Category Archives: Techie Stuff

Are your Flickr photos backed up?

Are your Flickr photos backed up? If Flickr accidentally deleted part or all of your account would you be able to quickly restore your collection? My own complete photo collection that has been gathered together from mobile devices and various cameras is stored on my laptop and an external hard drive, but my Flickr photos are a small subset and are organised differently. I would not relish having to rebuild my Flickr sets from scratch.

Flickr has just announced that it will be down for planned maintenance tomorrow (Thursday 24th) from 4 PM PDT to 10 PM PDT. As far as I am aware there have been no major data losses so far as a result of maintenance and upgrades by Flickr, but it once accidentally deleted a user’s entire account (Flickr user gets back account after its accidental deletion Flickr did, however, eventually manage to restore the account.

You cannot assume that maintenance and upgrades will be without incident, though. A couple of years ago some bloggers using Google Blogger lost posts as a result of problems that arose during maintenance. (Blogger still down; 30 hours of posts lost My husband was one of those whose posts never reappeared but thankfully he had backups. Some of his articles are quite long and detailed so he is in the habit of preparing them offline before uploading to Blogger. He also has a full backup created using Blogger’s Import/Export option (it can be found under Settings, Other). Flickr, however, does not offer an option to export your data so one has to resort to third party tools.

One of the best tools I have found to date for backing up a Flickr account is Bulkr ( This has to be downloaded to your computer and requires Adobe AIR to be installed. The free version allows you to download your photostream (small, medium or large sizes but not the original) and up to 15 sets.

 Bulkr download sets screen

If you want to download all of your sets, the original sized photos and include the metadata (title, description, tags) then you will need to upgrade to the Pro version, which currently costs USD 29.99/year. There is a Pro+ option, which is a one time payment currently offered at USD 49. Bulkr does not download comments.

An alternative is MyFlickrBackup (, which costs USD4.99 and requires .NET Framework Client Profile to run. It downloads original sized photos and all of your sets, but not the metadata. Two other programs that have been recommended to me but which I haven’t yet tried are FlickrDownload ( and photoSync (

I’d be interested in hearing your experiences of any of the above, or if you know of other useful Flickr backup apps.

A bit of telecoms history off to recycling

This time I really am going to do it. About 4 years ago I had a grand clear-out of my office and decided that my archive of telecoms software and manuals had to go. I offered them to anyone who was interested and a few items were snapped up. The rest are still sitting here in a box and I am offering them again to anyone who might be interested for historical reasons, research or whatever. You do not have to take the whole lot. Let me know if you are interested. Closing date  is 28th May 2012 when they are definitely off to recycling.

Telecomms software manuals

Database/information provider specific

Mercury Business Intelligence (MBI) User Guide Version 1.1. A5 ring binder
MBI Launcher v 1.2 (Windows) 3.5″ disk + hardcopy installation guide.

FT Profile freeway user manual (Windows 3) + 3.5″ disk

DialogLink for Windows Operating Systems Version 2.0 1993
User’s Guide + 3.5″ disk

Radio-Suisse DataMail Guide 1991-1992 (Guide to setting up and using DataStar’s online DataMail service)

General telecomms software

Odyssey User Manual spiral bound + 3.5″ disk. 1990
Odyssey for Windows A5 User manual + 3.5″ disk 1995

Crosstalk for Windows User’s Guide + Crosstalk for Windows CASL Programmer’s Guide 3X 3.5″ disks, 3x 5.25″ disks. 1992

Deputy User Guide. A5 ring binder + 3.5″ diskette 1992, version 3.04

Procomm Plus User Manual + Aspect Script Language Reference Manual + 2x 3.5″ disks, 3 x 5.25″ disks. 1991.

Procomm Plus for Windows User Manual (EC Version) + Windows Aspect Script Language (EC Version) + 3 x 3.5″ disks, 3 x 5.25″ disks. 1992

Procomm Plus Very Connected 3.0 user guide + CD

Hayes Smartcom for Windows 1993:

Read Me First!
User’s Guide
Quick Reference
Editor Reference
SCOPE for Windows Technical Reference
Communications Reference
4x 3.5″ disks
4x 5.25″ disks

Sage Chit-Chat 2.6 for IBM PC/XT
Boxed set of user manual, installation notes, 3.5″ disk, 5.25″ disk

QuickLink II Fax and telecommunications Windows & DOS 1993. User manual + 3.5″ disk

QuickLink Message Center: voice, fax & telecommunication. Windows. 1993. User manual + 3.5″ disk

Checking broadband availability and speeds

Whether at work or at home, a fast and reliable internet connection is an essential for many of us. An increasing number of people spend at least one day a week working at home, some run their businesses from an office at home and, like it or not, the UK government and utility services are pushing us in the direction of managing our business and personal affairs online. There are numerous broadband providers touting their wares and trying to persuade us to switch to their super duper fast services with promises of  24 MB downloads, but the speeds achieved in reality are often far less. In some areas there is no broadband access at all. The problem is that should you discover you have been sold a very expensive dud you could be stuck in a 12 month contract with no easy way out. If you are moving house or thinking of switching provider you need to know what is possible in theory, which providers are available in your area and the speeds that people are actually getting.

First, can you get any broadband at all? For a long time after it was introduced I was unable to have broadband. The length and quality of the cabling from the exchange to my street was such that it was doubtful I would maintain even a 256 KB connection. And, no, I do not live in the middle of nowhere but in Caversham on the other side of the River Thames from Reading. I kept checking the BT broadband availability page ( and finally, after a major line and cable upgrade, I discovered I could have 1-2 MB – possibly. I went with an Eclipse business package – recommended by several colleagues – and muddled along with around 1MB download speeds for a couple of years. The only major issue I had was the time taken to download software and BBC iPlayer programmes (around 1.5 hours for a 45 minute broadcast). A few weeks ago the availability checker had good news: my exchange had been upgraded.

BT Broadband Checker

Eclipse upgraded me and I am now whizzing along at 11-14 MB download and 500-600 KB upload.

The second matter is that of speed, and I do not mean what the providers claim on their web sites or in their glossy brochures. Broadband Speed Checker at allows users to test their actual line speed. As well as running the speed check you can add your test results to a Google map by giving your postcode and see other results for the surrounding area. If you are moving house or just want to see what is available in a neighbourhood go straight to and enter the postcode.

Broadband Speed Check

Speech bubbles mark the approximate location of the speed tests and give the name of the provider with the average download speed. Results are based on tests at the location over the last 6 months. Click on one of the bubbles and you can view the individual test results. Some have only one whilst other people seem to run them regularly. The broadband package, price and advertised speed are given but this might not be totally accurate. My own business package was not listed so I had to pick the closest home package in terms of speed and price. The maximum speed advertised for me is 24 Mb but I was told by my supplier that I would be unlikely to reach that. At 11-14 MB I am not complaining – it is at least 10 times what it used it be. I do feel sorry, though, for those poor souls who are paying for 20 MB and barely reaching 1.5 🙁 It is probably why they ran they tests in the first place. Evidence with which to confront their provider!

TwInbox – Use Twitter from Outlook

This free plug in enables you to view and manage your Twitterstream from within Outlook.

Technical requirements are Microsoft Windows 2000, XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7 with the latest Service Pack. Outlook 2003 SP3, 2007 SP2, 2010 (32-bit and 64-bit.). Note that TwInbox does NOT work with Outlook Express.

According to the web page, features include:

  • Update your Twitter status directly from Outlook.
  • Receive your Twitterstream updates in Outlook.
  • Archive, manage, group and search your tweets in the same way you manage your email
  • Search and track keywords
  • Group tweets by sender, topic, etc using the Search feature
  • Manage multiple Twitter accounts
  • Assign custom folder and categories to new messages
  • Use Outlook’s “Reply” and “ReplyAll” commands to send twitter direct messages and @replies
  • Automatically sort new tweets into folders
  • Shorten URLs with
  • See graphs of your Twitter usage statistics

I am still experimenting so can’t yet comment on how easy the above are to set up. I shall probably continue to use Tweetdeck as my main application for managing my Twitter accounts on a day to day basis. TwInbox, though, seems to be a quick and easy way of archiving tweets that contain information I may want to refer to at a later date.

Earthquake Alerts

If you are looking for up to the minute news on earthquakes it would seem that Twitter beats the mainstream news media even when major shocks have occurred. Phil Bradley has carried out a comparison of the timeliness and quality of information about the Baja 7.2 earthquake provided by Sky News, CNN, ABC, Google News, BBC and Twitter (Phil Bradley’s weblog: Earthquake: Twitter trounces traditional news sources again! Not surprisingly Twitter came out on top in terms of speed of reporting but what is amazing is that some people actually tweet while the earthquake is happening. Fine if you are in open countryside but if I was in a built up area I’d be more worried about falling buildings: but then if you are strolling through fields and mountains there is always the possibility that the ground will open up and swallow you. Now that would be worth tweeting about!

If you want up to the minute scientific data on earthquakes, the USGS (US Geological Survey) has a page with a map showing recent tremors and links to RSS feeds giving you date, time, location and magnitude (Earthquakes They also provide the data as CSV files, an iGoogle gadget and KML feeds for Google Earth.

Google Earth and USGS KML feeds

Google Earth and USGS KML feeds

I have friends and colleagues who live in earthquake zones in New Zealand, China and Turkey. The first major shock is always reported by the press – eventually – as are some of the major aftershocks, but the best way for me to find out what is happening to them is a combination of Twitter and the USGS data. Follow the latter and you will quickly discover that earthquakes are happening somewhere on this planet all of time, most of them of low magnitude. You will also notice that after a major earthquake there are not dozens but hundreds of aftershocks, as I learned from my New Zealand friends. The traditional press have moved on to more interesting stories but the people in the affected region are having to deal with the consequences of not only the first major quake but also the continual aftershocks.

The RSS feeds are good way of keeping up with quake events but I only dip into my feed reader 3 or 4 times a day. Most of my online life is spent in my browser Firefox. Enter the eQuake Alert add-on for Firefox.( This uses USGS data and adds an alert to the status bar of Firefox showing you the magnitude and location of the latest event. Right click on the alert and you can choose to view a list of recent of quakes that also gives you date and time.

eQuake Alert

As an additional alert there is an option to “Shake browser on earthquake”. This makes your browser screen wobble when news of a quake comes through and you can set it to shake proportional to earthquake magnitude. No chance of missing it now! You can also set a minimum magnitude for alerts, which is useful if you the perpetual wobbling of the screen becomes too intrusive. Mine was originally set to 3 but for hours after the Baja earthquake aftershocks seemed to be occurring every other minute so I increased it to 4

When combined, the different services provide me with a clearer picture of what is going on and help me find out if friends and colleagues have been seriously affected. The Firefox eQuake add-on alerts me to events within a few minutes of their occurrence. The USGS RSS feeds show me what has been happening over the past 24 hours. Twitter provides immediate reports from people in the earthquake zone. Eventually the traditional news media will report and my Google News alerts will kick in. And finally, the USGS KML feeds for Google Earth provide an incredible visualisation of the extent and impact of a series of quakes in a region.

IE 6 – DIE!!!

Google has announced that from March 1, 2010 it will start to phase out support for Internet Explorer 6 in Google Docs and Google Sites. IE 6 users who have visited YouTube (owned by Google) over the last 6-8 months will already have seen notices telling them to switch to a more up to date browser but now that policy to stop supporting the browser is spreading to Google’s other services. Microsoft has said that it will continue to support the browser with updates until 2014 (BBC News Microsoft backs long life for IE6), which hardly encourages organisations to upgrade. Hopefully, Google’s announcement will sound the death knell for this antique.

I am still gobsmacked by the number of organisations that still use IE6. About 20% of the in-house workshops I do have to be run on computers using IE6. Many people highlight local government as the major culprit but there are major international corporations who are still using it. The most common excuse I am given is that in order for them to use bespoke internal databases they have to program an interface between the browser and the databases. Changing the browser means rewriting the code. The scariest set-up I have come across was in an international investment bank whose CIO told me that the easiest way for them to connect a browser to a key database was to make use of  a security loophole in IE 6, which means that they can’t install security updates!

You may think that removing IE 6 support from Google Docs and sites won’t affect the general user. Check the results from your Google searches over the next few weeks. I bet there will be formatted files such as PDFs, spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations in the mix. If you want to preview the file before downloading the HTML option is still there for some, but an increasing number are being previewed in Google Docs. And when it comes to accessing web sites it is not just Google services and applications that suffer under IE 6. Forget about fancy Web 2 applications: I am finding in my business information workshops that essential features of many web sites are not displayed in IE 6 .

For the web to move on and integrate new technologies IE6 really must die

Edinburgh: home to the UK’s fastest supercomputer

This story, found on, really appeals to the geekishnes in me. Hector, High-End Computing Terascale Resource [what happened to the ‘o’?] , can handle 63 trillion calculations per second, which is the equivalent processing power of 12,000 desktop systems. The supercomputer is based at the University of Edinburgh’s Advanced Computer Facility and operated by the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre (EPCC). The sort of work that Hector will do includes forecasting the impact of climate change, projecting the spread of disease epidemics and developing new medicines. For those of us who are self-employed, though, the name Hector brings to mind the bowler hatted cartoon character that the UK Inland Revenue used in their adverts to exhort us to get our self-assessment tax forms and payments in on time.

Now for the serious techie stuff: Hector uses a Cray XT4 system with software and application support provided by NAG; Hector has a peak capability of 63 Teraflops but this is due to increase to 250 Teraflops in October 2009, with a further upgrade due two years later. Now you know:-)

On a global scale, though, Hector comes in at number 17. The TOP500 Supercomputing Sites lists the … erm … top 500 supercomputing sites. The November 2007 list is at

ITU-T recommendations now free of charge

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has made over 3000 ITU-T recommendations available free of charge following a trial of the new service. The standards are used by equipment manufacturers, telecommunication network operators and service providers throughout the world.

According to the ITU press release:

Mr Malcolm Johnson, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB), presented the results of the trial to the 2007 meeting of ITU’s Council. He said that not only had the experiment been a success in raising awareness of ITU-T, it would also attract new members. Most importantly, he noted, it had helped efforts to bridge the “standardization gap between countries with resources to pursue standardization issues and those without. “There has been very positive feedback from developing countries, said Johnson. “Last year exactly 500 ITU-T Recommendations had been sold to developing countries; this year, after allowing free access, they have downloaded some 300 000.

Hat tip to Gary Price who posted the story on his Resource Shelf blog.

Move from Blogger to WordPress

I finally did it – over the weekend I moved my blog from Blogger! Although the old blog was hosted on my own web site, as is the new version, I disliked having to use the Blogger software on Google’s own servers. For the majority of the time access was no problem but there have been days when availability has been zero and response times very slow. My own web hosting service is not perfect – none are – but it is more reliable and predictable than Blogger. But the deciding factor was that I wanted to play around with more gizmos, widgets and layouts. I was able to experiment with third party plugins using Blogger, in fact one had to in the early days because it lacked so many of the standard blog features such as tagging, but you have to mess around with the template code. If you want to switch to another layout/template, you lose most of your customisation.

I contemplated Typepad and have even invested in an account but I am leaving that for experimental purposes. As I would still have to use the software and hosting on their system I would again be at the mercy of their ‘down times’, and there have been many of those judging from the number of ‘no access’ problems I see with Typepad based blogs in my RSS reader. It was Brian Kelly’s new(ish) blog that encouraged me to look at WordPress. I was not too keen on hosting on so I decided to be brave and load the software onto my own server. Feedback from other users suggested that it would be relatively painless but I was prepared for problems right from the start. There weren’t any.

The sequence of events was as follows:

  1. Check that my hosting service has the required version of PHP and MySQL. It did.
  2. Activate and set up a MySQL database. That took about 30 seconds using my hosting service’s control panel.
  3. Download the WordPress software and install on my web server. There are two sets of instructions on installation: a 5 minute quick start for experienced users and more detailed instructions if you are new to this. Being a complete novice I, of course, decided to go for the Quick Start 🙂 It worked!
  4. Decide on a layout and colour. I rather like Brian’s three column layout so I opted for Andreas09.
  5. Play around with the sidebar content and layout, and install Sidebar widgets. Look at a few other plugins.

That all took about 30 minutes and I was ready to start blogging in WordPress.

Then I had to decide whether to import my Blogger content into WordPress or leave it archived in the old files. As an experiment I decided to try out the import option. The support documents and discussion forums suggested that there might be a few problems and that it might not work 100%. The only step that caused me a few difficulties was republishing my old blog onto Blogspot, a pre-requisite for the script to work. It took me a while to remember how to do it and then Blogger/Blogspot decided to go into slow motion right in the middle of the transfer. After that, the script did its job and everything, excluding the plug-in content, was transferred in about 10 minutes.

There are only two problems with my transferred content. The first is that Blogger lets you associate a URL with the title of a posting: this is not carried over in any form and could annoy users if that is the only reference to the address of the product or service you are blogging. The second is that any links in the body of the content to previous postings in Blogger are retained. The latter is not surprising and I can live with that.

I now have to embark on an advertising campaign to alert people to the new address, check links on my web site and in presentations. The old Blog will be left on my web site for a while and it will be interesting to see how long it takes for people to switch to the new one. It looks as though the winner for the prize for being the first to spot and link to it goes to Chris Armstrong and his info NeoGnostic blog. As I am in his home town of Aberystwyth next week, it looks as though I owe him a drink or two, or even three.