Blind “Batman”

This video follows a blind man in the Netherlands who navigates his environment by making clicking noises with his mouth.

In the video, Dan Kish talks about how his parents treated him no differently as a child, demanding him to act as a seeing child would. With these expectations Kish developed his own way of compensating for his lack of vision, using the feedback from a clicking noise of his tongue to identify objects around him.

(BTW, The video is mostly in English)

BBC News Redesign

Earlier this month the BBC News webteam rolled out a new design for their site, which incorporated (amongst other things) some new design elements (red shades on white background for the logo, for instance) which hinted at a rebranding.

Sure enough, Stuart Pinfold notes that after the 10 o’clock news this Wednesday evening, News 24 will become BBC News Channel, with regional and other outlets following on the 21st.

Microsoft switches UK Mapping to

Oh dear. What have they done? Microsoft have put a redirect in for UK users from their usual mapping site to MultiMap.

MultiMap is a new acquisition of Microsoft, and for those unfamiliar it’s an awfully ad-laden website with nowhere near the features of Users are truely peed off that they’ve been relegated to this lower quality website.

While MultiMap brings across Bird’s Eye view from its brother, it doesn’t seem to fare very well. I tried the Bird’s Eye view (as linked from their homepage), went slightly South (‘up’) and got a really corrupted screen

Kids Say the Darndest Things

On the Fastcat ferry to the Isle of Wight today (bear in mind this is sat in Portsmouth Harbour, on the south coast of England). Across the other side of the boat are a mother and her two kids.

Kid 1, every few seconds saying “Look, there’s a ….” trying to point out things which clearly don’t belong in the harbour. Eventually…

Kid 1: Look, a great white shark.

Kid 2: It can’t be. Sharks don’t live in salty water, only octopusses do.

Parent: This is salty water. There’s the sea.

Kid 1: See, so it was a shark.

Moments later…

Kid 1: Look, there’s a terrapin with the head of a velociraptor.


A few minutes later, as the boat is turning to head out of port…

Kid 1: It’s too bright to see. My eyes are nearly falling out of my head

Finally, as the boat heads out…

Kid 1: Look. They sunk the hovercrast and now the velociraptors are eating the people inside.

Seriously – where does a child get an overactive imagination like that?

Photo Issues

A few weeks ago I was in London for the day. For the first time … ever I was in London for no particular reason: no work, no meetings – I was just there. So, I decided to take my camera and have a wander.

Here’s the problem: despite London’s beautiful historic architecture, its wonderful city streets and its varied colours, characters and scenery, I took precisely two photos that day. One was of Blackfriars Bridge. The other was of the same bridge, taken two feet to the left.

Why? Well, I can be quite a surprisingly bashful person with a camera in hand. While I enjoy taking photos of people and places, I really don’t like being out in public with my camera. It makes me shy and I prefer to hide away in the safety of recesses and corners (which makes me look more like a stalker….). While I’ve become more confident over the years I’m still a little shy and very rarely pluck up the courage to take photos of strangers (or even of scenes where strangers just happen to be in-shot).

Despite being 6′-2″ and, well, large, I was actually quite worried about being mugged, pick-pocketed or otherwise the subject of casual street crime. I don’t know whether I was being daft or not, but I felt genuinely vulnerable with the camera round my neck.

My camera bag is a standard camera ruck-sack from Lowepro. It is not a convenient loader in that you have to take it off and lie it flat to put anything in, but storage-wise it suits me fine. The camera’s a Canon 350D so fairly big – it’s not a pocketable point & shoot by any stretch of the imagination, so it’s either around my neck and useable, or in the back and not.

So here’s my poser to you. If you take photos, how do you deal with this sort of thing? Were you originally shy, and did you find a particular way to overcome your fears? Am I being overly worried about walking around London with a DSLR slung over my neck?

Google Oversight

Google’s new website is the front for the OpenSocial Foundation, an attempt to gather support for open development of OpenSocial-y issues such as data ownership and APIs.

Naturally, being the omnipotent creature that Google is, they’ve used their own Spreadsheet and newly-added survey feature to gather supporters (myself included).

Unfortunately, while the email address is hidden, it’s not gone completely. View the source of this page – a HTML output of the spreadsheet which appears on and behold: a listing of every email address submitted.

My four-or-so hours of Navizon and Fire Eagle

Here’s an idea that I’ve been wanting for a while. When I’m on the road, heading to a client’s office, and I get caught up in traffic or running early, I’d like to let the client know automatically.

Generally, you can text (not an option while driving), email (ditto) or phone the client. Personally even with a bluetooth headset I try to avoid calling people. You could pull over, but I’ve heard they frown on that on motorways, and if you’re late it’s only going to make you later…

So here’s an idea I’ve been playing with for a while: set up your phone with GPS and have it text or email the client to say ‘running 10min late…’ or ‘ETA 11.35 – stick the kettle on’. Being a web-savvy kinda person I’d have a webpage set up with Google Maps and a near real-time trace of my position.

Along comes Yahoo Fire Eagle, a web service designed (as far as I can tell) as a hub for all one’s location-based services. Something tells Fire Eagle ‘I am here’ and it dutifully tells all the subscribed services where you are.

Great. And I managed to get an invite too – double great.

The problem is, Fire Eagle is as new as you can get. It works as a service, but there’s very little talking to it and very few services that use it. Then again, that’s the point of inviting a whole load of developers to play with it.

That is until I spotted Navizon. This program (the Lite version is free) sits on your mobile phone and uses a combination of Celltower triangulation, Wifi AP triangulation and good ol’ GPS to figure out where you are. Joy of joys, it publishes to Fire Eagle too.

After about an hour of faffing around with Navizon’s weirdly ugly user interface, I finally discover that to actually publish to the server (and on to Fire Eagle) I must enable something in my Buddies(!) menu. Yes I know – RTFM and all that, but frankly there’s something to be said for making user interfaces vaguely intuitive as well.

I still don’t know what my ‘Home Area’ is about or what it has to do with anything. I can only assume it’s a privacy thing to stop people finding your exact home, but goodness me everything about their website is counter-intuitive.

For a while, it worked. Navizon worked out where I was (accurately, and brilliantly) purely based on Wireless APs (mine included, it seems). I walked to the shops and it followed me. I went to the next town and – apart from placing me 200yds in the sea – it was fairly accurate.

Then I noticed something that upset me. The program running on my Windows Mobile PDA/Phone was slow to begin with, but I gave it the benefit of the doubt. When I tried closing Navizon the entire thing crashed. Later on, I tried it again – same result.

While playing with the program I also noticed that the phone was noticeably hotter than usual, and realised that the thing was sucking battery juice. I have to say that this is not necessarily Navizon’s fault as such. Wireless sucks the life out of phones at the best of times, and with Wifi AP locating switched off the system would rely on the far less accurate cell triangulation or the perpetual tethering to a bluetooth GPS. Unfortunately I could never figure out how to switch off Wireless AP locating, and I was mobile so reading the manual was not an option.

Which brings me into the close of my little foray into the world of location updating. What started off as high hopes for a service I’ve been looking forward to for a long time has turned into a complete disappointment. The biggest turn-off for me was how utterly unintuitive and resource-hungry Navizon’s phone app seemed to be. I hope Navizon can get their product straightened out, and if they do I’ll be right back to try it again. Alternatively I hope somebody else (perhaps spurred by the interest in Fire Eagle) will develop a slimmer, simpler triangulation/location app that publishes to the Internet.

Until either happens, I’ll continue dreaming up new services that might one day exist!

WordPress 2.5

Been running WordPress 2.5 for the last few days. I have to say, after getting over the initial learning curve of any new interface (however slight), I’m rather impressed.

The post writing is a lot simpler and easier to use. I like the AJAX touches (e.g. when creating a permalink from a title) and the entire thing has stepped up a notch in perceived quality.

Downsides (after very little testing):

  • It all seems a little slower…. but maybe that’s just my server at the moment. Time will tell.
  • The post editing box is still partially ‘below the fold’ on Firefox, maximised with an 800 pixel-high screen. Too much “stuff” above the edit box, which means I have to scroll to write every new post.
  • I want to preserve a comment that I removed from the site (ie. don’t want it public; I want it private). Not entirely sure how to do this yet – it thinks the comment requires “approval”

Um, I think that’s about it. I’d definitely recommend upgrading.

Customer Care?

A few months ago I wrote an email to the customer services people of a major UK railway company, asking how a major redevelopment of one of their stations would affect my (and others’) travel. I’m still waiting for a response.

A few weeks ago I emailed a fairly substantial phone service company pointing out that their 0845 number was incorrectly advertised as ‘free-phone’, and that if this were clarified I might consider using the service. Again, still waiting.

Last night I sent an email to a food review website pointing out a small error on their page. This morning I got a polite response, a thank-you and a commitment to fix the issue.