June 2006 Archives

EasyPizza versus EasyPizza

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You know, you set up a blog as a journalist and before you know it, everyone's pitching story ideas to you. I've had about 15 emails from one guy who wants me to explain his continuing life story to the world.

Last week, I got an email from Karl Khan, who (assuming this isn't someone claiming to be Karl Khan) has been involved in some legal struggles with the easyJet people over the use of the easyPizza name. According to him, the full story has yet to be heard, although it's been on the Beeb and other sites.

Now, I'm completely the wrong sort of journalist for this kind of article, but if someone would like to investigate the story instead, I've provided the details below.

Note to the libel lawyers: I have no idea if any of this is true - this is purely what Karl Khan's sent me. It may all be completely fabricated, but I'm putting it up here so that others can make that determination for themselves.

This man got elected

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It's scary to think Lynn Westmoreland got elected to Congress. This isn't random politician-bashing on my part. I have video evidence. Among other things – and believe me, the list of problems will grow in your mind as you watch this – he wants to display the Ten Commandments (ah, but which set?) in the House and the Senate. It would help if he knew what they were...

Salon, everyone's favourite whiny liberal American news and comment outlet, has an interesting scheme. Pay $30 (or something similar) and you get to read all the articles without adverts. Don't pay the cash and you only get to read the intros to the articles – except if you click on a logo and watch an ad, in which case you can read every article on the site for free that day.

I've let my Premium membership, as it's called, lapse. The trouble is there just aren't enough good articles on the site anymore for me to bother paying the money. The ads really aren't that irritating and if all I have to do is click a logo once a week or so, then I'm not that fussed.

Premium does offer other benefits, including access to the Table Talk chat room (like I need to pay to have arguments on the Internet) and various free magazine subscriptions. The trouble is you have to have a US postal address for 90% of those subscriptions. Not much use for me.

Salon did have a survey a while back, in which I pointed out these shortcomings. When my membership was about to expire, I got an email begging me to stay and giving me two free offers – valid only if I had a US postal address. Clearly, they weren't listening.

Anyway, I'll just stick to Slate and Greg Palast for my diversionary political reading for now. When I fancy a laugh, I'll read Spiked. Good job that's free, mind.

Incidentally, what do you think of the Slate redesign? I hate it myself. I can't find anything on the front page anymore. Thank heavens for RSS feeds.

It's one thing to claim disability benefit because you've got asthma. It's obviously wrong to keep claiming it if it goes away. But it's another thing altogether to keep on claiming it while building up your boxing career. He even got to use a Motability car.

On the other hand, he did lose 91 out of 107 bouts.

Moving to Virgin

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So first there was the singular problem of getting Orange to actually accept I wanted to leave. Then there was the problem of having to pay Orange £20 to use my phone on another network.

I've overcome those two issues. Last week, I got an email with the unlock code for my phone. I typed it in and my Virgin SIM card now works just fine in my phone. Hooray.

The next step was to change all the settings on the phone so that it can use Virgin's 3G/GPRS and MMS access points rather than Orange's. Turns out Virgin has a handy little web page for doing just that: just select your phone model, type in your number and if it's sufficiently modern, the phone gets a text message that will add the correct settings to your list - no fiddling with menus required.

Of course, Virgin's MMS services are a bit pants, it turns out - certainly, messages from Virgin to Orange take two days for the message to arrive and when it does, it's just a text telling you to view the picture online. I'll have to wait to see if what Virgin to Virgin and Virgin to networks other than Orange are like.

But I'm nearly free of Orange. I'm a bit worried by this bill I've just received saying I'm paying for services until the 21st July, when I actually gave them notice on the 14th, but hopefully that'll be the last thing I have to sort out. In about a week, I'll ring up Virgin, give them my PAC code and get my mobile number switched over - if I'm going to be paying Orange anyway, I might as well use up as much of my allowance as possible before the contract expires. Once the five to ten days necessary to migrate the number have elapsed, I'll swap the SIMs, delete the Orange settings and that should be that.

How do I know it's not going to be that simple? Again.

Pay more for a green PC?

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The BBC is reporting the results of a study that say that people around the world would pay more a greener PC. Personally, I don't believe any of them. However, there is an urgent need for some way to recycle electronics, judging from the number of TVs and PCs dumped on the roads around recycling banks in my local neighbourhood. At the moment, it's the tip or nothing for most people, until the EU-mandated buy-back schemes come into force.

I note, however, that 'green PC' here only means a PC that contains fewer hazardous chemicals, rather than a fully green PC that uses far less electricity for instance. Would you buy a PC advertised as costing “£100 less per year to run than other PCs”? I'd certainly think about it, particularly after seeing our last scary electricity bill...

You can read more about Green IT in what looks increasingly like a visionary article of mine for Information Age, Green economics?.

Friendlier Claris It! add on

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I've a new beta script that's an add-on for Friendlier Claris It! It'll be available to anyone who's registered once the final version is released, but if you've already registered and would like to give it a try, email me and let me know.

In case you'd like to know what it actually does first, it allows you to modify the attachment links at the top of messages so that if you've moved the attachments, the links will point to the right path again.

Fairview? Really?

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Block at NightWent flat-hunting at the weekend. Took a train all the way down to Orpington, which turns out to be very nice indeed, with good transport links, loads of buses, shops, etc. Sarah had spotted an ad in the Metro for the alto apartments from Fairview: two bedroom flats to buy for £156k - not too bad for London.

Suffice it to say, you get what you pay for. There were two things in the ad that should have warned us in advance. “This exciting restyled development…” and “many of the apartments on the upper levels enjoying panoramic views across open fields…”

What the ad actually meant was “former council tower block, stuck in the middle of an estate with the remnants of burned out cars nearby, given a patchy paint job and tarted up with some nice furniture but not much else”. It was indeed a spacious flat with a lovely view of some trees - in fact, all you could see was road and trees, not sky or fields or anything else – but you know some expenses have been spared when the show home's doors have been propped open with bits of cardboard.

Plus what was it with councils in the 70s? Separate toilets without their own basins? What's going on there? Would this not have been a good opportunity to fix this oversight?

Anyway, Orpington looks good. And more to the point, it looks like there are better, cheaper flats around than the alto apartments, so if you're tempted, spread your net and you should see something more interesting.

A nice little animation, showing how the alphabet evolved from the Phoenician alphabet of 900BC to the modern day form.

CDI-MDM is suddenly hot in the IT world – why is that? Will this translate into big corporate CDI projects? Is it happening already?

It is now more important than ever that businesses understand the status of their multiple software licences: what they have installed, who is using it, how much they are paying and how much of it is legal.

Have you seen the Society of Professional Journalists' new code of ethics? Probably a bit scary to most UK journalists, but there's a definitely a lot to think about there. In particular, there are various bits on giving the voiceless voices. Which put me in mind of a cunning idea: why not let people provide input into my articles using this blog?

So I've set up a new category on the blog, Current Commissions, into which I'll be posting details of my current commissions, including deadlines. If there's an article you'd like to comment on, you can either email me or add a comment to the entry. There's also an RSS feed so you'll always know when I get a new commission. Hopefully, it'll be useful.

What are the pros and cons of UTM and how it may be applied to the corporate workspace.

The fun of bad PRs continued

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We're a high maintenance bunch, journalists. We diss PRs all the time, even though they're just human and they're just trying to help us (well, in some cases they're obviously trying to hinder us, but that's a different story).

But sometimes, even when they're trying to help us, they hinder us. They promise one thing, we wait and wait. We ring. They promise it's on the way, then two or three weeks after your first call and two days before deadline, they turn round, say they can't do it and then say they're telling you this now “so as not to lead you down the garden path”. Hmm. A little late, love, at that stage, isn't it?

Anyway, in the interests of improved customer service, I'm going to list some of the recent PR fiascos I've braved my way through. I won't name names (although I'll list the companies at the end so you can play a game of “pin the tale on the PR donkey”), but if you're in PR and you've done these things (or something similar), if you don't do them again, you'll make us journalists a lot happier.

Company 1
Just appointed to the account, so some slack needs to be given. But three weeks after my initial contact with the former PRs, who passed the enquiry on, they finally got round to approaching me. I told them I could do an interview on the following Thursday. I asked if they could provide customers to talk to. To help them, I gave them the names of customers I'd already spoken to before.

On Thursday (five days later), I get an email midday asking if I can do an interview, by which time, of course, I can't. Needless to say, they also hadn't managed to set up any customer interviews - although they weren't willing to confirm that by actually answering any emails of mine asking if they had. Fortunately, I'd placed a call with the customer already and set up the interview (yes, yes, I know I should do that anyway but these guys get paid for every interview they set up, so I thought I'd help them out a bit). Moral: If it's handed to you on a plate, try to make sure you still don't cock it up.

Company 2
Admittedly, it was actually impossible to get through the client's phone system anyway, but in this classic piece of PR fun, I called the number on the web site for the PR and got told that he no longer worked with the agency. Who was handling his account? They didn't know, everyone was out at lunch, but they'd get back to me later to tell me who handled that company. I'm still waiting. Moral: You'll get more business if you know who handles which company and then actually call back journalists who throw money-earning opportunities in your direction.

Company 3
When told it was very very important that a piece of software got given to me on a Monday, took it upon themselves to courier it to me at 6.30 at night. Good job I didn't have to go out that evening, wasn't it? Moral: Only expect journalists to work during business hours - try not to force them to stay in of an evening, waiting for the package you swore blind you were going to get to them during the day.

Company 4
One company, who I've already named and shamed for doing this and whose MD called to apologise and promised to rectify the situation immediately, has stopped answering email requests again. Moral: PR about PR companies should never be believed and never make promises to fix things if you're not going to – we're never going to trust you again.

Company 5
Happened today, actually, and was perpetrated by another company I'd already named and shamed and whose MD had also rung up to promise things would be different (cf moral from company 4).

All-day conference with a press room. Press room has nothing in it. It's a room. No Internet access or anything. (Moral 1: don't give the press worse facilities than all the other delegates. We don't want to waste our precious break-time looking for a room that's worse than useless when we find it). PR finds me after I leave the press room. Spends ten minutes badgering me about why I haven't installed Linux on my Mac. I don't expect him to have read my blog, but after I'd told him why, you'd have thought he wouldn't have carried on for another five minutes, despite my obvious growing hostility.

Lunchtime rolls round. After stuffing my mouth with food (interviews while eating are always tricky), I'm about to head off to interview some of the attendees, when PR comes over again and spends the whole lunchbreak, despite my initial monosyllabic answers and obvious uninterest, quizzing me on the best ISP for him to subscribe to to download movies and what the current state of HDTV, Blu-ray, etc is.

Lunchbreak ends and I've not had a chance to speak to anyone. I have an interview scheduled at 3.30pm with the last speaker. Speaker over-runs by 60 minutes so doesn't finish until 3.45pm. After the speech, he legs it off the stage. I leg it down to the meeting point. PR isn't there. Speaker isn't there. I wait for a good six minutes and neither of them turn up. Pissed off, I head off home. Five minutes later, just as I'm about to head into the tube station, PR calls wondering where I am (despite it now being 25 minutes after the scheduled interview start). He didn't see me leave the hall (despite the fact I was sitting in the front row and was only one of three people to stand up and leave after the presentation), beggaring the questions

  1. What were you doing in the hall, instead of coordinating one-to-ones? Or waiting for me outside?
  2. What about the other one-to-ones that were supposed to take place before and after? I know someone had one at 3pm - I suspect he would have been disappointed
  3. Why didn't you usher the speaker out the hall to the interview as soon as he finished, rather than letting him stay on to watch the end of day remarks?
  4. Why didn't you rush out to let me know any of this?

I suspect I'll be less peeved tomorrow. But Moral 2: Don't regard every trip out of the office as a chance for you to do some quality chatting and relaxing - don't take offence, but I don't get paid for interviewing you; you will never feature in one of my articles; if you waste my time, I'll stick you in my junk mail filter in future; if you keep messing me around, I'll talk to your competitors instead. At the moment, I'm damn sure if I ever choose to deal with your PR company again, I'll ensure I deal with anyone on the account except you. Bye bye commission.

Anyway, food for PR thought. The companies involved were, incidentally, in no particular order: Text 100, Bite PR, Hotwire PR, Porter Novelli, Octopus Communications and Goode International.

The joy of joyriders

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Had joyriders driving round the estate last night. One ploughed straight into the back of a parked van that a nice little old couple own. He legged it before anyone could even check if he was all right.

You think that that'll be the end of the story but from that point on, the following groups of people turned up:

  • The police, to supervise and take down information and witness statements
  • The scene of crime officers to get evidence
  • A low-loader lorry to take away the crashed car
  • A dog unit to chase after the escaping teenager

So it was a couple of hours before the whole thing died down - always good late at night. Thank you joyriders.

Happy Birthday blog

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I've just noticed this blog's first entry was on the 18th June 2005, which was yesterday. Happy first birthday blog!

New SCHWIF2004 beta

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I've updated SCHWIF2004's latest beta to fix a bug where a warning would come up telling users they need OS X 10.3, even though they already have OS X 10.3. You can get the beta from the SCHWIF2004 page.

I've updated the flashcards for Teach Yourself Instant Italian, week one: I hadn't included the flashcard sentences in the deck. Whoops.

This shows you how far I've got since the start of the year. In part, the problem is because I don't have a deadline. The other problem is it's just so close to Spanish. I'm finding it really hard to keep the two different sets of words apart in my mind: is it siempre or sempre in Italian? That's the kind of problem I'm having. Maybe I'll switch over to Welsh, just to try a language that's really different to Spanish.

Be and maintenance

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As you may recall, I swapped my ISP to Be recently. They're still providing the same download speed as before - 4.5Mbps, which isn't as good as the 24Mbps they suggested i might get but much better than Zen's 1Mbps. I'm starting to get annoyed by Be's “planned outages”. Since I've taken the service on the 19th May, there have been three planned outages of the services, lasting several hours, during which they've conducted “necessary maintenance”. I don't recall BT every having to do any maintenance on the exchange before, so quite what Be's doing, I don't know. But it's starting to irritate.

£20 to unlock a phone

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It wasn't £35 - it was £20 to get my phone unlocked.

Thanks to the helpful people who pointed out that there are plenty of free ways to unlock the phone that are available on the Internet. Unfortunately, I have a Nokia 6630 (I say unfortunately advisedly) which so far appears to be uncrackable. Nokia won't even tell the network providers how to unlock the phones - they have to write off to Nokia and get a code sent back to them that's specific to the phone being unlocked. So it's £20 or an unusable phone, unfortunately. Still, given that's less than a month's line rental, I'm perfectly happy to pay up to be shot of Orange.

The end is in sight.

Orange have the last laugh

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Why did I think, even for a second, that escaping Orange's clutches would be easy? They've locked my phone so that only Orange SIM cards will work with it. That means I either need to give them £35 or something to get it unlocked (assuming they agree) or I need to buy a new phone. Curse them all.

Of freelances and holidays

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The trouble with freelancing is working out when to have holidays. It's not the same as when you're self-employed. There are so many caveats, most of them of the paranoid rather than the actual kind.

  1. There's the whole idea of not doing any work. If you don't work, you don't get paid. So if you take a week off, that's five days at your normal day rate (£650) you won't be earning. Basically, whatever you're paying for your holiday, freelances pay double. Of course, you factor that into your rates, but you see the start of the terrible thought processes?
  2. What will happen with your regular clients while you're away? If you're employed, someone at work will cover you, or they'll hire in cover (maybe even a freelance). If you're not around and you're freelance, maybe they will find someone to cover you during your absence - maybe someone they like better and they'll use instead of you in future. So now you have to time your holidays as much as possible around regular commissioning editors, just in case, except print days are just so spread around the month, trying to find a week - or even a few days - that don't conflict with someone's urgent delivery date is almost impossible
  3. What about new clients? Who'll be answering the sales queries when you're sunning yourself on the beach? You'll get back only to find they've gone somewhere else because you weren't available.
  4. Slippage. I was supposed to be on holiday yesterday, but I got summer lurgy on Monday, couldn't finish a feature and had to spend yesterday writing it instead. Do I take another day off or just accept that as a day off I couldn't take? Soon, you find all your days off have disappeared as you fit in just one last article that they begged you to take.
  5. There's the problem of what you'll be doing when you get back. If you don't set up any work for your return, all those holiday days will be days when you've not been pitching. That means the first few days after the holiday will be days without work while you start pitching again. Which means less money again.

I'm supposed to be having a couple of days off right now. I need it after working a fortnight of double shifts at the end of last month (subbing by day, writing by night). Instead, I've spent the morning blogging and pitching. I still have to return a prospective new client's phone call from yesterday. And then there's all those low-priority emails I have to answer.

I'm going to die an early death of a stress disorder, I know it.

Am I finally leaving Orange?

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Called Orange a minute ago to let them know I wanted to leave. Well, I tried anyway. I called 150 from my mobile. After being asked to press 1 to confirm it was a mobile, not a broadband query, I was told that 1 was an invalid menu option. Tried calling back but I couldn't even get through. So I had to call Orange the mobile phone network from a landline to get through.

Quelle surprise. They hadn't received my cancellation letter. How did I not see that coming? Oh wait. I did.

Still, the man did I ask why I was leaving. It took a long time to explain everything.

I asked for a PAC number to migrate my phone number over to Virgin. “Well, if you do want a PAC number, you'll have to pay for a further 30 days line rental”. And if I don't? “Well, you'll still have to give 30 days notice you want to terminate the contract.” I did. “Well, we didn't receive it.”

So 30 days of Orange either way. Oh well. It'll all soon be over. I've already got my Virgin SIM card so I'll be swapping over today, I think.

Green press trips

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Press trips are all very nice. Who doesn't enjoy flying off to far-away destinations, even if you don't get to see much except the inside of a hotel at the other end? There is, however, a problem for any journalist who worries about green issues. All those plane flights can overwhelm all your good work when you're at home. In fact, probably just one trip will result in your using up your CO2 allowance for the year. What to do, what to do?

Turns out that some of the airlines operate a carbon neutral policy. You just go to their web site, work out how much CO2 your trips have pumped out, pony up a little cash and the airline will put that money towards offsetting those CO2 emissions in an approved scheme. It should all result in your trip not having put out any net CO2 at all.

That's the theory anyway. No doubt someone will point out that it's all a con, doesn't work, etc. I'd like to think it does until I hear evidence to the contrary. So I'm off to the BA web site's offset scheme right now to pay my carbon tax for my last two press trips. I'll have to see if BMI does an offset scheme for my little holiday in Glasgow.

The trouble with this though is that I'm now paying for my press trip, which offends my natural inalienable journo's right to freebies. Hopefully, it's tax deductible at the least. Maybe in future press-trip organisers will pay for the carbon offset, too. How about it PR people?

UPDATE: Turns out you can do carbon offsetting for almost anything at Climate Care; return trips to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Monaco worked out at £15 in total to offset, which isn't bad, is it?

No word from Orange yet

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It's been a week but there's been no word from Orange yet. Quelle surprise. Clearly cancelling the contract is going to be as hard as I expected.

Pilger stuff

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John PilgerJohn Pilger's one of my personal journalistic heroes (although I occasionally disagree with some of his politics). So I'm always happy to see more Pilger articles. There's an interview with him in today's Press Gazette, but I've also noticed he's contributing to the Guardian's Comment is Free section. That, incidentally, has an RSS feed, making it easy to spot when he writes something new – which would be a handy feature of the Carlton Pilger site if they did it, given that you can't sign up for their email newsletter any more.

My iMac wouldn't start up yesterday. Well, first it just turned itself off while I was in the middle of something. Then it wouldn't start up again – most of the time, I got nothing other than a glowing light when I pressed the On button; sometimes I got as far as the Apple logo.

I'd had the mysterious shutdown happen to me before, but this was the first time it wouldn't restart afterwards. All things being equal, I figured it was a hardware problem, particularly once I found the iMac wouldn't even boot into Target disk mode when connected via FireWire to my PowerBook. So I unplugged all the peripherals. Nothing. Final resort: I took out the extra 1GB of RAM I'd installed the first day I got the iMac.

Hooray! It worked. The iMac booted just fine.

I would then have tried to get Crucial, the company from which I bought the memory, to exchange it, but it was 8am and no one was in yet. So I waited and carried on using the iMac.

I tell you something: don't even think about using a new Intel Mac without boosting the memory beyond 512MB because it's unusable otherwise. A complete dog.

Anyway, deciding there was no way I could work in a glacier, I took a risk and decided to put the RAM chip back in. This time though, I swapped it with the chip that Apple had included in the first slot.

The results:

  1. The iMac works just fine again and is actually usable
  2. It seems a little/a lot faster than it did before the whole disaster occurred. Maybe the Crucial memory is faster than the Apple memory and it's being used by the system for most operations, rather than the Apple memory.
  3. I'm mystified about what caused the freeze. Maybe the iMac had overheated and all that moving the iMac around, unscrewing the memory hatch, etc, cooled it down a bit. Or maybe one of the chips wasn't quite seated properly and when I swapped the chips, I seated them correctly.
  4. I'm now working in constant fear my iMac is going to have another hiccup. After that incident with Linux a week ago, my backup strategy is becoming meticulous.

Following on from my little rant about Gordon Brown's new plan to force immigrants to learn English, this particular item of news from Private Eye came to my attention today:

“Since November, immigrants wanting to take the UK's citizenship tests must be able to demonstrate an 'acceptable degree' of skill in the English language. But how are people supposed to learn it?

”An interim report from a study by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education has uncovered 'enormous problems' with the availability of English classes for speakers of other languages (ESOL). As demand for the classes has risen (by 65 percent in the past two years), little has been done to boost the number of courses and there is a national shortage of qualified ESOL teachers.

“Many areas have long waiting lists for courses and the inspectorates looking after colleges and adult education services say ESOL is 'probably the weakest curriculum area' in the whole learning and skills sector.”

So not only has Gordon come up with a policy that is really just an extension of an existing one, albeit a stupid extension that couldn't possibly work in practice (how exactly are unemployed immigrants going to be able to afford these English lessons? etc, etc), he's overlooked the fact that there's no one to actually teach English anyway. Assuming this isn't pointless posturing to attract the Daily Mail vote but which he's never going to actually implement.

It's his hands on the economy, folks, and soon he'll be looking after the whole country...

Pictures from Monaco

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Here are a few pictures of Monaco. Average temperature yesterday was 25ºC. As you might expect, since I had approximately 15 minutes to explore Monaco during my whole time there (deadlines is deadlines, as they say, and although I could have stayed the night, there's an article I need to write today, and a few interviews that need conducting), most of these are from within 100 metres of the Meridien hotel in which the press briefing was being held. All the same, I think you can see that Monaco's really, really nice, particularly in June.

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I bought my laptop about three years ago. It's a PowerBook G4 12“. There have been things wrong with it since day one, including an odd tendency to crash at random intervals, no matter what operating system I'm using, if I happen to have moved it recently – obviously a useful feature in a laptop.

However, it's been getting worse. The ”7“ key keeps falling off; there's some great big black marks on the wrist-rests, either caused by fused toner cartridge or by the G4 superheating its outer coating to the point where it starts to carbonise. The battery life has also dropped off, and until a couple of days had dropped to about an hour and half during normal usage and less than 40 minutes if I'm playing a DivX. I had bought an extra battery at the same time as the laptop, but about a year ago it started to refuse charge.

Miraculously, though, I tried charging it again yesterday and it works just fine. I've now gone from under 40 minutes of battery life to over three hours. The moral of this story, then, is always to buy a spare battery, but to avoid using it until your main battery has gone pear-shaped. And also, never trust Apple to produce a battery that has any kind of longevity in everyday use.

UPDATE: Incidentally, finally having battery power again meant I was able to test the Notebook feature of Word 2004, which allows you to type notes as Word records via your Mac's microphone. It's actually pretty good. The quality was fine, the file didn't get too large and you're able to play back the audio at (almost) the corresponding points to your typing. I'll be using that feature again, I think.

Business class on BA

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So I'm at the gate, ready to board the flight back to London from Nice from my press trip. I've been impressed by Nice's clever plan of having two lines for boarding – one for rows 24 and upwards and one for everyone else. Certainly speeded things up a bit. When what should happen but the person checking my boarding pass frowns. I'm not coming up on her system. She passes it to her colleague, who searches her system and delights me by informing me that I've been upgraded from “Euro traveller” to “Business class”.

“Excellent,” I think to myself. “I've never been business class with BA before. I wonder what it's like.”

Well, I'm writing this on the plane right now and I'd have to say, not much different from economy.

Does it have more leg room or more space? No.

Does it have WiFi access? No

Does it have power sockets in the arm rests for laptops? No

Surely it must be quieter and more conducive to work in some way? Well, that screaming baby on the other side of the plane isn't making it seem very conducive to work.

In actual fact, the only differences I've spotted so far are that I could have used the under-equipped lounge if I'd known that I was going to be upgraded (I actually did get to use the lounge, but only because Jeff Kimbell at Dell smuggled me in on his card); and you get better cutlery with the meal. The meal itself isn't that much better, particularly since they substituted the usual functional block of cheese they provide for the biscuits with some icky blue cheese that they can probably smell in China from this altitude.

Maybe it's better on the long haul flights, but for the short hauls, economy is as good as business class, I reckon, and a damn sight cheaper.

The Beeb is reporting that everyone's favourite potential PM, Gordon Brown, is trying to win the “psychotically racist” vote by suggesting that not only should all potential immigrants to the UK have to learn English, if they refuse, we should force them to learn it.

Wow. Whose exact benefit is that for? The immigrants? Could be, but why force them if it is? They'll do it of their own volition, surely.

If it isn't, who wins from this plan? TEFL teachers and precious few others, that's who? And how do you force people to learn a language?

“You! What's that called? Tell me... No? It's a ”loaf of bread“. Are you going to remember that? Are you? If you don't get 100 out of 100 on your next vocab quiz, I'm going to send you back to where you came from! Now here are your flashcards.”

Brilliant.

But here's a question: why are we stopping with immigrants to Britain and English? How about people who relocate to other parts of Britain? Should we make Glaswegians who move to the home counties practice a slightly posher accent to make them more intelligible to the sheltered shire classes? Should we force surfers who move down to Newquay to learn Cornish? How about anyone who buys a holiday home in North West Wales being forced to learn Welsh? And let's not get started on forcing the Northern Irish to learn Gaelic...

We've already learnt about one new Las Vegas hotel and casino this week. Now here comes another one. But it's the weirdest one yet. It's based on the magazine Maxim.

On one level, you can see where they're coming from: Las Vegas isn't called the “city of sin” for nothing. But a hotel designed primarily for teenage boys without much experience of women? Is that going to pay back the $1.2 billion needed to build it?

Still, maybe it'll be like the Excalibur: there are plenty of people who stay in the Excalibur who aren't there for the dragons and knights, but because they need a relatively cheap place to stay on the Strip that isn't too shabby. I imagine the same might be true for Maxim Hotel and Casino. It's actually going to have a reasonable nice location - close to Circus, Circus – since the north end of the Strip doesn't yet have any of the top-grade hotels that the south and middle have been accumulating since the start of the 90s. Unless you count the Stratosphere, which I don't.

Press trip season is upon us

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May has come and gone, spring is here and summer is almost upon us. That must mean it's press trip season. I'm off to Monaco tomorrow, thanks to Dell, who seem very fond of whisking journalists off to foreign climes for a day to announce things they're going to press release the next day. Not that I'm complaining: you just don't get this on consumer IT mags - God bless trade mags!

Anyway, probably no blogging tomorrow, but I'll bring you back pictures of airports, train stations and probably not much Monaco on Wednesday. Assuming my camera doesn't get nicked like it did in Zaragoza.

Since it's nearly a year since that particular event took place, I'm finally able to cancel the contract that I took out with Orange when I got back from that press trip. Despite really wanting to like Orange, they've been nothing but rubbish and I'm paying out about £30 a month on a contract, even though I work from home and barely use the phone. So adios Orange, hello Virgin Mobile, I hope.

I say/write 'I hope' because getting an address to send my request to is particularly hard now they've merged with Wanadoo and redesigned their site. I've already tried speaking to a customer service rep, who apologised for Orange being rubbish at customer service and then told me to contact the company nearer the time. He really wasn't getting it, was he? I'll keep you updated on my progress.

Now, they've only been in business a little while, so you have to give them some slack, but SMD appears to be a little bit tardy at paying freelances, according to at least two contributors who have emailed me. Typical of many British publishing companies? Yes. Worrying all the same? Yes.

Just wanted to drop you a line and say thanks for blogging about the whole insane Highbury/SMD situation! I'm a relatively new Hotdog freelancer, though I lost money to Highbury and am having hell of a game getting any money out of SMD (five phone calls in three weeks -- I was told in the initial one that the money would be with me within 4 days!)

And

I have three Invoices outstanding and they're stalling on paying. This has been going on for two months. I think something's going on there.

What's up SMD?

I switched ISPs a couple of weeks ago. I was using Zen but now I've migrated to Be. The whole process was surpisingly simple and I lost Internet access for all of about 15 minutes.

I would have stayed with Zen since they were reliable and competent, which really carries weight in the world of Internet access. But they were charging me £29.99 a month for uncapped 1Mbps Internet access. I could have gone to their capped 4Mbps service, but the cheaper option had a limit of about 2K or something while the reasonable option (50GB per month) is about £35. So I decided that while they were good, they weren't that good and migrated to Be.

So far, Be have been pretty good. I had an outage on the first day, but since then they've been fine. But Be's selling point is they're an ADSL2+ service - they advertise with the tag of "£24 per month for 24Mbps". It's uncapped (hooray!), but there is a "fair use" policy (aka "If we want to cut you off for any reason, we will and there's nothing you can do about it.") There's also a tiny bit of small print - you won't necessarily get 24Mbps since the exact speed depends on your distance from your telephone exchange.

I've checked around a bit and no one I know who uses Be has ever got more than 5Mbps or so. I'm getting 4.7Mbps now, which is a hell of a lot less than 24Mbps, but much better than the 1Mbps I was getting with Zen.

Nevertheless, I have a question: If it's £24 per month for 24Mbps, since I'm getting 4.7Mbps, can I pay £4.70 per month instead?

The Wynn Hotel
I wouldn't have predicted a Swiss lakefront as the theme for the next big Vegas hotel, but it's on the way, due to appear in 2009 right opposite the Wynn Hotel (Isn't the Fashion Show Mall, opposite, though?) where the New Frontier Casino now is. Sounds impressive, too. A London Eye in Las Vegas... Wow.

Good news from Iraq

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Now there's something you don't see ever day: good news from Iraq. In this case, the Garden of Eden has been re-flooded.

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