Radio daze

If anyone’s reading this in Scotland, I’ll be on BBC Scotland’s Gary Robertson Show at around 11.20 to talk about biodegradable cellphones and environmentally-friendly gadgets. Unless it’s axed at the last minute, which is entirely possible.

Roam if you want to

After much procrastination I’ve finally got round to filing various bills, and I’ve discovered that in a period of ten days I managed to run up a mobile phone bill of £260 – despite being a very occasional mobile user. The culprit is international roaming, because I had to make a few calls when I was on holiday and then again when I was in the US to cover a product launch. One reasonably short call to my wife cost a rather alarming £20.

The rates (I’m on Orange) can make your bills very scary if you don’t use your phone sparingly when abroad: if you’re in Spain, calls cost 70p per minute, it’s 30p/min to receive calls and it’s 30p per SMS message. In the US it’s even more: £1.10 per minute for outgoing calls, 65p/min for incoming calls and 35p per SMS text. And billing is per minute, not per second, so a 1 minute 1 second call is charged as a 2 minute call. Thankfully I didn’t use my phone for data access, which I suspect would have cost a million pounds per minute.

By comparison, Spanish cybercafes charge 2 Euros for an hour’s net access. Next time I travel abroad, I’m sticking to email.

Apple does know it’s Christmas, after all

The spat between Apple and Band Aid seems to have been resolved: while Apple won’t budge on the 79p selling price (presumably because it doesn’t want to set a precedent that would enable record labels to try and charge more for songs they deem “special”), it’s donating an additional 70p per sale to the Band Aid Trust. As iTunes explains:

Since all songs on the Music Store are £0.79, we’ve decided to sell it for £0.79 and iTunes will donate an additional £0.70 for each song to the Band Aid Charitable Trust.

It’s a smart move but I do think Apple moved too slowly on this: the negative publicity could have been avoided altogether had Apple made the move on Monday.

Cracking down on the real pirates

While I’m the first person to bitch and moan about digital rights management, over-the-top attacks on file sharing and so on, there’s no doubt that real, physical piracy is a huge problem for the record industry – and it’s something I fully agree should be prosecuted, as the pirates are making money from unauthorised copying.

I’ve just received a BPI press release that makes interesting reading, based on raids carried out in Stirling and Falkirk at 28 private addresses and two markets. The items seized included:

3992 music CDs: Ready-made illegal music CDs, including counterfeits (fake copies of chart albums, such as 2004 best-selling albums from Keane, Dido and Snow Patrol), pirates (unauthorised single compilations and greatest hits albums), bootlegs (illegal recordings of live concerts) and MP3 CDs (illegal compilations containing as much as 10 albums per disc. Tracks are compressed and these are often used by counterfeiters as masters and sold for use on computers and MP3 players.)

2979 film videos and DVDs – including the bestselling Christmas titles such as Shrek 2 and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, with new pre-release films such as The Incredibles and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. The pre-release titles in particular are attractive with counterfeiters owing to the high prices the pirates can command on titles that are often as yet unreleased in UK cinemas.

A genuinely smart phone

I’ve spent years trying to find a smartphone that combines PDA and phone, and I’ve been disappointed with pretty much everything I’ve tried; for example my last phone, a Nokia 6600, is perfectly capable but it’s too big, too heavy and too damned slow to be of any use. However, thanks to my gadget-freak brother, I think I might actually have found a phone deserving of the “smart” label.

This is the Orange SPV c500, or at least it is in the UK: it’s known under all kinds of names around the world. It’s powered by Windows Mobile, seems to be reasonably bug-free, and covers all the bases: tri-band, GPRS, decent storage, plenty of customisation options and crucially, a reasonably small form factor.

It isn’t perfect – the joystick is fiddly, the alarm doesn’t always switch off when it should, it’s locked by default to prevent you installing unauthorised apps and the location of the mini-SD storage card is ridiculous – but it’s a vast improvement on the Nokia and I’m very impressed with it so far.

The only real problem I’ve encountered is in syncing with the Mac, which it isn’t designed to do; however, PocketMac software provides the missing sync features for Apple owners. Or at least, it should do: I’m currently speaking to PocketMac tech support because for no apparent reason, the Entourage sync isn’t behaving itself. Once that particular problem has been sorted out, I’ll be a happy man.

[Update, 24 January ’05]

Beware PocketMac – I’ve had endless problems with the software and for now, I can’t recommend that anyone should spend money on it. I’ll explain more when I get a few spare minutes.

Empire of the senseless

On Friday, BBC Radio Scotland’s Fred Macaulay show had the deputy editor of Empire magazine on to talk about the new Colin Farrell movie, Alexander. Asked whether it was a turkey or not he replied that he didn’t know; the film hadn’t been screened for UK critics yet. His words were echoed by the issue of Empire that went on sale the very same day: in its films of the year section, the magazine explained that Alexander couldn’t be considered because at the time of going to press, Empire hadn’t seen it.

So, er… why is there a full page review of Alexander in the same issue?

There are, of course, two ways to interpret this: the cynical way, and the benefit of the doubt way.

The cynical way: Alexander is the cover image of the magazine, and Empire isn’t going to let the small matter of not having seen a film prevent them from reviewing it. A quick visit to Rotten Tomatoes and you can get enough US reviews to make it sound as if you actually have seen the film.

The benefit of the doubt way: Empire got someone in the US to review the movie, which explains the comment in their “films of the year” section. Although it’s a bit worrying that the deputy ed can’t comment on whether the film they’ve devoted the current issue’s cover to is any cop or not.

Me, I reckon it’s the latter story. But it would have been sensible to mention it, or at least to have someone who *has* seen the film on the radio show…

A good Powerbook memory

A few weeks ago I blogged about the continuing saga of memory upgrades for my 15″ Powerbook: to summarise, it’s really picky and third party memory doesn’t always work.

Touch wood, the problem seems to have been solved: the nice people at Kingston have replaced the last lot of chips with a new pair, and so far today the PB’s been running fine with nary a trace of Kernel Panics or other nasties. For what it’s worth, if you’re planning to upgrade your 15″ PB then the product number of the happy chips is KTA-PBG4333/512.

Update, 1 December

So far, so good. The PowerBook’s been churning away for 24 hours now – I’ve been really hammering it – and I’ve had one kernel panic, which may well be due to the ridiculous amount of beta software on the machine. Waking from sleep is working all right, and everything seems relatively hunky dory. The only worry I do have is that when I switch the PB on, before the Apple logo appears I see an icon of a spanner with a question mark. I’m assuming that’s some kind of system message, but I haven’t encountered it before. Does anyone more knowledgeable than me know what it is? Do I need to reset PRAM and VRAM, and other things with lots of initials? Any advice appreciated…

Online shopping explained

In the run-up to Christmas, more and more of us will do some or all of our present shopping online. Unfortunately, many online shops use a secret language that can be hard for the unitiated to follow. In the spirit of helping my fellow man (and woman), here’s a handy guide to the most common phrases.

In stock.
Out of stock.

Out of stock. Due in 5 days.
We didn’t say which days, did we? They’re the 15th December, 4th January, 22nd September, 5th October and 1st November. 2009.

We despatch most orders on the same day.
By “most”, we mean “other people’s”.

This special offer expires on Thursday.
It’ll be cheaper on Friday.

We have a no-quibble returns policy.
Assuming you can find our returns address, which is hidden in a secret page on a completely different web site. And even if you do find it, sending stuff back will cost a fortune and will take forever. And then you’ll find that we have to order the replacement from Guatemala, and it will be delivered by carrier pigeon. A slow and easily confused carrier pigeon.

We accept all major credit cards.
Except yours.

Track the status of your order!
The page will say “awaiting processing” on the day you place the order, and won’t be updated until you die.

Choose your delivery slot.
Go on, choose one. We don’t have the slightest intention of delivering at that time, on that day or even in the same century.

Price promise.
We promise that if you find the product cheaper anywhere else, we’ll magically discover a hitherto invisible clause in the terms and conditions that specifically excludes any shops that are cheaper than ours.

State of the art.
In 1932.

Email customer service.
You honestly believe we read those messages? Sucker!

Compatible with everything except the specific hardware or software that you have.

Free delivery.
Assuming you don’t need it for this Christmas.

This week’s hot deal.
Our warehouse is full of crap that nobody wants. Please buy our crap. Please.

We have recommendations for you.
You ordered Boy George’s autobiography three years ago, so we think you’ll be interested in lots of gay porn.

People who bought this item also bought…
Other people are idiots.

DVD price crash!
You too can own “Toys”, “Universal Soldier” and “Flubber”!

The perfect gift.
For someone you hate.

If you require any assistance feel free to call our Customer Support Hotline
Which costs £400 per second and will keep you on hold for six weeks before “accidentally” disconnecting you after you’ve said two syllables.

Welcome to eBay.
You’re gonna get screwed.

If anyone else has their own translations of online shopping jargon, feel free to add them in the comments section…

The price isn’t right.

This is the new Eminem album on iTunes, 20 songs (well, if you include skits) for a pretty reasonable £7.99.

And this is the Deluxe Edition, which boasts a further three songs. £15.99.

And this is the same edition in physical form, with two CDs, all the packaging and uncompressed audio that you can rip into any format you want. £12.99. Yet if you want exactly the same record in digital format, you’ll pay £3 more than Amazon and £8 more than the standard album download.

Of course, it’s perfectly possible to buy the standard album and then buy the three additional tracks from the deluxe edition, bringing the total to £10.36 – but the point is that you shouldn’t have to. Somebody – presumably Eminem’s record label – is having a laugh at iTunes users’ expense.