Monthly Archives: September, 2013

Not-so-smart marketing

In-store signage is often not very well thought out. Long-time readers may remember the seasonal toilet rolls at one of my local stores, and an aisle entirely free of long-life milk at another.

Yesterday we spotted this in HomeSense in Cambridge:

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The bizarre messages continue elsewhere in the store. Above one checkout was a sign with an arrow saying “Pay up to 60% less here.” Less than what? Less than the ticketed price? Less than at any other checkout in the store? Do these people have any grasp of how meaningless these signs are? Or — more worryingly — do signs as meaningless as this actually work on the general populace?

Now, they may be cleverer than they look. My nephew Matt points out that they might be trying to encourage people to buy today because the savings will be lower tomorrow. This does make some sense, because it’s the kind of store that, though it looks mildly interesting from the outside, I think few people would voluntarily enter twice.

Time for FaceTime?

simpleIt’s three years since Steve Jobs announced FaceTime, Apple’s video chat technology. It’s a fine system, and yet I realise that I can count the number of times I’ve used it on the fingers of one hand.

This is chiefly because Skype does rather more, and does it on non-Apple devices. I have dozens of Skype contacts, and can easily see which of them are online and likely to be disturbable at any time. With FaceTime, I haven’t yet even found a list showing which of my friends have it.

However, the thing Skype doesn’t particularly give you is a good mobile experience. I’ve used it on my phone a great deal when abroad; with hotel wifi it can save a fortune in roaming charges. But, on iOS at least, you want to turn it off as soon as you’re done with it and not leave it running in the background, or your battery won’t last beyond your siesta. So it’s a way for you to contact other people, but not for them to contact you. FaceTime should handle this much better.

With the release of IOS 7, too, FaceTime gains an audio-only option, making it more of a direct Skype competitor (something Google Hangouts also need to offer, by the way). And as Skype’s user interface gets progressively worse with each release (something that can’t be blamed solely on their new owners, Microsoft) and since it’s no longer the secure service it once was (something which can), I think I may be giving FaceTime more of a trial in the future.

Tweet archiving

I’ve just noticed that Twitter allows you to export your tweets, under your account settings. They come in both human and machine-readable form. Not sure how long ago they added this, but it partially addresses one of my chief concerns about the service: that users stick many years of their lives into it without necessarily knowing that they’ll ever be able to extract the information in future.

This is not easy to automate, though, so I’m still going to keep using Archive My Tweets for my own archive.

Flushing out the answer

Here at Status-Q headquarters, we’re having a new bathroom fitted, which means we’re getting all these newfangled gadgets that you youngsters just take for granted. Things like mixer taps, which our international friends are amused that we didn’t adopt about 50 years ago. I tell them that British plumbing is like the weather: it’s unpredictable, and we like it that way, because it gives us something to make polite conversation about when inspiration is otherwise lacking.

Anyway, we now have a cistern with one of these dashed clever dual-flush buttons. You know, with a small difficult-to-press button embedded in a large crescent. I think it’s a kind of Islamic yin/yang symbol. But the real mystery is that nobody seems to know quite how it works. It didn’t come with a manual, and even our plumber couldn’t answer some of my questions. Here are a few – perhaps the readers of Status-Q have greater lavatorial expertise than we do:

  • It appears from visual inspection that the small button provides a smaller flush than the big one (these things are difficult to measure, but that seems sensible). But what happens if you press both, which is the easiest thing for my chunky fingers? Are they additive in some way, producing a megaflush? Or is that the same as the big button alone?
  • If the authorities really want us to save water, shouldn’t the big easy-to-press button be the one that does the smaller flush, leaving you to add on the side button for the full monty?
  • In any of the above combinations, does a press-and-hold give you any more than a brief press?
  • Is there an international standard for flush-button-operation, or might all of the above vary by manufacturer?
  • How many unnecessary gallons of water are used around the world each day by people like me who, in the absence of such vital information, always press the biggest combination of buttons for the longest amount of time? Can Status-Q make a significant impact on world water consumption?

All enlightenment most welcome! Or failing that, I’ve at least given you something to ponder next time you’re sitting there…

Seagoal

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Beacon Park, Lichfield

Quantum Qonnection

This has been doing the rounds on the net for a while – to the extent that I’m not sure who deserves the original credit. But it’s very nice.

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Thanks to Chris Warrington for pointing it out.

A Brief History of Hawking

This is, I think, a lovely introduction to Stephen Hawking’s big ideas, in a two-minute animation commissioned by The Guardian.

The fact that it’s substantially the creation of my nephew Matt Kemp, who works at Scriberia, makes me like it even more! πŸ™‚

Pram fans

I had to take a picture of these steps in Chicago’s Union Station recently.

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If you’ve seen The Untouchables, you’ll know why. The ‘pram scene’ is a brilliant piece of cinema; you can see it here, though this clip is missing the long build-up which is part of what makes the original so effective.

Of course, it is itself an homage to the scene in Battleship Potemkin at the Odessa steps, but I didn’t know until today that it too had inspired a later cinematic tribute.

Packing a punch

One thing I haven’t generally had to pack when going for walks in the countryside – until I went to Montana – is bear repellent.

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These are standard issue in that part of the world – you can buy them everywhere.

To an Englishman, an aerosol seems more appropriate for dealing with a small insect than a charging grizzly, but since the usual alternative advice is to lie down and play dead in this situation (which may cause the grizzly to ignore you), I can see why these are popular travel accessories.

A cool hidden feature in iOS 7 Mail

I’ve always wanted to run with the cool kids and be an Inbox-Zero kind of guy, but it never quite works. I’m more of an Inbox-Four-Digits kind of guy. I also have about half a dozen email accounts.

So I was quite pleased to discover some options in the iOS 7 Mail app which, though not really hidden, are perhaps not immediately obvious and yet might be useful for many people.

If you go to the list of Mailboxes and click the Edit button at the top, you’ll find, down at the bottom, a few new ‘smart folders’ you can enable by clicking their checkboxes.

My favourite is the ‘Unread’ one, which will show you your unread messages across all inboxes:

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There are also ones for flagged messages, draft messages, messages with attachments, sent messages, and so forth: take your pick! If, say, you flag incoming messages which need your attention later, then the Flagged option creates a handy to-do list.

By default, each account’s inbox is also visible in this list, but I don’t really care too much about where messages came from – if I need to check a particular inbox I’m happy to dig down into its account, so I turn these off to keep things simple.

And lastly, you can of course rearrange the order in which the items are displayed, so I just drag my favourite ‘folders’ to the top, turn off the ones I don’t want, and things are nice and clean:

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From Falls to Autumn

Well, one quick transatlantic flight, and I’ve lost even more degrees of centigrade than I have hours of sleep!

For my more geeky readers, I can report that I return with a Scottevest Transformer jacket, and a Google Chromecast.

But the highlight of the trip was definitely the hikes we did in Yellowstone and in Glacier National Park. I leave you with my favourite picture from the Yellowstone Grand Canyon.

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(Click for a larger version.)

World Wide Woof

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My brother-in-law’s dog Joshua got up on the sofa to help me check in for our flights, but it turned out he wasn’t really too interested in Delta Airlines. He was more keen to chat to these girls.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser