"A unique, wry and often satirical look at the Internet, the modern age and life in general" (there is way too much search-engine competition for the phrase "incoherent ramblings")

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Microsoft now bribing you to use their search

Microsoft are so desperate to get a piece of the Google search pie that they are resorting to bribery again! Yes, in a repeat of their UK Big Snap campaign from February 2008, they have launched Big Snap Search II, in which you can possibly (not) win some prizes in the form of - TA-DAAA, some John Lewis coupons - nice!

What's the catch? Well, for a chance to match two different-valued coupons and win the prize, you have to, wait for it, USE Live Search TO SEARCH FOR SOMETHING!

Now come on, what do they take us for...? If they think we're going to fall for that...

Still, if you really want those coupons and you are furiously typing random search terms into the search field as we speak, think about the possibility that it is on some kind of timer and totally disregards the actual quantity of searches made.

As for dislodging the big G with the help of bribery, it just ain't gonna work, Google has it sewn up, end of story. Anyway, Live Search has hardly even indexed The StoreMinator yet - it can't be much good.

Hmmm, still, John Lewis you say... Might as well have ONE more try...

Monday, September 8, 2008

Commodore UMMD 8010 Netbook - paper clip included!

The amazing success of the netbook format of notebook computer has prompted a venerable industry name to jump on the bandwagon - no less than Commodore itself!

Though Commodore today has little in common with the company that produced the almighty C64, as well as the VIC20, C128 and later of course, the Amiga, it is thought that new Commodore UMMD 8010 netbook, announced at the IFA Show in Berlin, will make more than just a tip of the hat to its worthy ancestor.

Some of the features the Commodore netbook is thought to include are as follows:

- Commodore Basic installed as standard
- paper clip-based reset (paper clip included as standard)
- cassette tape-based storage for full backwards compatibility
- optional external floppy drive (release delayed due to size issues)
- prominently-displayed Commodore C= logo
- lovely brown keyboard with completely pointless Restore button
- free copy of Monty on the Run
- television modulator as standard (no built-in screen necessary)

Commodore are convinced that their new netbook will combine the best of the old school of computing with the latest technology for superior performance (largely through the simple device of omitting Vista) and will poise Commodore to become a household name once again.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Sure-fire defense against identity theft - LEARN TO READ!

As yet another request to urgently verify my bank details online lands in my inbox (funny, I didn't know I had an account in the National Credit Union) I have got to thinking about the issue of protection against online fraudsters and the whole question of literacy.

Computer literacy
I know that my calls for compulsory netiquette and basic Internet and literacy training for new computer users will fall on the ears of the largely-converted, so it's scarcely worth bothering. But just in case it saves at least one person from being defrauded online, I will take the time to say this: "Banks DO NOT EVER ask you to 'verify' your details online". If you ever get an email requesting you to do so, supposedly as a result of some "Unusual activity" (sounds ominous, right?), no matter how persuasive it may sound, DO NOT follow the link or obey the instructions. This is almost certainly an attempt (known as "phishing") to steal your personal details and probably defraud you of the contents of your bank account. Ring your bank instead.

General literacy
But an even more basic form of defense would be simply to improve our literacy in the English language. Most of these phishing attempts are made by barely-literate low-life criminals, or non-native speakers and the emails that they send usually abound in mistakes. If our literacy was generally better, we would far more readily spot fraud attempts when they arrive in our inboxes (your real bank wouldn't send a badly-worded, mispelled letter to its customer, right?)!

Let's take a recent example:

Dear Credit Union member,
You have received this email because you or someone had used your account from different locations.

"someone HAD used..."? Surely "has"? No time for grammar lessons here, a native speaker would never say that.

For security purpose, we are required to open an investigation into this matter.

Don't they mean "...for security purposeS.."?

In order to safeguard your account, we require that you confirm your online banking details.

The help speeed up to this process, please access the following link...

Do what? If you don't see anything wrong with this last sentence, go back and read it again.

The problem is partly that we are too panicked by the possibility of some "unusual activity" connected with our precious account to notice the glaring mistakes.

But the problem is also one of basic literacy - we just don't notice mistakes because our eyes are not trained by quality reading.

So if you want to avoid getting defrauded online, the answer is READ MORE!

Friday, January 25, 2008

5 Reasons Not to Work Wireless in a Cafe

As I mentioned in a recent post (Why I Didn't Buy a Dell), I have finally joined the notebook "elite" (I usually join elites about 10 years after they are no longer elite) and one of the things I was really looking forward to was being able to sit in a cafe, sip a coffee or two and work there as a change from the home office, connected to the internet of course via the cafe's wireless hotspot. In fact that last post was written in a cafe.

However, I have noticed some drawbacks to this approach which I would like to share with you!

  1. Increased exposure to passive smoking, if you live in a country which has not yet banned smoking in public places (like I do)
  2. Increased distractions - (un)interesting conversations around you, attractive barmaid, friends who happened to have the same idea, AND picked the same cafe and keep talking to you, loud music you don't like, etc.
  3. Security risk - some no-gooder hacking the public network and stealing your trade secrets, or, more likely, people looking over your shoulder and reading your romantic/steamy/seedy/just plain embarassing Skype conversations
  4. Reduced time for work because of limited battery time (if the cafe is one that doesn't let you plug in)
  5. Reduced time for work because you've drunk 4 cups of coffee, you really need a leak, but you can't leave your laptop out for someone to help themselves to your pride and joy, and taking your laptop in the toilet with you would be just too anal!
To be honest, that last one is the greatest problem for me. Every time I have tried this so far I have been absolutely bursting by the time I finish up what I'm doing, hurriedly stash the notebook, pay the tab and run to the guy's room.

I'm sure you can add to this list. And by the way, most of these could be construed as advantages too...!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Why I didn't buy a Dell

They NEARLY got me.

I needed a new laptop, actually my first laptop, now that my job has become a little more mobile. Dell seemed the obvious choice. They are a close second in the notebook market behind HP (20% and 15% of the market respectively - 2006 figures, e.g. see here) and they have a great attraction for the small business and home user, for many of whom Dell is almost a synonym for "new PC".

Building your dream Dell
Have you been through the process of choosing a computer through Dell's site(s)? It really is a rewarding process, you get to customize your PC, even notebook, in many ways, all through a beautiful Ajaxy interface. An extra gig of memory, why not? 250Gb hard drive instead of 160Gb? Could come in handy... Add Bluetooth for just an extra $10-$15? Why, you'd be a fool not to.

By the end, you have the feeling the notebook you have chosen is very much "your own", although it must be said you will also notice a marked increase in the price from when you were offered the initial configuration. Heartbreaking decisions will have to be made - perhaps you don't really need Vista Ultimate...

Souper coupons
But wait, the greatest excitement is yet to come! The price you get at the end is pretty reasonable in itself, but what's this?! Dell have in their boundless generosity knocked a couple of hundred dollars off the price! A discount, just like that! You didn't even ask for it! Enough to make you press the BUY button without further ado.

But you would be a fool to do so! Why, Dell don't stop there with their reckless magnanimity! If you hunt around on the net you will quickly come across sites offering Dell coupons - special offers provided through their affiliates (but also easily found on their site, to be perfectly frank) which give you even more insane discounts. All you have to do is key in the special code you are given before "checkout" and the special super-duper, we're-robbing-ourselves, practically-giving-them-away discount will be applied.

Why I didn't buy a Dell
OK, let's get serious. There is this constant lingering suspicion that this whole marketing strategy of Dell's is, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit of a con. If not a con, then some rather devious marketing which borders on a dubious business practice.

1) For one thing, by the time you have "built" your configuration, applied all the widely advertised discounts (i.e. if you bought a Dell without a hefty discount then you were REALLY had!) and had a jolly good, fun, interactive time doing it, there is this distinct sense, confirmed by comparison with other manufacturers, that you could have got an equivalent HP or Toshiba for a very similar price.

2) There is another niggle, and that is a trick which I shall call Price Dellification, though there may be another more official phrase for it. This is the technique of constantly changing discounts and offers from month to month such that actually the final price paid by the customer stays pretty much the same. It might work like this:

- June: get an extra free gig of memory thrown in, while a bigger hard-drive, webcam etc. etc. are paid for additionally
- July: suddenly, the extra memory is no longer free, but delivery IS now free.
- August: delivery is no longer free, but the memory offer is back.

Need I go on? Prices of individual components are constantly reshuffled, but the final price, and margin earned by Dell essentially stay constant, but in this way Dell avoid breaking any trading laws which stipulate that to claim that a product is discounted, it must previously have been on sale at the full price for a certain period of time.

3) This is the straw that broke the camel's back for me: I received an email from Dell after the New Year offering a flat 10% discount - I quote, "Offer valid on all desktops and notebooks with minimum order value £599" (I was buying in the UK). Now that sounded like an offer worth taking up. I got to the checkout, my configuration WAS in excess of that amount, even excluding tax (I was aiming for a Vostro 1700). Yet when I tried to apply the 10% coupon I was told that this offer was not compatible with another offer already applied. What was this offer? Some kind of £20 off voucher that I had never applied. I tried to remove this, reasoning that 10% off was better than £20 off (call me a super-savvy shopper, or maybe a maths wizz), but it was not possible to delete this "discount", which was firmly attached to this computer. Nowhere could I determine where it was stipulated that the Vostro 1700 was excluded from the 10% off discount and that the customer would be opted-in to this £20-off "offer". The end result was that there was NO way that I could find to apply "my" 10% discount.

Now, this is not intended to become a personal gripe, so I will leave you to reason through my thought process upon being treated in this way.

I bought an off-the-peg Toshiba P200 Satellite from Pixmania UK for an absolutely awesome price, even finding a £40-off voucher at the last minute. It took some work to find it, but I am very happy I did. It even has an international warranty, which I very much need, unlike Dell, who evidently don't like ANY form of export of their machines. Also, Pixmania participate in the VAT retail export scheme, meaning I can reclaim the tax, which really does make this buy a bargain, on paper, not just "on screen".

I could be horribly slandering Dell here so let me just summarize what I am saying - do NOT be taken in by agressive marketing and discounting by any manufacturer. The choice is YOURS when buying anything and you have every opportunity, thanks to the Internet, of making extremely informed decisions. Buy a Dell by all means, but don't get Dellified. And if you have any experience or comment, please share them here by all means. I know I had ample opportunity to buy a Dell, but did not, even though I have never bought a laptop before. Am I the only one?

Check out Toshiba Satellites on It's Gotta Be Red. Not a coupon in sight...