You know how geeks, even ancient geeks, love to show off their technology. So it was last weekend in Rome when I decided to demonstrate to admiring friends how I could watch British television on my iPad. Thanks to my Slingbox, I cried, I can tune in to any programme and, even, set up recordings and watch pre-recorded material from my recorder. How? Simple, call up Sling Player on the iPad (sadly only in iPhone format as yet) and press connect. Success: Within seconds I was the master of the home-based technology, reading to surf the channels and bring up Coronation Street. Sadly, when I pressed the virtual power button to switch on the home video recorder I was met with no reaction. Try again. Fail again.
Not daunted, I checked the settings and verified that I was indeed connected to home base. But why no action. The answer was simple and extremely low tech. My cleaner had been doing her thing the day before I left home. She's extremely thorough and dusts everything to death. It was no surprise to find, then, that she had dusted to one side the two infra-red transmitters that Slingbox uses to communicate with the recorder. These sit on little protruding plastic paddles that stick (not too successfully) to the top of the unit.
This all goes to prove that technology is pretty reliable, but the old arts of housework and tidyness can have unwelcome results. Actually, I was a bit disappointed to find the fault to be so low-tech.
It's nice to have a backwater on a busy bank-holiday Monday and my (now) trusty iPad kept me entertained this afternoon at the historic Black Lion - in Black Lion Lane, next to the Thames in London: a fireplace of great age, a cool half of Foster's shandy and an iTunes rental copy of the pretty awful Sherlock Holmes movie. The simple, minimalist Apple iPad case makes a good stand for viewing in most situations.
On Friday I asked both Vodafone and O2 if they had news on the availability of the micro-SIM cards and, also details of contracts for the iPad. Both said they had absolutely nothing to say, but that there would be an announcement on May 28 when the iPad officially launches in the UK.
Today, however, Apple themselves have leaked pricing for three major networks in the UK - O2, Orange and Vodafone. There are some interesting differences and Vodafone looks to be the least competitive. This is not true to form and I suspect there will be changes before the launch.
O2, the original iPhone carrier for the UK, is offering 500MB per day for £2, 1G per month for £10 and 3GB a month for £15. Orange want £2 per day for a measly 200MB, £7.50 per week for 1GB, £15 per month for 3GB or £25 per month for 5GB. Vodafone, surprisingly, intends to charge £10 a month for a ludicrous 250MB or £25 a month for 5GB. While the 5GB price is par for the course, it's surprising to find no £15 rate for 3GB (as I currently pay them). Unless Vodafone has a massive rethink between now and the end of the month I cannot see many people choosing their network. It's a pity, because I think Vodafone's network is generally faster and more available than offerings from the competition. Presumably there will be an upfront charge for the SIM. Judging by current schemes for standard SIMs, this is likely to be between £20 and £25.
What is interesting is that all are following AT&T's American lead in offering monthly (or even shorter) arrangements and it seems clear that there will be no attempt to tie in subscribers for 12 months or, even, 24 months as is the case the laptop pricing structures.
This morning I arrived in Switzerland and was surprised and delighted to find Swisscom had micro-SIM cards in stock. For 19 francs (about £11.50) you buy the SIM and then enjoy a daily rate of no more than 7.50 francs (about £4.50) for unlimited data. This is an excellent deal for occasional visitors and I would have taken one had it not been for the fact that I had just topped up my current Swisscom pay-as-you-go standard SIM contract. I'm currently using this SIM in my MiFi (which gives internet service to both iPad and iPhone) but will upgrade on my next visit to the country.
Whither the iPad in the gentlemen's clubs of Pall Mall and St James's in London? Electronic devices are still banned in most of these venerable institutions even though some of the bastions have fallen in recent years.
In particular, many of them are now gentleperson's clubs and no longer gentlemen's since we had to let in the memsahibs a few years ago. Even "denim trousers" (non-faded, non patched, non-low crotched, of course) are now permissible on high days and holidays. And no neckties on Saturdays and Sundays any more. Can you believe it? What is the world coming to?
But any form of "doing business" or the use of electronic devices is still strictly beyond the pale. My club, the Royal Automobile, is a little more easy going than most but all bags, cases, laptops and suchlike must be checked into the cloakroom. Phones can be carried as long as they don't create too much of a bulge in Savile Row, but must be switched off at all times. Just one tiny room, no doubt lead-lined, is permitted for mobile phone use and for access to computers.
Yet I see resolve is weakening a little in the face of progress. Today I was spotted illegally reading a Kindle book on my iPhone in the Brooklands restaurant. The waiter showed interest and said that only last week he'd seen a lady member reading on one of those electronic reader thingies. Whatever next? I am at least grateful he didn't call in the Beagle or whatever the rule enforcer is called.
Where's the offence in it, I ask? I can understand the enduring moratorium on the use of mobile phones and can appreciate the offence caused by a clacking laptop keyboard, but where is the problem in reading a book or even checking the web on an iPhone or iPad? It's far less intrusive that the traditional club pursuit of reading The Times (or The Sun hidden inside a copy of The Times). All that rustling of paper. Even the chess players cause a bit of a racket occasionally.
Snoring members are an even bigger hazard in the smoking room (oops, I forgot it's now the reading room - more progress) and constitute a far greater threat to decorum and public order than an iPad. Only last month I witnessed old Mainwaring walk three times round the room before thwacking the side of Johnson's leather armchair with his copy of the Daily Telegraph. That woke the bugger up.
Come to think of it, I'm minded to write to the secretary (snailmail, of course, wouldn't want to be too adventurous with electronic communications) to enquire if I might be permitted browse my iPad's book collection in the reading room. For some committee members, probably still not completely happy with the Spinning Jenny and the steam engine, that could be a step too far. I am warned in advance.
Author: Michael Evans
Todo and task lists represent one of the biggest categories of app for the iPhone. The Mac is less well endowed, but there's no doubting that keeping lists must be a popular activity. Most of the iPhone apps are very simple lists of things to do and have no claim to being project managers. OmniFocus and Things are probably the two most successful iPhone apps that lay claim to more advanced features. OmniFocus, in particular, is a must for those who like to have their Macs and portable devices in constant sync; but it needs learning and a degree of discipline in categorising, contexting and scheduling tasks and projects. Here, though, I'm looking at Mac programs rather than iPhone apps
Yesterday's post by Robert Kitson and a subsequent glance at his Twitter page (@RobertKitson) provided an introduction to yet another Mac project management application, The Hit List. I've downloaded a trial version and have to say I impressed. From the start, I'd say that if you fancy OF but can't face the learning curve, The Hit List (THL) might be your cup of tea.
THL has a very simple and uncluttered user interface. It relies heavily on keyboard input and in this respect reminds me of Quicksilver. You can do almost everything from the keyboard. For instance, to move tasks up, down, right and left you simply press the w,s,a and d keys. To allocate a task to a project folder you press F for file. To add a context you press @. Of course, if you don't want to complicate things, you can simply use it as a to-do list and forget about projects and contexts.
For scheduling purposes there are three views. The Inbox, which is self-explanatory, contains all new items that haven't been allocated or scheduled. Then comes the Today view which contains two sections: Due today and Due in the next 3 days. All other dated items appear in the Upcoming list which groups items into sections: Act on tomorrow, Act on in the next 7 days, Act on in the next 30, 90 days etc.
As with most similar applications, you can type in "next Friday" or "next month" and have THL resolve that into the actual date.
Enjoying a coffee at a motoway service centre the other day, I found myself staring at a nearby WH Smith news-stand. I got to reflecting on how much I've saved since I started getting my news free from the Internet. If I take into account all the Mac and other technical monthlies I used to load into the cart, I reckon I am a good £1,000 a year better off.
Enter Rupert Murdoch. As from June he wants to charge me £1 a day to access The Times and The Sunday Times web sites: a sum not unadjacent to the cost of buying the newspaper.
I have a free message for Times International: Goodbye! Even if all the major newspapers start charging for web access there will still be hundreds if not thousands of free sites out there.
This all reminds me of the ancient King Cnut who sat on his throne on an English beach and commanded the tide not to advance and wet his feet. When his feet did get wet he is reported to have leapt backwards and said "Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings". He was a wise man.
Blog posted here.
Following my complaints about typos and howlers in the Alexander Kent series of naval history novels, publishers Random House have now withdrawn the titles from sale while they review the text and fix the errors. This, say say, should take a few days.
In a full response, Random House say that mine is the first complaint they have received about the Kent series, but they welcome the feedback: “It is of the utmost importance for us to get this feedback so we can ensure that our customers have the best possible ebook experience. We really want to avoid a situation where some customers have a bad experience that puts them off ebooks in general.”
“As you are aware,’ they continue, “the entire publishing industry is rapidly expanding the list of titles available as ebooks and many thousands of titles have been made available and, although we do have QA procedures in place it is inevitable some errors may creep in, especially with older titles than need to be scanned.”
I welcome the response and I hope that my highlighting of the problem will cause all publishers to ensure that their scanned offerings are thoroughly proofread (by a human being, if possible) before they are released to the buying public. The good thing is that people who have bought error-riddled books are in a good position to ask for a new download of the corrected versions when they appear. With the Kindle Store, where Amazon retain control of the material, I suspect such upgrades will happen automatically. With other reader systems, such as the Sony Reader, it will be necessary for the user to initiate the download of the corrected version.
Listening to Leo Laporte's MacBreak Weekly podcast today, I was introduced to Gazelle. It solves a problem for all technophiles: what to do with the all the old stuff--such as that iPhone 3G when you've upgraded to a shiny new 3GS. Gazelle is a sort of shopping site in reverse. You fill your box with all your unwanted tech items and they give you a purchase price. Obviously you have to choose the right specification and answer some questions on condition, but it's a much simpler way of selling than the hassle of eBay. I've been an eBay fan for some years and have turned most of my old gadgets, including quite a few MacBooks, into welcome cash. But there is no doubt that preparing the ad, taking photos and watching auctions takes time and dedication.
With Gazelle you get an instant valuation and you simply send off your box of goodies and receive payment. The system relies on your honesty in describing condition, of course, but the same applies to any sale.
I asked Gazelle when they will be opening in the UK and, not surprisingly, they are currently concentrating on consolidating and expanding the US operation. They point out that anyone in the UK can sell their items through the US website but the seller would have to bear the international shipping charges. This may suit some sellers, if only to cut down the hassle, but there are some potential pitfalls. Perhaps the main one is price. Secondhand prices in the UK are generally higher simply because new prices are higher. And, of course, list priced here include VAT at 17.5%. There are also compatibility problems between the two countries. Presumably Gazelle resell in their domestic market and, for instance, a MacBook Pro with a UK keyboard would not be popular there.
The good thing is that we can look forward to something happening in the UK--either an extension of Gazelle or a local company with a similar offering.