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August 15, 2005


Little did Paula Radcliff know when she set off on her winning World Athletics Championships marathon race, that I was also participating in a similar task. I decided to install Windows 2000 on my home PC.

My harddrive died completely recently, which is pretty lucky as I only just realised I was under prepared and backed everything up a few months ago. But I had a spare 40Gb drive at the back of my desk (well, doesn't everyone?) so I set to work on it.

The actual installation is pretty painless, I picked nothing unusual and let it run it's course. Then I installed the graphics drivers (I refuse to work in 800*600 16 colour mode for more than 5 minutes). Even the Buffalo USB wireless card worked first time and DHCP to my router upstairs automatically connected me to the internet with no problems.

As Paula hit the 15K mark, I was going strong, but then the real battle began - Windows Update.

It would seem sensible for Microsoft to have some kind of mass update that you can apply to a new install. Vulnerabilities are discovered all the time, and software is tweaked and upgraded. My Win2K CD only contains an old 5.0 release of Internet Explorer and MSN Messenger won't even install with that. But all the updates are separate, and many of them have to be installed exclusively, and the PC needs to reboot every single time.

So I gainfully struggled on, and broke away from the pack, as the list of updates required gradually shrunk, and finally passed the finish line in front, with a nice fresh clean and shiny installation, about two and a half hours later.

I didn't get a personal best (11Mbps wireless LAN is too slow for that and there were many Mb of downloads), but then neither did Paula.

Posted by se71 at 03:22 PM | Comments (0)

Coldplay - Talk

The new album by Coldplay - X&Y - has a few really good tracks near the beginning, but after about half way it loses steam somewhat and finishes with some very poor efforts. In the middle of the mix though, is a great little song that should make them millions - "Talk".

They've grabbed the riff from Kraftwerk's "Computer Love" and moved it into the rock guitar realm. It sounds really good, and is as addictive in this form as it was originally when done by synth.

So where are the millions going to come from - advertising. Mobile phone operators must be jumping over each other to offer money for this track - here's some of the lyric:

"so you take a picture of something you see
in the future where will i be? "

"so you dont know where you're going but you wanna talk"

"Lets talk"

Imagine some fancy whizzy graphics, young photogenic people with cameraphones, this music emphasing the key "Talk" and "Picture" words. How can it fail?

But it doesn't even stop there - Microsoft, Intel and Apple, with their multimedia hats on, will also want a piece of the action. Products like Garageband that allow home users to mix their own music tracks will be nicely served with this snippet from the song

"you could climb a ladder up to the sun
or write a song nobody had sung
or do something that's never been done
do something that's never been done"

Of course I could be wrong. Coldplay wear their eco-warrior carbon-neutral hearts very much on their sleeves. But perhaps donating the money to world debt, and getting a second wind for album sales once this honeymoon period is fading, will persuade them it's the right thing to do.

The only thing that confuses me is why didn't they use one of their own tunes for these lyrics? Krafterk will of course need a large cut of this advertising revenue.

Posted by se71 at 02:00 PM | Comments (0)


Boy finds mermaid, boy loses mermaid, boy finds mermaid again.

Tom Hanks is a very young man in this film, yet instead of enjoying his freedom, he's already feeling that he's never going to find the right girl for him. Paraphrasing his his on-screen brother John Candy, "Get a life!". But this sadness and yearning is all because he actually met his life partner when he fell off a boat as a child. The only trouble is - she's a mermaid.

When he manages to fall in the water again, Darryl Hannah, the mermaid in question, finds him again and saves him. Then she comes into the city, naked except for some carefully positioned long blond hair, and they get together.

A mad scientist puts a spanner in the works when he exposes her, and she gets taken away to be experimented on. But it all works out in the end, and Tom and Darryl swim off to mermaid land together.

This is a pretty nice film; funny, silly, slapstick, with a good heart. Kids love it, and grownups can also enjoy it - especially John Candy, who plays his normal affable and hilarious character.

How on earth did it get an Oscar nomination for best original writing though!

Posted by se71 at 01:39 PM | Comments (1)

August 12, 2005


So, finally it begins. It's always fun to look at a big poster full of actors you don't know, and to know that you'll have the details of all their characters memorised in a few short weeks. Thus it is with Lost - there are several good looking men and women, some white, black, asian. There is a fat character, a boy, an oldish bald man, and a hobbit.


I have now seen the first two episodes, and I know that the hobbit is actually a rock musician with a drug habit. The boy has just lost his mother to cancer and is with his estranged father. The dark haired woman was a prisoner in hand-cuffs during the flight, but she's actually a pretty nice person. The tough-looking guy with the short hair and white shirt is a doctor and very good in a crisis indeed, and he has a big tattoo on his shoulder. There is an Iraq soldier who fought against the US in the Gulf War, but seems to have changed sides now. And the pregnant woman, is, well, still pregnant. There are about 14 major characters in all, we don't know many of them that well yet, some haven't even spoken any English.

Learning about the secret past lives of the people is a big part of this series. It's obvious that nobody will really be who they appear. It's also probable that the accident wasn't even that. But I'm getting ahead of myself here - just what is the plot?

We first see our characters escaping from a passenger airliner that has crashed on a remote island in the south Pacific. There are over fifty survivors, and at least one person is seriously injured. As they pull themselves together and wait for rescue, they hear weird sounds coming from the jungle, and the tress sway as if there is a big monster in there.

Some survivors go to look for the front section of the plane which has fallen some way away, to try and find a transceiver to radio for help. They find the pilot, still alive after 16 hours, and he tells them that they were completely off course, so potential rescuers will be looking for them in completely the wrong place. The weird noises start again, and then...well, I won't give too much away, but it isn't pretty.

Knowing that there are 25 episodes, and that a second series is in the pipeline, puts me in the notion that this band of people are going to be spending quite some time together on the island. Something really odd, and dangerous, is going on there with the wildlife. No one is quite what they seem, and factions will develop within the group with plenty of scope for tension.

All in all, it's a nicely acted piece of drama, with great potential, and essential Wednesday night viewing.

Posted by se71 at 02:33 PM | Comments (0)

August 09, 2005


The folding bike from Strida looks like a really cool piece of kit..
I really wanted one and had a look at their online store for prices.

£159.95 seemed a bit steep for a few tubes of aluminium, but I reasoned that I'd save a few pounds on tube fares and car parking. I had another brainwave too, I could take it to Majorca on holiday with me and save on bike hire there. I was getting quite excited and started to place an order.

That's where the problems started.

For this price, I don't seem to get folding pedals or handlebars (it's supposed to be a convenient folding bike - and yet the basic model doesn't fold properly). Interestingly, their fancy rotating display on the website here shows a bike with these folding features. This is a bit sneaky. Even the main page has this proper folding model and shows it with a rear rack, also not included as standard.

It gets more confusing. Going to the online store, the bike is listed as already coming with folding handlebars, but the 'performance kit' has both handlebars and pedals, and includes things I don't need like coloured mudguards and a different saddle. Where is the performance benefit in that? Do I need this kit at all? It costs an extra £69.95.

A padded bag to put the bike in to take it on a flight is also pretty expensive at £49.95.

Total is now up to £279.85.

Trying to persuade myself that I can still afford that, if I make sure I don't drive anywhere for the next six months, I enter my details on the web form. Then I stop short when I realise that the pricing isn't really finished. I notice that in the small print there are charges for VAT and shipping, and these aren't displayed on the summary page or shown included in the final total.

They are trying to take my credit card details without telling me what the real price is.

I find this kind of underhand price hiking very annoying. Companies should be up front about what you will be paying for a product. I'm not even sure they are allowed to take off the VAT and display figures like this in the UK. Car manufacturers give you an 'on the road' price, and they have to include more complex taxing options.

So I decide to 'Push Back' (TM) and email Customer Support about this. The email web form manages to lose my text once, and I have to retype my name and email address, but I'm used to this kind of lazy programming and have saved the main text in the clipboard before previewing it. I paste it in and off it goes.

To their credit, they come back within the hour with an answer. Unhappily, it wasn't the answer I wanted. They say that VAT isn't added as they are an international seller. But I've already asked for a price in Sterling, and told them my address in the United Kingdom. Is it Strida's sales policy to have each potential customer email them to ask for a final price?

The new price, they tell me, with VAT, and with delivery charges which I thought would be free, have now taken the total up to a whopping £349.97. That's nearly £200 more than my original price, and takes it into the realm of the Brompton, a bike with a great reputation that I see every day on the train and tube.

I then get an email from the Managing Director, who is very friendly, but tells me they can't do anything about the web pricing as it's an industry standard e-commerce platform. A shopping cart that doesn't tell you what price you are paying doesn't seem very sensible to me. I now want to remove the carry bag to try and reduce the price, and maybe add a bell (which is a legal requirement), but do I have to email customer support every time I make an adjustment to the order?

It all gets too frustrating, and I'm running out of time to get it for my holiday, so I give in.


I didn't buy the bike, and had a nice holiday anyway :-)

Upon returning I find an email from Strida asking me to correct any inaccuracies in my post, so I've reread it, and have also had another go at the shopping cart.

They have hiked their prices up a bit so that a bike with folding handlebars and a travel bag is now £364.85 The site does work better, and that total now includes VAT. They have moved the folding handlebars option clearly into the performance kit.

So after all that, I now very clearly see that I can't afford the bike :-/ C'est la vie.

Posted by se71 at 02:49 PM | Comments (0)

August 02, 2005

Holiday Web Sites

Reading Dave Cross' entry today on badly designed websites reminds me to blog this.

I wanted to book a holiday with Thomas Cook. This is a not inconsiderable amount of money - over £2K, so perhaps you'd think they would test the entry forms to see if they work. No chance.

After spending hours searching for the right option, I finally took the plunge and started to enter my details. My 12 year old daughter is obviously in the 2-12 age group, and yet they only allowed me to enter a year of birth going back to 1993. If you can't give me a freeform entry field, at least test that the limits work.

I'd love to finish this post by saying that they lost my business, but as it was really good value, I called the helpline and the person on the phone took my booking straight away over the phone.

Searching for and booking a family holiday online is still a nightmare. Room occupany is stupid - surely there are a million families with two children who want to all share a one bedroom apartment. And pricing is ludicrous - my daughter has gone from being 11 to being 12 this year, and this means Virgin treat her as an adult and suddenly my holiday with them jumps nearly £800 - so they lost my business this year. And yes, their occupancy forms just don't work anyway. It's almost enough to make you go down the High Street.

Posted by se71 at 01:55 PM | Comments (0)