Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Great Blu-ray Rip-off!

I spoiled myself this Christmas, and bought myself a new PS3 Slim. With a 250GB HD and 1080p output it seemed like the best choice (over the Xbox and Wii). However, it was the Blu-ray player that sealed the deal for me. I recently upgraded my TV to a Full HD LCD, and wanted something that would let me appreciate the HD technology.
This blog is not meant to be a review of the PS3 (there are lots of those around), but I must say I'm very happy with my choice. The console exudes quality, the games are a huge step up from the PS2, and the media capabilities are a great bonus.

Blu-ray is a fantastic technology. Even normal DVDs look great thanks to the upscaling built into the PS3, but true 1080p output is simply stunning, and has to be witnessed to be fully appreciated!

However, I have to ask myself why, every time there is a new format introduced, the studios feel the need to up the price so radically. Locally, has the District 9 DVD listed at R145.30 and the Blu-ray at R270.70, an 86% increase. The studios will ague that they have included a whole lot of additional material on the Blu-ray, but honestly, who wants this extra material. I almost never even look at the additional material on DVDs; I don't see that changing with Blu-ray. And is that additional material really worth the 86% on-cost?
To my mind, the cost of a movie, regardless of format, can be broken down into the royalty, the physical media, the manufacturing, and the marketing and distribution. The only differences between DVD and Blu-ray are therefore the physical media, the manufacturing and the additional material. Personally, I put zero value on the additional material, and, with volume, the media and manufacturing cost difference is negligible. So why the huge on-cost?
Well, we are being charged more for the 'perceived' value of high definition. The same thing happened when CDs replaced vinyl, and again when DVDs replaced VHS. And this is a huge rip-off, and a huge mistake!
Do you remember how people started building CD and DVD collections to replace their LPs and VHS tapes? That isn't happening now with Blu-ray, because the price is just too high. Instead, the format is battling to get a real foothold in the market, despite there already being a huge number of Blu-ray capable machines out there.
Sure, in the US especially, 'video on demand' services like Hulu offer an alternative to physical media, and these services have put a dent into both DVD and Blu-ray sales, but the fact remains that Blu-ray has not been the phenomenon it deserves to be.
So why should the studios do anything differently? Well, the security features built into Blu-ray make the discs much harder to copy. Almost anyone with a PC can copy a DVD; not so easy with Blu-ray. So, as a deterrent against piracy, the studios should be encouraging people to switch to Blu-ray, and they could do this by offering a 'movie only' version on Blu-ray, at a price point even lower than the DVD. People would flock to the new format, I guarantee!
That's what I would do.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Google Music - An Opportunity Missed

The following is pure speculation, with a touch of hopeful optimism, and not based on fact or any insider knowledge.

Google's plans to dominate your every online move is well documented, and considering their basic business model, it makes a lot of sense. Their main revenue stream is from advertising, and quite simply, the more people they can get online, the more their advertising will be seen. So how to get more people online? Simple; create a set of applications, add a 'cool' factor to lure people in, and then give them away for free. They started with Gmail, added calendar, docs, photo editing and management, earth, maps, and so the list keeps growing.
People's acceptance for working in the 'cloud' is growing, and their concerns over privacy are diminishing. Next year they'll launch Google OS on machines that are simply a vehicle for the Chrome browser, and I have no doubt people will buy them in their millions.
What are the 3 main uses for a computer?

  1. Research - This is where Google started; their search engine dominates worldwide.
  2. Work - Google already has this covered with Google docs, and several large corporations have already made the transfer to the 'cloud'.
  3. Recreation - Google has a very popular photo application in Picasa, and has video wrapped up with YouTube. They have also been active in Social Networking, although Orkut wasn't as successful as they would have liked. However, Friend Connect continues to grow, and rumours about Google's interest in Twitter keep resurfacing.
Where it falls short is music. How Google OS will handle music has not been fully addressed, as the machines intended to run Google OS are not intended to have the huge memory required to store thousands of MP3's. Although their are plenty of options for streaming music on the web, these sites have been faltering under the burden of fees paid to the music labels, and are more and more turning to subscription based services.

Lala had a great model, and would have been a perfect fit for 'Google Music". On one's main PC, you access your Lala account and upload your entire music library to Lala, and then access it from any machine, via the web, for free. And legal. And the beauty of the system is that you don't have to physically upload your entire collection which would use many GB of bandwidth (and take days, if not weeks) - Lala scans your music library and registers each song in it's system. Then, if you want additional music, there is a nominal charge to allow streaming, or the option of downloading the song at a cost comparable to iTunes.
Lala sounded like they had the perfect model for Google, and they were for sale. But Apple beat them to it, and we will probably see these features being rolled out in iTunes at their next release.
The unfortunate problem with that is Apple's notorious 'walled garden'. You can only access iTunes with your iPod or iPhone, and although there are millions (and millions) of such users, supporters of Google's own Mobile OS, Android, will not be able to access Lala on iTunes. Google really slipped up on this one. Hopefully they have an even better solution!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Nokia Comes With Music Party Bus

As part of their 'Comes With Music' brand promotion, Nokia is taking to the roads of South Africa this summer in the Comes With Music Party Bus, featuring some great local bands along the way.

The tour kicked off yesterday (9 December) in Umhloti, north of Durban, and will travel down the coast to be in Cape Town for Christmas and New Year.

So if you want to support local music, find out more about the 'Comes With Music' offering from Nokia, or see what freebies are on offer, get down to your local beach on one of the days listed below.
From the Nokia press release:

SA’s hottest bands tour with the Nokia Comes with Music Party Bus

Nokia will be taking the South African coast by storm this festive season with the launch of the Nokia Comes with Music Party Bus. Beach-goers down South Africa’s South Coast will be serenaded by some of South Africa’s hottest bands on tour with the Nokia Comes with Music road show.  The tour will kick off in Umdloti, Durban on the 9th of December.

The Nokia Comes with Music Party bus, which will be making stops at beaches and shopping malls throughout the season, will showcase live performances from some of South Africa’s top bands which include Ashtray Electric, Taxi Violence, Mix n Blend, Straatligkinders, aKing and Loyiso.

Sarah Crowe, head of marketing for Nokia South Africa says that the bus is just another way in which Nokia is showing its support of local talent.   “Nokia has exercised support for the local industry throughout 2009 with the launch of the Nokia Music Store and then the Comes with Music service. The Comes with Music party bus is a great way to end off the year and we look forward to giving fans a chance to see their favourite artists perform live over the festive season.”

As part of the tour, Nokia will be handing out free Nokia Music Store vouchers giving fans access to tracks from their favourite performers. Tracks to be included are ‘The Dance’ by aKing, ‘Quite Overstared’ by Ashtray Electric and ‘Shall We Swing (feat, Fletcher)’ by Mix n Blend. The tracks will be given away at each performance of specific bands per day. You can hear previews of these tracks from Nokia Music Store’s latest Podcast Episode at

The Nokia Comes with Music Party Bus starts its tour in Durban following which it will travel to Margate, Port Elizabeth, Plettenberg Bay and Cape Town. 

Tour route:
9th December – Umdloti, Durban: 11h00 Ashtray Electric and 15h00 Taxi Violence
10th December – Westbrook Beach, Durban: 11h00 Taxi Violence and 15h00 Ashtray Electric
11th December – Anstey Beach, Durban: 11h00 Ashtray Electric and 15h00 Taxi Violence
12th December – Amanzimtoti, Durban: 11h00 Mix n Blend:DJ and 15h00 Straatligkinders
13th December – Amanzimtoti, Durban: 11h00 Straatligkinders and 15h00 Mix n Blend:DJ
14th December – Margate Beach, Margate: 11h00 Ashtray Electric and 15h00 Taxi Violence
15th December – Margate Beach, Margate: 11h00 Mix n Blend:DJ and 15h00 Straatligkinders
17th December – Hobie Beach, Port Elizabeth: 11h00 Mix n Blend:DJ and 15h00 Straatligkinders
18th December – Hobie Beach, Port Elizabeth: 11h00 Straatligkinders and 15h00 Mix n Blend:DJ
19th December – King’s Beach, Port Elizabeth: 11h00 Mix n Blend:DJ and 15h00 Straatligkinders
21st December – Beacon Isle Beach, Plettenberg Bay: 11h00 Mix n Blend:DJ and 15h00 AKing
23rd December – Ratanga Junction, Cape Town: 11h00 Mix n Blend:DJ and 15h00 Straatligkinders
24th December – Cape Gate Centre, Cape Town: 11h00 Taxi Violence and 15h00 Mix n Blend:Band
26th December – Ratanga Junction, Cape Town: 11h00 Mix n Blend:Band and  15h00 Taxi Violence
27th December – Somerset Mall, Cape Town: 11h00 Taxi Violence and 15h00 Mix n Blend:Band
28th December – Blue Route Mall, Cape Town: 11h00 Ashtray Electric and 15h00 Mix n Blend: Band
29th December – V&A Waterfront, Cape Town: 11h00 Mix n Blend: Band and 15h00 Ashtray Electric
30th December – V&A Waterfront, Cape Town: 11h00 Ashtray Electric and 15h00 Mix n Blend: Band
31st December – V&A Waterfront, Cape Town: 11h00 Mix n Blend: Band and Loyiso

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nokia N79 with Sports Tracker

I recently blogged about the brilliant Sports Tracker program available in Nokia Beta Labs. Running on my 5800 XM phone, I was very impressed with this program, although it lacked some features that would make it a potential replacement for my regular Polar CS200 cycling computer. The most obvious of these is the lack of a heart rate monitor (HRM).

Shortly thereafter I was contacted by Nokia SA to see if I would like to trial the N79, which has a unique HRM belt designed in conjunction with Polar, specifically for this phone. I jumped at the chance.

In this post I will concentrate on the Sports Tracker application running on the N79, and not on the phone itself. Needless to say, as an N Series phone, the build quality is great, and the compact package includes such features as changeable Xpress-on™ smart covers, a 5 megapixel camera and integrated A-GPS. Pretty good considering the phone was released in August ’08.

I received the phone pre-loaded with version 2.06 of Sports Tracker. I was a bit thrown at first, but eventually figured out that there is no physical button to access the menu, and instead you press the area between the buttons to the left of the D-pad. This allowed me into the applications, and the Sports tracker application itself. Scrolling down to Settings, I was able to access the setup wizard for the HRM. The phone uses Bluetooth to connect to the HRM Belt, and it quickly paired itself to the belt.

Then it was simply a case of selecting the workout mode, waiting for the GPS to connect, and I was away. In the box, along with the phone and the HRM belt, was a handy pouch to allow the phone to be carried strapped to your upper arm. This position also allows one to easily attach a pair of headphones so you can listen to your favourite tunes while exercising. However, I did not really like this position while cycling, which was a pity. A handlebar mounting would have been better.

On the go, there are a number of real time outputs you can watch while you train. These include various options for speed, altitude, time and distance, as well as the all important heart rate. There are also graphs for HR/speed/altitude vs time, as well as the time spent in each of 3 HR zones calculated by the program based on age and gender. These can also be manually adjusted if you have specific zones you want to target. As with the version of Sports Tracker I have been running on my 5800, there is also a live mapping feature, and you have the option to allow the program to download the necessary maps, or just to let it run on a plain background.

At the completion of your training session, you then have the option to upload your training session to the Sports Tracker web site, where you have the option to share it with friends. On the website, the map of your route is shown courtesy of Google Maps. One of my favourite features is that any photos taken along the route are shown on the map, along with what music you were playing!

I really love this program, and it’s made even better with the addition of the HRM features available with the N97. However, there have been several rumours on the web that Nokia is going to discontinue Sports Tracker. In actual fact, Nokia is not killing Sports Tracker, but giving it some wings. Towards the end of 2009 they will be migrating it to Sports Tracking Technologies, a company founded by the creators of Sports Trackers (Ykä Huhtala and Jussi Kaasinen). I only hope that they will continue to develop the program, and keep it free to users.

Many thanks to Lauren for arranging the loan phone.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mountain Bikes, the Hill2Hill, and Why I Love My Nokia 5800

Yesterday, Sunday 20 September, was the annual Sunday Tribune/Jeep Hill2Hill Mountain Bike Race. The full 100km race is from Hilton, in the KZN midlands to Hillcrest, outside Durban, but for the slightly less fit there is a 43km option starting at Cato Ridge and running the same route through to the finish.

I volunteered to second for my brother on the 43km race, as my own preparation for the race had been hampered by a recent bout of flu. The start at Cato Ridge Golf Club was a chilly 9°C, even at 6:50am when my brother’s group got underway.

OK, so what has this to do with my Nokia 5800? Well, as I prepared to set off to the first spectator point in an area I was unfamiliar with, I activated Garmin Mobile XT application on my phone, which offers full SatNav and turn by turn instructions to keep me on track. I must say that ever since I first experienced SatNav in Japan in 2001, I love the freedom to explore without having to worry about getting lost.

Despite the shortcomings of Nokia Music, the 5800 is a great MP3 player, and connecting it to the car’s sound system allowed me to access all my favourite music from the 8GB memory card, and play it in seamlessly in the background, while still operating the Garmin XT system.

On arrival at the first spectator point I quickly opened Google Latitude’s fantastic S60 application, and was able to easily find my brother’s location in relation to my own, and time his arrival with precision. Great assistance when there were nearly 1,500 entrants streaming past.

While I was waiting, I opened my Twitter account via Snaptu, and was able to send off a couple of Tweets. That’s 4 different applications open simultaneously, and the ability to easily switch between them. Try doing that on an iPhone!

Back to the race. While waiting at the finish for my brother to arrive, the leader of the 100km race, DCM Chrome’s Brandon Stewart, entered the finish arena and took the win in a record time of 3:53, nearly 5 minutes ahead of 2nd place man Ben Melt Swanepoel. An incredible effort, with the winner averaging over 25km/h over some incredibly tough terrain and with over 1,900m of climbing.

My brother came in at a very respectable 3:23 a few minutes later; a great performance for his first competitive MTB race. Next year I hope I’ll be there too.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

An Interview with Jake Larsen, Head of Nokia Music

I was recently very privileged to have the opportunity to pose a number of questions to Jake Larsen, Head of Music for the Middle East and Africa. This came about as a result of a previous blog post, where I was fairly critical of Nokia Music.

Nokia Music Store

Q: The SA Nokia Music Store was launched on 24 April '09. Now that the initial hype has died down, are visits/download meeting the expectations of Nokia? Do you have figures I can quote?
A: The Nokia Music Store has been received very well in South Africa and we are pleased with both the site visit and download figures. Whilst we do not share sales and traffic information, what is particularly interesting to note is that about a third of all downloads are happening over the air by 3G or wireless LAN.

Q: In SA, what is the split between local and international music on the Nokia Music Store?
A: The catalogue of more than five million songs on the Nokia Music Store is made up of a broad cross section of both local and international tracks from record labels large and small, major and independent. All the majors; Universal, Sony, Emi and Warner are represented as are such notable indie labels as Sheer, African Dope, Next Music and David Gresham. Local content is well supported by local music fans; a great example being Prime Circle who’s single “She Always Gets What She Wants” has been in the top ten for single downloads since the store launched in April 2009.

Q: Many online music stores are now offering DRM-free downloads, most notably iTunes. Why did Nokia launch with DRM, and is there any plan to remove it at a later stage?
A: We are committed to going DRM free with the Nokia Music Store and are talking to the music industry about how we can make this happen.

Q: Additionally, downloads are only offered in the WMA format. Are there any plans to offer the more universally accepted MP3 format?
A: Alternative file formats are currently being explored, but WMA will remain the format for the time being.

Q: Similarly, downloads are being released in 192kbps. This is better than the 128kbps we often see in other Microsoft DRM’d music stores but not quite as good as the 256kbps tracks you can get from iTunes. Are there any plans to offer better quality downloads?
A: The difference in perceivable quality between 192kbps and 256kbps is subjective and one needs to weigh up the balance between file size and audio quality as well as the impact that this has on the cost of the data needed to perform downloads. As mentioned above, alternative file formats are currently being explored, but WMA 192kbps will remain the format for the time being.

Q: I was impressed with the pricing offered - R100 per album is especially good value when compared to +- R160 for a CD. Is this pricing just an introductory 'special'? Will Nokia be able to hold this level of pricing in the longer term?
A: We believe that the pricing of R10 per song and R100 per album represents fantastic value, particularly since the latter is not linked to the number of tracks on an album. There are no current plans to change the pricing on the South African Nokia Music Store.

Q: While the XpressMusic range, especially the 5800, has been pushed quite heavily, there has not been much significant marketing of the Music Store in SA. Are there any plans for more aggressive marketing?
A: We are marketing the Nokia Music Store through various channels on a continuous basis. This includes traditional and online media.

Q: In some countries the "Comes With Music" package is offered with phones like the 5800XM. Why wasn't this strategy adopted for SA?
A: I am happy to let you know that we have just announced Comes With Music for South Africa! The 5130, 5530 and 5630 Comes With Music devices will be in store from the end of September through MTN, Cell C and Nashua Autopage with the 5130 being an MTN exclusive. Comes With Music is a revolutionary new service which provides buyers of Nokia Comes With Music devices unlimited access to the more than 5 000 000 songs on the Nokia Music Store  for 12 months at no cost and allows users to keep all of the music downloaded after the twelve months are up.

Q: The Music Store is only available through the Nokia Music application, or via a mobile app. I understand Nokia's strategy is to control the entire music experience, but many potential users are already quite heavily invested in alternative programmes like iTunes or Windows Media Player, and wouldn't want to switch to another player. Are there any plans to launch general web access?
A: The Nokia Music player is an integral part of the Nokia Music Store experience and acts as a hub for managing you music collection as well as providing an easy and efficient way to transfer music between your pc and device. One can import music from sources other than the Nokia Music Store, such as CDs and music stored on your hard drive, so there is no need to use any other piece of software in order to enjoy your music on device, PC or CD.

Nokia Music

Q: Nokia have entered this particular segment very late, and many people have already aligned themselves to iTunes, Windows Media Player, or one of a dozen alternative players. Currently, Nokia Music is lacking many of the features that consumers now take for granted. The latest release, V1.3, failed to add significantly to the feature set. When can we expect features like filters, auto-playlists, syncing of the play-count and on-phone rating and subsequent syncing to be added?
A: Nokia is the world’s largest manufacturer of digital music players and has operated in the music space for some time now. Our entry into the online retail space was a natural progression in the quest to provide a seamlessly integrated music experience and we are constantly refining the way in which consumers interact with the Nokia Music Store based on research and consumer feedback.

Q: In my experience the Nokia Music player is very slow and cumbersome. For example, there is a frustrating lag when trying to scroll through the library. I currently have a 40GB music library, and I found Nokia Music unusable. Right now there is no way I would switch players. Is this an issue being addressed for subsequent versions?
A: Through the Nokia Music player software, we currently offer the easiest way to load music onto your Nokia device and we aim to develop solutions that offer best in class experiences as the product develops.

Q: The comparison with iTunes is unavoidable. There is a lot of speculation about iTunes 9 at the moment, and the possible introduction of social features. Can you share Nokia's plans for the player going forward?
A: The future of Nokia Music is very exciting! We have just announced Comes With Music and believe it to be the most compelling music offering ever to be introduced in South Africa. Social features are undoubtedly going to be important in the future of music and sharing amongst Comes With Music device owners is an important part of the offering.

Unfortunately, I think Jake has ducked a few of the issues I raised, especially with regard to specific development of the current music player. Most people, when they connect their portable music player (be it a phone or dedicated device) to their PC, are expecting an interface and user experience similar or better than the iPod/iTunes experience. This is not available from Nokia now, and in my personal opinion, this may be the reason Nokia have delayed their Music Store release in the USA.

However, I believe that Nokia have the resources to get it right, and I am confident that Jake's promise of "best in class" will be met. I expect we'll be seeing a number of updates to the Nokia Music player in the coming months, along with corresponding firmware updates for the XpressMusic range of phones (in future to be known as the X Series).

The good news is Nokia are committed to offering DRM free music; some sources saying maybe as early as the end of this year. This may be the other reason the USA launch has been delayed.
I would like to thank Jake Larsen for agreeing to answer my quetions, and to Lauren Marks for facilitating the interview.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Moses Mabhida Stadium - Durban Preparing for 2010

Last week I was privileged to have a private tour around the magnificent Moses Mabhida Stadium construction site in Durban.

First, a little background; when Durban put in it's bid for the 2010 World Cup, they wanted a semi-final, but one of the requirements was a 70,000 seat stadium, and the ABSA Stadium, more affectionately known as Kings Park, and the home to the Natal Sharks, didn't meet the FIFA requirements. Nor was it suitable to be upgraded to 70,000.
Thus the Moses Mabhida Stadium was born. Whilst it will only have 54,000 permanent seats, it was designed to be expanded to 70k with temporary stands.

The stadium is a fantastic example of modern engineering, and during the construction phase has won numerous safety awards.

The arch is the key feature of the stadium, and a funicular will carry visitors from the north side of the stadium to a viewing platform at the top of the arch where they can get out and enjoy breathtaking, panoramic views of the city and ocean. The south side will have a 550-step adventure walk.

The current status of the project is that the main structure is in place, and the seating is being installed. The pitch is still to be laid, and as with any construction job, there are still plenty of finishing touches required. However, as you can see from the photographs, you can get a good idea of what the finished product will look like. And I must say it is magnificent.
There have been a lot of detractors to this project; “we already have a stadium”, “the cost has been prohibitive”, and so on. But the stadium, with its huge 106m high arch, has quickly become a landmark on the Durban skyline, and when you enter the stadium for the first time, you’ll forget all that. The giant arch bisects the African sky, and the light is filtered by the suspended roof. It is truly a breathtaking experience, and I can only imagine what it’ll be like on match day, when it’s packed to the rafters with passionate fans.
Well done Durban, and many thanks to Richard from The Official Durban 2010 FIFA World Cup™ Host City Website, and our guide, Sue.

For the full Album of photos, see this link.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Nokia Sports Tracker

One of the best apps I have downloaded since acquiring my Nokia 5800 XpressMusic is Nokia Sports Tracker (NST). A Nokia GPS enabled phone is a requirement, and while currently Nokia don't officially support the 5800, Version 2.05 works perfectly on my phone.

After some basic setting up, and entering your NST account details, you choose your activity (walking, running, cycling, skiing and other), wait for the phone to find satellite connections, and then hit start. Touch screen is supported. On the phone screen you'll see your activity time, pace and distance covered. It's not the best UI I've ever seen, but the numbers are big and clear enough. Admittedly, the 5800 screen is hopeless in direct sunlight.

If selected in the options, the block in the top left can incorporate a map, but obviously this will mean using a fair amount of data. On conclusion of your activity, you have the option to upload your workout to the net. After logging in to Sports Tracker, you will see the dashboard, which looks something like this:
The routes taken on all your workouts are colour-coded, and shown on the map beside the summary. Selecting one of the workouts presents you with more detail:
The map, courtesy of Google Maps, is now zoomed in to show your route in detail, with your points of highest and lowest altitude, as well as fastest and lowest speeds indicated. As usual with Google Maps, you can switch between map and satellite modes.

To the right of the map is the profile, showing speed and altitude against time. As you can see, heart rate is also accomodated for owners of the Nokia N79 Active, which comes bundled with a Polar Bluetooth chest strap. To my knowledge these are not available separately, which is a great pity, and a huge oversight.

One of the best features of NST is the ability to upload any photographs taken along your route. The location of each photo is indicated on the map by the camera icon, and clicking it opens a larger view. A great addition!

There is also a nice social aspect to the program, and you can choose to share your workouts with friends, create groups, comment on other people's workouts, and so on.

I'm still pretty new to the service, so there are many features that I haven't touched on here. I already have a very comprehensive cycling computer/heart rate monitor, but it'll be really great to record some of my regular routes to share with friends, and I have already started a group for my local cycling club.

Of some concern, unfortunately, are comments from TheGuru over at, that Nokia have lost interest in the service. This would be very disappointing - to my knowledge Apple don't offer anything like this for the iPhone! You can read his blog here.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, July 27, 2009

2009 Tour de France Review

Photo credit ©Sirotti
The 2009 Tour de France came to an end yesterday with Mark Cavendish taking his 6th stage win on on a packed Champs-Élysées in Paris, and Alberto Contador taking the top top step on the podium with a well deserved victory overall.

Photo credit ©Sirotti
For me, however, the last week of the Tour was an anti-climax. All the ingredients for an exciting showdown in Alps were there, but unfortunately the team tactics, and the supreme power, of the Astana Team prevented this from happening.

The gentleman's agreement that exists between cyclists prevented 7 times winner, Lance Armstrong, from showing his potential in the high mountains. Could he have attacked Contador and claimed victory for himself? We'll never know. Contador proved himself a worthy winner though, and even more than his seemingly effortless marking of any attacks on the big climbs, his victory in the final Individual Time Trial showed that he was a worthy winner of the this year's Tour.

Photo credit ©Sirotti
In second place overall, Andy Schleck of Team Saxo Bank showed his form in the mountains, and was the only rider to remotely challenge the dominance of Contador. Contador was up to the task though, but Andy has many years left in the sport, and I have no doubt he'll claim the top step in the coming years.

Photo credit ©Bettini
Third, of course, was Lance Armstrong. Some people thought Lance would win his 8th Tour this year, others wrote him off due to his age. Armstrong proved his detractors wrong, and despite some serious conflict in the Astana camp following the stage into Andorra, where Contador disobeyed team orders and attacked on the final climb, he adopted the supporting role to Contador, and undoubtedly assisted the Spaniard to his victory.

Photo credit ©Sirotti
Normally, I wouldn't comment on 4th place, but Bradley Wiggins of Garmin - Slipstream deserves a mention. A former track star, and multiple Olympic Gold Medal winner, Wiggins was, for me, the revelation of the Tour. His ability in the mountains was totally unexpected, and I would not be surprised if he were to improve on this position in the years to come.

And so, while we reflect on the last 3 weeks, I can't help looking forward to 2010.
Lance Armstrong has announced he is forming a new team with sponsorship from RadioShack, and probably with his mentor, Johan Bruyneel, at the helm. I have no doubt Armstrong will be the undisputed leader of the new team, which is as it should be. There is only room for 1 leader in a team. At 35, can Armstrong make a bid for win number 8? Contador and Schleck will have other ideas, but Lance will be better prepared after a full year training and racing; I'm looking forward to it already!

Thanks for reading.

The Problem with Nokia Music

I was really excited to see that Nokia Music had been updated to version 1.3; hopefully some useful functionality had at last been added. But once again I was disappointed.

I own a Nokia 5800 XpressMusic, and when I chose this phone, I imagined that it would replace my aging iPod Nano as my MP3 player of choice. After all, this was Nokia's music phone, and my expectations were high. iPods have been around for ages, so surely Nokia would have raised the bar in terms of functionality?

Well, apparently the programmers working on the Nokia Music application have never heard of the iPod, nor do they have much interest in music.

You see, I listen to a lot of music via my PC (MediaMonkey) and my MP3 player, and my music collection on my PC is in excess of 30Gb. However, with only 8Gb available on my Nano I am able to keep my music fresh and valid with the use of 3 key function:

  1. Ratings: I use the simple star functions to rate the music I like most. These can be changed on the Nano while I am listening to the track, and they automatically update the ratings on my PC when I sync.
  2. Play count and Last Played: Similarly, this data is updated on my PC when I sync.
  3. Auto Playlists: Most important of all, I have created autoplaylists on my PC that update the Playlist based on the above.

Based on the above, fresh playlists of all my favourite tracks are created every time I connect my iPod to my PC. Depending on the set of autoplaylists selected for the device, recently listened to tracks are automatically removed and new content is added.

Doesn't everyone do this?

Why then does Nokia's premier phone and PC app not have any of this essential functionality?

In fact, while it is relatively easy to add new music to the phone via the useful drag & drop function, I have still not been able to successfully remove older content with Nokia Music, let alone conduct a proper 'sync'. After having had to reformat my memory card twice I have given up trying, and now use the very basic music app included in PC Suite.

Nokia have put a lot of work into the Nokia Music Store, which is accessed via the Nokia Music app. However, tracks downloaded from the Store have DRM embedded, so despite the reasonable pricing (in SA), I won't be bothering anytime soon. The 'My Music' player side of the app is slow and clunky. It battles with my mere 30Gb; how would it be with 100Gb?

What the team at Nokia seem to have forgotten, however, is that people actually listen to their music, both on the PCs and on their MP3 players, and for that to work properly, Nokia Music has to be their music player of choice. I'll be sticking with MediaMonkey!

Thanks for reading.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tour de France Entry List

The 2009 version of the Tour de France is underway, and after the first 2 stages it looks set to be one of the best races in a while.

I prepared a crib sheet of all the riders and teams, which you can download here.

Friday, June 12, 2009

How to Improve the Google Experience

We all know that Google has expanded far beyond just Search, but from the outside looking in, it feels like Google have developed a whole bunch of individual apps, and are now trying to link them up. This is understandable, as many of these apps were companies Google bought out when they showed some promise in the market. Obviously, we mere mortals are not privy to the Google Master Plan, but the whole process seems very disjointed to me.

Central to Google’s effort are Contacts. This is the Facebook equivalent to ‘Friends’, and is the list of people you communicate with regularly, via Gmail or Chat, tag or share with in Picasa Web Albums, share blogs with in Reader, and if you’re using Google Sync, speak to on your cell phone. Web 2.0 is about Social Networking, and Social Networking is about friends, and Contacts are your Google friends. That’s great, but I just think the integration has been poorly executed to date. Let me explain.
In Picasa Web Albums they introduced face recognition. It’s a brilliant technology, and often surprises me with its accuracy. The app chooses a common face from the album you’re analysing, then offers a list of your Contacts to choose from. If the person is not a contact, you can then add their name and that name is added to your contacts. Google assumes that anyone you’re prepared to name in a photo deserves to be on your Contacts list. I actually don’t have a problem with that, although the result is that my ‘All Contacts’ is full of our kids’ friends, who still being in the single digits age-wise, don’t have cell phones or email addresses!
Anyway, where Google could improve the process, in my opinion, is when it comes to adding details to those contacts. After clicking on ‘Add a picture’ on their page in Contacts, you’re presented with a number of options to add a picture:

However, choosing the Picasa Web Albums option should take you to a suitable series of their tagged photos, but it doesn’t. It gives you a list of all your albums, and you have to hunt for that elusive photo that you tagged in the first place!

In Reader the integration is even worse. You have the option to share items from reader with your friends. The options are your Friends, or Chat buddies. Problem is, is that Friends refers to your ‘Friends’ part of your Contacts. Click on friends, and they’re all given access. Ah, there’s an option to remove each individually, that’s great. Remove a couple who you don’t think would be interested in your reading habits, and guess what? They’ve been removed from your Friends within Contacts! Next, you want to share with someone from Family, or perhaps a Co-worker? Can’t be done, unless you add them to Friends of course. Come on Google, this is an easy one to fix.

One of the features I would love to see Google add, with regard to Contacts, is integration with Calendar. Google recently added a function to add birthdays and anniversaries to your Contacts. So how hard would it be to automatically add those dates into Calendar? Problem is, Google Calendar doesn’t know how to handle birthdays. It adds them as all day events, which is fine within their app. It adds a pretty little block to the top of the specified day. However, sync that with your phone’s calendar, and you end up with an event running from midnight to midnight. Google needs to take a leaf out of almost any other Calendar; it needs options to add birthdays/anniversaries, reminders and notes to the main calendar, in addition to meetings, and the newly added Tasks. Unfortunately, Tasks don’t get added to the main calendar, so aren’t included in the sync.

I don’t think these changes would be that hard to implement. If there’re any Google employees reading, how about using your 20% time to fix these?

Thanks for reading.