Friday, 21 December 2007

Scientific chat up lines

New Scientist's Feedback column recently ran a compo "Flirt with science", where they invited readers to submit science-related chatup lines.

They've just published the winning chat-up lines, which are great especially if you're lover of puns and the absurd, as I am:
  1. Would there be any resistance if I asked to take you ohm? Emma Byrne, London, UK

  2. I love the way you smell so different from my dad. Toshi Knell, Nowra, New South Wales, Australia

  3. Would kissing you increase global warming and damage the Arctic irreversibly, or is it just enough to break the ice? Andy McCready, Sheffield, Yorkshire, UK

  4. I've had my ion you. Gary Duffala, Rio Rancho, New Mexico, US

  5. Baby, you must be a start codon because you are turnin' me on. Jessica Swanson, Stratford, Prince Edward Island, Canada

  6. I don't wish to brag, but in several parallel universes I invented the internet, warned the world about global warming, ran for president and won the Nobel peace prize. Yonatan Silver, Jerusalem, Israel

  7. Hello, I've just taken part in the clinical trial of a new drug to help memory loss; could you tell me, do I come here often?
    John French, Wellington, Somerset, UK

  8. You are definitely the woman of my REM phase. Giuliano Aluffi, Milan, Italy

  9. Er... hello... um... er. Oh look! Our shoes have similar spectral characteristics. Jon White, Rampton, Cambridgeshire, UK

  10. Meiosis? Kirstie Brogan Grace, Grays, Essex, UK (from a convent school!!)

Try 'em out, you never know if they'll work. Some of them might work on me, I have to admit!

My own faves are 7, 1 and 9. And I rather like 5 and 6 too. Yours? Or could you better the winners perchance? If so, please post it in a comment. Should you view that as a challenge, even better...

Broadband speed claims: Ofcom acts

Have you ever been misled by broadband providers' advertisements claiming to offer broadband speeds of "up to" X Mbps - then found that in fact your download speed is much less than that, or that your upload speed is just pitiful?

Misleading ads like this have been all too common in the UK; people sign up, tempted by the lure the ISPs hold out of faster speeds, not realising that with many ISPs you'll probably get less than the fastest advertised speed if you're further from the exchange, or that with other ISPs your speed could be significantly reduced depending on how many other users sharing your service are online. That's only in the small print, or not stated at all.

UK consumers and consumer bodies have been increasingly exercised about this kind of misleading ad, particularly for supposedly ultra high-speed services.

Take upload speeds, for instance. For domestic broadband, usually upload speeds are much slower than download speeds, e.g. for BT Broadband the advertised download speed is 8MB but the upload speed is a mere 256Kbps (and it's impossible to find any info on upload speeds on the BT site itself). Originally advertisers were claiming high speeds all round, without making it clear that upload speeds weren't hugely better than on a dial up package. So much so that in mid 2005 the UK Advertising Standards Authority issued advice to marketers to "either do not use unqualified speed claims (unless the package is faster for both downloads and uploads) or be specific about the advantage, e.g. “Faster download” or “Upload speeds of up to XMB”," having upheld complaints on that front against NTL, BT and AOL.

Then in September 2006, the ASA upheld complaints about "up to 8 meg" speed ads on TV and in the national press by Bulldog (though the ASA felt "up to" was fine in ads for 1 Mbps and 2 Mbps services, "where the user would not achieve the maximum speed because of factors such as the number of people on line but where the attainable speeds were close enough to those advertised so as not to affect the customers' experience in any meaningful way" - the highlighted buzzwords were used again earlier this year in a Sky vs Virgin advertising spat).

They again upheld complaints about "up to" speed claims against Wanadoo UK in October 2006, and against Be in January 2007.

The ASA even issued general advice to advertisers in March 2007 on that broadband ads should include a prominent statement along the lines of “top speeds vary significantly, in particular because of a user’s distance from the local exchange”.

The UK comms regulator Ofcom have been aware of the issue for some time, mentioning it e.g. their September 2007 consultation on Future broadband - Policy approach to next generation access in the context of the importance of appropriate information being made available to consumers so they can make informed purchasing decisions about next generation network products and services.

In their November 2007 consumer experience report and policy evaluation Ofcom noted falling consumer satisfaction with broadband in the UK , one area of complaint being that advertised headline broadband speeds do not reflect actual speeds delivered.

Their December 2007 International Communications Market report also noted that in the UK fully a quarter of respondents felt that they received a service that was less than the advertised speed of 8Mbit/s or higher - the UK (along with Japan) had the biggest gaps between perceived advertised/headline and actual speeds - and

In October 2007 the chair of the Ofcom Consumer Panel Colette Bowe wrote an open letter on broadband speeds to the Chief Executives of leading UK ISPs. And now finally, in their response to proposals in a letter by the Ofcom Consumer Panel, Ofcom have said that they'll be talking to internet service providers early in the New Year about:
  1. ISPs providing consumer specific information prior to sale on the estimated maximum speed a customer’s access line can support (using BT Line Checker and/ or equivalent).

  2. ISPs providing consumers with data early within the contract period on the actual (rather than estimated) maximum speed being achieved.

  3. ISPs offering consumers the choice to move, penalty free, onto a different speed package based on the information provided
Other things mentioned in the letter, to help consumers:
  1. To help consumers choose the most appropriate ISP for their needs, Ofcom have also started a project to identify the most useful indicators to consumers for comparative Quality of Service information, and they'll consider what's the best way to provide this information to consumers.

  2. Ofcom are also going to publish, in summer 2008, a consumer guide with advice on how best to maximise the quality of a broadband connection within the home.

Ofcom further said:
"We are keen that any measures are implemented in the shortest time frame possible. At this stage, we have not ruled out the possibility of using formal powers if we consider it would be more effective in delivering our objectives."

In other words, "This has gone on long enough. Better sort this out fast, you ISPs, or we'll make ya do it!" Which is good news for us consumers. I hope they make ISPs provide (pre and post contract) info on download speeds as well as upload speeds, and allow contracts to be cancelled if the promised speeds are not met - not just moved to a different package with the same provider. Let's wait and see...

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Blogger: undocumented keyboard shortcuts?

I love keyboard shortcuts - they help me be much more productive - and it's great that Blogger have implemented some, having added the much needed "Save but keep editing" earlier this year: see the Blogger keyboard shortcuts list.

I just discovered that, at the start of a list item in a numbered or bulleted list in the Blogger Post Editor, the Tab key will create a new list nested inside the current list. And Shift-Tab moves a "lower level" list item back up to a higher level.

  • I'm a list item.
  • I'm another list item.
    • And I'm a lower level nested list item created by using the Tab key
    • And another one.
  • I've Shift-tabbed back now.

Could there be other undocumented or "secret" keyboard shortcuts? Does anyone know at all?

My biggest wishlist items for Blogger currently are (still!) to have hotkeys for:
  1. switching back & forth between Edit HTML and Compose view (and if the cursor would just stay in the same position when you switch views, that would be perfect!)

  2. a bulleted or numbered list (Ctrl-Shift-l perhaps?), and

  3. (a new one) the Add Image command.
Hey, it's nearly Christmas. I can wish, can't I?

Modest needs, moi.

Seasonal Santa funnies - privacy, distance selling, environmental etc

For the Christmas season Out-Law, one of my favourite sites for digital rights news, have come out with a number of excellent funnies, written totally straight-faced as "news" articles, about some of the legal risks that face poor Santa Claus in this age of increasing red tape and regulations:

Santa putting children's information at risk, warn experts - "Santa Claus could be breaking privacy laws in his collection and use of data about British children... Yuletide cheer-bringer Claus could be putting the personal data of millions of children at risk... Children across Britain who write letters to Claus with a list of gift requests are not told for how long that data is kept, or if it will be used for other purposes such as marketing by third parties... What about the naughty/nice database?.. Are children given notice that behavioural data is being collected about them throughout the year? And does it qualify as covert monitoring, which would breach Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights?..."

Santa ignores children's refund rights, warn experts - "Santa Claus's failure to alert children to their rights to full refunds within seven working days under the Distance Selling Regulations is in breach of those rules... All they have to do is cancel their contract, and I imagine a follow-up letter up the chimney should do it. He must also tell children that they have this right, which he plainly doesn't... Claus is likely to be in breach of one company's trade mark with his gift distribution enterprise. 'Santa Claus of Greenland' has a trade mark over that term in relation to games, playthings, sports goods, decorations for Christmas trees and the regulation and control of electricity, amongst other things..."

Reckless Santa could cause yuletide chaos, warn experts - "Santa Claus has been accused of putting his life and the lives of others at risk through breaches of health and safety laws. Brandy-loving present-giver Claus behaves recklessly and in direct contravention of UK legislation... Santa should at least make sure his sleigh has guardrails to prevent a fall and a fall arrest system installed so that if he does fall he is protected... Make sure your roof is safe and that the chimney is clear so that he doesn't injure himself on the way down... The alcohol restrictions are the same for every pilot whether you are flying a light aircraft or a 747... It is 20 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood, which is nothing, basically, a trace. One brandy probably would put you over that limit... There are also flying height restrictions which Claus is in clear breach of..."

Santa's hiring policies may discriminate, warn experts - "Santa Claus could be breaking a raft of employment laws designed to protect exploited and discriminated-against workers... Employers are governed by the European Working Time Directive, which restricts the number of hours anyone can work. That law could land Claus in hot water, said Doherty. 'In my mind the elves work full time all year round, and probably work more than 48 hours per week for the majority of the year,' he said... If Santa had to reduce his workforce as a result of the downturn [in toy demand due to a higher than normal level of bad children] and the elves were employees, they would be entitled to a redundancy payment. If they were not employees they would get nothing... What about the elf who wants to work flexibly so that they can look after their kids but Santa won't agree because he needs everybody working hard at this time of year?... It may be possible that if he only recruits elves to manufacturer his toys he will risk claims from other race types..."

Santa: environmental catastrophe?- "Santa Claus is ignoring his environmental obligations and could be putting the lives of thousands of livestock and agricultural livelihoods at risk... in his haste he may be ignoring his obligations to recycle and dispose of goods he has previously delivered... All producers, irrespective of size, were to register with an approved PCS by 15th March 2007, so Santa and the elves may be in breach if they have not registered and so they may face prosecution... His use of hooved animals in areas blighted by transmittable diseases is potentially his most serious safety breach. Outbreaks of foot and mouth and bluetongue diseases this autumn have put the future of the already-battered UK farming industry in jeaopardy once again. Claus's bringing of reindeer in and out of restriction zones could be a serious threat to the industry..."

Who'd be Father Christmas in the UK, eh?

Monday, 17 December 2007

Blogger: Technorati tagger for multiple word tags fixed

On Friday various changes to the Blogger post editor broke the Magical Sheep tagger userscript (which helps you add Technorati tags easily to your Blogger posts via the Firefox browser, using the free Greasemonkey extension). MC spotted the problem first. Or at least, was the first to point it out to me.

Fortunately that Javascript Jenius Kirk has fixed the user script so that it's all working again. Install the updated script and as long as your Post Options are visible, you'll see the tagger box as before. UPDATE: the script has further been tweaked to make sure the Post Options section stays open permanently even when you switch between Compose and Edit HTML modes. Links below are to the updated version.

If you've already installed the script, you can just install the tweaked script over your existing one and your MeTags etc will be preserved, no need to uninstall anything first.

I've uploaded the updated script to various places (same as before) so that the old links remain usable, but just point to the updated script (too small a fix to call it an "upgrade"!):
- and I've also updated my main post about that tagging tool to note the fix and to update the links there.

If you're a Blogger / user who hasn't yet installed the script and you'd like to try it, or indeed find out more on what this is all about, see my intro on what are Technorati tags and my Technorati tag creator overview, step by step installation instructions and links.

Maybe those behind the Greasemonkey Gmail API could start turning their thoughts towards a Greasemonkey Blogger API soon? Pretty please?

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Blogs, social networks: defamation v opinion, copyright, anonymity, your rights & risks - free event & drinks

If you write, run or host a blog or social network, or online message board or bulletin board, or plan to, you may be interested in a free event in January on your risks and liabilities to do with legal issues such as:
  • Are you responsible for clearing your contributor’s content?
  • Can you be responsible if other people take your comments out of context?
  • If you work for a company can your views affect them?
  • Can you remain anonymous?
  • What are you agreeing to when you join a blogging website and which countries' law do you have to adhere to?
  • What you need to be aware of when sourcing other peoples content?

The event is "Log in, Blog to, Log out", run by Own-It, from 6-9 pm including networking drinks on Wed 23 Jan 2008 in Clerkenwell, London. The speakers will be:

It's free to sign up for Own-It events if you're a registered member (and it's free to register - use a free disposable email address service like Spamgourmet or a Gmail alias if you prefer).

As you can tell from the questions listed above to be discussed, the talk should be relevant to those who host or run blogs or social networking sites too - not just bloggers or those who comment on blogs or post on internet forums or social network sites like Facebook, Twitter etc, in terms of the risks we face that we ought to be aware of.

I've signed up and do hope I'll be able to make it to this one - while there is an EFF legal guide for bloggers it's US-centric, and so is the legal guide to podcasting, as well as various developments in the USA on censorship / libel and defamation.

The EFF are very strong on promoting bloggers' rights in the US: the rights of journalists; bloggers' rights to free speech including political speech, without the abuse of copyright or libel laws to censor us; the right to stay anonymous; and the right to not be liable for hosting speech in the same way other web hosts are. I'm a big fan of the EFF, see my sidebar. The Open Rights Group are a similar group in the UK focusing on digital rights and civil liberties and also deserve support (I'm a member, as you won't be surprised to hear after my Copyfighters posts from May 2005, Aug 2005 and Mar 2006 plus Creative Commons song, if you were with me from that far back!).

The US is of course still very relevant to us here because content we create or upload could be hosted on servers located in the USA, or owned by a US company. For instance, this blog was directly affected when the BBC issued a take-down notice under the US DMCA against the YouTube screencasts in my BBC iPlayer review (though they later apologised).

But it's about time there was a legal guide for bloggers in the UK and Europe - I still have no idea about the risks of hyperlinking to other sites! Hopefully this will be an informative talk. And maybe someone - the ORG? - will produce a legal guide for bloggers here in the not too distant future?

In fact I may well draw up a list of the many questions I have on the subject and see if I can send it to the speakers / Own-It in advance in the hope that they'll address them.

Email stress: want to be on the BBC?

I notice BBC Two's Money Programme are asking people to email or phone in their email horror stories. So I guess the BBC must be planning a programme on all manner of email problems, as they're asking questions like:
  • Been fired by email?
  • Replied to all by mistake?
  • Wish people would stop cc'ing you in?
  • So fed up, you've declared email bankruptcy?

I guess if you email or phone them with your email stories you might even get featured on TV, for your obligatory few minutes of fame, if you're after that sort of thing.

In fact if you have funny email stories, I'd love to hear them too. I'm more than happy to feature the top submissions (which I pick, of course, hey I ought to get to be lady & mistress of m' own blog!) here on ACE - with of course a link back to the blogs of the top submitters. Let's see if this garners more entries than the guess the girl geek one did, or indeed the (only slightly tongue in cheek) mobileCamp one.

Of course, you may prefer to submit your stories to the BBC. Thass OK, I can live with that, being on the telly may be a somewhat greater attraction for most people! I just hope the programme doesn't turn out to be an over-general "email-bashing for the sake of it" type of thing.

And yes I confess, I've sent emails to the wrong people before, darn Outlook Address Book. Luckily there's been nothing too embarrassing. So far. I really ought to look at all the addresses very carefully before I hit Send...

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Skype: critical security update

If you use Skype for free or cheap VoIP phone calls over the Net via a Windows computer, and you haven't updated your Skype software lately, you ought to - there was a critical security hole which version 3.6 of the Skype software for Windows, an update issued in mid November, has now fixed.

With previous versions, there was a (it seems not at all well publicised) risk that if you visited certain malicious websites your computer could be infected with malware - viruses, spyware, etc, or control of it taken over by bad hackers.

So if you have a version of Skype for Windows that's below v3.6, you probably ought to upgrade Skype to the latest version as soon as possible. There are also other Skype issues to watch e.g. with trojans pretending to be Skype plugins.

Via Heise Security, which has more info on the security vulnerability.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Doctors shouldn't be using Google!

A while back there was a fuss about judges relying on Google searches for info related to their cases, rather than on expert courtroom testimony. Yet despite the hoohah about that, it seems the rot has spread. More people ought to be concerned about the fact that:
  1. Doctors are using Google to search for medical information, instead of using authoritative medical sources. And what's worse -

  2. They don't seem to be very good at it, at least in my experience!

Doctors using Google

I have a medical condition, genetic and not infectious. It's not life-threatening in me, luckily, as I inherited it from only one parent (if you get it from both you're pretty much snookered and will die before your 20's unless you have certain uncomfortable treatments which you're then stuck with for your entire life). And I shouldn't have kids with anyone who has it too. I don't want children, so that's not an issue.

However, I get tired and cold more easily than than most, and I will always have one mild symptom which I'm supposed to take stuff A for, because something in me is not the same as in ordinary healthy people. I have the right quantity of it, but I suffer the mild symptom because the quality of it is not normal. People who sneer at me or think I'm acting up or attention-seeking due to the measures I take to anticipate or prevent the tiredness and cold don't know about my condition, and frankly I'm not going to waste my time telling that sort of person.

My genetic condition was fully investigated when I was a child (as one of my parents has it). My parents consulted experts and even now keep nagging me to take the stuff I'm supposed to take to help alleviate the mild symptom.

Now I suffered a similar symptom in spades recently, due to a completely different health issue. Note that I said similar, not the same. Superficially it looks the same if you don't know I have the genetic condition and don't do fuller testing, and the end result is pretty much the same, but in fact the cause is slightly different.

Now the normal treatment for that symptom - taking stuff B, which is different from the stuff A I was told to take as a child - is aimed at increasing the quantity of the thing which I already have in sufficient quantity but is just not up to scratch in its quality. That treatment therefore doesn't assist someone with my genetic condition (increasing the quantity of something which is not right in its quality won't help), and in fact taking stuff B can be positively harmful to people like me if continued over time.

I went to see a GP (general practitioner, family doctor type for the non-Brits) about the other health issue I'd developed recently, because it just wouldn't go away even after some months. Now in order to alleviate the similar symptom the GP told me to take stuff B, which would certainly have helped someone who'd got the symptom from other causes and didn't have my genetic condition. But, as I said, I'd been positively told not to take that.

So I queried it with the GP, explained my genetic condition, and asked: are you absolutely sure I should be taking this stuff B?

The GP said they'd investigate and consult with their colleagues and get back to me. Get back to me a few weeks later they conscientiously did, but cue shock to the system number one.

What did they say? "I can't find anything about that on Google. So I'll ask my colleagues". Yes you heard that right, Google.

And that was the last I heard from them. They never got back to me ever again.

So much for asking their colleagues and reverting.

Now no one expects GPs to be experts in everything. After all, they're "general practitioners", family doctors, they wouldn't be able to know everything. But they should at least know the right sources to consult if and when they come across something they aren't familiar with.

Aren't there official medical databases, even books or manuals, which might be a tad more reliable than some random website that Google has picked? What happened to checking specialist medical databases or medical texts? Asking other doctors? And why couldn't they have asked their colleagues at least at the same time as doing a search on Google? They did have a a few weeks to do that in.

That was the first thing that worried me.

Doctors need training in using search engines and assessing the value of the results!

Here's the second worry.

Doctors, or at least that particular doctor, really aren't very good at finding information on the internet.

I tried searching about my condition on Google myself, doing two slightly different word searches. Both times, I found more than one webpage on the first or second page of the search results (including on Wikipedia), which not only described my condition but also confirmed that taking that particular stuff B that the GP had originally suggested wouldn't help that condition. True, they didn't say anything about taking stuff A, but at least they'd flagged that I shouldn't take, or at least didn't need to take, what my doctor had suggested.

Whereas my doctor said they'd found nothing about it on Google. They probably hadn't even spelled the name of the condition correctly. I wouldn't be at all surprised.

If medical professionals are going to use Google, Yahoo or other search engines for research in the course of their work, they at least need to know how to use them properly.

And even more importantly, surely they should be trained in how to evaluate the results - can a particular Webpage turned up by Google be trusted, is it authoritative, is it accurate, is it by someone who knows what they're doing or just some unknown person sounding off about a disease, condition or medicine or drug online, perhaps just to bring in ad money for their Website?

What should be happening? Professional ethics or even laws!

Now professionals who ought to know better have been turning to Google instead of official sources because of its simplicity, power and ease of use. I even found a University College academic paper based on research users, "‘I’ll just Google it!’: Should lawyers’ perceptions of Google inform the design of electronic legal resources?", on how the way people use Google and why they like it could help improve the design of electronic legal resources like LexisNexis.

But legal, health and other professionals need training on using the Net properly, and they need to remember to always use their informed critical judgement when assessing the search results. An American Bar Association paper on "Judicial ethics and the internet: may judges search the Internet in evaluating and deciding a case?" outlines the history of judges using the Internet as a research tool, concerns raised by that increasing practice (including fairness to the parties), and a proposed revision to the ABA's Model Code of Judicial Conduct (which was supported by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York Committee on Professional and Judicial Ethics and Committee on Government Ethics). This would at least make judges use the Internet with more care:
"judicial searching and citing of Internet materials raises concerns of accuracy, fairness, and permanency. Judges should
exercise caution in accessing factual information on the Internet, taking care not to let questionable Web site materials improperly influence case outcomes. Those bodies charged with making and applying state judicial rules should assess the need for clearer rules... a judge who intends to rely on materials obtained by searching the Internet must first inform the parties of the substance of the materials, and then offer the parties an opportunity to respond. Thus, before a decision is rendered, litigants would be aware of the Internet information and be able to contest its accuracy and relevancy."

For whatever reason, this proposed Judicial Canon still doesn't seem to have been finalised or officially released - at least, it was discussed as still a proposed Model Rule 2.10(B) at an ABA meeting in 2006 (original link).

Personally, I think that lawyers and indeed lawmakers in all countries should get their fingers out and make this sort of thing a law or rule which all lawyers and other professionals simply have to follow. Or risk being banned, disbarred or losing their licences to practice.

And furthermore, medical boards, ethics boards and the like should be issuing the same rule for doctors and other medical professionals.

And all of the official bodies should police it carefully.

Otherwise - well, do you really want a judge to make a ruling which could affect your life, or your doctor or nurse to diagnose your medical condition or prescribe drugs for you, based on some haphazard searches they perform on the Internet?

Monday, 3 December 2007

BarCampLondon 3 at Google, 24-25 November 2007

BarCampLondon3 last weekend was sponsored by Google and BBC Backstage and organised by the inimitable Ian Forrester with Amy Gepfert from Google. I've only just about recovered from my second BarCamp ever, the first being mobileCamp.

For those not familiar with the concept of a BarCamp or UnConvention or "user generated conference", the attendees are supposed to present or contribute in some other way e.g. helping out. You don't know the programme till you turn up. After they arrive people write on a whiteboard what their presentations will be, and you just decide what to go to on the day.

I haven't figured out how to present and stay anonymous. I did try a Cyberman helmet but it didn't work for me, you could still hear my real voice, I returned it to the shop! So I didn't lead a session, but I tried to do my bit by videoing lots of the presentations, and I'll be putting them online so that people who couldn't make it to the event can benefit from the presentations too.

This event kept pretty well to Imp's laws of BarCamp, except that many didn't even write down their names, never mind the details of what their talk would be about (a catchy title just isn't enough when you're competing with other talks in the same time slot). And there weren't microphones in all the rooms, or if there were not everyone used them, so on some of the videos the audio needs to be turned up quite a bit to hear the speaker properly. On the later one it's fine thanks to the loan of a gun microphone from Tom Hughes-Croucher, thanks Tom!

It takes me ages to process videos, so I'll be uploading them gradually over the next few weeks. To be going on with here's a lighthearted video of my own debut BarCamp "presentation", entitled "How to Fall Off a Segway". They said it wasn't possible - I proved them wrong! Plus a secret trick I wish I knew - how to get people to move the furniture out of the way for you - and BarCampers in action playing with the Googlers' Nintendo Wii. Lucky, lucky Googlers, to have the use of two Segways and a Wii, free meals 3 times a day, free snacks, beer, icecream etc etc...

The night festivities included games like London BarCamp fave Werewolf, and a chocolate fountain, but I was too exhausted to stay for those. For those interested in more info, there are photos on Flickr and various slides on Slideshare, plus several blog posts.

Keep checking back on this blog for more videos. I hope to have them all up by Christmas, the ones that are suitable for re-playing that is (not the "you had to be there!" ones) - including videos of the welcome and closing talks, and presentations on digital rights, voluntary economics (where people pay only if they choose to), Noserub, DIY user research, Yahoo Pipes, Website psychology, learning JQuery, the art of self-publishing, mobile web, mobile data and fair use, the future of BarCamp, and data portability.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Blogger: bug with posted pics, & temp fix

Kirk spotted that if you upload a pic or photo to Blogger using the built in Add Image icon in the Blogger post editor, a new bug now means that anyone clicking on the picture in your blog post to see a larger version gets prompted to download it instead.

Kirk posts, and Team Blogger immediately see and leap into action...

Blogger acknowledged the issue and published a temporary workaround the very same day.

Here's a step by step to fix the problem, at least for now:
  1. After you've uploaded the pic, go to "Edit HTML" view in the Blogger post editor.

  2. Find the code for the image, which will look something like this (I've put the bits that you need to change in bold red):
    <a onblur="[stuff]" href="http://[stuff]/AAAAAAAAAps/l45SRB9MHmc/s1600-R/16112007023.jpg">
    <img style="[stuff];" src="http://[stuff]/AAAAAAAAAps/mde1x2JIA7c/s200/16112007023.jpg" [stuff]/></a>
  3. Go to the second tag that starts <img... and find the bit that starts with src.

  4. Copy into your clipboard the jumble of letters and numbers immediately before the s-something bit, which in the above example is s200 (it could be s320 or s400). Just copy the bit between the / slashes, not the slashes themselves, so in the above example I'd copy mde1x2JIA7c, marked bold green.

  5. Go back to the first tag that starts <a... and find the href part.

    1. In the s-something bit, change the -R to -h. But don't touch the rest e.g. the s1600 in the above example.

    2. Find the s-something bit and delete the letters and numbers just before it, between slashes (in the above example l45SRB9MHmc), or highlight it and paste in what you copied from the img src bit. Don't delete any of the letters or numbers before that bit, so in the above example don't delete or change the AAAAAAAAAps bit or the letters/numbers before it.

  6. So in the above example the first bit of the image code would end up looking like:
    <a onblur="[stuff]" href="http://[stuff]/AAAAAAAAAps/mde1x2JIA7c/s1600-h/16112007023.jpg">

Hopefully Blogger will fix this soon!

Friday, 30 November 2007

Funny ad (in an eeeeew kinda way)

From Private Eye issue 1198, this advert that appeared in the Galloway News:

"Parachute, used once, never opened, small stain. £50 ono."

Eeeeeeek, I say!

Then I thought, hmmm, I'm sure I've heard something like this before. So I did a little search and found this item, which says it was (surprise, surprise) a hoax. The phone number advertised is actually for the canteen at the Dumfries & Galloway College. The catering firm there said:

"people have phoned and asked to buy it for their mother-in-law".

Monday, 19 November 2007

Guess who? (prize!)

Guess who this girl geek is on the very very pink beanbag?

Email, post a comment or text me by end of Sunday 25 November if you want to enter this little contest...

Winner will get a (size S only, for a change) T-shirt from MobileCamp - totally unworn, brand new I promise you! (If more than one person guesses the right answer I'll draw their names out of a hat.)

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Blogger "Keep current time" tool fixed

It's annoying to publish a draft post on Blogger / Blogspot and then realise it's been dated not the date / time when you hit Publish, but when you first created the draft post, which could be days or, in my case, weeks or months ago!

That's one solution to the mystery of the disappearing draft post that you just published - it's just been filed away in the archives at the date and time of the draft post's original creation, that's why you can't see it on your main home page (unless of course you first created the draft quite recently).

Apart from having always to remember to fix the date / time before you click "Publish Post", which I'm terrible at doing, the only consistent easy solution I know of so far is Jasper's free "Keep current time" userscript for Firefox and Greasemonkey, which ensures your published post will always automatically bear the right date and time.

Jasper kindly updated it once, but come the now feature complete fancy New Blogger, formerly known as Blogger Beta, with its widgety goodness and enhanced developer-friendliness, it was Aditya who got the script working with the new Blogger code.

However, during the last month or so the user script has broken again, because of formatting changes behind the scenes at Blogger. When you go to edit a previously-saved draft post, the "Keep current time" box is no longer automatically ticked.

Aditya seems to have been offline for some months now, I assume with his studies, as there's been no activity on his blog for a while, and I've not been able to contact him about this script.

Fortunately Kirk has come to the rescue (as always) and fixed the script so that it now works again, thanks Kirk, mwah! Man I wish Google would roll out an API for Blogger and Greasemonkey, like they did for Gmail and Greasemonkey.

As Aditya's MIA I've uploaded the corrected script so that everyone can benefit from the fixes (Aditya please let me know if you've a problem with that): Get the updated Keep current time script.

How to get the script, for beginners to Blogger / Greasemonkey

Shopping: credit card, not PayPal

The quickie

If UK consumers buy goods or services using a UK credit card, and they have a valid claim against the seller for a refund or reimbursement etc due to the seller's breach of contract or misrepresentation (defective products, lying about the features etc), there's good news - they can now also claim against the credit card company, even if they bought the goods or services outside the UK, e.g. from an online vendor or while travelling.

It's obviously very handy to be able to go against your credit card issuer if there's a problem and the original seller is now bankrupt, or won't answer your emails or return your phone calls.

The long & slow

This case has been widely reported, but it's worth a reminder. A few weeks back the top judges in the UK, the House of Lords, unanimously ruled that if UK consumers use a credit card to buy goods or services from a non-UK supplier, e.g. internet shopping from a foreign online vendor or while abroad on holiday outside the UK, they are still protected under section 75 of the UK Consumer Credit Act.

Section's 75 magic for us consumers is that it provides a kind of "guarantee". If you paid by credit card and the cash price of the goods or services you bought is over £100 (but not more than £30,000), and the seller was in breach of contract or guilty of a misrepresentation - e.g. they delivered the wrong things or nothing at all, or the stuff was duff, or they got you to buy the goods or services by misleading you about them, etc - then, if the seller has gone bust or is obstructive, you can go against your credit card company instead to get your money back, or compensation and the like. The credit card issuer is equally responsible along with your supplier, wherever the supplier is based.

The big high street banks had tried to argue that this protection only extends to domestic purchases, i.e. UK consumers buying goods or services in the UK, but the good ol' Office of Fair Trading took the fight all the way up to the Lords, who said no, that's not so - it covers consumers with UK credit agreements, whether they ordered from a UK shop or a foreign (that's "non-UK" if you're not a Brit) supplier.

So the tip is this: whether you're buying in person in the UK or travelling overseas, or whether you like to buy over the phone or the Web and you order from a UK or a non-UK website over the internet, if you're paying for something that's within the price band of over £100 but not more than £30,000 then, all other things being equal, you should be better off paying with a credit card rather than cash or PayPal etc - because then you get the card company's "guarantee" or "insurance", as long as it's a credit card from a UK credit card company that is (and if you're also in the UK. I've no idea what the position is if a non-UK resident uses a card issued by a UK credit card company!).

One gotcha to note: this protection only applies if you use a "real" credit card, NOT a charge card like many Amex cards where you have to pay off the whole balance every month. If you have a real credit card, where you can make a minimum payment of less than the full amount, you're OK even if you choose to pay it in full sometimes or indeed all the time - but if you use a "charge card" for the purchase, then you won't be covered.

Another questionmark: I don't know if this includes software downloads. Does anyone know?

Surely this is a good thing for e-commerce as well as consumer rights. In a way, it will give credit card issuers a slight competitive advantage over PayPal and the like. Even though it will hit the pockets of the credit card companies first, I've no doubt that eventually it'll hit us consumers too, in the form of even higher overall charges or interest rates; and that will be what it will be, so you may as well get yourself that extra protection when you're buying from abroad, in my view.

Usual blurb - I'm not a consumer lawyer, this is very general and isn't legal advice, blah blah, if you are on the cusp of the price range and aren't sure if you're covered, if you find yourself in a situation involving needing to claim against your credit card issuer, you should consult your own legal advisers.

More info:

Sony Ericsson mobiles: security risk

Many Sony Ericsson cellphones sold between 2005 and 2007, e.g. the K750i, K800i, K810i, T650i and W880i (which use a proprietary Sony Ericsson operating system rather than Symbian) are vulnerable to a security hole recently discovered by Adrian Nowak and Karsten Sohr, research scientists at Bremen University. This allows applications to read and write to system files, so they could e.g. replace certificates confirming the origin of programs to be installed:
"For the installation of malicious software, the user only needs to confirm that the software is allowed to read and write user data. According to the scientists this is also standard practice with trusted applications and doesn't, therefore, raise any suspicion ."

One upside: users could also use the security flaw to "replace the logos and ring tones installed for "branding" purposes."

Via Heise Security, who also noted that "It is still unclear whether the hole is located in the operating system itself or in the Java VM. The scientists didn't want to release any details to allow Sony Ericsson to fix the vulnerability. No statement has so far been received from the vendor."

Attacks on mobile phones are very rare, but still, if you have an affected phone, best not to install any software except from a site you absolutely trust in case it could be malware exploiting this hole. And hope that Sony Ericsson fix the vulnerability.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Switching broadband: Prodigy Internet fined £30k; complain to Ofcom if you have problems!

On 9 November UK regulator Ofcom fined Prodigy Internet Limited - which seems to trade as Prodigy Networks - £30,000 for failing to provide info on Prodigy's compliance with new rules, known as GC22, introduced in Feb 2007 to help consumers migrate their broadband services "quickly, easily and with minimal service disruption" (more on moving broadband internet providers using GC22):

As part of its ongoing investigation into Prodigy’s compliance with GC22 and GC14.7, Ofcom issued a notice to Prodigy under section 135 of the Communications Act 2003 (‘the Act') requiring the provision of specified information. As Prodigy failed to comply with this notice, a notification under section 138 of the Act was issued to Prodigy on 31 May 2007. Prodigy also failed to comply with this notification.

Ofcom considers that Prodigy has failed to provide all the required information. Given Prodigy’s ongoing failure to comply with the section 135 notice and having followed the procedures set out in the Act, Ofcom has decided to impose a penalty of £30,000 on Prodigy. A non-confidential version of the penalty notice issued to Prodigy on 9 November 2007 under section 139 of the Act is currently being prepared and will be published shortly.

Ofcom said they continue to investigate Prodigy's activities. Interestingly, at the date of writing this I see Prodigy are also overdue on filing their obligatory annual accounts with the UK companies registrar (due 31 October 2007)...

Ofcom are continuing, until at least February 2008, to keep an eye on the extent to which internet service providers generally are actually following GC22.

So do complain to Ofcom if you encounter difficulties moving between ADSL broadband service providers who provide internet connection over BT copper loop phone lines (the rules don't apply to cable broadband, sadly). Or even if you've had problems with migrating your broadband internet access after Feb 2007, but hadn't got round to telling Ofcom yet. And make sure to do it before Feb 2008.

They say they won't deal with individual complaints, but they do monitor them, and if there are relatively high complaint levels against a particular ISP, they've "held discussions with the relevant broadband provider to identify the cause of the complaints and bring about compliance with GC22. Where this approach has not succeeded, we have taken a more formal approach." I guess that's what happened with Prodigy.

Ofcom say that since the introduction of the enforcement programme, the number of complaints received by Ofcom about broadband migration issues has fallen by about half, from around 480 complaints per week at the start of March to around 250 complaints per week at the start of August. So that seems to be a sign that GC 22 is working. But as the Prodigy fine and my own experiences trying to migrate providers show, it's not working in all cases. So the more consumers who register their complaints with Ofcom about their issues, the better - if you've had problems, just drop them a line. They can't investigate something if they don't know about it.

More details about steps to take to move ISPs under GC22 are in my previous post but your existing broadband ISP is supposed to provide info on how to switch and to enable you to switch, involving what's called a "MAC" which is a migration authorization code you give to your new ISP, with certain deadlines. They're not supposed to charge you for the MAC either, not even if they say you owe them money for unpaid charges.

So what are you waiting for - if you've had difficulties with obstructive unhelpful ISPs stressing you out with deliberately trying to put obstacles in the way of your changing to another DSL broadband provider, tell Ofcom today. Even a one liner is better than nothing, naming the ISP and the issue of course. Ofcom's page on problems with switching providers unfortunately isn't enough to cover all the possible breaches of GC22, but tell 'em anyway, and strike a blow for consumer rights - and maybe even get at least the satisfaction of seeing the obstreperous rule-breaking sods fined for it!

Monday, 12 November 2007

Amazon 1-click: patently wrong?

For those who hadn't heard, Amazon's infamous one-click patent (for ordering your shopping with one click over a "communications network") was successfully challenged a few weeks ago by New Zealander movie industry man Peter Calveley, after he filed a request for re-examination of that patent which according to Out-law was "simply a hobby borne of an interest in patents and a frustration with an order for a book from Amazon that took too long to arrive" i.e. "so little happens in New Zealand that he was bored."

He submitted to the US Patent Office lots of examples of "prior art", information previously public which shows that a patent applied for might not in fact be sufficiently original to merit the grant of a patent. And they thought that was good enough to reject 21 out of Amazon's 26 claims in their one-click patent.

He said: "Amazon has the opportunity to respond to the Patent Office's rejection, but third party requests for reexamination, like the one I filed, result in having the subject patent either modified or completely revoked about 2/3 of the time."

This is an interesting decision and possibly (hopefully?) a sign of a change in approach? For a while now, I've thought the US patent system has gone too far in allowing things to be patented which really shouldn't be. I'm not anti-intellectual property but I'm a copyfighter in the sense that I think IP laws aren't keeping up with the times and no longer strike a fair balance, so it's not surprising that I think that. However, even Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, said at a recent lecture, which I've previously mentioned in relation to his comments on women in technology and geek culture, that "Patented technology is a major obstacle to development of a mobile web".

At least here in the UK the authorities seem rather more sensible, e.g. rejecting a patent application for a soul-powered artificial force field generator! Though maybe that's a pretty obvious no no... For other silly or funny patents for inventions (though maybe not silly in quite the same way), see e.g.:

Back on point, on his blog Peter Calveley said "Some people are sending me money - however I don't have any expenses right now so thank you very much but I can't accept it."

Well, maybe he could take the money and use it to challenge other similar patents next? Like:

You can search for more patents on Google's US Patent Search service, if that sort of thing floats your boat!

Sunday, 11 November 2007

New Gmail Greasemonkey API - & Blogger, please??

Tucked away in an update to a recent official Gmailblog blog post about future behind the scenes changes to Google's Gmail was some good news for Greasemonkey fans.

Greasemonkey is a free extension for the free and wonderful Firefox browser, which lets people write userscripts to do all sorts of clever things to webpages like change the way they look and work, improve your browser security etc - see this post for instance for a Technorati tagging script for Blogger /, and instructions generally on how to install Greasemonkey and install user scripts too.

Lots of scripts have been written for Google services, even Book Search.The Gmail team appreciated that when they tinker with the underlying code for a web service for which Greasemonkey user scripts have been written, that can mess up existing Greasemonkey scripts. (Previously new releases of Google Reader had broken Greasemonkey scripts too, and there are many Greasemonkey scripts for Reader including with Google Gears).

So to help us all they've released an experimental Gmail / Greasemonkey API which should make Greasemonkey scripts for Gmail easier to write and more resistant to being broken when Gmail code is changed. (The forthcoming changes will apparently involve a new Javascript implementation for Gmail.) Greasemonkey has been used for Google Reader and Gears too

Yay, I say! That should make Greasemonkey gurus like Kirk and Jasper happy.

However, Greasemonkey scripts have been known to stopped working not just when Gmail code changes are implemented, but also when other web services have been changed. Or indeed when Firefox has been updated, or Greasemonkey itself has been updated. You get the drift...

As this blog is on Blogger, personally my biggest use of Greasemonkey scripts is in order to get Blogger, particular its post editor, to work the way I want it to, making up for several shortcomings or gaps I feel exist in the current interface (e.g. prettying up the font). I'd go so far as to say my Blogger Greasemonkey scripts are absolutely indispensable to this blog.

Unfortunately, something must also have changed behind the scenes in Blogger's code these last few weeks, because the Keep Current Date/Time script (essential if you save drafts on Blogger for later publishing), which Aditya had updated for New Blogger, no longer automatically ticks the "Keep current date/time! box when you're editing a saved draft. Also, my script to enlarge the Blogger template editor doesn't work anymore either, boohoo.

So here's hoping that the Blogger team will similarly roll out a Blogger / Greasemonkey API soon too for those interested in the Blogger API, which saw a new Javascript client library recently.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Art, technology, copyright: CC-Salon, London 20 Nov

Fancy "discussion and debate on the subjects of art, technology, copyright and free culture"?

CC Salon London are holding an event on Tues 20 Nov 2007 from 7-11pm in Covent Garden:
Jordan Hatcher, lawyer and legal consultant specialising in intellectual property and technology law, "will present and discuss his work on a new report entitled “Snapshot study on the use of open content licences in the UK cultural heritage sector”. This study primarily examines the use of the Creative Archive (CA) and Creative Commons (CC) licences among UK museums, libraries, galleries, and archives. The key objective has been to get a snapshot of current licensing practices in this area in 2007, and Jordan will report on his findings."

No registration necessary, see the CC-Salon blog for details.

I imagine people like Mia might be interested in this event.

But I've already booked to go to the Channel 4 event on user-generated content in TV, film and design - the very same evening, on a very similar subject, with Creative Commons connections too. Bah. Never mind, one day I'll manage to make it to a London CC Salon...

Via Creative Commons blog.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Windows - no disk Exception Processing Message c0000013 Parameters 75b6bf9c 4 75b6bf9c 75b6bf9c - fixed!

"Windows - no disk Exception Processing Message c0000013 Parameters 75b6bf9c 4 75b6bf9c 75b6bf9c"

Here's a tip to save you hunting for the solution to fix this "Windows no disk" problem in Windows XP (UPDATE: a commenter says changing the drive letters works in Vista too), at least if it's to do with your card reader, or CD or DVD drive.

UPDATE - summary added, history moved to end: This problem seems to be caused either by malware (virus or spyware etc), or by software following a Windows update or some other software installation or uninstallation (particularly HP, Norton or QuickTime software) trying to check for removable media that isn't there (e.g. disc in DVD drive or card in card reader), when it shouldn't be doing that check.

So if you get this error message, try these steps (UPDATE - in whatever order you like, bearing in mind 5 is probably a less than satisfactory last resort, but by all means try 4 before 2 if you prefer):
  1. scan your computer with a virus checker and anti-spyware etc - try more than one product (e.g. there's also NOD32 ESET), clean any infections and reboot

  2. if that doesn't work, try changing your drive letter assignments as shown in the step by step howto below - this works for lots of people

  3. if that doesn't work, try uninstalling your floppy drive as shown below - or just always keep media in all your drives, though the next two steps are preferable if they work

  4. then try making your software stop looking for drives: e.g. uninstalling and reinstalling an upgraded (or latest possible) version of QuickTime; similarly with your Norton and HP software if you have any, and clearing your most recently used documents or files lists

  5. last resort: make the error message go away. This doesn't fix the problem, it addresses the symptom not the cause, so it really is a last resort if you can't fix it any other way, but if you're being driven mad, it's better than nothing.

So here's a step by step howto for the various suggestions above.

How to change your drive letter assignments in Windows XP or Vista to fix the "Windows - no disk" etc error message, and how to uninstall your floppy drive

There are Microsoft instructions but I think the following is quicker (UPDATE: this is closer, though the problem doesn't just apply to Zip drives configured as drive C. The steps below do reflect its solution - but I think having screenshots makes it easier for people to follow). I have XP SP2, hopefully it's not much different for SP1. I gather both XP Pro and XP Home can suffer this problem too. The steps below are probably trying to get at the same thing as uninstalling the USB drives, but much less frightening and more effective.

UPDATE: if you have Vista, the quickest way to get to the Disk Management window shown in no. 3 below is:
  • Go to the Start menu
  • In the Search box at the bottom, type (without the quote) "diskmgmt.msc" then hit Enter or click the magnifying glass search icon.
  • The rest will be as per no. 3 onwards.
  1. UPDATE: First, make sure all your removable drives or removable media drives are already connected to your computer (they don't have to have media in them). On your desktop, rightclick My Computer and choose Manage:

  2. In the window that opens up, choose Disk Management.

  3. Wait for the right hand side of the window to show up properly, it may take a few seconds. You'll see something like this:

  4. My mistake was to rightclick the stuff in the top right hand bit. Don't you do the same! Check out the bottom right hand quarter, see the pic above, and scroll down in that mini window (see the mouse above) till you find the first drive that says "Removable media" and No media". Right click its name (e.g. "Disk 3") then pick "Change Drive Letters and Paths":

  5. Click Change:

  6. Then in the dropdown list pick a different drive letter (I'd use one somewhere near the end of the alphabet like R, just in case):

  7. Then click OK to save the changed assignment. Rinse and repeat for all the other removable drives in the bottom right hand window which have no media in them. Do the same even for the card slot/drive that does have a card in it (if it does), just in case. Obviously each one must have a different letter. In my case I changed drives G, H, I and J to R, S, T and U. Strong warning - although BeckhamSquared did it, I really, really wouldn't change ANY of the drives to C. Leave drive C well alone, don't change it. (It shouldn't let you, but just in case...)

  8. Then reboot, and with any luck it should work to kill that error message once and for all. It certainly did for me. And if you then want to change the drive letters back to what they were, do so by all means - but at your own risk, in my view if it ain't broke don't fix it (hopefully changing them back shouldn't muck it up again, but you never know).

    See also 9 and 10 below if that didn't work for you.

  9. If it's still coming up with the same error and you can tell (from the sounds it makes - well I can) that it's trying to access your floppy drive, the above method won't let you change drive A. But what you can do is try this (at your own risk!): rightclick My Computer, choose Properties, Hardware, Device Manager, expand both Floppy Disk Controllers and Floppy Disk Drives, rightclick Standard floppy disk controller and Uninstall, and do the same Uninstall for Floppy disk drive if necessary. Reboot your computer, and it should reinstall the disk drive A. And hopefully also fix the error message for good. But if that doesn't work don't blame me!

  10. UPDATE: This isn't a fix, just a workaround, but if changing your drive letters doesn't work try always having a disk or card in all your removable media drives i.e. floppy drive, CD or DVD drive, all your card reader slots. Or try the software fixes or "last resort" registry edit, below.

Or is it QuickTime, Norton or Hewlett-Packard or other programs?

If all that doesn't work for you, well the other thing I did was uninstall QuickTime, which I'd updated recently and which apparently did the trick for some people when they uninstalled it. Similarly for HP and Norton software.

But it's a bit more drastic than the above, so I'd try changing drive letter assignments first.

UPDATE: As it's probably software trying to look for media in drives when it shouldn't, you could also attack the problem by trying to stop your software looking for it, as per this comment - and uninstalling & reinstalling QuickTime or clearing its cache etc is certainly one way to help in this regard.

You could therefore also try clearing your recent documents or recent files lists in Word, Excel (go to the Tools menu, Options) and your other programs that keep lists of recently opened files. And also, generally in Windows, I'd suggest you try clearing your most recently opened documents list from the Windows start menu by trying these steps (instructions are for XP):
  1. rightclick the Start menu
  2. choose Properties
  3. go to the Start Menu tab, make sure that Start Menu is selected, click the "Customize" button near it
  4. go to the Advanced tab
  5. click the "Clear list" button
  6. click OK and OK again.
(I didn't mention clearing those lists previously because it didn't work for me, but it's worth trying if the above didn't work for you.)

Last resort - just make the error message disappear

I've also seen as a last resort this suggested registry change (XP only, don't know if it works in Vista). I didn't need to try it so I haven't done it but it's worked for others. However as the writer warns, it's really a last ditch solution because it doesn't stop the problem from happening, it just makes the error message go away, and ideally you should try to address the underlying cause of the problem.

UPDATE: But if you aren't comfortable editing your registry manually then:
- try clicking this link to do the same thing (NB before doing that backup your registry or that key first, and it's at your own risk etc!): stop windows no disk error message (click Run in the next dialog box). You shouldn't need to reboot.
- and try this link if you want to reverse that registry change later: reverse stop windows no disk error message.

UPDATE: I've moved the history to the end and beefed up the howto at the start.

History of solutions tried - skip this unless you're interested in the problem solving steps!

If the above error message sounds familiar to you, if it's been driving you mad, well me too. It's been killing me this last fortnight. Whenever I booted my Windows XP computer, it would come up and I'd have to hit Cancel (or Continue) several times in a row before I could get it to go away. (Tip: a few apps did seem to carry on starting up in the background. If I just left my PC alone and let them do their thang before I finally clicked Cancel or Continue, that annoying irritating slowing-me-down error message wouldn't crop up again. But I'd still have to get rid of it at least once). And unlike some other people, I did not have anything but my main hard drive as C.

That kind of incomprehensible gobbledygook of a computer error message doesn't exactly follow good design guidelines for exception messages, does it?

I tried all sorts of things. If regular readers are wondering why I've not blogged much this weekend, when the weekend is usually the time when I get down to my ACE posts, it's because I've been tearing my hair out hunting for and then trying different options I'd seen other people say had worked for them (so I can blame them for all the ones that didn't work for me!).

What was the problem? Checking removable media drives for media that ain't there

It's obvious that something had changed to make the problem start in the first place. It could be a Windows update (helloooooo Microsoft are you listening?), but to be fair it could have been an upgrade to some other software that caused it. For example lots of people have had difficulties with HP computers or HP software, and I have an HP printer myself with HP Solution Center, so that would have been one of the things I'd have tried next (upgrading the HP software e.g. HP ImageZone), if this one hadn't worked. For other people it's something to do with Symantec Norton software. For yet others it doesn't happen on turning on their PC, but only on launching certain software, or using certain hardware. We don't care if it's a bug, a conflict etc, we just want it to stop!

A very common thread though is that it often seems to involve drives for removable media. Some software process (which I wasn't able to track down, myself) has clearly been initiated at startup which was trying to access or at least check all the disk drives attached to my PC. It's not finding something that it was expecting to find - whether a CD, DVD etc in a CD-ROM drive, DVD-ROM drive or Zip drive for some people, or in my case cards inserted into all the slots of my card reader (which enables me to transfer photos, MP3s and other data from SD cards, Compact Flash cards etc to my computer and vice versa). Hence it's throwing up the error message. At one point it even seemed to be checking for a floppy disk in my floppy disk drive.

In my own case, I found that if I didn't have my card reader connected permanently, I didn't get that error message. I could plug it in later. So I knew it was to do with the card reader.

But the message came back if I'd left it connected when I booted again, so that wasn't much good if you don't feel like always having to remember to unplug and re-connect it (and it may be impracticable if the socket is somewhere inaccessible).

Also others have found that if you leave media in the drive that's causing the problem, e.g. a CD in your CD-ROM drive, or a floppy in your floppy drive, etc, that also stops the error message. But to me that's just a workaround, it doesn't solve the problem.

So, it's looking for disks etc that aren't in drives. Now one way to stop that is to stop it starting up at all, but I couldn't figure out what it was and I'd wasted the whole weekend trying other stuff, man, troubleshooting to try to solve problems that shouldn't be there in the first place is the worst waste of life I can think of.

Here's what I tried that didn't work, for light relief, so you can point at it and have a good larf - "Hahahaha, that would never have worked, why'd she do that?!!":
  • uninstalled all my USB devices (including card reader) in Device Manager - scary, and stupid of me as I went too far in my panic and uninstalled other stuff that weren't removable media drives at all (see below), and I had to find a driver disks for one of them when I rebooted as it wouldn't reinstall properly! Lucky I still had it and it didn't take too long to find. But still.

  • uninstalled my floppy disk drive (actually I think it did fix part of the problem, as it stopped trying to access my floppy drive, but not the rest of it as I still had a card reader - see below)

  • cleared the QuickTime cache.
Now, what did work? Yeah I know you should do things one step at a time and reboot, but by the time I reached that point in the evening, I'd given up. So I tried two things at the same time, then rebooted.

I'm pretty sure I know which one it was that did the trick, as Kirk (thanks Kirk!) had pointed me to it earlier, and that man is always right - but I didn't think it had worked at first, only because I hadn't done it properly even though I'd seen the same suggestion elsewhere in my hunting. So I'll set out the solution below for those who like me might have missed it.

The thing I did which I'm pretty sure is the solution was to change the drive letters for my card reader slots - thank you BeckhamSquared, who said: "in resetting the drive letter whatever got corrupted during the [Norton removal] was fixed". (The person there first encountered the problem after uninstalling Norton SystemWorks. I didn't uninstall it myself, yet I also got the same problem - there are clearly lots of different causes).

At first I did it wrong because, foolish me, yeah I can laugh now, I only changed the drive letter for a removable card drive which did have media in it. Duh and double duh and triple duh. I should have changed the letter assignments for the empty drives, as they were the ones that weren't being detected. So I did that, after like the zillionth unsuccessful reboot, and yay - it worked!

(I'm giving this post the stopirritatingme tag in honour of Tom Morris!)