28 July 2009

Google's choices not bullet proof

Image representing AOL as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase

We tend to think of Google as bulletproof and everything they touch turns to gold.

They have made some HIDEOUS decisions in the past, and none greater than the one biting their ass today - the offloading of their 5% stake in AOL which was originally purchased for a cool $1 billion.

We were all giddy at AOL when the transaction happened, both for the fact that we worked for a company worth $20 billion (5% x 20 = 100% for those having maths difficulties) and the fact that we MAY have an "in" to getting work at Google.

Neither really happened.

Today, Business Insider are reporting that Google has called time on the horrible experiment that is investment in AOL and sold their share for $283 million.

I wonder what Google's other stunning investments - Orkut, Jaiku, etc. - will have to do to get similar treatment.
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26 June 2009

HD and the gadgets it comes in

FreesatImage via Wikipedia

I've been humming and hawing for ages about getting two new HD gadgets - a blu-ray player and a Freesat PVR.

Today there's news that Freeview HD will be kicking off in December. However, the march to terrestrial HD is long and winded and not free of problems, the main one being capacity.

Even though I have a wonderful (if dead) Humax Freeview PVR, getting any type of Freeview HD will require a new box, rendering my beloved (if dead) Humax 9200T useless.

So, do I stump up for a new Freeview HD box to receive a couple of HD channels, or do I stump up for a Freesat HD PVR to receive all the glories of satellite capacity? It's a no-brainer really.

I'm just wondering what USP Freeview HD is going to use to tempt people away from the higher capacity of Freesat.

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01 June 2009

Jetlag... finally

I've been in three timezones in the past fortnight and jetlag has finally caught up with me, just when I need it not to.

Our trip from the UK to the Pacific Northwest was met with zero jetlag, similarly our trip from the Pacific Northwest to Toronto was sleep deprivation free. Only when we fly back to Blighty do I succumb to the dreaded sleepless night... just when I have to be bright-eyed and bushy tailed for work the next day.

As it is, I feel rough as houses - a bit queasy and quite tired - and not at all well-rested as you should be when back from holidays. Still, I'm glad I didn't waste a second day of the hols on jetlag recuperation.

30 May 2009

End of the holiday

I really hate holidays sometimes. About four days before they end, you know they're coming to an end, and it's long flights, jetlag and back to work awaiting for you. This really kinda marrs the end of the holiday for me.

I really enjoy the run up, as you're counting down the days and doing less and less at work, as you hand over your workload to colleagues. You also get the "going anywhere nice?" questions, followed by the inevitable "oh, nice!"

I guess my holidays are generally sullied some, as we're visiting friends and family and it's harder to leave them than it is to leave some faceless hotel you've called home for a few days.

It still doesn't make it any easier to leave Canada or Australia and return to a pokey two-bed flat and to work.

26 May 2009

Off to the cottage

So far, we've had a wonderful time in Seattle, a nice trip to Vancouver (marred by the worst hotel ever), and a wonderful wedding. Now we're off to the wilds of Ontario for a few days at a cottage, to relax, unwind and watch the rain fall.

The forecast is not terribly friendly, but as with most things - this holiday will be what we make of it.

20 May 2009

Seattle trip comes to an end

As I write this, we are readying for our return to Vancouver, to await our flight to Toronto tomorrow.

Having never been to Seattle before, I have nothing but fond memories and Sue's friends Peter and Caroline were lovely hosts, ensuring we saw all the sights there are to see. We tried local beer, and seafood, saw various tourist sights, hooked up with an ex-colleague of mine and just had a nice relaxed time.

I'm looking forward to getting to Toronto and having the wedding portion of our holiday, but Seattle was a very nice surprise indeed.

18 May 2009

Another day in Seattle

Today we actually headed into deepest, darkest Seattle.

I was on a mission to find the first ever Starbucks, for no other reason than historical curiosity. I really wanted to know why, in America's city of coffee, one shop rose above all others to become the international McDonald's of hot brown lovin'. The shop really provided no answers, but I did enjoy probably the best cup of Starbucks I've had in a while.

We also hit a place called Lowell's, which is a Seattle institution. I had one of "Lowell's rolls", an arctic cod roll with chips, all washed down by unsweetened ice tea. Sue found a local brew from the Pike Brewery and washed down some fish and chips with that. I think I could live here - unsweetened ice tea EVERYWHERE, decent local microbrew and the city of coffee. Only negative being the rainfall.

This arvo we're hitting a local mall to see what US prices compare to Canada and the UK.

Sunday in the hills

Today we took a trip into the Cascade Mountains to a town called Leavenworth. In 1972, the townsfolk decided that in order to bring tourists in, they'd need to theme the town. From 1972 on, the town was Bavarian themed. The place looks like a Disney version of a German town, albeit with the Cascade mountains in the background.

We ate a a themed restaurant and had a so-so meal. We also tucked into some local made salt water taffy, and found a place called the Australia "Store" that sold random things, as well as Aussie imports. Just the thing for Sue.

It was a crazy day of driving, punctuated by some German grub.
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17 May 2009

Sleepy in Seattle

Home of the Twin Peaks Cherry PieImage by apete via Flickr

Had a really lovely first full day in Seattle.

Started off with breakfast in North Bend, at the diner that was used in Twin Peaks. Being a Peakie fan for years, this was a real kick. I had a couple of cups of "damn fine coffee" and took a bunch of photos to commemorate.

Later today we went to the space needle. Originally built for the 1962 World's Fair, it's like a shorter version of the CN Tower. The observation deck was about 520 feet up, which made it bearable for a non-lover of heights like myself.

While in the gift shop, I spyed a Seattle Sounders MLS jersey. It's their inaugral season and their shirt is sponsored by Xbox Live. $70 is a bit steep for a shirt with Xbox Live on it, but it would be a neat shirt to have nonetheless.

The other fun hunt we partook today was trying to find a Hertz to add a driver to our rental. We had a few wild goose chases, before eventually finding a branch downtown. That and the lack of being able to turn left almost anywhere in Seattle will be my lasting memories of the place.

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05 May 2009

Tuvalu is sinking and I don't want to swim

Godaddy's warning about .tv domainsParaphrased Tragically Hip lyrics aside, the imminent global warming-induced eradication of Tuvalu is likely to have one overwhelming devasting effect felt the world over - the loss of the .tv top level domain, as TechDigest.tv (a website under threat) reports.

It may seem silly that all those .tv websites would actually go dark, but as Tuvalu is the country associated with the TLD, it's demise would also signal the .tv demise.

Apart from large chunks of TV based internet web sites going dark, we should also shed a tear for the people of Tuvalu, of whom I know nothing apart from their ownership of the .tv TLD.

Update: Thanks to the BBC, I now know that Tuvalu is made up of about six islands, roughly 4m above sea level and has 11,000 inhabitants.

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My phoneline nightmare continues with BT

I thought my nightmares with a phone company would cease when I left the horrible Talk Talk. I was wrong.

The switch over to BT which was heralded with much personal fan fare hit the snag of the landline not actually working. This was sorted out by a lengthy engineer visit on Saturday morning.

After that I had to call up the BT billing department and request they actually give me the services I'd ordered. You see I'd set up direct debit payment and the added service of free international calls. The initial bill had an extra £4.50 due to no direct debit set up and no hint of an international call pack. Talking to the rep on the phone, I had my BT order confirmation email in front of me, asking why I didn't get what I'd ordered and they'd confirmed.

Is it so hard for a company to actually do the one thing they're supposed to be good at? BT are a phone company, as much as they want to do the internet (don't even get me started on how horrible their packages for that are), they are the provider of landlines to the majority.

So far they've screwed up at every turn.

30 April 2009

Bright light at the end of the Talk Talk tunnel

I managed to re-sign up with Be internet last night. I was worried that my connection would take 10 working days, as I was originally told. This would seriously impact trying to arrange things for our trip which is in about... 11 working days.

Thankfully I received a text and email today informing me that connection would be on the 6th of May which isn't even 10 calendar days. Oh joy.

On top of that, they're giving me three months free and refunding me the £40 cancellation charge. So I get to be rid of Talk Talk and their horrible service and get 3 months free internet for my troubles. Something's finally worked out for me.

29 April 2009

Talk Talk phone problems

My month long fight with Talk Talk is ALMOST over. My new account with BT was supposed to take effect yesterday, however there was a snag.

Checking the phone even this morning, there's no dial tone. The BT website assures me the account and line are set up. Having called 151, I've NOW been assured there's probably a fault on the line. I can't help thinking this is the telecom version of the flaming bag of dog poo left on my door step by Talk Talk.

I now have to plug in a corded handset into the sockets at home to test whether they work. I don't have a corded handset. So it's off to Tesco at lunch to find the cheapest corded handset known to man.

When that's sorted, they're sending an engineer around, so I get to take a day off work for that. Oh JOY!

All this and we're now internet-less at home, which doesn't sit right with me for a number of reasons.

Will this fight with Talk Talk - arguably the worst telecoms provider ever - ever end? And how much is it going to continue to cost me?

23 April 2009

Shocking budget and a decade of pain

It's been in the news for the last few months that Labour's uselessness during the good times has meant the piggy bank is empty now the bad times have hit, but today the BBC are reporting that we're in for almost a decade of fiscal pain, and that "it would be 2032 before government debt returned to the level of 40% of GDP that had been Mr Brown's target."

Thank you Labour.

Yesterday's budget was a travesty for anyone trying to eek out a living in this country with beer going up, petrol going up and even personal income tax going up, with a new 50% tax bracket. Of course, the rich are rich for a reason and this new 50% bracket is likely to cause more problems than it'll solve. As the Beeb points out (rather obviously):

"...if some rich people chose to leave the country and spend less in the UK, that would also lower tax receipts in other areas, such as VAT receipts, perhaps by as much as £1.5bn."
Makes me wonder who let these goons in charge of the empty piggy bank in the first place. I think news like what we received today is proof enough that the UK is now not the place it once was. With the country in such disarray financially, there's going to be all sorts of cuts to public spending as well, to make up for the horrific mess we're in.

Time to dust off my passport and get the hell out of dodge while my pounds are still worth something.

06 March 2009

Repackage, reissue, reissue

There was a time when "special edition," "deluxe edition," or "limited edition" sent well earned goose bumps up and down me. It was a 12" single or an album that was truly limited (i.e. deleted day of release) or deluxe or truly special in some "can't buy this from Wal-Mart" kind of way.

These days, those words are as over used as "brilliant" is on those tv ads ("buy the brilliant new album by So and So featuring the brilliant single ..."). I have to admit though, for bands I'm into, I've been suckered into buying more than my fair share of these releases.

Today, "special edition," "deluxe edition," or "limited edition" is attached to loads of releases, and reissues that really don't warrant it. A lot of the time these releases can be hit and miss, depending on what you're looking for.

Personally, I long for the rarities - stuff from the vaults, missing b-sides, single mixes, etc. Stuff I've known about but have never heard. Plying bonus discs with shoddy live tracks (I'm talking about you Joy Division) or demos (hello Cure!) is the easy and lazy way out in my books. I 'm also a sucker for a decent booklet, stuffed with photos, discographies, lyrics, liner notes etc.

A lot of these releases are aimed squarely at fans, and many are from older bands that still have a CD buying fanbase. I would say, hands down, some of the best reissue to date are from Depeche Mode. Not only do they cram their releases with some tasty extras, the discs have also been remastered as multi-channel SACDs. On last count, a reissue like Violator contained the multi-channel SACD version, two-channel SACD version, the CD version, the 5.1 DVD version, the DTS DVD version and the PCM Stereo DVD version on the two discs (that's six versions). There's also a specially shot video on the DVD about the time around the release of Violator. The collection is rounded out by a booklet with liner notes, and lyrics to the album tracks and bonus tracks. Wow!

04 March 2009


I've always loved music. It's what kept me going through my teenage years, and for a while there I was spending upwards of £100 a week in Berwick Street on the latest and greatest promos and CDs. Now my addiction has a new master and it's a lot cheaper than £100. I call him Spotify.

There have been LOADS of online music sites that have tried to sate a person's appetite for all things rhythmic, but most of the ones I've used have always had that little thing lacking. The other option has always been wholesale "piracy" which is always a double edged sword as it gets my goat that we have to pay over and over again for the same song (moving from vinyl to CD or buying a best of album).

Anyway, in the last few years I've been using Last.FM as my port of call for online music. Their player allows you to play tag radio. So if you want to listen to 80s music, you enter 80s as a tag, or ambient or synth pop. As long as there's enough material tagged accordingly you'll get a decent radio listen. If there's not, you can tag artists, songs and albums.

Spotify, however allows you to go one step further and listen to albums and singles by bands with seemingly no restrictions, apart from an audio ad every 20 minutes. The service is still in beta, so there's all sorts of things they could add, but what they have in place right now is amazing. The audio quality is pretty decent, the songs start right away and they have a playlist feature that allows you to collaborate with other Spotifiers to create "Now That's What I call a Playlist" (or similar).

Don't get me wrong, I still use Last.FM as it's been storing my music habits since 2003. Spotify even taps into that by allowing you to track or "scrobble" the tracks you listen to on Last.FM.

There's rumour an API will surface when the service is out of beta, and you can be rest assured that it'll explode just like Twitter did. My only concern is how the hell are they making money? I can't imagine one audio ad every 20 minutes is cutting it. They do have a paid service, but the only benefit seems to be cutting out the audio ad.

Since using Spotify, I've seriously begun questioning the need for a CD collection, something I never thought I'd contemplate. It's a decent piece of software that can make you do a complete 180 of your beliefs and perceptions. Good on ya Spotify!

24 February 2009

RIAA and the underhanded fight

U2 - No line on the horizon
I've been reading with bemusement in the press this week that the RIAA "forced" Last.fm to hand over details of people who have scrobbled listens of the new U2 album. Nice underhanded way to try and figure out who's pirating ... on the surface.

If I was a highschooler and wanted to one-up my fellow classmates, the easiest way would be to rename a bunch of MP3s to the song titles of the new U2 album and just play them, then do a "na na na" in their faces the next day... along with a "oh, I couldn't possibly let you listen before it comes out and ruin the experience". In this scenario, it was more than likely that big burly RIAA bouncer would be walking down the high school halls intent on taking down the little scheming braggart.

Thankfully, Last.fm have come out and said that a) the RIAA never asked for this info and b) if they had they wouldn't have received it.

This made me think that the tech press was obviously tipped off from a competitor of last.fm. Great way to sully the name of a great product - make up rumours that could jeopardise your freedom and watch the rats flock to delete their Last.fm accounts before the incriminating evidence can be used against them.

There is an easy way you can see who's listened to tracked named after the songs on the new U2 album. Just go to Last.fm and do a search on all 11 songs. The RIAA can easily do this, but to leap from seeing someone listened to a song with the same name to that person being a pirate and having downloaded the track is a leap of faith that no judge would see as an obvious logical step.