Steve the podcast star?

Does podcast start with a capital P? It’s not something I’ve though of before, the whole podcast thing passing by me until today – when I stared in one!*

Podcast’s are like radio shows that you listen to offline. If you have the right software, the show will download when you are on the Internet and copy itself to your music player. Then you can listen to it when you are out and about. Although I am a fan of audio (be it music, documentaries, comedies and so on) as much as the next person, I’ve never got round to playing with podcasts and finding ones I want to listen to regularly.

The biggest reason for that is the difference between iTunes and Windows Media. Having just played with the iTunes podcast setup instructions as directed on this page, I had the system setup in less than a minute so I should automatically receive the future shows as they are released. Unfortunately, I don’t use iTunes for all my music. My new phone syncronises through Windows “ActiveSync” which talks to Windows Media Player. I dare say I could change that to sync with iTunes, or figure out how to make podcasts work with Windows Media player but I simply haven’t spent any time to figure that out. I used iTunes when I won an iPod Shuffle, but I don’t use the device that often. I’ve been using my new phone to listen to music (it synchronises with Windows Media Player) but that too may be a passing fad.

Now, that’s my excuse for not listening to podcasts out the way, what made me start listening today I hear you ask.

Well, my experiences with taking a spammer to court have garnered a little media interest, to which point I was interviewed at the beginning of the week by “Out-law” magazine. They are a magazine that focuses on legal issues of technology. I’ve been reading it myself for a few years too. They have a weekly podcast but I’ve never listened to it. I have read the transcripts though, just never downloaded to listen. The interview with me has been included in this weeks podcast. The whole show is 10 minutes long and if you’ve ever wondered what I sound like now is your time to find out. (If you don’t figure it out during listening the spam story is in the last half and the harmonious Scot’s accent isn’t me, it’s the journalist).

Happy listening folks.

*star is probably a bit strong, featured may be a more accurate word.

Stumble upon – first stumbles

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My recent posts about taking a spammer to court have had quite a lot of interest. A whole host of people came via something called “Stumble Upon”. I’d never heard of that site so had a little look… which has turned into a longer look!

Stumble Upon is a web site where people share links to other web sites. Using their toolbar, you can click the “stumble” button and it will take you to a web site that may be of passing interest. Where it takes you is defined initially by the subjects you say you are interested in and then (at least I guess) how you rate those sites.

My first stumbles this evening have taken me through a variety of linux related web sites, including this one (screen shot provided in case it vanishes off the web). It appears to be the text of the linux kernel (the operation system) but someone has changed the font colours in different places so that you can see a picture of the Linux penguin logo. I highlighted the bottom row of text in the screenshot so you can see the text is still there – just black on black.

I’m not sure how long I’ll stay on ‘stumble upon’ though, I can see it eating a lot of spare time.

My best PDA/phone ever! (it's a HTC Touch Cruise)

For the last few years I’ve had a phone that made people gawk in awe… In awe of why on earth I dragged it around mostly, not because it was a thing of beauty. It was an O2 XDA Exec, or HTC Universal.

The universal ran Windows Mobile 5, had a huge touch screen (640 x 480 – even iPhones don’t have screens that big), covered all my PDA needs (synchronising via Outlook to our office diary system), covered my mobile internet needs (running a cut down version of Internet Explorer that mostly worked well enough on most web sites) and of course worked as a phone. It did all those things but it was never a pleasure to use. It was a jack of all trades, master of none. It meant I could check my email at home over Wi-Fi but would be forever trying to get it to connect to my bluetooth car kit. It meant I would always have my phone and diary with me, rather than leaving one of them in the office (my palm was a better PDA, my nokia was a better phone, but the Universal was better simply by combining those devices – albeit with quite a few compromises).

Those days of aggravation and compromise have disappeared. For the last 2 weeks I’ve been playing with a new “HTC Touch Cruise”, also known as the “Polaris” for a while while they developed it. My computer still thinks it’s called a HTC P3650 when it synchronises.

Let’s run through some of the differences;

  • How about the size! The touch cruise is smaller, lighter and a lot more pocket friendly.
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    It has Windows Mobile 6. I’m pretty sure this is one of it’s biggest improvements over the Universal. Bluetooth now connects seamlessly to my car kit…. well almost, occasionally it connects to the car kit thinking it is in mid phone call. At least I don’t have to get the phone to recognise the car kit each time. I’m guessing that WM6 improved the bluetooth functionality.

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    The screen is SMALLER, I think this is a good thing. At least because it fits better into the pocket but also because I think the phone processor has less work to do. The universal had a rotating screen and if you opened it to see who was calling the phone would ‘hang’ for a few seconds and not answer the call when you pressed the button. I’m thinking that a smaller screen = less processor work = faster phone reaction time. The slow response was one of the biggest drawbacks of the Universal for me, though something I preferred over not having the flexibility

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    It has a better camera. I’ve joined the world of 3 Megapixels on a phone. My ‘proper’ camera is still an Olympus 2.1 Megapixel. First impressions are the photos aren’t quite as sharp as that camera produces and it doesn’t have an optical zoom, so perhaps the old camera will be saved from the scrap heap for a while yet. This photo (you can click on the picture to enlarge it) was taken at the weekend at the Kent and East Sussex Railway’s Thomas the Tank Engine Day. If you look at it full size you’ll notice the graininess of the picture. I printed it via our laser printer at work (not known for it’s photo print abilities) and I’m more than happy with the output. I didn’t buy this phone for the camera afterall

  • It has GPS built in! This wasn’t a key feature for me buying the phone. Nice to have, but far from essential. It came with TomTom Navigator and my choice of free ‘city map’. City Map really means ‘Area Map’, so I’ve been testing it over an area half the size of Kent. It’s been working surprisingly well. I expected the phone to not have enough processing power for it to be effective but it chatters directions away as well as any specific GPS unit I’ve tried. The maps move on screen just like the TomToms we have in the office. The only downside is that it takes a few minute to find any satellites (the GPS only turns itself on when requested to save battery power I guess). Oh, and I’ll need to buy a cradle for it in the car if I decide to use it. Actually, the only thing that I think will stop me using it as a GPS is the cost of maps – 80 or so if I remember correctly and I just don’t do enough travelling to make it worthwhile. The few times a GPS has been useful I’ve taken the one we share in the office.
  • It has the “Touch Flo” interface and some other software improvements. For the universal I ended up buying SPB Mobile Shell to make the windows interface slightly more practical and faster for me to use. The Touch Cruise has a similar interface built in – but much improved. The Touch Flo interface comes into play when you wipe your finger from the bottom to the top of the screen. It brings up a special screen of big buttons with your chosen 9 phone numbers and some shortcut keys. Drag your finger to the side and you get other shortcut menus. I’m not sure if HTC have added to Windows Mobile, or Windows Mobile has improved a lot, but the interface for the Music player is more fluid and responsive than it used to be and the photos in the “Camera Album” can be ‘dragged’ off to display the next one in a way I would associate with an iPhone more than a Windows Phone. I’ve only played with an iPhone for two minutes though, so I’m not best qualified to compare between the two.
  • The phone also came with SPB GPRS Monitor and the Opera web browser. The Opera browser is something I always considered buying for my Universal – It’s a lot better than Internet Explorer Mobile. In fact, I’m surprised IE Mobile didn’t improve more in WM6. Opera allows you to open different tabs so you can have more than one web page open at a time which I find most useful. Other differences are relatively minor, both struggle with some web sites, neither cope with the Web 2.0 Ajaxiness so I can’t post to this blog from my mobile at the moment. Anyway, Opera was a nice addition
  • Both have a stylus (necessary for writing lots into my diary, on a word document and so on) and I made the decision I’m happy not to have a small keyboard (there is another similar HTC device that has a slide out keyboard) having gained the advantage of a smaller device. The Touch Cruise has gained a ‘wheel’ on top of the Universals 4 way direction pad. The wheel works really well allowing you to scroll through contacts list then click to activate (or click to one side to expand, click the middle button to do something else). I don’t have a big iPod but I’m told the iPod ‘wheel’ is actually a sensor that detects you making a circular movement, whereas on the touch cruise it is really a moving wheel on the surface. I’m told the iPod wheel is more effective and I bow to that persons knowledge of having played with both devices. Having not experienced the difference first hand I’m finding the Touch Cruise wheel great to use. Perhaps if I get an iPod i’ll return to being less satisfied!
  • Finally, the choice of ring tones is better. I was never quite happy with the “ring” of the Universal but it appears WM6 has introduced a few more normal phone like rings. A small detail I know, but there nevertheless

There was another phone that compared on specifications and would have been available to me 1 month sooner, the E-Ten X800 glofiish. Actually, it has a 640 x 480 screen so in some respects would have been better. I think the camera was 2Mpixels (not that I was worried about the camera). The key reason I chose to wait was that the user forums on the E-Ten web site are only accessible if you own an E-Ten product. The few reports I could find on similar E-Ten phones elsewhere suggested problems with a lack of support from E-Ten in the UK. The problems all looked manageable (the first phones shipped with an out of date software ROM which could be patched by downloading from the E-Ten website) but without seeing what the problems were it gave me a bit of a confidence problem. At least with the HTC I had already had one of their products and had found plenty of information on their web site and other places which allowed me to fix or work around things which cause me problems – even if most other users were happy with it.

That brings me neatly onto the problems with the Touch Cruise. So far they are all superficial.

  1. The slide button on the top left that controls sound volume appears a bit cheap, plasticy and likely to break. I hope it’s just an impression and the phone will comfortably last the 3 years I’m hoping for, but it does make me nervous.
  2. The button above the slider – used to activate voice dialing, and the camera button on the opposite lower side, are hard to activate. They have to be pushed just the right way in the right position to activate them. Perhaps that means it’s me pushing them weirdly in the first place and everyone else is using them without trouble. They certainly feel solid and durable enough.

In summary, this is the best phone I’ve ever had, doing everything I need it to do well, and lots of other things well I really didn’t need it for.

Spam Wars – The spammer lost in court, but will they pay?

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It’s arrived, the County Court Judgement against the spammers known as Cybernet Media Limited and Chris Mortimer. The court awarded me 100 in compensation and a further 325 in costs (425 in total). The big question now is will they pay? They have until the 28th February.

I admit this still isn’t really what I wanted. In the original court documents I asked for two things.

Firstly, for them to pay the charges I told them I expected them to pay if they continued to send spam – at a rate of 50 + VAT per email. The judge said he couldn’t award that because it didn’t reflect the costs their breaking the PECR regulations incurred me. In his words, I could have asked for a million pounds per email and it wouldn’t be a valid claim. If however those particular emails had stopped our system working and the repair had cost a million pounds then that would be allowable. I’m not unhappy with the judges decision, it’s perfectly logical, but I understand why others don’t bother trying to stop spammers – it’s simply not worth the time.

Secondly, I asked for them to put in writing that they would stop sending the spam and follow the regulations. The judge couldn’t order that (not within his powers) and as we know from reading the comments of my earlier posts Cybernet Media continue to send spam, not because they don’t know the regulations, just they choose to ignore them.

I’ll update the blog if there are any developments.

The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World (Harry Harrison) and The Stainless Steel Rat for President (Harry Harrison)

My recent supplier visit to Sweden meant long hours of travel, both waiting in airports and sitting on a plane. Perfect time to read some good books, in fact, I started and finished two in a 31 hour trip (and considering I spent a whole day in a factory and managed half a nights sleep I was quite pleased with that).

Anyway, onto the stories. The Stainless Steel Rat is a regular James Bond type hero in the future. There are several books in the series I’ve now discovered so I’m going to be looking to read them all. In the ‘..Saves the World’ book our hero’s organisation is under attack by someone altering the past. The Rat (real name Jim Di Griz) has to go back in time and stop it from happening. Technology merges seamlessly with history as Jim returns and alters first the 1960’s, then the 1790’s before.. well, saving the world. Yes they hero always wins but there’s a neat twist towards the end which is both plausible at the same time as being pure science fiction (is that possible?).

In the Stainless Steel Rat for President, our hero is on holiday with his wife when a dead body turns up nearby with his nickname on a piece of paper in his mouth. The Rat has never met this man so he investigates further. This takes him to a world run by a not very nice dictator. The Rat helps the limited resistance movement to overthrow the dictator having all the requisite adventures on the way.

While these books all have very predictable “hero always wins” endings, they were just really fun to read without stretching the brain cells. They were also ideal travel books being just 160 pages long (the books fitted perfectly into my big trouser leg pocket).

What about some ratings? Both get a tidy 4 out of 5 Rootie Ratings – James Bond has competition.

Spammer comments on my blog pretending to be someone else!

Some things make you smile, some make you laugh out loud.

If you’ve been here before you may know I’ve taken some spammers to court. After the directions hearing I actually posted who they are. It seems that they also visit this blog, because they replied! Not in their own name though – read the comment from “Richard Jones” and how I identified him as the original spammer.

Mr Roots and his lovely old boots (or 14 years of heaven courtesy of Mr Brasher)

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I love my boots. I know, they’re not a lot to look at but they are the most comfortable boots I’ve ever owned. I almost fear the day I need to replace them. What are they? a 1994 Vintage “Brasher Hillmaster Classic“. The date is stamped inside the soft leather ankle area and I remember buying them in 1995. I was doing the thing you never do, buy boots just before an expedition. As a 19 year old I had not a lot of money and had bought a cheap pair (perhaps 20) of walking boots. They didn’t last the breaking in period, the cheap lace hooks cut through the laces within two days. Time to push the boat out and spend some serious money, more than half a weeks wages at the time, a staggering 100 – a huge amount of money to a 19 year old Steve

I still remember two parts of the sales pitch. Firstly, the sole. Not only big chunky grips but the deliberate shape that keeps the toe’s high. As you put your heal down and roll forward the shoe literally helps you keep going, rolling the next part of each step. At least that’s the theory, in practice I certainly have no complaints. They’re gorgeous when you get into a stride and so much more ‘walkable’ than any other shoe or boot I’ve ever owned. Secondly, the tag line: “Travel light, travel far, travel in comfort”. I know, now days I ignore tag lines for the marketing hype they are…. well, I pretend to ignore them. Every time I strap these boots on I get excited by the thought that I’m going somewhere and remember that phrase, even if it’s just across the local fields with the children.

The only thing I ever do to them is smother them liberally in Grangers G-Wax before any major walk (my, this really seems like I’m getting carried away with the brands… perhaps I should be BBC like and add ‘other brands are available’).

They’re first trip out was an epic, trekking for 3 weeks across Nepal. I was fortunate enough to be growing up within the youth group culture. We were organised by our leaders to fund raise enough to pay for a trek into the Himalayas, around 1800 which could also be described as far-too-much-of-my-annual-salary-for-me-to-cover-it-myself. The boots were an essential purchase as until then I’d survived in a pair of “High Leg DMS” army boots (very appropriate for ATC running around in wood things but I wanted something more appropriate for general walking). The trip was an experience of a lifetime, things I learnt on that expedition still benefit my life today.

This week I had to visit Sweden to check out a potential new supplier. It may sound like fun but the web-cam for the town showed snow on the ground, the forecast said snow, the UK Agent that was meeting me there said ‘dress warm, it’s very cold this time of year’. “Travel Light, Travel Far, Travel in Comfort”…. I immediately decided to grab my Brasher’s and my prized 30L Karrimor daysack (enough space to take as cabin baggage yet still carry 3 books, a change of clothes, a packed lunch and a “small clear plastic bag with not more than 100ml of any liquid” to meet the new stringent security requirements of air travel). My kit was light, Sweden is far, and I flew with Ryanair. OK, that may not sound like comfort and it sure isn’t luxury but it was more than comfortable enough for my needs. I’ve not flown with Ryanair before and I’ll have to write about it, some very interesting business principles well applied there.

Enough of my diversification though, you too can own the current incarnation of this boot by buying a pair of “Brasher Hillmaster Classic GTX“, including the modern improvements of things like a Gore Tex Lining, for an under the rate of inflation price of 100. Yes, 14 years, 0% inflation and technically a much better pair of boots. Shall I treat myself to some new ones? No, my current pair are still perfect and besides, I don’t have 100 to spare.