Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Santa Strike?

Breaking News: Economic Downturn Leads To Santa Hat Shortage

Due to the recent economic collapse, thousands of UK Santas are left hatless.

New uniforms are traditionally offered to all front-line Santas in March, ready for the start of the new financial year in April. However, due to lack of stock, and the collapse of several small hat-producing contractors on which they relied, this year the new uniforms have turned out to be hatless. Santa management insist the cutback is necessary due to the current economic situation.

Santas are outraged, and their union is conducting emergency meetings in Westminster to consider the possibility of strike action.

Union representatives demand a £5 million bail-out to keep the vital Santa industry afloat, and say that if the government doesn't take action immediately up to 15,000 jobs could be lost, primarily Santa positions but it is believed that a number of Elf positions are also at risk.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

The Laws of the Lavatory

I've just returned from a trip to the lavatory. Exciting, I'm sure you'll agree....but why am I telling you this?

I'm telling you because the experience I had has further damaged my already-limited faith in humanity, and inspired me to draw up the Laws of the Lavatory, to be signed into global law just as soon as the position of All Powerful Global Emperor falls into my lap without effort on my part. Surely only a matter of time?

But I digress.

I visited a shared lavatory at my place of work and what greeted me upon entering the cubicle?

A slight acrid whiff of bleach in the air and a sense of innate shame at the unpleasantness of various aspects of body-function?

Well yes, but there's more!

I was greeted by a plastic seat in the down position, decorated with several randomly placed pubic hairs and liberally sprayed with urine, as if some simple creature had been marking its territory. Which seems on reflection to have in fact been the case.

Just in case I was not already backing off this clearly marked territory with my tail between my legs the mystery creature had also left a large quantity of urine in the toilet bowl itself, with a large quantity of toilet paper included, for reasons I can't (and don't want to) imagine.

Since, as I later discovered, the flush mechanism was still in good working order I am forced to conclude that the creature responsible for the enthusiastic but unnecessary decoration of the toilet seat with their bodily excreta must have lacked an opposable thumb. This lack would also explain why they failed to raise the toilet seat before urinating.

While I don't expect to resolve the mystery and discover the identity of the misguided lavatorial seat-decorator, this incident did cause me to think about how things should be, in the Brave New World described earlier.

Thus inspired, I drew up a list of laws that should be strictly enforced in communal toilet facilities everywhere. They are mainly Gents-centric, but this is because I don't have any experience of the Ladies' loos (honest!):

1 - Men, if you're having a wee in a toilet (rather than a urinal), put the seat up first. However accurate you may think you are, and however much you may relish the increased challenge of having a plastic "friendly target" to avoid whilst delivering your "payload" against the porcelain enemy, you WILL hit it.

2 - If you have breached the first law, above, then you should do the decent thing and clean up the collateral "splash damage" yourself. Our military forces have to, and you should too!

3 - No talking, whistling or humming. None. You've gone there because you're either full of crap or full of piss. If you're either, then no-one wants to hear you talk. And whistling / humming indicates a cheerful ignorance of the sheer horrific unpleasantness of the human excretory processes. You don't want to demonstrate your ignorance to others, so no whistling and no humming, capiche? Breach of the no-talking rule whilst either party is in mid-flow at a urinal will be considered a serious offence.

4- No eye contact or checkin' out the tackle of your fellow urinal users. What you're all doing in there is nothing to be proud of. Keep your eyes unfocused and pointed at something neutral, like a wall, as much as possible.

5 - If you're using a urinal, and are not alone, do not fart or grunt. If you think you will have to do either, wait for a cubicle to become available, so that the sonic insulation of the walls can go at least some way towards masking your shameful noise-making. The thin veneer of dignity and civilization that separates us from bonobo chimps is fragile - we must look after it, or we'll soon find ourselves waving our bottoms at one another or advertising PG Tips. And no-one wants that!

6 - Flush when you're done - because however proud of your creation you may be, the next person will not think better of you for seeing it. This rule can be waived if it is night time and is only a Number One, in which case you shouldn't flush, because <>people are sleeping!< /whisper >. If it is a Number Two you should always flush, and if it is night time you should state "It was a poo!" at a medium volume during the flush so that others know your noisy flush was justified.

7 - In your own toilet, if you see the toilet paper is running a bit low, restock it immediately. Do not wait for someone else to do it, and do not wait until later. When it comes to toilet paper, having too much is always preferable to having too little. Being "caught short" is one of the most unpleasant experiences you can go through - avoid it at all costs, and help others avoid it too!

8 - Toilet paper is not for drying your hands. The last person to pull a bit off might have had pooey fingers. Think about that for a second, and then come back to me if you still think washing your hands clean and then drying them with potentially pooey toilet paper is a good idea (please wash and dry your hands properly before coming back to me though!). Also, wasting precious toilet paper for this purpose can increase the risk of others being caught short - and Friends Don't Let Friends Get Caught Short (easy to remember: FDLFGCS!).

9 - Cubicles have doors - use them! If you're going to use a cubicle, close the door. In many public lavatories, the cubicles are in plain view from the corridor when the main lavatory door is open (which it is every time someone goes in or out). The people in the corridor probably don't want to see you pissing. They certainly don't want to see you "dropping the kids off at the pool". Close the door, and enjoy the peace and privacy.

10 - Now Wash Your Hands - if you've put your hands in contact with anything unpleasant, wash them thoroughly. You went to the toilet to get rid of your waste, not to set yourself up to inadvertently eat it later!

So there we have it - the 10 Laws of the Lavatory.

Until I become All Powerful Global Emperor these laws are not enforced by law, but since it is surely only a matter of time before I take the reigns of global power I recommend you get used to following them immediately. You know it makes sense!

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Gadgets for Geeks: HTC Touch HD phone review - iPhone killer?

I’ve recently got my hands on an HTC Touch HD (aka “Blackstone”), considered by many reviewers to be the best Windows Mobile “iPhone killer”. I’ll cover my experiences with the phone, and see how it stacks up against the extremely popular iPhone (the current 3G version).

First of all comes the “unboxing”, which to gadget freaks is something of a fetish…. There’s lots of YouTube videos of gadget lovers opening the boxes of their prized new electronic gizmo with trembling hands, providing commentary in a voice that frequently cracks with nervous anticipation.

I’m not quite that bad yet, so I was able to open the package the postman delivered with steady hands, and inside I found the HTC Touch HD’s cube-like box, black and stylish – it even had a magnetic clip to fasten it closed. At first glance it looks more like the box of an expensive piece of jewellery, and opening it did nothing to dispel this impression.

Inside, lying on a bed of what looked like black velvet, was the Touch HD. Similar in size to the iPhone, the Touch HD is a glossy piano-black all over the front, and it’s black everywhere else too, apart from the brushed-aluminium metal surrounding the rear camera lens.

Being a touch-screen phone, there are few buttons to spoil the sleek lines of the phone… in fact the only physical buttons are the power switch at the top, and the volume up/down on the left side, and both of these are almost flush with the casing so are barely visible to the untrained eye. In addition to these, there are 4 touch sensitive “virtual buttons” along the bottom of the phone (Call, Home, Back and End Call), located just underneath the screen.

And what a screen it is! At 3.8” diagonal it is the one of the biggest screens you’ll find on the current generation of phones – the iPhone’s screen is a noticeably smaller 3.5”. But it isn’t just the larger size that makes the Touch H D's screen so impressive, it’s its massively superior resolution – 480x800. The iPhone’s screen is a relatively paltry 320 x 480. In terms of screen size and quality, the Touch HD beats the iPhone hands down – its screen is bigger, clearer and seems brighter too.

The TouchFlo 3D interface used on the Touch HD is in keeping with the stylish black theme of the phone itself, so it isn’t quite as eye-catching as the colourful icons you’ll find on the iPhone’s main screen, but it works well and looks good.

The Touch HD’s touch screen is accurate and responsive, and most functions (including all the main ones) can be easily achieved with a finger, just like on the iPhone.

However, unlike the iPhone, the Touch HD’s screen uses resistive technology which means that you don’t need to use a bare finger to use it (so it works with gloves on, or with the included stylus). The iPhone is designed purely around easy finger-based control and its capacitive screen allows multi-touch – something the Touch HD’s resistive screen can’t offer.

The Touch HD, being a Windows Mobile device, does have some functions that aren’t particularly finger friendly, but this is not necessarily a bad thing, and the stylus (which is magnetically pulled back into place with a satisfying click) gives a precision beyond even the slimmest finger.

In fact, I generally prefer to use a stylus for most things because of a problem common to all touch screen devices – finger prints.

These shiny gadgets and their beautiful screens can become blurry and ugly devices after a few swipes of a greasy finger (been eating Doritos on a bus and not had a chance to wash your hands? Then you’re gonna mess up your phone’s screen pretty quick!).

If you are a finger-phile or stylus-phobe then the iPhone is probably the better option for you; if you occasionally need to use your phone in the cold and don’t want to take your gloves off, or if you like munching greasy snacks while using your phone then the Touch HD is your best bet.

The Touch HD offers a number of different on-screen keyboards – from full or compact QWERTY, through to the T9-enabled “numeric” keypad as found on conventional mobile phones. I found the Touch HD very comfortable to use for text entry (both with fingers and with the stylus), and found its on-screen keyboards just as quick and accurate as the slide-out keyboards found on some other phones (like the Touch Pro and Sony Xperia).

Both the Touch HD and the iPhone are too big to comfortably use one-handed (unless you have unusually large hands that is!), so if you like to text whilst holding a drink in your other hand, these phones are not for you.

The Touch HD can store and play many types of files, from videos, applications and games to MP3s and Word files. To get the most out of it, you need plenty of storage space, and to this end the Touch HD comes with a Micro-SD (SDHC compatible) card slot, which supports Micro-SD cards up to 32 GB. Mine was supplied with an 8GB card, which was nice, although I’d recommend buying a larger one if you want to keep large collections of videos or MP3s on your phone. The iPhone lacks a Micro-SD drive, but comes with either 8GB or 16GB of internal memory. Due to the increased flexibility of a Micro-SD card, I put the Touch HD ahead of the iPhone when it comes to storage.

One of the main uses for phones like the Touch HD is music on the move – the Touch HD functions as a decent MP3 player, and is easy to control with a finger. The Touch HD has a standard headphone jack on the top, so you can connect your favourite headphones if you don’t want to use the ones supplied with it (which are adequate, but nothing special).

To get music onto the device you can either copy it across directly by accessing the Touch HD’s Micro-SD card by “dragging and dropping” from your computer, or you can use Windows Media Player to manage and sync your play lists over to the device. I’ve always preferred the “drag and drop” method over allowing an application to manage my music files, but the advantage of syncing music over via Media Player is that album art is automatically copied over as well (you can copy album art over manually, but to me this isn’t worth the hassle). I’m actually starting to get used to using Media Player to manage my music and sync it to my device now... dinosaur though I am when it comes to digital music!

If you have an iPhone you pretty much have to use iTunes to transfer your music over. It’s a powerful application, and its built-in music store makes it much easier to purchase music. For ease of use, and a seamless experience, the iPhone beats the Touch HD when it comes to music and music management. However, if you want freedom in the software you use to download and transfer your music, don’t want to be chained to particular providers and DRM systems, and don’t mind getting your hands dirty with some file conversion etc., then the Touch HD might be more to your liking.

The same applies with software. The Touch HD runs on Windows Mobile, so there’s a vast library of software out there you can use on it, including a lot of freeware. Some of it installs seamlessly via Active Sync, but you’ll probably find yourself having to manually install a lot of it – it’s quite straightforward, but not as user-friendly and seamless as the iPhone with its “App Store”.

If you want the freedom to fiddle around with settings and generally tinker, the Touch HD is what you want. If you want everything to be smooth and seamless, don’t want to have to fiddle with settings, and don’t mind it being more restrictive, then the iPhone is the better bet.

The Touch HD also includes GPS, which integrates with the included Google Maps software. The iPhone includes Google Maps as well, but I found it ran a lot more smoothly on the Touch HD. It’s no substitute for a full in-car GPS system (and Google Maps comes with a warning not to use it whilst driving), but it is handy, and can help you plan a route. You can also use Satellite View and take a look at the roof of your house. Pointless, but impressive, particularly to gadget fans!

The Touch HD includes a 5 megapixel camera (compared to the 2 megapixel one on the iPhone), which is adequate, but not great despite its high resolution – due to lack of a flash, in low-light conditions if you don’t hold the camera perfectly still it will produce a blurred image.

(both pics taken with the Touch HD, then scaled down for display on the web)

However, in well-lit conditions the results are perfectly acceptable. The camera seems quite slow to activate though, which can be a problem if you need to take a photo quickly…. it takes about 3 seconds to configure itself. You can make the camera more responsive by changing some settings, but the quality will be reduced.

It also functions as a video camera, which produces surprisingly decent quality footage. As well as the main camera on the front, the Touch HD includes a smaller, low-resolution camera on the back that can be used for 3G video calls, but also used to take pictures of yourself (or you can use it as a kind of high-tech virtual mirror if you want).

The Touch HD makes connecting to your existing email accounts extremely easy. I got my GMail set up in about 30 seconds, and I've never set up email on a mobile phone before (and never set up GMail with a separate mail client before either). Its easy and comfortable to read the emails thanks to the large screen, and replying is quick and easy with the stylus. Its probably quick and easy with fingers as well if you use the t-9 enabled virtual keyboards, but I've always disliked any kind of predictive text so I haven't done much testing of that aspect.

Both the Touch HD and the iPhone have a number of functions that are useful from a business perspective - easy access to stock information, plus push email, appointment management and calendar reminders etc., but the Touch HD includes Mobile Office, which in my opinion makes it the better phone for a businessman on the move - it allows you to view (and usually edit) Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and Powerpoint presentations. Parts of this review were written on the train on my mobile edition of Word, and while its nothing like as comfortable as using a netbook or laptop, it was not the finger-cramping, frustrating experience I've had trying to write on older smartphones. It also includes a trial version of Outlook Mobile, which makes it easy to remotely access work emails and calendar information securely.

Another business-focused feature, which will appeal to gadget lovers even if they don't use the phone for business, is the built-in World Card program which uses the phone's camera to photograph a business card, and then performs optical character recognition on the image, allowing you to create a contact automatically, with the name, number and other details being "read" off the card so you don't have to type them in. Potentially handy, but great for novelty value too!

The Touch HD includes a voice-recorder program, so it can double as a dictaphone if needed.

One feature missing from the Touch HD, but present in its keyboard-equipped sibling the Touch Pro, is TV-Out. The absence of this is a bit of a shame, since this would allow the Touch HD to be connected directly to a TV or projector, and then it could be used to deliver a full presentation using the built-in mobile Powerpoint application.

But enough about the work-related features....can the Touch HD keep you amused when you want to relax? Yes it can!

As well as music, which we've already looked at, it can also be used to watch video.

I had a go with the built-in YouTube application and it worked very well indeed through my wireless network - you can browse all YouTube video content and watch whatever you want in full screen. I recommend looking up the Norwegian death-metaller Abbath parody video, where the clips from some of his music videos have been edited together to the sound of the Scissor Sisters "I don't feel like dancing".

You can use the YouTube application away from home too, but that could end up costing you a fortune if you don't have an unlimited data package with your provider, as those YouTube videos are a lot of KBs, plus if you're travelling through a low-signal area the video can become quite juddery.

I've compressed a couple of my DVDs down using the free Handbrake utility, resulting in files that are approximately 700MB in size. The high resolution (800x480) of the Touch HD means it can actually display video taken from NTSC DVDs (which have a 720×480 pixel image size) at full resolution. so you don't have to lose any detail.

Watching movies on the Touch HD is an absolute pleasure - thanks to the large screen and vivid colours. The sound is also good through standard headphones... through the built in speaker it can be a bit tinny when the volume is high. After watching the video I encoded for the Touch HD, I used it to watch some video encoded at the lower resolution supported by the iPhone, and the difference is noticeable - the iPhone-optimised video looked slightly blurred, whereas the Touch HD-optimised video was pin-sharp (as it should be, considering the Touch HD has a much higher pixel density than even a top of the range HDTV!). The lower-resolution was still perfectly watchable though, and the lower-resolution format is ideal if you want to cram as much video as possible onto your storage card.

I was surprised at the battery life when watching video.... I watched the whole of Shawn of the Dead (which runs for just over an hour and a half) at full resolution, and the battery was still at over 70% when I was done - quite impressive for such a slim device with such a large screen, and more than sufficient to while away all but the longest train journey. Although the battery capacity of the Touch HD, at 1350mAh, is 50mAh less than the iPhone, the Touch HD offers a longer standby time (but a shorter talk time).

However, the Touch HD has a major advantage over the iPhone in the battery department: you can remove it / replace it yourself, whereas on the iPhone the battery can only be replaced by Apple, and if you're out of warranty that can cost as much as 50% of the price of the phone! Replacement / spare batteries for the Touch HD can be picked up cheaply and it takes only a few seconds to change them over. Ideal if your battery fails for any reason, and it gives you the possibility of carrying a spare, charged battery for those times when you're going to be unable to charge your phone for a long period.

But I digress... watching videos on your phone can be fun, but what else can your Touch HD do for you entertainment wise? You can play games on it. Lots of games! There's a huge library of games available for Windows Mobile, and hundreds of them will work on the Touch HD.

However, there's a fair few Windows Mobile games that WON'T work on the Touch HD - there's two main reasons for this:

1 - the Touch HD doesn't include a D-pad. Some Windows Mobile games require the d-pad to control the action, and these may load on your Touch HD but you won't be able to control them.

2 - the Touch HD runs at a higher resolution than most phones, and many games, especially the older ones, don't support it.

It's not all doom and gloom though - many of the available games are freeware, so you can try them out, and if they don't work, you've not lost anything. Many commercial games have free trial or demo versions which you can use to see if they run on your Touch HD - if the demo works, the full game is almost certain to work too.

One of the games included with the Touch HD is called Teeter. It is very simple, but maddeningly addictive (or should that be frustrating?). It makes use of the Touch HD's built-in accelerometer, which lets you control the game by tilting your phone. In Teeter, the aim is to guide a ball around a small "obstacle course", avoiding falling into holes. It sounds straightforward,but, despite the tilt-sensor being very accurate, it's harder than it looks! This game probably isn't one to be playing when you're out and about, as you'll get funny looks if you're sat on a bus, carefully tilting your phone around in front of you and swearing profusely at it!

The accelerometer is also used in what may be the ultimate geek phone application - the Diamond Light Saber.

Its a freeware program, and once loaded it presents you with a black screen with a lightsaber hilt at the bottom. A quick flick of your finger up the screen and the glowing blade extends, complete with the activation hiss right out of the movies. Once your light saber is activated, swinging your phone around will cause it to produce the appropriate noises based on the movement you're making. You can even get it to play the Starwars theme music while you wield your virtual saver. Geeks of the world rejoice!

But what if music, video, games or even virtual light sabers aren't enough to keep you amused? Fear not, for the Touch HD has still more to offer - the Internet in fact.

While Internet access via your phone is hardly usual these days, the Touch HD makes it more usable than most phones. The large screen and high resolution let you fit more on screen, and keep text readable even when its very small. The built-in browser, Opera, is excellent, and lets you browse the web comfortably, using a quick double-tap to zoom in or out, or a drag of the finger to scroll around. Tip your phone sideways and, thanks to the accelerometer again, Opera switches the display to wide-screen landscape mode.

I tested the BBC's "iPlayer" and it worked extremely well, allowing me to watch TV programs on my phone - smoothly and easily, and in full wide screen too! Like the YouTube viewer, I don't recommend doing this away from your home wireless network unless you have an unlimited data plan!

The only downside is that the Opera browser doesn't support Flash, although flash enabled browsers for Windows Mobile will be available shortly, so this is only a temporary set-back. In fact, by the time you read this there will probably be several Flash-enabled browsers you can use on the Touch HD.

You can also get free applications for various Internet applications like Twitter and blogging. The Touch HD includes software to allow you to read RSS feeds, so you can keep up with your favourite news, events and people.

And if music, photography, video recording, Office, videos, games, light sabers, voice-recording, mobile TV, world-wide web, Twitter, RSS and blogging aren't enough, the Touch HD has one more card in its hand - it can also let you make and receive phone calls and text messages. Will wonders never cease?

Overall, it's a great phone - the best Windows Mobile handset I've seen so far. It packs more features than the iPhone, and its larger, higher resolution screen makes it a serious competitor - if you don't mind having to fiddle around from time to time to get things to work properly it's a winner; if you want a seamless experience right across your iTunes music collection, video and software, and don't mind being tied to only Apple-approved providers, then the iPhone is probably the one for you.

For me, I'd take the Touch HD over the iPhone any day. Highly recommended!

Friday, 6 February 2009

Creationism-related Phrases

Paleyontology - the study of how prehistoric life was obviously designed by God.

Gould-mining - the deliberate misquoting of evolutionary scientists to make them appear to reject evolution.

Dembskiing - practicing the theory that it's all down hill, and that going up hill (in terms of complexity or information) is impossible, without a divine ski-lift. see also Irreducible Mendacity

Ham sandwich - can refer to Answers In Genesis, or anything else equally tasteless with Ken Ham in the middle of it

DissComfort - what you will want to do if you listen to his attempt to use the banana as an example supernatural intelligent design

Captain's Log - refers to any specific example of the verbal excreta from the mouth of "Captain" Kirk Cameron

VenomFangExcommunicated - banned from VenomFangX's forum or prevented from commenting on his Youtube videos

Tony Blaaaeuurgh - the noise produced when vomiting at faith-heads who spew vacuous platitudes to fawning crowds of their fellows

Crocoduck - Creationist weapon against evolution, see also croc-o-sh*t

Al McGrath Generator - a device for producing increasingly vague theology

Natural Selection - a collection of cosmetic products from the new Darwin 200 range, available in all good shops

Palin-drome - A concept that is utterly devoid of merit whatever way you look at it. (created by SixxSixxSixx over at )

Genesis - Gollum's way of pronouncing the word "genes"

Green fingers - The hand gestures that people make when they see Stephen Green (created by SixxSixxSixx)

Bowling Green - a strong and partially irrational desire to throw Christian fundamentalists at pins.

The Book Of Genesis - A silly idea that people should have forgotten about a long, long time ago. See also Phil Collins. (created by SixxSixxSixx)

hovindian - ridiculous; scientifically illiterate on a massive scale, see Hovind Scale

Ted Haggaring - Negotiating your drug costs with a male prostitute (by Dinoboy)

Tedhaggarred - a state of exhaustion after successfully Ted Haggaring, see also tedded

Phelps - 1 -the opposite of "helps" 2 - One who hates cigarettes

Schindler's televangeList - a non-existent film with a historically unverified premise, wherein Schindler made a list of televangelists, rounded them up, and traded them for the lives of the innocent Schindlerjuden.

Moroni - plural of "moron", applied specifically to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Trinity - most ridiculous term for conveying the notion that there is only one god yet devised.

Jesus - A popular name in MexicoNativity - not to be confused with naivete

Geology - it rocks!

Easter - obsolete, was cancelled when they found the body

Communion - a cannibalistic act involving wine (esp. Chianti), not actually a contraction of Communist Union

Wascal's Pager - a device Jonathan Ross employs for communications purposes, not to be confused with Pascal's Wager

Cathalcoholism - damaging addiction to either the Pope or alcohol, see Catholicism and alcoholism

The Blair Necessities - insubstantial and meaningless things, such as spin and faith; one who considers these things are important and better suited to direct our actions than rational thought

Benstein - The opposite of Einstein; lacking capacity for brilliance or scientific understanding, irrational & uninspiring

Al Franken-Stein - two comedians (one intentionally), both potentially competing for the 2016 US presidential election