Geek art homage: BloodhoundSSC & Raspberry Pi

At an IET talk on Raspberry Pi this week, I met someone who works on BloodhoundSSC – the awe-inspiring, faster-than-a-bullet, 1,000mph car project. Both Raspberry Pi and BloodhoundSSC are fantastic UK STEM education initiatives doing a great job of engaging geeks of all ages.  Suitably inspired, I couldn’t resist paying homage with my Pi-powered light painting gizmo. Here’s the resulting living room geek art that celebrates these two UK technology icons. Hope you like!?

Long exposure light painting showing BloodhoundSSC car on left and Raspberry Pi logo on right

Geek art homage to BloodhoundSSC and Raspberry Pi

Domino’s Falling Down

For some time I’ve held Domino’s in high regard for the ease of their online pizza ordering. Fun and functional, I thought. Today I experienced an acute counter example from my attempt to order a pizza on the way home from work.

Step 1 – Start the iPhone app – denied!

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Step 2 – Upgrade the app – denied!

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Step 3 – Realise they’ve created a new app rather than updating the previous one

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Step 4 – Download the new app – denied!

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Step 5 – Give up on app and decide to use web browser, only to be told…

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Aaaaargh! I persevered and ordered successfully eventually. Would have been far quicker to place my order by phone – but smartphones aren’t really for phoning, are they?! In the end the pizza was ok, but the ordering process for once left a bitter taste in my mouth!

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.

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!

Will iPhone 4 speak English?

My iPhone 3GS doesn’t speak English as I know it.  The “Favorites”, “Airplane Mode” and “Carrier” menu items to my mind should be “Favourites”, “Flight-safe Mode” and “Network”.  Odd that my iPhone knows how to space UK telephone numbers correctly (I know few people who do), and how to correct my spelling in text messages, but lets itself down with its own menu terminology.  Ho hum.  At least the upgrade to iOS4 is free – bring on 21st June. When my third-party apps can multitask, I’m bound to get more done 🙂

Consumers: What OEM really stands for

If you’ve ever bought any computer components, you might have come across the term “OEM”.  Typically this identifies bare-bones products that are intended for system builders to build into their systems, and therefore these products usually lack the refinements that would be present in a consumer-orientated retail package.

So I reckon from a consumer perspective OEM really stands for “Optional Extras Missing”, which surely makes more sense than the confusing proper term “Original Equipment Manufacturer“.