Robert Hampton

Another visitor! Stay a while… stay forever!

12th March 2014


Today the tech world is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the world wide webnot to be confused with the Internet itself, which came into existence much earlier.

Even more pedantically, today actually marks the anniversary of Tim Berners-Lee’s original proposal for the web in March 1989. It wasn’t until Christmas 1990 that the first working web browser, imaginatively titled WorldWideWeb, became available, and the first web sites began to appear.

For its first few years, the web was mainly a curiosity used by students and scientists at various academic institutions. Then, around 1994, the original Netscape Navigator browser was released, and web usage began to grow significantly.

I remember the first day I got online – 30th August 1997 (sorry to say, the date sticks in the memory because Princess Diana was killed the very next day). I eagerly tore open the package containing ArgoNet‘s Voyager Internet Suite, listened as the US Robotics modem made various screeching noises, and gazed in wonder at the text and images that were very sloooowly downloaded. Grey backgrounds. So many grey backgrounds! Still, to a 14-year-old who still considered Bamboozle on ITV Teletext the height of sophistication, it was amazing.

Then my mum picked up the phone downstairs and the connection dropped.

Read the rest of this post »

5th April 2013

Glass half-empty

Google co-founder Sergey Brin feels “emasculated” by smartphones. You hear that, all the millions of people using Android phones? The head of the company who designed the software thinks they make you weak and feeble. People may act impressed when you show off your new Galaxy S4 to them, but behind your back they’re laughing at your pathetic nature.

Of course not. This is all just marketing talk – Brin is trying to sell Google’s next great creation to the world: Google Glass, a new device, worn like a pair of glasses, which provides an augmented reality display right into the user’s eyes. You can have your e-mails, texts and Twitter feed superimposed onto your view like a picture-in-picture display on a TV set. Holding a phone in your hand and looking at a screen? That is so 2012.

Google clearly believe that this is the next big thing. I think they’re right – it could be a leap forward in technology comparable to the introduction of the personal home microcomputer back in the late 1970s. But has anyone stopped to think of the wider implications of this new device? An always-on mobile phone with built in camera, constantly monitoring everything the user and those around him do? Does nobody see how that could be a problem?

On the Reluctant Habits blog, Edward Champion has misgivings:

Contrary to Mr. Brin’s suggestions, his device will not “free” us. It will quite possibly destroy several vital qualities of life we now take for granted, preying upon kind and decent and hardworking people who are still playing pickup from an economic blitzkrieg in which they had no power, little hope, and no control. One would think that a man born in Moscow under Brezhnev would grasp the cruel irony of being directly responsible for an entirely new set of encroachments upon freedom and human possibility.

Champion goes on to identify Thirty-Five Arguments Against Google Glass. The arguments are very convincing, and conjure up a terrifying world where any remaining notion of privacy and personal space is forgotten.

It looks like we’re heading for a future where everyone walks around looking like an extra from the TNG episode The Game. I am not happy about this.

18th January 2012

SOPA Opera

Photo of "closed"Today was the day of the great protest against SOPA, the draconian law currently being debated by US lawmakers which would introduce harsh penalties for anyone sharing illegally copyrighted content online. The proposed law is strongly supported by most of the large media conglomerates (and Louise Mensch) who want to crack down on online piracy. However, critics claim that SOPA is a broad and far-reaching piece of legislation which will stifle innovation and individual freedom online.

We were promised a day of action, with high-profile web sites “going dark” for the day to draw attention to the chilling effect the proposed law would have on online free speech. Lots of big names were mentioned, but did they actually follow through? Well, yes and no.

Boing Boing and Reddit both did a full disappearing act, in both cases replacing their usual site with a holding page explaining the protest.

Screenshot of Wikipedia homepage showing blacked out screenWikipedia, at first glance, was also blacked out… but their blackout was a bit of Javascript trickery. Disable scripting (or go to the mobile site) and the information was still there, enabling savvier schoolchildren to continue cutting and pasting their GCSE coursework.

There was much excitement when Google announced they were joining the protest, but their “blackout” was little more than altering the Google logo on their homepage. Therefore, SOPA is at least as important to Google as the 110th anniversary of the Uganda Railway.

There was a rumour that Facebook would join in. They did post an anti-SOPA message, but the site itself is unaffected, to the relief of the millions who need to attend to Farmville and post photos of themselves drinking too much.

All things considered, today’s protest is a bit of a damp squid.

However, the lacklustre effort made by some today should not distract from the fact that SOPA is a real threat, not just in the US, but worldwide. Look at the case of Richard O’Dwyer, a British man who is fighting to prevent his extradition to the US to face copyright infringement charges, despite the UK authorities deciding not to pursue him. If SOPA passes, US officials could be knocking on doors of people all over the UK. Think about that next time you’re tempted to use a Katy Perry song as background music for that YouTube video of your cats.

12th February 2010

Facebook login

I’ve posted before about the dangers of trusting Google to deliver you to the right place, and the “Facebook login” fiasco shows why it’s a problem.

Details are in the link above, but in a nutshell: the web site ReadWriteWeb posted an article with the title “Facebook Wants to Be Your One True Login”. That page quickly rose to the top of Google’s search results for Facebook login. Soon RWW were inundated with confused facebook users who believed that they had landed on Facebook’s login page and thought that they had fallen victim to one of the frequent redesigns that people love to complain about so much. The comment thread to that post is a sight to behold.

The question is: why didn’t they just type into their browser’s address bar directly? The answer, I suspect, is that a lot of people simply don’t know how to do this. For many people “Google = Internet”, the same way “Microsoft = Computer” is commonplace (or certainly was until recently).

They never bother to bookmark sites, preferring to use Google to find everything. This fiasco has demonstrated, in the most hilarious way possible, why that it is a bad thing, especially when the same users seemingly believe Google even when it throws up an obviously bad result.

It’s no wonder phishing and other scams are so commonplace with this level of internet literacy. It would be a good idea for Google and other big players on the Internet to embark on a programme of education in this area.

1st January 2010

2009? More like Two Thousand and Fine!

July saw Merseyrail’s run of bad luck continue, as a train rolled out of the depot and derailed. To atone for their sins, they introduced a new day ranger ticket, but I wasn’t convinced. This was something of a train-y month for me, as I did my bit to help out the previous generation of Merseyrail trains. Trains were also on the Government’s mind, as they announced that the Liverpool to Manchester line would be electrified.

In London, the Police proved once again what a wonderful organisation they are. In Rome, a swimmer suffered an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction.

Read the rest of this post »

31st December 2009

2009? More like Woo! Thousand and Nine!

Was this year an exciting way to say goodbye to the decade? Here’s a reminder of what happened on planet Hampo this year (part 2, hopefully, follows tomorrow):-

January started out with one of my favourite shows being revived. Despite being up against EastEnders and being hosted by Ben Shepherd, the Krypton Factor did well enough to be recommissioned for a second series. We found out Who would replace David Tennant, and a year later we still haven’t actually seen him in the role. ITV’s latest attempt to ape the success of Doctor Who was Demons which failed spectacularly; the only creative thing about it being the number of different excuses the writers found for Christian Cooke to remove clothing.

In the wider world, various eras were drawing to a close, as Woolworths closed its doors, Tony Hart kicked the bucket and Dubya left office. Meanwhile, yours truly had an enjoyable night in London Theatreland.

Read the rest of this post »

19th November 2009

Net loss

I got home to discover that people who have no clue what they’re doing have been put in charge of the UK’s Internet policy:-

First, Lord Mandelson:

Mandelson says in his letter that he is concerned about “cyberlockers” – websites that offer users private storage spaces whose contents can be shared by passing a web link via email.

“These can be used entirely legitimately, but recently rights holders have pointed to them as being used for illegal use,” Mandelson writes in the letter.

As an astute Guardian commenter points out, people’s homes can be used legitimately, but also used to store stolen goods. Therefore, by Mandelson’s logic, we should ban houses as well.

Rupert Murdoch, on the other hand, holds no official Government position, but regularly gets sucked up to by those in power (and those who want power), so we need to pay attention to him. But why is he so angry at Google? The search engine directs web users to his content, on his web sites, with his adverts.

Anyway, if he’s really so unhappy about search engines “stealing” his content, all he has to do is insert a 2-line robots.txt file in the root of to prevent it being indexed… and then watch his traffic plummet.

2nd April 2009

Great Google-y Moogly!
Posted by at 11.07pm | Web | No responses

Recently I’ve noticed that some TV and radio adverts, instead of giving a full web site address, are simply saying, “search online for…”.

I really don’t like this phenomenon, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s an extra step in the process: rather than just typing in the address directly, you have to Google for it. That extra 3 seconds could have been used for something else, dammit!

Secondly, it’s incredibly patronising to assume that your audience isn’t clued-up enough to remember a simple address like Non-internet-savvy people may be uncomfortable with dots and slashes, but they should be educated about them, not pandered to.

Thirdly, unless your site is popular enough to be the first result in a search, or you have an unusual name which is unlikely to turn up stray results, you need to spend extra money on Google ads to ensure that a search turns up your site (see, for example, the site for the Monsters v Aliens movie).

I hope this is a fad that dies out, not least because it’s quite dangerous to rely on Google searches alone to direct interested parties to the right place. Former US senator Rick Santorum learned this lesson the hard way.

27th June 2008

Other forms of sea transport are available
Posted by at 8.13pm | Fun | No responses

Good to see Google still has a sense of humour.

(via Andrew Sullivan).

6th February 2008

Posted by at 12.20am | It's My Life, Meta | No responses

OK, so that didn’t last long. I’ve put the robots.txt file back the way it was, after a quick glance at my stats showed that people are stumbling across various bits and bobs via search engines, and presumably finding them useful.

I’m still thinking about the long-term direction for the blog. I’ll probably work it out just after I find a long-term direction for my life. Don’t hold your breath, people!