Sunday, January 03, 2010

The old and the new.

Apple Mice  865

In previous years I have written a year end summary as my first entry to the New Years' Maggot Sandwich; but not this year. If you want to see what has happened to me over the past twelve months, click on the Blog Archive button to the right of this text - you get a drop down menu allowing the selection of Blog entries by month. All very easy. The photo above shows a good analogy to the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. To the left is my old Apple wireless Mighty Mouse, and to the right, its' successor, the Apple Magic Mouse. The reason for the change is simple. The Mighty Mouse has a design flaw. The small grey scroll ball on the rounded mouse body picks up sweat and grease from your fingers, and after a while the ball stops scrolling. The mouse body has a unitary construction, and it cannot be disassembled for cleaning. There are a multitude of solutions available online, and a number of videos discussing the issue on YouTube. The fix that worked for me for over a year was to turn the mouse bodily upside down and rub the scroll ball backwards and forwards over a clean sheet of paper. This had the temporary effect of rubbing off the finger grease and restoring the scrolling action. These cleaning fixes have got progressively less and less effective, to the point that the mouse seems to have now permanently lost the scroll ball functionality. I bit the bullet and went over to the Apple Store at Bluewater yesterday afternoon, and bought one of the new completely touch sensitive Magic Mice. Initial opinion is good. You can read all about the revolutionary Magic Mouse here.

As you may know, I am a great fan of hot chilli pepper sauces; indeed, I have a collection of them on my desk at work, which several of my colleagues share and contribute towards. Ian bought me an excellent new one as part of my Christmas present. It is somewhat unusual, as it is based on Indian Lime Pickle - a flavoursome, sour and spicy condiment that is unfortunately very oily and heavy. A company called Holy Cow have developed a healthier alternative that is less oily, and free of preservatives and nasty additives. You can see their range of products by clicking here.

I reported a while back that Erith Morrison's had installed four customer operated automatic scanning tills. It would appear that supermarkets in the future will expect customers to scan and pack their own shopping, from a recent article in the business section of the Times.

They sparked fears that the days of the checkout girl were numbered, that a feature of British supermarket shopping for more than half a century was coming to an end — and on Wednesday those fears, if not quite realised, were stoked even further. NCR, the American technology company behind 80 per cent of the UK’s self-service checkouts, has predicted another bumper year in 2010, forecasting a 50 per cent increase in UK sales of the self-service scanning machines that have become a feature of stores nationwide. Seven thousand have been installed in supermarkets since their introduction in 2002. According to Elton Birden, the managing director of NCR in Britain: “Self-service checkouts will revolutionise retail in the same way that selfservice supermarkets did 60 years ago. It’s going to be a combination of existing customers rolling out and new users. It’s still a small percentage of the overall checkout.” Non-food retailers, and the fast-fashion market, in particular, are the next target in the march of Mr Birden’s machines. Self-service counters cost about £8,000 each, including installation, and NCR estimates that they pay for themselves in about 15 months. A third more tills can be squeezed into a store and checkout staff can be deployed elsewhere. But the devices — and their frequent complaint of “unexpected item in bagging area” — are disliked by many shoppers, who argue that retailers are asking customers to do their work for them and that it reduces interaction with staff. NCR argues that the counters cut prices. “Staff can be redeployed to the shop floor, so it can actually improve service,” Mr Birden said. He argues that interaction with staff at the checkout on a convenience shopping trip is usually minimal, anyway. Much like supermarkets in the Fifties, NCR believes that it is benefiting from modern social change, especially the growing convenience market. People are making more shopping trips, for fewer items — hence the spread of convenience outlets to meet demand — a phenomenon attributed by analysts to the breakdown in the nuclear family and traditional working patterns. NCR believes, moreover, that shoppers’ desire for healthy and fresh food and a growing desire to have cravings satisfied immediately have also driven the convenience boom. The number of self-service checkouts will more than double to 15,000 in the next three years, according to Retail Banking Knowledge. The attraction for retailers is such that Tesco is testing a supermarket without any staffed checkouts at all. Nearly every Asda store, apart from its 24 non-food standalone stores, is equipped with self-service scanners — about 2,500 in total. Sainsbury’s, the third-largest supermarket, has 1,800 self-service checkouts in 220 stores, and Morrisons, the No 4 supermarket, says that 9 per cent of its checkouts, or about 1,000, are self-service. Even larger stores have adopted the machines because they allow shoppers to purchase a few items quickly without getting bogged down in a queue behind customers on their weekly shop. Justin King, the chief executive of Sainsbury’s, recently defended the supermarket’s use of self-service checkouts. Asked on Times Online about the impact of the checkouts on customer service, he wrote: “A growing number of our customers love the speed and freedom selfservice checkouts provide. They might listen to their music and not want to talk with anyone at the checkout.” He added that Sainsbury’s would always have manned checkouts for customers who prefer not to scan items themselves. NCR said that the self-service checkouts also helped to improve availability by freeing staff to replenish shelves. The weakest link in a supermarket’s supply chain is most often that between the stockroom and the shelf, according to research by the British Retail Consortium.

Bugger that, is all I can say - why have a dog and bark yourself? I resolutely refuse to use these dreadful devices. Part of the whole shopping experience is the service and interaction with the staff - and as has been previously proved, the auto tills are not very secure. In fact, the whole chip and PIN security system is indeed threatened, as you can read by clicking here. I refuse to do the supermarkets' work for them - and I detest these impersonal infringements on our shopping experience.

Manor Road

A photo of the local area from the air, courtesy of Google Earth. As already mentioned, the area has now had a Neighbourhood Watch scheme started, so with any luck the level of petty crime, burglary and general Chav induced nastiness should start to reduce. The Neighbourhood Watch web site can be found here.

You can view my Flickr photos online by clicking here. Comment as you see fit.

The dreadful and intrusive Oyster card system went live on the local train network on the 1st January - they have very stealthily brought in this additional means of spying on ordinary people. The system records every journey a user makes, then stores the information permanently, despite this contravening the Data Protection Act. The whole premise that Oyster is cheaper than individual fares is an utter travesty; they artificially increased the single fares to make Oyster look like good value. The ability the unelected and un-policed officials on both a local and national level have to monitor and spy on ordinary people is one of my greatest worries.

Local radio station WNKR have had an epic broadcast over the holiday period; in fact it has been so successful and popular that the internet stream I mentioned last week has been recorded by U.S radio giant WBCQ, who have then rebroadcast it over their hugely powerful shortwave transmitters for listeners all over the world. You can listen to several samples of their programmes by downloading some MP3 files of their shortwave transmissions here.

A photo above of is of Hengist - a new addition to the Atkinson - Davis family, part of the extended Pewty clan. He's recently arrived from Battersea, and a very handsome chap he is indeed.

Does anyone else think that Top Gear has jumped the shark? (For a definition of Jumping the Shark, please click here). I still like the show, but feel that it has run out of ideas and is now just going through the motions. The recent Christmas special really just underlines this. To be honest, their expedition to Bolivia was frankly predictable and boring. I have always loved the show, and thoroughly agree with the recent Channel 4 decision to award  Top Gear as the TV show of the decade. I just think that enough is enough, and that the producers should call an end to the programme before it ends up becoming a parody of itself. You can read an editorial about the situation from Top Gear producer Andy Wilman here.

One event that occurs each Christmas without fail is the appearance of multiple pirate radio stations on the AM band; mostly on short wave. There is an excellent web site which documents the various activity on the short wave bands that you can view by clicking here. They usually only broadcast for a few hours before going off air or changing frequency. One of the largest, most powerful and most professional of these broadcasters is Weekend Music Radio from Scotland; They were on air over the festive break, and I was in contact with them. In exchange, they sent me a virtual QSL card. If you are not aware, in amateur radio terms, a QSL card is a written acknowledgement of a listener having heard a particular radio station. In ages past, these would be sent in the post, whereas nowadays they are usually emailed.  Here is the WMR QSL card, so that you can get an idea of what they are like:

WMR E-QSL-jpg  865
I just wish that the BBC would terminate the contract of that interminable bore and pretentious quarter wit Melvin Bragg. His adenoidal whingeing and pseudo intellectual posturing just go to underline what a superior presenter Paul Gambuccini is. Bragg's appearance on either television or radio is an instant cue for me to switch off.

I have been a user of Google since they first came online back in 1998 - their great strength back then was their clean and uncluttered home page, which loaded relatively speedily over a 14.4K dial up modem. A great bonus over the cluttered and advert filled alternative of Yahoo. Google have progressed in great strides, to the point where they now provide a credible rival to Microsoft as information supremos. This I feel is part of the problem. They are getting too pervasive - Gmail, Google Docs, Google Maps, Chrome,  Chromium OS and so forth. I like what they do, but in the words of Tom Waits "There's always free cheese in the mousetrap".  I just worry what they will eventually do with all the information that they have gathered. Knowledge is power. I would hate to see them go over to the dark side, as Microsoft did in the early 1990's. I fear this is becoming increasingly inevitable, however.

The two part Doctor Who Christmas special was generally regarded to be a bit of a mixed bag; you can read a number of online reviews here. I thought that David Tennant made a fine Doctor over the past four years, and I am sorry to see him go.

The video clip this week is the teaser trailer for the forthcoming 2010 season of Doctor Who, starring new actor Matt Smith. Some familiar faces turn up - it should be interesting.

No comments:

Post a Comment