Archive for the 'The Digital World' Category

10 Years on Facebook

It is hard to imagine life without Facebook. Wait, one of my best friends is still not on Facebook so maybe it’s not that hard to imagine it after all! Anyway, earlier this year in about May time, Facebook alerted me that I have been on Facebook for 10 years. A whole decade on Facebook, so many wasted hours of my life I thought, but so many other connections too. It really feels like yesterday when I writing about my 5 Years on Facebook.

When I joined back in 2006, Facebook really was a niche network, just available to University students, you simply could not have an account on it without a university email address, it was a closed network and only available to that university. A directory of students for Imperial College only with the wall, groups and photo sharing. There was no newsfeed, no elaborate status updates and obviously there were no smartphones at the time, so it was a desktop version only. In April 2006, it came to Imperial College and spread like wildfire at the tech savvy campus. Soon my hockey team was on it, and so was my music club. Facebook was all student banter at the time, a safe place away from the rest of the world.

It was a big company in its own right at that stage, but early social media wasn’t really mainstream then. Although I have covered what it was like in the early days in my 5 years on Facebook blog post, looking back here are the big changes Facebook has gone through over the last 10 years from my own memory.

  • Opening Facebook to schools as well, in addition to universities – Uni students were not happy about this.
  • Joining the closed university networks into one – This killed off the internal privacy universities had, and Imperial Students could see the groups of say, Harvard. This was a pretty cool move actually, and I made a lot of friends in the US that way. In fact in 2014 I visited the US and met one of them in person. And some have been to London and I have met them.
  • Mini feed – Students hated this one initially, no one wanted what they were writing on other friends walls or pictures they were uploading plastered for everyone to see. It was even called “stalkbook” by students for a while. It is hard to imagine Facebook without its newsfeed now, but believe it or not there was no newsfeed once upon a time.
  • Opening up Facebook to the rest of the world – To students this was the ultimate betrayal, and watering down of Facebook. Facebook was no longer there for student banter, and everyone was in on this now. This happened in 2007, and Facebook started to appear in mainstream newspapers by then.
  • Facebook going mobile – No doubt this has caused the biggest growth for Facebook. The addictive power of Facebook on mobiles has killed off countless hours for its users.
  • Ditching Forum Type Discussions and Facebook Pages – Facebook ditched posts with subject threads, and went all out for the timeline only option for its groups. It also launched Facebook Pages.
  • Timeline – Old posts were getting buried deep into Facebook, so Facebook smartened up and re-organised all the data in organised year by timelines on profiles and pages.
  • On This Day – Old items were buried in the past. On this Day has been a clever way of bringing out old posts and reviving them.
  • New Newsfeed – Facebook learnt from twitter and introduced a new newsfeed and with @ type mentions. Replies also became embedded within the wall. Before that in order to reply to someone else you would have to go to their wall.
  • Facebook Livestream –  By far the coolest thing Facebook have done for me. They took a leaf out of Google Hangouts books and introduced real time video livestreaming for anyone. This is brand new for 2016 and Facebook have really pushed this hard. Not many use it, but I do, especially to livestream my own gigs and my band gigs.

10 years in the world of computing is a huge amount and Facebook has become a global phenomenon in its own right. It has poltical clout and has no doubt affected politics around the world. For me, it remains an awesome new way to keep in touch with old friends and continuously make new ones. Its addictive power can be problem however, and it is best to consider it as part of a real social network. I am glad I was part of this right from (nearly) the very start. Looking forward to what lies ahead!

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iPhone 6s Plus – My Review

I splashed out and got myself a new phone! After 5 long years I upgraded my iPhone 4, which I reviewed back in 2010. Gosh 5 years is a long, long time and I am proud to have made my iPhone 4 last that long. The hardware of that phone is beautiful and had it not been for how slow the phone had become with new software I still wouldn’t have replaced it. This is one of the annoying things about smartphones, they have become like PCs of the 1990s/2000s. Bulky software is built year on year to slow down perfectly good machines.

How I used my iPhone 4 over the last 5 years
The smartphone experience has been truly amazing. In the time I had my smartphone most web based applications went mobile and it is hard to imagine that at some point in time I was emailing and social media-ing and even working using a desktop PC! I used my iPhone 4 to the max, work and play. By tutoring on it on Skype and FaceTime I more than made up for its investment. I started using my desktop PC less and less, and as the world moved more towards cloud computing I even moved many of my documents and spreadsheets online. As a self employed person I have a google docs spreadsheet that does my tax return and keeps my books up to date as and when I get payments or have expenses. By entering these as and when they happen I’m completely on top of my business accounts all the time. Having my bank’s own app on my phone also helps me pay people and stay on top of my spending as I have instant access to my accounts any time of day from anywhere in the world on my phone.

I used my phone to record videos – my music, videoblogs and educational videos. I used the audio recording to record notes, talks and band rehearsals. I used apps to teach maths and Science. And travel apps such as Citymapper and National Rail enquiries are a lifesaver and it’s hard to imagine what life was like before these. Onwards and upwards to the new iPhone 6s Plus experience.

Huge Plus Size
The iPhone 6s Plus is massive. It’s a mini tablet and there’s no lying about it. It can fit into one hand, just. But operating it for the most part needs both hands.

IMG_7096

Awesome big screen on the iPhone 6s Plus. Note the awkward one hand grip.

Gripping it firmly with one hand at first felt like a challenge and even now I don’t feel like I’ve got as secure a grip of it when just using one hand. I’m still adapting to handling the sheer size of the phone. There is a double tap function that brings the screen down so the topmost icons can be handled by one hand, but not sure if that helps too much. On the picture I have posted, you can see that one handed my thumb struggles to reach the very top icons.

Nontheless the bigger keyboard and keys are a real joy to work with, and I always felt my fingers were missing the mark with the keyboard on my old phone. I got the big phone on purpose, and it for its big clear screen, and this it certainly does not disappoint me with. Here’s why:

Screen Resolution and Size
The iPhone 4 screen was revolutionary for its time, there was nothing crisper and more beautiful than the Retina display. The iPhone 6s screen feels even smoother, but the jump from a non smartphone to a retina screen was so big that this next increment seems and feels minor. The iPhone 6s Plus screen experience is completely different to the minuscule iPhone 4 screen. Watching my old imported photos and videos showed how limited the screen capacity of my old phone was. Using Instagram makes the square sized photos that much bigger and clearer. I watch more documentaries and videos on my new phone. It has more or less even replaced my desktop for that purpose.

One thing I like is the auto brightness adjust, the brightness is always subtle but never overpowering. I found that Samsung tablets and smartphones have that overpowering glow on the screen especially when using them in low light. The iPhone screen remains easy and relaxed on the eye as it senses the light level. This is an improvement on my old phone by a long way.

Apple Pay and Touch ID
Contactless payment is revolutionary and I’ve embraced it fully. One of the best things about the new iPhone 6s is that I can pay using the phone, and unlike a contactles card I need to authorise the payment first. I feel this is more secure than a contactless card. Touch ID is simple and secure, the middle button recognises one of my fingers and unlocks the phone instantly. It also acts as authorisation for when I have to pay via Apple Pay. I now use my phone to pay for day to day grocery shopping and anything less than £20, from bookstores to guitar shops.

Camera
I have learnt a lot about photography using my phone camera, and it is hard to believe that I’ve had a camera on my phone since 2005. In 10 years I have learnt about composition, getting a good frame, and a bit about exposure and how that affects day v low light photography. Smartphone cameras are really good now, and I would say that learning how to take good photographs is way more important. A good camera helps, but photography skills, even simple ones can be learnt and are more important than getting a better camera. I am no pro photographer, but I am becoming a better amateur day by day 🙂

Santa Claus toy photo on iPhone 6s Plus

Close up photo taken on the  iPhone 6s Plus

There is so much hype on iPhone camera photos that it is hard to be objective on this. The iPhone 4 camera was miles ahead of its competition at the time. The 2014 poster campaign ‘shot on the iPhone 6’ further cemented the iPhone camera’s superiority. A lot of it may well be hype as other phones no doubt have good cameras by now. The iPhone 4 camera was extremely good in daylight already and in all honesty I find that softly lit outdoor photos are almost the same quality on the new phone. Nonetheless the contrast and sharpness on the new phone is very apparent. Additionally the camera also detects faces and optimises exposure accordingly. This is a godsend when taking an image against a white background or clouds, the old phone would try and optimise for the white background and make everyone too dark. The face detect knows exactly what to optimise for. This makes taking photos more automatic, accurate and better quality. Where the new iPhone 6s Plus wins hands down however is low light photography. It shows colours in low light with beautiful contrast and vivid bright and colourful detail. Taking photos at night or indoors under artificial light has become a real pleasure.

China Town London, taken on iPhone 6s Plus with no filter

China Town London at night, taken on iPhone 6s Plus with no filter

There is also a higher resolution front mode camera, and while the lens does not match up the quality of the main camera, having a better front camera is very useful to me as I use it during online tuition using FaceTime. Both cameras have a flash, but I’ve never been a fan of using a flash, even on a DSLR so I can’t really write about that since I haven’t used it.

The video quality on the iPhone 6s Plus is substantially better than the iPhone 4, it works faster and can capture video in clearer resolution and even up to 4K! Personally I found the old setting of 720 just as good and there’s no reason for me to go higher than that. The new iPhone takes 720 video much more efficiently than the iPhone 4 and videos take up a lot lot less memory space. The following video clip was taken in a loud surrounding and both the video and sound quality capture are crisp and clear. I have seen this on a big desktop screen going via hi fi speakers and it sounds and looks good!

In summary for the camera, massive improvement for low light and indoor photos and a general contrast and crispness improvement overall. I was considering buying a good quality point and shoot Canon Powershot camera but now I don’t think I need one.

3-D Touch
It took me ages to get used to this, as at first pushing too hard on the screen made me feel like I was going to break the screen. We still think of touch screens as fragile so pushing into it that bit harder felt unnatural at first. I have well and truly come to love this feature and I think this will catch on slowly as more apps become compatible. The way this works is that by pressing on the screen lightly it temporarily opens up the entire window of the preview, let go and the screen disappears again. On Whatsapp this makes browsing through messages a breeze, and CityMapper becomes almost instant to use. I’m hoping the Gmail app becomes 3-D touch compatible very soon.

Siri and voice recognition
One amazing thing about the new iPhone 6s Plus is that it can recognise voice and turn it into text much more efficiently and accurately than any other voice to text application I have seen. The old iPhone 4 was just one phone off from Siri, and at that time I felt like I had missed out. But now that I do have Siri on my new phone I can’t believe how convenient it is and this alone is a huge improvement in the way I use my phone. In fact I have just dictated this very last paragraph on my phone to prove how good the voice to text recognition is. This does also mean that I can ramble on more and my written articles are even longer than they used to be! Siri and voice to text are altering the way we interacting with phones and computers, we speak to them and it really feels futuristic. Of course Siri isn’t perfect but I’d say it gets things right 80% of the time.

Battery and Low power mode
I had become a bit of a pro in utilising the battery of the old iPhone 4 efficiently by switching off a lot of unnecessary processes in the background. Although the new iPhone 6s plus has a much better battery life than my old iPhone, on the whole I’m disappointed by the fact that I still pretty much have to charge my phone every day. I would’ve expected the bigger iPhone to have a bigger battery which would last longer, but that seems to have been outweighed by the larger power consumption of the bigger screen. Still the battery life isn’t that bad and we do now live in an area where phones are expected to be charged every day. There is also low-power mode on the iPhone which can be turned on when the battery is at 20% or 10%. So far I haven’t really found this very useful of power saving at all.I know my brother has a Samsung galaxy and it’s low-power mode really does feel like a low-power mode with the screen greyed out and all but the most essential features on Lo fi mode. So I can’t say I am too impressed by the low-power mode, however the phone performs very well even below 20% and is not to lose charge that easily. At 1% I was still able to make a 20 minute phone call, which is really impressive!

Misc – Big speaker, 4G voice and the 4G experience
In all this tech talk we forget that the iPhone is actually a phone and can be used to make phone calls. Thanks to Three’s 4G with voice technology I’m hearing calls with clarity that I’ve never experienced before. It does actually bother me that with such huge bandwidths available on mobile phones, basic phone calls are still made at a very crude and low audio quality designed for the analogue world of telephone cables. Voice calls on Whatsapp or messenger use data and are infinitely clearer so why can’t normal phone calls be? Well 4G + voice is making that happen. This brings me to 4G itself now. I’ve got a 4GB allowance and in my first month I’ve used just less than 1.5GB of data. The 4G speed is utterly staggering, this is not like the increase we saw from 2G to 3G, this is way faster. 4G is like having broadband with you all the time. Citymapper loads up and searches faster. I haven’t tried video calling on 4G yet, but even on 3G it was never a problem so 4G finally gives video calling true freedom. The only downside of 4G is that it is not everywhere (although 90% of the spots in London have it from my experience), so when you go from a 4G to 3G area it feels like a right slowdown.

The iPhone 6s Plus speaker is large for a phone and gone is the tinny distorted sound of listening to rock radio stations via the phone speaker. The bigger speaker has a much more rounded sound and clearer bass. But let’s not beat around the bush, this is still a phone speaker so when I do want to listen to good hi fi sound, I plug my iPhone to my Denon Hi Fi via the USB lightening cable. The iPhone and Hi Fi compatibility is a godsend.

iPhone 6s Plus Upgrade Summary
Upgrading from an iPhone 4 to a bigger iPhone 6s Plus is a no brainier – the experience is vastly improved and a better one by a very long way. Using my phone to make payments, as a tablet with a big beautiful screen and as a computer in which to do my actual tuition and all tuition admin means the expensive 64GB version of this phone will pay itself over many times. I wasn’t so sure about 3-D touch at first but I feel like I just got the right iPhone as this will no doubt take off. The experience of upgrading to a new iPhone depends purely on what your old phones was, but I can say that even from an iPhone 6, having the 6s gives you 3-D touch. For me the upgrade has been two fold, to a new phone but also to a much larger screen size. So the question now remains, will my next upgrade be in another 5 years from now? Only time will tell.

The Rise and Rise of my Online Tutoring

I started online maths and Science tutoring back in 2012 in a moment of desperation, it was to reach a London student who had upcoming exams, a student that lived 5 mins walk away from where I lived in London. It isn’t that I couldn’t walk 5 mins, the problem was that I was tutoring a few hundred miles away in Yorkshire for several days. In that year I spent 72 days out of 365 tutoring away from London in Yorkshire, Hampshire etc., and I was struggling to actually keep up with my London students. Something had to change.

Since then over the last 4 years I have started tutoring more and more online. In the 2014-2015 school year 10% of my income was from Skype/Online tuition. This school year 2015-2016 I gained a ton more confidence in my tutoring business and my selling skills, I also started following advice from the very few online tutors I could find from The Tutor Pages Linkedin page forums. My increased confidence led to a very very important shift in mindset on the value of online tuition V face to face tuition. And this is:

Online tuition is as good (and in many ways better) than face to face tuition. Both for the student and for the tutor.

So instead of offering it as the ‘cheaper and less effective alternative’ I offer it as the main option and at exactly the same rate as face to face tuition. In the current 2015-2016 school year the income I gain from tutoring online is now 40% of my total tutoring income (online + face to face), and this proportion is still rising. My overall income is also rising. I have now hit a very important tipping point, and the benefits of online tuition have been phenomenal. For one, my income has increased as I am able to reach students practically anywhere in the country, and I can fill in the precious daytime hour slots that used to go empty. I save a lot of time that was spent previously travelling on trains to get to Yorkshire/Hampshire or internal commuting in London. The time that I save can instead now be used to tutor online. So now I save time, and with that time I can actually make more money…and I’m less tired from travelling, it is win-win! As a tutor these are the benefits I have found from tutoring online instead of face to face:

  • No need to commute
  • Time saved from commuting can be invested into tutoring
  • Online customers pay online ; payment is quick and efficient
  • The world is my market, not just a 5 mile radius from my postcode, I can reach a huge number of potential customers now
  • I can tutor from anywhere; cafes, my home, my mum’s home when I visit her..I’ve tutored from these different locations. With my 3G/4G (superfast mobile internet) I can tutor from any spot, even outdoors!

I tutor online using Skype, and I don’t use any special software. Sometimes I will use FaceTime if the student has a mac or an iPhone. Tutoring online has truly set me free from geographical restrictions, and my eventual aim is to move most of my tutoring online. I have spoken with other online tutors (it is easier to network online with online savvy tutors) and learnt many things, including an online Biology tutor who tutors 100% online from a cottage in Devon. I still like meeting families and going to homes so I will always do some home to home tuition.

And I don’t just tutor online, I also play gigs to people online who could have never seen me perform before due to being in other continents. I have been fortunate enough to already understand how video and audio work as I have been using this for years being in a band. The rise of faster internet speeds, better computers, more accessibility and adaptation of video calling (FaceTime etc.,) means online tuition is the future and there is no better time to do it than now.

The End of Analogue TV

There was loads of commotion going on and quite a few people there, some eating and some involved in general chit chat. I was quite excited and perhaps a little confused but I definitely loved being very close to it, it was loud and exciting!

I am not talking about a rock band here, I am talking about one of my very earliest memories I have as a child. It was when my family got hold of a brand new TV. TV for most of it’s history so far has been in the box format with analogue signal.

Yesterday my family finally upgraded our last analogue TV to a digital one. We’ve already had a digital TV in the lounge for some years so the kitchen TV was on it’s last legs because of the Digital Switch-over in the UK.

A somewhat nostalgic moment perhaps but definetely a step forward. That 14″ old cube like TV was a bit ugly in the kitchen and the new flat screen is crisp, clear and fits in well.

One last issue though, there’s still hardly anything good on the telly so best to keep it off most of the time and chat with family and friends instead 😉

Kindle 3 – My Review

2010 was sure the year of mass marketing of the “tablets”. There was the iPad, the iPhone 4 and the Kindle 3. And I sure was influenced enough to buy two of these products last year. The iPhone 4 I reviewed earlier. I was going to review the Kindle 3 but have only gotten round to it now (this blog draft has been sitting on my folder for over a year now!).

My Amazon Kindle 3 next to a pen

My Amazon Kindle 3 next to a pen

My first impressions of the Kindle 3 was that it really is very very light and the text on it feels natural and pretty much like print. Unlike computer and phone LCD screens the Kindle 3 screen does not throw light at you and so it is way way better to read from. I read it just like I would read a book or newspaper.

I didn’t actually read any e-books when I first got the Kindle 3! I went straight to playing with the “Experimental” features, notably the web browser. It’s a basic browser and can only open one window at a time so clicking on links can get annoying. However you can read things on “article mode”; which renders the text for a website beautifully and almost print like. This makes web blogs a lot easier to read. For what it is the web browser isn’t bad, you can even check email on it. If I knew how useful the web browser could be I would’ve paid the extra money to get a 3G rather than a Wi-Fi Kindle, as you get free internet access anywhere in the world with that! And I sure travel a lot so this would’ve been very useful.

As for e-books, after having owned a Kindle 3 for around 15 months I still haven’t bought a single Amazon e-book. The reason is that they are way too expensive, almost always the print version is slightly cheaper than the Kindle version. I believe this is for VAT reasons or something. In any case I have continued to buy print books from Amazon rather than switch to e-books. In their defence however there are a load of classic books available on e-book format for free, you just need to find them.

Although I don’t read Amazon books on the Kindle I do have loads and loads of pdfs as books. This is the great thing about the Kindle 3 that you can read pdfs as well. Although I have to add that the pdfs can’t be viewed in larger text form and you are limited to the text size offered by the original document. Kindle files on the other hand let you change the size of the text to suit your eyesight and personal taste.

I use my Kindle 3 regularly to read e-books in pdf format and read websites in article mode. This to me have been the most useful features of the Kindle and I am pretty sure I use the Kindle daily. The other experimental feature of the Kindle is to use it as an mp3 player. Forget about that because there is no listing of the mp3 while it is playing and no way to change files and songlists etc., easily.

One last note; I am pretty sure I broke my screen within two weeks of buying the Kindle 3, it is so light that I thought you could just throw it into the rucksack with other stuff like guitar gear and things. The Kindle 3 screen is probably as sensitive as your normal LCD touchscreen so you will definitely need a case for the Kindle. My Kindle was replaced for free thankfully and I bought a case immediately and it’s been cool since then.

Would I buy the Kindle 3 now? No, I would probably buy a smaller touchscreen e-book reader now as there are loads of new ones on the market that could read pdfs and websites a lot better.

5 Years on Facebook

I just realised that I have now been on Facebook for over 5 years, I hit the 5 year mark back on 13 May 2011. In computing years 5 years is a lot! And I guess I should be doing this post on Facebook “notes”. But if you are one of the few who are not on Facebook you might never see this right?

Social Networking in 2006

Social networking on the web was nothing new in 2006. If you are a geek like me then during the early 2000s you would’ve tried out ICQ, Yahoo!, MySpace, msn etc., which were the leaders of the time in terms of online social chatter. They missed one thing though, a nice clean way of sharing photos and clear organised groups of people. Sure there was flickr back then but that is more the domain of photography nerds.

From my point of view, I was always promoting DonkeyBox so having a band MySpace was must. And I had done that back in 2005. It was clean, clear and with just 4 songs on there it became the number 1 website for musicians. Then it spread through other school and university types.  By 2006 the idea of social networking as we know it now was really on MySpace. Facebook were creeping up though slowly and in quite a stealthy way I have to add.

Facebook in April 2006 – A closed network

Facebook arrived at the Imperial College “network” in April 2006 and it immediately spread like wildfire. It worked only because everyone else was on it, it was simple to set up, really clean in look and feel and you could not only share photos but you could make groups as well. At that time Facebook was only available to Universities (schools were added later I think).

As it was also only available to university students, you had to have a university email to register. Not only that but it was a closed network. That is no one outside Imperial could view your profile or posts, there were no global groups, they were all within the Imperial network only. This meant that Facebook acted like an internal college directory/social network.

The Networks open up to each other

As the networks at each university grew bit by bit internally and separately, Facebook announced a big move. Globalising Facebook and introducing global groups. This caused a huge outrage as students felt that their privacy was at stake. Some though (like me) loved the idea of an expanded social network.

They then opened it up to schools, a lot of the university students again thought that Facebook which was the social network of students in their late teens/early twenties was somehow going to be watered down.

And in Summer 2007, Facebook finally started appearing in mainstream press in the UK. It was now open to anyone with an email address. This was massive news. But also great disappointment to some students as they (quite rightly) thought their privacy was at stake.

What was Facebook like before?

  • It was for university students only who had a registered university email address.
  • Your status update was designed for students only, there were options like “gone to class”, “sleeping”, “out playing sports”, “at a party” etc,.
  • There was no mini feed at all (can you imagine that now..when mini feed first came out, students renamed Facebook to “Stalkbook”)
  • You could poke anyone.
  • There were no Facebook pages and applications (no annoying vampire games), it really was very simple and clean.
  • All networks were internal, there were no city networks like “London” that we have now.

And probably a lot of other things. Thanks to Facebook my band has grown its following, I have actually met people from other parts of the world and let’s face it…I have wasted a few hundred hours on it! So, enough of that.

In summary, Facebook has expanded and continues to do so. At each stage in its expansion it relaxes its privacy that little bit more.

Social Media and The Box

Check out @donkeybox – perfect example of a forward-thinking band that embraces social media and uses it to build up a tight-knit fan base

I saw this on the band tweet and was well glad to see this, so at least I am doing something right 🙂

So on this blog I occasionally write things from my point of view on behalf of my band DonkeyBox and this is one of those posts. It’s pretty hard work doing all the social media stuff for the band and in fact a lot of musicians find this aspect overwhelming. Also on the surface it does not seem to produce any results. As far as I can see there aren’t many new people turning up to every gig and sales of our songs on iTunes haven’t actually increased.

Did I just say sales? Actually although I can’t prove it as such, sales of our EP Backstage Pass must be in large part to our good online presence combined with great gigs and engagement. Even in these hard days of selling music, we’ve done it.

We have met odd people through social media as well, a few have even turned up to gigs or rehearsals. And these people don’t even live in London or indeed even in the UK! They visited us while on holiday here and that is pretty cool.

Here’s to making more new friends and fans. And I am so looking forward to meeting people for real who love the band’s music and support DonkeyBox. Exciting stuff and that’s what keeps me going with the social media effort.