New look

After coming home from my holidays, I thought it was time for a bit of a change at Taking Aim.  Hence the much improved new look. 

Why does it look so good?  Because I didn’t design the theme myself.  Thanks must go to iqwolf, for his snappily titled theme: Unnamed One.

The new design isn’t just a pretty face – click on the ‘Open/Close’ link in the top right hand corner for some fancy pop-down menus, or try a quick search and sample the new style results.

I’ve spent most of the last couple of weeks playing wih my new toy – a Windows Mobile phone.  (Sorry to those of you who have been expecting regular updates – now you know why).

Mobile HomepageBrowsing blogs on the move has now become a part of my daily routine, albiet a frustrating one at times.  Newsgator Go!, which I’ll review another time, makes the job of keeping up with my RSS feeds simple.  But browsing individual blogs online (including my own!) can be a real hassle on a small screen.

Well, I can’t really do much about other blogs, but I can make sure that my own is as easy to read as possible on a mobile.  So, with thanks to Alex King, I’ve installed WordPress Mobile Edition for those few of you daft enough to try and read this page on the move…

Update: Hmm, something’s gone slightly awry with uploading the screengrab, which is oddly low-res in my browser.  Trust me though, it looks great in my paint programme.  And, more importantly, it looks extra-lovely on my Windows Mobile phone!

Blogger hits the big time

Catherine Sanderson, the woman behind Petite Anglaise has apparently just netted a two book deal with Penguin – worth a cool £400,000.  Colin Randall, at the Telegraph Blog, has the scoop. 

No one likes talking figures on these occasions, but I have reason to believe the contract is worth in the region of £400,000 and that more may end up going her way from deals with America and the rest of the world.

An eventual film also seems a strong possibility.

Not bad for the Yorkshire lass who, only a few months ago, was wondering how she would ever keep up payments on the flat she was buying, having been summarily dismissed from her job at an English accountancy firm.

Kudos to her – it’s a great blog, and she deserves every penny.  But I kind of get the feeling I’m in the wrong blogging niche…

‘Politics like you’ve never seen it before’

Britain is to get a brand new internet tv station covering news and politics. 18 Doughty Street – which will broadcast for four hours each evening – promises to “break the mould” . Here’s the trailer:

Having just watched the trailer myself, I must admit, I found it difficult to muster much enthusiasm. Dull, but worthy, was my immediate reaction.

I would be happy to see a new non-mainstream tv news channel, though, so I am keen to see how it develops. And, yes, I’ll happily eat my words if I turn out to be yet another cynic with a blog.

Putin not amused at being called “Russia’s phallic symbol”

Yet another Russian journalist has been put on trial.  This time, for satirising the President’s policy to raise the Russian birth-rate:

Vladimir Rakhmankov, the editor of the online publication “Kursiv,” went on trial on September 21 for running an article with the headline “Putin as Russia’s phallic symbol.”

Rakhmankov faces up to a year of jail time (also known as ‘corrective labour’) or a fine.

(Hat tip: La Russophobe).

Spaceblogging

The blogosphere boldly visits its newest frontier – blogging from space:

The launch was very smooth. The trip to the station felt long but it was worth it. I cannot keep my eyes off the windows. Earth is magnificent and peaceful from up here. You don’t see any of those awful things you hear on the news, from up here.

Written by Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist.  Admittedly, she had to blog via email – I don’t think WordPress works properly outside the earth’s atmosphere – but it’s still pretty cool.

The local news from faraway

If Ian Dale were to compile a list of the best British ex-pat blogs, Tim Newman would surely be sitting comfortably at the top of the pile.

Today, Tim brings us a roundup of the local news from the Russian Far East:

If I once thought the regional news on S4C or BBC Wales was parochial, I now stand corrected as to what that word actually means.

[…] we had the story of a small lorry which got stuck when crossing a makeshift bridge over a ditch, the ditch in question being about a metre wide and six inches deep.  An interview with the driver was of particular benefit to the viewers.

Post-Soviet telly at its finest. 

Hungarian PM admits lying – and writes about it on his blog

Refreshing honesty from a politician – Ferenc Gyurcsany, the Hungarian Prime Minister has admitted that his party not only lied in order to get elected, but had failed miserably while in office.  Here’s what he had to say at a meeting with fellow Socialist MPs:

“There is not much choice. There is not, because we screwed up. Not a little, a lot. No European country has done something as boneheaded as we have.

“Evidently, we lied throughout the last year-and-a-half, two years. It was totally clear that what we are saying is not true.

“You cannot quote any significant government measure we can be proud of, other than at the end we managed to bring the government back from the brink. Nothing. If we have to give account to the country about what we did for four years, then what do we say?”

The Prime Minister has posted the entire transcript of the entire meeting on his own blog (in Hungarian, of course), a move which some cynics are claiming demonstrates that the PM himself was behind the leak. 

So, good press for honesty, and for blogs, but not so good for Hungarian Socialists. 

Belarus and Harvard

I’ve been remiss this week in not publicising the great work that Robert Mayer has been doing over at Publius Pundit recently.

He’s just been on a trip around Eastern Europe, investigating the failed attempts to remove Alexander Lukashenko from office in Belarus, and the more successful Orange Revolution in Ukraine.  Here, in One Student’s Struggle in Belarus, he interviews a Belarussian democracy activist, who is managing to continue the struggle in Ukraine.

And yesterday, he published his picture (and words!) report on former Iranian President Khatami’s visit to Harvard University.

The war on splogs

One of my websites was recently stolen and turned into a splog – that’s a spam blog to you and me. 

So, naturally, I was interested to read this Wired article about the rise and rise of splogs, and their battle with search engines and blog hosting companies.

Mostly, it’s a pretty good article.  However, personal experience means that I can’t agree with Six Apart’s Anil Dash, who believes that charging people to set up blogs stops sploggers:

Ultimately, he thinks, “the solution is going to be accountability. You have to know that somebody is who they say they are.” Six Apart’s TypePad blogging service enforces accountability on its bloggers in one of the simplest ways possible: It charges them at least $4.95 a month to host their blogs. Not only is the token payment enough to discourage scammers who want to operate thousands of blogs at once, but it also establishes bloggers’ identities by tying them to a bank account.

My experience arose out of a blog about Russia that I used to write (some of you will remember it).  Being my first blog, I took the safe option of hosting it on Typepad.  But, about a year ago – by this time I was a bit more tech savvy, not to mention protective of my bank account – I moved the blog to WordPress.  Happy with WordPress, I closed the Typepad account pretty soon after, and promptly forgot all about it.

You can imagine my surprise when I checked statcounter last week, only to find that by long dead Typepad blog had risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes, and that it was referring people on to this site.

Visiting the old Typepad site, I found that my blog had been accurately reproduced – design and all.  Every single word I ever wrote on that site was displayed on screen, but with one tiny difference – and here’s the fun bit – mixed in with my profound prose were some very graphic keywords and links to a bunch of hardcore porn sites.  Not all of them involving human to human sex.

Lovely.

Fortunately, there is a happy ending to this tale – for me anyway.  I wrote a slightly alarmed email to the Typepad administrators, and they took the site down within a couple of days.  

I can’t fault the way Typepad responded once I alerted them to the problem.  They acted quickly and professionally at all times, and were a pleasure to deal with. 

But my experience doesn’t do a lot for Dash’s claim that charging people to set up blogs will prevent sploggers from abusing the system. 

For starters, someone managed to set up a splog on Typepad using a defunct account that they presumably had to pay for.  And, second, the only reason it was closed down was that I happened to notice its existence, and have the perseverance to find the right contact form on Typepad’s website and let them know about the problem.  

Update (7/9/06): Check out Anil Dash’s response in the comments. 

Update 2 (7/9/06): An email from ‘Brian’ dropped into my inbox this morning, offering me $100 if I would place a few advertising links on my blog.  Here’s a quote from the email:

I noticed that you are no longer updating the site. However, it still has some value for advertising for my company, which specializes in selling event tickets.

I’d like to pay you US$100 for the right to put about 10 links on the site for a year. They could be on the right-hand side, under your statistics area, and wouldn’t look like advertisements at all.

To be honest, if I wasn’t aware of splogs, this would seem like a pretty tempting offer.  After all, as Brian says, I don’t update the blog any more, so $100 would be money for old rope.  I would probably be a little puzzled, though, about why a blog about Russia would help someone sell event tickets.