Tales from the Terminal Room
April 2000, Issue No. 9
Please Note: This is an archive copy of the newsletter. The information and links that it contains are not updated.
Tales from the Terminal Room ISSN 1467-338X
April 2000, Issue No. 9
Editor: Karen Blakeman
Published by: RBA Information Services
Tales from the Terminal Room (TFTTR) is a monthly newsletter, with the exception of July and August, which are published as a single issue. TFTTR includes reviews and comparisons of information sources and search tools; updates to the RBA Web site Business Sources and other useful resources; dealing with technical and access problems on the Net; and news of RBA's training courses and publications.
As April comes to an end, April Fools day seems a long time yet so many Internet based April Fools linger on. I am still receiving messages asking about the new Google MindPlex search tool: this is the one where you have to take off your hat and glasses, stare at the PC screen and think very hard about how your perfect set of results would look! I have forgotten the details because, like many others, I did not save the page when I first saw it and Google diligently took it down on April 2nd.
I wasn't caught out this time but I must confess that I do not always spot the spoof articles, and sometimes go to the other extreme and mistake a bona fide news piece for a prank. A few years ago, a monthly mobile communications magazine, notorious for littering its April issue with "joke" articles, announced a new service called Orange. This, as far as I was concerned, was an all too obvious April Fool. Just look at how the word breaks down: 0 range (or zero range). I thought they were taking things too far by sending out a full press release, which I binned. It was only when I went into London the next day and saw posters on the Underground advertising the service that I realised that Orange was genuine. I hastily retrieved the press release from the bin.
So I have declared TFTTR to be an April Fool Free Zone. But I could be wrong.
In this issue:
Government and Politics (http://www.rba.co.uk/sources/govern.htm)
This section of our Web site has been extensively reorganised and updated. Some links have been removed, several sites have been added and many of the URLs have changed. We gave up trying to keep up with Government Web sites around the World a long time ago as there is an excellent list already maintained by Gunnar Anzinger at http://www.gksoft.com/govt/. This is by far the best collection of links to national and local governments, government departments and political parties that we have found to date, so why try and re- invent the wheel? The site covers over 220 countries and territories and is regularly updated.
Having temporarily moved to Itsofficial.net, the UK Government official documents Web site is now at http://www.ukstate.com/. This site is still under development and we are currently having problems with some areas of the site and with the graphics. There are four "channels": Your Business, Your Life, Your Government and Your Bookstore with plans for more. The Your Government channel provides links to Acts, SIs, Hansards etc.
As far as content is concerned, the site looks promising but I would love to know why the bulk of the text on the home page is in the smallest possible font size (font size=1). In order to comfortably read the text you have to either use a magnifying glass or fiddle around with the font settings in your browser. It would appear that, unlike the main government site at http://www.open.gov.uk/, ukstate.com does not believe it worth making an effort to comply with the Web Accessibility Initiative (http://www.w3.org/WAI/).
Also added to our pages are the UK Inland Revenue and HM Customs & Excise. For those of us in the UK who are classed as "self-employed", one of the significant announcements in the recent Budget was that those who choose to submit their tax and VAT returns electronically will receive one-off discounts on their payments. The Inland Revenue is already accepting registrations for electronic delivery of returns but have postponed making the forms and software available until the end of May (further testing is required they say).
The Inland Revenue site (http://www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk/) provides general information on taxation, legislation, rates and allowances. Also available are publications and press releases. There is a whole section on self assessment including the new Internet service for submitting returns.
The HM Customs and Excise site (http://www.hmce.gov.uk/) has the main VAT publications, leaflets and notices although the larger ones are split into sections making it difficult to ensure that you have every piece of relevant information. There is also information on Intrastat and the proposed electronic VAT return
Miscellaneous Day to Day Essentials (http://www.rba.co.uk/sources/misc.htm)
New to this section is Global Financial Data at http://www.globalfindata.com/. This offers current and historical financial and economic data for the United States and over 150 countries, including stock markets from 1690, exchange rates from 1590, interest rates from 1700, commodities from 1500 and inflation from 1264. Data are recorded daily, weekly, monthly, and annually. There are several free annual data series including: inflation rates since 1264, interest rates since 1700, commodity prices since 1257, exchange rates since 1800. Subscriptions to the priced service range from USD 25 for some individual files to several thousand dollars for an annual subscription to the entire database. Full details of prices are on the site. Free guides, in PDF format, list in detail the information that is available.
If you are looking for statistics by subject or country, then head straight for Official Statistics on the WWW at http://www.auckland.ac.nz/lbr/stats/offstats/OFFSTATSmain.htm The main screen is straightforward with a description of the content and links to lists of statistical sources by country and topics or subject. This service includes sources offering free and easily accessible social, economic and general data from official or similar "quotable" sources, especially those that provide both current data and time series. In the country lists, these are mainly Web pages provided by statistical offices, central banks and government departments and agencies, whereas the topics list is comprised of links to the statistics pages of international organizations and associations and a few commercial sites
Company Directories (http://www.rba.co.uk/sources/directs.htm)
New to our Directories page is Applegate First Directories for the UK and Ireland (http://www.apgate.com/). There are separate directories for the agribusiness, electronics, engineering, oil & petrochemicals, plastics & rubber and recruitment services industries and they are all updated on the first weekend of each month. The directories can be browsed individually by company name, products, towns or post code. Unfortunately, you cannot combine search criteria such as products and towns.
The Top People for each directory are selected by the title of their position and linked to the companies that currently employ them. The Top Companies are measured by the number of visitors to their page in the Applegate directory and not by company turnover or number of employees. Information on each company is fairly basic and includes company name, address, telephone and fax numbers, Web address, email address, contact names e.g. marketing, sales and managing directors, and products and services. A few companies have additional data such as year established, turnover, number of employees.
These things are sent to try us!
Reading the Small Print
The practice has become so commonplace that I was beginning to wonder if I had missed an announcement to the effect that using small font sizes makes you rich, famous and extremely desirable. But on the contrary I found the following article in Internet Magazine (How to make your site easy to use, Internet Magazine May 2000 pp 111-115):
If, as a Web designer, you really need to reduce or increase the font size then you should use relative font sizes, for example <font size="-1">. If you use absolute sizes then the user could have problems altering the displayed size. Different versions of different browsers handle this in different ways, and you cannot always increase or decrease the size by clicking on View, Increase font size (Netscape) or on the Font size toolbar button (Internet Explorer). The only other and more awkward option is to change the default font size from within Options or Preferences.
This has become such a great irritant to me that I now run my browser (Netscape) with my chosen font type and size set to override document specific fonts. (To do this from the menu bar you select Edit, Preferences, Appearance, Fonts). I have also disabled style sheets (Edit, Preferences, Advanced). This of course means that I will not be able to marvel at the superb artistic skills of the Web page designer but, for me, it is the content of the page that is important. Now I wonder if small fonts are used to try and disguise the fact the there isn't any serious content on these pages? Answers on a postage stamp in <font size="0.0000001"> please.
Gizmo of the Month
If you have a massive bookmark file or are responsible for maintaining Web pages with hundreds of links, one of the most tedious tasks is making sure that the URLs of those links are still live and valid. A good Web authoring package should be able to check the internal links on your site but external links are a little more tricky. I have tried several utilities that claim to do this but the one that I have found to be the fastest and most reliable so far is the Xenu Link Checker (http://home.snafu.de/tilman/xenulink.html)
Xenu's Link Sleuth is a spidering software that checks Web sites for broken links. Link verification is done on "normal" links, images, frames, plug-ins, backgrounds, local image maps, style sheets, scripts and Java applets. It displays a continuously updated list of URLs which you can sort by different criteria and a report can be produced at any time. Xenu Link is free of charge and requires Microsoft Windows 95/98/NT/2000 to run. (There is no version for 3.11, MacOS or Linux).
As the Web page says, it is a "simple, no-frills user-interface" and compact(500K). The reports that it generates inform you of "Error 404" pages (pages that cannot be found at the given URL), pages that require authorisation (password protected pages) and "access forbidden" (error 403).
It also picks up URLs that redirect you elsewhere and URLs that give an "invalid response". The former are often part of the normal working of a site, for example they may be analysing which browser you use and automatically redirecting you to the appropriate set of pages. I have found it best, though, to check even these directly via a browser in case they are pages notifying you of a change of address or service. Those that give an "invalid response" are usually sites that are temporarily down or inaccessible because of network problems. You can recheck these later either with Xenu or by trying to access them directly through your browser.
You can save the whole session log for future reference and recheck the broken links at a later date. Xenu will also produce an HTML report summarising the check. You can choose to have the broken links sorted by links and/or by the page on which they are located together with the error code, and include details of redirected links.
Once you have sorted out the broken links, you still have fire up your browser and check the content of the live and valid and URLs. It is not unknown for a domain name to change hands and for the subject of the site to undergo a complete metamorphosis. And for checking that, the best tool is still a human being.
Meetings and Workshops
May 9th, Business Information on the Internet
TFTTR Contact Information
Karen Blakeman, RBA Information Services
TFTTR archives: http://www.rba.co.uk/tfttr/archives/index.shtml
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