Archive for December, 2005

Alexa’s crawler is yours!

December 15, 2005

From, we read the following

The Alexa Web Search Platform provides public access to the vast web crawl collected by Alexa Internet. Users can search and process billions of documents — even create their own search engines — using Alexa’s search and publication tools. Alexa provides compute and storage resources that allow users to quickly process and store large amounts of web data. Users can view the results of their processes interactively, transfer the results to their home machine, or publish them as a new web service.

This is tremendous. Read more about the implications in this Wired story

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Orange is committed to providing excellent customer service

December 6, 2005

“Orange is committed to providing excellent customer service” is the first thing you hear when you phone in.

Well, you can be the judge. Here’s what happened (most notes provided verbatim while on the phone sitting in front of my computer, having lunch – no comment).

1. I bought I shiny Nokia N70 (reviewed in previous entry) from the Orange site.

2. During the order confirmation process, I was offered various accessories for that specific phone. One attractive offer was a 256MB SanDisk RS-MMC card. Always wanting more memory, I selected that option. Note that it was the *ONLY* memory card being promoted, and I was already far down a path unique to my N70 purchase.

3. All arrived, working fine, the supplied/default 64MB card works, but the SanDisk gives me ‘no memory card inserted’. Duh: the card I received, indeed the only card being offered, is inherently incompatible (a quick scouring of the web has now educated me to the fact that a ‘DV’ or dual voltage card is required – this wasn’t it, nor was such an option even on offer to me).

4. I thought I’d better go through the website in order to report my problem, and double-check the way it was billed on my account. So I tried logging in via the ‘your account’ option on But I got “The page cannot be displayed” after quite a long delay. Maybe a firewall issue, who knows. Tried two different browsers, same result.

5. Keen to get the card replaced, but not having an obvious site or number to hand I phone the registration line that I used originally (07973 700 980). A long menu-walk-through leads me to a disconnected line.

6. I phone the generic customer services line (07973 100 150). A helpful discussion there informs me that I need to speak to a “customer services representative” (which is whom thought I already had). I hold on, to be passed through to this next person.

7. The customer services representative informs me that I need to phone a separate number to speak with the “14-day-money-back guarantee” people, since they have jurisdiction over my situation.

8. I phone the 14-day-money-back line (0800 0790103) and the chap there tells me that I need to speak to a “telesales representative”. Reluctant to lose the thread, I mention that I’m already many steps along in the chain, and didn’t want to let go. The chap puts me on hold while he speaks personally to a telesales representative. The telesales representative tells this chap that “accessories are handled by another company, called Dextra” and that I need to speak with them directly. I say “how will they know it’s me or how to deal with my account and billing, which are handled entirely by Orange?” He says “they’ll probably have you on file when you give them your number”.

9. I phone Dextra (0870 901 5011)
“Welcome to Dextra…
If you have a query.. press 1
“… return of an item.. press 3…”

OK; I press 3… friendly person… “what’s your order number…” … aargh haven’t got that stuff with me, but that’s OK, she says, “I can try to get in touch with Orange, see if they can track it for me… just need your name and postcode and delivery date..” [I supply this info… she gets through to Orange while I hold, then gets back to me]. She then says, “the only memory card we do for the N70 is the 64MB”

Hmmm… but I’m holding their supplied 256MB card in my hand…

After some more discussion, she helpfully gives me a Freepost address and “returns number”, and says that if I send the memory card back, Dextra will contact Orange and arrange for my credit card to be credited with the cost of the card.

So most likely a happy ending. But a much longer saga than necessary. I should have known to double-check such an accessory very carefully beforehand, but it was the only option of its kind, and appeared to be specific to the N70. Oh well.

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The truth about the Nokia N70 3G phone

December 5, 2005

SUMMARY: Nokia’s N70 is a reasonable all-rounder; not ‘the best’ on any single feature, but an excellent ‘Swiss-Army Phone’. Yes, it combines the functionality of all seven creaky old gadgets in this photo: phone, digital still camera, PDA, video camera, FM radio, MP3 player, portable TV – and it’s roughly the same size as that old mobile phone! No, it can’t possibly outperform them all. You need to think about what you really want it for, and go in with your eyes open.


On 27th September 2004, when Vodafone promised a massive 3G assault for Christmas (2004) with the launch of several new models, I wrote in a blog entry at the time:

as soon as I can get a phone incoporporating a tiny 3.2 megapixel camera that also takes my SD memory card from my other gadgets, I’ll get one.

Well, over a year later, I decided it was time to jump. Sure, there’s always something better just about to be released, and no, I didn’t choose 3.2Megapixels or care about SD memory: I decided that the Nokia N70 had pretty much all the attributes I wanted (expandible memory, FM radio, 3G, video, sync with my desktop calendar and contacts), and in the right form factor (‘candy bar’ design, quite compact). Besides the ads were practically offering to pay me to take the damn thing: so I got it.
On the right is the obligatory picture of the gadget itself, courtesy BestBuyMobilePhones.

Years ago I had abandoned a Nokia 7650 cameraphone: just like the ancient Rio MP3 (sneaked into the photo above) that was a UK first, we had the UK’s first camera phone, and in fact sent it with Lorenzo Gariano up the Matterhorn for a live webcast). Alas, the 7650 was too big, and sending text messages was a far worse experience than, say, using the now-classic Nokia 3330, so I downgraded. But here we are practically in 2006. So, still appreciating that a dedicated ‘simple phone’ was undoubtedly better at being, well, a simple phone, I was in need of an ‘all-rounder’ that would serve as an ‘on-demand’ tool that could help me avoid carrying extra gadgets: yes, the “Swiss Army Gadget” that many others have talked about.

There are already so many reviews of the N70 on the web that I don’t need to repeat what most of them say (and you should search around before buying, obviously). Instead, I want to take a different slant, kind of like I’ve done before in my August 2003 review of the iPaq 5550/5555 (and a September 2003 followup), and my July 2004 blog entry entitled “Truth about Tablet PC” (and a November 2004 followup on Corante entitled Comfort Zones: More Road Warrior’s ‘Truth About Tablet PC’). In the latter article I wrote:

…. 3 different lean-forward “zones”, as follows:

  • arm reach (typical desktop and laptop use)
  • elbow reach (typical tablet and PDA use)
  • shoulder reach (typical phone use)

In a nutshell the Tablet PC can be used in a comfort zone that is more like that of a PDA, which makes it not only suitable for pretty private and comfortable use in crowded circumstances like those you encounter on an airplane, but also for taking notes at meetings

Looking at that ‘comfort zones’ commentary when writing up this article today reminded me that there are some specific factors you need to consider when purchasing a ‘modern multi-purpose mobile (smart)phone’, and which don’t get mentioned in many reviews, so I’ve written them down below:

1. Grab without thinking: If you have to think twice about whether to carry a gadget with you on Errand X or Trip Y or Meeting Z, then it’s too big. The N70 is an absolute winner on this front: it’s always in your pocket, without a second thought.

2. Thumb-centric vs pen-centric operation: if you’re making the jump to a smartphone (i.e. phone with PDA functionality), one key attribute you should consider is whether you prefer to enter short items with your thumb or with a pen (touch-screens can do both, but a thumb is too inaccurate so let’s just say thumb vs pen). Another way to think about this is one-handed (hold gadget + use thumb) vs two-handed (hold gadget + use pen) operation. For many applications, pen-centric is great, and for others, it gets in the way. I decided to move to thumb-centric because it fit better with my daily usage patterns.

3. Satisficing beats moving goalposts: when Nobel-prize winner Herb Simon invented ‘satisficing’ in 1957, he meant (among other things) that people had a great gift for triming a search space opting for solutions that were less-than-optimal but ‘just good enough’. Since Moore’s Law means there will always be a better gadget around the corner, and indeed the special-purpose gadgets (MP3 player, camera, etc) will get better even faster than an all-purpose Swiss Army Gadget), you just need to decide on your threshold of ‘just good enough’ acceptability for the features you want, and go for it.

So yes, the N70 is a good all-rounder. The era of ‘jaw-dropping surprises’ is over: the fact that the N70 can do so much of what it does, and so well, ought to amaze us, but our expectations keep growing and we are increasingly hard to impress.

Finally, what are my biggest gripes? Just two:

1. If you are a text-messaging fanatic, you will be unhappy with the N70: the keys are too small, and, most importantly, the ‘Clear/delete backwards key’ is in the wrong place, certainly for right-handed users. For me, this is an acceptable tradeoff given the good screen size and compact size of the phone (all things considered).

2. Scrolling through news/articles/messages/emails of more than, say, 30 lines in length is annoying because there is a ‘discontinuity jump’ as each new segment is rendered, which makes it hard for your brain to ‘do the right thing’, the way it can when scrolling even longish articles on most PDAs. This is not so good: it means au revoir to those New York Times articles perused using AvantGo on my PDA (so I may have to keep the PDA for that reason!).

Just to expand on that last point a little, I read a lot of news on my PDA. As I wrote in a commentary about ‘WSJ Quits Avantgo’:

AvantGo differs from typical (automated) RSS feeds in that it is a ‘clipping service’, which offers a ‘sensibly-rendered’ variant of news feeds that look quite nice on a PDA, and contain all the important content. Not as rich as the full web experience, but not as impoverished as many RSS feeds.

Well, I note that AvantGo at last offers RSS feeds), so I’ll have to think a little about the best way to deal with ‘news on the go’. For short clips/headlines, news browsing via the embedded HTML/XHTML browser on a 3G Nokia N70 is fine. For longer stories, I don’t think the N70 makes the ‘above threshold’ cut.

So, there you have it. Now to deploy my new productivity tool (by ignoring it).

[UPDATE: Don’t get me wrong, this is one gorgeous phone! By ‘ignoring it’ immediately above I mean ‘letting it blend unobtrusively into my activities, without fuss’. I’ve got a trial of the OrangeTV service with about a dozen channels – I regard this as a cute ‘proof of concept’; ‘it works’, with minor hiccups as you might expect, but I doubt whether I’ll actually want to pay £10 monthly for the service;]

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