I’m in love with my laptop

Yes, sad, isn’t it?

About a year ago, I bought an LG Gram 17 laptop. As you’ll see elsewhere in this blog, I was very pleased with it at the time, describing it after three months’ use as “the first laptop I’ve bought and used in at least 10 years that I’m entirely happy with.” So what’s it like after a year of use?

It had the latest CPU at the time of its launch, together with a 17-inch display, a 1TB solid state storage device and 16GB of memory. This specification seemed like enough at the time and – spoiler alert – it still does. The most stress it gets is some light gaming, when the fans will emit a noticeable but not overwhelming amount of white noise. And it can get a little bit hot. Again, not so much that it becomes difficult to handle. The rest of the time, it handles my demands easily.

It’s generally silent, cool and sips at the battery. The LG utility (hello bloatware!) keeps the battery from charging to 100 percent to avoid excessive wear and it still lasts for hours: I’ve not exhausted it, ever. It’s been a couple of hours since the last charge to 80 percent and, as I type this review, 60 percent and a reported four hours’ of life remain. Never thought I’d say nice things about bloatware…

I still welcome the way that the machine is utterly reliable, with no need to go poking around in the innards of Windows to keep it that way. It sleeps and hibernates as and when expected and returns from those states quickly and reliably. Reliable: there’s that word again. The in-built camera recognises my face and logs me in automatically and, again, quickly, except in conditions of low light when it struggles a bit.

Though it took me a little while, I’m now accustomed to the keyboard: the main keys are offset to the left of the large trackpad to make room for the number pad which felt a bit weird at first. But the space that the large format of the machine gives the keyboard means that I don’t have to use the Fn key to access keys such as Home, PgUp, PgDn and Del, each of which are separate. The keys themselves are a reasonable size with space between them. There’s a clicky feel to each keypress.

I’m a huge fan of the 17-inch display which means it almost – but not quite – becomes as good to use as my widescreen desktop displays. This was one of the main reasons I bought this machine. In bright sunshine, it does though struggle to compete.

One issue that it seems no laptop maker has resolved is physical wear and tear. Not that the LG has had a hard life: it travels rarely. But daily handling means the edges of the case where I pick it up have started to look a little worn. A wipe with some isopropyl alcohol tidies up most but not all of it. The keyboard and display in contrast still look brand new.

Other than that, there’s nothing to complain about so I stand by my original conclusion: this is the best laptop I’ve ever bought and, though LG won’t want to hear this, I plan to keep it until it gives up the ghost. And that’s something I’ve never said about any laptop.

Upselling – the curse of capitalism?

I bought loads of stuff yesterday while out and about — but unusually, only one operation overtly tried to sell me objects I didn’t want, hadn’t asked for and wouldn’t have taken even if they were free — which one of them was.

So many organisations seem to have read the Dummies Guide to Selling and decided that what they must do is sell you stuff the whole time you’re within range. It’s enough to drive you bonkers.

On its own, upselling wouldn’t be that annoying. But combined with everything else, I feel upselling — or selling in general — is now a couple of notches higher on the list of life’s annoyances up with which one must put in a capitalist economy.

I bought a railway ticket. No-one tried to ask if I wanted two, or had I considered this nice ticket to somewhere I wasn’t going. I bought a cup of tea. “Would sir like a currant bun with that? Or a sandwich?”. Didn’t get asked that either.

Then I bought a magazine in WH Smith’s. I try to avoid the place as, in my town, there are other, locally owned and run outlets, and I’d rather support them so the place doesn’t end up looking like Basingstoke or Bracknell.

But in a railway station, your options are limited. Would you like a free newspaper? The Evening Standard? I don’t think so — there are so many things ahead of it in my priority list that I’d have to live to be 1,000 before it even reached the bottom of the list before working its way up.

What about a lump of stuff that this country calls chocolate but the rest of the civilised world wouldn’t, because it’s got precious little cocoa in it and tastes, well, pretty horrible? Nope. See Evening Standard, above. Why can’t they offer me something I might like?

See, this upselling business is OK for the sellers but they’re not taking it far enough. If they watched my buying patterns — I often use a credit card so they can — WH Smith would know that I have never accepted one of its free offers, though of course they’re not free as we pay for them eventually. They might want to offer me a magazine similar to the one I’ve bought, or something complementary.

Instead, it’s all about what they want to sell, not what I might want to buy.

Then I went to the supermarket. No verbal upsell there but a constant barrage of visual stimuli at eye level designed to open your wallet.

I’m always glad to leave. Much like any shopping experience really, I’m only happy when it stops.

What this means is that, if only these people would only stop throwing unwanted things at me, I might be a happier individual and, since I don’t believe I’m all that unusual, it would apply I’m sure to lots of other people too.

So here’s a plea: stop selling me stuff. I’m much more likely to buy something when you don’t sell it to me, but discover it for myself.

What’s the prognosis for true high-speed mobile data?

The mobile industry confuses its customers and doesn’t deliver what it promises.

We all talk much about the latest technology, and how it will transform this that or the other element of our personal and/or working lives.

I spent quite a bit of time yesterday talking about LTE — also known as 4G by some, but not everyone, in the mobile industry. It’s known as 4G because it succeeds 3G, today’s iteration of mobile broadband technology. Even though, confusingly, some of it, such as HSPA which can give you as much as 21Mbits/sec is known as 3.5G.

And LTE isn’t 4G technically, because it doesn’t quite meet the definition of 4G laid down by the global standards body, the ITU, according to one analyst I spoke to. So you’ll find LTE referred as 4G or as 3.5+G, LTE-Advanced — which does meet the 4G spec — or just plain LTE. WiMax, incidentally, is 4G according to the ITU. No wonder the mobile industry confuses its customers. There’s a pithy piece about LTE and 4G here.

But that’s all by the by in some ways. The important thing about LTE is that it promises 100Mbit/sec download and 50Mbits/sec upload speeds. If you know anything about the technology, you’ll know that in practice some 25 percent that is likely to be eaten up by protocol and other overheads. You’ll also know that a further 25 percent is likely to be lost to distance losses, cell sharing, and clogged up backhaul networks.

All this is due to arrive over the next ten years. Yes, ten years. Roll-outs are unlikely to start happening in the UK before 2012, more likely 2015.

Except that this is so much hogwash.

I was in the middle of London — yes, challenging conditions due to the concrete canyon effect, but the kind of area in which the mobile industry has to demonstrate its best technology. And the best mobile data rate I managed inside or out was a standard GSM-level 56kbits/sec. This is early 1990s technology.

So if 20 years after its invention and 15 years after its introduction, that’s the best I can get in the middle of one of the world’s leading capital cities, I suspect it’ll be 2025 before I see LTE speeds.

You know what? I’m not sure how much I’ll care by then…

Computing is making progress, but so slowly…

I’m sitting in a hotel room on a press trip. Flown on a flight landing at 1000, the first official engagement with the vendor (who remains for the moment anonymous) is tonight. I’ve had all day to hang around and do work stuff. Naturally, you’re never as efficient as you would be at the office, with all the stuff around you that you need. Not least, a nice cup of tea.

But here in the room, miles from anywhere, I’ve hotel-provided wi-fi for free, a laptop whose battery life is measured in half-day – this dual-core machine with 4GB of memory and a 15.4-inch LCD-lit screen lasts for up to seven hours on one charge – and a phone with no charger that won’t last more than a day and a half. I thought I’d brought a cable but managed to forget it in the early dawn rush to the airport. But all I need is a mini-USB to USB cable and they’re near-ubiquitous: I’m reasonably confident of finding or borrowing one sometime in the next 24 hours.

Five years ago, the battery life of laptops was abysmal, and phone chargers were all proprietary. And if you’d asked for wi-fi anywhere but a city centre, you’d have been looked at as if you had horns growing out of your head.

Things are improving, if slowly…

Democracy loses to Murdoch – again

Capitalism tends to create monopolies. Over time, we’ve all come to appreciate that monopolies are generally a bad thing (perhaps with the exception of a few areas such as utilities and railways) and should be curbed.

They accumulate too much power in one organisation’s hands, and, because of lack of competition, tend to be able to raise prices to any level they like as well as reducing product choice.

And the media is an industry where that’s particularly egregious because it tends to undermine the democratic process. Here’s a case in point.

According to Ofcom, the UK’s media and telecoms regulator, Rupert Murdoch’s satellite TV operation BSkyB has now reached a point where the regulator has published “a further consultation as part of its pay TV market investigation” as a result of its “concerns about the restricted distribution of premium sports and movies channels operated by BSkyB”.

Specifically, Ofcom is concerned about the “limited distribution of football and movies”, which has seen national games such as cricket and football disappearing from terrestrial TV, and instead commanding premium prices on top of already-expensive pay TV bundles. The regulator said that it “considers that Sky has market power in the wholesale supply of channels containing this attractive content, and that it is acting on an incentive to limit the distribution of these channels to rival TV platforms”. It won’t let its rivals have access to that content for a reasonable price.

Ofcom issued that statement on 26 June 2009. On 6 July, in a little-reported speech – note that Murdoch-owned newspapers dominate the UK market – the UK’s opposition leader David Cameron, who looks set to become UK Prime Minister in 2010, has promised that Ofcom “as we know it will cease to exist….Its remit will be restricted to its narrow technical and enforcement roles. It will no longer play a role in making policy.

“And the policy-making functions it has today will be transferred back fully to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.”

Only one organisation will benefit from Cameron’s new policy: BSkyB.

In other words, the opposition leader, who is now being politically backed by Murdoch in his many media outlets, is already paying back the political capital that Murdoch has invested in him. That’s despite the Tories’ much-trumpeted belief in competition – which clearly does not apply when there’s Murdoch brown-nosing to be done.

The result will be even greater concentration of media power in the hands of one organisation, fewer outlets for not just movies and sport but news too, and – doubt it not – further politically motivated attacks on the UK media’s one big success story, the BBC.

And, incidentally, if you doubt that the BBC, despite its faults, is a success story, just ask any informed observer outside the UK if they would like to see a BBC-style setup replicated in their own country: none will demur.

If the product in question were rivets, perhaps this would be of little moment. But the product is information that’s required by the electorate.

I leave the logical conclusion to your conscience.

There’s more on this in the Guardian here.

Google Wave: is it evil?

I just finished watching the whole hour of Google’s presentation of Wave, its new collaboration tool. It’s a fascinating idea, bringing together a multitude of communication tools, such as email and instant messaging, while making them more intuitive to use.

From the demo of the early developer code, you could see that the threading of conversations happens naturally, even when not all participants are involved from the start, while you can still keep parts of the conversation private. You can see messages in real time as you type (not good for poor typists) or you can do it in a more familiar ‘type and hit Return’ kind of way.

Content isn’t restricted to text, it can be anything that the developer chooses to add; the demo, which happened at Google IO, its recent devcon. And of course it’s all hosted in the cloud: all you need is a browser.

The idea looks great, the elimination of boundaries between IM and email is a liberating idea because you can still use it just like email — that is, you can choose when to answer messages and not be jumping around to someone else’s set of priorities — it’s smarter, and the browser becomes the only communication tool you need.

So why is it that I found myself wondering if this is really such a good thing? Two things: firstly I’m concerned about the fragmentation of email. Let’s assume Google Wave become insanely popular. Even so, there will always be people who aren’t using Wave but who stick to email and IM. It means you now have another communication channel to understand and manage. That’s on top of the Facebooks, the Twitters, the MySpaces and so on, all of which have private channels of communication that you need to check.

And then there’s the deeper concern: am I really comfortable trusting Google with my communications? With email I can choose from hundreds of suppliers and dozens of pieces of software. None of them want to index and understand my content even remotely on the scale that Google does. And when, due to some force majeure, it drops its ‘do no evil’ philosophy (assuming you buy into that idea from a Wall Street-quoted public company), what then?

Is this just me being paranoid?