Selling Gene Data

Here’s a piece from the Guardian on how the NHS is setting up a database for genes and going to be selling the data they collect:

Sale of personal gene data condemned as ‘unethical and dangerous’

[reading time: 3 minutes]

It’s summed up in the first paragraph:

Private firms will soon be able to buy people’s medical and genetic data without their consent and, in certain cases, acquire personal information that might enable them to identify individuals.

This scares me. You expect this stuff from DNA testing companies like 23andMe, but not from the NHS, a publicly funded health service. Yes, this information is important. I’m sure all the great medical breakthroughs of the next century are likely to come from studying genetics. So thus all the money from the problems they solve and the information they discover will too. And that gets Big Pharma excited. Which is why they’re willing to pay a decent amount of money to the NHS for this data. Which means basically the NHS is just going to be a middle man, and the middle man never gets rich. The NHS will do okay from these deals, sure, but not enough to justify selling the most personal of all data about the people who pay for the NHS with their taxes. It’s not worth it.
Instead of just keeping this data saved somewhere and maybe fiddling around with it to see how obese the nation is and how many people have descended from a Bavarian sheep farmer, they should go on the offensive, despite their limited money now-a-days, and try to do some real good. I’d much rather read the headline “NHS cures Alzheimer’s”, than “GlaxoSmithKline cures Alzheimer’s.”

And of course selling the data is a side issue to the main issue that they’re collecting it at all. But I’m not going to get involved in that whole affair, especially as I don’t even know how I feel about it.

I’ll just say this: I don’t trust the NHS with my postcode, let alone the gene data that makes me, me. (And how could you blame me when the section of the NHS in control of all this data has a website that looks like this.)


Yahoo Pipes

Blogging is serious business now. And one common way of building up an ‘audience’ is only talking about one particular subject. Basically you need to appeal to a niche, however big or small, in order to build loyal readers. However, for the majority of people, blogging is just a bit of fun and they talk about whatever they feel like. I do this for example. And I’m sure some of the blogs you follow do this. So it’s understandable that some of the posts are about a subject you’re not interested in.

Thankfully a service exists to help you. It’s called Yahoo! Pipes, and you can use it to filter out blog posts you’re not interested in. Here’s how…

Note: if you do not consume your blogs via RSS, or don’t even know what RSS or Google Reader is, please stop reading.

For this tutorial I’m going to be using Yahoo! Pipes on the blog ‘The Happy Hermit‘. Andreas Moser, the man who runs the blog, sometimes posts film reviews. But let’s say, as an example, that you have no interest in film reviews. You can filter his blog to block out his film reviews.

Here’s how:

  1. Go to
  2. Click the blue button ‘Create a pipe’ at the top middle.
  3. You’ll need a Yahoo! account. If you have one, sign in. If not, sign up.
  4. Drag ‘Fetch Feed’ to the ‘drag modules here’ grid.
  5. Now you need to find the RSS feed for the blog you want to filter. Most blogs have it somewhere on the sidebar.
  6. Copy the URL of the RSS feed and paste it into the ‘Fetch Feed’ box.
  7. Click ‘Operators’ on the left sidebar. Then drag ‘Filter’ to the ‘drag modules here’ grid again.
  8. In the ‘Filter’ box change ‘All’ to ‘Any’ from the dropdown menu.

  9. Next, click in the box under the word ‘Rules’ and select ‘item.title’ from the bottom. (If you plan on filtering words that appear in the actual blog post rather than just the title, choose ‘item.description’. Though I’m not sure how reliable this is as I’ve never used it myself.)

  10. Now in the final box add whatever words you want to filter and block. In this example I’m using ‘Film Review’.

  11. Join the white dots.

  12. Name your Pipe.

  13. Press ‘Save’ and then ‘Run Pipe…’ at the top.
  14. You’re all done! Now click ‘Get as RSS’.

Yahoo! Pipes is also very useful for big high volume blogs like The Verge and Ars Technica as you can filter as many things as you want. Here’s my Yahoo! Pipe of Ars Technica for example:

UPDATE: Yahoo Pipes is now sadly dead. Find an alternative.


Not Using Flickr for My Mobile Uploads

Flickr has had its ups and downs over the years, but I’ve always been a fan. Since 2006 I’ve used Flickr to store ALL my photos as I’ve always thought it will be one of the few services still around in many years time. Everything I take is uploaded and tagged, because the big problem I’ve found with iPhone photos is they either end up deleted or stored in a big folder on Dropbox. So if I wanted to find a picture of my Dog in the snow I’d have to sift through thousands of photos. Instead I just go to Flickr and search “buster AND snow” and I find it instantly.

Anyway, Flickr is currently enjoying a bit of renaissance due to its new iPhone app and the fact that Instagram has announced its less than favourable new privacy policy. Lots of people on my Twitter stream are now sharing photos from their iPhone with Flickr. However, there’s two BIG reasons why I won’t be doing the same.

First: whenever you go to a Flickr photo page for the first time Flickr tries to shove their new iPhone app down your throat. A fullscreen banner pops up which you have to get rid of before you can see the photo.

Second: their mobile layout is terrible. I’m here to see a photograph right? So what do they do? They make the photo tiny!

So basically, they force you to make an unnecessary tap (which is a big deal in the fast paced, on the move, Twitter world) and don’t display the content properly.


My Favourite DuckDuckGo !bang

I’ve blogged about the search engine DuckDuckGo before. I love it. And one of my favourite features of the site is !bangs. !bangs allow you to directly search other websites. They are immensely handy and time saving.

Here are some of my favourites:

I’m Feeling Ducky — !: Go straight to the webpage of the top result of a DuckDuckGo search. Example: ‘! bob dylan’

Google — !g: Sometimes it’s handy to be able to quickly search DuckDuckGo’s evil alternative.

Wikipedia — !w: I use this endlessly.

Amazon — !a: With this !bang, 1-Click purchasing and Amazon Prime I can buy stuff fast.

YouTube — !yt: Quickly find a video.

Google Cache — !cache: If I go to a webpage that is offline for some reason I just type ‘!cache’ followed by the URL into DuckDuckGo and it will take me to Google’s cached version of that page.

Searching Membership services

Pinboard — !pinboard: If you’re a member of Pinboard this is very convenient.

Rdio — !rdio: I do not usually have the Rdio Mac app open, so this is a good !bang to know for when I want to quickly listen to one particular song within the browser.

Other Google services

Google Images — !i

Google Mail — !gmail

Google Maps — !gm

Google News — !gn

You can see DuckDuckGo’s full list of !bangs here.

8 December, 2012: One the great things about DuckDuckGo is that you can submit your own !bangs. I submitted Coral CDN the other day and it has just been added! I find Coral CDN better than Google’s Cache so from now if a website’s down I’ll be using !coral to see it. Example: ‘!coral’


Maciej Ceglowski Visits Australia to See the Total Eclipse of the Sun

Maciej Cegłowski, founder of the amazing Pinboard, has an equally amazing blog. His latest post is expectedly good.

This is my favourite bit:

On the drive-time radio show in Port Douglas, Australia, the host promises to bring on an astrologer to talk about “what the eclipse means for your life”. But for me that’s the opposite of what makes it wonderful. The eclipse doesn’t even know you exist. Nature provides a brief alignment of the Moon and Sun that is completely foreordained, immutable, and will happen with Swiss precision for another billion or so years, whether or not anyone is looking. It is on us to aggregate into litttle bubbles of protoplasm, develop eyes, emerge onto land, discover fire, evolve language, ask the brainier among us where the thing will happen, and make the appropriate travel arrangements.

A good way to feel small is to look at the Wikipedia list of future solar eclipses, and think about that fact that between one and another of them you are going to disappear, but the eclipses will keep happening, about one a year, until the moon finally drifts too far away from the earth to perform the magic trick anymore.

It’s the greatest thing that happens in the sky. Find one on the list you can go see, and see it!

Read the rest here.


Find out the Actual MPG Your Car Gets

One of the first things a person looks at when finding a potential new car nowadays is what MPG (miles per gallon) it gets. However, there’s often a massive discrepancy between what the manufacturer lists the MPG as versus what you’ll get in the real world. So finding out what you’re likely to achieve day-to-day is vital.

Luckily a website exists to help you. is ‘a site that tracks your gas mileage over time, helping you calculate fuel expenses as you drive.’ And Fuelly has ‘tracked 3,271,504 fuel-ups in 153,654 vehicles over 922,356,497 miles of driving.’ This means Fuelly knows what MPG pretty much every car in the world actually gets.

So head over to Fuelly’s ‘Browse All Cars‘ page and pick the car you’re interested in to find how many MPG it is actually getting.


Landing Pages

Sky and Virgin ‘provides fixed and mobile telephone, television and broadband internet’. So why is both their homepages some sort of weird 1990’s Yahoo!/Lycos landing page? If they want to change the homepage of their elderly customers computers to get a couple of pennies in advertising money, that’s fine. But why make it the main page of their domain?! Surely 99% of people going to their domain are either new customers looking into buying services, or current customers logging into their account?!

Sky homepage

Virgin Media homepage


Droplr Pro

Droplr has just announced its ‘Pro’ membership option.

I’ve been trying out Pro for a few weeks now as a Beta tester and this is my little review.


For $30 a year (or $3 a month if you don’t want to pay annually) you get:

  • Larger files and increased storage. Files up to 1GB in size and 100GB of storage.
  • No ads. This includes seeing ads on other peoples stuff. (While you’re logged in)
  • Statistics.
  • Private Drops.
  • Customized Drop Views. (Well, three differen’t colours.)
  • Option to use your own domain.


Pro isn’t a key to an unknown Droplr world. It doesn’t transform the experience. The Pro features are just lovely additions to an already great service. I don’t mean this badly. Pro simply embeds itself effortlessly. No fuss or fluff.

One of the main reasons you’ll want to upgrade is for its value for money. For example, its big competitor, CloudApp, has a Pro option that costs $15 a year more and the only features are:

  • Unlimited file uploads a day.
  • Upload files up to 250MB.
  • Option to use your own domain.

Dropbox even comes up short as they charge $200 a year for 100GB (I know Dropbox is a very different service to Droplr). Droplr’s $30 Pro looks amazingly good value in comparison.


If you share stuff online, Droplr, and Droplr Pro is for you.

Honourable mention: the sign up proccess for Pro is amazingly simple. The simpliest I’ve ever encountered.


Negative Instapaper

For me, reading is like walking. I know it’s really good for me, and I never regret doing it, but I just often struggle to find the motivation to start. I need my hand held and awesome tools to help me out. For walking it’s RunKeeper and for reading it’s Instapaper.

Instapaper is a truly great app and is the original and still the best ‘read later’ service out there.

However, there’s one thing that bugs me about the app. And that’s the way it handles read articles.

When you’re done reading that awesome New Yorker article that you’ve been putting off for weeks because it’s so long, you’re happy. You’ve doubtless enjoyed it, but are now ready to stop seeing its title and its endless page-indicating circles haunting you when you open up the app. So what do you do?

Well this is where I got confused the first time I used Instapaper. I’d heard Instapaper was basiclly a to-do list for stuff to read so I presumed once you’ve read something you’re meant to tick it off the list. But there didn’t appear to be an option for this. There was a ‘trash’ button, but I didn’t want to delete it. I stumbled around the App for a little while trying to work it out. Eventually I dropped the isssue and moved on. But after reading a bunch more articles, and with my Instapaper account clogged up I decided just to delete them. But when I did tap the trash icon I was suprisingly presented with two options:

The Top of Instapaper

This was kinda baffling. I didn’t understand what ‘Move to Archive’ meant. Is that normal procedue for a read article? These two options were so negative I presumed they weren’t the route you’re supposed to take. I thought I just couldn’t find the the ‘You’re awesome for reading that article, click here if you’re done with it’ button.

In the end I just assumed ‘Move to Archive’ was what I should be pressing and continued happily using the app to this day.

However, everytime I tap that trash icon and am presented with those two options – the ‘Delete’ one standing out in bright red – it feels like such a cop out. It’s so negative.

Marco Arment, Instapaper’s creator, says he doesn’t like to blatantly copy a competitors feature, even if it’s better. He prefers to come up with a new, smarter way of doing it. I can respect that, and I respect Marco greatly, but please, dear God, just rip off the way Read It Later handles it.

With their app, once you’ve read an article you just simply tap the ‘tick’ icon. It’s then swiftly gone, and your back at the main article list screen ready and roaring to read another article.

(Also, a tick is such a positive little fella. It reminds me of doing well in school and the ticks yogurt companies put on their pots telling me all the good stuff that is in it.)

And of course tapping the tick is quicker. It’s one tap, not two.

Read It Later
Toolbar of Read It Later

Toolbar of Instapaper


iOS6 Maps

In Apple’s iOS 6 mobile operating system, they decided to ditch Google’s Maps for their very own maps.

But maps are hard. Really hard. And Apple have failed. And now people are angry because this new Maps app is worse than it was before, when it used Google’s glorious Map data.

Personally, I’m not too angry, as I now use Waze for navigating in my car, and use public transit rarely. However, the Google-based Maps app was great for finding addresses, and navigating when walking. And lets be honest, a step backwards is always a bad thing. And iOS 6 Maps is a step backwards. I’ve used it just a couple times, but each time it has failed in some regard.

For example, when searching for ‘Heathrow Airport’, (one of the biggest and busiest airports in the world) Apple goes to a minicab company many miles away. And when you do eventually find the right Heathrow Airport amoungst the collection of irrelevent dots, you’ll find that Apple’s map of Heathrow is awful. Nothing is where it should be. Roads go over the terminals, and even over the bloody runway!

iOS6 Maps fail

Being Apple, the maps look beautiful, but its data is poor. So please, if you spot an error with the map, lay a pin on it within the app, tap on it, and then tap ‘Report a problem’. User power triumphs all.