Archive for July, 2010

Google update

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

A week after they disabled my gmail account and deleted my blog, I got an email from Google at my main email account. Apparently there was a ticket/reference number for the incident, although they never felt the need for me to know that. Their message said

We apologize for any inconvenience you may have experienced. The issue you described should now be resolved.

and included a link to the password reset page. And this time it actually worked. When I logged in there was a message saying they had detected suspicious activity on the account and a distinctly spam looking bounced message in my inbox. So I guess my account was hacked. My blog had re-appeared too.

Too late! It already has a new home here. It’s nice to have Google reader back since I didn’t find an alternative I liked in the week I was cast out of the Google cloud. And it’s nice to have my maps back. I think Blogger is an easy platform to use for people who just want to blog about stuff. But I’m not going back. I trust them even less now than I did before events like these

You knew about those, right?

I spent some time at the weekend fiddling with the new blog page layout. I’ve got most of the things working I liked about the old blog. You can subscribe using RSS, or by email (which still uses Feedburner until I find an alternative), there’s a collapsing archives list, stats, and a Flickr widget. The blogroll is static only right now. I found a plugin which generated a dynamic blogroll but it recreated it on the fly every time the page was refreshed. That made it very slow – about 15 seconds which is way too long. And I got bored fighting the CSS to get the colours and font sizes I wanted and gave up.

One day I may revisit the dynamic blogroll and colours but for now things are good enough.

The old site is still there but won’t be getting any more updates and is closed for comments.

Colonia del Sacramento

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

It’s hard to believe but I’ve been in Buenos Aires 3 months already. When tourists arrive here they are given a free 90-day visa. It can be renewed for a further 90 days by visiting the officials in Migraciones and paying $300 (Argentine pesos, not US dollars). To remain legal the alternative is to leave the country and return(which can be done on the same day).

The easiest way to leave the country and return is to take a ferry across the Rio de la Plata to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay and back again. So that’s what I did last Saturday. While virtually everyone in Buenos Aires was sat in front of their TV watching a football match I was sat on a fast catamaran listening to golden-age tango on my iPod and heading towards a few hours in Colonia.

There are 3 companies advertising crossings to Colonia and there is a choice of fast catamaran (50 minutes each way) or slow car ferry (3 hours). It’s worth comparing the deals on their websites and booking in advance. A day return ticket cost me ARG $190. All services leave from the Buquebus terminal at Darseño Norte and they share the vessels. Immigration formalities (departure from Argentina and admission to Uruguay) only took a few minutes. Boarding started about 30 minutes before the departure time and departure was a few minutes later than advertised. Not bad for a South American country whose team were playing in the World Cup. The crossing was smooth and uneventful and took about 20 minutes longer than the advertised 50 minutes.

I thought my ticket included a bus tour around Colonia but when I got there the tour people said otherwise. It wasn’t worth arguing about. The information desk had maps of the town. There’s not really a lot to see in Colonia anyway, a small historic quarter, a couple of parks, a handful of museums, a racetrack and a disused bull ring. I would have liked to see and snap a photo or two of the bull ring. It’s 5km from the port and it was hot and sunny and I had just 4 hours until the ferry returned to Buenos Aires. So I decided against walking there and back. One of the taxi drivers at the port offered me a taxi tour of the town for ARG $70 (about £13) and I couldn’t be bothered to haggle. I also couldn’t be bothered to sit in the back of a beaten-up old taxi on a hot afternoon.

After turning left out of the port I walked up Miguel Angel Odirozola to Barrio Histórico in about 10 minutes. It’s got cobbled streets, some ruined buildings, a couple of preserved buildings from the Portuguese colonial period, part of the original city walls, a drawbridge, a lighthouse and loads of restaurants. Admission to the lighthouse was ARG $3.50 and there’s a decent view from the top. Most of the restaurants around Plaza Mayor were doing lots of trade (I doubt it was brisk!) with lunch costing about UR $300-$400 per person. There’s a foreign exchange desk at the port but everywhere is happy to accept Argentinian pesos at a rate of roughly ARG $1 = UR $4, about the same as the foreign exchange desk. The bars and restaurants outside the historic quarter were cheaper.

After lunch and a couple of hours of aimless wandering it was time to head back to the port. The immigration officer wanted to see my outbound ticket stub (stamped with the admission date – probably a good thing I hadn’t thrown it away – no-one had told me I needed to keep it) and passport, and gave me another 90 day visa for Argentina. Mission accomplished!

We left Uruguay almost exactly on time with the sun just starting to set. The Rio de la Plata was as calm as a mill pond and the return crossing was even smoother than the outbound one. It was no quicker though and it was properly night time when I walked out of the Buquebus terminal. The air was heavy with despair, it was almost palpable. Everyone looked miserable and dejected. I didn’t need to ask what had happened in the football.

There are some photos from Colonia del Sacramento in this set on Flickr.

New home for Yet Another Dance Addict

Friday, July 9th, 2010

On Monday evening I discovered that for reasons known only to themselves you-know-whoogle had disabled my gmail account and deleted my blog. The first sign of trouble was a cryptic error code (bX-7rzuia) when I tried to refresh the dashboard in my blogger account. I found a couple of hits for the message that suggested it was related to a gmail account problem.

So I tried to login to gmail and got an error screen saying my account was temporarily disabled –

It looks a bit fuzzy but if you click on the image it should be much more legible. Note the confusion in this screen about whether they’re going to send an SMS text message or make a voice call. I tried both a landline and mobile number. Neither phone rang. So I tried the contact support link and got this –

So now there’s a clue as to what’s happening. Most likely someone or something perceived a violation of the terms of service. But there is no way at all of finding out what the perceived violation is. Or even if that is the reason. I’m pretty confident none of the content on my blog contravenes the terms of service; there is no adult content, no hateful content, no use of adsense. I only use gmail as my key to other services like blogger, maps, docs, youtube, reader. I don’t send messages from it and receive almost no messages in it. I check it about once a month, most recently about a couple of weeks ago.

I believe my account was disabled in error. So I tried the contact us link which offers this –

It’s pretty obvious that whatever goes in this form promptly drops into a black hole. There is no way to contact a real person, no tracking of issues, no way to escalate an issue,  and absolutely no feedback of any kind unless they decide they made a mistake.

A quick search shows gmail accounts get disabled quite frequently, and there is almost never a good outcome. And there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it because the terms of service explicitly say they can disable or delete accounts without notice for any reason.

I’m luckier than most people in this situation. Like I said, I don’t use gmail as anything except a key to other services. So I haven’t lost any essential email messages, or my contacts or my primary email facility. But all of the content in those other services is now inaccessible/gone. I’ve never really trusted cloud services so I make regular backups of my blog and have copies of all the information in docs, calendar, picasa and youtube on media I phsyically own. I’ve lost my customised maps, my list of feeds in reader and parts of the latest blog update but nothing I can’t live without. And I still have working email.

After 24 hours I started making alternative arrangements for the blog. I could host it at wordpress.com for free with a name like walkjivefly.wordpress.com. I could register a domain name (for a fee) and for an additional fee redirect it to wordpress.com and have it appear as walkjivefly.com. There’s nothing to stop the same thing happening again with wordpress.com hosted blogs though. So the safer option is to self-host the blog. I don’t have a machine I can personally host the blog on, so I’m using a hosting service. Which could itself go away for some reason but so long as I own the domain name and have a full backup of the content the blog can be transparently resurrected anywhere.

Yesterday afternoon I imported all of the content into my new wordpress blog on a hosted server. Although wordpress can import directly from a live blogger blog, it can’t directly handle the xml export files that blogger produces. There are tools available on the web to convert from blogger format to wordpress wxr format but they can’t do anything about broken links inside the posts. Broken links that result from missing resources because they were hosted on blogger. So I had to manually fix up all the links and provide the missing content that isn’t included in the blogger exports.

Blogger has a nice simple interface, wordpress has a lot more bells and whistles. It also has hundreds of themes but they’re not as easily customisable as the blogger equivalents and there are some things it is possible to do in blogger for which I have found no ready made alternative in wordpress. The one I want most is for the blogroll to show the title of the last post on each listed blog, and to order the list by most recently updated. If you know how to do this please let me know.

There is still a bit of customisation to do to make the new blog look the way I want it to, but 48 hours after it disappeared the important stuff – the content – was all back online and accessible. Whether they eventually re-enable my gmail account, and restore the blog or not, you-know-whoogle can stuff their cloud up their backside and take a running jump.

I apologise to anyone who had linked to my old content for those links not working any more. If you care to fix your links I’ll be very grateful. To do so you would need to replace links of the form

walkjivefly.blogspot.com/2010/mm/page-name.html
by
walkjivefly.com/2010/mm/page-name/

They might need a slight further tweak because blogger strips out short prepositions and adjectives when converting the post title to the page name. I’ll be even more grateful if you update your blogroll to include the new, shorter walkjivefly.com URL.

And anyone who hosts their blog on blogger – you do take regular backups, don’t you?