Archive for January, 2007

The Real Deal

Wednesday January 17, 2007

Senator Barack Obama has announced his intention to ‘form a panel to explore his possible presidential candidacy’, which is a ludicruously long-winded way of saying he’s gonna run unless some bad shit happens. Watch out for this guy. He’s the most impressive politician I’ve seen in years, with the charisma and intellect of Bill Clinton, but hopefully without the libido. What he doesn’t have, however is Clinton’s experience. Clinton had been Arkansas’ Attorney General and served two terms as governor of the state before becoming presidential candidate. On the other hand, some commentators are saying his inexperience might be kind of fresh-start the American public could be looking for. And it’s certainly true the other more experienced presidential candidates (Hilary Clinton, John McCain, John Edwards), have been tainted by their original support for the Iraq war.

Wikiseek is a very interesting new search engine. It searches Wikipedia pages, or pages ‘which are referenced from Wikipedia sites’, apparantly producing much higher quality search results than Wikipedia’s own search engine, and much less prone to spam. I’ve had a couple of spins with it and was impressed by the results, but also really impressed by the interface. To see what I mean, type in a search phrase, then on the results page refine that search by editing the search text…you’ll see ‘live’ suggestions for refinements. V cool.

Still on the subject of search engine interfaces, there’s a couple of travel sites I’ve been impressed by recently. Firstly, foundem (tip of the hat to whisht) has some nice features when searching for flights and produces satisfyingly quick results. Also with a nice interface, but currently restricted to European flights bizarrely, is Wingmap. Like most Web 2.0 ventures, their USPs are very narrow, usually restricted to a fancy widget here or there, but still pretty nice.

In the interests of balance, here’s a really shit interface for a search engine.

Anyway, it’s 1.30, way past my bedtime and tomorrow is my last day in the office before I go to Riga.

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Pan’s iPhone

Saturday January 13, 2007

Chuffed to bits that Pan’s Labyrinth has been nominated for 8 (eight!) BAFTAs, which might mean it gets some renewed life at the cinema coz it’s only at two screens in London right now. The Queen was nominated for 9 BAFTAs. I just downloaded it and took a quick peak to make sure it was a decent copy but I gotta say initial impressions were not very good: Helen Mirren looks nothing like Freddie Mercury.

Much hullabaloo over Apple’s iPhone. Whatever you think of the actual product, Jobs again demonstrated his mastery of marketing, even whipping up the financial markets into a frenzy; Apple’s 8% share price rise is evidence of that. Here’s my take on the product itself:

The space is the right one. PDA meets phone meets MP3 player is obviously the way all mobile devices are heading. All the manufacturers knows this, so the race is on to deliver it

  • Looks great. Quelle surprise.
  • No support for 3G. This is a bigger deal in Europe than in the US where, AFAIK, 3G is not so prevalent.  Cringely has an interesting take on this. My take on it is that in Europe it will significantly harm its chances of success, it’s difficult to imagine people downgrading the speed of their connection just for a slicker integrated device.
  • It doesn’t support J2ME applications. Which means all the Java applications that work on other phones, and there are hundreds, won’t work on the iPhone. Again, a bigger problem in Europe than in the US.
  • Battery and Sound Quality. Several of my Nokia phones have had built-in MP3 software, but it was always a very dissatisying experience because the sound quality was always very poor and whenever I used them to play music it would suck the battery dry very quickly. It will be interesting to see if they can preserve the sound quality of the iPod whilst managing to have a decent battery life.
  • Keyboard. I’ve never used a touch-screen keyboard that was of any use for writing messages – they’re fine for navigating around screens, but as proper input devices – useless. So the iPhone is significantly flawed as a business device.

Conclusion: for the US I’ve no doubts it’ll work, but for the more mature European markets where, perhaps, user-expectations are higher and standards are more embedded (3G, J2ME) they’ll face a tougher time.

A Stupid Idea and A Man Without a Vision

Tuesday January 9, 2007

A stupid idea.  This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard of.   Chacha have raised $6m from Jeff Bezos et al for this ‘people powered’ search engine.  On every single level I don’t get this.  a) It’s not a very fun experience, b) It doesn’t work better than Google which is quicker and more powerful and c) How is it in the slightest bit scalable?  I read a convincing article from Michael Arrington recently on why we’re not in a bubble right now, but then I hear of this and I’m not so sure.  This guy, who works for them, thinks it’s all shite too.

A man without a vision.   Really, is it 1997 or 2007?  Pearls of wisom from the Gates the Great:

“The digital decade is about to happen”

“People will spend more time on the net than watching TV ”

“People want to do things with their content across multiple platforms “

All this is rather like saying in 1940, ‘I think tough times are ahead for Europe’.   This is Gates’ last keynote, but it feels like one too many.

A Masterpiece

Monday January 8, 2007

Saw Pan’s Labyrinth last night. It’s a masterpiece: Ivana Baquero’s performance, the art direction, the special effects, the storytelling, the music. It’s a film made by a film-maker at the height of his skills (Guillermo del Toro), which is surprising since to me it came rather out of the blue. I saw Cronos (13 years ago!), but thought it was really overrated and Hellboy and Blade II don’t sound that promising do they?

Anyway. See it. I haven’t felt so enthusiastic about a film in years.

Also quite enthusastic about this.

Flights to Asia for £1.46 – Time is The New Money

Friday January 5, 2007

The exact details have yet to emerge from Air Asia’s recent announcement that they’re expanding their business into the budget long-haul market, but the rumours are that the Asia-Europe flights will begin at a staggering £1.46 (one-way, plus taxes, minus comfort etc). Air Asia are second to launch, after Air Oasis who fly to HK for £75, but Air Asia will undoubtedly offer many more routes.

Cheap flights are obviously great (environmental issues aside), but the real currency now is time. The costs of flights to Asia will soon be, if they aren’t already, so inexpensive as to not be a factor for me, but what I can’t really afford is the time. So I’m happy to pay £75 one way for a flight, but if it takes me 12 hours to get there as opposed to 2 hours to a European destination, I’m unlikely to use them. If I’m going for something longer than a short-break, I can justify paying extra for the old-guard carriers like British Airways for the extra comfort and the air miles and if I’m going on for business I certainly won’t travel on a budget airline. So, as excited as I am about budget flights to Asia, I can’t actually see that I’ll use them.

BTW, shall I just kill that bird in my garden?  If bird flu is gonna spread to this country you can be certain it’ll be the bird that’s the reincarnation of Saddam Huseein who’s behind it all.

Saddam Executed, Reincarnated As Bird in My Garden

Friday January 5, 2007

Is it normal for birds to start singing at 3am?

I don’t normally say things like this, but something very weird has been happening recently. On December 30th, a bird started twittering in my garden at 3am. I don’t recall ever hearing birds singing in my garden and certainly not at 3am. It woke me up but I quickly went back to sleep. That morning I awoke, shocked to hear the news of Saddam’s execution. Time of execution? 6am Baghdad time, which is exactly when the bird appeared for the very first time in my garden. A weird co-incidence, but made even weirder by reading this story about Saddam Hussein’s final days in a Baghdad prison, where he was described as the ‘Birdman of Baghdad’ by the American nurse who looked after him.

To this day, that bird sings regularly in my garden at 3am.

Digging

Wednesday January 3, 2007

I recently conducted an experiment to see the infamous Digg Effect. I submitted this article to Digg, asked some friends to Digg it and then I’d sit back and watch the traffic roll-in. I now know I actually only have two friends because only two of them bothered to Digg it, some of them claimed they didn’t know what to Digg-it meant (why do I have friends like this?) and the others didn’t even reply. Bastards. Net result: 25 visitors. Because this blog has been dormant for 4 months these can all be attributabed to Digg.

Not bad considering it only got 2 Diggs and the article wasn’t exactly a laugh a minute.

Media

Tuesday January 2, 2007

Was expecting to be out of the country over Xmas, but had to change plans at the last minute. Instead, I:

  • Went to Guanabara, a Brazilian club. Predictably, the waitresses were all Brazilian and all hot-hot-hot (‘Oi gatinha, tudo bem?’ was something I was too sober to say, but desperately wanted to).
  • Saw London to Brighton. Enjoyed it a lot. Felt like I was seeing a real film with real actors for the first-time in ages.
  • Saw Flags of Our Fathers by Clint Eastwood. It’s great that an 80-year old man still has an appetite for re-inventing genres. This isn’t quite that, but it’s at least an attempt at giving a new perspective to a well-trodden subject. My appetite for re-inventing genres was beaten out of me at the age of 8 when I suggested to my family that perhaps we shouldn’t watch The Great Escape again this Christmas and that perhaps it was time for an update of this tired old genre flick. Never again.
  • Took a friend’s child (with permission this time, I’m not making that mistake twice) to see the re-issued Wizard of Oz. Although I’ve seen WOZ several times at the cinema before (sad, I know) this was the first-time with a child. I’d like to say that this time I saw it through a childs-eye and that I re-discovered the sense of awe and amazement as I had when I saw the movie for the very first time, but truth be told I’ve never actually ever tired of this movie.  Unfortunately I was probably slightly embarrassing to the 3 year old sat next to me as he bolted for the door when I burst into ‘Ding dong the witch is dead’. He was supposed to reply ‘Which old witch?’ and then I’d say ‘The wicked witch!’ but we never quite pulled it off.

Got a business trip to Latvia next week.