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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

The Future’s GRIM – the Future’s Orange

It looks like the morons at Orange are at it again… regular readers will know of the struggles I’ve had with them over the years…

The last time we were in the Orange store, they offered us inexpensive home broadband as we “upgraded” Maureen’s mobile phone. That would be around 3 weeks ago. We duly signed the papers, took the new phone and went about our business.

A couple of days later, I tried the broadband (not REALLY expecting it to work quite so soon but keen to at least get it set up). It immediately struck me that I’d need a username and password for the modem – so I rang up Orange. They confirmed the order but we were not yet on the system so they could not give us the information.

At that point both Maureen and I had to leave the country and head for the USA. We spent 2 weeks over there during which time her sparkly new Android phone from Orange simply would not connect. Orange were useless during this time as they had NO idea why it would not work and could only offer that I swap SIMS with my iPhone, purely to determine if the SIM was at fault.. or the PHONE was at fault. It was the phone.  On the last day in the states, at the airport, her phone started to work all by itself!

Today I rang Orange to get the username and password and ended up talking to some mindless idiot from a call centre in India. “I’m sorry but I can’t be helping you today as you are not the holder of the contract” – he said, despite being reminded that this was on MY mobile phone bill and I signed the contract at the Orange store.  I left it until Maureen returned.

I just had a very upset wife on the phone. Firstly the broadband won’t be on for another 3 weeks because they screwed something up and didn’t bother to get in touch… and another mindless call centre idiot after very long and convoluted conversation, told her that the “phone was not designed for International use”.  I should point out that this is the internationally used HTC Desire on Android, designed somewhere in deepest Asia and sold all over the world.

Bunch of complete idiots. As soon as I find the time to get to the Orange store, one of their employees is going to have a very hard day…

USB Power Supplies

When I got the iPAD a while ago, it came with a VERY impressive USB power supply. Why impressive? well because it was hardly bigger than a normal mains plug yet puts out a wopping 10watts of power while running freezing cold (which means it is HIGHLY efficient). Most USB supplies put out no-where NEAR that.

The iPAD can’t handle the normal supplies or indeed USB outputs from most hubs and laptops because they simply don’t put out enough power, hence the more powerful unit supplied.

I thought little more of that until today, sitting in the window looking out on suburban Chicago and forced to use a dongle for broadband…. or more specifically the SIM from the dongle inserted into a NOKIA phone running Joikuspot to provide WIFI to both of our laptops. After about half an hour the phone died as the WIFI router uses LOTS of power. So I plugged the phone into it’s charger… no joy, as soon as the Joikuspot program came on the PSU was unable to keep up and the phone went dead again.

Then I remembered the iPAD power supply… having a usb-to-Nokia lead I tried that and BINGO – no problem at all – full use AND charge at the same time  – slightly marred when I found out that theiving Vodafone wanted to charge £29 for 50 meg – making a download of iTunes to the laptop cost £60 what a joke – VODAPHONE IF YOU’RE READING THIS YOU’RE A BUNCH OF THIEVES. The charger ran freezing cold which is more than can be said for the phone.

The moral of the tale?  Make sure as far as possible that all your gadgets charge using USB leads and get a couple of decent USB mains chargers (lead plugs into the charger) – forget the cheap Chinese crap and go for something like the Apple iPAD units which CLEARLY are built to a specification, not a price. A tiny additional benefit being that as they are very efficient, their standby current if left plugged in – is almost non-existent.

Regards

Peter Scargill

Wark in 3D

tmp9246While I have no doubt any locals will have already checked out Wark and surrounding places on Google Earth or Google Maps, I wonder if you’ve seen the place in 3D ??

No??? Well, pop along to Google maps (not Google Earth) – and lookup Galera….

Then under MORE – select “street view” – I had NO IDEA they’d been around with the cameras, you can go most of the way up to our place! Anyway, here we are in street view up our street. That’s pretty impressive – but it’s nothing compared to right-clicking the street view image and turning 3D on!!

I’ve just ordered a couple of pairs of red-blue specs from Ebay….. I can’t wait…

tmpFDB6 tmp41F7

Update 22/05/2010 – it wasn’t worth the wait – the 3D is AWFUL. Screwed above a certain height and generally just not very good. I’ll stick with the flat version which is excellent.

 

Digital Economy Act

I’m sorry – you may think – he just did a blog on this  – well, the more I learn about this act, the worse it gets… so please read on. And what’s even worse, most people I talk to have NO idea this new act exists.

The Digital Economy Act, or the “big boys browbeating government into supporting them and to hell with everyone else” act… is a novel piece of new legislation which states that an ISP (or Internet Service Provider) is someone who provides an electronic communication service that is provided to a subscriber and consists entirely or mainly of the provision of access to the internet and includes the allocation of an IP address or addresses to the subscriber to enable that access.

Let me translate that into English for you. The act therefore affects ANYONE offering free or paid WIFI to anyone else.

That includes but is by NO means limited to:

Parents

FON users

SMEs (ie almost ALL businesses statistically)

The above might include your local shopping area, cafe, hotel, B&B, airport, TRAIN you name it. Everything from the private individual upwards who installs a WIFI router for whatever purpose, from keeping the kids happy to providing a service for customers.

The above people with marked exceptions are no more likely to understand what an IP address is, than I could be expected to know how to operate on a brain tumour.

But it gets worse…. said potential criminals are supposed to notify subscribers (like a FON user would know who his “subscribers” are!) of allegations made by copyright owners that their accounts have been used for unlawful file sharing… and must maintain lists… WHOAH just hold on there, lists?? What, of complete strangers?

This misguided piece of legislation appears to have come into place, being signed by a tiny number of MPs while everyone else had other things to worry about (ie elections) and seems to me to have gone something like this. Big business pressures government to secure protection for the music and related industries to try to stop people ripping off their products.

At this point a little history lesson might be in order… In 56 now and back in the dark ages when I was a teenager, we used to go to record shops and buy records.  I can’t remember the date but Philips brought out something called the musicassette or simply cassette player. It became known as the musicassette because they did a competition asking people what this new mini tape player should be called – and people like me filled in the competition. I still remember receiving the first Philips player and a TON of cassettes as a prize. I’ve no idea if I was the only one – probably not. Any way, I digress.

 

One of the first things that was asked was.. what on earth would you use a cassette player for.  The response was – well, you’d want to record your friends and family singing, or maybe record a meeting or something.

Bollocks- there is a reason the 90 minute tape was the most popular, offering 45 minutes per side. It’s because they knew FINE WELL you’d record one album on one side and another album on the other side.  Is it also I wonder a coincidence that DYMO labels just happened to fit 2 on the end sleeve of the cassette cover.

Anyway, we all know the history – every single person I went to school with had one of these and we all copied each other’s albums and put them on tape – so we could listen to them in the car.

So then the music industry brought out the CD… and NERO brought out the burning software so presumably you could record your friends singing.

Then Sony (who produce records I may add) brought out the Walkman. It must have been obvious at the time that this would produce a very simple way for everyone to record from their CDs to their PC and copy the material to the Walkman… indeed not only was it obvious it was BLINDINGLY successful and so before long we had the file sharers on the web making millions of tracks available to share with others and millions of people started downloading music.

So now it seems the record companies and their friends have decided this is not good enough and somehow got together with the government who then passed a law that makes just about everyone a bona-fide criminal.

Let me be clear, I don’t download lots of music, indeed I mainly listen to Internet radio which once mastered means you’d never listen to the BBC again – but my lack of inclination to download is not because it’s against the law, it’s because I’m now dead old at 56 and most, but not all of the material out there sounds like poo to me apart from Alicia Keys who’s wonderful.

Mobile phones that handle WIFI are now coming out in numbers…. the Microsoft Smartphones, the iPhone, Blackberry and others.. and because the mobile operators are lying gits, offering unlimited access but then in the small print changing their minds – and because 3G in many parts of the UK is entirely PANTS, WIFI is UTTERLY important to this new generation of information seekers. We like to get our news in cafes and the pub, we do more and more and more things via the internet – and when tablets take off we’ll be doing that EVEN MORE…

And what do we find, an act that is guaranteed if anyone ever gets around to TELLING THE PEOPLE, to turn folk OFF from offering free or inexpensive WIFI…

It is therefore VITAL that individuals and companies GET OFF THEIR BOTTOMS and COMPLAIN about this bill and get it CHANGED. Write to OFCOM and explain why this is completely unmanageable – why it will DAMAGE our country and RESTRICT access to WIFI for completely the WRONG REASONS.

As if Nick Clegg needed any more bolstering after his world-class battering of the other two leaders on TV, he was recently asked THIS question

 

"Will you reconsider the Digital Economy Bill considering the manner it was pushed through, without proper scrutiny, the lack of MPs in attendance at the Bill’s hearing and also taking into account that some ministers have demonstrated considerable lack of technical knowledge on the consequences of the proposed legislation?"

His answer..

"We did our best to prevent the Digital Economy Bill being rushed through at the last moment. It badly needed more debate and amendment, and we are extremely worried that it will now lead to completely innocent people having their internet connections cut off. It was far too heavily weighted in favour of the big corporations and those who are worried about too much information becoming available. It badly needs to be repealed, and the issues revisited."

Ok, so get onto your liberal candidate and find out what HE OR SHE is doing about this.. in fact, get onto your MP and ask why he or she (as is likely) did not even bother to VOTE on this issue – I’ll save you guessing – they probably didn’t have a CLUE what it was about – but don’t let that stop you asking!

The Lib Dems later apparently qualified the comment saying that they supported most of the bill – so clearly THEY have some friends in big business also.

I don’t know if you’ve thought of this – but regarding the many thousands of people the government now classes as ISPs – part of the deal is that they all LOG what we’re doing. So just as in the McCarthy era or the peak of the CCCP, the government will have succeeded in turning thousands of ordinary people into SPIES – but this time not for the government, but for BIG BUSINESS….. yes, that means that you ISP will know you are READING THIS be it your REAL ISP, your cafe owner, or your friend who’s letting you use their WIFI!

The Digital Economy Bill – or how to screw up free WiFi

The bill is an attempt by the government to crack down on internet copyright infringement, not a bad idea in itself, but as usual with this government, it is the implementation that’s totally screwed. By attempting to place the burden on the provider, the bill, which went through the house of Lords this week and looks set to fly unless someone DOES something,  is likely to affect, Internet Cafe, Hotels, service providers, trains and the PUBLIC.

Anyone offering WIFI access – how about the COUNTLESS FON USERS !!???!!

The bill could also affect any small business that allows for home working… the list goes on and on and on…  apart from anything else, why on EARTH should any hotel, faced with the possibility of having to police the use of their WIFI – which is WAY beyond the technical or managerial skills of your average hotel, why should they BOTHER to continue to offer free WIFI.

We’re still living in the DARK ages in the UK and this bill is about to make it a LOT WORSE. What about the free WIFI on TRAINS??!!??

If ever there was an example of the government trying to turn us all into willing participants in a POLICE STATE you are now looking at it!!!  

You may find these links useful…

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/apr/08/internet-piracy-bill

http://www.fsb.org.uk/policy/assets/0310%20digital%20economy%20bill%20briefing.pdf

http://www.openrightsgroup.org/

http://computingblogs.typepad.com/peter_scargill/

and to gripe to your MP

http://www.38degrees.org.uk/page/speakout/extremeinternetl

Finally a Decent Fuel Cell?

When I watched this I was thinking “total con artist” until I saw the customers… this actually looks like it might be real!??!?

Finally a Decent Media Centre

Amplifier, Sky box and laptop as media centreI’ve been playing around with media centres for years… I’ve always kept my music, pictures and more recently videos on the the computer and was using this for providing music to our parties LONG before the idea hit the general public.

We used to have a TIVO – marvellous device, let you record video onto it then via a Linux network you could offload to your PC – of course the Americans took Tivo to the next level while we went Media Centre showing music selectiondown the crappy SKY route  – which is STILL crappy – despite having a network connector and even USB – none of which have ever been pressed into service because Sky are control freaks, you can’t offload video and you can’t even KEEP videos for more than a few days in the case of some of the premium stuff – and their player – well, compared to the iPlayer there IS no comparison – I’ve always wanted a PC version of TIVO but improved to cover the rest of my media including my music, photos and of COURSE Shoutcast radio… what other radio is there?  Well, as the original Microsoft Media Centre was SO BAD I tried everything going Media Centre playing musicincluding the excellent  I’ve tried all manner of media centres including the excellent MEDIAPORTAL but this weekend I sat down with new hardware and Windows 7, determined to install the latest Mediaportal – and to be honest, they’ve really not moved on at all, I found it bombed out at times and was just not very good..

So I took the plunge, revisited Microsoft’s Media Centre for Windows 7 – and then went looking for plug-ins. I’m pleased to report that it all works a TREAT and given Shoutcast and Weather plug-ins – it’s also MARVELOUS.  Add to that the free TVERSITY Media Centre displaying Shoutcast stationsand AIR VIDEO programs so I can access my media when on the road on the mobile phone… and what I now have is a very nice setup!

If anyone is interesting in the same facilities, drop me a line with any questions. I’ve wasted a lot of time getting here and I’m happy to advise others to save them wasting the same amount of time… if ONLY the MUSIC 2 people hadn’t retracted their iPhone product…

 

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.

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.

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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.