Occasional workaround for reading US websites which are skittish about EU visitors, GDPR and cookies

tl;dr version
Search for the URL itself, read the cached copy.

Audio version of this post:

Recently there has been a spate of American news sites returning a page that says the content isn’t available to me since I’m in the UK / EU and, because I’m subject to some unspecified horror to do with the GDPR and cookies, the website is worried about me seeing it and hopes I might just go away.

About 90 per cent of the time this problem is rapidly solved by searching for and reading Google’s cache of the page. The appearance may be a little different but the text is usually there and perfectly readable. Here’s an example of how to do this.

Yesterday I wanted to read the awful story about a young black woman who died after it was assumed she’d not be able to pay for the ambulance service that she needed. Her mother had found her slumped in the bath after she’d collapsed with a suspected stroke. She’d given birth via C section a few days before.

Here’s the address I clicked on (via a tweet)

https://www.wpbf.com/article/mom-of-woman-who-died-claims-medics-assumed-daughter-couldn-t-afford-ambulance-ride/22558170

On clicking the link the page said

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Fig 1. “Sorry, this content is not available in your region.”

Try this – it doesnt always work though
The next stage is to copy that address / URL (the wpbf.com bit next to the green padlock) – the quickest way to do that is to put the cursor into that address bar, it should automatically select the URL but if not Ctrl+A will do that. Then Ctrl+C to copy and open a new tab with your preferred search engine and paste (Ctrl+V) into the search bar and search [see also: handy keyboard shortcuts]

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Fig 2. Search results returned after searching for the web address / URL itself

Ignore the top stories option. You might just about be able to make out a tiny little green arrowhead pointing downwards to the right of the green URL for this search result. That’s where Google hides the cache of its pages. Here’s a close-up.

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Fig 3. Where to find cached copies of pages, if available

Clicking on the green arrow will bring up a menu saying ‘Cached’ and clicking on that usually, but not always, bring up the page you want – it did in this case too.

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Fig 4. In this instance the cached copy was available and readable

The entire text is visible but for copyright reasons I’ll leave it at that. Here’s the link if you want to read it yourself, it’s a sobering read.

This is a very useful and more widely applicable trick
There are other cases (*cough*) where content isn’t shown to you, for all sorts of un-GDPR related reasons. It is nearly always worth checking the cached version first before either admitting defeat, asking a friend for a copy or reading a different newspaper’s story.

For the exceptionally patient
At the bottom of Fig 2 there’s a paragraph of text beneath the green URL and the green padlock. Google can nearly always read the page (whether there’s a cached version or not) even if you can’t. If you search for a phrase that appears there (put it in ” ” marks when searching) then Google will show that phrase in the search results, often in context which means it may show other bits of surrounding text. Frankly it takes ages but it may be possible (I’ve done it to uncover and reference a quote for work once) to work your way through very slowly and uncover a large portion or even the entirety of the otherwise hidden text.

Further reading
Google cache (& other search engines): finding deleted pages or seeing your words on the page in colour (this blog)

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• Google is fiddling about with mobile search results, using ‘AMP’. Not sinister, bit annoying though

tl;dr
You might have noticed ‘amp’ appearing in mobile search engine results on Google. This began in Oct 2015 and makes mobile pages load much faster (effectively loaded from Google’s cached copy), but the page looks like it’s from Google, quite a few users who’ve noticed it have found it puzzling and it’s a bit fiddly to share the ‘real’ address. Your device hasn’t been hacked and it’s not particularly sinister but lots of web publishers are a bit ‘hmm’ about it and feel Google’s put its metaphoric bag on the seat next to it and taken up a bit more space.

Recently I was mildly alarmed / irritated to notice that a page I’d failed to open on iPhone Safari (that had nothing to do with Google) somehow had ‘Google’ at the top of the page, instead of ‘The Guardian’, and the URL had ‘amp’ in it – I briefly wondered if I’d been hacked or something exciting like that, but it turns out – no, nothing quite that sinister but this new amp thing is annoying plenty of people, though when it does work it can actually make pages load ridiculously fast (which is great). AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages.

Before I discovered that, and while trying to open the Guardian article I retraced my steps which showed me that ‘AMP’ was appearing in a few of my search results, next to a lightning bolt, and I found that it wasn’t always that straightforward to remove it from the address, to get the right link*, because it seemed pretty well embedded into the address.

I’ve just recreated the experience, with an example that turned out to be fairly straightforward to edit (I was hoping to find the one that wasn’t but couldn’t remember what I’d originally searched in November).

A more recent mobile search was for the frequency of the chiltern radio beacon╚ and the search results included the following amp-containing URL https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/media/2008/jun/26/gcapmedia.radio, after deleting the bits in bold gave https://theguardian.com/media/2008/jun/26/gcapmedia.radio  which worked fine. Note that if the website doesn’t support https then you might have to delete that bit too to make it work. Or use a different search engine! I’m reluctant though, on principle 😉

In the replies to Deb’s tweet above someone has highlighted an applet that will return ‘canonical’ (for purposes of argument this just means correct^) URLs though I’m afraid it’s github which is beyond my technical skill.

Ardan (according to their bio) works for Google search.

Further reading
Google Helping Mobile Publishing? Some Publishers Are Not So Sure New York Times (1 January 2017)

Google will change AMP display to make it easier to find & share publishers’ direct URLs Change will be to the header in AMP content, expected in early 2017  Search Engine Land (21 December 2016)

Footnotes

╚ If you are not far from the Chiltern radio beacon (a non-directional radio beacon / aviation navigation aid) you can hear it emitting its Morse callsign (C -.-. H …. T – for Chiltern) on 277MHz. I once found it by accident and was intrigued, wanted to find it again. It also features in a song.

*Related to this – if you’re sharing a link to Wikipedia from your phone please remember to delete the m otherwise you send readers on PCs to the mobile version (they can select the desktop version by scrolling to the end of the page, which is a bit of a faff). If you share the non-mobile version then people on mobile devices will be shown the mobile version anyway, and people on PCs will see the desktop version. I’ve no idea why computers can’t ‘de-resolve’ a mobile link to show the desktop version but… not yet it seems.

Compare and contrast these links below (if you’re reading on a mobile both will take you to the mobile site but you can select the desktop version at the bottom of the Wikipedia page).
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia

^for a more technical definition of canonical url see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canonical_link_element

• Downloading your old Twitter faves, setting up IFTTT to capture new ones

Table of Contents

  1. Capturing old favourites
  2. Capturing new favourites ‘going forwards’
  3. Useful background info

1. Capturing old favourites
To download your already-liked favourites do the following

  1. Log into Twitter
  2. Go to tweetbook.in and authorise it to access your account
  3. Select a time range, choose Favorites and create your PDF e-book of your favourited tweets

If you have as many favourites as I have (3,502 over 7 years, oops) you probably won’t be able to get them all in one go (2012 alone yielded a 134 page PDF!) but you have the option of trying to grab them all at once.

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Fig 1. Authorise Tweetbook.in with Twitter

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Fig 2. Pick a date range… or leave blank to pick all (it may fail if you have lots)

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Fig 3. Once your tweetbook is ready the green ‘Download’ button will appear

The output
Each page of the PDF has only a handful of tweets on it (it’s not very efficient) but the timestamp is hyperlinked so you can search for a tweet (Ctrl+F or Command+F to search within any document) and then find the original on Twitter.

Caution: I don’t know if it will display only public tweets that you’ve followed or, because you’ve logged in, if it can pick up any tweets from locked (private) accounts that you follow. Be aware that if you publishly share the contents you might be sharing tweets that people want kept private.

2. Capturing new favourites ‘going forwards’
You can use an IFTTT recipe so that every time you click favourite / like on a tweet it will be saved in some way of your choosing – for example you might use a Google spreadsheet to capture the tweet, or email it to yourself.

To do this… do this

  1. Log in to Twitter and Google Drive / Gmail*
  2. Visit IFTTT and create an account.
  3. This is an example of a recipe you can use:
    Twitter Likes (Favorites) to Google Spreadsheet (other recipe options available*)
  4. You’ll be taken through the steps of connecting your Google Drive as one ‘channel’ and your Twitter  account as another channel – this allows your Twitter account to save your favourites to a Google Drive spreadsheet directly (you don’t need to set that up, it happens automatically).
  5. Favourite a tweet then go and visit your Google Drive and you’ll find a new spreadsheet created with your favourite in. After 1,000 tweets the system will create a fresh spreadsheet (same name with ‘1’ appended, and so on).

*or Evernote, or some other capturing system, examples here and here

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3. Useful background info
Favouriting a tweet does not trap it permanently – if the original is deleted then you do not have a copy of it so ‘post-favouriting-processing’ would be necessary to capture it.

Other ways to capture a tweet include

  • taking a screenshot (it can be helpful to include its address / URL)
  • embedding it in a blog or Storify (in both cases subsequent deletion of the original won’t matter as your copy will remain)
  • use Freezepage to capture a copy of the ‘page’ on which the tweet appears (you need to use the tweet’s own address – you can find this in its timestamp – and remove the S from the httpS bit of the address

I’ve written a short post on ‘forensic’ use of Twitter (where you’re collecting someone’s tweets for legal reasons) but note that I’m not a lawyer so bear that in mind.

Further reading
Capturing web pages (remember a tweet IS a web page as it has its own address!) – Nightingale Collaboration

 

• Google cache (& other search engines): finding deleted pages or seeing your words on the page in colour

Search engines crawl and index webpages and save copies of them. This can be useful if a page has been deleted and you want to see what was last on it or if you need to take screenshots as evidence etc. Some search engines will also show you your search terms highlighted in different colours – this is useful in showing you the relevance of the page, ie whether or not your words are closely located in a paragraph or randomly scattered on the page.

When working at Diabetes UK I used Google’s cached pages for almost every search I ran until Google stopped providing this service to logged in users (!), though it’s still available if you log out, and on other search engines (see below). “If the page has the word diabetes in some side-bar or mentioned in passing (not useful to me, I want stuff about my search terms) this is immediately cued to me in a delightful display of colours.” (Source, my main blog).

1. Finding a deleted page on Google

Search for the page* but instead of clicking on the blue linked title in your search results click instead on the small green arrow next to the address (URL) and then choose the Cached option. If there’s no green arrow there might not be a cached version, but have a look at other cache options including the Wayback Machine.

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If the page has since been deleted then the Cached version will give you the last-saved-by-Google option. Other search engines do similar things.

2. Seeing your search terms helpfully highlighted

Google no longer offers this to logged-in users (if you’re happy to try out browser add-ons and scripts there’s some advice in the link above) but other search engines do – Bing is one example. Here’s what a search result looks like and then what the highlighted page looks like.

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 09.50.42

Cached page below showing highlighted search terms –

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3. Finding words onscreen on any page

Even without the useful highlighting of cached copies you can still find your search terms on any page (website, Word document, PDF, spreadsheet) by using the Find option.

  • On a PC it’s Ctrl+F (or Edit menu, Find)
  • On Macs it’s cmd+F
  • On iPhones you can find a word on Safari by clicking the URL to highlight it and type your word. Although this deletes the URL (it will return if you press Cancel, or you can copy it to paste back later) it will show you a range of options including, if you scroll down, any evidence that your word appears on that page. I’d agree that it’s not a very intuitive system.

*Search tips – obviously “words appearing on the page” is always a good search strategy but you can also restrict your search to a particular site, eg site:www.diabetes.org.uk or inurl:diabetes, you can even search for the web address itself, in the example given in (1) you would type http://www.diabetes.org.uk/kidneys into Google’s search bar.

 

Google spreadsheets timestamp – US to UK date format settings

If you use Google Forms the chances are that your data will go to a Google Spreadsheet, which you can view at your leisure. Each time someone fills in the form a new record (row) is created in the spreadsheet and the time they did it is added in the timestamp column with the date.

Google defaults to American settings so will generally show US date format (month/day/year).

If you want to make it UK date format (day/month/year) do the following: Open the form, click on File, then Spreadsheet settings… then change ‘United States’ to ‘United Kingdom’ and click the blue Save settings button. The spreadsheet will refresh and the timestamps will now be UK style.

1. File / Spreadsheet settings…

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2. Locale – change United States to United Kingdom, click Save settings.

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3. What the setting looks like with United Kingdom (I got carried away taking screenshots).

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How to embed Google forms in WordPress.com websites

While you can link to a Google form and people can go off and fill it in, it’s quite nice to have it seamlessly appearing within your page using a bit of code that Google provides. Here’s how, for people using WordPress.com websites (it’s possibly the same for WordPress.org self-hosted ones but I’ve never used one so don’t know).

A note on iframes
While it’s true that WordPress.com sites don’t support iframes the iframe code that you’ll collect from your form is automatically converted to a WordPress-approved shortcode the minute you paste it into your blog, it’ll look like this.

iframeconverted

1. Find the embed code

1a. ‘Old’ Google Forms

Look for File in the menu

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Click on it

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Select Embed…

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Copy the iframe src text for embedding.

1b. New Google Forms

They’ve hidden it in the Send button (took me a while to realise this cos I thought the send button would annoyingly ‘send’ a blank copy of the form to the email address associated with it, but it doesn’t).

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The ‘Send via’ bit has several options, look for the angle brackets for the embed code

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Once you click on the angle brackets icon the iframe link will appear for you to copy.

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2. Insert the embed code

On WordPress.com you can use either the VISUAL (how the post will end up looking) or the TEXT (underlying html) to add or embed different types of links. For iframes you need to use the TEXT view to add it in, and when you return to the VISUAL there’s a high chance that a small square area will be blocked out which is where your form will appear when your website page is published.

Note that with future editing it’s entirely possible that WordPress.com will automatically convert the iframe code info into a Google shortcode – if you have one of those and want to move it around do this in the VISUAL and not the TEXT editing window.

From experience of using Blogger you would also add the iframe directly into the html editing window too.

As I’m using the free version of WordPress.com you’ll probably see some terrible advert below, sorry about that.