September 2003 Archives

Lain 09, Ted Nelson and John Lily

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Just watched episode 9 where they start showing bits of Roswell footage and a brief history of computing. Interesting that alongside Hypertext and Xanadu inventor Ted Nelson they also show John Lily, ECCO and all. Love John Lily's works, and even been tanking a few times. He's probably best known through the Altered States film with William Hurt.

Interesting computing/hacking timeline at

Starbucks WiFi


Finally got to try out wi-fi at Starbucks - it failed last time. Worked really well this time, although it took 3 members of staff to find one that knew what I was talking about. Web and VPN access worked well, although it stopped access with 5 minutes to go.

Not sure of the pricing model though, £5.50 for one hour. Doing email you really need 5 minutes at the start and 5 at the end - but that means the 120 min package for £14, and that expires after 1 month.

Oh well, at least I got in.

Nokia Game Time

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Nokia Game is about to start again. 19th to 28th November. Looks like we'll be following Brasilian snowboarding reporter Flo de la Rosa around the world on her adventures.

Last year we were playing music industry bigwigs in a wonderful 3D flash environment, buying stocks and travelling from junction to junction and playing music related games.

In 2001 we were trying to defeat Tragamin - traditional gaming and the dice - since they were trying to keep "the tone" - mobile gaming - captive. Trying to (re)learn morse code in 24 hours was fun!

Before that, and before me, it was Prague, and before that Schipol.

Oh well, during November don't expect to get much sense from me - but I know up be up late into the night.

Time to Make Tech Work (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox) - the latest article by usability Guru Jakob Nielsen bears an uncanny resemblance to an article I've just written for the Birmingham Post - and which I'll publish here when printed.

Japanese Robo Care-bears

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Guardian reports that Japanese pensioners are getting robotic teddy bears to keep them company and remind them when to take medication and stuff.

Mrs Tanaka is 84. Today, as usual, she wakes just before 7am, slips on her dressing gown and flips a switch to start water boiling for her first green tea of the day. She's about to get dressed when she pauses. She turns to the low table near the door, where a soft toy sits incongruously, and greets it in her distinctive west-Japan accent.

"Good morning Teddy. How are you today?" "Pretty good, thanks Tanaka-san," comes the reply. "Have you remembered to take your pills? It's the pink ones this morning," the robot bear continues.

Sincere Korien's robot bears aren't as spectacular as the Power Assist Suit, but they also act as proxy pets. Their core function is to record patients' response times during simple conversations powered by voice-recognition software and to relay anything unusual to staff via the company Lan. Although Teddy is networked via physical cables, the potential to take things wireless is obvious.

Eat your heart out AI (not a bad AI site by the way).

Birmingham Bull Ring

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They opened the new Bull Ring development today - with the superb Future Systems Selfridges. They were meant to have Wi-Fi access there but read on.....

“The Bull Ring will have a publicly accessible wireless network throughout the building” the publicity had said. As luck would have it I had a meeting in the city centre on the day the Bull Ring opened, and a bit of free time afterwards. So I decided to put the claim to the test. After all so-called “Wi-Fi” wireless networks that let you browse the web from your laptop in public spaces at broadband speed are meant to be the big new thing.

First stop was the information centre at the Bull Ring. “Wireless? – you need the media centre sir.” After a bit of explanation the penny dropped. “Internet” and “laptop” appear to be the key words here. “Try Starbucks and Borders – they have it”. Starbucks is just near by. I pop in. “Laptop?” – the girl points me to a power socket. “No, wireless”. I’m referred on to the manager. “No, not us, sorry”.

Oh well, on to Borders – who are just recovering from a building evacuation due to a faulty fire alarm. Ask at the desk. “Try the Starbucks upstairs”. Up I go, dodging camera crews and photographers. “Wireless, no, not here. We’ve only got two in Birmingham. Try New Street.”

On my way up to New Street I pass the new steel and glass city information booth. Looks futuristic – worth a try?

“Wireless Internet? Wi-Fi?”
“Oh you want Richer Sounds sir, they do a good range of hi-fi”.
“No, not Hi-Fi, Wi-Fi. Laptops”.
“There’s a good Sony Centre”
“No, wireless computing.”
“Oh a good computer dealer”.

OK so may be the future is only skin deep. On to Starbucks on New St.

“Wireless Internet?” I ask the girl behind the counter. “Yes, over here”. Kate hands me a copy of the Starbucks T-Mobile guide. At last someone understands what I’m talking about.

I finally sit down with a Latte and laptop, several hundred metres from the Bull Ring.

The T-mobile instructions are simple. You need a laptop and a browser. To get connected just fire up your browser at any web page and “you will be directed to the T-mobile HotSpot page.” Great, I fire up my browser, type in”.

“The page cannot be displayed” replies the computer.

Oh. Try the BBC, Google, MSN. No joy. The laptop is adamant that the network is there and giving me excellent signal strength – but the browser still refuses to talk to the Internet.

In search of help I ask the manager. He’s as helpful as he can be, but it comes down to trying to phone the T-Mobile help desk. The guy at the other end asks me what the problem is and where I am. “Starbucks New Street” I tell him. “OK” he says, “I’ll check it out.” “Oh”, he says ominously, “I can’t bring up the page to check the site. I’ll need to pass you on to someone else. Please wait while I put you on hold”. Ten minutes later I’m still on hold and finally give up.

So it looks like the brave new world of Wi-Fi still has a way to go, at least in Birmingham’s city centre. Time to go home. At least when I get there I know that my home wi-fi network will be ready and waiting and let me use my laptop from the patio while I enjoy a cool glass of wine on this warm late summers evening.
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