Tag Archives: holiday

Broken motorbikes, Sky TV and Office 2013


Now that the extended holiday season has finally finished, I thought I’d update everyone on what’s been going on recently, or more accurately, what I’ve been up to.

For one thing, I haven’t been cycling a lot recently. After our family summer holiday and really poor weather when we returned, I ended up not cycling for 4 weeks. I then got back on the bike and was shocked how much fitness I’d lost. Fortunately the fitness returned relatively, although my Strava times are still low. 

On the subject of cycling, last summer I read Lance Armstrong’s autobiography and loved every page. It was a truly inspirational book especially for anyone with cancer. I am torn between trying to understand that he allegedly cheated, and respecting him for the inspirational he has given so many cancer patients.

I’ve now installed Office 2013 on my work laptop and both home PCs. I’ve only encountered one major problem which was caused during an upgrade process where I clicked on a ‘Next’ button to begin installation. I clicked a couple more times and ended up installing Office three times on the same PC! Not only would none of the Office apps run any longer, I couldn’t uninstall the thing either. After some perseverance I managed to uninstall and reinstall Office again as I described in the Office 2013 forums.

This week I’ve been asked to review a social media report, which I’ll try to do on the weekend and post here. If there’s anything else you need me to review or want my opinion, please contact me, preferably by Twitter.

I had to be home quite early a couple of weeks ago, so I rode to work on my motorbike. I left home extra early and after filling up with petrol the battery had gone and I couldn’t restart the bike. The Green Flag motorcycle breakdown truck arrived in less than an hour and kept me regularly updated by text message – I thoroughly recommend them as a breakdown service.

A couple of days later they sent me a questionnaire to complete and return to them. I can’t remember the last time I completed a paper feedback form, and I don’t understand why they didn’t use an online tool to save costs – and I’d probably have filled it in by now rather than put it on the desk in the ‘to do’ piling tray.

And finally, last but by no means least, the Howard family have finally moved to Sky. It started when I contacted BT Vision, which I’ve defended and promoted to everyone who would listen over the last few years. The tipping point though was calling them to ask for the Sky Sports channels. The increased cost put the service on a par with Sky, which I didn’t mind, but I had to pay to upgrade my BT Vision box to the latest version to accept the Sky Sports channels. I didn’t even mind this, but I was annoyed that even the latest version of BT Vision doesn’t support HD channels. So I compared Sky, Virgin and BT packages. Virgin was about £30 a month more expensive than Sky for what we all wanted. Sky was £10 more than BT Vision if I included the HD channels, which we have gone for.

The most impressive thing about moving from BT Vision to Sky has been the speed and communication. It took three days from ordering online to an engineer coming to the house and installing Sky. The phone line and broadband are due to be switched over on Monday, ten working days after I’d ordered Sky. I keep receiving text messages of the latest status, and it’s all very impressive. Sky even contacted BT to let them know I was leaving. 

I’ll let you know how the phone and broadband transition goes – I already have the router waiting to be plugged in on Monday.


Holiday report


Last Tuesday, which now seems an age ago, we came back from our family holiday to Israel. Since then I’ve been to Germany and New York and back, and am looking forward to staying in the UK for a while.

I have a belief of not doing work while on holiday. Otherwise it’s not a holiday. I find it takes about 4-5 days to completely forget about work, so for a fortnight’s holiday, I can come back after ten days of a real break from work, and think much more creatively than when I went away. I find the break from work really helps the mind ‘cool down’. When I have worked during a holiday, the return to work has never been quite the same.

I still take a family laptop away, mainly as a backup for the day’s photos. I take a lot of photos on holiday – usually between 2 and 3,000, and once we’re back I usually whittle this down to around ten percent.

I find that backing up photos to the laptop doesn’t quite give me the peace of mind, that the photos are really safe, so I’ve been using a folder on Dropbox to back them up. I’m using Dropbox more and more, mainly because it integrates so well with Windows – so I can work on the photos in Picasa directly from Dropbox.

Israel is a very technologically advanced country. There is a true start-up culture there, and almost all the large, familiar, IT brands have offices in the country. I’ve discussed Waze on this blog before, and it’s still by far the most popular mapping technology in Israel.


Waze provides turn by turn directions on a journey and reports traffic conditions as soon as other Waze users report them. Waze can then reroute based on what the rest of the community is doing. So if a Waze user reports a car is blocking a lane on a motorway, Waze will start routing other users around the area. Also, if most users prefer a different route to what other mapping tools provide, Waze will use this community data for its users.

With Apple no longer shipping iPhones with Google Maps, there are several other Israeli start-ups creating map apps with new features. I got to see one of them, which made Google Maps and TomTom look ancient. The app isn’t due for release until October, and I was asked not to include it in this blog, so I’ll report on it when it is released.

Another good app that I saw was services.me. It’s a personal CRM tool that records your conversations with call centres, and collects the data to remind you to follow up the conversation. When you first download the app it’s pretty blank. The first time you need to call a utility company, you type in the name of the company and the app downloads the relevant plugin. You then dial the company via the app (at normal call rates), and the app records your conversation. Once you’re finished, the app uploads your voice recording to its service, and asks you if you need to follow up again, or was the matter resolved. Over time, you’ll download more and more plugins for your energy company, phone company, garage, etc. Users who have installed services.me say that they don’t know how they lived without it, the sign of a really useful app!


The London Metro, the free newspaper, ran a story a few months ago about how Londoners look like zombies when they walk along the pavements looking at their mobile phone. Since that article I’ve stopped using my phone on the pavement, and watched people bumping into lampposts, each other, and shop doors. And as a cyclist, I’ve seen too many people walk across the road without looking up. They are all zombies.

In Israel it’s exactly the same. Only I noticed it wherever we went. Even in remote areas people were walking along, typing, playing or whatever else they were doing on their phone. And I noticed more children in a zombie state than I’ve noticed in the UK.


In the UK we have pretty good free Wifi coverage. I know, because my kids are always hunting for free Wifi on their iPod touches. In Israel, free Wifi is in available pretty much everywhere. I don’t use data when roaming abroad because it’s so expensive, but I was able to use data on my iPhone pretty much everywhere. I usually had a harder time charging my iPhone than getting free Wifi! Free Wifi is even available on the beach – yes, I “checked in” on FourSquare!


Although Israel is a very technology literate country, and for people in hi-tech (as it’s called) the cost of living (salaries and rent/mortgage) is roughly the same as London, iPads are seen as a top end luxury. I still think the iPad is overpriced (the UK and globally) and I’m amazed at its sales success. Many of my friends in the UK have an iPad, and I’ve been to conferences recently where I was the only person not with an iPad. Talking to friends in Israel in hi-tech, they all say they’ll buy one tablet device or another in the future, but only a couple of people I knew there actually owned on.


NHS Direct


I was disappointed to hear that the government have decided to shut down NHS Direct for a number of reasons.

On a personal note, as a family we have used the service many times. With four young kids we have all sorts of germs and knocks each month, and we’ve always received a good service from NHS Direct.

As a concept I think the service is spot on. When we were on holiday last week, one of us felt a bit under the weather. The local hospital was glad to see tourists, for a few hundred pounds on the first consultation. We had travel insurance, but to lay out the money and the aggravation of going to A&E on hospital just didn’t appear. Whilst looking through the travel insurance documentation I noticed a phone number to speak to some private nurses, free of charge for the policy. After a quick call they gave a satisfactory opinion, some confident reassurance and suggested remedy. We took their advice and 24 hours later the problem had gone, with no inconvenience of having to claim back any expenses later when we returned from holiday.

If you try to imagine how healthcare will operate (no pun intended) in say, 25 years, I think we’ll have a lot more remote healthcare. We will sit at home and have a video call with a doctor based anywhere in the World. As for how the doctor performs his tests (temperature, blood pressure and so on) – these devices are already available with USB connectivity (e.g. this BP monitor or this thermometer patent request), to send your results through immediately.

Maybe NHS Direct is ahead of it’s time. When I speak to Americans, they are totally envious of our NHS, including NHS Direct. The thought of phoning a service that provides medical assurance (I would imagine this covers half the calls – and keeps the people who just want reassurance out of A&E) and advice – all without providing a credit card, is alien to most countries around the World.

I for one, will be sad to see it go.

Crowd-sourcing on holiday


While I was in Israel on holiday, I used FourSquare a reasonable amount (basically, whenever I could get free Wifi access, because data roaming charges are prohibitively expensive). A number of friends over there had heard of FourSquare, but I didn’t come across anyone who actually used it.

Despite none of my friends having heard of it, almost everywhere we visited was already listed. This made me think that perhaps FourSquare has a similar crawler to search engines, which is constantly looking for business names and addresses, and placing them within the FourSquare database.

A site that is much bigger than FourSquare in Israel is Waze (pronounced ‘Ways’). Waze is 99% a free mobile app (iPhone, Android and Blackberry), which runs all the time, and as you drive along, it plots the roads you travel on. It also takes note of your speed.

You can then add police speedcheck areas, cameras, accidents and so on. This enables other Waze users to use their app to plan a route, and then see the virtually-live traffic on that route, as well as police speed traps, etc.

Waze is a really clever use of crowd-sourcing technology, put to use for a real purpose. Quite how they will make money I’m not so sure.

I downloaded Waze when I was back from holiday, and the app warned me that it had only just launched in the UK, so most roads and details still weren’t collected yet. 

Maybe so, however most of the side roads near my home were already in the system, so it’s probably exploding at a quicker pace than even Waze realise.

Handling the post holiday Inbox

Today is my first day back in the office after a fortnight on holiday in Israel. Over the next few days I’ll write some blog entries regarding some Digital Media stuff that’s going on over there.

In the meantime, I had the dreaded return-from-holiday-and-see-the-massive-Inbox nightmare that awaits everyone these days. There are a number of strategies to handle the hundreds of emails, but my personal favourite was from a brave lawyer at a previous employer.

On the morning after the Xmas break and his summer holiday, he would simply delete all the emails in his inbox. His theory was that people would see his ‘Out of office’ automatic response during these breaks, and would contact him again on his return.

A brilliant idea that I have passed on to several people.

Did I do it? Nope, I’m just not that brave!

Back from holiday and thanks to Sky

Apologies for no posts over the last couple of weeks – I took a much-overdue holiday over the Easter break.

Once I arrived back to the office, I had the almost standard 500 emails-whilst-on-holiday. Why is Outlook so rubbish at collating emails properly by conversation? I hoped that Google Wave would make Microsoft wake up and try to improve Outlook for the first time in 10 years, and judging by the marketing fluff on the Outlook 2010 page, it might become a reality.

Back to home life, and at Maison Howard we have BT Vision rather than Sky TV. So when the Barcelona v Arsenal game was only shown on Sky TV, we watched the game via the legal live stream.

How much do you think it costs to watch a pay per view game on the Internet? Bear in mind that the game was the quarter final of the Champions League, and I’m not a Sky subscriber, I thought that £3 was excellent value.

We have a laptop permanently hooked up to the TV, and watched the game in reasonable quality. I would have been willing to pay an extra couple of quid for a higher quality version. BT Vision doesn’t cost any monthly fee, the Vision box is excellent (pretty much identical to Sky Plus) and we watch a few pay per view movies each month, plus a couple of pay per view streams from Sky over the Internet, and our TV bill comes to less than £15 a month.

Of course, nothing could change the result of the match and so I won’t be paying for any more Champions League this season.