Friday, December 29, 2006

Noka: original or rebadged hype-merchants

Courtesy of Alec, the Dallas Food blog gives a fascinating account of the detective work they did into whether the world's most expensive chocolates, Noka, are actually worth the extreme prices. It's on the long side, but well worth the read. It's a a train-wreck... you can see the end coming long before the details spill out, but it's a wild ride because of the detail the writer goes into, and the inevitability of the clang at the end.

Anyone who buys Noka chocolates after reading that is just the kind of price-obsessed freak who deserves to be seriously ripped off by a pair of post-modern accountants!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Microsoft/AMD/Acer/Ferrari bribe bloggers

As I've mentioned before, I read Joel Spolsky's excellent Blog. So with some prompting by his recent post on this subject, I have to comment on the recent 'Microsoft attempts to bribe bloggers' story.

I won't call it a scandal because, as far as I can tell, it's not been hidden, it's a fairly clearly an attempt by Microsoft (via Edelman) to create some blog-sphere buzz regarding Vista, and Acer's Ferrari range of laptops.

I also have to say that, were I given the chance, the techno-geek that I am, I would be sorely tempted to just take the laptop and, well, blog on my experiences... good or bad. But then, in a sense I already do this - I write reviews of computer games for a gaming website. They send me the games, I play the games from end to end, then I write a review of the game, and they publish it. The only thing I'll say in my defence is that I usually don't know if the website bought the game, or my editor bought the game, or if the publisher provided the game for my editor to pass on. Consequently, I feel quite insulated from some of the 'social obligation' noted by Joel... and I quote:

... the only conclusion I can come to is that this is ethically indistinguishable from bribery. Even if no quid-pro-quo is formally required, the gift creates a social obligation of reciprocity. This is best explained in Cialdini's book Influence (a summary is here). The blogger will feel some obligation to return the favor to Microsoft.

Now I'm only talking about $50 for a game, Microsoft are giving away, as stated with no obligation, the best part of $1,800-$2,000 (prices from a five minute search with Google, with Windows XP, not Vista!) worth of laptop with Vista. Not all kettles are the same shade of black, it would appear.

So what do I think. This is truly morally ambiguous. Whatever Microsoft and their representatives may say, this is attempt by them to buy positive commentary, however, they must feel some confidence that at least some of the recipients would give it a positive review.

Oh, and how about this for fruit-cake territory; they've given laptops to Mac-heads like Marshall Kirkpatrick and the Laughing Squid. Now they're just dreaming.

Either that or they're just desperate.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Formula 1, or Formula Farce

It seems to me that Formula 1 motor racing is losing it way.

Rant Warning...

I've been watching the sport for a good 12+ years and I'm gradually getting less and less interested in what goes on. Why? Because there seems to be less and less concern amongst the 'competitors' and 'organisers' (I'll come back to the quoting of terms later) for providing a decent spectacle for us, the paying public, to enjoy. The 'cars' are more and more homogeneous - true innovation is stomped on as 'unfair advantage' by the FIA at the slightest provocation, whilst the Ferrari teams appears to be shown leniency and frank blindness by the authorities for all but the most blatant of fouls, and even some of them have been overlooked in the past.

Examples from this year? Renault (when leading the championship comfortably) had a device (a mass damper) ruled illegal as a 'movable aerodynamic component' (which is against the technical regulations) when it was a closed device inside the body work of the car (not exposed to the air flow where it could actually affect the aerodynamics of the car). Suddenly the Renault cars can't win a race for months! And the last third of the season becomes a much closer race to the title... and guess who benefits... Ferrari.

However, Ferrari have added 'chimneys' to the rear wheel hubs of their cars which cool the brakes by the same effect that a domestic chimney draws smoke from a fire. In other words, by affecting the aerodynamics of the car... and do you think the wheels on Ferrari move? Along with these chimney devices? Does that make them a 'movable aerodynamic component'? According to the FIA, it apparently does not... Go figure.

Now we're in the final throes of the 2006 season. There's one more race to go (Brazil), and Michael Schumacher is retiring at the end of the year (not a moment too soon, IMHO), and, due to a rare mechanical failure in Suzuka (Japan), he's back to 10 points behind Fernando Alonso in the championship standings. All that Alonso now has to do is finish 8th place or better (earning at least 1 point) to win the championship. However, if Alonso fails to finish and Schumacher wins, Schumacher wins the title. Now if I were Alonso, I would be keeping a very close eye on the behaviour of anyone with connections with Ferrari... so that's Filipe Massa (Schumacher's junior team mate), any Red Bull (who have used Ferrari engines in the past, and may next year), or Torro Rosso driver (who may also be using Ferrari engines next year), Ralf Schumacher (Michael's younger push-over of a brother), Kimi Raikkonen (who'll be driving for Ferrari next year), and anyone in the FIA scrutineering team. I'm sure Schumacher would be most upset if anyone of those people should happen to 'accidentally' force Alonso's car to fail to finish the race. Not. (Of course, he'll make sure the media don't get any hint otherwise)

Finally, back to the quoted terms from the beginning of this rant. First, the 'competitors' (teams and drivers). Well, they try to compete, but so much of the results (apart from the part that comes down to luck), correlates extremely closely with budget rather than expertise and talent. Not to mention that most of the 'competitors' are no longer people, but corporate entities. What's BMW's motivation for competing in Formula 1? Commercial promotion of their brand. What's Renault's motivation? The same. Spyker? The same. Red Bull... you got it. And so on. The Williams team is dying on it's feet. McLaren is falling away too; we'll just have to see if they can recover next year.

Second, the 'organisers'. The race organisers - the FIA are pathetic. Specific example... USA 2005. Michelin said to the teams using their tyres that Michelin had screwed up and brought the wrong tyres to cope with the recently resurfaced Indianapolis turn 13 (the big banked turn, as far as the F1 circuit is concerned), and could not guarantee the safety of the drivers & cars should they drive at racing speeds on race day. Several drivers (particularly Ralf Schumacher) had major accidents during Friday practise. So what happened next? Over the following 36 hours, the FIA singularly failed to either come up with a solution that allowed everyone to race safely - even for half points, or no points for Michelin runners, both of which were suggested. And they didn't tell the audience what was going on... they just let them find out when 16 cars pulled straight into the pits at the end of the formation lap. No wonder the US crowd were incensed.

Okay, so Michelin screwed up... they admitted it, and they paid a lot of compensation as a result, but the whole sport suffered an ignominious debacle as a result of the mis-management of the affair.

Thirdly, the 'cars'. How many people would be able, even amongst F1 fans, to tell the difference between a Williams, a Spyker and a Ferrari if they were watching on a black-and-white TV (like I was when I started watching)? The regulations now define so closely what is permitted in an F1 car that so many of the differences are in the electronics and engines rather than in the approaches to the whole concept of a car. As I said at the top of this piece... where's the innovation? Where are the six wheelers (like the Tyrell P34 with four front wheels, the March 2-4-0 never raced)? Or the Coopers? Or the Auto Union C-Types? Or the 1968 Lotus 49 (first rear wing)? All great innovations in their times, but the regulations would ban every single one now, and any change as important. Of course, there's the new, mad, CDG (centreline downwash generating) wing format that is supposed to be introduced in a couple of years... but I think that will just fall by the wayside as people discover just how poorly such a racing car will perform, and how dangerous the lack of rear downforce will prove.

Rant over, thankyou for listening.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Sense and Sensibility

Now this makes a whole lot of bloody good sense!

To summarise: success in business requires you to reach customers with a product that they want. Little more than that... everything else will pretty much take care of every evening, weekend, lunchtime and spare moment you're willing to throw at it. Otherwise, forget even thinking about trying to set up your own business.

So I think I'll stick to the day job, thanks!

Sunday, September 17, 2006


This is an intriguing thing. An anti-establishment, art 'terrorist', who actually needs the establishment ... otherwise what would he rebel against?

Banksy is a grafitti artist from Bristol, UK, who's work is popular, but not neccessarily populist - his choices of subject are too challenging for that: the Western world's reaction (or lack of) to AIDS in Africa, the 'security wall' between Israel and Palestine, inner-city deprevation in London.

The BBC have a brief article about him, but it was actually Alec Muffett who first brought Banksy to my attention some time ago (before the blog post linked above).

Of course, not everybody likes him. Paris Hilton and the Tate Museum of Modern Art (more comments on that subject another time!) have both 'suffered' from Banksy's not-so tender mercies.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Speculators and Prognosticators

There are two columns I love to read whenever they're updated ... one is the Mole. A supposed insider in the world of Formula 1 racing. 'He' (well, it might be a she, one does not know) likes to make the reader believe there's an office in the British government secret services concerned with the inner workings and machinations of the FIA, the racing teams and the associated manufacturers. The really good thing about them is that there's usually a nugget of information about the underlying implications of some of the shady dealing that goes on in the racing world that makes me say to myself, 'is that really what they're thinking at Renault?'

The other column I like is Robert X. Cringely's weekly articles on PBS. He does a similar job to the Mole, but in the world of computing and the Internet. His speculations about what Google, Apple, Microsoft, Sun, et. al. are planning to do next are always entertaining, and they invite the same 'hmmm, I wonder?' reaction from me as the Mole does.

I like that in a writer.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


It may not be the cheapest way to get hard-copy versions of your digital pictures, that would probably to print them yourself on a domestic inkjet printer with glossy paper, but that's more like hard work than what I did today.

I went to a conventional film developing place, where they've also got a couple of digital booths. Pictures on a memory stick (I had a CD as backup too), stick the memory stick in the USB port, hit the select-all button, hit print, type in my surname & phone number, then come back in an hour. Brilliant.

A bit pricey - 36 7"x5" photos cost me just over £12 (and instant prints would have been another £10 on top), but it could hardly have been easier, and the quality is much better than I could have done at home.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Flying nightmares?

Ugh! Would I fly on a commercial airline out of a UK airport just now? I don't think so.

Even though all the 'for-show-to-the-Daily-Mail-reading-public' security measures have now been relaxed a little, I still don't fancy it.

A few weeks ago I flew to, and returned from, an airport not very far from London. Our local airport was a breeze: short queue at check-in, slick process at security, relaxed and quiet (for a daytime slot) by the gates and a simple walk to the domestic jet for the flight. But the airport not very far from London? Completely different matter. Again it was a daytime flight (a Sunday afternoon if you must know): a long, slow moving, queue at check-in, a faff at security, crowded and expensive departure lounges, a looonnng walk to the gate, a short walk to the plane (one good point anyway), and then a flight with some kid kicking me in the back every so often, but not quite often enough for me to risk the ire of its stupid mother.

Flying just isn't a pleasant experience! Perhaps it's time the carriers and airports stopped thinking about the appearance of security, and thought about improving the experience of flying. Afterall, no matter the extra security measures put in over the last 10 days, a determined bomber could still have caused a device to explode in the hold of an aircraft... just like in Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, 1988.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Firefox branding promotion?

I like Firefox, I use it as much as possible, but now someone with faaarrrrrr to much time on their hands has taken the promotion of the Firefox brand just a little too far... Crop Circles? I ask you!

As I said, too much time on their hands. Well, the "they" are the Oregon State University's Linux User Group, and it is summer time. What more needs to be said?


First Post!

Hey, I claim first post.

Well of course I do, this is my new Blog. Time to join the crowd and see where it leads.