Excel is like life

Life is complex.  Problems are complex.  And it’s rare that an intricate problem can be solved by a simple solution.  Or indeed that a single solution is the only one.  Excel is a good analogy here.

It has rows and columns and it was invented to organise data.

Yet in its 2007 version, it comes with eight standard ribbons.  (Further ribbons present themselves in specific situations.)  The Home ribbon alone has 42 separate items within it.  Twenty of these have dropdowns from which further options can be selected.  A very conservative estimate would be that an average of five sub-options are available for each of these.  If the other seven ribbons are similar, then that’s 976 options, and that doesn’t account for the plethora of formulae that can be written in each of the cells, and the canvas of colours available.  (As a slight aside, that would allow 16 trillion possible actions across the cells of a single worksheet.)

Admittedly, Excel was not designed to solve a single problem.  But the arsenal of tools available merely highlights the huge variety of ways in which problems can be addressed.  If you give ten people the same problem and ask them to solve it in Excel, each one will address it in a different way, sometimes subtly different, sometimes wildly different.  If you don’t tell them which tool to use, then your range of solutions will widen further.

No less than and no greater than

You often hear of the likes of Osama Bin Laden (actually, just Bin Laden I think) quoting certain events or holding a copy of a newspaper during video footage to prove unequivocally that the footage was taken after a certain event and therefore after the time of that event.  But I often wonder whether anything could be used, likely something that we haven’t yet discovered, to accurately time-stamp a video.  That is, confirm the exact timing of its filming, as opposed to giving a “no earlier than” date.

Because that would be kind of cool.

The demise of @chucklebarry—what really happened

A couple of days ago, Barry Chuckle joined Twitter, prompted to join by his grandson.  His moniker: @chucklebarry.  At last count, he was following 55 people, and had 6,800 followers.

Today, his account has been suspended.  And here’s the exclusive story behind this turn of events.

Despite being older and indeed more recognisable, Barry Elliot is dominated by his younger brother Paul.  (The two men together form the Chuckle Brothers.)  Paul takes responsibility for all of the bookings, money and PR that surrounds the double-act.  Not satisfied with that, Paul has also taken control of Barry’s individual persona, not allowing any form of publicity without his sign-off.

On Friday, following advice from his grandson, Barry Chuckle took it upon himself to create a presence on Twitter, soon getting hooked.  His followers grew rapidly as his existence was re-tweeted, and within 48 hours, he had almost 7,000 followers and appeared on 71 lists.

Paul was alerted to his brother’s account by a family friend on Saturday evening while watching the climax to Over the Rainbow in his hotel room.  By Sunday morning, the account had been removed, by Biz Stone himself, after repeated threats of legal action by Paul Elliot’s manager.

After the account’s removal, the issue became the focus of a family bust-up in the Harvester in Bracknell, where they were celebrating the duo’s 21st year together with their older brothers Jimmy and Brian, who were themselves part of the Patton Brothers.  (It seems that all members of the family wanted to rid themselves of the Elliot name.)  Paul allegedly said “Oh dear, oh dear” after polishing off his gammon steak (he apparently left the pineapple ring) before clocking Barry square in the face, giving him injuries remarkably similar to those that Paul himself suffered in a motorcycle accident in Kefalonia in 2007.

It is not yet known whether they will appear on stage together at the Theatre Royal, Windsor tomorrow evening, but sources suggest it’s highly unlikely.

To me, to you.

Coming to my senses, but only the ones I choose

This afternoon, news was breaking.  Big news.  Gordon Brown had allegedly signalled his upcoming resignation as Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party.

I was on the move.  I had left my client’s offices and was ready to a board a London-bound train.  I had an intermittent 3G signal.

My main source of news was Twitter, which was flooded with tweets on the very subject, as you might imagine.  I looked for more official news reporting by going to the iPhone TVCatchup web offering to stream BBC News.

I was looking for something more dynamic than textual news, but my bandwidth was insufficient for TV streaming to be any better than frustrating, tiny snippets interrupted by lengthy pauses, often broken entirely as the 3G connection disappeared as we wended our way through Essex stations.

I was after audio.  I wanted to hear the reporting and discussion that was taking place on BBC News without my connection grinding to a halt as a result of fat video content.

I’ve often thought that there are certain circumstances in which it would be great if such audio streams were available.  Soap fans could listen to EastEnders in the car on the way home from work.  And I could have had a rewarding experience listening to the news.  Maybe that’s what radio is for, but the technologists seem to have been better at making video content available than audio content.

I’d like to be able to choose a channel and choose which senses to satisfy.  Is that too much to ask?

Where beautiful photography and typography meet

There is so much that is fabulous about this photograph of a typesetting operation, taken in 1910.  Here is the unzoomed version.

And finally, in that one image, it shows how media has changed.  The amount of labour taken to create a publication used to be vast, yet the commercial model worked.  Today, the amount of labour is hugely reduced, yet the commercial model is proving difficult to justify.

My grandfather, who I barely remember but who I credit for my love of type, worked as a typesetter.  Thank you, grandpa.

I could study this photo for hours.  Hat-tip to Ben for making me aware of this.

The afterlife is just too hard

The afterlife should be easier.

I don’t have a will.  Don’t get me wrong—I know I should have one.  But the barrier to entry is too significant.  I have to involve a solicitor, get counter-signatories, spend money and generally make quite a bit of effort to get one.  It’s something I’ll probably do when I’m 40 when death becomes a more real concept.  Let’s hope I make it that long.

And besides, the default position is sufficiently in keeping with what I would want that the benefit is not great enough to warrant the associated effort.

But wills should be easier.  I would like a good level of dynamism in defining my benefactors and the respective rewards that they would reap in the event of my death, timely or otherwise.  Particularly the smaller amounts and artefacts.  I’d like to be able to define how any little knick-knacks that I happen upon over time are to be distributed among my friends and family on my demise.  And every time I get a new knick-knack, I shouldn’t have to bear legal fees.  And I would like to be able to pledge relatively small amounts to my friends to enjoy a meal on me, maybe on the evening after my funeral.

I’d like to be able to manage everything up to a certain value through a web interface.  And I’d happily cross-reference said interface on a proper will.  (“Any items specifically mentioned on account name danosirra on thisismywill.com act as a supplement to the details herein.”)  And I’d happily agree that any changes made to said inventory after a time-stamp at which I was medically declared doolally should be deemed invalid.

Can this be done?  Does it already exist?

Adobe vs. Apple

The war between Adobe and Apple, two of the earliest leviathons in the dictionary of technical giants (Yahoo! bringing up the rear, natch), is very interesting to watch.

For once, it’s not about shareholder value.  It’s seemingly about a personal vendetta.  Jobs hates Adobe.  And he’s doing everything he can to remove their very presence from Apple’s devices.

The interesting part is not this development specifically.  It’s the fallout from it.

There are already a bunch of sites that I frequent that use Flash as the platform for their video content.  The main one is the BBC, but this morning I tried to access the video footage of the  John Higgins scandal from the News of the World site and failed miserably from my iPhone.  Maybe such sites were waiting for Adobe to enable its video to be accessible from Apple’s mobile devices.  Or maybe they were waiting for Apple to enhance their own offering to embrace Flash.  Either way, it’s not clear that neither scenario will materialise.  So what will the content providers do?

They have two primary options, as I see it:

Selfishly, I hope they (particularly the BBC) adopt the latter approach.  Only time will tell how things transpire.  Meanwhile, Adobe must be seething.

Streetcar: making good out of bad

We’re in the midst of getting a loft conversion done.  As well as generally disrupting our lives, it’s meant that we’ve had to do a lot more house-related shopping than an average man can stomach, with many a weekend spend browsing magazines or schlepping around bathroom showrooms.

Given our car-free status, the latter activity has necessitated quite a few Streetcar bookings.  And not having had any issues with Streetcars in the past, the problems were like buses: three coming along in quick succession.

Last week I suffered from a poorly car.  It was a little shy when it came to starting, the biting point seemed to be inconsistent with the other VW Golfs in the fleet, and it needed far more revs than is generally the case.  Although it started well in the driveway from which I picked it up, the biting issue caused it to stall (me to stall it?) at a junction.  Only four or five turns of the engine and an equal number of peeps from my fellow road-users’ horns got us moving again.  Instead of tempting fate, I took the car back and Streetcar asked me to pick up a different car a couple of streets away.  That I did.

This morning, I picked up that same car (on the assumption that the issue had been resolved), but it had a flat tyre.  I didn’t notice until I’d got it out of the driveway—it had been parked very close to the nearside wall—and this meant it was no mean feat getting it back into its spot.

The lady from Streetcar directed me to another Streetcar round the corner, which I duly picked up to be confronted by an oil warning light.  On instruction from Streetcar, I topped up the oil only for the warning light to reappear later in the booking.

After dropping off the car, I expressed my frustration to the Streetcar lady.  She listened (that was the key), told me she’d speak to her supervisor and ensure that my account was credited handsomely.

I could have taken the three incidents in a negative light, telling all my friends about the shoddy cars etc.  But I didn’t.  I knew this was a rarity, I enjoyed the customer service that I received and will relay this story as a positive experience rather than a negative one.

Streetcar are fabulous.  I only hope this fable continues once Zipcar integrates them.

Cold contact management

I like order in certain things in my life.  (My wife will vouch for the fact that this trait is not true of all areas of my life.  But that’s an aside.)

One such thing is my contacts.  People, not lenses.  All of my contacts include people’s forenames and surnames, apart from those annoying occasions when I am only privy to one such name—my plumber Rob, my handyman Peter and a school registrar that I only know as Mrs. Harvey.  Other than these oddities, there are no exceptions to this rule, my family included.  My wife can be found under her surname (she didn’t take mine), as can my mum, dad and nan.  Even my daughter is filed using the “Surname, Forename” standard.

I do the same with my Flickr tags.  No one is ever filed by their relationship to me.  Always by their name.  Close family members are bestowed the honour of no qualifying surname.

Does this make me cold?  I don’t think so.  I do it for consistency and to save angst in my head.  And I don’t believe that assigning storing my dad’s details under “Dad” has any bearing on my love for him.

In related news, due to a quirk in the way in which Google Contacts interacts with iPhone Contacts, all surnames are stored in the forename field, and vice versa.  You can’t imagine how much angst *that* brings.