A technology blog for The Economist Group IT team

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Tor - a way to read NYT articles 

You may have read that the NYT deployed their ad-serving technology to stop UK-based browsers from seeing this article. (In the UK we see this.)

The BBC deploy similar technology to prevent overseas viewers seeing content meant only for licence fee payers.

Tor wasn't designed to get round these restrictions (it's an anonymous proxy network), but it does a pretty good job and with the Firefox plug-in it works really well.

The url of the original article no longer works. Did you keep a copy of it?
It does if you're not in the UK.

If you install Tor (which isn't too hard) you should be able to see it.

I can't post it here, because it's sub judice.
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Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Want to podcast?
Want to podcast with people around the world?
Want it to sound good?

I think it would be actually be good to record the editorial meeting on Mondays that The Economist has and put that on the website when the issue goes live. That's separate though

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Standard Crippled? 

As you may know, London is about to get another free daily newspaper (in addition to Metro and City AM).

Londonist pointed out the definition of lite (as in Associated's London Lite which will take over from the fantastic Standard Lite) on dictionary.com (scroll to the sixth definition).

If you didn't know otherwise you'd have though Rupert had written it himself!
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Thursday, August 10, 2006

UK Government sites need some more thought 

The UK government decided recently that they would start to let the population know the current level of terrorist threat (that was nice of them). They obviously don't think how best to do it, though.

A good idea would have been to create an RSS feed that only contains this information in it. Another would have been to create a site specifically to display the threat level and tell us what we should do.

What do we get instead? The MI5 and UK Government home pages (shown below, a bit small, I know) buried the information among other nuggets such as news about the online version of the Doomsday book (sounds spookily co-incidental) and career opportunities at MI5.

Posted by Picasa

I recall that when the BBC redesigned their site they specifically added functionality that allows the homepage to be taken over by one big story rather than several smaller ones.

Perhaps someone in Whitehall should be so bold.
On a similar vein to this, after the July 7th bombings last year, I signed up to what sounds like quite a handy service: a free text message alert from the Met Police giving info of any "incidents" occurring in London, in real time.

Unfortunately, each time I get one of these messages it simply says that "an update" has been made to the Police website, and points me there to read the latest info. Of course, I could then pull it up via WAP, but doesn't that kind-of defeat the object?
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Web propoganda tools 

GIYUS.org is a download that alerts you to stories on the web about Israel so that you can comment on them. The tool is intended to encourage those with pro-Israeli views to voice them on the web.

Effectively it's a troll-helper.

When you think about it, though, it could be pretty counter-productive.

First off, when sites get wind of what's going on they may choose to simply disable commenting on affected articles. And secondly, if I have anti-Israeli views, I could use the tool just as effectively.

This tool is publicly available, but I suppose that a private one (for example, one for Labour Party members around election time) would stop opponents using it.
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Leopard gets Ruby 

This is kinda interesting. Ruby on Rails is a development framework for web apps and I suppose (don't shoot me down here) is the open source (GPL) equivalent of .net.

Ok, do shoot me down!
Ruby on Rails looks good and reads good for petmarket stores and other sample applications that language developers develop to prove their new application is great. If you tried to put it's MVC approach to work on something bigger than a pet shop you need to build custom caching layers in to get it to stay up. It does go some way towards separation of concerns though. Would you take the plunge and adopt it at enterprise level when it doesn't look like anyone else has? The people who make it don't count.

We are on ColdFusion on the "common web platform" or "common web problem" as Ron Diorio calls it. ColdFusion gets acused of the same things Ruby on rails does but we have it scaling to 15M+ pages, with a caching layer, a month on only three or four servers. The languages are similar in the sense you can knock out a site or app in a few days, but now CF is moving in a more structured way and plugs into enterprise Java. Ruby on Rails isn't ready yet to compete in reality with PHP and ColdFusion.

People are trying to build rails for ColdFusion. In essence we have a framework that's 5 years old that does MVC and to be honest out of the box it's better than rails. I would say that, the team I work in wrote it. Don't know why it suddenly got popular to do this stuff. You can't just go buy a good website from the high street. Web sites aren't Poodles.

In fact our CMS is similar to CCI, in the way you can fully build your layout and menus and those menus go recursively go back to fetch the next layer. Originally our CMS only did that to layer content, now the whole platform, including code can be layered separately and interact through our defined interfaces. I should write a blog post about that one day.

That'll help you sleep!
the other actual open source .net

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Why girls should date geeks 

Not sure anyone here needs this, but quite amusing....
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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

BlackBerry / CrackBerry hacked? 

This article is pretty interesting for all you blackberry holders.


I am a big fan of not installing games on my laptop or computers, and this proves my point to a certain degree that the trojan horse method of opening up your computer/pda could prove disastarous by installing something so innocuous and simple just so you can while away the boring moments on the train ride home.
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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Gina Ford gets as strict with website as she is with babies 

This case highlights one of the problems with running bulletin boards or allowing un-moderated comments on a website.
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Is Adnam Hajj Reuters Jayson Blair? 

The Shape of Days was among a number of blogs that spotted that a photograph allegedly taken by Adnan Hajj had been altered using a tool such as Photoshop. Another blog, Little Green Footballs shows how the photograph may have been doctored.

Reuters has now dispensed with the services of Mr Hajj, but what seems odd , as the blogs point out, is that the cloning of the smoke looks amatuerish and could have been done better. In fact, Hajj has come in for criticism in the past over his alleged staging of shots to increase their impact and it's almost as if he got too cocky (no conspiracy theories here!)

What is clear is that Reuters made a huge mistake. Tim Glocer has become well known for advocating the use of citizen photography, putting Reuters forward as the trusted name to sift through the good and bad. The fact that such an obviously doctored photo from one of their own freelancers with a record of controversy made it through their sift has probably done untold damage to their reputation.

Time will tell, but I suspect that Reuters will have to make public what went wrong and what it is doing to prevent it happening again.
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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Are you a Highly effective IT manager? 

I think it's an interesting read...
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Thursday, August 03, 2006

One elephant, two elephant 

No need to count the gap between lightning and thunder to see how far away the storm is - you can check this site. Driven by a direction-finding antenna connected to a PC, apparantly.
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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

MySpace is sooooo 2005 

Media Guardian (reg. req'd.) says that Alexa has reported that YouTube has overtaken MySpace as the web's number one community site with with a whacking 3.9% of all daily web visits. Now, Alexa's methodology is not the most robust and when I took a look YouTube was well below MySpace, but things change....
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Are you a master of scrum? 

Anyone know about scrum?

A friend of mine is a Certified ScrumMaster and just mentioned it to me. Haven't had time to look at it much, but I'm taken with the name!
I like the idea of agile methodologies, but they all state you need customers to be very close to you and involved to do this. Directors of business often just want something to happen by “October 1st”. One of the off shoots of agile stuff is that you don't know exactly where you'll be on “October 1st”, you only know what you've done and what you've got planned to do in the next iteration which leads to three or four weeks away. Even that schedule is still up for grabs. Whilst I think that agile methodologies look nice and are the resume buzzword of the year, we aren't so suited to them yet.

The biggest problem with adopting them is customer agreement/sign off, what makes it worth their while? Why should they bother? It’s their business why should they change?

It kind of makes me think about how we name servers e.g. eulorsdcf1. I try to use this name when talking to economist.com regarding their development server. They have no idea what eulorsdcf1 is or amfmdr2 or any other acronym for servers at all but we name all their servers like this. We call eulorsdcf1 smarties when talking to Economist.com and CFO.com, it’s only slightly better but at least it’s a real world word. Surely it’s the customer that counts not our asset tracking codes or favourite methodology for delivery. I accept that some methodologies make things easier for us and possibly quicker/cheaper for customers and asset tracking by name makes it easy for us to figure out where a machine is but customers only want “it” delivered on “October 1st”.

I also meant to say that scrum looks ace.
I'm not so sure about customer sign-off. If it works, the customer won't care and probably doesn't even need to know that it's agile.

I know that this isn't a particularly good analogy, but if I go into Tesco or (god forbid) Wal*Mart and there's a queue at the checkout or they don't have what I want, I don't blame SAP or whatever backend system they use, I think that people haven't got it right.
I think one of the problems is that to be truly agile you need them to be involved though, and that involves admitting you don't know exactly when you'll deliver.
I am not an expert on agile methodologies, but I do think whoever developed your server naming scheme is without question a certifiable genius.
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