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twitter to selectively censor tweets

27th January 2012

In a new blog post on the twitter website entitled "Tweets must still flow" (a misquote from Frank Herbert's Dune), twitter announced yesterday that if in one country the authorities request that a tweet be withdrawn for legal reasons, twitter now has the ability to pull that particular tweet in the country where it is banned, without affecting the worldwide view of it.

Inevitably, some people will be up in arms about this move, but in a world where countries impose different laws on their citizens, maybe it makes sense.  Is it better to censor an illegal tweet (for example, one claiming the Holocaust never happened, in Germany) than have the German authorities shutting down twitter and throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

Editing your photos in Google+

24th January 2012
Categories: graphics

A few weeks ago we looked at some of the graphics programs that make up a web developer's toolkit.  But like many things, photo editing is one of those functions that has successfully made the leap from desktop app to web based app.  Google isn't the only one doing it, but we've been trying out the tool provided from within Google+ and we like it a lot!

Google+ Photo editor

Simple on the surface, a set of tabs appear when you select "creative kit" (under the "photos" menu item).  Within each tab is a variety of tools - again, each one is simple at first but a number of options unfold if you explore.  For example, in the picture above, I've selected 'boost' as an effect to apply to my photo.  You can apply the effect to  the whole photo, or you can select to use a 'boost brush' ('effect painting') instead, and within the brush you can either apply the effect, or undo the effect.

As you might imagine, you can apply colour changes, cure red eye, crop, rotate, and sharpen, but you can also:

  • pixelate
  • fix blemishes
  • airbrush
  • add text in a variety of fonts
  • add beards, crowns, tiaras, and christmas hats(!)

So no need to crank up photoshop whie you're plus-one'ing!

SOPA - so what was that all about then?

19th January 2012
Categories: copyright

After some of the backers of SOPA, the proposed anti-piracy legislation, have withdrawn their support, it looks like a victory for internet democracy, but given our posts on copyright, what's the opinion at Oxford Web?

The problem many people have with the proposed legislation, including creators of original content who have had their content "pirated", is that it is too broad and far-reaching.

The obvious aim of the legislation would be to prevent people from damaging the income streams which rightly belong to original artists - be they writers, songwriters, singers, film-makers, graphic artists, etc. 

The problem with the proposed legislation being far-reaching is that if I create original content but my website happens to host a picture from another site, there is a worry that my website could be shut down (by the US government) without proper process.

It's a difficult area, but I have big problems with America setting themselves up as World Police, Judge and Jury.  So do I believe that if SOPA is dropped, it will be a good thing.

Good on you, Govey!

16th January 2012

Today we're big fans of Michael Gove, who has announced that the IT curriculum in schools needs a bit of an overhaul and may be split into two areas similar to English with its 'Language' and 'Literature' GCSEs.

Some years ago, as a budding 11 year old computer scientist I signed up for IT classes at my school, and we were taught what a variable was, how variables might be assigned from some sort of input, how to manipulate them, store and retrieve them, and ultimately output something on a screen.  This means that with a little 'connecting the dots' we could write our own databases, word processors and games, before it became a thing for the elite and everyone else got spoon-fed.

Nowadays my 12-year-old son doesn't have an option to learn programming at school, even though he's dead keen on it (yes, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree...) so I'm doing my best to teach him at home - but how many kids are missing out on a vocation?

So we salute you, Mr Gove - you're doing the right thing!

Copyright law shows some teeth

13th January 2012
Categories: copyright

Breaking news today - as 'tv-shack' website owner Richard O'Dwyer is sentenced to extradition to the USA, not for hosting copyrighted material on his website, but for linking to copyrighted material.

Obviously if you run a website selling cheese and you host a random link to a copyrighted site, I don't think you should be worrying too much about extradition, but certainly torrent servers and users should start worrying about whether they are infringing this evolving law.

But I do think this matters to ordinary users, and we should be aware of copyright law and how it affects us.  

For example, when you run a Google image search, you should certainly think twice about copying the images you find and using them on your own website.

And if you're copying text from a competitor website, even if you make tweaks to the copy, the act of copying does in fact fall foul of the law.

Keep your passwords different

12th January 2012

One of our suppliers, who is an industry giant, recently told us that their database of passwords and credit cards had been hacked, and we needed to take measures as a result.

Quite possibly the passwords are stored in an unreadable format, but unreadable is not the same as unbreakable - and some so-called unreadable formats are all too clear for hackers if just some of the passwords on the system are guess-able.

We are glad, then, that the password we used with this supplier is not the same as any of the ones used with other suppliers.  Because there is a chance that, knowing your password for one system, hackers will try the same password for your email, your banking, and so on.

How do you maintain a vast set of different passwords? 

A password file with a strong, unbreakable password is a possible solution. For example, this could be an Excel spreadsheet or Openoffice file which is encrypted with a long password.

However, you will need to remember some on a daily basis, so having passwords like hkj$$!h87633jheuxn is not really a great option.

One solution recommended by a few IT bloggers is to have a long phrase which you can remember - for example MyBrotherJohnHas5Goats!.  This has the advantage of having more than 52^23 possible combinations (more than, because it's not just alphabetical) which is a ten with 39 zeroes after it.  With the fastest technology possible, it would take longer than many lifetimes to go through this combination of passwords, by which time you probably won't need your password any more...

If you throw in the occasional bit of punctuation you lessen the chance of someone searching for a sentence using just word matches - for example My$BrotherJohn!Has26Goats.

Think about your weakest passwords today - and change them!

What are you doing for code year?

7th January 2012

The mayor of New York is learning to program.

Software developers around the world are teaching their kids to program.

What are you doing for 'code year'?

One of the big problems with the latest revolutions in social history (the information revolution and the internet revolution) is that unlike the last two (the agricultural and the industrial) it is very difficult for technologicial outsiders to understand the basic principles of the new technology.

It is hard enough to understand even the benefit (one sceptic told me that computers have saved nobody any time - a fair enough comment on the failed NHS computer system but far from true in every case!).

"Code" (the word programmers use for software) does so many things it's hard to begin to talk about its reach and benefit. 

I was teaching programming many years ago and someone asked me if all the good software hadn't already been written (and why didn't we just used what's been written now?). This was before Windows 95 and XP, Vista and 7, before Android, Google mail, and a million and one things you're probably using and don't know it.

The answer is of course no - there's a vast amount of software being written today for things you haven't yet heard of but will form the basis of how your fridge or car works, not just your desktop computer, tablet or phone.

And when people come out with easier programming models (coding with flowcharts and similar graphical devices), someone still has to write and maintain the code beneath.

Is it essential that everyone knows how these things work? Of course not! But it is certainly useful, interesting, and enlightening.

So the idea behind 'code year' is that people who have never coded (=written software) before are coming together to discover what it's all about, and to write their first computer programs.

Whether it leads to a long career in programming, or the next Android app, or just a program to sort out your mortgage payments, I can assure you it'll be worth it.

What about you? Are you interested? Sign up at www.codeyear.com!

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