A quick mental stock-take tells me that while I’m the only person I know who has an iPod, I’m not the only person I know with a portable media player of some sort. So what? Well, about eighteen months ago I discovered podcasts, which are like radio programmes that can be downloaded and listened to on, well, all sorts of things, anything that can play pre-recorded music (record players would require your own record manufacturing plant). At the time my Creative Zen Xtra Jukebox and a dial-up connection didn’t make a good environment for regular listening. Now I have an iPod and broadband I’m back into it.

The trouble with the name ‘podcast’ is that many people think an iPod is needed to be able to listen to or watch them and while that was the original marketing hook and got the whole ball rolling, it’s just plain wrong. Think of it as offline consumption of time-shifted audio / video content. Would you like to know more?

Incidentally, what makes the iPod good in my case is that I can connect it to my car which is where I do a lot of my listening.

 

 

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But, that’s not me!

8 February 2006

Well, following my own advice and delving further into Lifehacker I decided to Google myself. Ooer.

I found a lot of, let’s call them ‘false positives’, some of which could conceivably have been left by me; comments on the BBC News for example have the right name and country and don’t identify themselves any further. The thing is; none of them are me. Not one. I’m okay with that. My point is that if someone Googles (is that verb yet? I know they didn’t want it to be) me looking for information then they’re going to be building a composite of the wrong person:

 

  1. I went to Kingston Grammar School
  2. I’m big on German trains for some reason.
  3. I have a lot to say on the BBC web site and use some bad words.
  4. I’m a member of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce.
  5. I play the flute. F’nar. (sorry)

 

Wrong! All that is from page one of the results. People use Google for this kind of thing every day and it’s not a good idea. A few more criteria may help but like with any Web search; the more you add, the more you miss.

I think it’s reminding me of ID cards and their ‘we know who you are’ stance. Except they don’t; they know who they think you are.

 

I’ve got some tinfoil round here some where; I wonder what my hat size is…

Idle Browsing Material

8 February 2006

Here’s a couple of sites that are worth checking out in an idle lunchtime:

 

Lifehacker

 

All sorts of projects here, it also led me to:

 

PortableApps

 

I’ve tried Firefox from PortableApps but couldn’t get it to work. Your mileage may vary.

 

As promised, here’s the article I wrote almost a year ago on getting my ADSL connection, without further ado:

 

What to do, what should happen and what happened to me.

Getting an Internet Provider

Preparation

Activation

Afterglow

This article describes the basic steps for getting a broadband connection, it includes some useful links and catalogues my own experiences in getting it all working.

Why should you get broadband, why not dial-up? It’s faster, there’s no need to wait to connect, you can use the phone at the same time, more than one computer can use it at once and it’s faster (important, that one). On the other hand, there’s no pay-as-you-go option so it can be more expensive. It seems to me though that when you’re starting out on the Internet that’s when you’ll spend the most time getting round; you don’t know where anything is! So pay-as-you-go dial-up could prove the most expensive of all, and certainly the most stressful.

Getting an Internet Provider

The place to begin is with a connection to the Internet. If you’re lucky enough to be in an area served by Blueyonder then go here. If, like me, you live somewhere, let’s say, more remote (don’t get me started) then you’ll have to rely on ADSL (Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line, which means it’s faster at getting stuff than it is at sending it) and BT (British Telecom, but you knew that already). In which case go here. Once you’ve checked whether you can get ADSL you’ll need to choose an ISP (Internet Service Provider) and a good place to begin is here. My own choice is BT Yahoo! because they offered the cheapest 1 Megabit connection and because they were my dial-up ISP and it seemed less would go wrong with the move to broadband by staying with the same supplier. My knowledge of cable broadband is mostly anecdotal so I’ll do my best to give a complete picture but if I miss something it’s because I wasn’t told!

Criteria for choosing an ISP includes:

How fast the connection is.

How much the monthly download limit is.

What hardware you get when you sign-up and how much it costs.

What services you get; streaming music, web space etc.

Do you like the look of their logo?

Okay, maybe not that last one so much, but the rest is important. It can be worth looking on the forums like this for experiences with that company. When reading these reports remember that people without problems generally don’t say anything so most of the stories will be horror stories.

 

Preparation

All that could take some time, so rather than wait for you to work your way through all that, let’s move on to what happens next.

As I understand it Blueyonder is either a case of an engineer coming and installing a box on the wall into which is plugged a cable modem which by all accounts will be something like this or your television’s set-top box may contain a network socket that can be used.

ADSL on the other hand is slightly more involved. Each ISP will be slightly different and I’ve only done this once so I’l explain how BT Yahoo! works. There will be three emails, each containing a box marked ‘essentials’.

First, an email arrives confirming that you’re ordered broadband and giving basic information like the order number, the telephone line you want ADSL on, your user name (for identifying yourself to BT Yahoo!) and a number to call if you get jittery (more on that later).

In a few days time you will get another email that includes your network ID (not the same as your user name, it’s only used to connect to the broadband network) and confirmation of the activation date.

Finally, before activation day you should get a final email telling you of the activation and reminding you of your password. This, combined with your Network ID will let you get broadband working and used in conjunction with you User Name will let you get access to your account, email services and all the other stuff only available to subscribers.

Now, back to the jitters. I signed-up for broadband the very second BT let me, which was six months before my local exchange was upgraded. As time drew near I was keeping an eye on my order and the status of the exchange (orders have been known to go missing and it was six months ago) I used the BT Broadband site to check it’s progress. The site claimed to have no idea what I was talking about! I called BT Yahoo! and was told that the order would not show up on the site until the exchange was activated. Fair enough, the exchange was activated and I went back to the site to check and still my order was nowhere to be found. It seems that the BT Broadband site is not the same as the BT Yahoo! broadband site, even though the ‘check order status’ link on the BT Yahoo! site sometimes (!) takes you to the BT Broadband site. With me so far? Good. If you want to check whether BT Yahoo! has your order, click here. One final point on this subject, the Status section of your order may not be entirely accurate; checking the status of my order now, a month later, apparently I’ll be receiving my modem soon and then I’ll be ready to be activated. Oh dear.

Speaking of which, at some point before activation you should receive a parcel from BT Yahoo! containing your new modem, a CD-ROM and a pair of white boxes with phone sockets and a lead on. These are your microfilters, they get plugged into the phone sockets wherever you plug in a telephone. You see, ADSL works on your phone line without tying it up; you can still make phone calls at the same time as being on the Internet, honestly, after using dial-up for years it’s like magic. Anyway, without these filters you will, in theory at least, hear hiss on the line while on the phone and at the same time the noise from the phone call will disrupt the broadband connection. So install the filters, unplug the phone, plug the filter into the wall and plug the phone into the filter. You’ll notice that their are two sockets on the filters, one is oblong and is where the phone goes, this is the filtered phone line. The other is the more square American style and is the unfiltered phone line for use be the ADSL modem.

 

Activation

It’s the big day, you’re taken the day off work and didn’t get a wink of sleep last night but what’s going to happen? Well, if you’ve gone for Blueyonder, the engineer will have flicked a switch somewhere and you should be ready to go. A similar situation should exist with BT but in my case while my broadband connection was supposed to be activated on the Friday, I got no modem, no email and no tell-tale hiss on the line to tell me it was activated. BT telephone support isn’t open on the weekends…

What should happen with an ADSL ‘wires only’ activation day is you get the final Activation email, plug the modem into the wall and your computer, install the drivers from the included CD-ROM and wait for a minute or so while the modem finds the ADSL signal and synchronises. You then install the BT Yahoo! software, enter your Network ID and password and head of on the Information Super Highway, scarf trailing in the wind. I’m guessing a bit on the modem part because my experience was somewhat different…

That was not a fun weekend, I’d been waiting literally years to get broadband and now on the big day, nothing <sigh>. Let’s skip to Monday, which was a much happier day. I called BT Yahoo! and politely enquired as to the actual status of my order, it has been known for a line to fail it’s tests and for BT to simply lose interest in the whole thing without so much as a parting email. I was polite despite my frustration because whatever’s gone wrong it isn’t the fault of the person on the other end of the phone is it? Now if I could have talked to the engineer who was supposed to activate my connection… Anyway, the man from BT Yahoo! went and checked with the engineer and was told that the line had indeed been activated on the Friday as expected and had been operational all weekend! Whoohoo! Now, while I didn’t have the BT Yahoo! modem, I had got ahead of myself and ordered a Netgear wireless ADSL modem/router from ebuyer which I hadn’t opened because I had intended to test the connection with the BT Yahoo! modem and if the line was no good to send the Netgear back. So once off the phone I ripped open the router box, plugged it and and sure enough the ADSL light lit and I was away. More or less. It took a bit more fiddling to get XP to see the router as a way to the Internet and not to keep trying to dial either the modem or my mobile phone via Bluetooth. I’ll cover the steps to take when installing a new piece of kit on your network here.

The lessons I learned from that are:

ADSL does not necessarily produce hiss on the phone either with old phones or modern DECT ones.

Expecting to deliver a parcel on a specific day is fatally optimistic (for a comparison consider parachuting with an anvil).

BT Yahoo! order status page is less than ideal.

Always have an escape route (I think Q (James Bond, not Star Trek) said that before disappearing into the floor).

 

Afterglow

Once you’re though all that, that’s it, if you had a dial-up modem either put it safe in a box somewhere in case something goes wrong or blow it up / nail it to a tree / run over it with the car / donate it to charity. Whatever you do, unplug it from your computer; you don’t need it now unless there’s a problem and unless you’re using it for dialling your phone or for faxes it leaves a security vulnerability where rogue dialler software can be installed from the Internet without your knowledge and can start calling premium rate numbers on the other side of the world. It happens!

Go, enjoy how much better it all is with your fat new pipe.

 

See, now this is what I’m talking about. If there’s a picture in this post, well, cool, otherwise take a look at the Gizmondo link to see it in action.

I’m cheating today and using Gizmondos article from their RSS feed, but I’m not claiming it as my own.

universal display.gif

Starting out strong at the Fifth Annual Flexible Displays and Microelectronics Conference in Phoenix—there’s a conference for everything, it seems—is a prototype of a full color active matrix OLED display from Universal Display Corporation. The display is 4-inches diagonal, .04-inches thick and .2 ounces, and runs full motion video using metal foil, which the company says helps thermal and mechanical durability.

And it rolls up. Neat.

Firm shows off flexible metal foil display [The Inquirer]

 
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New directions in gadgets

6 February 2006

I decided it was time to try a new gadget direction, so after some research, and following a LOT of auctions on ebay, I got a Sony Ericsson P910i. Why did I go this way? Well, let me lay this out in some bullet points:

  1. It’s a smart phone, which means, it turns out, that it does less out of the box than a normal (regular, dumb, unsmart; what is the opposite of ‘smart’ in this case?) phone but can have a lot more features added through software. More on that in a minute.
  2. It’s got a bigger screen, which makes the other software easier to use.
  3. It’s a Sony Ericsson, which is important to me, not because I’m some crazed Sony fan (a large proportion of my gear is Sony but that’s another story) but because it can connect to my cars phone kit with just a change of a cradle rather than a complete new kit.
  4. Unlike many smart phones, it’s got a touch screen. I’m not convinced that a device like this without a stylus isn’t a step too far.
  5.  Sony Ericsson have a decent track record with phone hardware and PC <-> phone sync software which is important when it comes to getting your numbers onto the thing, if only when it’s new.

 

I won the phone on ebay about a week ago having watched and bid on a lot of auctions; one of which ended at £500! I got mine for £130 which was a fair price for a phone that is like new. In the past week I’ve used the phone quite a bit, half of which was while away on a training course, and I’ve learned few things. First off, the operating system, UIQ, is a bit different to what I’m used to: I’m a Windows man primarily and I’ve used Pocket PC / Windows Mobile for a good few years now, The link I included towards the start lists all the software that’s included and it’s a lot of stuff that works well. There’s plenty of software that can be added and I’ve picked:

  1. Magic Profiles Pro, which adds normal Profile support (something that almost every phone already has) but builds it up to provide changing profiles automatically based on geographic location (by GSM tower ID), specific times of the day, and by key words in the agenda, so if I’m in a meeting and it’s in my agenda the phone switches to a meeting profile for the duration and switches back to the office profile when it ends.
  2. TomTom Mobile, sat nav! Essentially the same thing as on my iPaq but on the phone.
  3. Sony Ericsson Desktop, a freebie from the manufacturer which adds a ‘today screen’ with the latest tasks, calls, messages and appointments displayed along with an application launcher.
  4. SMan, this app does a lot, from task managing to bluejacking. If you’re interested, look it up,
  5. Opera, a full feature web browser with java support and great support for restructuring pages for the long, narrow screen,
  6. Resco Photo Viewer, I use this on the Pocket PC and find it to be a really good picture viewer and basic editor.
  7. Orange music player, lets me access the Orange online music store and gives me five free downloads. Careful with that, there was a bit of a hiccup and I ended-up downloading the same track twice. I know why Orange allow it to do that but I think it’s a bit of a dirty trick.

 

What I can’t find is a decent RSS reader that supports pictures and can import an OPML file, and a currency converter with online updates. Is it just me, or are currency converters that need you to manually enter the conversion rate just a waste of time?

 

I did have one show-stopper problem with it, which reminds me of one of the cool features; It comes with a docking cradle which can be used to upgrade the firmware (I think I’m addicted to firmware upgrading). So naturally, the first thing I did was upgrade the firmware to the latest version. That went without a hitch, I installed all the software I wanted and headed off. So where’s the problem? Well, when I got back from my course I installed TomTom Mobile on my new 1Gigabyte Memory Stick Duo card (ebay again) an switched the phone off while the TomTom was still running. When I switched the phone on again… nothing… it vibrated once, showed the Sony Ericsson logo but the backlight didn’t switch on, and that was it. A protracted Google later and I discovered on Esato that the solution may be to reflash the phone. So, back to the cradle and the update software and… success: This time I installed all the software on the memory stick which frees up a lot of memory on the phone and lets me restart the phone more or less vanilla if something goes wrong.

 

The phone’s not as big as I thought it would be; it’s about the thickness of a closed Sony Ericsson Z600 but about 50% wider, which makes it a bit on the large side for pocketing but still fits in a shirt pocket.

Battery life is… debatable… I’m not sure how long it lasts yet because at first it seemed to hardly last a day whereas now it can go for several even under similar conditions. It’s possible that the bloke I bought it off hadn’t used it enough to break the battery in (if that’s even a problem these days).

 

I realised recently that it’s just turned a year since I got broadband. If I can find it I’ll post an article I wrote for my original website describing the experience of getting broadband installed.

 

Anyway, Bewitched is on so, time to go.