Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Moscow Subway System

Heaven knows there are too many interesting photos out there on the web to link to them all, but this set is particularly amazing. This guy works on the Moscow subway and has taken several pictures of areas that most people can't access. Pretty darn amazing.

Friday, 23 February 2007

Dodgy dealings

When it comes to TV packages, I'm currently a Homechoice subscriber, but it's time for a change. The picture quality isn't great (especially for football, for some reason), and as we're going to need a new TV soon (which will probably be High Definition), there's no point sticking with Homechoice. If I'm buying an HD TV, I want to get the best out of it.

So the main options are Sky or Virgin Media. Sky costs a fortune (£300 for an HD set-top box! Plus £10 extra a month for HD services) but as least they have high definition content (8 HD channels). Virgin Media is much cheaper (£15 a month for an HD set-top box) but not many channels (only BBC HD so far). I gather they've invested a small fortune in sorting out the legacy NTL / Telewest customer support depts. The plan was to wait and see whether Virgin Media managed to get hold of Sky Sports HD or any other HD channels.

But then I read this story, and it's helped me make my mind up. I knew these negotiations were going on, but if Sky is going to blackmail Virgin Media - and effectively blackmail the consumer in the process - then I'm boycotting them. Plain and simple. I'll watch the game down the pub.

Tell your friends and family.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Speed review #1: Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

New album by Of Montreal is great. Kind of like Arcade Fire meets Kylie and drops some acid. 8/10.

Speed blogging

On odd occasions, I feel an urge to blog about something, but am pressed for time. Or it's the kind of thing where I'd mention it casually to a friend, but wouldn't really expect a response, and we'd move onto something else - hardly worthy of spending the normal amount of time on a blog posting. So I invented Speed Blogging.

It's usually concerning something I've discovered which is either good or bad, and I'd like to share, such as an album, film or restaurant (not that I get out that much). But the particular conditions for a speed blog (or 'splog') are that it must be 20 words or less, and be written without bothering to check for spelling or grammer. I may add an image to make it look purdy, but I wouldn't count on it.

I think it'll be a hit.

Monday, 12 February 2007

Firefox goes offline

Found this and my head started nodding in approval. The next version of Firefox is going to deliver support for offline applications. What does this mean? Well, it means that online apps such as Google's products (Spreadsheets, Documents, Calender, Gmail and the much-rumoured Presently), Flickr, Zoho's product line (including the sounds-rather-good Notebook product) and countless others could all work to some degree while offline.

Obviously this is useful for some apps more than others. But even tools like GMail could allow you to complete and save a message, to be sent next time you hook up to the internet. Important documents could still auto-save to your harddrive. Good for working on the train (when your signal drops in and out), good for when your office has network problems. But most of all, it should theoretically mean that all these applications can work much more quickly. I can imagine this being useful when, for example, you're creating a presentation rich with imagery.

And here's the thing. Who is going to splash out £96.99 (or much, much more) for a copy of Office 2007, when your browser does it all for you, for free? And they're backed up offsite for free as well - at least, they are as soon as you next go online - which is a big deal where non-tech savvy parents are concerned. Mozilla and Google have already established a good partnership, so it wouldn't be suprising if the Google suite of apps worked on Firefox version 3 right out of the box. And as far as office use goes, this all ties in nicely with the rumour that Google is about to start offering a productivity suite to offices that will directly compete with MS Office.

This competition is great for the consumer, and therefore great for the market. But I really hope Microsoft can adapt to this new environment - as things stand, they're losing market share every day. I'd much prefer they had leap-frogged OS X with Vista, as I've said before on this blog I like the idea of strong competition. I'd hate for Google to get complacent.

More idle speculation about Firefox here.

Friday, 9 February 2007

North Korea is a very odd place

Hey party people , it's Friday night, and that can only mean one thing - a blog posting about a Communist Dictatorship!

So I was mooching through our local library the other day, when something caught my eye: a Lonely Planet Guide to Korea. Not South Korea, just Korea. Surely not? I took it off the shelf, and sure enough it covered both North and South Korea!

I love the Lonely Planet range of books. They got us safely around the world in 2003-04, but they're so much more than just guide books. Every book I've read has been written with great flair, and with a delight in spinning yarns that tantalises the reader and inspires you to go out and explore. I knew I'd enjoy reading about North Korea.

My prior understanding was that no-one was allowed in and no-one allowed out, but it turns out this isn't the case. You need a visa (£60) and willingness to pay about £180 a day in costs, covering guides, hotels (chosen for you by the state) and full board. And other than that, you just need to be able to handle the following.

Did you know?
  • The 'Great Leader', Kim Il Sung, remained in charge up to 1997 - three years after his death!
  • You must be accompanied everywhere by guides, who ensure you only see what they want you to see. The only exception is your hotel room.
  • There is a metro system in Pyongyang, but only two of the lines are for civilian use (the rest being used by the military). Check out the cool ticket machine shown half way down this page! Tourists are only allowed on a particular short journey between two stations, and report that the other passengers look suspiciously like actors...
  • Most westerners can only enter the country from Beijing, which is the only city where visas are issued. The visa isn't attached to your passport, and you must return it when you leave, otherwise you wouldn't be allowed to travel to the USA or South Korea. Ever!
  • The current leader, Kim Jong Il (parodied wonderfully in Team America: World Police) loves Hollywood movies - he owns 20,000 of them. In fact he loves movies so much, that he arranged for the kidnapping of a South Korean film director (Shin Sang-ok) and his actress wife (Choi Eun-Hee), bought them back to Pyongyang, and forced them to make seven movies over eight years before they could escape during a trip to Europe. Now that's dedication to the arts.
  • An unknown number of people are held in labour camps, sometimes for crimes no more sinister than having South Korean relatives. It is rumoured that 8 million people died during a famine in the 1990s - about 35% of the population. All population statistics have a huge margin of error.
  • North Korea has the fourth largest military in the world. They should be taken seriously. Especially as they have the bomb.
  • Following the recent nuclear test, the US punished North Korea by banning the export of iPods there!
  • Religion is banned. There is no access to the internets, other than for embassies via satellite. Laptops, modems and mobile phones are not allowed in (cripes!).
  • Not much happens at night - check out this satellite image of the Korean peninsular, where you can see a clear contrast between North and South Korea.
Hope you find this all as intriguing as I have! One day this place is going to be opened up, and it'll be fascinating to find out the truth about this hermit of a country.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

DRM roll, please

The blogosphere is alive with the sound of unrestricted music. Steve Jobs has announced, in an open letter, that he'd like to see the back of DRM. Hooray!

Now I've always been a big believer in fair use, and DRM flies in the face of that. But while I'm pleased to see such an important player making this announcement, lets not pretend that Jobs isn't just trying to solidify Apple's position in the market.

First, Jobs makes the claim that people aren't downloading as much music from iTunes as they might if the songs were DRM-free. But many people haven't even heard of DRM (although the number is increasing, every time someone tries to play a track they've bought on iTunes on their mobile phone).

Second, Michael Markman made an interesting point on Robert Scoble's blog that, if Apple wants to get rid of DRM so badly, Steve Jobs could start with Disney film content sold over iTunes (Jobs sits on the Disney board, after all). I found this quote (sorry, it's a Google text-only cache version) from a Disney executive, admitting that "If consumers even know there's a DRM, what it is, and how it works, we've already failed". Well, they know (at least several of them do), it's failed, and your colleague has put his head up above the paraphet. It begs the question: should different DRM rules apply to film content versus audio content? I think not.

Third, how about the timing? Why didn't Jobs push for this before iTunes had the biggest market share? OK, fair enough, I suppose he didn't have the weight of an established market behind him at that point, but he could have taken his stand much sooner.

Anyways, here we are. I'm looking forward to seeing how the music companies react - they won't have liked being bossed around. And if they do agree to remove the DRM restrictions from iTMS content, will Apple update all content sold to date for free? The bandwidth bills would be enormous!! Let's see....2 billion songs...let's say 5mb each on average...that's 10 million terabytes! Or 10 exabytes (if I've done my maths correctly)! I feel an odd compulsion to add a picture of Commander Data....



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UPDATE 8 February 2006: ZDNet has written an article citing five reasons why Jobs made the announcement now. Good stuff.

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UPDATE 9 February 2006: Warner says that Jobs' suggestion was "without logic and merit" (boo!), while EMI are considering offering its products online "without anti-copying software" (yay!).

They don't make 'em like that anymore

Near the park where we live, there's a battered old Ford Cortina I've been meaning to photograph for a while. I love the look of this car, it immediately evokes memories of my (very early) youth, especially with the silver-on-black number plate.

More pictures of the car can be seen on my little-used Flickr page, which can be found here. I think they're worth a look! They were taken with my camera phone, and uploaded directly from my phone to my Flickr account using a mobile application called Shozu, and made available to anyone around the world within minutes of my taking them...I wonder what the manufacturers of this car would've thought of that?

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Stumbled-upon

Being a new Dad means I have an unusual kind of time on my hands. We do a lot of tag teaming, where my wife gets some sleep and I look after the baby monitors - meaning I can't go out, but I can hang out on the intarwebs rather a lot. It's quiet, and won't wake up the kids.

I usually start by catching up with all of my RSS feeds on Google Reader. Then I'll have a look through Digg and Slashdot. And finally, I turn to Stumbleupon. It's a rather cool browser plugin that collects your preferences (via checkboxes) and then, each time you click the toolbar button, it serves up a new website that it thinks you might find interesting. It is a highly efficient and entertaining way to waste hours upon hours.

Anyway, this is all a means to telling you about an interesting test I found, which demonstrates a very weird thing about how the mind operates. Click this link to open up the gif file and I'm sure you'll find it interesting too.

That reminds me of the last time I mentioned the gif file format at work. Someone quoted Roy from The IT Crowd at me: "Are you from the past?". Great put down, and I hope I get the chance to use it on someone else soon! The second series should be ready soon hopefully, and an American version is also going to done (fortunately by the same team that have done the excellent American version of The Office). The best bit? Moss will still be played by Richard Ayoade, the genius who played the part in the UK version. Should be good.

This mindless train of thought was bought to you by Red Bull.

Thursday, 1 February 2007

Really really really simple syndication

Yes, it's time for another Google lovefest, and this time I'm raving about Google Reader (which is an RSS reader). With so much information out there that I want to stay on top of, I use Google Reader to keep it all in one, easily accessible place. I've been using it for a while, in fact, but I've just discovered a really neat trick.

If I see a particularly interesting article that I think others might like, I just click on "share", and it appears in the list on the right hand side of this blog (see "Phil's shared items"). Neat, huh? Or if you want to see all these articles in full on one page, you can click here - even more super neato, eh? And if you want to use your own RSS reader to see what I'm flagging as interesting, you can add this link to your RSS reader.

All of that, right there, that took three clicks to set up.

So today, for example, you can see that I'm linking to an excellent piece written by my colleague Warren Hutchinson describing a user centric approach to designing a search tool. There are also some very funny posts from Douglas Adams about cars and hotels respectively. And some interesting commentaries about the recent Aqua Teen Hunger Force debacle in Boston. I haven't hyperlinked because you should go via the Google Reader shared articles page and see what I mean.

But I will link to this - the Secret Diary of Steve Jobs. It's one of the funniest blogs out there, and the writer is now appealing for a corporate sponsor. I sincerely hope he finds one.