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Archive for February, 2010

Nothing like a meeting-fest

Sometimes I wonder about people who organise meetings…. for my sins this week I’m in a meeting in Selsdon Park in Croydon… so that’s a car to Newcastle, a train to Kings Cross, an underground to Victoria, a train to Croydon and a taxi to the venue…. 21st century organisation! And no, video conferencing would not do because the people herein like to see the whites of your eyes and the connectivity is absolutely awful anyway!

The room connection works for half an hour then you have to reconnect – and it’s deliberately restricted to encourage you to pay £12 a day.  I thought people had given up on this daylight robbery.

2 days of this then I get a Sunday off – wheeeeeeeeeeeee before starting all over again this time in another easy access venue – Nottingham!

The sooner petrol gets to £5 a litre, FORCING people to rethink this stuff – the better.

Still, the GOOD news is that the property in Bellingham gets nearer to completion by the second… ceilings are dry and as I write this in my hotel room in the middle of no-where, Maureen should be putting the first coat of paint up…

The Apple-v-Microsoft Debate – Mobile Phones

Nokia 9000In 1996 I purchased the first Nokia “Smartphone” – the Nokia 9000, a great big brick of a phone with a horrible black and white display – but at the time this was rocket science. Once I got over the shock of realising that my home in Newcastle was in a dip and there was no chance of an Orange signal, I began an ongoing relationship with smart phones that continues to this day.

Orange SPVAround 2002, Orange released details of it’s first Microsoft-based Smartphone, the SPV and I started encouraging others to use this – disaster – the main button dropped off after a while and the operating system and applications needed regular rebooting. This then was the start of a long climb to find the perfect phone. I’ve been using Microsoft mobile phones from the earliest models onwards, every day, 365 days a year. I never keep a phone for more than a year and at times I’ve had two. I’ve also used Nokias and for a brief moment Blackberry… and I’ve written simple programs for them. I use Microsoft Exchange (which for me is an essential part of my working life) and I make heavy use of shared calendars at work. I’ve had several of them in bits experimenting with aerials and I’m not afraid to try upgrading – XDA developers group being one of my favourite haunts.

So I think I know a little about mobile phones.

The original Pocket PC phone offerings from the likes of HTC and their predecessors didn’t work – it’s as simple as that. Between operating system crashes and poor quality mechanics, they were a disaster. I committed myself to supplying these to our organisation and regretted every minute of it initially…  but I stuck with it, after all, Microsoft were improving their operating systems after disasters like Windows ME… and XP was coming along just nicely – it was logical to expect the phone software would improve.

New HTCAnd indeed it did. Today we have a combination of reliable hardware and powerful software in the likes of the HTC Touch II, a horrendously expensive but beautiful phone which is solid in construction and reliable. Of course NO-ONE has yet cracked the short battery life problem – essentially if you have a bright, pretty colour display you’re going to get a day or two max out of your battery no matter who’s phone it is. The new HTCs have it all, glamour, reliability and solid applications.  So why have I just bought an i-Phone?

Firstly I should clarify – I’m a Windows man – I think Windows 7 is wonderful, especially the new 64-bit version… but I’m beginning to wonder if Microsoft should have stuck to desktops as they clearly don’t have the time to devote to the phone market. They were out long before the iPhone and have massive marketing budgets combined with some of the best developers – and yet the i-Phone has a higher market share and most importantly, has WAY more APPS.

Microsoft have of course jumped on the bandwagon with their APP store – well there’s no way to soften this.. rubbish by comparison – maybe a few hundred applications few of which are exciting and some of which are very expensive. Meanwhile back at iTunes, the app store has untold THOUSANDS of apps, many free, many a few pence, few more than a couple of quid. Visiting the app store brings on a Christmas-like feeling and an urge to download anything that moves… which I’m doing.

But what about the phone? The iPhone itself is nothing remarkable – it’s how it is used that is remarkable. The phone has the now mandatory Bluetooth, WIFI and GPS hardware and like the HTCs it also has position-sensing hardware – unlike most of the others in addition it also has a compass.  It is the COMBINATION of these used with very clever “apps” that sets the iPhone apart from the others – that and very smooth operation that just seems “natural”. Battery life is unremarkable but then the phone is THIN and that counts for a lot.

Ever noticed that graphics in Windows-based applications are rarely “smooth” – they tend to jump around – and that applies as much in the mobile world as elsewhere. Well, that simply does not happen on the iPhone – not only to the apps seem “smooth” but the multi-touch facility is not just a bolt-on – it is used very effectively in many apps – it just “feels right”.  From opening the box to installing apps I never once felt a need to read ANY instructions – and I think that about sums up my feelings about the phone up to now. A shame the same can’t be said about the PC-based iTunes program – at least the Windows 64-bit edition – which crashes on occasion and it IS essential.

At this point it’s probably easiest to tell you about specific applications. The very first thing I did on opening the box was to setup my Google and Exchange accounts – and I have to say that went very smoothly. If you want ALL the features of your Outlook setup – such as NOTES – you still need to sync via USB – as Exchange does not sync notes – but then that’s common to the other phones. So the mail, calendar and notes work as you’d expect – but I have to say they seem faster and more intuitive than I’m used to – I could see how someone might manage with nothing more than the iPhone, leaving the laptop back home.

You may wonder why my iPhone apps on the home page are not all standard. Well, for one thing, I could care two hoots about STOCKS but standard apps don’t at first glance seem amenable to deleting. Add to that the fact that  this meant that contacts was on the second page – stocks had to go! Once I got used to moving things around, the rest followed automatically.

Here’s a small selection of my current screens, mostly APPS which I’ve purchased (some free). What’s the best? Well, for me, FILEMAGNET is the best so far, an easy way to load WORD docs and PDFs from my PC to the iPhone – and read them. Only issue so far is that the 2-finger scaling doesn’t seem to work on WORD docs. The most expensive item is LOGMEIN – which is just superb- usable access to remote PCs on the one – the most fun item is probably the SKY controller which lets me set up recordings on our SKY HD box – from the phone – no matter where I am – marvellous.

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So… don’t all these APPS take up a LOT OF SPACE?? I made the decision to go for the smaller of the two iPhones, the 16gig model as I’m not fanatical about movies and music, happy to keep just a working selection available at any one time. Here’s the current status of memory:

memory usage in the iPhone

As you can see I’ve not made a dent. Tom-tom takes a big chunk of that green area but that doesn’t even take up a couple of Gigabytes so I’m well placed for future expansion – just as well with a 2-year contract in place.

One item that’s made a BIG difference is the MILO charging cradle, this thin sleeve fits snugly over the iPhone and more than doubles the battery life! Indeed I don’t know how iPhone users manage without it.

Champers at 10

Peter Scargill outside Number 10

It all began with a cordial invite from the Prime Minister to a small, select group of businesspeople to attend a reception at 10 Downing Street to “Celebrate the Success of Small Business”. Everyone had their own personal invite from number 10 and we individually had to RSVP directly. My invite is staying on the cork board at home in case the grandkids are ever interested.

Arriving at the scene by taxi, I wasn’t really sure what to expect but I can confirm that they’ve converted Downing Street entrance into something very military-looking, a sad reflection of our times – you simply can’t get into the street AT ALL without the full metal detector bit. To be fair the police were very friendly with it all and this didn’t really detract from the experience..

After passing security we walked up to number 10 which in itself is quite an experience as the entrance is instantly recognisable to anyone with a TV.

We were welcomed inside and asked to leave coats and mobile phones at reception. The place is a lot bigger than I imagined and there is a large entrance-way with a reception desk, racks for coats and an area specifically for storing mobile phones – not securely which was a bit of a worry, but I let it pass as everything was well-lit and there were people floating around with earphones plugged in looking like something out of the TV series "24".

Having been relieved of our potential weapons of mass destruction it was for a moment, Outside 10 Downing Streeteach man for himself. Past reception is a large spiral staircase and all the way up are images of past prime ministers – very impressive. I took my time to enjoy the moment. Once upstairs we were greeted not with champagne but simply a choice of red of white wine – and very nice too! We were free to wander about the place, I don’t think anyone got to to see the cabinet room which is apparently in the basement (good idea thinking about it) but the place is pretty impressive non-the-less. No doubt the official photos when they arrive will paint a better picture than I could here except to say that the inside of 10 Downing Street is suitably impressive.

As colleagues arrived, well known faces appeared including “Sir” Alan Michael Sugar though I have difficulty with this fellow as he looks a bit spiv-like to me..  and I’ve not forgotten the FSB call for his resignation, obviously some HAD as they SHOOK HANDS with him. Each to their own and I suppose that networking with the fellow is better for business than ignoring him as I did. Next up was Lord Mandleson who proceeded to apologise for Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s absence as he was off on important business – and who then gave us a polished, rehearsed speech about the importance of small business.

I’m not one for deference and I was glad to see that at least some of the other guests felt the same way. As the speech rolled out I imagined the phrase “small businesses” being interchanged with “unions” or whoever else the target audience might be in a smooth but less than convincing talk about how much the government cares about business, how much they need to listen to us and how much they’re doing for us. Those present for the most part stood politely in their lounge suits and merely listened… but looking at their faces it was pretty obvious not that many were staunch labour voters, none of which detracts from the excellent experience of actually BEING THERE and of course that was the whole point. There were some groans at one point and Lord Mandleson had to change tack – but then surely he didn’t think business representatives would let him off lightly?

Outside Downing Street waiting for security

Within half an hour or less the speech was over and everyone was pretty much free to network, which we all did – and of course more drinks were on offer and there was a fabulous view to enjoy. I was doing my best to take full advantage of the situation and having a nice chat with one of my fellow businessmen when a microphone appeared out of no-where..  For the life of me I can’t remember which newspaper or radio station it was but the reporter went through a whole list of questions about how we felt about government, banking and just about everything else he could think of, clearly he was onto a goldmine with the two of us as we were taking turns at the mic for well over 15 minutes – a MOST enjoyable way to round off the evening though some of it was probably not entirely what the residents of number 10 would have preferred to hear.

Several glasses of wine and umpteen nibbles later, though not under any pressure to exit the premises, a small group of us decided it was time to take our leave and wandered back down the scenic stairway and out of the door to be greeted by the official photographer – I can’t wait to see the results – We then took various amateur shots, most of which of course were rubbish… mobile phone cameras are pretty useless in the dark.

Off we went to the nearest Italian restaurant – and a good time was had by all. We’d done our relationship-building for the night, time for some real enjoyment.

The Future is DIM

Orange customer service scores again. Anyone moving from an smart-phone-relevant contract such as RACOON will note that the ability to share Internet with your laptop has been REMOVED from your account….apparently this is artificial as is it not a limit in cracked iPhones… so where before I would use my Smartphone as a router to provide 3G-based WIFI to the laptop – Orange want MORE MONEY to allow you to do this!  I did try to contact Orange to question this – as the contract specified unlimited broadband – how can it be unlimited if you’re only allowed to use it internally to the phone!!??

AS USUAL it took several attempts to get through to Orange because they’re receiving an “unusually high” number of calls and no-one can come to the desk. But.. they ALWAYS say that. When I eventually got through and asked WHY I have to pay £5 a month more just to get a measly 500 meg via my iPhone to the laptop – especially as my LAST contract had unlimited use of broadband and this one is SUPPOSED to be unlimited, he responded that clearly ORANGE want you to use a DONGLE for this – well, they would, wouldn’t they – it’s another £10-15 a month in their greedy pockets.

I gave up. It turns out there are a number of solutions out there – but all require you to JAILBREAK the phone because APPLE don’t want you using “unsigned” applications – and one really useful program which turns the phone into a WIFI router was refused access into the APP store!!! I wonder why.

I need to do a lot more investigation before poking around with the phone but this is a must-have.