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Posts from the ‘Thoughts’ Category

Reboot – Blog Update

The planets have aligned and a new chapter seems to be opening up with new opportunities

The arrival of a company car (a first for me) has opened up an opportunity to explore new places both in the UK and into Europe without the worry of putting loads of miles on my own car and the cost that this entails. This alone has seen us make a commitment as a family to get out more. To visit new places and explore the country that we live in. So expect to see more day trips getting blogged about. Our approach is simple. If we see somewhere that looks interesting, we will add it to the list and make a point of going there.

In addition, trips onto the EuroTunnel and beyond are likely to become more common so watch this space.

So if you have read through this blog, you will know my love of photography however on recent trips, I have really struggled to get the shots I wanted which has forced me to rethink my approach to photography and resulted in me upgrading my camera equipment. More on that in a future post.

And finally, I am going to use this blog to tell the world about my travels. Both business and personal. Expect to see a bigger emphasis on travel. Whilst I am not claiming that this will be a full on travel blog, travel and photography will be a big theme but as well as trip reports, I will also post more reviews on the restaurants I eat in and hotels I sleep in. After all I already take the time to post reviews on TripAdvisor so why not include those reviews here.

So notable changes, a slightly different approach and more emphasis on travel and traveling. Enjoy the ride



Kicking And Screaming–They Killed Google Reader

Maybe it’s an age thing.

I am sat here questioning if I am turning into a dinosaur.

We used to joke about how you needed to get a child to help their parents program the VCR (remember them?) but I can’t help thinking I am heading in that direction myself.

This week I have been reminded that the online world that I have existed within since around 1995 is constantly changing and evolving as Google has announced the retirement of Google Reader.

For me this was my primary source of news and information online. With some 250  RSS feeds, I was able to sit down in a morning and rattle through hundreds of relevant (and not so relevant) news items in a matter of minutes from many different sources. The workflow was efficient and, in line with modern thinking, I could access this “river of news” from any device at any time. If I read an article on one device it was marked read on all other devices.

But now I am forced to change.

So it’s not as if I haven’t done a whole hearted shift in approach before. Not that long ago I went through the exercise of moving my online world online. Shutting down my own servers and using platforms such as Google Apps, WordPress and SmugMug to do the heaving lifting. Enabling me to concentrate on the content and not the platform.

So Google keep saying that the world of online content is getting more social.

Services such as Zite, Flipboard and others can take these news feeds and present them in an online magazine style with nice graphics, lots of social interaction and what have you. 

These types of services have been described as “Lean Back” services. You sit back in your comfy chair and browse through your magazine. Which is fine if you want to read through a handful of articles but simply doesn’t work for hundreds of news items.

I don’t want fancy graphics and other readers opinions. I want the information delivered straight to me eyeball without distraction and without the ads preferably as I down a cup of strong coffee. See what this always on world of news has turned me into?

But it’s the ads that power the internet and it’s the advertisers that rely on the social element to target those ads accurately. One can’t help thinking that the real reason Google killed Reader is because it didn’t support their primary business. Advertising!

So I have to accept that just like the death of Usenet before it, the concept of raw RSS feeds is an old fashioned one and so I am dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

It doesn’t help that Google Reader was actually a service not a client. So it’s not just about finding a new application to read my news in (like Zite or Feed Demon etc) but a service that all my clients on all my devices can connect back into.

I am currently playing with Feedly and it shows promise. I think with time it could help wean me off my Google Reader addiction whilst still allowing me to stay in touch with all that is happening around me but the good news is that I am not alone.

Bloggers around the world are screaming about what Google has done so I am sure there will be plenty of opinions on which service is a worthy replacement and all of those opinions will continue to be delivered into my River Of News on a daily basis.

More connected but I still haven’t got my flying car

Well another year has passed and even though I am sure that the vision of the future included hover boards and flying cars, Santa isn’t bringing me any of these this year.

So what has changed in the last 12 months?

Often it hard to pick out those advances in technology that impact your day to day life because the don’t arrive with a big bang. The arrive bit by bit so that you think you have always done things in a certain way.

I mean 6 years ago, none of us were using Facebook or Twitter and now look.

But as I get to the end of 2012 I can’t help noticing that my life and my home is a lot more connected.

Take my living room as an example.

Suddenly that stack of AV kit in the corner of the room has an Ethernet switch connected to it. My Sky+ box has an internet connection, my Yamaha AV amplifier has an internet connection and of course there is an Apple TV in there which again is a connected device. We had none of these connections 12 months ago.

And of course all of that is controlled not by your common or garden remote control but by an app running on an iPad or an Android phone etc.


But not only is everything connected to the web, but more importantly everything is connected to everything else plus because all of this is connected to the web, I can access a lot of things from outside of the home.

Want to set something to record on BBC1 tomorrow night but find yourself halfway around the world? Not a problem. A few clicks on your phone and the recording is scheduled.

And it’s not just in the home.

My car is a rolling WiFi hotspot. My phone can connect to it to access the internet. Plus the satnav has it’s own data connection which it uses to connect to Google Earth to they display that satellite imagery onto the screen on the dashboard


Meanwhile my phone is talking to various back end servers and my PC on my desk and by iPad and loads of other things all at the same time.

I’m pretty sure that things were not this connected or as easy to get connected either this time 12 months ago. Add to that, a lot of things are going mobile.

You want to hope that the network carriers have got good plans in place to carry all this new mobile data.

Certainly we are moving towards a more connected world and a much more mobile world but so far, the world of the future still doesn’t have my flying car.

Virtual Tourism

It’s no secret that I love to travel. See new places, experience different cultures, try different food and so on. At the same time I have to balance this against the ever increasing cost of air travel, hotel costs, tourist taxes and what have you.

But at a conference in Frankfurt a couple of years ago, one of the keynote speakers was Dr Robert Ballard who is a oceanographer and devotes his life to exploring the depths of our oceans . His big claim to fame is that it was he who discovered the wreck of the Titanic.

He talked about how technology now enabled him to explore deeper and for longer than ever before. By using robots backed up with high speed data communications, instead of flying out to a ship somewhere in the Pacific Ocean and then spending 2 hours slowly descending in a submarine to spend just 2 hours exploring before spending 2 more hours trying to get back to the surface without getting the bends, he can now do his exploration from the comfort of a university campus on the mainland.

Not only is this safer, but it means where as before he was limited to just 2 hours per day of exploration, he can now spend days and weeks at the bottom of the sea bed discovering new life forms as he goes.

But he had taken this one stage further.

Not only did he have a control centre for the remote sub in his office, he had actually managed to roll out a number of these control centres to a number of other universities, colleges and schools. We were shown a video of a group of 10 year olds not only watching live images from the bottom of the Pacific but they were actually in control of the submarine. Controlling the sub in much the same way as a PlayStation they were able to tell it where to look and where to go.

Robert Ballard At TED

As you can imagine, the kids were hooked from that point on.

But the point made was that if you can virtually place a 10 year old at the bottom of the Pacific, then you could probably place them anywhere and thus the conversation around Virtual Tourism.

Scale this back a bit and whilst you have Dr Ballard exploring the depths, there are a number of commercial organisations who have been mapping and scanning the surface for a number of years. The most obvious example of this is Google with their StreetView project.

StreetView Image

There are now a number of free services that really do enable you to be virtually there. To walk around, change your point of view and explore the world.

Earlier in the year, Google launched their 3D Photo Tours for more than 15,000 landmarks which takes the existing StreetView imagery and adds photos submitted via Panoramio and Picasa Web users taking the detail and quality to a whole new level.

And they haven’t stopped there.

As well as their StreetView camera cars, Google have also mounted their cameras on the backs of bikes and been cycling around places that were previously inaccessible from Stonehenge to Disneyland

Likewise Microsoft have introduced a similar idea into Bing Maps where you are once again able to walk along a street.

Indeed on some of these services you are not only able to walk along a street but actually enter the stores and look around there as well.

But what really caught my attention today was the launch of Googles World Wonders Project where they have collected a number of historical sites together for you to explore and discover all from the comfort of your arm chair.


So for my son Sam who is 9 years old, virtual tourism is here. Before we went to Budapest in the Spring I found him exploring the city using StreetView. He doesn’t have to wait for us to jump on a plane to discover what a new place looks like. He can do that today.

But it’s not the same is it?

These are still static images. You don’t get a feel for the place, the sounds, the smells the people. Sure I can visit a beach on StreetView but I can’t feel the sun on my face or hear the waves crashing on the sand.

But for a 9 year old, he is still able to experience and discover places I could only dream about when I was that age or had to read about in a book.

But there is something new on the horizon.

Project Glass. Again from Google.

These are a pair of glasses that recognise where you are and allow you to overlay computer generated information on the world in front of you

But remember that this is Google. And whilst a lot of what we see about Google is the content they give us, most of their business is built on the information they gather from us.

Here we suddenly have the concept of a roaming camera walking the streets and feeding data back to them. Suddenly StreetView can actually get right into your living room or kitchen and that whole virtual model they have of the world gets even more detailed. I am not sure however I would like to have my bedroom featured on the Internet.

But all of this technology allows you to roam around a virtual world that happened at some point in the past.

Thinking back to Robert Ballard, what he was doing was in real time. Using robots.

This technology is often referred to as TelePresence and there are a number of variations on this.

I have already mentioned how we can transport a 10 year old to the bottom of the Pacific but there are more down to earth applications.

Anybots is a company that can sell you a virtual you. A robot that roams around your workplace whilst you sit in your home office. It allows you to virtually walk around your workplace and actually see in real time what is going on. It has a screen on it so people can see you as well so in theory, you could virtually walk up to somebodies desk and have a face to face conversation with them


Applying this to tourism, maybe I could rent one of these online and then use it to explore a city from the comfort of my armchair. This way I could see the location in real time and see moving images and hear the sounds. You could even interact with the locals as they could see and hear you as well.

If however you think tourists on Segways are bad enough, wait until you see a herd of these coming down the pavement towards you when you are out buying a newspaper on a Sunday morning.

And then there are the Google self driving cars (yes really)


We now have a car that can drive itself on public roads so perhaps we could be all virtual tourists inside that car and go on a virtual road trip?

Personally I don’t see how this differs much from a coach tour where you pass through town after town and can only stare out of the windows as the real world passes you by. Maybe I could use it to transport my Anybot to the beach?

But the important point here is that all this technology exists right now. This is not science fiction. It is also not virtual reality where you have computer simulations of the real world.

This is reality it’s just that you are looking into it remotely.

So with the cost of travel rising and time becoming a precious commodity, is virtual tourism the answer?

I would like to say no but really can see where the technology plays it’s part.

For Sam who is learning about Egypt for a school project, what better way to learn that to spend a few hours walking around Cairo and the Pyramids?

And for those for who travel is just a dream due to age, ability or just a fear of flying it gives them a taste and gets them closer than they have ever been able to get before.

And of course as the political map constantly changes, there are countries today I would not travel to that only a couple of years ago were considered prime holiday destinations. For now this is the only way I can get to experience them.

So I think virtual tourism is real and to some people is the only option but until the technology allows me to see, hear, smell, touch and interact, my preference will still be to travel and actually be there.

2012–Looking Forwards

If you have read my post regarding 2011 then you will know, most things turned out well and I managed to tick off most of the stuff I wanted to do.

So now we are into 2012 and it’s time to look ahead and set some goals.

Read more


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