“Microsoft Clippy, et al.”

No, your AI-powered writing assistant can’t be credited on academic papers. Even old Microsoft Clippy, the talking paperclip. So says Science and Springer Nature, with others likely to follow their lead in banning AI-generated text.

Interestingly, images and graphics are also forbidden. So presumably, in future, editors won’t feel able to use AI to magic up a cost-free front-cover illustration.

AI-generated image by Dream by Wombo

Meanwhile, Manubot with AI-assisted clarification tool. Sounds like a rather useful ‘Super-Clippy’, to me. It’s a pity academics won’t be permitted to use it, now.

SMS as voicemail on a home phone – how to translate the number being read out

Another handy tip for wrangling with online life.

Situation: An online service requires verification of your new phone number. It’s a home phone, not a mobile, but they still send you an SMS message. This is delivered, great. But… your phone service has turned it into a spoken voicemail. The user only hears the vital verification number being read aloud thus…

Two hundred and ninety-five thousand two-hundred and forty-two

Problem: This is puzzling to many users, especially older people. Even if they can write it all down in time, what are they meant to input into the confirmation-box on the website? 20095000242? 295000242? 295,000,242?

Solution: None of the above. What the above read-aloud number actually translates to, in numbers is this…

295242

So write it down ‘as spoken’ first, then translate it back to (most likely) a six-digit number.

The above should also work if the same method is used by your service for ongoing two-factor verification. That’s if the same phone is also used for two-factor.

Another rummage among the RSS readers

Great to see that the old SeaMonkey freeware has re-started development, and since Spring 2020 has been vigorously releasing updates. Old-school Internet users will recall this suite from the Netscape / Yahoo years. It’s an all-in-one software with a Web browser (now Firefox based), email client, newsgroup and RSS readers, HTML editor with javascript debugger, and IRC chat. The only thing it seems to lack is FTP, but these days you might be more likely to do that through a Web dashboard. And if you really need it, the browser plugin FireFTP is compatible.

Runs on Linux. Mac, Windows 7 and higher.

Regrettably it can’t just be used as desktop RSS reader, as that’s integrated with Mail and not in its own panel. Nor, so far as I can tell or find, does SeaMonkey yet have a Dark Mode — except for the Web browser via a plugin. Both of which are deal-breakers for me.

However, the search did make me aware that several Web browsers are now shipping an RSS feedreader in the default package, or plan to…

* The Vivaldi browser already has a nice one, though limited and not standalone (it’s inside Vivaldi Mail).

* Google Chrome announced in August a planned port of their Android Chrome RSS feedreader to the desktop version of the browser. Though probably only as a side-panel. So far as I can tell from news searches, it hasn’t happened yet.

* Brave’s “privacy-preserving newsreader” still doesn’t appear to have a desktop version, despite promises back in the summer.

My search of news also brought details of changes in standalone desktop readers, gHacks reports this week that RSS Guard update brings massive performance boost. It appears to have caught up with the No.1 RSS desktop freeware QuiteRSS (development stalled), at least in speed, by introducing parallel feed updating. You can also now block all cookies (Top menu-bar | Tools | Settings | Network | “Do not accept …”).

So I tried it. Installed. Lovely dark mode, easily applied. Turned off all cookies. I was then utterly stumped as to how to import the OPML. Turns out it’s completely impossible to import an OPML, if you skip past the popup window at the start. But then my anti-virus did its own pop-up and blocked RSS Guard, anyway. It was a very generic detection and I permitted it, reluctantly. Uninstalled, reinstalled, and this time an OPML import option was offered on startup. But then it fatally crashed when it went to load the OPML feed-bundle. Oh well, RSS Guard looked slick and sounded fast but… uninstalled. No good.

So… for now the old QuiteRSS is still the best there is on the Windows desktop.

How to block the mouseover pop-ups on Archive.org search results

How to block the mouseover pop-ups on individual Archive.org search results, in the annoying new flickering / flashing search interface…

1. Go to the top bar of your Web browser | click on the uBlock Origin extension icon | Click on its cogwheel icon.

2. In the uBlock Origin Dashboard | go to “My Filters”.

3. In the My Filters list, add the new line…

archive.org##tile-hover-pane

… and save. Reload the results page. The item ‘preview’ popup panels will have all been blocked. You can still right-click on any result tile, and launch a new tab showing the main page for that result.

The above is for a user who uses the Grid view…

The above fix at least removes one of the main annoyances of the regressive new UI.

The Index of Medieval Art Database – free from July 2023

The Index of Medieval Art Database will become perpetually ‘free to use’ from 1st July 2023 onward, for “researchers at all levels”. The largest database of such research, it is well-established and includes a “photographic archive” which offers iconographic clustering and links to referenced texts (e.g. Arthurian + Sir Lancelot pictures can be clustered together, and apparently there are also links to the story-texts related to each image). It also seems to includes carving, engraved items (spoons etc) and so on, and the definition of “art” appears to be as wide as you might expect or require for answering research questions (e.g. “plain as a pikestaff” — how plain and unadorned were medieval English ‘palmer’ pilgrimage staffs, exactly, compared to the staffs of officials and merchants?).

The Index of Medieval Art is currently public and free for initial searches, though “Subscription is required to view images” even for the thumbnails in the search results.

Delete small pure silences in an audio recording

How to find and delete small pure silences in an audio recording?

These silences are known in the audio recording trade as “dropouts” or “RF hits”, commonly caused by tiny failures in radio microphone transmissions. But they can also be caused by having to record on a desktop PC from a huge video that’s streaming down to someone with a relatively poor Internet connection. The video playback stutters and stalls a bit. Each stall results in a perfectly silent pause in the recording.

So let’s assume you’ve either captured a field audio recording using a flaky RF mic, or have captured the audio going through your desktop sound card by using something like Total Recorder. Either way you find there are silent skips, and now you need to delete these tiny bits of silence. All 250 of them. Automatically.

The powerful audio repair suite iZotope RX 7 should help here, and do this for you in a few clicks. But rather surprisingly it doesn’t have such a thing. You instead have to have PhD in using its complex ‘Ambience Match’ and ‘Spectral Repair’ modules. There must be an easier way for non-professionals.

There is. The quick, easy, automatic and free solution is actually (you guessed it) good old Windows desktop freeware. Here’s the workflow…

1. In this case the freeware really is a dinosaur, or rather the Wavosaur. Download and run. Admire the groovy retro 1995-style icon with the dinosaur face. Actually it’s not that old, and the Wavosaur’s current version is July 2020.

2. Load your .WAV file into the mighty mammal-munching maws of the Wavosaur. Then go: Tools | Silence Remove | Custom. It’s that simple.

3. “-90” = find real pure silence, not just lecture room ‘ambience’. “0.25” = the silence is only to be deleted if longer than 0.25 seconds. Run “OK”.

4. Wavosaur will stomp through the .WAV and find and delete silence, also close up the resulting gaps. There is no notification this has been done, but it has. When you go to see if it worked, you won’t be able to find all those former “flat bits” in the audio signal. Though the “ambient room noise” heard in the speaker’s pauses should still be there, as you can see here…

That’s because they had a tiny bit of noise in them, lifting them above the -90db threshold needed for deletion.

5. Now you can save and then load the cleaned .WAV into Ocenaudio (also freeware, and a great replacement for Audacity) and from there quickly save out to an .MP3 file.

If you’re going to do this a lot, note that Wavosaur can do MP3 export, but it first needs lame_enc.dll installed correctly.

A peep at Content Marketing

I had cause to take another peep at SEO, this time specifically the role of Content Marketer. A role completely unknown to me before now. Last week I could only have guessed, if you had asked “what does a Content Marketer do?”. Yet it’s basically what I’ve been doing for decades (albeit mostly without pay).

Some maxims and tips on this topic, from my jotted notes…

Your written content should not be self-serving, even if that will please your boss. You should try to serve your intended audience first, and educate your boss about the need to place the audience first. Quality is important, and needs to be consistent. Don’t outsource your vital customer-facing writing to someone in Whereizitagain who says they’ll do it for $10 an article.

Rather surprising was the advice to never overlook or dismiss old-school methods. Handwritten letters and targeted informative direct-mail “can still work wonders”. If done from a trusted source, done correctly and especially to a receptive older audience.

A writing Content Marketeer doesn’t just churn out SEO-focused robo-articles. Which was news to me. Such a writer could be undertaking: how-to tutorials / quarterly industry reports / buyer guides and reviews / news about new releases, with a touch of analysis to add value / long-form interviews / white papers / contributions to annual reports / and making online microsites and infographics.

One might also be polishing, SEO-buffing and revising/re-formatting older media content. If that hadn’t already been done by the previous post-holder. But link-rot is ever present, and old Web links will always need to be regularly checked.

One would ensure that all of the above are sprinkled with calls-to-action and (if needed) explicit “buy now” calls, as well as SEO-derived keywords. Web links would be added at the most relevant points, and these must be coloured so as to be clearly visible as links.

Monitor the competition. Note their topics, phrases and infer any new audience profiles they might be trying to address.

Monitor the commentators and contrarians. Comment on their posts, though be careful and don’t spam or aggravate.

Occasionally coin meaningful new phrases and even words and tags (e.g. ai-gen as an easily tag to identify AI generated content). Also consider local keywords, or timely ones relating to the trade-journal or hobby-magazine lead articles / news that your audience will be reading that month. You are of course also reading these journals regularly, and ideally doing so before everyone else.

Avoid writing “Top 10”, “7 best” etc article headlines. The savvy have long since learned that such headlines lead to untrustworthy articles, most of which appear to have been written by robots.

Monitor both customers and potential customers. Get a feel for things like their literacy level and the length they like to read. Do they have the ability to ‘skim and skip’, or do they just back off when faced with a long text? Can you break up a slab of text with nicer typography and spacing, break-out boxes and pull-quotes? Pictures should be unique and tailored to both the content and the audience, ideally, not just hastily-grabbed stock. The best writer is also ideally a crack picture-researcher and accomplished picture-processor.

Build a mental map of ‘where the audience is’ in the seasonal buying cycle (e.g. they may be saving up their PayPal for Black Friday, or flat broke after a big family spend at Christmas). Also develop a map of the favoured places visited by the decision makers in the audience, and when they find time to engage/post in such places.

Explore the potential for infusing what may be a rather staid corporate “brand tone” with touches of good-natured humour and subtle “insider joke” nods to the audience. Also explore the potential for weaving developing personal stories across your output. These stories should be genuine and as close to the grassroots as possible.

Pitch ideas to the legacy media via press releases, and perhaps also pitch directly if you have a relationship with a journalist or editor.

Actively pitch ideas to bloggers, audio podcasters and especially YouTube influencers. Make sure the pitch is individual and tailored to them and their audience. An inbound Web link from a blog is (apparently) worthless for Google Search SEO ranking, but that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

Make sure your content is easily shareable. But remember that not everyone does Facebook and Twitter, and in that case they can’t even see your posts on those closed services.

Don’t overlook the need for good writing in “thank you” messages, and even in receipts. Avoid flowery language and gushing cliches. Keep it simple, and add a nice straightforward coupon-code for a discount on their next purchase.

In spare moments, inventory the firm’s back catalogue of media, if that has not already been done. Is anything still useful, but gathering dust?


That’s the gist of what I noted during my reading and listening on the topic. Please comment and let me know if there’s anything I’ve missed.