And a Merry Christmas from Dataflame

Got this on Christmas Eve from my host, Dataflame.

Dear Customer,

I hereby request you to upgrade all the online webapplications which are hosted with us. Please check the following is the list of online web applications provided and hosted on our shared servers. If you have any of these hosted under your webspace, please take quick measures within 24 hours tp upgrade, else there after we will be upgrading them by ourself. This is required for security measures as depreciated and outdated scripts are hack prone and hence need a upgrade asap. Thank you for cooperation.

So if I don’t upgrade all my Dataflame-provided scripts on Christmas Day, they’ll do it for me, in their best possible English.

Ho, ho, ho.

It’s sad to see PRs stabbed in the back by their clients

To a certain extent, I imagine doing Apple’s PR must be a slightly cushy number. Apple are usually extremely reticent to talk about anything you want to talk about, preferring instead to drone on about what they want to talk about; if you’re writing a feature on almost any subject except what was in the last Apple press release, you’ll usually find it impossible to get a spokesperson out of Apple.

Unfortunately, it’s not like there’s much you can do about it. You can’t exactly hint that most of your Macworld feature will be about Dell as a result, now can you?

So that’s easy PR living, right? No pesky interviews to arrange, just press events aka ‘parties’. Although there’s a large number of people who got into PR to be professional communicators, etc, there’s still a sizeable number who got into PR because they wanted to be party planners but couldn’t pass those tricky entrance exams. Again, I imagine that within the tech PR industry, there’s a group who aspire to work on the Apple account as the zenith of their profession because it’s all the ‘good’ bits of PR without the ‘bad’ bits.

Or at least it would be if it weren’t for the facts the parties will typically be composed of those highly socially skilled, meterosexual fashionistas: tech journalists.

Bite PR is the firm that currently has the Apple account. Wherever two or more tech journalists gather, if those two names are mentioned in the same sentence, you can guarantee the next 15 minutes will be spent relating amusing tales of inefficiency and cluelessness. I’ve already told you about a few of my personal experiences (company four here, here, here, here, here and here) and I’m sure if you search around, you can find tales from other UK journalists. Sorry, Bite. That’s just the way it is.

Worryingly for you guys, Apple appears to be cottoning on to this fact.

Continue reading “It’s sad to see PRs stabbed in the back by their clients”

Why don’t ISPs and hosting services tell you stuff?

I’ve already told you how my slightly rubbish hosting service, Dataflame, chose to change all the permission requirements on PHP files without bothering to tell me. Now my ISP, Be, has decided to get in on the “zero communication” act.

On Friday, mid-way through the day, they suddenly decided to implement an anti-spam measure that blocked all outgoing emails (technically, they closed ports 25 and 465). Took me a while to work out what was going on, and a bit less than a day to respond to my support request but it’s all sorted: if you’re a Be customer and you can’t send emails, set your SMTP server to smtp1.bethere.co.uk.

But why couldn’t they simply have emailed me (and everyone else) and told us that we’d need to change our email settings on a particular date? Or have a transition period? I ask you…

Economists: always surprising

I’m always surprised by economists and the things they come up with. If you’ve ever read Freakanomics, you’ll be aware of the exciting trends they can uncover (abortion as the cause of reduced crime in the US, etc).

But they can also devise some extremely clever ways of encouraging certain behaviours and discouraging others. Take carbon trading: it’s worth billions already and is encouraging industry to become greener using the motivation of large profits for those who are environmentally friendly. Carbon taxes, currently being argued about by all the main UK political parties, are a way of discouraging environmentally unfriendly behaviour.

The most clever green proposal I’ve seen is to discourage electricity suppliers from charging per kilowatt, but instead to provide a warm, well-lit house as a service, to be delivered in whatever way the supplier deems necessary:

“People aren’t fussed about how much power they buy,” explains Philip Sellwood, chief executive of the trust. “If energy suppliers sold a service – a lit and heated house, rather than units of gas or electricity – then they would face incentives to provide it as efficiently as possible.” In theory, such companies would even pay to improve their customers’ homes, cutting their own costs in the process. One is already operating in Woking, a green-minded town; another is planned to start in London.

See? That’s clever.

One month with Virgin

After finally leaving Orange, I’m happy to say Virgin have been pretty good. Orange screwed up my final bill, of course, and I had to write to tell them (again) that I’d cancelled my contract and they can’t invoice me for another month. But hopefully, they’ll accept my final payment.

Just as a comparison, my monthly orange bill was £30. That’s despite my working from home most of the time. My first month with Virgin? £2.32.

I’d call that a result; wouldn’t you?

Still, I would say if you’re joining Virgin and not very literate technically, either get someone at a mobile phone shop to fix up the new settings on your existing phone or get one straight from Virgin. I thought I’d migrated over the settings correctly from Orange, but despite the fact I was able to send picture messages, I couldn’t receive them. I had to re-install the MMS settings to get the messages that people had sent me. Odd, huh?

Still it all works beautifully now.

Don’t buy a Sony camera: if it ever goes wrong, you’ll regret it

I’ve mentioned my ailing PowerBook and the ever-vexing question of whether I should get a new one or not. Here’s another one for you: if your camera is slightly broken, when should you get a new one?

We have a Sony DSC-P200. It is/was very nice indeed. Then we dropped it, trying to take a picture of ourselves. The zoom lens was out so now the camera doesn’t zoom anymore. Its focusing capabilities are now in the range of “no focus at all” to “very, very nearly in focus”.

We’d like to get it repaired. But here’s the thing. The camera cost about £200. We rang Sony and asked how much it would cost to get it repaired. £112 (or something very close) just to have it looked at, with the possibility of more costs if parts need replacing. So basically the entire cost of the camera then?

“But aren’t there other people who could repair it?” you might ask. No. I rang a camera repair shop to ask that very same question.

“Ah. It’s a Sony is it? That’s going to be a problem. They won’t sell us the spare parts.”

So only Sony can repair your camera if it goes wrong and it’ll cost at least half the price of the camera to get it replaced.

I’m thinking it’s time to buy a Fuji Finepix F30. Anyone had any experience with one of those? The ISO3200 feature looks very inviting…

When to upgrade a laptop

Like most freelances, I’m extremely stingy when it comes to upgrading gadgets. I don’t know why it should be any different for those on staff than those not – maybe it’s because we’re a bit older than most and the gadget phase is starting to pass us by.

All I know for sure is that it was three and a half years before my iMac was out of its prime and that I’ve now had my PowerBook for three years (almost as long as I’ve been a freelance) and I still haven’t upgraded it.

As you may know from my earlier entry on the subject, my PowerBook has been getting a bit temperamental of late. Well, yet another thing’s gone wrong with it. It still works, but it’s gone wrong.

Here’s a list of all the flaws I’ve come across so far. At what point would you have returned or replaced it?

  • Tendency to freeze for no adequately explored reason (I ignored it)
  • Little rubber feet falling off (I let them)
  • Great big black marks appearing on the surface (nothing I could do)
  • Heat scoring appearing on the surface (nothing I could do)
  • Hard drive packing up (replaced it)
  • New hard drive packing up (replaced it again)
  • ‘7’ key falling off (keep putting it back on)
  • AC power supply stopped working (replaced it)
  • Battery life reduced to 40 minutes (replaced it)
  • Screen starting to split away from the back (looking for the super-glue, right now)

If I hadn’t read such scary things about the new MacBooks, I think I would have bought a replacement by now. Plus the 12″ PowerBook has such a great keyboard, even if the 7 keeps falling off. Plus probably all my accessories would stop working as well if I upgraded.

I’m still thinking about it though. Maybe next year…

Moving to Virgin

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?

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?.