Bebo

Things happening at Bebo.

I’ve just noticed a comment in the press saying that Michael Birch, one of the founders of Bebo, has actually bought it back in some bankruptcy sale for around $1 million – if we go back in time a bit to Bebo’s peak, I think Birch sold it off to AOL for something around $850 million. That was at a time where in many countries Bebo was the dominant social networking site, this being at a time before Facebook had really started its rise to domination.

I do remember at the start of an academic year walking through one of the computer areas in my campus library and noticing one or two of the students had this Bebo site up on their screens. At that time I had not heard of it before and was curious as to what it was. Fast forward 12 weeks and we’re almost at the Christmas break, walking through the same computer area again and found an almost exact opposite situation – where there were only one or two people who did not have a Bebo window up somewhere on their monitor. It really had gone from nowhere to everywhere that quickly. However Birch then sold it off to AOL, and once they got their hands on it they did their usual thing and made a total pig’s ear of it.

The faster something rises up then the faster it can fall down, and so under AOL’s guidance it rapidly descanted into almost total oblivion and irrelevance. AOL in turn sold it on to Criterion Capital Partners. However it did maintain (and still does as far as I can tell) a sort of core number of active users on the site.

Now that Michael Birch has paid $1 million to get it back I wonder what he’s got planned for it. He can’t just re-invent it as it was, Twitter and Facebook have taken that ground away from him. So what will he do?

I think it is going to be a case of ‘I’ve no idea’, because if it was that obvious such that I could think of it someone else would have already done it, so he’s going to have to come up with something quite novel and new.

After all, it is one thing to develop a brand new site that no one has ever heard of so it doesn’t have either a good or bad reputation; it’s another thing to pick up an old site which is seen by many as a bit of a joke and to try and turn it around. On the other hand he has got a well-known brand name behind him again. We’ll just have to see what he does with it, I’m almost tempted to sign up again purely to keep an eye as to what may develop.

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MacBook Air or MacBook Pro?

One or two people recently have been talking to me about buying either a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro.

Both I think are pretty awesome devices, I have an 11″ MacBook Air and think it’s great. It’s done everything I’ve asked of it including using Final Cut and Premiere Pro for video editing. Okay, it’s certainly not my first choice of editing devices, the rendering times are not that fast, but for a quick on-the-move video creation it can do the business (and if it can do that then it can do most things).

The Air is nearly half the weight of the Pro and its power charger is also lighter which makes it a very portable package. The Pro with its extra weight and thickness can pack a far more powerful processor, memory and allows for a larger range of hard drives. Pro options also allow for a proper dedicated graphics processing card which would make it a far more games (or video editing) friendly machine. The Pro is quite a bit more expensive.

So for me it boils down to this. Is this laptop going to be solely used as a laptop in that you do have an alternative desktop machine to use at home (or work), or is this laptop also going to be used as a desktop substitute?

If just as a laptop then I’d go Air and take advantage of its lightness and portability. If it was also going to be used as my main desktop machine too, then I’d go Pro.

What I do find interesting is that when the Air first came out it was seen as a premium product, something a bit different and priced well above the basic MacBook range of laptops. Now its their ‘budget model’. Amazing how things change.

YouTube video about it.
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VEDA thoughts

Been a bit distracted over the last month uploading a video every day in April (VEDA) to YouTube.

This VEDA thing is not as easy as it sounds and many an experienced vlogger has tried but failed to achieve it.

It can start off easily enough. Everybody has those few things they like to talk about, however once you’ve got them sorted plus a few other things you want to have a good rant over, then finding something to say *every day* (remembering you have to record, edit and then upload) for the rest of the month can be really demanding. No break, no taking a day off, every day a new video has to be processed.

This is definitely something where that phrase ‘proper planning prevents piss poor performance’ (or whatever your own variation of it happens to be) really comes into its own. In a way it should not be that difficult.

The first day an introductory video, the last one wrapping things up. That leaves 28 days, or 4 weeks to be covered. Four weeks, then how about 4 stories, each story told in 7 instalments and each instalment being about a minute long. (Can’t be that difficult can it?)

Or rather than 4 stories, give each day a theme. Mondays cover your favourite foods, Tuesdays about music, Wednesdays about work (school / college), Thursday films… You get the idea, give yourself some proper structure to work around.

Just noticing that it’s about to start and saying to yourself ‘sod this I’ll give it a go and see what happens’ is not really the best way to go about things. However I did manage to do an upload every day (split across two different channels) so in that respect VEDA was achieved, but a little bit of thought and pre-planning would have made things so much easier, more enjoyable, and produced far better quality output.

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Technology Firsts

Two of my Technology Firsts.

My first computer technology experience involved buying a Sinclair ZX81 computer, and in a way it was my first technology disappointment. It was a small, light ‘home computer’ that came with 1k of memory (though I did get its 16k expansion pack) and fed its monochrome output to a television. It was, in its own way a fun device to use and could even play a far better game of chess than I ever could. (You try today to get someone to write a fully working chess game using less than 16k of ram!) However what let it down was an awful membrane keyboard, but what really killed it for me was an unreliable program loading and data saving system. The device had no internal storage system so you had to use a domestic cassette deck connecting its headphone and microphone sockets into the side of the ZX81. This was so temperamental and unreliable – getting the cassette player playback and record levels correct, sorting out cassette start and stop routines – it made using the ZX81 a real pain.

I could see that computers were the way to go, so later replaced this with a Commodore VIC-20. What I liked about the Commodore (compared to the then available Sinclair Spectrum) was that the Commodore had a really nice typewriter style keyboard and its own dedicated cassette tape drive for data storage.

Another technology first was my first mobile phone – a Sony CM-R111. This was a wonderful device. It could only do one thing – make phone calls – but I really loved it to bits. A small device which almost fitted in the palm of your hand (at the time when so many were large chunky ‘bricks’) and with a rather novel flip-down microphone. This was at the time when the mobile system was an analogue one, so no text messaging or fancy data systems, just simple phone calls!

YouTube video.

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Google Reader

So Google is shutting down Reader.

In one way I’m not too concerned, I never seriously used Google Reader so I won’t miss it. However it makes me wonder how much I can rely on Google’s current services. They do seem to be developing a habit of just as people are getting used to something or getting to rely on it they’ll either close it down or ‘integrate’ it into something else. For some things it really doesn’t matter, but where you’ve spent time and money developing your own system around it or you use it in some financial way then things may be different.

I hadn’t realised how many services they had killed off till I did a Wiki search on the subject, and that threw up a list of over 70 of them. Okay, sometimes something can quite simply be a failure and is just a drain on resources so needs to go. Other times technology (or life) has moved on so the service needs to be re-developed, but when something like Reader is killed off at virtually no notice I’ve got to be thinking what’s next on the chopping block – perhaps something I do regularly use and rely on.

This has got me thinking that perhaps I should be duplicating more of my Google based services across onto Yahoo or see what Microsoft are doing regarding ‘the cloud’. I can’t say that I’m that keen on Yahoo and don’t particularly like Microsoft, it will mean that even more of ‘big brother’ will be watching me, but then they’re watching me anyway!

One thing it will be and that is a bit of a pain keeping things synchronised when copied across to different service providers,  however this has been a wake-up call / reminder of the importance of having alternative back-ups!

 

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Internet Privacy

 So what about internet privacy and being anonymous.

My main browser is Google Chrome, and on machines I regularly use I have it set up so things like my bookmarks automatically come up. I also use YouTube, Google calendar and various other Google services, so I know (and accept) that Google is ‘watching me’. I’m happy enough (realistic enough) to accept that my level of internet privacy is rather limited.

I also use Firefox, occasionally Opera, and very occasionally Internet Explorer – usually just for those sites that insist on only working with IE (almost always work related ones that I can’t avoid).
When it comes to searching, then it’s usually Google. Occasionally I’ll try Bing or Yahoo, not for any special reason other than as something different for a change. They do actually throw up quite different results – try searching for your own name and see the different number of hits they show.

Early Saturday afternoon and it’s time to head into the city. A couple of places I wanted to go to so a quick internet search to remind me of their locations. However rather than search through Google I thought I’d try using ixquick (which claims to be the world’s most private search engine). I’d heard of it and was curious to see how it performed, which was exactly as expected. It threw up a page of sensible responses, and even from the couple of lines displayed against each of the results I could see enough of an address to remind me where these places were.

What surprised me was that ten minutes later when I picked up my (Android) phone was to see a message from Google giving me directions to one of the places I’d searched for through this ‘private’ search engine.

What I suspect had happened was that browsers often automatically start to download any links that are on the page being looking at, so if you then click on the link that new page will appear so much more quickly. On my search page one of those links will have been a Google Maps page, Google will have recognised the machine this request came from and promptly, being extra-clever (!!!), sent to my Android / Google powered phone instructions on how to get there.

There’s more to keeping yourself private on the internet than people realise!

https://www.ixquick.com/

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Student Confidence

Something I see quite often with the higher education students I’m around is a loss of confidence in themselves.

On the surface they appear to be growing, both physically and mentally, but underneath not all is well. Most I see come straight from school, teenagers, where they have worked themselves up to ‘top-dog’ position within their own school hierarchy. They come in to start their degree courses and it’s all new and novel. For many it’s the first time they’ve truly been away from parental control! This is all something different to be explored, they’re often a bit nervous but it’s still really exciting. This is at the start, what about at the end.

The courses I see them do typically last five years, so having come in full of the joys of proverbial youth they are leaving as adults. Maybe relatively young adults, but still very much adults.

They’ve grown up!

Sometimes this transition into adulthood can happen quite quickly. I’ve seen students I’d class as teenagers at the start of a semester, but by the end, 12 weeks later, I realise I’m talking to an adult. That’s a fast change! More usually it’s a gentle development spread over three or four years. However for some it can cause problems.

As they start to grow up there is the realisation and appreciation that their actions do have consequences, and in turn other people’s actions have consequences upon them. Things you did as a teenager would just be passed off as a bit of fun, as a bit of youthful exuberance. It really didn’t matter as tomorrow would be another day and yesterday would soon be forgotten. Now however those same actions are viewed differently, you are being held responsible for your behaviour in the same way that you now hold others responsible for their behaviour. So there develops a need to gain the approval and acceptance from others of what you’re doing, you can’t just brush things off as if they don’t matter.

For some this is just part of growing up. For others it can make them stop and question what they did before, and this in turn lead to uncertainty as to what they are doing now. When 17 or 18 I thought I was reasonably grown up and mature, but looking back I can see I really wasn’t. How could I have had that attitude then, but I currently now think I’m ‘gown up and mature’, so in reality are my current activities of similar worthlessness?

What about the future? As a teenager I saw the future as just something out there, for tomorrow, not now; but ‘now’ has arrived and there’s uncertainty as to what will happen tomorrow. (All through education you had a fair idea where you would be this time next year – back in the class room; but once you get into final year, where will you be in 12 months’ time – you will not be here!)

For some this can lead to a crisis of confidence in themselves. Where are they going and what do they want to do with themselves. Uncertainty which in turn can lead to depression; a mix of not knowing and what’s the point anyway. Usually by the time it comes to them leaving with their degrees most have developed enough to get a workable amount of control back into their lives. For others though, uncertainty can remain. However in current society showing ‘weakness’ is itself seen as being weak, so up go the false walls and barriers.

But like it or not, it is eventually time for them to move on, life does not stand still. Whatever happens, you just have to do the best you can to suit whatever situation you find yourself in. That’s life!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQm-xWE0Bcg

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Samsung Galaxy Note 2

I’ve had my Samsung Galaxy Note 2 for a couple of months now, and I must admit I like it more than I expected.

As much as I also like my iPhone 3GS, towards the end of last year it started to physically fall to bits, my contract was fast approaching renewal time, and it was also approaching Apple announcement time for the new iPhone.

However as we’ll as looking forward to seeing what this new iPhone was going to be like, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 had also got my attention. Something a bit new and different, but was very uncertain about its size. Then we had the new iPhone announcement and I was not overly impressed with it. A slightly bigger screen, a bit more powerful, more a collection of minor updates than anything new and exciting, so gave the Note 2 another look.

It was not an easy decision to actually go for it. A great deal of time was spent in phone shops handling the original Note and then the Note 2 once it arrived on the high street, but I eventually got fed up with all this messing around and went for it.

For me two things really stand out.

Firstly, the obvious one, size. Is it really too big for routine use? However within an hour of getting it out of its box I had acclimatised to it, it really was that quick. No longer did I see it as large but other devices now felt so small and dinky. Despite its size it fits into the hand quite nicely (unlike something like the iPad Mini where you’re having to stretch your hand around to hold it).

For those who like to do things one-handed, lots of tasks can still be performed that way. The virtual keyboard is within reach of your thumb, however you can bias it for left or right handed use if you prefer. Have all your commonly used icons located on the lower half of the screen and there’s very few times you have to really stretch or go two handed if you don’t want to.

However I much prefer using it two-handed (this has applied to all the phones I’ve had). I guess I’m an intrinsic two-handed user, I always found it so much more comfortable doing it that way. One hand for holding securely, the other for fast use.

The other thing that makes this phone stand out is its stylus. Hold the stylus with your hand positioned anywhere near the centre of the screen and with very little finger movement everything is within reach. The stylus is great for making note type jottings and the its handwriting recognition is far better than I expected. I’ve used various other devices with this feature over the years and up till now it always turned into a case of once the novelty wore off then that function fell into disuse, but the Note 2’s system works amazingly well. I’ve even just used a finger to write on the screen and that’s been good enough for the system to work with. The stylus is also pressure sensitive, so for those who like drawing and that sort of thing there’s potential for great fun there.

Going back to its size, it will fit into a typical back pocket, but over the years (regardless of size or type of phone) I’ve never been one for carrying phones around like that. Too easy to lose or damage. This, like all my earlier ones, happily lives in a pouch on my trouser belt. This also gets round the problem of remembering where you last put it; jacket pocket, hold-all, bag, on the table… I’ve never yet forgotten where my trousers are!

I use the phone mainly for data related stuff; it’s constantly monitoring various e-mail accounts, messaging, web browsing and general internet use. Also as an ‘office assistant’ for calendar and appointments, occasionally as a wi-fi hot spot, it’s not often used for voice or as a music device. I’m getting a comfortable two days (occasionally three) between recharges, though I do leave wi-fi and 3G switched off except when I need them.
I’ve found the current Android operating system (4.1) fast and snappy. As someone who also has an iPhone and an iPad, iOS now seems so clunky to use it’s becoming irritating, where this Android version seems to have the edge over it.

I have no special loyalty to Apple or to Android (or to any other operating system), they’re just systems and devices for getting jobs done. So when given the choice a couple of months ago of going either iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy Note 2 I went for the Note 2 and have no regrets.
I’ll be quite happy one day to go back to Apple, but if they want me back they’ll have to do something quite remarkable.

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Belkin LiveAction Microphone

Last Christmas I was given a present of a Belkin LiveAction microphone, so I thought I’d give it the once over.

On the box it stated that it was for iPhone / iPad type devices, however it uses the standard jack plug that’s common across most devices. It worked without any problems on the two different Samsung phones I have.

It’s about 12 cm / 4.75 inches long, so not that large, but is quite big compared to the size of a phone. If plugged into the phone and you’re using the camera that facing the way the microphone is pointing, then end of the mic may come into view. (Just something to be aware of.)

Once plugged in, there is a small knob to turn that helps to secure the device to the phone. On the side there is a three position switch. Off, close-up directional, long distance ‘super-directional’. It uses a standard AAA size battery.

Over the years, phone manufacturers have spent a lot of time, money and effort in improving their internal microphones. Under standard indoor conditions I didn’t find any huge advantage to using the Belkin. Where it really did come into play was outside. Using its standard directional setting it picked up my voice quite nicely while cutting out (or at least reducing to an acceptable level) most of the other background sounds. At one time I was standing beside a busy road where the level of traffic noise was such that if I was talking to somebody standing beside me I’d have had to shout, however the Belkin picked up my speech nicely. I can see this having some potential in a gig or live event type situation where you want the sound from the stage while minimising the noise from the crowd beside you.

Using it switched to its super-directional mode it did pick up speech from quite a few metres / yards away. The quality of sound was not particularly good, however I’d rather have some sound that may be poor but I can work with that no sound at all! I can’t see myself using it in this mode very much, though I guess it’s handy to have there.

Overall I rather like it. With phone video quality improving more and more people are using this function when out and about, and under difficult conditions this Belkin does do a better job than the phone’s internal microphone. It does however still pick up wind noise, I must look out for a windshield / dead cat screen for it.

 

 

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YouTube Messages

Youtube mandatory e-mails!

Recently I got a YouTube mandatory email. Something of such importance that it must sent to me regardless of any email preferences I may have set.

I have no problem with that. There are times where information must be passed on. Major network disruption, significant changes in terms and conditions, something that may have to be sent in order to comply with some legal requirement… I can live with that sort of thing.

So what was this important mandatory email about… it was about YouTube wanting me to watch their 10 most-buzzed videos of the year.

That’s right, they consider it to be so important that I see parody videos and how a baseball team helped break a pop song that they sent me a mandatory message.

I find this a sad reflection of how YouTube is now descending into mass commercialism with no real thought or consideration to their users, even though these users are the very people who clicks on the advert links and the like which is in turn how YouTube makes much of its money!

The other thing is that it degrades the importance users will put on mandatory email messages. If all they are going to do is forcibly e-mail me crap then I’ll just end up ignoring them.

Or maybe I have this all wrong. Maybe my life does depend on me watching a pop song video. Maybe.

Maybe I’ll spend a lot more time on Vimeo instead.

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