Too Busy Practising Taoist Tai Chi To Post For Over 4 Years!

taoist tai chi chinese five elementsThis post breaks my own previous record of not blogging by years. It’s probably a one-off because I just don’t feel the urge to write any more and the words don’t always flow like they once did – a cantbarsed malaise far worse than any writers block.

From my personal experience of practicing taoist tai chi on a daily basis for most of this century I know my health and sense of well being have improved in ways exercising in a gym never could. Although my body is older it’s more flexible and resilient than it was a decade ago. I also have a much deeper understanding of my body from the inside out both physically and spiritually. I’ve always thought about stuff and taichi is the vehicle I’m using on my journey of self-discovery – I’m unrecognisable to myself and it feels great.

Feeling great reminds me a question I was asked recently by a friend: How good do you feel on a scale from one to ten? I said eight (although I was actually thinking ten but eight came out of my mouth in some odd form or modesty or self-censorship). My answer was greeted with “Really?” and a surprised look. That reaction had me wondering if I really looked like the grumpy old man my family tell me I am but what he actually said was that most people rate themselves lower than I had – which surprised me. I’m interested to know how happy YOU feel on a scale of one to ten and why?

The why for me is taoist tai chi – one of the reasons I cantbarsed to blog any more is because I’d rather be practicing taichi. I’ve bored all my family and friends about the health benefits of taoist tai chi and, despite the overwhelming anecdotal and scientific evidence, I’ve come to understand taichi is not for everybody and I’m comfortable with that.

For more information about taoist tai chi visit taoist.org.uk

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iPad Second Thoughts (For Computer Age Denialists)

Following on from my iPad first thoughts blog post last May I’ve now learnt enough to post a worthwhile update on life with an iPad.

The short version of this blog post is I don’t use my iPad much at all BUT there’s more to it than that and I even have a useful iPad tip so it’s worth reading on…

Last time around I wrote “I’m convinced [the iPad] will carve a niche for itself” and it turns out that niche doesn’t include me BUT it does include my sister, and now my mum, Lorna (see picture left).

After playing with my iPad on launch day my sister had that conversation with her husband I talked about before she headed off to PC World and bagged a 16Gb Wifi iPad, despite reports and online stores reporting they were out of stock everywhere, so she was a very lucky early iPad adopter. Almost a year later I can report she still loves her iPad and uses it every day feeding it with new Apps keeps them both Apple happy.

Following the unexpected iPad love from my sister it occurred to me my mum “needed” an iPad for Christmas – which was a helluva gamble because she takes every opportunity to express her hatred of all things electronic, especially computers.
Undeterred I placed the order anyway and in the end everyone chipped in (thanks guys) for one last ditch effort to drag our mother into the computer age (there are several earlier aborted missions I won’t bore you with here – well I might, but not today).

Anyway, we were all sat around on Christmas day pretending to be opening our own presents while we secretly all had one eye on Lorna to watch her reaction as she unwrapped her present and, disappointingly, she did a great job at hiding her dismay – or was that excitement – I couldn’t tell, don’t ever take her on at poker.

I took the time to set the iPad up with a mobile me email address, a £5 iTunes voucher (so I could set up the Apple Store ID), PingChat so she could talk to us all, a Facebook account so she can see what her family and friends are up too and a few other apps I thought she might click on when no one was looking.

Since Christmas we have all chipped in to ease Lorna through the techofear barrier and now more than two months later I’m pleased she’s still using her iPad so mission accomplished and I look forward to seeing how the story unfolds as she becomes more proficient.

Meanwhile MY iPad has been lying around largely unused but I did look forward to upgrading it to IOS 4.2 hoping that might kick start my enthusiasm. After upgrading I had another quick play and the task switching a big step forward but it’s not intuitive. I also downloaded my first free eBook and enjoyed reading it in bed in the dark – which didn’t disturb the missus and for a day or two I was almost a proper iPad user but since then I’ve lapsed again.

It gets worse. My PC hardened brother was around to gloat when my “it just works” faith in Apple technology took a serious dent. I’d bought the updated Apple TV so we could watch podcasts and rent HD movies without putting any more dosh into Mr Murdoch’s pocket.

Well, it just didn’t work that day and it still doesn’t now! The darn thing refuses to rent movies – it connects to the Apple store fine, logs in to my account fine, takes my order, then sits there doing nothing. We tried switching Apple IDs, networks, the lot.

I tried to point out to my brother that what I have actually always said about Apple stuff is “It will either just work OR it will be serious” but it was too late. He enjoyed NOT watching the film more than I did I suspect.

Some lateral thinking clever clogs (shout out to Natasha) suggested we could rent the movie on the iPad and stream it from the iPad through the Apple TV to the actual TV and that did work but the 5Gb movie took hours to download so we had to watch it the next day, which is still a bit of a FAIL.

OK, here’s that iPad tip I promised you. I haven’t read this iPad tip anywhere else – not even on the manufacturers website – and we only discovered it by accident because we have two iPads…

An iPad with a Gelaskin is MUCH easier to hold than a naked iPad. That’s it! Sorry if you were expecting something more geeky.

It really is a major improvement. Naked iPads tend to slip through the fingers so you have to grip the iPad quite hard whereas holding a Gelaskinned iPad in one hand is effortless. It surprised us all how much difference the Gelaskin makes.

I usually put Gelaskins on my Apple gear anyway, partly to give them a little extra protection from scratches, partly so I can easily spot mine in a houseful of Apple gadgets and partly because I love the awesome Gelaskins artwork that’s available.

Gelaskins are removable too which means you can change or remove them anytime without damaging the Gelaskin (keep the original backing paper) or your Apple gadgets so I’m pleased to recommended them.

[UPDATE] Lorna is still using her iPad, she composed and almost sent her first email a few days ago but unfortunately her friend phoned her up just as her finger was poised over the send button (OK, I’ve used a bit of dramatic license here) and they chatted instead!

The intention was there though and using the keyboard takes her back to the good old days before she had kids and she was at the cutting edge of technology using a typewriter.

Uh-oh, I’ve just realised there is an outside possibility she could read this – mum, if you ever read this, you can add a comment below…

[UPDATE2] Sadly Lorna passed away in April 2013 and her iPad passed to Natasha, her granddaughter who used it at University.

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Don’t Buy Another Useless Toaster, Buy a Magimix


Buying the perfect toaster has been a mundane yet recurring theme of my adult life which often leads to toaster rage when I buy yet another useless toaster.

When we moved into our first house back in the early 80’s we were given a hand me down toaster, we’d never been responsible for toaster purchasing so we didn’t have a clue. I should have known that toaster would not be “the one” and, of course, it wasn’t. Setting aside it’s inadequate toasting abilities it was the wrong colour and had a seventies pattern on it – and you couldn’t live with 70’s style back in the 80’s. It marked the beginning of my quest for the perfect toaster. I think it’s a man thing, probably because it’s connected with fire.

Some time later I married “the one” and in all the kerfuffle we ended up with a white Tefal thick and thin toaster, designed and produced in an era where form followed function without compromising quality just to get the price down. That was a good toaster which lasted for years until it went on the blink and I attempted a DIY repair which didn’t go well and we were back in the market for another toaster. My checklist for a toaster is simple enough:
+ Able to cope with different shapes and sizes.
+ Easy removal of toasted goods without burning or electrocution.
+ Ability to toast evenly.

Ideally it shouldn’t need a manual but we live in a world were we will get instructions and warnings in many languages including English and I will still end up shouting at my wife to stop her digging around in a toaster with a metal knife!

With hindsight I realise I should have put more effort into finding the perfect toaster earlier in my life. Unlike a new TV a toaster purchase wasn’t something I had previously devoted in-depth research into and every toaster we’ve bought since (at least half a dozen) have been impulse purchases or special offers and they’ve all been fundamentally flawed.

I have learnt that toasters with thin heated wires weaved over an insulated backplate just don’t work properly. Perhaps in a bygone era they did, but as the decades have rolled by the wires have been spaced further and further apart and the heating area has shrunk so now it’s hard to find a toaster big enough to toast a standard supermarket size loaf of bread.

I’m not the only person who has noticed, this snippet from an Amazon toaster review struck a chord: “I got fed up with toasting bread to find that the top third was untoasted because the slots weren’t deep or wide enough so I cut out a piece of card the size and shape of the normal bread I use and slotted it into all the toasters I looked at in the shops.”

The old adage “you get what you pay for” doesn’t hold true for toasters either, our last but one toaster cost £5 from Tesco – I only bought it to tide us over while looking for the perfect toaster and it worked fairly well and remains in service after handing it down to our son who still uses it in his student accommodation.

Which brings us to the Magimix Vision Toaster and I’m relieved to announce it’s a near perfect toaster. Yes it’s a french brand and yes it cost more than a booze cruise but it’s worth every penny. Magimix have been producing the best kitchen food processors for decades and now they also make toasters. This Magimix toaster is:
+ Really cool to look at and really cool to touch
+ See-through, which makes perfect sense
+ Takes full size bread, rolls, bags, bagels etc.
+ Toasts evenly using 4 halogen heating elements

Even better, the pop up action travels high enough so it’s easy to remove the contents without burning your fingers or having to delve into the toaster innards and not so vigourously that the toast ends up on the floor. It’s a fine balance which most toasters fail.

It really shouldn’t be rocket science to make a perfect toaster but kudos to Magimix for getting to grips with the problems and creating a clearly superior toaster with kitchen cred.

So far I haven’t managed to burn anything. Being see-through is obviously the key and I’ve learnt the time between not brown enough, perfect toast and burnt all takes place in around 30 seconds so it’s not surprising most toasters are useless and reinforces the rationale for a see-through toaster, one day all toasters will be see-through.

Because it’s see-through there can only be one slot but it’s long, wide and self-centring and copes well with pretty much everything I want to put in a toaster.

The Magimix Vision toaster is not cheap, I paid £160 at John Lewis online and it’s available in brushed steel, with black, cream, red and possibly other end panel colours and comes with a 3 year guarantee. It’s solidly built and easy to clean.

Next time you’re in the market for a toaster or toaster rage gets the better of you the Magimix Vision Toaster has the CantBarsed seal of approval.

The only real alternative worth considering is a toaster fork, an open fire and lots of patience because nothing compares to bread cooked in the glow of an open fire. My kids didn’t believe me until we tried it last bonfire night and now the quest for the perfect toaster has been passed onto the next generation – I’ll settle for my Magimix Vision Toaster.

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Munich a4uExpo 2010 Memories


There have been some great blog posts about what people learnt at the a4u Expo Munich, this is not one of them.

I do learn stuff at the a4u Expos but I attend so I can see what’s happening in our industry and to touch base with networks, agencies and other affiliates and to reconnect with friends, meet new people and put faces to people I’ve chatted with by MSN and email.

On this occasion my wife, Deb, accompanied me because we’d been visiting family in Frankfurt the week before so we were both up to speed drinking beer and mumbling a few German phrases. We avoided the ashcloud by chilling on the ICE train down to Munich. At one point we were travelling at 236km/h and it still took several hours to get to Munich which reminded me Germany really is a big country.

We arrived in good time to settle into the Munich Park Hilton Hotel which is one of the better conference hotels I’ve stayed in with the exception of WiFi access which was taking the piss at 18 euros for a 24 hour pass. Internet access is not an optional extra for affiliate marketeers so 18 euros later my mobile office was up and running.
The hotel breakfast offered everything anyone could possibly want for breakfast from a full English breakfast, a bowl of cornflakes or a continental style breakfast.

The Sessions
Having attended all the a4u Expos I’d seen quite a few of the presentations before and some of the rooms were too hot and too overcrowded but the content was generally good and all in English, which surprised me. The European audience wasn’t as quick to jump in on panel discussions as UK audiences so it was up to the moderator and twitter input to keep things moving – which worked well.
The lunchtime food was provided by the Hilton and was the best at any Expo offering something for everybody with a choice of nibbles, a bowl of soup or even a full meal.

The Germans
I wasn’t very proactive touring the stands in the main hall because I already work with most of the networks which have UK operations and I didn’t want to get into any long boring conversations with German specific networks and merchants I can’t work with at the moment but it was good to touch base with Karel Ellis-Gray who we also met in Barbados. Karel is affiliate marketing manager at belboon-adbutler GmbH who have some UK clients so check them out.

The a4u Munich Parties
The pre-show Ignite Party was held at the Vice Bar which is located just off one of Munich’s main shopping streets where we picked up our conference badges and wristbands before getting stuck into networking, the free bar and some tasty Bavarian nibbles. It was good to catch up with Ray Theakston, who I hadn’t seen since Barbados, and Bruce Clayton who I’d seen a few weeks earlier at a Linkshare event in London and apologies again to Hero for not recognising her straight away, it had been a while and I’m useless with names. The sound level was perfect, plenty of atmosphere and I didn’t wake up with a sore throat or ringing ears.

The Break Out Party on the middle night was held in, what looked like, a barn at the Munich Racecourse which sounds like an unlikely setting for what turned out to be an awesome party – undoubtedly the best a4u evening out ever.
The venue was really well organised with the BBQ outside, delivered with stereotypical German efficiency, no one was left hungry and I discovered, much to my surprise, that I like Sauer Kraut.
There was a raised back-lit music stage with an excellent DJ who really did build the atmosphere with the help of four great dancers and J’Lil who took over from the girls when he got into the groove.
For anyone wanting to chat there was plenty of space and seating away from the action but Deb and I were both enjoying the music and, despite being the oldest clubbers in town, wiggled our hips on the edge of the dance floor while admiring Duncan Popham throwing some classy moves on the dance floor – which I enjoyed a lot more than his click attribution presentation, Hi Duncan!

The After Show Party was held at the 089 bar in Munich (which coincidentally cost €8.90 to get to by taxi) and this evening wins my awkwardly titled “Best evening out from such an unpromising start award“.
We arrived around 9.30pm to a half empty Bavarian style bar which didn’t even sell Hefe Weissen – which is a bit like visiting an English country pub which doesn’t sell real ale as far as I am concerned.
Deb and I sat down with our complimentary drinks on an a4u reserved table on our own with just a sprinkling of a4u attendees mixed in with the locals. Not much happened so we bought a couple more beers and mooched around until Matt arrived and told us the last time he visited this bar it was shoulder to shoulder and a great evening out. Frankly I didn’t believe him and I was ready to leave but Deb persuaded me to give it a bit longer and I’m glad we did. Ray, J’Lil and a few other familiar faces turned up and that got the party started. Matt invited us to join the Existem gang and it got messy, needless to say I didn’t eat breakfast the next day and the flight home was an unwelcome intrusion into my hangover recovery regime.

Deb and I thoroughly enjoyed Munich and I’d like to thank Matt and the Existem team for a great conference and three great a4u parties and for their hospitality. I look forward to a4u Expo Munich June 2011 – I’ve just booked my tickets, why don’t you join me?

Mac Life Part 8 – Cloud Based Email Using IMAP

Figuring out the best way to handle email has been the most stubborn hurdle in my ongoing mission to create the perfect Mac cloud based working environment.

I get hundreds of emails every day and at one time I was running a backlog of over 35k unread emails, something had to be done and my Only send me junk emails blog post wasn’t the most elegant or long term solution to the problem!

The “problem” with standard POP (Post Office Protocol) mailboxes is emails are stored on the computer which downloads the email from the server and it’s then deleted from the server after downloading. This is fine so long as you only have one machine where you manage all your email AND if you are careful when setting up your mailboxes on mobile devices to leave copies of your email and any replies on the server – which isn’t the default and is often tricky to set up correctly.

I am not that disciplined and I often end with multiple copies of the same email on different devices and I can never find my replies when I need them. At one time I thought the solution would be to access all my email online as webmail using a web browser but this proved far too slow and cumbersome and I ended up back at square one.

With hindsight I can see my email problems are why I’ve ended up with everything on a single laptop which I dock in the office so I can sit at a desk and use a proper keyboard and larger screen. I’ve been very happy with this setup until I bought an iPad but I’ve got my eye on the new all-in-one iMacs so I’ve been thinking again about the very best way and work with desktop machines, laptops, iPads and iPhones.

Using MobileMe, Dropbox, Firefox Sync, 1Password, Google Apps, Evernote and a few other cloud based services I can pretty much work on any device now as everything syncs together apart from email which triggered my IMAP moment.

Partly because I’ve been online since before POP mailboxes were commonplace and and partly because I’m lazy I hadn’t really investigated other ways of handling email. I was vaguely aware my MobileMe mailbox synced itself across all my devices and I assumed it was some Apple black magic. I had already disciplined myself to only use my MobileMe mailbox on my mobile devices but the penny hadn’t dropped that I was using an IMAP mailbox and it does seem to be the key to cloud based email handling.

It turns out most ISPs support both IMAP and POP so I’ve been working my way through my mailboxes and setting them up to use IMAP instead.

I feel such a numpty I hadn’t figured this out earlier but better late than never and although solving one set of problems has created a few new ones but there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that’s all the excuse I need to get myself an all-in-one desktop mac!

So What Is IMAP?

IMAP stands for Internet Message Access Protocol and it’s basically a remote controlled cloud based mailbox, read this Wikipedia IMAP page for the long answer.

IMAP Pros and Cons

IMAP Pros:
1) One mailbox can be accessed from multiple devices, even at the same time, and the IMAP protocol takes care of all the syncing so all your devices are effectively looking at the live contents of your cloud/server based mailbox.
2) New emails arrive in near real-time because IMAP stays connected to your mailbox instead of periodically checking like POP mailboxes.

IMAP Cons:
1) Most ISPs have a storage quota so if you get lots of emails with large attachments your storage space can fill up which means you need to keep an eye on your mailbox and I’m not aware of any easy way to do this.
2) To avoid an IMPA mailbox becoming full to archive copies of important and large emails I’m partially recreating the problems with POP mailboxes I just solved by assigning a “main email” machine.

IMAP in Mac Mail

I haven’t found an easy way to convert mailboxes from POP to IMAP in Mac Mail so here’s what I did (based on this useful Mac Mail IMAP article):

1) Rename my existing mailboxes with a P (for POP) prefix.
2) Create new IMAP mailboxes without P prefix.
3) Spend some time deleting stored emails (so you have enough online storage space).
4) Move the remaining messages from the POP to the IMAP mailbox – just drag and drop the contents and Mac Mail will move everything across and upload them to your IMAP mailbox.

I’m Loving IMAP

Although IMAP isn’t the complete solution to email management it does mean I can now have all of my email on all of my devices, all of the time and read, delete and reply wherever and whenever I want to so I’m loving IMAP.

Back to Mac Life Part 1…

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Barbados Restaurant Experiences

Here’s our family eating experience along the south coast from Bridgetown to Oistins.

Most restaurants prefer reservations but we got a table for 5 phoning on the day and there were empty tables at all the restaurants we visited during the last two weeks in July 2010 so don’t be put off by this.

There wasn’t much variation in prices either with almost all meals working out at between $100-$120 per person for a three course meal.

This list is roughly in order of preference and we were in broad agreement but do bear in mind this was a family of 5 with varied tastes.

Champers
Reservations 434-3463
Christ Church
As a family Champers was our favourite restaurant by a clear margin. It has recently moved to a new location with a large car park so if you’ve been before the new location overlooking Accra beach is even better.
The staff were friendly and unpretentious, the service was prompt, the atmosphere was lively without being too noisy and the temperature was just right.
The food was all excellent, my highlight was a crab crepe starter.

Mama Mia Deli and Pizzeria
Reservations 434-3354
Christ Church
Mama Mia’s is an excellent Italian Deli stocking all the Italian essentials for anyone self catering or living on the island.
In the evening the Deli transforms into a lively restaurant and it was also one of the cheapest so it’s another family favourite and the only place we ate twice.
You can eat inside, which was too cold and too bright or outside which is OK but people do smoke there. The folding chairs used throughout were too uncomfortable for the length of time it takes to eat a meal and the service was fairly slow but everyone was really friendly and the food was well worth the wait.
If you like traditional thin crispy Italian hand made to order pizza cooked in a proper stone oven you’ve got to visit. The selection of pizzas on the menu was a bit eclectic but you can create your own pizza – just ask the waiter and name your toppings.
The pasta and salads are also homemade and the antipasti was also excellent.

Tapas
Reservations 228-0704 (Closed Tuesdays)
Christ Church
Tapas is a fashionable and trendy restaurant located on the popular Boardwalk with a great sea view. The Tapas car park is too small for the number of people they can cater for so parking could be tricky if it’s full but we managed to squeeze in. You can opt for tapas dishes or choose from the “a la carte” menu.
The food was good. My main course was a delicious sea food kebab served on a bed of crisp vegetables flavoured with a memorable dressing which was my favourite dish of the holiday.
On the downside the place is up itself and the service is slow and impersonal. It’s probably better as a daytime stopoff for tapas than a full evening meal venue.

Josef’s Restaurant
Reservations 420-7638 (Closed Mondays)
St Lawrence Gap, Christ Church
This stylish restaurant is located in the heart of the Gap with a sea view and a small car park. There’s a large private car park just around the corner which only costs $10 and makes it easy to visit any of the restaurants along the gap where parking is generally tricky.
The menu choice was an odd mix of Bajan and Asian cuisine with a limited choice but the food was all well received. The staff were polite and the service was efficient. It’s a good choice for sushi and the restaurant has a Japanese feel to it.

Brown Sugar
Reservations 426-7684
Aquatic Gap, Bay Street
We visited Brown Sugar because it’s within walking distance of the Hilton. It looks great with tropical plants and a water garden mixed in with hand painted murals which all help create a traditional Barbadian atmosphere.
Unfortunately it was far too hot and far too noisy. We think they’d given us pride of place with two huge portable air-con fans pointed towards our table but it was still sweltering hot and the noise of the fans and the crickets made conversation impossible.
We should have asked to be moved outside but we were too polite and this ruined our meal before we started. The food was good featuring genuine Bajan cuisine. Brown Sugar has the potential to be a great restaurant and I’d be prepared to give them another chance.

Oistins Fish Market
Friday Evenings. No Reservations.
Oistins is the south coast fish market town and it’s geared up to cook for hundreds most Friday evenings. It is an essential Barbados experience where the locals and tourists mix side by side for a Friday fry up and street party.
Oistins has a lively market atmosphere and there’s either live music or a local DJ. The fish is always good and comes with rice, macaroni cheese and all the usual Bajan side orders and flavours.
Parking is near-impossible so you either have to arrive really early, take a taxi or a tour. This was my third visit to Oistins so to avoid the travel hassle we took a tour bus which included the food and a drink at Pats Place but you can’t leave when you want and on balance it’s better to make your own arrangements and take a taxi.

Street Meat
St Lawrence Gap, Christ Church
After the sun goes down there are several food stalls which set up on the roadside along the Gap and they serve the tastiest burgers anywhere on the island. These are the perfect antidote to restaurant dining with 5 burgers costing less than a starter at most of the restaurants listed here so it’s a very tempting snack option. My favourite is the stall just to the left of the entrance to the South Gap Hotel, opposite the Ship Inn.

Hilton Lighthouse Terrace
Reservations 426-0200 Extension 5949
We only ate in the hotel because we’d returned our hire car and didn’t want to mess around with taxis on our last night. The restaurant is located on the first floor balcony with a lovely view of the sea, hotel pools and the beach beyond.
The service was friendly but slow and the food was generally awful and overpriced. Unsurprisingly there were hardly any other diners and we could only ever imagine this restaurant being full for business conventions where somebody else was picking up the tab!
The Hilton does have a more trendy restaurant aimed at both hotel guests, locals and tourists but their menu is even more expensive and I wouldn’t risk it.

KFC
You’ll find KFC restaurants dotted around the island and they’ll even deliver takeaway to your hotel. I haven’t eaten KFC for decades but I caved into pressure from my kids who wanted the KFC Barbados experience.
Even Colonel Sanders wouldn’t have eaten the family bucket of grilled chicken we were served with. Some of the chicken was still red raw which is an inexcusable health hazard and the chicken skin was pretty much all greasy and slimy so not much chance for the Colonel’s secret blend of secret spices and crispy coating to work its magic – I won’t be eating a KFC again.

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iPhone 4 – Has Everything Changed Again?

The Apple iPhone 4 blurb says “This Changes Everything. Again.” This only proved half-true for me but it’s certainly another step in the right direction.

So what hasn’t changed? O2! They remain as useless as ever! OK, it’s not O2’s fault they didn’t have any iPhone 4s in stock to deliver to their existing customers on release day but getting my iPhone working with my existing iPhone tarriff proved to be a right PITA.

There was no way I was going to stand in a queue outside an Apple Store, effectively working as an unpaid Apple extra, just to get an iPhone 4 on the release day so the only way I could get my gadget fix was to buy a SIM free iPhone 4 from the online Apple Store UK and that’s an expensive option at £599 for the 32Gb model.

I planned to swap my O2 pay monthly SIM from my existing iPhone to the iPhone 4 until I found out the iPhone 4 utilises a “Micro SIM” format and after some delving around online these were my options:

1) Buy a new contract SIM with any iPhone carrier – ruled out because none of them had stock and my existing O2 contract has over a year to run.

2) Wait and hope O2 sent me a new blank micro SIM. The O2 website said they would do this but to date nothing has arrived.

3) Trim my existing SIM with a pair of scissors to the size of the Micro SIM – apparently the only difference is the amount of plastic surrounding the chip, but I decided to hold this option in reserve as a last resort.

4) Get a blank Micro SIM out of O2 and swap SIMs. I read O2 stores would give existing iPhone O2 pay monthly customers a free micro SIM on production of their AppleStore order confirmation email so that’s what I did and, apart from dealing with a numptie O2 sales droid, this part of the plan worked.

I kept my blank O2 micro SIM ready to roll as soon as iPhone 4 turned up which duly arrived around midday 24th June on launch day.

iPhone 4 Migration

The major software update to iOS 4 on my iPhone 3GS went smoothly and migration to the iPhone 4 was also straightforward – I just plugged the phone into iTunes, clicked a few options and that was about it. I had to re-enter a few passwords and Spotify seems to have got itself into an argument with itself about registered devices and offline playlists but apart from that I’m up and running without any significant problems.

Swapping the SIM via the O2 website failed miserably probably because the O2 site was broken most of the launch day and then I realised I could have swapped SIMs a few days earlier, avoiding the rush, grrrr – lesson learnt in case Apple opt for a nano SIM next time.

I finally managed to swap my SIM the following day after restarting the process on the O2 website and it worked within an hour.

iPhone 4 Unboxing

No Apple fanboy unboxing pictures from me. Of course I still enjoyed opening the packaging which is as slick as ever and fully recyclable but I don’t feel the need to share my excitement with you especially since we’ve all been bombarded by the adverts and the leaked iPhone pictures and the associated Gizmodo iPhone 4 saga. Suffice to say the iPhone 4 looks great so I’m going to concentrate on how the iPhone 4 feels in the hand and how it performs compared to my existing iPhone 3GS.

I was anxious to get the 2 big reported issues at launch out of the way as soon as I had the iPhone 4 powered up and connected to O2:

1) Screen discolouration: I don’t have any yellow tinges on mine.

2) Antenna problems: I can take my iPhone4 from 5 bars to Network lost in seconds [see my video below] holding the phone how I normally hold it so whatever Apple says about holding it differently it’s still a major design flaw and I’m not impressed to read Apple regard this as a non-issue! Rumours of free bumpers and a software update to fix the problem abound.

The flat slab design of the iPhone 4 looks stunning but it is less comfortable in my hand than the the iPhone 3GS. I do prefer the flat back of iPhone4 (and the original iPhone) to the curved back of the iPhone 3GS which scratches easily and wobbles around when placed on a flat surface. I will try one of Apple’s bumpers and see how that feels – and at the same time see if this alleviates my loss of signal problem.
[update]I added a Gelaskin and this makes it a little harder to lose signal but it’s not a solution[/update]

The iPhone iOS 4

It’s a bit of wet blanket really. With literally hundreds of improvements listed on the Apple website I was expecting to see more than the new folder feature and task-switching functionality – which is really just dipping a toe in the multitasking water. I accept that it’s a work in progress but task-switching is not multitasking as I understand the term and I’m really hoping we get proper multitasking features in future software updates.

The iPhone4 Screen

It’s a glass screen and yes it’s sharp, double the sharpness in fact, which makes sense because it now matches the resolution of the iPad which should mean running iPhone Apps on the iPad in x2 mode won’t be necessary so I’m putting this in the good column but I still can’t read the screen without my glasses on and there’s no option to globally increase the display font size which would be far more useful to me.

The iPhone 4 Camera

The uprated 5 megapixel camera and LED flash which can also shoot HQ video is perfect for snapshots and recording instant memories and the pictures I took outside look excellent on screen – definitely a step up from the 3 mega-pixels of my iPhone 3GS 3 (and the 2 mega-pixel camera in the original iPhone). Flash pictures taken in a dimly lit room are muddy but at least there is a flash and I can see what I was trying to photograph instead of an empty black rectangle with my previous iPhones and it really does now offer everything I want from a digital camera although I’d love a x2 or x4 optical zoom feature – maybe next year?

I don’t think I’m a FaceTime kinda guy (see picture top left) so the front facing camera and video chats doesn’t really interest me but I did notice it’s right next to the earpiece which always ends up covered in grease from my ear (eewwww) so if it could have been located further towards either corner that would have been better – for me.

iPhone 4 Dock Tip

Apple don’t usually miss any opportunity to sell us expensive extras and accessories so I’ll wager they didn’t notice the iPhone4 sits perfectly into the original iPhone dock so I’ll take the few quid I’ve saved and put it towards a bumper to fix the antenna issue Apple insists is a non-issue.

iPhone 4 Conclusions

Comparing my iPhone 3GS, updated to iOS4, with the iPhone 4 it’s hard to justify spending £599 to get a better camera and worse reception but this is the first no-compromise all-in-one handheld device that’s both fun and easy to use.

If you’re mid-contract on a iPhone 3GS I’d wait for a revision sometime next year but for anyone considering buying an iPhone for the first time or upgrading from an original iPhone or iPhone 3G this is as good as it gets – go for it!

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Ipad – My First Thoughts

I was delighted when the FedEx guy knocked on the door a day early and I couldn’t resist a chuckle to myself at the thought of people queuing up early at Apple stores today to get their hands on an iPad this morning. Hats off to Apple for fulfilling their pre-orders on time – even if we are months behind our US cousins already.

Apple have, in my opinion, produced another game changing device which I’m convinced will carve a niche for itself and go from strength to strength as ever more imaginative and creative Apps are developed and the OS4 update evolves to support multitasking.

I bought 2 iPads, one 32Gb and one 64Gb WiFi model – we don’t have 3G where I live and I don’t get out much. My thinking was the 64Gb iPad for the the family and the 32Gb iPad for me.

iPad Out Of The Box…

The iPad is smaller and more awkward to hold than I imagined but nevertheless a joy to use and great fun to mess around with.

I’d read reports of them working straight out of the box in the US and I hadn’t realised they have to be set up and synced with iTunes on a computer, just like an iPhone. I believe this is an unnecessary step which will get in the way of opening these devices up to an entirely new audience.

My daughter has taken possession of the “family iPad” and she absolutely loves it. She says it’s “the right size” comparing it with her iPhone which is packed with games, and we’re both really impressed with the battery life – we’ve played with both devices on and off yesterday and both iPads still have over 50% battery life left so they look good for 2 days casual use.

My mum and sister visited yesterday evening and we let them both get their hands on the iPads. My sister is now desperate to get one, which surprised me “It has everything I have ever wanted in a computer in one place” she said – she loved the games, the email, Facebook and her only negative comment was “But it’s an Apple isn’t it?” knowing she’s going to have a hard time getting her dyed-in-the-wool PC loving husband to spring for one – but even then she’s prepared to take on that battle!.

My mum was always going to be the toughest sell but she sat dutifully through a photo slideshow and a movie clip or two and I think pretty much everyone would be impressed with those. Next up I handed her the Labyrinth Maze Game and sat back as she played happily until I took it away from her 20 minutes later.

Setting Up An iPad

As I mentioned earlier you have to set up an iPad using iTunes on a computer and I think that’s crazy. Apple seem to have iTunes tunnel vision at the moment.

How did we get to the point where the ONLY way to setup and use an iPhone, iPod and iPad is via an overblown music application on a computer?

iPads and iPhones should be stand-alone devices that can be setup over any internet connection including WiFi, cable or mobile broadband and Apple really needs to do this if they want to take sales to the next level.

The “Family iPad” is now synced to my daughter’s computer so that’s now effectively hers and the rest of the family are locked into her vision of how the iPad should be setup – which is not what I intended.

If you connect an iPad to a computer which you already use to sync an iPhone with iTunes says “This iPad has previously been synced with this computer” (which is plainly nonsense) but on selecting the alternative option to “Set up a new iPad” you end up with all your iPhone Apps and choice of music, photos, podcasts and movies being synced to the device anyway which is a bit odd.

This means if you own a 64Gb iPhone you’re not going to get all that content on a 16Gb iPad. I had enough space on my iPad so I didn’t have to solve that particular potential hiccup.

Is The iPad A Laptop Alternative?

The short answer is not yet – at least not for most users. The iPad clearly isn’t designed to replace a laptop but for many people, like my sister, it could easily become their preferred way to access the internet at home – in fact she doesn’t use the internet at home at all simply because she can’t cope with using a laptop. There’s a huge opportunity for Apple as the iPad could become the perfect gateway device for people like her to leave lying around on the sofa or kitchen table.

As an online marketeer the iPad can do some of the everyday things I need to do but not enough to make my laptop redundant. The single biggest limitation is the browser. The Safari browser doesn’t offer tabbed browsing – switching between windows in a multi-step operation at best. The single-tasking nature of the current iPad OS is a serious limitation to anyone used to working with multiple applications and windows so I’m hoping the planned OS4 release over-delivers otherwise iPads are effectively running a 30 year old OS model on a device of the future – I’m sure Apple will get there, I just don’t want to wait 30 years!

To end on a high, I love the iPad and I am fascinated to see how my family, friends and Apple respond to the way people eventually end up using iPads to enhance their lives – it’s going to be a fun ride, buy one – or one each.

[UPDATE] I’ve written a follow up iPad second thoughts post here…

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iPad Thoughts – Will I Be Buying One?

I’ve just watched the Apple iPad announcement and Steve Jobs does seem particularly proud of the iPad. He made a good case that there is a gap in the market for another mobile device that’s bigger than a smartphone and more user-friendly and portable than a traditional laptop.

Steve went on to explain that a netbook is just a small cheap laptop which doesn’t fill the gap and I believe he’s spot on – I’ve never bought a netbook for that reason.

The iPad is essentially a big iPhone, it can be totally touch controlled or, via a dock, using a real-keyboard for anyone who needs some serious text input. The big advantage virtual keyboards have is the ability to present context-sensitive input options, for example, a number pad would appear when entering numeric spreadsheet data and so on.

Although I find my iPhone intuitive and easy to use I don’t use it to its full potential mainly because it’s small so it seems likely I would make better use of an iPad and, as Steve Jobs pointed out, along with 75 million other people, I already know how to use the iPad out of the box.

I can envisage leaving iPads lying around the house, perhaps on the kitchen worktop where I’ll use it to follow recipes, or perhaps on living room coffee tables to settle arguments and look stuff up on Wikipedia. The iPad could breathe new life into traditional board games and I’m excited by all those possibilities.

A docked iPad with a real keyboard is going to be all most people ever need and traditional laptops and desktop computers may well become the preserve of geeks in darkened rooms once again. Consider how quickly the iPod and iPhone changed the way we listen to music and how we use mobile phones and it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to see the way we use the world wide web is about to change – in three years, just as Apple announce the iPad V3 we’re all using tablets, you read it here first!

I can’t be certain until I’ve had some hands on experience whether I will take my iPad around the house or have several lying around but it seems likely we’ll have one each because future iPads are bound to interact with each other and our iPhones like virtual pets forming a House-Wide-Web and will change the way we interact with each other, our friends and the wider online world and my daughter won’t need to ring the house phone to get her dippy egg in bed!

There’s a pretty good chance technophobes, like my wife and my mum, will get carried along with the iPad wave. My wife already has an iPhone, admittedly turning it on/off is still a challenge but we’re getting there and my mum loves sitting beside me while I drive my computer for her touring Picasa and Facebook photo albums and buying her shopping online – she certainly knows how to point her finger and she’s good at gestures so she’s halfway there so I should be careful what I wish for or we’ll all be reaching for the blue pill!

Meanwhile, back in the real world, a friend of mine (Hi Antonious!) said “NOT ME MATEY” along with this list of reasons he won’t be buying one – but of course he WILL cave. Quite a few of the items on the list relate to lack of ports on the iPad which can all be made available via Apple or third party iPad docks and another accessory industry is born. I’ve appended my specific comments after each list item:

• Unspecified widescreen aspect ratio for video playback (so what?)
• 1024 x 768 aspect ratio not widescreen video friendly
(so like most TVs they’ll be a black bit top and bottom)

• No integrated USB ports (via dock)
• No card reader (via dock)
• Non-removable battery (would be better if it was)
• Non-expandable memory
(would be better if it was, but will buy the biggest anyway)

• No GPS in the WiFi only model (durr)
• Unlocked iPad not great when network’s don’t use the micro SIM
(any network which gets the contract surely will?)
• Mono audio speakers (via dock)
• Prolonged typing on glass? (use a keyboard via a dock)
• No integrated camera (Gotta love Apple keeping something back for iPad 2)
• No HDMI/Displayport (via dock)
• No Ethernet Port (via dock)
• Still no Adobe Flash support
(It’s bound to be Adobe dragging its heels, would prefer an alternative to emerge)
• Limited codec support i.e. AAC, MP3 and H.264 (can be supported via software update)
• Proprietary iBook eBook format
(Steve Jobs said it WAS an open format and I think all publishers will jump on this bandwagon or risk being left out in the cold)

• No breakdown of ‘up to’ 10 hours battery life
(Steve said he could watch video on a flight from LA to Tokyo and that lying around not being used and iPad would still have power after a month)
• No mains power cable included (via dock)

So yes, I will definitely be buying a WiFi iPad and, if I like what I see, probably more than one. Am I alone or will you be buying one? If so why? If not why?

CantBarsed.com 10th Anniversary Year!

CantBarsed.com was launched with no fanfare early in 2000 with no commercial ambition and no real direction.

The only thing I had in place was free cantBarsed.com webmail accounts which I thought were great fun and they remain popular today.

It was a chance email exchange with Dan Mountain (MD, Buyagift) that changed the direction of the website and led to my career in affiliate marketing.

Having quit my design job in London and retired over a decade earlier to become one of the first house husbands in the playground I was living the cantBarsed lifestyle and tinkering around online in my spare time as the World Wide Web stumbled into existence and the dot.com boom became the next big thing.

We heard a comedian using “dot com” as a punchline which stuck in my mind. One of Deb’s favourite expressions back then, and even now, remains: “I can’t be arsed” and I started chiming in with “dot com” every time she said it. At some point I casually checked whether cantBEarsed.com had been registered – and it had, which could easily have been the end of the story.

However, lying in bed, late one night, the image of a bumble bee between the words can’t and arsed popped into to my head (yeah I know it’s stupid but stick with me) and the idea for a domain named cantBarsed.com was born. I registered the domain and it was only when I was playing with logo designs I realised the letter B turned sideways made a bum shape and the original cantBarsed logo was born. The logo was subsequently animated and tipped up at an angle so it’s easier to read and the design is now protected as a registered TradeMark.

I also registered cantBarsed.co.uk and several years ago I finally managed to get my hands on CantBEarsed.com for £3700 – which is most I have paid for a domain name so far and a sizable company expense at the time. I remember Nadeem Azam telling me it was news in the domain name industry and I also remember Nadeem making himself ill during the .eu domain sunrise period trying to buy them ALL(!) which prompted me to pre-register cantBEarsed.eu and cantBarsed.eu and those, along with a bunch of other variations, all end up at cantBarsed.com website.

The cantBarsed.com screenshot is dated 14th August 2000 and, from memory, I’d just revamped the site with the idea of making money aiming for an Austin Powers multicolored blocks feel – I still like it!

Keen affiliate marketeers will notice I was already up and running as an Amazon affiliate and the Firebox.com and Cheeky Monkey banners were running via UKaffiliates – which later transmoglified into Deal Group Media. I think the mp3.com banner is an early Commission Junction program.

After several years of trial and error, learning from my mistakes along the way, cantBarsed.com eventually started to make money and went on to establish itself as one of the first popular UK affiliate marketing portal style websites in the UK.

The peak year for CantBarsed.com was around 2007, before dedicated code sites dominated affiliate marketing, but even now, in CantBarsed.com’s 10th Anniversary year, the site still makes money from over 700 hand-crafted static HTML pages which continue to rank well in search engines for many popular search keyword terms.

Future CantBarsed.com Plans
We continue to add content and keep CantBarsed.com up to date and during 2009 we finally managed to automate the promotional code handling to comply with IAB regulations. During 2010 we’re planning to move away from static hand crafted HTML pages using Adobe Dreamweaver to an online Content Management System which should free up more time to add more original and useful content.

I find the continued existence of CantBarsed.com, in today’s über-corporate world, purely as a result of a string of co-incidences, remarkable and I’m looking forward to working on the site to secure it’s future well into the teenies.