Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Repost: Merry Christmas!


Hey, hey, hey! We thought you're a radical atheist! What's this now with Merry Christmas?

Slow down my dears... Despite the rumours you might have heard, even radical atheists can be polite, well mannered, and considerate of others. Even those others who have chose to live their lives in a state of delusion, filled with angels, demons, and ghost - maybe even ghosts of Christmases past.

So, while I still want nothing to do with, and could not care less for, any sort of Christian malarkey, I have absolutely no problem to wish anyone who does a very merry Christmas, and generally everything that goes with it. My wishes may also include one for my dear friends to rid themselves of the religious malaise, but I am wont to keep that one silent. At least for Christmas. There's plenty other days in a year when I can try my wicked ways with them, and their problems.

So, my dearest dears, the ones, at least who care about Christmas, have the happiest one ever! Just don't come complaining to me when St Nicholas turns not to be the one he claims he is. Not to mention he may even be a she.

Have fun!

PS
If you're wondering why a repost, well, aren't all Christmases essentially the same?

Monday, 17 December 2012

re: enquiry

Here's an e-mail I've just received. Shall I reply? I mean, why not? The guy literally has a license to print money?
Dear Friend, 
I got your e-mail through a comprehensive search for a dependable person who can assist me in transferring the total sum of 13,200,000.00 (Thirteen million two hundred thousand Great British Pounds). 
This transaction is Highly confidential and absolutely risk free, we shall share the funds in the ratio of 50% for me and 50% for you. Reply via the below e-mail for more details. I look forward to your prompt response. 
Best Regards, 
Sir Mervyn King 
London United Kingdom
PS
For phishing hunters, here is the source of the entire message:

Delivered-To: Received: by 10.112.45.137 with SMTP id n9csp100138lbm; Mon, 17 Dec 2012 11:45:21 -0800 (PST) Received: by 10.42.131.133 with SMTP id z5mr12155156ics.10.1355773519925; Mon, 17 Dec 2012 11:45:19 -0800 (PST) Return-Path: Received: from nm22-vm2.bullet.mail.ne1.yahoo.com (nm22-vm2.bullet.mail.ne1.yahoo.com. [98.138.91.210]) by mx.google.com with ESMTPS id bj2si14064922icb.17.2012.12.17.11.45.19 (version=TLSv1/SSLv3 cipher=OTHER); Mon, 17 Dec 2012 11:45:19 -0800 (PST) Received-SPF: softfail (google.com: domain of transitioning rujluco@rujlu.com does not designate 98.138.91.210 as permitted sender) client-ip=98.138.91.210; Authentication-Results: mx.google.com; spf=softfail (google.com: domain of transitioning rujluco@rujlu.com does not designate 98.138.91.210 as permitted sender) smtp.mail=rujluco@rujlu.com Received: from [98.138.90.49] by nm22.bullet.mail.ne1.yahoo.com with NNFMP; 17 Dec 2012 19:45:18 -0000 Received: from [66.94.237.116] by tm2.bullet.mail.ne1.yahoo.com with NNFMP; 17 Dec 2012 19:45:18 -0000 Received: from [127.0.0.1] by omp1021.access.mail.mud.yahoo.com with NNFMP; 17 Dec 2012 19:45:18 -0000 X-Yahoo-Newman-Property: ymail-3 X-Yahoo-Newman-Id: 606291.28298.bm@omp1021.access.mail.mud.yahoo.com X-Yahoo-ForwardOnly: from to X-Yahoo-Forwarded: from to Return-Path: X-YahooFilteredBulk: 85.17.76.105 Received-SPF: pass (domain of rujlu.com designates 85.17.76.105 as permitted sender) X-YMailISG: oxTihrwWLDvOmxpA9orJKRq4.2P_eOl5zIdLxXqZPaVbefy5 ivRAomo5zzS9PFStUKqDH2.KdD.B8lIIreGknrfzd_bm_TY4i2t2p6HU6Hqh dOXedtlLkliLOStIxOrUxIR68OtrJRJ1X_B1Uq2xdbLeXorSF8H3_TwkzmmI 74GiTXmccCd5P9IxaFneLrybdfChiznU_5QiHAWcDoH.Ux31vRact7ifK1gl wSSt7mB0vJGvwqZBprPYJQlAdlXtQ_RdGrnpKl8237H_xqdMZ0Y1fzMFWo3L 2iaSdvk37boTYrswxZzZbPqqOsIKPwPyaoH9u2O0JVsNBHoUkdhTaBQkg82V 0FHhHhEI_nHRmkDIMuyRy8nRcJYooLTG.aTZGno2SyAVpqf1uyjoDgVgxNSm 4SYe8FuokWIDYaLUbl6sjr9yz9zRdyTw6Lhw1BtTlI.Kl0kN_TZ28gUg1tL7 zr88ixRHuznKmuVmSZJSd9WgJ_wE2fXAl8cKFY25nESDTZvKJh2Jf9Wxwcp0 U4xUEi50UsfGA2uAVLVxKjQ3HrzE_38jCu7wK21QXSxVvkGBW1W_G8812qHQ _itXPZ.nPDsr9g0LwetRLdBbJvf1nyGvp5NhPgY8u.T2hW_1dPKmcLWVLgvx p5PcifjntAPhA_60ZTqIPnqX5cmi_N9nYW65uX4tn4l8z85SYoc1vsaASlsJ fiIZY.A34VvFqAVi9OlWcOG5eXaeHACNbw0SA5Ec_hlFp65E3OX3HrckSgPb MGan_n7t_2y_8354Knm7H_mw48pThisu2kwxdFeXrTSimQVb3YPySMb6e5Gb CeWfIwEktpqbwzUjPGJTLiPzXsgbEM7AYCRS.dQjtzp7SESeFJV0uL32seH. fR9i4Rdrr5RxzONfKQ4M0_ptGe6_Fiw8m757UI6Z1UtjUFgBtpA2oN9G46Gc oRI0lfUY91zOVmmRMXicBUXzE4vNuIZI5qsBGlnFCmElsHrFs3QTfvbUi.4p QqBn.Yi44VfAMCwYOgUqt6WnUTMTrQ_7Alz6iOxIE.otvVsdw2QSa2jQGio1 BQ.OSMHSUxu.xs5hVWentkxIcoOHvuZHSEUs4Hl1515f2WXmtqKwe1VOsUGG cMniAc0pB0Hz9lnVsMR7.0Y- X-Originating-IP: [85.17.76.105] Authentication-Results: mta1026.bt.mail.ird.yahoo.com from=live.com; domainkeys=neutral (no sig); from=live.com; dkim=neutral (no sig) Received: from 127.0.0.1 (EHLO server.ytmsoft.com) (85.17.76.105) by mta1026.bt.mail.ird.yahoo.com with SMTP; Mon, 17 Dec 2012 19:45:17 +0000 Received: from apache by server.ytmsoft.com with local (Exim 4.76) (envelope-from ) id 1TkdJH-0002Ke-5A for vladimir.oka@btopenworld.com; Mon, 17 Dec 2012 17:12:55 +0100 To: Subject: re: enquiry X-PHP-Script: www.rujlu.com/wp-content/uploads/mailar.php for 208.53.157.11 From: Sir Mervyn king Reply-To: m101king@careceo.com MIME-Version: 1.0 Content-Type: text/plain Content-Transfer-Encoding: 8bit Message-Id: Date: Mon, 17 Dec 2012 17:12:55 +0100 Dear Friend, I got your e-mail through a comprehensive search for a dependable person who can assist me in transferring the total sum of 13,200,000.00 (Thirteen million two hundred thousand Great British Pounds). This transaction is Highly confidential and absolutely risk free, we shall share the funds in the ratio of 50% for me and 50% for you. Reply via the below e-mail for more details. I look forward to your prompt response. Best Regards, Sir Mervyn King London United Kingdom

Monday, 3 December 2012

Digital Compact Is Dead

Are you still using a digital compact camera?

You know, the cheap - or even not so cheap - ones that offer gazillions of pixels in a small package, with zooms that range from 3x to whopping 30x, and that's optical, not counting a possible added 2-4x digital (aka the photo mutilation tool). Oh, and don't forget the "fun" features: face recognition, funny effects, direct Facebook upload. I hear some these days even offer a kitchen sink as an optional extra!


Don't get me wrong. I used to use them myself, and I was even reasonably happy with the photos (and the zoom, and the price). Some have been quite big beasts, some have been nicely pocketable (see an example in the photo). All (OK, most of them) have even been fun.

But...

But, in the last couple of years I got myself introduced to DSLRs and what are called Compact System Cameras. The main difference on the outside? Paltry zoom power, (relatively) expensive lenses to buy in order to cover the desired distance and subject range, relative bulk to carry around. But what a difference to the photos taken!

Here's a challenge for you: take a photo in anything other than bright daylight with a compact and a DSLR or any other camera with a sensor larger than a grain of sand. Now zoom to 100% on your screen, and have a look. If you're (un)lucky you don't even have to look at the dark areas. Because anywhere you look you will notice how grainy and noisy a compact camera photo is. Admittedly, not many people do look at their photos at 100% magnification, but if you often take photos in the dark - even with flash - you will see the noise and graininess even on a thumbnail.

Now for an even less technical, yet much more important difference. Grab the same two cameras and take a portrait shot of someone you care about against anything but the dullest of dull backgrounds. Notice the difference? The compact will make everything in your photo nicely focused. So nicely, in fact, that you may struggle to work out what's the main focus of the shot. Now - provided you used the correct settings, not something that can really be done on compacts - look at the DSLR photo. Your subject is nice, sharp, and really stands out against a slightly (or much more than slightly) blurred background. Which one do you prefer? Which one is a portrait, and which one a hasty snapshot?

Oh, you may say, but DSLRs and their ilk are way more expensive!

Well, maybe. Then, maybe not. Let's have a quick review of the prices. Do note I will not list any really cheap and nasty compacts, but the ones purporting to be "bridge" cameras, something in between a compact and a DSLR.

Heck! I won't even bother with compacts! Have a look at this real deal from Amazon UK for Nikon D3100 with 18-55mm lens for a measly £290. Yes, it is an older, entry level model, but it still easily wipes the floor with almost literally any digital compact - even the ones in its price range or more expensive. It's body will last you years, and instead of upgrading your compact go about buying used lenses and you'll get even more from it. And then, if you want something a bit newer, here's Nikon D3200 with the same kit lens. Yes, it costs more, but it is worth it, too. Similar price for D5100. Spoiled for choice!

Just have a look around and, more importantly, try it! You'll easily see why the possible difference in price is justifiable.

I know, I know. You are now asking what about when you want something pocketable, yet still capable of taking a decent enough photo? Easy! You do have a mobile phone, don't you? Pretty much any modern phone now comes with a camera and a sensor not worse than at least budget (and some not so budget) compact cameras. True, phones all lack optical zoom (OK, not the new Samsung Galaxy Camera), but then, you should also heed the advice of a famous photographer (whose name escapes me right now): your legs are the best zoom lens (although probably not around high cliffs and open windows)! So, you probably already have a very good compact camera with you all the times.

So, now is the time to kill the industry and start spending money on cameras with large sensors! As far as I'm concerned, digital compacts are well and truly dead, and buried at least as deep as the dinosaurs.

PS
If you can afford it, and you want to really have fun, and get a real buzz taking photos, seriously consider Fujifilm X100. You will not - you cannot - go wrong! 

Thursday, 1 November 2012

There's Always A But...

I've recently written a review of the new Kindle Paperwhite on the Amazon UK web site. It is titled "Best Kindle so far, but..." and gives a four start rating. I thought it'd be a shame for me not to also publish it here, too.

So, without further ado, and without changing a single word, here it is:








THE GREAT

Screen
When backlit properly (ie, according to the room light level) the screen, and the reading experience, are gorgeous. It might be that this differs by a particular unit, but I don't see the dark "blotches" along the borders to be a) as bad as some claim, and b) as distracting as one might think from just reading the reviews. One needs only compare this with the lighted cover or any external reading light on any of the previous Kindles to be convinced that Kindle Paperwhite gets it right, period.

Borrowing books
Yes, you have to shell out £49 per annum for Prime membership, but being able to borrow 12 books a year, combined with free next day delivery on many items must make this a bargain. And the lending library is not, as some claim, as small as 5,000 titles. As of yesterday it topped 200,000. It could be easier to search and navigate, and it would be nice to be able to access it outside of Kindle itself, but this is still quite a boon.#

THE GOOD

Touchscreen
I've had touchscreen e-readers in the past, and I must say Kindle Paperwhite as the best one around. It actually works as I expect it to. I do not class it as great as it does sometimes lag too much, and also sometimes feels like your touch is missed or misinterpreted. Still, this is a very good addition to the eInk Kindle line.

Reading progress indicator
I am still to see if it is accurate enough, but the idea of telling me how long until the end of chapter and/or book is very good. I wish more readers had it.

X-Ray
A good idea, having easy access to something that has a potential to be index-on-steroids. Whether this potential is realised depends on the publishers, so only good for now, with potential for greatness.

THE BAD

Page turning mechanism
Even though I always found it cool to flip e-book pages by flicking across the screen I still miss the hardware buttons. It is not always comfortable tapping or flicking across the screen. It was great having buttons just where the fingers held the bezel. Also, the tap areas feel too sensitive, and the screen being more flush with the now smaller bezel makes accidental page turns too frequent. Yes, we will probably train ourselves, but that's not the point...

THE UGLY

I haven't identified a single "yuck" feature, or lack thereof, so far.

SUMMARY

In summary, Kindle Paperwhite should be awarded 4.5 stars, for all the reasons listed above. I'd have dearly loved to give it 5 stars, but can't as the page turning leaves a lot to be desired. Still, I would recommend this even as a straight upgrade over the previous Kindle 6", and I think it's certainly worth the £40 price difference from the current cheapest model (if you can afford the £40, that is).

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Not Taking My Tablets

Unless you happened to be living under a very small rock somewhere very, very far away, you must be aware that tablets are all the rage these days. And no, I am not referring to the kind you pop into your mouth in order to enhance your health or your colourful visions (although the use of the latter kind seems to be declining, at least in the UK).

No, I am talking about the kind silly people queue for even in inclement weather. The kind that feature a weird new interface also being shoehorned onto the more traditional kind of computers (the one formerly know as Metro). Also the kind that is cooler than both of the above, and with which I happened to live for a good few weeks recently.

And - don't get me wrong - cool devices all of these most assuredly are. Useful, too. No shred of doubt about that either. Very, very desirable as well - at least if you're of that sort of persuasion (the sort that has to have the latest - regardless).

But, but, but...

The "but" here, for me, is that - at least with my use case in mind - I cannot honestly justify wasting spending money on one. It just does not add pretty much any extra value on top of my other devices, and for the uses I put them to.

Let me count the ways in which this is true for me.

1. E-mail on the move

This is by far the most important aspect of having a modern, portable computing device, preferably one that fits in one hand (you did notice even Apple bowing to 7 inches - 7.9, but still). But see, this function is more than adequately performed by a mobile phone. It even doesn't have a significantly smaller screen. It also makes calls! And it fits into a (smaller) pocket. So, sorry - I do not really see myself using tablet over the phone for e-mail when on the move. Also, when on the sofa, if the e-mail is really important I'll jump up and use a proper computer. If it isn't the phone still beats the tablet (and maybe doesn't rile the SO so much, either).

2. Web browsing on the move

For this one, pretty much the same criticism applies as for e-mail. For quick and dirty (not necessarily in that sense) bit of browsing the phone is much more convenient. It's also much less likely to be snatched out of your hands in a pub or on a train. So, no - I don't see how a tablet helps me greatly here, either. Especially since the ones with mobile data options tend to attract additional costs both at home and while roaming (and tethering to your phone may not be allowed by your operator). Not to mention that data roaming costs still feel more like hefty fines for some serious financial wrongdoing than a fair price for a service.

3. Listening to music

Are you seriously suggesting a tablet is a better device for listening to music than either a phone or any other number of devices you could also think of? No, sorry - I just can't see it. Also, not many tablets seem to have Bluetooth, and tethering ones head to a tablet using wired headphones is not my idea of fun.

4. Watching films on the go

This one is actually the one use case which seems to make the most sense to me. Only I don't really watch films in the first place. So, let's see what's next...

5. Editing and sharing photos and videos

Another one where I must exclaim: you cannot be serious! First, I will not take photos or videos using a tablet. For one, I don't have any intention of looking silly (yes, you do look silly filming on a tablet). And then, you cannot seriously believe that such photos or videos will be any good in the first place? As for the editing, if you really want to edit either videos or (especially) photos you surely need a proper computer, one where editing can be controlled by means other than stiff little fingers? Sure, you can do some exposure control and similar, but that's not really editing, is it? Lastly, sharing. Yes, sure. This bit can be done on a tablet just nicely. But, since I won't be taking photos on one, and nor will I be editing them on one, why one Earth I'd want to transfer them to one just to share them? Surely I'd be doing that from wherever else they are more - or even immediately - accessible.

6. Creating and editing text, spreadsheets, and the like

This again falls into the "you cannot be serious" class of use. Entering any large amount of text cannot be comfortable or efficient enough for me to use a tablet over, say, a laptop. Not even for the ability to do it on the sofa. Same - if not worse - for spreadsheets. Looking at them (and reading documents) - yes, by all means. Creating and editing? No thanks. At least not if it's anything important and/or complex. And trust me on this one - I have tried. Presentations? Well, maybe yes. But then, I don't do enough of those for it to matter.

7. Playing games

Now, this one is the most serious contender for me to say Yes, this use case validates the tablet as a platform. And it does. It really does. There are some great games, with great game play on a tablet. I know. I've done it. On the other hand, all this is to try and justify the cost of one, and I'm sorry to say I don't have time enough to play games - on a tablet or elsewhere - for me to be able to justify spending hundreds of £££ on an extra gadget. Especially not since the games I do find time to play work just as well on the 4.6 inches of my mobile phone. So, no - this is not a good reason for me to own a tablet either.

And here I think I can safely stop the count. Having seven reasons not to buy a Nexus 7 is quite enough for me. And, looking at a lot of people around me - those with tablets or a tablet-wish included - I don't see they have good enough reasons either. So, it seems I'm going to sit out this round, thank you very much. But I'll keep watching the space. There's bound to be a moment when someone comes up with just the right combination of hardware and software to tick all my boxes (or at least enough of them to justify poking my hand into my wallet - it has very sharp teeth, you know, my wallet does).

Until then, I think I'll stick to my mobile phone and the e-book reader.

Oh, yes. I did forget the reason number zero, so here it is:

0. Reading books

The only reason to read books on a tablet rather than a dedicated eInk e-book reader is if you want to read at night, in the dark. Another might just be that you don't want to take your - otherwise far superior - eInk e-book reader when you travel and you're already taking your tablet. But this latter reason is valid only if you already own a tablet, meaning you justified it for other reasons. The first reason, the night reading, is obsoleted by the readers like Kindle Paperwhite which has a back-lit screen (OK, a side-lit one, but it doesn't really matter). Or you could get a lighted cover. Or just a reading light if you're strapped for cash. Or, under duress, you can use your mobile phone. For a little bit of reading in the dark it is almost as good as a tablet (and it won't hit you as hard on the face when you fall asleep in the middle of a whodunnit).

So, as you can see, last but not the least, the last possible reason to go for a tablet is invalidated - at least for me. Of course, your mileage may vary. And I mean that in the best possible of many ways you may choose to interpret it. After all, you may have some other reason I haven't even thought of (but I doubt it).

To sum up: save some money and get a decent mobile phone and an eInk e-book reader. Or don't save much money but get better incarnations of these two. At the very least you will have one device less to lug around. And that counts for something.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Emperor's New Clothes

Have you heard about the latest feature of Apple's iOS 6 operating system? The "VIP" e-mail assistant? No? No loss, really. It is only mildly interesting - if at all.

Still, it did seem to warrant enough media attention for Ars Technica to publish a "comparison" of VIP and GMail's Priority Inbox.

I will first address the "comparison" part. It won't take long, as there really isn't very much to compare between the two.

First, let's see what VIP reportedly is (you didn't think I bought an iIdol, did you?)...


From all I read about it is a simple e-mail filter. Not even a glorified one, IMHO. Just your bog standard e-mail filter, the likes of which we all knew and loved (or hated) pretty much ever since e-mail was invented. I sure remember using e-mail filters with more or less clever actions for well over a decade. So, as simple as it gets, you select a number of contacts and if an e-mail arrives from one of them iOS e-mail app can notify you in a special way you define.

Handy, yes. Clever, quite. Novel? Come on!

And then we have GMail Priority Inbox. True, it does not have much in the way of choosing fancy ways of being notified of an e-mail that finds its way into it. Also, you do not have complete control over how it does its magic - it is purely algorithm based. The more you use it, the more it should learn about you and become better, but you never can tell it how to do things in exactly the way you want them.

And here, as far as comparisons go, I rest my case. There is no comparison between the two. VIP just automates what you'd be doing manually anyway. Yes, useful because we sometimes forget to do what we should, and that's where computers are good to serve reminders or do stuff for us. Priority Inbox, on the other hand tries to be that little bit extra helpful by maybe alerting you to an important e-mail even your manual rules might have mixed. It serves an entirely different purpose! There is no comparison!

Now for the fuzzier bit, involving emperors and high fashion...

If I wanted to be really mean, I'd say Apple's attempt to pain VIP as a special new feature is disingenuous. After all, I am sure that their mail application already has a filter feature. I haven't tried it, but this is 21st century, and this is Apple we're talking about, so let's cut them some slack.

But Apple, being in it to flog their fare, such as it is, can be excused to get overexcited about an e-mail filter with a new name and some extra polish. IT press, on the other hand, has little excuse. Well, OK. They too have the excuse of flogging their wares, but then there's supposed to be a bit more backbone to a journalist than a consumer electronics peddler. Even Apple.

Worse, for IT press, is to not only hype up the new "feature", but to do it in a way that implies it is somehow equivalent to another when the two really bear little resemblance. The former would be just a sin against reason and possibly good taste, the latter undermines the "independence" of IT journalism (such as we have it - which is not entirely stellar to start with). This is not unlike a non-IT newspaper running an article titled: "Apples vs Beans: Fight! (Our correspondent compares the two to see which one makes a better steak)".

Oh, and I just realise I still haven't properly threaded in the Emperor's New Clothes into this rant. Not that I necessarily have to, at least when it comes to Apple and it's latest iGadgets. Nice, clever, and shiny as these all are, they have always - from the very original iPhone - been much less than they were hyped up to be. Which never stopped Apple, and its iSychopants, to claim brilliant plumage which if not exactly not there, most certainly did not belong to them. The clever arrangement - yes, the pure innovativeness - sorry, but no. Which, I think, really comes to a head with VIP: one "new" feature one hopes even Apple won't dare try to patent.

So, while already scantily clad, it seems Apple now has to dig really deep into the bottom drawer where it keeps invisible feathers, like VIP, to try and pluck up its plumage. It's that, or suing the world+dog over pretty much anything they set their eyes on.

I'm not really saying Apple's entered its endgame scenario, but watch this space...



Friday, 17 August 2012

Inexcusable!

You know you haven't been doing it, and it's inexcusable!

No, it's not your mother here talking about eating greens (although you probably should do, more than you are now - and no, green Jelly Babies do not count). What you're much more likely than not not doing is making backups of your digital possessions.

But you should, and religiously so.

Hard disks do break. Computers do fail (especially because they do not take easily to red wine and similar gunk you will eventually pour into them).


On the other hand, you will never go on your original honeymoon again. You can never have your first child again. Said child will never go back to being a baby and make those first steps. And so on, and so forth, ad infinitum, and ad nauseam.

So, because you do not (yet) posses a time machine (and most likely never will - nor will, for that matter, your children, and their children). And, I am sure you do not print out every single photo, and transfer every single film onto DVD/CD/VHS/Betamax/Super-8/whatever. So, with all these facts in mind, pray tell, why do you not do regular backups?

In my experience, people usually quote two reasons: time, and cost. Let's tackle them in turn.

Cost (who said it's going to be that turn)

To qualify for the admonition being administered here you will need to at least have a computer of some description, which is connected to the Internet (don't tell me you bought the book?), and also some means of recording your memories in digital format, i.e., a digital camera. The combined outlay for the kit will likely be in the order, or even excess, of £500, especially when you take into account the running costs of Internet connection. I will show you that you can have extremely reliable home backup setup which will cost you less, and probably much less.

Let's not consider the outliers like yours truly with photo collections which run into almost four digits for the number of photos, and hundreds of gigabytes (yes, gigabytes) in terms of storage required. Let's instead make a conservative estimate of your photo collection being in the mid to high thousands in number. In fact, for argument's sake, let's say you have 5,000 (yes, five thousand) photos. At a humongous estimate of 5MB for each photo, that's around 24GB of storage. So, a storage medium of 32GB will be more than sufficient to hold a copy.

A quick look on Amazon informs us that a 32GB USB memory stick will set you back the whole of between £10 and £15. For less than £50 you can also find 320GB USB hard disks (that's ten times what you need). Personally, since it'll also help you back up other stuff you have, I'd recommend you getting at least one external USB hard disk of capacity to at least equal the size of your main computers hard disk. For argument's sake, and since that seems to be some sort of a low end standard these days, we'll assume you need 320GB to match your main computer. Getting a couple of USB hard disks of that size will set you back around £100 (less, if you shop around - also, for added redundancy, make them different make or at least different models).

This, my friends, may be the only thing you need to spend money on to have a very good home backup system - a one hundred pounds. Probably less than you paid for your point-and-shoot camera, too. So, I claim the cost is not the problem, especially since what you're saving with a £100 investment is otherwise irreplaceable (irreplaceable is a better way of putting it than priceless).

Now to that other pesky obstacle:

Time (and here, time is not money)

It can be easily shown that you, in fact, do not need almost any time to do regular backups. Yes, there will be an initial investment of time, but once set up properly, your backups will need little, or even none, of your time.

If you are using a desktop computer, or a laptop which rarely, if ever, moves then you should keep both your USB hard disks plugged in all the time, thus ensuring you can't forget to plug them in. Tuck them in safely behind something (tape them to the chassis?) and they won't even be an eyesore. Now you just need a decent piece of backup software, and you're on.

I am reliably told even Windows these days comes with some sort of backup, and that said backup application can be set to run at regular intervals. So, if you are in a sad and unenviable position of running a modern flavour of Windows just browse around and set things up so that all your important data is backed up to both of your external hard disks at least once a week (I recommend once a day, best at the dead of night). And that's it! If you want something more fancy, Google for backup software. There's a decent selection of both free, and cheap-as-chips solutions (I recommend SyncBack PRO).

If you're running Linux, and are of an ascetic predisposition, I need say only two words: rscync, and cron. If you need some hand holding, you could do worse than trying LuckyBackup. Of course, if you need, or want, something less basic there's plenty to choose from on Linux, too. Plus, most of it will also be free as in beer.

Finally, if you're running Mac OS you probably have enough money to pay someone to do all this for you, so you actually wasted your time reading up to here, really. I have stopped short of saying you have more money than sense. This is because it is eminently sensible to choose a nice OS in a nice box. The only question is - is it really, I mean really, worth the money. But then, you already have an answer to that question.

So, ladies and gentleman (yes, you in the back row): this is how you spend a £100 (or less) and make pretty damn sure that at least one copy of your irreplaceable memories will survive, and won't be more than a week out of date.

Now, you are surely asking if making a cloudy backup is not just as good, even if in some cases it may be a bit more expensive. Well, no. Actually it isn't. You can't get to your cloudy backup in Elbonia (or most of rural England when it comes to mobile broadband, for that matter). However, you can take one (or both) of your external USB disks and both have a secondary source of data, and the capability to continue your backup schedule uninterrupted.

Next, you may also ask about the horrible misfortune of your house burning down with all you data and the backups in it. For that, I have to answers: one is to use a cloud backup as well, the other to practice off-site backup. The latter means you use one external drive for daily backups at home, while you keep another in the office (or with in-laws, or Fort Knox, or wherever not in your house). Then you just need to remember to swap them weekly (or so). You may also consider investing in a third external hard disk for this purpose, rotating it with one and then the other of the two you keep in home.

To sum up: I hope I have convinced you that, for the cost of a budget point-and-shoot digital camera, you can have three or for times redundant backup of the stuff you can never otherwise replace. Or, as they say in mathdom: QED.

Oh, before I go (and provided you haven't left already): do I practice what I preach? You bet I do!

For your perusal, here's my backup setup. Read it and weep:


  • Two NAS drives, each at least the size of my main laptop's hard disk (i.e, 1TB or larger), receive a nightly backup of all my data (cron and rsync, with a little help of LuckyBackup).
  • Two USB hard drives of 1TB each, which get connected whenever I remember (but at least once a week), receiving the same all-data backup as the NAS ones.
  • One USB hard drive constantly connected to the laptop, on a similar schedule to NAS drives.
  • Dropbox for the core few GB of documents (no photos or videos - I'm cheap).
  • CrashPlan+ receiving the all-data backup for true cloudy storage/backup solution.
  • A 500GB external hard disk for my music collection.


The amount of time I spend on all this? Almost none. Maybe a few minutes a week for the second item above. The cost? Well, a bit more than the basic setup described earlier, but then, still a fraction of the cost of my camera and computing kit, and of course, not obtained all in one go! Last, but not least, I do probably have many times larger collection of digital memories (and music now difficult to come by!) than most of you.

And in reply to your last (if unvoiced question), am I certifiable?

YES!
(but in a good and cuddly way)

PS
Inspired by these two articles on The Economist web site.


Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Count 'Em!

Contrary to what the rumour mill may have implied, I was not pining for the fjords for the past month or so.

Also contrary to some misinformation artists out there, I have not been struck dumb by the greatness of the latest chick lit marvel, Fifty Shades of Grey.

Yes, I have read the first instalment of the trilogy. Yes, I was totally struck by it.

No, it was most definitely not because there was anything particularly good in it to write home about.


Still I thought it worthwhile - after taking some time out to recover from the shock - to write a few words about it here. For one, this is not "home" (no, really not). And then, I thought, maybe a few poor souls will actually stop by, read it, and save themselves time, money, and peace of mind.

So, what's so bad about this book, despite the fact it seems to be selling better than hot cakes? Well, I'm sure I could (over)stretch the pun and try and count fifty ways - but I won't. That'd be really mean. I mean, it's not really bad in fifty ways. In reality, it's more like forty nine. And it did (almost) make me shed 96 tears.

Without further ado, there's a shortlist of crimes against literature committed in Fifty Shades of Grey:

It's childish beyond words.
I mean, using "there" as a euphemism for female genitals? Who in their right mind ever uses that? Yes, it was necessary to provide a crutch for readers suspension of disbelief for the fact that in 21st century America (yes, even US of A did reach this century - despite religious right attempts) there exists a virgin female graduate who, on top of that, is so technologically (she does not even own a computer!) and experientially innocent that an average mid fifties counterpart would look positively libertine next to her. But even if all this were true - and necessary - surely there were better alternatives? Surely? Being of a male persuasion, I can't really offer an alternative (or three) which are more common and/or more sensible (especially in a literary sense), but I am sure-sure a good few exist. So, unless you're a very, very naive male - or a very, very rare specimen of a 21st century female - your suspension of disbelief for this book probably unsuspended itself at the first mention of "there", where "there" was used to describe a vagina.

It's probably plagiarising some important bits.
I had better things to do with my life than conduct a proper deep search to make sure, but all of the contract between our little innocent girl and Mr Grey sounds dangerously similar to what you may find (for free!) on the Internet if you are researching BDSM and are looking for sample contracts between a sumbissive and a Dominant. I must wonder if the author changed the book version sufficiently or at least offered to reimburse whoever came up with what she based her version on. Even if the book contract is entirely original (and if it is, I do apologise to E. L. James) it seems to unnecessarily go on and on where a more punchy, maybe slightly abridged, version could have done just as well - if not better.

It lacks any depth whatsoever.
If you're looking for a plot - look elsewhere. There is no plot as it is normally understood in quality fiction. The book unravels in an amazingly linear fashion that it more resembles a poor porn story (and a "stroke" one at that - not linking to a definition, do your own research here). On top of that, the venerable Mr Grey, is so perfect and so rich and so name-your-sickly-sweet-chick-lit-attribute that at times the book reads like a Cosmo readers' wet dream wish list. I mean, the guy is unreal. He's Gordon Gekko-marries-John Grey (and takes his surname) on steroids! By the way, isn't it a nice coincidence that the 9½ Weeks male lead shares the surname with the Fifty Shades of Grey one?

It's shamelessly written so you have to read all three parts.
This is not unlike another recent hit I found less than impressing (to be extremely polite about the stupid Hunger Games). What exactly happens in book one of the Fifty Shades? Well, girl meets boy, boy seduces girl, ... and not much more, really. At the last word of the pamphlet (it is probably an insult to pamphlets, this comparison, but hey - and I also find that in English, something being a pamphlet is not necessarily insulting) we are left hanging. Nothing even remotely resembling a resolution of the story so far exists. It is OK to leave hints at more to come, but to be so mean and shortchange your reader to such an extent that almost no pleasure can be derived by reading just the first part is criminal. But then, E. L. James (or Erika Leonard, apparently) has obviously learned from the masters. Another of my favourite authors (not), J. K. Rowling, did exactly the same in her children's franchise, so I guess that's alright then. At least E. L. James did not aim to exploit children.

OK. I think that's enough for what I aimed to be a short blog post. Or maybe not? Surely you must wonder if there are any redeeming features of the Fifty Shades? Well, maybe. Let's see if I can come up with one...

This book is for you if:
  • you secretly want to masturbate to something, but are too uptight to try a proper porn film or a story - even if both genres are freely available on the Internet (and for free, to boot); you are as uptight as above, but want to be seen as being capable of reading something that (just) might be considered;
  • you are a (pre)teen, and so sheltered that you too address your vagina as "there";
  • you (think you) have literary ambitions  and want to learn how to make a quick buck by prettyfying a BDSM porn novel and exploiting the above mentioned uptight brigade;
  • you have managed to get a free copy, and have been asked to read it and comment on it (guess which one applies to your truly).
If you decide this book is not for you:
  • because you read it and were disgusted by the perversions of modern society, go (re)read The Little Red Riding Hood - it is totally acceptable by even the most conservative people while at the same time being, in fact, as gory as they come, and with thinly veiled sexual overtones and undercurrents, too;
  • because you read it and wanted something stronger, go search the internet for free porn content - I can promise some of the free stories you can find are better, and better written, than Fifty Shades, plus, you may also find visuals to be more rewarding; 
  • because you read this and were disgusted by my negativity, go read the book then come back hear and re-read this post; 
  • because you read this and wanted something stronger, do as suggested two bullet points above - unless you were after a stronger review in which case... do your own research... then come back and re-read this post.
There. I think that now covers it all.

Oh. One more thing...

If you are really, truly interested in BDSM and want a good introductory text, the Story of O is hard to beat. And don't just take my word for it:

'A rare thing, a pornographic book well written and without a trace of obscenity'

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Coding vs Programming

As you may have noticed, there's currently something of a drive - by various organisations, scarily including some big governments - to introduce "coding" into national curricula.

As with all similar debates, there are loud promoters, as well as (equally?) loud detractors. The former are reminding us that we live in a high tech dominated world, one increasingly built on computers and computing power. The latter broadly point at weaknesses of teaching coding as opposed to problem solving.


Again, as with all similar debates, both sides tend to get a lot right, but also almost the same amount wrong, too.

Where do I sit on this particular question then, especially seeing as I come from a very heavy, and very deep (and very low level) "coding" background? Would I blindly support the "coding for all" drive? Or maybe I grew old and jaded and now think coding is not an end in itself?

Well, staying true to the colours I pinned to the mast of this blog, I am probably best described as inhabiting a grey area (deliberately?) overlooked by other vocal sides in this debate.

In the shortest form possible, I agree that some form of programming (NB, not necessarily, or not necessarily just, "coding" skills) should be one of key parts of any (high) school curriculum. The grey area here is the difference in what I consider to be "coding" and "programming". So, let's get these straightened out first.

"Coding" in my (not so) humble opinion, is a craft, maybe even an art, but it is not necessarily more educational than learning a new foreign language (and let's not even go into the foolishness of calling web design coding, and HTML/CSS programming languages). Yes, this is an essential skill. Yes, it is absolutely required to transform problem solutions into something that actually can be executed on a computer. But in and of itself it does not (usually) teach and train (young) minds in the key part of any branch of engineering, and that is the knowledge and the skills to actually solve a real world problem, almost regardless of the actual and eventual means of execution.

That's what I call "programming" comes into play. In this I'm partly guided by Knuth's titling his masterpiece "The Art of Computer Programming", not "The Art of Coding". If when you even just thumb through the volumes, you'll see precious little computer code there (if any).

So, "programming", for want of a better word, for me signifies all the knowledge and skills one needs to acquire in order to effectively and efficiently solve problems that can (should?) be solved using a computer. As anyone who ever undertook a programming task of any seriousness should know, in the part where a problem is defined and actual solution identified, there is little to none coding involved. There may (should) be discussions about what programming language might be best for final implementation, but the problem and solution are almost always "coding" independent. Of course, you eventually have to sit at the keyboard and craft an application that does what you identified needs doing, and yes how difficult or easy it turns out to be will depend on both the choice of programming language and your skill in using it, but ultimately, this is a less "skilled" part of the job.

With this is mind, my position in the debate is, hopefully, clearer or at least easier to explain. I am all for (re)introducing "programming", as described above, into as many school curricula as possible. However, I'd either steer clear of "coding" for coding's sake, or have it as a sort of "vocational" module that could be required in order to maximise the usefulness of "programming", or as a sub-part of "programming" so learned skills and problems can be put into practical solutions running on a computer. Probably the latter, since kids would probably loathe a course that involved only paper & blackboard problem "solving" when they know full well that any results are meant to be run on a computer. Not to mention that seeing your solution actually run and work and give results can be a huge boost to kids' confidence - and egos.

So, to sum up: "Coding" for everyone - no! "Programming" for everyone - GO!

Raspberry Pi - GO! GO! GO!


Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Raison D'Etre?

Just a quick post...

Looking at what various religions advertise as their advantage over not having any, it seems that the answer to the question "why are we here?" figures very high on the list.



True, if you have decided you, and the world at large, do not need a religion in order to explain things, you have essentially given up on the "why" of existence. At least in the sense of "what's the use of us?", and "what's the use of what we do?". In the sense of "why we exist?" the question may very well have a simple answer: "because in the Universe as it is, it is almost inevitable life will come to be". After all, in an infinite (at least for all intents and purposes) Universe, the roll of cosmic dice is bound to fall on "life" sooner or later. Not to mention all the other "Goldilocks" explanations.

So, in short, we're here because we're here, and there's not "higher" reason or goal.

But let's now look at the major religions (although I think it'll apply to any and all). What reason are they giving for human existence? The actual coming into existence is usually clear enough: a deity had a whim, and out of said whim it whipped up humanity. Reason given? Well, none, actually. Why? Because. And stop questioning god's reasons!

What about the purpose of humanity then? Surely that is made crystal clear. Only it isn't really. What are we humans supposed to do with our lives? Mostly obey some arbitrary rules, allegedly set by the chosen deity. And why exactly should we? The best religions can come up usually is: "so the god does not roast you for ever and ever as a punishment"!

Now, I can readily agree this can be a good enough reason to behave - if you are foolish enough to believe in such balderdash. But this is not really a purpose, at least not in the way it is normally understood. I mean, we're not really after the answer to the question what is god's purpose for us, are we? Especially since, when you really think about it, this purpose seems to be quite unsavoury. Just think about it. You have been created so that your god can impose an arbitrary set of rules upon you - most of which is well nigh impossible to observe fully in the first place - and that only so you can avoid a horrible punishment meted out by that same "loving" god.

When you put it that way, your purpose in life is to provide sport for your god, and that is regardless of whether you manage to follow the rules or not. God's had his sport, and being omnipotent, the reward you get is easily within his capabilities. If you can call it reward. Most of what's on offer, at least in Abrahamic religions, is a few pleasantries repeated ad infinitum which is just another way of saying ad nauseam. Not really that much different to eternal hell fire, that harp plucking on a cloud for ever and ever, with not much else or better to do. For Pete's sake, even those alleged Islamic virgins can bore you after some time. Not to mention that once you're through with them they're not virgins any more, are they?

Therefore, in choosing between religion and science, when it comes to the purpose of your life, and humanity's existence, science should be the obvious choice. For one, it's the Occam's Razor that should guide you there: neither science nor religion really give an answer, but science requires much less contrived and illogical storytelling. And then, science option is more palatable, really. At least you don't feel you're just a pawn in a cosmic game of chess where the last - and only laugh - belongs to your "loving" deity.

So, choose wisely - choose science!

PS
I said "quick", not "short"!


Wednesday, 29 February 2012

At The End Of The Rainbow

It seems we can finally answer that eternal question:

What lies at the end of the rainbow?


No, it's not Manic Miner. If anything that may be what lies at the beginning. And before Commodore 64, BBC Micro, and even ZX81 (or even ZX80, and not to forget Altair 8800) fans jump at my presumption that affordable home computing began with Sinclair ZX Spectrum,I'll just say - I could care less, but I don't. Also, if you think I'm insisting on Spectrum just because that was what started me on the weird and wonderful path, let me tell you that it didn't. And that I won't dwell on this any more.

On the other hand, and I think anyone will find it hard to really argue otherwise, the rainbow stripes of ZX Spectrum were in many ways the rainbow which lit up enthusiast home computing. So, indulge me, suspend disbelief, and follow the rainbow arc from that golden time of thirty years all the way to the present.

And the ride was just like along an arc. We all, very excitingly and very excited throughout, shot into the beautiful world of making computers do what we wanted, as opposed to what some company wanted. The high was exhilarating, even if the ride was necessarily bumpy. But then, those bumps were part of the magic, and we loved them, too.

Then, somehow, things got out of hand. Or rather, the prices. What was a cheap little computer which most families could afford, and probably one for each child, morphed into thousand dollar beasts that were IBM compatible PCs, not to mention even more expensive (and still even more expensive) Apples. Suddenly the computing revolution not quite ate its children as priced them out of the market. Now most people could not own a computer, and if their parents did they probably weren't very keen on their kids messing around them.

Worse still, and a lingering problem even now when a lot of computers are actually affordable again, programming of the beasts became much more complicated. And even if it didn't (and I don't really think it did, at least for the real enthusiast) it got progressively harder to really get to know your machine. They became both much too complex for an amateur to comprehend fully, and there also wasn't nearly enough reference material from which to learn eve if you could afford the time. While it was - and is - definitely still possible to mess around a personal computer it became just too time consuming for someone with other things to do or other interests to pursue.

A few abortive attempts were made with cheap computers for developing nations, but most of them failed for various reasons and in various ways. Netbooks started cheap and simple only to mutate into too expensive, but too underpowered little things good only for use under duress. It seemed all hope is lost.



But then, there came Raspberry Pi. They promised a basic computer the size of a matchbox and a price to match (excuse the pun). A quite decently specified Linux machine for $25/$35? It sounded like just one more failed idea. Fortunately, in that venerable spirit of British back room boys, it actually happened. As of this writing a first batch of 10,000 units has sold out in just a couple of hours, and in the process effectively DDoSed the web sites of electronics giants RS Components and Premier Farnell!

Talk about pent up demand and sheer excitement! If this doesn't prove that there is a huge grass-roots interest for truly affordable - and intellectuality graspable - creative computing then I don't know what does.  And it just has to be creative. The Raspberry Pi is really of no use to anyone for anything unless they want to spend time and effort and build something useful out of it. This is not demand for a $35 computer which will be used to surf the web and watch (porn) films. This is demand for a device that is cheap enough to warrant spending time, effort, and some extra money, too, so that it can be cajoled into doing something interesting, if not necessarily useful, which general purpose computers, regardless how complex or affordable, just cannot do.

And so, travelling up and down the arc of the ZX Spectrum home computing revolution rainbow, we reach the other end where, instead of the proverbial pot of gold, we find a sweet little fruit - not an Apple! - which reinvigorates the same forces and elicits much the same excitement and feelings we all had thirty years ago. Mind you, this is not (just) nostalgia of a bunch of old timers. The excitement may be the same as the one of old, but the excited ones are most definitely the young 'uns of today.

This end of the rainbow need not be the end at all, either. Hopefully, it will be a lesson learned. A lesson that teaches us two things, really: yes, you can always build a truly affordable computer - you just need to try hard enough, and yes, there always is interest among the kids to build stuff of their own, and to challenge themselves and everyone around them.

Now, there's only one way to end this (overlong - as usual) post - with a question:

What will you build today?

PS
You may have to hold your horses until batch 2, or even 3, is ready.
Unless you are obsessive-compulsive F5 hitter, that is.





Monday, 27 February 2012

Bricks? Mortar? Or Both?

By now, we've all seen the ugly decline of the High Street shop. A good part of it is, of course, due to the recession which just does not seem to want to let go. Another part, however, clearly has to do with the unstoppable march of the on-line shop.


Does it have to be like that?

Do High Streets have to lose the colour of their various shops?

I don't think so.

To be honest, I am as guilty of robbing the bricks and mortar shops of their business. There's little I hate more than prowling shop after shop in search of whatever it is I wanted to buy. It is way easier to click-click-click and have it delivered to the door, usually within a day or two (go Amazon, go!).

But, in the very last sentence above lies also a pitfall of on-line shopping - and a chance for brick and mortar (also an opportunity for postal services, but more on that later).

It should be obvious, really: 99% of deliveries - especially free and cheap kind - will arrive between Monday and Friday, and within business hours. Which is really not good at all. I mean, the reason I can buy stuff in the first place is because I have a job. And, like a vast majority of others, I have a (sort of) 9 to 5 job. So, I am usually not at home when the delivery comes. So, I usually have to either take a day off - which is expensive and relies on knowing the exact day of delivery - or I have to go pick up the package from my local delivery depot. You don't even have to be unlucky and have yours open only between 7am and 1pm on workdays and 7am and 11am on Saturdays for it to be an inconvenience. And you have to be lucky and have your employer happy for you to use their post room facilities for your personal shopping needs.

Let's now take stock and see what we've got here and how it can be reshuffled to everyone's benefit...

I love shopping on-line. It's quick, easy, convenient, and not least you can do it in your undies (or even out of them if you're that way inclined). But I also like to touch and try at least some things before I buy them - and I don't just mean shoes and clothes. For example, when buying a laptop it can be essential to try a few different keyboards in order to avoid disappointment (and endless typos). So, there's definitely a place for brick and mortar shops where you can do just that. They could or could not hold or even sell stock. I'd be happy for them to just be built around the need for a customer to play with products and then either complete the sale from home or, even better, use an in-store secure terminal to do it there and then. Especially for bigger and more expensive items this would be a good thing?

When it comes to delivery I think a brick and mortar shop of the see-and-play type described above can be handy, too. While it may not necessarily hold stock that's available to buy on the spot (an expensive exercise in itself), it could act as a delivery depot for stuff you buy from them on-line. If nine times out of ten I need to go to my Royal Mail delivery depot on a Saturday I may just as well make the trip to my local store. It's more fun for me (delivery depots are usually in quite drab places devoid of any other facility), and it can be good for the shop which could try and make me buy something else if I have to pass through its display department. Maybe pick up and accessory for whatever I bought. While it may be silly and expensive to stock 100 inch TVs in a High Street store, it should be cheap and easy to have cables and other consumables you'll need with them.

Of course, the TV example is a bit silly and strained. With the sizes in which they come these days you really do want them delivered to your living room. Which is where we come to the promised postal services bit. If these want to enhance their business - and get more of it - they really need to seriously consider making more and cheaper outside-of-business-hours deliveries. It may be that the wages are higher for these hours, and it may be that the uptake could be slow, but surely once the volumes picked up it would be profitable for all. Have shops and couriers share the early pain, and they'll end up sharing the increase in volumes and profits, too.

In summary, and probably apart from the last bit about delivery services, these changes should be relatively easy and cheap to implement. The shops and staff are already there. Re-purposing stock rooms to hold customer orders rather than unsold items should be simple, and may even reduce the storage space costs as the space required may even be reduced. The point of sale systems are mostly already general purpose, networked terminals so converting them to on-line style shopping in store should be easy. Most would really only need turning 180 degrees to face the customer. Even the existing Chip and Pin terminal can say as a payment system increasing customer security. Probably the most difficult part would be to bear the pain of the increased overtime payments for postal delivery staff. But, with a bit of luck, and a lot of determination this should eventually pay dividends, too.

So there you go. This is what I think can, and should, be done to save the High Street and at the same time make shopping an even better experience for the customer. And it should be obvious that customer convenience leads to increased sales. Which is what we all want, don't we?

Friday, 3 February 2012

Privacy, Please!

(or: how I stopped worrying and learned to love Google)

Call me stupid, but I honestly do not understand the brouhaha surrounding the recent Privacy Policy changes announced by Google.

For one, there doesn't seem to be much that's changing at all in the ways Google is either collecting or using the data from its users.

The main change is that from 1 March 2012 any data Google may have collected about you can be used in its provision of a service other than the one from which the data originally came from. To use an already abused example, your YouTube watching history may affect the search results and/or ads you see on Google's home page. No more data will be gathered by any of the Google's services due to this change.

When I first read about this, my initial reaction was along the lines of:


What? Are they not already doing this?


I mean, when you think about it from an average user's perspective. Whatever Google service I use surely I have an impression I am dealing with the single business entity. What does it mean that Google owns and operates both Picasa and YouTube than they are integral parts of the same business entity. And business entities tend to share internal information freely. And not only that. The ones who are better at sharing internal information tend to be better at what they do. And I mean it both for their bottom line and for their customers. Because, and regardless of what someone may be trying to tell you, companies live and die on how successful they are at satisfying their customers' needs.

So, it seems at least only natural for Google to want to do so. It's a survival strategy.

But, you may ask, what about the users and how their data is being used? And you'd be excused for asking that question because every journalist and politician - and their collective dog - are currently up in arms about just that. The problem is, as hard as I concentrate, and as many such articles I read, I cannot quite see what is it really that they are complaining about.

To be honest, the best articulated complaint I've seen so far is about how this will affect serving of ads in various Google services. I'd even dare to claim that this is the only thing everyone seems worried about. OK, apart from the politicians who are (well, may be) genuinely worried about potential for abuse. Which is probably due mostly to their not quite understanding of the issue, but having to do something because the press is up in arms.

Maybe we should remind ourselves what is going to happen. Repeat after me:

The information Google already holds about me is now going to be more widely used throughout Google's products and services. Whenever I am logged in. No more information is going to be gathered. No existing privacy settings and mechanisms are going to be affected.

So, setting aside for the moment the issue of Google accidentally losing your information (or giving it away to law enforcement), the only thing that really changes for you - the Google user - is that you may see a bit different ads and/or search results while going about your business on a Google operated site. Some would - probably correctly - even argue that you will be seeing better ads and/or search results. After all, the more you know about a person, the better you can guess what they might want in the future. Stands to reason, really. And if you want unbiased search results just log out of your Google account and go for it. And if you don't like seeing ads that's easy as well: AdBlock works on most browsers you care to name. And if it doesn't work on yours - you should change your browser. (And if you want to know why I still carry ads on these pages, please head here.)

Therefore, I must repeat: I honestly do not understand the brouhaha surrounding the recent Privacy Policy changes announced by Google.

Even if we now go back to that possibility of your data being leaked, lost, and/or handed over to law enforcement we are still no closer to comprehension because this issue is not affected at all by these changes. Nota bene: I am not saying this issue does not exist or that it gets any better with these changes. It doesn't. But it doesn't get worse either. All the data is still there - it's just a few extra links between the databases.

And let's be clear: exactly the same argument is valid for any other company that holds data about you (Facebook comes to mind, natch). The fact that some of them have less tentacles down which to spread it is beside the point. Just you wait for Facebook to branch off into something or other in a few years' time. After all, now that they went public (interesting analysis of Facebook IPO here, and do follow the links therein, too) investors will sooner or later demand they "diversify".

So, I think you should stop worrying, too. Which is not to say you should not read the new Privacy Policy - and up sticks if you don't like it. Of course you should read it. And up the sticks if you don't like it. The only problem is: there's not (m)any places where you'd get substantially different treatment. And remember: that's not necessarily a bad thing either.

Stay safe, stay sane, be reasonable.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Bad Apple

Remember when computers had proper keyboards?
Like this one on an ancient Appple ][?


It sure is not a work of art (like the new one, below), but at least a person with average size fingers could actually type on it, and efficiently.


I am not even going to go to the most recent me-too abominations like the one on the Acer netbook I recently returned, partly because the keyboard was hopeless (the other part was that Windows 7 Home Edition is such an undescribable horrible pile of shit that it's hard to believe).


Amazingly, everyone seems to have not only resigned themselves to this new fad, but many are also actively encouraging it. And by that I mean all the Apple fanbois who extol the virtues of their beloved design. Yes, yes, yes! It is magical and beautiful to behold. Just don't tell me it's also magically beautiful  to type on effectively!

Of course, being quality obsessed as they are in Apple, their incarnation sure is the best of the lot to type on. and not just look at. But best of the same less-than-useful lot has never before been good enough. Only now, when everyone seems to think that looking like Apple will bring instant success (it won't - of course) we seem to have completely lost the sight of ergonomics.

Repeat after me: One cannot type effectively on a chicklet style keyboard.

Think about it. Chicklet style keyboards are not a technological marvel only available to twenty first century rich people. If it were a good style of keyboard to type on it would have been used in all sorts of keyboards of the previous century. Typing pools of ye olde corporations would have had electric typewriters with chicklet keyboards. Mainframe computer terminals would have them. But they didn't. And they still don't.

And that's for a very good reason: efficient touch typing is not possible on a chicklet keyboard. I mean, a modern Apple style keyboard is essentially a touch screen with dimples. And I don't see anyone writing the great American novel on a touch screen.

If you haven't already noticed I'll now tell you one of the main reasons these keyboards are crap. Have a look at the two photos at the top of this post. What is the effective key distance in each? See how on the Apple ][ keyboard the keys taper off towards the top? Yes, their top surface area is smaller then on the other keyboard, but the effective distance between the key tops is at least doubled. This means much less chance of mishitting the adjacent key. On top of that - and on top of every key of the old keyboards - there is a recess, a nice little valley to keep your fingertip from slipping down the side and hitting the adjacent key. No such thing on modern keyboards. Flat as a pancake with barely more than a millimetre between the keys.

So, it's no wonder that ever since I had to replace my old trusty Acer 7720G and Lenovo ThinkPad X61s with a Lenovo G770 and HP EliteBook 8440p, respectively, my typing productivity has plummeted. At times it even borders on abysmal. And these two laptops actually have better keyboards than most others I've seen. Lenovo is a black version of the Apple one above, and the HP has straight lined cutouts on every key making the effective clearance reasonable. Unfortunately, the key tops are still flat so the fingers do slip and hit adjacent keys.

I dread the time when Apple decides that the next word in design is getting rid of keyboards altogether and replaces them with touchscreen slabs for us to slip and slide our fingers on. Oh, what a sad, sad day that will be...



Sunday, 1 January 2012

Repost: Happy New Year!

There, I said it! And no, that is not me in the photo to your left. Unfortunately? Not so sure. You tell me.

Anyway, here's one holiday that, on the face of it, I could easily subscribe to, what with being a radical atheist, and all that.

Well, yes. Sort of. At least it's not obviously a religious event.

However, it has almost as much meaning as Christmas (or Hanukkah, or Ramadan, or what have you), which is none, really. It's just a marker, making it easier for us to refer to the times past, and future. You should already know that it is not really possible to refer to the time present: by the time you referred to it it's gone and become past.

Anyway, back to the issue at hand. Is there really anything special about a marker dividing our time ruler into (almost) evenly spaced periods? No. So why do we celebrate it? Well here, I think I have a few good reasons.

For one, why not? Everybody likes a good party. OK, not necessarily everybody, but you know what I mean. Miserable bastards don't deserve either a party or a new year (non-capitalisation deliberate).

Two... Do we need two at all, seeing as one, above, seems to cover any and all possible reasons? Oh, OK. I'll give in. Here's reason number two: we made it through another year alive! Yes, we could also say that then we can celebrate every single day we wake up. Well, in fact, I do. I just don't make it into a big party, and usually don't invite others to join in. I do give myself a present every now and then though. So, in summary, yes, there is a very good reason to nominate a day in the year when we celebrate survival, and hope for more of it. The fact that we choose to celebrate this on a particular day is just for ease of planning and remembering. After all, in ancient Rome, the year began in March, with the spring equinox.

Three? No. We most definitely do not need a third reason to eat, drink, and make marry for the New Year. So, without further ado, I wish you a very happy new year (non-capitalisation deliberate), and hope to see you for the next one as well.

Stay well, and have fun!

PS
If you're wondering why a repost (again), it is the same for New Years as for Christmases: deep down, they're all the same...