Putting my iMac up on eBay

If you are maybe looking for a good value, well specced and excellent condition second hand desktop Mac, and you are in Ireland or the UK, then my 2.33Ghz, 3GB, 500GB HD 24″ iMac is up for auction on eBay

The plan is to replace it with a personal Macbook Pro as and when the next update for them comes along (hoping for Quad Core and maybe Bluray to come along) In the meantime all of my media/RAW images etc are stuck onto external drives and my work Macbook Pro will suffice for running my iTunes library and the odd bit of photo editing.

Given it is likely that the work one won’t get upgraded for at least two years (it is 18 months old) I’ll probably end up handing it back for somebody else to have when I get my own!

Plantronics C70 DECT headset mini-review

I work from home quite often, and also tend to be on calls to the US in evenings even when I’ve been in the office all day. As such I’ve always struggled to find the best possible way to get good quality on phone conferences, where quality involves:

  • Being able to clearly hear other participants
  • Being able to be clearly heard
  • Others hearing a minimum of the ambient noise around me
  • Being able to easily mute my line
  • Being flexible to be used around the house

Up to now, I’ve tended to just use the speakerphone on one of our Siemens DECT handsets, which has fallen down on a number of the above requirements. VOIP has tended to be unreliable for a variety of reasons, not all of which are in my control. A fixed phone is out of the equation due to the location of the only phone socket in the house and a desire not to have cables snaking all over the place.

Our DECT phones do have Bluetooth, but they have been really unreliable when it comes to using with a headset. So, I’ve been looking for other options for a while.

The one I am now trying is a Plantronics C70 wireless DECT headset:

This is basically a regular DECT phone, but without the form factor of a phone, having just a mic and speaker. It connects to a DECT base station like any other handset. As usual with Plantronics gear, the quality is good and it is quite attractive to look at as well as being comfortable to wear. The docking station is used for charging. A full charge takes around 3 hours and claims to give up to five hours talk time.

Whilst incoming calls can be answered by pressing a button on the side of the headset, the astute will wonder how it can make outgoing calls without a keypad? The answer is that you need to do this on another phone, then transfer the call to the headset unit. Most DECT systems support call transfer. This is relatively painless in real life and I find that I’ve dialed in, entered my passcode and transferred the call to the headset before I’m joined into my conference call. The main pain here is that you need to keep another handset nearby.

Once on a call quality is good and I’ve not had any complaints about my voice quality, hiss, echo or background noise. I used to get this all the time when using the handset speakerphone.

Volume controls are located on the earpiece and are easy enough to use. However, my main gripe is that there is no dedicated mute button. Muting/Un-muting yourself involves holding the volume down key for a couple of seconds. Firstly, holding down a button behind your ear can become uncomfortable. Secondly, it means there is an appreciable delay before I can mute/un-mute myself which leads to stuttering when trying to respond to a question or avoiding others hearing dog barks! Thirdly, there is no way to have visual indication of whether you are muted or un-muted, therefore they use a quick double-beep every 15 seconds to remind you when you are on mute. In practice this is not intrusive mainly because the volume of the beeps is low compared to the noise of the conference call. However, the main failing is that the same beep mechanism is used to confirm the mute/un-mute operation. Three mid-tone beeps for mute and three low-tone beeps for un-mute. Because these are so similar, and both very hard to hear over conversation, you end up being unsure about exactly what state you are in, or if the button press has worked. This leads to “can you hear me” moments. Plantronics should either: provide a dedicated mute button on the earpiece; increase the volume of the beeps; make one a different number of beeps; or have a visual indicator on the dock when you are muted (though I realise that requires some wireless communication to happen between the dock and earpiece)

My other gripe is that it is sometimes hit and miss when replacing the earpiece in the dock. Twice now I’ve gone to start the first call of the day by picking the earpiece out of the dock to find out it is completely drained as the it hadn’t connected completely to the charge connectors.

Overall though it has been good to use and has certainly greatly improved the experience of taking regular work calls from home. A few tweaks and it would be perfect.

Tracking orders from Zooplus

We have recently started ordering dog stuff (including Orijen food) from Zoo Plus. They have a .ie site and a .co.uk site and we’ve ordered from both with the same account. It works out cheaper from the .co.uk site and delivery is still free over a certain amount 🙂

The order dispatch email gives a tracking number but no details about what to use to track it. It seems that they are based in Germany and the stuff so far is dispatched from there, so the DHL Germany site is the place to enter your tracking number. Just enter it in the Sendungsverfolgung box.

Alternatively, if you use the Delivery Status widget on OS X you can track DHL Germany shipments using that.

The BBC and why Geo IP location is stupid

Submitted as a complaint to the BBC complaints service:

I am an Englishman living and working in Dublin, Ireland. As such, I receive BBC channels via my Sky subscription, including BBC One and Two. As you broadcast your channels free-to-air I can also happily receive BBC Three, Four, News, Parliament and all BBC radio stations via Astra on my Sky box. However because your use of Geo IP location means that you consider me to be, quite correctly, outside of the UK when visiting the BBC home page I notice that the TV Channels widget shows me:

* BBC World News
* BBC America
* BBC Prime
* BBC Canada
* BBC Kids (Canada)
* BBC Food
* BBC Arabic
* BBC Entertainment
* Animal Planet
* People+Arts
* UKTV Australia
* BBC Knowledge
* BBC Lifestyle

Which is about as useful to me as a chocolate fireguard. If I go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/tv/ then I see the same, with a small box at the bottom showing links to the regular BBC UK channels.

In the two years that I’ve been living all of 100km from the UK mainland (a gap, by the way, that your AM broadcasts manage to bridge allowing me to continue to listen to 5 Live in my car on the way to and from work!) I’ve become used to the complete and utterly indiscriminate nature of Geo IP location technology as used by the BBC to control access to content for the UK licence payer. I’ve become used to its use in sweeping editorial changes to the BBC News site meaning that I can no longer choose what news is most important for me (because, as currently displayed, the beheading of a teacher in the Philippines is NOT more important to me than the story about the DUP’s dismissal of PSNI reserve abolishment plans shown in the same position on the UK front page!) I also accept the fact that the provision of expensive services such as iPlayer should only be available to licence holders. What does boil my bag is the black and white decision making that this technology imposes. You are either UK or not, and if not then hey, the entire world is lumped together in one group who obviously share the same interests and access to services. One supposes that the very same technology that can tell you when somebody is accessing from within the UK can also tell you (at least as reliably) where they are accessing from when outside the UK. A little customization would go a long way.

You know, I shouldn’t really complain too loudly. You see, I appear to head through some magic portal on the way to work every day, for when I get to my industrial estate on the outskirts of Dublin I am seemingly transported magically back to the UK. I see the UK news; see the uk channels; hell I can even use iPlayer if I wanted to waste my employer’s bandwidth. Never has the sheer lunacy of an access control mechanism based SOLELY on the use of Geo IP location been so comprehensively proved to be stupid. Yes, as you may have guessed, the network connection of my Irish employer pops out onto the internet somewhere in the UK. When, when will you wake up and realise that for the sake of a few development pounds you could provide much more utility to your consumers. For that matter, when will you realise that people outside the UK pay good money to shonky VPN suppliers just to get access to iPlayer and therefore circumvent Geo IP location. I know that you may not be so used to such things with your public sector ancestry, but that is a POTENTIAL REVENUE STREAM for you to exploit. Start offering a subscription model. If Spotify can do it properly I’m sure the combined talents of the BBC can. I’d pay to be able to receive BBC services in the way I want.

Finally, whilst I am on a roll, maybe you could answer a conundrum that I’ve so far failed to resolve. It is a simple question: why do you not care that Sky can make money out of providing your two main channels to customers in Ireland completely legitimately by placing them on their EPG and advertising them without those customers paying as single penny to the BBC in licence fee? We are not dodgy costa-del-ex-pats using a viewing card registered to a UK address, we are legitimate customers availing of your most expensive programming completely for free. Or are we? How do you get your coin from such people? Do you get a percentage from the ROI licence fee? Do Sky pay you? Or is this simply a gaping hole in the policies you otherwise use Geo IP location to so strictly and unashamedly implement?