Friday, December 12, 2008

Manchester says no to the con charge.

Enter Davina McCall:

The votes have been counted, verified and indepedently checked and I can reveal the next person to leave is.....

(Stupidly long pause)

The congestion charge!

To explain the formal process... the way the voting worked is that Manchester was split into 10 districts.  The result for each district was announced.  For the TIF proposal to carry, 7 of the 10 districts had to return a yes vote.  A yes vote would mean the proposal would be sent to the government for their consideration.  As was made clear at the Labour conference, even if it was submitted there was no guarantee it would actually happen.

EVERY SINGLE district returned a No.  And not just any no, but by a massive majority of approximately 20% for and 80% against in every district.

This referendum was being watched the world over as it is the first time this kind of proposal had been put to a public vote in the world.  A few reporters even dared declare the concept of congestion charging dead in the water.

So what are the implications?

1) Businesses can continue to locate themselves in central manchester and be able to attract the best talent.  With the charge these people would have moved offices, or got jobs away from the city centre.  I think it makes the city centre far more attractive.

2) Our leaders will have to look somewhere else to pay for the maintenance of our transport system, a large amount of which is essential and must be completed.  How they can charge such high fares for our trains and trams and not be self financing is beyond me?

3) My favourite politician - Gordon Brown - now has a bloody nose.  Westminster now know that they cannot blackmail local authorities into congestion charging in return for essential public transport funding.

4) As for congestion, the charge was only designed to change the time people travelled, not to reduce traffic in the city centre - as such pollution would not have changed if the charge was introduced, and will not change now it has been axed.

I will be raising a glass to our councillors for giving us the chance to have our say!  And Gordon no trying anything devious to sneak this in through a back door like you usually do - just give us the cash for our transport!


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Google Chrome - web 2.0 starts today....

Back in April 2007 I wrote a blog post about all the hype around web 2.0. My opinion was "You can't call something Web version 2 without changing some infrastructure (Ie hardware), protocols (Ie http) and/or browsers."

Well today Google have launched a new browser, named Google Chrome!

If anyone knows anything about the Internet, where it is going and how to make it better this company does.

The browser is simple, well designed and has a new architechture to protect our computers from the nasties on the net. And I believe it (unlike when Microsoft make the same claim with every new release of their software).  Each web site and plugin is in a process of its own, which is a kind of virtual box. Whatever happens inside that box only affects the box.

This is my shortest post ever because the software has been released within the hour. Get this browser now. Today the internet has changed. I need to add this browser is still in testing and is classed as Beta, but Google always do this. I'll bet a Google beta works better than any Microsoft final release!

I have never been so excited about the future for computing. What with the Apple iPhone which will be expanded into a laptop form building on the success of the touch interface, and now Google evolving the web browser which could morph into a replacement for Microsoft Windows.


Update: I use this for normal surfing, but there are more than a few sites that are not properly compatible with this browser.  If you like a browser to store your logins for all the websites, Chrome is poor in this area.  Unfortunately one still needs to use Internet Explorer for some tasks.

Friday, July 25, 2008

BATTLE OF THE YEAR: Can HTC beat the iPhone??

I am referring to the HTC Touch range of new mobile phones. The Diamond is the consumer model which has a joystick, 4 buttons and a touch screen (no keypad). The Pro which will be out in the next couple of months has a sideways sliding full qwerty keyboard.

I have tried the HTC Touch Diamond as on paper it beats the iPhone, plus it runs Windows Mobile operating system which I have used before and really liked. The main benefit is full synchronisation with Outlook contacts and calendars.

The adverts all show off the screen with a selection of album covers to choose from to play your music, and some very nicely animated weather program.

I will cut to the point - it does not work. Trying to use this handset to make calls and text is next to impossible. Windows Mobile v6.1 cannot cope with a touch screen. There is one simple flaw that they have not addressed. If I am on the contact screen and flick the screen from the bottom to the top to scroll the list the phone will on about 30% occasions dial the contact on whom your finger first touches.

As for texts there is a nice HTC front end to the text inbox. However to view old texts or to compose a new text you have to revert to the standard Windows Mobile interface.

The album covers that are in the ad are only available within the playlist. This device has 4Gb internal storage so can hold a decent amount of music. This is impossible to flick through and select from the text list (and there is no other way). Lastly you have to buy a third party adapter if you wish to use anything other than the bundled hands-free kit to listen through.

When I said the HTC beat the iPhone the main point was the screen resolution. iPhone boasts 480x320 over 3.5". The HTC has a physically smaller 2.8" screen (allowing the handset to be much smaller than iPhone) but has twice as many pixels (640x480). The "minor" problem is that the processor in the phone can't process a movie anywhere near that resolution. I uploaded a 480 line mp4 and was lucky to see 1 frame per second. And it downsized that to view in portrait - couldn't get it to use landscape...

Which brings me on to my next issue. Not only is use of the accelerometer restricted to the flashy but useless album viewer and opera mobile, but most apps do not have a setting to tell them to put the screen in landscape. For example Windows Remote desktop took over my PC but with a screen res of 480 pixels across and 640 down!!

Lastly the internet experience - there are two browsers loaded. Opera was the easiest to use, but couldn't use the bookmarks sync-ed from your PC. IE could see the bookmarks but had problems rendering a lot of websites and had poor support for the touchscreen.

To sum up this phone has a lot of features and a large amount of apps are available to customise the phone with it being Windows based. I chose this phone thinking it was a cross between a phone and a laptop - against the iPhone which is a cross between a media player and a phone. But it simply doesn't work. There is no point having a phone if you feel like throwing it everytime you try to ring someone.

The last problem for HTC is simply that iPhone is "the iPhone". Doesn't matter what anyone else launches it will not BE an iPhone. The iPhone is from Apple. It has the press coverage. Everyone has heard of it just because it is!

Chris heads to the Apple store........

PS. When you go to the store to buy the iPhone the O2 website will not work in Mac OS. They boot their lovely Mac into Windows XP before they can process the order lol.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

iPhone 2.0 on the way...

I have posted a review of the first iPhone when it was released last year. This review comprised a very long list of things the iPhone 1.0 could not do. I dismissed it as an extremely expensive device (including the 24 month contract) that was very lacking in some modern functionality most others phones already had.

A couple of months after the launch O2 revised their tariffs - giving more minutes for your money, and allowing an 18 month rather than 24 month agreement.

Back to the new model that launches July 11th, there is a new £30 a month tariff on the way for light users, and a pay-as-you-go option has also been promised at some point.

The best news is the price of the handset has been significantly reduced. The 8Gb version starts at £99 and the 16Gb version starts at £159. On the more expensive tariffs the iPhone will be available free of charge.

The iPhone itself has had a limited amount of hardware changes. Most important it is now compatible with the faster 3G networks. It now includes a GPS radio receiver for accurately pinpointing your location. The camera and headphone socket are now flush which means at last you can use any set of headphones you choose.

There are numerous software changes, which can also be installed on the old iPhone if you havn't illegally unlocked it. There is support for third party applications, a new application store, better Microsoft exchange integration and 'hopefully' the addition of picture messages and video capture.

I will be very tempted to get one when they are launched. I would recommend buying on the £45 a month contract to get a discount of £100 on the device. After 9 months you can call O2 and ask to downgrade to a cheaper tariff! My only remaining mini-gripe is that 16Gb is a bit small for music - and no where near enough to carry round a selection of videos as well. Hopefully a 32Gb version will be along soon.


Update: Still no picture messaging or video, unless you can find an email gateway.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Europe - the Irish have saved the day!

Today the results of a referendum on the EU 'treaty' in Ireland have been announced. The 'treaty' must be ratified by all 27 member states to succeed. In 2005 the French and Dutch voted the 'constitution' down. It has since been reformated and called a treaty. Every review body (including the government's own) who has studied the treaty has concluded it is the same as the constitution, but renamed and reformated to be un-intelligible. The 'constitution' would have thrown away the existing European constitution and replaced it with a brand new constitution. The 'treaty' achieves the same end by taking the existing constitution and amending any lines that are different between the old and new constitution. All governments have tried to force it through without a vote, except for the Irish.

There was a very high turnout and the result was a very strong 'No'. Respect to the Irish!!

One: to the government for fulfulling their promise to hold a referendum before handing over control of the country to Brussels.

And two: for the electrorate "not following the wishes of their leaders" as the Financial Times put it.

Maybe I misunderstand the world, but I always thought in a democracy the leaders ask the electorate and follow their collective instruction. If the leaders issue orders and force the population to follow them regardless of their opinion I would call it a dictatorship.

Can someone please explain this to Gordon Brown, or his successor who takes over in a couple of months!

Labour were elected on the basis of a referendum. Apparently 80% of the population wants a referendum, but we are not given one because the government expects it is unlikely to win. That is a very seriously worrying reason for refusing a vote in a democratic country.

To make my position clear on Europe I do not believe a one-size-fits-all European government would benefit our country. We are one of the most technologically advanced nations in Europe which requires a very different way of government to a developing country like most of the rest of Europe. Financially we are already getting a bad deal from Europe. (See my blog post from November 2007 for more)

At past summits the demands of our country have been badly received by a lot of our peers. Our demands have appeared as a nuisance and not been given proper consideration.

I was reading the sport supplement of the Times a couple of weeks ago. There was an article about Britain's bid to host the 2018 football world cup. A senior international figure Jack Warner is quoted as saying "Nobody in Europe likes England.", "For Europe, England is an irritant"

Then take a look at the results from the 2008 Eurovision song contest where voting was clearly political and nothing to do with the actual songs and we received zero votes.

These may be about football and the Eurovision, but I think it would be foolish to dismiss the comments completely.

I am seriously concerned that without a veto we will get a seriously bad deal by joining Europe. We will also loose our seat on the UN Security Council. If we cannot get a majority vote in the proposed new Europe we will have absolutely no say in domestic or international matters any more. The red lines we apparently had put in to safeguard our national interests can legally be overruled at a later date on the whim of Brussels due to a 'ratchet clause'. Additionally our government who we elected will be stripped of all powers to govern our country. Instead we will be at the mercy of European MPs over whom we have no electoral power.

I will be raising a glass in thanks to the Irish for halting the devious and underhand attempts of European leaders to force the abandoned constitution through the back door! That's shut too now guys!


Thursday, May 08, 2008

New Satellite TV launches in UK - Freesat

In my last post I mentioned that a new TV service in the UK would be launching soon. This launched on Tuesday. This service is available to most households in the UK via a satellite dish.

The name of the new service is Freesat. This is extremely confusing because there was already a free satellite TV service available from Sky with the same name. The Sky offering is normally now referred to as 'Freesat from Sky'. The new Freesat service is owned by the BBC and ITV. I am amused the word Sky is completely absent from the Freesat website and literature!!

If you have a Sky dish you can buy a Freesat set-top box (STB) at most large electrical retailers and just plug it in. Both systems use the same satellite signal for receiving channels. Freesat do have their own TV guide and interactive services that are completely separate from Sky.

In my last post I concluded the new service was a branding exercise and that it was pretty pointless. There have since been a couple of developments.

1. ITV HD will not be available on the Sky HD service. It will be exclusive to Freesat.
2. There will soon be televisions on the market that can receive Freesat without a separate STB.

Sky have been complaining about Freesat saying they already offered such a service and the new one is a waste of money. Given that Sky holds 17.9% shares in ITV it is very interesting that ITV HD will not be on Sky. The chairman of ITV was quoted as saying 'they would not give the channel to Sky for nothing'.

A number of broadcasters have been complaining about Sky's monopoly and business practices. Recently Sky withdrew their Sky One channel from the Virgin cable network because Virgin would not pay a massive price increase for the channel. Some small channels have been challenging the cost levied by Sky for carrying their channel.

There is more to this than meets the eye!

I would love to know how much is payed and in which direction for the channels on the Sky service. My hunch is Sky is used to charging content produces to transmit their channel on the Sky network. And ITV HD have told them to get stuffed! Sky is now playing catchup because their status as the only network with all available HD services is at risk. They are getting a taste of their own medicine! As a Sky HD customer I hope this is resolved and ITV HD will be on Sky soon.

The game I think ITV are playing is to get access to channels that have an exclusive contract with Sky - namely Channel 4 HD and Five (Both of these are absent from Freesat). Sky are going to be in trouble when they come to re-negotitate most of their contracts with content providers now they have competition! They are already at the limit of what most customers will pay to view a subscription TV service.

Where I really believe the new Freesat is justified is that anyone can make receiving equipment for the new service. The Sky receivers were only available from Sky. It was not possible to integrate these with televisions and recorders. This was a real headache if you did not subscribe to Sky+ - recording a weeks programmes meant setting your Sky receiver and your video device for each programme. The Sky programme guide is locked and can only be decoded by Sky - whereas the new Freesat system will be open to all.

Today the free service from Sky is better than the free service from Freesat. If both STBs cost the same I would choose a Sky one because I then have the option of paying for TV channels if my needs change.

If any more channels go Freesat exclusive Sky will have problems. I hope we don't get to a situation where consumers will need a STB for the Sky service and an STB for the Freesat service in order to get all the channels they want - not a desirable situation.


UPDATE: My imagination has been running on high since I wrote this article. Think of all the possibilities now there is an innovative new TV service. While the Sky service works - there have been no innovations from them for years. While the HD receiver has a network port and numerous USB ports - like the interactive card slot featured on all systems since launch they don't do anything.

Imagine if the new Freesat service allowed you to access your recorded shows as you wished? Maybe the box could have a built-in DVD burner? You could copy programmes onto an iPod or a PSP to watch on the move. You could watch live TV on your PC by connecting a web browser to your satellite receiver. You could manage all your recordings from anywhere on the internet! I hate having to turn my TV on just to set a show to record.

At present on Sky all the time-delayed and Hi Def versions of normal channels exist as separate channels. Imagine if the box could merge them into one. You press a button to switch between the current or the 1 hour delayed version. If there is a recording clash the system could automatically pick up one of your programmes from the time delay channel if possible. How user friendly would that be?

Also your satellite receiver could stream video files from your PC, and could connect to all the new TV over IP services such as the iPlayer or BT Vision.

Lastly what if more channels that are currently subscription only on Sky changed their business model as numerous newspapers have? If they gave them free they would have more viewers and could charge more for advertising. More and more choice of free TV channels would be wonderful!

Friday, April 25, 2008

HD TV keeps getting better!

If you havn't made the jump to Hi-definition television yet things are certainly improving!

At the moment the only option is from Sky. A handful of new channels have recently launched, with another 2 expected within weeks.

My favourite channel is BBC HD. It only broadcasts each evening but the picture quality is always exellent. They are running shows like Torchwood, Last of the summer wine, The green green grass plus various nature programs like Tiger Spy in the jungle, Planet Earth and The power of the planet.

Discovery HD and National Geographic HD are also favourites of mine. History HD also carries interesting stuff about space and the universe. Sky Arts is also available in HD.

There are now 3 HD sports channels if you subscribe to Sky Sports. A third movie channel has just launched in HD. Previously there were 2 channels showing movies in HD. There was often a wait of a month or two before new movies on Sky Premiere were available on the HD channels. We now have the Premiere channel broadcasting simulcast in HD. There are also 2 box office movie channels in HD.

Sky one HD and Channel 4 HD are a waste of time. They are simulcast of the SD channels, and 90% of programmes on the HD versions are not broadcast in Hi-def.

Lux HD launched a couple of months back but seems to be permanent repeats and I have not worked out its intended subject.

Some of the best programmes I have seen on National Geographic have been about outdoor pursuits - kayaking, surfing, base jumping etc. There is now a new HD channel called Rush HD that is devoted to programmes like this. I have seen nothing in the press about this amazing new channel - which has prompted this posting on my blog.

The 2 I mentioned that are due any day are FX HD (I don't ever remember watching the normal FX channel, but it has things like family guy) and ITV HD. Hopefully the ITV channel will be a different schedule to the normal ITV but with plenty of programmes actually in HD.

If you are not prepared to pay Sky the extra £10 for the HD content I have some good news. Within the next couple of months a new satellite TV service will be launching called Freesat. This will carry BBC HD, ITV HD and eventually Channel4 HD that can be received completely free. Freesat receivers are fully compatible with an existing Sky dish.

Getting accurate technical information about the new Freesat is difficult because Sky also have a free service they market as Freesat. At present it is my understanding that the new Freesat service uses exactly the same satellite signal as Sky. By this I understand that if the Sky transmitters that beam TV to the satellite were to go offline, all satellite TV services would break. Basically Freesat is a brand. They will sell you a different set-top box that will have a Freesat logo on the screen instead of a Sky one! Pretty pointless!

The choice is to get a Freesat box that cannot decode the Sky services, or get a Sky box without a subscription. At least with the latter option you can add a Sky subscription if you so wish in the future without buying a new box.

Having said that the more HD programmes I can receive the better - so I shouldn't complain!!!

Will update this if I get any more info:
1. Freesat will launch on 6th May. As I thought they are only broadcasting their own 'metadata' which is the tv schedule and teletext type services in english. Unconfirmed prices are £50 for SD or £120 for HD set top box, plus installation if required.

Last thing - there are a few pictures on the net of a new version of the Sky TV guide that will be pushed to the HD boxes in the next couple of months. Will keep my ear to the ground if I find any more details of the changes! (Here it is - link)


Sunday, April 06, 2008

Global warming???? Yes please!

It is the first week in April and the UK is experiencing sub-zero temperatures and snow. Over the last 12 months we have had more serious floods than I can remember in the last 30 years.

I have worked out why. Because everyone is driving round in puny 'green' modern cars that have low carbon emissions. Everyone has got to do their bit to prevent global warming! Jeremy Clarkson sums the problem up well in his latest video 'Super car showdown' where he races the environmentally friendly G-whiz against a table. And the table wins :)!! He concludes the reason the weather in the UK is so bad is because people are buying these unsafe and slow vehicles.

I don't buy this latest political crap about preventing carbon emissions for 3 reasons:

1. Every living creature on the planet turns Oxygen into Carbon Dioxide. I am waiting for a rationing system where we are all told which day(s) of the week we are permitted to breathe! Soon it will be politically incorrect to have children because they breathe and the whole human race will die anyway!

2. All the hippies are wanting us to stop using oil and switch to biofuels. I have just read an interesting article in Time about how much DAMAGE biofuel farming causes to the climate.
Have you noticed how food prices have risen lately? This is because farmers can make more money selling crop for biofuel production than food. This in turns means more people will die of hunger. "The grain it takes to fill an SUV tank with ethanol could feed a person for a year". The Amazon is being cleared to make way for growing grain for biofuels. These forests would have removed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. There was a flaw in the science reports about how green biofuels were - "It was as if the science world assumed biofuels would be grown in parking lots". It is actually now believed it is greener to leave the forests and burn oil rather than biofuel.

3. Looking back through history at recent climate change reveals that the temperature rose prior to 1940 but unexpectedly dropped in the post-war economic boom, when carbon dioxide emissions rose dramatically.

I think all these climate change advocates should learn about the 'Muller' principle! So much pleasure where is the pain? All the inventions in the last few years that will save the world turn out to cause more problems when you look into their complete lifecycle. For example how much energy is needed to make these low energy bulbs that contain a significant amount of poisonous mercury?

The climate will change anyway and there is nothing we can do to control nature. Leave me alone to light my flat and drive my car! I had a good drive this weekend so if the weather warms up and we have lots of sun - please blame me.


Update: One more point - the UK is a very small country. Our contribution to world carbon levels is negligible at present. Even if our country emitted no carbon at all this would have no effect on the global carbon levels.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Police send RAF Tornado a speeding ticket.

Just had this through one of my email lists....

Two British traffic patrol officers from North Berwick, east of Edinburgh, were involved in an unusual incident while checking for speeding motorists on the A1 Great North Road.

One of the officers used a hand-held radar device to check the speed of a vehicle approaching over the crest of a hill, and was surprised when the speed was recorded at over 300mph. The machine then stopped working and the officers were not able to reset it.

The radar had in fact locked on to a NATO Tornado fighter jet over the North Sea, which was engaged in a low-flying exercise over the Borders district.

Back at police headquarters the chief constable fired off a stiff complaint to the RAF Liaison office.

Back came the reply:
" Thank you for your message, which allows us to complete the file on this incident. You may be interested to know that the tactical computer in the Tornado had automatically locked on to your 'hostile radar equipment' and sent a jamming signal back to it. Furthermore, the Sidewinder air-to-ground missiles aboard the fully-armed aircraft had also locked on to the target. Fortunately the Dutch pilot flying the Tornado responded to the missile status alert intelligently and was able to override the automatic protection system before the missile was launched."

Happy 90th birthday to the RAF and and 100th birthday to the TA! hehe


Saturday, March 15, 2008

MP pay and expenses

This post has been inspired by the latest newspaper reports that MPs are demanding their salary increase from £61k to £100k instead of generous expense allowances which are currently in the spotlight. Part of this increase is justified by them because they will loose £15k of that increase in tax.

I'm not saying the job of an MP is an easy one - regular travel between their constituency and parliament is a long journey for some MPs. However when you look at the qualifications, experience and knowledge required to be an MP I feel they are presently overpaid. The sole skillset of the job is being able to speak in parliament to represent the views of their constituents in parliament. This is supposedly how a democracy works. If I have an opinion I tell my MP. If a large number of people have the same opinion that is the opinion my MP must speak for in London.

In practice this does not actually happen. I am strongly against our country being governed by Brussels. Most of the population have spoken to demand the referendum on the European treaty. Our government and MPs have failed to respect the wishes of the population. The votes in parliament on this issue were a farce - with the lib dems asking for a different referendum and then ensuring that the vote for a referendum was lost. I feel let down by the whole system.

There are so many really daft laws passed by parliament. I use the law about using a mobile phone while driving as an example.

Using a hand-held mobile phone while driving is now illegal. If I am driving 100% safely what is the problem? Let's break this down. It is OK to talk to passengers. So the concentrating on a conversation not driving argument is false. It is OK to smoke. So the one hand on the wheel argument is false. I know what I would rather drop in an emergency out of a cigarette or a phone! It is OK to take your eyes off the road to dial and text if the phone is in a holder, so the dialing or typing on keypad argument is false. What really takes the mick is that if you are stationary at lights or in a traffic jam it is illegal to hold your phone, maybe to check for a missed call or send a quick text. If a vehicle is stationary that is the most safe state it could possible be in.

Were all our highly paid and extremely important MPs asleep the day this law was scrutinised?

Anyway now Brussels has control of our statute books, we can lay off our 646 MPs as soon they will be left without any power over our country. And then the money can go to more deserving causes like medical staff and police pay.


Update: The other thing I meant to say about the daft mobile phone law is the unintended consequences. 1: If I need to use my phone when driving I will now hold it on my lap and have to take my eyes off the road. As things were I always held the phone up high so it was easier to look at the phone and watch the road. 2: If I am driving and witness an accident or a crime there is no way I will go to the trouble of reporting it. The reason is because I could predict if I did I would be prosecuted for using the phone regardless that making that call could save someone's life or catch a criminal.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Death of Chief Constable Michael Todd

I am saddened to read of the tragic apparent suicide of Manchester Police's Chief Constable. Reports of his coroner conclude he walked up Snowdon on a very cold day and deliberately let himself freeze to death.

Before this incident I would not have been able to name our Chief Constable - which is a great testament to his work.

The chief constables you can name such as Richard Brunstrom are the ones that are in the press for doing a bad job, or outraging the public. This guy lives on a different planet and has become a one man force against minor speeding offences and has been very outspoken about legalising drugs.

I have unfortunately had to contact the police a few times since moving to Manchester City Centre. On every occasion I have been impressed with their sensitivity and professionalism. Much work has been done by Mr Todd to improve links between the police force and the communities of Greater Manchester.

There are many 'liaison' officers assigned as the face of the police force to meet with the community at a local level and ensure the police are delivering a satisfactory service.

It is for this that I will remember and miss Michael Todd. May his team continue focusing on this aspect of policing in his honour.

I also wish to take this opportunity to say how terrible the mental health services are in Greater Manchester. As I mentioned in my previous post I have needed treatment for depression myself. When I lived with my parents I had treatment from the North Wales Health Authority. They were fantastic. I was offered regular help from senior doctors.

I have tried to access services in Greater Manchester. My GP agreed I was in need of similar help within Manchester and tried to make a referal but I was ignored and left with no help or support at all. Were such services available to people in need, more lives may be saved and deaths due to depression and suicide such as Michael Todd's may be prevented.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Developing medication such as Seroxat

Have read today that our stupid government who have now signed our whole country over to Europe are thinking of making it even more difficult for large drug companies to produce new treatments.

The current system of regulation is extremely thorough. The costs involved in taking a drug to market are phenomenal and the process takes years.

I have taken Seroxat. It is an anti-depressant. Claims an anti-depressant can cause suicide are utterly stupid. A number of people that take anti-depressants do so because they are seriously depressed and are on the brink of suicide. Without such medication a large proportion would probably attempt suicide. Saying that with the medication a few still do does not point the finger of blame to the medication. Think of the large number that make a proper recovery. Any GP will tell you they have seen drugs like Seroxat successfully treat plenty of patients.

The proper question to ask is should these large companies be discouraged from their work? Definately not! Advances in modern medicine are amazing. People need to ask where would we be if no-one took the risk of making new treatments. They should be assisted not hindered in their noble work.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

HD Format War Over

We have a winner in the format war to be the next DVD! It will be official next week.

HD-DVD, the format designed and promoted by Toshiba is dead and buried. Rumours surfaced last week that Toshiba will be launching a range of Blu-ray players shortly.

Blu-ray designed and promoted by Sony is the winner. And mostly because of the Playstation 3. There are about 10 million of the beasts in people's living rooms, compared to about 100,000 other Hi-def players.

In terms of sales the HD-DVD separate players have sold better, solely because they are cheaper than Blu-ray separate players.

Numerous studios and more importantly large retailers have thrown their support behind Blu-ray since the new year. Their selection has been driven solely by consumer demand. Blu-ray movies are significantly outselling HD-DVD movies.

According to What Hi-Fi the Playstation 3 is the best Blu-ray player on the market. It won all their reviews on the basis of picture quality. It also supports the latest version of Blu-ray. Lastly it is the cheapest Blu-ray player. You basically get the games and media console for free!

If you are buying a Blu-ray player make sure it can be upgraded to the latest version of Blu-ray compatibility. As the versions evolve better interactive features are becoming possible. If you are after a damn good player for normal quality DVDs there are some absolute bargain HD-DVD players out their that will do a brilliant job!


Embracing Vista

I am running Vista on my main PC. I have been for over a month.


Firstly because SP1 is all but officially finished. On the 11th January Microsoft released an almost final version of service pack 1 for use by anyone who is interested. Ie Me!. Most major corporations refused to evaluate Vista until it had time to 'bed in'. Plenty of people were classing the launch version of Vista as a beta, and were waiting for the first service pack. Well here it is!

Secondly I am fed up with having to format my computer and re-install XP from scratch every couple of months. XP seemed to develop quirks and problems that would eventually become such an issue a re-install was the only option. I had done this so many times I had the rebuild down to 3-4 hours and knew exactly what to backup and where to find it.

Lastly because Microsoft's claim that Vista is more secure seems to have stood the test of time. I have not seen any stories of viruses breaking into the protected kernel or any other other such major problem being found in Vista's security. It has had its share of critical security patches, but not as many as XP or other software.

I have previously criticised and joked about Vista. My gripes can be summarised as:

First - the new UAC or User Account Control. Whenever you install anything or change any global user settings you are bombarded with security prompts asking you to confirm the changes. Now more programs are vista compatible there are less prompts during installation. There is also a very neat solution to this problem. I have mentioned it before on here but I have now found a much easier way to enable it.

On the start menu, right-click Computer and select Manage. Confirm the action at the security prompt.

Expand Local Users and Group in the left tree and select Users. Double-click Administrator and uncheck the account is disabled box. Click OK. Now right-click Administrator and click Set Password. Enter a strong password when prompted. When you login as Administrator you bypass UAC but it is still active for all your other users.

Second the lack of new features. When Vista was announced many moons ago we were promised some really ground-breaking and much needed improvements. Not many of these promises were actually delivered. When you compare XP and Vista on a major functionality basis there are not many changes.

Thirdly the many different versions and the unjustifiably high price tag. Vista Ultimate which is the best version available retails at £323 on DVD from Ebuyer. However I recommend buying the OEM version - it is exactly the same software but without the shiney box and it retails for £106. This version is only meant to be sold to PC manufacturers to pre-install. It has slightly different terms and conditions but all that matters is you are not meant to be able to move your license to a different computer after it has been activated. In practice I don't know how strongly this will be enforced, or how many times you are allowed to reassign the expensive version.

Also bear in mind some hardware that works perfectly in XP will be obsolete and need replacing when upgrading to Vista, which will add to the cost of upgrading.

After installing Vista I found it to be extremely sluggish. When my computer was idle I found my CPU usage was about 20%!!

SP1 does improve this - but - the cause of this sluggishness can be explained by Vista's improved search system. After an install the system will comb your hard disks and generate an index for the search subsystem. This is why it runs slow.

Turn off the power save features and leave your computer switched on for a day or two. In this time it will complete building the index and setting up other tuning systems. I found once this has completed the system will run about as fast as XP!

So after installing, turn on the Administrator account and use it to setup your computer without UAC annoying you. Leave your computer on for a couple of days to build its indexes etc. Then you can think about Vista's benefits!


Ps. My PC is only a fairly old Pentium 4, 3.0GHz with HT (Single Core with HyperThreading) and 1.5Gb RAM.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Search engine wars.

This week Microsoft has made a generous offer to buy Yahoo. This has been described as a shotgun wedding with Google holding the gun!

I remember back in 2004 Microsoft launched a massive campaign to promote its own search engine MSN Search. Aside from lots of prime time TV adverts they claimed to index millions more pages than Google (8 million vs Google's 2 million). Within a week the number of pages Google claimed to index rose to 10 million!

Ask Jeeves has also been working to boost its service. They have some great features on their page. When they launched they cornered a niche in the market - that you could ask them a question and they would find the answer. This contrasted Google's approach where you had to ask the answer to get confirmation you were right. Now they want Google's business they have rebranded and tried to compete as an alternative to Google.

Google differentiated from Yahoo when it launched because every result at Yahoo was part of a category. After a search you had to zoom into the right category to find related results.

I'll give Microsoft some free advice. All that matters for a search engine is that I find what I am looking for. First time and every time!

When I saw the ad campaign in 2004 I did go to MSN search. I ran a search and could not find what I wanted in the top results. I went to Google and found what I wanted in the top 3 results. Needless to say I havn't been back since.

MSN is absolutly awful at finding what you want. What takes the mick is last time I needed software for my Microsoft Mouse I couldn't even find the correct page on the Microsoft search site.

One let down like that and they lost a customer for a long time. The beauty of the web for a customer is there is never any tie-in to a certain site or system. If one day you find better answers on a different site you just make a new favourite and never go back.

Finally coming back to the larger picture could you imagine the world if Microsoft was running the most successful and popular search engine? They already have the most successful desktop operating system with an extremely large momentum preventing any competition. Do you reckon they would abuse their power if they could control everyone's search results and internet usage?

My last thought is could this determination to make a bigger impact on the Internet be a sign they are worried about the future of their operating system monopoly? I am currently running Vista SP1 and will report how I find it soon!


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Privacy vs Safety on the Internet

I am sick of reading about all the different organisations complaining about our lack of privacy in the 21st century. Apparently our human right to a private life is being eroded.

And why? Because the authorities want organisations to keep a log of what each computer does on their Internet sites or services.

I wish to draw an analogy to the real world. Every day you walk along the streets. You pass other people, some on foot, some in cars and some in offices or shops. They have eyes and a memory. They can easily see what you look like. They might remember what you look like, where you were and at what time. Is this an assault to your privacy? Is this infringing your human rights? No.

In Britain's cities there are more and more video cameras being installed. I love this. If I were robbed or assaulted there would be indisputable video evidence that could be used to bring the offender to justice. I cannot understand why anyone has a problem with video cameras unless they are up to no good?

If I were to walk down the street wearing a padded jacket and a balaclava so my face and body shape were disguised what would the reaction be? I would have 5 police officers pointing a gun at my head. Do you think the argument you were entitled to privacy would cut any mustard?

Assuming I was dressed normally, and I snatch an old lady's handbag she would shout and people would look round. They would witness the event and the police would have descriptions from numerous people as to who attacked the old lady and how.

Returning to the subject of the Internet there are no witnesses, and no faces to recognise. When I visit a website I have no idea who else is on the site at the same time. The owner of the website has no information about people who visit the site. In terms of privacy this is far more private than even the scenrio with the balaclava. This is a criminal's dream come true.

Say this old lady who had her handbag stolen went to report the crime and the police refused to record details of the offender because it infringed his right to a private life. Can you imagine the public outcry?

Now that I have won that argument, let us ramp up security on the Internet. When I send and receive information on the Internet, the only way I can be identified is by the unique number my computer uses to enable replies to be received from other computers. This is my IP address. Technically with my IP address, date and time this can be traced to my internet line - usually a telephone number and address. In practice this is nearly impossible. Even if this is accomplished there is no way to prove who was using the computer. There is no physical description of the person. By the time the address is located the computer could be removed or destroyed.

My point is I want more logging of activities on the Internet. I want more technology to link Internet activities to a real person. Without it cyber-crime will continue to soar. I don't see how having all my activities on the Internet logged is an issue - so long as I am not doing anything illegal.

The worst aspect of all this logging is that the logs are sometimes used to directly target marketing to certain demographics. If the logs record you accessing BBC News online this could be of interest to a Financial Times salesman. The salesman would be happy to pay good money for this information.

To the people who have a concern about this:
1. We are permanently bombarded with advertising every day of our lives. It doesn't stop us watching television for example. We are all capable of simply ignoring it.
2. We get so many valuable services on the Internet for free. If users of the service do not pay at point of use the providers need to obtain an income to support the service somewhere. As the consumer has come to expect so much for nothing on the Internet this is a situation of our own making - and to be honest - I would rather read an advert than part with hard-earned cash!

To conclude - we need to markedly increase security on the Internet for the protection of the community. I don't believe it is any less private than walking down the street. If I am abiding by the law I don't see what the problem is with my activities being recorded.