2010 Notebook

From the late 90s I blogged frequently with various random observations and things I wanted to record. Pre-2003 material seems to have been lost on various early web platforms, and this sort of stuff went over to Twitter eventually, but I’ve gathered together the shorter WordPress blog posts in these annual roundups…

I can’t escape (my music in 2009)

Friday 1 January 2010

Thanks to @borborygmus for reminding me that my musical review of 2009 is constantly being written on my Last.fm page, and whatever I claim to find cool, there’s no escaping from what I actually listened to. And it turns out that what I actually listened to over the course of a year (other than when I was in my car) was about 12,500 songs, which works out at well over 30 a day. Not bad, and something you can probably only achieve if you work from home.
However, I rarely choose what I listen to directly. I merge a couple of iTunes smart playlists, one which selects the music from my iTunes library which I haven’t played for over a year, and the other which selects stuff I’ve added in the last month (until I’ve listened to any track more than half a dozen times). So it’s likely that the artists whose music I’ve had on the most are going to be either those which I’ve got the most music from, or those I’ve got the most new music from.
Top of the pile is an exception though: Half Man Half Biscuit songs (516 plays) do get selected specifically from the iTunes library, as I slowly add to (and update) my Half Man Half Biscuit Lyrics Project site. Feel free to dismiss its significance, but with over 274,000 page views – and something in the region of 1,000 comments – this year, as well as mentions in The Guardian and more, it’s obviously performing some kind of public service. I reckon we’re due a new album in 2010 (a rarity), so that should stoke up even more interest.
Next up come The Beatles (424 plays), reflecting of course the release of the boxed sets, which I have to say I borrowed from @fenlandgent. I played these right through on at least a couple of occasions, and of course the fab four are always lurking away in the background on any iTunes shuffle playlists. None of the rest of the top twenty surprise me: I have a lot of music from all of them, so they’re bound to crop up a lot. But in order, numbers 3 to 20 in my most-played artists of 2009 were Art of Noise, Morrissey, Bruce Springsteen, Prefab Sprout, Pink Floyd, Everything but the Girl, Kate Bush, Monty Python, Sigur Rós, Oasis, Saint Etienne, Genesis, Amy Winehouse, Coldplay, David Bowie, Kraftwerk, The Smiths and Neil Young. I wouldn’t deny that sums up my musical taste quite well.
But what was the new music of 2009 for me? I’m sorry, but Animal Collective join Joanna Newsom, Fleet Foxes, LCD Soundsystem. Bon Iver, etc as yet more critically-acclaimed artists which I just don’t get, so no place in this chart for Merriweather Post Pavilion. I can’t remember a year when the critics’ albums of the year were so diverse, or where I had so few albums which really did it for me. There were decent albums from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Morrissey and Royksopp, but these were far from their best. The Prefab Sprout album was an old one, really. Bat For Lashes’ Two Suns was pretty good, and although I’m not as sold on The Duckworth Lewis Method as most people, it was fun. So, no album of the year at all for me. Sorry.

People don’t read any more

Saturday 2 January 2010

I was disappointed enough that I couldn’t think of a single new album which excited me in 2009. But it was even more alarming to look at the pile of unread books by my bedside and realise that I’d probably read fewer books in 2009 than in any year since I learned to read. But hang on a minute. I’m giving myself more relaxation time at home nowadays than I have for many years, and I’m not a telly addict. So what’s going on? The answer is that I’m reading far more current affairs material than ever before. A lot more. This might be newspapers and magazines (print on paper is certainly not dead in this household), but equally it might be blogs. I spend hours curled up on the sofa with a laptop, reading people as diverse as Stephen Fry, Philip Bloom, Richard Taylor, Robert Cringely and probably a hundred more, reflecting my hobbies and interests, both leisure and professional. Then there are the many articles and blog posts which I get directed to thanks to recommendations on Twitter. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that I’ve probably done more reading in 2009 than in any year since I learned to read. The thing about most of this stuff is that it’s best consumed now, either because it’s topical, or simply because it’s such a specific interest of mine that I’m anxious to read it as soon as I’m aware of its existence. The result is that the less pressing reading material, including all those books which I continue to buy, never gets high enough up the to-do list to actually get read. The hub of my on-screen reading is my RSS Reader. This doesn’t discriminate between the sources of information, presenting them simply in the chronological order that the articles were published. And I like that. What I’d really like is for other media, such as newspapers and magazines, to be inserted into that information stream. And why not books – albeit in chinks such as chapters – while we’re at it? It’s the reading version of shuffle play, which has taken over the world in the past decade. That would be really cool. The problem with the RSS reader is that it’s never taken off as a mainstream product. What it needs is its own iTunes. An application which is as intuitive to use, and more importantly, as desirable to use. If it could bring together blogs, books, magazines and newspapers in one uniformly presented stream, I think it would completely fit in with the way people tend to think nowadays. Of course, it could run on a laptop, but it could be a lot cooler on a dedicated device, not dissimilar to a Kindle or any of the alternatives which might still succeed if only their manufacturers can think up good enough names and get those into everyday usage. A couple of years ago, Steve Jobs dismissed the ebook reader, saying: “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore”. But he was referring to books (particularly fiction, I suspect). He knows as well as anyone, that – like me – people do read, just not in the same way. An Apple device which was a pleasure to use (like the iPhone) and which made reading material of any sort accessible in a uniform way (like iTunes) will be massive. Of course it’s on the way. Every publisher will be forced to provide their output in a compatible format just to survive, but Apple’s demonstration that you can extract far more money out of consumers by making payments easy (like iPhone Apps) will allow these publishers to survive – and prosper. It’ll also revolutionise marketing, because if you’re publishing for your own benefit, your output can be the equivalent of the free apps on the Apple Apps Store. How this all develops is going to be fascinating. I can’t wait. Test

Cherry Hinton Hall Park in the snow with my GH1

Sunday 10 January 2010

Took my Panasonic GH1 and new tripod over to the park yesterday afternoon and shot an hour or so of people in the snow. It was cold. There are a few rather over-long panning shots, for which I apologise, but I wanted to see how smooth the tripod could pan horizontally and – as you’ll see –
vertically. It’s not going to win any prizes, but I was quite happy. Everything was shot in Creative Movie mode, on manual, using the little histogram, because I’ll need to use that when doing talking-head shots for work, and I needed the practice.
Below is the view from where the Folk Festival beer tent is, looking towards the main stage. I must take an identical one in July, when there’ll be 5000 people sprawled out on the grass in front of me. And a pint of Festival Ale in my unmittened hand.

Cambridge Constituency Boundaries for the 2010 General Election

Sunday 17 January 2010

I may well blog quite a bit about the forthcoming General Election, because we’re actually in a very interesting constituency here in Cambridge, which could go one of three ways. And as an “undecided” voter at the moment, I need to do some homework to crystallise my thoughts, and anything I come up with might interest others amongst you too.
The first thing you need to know about any election is what constituency you’re in. Now, you may be thinking “duh, I can get that far”, but these things do change, and indeed, ours has. Like a lot of people on the south side of Cambridge, we traditionally found ourselves not inside the “Cambridge” constituency, but in a far more rural area called “Cambridgeshire South”, which, as you can see in the map below, extended right into the city to the corner of Parker’s Piece, so that landmarks such as the Catholic Church (not that it votes) were outside the city, in parliamentary terms. The blue line represents the old boundary:

It makes a big difference which constituency you’re in. At the 2005 General Election, Cambridge was a Liberal Democrat gain from Labour, and was rather exciting. And the constituency had returned a Conservative MP as recently as 1987. However, in Cambridgeshire South, you’d be forgiven for thinking your vote won’t make any difference, as the Conservatives traditionally have a huge majority.
However, things have changed. Here’s how the Cambridge constituency looks now:

Although the area known as “Queen Edith’s” and around Addenbrookes remains in Cambridgeshire South, Trumpington and the south-west side of the city have all been brought into the Cambridge constituency. And when you look at Cherry Hinton Road, something rather odd has happened:

The old boundary, in blue, went down the middle of Cherry Hinton Road, but the new boundary, in red, puts the south side of the road, and all the dead-end roads and estates leading off it, into the Cambridge constituency. This is rather important to me, because I live in one of those roads, Carrick Close, so nowadays I find myself a Cambridge voter, unlike my neighbours in Greystoke Road who find themselves still in Cambridgeshire South:

So now we know where we stand, fellow voters of Carrick Close, Bosworth Road and indeed the whole Cambridge parliamentary constituency. Over the next few weeks I’ll be taking a good look at the people who want to be our new member of parliament (because if you didn’t know, the existing one is standing down).

Cambridge University 800th Anniversary Finale Lightshow

Monday 18 January 2010

The university lit up two of its most famous buildings this weekend – Kings College and The Senate House – with a lightshow created by Ross Ashton themed around scientific research. On the Sunday night there were several thousand people there, and it was a typically civilised Cambridge event. Alex and I loved it.
Here’s the inevitable home movie wot I made:

Exclusive: full details of Apple’s forthcoming launch

Tuesday 19 January 2010

In a Cherry Hinton Blues exclusive, I can reveal full details of the new Apple “tablet” computer which has completely occupied the tech media for the past few months. To be launched next week at one of those Apple presentations where, halfway through, Steve Jobs pretends to have an afterthought and says “…one more thing…”, the new device will be three things: 1. Very desirable; 2. Rather expensive; and 3. Wildly successful.
So, what’s it going to be like? Here’s the real exclusive, based on total speculation and no inside information whatsoever. But everyone else seems to be having a go, so why can’t I?
If any of these are right, I’m going to be so smug.
First of all, Apple will relaunch iTunes as more of a media management system. Maybe they’ll call it i-something-else, if they can find a single word in the English language which hasn’t had an “i” put in front of it already. iTunes is a bad name now: if you look at its “library” there are six headings, and only “music” and “ringtones” have much to do with tunes. It’s already a misnomer for “movies”, “podcasts”, lectures and apps, and will be even more so if the big new thing in iTunes 10 is sections for books and periodicals, etc.
Then there’ll be the new hardware. This will be called the iBook, a name Apple used until about five years ago for its laptops, which fits the bill perfectly, and which it presumably owns all the relevant trademarks for. Of course it’ll look something like an iPod Touch for giants, because everybody says it will. There’ll be two identical-looking versions, one with 3G connectivity and the other just with wi-fi.
The device itself will be centred around the recreational activities we all do on our laptops, which – as it happens – don’t involve much alphanumeric interactivity. That means watching movies, playing games, and – crucially – reading stuff. So there’ll be a usable on-screen keyboard, like the iPhone’s, but you won’t be writing novels on it, just reading them. The best bit about the reader will be the ability to mix up stuff – a cross between an RSS reader and shuffle play, so the things you’ve subscribed to can just be added to the stream coming in. First on your list this morning? A report on last night’s match. Then the next chapter from the serialised book you’ve subscribed to. Then an article from the new issue of What Bushbaby? magazine. Then a new post from Cherry Hinton Blues. All presented in such a gorgeous way that
even the ink-on-paper diehards will have to admit: “this is nice”. Next: an article which has jumped the queue because it’s a newsflash. Work the rest out for yourself.
And of course there’ll be apps. Oh, there’ll be millions of them. Because Apple might have some serious design talent, but it’s quite aware that the real money is in niche apps developed by optimistic third parties. By the time of the iBook 2, the whole concept will be quite different. But I’m keeping details of that under wraps for now.

Apple “Tablet” Launch – live blogs and coverage

Wednesday 27 January 2010

One of the most irritating things about Apple launches is that you can’t accuse the company of “overhyping” them, because they do nothing of the sort. They just sit back and watch people work themselves up into a sense of excitability precisely because they haven’t hyped up the announcement. One thing I will say though: by doing so, Apple are that rarest of companies in the tech market: one which only tells everyone about a product once it’s ready to launch, or even already shipping.
Anyway, I’ll be as worked up as anyone following the launch this evening (which is when it’ll be, here in the UK). Not least because I’m one of about 6 people in the world who thinks it’ll be called the iBook and I want to see if I’m right. Apple aren’t streaming the event, as far as I know, so we’ll have to follow those news sites which “live blog” the announcement. I’ve no idea which will be best, not least because with the weight of interest, some are bound to be a bit creaky. However, here are some to try. Let me know of any more at @cherryhintonblu
Ars TechnicaGuardian (UK)MacworldGearlogFinancial Times Techblog (UK)MacRumorsThe Apple BlogGizmodo LiveblogiSmashPhoneIT Pro (UK)ComputerworldSlashgearMaclifeIGN (UK)CNET

So, it’s the iPad is it?

Thursday 28 January 2010

So, it’s the iPad is it? Lots of potential. My predictions were at best average, but considering so many people are saying the device is “nothing more than everyone predicted”, I can’t find a commentator who accurately described it beforehand.
I think there are a few problems. Note they show people watching video on it in a strange curled-up seating position with the iPad on their knees, putting it at the right angle for viewing (which a laptop screen does automatically). That’s not great, although the opportunity of dumping it in a stand and having it as a video player or digital photo frame is very cool.
And it’s not e-ink. If you’ve used a Kindle, you’ll know what I mean. That’s comfortable to read and demonstrates perfectly why ink-on-paper is more restful than illuminated screens.
But Apple have got the distribution model cracked, and that’s the key. Newspapers will flock to it, and as the user base increases, magazines will follow in time. Not sure about advertising-funded magazines for a long while though. Against the trend, I predicted the name iBook, which turned out to be half-right (the app is called iBooks and the store the iBookstore), and I took the opportunity to register www.iBookUser.com which I’m going to launch as a book review site.
The iPad will easily take off (especially as, crucially, it’s not at Macbook prices) and it will establish the market for future versions to solve any problems with this one. Compare the iPod Touch to the old clickwheel monochrome text-only screened Mk.I iPod still playing away all day in my kitchen.
Pricing will be interesting too. Nobody’s mentioned contract pricing for the 3G ones, but they could easily be free on £35/month contracts, as the basic unit cost is no different to the iPhone.
Finally, as Mashable says, the iPad is about consuming content, not creating it, which is why there’s no camera, and (although there are two types of text-entry device) why it’s only adequate – not elegant – for entering text. Wait until a newspaper offers you one for free if you buy a two-year subscription to its electronic version. And why wouldn’t you? I pay £312 a year to get The Times every day.

Woo. Just had 50Mb/sec internet installed

Thursday 18 February 2010

OK, bit the bullet and had my Virgin Media cable internet connection upgraded to 50Mb/sec. Quite painless, smart guy did the installation. That’s the result above. The only problem is that my Devolo dLan 200AV, which I’d used to connect the internet around the house, turns out to max out at around 20Mb/sec, which was OK for the old connection, but not now. I’ll have to do some homework on that one, but in the meantime, I’ve had to go wireless (that’s a wireless result on the iMac above). No problem for the main PCs, which are Macs, but the old Windows box is going to need a wireless adapter. Fortunately the guy from Virgin was able to supply one of those, FoC! So top marks.
Here’s the old 20Mb/sec connection at its best:
20Mb/sec Virgin Media cable connection
…and here’s what I got on my old Motorola Surfboard modem (see separate report from 2007):
20Mb/sec Virgin Media cable connection on Motorola Surfboard
Ten years ago we were mainly on 56k modems. So on that basis, should we expect 50Gb/sec internet connections by 2020?

Your prospective MP’s vision for Cambridge

Friday 19 February 2010

Richard Taylor's views on Cambridge in 2020
While we all fear for the future of local journalism, Cambridge blogger Richard Taylor has once again shown that nowadays, independent commentators can – and do – provide a better job of covering local politics than the traditional press. His exemplary coverage (see links below) of the recent Vision for Cambridge in 2020 gathering of parliamentary candidates for Cambridge stretches to over 5,000 words, and includes video and his own angle on the debate, which is as impressive as any of the candidates. Meanwhile, all I’ve been able to find from the local newspaper is a single small report which makes the event seem barely more important than the Sudoku.
The next MP’s views on the development of Cambridge is perhaps the most important thing they have to say. The fact that he (and yes, it will be a white, middle-aged he) will be new to parliament, coupled with our increasingly outmoded party political system, means he is unlikely to have much impact on national government. But with Cambridgeshire so badly served by ideologically-opposed city and county councils, perhaps the MP can play a crucial role in banging their heads together. I’m going to vote for the best local candidate, regardless of his political affiliation (and I’m happy to listen to all four parties). If that means I’m also voting for a party I don’t want to see in national government, so be it. I just wish I didn’t have a single vote to cover two such very different things.

6Music: get it while it lasts

Wednesday 3 March 2010

I don’t hold out much hope for 6Music. David Hepworth quotes Bob Harris as saying: “It’s my experience that when management has decided to do something like this, they’ve thought about it a lot and nothing is going to change their mind.” There doesn’t seem to be much logic in the public arguments from the BBC about why they should close it. Only 0.7 million listeners? Not bad for a station on DAB only, which is available in under 30% of households and about four cars in the whole of the UK. The untouchable Radio 3 has about two and a half times the number of listeners, despite being available to (presumably) three times as many households. The cost? £9M for 6Music and £51M for Radio Three.
No, the decision has been made to sacrifice 6Music for reasons other than commercial logic. And that’s why I doubt that even Adam Buxton offering to take Mark Thompson out for a fight (third video down, at 2 mins 30 sec) will make a difference.
In the meantime, let’s grab what we can of 6Music. The highlight of the station’s history has been the brilliant Adam + Joe Show. And the highlight of this show has been “Song Wars”, where they take a subject and each go off and make songs about it with Garageband. They’ve archived the best of these on their show’s website, but don’t assume that’ll stay up forever if the station goes. Here are my favourite two Song Wars songs ever.

Half Man Half Biscuit, The Junction, Cambridge review

Thursday 25 March 2010

Pic: @baggieboy61
Great gig. More – much more – at the Half Man Half Biscuit Lyrics Project gig review section. There was at least one song which nobody’s heard live for a long time (Footprints). Plenty of “Save BBC 6Music” flyers (below) in evidence everywhere – big respect to whoever’s had those made. Not a mention of the campaign from the band, but that would be a little out of character, to say the least.
Gig review/discussion at the Half Man Half Biscuit Lyrics ProjectGig review at Life In The Bus LaneGig review by Paul Hudson with pics and videos Gig Review at From Nought To Sixty with recording of one song Gig Review at Local Secrets

Oh no. I’m going to miss the Doncaster match.

Saturday 17 April 2010

Ipswich fan stuck at airport
BBC News website picture of Ipswich fan stuck at airport thanks to the Icelanders making a big bonfire of all the evidence. Or perhaps just burning money, who knows? (Clicky for full size)

Environment, Sustainability and the Food Supply Challenge

Sunday 18 April 2010

Yeah, snappy title, huh? This extraordinary document crashed out of my Sunday Times today, and I’d love to know more about it, not least because I can’t see any commercial credits and I therefore have a sneaking suspicion that I’ve paid for it. The only credits seem to be a string of logos on the front, including the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and various international agencies.
Environment, Sustainability and the Food Supply Challenge
The publication is 96 – yes, 96 – pages long, and has just three or four obvious advertisers, which wouldn’t have made a dent in its massive production cost, unless money means nothing to the marketing departments at NTR, BP and Monsanto (always possible, I suppose). And my goodness, although I’d like to say it’s worthy but dull, I couldn’t bring myself to read enough to say the former. But dull it most certainly is: 96 pages of trade-press journalism with a layout that looks suspiciously like my first efforts with Quark Xpress in about 1991. If every copy of the newspaper had it, that means well over a million of these have been produced, which means it must have used up about 200 tonnes of paper and substantial distribution costs. Just getting the thing written will have cost tens of thousands of pounds. Good luck to you if you were part of the writing or production team.
But as an idea, whose idea was this? And why? Just why?

Why I’m voting for Julian Huppert

Monday 3 May 2010

For me, this has been the most interesting election campaign for many years – if not ever. The emergence of a third party nationally; having my house “moved” from a Tory stronghold into a constituency which could go any way; and having a son who’s old enough, at 9, to take a real interest in what’s going on …it’s all added up to a fascinating few weeks.
I’ve generally voted Labour in the past, and was happy to have done so, although Blair’s scary religious crusading would probably finally have pushed me away this time, if he’d still been around. But he isn’t, and I’m glad, because I believe we should vote for the constituency MP we want, and not have our vote swayed by national issues. In 2010, although Cameron gives me the creeps, I don’t have strong enough feelings either way for any of the party leaders to let that influence my decision, which will be based on the people we can actually vote for: the local candidates.
Firstly, I’m dismissing Nick Hillman, the Conservative candidate. He hasn’t been round canvassing (UPDATE: round here), his election literature has been bland to the extreme, and he wouldn’t answer the local and national issues at TheyWorkForYou’s job interview website (UPDATE: Nick has since explained why: see comments). I have no idea if that’s through laziness or whether Conservative candidates have been ordered not to get involved in initiatives which might commit them to something, but either way, cheerio Nick.
Much as I’ve found Old Holborn‘s campaigning extremely amusing, I think we should just say he’s done a great job raising the issues and leave it at that.
In Tony Juniper, Cambridge must have one of the Green Party’s strongest candidates anywhere. I like a lot of things he’s said, but I just get the impression that there’s too much of an extremist lurking in there for my liking.
Daniel Zeichner, for Labour, came to our road with his campaign team, and I appreciated the chance to speak to him. Some of his actions during the campaign have been a little odd though, and the policies he concentrates on in his campaign material are not the ones which concern me the most.
And then there’s Julian Huppert of the Liberal Democrats. Julian starts with a huge advantage, in my books, for having been the most serious opponent of the only local issue which has ever got me to join a campaigning group, and that’s the scandalous Cambridgeshire misGuided Busway. He’s also a scientist, and I think it’s imperative that we get more scientists and engineers into parliament. If Cambridge can’t send one, who can? Finally, although 2005 saw Cambridge return its first Liberal (Democrat) MP for almost 100 years, the MP, David Howarth, is considered to have done an excellent job. Although he’s standing down already, I’m happy that a LibDem MP can be as good for Cambridge as any other party.
So it’s Julian Huppert and the Liberal Democrats for me.
And lest we forget (and we shouldn’t), there’s a local council election going on too, and I’d already decided to vote to re-elect the excellent Stuart Newbold for the Independent Socialist Republic of Cherry Hinton.

New Panasonic Breadmakers launched

Thursday 20 May 2010

The Panasonic SD257WXC breadmaker can produce all these!
Stop Press:Full Panasonic SD 257 review – with video – now here.
My online review of Panasonic’s SD255 breadmaker has been one of the most widely-read pages on this site for the past three years. Now the Japanese electronics outfit has introduced a couple of replacement models, and although I’ve yet to get my hands on them, there are just a couple of small upgrades to the design. Anyway, here’s everything you ever wanted to know about the new Panasonic SD-257 WXC breadmaker.

New website for Essex golf teacher

Sunday 23 May 2010

Roger Gray, golf lessons in Brentwood
I just made a one-page website for Roger Gray, who offers golf lessons in Brentwood. Just a sort of online business card really. I hope it helps people find him, he’s a great guy and deserves to be every bit as busy as he is.

First thoughts on the iPad

Sunday 30 May 2010

I’ve had my Apple iPad for 48 hours now, and here are a few observations on what’s happened so far.
It’s extremely covetable. The only person outside of the family who’s seen it took about ten seconds to decide she wanted one. And she’s a completely IT-illiterate (but smart) mother of two, who wouldn’t know what the term “fanboi” meant even if you tried to explain it.
The bloggers who said “everyone in the family will want one” were right. Mrs R wants one of her own, seriously, as soon as possible. It’s exactly what she wants: a lightweight, portable device which will allow her to look things up online and service her emails. And before you say “she can do that on much cheaper devices”, she knows. But nothing else has ever appealed to her before as much as this. When it comes down to it, she doesn’t like computers, and never has, but everything else she’s ever accessed the net on (including, strangely, the iPhone) has seemed too much like a computer to her. For some reason the iPad doesn’t have that tech-awkwardness.
It’s missing some curiously basic functions. I needed to work out a sum too hard for my inbuilt mental arithmetic processor, the iPad was on the side, and instinctively grabbed it to use as an expensive calculator. Except it didn’t have one. When I investigated, there were several other functions which come as standard on an iPhone which don’t exist on the iPad, including share-price monitoring and a weather service. But it was the absence of a calculator which is the real oddity. Fortunately there are loads on the App Store, including free ones.
It’s great at just being what you want it to be. This is the hardest thing to get across to people, and it’s why it doesn’t matter that the iPad isn’t “multitasking”. You just pick it up, touch the icon representing what you want it to be, and that’s what the device then is. So far it’s been a (much used) games machine. A bedside telly. A digital photo frame. A web browser. An email terminal. A big Twitter display on the coffee table giving an alternative take on something we were watching on the telly. And obviously there’s a bunch more things it can (and will) be. In every case, it’s a joy to use, and does it as well as (or in many cases better than) a laptop computer. I haven’t used it to listen to music, read books or browse newspapers yet. It looks promising for all those too. For the money, it can be justified for just one or two of these functions, and it’s really not relevant if people buy it who’ll never use it for 90% of the main functions it offers. Imagine if a TV manufacturer offered an ultra-thin, portable telly with a crystal clear display which could seamlessly be switched between live TV, stored movies, iPlayer and YouTube. Would that be worth £500 on its own? You bet it would. I think it’s going to take a while, and perhaps the inevitable price reductions, for people to get this though. You don’t need to be embarrassed about all the things the iPad does which you won’t use.

I’d rather have listened to James Corden

Monday 28 June 2010

Those who can, do. Those who can’t get a cushy job in the TV studio.
Isn’t it odd that Danny Baker’s few minutes on Match of the Day became for some people one of the most abiding memories of the World Cup? It wasn’t as if we didn’t already know what a strange, detached bubble the TV people live in, but to see them thrown into such stark relief was jaw-dropping. They were so uncomfortable to be made to look so inarticulate.
And it matters. David Hepworth writes that: “Obviously MOTD was not responsible for yesterday’s mugging [by Germany] but it does set the critical climate in which football is judged in this country. In this it has been responsible for encouraging complacency.”
What the MotD management should be reminded of (and they were by the Baker cameo) was that the programme is part of the entertainment industry, not the football establishment. That doesn’t mean it has to be flippant or funny, just to make the audience feel good for listening and watching. During the Germany match, the BBC’s performance was arguably worse than England’s. All around the country, people were angry at the team or the linesman, or getting worked up behind the team in blinkered optimism – whatever the case, emotions were running high and things were being thrown. But the commentators just continued making puns about Klose’s name which wouldn’t have (and didn’t) amuse my nine-year-old. How we needed Jonathan Pearce for this one. At half-time, there must have been millions of viewers who were pumped up, thinking: “we might be all over the place, but incredibly, we can still win this”. Cue the BBC’s glass-half-empty studio panel, the most miserable, boring bunch I’ve ever had the misfortune to sit and listen to. All the more irritating when you know Baker and Kelly are a phone call and a contract away. Christ, I’d rather have listened to James Corden.
UPDATE: Don’t worry, I shan’t rant any more about how useless most of the good ol’ boys in the studio were, because it’s now been so eloquently done elsewhere. As Iain Macintosh says: “You expect this kind of thing from ITV. They’ve always been useless at football, but it doesn’t matter. Their coverage is self-funded, propelled by the adverts that they occasionally smear across the most important part of a match like a toddler’s snot. You don’t get mad with ITV for being rubbish because it’s like getting mad with a puppy for pissing on the carpet. It’s what they do and, in a way, it’s your fault for letting them in the house in the first place. But the BBC is supposed to be a bastion of quality, a stronghold against the forces of commercialism. They’re supposed to be good at this, for pity’s sake.”Read Iain’s excellent piece here.

Building a tiny bookcase/bookshelf hi-fi

Monday 12 July 2010

OK, here’s the task: I wanted to build a discreet music system to go in a room with a bookcase, using an old third-generation iPod from about 2004, whose battery had long since died but which worked perfectly sitting in its original dock. The challenge was to make use of two nice Gale speakers, which sat neatly on the bookshelves, rather than buying a brand new (and poorer-sounding) iPod speaker system. Clearly then, the missing link was an amplifier which could sit inconspicuously in the bookcase. With a depth of 170mm, the bookshelf didn’t lend itself to this sort of thing, as hi-fi manufacturers’ idea of “small” tends to refer to a unit’s height, and occasionally width, but almost never depth. In fact, the most shallow amplifier I could find was almost twice as deep as the bookshelf.
Then, hidden away in a forum posting, I discovered the tiny Bantam amp from Temple Audio in Manchester. It really is small (even smaller than it looks in the pictures) but a bit of homework about the Tripath TA2024c Class T amp inside the unit quickly suggested that it could sound great. And it does. There’s nothing more on the front than a volume control and an on-off switch, and nothing more on the back than phono inputs and speaker terminals. Which, of course, is all that you want.
When the iPod one day decides it’s had enough (or possibly even before), I may connect the little amp to an Airport Express, hidden away round the back, and have all the music on my Mac available using my iPhone as a remote control. Effectively a Sonos system at a fraction of the cost.

Texaco Championship Fantasy Football 2010/2011

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Woo-Hoo. Texaco Fantasy Football is back for the Championship 2010/2011 season. Do join! Picking a team takes 5-10 minutes and is free.

You can then also join in individual leagues, and I’ve got two tell you about:
1. ITFC Twitterati. This is for regular #itfc Tweeters. Please pick a team name which relates to your Twitter name, so it’s obvious who you are. The PIN for this league is 900. 2. Peter on the ITFC debaser.org mailing list has also set up a league. The PIN for that one is 815. Join your team in either or both!
Right, click here to pick your team (mine is above). At the end, join your team into Leagues 900 and/or 815.

Photo highlights of our Canadian holiday

Friday 20 August 2010

Alex sitting on the glass floor of the Calgary Tower observation deck

Taking the gondola ride up Sulphur Mountain in Banff

Looking up at the Athabasca Glacier coming down from the Columbia Icefields

Canoeing on Ice-blue Lake Louise

Front section of the Rocky Mountaineer train

Inside the double-deck section of the train

Helicopter ride over the Rockies

Eagle unimpressed by our presence

Beluga whale in Vancouver Aquarium

Tame eagle in birds of prey centre

Giant Douglas Fir on Vancouver Island

Victoria harbour at night

Hat tip to Nintendo

Tuesday 31 August 2010

We’re quick to criticise companies who provide awful customer service, so we should draw attention to those who do something brilliant too. A couple of weeks back my son’s Nintendo Wii, which was about two years old, stopped working. The power light was on, but nobody was at home. I plugged the unit into a neighbour’s TV to check the connections weren’t at fault (they weren’t), and – not expecting much joy – typed “Nintendo Wii repair” into Google. I was surprised to find an official Nintendo site as the first result, so I clicked through to The Nintendo Service Centre for the UK. It still seems too good to be true. They provided a freepost label to return the Wii to their repair centre; an on-line tracking website; and – most astonishingly of all – because the repair was simple (it would seem), they returned the Wii to us, fully working, without charge.
A hat tip of the highest order to Nintendo.

A nice juicy Grocer’s Apostrophe example

Monday 11 October 2010

Grocer's Apostrophe example from T-Mobile
Oooh, nice. The most expensively-placed grocer’s apostrophe I’ve seen for a long time. A half page advertisement in The Times doesn’t come cheap. And when your ad only has a few words on it, well, proof-reading isn’t that onerous a task. But apparently it was all a bit much for T-Mobile and its ad agency. The company is merging its services with Orange, by the looks of things, and I wonder if a new advertising agency is responsible?

How to get the screen locked in position on your iPad

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Without even thinking about it, when lying in bed with my iPad, I get the screen into the orientation I like, then flick the little switch on the side to lock it in place. Now I can roll around as much as I like without the screen deciding I’m pointed 90 degrees in the other direction.
Until the new iOS 4.2 update, that is. Magically, or should I say tragically, it’s turned the little switch into a mute button. Why? Sometimes the folks at Apple really should leave things alone. You can mute the iPad just by pressing the “volume down” rocker switch for a second.
Anyway, to get to the point, here’s how you get the screen locked into your desired position in iOS 4.2. Firstly, double-click the home key (the only button on the front of the iPad). This brings up the little app-switching menu. Then, swipe the menu to the right, so you can see what’s hidden to the left of it. There, on the very left, you’ll see the new screen-based orientation lock button. Tap this and you’re done.
How you’re supposed to have worked that one out without someone telling you, I don’t know.

My Favourite Blogs of 2010 (Part 1)

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Every day for Advent, I’m going to make a list of favourite things from this year. Maybe it’ll become an annual event, or maybe I won’t even make it through the next 24 days. Anyway, to start off with, here’s the first of three lists of favourite blogs of the year. This one features the three “non-serious” blogs which I enjoyed the most in 2010. “Serious” blogs and “work-related” ones will follow.

My Favourite Podcasts of 2010

Thursday 2 December 2010

Podcasts are fantastic. They actually make me want to go to the gym or for a long walk, just so I can catch up with what’s new. Some are from radio programmes, others are podcast exclusives. Here’s my list of the ones I’ve most looked forward to this year.

1. The Word: A Magazine, A Website, A Podcast, A Way Of Life

These people really do get it. Production values are perfectly adequate, but the emphasis is on just three or four people talking. And of course, if you’re a bloke of a certain age, almost everything they talk about makes for compulsive listening. The choice of guest can be a bit hit or miss, especially when it’s yet another relatively little known American singer, but when it’s someone who can talk like Hepworth or Ellen, such as Danny Baker or Phil Jupitus, it’s “stop what you’re doing and listen” time.

2. The Naked Football Show

Three or four blokes talking crap about Ipswich Town every week. What’s not to like? If you think they’ll surely run out of things to say, trust me, they always have to wrap up hurriedly.

3. The TV Cream Podcasts

They don’t do many, but when they do, the TV Cream Podcasts are as fascinating as you’d expect from the ultimate in TV nerds. The series around the General Election, looking at coverage of past elections, was brilliant (and like most podcasts, is still available).
We long ago lost the independent Danny Baker podcasts, and Stephen Fry seems to have stopped doing them, which is a shame (his Bored of the Dance rant remains a high point for me). But new ones are still springing up. My only regret is that I’ve not yet found a regular comedy podcast which I really enjoy, and I’ve listened to a lot. I’ll keep trying.

My Favourite Tweeters of 2010

Friday 3 December 2010

I’m currently following over 200 people on Twitter, which really has been the medium of the year. It’s so easy to stop following people (and I do) that I can genuinely say I enjoy reading what nearly all of those 200 people have to say. So for today’s list, part of my series of 24 in 24 days, here are half a dozen of my favourite Tweeters.
@twisstTwisst ISS alerts is a service set up by the Twisst website which sends you a Tweet every time the International Space Station is passing overhead. Then you can stand outside at night and point at a big bright light crossing the sky and go “oooo”. Seriously, it’s a very clever mixture of technologies.
@OptaJoeOpta Sports just sends out loads of football stats. And I love football stats, me. Stattotastic.
@julianhuppertJulian Huppert is my new MP, and he Tweets his head off, including in the middle of debates. As an example of bringing the democratic process to the masses, it’s an extraordinary insight, and the sort of thing which Twitter was invented for, because it just couldn’t be done any other way. I suspect that in the future this sort of interactivity with constituents is going to play a large role in getting MPs re-elected.
@VizTopTipsViz Top Tips is just very silly, but brightens up my day almost every day.
@Carl_MarstonCarl Marston is a football correspondent on the East Anglian Daily Times who covers my beloved Ipswich Town. But his Tweetage is beyond the call of duty, regularly breaking news from press conferences and bringing matches to life.
@gavinbarberGavin Barber is one of those people you come across on Twitter who you’ve never met, possibly never will, but seems to share the same interests and amuses you no end. I could cite others, but Gavin’s as good an example as any.

My Favourite Albums of 2010

Saturday 4 December 2010

And my one-per-day set of lists for Advent continues, this time with a list of favourite albums released this year. Maybe I’m getting old and I’m just far too comfortable in my musical tastes, but in recent years I’ve found it harder and harder to compile this list. Or perhaps it’s been easier and easier, because the problem is, I don’t seem to like that much new stuff. As a result, I think I’m buying less and less too, despite the ease of buying music online. For several years I’ve really tried – but failed – to get into the critics’ top albums (you know the sort of stuff, Joanna Newsom, LCD Soundsystem, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Bon Iver, etc). Now I don’t even bother with them much. Anyway, here are five albums which I liked this year and which I still expect to like in a few years’ time.

Bruce Springsteen: The Promise

The biggest cop-out of all, because the songs on this album were all recorded over thirty years ago. But they’re very, very good. I can’t remember another example of an entire set of songs from a major artist at their peak being released like this. Imagine 20 Beatles songs recorded at the same time as Sgt.Pepper suddenly seeing the light of day. “An indispensible portrait of an artist at the top of his game. File this one under American Greats.”

Tinie Tempah: Disc-Overy

I’ve probably listened to more chart music this year than at any time since college, thanks to having a 9-year-old who’s beginning to find the music scene interesting. I’m amazed at how much of the top 40 each week is simply terrible, but I shouldn’t be, because it’s always been that way. Standing out like a beacon, however, are the never knowingly too serious British rap artists, normally filed under ‘grime’ or something, but really just this decade’s mainstream pop.

Jan Garbarek and The Hilliard Ensemble: Officium Novum

My perfect Sunday morning, should it exist, would surely involve the house being filled with music from any of the (now) three Jan Garbarek and The Hilliard Ensemble albums. Not jazz, not choral, this is genuinely unique music which is hauntingly beautiful. If the idea of Armenian church music or Arvo Pärt’s Most Holy Mother of God sounds off-putting, you shouldn’t let it be.

Stornoway: Beachcomber’s Windowsill

All the fuss being made around American indie folk over the past few years has left me a bit cold, but some of the new young English acts in that genre are a different matter. Stornoway were a terrific headliner on the warm-up night at this year’s Cambridge Folk Festival, but this album would have made it into the list regardless.

Laura Marling: I Speak Because I Can

Her first album was showered with awards, but the difficult follow-up proved to be just as good, as well as being a development. An album I can listen to over and over.

My Favourite Movies of 2010

Wednesday 8 December 2010

I’ve conjured up 24 lists for the 24 days of Advent, and next up are my favourite movies of 2010. It was a reasonable year for movies – no, come to think of it, a good year. Here are my nine favourites, with their trailers:

1. Toy Story 3

2. The Social Network

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

4. Inception

5. Four Lions

6. The Infidel

7. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

8. Another Year

9. Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

My Favourite Radio Programmes of 2010

Thursday 9 December 2010

This list, part of my one-a-day series during Advent, rather overlaps with the favourite Podcast list, but it concentrates more on programmes I listened to live.

1. Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review (BBC Radio 5 Live)

It’s won every award going, and certainly needs no further accolades, but it’s expanded beautifully into its two-hour slot after years in a shorter, less consistent format. Wonderful chemistry between the presenters.

2. The Danny Baker Show (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Sadly under long-term temporary management due to Danny’s cancer diagnosis, this two hours on Saturday morning had become an utter delight, as every Candyman show always was. How he inspires such fabulous contributions from listeners will forever remain a mystery. Get well soon.

3. Ashes Test Match Special (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)

A perfect storm: Ashes commentary on clear-as-a-bell digital radio, a great iPad app for listening on (with a sleep timer), and an in-pillow speaker. Never have I woken up in the middle of the night and been delighted to do so.

4. More Or Less (BBC Radio 4)

Typically well-made Radio 4 series which can be a little hit-and-miss in its choice of subject matter, but rarely fails to get you thinking.

5. The Ghost Trains of Old England (BBC Radio 4)

There were probably a hundred Radio 4 documentaries which might have ended up here, had I caught them, but I was so glad I listened to this one-off programme, which was quite intriguing.

My Favourite Live Performances of 2010

Friday 10 December 2010

Next up in my blog-based Advent Calendar is a list of the best live acts I saw this year. These are really in no particular order!

Half Man Half Biscuit, The Junction, Cambridge, March 2010

The Saw Doctors, The Junction, Cambridge, November 2010

(Not the best video, and what’s worse, from a gig a few days later too, but it captures the atmosphere!)

The Unthanks, Cambridge Folk Festival, August 2010

Show Of Hands, Cambridge Folk Festival, August 2010

(The video’s from 2007, but I don’t remember this performance being that different!)

My Favourite Websites of 2010

Monday 13 December 2010

In this instalment of my “list a day” Advent Calendar, I thought I’d choose the websites and online services which have meant most to me this year, either for entertainment or for usefulness. Or perhaps they just merit a mention for being really good. There’s a bit of a blurring now, isn’t there, between online services and websites? May have to split them next year. After all, if I can have “Twitter”, why can’t I have “email” or even “the web”?

1. Twitter

I may have been Tweeting for a couple of years or more, but this was the year I spent glued to it. I can’t watch live events on TV now without following them on Twitter too.

2. GMail

My life is now on this. How can anybody live without years’ worth of email instantly searchable? I’d find it hard to use (and to juggle so many accounts) without Mailplane though.

3. b3ta

Every Friday afternoon, brightens up my life without fail.

4. LogMeIn

It’s got me out of some right old pickles, I can tell you. Works perfectly from hotel foyers on holiday. Don’t tell the wife.

5. Ocado

Yay, you order it and it comes. Doesn’t even cost anything for delivery if you pay £3.99 a month extra. Kudos too for the milkman’s commendable version, milkandmore.

6. National Rail Journey Planner

New version up this year solves any irritations with the old one. Good work, fellas.

7. Texaco Fantasy Football

It’s about the Championship! It’s free! It works! I’m pretty rubbish at it!

8. Statto.com

I don’t think I need any other website, seriously.

9. Dropbox

Just getting into this. It’ll need some training. But it couldn’t work more perfectly.

My Favourite Online Videos of 2010

Tuesday 14 December 2010

There’s been enough great stuff on YouTube this year for it to merit a list of its own. So here, as part of my list-a-day series during Advent, are my favourite bits o’YouTubery of 2010. Except that more than any other list, this is going to be one which I’m undoubtedly going to have forgotten some good ones.

My Favourite Gadgets of 2010

Wednesday 15 December 2010

For each day of Advent, I’m doing a different list of favourite things from the year. Today we look at gadgetry and tech. I bought my most recent camera at the end of last year, my TV is four years old and still state of the art (3D notwithstanding), and that led me to believe I might struggle to fill this list. But inevitably that wasn’t the case.

1. Apple iPad

Inevitably, product of the year, and it’ll probably be up there in my products of the decade in 2019. Hard to believe it was just a rumour this time last year.

2. Virgin Media 50Mb broadband

Well, the performance varies over the course of the day, and it ain’t cheap, but it’s nice to still be at the bleeding edge of technology. Nice performance in the morning, on the day it was installedStill nothing like as good in the evening though, ten months later

3. Apple iPhone 4

Growing on me. The new features, which are technically impressive, are not life-altering like the original iPhone was. But they might become so, as apps make them indispensable. For example, I don’t really have much use for a video camera. But FaceTime calls to relatives overseas? Now you’re talking. The iPhone 3G was nicer to hold in the hand though.

4. Panasonic SD-257 Breadmaker

Incremental upgrade on the best-selling SD-255, but a great example of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Others should watch and learn.

5. Canon Ixus 210 digital camera

Bought one of these for Mrs R, who wanted a modern, easy-to-use digital camera which would fit in a handbag. Oh, and it had to be pink. It’s everything you’d expect from a Canon …lovely. And it even has a (huge) touchscreen, which is hardly essential, but fun.

My Favourite Sporting Moments of 2010 (Part 1)

Thursday 16 December 2010

Right, 24 days of Advent, 24 lists of things I liked this year. Today: the first of two lists of satisfying sporting moments, this one focusing exclusively on football.

My Favourite Sporting Moments of 2010 (Part 2)

Friday 17 December 2010

A list of favourite sporting moments of the year might be overwhelmed by football, so I thought I’d do a separate list of highlights from other sports. There were some spectacular ones, now I come to think of it!

Alistair Cook takes Australia apart

Europe win the Ryder Cup

Mo Farah at the European Athletics Championships

The longest tennis match ever

Amy on her Skeleton Bob at the Winter Olympics

England beat Australia 21-20

The T20 World Cup Final

Tony McCoy wins the Grand National

Mark Webber’s crash in Valencia

My Favourite Apps of 2010

Sunday 19 December 2010

Here’s a list I couldn’t have imagined doing two years ago. And to be honest, I’ve taken to “apps” so much more since getting an iPad, I probably wouldn’t have even thought about doing this list as recently as last Christmas. These are in no particular order, but if I were to have just 12 apps on my iPad, other than the standard Safari, Mail and iTunes, these would be the ones.


Woo hoo. Better passwords, and all instantly available when you’re away from your little notebook.

BBC iPlayer

Watching telly in bed is great, but having the telly in bed with you is a whole new world.


Great example of a commercial organisation making an App which is better than their website.


Makes transferring files from my desktop Mac über-easy.


Wonderful for quick editing of images on the road before sending them to someone.


The fact this works at all was one of the pleasantest surprises of the year. Brilliant.


I’m addicted to RSS. I probably read the equivalent of several magazines’ worth of articles a week this way. And now all on the iPad. This is just very comfortable.


Property porn. Love the fact it can show you houses for sale around wherever you are.


Oh no! I forgot to set the Sky+ box before I left home! Except it doesn’t matter now. I want to marry the instigator of this app.

TuneIn Radio

Makes your iPad into the world’s best radio/alarm clock. Simply perfect.

TV Catchup

Not perfect, and I think we’re a couple of years away from really watchable real-time video streaming, but just occasionally, it’s been wonderful.


I’ve tried several Twitter clients, but I tend to reach for this by default.