Cash machines, again

Following on from my earlier rant about cash machine charges, it’s good to see that the ATM operators are making good on their promise to be open and honest about their charging systems. For example, the ATM at the end of my road has been reprogrammed and has a brand new interface; the main change is that the text is positively gigantic. This is a good thing, as the machine is at roughly knee height.

Interestingly, though, the new font size doesn’t apply everywhere: there’s one bit of text that appears in rather small print. Here’s what you’ll see on the final screen when you’ve selected the amount of cash you want to withdraw:





withdrawal charge £1.75

Anti-bullying scheme backfires spectacularly

Oh dear. It seems that the anti-bullying scheme’s bright idea – persuade kids to wear blue wristbands – has backfired:

school pupils were quick to spot the reality of wearing the wristbands. Writing on the BBC’s Newsround website, Rosie, 13, from London, said: “Ugh… I’m sorry, but in one school near me, it’s made it a whole lot worse… [the bullies] basically thought ‘Hey! Everyone who’s wearing a wristband must be scared of bullying!’ So they decided to bully the people wearing wristbands.

Available from all good newsagents, and bad ones too

It’s plug time: the new issue of .net reached subscribers today, and should be in your local newsagent within the next few days. As ever I’ve written the software reviews and news section, but there are also two good features in there that might interest you if you’re into web design. My one is a look at reselling and other ways to make money from web hosting, and there’s a very entertaining feature by Oliver Lindberg that uncovers the reality of web design work – what designers drive, their favourite excuses for missing deadlines and why coffee is so important.

Magazines: what? where? why?

Regular readers will know I’m something of a magazine junkie: in addition to the tech press, newspapers and online publications, I read Private Eye, Word, Q, Uncut, Empire, Total Film, Esquire, GQ, Hotdog, Top Gear, Car… and those are just the regulars. But I’d be interested to know what other people read, and why. Are there particular magazines you can’t live without? Is it because of the writers? The jokes? The practical bits? Something else? I’m fascinated by this stuff, so any comments would be welcome…

Bloggers beware

Influential blogger Jason Kottke has run into a spot of legal trouble with Sony after he blogged about the TV show jeopardy, and the situation has exposed one of the biggest differences between blogs and Big Media: newspapers and magazines have legal teams and big pockets, and bloggers don’t.

Inevitably, as blogs become more influential they attract the attention of lawyers, and it’s very important to know the law to make sure you don’t get into trouble. For UK bloggers, there are three key things you need to watch out for: copyright, malicious falsehood and libel. These things are drummed into every trainee journalist from day one, and as the lines between blogging and “proper” publishing continue to blur, bloggers should pay attention to them too.

Libel is the biggie. Put simply, libel – often described as “defamation” – is when you write something that’s provably false, and which damages someone’s reputation. Such cases are open to interpretation, and because libel cases are so expensive they are often seen – rightly, in my view – as a way for rich and powerful people to suppress legitimate criticism. Robert Maxwell was a big fan of libel cases, and won countless cases against journalists; after his death it emerged that most of the supposed libels were in fact true.

It’s important to note here that you don’t need to be the person who started the libel: under UK law, repeating the libel is enough to land you in hot water. There have been a number of cases where sites have been held responsible for their users’ posts on message boards, and they have set the precedent that the site owner is the publisher – which means it’s the site owner who gets sued. In the case of a blog, that means you.

It’s also important to note that it doesn’t matter where your site is actually located. Successful legal action has been brought against site owners in the UK and Australian courts over material posted elsewhere, on the grounds that while the material may have been on a US server, it was available to readers in the UK or Australia and therefore still damaged the person’s reputation in those countries.

(Incidentally, libel and slander are often confused. Slander is verbal, libel is written.)

Copyright is a fairly common one, and the main thing to watch is content that encourages others to infringe copyright – such as links to illegal software downloads, or files that break copy protection. If you’re unlucky enough to catch the attention of a firm with deep pockets, the penalties for copyright infringement can be severe.

Malicious falsehood is similar to libel, but works in a slightly different way. It applies when a false statement is published maliciously and causes (or is likely to cause) financial loss. So for example if you say a firm has gone out of business but it hasn’t, then that is potentially a malicious falsehood: it isn’t defamatory – you’re not suggesting that the firm’s boss eats babies or has sex with Saddam Hussein – but it’s a false statement that could cause the firm financial harm.

David Price has an excellent guide to this stuff here. If you’re writing controversial content on your blog, it’s worth reading up on media law. The last thing you want is a lawsuit.

Good music journalism spotted in the wild. Well, in Q

Things are afoot at Q: the new issue (which reached subscribers yesterday and should be on the newsstands within a day or two) has two excellent and very different articles.

The first is a look at the iPod that asks the question, “what happens if it’s attacked by a toddler? Dropped from a great height? Set on fire?” – something we’ve all wondered, I’m sure – and the second is an interview with Pete Doherty of Babyshambles, formerly of the Libertines.

The interview reminds me of one of my all-time favourite bits of music journalism, when NME sent Danny Baker to interview Michael Jackson (if anyone can find it on the web, I’d be eternally grateful) on his last UK tour. Like Baker’s interview, Q doesn’t just print the Q&A; rather, it talks about the background to the interview itself. In the case of Doherty that means repeated cancellations, incoherent ramblings so pointless that the journalist turned off his tape recorder, repeated requests for/offers of cocaine, and Doherty’s falling asleep mid-interview.

The picture of Doherty that emerges from Johnny Davis’s interview is a desperately sad one, and it’s an interesting contrast to those sections of the music press that have dubbed Doherty the “coolest man in rock” – not, one suspects, because of his talent, but because they derive vicarious thrills (and increased newsstand sales) from watching someone self-destruct. At the risk of sounding like Alan Partridge, is this cool?

Pete Doherty, however, looks shocking. His eyes are watery pink. His voice has a husk. There are open sores around his lips. His teeth are ruined.

It’s an excellent (and fair – Davis clearly believes that Doherty has talent) piece of music journalism – and worth reading whether you care about the Libertines/Babyshambles or not.

Move over, LiveJournal

Internet users are often snobbish: Mac users look down on PC users, everybody looks down on AOL customers and tech journalists take great delight in slagging off LiveJournal*. However, LiveJournal users now have their own group of people to look down on, thanks to MSN Spaces. MSN Spaces is Microsoft’s first move into the blog-publishing world, and it’s bound to result in blogs that are even worse than LiveJournals. Hurrah!

* As any tech writer can tell you, there are two guaranteed ways to get lots of abusive emails: criticise Apple, or sneak a wee dig about LiveJournal users into an article.