31 August 2006

Obesity - How the Government Must Lead

Lot's of stuff on obesity lately, including this one from the BBC.

I'm always amazed how many people think that it's the government's problem first and foremost, and want all sorts of actions that deprive/tax/annoy people who are not obese. Is this really the sort of state we want? The government cannot regulate away obesity, and in fact its efforts, however well-intentioned, will just increase it. When the state's actions are seen as an alternative to personal responsibility, is it any wonder people get lazy?

Anyway, here's my suggestion on how the government could lead on this one:

Fire that fat, and useless John Prescott!

That would send a message.

Fascinating Debate on Overseas Aid

I was listening to Radio 4 last night, unusual on a Wednesday night, and came acrosss a fascinating debate on a 45 minute show called Hecklers. Last night's show concerned the premise of Overseas Aid and Debt Relief and the arguments were put forward by a Ugandan journalist, Andrew Mwenda. Andrew's views were quite startling, but also eloquently put.

If you're interested in this topic, you will find it an interesting 45 minute listen. You can do that apparently on Saturday evening, 2nd september at 22.15 when it's repeated, or you can of course Listen Again. (Sorry, I don't know whether Listen Again is available to internet users outside the UK?).

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28 August 2006

Infallible or just plain stupid?

IMHO, religion has a lot to answer for.

Now, we have news that the pope (sorry, not going to give him a capital letter), is ready to embrace intelligent design. Even conservative Pope John Paul II had apparently said that Darwin's theories "were more than a hypothesis".

So, what gives with this pope? Is he having fond memories of his time in the Hitler Youth, and the Nazi's attempts at "intelligent design", generally known as eugenics? Or is he thinking back longingly to those Catholic Church glory days before Gallileo was causing trouble?

27 August 2006

Cycling Hereford/Wales Border

Here's some directions and information about another wonderful cycle ride we just completed, and this one isn't directly in any book that I know of (though bits and pieces of the ride can be found elsewhere). The ride is mostly in Herefordshire, but crosses into Wales on a few occasions. The satellite image of the route is here. GPS track information available from me - just drop me an email. OS Landranger Map 161 (Abergavenny) is all you'll need (though we actually used a map from Hereford Cycle User's Group that we picked up many years ago, but which doesn't appear to be online any more).

Unlike the last ride I posted, this one is quite a bit tougher - but about the same overall distance (about 41 miles). But, this is a really beautiful ride - fantastic scenery, a few castles, lovely churches, pubs, gardens, etc. It's all on-road, but in 41 miles merely traverses an A-road (twice), and probably has only about 6 miles on B roads.

We started from Skenfrith Castle on the B4521, with easy parking. Take a quick tour of the castle if you've got time (or when you return) - it's free! We then headed up to Grosmont - which also has an old castle, tea room and pub. We then passed through Kentchurch and Pontrilas before heading off (slightly off the route we meant to take) up a very steep hill towards Balls Cross down towards (but not into) Walterstone, then heading up to Clodock, Longtown and then onto Michaelchurch Escley. All of these tiny villages are lovely with a nice church and pub, and the scenery is just wonderful (skirting HayBluff, Black Hill, and Offa's Dyke path). Michaelchurch Escley is the highest point on route (well, just after) at about 950ft, but you're rewarded by a wonderful downhill to Vowchurch which also has a lovely unusual church. Briefly onto the B4348, then right onto the B4347 towards Abbeydore.

We visited the Abbey (photo above) a couple of weeks before. It's a real Abbey, but became a church around the reformation. Although being restored, it's still a lovely and impressive site. Around the corner is Abbeydore gardens with an award-winning tea-room/cafe. Well worth a stop, but not open every day.

We then headed back into the (mostly) pretty Ewyas Harold (pronounced, I think, u-wuss) back to Kentchurch, and this time followed a lovely road to Garway Common with more wonderful views (and a climb). We had a total climb on this route of around 2,700 ft. But the advantage with that is that there are few nice descents, and the best one was the last - back from Broad Oak to Skenfrith Castle (don't take the Skenfrith turn on Garway Common or you'll miss this one). You can then retire to the refurbished and seemingly popular Bell Inn for sustenance.

Truly a lovely route that shows the best of the Herefordshire countryside. And, lots to see and do to take up a full day if you've got time.

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The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

I have a soft spot for stories about parrots, and posted back in January on a few parrot stories that I quite enjoyed, including the parrot that shopped the owner's cheating girlfriend, and the anti-authoritarian parrot. And, not forgetting the amazing N'kisi with a 950 word vocabulary, and apparently capable of making phrases and using tenses.

On Friday evening I watched the documentary movie The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. This is a lovely little (83 minute) film about, well, er, parrots. Telegraph Hill is a fashionable area of San Francisco, close to the Financial District. I lived in S.F. for about 6 years, and so have a great deal of affection for the City. Anyone who has been there will enjoy some of the lovely scenes in the movie. The parrot colony essentially came into being probably through escaped pets, but is quite thriving. Much of the movie also concerns Mark Bittner who had formerly drifted to the edges of society, and, through the parrots, has reconnected with it. There is a particularly nice twist at the end. Mark has names for each parrot and is quite unequivocable about each of them having personalities. I particularly liked Mingus.

Anyway, if you're looking for an uplifting, easy-to-watch movie, add it to your Netflix, Lovefilm, etc. queue, or pop down to your local video store (though good luck finding that title in most UK stores).

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24 August 2006

Apple and Creative

A few words about yesterday's announced settlement between Apple and Creative, covered across the web:

1. Hasn't this been settled incredibly quickly?
2. While I don't know much about patent law, my instinct is to agree with Steve Job's view that Creative were fortunate to get the patent (as far as I can see, early spreadsheets and the NextStep finder both from 80's or hierarchical context-sensitive menus would surely count as prior art).
3. This then (against Steve's instincts to fight) is a settlement based on pragmatism and practicality for both parties, with perhaps a little deviousness thrown in from Steve himself.

For Creative, they get some urgently needed cash (ironically approximately equivalent to the amount they said they'd spend on advertising to dethrone the iPod this year); they get a sort of validation of the patent; and they get a simple (and cheap?) way into the made for iPod program (quite intriguing that one). They also get it resolved quickly allowing them to move on.

For Apple, they put this claim to bed, relatively cheaply both in cash terms and balance sheet. No (low) value has been put on the Creative patent, as it is a net settlement about BOTH companies' claims (indeed it potentially also recognises some of Apple's claims). It saves massive company time, legal costs and potentially massive damages and disruption (just ask Blackberry maker RIM).

Coincidentally, on the same day, Microsoft (and Autodesk) were forced to pay even more to a small company for a patent they violated that has taken many years to resolve. That didn't garner much press, but is notable in respect of the potential damage to Apple. If Apple thought there was even a 5% chance of Creative winning (and probably winning big), then they made a very smart choice.

But it's Microsoft that most pops into my mind when I consider the speed and pragmatism of both companies in settling this. A clause in the agreement allows Apple to get some of the payment back if/when Creative gets royalties from other companies (or sues them!). As Microsoft has suddenly gone from friend to foe for Creative (and others on the PlaysforSure program), there is a significant re-alignment of the chairs on deck. We now have to assume that Creative will also go after Microsoft when it finally releases Zune, emboldened by the settlement and better cash balances. That will hurt Microsoft in all the same ways as it promised to hurt Apple, but at a particularly vulnerable time for them. Apple gets to sit this one out and enjoy it from the sidelines.

Seems like a win-win for Apple to me, bought for a relatively lowly $100m and the loss of a bit of pride.

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22 August 2006

Fantastic Fun

I've been meaning to post this up for a few weeks, but it's taken a while to process the video.

I mentioned earlier this year about my sprint car exploits.

I had a chance to re-visit the same track in early August and have another go. It was a lot more successful, though I have really a massive amount to go to catch up the real drivers.

I thought you might be interested in the video taken by the on-board camera. I used to think this was amazing when we saw it with Formula 1 races in the 80's, and it seems really hi-tech to have this (even though it's neither expensive or difficult any more). The video is of my first timed lap - a very disappointing 71 seconds or so. I got this down to the 67+s mark later, but unfortunately, you'll just have to take my word for that (the battery/tape ran out). I've put it on the Movies page on my website for now which also includes a few more details on what is REALLY achievable. It's also on my iPod, of course.

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Cycling near River Severn

Following on from my Algarve cycling tips and routes, I'm going to try posting on some of the more interesting cycle rides we do. I will also try to include a GoogleMap image of the route, and perhaps a photo or two.

This bike ride is really quite a simple one - it's predominantly flat. It comes right out of the Ordnance Survey Cycle books (now Philips?) covering Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire. I think it's ride number 13, listed as 34 miles. We added about another 12 miles to the route by starting just outside Gloucester itself (from Highnam), but subtracted about 4 by excluding one part that takes you down to the Severn at Arlingham. Look at the satellite image of the route here. I can also provide the track data for a GPS device if you'd like to mail me (I'm going to be building a library of these).

Highlights of the ride are the lovely villages of the Severn, including Elmley, Saul, Slimbridge and especially Frampton-on-Severn. There is also a stretch on the towpath of the Gloucester/Sharpness canal (you could do more on this canal as well). The photograph is of the tiny church - St Peters - at Frocester. It really is that tiny. There are pubs on average every mile or so and one or two tea rooms (check out Frampton-on-Severn), so you'll never be short of refreshment. If you start from Gloucester (where you could arrive by train), there is plenty to see there too. The ride out of Gloucester is a mix of bike path and road and is in flux due to building of a new bypass. You SHOULD be able to follow the canal towpath out for much of this, but that is also currently disrupted due to the bypass.

It would also be easy to make a stop in Slimbridge to visit the famous wetlands if you've got the time.

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Apple vs Dell Pricing (humour)

Following Steve Jobs claims at the WWDC that the Mac Pro beats Dell on price by a fair margin, we have yet more evidence that Apple is beating Dell in other product lines too!

Seriously, I'll return to this topic soon, but this was too funny not to pass on! Thanks to The Register for that!

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21 August 2006

MacOS X, Security and Journalism

I've been following the story of the Black Hat Security Conference MacBook Wi-Fi hack. It is now turning out that the story was pretty much a massive fabrication, and that the Washington Post's reporter has been rather silly about this. But at least for a change, it's not a UK newspaper reporting badly on an Apple theme!

John Gruber is such a great writer on all things Mac, that I will lead you to his blog as the definitive post on the subject. I think even my posts are shorter than his! But John's demolition job is thorough and admirable. Unfortunately, of course, some of the damage is done.

So, just as an aside, I'll throw in this lovely piece from Guy Kewney at The Register about his frustration with Windows - a story far more deserving of attention than the wi-fi hack ever was, even if somewhat tangential.

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Dell and Autism

Yes, I'll give it a break after this one, honest! But I couldn't let this one go without a post.

I blogged here about the Daily Express's article asserting that iPods were implicated in the rise in autism. It was of course a completely crass piece of journalism.

Hot on the heels of the Dell battery problem though is this (reasonable) article at Infoworld about Dell's recall of 4.1m batteries and that many of the originals will now be headed for landfill. Now, each of these batteries itself is about as big, if not bigger than a full-size iPod. And, given that in 2004, Apple's iPod sales totalled just 8.4million, and few of those would by now have been recycled, this battery problem alone will surely dwarf any contribution from iPods to landfill?

But fortunately, the article goes on to explain that:
"experts agree the environmental impact will be minimal."

Huh? Apparently, "Lithium ion batteries are benign compared to the toxic ingredients in other rechargeable batteries with nickel-cadmium or small sealed lead-acid chemistries. Those heavy metals include cadmium, mercury and lead, elements that cause human and environmental health threats when they leach into ground water or filter into the air after incineration, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency."

Ah, so Li-ion batteries are NOT a problem then? So, not only, as I pointed out in my original post, are iPods a tiny contribution by weight to any landfills, it would seem that the batteries used in them are considerably less toxic than other types of batteries. Will the Daily Express ever apologise for it's misleading article? Will it ever care to educate it's readership on the real issues about disposing of STUFF? And will the British press run an article denouncing Dell for it's contribution to autism (which is as untrue as the iPod article)?

Will hell freeze over?

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Dell and the Exploding Laptop - Part Deux

I said in my last post I wasn't going to poke fun at Dell over the battery issue. And indeed I wasn't. I think most people don't understand just how hard it is to get all this technology reliable on 100% (not 99.99%) of equipment. With just 99.99%, 4m computers would mean 400 very unhappy users and an active fire brigade. That's a lot of bad anecdotes and YouTube videos. Dell's problems could happen to anyone - Apple, HP, Lenovo etc. and indeed, they already have over the years.

However, I picked up this story yesterday which shows that Dell and Sony discussed this problem 10 months ago. Not only that, this story demonstrates that Dell thought it serious at THAT time.

That, I'm afraid is arrogance and foolishness as it indicates a failure on both companies parts to hide from a serious malfunction. It is also irresponsible. And I think it should make those customers who are being told they will have to wait over 75 days for a replacement battery pretty mad too.

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Dell and the Exploding Laptop

I'm not going to poke fun at Dell (well, not yet) on the battery issue they've had to fess up to. But I am going to take aim at the UK media again. I reported in this post about the U.K. media's fetish with saying bad things about Apple.

I said this "The exploding laptop seems to dwarf any technical issue that has allegedly plagued Macs/iPods, yet has been little-reported in the mainstream UK press to my knowledge".

Charles, representing the journalistic community (and I honestly believe Charles is a GOOD journalist), had this to say in a comment on that post:

"The Dell laptop is a one-off. It's a "gee, lookatthat" story. No legs."

But it wasn't a one-off. It DID have legs. The blogosphere found it (it had found it when I originally posted). It ends up being a huge story impacting over 4 million users. Many of those are unable to use their laptop as, er, a laptop, till they get a replacement battery in a few months time.

And Charles' own staff eventually reported on it in the business section (temporary promotion? Or is that demotion in the Guardian?) Note: To be fair, Bobby is a good journalist and writer too.

But, where were the British tech media when it happened? Concentrating on pulping a fruit, I think!

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18 August 2006

Investment Tip: Go Long on Pesto!

I was somewhat amused to read this story in the Guardian earlier in the week, about the failure of the basil crop in Italy due to excessive hailstorms (though I guess it's no laughing matter for the farmers involved).

I have loved Pesto since I rather belatedly discovered it in the 80's from a recipe book. An interesting fact about me that will no doubt confound many (any?) of the readers out here is that I am a small-scale Pesto producer myself! Our own consumption only of course with the odd distribution to a few friends. But, each year, we plant 12 Basil plants in pots on a South-facing terrace in late May (straight from the supermarket in fact). That immediately goes against two of the "truths" noted in this follow-up (pretentious) Guardian article!

I am usually able to take cuttings at several times throughout the summer (I've already had 3 harvests this warm one), and the quality remains quite good through till September.

Of course, we'd be eating Pesto everynight (perhaps too much even for me) if it wasn't for a discovery I made when visiting the family house of my friend Linda (née Marcheschi) one September to find 3 generations of Marcheschi's in the kitchen (Linda being the youngest, and first generation American) pulling off leaves of basil from a truly humoungous pile of basil cuttings! I wondered how even a large Italian family could get through so much pesto! The secret was, of course, to freeze it. But there is a second - and more important tip dear readers - and that is HOW to freeze it. An ice cube tray (especially those you get in American-style fridges) is PERFECT for creating "units" of pesto. There is one other tip for freezing it - make sure you DON'T add the cheese. It was these discoveries that proved vital for me!

And, so every year, I have multiple manufacturing sessions each turning out about 25-30 individual helpings. Lot's of basil cuttings (you'll figure out a technique for letting the plant continue to thrive - just leave a few leaves at the bottom); pine nuts; lots of garlic; a little salt and pepper and some extra-virgin olive oil. A magimix is vital for mass production and some freezer bags to put the ice cube trays in. I've also been helped this year with the sage purchase by my other half of a garlic peeler (!) and the best garlic crusher I've ever seen (send a comment if you'd like to know more!).

When I/we need a quick meal, it's a matter of cooking the pasta, microwaving a cube (one each) for about 45 seconds, and adding the grated cheese. Maybe it's not quite as good as fresh, but I still love it - and it's better than the supermarket-bought jars. And in the simple ice-cube format, it's so handy in other things too. One cube would make a nice spread for sandwiches for two or three people using goat's cheese on a ciabatta roll or foccacia (or plain bread!). I recently added a cube to a bean and red-onion risotto that certainly enriched it. Or use a cube in a pesto salad dressing.

Thanks Linda for those tips all those years ago. I know you'd be horrified when I grate in a strong cheddar rather than a good parmesan, but sometimes, the cupboard is bare! Please forgive me (and for revealing your technique for the world to see)!

Who says this blog is one-dimensional?

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Regular readers here may remember my recent rant about the newspaper that would have been pleased for us all to live in a Nazi state.

Well, yesterday, Apple published the results of it's internal investigation into Foxconn.

You can read it yourself. You may of course choose to disbelieve it, or you may choose to decide that the failings identified were indeed very serious and that the article was justified. I've already seen the BBC's choice of headline on the story "Apple admits excessive iPod hours".

And that is about the worst of it, really. No child labour, no enforced working, generally good conditions, and generally happy workers. Excessive hours maybe a problem, though it seems this country of ours took until just a few years ago to adopt a working time directive measure - a law that really was about worker safety and public safety. But, let's just put the "excessive hours" in a different context. What was the single biggest complaint from the workers?

It was that there was not enough overtime available at non-peak periods! While Western minds may think that a successful outcome is that the excessive hours will be reduced, I guarantee that will not be the same mindset amongst the Chinese.

So, essentially (if we are to believe Apple's report - and they have a lot to lose if it's not true), the substantive claims behind the Mail on Sunday's article were not true. But without them, let's face it, the story would have been MUCH less interesting and barely publishable.

I wonder if the workers the Mail on Sunday SHOULD have focussed on were those working at the Chinese Sony/Dell battery-manufacturing facility?

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15 August 2006

Music Industry up to Old Tricks...

As usual ArsTechnica is right on the button with Nate Anderson's article about the music industry's efforts at shutting down the guitar tab sites.

Guitar tab sites (at least those I've visited) primarily get their information from fans and enthusiasts essentially "reverse engineering" the song into its components. It provides a good way to get into a song that you like, and hone your guitar skills at the same time (if I had any that was!). There is variable quality and accuracy, but most allow you to play along with a song without having to laboriously work it out yourself. I have used them many times for my own personal enjoyment. I would never have considered paying for such material, but most likely for the bands I like, such material isn't available and certainly wouldn't be available in anything like the way the internet can provide it. The music I've played I also own on CD, and I enjoy it that much more because I now understand a few more nuances of it. None of the guitar tabs I've ever seen represent original copies supplied by the band itself. It's like someone's rather poor water colour copy of a Constable.

If there was a valid, paid-for, endorsed tab available per song (rather than buying a whole album's worth), and on the internet, then maybe I would consider it at a fair price (think 50pence per song if I own the song, maybe more if I don't). But there isn't, as far as I know. I'm not driving 30 miles to my guitar shop on the off-chance they have the sheet music I want, then paying £10 or more for it, only to find it's too difficult and I never play it again!

This is another pathetic kill-joy attempt by the estabished music industry to kick its fans where it hurts. It will only hasten its slide into oblivion with a new world order emerging connecting bands more directly with their fans and cutting out the fat, slothful middlemen. While I've never downloaded illegal music, I would certainly consider participation in some sort of P2P network to help keep this going.

Anyone care to defend the music industry on this?

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06 August 2006

Leopard Wish List

Just a little fun ahead of Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference starting Monday. There'll be a few new product releases of course, with particular focus on the Mac Pro (PowerMac replacement). I'm not sure about other releases this time - my guess is that the new Intel Core Duo 2 upgrades to MacBook Pro and iMac will wait until the chips are in better supply and not to dull the impact of the Xeon/CoreDuo 2 Mac Pros (European MacWorld for instance?). I'm also not sure there'll be any massive iPod news either for obvious reasons of the theme of the event.

But, what has been known for a long time is that this event will preview features to come in "Leopard" - Mac OS X 10.5.

I'm sure Apple is playing a clever game attempting to ensure that it has EVERY key feature offered by Vista, and of course a few more goodies too. It is not enough for us to know that a 10.6 will be along way before Vista's replacement. At this time, I'm not actually sure that Vista offers anything that even the current Mac OS X 10.4 lacks, but I'm sure this will be studied in detail by the various factions over the next few months. But 10.5's featureset is very important indeed if it is to allow Apple to grow it's marketshare as I expect it to. It's release timeframe also is important - any slippage beyond 2007Q1 will be considered a negative.

I'm going to give my wish list of features (note - I'm not trying to predict features) I'd like to see in no particular order (I'm going to skip stuff about a new kernel, and even discussions about the Finder, because I'm not smart enough to add anything that hasn't been said by others):

1. Resolution independence. Wozzat? It would mean for example that you could cram ever more pixels onto a screen without making everything (esp text) smaller. This would allow HD-capable screens in the larger notebooks without destroying the eyesight. Although technical in nature, this feature is vital if our machines are to be usable as screen resolutions go even further.

2. Improved synchronisation and back-up - especially between multiple machines. Some sort of cross between the features of iSync, iDisk/WebDav and a backup application is needed here so that we can ensure our music, photo and document libraries are maintained/preserved correctly. For instance, when my notebook is at home, it could in the background exchange information with the main home "server" - that could receive new photos off the notebook, and ensure the notebook had a subset of the primary music library (or the server could be configured to import the music in a lossless format, and the notebook could have it as an AAC/MP3, for instance). Our productivity and data integrity could be helped a lot with software that is much more intelligent and lets us do things just once (import a CD, add a photo to a library, etc) and ensure that data is available and backed up.

3. Mapping. Now this is a long-shot, and partly influenced by my recent forays into GPS, GoogleEarth etc. (though a couple of rumour sites have mentioned this area as a possibility). Perhaps for instance, it would make it easy in iPhoto to tag location information onto shots? I think location features are going to become increasingly important - especially in our mobile devices. I'm already thinking that Apple will take the iPod + Nike stuff much further with a GPS add-on to the iPod. This would then match up with downloadable maps and local information (eg tourist guides - which are already emerging in iPod format). Some software for the home machines and notebooks would be needed to go along with such features. The problem with embedding such functionality with Leopard is that most iPod users are not Mac users of course, so if I'm heading in the right direction on the iPod front, Apple will need something more cross-platform for this sort of functionality. I'm intending to cover this big topic in a future blog post.

4. iChat 4. There's little doubt that there will be an iChat 4, but where could it go? I am now running Skype AND iChat at the same time, and the latest Skype can do a lot more (though not always very well). I need real cross-platform capabilities, and I want to switch easily between IM'ing people, talking with them and even videoing. When they're not there, I want messages taken and forwarded on. I really hope iChat opens up more, and offers some VoIP features such as calling out. It needs to do this quickly or it will be marginalised into a quaint application that we occasionally use for communicating with our fellow Mac zealots. If there is an Apple iPhone, then it should also have an iChat application. Or better yet, Apple should come out with iChat clients that work on other devices such as Symbian phones. The key to such solutions working is either to be highly interoperable and/or highly ubiquitous. iChat 4.0 must go in at least one of these directions.

I do think both the mapping and the home backup are a bit speculative, and the other two less so. But I'd love to see some development in all four areas.

There'll be other features too of course - iCal, AddressBook and Mail improvements. BootCamp will also be formalised. Spotlight will surely be enhanced to keep it ahead of the search capabilities in Vista. There will be features added to the OS to ensure it is capable of bettering the Media Centre experience offered by some versions of Vista. Whether this will be outward in terms of better FrontRow functionality or under the hood I have no idea, but the onset of Blu-ray, HD DVD and other HD technologies will surely mandate some changes?

What would you like to see in Leopard? Or, if you're reading this after the Keynote what are you excited about or disappointed with?

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03 August 2006

Nokia N80

I was going to write about the ludicrous economics of the mobile phone industry (in this country at least), but thought you'd all be more interested in the new Nokia N80 - in particular, how far have 3G phones come in the year since I got my 6680 which I reviewed in the early days of this blog.

I had no intention of upgrading my phone, but Orange tried to get another £5 a month for insuring my 1-year old model. While that alone was not enough to upgrade, the tempting offer of 50% off line rental for a 2 year contract was. That turned out to be false however - it was just 1 year off as it turns out. I should have complained harder but lost the will to live after sitting on hold for countless hours. A further £30 rebate was the best I could do! Given my low usage (I'm on just a 120 minute plan) the phone was still going to cost me £75, but frankly the economics are still way in my favour (except I give up the right to upgrade in a year's time and move to the Apple iPhone!). It is ironic that my 6680 is now sitting idle, though fortunately it can be used as an extra remote control using Salling Clicker! There wasn't a lot wrong with the 6680, but the screen had become diabolically scratched. I had also found the interface frustrating when compared with previous Nokias - generally slow and with many actions requiring several steps and dexterity with the scroll key, where once it was one.

Anyway, I had quickly made up my mind to go for the new N80. Why, you may ask? Well, the primary reason was it is the first phone (except for the much larger smartphones) that has built-in WiFi. And, fortunately, Orange has not disabled this feature. Why is this so important you may also ask? While not yet available, it is widely anticipated that VoIP software will be made available for the Symbian phones soon giving me the ability to make cheap calls via a wi-fi hotspot (a Skype client is expected). More importantly, I can use the phone's browser (which is now Safari-based) to access web sites without going through the expensive 3G network. I can of course use it on my home networks too.

Apart from WiFi, I was attracted by the phone's size - while chunkier than the 6680, it is shorter (about the length of an iPod nano as it turns out) and narrower. It's keyboard slides away neatly, but the keys are consequently bigger (and much better) than the 6680. A 3MP camera also helps, though I had read the image quality is not great. I was almost put off by a new style Nokia charger - the first for many years, which would have made my other chargers obsolete. However, an adapter included allows use of older chargers.

The phone duly arrived. My first impressions were of a much better screen, and a VERY snappy response time in all respects. The phone also felt good in the hand despite it's thickness, and indeed I prefer this over the 6680. I was quickly able to transfer contacts and calendar information from the previous phone using bluetooth. The WiFi connection was relatively straightforward to set up though due to my tight security, I had to find the phones MAC id, which was not indexed in the manual (but googleable). I was quickly surfing web pages though, and the browser indeed looks neat (though there is need to be zooming in and out to read traditional pages). I haven't tried a lot of pages yet, but I imagine that it is still best used with WAP-style pages.

Having played with the phone more, I am very happy with the new interface. Apart from the speed, it's also better arranged - easier to have your preferred actions just a keystroke or two away.

Many of the phones features aren't particularly Apple friendly. Despite the WiFi for instance, it can't access files from a Mac in this way (that I know of) - only Bluetooth can be used for that. The uPNP features for photos etc. are of no value to a Mac user. I was though able to connect the phone via the USB cable with the memory card showing up on the Mac desktop (this didn't work on the 6680). But the feature seemed unreliable, and the phone's online features are disabled when this is done. My SanDisk USB card reader had no trouble accepting the new style mini-SD card (yet another type) and mounting it on the Mac desktop that way for quick transfer of music or images. Unfortunately, Symbian/Nokia now require applications to be certified for use on the phone (or something like this). So, my trusty Salling Clicker remote control application is not installable yet. However, Jonas Salling has produced a Java applet which gives most of the features of Clicker, and does work using the usual Bluetooth method. He is working to get the application certified, and one advantage is that it should also work via WiFi which should enhance the range significantly.

Apple's iSync is the usual story of the phone not supported until some future release of 10.4.x. But, there is a simple workaround to add the phone posted on numerous discussion boards, and a user-supplied tiff image to make it professional. This worked first time for me, with just a simple use of text edit and copy and paste. However, I would have thought Apple could make the iSync framework easier to accommodate new models quickly - perhaps by allowing the vendor to deliver a simple file. I can't believe Nokia wouldn't do something like this if it was available. iSync seemed to work fast. Given the better interface on the phone and a few nice little features in Contacts etc. I think I will use this feature more than on the 6680 where I found Contacts and Calendar rather disappointing.

I haven't tried the camera yet - I'm keeping various protection stickers on the phone until I get a case. I'm not willing to let this get scratched as badly as the 6680, especially as I have 2 years to run on this one!

So, all-in-all, this is a significant improvement in the last year, though not monumental. Arguably this phone fixes things that should never have been on the 6680 and previous 3G phones. But there is a trade-off. Battery life is even worse than the 6680. This maybe because it's a smaller battery, but it may be because of wifi (which cannot be turned off to my knowledge) and more features eating into the power. While being at the high-end of Nokia's offerings, I don't think it is yet a great music player, a great internet access device and certainly not a great camera, and so I still think true convergence is a way off unless you are willing to accept the compromises. But it is a positive step in the right direction. If you like your phone (relatively) small but useful for many functions, this is certainly worthy of your attention - Mac or PC user.

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The British Press and Apple (again)

Here goes The Independent now.

What really has Apple done to deserve this? It seems that it is almost a solely British phenomenon, and it seems like each newspaper is trying to outdo its competitors with more and more outlandish takes building on the previous assertions which then seem to have become fact.

1. There is no evidence that Apple's products are unreliable or faulty any more than any other brand. On the contrary, there is plenty of evidence through external independent surveys that Apple's satisfaction rate is among the highest there is. (The yougov brand survey use in the article is interesting as it is in the UK, where the stories have originated and concerns people's feeling on the brand, not a comparison of product reliability).

2. The allegations against cheap Chinese labour while implicating Apple, are still unconfirmed and fly in the face of rules laid down by Apple itself to its manufacturing subcontractors. It is most likely such allegations (if true) will also apply to other mainstream manufacturers (eg Dell) who use the SAME partner.

3. Apple's secrecy seems to be a major problem for journalists, yet it has taken steps that any other corporation would do to ensure its product plans are confidential. It is commercial suicide not to protect such plans. People leaking such information are breaking contracts. Is it this assault on journalistic freedom that has caused the (British) press to rise up with this unfounded rumourmongering?

4. Or maybe it's because Apple says "no comment" to so many stories that has journalists up in arms (according to the story). Is this not a reasonable position for any company to take? Everybody wants Steve's/Apple's point of view. So, they don't respond to every inane question and suddenly it's Apple's "secrecy".

5. In regards to staining MacBooks (or faulty iPods) Apple has never shirked from its responsibilities. I myself had a small cosmetic problem with Titanium paint on a 6 month old laptop. It was taken away and repaired without question and delivered back in under 48 hours. Sure it's discussion boards open it up to mass hysteria. But those discussion boards are a positive and open effort from a company. Where are Dell's similar discussion boards by the way? (They no longer exist of course). Further reporting by the press without understanding basic statistics will presumably lead to Apple making the same decision to the detriment of us all (and with even further press opprobrium no doubt).

6. There are other allegations which are just so ridiculous. Take for instance the upset little girl because she got a form letter back form the law department. Trivial at most, and perfectly understandable (if slightly crass) behaviour. At least they responded! Such letters of course exist because of our crazy litigious society. Apple's approach to charity is also questioned next to Bill Gates. Hold on, this is the proprietor of the convicted monopolist we're talking about. Sure, he's doing some good, but Apple is bad because they aren't the Bill and Melinda foundation? Where's Michael Dell in all this, or Sony, or the Hewletts/Packards/Groves etc? Gates still has multiple times more cash left than Jobs has ever earned from Apple (and even Pixar). And, Apple's decision to hold iTunes pricing at 79p is BAD? What would the journalist think the implications of setting a new price for one track have been? Instead, Apple funded the difference itself. User's could have purchased the track twice costing themselves the same amount, and letting Apple match their contribution. What exactly is BAD about that?

7. There are many other errors - including the usual "music downloaded from iTunes can only be played on an iPod" rubbish.

I find this onslaught truly unbelievable and crass. But I am ashamed that this crassness appears to be coming almost exclusively from the UK press. I hope Apple is looking at this and chooses where to place its advertising money more wisely.