Double Trouble travels

double troubleWe had travelled many a times with one child but this was the first time travelling with two little ones and I was a bit apprehensive.
On our departure London was as rainy as ever and we were in heavy Friday evening traffic on route to the airport. Oh boy was I looking forward to the Summer in Brazil.
It took all of 6 large suitcases, 4 carry-ons, one car seat and one foldable buggy to fit all the necessities. Needless to say the manoeuvring of it all was worthy a circus stunt.
The suitcases were mostly filled with Christmas presents and baby clothes and the carry-ons were mostly filled with baby food, nappies, creams, toys, bits and bops.
Me and my wife had to do with a few t-shirts and some swimming wear.
To my huge surprise and relief the little ones are both at the right age of sleeping most of the night so once they settled in (the little one in a cot, the bigger one in his own chair) they were fine.
Well, besides the occasional sliding down the chair and sleeping like a bum on the cabin floor.
This was a huge change compared to 12 months ago when every 1.5 hours of sleep were followed by 1 hour of walking around the plane and saying hello to everybody.
The trip would have been fairly painless but for me accidentally grabbing the wrong bag from the baggage belt. To my defence the bag was a black Nike sports bag with an orange ribbon… just like ours.
I went back to the airport shortly after discovering the mistake. The bag was located fairly quickly and a friend went to the lost baggage office to pick it up (I was having lunch).
There were a few people picking up lost luggage and one person with 7 bags (!) being interrogated by the customs.
The person was told to pay an import duty of US$ 6,000 and since the import duty is 100% in Brazil he must have been trying to get in US$ 6,000 worth of iPhones and PS3s. The man broke down in tears (did somebody tell him that the iPhone is not 3G?).
I failed to mentioned to my friend the combination of the lock and what was inside the bag so he had to be creative when quizzed about the contents.
He guessed correctly that there were wrapped Christmas presents inside the bag and prayed open the zipper without the staff noticing and thus was allowed to take the bag with him.
The airline staff always have to inquire about the bag contents because all lost or forgotten bags are carried by the airline staff through customs without any inspection. I guess it would be too easy to “forget” a bag full of illegal stuff and pick it up rick free on the other side.
This was the easy part of our trip; the real adventure started when I went to North East Brazil to meet up with friends on their honeymoon but more about that next time.

Paypal is not a bank but has a phone number

Once you hand money over to Paypal you have very little control over it. This also applies if you let PayPal accept money on your behalf.
Their terms and conditions more or less make you wave your credit card protections and consumer rights.
I have made over 40 paypal transactions over the last 6 years. I have been reading various paypal horror stories but I always thought it wouldn’t happen to me (don’t we all).
Well of course it did and it is just a matter of time until you lose money as well if you are using PayPal for any transactions; especially related to eBay auctions.
In my particular case I had paid for an item that I had won in an eBay auction and PayPal charged my credit card instantly.
The seller had some complications getting the money so he informed me that he was not interested any more and that I should be getting my money back in 30 days.
This leaves me with a lot of money out of my pocket and a product I will never receive.
The only condolence PayPal was able to give me was to assure me that the money would be back in 30 days… but that’s no condolence to me, that is theft.
My story is just a drop in the ocean of other horror stories related to PayPal.
Credit to my credit card company as they treated me like a customer and put a little pressure on PayPal to look at my case a second time but in the end nothing could be done.
From the conversations with the credit card company representatives, it seemed as if they deal with many, many PayPal disputes and the score so far is individuals 0, PayPal a lot.
If you want to talk to a human being at PayPal UK then avoid the expensive 08707307191 premium number and instead use 02086053000.
Press 1 for PayPal, skip the request for your registered phone number, press 5, press 2 and tell the customer service representative that David says hi.
At least there are some alternatives to PayPal and you should consider them while you still can:
Google checkout
Authorize.net
http://www.merchantinc.com
http://www.nochex.com
Photo credit: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

Export your facebook contacts with email addresses

facebook officesFirst of all a big apology because this method of exporting your Facebook contacts is very cumbersome and has several “odd” requirements.
Nonetheless it is presented here as one (desperate) option to export your Facebook contacts and their contact details such as email address and phone number.
This method can be improved upon and made more automatic but Facebook has a tendency to shut down any scripts and software that export contact details.
So instead I leave it as an exercise to the readers to automate this process and extend it with a possible vCard conversion or Outlook import.
You will need:
* Firefox browser
* The XHTML mobile profile add-on for Firefox
* Able to view option 4 (ie Contacts) when accessing Facebook mobile
* Be able to access the internet from your PC by using your mobile device (eg via Bluetooth or IR)
* A text formatting tool (eg. grep)
The option 4 (Contacts) is ideal for exporting your contact details as it lists email addresses and phone numbers as clear text.
On the web version of Facebook the email addresses are displayed as images and a optical character recognition (OCR) process has to be used to decode the email address.
This OCR process is never perfect and will sometimes result in incorrect contact details.
The idea presented here is that you connect your PC to the Internet via your mobile phone (bluetooth, serial, IR or whatever works for you).
You have installed the XHTML mobile profile in Firefox which will let you visit the mobile version of Facebook (m.facebook.com).
Because you are using your mobile operator, Facebook will assume you are on a mobile device and display the shy option 4, contacts.
Step through your contacts and save each page as a text file locally on your computer.
Last step is to combine the saved text files to a single file and use egrep secret sauce to create a neat comma separated (CSV) file with just names, email addresses and phone numbers.
One regular expression that may get you started would be:
/profile\.php([^>]*)>([^<]*)<\/a><br\/>(<small><a href=\"tel:)?([0-9\.]*)?(\">)?([0-9\.]*)?(<\/a><\/small><br\/>)?<small><a href=\"mailto:([^\"]*)/
The best way to automate the exporting of Facebook contacts would be to write a small application for a mobile device (eg in J2ME) that fetches the information and formats it for export.
Another option would be to use Cygwin tools such as curl and grep to automate the process on your PC.
The j2me application would be most fun to do and I may return to it one fine Sunday afternoon!
[Photo by pshab]

Excerpt from a Playboy interview with Bob Dylan

PLAYBOY: Mistake or not, what made you decide to go the rock-‘n’-roll route?
DYLAN: Carelessness. I lost my one true love. I started drinking. The first thing I know, I’m in a card game. Then I’m in a crap game. I wake up in a pool hall. Then this big Mexican lady drags me off the table, takes me to Philadelphia. She leaves me alone in her house, and it burns down. I wind up in Phoenix. I get a job as a Chinaman. I start working in a dime store, and move in with a 13-year-old girl. Then this big Mexican lady from Philadelphia comes in and burns the house down. I go down to Dallas. I get a job as a “before” in a Charles Atlas “before and after” ad. I move in with a delivery boy who can cook fantastic chili and hot dogs. Then this 13-year-old girl from Phoenix comes and burns the house down. The delivery boy – he ain’t so mild: He gives her the knife, and the next thing I know I’m in Omaha. It’s so cold there, by this time I’m robbing my own bicycles and frying my own fish. I stumble onto some luck and get a job as a carburetor out at the hot-rod races every Thursday night. I move in with a high school teacher who also does a little plumbing on the side, who ain’t much to look at, but who’s built a special kind of refrigerator that can turn newspaper into lettuce. Everything’s going good until that delivery boy shows up and tries to knife me. Needless to say, he burned the house down, and I hit the road. The first guy that picked me up asked me if I wanted to be a star. What could I say?
[Source]

Will you buy the Apple iPhone in the UK on November 9th?

iphoneThe news is officially out from Steve Jobs’ mouth: the iPhone will be available in the UK from November 9th, 2007 and exclusively with O2 and Carphone Warehouse.
Congratulation to O2 and Carphone Warehouse 😉 for securing the deal.
It would be interesting to know how much O2 paid for this exclusivity and how this exclusivity will pay off with the recent iPhone unlocking and the iPod touch release.
In case you are still deciding whether or not to get the iPhone in the UK I have summarised a few points for you to consider that may help you to make up your mind.
The cost
£269 and a 18 month contract at (minimum) £35 / month.
What unique features does the iPhone have
+ a multi touch user interface
+ visual voicemail
+ Free Wifi at The Cloud hotspots (£12 / month normally)
+ high fashion status
What doesn’t the iPhone have which is found on recent mobile phones
– 3G (the most recent high speed mobile data connection)
– Video recording
– Video calling
– MMS (picture messaging)
– A2DP (bluetooth stereo profile)
– MP3s as ringtone
– 3+ megapixel camera
– voice recording
– voice dialing
– copy and paste
– Macromedia flash support
– USB mass storage device usage
– saving images or files from browser
– bluetooth file transfer
– ability to delete individual text messages
– 3rd party application development (j2me, symbian, .net)
– bluetooth modem
I think you’ll find the iPhone lacking if you are a mobile power user and used to the features listed above.
If on the other hand the priority for you is design, usability and top class support then the iPhone will be a good match.
PS The O2 “unlimited” data plan is limited to “1,500 internet pages per day”. Whatever that means 🙂

Wedding congratulations are in order

rudolf-loves-iveta.jpgfor the newly wed Rudolf and Iveta Kaspar.
I was able to get away from our recently enlarged family for three days to attend Rudolf’s and Iveta’s wedding.
The wedding was in Prague and the couple put on a relaxed wedding full of party, laughter and family love.
The day started with a small reception at the couples new apartment in an almost finished apartment block.
There were wires sticking out from the walls in the hallways and the apartment was all empty but for a pair of mattresses and sleeping bags.
This didn’t prevent a great atmosphere and a never ending flow of champagne.
A red Skoda decorated with white flowers was arranged for the bride and a white mini bus was arranged for the groom and the rest of the family.
In such magnificent style did we travel to the busy Old Town Square were the wedding ceremony was to be held at the Old Town town hall.
I have been to the Old Town Square on numerous occasions to marvel at the ancient astronomical clock just like millions of tourist from all around the world. Never have I however been inside the town hall.
The actual ceremony was short and sweet and the couple had chosen a few untraditional songs for the organist: Clocks by Cold Play, Everybody’s changing by Keane and Spomal by Peha.
Apparently the organist had not known how to play the songs initially but managed splendidly once provided the notes.
The square was as busy as ever on this fine Saturday and full of tourists from all around the world. They snapped away merrily at the newly wed couple.
Rudolf and Iveta are for ever recorded in the family travel albums of visitors from China, Italy, Russia, Germany but mainly Japan.
A family feast followed where I had the chance to meet the bride’s family members for the first time.
I can happily report that they turned out to be a bunch of really nice and honest people that never say no to having fun.
The feast lasted longer than planned and it was getting close to the “real” evening party. Luckily I managed to squeeze in 30 minutes of power napping; something that I doubt the newly wed couple had time to do.
There was a great crowd at the evening party and I met up with a few childhood friends I hadn’t seen in years. There were a few surprises like random visitors from Norway and excellent musicians dressed in poncho’s.
More food was arranged in the form of a buffet with traditional Czech delicacies.
After the earlier feast I swore not to eat again for several days but I caved in for a midnight snack of chicken wings, sandwiches, goulash and some more wedding cake.
All in all a fantastic wedding and celebration and a huge privilege that I was able to attend.
Congratulations to the newly wed couple and an apology for the delayed wedding present… it is on the way!

The definitive upgrade-to-Nikon-D200 review

d200 dslrThe Nikon D70 was my first digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera.
The D70 was a “downgrade” from my previous Canon EOS 5 in terms of freedom of expression but it was an upgrade in terms of photo quality (some would argue this) and time delay from taking a shot to publishing it online (this is obvious).
After 1.5 years with the D70 I felt I was happy with the results of my new digital work flow and wanted a DSLR that allowed for a bigger technical elbow room.
Meanwhile slightly better models (D70s, D80) had been introduced by Nikon but I felt only the D200 was a significantly more advanced DSLR worth aiming for. The various D1 models were of course too expensive and too professional for my “happy snapping”.
The first thing I noticed while holding the shiny new D200 was the difference in size, weight and build quality. The D200 weighs 35% more (920g vs 680g), has a slightly larger frame and a metal body (D70 is plastic).
Initially your arm will suffer from the extra bulk of the D200 and you will intimidate your subject more easily.
Another thing my wife noticed right away was the lack of scene modes. While the D70 has a few modes for the most common photo situations (sport, beach, portrait, flower and etc.) the D200 lacks them. On the D200 you have to know which camera features to adjust to achieve the same result.
For portraits, aperture priority mode may be used to minimize depth of field, during sports shots you may want to use shutter speed priority with an appropriate speed, photographs of mountains may benefit from manual focus on infinity and so on.
The shooting speed is greatly improved. While I barely managed to get out 2-2.5 RAW NEF frames per second with the D70, the D200 manages up to 5. The shooting speed is dependant on several other factors like shutter speed, memory card quality and resolution but the D200 “feels” at least twice as fast.
The D200 has an overwhelming amount of detailed settings to alter capture properties (saturation, exposure and etc.), button assignments and much more.
It is a bit overwhelming in the beginning but once you know your way around the menus, then all this flexibility will give you a lot of freedom to create unique photographs. The D200 has four setting memories that allow you to swap quickly between favourite groups of settings.
Other notable D200 benefits would be larger view finder and LCD (2.5″ vs 1.8″), multi-channel histograms (YRGB), more autofocus zones (11 vs 5), better resolution (10.2MP vs 6.1MP) and more.
The only thing I miss from my D70 is being able to use the lightweight IR remote control (ML-L3). I used the remote control heavily during night shots (mirror lock-up mode). There is a cord remote available for the D200 (MC-30 or MC-36) but it isn’t as convenient as the ML-L3 was.
My wife finds it more difficult getting sharp photos with the D200 and I suspect this is because the D200 has higher resolution and is overall more sensitive.
This means that some (novice) users may have to practise their techniques (light shutter finger, holding their breath, pan with subject, support arm on something steady and etc.) to get great shots.
With all this flexibility and complexity of the D200 I continuously keep improving my shots. This entry will be a living document where I will be adding any new D200 tricks, tips and techniques I discover and find helpful. Bookmark it and come back for any updates!
1. I often find my self taking several (2-10) shots of the same subject and scene. Afterwards I browse through the shots and eliminate any that are obviously bad (blurry, bad exposure, bad crop).
A great way to do this is to assign the centre of the navigational dial as high zoom and further assign the back command dial to browse between photos.
When you want to review a series of shots, hit the new convenient zoom button and use the command dial to switch between next and previous shots. Because the focus point remains the same while you browse photos, you can now easily compare a subject between multiple shots even if the subject is off centre.
2. I have programmed the front user button to focus. Sometimes I have pushed the shutter button half way but the subject moves and I need to re-focus quickly without loosing exposure lock and composition.
3. I use Vivid colour mode and 1 step of extra sharpness which I find results in photos that require very little post processing and just POP.
4. The auto ISO function is well thought out because you can program it both for the lowest shutter speed you are comfortable with (I use 1/30s) and the highest ISO you are comfortable with (I use 400).
Then you can be sure that the camera will not use a higher ISO for a shot if the exposure can be achieved with or above the shutter speed you have selected.

Kaspar to help children with autism

Kaspar is a newly developed robot that can express basic human emotions.
Children with autism have difficulties picking up on human body language because of it’s complexity and subtlety.
This makes Kaspar especially suitable to teach these expression to autistic children because the robot is designed to “express emotion consistently and with the minimum of complexity”.
The name Kaspar is a creative acronym for Kinesics and Synchronisation in Personal Assistant Robotics.
May Kaspar succeed in making life a better experience for autistic children!
[Via]

The expensive truth behind 0870 and 0871 numbers

old phoneType in 0870 or 0871 in a search engine and you’ll see loads of advertisements for companies that provide this “service”. They all promise revenues of 4, 5 or 6p per minute.
This revenue is generated by charging the caller and sharing the profits between the number provider and the company being called.
The costs are often disguised because the numbers are presented as national rate or sometimes even local call charges.
The fact is that these numbers are very seldom (never?) included in any free minutes nor in any discounted calling plans.
While there has been a trend of cheaper and cheaper calling to regular regional and mobile numbers these new 0870/0871 numbers bring back calling chargers to the level of 1995.
I could be called conspirational if I claimed that it must be the phone operators behind the idea of these new “national rate” numbers. Even if they are not behind the scheme they must be very pleased to see a renewed increase in charged minutes.
There has been an explosion in use of 0870 numbers by large and small companies.
A few years ago it was rare having to call a 0870/0871 number and it was possible to choose another service provider with a local number.
Nowadays it seems as if every service company is using 0870/0871 number to boost their bottom line. This is very frustrating especially if there are 40 minutes waiting times before getting through to a customer service representative.
By the way, if it is profitable for a company to keep you waiting on the line you should start worrying about their true intent. Customer service or profit?
Some companies have gone too far. They rely on incoming phone calls to make a sale (hotels, mortgage companies) but offer only 0870/0871 numbers.
This means it now costs to make a reservation or to inquire about the costs of a product (shame on you K-West).
There is a growing uproar against these phone numbers with hidden charges.
Phone regulator Ofcom has announced that from next year firms will be banned from sharing in the profits of 0870 and 0871 numbers. New numbers will be introduced, this time starting with 030.
These new numbers should not cost more than traditional regional numbers (e.g. 01/02) and should be included in discounted calling plans and inclusive minutes.
While we wait for the 030 numbers you may want to check out the Say no to 0870 web site for alternative contact details.

Sjukstuga

Is a Swedish word for a kind of small hospital or more correctly a smaller emergency ward.
Which is exactly what it looks like at home at the moment.
We came back from Brazil last week and together with the fond memories of the trip our baby son also brought back a violent flue.
The symptoms are fever for 2-3 days, then excruciating body ache, then a short spell of extremely runny nose followed by a heavy and painful cough.
His mother got it shortly thereafter.
Then it was the grandmother’s turn. She is only visiting for a short while but wasn’t spared nonetheless.
The nanny was holding out until last Friday but surrendered shivering and with a splitting head ache.
She had to take a few days off which brought havoc to the delicate ecosystem of baby care taking at home.
So here I am, last man standing and wading through an avalanche of used tissues, dirty dishes and empty paracetamol packs.
I am under no illusion that I will escape this vicious bug but maybe I can avoid it at least until the rest of the family has recuperated (and enjoy special treatment).
From Sjukstugan with love,
David.