you picked those options). Although email sent from you won't be automatically tagged this way, because of Gmail's threading ("conversations") feature you should find them anyway if your sent email is threaded with emails sent to the alias you've added a filter for.
You could enter "" in full in the "To" box but you don't have to, that's more unnecessary typing you can avoid! You could also enter just "+X" (without the quotes) and that's what I do, being idle - and that works, assuming you don't have another alias with a dot and other characters after the "+X", on which more below. But don't enter just "X" if there's any chance that "X" (or whatever alias you use) could form part of another alias or indeed part of one of your contact's email address, or things could get mixed up...

Another tip: remember I said earlier that you can have dots in the part after the "+" symbol? This means that you can have as an alias something like, for example, "" - where after the "+" sign you have several words or units separated by dots. And the bits after the "+" symbol in an alias are treated as distinct (and separately searchable) units if they're separated by dots. In other words, "X" is treated as separate from "anotherthing" and from "yetanotherbit2", and each of those units is treated as a different "word" when searching your Gmail.

Now Gmail doesn't yet allow you to assign multiple labels to items quickly - if you want to give an item more than one label, you have to apply one label at a time (which you can do to multiple items at once, admittedly, if you've ticked their checkboxes in the list first). So one way of giving a received email more than one "tag" at a time might be to include each "tag" as a word or bunch of other characters, separated by dots, after the "+" in the email alias. In other words you could use this feature almost as another kind of tagging mechanism if you like (though it's probably easier just to stick to Gmail's labels!). Call those units or words "quasi-tags", perhaps.

Here's an example to illustrate what I mean. Say you have an alias for your correspondence with X, and you class dealings with X as personal admin. You could tell X that your email is "". Now you might have correspondence with your bank, BiggieBankie, also about admin stuff - say to do with your house. You could use "" as the alias for that.

Then you could set up a filter where in the "To" box you put in "admin". This means that email sent to any aliases which have "admin" in them (where "admin" is separated from any other characters by dots) - in this case, anything sent to "" or to "" (or indeed even to "") - will be found and filtered in the same way, with whatever options you choose (e.g. automatically tagged with the label "Administration").

Same if you buy stuff from yet another company, where you've given them as your email say "" (nod in the direction of - well never mind..!). Those emails too will be filed under your Administration label, because they contain "admin" in the address (with a dot before that word - and after it, if it's not the last word after the "+" sign).

And if you have dealings with some other part of BiggieBankie, e.g. to do with your investments, you could use "" for correspondence with them. Then you could set up another filter with "BiggieBankie" in the "To" box if you wish, in order to group all your emails from BiggieBankie together, whether to do with your admin or your investments.

Alternatively, never mind the bother of fiddling with filters - if you just do a "Show search options" search and put "BiggieBankie" in the "To" box, you'll find all the BiggieBankie emails which have been sent to you (if you've gave this format of alias to them). Or if you put "invest" in the "To" when doing an advanced search, you'll find all investment-related emails sent to you provided you gave them an alias which included ".invest" in it. You get the picture. Again, you need to be careful what words you use after the "+" bit so that you don't duplicate stuff inadvertently, etc.

Of course all this works best if you use just one alias per correspondent, i.e. don't give the same alias to more than one correspondent - again, if you do your filtered emails could get in a mess. Remember you can have as many aliases you want, you could even use "" or "" for one set of correspondence with X and "" or "" for another set, if you wish.

Dealing with Spam

As for spam, well if you start getting spam addressed to "" then you know it must have been X who sold your address to the evil spammers, and you can complain to X. More usefully, you can change your filter for all future email addressed to "" so as to Move it to the Trash:

(This may mean you miss legit email from X, but you could check your Trash folder occasionally for it, and perhaps tell X that they should in future address emails to "" instead, and then repeat the process if you start getting spam at ""...).

In other words you can use Gmail aliases as disposable email addresses or DEAs (on which there will be more in a future post, as that was the most popular topic after Technorati in my 1-minute tick-box survey - which, by the way, is still open if anyone else would like to give their views). Very briefly, these are just "throwaway" email addresses you can use for particular purposes and then get rid of (e.g. by diverting all email sent to those addresses to your Trash) if you start getting spam addressed to them.


So are there any issues in relation to Gmail aliases? I can think of a couple.

Gmail wasn't designed to be primarily a DEA service, so while you can receive email addressed to an alias, and give an alias as your email address on the phone or Web, you can't send easily email from an alias via Gmail. (But if enough people suggest to Google (hint hint..) that they introduce the ability to send Gmail from the alias of their choice, who knows, maybe Google will oblige…)

Sending email from a Gmail alias using Gmail

What's the way round this? Well you can try changing the "Reply-to" address in your Gmail Settings to an alias before sending an email, but unfortunately the "From" in the email will still display as "" (even if the reply goes to the alias), and similarly if you reply to an email that has been sent to an alias, the "From" will still show "". So it's not a real solution in many ways. Still, many people may not mind that, as how much they'll be at risk of getting spam might depend more on how the recipient stores/harvests addresses from the emails they receive. However, if you changed your "Reply-to" before you sent an email, you have to remember to change it back to your usual Gmail address afterwards.

[Edited 30 August 2005, see this post:] Google now allow you to set different From addresses. To send an email FROM an alias, in Gmail go to Settings, Accounts, click Add another email address. In the popup, fill in the alias you want e.g. (but beware, Gmail doesn't like you mixing a hyphen with numbers though it's fine with letters or mixing an underscore with numbers, letters with numbers, dots etc...), and click Next Step [Updated: Gmail now automatically recognises if you've filled in a Gmail alias and won't send an email to yourself, it'll just work], then Send Verification. An email is sent to the address you filled in for verification that it's really yours (yeah I know, they shouldn't need to verify your own Gmail alias, but...). Switch to your main Gmail window (or close that popup if you like, the details will still be saved in your Accounts page) and check your Inbox. In a few seconds, or maybe a minute or two, there should be an email from Google with a confirmation link to click - click it (or follow the other instructions in the email), and you're there. You can then delete that email if you like. Now, if you want to send an email that's from the alias, when you compose an email in Gmail, the From box has a dropdown arrow at the end from which you can pick the alias or other email address to use - and replies will go to that alias too (but on the Accounts page, under "When I receive a message sent to one of my addresses" be sure to select "Reply from the same address the message was sent to", otherwise, when someone emails an alias and you reply, you might inadvertently reply from your "real" email address instead of from the alias).

It's a bit longwinded so I more often use an email program on my own PC and set the From and Reply-to the alias, myself (see below). But it's another option, useful to have especially if you plan to be sending lots of mail from a particular alias.

Sending email from a Gmail alias using another program

Another solution to this problem is to use another email program, where you can set the"From" to your chosen Gmail alias, e.g. Outlook Express. If you're not using Gmail's SMTP server, b.c.c. the email to your Gmail address - ideally, to the same alias you've used for the "From" - so that you have a copy handy in your Gmail account and it's automatically tagged appropriately on receipt. (If you send the email via Gmail's SMTP server a copy is automatically saved in your Gmail Sent, but it still isn't tagged automatically - and more to the point, the "From" in the received email will refuse to show as anything but your normal Gmail address, no matter what aliases you've tried to add in the Accounts settings of your email program. So it's best to use another email server to send it).


The other issue is that a human spammer familiar with how Gmail aliases work would be able to figure out your real Gmail address from the alias, and start targeting that instead (or, worse still, get their spamming software to automatically strip out the "+whatever" before the "@" in Gmail addresses, or to make up their own versions of Gmail aliases for your Gmail username and start spamming those aliases). In which case we're back to relying on Gmail's built-in spam filter.

However I think that having the extra "layer" of an alias between you and possible spammers can't hurt, and may well help (and surely it's still better than giving out your real direct Gmail address from the get go). In most cases I suspect using an alias as a DEA will be fairly effective. And the "self-organising email" reason for using aliases is still valid, despite the risk of spammers going behind the alias or abusing the alias system. Furthermore, this risk is common to many DEA services, whose addresses will often be in the format "" or "" and will thus be susceptible to the same "oooh let's make up aliases and spam 'em" issue. (That problem isn't in fact insuperable and ingenious ways to deal with it exist, but I won't discuss it further here.)

Overall though, the possible problems seem relatively minor compared with the benefits, and I think Gmail aliases are a Very Good Thing and extremely useful, particularly for dealing with spam.

For info on another excellent email alias service providing disposable email addresses which you can use in conjunction with your regular ISP email address (you don't need Gmail), see my write up on Spamgourmet. I use it all the time, myself.

[Edited 15 April 2005 to add the pics, and 30 May 2007 to reduce the pics to stop sidebar drop and add Delicious badge for old domain and ref to Spamgourmet for those interested.]

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Tuesday, 5 April 2005

Butt out, not in...

Did you know that it can be bad for your back to keep your butt constantly tucked under, as many of us habitually do (especially women, many of whom have been conditioned to it their since early teens)?

I recently heard a back specialist say that doing that "tuck" disrupts the natural curvature of the lower back and spine and puts extra pressure on your discs. Yes, the ones which are prone to "slipping" (or, more strictly, splitting) - to quite agonising effect, as some people know.

Apparently we should be counteracting that ingrained unconscious habit by sticking our butts out backwards instead. Of course, we shouldn't take it to the opposite extreme (everything in moderation) - pushing your butt out too far or hard or holding it there rigidly wouldn't be very good for you either.

Hamstring stretches are also beneficial for the back because if your hamstrings are too tight, your lower back can't settle into that curve.

The aim seems to be to reach a balance, to help your back find its natural place again by letting your butt go backwards gently - which may initially feel like you're actively poking it out. It may seem weird and artificial at first, it may feel like tucking your butt under is in fact more "natural" just because we're so used to doing it, but with awareness and persistence that bad habit can be overcome. Hunching over our desks and computers isn't too great for our backs as it is, so we probably need all the back tips we can get.

One side effect to the butt going backwards more is that the the posture is less stooped - and the chest seems to stick out frontwards more too. So I imagine lots of people, not just you, would be quite happy with that, especially if you're female! See, it's a win win situation… good for you, good for others…

[Added 21 June:] A physiotherapist has since told me that, as you'd expect, it depends on the person; you need to find a position halfway in between your pelvis being tilted all the way forward (which is when you stick your butt out) and all the way back (when you tuck it under), and when you sit you may tend to do one more and so need to counteract it (by sticking your butt out) whereas when you stand you may need to do the opposite, it depends on your own habits - the key is to find the balanced, halfway position, whether you're standing or sitting.

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Sunday, 3 April 2005

Technorati tags: invisible tags?

[Edited 29 Aug 2005:] To easily generate invisible tags, see this post (which utilises another way to make tags invisible but hopefully still have them show up on Technorati's tag pages).

To create Technorati tags which are invisible, i.e. can't be seen by readers of your blog post but will still enable the post to be added to the relevant Technorati tag pages, I suspect the easiest way is just to leave out the link text in the tag (for info on what Technorati tags are, why you'd want to use them and how, see this post).

In other words, as an example, I'm tagging this post with the Technorati tag "invisible" by including the following amongst the Technorati tags at the end of the post (though it could go anywhere in the post):

<a href="" rel="tag"></a>

But you won't see just plain "invisible" in the tags listed at the end as, of course, that's the point...

If this post shows up on the Technorati tag page, then I'll know this method works and so anyone who prefers their Technorati tags to be invisible can use it in their own posts.

There are of course other ways to make Technorati tags invisible, like making the tag text the same colour as the background colour, but I think this way would be the easiest, if it works. I'll wait a few hours then check that tag page.

[Edit added:] Yes, it works!

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Friday, 1 April 2005

Gmail: more space? and formatting keyboard shortcuts

Odd this. Gmail say today: "To celebrate our one-year birthday, we're giving everyone one more gigabyte. But why stop the party there? Our plan is to continue growing your storage beyond 2GBs by giving you more space as we are able. "

But my account only shows I have 1474 MB, which is certainly more than 1 GB, but isn't 2 GB (or even 2 x 1024 MB) by any stretch of the imagination. Maybe the "Infinity + 1" joke on their main page today is a hint. They say, "We know we won't reach infinity", and maybe we users should figure out from that we won't reach 2 GB! Of course it could all be an April Fool's joke and we'll get our storage space totally cut down tomorrow...

Well at least I have the fancy new rich text formatting toolbar. I hope they'll put up a list of keyboard shortcuts soon for accessing the toolbar and applying formatting to the selected text.
Tip: though it doesn't seem to have been documented in the Gmail help yet, I've found that these common shortcuts work on text that you've selected in the Gmail compose box (for the surprising number of people who still don't use keyboard shortcuts - oooooh I love 'em! - that means, hold down the Ctrl key then tap the b key then release, etc):

Ctrl b - bold
Ctrl u - underline
Ctrl i - italics
Ctrl a - select all text in the Compose box

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