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May 14, 2011

Moving to a new home…

Writing about web page http://www.rumsby.org.uk/blog

I got out of the blogging habit a little while ago, and despite several attempts I never quite managed to get things going again here. As a final attempt to get back into it I’ve set up a new Wordpress blog over here. Maybe having my own will be enough inspiration to keep going? There’s only one way to find out!

Anyway, the current plan is that there will be no more new content here. Please go and browse the new blog instead. A small amount of the content from here has been migrated over, when new articles reference old ones, but this blog will stay here as an archive for the foreseeable future.

February 16, 2011

RSS feeds from Twitter

Follow-up to Evernote as a Twitter archive from Steve's blog

I was just about to write a blog about feeding Twitter into Evernote via the Twitter RSS feeds and an RSS-to-email service when I discovered I had written about it years ago. What I missed out of the blog, though, was the URLs for the RSS feeds. So here they are.

The URL of the feed for your own tweets is listed on your profile page, but not, apparently, in new twitter. If you’ve switched to the new twitter design, switch back and look at the bottom of the right-hand column. It will look like this: “http://twitter.com/statuses/twitterid/digits.rss”.

The feed of your favorites looks like this: “http://twitter.com/favorites/twitterid.rss”. As far as I know, this doesn’t appear on a twitter page anywhere. You just have to know.

I also feed my mentions into Evernote. There’s no simple RSS feed for this. I use a twitter search, like this: “http://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q=%40steverumsby”. That “%40” is an ”@”.

Set these up as three separate separate feeds in Feed My Inbox, all sending to your evernote email address – you can get that from your account summary page on evernote.com.

February 08, 2011

Eye–Fi day 2 – I'm confused

Follow-up to Playing with an Eye–Fi card from Steve's blog

Yesterday, I thought I understood the Eye-Fi architecture. The Eye-Fi card connects to your PC if it can, and transfers images to the Eye-Fi Center software running there, and from there images go the various online sharing services you’ve configured. If it can’t connect to your PC, the images stay on the camera until it can. And if you want to operate without a laptop, Eye-Fi have a hotspot service you can buy (£25/year) that allows that.

At least, that’s what I thought yesterday. A little experimentation last night and this morning has disproved all that, though. I configured my Eye-Fi to connect to my MiFi, and discovered that with my PC off images still end up in Picasa and in Eye-Fi’s own online storage system, and are eventually delivered to the PC when it is turned on. But that’s what I thought the hotspot service was.

The more expensive cards come with a year’s hotspot service bundled. Mine isn’t one of those. Perhaps it has it by mistake? If any other Eye-Fi users have any idea what’s going on, do please let me know! In the meantime, I’ll continue enjoying functionality I didn’t realise was there…

February 07, 2011

Playing with an Eye–Fi card

Writing about web page http://www.eye.fi

I was a keen photographer many years ago, but when kids came along I didn’t have time to keep up with it as a serious hobby. Consequently my recent photography kit has been from the, er, consumer end of the spectrum. Recently, though, my eldest has developed an apparently quite serious interest in photography and we have, between us, invested in a digital SLR – a Sony Alpha A500.

Alongside this, I’ve been researching lots of peripheral kit (any excuse to play with gadgets:-) and one thing that caught my eye was the Eye-Fi card. This is an SD memory card with WiFi built-in, which essentially adds WiFi capabilities to almost any digital camera. After a little bit of research and conversations with a few people that have one, I’ve finally taken the plunge and bought one. There’s a range of cards that provide different capabilities. I bought the most basic one – the 4GB Connect X2.

In essence this connects to a WiFi network (infra-structure mode, not ad-hoc), and as you take photos it transfers them to a PC (Windows & MacOS supported) automatically. Once there, you can configure various photo sharing services and have the images automatically uploaded to Picasa, flickr, Facebook and others, as well as keeping the local copy on the computer. Obviously, this all depends on having a WiFi network available. What if there isn’t one?

Well, if there really isn’t one then the Eye-Fi card just keeps the photos locally – it is a 4GB SD card, remember – and will upload them when it does find a network. If you have your laptop with you, but with no WiFi, there are two options. A more expensive version of the card, the Pro X2 supports ad-hoc WiFi connections. Option 2 is to turn your laptop into a hotspot. If you are running Windows 7, then Connectify does exactly that. The Eye-Fi card will connect to the laptop’s connectify hotspot and transfer the images. If the laptop has a live internet connection the images will then be forwarded on. If not, they’ll be held on the laptop until it does, and forwarded on then. This all works just as you’d expect. Connectify has another advantage. The Eye-Fi card in unable to connect to WiFi networks that have a web-based sign-in page, like most commercial hotspots do. But if you can connect from a laptop, and then re-broadcast that via connectify, you can still use the Eye-Fi in your nearest coffee shop!

There are a couple of other advantages of the more expensive cards. My basic card will only transfer JPEG images – it won’t transfer RAW files. The Pro version of the card transfers RAW files. Also, the Pro version of the card comes with a “Hotspot” service that allows it to transfer images without a laptop. You’ll remember I said above that images go from the card to a PC and then onwards to other services. Without a laptop that doesn’t work. With the “hotspot” service on the Pro card, images will go directly from the card to Eye-Fi’s own servers “in the cloud” and from there to your configured online services. If this is important to you, it is a service that can be added to the basic cards too, for £25/year.

For £40, my basic card looks like it is going to be a useful way of getting photos off the camera and onto various of my online services quickly, easily and automatically. WiFi enabled cameras have a lot of potential, and the fact that they can fit the WiFi hardware inside an SD card along with the memory, is pretty impressive. I do wish the Pro card wasn’t twice the price of my Connect version, though. The ability to transfer RAW files would be nice, but I’m not (yet) prepared to pay the extra for that. I have my dSLR configured to shoot RAW+JPEG so the jpegs transfer automatically and I still get the RAW files to process later…

September 23, 2010

Thoughts on Facebook Places, and LBS in general

Facebook places went live in the UK at the end of last week. After a few check-ins “just because” I started thinking about whether or not I would actually use it. I use Foursquare a lot, checking into almost every place I go (with a few exceptions, like my house). But in general I keep that information in foursquare where it belongs. I do not post all my checkins to Twitter too. If I would tweet about the location anyway then I will cross-post, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. I assume my Twitter followers don’t want to know everytime I check-in to my place of work, or to the local DIY store.

And that’s my problem with Facebook Places. If I checked in everywhere I went I’d be spamming by Facebook friends with loads of checkins they aren’t interested in. If I would post something to Facebook anyway about the location, then I will probably checkin to the Place. Mostly, though, I think I’ll be ignoring Places.

If you have a desperate need to know my every move, go find me on Foursquare. That’s where that information is staying…

And that brings me to another reason for not using Facebook Places. I might not want all my Facebook friends to know where I am. I have just about 100 Facebook friends, 600+ Twitter followers but just less than 30 friends on Foursquare. I’m more selective about who gets to see that information, and keeping it separate allows me to be. Facebook Places doesn’t let me be selective, and that’s not a good thing.

So, although I do use LBS a fair bit, in the form of Foursquare, I don’t think I’ll be using Facebook Places. At least not in their current form.

What do you think?

The "replacement for my iPhone 3G" deliberations continue…

I’ve had my iPhone 3G since day 1. Back in July this year when the iPhone 4 came out I was looking forward to getting something a little better, but ended up being disappointed by how little better the iPhone 4 was compared to its asking price. That started me on a process of looking at alternatives, mostly various Android phones. As I looked, I kept comparing them to my iPhone 3G and coming to the same conclusion. None of them was enough better to justify the cost. Time for some serious thought – what is it my iPhone 3G doesn’t do that means it needs replacing?

I’ve eventually come to the conclusion that there are just two things. First, the iPhone 3G is too slow. Maybe it has always been this slow and I’m just noticing when it is compared to newer devices, or maybe OS upgrades over its 2+ year lifespan have slowed it down? Certainly iOD 4.0 and 4.0.1 had performance issues, but 4.1 is much better. Either way, waiting for apps to open is getting quite frustrating. Waiting for web pages to load is equally frustrating, and that’s down to CPU not network. Some apps just don’t work at all, which I imagine is down to lack of RAM.

The second thing is the lack of storage. I bought the 8GB version, not the 16GB one. 8GB seemed plenty at the time, but now I find myself having to cut back more and more on the music on the device in order to make room for apps and their data.

And that’s it. Everything else about the device, from the lowly 2MP fixed-focus, no-flash camera to the display is fine for me as it is. Yes, better would be, well, better, but I don’t need better. While the various possible replacement phones I have looked at, or would like to look at – HTC Desire, HTC Desire HD, Samsung Galaxy S, Nokia N8 – are all good devices, they are all expensive ways of addressing the problems I actually have.

This is all leading me slowly but surely to the conclusion that what I need is an iPod Touch, combined a MiFi. I liked the Mifi so much when I had one on loan that I might just get one anyway for use with laptops while travelling. That would reduce my iPhone to, well, a phone most of the time, with a few apps still on it for those times I don’t want to carry the touch too. And for things the Touch doesn’t do, like GPS.

A decision is getting close, I think…

August 24, 2010

A gadget that "just works" – the MiFi

Writing about web page http://www.three.co.uk/Mobile_Broadband/MiFi

3 MiFiI’ve just been on holiday – a week in Centerparcs. The village has WiFi in all the central areas, and some of the more expensive lodges have it, but not our lodge. Co-incidentally I was offered the option of trialling a MiFi by Three Mobile Buzz. Now normally I wouldn’t be bothered at the lack of WiFi. I have an iPhone which has all the connectivity I need, and the other members of the family aren’t so addicted to being online as I am. Except that a few of them have recently discovered Farmville and didn’t want to leave their farms unattended for a week. Anyway, when you are holiday with kids, you have to spend the evenings in and having internet access gives you another entertainment option.

The MiFi is basically a WiFi hotspot with a mobile data connection. Turn it on and it connects, via the Three mobile network in this case, to the internet and advertises the connection via WiFi. It allows up to 5 simultaneous WiFi connections so you can share your connectivity with friends. The hotspot is fully configurable for encryption and passwords, but the defaults are reasonable and mean that you can be up and running with it very quickly.

Anyway, I got the MiFi a few days before we set off. The first thing I did, obviously, was try it out at home. I seem to have a decent Three signal at home, the MiFi connected via HSDPA (aka “3.5 G”) and my usual broadband speed checker rated it at 4Mbps. Since my home ADSL line only runs at 5-6Mbps, that’s pretty good. Obviously this is signal strength dependent, though. I also tried out the battery life before we went. From fully charged to completely empty took 6 hours with light usage. Use it heavily and it lasts nearer 5 hours.

So, with everyone eagerly anticipating access to Facebook and Farmville through the week, we arrived at Centerparcs and discovered that my iPhone, on O2, just about managed a voice connection, at least some of the time, but couldn’t manage a data connection at all. Other phones on Orange where just as bad. As I turned on the MiFi in our lodge I was preparing people for the worst, but it turns out that Three’s signal was pretty good. The MiFi got a decent 3G signal in most of the lodge and could manage 3.5G in one corner. Throughput varied between 1Mbps and 3Mbps. Sighs of relief all around…!

And it worked flawlessly all week. Everyone was happy – the Farmvillers and the iPhoners with no native data connection. One nice feature of the current MiFi, compared to the previous version, is that it does work while being charged. There were a couple of days when I had it running all day, permanently powered, and it didn’t skip a beat. A gadget that just works. Perfect…

A quick note about costs. You can get the MiFi on a rolling monthly contract, £15/month for 5GB/month with the device costing £40, or £17/month for 18 months again with 5GB/month and the device for free. You can also get it on PAYG for £50, with 1GB of data costing £10. The MiFi is also available on Vodafone.

Overall, I love the MiFi device. It just works. Simple. And, depending on mobile signal strength, it provides a decent throughput. Certainly enough, potentially anyway, to use as your only broadband connection. The only problem with that would be cost. If you use lots of data it could get expensive, although there’s a 15GB for £22/month package with should do for most people. That said, my “unlimited” ADSL costs me just £7.50/month, and I have pushed over 70GB through that in the last couple of months with no complaints form the ISP.

Summary – If you need broadband on the move, the MiFi is hard to fault. Just get one…

August 05, 2010

It has been a bit quiet around here of late…

For various reasons, I seem to have been somewhat neglecting this blog recently. Much of what I would have previously posted now goes to Twitter and Tumblr these days, which doesn’t leave me with much to post here. I must try harder…

The good news is that I have some new gadgets whizzing towards me, for trial purposes as usual. And this time they aren’t Nokia gadgets! Having been slightly underwhelmed by the iPhone 4 I’ve been taking some time to look at alternatives, and in particular at Android devices. I’ll shortly be getting my hands on an HTC Hero. I’m more interested in the HTC Desire as my iPhone replacement, but the Hero will give me a pretty good idea of what living with Android would be like. And that’s not all! I’m also going to get to play with a MiFi for a while.

I haven’t given up on Nokia, though, and I’m hoping to get my hands on an N8 soon. I’m looking forward to that – the specification looks really good. As ever with Nokias, the devil is in the software.

I’ve also been off the bike for a while thanks to a car driver that was following the old French rules of the road at a roundabout. I’m hoping to get back on two wheels sometime soon (and now that I’ve said it in public, I suppose I’m going to have to). Maybe there’ll be some cycle-related blogging coming soon, too?

So, if there’s anybody left still reading this blog then prepare for some new content, and once again my apologies for neglecting you for so long.

January 04, 2010

Playing audio from an iPhone

Pretty much ever since I’ve had my iPhone I’ve had a problem I’ve been looking for a solution for. Having lots of music on the phone is great for personal use – earphones on one sort or another work fine for that. Sometimes, though, I want to share the music (or podcasts, or…) with others, and in several different situations. I’ve found the built-in speaker to be surprisingly loud, and is usable in smallish rooms with a few people so long as there isn’t too much background noise. But sometimes something else is needed and I haven’t really found an ideal solution.

At home I can just connect the iPhone to my existing hi-fi via a cable and that works fine from an audio point of view. Having a cable trailing across the room is less than ideal, though. I’ve tried the Jabra BT3030 as a solution to that. It is a stereo bluetooth headset designed for mobiles, but with a 3.5mm socket for connecting headphones, meaning I can also feed it to my hi-fi. As a wireless headset for an iPhone it has some shortcomings, but for this application the main problem is that the audio quality isn’t quite good enough.

I’ve also tried the Griffin iTrip (thanks, Santa!). This is a much better solution all around, apart from one little detail. The range is irritatingly short. More than a couple of metres away and the signal starts to break up. The Griffin website claims a range of 9m. I don’t get anywhere near that. And anyway, it seems that not everywhere I want to do this has a conveniently located FM radio capable device. A decent enough portable FM radio isn’t hard to come by, though, so this is my current best solution to the problem.

Does anyone else have the need to play audio from an iPhone/iPod in a portable way without spending a fortune? There must be a better solution out there somewhere. Do decent bluetooth speakers exist? Bluetooth appears to have a longer range than the iTrip…

December 21, 2009

Nokia N900 – the best N–series yet?

Writing about web page http://www.nokia.co.uk/find-products/all-phones/nokia-n900

Nokia N900Once again the folks at WOMWorld have been kind enough to lend me a shiny new phone for a few weeks. This time it was the Nokia N900. I was really looking forward to getting my hands on this. When I tried out this device’s predecessor, the N810, almost two years ago I liked almost everything about it. The main issue was that it only had a WiFi connection and so much of its functionality disappeared when you were out of range of a wireless network. The N900 is a phone as well as in “internet tablet” and so doesn’t suffer from that problem. It should be the perfect device for me…

Of course, in the last two years things have moved on. In particular the iPhone, which all new smartphones are inevitably compared to, has changed people’s expectations of what such a device should provide. Has the N900 developed enough to keep pace? I’m pleased to say it has. There are a few shortcomings still, not all of them with the device itself, and those mean that I still prefer my iphone to the N900. It was close, though. I do think that for me this is the best N-series device I’ve used. And so to the details…

The N900 is a Maemo-based device. This is a Linux-dervied OS built by Nokia specifically for their “internat tablet” range, starting with the N700. The N900 has the latest version, Maemo 5. I really like this OS and the UI. It isn’t quite as intuitive as the iPhone but after just a few minutes I had found everything I needed without having to resort to the manual. And one of the major issues I have with all Symbian-based phones, the way they deal with network selection on a per-app basis, is dealt with nicely. The OS chooses the appropriate network connection (WiFi or cellular) and everything just uses it. Perfect. It did feel like the UI needed just a little more horsepower from the CPU, though. Inertial scrolling wasn’t quite as smooth as you’d like, and nor was opening windows. To be fair, though, the same is true of my iPhone 3G (but not the 3GS).

Running multiple apps worked flawlessly, and switching between them was straightforward. All apps continued running in the background and could provide notifications where appropriate – new IM conversations, emails, SMS, etc… I so wish the iPhone worked this way. That said, I once had to reboot the machine because a background app was causing it all sorts of grief. Speaking of apps, there’s a default link to the “Ovi Store” for downloading new apps but that just took me to a “coming soon” page. That was a bit of a disappointment. One of the expectations that the iPhone changed was the “app” ecosystem, and shipping without a working app store these days is not a good thing. Without an app store you could make an argument that this isn’t really a smartphone. The Palm Pre has a similar problem, but it at least has some useful apps in its app store…

I did have two surprising issues with the software on the phone. I couldn’t get it to sync to our Exchange server. This is apparently because we are running Exchange 2003, and that isn’t supported (yet) by Maemo 5. Apparently it will be supported in the next update. That makes the device useless to me, and presumably many others, until the update is released. Next, and possible more surprising, the N900 doesn’t support MMS! How can a device released in 2009 not let you send MMS messages? Yes, I know the iPhone didn’t either, and Apple were rightly criticised for it. It isn’t like Nokia don’t know how to do MMS – they’ve got one or two other devices that support it. I’ve not heard when MMS support is coming along.

The touchscreen is resistive, which is a bit of a shame. It is the best resistive touch screen I’ve used, though, and most of the time it worked as well as the capacitive screen on my iPhone. It doesn’t support multi-touch, of course. Most of the time that wasn’t an issue but when you need it there’s no real substitute. The camera is Nokia’s usual 5MP device with auto-focus, Carl-Zeiss lens and LED “flash”, and it does its usual very, good job. I’d be more than happy for this to be my “carry anywhere” camera, even for indoor and low light situations.

Back when I tried the N810 I was really looking forward to a device with a physical keyboard, but was quite disappointed by that one. I also didn’t really take to the one on the N97 I tried earlier this year. I suppose I was expecting the N900 keyboard to be the same, but it wasn’t. I can’t quite put my finger on what is different, but I did like the N900 keyboard a lot. It worked a lot better for me that the others. I think I still slightly prefer the on-screen keyboard on the iPhone, but then I’ve had almost 18 months of practice on that and I’m sure I’d like the N900 keyboard more as I got used to it.

As far as the device goes, then, pretty much everything is good. The keyboard and resistive touch screen work better than I expected, the OS and UI are good, the camera is excellent. The major problems with this device are actually not with the device! I’ve already mentioned the app store, or lack of one. The PC software for communicating with the phone is also a bit of a disappointment. Getting music onto the phone is just too hard. iTunes for the iPhone just works. Nokia’s PC Suite is too much of a pain. It does the job, but it is too awkward to use. Maybe when you get used to it it is fine, but these days you shouldn’t have to “get used to it”. More work needed here, Nokia.

So, in summary, the device is pretty good. Definitely the best N-series device I’ve use, at least for my purposes. There are a few surprising problems (Exchange support and MMS), though, and they need sorting out. As does the PC software. Linking the N900 to a PC to swap data should not be as hard as it is. Overall, though, this was the hardest device to send back. Somebody asked me if I’d have sent the iPhone back and kept the N900 if given the chance. For previous Nokia devices I’ve tested, the answer would always have been a resounding “No”. This was much, much closer. I still sent back the right device, but when the N910 (or whatever it is called) comes along I might just be tempted! Keep up the good work Nokia – you’re definitely getting there…

December 03, 2009

TweetDeck 0.32 and Twitter lists

The new TweetDeck, v0.32 released a couple of days ago, supports Twitter lists. Even better, it is moving to using lists instead of its own “groups” for organising your twitter stream. This makes synchronising Tweetdeck columns across multiple machines trivially easy. A great improvement. Or so I thought…

It turns out that Twitter lists have a feature I hadn’t spotted, that affects the visibility of @replies. Normally, if somebody in your twitter stream sends a reply to another user, you get to see that reply if you are also following the other user. If you are not following them, you don’t see the reply. It didn’t used to be this way, and there was a big fuss from lots of people (including me) when it changed, but I’m used to it now, and I don’t imagine it ever changing back. I’ve even been glad of the behaviour occasionally!

Anyway, back to lists. When you are viewing a list’s twitter stream (i.e. the tweets posted by people on the list) you only see replies if they are to somebody else also on the list. That kind of makes sense if you are following somebody else’s list, but makes no sense of you are using your own lists to organise the people you follow. It especially makes no sense when using TweetDeck to organise people you follow into columns.

To be clear, with TweetDeck’s groups, when ever somebody I followed replied, I saw that reply if they replied to somebody else I followed. Even if I put the other person in a different group/column in TweetDeck. That’s the behaviour I want and expect. By converting my TweetDeck groups into twitter lists and building columns based on those, even though the people in the list-based columns are the same as those in the groups-based columns, I start missing replies. This is a bad thing.

Am I wrong about this? Is there something I’ve misunderstood? What’s the best way of fixing it?

For now, I’ve gone back to group-based columns in TweetDeck and will stay there until this issue is sorted out…

Wind–up bicycle lights…

Writing about web page http://www.mobilefun.co.uk/powerplus-swallow-wind-up-front-and-rear-bicycle-light-set-p17274.htm

I don’t often get approached to review stuff on this blog, but just like buses sometimes requests come in all at once! Just last week I was asked if I wanted to try out the POWERplus Swallow Wind Up Front and Rear Bicycle Light Set.

This is a combination front and rear light set powered by a wind-up mechanism – no batteries required. I confess I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic at first. I’ve used wind-up torches and head-lights before and never been very impressed. OK for emergencies, perhaps, but a bike light is a critical piece of safety equipment and it really needs to work. When I got the device the specifications didn’t make me feel much better about it – 1 minute of winding gives 8 minutes of light in constant mode and 18 in flashing mode. 8 minutes isn’t long enough for my commute at its shortest.

Anyway, I fitted the set to my bike and gave it a go. I have two front lights already, one a 1W LED light which I run in constant mode, and a smaller 3-LED flasher. I don’t have the handlebar space for a third so I used the POWERplus to replace the flasher. I also have two rear lights already, but could mount the new rear as a third. I quite like the design. The rear light mounts to the seat post or, in my case, the seat stay, and is connected by cable (clipped along the top tube in my case) to the bracket for the front light. The front light is removable, while the rear stays attached. A single switch on the front light controls both lights, so both are either constant, flashing or off. I’d quite like to have the rear constant and the front flashing, but that’s just me.

In use I was pleasantly surprised. The rear light isn’t hugely bright but I have two other lights on the back of my bike and one more certainly can’t hurt. The front light surprised me by being brighter than I expected. It also lasted longer than the specifications suggested. I’ve given it a 60 second wind and had 10 minutes or more of constant light plus a similar amount of flashing time from it. This suggests the internal battery isn’t fully charged by the quoted 1 minute wind and there was some residual charge in the battery before I started. Maybe winding for longer will get you more runtime? I haven’t had a chance to try that out yet.

I wouldn’t use this set as my only lights. Neither front nor rear is bright enough by itself, but as supplementary lights they work pretty well. The limited runtime, though, means you are restricted to 10-12 minutes (3 miles?) on constant or 20-ish minutes (5 miles?) flashing before you have to stop and re-charge. If your commute is shorter than that, they work pretty well, and at least you know you’ll never run out of power. If you commute further, then look elsewhere…

I’m a little concerned about the lifetime of the internal battery. Rechargeable batteries are typically rated for 500 or so charging cycles. This needs charging every time, which means at lleast once, and sometimes twice, a day for six months of the year. It won’t be too long before the battery loses capacity and those runtimes start shrinking. And you have to remember to top it up occasionally during the summer too or the battery deteriorates further. I predict in two years time this is not going to be useful any more.

If you’ve followed the link above to the web-site for the product, you’ll see it is sold by MobileFun.co.uk. What’s the mobile phone connection? As well as being a bike light, you can also use this as a mobile phone charger! There’s a Nokia-compatible cable supplied, and adaptors for other types are available as extras. Interesting, but since I don’t have a Nokia phone I was unable to test this out.

Will I stick with this set on my bike? I suspect not. I like the idea, and if I powered my existing lights with regular alkaline cells it would (a) save me money and (b) keep a pile of batteries out of land-fill. But I already use rechargeables in all my lights and haven’t thrown out a battery in a couple of years (although some are getting to that point now). I think I’m more likely to fit it to one of my kid’s bikes. They don’t often cycle in the dark, always cycle with me anyway, and they’ll find winding up the light fun rather than irritating.

November 24, 2009

My spam count is still falling…

Follow-up to The spam keeps falling from Steve's blog

I don’t empty my gmail spam box. I rely on Google to delete stuff older than 30 days. That means the message count in there is a good way of keeping an eye on how much spam I’m being sent. A little over 12 months ago there were 1400 messages in my spam box. That’s about 47 a day. Now there are just under 1000, or 33 a day. Compared to September 2007 when I had over 6000 messages (198 a day) that’s a huge drop.

Are spam volumes falling generally, is this just a blip, or is it just me?

Gmail is speeding away from me…

Follow-up to Still catching up with gmail… from Steve's blog

It has been a while since I looked at my gmail stats. Two years ago I was using over 70% of the space allowed in a gmail account (then a little under 3GB), and although the storage allowance was increasing my usage of it was increasing more quickly. I was catching up.

Two years on, I’m down to 44% usage. I’ve got over a GB more stuff in there (3.2GB in total now) but the allowance has gone up to over 7GB. Gmail is pulling away again…

I guess storage is cheap, and Google now have a better idea of how its users use the storage allocation so they can afford to offer much more storage to people knowing that most won’t take advantage of it.

November 23, 2009

Wine boxes grow up?

Writing about web page http://www.freshcasewine.com/

I’m not a big wine drinker. I like a glass now and then, but rarely more than two. And the others in my household drink wine even less often. And that presents us with a problem. Drinking a whole bottle before it goes off. I can make myself drink a bottle in two days, but would much prefer to take longer. But even my unsophisticated palate can tell that by then the wine is no longer at its best. The solution to that has always seemed like a wine box, which should let the wine keep for a bit longer since it isn’t exposed to the air when you pour, but wine boxes always seem to contain wine people often describe as “plonk”. Again, even my unsophisticated palate tends to prefer something a little more upmarket.

A few weeks ago I found out about FRESHCASE – a new style of wine box with a better quality of wine inside. Even better, I was given the opportunity to try one out. Better still, when the delivery arrived there were two in the box, one red and one white.

Before I go on, I should point out that I didn’t pay for these, and unlike the mobile phones I occasionally review here I didn’t have to give the wine back afterwards:-) These boxes sell for £17.99 each, for a box containing the equivalent of 3 bottles. Tesco currently sell the same wine for £7.25 a bottle, so that’s the first benefit.

As you’d expect, as soon as the delivery arrived I opened and tried both boxes. The wine is as good as any other at that price point. Not exceptional, to be fair, but that’s not the point. As it turns out, I was almost immediately struck down by a cold/flu thing that kept be off work for a while and off wine for a while longer. Both boxes sat around untouched for a couple of weeks, and I’m still drinking my way through them now, four weeks later. Both red and white have survived pretty well so far. The white, of course, is being kept in the fridge which I’m sure helps it. The red isn’t, and still tastes fine to me. I expect both will be gone by the end of this week, five weeks or so after opening.

So, three bottles of wine in a box that lets it keep for at least 5 weeks – 6 according to the blurb on the box. That suits me perfectly. I can have a box lying around the house and just have a glass when I feel the urge, without worrying about having to finish off the rest of the bottle. Perfect.

That’s the main attraction for me, but isn’t the only benefit to wine boxes in general and the FreshCase in particular. The three bottle equivalents in one of these boxes take up very little more space than a single glass bottle, reducing transport costs, etc. And the boxes are designed to pull apart to make recyling the various pieces easier.

These are supposed to be in Sainsburys stores from last week. I didn’t see any in my local Sainsburys at the weekend, but that’s the place to look for them.

November 01, 2009

First thoughts on Twitter Lists

I’ve spent a few days now playing with the new Twitter lists and right now I’m not really sure what to make of them. At first sight the mechanism is straightforward – organise the people you follow into lists and then you can be more selective about whose tweets you read. Put the people really want to follow in a “Friends” list and you can make sure their tweets don’t get lost amongst all the others. This is a step forward for those occasions when you need to use Twitter via the web site but I rarely do that – TweetDeck’s Groups provides this functionality.

But that’s not all that the lists functionality does. You can create lists of people you don’t follow, and follow them via the list rather than your regular timeline. I’m not sure I see the point of that. Why not just follow them and use lists to control what you see when? If you consider that your “timeline” – the tweets from the people you follow – is really just another list now, the “default” list you see on your Twitter homepage, then either follow everyone or follow no one. And certainly this feature makes follower counts meaningless. Some would argue they have been all along, of course…!

You can also build lists for other people to follow. Any lists you build are public by default. But that creates a problem. If I classify my followees for my own purposes I’d end up with different lists from if I classify them for other people’s benefit. And maintaining two sets of lists seems like a lot of hard work.

Finally you can follow other people’s lists. That seemed quite attractive at first, until I realised that those lists were then out of my control and I could end up following people I don’t want to, or not following people I did want to, because control of the list membership is in somebody else’s hands. Some lists might even be deleted and I’d lose contact with everyone on them. Plus, for any given category of interest there are already lots of lists of people. They all overlap but most have their own unique members. Do I follow one list, or several? That’s just a mess. What I’m going to end up doing is looking through the members of these lists and following the people individually. I can’t see myself following many lists built by others.

Aside from all of this, there’s the impact of lists on the people included in them. How would you feel if you found yourself on somebody’s “Annoying Tweeters” list. Or if you didn’t find yourself on somebody’s “Friends” list. Or if all the lists your were on were about X and you thought of yourself as more of a Y person? Think carefully when constructing those public lists, people.

So, where does that leave me with Twitter lists? I think I’m going to end up with a single, private “Friends” list for those times when I need to use Twitter via the web interface, not bother creating any others, and probably only follow one or two lists built by others, those I consider “definitive” somehow. This really isn’t going to make a big impact on my Twitter usage.

Now I’ve only had access to lists for a few days so I could easily have got it all wrong. I know there’s a new version of TweetDeck coming along that integrates with lists. It is early days for the feature, and it could easily change as it matures. We’ll see. What do you think?

October 15, 2009

What is Google Wave?

Writing about web page http://wave.google.com

I’ve seen lots of opinions about Google Wave. “Google wave will replace email.” “Google Wave will replace instant messaging.” “Google Wave is the new Twitter.” In my opinion, none of those is true. Wave is something different from all of them.

First, though, what does Google say Wave is:

Google Wave is an online communication and collaboration tool that makes real-time interactions more seamless—in one place, you can communicate and collaborate using richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.

Also Lars Rasmussen, one of Wave’s inventors, has said “Wave is what email would look like if it were invented today.”

I was fortunate enough to get an invite to the preview system in the first round on September 30th, so I’ve now had a couple of weeks to play with it. I know quite a few other people with accounts and so have been able to experiment with most of the features of it now. For me, the main differentiator is the real-time nature of it. Without that, a wave is little more than a wiki page that only a few people can see and edit. Or a whole thread of emails visible at once. That’s not so revolutionary, really.

So, the key is the real-time nature of it. How important is that, really? I see it as possibly useful in some restricted scenarios, specifically where a smallish group of people are collaborating on a single thing and will all be online at once. When you can’t guarantee that everyone, or a significant proportion of them, will be online together, then the real-time features are wasted and you are back to a wiki/email hybrid. And even if you can, how important is that, really? I’m not sure I see the point. I haven’t come up with an example yet that couldn’t be done just was well with a combination of existing tools. Maybe the that’s the point? Using a single tool instead of several? Or maybe I just don’t have enough imagination? That’s almost certainly true…! I know there are lots of clever, imaginative people out there playing with Wave and trying to find uses. Perhaps the killer app is out there, but we just haven’t found it yet?

There’s lots of good technology underlying wave. Making it all hang together in real-time, and all browser based, is clever stuff. The Wave developers have done an impressive job. But the hype at the moment seems to be focussed on that, and we need to look beyond the technology to the uses of it. The extension architecture provides lots of interesting possibilities, and again some very clever people are working on extensions to do interesting things. We just need to wait and see what they come up with. Maybe the technology itself really is the interesting part of Wave, and it will end up being used to support something else that is useful, and Wave itself is just the first demonstrator app and will eventually fade away?

Whatever Wave is, and whatever is turns into, I’m pretty sure it isn’t going to displace email, IM, Twitter or anything else anytime soon. And we need a lot more people with access to it before we’ll see how useful it is in its current incarnation. Keep those invites flowing, Google…!

(And before you ask, no I have no invites to give out – my eight invites disappeared on day one and I’ve been given no more. Sorry.)

October 06, 2009

Gore cables are awesome…

Follow-up to My bike is a 3–speed… from Steve's blog

I normally try to spend as little as possible on my cycling kit. I’m quite an enthusiastic cyclist, but I’m not a fanatic and I’m a bit of a cheapskate. Unless I’m convinced that spending money on “proper” cycling kit is worthwhile I try to make do. I was long ago convinced that proper lycra cycling shorts were worth both the money and the embarrassment, and that proper cycling jerseys were so much more comfortable on longer rides that the cotton T-shirts I use to wear. I still buy bottom of the range stuff, though, as I’m not persuaded that paying silly money for kit buys you enough extra.

So, when my gear cable broke last week I immediately went looking for the cheapest way of fixing it. In the end I was persuaded to go for something a little above bottom of the range, specifically Gore Ride-On Low Friction Cables. A little pricey for a set of gear cables, but boy are they worth it. The difference between these and the original cables has to be felt to be believed. There’s so much less resistance in the shifter, and shifting happens so much more quickly and predictably. It really is a pleasure to change gear. That sounds stupid to me as I type it, but I’ve had the cable on the bike for about 5 days now and I still enjoy every gear shift. Strange but true. And these aren’t the “professional” version of the cable, which I assume is even better. At over £40 for a set of gear cables, though, I don’t think I’ll be going for those next time. I might, however, go for Gore brake cables when I need to change those.

Seriously, Gore cables are wonderful things. Get some. Now…

September 29, 2009

Macride 2009 – Ride Report

Follow-up to Macride 2008 – Ride Report from Steve's blog

[ I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, immediately after the ride, but obviously forgot to post it. Oops! ]

I wasn’t originally planing to do the Macride this year, but I’m helping a friend build up his cycling distance in preparation for something exciting next year and the Macride was the right sort of challenge for him before winding down a little for the winter. And I had to keep him company, of course. I was also looking forward to doing the ride in the dry, unlike last year.

This year’s route was pretty much the same as last year’s, but without one or two diversions around the flooded bits. And as last year, it included Bakers Hill – the one hill that made me stop and walk for a bit. I was not looking forward to that!

Everything went pretty smoothly, it turns out. We made good time as far as the hill. As last year, I got about half way up Bakers Hill and had to stop and walk for a bit. We then had a 10 minute rest and re-fuel at the top before carrying on. After that I was nursing slightly achy knees and so slowed down a little, and as we were still in the Cotswolds then the roads were quite undulating still, which didn’t help the poor knees either. Finally, for the last 10 miles or so there was an irritatingly strong wind, always a headwind of course, just to make it a bit harder. Still, we made 4 hours 40 minutes for the 66 miles (note Macride organisers, not 63 miles:-) which is just over 14mph.

I don’t think I could have gone much faster. This isn’t a fast route – the Costwolds is a bit too lumpy for that. The roads around here are much flatter and I can average 16mph over that sort of distance, but not down in the Cotswolds. I said this last year and never did anything about it, but I could do with working on my hill climbing a bit. I suspect my knees might just stop me from getting any faster as I just can’t pedal much harder, but maybe I could work on my technique a bit and that would help. Maybe for next year?

My bike is a 3–speed…

Or more precisely it is a 27-speed with only 3 reliable ones. My rear gear cable has started to go just at the shifter end, meaning the inner cable doesn’t move freely inside the outer. I have persuaded it to stay in the fourth gear of nine at the back and I’m leaving it there for now, giving me just the three gears I get from the triple chainring at the front. That makes riding interesting, but it has also been educational.

My commute in in the morning is overall downhill and so quite quick. Not good without lots of gears. This morning I managed to get it up to 28mph, but only by pedalling at 149rpm!! Interestingly, over the course of only a couple of miles I got much better at that. To start with 135rpm was feeling fast, but I ended up feeling not too bad at 149rpm. I’ve got to go for 150 tomorrow morning!

Going home, I thought, would be more of a challenge. Obviously it is overall uphill, and with my knees I usually end up on the smallest chainring and a nice low gear on the steeper bits. Can’t do that at the moment so I thought I might end up killing my knees. Apparently not. I didn’t even use the small chainring last night. I guess having all these gears has made me lazy. Without them I just had to get on with it, and I had no problems at all.

This hasn’t persuaded me to go out and buy a singlespeed, but I can certainly see how it might improve my riding. I will definitely have to stop being so lazy, and avoid the low gears a bit more often.

I am looking forward to getting all my gears back, though. Replacement cables on order…