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.

Don’t believe the hardware hype

I’ve just ordered a new laptop. Is it another PowerBook? I hear you cry.


An iBook?


A top-of-the-range Alienware gaming laptop?


A state-of-the-art Pentium Mobile with massive screen?

Nay, nay and thrice nay.

I’ve ordered a bog-standard, not particularly exciting, Celeron-based Dell Inspiron with a 14″ screen. I didn’t buy it because it’s fast – it isn’t – and I didn’t buy it because it’s cutting-edge technology, because it isn’t that either. I bought it for one reason and one reason only: after the various “buy today and get x% off” offers, it cost a grand total of £457.

£457 for a brand new laptop – that’s cheaper than most refurbs, and safer than any second-hand buy.

Of course, it isn’t as expandable as higher-end machines, but the only expansion I intend to do is to stick a Wi-Fi card in it. The screen isn’t the biggest, but I do most of my work on the Powerbook and I’ve got a big flatscreen monitor I can hook up to it if 14 inches isn’t enough. Battery life is rubbish but most of the places I travel to, I run the laptop on AC power anyway. And it comes with a 1-year warranty, so if it breaks after that period I can smash it to bits with a hammer and order another one.

Most importantly of all, I’d be much less devastated if a £450 laptop was broken or nicked on my travels than I would be if my Powerbook suffered the same fate. All I need when I’m on the move is Word and Wi-Fi, music playback and possibly the odd bit of DVD watching – and a cheap and nasty Dell is just as capable of those things as the most expensive PowerBook you can buy.

One of the big myths about computing is that you need the latest, greatest technology – and in most cases that’s completely untrue. If all you need to do is run Office, manage your digital photos and music, browse the web and send emails then there’s absolutely no reason to shell out thousands of pounds on state-of-the-art kit when a second-hand PC or Mac will be more than adequate.

Of course, if you don’t have a reasonably recent PC then you won’t be able to use the latest applications, the system requirements for which are truly terrifying. Again though, do you really want to? The word processors of ten years ago weren’t much less useful than the word processors of today, and the latest versions of music software are often bloated pieces of crap with endless DRM “enhancements”. An old copy of WinAmp or iTunes is quite happy with MP3s, and there’s no shortage of shareware, freeware and open source programs that can do most of the things big-name programs can do – without the massive system requirements or the massive price tag.

The exception is games, where we’re repeatedly told to upgrade our kit to play Doom III, Half-Life 2 or whatever. And while there’s some truth to that argument – games are driving PC technology these days – I still think it’s flawed. Reviews suggest that Half-Life 2 gives you about 14 to 18 hours of playing time; it’s a similar story with Doom 3 and other big-ticket games. Is it really worth shelling out hundreds or even thousands of pounds for less than a day of gaming?

Put it another way: if you borrow £1,000 on the super-low-rate Halifax credit card and pay only the minimum balance each month, it’ll take you 12 years and 4 months to repay the money. 12 years of payments for 14 hours of gaming? Bargain!

iPod firmware update

Apple has posted an iPod firmware update, which you can get through Software Update. It adds the Shuffle feature to the iPod Mini’s main menu instead of burying it in a submenu, but there’s still no custom EQ – the one thing that I really miss since moving from a creative player to an iPod.

Here’s the full list of the changes to the Mini’s firmware:

Compatibility with iTunes 4.7 and iTunes Music Store
Shuffle and play song library with one click (using the Shuffle Songs item in the main menu)
Create multiple On-The-Go playlists
Delete songs from On-The-Go playlists
Select reading playback speed for audiobooks
Hear Click Wheel clicker through headphones
Sync and go with improved disconnect performance