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May 2005

This month EBay makes some surprising offers while Huw tries to wrest his data from the clutches of Blogger and Outlook Express

 

When I was searching for Belle de Jour’s blog last month, I innocently entered the phrase “London call girl” into Google. Imagine my surprise when an advert for EBay appeared in the margin stating: “Call Girl For Sale. Low Priced Call Girl. Big Selection! ebay.co.uk”. I mean, I know you can buy almost anything on EBay, but, really, I had no idea…!

Yes, these are real EBay Google ads.
Don't click them, however. The links have been disabled to protect the innocent.

Mind you, this is not the only unexpected offer that EBay’s Google ads have turned up over the past few weeks. “ Warts” one ad promised, Huge selection, great deals on Warts.” This is one temptation I didn’t find too much difficulty in resisting.

At times it seems that EBay ads are the modern equivalent of snake oil salesmen, ready to sell you anything, no matter how improbable, at a moment’s notice. And before you ask, yes, there is indeed an EBay ad for “Discount Snake Oil. Check out the deals now!”

If you click an EBay ad you will find it usually takes you to a page of items with at least a tenuous connection to the text of the ad itself. Instead of snake oil, you may find oil jars with snake’s head handles. Instead of ready-to-use warts you may find creams to remove them.

I get the impression that EBay is trying to subdue the over-zealousness of its Google ads at the moment. When I searched for call girls today (quite innocently, I assure you), I was merely offered an EBay link to movies. When I searched for warts, the EBay link offered me discount drugs. However, when I searched for dog poo….

Ahem, but let us move on to matters of more gravity….

Blog Off!

Speaking of blogs (pay attention - I was wittering on about the Belle de Jour blog but a few paragraphs ago!) I must admit that I am starting to have second thoughts about Blogger - the free blog provider which is currently the chosen home of the Rants and Raves blog. As I said last month, Blogger has the advantage of being hugely popular and owned by Google. It also has some distinct deficiencies. Top of the list is its lack of data export. If you’ve written your life story in Blogger and you want to download it to mail off to a publisher, you will have problems. There is no simple way to get at all the text in one fell swoop. Blogger’s own recommended solution is to delete the existing template for your Blog (a template is a sort of Blog-standard page of HTML) and replace it with another template which formats your entire Blog onto a single page. You are then supposed to publish this blog to the web, load it into your web browser and save the potentially massive page to disk. If you think this sounds like a joke, all I can say is that, as far as I can work out, it is not so intended.

If, on the other hand, your Blog is hosted at MyBlogSite you can, in theory, export it just by clicking a button and waiting for a few moments for an export file to appear. In practice, I’ve been trying to do this for the past few days and thus far, the blasted file has not made its appearance. Only ModBlog does a really good job of file export. It gives you the choice of exporting your blog as plain text, which is probably best if you plan to edit it in a word processor, or as XML, which is better if you plan to import it back into ModBlog at a later stage.

Another thing I don’t like about Blogger is its lack of statistics. Unless you place a 3rd party counter on your home page, you have no idea how many visitors your blog has had. You can rectify this deficiency by signing up for a free counter such as SiteMeter (http://www.sitemeter.com). In addition to a simple hit count this shows you the number of visits per day, this week or the last hour and the average length of each visit. Both MyBlogSite and ModBlog have excellent built-in site statistics.

In the meantime, if you are a Blogger user, you may be wondering if there is a more civilised way of getting at your Blog than by messing about with template definitions. One way is to use a web site download tool such as the free Open source HTTrack Website copier (http://www.httrack.com/). This can download all the archived pages and pictures from your Blog in one go. With a bit of tweaking, it can also download any comments that have been left. But I guess the real answer is to save local copies of all your Blog entries as you write them.

Express Pain

Blogger isn’t the only thing that’s been making hard work of getting at my data this month. Outlook Express has been equally uncooperative. It happened that I wanted to transfer my Outlook Express email and newsgroup settings and data from one PC to another. A common enough thing to want to do, I should have thought. I mean, everyone changes from one PC to another at some time. You’d think that Outlook Express would just have a couple of Save All and Load All menu options. Alas, life isn’t that simple. Its data and settings are spread out across a mishmash of files and registry entries and moving them from one place to another is not a task to be untaken lightly.

Fortunately, Windows XP has a tool to help you. It’s called The File And Settings Transfer Wizard and you’ll find it hidden away in the Start Menu’s Accessories, System Tools subfolder. Don’t get too excited though. Not all wizards are as friendly as Gandalf or Harry Potter. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it is quite in the Sauron or Voldemort class but it’s certainly heading in that direction.


Time to create a wizard disk on a floppy! Hmmm.... tricky when you haven't got a floppy disk drive....

It turns out that the PC from which I am transferring the data is running Windows 2000. This doesn’t have a transfer wizard. So when I run the wizard on XP it gives me the option of creating a Wizard Disk to run on the Windows 2000 computer. Unfortunately, my PC doesn’t have a floppy disk drive so the Wizard Disk option is greyed out. I do have a network but there is no option for creating the Wizard Disk on a network drive. The only other alternative is to run a utility from my XP installation disk on the Windows 2000 PC. After half an hour of hard searching I eventually found my XP installation disk and ran the blasted utility. This gives me the option of saving a bewildering number of files and settings relating to just about every piece of software on the PC. I’m only interested in Outlook Express but there is no option to select a single application. It does give me the option to deselect individual applications and settings one at a time but not all at once. Aaaarrrrrgggghhhhhhh….

I spent a few happy minutes deselecting a few dozen items from the list before I eventually grew weary of the task. So I just let the wizard save the settings I hadn’t got around to deleting in the expectation that it would be over in a minute or two. No such luck! I’d eaten my dinner, walked the dog, had a bath and would have had plenty of time left over (had it been my inclination) to read a hefty chunk of War and Peace - and still the thing was chugging away. It seemed it was trying to find and compress all manner of irrelevant files ranging from programming projects to video clips.

With no end to the process in sight, I decided to start again. This time I spent a small but important segment of my life - which, frankly, would have been better occupied with other things - deselecting all the unwanted file types one by one from the Wizard until, eventually, only the Outlook Express settings were left in the list (it would have been so much easier if it had given me the option of selecting this setting alone instead of deselecting all the others, but, for reasons best known to itself and Microsoft, it didn’t). At the end of this process my mouse finger was exhausted but at least the wizard completed its task in a matter of minutes. Then I ran the wizard again on the target PC to import the saved data. Et voila! My Outlook Express settings had finally been transferred!

Thunderbird is go! (well, maybe…)


Thunderbird is a perfectly decent mail reader. Possibly somewhat friendlier than Outlook Express?

While all this was happening, I’d had plenty of time to download and install the open source mail reader, Thunderbird (http://www.mozilla.org/products/thunderbird). This automatically imports email and account settings from Outlook Express. Unfortunately it doesn’t do this across a network so I also downloaded a copy of MozBackup (http://mozbackup.jasnapaka.com) which backs up and restores data to and from the Firefox web browser and Thunderbird. Suffice to say I’d got my Outlook Express messages installed across the network into Thunderbird long before I managed to get them into Outlook Express. Thunderbird looks pretty good. I must say that I am sorely tempted to ditch Outlook Express in its favour.

However, I don’t feel like making that decision just at the moment. Frankly, I’m too exhausted….


Copyright © 2009 Dark Neon Ltd. Not to be reproduced without permission.


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