Discovered Custom Search Engines

Although Google manages to serve up pretty good results most of the time, sometimes it makes sense to give the search engine a hand by limiting the search to only provide results from a particular set of pages, or domains. So in this post I’ll describe a couple of “emergent” or “discovered” custom search engines that are available in tools you might already use.

(Custom search engines provide one way of achieving this, of course – set the limits over which you want results returned from, et voila… But creating custom search engines, as such, is not necessarily something that would occur to most people.)

Let’s start with delicious, the social bookmarking service, in which users bookmark links to delicious, with one or more tags.

Did you know that there are now a range of tools within delicious that let you search over the titles and descriptions of different sets of bookmarks?

If you pick a particular user, the default Search these bookmarks search will just search over the title and description fields of the bookmarks saved by that user. If you further limit the view of the bookmarks to those tagged in a particular way by a particular user, then the Search these bookmarks search will be limited to just those bookmarks. In other words, Search these bookmarks is context sensitive to the user, tag or user’n’tag combination that is currently selected.

(Remember that the full text of the bookmarked pages is not being searched – only the bookmark title and description fields – which is one good reason why it makes sense to fill in a bit of description about every bookmark you make: it makes (re)discovery of links at a future time easier…)

So where else do people create there own resource collections, or resource feeds Google Reader, maybe?

And as it happens, another emergent, “auto-created” custom search engine can be found just there:

The Google Reader search provides a blogsearch facility that lets you limit your search to the content of the RSS feeds you subscribe to in a variety of ways: the content of all your feeds, the content of the items you’ve read, the content of feeds bundled in various folders, and so on.

So for example, you could bundle a set of RSS feeds together in a single folder, and then, as if by magic, you have a custom search engine that searches over just the contents of those feeds.

With Google’s “official” blogsearch tool no longer functioning as such (rather than just indexing feed content – that is, just actual blog posts – it appears to be indexing blog web pages, so you get contaminated results that may only be a “hit” because your query was matched by sidebar content or other blog website fluff), the Google Reader search tool goes back to basics…

…the only problem is, that so far as I can tell, there is no way to subscribe to the results of any of these searches, and there is no published (or community documented) API for the Google Reader search facility… (so if someone can watch the AJAX calls and produce one, I’d be really grateful :-)

(By the by, can you define filters on folders in Google Reader, a bit like iTunes Smart Playlists?)

See also: Search Hubs and Custom Search at ILI2007.

PS if you are looking for an effective blogsearchengine, Icerocket has been grabbing the buzz lately…

A Couple of Twitter Search Tricks…

Just a quickie post, this one, to describe a couple of Twitter search tricks’n’tips (which is to say, this is an infoskills post, right?;-)

You can find the Twitter search tool at I actually call it in my browser using the keyword “tw” associated with a Firefox Keyword Search.

Link search: if you’re in the habit of searching social bookmarking sites such as delicious for useful links, whether by pivoting around particular tags or tag combinations, or by using the delicious search box, you might also be interested in searching for tweeted links. Here are a couple of ways of doing it…

The “official way”, using a Twitter advanced search form – just select the “contains Links” option.

This invokes a special search limit, filter:links, which you can also enter directly into the Twitter search box:

If for any reason that search limit isn’t working, here’s a workaround that makes use of Twitter search’s partial string matching capability:

Fan out: see which of your tweets have been retweeted by others (maybe;-)
This trick relies on a convention that has emerged in which Twitterers use the pattern along the lines ofRT @username “the original tweet”.

(See also the ReTweetist service, which will plot which of your messages have been retweeted, as well as the most popular current retweets.)

Also remember that you can subscribe to an RSS feeds of saved searches based on these query types:

Locale Based Searches
Want to know who’s recently been twittering (possibly) from nearby a particular location? Set the location options in the advanced search form, and run an otherwise empty query (i.e. no search terms in the search box).

So for example:

Now it used to be that you could search people’s biography or location strapline in Twitter, and find people to follow that way (that’s how I found several fellow Isle of Wight twitterers) , but that doesn’t seem possible using the “Find People” service at the moment? (And I can’t check to make sure, because the “Find People” service is temporarily stressed (i.e. down) again…).

So here’s a Google hack way round finding Twitterers from a particular location – construct a query of the form:

This works as follows – look for the search term, on (, but try not to return results from tweets (-inurl:status) or where part of the location appears in the user’s Twitter ID (-intitle:wight). If an individual’s page is indexed when there’s a tweet showing that contains the search term, then you may get the page returned as a result. But more likely you’ll only get results from pages where the search term is always present, such as when it’s part of a person’s bio… In a sense, this is a bit like indexing a fixed set of web search engine indexable, on-page, bio/location meta-data.

[UPDATE: looking at the results preview, if we search for “Location Isle of Wight” we can probably filter the results even further:
“location isle of wight” -inurl:status -intitle:wight

And as @daveyp suggests, we can also search for institutional allegiance within a profile, eg -inurl:status -intitle:huddersfield location huddersfield university]

(You can do something similar to stalk people on MySpace.)

For more Twitter search tricks , check out the Twitter advanced search form, or have a creative play in Google;-)

Another Nail in the Coffin of “Google Ground Truth”?

So we all know that the Google web search engine famously (and not just apocryphally) returns different results from it’s different national representations (,, etc.)…

…and hopefully we all know that if you are signed in to Google when you run a search, the default settings are such that Google will record your search and search results click-thru behaviour using Google Web History, and then in turn potentially use this intelligence to tweak your personal search results…

…and depending on how much you’ve been paying attention, you may know that Google Search Wiki lets you “customize search by re-ranking, deleting, adding, and commenting on search results. With just a single click you can move the results you like to the top or add a new site. You can also write notes attached to a particular site and remove results that you don’t feel belong. These modifications will be shown to you every time you do the same search in the future.

Well now it seems that Google is experimenting with Google Preferred Sites, which let selected guinea pigs “set your Google Web Search preferences so that your search results match your unique tastes and needs. Fill in the sites you rely on the most, and results from your preferred sites will show up more often when they’re relevant to your search query” (see the official support page here”: Preferences: Preferred sites).

So the next time you give someone directions to a website using an instruction of the form “just google whatever, and it’ll be the first or second result”, bear in mind that it might not be…

(For what it’s worth, I run a cookie free, never logged in to Google browser to compare the results I get from my logged in’n’personalised Google results page and a raw organic” Google results page.)

Tracking UK Parliamentary Act Amendments

A flurry of posts around the interwebs today (e.g. + A CONCEALED ASSAULT ON PRIVACY +) picked up on some proposed amendments to the Data Protection Act that have found their way into the Coroners and Justice Bill that I posted about last week (Data Sharing is Good, Right? Or is HM Gov Evil?).

It struck me that it would be really handy to have a tool that could alert you to proposed amendments in your favourite Act in whatever Bills happen to be live at the moment.

A quick look at one of the websites provides an advanced search form that lets you search over current bills – UK Parliament Advanced Search:

Running a search on the phrase “the Data Protection Act 1998” and sorting the results by most recent first gave me a URL I could tinker with…

So here’s a pipe that’ll grab the most recent bills mentioning a particular act:

Clicking on a link should take you to the point in a Bill that mentions the Act you’re interested in:

Being a pipe, I get the RSS/JSON feed for free… which I can now subscribe to and use as an alerting service (for as long as the pipe’s screenscraping part works!) Ideally, of course, the parliamentary search would make results available as RSS…

As ever, this pipe took almost as much time to blog as it took to create…!

So maybe Charles Arthur should rethink If I had one piece of advice to a journalist starting out now, it would be: learn to code and instead focus on Learning to Think Like A Programmer?;-)

PS see also: They Work For You: Free Our Bills and They Work For You: Free Our Bills (Techy Stuff). – Some Quick Thoughts

So it’s been a fun couple of days getting the site up and seeing the first few comments roll in to the commentable version of the Digital Britain Interim report.

We made the Guardian Technology blog tonight – Digital Britain: Comments please! – and I can only reiterate the point Jack Schofield made in it:

So far, however, has only had 10 comments, spread over six sections and dozens of paragraphs.

I hope this is because not enough people know about it, rather than because not enough people care.

So have you commented yet? (I will as soon as I finish commenting on the POIT report, which I’m still half-way through!;-)

As we get more comments, we maybe able to roll out a few new features, and it will also give us something to work with on a comment dashboard/reporting pattern that we can make available to the report’s authors.

Also, be warned that I’m not going to post too much here about the site – we’ll be starting a blog [UPDATE: available at http://writetoreply.ord/actually] on the writetoreply site itself in a day or to capture what we’re learning and what we’re thinking – so if you’re interested in keeping close tabs on what we’re up to, I’d suggest following @writetoreply on Twitter. (I will post round up/summary linking reports here, though, so you’ll still get to see glimpses of what we’re doing ;-)

If you want to get involved with brainstorming ideas for the site – or suggesting reports to host there – please send a message to @WriteToReply or contribute to the wiki: WriteToReply wiki

One thing I do want to mention here – almost as a note to self, because I’ll pursue this more on the WriteToReply blog – is that even if we don’t get many comments on the site, there is still value in it being there…


Because each paragraph is identified by a named anchor, each paragraph is linked to by a unique URI; for example, here’s a link to Action 1 of the Digital Britain Interim Report:

What this means is that if people want to comment about a particular section, action or paragraph within the report on their own blog or other publication, they can link to it.

Like in this post from the Nominet blog – :

A Storm in a Teacup or a Perfect Storm?

Which results in a Trackback on the WriteToReply site, that is included in the comment feed, and that looks this:

(Note that this is where we have to start upping the spam/trackback spam defense tools!;-)

What this means is that the paragraph, action point, section or whatever can become a linked resource, or linked context, and can support remote commenting.

And in turn, the remark made on the third party site can become a linked annotation to the corresponding part of the original report…


Well through the judicious use of trackbacks, link: search limits on the bigger search engines, and link searches in services like BackType (that I discovered via Euan Semple:-), we’ll find ways of pulling those remote comments and discussions into the writetoreply environment (hopefully…?!;-)

So even if you don’t want to comment on the Digital Britain Interim report on the WriteToReply site, but you do care, why not post your thoughts on your own blog, and link your thoughts directly back to the appropriate part of the report on WriteToReply?

(And remember, the final report will have consequences, so if you have something to contribute, make sure you do… :-)

Mapping Realtime Events on Twitter

One of the nice things about blogging in WordPress is the dashboard report that shows which other blog pots are linking in to your blog. One of my posts that’s had a couple of incoming links lately is Simple Embeddable Twitter Map Mashup, firstly from this post on TweetMapping Archaeology and then from Twitter Watermain Mapping – Part Two.

This latter post – plotting out tweets around the occurrence of breaks in watermains – also plots out a map showing people twittering about stormwater.

Which got me thinking, how about a Twittermap to plot tweets about electricity, gas or water being cut off?

By altering the search term, you can search for other events, such as earthquake or bee swarm:

If you want to search around a particular location, then this pipe may be more useful- locale based twittermap (the default search is for the word bid, but it works equally well if you’re wondering where the fire is):

Finally if you’d rather just use the URL for a Twitter search feed as the basis for a map, this pipe should do: map a Twitter search feed URL.

Searching By Looking Elsewhere

A couple of weeks or so ago, I got an email requesting a link to something I’d spoken about at a department meeting some time ago (the Gartner hype cycle, actually). Now normally I’d check my delicious bookmarks for a good link, or maybe even run a Google web search, but instead I ran a search for ‘gartner hypecycle 2008’ on Google Images

…which is when it struck me that searching Google Images may on occasion lead to better quality, or more relevant, results than doing a normal web search, particularly if you use a level of indirection. In particular, it can often lead to a web document or post that provides some sort of analysis around a topic. (Remember, Google image search links to the web pages that contain the images that are displayed in the image search results, not just the images.)

So for example, a web search for games console sales chart [web search] turns up a different set of results to an image search for games console sales chart [image search]. And here’s where my gut feeling comes in about using the fact that documents contain images as a filter – if people have gone to the trouble of including a relevant image in something they have published, their post may be more considered on a particular topic than one that doesn’t. That is, the inclusion of a relevant image can be used as a valuable ranking term when searching for results. Essentially, you are running an advanced, search limited query around an image document type.

Note that it’s often sensible, when sharing image queries, to make the search a ‘safe’ (i.e. adult content filtered) one: in Google, just add &safe=active to the end of the URL.

(The image search approach also lets me quickly scan the results for one that appears to contain the sort of chart data I want. Supporting visual filtering is one reason why some search engines have experimented with including an image from each linked to page in the search engine results listing.)

Limiting searches by document type can also be achieved in a normal web search too, of course. For example, if you are looking for a report on knife crime in UK cities, then it might be reasonable to suspect that the most relevant documents were published as PDFs – so limit on that:

If you’d rather use the normal Google search box as a command line, the search query is: uk+knife+crime+report+filetype:pdf

If you’re looking for actual data, it might make sense to search on spreadsheet documents? uk knife crime statistics filetype:xls

As well as variously using the keyword ‘chart’ or ‘statistics’, the word ‘data’ or ‘table’ can also help tune results, particularly when running an image search. Remember, the point may not necessarily to find a chart, or set of data directly. Instead, it may be using the fact that a document contains a chart or a table to limit the results you get back (assuming that documents or posts containing charts, tables, etc., are likely to be more considered on a particular topic simply because the author has gone to the trouble of including a a chart or a table etc.)

Increasingly, I find I’m also using Youtube to search for particular items of BBC content. Note that my motivation here is not necessarily to use the video clip I have found directly, mainly because a lot of BBC related footage on Youtube has not been put there by the BBC – i.e. it is more likely to be copyright infringing content uploaded by an individual.

Instead, I am making use of:

1) the segmenting of video clips that individuals have done (chopping a 3 minute clip out of an hour long documentary, for example);
2) the user provided metadata around the clip – the title they have given it, the description text, the tags used to annotate it;
3) the automatically generated ‘related video’ service provided by Youtube,

to help me deep search into BBC content so that I can quickly find a clip that can then be obtained in a rights approved manner, without having to wade through hours and hours of video searching for a clip I want to use.

That is, it is possible to use Youtube as a great big index of BBC ‘deep clips’, in the sense that they are clipped from deep within a longer programme, to locate a particular clip that can then be obtained in a rights cleared fashion: searching Youtube to find something that I will then go elsewhere for.

So the take home message from this post? The best place to search for a particular resource may not be the obvious one.

MindMap Navigation for Online Courses

We’re now a couple of weeks in to a new course (T151) and whilst I’m wary of posting too much about it just at the moment, there a some spinoff thoughts I do want to capture here.

The course is, in part, based on a model of weekly Topic Explorations, where I pose four or five questions and then provide a list of resources for the students to explore, as guided by the questions. An 800 word or so piece then captures some of my observations about the topic.

The structure was informed by a model my colleague John Naughton had used on a different course, and also resembles that of David Wiley’s Blogs, Wikis and New Media course.

One of the questions that came up in a course forum a day or two ago was the course legacy, in terms of access to course materials. The resources I link to from each topic exploration are all web based resources, although some of them are authentication required subscription journal articles, with access provided via the OU Library libezproxy service (the links are also constructed around DOIs, wherever possible).

As part of the Week 0 activities for the course, I provided a quick overview of social bookmarking services, suggesting that students could bookmark those resources that were useful to them, with the advantage that these resource links would still be available once the course had finished and access to the course materials on the VLE withdrawn. (Why we can’t provide a Moodle export version of the materials for students to put in their own Moodle installation at the end of a course, I don’t know? Eg I think NineHub lets you import Moodle courses into their 1-click setup hosted Moodle installations?)

One idea I did entertain was just bookmarking and tagging all the resources so that they could be pulled into the course automatically via an appropriate feed, or alternatively pulled by students into their own space, wherever that might be. The feed powered approach would also make a WiggLE possible ;-)

That’s still possibly on the cards, but instead I began considering another possiblity: delivering the course via an interactive mindmap.

One of the advantages that this offers, also picked up in a forum post, is that it addresses the issue of how and where to take notes: you can take them on the Mindmap. That is, the Mindmap becomes a navigation surface, and a note taking service.

So for example, here’s a fragment of David Wiley’s course, mindmap style (created using Freemind) showing in particular the first week’s resources (see the orginal course material here):

The red arrows identify links – click on a link and the corresponding page will open in a web browser. The course can be viewed and navigated in a far more powerful way than a hierarchical website, becuase mulriple nodes at diffferent levels, and mutliple leaves of the tree can be viewed (or collapsed) at once. The mindmap tool also allows the user to rearrange the spatial layout to suit their own needs. And of course, if they are viewing the mindmap in an interactive mindmap editor, they can add notes as subnodes to any of the resources.

Over the next few days, I think I’ll do T151 in mindmap form, and maybe offer it up as a resource. After all, the course is going out in pilot form, so it’d be foolish not to… ;-)

Playing Fair? MPs’ Expenses and a Tale of Three Media

It’s all been quite geeky here on for a bit, so I thought I’d step back to the infoskills domain for a post that isn’t intended to be political in any way, but that maybe provides an interesting case study for an info skills activity.

So we all know that the Daily Telegraph bought some juicy info on MPs expenses, and they’ve been publishing stories for weeks. Many people also know that the Telegraph has been getting in touch with MPs the day before any story is written about them offering them a chance to comment. So what do those letters look like, and do the MPs stand any chance of defending themselves?

A couple of days ago, it was the turn of my local MP to be highlighted. Since we only have a weekly, rather than daily, local newspaper (the Isle of Wight County Press), I suspect that many people on the Island actually picked up the story from our local new media news blog, the VentnorBlog (which despite it’s name covers Island-wide news as well as hyperlocal news from Ventnor): Telegraph MP Expenses Spotlight Turns on Andrew Turner. What’s interesting about that post is that it republishes the letter that the Daily telegraph sent to Andrew Turner, and his responses to each of the questions. The actual Daily Telegraph story can be found here: MPs’ expenses: Andrew Turner claimed for ‘life coaching’ classes for his parliamentary assistant girlfriend. The Isle of Wight County Press (the local newspaper) reported the story on their website here: MP defends expenses claims (the print edition of this weekly paper is out tomorrow).

So how do the stories compare?


VentnorBlog: Telegraph MP Expenses Spotlight Turns on Andrew Turner
And from the quoted replied to letter:
3. In April 2005 your partner and parliamentary assistant Carole Dennett

Daily Telegraph: MPs’ expenses: Andrew Turner claimed for ‘life coaching’ classes for his parliamentary assistant girlfriend

IWCP: MP defends expenses claims


VentnorBlog(from the quoted replied to letter): “1. In 2004 you claimed £579 for occupational health treatment for Colin Hedgley, who later won an unfair dismissal claim against you. Please could you explain in what way you felt this was an appropriate use of public money.

“The welfare and efficiency of my staff is important to me and I was advised to pay for occupational health treatment as the member of staff concerned was suffering from stress, which he said was caused at work. This course of action was agreed in advance by the Personnel Advice Service at the House of Commons who also advised that this represented good employment practice.”

2. The following year you claimed £2,327 for solicitors’ fees following the employment tribunal that found against you. Although the file is unclear, it also appears you claimed back the cost of the £10,250 compensation you were ordered to pay. Please could you explain in what way you felt this was an appropriate use of public money.

“The tribunal case was in relation to the employment of a member of staff who was employed on Parliamentary and constituency business. It was widely reported at the time.

“All costs relating to Industrial Tribunals can be legitimately claimed against Parliamentary expenses. All costs were fully agreed with the Fees Office.

“In January 2006 the fees office paid me £6,471 in relation to the compensatory award of £10,250 which was the balance left in the allowances budget for the year 2004/5.”

Daily Telegraph: In 2004, he was ordered to pay £10,250 to Colin Hedgley, his former office manager, after a tribunal found he had been unfairly dismissed. He had been sacked at a disciplinary interview that he could not attend because he was off work through stress.
Mr Hedgley told the tribunal of a “poisonous” atmosphere in the office, …

After the tribunal chairman ruled that Mr Turner supported his girlfriend ahead of staff – even though her treatment of other workers was “far below acceptable” – Mr Turner used his incidental expenses provision, used to cover the costs of running a constituency office, to pay £6,471 of the compensation bill.

He had also claimed £940 for “HR advice and support” during the dispute with his former employee.

Mr Turner said in a statement: “All costs relating to industrial tribunals can be legitimately claimed against parliamentary expenses. All costs were fully agreed with the fees office.”

IWCP: ISLAND MP Andrew Turner has defended expenses claims published in yesterday’s (Tuesday) Daily Telegraph. They include £6,471 towards compensation after a former staff member won a case for unfair dismissal, £2,327 for solicitors’ fees incurred by the case, cash for wrapping paper and radios for the office.

In 2004 Mr Turner lost an employment tribunal to former office manager Colin Hedgley and was ordered to pay £10,250 compensation, of which he claimed £6,471 from parliamentary allowances and paid the rest from personal funds.


VentnorBlog (from the quoted replied to letter): 3. In April 2005 your partner and parliamentary assistant Carole Dennett wrote, in an email to the fees office concerning your bank account details: “Look forward to receiving the money – I shall then be able to spend it on lots of booze so that the forthcoming election goes in an alcoholic blur.” Please could you explain whether you feel this is appropriate.

“In the cold light of day this could be judged as inappropriate but it was a private joke between two people who were in regular contact.”

Daily Telegraph: The month before the general election in 2005, Miss Dennett, in an email to the Commons fees office after they asked for bank account details, wrote: “Look forward to receiving the money – I shall then be able to spend it on lots of booze so that the forthcoming election goes in an alcoholic blur.
“What do you think?”

Asked about the “booze” email, he replied: “In the cold light of day this could be judged as inappropriate but it was a private joke between two people who were in regular contact.”

IWCP: Mr Turner also admitted that an e-mail, sent in 2005 by his partner and parliamentary assistant Carole Dennett to the fees office saying she would use expenses cash to buy alcohol, was an inappropriate joke.

A 2005 e-mail sent by Miss Dennett to the fees office stated: “Look forward to receiving the money – I shall be able to spend it on lots of booze so that the forthcoming election goes in an alcoholic blur.”
Regarding the e-mail, Mr Turner said: “In the cold light of day this could be judged as inappropriate, but it was a private joke between two people in regular contact.”


VentnorBlog (from the quoted replied to letter): 6. The same year you successfully claimed £16 for “robin and wreath” wrapping paper purchased on Christmas Eve. Please can you explain in what way this was necessary for your work as an MP, and why you felt this was an appropriate use of public money.

“I suffered a stroke in December 2006 and a number of people kindly sent flowers. Some came to my home – others to the office and £10 was spent in Matalan on a vase for the office. The wrapping paper (3 x £2) should clearly have been crossed off the claim.”

Daily Telegraph: The following year, Mr Turner submitted a bundle of receipts for office goods that included £6 worth of wrapping paper bought from Matalan on Christmas Eve. The fees office did not question the claims.

He admitted the wrapping paper “should clearly have been crossed off the claim”.

IWCP: He admitted a £6 claim for wrapping paper bought on Christmas Eve, 2006 — shortly after he suffered a stroke — was a mistake. He said a further claim of £10 was made for a vase for the office after a well-wisher sent him flowers there.


VentnorBlog (from the quoted replied to letter): 7. You also claimed £240 for a member of your staff to study GCSE maths. Please could you explain in what way you felt this was an appropriate use of public money.

“In accordance with good employment practice I believe in developing the skills and confidence of my employees. Two are currently studying for an NVQ3 in Customer Service.”

Daily Telegraph: He was also reimbursed £240 for a member of staff to study GCSE maths,

IWCP: Another claim, of £240, was made for a member of staff to study GCSE maths.
“In accordance with good employment practice I believe in developing the skills and confidence of my employees. Two are currently studying for an NVQ3 in customer service,” said Mr Turner.


VentnorBlog (from the quoted replied to letter): 5. In 2006-7 you attempted to claim £424 for a Hitachi camcorder and accessories but it was turned down by the fees office. Please could you explain in what way you felt this was an appropriate use of public money.

“I was planning to put video clips on my website of the work I do in my constituency. I understand that the rules have subsequently changed and expenditure for this purpose is now claimable against Parliamentary allowances.”

Daily Telegraph: but had a £424 claim for a camcorder … rejected



VentnorBlog (from the quoted replied to letter): 9. In the same year you claimed £20 for House of Commons cufflinks. Please could you explain in what way you felt this was an appropriate use of public money.

“It was a leaving gift for an intern who had worked as a volunteer for several months in my Commons office. He made a valuable contribution towards the running of my office.”

Daily Telegraph: Mr Turner also submitted a £20 receipt for House of Commons cufflinks.

[?There is also this: “and £20 for a leaving gift rejected”. More cufflinks?]



VentnorBlog (from the quoted replied to letter): 8. In July 2007 you submitted a £160 claim for “life coaching (4 sessions)” for Miss Dennett. Please could you explain in what way you felt this was an appropriate use of public money. Please could you also explain whether these classes were related to her treatment of employees being described by the chairman of the employment tribunal as “far below an acceptable form of behaviour”.

“The treatment was not for Miss Dennett but for another member of staff who was suffering from emotional problems related to family illness which were affecting her work. This was agreed in advance with the House of Commons Personnel Advice service. Relationships between staff in my office are good.”

Daily Telegraph: That summer Mr Turner put through a £160 invoice for a member of staff to have “life coaching (4 sessions)”.

He said the life coaching was agreed in advance with the Commons. “Relationships between staff in my office are good,” he added.

IWCP: Mr Turner said a £160 claim for life-coaching was for a member of staff who was suffering emotional problems related to a family illness which were affecting their work.


VentnorBlog (from the quoted replied to letter): 10. In 2006-7 you claimed £199 for a radio, and then £139 for another one the following year. Please could you explain in what way you felt this was an appropriate use of public money.

“I listen to the local and national news in my office. When the original radio broke down it was replaced. It was not realized until too late that the original one was still under guarantee.”

Daily Telegraph: and £139 for a digital radio, even though he had bought another for £199 the previous year.

IWCP: Claims were made in successive years for radios, one for £199 and another for £139.
“I listen to the local and national news in my office. When the original radio broke down it was replaced. It was not realised until it was too late the original was still under guarantee,” he said.


VentnorBlog (from the quoted replied to letter): 11. You claim the Additional Costs Allowance for the house in Newport that you jointly own with Miss Dennett. This is the house on which you both appear on the electoral roll. Neither of you appear to have any links to homes elsewhere. Please could you explain what you consider your main home to be, and what proportion of your time you spend there.

“We have a flat in London on which I also have a mortgage. The House of Commons Authorities are fully aware of both addresses. At the time I made the nomination I spent more nights at my London address than the Island one so it was nominated as my ‘main’ home in accordance with the rules.”

Daily Telegraph: The couple designate their jointly owned house on the Isle of Wight as their second home, on which they claim about £1,100 a month in mortgage interest payments.



VentnorBlog (from the quoted replied to letter): 4. In the same year you claimed £3.48 for “Vax for pets” carpet cleaner. Please can you explain in what way this was necessary for your work as an MP.

“To clean the carpets in my office which is used by staff and constituents and had become grubby over time.”

Daily Telegraph:



VentnorBlog (from the quoted replied to letter): Please could we receive your comments by 5pm today so that they can be given due weight in our inquiries and properly reflected in any article we decide to publish. Please could you also inform us if you do not wish to comment.

Daily Telegraph: Mr Turner said in a statement:

Asked about …



PS Just for the record, the VentnotBlog also stated: “VB has previously asked for the details of the expenses, but Andrew Turner’s office told us that they preferred to wait for them to be published by the Conservative Party House of Commons Authorities.” That said, a breakdown of Andrew Turner’s expenses were also published on the VentnorBlog some time ago: Andrew Turner’s MP Expenses: Detail: Updated.

Why Private Browsing Isn’t…

One of the features of the latest crop of browsers is a ‘private browsing’ mode (aka the porn mode) in which cookies and URL histories form a browsing session are discarded at the end of the session, leaving ‘no trace’.


Whilst watching the BBC iPlayer last night, I got fed up with the programme stalling (too many open apps, etc etc) so I decided to move to another browser. On going to the appropriate progamme page, I had the option to “Resume” the programme at the point I had just stopped watching it in the other browser.

A quick tweet asking how this might work was met with the response that iPlayer was probably making use of “Stored Objects, Flash’s equivalent of cookies”, as confirmed (I think?!) by @dansumption.

That is: when you visit a website, most browsers are capable of storing a small amount of data (known as a cookie) specified by the website. This might include a unique identifier that allows the website to recognise you when you visit the site again using the same browser, for example, or store personalisation information for you. Third party cookies allow adservers to recognise who you are when you wander across different websites, too. (A brief into to cookies can be found on the OpenLearn site: What are cookies?.)

If you don’t want a website to be able to recognise you if you revisit it, you can either block the cookies it wants to set, or delete the cookies it has set in a previous session. Private browsing handles this for you automatically.

Another thing that browsers do is maintain a history of websites that you have visited. Once again, private browsing steps in here to prevent the browser from remembering what sites you have visited during a private browsing session. And finally, private browsing doesn’t keep track of any searches you might have made in the private browsing session using the browser’s built in search box.

Whilst there are still traces all over the place of the sites you have visited, from the firewall log on your computer or your broadband router box to your ISP, if you were browsing within a private browsing session, you might expect that at least your computer would remain ‘free of evidence’ about what you had been searching for, or which sites you had visited (along with removing any tell tale cookies they may otherwise have left behind).

Well, as the BBC iPlayer cross-browser ‘Resume programme’ facility, suggests: no.

Many sites that use Flash, (BBC iPlayer included) make use of Flash Stored objects which sit outside the control (for now at least, and as I understand it) a browser’s private history mode. I’m guessing it also sits outside the scope of a browser’s ‘clear cookies’ and ‘clear history’ actions?

If you’re intrigued about what flash ‘cookies’ you might have set on your computer, you can inspect them (and delete them) using this Adobe tool: Flash Player: Website Storage Settings panel

Anyway, if you run info skills courses, it’s maybe to one to remember…

PS we may not need Flash for much longer anyway, as Mike Ellis suggested when I pointed him to this rather wonderful site demoing the power of CSS in a modern browser: Text ShadowCSS effect;-)

PPS see also When Delete Doesn’t