Is there any good reason to use title case?

The convention followed by many British publishers (including scientific publishers, like Nature, magazines, like The Economist and New Scientist, and newspapers, like The Guardian and The Times) is the same used in other languages (e.g., French), namely to use sentence-style capitalization in titles and headlines, where capitalization follows the same rules that apply for sentences. This convention is sometimes called sentence case where a term is desired to clarify that title case shall not be applied. It is also widely used in the United States, especially in bibliographic references and library catalogues. Examples of global publishers whose English-language house styles prescribe sentence-case titles and headings include the International Organization for Standardization.


I’ve developed the habit of using sentence case for headlines, but now I’m facing a situation where I’m probably going to have to adapt to a new style guide and start using Title Case at work. I’ve developed a strong preference for sentence case, and now find title case to be ugly and tabloid-esque.

It seems likely to me that title case is a hangover from the days of more primitive typesetting, when you would need to distinguish between BIG HEADLINES, Important Headlines, and regular text.

In these days of HTML and CSS, is there really any good reason to use title case?

Britons remain tolerant despite terror outrages

Okay, so I know the Metro isn’t exactly the bastion of great journalism or anything, but they ran a story today based on a Harris Interactive study, that bugged me: METRO: Britons remain tolerant despite terror outrages (the linked story lacks the infographics that accompanied the printed article).

Harris Interactive interviewed 1,296 people, who were asked to rank their strength of faith from 0-10, with zero being agnostic. I’m curious why the Metro used this label. Surely atheist is the correct definition for someone with 'zero faith'? To me, agnosticism implies that some doubt – trace amounts of faith – may remain.

The main issue the data raised for me was completely ignored by the article. Those surveyed were asked which religion was 'best' and which was 'worst'. Sensibly, 65% answered that no one religion was better or worse. Christianity stormed ahead in popular opinion however, with 26% voting it the 'best'. The 'worst', according to 24%, was Islam.

That result, in my view, contradicts the Metro's conclusion that we remain tolerant. Also, there is a very strong implication that it's the Christians that have the biggest problem with Islam. Sadly, the Harris Interactive data hasn’t been published on their site to elaborate on the Metro's assertions.

I left a (polite and reasonable) comment on the Metro post, but it wasn’t published.


Mark Shuttleworth has kicked up a bit of a storm by apparently saying that Linux was “hard to explain to girls”. There is an open letter post about this on the Geek Feminism Blog, followed by a hell of a lot of comments on the subject. It seems to boil down to ‘he didn’t really mean it like that‘, ‘it’s not okay to say that kind of thing, even if you didn’t mean it like that‘ and ‘has anyone seen this video or a transcript anyway?

Anyway, I’ve made a little graphic that Ubuntu could use for their 11.10 release if they wanted to tackle this issue. :)

(Please note this was produced with a high level of sarcasm and irony. If you are offended, please look up those words before commenting!)

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How do you turn 3.9million internet pirates into 7million? A lesson in statistics.

Where the British Government’s official figure on the level of illegal filesharing in the UK came from:

  • Survey 1,176 people
  • 136 admit of filesharing – that’s 11.6%
  • Beef that up a bit, some must have been lying: 16.3% sounds good.
  • Let’s assume there are 40million people in the country with net access
  • (Actual figure according to the ONS: 33.9m)
  • That’s a shocking 7million pirates in the UK!
  • (Actual figure: 3.9million)

And guess where the figure came from: Government > Forrester Research > Jupiter Research > Commissioned by the BPI, the music trade body. This stuff drives me batshit.

A dirty little trick to get more followers on Twitter

About a year ago I gave up caring who started following me on Twitter, largely because of the proliferation of blatant spammers. I put up a note on my bio saying that if people really wanted me to reciprocate, the should send me a message, and I would certainly follow back if they were an interesting real person, and not some spam account (or worse). This still seems perfectly reasonable to me.

More recently though I decided I should take a more active interest in those who choose to follow me. I started using the excellent Topify, which makes it easy to identify spammers and I check out anyone who seems interesting.

Consequently, I’ve spotted an annoying trend.

There are many, many users who follow about 200 more people than follow them back. They are taking advantage of the fact that about half of the people that they follow, will follow them back! For whatever reason a large number of people feel it is the done thing to just blindly follow back anyone who follows them, however spammy, offensive or bizarre the new follower is! Personally, I don’t understand this behaviour in the slightest: I don’t want spam in my Twitter stream – so I don’t follow spammers. It’s simple.

Nonetheless, if you want to steadily grow your follower base, add 100 new people a day. Then, after you’ve been doing this for a few days, go back and unfollow all those who didn’t follow you in return, while continuing to follow new people. This way your ratio will always be near enough 1:1, making you look legitimate and popular. Eventually, when you reach an acceptable target (say, 10,000 followers) you can have a big purge and get rid of a lot of the mindless sheep you have accumulated. Say, 20-30% of them. Now it looks like you are a power user. Any new visitors to your profile will assume that you are hugely important and that maybe they should listen to you too.

So there you go, now you can claim to be an SEO-demigod, and have huge numbers of low-quality followers seeming to back it up.

Or you could just use Twitter like a normal person.

Fast Dial: A great Firefox add-on goes bad

Fast Dial is a great little Firefox add-on that gives you the speed dial functionality found in Opera. Rather, I should say it was a great add-on. I have just this minute updated to the latest version (2.15) and been greeted by some rather unwelcome modifications:

  • An unwanted searchbox has found its way to the top of the page
  • A sponsored link has been added in place of one of my shortcuts
  • Another tab has been taken up to take me to the User Logos website
  • The User Logos search engine has been added, as default, to my search bar

I followed the link from the Firefox add-on page to the official homepage of the project, only to be redirected and have pop-ups thrown at me (blocked, naturally). It seems reasonable to conclude that this add-on has been monetized by a team that didn’t know how to do it tastefully and respectfully (or the project was co-opted by the spam mafia!)

Speed Dial is an alternative that I have used before. I prefered Fast Dial for its simplicity, but I guess I will give Speed Dial another look.

The Virgin Media Twitter account saga

I was finally able to access the Gmail account that I used for my @virginmedia Twitter profile that Virgin Media ‘stole’ from me earlier this month. I now know that I received only one email from Twitter on the subject. There was no opportunity to change the name myself, or to fight my position. They also stripped the avatar, background image and bio (presumably because these reinforced the ‘impersonation’), leaving me with @notvirginmedia. I’ve copied the email from Twitter below.

Hi There,

We’ve received a complaint from Virgin Media, UK. It has come to our attention that your Twitter account:

is in violation of our basic Terms of Service, specifically article 4 which mentions impersonation:

  1. You must not abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate other Twitter users.

In this case “impersonation” is the issue. Impersonation is against our terms of service unless it’s parody. The standard for defining parody is, “Would a reasonable person be aware that it’s a joke.”

To settle this issue we’ve changed the user name to “notvirginmedia” in the full name and username fields in order to eliminate confusion. You can change your real and user names to something else if you’d like:

  1. Visit
  2. Edit the Full Name and Username fields
  3. Click “Save”

but please honor Twitterʼs Terms of Service accordingly. We appreciate your cooperation in this matter.


Twitter Support

However you define parody or impersonation in legal terms, I’d imagine my Twitter profile was in a pretty grey area. I had copied the branding and used their company name, but the bio line (‘We’re Virgin Media, you’re just a customer’) and the tweeted content was pretty clearly parody and not produced or endorsed by Virgin Media.

I have reconfigured Twitterfeed and tweaked the design of the page to make it a clearer parody. I’m not interested in fighting this in any way, but I think a lot less of Twitter as a result.

One unexpected angle on all this is the Virgin Media Twitter profile itself. Although they only have five updates, despite launching a major new service, the are at least @ replying to some users. Hopefully they will use Twitter as a positive force. I originally set up the account out of frustration through shitty service. Twitter is an excellent way to provide a small amount of technical support (that you don’t have to pay for!) or to provide service level updates, etc.

Let’s hope they use it for good!

Virgin Media ‘stole’ my Twitter account

About a year ago, after a particularly frustrating experience with Virgin Media, I created a Twitter profile, @virginmedia, and set up a TwitterFeed, drawing from various forums and keyword based news searches. The design of the profile copied their branding (better than it currently does!) and had the sarcastic bio: ‘We’re Virgin Media, you’re just a customer‘.

So not exactly great PR for them.

It amused me that most of the stories were complaints about service or technical difficulties, but the account could easily have tweeted positive stories. The feed seemed a pretty reasonable reflection of their service to me.

Anyway, today I have just noticed that the page has been ‘claimed’ – presumably by Virgin Media itself. The page has been wiped clean: zero followers, zero following, zero updates. Zero bad Google karma.

So my question is, how pissed off should I be? I feel like this is fair game… it’s not my brand to screw around with. If I fought it in court, I’d certainly be out of luck. It’s not like I’d have fought for it anyway. But still, I’m a bit pissed that Twitter just gave over the keys to the account like that!

Ah well, Virgin Media Sucks, but I have no other choice!

EDIT (28 Dec 2008): I just discovered that in fact my account wasn’t deleted so much as ‘moved aside’.  The Twitter account @notvirginmedia is the account formerly known as @virginmedia. It has all the posts up to the point where the username changed and broke the Twitterfeed. They also stripped the account of the avatar and background image (copyright infringement?) and the bio line. Bastards.

See this more recent post for an update.

I hate the command line!

So, on Windows, if I want to move the My Documents folder elsewhere, I dig around in the settings and find out how to do that. It's a little buried away, but you can find it logically enough.

But if I want to do the same trick with my /home directory in Linux, I have to type in some gibberish. Now cutting and pasting isn't hard, but if it goes wrong (like it just did) then I'm none the wiser. What went wrong? How do I fix it? I'm left running back to Google, or begging for help in forums, to probably be ignored.

Two steps in a GUI or freaking ten lines in terminal!

There's plenty I love about Linux, but this shouldn't be the trade-off…