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Archive for June, 2009

Britain knows little about the Bible

According to the Independent (p5, 29th June) Britain “knows very little about the Bible”.  As few as 10% understand the main characters in the Bible.

Apparently St John’s college in Durham carried out the survey and according to the Reverend David Wilkinson – “the consequences of ignorance went far beyond being unclear about what church leaders might preach”.

I’m sorry Reverend – did you say IGNORANCE?  How can ANYONE who has imaginary friends call the rest of us WRONG?  It is no more ignorant not to have read the Bible than it is neither to have read Spiderman nor the Koran!! Many of us have more important things to be doing with our lives. I’d be worried if we were the same as the USA where a large percentage of people DO actively read this stuff – and worse – BELIEVE IT.

Choosing to suspend logic and instead to believe a collection of contradictory stories written in an age where people thought the earth was flat , had not even the vaguest notion of evolution and thought we were at the centre of the universe – THAT is ignorance – and dangerous ignorance at that. Sadly many youngsters have little choice as their parents and the church brainwash them before they are old enough to know better.

Stick to births, marriages and deaths, Reverend!!!

Something New

Tired of XP – but Vista is rubbish and you don’t want to use the release candidate of Windows 7? Don’t despair!

Seven Transformation Pack

The solution is called “Seven Transformation Pack” and I’ve just installed this on my second computer – and up to now it’s BEAUTIFUL. No guarantees it won’t turn your computer into a harmless rock – but it worked for me! So what’s special about STP?

LiberkeyInstallation is simple enough, involving a reset and about 15 minutes of your time. The various packages that are put together by the author of STP include a Windows 7 start button, semi-transparent task bar, 3d task switch and a Windows 7-like set of gadgets… but probably the biggest boost for Windows XP users – large icons – at last!

Enough talk – here is the link to Seven Transformation Pack

RadioSureWhile you’re at it, a couple of other nice new packages I’ve added to my PCs… look up LIBERKEY – a wrapper around the best open-source software – which automatically updates the software for you and can be held on a memory stick or on your computer. If nothing else, apart from the other really nice OS packages included – I loved RADIOSURE the best… instant streaming radio and a quick search – pulled out Riviera Radio instantly and has niceties such as fade-in-fadeout – even fades between radio stations as you select.-

The death of Kodachrome

So now we’re supposed to get all emotional about the final demise of one the stalwarts of the analogue age – Kodachrome film. Wasn’t it wonderful, what about those subtle colours, the unique “flavour”…

For HEAVEN’S SAKE. I remember the same crap at the end of the valve era – that unique sound, how harsh transistors are (and there’s a simple reason for that, valves used to introduce even harmonic distortion into the sound giving it a warm but TOTALLY unrealistic sound whereas the early transistor amplifiers, driven by the need to keep costs down combined with a lot of ignorance on the behalf of designers LIKE AMSTRAD – our own Alan Michael Sugar – and his counterpart Clive Sinclair –  introduced some pretty awful distortion of their own…… but where are we now… only fools and horses still pretend that valves are better… mOSFETS were the turning point for those who like to bandy around technical terms – I recall I had several of the first Mosfets available – and managed to blow them all up…. but that’s another story.

And this brings us to photography – I remember when the first digitals came out – the same old crap, attacking a new technology in order to try to preserve the old – I could have told you over a decade ago (and did tell many people) that film was dead – the only excuse for using film now MIGHT still be for low-light exposure as most cheap digital cameras are rubbish in low-light levels – but give it a little longer and they’ll not only beat film, they will beat our eyes – indeed think about Hubble – some of the most beautiful images in the universe – are digital! You could stare at the night sky for a million years and never see what Hubble brings us.

I remember sending off images to BOOTS only to get the most BLAND rubbish prints back – the only way I could guarantee to get decent images was to order transparencies….  and let’s not forget that BOOTS in particular used to SHOP people who took photos they did not approve of – remember THAT? Kids in the bath etc!!!

In the hands of an idiot, it doesn’t matter whether the camera is film, digital or make-believe – the results will be the same – but if you’ve invested just a little time in learning how to use your camera and one of the MANY free tools out there – GIMP being one example – you can produce images that rival ANYTHING produced in the past – and in many cases go WAY beyond anything we could have done in the age of FILM. I believe that AVATAR was shot digitally! It’s certainly displayed digitally. What more could you want?

100110110111011.

Please – have my Kebabs

As someone who’s always been ready to be a donor (though donating blood could be a lot easier – they could have as much as they liked if they’d come out to my village for it – like the milk run in the morning – they could do a “blood run” in the evenings perhaps?), I’ve never understood the pathetic arguments of some of our religious friends (and some not-so-religious) over NOT donating their kebabs when they die. According to the BBC there are something like 10,000 people waiting at any time for organs and there is a shortage – what POSSIBLE reason can anyone have other than sheer ignorance, for NOT offering up their bits when they pass away. In a 21st century where donated organs regularly save lives, surely it is up to us to help save others when we no longer have a need for our innards.

Well, it looks like the various UK religious leaders have finally gotten their act together and are currently recommending to the faithful that they DO offer up their parts – WELL DONE CHAPS!!

A Sunny Weekend in Wark

Here are the results of my hard graft over the weekend – shiny wheels. I can’t believe the effort it takes just to get that black crud off the wheels – it’s as if the brake manufacturers were in league with detergent suppliers!!

Anyway, there it is on our newly gravelled driveway, several tons of stone just to give us enough room to turn the car around!  Why am I parking inside instead of outside? Well, despite living in the countryside we still have a few brain-dead kids in the area and one of my mirrors recently went to meet it’s maker thanks to the kids – with a resulting £250 insurance excess!! It seems that the policy of the insurance companies is that if you can’t prove that someone else did it – you did!  Good job our laws don’t operate that way. So from now on I’m playing it safe and the kids can screw up someone else’s cars – preferably the ones that keep taking my parking space!

Willow Cottage

After a wedding on Friday which culminated in a trip to Costco, we spent the weekend enjoying the good weather. I borrowed a petrol strimmer from our good neighbours Sonia and Chris and went to work demolishing the back garden which, due to pressure on our time had recently grown into a fully-formed jungle. It now once again resembles a garden, however my solar lamps were not so lucky as the strimmer neatly chopped their heads off one by one. Still, it was time for an upgrade anyway, the cheap ones don’t last more than a couple of years as the plastic on the top goes foggy 🙂

Samsung i900 Omnia – Updated

tmp2F2This is an update of an earlier article on the Samsung Omnia. Those of you who read my constant gripes about mobile phones will know that I’ve stayed with HTC for the longest time. There can be no doubt that their phones are pretty. For some time I used the HTC Touch Diamond while Maureen has been using the Diamond HD.  The original Touch Diamond however had a number of flaws… not the least being a tendency for the ringer to stop working for no reason. Orange of course didn’t have a clue how to fix it and just kept swapping phones.

Samsung i900 OmniaI finally lost it with Orange a little while ago and demanded another phone. The first person I spoke to was useless – said I had to have the same phone – I told her I wanted out of the contract, she wanted to charge me £250 – thankfully on my next call a very well spoken gent put me right – and introduced me to the Samsung i900 Omnia.   I’d originally asked for an upgrade to the Diamond HD (the larger brother of the Diamond – which bears more than a passing resemblance to the iPhone and works a treat) – but as is the way of things in the mobile industry but the Diamond HD now defunct – which is a shame as it’s a BLOODY MARVELOUS phone which works well.

Anyway – the HTC Touch has another fatal flaw – it comes with 4Gig of memory built in and no expansion. Once you get TomTom in there and maybe a movie – that’s it – you’re done. They addressed that on the Diamond HD phone – and that and future models have the ability to take micro-SD cards.

What sold me on the Samsung was when the Orange operator pointed out that the i900 comes with 16Gig AS STANDARD – AND has expansion, so in total you could have 32gig of memory – enough for all your photos, all your tunes and more’s the point, a good number of movies and apps – AT LAST, a serious mobile.

How to show you the phone – MyMobileR – is free and it works.

i900 clock

And so here is the original Samsung i900… complete with screenshots (most of the software is built-in – the rest are free or cheap apps with the exception of Navigator.

The phone comes complete with the usual – Windows Mobile 6 and a host of Microsoft utilities including a fairly useless OneNote – by name only. HOWEVER check out Evernote which lets you take audio, text or scribble notes and sync them with your PC – and does it well.

Of course that would not be much use if it were not for high speed cell communication, WIFI and Bluetooth – and the i900 has the lot along with GPS and more! It even has an FM radio. Google Mobile Apps gives you your messenger and email, Skype – well – works! The RSS reader lets you keep up with your news, you can FTP to your PC via Bluetooth…. the list goes on – I suggest taking a look at this phone. It comes with mains charger and the ONLY gotcha is the crappy connector which means you can’t use all your mini-usb chargers – however a quick order to China and for around £8 I have a car charger, silicon case, screen cover and spare battery.

GPSGateGPS on the i900 
The GPS on the i900 appeared initially to have issues, it did NOT like TomTom and some other programs however there is a solution for a few dollars in the states – which takes the GPS further than you might imagine. For a mere $14 or thereabouts not only does it fix the GPS on the i900 but also lets you share it by a number of ways with other programs – simultaneously – you can even share the GPS with your PC via Bluetooth – stick MapPoint on your PC – turn the Bluetooth serial port on and Bob’s your uncle. It even lets you SIMULATE GPS when you’re working indoors to test things. WELL worth the money. The program is called GPSGATE.  Of course there is a lot more to the use of this phone than this – OH  – before I forget – typical touch-screen Smartphone (pocket PC) the buttons for the telephone and keypad are no real – i.e. they are onscreen – but where the i900 scores is it uses vibration feedback to give you a sense of having hit a button! Update: The internal GPS on the i900 appears to use LOTS of juice – i.e. it eats batteries. It took me a while to narrow this down but I’m now doing the same as others – I happen to have a tiny pocket Bluetooth GPS I picked up from Ebay for £20 a year ago.  GPSGATE allows you to select an external GPS as the source – and this works a lot better than the external one… I can even pick up 3 satellites in my office! For now I’m progressing this route.  As an update, with Windows mobile 6.5 none of the issues with the GPS have ever showed up again and the battery life is fine.

Video on the i900Video on the i900
Yes – it does work, before you ask. I loaded up a standard DIVX test recording (not a specially reduced version which would no doubt be smaller and run faster but what a hassle) – which for a full movie or show would be maybe 700meg – played it NO problem at all. One touch and it’s in landscape, full-screen. Audio is similarly simple to use.

Did I mention the phone has accelerometers? So it knows which direction it is facing and can go into landscape or portrait mode automatically (good gimmick but I turned that off – speeds things up a lot).

tmpD5As for images – 1.5 meg original JPG images played a treat. They really do seem to have cracked this – in a phone that’s small, light and thin with a half-decent camera and a “flash” – though in reality it’s a bright white LED so don’t get too excited by the possibilities. See the pic of my grand-daughter on the right.

tmpD6Opera on the i900
Opera browser and the new Skyfire browser all work – though I don’t think the WIFI is quite as sensitive as the HTC.  The phone does not come with weather software but a quick look on the web for a freeby sorted that out. Weather Watcher works a treat.

i900 Camera
The camera is a 5Mpixel effort with built in ability to take panoramas using up to 8 original images – all automatically – you just take the first shot and move the camera until it takes the rest.

Navigator on the Omnia
Mapfactor Navigator turned up today – and I have to say – with a caviat, it blows TomTom 6 out of the water. For £69 you get full maps of all of Europe plus of course the UK – now, I’m only really interested right now in the UK and Spain – and you can select what you install – result – the entire installation – which works in storage card space of course, takes up well under half a gigabyte – which, given the Omnia’s expansive 16Gig – is hardly a drop in the ocean!

Pocket NavigatorI don’t have time to go into the details of Navigator here but the key things are 3D navigation, voice-guide, you get a PC program to view maps etc, it has so much programmability it will keep you going for hours, most of the little windows can be selected by simply touching them and then selecting from a larger range… which is great as some folk want to know what speed they are doing, others want to know the height from sea-level – and that’s on of my gripes about Tom-Tom, it doesn’t give you that level of flexibility.

Navfactor Navigator with UK and European Maps
Pocket NavigatorThe program comes complete on a DVD with maps, points of interest and cameras and features FULL postcodes!! Up to now I just can’t fault it – best buy I’ve had this year!  It also comes with an odometer feature and for a little extra it can handle vehicle tracking… though GPSGate can easily handle that also.

Finally if you have the right hardware it can handle TMC traffic monitoring – that’s my next job – for now I’m enjoying up to date maps and hassle-free sat-nav!

Now, the PC-based program that comes with Navigator is useless except for one thing – it can import basic CSV POV files into the Navigator format. Add a free program to take GOOGLE EARTH files and convert to CSV and you have the ability to create a bunch of favourite locations in Google Earth – and import into your Windows Mobile phone!

Upgraded Samsung OmniaUpdate: Upgrading the i900
Now, you might say, if the i900 is so great, why upgrade it – well the phone out of the box does have issues: like the HTC Touch the battery life is naff, you could use it up in less than a day with sat-nav running… and also everywhere you turn it says Orange… so… here’s what I did – no guarantees it won’t turn your phone into a brick. The procedure involves making sure your phone is fully charged, downloading a registry editor and making a trivial change to one entry – then going off to the official Samsung site for the latest upgrade. According to the site  this helps battery life and offers other fixes. Here is the AVForums link to the Samsung i900 upgrade. Here on the left is the upgraded phone with Samsung’s gadgets added. This powers up as a Samsung phone, I’ve tested the WIFI and GPS and all work well. The upgraded phone immediately asked me if I wanted to configure the phone for Orange UK and so I’m hopeful that when I get in range it’ll even still work as a phone:-)

tmp438

Oh – if you are into Twitter, get pocketTwit…. absolutely marvelous. I added that and the new pocket mobile Facebook app. This time around I’m running Navigator natively, i.e. without GPSGATE – as there is no point in having TomTom using up space. I have however purchased GPSGATE as it’s useful for sharing the phone’s GPS with my laptop!

And yes, I did go get the “iPhone”-look-alike software, it’s free and it’s called iFonz – but the icons he gives you are not up to much. I reset the sizes to 48 pixels and went off and found icons from all over the place – changed their transparent backgrounds to black (which the guy who wrote iFonz uses as a sort of transparency – see the icons on the bottom) – and then it’s just a case of collecting up enough decent icons for all the progs I’m putting in the massive 16gig space of the phone – no doubt soon to be complemented by a 16gig microSD – though I do have all my records in there already 🙂

To be honest, the iPhone display etc is more of a gimmick – I kept it on for a couple of weeks then scrapped it. Other interfaces are coming out of the woodwork now that look as good if not better.

Update September 2009: I’ve since upgraded the i900 to Windows Mobile 6.5 and it just works. Very rarely it needs a reset, the GPS works, the interface is wonderful…  but then other phones are now coming out with Windows Mobile 6.5 out and a larger screen would be about my only must-have. The HTC Touch Pro 2 would be my current recommendation – if you regularly spend £30 or more a month the cost of the phone is likely to be minimal. Who would I recommend? Well, aside from their customer service, Orange still offer one of the better deals if you need 3G data access… I’m on Racoon 35 and I get unlimited data, 600 minutes any network and enough texts to keep me going.  Unless something better comes along  – I’m sticking with that contract.  I should have a Pro 2 shortly and will endeavour to provide further updates.

Digital What?

According to the “Digital Britain” report, around 11% of homes cannot currently achieve speeds of 2Mpbs – and so the proposal is to fix faulty wiring and use satellite to fill in.

Well, the faulty wiring bit I can go along with – but satellite – I’ve had various forms of satellite and no amount of technical progress is going to fix the fact that the satellites are thousands of miles up in the sky and the latency makes for example Skype conversations virtually useless. Also one of the original satellite companies recently contacted me and I checked on their pricing – they are STILL taking us to the cleaners – so all that will happen now is that tax-payers will give them their money as against the privileged few who can afford them – this is NOT the solution – there are a boatload of alternatives – WIMAX where a large aerial, say at the top of a hill supplies a wide area…. is one solution, high altitude balloon is another (same idea as satellite without the thousands of miles) – but the real solution is to force BT to do their job properly!

Ofcom will now be able to force service providers to notify households who are downloading and sharing content illegally – HURRAY they’ve finally done what they’ve been wanting to do for years – control the INTERNET – this is big-brother CHINA-STYLE!! What next, selective control of material to make sure our nation sensibilities are not offended?  Social workers calling at your door because you’ve been reading too much right-wing material?

As for 3G networks – which really are pathetic in the UK, the proposition will “provide certainty for investment and an incentive towards greater roll-out” – what? sorry? Last time I contacted Orange to see why we didn’t have coverage in our village they insisted they would LOVE to provide coverage but every time they’d tried to find somewhere to site a masts the “mothers against masts” brigade had stopped them. Until we breed ignorance out of people we’re never going to roll out proper 3G or proper solar and wind power systems for that matter in the UK, instead we’ll just continue to piddle about.  We need a government that is brave enough to take a lead on this an ensure we have universal 3G coverage and policies which ensure the prices are practical – only THEN will we have a truly “digital Britain”.

SKY – What a Shower

We’ve been Sky customers since day one… I never really did forgive the BBC for NOT getting the second generation Star Trek series and I’ve always been even less interested in their boring, politically biased news…  and so as soon as Sky came out, we went for it. Over the years we’ve moved up so we now have the full package (minus the sport) and our latest acquisition is SKY HD.

We bought a box from someone on EBAY and got the subscription to Sky and for a while all was ok – until the box started skipping recordings and showing all manner of other issues.

So a couple of months ago we rang up Sky to see what they could do for a loyal customer. After a little haggling, the guy told Maureen that because they had a special £49 deal on, despite not being new customers – we could have a new box for £49 – magic.

We then received an email from Sky on 28/4/2009 which went as follows:

“Thanks for registering to upgrade to a Sky+HD Box, we’re pleased you’ve chosen to enjoy an even better entertainment experience from Sky.”

Lovely.

Then another….

“We’ve had a fantastic response to our new prices, with a huge number of people registering to upgrade and we’re working through each registration in turn.vAt the moment, we estimate that you’ll be able to complete your order and arrange installation in around 3 months.“

Oh, not so good then! Another email….

“You’re getting closer to enjoying a Sky+HD box and Sky Multiroom. At the moment, we expect it will be 4 to 7 weeks until you can place your order”

“We’re pleased to confirm you can now complete your Sky+HD box and Sky Multiroom order and arrange installation straight away. “

Notice the migration from a simple replacement to the whole 9 yards!

Then this…

“Just to remind you your new Sky box is ready, so you can now complete your order for a Sky+HD box and Sky Multiroom today.”

So – we rang them up – “that’ll be £199 sir” – no matter what we did they would NOT BUDGE. We could have one for £79 if we were adding to another room, otherwise it’s the full whack.

Naturally we told them to SHOVE IT… and off I went on the web to find out what was wrong. I noticed a CD for sale on EBAY, how to fix your SKY BOX – with a list of symptoms pretty much as we’d found. So, for a couple of quid I sent off for the CD. Pretty much all that was in it were explanations of the symptoms and a code to get more control over the Sky box – to enable you for example to defragment the disk….  Well, we followed the instructions and up to now we’ve had no further issues but only time will tell.

Sky is a typical example of Capitalism at it’s worst. Capitalism only works when there is true competition (like for example the computer industry where you can now buy marvellous laptops for next to nothing because of real competition)…at one time BBC had a monopoly and how they share it with SKY – at least in rural areas there are no other options. The BBC licence needs to GO completely to wake this nation up to the need to PAY FOR WHAT WE GET – not what people want to THROW at us. Freeing up that income might encourage someone else to start offering us a decent service.

After that treatment if there was ANY viable alternative to Sky I’d tell them to well and truly stuff their account.

 

Have planners lost the plot?

Is it just me….  this morning as is often the case I was travelling up from the “Big Blue” hotel in Blackpool, to Star Gate then up to the business Park. All the way up there is a “cycle lane” – and on the sea front there is a sign that says “Blackpool is a cycling town”.

All of which is nice – but I have never ONCE seen a bicycle in the cycling lane – so all that’s REALLY happening is that the people who pay road tax (except it’s not called that anymore) – i.e. car users are once again disadvantaged.

It’s the same with bus lanes  — Newcastle Central Station – half of the road is now bus lane – yet every time I go past in peak traffic, the right half (with the cars) is chocker full (mainly as there is only one lane now) and the bus lane is empty.

Metro Centre – disabled parking – on the floor nearest the doors half of it is disabled parking – yet I have NEVER seen more than a tiny fraction of these used – while the rest of the car park is full.

Have I missed some major point here or have the planners?

New pics of grandkids

See the grandchildren section in the menu above!