Alert: We are talking about alerts

As some of you will know I am one of a trio of contributors over at the Duggup blog. The rationale is basically “live music isn’t dead… YET”. Anyway, running this new site is producing some amazing results.

Not the least of which is, I wrote a post about an Italian musician last Sunday and by 6:00pm he had left a comment that he was “indeed singing in English” (read the post). Now that’s about an elapsed time of 30 hours. So the question I was left with was “How did he know that unadvertised and obscure website halfway around the world had written a review of his music”?

It’s a ripper little question and I think I have the answer to it here and needless to say Google appears in it somewhere (you sort of knew it would).

The Short version:
Google Alerts lets you set up Google searches.
When new “hits” to those searches are posted on the Internet, Google Alerts sends you an e-mail with a link to it.
As tools go it’ s a no brainer

The Long Version:

Let’s say you have a blog called “duggup” (oh look, there’s one I prepared earlier)

  • Step 1. Go to http://news.google.com
  • Step 2. Look down the left side of the page for “News Alerts.” and click on it (there is a little envelope icon)
  • Step 3. Add the “keywords” you want to be told about. I am using “duggup” {I use quotes around the search}
  • Step 4. Choose the type “News & Web” from the drop-down menu
  • Step 5. How often do you want a to be told about a “hit”. Lets try “As it Happens” from the next drop down menu
  • Step 6. Add your e-mail address and click “Create Alert”

That’s it, from now on, it just works (well that’s the theory).

Now here is a thought, if the search you are setting up is likely to generate a ton of information coming at you regularly, consider setting up a GMail account and using it to bear the brunt of the it. Leave a comment if you need an invite)

Have fun, the uses of this are really only limited by your imagination. AND yes I wll have an inbox with a bunch of links to this post in about 24 hours. I will paste it in as an update when it arrives.

Alerts ThumbnailUPDATE: The Alert arrived at 10:29am on Sunday… about 30 hours. Click on the picture to see what it looks like in Gmail.

Hidden data in Microsoft Word documents

It must have been the week for it. The most popular support question I had last week (other than the perennial “How do I make my machine go faster?”) is about the Track Changes settings in Word.

CNET News.com had an article back in January 2006 entitled Editing tips from the NSA (National Spooks Academy?) which detailed some of the bigger and better oopses that had been found and a 13 page PDF that the NSA (No Spying On Americans?) with the catchy title “Redacting with Confidence: How to Safely Publish Sanitized Reports Converted From Word to PDF”.

So what’s the actual problem here?

Firstly, if you send your e-mail business letters, resumes and personal documents as Word documents, you may be telling people things that wouldn’t really want to have out there. Unless you take extra steps, recipients of Word documents can easily see items deleted or modified.

For example, how about that report you sent to the client? Inside it you originally had the real budget figures. You changed that to the marketing figures but the client may now know what you really are charging. Hidden within that letter was your original wording. Microsoft Word dutifully saved it all. And your client doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to find it.

Anybody who uses Word risks exposing sensitive information. Word inserts metadata (information about data) to help identify author names, document titles, keywords, print and save dates, and names of people who have reviewed and saved a document. Metadata can also spill the beans about your place of business: your company or organization’s name, the name of the network server or hard drive on which the document is saved and any comments added.

Some of this data is easily seen in Word. And some can be viewed only by opening the document in a specialised program. Regardless, the data is there.

Why? Well metadata is useful when multiple people are working on one document. Let’s say you create a document and send it to your boss for approval. You’ll probably want to track changes that were made. However, it could be disastrous if others discover the information. Imagine submitting a business proposal with varying figures (written as comments) on “nonnegotiable pricing.”

Hey, if you have never run into this problem, don’t worry too much. Bitform studied Word, Excel and PowerPoint files on the websites of several large American companies (now remember this is the stuff that you and I can happily download just by clicking the link). and Bitform was able to identify thousands of user names from these documents. Privacy act ? what privacy act.

Using Office 2003 or Office XP? Microsoft have an AddIn for you to

Remove Hidden Data
. With this add-in you can permanently remove hidden data and collaboration data, such as change tracking and comments, from Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft PowerPoint files.

But for those of us not on the Microsoft latest and greatest BETA upgrade path and still using 2000 ( and quite happily I might add) we have been forgotten. But here are a few things that you can do.

Turn off Fast Save. This feature speeds up saving a document by saving only changes made to a document. But ( and here is where the fun begins) text that you delete from a document may still remain. Microsoft recommends turning off this feature to eliminate any chance of deleted text remaining in the document.
Click Tools, then Options. Click the Save tab. Clear the “Allow fast saves” check box and click OK.

You can remove personal information from a document when you save it. In Word 2000, click Tools, the Options. Select the User Information tab. Clear the information in Name, Initials and Mailing Address and click OK.

Turn off the Track Changes tool. In Word 2000 and earlier versions, click Tools, Track Changes, Highlight Changes. Click to clear the check mark in the “Track Changes while editing” box.

You can tell if the Track Changes feature is on by looking at the status bar (located at the bottom of every document). When Track Changes is enabled, TRK appears in the status bar. When Track Changes is disabled, TRK is dimmed.

IMPORTANT. Track Changes must be disabled before writing the document. Otherwise, any changes made will not be removed.

If this really worries you, consider dropping Word and move over to Open Office. I did, I really like the new version 2.

Che, Jim, Andy and Silkscreening

Way back in the late Sixties I picked up a number of useful skills. AND they had nothing to do with computers. Apart from tie dying which was messy and great fun, I learnt how to silkscreen tshirts and posters.

Now you have to remember that desktop publishing hasn’t been invented yet, and neither has the inkjet printer, iron on paper or Kinko’s. So we had to figure out ways to get the message across while waiting around for someone to invent all that stuff. It also had the advantage that while you were waitng for stuff to dry you could whip round the corner and catch a set from a band at the local pub.

Korda photo of CheIn case you think that this all sounds a little lowtech and primitive, I would like to point out that one of the enduring icons from that era was first popularised as a silkscreened poster and tshirt.

The Maryland Institute College of Art called Korda’s photo (that’s the one on the left), “The most famous photograph in the world and a symbol of the 20th century.” and who am I to argue.

Jim Hamilton GraphicNow this is transformed using a single stencil and some black ink by Irish artist Jim Hamilton into the graphic at the right (of course recognise it,you’ve seen the image a million times). and then Fitzpatrick’s high contrast image is hijacked and re-purposed by Warhol CheAndy Warhol’s in his 1962 artwork Che Guevara, a montage of brightly coloured images in Warhol’s stylised screenprint. And now it’s used to sell Vodka, clothes and probably appears at least somewhere in the graffiti on a wall near you right now.

So screenprinting, lowtech and primitive, OK. But you still can change the world with it.

Silkscreening is a great medium, as it sort of sits half-way between hand-drawn and mass production, way more colourful than photocopying and as you can see above, it has an aesthetic all its own.

What prompted all this is a post by Artist Shannon Gerard, who broke out her silkscreening gear to make cool shirts and posters for her upcoming comic launch, and while waiting for things to dry has shared her skills in a funny and very detailed tutorial over at No Media Kings How to Silkscreen Posters and Shirts

So go and read up, learn how to print your own posters, shirts, or whatever else is small enough to be printing on. Lets face it, we may be needing this soon. Oh yeah keep an eye out for the Virgin Mary and Spiderman, they help her out.

Australia, atoms and nuclear accidents

John Howard recently announced that Australia ( that’s the former democracy) is going to go nuclear. Now, he assures us that this decision will be thoroughly investigated. Pity it’s a decision already rather than a discussion.

The Austrlian Green’s media release yesterday claims that

Prime Minister John Howard wants to shut out the Australian public from his nuclear review, making a lie of his call for a ‘full-blooded debate’, Australian Greens energy spokesperson Senator Christine Milne said today.

“Reports today that the hand-picked review panel will not hold public hearings and probably won’t call for public submissions show just what a sham the process is,” Senator Milne said in Alice Springs.

“Prime Minister Howard said he wanted a ‘full-blooded debate’ about whether Australia should go down the nuclear track but he doesn’t want to hear what Australians have to say on the matter,” Senator Milne said.

“Instead, the panel will ask selected individuals to make submissions, and even these may not be released to the public until after the review panel reports to the Prime Minister.

SO when the pundits tell us how safe this stuff is, it might be worth popping over to Lasting News, who have produced a timely Google map of nuclear_accidents around the world.

I will bet there are a lot more there than you knew about ( I could only name 6).This map displays information about the most important nuclear accidents and disasters relying on a well-documented Wikipedia source.

Here are some other pages to cast an eye over.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_civilian_nuclear_accidents
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_civilian_radiation_accidents
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_military_nuclear_accidents

Oh and just in case it wasn’t obvious, NO NUKES FOR AUSTRALIA.

Your Taxes At Work

So this is how the Australian government is going to take us back to the future.

According to the ABC News Online Families to receive free Internet filter.

The Federal Government has announced it will provide every Australian family with a free Internet filter to block pornography. The plan is part of a new package, called Protecting Australian Families Online, that will cost almost $120 million. Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan says the filters will let parents set access limits based on what they think is appropriate.

The Government will make the National Library use the filters, and hopes all other libraries will too.

Here is the URL to the press release $116.6 million to Protect Australian Families Online

What are they thinking. The parents are probably going to get the kids to install the software. And surely Google could sell them the filtering technology that they developed for China, it seems to work well for the government over there..

A Disposable Email Address Service

Do you hate it to receive spam emails in your private email account? Or my personal pet hate, the registering to use a free account to demo a webservice that you probably aren’t going to use again.

Well, temporaryinbox.com offers a free temporary email and disposable email address service to get around this annoyance.

A disposable email address is something like a temporary email account, which can be used to avoid spam. For example use your temporary email account at registrations (Hello New York Times). So they will never know your private email address.

The address lasts for about six hours more than long enough to register yourself for a list / “free” account whatever.

File this one away for future use.