Thursday, 31 August 2006

Blogger Beta: Edit HTML for templates now available

Finally Blogger Beta (see my overview) have rolled out a full "Edit HTML" view for templates, so you can now hack your own Blogger Beta template. Here's a screenshot:

As Graham said in his Blogger Buzz post:
"The new template language is completely different from the old one. So even if you're used to working with classic templates, you'll need to learn some new tricks to directly edit the new templates for Layouts-enabled blogs. We've got some starter documentation on it, with more to come later. Personally, I recommend making a test blog to experiment on while you learn how it all works."

The starter documentation is brief but outlines the purpose of the key buttons and links on the Edit HTML page, including the initially mysterious "Expand Widget Templates" so I won't repeat the info here. As you can see, you can backup your existing template to your hard drive (as an XML file) before you start fiddling, and you can upload template files from your computer too.

Widget template tags

The old Blogger template tags are sadly no more, they've expired, they've gone to meet their maker, etc etc. OK, enough Python references. Basically it's an entire re-learning exercise we'll have to go through.

The new buzzwords: sections and widgets.

As one of the help pages says (my emphasis):
The section of a Layouts template will be made up primarily of sections and widgets.

Sections mark out areas of your page, such as the sidebar, the footer, etc.

A widget is an individual page element such as a picture, a blogroll, or anything else you can add from the Page Elements tab. You can include any HTML you like around the sections in your template...

A section can only contain widgets; it cannot contain other sections or other code. If you need to insert extra code between or around certain widgets within a section, you'll need to split the section into two or more new sections.

In its simplest form, a widget is represented by a single tag, which is basically just a placeholder indicating how the widget should be handled in the Page Elements tab..

There's a placeholder for detailed info on the new widget tags for layouts but at the moment there's nothing in it; there is however help on page element tags and fonts and color tags.

We now have <b:section> and <b:widget> tags - I assume the "b" stands for "Blogger"; e.g. opening tags like:

<b:section class='header' id='header' maxwidgets='1' showaddelement='no'> (for the header)
<b:section class='main' id='main' showaddelement='no'> (for the main body)
<b:section class='sidebar' id='sidebar' preferred='yes'> (for the sidebar)
...and so on. There seem to be loads of other <b:somethingorother> tags too.

I've not had much of a chance to look at it properly yet, but there's certainly enough info in the help pages to start having a go hacking your Blogger Beta template!

Google Earth version 4 beta: user guide

I thought it worth pointing out that there's a helpful user guide (PDF version) for version 4 beta of the useful and fun Google Earth (most people know about Google Earth's virtual globe with maps/satellite pics of the world etc you can zoom around live, but if not see Google's "five things" - Google Earth is downloadable here). There's also a user manual for version 3.

One gotcha to note - when I first installed Google Earth I scratched my head for ages trying to find the "Keyhole Community BBS layer". There were loads of exhortations in the Places panel to "Enable the Keyhole Community BBS layer in the Layers Panel at the lower left." But where on earth (if you'll forgive the pun) is the Keyhole Community BBS layer, you may ask? There's no listing in the Layers Panel that actually reads "Keyhole Community BBS".

Well it's actually labelled "Google Earth Community" - that's the one you should tick in the Layers Panel. It's the same thing. Yeah OK, I should have clicked the Keyhole Community BBS link immediately and then I'd have worked it out. But people shouldn't have to take time figuring this sort of thing out, it should be called the same name in both panels. (Muttering about usability and lack of clear simple instructions again - my usual bugbears...).

There's more helpful stuff and active help on Google Earth at the Keyhole BBS/Google Earth Community forums.

Blogger Beta: better picture management?

I wonder how much better management of uploaded images will be with Blogger Beta, whose release was recently announced by Blogger (for general background on the beta see my initial overview, and thoughts on tags/labels).

As Blogspot users know, uploaded pics will be incorporated into your blog post, correctly positioned and scaled with a nice thumbnail depending on what you select when you uploaded the picture.

Yes, it's great even to be able to upload images (or, strictly, subdirectories on, etc if your blog is hosted on Blogger's Blogspot servers), but there are a number of ways in which the existing facility is lacking:
  1. No manage pics function. There is no "Manage Uploaded Pictures" or "Organise Photos" or similar option in Blogger, so there's no way to see at a glance exactly what images you've uploaded to Blogspot, which posts an image is used in, or conversely a list of which images have been used in a particular post.
  2. Easily lost links. If you delete the link in a post to the uploaded graphic, accidentally or deliberately, unless you've previously noted down the URL there's currently no way to find the picture or photo again.
  3. No easy editing. You can't easily edit an uploaded pic's position or the size of thumbnail display.
  4. Unnecessary re-uploading. For instance if when uploading a pic you picked "medium" for its thumbnail size and then you change your mind and decide you want "large", or e.g. "left" instead, there is no easy way to change the thumbnail size without re-uploading the image with the new size - which is saved as a separate file on Blogger's servers and so takes up even more of your 300 MB of space. (You can at leastchange the positioning of an uploaded image by manually tinkering with the CSS without any re-uploading, but it's fiddly.)

    (Incidental note: when you upload an image to Blogger, the file's saved on their servers in its original size. When you choose small, medium or large, you're just picking the size of the thumbnail of the image to display in your blog post. There's an error in Blogger's FAQ which says that your pic is resized to whatever size you chose when you upload it to their servers. No, it isn't resized, a separate thumbnail file is created in whatever size you chose, in addition to your original image file, which is uploaded in its full size. This Blogger help page gives the correct info.)

  5. No deleting of individual pics. You can delete the link to a pic, obviously, but you just can't delete an uploaded pic, at least in my tests - even if you delete the only post linking to a particular pic, it doesn't delete the pic (on my tests anyway). You do get 300 MB for graphics, but still you don't want to waste your 300MB of space unnecessarily.
  6. No ico files. Blogger won't let you upload .ico files, only image files in JPG, GIF, PNG, TIF or BMP format. This is a bit of a pain if you want to have your own favicon pic for your blog or site (here's how), as it's not easy to find a free host for .ico files which allows direct linking from elsewhere, and while the Firefox browser will recognise favicons in GIF or PNG etc format, Internet Explorer (up to version 6 at least) won't.

New pic removal tool

One good sign that Blogger are going in the right direction is that, as mentioned in Blogger Buzz, there's now a "photo removal tool" in Blogger Beta (generally overviewed here)- when you go to delete a post from the Edit Posts window, it will show you a list of all the pics associated with that post, with thumbnails, and you can decide whether you want keep each one by unchecking the tickbox next to its thumbnail:

But you need to be careful with this. If you've used the same pic in another post, Blogger Beta doesn't pick up on the fact that it might be needed elsewhere, and if the delete box is checked, there is no warning that you should untick it - if you hit Delete it the photo is gone for good. Your other post will just show a blank where the pic was.

Obviously you still need to note the URLs of those you want to keep because if you don't, and you delete the post, even if you unchecked the delete box for a pic I can't see how you could ever find the URL of the pic again to use it in a future post (without some kind of "Manage Pictures" function), unless the same photo is in use in another existing post that you're not deleting.

You should note down the URL by editing the post and going to Edit HTML view first (it'll be the http://SOMEURL bit after href= in the <a onblur="try {parent.deselectBloggerImageGracefully();} catch(e) {}" href="http://SOMEURL"> part of the code). If you use the View image link in the delete post page, that will only give you the link to the smaller thumbnail - not the full sized pic. This seems a bit of a flaw - if it gives you the option to save selected pics, it should also clearly display (or let you save somewhere on Blogger) the URLs to the full pics for you to re-use, not just the URL of the thumbnail. Still, it's definitely a good first step in the right direction.

You might think one quick way to find out what pics are associated with a particular post is (in Edit Posts view) to click Delete for that post, note or copy the URLs for those pics, then click Cancel instead of deleting the post. But in fact because they don't display the URLs for the full sized pics, only the thumbnails, this isn't really practicable - best to copy the URL from the code while editing the post.

I'd hoped the new photo removal tool meant that Blogger Beta now incorporated databases of your uploaded photos/pics and the posts they were used in, but as far as I can see it's nothing quite so clever (not yet, anyway). It seems to work just by going through the code in your post and detecting the parent.deselectBloggerImageGracefully etc code used in Blogger posts to display pics uploaded to Blogger. I tried including that code, but linking to non-existent image URLs, and it still claimed that X number of pictures were stored on Blogger for that post (though obviously nothing was displayed for those supposed pics). Maybe that'll come one day...

Let's hope that Blogger will be rolling out better picture/photo management functions as the beta progresses, including the fixing the items in my "can't do" list.

Monday, 28 August 2006

Eggcorns: apt wrong phrases 1

I only recently read about "eggcorns" in New Scientist :
Eggcorns - derived from a misspelling of "acorn" - are a particular type of language error. Though incorrect, eggcorns are often more satisfying or poetic than the correct word or expression. If you didn't know how to spell the word "acorn", then "eggcorn" is a logical and satisfying alternative.

There's even a site devoted to eggcorns, the Eggcorn Database. As most of the eggcorns I've personally overheard (or, ahem, inadvertently come up with myself) are oral rather than written, I don't think I can contribute them to the database.

But I'll share some with you anyway... (maybe more of a mixed metaphor?):
  • Banging her own trumpet (guess what that's a cross between!).
  • As the flies go (for "as the crow flies...").
  • On the horns of a quandary.
  • Up a gumtree without a paddle.
And I swear this next one is absolutely true. I heard it on the Tube in an exchange between two men who were obviously talking about a mutual colleague. Again it's probably more of a mixed metaphor but I nearly choked when I heard it...

"She's always rubbing herself up against a brick wall".

Saturday, 26 August 2006

Google Books: library catalogue search, but how accurate?

I'm glad that Google Book Search now automatically includes, at the bottom of the search results page, "Find libraries" links to locate libraries near you which stock the book you searched for (e.g. see this "Harry Potter" search), as announced on the Google Blog.

This stems from a link up between Google and certain library union catalogs - you'll see the "Find libraries" links effectively take you to search results on, and in fact if you just want to do a library book search you don't even have to go through Google Book Search, you can just search on direct.

However I've found the searching to be a bit erratic. You obviously need to enter your location information - country or postcode - in order to narrow the search down to the catalogues of libraries near you.

Now this search for a Harry Potter book works fine when I enter the postcode for St Paul's Cathedral, London. But searches for the same postcode with some other books, e.g. Lee Child's The Hard Way, refer you to a library in Germany (or in other cases North America e.g. this other Harry Potter book - and there has to be a copy of Goblet of Fire available in a library nearer to London than Toronto)! Clearly there are still some bugs to be ironed out..

Still, all in all it's a great idea - I'm a big fan of libraries as I rarely buy books (I read very fast and would run out of storage space and money if I bought everything that I read). You can always encourage your local library to contact Google to get its catalogue indexed by Google Books too, if it's not already on there. The more the merrier, in my book!

Yahoo Site Explorer beta: no authentication for Blogger blogs?

Yahoo Site Explorer Beta, rather like Google Sitemaps, is meant to allow Net users to:
"explore all the web pages indexed by Yahoo! Search. View the most popular pages from any site, dive into a comprehensive site map, and find pages that link to that site or any page."

For bloggers, again as with Google Sitemaps, adding your site to Yahoo Site Explorer should hopefully get your blog better indexed by Yahoo, give you more info about how Yahoo indexes your blog (including links to your blog as detected by Yahoo - see this Site Explorer search on my blog URL for an example), and will enable you to ping Yahoo, i.e. get Yahoo to come and reindex your blog whenever you've added a new post. Here's the Yahoo help pages on Site Explorer.

When you've added your site (here's an alternative method to submit your site or feed to Yahoo - either way you have to have a Yahoo ID but you'll be given the opportunity to create one), and you login to Site Explorer, you don't get much except the ability to "manage" your sites:

and "Manage" so far really only offers a way to submit your site feed to Yahoo:

There's also a tab about "authenticating" your site. And there's the rub. As with Google Sitemaps (whose equivalent of "authenticate" is "verify"), authenticating your site with Yahoo is A Good Thing if you want more info about how Yahoo crawls your blog, because:
"Once you authenticate your site, you will have the following additional information about your site at your fingertips

* The status of your submitted feeds, when they were last processed and when you submitted it, or last pinged us for a feed
* Additional information for the pages in your site, including the language as detected by us, and the last time we crawled the page
* List of subdomains from your site in the index (if your site was a host such as"

However, as it was once upon a time with Google Sitemaps (though they've since fixed that), the only way you can authenticate a site with Yahoo is by uploading a special file to your blog server - and those of us bloggers using Blogger on its free Blogspot servers just can't do that.

Now I get at least 95% if not more of my visitors from Google but I do get a few from Yahoo occasionally, so I'd like my blog to be as fully indexed and up to date on Yahoo as possible. Therefore I want to be able to authenticate my blog with Yahoo by some means other than uploading a file (e.g. by adding a special meta tag in my template). I've requested that, and I'm clearly not the only person who's concerned about how you authenticate a Blogger blog - see e.g. this.

The more people who ask Yahoo for an alternative authentication method, the more likely it is they'll allow it, so I hope lots of people will consider posting on the Site Explorer forum or giving feedback to Yahoo on this (login to Site Explorer then click the Feedback link).

UPDATE: Yahoo have finally added meta tag authentication, see this post.

(Also, Site Explorer seems to consistently crash Internet Explorer on my system at least, but not Firefox. Anyone else had that problem?)

Payment protection insurance: tips

The British Insurance Brokers' Association recently issued some tips and advice about payment protection insurance or PPI (which "protects a borrower’s ability to maintain repayments on the specific amount borrowed and helps them avoid getting into debt should they be unable to work because of an accident, illness or it they lose their job through no fault of their own, such as being made redundant"). Their guidance, called "Payment protection insurance – know the facts before you decide", includes this paragraph:
Many people do not realise that they have a choice other than the cover offered direct by a lender – such as the bank, building society or credit cared provider. Moreover the purchase of PPI cover should not be viewed as ensuring that a loan will be granted. Instead, you often find there is better insurance both in the cover and price available from an independent specialist intermediary available on the BIBA website – and this also means you will benefit from expert advice.
For some people it's a needless expense, or at least not worth the money compared with the risk that it might be needed. So it always merits thinking about the issues before deciding whether or not to take out PPI.

Monday, 21 August 2006

Are Amazon servers down? Errors..

Interesting. With Amazon UK I'm getting:

We're sorry
An error occurred when we tried to process your request.
We're working on the problem and expect to resolve it shortly. Please note that if you were trying to place an order, it will not have been processed at this time. Please try again later.

We apologise for the inconvenience.

* Click here to return to the home page

And with Amazon US, it's:

We're sorry!

An error occurred when we tried to process your request. Rest assured, we're already working on the problem and expect to resolve it shortly.

If you were trying to make a purchase, please check Your Account to confirm that the order was placed.

We apologize for the inconvenience.

on the home page

I wonder what's up? (Quite apart from the fact that for UK customers they don't feel they need to say "Rest assured"! Are we considered more laid back, or something...?). Why are all of mighty Amazon's servers down or on strike?

Funny product labels

From the Feedback column of an old New Scientist magazine I was about to throw away.

On the packaging for Johnson & Johnson rectal thermometers:
Every rectal thermometer made by Johnson & Johnson is personally tested.

wouldn't want to work as a tester for Johnson's...!

Sunday, 20 August 2006

Blogger Beta: how to update Technorati tagger, Greasemonkey user scripts

If you're using Blogger's new Beta service (reviewed here), you may have noticed that some of your Greasemonkey user scripts for Firefox don't work. For example, the Magical Sheep tagger for easily creating Technorati tags for your blog posts won't work if you've previously installed it for use with an old Blogger blog.

Updating the Technorati Magical Sheep tagger

There are two ways to get the Magical Sheep tag creator to work on Blogger Beta blogs.

First, simply reinstall the script using the instructions and links in the original post, as those userscripts have been updated by my Magical Sheep pardner Kirk to incorporate the necessary tweaks. It will overwrite your existing script without messing with your saved settings.

Alternatively, you can edit the script yourself manually (and again your saved user settings won't be affected). Here's how:

In Firefox, go to menu Tools -> Manage User Scripts.

Select Technorati Multiple Word Tags for Blogger version 1.0 beta:

On the right, under Included Pages, click on the line that reads*:

Click Edit and you'll get this:

Carefully edit it (don't erase anything else, click Cancel if you do and try again) to change "www" to "*" so it reads like this instead:

Then click OK.

Now under Included Pages, click on the line that reads*:

Click Edit and you'll get this:

Again, carefully edit it (don't erase anything else, click Cancel if you do and try again) to change "www" to "*" so it reads like this instead:

Click OK, and OK again, and that's it.

Updating the Technorati Magical Sheep tagger

The same principles apply to many other Greasemonkey userscripts. In other words, go to Tools, Manage User Scripts, click on the other script name and try to edit the Included Pages lines of that script to change any mentions of "" to "*".

This tweak certainly works with Jasper of Browservulsel's essential "Keep current time on post" script and "large post editor" script.

Some scripts, like Jasper's Blogger post editor textarea styler script, won't need updating.

But unfortunately other scripts, like Jasper's Blogger edit comments script (based on a discovery by Kirk which I blogged about previously), won't work at all on Blogger Beta - not even with the above tweak. I think that must be to do with Blogger changing the way they do things in the beta. Let's hope Kirk figures out another way to edit comments on Blogger Beta soon - I certainly haven't been able to!

Blogger beta: labels, categories, tags, further thoughts

Further to my initial review of Blogger's new beta service, announced recently by Blogger, I've had a further look and a few other thoughts on it.

Blogger Beta: labels (categories), tags and Technorati

The new labels do get your posts picked up and displayed on the blogosphere search engine Technorati's tag pages (although you might want to ping Technorati with the blog URL to make sure the blog is on their radar).

The link for a label when clicked does a search for the label within your blog, e.g. in my test Blogger beta blog the URL for the label "motor bikes" is As mentioned in my previous post, clicking that link searches for all posts in the blog which has the label "motor bikes".

When Technorati indexes the blog, which it does by looking at the content of the blog feed, it picks up labels as tags for its tag pages. So my test post labelled "motor bikes" is on their motor bikes tag page (though it might be on page 2 or 3 etc by the time you read this!):

This is all very good stuff, of course. Blogger labels are clearly treated by Technorati in the same way as e.g. Wordpress categories are, and picked up by Technorati (but remember their general problems affecting tags might affect labels too).

However, I couldn't get the Icerocket blog search engine to pick up the Blogger Beta labels despite pinging them too. Though to be honest I've given up on Icerocket because I've found it has even more problems than Technorati - at least Technorati still indexes the content of my posts even if it's a bit iffy about picking up the tags; many of my posts haven't even got indexed on Icerocket at all.

Blogger Beta and feeds: categories, autodiscovery

Another good thing is that labels you add to your Blogger Beta posts are shown as "Author's labels" in Google Reader (see the bottom of the screenshot) and other feed readers that can display categories:

Clearly Blogger are converting labels into the proper category elements when generating the atom.xml feed file for beta blogs.

[UPDATE: autodiscovery has now been added.] However, one negative point is that, while at least they've automatically added links to the feeds ("Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)") at the bottom of the blog page, Blogger haven't automatically enabled auto-discovery of the feed - not as far as I can see from my own test blog anyway (which I deliberately left on one of the standard non-customised templates). Still, it's early days yet, and no doubt that will come.

Technorati tag problems: still ongoing

Someone asked if there was any news about the problems with blogosphere search engine Technorati not picking up the tags in certain blog posts to display on their tag pages, even when they've indexed the rest of the post. From my previous experiments, it's at least in part to do with the content of your post - if there is something about the content of the post which Technorati's system doesn't like, whatever that may be (no one seems to have figured that out yet!), it won't pick up the tags in it.

Unfortunately, the issue is still ongoing, even just looking at my own blog alone. Since my last post about the problems, I've noticed several posts of mine which haven't got picked up (I check this quickly by going to their Improbulus tag pages and comparing the list of posts there against the lists in my archive pages e.g. for August, etc). You'll see that even last week a post got missed out, although most of the problem posts are from May or earlier so maybe it's improving a bit. The posts missing from their tag pages are:
Now, as I recently mentioned, they've identified at least one source of the problem - there may well be more than one cause, who knows.

It seems that sometimes Technorati have index glitches where they've picked up your tags from your post correctly, but then lost them. To compound the problem, their system treats the post as having been indexed before (because it has been - they've just dropped the tags afterwards on their system) - so they won't pick up the lost tags even when you update your blog, not even if the problem post is still on your main page (Technorati only indexes content that's in your feed i.e. on your main page). If you can't get them to find the lost tags or pick them up again before your problem post disappears off your main blog page, you're stuffed - the tags in that post will never ever appear on Technorati's tag pages.

I guess that, as before, all we can do is to stay cool and not get too Technoratty, but keep reporting the problem pages to Technorati - check your "metag" ("meblogging" tag) pages frequently, and let them know ASAP before any problem post vanishes from your main page.

Friday, 18 August 2006

Blogger beta: video of new features

I've updated my review of the new features in Blogger beta (announced in Blogger Buzz a few days ago), to include at the end of the post a link to a useful video which Philipp Lenssen made showing the new features in action.

Favicons: ico file hosting

I've updated my post on how to include favicons in your blog (the little pic in the address bar, Favorites or bookmarks toolbar etc), to:
  • mention Fileden, a free file host which accepts favicon .ico files and which, so far, seems to be working fine for my own blog (the new Blogger beta still doesn't allow you to upload .ico files to Blogspot's servers, yah boo sucks), and
  • add in a point about including an extra "shortcut icon" line of code in order for the favicon to show in Internet Explorer Favorites as well as in the address bar.

Tuesday, 15 August 2006

Blogger Beta: new features review - first look

As you'll have seen from Blogger Buzz, Blogger have rolled out some whizzy new features. They're moving existing Blogger users over gradually so you'll see a link in your Dashboard when you're eligible - sadly I'm not yet, wail. But you can still sign up to try it out by creating a new account and blog, and they'll merge old and new accounts eventually.

Some helpful resources about the beta:
  • visual tour of the new features
  • one-page overview of what's new
  • help pages available on the new features
  • known issues - what's still on the to-do list, known bugs, etc - but some features supposedly there still aren't e.g. keeping backups of your template - I haven't got a "Customize Design" tab myself, anyway.
Here's a summary of the new features, and I'll cover some of them in more detail later:
Some initial views and thoughts now. I'll try not to duplicate what's in the tour but there may be some.

New look blog

Here's what the new-style blog looks like (visit an example direct):

You'll see the feed link ("Subscribe to: Posts") at the bottom by default, so you no longer have to fiddle with your template to add in a link for readers to subscribe to your site feed. Notice also the improved archive display - so visitors can choose to see the year's archive, or just a month's, and the automatic inclusion of how many posts there have been in a particular month or year.

Also notice the top right of the navbar has an easy Sign Out link and New Post and Customise links too (if you're signed in). The Customise link takes you to the Template tab's Page Elements page, covered below. If you're not signed in, there's a Sign in link and also a Create Blogs link there instead:


You'll also have noticed under each of the top two posts a "Labels:" line. Yep, that's categories! To file a new post into a particular category, when you create the post there's a new line under the post editor box, "Labels for this post", where you can just type in the categories/tags you want:

Multiple word categories are fine, just separate them with a comma - in my case I just typed in "motor bikes, scooters" (without the quotation marks) and they appeared at the end of the post. Though uppercase, somehow - there must be a way to configure that if you prefer not to have them in uppercase.

When you click on a category link, it points to posts labelled with that category just within your own blog, i.e. it brings up a page that just contains the posts in your blog which have that label e.g. "Scooters" in this example:

Blogger must have instituted a more sophisticated kind of searching within a blog, i.e. searching by label, because the URL is of the form e.g. This means it will be easy to search in any Blogger blog of your choice for any label of your choice. It'll be interesting to see if combo searching is introduced at some point, i.e. searching for posts categorised uner this label OR that label within a blog, or posts which have been categorised with BOTH A and B.

A clever feature is label autocomplete - as you type in a label, if it recognises it as one you've already typed in the past, it suggests it for you and you can just hit Enter to use it:

Once you've started using labels, it even saves them and "Show all" can show you a list of what you've used before:

So it looks like the Magical Sheep tagger for Blogger may become redundant soon - though not yet, perhaps, as that still provides a few extra features. ([Updated 24 August:] My pardner Kirk has tweaked the Greasemonkey script (see the original post for download links) to make it work for the new beta blogs; here's how to tweak it yourself to make the script work with Blogger Beta.)

[Added 24 August:] The new labels will get properly picked up on Technorati's tag pages and correctly converted to category elements in Blogger feeds. See this post for more on labels, categories and tags.

Permissions and private blogs

You can now have private or restricted-view blogs; the way in which you can restrict readers is self-explanatory:

Easier template customisation

This is a good one. Here's what the Template tab now looks like (a new Page Elements page):

Blog Posts - that Edit link at the bottom right of the Blog Posts box lets you configure various things easily by checkboxes, rather than editing your template code by hand:

Add a Page Element - this link, which you'll notice is in the sidebar as well as footer, allows you to choose various options to add to your sidebar or footer just by ticking a box, like links, link lists, pictures/photos, just plain text, HTML/Javascript, labels (as in, to enable display all your labels/categories in your sidebar), a choice of Blogger logos, profile information and your blog archive.

In the template tab there's a new Fonts and Colors sub-tab, and this is what you get with it (I've picked a new colour so you can see the instant change). As you can see, you can pick colours for different elements of your template blog page easily by just clicking:

Edit HTML doesn't work yet. But Pick New Template offers more templates than before, with easier colour choice too (see also these illustrations):

Archive features are easily customisable:


Under the Settings, Site Feeds tab, there is now an Advanced Mode option where as you can see you can change the settings for your blog posts feeds, blog comment feed and per-post comment feeds as well as feed item footer for Adsense (there are instructions on the site feed settings too):

A "Subscribe to: Post Comments" link to subscribe to a comment feed for an individual post appears at the end of the post, automatically:

I wonder if even on "old" Blogger blogs it may be possible to add comment feeds by template tweaking - I haven't had a chance to try yet, but I plan to!

Other points

There's a new dashboard with easier access to main settings but I won't include a screenshot here, see e.g. the tour.

All good stuff. More when I've had a chance to play with it further and new features are made available. Good on yer, Blogger and thank you - categories and comment feeds at last!

Added 17 August: Philipp Lenssen has made a helpful video showing the Blogger beta features in action which is worth a look. And Blogger's official blog Blogger Buzz has an update about Blogger Beta.

Monday, 14 August 2006

Music downloads: MP3s and DRM - the right direction at last?

What interests me most about the news last week of mobile phone maker Nokia buying digital music provider Loudeye is, not the speculation about Nokia possibly mounting a challenge to Apple's all-conquering iPod and its cutting out the middleman in music sales, so much as some reports that Nokia intended that music downloaded via their phones would be playable not just on those phones, but on all digital music players - unlike with Apple's iTunes downloads.

I couldn't find mention of that point in Nokia's official press release, so I don't know where the news reports that mention the point (eg. Hemscott) got that info from. I hope it really is officially what Nokia are planning.

Following the news a few weeks ago that Yahoo is offering MP3 music downloads with no digital rights management (anti-copying) restrictions, I wonder if things are finally starting to move in the right direction - if the big companies are starting to realise that consumers want easy, unrestricted downloads without DRM which they can freely copy to other devices they own to play at home, on the move, in the car etc as they choose, and are willing to pay a fair price for them - rather than being forced to pay through the nose for buying the same song or music several times over for each different device they want to play it on?

As I mentioned in my BT Vision post, in fact it's illegal and a breach of copyright in the UK to rip your own paid-for DVDs to watch on your PMP, or to rip your own CDs to play back on your MP3 player, though most British consumers don't realise that this kind of "fair use" is not in fact allowed in the UK under our absurd copyright laws. So it's about time that the record companies started allowing people to play paid-for downloads freely on any MP3 players or other devices that they own. Let's hope this is the start of a trend.

British bloggers: protected as journalists?

I'd posted before about Apple losing a case in the USA where they tried to make bloggers reveal their sources.

It seems that in the UK, according to the view of one English lawyer at least, we British bloggers should equally be protected because of the Contempt of Court Act of 1981.

(Yes, that's a couple of months old now, but I'm still catching up on things having not been blogging properly for a while, and I wanted to make sure I had a note of that in my blog).

Technorati: how Technorati indexes tags, and edited posts

Slowly catching up... I've updated my introduction to Technorati tags, including adding a new section with some details on how Technorati indexes the tags you add to your posts.

That section explains why, if you want your posts properly added to Technorati's tag pages, it's important to set your blog to output a full feed, and also how Technorati handles the indexing of edited posts, including existing posts where you've since edited the tags.

I've also beefed up the "problems" section accordingly. It seems sometimes Technorati have glitches where they've picked up your tags from your post correctly, but then lost them. The problem is that as the post is treated as having been indexed before, they won't pick up the lost tags even when you update your blog, not even if the problem post is still on your main page.

The moral is still to check soon after posting whether your tags are appearing on Technorati's tag pages correctly, and if they are not, to get on to Technorati ASAP and certainly before the problem post moves off the bottom of your main blog page.

Sunday, 13 August 2006

Technorati tags: bookmarklet for Internet Explorer

I've just updated the Magical Sheep bookmarklet, which enables you to create easily code for tags to copy/paste into your blog posts in order to get your posts to appear on the tag pages of blogosphere search engines such as Technorati and Icerocket. I've also updated my original post about how to use the bookmarklet.

The original code was too long for Internet Explorer, which doesn't like long favelets code (though I don't know if IE 7 will be better on that front) - but recently archiver cleverly compressed the code (here's how) and I incorporated those changes into the updated bookmarklet. Here's archiver's version - it inserts an extra "t" before the tag, which I don't personally use.

Don't forget you can also add tags to your posts using the Magical Sheep Greasemonkey script for Firefox, which is my own preferred option. But if you'd rather use Internet Explorer as your browser when you blog, then the bookmarklet may be the quickest way to do it.

You can as before customise the bookmarklet code to add your own "meblogging" tags - see my favelets page.

Blogger: no space left on deviceblog

Judging by the number of hits I'm getting on this, it seems people on Blogger are having problems again with this error message, which you can get after you publish your posts. Posts are published but just don't show up in your blog. This problem has reared its ugly head before, e.g. to my knowledge in January 2006, but Blogger eventually fixed it, as I reported then.

I don't think it's something you'll be able to fix yourself. It seems to be an issue with the Blogger system, and I can only suggest that if you experience this problem, you report it to Blogger ASAP (the link only works after you've logged in) so they know there's a problem again - the more people who report it, the quicker they'll take heed and resolve it. Good luck!

[Updated 25 August 2006:] Yep, Blogger are now finally on it.

Tuesday, 8 August 2006

BT Vision: video on demand downloads over broadband

BT had previously announced some details of their plans for TV and video over broadband, to be launched around autumn this year: "BT’s service will be a world first combining access to digital terrestrial channels, an extensive video on demand library and a range of interactive services".

BT Vision

Things seem to be progressing nicely on that front. The new service will be called BT Vision, and will only be available to BT Broadband customers new as well as old. This may be the one thing that'll get me to switch to BT as my ISP (I've been planning to switch for a while as my current ISP is really taking the mick, charging the same amount for the same service to existing customers while other ISPs are charging less for providing more).

You can register on the BT Vision site to get news on BT Vision, which I assume means you'll get an email when it finally launches. The BT Vision site says if you are a BT Vision user you can expect to get:
  • "Access to over 30 Freeview channels through your TV aerial (subject to coverage)
  • Entertainment on demand - A huge library of movies, comedy, music and kids shows that you can order and watch at the touch of a button. And remember there is no compulsory subscription so you can decide how you pay.
  • Catch-up TV - You'll be able to watch a selection of last week's shows you may have missed
  • Digital Video Recorder - Store up to 80 hours of programming - without tapes, timers or disks
  • Communication services - In the future you'll be able to use instant messaging, chat and video telephony all through your TV. You'll be able to control your BT Vision service via the internet whenever you're online."
The original BT press release suggests, and this seems borne out by the info on the BT Vision site, that subscribers will get a Freeview set top box with built-in hard drive, which I assume you will connect to both your computer and your TV, and video downloaded via your computer will get transferred to the box to be played back on your TV.

I've registered with BT Vision for more news, and if you're interested you might as well too. Late last year the BBC tested user downloads to their computers of certain TV programmes (broadcast no more than 7 days before the download date), via the BBC iMP (Integrated Media Player) or MyBBCPlayer software. I took part in the trial and one of my key conclusions was that it wouldn't work for the majority of people because most of us wouldn't want to play shows back just on a computer monitor. Well the provision of a set top box (to be made for BT Vision by Philips, no slouch in things electronic) would certainly address that particular issue. The "catch up TV" feature also suggests BT will at least rival the BBC in making available downloads of the last week's TV programmes.

And the killer app for me is the ability to download videos over your broadband connection and play them back on your TV, saving a trip to the video store - paying for each download, yes, but not having to pay a monthly sub for access to that facility. BT had previously done deals with BBC Worldwide, Paramount and Warner Music Group so as to be able to provide their content, so the variety of downloads should be decent, including blockbuster films. I had considered on and off whether to sign up with Homechoice, which has offered video on demand over broadband in London for some time, but I never did because I wasn't too sure about how broad a choice of movies etc would be available - if they'd published an online programme of movies they could provide, visible to non-subscribers, I could have made my mind long ago, but as they didn't I never got round to trying to find out more and taking the plunge. Now, I think I'm almost sold on the idea of BT Vision - the provision of a digital video recorder as part of the package is a near clincher (though I bet they won't let us archive shows to DVD!).

BT's beta ideas and services site includes links to a discussion forum for BT Vision and an email address to provide feedback on it, but the discussion forum seems noticeably devoid of content at the moment. No doubt as more people discover it it will start getting busy! This is the sort of service I've been wanting for a long, long time and Blockbuster and the like had really better watch out if, or more likely when, BT Vision takes off. Much will of course depend on how competitive their pricing is, and how restrictive their digital rights management, so I'll wait a bit and see - e.g. if you can only play a download once within the first five hours and that's it, that would put me right off it. It has to replicate DVD rentals in terms of playability as much as possible, in my view - except please, please could they let you skip the trailers and ads like you used to be able to with plain video tapes. I hate the way that with DVDs you can't fast forward through ads etc, you're paying for the rental after all, why must you sit through all that too? That "educational" anti-piracy short they often make you endure is almost enough to make one turn to pirated DVDs, I swear - I assume that illegal DVDs would allow you to skip those shorts, anyway!

BT Vision Download

By the way, in case you wonder, the link from the BT Vision site to BT Vision Download is a bit of a red herring. It's nothing to do with their proposed new all singing all dancing "next generation digital TV service". It's supposed to be a slightly different beast, but it's a clever beast all the same.

They are selling DVDs over the Net, but with a twist - while the price is about the same as if you bought the DVD in a shop (new releases from £16.99, classic movies from £7.99), for your money you get not only a physical DVD through the post, which you can play in your DVD player in the usual way, but also, for "a limited period only", the right to download whatever you buy to watch both on your computer (as a Windows Media Video file) assuming it meets the required specs (Windows XP only), and as a "specially formatted video file, optimised for a portable Windows Media player" to play on your personal video player (if it can handle Windows Media Player 10 e.g. Archos AV 700, and Creative Labs Zen Vision and Zen Vision M). The Windows Media-only option must of course be for digital rights management purposes, as DRM is intended to stop you copying the files to give or sell to anyone else.

So you can watch your purchased video on your personal media player and on your PC, all perfectly legally (in fact it's illegal and a breach of copyright in the UK to rip your own paid-for DVDs to watch on your PMP, or to rip your own CDs to play back on your MP3 player, though most British consumers don't realise that this kind of "fair use" is not in fact allowed in the UK under our absurd copyright laws - but that's another story...).

Unlike BT Vision, which hasn't yet launched as I write, the download store is already in operation now. Just be careful though, their site seems a bit dodgy - yesterday when I clicked the BT Vision Download link I kept getting either a blank window (via Firefox) or horrid server errors instead of a Webpage (IE), though viewing it in Opera was fine, and trying to view their "entire FAQs" page kept crashing Internet Explorer, even today - so don't say I didn't warn you!