Category Archives: Technology

The Human Google Interface

I had a request from one of my sons recently where he was struggling to find something on Google (other search engines are available just not as comprehensive) and asked me to see what I could find. If there was a university degree in finding things on Google I’d have a first with distinction.

What was interesting about this was that both my sons are very intelligent and have grown up with search engines so the request could only be one of two things: laziness or a failure in the simplicity of the interface. Given the nature of the request I discounted the first option and anyway it was never going to be quicker to ask me than to just do it yourself, right ;-).

The Google interface is deceptively simple – type in some words and a list comes back of things Google thinks are relevant to your search. Searching for human google interface, for example, brings back “About 103,000,000 results” – that’s a lot of pages to wade through sifting the wheat from the chaff. Gone are the days of finding a Googlewhack. However, searching for “human google interface” returns only 85 matches. That amount I can sift through.

And there is the issue in two quotation marks. The real real power of Google lies not in being able to type in the search box but in being able to harness the power of the search operators to get a list of results that is both manageable and meaningful. So while Google is an amazing resource much of the usefulness is trapped behind that simple text box and until they, and other search engine providers, discover a way to humanise it then it will remain that way.

It will make someone enormously rich.

My Amazonification

So this week Amazon released Prime Music in the UK which is a (very) restricted version of Spotify Premium. When I say restricted we are talking about 1 million tracks compared to Spotify’s 30 million catalogue. However, Prime Music is an additional perk of the Amazon Prime package which includes next day delivery, Prime Instant Video (Amazon’s Netflix) along with some other bits and pieces for ¬£80 a year.

Don’t worry this isn’t about to turn into an advert for Amazon (although if you want to sign up you can do so here and I will receive a kickback ūüėČ ).

The point is you can see where this is going. We have long subscribed to Netflix and then Amazon Instant Video came along (rebranded from LoveFilm) and I regularly ask myself whether we should dump one or the other. To date we have decided that there is sufficient content that is unique to both services that we can justify them both but I can see the day coming when that is no longer the case. Amazon would no doubt win out in that battle due to the core one day delivery that we love.

Same with music. I have toyed with the idea of a Spotify Premium account in the past but I have plenty of music of my own and now with Prime Music I get additional coverage that I wouldn’t have got before. Sorry Spotify.

How many others are having the same thoughts and closing their alternative accounts? Which is exactly what Amazon want of course. The danger is what is going keep the prices competitive if the other players are reduced. I can see that £80 rapidly going north if that were to happen.

All the Amazon Prime offerings are pretty good and have some good content but boy the user interfaces are ugly and hard to navigate. Netflix meanwhile is beautiful and easy to use, probably because it is only trying to be one thing. The problem with the Amazon interface is that it is trying to shoehorn streaming content into a platform that is geared up for selling stuff. That said the interface for AWS (Amazon’s services platform) looks good and works well so perhaps the UX experts from that team should be seconded to the main site!

Oh and that reminds me. This blog is running on a server hosted by Amazon as is the database. And that is where the real money is. I can see a time when Amazon are the sales, streaming and infrastructure platform for the world. For me that took a step closer to reality this week. Jeff Bezos won’t be sad to hear that at all.

Spot the April Fools’

Over the years the amount of effort put into creating April Fools’ jokes has increased exponentially, with some more plausible than others (see above). Some, such as Google and Amazon go to the trouble of creating really slick websites and videos such as these from Google (love the girl’s reaction at the end):

And Amazon for its Dash button:

But what happens when you release a new, genuine, product on 1st April such as, well, Amazon with it’s Dash button because it’s for real.

I woke up, checked the tech stories, saw Amazon Dash and initially dismissed it as an April Fool but then I saw it on the BBC website and thought about it and that it might actually make sense. Later other stories started appearing suggesting tht it was for real.

So why did Amazon release it so close to April 1st? I can only imagine that Amazon thought they would get increased exposure by linking it as people checked it out and blogged about it – just as I have done!

Bluebear is the god

Over the years I have spent many hours watching my kids take part in various extra curricular activities. This has included standing on the side of a football pitch on a cold Sunday morning watching a herd of eight year olds chase a ball, seated in an airless theatre as the local amateur dramatic society over acted some play and sat on many a hard church seating while a guitar orchestra played.

Last night we spent several nervous hours watching the finals of the National University eSports League (NUEL) League of Legends (LoL) Summer Championships in which my youngest son and his University of Birmingham team were playing. This, at least, was one I could watch from the comfort of my own sofa!

The final was being live streamed on Twitch and there was commentary too. I couldn’t work out who was the obligatory ex-pro and who was the summariser but given that’s how it is in all other sports I am assuming that this followed the same formula. However, I could work out how our son was doing as he is called MTBluebear in game.

It was for us what it must be like for parents of footballers as they play their first televised match as we squealed “oh that’s Mat that’s just had a double kill!”.

It is always interesting to see your children through the eyes of others and last night was a real eye opener. I’m not sure that I would ever describe Mat as “cocky” but that is how he was described at one point! Reading the Twitch chat session was also interesting. Most of it was unintelligible but there was a long period where the participants were playing “If Bluebear was a X he’d be called Y” which I was quite touched by. Unfortunately you don’t seem to be able to replay the chat logs on Twitch so that’s lost foreverUPDATE they have been retained by a friend of Mat and so they are reproduced below at the bottom of the page. This chat also elicited the comment “Bluebear is the god” which I am taking as being a good thing, although you can’t be too sure these days with the current predilection for reversing meanings of words.

As any parent you want your offspring to have whatever they want so we were really disappointed for Mat when Birmingham were beaten by the bastards at Cambridge. Mat was more sanguine about it vowing to go one better in the main league this season and we’ll be watching when he does.

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Balbiin: If Bluebear stuck things together, he'd be Gluebear
Gmanel1t3: if bluebear wore a kippah he'd be jewbear
Tripledan: If he really liked honey he'd be Poohbear
Natoniann: If Bluebear was a ghost, he'd be Boobear.
Gmanel1t3: if he was bronze he would be noobbear
Selfishmexy: and if he was *** he'd be poobear
Tripledan: If he went on your feet he'd be Shoebear
Balbiin: If he was at a sporting event, he'd be Woohbear
Dars02: if he was a cow he'd be bluecow
Sammychowchow: If he played Volleyball, he would be Volibear
Gmanel1t3: if he was a toilet he'd be loobear
Sammychowchow: if you were a bear, you would be YouBear
Gmanel1t3: if he was a cow he'd be moobear

The Price of Being an Early Adoptor

Sony eReader PRS300Today I very nearly spent ¬£29 on a Nook eReader. ¬£29 on an eReader? That’s ridiculous¬†–¬†ridiculously low! When I bought my first (and last) eReader, the Sony PRS300 pictured left I paid ¬£170. ¬£170 on an eReader? That’s the price you pay for being an early¬†adopter.

In the few years since I bought the Sony very little has changed with the basic functionality. The Sony has a smaller screen and no wifi but on the plus side it is¬†beautifully¬†made out of metal rather some plastic and it doesn’t have a store front pushing content at me.

I was really tempted by the Nook but in the end I am only a casual reader and so even at ¬£29 I really couldn’t justify the investment. And I probably haven’t had a return on my ¬£170 investment yet!

PIZZA EXPRESS APP AND THE GREAT ESCAPE

So Pizza Express has a new iPhone app that allows you to pay for your bill via PayPal thereby negating the need to wait for the waiter to turn up with the credit card machine. I got a chance to use it for the first time today.

Sat outside a sunny Pizza Express in Reading I requested the bill and then proceeded to whip out my iPhone and fire up the app. Using it is simplicity itself ‚Äď you simply type in the number from the bottom of the bill and enter your PayPal details. Once done you receive a confirmation which says ‚ÄúThank you for your payment, you can now leave the restaurant‚ÄĚ which I duly did.

I had probably got less than 50 yards away from the restaurant before the waiter caught me up to ask me if I had paid the bill! So App fail there I think.

2LS EXPANSION

2LS-logosmIt is not often that I write about my work but occasionally something happens that I think is worth blogging about and this is one of those occasions.

The company that I work for, 2LS, are providers of recruitment software and, as I am sure you can imagine, this last year has been particularly tough for that sector as new jobs have been few and far between and recruitment agencies have been tightening their belts. Despite this challenging background 2LS has bucked the trend and grown over the last year. In fact we have tripled the number of customers in that period and consequently have also had to increase the number of employees to keep pace with the growth.

The team has worked extremely hard over the last year and I am very proud of what we have achieved. Now we have to look to do it again in the next twelve months.

You can read the official release here.

GADGET SHOW LIVE

Gadget Show LiveDespite still suffering from jetlag Mat and I got out of bed early this morning to drive to the NEC in Birmingham for Gadget Show Live. We are both fans of the show and of gadgets in general so we were looking forward to finding out what was on offer. What it turned out to be was, perhaps, more a collection of hi-tech retailers gathered together rather than a showing of gadgets. it seemed particularly heavy on gaming, an area I have no interest in, and light on up-and-coming gadgets.

It did offer Mat the opportunity to play on a number of games, including Guitar Hero and Rock band, as well as seeing the Guitar Hero World Champion in action. He must have been about 16 and while quite impressive you can’t help but think that his parents would probably have been more pleased if he put in the same amount of effort on revising for his GCSEs than the enormous amount of practice he must have put in on Guitar Hero!

As you can see from the photo we did get to meet presenter Jason Bradbury who was signing copies of his new book aimed at teenage gadget lovers. Jason was just as you would imagine him to be, friendly in a cheeky-chappy sort of way and Mat was made up to meet him.

I got to play with Sony’s answer to the Netbook the snappily titled VAIO P VGN. I was a fantastic looking unit and, as you would expect from Sony, beautifully put together but completely impractical and, at a shade under £1000, too expensive.

So we had fun. Would I go again? Probably but not less than 24 hours after stepping off a long flight!

image Click here to see all pictures from Gadget Show Live

AMMAT CONSULTING

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I am pleased to be able to announce that I have now setup my own business, Ammat Consulting, offering strategic consultancy and tactical support to software companies of all sizes. This makes use of the more than 20 years I have in both software development and running of software based businesses.

The website was launched this week which gives further details of the services on offer. You can visit the site here http://www.ammatconsulting.com.

I have already secured a number of clients but still have some time available. If you think that I may be able to help you or your colleagues then please get in touch.