Friday, August 23, 2013

Giving up Google

For a while now I've been mulling over quitting Google. I started to think about trying out Yahoo Mail for its tabbed interface, which I quite like; Gmail is starting to look dated. But more than that I felt like a bit of a hypocrite, I don't like Google (especially now they've killed off the Location History API), I often bitch about them, and yet I was using many of their products virtually every hour of every day.

Products and services of Googles that I use include search, email, maps, location recording, mobile OS, calendar, blogging (oh the irony), price finding, Keep (their mobile notes app), YouTube, I even use Google for my SMTP server from home, although in practice that's only data from RSS feeds. The only one of their big products that I don't use is their browser, Chrome, I've always thought giving them that extra bit of control over my life a step too far.

Switching email providers was easy for me as I've always used my domain registrar to forward my mail to Google, so switching to a Yahoo address was easy. If you don't want to lose your Gmail address you can use their pop/imap service with any other email service/client of your choice. While this won't stop Google from reading scanning your mail, or sharing it with the NSA, it will remove one of their ad revenue streams and can allow you to gradually migrate, slowly changing your address with third parties. Of course, moving to Yahoo won't completely stop the NSA, but it might help a bit, and I feel happier spreading my eggs between many different baskets.

I used Yahoo Mail for a bit, but was then pointed in the direction of FastMail.FM, and haven't looked back since. It feels a lot more professional than Yahoo Mail and offers threading, but doesn't offer the same inbox configuration options. But that's about the only configuration option that FastMail.FM doesn't offer, the configuration pages are labyrinthine, the Alternative Login options being a particular gem. The domain options are good too, similar to Google Apps I suppose. I've left what I originally wrote about Yahoo Mail at the bottom of this post, in case you're interested.

FastMail's privacy policy is written in plain English and is worth a read.

There are a few options for search, I've been using DuckDuckGo and StartPage. StartPage feels like cheating a bit as it uses Google's results, but using DuckDuckGo I became paranoid that I was missing the best results. DuckDuckGo does seem to return decent results, but I do feel that you need to craft your queries slightly differently, adding a subject or context which you might not have had to do with Google search, and I do occasionally check Google results if DDG hasn't returned the solution I was looking for.

I am still using an Android mobile phone currently (my cursed HTC One), but I plan to get a Lumia 1020, just as soon as they are out in the UK. And become affordable. And Three pay out, which they have promised to do.

Maps and calendar are two things that I am not only not too bothered about, but will also probably be forced to migrate once I switch to Windows Mobile.

Google+... only joking.

Google products that I am left using fall onto a scale of so important, frequently used and/or apparently irreplaceable that I can't move away from them, such as Google Talk for chatting to my friends who I can't force to move to another medium (at home I use the third party client Pidgin, but at work I seem to have to use the Google app to get past the firewall), image search and location history, which is invaluable to me for geo-tagging photos, to not really that bothered about and don't use very often, but easily replaceable, such as Blogger, Drive and Docs and YouTube.

Of course the elephant in the room is Facebook. I've tried to minimise the amount of stuff that Facebook knows about me, lying about my date of birth, removing all my employment and educational details. Although none of that will help when the tabloids want to find an incriminating picture of me.

UPDATE: I have just received my Nokia Lumia 1020 and can report that Windows Phone 8 is definitely usable. My only complaint so far being that the keyboard takes up half the screen, doesn't do any numbers/symbols as long presses and doesn't support Swyping.

Yahoo have updated their mail interface making the following even more redundant. I haven't looked in detail but the update seems to include threading, and making the preview setting sync between settings.

Having used Yahoo Mail for a few weeks I can report that it is definitely usable, though it does lack many features (threading's a biggie*, I now understand why people top-quote) and many options (you can't configure your inbox** or sending format for example). However the Android app is fine, and I got used to the niggles quickly. One issue that concerned me, spam filtering, turned out not to be an issue. A couple of spam messages have got through, but hopefully with training they will trail off. Yahoo Mail even has some advantages over Gmail, including the fact that the orientation of the preview pane is specific to each local machine, so my work PC with its portrait monitor can remain different to my home PC in landscape, with Gmail I stopped using the preview pane due to having to constantly switch.

* If you're missing threading, I might point out Yahoo Mail has a feature to mitigate this. When you hover over the subject of a message in the inbox a magnifying glass appears next to it. Click this and Yahoo Mail will show you all messages with the same subject line. The same can be done with senders too.

** Not being able to configure my inbox to default to showing unread messages first has made me rethink how I manage my emails, which in the long run might be a good thing.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah

[This article was originally published by Oliver Hotham at (Google Cache) but was taken down after a DMCA take down request from Straight Pride. See his update here.]
There has never been a better time to be gay in this country. LGBTI people will soon enjoy full marriage equality, public acceptance of homosexuality is at an all time high, and generally a consensus has developed that it’s really not that big of a deal what consenting adults do in the privacy of their bedrooms. The debate on Gay Marriage in the House of Commons was marred by a few old reactionaries, true, but generally it’s become accepted that full rights for LGBTI people is inevitable and desirable. Thank God.
But some are deeply troubled by this unfaltering march toward common decency, and they call themselves the Straight Pride movement.
Determined to raise awareness of the “heterosexual part of our society”, Straight Pride believe that a militant gay lobby has hijacked the debate on sexuality in this country, and encourage their members, among other things, to “come out” as straight, posting on their Facebook page that:
“Coming out as straight or heterosexual in today’s politically correct world is an extremely challenging experience. It is often distressing and evokes emotions of fear, relief, pride and embarrassment.”
I asked them some questions.
First of all, what prompted you to set up Straight Pride UK?
Straight Pride is a small group of heterosexual individuals who joined together after seeing the rights of people who have opposing views to homosexuality trampled over and, quite frankly, oppressed.
With the current political situation in the United Kingdom with gay marriage passing, everyone is being forced to accept homosexuals, and other chosen lifestyles and behaviours, no matter their opposing views. Straight Pride has seen people sued, and businesses affected, all because the homosexual community do not like people having a view or opinion that differs from theirs.
Are your beliefs linked to religion? How many of you derive your views from scripture?
Straight Pride aims are neutral and we do not follow religion, but we do support people who are oppressed for being religious. Only today, Straight Pride see that two homosexual parents are planning to sue the Church because they ‘cannot get what they want’. This is aggressive behaviour and this is the reason why people have strong objections to homosexuals.
You say that one of your goals is “to raise awareness of the heterosexual part of society”. Why do you feel this is necessary?
The Straight Pride mission is to make sure that the default setting for humanity is not forgotten and that heterosexuals are allowed to have a voice and speak out against being oppressed because of the politically correct government.
Straight Pride feel the need to raise awareness of heterosexuality, family values, morals, and traditional lifestyles and relationships.
Your website states that “Homosexuals have more rights than others”. What rights specifically do LGBTI people have that straight people are denied?
Homosexuals do currently have more rights than heterosexuals, their rights can trump those of others, religious or not. Heterosexuals cannot speak out against homosexuals, but homosexuals are free to call people bigots who don’t agree with homosexuality, heterosexuals, religious or not, cannot refuse to serve or accommodate homosexuals, if they do, they face being sued, this has already happened.
Straight Pride believe anyone should be able to refuse service and speak out against something they do not like or support.
There is a hotel in the south of England, called Hamilton Hall which only accepts homosexuals – if this is allowed, then hotels should have the choice and right to who they accommodate.
What has been the response to your campaign?
The response to Straight Pride’s formation has been as expected; hostile, threatening, and aggressive. Homosexuals do not like anyone challenging them or their behaviour.
We have had support from many people saying that if homosexuals can have a Pride March, and then equality should allow Heterosexuals to have one too. After all, the homosexual movement want everyone to have equality.
Why would you say that heterosexuality is the “natural orientation”?
Heterosexuality is the default setting for the human race, this is what creates life, if everyone made the decision to be homosexual, life would stop. People are radicalised to become homosexual, it is promoted to be ‘okay’ and right by the many groups that have sprung up.
Marriage is a man and a woman, homosexuals had Civil Partnerships, which was identical to Marriage with all the same rights, they wanted to destroy Marriage and have successfully done so.
If you could pick one historical figure to be the symbol of straight pride (just as figures like Alan Turing, Judith Butler or Peter Tatchell would be for Gay Pride) which would you choose?
Straight Pride would praise Margaret Thatcher for her stance on Section 28, which meant that children were not taught about homosexuality, as this should not on the curriculum.
More recently, Straight Pride admire President Vladimir Putin of Russia for his stance and support of his country’s traditional values.
How do you react to anti-gay attacks and movements in Russia and parts of Africa?
Straight Pride support what Russia and Africa is doing, these country have morals and are listening to their majorities. These countries are not ‘anti-gay’ – that is a term always used by the Homosexual Agenda to play the victim and suppress opinions and views of those against it.
These countries have passed laws, these laws are to be respected and no other country should interfere with another country’s laws or legislation.
We have country wide events which our members attend, and ask people their opinions and views, on such event at Glastonbury this year was very positive with the majority of people we asked, replied they were happily heterosexual.
For the record, Straight Pride did not respond to these questions:
“Pride” movements such as Gay Pride and Black Pride were making the argument that the stigma against them meant that proclaiming their “pride” was an act of liberation from oppression. Can being heterosexually really compare?
A problem that Gay rights activists cite is the issue of bullying, and the effect this can have on young LGBT people. Do you think a similar problem exists with straight children being bullied by gay children?
I will obviously add to this if they do respond.
You can follow Straight Pride on Twitter here and see their Facebook page here.

Friday, August 02, 2013

My Hour with Skype Support

12:41:31 jamiekay
Initial Question/Comment: Using Skype (create a new user, change my profile, manage my contacts)
12:41:31 System
Thank you for contacting Skype Customer Support!
12:41:36 System
Christopher G. has joined this session!
12:41:36 System
Connected with Christopher G.
12:41:41 Christopher G.
Hello! Welcome to Skype Live Support! My name is Christopher. How may I help you?
12:41:44 jamiekay
12:41:52 jamiekay
I was just chatting to one of your colleagues
12:41:57 jamiekay
and my browser crashed
12:42:05 jamiekay
since merging my MSN and Skype accounts
12:42:12 jamiekay
all my Skype contacts have disappeared
12:42:23 jamiekay
this happened before
12:42:30 jamiekay
and I contacted support
12:42:34 jamiekay
and they restored my contacts
12:42:39 jamiekay
but only to my skype login
12:42:43 jamiekay
not my MSN login
12:42:55 jamiekay
so the contact lists still weren't merged
12:43:31 Christopher G.
Thanks for the following information.
12:44:36 Christopher G.
May I have your Skype name and first name please so I could check your account?
12:44:40 jamiekay
12:44:41 jamiekay
12:45:01 Christopher G.
Thank you, Jamie.
12:47:06 Christopher G.
I checked this Skype account but it doesn't show here that you have successfully merged it your MSN account.
12:47:58 jamiekay
12:48:21 Christopher G.
Is there anything else I can help you with today?
12:48:53 jamiekay
12:48:55 jamiekay
12:49:13 jamiekay
my skype contacts have disappeared since I merged my MSN and Skyep accounts
12:50:21 Christopher G.
May I know your email address?
12:50:26 jamiekay
12:51:16 Christopher G.
Thank you. Let me double check our records.
12:51:46 Christopher G.
May I know what is you Microsoft email account?
12:51:51 jamiekay
12:54:46 Christopher G.
I checked this email account and it was not linked to your Skype account.
12:55:07 jamiekay
ok, well regardless of whether it is linked or not
12:55:13 jamiekay
I have still lost all my skype contacts
12:55:31 Christopher G.
That is why your are not seeing some of your contacts.
12:55:50 jamiekay
when I sign into skype
12:55:53 jamiekay
using my MSN account
12:56:01 jamiekay
I see all of my MSN contacts
12:56:05 jamiekay
when I sign into Skype
12:56:05 Christopher G.
May I know if you were able to login to the Skype application on your desktop?
12:56:10 jamiekay
using my Skype account
12:56:20 jamiekay
I don't see any contacts
12:56:38 jamiekay
so I don't see how merging the accounts would help
12:56:41 Christopher G.
What do you see on your account right now?
12:56:52 jamiekay
I also do not get prompted to merge the accounts
12:56:56 jamiekay
which I did before
12:56:59 jamiekay
and I accepted
12:57:02 jamiekay
and merged the accounts
12:57:10 jamiekay
which account are you asking about?
12:57:19 jamiekay
my MSN account or my Skype account?
12:57:26 Christopher G.
What do you see on your screen right now?
12:57:47 jamiekay
I am logged into Skype
12:57:50 jamiekay
using my Skype account
12:57:53 jamiekay
and I see no contacts
12:58:26 Christopher G.
What do you see on your screen as of this moment?
12:59:12 jamiekay
I don't understand what you're asking
12:59:19 jamiekay
I see no contacts
12:59:33 jamiekay
I can send you a screen shot if you want
13:00:31 Christopher G.
Did you login to the Skype website or to the Skype application?
13:00:38 jamiekay
the application
13:01:41 Christopher G.
Thanks for that information.
13:01:43 jamiekay
if I log in online
13:01:45 jamiekay
I can see
13:01:50 jamiekay
that it confirms
13:01:54 jamiekay
that my MSN account
13:01:59 jamiekay
is linked
13:02:02 jamiekay
to my Skype account
13:02:17 jamiekay
I do not know why your system says they are not linked
13:02:31 Christopher G.
Is there anything else I can help you with today?
13:02:36 jamiekay
13:02:46 jamiekay
13:03:11 Christopher G.
Okay please stay on the line while I check my resources regarding your concern.
13:03:25 jamiekay
perhaps you could check what the previous person did
13:03:28 jamiekay
to restore them
13:03:30 jamiekay
on 27th July
13:05:31 Christopher G.
Thanks for patiently waiting.
13:05:41 Christopher G.
Upon review, I've noticed that your issue is handled by another department. I will need to transfer you to the team that handles this kind of issue.
13:05:46 Christopher G.
Please stay on the line, I will transfer you now. Have a great day.
13:05:56 System
You are being transferred to another queue. Please stand by...
13:05:56 System
Christopher G. has left this session!
13:05:56 System
Danna Kenett Z. has joined this session!
13:05:56 System
Connected with Danna Kenett Z.
13:06:01 Danna Kenett Z.
Hello! I'm Danna Kenett.
It seems you have been transferred to me for further assistance. I'll just take a look at your previous conversation and then we can get started.
13:06:07 jamiekay
Thank you
13:07:16 Danna Kenett Z.
You mentioned that you are unable to see your Contacts. Is that correct?
13:07:26 jamiekay
my Skype contacts, yes
13:08:06 Danna Kenett Z.
May I please know your operating system or device?
13:08:13 jamiekay
Windows 7
13:09:06 Danna Kenett Z.
Thank you.
13:09:16 Danna Kenett Z.
Can you please confirm your Skype name?
13:09:24 jamiekay
13:09:31 Danna Kenett Z.
Thank you.
13:09:36 Danna Kenett Z.
Please hold on.
13:12:16 Danna Kenett Z.
Thank you for waiting.
13:12:31 Danna Kenett Z.
May I please know if these contacts are Skype contacts?
13:12:39 jamiekay
13:13:21 Danna Kenett Z.
Approximately how many contacts do you have with this account?
13:13:37 jamiekay
approximately 10 - 20
13:13:51 Danna Kenett Z.
Do you have other Skype account?
13:13:59 jamiekay
13:14:31 Danna Kenett Z.
May I please know the email address attached to this account?
13:14:39 jamiekay
13:15:09 jamiekay
this has happened before, perhaps you could check the notes of the previous call?
13:16:21 Danna Kenett Z.
I see.
13:17:06 Danna Kenett Z.
But we are able to see if you are just calling Skype to Skype.
13:17:26 jamiekay
I meant the previous support call
13:17:36 Danna Kenett Z.
Upon checking your account there are no saved contacts here and you have 1 deleted contact.
13:17:37 jamiekay
surely you keep records of each support call?
13:19:36 Danna Kenett Z.
I see, that your account is merged with your Live account, right?
13:19:40 jamiekay
13:19:51 Danna Kenett Z.
So the missing contacts are from Live, is that correct?
13:19:55 jamiekay
13:20:21 jamiekay
it's my Skype contacts that have disappeared
13:20:26 Danna Kenett Z.
But in your account there are no contacts.
13:20:39 jamiekay
13:21:06 Danna Kenett Z.
And there is only one deleted contact.
13:21:27 jamiekay
do you have the records of my support call from 27th July?
13:21:56 Danna Kenett Z.
Please hold on to check.
13:23:21 Danna Kenett Z.
The contacts that you have here is just today, 3 times now, right?
13:24:01 Danna Kenett Z.
May I please know if you used other Skype Name or email address?
13:24:31 jamiekay
The MSN account that I merged is ***
13:25:51 Danna Kenett Z.
Can you please try to login to
13:26:15 jamiekay
13:26:51 Danna Kenett Z.
Please see if your Live contacts are there.
13:27:10 jamiekay
Yes, my Live contacts are there.
13:27:56 Danna Kenett Z.
Are these contacts are you referring to as missing?
13:27:59 jamiekay
13:28:08 jamiekay
It's my SKYPE contacts that are missing
13:29:26 Danna Kenett Z.
May I please know if you are login to your Skype account in the Skype application?
13:29:33 jamiekay
13:30:21 Danna Kenett Z.
May I please know how you login there?
13:30:34 jamiekay
what do you mean?
13:30:43 jamiekay
with my user name jamiekay
13:31:03 jamiekay
can we start again?
13:31:12 jamiekay
since merging my Skype and MSN accounts
13:31:21 jamiekay
I have lost my Skype contacts
13:31:35 jamiekay
this happened before
13:31:41 jamiekay
on Sat 27th July
13:31:46 jamiekay
and they were restored
13:32:18 jamiekay
however my two contacts lists were still not merged
13:32:22 jamiekay
so I unlinked my accounts
13:32:26 jamiekay
and re-merged them
13:32:28 jamiekay
and now
13:32:37 jamiekay
my Skype contacts have disappeared again
13:33:16 Danna Kenett Z.
Are we talking about same accounts? jamiekay and ***
13:33:21 jamiekay
13:33:33 jamiekay
13:35:21 Danna Kenett Z.
13:36:01 Danna Kenett Z.
I have checked your history of merging and unmerging your account and this happen last July 27 and unmerging today and merged again today.
13:36:24 jamiekay
13:37:16 Danna Kenett Z.
If you unmerged your accounts with your Live account the contacts of your Skype account will not be affected if you have Skype contacts, but there is non here.
13:39:41 Danna Kenett Z.
Can you please try to login using your Live account in the Skype application.
13:40:04 jamiekay
13:42:51 Danna Kenett Z.
Were you able to see your Live contacts?
13:44:21 jamiekay
13:44:41 Danna Kenett Z.
Are these the contacts that you are referring to?
13:44:47 jamiekay
13:44:56 jamiekay
as I have told you repeatedly
13:45:05 jamiekay
it is my SKYPE contacts that have disappeared
13:46:31 Danna Kenett Z.
13:46:46 Danna Kenett Z.
Would it be okay to make a follow on this issue.
13:47:06 Danna Kenett Z.
We will check further on your account to see if these contacts are missing.
13:47:20 Danna Kenett Z.
May I please have your email address to send you the response?
13:47:27 jamiekay
13:47:36 Danna Kenett Z.
Thank you.
13:48:11 Danna Kenett Z.
Aside from this, would there be anything else that I can assist you with today?
13:48:27 jamiekay
Not apart from this
13:48:46 Danna Kenett Z.
13:48:56 Danna Kenett Z.
Thank you for your time and patience.
13:49:01 Danna Kenett Z.
Have a great one.
13:49:14 jamiekay
13:49:16 Danna Kenett Z.
We will get back to you as soon as possible.
13:49:21 jamiekay
ok, thanks
13:49:26 Danna Kenett Z.
13:49:31 Danna Kenett Z.
You are most welcome.
13:49:31 Danna Kenett Z.
Please note that shortly after our chat session ends, you will be presented with a survey. We would like to ask you to complete this survey to give us feedback on the quality of the service you received. The aim of the survey is to further improve our work and quality of our services.
13:49:36 Danna Kenett Z.
It's been a pleasure speaking with you today. Thank you for contacting Skype Live Support, have a great day. We value your feedback. Please be aware that we will ask you a few questions after closing the chat window about your experience with us today. Once you are ready please click on the "Exit" button.

UPDATE: I thought my colleague George was joking when he said these sound like 'bots, but reading it again I wonder if he's got a point. It also seems that each time I started SHOUTING I got passed on. Maybe 'bots don't like caps-lock.