Wednesday, 31 August 2005

Opera browser: free registration code if you're quick!

Via Ritzy, the people behind the fab free multi-platform browser Opera are giving away registration codes, as part of their tenth birthday party, so you can have Opera ad-free.

But they're only doing it as a one-day thing, there's only a few hours left so get your blow in fast if you want one. I'm tempted to say, here's your chance to sing for your code (happy birthday dear Opera, etc etc. OK OK I'll stop now...)

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Your blog and Google Sitemaps: summary, and note on feeds

In my earlier post I described how blogs or websites who have newsfeeds can ping Google when they've updated their site with new posts or webpages, in order to ask Google to re-index the updated site. (Though how soon Google respond is another matter! Still, it has to be better than waiting for their bot to get round to your site as part of its usual re-crawls, which can be rather random).

Just to summarise here, for those who don't want to plough through the long version in the previous post [updated 28 April 2006 as Google have changed the way you do this and also permitted users to verify through a meta tag]:

1. Make sure your site is being indexed by Google already (no point pinging them if it isn't!). Submit your blog URL to Google if not, and then be patient - do the occasional search to check.

2. Assuming your blog is already on Google, sign in to Google Sitemaps using your blog Gmail address (or register with Google for a Google Account if you haven't yet, then sign in).

3. Under Add Site, enter the URL of your blog and OK. Against your blog URL, click Add a Sitemap, choose type Add General Web Sitemap. In the list that appears, tick all the boxes:
  • I have created a Sitemap in a supported format.
  • I have uploaded my Sitemap to the highest-level directory to which I have access.
  • My Sitemap URL is:
and in the box below that, enter the URL of your blog's feed (NOT the main blog URL), then click Add Web Sitemap. (For example my feed URL is and yours should be similar, i.e. your blog URL with /atom.xml added to it, if you're on Blogger). The Sitemap Status column should now say Pending.

Check back by logging in from time to time; the Sitemap Status column should change from Pending to OK which means they've, theoretically at least, re-crawled your blog.

[Edited 1 Sept 2005:] After it's done the first re-crawl, under your site name there's a link labelled "Verify" which asks you to upload a verification file to your server. If you can't upload anything (which is the case with us Blogspot users), don't worry about it. Verification just gives you access to more detailed Google stats; the lack of it won't stop Google from re-indexing your blog at all - see the Sitemaps help (but consider lobbying Blogger (the Suggest New Feature box at the bottom) and also Google Sitemaps to allow what we need - tell 'em you want Blogspot users to be able to have full Sitemaps functionality including verification!) [Added 28 April 2006:] As from 26 April 2006 you can now verify your Blogspot blog - see this post for a howto and why you might want to verify.

4. In future, when you update your blog or site, ping Google Sitemaps. Other ways are mentioned in my previous post, all just variations on the same thing, but the easiest way by far is to use this form - fill in your blog feed's URL (NOT main blog URL), then hit the button. Bookmark the resulting page or save it as a favorite, then next time you want to ping Google, just click on the saved bookmark/favorite:

Checking your feed

I just wanted to add a note about the importance of checking your site feed settings. Google takes your feed file (the XML file) to use for its sitemap. This means what gets re-crawled on your site or blog will depend on what's in your feed.

So - you should make sure your feed file is being created in the first place, if you don't already make use of your feed! In Blogger it's Settings, Site Feed, and make sure Publish Site Feed is set to Yes (it should be by default anyway - Blogger normally create the feed file for you whether or not you make use of it).

Also, Google will only notice the URLs of posts which are listed in your site feed. If the feed shows only the last 5 posts, and you've just written 15, the earliest 10 may not get picked up. To fix this, you need to change the settings so that your feed reflects the number of posts that will be most appropriate for your blog, e.g. 15 in this case, and leave it like that until Google have re-crawled your blog. It's easiest to pick a number that will work for how much and how often you post on average, and then leave it alone. (If you've not come across feeds as used in your blog yet, I plan to write an introduction sometime, when I can get to it! For now, if you're on Blogger at least, hopefully this explanation will be enough for present purposes).

There should be a setting somewhere to tweak your feed. On Blogger, it's not on your site feed page - instead go to Settings then the Formatting tab. It's the setting for Show X posts on the main page. This seems also to dictate the number of posts shown in your site feed. So you can adjust the number there.

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My blog and Google searches, ahem!

My blog doesn't do too badly when people search on blogging-related terms like "search Blogger profiles" or "Blogger Haloscan trackback" or even "Technorati tags".

Well, my proudest moment has to be finding out how highly my blog ranks (in Canada at least - and, it seems, only! It's probably just as well...) when searching for - wait for it - "men's bums". That's got to be a pretty good one in the "funny searches" stakes, though I'm sure some of you have seen (or even done?) better. Do share if so.

(Nope I didn't do that search, I swear - I was having a quick look at my stats. Honest.)

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Tuesday, 30 August 2005

Gmail aliases: sending email from an alias

In my post on Gmail aliases I said a major downside was the difficulty of sending email FROM an alias. You can set a reply-to address as an alias, in Gmail (Settings, Accounts, Edit info, Specify a different "reply-to" address) so that when the recipient hits Reply, their email will go to the alias - but the "From" field in the email you sent still shows your basic Gmail address, which may confuse some recipients. Plus, you have to remember to change or delete the Reply-to alias afterwards, or else emails you later send will all have the same reply-alias.

Well Google have finally (I don't know when, but it wasn't there the previous time I looked) introduced the ability to send email from your Gmail account so that the "From" can be any other email address of yours, including a Gmail alias.

To do this it takes a few steps, not as good as being able to fill in the From box with an alias (big hint to Google… not that they're going to be reading this but you never know… though now Gmail is out of beta they're unlikely to enhance it further, I suspect).

So I've updated my original aliases post to spell out how to send email from a Gmail alias, from within Gmail.

Now if only ALL websites would accept email addresses with a "+" in them...

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Your blog and Google (Sitemaps)

[Edited 31 August 2005:]
For the short version, see this post!

If people search Google and your blog post is spot on what they're looking for, of course you want them to be able to find it (and they'd want to find it too!). But that depends on Google indexing your blog in the first place, and also how comprehensive, accurate and up to date its index of your blog is.
Getting on Google: the basic way is to submit your blog URL to Google - but only your top level URL, not individual posts; and don't get impatient and keep resubmitting it, they won't like it! Also if others link to you, and they're crawled by Google, then you're more likely to end up being indexed by Google. Posting on forums with your blog URL prominently in your sig (as text, not a graphic) also might help!

Until recently, there wasn't an easy way to "ping" Google to let them know your blog had recently been updated with new posts, and request to them to re-crawl your blog. You were dependent entirely on Google getting round to it, and I certainly found it was recrawling my blog maybe once every week or two.
When did Google's spider last visit your blog?:To find out, go to Google and in the search box type (without the quotes) "cache:yoururl" where yoururl is the URL of your blog, e.g. I would type "cache:", and run the search. The results should say at the top when Google's bot last visited your blog, or rather the latest version of your main blog page in Google's cache which stores their indexed pages. Annoying the Blogger navbar blocks this info after a split second, but you can find it by viewing source, then search for "as retrieved on" (without the quotes) and it'll be the date just after that phrase.

Well last month Google introduced Sitemaps (in beta), which enables webmasters and bloggers to inform Google's crawlers when their sites have been updated. As Google say in their help, "By using Sitemaps to inform and direct our crawlers, we hope to expand our coverage of the web and speed up the discovery and addition of pages to our index. If your site has dynamic content or pages that aren't easily discovered by following links, you can use a Sitemap file to provide information about the pages on your site. This helps the spiders know what URLs are available on your site and about how often they change."

How to submit your blog sitemap to Google

At first sight this all seems a real palaver: you have to create a sitemap in a supported format and upload it to your site's server, then submit the link to Google, and update the map whenever your site changes. Look at the stuff on Google about creating a sitemap, and your eyes cross. Or at least, mine do...

But there's an easy way to benefit from sitemaps if your blog or site has a newsfeed. It so happens that RSS 2.0 and Atom 0.3 feeds are, while not their preferred format, still accepted by Google. So, all you have to do is submit your feed's URL.

Here's how to do it:

1. Go to and login - if you have a Gmail account for your blog, use that; if you don't, then obviously you need to register first.

2. Under Add Site, enter the URL of your blog and OK. Against your blog URL, click Add a Sitemap, choose type Add General Web Sitemap. In the list that appears, tick all the boxes:
  • I have created a Sitemap in a supported format.
  • I have uploaded my Sitemap to the highest-level directory to which I have access.
  • My Sitemap URL is:
and in the box below that, enter the URL of your blog's feed (NOT the main blog URL), then click Add Web Sitemap. (For example my feed URL is and yours should be similar, i.e. your blog URL with /atom.xml added to it, if you're on Blogger). The Sitemap Status column should now say Pending.
Your feed URL: if you're on Blogger it will be http://yourblogurl/atom.xml, e.g. mine is (I use Feedburner but didn't know how Sitemaps would react to their smartfeed so I thought my raw Blogger feed, which is Feedburner's source feed anyway, would be safer).

That should be it. As Google say, "When you initially submit a Sitemap, the status [that's the Sitemap Status column] displays as Pending. Once Google processes your Sitemap (which may take several hours), this status will change to either OK or to an error. If you receive an error, click on it to view additional information." My page looks like this:

Verifying your blog

[Edited 1 Sept 2005:] After it's done the first re-crawl, under your site name there's a link labelled "verify" which asks you to upload a verification file to your server. If you can't upload anything (which is the case with us Blogspot users), don't worry about it.

Verification just gives you access to more detailed Google stats; the lack of it won't stop Google from re-indexing your blog at all - see the Sitemaps help (but consider lobbying Blogger (the Suggest New Feature box at the bottom) and also Google Sitemaps to allow what we need - tell 'em you want Blogspot users to be able to have full Sitemaps functionality including verification!) [Added 28 April 2006:] As from 26 April 2006 you can now verify your Blogspot blog via a meta tag - see this post for a howto and why you might want to verify.

(An oddity: Sitemaps says my blog was last downloaded 3 hours ago. Yet the cache says it was retrieved 25 August i.e. nearly a week ago. What gives? Maybe the cache takes a while to be updated with the download. Also odd, it's been saying "3 hours ago" for the last few hours!)

When you update your blog or site

You can log back in to Sitemaps and in the Sitemaps tab tick the box against the feed of the blog which has been updated, then click Resubmit selected, to get Google to recrawl your blog.

Or, you can ping Sitemaps. One way is to enter the following URL into your browser address bar, changing the URL to your own and making sure you change the colon (:) to %3A and any forward slashes (/) to %2F (it looks like gobbledygook but this URL encoding is what Google request), and hit enter. (To make it easier for Blogger/Blogspot users I've filled in most of the details for you so you only need to change "yourblog" to e.g. truckspy, or chickybabe, or whatever is the right one for your blog):

Or enter your feed URL in this box:
Or else use this bookmarklet (on what bookmarklets/favelets are and how to use them and edit them, see this post, scroll down a bit), again making sure you edit it first by changing "yourblog" (or more if necessary) so that it refers to your own blog feed's URL:

(PS. I've written this post for those of us who don't have access to our blog servers to upload any files apart from our posts. Non-Blogspot users and users of other blogging platforms who host on a separate server can by definition probably figure it all out themselves anyway! But Blogger users who host on their own servers rather than Blogspot may want to take a look at Stephen Newton's hack.)

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Monday, 29 August 2005

Statcounter users: hacker warning!

If you use Statcounter for your hit counter, beware.

Previously I'd noticed that sometimes I got referrals to my blog from and there wasn't any real explanation that made sense for it, on the Statcounter forum (e.g. see this thread.) So when I wrote up a summary of common Statcounter referers, I left that as a mystery.

In fact, I've since heard that that referral signifies an attempted account hijack. Apparently it's very easy for hackers to retrieve your counter info and they might even hold your account and sniff for keystrokes, pretending to be a .cgi page at Statcounter. Techie details are at this page (and no, I don't understand most of it myself!).

Bottom line is, hackers could find out your Statcounter username and password.

That page says that Statcounter have fixed this vulnerability. But I know that some people aren't too sure about how secure they really are, still.

What to do? For starters, if you installed your Statcounter code before April 2005, get ye to the Statcounter installation page pronto and update the Statcounter code in your template (it's the spanner icon next to the project for your blog in the projects list, or in the left hand top corner of the page in most views, click Install Code and make sure you update the Statcounter code in your template to the latest version of the code).

Second, if you use the same username/password for Statcounter as you do for your other Web accounts, don't! Change them (especially if you've encountered the referer in your own Statcounter logs). Make sure your Statcounter user/password are different from what you use for your other online accounts.

Finally, you might think twice about continuing to use Statcounter for your hit counter, unless they can assure us all that they have really secured their site and their code. I'm still using them for now because my password for Statcounter is unique and my Statcounter account as far as I can see hasn't been messed with, but I'm certainly going to reconsider my use of Statcounter.

(Thanks to Tab for the heads up on this).

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Blogger: avoiding comment spam

Most Blogger users I think know about this by now, but just in case not…

To make life harder for the comment spammers, Blogger have introduced a word verification option (explained in that link).

Best to turn it on, if you haven't already, by ticking Yes against "Show word verification for comments?" in your Settings for Comments. More hassle for legit commenters, I know, but it should stop automated comment spam (though to be honest I get more trackback spam than comment spam, myself).

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Blogger: sticky posts

The easiest way to create "sticky" posts on Blogger, i.e. posts that stay at the top of your main blog page whatever other posts you make, is as follows.

When you create a blog post, under the box where you type the main text of your post, there's a row that shows the time and date (which will be the date/time shown on your published post, and is normally taken from the date/time when you first clicked "Create" or "Create new post").

Using the down arrows, just change that date/time to the latest you can, at the moment it would be 11.59pm on 31 Dec 2006. Then write the post which you want to be the sticky post, publish it, and voila - one sticky post. (And of course you can have more than one sticky post, and tweak their order just by having slightly different times on them - the ones with the latest times will show first).

Come 31 Dec 2006 you'll have to change the date/time on that post again if you want it to stay on top, but that's not too burdensome - and yes, you can edit the time/date of previously published posts too, just by going into your Edit posts page, opening up the right post and tweaking the time/date below the text box.

(As requested by Danny).

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Technorati: easily generating invisible tags

You can use invisible Technorati tags when tagging your posts, although Technorati frown on it (sorry, I didn't manage to transfer the original Haloscan comment by Kevin Marks before it got deleted after 4 months).

But to generate invisible tags easily, as requested by Aiuto, the simplest way is probably to use the usual bookmarklet or (if you have Firefox) Greasemonkey script - see this post. Then (suggestion courtesy of my Magical Sheep pardner Truckspy), you make the tags invisible through CSS by adding this to your blog template, between the <style type="text/css"> and the </style> tags in your head section.

.technoratitag {

That ought to work and shouldn't stop Technorati from picking up your tags, assuming (assuming!) their bots read the source rather than the displayed page, but if anyone has problems do say. And remember Technorati (and possibly Google too) don't like invisible tags so they may well do something to stop invisible tags being indexed, so use 'em at your own risk! (I find it best to have my tags visible, but tiny, like in my posts).

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That little pic for your blog... (favicons)

[Edited generally 17 August 2006:] That little pic by the URL in your browser's address bar, which you see when you go to some Websites or blogs? (You'll also see the graphic on tabs if you use Opera or Firefox, or in your Favorites/Links/Bookmarks if you bookmark those sites or blogs).

It's called a favicon. Mine looks like this: . If you want one to display whenever people visit or bookmark your blog or website, here's how to do it, as requested by DC. (But note that not all browsers can view favicons, although the latest versions of most should).

There are three steps: create the graphic; upload it somewhere that will take it; and edit your blog template or webpage HTML to include a special reference to it.

1. Creating the favicon

Creating the favicon has to be done in a particular way, if you want to get the best results, and it has to be saved as a file named favicon.ico. (Firefox will display it even if it's say a gif or jpg, but for maximum compatibility with all browsers, go the favicon.ico route. If only Internet Explorer would display favicons which weren't .ico files life would be much easier. Maybe with IE 7, who knows - I've not checked it out yet).

The hard way, DIY - you can use a special icon editor (like Iconomaker). It should ideally be a merged version of two separate files of 32x32 pixels and 16x16 pixels each (detailed explanations on how to do this are at December14 and Photomatt). Or alternatively, just create a 16x16 pixel one, that'll do fine though it's not as good. You could also use a free graphics program (like Irfanview) to edit a bigger pic down and save an ico file.

UPDATE: there's even a free online favicon maker which works very well.

The easy way (which is what I did, to convert my Blogger avatar pic to a favicon), is by using the fab free service Chami - just make sure the pic you want to use is on your hard drive, then upload it to Chami as the source image, and it will do it all for you, include merging 32x32 pixel and 16x16 pixel versions and producing a Zip file you can just download and unzip. That site has lots of other helpful info about favicons too. (Remember, there may be copyright issues if you use an image created by someone else, so make sure you have permission to use whatever pic you choose).

2. Uploading your favicon

You need some webspace that will take favicon.ico files. Sadly Blogger won't, even via its newish picture posting service - it would be the best solution for Blogger users, I really don't know why they haven't allowed it yet.

Any picture hosting service that will accept ico files, or indeed your personal webspace via your ISP, will do. [Added 17 August 2006:] Unfortunately many of the free services won't accept ico files, or they don't let you hotlink to them. Recently I've been using Fileden, started by the guy who originally started Filelodge but sold it (Filelodge is now pretty useless as far as I'm concerned). You can only upload ico files if you register, which it's free - so far. Also, so far I've had no problems with the service, and they told me that files are kept forever and won't be deleted, for now at least, which is good as some services only keep your files if you keep logging in to them regularly, and if you forget once you're stuffed. Once you've uploaded your .ico file, you can check it and generate the URL ("Selected files actions"), pick the Direct URLs option for the code for the link to your file. . but I use YourUpload myself; it's free and it's easy. [Edited 30 August: sod's law, they change their site the day after I post about it!] You do have to register. Make sure you note down the link to the pic you've just uploaded. On Yourupload you can find the "Get code" link for easy copy/pasting of the link to your uploaded image.

3. Editing your template or webpage

Finally you just need to tweak your template or webpage. Between the <head> and </head> tags of your template or HTML code for your webpage, just insert this code:
<!-- Favicon -->
<link rel="shortcut icon" href="http://URLtoyourfavicon/favicon.ico" type="image/x-icon"/>
<link rel="icon" href="http://URLtoyourfavicon/favicon.ico" type="image/x-icon"/>

but of course you should change "http://URLtoyourfavicon/favicon.ico" to the actual URL of your uploaded favicon file (like the link you copied from FileDen earlier, if you used that service). For example mine is "".

Then, publish your template or webpage and that's it. To test your shiny new favicon, you can use Chami's helpful favicon validator or just visit your blog using your browser of choice and have a look - remember to refresh your browser at your blog page if necessary (hold down Ctrl and hit F5). If you still can't see it in Internet Explorer you probably need to empty your cache (by deleting your Temporary Internet Files - but NB that will delete lots of other stuff too, so you could try just viewing those files, searching for all the favicon.ico files in there, and deleting just those).

For those interested, the "<!-- Favicon -->" is just to help you identify the code for the favicon within your template. And the reason you have two lines, one for "shortcut icon" and one for "icon", is again on account of Internet Explorer. You need the "icon" line so that your favicon will display in the Internet Explorer address bar, next to the URL of your blog or web page. You need the "shortcut icon" line so that, when someone adds the blog to their Favorites, they can see your favicon pic in their Favorites list or Links bar, in Internet Explorer - the "icon" line by itself isn't enough to make the favicon display in Internet Explorer Favorites or Links.

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Tuesday, 23 August 2005

Nominative determinism 4

Nominative determinism is one of my favourite subjects, and one which I've blogged about before (e.g. this post).

So, just to share a few more from the Feedback column of New Scientist (who are OK about my doing this as long as I credit and link to them).

One of the fiercest critics of Elisabeth A. Lloyd's book about the role of the female orgasm in evolution, "The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the science of evolution" is a professor called - John Alcock. While the leader of a trial of a contraceptive implant for men is one Pierre-Marc Bouloux.

Then there is a dentist called Dr Chiew, a senior forestry officer named Pollard, a weather presenter called Blizzard, a lecturer in peace studies called Atack, an author of a book on mountain navigation named Cliff, a firearms store owner called Bang, an accounts receivable department worker named Billings - and the man in charge of wildlife on the Tube system is named Mole!

Finally, from New Scientist's own pages, but no one seems to have spotted it (or at least told Feedback) - on p.19 of their 16 July 2005 issue an item reports on a new species of deep sea fish. The leader of the team which discovered it? A Steven Haddock.

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BBC Creative Archive: more free downloads

Most people probably know this by now, but in case not, the BBC have recently (finally!) released some 100 extracts from their programme archive under the Creative Archive licence (which I've blogged about before): BBC webpage announcement; and download page here.

It's mostly natural history, science, art etc (their contents list is divided into animals and plants, geographical locations, genres, times of year, actions, colours, objects, historical periods, times of day, weather and environment, which should give you the flavour of the thing), rather than say drama or movies, but worth a look - there are some lovely clips there.

However, you have to register before you can download clips (unlike with the Beethoven symphonies I blogged about before - shame!). Plus, only UK residents can download clips, which has always been a Creative Archive restriction.

Clips are only available in Windows Media, Quicktime and MPEG-1 formats, so if you prefer an alternative format, tell them what you think!

They say this is just the start and they should be releasing more - here's hoping.

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Monday, 22 August 2005

Copyfighters London, 21 August 2005

[Edited 26 November 2005: to simplify and speed up loading after I installed the fab Delicious Playtagger script. Click the right arrow icon by a speech to listen to the speech.]

Cory Doctorow

The sixth London Copyfighters' Drunken Brunch and Talking Shop took place yesterday.

As Cory Doctorow puts it, these brunches involve "eat[ing] between 11AM and 1PM, stuffing our faces with bagels, pastries, cold-cuts, veggies, a variety of schmears, and cheap champagne-process wine from Spain mixed with fresh OJ. Once we are suitably lubricated, we will, as a mass, cross the road to Speaker's Corner and orate on the subject of copyright, DRM, the weather -- whatever."

Not as many people turned up as at the last ones I attended, not surprisingly given the holiday season, but there were still quite a few people, the chat was interesting and the speeches suitably rousing.

Above is Cory's pic, and you can playback his introductory speech below:
Cory's kickoff speech

Below are more pics - to get to the page to play back someone's speech, just click on their pic (be warned - all speeches are in their unexpurgated glory, hecklers and all, so don't listen unless you don't mind the language - one heckler was particularly fond of swearing at the speakers...). (I didn't include the pic/speech of one person as the speaker didn't want me to put them online - I do always check before I do anything like this, as to me respecting the privacy of those concerned is paramount).

Suw Charman

Rufus Pollock

Becky Hogge
Becky Hogge (no link to speech)

Nathan Lewis
Nathan Lewis: play his speech

And finally:

Nathan's second speech; and

Cory's wrap up speech.

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Sunday, 21 August 2005

The Laws of Attraction

The second part of the BBC's "Secret of the Sexes" documentary series on TV in July looked at what makes people attracted to each other.

In that part, scientists tried to match people based on facial shape and compatibility questionnaires, etc - but one theory about people going for others with similar faces wasn't however borne out in that documentary (and oh, the faces of those poor disappointed scientists! However this research was really, as far as I can see, only for the purposes of this documentary, and it didn't seem as rigorous or serious as one might hope (though some research for documentaries I've seen before has been very thorough and well conducted) - see below on other research).

What women and men go for

It was interesting to see that:
- first impressions based purely on looks seem not to change very much - so looks DO count (as we all know, but think it un-PC to say)
- for women, the one biggie (excuse the pun!) was, surprisingly (or not), quite simple. No, it's not what you're thinking you naughty reader, it was height. The taller the man, the better, it seems
- for men the most important single common factor, by a long way, was the woman's waist to hip ratio (the smaller the better- and interestingly, apparently a smaller ratio indicates greater fertility). When combined with men's penchant for large breasts, all this just seems to signify:
  • Me man. Want fertile woman, many kids, breastfeed them well. Ugh.
  • Me woman. Want big strong man, hunt for food, keep safe from predators. Ugh.
Now we know what men really want, and what women really want. My, how society has moved on...

So, for women, it seems it's go for those sit ups (though seriously, an "apple" shape is meant to be less healthy and waist reduction is good for you anyway). While, for men - ummm, get some elevator shoes?? (And why hasn't there been any research into why many people prefer men's bums to be small, and what that's supposed to mean in men?)

Smell the attraction...

Another tidbit from that programme was that apparently the smell which turns women on most is liquorice plus chocolate (though it didn't work for the poor guy they provided this "cologne" to). That sounds pretty offputting to me (I am that rare creature, a woman who doesn't love chocolate).

What makes more sense to me, though the programme didn't mention it at all, is that (as research has shown) people tend to go for others whose immune systems are different to their own - and you can apparently tell that just by smell. You've probably heard of those experiments where people sniffed T shirts worn for days by others and the rated them for atttractiveness... I know, the sniffers must have been given some incentive to take part! Well I can see the biological logic, if you combine different immune systems in your kids they have a better chance of stronger resistance.

Interestingly, recently New Scientist in an article on 23 July 2005 reported not only "studies in which people have been asked to sniff sweaty T-shirts generally suggest we also find the smell of those with dissimilar MHC genes more attractive" (MHC genes are immune system genes) - but also research by Craig Roberts at the University of Liverpool that, contrariwise, women prefer the faces of men with similar MHC (which ties in with some psychological studies showing we are attracted to people with faces like our own). The article said "Roberts thinks the explanation may be that the best partners have MHC genes that are somewhat dissimilar to our own but not totally dissimilar. So "filtering" for potential mates could use two different mechanisms: the first, based on facial likeness, selects someone not too distantly related, and the second, based on smell, avoids inbreeding."

And indeed, some even more recent research seems to suggest we are genetically inclined to prefer as friends and partners people who are similar to us, even though that choice may be unconscious for the most part: "People prefer their own kind — extraverts favor extraverts; traditionalists, traditionalists… If you like, become friends with, come to the aid of, and mate with those people who are genetically most similar to yourself, you are simply trying to ensure that your own segment of the gene pool will be safely maintained and eventually transmitted to future generations…". However, "We found that more than half of the variance in this study was due to unique environmental effects such as being in the right place at the right time.. Similarity is only one of many factors in choosing a partner."

The "beauty mask" and phi

Another interesting area touched on in the programme, though only briefly, was the "beauty mask" - a stylised representation of the ideal face. In the documentary the mask was superimposed onto a photo of one woman's face, and she was shown how to apply makeup in such a way as to make her face more closely resemble the "beauty mask", and thereby make her more attractive. I have to say, I think it worked, personally..

The programme didn't go into details about the beauty mask (or phi mask), but I've heard about it before. It's based on the "golden ratio" defined by the number phi, which is found a lot in nature (for a site dedicated to Phi see The mask is also known as the Marquadt mask after the man who produced and patented it (in America, where else).

Now I don't know how much truth there is in the attractiveness of the golden ratio, but it's very interesting to see on Marquadt's site how close the match is when the mask is applied to famous beauties over the ages, of all ethnicities. Also I had to agree that the examples shown of faces which matched the mask to varying degrees were compelling - the less good the match, the less attractive the face seemed to be, to me (check out "The Evidence" link on that site and also the faces shown on the Goldennumber site; I also found an interesting article by Rebecca Donatelli on the beauty of the human face, including the beauty mask).

I have to say I don't agree with cosmetic surgery for the sake of it (though when I get older maybe I'll start wondering - unless I can look as good as Lauren Bacall in her old age, that is..), so going under the knife just to make your face match the mask better doesn't seem too sensible to me. Applying cosmetics to achieve that effect as closely as possible, however, is a great idea, and the site has pages (look under "Applications", "You and the Mask") showing how you can take a photo of your own face (full on and profile both) and then try the mask against it. Unfortunately it doesn't say how you can use cosmetics to create the illusion of the mask, but I'm sure good makeup artists would, given the mask, be able to do it (and I'm sure many women would be willing to pay a reasonable fee to have their pics taken, get the mask superimposed on their pics, then get made up to resemble the mask more closely - and be taught how to apply that makeup). There may be a bit of a gap in the market there...

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Blogger: using Word to draft and publish posts

Earlier this week Blogger released an add-on or plugin for Word 2000 upwards, which lets you create and save posts (and drafts) in Word, then publish them direct from Word to your Blogspot blog. Here's a review, written in Word with the addon.

You can download Blogger for Word here. The installation takes seconds (but make sure Word and Outlook etc are closed before you try to install it).
Tip: before using it, update your Word for the latest service packs. Until I did, my recent posts list in my main blog was blank or produced an error message or crashed.

What this addon does is to add an extra toolbar to Word with a few buttons: Blogger Settings, Open Post, Save as Draft and Publish.

You write your post, then hit Publish and you get a popup to fill in the post title (the title is in fact filled in automatically for you from the first line of your post, but you can change it in the popup), and pick which blog to post to - or, if you've not yet set up your settings, you get the Settings page, same as when you click Blogger Settings, to fill in your Blogger username and password (I've ticked "Remember Username and Password" for ease, and also "Preview HTML before sending" - as to which more below).

Unless you'd picked "Preview HTML before sending" in your Settings (discussed below), when you click Send, it then publishes the post to your blog. Nice and easy.

But note that your published your Blogspot web page won't be identical to what you did in Word. Some things translate properly, some don't.

What works

  • Font styles and sizes that you set in Word (e.g. Arial - size translates to a %)
  • New lines - show up as <br />
  • Bold, italics
  • Bulleted lists (bullet point items)
  • Numbered lists where you've used automatic numbering in Word (format bullets and numberings) will show up as ordered lists (but watch the line breaks)
  • Hyperlinks you inserted in Word
To insert hyperlinks in Word: type the link text (the bit to be clicked), highlight it, then choose menu Insert, Hyperlink (or hold down Ctrl and press and release the k key) - a box pops up and in the Address line (the cursor should already be in it) just type or paste the URL.

What doesn't work

  • Font colours
  • Headings (so the styles heading1, heading2, etc do NOT get converted into h1, h2 etc - just into the matching font styles and font sizes)
  • Blockquotes
  • Indents
  • Text alignment (right align, left align etc)
  • Code like "<pre>" (which gets shown exactly as is, and doesn't get interpreted as code - useful however for those who want to display HTML as raw code without having to encode it or use a converter).

A solution for what doesn't work

In the Blogger Settings, make sure you've ticked "Preview HTML before sending". If you have, then after you click Publish, fill in the title and pick the blog and then hit Send, an HTML Viewer window pops up which looks just like a text editor window (much like Notepad), displaying the raw HTML which is going to be published.

Here's where you can edit the underlying HTML, e.g. put in those tags for headings like <h3> or font colors, blockquotes and other HTML tags that you want treated as proper tags, add CSS, Technorati tags etc. (For ease, when I draft in Word I use another easily visible symbol instead of angle brackets, and then change those in the HTML Viewer – as, especially for longer posts, it's too much of a pain to view/type all the tags in the HTML viewer alone).

Here too you can edit out the odd stray <br /> inserted by Blogger and Word whenever you have a new paragraph code in Word or a new line in Blogger, e.g. between bulleted list items (having foolishly had "Convert line breaks" set to Yes in my Blogger formatting settings – can't turn it off now or it'll mess up my older posts…).

Other stuff

It's all pretty self-explanatory. The Save as Draft button lets you save a draft from Word to Blogger's servers (but NOT your own computer, you can just save a Word document as normal for that). Again you can edit the HTML before you save the draft.

The Open Post button supposedly calls up a list of your 15 most recent posts which you can select for editing in Word (again, you can choose which blog if you have several). But for my main blog it just didn't work or crashed Word - until I updated Word. There's also a Local Files tab, which took me a while to figure out. As far as I can see, for the Local Files tab to be anything other than empty, you need to have (1) opened a recent post via the Open Post button, AND (2) saved that opened post as a Word document on your computer's hard drive. (It doesn't seem to recognise draft blog posts that you just save as Word documents on your computer, as opposed to using Save as Draft to save to Blogger).


The Blogger intro is here, and their FAQ/known issues page is here.


  • Making what doesn't work at the moment work! (see above) – especially allowing people to include tags as tags (not just HTML tags such as headings, horizontal lines etc, but also e.g. Technorati tags)
  • The HTML Viewer window should be resizeable, and maximiseable (both, preferably!)
  • A Find/Replace facility for the HTML Viewer would be ideal, so I can correct the HTML for headings etc that this tool has converted to display as text rather than as HTML tags!)
  • Keyboard shortcuts to access the buttons in the new toolbar (and move around in it, though as expected the Enter/Return and Tab keys work, and Escape to get rid of the popup windows)
  • Extending it to allow editing and publishing of templates
  • Integration with publishing pics.

All in all though, this is very positive. Composing and saving drafts on Blogger was, I'd found, a nightmarish Russian roulette - sometimes the last part of a long post would vanish (often on changing from Edit HTML to Compose view or vice versa). Even worse, when I highlighted the text and copied to clipboard, it sometimes vanished too (without being copied to clipboard either). I'd taken to drafting and saving posts in Word (which can mess up your posts e.g. if smart quotes are turned on – turn' em off in the Autoformat tab in the Tools menu (Autocorrect or Options) by unticking "Straight quotes with smart quotes" in the Replace section) or even draft emails/notes in Outlook, or using w.bloggar. But this Word add on is potentially a much neater solution – though personally, while I've written this post in Word as an experiment, until they let you add tags which get interpreted as tags (maybe if you include some symbol before the angle brackets, like a backslash?), it will be too time consuming for me to use this for anything but the shortest and simplest posts. Still, it's good to know Blogger are moving onwards, and hopefully upwards. Let's hope Blogger continue to develop this, and other, features.
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Thursday, 18 August 2005

Technorati: the new look - searching changes

Since the public beta of their new look site, Technorati's searching has worked differently and Niall Kennedy of Technorati has confirmed that it's official. The old style "cosmos" searching still works, but it's only through being redirected. So to speed up your searching on Technorati, the best format now to use is:

Therefore I've updated my previous post - which gave code you can add to your blog template to enable people, with one click, to search for mentions on Technorati of your blog or a particular post. Technorati however don't seem yet to have updated their own help page on the subject to deal with the new format: they still refer to the old "cosmos" format, as of the date of writing this post.

A more interesting and tantalising change is that Kennedy says you can now confine a search to a particular location, e.g. you can search for the occurrence of certain text within only a certain blog. Here's a search form making use of that new functionality:

Search for this word or phrase:
Within this blog only (enter blog URL):

Now it would be interesting to know:
  • Kennedy says "You can also add advanced operators after your search query such as restricting a search to one particular weblog." So it would be helpful if Technorati were to explain the OTHER advanced operators that they've clearly now introduced (or if they have but I've not been able to find the right page perhaps someone would be so kind as to point me in the right direction... Maybe it's just the keyword, website URL and tag searches they've now added to their main search page?)
  • in their search options why don't they provide a search form like I have above, to make it easier for people, particularly beginners, to confine their search to just one particular blog?
Also, remember that search results are only as good as the index being searched. If Technorati hasn't fully indexed a blog whose content is, unbeknownst to you, exactly what you're looking for, then searching on Technorati won't do you any good at all in terms of finding that blog, no matter what search options you use. And Technorati's indexing seems to have gone from bad to worse. Which is a subject for a separate post (it will need many deep breaths and several cups of tea before I tackle it, as a red mist seems to blur my vision and I start to hyperventilate whenever I start to think about it, these days...).

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Wednesday, 17 August 2005

London Geek Girl Dinner

Last night I went to the first London Girl Geek Dinner at the Texas Embassy (there have apparently been two other geek dinners, but they weren't mainly aimed at girl geeks). Token men were allowed last night, but only if accompanied by a responsible female...

About 40 or 50 people turned up - not just those working in IT but also mere bloggers like me, though I didn't get to talk to any "non-IT industry" bloggers. I met some very interesting and fun people (and it's not just my soft spot for geeks talking!):
  • Nina, the non-Swedish scuba diving SQL consultant
  • "Mystery Bloke with(out) Alison" John, the MBA Marketing Man
  • Teresa, cordon bleu chef turned IT manager and future grey hatter
  • Sherry and crew (sorry we didn't get the chance to chat more before you left)
  • Surprisingly silent about her SAP skills Emma, the table dancing strategist
  • Maria, Emma's pal
  • Last but certainly not least, the lovely Sarah, hostess with the mostest and organiser extraordinaire of the whole event (who even produced sticky name tags with URLs for everyone - well some of us, anyway - to plaster prominently on themselves).
There was an after dinner speech by Hugh, hoster of the wiki page about the dinner (the previous geek dinners I am told featured speeches by Robert Scoble and Seth Godin respectively). There will also be a podcast at some point, courtesy of Lloyd, including interviews of random attendees. But if I were you I'd hit fast forward when it gets to my bit (though hopefully he'll have sensibly cut it) - I was there as a blogger, he didn't want to know about my blog, I didn't want to talk about anything but my blog, so that sure made for an exciting and fun-filled few nanoseconds. As I said, best to just skip that bit...

The £20 included seemingly unlimited wine at the sit down buffet dinner, the food was good (the starters excellent), the staff were friendly (especially the nice barman, mwah!), and the venue was comfortable and spacious (dedicated floor for the event). Couldn't ask for anything more, really.

If you're in London do look out for next month's geek dinner, which I gather will probably be a mixed one, and will feature another speaker, identity TBA. Thanks again to Sarah and Hugh for everything.

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Blogger: editing comments part 3 - Greasemonkey

I've changed my post on editing Blogger comments, yet again, to add mention of an ingenious script by Browservulsel for the free Firefox browser's Greasemonkey extension. If you use Firefox this add in is probably the easiest way to get the ability to edit comments on Blogger - it just takes a few clicks, and no template hacking is needed. (On how to install the Greasemonkey extension and Greasemonkey scripts, now see this post).

What this script does is to alter your Blogger "Edit posts" page (that you get to from your dashboard), so that, on the right, after the usual "View Delete" against each post, is a new item called "Comments" (see the pic in the Browservulsel post).

If you click that link for a particular post, it calls up the usual popup window with all the comments made on that post. The difference is that, at the bottom of each comment, after the standard trashcan delete icon, there is now a new "permanently delete" red X icon and, in relation to editing comments, there is a new pencil icon which, when clicked, calls up the same "edit comment" page for that comment as is described in my original post.

[Updated 21 Jan 2006:] It also adds an edit comment icon against each comment on your individual post pages. However, the edit comments icon doesn't automatically appear in the popup window that appears when you click to post a comment (though it appears in that window after you've actually posted a comment e.g. to respond to someone's comment on your post). I think most people probably have a popup window for posting comments rather than inline comments on the post page, as that's Blogger's default.

So if you want to have the ability to edit comments easily from the popup comments window, this is what you should do after you get and install the script:
  • in Firefox go to the Tools menu, Manage User Scripts
  • select Blogger comments editor in the list on the left
  • click Add
  • enter (or paste in) this: http://**
  • click OK
  • click OK again.

If you don't use Firefox however, the easiest cross-platform solution is still the simple template edit I described in my original post, or the form I have provided in that post for occasional edits.

I just love how on the Net people can build on each other's ideas and make things better and better for everyone. That's the way it should be.

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Wednesday, 10 August 2005

Blogger: tell Blogger what you think!

If you use Blogger, you may have noticed they've just launched a survey asking about Blogger users and, more importantly to me, what you want from Blogger.

Login and in your Dashboard, under the list of your blogs, there will be a link to the survey. I can't give the link here as it seems to be specific to each Blogger user - which means of course that you won't be answering it anonymously, bear in mind that they'll know exactly what you think and where you live!

Hint - if you indicate early on in the survey that you're NOT satisfied with Blogger, you will get an extra page asking you why you're not satisfied, which will give you the chance to sound off about speed, features and support (there aren't many options but there's an "Other reason" box at the end where you can write all you want).

Plus there's a page at the end with a box where you can write about how you think Blogger could be improved. Here's the opportunity to ask for new features! Categories, anyone??

The "Which change would you most like to make to your blog" seems a bit narrow to me (add links, change colours/font, rearrange the blog contents, change no. of columns and profile info), though there's an "Other please specify". But at least there's a page where they ask how happy you are with existing features like template variety, customisation, Blogger images, profiles, comments, group blogging, Blogger Mobile and Audioblogging. Nowhere to say what improvements you'd like if you're not happy, but at least the final page lets you say anything you want.

So do take the chance to give your views - this is a very good sign, it must mean that Google are finally taking Blogger seriously and hopefully will be putting in more time and money into Blogger to make it a much better blogging tool for all of us, which can only be good for bloggers and readers alike (and, ultimately, for Google too).

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Google: feeds for news sections and news searches

Google have finally introduced the ability to get feeds for their news sections and, most usefully, for searches of Google News and customised English Google news pages, in either Atom or RSS format as you prefer. (I think the choice might confuse some beginners however, and almost all news readers can handle both, so I do wonder if they'd have been better off just offering the one.)

So if you want to keep an eye out for a certain word or phrase being mentioned in the Google News pages, you can now get a feed for the search results. In your feed reader just add the link or depending on which format you want (changing YourSearchTermHere to what you want to search for).

I've been wanting a feed for Google Alerts updates for so long (email alerts of your search terms found by Google not only from Google News but also on the Web, and in newsgroups). This new feed capability will deal with the "News"-only option for Google Alerts, certainly. Now if only they'll introduce feeds for "News AND WEB" alerts too.

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