My mother called this morning to tell me I needed to retake a set of passport photos because apparently the passport office had rejected the ones I previously sent. Allegedly those shots were simply too beautiful. I didn’t even know that was possible, but apparently there were concerns they could distract security staff or customs personnel dealing with the passport, thereby constituting a security risk. So I had to head into town and get a new set. That’s not exactly what I had hoped to be doing 3 days before my first exam but at least it was relatively painless. I’ve never been a fan of photobooths but for once was quite pleased with the results which came out in a fairly flattering soft focus. I still have faith that as always they will manage to make it look hideous by the time it’s on the passport, of course. As we all know the defining characteristic of any acceptable form of ID is that it bears only the vaguest possible resemblance to the holder…
The official Stardust website is now up and running, looking extremely pretty with the expected plethora of interactive gubbins but also a host of useful background for those not familiar with the Neil Gaiman story. Currently only the “Village of Wall” is accessible, and it looks as though two more sections will open up in due course. With this year’s blockbuster sequels proving underwhelming, Stardust is not only a breath of fresh air but could gain mainstream attention. Unfortunately in the UK we still have to wait until October for it arrive.
The fad of Firefox Top Ten Tips lists has grown rather weary and repetitive but I did recently discover one that pointed out an incredibly time-saving feature contained within the basic browser. Smart keywords allow you to run searches for specific sites directly from the address bar which can prove much faster than the search box since you don’t need to switch between different search engines. If you are a Firefox user I guarantee this feature is worth checking out.
For all its many faults there is no denying that iTunes currently has the downloadable music market stitched up. However if there’s one company that might be in a position to challenge the status quo it’s the go-to online retailer Amazon. Rumours have been circulating for some time that they have been eyeing up the digital music landscape and now they have officially announced exactly what people have been hoping for: high bitrate (256kbps) MP3 free of DRM (or whatever euphemism the industry currently wish to use). Naturally this means the majority of the music will be coming from EMI, the only one of the big labels to release their iron grip on DRM’d music, but Amazon will also be providing music from hordes of independent labels too. Launch could be as little as a month away, so all that remains is for the price point to be announced. This will be the clincher, of course. If they can release this music at the same price as iTunes then it’s easily a superior service — if they can undercut Apple then they’re on to a winner that could drive down prices for consumers. And yes, if it’s offering DRM free mp3 albums at a similar price I’ll be forced to honour my promise and download an album myself when the store launches.
Loathe as I am to promote something so clearly viral marketing, the new Symbian Boo-Hoo For You! campaign is so creatively bizarre as to be worth watching. The psychedelic video features a duo of Japanese-style characters showing off the benefits of Symbian phones in Japan that we Europeans just can’t have. Boo-hoo for us. Somewhat lacking in accuracy one assumes it is intended more for its oriental insanity than to be informative. In that it succeeds.
You may be hearing confusing things about Google’s new Universal Search which aims to integrate specialist search results into the general search interface. Fortunately I don’t have to try to explain it because Search Engine Land have put together a comprehensive article on what this actually entails.
And finally it’s the time of year once more when I link to 3D Pong in order to distract and frustrate you in equal measures.
What is that strange Lost-ian sequence? Does it hold a secret to the destruction of all we know? Do I have the same combination on my luggage? If you ask the MPAA, apparently yes (to the destruction, not the luggage). It is fairly common knowledge that several months ago people cracked one of the HD-DVD processing keys, used to decrypt films distributed on them. It seems the MPAA have launched a massive effort to censor this information as it crops up all over the internet. This may seem ironic to some people since they are in essence trying to censor a number (albeit a hexadecimal one). It began with Digg removing several posts referencing the number which has resulted in open war. Incidentally, t-shirts are now available (not by me).
Meeting Kirsten after her first exam, we ended up chatting over tea with fellow Management student Becky and her boyfriend. He raised the topic of carbon footprints and the irritating glut of information. I would certainly like to control my effect on the environment but referencing it constantly is going result in carbon fatigue whereby I hear about it so much that I don’t want to think about it any more and stop looking at my effect at all. I don’t think I’m alone. Channel 4’s Human Footprint is an interesting idea showing the average person’s lifetime consumption of all sorts of natural and consumer goods. Their impressive Trafalgar Square tea installation garnered particular attention. However showing me a shopping trolley overflowing with a lifetime of carrots is all well and good, but I’m not going to grow those myself, the message some people seem to think we should take away from this. In fact that isn’t even a reason for me to. Society has intentionally divided up tasks and distributed them so that we don’t have to worry about where every individual item comes from. I could calculate the average number of hours of legal services the average person “consumes”, but it certainly doesn’t mean they ought to undergo years of legal training in order to do it themselves. After all, then I wouldn’t have a job or food.
It’s no secret that Firefox has long been my browser of choice due to the ability to customise it to suit my needs. However overdoing it on the add-ons can certainly have a detrimental effect on your browsing experience. Computer World has an unusual article on the top 10 Firefox add-ons to avoid. A follow-up to a more standard top 20, it is the negative list that certainly proves the most interesting, dealing primarily with acting as a good net citizen. Or netizen if you like that hybrid language 2.0 stuff.
In particular it highlights the mixed blessings of FasterFox and AdBlock. Most users will find the former does increase their browsing speed, but many are not aware of how it does so. FasterFox pre-caches all the sites linked to on the current page. Given the number of links on the average page, this can easily mean loading dozens more pages in the background which is a needless waste of bandwidth for both you and the respective hosts. As someone who pays for bandwidth I have no problem with people regularly visiting the site but certainly object to my bandwidth being wasted. For those who insist on using this offender, there is a more responsible “Courteous” setting in the options which offers less of a speed-boost but does so without increasing server loads.
AdBlock is more of a conundrum since I both use it and feel somewhat guilty for so doing. Many sites rely on advertising to fund their own existence and if everyone were to block their ads the site would cease to exist. However no one should have to endure pop-ups or intrusive animated flash ads while surfing either. If you use AdBlock, spend a few minutes visiting all your regular sites and whitelisting them, disabling the add-on for that site. Only re-enable it if you find a site uses particularly intrusive advertising. This way you will not see ads for sites you visit only only once or twice (and where you bandwidth consumption is therefore comparatively low), though you once you find yourself making repeated visits you should enable the ads.
A belated Happy Easter to you all. I hope you all gorged yourself suitably on the candied delights that allegedly celebrate Christ’s resurrection in some indiscernible form — I found the Milkybar Mr. Potato Head in my Easter egg particularly dubious. Kirsten came down for the long weekend to join in the familial festivities and when not working could usually be found on a computer somewhere, excitedly tweaking her new blog or researching her next post, and occasionally digging a pond for her Piñatas.
Having previously been exclusively a buyer, I am now dabbling in selling over eBay with decidedly mixed results. I began by selling off some old games to which I do not expect to return, comparing the profits to those I could obtain by trading them in at CeX. They offered an insultingly paltry 80p for Freelancer in-store, yet on eBay surprisingly it netted far more than Doom 3, which sold for virtually nothing. I found that console games tend to sell at more consistent prices, making it easier to gauge the likely results.
As a beginning my approach was to search for the item I was selling and use eBay’s facility to narrow the results to “completed listings” only. I would then look at the listings that had sold at the highest prices, aiming to emulate them in both content and timing (an equally important factor). The whole process was surprisingly simple, particularly as I discovered Paypal and Royal Mail offer a service through which you can pay for and print parcel postage labels. Posting is then as simple as finding a post box rather than heading into town and braving the inevitably horrific, pensioner-packed post office queues. Despite the mixed results I experienced, overall the “DIY approach” yielded a higher profit than I would have made through in-store trade-ins, even accounting for the considerable commission and fees taken by both eBay and Paypal. With listing items and even postage no longer a great inconvenience, on balance it generally seems worth the little extra time it takes.
The logical continuation would be to downsize my DVD collection as Kirsten has been hinting with references to the limited space of our future flat. However a cursory inspection revealed about ten titles with which I could comfortably part — not exactly an appreciable dent in a mass of over two hundred. On that note, if you would like me to bring any specific titles to Cambridge to alleviate the pain of exam term, now is the time to let me know (in the comments or by email) so I can pack them in advance.
A lot of speculation had arisen regarding Steve Jobs’ announcement with EMI but the improbable sounding rumours of DRM-free music fell a little to close to April 1st to be taken seriously by many until Tuesday morning. A pleasant surprise for all, then, when they announced just that. DRM-free music in about a month’s time. Well, sort of. The first caveat is that to begin with it’s only available through iTunes. That means it will only be downloadable in AAC which is frankly useless to anyone who doesn’t own an iPod or one of the few compatible Sony players. Apple are quite deliberately not providing MP3 downloads, which again casts doubt on Jobs’ seemingly altruistic championing of “open” music.
The second issue is a split-pricing structure. DRM-free tracks are available at a higher bitrate, while the standard bitrate tracks remain fully DRM’d just as before. Naturally this provides an excuse for higher prices for the former, with the latter available because “not everybody cares about interoperability or sound quality” according to EMI CEO Eric Nicoli. Quite why those two should be entwined, however, is a mystery. It also means the unknowing are likely to purchase the cheaper option without understanding what they are giving up. So it clear they are not yet committed to a DRM-free world since it is being sold as an enhanced “feature”, not a consumer right. Worse still, it only benefits those who are happy to embrace Apple’s non-interoperable format, so it’s trading one problem for another. It is a step in the right direction, however, and we can only hope that this is the first domino toppling. Despite my scepticism about the world of online music purchasing, I have said for some time that as soon as one of the major labels releases their catalogue in DRM-free MP3 I’ll buy an album and that promise still stands. We’re getting there, but there was something of a smokescreen in yesterday’s announcement that not everyone seems to have grasped.
Kirsten and I (but really her) are currently working on a new project that I can hopefully reveal very soon, once everything is set up and running smoothly. It’s looking to be extremely informative for those tentatively stepping out into the real world in the next year or two, and is rather pretty too. Watch this space for details.
Neil Gaiman was sharing a bunch of YouTube videos in his latest post and I’ll leave you with Tyger, which was simply stunning in a beautifully mysterious way. Mesmerising enough that I feel compelled to share.
More observant visitors may have noticed changes in the Questions section over the past few weeks as we trialled some new designs. This visual upgrade has been under work for a while as we wanted to maintain the same tone while giving the site a sleeker look. It was important that we still keep it bright but we wanted to add some depth to the previously flat design. The most difficult decision was whether or not to change any of the photographs but the eventual decision was to retain them all for continuity (and because we like them). I hope we’ve achieved our goals and made it more pleasing to the eye without annoying anyone with the change.
I’ve had half a dozen people all insisting that I must watch Heroes and I knew I would like it once I started watching it. However it has taken me a while because I wanted to give the pilot my full attention so that it had a proper chance. Suffice to say that in a matter of days I have devoured all 17 aired episodes and eagerly await more. Comicbook influences are obvious with the entire story feeling like a modern take on X-Men. The range of characters occasionally works to its detriment as we jump between them slowing the development of each plot strand. Nevertheless most are compelling enough to hold your interest and each episode starts to focus primarily on a small handful of characters (which becomes easier as they start to meet up).
There are strong elements of mystery with the desire not to explain too much too fast. Yet it is clear that the writers know exactly where they are going with the story unlike some rival shows (I’m looking at you, Lost). Hiro is, as Jane correctly predicted, my favourite character but it is interesting to note that this is the first American show I’ve seen where the foreign characters are genuinely the most compelling while the “domestic” ones tend to be rather bland by comparison. If you’re after something new to watch or are another disaffected ex-Lost viewer, Heroes is definitely worth a look.
Finally Sony, despite already having launched in two regions, are still finding ways to screw up the PS3 launch. The European model arriving next month will feature inferior backwards compatibility with PS2 titles as they make modifications to the manufacturing process to save costs. How they have the gall to publicly state this goal while charging fans here more than their American or Japanese counterparts for an inferior product is bordering on ridiculous. Telling consumers you are saving money in manufacturing an already overpriced item and then pocketing the cash is like shooting a man in the leg and then explaining, “It’s okay, I just want your wallet.”
I have finally gone through many of my photos since the beginning of this academic year and added them to the gallery. Facebook users got an early look, though the image quality is higher here. Photos from Christmas in Germany will hopefully be added soon.
Tuesday evening was the Danby Society quiz which I attended for the third year running despite the perils of being a lawyer in a room full of NatScis. Irina ushered Angie and me into her team with Andy B and Tom Ash and the resulting hybrid supergroup, dubbed Marshmallow Nipple, proceeded to dominate the quiz every round. Until the final round, that is, in which our winning streak was scuppered by a lack of sports knowledge, relegating us to a still respectable third place (the highest I’ve ranked in the Danby quiz). Having been each year since I arrived I’m actually quite tempted to turn up again next year if the Andy and Irina are up for it…
You will have noticed that site updates are still sporadic at the moment with work rudely imposing itself. However there is good news for those desperate for the regular diversion offered by P-2006. I have recently started using StumbleUpon which is a community tool that shows you random sites that others have submitted based on your interests. Think of it as channel surfing for the web. It helpfully creates an RSS feed of sites you save, which I have then been able to route via Google Reader into my Shared News feed. This now allows me to include any page on the internet instead of just ones that come up in my recent news feeds. I’ll aim to keep it updated with a few interesting bits a day, so do check back regularly. You can now access it from the Feeds page. On social stuff, also note the new Last.fm page which displays a few listening tables and a funky visual display of albums I’ve been delving into for those who like that sort of thing.
Happy Chinese New Year to you all. Angie (and several others) are hard at work in the kitchen preparing a veritable feast for the corridor’s collective celebration this evening. If I were the sort of person who actually puts on weight I imagine I would have picked up a few stone by the end of this weekend with the combined detrimental health effects of last night’s delectable kleftiko and tonight’s culinary festivities which include sushi, dumplings and multiple varieties of satay. Good thing I don’t, really.
Recently I’ve dabbled in the new offerings for webmasters from Yahoo! and Google. Both Yahoo! Site Explorer and Google Webmaster Tools offer site owners a way to delve into the wealth of information stored in their respective search indexes. Okay, so in fairness it’s hardly a wealth of information compared to that offered by traffic analysis products, but it does allow you to browse external links that point to your site. Surprisingly the Yahoo! index was actually more comprehensive when it came to sites linking to mine, although a few were out of date. Google’s interface seems slightly more accessible. Both services, however, informed me that apparently Copernic came across my review of their Desktop Search product and are now quoting from it themselves.
And finally I also got a mention on the latest GameSpot UK podcast (at around 14:45 if you’re interested) with some thoughts on the “original title vs. franchises” debate.
The Dutch are now 5cm taller than the average European and thanks to EU standardisation will have to be destroyed.
– Sandy Toksvig
I have been toying with Google Reader for some time, but recently finding that I am checking far too many websites far too frequently, I decided to make better use of this powerful feed reader. It allows you to collate and browse the latest additions to any website which has an RSS feed (including this one). Aside from being accessible from any internet-connected machine, it also allows you to group multiple feeds into a single folder so that you can browse, say, all the latest technology news at once. If you do start using it, Lifehacker’s Getting Good with Google Reader is well worth a look, explaining some of its more powerful features.
I also found that with this wealth of information at my fingertips I don’t have enough time to mention everything that I’d like to here in detail. However Google Reader also allows you to share items so with a single click I can now let all of you see the most interesting news, technology and blog posts that I think were worth reading. You can take a look them in the appropriately titled Priyan’s Shared Items. It even has its own feed if after reading this post you are that way inclined. I will continue to discuss my favourite findings here, of course, but this way you can still see the ones that slip through the net. If you have comments about those items, just make them in the latest post here. In particular the one about the Airbus A320’s new in-flight entertainment system is a cool look at what I hope will eventually become the standard for air travel comfort.
The end result is that I hope this will give you a bit more to read while I’m slaving through the horrible amount of work that the second term as the 3rd year law student inevitably brings. A talk given by distinguished IP judge Robyn Jacob was a high point last week, if only that he covered most of the year’s syllabus in about an hour. I believe I may even have seen him in action before having sat in on part of the RIM v. Inpro dispute over the Blackberry. At least the judges seem like level headed human beings even if the patent owners decidedly do not.