Quiet Mumblings

Monday, January 28, 2013

The things that are tough to buy online

Online makes some things so easy - especially if they're easily categorised, or virtual. But has completely failed to make any head way with anything that exists in the real world - anything human.

If you want to buy a new camera, online is awesome. There are a clearly defined list of cameras that you can buy, and you can research them to your heart's content - checking different specifications, browsing Flickr for sample images, comparing pricing. And then, when you're happy, you press buy and it comes to you - either to your desk or to your door.

If you want to buy an online service - such as cloud storage - then online is the only way to go, and you don't even need to worry about delivery. It's just instantly provisioned and just works.

But anything that needs a human touch - maybe finding a builder, hiring a new person, renting an office, or sourcing a designer - is still an unsolved problem. The online services that address - unless they're very niche and very focussed - usually don't work. And it remains something that is a pain to initiate, whether you've got something to buy or something to sell.

We want to give someone money! We just don't know who to. Why should it be this difficult?

Don't get me wrong - it's not an online problem. It's hard in the real world too. But it's a problem that we haven't yet solved, but that should be solvable with technology. Just because these problems don't fit into a defined category surely doesn't mean that we should accept it being difficult. Humanity has solved some of the most difficult problems in the world, and most modern developed economies are service economies, but we've yet to solve the issue of buying and selling services.

Any yes - I know it's not a glamorous issue to resolve. It's not curing AIDS or cancer, and it's not flying to Mars. But surely the less time you spend renting a photocopier, the more time you can spend on your projects that really matter.

So I was quite excited to hear about a new startup that's under development called eTender, and which aims to solve these problems. The startup is still in stealth mode - and there's not much I can say about how it works or what it's going to do yet - but I was lucky enough to meet up with the founder of the company, and it's safe to say that they've got some pretty cool ideas about making these problems go away. Or at least a lot easier.

So watch this space - maybe buying services won't be so much harder after all.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

My great phone dilemma

My first ever smartphone was a T-Mobile G1 - an Android device with a fold out keyboard. I adored that phone, despite its slightly tacky feel and the suspicion that the keyboard might fall off at any moment. Android was great - it felt raw and powerful, and I could do whatever I wanted with it. By comparison the first generation iPhones were great - well built, looked beautiful - but they had a limited feature set, and I knew I'd made a safe choice.

I moved from the G1 to an HTC Desire, and loved that as much as the G1. It had everything the G1 had, but also had a newer OS, a faster processor and a much better build quality. The camera was great in well lit situations - although awful in low light. But as my usage of the HTD Desire continued, I began to find it dropping my connection to T-Mobile. I've never worked out if that was the Desire or T-Mobile causing it, but finally I was stood outside a tube station, desperately trying to send an email before going underground and it wouldn't go. That was the moment when I decided I needed something more stable and reliable. I decided to move over to the dark side.

I went to an Apple store that weekend and bought an iPhone 4. I felt that I had sold out, and that I had joined the cult of Apple. But it was a lovely phone. It was solid, fast, well built, and very quick to use. The newer versions of iOS had added most of the features that I would have missed from my Android device. I started to accrue a collection of apps, and more worryingly, started to use iTunes to build up my media collection.

Then came iOS 5. That changed everything, again. And I started to use iCloud. No - not the stupid doc syncing stuff, which doesn't work anyway, but the wonderful iTunes Match service. All of my music in the cloud - everything streaming down to my phone whenever I want it. Completely hassle free. But something started nagging me deep inside. I had been locked in to the Apple ecosystem, to escape no more.

And that is the wonder of the cloud for companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft. The cloud is sticky, and you don't really want to leave. You invest time, and money, into the cloud services you use, and while it's so beautifully integrated into your hardware, you're going to keep on purchasing that hardware.

These days Android phones are even better than they were back in the days of the HTC Desire. The Samsung Galaxy S III is one of the best phones on the market, full stop. Even Windows Phone - which I would have written off as a also ran a few years ago - has come on in strides, and the new Metro UI looks and feels fantastic. The Nokia Lumia 920 is something special. But am I going to move over to these wonderful, cheaper, well built phones? Probably not. I'll probably dig deep and get an iPhone 5 - despite Apple Maps, and the lack of NFC, and the fact that it's not that much more special than my iPhone 4. Simply because I've tied myself in to their ecosystem.

How sad is that?

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Trying to work out how to buy a graphics card

I was recently given an old PC by a friend-of-a-friend. His business was downsizing so he had some spare. Its not a bad machine, but its a little dated and the graphics card just cannot cope with modern applications. I've thought about putting Linux on it, but I rely too much on my Windows apps, and have never had much luck running Wine.

Anyway I'm definitely more of a software person than a hardware person. I've been trying to find a graphics card that will work nicely. I've been looking around but I really don't quite understand the choices involved. I'm not even too sure if its an ATI, PCI or PCI Express slot I've got yet!

Maybe sometimes soon I'll get around to prising open the case and having a look. Until then, I'm going to have to make do as it is.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The newest member of our family

The newest member of our family is a dog called Bruce. He's called Bruce after Robert The Bruce, and is a Border Collie. He's been with us for about a month now, and is growing incredibly fast, and munching his way through a whole load of puppy food. In fact, he is so food obsessed that its hard to get him to think about anything else, and if someone is eating in the house then we don't have a chance!

But he's a cute little fella and already seems like a vital part of the family. Its quite amazing how he so quickly became a vital part of our little pack, and how much we all grew to love him so quickly. The only bad part is taking him for his daily walk - although most days its fine, the British weather can make it quite a painful experience. If we were living somewhere civilised like Barbados it might be a more consistently enjoyable chore.

Never mind. It's good for me!

Keeping a blog going

Wow, once again its been a while since I've updated this blog. I am a fairly useless blogger, but am determined to force myself into a more disciplined routine for my own good. Lets see if I can get a roll on now and get at least one post up here each week. Many bloggers post many times per day, so even I should manage every week!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Live Image from the Mexico Border

I'm not an American, but even I find the relationship between Mexico and the USA fascinating. I have visited neither country, but can see myself sipping Tequila in Tijuana more than I can see myself partying in Las Vegas.

The image below is a "live" view of the Mexico / US border, facing in a Mexican direction:

Mexico / US Border

That image will only update when you refresh the page, but you can see a slightly more live version on the Puente de Las Americas Bridge page. There is also a view of the US side, which is interesting in itself for its quietness.

The Financial Crisis Explained

Clearly the financial crisis is a complicated issue, but this goes some way to explaining it rather cleverly!