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31 May 2007

New Labour, stoneage huff

Report by the BBC on how Tony Blair and Gordon Brown appear to be having a royal huff between them over the new SNP led Scottish Government.

Well not really a Royal huff, even The Queen came up especially to say hello.

Tony Blair apparently thinks rubbing shoulders with Colonel Qaddafi is more relevant than picking up the phone to the new leader in the biggest devolved region in the UK.

Hopefully the working relationship between the governments in Edinburgh and London will improve on what has been a disappointing start and that things will improve when Gordon Brown takes over.

30 May 2007

Scotland the Brand

Scotland: a proud nation with an international reputation. You would be hard pressed to find a country with such a wide spectrum of achievement globally and such a strong identity for a country of only 5 million people. Besides the global traditional appeal of tartan, The Highlands, bagpipes, the kilt and many other unique selling features, we have a proud record in education, the Scottish enlightenment, economics, inventions, medicine, engineering and right up to the modern day the quality of Scottish graduates and talent is just one reason why chose Scotland as its first engineering centre outside the US. We have a parliament that most people accept should have more powers, a renewed national pride and talk of sportsmen and women competing under a Scottish flag for the first time in the Olympics. On many fronts, Scotland has achieved much and still achieves much. Scotland the brand is strong and growing.

Having now covered the sales pitch, can anyone with half an ounce of common sense in PR explain to me why major international companies think it is trendy to ditch the word "Scotland" from their name.

We had the rather excellently named "Scottish Telecom" rebrand itself as "Thus" (snigger)
We had the very descriptive "Bank of Scotland" partially rebrand itself as "HBOS".
and to cap it all the biggest success story of recent years, The Royal Bank of Scotland is now the non descript "RBS". Yes, one of the world's biggest banks with not only "Royal" in its title but also the nation of its founding and headquarters now looks like an abbreviation of "ROBS".

In May 2005 I received a new bank card from them which had "The Royal Bank of Scotland" on it.
In August 2006 my other account had a new card and on it was RBS (big letters) and in minuscule font was "The Royal Bank of Scotland".
and in May 2007 the anonymisation was complete with the replacement of the first card and nothing more than just "RBS" on it. No mention of the valued Royal title, no mention of the country where it has its origins and headquarters.

I see no movement from the Bank of England to rebrand itself as TBOE or BOE nor Bank of America to rebrand as BOA. With the notable exception of BA who thought it was trendy to ditch the British flag for a while from their planes (a PR disaster) most other national airlines have their country's name on them - they are proud to fly the flag and promote their country abroad rather than be an anonymous 2 or 3 letter acronym (TLA for the few who like them).

When as a country we spend millions of pounds each year promoting Scotland the brand and how proud we are of what the last executive called "The best small country in the world" should we not be making more of our nation's name in major brands and companies rather than silently subsuming it within letter combinations that mean so much less.

One of the most famous Scots of all time, and once the world's richest man, Andrew Carnegie also became known as a great philanthropist founding 2,800 libraries around the world and giving away much of his vast fortune. These days the Carnegie brand is still strong. Nearly 100 years after his death, his name is still used because it means so much to so many people and is such a respected brand.

If only the same could be said about how some companies treat the name of our country.

Yours For Scotland,


25 May 2007

Firefox useragent - changing the string manually

I appreciate there are tools to change the useragent in Firefox, however the plugin needs to be compatible with the version of Firefox you are running and if you have the latest alpha / nightly build etc the plug in might not work.

I had this situation recently where I couldn't get Firefox to run reliably, so I downloaded Firefox 3.0 (Gran Paradiso). All was well, except I was barred from banking sites because my browser ident string wasn't on their authorised list. Silly banks, surely they know that checking the browser user agent via Javascript is more reliable?

Anyway, even if I did have a compatible user agent switcher plug in, very few of them include the latest released version of the browser in the pre-programmed list which again makes it hard to convince the banks that you are running the latest stable software.

So here are the instructions on how to set the user agent string yourself on Firefox

Goto the browser address bar:

Right mouse click to get the context menu and choose New->String from the menu.


As the preference name.

Then enter this as the value

Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-GB; rv: Gecko/20070309 Firefox/

For the average user running Windows XP, this should be fine to get past the pedantic banking sites who don't have a robust way of checking the browser version.

24 May 2007

Why it's important to prepare a Digital Will

Many of us can't be bothered to prepare a real Will, with the resultant tax confusion and uncertainty that this causes especially in the event of premature death. However, we live in the first age where our digital possessions matter and important emails, contacts, music collections, online accounts, photos, domain names and online financial details may be difficult or even impossible to obtain after our death especially if they are encrypted.

Living in the age of the birth of the machine, I suggested last August to Cambrian House the idea of how to access files after the owner dies. With a strong interest in genealogy, I imagine a future where the online assets of the people of today will be of interest to the genealogists of tomorrow. My grandfather was born in the 1870s and lived to old age, yet despite living in the era of photography only 2 pictures of him remain. In this modern age where we have thousands of digital pictures, our grandchildren will surely appreciate access to these historic pictures rather than having them wiped out by bureacracy.

Consider this. A close friend dies, but like many people nowadays their contact details for their friends are electronic, many held online. The funeral is in 5 days. You have approximately 3 days to get access to their account and contact people and they need to pick up the e-mail or instant message in time to be able to make travel arrangements for the funeral. In many cases, with the complexity of bureaucracy surrounding getting access to a person's account, faxing death certificates (often sending them overseas) and dealing with ISPs and organisations many of whom might not have an "after death" procedure or policy, you probably wouldn't be able to contact these people in time. As the digital age progresses, our dependency on hard copy letters from friends, address books and so on will diminish and the problem will get worse. Encrypted and password protected data (including accessing paypal balances) is another matter entirely.

Take just one element of this puzzle - accessing the deceased person's webmail to contact people is at the whim of the webmail provider, some might not provide access at all - as was discovered last year in the case of families trying to access the accounts of Iraq war victims, If you're not successful in gaining access, within a few months it will be deleted forever. covers this story in further detail. On the other hand, trying to cancel an AOL account is difficult enough when you're alive - if someone else tries to do it on behalf of a deceased person it's only going to be much more difficult.

Another popular email provider, Gmail, doesn't publicise their terms, I looked for death in the Gmail help centre and got this:

Your search - death - did not match any answers in this Help Center.

For the level of complexity regarding access to digital data you need only look at this article which details the Gmail procedure as follows:
Google needs your full name and contact information, a verifiable email address, the full header and content of an email you have received from this person's account, a copy of the death certificate and a copy of the document that gives you power of attorney over the email account.

"If you are the parent of the Gmail account owner and she or he was under the age of 18, you must submit a copy of the birth certificate as well, and power of attorney is not required," he says. But keep in mind that after nine consecutive months of inactivity, Google is likely to delete the email account.

It is all very well for online providers to uphold user's privacy, but as detailed in this zdnet article that on death, privacy rights cease yet this is often what is cited when trying to access the deceased's data.

In summary, I would suggest these things.

1. That you list your important accounts in your Will
2. Your Will references a file where the passwords are kept. Don't put the passwords in the Will itself, they change too frequently for this to be practical. The file should be in a location that is secure, but ideally not online.
3. That collectively, online service providers agree a common procedure for dealing with the accounts of deceased people which is secure yet still allows efficient and
straightforward access to the account once a death certificate is produced and allows the account contents to be retrieved and closed under the control of the deceased person's estate in a way which is no more complex than closing their bank accounts.

Please help to promote this important campaign. One day you, or future genealogists, may need it.


UK Phone Roam

With the recent news that EU wide phone roaming charges are to come down, I would like to ask why the major networks in the UK can't get their collective acts together for UK phone roaming. This would mean that in areas covered by one network and not another, my phone would switch networks to ensure I remained in coverage. The alternative is to muck about with multiple sim cards, which is hardly a solution.

Why is this apparantly so difficult?


Scottish Executive News Online - Latest

Scottish Government News. Point your news reader / browser at the link to get a feed of the latest stories from the historic new Scottish government.

Free 3D first person shooter in your web browser

Visit Rasterwerks for a great, free, multiplayer, first person shooter game all running in your browser. Amazing!

BBC NEWS | Have Your Say | User Profile: Craig Cockburn

This is no longer available due to a BBC site redesign.

18 May 2007

VAT receipt please

When I buy a 60p newspaper in a supermarket, I get a VAT receipt by default. Same when I buy a modest meal in a pub or from Boots, or a toy from Argos.

Yet, if you fill up with £40 of petrol at the petrol station (something you might actually need a VAT receipt FOR), you specifically have to ask for one. Doesn't matter if it's Tesco or Sainsburys petrol, or one of the smaller chains. You still have to specifically ask for a VAT receipt, adding to undue delay in the queue.

What is this bollocks all about? If a supermarket prints VAT receipts by default when you buy a pair of jeams, a DVD or a bottle of whisky, surely it isn't much to ask for the same supermarket's petrol station and indeed every other petrol station to print a VAT receipt by default as well?


17 May 2007

BBC political bias revisited

I have blogged in the past about a strange political bias in BBC reporting. Yesterday, the BBC reported that political history was made when they covered Alex Salmond's victory speech to MSPs.

Why was this history?

1. The outcome of the Scottish General Election was finalised. Yet, this final outcome plays as a sideshow to the Labour party electing a new leader, even though there is no real news to report on that story most of the time.

2. For the first time in the Scottish Parliament's 8 year history, there is a change of government.

3. For the first time in 50 years, Labour is no longer the dominant party in Scotland

4. For the first time in the SNP's 73 year history, it is in power in government.

5. For the first time in over 300 years, Scotland has a government that is advocating independence.

Pretty momentous events, and ones that have wide ranging effects not only across Scotland's 5 million population but the future of the UK including devolution in Northern Ireland and Wales.

Yet, what was the BBC's lead story on the evening news? Prince Harry (the 'spare' in the 'heir and the spare') is disappointed that he is no longer going to be sent to fight in the illegal Iraq war. A war that the SNP has consistently argued against. In what way does Prince Harry's next assignment merit top billing over the constitutional future of the UK? Does "celebrity news" somehow qualify as more important now?

What Scotland needs is a Scottish News service that covers Scottish and International news and brings in stories from the rest of the UK as appropriate. To reciprocate, the rest of the UK deserves heavyweight news and not celebrity dumbing down.

Shut down vista via the keyboard

In a breathtaking act of complete user ignorance, the so called new user experience of Windows Vista is now significantly harder to shut down via the keyboard than good old Windows XP. Gone is the really useful Windows+U, U, Return. No, in all the extensive development and testing and usability studies it didn't seem to occur to Microsoft that people might find a keyboard shutdown in Windows Vista useful. Never mind disability access issues and people prefering not to use a mouse because of an impairment. Never mind also the logistical difficulty of trying to use a mouse when using the laptop on a train or other moving environment. In all the studies that Microsoft did and the millions of dollars spent did noone point this out?

So here's how you do it without the mouse in Vista. Windows Vista (because we know you like things complicated)

1. Press the Windows button
2. Press the left arrow key
3. Press the right arrow key (bizarrely this does not put you back to step 1!)
4. Press return

Here's a longer alternative:

1. Press Windows+D
2. Press Alt+F4
3. Press down arrow
4. Press down arrow (3 and 4 may be combined depending on your setup depending on the options in the drop list, press down arrow until Shut Down appears).
5. Press return

Why make life so difficult for the user for something they might do several times a day?

Royal Bank of Scotland closing branches

The Royal Bank of Scotland (I loathe their silly new name RBS) makes big claims about "at a time when some organisations are closing branches" to make us think they are not, check out the Google search results for royal bank "closing branches".

OK, enough of the spin. This is what happened to me.

In 1984 I lived on Heriot Row in Edinburgh's New Town and moved my branch from Dunblane to Edinburgh to make it more convenient to pay in money. The most convenient branch based on the route I walked most often was at 83 Princes Street, Edinburgh. That branch closed a few years later and my account automatically transferred to the George Street International Office. Separately to this, I also opened an account at the branch physically closest to where I was living and this was the Castle Street Branch. That branch is also now closed. My account was at the George Street International Office before it too was closed and became the dome. By 1993 when I returned to live in Scotland my account had been automatically moved again to the next nearest branch, the bank's headquarters and the former Dundas Mansion, a building they had owned since 1825. That branch is now going to be a hotel. So that's Castle Street shut, Princes Street shut, George Street office shut and St Andrews Square office shut.

The Royal Bank of Scotland, "at a time when some organisations are closing branches", including yourselves then?

16 May 2007

ID card fiasco, yet again

I have blogged in the past about the UK government's appalling record on IT systems yet that earlier article was only about a £141m system going tits up and tax payers' money getting toileted. Today we have the news that the ID system "may" be out of control and that MPs must act on runaway ID project.

What is laughable about this is the government IT systems are run via a project management system called PRINCE2, which was written by the Office of Government Commerce and generally regarded as heavy on the project management side of things is supposed to control this sort of failure. PRINCE stands for Projects in Controlled Environments. When the London School of Economics is calling to see whether the ID system is getting out of control after the costs have risen by nearly 1 BILLION pounds, can I make a few suggestions:

1. You are supposed to be running a controlled project. Where is the control?

2. When a project over runs by nearly a billion pounds, you don't need one of the foremost centres of learning in the world to ask you to see if it might be out of control. It is, deal with it.

3. I posted in June 2006 about wasting money on the ID card system and July 2006 and other IT projects in September 2006. Since these faults with the ID card system were well known nearly a year ago, why has the government apparently done nothing about it?

Labour and the Lib Dems have lost the plot in Scotland

Iain MacWhirter writes an excellent article in The Guardian about Labour and the Lib Dems have lost the plot in Scotland. Perhaps the SNP will call another general election in 2 years and consign the squabbling Labour party and the LibDems in a huff even more to the political wilderness. The infighting over Jack McConnell's successor has already started.

Regardless of mere party politics, one paragraph written in this London based newspaper stood out.

After Wednesday, Alex Salmond First Minister "..will be off to see the Queen to inform Her Majesty that the United Kingdom has changed forever".

At Westminster, Tony Blair has to ask for permission to dissolve Parliament. In Scotland, we just go down to London and tell the Queen how it's going to be.

No longer New Labour, New Britain but New Democracy, New Scotland.

Welcome to "A new time" for Scotland, the day that the UK has its first Nationalist leading a UK country.

Dell, Paypal and Google. Business rules that annoy

Dell 2.0 faces an uphill struggle details problems with Dell and especially the Dell website. I have also found exactly the same problems when using the site to buy a laptop earlier in the year and more recently when looking at getting a new monitor. The site is a real candidate for a pants website award now, once a site famed for allowing the customer to choose what they want, now it is driven by "business rules" that simply annoy.

Paypal has the same problem. Try setting up a bank account and then paying for something on paypal using a credit card. Paypal really wants you to use that bank account and you have to go through various "are you sure" screens and "let us show you the benefits of paying from your bank account" which become rather tiresome when you have seen them a few dozon times. Dear Paypal, I use my bank account to withdraw money. I use my credit card to make payments. That's the way I work, deal with it. I don't use my bank account to make payments because not only do I lose the interest free period but I also get charged for withdrawls on my bank account as it's a business bank out and therefore a target for ripoff bank charges.

I like the philisophy of Google apart from removing the BlogThis button, a fix for which is described in my BlogThis article, Google's philisophy is "Focus on the user and all else will follow" and "Great just isn't good enough".

A few lessons that Paypal, Dell and the people who removed the BlogThis button should learn.

BlogThis and the Google Toolbar

For some unknown reason Google has removed the very useful BlogThis feature from the Google toolbar. However if you want the BlogThis functionality you can get BlogThis! instead.

I'm using it to post this. Just install the extension, restart Firefox and then BlogThis is available from the right click context menu.

You'll see a few more posts using BlogThis, just to prove it works!


04 May 2007

Scottish General Election: SNP has won

SNP wins Scottish General Election. "Scotland has changed for good and forever".

The SNP have won the Scottish General Election, the result was posted at 17:30 on 4th May, thus ending 300 years of the dominant Scottish party wanting to be part of the UK.

The final results are

SNP 47 seats (up 20 from 2003)
Labour 46 seats (down 4)
Conservative 17 seats (down 1)
Liberal Democrat 16 seats (down 1)
Others 3 (down 14)

The others comprise 2 Green candidates (Glasgow list and Lothians List) plus the independent Margo MacDonald (Lothians List).

The total MSPs for independence is 50.

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