Too much toothpaste!

J and I were having a clear out the other day and realised we have an unnecessarily large stockpile of toothpaste! As if that’s not rock-and-roll enough, I noticed that Colgate has mis-spelled “anti-bacterial” on its teeny 25ml tube. Maybe they should brush up on their proof reading?

Long line of parallel toothpaste tubes

Too much toothpaste?

25ml Colgate toothpaste tube showing mis-spelling "antibacerial"

The "i" is dotted, but where's the "t" in anti-bacterial?

HulloMail – Visual voicemail for smartphones

Apple revolutionised voicemail with the iPhone. Rather than the traditional approach of calling your voicemail service and listening to each message in turn, “Visual Voicemail” brings the ability to see voicemails in a list (like an email inbox).  At last you can tell at a glance who called you when, and listen to your messages in the order you want rather than the order they were left. Even better – since the messages are downloaded onto your phone – you can listen to them even if you’re out of coverage and unable to dial into your voicemail.  This is fantastic for areas of poor reception where calls can be hit-or-miss – for example the office where I’m spending most of my days at the moment.

Sadly, VisualVoicemail is not offered by Orange UK (my mobile provider).  Vodafone UK users are similarly out of luck.  Only O2 (the original and erstwhile-exclusive UK iPhone purveyor) bothered decided to upgrade its systems to offer VisualVoicemail.  Naturally, Orange and Vodafone keep this quiet and still charge full-Apple-whack despite their second-rate voicemail service.

Maybe one Screenshot of HulloMail app on iPhoneday the cheapskates/laggards will get around to supporting VisualVoicemail.  In the meantime, thankfully, there is a workable alternative in the shape of HulloMail – essentially an app for iPhone, Android, Blackberry and other smartphones.  It’s even free-of-charge, if you can put up with ads and limited storage – otherwise pay a few quid for the ad-free version. It might not be quite as slick-looking or as snappily named as the original Apple offering, but it’s available.  It works.  I like it.  Read all about it.

PS: It was Orange that prompted this post.  They sent me an iPhone survey from their Better Together community, asking if I’d heard of Visual Voicemail and if I’d use it.  Too right.  Bring it on.  At least I’ve got HulloMail in the meantime…

iPad – why I pass (for now)

Sad iPadYou’ve probably seen adverts for Apple’s new iPad – it’s been splashed across TV and billboards nationwide. A sleek, touchscreen multimedia tablet with Apple’s customary ease of use; it is a very attractive device. But I’m not buying one. At least, not yet. Despite its many virtues, it doesn’t quite stack up as an ownership proposition.

What can the iPad do? It’s basically the iPhone’s big brother – excelling at all the usual email, web, iPod, multimedia stuff – and of course Apps. The bigger screen makes it easier to navigate and digest content, and makes it practical to read eBooks and electronic magazines (like the iPad edition of WIRED magazine). Compared to a conventional laptop, the tablet design is much neater and the touchscreen control more friendly – this really is a fantastic device with which to sit back and enjoy web and multimedia content. So what’s stopping me?

Any prospective new computing device would need to earn its place alongside my phone (iPhone 3GS) and my laptop (Dell XPS M1330), or replace one of those outright. The iPad can’t replace a phone (I’d look like Dom Joly shouting into his oversized brick), nor can it do everything I need from my laptop (downloading photos from my camera and culling/geotagging/organising them whilst on holiday is just one obvious example).  The obvious place for using the iPad is around the house.  That leaves the iPad needing to carve out a house-bound ‘multimedia’ niche:

  • Living Room/Sofa: Lots of potential here.  Browse the web and keep up-to-date with personal email/social/calendar/tasks stuff in tandem with telly watching (or video/music playback from our media library) – with an iPad that comes to life quicker than a PC (even running Windows 7 – recommended!).  The iPad could act as a great touchscreen remote control for media playback across our home network (via the brilliant PlugPlayer app). I had been considering dedicating a second-hand iPod Touch as a remote control, but an iPad could help earn its keep there.
  • Kitchen: Just think how much better an iPad would be than an iPhone – for watching online TV, doing online grocery shopping or to help with the cooking (using the fantastic Jamie Oliver’s 20 Minute Meals app or the freshly minted Waitrose app).  Remember to cover it in cling film first, so grubby cooking hands don’t mess up the screen.  There’s no way I’d use a laptop in the kitchen!

So, what’s the problem?  The fundamental problem is that the iPad is a single-user device. Only one person can set up their details on it.  This makes sense on a phone, but not on a larger multimedia device like the iPad that begs to be shared between people.  Say I’ve set up details of my email and other online services (Google Apps, Facebook, Flickr etc) on an iPad and then hand it to J, she would have to log out of each of the services and then log in as herself.  And vice versa when it’s my turn next.  Families with kids who are buying an iPad as a ‘family’ device are going to have bother (e.g. when little Johnny emails Dad’s boss, or deletes all of Mum’s Google Contacts). That’s a long way behind my laptop, which allows J and me to maintain separate profiles – we just log in with a quick fingerprint swipe and all our settings are as we left them.  The iPad is a fantastic bit of hardware that’s ideally suited to sharing (for example, the wide viewing angle of the display), but the iPad’s single-user operating system (rooted in iPhone beginings) limits sharing to “look at my iPad screen” rather than “let’s make this our iPad”.

Steve Jobs would no doubt say “just buy two”.  I say, “when it’s ready, I’ll buy one”.

Update 17/08/2010: Rumours suggest there might be a second-generation iPad on the way by the end of the year.  It will need to compete with a range of alternatives, the most interesting of which appears to be the Android-based Samsung Galaxy Tablet.  I’ve also found an interesting comparison between the iPad and Tablet PCs.

Flattr – Funding quality web content

Would you put your money where your mouse is?

On holiday a few months ago, I was chatting with J and Tim about the uncertain future of free-to-access, quality content on the Internet. People are accustomed to getting quality content for nothing. Take TrustedReviews for example – a great UK site that helps its users to sort the new technology wheat from the chaff. Typically, such sites rely heavily on the funding they gain from the adverts they include on their pages. However, tech-savvy users increasingly employ ad blocking software to hide ever-more-intrusive adverts vying for their attention. Clearly this situation is not sustainable, and something has to give.  Either the content vanishes, or the consumer needs to pay – one way or another.

At one extreme, advertising becomes so perfectly targeted that people consider it a benefit and welcome it as part of their online experience. At the other extreme, people are given a way to “put their money where their mouse is”, paying their preferred content providers in return for an advert-free experience.

To my mind, neither extreme is currently credible. Firstly, perfect targeting of adverts would require the advertiser to have an inconceivable level of knowledge about the user that few users would tolerate. Secondly, paying for advert-free content is typically done on a subscription basis, and I don’t see users being prepared to set up and manage an ever-increasing set of commercial subscriptions.  And my idea of a paid-for “Internet Licence” (perhaps managed by ISPs), while reasonable in concept, could be a nightmare to administer (trying to justify which content providers deserve which fraction of the income) – and undoubtedly inconsistent across international boundaries.

Today I heard about Flattr – an interesting new service (ironcially set up by one of the Pirate Bay founders) that’s heading in right direction by letting users reward the producers of content they value.  In its current form it doesn’t give an ad-free experience, but I guess that could follow once content producers are confident that discretionary income can take the place of advertising revenue.

Here’s how the website describes itself:

  • Flattr is a social micropayment platform that lets you show love for the things you like.
  • Help support the people you like and enable them to continue with what they do.
  • Add your own things to Flattr and receive appreciation from others.

I think I might give it a go.  But I must admit, I’d really rather pay a little more to my ISP and have them do the running around on my behalf – rewarding the content providers I access in return for fewer adverts.

Boring football – time for a change?

To say I’m not a big football fan is an understatement, so I’m not fussed about the current World Cup proceedings. That might be due in part to low-scoring matches, and the majority of the interest seemingly coming from off-the-pitch antics rather than on-the-pitch artistry.

Perhaps the game would benefit from a bit of a refresh? Some ideas:

  • vary the scoring
    • award extra points for two goals scored by the same side within 5 minutes?
    • award points for non-goals (e.g. fractional points for shots on target and near-goals – not near-misses, since those by definition are goals!)
  • use more than one ball – perhaps introduce an extra ball every 5 minutes until one side scores? Possibly change the ball design to make its motion less predictable.
  • vary team sizes – perhaps remove one player from each side every 5 minutes until one side scores (perhaps a player voted for in real-time by spectators) or remove one player from the scoring side for every goal scored
  • vary the goal post arrangement
    • vary the goal size/position during the match
    • increase the number of goal posts (perhaps one set on all four sides of the pitch)

No doubt the purists would be up-in-arms at the thought of tinkering with their “beautiful game” and, admittedly, some of the ideas would bring challenges for the players, referees, ground staff and/or spectators. I’m sure with recent advances in technology (e.g. in the television space Hawk-Eye, Interactive TV, IP TV, 3D TV and Virtual Cameras) many of the problems are surmountable. Times change; perhaps football should too?

Update 4/7/2010: Wimbledon-inspired ideas – split the match into several ‘sets’. Winner of a set must be 2 goals clear. Matches could be over in minutes or drag on for hours!

Revolutionary – celebrating my 33 1/3 birthday

A bit of light relief after a heavy UK budget announcement yesterday.

Today I reach a landmark: 33-and-a-third years as a visitor on planet Earth. As some will remember, that number is also the rotational speed (in RPM) of a Long Play (LP) gramophone record. I wonder how much longer people celebrating this birthday will remember buying an LP – it can’t be much longer?

Other gramophone record speeds I remember were 45rpm and (older) 78rpm – so the corresponding birthdays are a few years away yet. All the more reason to concoct some other spurious birthdays to celebrate in the meantime…

Oops – I deleted all of Google’s data!

Dear Google,

Sorry if you lost all your data recently, it was my fault.  The Google app on my iPhone had stopped working, so I deleted it in order to reinstall.  Here’s what my iPhone asked me…


I pressed “Delete” and in a flash it was gone, with all your data too presumably.  I must say, you seemed to restore all your data with lightning speed  – because my next Google search worked fine.  Keep up the good work.

Yours sincerely


0.9 repeater = 1 exactly

This blew my mind.  If you asked me a few days ago, I’d have said that 0.999999 (with 9’s repeating to infinity) could never exactly equal 1, since it would always be that little bit less than one.  Sure, it would tend towards one asymptotically, but it would never quite get there.  But here’s a proof someone told me to show that it does actually equal precisely one:

1/9 = 0.111111 (with 1s repeating to infinity)

Multiplying both sides by 9 gives:

1 = 0.999999 (with 9s repeating to infinity)

This seems to make much and little sense, simultaneously!  I guess infinity means an awful lot of nines.  My brain hurts.