Categories
Technology

How effective is Googles ‘Sponsored Links’ on you?

As a web-literate person I like to think I’m pretty good at avoiding the pitfalls of online advertising. You have to be an idiot to click on 99% of internet advertisements, as they are spam and irrelevant to what you’re browsing.

However, Google’s AdSense algorithms are as smart as its PageRank one, and it’s one of the few trusted and effective ad publishers out there. Despite this thought I thought I was pretty damn good at avoiding the ominous ‘sponsored links’. However, according to my Google ‘web history’ I seem to average around 1 sponsored click every day! That’s a lot more than I thought it would be.

To see this yourself, visit https://www.google.com/history/. You’ll now see all your Google searches. On the left are filter options. Click ‘Sponsored Links’ and… there you go! Every Google ad you’ve ever clicked.

Categories
Technology

Hovering and Hogging

I know almost nothing about UI and ‘usability’. However, I know when something is stupid. And these hovering bars that follow you as you scroll (highlighted in red) are stupid. They are not just over-sized and ugly, but are actually giving me zero useful information and permanently taking up a sizeable chunk of the page. Do I really care that there’s ‘about 2,230,000 results’? Or am I ever likely to think ‘Crap, am I reading the politics section of the Guardian? Oh, I’m at the ‘In Pictures’ section, right. That hovering bar is handy’? No I’m not. So leave my limited pixel space for actual content.

And, this is Google and the Guardian doing this. Sort it out guys.

Google Image search bar

Guardian iPad app bar

Gmail gets it right though, displaying actual useful tools that I’m likely to use when scrolling:
Gmail scrolling bar

Categories
Sport

Through the Teeth for in the Flesh

I’ve become interested in football (soccer) recently. As a kid I was mildly interested, like most English children are. I inherited the sport. I also inherited my team, Chelsea FC. I remember going to a game or two with my Dad to see them play. Wether I requested to go or not I can’t recall. All I remember is being mostly scared. 40,000+ people around you is a nightmare for any introvert. It wasn’t too bad in the stadium. Everything’s organised and fairly controlled, despite the noise. It’s the ludicrous amount of people you encounter on your way. On the trains in particular.

Anyway, I went to a few games and slowly became less interested in football. Last year though I started playing Football Manager. It’s a simulation game that to most sounds as dull as Snow Plow Simulator. However, it has a massive audience and is amazingly addictive, even for someone like me who had been away from the football ‘scene’ for 5 years. I eventually wanted to see these data ‘players’ for real. (Well, on a TV screen) I wanted to put a face to a set of attributes and I slowly began watching TV football games more and more, consuming every game I could.

After a year of watching frequently on the TV I last week decided to go to a live game again. I decided to watch ‘my’ team. Chelsea. This is where the nightmare begins.

I go to ChelseaFC.com > Tickets > Buy tickets online > Match tickets > Non-members. I see a game called “annual lunch”. Apparently it’s an away fixture. ‘Mmmm,’ I thought. ‘Never heard of that team.’ I click “buy tickets”. I’m presented with “£168”. ‘OK’ I thought. ‘I’ll try an unofficial site. It is a little odd I can’t buy tickets from the fucking Chelsea FC website though.’

I Googled around, but… nothing. Nothing as in ‘not one game’. No site was selling available tickets. I eventually found a website called viagogo. It appears to be a website where people, and presumably companies, sell-on tickets. I didn’t like the idea of that, it sounded dodgy. But, yeh, ‘I’m desperate.’ ‘Yes! Arsenal game! Arsenal game! Oh. £158 a ticket.’

I go back to ChelseaFC.com. I find my way to the membership page. It seems becoming a member for (at least) £42 you gets you more access to tickets. ‘Okay. Whatever. I don’t care anymore. I’ll do that I guess.’ I pay £48 for a two year membership for “tickets only” on their SSL-less shitty website and after a couple of days my membership finally becomes active. I log in with the password they sent me over e-mail. [They required a password when I signed up. Quite why I don’t know, since they reset it and send you their own chosen one anyway.] ‘Okay. There are more games available.’ It seems the only home game that isn’t already sold out is over a month away. ‘That’s a long time, but okay.’ I spend quite a while evaluating the seating plan attempting to get the the right seat. I call my Dad to make sure he’s off work that day. He is but complains, like me, about the price: £51 a ticket. (That’s over 50p a minute). I go to buy. ‘Mmm. So it seems I can only choose the stand where I want to sit, not even the section, or let alone seat. ‘Huff Whatever.’ I go to payment.

“You can only buy one ticket per member.” ‘One fucking ticket?!’ … … …

Seriously?! I completely understand a limit. They don’t want one member buying 30 tickets or anything silly like that. I also understand that Chelsea has a small-ish stadium for the size of a club it is. But they limit it at 1?! Say you’ve got an American friend to visit and he wants to see a Chelsea game. He has to become a fucking member to buy one single ticket just once?!

Maybe I am just over-reacting. However, I’m cutting my loses now and just getting away from this whole dirty rotten business. I don’t feel wanted and neither does my money.

Note: This seems a common problem, not just with Chelsea. I’ve attempted to buy many tickets this past week. I tried Bayern Munich and Ajax. I thought I’d turn it into a little holiday as my birthday just passed. But, Bayerns ticket site isn’t in English and Google translate is no good. With Ajax I can’t remember the specifics. The only thing I do remember from their buggy website is that I had to buy an overpriced buffet if I wanted a ticket.

I’ll probably eventually go see my local team, Watford FC, play. Despite being such a small team they had the best ticketing system. They were the only team where you could pick your actual seat. However, at the moment “there has been an unexpected error” on their site. Also, it’s powered by the bastardly Ticketmaster. Not good signs.

One day, some day, I’ll manage to buy a ticket.

October 22, 2011:
Look! An actual ticket for an actual football match!
Watford FC ticket

Categories
Uncategorized

My Newspaper Dream

Every 6 months or so I go to my local newsagents and buy every newspaper on the shelf, hoping to find a news companion I can maybe subscribe to.

I sit on my floor and spread them all out and spend the afternoon reading them but I never really like any.

I was going to now go into great detail as to why. How I think the Daily Mail is pretty much the worst publication to ever be put to print in the UK. (It’s not just bad, it’s poisenous in fact.) I was going to talk about how The Times is just straight up boring and how the Guardian go overboard with sport articles sometimes, publishing stuff that seems forced just to beef up their sports section.

But anyway, all you need to know is none of them fit. I don’t mind the Guardian and the Independent, but would I want to spend £300 a year reading one? No. Because I only read around 1 in every 15 articles in the paper and that ratio isn’t good enough.

So, why can’t I subscribe to the individual journalists I like? I want someone to create a writers network website. The fantasty is that all news and magazine publishers allow their staffs work to appear on this network, for a price. I can then subscribe to a journalist for a certain amount per month or per article/photo.

It won’t just be a website, of course. They’ll be an iPhone and iPad app that produces your custom ‘newspaper’, a bit like Flipboard does with your social networks. There could even be a Magcloud like service that would print and send your ‘paper/magazine’ every month to your door. A reccomendation engine would accompany all this. ‘Hey, you like Kevin McCarra of the Guardian so why not subscribe to Sam Wallace of the Independent? Start your free 2 week trial of this writers articles now!’

This is my dream.

December 17, 2011:
Journalisted offers some of the functionality I yearn for.

August 15, 2013:
The Guardian have implemented a ‘Follow by email’ feature.
Example:

January 7, 2014: It seems the Guardian have removed the ‘Follow by email’ feature.

Categories
Technology

DuckDuckGo

So what’s a good search engine? Well, Google comes to mind. Ha, obviously. Bing, Ask and Yahoo are all poor. However, a man called Gabriel Weinberg in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania has created a search engine that seriously rivals the might of Google.

It’s called DuckDuckGo and is amazing. I did some basic tests comparing Google to it and Google did just win. However, DDG (DuckDuckGo) has great character and some nifty features which makes it my default. Also, when I did these tests I was looking at the extreme end of search. So I was seeing if it could tell me when Hendrix died, the time in Oslo, my local weather and if it could do various conversions. Google edged this because it did it so gracefully and beautifully. However, when I stopped doing niche searches and just used DDG day-to-day I found it an equal to Google and that is incredibly high praise. I did more tests and in the first draft of this post talked about them but they’re really too boring to talk about here so I’ll just say Google beats DDG at certain things and vice versa. Which again, for a one man site, is amazing.

Here are some particular things I really like about DDG:

  • !bang syntax. I mainly used Google’s ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ feature. So I’d search ‘in bruges imdb’ and it’d take me right to In Bruges’ IMDB page. However, when I needed multiple results and wasn’t sure of the page I wanted I would have to go to google.com and search. DDG avoids this with the !bang syntax. So now I search ‘!imdb in bruges’ and it’d take me right there. If I don’t know the site I wanted but am ‘feeling lucky’ I’d just search ‘!ducky in bruges’ and it’d take me to the first result. Or say I wanted to buy a Bob Dylan album on Amazon. I’d normally go to amazon.co.uk and search. Now I can just type ‘!a bob dylan’ and DDG will take me right to Amazon’s search results page for Bob Dylan. That is very handy.
  • Security. Google is very smart. It’s constantly working out ways to get you clicking stuff and tracks you in very intricate ways. DDG doesn’t do this. Also, Google does have SSL support but it takes away a lot of Google’s usual search features. It’s also not smart. DDG knows I’m searching on its HTTPS site so will take me to the HTTPS version of the link I’m clicking where possible.
  • It’s customizable. You can edit pretty much anything you like. Colors, text size, layout and you can even turn off ads!

There are some things I did really miss about using Google though. Here are the cons of DuckDuckGo usage:

  • No iOS support. Currently you’re only allowed to use Google, Bing or Yahoo as your default search engine in mobile Safari. You can go to ddg.gg everytime you want to search, but that’s tiresome. There is also an actual DDG iOS app, but you don’t want that.
  • No auto-complete when searching.
  • The spell checker is bad. Google is the best in the world at spell checking because they have so much context.
  • Google is prettier. DuckDuckGo is like Samuel Johnson. An ugly mother-fucker who occasionally stutters but is charming and clever, so you forget all that.
  • Google.com is the hub. You visit it and from there you access your e-mail, documents, news, maps and more. DDG becomes another unnecessary non-Google site to visit.
  • Consider DDG ‘the face of the web’. If you want a deep extensive search and plan on trawling through many pages DDG will say ‘no more results’ and give you the option to redirect to Google, Bing, etc.
  • When I search for a cinema Google gives me showings, a map and the telephone number all without clicking a single link. DDG isn’t as smart in this regard.

I’d imagine most people will prefer Google, if only for familiarities sake. However, DuckDuckGo is a great, endearing alternative. So please give it a try!

September 27, 2011: Another con of using DDG: as I mentioned, the site is customizable. It uses javascript to impose your favoured colours, layout, etc. This can be slow. Generally only a second or two, though it can be longer. This doesn’t sound like too much of an issue, but it will be after a few hundred searches. Sometimes I find and click what I’m looking for before my settings ‘arrive’, so to speak. Please consider this.

September 29, 2011: I listed bad spell checker as one of the cons of DDG. However, this probably proves me wrong:
DuckDuckGo spelling correction

May 8, 2012: I’m still using DuckDuckGo happily. It’s gotten a lot faster recently and I’ve become a Jedi at using !bangs.

November 21, 2012: Still loving DuckDuckGo!!!

January 7, 2014: Using it everyday, still.

Categories
Sport

What’s next for Barcelona? Three ways for improvement

It has been a undeniably wonderful season for Barcelona. They have not only won three competitions but won over the hearts of many football fans. I certainly adore them, but do think there’s a little room for improvements and here are my (rather obvious) thoughts.

Improve the squad

This current team are constantly being called the greatest in the world. I disagree. I think they may have the greatest starting 11, but if you ignore those 11 and concentrate on the rest of the squad it’s actually rather weak. Barças rivals Real Madrid have a far superior squad with a very good reserve player in nearly every position. The Catalans on the other hand have an assortment of over priced aging players and various young Spaniards from Barcelona B that have occasionally proved unreliable.

Barcelona’s fabulous 11 is almost too much of a team. If one of them is missing the system is prone to breaking. In fact, the 11 didn’t even draw a game in La Liga last season. All draws and loses occurred when at least one backup player started. Of course it sounds obvious that a backup player isn’t going to perform as well as one from the first team and that’s to be expected. But the problem is that, as I said, the 11 rely on each other so greatly to function as the ‘best team in the world’. They are a mind-blowing system of players whose styles compliment each other in an exceptional way. (That’s why Lionel Messi scores almost half as many goals for Argentina as for Barcelona.) When a new player comes along they seemingly struggle to be part of that system. Even the youth (La Masia) players, raised the Barça way, occasionally stick out when alongside others from the 11. And the likes of Milito and Mascherano look alien alongside them. And this brings me onto my next point…

Shrewd transfer dealings

Maybe it isn’t surprising, considering their reliance on players coming through La Masia, that Barças purchases in recent years have often been so poor. But is is odd considering nearly every other aspect of the club is so well run. In just the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons they spent roughly €140 million on what many consider flops and €50 million on ‘good’ buys. That’s a terrible ratio and if you include wages and fees, they have wasted an awful amount of money in a very short space of time.

Barça also never seem to bag a bargain and are constantly over-paying. Whether it be for young, unproven players like Keirrison (20, €14M), Chygrynskiy (22, €25M) and Cáceres (21, €16.5m) or aged, experienced ones like Henry (29, €24M) or Milito (28, €17M) and Villa (29, €40M). Naturally, many would rightly argue that investing in young talent is a good thing as they are buying players at the right age, as their wage demands are small and they could be sold at a later date for a similar or greater price. But these young buys never seem to reach their potential and are usually loaned out and loose their value and demand before being moved on. This could be down to bad luck. But you surely can’t have €140 worth of bad luck in two years?! If it wasn’t for the financial weight of the club and the quality of La Masia graduates Barça could be in a very different position in the table.

Aside: does any one else think if Barça had Arsene Wenger as Director of Football they would be unstoppable?

Keep hold of Guardiola

Guardiola’s contract seems to be pretty much extended one year at a time season-by-season. Whether it’s his or Barças idea to do it this way I don’t know. All I know is that ‘Pep’ is often curiously self-deprecating. He insists he’s just steering a very talented ship. Maybe he’s just being humble, but I think deep down he doubts his own abilities. He may just believe he’s advising other managers players and playing with a system inherited from Johan Cruyff. Also, when asked about rumours of moving on to another club he seems open and flattered by the prospect and gives the stock ‘my contract runs ’til 20XX, after that you never know’ line.

He’s been at Barcelona his entire coaching career and most of his playing one and you would imagine that’d would breed the sort of man who would be inherently loyal. But it seems he’s certainly not going to be the Catalan Alex Ferguson and may likely be tempted to prove himself elsewhere.

Anyway, I believe Barcelona need to hold onto him. Not only for the the Ferguson-effect of stability, but of course because he wins trophies consistently. La Liga three times in a row and the UEFA Champions League twice. A sensational record! Just imagine if Bojan’s late goal versus Inter Milan in the 2nd leg of the semi-final in 2010 stood? He could of won it three times in a row by now!

Ignore the critics

Barcelona are loved by nearly all. Even the Manchester United fans seemed content to loose to such a brilliant team in the Champions League final recently. They are known as the good guys in football; financially secure and the best team in Europe. Maybe they should just keep doing what they’re doing! 🙂

Categories
Technology

WTF Facebook‽

I recently got MobileMe. When I was setting it up to sync all my contacts over multiple devices I somehow lost around half of my phone contacts. It wasn’t too big a deal as I have few contacts and most are intimate friends and family. Except for my friend Sam who lives in Northampton. I had no way of getting in contact with him. He isn’t a friend on Facebook and all I could remember was his now defunct and embarrassing Hotmail username. I could just wait until he got in contact with me. But he’s a Formula 1 mechanic and I needed advice about my little Honda.

Next I typed his email address into Google hoping it would take me to one of his online profiles, but it returned no results. I tried to add his Brother on Facebook and get in contact that way, but Facebook search is awful and I couldn’t find him. It couldn’t find Sam either. Well, the right Sam.

I eventually remembered that when I needed to reset my Facebook password a few weeks ago it listed all my associated e-mail address to choose which one I wanted to send the new password to. I typed in Sam’s hotmail account and clicked ‘forgot password’? and sure enough it listed his Gmail address.

I thought, ‘great, I’ll send him a quick e-mail now’. I’m halfway through asking for his details when I hear the indistinguishable noise of that Facebook chat beep. I go to the tab and sure enough I can see a chatbox. Sam and his Brother are chatting back and forth about what he wants for Christmas. ‘WTF’ I thought. This was bizarre. I typed in “Matt?”. He replied “yea”. I said “Sam has been hacked. Ha. Facebook security. Bullshit.”

Facebook account hacked

I got to Sam’s profile page and sure enough I am logged in as him. I can post and change settings. I didn’t, but I could. I haven’t tried this with any other accounts, because you know, it’s probably illegal or something and this may of just been a one-time glitch. But still, an idiot like me managed to hack into a Facebook account. By accident! All I needed was his e-mail address. No password – nothing. WTF Facebook?

Categories
Technology

iPhone 4 Review

“I don’t gamble. I don’t drink. My one vice is buying a new iPhone every summer. Well, that and lying about drinking and gambling.” — John Gruber

Design

From the few I’ve spoke to it seems that men like the new design and women don’t. The ladies don’t like the stainless steel around the edges or its sharpness. They find it unforgiving and masculine. Personally, I love it. Seeing stainless steel in an increasingly plastic society feels refreshing. Plus it’s a nice design wink to Dieter Rams and old Braun products. Most Apple designs are – but traditionally the iPhone never was.
I’ve found the 4 to be both terrible and terrific in the hand because of its hard edges. Most reviewers loved the feel, and I do. But only sometimes. That cold stainless steel makes holding it very mechanical in portrait mode. It’s comforting and industrial. And after a while that feeling welds itself to you and it feels familiarly beautiful holding it. I imagine hand gun owners get that same feeling of ‘home’ when they rest they’re hands on it in their holster.

However – for me – in landscape mode when taking a video or photo it feels pretty bad. It feels pleasant but not comfortable. You have no grip and feel like your going to drop it. The problem is likely magnified with my large hands. But it’s the main reason I’m ordering a nice, round, grippy case.

I had my 3G for 2 years and dropped it quite a few times caseless and it never broke. I had some minor scratches and an obtrusion at the bottom from when I dropped it heavily once. But, it never broke, and I never experienced any of the fragility others reported. Yesterday I dropped my 4 from just below waist height. I was confident there would be no large damage. And there wasn’t. However, there are some really horrible scuff marks. Because of the square design each corner takes the full weight of impact. On iPhones of old the rounded bottom would sort of soften blow. But not with the 4. And these scuff marks are horrible! They aren’t too noticable by sight but are in the hand. The smoothness is now replaced with sharp scratches and it feels rough. Sure, it’s my own fault. But if you own it for 18 months (24 in my case) your going to drop it. And after several shunts I can imagine the phone looking really battered.

The flat, glass back makes it sit nicely on tables and it looks splendid. But I’d prefer a plastic back. Having glass on the reverse of the phone doubles your worries of dropping it and doubles the chance of damage if you do. Also, you don’t want to touch the rear. It’s smooth and lovely, but with sweaty hands it feels slippy and makes you not want to touch it for fear of smear. Yet another reason for purchasing a case.

Tech

Jesus Christ!!! The screen is stunning. Beyond belief stunning. It is mind blowingly clear. It’s so perfect you don’t want to touch it. I just want to load up a Andreas Gursky picture and mount my iPhone. Other phones screens are like regular printer paper; the iPhone’s screen is museum quality paper. (It makes me so excited for the new iPad.)

Other reviewers have praised the 4’s camera saying it’s pretty good but not top of the range. That may be so, but this new camera is more than enough. I consider it just as good as nearly all point and shot cameras. As a photographer I honestly believe I could use the 4 on assignment in most cases. Not for studio based stuff, but certainly onside on location. It’s hard to take a bad picture with it. The point to focus feature is nice but I rarely use it as the large f-stop often makes it irrelevant. It’s handy occasionally though. The flash is okay. Again, nice to have. I haven’t used it enough to really critique it. It boosts everything nicely when using it in medium to low light. But the 4 is good generally adequate in low light. It’s good at night to get the job done. But whitewashes – like most flashes – so don’t expect too fine results.

It’s 720p video capabilities are better than it’s photo taking. The video is so good! Everyone I’ve shown videos to have been blown away. The biggest problem I’ve found with video is exporting it. I like to share it the moment I take it, on Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo, e-mail, etc. Most websites give you your own e-mail address so you can attach it, send it, and then the website will upload it. Bit of a problem though. Firstly, it’s compressed before the phone evens sends it and by the time the website of your choice compresses it again and converts it to flash it will look terrible. Really terrible! Secondly, you can only e-mail short videos. It’s based on how long it is and I’ve never been able to upload a video longer than a minute. That’s not very long. Say you’ve taken video on a holiday and edited it all together with the iMovie app. That could easily be 5 minutes long. So, the only way to share it is wait to you get home to your computer, connect your phone, and export it using a software of your choice. So much for cloud computing. The poorly compressed problem is also magnified due to the phones amazing screen.

The battery life is pretty poor. The tech on the iPhone is so immense that it was never going to be great. And all things considered the battery life is decent. But mine has never lasted more than a day. It lasts ages on stand-by. For example, I’ve been up 4 hours and am yet to touch my iPhone since fully charging it over night and the battery percentage is at 98%. Which is great. But the moment you start using that beast of a screen it tumbles faster than a V8’s MPG. Last week it lasted half a day with heavy usage. I shouldn’t have to worry about battery percentage 5 hours after its last full charge.

iOS4

The iPhone’s software has always been one of its plus points. Joyful and easy to use, it defined the product and put other phones interfaces to shame – and still does. On the surface iOS4 looks like any of its previous iterations. It looks exactly the same. The main new features are folders, the ability to group apps in folders; the ability to gift apps; wireless keyboard support; tap to focus video and 5x digital zoom. And, multitasking. I thought multitasking would be magnificent. And it is. But the 4 is so fast it’s almost pointless unless your in the middle of a game. And even then most games take a few seconds to start up and continue from where you left off. Also, to use multitasking you double-click the home button. Well, I’ve found only ninjas and pac man enthusiasts can do this. You have to tap it twice to quickly it’s unreal. Maybe it’s just me, but 70% of the time I want to bring up the multitasking dock it takes me back to the home screen.

The Antenna Issues

I have had some antenna problems. If I put just part of my finger against the bottom left black line of the phone I will lose bars. Usually at a rate of 1 per 5 seconds. I can easily avoid holding this area when using the screen. It’s when I’m talking on it that I experience the problem. That black line is right where my pinky finger likes to sit. So, as a result I have to move my whole hand higher or lift the pinky and look like I’m a posh twat sipping on a cup of tea. My friend Thom got the exact same model, from the exact same store, on the exact same network right before me and has experienced no issues though. So maybe it’s only on certain phones. Or maybe he’s just missing a pinky. Personally I don’t think Apple will be able to do much just by changing software. It certainly seems like a hardware issue. Despite all this it doesn’t bother me that much. I mean who uses there phone for phone calls now-a-days anyway? I’ve been on the phone for 9 minutes over the week I’ve got it and most of those calls where only to gloat. But joking aside, if your a heavy caller you’ll probably find this more of an issue than I have.

All things considered

This is a truly great phone. Reviewers are arseholes. We nitpick because it’s impossible to critique a perfect product and equally impossible to claim something to be perfect. If you’re a previous iPhone owner this will be a nice upgrade. The 4 isn’t what the 3GS was to the 3G. This is a whole new phone. And if you’re not an iPerson, now will be the perfect time to jump on the Apple ship.