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Archive for July, 2009

Airports to turn away “Swine flu” Passengers

Ah-ChooDon’t you just love it – after doing absolutely nothing until it’s too late, we’re now seeing knee-jerk reactions all over the place – now it’s the airports – according to the Times, those with “headaches, sore throats and runny noses” will be refused boarding.

I can see it now “are you carrying any sharp objects?” – “No”.  “Could anyone have interfered with your luggage?” – “No”. “Have you been involved in any terrorist activities in the last 5 years?” – “No”.  “Do you have a headache?” – “Yup”.   “Officer – arrest that man!”.

This reminds me of Foot and Mouth – Maureen and I live in part of Northumberland that had foot and mouth and in the middle of it, we travelled to America – from Newcastle to London – change – London to France – change – France to Chicago.  When we got off the plane – there was a notice up in O’Hare Airport – “Passengers coming from areas affected by foot and mouth come this way” – this was entirely voluntary and therefore entirely a waste of time – but what they wanted to do was … sterilise your shoes!!!  Think about that for a moment -  surely the thing to do would have been to sterilise our shoes BEFORE we got on the plane in Newcastle, hence avoiding leaving F&M all over the floor of the plane and passing it to those passengers who DIDN’T live in an F&M area.

Similarly – despite doctors saying this new move is an UTTER WASTE OF TIME, the airlines are going to let you move around the airport – infect everyone THEN at the last minute – stop you getting on the plane – while of course letting those who were sitting, soaking wet next to you in the long-stay car park BUS and  who you’ve just infected but who are NOT showing symptoms, happily travel to the 4 corners of the earth. Even if they have infra-red scanners there is no way that’s going to do any good if you’ve JUST been infected.

Assuming I don’t cough in the airport and end up spending the summer in sleaze-‘n’-disease infected, financially-ruined Britain, I’m going to my cave in Spain, armed with my VICKS and I’m STAYING there!

Current favourites

Here, in case anyone is even remotely interested are my current favourite music videos…


Fast Tube by Casper


Fast Tube by Casper

(re: above, this track is STREETS ahead of anything else I’ve heard them do – and in the middle of the track, there’s a guy called Rudi who does a short Emminen-like piece – absolutely excellent – play loud and several times)


Fast Tube by Casper

The ODEON – The Opposite of Customer Service

As fervent cinema fans, my wife and I regularly go to the cinema.  Something about the atmosphere I like and particularly i like to settle down with my favourite snack – Nachos with Cheese and Jalapeños – pronounced hah-lah-PEHN-yo unless you’re an expert in the cinema in which case you’d pronounce them JALEEPEENOSE in a Geordie accent.

A few weeks ago we popped into the Odeon (formerly UCI) cinema in Silverlink in Wallsend and I was rather disappointed to see that they’d changed the all-important cheese sauce to something like looked a little more regurgitated and sloppier – and thinking about it – not that tasty.   This is particularly annoying because most American cinemas I’ve visited seems to have the same artificial, out-of-a-tube flavour cheese sauce whereas the UCI cinemas here always had great cheese sauce.

Anyway, the quantities were ok so though I protested internally, I didn’t bother to gripe officially, but I remember agreeing with Maureen that we’d be better off at the MetroCentre Odeon next time.

BAD mistake.  The MetroCentre for those not in the know is Gateshead’s premier shopping centre – used to be the second largest in Europe (though the supermarkets here are tiny and choice-restricted compared to say, some of the Carrefour in France or Spain) and when it opened it was a joy to behold – with sparkly new cinema, robotic policeman that talked to the kids and moved about – then it moved about, then it stopped, then they took it out.  Thinking about it most of the good new ideas they had, they took out – but that’s another matter.

Anyway, as usual I stood in the queue to be served up my snack by the highly experienced Odeon staff only to find it was training day and they had some real characters in.  As it came to my turn I ordered my Nachos with Cheese and Jalapeños and as one inexperienced hand came out to take my cash, the other handed me a pale imitation of my normal treat. Instead of a large happy looking pile of green hot delights…. there were SIX JALEPENOS.

I looked disappointedly at the sad excuse for a snack and asked politely if I could have a few more?  “Sorry sir, we’re cutting back, you’ll have to pay if you want more”.

A very CUTTING look followed by the announcement that I’d been using this cinema for several years and never seen anything so pathetic led to a swift apology and a doubling to 12 Jalapeños in swift order… but as I sat down to enjoy the film, I noticed… the cheese…. they’ve done it again – watered down plastic CRAP!!!

Most folk with any sense long ago abandoned the idea of buying obscenely expensive fizzy drinks at the cinema – instead we all go off to the shop opposite the cinema and buy obscenely expensive drinks over at the shop (to put this in perspective a can of coke at the supermarket is what, 40p or similar in a pack?  Just short of £2 at the value-for-money shop in the Metro-centre – great eh!

Well, I’ve decided they can stuff it, if they don’t care about their customers enough to feed us consistent quality, from now on I’m going to put some extra effort into finding the now elusive Doritos Cheese dip (glass jar, used to be in all supermarkets, now sadly missing from most) and bring my own supplies in TOTAL to the cinema – at tremendous saving.

ODEON – I hope you’re reading this – and the first chain to bring out an alternative to the Odeon – you’re history!

LEDS – the Greatest Scandal in Electronics Today

How not to run trains

Well, ok, perhaps that title indicates that I used to read the Sun newspaper too often in my youth.  I’m sitting on the train on the way up to Aberdeen for another FSB all-day meeting over the weekend… in the empty part of the train I might add (and you wonder why National Express gave up!) and I just happened to look up at their lighting – all brand-spanking new LED lighting (well, apart form the masses of fluorescent lights needed to make up for the fact that the LEDs don’t give sufficient light).

LEDS (Light Emitting Diodes) you may well know unless you’ve been in Africa for a while, are the lights appearing all over the place that are supposed to last 100,000 hours or 200 years depending on whether you read English or Chinese instruction. All of the lighting manufacturers seem to be as bad as each other, they all claim the led lightingsame figures, straight from the spec sheet without ever actually doing real tests…   You probably can’t see in the photo, but as you’ll find in any B&Q demo, the super-new LEDS in the train are starting to go… erm, yellowy, which usually means they are on the way out having been over-powered.  As electronics is my thing (I’ve been playing with circuits since I was a kid and have run electronics companies for years) I tend to have endless different types of LEDs floating about and I’ve tried various combinations of voltage, current, variation over time – you name it and it’s always the same – if they get too hot either constantly or intermittently – eventually the colour goes off and they start to die.  This seems to apply more to WHITE LEDs than the others.  The only ones I’ve seen that DON’T get overpowered are the garden solar lights and the reason for that is cost -  a solar panel capable of damaging a LED would cost more than the whole lamp+packaging – so they are usually drastically under-powered and that’s why most of them are useful only for decorative purposes.

So, next time you’re considering LED lighting, make sure you look at a demo that’s been running for some time before forking out your hard-earned cash! And when you decide to trade in your LCD TV for a brand new NEW LED TV – make sure it has a good guarantee!

 

BT – Brains of Britain

You have to wonder about good old BT…  in the middle of the worst recession for years and with a potential for 25% of the population to be off sick with the flu, BT decide to put up their daytime rates by a whopping 17% – which will apparently bring the cost of a daytime call to a minimum of 5.25p.  They have to be NUTS.

Personally I’ve not used BT for years and if it were not for the need to install a BT line initially when moving to some new houses, I’d never use them again.

tmpD1Most folk out there will be familiar with Skype – though it never ceases to amaze me that there are still some who’ve never heard of it. Skype on the surface of it is a simple PC program for sending messenger-type messages to other Skype users or perhaps talking to other Skype users via microphone and speakers (or headset) – but in fact it is far more than that. At the first level you can buy “Skype out” credit and make calls to real phones – and at the second level you can pay a quarterly fee and have an incoming number – and that’s what I chose to do some 3 years ago now.  I use this for all my calls and have never looked back.

SkypeIn and SkypeOut
Of course you don’t need a PC to use Skype, you can buy dedicated Skype phones and so in my office in the UK I have one of the better Logitech cameras with built-in mic – and over in Spain I have a USB unit that plugs into the laptop over there and lets me make calls over a wireless phone – I think it was about £29 at Maplins – you can also get dedicated phones that need no computer at all, just a wireless connection.  I think I pay about £2 a month for the privilege of all-inclusive landline calls all day and all night, paying only for calls to mobile phones – and even then the cost is quite low.

So – did the BT announcement annoy you as much as it did me? Yes? then do something about it!! GIVE THEM A MISS.

A Nice Clean Browser

Have you noticed how much cleaner the IE8 interface is compared to the past – well that is if you ensure abominations like the Stumbelupon, Yahoo and other toolbars are closed?

Internet Explorer

Nice – but there is still clutter there – and if you’re not on a high-res screen – perhaps you have one of those little EEE computers, the info at the top of the browser can end up taking up much of your screen… so I set about looking up ways to minimise the clutter. I’m increasingly a Firefox fan and here’s my new Firefox setup.

Cleaned up Firefox

Firefox menu popup

As you can see, pretty cleaned up – but what happened to the menu??? I simply reduced it down to a pop-up as you see on the left. And how did I do that?  Simply go get this add-on and follow the instructions for a nice, clean Firefox menu. It’s worth the effort.

But… what about the rest of it? Simple – once you have the compact menu – there is a lot of space to it’s right! Simply right-click your menu area and click CUSTOMISE – not only can you drag items from the options given but you can drag any icon from any OTHER toolbar over to the top – including the back button and anything else – then when you are done – hide all the other toolbars and you end up with something like the image above – but customised to suit your tastes…

I love it. Oh and if you’re into customising Firefox – check out out iMACROS and FoxTab.  No more filling in passwords for me!

 

 

A New Wave?

Last night I sat down for the first time and watch Google’s “preview video” for Google Wave and I’m very excited.

I don’t know about you but I have NEVER thought email was very good.  For credentials, I’ve been using emails since before they were emails, every day of my life – by the hundred (it’s not unusual for me to process over a hundred non-spam emails a day) so I’m no stranger to the concept. I use Exchange mail for work – and privately having tried just about every email system on the planet I’ve settled on Google mail.  I also have several blogs, a Twitter feed and presenses on Facebook, LinkedIn and a thousand other social and business networks. I maintain all of my images on Flickr and Google Web album – and videos on blip.tv and Youtube.

Wave goodbye to email?
So why would I say that I believe the age of the email could be coming to an end thanks to Google Wave?  Well, for several reasons – firstly let me explain what I think is wrong with email – then I’ll go on to briefly describe Google Wave and what I think is right with it.

Email is a MESS. You have various formats even to this day, so anything but the most plain and boring email is likely to upset someone using Linux. Embedded images sometimes work (showing inline) and sometimes show as attachments. Any lengthy conversation is a pain in the bum to re-assemble – especially if some clever Charlie changes the title… and if you add someone into the conversation you have to go through all your old emails on the subject and forward them on – it just does NOT work well at all apart from the simplest SEND/REPLY scenario.

But of course, email was invented before the Internet really took off – long before in fact. I was one of the old school using Fidonet and running a Midnight line LONG before the public knew about email. Meanwhile we’ve all become used to the likes of Skype, various Messengers, social networks and other ways of interacting with people.  Email has severe legacy issues in trying to maintain compatibility and… well, it’s not ideal.

And then along comes Google Wave (which at the time of writing is not out yet) – like a breath of fresh air.

I could point you to their video but the tech-types doing the video might put you off – indeed even this email is possibly long enough to put you off – but if you’re still here let me dive in and try to explain.

Google WaveImagine starting off an email – perhaps an invitation to a party, by opening a NEW email, sending to one of your pals and CC’ing a bunch of others. A couple of days later the replies start to pour in. You can’t simply group them together to see who’s coming because some clever Charlies have changed the subject line! Some simply reply, some send additional emails with questions about what booze to bring. Before long you have lots and lots of emails to contend with – oh and you had to keep the email plain because Fred down the road is using an old email client that doesn’t like formatting.

Now imagine a better way, in Google Wave, simply open a new CONVERSATION and drag in various contacts from your address book.  Your contacts who are also using Google Wave (there is a hurdle there but bear with me) see a new conversation has opened from you. They open the conversation and put in their reply… they may at a later date add comments.

As soon as someone puts in a reply, on your computer the conversation turns BOLD indicating there is something new in there – open up and you see the replies – all in ONE place. At any time you can drop in an image or video… again, changes make the conversation come up in bold for everyone involved. They can choose to respond every time this happens – or just occasionally look in. People can reply anywhere on the message, not just at the end.  Think of it as a permanent Messenger thread organised by subject.. As soon as you start editing, others will see the WAVE turn bold and if you want could interact there and then. This makes Google Wave potentially MUCH faster and more convenient than email.

If you’re not seeing this, some images might help – I grasped it almost immediately and I simply can’t WAIT. The issue of course is that we all have to buy into this to make it work – and there are only a couple of companies with enough clout to make us do this – one is Microsoft – the other is Google. I think it might just succeed.

Here’s a screenshot – click on the image to see the full screen – if this doesn’t sell the idea to you – I can’t help :-)  And this is just the preview – what else will they think of by the time it is introduced.

Google Wave

Here’s a Google Wave form to fill in if you want to be kept up to date – I certainly do. Oh and the plan is to make it open-source – and Google are openly saying you could put the code on your own servers to make a “private” wave system!

If you want to see this in operation INCLUDING AT THE END AS-YOU-TYPE language translation…. here’s the video. It’s a little cheesy but if you can stomach it, their explanations are far more interesting than mine! See the stuff near the end – amazing.

Head wants Grammars to Favour Poor Applicants

Apparently [slider title=”Shawn Fenton”]chairman of the Grammar Schools Heads Association[/slider] wants to turn over more school places to poor pupils – according to the Daily Telegraph.

I went to a fairly decent school – before they ripped the system up and Grammar Schools went out of political fashion – and I have VERY clear memories of my school years – and I recall just how much of the learning experience was disrupted – not by poor schooling – but by idiot pupils. Almost without fail, the dimmer ones were the ones who put fighting ability above academic achievement. Peer pressure is a powerful thing at that age, indeed, sadly for some it remains powerful throughout life… and if the people around you are not high achievers there is a very good chance of them bringing you down with them.

Of course the very idea that kids from poorer families are kilely to be more disruptive – is political heresy – but this is no longer Britain of the 19th and 20th century where family and class were all – there is a REASON why people rise to a position of being able and willing to put their kids into “better” schools!!

What Britain needs right now as we slowly become a third world economy (a double-rip recession coupled with the probable MASS sickness around the corner – predicted to bring 10,000 new cases a DAY sometime later this day, should ensure the collapse of our economy) is a new generation of leaders, of educationally excellent, business-savvy entrepeneurs – who will create new jobs, new industries and new sciences.

THAT is what we need to be spending our money on – pushing the BEST to be BETTER.  And what are we doing….

I am SO GLAD I’m not at the START of my career and life right now – we’re really making a complete BALLS of this country.

Swine Flu “Cannot be contained”

 

I just don’t believe this government – and WHY have we gotten to the point wherein “we could see over 100,000 cases of swine flu a day by the end of August” ???

Why the HELL as they’ve seen things rise like this, haven’t they been stopping travel, testing people at all airports and stations etc… 100,000 a DAY for heaven’s sake.

I just hope the politicians are the first to go down followed by civil servants.

Liberkey – Useful Open Source

Liberkey

I recently discovered something called Liberkey. This comprises a menu system and a bunch of open source programs all wrapped together and well suited to use on a memory stick. Apparently the program itself isn’t open source – but that’s another matter. It has been compared to PortableApps – but for me the actual applications included are WAY better.

Ok so what’s special about that? These are programs that are generally available separately and nothing new… so why bother. Well, these “portable” versions of the programs all sit inside a nice popup menu system – and importantly the package looks after updates for you, so that the first thing that happens when you run the program, is that a load of updates occur automatically. Not only that but you can go to the website and simply double-click on links to add new programs to the list. We’re talking here of some pretty good open source and free sofware – like the GIMP for example which I’ve been using for a while now in preference to the expensive and somewhat overblown “PhotoShop”.

But there are also programs in here that certainly I’d never heard of. RadioSure for example plays streaming radio stations and has a massive list built in – so what I hear you say, Shoutcast does the same thing with Winamp – yes but this also has a large RECORD button on it which records straight off the radio to MP3 complete with titles – rather handy for parties.. and on the subject of music playback there is another free MP3 player in the pack called AIMP – and already I prefer it to Winamp – it’s fast, small, nice looking with analog meters… and does a very nice track-to-track fade straight out of the box. Once the Liberkey package is running and you’ve elected to hand it file associations, a quick right-click on any of your files will securely encrypyt it using DCU. As for passwords, the excellent KeePass is included also.

But I’m in danger of giving the impression that this is a manager for a small number of decent programs – it isn’t – the “ultimate” version of this is MASSIVE and of course you can put the whole lot on a memory stick and cart it from PC to PC. I strongly urge you to give Liberkey a second glance!