New facts don’t emerge

I just asked Siri to ‘Play the album New Facts Emerge by the Fall’.

According to the on-screen text, she understood my instructions perfectly. But, instead of playing the album New Facts Emerge by the Fall, Siri played the album Buddhist Liturgy of Tibet by the Monks of Namgyal Monastery.

For album artwork, she displayed the cover of ALIVE 1997 by Daft Punk.

The concept of an imminent Technological Singularity frankly terrifies me.

Talking of Daft Punk, here’s some LCD Soundsystem:

The SATSASTSM button

I think we can all agree, home entertainment has improved dramatically in recent years. Not only do we no longer have to wait at least five bloody years to be able to buy our own personal copies of the latest films, but we can now watch them on high-definition, wide-screen tellies. Indeed, those of us with more than two ears can enjoy these films in multi-speaker surround-sound. And there's even microwaveable popcorn. What's not to like? (Apart from microwaveable popcorn, I mean.)

But I'm beginning to think we might be taking this ‘home cinema’ concept a bit too far. Nowadays, presumably to add to the authentic cinematic experience, we are expected to sit through half an hour of advertisements and trailers before the main feature begins.

Which is why I have just invented the SATSASTSM button. It looks like this:


The SATSASTSM button—or, to give it its full name, the Skip All The Shite And Show The Sodding Movie button—is a special button on your remote control that, as the name implies, skips all the shite and shows you the sodding movie straight away. How brilliantly simple is that? I'm frankly amazed nobody has thought of this before.

There aren't actually any remote controls featuring a SATSASTSM button at the moment, but, for the benefit of all movie buffs out there, I hereby waive all rights to my invention and make it freely available to any and all manufacturers wishing to avail themselves of such an essential killer feature.

You can thank me later.

IE7 v Firefox 2

(Non-nerds, please feel free to skip this public service announcement.)

Yesterday I upgraded my Internet Explorer web browser to version 7. I upgraded my Firefox browser to version 2 about a month ago. When you run a self-programmed website like Gruts, you need to check it looks OK on both of the major browsers.

For those of you who haven't tried it yet, IE7 is a bit of a curate's egg. It has some very nice new features like tabbed browsing, automagic RSS feed detection, and ClearType font technology (which makes reading web pages much easier on the eyes). But…

The menu, address, search and button bars at the top of the browser on IE7 are a total mess. Pretty much everything has moved, and there is no way to reposition anything, meaning there is an awful lot of wasted screen-space. The address/search bar now takes up an entire (fixed) row. You can't turn off the search box, which means you duplicate on-screen functionality with the Google search bar (if you use it), which is now forced onto its own separate row. Worst of all, the familiar navigation buttons are now all over the place: the back/forward buttons are top-left (before the address field), the refresh button is after the address field, the favourites button is second-row-down top-left, and the rest of the buttons are second-row down top right. Really, a total mess. I have had to become a bit of an expert in keyboard shortcuts in the last 24 hours, which is a major step backwards.

The conspiracy theorist in me suspects that Microsoft is not allowing me to rearrange my menu/address/button/search bars to force me to turn off the Google search bar: it now takes up too much valuable screen-space. To claw some more space back I have also been forced to turn off the menu bar. How bloody annoying is that?

So, despite some nice new features, IE7 completely blows it with the user interface. Which is odd, because Microsoft are usually pretty good at that sort of thing. If I were you, I would wait until they have sorted these issues out. At the moment, Firefox 2 is the much more user-friendly browser. It is also now noticeably faster.


Apologies if there are no updates in the next few days: my landline is down for the tenth time in five years. Normal service will be resumed as soon as BT can be bothered to sort it out.

Update: After eight phone calls last night and today, I finally managed to convince some chap in India who was reading from a script and who kept calling me Mr Richard that one fault every six months really shouldn't be seen as perfectly normal. The bad news is that BT have narrowed the problem down to a box of wires buried underneath the road outside the house, and they're going to have to get some temporary traffic lights set up and our neighbours to move their cars before they can sort it out. The good news is that my landline seems to be working semi-OK at the moment, but I'll be damned if I'm going to tell them that.

Over-egging the safety pudding

Every petrol station forecourt you pull into these days has signs telling you to turn off your mobile phone. Have you ever seen anyone turn off their mobile phone on a petrol station forecourt? Me neither. And exactly how many petrol stations have you heard of that blew up as a result of a still-turned-on mobile phone? Same here. So what's that all about, then?

And, come to think of it, how many people's lives have been saved, do you reckon, by paying attention to flight attendants when they demonstrate how to don a lifejacket? In fact, have you ever heard of anyone surviving a plane crash into the sea and actually getting to use their life jacket? I'm sure it must have happened at some point, but I've never heard of it.

It seems to me you'd be much better off with an airbag.

Or a parachute.

Check it out

This article misses the point:

BBC: Alarm over shopping radio tags

…We are all familiar with barcodes, those product fingerprints that save cashiers the bother of keying in the code number of everything we buy. Now, meet their replacement: the RFID tag, or radio frequency ID tag.

These smart labels consist of a tiny chip surrounded by a coiled antenna… While barcodes need to be manually scanned, RFID simply broadcasts its presence and data to electronic readers.

The article goes on to explain how these RFID tags will introduce all sort of (legitimate) privacy concerns, whereas the big supermarkets simply want them to help automate the transport of goods to the shelves.

That's as maybe, but the real reason why the supermarkets want to introduce RFID tags—the one you never hear them mention—is that the tags will save them the bother and expense of employing hundreds of thousands of low-paid checkout and shelf-stacking staff, thereby increasing their already massive profits.

And will we be prepared to stand for that? Of course we will, if it makes our tins of baked beans a couple of pence cheaper. Even more so if it means we don't need to go to the supermarket at all.

Every little helps

This shouldn't come as any surprise to anyone with a so-called loyalty card:

Guardian: Tesco stocks up on inside knowledge of shoppers' lives

Tesco is quietly building a profile of you, along with every individual in the country—a map of personality, travel habits, shopping preferences and even how charitable and eco-friendly you are. A subsidiary of the supermarket chain has set up a database, called Crucible, that is collating detailed information on every household in the UK, whether they choose to shop at the retailer or not.

Of course, the British public won't kick up a fuss, because we're talking about our favourite passtime here: shopping. That's all. Nothing at all sinister. Just a bit of fun: 20p off baked beans for the loss of your privacy. Can't say fairer than that, can you?

But you do wonder how much fuss they would kick up if the government or (heaven forbid!) scientists started making use of this database. Assuming they aren't already, of course.

But what really pisses me off about loyalty cards (and yes, I do have one—the financial penalties of not having one make it a no-brainer) is that the loyalty is totally one-way. The information Tesco holds, or could hold, about me could be of great use to me as well. Two examples:

Customer preferences

About two years back, Tesco suddenly stopped giving their customers separate debit card receipts with their purchases. Instead, they started tagging them on to the end of their normal shopping receipts. This really pissed me off: I keep my card receipts in my wallet until I can check them off against my bank statement; now I am expected to fill up my wallet with long lists of stuff I have bought over the last month. (In fact, I don't fill up my wallet; I very pointedly remain at the checkout until I have  v e r y   s l o w l y  torn the debit card receipt from the bottom of the printout—using my loyalty card as a convenient straight-edge—filed it safely in my wallet, and screwed up the rest of the printout and thrown it into the bottom of the trolley.)

Every single week since the change, without fail, I have diligently filled in a Customer Comments form, asking for a separate debit card receipt (politely at first, increasingly less politely as time wore on, sometimes even resorting to rhyme: Oh wouldn't it be neat / To have a separate Switch receipt?). I even made it on to the Feedback board one week:

Q: Can I have a separate debit card receipt?
A: We have stopped giving separate debit card receipts to save paper.

Save paper, my gonads.

So here's a question: if Tesco can dedicate gigabites gigabytes [thanks, Keith] of storage space to keeping tabs on my every purchase, how come they can't dedicate a single binary digit to recording whether I want a separate debit card receipt or not?

Purchase history

Tesco knows exactly which products I have bought from them and when. So, how come, during the recent Sudan 1 cancer dye scare, Tesco couldn't give me a list of products that I had bought from them, that might still have been in my fridge, that might have been dangerous for me to eat?

Now that would have been loyalty in action.

Or would giving me a list have wasted too much paper?