Author: piers

It’s Christmas (shopping) Time

So I was planning on doing all my Christmas shopping online this year. So far it hasn’t happened. I’m still planning on getting some things from Amazon (18th is apparently the last day with guaranteed delivery before Christmas) but I’m pretty sure that I’m going to have to venture into London this weekend. Which I’m really not looking forward to.

Does anyone have any suggestions on where to go in London that won’t have a mass of other people (and tourists) doing the same?

How did I miss Pinterest?

I’ve always prided myself at being the one person among my friends and colleagues who knew of things before everyone else. But one site that seems to have escaped my attention is Pinterest. How did I miss this? It’s got all the things that I usually pick up on: social, bookmarks, the works.

Unfortunately it’s on invite only at the moment. I’ve signed up for an invite. Does anyone know how long it takes?

One film that they HAVE to make

Thundercats. @codingbadger tweeted tonight the Thundercats theme and it got me thinking.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Thundercats. I watched it as a small boy, and I’ve watched it again as an adult and I still love it. All the characters are awesome. It’s one of those cartoons that gives a definite message (especially since they actually have a slot at the end of the program to spell it out, like so many other cartoons of the 80s did).

There is a fake trailer on Youtube (bonus points if you can name all the movies used in it) that must have taken AGES to make (apparently the creator photoshopped each individual frame), but nothing would beat an actual film being made.

Surely I can dream, can’t I?

You must watch this

The extended trailer (link to iTunes) of what I think will be THE film of the year, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The film is of course based on the first novel from the hugely popular Millenium series by the late author, Stieg Larsson. If you haven’t seen the original Swedish films, I suggest you do. They are truly excellent. Although there are a few bits that do not stick to the original books, they are definitely worth seeing.

When I heard that the films were being Americanised, I was concerned, but having watched the 8 minute long trailer I think David Fincher (director of amongst other films Fight Club and The Social Network) has so far done an excellent job.

If anyone is interested the release date is the 26th December. And I can’t bloody wait.

via

Moving away from WordPress

So yes, as the title says above, I’m trying to move away from WordPress. Not that WordPress isn’t any good. I just want a nicer way of creating a blog, I can’t be bothered to keep a server up and running and I wanted to try something different. So I’m using Jekyll combined with Github’s Pages way of doing things. It means that I’m not hosting anything, pages are fairly simple to create and update and they all use Markdown which I quite like.

Creating new pages on the move could be a bit of a pain in the backside, but I’m going to see if I can come up with a solution using the Dropbox API or something similar.

I’m using the basic layout that a few people use to start with, based on Tom Preston-Werner’s blog but I’m hoping to get something a bit different done. Maybe over Christmas.

I’m also going to add disqus at some point. Not that many people actually comment, but I’d certainly feel better about it.

Letting consultants: the latest pain in my arse

I’m in the process of looking for a flat to rent. Just a studio flat, nothing
fancy (if you’re reading this and you have or know about one to rent, you can
get in touch with me using one of the methods
here
).

Now, if it weren’t difficult enough to find somewhere within your budget,
there is now something else to deal with – the letting “consultant”. This
breed of company appears (from looking at sites like Rightmove) to have many
properties available to view. There are probably a fair few that don’t have
photos on, but if they’ve got that many it’s acceptable that they haven’t got
around to photographing all of them yet. So you get in touch to arrange an
time to view and then they suggest that you go and visit them to see if there
are any similar available for less.

This happened to me today. I went to talk to someone at this firm. The lady
seemed nice. She wanted to help me find somewhere. Then I find out that they
charge (up front no less) £100 for me to become a “member” so that they can
find me a property. As soon as I heard that I upped and left.

I’ve come across one other such company over the last couple of weeks and I
doubt that will be it. They pull you in with lots of nice looking and sounding
properties or flats for rent, then you find out that actually, those
properties probably don’t exist (or at least aren’t on the books of these
consultants) and then drop the bombshell of a fee to find the property.

At this point, I should probably say that I’m not cheap. There is a price for
most things in this life, and usually I’m happy to pay it if necessary. And
they obviously make enough money (this one had nice offices, considering the
cheapness of the flats they supposedly were managing). But moving is expensive
enough as well as stressful so why would I want to pay even more money, and
especially up front when I’m trying to save money to put on the deposit.

So not only are there letting agents (yet another one of those “don’t get me
started” topics that I will talk about at some point, but not yet) out there
who try to keep the majority of your deposit as a way of maintaining their
profits, there are now these “letting consultants” who want even more. Don’t
get me wrong, I’m sure if you’re very busy and have the money to stump up for
someone to do the leg work then it would be great. But when you’re just trying
to find somewhere affordable and nice, spending more money is the last thing
you want. Added to that, they make it even harder to find said property as
their “listings” (and I use quotes because I’m pretty sure that a lot of the
ones you find on places like Rightmove don’t exist) take up half the space.

In case anyone is wondering, I am doing the leg work myself and I’m viewing a
flat on Saturday, so there are proper letting agents out there who want to
help (yes I’m sure they want my money as well, but if they’ve got flats to
show me now and they don’t want to charge me just to view the place, I’m
interested).

Blocking Social Media in the UK? Can’t be done

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock over the past week, you will have
undoubtedly heard that in certain areas of London as well as other cities in
the UK gangs of teenagers have been looting and stealing high value (as well
as not so high value) goods from various shops. It got to the point that David
Cameron cut short his holiday and recalled Parliament to discuss what was
going to happen next.

Apparently the way that these riots (although I’m not so sure if riot is the
right word since it just seems to be mass robbery) have been organised have
been through Blackberry’s BBM service as well as the usual scapegoats, Twitter
and Facebook. So the government in their usual kneejerk fashion is talking
about the possibility of cutting off access to these services if the rioting
continues.

So this brings me onto why this cannot be done. There are (at least) two
reasons why.

Firstly from a Democratic point of view:

If the government had its way and blocked access to these services, that would
affect me and the millions of other residents of the UK who have nothing to do
with these acts of violence. Admittedly I don’t own a Blackberry, nor do I
have aa Facebook account, but I use Twitter on a daily (if not hourly) basis.
I haven’t been involved in what’s been going on. The only thing connecting me
and the so-called riots is that I’ve been using Twitter to keep myself in
what’s going on from a grassroots level. So why am I getting punished? I, like
I’m sure many of my fellow tweeters, would not stand for it.

The second reason why it cannot happen is a purely technical one. In an age of
virtual servers, where it takes less than 5 minutes (usually far less) to have
a fully functioning server, connected to the internet and serving content the
government would basically have to completely cut off the UK from the rest of
the world as far as the internet goes.

There is nothing they can do to stop me from setting up a proxy server in the
US and routing all my traffic through that. Or setting up a server (again,
outside the UK borders) as a proxy and connect that to the Twitter API to make
and read tweets. Obviously if the government were to take the step in blocking
UK citizens from connecting to these services then this would probably become
illegal and so I would never do it, nor would I suggest that people would do
the same.

So what can the government do? Firstly I would hope that they can see this
stance as it is: nothing more than a knee jerk reaction. Secondly they can
look to the causes of these problems: the fact that most of these kids (most
seem to be under 18 so I think that justifies me calling them that) are bored
and have nowhere to go except their homes since the government seems to be
cutting various facilities where they could be; they also need to be taught to
respect both the law and those who protect it. I don’t want to go as far as
suggesting that military service should be brought back but some kind of
activity to teach both respect and discipline would go a long way.

Why I’m loving Quora at the moment

I asked my first question on Quora back in
October of last year. Since then I’ve asked 54 questions and given 140
answers. Not a huge amount, but recently I’ve noticed that it’s very easy to
get answers from people who have worked on some pretty major stuff.

For example, a couple of days ago I was watching Toy Story and had a question
about it. Within 12 hours, I had an answer; not from a film buff (although
that too would have been good) but from someone who actually worked on the
film! This, to someone who has no connections to the industry, is a fairly
remarkable thing.

More and more people are getting into Quota and this means that more and more
questions can be answered by people who actually know the answers, as opposed
to those who have an opinion. This is where Quota will become a phenomenal
tool I. the future. And why I love it. The people on it are knowledgeable,
friendly and, above all, rather than write a condescending answer to a silly
question, take the time to answer in a way that enables both the asker and
those who come and read the questions later to come away knowing something
that hadn’t known before.

Quitting Facebook

I’ve been talking about doing this for a while now but last night I took the somewhat large step to delete my Facebook account. Not deactivate it, but delete it completely.

Now to those that have steered clear of the behemoth that Facebook has become you might not think that this is very impressive, but it’s very easy for it to become the very hub of your social life; planning social events through it, keeping in touch with old school friends etc. and that’s why it’s very easy to become slightly addicted to it: logging on every couple of hours to see what’s changed, what your friends are up to and so on.

I’ve only told one person (up until the point of writing this post) that I’ve done this so I’m wondering if I’m going to get any texts or emails asking me what’s happened to my account and I think some of those people will ask why I’ve done this.

To me, Facebook over the past six months or so has been used to share links and message people; both those tasks can be done elsewhere. Therefore I don’t really have a need. If people want to get in touch with me there are ample ways of doing so, be it Twitter, Google talk or even (god forbid) email.

At some point over the next couple of weeks I’m going to de-do my website. I currently use things like Posterous for blogging, Twitter for microblogging, Flickr for photos and YouTube for videos, so why do I need something like Facebook to do all of the above? If I want one location to do all of the above I can stream them into one site and allow people to view stuff there. Which is exactly what I plan to do. So goodbye Facebook. It was fun.