Drop Your Laptop or: How to Live a Happy and Fulfilling Life by Keeping Your Data on the Network

I managed to drop my IBM-owned Thinkpad fairly violently last weekend and the hard disk crashed. Thinkpads are worth the money, folks, they really are the most reliable laptops going (honest - IBM has sold the brand to Lenovo now, anyway). Unfortunately even it couldn’t withstand my abuse.

I’m currently in the process of getting it fixed, but it was impressive how little disruption it has so far caused. I was both concerned and embarrassed when it first happened: partly because I really need a laptop to take away with me to San José, and partly because, well, it’s embarrassing to break other people’s stuff (even if that person is a virtual entity employing a few hundred thousand people).

Nevertheless, I began to realise just how much data that was important to me, both personally and professionally, was out there on the network, and thus still seamlessly accessible from the remaining PCs I have at home and in the office. My email is all web accessible (save from my business mail, which sadly is not - not without some fuss anyway). My bookmarks are all on delicious, and contain pointers to many things I read regularly. Some of my data (presentations, documents, etc.) is on internal IBM network storage - the rest I’ll be moving onto there in short order from backups. I use Google Reader as an RSS reader, so that wasn’t disturbed. I’m currently evaluating which of the remaining applications I use I should try to find online equivalents for.

I’ve always been paranoid about backups, and that’s one of the reasons why I held off using online applications for such a long time - I worried about control over my data. David convinced me to chill out about this, and I started using delicious (although I still run an automated backup of my bookmarks from it). It was so useful that I started to move more data off my machine. As well as illustrating to me how unimportant the operating system I use really is (I’ve been without a Windows system for a week, and it hasn’t mattered at all), I now really love the compelling value of network-based data, and this event has demonstrated the value of that to me clearly.

Go network!

Wagamama Authorisation

Two recent visits to Wagamama (outstanding noodle bars - give them a try if you haven’t already) have uncovered a strange habit: when asking for the bill, it’s brought immediately to your table, with a slip asking for the tip and a signature. Once this is filled in, your credit card is taken away briefly - presumably to be swiped. But no further signature is required, and even more surprisingly no PIN number is requested. That’s the end of the transaction.

Is this legal? Is it within the terms of the merchant agreement? Is it sensible? Is it secure?

I don’t know, but it’s sure weird. I haven’t seen any other merchant do this.

Team America: World Police

**Lisa**: Promise me you'll never die. ** Gary**: You know I can't promise that. ** Lisa**: If you did that, I would make love to you right now. ** Gary**: I promise I'll never die!

Team America is just wicked fun. Sure, it’s political, and that appeals. The satire is well aimed, and the targets well-deserving. But like Parker and Stone’s previous film, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, it also works well as a film in its own right. The South Park film performed a strong parody of a Disney movie, with the music being the standout attribute that made it work. Team America serves as a parody of an action film, with exactly the same strength. Fourth wall-breaking satire such as the song Montage only add to the fun.

The film pokes fun at plenty of folks, on both the American left and right (it’s no coincidence the film’s creators are basically libertarians). At times, it almost feels like it’s closer to hitting the truth than its far more complex and serious rivals like the more recent Syriana, which alludes to some of the same topics. It’s not surprising also, what with the film being from the creators of South Park, that it’s both offensive and politically insensitive (Derkaderkastan is apparently a Central Asian country now). Put simply: if you don’t like swearing for the hell of it and (comically well-constructed) childish behaviour, you won’t like this film.

Some touches of South Park do slip through. Although the film is produced entirely using puppets (kinda like an X-rated Thunderbirds), the characters act in a similarly unpredictable manner. The voice of Cartman (Trey Parker) also slips through into Kim Jong-il, possibly the most well-defined character in the film (played somewhat like an south-east Asian Goldfinger).

Team America is a glossy and high-budget production that deserves to be seen, if only so you can decide whether you hate it or not. It’s an easy watch, and you’ll make your decision within the first ten minutes. Enjoy.

Boringstoke?

After annoying myself by breaking my Thinkpad yesterday evening, and finding myself with nothing to do today, I decided to take a random break to Basingstoke and try to make a photographic record of this strange town. The results aren’t exactly astonishing photographically, but I have tried to capture some of the divided character of the place.

I grew up in Farnborough, so I’ve been familiar with the area for quite some time, and when I was younger, we used to jokingly refer to it as ‘Boringstoke’. But Basingstoke is a city of strange contrasts, unlike many others I can think of. The main thing that strikes you as you walk through parts of the city centre is 60s concrete architecture (a much maligned style in my opinion; Ernő Goldfinger showed how to do it right). However, Basingstoke has pretty parts that remind one of cathedral towns such as Winchester, Guildford, or Salisbury. It also has some gleaming, shiny parts (the Barclays building) and some unforgivingly ugly office blocks (such as Alencon House, previously occupied by IBM). It has some hilly streets that in places seemed to uncannily resemble Kendal; and a spotless shopping centre selling upper-middle-class goods and services.

What a bizarre place Basingstoke is.

Cancelled LOVEFiLM

I’ve written many times before about the poor quality customer service I’ve received from LOVEFiLM, the UK’s largest DVD rental service, and those posts have solicited a lot of complaints from other people too. I’ve finally bitten the bullet and cancelled my account: a combination of frustration with poor delivery times, them never sending me the titles high on my list, and that they won’t allow me to freely suspend my account for a reasonable amount of time. It’s sad, as they used to provide excellent customer service when I first used them a few years ago (when they were small), but acquisitions and growth seem to have made them fat and lazy, and they no longer treat customers with respect - written examples are all over their website, including the veiled threats of continued charges in the cancellation process itself.

At some point, probably once I return from San Jose, I plan to sign-up with Amazon instead, who now seem to be their largest competitor, and stock 2/3 of the titles that LOVEFiLM do, so might still stand a chance of fulfilling my sometimes unusual taste. Amazon have generally provided excellent service in the past, and it’ll be interesting to see if their foray into DVD rental hurts or helps their brand.

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