Author Archive

EU cookie tracking law is impotent

9 June 2013 2 comments

So in Europe (I mean the EU but it’s a clumsier phrase) we have a cookie law, and web sites must ask your permission to store data about your web visit using things called cookies. Those in Europe accessing European web sites may have seen little panels at the bottom of the site “by using our site you consent to our use of cookies… click here to dismiss”

Yet there are also tracking services that we seem to be unable to opt out of.

I installed a browser plugin called Ghostery on Firefox and Opera (the only two browsers I really use). It tells me how many tracking web sites are embedded in a page and lets me block them. It can detect thousands of different trackers.

Facebook only has one tracker, the Football Association has two, Heart FM has four, and the Mail Online (I only went to check their count!) has nine. This blog, I’m ashamed to say, has three, but I don’t host it myself, it’s the price I pay for a low-maintenance blog. Except it’s you that’s paying the price D:.

This is just a law designed to protect us failing, and inconveniencing us instead. I’m sure the intention of the law was to save privacy of citizens, but it turned into saving the privacy of citizens only if cookies were used to track them. Law can’t keep up with technology at the moment.

Get Ghostery for five popular browsers here.

Categories: Uncategorized

Facebook is invading

16 March 2012 Leave a comment

Facebook is becoming pervasive. There are many, many sites now offering a “sign in with Facebook” option – in fact, when I signed up for a trial with NetFlix in the UK, this was the *only* way to sign up.

There was an initial backlash when Facebook created this technology and sites included it – sometimes, comments they had made on other people’s Facebook posts were appearing on other sites. The details have been tweaked, and, some time later, I don’t see anyone complaining any more. Those that did complain were in the know (i.e. at least slightly techie) and paranoid.

My friend likes cars, and posts on a UK car enthusiasts site. Based on what he’s said, fe seems to have linked his Facebook account to the car site, and, once the car site went live with an update to their back end, suddenly *everything* he posted on the car site also appeared on Facebook. And he didn’t like that.

Now, as far as I am concerned, Facebook know too much about me. They know a couple of hundred acquaintances of mine, relationships, whom I’ve been photographed with, and stacks of other stuff. I even stupidly put all the countries I’ve visited since I was born in last month. This data (not mine, but everybody’s, combined) is the gold-dust of the coming ten or twenty years. Massive amounts of, personal data. If you’re logged on to Facebook, Facebook can track you as you

In a way, I am really glad that Google+ is not taking off. (For example, there are plenty of “sign on with Facebook” sites, but not many “sign on with Google+” sites.) Because not only would Google collect the data Facebook get, they have years of learning what to do with it, and they can also aggregate it with all the data they get by selling adverts. A quick Google (oh, how ironic!) suggests Google own between 38% and 55% of the search market, so the chance is that if you hit a web site, the adverts are served by Google, and so they increase their knowledge of your surfing habits. And also your shopping habits, your leisure interests, even your hobbies, passions and most secret secrets – if you use the web for that kind of stuff.

I was prompted to write this for two reasons. One was a blog post by some techie dude who tried out a lot of new technologies. He was trying some new social media app and said something like “I usually select the ‘sign on via Facebook’ option because these things need to know about your contacts, and that would mean I have to enter hundreds of pieces of data.” What? He’s obviously a techie (from his blog; truest me on this), so he knows the possibilities, but he chooses to *give* all this data to someone else just to make his life more convenient. He really should know better!

When you sign on via Facebook, you have to install a Facebook app and the Facebook site lists what the app is allowed to do. Here is what an app I used to enter a competition today says it will get access too:

  • Access my basic information
    Includes name, Profile picture, gender, networks, user ID, list of friends and any other information I’ve made public.
  • Access my data any time
    may access my data when I’m not using the application.
  • Post on my behalf
    may post on my behalf, including scores, achievements and more.

Well, all I wanted to do was enter a competition, and now I have granted access to all my networks (that may include you, if you know me on Facebook – sorry!) and data. And, when I actually entered the competition, I had to provide my email address again!

The other reason that’s spurred me to write this is that my son plays an on-line game – an empire building game – and I decided to join him. The game is an established one, there is even a third-party market for things like strategy guide. The producer has released a version 2.0 which – surprise surprise – includes a link to Facebook. You can use Facebook to tell your friends that you’ve made an advance, conquered a rival, whatever. Of course, this is free advertising for them. And to sweeten the deal, you gain resources (an in-game term for wood, iron, etc.) for every Facebook friend you have. But, everyone who does this are giving all that information to another company.

I regularly review my Facebook apps, and trim them. These days if I enter a competition via Facebook, I immediately delete the app. I would encourage you all to review your Facebook apps, and decide which ones you really need.

Again, I’m glad that Google aren’t succeeding in this market yet, because they probably remember more about your web surfing than you do. Really, they probably do.

Categories: Uncategorized


12 March 2012 Leave a comment

It’s been a long time since I posted here. With blogging, you need to keep the momentum going, and I didn’t.

I’ve been involved in a new project. After leaving Luxembourg, I’ve come back home and started working for a company in Hong Kong. I was approached via a recruiter who’d found my profile on LinedIn, we talked, I spoke to two of the people in the startup, and we agreeded terms.

When I was explaining this to one of my colleagues in Luxembourg, he was perplexed. Why have you done this? How do you know they will  pay you? If they don’t, what can you do to reclaim the money?

I just laughed.  Maybe I’m a trusting fool, but everyone I’d spoken to were totally well-behaved, and I immediately developed a rapport with them. They thought I was good, I thought they were good, we’d do cool things together.

Am I old-fashioned, stupidly naive, normal? Different people would give different answers. I just didn’t worry about it until it became a problem, which it didn’t.

Categories: Real Life, Software

Albums of my life #1

16 November 2011 Leave a comment

Albums shape a lifelong love of music. My daughter has one favourite album that she plays almost non-stop.

And so it was for me when I was a teenager.

Back in those days, it was popular to tape your vinyl albums onto tape, and typically it was pick-and-mix as to what went onto each tape. A C-90 (I favoured the TDK ADX, but they did not appear until the nineties) would normally hold two albums (45 minutes on each side). I was lucky that Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell” ( I really should sort out my Amazon associate links to earn from the dozens of viewers/readers I have) combined with Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak” on the same tape. For one hot summer (and the following autumn, and sporadically afterwards,) this was my musical poison. I’m sure that I didn’t get these albums until the early eighties, as they were released in 1976 and 1977 respectively, but they ended up on the same tape, sometime in the early eighties.

For a young lad living in central Scotland, these were, to a great extent, the taste of something foreign, exotic, and unattainable. Thin Lizzy were big in the USA, and wrote of it. Songs like “The Boys are Back in Town” spoke of a freedom (I was not yet a teenager) that couldn’t even think about. Similarly, Meat Loaf sang about girls, getting to the fourth base, breathless nights, and so on, with a similar effect on me.

Musically, Bat Out of Hell is outstanding. Much of it is shaped by songwriter im Steinman’s piano and Todd Rundgren’s guitar, and the production allows them space to flourish and (especially in Rundgren’s case) show off. I’m pretty sure that no album of that time sounded like this one, it was a true ground breaker, and I’m also sue that they set a precedent of power-rock followed by power-ballad that is still emulated today, influencing bands such as Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and Guns ‘n’ Roses.

Musically, the Thin Lizzy album was a revelation to me. I’d grown up on punk (distorted guitars) and then onto heavy metal (distorted guitars). It was strange to find the clean and intricate guitars of Gorham and Robertson counterposed with distorted riffs, clean reverb-tinged solos and (shock) space for the rest of the song to breathe. Songs like “Angel From the Coast” and “Romeo and the Loney Girl” show this. Of course, the Meat Loaf album also left space, but the piano is a semi-percusive instrument that tends to fill space, and, of course, requires a rhythm to drive it. And remember that I heard all this through the ears of a wannabe guitarist. Even today I realise that these albums, especially the Thin Lizzy one, remind me that there’s more than one way to make a great song, and subtlety is an important tool. I hope that the current production mores, where the sound is compressed to fill all space, resulting in *everything* sounding good, and yet leaving the listener tired after an hour or so, will pass, and we will once again learn to listen to a huge dynamic range and enjoy what the composers and producers intended us to hear, instead of mastering an album to compete with ever other “in your face” mix that abounds.

Both albums have their hits, of course, I’m not backing losers here, even though 30-35 years have passed. Two of Thin Lizzy’s most memorable songs, “The Boys are Back in Town” and “Cowboy Song”, plus, of course, the concert favourite “Emerald,” featuring duelling guitars are on this album. The trademark harmony guitars are in evidence, of course.

“Bat Out Of Hell” spawned singles too – in fact, according to Wikipedia, just about every track was a single, somewhere. Most did not make the top ten, as the singles were not radio-friendly (back in those days, at least, they were not radio freindly; I’m sure they helped to mold the consequent radio-friendly Bon Jovi/G’n’R/Starship type of radio-oriented rock that we get nowadays, and if released again, would all hit the charts hard).

When I listen to these albums now, I’m transported back to my carefree (in retrospect) youth, my easily excited early-teen stage. I can still recall the smells, sights and sounds of that first summer I spent with these albums, falling asleep to the cassettes waking up and switching them back on, and I am reminded of many other memories that are linked to that time – Tom Russel’s Rock Show on Radio Clyde, Tommy Vance on the Friday Rock Show, seeing great bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden, time spent with my friends in their houses, listening to music, driving around in their cars, and many, many more.

Categories: Uncategorized

Google+ spotted in the wild

16 November 2011 Leave a comment

When Google plus hit in typical Google beta-fashion, some people put up an “I’ve moved” profile picture on Facebook, and left, or so their status update said.

Everyone that I saw do this is still active on Facebook. The trouble is that they have 300 contacts on Facebook, 200 on LinkedIn, and ten on Google+. (Actual values may vary, contact your friends for details.)

Forgetting the personal/social point of view, from a fan/corporate point of view, there are lots of “follow us on Twitter” or “like our Facebook page” links on websites, but none that say “Join our circle on Google+.” Until, that is, today, when my favourite motor racing team, Force India (I’m not sure I should put the sponsor’s name in front of that) *tweeted*

Join our circle on Google+ to share even more…

This is the first time I’ve seen this in the wild. And the irony that they used another social media to inform us of their circle is not lost on me. I’m pretty sure that there will be no extra content for me, only extra work for the admins that run the team’s social media, as they now need to tweet, post on Facebook, possibly update blogs or websites, and now update Google+ as well. I’m not sure that Google+ is worth that effort at the moment.

The thing is, that I get overloaded with info. To me, there is no point in liking your Facebook page, if I get all your updates via RSS. And if I get your data from Facebook, I don’t need to see it in Google+.

One thing that really annoys me about messages from Google+ are that they don’t give a useful subject. Instead of saying “Alistair McDonald shared a post entitled ‘The red mist descends'” they just say “Alistair McDonald shared a post with you.” I’m NOT going to click that link, ‘cos I’m pretty sure if it was important, I’ll find out eventually. But, if the subject piqued my interest, then I might click. But clicking into a black hole – no way.

Another way I’m really going off Google is that now so many services require a unified email address/ID. I’ve stopped putting any information into YouTube (Favourites, subscribing to channels, etc.) because they want a Google ID. I already have one – well actually three – but I don’t want to join my email to my videos to my news page, maps page, or news alerts. (I know that Google can, and probably do, track my usage of these sites via cookies or embedded scripts, the point here is not privacy, but convenience for me. For example, I set my home location on to be a zoomed in shot of my home. But since I needed to “unify” my Google accounts, now when I visit or, my home page is *still* in the UK. If you are viewing a UK map, then your searches default to the UK – so you get Birmingham, West Midlands, not Birmingham, Alabama. That’s a good feature. BUT, if I’m visiting the French map site, why on earth would I want to start from the UK, where all my searches are crazily misinterpreted. So, to work around this, I end up first searching for Paris, or Luxembourg, so that Google maps displays the correct country so that my searches will work. [Google pay for bandwidth and processing power, I don’t, so I lose time and they lose money. ] )

Getting back to the subject of Google+, as I said before, they need to get some client apps out there – there are dozens of Twitter clients – and that means that they need to stop trying to be so controlling over data and APIs. Part of the problem is that they are playing catch-up, and many competing services (this is business, it makes money, and so there is a real competitiveness to it) are much more free with, and, remember, Google see the usage data it collects as the most important thing that they have.

Why not take part in a little experiment: inspect the cookies that the browser(s) you use have collected. Maybe even try to delete them and see (a) how many similar ones reappear without you visiting the sites mentioned, and (b) see just how many services you can use after a single login.

The red mist descends

15 November 2011 Leave a comment

So, the winter approaches, and suddenly drivers get a chance to use that button on their dashboard. It is *so* frustrating having a feature in their cars, and not being able to activate it whenever they like. And now, they have an excuse to use it, so they *do*.

I’m talking, of course, about the rear fog lamps. These uber-bright lamps are designed to pierce through fog, spray, and so those following you at an inappropriate speed can avoid striking you.

They are so bright that they can obscure brake lights, and I find that they draw the eye in a hypnotic way. This makes them actually rather dangerous. But many people who use them are unaware of this, and switch them on. leave them on, and forget them. The result is that their brake lights may be missed, or other vehicles near their own may be missed by other drivers, which is, of course, rater dangerous.

So, what’s the deal with these? When should you use them? When can you *not* use them?

I visited the UK government web site, which has this page on driving in adverse weather conditions taken from the latest Highway code, which every driver road user should read every few years, certainly when a new edition is published.

It says (and I love this because it says what you must not do:

236 You MUST NOT use front or rear fog lights unless visibility is seriously reduced (see Rule 226) as they dazzle other road users and can obscure your brake lights. You MUST switch them off when visibility improves.

And, for completeness,

226 You MUST use headlights when visibility is seriously reduced, generally when you cannot see for more than 100 metres (328 feet). You may also use front or rear fog lights but you MUST switch them off when visibility improves (see Rule 236).

Hopefully the geeks can avoid the cyclic dependencies. But there you have it. If you can see 100 metres, then you should switch off your fog lights. A good rule for rear for lights is: If you can see the headlamps of the car behind you, then he can see your normal lights, and so you should switch off your fog lights. Of course, this suggests that you use your mirror quite a lot, and I’m perfectly sure not everyone does. . .

I have a lot to say on middle-lane hogging, which is at least as bad in Europe as it is in the UK. (In fact, on the M25/M20 to and from Dover, the European drivers are *worse* than the UK ones.) But I’ll save that for another day.

Categories: Real Life, Uncategorized Tags:

Hacked email

26 October 2011 Leave a comment

I get emails from people who have had their online email accounts hacked, and spam email is issued. Normally, I just send them an email and hear nothing of it. But today I got a message (via another mechanism) that they were going to trash their email account.

The rest of this post is my message back to them. On reflection, I should have considered that their password was leaked internally from their email provider (one of the “big few” – i.e. google, hotmail or yahoo). And that this could happen from a rogue employee ($0.10 per email, here’s a text file) or from hackers getting illegitimate access.

But here goes:

I don’t think you need to discard the email account, but there are a couple of things to consider

How did you get hacked? Was it malware on your PC (you can pick up malware infections just from things like Adobe Flash-based adverts if there’s a security problem in the flash plugin, for example) or was it someone picking up a session cookie if you were using unencrypted WiFi (coffee shop/hotel) (read this post on cookie hijacking to see how it works). Or did you use someone else’s computer (colleague, internet cafe?) These are the three main categories (I’m discounting you turning into a spammer.)

No matter how it happened, visit on a weekly basis – or more frequently – to check your browser(s) and plugins are up to date – you need to do this for each browser that you use, on each computer that you use.

So, how do you tell which one happened to you? I’d get some anti-virus and scan your PCs and see if they detect anything. If you’re technical enough, then the SysInternals “autoruns” tool tells you *everything* that starts when you start your PC and log in. You can google the various process names shown in Task Manager and ensure they are benign too.

So, if you have malware, the only totally secure thing to do is to wipe and reinstall your OS and applications – although you might want to trust antivirus to detect and repair, it’s not guaranteed. And if you can, try more than one anti-virus product (free versions available for several) but you might have to install one, scan your PC, uninstall it and then install another – they might not co-exist nicely.

If you’re PC is clean, but you use public Wifi, chances are that you have been victim of a cookie hijack. The solution is to either always use HTTPS (which is encrypted so no-one can “sniff” your cookie.) (Most sites now offer it, and I expect your email provider is one of them; google is now offering HTTPS for searches, let alone email/calendar/etc.), OR, if you have one available, *always* use a VPN (Virtual private network), which encrypts everything (including normal unencrypted http traffic, although your VPN provider can “sniff” stuff). Maybe your employer has a VPN, otherwise you can buy the service, I believe. And, best of all, if it was a cookie hijack, you can just log on and change your password, the hijacked cookie will be invalid afterwards. Maybe ask where you were accessing the net in the days immediately before the spam started – can you correlate a location with the date/time.

And if you think you’re the victim of a keylogger, it should appear as malware. Let me tell you that one thing I do when I’m using someone else’s computer is to *not* enter my password in one go. I use the *mouse* to move the cursor between keypresses, and build up my password. So if my password was 12345678, I might start by entering “56” then click (don’t use the keyboard, keystrokes might be logged, including the cursor keys) at the beginning and add “23”, then at click the end and add 8, then between the 3rd and 4th character and add the 4. It takes a bit of mental juggling, and I rarely use a PC I don’t trust.

So, depending on how you were hacked, is anything else at stake? If it’s malware, chances are that a keylogger has been installed, and so every keypress might have been recorded and then might have been transmitted. If you use the same password for many things, e.g. online email, work email, online banking, then you are at greater risk than if you use a different one for each service – even if the usernames are different, your identity might be linked to an account via publically available search info.I use a three-tier system – one password for sites I really don’t care if someone impersonates me on, a second for a few other things (access to my server, and email, and so on), and a third tier, where I use a different password for each system – things like online banking, the UK Government Gateway, etc.

So, the bottom line is that
1: Stopping using the account might not be enough
2: Stopping using the account might not be neccesary

And that’s what I sent. Did I miss anything apart from the password-leak-from-provider?

Update: I added
3: change all your important passwords anyway. Consider a 2/3-tier system.

Categories: online, privacy, Real Life, Software

Desert Island Discs – the discs

21 October 2011 1 comment

Best albums:

1: Deep Purple – Made in Japan. I would normally choose the more difficult to find “In Concert” recorded by the BBC around the same time as this, I love Deep Purple because they are all awesome musicians, and live they exhibit this in excess. My representative track would be “Lazy”, showcasing Blackmore and Lord’s skills on guitar and organ respectively. Unlike many bands(E.g. AC/DC) the guitar parts are NOT simple riffs repeated each verse; there is true creativity in the guitar and organ parts. Kudos to my ami Bish who inadvertently hummed the intro to this song the other day.

2: Pink Flyod – The – Wall. This was such an important album for me as I was growing up. The guitar parts are relatively easy to learn and I spent a lot of time on top of the bing near my home playing these songs on my twelve-string acoustic guitar. My representative track has to be “Comfortably Numb” due ti the awesome solo.

3: Def Leppard – Hysteria. The most interesting thing about his album is that I hated it, initially. I seemed to have my own value system for music, and this was way down the “authentic” scale. Of course, I’ve grown out of that phase and fallen in love with this album. It was the first album after drummer Rick Allen lost an arm in a car accident. Representative track : Love Bites (and it did 🙂 )

3: Joe Satriani – The Extremist. This is an instrumental album, the guy plays guitar mainly. I like this because each song is very different, and (this is important) they all sound like their titles. So “War” is full-on and messy. “Motorcycle Driver” ups the pulse by invoking high-speed emotions, etc. Representative track: “Rubina’s Blue Sky Happiness” is a beautiful song that will make me feel good when I hear it.

4: Runrig – Once in a Lifetime. This band is Scotland embodified. Their lyrics touch on the life of crofters on western Isles, but they are more deeply rooted in the Scottish psyche. Embarassingly, I don’t currently own this album, as it’s difficult to get hold of, but it is a fantastic listen. There’s a related video, which was broadcast on STV, but, if the tape still exists at my dad’s house, it’s on Betamax, not VHS. Representative track – Loch Lomond (Why not jazz up an oldie?)

5: Jools Holland – Solo Piano. It’s just what it says, Jools Holland playing piano alone. And the dude can play. His instrumentalship (I’m pretty sure that’s a new word) is awesome, the guy can play piano like no other. . I see this CD is collectible and is going for £60 a shot – If you break in and raid the loft, and leave it in a better state than it is, then I might be prepared to part with it. Representative track: Bumble Boogie
6: Rush: Power Windows. Rush were the defining music as I grew up. They are a mega-band, but have their stuff together as they don’t tour all the time. I love their albums 2112 and A Farewell to Kings, but they are a little old-fashioned no. I chose this one as it was one of the first CDs I bought, in HK at the time. The lyrics are beautiful in nearly every song, drummer Neil Peart is a true poet. If I can break the rules, my favourite track is “Losing It” from the “Signals” album, an album that I don’t really like, but that song is really poingant.

7: David Crowder Band – Illuminate. These guys kind of personify modern worship music. They are all awesome, multi-skilled musos, and the songs they play are trully worshipful. They have released several albums since this one, and even announced their retirement, but this album is more “easy listening” than the subsequent ones. The later albums have totally awesome songs, better than any on this album, but as a whole, this album is a nice place to revert to when you need to know what’s coming,. Representative track : Here is Our King, or, on other albums I like the “metal” tracks like “You are my Joy” from “A collision” or “God Almighty None Compares” from “Church Music.” Google them – they rock!!!.

8: Well, let’s be open-minded abut this. Let’s revisit in a year or two, eh?

Categories: Real Life

Desert Island Discs

21 October 2011 1 comment

the BBC has been broadcasting Desert Island Discs for decades. It’s an interview programme, where the the interviewee nominates his or her favoutite songs as one of the eight they would have available if they were marooned on a lonely isle.

I have just listened to the Olympic gold-medal winner Michael Johnson on this weeks programme. And, for a change, I could resonate with many of his choices – many people on the show are older than I am, and their taste in music (which I am suspicious of; I think many are being facetious) is out of my regular repotoire. But Mr Johnson was much more up-to-date than the actors, dancers, etc. that are normally interviewed.

So, what are my top eight tracks? The problem is that the show dates from 1942, when a disc was really a platter of vinyl, and so the playing time was limited. Although we are moving through the long-playing “LP” to a much more “track” oriented time, where people will buy individual songs, I think that the album (LP, CD) is a much better unit of recommendation than the “song” of the programme.

So, what are my top eight albums?

My next post will describe them….

Categories: Real Life

How to get the best from twitter – my take

1 October 2011 2 comments

Initially, I didn’t get twitter. Initially, I thought that it was phone-based, and consisted mainly of people posting messages like “I’m at club Wambo.” And I didn’t need to know that. I didn’t want to know it. And I didn’t want text messages being sent at any hour just because some Stephen Fry is on his way to the BAFTAs or something like that.

However, twitter is useful on the PC. But you need strategies to get the most out of it.

First, the basics. With twitter, you send short messages, called tweets. They are public, and get stored, and are searchable. So, every message you send is a public message (there ARE direct messages, which are not publicly viewable, being a bit like an SMS between only two people) You can subsequently delete all tweets from the database, but as they might have been seen before you got around to tweeting them, you should consider them private.

If every tweet went to every user, it would be chaos. So you choose whose messages you see by “following” them. Then, when they tweet, all followers get a copy of a tweet. Simple.

You can “mention” someone by using their twitter username – one of mine is @dumbledood so if you wanted to message me, just include @dumbledood in the message. And as I’m mentioned, twitter sends me a copy, even if you don’t follow me. (And I get an email too, but I think that’s my choice, and can be turned off.)

A hashtag is a word, abbreviation, or acronym preceded by the hash character (#). (Some Americans have been known to call this the pound symbol, and others the square. Fortunately the word hashtag has made it into popular use, so hopefully the symbol will be universally known as ‘hash’ soon. ) When you use a hashtag, you’re marking your tweet as related to that tag, whether it be a #winwinsituation or a #badafternoon. As you will find out later on, these hashtags can be used with searches. And you can make up your own, in the hope that they go into use, or just to sum up a concept in fewer words than it would take in English (or Flemish, or Tagalog). Hashtags can’t contain spaces, so they are helpful in abbreviating messages to the 140 characters that twitter allows.

If you see a particularly excellent tweet, then you can “retweet” it. Then, all your followers (in my case, a mere 44) will get this excellent tweet sent to them.

Prolific tweeters are not always good people to follow. I only want to cope with maybe 50 messages a day, in total – I’ll check with my morning cuppa, again when I get home from work, and maybe during the evening. I don’t want to follow someone who posts his every move – as I’m unlikely to be interested in their moves, I barely care about my own these days. So, before I follow someone, I check out their posting rate – if they’ve posted 40 times in the last hour, I’m not going to follow them. Also, I review my daily tweet-feast, and so sometimes I unfollow people who post too much. That gives us strategy one – limit your input.

But some people post interesting posts, and I still want to get these gems of wisdom, but I don’t want to see their conversations with other people (@otherperson messages). So, I use a program called Tweetdeck which automatically filters mentions to other people out. So, if Stephen Fry is discussing ducks with @dennis, and sexuality with @steve, then I am spared the details, but I get his latest witty post on London Taxis, which mentions no-one. So strategy two – use an app that filters the noise out.

So, I’m fairly happy with my twitter life. I follow friends, and some other people who make good posts, or tweet about things I agree with. Oh, all my followers and who I follow is public knowledge, you can view their profile, those following, and those that they follow via Twitter. This may be a configuration option, but whenever I gain a new follower, I get an email from twitter telling me about them (and how many they follow, how many follow them, and how many tweets they’ve made).

The next step is searches. With Tweetdeck, I can search for things that are posted publicly, not just within my following/followers group. And so, I can search for posts on my favourite football team, posts that mention my village, my favourite food, whatever. I don’t have to follow these people, and they won’t know I’ve seen their message. But I can use them to see what’s going on in my village, and if (for example) if I had a commute along the M4, I might search for “M4” from about four o’clock, to get an idea of how the traffic is.

With Tweetdeck, each search goes in a separate column. You can have a column for posts by your friends, mentions, direct messages, and lots of searches, plus other stuff that I don’t use. So, I have at least 5 columns – my feed from friends; mentions – in case I miss them in my feed, because that would be rude; direct messages – although I think I’ll lose that one; a search for my village, and for the town near it.

This means that I can keep my main feed clean, only the people I’m really interested in, and still be kept up-to-date on what’s happening when people mention my village or town. You can search for any word or words, including hashtags, and, in Tweetdeck, I can filter OUT posts that match my search, so I don’t get news about children with snakes on “Britain’s got talent” when I search for my village name. (And those posts are still going on, even months later!) This gives us strategy three – exploit the power of searches.

Now, how often do I tweet? I probably post my own tweets less than five times a day, on average, unless I am replying to an @mention, but I do retweet anything that I think might interest my followers. This is because I don’t want to be the victim of strategy one, of course!

And the last thing I want to talk about is multiple identities. Here’s how I use it: I *love* Formula One, and there are lots of F1 tweeters – teams, journalists, wry observers, and, of course, just fans like me. And there are a lot of tweets. With strategy one in place (limit your input) I can’t follow them all, but, on the race weekend, if I have the time, I like to absorb these tweets when the races are broadcast. So, I don’t follow them with my main account, I use another one, specifically for following F1. (I have another one for gurning but it’s not as prominent in tweet-land.

Tweetdeck lets me manage multiple accounts really easily, so on race days, I can simply add a column that shows updates from all the F1 people that I follow (and another for mentions, as I’d hate to miss them). Tweetdeck allows me to keep my two feeds – the real me, the gurner, and the F1 nut – entirely seperate, and when I tweet, I can tweet from any of my accounts

I can also open a search for the #F1 and #BBCF1 hashtags, but, to be honest, they move far too quickly to be of any use – I reckon there might be 50 messages a second when Martin Bundle does a grid walk before a race. And, interestingly, I have even used strategy one on this account, as I had followed a lot of F1 team accounts that only posted marketing-speak spamvertisments or boring updates that were obvious from the TV coverage . So, now I’m down to some people who really interest me on that, too.

And, on this account, I post like crazy. I don’t care that people might use strategy 1 on me – I’m like a child using a hose (I literally mean a hose; this is not a strange sexual reference) in his his swimming trunks for the first time. It’s fun, and I don’t care that other people are watching, how could having this much fun be embarrassing? I use the #F1 and #BBCF1 hashtags judiciously, and I have had occasional retweets and replies from strangers, so even if I am just posting rubbish, it’s rubbish that people want, when they see it. And, I’ve come up with some fantastic ideas, all publically available on my feed. If I was into rallying, cycling, whatever, I might create accounts *just* for following a specific group of tweeters at specific times. Which gives us strategy four – exploit multiple accounts.

So, without apps like tweetdeck, the newcomer on the field, Google+ is not going to change the world. I think that their lack of openness and desire to control will be their downfall, Google will stifle apps like this unless they are developed in-house.

I should tell you that I edited that sentence, initially I started “I fear …,” and changed it to a less hackneyed phrase, but as I changed it, I realised that actually I fear that they have no downfall. They are seriously bigger, badder, and know more about you than anyone else. Everyone uses Google, their cookies are everywhere, every time a web site serves up an ad from Google, they know about it (sportswear – remember that!). We must support the underdog, and avoid everyone jumping on the best of breed at the time. Diversification is not just useful, it’s essential, how many years have we taken to throw off the DS-DOS mentality? If you want to do a good deed today, go and look for a small guy and plump him up. Please do not interpret that last sentence literally!

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