Cloudless

Heavy Rain

Heavy Rain (c) 2013 Andy Vickers

Like walking into a house when you’ve been away for a while I pull off the dust-sheets and open all the curtains…

It feels like such a long time since I’ve been able to post anything here, in reality it’s been a couple of weeks that I’ve not been able to access The Lunch’s dashboard or create new posts.  At first I thought it was my browser, my computer, my ISP, I searched online for WordPress issues but couldn’t find anything so was stumped.  Then finally via Google I found mention of a similar issue on another blog which told me it was a problem with WordPress servers being blocked by ISPs due to someone’s blog breaking Terms of Service.  A demonstration of how one persons actions can cascade on systems like the internet.

Secondly the other week we had rain that looked like a monsoon, almost as dense as fog, waves of water were flowing off the tops of roofs across the road, the road outside itself became a river, water erupted from drain covers.  One driver of an expensive saloon car *cough*a BMW*cough* clearly felt that a couple of inches of water was too risky and reversed back then drove down the pavement instead while others ploughed through regardless spraying people and buildings with torrents of water.  One especially impressive young man managed to leap completely over the large bow-wave created by one passing car as it rolled along the pavement.  As usual I watched the rain and lightning, listened to the thunder.

All seemed ok that evening as the storm passed and things settled back to normal.  The next evening though I found my landline phone wasn’t working, seems the storm had taken out the phone lines locally, and then the terrible reality struck.  NO INTERNET EITHER – The Cloud taken out by Rain Clouds.   Arghhh.  I couldn’t even use 3G on my mobile because I hadn’t got enough credit.  It didn’t bother me that much, the emails can wait, I’d perhaps miss one of the Deals of the Day emails but there probably wouldn’t be anything decent anyway.  I watched some TV then thought about listening to some music, the new CD I’d ordered for example, I’d got the MP3 version free, downloaded it and then uploaded it to Google Music, I’ll listen to that…  Ah.  Maybe not.

Luckily I’d still got it on my computer too (the CD itself hadn’t arrived yet) so I could still listen but it was a little reminder that when you put everything in the cloud and you lose your connection you’re stuffed.  This is why I only use cloud services as backups or as a quick and convenient way of accessing music or photos on just about any device I have.   Other services like Evernote and Wunderlist will sync with the cloud database once reconnected so at least they’re still usable locally.

Lifehacker has some useful advice in case of internet outages including using a mobile hotspot or tethered 3G phone, borrowing a neighbour’s internet or using public wifi if these are available which shows that thinking ahead can save the day but even then at the wrong time you might still be netless.

Maybe one day the dreams of the likes of Google with their (mostly) everything-online Chrome OS will be realised but we’d need an internet that only goes off when the power to run the computer does too.

Ad-Free or Not Ad-Free, That is The Question

Yahoo Bar on Flickr

Yahoo Bar on Flickr

The home of my other creative endeavour is over at Flickr, a site that many say has been left to stagnate under the ownership of Yahoo mainly because it didn’t become the kind of social network that Facebook is.  The thing is that it started out as a photo sharing site and it still is, the recent makeover improved how your photostream was presented to viewers and in general it was still doing its job as an online portfolio of photos.

Today though something odd has happened and the Flickr community as a whole is not happy.  Me included.  The facelifted interface had a nice grey toolbar across the top, it was all very clean and modern looking, very professional, but today something else appeared, a lilac bar – referred to now by forum members as the Y! Barney Bar – displaying links to other Yahoo sites and services.

As many commenters have said it looks like something from a nineties website, wedged between your browser’s chrome and the elegant Flickr interface, a distracting layer of pink nougat taking up screen space and cheapening the experience for your viewers.  The thing that has annoyed most people though is that many of us pay to have an ad-free interface both for our own use and for those viewing our photos but this amounts to an advert for Yahoo’s services, driving viewers to the ad-land that is Yahoo’s main site, to gather more revenue.  Yahoo staff have said that “The idea is to make it easier to access other places in the Yahoo! network and make visiting Yahoo! pages a more seamless experience.” and that it brings your photos to a wider audience.  If that’s the case add another menu item to Flickr’s own toolbar not this monstrosity.

Many users have pledged to leave altogether if it’s not removed immediately but most think it’s unlikely because Yahoo are copying Google’s trend of having the toolbar at the top of everything, but at least Google’s bar fits in.  What you’re paying for on any site like Flickr or our home here at WordPress is the avoidance of your content being juxtaposed with adverts which may detract from what you’re trying to say or the aesthetics of your site, to make it feel like your own space not part of a larger corporate behemoth, that is what the Yahoo bar makes Flickr feel like – just a part of a search engine and internet portal, it takes the shine off the presentation, makes it feel less special.

Some commenters have said that at least this hasn’t happened to the sites of our blogging brethren over on Tumblr – but as Yahoo haven’t had much time with its new purchase as yet perhaps it’s only a matter of time.

[Flickr Forums]

Lunch At One

Birthday Cake

Birthday Cake (Photo credit: Will Clayton)

With today’s Lunch we’ll be nibbling a slice of birthday cake.  It was a year ago, at midnight on 1st April 2012 that I flicked the switch and released this blog to the public of the internet.  It was a nervous moment for an introvert like me – will anyone even look at it, will anyone like it, will I offend anyone?  I remember when I got my first follower a few days later and as I wrote shortly after it felt great and awesome to know that someone on the other side of the world had seen my words, liked them and wanted to read more.

It’s been an interesting year and I’ve learned much, there’s still much to do though.

Before diving into some of what I’ve learned I’d like to thank those who have liked my posts and followed my blog.  As others have said the WordPress community is a great one and I’ll look forward to seeing more of other bloggers’ work in the future too.

The Tools

I’ve begun using Evernote to organise information to put into future posts, using my Nexus 7 tablet to write up notes and posts while I’m watching tv or am otherwise away from the main computer.  I’ve bought a new Logitech wired keyboard because I can type faster on it  – sometimes it’s the simplest things that can make the difference.

I’m using the WordPress app on my Nexus to read posts on other blogs I follow as I can instantly reblog them or send them to Pocket for commenting of referencing later.

The Time

I’ve told myself to set aside a bit of time each day to do this otherwise I end up with a long list of unread posts that seems too daunting to tackle before more turn up the next day – I have the same problem at work, feeling like new tasks turning up will prevent me from finishing the ones I’ve already got, leaving me feeling anxious, stressed and overwhelmed; but that’s another story.  The fear of the so-called information overload, a decidedly 21st century ailment, has stopped me looking for suitable stories about modern life elsewhere too, ironically.

The Confidence

I’ve learnt to be honest and say how I feel, to not agonize too much about what to say and not to put off writing a post if I have all the pieces right there in my mind – one problem I have is I too often over-think a post, or to put too many things into one post that could perhaps be spread out over many.

I still get a buzz when I see the notifications telling me that people have liked my posts, I don’t feel I’ve failed if a post gets no likes at all.  Most of all I just enjoy writing these articles, gathering information, articulating thoughts and sending them out into the world.  I still though hoard more information, more bit of what could become posts than write actual posts.  Procrastination is still a problem; the feeling of sitting down and not feeling able to write anything (which is still,  for me, a lack of confidence in my own abilities) is still a problem.  But I’ve researched and found solutions to these things which I will be outlining soon.

So onto year two, with clear plans, determination to overcome what stops me writing and keeps me watching TV instead, a bag full of Cadbury’s Cream Eggs and one more day off work.

Personalised News

English: A simplified version of the RSS feed ...

English: A simplified version of the RSS feed icon.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometime in the late nineties I wrote a sci-fi story and in one scene a man gets home, taps a touchscreen on the wall of his kitchen and instantly brings up a personalised news feed programmed to display things that interested him and also set up to specifically look for news items featuring certain keywords, to highlight any news about a specific ship in this case.

Now just a bit over a decade later I’m just getting to grips with this exact same thing on my own personal tablet computer, though without the spaceship captaining wife.

Websites, including these WordPress blogs, can provide what is called an RSS feed which summarises each article published and these can be picked up by reader apps.  These have been around a long time admittedly but these readers are now becoming more sophisticated and stylish.  On my Nexus 7 I have tried Google Reader, Flow Reader, Google Currents, Flipboard and Feedly.  Some apps actually access your Google Reader subscription list to find out which feeds you want to receive.  You can even view other RSS equipped sites in your WordPress reader.   The icon above signifies that a site has an RSS feed.

These apps are the solution to the at time overwhelming volume of information that can come at you from the internet.  This sheer volume of articles is one of the reasons why I sit down to write something for this blog and just decide to have a mug of tea and watch tv instead, I just don’t know where to start.  With an RSS reader on a phone or tablet I can skim through articles, share useful ones to Pocket for use later on my desktop PC and read anything that I can just enjoy in the moment – all while half-listening to the tv.

The nice thing about these modern readers is the way they present the content.  You can filter what you see so if you have a news website’s feed you could refuse to acknowledge the existence of articles about X-Factor winners or only view articles about the weather or Wills and Kate.  Then depending on which app you choose you can have a list of your incoming torrent of news, divided into subject if you so wish or displayed to you as a virtual, stylish, one of a kind digital magazine, or a mixture of both.  Of course as it’s tablet/smartphone based (although you can use PC RSS readers or websites too) you can have notifications.

The future of news, personalised and delivered to your sofa.

The Internet Isn’t Free (of Charge)

Credit Card

Credit Card (Photo credit: 401(K) 2012)

We take it for granted today, we sit down, fire up a browser on our computer, tablet or phone, load up our favourite news site, tech blog, webcomic or whatever and for most of these we don’t have to have ever entered any credit card details – unlike buying a magazine or newspaper.

And then many people complain about adverts and install ad blockers without considering one important thing; without the ads the website wouldn’t be there, or you’d have to pay for it yourself.  The other problem with this expectation of no-cost browsing is that sites like Wikipedia which don’t have ads still have to pay for servers, offices and the staff who look after the site despite having an army of volunteers but don’t receive enough donations to keep going.

This blog is provided ostensibly free of charge via WordPress but has adverts (visible to non WordPress.com users) which I have never seen myself but have been reliably informed are there, I couldn’t justify paying for the ad-free version at the moment.  I personally only block adverts on other sites I visit that cause problems with my browser as I appreciate that ads are a necessary part of our free and open internet, just as regular users of donation-based sites aught to donate.

Someone once said there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and for the moment this one’s no exception.

[How Much Would You Pay For a Wikipedia Subscription]