SciBlogs

Archive November 2010

Windows Live Spaces Doubles WordPress.com Signups Ken Perrott Nov 30

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Two months ago, we announced together with our friends at Windows Live that bloggers on the Windows Live Spaces service were being offered the opportunity to move their existing blogs over here to WordPress.com to join the best blogging community on the planet.

Since then, we’ve seen an explosion in the number of sites joining WordPress.com every day. With the addition of Windows Live Spaces sites moving to WordPress.com, Windows Live users who are new to blogging coming here, and word-of-mouth from our current and very passionate users, the number of people joining WordPress.com has doubled to over 900,000 per month (up from around 400,000 per month before the migration). We’re thrilled to see this explosion and to be introducing so many people to publishing with WordPress. With the recent releases of many new features and several new themes, and more of each on the way, it’s a great time to be on WordPress.com.

Throughout the transition, we Happiness Engineers have had the privilege of helping many new users adjust to a new platform and learn to take advantage of the amazing features and capabilities unique to WordPress.com. If you’ve moved from Windows Live Spaces and feel that you’re still having trouble getting up to speed, or are about to join us on WordPress.com, we’d like to take a moment to talk about a few of the speed bumps you might run into as part of that transfer process.

Photos

A sample WordPress photo gallery.

The number one question we receive after a move to WordPress.com is “where are my photos?” Because uploaded photos are part of a different service–Windows Live SkyDrive–they aren’t always brought over with your blog posts to WordPress.com.

If you had inserted some of those images into your blog posts, we’ll bring those over for you automatically as part of the upgrade process. However, if you were using the Photos module to display your albums, you won’t find your images when you get to your new site. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that you can move your images over to WordPress.com galleries very easily. In fact, a user who moved here from Windows Live Spaces has written an excellent step-by-step tutorial and posted it on her site to help other Windows Live Spaces users make the move with their photos.

Drafts, Modules, and Lists

After your move to WordPress.com, you’ll notice that some parts of your Windows Live Spaces site won’t have moved with you. The upgrade to WordPress.com automatically moves your published posts and your comments to your new site.

Draft posts are just one such item, so you’ll need to make sure that you either copy them into a separate document or publish them prior to starting the migration process. Any posts left in draft will no longer be accessible once you’ve completed the migration process.

Information you had in modules won’t make the move to WordPress.com, either. Not to worry, though! You just need to make a note of the information you wish to transfer prior to migrating. Here at WordPress.com things are a bit different. Instead of modules, we use widgets to place content into your site’s sidebar. We have many available widgets which can display text, an image, your Gravatar, a tag cloud, or any one of a number of additions to help your readers find content and learn about you.

There’s one notable exception: if you’re looking for your Lists from Windows Live Spaces, we’ve worked out with the Windows Live Spaces team to find a way to retrieve that content once you’ve migrated. It won’t be moved to your new site, but you can get the info and then copy it into a new widget whenever you like. You can learn how to do this in our frequently asked questions about the move.

Where to Get Help

Change isn’t always easy. Although we think WordPress.com is the best publishing service in the world, if you’ve just come from using another platform for the last few years, it can be difficult to learn new tricks and wrap your brain around new concepts. Thankfully, we have lots of great support resources here to help you get rocking and back up to speed creating great content.

If you’re brand-new, you should of course start with the excellent Learn WordPress.com, which will introduce you to the basics.

Support
For more specific questions, move on to our Support documentation. Click around and learn more details on how to use WordPress.com, or search for your question and find an answer in one of the hundreds of pages in our knowledgebase.

Forums
Do you have a more specific question? Or would you rather talk about it with your fellow WordPress.com users and get to know others? The WordPress.com Forums are a great place to ask. Our Happiness Engineers patrol the forums, and there are a lot of very knowledgeable volunteers around who will be happy to answer your question or point you in the right place.

There are support forums available in multiple languages, also filled with great volunteers and users from the WordPress.com community. We have support forums available in ArabicDutchFarsiFinnish,FrenchGermanGreekHebrewIndonesianItalianJapanesePortuguesePortuguese (Brazilian),SpanishSwedishThai, and Turkish.

Contact Support
If you have a question about your user account on WordPress.com, or have a problem that can’t be solved using the documentation or asking a volunteer, you can of course contact our resident team of Happiness Engineers for assistance. We’re online and answering your questions twenty-four hours a day, and nothing makes us happier than helping you to make the most of your WordPress.com experience. Don’t forget: we’re here to help.

’Other ways of knowing’ purpose? Ken Perrott Nov 28

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A recent panel discussion in Mexico debated the question “Does the universe have a purpose?” The speakers for the affirmative were Rabbi David Wolpe, William Lane Craig and Douglas Geivett. And for the negative Matt Ridley, Michael Shermer and Richard Dawkins.

I don’t think the discussion was very good. Contributions were short and the original video is in Spanish. It’s also full of hoopla. Reminds we of an international scientific congress I attended in Mexico some time ago. All the official meetings involved many young women as decoration. And the Mexicans are certainly a very musical people. Music was everywhere.

However, I have included a video below of the short contribution made by Richard Dawkins in this discussion. It gives an idea of the issues discussed:

Prof.Richard Dawkins destroys Dr.William Lane C…, posted with vodpod

A local exchange

This debate ended up provoking me into a small exchange with some local theologically inclined philosophers (or is it philosophically inclined theologians). Well, I guess you know the futility of such exchanges but it did manage to elucidate some attitudes on the ability of science to answer questions about the universe .

It started with a claim that Dawkins should not have participated in the Mexican discussion because the issue was not scientific. (Presumably this complaint also covered Ridley and Shermer – but you know how some people can’t see past the word “Dawkins”).

This critic of science claimed: “Science can’t even put its hands on that question because it lays behind the domain of the scientific. It’s like science attempting to answer the question of whether or not the universe was intended. It has nothing to say.”

Well, charges of “scientism” followed and it was claimed that the question of purpose is a “religious and philosophical (not scientific) question.” Then came the old charge that scientists assert ’science is the only valid knowledge” and reference to “other ways of knowing.” Ho hum, if I had a penny for each time these red herrings were dragged out . . . ?

Jerry Coyne (from the science perspective) and Russell Blackford (from a humanities perspective) have been discussing similar charges lately (see Keeping the humanities alive and Keeping the humanities alive – and a bit on “other ways“). I liked this comment from Russell on “other ways of knowing”:

“But this whole “other ways of knowing” is a pain in the arse. It’s a phrase that tends to be used by people who want to devalue scientific knowledge, treating it as just one more interpretation of the world, no more true than that contained in mythology, holy books, reports of mystical experiences, etc., or at least by people who want to be able to say that whatever is contained in mythology, holy books, reports of mystical experiences, etc., may be true, and that human reason cannot check up on it.”

Such discussions usually produce more heat than light, but it’s worth briefly pondering some of the issues involved.

Is “purpose” outside the science domain?

If purpose or intent have any reality they will be reflected in the details of the universe. Take the Rev Pailey’s watch on the heath. A scientific investigation of such a found artifact could reveal that it had a purpose, surely.  So a purpose or intent for the universe (which I guess implies some sort of “creator”) should surely be reflected in the structure, history and functioning of the universe – like the cogs and spring in a watch. Sure, the evidence may be equivocal. But given the excellent record the methods of science has in investigating the universe it is surely the method of choice for attempting to detect purpose or intent.

And this is what even the advocates of “intelligent design” do. They look for “evidence” in bacterial flagella, DNA, fine tuning of physical constants, etc. They don’t use “another way” – although one can of course question the way they use science.

Can science know everything?

This is a common straw man – because no-one makes that claim!

While we can agree that the modern scientific method is a very successful way of investigating and understanding the universe, objective reality, this does not deny limits – even in this area. Lets, face it – our species did not evolve to understand reality – purely to survive. Consequently objective reasoning and discovery doesn’t come easy to us – it is unnatural. Science has developed procedures that help us overcome our subjectivity, our emotional attachment to beliefs, and normal human bias and a desire to confirm that bias.  Logical reasoning and empirical evidence, testing and validation may not always produce an exact description of reality – but it is a hell of a lot better than any alternative! Or, more correctly, if and when we find effective alternatives they will be incorporated into the scientists toolbox.

And science is cumulative and self-correcting. I liked Lawrence Krauss‘s comment in his book Hiding in the Mirror:

’What is too often underappreciated about science is that almost all of the ideas it proposes turn out to be wrong.’

As I explained in  Most ideas in science are wrong!:

“It is in the nature of the scientific method that ideas, hypotheses, are proposed and most of these turn out to be wrong. And we know they are wrong because the ideas are tested in practice, by experiment, measurements and observations of reality. It is the ideas or hypotheses which survive such testing that are incorporated into scientific theory, become part of accepted scientific knowledge. Even then, of course, such knowledge is relative. New discoveries often lead to modification, or even replacement, of a scientific theory if it is proved to be inadequate.”

A corollary of this is that ideas or theories resulting from “other ways of knowing” which don’t incorporate empirical evidence, checking and verification are just as likely to be wrong. You just wouldn’t know it! (Which is, of course, very convenient for people peddling these “other ways”).

Nor do we deny epistemological limits. There may be aspects of reality which are just beyond our investigation and/or understanding because of technological limits and/or the limits of the human mind. There may be aspects of reality which just can’t be comprehended by the human mind. As Stephen Pinker said (see Science Is Culture: Conversations at the New Intersection of Science + Society):

“one expects there should be problems that the mind is incapable of grasping, simply because of the way it is put together. . . there may be limitations to the way the human brain works that make certain problems eternally paradoxical.”

But of course, being human, we are inquisitive. We shouldn’t refuse the attempt at investigation and understanding just because we recognise our possible limitations. Maybe one day we will have to just give up and admit defeat. But I suspect we are a way off that yet.

Beware of anyone who wishes to ring-fence part of reality and deny science has a right to move beyond their fence. Especially as they are usually busy peddling their own myths or faith as “explanations” for those areas. They don’t appear willing to accept limitations to their own “ways of knowing.”

What are these other ways of knowing?

I could go into the “other ways of knowing” I actually see as valid. There are plenty in the political, ethical and social spheres. Situations where science may inform but decisions are made by humans using other non-scientific reasons. Emotional, ethical and political aspects may play a determining role.

But I will leave it with this illustration from the current problem of human induced climate change using a quote from Andy Reisinger’s book Climate Change 101: An Educational Resource:

“We need to draw a clear distinction between the role of science and political decisions about how to respond to information. The IPCC reports take great care to provide policy-relevant but not policy-prescriptive evaluations of the scientific state of knowledge. Decision on whether, when, and by how much to reduce emissions, and  how to facilitate adaption, remain ultimately political decisions that can be informed  by scientific assessments such as those provided by the IPCC.”

Obviously these political decisions include ethical and social considerations.

Usually the “other ways of knowing” is an argument by default. Those using it often get confused when asked to describe their “other ways.” Suddenly this discussion diverts from objective reality of the universe to “science can’t describe love or art?”

However, I did manage to get some answers from my local protagonists and they are worth considering

Logical inference

The most sensible response was the use of “pure logic”:

“one very obvious way of acquiring knowledge that doesn’t involve any of the sciences is logical inference, either from analytic truths or from other truths that might be scientific or might not.”

I think this is an important one because it is often used by theologians  and philosophers of religion when attempting to decry science. I suspect it reflects their specific training as it displays an ignorance of the true nature and history of science. It also indicates how much theology and religious philosophy is buried in medieval philosophy.

Logical reasoning has long been used by humanity in its efforts to investigate and understand the universe. But an important component of modern science is the use of empirical evidence and our testing and validation of ideas and theory empirically.

I suggest that when theologians advocate logical inference and analytical truths as an alternative to science they are expressing a desire to remove the annoyance of empirical evidence and testing. They are attempting to return to a “stripped down” medieval version of science.

One could go into a detailed consideration  of deductive logic vs inductive logic. But here are some important considerations.

In principle deductive logic may produce the correct conclusion – if it starts with the correct premise. And logical laws are correctly followed. It’s reliance on premise makes it very conservative – you only get out what you put in. And how does one check?

Humans, being humans, automatically attempt to confirm their biases. They will choose the most convenient premise to start with. They will fudge their logical steps.  The ability to count to 3 is not a guarantee of correct logic.

How do you know if you are wrong without empirical evidence and testing?

Revelation and testimony

Yeah, right. Of course these would be great – if they worked. It would save a lot of time and expense in research if we could just consult the “holy” scripture, accept the assurance of the Pope, priests, theologians, Imams or the guy raving on the street corner.  But come off it. This method has been tested – it doesn’t work.

Instinctive religious awareness

Since when has this provided us information on how the universe functions? How chemistry works? How physics and biology work?

Would you rely on such awareness when it comes to your health and safety? Would you step aboard an airplane constructed on the basis of such “awareness.?”

Memory and intuitions

Of course we rely on our intuitions and memory in our day to day activity. That is their role, why we have evolved such abilities. But as I said above, we did not evolve to objectively investigate and understand reality. Our memories and intuitions often let us down in such endeavors.

So much of objective reality is counter-intuitive. How could it be otherwise as we have evolved in a rather limited part of reality. Our intuitive reactions let us down when we come to investigate the very small, very large or very fast.

Counting teeth

All the “other ways of knowing” our philosophical theologists have suggested ignore the question – “How do you know you are correct?” None of them include empirical evidence, checking or validation. On the contrary, they seem to avoid this step so normal in science.

In Let’s count teeth I relate a little homily from Chris Trotter’s blog (see Counting the Horses Teeth) which I think is very relevant:

’According to legend, the radical medieval theologian and poet, Peter Abelard, once confounded his teachers by subjecting their received wisdom to a simple empirical test.

His scholastic masters had been arguing about exactly how many teeth there should be in a horse’s mouth. If they applied the principles of the classical philosopher Aristotle, they arrived at one number, but, if they relied upon the observations of another ancient sage, a different total suggested itself.

Backwards and forwards the argument raged until the young Abelard, frustrated beyond endurance, rose to his feet, and, calling upon his fellow students to follow him, marched down to the marketplace, where he simply forced open the mouth of the one horse after another — and counted its teeth.’

Significantly, neither of my protagonists were willing to suggest which specific way of knowing they would use to determine purpose or intent in the universe! Or how they determined if their conclusions were correct

The old argument by default again.

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What is the problem? Ken Perrott Nov 26

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Liked this.

Why do people get so upset about gay marriage?

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A victory for secular ethics Ken Perrott Nov 25

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I have been following a small controversy which has raged this year in New South Wales. It involves the teaching of ethics in school classes.

Well, a bit more complicated than that (why should anyone oppose the teaching of ethics). This year 10 NSW schools ran a trial project of ethics classes developed by Professor of Philosophy Philip Cam  for the St James Ethics Centre. In the trial schools it was introduced as a voluntary alternative to the religious scripture classes. (These classes are similar to those run in many New Zealand schools where the school is closed for the duration and volunteer religious teachers come in to instruct children, with their parents permission).

Secular ethics popular

Controversy arose due to opposition by several prominent religious spokespersons and religious activist groups. They felt there was an understanding with the government that there would be no competition offered to their scripture classes by any other form of education. This had been used to reject non-religious alternatives in the past. And non-attending children were forced to read in school libraries or the back of the scripture class, or even to clean the playground. Proponents of the scripture classes were shocked to find that many parents preferred to consent to ethics class and the scripture class enrollments plummeted in many cases.

Despite petitions and campaigns by Christian groups the trial went ahead, was successful and got a generally positive response from parents, schools and the official assessment. Now the state government has approved introduction of ethics classes, starting in the first term next year. They will be offered under the system used for the trial, using volunteers as teachers (see Ethics right, refusal wrong for state schools, and Ethics classes to start next year).

Religious opposition

Opposition from some religious groups is expected to continue and these classes may also be opposed by the opposition coalition. I have been amazed at how disingenuous many of the arguments against secular ethics classes have been. Some are hones enough to express concern at the effect of market forces (decline in enrollments for their classes). But others have complained because  running classes at tlhe same time “deny” ethics to children of religious parents. Or they object that ethics should be taught in normal class time, and hence be available to all.

Some of the protesters have objected to the philosophical nature of the ethics classes. They believe kids should be taught what is right and wrong, not trained to solve problems for themselves. And so on. Some have even insisted that the class content should be vetted by religious experts! The old lie that religions are the authority when it comes to ethics.

So this little controversy is bound to continue. And the state’s deciosion could even be reversed – especially if there were a change of government.

But meanwhile I think ethics classes are great for kids. I suspect they really enjoy the opportunity to discuss and solve ethical questions.

Footnote:

Of course this situation is far from ideal. Ethics should be part of the normal school curriculum. But of course comparative religion and beliefs should be too. All children should have an opportunity for proper education in these subjects. However, religious groups oppose this, preferring to impose religion instruction, rather than teaching about religion and other life stances. They also want control.

A very narrow attitude. Surely it is best for our children to have the opportunity to consider the best information in these subjects, to appreciate the fact that different beliefs exist in a pluralist society, and to learn how to behave as responsible and autonomous moral agents. Religious instruction doesn’t help this.

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Discover who likes your posts Ken Perrott Nov 24

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Months ago we added the ability for readers to like your posts, and ever since thousands of people have been liking posts every day. But something was missing: there was no way for post authors to discover when someone liked something they’d written. Or even when someone new subscribed to the entire blog.

Today, these problems have been solved:  We’ve added two new email notifications, one for likes and one for subscriptions.

Post authors will receive an email notification from WordPress.com, telling them which post was liked and who it was.  And blog owners will receive an email when someone new subscribes to their blog. This gives instant feedback every time your post or blog gets some positive attention.

If email notifications are not for you, no problem. You can turn these notifications off by going to Dashboard→Settings→Discussion and deactivating the appropriate checkbox under “Email me whenever”.

And if you have a particularly active blog, we decided to leave some features off by default so you wouldn’t be annoyed. You can turn them on if you wish as described above. More details can be found in the support page for email notifications.

The Hitchens — Dembski debate Ken Perrott Nov 24

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I am not a fan of debates. They are more a sport than a mode of informing. And of course each side in a debate has its own fans who are more concerned with “who won” than what they learned.

But a recommend this debate between Christopher Hitchens and Bill Dembski, although I have yet to watch it to the end. I make this exception basically for two reasons.

1: Like many people I admire Hitchens. He is a skilled debater which means he may produce more heat than light. It also means he is a bit of a “street fighter.” I don’t think he is necessarily reliable on scientific questions. But his literary skills are impressive. So he can be enjoyable to lsiten to for his turn of phrase alone.

But I also think he is courageous. He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer earlier this year and has been undergoing treatment, particularly chemotherapy. He is also very conscious and candid about what this means for his future prospects.

A close member of my family experienced a similar situation this year so I am very conscious of the debilitating effect of chemotherapy as well as the natural response to what the illness means for life prospects. It takes a lot of courage for such a patient to continue struggling with the ordinary mundane frustrations of life, let alone to accept the sort of challenges Hitchens is doing.

2: In my recent review So you want a conversation? (of  the book Against All Gods by Phillip Johnson and John Mark Reynolds) I suggested that the “militant” theists and intelligent design proponents who wanted to debate scientists and “new atheists” should take the initiative and organise their own.  They have been vocal with demands for their inclusion in scientific and academic forums. At the same time they conveyed a one-sided, pro-theist, version of science and atheism to their own people. So, I suggested:

“Why don’t these ‘militant’ theists get some of these new atheists along to their own meetings and begin the real discussion. It’s just possible the members of those churches and departments will learn something form the ’horses mouth’ the seminars and theological courses devoted to new atheist strawmannery don’t convey.”

So this debate, organised by the Prestonwood Christian Academy, in Texas, was a step in that direction.The invitation was not exactly completely open (have a look at the 44 page discussion guide for the debate). This was aimed at students of the academy, their parents and members of the church, hoping to provide some sort of immunity to what Hitchens might say. Prominent on page 1 was the biblical advise:

The fool says in his heart, ’There is no god.’ Psalm 14:1

Now, I wonder of the Bible Colleges, Churches, and religious groups in New Zealand who regularly study their particular “new atheist” straw man, or creation science script would be p[prepared to make a similar invitation to a speaker for atheism or scientific reason?

The You Tube videos of the debate, which was entitled “Does A Good God Exist?”, are given below. Be aware that the first 9 minutes, being part of the immunisation process, can be ignored.


Part I of the Hitchens-Dembski debate held at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX on 18 Nov 2010.

Hitchens-Dembski Debate Nov 2010 (1 of 10), posted with vodpod

Part II of the Hitchens-Dembski debate:


Hitchens-Dembski Debate Nov 2010 (2 of 10), posted with vodpod

Part III of the Hitchens-Dembski debate:


Hitchens-Dembski Debate Nov 2010 (3 of 10), posted with vodpod

Part IV of the Hitchens-Dembski debate:


Hitchens-Dembski Debate Nov 2010 (4 of 10), posted with vodpod

Part V of the Hitchens-Dembski debate :


Hitchens-Dembski Debate Nov 2010 (5 of 10), posted with vodpod

Part VI of the Hitchens-Dembski debate :

Part VII of the Hitchens-Dembski debate :

 

Part VIII of the Hitchens-Dembski debate:

Part IX of the Hitchens-Dembski debate:

 

Part X, the conclusion, of the Hitchens-Dembski debate:

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Who is Top Author? Ken Perrott Nov 23

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Picture this situation: you’re an author on a popular blog that’s published by several users; you’re wondering which author is getting the most views… Well now you can find out.

Today we’re introducing a new panel to your stats page, Top Authors.

Here’s how it works: all the posts that were visited during the day are counted up, divided by who wrote them. The author with the most visits across all his or her posts of the day, gets the top spot. Interestingly, the top spot is not about who wrote the most posts, it’s about which author wrote the posts that got the most visits.

To see each author’s posts, you can click the little plus icon to expand and reveal just what stories earned them their points of the day. Pictured above, the wonderful Jane Wells had just posted about the exciting new WordPress 3.1 features. Because that was a popular post, it earned her the top spot.

At this blog here, we don’t actively compete for the top spot (or do we!?), but other blogs might find these statistics mighty fascinating.

Because we liked the grouping feature so much, we also added it to your referrers box, which now bundles up links from the same domain.

The new panel is available for all blogs on WordPress.com. It will appear automatically if you have two or more authors with traffic on their posts. In the not-so-distant future, “Top Authors” along with the new look for stats, will be available for self-hosted blogs running the Stats plugin.

New Theme: Pilcrow Ken Perrott Nov 23

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If you want a simple and clean blog theme that you can customize to suit your needs I think you’ll like the one we’re introducing today. It’s called Pilcrow.

The Pilcrow Themes default look

Pilcrow is an upgrade to the older PressRow theme we’ll begin phasing out next week. But Pilcrow isn’t just a simple replacement. We’ve pulled out all the stops to make sure it’s a better theme all around.

Pilcrow keeps the familiar, simple and clean PressRow look but we’ve expanded its basic design over six possible layouts and up to four sidebars and widget areas. The choice of theme layout is all yours.

Pilcrows six possible layouts

In addition to multiple layouts you also have your choice of four different color schemes, light, dark, red, and brown. If you visit Appearance → Background you can customize the background of any of the color schemes and upload your own custom background image.

Pilcrow with the three-column layout, brown color scheme, hidden header image, and a custom background

Pilcrow also has a fully customizable header. From Appearance → Header you can upload your own header image, change the header text color, or even choose to hide the header text altogether. If you want a special header image for a particular post or page, you can upload a Featured Image from the post and page edit screens!

The Pilcrow theme is available today in Appearance → Themes and will soon be available in the WordPress Themes Directory, for self-hosted WordPress.org users.

Quick Specs (all measurements in pixels):

  1. The main column width is 500 except in the full-width layout where it’s 990.
  2. The custom header dimensions are 770 by 200 for two-column and 990 by 257 for wide layouts.
  3. The sidebar width is 230.
  4. The secondary sidebar width in 3-column layouts is 180 and both sidebars are 205 where there is a sidebar on either side of the content.

The joys of eBook readers — the Sony PRS-650 Touch Ken Perrott Nov 22

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Well, I finally succumbed and got myself an eBook Reader. I am certainly not one of those who take up new technology early. Mind you, eBook Readers have been in New Zealand only since last May, so I do feel like a rapid uptaker in this case.

Of course the late arrival in New Zealand has more to do with rights management than technology. But the wait means that now eBook Readers have arrived many of the technological problems have been sorted. (And it has given me time to research the subject).

So far there are just four eBook Readers on the local market (the Kobo and two Sony models), plus the Kindle from Amazon. And they aren’t easy to find in local shops! I did my own comparison and decided on the Sony PRS-650. Here are my comments on this model, together with my general experience of using an eBook Reader overt the last few weeks.  It’s not a detailed review (I haven’t had hands-on experience with other Readers) but you might find it useful if you are contemplating purchase of an eBook Reader.

Why the PRS-650?

The idea of a touch screen appealed. Ease of bookmarking, annotations and note taking was important. I didn’t want to be tied to the Kindle format and wished to use Word and pdf files easily, without the hassle of conversion. Direct WiFi access by the Reader was not important. I had an opportunity to handle both the Sony Readers and decided the PRS350 Pocket Reader was a bit small. And the ability to add extra memory also appealed. The price, problems with emitting screens and distractions of a multi-purpose device ruled the iPad out for me.

I have yet to do the classic reading on the beach but the current electronic ink screens appear excellent. There is no problem with glare and the new Sony Readers have used a new technology for their touch screens. This has detectors on the rim of the screen which removed the need for extra layers that reduced the contrast on previous models.

The Reader comes with a stylus which I find helpful when typing. Page turns by touch and by installed buttons are both easy. And there is a sleep mode which overcomes problems of unexpected page turns when the screen is touched while carrying. Adding bookmarks (turning over the corner of the page), highlighting text and adding annotations are straightforward – just what I wanted.

I also found that I can export highlighted text, annotations and separate notes as rtf files. An unexpected and really useful benefit. Of course their are limits to text export for books under digital rights management (DRM) – but this is still useful. (The limits are 2,000 characters of highlighted text for non-DRM content, 100 characters of highlighted text for DRM protected content, and  2,000 characters for comments).  It’s going to be ideal for reviewing purposes.

Some negatives

For me the biggest negative is the desktop Reader software. This is necessary for downloading eBooks, establishing a library of eBooks and documents and transferring these to the Reader. All this works well and it also enables one to read documents and books on the desktop. However, it also enable one to synchronise the desktop library with the Reader library. That creates problems.

For a while there I was finding multiple copies of books on my Reader. Worse, I found that I was losing the notes I made in an eBook, or not being able to find the specific copy the notes were attached to.

Mistakes like that are there for learning. So I have turned off the sync actions and keep well away from it. Things are working fine now. I think Sony acknowledges some problems with their software. Clearly problems like this are caused by the rapid introduction of these devices to the market.

A small hassle with the Reader is that some actions can be slow. This appears to happen when changing books, taking notes, referring to notes, etc. page turning itself is always rapid. I think these other actions also make greater demands on the battery. A single charge seems to last several weeks with actions restricted to page turns.

What’s it like to read?

Certainly reading most books is very comfortable. Contrast is good. Once the basic procedures have been learned notetaking and annotation is simple. Text size is excellent, and anyway can be adjusted. Looking up one of the dictionaries is a dream – just tap the word.

Page numbers are displayed (really useful) and clearly only about half a page is displayed at a time. One can display full pages but the type size would probably be too small for most people. Being smaller than most normal books Readers must compromise between showing full pages at a time and readable text size. So far this has only been a hassle when reading documents with tables and images. These may show up later than expected. One can also zoom in or change to full page size to view documents – a bit of a hassle.

I can see a market for the larger Readers (not yet here) for people specialising in technical books and reports. Colour could also be an advantage here too.

Purchase of books is also straightforward. So easy, in fact, that despite being cheaper than hard copy books I think I may end up spending more. I have noticed that I am currently reading a lot more fiction and the ability to browse on the internet must be encouraging this. On the other hand, I no longer feel, in my visits to the big smoke, the need to purchase a book because it is there in the shop knowing it may not be there in a later visit. Now I can put off that purchase until I have the time to read the specific book. That’s assuming the accountants don’t invent something like limited time access. Ideally there should be no problems of eBooks going out of print

Another indication of the rush to market is that at this stage the desk top reader only enables purchases through Whitcoulls for New Zealand owners. While the Sony Readers are being marketed through Borders, as well as Whitcoulls and Sony Style, eBook purchases via Borders from New Zealand are not yet permitted. Hopefully this will change soon.

The whole business of DRM is a pain for the consumer. It’s annoying to find eBooks available on publishers’ websites, or from bookshops in other countries but find that without a credit card with a local address these cannot be purchased. It is possible to find some sites with international access (eg Books on Board) and I guess these will, in time, force the market to open up more. There are also quite a few sources of free eBooks for classics and other books out of copyright (see for example ). I have a few old philosophers and ancient Greeks to read over the holidays!

My conclusions

I think eBook Readers will take off in New Zealand, as elsewhere. They are not going to replace hard copy books – especially with problems caused by DRM. There are likely to be marketing issues due to competing formats which could create some frustrations for consumers.

It is a pity the the concept of Espresso or print on demand books has not taken off (see Bright future for books). This could provide easy access to hard copies for any book where there are existing  digital files. I guess one hassle with their introduction has been DRM again. I don’t think the delay is technological.

So, I am enjoying using my ebook Reader. I am sure  I will be using it a lot but at the same time will still be using, and purchasing, hard copy books.  The Sony PRS-650 fits most of my requirements, but I imagine the other Readers currently available on the New Zealand market will be of similar quality. The purchaser could probably safely select the one which fits their requirements in other ways – type of reading material, WiFi access, annotation and dictionary requirements, touch screen etc.

Those who would like a larger screen and colour for magazines and technical books might like to hold off for a while. New Readers like the Sony PRS-950 (Daily Edition) or the Nook Color may soon arrive in New zealand.

Or they could invest in an iPad.

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Mobilize Your Blog This Holiday Season Ken Perrott Nov 20

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With the holidays appearing thick and fast from now until next year, it’s a great time for meeting up with the people who are important to us, giving and receiving gifts, relaxing and indulging ourselves. But while you’re doing that, give a thought to your poor neglected blog this holiday season.

Blog in the snow, all alone

For blogs, this can be the loneliest time of year, the time when our posts grind to a halt and our readers drop off like flies. But don’t shed a tear, there is a solution.

Blog From Your Phone!

Sure, the last thing you want to do is sit behind a computer as turkeys emerge from ovens, gifts are ripped open and grandma busts her moves on the kitchen table. But you don’t have to be tied to the computer to blog —  not only does WordPress.com have the option to phone in a blog post, or email pictures and posts from any device you have on hand, but we also offer easy-to-use apps for several smartphones.

Let’s take a look at each of these options, starting with our super-cool phone apps.

Smart phone collage

WordPress Mobile Apps

If you’re packing a Nokia, Blackberry, iPhone, iPad or Android phone, you can download a free WordPress application to write and edit posts and pages, check stats and even moderate your comments. This gives you a comprehensive way of managing your blog on the move. You can find it on your phone’s app store/market, or find out more at these sites:

Post by Email

Love email and use it all the time — even on your phone? Then you’ll equally adore our Post-by-email feature. While it doesn’t offer as much flexibility as the WordPress mobile app, it’s a swift and handy way to update from anywhere. To enable Post-by-email, you first just need to do a little tweaking from your computer. Simply:

  1. Head to the Dashboard menu and hit the My Blogs option:
    Screenshot: dashboard, my blogs
  2. Enable your blog or blogs for Post-by-email:
    Screenshot: enable post-by-email
  3. Copy-paste (or download the vCard for) the secret email address and send it to your mobile email address for later use:
    Screenshot: Secret email address

Then, Post Via Mobile Email

  1. Now, from your tablet, phone, laptop or other email-enabled thingy, just bash out an email. The email subject line turns into the post’s title.
  2. If your device supports it, attach photo(s) to the email. Single photos appear in-line, more than one turns automagically into a gallery
  3. Address it to the secret email address you found in the My Blogs menu
  4. Hit send – and that’s it, your post is live!

Phone It In

But that’s not enough! What if you want to record audio of your carol singing antics, or the cat landing suddenly on your uncle’s sleeping face? You’ll need Post by Voice. Here’s how to dial in your call:

  1. Head back to the (you guessed it) Dashboard > My Blogs menu:
    Screenshot: dashboard, my blogs
  2. Activate the Post by voice Enable button next to one or more blogs:
    Screenshot: enabling post by voice
  3. Jot down the secret phone number and your own private code (they’ll appear in the same place you pressed Enable)
  4. You’re ready to start posting audio

Dialing in an Audio Call

  1. Call the number you jotted down (smallprint – doing this outside of the U.S. may prove costly, as calls are charged at standard U.S. rates)
  2. Enter your secret code (you wrote that down too, or committed it to memory, remember?)
  3. Record audio of your talking, singing, shrieks of merriment or incidental seasonal sound effects. You have up to an hour to do so.
  4. Hang up. Your audio post will hit your blog almost right away.

Bonus Round: Automatic Posting to Your Favorite Social Networks

Why go to the hassle of sending out multiple updates, when you can do it all at once? Before you take off for the holidays, be sure to set this up — and every time you publish a new blog post with your phone, it will automatically get sent to your Twitter, Facebook, and other social media accounts.

Illustration: 5 status updates from 1 phone

Just:

  1. Head back to the Dashboard > My Blogs menu:
    Screenshot: dashboard, my blogs
  2. Next to the blog or blogs you want to activate, under the Publicize column, check the services you want to automatically send updates to:
    Screenshot: activate publicize
  3. You’ll need to authorize the accounts to sync with WordPress:
    Screenshot: Publicize Facebook authorization message
  4. Done! If you want to get into the nitty-gritty, check out our support docs all about Publicize.

So, yep, that means just new post can send five updates out to the world in the space of a second or two. Leaving more time for you to get on with some seasonal chillaxing.

You’re All Set

Hopefully between the apps, post-by-email and the voice-powered blogging feature, we’ve got your mobile needs covered this holiday season. Happy moblogging holidays!

Network-wide options by YD - Freelance Wordpress Developer