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Archive for January, 2010

Public Transport – the Lifeblood of Britain

It’s been a little quieter the last few days after a hectic week of travel. After leaving my car at Newcastle airport for the week I came home on Friday by train which meant getting the Metro from Newcastle central station to the airport itself.

Alighting from the train at Newcastle central station I noted the new stiles were in operation – meaning they now have to have 4 employees standing around doing nothing instead of none – that’s progress. This was to be my first metro ride of the century! I used to use the metro years ago but have never had need for it since we moved out into the countryside to evade the crime in Newcastle.  I went down the lift from central station to the underground and waited the few minutes for the next Metro to the airport – very interesting… the first shock was to realise that the machines down there don’t take credit cards, only cash – and the only cash machine was out of order.  I managed to scrape enough coins together for a ticket and headed off down to the platform.

tmpB1AFThere was a multi-ringed couple standing next to me looking for all the world like a circus act. At one point the young guy pinched his girlfriend’s face (no idea why, I’m guessing boredom) at which point she yelled “Divn’t f***n pinch me f***n cheeky bas****d, f**k off” -  and that pretty much describes the level of their conversation as we alighted the metro for the airport – no conversations about share prices down here! Finding absolutely no-where to put my heavy bags (people arriving at train stations tend to have large bags so as they have travelled, but this doesn’t seem to have filtered down to the metro designers!) I had no option but to take up 2 seats – thankfully there were plenty –6pm peak time – no-one on the (no doubt expensive to run) Metro to the airport – see pic). It didn’t take long to realise that the entire carriage smelled of poo – I don’t even want to consider where that came from. 5000 stops later (or so it felt) we arrived at the airport. No lift but just a long up-hill walkway greeted me as I dragged my bags up to ground level. I missed the courtesy coach by a couple of ticks and so half a dozen of us stood outside freezing our parts off waiting for the next coach which duly arrived 10 minutes later and off home I went to warm up! You would think it more sensible to have a warning light INSIDE the airport – at least in the winter so people could stay WARM while waiting for the bus.

An enlightening experience – I still hate public transport.

There’s an APP for that!

Nokia 9000Way back in 1996 I purchased the first Nokia “Smartphone” – the Nokia 9000, a great big brick of a phone with a horrible black and white display –  at the time this was rocket science, exciting and ultimately a little useless. 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 APPS.

Microsoft have of course jumped on the bandwagon with their APP store – which is frankly pathetic – maybe a couple of 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 just did.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all going smoothly – NOTHING involving Orange ever goes smoothly. The phone is all working except for the SIM and NOW they’ve decided they should not have sold me this as there is no signal near my home – I’ve been telling Orange that for 10 years!!!  I’m off now to a hill to battle it out with them – hopefully my old SIM will keep working for a while.

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 are 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 – marvelous.

imageimageimage

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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:

tmp6A36

As you can see I’ve not made a dent and that’s including several hundred tunes and a few podcasts. My only concrete plans for now include installing Tom-tom 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.

Later today my MILO charging cradle should arrive – I’ll let you know how it goes…

Want to view my blog on your iPhone? – Go ahead – same address – it’s compatible!

iPhone 16G or 32G – that is the Question

Windows MarketPlaceToday’s struggle, is whether to go for the 16 gig or the 32gig iPhone!!  I don’t have a lot of music but I like the odd movie and I plan to install a ton of APPS. But the APPS don’t take up THAT much space…. as the cost from Orange is over TWICE the amount just to get the extra memory… it’s a big decision.. any comments?

I really wanted to stick with the Windows Smartphones – they’re really coming along – but the APPS – don’t get me started… Go to Windows marketplace and you get this (see left) – under 300 apps. Go to Apple – countless thousands…

Update:  The 16gig won on grounds of cost. Orange wanted nearly £200 for the larger model even on a 2-year contract!

The hunt is now on for APPs! Suggestions welcome.. I’ve picked 46 already.

More Winter Weather

Just as we thought it was time to bring out the swimming costumes….. BANG – we’re back into winter! This lot were all green last night and the last of the snow and ice was finally beginning to go. The weather forecast said we could look forward to warmer air and…

tmp6BB

And more snow – worst for 50 years

According to the forecast, the Northeast of Britain was going to see less snow today while the South could be getting the worst. Well, the thing is – it’s never stopped snowing all night and it’s STILL going strong! Schools are pretty much all closing, the back garden here is easily a foot deep in pretty packed snow… I’ll put a heavy coat on later and take the camera for some Kodak Moments but for now, here’s a CCTV image, 7.40am, Wark on Tyne.  I’m afraid that car is staying put for ANOTHER day! Goodness knows how much all of this is costing the country… according to the Guardian this is the worst snow for 50 years. I certainly agree I’ve never seen anything quite like this (I’d be 6 at the time and you don’t take much notice of things like weather at 6!)

Snow in Wark 7.30am Jan 6 2010

Enjoying the Snow

Here in Northumberland, with just about the most snow and coldest temperatures I’ve seen this century, at least someone is having fun…. we get a few hours of glorious sunshine – then back to snowfall – with no sign of it slowing down. Meetings scrapped, people stopping at home… thank heavens for electricity!

Rosie

Mother and son fighting in the snow

Eagerly awaiting birds for lunch

Still a kitten but Ollie instinctively knows when he sees a bird!

knee-deep in snow

No change of cutting the grass in the near future..

Part of the back garden covered in snow

Ollie

Brave and Cold New World

More Snow in WarkIf I’ve done this right, not only will Twitter now automatically announce any new blog posts in www.scargill.net but also the site display will adjust automatically for iPhone users. That’s the theory. It’s snowing AGAIN today and my meetings have been cancelled – I had no faith that the public transport would be working anyway so that’s a relief. There’s been more ground cover overnight and as I write this it’s snowing AGAIN – my car is not going anywhere until we get some melting!

As a total aside, I’ve just installed Safari 4 on my PC, so now I have IE8, Firefox 3.5, Chrome and Safari. I’m amazed, not that long ago the latter seemed useless, would not work on lots of sites etc, now, it just works. NICE interface! Sadly, almost no plug-ins! Firefox still wins! Windows fans will note I’m now running all of this on Windows 7 64-bit platform and I agree, it’s Microsoft’s best effort to date. There are a couple of things that don’t run on the 64-bitter so I’m running VMWare and a 32-bit Windows 7 on the same machine – with very little speed loss. I leave it running constantly and so there is no inconvenience there.  Amazing what we can now take for granted.

Loser Brown Fights on

Isn’t it amazing….Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said Labour will fight “every inch of the way” to win what will be a “big choice election” for Britain’s future.

And so.. what what kind of fighting was he doing all this time as he let us slide into the worst recession in my lifetime? Isn’t it a bit LATE for speeches? He’s blown our economy and blown ANY chance of him and his band of losers getting into government again for some time – hopefully for a LONG time.

If Gordon Brown was going to get us out of a mess, he’d have done it long before now, or even taken action to stop things getting this bad in the first place. He didn’t and he deserves to GO – the sooner the better.

Making the best of the Snow

Mid-afternoon January 1st 2010 – it just keeps getting better. As the snow continues to fall, the sun has come out at LAST and it’s like Winter Wonderland here in Wark!

If you look at my earlier blog you’ll note a family out in the fields behind our house. Well, SADLY they’ve gone – and I say that because now you can’t see the scale of this MASSIVE snowball – suffice it to say it looks to be at least 5ft diameter. I’m guessing they’ll come back and build a very large snowman at some point – note the blue sky behind – we’ve just gone from a completely white sky to a largely blue sky  – sadly it’s that time of day and the sun is now going down – I have high hopes for a sunny white weekend!

Field in Wark - January 1st 2010

What a DIFFERENCE a bit of sun makes!

Our garden - January 1st 2010

The view from my office

View from Scargill's office - mid-afternoon January 1st 2010

Looking up the street from our front garden – looks like a parking disaster area.

Street in Wark - Janaury 1st 2010

The start of a new decade – Global Warming – Right!

We start the new decade, supposedly in a phase of global warming, meanwhile here in the Northeast of England we see one of the coldest, whitest beginnings to a new year that I can remember.

Lest anyone in the future tell you that around 2000 or so the world started to warm up, take a look at this lot taken this morning in sunny Wark on Tyne!!  I have to say, it’s quite good fun and for once not too wet and slushy – but it’s a good job few people are in a rush to get to work today! One of our cars is stranded with friends and there is NO chance of digging it out!

Blizzards in Wark - January 2010Our back garden - January 1 2010

A snow fight in Wark - January 1st  2010

Willow Cottage - January 1st 2010

Berries in the snow

and of course, as the snow settles – families making the best of this great opportunity for fun – and why not!

Family out in the snowy fields in Wark