Monday, December 22, 2008

Celebrating Christmas Early - Pros and Cons!

For personal reasons, we've ended up having our Christmas Day today, the 23rd December. Just for a change. Interestingly, it turns out that there are some pros and cons with this arrangement:

Pros:
1) The supermarkets are all OPEN all day, should anything be needed!
2) No deciding 'do we open presents before, or AFTER church'!
3) If a present is wrong, it can be opened, taken back and exchanged before the actual official Christmas Day...
4) It's less time for impatient offspring to wait between end of term and present-giving day!

Cons:
1) Bit of a sense of anti-climax on the 25th.
2) Have to rewrite most of the carols: "On the 23rd, the 23rd, .... etc."
3) Others might expect me to work....

Monday, November 10, 2008

OK, I got X Factor wrong last year. But here's my pick for this year!

I know, I know, I always go for the singers who can pull off the 'chill down your spine' big notes.... and they never win. But here goes...

I really hope Ruth Lorenzo wins X-Factor this year (2008), she is 'all woman' (as observed by Simon Cowel et al) and has a fabulously mature and powerful voice when she really lets rip.

Last year I was tipping Rhydian - who fell at the final hurdle. This time it's Ruth. See for yourself, here she is in action from last week's show:


Monday, November 03, 2008

Gaming - an alien and unappealing world

Am I so unusual? I see the people of the world spending tens of hours each week and significant proportions of their income on console and desktop games, locking themselves into virtual worlds and out of the real world.

What, exactly, is the point of gaming? To become more unfit? To waste time that you could spend with family or work? To waste money that could be spent on reducing your household debt and avoiding the 'credit crunch'? To let your social skills wane? Compelling, it ain't.

Now, to be fair, I'm not talking about kids or even teenagers. They have time to spare. And probably pocket money as well. I'm talking here about grown-up adults who should know better. Life is short enough as it is without wasting it locked away in a darkened living room fighting virtual opponents.

Halo? World of Warcraft? From a grown-up's point of view, what a complete waste of time, energy, money and space.

Switch off those consoles and get out in the fresh air, get a job, talk to your family, get a hobby.... at the end of your life, will you really look back and think 'Gah, if only I'd spent more time on that game, I could have broken into the world top 1000!'....?

Nope, thought not.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bus driving sadists

So I get on a bus and sit down. At the next stop, a little old lady gets on, complete with doddery legs and zimme-style shopping trolley. She pays and starts to totter down the bus's aisle.

Does the driver stop and wait for her to find a seat before accelerating away? Of course not, he mashes the accelerator and the little old lady is literally thrown five feet horizontally, slamming her - fortunately - into a waiting seat.

We checked and she was OK, but I bet she was shaken. The company involved was Reading Buses and I've seen similar near-injuries almost every time I travel with them. RB, if you're reading this, please train your drivers better.

Or maybe next time, you'll be defending them in court...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The great HTML misconception

As someone writing in a version of SGML back in 1988, I instantly recognised HTML when it appeared in the early 1990s and was able to be quite productive. The essential idea, that of separating content from formatting, was much the same. You wrote text, added structure in the form of headings, lists and tables and then it was up to whatever you sent it to, to render it in appropriate fonts, typefaces and so on. All very neat.

But bit by bit the language became corrupted, with Netscape starting the rot, as I recall. From the earliest 'font' tags to later table madness and then finally HTML being bastardised into a page layout tool by people who had spectacularly missed the point of a 'Mark up Language' in the first place.

The end result is HTML which is nigh on unreadable to the naked eye. And a job for a computer to render reliably, which is partly why web sites look different in different browsers, even now in 2008.

Thankfully, the common sense that is CSS came along to partially save the day, although most web pages are still uncomfortable hybrids of old HTML, new CSS and bodged DIV and table layout. In short, it's a royal mess.

Hopefully, CSS will win out in the end and pages will get purer again? Hopefully. In the meantime, I continue to hand-code my main web page (3-Lib) in raw HTML and the code loads like lightning on most desktop and mobile devices... Not that anyone appreciates it these days...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Why Linux was a consumer disaster ten years ago and why it's still a disaster

OK, I'm bound to annoy a few Linux fans with this, but hey, I need to vent. After having numerous frustrations with Windows Vista (perhaps exacerbated by a failing hard disk, admittedly) and a frustrating lack of speed, I borrowed an Apple MacBook for a while. Very pretty, fabulous hardware and terrific for most ordinary people. Except that I'm not ordinary, wanting to manage lots of files in lots of projects, use FTP and advanced image editing and much more. I found ways to do everything on the MacBook but it wasn't all plain sailing. And Apple's hardware costs a fortune.

So I turned, out of curiosity, to the Asus Eee PC, picking a 701 up from eBay. Great little toy, I thought. Except that with Firefox, Skype and OpenOffice pre-installed, it was quite a bit more than a toy. Maybe Linux really can start to get more into people's homes, I thought....

The trouble is that as soon as something goes wrong, in my case a 'broken' pre-installed game and needing to install a FTP client, neither of which seemed too outrageous to need to get working, you're required to leave the cosy 'Easy desktop' and get down and dirty with the most obtuse and terse command lines I've ever used.

Bear in mind that I've used DOS, VAX/VMS, HP1000 and more computers that you've had hot dinners. So I don't mind the odd vaguely intuitive command line. But being told, on an obscure forum post that you need to type:

# dd if=all.img of=/dev/sdx
(modify sdx to suit)
# sudo apt-get -jvdg tel.deb

is just plain silly. At least DOS and VAX/VMS had proper English commands - you could abbreviate them if you wanted, but when explaining something you usually put in the full version, e.g. $print job1/exclude=contents/route_printer=LN04 - that sort of thing. You could see (and remember) what you were doing.

So Linux requiring users to occasionally dip into a command line interface (terminal) is not in itself a showstopper - but the sheer inaccessibility of the language/commands used certainly is.

I consider myself a bit of a geek and can muddle through on almost any computer. But the Eee game still doesn't run and I still haven't got FTP working on the Eee 701.

If I can't do it, the man in the High Street doesn't stand a chance. The Eee has sold well and my daughter loves it, for example. But there's no way in hell that a Linux-based device like this can replace a Windows PC or Mac for most households.

Friday, October 03, 2008

'Unknown error'?? But, but...


Just got this in Apple's iTunes. How can the error be 'unknown' if the software knows to put the error dialog up and knows the error code? Can't it just look up what this code MEANS?

It's idiocies like this that make me despair of the computer world sometimes.....

Monday, September 22, 2008

Nope, McDonalds are actually shining lights....

Well, it's all relative, anyway. Never mind corporate business practices, at least the big M deserve a bouquet for the way in which they treat children's food. Here's the current menu, snapped at my local restaurant:



Note the way grapes and cucumber sticks are now promoted as alternatives to chips (yuck) and note even more impressively the way the healthy fruit juices, smoothies and water are promoted far more heavily than the incredibly unhealthy 'small soft drinks'.

Good on you, McDonalds, you've deserved the custom of my family at least for the next year!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Hands of love

Assuming you're following me, my family and my rants, if you have a spare minute this week, perhaps you could cast a vote for my video entry for Nokia's 'Hands' competition? Click on either link to go through, sign up to be able to vote (only takes a few seconds) and then vote for any videos you like hint, hint]...



Hands of love

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Turning off security - utterly insane

Here's a rant that should strike a few chords with regular geeks out there. The number of PC and Mac applications which state in their installation instructions: "Make sure you do the following before you install the software:
Turn off any virus-protection and security software that you may have installed on your computer." - This is from installing Final Cut Express on a MacBook by the way but I've seen plenty of other examples on a PC.

I can understand why the developers state this: it's because anti-virus and firewall software might possibly get in the way of the bludgeoning installer that the developer has bodged together. Look, let's get one thing straight: you should NEVER turn off your firewall or anti-virus, unless you REALLY know what you're doing. For example, my router has a built-in firewall and I know it's turned on, but most users wouldn't know this and it's a really bad idea telling them to 'make sure' to turn off their security just to install an application. An unprotected Windows desktop will be filled with malware worms within a minute or two of being online.

The right solution is for the developer to test their installers on systems with various security solutions installed and then work round any problems. Risking the safety of users is just lazy, lazy, lazy.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

"We took the wrong step years ago"



Or so sang Hawkwind in the 70s, along with plenty of others in the 'hippy' music business. And yes, I know it's wonderful to have hindsight and we're now almost 40 years down the line, but I do believe that it's not too late to save the environment, to (literally) save planet Earth.

There's no point in a long rant here, since you'll see appeals and reports from 'green' organisations almost every day in mainstream media. But I felt I wanted to comment on the latest little freebie from Nokia: we:offset, a Carbon footprint calculator, along with a facility to donate an appropriate amount to projects that aim to balance your footprint out. It's a worthy release, don't get me wrong, every little helps, and full credit to Nokia for good intentions.

But the trouble is that it is just that - little - and way too late in the grand scheme of things. We're talking here mainly about transport, i.e. the energy expended and Carbon footprint incurred by getting people from point A to point B. Am I alone in the world in reckoning that if we could just cut down on the amount people travel then the footprints would be smaller all round and we wouldn't need to feel guilty and then donate money to green projects.

I'm constantly appalled by how much time and energy is wasted by people travelling to work - yes, we can't all work from home [like I do], but imagine if home working was increased across the board by 10% or 20%? An awful lot of people sit in traffic jams for an hour to get to work, just to sit in front of a computer all day, or stand around chatting. Then back into the jams again to get home. Please, someone, anyone, tell me why these people couldn't do this from home on most days, armed with a PC or Mac and broadband?

And then when they finally get a holiday, do they stay at home? Nope. They sit in longer traffic jams to get to an airport and then they incur an even bigger Carbon footprint by flying - completely unnecessarily - to some Godforsaken part of the globe!

I'm all for the global village - but we can make it happen using modern communications. Let's cut down on use of planes and cars and feel good about ourselves and the planet at the same time.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

iPhone/iPod Magic

I have to confess that I'm not often amazed by something electronic - this is my line of work, after all. But I turned on my new Apple iPod Touch and idly started up Google Maps. The bottom left-icon looked like a 'My location' icon, but, knowing that this was an iPod Touch and thus had no telephony and no GPS, was actually quite surprised when it defaulted to a map of the UK. Heh. At least I didn't have to spin a globe to find my country.

I tapped the icon, expecting to be taken to the centre of London, or similar (it's our capital city etc). I was GOBSMACKED when I was zoomed in to the right spot on the right road, EXACTLY where I lived.

Magic. Had to be. How the ******** did the iPod Touch know where I lived? Had it somehow absorbed the information from iTunes, which in turn had somehow cribbed it from something else on my PC? I took the Touch outdoors and went for a walk. The My location crosshairs FOLLOWED ME. Arghh... HOW?

As far as I can tell, the Touch's (and the iPhone's) My location feature is not only tied to cell ID and (in the 3G version) GPS, but is ALSO (and, in the case of the Touch, the ONLY method) derived from a global database of home Wi-Fi networks, run by Skyhook - here's a 'How it works' page. Apparently it's self-healing, in that errors and additions are automatically handled by the system and the database updated.

So, by working out which Wi-Fi networks I was nearest and by triangulating from their signals, the Skyhook system was able to get me to within about 5 metres. Really impressive.

Of course, Skyhook's system falls down completely when out of suburbia, but still, it had me puzzled and bemused for half an hour and all credit to the creators and integrators.

You've just got to be wary once you see a '90 day' warranty...

My daughter and I have been eyeing up a Pleo robotic dinosaur for ages - but our last purchase (the GUPI electronic guinea pig) went a bit wrong in that the 'pets' are quite unreliable and prone to sulking.

Now I read that the warranty on new Pleos is only 90 days! Given that most electronic equipment is warrantied for a year, a figure of 90 days (with a character reincarnation program!) surely points to the fact that the manufacturers themselves recognise that the device is so fragile and has so many moving parts that something's going to break and sooner rather than later.

I'd rather read of products where there's a 'lifetime warranty' (e.g. the stuff that Proporta produce/sell) - indicating a real confidence in the reliability of their product.

Yes, I know Pleo is incredibly intricate and complex - but still - 90 DAYS??

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Why I hate... part 215: Anglian

Oh yes. I made the mistake of ordering new roof fascias a few years ago from Anglian, a windows, doors and roofs company in the UK. The fascias were fine, and I didn't take any nonsense from the sales person, who turned out to also be a Christian and to have an ounce of integrity.

Unlike the current Anglian sales team. I've been getting call after call, sometimes 2 or 3 a week, trying to sell me things. On the last call I virtually screamed down the line "Stop calling me - if you call again, I'm going to complain to BT and report harrassment".

No doubt their installers are hard working people. But stay away, stay well away from Anglian's sales teams. Another Anglian anecdote from six months ago, before the current call spate - I'd been looking for companies to give me a quote for a front door. Anglian got someone to call me and he kept going on about he didn't want to come and visit when it was just me in the house - he insisted my wife was present. Obviously, because he didn't want me saying 'I'll see what my wife thinks and get back to you'. But I said that the decision to buy was 100% mine and that I had full confidence from my wife. Did it make any difference? Nope. He just kept on insisting that my wife had to be there and after several heated calls I'd had enough and cancelled the quote visit. And this was all before he'd even got to my house!

Bah. Anglian.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Getting rid of Microsoft Office - and Software Bloat


I really had had it with Microsoft Office this time. Specifically the monster that it Outlook. Slow, over-complex and cumbersome. Into Windows Control panel I went and clicked on Programs | MS Office | Change. I unchecked Outlook and away went the routines. After two minutes of crunching, it popped up a message that I needed to insert my original Office CD. I guess I could have done, but I was utterly outraged by having to insert a CD in order to install some bit of middleware in order to uninstall an application. What kind of software madness is this?

In fact I was so annoyed that I felt compelled to remove the whole Office Suite in disgust. After all, Word, Excel and Powerpoint had gone years ago - I use Open Office very happily - but enough is enough and I wanted Office's bloat and inelegance out of my life and off my hard disk.

I went back into Control panel and this time opted for 'Uninstall'. And waited. And waited. 15 minutes later, the progress bar had reached 50%. WHAT? All I wanted to do was delete the application suite. Deleting files should not take this long. In addition to my regular 'I hate Adobe' posts, I'm sorely tempted to apply similar bloatware reasons for doing a 'I hate Microsoft' one. Office is a disgrace.

If it wasn't for Windows itself, which at least keeps me laptop going and running leaner, fitter apps, Microsoft would be out of my life completely. I installed Firefox 3 earlier. The download was 7MB and it installed in under a minute. That's what software should be like. Not 4GB of code on DVD or a 3GB download (Office and Adobe Premiere Elements 4 respectively).

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Hey, I made the top 10!

A shout out to the guys at the UK-based Automated Home for their well researched list of the top 10 tech podcasts in the world - and my Smartphones Show comes in at number 10, which is pretty cool.

I don't get a lot of time to listen to other podcasts, but I've certainly sampled over half the shows on their list. Check it out!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Skipping, Hopping? Summer must have arrived!

You can tell that summer's here (at last) in the UK. The kids are coming home from school talking about fun things which involve fresh air rather than batteries and plug-in cartridges.

The latest craze in the playground seems to be the Lolo Ball, referred to by my daughter as a 'Space Hopper'. But it's not, the SH was a big ball with horns that you held onto. The Lolo Ball (also called Pogo Ball or even Moon Ball) is something you grip between your ankles. Sounds improbable, but it's great fun for youngsters.

Just be prepared to plaster up some chafed ankles....!

Skipping's also apparently 'in' this year, but hey, when was it not?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Instant flight sim - in your own part of the world

You've got to love Google - and got to love mashups. In this case it's a clever use of Google Earth's interface, accessed via a web browser page, and with very basic (left/right) controls for a simulated fighter jet.

And you can't crash. Or go up or down. But hey, you can type in any location on earth (such as your home town) and fly around the area at (simulated) great speed.

Very cool. Don't worry about the meaty browser plug-in, by the way, I'm sure other mashups will be along shortly to make further use of it 8-)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Why I Hate Adobe - Part 2

I've posted about this before, by the way...

Having been driven to distraction by other video editing software under Windows, I thought I'd try Adobe again, give them one last chance. After all, Premiere Elements was supposed to be a top video solution still, and there was a shiny new version 4 to play with.

I started the download going, via their 'Download Manager'. 2.7GB. That's GIGABYTES. For a single application! Nero Vision 5, another video editor is ten Megabytes or so, FIFTY times smaller.

I gritted my teeth as 2 gigabytes crawled down by ADSL connection, whiling away the time by browsing for reviews of Adobe Premiere Elements 4 - to be met by a barrage of 'buggy', 'slow', 'broken' and worse. So not much change then for an Adobe product. I cancelled the download.

How can any company issue a product (for download) that's 2.7GB in size? Where's the common sense? Where's the efficiency? Developers these days, especially in the 'big company' world seem to have lost all sense of proportion. There are still 'shareware'/'demoware' applications around that are only a few hundred kilobytes in size. OK, so a video suite might need to be 10MB or so of code and templates, but not much more.

Maybe the 2.7GB was mainly video examples - in which case, Adobe should offer these as separate downloads - but I suspect not - it was probably mainly bloated, slow and buggy code and development modules..... mutter, mutter....

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Nokia Snakes on MEGA scale



SNAKE Game in the Student House - video powered by Metacafe


You just knew that students were behind this escapade - programming a modern building's lighting circuits to play a game of Nokia's Snakes! Awesome and yet a complete waste of time. Wish I were young again!

Being charged to make a payment!



The modern world is just ridiculous sometimes. Looking at my latest phone bill from BT, I see they're now charging an extra 'Payment fee' for the privilege of paying them!! Sure, businesses have admin costs, but aren't these suppose to be built into the price you agreed to pay for the service in the first place?

If it wasn't for the 12 month contract I signed with UK Online for Internet access, I'd ditch my BT line right now, out of protest. It's a LOT cheaper to go for a combined Internet/phone deal with any number of cable suppliers - and that's exactly what I'm going to do in 2009.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Too old to rock?

Well, maybe not. But certainly too old for The Gadget Show.

You see, people keep saying that with my phone/smartphone expertise and style, I'd be a natural for The Gadget Show. And, content-wise they're absolutely right. But have you seen what they expect their presenters to do? Snow-boarding, hang-gliding, let's-see-how-dangerous-and-exciting we-can-make-this for each feature. Good example: they were testing multimedia smartphones. So was I. I did it in my home, in painstaking detail, every expense spared. They did it by shooting photos and video from aerobatic planes, no expense spared. Then there are the times when Jason and Suzi end up falling from bikes, rolling down hills or bungee-jumping off bridges.

I'm sorry, but The Gadget Show is not for me. I'm 46 now, I'm starting to feel frailer than when I was Jason and Suzi's age (mid thirties?) and I have a feeling that if I started on The Gadget Show I'd end up with a broken hip...

PlayStation 3 - stunning realism

I have to admit, I'm a bit of a fan of the Nintendo Wii - I just love the sports sims and getting up and involved with my games. But the graphics are very obviously computer-generated and couldn't be mistaken for reality.

Yesterday, I chanced across a demo stand for the Sony PlayStation 3 - and I was blown away. They had the demo sequence running for Gran Turismo 5, with the touring cars screaming around the sun-kissed track and, for a few seconds at least, even on a 48" screen, I thought I was watching a TV picture. The lighting, the textures, the smoothness of the real-time 3D rendering of the cars was utterly spellbinding. Only when the pit scenes were shown, with simulated human beings, was it obvious that this was a virtual world.



Would I now buy a PS3? Before yesterday I'd have said no, but the lure of those shiny engines of steel, glinting in the sun......

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Trying to get up to speed with Nokia Sports Tracker

This might all go wrong, but below you should see the new 'urbanista' widget from Nokia, which will display where I've been and what I've been snapping. Well, for test purposes, anyway... 8-)

(By the way, if you see an empty white space, try right-clicking and choosing 'Play')

In order to view the Nseries Widget you need JavaScript and Flash Player 9+ support

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The power of Google (again)

It's pretty awesome what Google manage to get done sometimes. Even if in this case it's limited to a few dozen US cities, check out how they've integrated Google Maps and its direction finding with their Street View project. This sort of integration is truly eye-opening. And it's here now. If you live in the right parts of the US, anyway! Enjoy.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Handling petabytes at Google

We all know and love Google. But how exactly do they handle so many billions of users, so much data, without ever losing anything? I was interested to come across this video talking about their infrastructure and philosophy, which explains how things hang together reliably. Worth 10 minutes of your time to watch!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Tribute Bands - don't they ever get fed up?



I saw an excellent tribute band last night. Off The Wall, proclaiming themselves 'The Spirit of Pink Floyd'. And super they were too. Really accurate sounds and a great 2 hours of music and lights. I'd link to their web site but that seems to have gone AWOL....

Anyway, I've seen quite a few tribute acts in the last few years. Fun for the audience, who are transported on a trip down memory lane, but what about the performers? Playing the songs of their heroes is probably fun for the first few months, even the first year, but what about after that? Playing virtually the same songs in the same way, night after night? However tricky and complex they are, boredom must surely set in, and how they to conceal this from the audience?

The temptation is to start changing the songs, adding embellishments, experimenting - that's what all normal bands do. But if a tribute band starts altering the songs of their trademark, they get castigated and scorned. Everything has to be 100% authentic.

It's a tricky situation. Some bands (e.g. the Bootleg Beatles) seem to go on for years with few changes and seem very happy. I'm sure there are others which implode or stagnate, too. I guess a lot comes down to whether you can make a living from it. As the Bootlegs do, for example? In which case, it counts as 'work' and you simply grin and bear it, as most of us do our normal labours!!

Comments welcome!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Lasered by a Dalek



Not every day you bump into a Dalek in the High Street and get shot down in your prime.... Gulp.

Kudos to Waterstones in Guildford for getting one in though!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Dust and fluff - you just wouldn't believe how much!

One of the best things we ever did was get a Dyson clear-barrelled vacuum cleaner. Not just because of the way the sucking strength carries on even when the barrel is full - clever tech there - but because you actually get to see what it's picking up.

One look at your house after a few weeks without vacuuming and you wouldn't know anything was amiss. But run the Dyson round it and you'll have a barrel chock full of dust, fluff and hairs. It's amazing. And a bit disgusting. But thinking of all this 'stuff' sitting around on your carpets, waiting to be disturbed and to fly up and be breathed in or cause allergies (etc), or to be a safe haven for mites and other insect nasties....

Try it yourself. It's sooo satisying doing the vacuuming now. Ooh, I must be getting old.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Streaming BBC TV-on-demand is changing everything... and now on the Nintendo Wii too!


I've had a (kind of) epiphany. Having used a PVR (Personal Video Recorder, a.k.a. a Hard Disk Recorder) for the last few years for my time shifting of TV, the PVR in question died a death and it was time to look for a replacement. Yet nothing of any reasonable price seemed to fit the bill and I was umming and ahhing for a while.

And then my wife said 'Have you tried the new BBC iPlayer?' I hadn't, but I was fairly blown away. Any decent BBC programme (and let's face it, well over half the decent original new programmes are from the BBC) from the last seven days, available on demand? And all for free. Stunning.

Was this the end of my search for a way to timeshift TV? Not quite, I didn't really want to sit in front of a computer to watch TV every time.

But then came the news today that the BBC had introduced a version of iPlayer optimised for the Nintendo Wii. You'll recall that it has a reasonably up to date version of Opera (almost) built-in. So I tried it. Not bad, not bad at all. The video is only about 15 frames per second at the moment, but we're told that the BBC tech bods are working on improving this and optimising streaming still further.

With a little judicious zooming in, in the Wii Opera browser, we're now able to have BBC TV on-demand, on our lounge TV set, for free, with no need to remember to record anything, no need to pay for expensive hardware that will fail, etc.

The big catch, of course, is that non-BBC content isn't covered, but hey, there's always YouTube on the Wii for everything else in the video world!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Fear of flying?

I don't fly. Or at least not unless it's a dire emergency. I've tried to analyse my fear and can't really pin it down. Partly it's a fear of dying prematurely under circumstances not under my control - in a car or on a bike, even in a train, I can do a lot to reduce risk and escape harm. But in a metal tube 10,000 feet up there's really nothing that can be done to prevent the plane plummeting and crashing.

As one did yesterday. And as planes do each month throughout the world, with annual fatalities well into the thousands....

Having worked in the aerospace industry I know how many things can actually go wrong. And the thought of being in a fly-by-wire aircraft with computers in (more or less) complete control just scares me rigid. Remember the near fatal 777 crash at Heathrow a month or so back when the computers failed and the plane plummeted?

Add to that my gut feeling that man was not meant to fly. And just don't get me started on helicopters. And don't even breathe the name 'Chinook' or 'Osprey', technical novelties that put so much stress on the underlying engineering that it's a miracle the planes stay in the air for more than a few minutes at a time.....

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Yay - solar gets serious

It's about time that big power companies stopped messing around with green energy and took it seriously. Kudos to Southern California Edison for ramping up to 250 megawatts of solar power on the rooves of commercial premises (reports Green Wombat).

Solar power in itself won't supply the earth's energy needs by a huge margin (quite apart from the green impact of making the solar cells/kit in the first place), but it's a good start. Add in more and more wind turbines and wave power generators and I can see some countries getting a quarter or even a half of their power from green sources by about 2020.

Save the planet? Maybe we just will. But we need more initiatives like this one.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Vinyl better than CD? Absolute tripe!

As someone who started with vinyl records (LPs) back in the 1970s and graduated through cassettes to CDs, I get fed up with so-called audiophiles who say that vinyl recordings sound better than the same pieces on CD. They're simply talking rubbish.

In favour of their argument, they suggest that the 44kHz sampling rate of digital music means that the 'full' analog waveforms of music aren't stored when on CD. They'd be right, but unless we're talking about piano music and the listener is a 20 year old afficianado with perfect hearing the difference is completely inaudible.

Certainly for 99.999% of people, and especially those who like listening to music a lot (and fairly loud), hearing won't be perfect. Even more so as we all get older.

In favour of CD 44kHz sampled music, there are many factors, including:

  • These days, most CDs are either recorded digitally in the first place, or digitally remastered, which means ZERO hiss, ZERO wobble/wow, PERFECT graphic equalisation, ZERO crackles, and so on
  • By existing, essentially, in the digital domain, it's trivial to store/backup/convert a CD of music, for safe keeping or for transfer to another device or medium with NO degradation whatsoever
  • CDs don't degrade the more you play them. Unlike vinyl records. When buying an old LP, I was very aware that I only really had 40 or 50 chances to listen to the music at its best, even with a new needle, as the grooves would be too worn to play properly after that. In contrast, CDs can be played an almost infinite numbers of times with the music sounding as great at the end as at the beginning
  • Obvious, but CDs are many times more robust and more portable, as are the bits of equipment that play them

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Cool technology and cool music stuff!

Here's a great marriage of old and new. Microsoft's new Silverlight multimedia plug-in has been used to good effect by Hard Rock Memorabilia, to show off a multitude of classic guitars, outfits, lyrics and other miscellany in super-zoomed detail. Worth a look and a read if you're into classic 1970s and 1980s rock music!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Modern Art - yeah right

We made the mistake of wasting an hour in the Tate Modern gallery in London last week. Floor after floor of 'modern art'.

What a waste of time, space and electricity. The flagship work was a crack in the main floor of the gallery, apparently - I kid you not. There was another work on a wall which looked like a kid had thrown a can of paint on the canvas - I went closer and read the artist's description, which read "I threw a can of paint on the canvas"!

I'm no art heathen. I love music and I love paintings by the likes of Monet, Constable and so on. But what I saw last week was rubbish, quite simply.

Glad to have got that off my chest!

Friday, February 29, 2008

The YouTube Revenue Sharing Disaster

So YouTube has set up revenue sharing for approved contributors. Great. And they've got a whole heap of understandable restrictions to do with copyright, to make absolutely sure that you're not profiting from someone else's work.

So you upload a video (such as my Smartphones Show) and apply for it to be approved for revenue sharing. So far so good. But then they find some tiny piece of your video that might, possibly, potentially be a copyright problem. Does YouTube:

a) Deny the request, email you to tell you what the problem was (in case you wanted to cut the offending word/section out) and invite you to reapply later on?
OR
b) Deny the request, delete the entire video from YouTube and put blocks in place to stop you re-uploading it for normal viewing?

Yep, you guessed it, b)

Which sucks, big time. I don't mind the powers that be getting picky over copyright and saying that I can't earn a few cents from it, but deleting the video so that people can't watch it at all is very, very heavy-handed.

Grr.........

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What did kids do before electronics and broadband?

Staggering to watch my daughter and her friend playing for a morning. With two laptops, broadband and mobile phones, they were all set and had enormous fun. But what on earth did the previous generation do? I'm guessing books and Barbie dolls and scooters. Hmm... must get all those out, especially over the summer, else my daughter will turn into a prize geek like me 8-)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Getting fit with Nokia

So I'm mid-40s and in dire need of getting fitter, if I'm to be mobile into my 50s and 60s.... Enter Nokia Sports Tracker, which runs on any S60 smartphone. On my E90, with built-in GPS, I just activate it when leaving the house for a fast walk and leave it going.

When I get back to the house, I've got every stat imaginable (I'm walking at 9 minutes per km - is that good?) and a nice KML file to import directly into Google Earth. And Sports Tracker continues to log my progress over the weeks and months. Recommended.

As to whether I'll keep it up - ask me again in 2 months!

The Nintendo Wii - not just a games console!

OK, so I gave in to my daughter and bought a Nintendo Wii. And then discovered that it's not a games console. Well, it is, but it's also a full web browser, including YouTube video (on your TV!), Internet radio, etc. Plus it's a good way of getting exercise - you just try the boxing game that comes with it! More on this theme over at my new Nintendo Power Tips page.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Saving the planet with a Carbon fast

Carbon what? Yes, I know it sounds strange. But fear not, go and download Tear Fund's excellent leaflet: http://www.tearfund.org/webdocs/Website/Churches/Carbon%20Fast.pdf (aimed at families).

Judging from the careless attitude of my own daughter to energy, I can't emphasise teaching green principles to the upcoming generation enough. Make sure your kids read though the leaflet and implement as much as you can etc.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Legoland just got cheaper!

A couple of years back we (our family) had annual passes for Legoland Windsor. A great time was had by all for the year, but then Legoland got taken over by Merlin and the prices got hijacked.

Thankfully sanity's been restored now and annual pass prices are back to 'visit twice and you break even' levels. Recommended!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Yet another reason why I hate Microsoft Outlook

I was always terrified of Outlook - it seemed a monstrosity of a program to carry out the functions it did - far too many settings and functions and they often got in the way. I used it because it was the only thing to reliably sync to my phones. But then I started to sync to 'the cloud' (GooSync/Google) and I've been migrating my working environment online ever since.

As a result, I only fire up Outlook every once in a while, to check on some old data. But get this - even after 'File > Exit'ing Outlook, part of it still hangs around, auto-checking for new emails and grabbing them for itself! "I'VE CLOSED YOU DOWN, YOU STUPID PROGRAM" I shout, to no avail. I end up having to reboot in order to stop the auto-check behaviour.

Application? Seems more like a virus to me.... mutter, mutter....

Microsoft buys Yahoo!?

Wow. A reported $44 BILLION ?? How on earth do companies a) come up with these valuations and b) afford the price in the first place. I knew Microsoft were rich, but this sort of price is insane. And for what? Surely they already have everything that Yahoo has got in their tech-bank, and more? Well, maybe not Flickr, surely the best purchase Yahoo! ever made.... But even so....

This won't get them level with Google, it will simply cheese off existing Yahoo! users, who will then defect to Google and make the situation even worse for Microsoft.

My advice: don't do it. Don't even think about it.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mac intro videos - they should have done these years ago

Ah, I just found out about Apple's new 'How to' videos. As a PC die-hard (by history, not necessarily by choice), I've often wondered just how one is supposed to 'use' a Mac. I've tried a few times in PC World and got into trouble. But credit to Apple for videos like this - I think a little light just went on in the back of my head....

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Kudos

Now this is taking a hobby to the extreme - though if I were a space agency then I'd be knocking on this kid's door to sign him up.

Click through to see details of the Halo 2 project, in which for a few hundred dollars a young man launches a balloon to outer space and back, taking pictures and videos along the way.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Rocking like a Hurricane

Ah yes, if you hadn't already realised, I'm also in a 'mid life crisis' / 'forty-somethings' rock band. Shed Music's the name, here's a clip of us live, playing a Neil Young cover version this week, at Reading's 3Bs venue:

Friday, January 25, 2008

Mass upload to Google Docs!


Aha! I'd been putting off putting many of my own documents online in Google Documents, not because the software wasn't up to the job of editing them, but because I couldn't bear the hassle of uploading them one by one. A Google developer has now put up a sample application demoing the Documents API - DocList Uploader, that does exactly what I needed. Just drag and drop all my bits into the window and bang, they're all on Google. Very, very cool, and hopefully just the start of more Documents functionality.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Legoland effectively sexist!

Alright, a slightly sensationalist headline, but I thought I'd share my experience of the Legoland theme parks and my own family...

When my daughter was 4, we went for the first time and she absolutely loved it. So much so that we plumped up for an annual pass for all of us and we then went about 10 times in the year (hey, we live only 15 miles from a park!) in which she went from 5 to 6 years old. Again she loved it, but the novelty was starting to wear a little thin by the end.

Since then, we haven't been and she doesn't miss it very much. The thing is, Legoland suits all different age ranges but in specific striations, if I'm allowed to use that word. Or perhaps 'niches'. For the 4 to 6 year old girl, there's plenty to keep them amused that doesn't require huge queueing. For the 12 to 20 year old teenage girl, the more sensational rides will be more attractive and they'll have the patience to queue for them.

Yet for boys, Legoland works from 4 to 20 years old with no gaps. I guess that's part of the nature of the beast - Lego being a boys toy etc. But it also reflects the way girls tend to be scared of anything remotely dangerous, while boys will 'enjoy' being scared.

Just thought I'd get that off my chest!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Facebook is 10% genius and 90% utter rubbish

Sorry to burst everyone's bubble (and Facebook's valuation) but despite the great idea of a social network with no glitzy graphics or annoying soundtracks or immense animated gifs (MySpace, Bebo, etc.) Facebook has itself succumbed to 'utter rubbish'. I've no interest whatsoever in knowing the minutae and trivia of 100s of my contacts who I normally only speak to once in a blue moon, let alone be poked, or invited to meaningless online gift exchanges or games.

If I were Facebook's founders, I'd have sold the site last summer at Facebook's peak. It's only going to plummet from here....

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Adsense bubble deflating at last?

From 2005 to 2007, I've been a very happy bunny. Putting Google Adsense adverts in the margins in my various web sites has resulting in some significant pocket money that I've err.... put to good use. And declared to the tax man, by the way.

But all the time, I wondered. How long before people have seen the same adverts time and again on many different web sites and stop clicking on them out of curiosity? For specialist sites and adverts I guess there's still a place, but I'm pessimistic about the online advertising world generally, looking into 2008.

Certainly my own Adsense income has been falling by 10% a month for the best part of a year now - how do you view the archetypal Google ads on almost all web sites? Do you ignore them? Consciously, or unconsciously? Comments welcome!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

An alien interface from Star Trek



.... or simply THE best way to find space hogs on your hard disk. Rather than drill down folder by folder trying to spot large files, or do a complicated Windows query, just run Sequoia View and you can see at a glance where your space is going. Right click a culprit and open up the folder it's in with a click, then zap it with shift-delete in the usual way. Super.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Preposterous! I'm trying to give Ikea my business!


What a farce. We were trying to buy an item from Ikea, the Swedish furniture empire. Turns out they have an online shop. Good-oh. Turns out they deliver to my area. Good-oh x2.

So I started filling in the login/delivery forms on the shopping basket/checkout system. I entered all my card details and hit 'Submit'. 10 seconds later I see the above error. Hmm.... Not good. I phone the number and the guy says 'Are you trying to use our online shop using a laptop?' What? Why on earth should that make a difference?

'Ah, he says, our system doesn't work with laptops'. But, I spluttered, that should make no difference whatsoever. Don't you mean that it doesn't work well with err.... Vista? I said, striking out in the dark?

'Ah yes, it also doesn't work with Vista or Firefox. Or laptops' he said. I asked if I could give the phone guy my order instead. 'Oh no, we don't take phone orders'. Quite staggering. I'm trying to give this company some business!!

Needless to say, I tried again later using Internet Explorer (rather than Firefox) and got exactly the same error. At which point I gave up and decided to go to a different furniture outlet....

Grr....

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

2008 and the year of Mac? Or Ubuntu?

Argh, I hate computers. After battling a problem with my Vista laptop, wherein it wouldn't play some MP4 files but would others (all using Quicktime Player), it turned out that the problem was an obscure incompatibility between Quicktime and Vista's ReadyBoost system (adding USB stick memory to cache system files).

Go figure. Who on earth could have connected those two?? I've been eyeing up a Mac for ages..... but hang on, it was Apple who wrote Quicktime Player, so they're not exonerated here either.

So I tried installing Ubunto Linux on a spare laptop, to have a play. Five HOURS later and the thing still wasn't even installed. I gave up. 8-(

Why do computers have to be so complicated and erratic?