Saturday, 1 December 2012

Live web broadcasting - a few notes

I have just watched West Midlands Police conduct their first attempt at a live broadcast using Google Plus and YouTube.  The result is embedded below:

I firstly wanted to say a big congratulations to Chief Inspector Kerry Blakeman and his team at West Midlands Police for organising this event and for taking the risk of being first in what is fast becoming an environment where risk aversion would normally stop this kind of thing at the first hurdle. We have to be willing to try out these technologies to push the envelope of new media and communication technologies. It will not go right first time and there will always be room for improvement but, all things considered, this was a really good 15 minutes of material.

I haven't joined a live video broadcast online before.  My first concern from about 20 minutes before the 'go live' time was "Am I in the right place?". If you go to a real event, show, meeting or concert there is a build-up to the main event.  The first reassurance is that others have also arrived so you're in the right place. You then progress through a series of other activities; talking to others, buying a drink, reading the programme or the meeting agenda, taking your seat, listening to the audience announcement about switching off mobile phones, the dimming of the lights and finally - the event actually begins.

In my opinion, an online meeting would benefit from these experiences too. It would be reassuring to know you're in the right place. Google plus just didn't give that reassurance and I wasn't sure if the page I was waiting on was going to work or not.  In the end, it didn't.  I was waiting on the 'Events' page and when 6 o'clock arrived, nothing happened.  I switched to YouTube and found the correct channel but there were links to 2 live events. I tried them both but neither of them had started and by this time it was 6:02pm. I then checked Twitter and found a link to a different looking kind of YouTube page which started playing - the event had clearly already started. If you check the start of the recording above, Kerry starts his introduction within 5 seconds of the beginning (and the pause was only to let the sirens die down in the background). Even if you were sitting on the correct page, there is no way you can check sound levels are right or adjust the page to your liking in that short time. In previous Google+ hangouts, it takes at least 4 or 5 minutes for everyone to get themselves sorted out, say hello, check their video and audio is right before things start to happen.

So here are a two suggestions:

Start broadcasting a picture and audio at least 10 minutes before the event is due to start.  In this case it could have just been the traffic and sirens.  This would reassure anyone that everything is working and they're in the right place. In these conditions a prompt start would be all that is required but it could be beneficial to indicate a 3-2-1 minutes to go.

Keep it all in one place. Comments were coming in on Twitter and there were further comments displayed next to the video stream and also under the Event comments. Kerry was checking Twitter for questions but there was also activity on both the other areas. If at all possible, the meeting room/webpage should contain everything needed for the session.  CoverItLive tends to deal with this quite well as it brings in Twitter into the same environment as the video.  All of this can be embedded into a web page which can itself provide additional material if needed.

I think Google plus has a way to go before it gets these things right. The interface is too complicated unless you've spend a long time with it. To be useful in this context, it needs to welcome people in who haven't tried G+ before and I think CoverItLive can deal with this better at the moment. The relationship between G+ and YouTube is expected but it also sets up two different locations to view from.  I can't see the appeal in providing the live stream directly inside YouTube if it is also there to be used in G+. Better to just conduct the entire event in G+ to provide that 'all-in-one' location and simply archive the entire thing to YouTube when it's finished. This allows YouTube to continue to do what it does best - I really don't think YouTube works as a live video destination.

The overall takeaway for me is to replicate that reassurance you get when taking part in something that is truly live. This may have to include a pre-gathering, the event itself and an after-show party for those wishing to continue their discussions and share their opinions afterwards.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Mi, Three are[n't so] awful [after all]

Update: November 3, 2012

Still no replacement MiFi in the post and this appears to be why - another message from Three. This time they say they don't have any 'handsets or dongles in stock but we will call you when they come in". I called the Three shop in Chelmsford and - of course - they have several in stock. This brings me back again to my original point about how Three could save themselves so much hassle by making better use of their high street network of shops. As I've said before, this could all have been resolved through the shop stocking low value spares.  In this case, why don't they just instruct the shop to release one of their MiFi to me? I could have had it in time for the holiday we've just come back from. At this rate complaint number 3 isn't far away and this time, I'll not only be looking for a straight swap but also some compensation for nearly 6 months without the MiFi.

164 days since unit was sent off for repair.
53 days since first complaint
31 days since second complaint

Update: October 28, 2012

Another call from the lovely people at Three. This time wanting to follow up and ask if I'm happy with the replacement MiFi device the sent.  Trouble is, it hasn't been delivered yet. I'm told this is due to a 'technical issue'. I'm assured that it will be here in 3-5 days - in other words, "we didn't sent it the first time".

Update: October 23, 2012

Success at last but only because of Lee the Three shop manager in Chelmsford.

Three called last night and offered an unreserved apology for all that is listed in this blog entry and a replacement MiFi unit. They had clearly read the blog in detail because they quoted a lot of detail mentioned here.  I'm a bit disappointed that it was only a replacement (which was due anyway) and nothing in addition as compensation but I was happy to at last receive a communication from them and at least I'll finally have the MiFi back up and running again.

The slightly sour taste in the mouth is the fact that it only came after I contacted the Three shop manager in Chelmsford again for assistance. He was great and replied to my email immediately and promised to chase it again for me.  I've emailed him to confirm but I'm 98% sure that Three only got back to me because of his intervention.

Three clearly have had some serious issues with their repair and customer services but I hope someone is listening to customer feedback and will now consider how they can make better use of their high street stores who can help to mop up minor issues before they become big issues.  So often the store has said "That's something we can't help with in store - you'll have to go direct to Three for that".  In fact there are many things the stores can assist with but they need to be given more trust and responsibility by Three.  If that had happened in this case, it would have taken a quick 5 minute visit to the store rather than 5 months of frustration.

Update: October 16, 2012

I have had a reply to my second complaint. It comes within the 10 working day limit which is good but that's where 'good' ends. They think they understand that this must be frustrating for me and then suggest they've tried to call me (not to my knowledge they haven't). They want to 'run some checks' over the phone (charged at 5.1p/min) and then perhaps book it in for repairs!  Perhaps they didn't gather that is what I have already done and after three months, I've got nowhere with that option. So it seems I'm still waiting for a reply to the original complaint which is now clocked at the 24th working day with no response after being promised one after 10 working days.

Dear Mr White
I’m sorry to hear you’re having problems with your Mi-Fi device charger. I understand this must be frustrating for you. We’ve tried to call you on 07963 630044 about this but we haven’t been able to get hold of you.
The easiest way to find out exactly what’s wrong is to run some checks with you over the phone. If required we can book the charger for repairs. If the device is covered under manufactures warranty it can be repaired/replaced. 
Please just give our mobile broadband team a call and they’ll be happy to help. You can reach them on 500 from your Three mobile or on 0843 373 0500 from any other phone (5.1p/min from a BT landline, other networks may vary) between 8am to 10pm.
We look forward to hearing back from you.
Best regards,
Daniel RamThree Customer Services
Here is the email I sent in reply to this one:
This response is unacceptable.  Please re-read my complaint which relates to your failure to properly respond to my first complaint which was about Three's failure to  repair my MiFi device in the first place. 
I sent off my MiFi unit to Three on May 23, 2012. It was returned unrepaired on September 6, 2012 after which I complained. It is now October 16, 2012.  I still have a broken WiFi charging stand and since June, a broken WiFi as well. It is now 1 year since the MiFi unit was purchased and I have only been able to use it for 7 months of that year. It has been 24 working days without a reply to my first complaint and 146 days since I sent the device for repair.
Please locate and respond to my first complaint, taking into account the resolution you asked me to provide.  Returning anything for a further repair is unacceptable following my experience to date with your repair service.
I look forward to your reply and provide a summary of the two complaints and the tracking numbers below for your reference: 
David White 
Complaint number 2 (Tracking reference A00006890541-00020345849)
Failure to reply to complaint number 1 within your stated 10 working days 
Complaint number 1 (Tracking reference A00006890541-00020115878)
Failure to repair MiFi after keeping it for 10 weeks, cancelling the repair and then sending it back unrepaired only when chased by the Three Shop in Chelmsford.

Update: October 5, 2012

As predicted I've had another email from Three automatically generated and exactly the same content as the first one (see Update Sept. 28 below). Still no reply to the first promise to get back within 10 days - it is now 17 working days since they made that promise.

Update: October 2, 2012

Still no follow-up email from Three after 14 working days (they promised they would get back to me within 10 working days). So I've put in a second complaint - this time complaining that they haven't replied to me within the timescales they promised. I have my second complaint tracking number. We'll see what happens next. At this stage, it may be worth referring back to a weekend of bizarre calls to Three when it took several attempts to obtain a PAC code and cancel my contract with them.

Update: September 28, 2012

I received an email following my complaint on September 12, 2012 as follows:

Dear Mr White
Thanks for getting in touch.
We’re looking into your complaint and we’ll get back to you within 10 working days.
If you want to talk to us about it before then, please call 0800 358 4916 10am to 7:00pm Monday - Friday. The call is free from a Three mobile, network call charges may be applicable from any other phone.

Nauzad Daroga
Three Customer Services
I am no longer on the Three network so I didn't call the number supplied. I waited patiently for the 10 working days which I believe was up on September 26, 2012. It is now September 28, 2012 and Three have still not got back to me.
It has now been well over 18 weeks/4 months since the fault occurred.

Update: September 11, 2012

I have just managed to complete the Three complaints form at on advice from the guys in the Three shop, Chelmsford.

It took 2 attempts to fill in the form before I noticed it reported validation errors in tiny writing at the top of the form. After that I managed to complete it but referred to this blog entry rather then write it out all over again for a third time.
I eventually obtained the mobile number by plugging the MiFi into the computer and running up the Three software. I missed it out of the form because I didn't have time to run it all up for a third time to get the number again.

Original complaint

Here's a story of a MiFi unit bought from the Three shop in Chelmsford in October 2011.

The unit worked well until May 2012 when the desk cradle stopped working along with the long USB lead. Several checks with a second MiFi unit determined that the short USB lead and the mains charger were both working fine. Advice from the Three shop was that repairs under warranty went through a few days quicker by reporting the fault directly to Three via the website. An attempt to obtain the spare parts directly from spares at the shop apparently wasn't possible. Talking to Three on the phone suggested it would probably be quicker to send the items back via the Three shop in town.  This gave me the impression that there is a general reluctance to commit to faults and repairs as one was palming off the problem onto the other.

I took the advice from the shop as I trusted their judgement more. The person on the phone at Three was also quibbling about the items being covered by warranty at all.  It was within the year since purchase but the warranty slip in the box clearly stated that the charger and USB leads were covered for 12 months, the battery for 6 months and the actual MiFi for 24 months. The cradle was the only item not specifically mentioned so the assumption is that it is either bundled as an accessory (12 months) or considered part of the MiFi (24 months). Either way, it is not a battery so it is definitely covered.

So I reported it to Three via the website, received the confirmation emails and a pre-paid padded postbag arrived the same week. The padded bag supplied was clearly meant for a mobile phone rather than bits of a MiFi but I can forgive them that.  So far so good.  I made a detailed account of exactly which bits I was sending back and why, explaining that I'd tested all the components and determined that two items out of the five were faulty. They went off via the local post office with a receipt dated May 23, 2012. I received a further email confirming that the package had been received and that I'd be kept updated on the repair via further emails.

I should point out at this point that my estimated value of the long USB lead was around 30p and the cradle was probably no more than £5. This is a desktop stand which simply supplies power to the MiFi whilst holding it in an upright position on the desktop.  There are no lights or other technology inside it.  Its the equivalent of the short USB lead built into a moulded plactic base with some rubber feet. The fault with the cradle appeared to be that the USB socket at the back had come loose and a connection had broken as a result.  Almost a job worth investigating myself with my jewellers' screwdriver set and soldering iron but as it was under warranty, why not get Three to address the issue.

A few weeks passed with no news so I called Three to get an update. I had to wait at least 30 minutes on hold and when someone finally came back, the wireless phone I was using ran out of power so I never did find out what was going on. Weeks turned into months and it finally reached September 1 when I received an email from telling me that the repair job had been cancelled.

I tried replying to the email but of course, it was a 'no reply' box so it just pinged back.  I tried contacting Three on the phone but I couldn't progress because it always reached a point in the call where I had to input the phone number.  MiFi units do not have SIMs which have individual phone numbers so I couldn't progress further that way.  Happily, Lee the Three shop manager in Chelmsford was very helpful. He looked up the job on their system and raised an internal job to investigate. He even emailed me a copy of this for my reference - Great work Lee.

On Thursday September 6, 2012 I missed a 'recorded delivery' which I picked up the following day. It contained a brand new USB lead (30p worth), the cradle plus two items I hadn't actually sent them - the shorter USB lead and a mains charger. The cradle was not new and had clearly had stickers removed plus there were some scratch marks around the USB socket at the back - in other words, it looked like they had sent back my original unit.  This morning (Sunday) I tested the items which had been returned from Three. The brand-new USB lead worked fine and the MiFi happily took a charge.  The cradle however did not work at all.  The connection into the socket at the back was loose (just like it was when I sent it off). In other words, the item hadn't been repaired.

This is a place to document the detail of the story and make it public.

My main problem here is not with the Three shop in Chelmsford. I have had many dealings with them and they are always courteous and helpful. The problem is with the black hole that is 'Three online'. You cannot get through on the phone. When you do they don't know what they're talking about. Their warranty repair service is awful. Worst of all is that having invested in high street locations where you can find real people who are very helpful, they don't fully exploit this asset to the customer's advantage. Considering the MiFi which cost around £75 to buy, you have 6 separate component parts - The WiFi and it's battery cover, the battery itself, the desktop cradle, a long USB lead, a short USB lead and the mains charger. Breaking the costs down, I would estimate they are worth £50, £15, £5, 30p, 30p and £4 respectfully.

The Three shop is in the High Street in the very centre of Chelmsford
It would make much better sense for the lower cost items to simply replace them under warranty with new from stock held in the Three shops. The items are smaller so storage isn't a problem. The USB lead is such low value that any other action would cost more. The cradle is worth about £5 and equally it isn't worth repairing. The cost of the delivery to send the items to Three was £6.35 and probably the same to send them back again. £12.70 plus the handling and 'repair' (not so in this case) AND the 10 week wait is not good for Three or the customer. It would have been so much easier to have a 'no quibble' swap at the shop which would have been an instant win for me.

I am now faced with a difficult decision.  While all this has been going on, the actual MiFi unit has gone wrong. It accepts a charge and turns on and off but it will not connect to the Three network so it cannot emit WiFi. It's got to go back along with the cradle but I'm not holding out much hope that I'll see them back before they are 12 months old in October. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Apple rule the world

Been thinking about the Samsung vs. Apple battles going on at the moment and the fallout. On the face of it, it seems to be bad move for progress.  Technology innovation is moving on at such a pace that it is inevitable that products produced by different manufacturers will offer virtually identical features and designs. I'm no expert at patent law but how is it that this hasn't come up in the past?
Henry Ford invented a car but he didn't prevent anyone else from coming up with a similar device with an engine, four wheels, seats, doors, roof, brakes, gears and a windscreen. If he had, we'd all be driving Model T Fords. There are so many products which are virtually identical - fork, spoon, television set, record player, oven, kettle - this list is endless.
A modern smartphone has to satisfy a basic design criteria. A certain size to fit in the hand and between ear and mouth; a flat screen which is largely the same aspect ratio as a modern TV screen (16:9), a 3.5mm headphones socket, volume control and an on/off switch. This surely limits the opportunities for manufacturers to create products which are distinctly different from each other.
Although I've never owned an Apple product, I've appreciated their design and they've always managed to be distinct enough with their designs to ride above lower quality products which are similar but simply not 'Apple'. Everyone knows an Apple iPhone when they see it. It is easy to see the difference between it and a rival company's phone in the same way that you can tell an Apple laptop from all the others.
Apple is good but choice is better.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Tweetdeck ideas

I'm fairly new to Tweetdeck but still thought I'd put down a couple of quick ideas I came up with on Friday.

It struck me while Ian was demonstrating Tweetdeck that it is only really effective as long as you can fit all the columns onto the same screen. There was a comment from the floor about having four computers and screens lined up next to one another so that all the required columns could be monitored in real time.
I saw that the fifth or sixth column requires a click to the side and that it can only really be monitored if the option is ticked to pop-up an alert if that column changes.  This is good but I thought about an alternative solution.

Master updates column

How about the option for a new 'column type' called 'master updates'.  This column would aggregate updates from 2, 3 6 or all of the other columns.  Depending on the volume of columns and how busy the streams are, this may not work as the updates could flow too quickly to keep up but as Ian demonstrated, doing a column based on the search term 'London' already suffers that problem.  A 'master updates' column wouldn't fix all scenarios but in certain situations I think it would work.  I'm thinking of a situation where there are a lot of search term columns but ones which are not expected to turn up many results.  You could end up with 30 or 40 columns (one for each term) but that would be virtually impossible to track.  The po-up alerts would do the trick but they only show one-tweet-at-a-time.  Putting them in a 'master updates' column means you can see at least 6 previous updates as well as the most recent one.

Linking columns

This comes as a follow-on from the master updates column.  It may become so useful that you may like to dedicate two columns to this task. This could be achieved if there were an option to make a column cover two or even three column widths. Tweets in column 1 would flow down the column to the end and rather than disappear, they would continue down column 2. My current tweetdeck view shows only 4 columns but linking those 4 together affords a visual display of at least 20 tweets.  All the source columns can be 'off screen' but there would be little need to flick over to view these as everything would be consolidated into the main view across the visible columns.

Lock column to the left

This is simply a way to ensure that a particular column is locked to the left regardless of how many other columns are scrolled left to right.  This would be particularly useful for my proposed 'master column' but could equally be useful for any column which is especially important above the others.

Archive column

This again is mainly with the 'master column' in mind but could be used universally.  Simply, a column ticked as 'archive' ensures the contents of that column are archived so that the column can be saved for offline use. This would be especially useful for the use we put Tweetdeck to.  Invariably, there is a need to return to the views experienced in real time at a later date. The archive could saved be direct to a local file which is viewable in an 'archive' column type.

Large screen view

There are a few twitter apps I've come across which reformat tweets so they show up well on a huge screen. They generally just keep the text size large which ensures they can be seen from a fair distance if displayed on a large screen or projected. This would be idea for the 'master updates' column because it could be displayed in this 'large screen' format for the benefit of a conference room, control room or press office where everyone needs to see the latest tweets as they come in. This option would allow the total number of tweets to be displayed at once - this could be one-at-a-time (which would be huge), or as many as 6 or 7.  It would also be really good if it works with displays that rotate to portrait mode. Most computers these days can handle dual displays so perhaps the main display would be the traditional tweetdeck setup and the second display could the large screen view.

police hack day ideas

Just finished a G+ Hangout with a few police peeps and we strayed onto the idea of a hack day. This came from a conversation where the advantages of free and open source sites, apps and software was being compared to the commercially developed products sold into the market to do a specific job.

My experience

My comment on this (from experience) is that it is more dangerous for a government organisation to venture into the world of free, open source products than it is to stick to the tried and tested model of writing very complicated specification documents, three-way tender processes, months of shortlisting, more scrutinisation, fine tuning, financial checks and finally a procurement contract. My rather cynical view of this process is that we've over-engineered the process to the point where the more a project costs to deliver, the more interest it generates internally and along with that, a label of importance.  A lone internal developer using open source software could easily create a killer app which would be largely ignored internally because no actual money appeared to have been spent on it.  My argument is that this should be reversed; if someone creates a killer app for nothing, it is a double win and should be regarded as such.

Hack Day

First comes a set of requirements for what WE want to do, not what the company is trying to sell us.  My experience with Microsoft Word is that 95% of users tend to only use 5% of the product's potential (glorified typewriter).  This suggests that we'd be better off in the main with a free equivalent for 95% of users and only pay the expensive software licenses for the 5% or power users who actually needs those advanced facilities.
So we determine what we want.  Then we share it with others to see which features are common to all.  At this stage we should not expect 100% of what we feel we need.  We should be aiming to be happy if the proposed solution does at least 70% - 80% of what we want.  Once this is off the ground, the rest will follow very quickly.
Next, we bring in the techies/geeks/coders/hackers who are usually less interested in ideas and more interested in making stuff.  We let them soak for a while and then the fun starts.  The ideas people and the techies start working together to develop the protypes.  We need people to comment on the functionality, others to keep usability in mind, others who can design lovely buttons, graphics and banners and the coders to pull it all together.
I'd say this could easily be a 2 or 3 day event.  It could be a Thurs/Fri worksday followed by an optional Saturday or it could start at the weekend and continue into a Mon/Tues. If it is kept to a single day event, I'd say it would need to be preceded by a few weeks of online conversation with proposals and votes to determine up-front what people want to 'hack'.  This could be done in two stages with a public policecamp/copcamp to tease out the ideas and crystalise the requirements followed by a period of online discussion and culminating in the hack day where something is actually built.

An idea as an example

My starter for 10 would be a very simple police application which is designed to enable multiple members of staff to contribute to a single Twitter page.  The idea being to moderate posts where necessary and also to add or remove functionality like posting tweets, links or images.  Another key requirement is for the system to store who tweeted what so that any post, reply, mention or direct message can be attributed to a specific member of staff if disputed at a later stage. Other ideas for Twitter-based functionality is the monitoring of search terms (like Tweetdeck), sentiment detection, pre-crime predictions and analysis tools for retweets and reach.

And another one

Another approach could be solving the problem of reducing time posting updates to multiple channels.  The list of potential places to post updates is growing fast - Website, email, SMS texts, Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, Flickr, YouTube, AudioBoo, Pinterest, Storyfy, Google+,, Bambuser, Cover it Live, Ustream . . . the list gets every longer. When you break these down, there are some areas where duplication could be streamlined - headline, short text (140 characters), long text, links, photos, caption, video, metadata, tags.  If we could build an application where each of these fields can be filled in only once depending on the content available, it could save a lot of time. The same approach could be applied to the engagement messages posted back.  If someone asks a question about a post via Twitter but not Facebook, we could build in the ability to re-post the Twitter question to Facebook and then use the same answer on both Twitter and Facebook.

This isn't a new idea

To finish, I'll revisit my long-term aim which was to consolidate the hosting of police websites and the Content Management Systems used. I think there is little chance of achieving a single solution for anything but perhaps it would be reasonable to strive for 4 or 5 main systems shared between all 43 forces rather than 43 separate systems?  For hosting we could look at one ASP solution for internal police server hosting (which one force has already offered), an open source alternative and the same for external hosting.  That is four basic hosting solutions to suit most forces.  The same combination of internal/external, commercial/opensource CMS would also offer flexibility but also reduce costs significantly.  The final frontier is then to get force experts to share their knowledge of these systems which would save significant external support contract costs.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Mobiles, broadband and deals

I've spent the weekend organising our home phone and broadband, my own contract phone and my daughter's SIM only contract. Here's the story.

At first, the plan was as follows:

Change from TalkTalk home broadband + phone at £27.27 per month to BT at £24.95 per month

Change from Three mobile at £17 per month to Tesco Phone Shop on O2 at £21.50 per month

Change from Virgin Mobile SIM only £10 per month to Three mobile £10 per month

Home Phone and Broadband

This was a move from a 4Mb/sec broadband with anytime calls to a 34Mb/sec deal with anytime deals with a £2.32 per month reduction in cost. BT seemed to finally be a bit cheaper than TalkTalk so despite their very annoying habit of sending me letters about how fed up I must be with my current provider (which I wasn't) and how much cheaper it would be to come back to BT (which it isn't) I was up for it.

My phone

I had an HTC Desire with Three on a 24 month deal which cost me £17 per month for 100 minutes/text combo plus 500Mb data. I also got £38 cashback via Quidco. At the time, this was a too-good-to-be-true deal because at £370 for the duration of the contract, the actual phone was selling on Amazon at well over £400.
At the end of this contract, I was determined not to spend too much more money per month although I did want to get a new phone. Three called me to offer an 'early upgrade' deal.  This was not so much of an upgrade - more of a downgrade.  The phones they offered were all inferior to the HTC Desire in all respects but they wanted between £29 and £33 per month - a huge increase of between £12 and £16 per MORE than I was currently paying.  I declined this and continued to look for a better deal.
I always factor in any cashback opportunities via Quidco when calculating like-for-like deals but even with a £100+ cashback on some Three plans, the saving still came nowhere near my current deal so I ended up thinking about keeping the Desire going on a monthly SIM only contract while the deals improved.  The best option here seemed to be the £10 SIM from Three - 100 mins/3000txts/1Gb.
Then I found the Tesco Phone Shop had the new HTC OneX for free on a £21.50 tariff with O2 for 100 mins/unlimited txts/500Mb. This along with a £50 cashback from Quidco equals £19 per month (£456 over 24 months).  The phone is selling on Amazon for £449.99.  This is almost as good as my original deal with Three so I decided this was the one for me.

Daughter's phone

Lauren, my daughter has a rather old Nokia touch screen phone which is slowly but surely failing. I had promised her my HTC Desire if I did end up getting a new phone. So this one was easy - either stick with Virgin and make my phone SIM free to accommodate her SIM card or buy a Three SIM. I decided to go with a Three SIM rather than tackling what I thought would be tricky task to unlock the Desire.

The weekend of change

Set up with a free weekend to sort this out I had my plan set.
I had already ordered the BT broadband online which went very well; loads of emails explaining everything plus a swift confirmation of the installation. Likewise, the phone from Tesco Phone Shop was ordered in the week and arrived safely on the Friday. It came with the wrong sized SIM card but a quick call sent me off to the O2 shop in town to collect a Micro-SIM.
On Saturday the SIM hadn't connected so I called TPS again.  They had already realised their mistake and had sent out a new SIM card to arrive on Monday. I was happy with this as I'd already got the phone connected to WiFi and had plenty of things to play with.
I then called TalkTalk to cancel the broadband and phone. They said they could offer a better deal and promptly did!  TalkTalk Plus with 24Mb/sec + anytime calls. £114 up-front line rental, £7.25 for first 6 months and £14.50 for the remaining 12 months which worked out at £18.41 per month - over £6 per month cheaper than BT. I had to call BT to cancel that and then called TalkTalk back later to initiate the change.  One down, two to go . .
Next up was Lauren's SIM.  I order the £12 deal from Three with £24 cashback via Quidco which offered 300 minutes, unlimited txts and 500Mb.  Then the call to Virgin to cancel.  A wonderful call handler then suggested I may like to consider a £5.32 per month SIM upgrade for 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 1Gb data which was usually £15.32 per month.  I took it like a shot and cancelled the Three SIM. She even credited the account with £7.50 to contribute to the unlocking cost and also refunded the current month's payment of about £8.  Spot on Virgin :-)
Finally, I needed to call Three. I needed to (1) arrange to unlock the Desire for the Virgin SIM, (2) get the PAC code ready to transfer my number to the Tesco/O2 contract and (3) cancel the contract.

Attempt 1

The Three operator would not do anything until I called O2 to confirm their tariff of £21.50 was genuine because they insisted that third-party resellers (Tesco Phone Shop) concealed hidden cashback charges and that I should also read their T's&C's very carefully. We also had a bizarre argument. He insisted the offer from TPS/O2 was 'too-good-to-be-true' because the total cost of the contract was the same as the value of the phone.  I had to point out that the contract and phone they sold me 2 years ago was even more 'too-good-to-be-true' and it wasn't any of their business to doubt other company's deals just because they couldn't match it. I was also told that the 500Mb of data being offered by TPS/O2 wouldn't be enough for the 'high powered' Android smartphone I had bought and that I would certainly go beyond my limit and incur large charges. I think they may have failed to notice that I already own a fairly powerful Android smartphone which has been perfectly OK on the 500Mb they have been offering me for the last 2 years! Not only that but ICS now offers some built-in tools to monitor data and call activity specifically to manage this kind of issue. Even without that, I've been running 3G Watchdog free which does a really good job of watching your limits throughout the month.

Attempt 2

I tried Three again and this time a female operator decided to tell me that Tesco Phone Shop were under investigation by OFCOM for offering misleading deals. She said that anyone who Googled 'Tesco + OFCOM' would see what she was talking about. At this point I Googled as instructed and turned up nothing of note. I then called TPS and shared some of this with the senior manager there who was clearly shocked that Three should have said any of this and told me she would pass the information on to her Manager. From this point on I recorded the rest of my calls with Three.

Attempt 3

I tried a different approach this time. I went straight for the unlocking of the Desire which I managed to get done.  However, although I paid about £15 for the code they generated for me, I'm convinced that it was already unlocked as I didn't need to use it when I slotted in the Virgin SIM card.

Attempt 4

I tried Three again. This time I had to insist that I didn't need to hear any more about cashback, OFCOM and that this was the fourth call this weekend. Eventually I managed to get the PAC code out of them and cancel the account.


The O2 SIM arrived as promised and it was placed in the HTC OneX when I got home from work. It didn't do anything so I called Tesco Phone Shop and they sorted it out promptly and I was on the O2 network within 20 minutes. Throughout the day and evening my wife took several calls from Three trying to get in touch to offer a 'lifetime deal'.


More calls to the home phone during the day (my old SIM is still in a box at this point so they couldn't text or phone me directly). Eventually, they got me at about 7.30pm to offer me their 'deal'.
For £8 per month they would give me 500 minutes/txts combo + 500Mb data and - wait for it - either a Nokia C201 or a refurbished Samsung Galaxy Europa.  Both of these are rubbish and are currently worth between £30 - £50 second hand. I didn't bite so they went on with £11 for 900 minutes/txts combo and 1Gb data. I thanked them nicely and said no. The first offer (assuming I bought an HTC OneX from Amazon) worked up at £26.66 per month and the second offer worked out at £29.66 per month. Neither compared with the £19 per month deal with Tesco Phone Shop and O2.
Although they may think zillions of call minutes and texts should be very attractive, if they just looked at my call and texting history over the previous 24 months, they'd see I hardly ever call and rarely text.  I need the facility but my main requirement is data.

More on Three

I think Three have got their price plans all wrong.  They come in three tiers - Essential Internet, Ultimate Internet and the One Plan. There is a theme here and it is 'Internet'. Three pride itself in offering a good data network and the names of these packages promise that but scratch under the skin and it is disappointing.
Essential Internet is 'essentially' 250Mb of data which these days isn't much to write home about. It doesn't really compete with the other major companies who are offering 500Mb as the 'standard' data plan. Considering my £17 per month plan from over 2 years ago was 500Mb, it seems this is a backwards step for Three. It also isn't very impressive to read in the small print that only the 'One Plan' can be tethered (used as a WiFi hotspot). Surely a contract with a capped data limit should allow the user to use that allowance in any way they wish?  Once it's gone, it's gone - so-to-speak.
The 'Ultimate Internet' package seems good with it's 'All-you-Can-Eat- data allowance except this also disallows tethering. This effectively means you can watch YouTube videos all day but you cannot use the advanced WiFi hotspot features of the modern phones.  My feedback is to cap the offer to perhaps 2Gb per month but include tethering. I should point out that you can 'bolt-on' tethering but it costs extra and it also restricts you to 1Gb of tethering. not very useful.
The 'One Plan' is the only price plan from Three which includes true unlimited data but it costs far too much. The only way this would be cost effective is if you intended to use the phone to connect multiple people to the web virtually all the time or perhaps wanted to stream a video 24/7 in a remote location. For these applications, there are other data-only mobile broadband deals available.
Here is my tip for Three on how they could improve their data plans.

The penny plan

You charge a fixed rate monthly charge.  This could work on an inclusive phone 12/18/24 or SIM only plan so it could be 'the only plan you need'.

  • 1 text costs 1p
  • 1 minute of call time costs 1p
  • 1Mb of data cost 1p

So for my HTC OneX, they can charge £20 per month. This credits my account with 2,000 pennies to spend on the data I actually use - not on an impressive volume I could use but never will.  Each month the actual usage is totalled up and at the end of the contract the difference if in credit is refunded against a new contract as cashback.  If the usage is higher than 2000 pennies per month, the cost increases at quarterly reviews much like the utility companies adjust the payments to cope with seasonal changes in fuel requirements or a change due to a newer, more efficient boiler or loft insulation. Although the payments are monthly, the usage is averaged over the term which gives much more flexibility to the user and ensures nothing is wasted.  A heavy month using the phone at Christmas will be averaged out throughout the year or perhaps a need for lots of data one month will also average out. Tethering would be allowed but if it is used excessively, the plan would be adjusted to cost more so there would be a natural reason to monitor it carefully.

Month 1
20 texts, 120 minutes of calls, 756Mb data = 896 'pennies' - 1,004 credit carried over.

Month 2
150 texts, 400 minutes, 543Mb data = 1,004+2,000 = 3,004 'pennies' minus 1,093 = 1,011 credit carried over

Month 3
21 texts, 42 mins, 4Gb data = 1,001 +2,000 = 3,001 minus 4,063 = 1,062 debit

Month 4
199 texts, 120 mins, 343Mb data = -1,062+2,000 = 938 minus 662 = 276 credit carried over

A £25 per month charge equals 2,500 pennies per month
A £30 per month charge equals 3,000 pennies per month

For those on a budget . . .
A £15 per month charge for 1,500 pennies per month
A £10 per month charge for 1,000 pennies per month
A £5 per month charge for 500 pennies per month

The key principle is that the fixed price per month can start at any cost and can be adjusted up but never back down again.  However, the reassurance that any credit left at the end of the contract will be accessible if you choose to continue into a new contract will tempt people into taking out a similar new contract.
I like the idea of starting on £5 per month and seeing how it goes.  You go up if you need to but not if you don't.  It's fair and it's simple to understand and it could genuinely be the 'One Plan' that Three really needs rather than the one it's got at the moment.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Bambuser questions

I have a problem to solve and I need some help.

I want to set up a camera in location A with either an IP camera or one that connects to a computer via a USB video encoder. I want to leave this camera and computer and control when the camera goes live on Bambuser from a different location (B). I don't want to have to revisit location (A) to switch the camera to live and off again - I want to do that from the remote location (B). Is there a way to gain access to camera (A) from location (B) and switch it on and off the live broadcast in Bambuser?

I've worked out that I can use the Adobe Live Media Encoder with Bambuser.  I wondered if I could use this to live stream to the Flash Media Server but switch the signal to Bambuser on and off from location B.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Met Office weather widget

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Friday, 20 January 2012

Twitter list embedded

Embedded a Google App into a website

Monday, 2 January 2012

Peter's world tour so far

TEU World Tour Slideshow: Pete Hesketh’s trip from Sudbury to 2 cities Hamburg and Southampton was created by TripAdvisor. See another United Kingdom slideshow. Create your own stunning free slideshow from your travel photos.