Sunday, January 12, 2014

How I follow webcomics

Recently The Frumps (NSFW), one of the webcomics I follow, asked how its readers used its RSS feed and if we preferred having a thumbnail or a full-sized cartoon. I started writing a reply to them then realised that I wasn't just explaining how I used their RSS feed, but how I follow websites in general.

I follow quite a few RSS feeds, originally I used Google Reader but when when that closed I decided that in future I would have control of my reading and not be placed at the mercy of a third party service that could vanish at any time. Eventually I decided to use a self hosted copy of Feed-on-Feeds as my RSS aggregator. I use it for following webcomics, news (e.g. newspaper sites), science blogs, some technology bloggers I enjoy, as well as social, political and environmental bloggers. Occasionally if RSS isn't an option I'll subscribe to email notifications for a really good blog, but never (so far) to a webcomic.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Did a 4 Dimensional black hole spawn the Universe?

Not being a physisist I've often idly wondered how the universe, constrained to a single point, at the start of the big bang avoided being a black hole, now there's a theory that it started as a 4 dimensional black hole, making it even more mysterious to me.
The "Big Bang model tells us that the Universe exploded out of an infinitely dense point, or singularity. But nobody knows what would have triggered this outburst: the known laws of physics cannot tell us what happened at that moment."

"It is also difficult to explain how a violent Big Bang would have left behind a Universe that has an almost completely uniform temperature, because there does not seem to have been enough time since the birth of the cosmos for it to have reached temperature equilibrium."

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Qondio, R.I.P.

It looks like Qondio has finally shut down.

I was a user of it from the early days when it was known as Qassia. I think it started on a fairly optimistic note as a place where quality content could be posted, and quality was ensured by a process of having other members rate contributions. Unfortunately being open access they had a lot of problems when some scammers moved in and tried to rig the voting process. If I recall correctly this led to them making some changes but by then the damage to their reputation seems to have been done.

It limped along for a couple of years and I noticed a week or two back that it no longer seemed to be there. For a while the domain name redirected and now seems to be on a hosting provider's default page.

I liked the idea and for quite a while I hoped it would recover, but alas it seems not.

I'm now working on transferring the posting that were unique to Qondio to this blog (or in a few cases one of my other ones) and will be keeping the original posting dates.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Choosing Creative Commons Licenses

I've just changed the licence my blogs are published under.  Everything that's published in most of the world is automatically covered by copyright and by default the author has all rights to their words (or images) and also by default nobody else has the right to republish the work. Some people choose to allow others to republish their works with or without modifications and there are a number of licences that give these permissions, they are all based in and depend on copyright law.

If you are going to use a free licence you need to carefully choose one that allows your work to be used in the way that you are happy with while blocking uses you consider inappropriate. "Carefully" both to give effect to your wishes and because all the free licences I'm aware of are perpetual and once you've licenced someone to use your work they can continue using it under that licence for the life of the copyright.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

MaKey MaKey Almost anything's a keyboard

Well, anything that's even a bit conductive that is.

This is a seriously cool gadget, Arduino based and developed at M.I.T., MaKey MaKey connects via USB to a computer and lets you build touch pads or keyboards out of bananas, modelling clay and even people. 
Running Mario game with modeling clay keyboard
MaKey MaKey Mario
Flikr: CC-By-NC

Like the conductive "Squishy Circuits" from a couple of years back this looks like a great way to interest young minds in electronics.

More information and how to get one (US$ 45 including shipping) at their KickStarter page or read more at their own project page.They also have a Flikr set of their own projects.

At the time of writing there are more applications on the KickStarter page than the others but I guess that will change over time.

Kiwis cashing in on YouTube

"More than 100 New Zealand "video bloggers" have so far joined YouTube's Partner Programme, which was first offered to producers of popular content and has been extended to everyone in the 20 countries where it's available."
"Big Music" may have put Kim Dotcom out of business for offering unsigned musicians a platform to promote their talents, but Google is a lot bigger and less touchable than he was. Are services like this the beginning of the end for "Big music" or will Google simply add "Big Content" to it's existing "Big Data" role? 

"The hand of Vengeance found the bed
To which the Purple Tyrant fled;
The iron hand crush'd the Tyrant's head
And became a Tyrant in his stead."
William Blake

Saturday, April 28, 2012

E.R. Bumper Sticker

I feel this should be her bumper sticker, but then I would love to see a Rolls Royce with a bumper sticker saying "My other car's a Lada" so who am I to say?

The story behind the picture: A couple of weeks thought, an image originally from NASA (in the public domain), 2 minutes adding a caption and cropping with The Gimp.

Hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Affiliate Programmes Update

A little over four years back I was thinking about using affiliate links on my websites and discovered it wasn't very easy to find suitable affiliate programmes (affiliate programs?) for the New Zealand webmaster.

Being me, I decided to start an affiliate directory instead and list the ones I could find that were prepared to be open about their programmes and paid in NZ$ or at least in some form that was easy to cash over here. After a few months I had a second unhappy go at finding sites and reported my not very happy experiences on one of my other blogs ¿Que? - Biting The Hand:
"Over the last few days it feels like I've looked at close to 1,000 affiliate scheme sign-up pages, probably only half that in reality. From these I've extracted 50 that I've added to the directory and another 20 where I've queried the scheme owner"
Since then I've added very few new entries to the directory and  just purged ones where the site went away. The directory has been a bit of an open wound that I didn't want to touch.

Last night I decided it was past time to refresh the directory. I purged out all but one of the schemes that still hadn't replied to my 2008 query (I re-queried the other one) and went looking for more. Things have changed a lot in the last 42 months and I was pleasantly surprised. I just searched Google for "affiliate", New Zealand sites only and started following links. Out of the first 60 links I've added 19 sites. OK, 10 of those I queried for some information, but usually just 1 or 2 minor points. Of the others, some were programmes I already listed, some were blog entries about affiliate programs, some were duplicates (Google listing multiple pages from the same site on different pages), a couple were me and only a very few were genuinly bad ones.

One thing I've noticed is that there are programme owners who are now offering 20% or greater commission, in one case 75%. Four years ago commissions under 10% were pretty common. Today I found a program that actually apologised for offering only 10% and explained that it was because they used live sales people to close the deal and human trainers to deliver the product. They neededn't have worried yet, 10% is still pretty mainstream for high value sales.

OK, Webmasters are now much better at creating and explaining realistic programmes on their sites, but how responsive are they? One person I queried late last night responded first thing this morning, despite it being a Saturday. He gave me all the answers I requested. It will be interesting to see how long the others take.

Are things perfect? Not yet. The fact that I had to query basic facts about payment and cookie retention from half the programmes that I felt worth listing means that they still aren't thinking it through properly.

Finally, one local business is offering a massive 0% commission ... it really makes me feel like promoting their products.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bulk Directory Submission Spam

Hardly a day goes by when I don't receive at least one spam offering to improve my search engine rankings or offering bulk directory submissions, often several. If you own a website with a contact page you probably get a few too. Here's why you should never give them your business.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Dumb Phishing Attempt

This was in my spam folder today, dummied up to look like it was from a major New Zealand bank

This wasn't pretending to be from my bank, but even if I did bank with the company that was being impersonated there is no way I would believe a message with such poor grammar would have been from them.

If, as we are constantly told, phishing is a profitable business, why can't they afford to have their pitches translated or at least proofread by someone who actually speaks English? I wonder if it is arrogance or stupidity?

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Study shows just how complex cancer tumors can be

From "Not Exactly Rocket Science" by Ed Yong: "
Cancer isn’t a single disease, so we can dispense with the idea of a single “cure”. There are over 200 different types, each with their own individual quirks.

Even for a single type – say, breast cancer – there can be many different sub-types that demand different treatments. Even within a single subtype, one patient’s tumour can be very different from another’s. They could both have very different sets of mutated genes, which can affect their prognosis and which drugs they should take. Even in a single patient, a tumour can take on many guises. Cancer, after all, evolves. A tumour’s cells are not bound by the controls that keep the rest of our body in check. They grow and divide without restraint, picking up new genetic changes along the way. Just as animals and plants evolve new strategies to foil predators or produce more offspring, a tumour’s cells can evolve new ways of resisting drugs or growing even faster.

Now, we know that even a single tumour can be a hotbed of diversity."
Full article

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Aussie Kids Believe Yoghurt Grows On Trees.

Australia once rode to prosperity on the sheep's back, but nowadays children are so divorced from rural life many believe yoghurt grows on trees and 40 per cent of the Year 10s believed cotton came from an animal. NZ Herald

Friday, January 06, 2012

NZ and Auckland Linux User Group mailing lists down

The list maintainer, Mark Foster, has reported that the virtual machine that normally runs AuckLUG & NZLUG mailing lists has suffered a misfortune.

As a temporary measure he has set up a new mailing list at

If you are a subscriber to either of these lists and Mark hasn't subscribed you to the temporary list you can subscribe there. Equally if you're interested in Linux and you'd like to subscribe, you'll be made most welcome.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Indian call for affirmative action on Free Software

Erosion of privacy and personal freedom on online media drew worried mention at the just-concluded Fourth International FOSS (free and open source software) Conference-Kerala (FOSSK4). [...]

It demanded affirmative action by Governments around the world - especially in the Global South - to promote the use of FOSS as a cost-effective, customisable and robust technology option.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Linux package dependencies show predator/prey relationship

Computer people often talk about a "software ecosystem" on various computer platforms, but it's rare to see someone take the terminology seriously. Evolutionary biologists Miguel A. Fortuna, Juan A. Bonachela, and Simon A. Levin of Princeton University have used the tools of ecosystem analysis to look at the evolution of Debian releases, examining things like package dependencies and software incompatibility.

"Overall, the key feature of the modularity the team identified seems to be that the decreasing number of conflicts across modules means that more of the software available for the operating system can install, since it's rare that a conflict will completely block an entire module from installing and running. The authors suggest that we might learn something about biology by studying software, but they don't actually provide examples of how this might work; at this stage, then, it's not an especially compelling argument. "