February 04, 2008

Getting to Grips with Scrum

Very interesting reading Tom Hume talk about Future Platforms early experiences grappling with Scrum. It's great reading - a far more tangible version of JoelOnSoftware.

In the early sprints, we had a lot of work which "just had to happen" - like many companies of our size, I suspect - and we consciously planned in more than our initial figures showed us we could realistically handle. Overcommitting in this regard didn't actually get more work done, even when the team visibly felt the additional pressure.

I watch with interest...

Posted by Tom Dolan at 03:42 PM | Comments (0)

December 23, 2007

Spulling and Puntcuation - Now Crtrical

Ah bum.

Well I guess the time finally came. I have finally turned off the default forward-all-emails-to-my-domain-to... option on my pair.com account. For the sake of my powerbook's hard disk really.

I don't mind a bit of your oldskool junk mail - faintly annoying but there you go. Most of it is so obvious it can be caught by normal filters or is so obviously nonsense my brain can just kill it from the subject line alone.

But I'm now getting a few thousand 'bounce' emails a day from people who are merely the recipient of some spambot picking my domain name at random for that particular batch of Cialis ads.

So, as of now, I'm really sorry, but if you want to email me - it's time to get the address right!

Posted by Tom Dolan at 08:25 PM | Comments (1)

June 08, 2007

Customers? Market? Support? No thanks we're Philips.

I am grumpy.

I bought these rather snazzy Philips SHS8001/00 earphones on saturday:

30 quid they cost, and they were really rather good. Nice sound, and the earhooks stopped them falling out like other earbuds I've tried (e.g. apple ones).

The only problem is the little rubber grommets that go around the outside to seal them in your ear.

They fall off - almost ping off. Take them out of your pocket, or too roughly out of a bag, and you're left scrabbling around for this tiny piece of grey/white plastic. (Not easy, for example on the grey/white speckled floor of Beckton Sainsbury's).

This morning when I woke up one was missing again - and I'd not seen it go. So I go to Philips site to buy a replacement - there's nothing listed. I ring their support number, only to be told that I have to order all spares from a separate company. I ring said separate company, who say "Sorry, we don't have those as parts. Philips don't provide them to us as spares. We get loads of people ringing up for them, so I don't know why."

Right, I think, punching in Philips support number crossly.

This is a complex query, so I am put on hold almost immediately.
"Yes sir, my supervisor says you'd need to order that from Dutchwest"
"I've just spoken to them. They don't have any"
"Will they be getting any"
"Um, they say you don't send them to them. But that people ring up for them all the time."
"Could you hold sir
(time passes)
No, we don't supply that as a spare part at all"
"So I've now got a 30 quid pair of earphones that are useless because you won't sell me a spare part"
"I'm sorry sir, we just don't provide it"
"But people want it, are you going to at some stage soon?"
"I'm sorry sir, we don't provide that"
"So effectively this means I've bought headphones from you that are unsupported and useless after a week and we both know I will never ever buy from Philips again."
"Um, I'm sorry sir"

Good old philips, getting out of the consumer electronics market one customer at a time.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 01:31 PM | Comments (3)

June 03, 2007

The Great Con(vergence)

I am, as they say, time poor. Particularly when it comes to learning. Learning a new thing tends to find its way to the top of my tree because it fits with my life, not because it's the thing I most want to do. Learning to read chinese got along a lot further than Lev Manovitch's "The Language of New Media" mainly because one could be carried around 30 Flash cards at a time and read while standing up on the tube. Lev's enormous hardback isn't so Central-line-cram-at-8:15-friendly.

But sometimes there are things I want to learn so badly that I need to find a way to make them fit in with the time I have got to myself.

Pro Tools is the latest.

Now this is a pretty complex bit of software, with a million hidden features, some non-intuitive workflows and PDF manuals FAR too big to print.

But Digidesign, being the sensible people they are, provide numpties like me with a helpful DVD that gets you going on how to use the key features. And it's a damn good one.

Except to the people who surround me during any time the TV can be on and I am allowed to be stationary.

"This is boring, I want to watch Peppa Pig" daisy was chanting within four minutes. Vicky's face was trying to be loyal, but wasn't far behind.

I know, I thought, I have my sexy new N95 - I'll convert it to watch on that on the train. What a great way to be geeky, learn this new software, and show off a gadget at the same time.

So here is the process:

1) Download Handbrake after reading diveintomark's instructions.
2) Try and reinterpret diveintomark's instructions for the updated interface.
3) Insert DVD, choose Title4, chapters 1-50, enter all the settings needed for the phone.
4) Press 'process'.
5) Go and do something else for about an hour.
6) Come back and see it's converted 1h40 of DVD to MPEG4 already. Be impressed.
7) Find out it's only converted the first 1m34s chapter
8) Try again, unchecking the 'add chapter markers' setting in case.
9) Wait.
10) Sigh that it's still only converted the first chapter.
11) Try only converting chapters 1 to 10 in case that's too much.
12) Wait.
13) Sigh more loudly, attracting attention of spouse who is now seriously doubting my 'this will only take ten minutes', as it once again only converts first chapter.
14) Try 2 to 10 in case there is a glitch in the first one for some reason.
15) Give up sighing, start swearing, as it only converts chapter 2
16) Remember there was a dodgy bit on the disk when watching on TV, pick chapter at random and start encoding from there.
17) Get glass of wine, as spouse has now given up and gone to bed.
18) Realise excitedly that it's working.
19) Try to find a place in the DVD to re-encode from, realise that chapter 17 was the point it got interesting anyway, so you needn't have aborted.
20) Turn all the original settings back.
21) Ignore all common sense that would say this is going to take over two hours and decide to stay up reading in bed and wait for it.
22) Mess around pointlessly on the net instead, blogging increasingly drunkenly
23) Spend last two minutes of encode just *wishing* the time away.
24) Brace yourself for disappointment, but instead watch video excitedly, waking up wife in process.
25) Connect mac and N95 with USB cable, select "mass storage" mode from N95 menu that appears
26) Be told that the memory card has files in use and so can't be opened in this mode.
27) Turn off all apps, connect again.
28) Get same message, wonder if you can be arsed to uninstall Shozu which must be the thing running the background.
29) Try moving all of the messaging data store back into the phone in case.
30) Try again - without success.
31) Move the messaging data store back onto the 2GB memory card.
32) Go and open another bottle of wine, attempt to bluetooth the 236MB file.
33) Get 'not enough memory' message, as all bluetooth data is stored in phone memory first, even though it appears within 'messaging' app, which points to the memory card. Gahhhhhhhh!
34) Go and get work laptop from rucksack and power up
35) Turn on ftp server on mac in System Preferences
36) Browse to file and start download to PC.
37) Drink another glass of wine, piss around on net more.
38) Frantically run round for power cable for laptop in pants as it's about to die.
39) Check file on PC, disturbing wife once again.
40) Connect N95 to PC, again using mass storage mode as PC drivers are a bit smart about this.
41) See steps 25ff
42) Give up and upload it to the phone using PC suite
43) Enrapt, watch video on phone.
44) Curse once again as you realise that RealPlayer on the N95 doesn't support chapter markers so you have 1h40 of video to find your way around at random.
45) Remember you have big important meeting tomorrow and should have been asleep probably nearly two hours ago.
46) Go to sleep exasperated but happy.

Real pros will also add step 47) Be woken up by teething child 90 minutes later and spend rest of night being cried at or poked in the face while trying to get sleep.

So that's it kids, your easy guide to having all your favourite content on the move with you! How can this not catch on like wildfire - all the analysts say it will!

Posted by Tom Dolan at 08:53 PM | Comments (2)

June 08, 2006



Bloody projects.

Sometimes they start, then fizzle out.

Sometimes they blossom into a glorious nightmare.

Sometimes they take seven bloody months before everyone finally says "oh, let's just not bother then".

(And it's even more galling that this is the right decision)

Posted by Tom Dolan at 05:20 PM | Comments (0)

April 28, 2006

Options vs Value Adds

Thanks to the extreme kindness of Simon, I now find myself the recipient of a (spare) Cambridge Audio external DAC.

Only I've found that my 1994 vintage CD player doesn't have a coax digital out on the back. (The 1986 vintage one it replaced did have - go figure.)

So I'm looking online to find out how much it would cost to get a replacement with SP/DIF out...and although you can get optical out for around 70 quid, it's around 150 before you get the socketry I'm after.

Or I can buy a DVD player with it for around 30.

How strange that something essential on one commodity - because even a shitty DVD player might be connected to a shitty surround system - would be an extreme high-end value add on another...

Posted by Tom Dolan at 09:45 AM | Comments (0)

March 23, 2006

Meow - posting from work blackberry - work continues

Sadly the blogberry is still ongoing.

My work exchange server sends the email as multipart mime, and tacks a whopping great legal disclaimer on the end.

None of which is handled by meow at the moment.

So, after some VERY crap Perl programming from me, expected behaviour should be resumed.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 06:30 PM | Comments (0)

May 15, 2005

Generous to a Fault(y navigation system)

One of the things I've learnt over the years is that Apple computers are always far nicer if you can get someone else to stump up for them.

Sadly, however, this isn't currently the case, and - when my old Powerbook was dropped and one of the hinges separated from the screen in a metal-fatigue kind of way - I have just had to fork out for a brand-new one.

The folks in John Lewis were very nice. We shall see whether their hints that the 60GB iPod photo won't come with all the accessories soon turn out to be sales spiel or not in time, but it's lovely regardless. One wierdness though - they said that the current Powerbooks are being shipped with Panther, not Tiger, but that you can get it for 12 quid as part of you registering.

This turned out not to be strictly true, as registration on the computer and online produced no such hints. There was also no flyer in the box about it or anything. 'Hmmmmm' I was thinking.

But then I found it.

If you go to Apple's UK page. Then click on OS X. Then on 'Upgrades' in the subnav. Then scroll down for two pages. Keep an eye out for the link in the small yellow box on the right, or you might miss it!

(Comments on the Powerbook otherwise? Return key a little small, but getting used to that. The bit of setup that automatically imports all details from your previous mac over firewire broke the brand new one. But the two-finger use of the trackpad to scroll within windows is both brilliant and second nature within 48 hours.)

Posted by Tom Dolan at 09:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 14, 2005

On Getting Rid Of NTL

That's it. Thank heavens. They're gone.

NTL are no longer my TV and broadband provider. Hello BT Broadband and Freeview.

A few lessons learnt, madnesses discovered along the way...

On Changing Home Networks from NTL to BT
Thank Heavens I Used The Internet When It Was Little. Otherwise I'd have been absolutely stuffed. (By the way, some people will find the following section bleedin obvious. This is a howto I'm leaving for posterity - after all I still get emails about the howto on fixing your washing machine. Skip to the bit on NTL's call centre.)

The NTL box used to produce its broadband on an ethernet socket on the back of the set-top box. That was the WAN. So you just set it up with your computer, then hooked up a router (using MAC cloning to copy the hardware ethernet address of your computer into the router, so NTL wouldn't spot the difference) and you were away.

The problem came though, with the BT ADSL modem. Well, with the pairing of modem and router.

They both wanted to be

Which they kind of could be, as long as I never wanted to administer them.

Also, the BT modem has its DHCP very narrowed down and *really* doesn't like having its IP address changed. (Full factory reset to cure that one)

Even when I cured that and had the router and modem on different IP addresses, I couldn't get out to the internet. And couldn't get to the modem through the router either. Setting ranges just wasn't helping. And then I remembered what I needed...

Subnet Masks

One of those things you used to have to actually type in ten years ago, and so bothered to find out kind of what it was.

The issue is that the router thinks, by default, that it has control of all addresses beginning with 192.168.1

But it also knows that the DNS and primary gateway is via the BT modem on So when your computer connects via ethernet and gets the connection details via DHCP, the router blithely passes them on.

However, the router thinks that is on the LAN side, not the WAN side. i.e. it's on one of the many ports on the back that it looks after, not on the side of the bigger network it's connecting to.

So what you need to do is to restrict the addresses that the router knows are its own. Which you do with a Subnet mask.

Set the router's IP address to be, the DHCP addressing to start from, and the subnet mask to be The router now knows that anything which ends in 128 or higher is owned by it. And should be routed around inside its own network.

The ADSL modem, being, is compared to the router's address with the subnet mask. The first three bytes are identical, so we're looking good, but then the first bit of the finaly byte shows that this is a foreign IP address, and should be sent out of the WAN port of the router.

This is great news, because the router has told your computer to send all DNS lookups via - and the computer can now connect to that to resolve www.bbc.co.uk into an IP address. Which the router will know is outside of the network, and you're away.

So, in summary:
i) Don't go out and buy a new bit of kit
ii) Set the router to be
iii) Set its DHCP to only use and above
iv) Set subnet mask to

And now you can use your old router with your new BT ADSL modem. Woohoo.

NTL's Customer Retention
When I finally rang up to cancel my NTL account, the chap on the other end was genuinely mystified why I hadn't rung through first to say I was going and was there anything they could do. He then proceeded to offer me all sorts of increasingly good deals to stay - full family pack for price of base pack for a year, discount on broadband etc. He was genuinely affronted and mystified I'd not done this.

But this was, because of the miracle of call centres, he didn't know that I'd been waiting on the line for twelve minutes already to get through to someone.

When I cancelled my family pack a while ago (we only watched MTV and Daily Show, and I now have more than enough of the first and Lisa Rein provides the remainder) nobody offered us any deals whatsoever.

So I wasn't about to spend twelve minutes of my life trying to get through, in the hope I could be talked out of leaving.

This is what happens When Businesses Measure The Wrong Things.

Humax Fox-2 Freeview Box
Oooh it's lovely. And E4 is coming too, because ad revenue has increased so much they don't need to be on topuptv. And, unlike the Pace NTL box, it actually works with my TiVo.

For some reason our prior box was an absolute nightmare, and had about eight layers of bodging in the code that let the TiVo act as though it was the NTL remote. So it would often a) crash, b) stop changing channels, c) change to a completely different channel indeed. (We lost quite a few episodes of Green Wing to the NTL Preview channel on 0)

One strangeness though - they've separated out radio and TV on the box. So you have to press a radio button to hear the radio channels, and the tv button to watch TV. You can't just change from 4 (channel 4) to 74 (radio 4). Which the TiVo doesn't know about, so all of those old season passes for I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue will have to go. :-(

Posted by Tom Dolan at 08:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 14, 2005

Wise Historical Words

When I was little I remember my dad used to have a portable TV he used to take with him to watch the cricket if we were out and about. However, looking round the room I can't see everyone having their portable tellies with them

Steve Nuttall of BSkyB giving some perspective to a Milia discussion on the impact of broadcasting live video to mobiles.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 03:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 11, 2005

Doing what you're good at.

One of my age-old diatribes is that BT , National Power, British Gas etc are basically just billing companies. The wires, pipes etc are just a convenient way of providing you with stuff they can bill you for. The unsung glory is that investment in meters, databases, and very very fast printers. In the same way that media companies (with a few notable exceptions) provide programmes as a handy way of keeping you watching between the adverts.

I've been increasingly of the opinion that there are more and more micropayment opportunities arriving where a mobile phone is ideal. They are simple ordinary things, and as a result quite unlikely to happen as they don't pave the way for takeovers of major media organisations and don't look really glam on a powerpoint. (And it's also possible that, unlike iMode, they're trying to take slightly too much of the pie...personal opinion only)

Quite a few nice ideas brewing at the moment - most of which won't make much money, so they're even *less* likely to happen re the above. Sadly current work situation means I can't discuss much. Watch this space for exciting new role though...

Anyway, how strange to be paying for my wifi access at the Heathrow T1 departure lounge by text message to T-Mobile.

[update. though I can't help feeling the having-to-send-a-new-SMS-every-15-mins could have been thought through better!]

Posted by Tom Dolan at 03:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 02, 2005

Brain Food - The Broadcaster Remix

Okay, so I didn't get to go to Etech. Till next year...

Anyone else going to be at MipTV/Milia in a week or so's time?

Posted by Tom Dolan at 10:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 20, 2004

What I Did On My Vacation

The Staying-Alive site is now live in Simplified Chinese.

By comparison English was remarkably easy.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 02:12 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 03, 2004

Slow Multimedia

Even though most of my readers will undoubtedly have already heard about it from Yoz (don't have time to check you these days mate :-( ) news that the infocom 'HitchHikers' game - with original-tv-series-style graphics by Rod Lord - is coming to the radio 4 site has to be good.

(This blog has been pish recently. Sorry about that. Sadly blog spam handling means this homepage continually gets rebuilt and I knew trouble was afoot when 21 days wasn't enough to get a decent homepage any more. There will doubtless one day be time to relate at length much of the wisdom learnt the hard way in recent weeks.)

Posted by Tom Dolan at 08:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 16, 2004

Mixed Blessing

I currently have a pre-release state-of-the-art mobile gadget that is just *sooooooooooooooooo* cool that it attracts comment everywhere it goes. It gets passed round at gatherings with everyone eager to have a play. And it's got a hugely impressive feature list.

The only catch being that, because it's a pre-release model of a state-of-the-art mobile gadget, not all of those features currently work properly.

So, a plea to anyone who's got in touch with me recently, or is trying to get in touch with me over the next little while:

Please don't assume that I'm going to get any text messages you send me.

Often they turn up without a hitch, but the likelihood of that bit of the alpha software breaking seems to be in direct proportion to the urgency of the text message!

Mind you, lest anyone join dots and make assumptions about the product in question, it's a tribute to the funkiness and funtionality of the phone/pda thing that I'm prepared to put up with it despite these faults. It's fab. I'm looking forward to getting my hands on the release edition eagerly.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 12:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 03, 2004

So what is this telly thing anyway?

As someone who's spent ages trying to get traditional media producers (spent ages? traditional? tom, you have been working in new media for nearly ten years now, it's now middle-aged media!) I was interested in how directly some operators are trying to recreate the old within the new on cutting-edge mobile networks interesting Americas Network article about video streaming.

"We were concerned about what subscribers would think about having advertising, but having ads in there makes it genuinely TV," says Scanlan. "People don't think 'Oh God, I've got to watch this ad.' Instead, it's 'Oh, there are the ads. This really is TV."

There are some benefits for the short-term growth of the platform - i-mode is adamant that the reason it has dominated in Japan is because it concentrated on running a network and billing, and that everyone else had to stick to their bit, unlike the "We are Vodafone, we can be in the content business" tack that is happening here. And coincidentally, BT went through time and time again before finally deciding to stick to their tradtional guns.

However, I hope that there are people in these organisations who *are* thinking hard about the development of the platform and what new services will emerge when it becomes a medium in its own right.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 09:13 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 28, 2004

What Goes Around, Comes Around...

In the last few weeks I've come across a few rather strange echoes from the early 80s. The biggest was discovering that a whole bunch of the Manchester Ocean-centric Spectrum, Atari and Commodore programmers are now doing very nicely making Java games for phones. It makes sense really - limited graphics, squidgy user interface, tiny memory footprint, maximum gameplay.

And then I see this, in an article on (freesub) Brand Republic:

LONDON – Television advertising could be set to disappear in some arenas thanks to a new technology, dubbed the Intelligent Content Engine and unveiled today by inventor Peter Vogel in Sydney, which removes TV ads from digital set-top boxes and PVRs

Peter Vogel. In Sydney. Hmmm.

That'll be the 'Fairlight CMI' inventor then.

(For those not aware of this legendary beast, it was the first digital sampler commercially available. Almost prohibitively expensive. 8-bit sampling. An astronomical 128K of sample memory. And the tool on which classic albums by Art Of Noise, Frankie, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Duran Duran and many many more were made.)

Posted by Tom Dolan at 10:05 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 12, 2004

God Bless The Odeon

So, it's not in any way ironic that, on a day when even a laggard like me has decided to ditch the security-hole-filled IE and start using Mozilla at work, news breaks that Those Lovely People at The Odeon have made Matthew Somerville take his accessible version of their site down.

So, pretty much overnight, most of the people who browse at work and listen to what their IT guy says will be seeing a link-free Odeon homepage that looks like this:

Mr Somerville, I think it's time to start asking for Big Cash to put your version back again....

(via paranoid fish and blackbeltjones)

PS: Very busy. Much to tell, but doo damn little time.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 03:59 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 21, 2004

Always the last to know...

So why oh why oh why, has nobody told me about Joel on Software? How can I have been stumbling around the web for so damn long and never come across it? A person after my own heart, taking knowledge and experience, and turning it into approachable wisdom. (Only, I suspect, slightly better knowledge, and as a result, better wisdom.) And, to be honest, it's only tangentially about software!

I particularly enjoyed this ancient piece on Fire and Motion. I've noticed that customer-facing teams within organisations sometimes use this approach internally as a way of keeping the production/development team so busy they never get to have the ideas - becoming the painters and decorators for the salesmen, who then question why they need these 'creatives' anyway. But then there are also the coders who use the same techniques to ensure the spec is never signed off and the project never happens while the development bill grows ever bigger.

Anyway, one for the 'hypothetical people to have a pint with' list...

And thanks to Andy and Yoz for the link double-whammy.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 09:12 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 03, 2004

Is this the worst sitemap in the world?

The Site Map on the Thames Water site doesn't actually have links to any of the sections. The only hrefs anywhere are the 'close' button and stylesheet link.

It is literally just a map.


Posted by Tom Dolan at 11:10 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 02, 2004

Jakob. Grave. Spin.

This is now...oooh....almost three weeks old, so ancient by our standards, but I really enjoyed Design Eye for the Usability Guy - a take on applying some modern brought-round-to-the-usability-way-of-thinking design principles to Jakob Nielsen's old site.

I can't help feeling the 'putting it in Flash' was a troll that worked, but a lot of the other stuff in there is great - little icons to explain the concepts etc.

Oh, and do make sure you read the comments - by about number 80 it's settled into a good old usenet-style barney about xhtml v html4, fixed width columns and a whole bunch of other cool stuff.

From no 109:
>I’ve got an idea… why don’t you and Orion go do your own redesign
> and publish it and see if people like your version versus something like ours.
> I’m sure it would be an eye-opener.

There’s something that always seems to be missed when talking about re-design.
I believe that once the knowledge is gained, people tend to skim over the
content. It’s familiar to them.

Which has to be one of the best cop-outs I've heard in ages....

Posted by Tom Dolan at 10:28 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 16, 2004

Ah, tits.

They say you don't miss it till it's gone.

My little Belkin Wi-Fi point has gone, and so I'm typing this on the old beige G3 in the studio, rather than on a sofa or in bed.

The ironic thing is that, when I realised it was broken, the first thing I did was reach for the powerbook to search out a replacement...

Posted by Tom Dolan at 09:04 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack


Although the individual bits are rather simple, it takes someone with Simon's particular brand of intuition to work out how to send live tv via iChat.

Should one want to, as a hypothetical thought-experiment, obviously.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 09:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 01, 2004

Suck or Suggest

As I've said here recently, I'm relearning Perl (and yes Yoz, because the client wants it, also that 'pile of shite PHP'). I'd last programmed serverside stuff in anger back in '99 and I was amazed how rusty I'd got when I was trying to diagnose some problems with a fellow blogger's MT setup a while back.

There are two projects that hang off these, one commercial and one personal, but as my childcare-costs-induced poverty looms I'm thinking that my Amazon wishlist is becoming increasingly academic. Also purchases from it will become increasingly safe - playing to already-existing tastes rather than trying things out.

So I may set up allborrowing.net - where other people (probably vetted from FOAF files) can suggest books you should get out of the library.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 09:02 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 22, 2004


I have spent most of this evening analysing my own server logs.

Yeah, yeah, navel-gazing blogger, you all think.


I'm analysing my own server logs to try and find out what my IP address was on the 24th March.

Because that was the day I paid my congestion charge. Or rather used TfL's website to pay the congestion charge. Only the bloody thing failed. And didn't fail in a nice user-focused way. For some reason it didn't do the transaction, didn't take the money, didn't issue a receipt number - nothing. [Not that I'd have known that, after all, it was my first time at the site, and it didn't come up with a message saying Error108301598:transaction timeout:SQLRollback called or anything nice and ugly like that. It just quietly got on with looking as though the transaction had taken place.

I even remember that 'Start date' on your credit card isn't marked with an asterisk as a required field on the form, but that they make you enter it anyway, for chrissakes.

Anyway, I put all this into a nice letter. It was two pages long, but thorough, charming and articulate.

I got a not-so-nice letter back saying that they've looked through their records, can find no payment, and if payment isn't received for any reason then I am liable for a fine. Which I can't help feeling is slightly unfair, given that I was relying on their system to make that payment.

The not-so-nice letter also tried to warn me off appealling further, as I might get costs awarded against me. [Meanwhile the official form by the independent arbitration people says this is 'unlikely'.] Mmm, threatening. We're dealing with a class act here.

So, I'm trying to find my IP address on that day so I can ask them to check their server logs. (Which they won't, but the fact that I am armed with it might make a difference).

And, do you know what?

I didn't once look at my blog that day. Didn't post, didn't despam. Nothing.

Kids! Remember to blog each day. It could save you forty quid!

Posted by Tom Dolan at 11:54 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 06, 2004

I'd forgotten how good hitchhikers was...

Hurrah to Waxy.org for putting together a way of playing classic infocom text adventures through instant messenger

No 'Beauracracy' sadly.

(Thanks Euan)

Posted by Tom Dolan at 11:52 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 31, 2004

The Sells Principle

While we're at it, I thought I should document this interesting rule-of-thumb from one of the project managers I deal with. He is sometimes heard to say

"It's only telly"

when things get too heated.

Whereas the internet is described as

"It's not even only telly"

Posted by Tom Dolan at 11:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

aelP lareneG A

A call to the wider network of people that read this and people that they know.

I've just started looking after MTV's global AIDS awareness site - staying-alive.org.

This is a problem in the world of the internet because, as we all know, normally if it all gets too much it doesn't really matter because - hey - we're not trying to save lives here.

Except I kind of am.

(Perhaps this is utterly pompous, but my ambition is to make that potentially-marketing-speak true)

Anyway, one of the things I have to do is get the site working in Mandarin.

So, if you know anyone who's taken a left-to-right site and got it working in right-to-left, can you get them to drop me a line? I want to know about tech, editorial and design issues.

It's a good cause - and I say that having asked cynical questions internally - so consultancies need not apply. However, I may be able to offer drinks in very favourable surroundings on Shaftesbury Avenue for the right individuals with the right war-stories.

[Me acting on my own - not on behalf of my current employers]

Posted by Tom Dolan at 11:19 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 06, 2004

How to make the internet a safer place

Instead of displaying what track you're listening to, or what meeting you're currently at/excuse you have for not doing real work, why not get iChat/AIM/MSM to display the URL someone is currently looking at?

Anti-anti-social software stuck on the back of social software...

(Lets hope the 'misuse of internet at work' crowd don't cotton on though.)

Posted by Tom Dolan at 11:40 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 01, 2004

Another entry on the to-do list

Really must get round to (a) finishing the PHP nightmare that is the 'Badlanguage' project and then (b) putting together a very quick survey that consists of the following questions:

  1. Have used the 'red button' interactive TV functions on your set-top box
  2. Do you now own a TiVo, Sky+ or other PVR
  3. Since you got it, have you *ever* pressed the red button?
  4. Have you ever used the EPG on your set-top box since?
  5. Please rank the following as sources of new programmes to watch (we've put them in a user-centred order for you to begin with):
    1. trailers for programmes around what you have already chosen to watch
    2. listings magazines
    3. posters and other off-air
    4. recommendations from friends
    5. all those other cunning digital promotional means I've never bothered to look at

Some might suspect I believe I know the answers to these questions from the way I've phrased them...

Posted by Tom Dolan at 05:40 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Another point of view...

Chris Lightfoot posts an alternate take on the ConConUK gathering.

I like what he says about some of the talks, even if it is a bit harsh. To be honest, I think some of ETCon was complete guff, and ConConUK had to reflect that.

But this quote, reflecting on Tom Steinberg's talk on the Dean campaign caught my eye.

The internet, as a political tool, is a kind of LASER for idiocy: idiocy bounces back and forth between a bunch of web logs, reinforcing itself into a coherent beam of insanity, which can then be focussed on a political problem... on which it has no effect at all.

Have no memory of the 'berating the official from Downing Street' though. That sounded fascinating.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 02:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 29, 2004

Ah yes, we *have* been here before...

A lovely piece from Clay Shirky's NEC newsletter on the Dean campaign.

the hard thing to explain is not how the Dean campaign blew such a huge lead, but rather why we ever thought that lead actually existed. Dean’s campaign didn’t just fail, it dissolved on contact with reality.

As I read this piece, and also as I thought about Tom Steinberg's ConConUK speech on the same subject I've realised that a lot of the hype mechanisms, knee-jerk excitements, emphasis on money raised rather than what return you'll get have a very close correlation with the dotcom boom and bust. (And, as I'm sure Matt Locke will point out, many telecoms and engineering booms and busts before that.)

Why do we let ourselves get so overexcited about this? Did we get duped into signing up to Orkut without reading the terms and conditions because we were desperate for something better than friendster and everyone was saying it was better? Or because it actually *was* better than friendster?

I suppose this is the lesson - when we consider the implication of each new piece of software or technology that might change our lives by some amount yet to be determined - we're older and wiser, but not old and wise. They say that salesmen sell dreams not reality - perhaps we need to stop selling to ourselves.

As Clay says: We must take care not to re-write history so that we ‘always knew’ what was going to happen.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 11:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 27, 2004

Well overheard

Currybet gives us a timely reminder just how far at the end of bell curve we are.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 12:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 24, 2004

The Dublin Core

I went to ConConUK tonight in one of my favourite quiet pubs, the Dublin Castle. Which tonight wasn't quiet at all.

It was pretty good actually.

The venue was very very crowded. Hurrah to MattL and Alice and Paula for budging up to make room for me. Good oratory from Tom Loosemore. Tom Steinberg raised lots of good points about e-Democracy, particularly the folly measuring success in terms of how much you raise. Someone did a great talk going through why all the other politics ideas were bollocks. (But there was a great African wireless email idea that was like a very very slow token ring network) Dave Green did a talk on chocolate that spontaneously became a really funny comedy routine. Finally got to tell Cass a bunch of things that needed to be changed on Celebdaq. Tom Coates ranted in a much more measured way than previous times I've seen him. All the Geo stuff was pointless. I owe Dan Dixon a drink.

Will write up more thoughts soon.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 01:21 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 16, 2004

Not so much LazyWeb as SpuriousWeb

It's often been documented that celery is the ideal diet food, containing - as it does - less calories than it uses in the digestion process.

Yet, when cleaning out the fridge after the unpredictable home attendance of recent weeks I found a slightly soggy, brown and decomposing head of celery at the bottom of the salad compartment.

How can this be?

What are these strange bacteria that can do this? What entropy-reversing chemical reactions are going on here?


Posted by Tom Dolan at 03:22 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 13, 2004

In about twelve more hours...

Very shortly I can stop feeling slightly bitter about not going to ETCon for another year.

This fascinating, and quite possibly infuriating, gathering kicked off just as I left the beeb last year, and I seriously considered spending some of my redundancy money on going. I think it went on burgundy, a powerbook and membership of a swanky london club instead.

This year, I have a new baby who is just plain wonderful - who I can see wriggling in her moses basket over the top of the powerbook screen while I wait for the kettle to cool so I can make up some more bottles. Oh, and I'm working for a company that pays me loads more money than I was on when I went to this sort of thing regularly.

The fact they won't spend it on sending me to jollies, and that I would have chosen not to go even if they'd offered is immaterial.

There's much much more to say, but it's probably best left unsaid. It's just a wistful moment...and perhaps it won't need to happen next year.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 02:39 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 09, 2004

There had to be an upside...

One of the few advantages I've been able to find of being stuck with a PC at work (given that it's *work's* computer and so I can't put better games on it) is that I can now read Yoz.com without the right-hand (and given my non-Perl nature, often more comprehensible :-) column being two words wide...

Posted by Tom Dolan at 04:03 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 23, 2004

News From The Frontline

(Please bear with me on this, Tom sent a very abbreviated text to me, before a more unstandable one, so I've had to guess some of what he was trying to say!)


Vix has done well overnight. Dilating nicely so it's safe to break waters now. Waiting to go down to labour ward for them to actually do it.

Odd that the midwife has felt a real baby head!


Still waiting to be done. Got caught out by the lunch break. Number 1 in the queue now. Had a bit of a go on the bed for half an hour [i'm guessing we're talking having a good ol' push here? I'm confused - simon]. Too easy to be brave and flag later.


(a Simon post)

Posted by SimonT at 02:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 22, 2004

Ah, the frustration!!!!!!!

Huge thanks to Simon for posting this morning. And the news is that currently there is no news.


Just before lunch, Vicky had various unpleasant chemicals stuck up her after a near-interminable monitoring session. She then had to sit very still for an hour. (At which point everyone in the world phoned her, obviously)

She's now up and moving about again, but sadly the contractions have completely failed to kick in. We need bigger jump leads or something.

Anyway, they're going to have up to three more goes with this stuff. Technically it's supposed to be at six-hourly intervals, but I don't know if they'd kick her off again to have the baby overnight. More news - possibly via Simon - as I get it.

The rather unpleasant bit is that if the gels don't work they're going to have to go in via another, rather more severe, route.

In the meantime, I am doing a great job of pretending to be interested in whats going here at work. Possibly.

PS: Simon, why do your posts on my blog get more comments than mine? :-)

Posted by Tom Dolan at 03:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 08, 2004

Apple Share?

Ah, hurrah. I've started having little boxes appearing telling me my copy of iChat AV is about to expire. And I can't find the plain old version on apple's site any more.

I feel like I'm being blackmailed into buying Panther.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 12:11 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 03, 2004

One Down...

I've had a lot of big projects on the go at the moment - largely personal-development things. But one of them just got completed.

I've been investigating ways of archiving TiVo content - VHS just doesn't really cut it these days. So big piles of vaguely-known technology have had to be stitched together in an end-to-end chain based around whatever I have at home.

So, I now know how to use my DV camera as a dv-bridge to get video into the laptop. To clean up and edit video once captured. To export as MPEG2. To convert the audio into AC3. TV-friendly design. Building menu systems using photoshop. And then stringing this all together with DVD authoring software.

And the upshots?

1) DVD Authoring takes bloody *ages*.
2) If I wasn't the king of overengineering solutions to problems I could have had this finished about a month ago. (Not a full-time month, obviously)
3) Perhaps VHS isn't so bad after all...

Posted by Tom Dolan at 09:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 21, 2003

Telly, telly, everywhere.

And so, with half an hour to go before there wasn't a contiguous four-hour window when I wasn't
a) recording anything
b) sober
c) near a friends PC
for *weeks*, I managed to get my expanded Tivo up and running. I've gone from 40GB to 120GB and this now means I'll safely be able to record the entire Andrew Davies season on BBC4 without worrying it'll have disappeared by the time all the rellies have moved on.

Many thanks are due - will post here shortly.
A few interesting things to post for those who are more of a Mac disposition too.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 12:21 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 02, 2003

Time Management

Paul tells it like it is

Posted by Tom Dolan at 02:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 28, 2003

Pointless Error Message Of The Day

"Warning. Erasing this disk may destroy data"

Thank you, Apple's "Disk Copy"

Posted by Tom Dolan at 04:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 26, 2003

The Mighty Fall

As far as I can tell, last night, from about 6pm onwards, NTL's DNS system went down. For the whole of the UK.

Neither my Dad in Yorkshire, nor I in London could get to anything on the net.

It was like the early days of Demon... :-)

Posted by Tom Dolan at 06:31 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 21, 2003

Spaghetti Junction in Text-Only Mode

Jackie Cairns' ELECTRIC STEW has some interesting insights into the technology gaps still to be bridged in order for GPS and mobile computing to be useful for blind and partially sighted people.

e.g. There's a good and accessible speaking GPS gizmo on the iPaq, but the iPaq interface is terrible for accessibility, and for most of the programs it's nonexistent.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 08:49 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 11, 2003

Visio v Omnigraffle Pro

Okay, I need a really objective comparative study on this. Are there any power users of both Visio and Omnigraffle out there who could give me an opinion?

I tend to work in PC-based offices a lot. And I use Visio a *hell* of a lot. I particularly like having multiple sheets in one file so I can contain all of a project in one place. Normally I could persuade my employers to cough up for this, but I'm increasingly hopping between companies where that's not an option. (Um, did I mention that the machine I'm typing this on only has 64MB of RAM?) So I find myself ever-reliant on my powerbook for this, which presents me with a problem.

Vanilla comes-with-your-powerbook Omnigraffle alone isn't enough to do the things I want, and while OG3 Pro has multiple sheets, they're nowhere near as usable as the "excel-style" ones of Visio. And I miss being able to just click on an object and start typing when I want to label it. Mind you, it's only $120 or so.

Or should I just buy Virtual PC and Visio Pro? Bloody expensive (200 and 500 quid respectively, but then I'd probably buy VPC sooner or later anyway for all that client-facing compatibility)

Has anyone used both extensively who could offer an opinion?

(And I do mean *extensively* - I depend on this for putting together sitemaps, wireframes, IA, flowcharts etc etc etc)

Posted by Tom Dolan at 03:58 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 28, 2003

Talking of 'Do Not Dispose'

Having read Paranoid Fish, Plastic Bag, Interconnected and many others, I'm not sure I'll be forking out for Mac OS X Panther just yet. Everyone seems a little, well, underwhelmed.

Once the bugs have been ironed out perhaps...

Posted by Tom Dolan at 11:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Do not collect income. Do not dispose.

It may just be the impending financial ruin (postponed one or two weeks at a time) that increases my sympathy here, but I can sort of see why Colskee is going back to basics.

I will not buy a 40 gig mp3 player. I do not need my entire CD collection with me at any point in the day. (I don't even really need it at home).

Posted by Tom Dolan at 11:04 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 22, 2003

Recurring blog entry.

For the sake of a rant on the uk-netmarketing mailing list about someone who wanted to send 100MB email attachments - possibly as spam, I can no longer remember - I had to dig out David Weinberger's World of Ends essay.

And every time I go back to it, I'm reminded just how damn *right* it is, and how damn simple and *obvious*.

Douglas Rushkoff's statement that 'most of the innovation in the internet happened in a gift economy among academics' keeps coming back to me. I'm not sure he was right to say that innovation stopped when 'industry' got involved, but I do feel that 'industry' was a bit too damn lazy to go through the proper hoops.

But going back to the email attachment - I remember zipping email attachments before sending them, as the time it took to do the zip took less time than sending the extra data down my 14.4K modem.

I doubt if anyone does that any more. But simple economies like that *haven't* been automated. And they should have been.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 02:40 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 20, 2003

Banff Strikes Again

It's really good to see another project from last year's 'Interactive Screen' event at Banff get moving.

(I went not knowing I was supposed to be taking a project, and instead had to discover one while I was there. Instead I found two connected truths:
1. I got into all this media stuff because of music. And music is how I most naturally articulate my personal creativity. This got lost along the way, but Banff led to my going for formal piano lessons, leading to much improved mental health.
2. Producers in hostile commissioning environments for long enough will shrink their own personal taste to only encompass what they can get commissioned. It's their manager's job to ensure that they keep looking outside that world for new inspiration or they will go slightly mad.)

Anyway, Scott Paterson's PDPal started off as a bunch of paper prototypes, and has a really interesting information journey between devices. (Though in Europe I'm not sure that it wouldn't all be done through mobile now)

Check it out.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 08:38 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 26, 2003

Synchronised Spam?

Today, I got an interesting thing sent to my email inbox. So, at 14:34, I forwarded it to some people who might be interested. At *exactly* the same moment as someone else in the office.

Regardless, the World Beard and Moustache Championships site is still worth a look.

Via herself.

Posted by Tom Dolan at 02:42 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack