I remember being at college and having to carry a plastic box full of 3.5″ floppy disks around with me. Every so often fluff from the deepest, darkest corners of the earth would infiltrate the shutter and… Abort, Retry, Fail? Shit, all my (hard) work consumed.

A few years pass and USB flash drives arrive on the scene, although they started out expensive, slow and lacking in any great capacity they we’re much more durable than floppy disks and as time went on physical size decreased, storage space and speed increased exponentially.

So for the last few years I’ve been carrying around a 16GB OCZ Rally2, it’s battered and I’ve lost the plastic cap that keeps the USB connector free from dust but it works and it’s quick. Then one day I was walking to work and I found a USB flash drive on the pavement, I picked it up and wondered if I could reunite it with its owner. Plugging it in to a virtual machine in a sandbox I tried to see if I could identify who it belonged to, it had a few Word documents on it but nothing that would help me identify the owner.

I started to think about all the personally identifiable information I had on my flash drive, my CV, letters to my bank, job applications, all things I wouldn’t really want people to read if for whatever reason I mislaid the drive. Looking around the Internet I decided upon the not so elegant solution of creating an encrypted partition on the drive using TrueCrypt, it did the job but I had to rely on being able to install TrueCrypt on any machine I needed to access the encrypted files from.

Recently I stumbled upon Dropbox, a web based file hosting service. They offer a freemium service that gives 2GB of storage which can be increased by referring users to the site and they’ll double the referral bonus space for users registering with an academic email address (this also works for .ac.uk addresses).

Once registered you download the client app, install it and choose a place on your computer to display a shared folder, anything you drop into the folder is synchronised to Dropbox and it appears on any other machine or device you have the software installed on.

What I really like about the service is just how many Operating Systems and devices are supported, I can share files between my Mac, my Windows 7 PC which dual boots to Ubuntu and my Android smart phone. The connection is over SSL and all the files stored on Dropbox are encrypted.

A few years ago, this type of service just wouldn’t have been practical, we’ve got a 20Mbit Internet connection at home and I’m lucky enough to be connected to an academic network at 155Mbit at work so moving files about is virtually seamless. I carry my smart phone with me everywhere so I can grab files on the go plus Dropbox can be accessed through any web browser if you don’t have the rights to install the client.

I don’t have to worry about losing my flash drive, damaging the USB connector or just how long the flash memory chips inside it are going to last, everything is stored on Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3) and it just works!

Not only does Dropbox let me keep private files, I can share any of my files with other people, I can create a Public folder that anyone can have access to and I can even upload images to galleries and give people access without them having to have a Dropbox account.

Amazing HD. No extra monthly fee (As long as you don’t want Sky premium channels!)

Virgin Mediasky

I’ve been following this for a while now, a few weeks ago Ofcom told Sky that they had to supply others with their premium sports channels at a reasonable wholesale rate. Incidentally the rates are £13.42 for Sky Sports 1, £13.34 for Sky Sports 2 or £19.07 for both the channels (No mention of Sky Sports 3 and 4).

BT Vision were the first to announce their loss making prices of £11.99 each for Sky Sports or £16.99 for both (12 month contract). Virgin Media who already carry the Sky “premium” channels today announced that they would offer the HD versions of the sky premium channels (including movies) for £7 a month per set top box.

Now, Virgin Media already had an agreement with Sky to carry their premium channels, the details of which are obviously a closely guarded secret so we don’t know if VM are now paying less for the channels wholesale or not. What wasn’t explicitly covered in the Ofcom document was the price of supplying the high definition versions of the channels, Ofcom instead included an “obligation for supply to be on a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory basis”, again no figures have been mentioned so we don’t know if this is more or less than the £7 VM are charging.

I’ve been a Virgin Media customer for a long time, paying a £150 for a TV Drive HD box in 2006 when there was only BBC HD and ITV HD (which disappeared until its re-birth on the platform in 2010) and more recently an additional V+ box which was offered to me for the grand total of £49 for being such a lovely customer.

Now I appreciate the subtleties of advertising and how business can lead customers with clever adverts and small print, for example VM never including the cost of an almost mandatory land line in their prices, just one of the things that annoy me. Include it in the price you show me instead of me having to add it on, also don’t make it more expensive for me to buy your services if I don’t take your land line package. I don’t use my land line, it’s just cheaper for me to get it in the bundle and you hope that I’ll make calls with it to make you a little extra revenue.

This morning I saw a comparison VM had put together showing that they were cheaper than Sky, for some reason I now can’t find the page (maybe it was removed) but I thought I would throw some figures in the air, now I know Sky do ADSL and their stated Internet speeds are “up to” and I know that the customer is responsible for their own set top box with Sky, unlike with VM but here goes…

I’ve removed the two months free offer that VM are currently doing and please bear in mind I’ve already paid Virgin Media £199 for two HD boxes over the years and these prices include no loyalty discounts:

Virgin Media

Bundle (XL TV, XL Broadband, M Phone) £43/m
Sky Sports and Sky Movies Collection £27.50/m
Virgin Media Phone Line Rental £11.99/m
Additional Set-top Box £5.50/m
Sky HD Premium x 2 £14/m

Total: £101.99/m

This excludes the £49.00 V+ Set-up fee for the first box and £75 for the second V+ box. Also, there are VIP bundles from VM that include a land line calls package, but for the sake of comparing the TV and Broadband offerings from both companies I excluded this, it’s slightly more expensive than £102/m anyway!


All Entertainment + Movies Pack + Sports Pack £48.50/m
HD Pack x 2 £20
Multiroom £10
Sky Talk Line Rental £11
Broadband Unlimited £7.50

Total: £97/m

This excludes the £199 cost of the second Sky+HD Box, also remember that Sky includes Sky Sports 3 and 4 in HD, ESPN is not included with Sky but it is with Virgin Media and that the upto 20MB Broadband speeds are dependent on where you live unlike with VM.

Truphone or not Truphone

So I’ve been in the USA for a few weeks, not wanting to pay Orange £35 for 10MB of international data I looked around for what I could find. Truphone were offering a local anywhere SIM with £5 of free credit so I snapped it up. For £7.99 for 30 days they let you have local rates in the country you’re going to, fantastic, data would drop from £2/MB to 75p/MB and calls within the USA were 10p a minute!

I dropped £20 of credit and the local rates plan on to my account and set off! I got to the USA, put the Truphone SIM in my HTC Desire and turned on mobile data, all seemed fine but I could only get an EDGE data connection. I fired a few tweets off to @Truphone, it turns out that they use the T-Mobile network in the USA and T-Mobile USA don’t use the standard frequencies for 3G. You need an AWS compatible phone to get high speed data in the USA using Truphone and unless you’ve got an iPhone 4 or a Nexus One, we just don’t get them in the UK.

Fair enough I thought, I was really only checking Facebook mobile, reading email, Tweeting and light web browsing, a few days in to the trip I thought I’d check how much credit I had left, I was down to a few quid, now I knew before I set off that data on Truphone anywhere was charged in 100KB increments but I didn’t think I’d used that much data. Looking through my call history I saw I was getting charged the full £2/MB, 40p for SMS and 75p/min for mobile calls but I’d paid for local rates and could see it was active on my account.

Helpfully there’s no email support for the Truphone local anywhere product, just telephone numbers (in the USA and the UK), but I didn’t really want to have to add more credit and call one of them at crazy rates so I fired off an email to the standard Truphone support email address, I got an automated reply but then nothing. After a few days I sent another email asking for an update and received a reply kindly telling me they don’t normally support local anywhere via email but would forward my request to a member of the team for me anyway. Two days later an email appears asking for me to confirm all my account details so that they could look for my account (I’d already given them my username) so I replied with everything they asked. Seven days later and rapidly approaching the end of my trip, still nothing so I send another email. Oh we didn’t receive the details you sent us, please send them again… I have done, over and over.

I’m back in the UK now, I’ve still not received a reply but I did send them another email this morning just to see what’s going on. I ended up putting another £10 of credit on to my account, it fluctuated between charging me the wrong rates and charging me the correct rates, a pattern I can only connect with my phone saying that it was roaming or not roaming. I was correctly charged when my phone said it was roaming and incorrectly charged when not, with no mention of having to be roaming on the local anywhere web site.

It was possible to force the SIM into roaming mode when it wasn’t by going into the SIM toolkit and changing the Country Profile setting to default, a pain but it worked most of the time.

The Truphone service wasn’t bad when I was being charged correctly, support options leave much to be desired but and I ultimately saved money by not paying the silly Orange roaming charges. Maybe, just maybe this will help someone else who runs into the same problems I found…


Truphone contacted me today after picking up a tweet, they’re looking into the problems I had. I also found some comments on the Truphone Blog covering the AWS issue, perhaps Truphone need to state network specifications somewhere on the product page.


It all went quiet after Truphone got in touch with me but a week and a tweet later I got another email! Truphone apologised for the problems, gave me some credit and put the USA local rates on the SIM forever which will be useful as we’ve already got another trip to New York planned!

Living with Android

I’ve been a Nokia user for ten years, I’ve had an 8210, a 6210, a 6100, a 6310i, a 6600, a 6630, an N80, an N95 and an N96. I liked Nokia OS and Symbian OS which I watched evolve over the years of upgrading and swapping between devices but recently Nokia just haven’t been keeping up the pace needed to keep me interested in their phones.

I’ve played with some of the touch screen devices that Nokia have put out, the 5800 and the N97 and even from my brief exploration it was obvious to me that S60 didn’t quite cut it as an OS for touch screen devices. Caught out by Apple and their release of iPhone OS, Nokia added touch screen functionality into S60 5th Edition and made a complete hash of it. Instead of building the OS from the ground up to revolve around interaction with a touch screen, Nokia built on top of S60, originally designed for devices with keyboards and physical buttons, essentially a legacy OS the interface doesn’t feel fluid or intuitive.

I’m a Mac user so the obvious choice should have been an iPhone, don’t get me wrong I like iPhone OS and it ticks all the usability boxes but I’ve never liked the idea of someone controlling the content I put on my device, I’ve bought it, I want to do what I want to it. The Apple App Store is truly amazing and it’s done amazing things to drive the uptake of smart phones but I want full control from end to end.

I got a HTC Hero as an upgrade handset from Orange, I’d read a lot about Android and even though the Hero only had Android 1.5 I was still impressed with the way it worked. It’s a very connected OS to use, if I’m browsing the web on it I can quickly share a page to a social network or easily select some text to translate via Google. The Market, Android’s equivalent of the App Store has lots to choose from, however I think something has to be done to stop it being flooded with badly coded apps, something Apple wins on.

At this point I was pretty much sold on Android so I decided to get a HTC Desire which currently has Android 2.1, better for me as we use Microsoft Exchange at work and I like to keep my calendar and email synced on my device, something that didn’t work perfectly on 1.5. The AMOLED screen on the Desire is simply stunning indoors and at night but outside in the sunlight it’s practically unusable. HTC have done a good job with their Sense interface and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter integrate with it well, my one moan about this is that no matter what I do all my Facebook contacts are synced to the phone book on the phone, I’d like to keep these separate.

The in-built web browser works well and renders pages quickly, I had Opera Mini on my N96 so I installed it on the Desire too but I increasingly find myself using the in-built browser as it’s just as fast if not faster. I also couldn’t seem to find how to turn Turbo Mode off in Opera Mini, Opera provide a service that pre loads and compresses web pages to reduce the use of bandwidth. This however means sites see your visit coming from Opera’s servers located outside of the UK, stopping access to some sites that that need your IP address to be in the UK.

Whilst I’m on about the web, the ability to use the Desire as a 3G modem is only supported on Windows, you can use paid for third party software but I’d love to see native support for Linux and OS X, either by USB or Bluetooth but at the moment the stack doesn’t support Bluetooth DUN or PAN. However browsing full web pages on the Desire isn’t a chore and unless I was desperate to use a real keyboard it’s just as easy to use the Desire.

The 5MP auto focus camera is OK, it struggles in low light and pictures are sometimes blurred when viewed at 100%, but for quick uploads to Twitter it’s fine. Google Maps sometimes feels slow to load map data even when using the phones WiFi to a broadband connection but Latitude works well and even the new navigation option got me to where I’ve needed to be speaking out road names and directions.

Mail works well, Exchange support has improved in 2.1 but still has a long way to come. It doesn’t support all of Microsoft’s security policies but the bug(?) is being tracked by Google. My Exchange calendar syncs fine and I can respond to and create meeting requests from the device, also worth mentioning is the ability to access the company directory available through Exchange.

So maybe I’ve still not found the perfect phone but the Desire is almost there. The recently leaked 4th generation iPhone looks like it could be a good device but for some reason I still don’t feel I can trust Apple! Let’s see what Android 2.2 brings!

Other applications I’m using

Advanced Task Killer – Not sure this is really needed as Android dynamically closes apps as the system needs more RAM, but I like knowing that apps I’m not using aren’t using data whilst I’m out and about. Although I’ve got an unlimited data plan it’s good to help preserve battery life.

beebPlayer – There’s no official BBC iPlayer app for Android, beebPlayer does a fantastic job solving this problem. Access to all the iPlayer content and links to live BBC TV channels and radio.

twidroid – This app has a much nicer interface than the bundled Twitter application Peep. There’s a paid “Pro” version of the app that includes video upload but the free version still does search, trends, URL shortening, Image upload and lots more.

Smooth Calendar – I wanted a widget that would show the next few appointments in my calendar, Smooth Calendar does exactly that.

Barcode Scaner – Simple to use barcode scanner that can also read QR Codes.

ShopSavvy – Scan a barcode and this app lets you know if you can get the item cheaper online or locally.

Shazam – Give it a few seconds of music and Shazam identifies the artist and track.

Qik – Android version of Qik, record and upload video to the web.

FileGo – Free file manager, does everything you need it to!

Data Counter Widget – A simple small widget to show how much data I’ve used over WiFi and the mobile network, you can set it to reset automatically on your billing day.