Monday, 28 July 2008

Gaelic knowledge and a mini Opera

As anyone who reads this (he says optimistically) will have noticed, I wasn't here to link to the usual selection of procrastination fodder last Friday. Rather than just bring it forward to Monday, though, I thought it might be time, instead, for things of a more practical lifehacking-ish bent to make an occasional return to the blog. I suppose it had to happen eventually...

Well, here goes:

An essential mobile phone download

Opera Mini 4.1

Essential at least for those who have a mobile with internet access but a useless default browser (anyone - like me - with a Sony Ericsson K850i, for instance).

You see, this marvellous little browser actually bothers to take full account of all the little things that make the internet on a mobile phone not nearly as good an idea as it sounds, finding ways not only to overcome them but also to take advantage of being run on a mobile phone, making this, for many phone owners, as close as you'll get to a smooth and enjoyable mobile internet experience without just giving up and buying something else.

Obviously, the small screen will always be to some extent a hindrance for anyone browsing the net on a phone, but Opera Mini has a good go at minimising the problem. Literally so, in that Opera's servers compress and pre-process pages before sending them to you, so that a) you use less of your data allowance, b) browsing is much faster, and c) they're in a format that's easier to read on your mobile, even when they're from a site that doesn't automatically support mobile browsers. And if you want to navigate the full-size page you'd get on your PC instead, you can do - almost as easily as if you had a mouse. Simply select and zoom into page sections containing what you want and the browser will snap the window to the text or photo selected, letting you read it without having to keep scrolling side-to-side as well as up and down.

For that matter, if it's a page you'd find easier to view in landscape, simply press * twice. Full-screen is an equally quick button press away, too.

In fact, there are a whole load of keypad shortcuts to give you all the features of a regular browser, even the ability to download webpages. But the best is Speed Dial: nine of your favourite bookmarks available simply by pressing * followed by the corresponding number. Or you can access the rest of your bookmarks by pressing #2.

A fews other things of note:

- If you're using Opera as your PC or Mac browser you can sync those bookmarks with your Opera Mini bookmarks.

- When you click 'Back' it doesn't reload the page, as even some PC/Mac browsers do, it simply goes straight back to it, instantly - both gratifyingly quick and an efficient usage of your data allowance.

- Search fields on any website can be made into shortcuts. In other words, rather than waste data allowance loading the homepages of sites like Amazon or eBay, you can just type something in the browser's search box, select which site to search, and skip straight to the results.

- If your phone allows, you can upload and download files from within Opera, rather than having to use your phone's native browser.

The latest competitor to Google

Cuil, "the world's biggest search engine", launched earlier today.

First things first, the name's awful.

No-one's going to know how to pronounce it - 'coil'? 'quill'? 'kwee'? - which surely won't be too helpful on the memorability or word-of-mouth fronts, or in its becoming a ubiquitously used verb, like a certain other search engine I could mention - Google is at least satisfying to say, too, sort of pleasingly chunky and slightly comical. And even now that I know (thanks to Google) that the correct pronunciation is 'cool', and that it's Gaelic for 'knowledge', I'm still not convinced that anyone's going to want to say that they 'cuiled' a particular subject, or that people are really going to take all that kindly to the implicit and presumptuous attempt at associating the site, homonymically at least, with the word cool itself.

Still, I am mentioning the site for a reason: if Cuil really is the world's biggest search engine, as its creators claim, then, perhaps, even the name they've chosen to tether it to might not hold it back?

Well, as you'd expect, Google dispute the "world's biggest" claim (Google purposely ignores a lot of duplicate content, they say) and further cite greater relevance and quality to their results. Based on a few random searches, well, I'd have to say they might be right about the relevance and quality. However, it's still very early days. And I guess what will utlimately determine the success - or otherwise - of Cuil will be the things it does differently to Google, and whether people find them compelling enough to keep returning. The major differences?

Firstly, Cuil have noted people's conerns about what Google (and - especially following the YouTube/Viacom case - any other site) does with your search history and have promised that it will remain private.

Next, you'll find the results presented in three columns (or two, if you so choose) with - not always especially relevant - pictures. Whether this is a good thing I'm not sure: it might help people see beyond what's been SEO-ed to the top of the search rankings; but on the other hand, it will take more than a glance to spot which is the most relevant result.

The most interesting difference, for me, though, is the widget (sometimes) to be found in the third column offering searches in different related categories. With good quality results, I could see this being potentially quite useful, throwing up associations that you might not have previously known about or expected: other bands that you might like, for instance; obscure films a favourite actor has been in; or online magazine pieces by a favourite author. The search box too seems to take account of your last search: the next time you enter anything it offers related auto-complete suggestions. There's perhaps, therefore, more scope with Cuil for random discovery.

A final point: the people behind Cuil have worked for Google (and other search engines); one has also previously produced a search product bought by Google to incorporate into and improve its own search engine. So while Cuil might not be quite the finished product yet, if you're not happy with Google's search results, it might well be worth keeping an eye on.

One problem (for Cuil, at least): with Gmail, GoogleAds, Blogger, etc. all tied in with its search engine, is it even the search results quality that keeps people coming back to Google?

Friday, 18 July 2008

The Friday links

No, don't worry, this is nothing to do with that tiresome golf tournament that seems to have taken over BBC Radio 5 Live for half the week. Just the usual parade of procrastination:


In a previous set of links, I mentioned the spoof documentary Jesus People. As it turns out, the Independent Comedy Network has plenty of other online funny stuff for you to view. Pick of the bunch, though, is probably Warthog: set in a corporation post-some kind of apocalypse, a few people continue to come to work...

Someone tries to defend spamming.

I'm voting Republican. (No, not me. It's a satire. And I'm not American).


Mousebreaker lets bored people play Flash games against other bored people, rather than just the computer.

Should your post-Wimbledon recollection that, 'Oh yes, actually I do kind of like tennis...' not have faded yet, Tennis Ace is worth a bash.

More addictive, and less frustrating (well, up to a point), Rong is very right.


The New York Times recently highlighted a fascinating array of new music-making thingies - I should probably call them musical instruments, but in this case that would kind of miss the point.

A TV remote that you really will want to call a zapper.

This one looks more like a water pistol, which sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, if you have kids...

Oh, and those last two links reminded me of this cigarette holder. For the nihilist in your life, perhaps?

And finally...

Every car driver's dream: cut out the salesman. Shame it's just a Japanese marketing stunt.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Late linkage

Sorry, it's been a busy week... Better late than never?


Today's video links come from design blog 1+1=3.

A bicycle made for two - but possibly, two who can't stand the sight of each other...

I suppose you'd call this video animated graffiti. Whatever it is, it must have taken forever.

Quite honestly, I know next to nothing about Chaos Theory, but put into action I imagine it looking something like this.

More cool stuff from 1+1=3

There was lots of it, and I haven't had much time for link hunting this week.

Charlton Heston's (frankly terrifying) basement.

The world's largest freehand drawing, and other large transitory works of art.

The holeless sink.

A brick building that cleverly appears to be made of wood.

Images of London, post-rising sea levels.

Some dramas in a snowglobe. Oddly, I happen to have a card in my room featuring one of these.

Other little people

Because tiny model people aren't only to be found in snowglobes:

A greetings card company called Holy Mackerel offers some similar scenes: these involving food, for instance.

Even better, is the Little People blog, chronicling a witty, inventive and at times quite poignant street art project.

And finally...

This village in Romania's choice of mayor makes the election of Boris Johnson seem almost explicable. You can only wonder at what the other candidates must have been like...

Friday, 4 July 2008

Linking in the rain

Ahh, the Cornish summer... I'm just hoping it might start eventually.

Still, there are worse things to be doing on a rainy day than messing around on the internet looking for diverting links to bring you:


Hammer Horror is back. And this time it's on the net...

From the undead to a house that staves off death.

Adam Buxton removes the original subtitles and tries to work out what on earth (or in Heaven) is being sung about on Songs Of Praise (should anyone be unfamiliar with the programme, it's basically karaoke for Christians).


The one I seem to have been playing most often recently is 'guess whether you'll need a jacket.' Too rainy even for that one, though, today. Sigh.

Oh well, I'll Google for some browser games that involve rain:

First result: Rain (predictably enough, I suppose). Actually, more of an interactive sound art thingy, really - pleasant way to pass a few idle minutes, though.

Alphabet Rain isn't really a game either... but I suppose there are worse ways in which to spend a rainy afternoon than learning to type faster.

Erm, actually, Googling for games involving rain really isn't proving all that successful, is it? Still, I did discover somewhere that lets you make your own, should you get the urge: Fyrebug.

Lego Art

Famous photos
recreated in Lego.

The Little Artists take on artists, as well as their art: in this photo they're upsetting a Lego Tracey Emin - wonderful :)

Some Rubik's Cubes seem to have got in on the act at this site.

You can even find entire movies shot in Lego: originals, parodies, remakes, they're all at Brickfilms.

Book stuff

The publisher Hamish Hamilton has a new downloadable (and free) literary zine type thing: Five Dials.

In collaboration with HarperCollins, Amazon has launched Authors in the spotlight. Essentially, new author interviews and extracts (actually, essentially, it's just promotion, but you know what I mean).

Some interactive stories by the person responsible for that musical Rain game above [click 'Stories' in the menu at the top, and also use that to select the stories - the sidebar menu doesn't seem to work].

And finally...

Perhaps, one day, we'll find ourselves having to ask, "Is it really raining, or just an advertising stunt designed to make us look up at the clouds?"