March madness

So, March was a fun month on the blog front! For some reason, I’ve been post-happy, with 41 posts in March alone, or 1.32 posts per day. The previous high was in January when I posted as often as I took my daily vitamins, an even 31 posts.

Traffic was also high, with the second highest monthly total for page impressions (67,511; 2,177 per day) and by far the highest number of visits (19,764; 637 per day), dwarfing the previous monthly high of 13,846 back in July 2005.

The most popular single post visited in March was Pastas, maybe in part thanks to a direct link from Alan some time ago.

Search terms included the ever-present Beckhams (searches for Brooklyn Beckham directed people here 187 times; Romeo accounted for a further 20), PAS 78, lots of Deal or No Deal formula-related traffic and Karl Pilkington’s diary. Also, lots of recent interest in the corn on the cob card, which I’d forgotten about.

And the international community is loving it, the most visiting countries being the US, Costa Rica (?), the UK, Australia, Brazil and Argentina. India, Canada, Japan and Holland complete the top ten, Holland accounting for just over 200 hits.

The total post count has crept up to 432, or 300 if we’re working base 12! That’s a decimal average of 0.682 posts per day since it all started on 6 July 2004 (0.823 in twelvimal).

osirra.com, now brought to you in three senses

My friend Francis has come up with the idea of creating what I’m calling blogcasts, and what he’s calling Robocasts. Basically, it’s a podcast of your blog using automated speech software, delivered through an RSS feed; he’s using me as a guinea pig for the initiative. Here is the feed (the posts are not in the right order, for some reason – that’s me raising a bug, Francis), while an example mp3 file can be found here.

Please feel free to subscribe to the feed so that I can accompany you with my thoughts on your respective journeys to work. Happy listening!

With Braille hardware, this site is available through the sense of touch, as well as sight and sound. I now have to figure out how to deliver against the two remaining sense: taste and smell.

Another double-meaning headline from the BBC

Here’s another confusing headline from the BBC: BBC used to entice cyber victims. Are they using the past tense (I used to, you used to, he or she used to), or is it the present, with an inferred is?

e-Accessibility in the UK government

This BBC article, currently getting top billing in technology, highlights some research showing poor levels of e-Accessibility in government. Disappointing to say the least.

I’m proud, however, that Directgov is held up as an example of how things should be done. AA, I’m not sure, but certainly up there with the best! Awesome, in the American sense of the word.

UK government websites and direct.gov.uk

Yesterday, I created my first Wikipedia entry, presumably increasing the total number of English articles to 1,049,001. I’ve dabbled in editing existing articles before, correcting grammar and adding information where I thought it lacking; but this was my first page creation.

If you can’t find a page that you think deserves a place, you simply type in the desired title, complete with spaces, in the browser’s address bar after the http://en.wikipedia.org/. You’re then invited to create your content. Really simple!

The page I added is called UK government websites. There didn’t seem to be a consolidated list out there of all gov.uk domains, so I created one. The e-Government Unit within the Cabinet Office is responsible for administering such domains (over 3,000), but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t publish the exhaustive list. The page I’ve created is not yet exhaustive; it’s a result of searching on Google for the word the within gov.uk domains. (That should pick up most, right?) I then took the first 500 results, de-duped, suppressed local government sites (there are a few sources already out there that list these) and sorted by domain.

There are some that tickled me while manipulating the data. First of all, the DTLR still has a landing page, despite being disbanded five years ago. Then there’s www.darwin.gov.uk (dedicated to bizarre deaths in government?) and www.magic.gov.uk, that presumably gives you untold benefits and tax deductions. Actually, the latter seems to represent a government department created for the purpose of fulfilling an acronym. Then there’s the Farriers Registration Council (I kid you not), NetRegs (its site didn’t seem to tell me what NetRegs is short for), the Office of the Queen’s Printer for Scotland (I can’t find an English equivalent), RedBox (careful, the Back button doesn’t work when you get there!) and the Tanzania Online High Commission, commission spelt incorrectly in the title bar of its site.

I’ve already been told that there’s at least one missing: www.hedgehogs.gov.uk. If you notice anything missing, please feel free to update the page. I’d like this list to become as comprehensive as possible.

Apparently, there’s a big push going on at the moment to promote Directgov. I project managed the site’s technical implementation through Spring 2004, and in the meantime it has steadily increased its draw, attracting over 2m visitors in February.

Its main stumbling block is that it’s competing for traffic against the rest of government, within which branding is all over the place – the above analysis begins to highlight the issues it faces. One thing I didn’t mention is that on visiting these sites, rarely are any two consistent in their look and feel or behaviour. Often, campaign sites are created so that an advertising campaign can be supported by a call to action, further diluting the enormously powerful brand that government could realise.

The list of government websites should serve as an overdue warning to the government’s brand custodians, should these people exist. Directgov offers an ideal opportunity for the government to re-group under a single, orange umbrella, in the process hopefully reducing the length of the list I created. This is one example where less is indeed more.

Bad web browser bug gets patched

This is the BBC’s headline for its article about Microsoft releasing a patch for the latest IE vulnerability. Not sure which noun bad refers to. Maybe some subtle editorial humour going on in the newsroom today.

Where to sit on a train

Back in the UK, when I used to catch an evening train from London to Leeds to see the folks, I used to request a rear-facing window seat at a table, on the left-hand side of the train in a non-smoking carriage. A table was preferable to looking at the back of someone else’s seat; I felt that rear-facing was a safer way to travel (or should I say a safer way to crash – no evidence to back this up, just a hunch); I prefer to be by the window than have passers-by nudge be as they walk past; and the left-hand side would offer me the opportunity to appreciate the descending sun on the northbound journey.

Nowadays, I get an eastbound morning train to work. It’s a first-come first-served seating system, so I hunt for a window seat facing in the direction of travel on the right side of the train, in a row where I face other passengers, in the carriage that alights at the optimal spot on the destination platform. The rationale for the window and facing other passengers has not changed; I face the direction of travel so that there’s no glare on my laptop from the rising sun; and I sit on the right so that I can appreciate the same sun rising.

I’m sure most other people have criteria for choosing their seats, but most of them will likely be based on the proximity of other people (or lack thereof). Maybe mine are unique.

What are you looking at?

Each morning, I have a train journey of just over an hour. Before I leave home, I log on so that I can pick up any recent mail, check the weather to inform my clothing choice for the day, pop into BBC News, and check my RSS feeds.

Social networking allows you to liken yourself with others, people with similar interests or behaviours. Wouldn’t it be nice if, in addition to downloading my standard RSS feeds, my PC could pick up the URLs that these people had recently visited and had highlighted as being of interest. Not necessarily something that they’d thought blog-worthy, but something they’d stumbled upon and actively marked as worth sharing (via a Firefox extension?). StumbledUpon is the kind of place where this sort of thing belongs, or maybe Technorati.

Imagine: not a great track

I had a documentary on in the background this evening entitled Imagine: John Lennon. You can probably guess the subject matter.

Anyway, it signed off with the version of Imagine in which Lennon, wearing white, sits at a white piano in an otherwise empty white room with floor-to-ceiling windows.

I have to say, the song can only be described as foundering. Maybe this post will become a Googlewhack, through the words imagine and foundering.

Tomorrow, I will begin critiquing Michelangelo’s Creation of Man.

US tax return: a pleasing experience

Last night, I finally got around to completing my US tax return, given a looming deadline of 10 April. I say tax return. It should really be plural, as I had to file a Federal one, along with two state returns, one for my state of employment and one for my state of residency. Anyway, all in all, it was rather a pleasing experience. Here are some highlights.

First of all, an excerpt from a statement by the IRS commissioner:

American taxpayers made history in 2005. For the first time, over half of all individuals filed their tax returns electronically. More than 68 million people "e-filed".

Quite an impressive achievement!

Last year I got an accountant to sort it all out, given that I was relatively new to the country, and had little idea what I needed to complete, less still how to complete it.

While this cost me, the help was invaluable. The most useful thing she did (apart from the filing itself) was to give me a full copy of everything she filed, both for my records and so that I could copy her work this time around. It was relatively straightforward to use last year’s W2 and tax return, along with this year’s W2, to figure out this year’s tax return. It was kind of like a set of equations: I was substituting this year’s values of x (items on this year’s W2) and constants (e.g. standard deductions), where I had been given the relationship between x (items on last year’s W2) and y (items on last year’s tax return).

The software (I used TurboTax) was very simple to use, although the lure cost of $9.95 for the Federal return was augmented with a healthy $24.95 per state thereafter (cunningly communicated after I’d done the hard work), taking my total bill up to $59.85. I assume that’s tax deductible next year.

The most satisfying aspect was that there was little authentication; specifically, there was no pre-processing to the actual filing that I needed to go through. I didn’t need to register for a password and await its delivery.

It seems that the only authentication they needed was my correctly inputting a specified amount from my previous year’s Federal return. If I entered this correctly, then it assumed that I was who I said I was, and that no one else would be willing to solicit this information for the sake of completing the tax return on my behalf.

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