iTunes complete my album feature

I’ve just received an email from Apple about the new feature of the iTunes Music Store. If you’ve bought one or two tracks from a particular album you can now purchase the remaining tracks from the album. Up until now you either had to buy each remaining track individually, or stump up for the whole album. Which option you chose depended on the number of tracks and the album price. The more tracks, the more likely it was you’d end up paying again for the ones you already have through buying the whole album outright.

Now there is a “Complete my album” link on the ITMS homepage which takes you to a page displaying your incomplete albums, along with the price for the remainder of the tracks. Interestingly the page indicates that this is a limited time offer, and under each of mine it specifies the expiry as 26th June 2007.

Taking a particular example, I already own With or Without You from U2’s Joshua Tree, for which I paid the usual 79p. The regular price of the album, which contains 11 tracks, is £7.90 which if you bought it whole works out at 71.8p per track. The offer price to complete the album is £7.11 meaning they’ve simply removed the 79p cost of the track I already have, giving me the full benefit I’d have got if I bought the whole album originally.

To take another example, I own three tracks from Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, a ten track album again for £7.90. The completion price is £5.53, again simply taking off the cost of the tracks I’ve already bought.

Therefore, this offer appears to be better value when the album has more tracks, removing the existing hindrance should you wish to upgrade to a full album, something I’ve found myself doing a few times.

Hopefully, this is the first move towards discounting on ITMS. One issue I have with online music sales is that we do not see the type of discounting of music that we are used to with CDs in stores. You can’t walk into HMV or Virgin these days without there being a sale or offer on, which is more often than not used as a mechanism for clearing out old stock, both by the retailer and the publisher/distributor.

On another note, it is nice to see that the Elton John back-catalogue is now up. I’ve been after a good digital version of Tiny Dancer for ages and in the end resorted to getting it on CD. I think I’ll have to have a look through some of his old albums for some other choice tracks now.

LCE Pro photography show, Southampton

Thanks to a note from Alexis, I learnt about the London Camera Exchange photography show which took place at the Novotel in Southampton today. I managed to pop along for a look after work, mainly motivated by the fact they they were offering free sensor cleaning by Canon and Nikon technicians. I have a couple of persistent dust spots despite the dust removal features of the 400D, so was keen on getting a clean. The guy did a great job, and took plenty of care over it. A check against a white piece of paper at f22 shows the spots had gone.

The show itself was fairly small scale, and consisted of stands from Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Sigma, Sony and a number of others displaying and selling gear from a number of other vendors. Prices were typically what you could get from the Internet, so there wasn’t too much compelling reason to buy apart from getting stuff there and then. I had a play with a 1Ds which was nice, and also gave a 430EX speedlight a go on my 400D. I didn’t buy anything however, I have a wedding to fund!

Congratulations must go to James though, who purchased a nice piece of L glass. It was a 70-200 and from the price he said, I presume the f4 USM. I look forward to seeing the results on his flickr stream.

SCA 1.0 specifications released

The Open SOA organisation have released Version 1.0 of the Service Component Architecture specifications. OSOA is a collaboration of a number of vendors, including IBM, who are aiming to produce a language neutral programming language for SOA infrastructures. The initial seed for the work was based on work done at IBM to produce the programming model we have today in WebSphere Process Server and WebSphere ESB, and which was then made public in collaboration with BEA and then the now 18 strong OSOA group. The work to produce 1.0 specifications represents a significant evolution of the SCA architecture in a number of areas, not least of which is the introduction of additional language/component implementations for not only Java but Spring, BPEL and C++ as well .

There have been a fair few people at Hursley working on various parts of the specifications, especially around the JMS Bindings, C++ implementation and the policy framework, so congratulations to them especially.

An important and very encouraging aspect of the news today is that the SCA specifications will be contributed to OASIS for future development. Formalising them through such a standards body will help to drive their adoption. If SCA is a programming model for SOA, then SDO is the data model, and that too has been given an (old) new home in the JCP.

More coverage at TSS, eWeek, and Dana Gardner (ZDNet).

Rome – Vatican City and the hunt for a ring!

In the last blog entry about our trip to Rome, I covered what we did on our first full day. This entry will cover day two. The delay in getting this written can be explained by my US trip and the fact we’ve been massively busy getting a wedding sorted out.

There were two aims for day two. The first and foremost was to visit the Vatican. Now neither of us are Catholic, so this was not a desire born out of any specific religious intent, but more to admire the architecture and works of art, and to get some good photos of course. The second aim was to try and find an engagement ring. We’d visited Tiffany’s on day one, and whilst they were lovely, they were also expensive for what they were. Whilst Lana made out that she would be happy to go back to England and find one there, I was on a mission to get one from Rome. In my mind it would make the whole experience complete to propose and sort the ring whilst out there. To that end I’d been reading up in the guide book to find out likely spots to search in. We’d done the areas around the main shopping district, and found a little jewellers on the Via Dei Corso, but they didn’t have anything Lana liked. I’d read about the fact there was a Jewish ghetto area somewhere around the River, near to Campo Dei Fiori. Thinking that it would be nice to find the Roman equivalent of Hatton Garden, that was my aim. Of course the guide book also told me that the Italian equivalent of VAT on jewellery was 35% Maybe we should have gone to Amsterdam…

Rome Metro

We took the metro to a stop nearby The Vatican and arrived safely, despite deciding to get some shots of the graffiti covered metro trains and incurring the ire of a policeman on the busy platform. After a short walk we arrived at St. Peters Square. Again we were treated to a beautiful warm sunny day which provided good light for photos, though we were a bit late in getting there so it was quite harsh as well. For those who don’t know, there are essentially two must-see things at The Vatican. St. Peters Basilica, and The Vatican Museums. The museums consist of six miles of galleries packed to the brim with artwork by countless masters. At the end of it all is the Sistine Chapel, with Michelangelo’s famous frescoes. Whilst it would be great to do this, I didn’t want to spend all of such a nice day inside. In any case, the museums were closing at 12:20 on this particular day, so our decision was made for us. We queued up to get into the Basilica instead.

St. Peter

The Basilica is the central church in the Roman Catholic faith there therefore of course presided over by The Pope. There’s more historical information on Wikipedia than I could hope to put down here, so I’ll concentrate on the visual aspect of it. It is truly stunning. There are a number of monuments, sculptures and frescoes by the likes of Michelangelo and Bernini. The central focal point is the Papal altar, covered over by an impressive baldachin designed again by Bernini.

Cupola of St. Peters 2

The alter is also directly underneath the most famous part of the Basilica, namely the dome (or cupola) which served as a model for most of the other famous examples such as our own St. Paul’s Cathedral. Once outside again, my desire to climb up to the dome itself won favour from Lana, and we paid the €7 to get a lift halfway up, followed by about 350 stairs. As you neared the top the stairs became steeper and narrower, twisting around the inside of the dome. The view from the top however was well worth it.

View from the cupola

After our descent (interrupted by a visit to the souvenir shop on the roof of the basilica) we walked back across the river to have lunch in a restaurant in the lovely Piazza Navona. The food was awesome, and being able to sit outside and just take in the atmosphere was lovely. We asked the hostess and a waiter about where they would go to buy an engagement ring, but neither gave us any concrete locations or advice. As such we headed off on something of a wild goose chase down to Campo Dei Fiori, across the river and then back again. Just as we crossed back over the river at about 5pm I was ready to give up hope. We ambled down a side street back towards the way we originally came when I noticed a small jewellers on the right. We had a look at their diamond rings but nothing took our fancy. Luckily however this was just the first in a whole street of small jewellers, and it appeared that in a moment of serendipity we had found the little Jewish quarter we were looking for. For reference the street was Via Dei Pettinari. One one particular shop we found the ring, and after some bartering with the owner, who spoke no English, it was sent away for resizing and was ours by 7pm. We’ve since had it valued in the UK and it appears we got a good deal. Not that the monetary value of it is the important thing. I was more happy with the fact that we had now sealed our engagement whilst still in Rome, effectively rounding off our trip in the best possible way.

Pub/sub for my life

I’ve been using Twitter for a couple of weeks now, and to be honest I’m still not really getting it. This is probably down to the fact that there’s only a handful of work colleagues who I know use it. Most of my social circle would just not get it. I think this might be the first example of where I find a technology which I’m maybe too old for. I find SMS texting useful for quick one-to-one communication, but I don’t see too much value in twitter for this. My fear is that the Myspace/bebo generation probably do. That and the fact it has obviously been jumped on by those into the whole web 2.0 thang, which is great if you are in the places to build a network of connections with like minded people. In a middleware development role those opportunities are few and far between. Funnily enough the business card of the Senior Director of Enterprise Architecture I met at a customer last week didn’t have his blog, twitter, flickr or any other URL on it.

It may also have something to do with personality. I tend to build my network up based on physically meeting people rather than virtual connections. As such I might have some kind of psychological barrier to adding new “friends”, “contacts” and the like in such tools without actually physically knowing them.

Anyway, just to change the topic slightly, thinking about the way my life is now available online, and prompted by the comments on Andy’s Scrapbook post, I decided to create myself a Pipe to pull together my various feeds dotted around the place. So, if you want to know where I am, what I’m listening to, thinking about, blogging and taking photos of, here it is. Feel free to take a clone.

Thumbs up for Pingo calling card service

On previous trips to the US, I’ve used a softphone program from British Telecom called BT Communicator to make calls home. This had the cool facility to effectively treat calls to a physical number you dial as originating from your home phone. Hence I could phone Lana at home and caller ID would show up as the call coming from the phone she was actually picking up! Calls were charged this way as well so all the calls were local rate and appeared on our phone bill. It really was cool.

Unfortunately BT obviously realised that this was too useful to their customers and decided to withdraw the service at the end of 2006. Now you have to either sign up to a Broadband Talk service with a montly charge or do a pay-as-you-go. In any case, their new softphone product only works from within the UK I believe.

Not wishing to pay £1.10 per minute on my Orange mobile (I’m not signed up to any roaming bundles) or the extortianate hotel rates, I began searching around for an alternative. It had to be something I could sign up to and start using immediately, would preferably bill me in Sterling, and would be usable world-wide. The answer came in the form of Pingo. You can sign up online, registering either a credit card or your PayPal account as a source of funds. It acts as a prepaid card – allowing you to put credit on, with a facility to auto-credit a configurable amount with a limit on the number of auto-credits in any one month. Immediately after signup and loading of your first credit you can use the service. In the US this simply means phoning an 888 free number (which my hotel don’t charge anything for) entering your account and PIN number, then dialling the full international number to call. There are also a variety of local numbers in most States, and what seems like a pretty comprehensive list of access numbers throughout the world, including a freephone number in the UK.

I’ve used it a number of times over the week to make calls back to Lana in the UK. Interestingly, the service utilises VOIP technologies to router your call over IP before ropping back onto the PSTN in the destination country. Call quality so far has been excellent. The first call did suffer a little bit from a kind of half-duplex effect, but all the others have been very high quality. I’ve only had one call drop. Costs are also impressive. The rate from US to UK is 1.1p per minute. You can access your full call and billing history from the web site, and so far it shows that I’ve made 167 minutes of calls for the grand total of £2.89 which seems pretty good to me. In fact I’ve only just broken into my £10 of initial credit as they also give you a free £2.50 when you sign up!

So I’ve been very happy with the service. It has met all of my requirements and has the added bonus over my original solution of not requiring me to be over the laptop on an internet connection. I’d be interested to hear of any other methods people use as I’ll admit I didn’t bother doing further research once I found my way to Pingo.

Coming to a close in Rochester

I’ve one morning of meetings left before I head back home on Friday, landing back in England on Saturday morning. It’s been a very good week. Most of it has been spent in a room with three of us, including a guy from our research lab in Haifa, Israel. We’ve been having lots of discussions about how we might want to integrate some research technology into WESB/WPS, pulling in various other people along the way to offer advice and answers to our questions, including Billy. Unfortunately, I had to be elsewhere during that meeting, so didn’t get the chance to get introduced. Things went so well that we managed to produce a pretty functional prototype.

Today I drove up Highway 52 to Minneapolis to visit a couple of customers. First up was a customer currently in the process of evaluating their needs for an ESB. I took them through a technically-biased introduction to WebSphere ESB, and some good discussion ensued. One refreshing thing about this meeting was that there was no projector, meaning I spent an hour and a half talking with them rather than presenting to them. It is surprising how much more interesting this makes the session, and certainly promotes two-way interactions. We did duck out with some of the developers in the audience at the end to another room so I could show them the WebSphere Integration Developer tooling.

The second meeting was slightly different in that the customer has another vendor incumbent, and it was more of a level-set on our SOA and ESB strategy, covering what we see as being the necessary capabilities of an ESB. For this one I did use a deck purely because there was so much more to cover in terms of introducing WebSphere ESB, Message Broker, Datapower and supporting products such as Datastage TX, WebSphere Service Registry and Repository and IBM Tivoli Composite Application Manager for SOA. This meeting was very, very interactive – probably a result of the audience having a greater business and architecture bias. We had some good discussions about some of their explicit requirements around issues such as how batch and file transfer fits into the bus, if at all.

On a lighter note, I spent a couple of hours after the meetings wandering around the Mall of America by Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. MOA is the largest shopping mall in the USA, and it’s certainly impressive. I was surprised to find a mini-theme park inside complete with a couple of rollercoasters. It also has an underground aquarium along with more restaurants than you could hope to eat in. The usual array of shops were present, including an Apple Store 😉 I resisted the temptation to buy anything, after all, I’ve got a wedding coming up!

The weather today has warmed up a bit from earlier in the week when it was colder than I’ve ever experienced before. Listening to one weather report on Tuesday morning it was -13C, which is probably not that cold, but it felt like it to me! Places in the far North of the state were -18F (-25C), which doesn’t even bear thinking about! I’m surprised at how quickly I got used to the cold though, and I suspect it is just one of those things you get used to out here.

10000 flickr views

10000 views

A relatively minor landmark, but it appears I’ve broken the 10,000 photo views mark on my flickr photostream. The rise from 2000 views in December has been pretty quick, and the London photos boosted me quite a bit. I have been a bit more active in posting to groups, but then I’ve also tended to stick to relevant groups rather than the general ones like Karma and World through my eyes.

Looking at the popular view, two photos dominate…

Most interesting, most views (857):

24" iMac

Most favourited (20), most comments (19):

Westminster in fog

So, thank you to all those who have viewed, favourited, commented and bloggged my photos!

Getting to Rochester

Well, I’m here safe and sound. A few random thoughts about the journey:

  • American economy/coach was as per usual. No frills but good legroom.
  • The airline version of Casino Royale has been hacked to death with big chunks missing. I think this is more to do with time than content. Though the staircase fight and torture scene are heavily edited. The poisoned drink bit had gone completely
  • Deja Vu – quite good.
  • Perfect Parents – TV movie with Christopher Eccleston pretending his family is Catholic to get daughter into a good school. Turns out very dark in the end. Lots of swearing so confirms that Casino Royale must have been cut for length
  • I really need to get a new battery for my Thinkpad. Less than an hour on full charge. Not good, but it is 3 years old.
  • Bits of Lake Michigan are frozen on the descent into ORD
  • Might have been optimistic about leaving 90 minutes to transfer at O’Hare seeing as last time immigration took 75 minutes alone. However all is fine and no queue to re-check bag for once.
  • Was handled at immigration by an officer called Buttman, who was playing AC-DC from his iPod on a pair of speakers. Bizarre, and totally unlike the usual experience
  • Flight to Minneapolis St-Paul uneventful. The whole ground is white.
  • Hertz gave me a Subaru Legacy. Nice. However decide to get the Neverlost sat-nav so end up swapping for a Ford Escape SUV. Has the worst auto-box I’ve ever driven.
  • Coming out of the airport, Neverlost takes an age to get satellite lock. This ends up with lots of u-turns and route recalcs which also take about a minute. Not good , but get on the right route in the end.

Driving down Highway 52

  • Easy 75 mile drive to Rochester. Highway 52 generally clear with a few bits of drifting snow from nearby fields. One rolled car holding up the other carriageway.
  • Pass IBM coming into Rochester.

Don't Walk

  • Arrive downtown with some light still in the sky. Obviously had a lot of snow this week.
  • Park up at the Hilton Garden Inn and feel the temperature for the first time. Very, very cold.
  • Into room. Free internet and room service. 76 channels of nothing on. Crash at 8:30pm.

So, this morning it is off to the Rochester lab for the next few days. Should be fun.