Today, Blogger officially turns 9 years old. That's only a couple of years short of being half as young as I am!
Yay for good things lasting a long time.
I know that whenever something comes over from the US (or Japan), the price conversion is more often than not a straight $ -> £ conversion (so $20 would equal £20, even though at present $20 is only worth £10). This has really hacked me off, and the iPhone is no exception - the 8Gb model going on sale in the UK for £269, equivalent to $542 (given that £1 = ~$2). In the US, the 8Gb model is on sale for $369. What really spurred me on was reading the SiliconValley.com article about O2 being announced as the exclusive UK carrier (Dear god, they must have been desperate for the custom, O2 is one of the worst networks in the UK - I should know, I was dicked about for 12 months by them before moving to T-Mobile!) The article wrote off the higher UK price to "value added tax." Well, it's not all VAT, and here's my quick maths to prove it:
(All sums done with Google btw because I'm lazy and it has currency conversion built in, and decimals rounded up to nearest £ or $ because that's what they all do anyway.)
let VAT = 17.5%, or 1.175
let $1 = $2.015 (thanks Google)
VAT-inclusive UK price in USD: $536 = £266 according to the article, but £269 from Google = $542. For the sake of simplicity, let's go with the article's figure.
£269 (UK sale price for 8gb model) x.85 = £228.65 before VAT = $462.
$536 (UK sale price VAT incl.) - $397 (US sale price) = $139 difference = £69 difference.
$397 (US sale price) = £197 in GBP (plus VAT).
Now, if the world was fair, we should be being charged £200 (well, £197, 'but what's £3 between friends,' quipped Steve Jobs).
£200 x 1.175 = £235 with VAT, which is what we *should* be being charged for the 8Gb iPhone. Ha.
So, somewhere, somebody's making £34 to £35 on each sale ($70, by the current exchange rate). Maybe it's for Ives' pension fund? And, even though I don't think the iPhone is a particularly great device save for two things - its multi-touch interface and its form factor - I still get really annoyed when companies bring their products to the UK and rip us off. The iPhone's not the most spectacular example of this, consoles and PCs being much worse for this problem, but it still hacks me off. If you're planning on becoming a beta tester for a new product (i.e., early adopter), you really have to have a fat wallet to survive this kind of hobby.
And yeah, if you're wondering, I have posted this elsewhere, I am active in more than one place on the Internet. ;)
Steve Fossett, known to many as an incredibly intrepid and fearless explorer, has been missing for a number of weeks now. Amazon's helping in the search for him (and his plane) by offering the services of their Mechanical Turk online utility, but a key part of this system is you - the user. Nothing can replace the subtlety and dynamism of the human brain, and they're encouraging as many volunteers as possible to help join the search.
For more info, and to participate, go to the Amazon Mechanical Turk page for Fossett's search, where there's further instructions and related info on the MTurk project itsself. Amazon themselves describe Mechanical Turk as a system where you, "complete simple tasks that people do better than computers. And, get paid for it. Choose from thousands of tasks, control when you work, and decide how much you earn." The Fossett search is unpaid, but definitely worth it if you have any time to spare. Nothing beats the human brain for this kind of thing, and I wouldn't trust a computer alone with the search, so know you're helping a worthwhile cause!
Mmm, reheated browser wars anyone? Opera released their latest Alpha build of Kestrel (aka Opera 9.5, Alpha 1) on the 4th of September. I, being slow and lazy (as per usual) held back on downloading it until earlier this week.
I've been playing about with it on both my XP laptop and 2000 desktop, and I've been MIGHTILY impressed. I use the big 3 (Firefox/Flock, IE and Opera) daily, in fact I have all three clients open right now! However, I find myself leaning towards Opera more and more. Firefox feels a little clunky and bloated to me, and even with addons like FasterFox and my own tweaks, it can drag its heels sometimes.
I'm not saying that Opera 9 is without sin... Like any browser, it has its odd flaw (for example, if I'm a little too hasty (re)loading a webpage Opera can sometimes get stuck mid-pageload, resulting in me having to close the tab, presumably killing the loop the browser's stuck in, and then reopening a tab with the same URL, which makes it work first time). That's about the only *real* flaw I can find with Opera, though I don't use their integrated mail client, so I wouldn't feel comfortable to comment in a qualified manner about that aspect of the software. Outlook's hardly the perfect mail client though, and I only use it because of its great ActiveSync features (yep, I'm a WinMo PPC phone user, my MDA Vario 2 never leaves my sight these days!) What's just as exciting is that when Opera 9.5 makes it to retail status, it's going to get a simultaneous release for both cross-OS desktop and MOBILE USERS! That's going straight onto my phone as soon as it comes out, I already use Opera Mobile on my device but I can't wait for the next version.
Thinking about it, I should really give Opera Mail a try, I have plenty of email accounts knocking about. Anyway, on to the good stuff...
Opera 9.5 has either improved on or brought many wonderfully-useful features to the end user in their latest browser build, the most notable for me being Full History Search, right from the URL bar (this is incredible, and I'll elaborate further below) and the ability to reopen both closed tabs and, now, closed windows, from the Trash Can feature. Speed Dial also has an undo feature, and Opera Mail has IMAP (ooo!) support, plus general speed increases.
Full History Search is possibly one of the best innovations I've come across in the current crop of browsers. There've been times when I've sat in front of my computer, struggling to get my brain into gear to remember the URL (or some keywords) for a site I was on last week but closed, then forgot the URL of. Full History Search gets around this problem by letting you just type in words found on the webpage, so if you were on this web site, for example, all you'd have to do is type "beta test blog" and the entry would appear in the FHS bar with some relevant information - and you'd just select it / click it to load it back up. What makes this even easier to use is the fact that the browser lets you do this from the URL bar, so you just hit Ctrl+D (or Ctrl+L for the old-skool Opera users! though I prefer Ctrl+D) and type what you can remember from the text on the webpage... And blam, quick as a flash, there's your webpage.
HOW USEFUL IS THIS!
I've been so impressed with the upgrades and improvements in Opera 9.5a1, it's actually become my preferred browser of choice. The only downside is that there appears to be no way to disable Opera's inbuilt BitTorrent client, so if you click on a .torrent link it'll try and fire up its own BT client every time, meaning you have to crack open Firefox or IE to load the link up (if you don't just open links directly in your Torrent client's Open File dialog, that is). A minor pain, and I'm sure the ability to disable Opera's BT client will be added in a future alpha or beta build.
As Opera said on their own Kestrel release announcement page,
All that, and this is just the alpha. Even more amazing stuff will arrive shortly. Thanks for taking the time to evaluate.
Other people have also been alpha testing Kestrel, and have written their own comments and reviews - including Peter Gasston, iVirtua Community and a nice-sounding chap called David Woods, on their respective blogs (Mr. Woods sounds like a talented, witty and intelligent person - we share a surname, so if I'm anything to go by...) </sarcasm>
I know that some people prefer Firefox due to Opera's Widgets not being quite as intensively-developed as Firefox's extensions, but personally I don't use widgets or extensions that much - I certainly don't have extensions continually RSS feedscraping or anything operating remotely in realtime, unless it's for design purposes (like DOM inspectors). What I'm after is a clean, well-written browser which can handle being stressed with loads of tabs and multimedia content, multiple Flash instances, video player instances, and sites with lots of content, right down to huge several-hundred-kilobyte chunks of poorly-written HTML. My average load on a browser during a session is 30 to 40 tabs in one go, and that's when Firefox really starts to chug, even with 2 gig of RAM installed. Opera just seems to handle having loads of tabs open much better, possibly due to its (arguably) leaner rendering engine. It certainly feels faster, and the latest Alpha feels almost like a beta, there's no noticeable speed drop for me, and just about all of the functionality from 9.2 is there in 9.5a1 without big gaps in the UI showing placeholder text. The subtle UI effects, present in Opera since a few versions ago now, don't go unnoticed either - and I love the additive-style lighting effects when you mouseover menu items and tabs. All these small touches really add value to the user experience, and it's the only browser where I feel quite happy about leaving it in its unskinned state because it's more than pretty enough!
Kestrel installs right alongside any existing Opera installation you might have, another geek-friendly consideration from the Opera team, so you can have 9.2 and 9.5 running simultaneously. I am doing exactly that right now, and neither browser is balking at the other running at all - [borat]great success![/borat] So go grab your copy of Kestrel and install it now, you have nothing much to lose aside from a few seconds of your time, and a very pretty, efficient and feature-packed (standards compliant!) browser to gain as a result.
Blogged with Flock
Here's a handy little search engine I stumbled across the other day - BYWav.com, a bilingual English/Mongolian search engine, currently in beta. Created by the designer of niqi.net, a categorised worldwide news aggregator web site (in English), BYWav's main aim is to provide search services by way of its Super Search, and - the most interesting feature - an English/Mongolian dictionary service, right from the search box. You search for a word, for example "name", and it produces a list of all the various Mongolian equivalents, along with their phonetic pronunciations. The dictionary isn't complete up to the point where it has context for each different interpretation, but for anybody either learning the language or looking for variations on a particular word, this site has to be really quite useful.
I know how to say 'feckless' in Mongolian now, so the day wasn't a total loss!
Check it out for yourself: BYWav.com.