29 April 2007
In the past, I’ve often said that Google Docs and Spreadsheets is not a Microsoft Office competitor, based on the fact that MS Office is expensive, meant for business use and had much more functionality for power users. After checking the price and versions of MS Office whilst shopping yesterday, I take that back.
I’ve now seen that you can buy a copy of “Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007” for around £100. It includes Word (Docs), Excel (Spreadsheets), Powerpoint (Presently) and OneNote (Notebook), and is licensed for use on up to three computers providing they’re not used for commercial purposes.
Since Google is going after the home / student market, how many would choose Google over Microsoft? Personally, I’d rather use these Microsoft products because they’ve got more features. I’ve never got on with Docs (it’s basically just a glorified WYSIWYG HTML editor), Spreadsheets lacks many of the features of Excel (they’ve only just added charts and many of the shortcuts and quick ways of doing things still don’t work) and “Presently” doesn’t even exist... yet! As for OneNote or Notebook, I don’t need either. Furthermore, I’m relying on my Internet connection to work with Google products and I’d rather work offline.
Everyone seems to want free software but sometimes you get what you pay for in my opinion. Are these components of MS Office worth £30-35 per computer? I’d say so. Would I use Google services instead? Not right now. Having said that, I might consider using OpenOffice instead of MS Office but I just don’t feel Google Docs (etc.) is quite up to scratch yet.
To me, the only benefit of Google Docs is that everything is stored in a central storage point online. If Google gave me GDrive (without the 500KB limit like Docs has currently), I’d have no need to use their “Office” services as I could have MS Office / OpenOffice installed on all the computers I use and upload / download files as I need them.
What are other people’s opinions on this? Does Google offer you exactly what you need? Would you rather pay for better products (from either Microsoft or Google)? Would you rather work with files online or offline?
Also see a previous discussion about how much to pay for using Google.
Labels: blogoscoped, google
22 April 2007
On Friday night, we visited Sheffield’s Under the Boardwalk. As far as live music venues go, UTB (as it is sometimes called) is quite a strange place. Most venues usually start off empty when the first band is playing and then get gradually busier as the night goes on. UTB is the complete opposite. We arrived just before 9PM and there were quite a few people there. Around an hour and a half and two bands later, the place had almost emptied. Maybe the audience hated the first two bands. Or perhaps they’d gone upstairs to The Boardwalk. Either way, I’d recommend that anyone thinking of playing there should try to get an early spot rather than a headlining one!
We’d gone to support Bolton’s Out Of The Gray embark on their UK tour, as I mentioned back in February. For an unsigned band to take time out from their day jobs and invest their own cash to go on a national tour for several weeks takes guts. Yarky (lead guitar) said in a recent interview:
I think we’ll be spending the best part of a thousand pounds on petrol and accommodation for the tour, then there’s the initial outlay on merchandise, and there’s really no guarantee of making any of it back. It’s hard for people to understand that when you’re doing this as an unsigned band you’re generally losing money hand over fist – everyone wants to come in for free or get a free copy of the album, and sometimes you just have to learn to say ‘no’.
I agree entirely. In this digital day where unsigned bands dominate MySpace, everyone wants free music downloads. And whilst it’s much easier for unsigned bands to get noticed, it’s still difficult for them to make any money – or just break even. At the time of writing this, Out Of The Gray’s MySpace profile has received 158,659 views, has 53,331 friends and they’ve had 6,711 comments – most of which are from ‘fans’ saying how much they love their music and can’t wait to see them live. Yet when I purchased and downloaded their latest tracks from their online store last week, I was their first customer, and I think I was one of only two people to buy their CD at the gig (which I guess wasn’t too bad given most of the audience had already left). Why more people can’t put their money where their mouth is and do more to support these unsigned bands, I don’t know...
Anyway, here’s a quick review of the bands we saw that night:
Frame 3-13 – myspace.com/frame313
For three young lads from Swansea who describe themselves as being the love child of Placebo and Jamiroquai, these looked and sounded pretty good. Their funky indie music is sufficiently different to most of the droning same-same indie stuff out there, although they would clearly benefit from their lead singer/guitarist learning how to play a few more solos (each one sounded pretty similar from where I was standing) and toning down his obviously-rehearsed-stage-antics – i.e. “At this part of the song, I must drop to my knees in front of the bass player and bend over backwards whilst still playing guitar!” Overall, not bad though.
The Smokestacks – myspace.com/thesmokestacks
If you were to go off first appearances, you’d think these were a bunch of weirdos. After a couple of songs into the set, you’d realise these weirdos make great music. Not afraid to have fun on stage by throwing in the odd bit of comedy barbershop quartet style singing, their incredibly tight funky beats, crazy synth sounds and unique look helped them to own the stage.
Out Of The Gray – myspace.com/outofthegray
Definitely the most professional looking of the four bands – with laminated passes, spare guitars and communicating with the sound engineer over the monitor levels – Out Of The Gray were almost a complete contrast in style to the previous two bands. Strong acoustic guitar playing, powerful vocals and meaningful songs make them easy listening and an excellent live band, although maybe a little mismatched with the other acts playing that night. Personally, I think their performance would have been almost perfect if there was a bit more movement and interaction between the band members on stage, particularly from the bassist who looked a little lost at the back and almost bored.
Strategic Intent – myspace.com/strategicintent
I’m not sure whether this band was a bit deflated because the audience was pretty non-existent but they seemed to be just another pretty average indie/rock band. Maybe they perked up a bit later but we left before they’d finished their 2nd song and pretty much halved the number of people in the audience... sorry lads!
So despite being the small, strange venue that it is, we’ll probably go back to Under the Boardwalk from time-to-time to see if there are any more talented bands out there.
Labels: music, personal, rant
12 April 2007
It’s taken well over a year, but last week we finally made up our minds and purchased a Humax PVR-9200T.
Goodbye E180 VHS tapes; Hello 160GB HDD!
Coco Riley got his back in December 2005 when it was reasonably new technology and apparently the best PVR available in the UK. I figured I’d sit back and wait for a better, cheaper model to come along – but 15 months passed and I was still left waiting!
Luckily, a couple of weeks ago, I got a tip-off from the elusive blog commenter known as “S Crayon” telling me to buy it from Hughes Direct’s Which? associated website – www.which.hughesdirect.co.uk – where you can get several pounds off their already-reasonable prices. He’d just bought one from there after consulting the Digital Spy forums. When I bought it on Sunday, it cost me £170.99 plus £6 P&P. Today it’s going for £163.90! And whilst I was a little worried because I hadn’t received an order confirmation email, it arrived today, just as promised.
If you buy one and think the front panel is scratched, it probably isn’t. When I took the thing out of its box at work today, Lister asked whether it was a reconditioned model because the front panel didn’t appear to be covered in any protective film and seemed to have quite a few tiny scratches on it. Having ordered a new one, I was a bit disappointed and started to search for Hughes Direct’s customer services phone number. And then I spotted this description next to the product:
Freeview Twin Digital 160gb HDD recorder. The front has protective film to preve
I’ve no idea what “to preve” means but managed to work out they were trying to tell me something. I guess they’ve had a lot of customers complain about the front panel being scratched, only to find that it does have a very inconspicuous “protective film to preve” after all!
I’ve only used it for a couple of hours tonight but I’m very happy with it. Not only does it give me loads features than my old Freeview box and VCR put together, but the picture quality and signal also seems to be much, much better. With our old Philips Freeview box, half our channels would cease to work at around 8PM every night and we never found out why (presumably some interference from some electrical equipment somewhere) but we’ve not had any problems at all with this box tonight!
“S Crayon” also tells me that there’s a software update due for it very soon that will add Series Link functionality like Sky+ and a stored EPG instead of loading it every time you switch the box on. This thing just gets better and betterer!
If you’re looking for more comments and opinions, read these posts by Coco Riley:
My only grumble? I should have bought one 15 months ago!
Labels: gadgets, personal
1 April 2007
(Times are approximate...)
07:00 Got my Google Calendar SMS reminder to buy tickets for Glastonbury Festival
07:50 Got out of bed and had a shower
08:20 Checked my emails and the GlastonburyFestivals.co.uk website to see what I should be doing
08:40 Visited the Seetickets.com website only to get redirected to
busy.seetickets.com by their load-balancing software
08:50 Setup two laptops and distributed the URLs and phone numbers to Suzy and Jo
09:00 Started to reload the web pages and constantly redial the phone numbers
09:05 Noticed that even
busy.seetickets.com wasn’t able to cope with the number of visitors
09:10 Started thinking of ways to buy tickets via back-door methods, including doing reverse lookups and trying different aliases for the
seetickets.com domain and server (some of which even worked!)
10:30 Found lots of blogs with posts by smug bastards saying they’d secured tickets after 30 minutes of trying, including one that claimed he’d got a more direct link to the order page from eFestivals.co.uk
10:31 Cursed all those smug bastards for a while
10:40 Registered on the Festival Forums to find that goddamn link and alternative phone numbers! (Turns out it was just another alias which I’d not tried, so felt a little pleased that I was on the right track!)
10:45 Standard (non-coach package) tickets SOLD OUT but not really bovvered cos we wanted coach tickets anyway!
10:46 More frequent reloading of the coach ticket sales web page and constant redialling of all the phone numbers we could find
11:10 Web page loaded, details entered, checked and double-checked (although slightly shocked by the fact that the coach departs on the Wednesday and returns on the Monday!)
11:15 FOUR TICKETS PURCHASED! I’M GOING TO GLASTONBURY!!!
22:43 Still waiting for the email confirmation, which may take up to 24 hours apparently... although that still doesn’t stop the paranoia that something went wrong with the transaction and we’ve not actually got the tickets!
Update: 2 April 2007 (18:10)
Don’t panic... I received my confirmation email at around 08:29 this morning!
Having read a few forums, blogs and all these comments on the BBC website, it seems that some people got through in minutes without any problems whilst others had several PCs and phones going for hours (like us) and yet still didn’t manage to get tickets. With 400,000 people having pre-registered their details and most probably having several PCs and phone lines trying to get through to bag one of the 137,500 tickets, it’s no surprise that phone lines were jammed and the websites couldn’t cope!
So could this have been handled more efficiently? Should they have had more phone lines open? Should they have had more web servers? Would a lottery be a better, fairer way to allocate the tickets?
Personally, I think that what happened today was a lottery anyway. Whether or not you’ve managed to get Glastonbury tickets was mainly down to luck, and I think the wide variety of circumstances under which people were successful in getting their tickets proves this. Unfortunately, everyone who didn’t get tickets will say the system failed and it was unfair – but that will always be the case no matter how they are allocated.
Labels: music, personal, rant
It seems like everyone’s been to Prague, so Suzy and I felt it was about time we went too. Having booked four nights there a couple of months ago, here’s what we got up to after we arrived there on Monday. (And if you’d rather just look at some pictures instead of reading all this, you can view my Prague set on Flickr... although there are quite a lot of photos to get through!)
We flew with Thomsonfly from Robin Hood Airport for about £69 return each (including taxes and charges). We got extra leg room and the plane had leather seats. Other than that, the flight was the usual boring episode.
Having reached our destination, we bought two transfer tickets that allowed us to use both the bus and the Metro to reach the centre of Prague. One of the reasons we chose to visit Prague at this time of year was to visit the Easter markets in the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square which were taking place between 24th March and 15th April this year. So, after checking in at our hotel – Tulip Inn (Prague Terminus) – we walked to the Old Town Square market and had a pork baguette from one of the stalls before getting our bearings.
In the evening, we headed over to a restaurant that had been recommended by someone at work. We’d found it earlier in the day and decided to go back and eat there at night. By mistake, we ended up at a completely different restaurant, and the penny only dropped when I realised that all the food on the menu seemed to be French or Asian inspired rather than typically Czech... meaning we were in a nearby restaurant called Nostress which we’d also seen earlier in the day.
Described as being French Asian Fusion, most of the food on the menu was more Asian than French. For starters, I had Dim-Sum (a selection of Chinese steamed dumplings) and Suzy had Piquant Wonton Soup with Chicken Dumplings. For main course, I had Beef Peanut Curry with Jasmine Rice (since they had no Chinese noodles) and Suzy had Grilled Halibut Fillet with a Saffron Sauce and Roasted Vegetables. All dishes were excellently presented and cooked to perfection. Most Asian restaurants seem to be lacking good deserts, but I guess being a French Asian Fusion restaurant means you can serve whatever deserts you like, so Suzy had a Warm Pear Croustillant with a Chocolate Sauce and I had my trusty favourite Crème brûlée.
Three courses for two, including a bottle of wine and a bottle of still water cost 2115 Kc (about £50) – not so cheap for Prague but very reasonable by UK prices!
To get a better overview of Prague, we decided to take the 3½ hour Grand Walk (The Best of Prague) with Prague Walks which took us through the Jewish Quarter, Old Town, New Town, Wenceslas Square, Charles Bridge and up to Prague Castle. One of the advantages of going on a guided walk is that you’re shown things you probably would’ve missed otherwise and told what they are, like the hanging statue you can see here.
For lunch we tried to find a typical Czech meal and ended up at Hotel Cerný Slon. Mine consisted of pork knee, pork shoulder, pork sausage and bacon (and probably some more pork) with a selection of dumplings and cabbage. Suzy had roast duck with a similar selection of dumplings and cabbage.
In the afternoon, we went back to the Easter markets in the Old Town Square and after the meat overload at lunchtime, we decided to settle for pizza and pasta at a small Italian restaurant called La Scala.
In the morning, we visited Wenceslas Square again (managing to avoid Debenhams and Marks & Spencer) and went up the tower of the Prague Astronomical Clock and saw some amazing views.
Afterwards, we visited the Sex Machines Museum and saw some amazing... erm... mechanical erotic appliances dating back to the 1500s and watched a 1920s porno! (Some of the things in that museum are quite simply wrong and should not exist – but you absolutely have to go and see them if you ever visit Prague!)
Not quite in the mood for a huge bratwurst sausage from the market, we visited a small restaurant (which I think was called Bella Vita) where I got to sample 1kg of marinated pork ribs and Suzy tried a Prague cheese platter.
In the evening, we finally managed to eat at the restaurant we were meant to visit on Monday! Kolkovna describes itself as being “based on a combination of the tradition and uniqueness of the Pilsner Urquell brand and Czech cuisine fused with modern gastronomy.” The starters of Beef Tartar Steak and Beef Broth were both fair. Having had such a large Czech lunch, I wasn’t really in the mood for another large, meat-heavy Czech meal, so for main course I ordered the Rabbit in Garlic and Onion (roasted rabbit legs with spinach and roast potatoes with bacon) which was unfortunately accompanied by “garlic with spinach” rather than “spinach with garlic” and was far too salty, as was Suzy’s Moravian Sparrow (pieces of roast pork with garlic and onion, bread and bacon dumplings, white and red cabbage). The waiter wasn’t the most helpful and the service overall wasn’t great either. Sadly, both the food and service here was disappointing but 1222 Kc (about £30) for two courses, a bottle of wine and a beer seemed like a reasonable price to have paid.
On our last full day in Prague, I spent the morning on another guided tour – this time with Suzy Tours (aided by her Lonely Planet guidebook) – which took us back up to see Charles Bridge again. For lunch, walked back to the Old Town Square and had a bratwurst in a baguette and a chicken panini from the Easter market before doing a bit of souvenir shopping.
Sick of meat, dumplings and cabbage (despite having only eaten Czech food for two or three meals) we luckily found a fantastic Thai, Burmese and Indian restaurant called Orange Moon for our last evening meal in Prague. They did a great Tom Yam Kung soup and Thai Fish Cakes for starters and equally delicious Thai-Green-Curry-like and Pad-Thai-like main courses (although I can’t remember exactly what they were).
After checking out of the hotel, we caught the Metro back to Zlicín and visited the Metropole shopping centre (and almost went to Ikea but it was a bit too far away) before making our way to the airport for our return flight home.
Despite this post being a little on the long side (please accept my apologies) we didn’t feel like we actually did that much whilst we were in Prague, meaning we not only had a brilliant, well-deserved break but also that we can definitely go back again in a few years and see some different sights. Having said that, four nights is probably too much for a short break unless you’re really going to cram in the sightseeing, but I’d definitely recommend visiting Prague if you get the chance!
Labels: food, personal, photos, restaurants, travel