Friday, 31 July 2009
I'm a big supporter of the reduction in car trips, but any system has to be fair and work for everyone, not just businesses. This is daft, it's going to get passed right on to people in employment, while other car users will not be affected at all. What'll happen is firms will reduce parking spaces (the number of which are usually enforced by planning anyway), but still drive to work and park in public spaces. Silly.
Far better to just increase fuel duty if you want to stop people using the car. When the oil price went up, less people drove. It's been proven to work, why not just do that?
Thursday, 30 July 2009
As a clan, we're loving spotify. It's like having the worlds biggest itunes library without having to buy anything and sharing playlists is great fun. But one downer is that it doesn't stream to your upnp devices, it's PC only, bugger.
I found a nifty solution though: Jamcast . It's a little upnp server that will expose whatever your PC is playing as a playlist item, called 'virtual soundcard', now your 360 or Soundbridge or Sonos can hear whatever your PC is playing. You can't control it obviously, and it borks if you've a microphone plugged in, unplug or disable that recording device and you're flying along. It's also got the nice side effect that each of your streaming devices are kind of synced, but as they all buffer different amounts, it's a bit lagged, ok for rooms a long way from each other, but not very good for stuff close by.
Oh, it's a music only upnp server, but it seems to behave well enough alongside Twonky on my setup, so that's ok.
Wednesday, 22 July 2009
Back in May, Google announced that they were rethinking the whole dated concept of communications that we hold so dear. With Google Wave they claimed to have gone back to the start and invented electronic messaging from the ground up, with none of the baggage of SMTP or the various IM network protocols.
Indeed, their keynote presentation at I/O 2009 was almost universally praised. Wave looked to be just as revolutionary as they'd claimed - and, more enticingly, almost finished. It was genuinely exciting to see this working, and so polished and the concept seemed to just work as well. Meanwhile, for the developer, the prospect of a rich API and bot specification was almost too good to be true. The possibilities were endless - both for communication, for collaboration and for fun.
So, I put my name down for the developer programme, indicating that I'd happily put up with bleeding edge APIs and shakey service. And, finally, this week I got my access.
I've not yet tinkered with the bot APIs yet, I'll maybe tackle that in a different blog, but I've had a couple of days of intermittent usage. So what's it like? Is it as revolutionary as we hoped? Yes, kind of, maybe...
First off, it's worth mentioning that Wave is very early. It is slow, half of the features don't work, and half of the working ones don't work properly. It is memory hungry and you really don't want to leave a tab open with Wave running in it - not unless you like 500Mb Firefox processes that is. It pretty much kills my EEE901 stone dead, but runs okay on my desktop. This is very much a developer preview of a product that is probably six months from a proper launch, so being rough around the edges is to be expected.
How is it to use?
In this developer programme, every participant is subscribed to the Wave-Discuss list - like an old-school mailing list, but with Waves - so the first thing you notice about Wave is that it seems alive. Your inbox writhes like an organic thing as active Waves jostle to the top constantly. Individual Waves ripple with activity in the right hand pane as the much-talked-about realtime typing going on around you. The consequence of all this activity is that it can initially seem overwhelming - Waves slip out of your control if you neglect them and you never seem to be on top of your inbox.
I suppose this is an artefact of thinking like an emailer. We feel the need to absorb every bit of information, and information should persist for longer. Wave is different, it is sort of like a cross between email and twitter - conversations yes, but conversations that are time dependent. If you try to reconstruct the flow of information in such a thing, you'll soon get lost - even with the replay feature. Waves are both persistent and disposable - a strange contradiction.
It's this aspect that I'm not sure I like about Wave, and one of the reasons why I'm not as convinced as I was that it will supplant email.
More positively, this model works very well for collaboration. There's a number of Waves on the developer list that contain FAQ information, and are free for everyone to edit. These end up like a cross between a Wikipedia article and a forum thread. This kind of thing is one of Wave's strengths and it should find a corporate home if nothing else.
Wave is also home to a number of bot entities. Bots are currently hosted on Google App Engine and can be added to any Wave simply by adding the bot as a participant. From there, they can manipulate existing "blips" (snippets in the Wave), add new ones and pretty much do anything that a user can do. As such, they're open to massive amounts of abuse - especially since anyone on the Wave can add a participant.
It's quite weird to see Waves that have been abandoned because a runaway Elizabot has spammed it into uselessness. It's even weirder to see a counter-measure bot deployed to take care of unwanted rogue bots. What on earth will happen when the Chinese start coding for it??
And this is what I think is a major problem for Google - security. Both in terms of phishing/spam and informational integrity. At the moment, there is nothing to stop anyone from doing anything. If I start a Wave, then you can edit any part of it to your heart's content. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the idea of someone changing one of my posts from "I dislike Nazis" to "I love Nazis". Okay, so there is replay feature, but it is virtually useless for long running Waves, with no timeline to skip between periods. Wave desperately needs a "padlock" icon to lock blips.
My final gripe is with organisation of Waves. Google got Gmail's organisation dead right. But Wave, which arguably needs it far more, has it dead wrong. At least at this early stage. Waves currently land in your inbox. You can then send them to a folder (currently not working) or define a search, which you can save and which can also be applied as a filter. The search thing is horrible to be honest, it is arse backwards. Come on Google, let's have labels like Gmail please.
I sound quite negative don't I? I'm maybe being a little harsh on a product in the very early stages of development. All of the things I've mentioned are issues that can, and probably will be sorted.
In fact, using Wave is very cool, and very addictive. Actually being engaged in a conversation within a Wave is kind of like IRC, but with persistence and threading. And gadgets. And like IRC, you can find that the topic rambles on till it no more resembles the original point of the Wave than any conversation resembles its first sentence. For this alone, Wave is still worth watching. We just have to hope that Google attend to the really quite obvious gotchas before they release.
Tuesday, 21 July 2009
Paradise City / Guns N' Roses
Race / Yello
Always Crashing in the Same Car / David Bowie
Crash Dance / Yello
Cities in Dust / Siouxie & The Banshees
Smash / Offspring
Smash You / The Ramones
Bad Habit / Offspring
Cars / Gary Numan
Take Me Out / Franz Ferdinand
This Wheel's on Fire / Siouxie & The Banshees
Fine Young Cannibals / She Drives Me Crazy
Big Road Blues / Canned Heat
In The City / The Jam
This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us / Siouxie & The Banshees
Crushing Day / Joe Satriani
17.08 - Burn it Up / Offspring
Surfin' Bird / The Ramones
Paradise Place / Siouxie & The Banshees
Doctor Jeep / The Sisters of Mercy
The Lorry / Yello
Hit the road Jack/ Ray Charles
Road to Nowhere/Talking Heads
Further on up the Road/ Gary Moore
Highway Chile/ Jimi Hendrix
Highway Song/ Iggy Pop
Motorcycle Driver/ Joe Satriani
The Passenger/ Siouxie & The Banshees
This is what I came up with after a quick 5 minute dig in my library, help out for the AMLan Burnout soundtrack!
Thursday, 16 July 2009
For a lot of years, it looked as though Google were just throwing any old tat out there with no real purpose or direction. Apps like "Notebook", "Bookmarks", "Base" and countless others seemed clever, but very indicative of Google's "start an idea, but never finish it" mentality.
Like most Google watchers, I quietly despaired and craved a little bit of integration. Well, it seems that they're getting the idea now. It's been fairly obvious for a while now that one sphere of integration is coalescing around their suite of Office apps - Google Mail, Calendar and Documents. As time goes on, and these applications mature, we're seeing more and more tie-ins between them. Mail integrates with Calendar to produce events, Calendar now allows you to attach a Document to an event, Tasks has finally come out of labs and things are generally a lot more polished (especially Documents collaboration, if you haven't used it, try editing a spreadsheet with multiple users!)
So the office suite is maturing nicely.
More interestingly, Google seems to be positioning a group of apps around a kind of "Social" sphere. I would include in this group: Reader, Talk, Latitude, Profile, Picasa, with perhaps iGoogle as a hub.
This move towards integration is in the early stages, but seems very obviously aimed at the Facebook/Twitter market. Look at how these apps currently integrate - as of today, Reader allows you to open up your following to pretty much any user with a public feed. You can "like" items, and these are carried across to every user who views that item. Basically, Reader has become a kind of social RSS application - a Facebook for news. Now this is all tied into your profile page, which links in your Talk status, and Latitude position if you have one, as well as your latest Picasa items and any personal information you wish to share (again, very Facebooky). On the Talk side of things, the previously innocuous "status" line has become a kind of Twitter-like information box, containing perhaps your Latitude information.
I have a feeling that we'll start to see more of this kind of thing - perhaps integrating Contacts further, maybe you'll get a timeline of your contacts activity, incorporating Reader shares, Talk update statuses and Picasa posts - like the Facebook news feed. All of this is an easy win for Google, especially if they sneak it in as an iGoogle function. The infrastructure is already there, the users are there, and integration will bring it all together.