Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Curved cucumbers and knobbly carrots are back!







Photo credit: Chotda

Bendy cucumber fans, rejoice! From tomorrow, EU rules on the size and shape (!) of 26 fruits & vegetables will be updated.

Apricots, artichokes, asparagus, aubergines, avocadoes, beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflowers, cherries, courgettes, cucumbers, cultivated mushrooms, garlic, hazelnuts in shell, headed cabbage, leeks, melons, onions, peas, plums, ribbed celery, spinach, walnuts in shell, water melons, and witloof/chicory - they can all be of any size and shape, from tomorrow.

Bet that made your day. As it did mine.

However, apples, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, lettuces, peaches and nectarines, pears, strawberries, sweet peppers, table grapes and tomatoes will still have to conform to standards (unless individual countries allow weirdly shaped ones to be sold with a clear "product intended for processing" label).

In case you wonder, the "curved cucumbers and knobbly carrots" quote is from Mariann Fischer Boel, EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. Really.

Who says the drive to cut EU red tape isn't going anywhere, huh?

Today, fruit & veg; tomorrow - Eurovision?

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Waterskiing granny - video






I wanna be like that when I'm 77! Heck I wanna be like that now!



What's better still is the name of this "look, no hands!" waterskiing Kansas granny: Avola Fitzwater.

Talking about names, you've probably heard about furniture seller Habitat getting into deep doodoo amongst Net denizens for their insensitive abuse of Twitter hashtags. A big cockup there.

The name of their CIO, who says they still plan to keep marketing via social media?

Dekock.

(If you like funny or apt names, see my posts on nominative determinism and silly names.)

Monday, 22 June 2009

Funny web form: salutations galore!






Another funny lesson in web design and usability (not!). From the webform that gave us "Unknown" as a choice for gender and the option to locate Akita-ken in the UK, comes another gem - how not to do a dropdown or field for title / honorific!

Start of list


End of list

Here's the full list for your delectation (3 pages long if 1 a line so I pipe separated them):

Admiral | Air Commodore | Air Marshal | Air Marshall Sir | Air Vice-Marshal | AirChief Marshal Sir | Ambassador | Associate Professor | Associate Professor Dr | Bapak | Baron | Baroness | Brigadier | Brother | Cand Ing | Canon | Captain | Centenier | Chevalier Dr | Chief | Colonel | Colonel Dr | Commander | Commodore | Councillor | Councillor Mrs | Count | Countess | Dame | Dato | Dato Dr | Dipl Ing | Dott | Dr | Dr Eur Ing | Dr Group Captain | Dr Ing | Dr Lt General | Dr Mrs | Dr Professor | Duke | Duke of | Emeritus Dr | Emeritus Professor | Emeritus Professor Lord | Emeritus Professor Sir | Emeritus Reader | Engineer | Esq | Eur Ing | Eur Ing Dr | Eur Ing Professor | Father | Field Marshal The Lord | Field Marshall The Lord | Flight Lieutenant | Flying Officer | General | General Sir | Governor | Group Captain | His Excellency | His Excellency Dr | His Honour Judge | Hon | Hon Senator | Hon Sir | HRH Duke of | Inst. Rear-Admiral Sir | Ir | Judge | Lady | Lieutenant | Lieutenant Colonel | Lieutenant General | Lieutenant General Sir | Lieutenant-Commander | Lord | Madame | Majesty King | Majesty Queen | Major | Major General | Master | MD | Member Of Parliament | Miss | Mme | Most Reverend | Mother | Mr | Mrs | Ms | Prebendary Dr | Prince | Professor | Professor Dame | Professor Dr | Professor Dr Emeritus | Professor Emerita | Professor Emeritus | Professor Emeritus Sir | Professor Lord | Professor Sir | Puan Sri | Puan Sri Datin | Rabbi | Rear Admiral | Regents Professor | Reverend | Reverend Dr | Rt. Hon. Lord | Second Lieutenant | Senator | Sheikh | Sir | Sir Dr | Sister | Sq Lieutenant Commander | Squadron Leader | Surgeon Captain | Surgeon Captain RN | Surgeon Commander RN | Surgeon Commodore RN | Surgeon Lieutenant | Surgeon Rear Admiral RN | Tan Sri | Tan Sri Dato Seri | The Baroness | The Earl of | The Hon | The Hon Dr | The Hon Mrs | The Hon Sir | The Hon. | The Honorable | The Honourable | The Lord | The Reverend | The Reverend Dr | The Rt Hon | The Rt Hon Countess of | The Rt Hon Earl | The Rt Hon Lord | The Rt Hon Sir | Very Reverend | Viscount | Viscountess | Wing Commander | The Revd Dr | HE Mr | Sheikha | The Rt Hon the Lord | The Hon. Lady | HRH The Duke of | HRH The Prince of | Her Highness Sheikha | HRH The Princess Royal | Rt Hon | Cav.Professor | His Excellency Mr | The Earl | HE Dr | Sultan | HM Sultan | HM The Sultan | The Rt Hon the Lord Mayor | Air Chief Marshal Sir | Vice Admiral | Vice Admiral Sir | Professor the Lord | San | Colonel Eur Ing

What's more, as an added annoyance, some of the titles aren't in their alphabetical location in the dropdown list, but have been bunged at the very very far end - as if people would think to scroll down to check there if what they want isn't in its correct alphabetical place.

It's good that the list is multicultural (see my post about bad name fields validation checks), and you have to admire their determination to include all possible combinations and permutations of different titles that they can think of - but why couldn't they have just used a simple text box?

Maybe they wanted to standardise the spellings so that they could work out exactly how many Chevalier Drs had signed up! I wanna be "Flying Officer Sheikha", I do (ha, they missed that combo).

You also have to admire their optimism (or inclusivity?) in listing "Majesty King", "Majesty Queen", "HRH The Prince of" and "HRH The Princess Royal".

(I do happen to know of a princess who just uses one of many titles, for "Father's profession" puts "Civil servant" and for "Mother's profession" puts "Housewife"! Somehow, I don't think "King" is an option in most forms.)

Monday, 15 June 2009

Funny food expiry date typo







They must have some powerful preservatives in this sandwich!

Use by, or "Die by"...?

Young Bean: review, phone number! (Korean restaurant)







Young Bean Korean restaurant is now at 2-3 Bassishaw Highwalk, London EC2V 5DS, new telephone number 020 7638 4463, open M-F noon-15.00, 17.30-21.30 (or 17.00-21.00 holidays). NB It's a bit tricky to find, see directions below.

That was a public service announcement for devotees who thought Young Bean had closed for good when it disappeared a while back. Although it reopened in September 2008 in a nearby location, its new phone number was virtually impossible to find online. Except here, of course, now.

Review

If you don’t know Young Bean, it’s a long-established Korean restaurant in the City which also serves Japanese and Chinese food.

I’m not fond of their all you can eat lunchtime buffet, but I absolutely love their delicious bibimbap – as you can see from that Wikipedia article, that’s a Korean speciality, rice served in a pre-superheated large stone bowl with veg and, depending on what you choose, raw beef with raw egg or vegetables, etc.

The bowl is almost a mini wok, except there’s no oil – the idea is that you cook the raw meat / egg yourself by stirring everything within the bowl with a long handled spoon; the DIY stir fry is fun if you like to play with your food! There’s also chilli sauce to mix in. But be very careful not to touch the bowl or you’ll burn yourself. Literally. It's that hot.

The £12 bibimbap meal also includes a bowl of miso soup (delicate tasty soup with beancurd – tofu – and spring onions) plus, if you go at lunchtime, a small side portion of cooked vegetable such as kimchi (pickled Chinese cabbage with chilli) – a Korean classic. It’s a much more balanced meal than you get with standard Western fare, as there’s a fair amount of veg in it.

Young Bean is great value for money especially for the City, and the service is good and quick too. For instance, if you're going to see a show, movie or concert at the Barbican, it's excellent for a quick bite beforehand, as it's relatively quiet at dinnertime. If you're going at lunchtime try to go at 12 or 12.30 pm as it gets very busy at about 1pm.

If you’ve never had Korean cuisine before and you like Far Eastern / East Asian food, you owe it to yourself to try Young Bean's bibimbap (and try the kimchi too, though best eat that with other food in the same mouthful to leaven it, rather than by itself, as it’s quite potent).

The bulgogi, another traditional Korean dish, is also well worth trying if you like beef. Yum, I’m hungry already.

Directions to Young Bean

Young Bean can be hard to find as it’s on a highwalk, not at ground level. The easiest way to get to it is to go up the escalators towards the Barbican from Moorgate tube, then when you get to the water ponds turn left down the bridge, keep going straight through the gardens, cross the overhead bridge over London Wall, and it’s right there in front of you.

(There’s also steps up from the west side of Basinghall Street – go up the steps then turn right up more steps – but Google Street View only shows construction works, so no help there.)

Other restaurant info

You may be interested in my Acorn House eco restaurant review, and how to check a UK restaurant's hygiene etc rating, including by mobile.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Naturally 7 gig: review - London June 2009






For those who’ve not heard of them, Naturally Seven (official site, European site) are a very unusual 7-man a capella / beatboxing group who, as well as singing, can emulate a full band by mimicking drums, bass guitar, lead guitar and keyboards etc with uncanny accuracy.

They call it “vocal play”. Think the next evolutionary stage on from the great Bobby McFerrin; "beatboxing" just isn't enough to describe how good they are. Superlative, magical, you just have to hear them for yourself.

To quote from their site: "A cappella is defined as singing without instruments. Vocal Play is singing AS instruments, and BECOMING an instrument with the voice. What makes Naturally 7 special is that every instrument sound that they sing is created from the human voice. There are no actual drums, guitars, horns, flutes, or any other instrument that is heard when listening to them perform; it’s the band members playing each of their vocal instruments."

Based in New York (though one member is from Watford and two were born in Stoke Newington), their roots lie very much in gospel, RnB and hip hop (they said that they started singing together in church in about 1999). But they can cover a huge variety of music - in their Barbican Center concert on 10 June 2009, the two brothers said (I assume this is true) that when they were young the only non-secular recordings in the house were by John Denver, Cliff Richard and Simon & Garfunkel!

The songs performed at their Barbican concert were mostly hiphop / R&B but they also sang other music from Beatles to Simon & Garfunkel to gospel, Motown and Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight - probably their most well known song (just check out their amazing rendition in the YouTube video above). To be honest, I prefer their earlier, more gospel / pop-style music, as I’m not the biggest hiphop / R'n'B fan in the world.

These guys are absolutely superb vocalists and musicians, and you can tell that they’ve sung together for years, they were so tight and well-coordinated (and yep, with no conductor!). Lest you think I’m being undiscriminatingly fawning about them, in one song the lead vocalists were a bit sharp – but still, no one cared. If I could sing with a group as good as that, I’d die happy. (As an aside, there are tons of choirs / music theatre groups for amateur classical / musicals singers, why aren't there vocal groups for people who want to sing pop / rock etc just for fun - not just barbershop groups, whose style of harmonising somehow sets my teeth on edge?)

I first heard of them when a friend sent me a link to the video of their TED performance of Fly Baby last week – shown below - and, surprisingly, when I tried to book for the Barbican gig there were still some tickets left!

Having listened to samples of their songs online, I have to say that I think they’re a group who are much, much more enjoyable live than on recording. You can’t quite believe that you’re hearing human voices rather than band instruments unless you see it for yourself.

For one thing, they do fun stuff in concert, like demonstrate the different drum sounds that their drum guy can do. And another guy did the Hendrix Star-Spangled Banner guitar solo – I kid you not (really accurate electric guitar sound!). And they also demonstrated the harmonica in the Beatles’ Love Me Do. Not to mention the bass in Stayin’ Alive and Thriller, and various trumpets, flutes, pipe organs etc. Not to mention DJ scratching. (See their bios for the full information on who "plays" what instrument.)

I guess the Tube strike didn’t help, but at the concert almost a third of the Circle seemed empty. Which is a big shame – people don’t know what they’ve missed. It’s not too late though – there are a couple more UK dates coming up in their current tour so if you live in the North or Scotland, catch them if you can. (Then they’re doing France, US, Switzerland and Germany.)

Here are more samples of their songs, to keep you going for now:


Funny combo: ironic title







Via New Scientist's Feedback column, this ironic juxtaposition of article title and access rights to it on the Nature.com website (picked out by green rectangles above).

Open access, indeed!!

Claim your Facebook URL (vanity URL)






From midnight EDT last night social networking site Facebook started allowing users to choose their own URLs to access their Facebook pages, e.g. mine is http://www.facebook.com/improbulus - before that, URLs just involved unmemorable letters / numbers.

But it's first come first served so you'd best get in there fast if you haven't already. It's not compulsory for you to pick a username for your web address, you don't have to if you don't want to, but it may make life easier if you do it (also, note that people who signed up for Facebook only recently may not select a name till 28 June 2009 - see the Facebook username FAQs).

When you login you're supposed to get an alert popup offering you the option to choose your URL. I didn't get a popup, but thanks to Mark Ng and Rachel Clarke I managed to grab my URL anyway.

Here's how to select your Facebook username / vanity URL:
  1. Login to Facebook.
  2. Then go to http://www.facebook.com/username/ - important: do NOT change "username" to your own username, which was my own mistake - it literally is "username", just click the link I just gave.
  3. Select your username, if it's not been taken already - else, pick another one.
  4. That's it!

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Odd Webform dropdown: gender






To keep picking on the funny webform that thinks Uttar Pradesh could be in the UK (or the US, or Japan...), here's another weird dropdown from the same form, this time for "Gender":

Uh, "Unknown"?

Even transexual / transgender people identify with (or in the case of a hermaphrodite usually have no choice but to identify with) a particular gender.

If that's a trying-to-be-politically-correct attempt to cater for those who consider themselves to be of a third gender, at least use "Other" or "Neither" - much more PC than "Unknown", which just insults people's ability to know their own sexual identity.

And it's not exactly usable Web design is it? I dread to see what they've done with the rest of that form...

(For more Web form annoyances see funny/weird use of radio buttons; and dealing with multicultural names on web forms).

Monday, 8 June 2009

Carnival of the Mobilists #177






This week ACE is delighted to host the latest Carnival of the Mobilists, for the very first time ever – you qualify to host after you’ve had 3 blog posts mentioned in the Carnival, and finally I made it.

We have a great crop of interesting, varied posts – especially in relation to various conferences or meetings, as it’s clearly conference season!

Rudy de Waale announces more details of the forthcoming Mobile 2.0 Europe conference in Barcelona, with Developer Day on 18 June and the Conference on 19 June.

On past talks and conferences, Andrew Grill from London Calling spoke on mobile advertising at Mobile Monday Amsterdam on 1 June 2009 – check out the video of his talk entitled “This time…it’s personal. How mobile challenges everything we thought we knew about advertising“.

Consultant Cheetan Sharma gives a detailed round up of Future in Review (FiRe) 2009, a multi-disciplinary conference which included, on the mobile front, a discussion on 4G and the future of wireless broadband.

Barbara Ballard from little springs design provides some links and slides from the Mobile Design UK meeting in her post “great thinking in mobile design” – including the slides for her talk and her podcast “Symbian? What’s That? A view from the States”.

Talking about things across the pond, Antoine RJ Wright’s post The Backwards Thinking of American Mobile Users makes some points about how mobile technology is (not) used in the USA and the true potential of smartphones is not yet realised.

On other topics, Tom Godber of Masabi, who I happened to meet recently when helping Helen Keegan with the shortlisting of Vodafone Mobile Clicks compo entries, offers some thoughts on the new Sony-Ericsson handset announcements - the implications for mobile apps, notably usability improvements (and annoying permissions dialogues!), and views on Sony-Ericsson’s smartphones strategy.

Peggy Salz of MSEARCHGroove has posted part 2 of her audio interview with the CEO of the company behind digital mobile lifestyle (location-based) application Gypsii, entitled “Get Out & Search The Planet With Your Mobile Phone; GyPSii CEO Takes Wraps Off Strategy To Index The Real World & Deliver Advertising As Content”. Her detailed post summarises Gypsii and its plans for mobile advertising, and has some text excerpts from the linked podcast as well as thoughts on mobile search and advertising.

Ajit Jaokar poses the question “Must Nokia ALWAYS connect people?”, in a post about the launch of the OVI store, setting out desired criteria for a mobile application store, and views on the difficulty of incorporating a “sharing” element if trying to sell content or applications.

And finally, in “End of an Era – AvantGo Shutting Down”, Dennis Bournique of WAP Review mourns the demise, or rather transformation, of AvantGo from a provider of web content to mobile devices to an “SMS advertising and content delivery system” from the end of June 2009. The end of an era, indeed.

UPDATE: broken links fixed, many apologies!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Blogger, WordPress: Google Analytics for your blog






Just a heads up for those who’ve not seen it – there’s a good summary post on the Google Analytics Blog about how to install Analytics on WordPress and Blogger, with links to howto tutorials etc. And indeed why it’s useful to measure statistics / metrics for your blog using web analytics.

If you’ve not installed code on your blog to track the number of your visitors (with charts / graphs etc), which pages are most popular etc, I’d advise you should do so as soon as possible. Unless you really don’t care, of course! But it’s interesting viewing even if you don’t.

I’ll be doing a more detailed post in future about how to do certain useful things like check visitors to a specific webpage, figure out who’s sending visitors your way when you’ve experienced a sudden increase in visitor numbers, etc.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Vista: how to record sound from your computer (Audacity, Freecorder etc)






Can't record from your computer because your sound device isn't showing in the dropdown list of recording devices in Windows Vista?

If you've had problems trying to record audio (music, speech / voice, streaming audio etc) that’s playing back on your computer speakers when you're using software like the open source free audio editing / recording tool Audacity or the free dedicated sound recorder Freecorder, it’s not necessarily to do with your soundcard drivers or anything complicated – it could just be a “feature” of Vista where Microsoft seem to have decided to hide away most of your sound devices.

If you can’t record sound from your computer because you can’t see anything relevant in the dropdown list for Recording Devices in Audacity (or Freecorder, etc), and nothing that you try from the list of device options will work, here’s a tip on how to get the list to display properly. I finally found it on the Audacity wiki after many troubleshooting attempts and much time wasted.

  1. Bring up the list of recording devices on your Vista PC. The easiest way is to rightclick the Volume (speaker) icon in your taskbar, bottom right hand side of the screen, then select Recording Devices:


  2. In the Recording Devices tab, rightclick anywhere inside the window and select "Show Disabled Devices". The menu might look a bit longer than what's shown below if you right click on the name of something in the list instead of clicking an empty space below the list, but it doesn't matter, both will have this option. (While you're at it, if you want to you can also select "Show Disconnected Devices" so you have the full picture. Not shown below to avoid clutter.)

  3. You should now see your soundcard properly in the list of recording devices. It's called "Stereo Mix" (or maybe "Mono Mix"), just to confuse us all:


  4. Now, all you have to do is to choose "Stereo Mix" as your recording device in your recording software. There's a howto for both Audacity and Freecorder below.

Audacity - how to select recording device

Go to the menu Edit, choose Preferences and you'll get something like this - in the Recording section on the right under Device, just select your Stereo Mix (or Mono Mix) and OK it.

If that didn't work, try in turn all the devices that magically appeared in Recording Devices when you chose to Show Disabled Devices, and hopefully one of them should do it.


For those new to Audacity, just start it recording by clicking the Record button (with the big red dot), then switch windows and start playing the audio you want to record, and click the Stop button in Audacity to stop recording. You can tidy up the recording by deleting the gap at the start afterwards, but editing is beyond the scope of this post.

Freecorder - how to select recording device

Click the Settings button.
In the Sound & Audio Configuration section on the right, click the Sound Card drop down list and choose Stereo Mix and OK. You get the drift...

Other issues?

If the above solution didn't work for you, there may be other problems such as needing to update your sound card drivers, fiddling around connecting your sockets etc (and see my post about how to troubleshoot and fix general problems with sound on Vista).

This post is just about what might be the quickest general fix for this particular annoyance, but obviously there may be other issues in individual cases. Good luck!

How NOT to write Web forms! Funny but frustrating







The webform above suggests that counties of the United Kingdom include places such as Abuja, Akita-ken, Alberta and BadenWurttemberg as well as Argyll. (The full list is much, much longer, of course, and ends, somewhat weirdly non-alphabetically, with Zakinthos, Odense So and Pennsylvania - bet the last two won't like being an afterhought!)

Helloooo web designers / programmers - if you're going to update sub-options on a form after a main option has been selected via the coding magic of Javascript, the point is to make life easier for the user by narrowing the sub-list down to only those options directly relating to their higher level choice.

In this case, the list of counties always stays exactly the same whichever country or state you choose, although it's clearly doing some processing (or making you thinking it is by spinning some wheels) when you click on the top level country. It's the same in Internet Explorer and Firefox both, in case you wonder, and yes with Javascript enabled.

To top it all, in the form above there is also no way to pick "London" or "Greater London" as your county, because neither of them appears in the dropdown list. Nor do individual London boroughs, before you ask. Very annoying.

I suppose I could always go for Xanthi as my county, just to put something down.

Or Uttar Pradesh, or the Vale of Glamorgan, Thessaloniki, Kelantan or Cleveland!

Usability police, where are you when we need you?

(Also on the webform front - funny/weird use of radio buttons; and dealing with multicultural names on web forms.)