Sunday 25 October 2009

Engrish: Green Grass is Afraid of your Trample

A week last Thursday W got back from a month long trip to China where she had been travelling the silk road. Amongst the 403 photos she showed me this morning were a few amusing examples of Engrish.

A couple more here.

Friday 25 September 2009

AffectLabs (FestBuzz) at TechCrunch London

Yesterday I pitched Affect Labs (aka FestBuzz - for more on that see below) at TechCrunch London.

Update: See also TechCrunch Europe's Event Wrap.

I'm rather pleased, and still more than a bit surprised, to say that we won "best pitch"!

Picture above is me on stage with Mike Butcher, Editor of TechCrunch Europe, receiving a bottle of bubbly.

There were a lot of interesting companies there with some very good pitches. I did think it would be nice to get in the top 5 but I didn't think I'd really done anything to deserve winning. Not that I'm complaining though!

Credit where credit is due though, the presentation was largely based on Jennie's learnings in the run up to the TechCrunch Geek 'n Rolla event earlier this year where she pitched Affect Labs. Some of the slides were ones that she had made for a pitch she did at an Astia London event, also earlier this year.

Of course, like all my interactions with TechCrunch events, I don't like things to be straightforward. I had visited the relevant Amiando page almost as soon as the event was announced. The first thing I did was click on the link to export the event in to my Google Calender. As I knew I was going to be pitching I didn't have reason to buy a ticket or visit the Amiando page again.

So yesterday, at 3pm, I turned up like an eager beaver for some pre-pitch practice.... at Gilgamesh Studios in Camden. Nobody had a clue what I was talking about as I wandered around what looked like a giant empty Indian restaurant asking where the TechCrunch event was.

Turns out the original plan was to hold it at the Gilgamesh Studios, but the venue had quite quickly been changed to the Cafe de Paris near Piccadilly Circus. The people that had already bought tickets were notified of the venue change by email, but as I wasn't buying a ticket I wasn't notified (random link found through Google shows venue as Gilgamesh).

So in future I'll remember not to blindly trust Google Calender exports. In the end I wasn't too late for the event and managed to get some very helpful tips before I went on stage.

Cafe de Paris is an interesting venue isn't it? The private rooms (where we prepared before the pitches) had what they describe as a VIP boudoir but which everyone else described as looking like some kind of porn set. I wonder what goes on in there hmmmm. It would have been a bit nicer without the dodgy stains and cigarette burns on the beds...

Tonight they're hosting the FHM High Street Honeys '09 party. I should have hidden in a toilet for the night or something. Quite contrasting clientele to have one night after the other! Om nom nom nom :D

I got some good questions from the floor. I particularly liked the audience's reaction when I was asked where the technology originated: "Jennie's PhD research in a NLP group at Cambridge University". I think I did hear a kind of "ooh" from the audience. Hud that!

A Hungarian chap, who knows the sentiment field, attempted to ask a technical question. Fortunately, nobody, including myself, could really understand what he was saying. I say fortunately because I did go and speak to him later and I wouldn't have been able to answer his question very well on stage.

One slight issue that did become apparent through the night was our own brand perception. We were publicised as FestBuzz, we were introduced as FestBuzz, and the first thing I did was go up there and say "I'm Steve from Affect Labs". I pitched as AffectLabs (which is the registered name of the company), told the audience about FestBuzz (our 4iP funded Edinburgh Festivals project), and referenced Benchmark7, which is the working name of our sentiment classification engine. Also my business cards are heavily Benchmark7 branded.

Well for the rest of the night I was "the guy from FestBuzz". I had to explain the three names more than a few times. I spoke to Mike Butcher about it and he was definitely keener to refer to us as FestBuzz - "that's what people know you as"! (TechCrunch had written a short piece about us when our 4iP funding was announced). So that's something we'll have to keep in mind as we move forward.

Anyway, I had a great time at the after show party, which was timed to coincide with the end of Seedcamp. It was pretty nice having lots of people compliment the pitch (even before we won) and then have people congratulate me later. :) I met a whole bunch of great people. Now the challenge is to connect the business cards to the faces to the conversations to the follow-ups that may or may not have been promised!

Some more pictures from the event can be found here on Flickr, courtesy of BitchBuzz.

The event was actually streamed live on Ustream. If my day before the event had not been so busy/chaotic I would have put the link in my Facebook account. Is it possible to watch things which have already been streamed?

Thanks to TwistedTree for organising the event.

Sunday 13 September 2009

The 51st Company

In my previous blog post I was lamenting our failiure to get in to the TechCrunch 50.

Well this week, in an unexpected twist to the story, I got an email from TechCrunch CEO Heather Harde asking for us to go over there and pitch.

Oh my heart did skip a beat!

Apparently some companies were at risk of not making their slot, so she wanted us to come over as the "first reserve" so to speak. If it turned out that we weren't needed then we would be given a DemoPit spot instead.

I received the email on Wednesday. She wanted us to fly over on the Friday to work through our pitch then get stuck in on Monday or Tuesday.

Only problem was, since getting the initial rejection, we had been working on other things - not making a specific demo for TC50 (we had something specific in mind that would have been exceptionally cool for all companies there - not just us).

Shortly after getting the email I was on the phone to my co-founder Jennie.

"So you know that demo we were going to do specifically for TechCrunch 50 that was probably going to take about 2 or 3 weeks to get ready? Do you think you could still do it in two days? How about if you just stay here and work on the demo, while I go over to San Francisco, have a great time at the conference and bask in the limelight of being a presenting company? Strictly speaking do you need to take time out to eat and sleep?"

OK, so pretty obviously it wasn't going to be possible. Nevertheless, we could have presented something, possibly shown FestBuzz. The only problem would be that it wouldn't be a product launch, so much as a technology pitch, and TechCrunch 50 is about launching products.

Even if we didn't end up on stage, we would have been in the DemoPit. Doing an exhibition without any preparation would be challenging to say the least. I figured we could probably wing it, however with rather prophetic timing, Jason Calcanis' email newsletter had just arrived with 22 tips on how to operate a trade show booth.

Let's just say that none of these tips include, "decide to go to a trade exhibition a couple of days before it starts and just wing it". Hmmm....

So anyway, Heather had said in her email that she would call me the next day or that I could call her at any hour to discuss, so I did that. No answer on her cell phone so voicemail was left and then I sent her an email outlining my concerns and suggesting that we probably couldn't do it. I tried calling a few more times, because I was really hoping that she would try to persuade me to do the pitch. However I never heard back from her. No phone call or reply to my email, so I guess it was taken as a decline (unless they're still expecting us to turn up. That would be awkward!).

When Jennie and I were talking about the possiblity of doing the pitch, there were quite a few things running through my head. This is TechCrunch 50 and we've been asked to do it! It's web-tech lifetime opportunity - we would be mad to turn it down. Even if the demo is not perfect we should just do *something*.

Luckily Jennie was the voice of reason, not least because she would have to make the damn demo! Sure we could turn up and do a demo of *something* but it wouldn't be good enough. We might end up doing more harm to the company than good. Just because it's TechCrunch 50 doesn't mean we should put our reputation at risk. Even if we're just mediocre, people don't remember mediocre. I think I was being driven more by the prestige of the TC50 badge rather than the practicalities of the situation.

The reality is that although I was extremely excited when I got Heather's email, I knew we probably wouldn't be able to do it. At first I was like "Yah!" but then I "Meh'd"...

So I guess we were the 51st choice company (unless some other reserves had already turned them down!), and Michael Arrington's 75-80% chance of us getting in was fair. I wish the best of luck to whatever company has presumably replaced us. I do hope they get a chance to go on the main stage and make the most of this (presumably) unexpected opportunity.

That's twice in the past couple of weeks I've meant to have had a conversation with Heather and we have not managed to connect. I really hope I'll get the chance to speak with her eventually! And hopefully they'll remember us and Affect Labs will still get a chance to pitch at a TechCrunch event in the future!

N.B. We've actually got a few pitches coming up in the next few weeks. We were selected as one of the Guardian Tech Media Invest top 100 companies and we'll be pitching at the related event at the Emirates Stadium, London on 1st October.

Monday 24 August 2009

TechCrunch50 Rejection

[Update: We actually got asked to pitch!]

I started writing this post as a response to another person's blog post in which he talked about his rejection from TechCrunch50. It was turning in to a bit of a mammoth response, so I thought I would be better posting it on my blog and just leaving a link to it on his. So it begins as a response...

Hi, we had a similar experience, although possibly with more mishap and with our expectations even higher.

So we applied and were happy to be told we would be interviewed. Unfortunately the interview timings seemed pretty difficult to book and were timed for US West coast people and we are in the UK, so we had a bit of difficulty getting a reasonable interview time.

Eventually we got the interview time set, with the screen sharing and teleconference details sent out. My co-founder and I were waiting in the teleconference (separate locations) and in the screen sharing facility. Our interview was with Heather and we got an email saying she's running 5min late. Fair enough.

I had researched her so knew she was TechCrunch CEO and saw she had worked in corporate M&A, which is similar to my background so I thought we might have something in common.

After a few minutes we could see Heather in the screen sharing facility and she started chatting to us. She says she's in the teleconference but can't hear us. We're in the teleconference too but we can't hear her. Oh crap.

Anyway, we faff around for a few minutes but she says that she has to go and we will rearrange. Oh crap, we've just missed out on pitching to the Techcrunch CEO. :(

We do rearrange. Unfortunately the only time they can do the interview is when my co-founder is due to be hosting a big event for us. So it's up to me alone. I gladly take up the challenge! So I'm due to be speaking to Tyler from Mahalo. Ok, cool.

So in the run up to the meeting, I start getting a bit panicy that the teleconference is gonna mess up again, so I change our phone details to get them to phone me direct. I'm exchanging emails with various assistants to try and make sure they have the correct details. I'm convinced telecommunication technology is going to let me down again.

The time comes. And passes. I'm checking the online room. There's no-one there. No email this time saying anyone is running 5min late. I wait for ages. I have three phones so I keep dialing in to the teleconference rooms to make sure he's not dialed there by mistake instead of phoning me directly.

Eventually I get an email saying Tyler is running a bit late. OK, fair enough. So about an hour after our scheduled time I get the call. I try to demo, but he can't hear me properly. He asks if he can phone on another number. Lucky I have three phones!

So we get on to a decent phone and start the demo. It goes well. Tyler actually has a pretty cool idea for something we could do. I agree it is a cool idea (I'm sure we would have thought of it anyway ;) ). Towards the end of the demo, Tyler asks me to show something quite specific that I'm pretty sure is going to be impossible. I try. I was right - it was not possible (yet).

Anyhow, demo over and Tyler gives me his email address and says if we could rig up a demo of the "not yet possible" thing, then that would be pretty cool.

A few days pass by. Tuesday night at 8.50pm I get a call on my landline. Calls on my landline are either a) my g/f's parents, or b) recorded message spam. Tonight it is c) Michael Arrington's assistant from Techcrunch. Ooh, I wasn't expecting that!

"Michael would like to speak with you in an hour."

Crikey! I do know of him already as I read Techcrunch a lot and I follow his Twitter stream. However, there's always time for some obsessive Google searching and I find out he is no. 100 on the 2008 Time Magazine 100 most influential people list.

Wow. That's quite influential. I mean, granted there's 99 people above him, but there's around 6 billion people below him, so I'm thinking that's pretty good going.

So at 10pm he calls. First thing he says is he doesn't know my name. That's ok, I'm quite insignificant, he can call me Susan if it gives us a better chance of getting in to TC50.

I do the demo. Michael mentions the same cool idea that Tyler did. I presume Tyler mentioned it to him. I agree whole-heartedly that it would be a cool idea. As before I can't show the demo of what he's suggesting, but this time I can show him it in command line form.

He says he "gets it" and he "loves it". The most influential man in Web tech GETS it! He LOVES it! Woo-hoo!

He then says that he thinks we'll be an "edge case" because the other partners (Heather and Jason) have not seen us, but says that his opinion carries weight so we still have a good chance. In fact, he says he reckons we have a "75-80%" chance of getting in.

75-80% chance?! That's like, more or less 100%! I mean, nothing with a "75-80%" chance ever actually fails does it? I mean if someone tells you you have a 75-80% chance of winning the lottery tonight you'd be making friends with the local Aston Martin dealer PDQ. Dead cert! (Notice I quickly suppress the words "edge case").

We wait a few days in eager anticipation. Surely we're in - I wonder what I should wear on stage?

But then I notice a tweet from Michael saying they've made the final decisions on the last companies for TC50.

Oh, but some mistake surely? Our email has gone astray! Curse you technology and your missing emails!

So we wait. And then get the /other/ email.

“Unfortunately, we regret that we are unable to place your company as a TechCrunch50 finalist…"

Oh, bummer.

We also get the invite to DemoPit, which I would *love* to do, but unfortunately in our near-zero financing state (as well as being located in the UK) it is prohibitively expensive so we have to decline. It's probably a good thing in a way, because it would have been a lot of pressure to get the product ready in time and we might not have been as good as we would have wanted to be.

However I am a bit bummed and I can't help wondering what difference the failed teleconference with Heather made. :/

Still, it doesn't keep me down for more than a few hours. It was pretty good validation to have made it to the semi-final stage. It was also a pleasure to get the chance to speak with both Tyler and Michael. I was glad they at least liked our product, even if we didn't quite make the final cut for TC50.

We've had similar validation experiences, tempered with a hint of dissapointment. We got invited out to San Francisco to do the 15min interview for Y Combinator this year. That's a long way to go for a 15min chat. Although we didn't make the final cut, it was good to make it from the 600-1000 companies that applied down to the last 60.

We also applied to all the Y Combinator-like schemes, and all of them interviewed us at least once, so there was definite interest in our company. In fact, we actually got an investment offer from one of them but decided to turn it down in the end so that was an especially good validation.

Since then our company, Affect Labs, has had some funding from 4iP to launch our Phase 1 product FestBuzz and we did get mentioned on TechCrunch Europe, which was nice.

We also have some other very good irons in the fire, one of which is certain and others which we will find out about over the next couple of months.

So I'll be keeping my fingers crossed, but not getting my expectations up too high, because even when you've got a 75-80% chance of success, that's still a 20-25% chance of failure. I mean, if someone tells you you've got a 20-25% chance of dying tonight, you'd probably put on your best underwear...

Apologies for random tenses in this post. I can't be bothered fixing them. Photo from Flickr user KatieL366.

Thursday 6 August 2009

So what is it I'm doing now exactly?

I'd been wanting to start some kind of company for a while, particularly something involving Internet technology, but that idea was limited by my lack of programming skillz. My day job had given me experience of project managing the re-design and re-launch of a pretty complicated business information website/database so I was quite confident I could find my calling in the Web start-up world coming from the business angle.

It was a toss-up between trying to start-up a company and doing an MBA this year. And the start-up won.

Earlier this year I teamed up with Jennie Lees to start Affect Labs. The company is founded on sentiment analysis technology that Jennie had developed during her doctoral studies at Cambridge University. She has since moved to Scotland and the company is now established in Edinburgh.

Over the past few months we've been writing business plans, applying for funding and lots of other cool things. While this has been full-time for Jennie for some time, for me it has always had to be something I fitted in to my spare time and holidays. It also wasn't something I widely revealed at my day-job.

Well, the time has come where I need to apply more time to the start-up. We're starting to try to raise money in earnest and that means more work and meetings. There's only so many meetings I can arrange for holidays! So, I have told my employer my plans and they have very graciously agreed that I can go part-time from September. Eventually I hope to go full-time with the start-up, but only time will tell when we'll be in a position to allow that.

So the exciting news is that we've launched our first product. FestBuzz (with funding from 4iP) is crowd-sourcing Edinburgh Festival show reviews. What that means is that our technology is listening out for all the messages on Twitter that are talking about the Festival shows. We aggregate these messages (aka "tweets") and use our sentiment analysis technology to understand the emotion in the reviews - are people being positive or negative about the show.

The site launched late last week, and is not quite yet 100% operational. We've got a few features to switch on and we're waiting for the Festival to really kick off so the flow of tweets will start.

So if you're interested in getting started with Twitter and "tweeting" your reviews, have a look at this guide (or this much shorter one).

Or if you just want Edinburgh Festival recommendations from the "word on the tweet" please check out the site!

(Image taken from the FestBuzz on Flickr)

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Damn those bus drivers

Stagecoach OJ09BZH
Originally uploaded by KK70088
Don't you just hate it when you try to get on the bus and the driver shuts the door just as you arrive. You knock on the door assuming that he'll see you and open the doors to let you on, but no - the ba$tard just drives off and you're left there cursing him, buses, public transport and Gordon Brown.

I was on the bus the other day leaving Oxford and I saw exactly that happen to someone trying to get on my bus. The driver could easily have let the guy on the bus, so I emailed the bus company to query their procedure.

This is what I was told:

Prior to departing a stop the driver is to:

1) look in their mirrors to ensure there are no persons intending to board their vehicle
2) Close the doors
3) Put on indicators to show that they wish to move out right
3) Look constantly in both offside/nearside/inside mirrors to look for any obstacles and ensure that persons are safely seated
4) If safe to do so move off from the stop at slow speed

Once the driver has closed their doors and started their checks we state they have commenced their manoeuvre and should therefore not pick up again on health and safety grounds.

As you can imagine the issue surrounds point 1. If the driver did not see the person in time they will commence their manoeuvre, however the intending passenger may believe they should have been easily seen creates conflict over the interpretation of the incident.

Additionally, if the driver was due to depart a few minutes earlier they will at some point have to commit to making progress and departing, as they have a responsibility to operate the service on time for the other intending passengers left waiting at stops further up the route.

Can't really argue with that. They have to pull away at some time and they are only following procedure. In Oxford, where the buses are quite popular, you can be left sitting on a bus for ages waiting for it to pull away from the city centre while there is a steady drip of people constantly getting on the bus.

Don't get me started on the summer foreign language students!

Saturday 18 July 2009

Attack of the Slugs

Attack of the Slugs
Originally uploaded by major_grooves
The cauliflower crop didn't work out too good. I don't think these guys helped. I went out with a paid of secators the other day and chopped a bunch of them in half. Mwahaha!

Thursday 16 July 2009

LoveFilm result! I think...

I got the following reply from LoveFilm after my complaint email yesterday:

Dear Steven,

Thank you for your email.

I would like to apologise for the inconvenience that this matter has caused you.

I can confirm that I have now contacted my colleague in the warehouse regarding this issue and have been informed that we have limited stock of "Battlestar Galactica - Season 3 - Disc 3" only. We are in the process of obtaining more copies.

I can confirm that I have now requested for "Battlestar Galactica - Season 3 - Disc 3" to be sent out to you as an extra disc (this will be on-top of your normal allowance).

Please bear in mind that when we wish to allocate your extra disc, and the desired title is not available to be allocated to you, no extra disc will be sent out to you. The reason for this is because I have requested for this specific title to be sent out.

In the future please bear in mind that we do have a no late returns policy which make it impossible for us to promise our customers when a specific disc will be send out. It all depend if we have an available copy of one of your high priority titles in our warehouse once we receive a disc back from you and have to allocate your next one.

Instead of waiting for one of your high priority titles to be available we will then sent out one of the other titles on your list to prevent any delays.

Please accept our sincere apologies for the inconvenience caused by this and do not hesitate to contact us if you need more information, we will be happy to assist you.

Let's see if it turns up now!

My plea to LoveFilm

I've been having some trouble getting the next DVD in the Battlestar Gallactica series from LoveFilm. I'm waiting for Season 3 DVD 3. I did email customer support and got some generic reply, but my patience is wearing this so I decided to email again tonight. I've been waiting 4 months.

Dear Yousuf,

As I sit here, still waiting for the next DVD in Battlestar Gallactica Season 3, I look at the copies of Enchanted and Volver (chosen by my other half - they look kinda rubbish) that arrived from LoveFilm today and must conclude: I am not satisfied by your answer or LoveFilm's current level of service.

First, BattleStar Gallactica Season 3 is not a new release. I can not see why there would be particularly high demand for Season 3 Disc 3 unless, unbeknownst to me, it perhaps has an episode featuring Michael Jackson moonwalking across the flightdeck of Battlestar Gallactica itself. Given that I have been waiting months for this disc, and old MJ only died a couple of weeks ago, this explanation is quite unlikely.

I can understand that one cannot expect to get a specific movie on demand, and indeed that you will have different stock levels for different movies. However, Battlestar Gallactica is a series of episodes. This means that people usually watch them one after the other, sequentially. It helps make the storyline flow. Therefore, one would assume that a stockist of any series would have equal numbers of each DVD in the series. Perhaps you might have more DVDs of a later series overall, but one would assume (lost/damaged DVDs notwithstanding) that within a series there would be the same number of DVDs in your stock. Logically, this would enable you to send the DVDs out in order, without too much of a wait between DVDs.

Indeed, for Seasons 1 and 2 of Battlestar Gallactica that was what happened. Every time I sent back a DVD of Battlestar Gallactica, I was safe in the knowledge that the next one would be popping through the door in a couple of days. In fact, although I have quite a low LoveFilm package (4 DVDs max a month I think) watching Battlestar Gallactica was the first time I had "maxed" my allowance. I confess I was addicted to the series (have you /seen/ Starbuck!?!) so I actually welcomed the enforced breaks.

But let me show you the pattern in DVDs received from LoveFilm that makes me suspect that something is not quite right here:

Between 10th December and 5th January this is the pattern (the date is the date of the returned DVD according to my account):

Battlestar Galactica - Season 1 - Disc 1 10th December 2008
Battlestar Galactica - Season 1 - Disc 2 22nd December 2008
Battlestar Galactica - Season 1 - Disc 3 22nd December 2008
Battlestar Galactica - Season 1 - Disc 4 5th January 2009

on 5th January I also returned Pirates of the Caribbean - At World's End.

Then between 9th January and 24th February the pattern was as follows:

Battlestar Galactica - Season 2 - Disc 1 9th January 2009
Battlestar Galactica - Season 2 - Disc 2 19th January 2009
Battlestar Galactica - Season 2 - Disc 3 26th January 2009
Battlestar Galactica - Season 2 - Disc 4 30th January 2009
Battlestar Galactica - Season 2 - Disc 5 24th February 2009

Season 2 was interspersed with Kidulthood, the Orphanage, Penelope and We Own the Night. It seemed for this season that one of my DVDs would always be a Battlestar Gallactica DVD and the other a normal movie.

March also saw we watching 27 Dresses and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Please don't judge me. I happened to enjoy them both. I consider Russell Brand to be a fine comedic actor, his whimsical style amuses me, and 27 Dresses was surprisingly good.

This brings me to the end of March when I received and watched Battlestar Gallactica Season 3 DVDs 1 and 2. They were really exciting! I can't tell you why, because I can't remember now it's been so long since I watched them, but Battlestar Gallactica is always exciting, so I'm gonna stick with it.

Since I returned Season 3 DVD 2, I have received 14 different DVDs - FOURTEEN!!! - none of them Battlestar Gallactica. Just for your interest, my top rated DVDs in that time were In Bruges, which I gave 4.5 stars (the missus and I really want to take a holiday to Bruge now) and the first series of The Inbetweeners, which I gave 5 stars. Yes - 5 stars! It really is that good! Fortunately the whole series came on 1 DVD!

Can you see where the pattern breaks down? I don't know if you're a mathematician Yousuf, but there is certainly a pattern in the Battlestar Gallactica DVD distribution, which kinda falls apart around Season 3 DVD 3. I can see it.

So, it has now been nearly 4 months since I had my last dose of Battlestar Gallactica. FOUR MONTHS! I doubt many people would think to themselves, "yeah, I'm really enjoying this series. What I could really do with is a 4 month break between two episodes". Nah, no one would say that because they would have to be an idiot.

Does a 4 month wait between episodes seem normal or reasonable to you?

Is there not the slightest chance that there is something wrong with your system?

I'd say I've been patient so far, but the thought of watching Volver and Enchanted has ended that.

Or maybe you know something I don't? Maybe Battlestar Gallactica gets really rubbish at Season 3 DVD3. Maybe you're actually doing me a favour! Really, I'd like to be the judge of that. The rumours I hear are that it stays pretty good throughout.

Anyway, Yousuf I'd really appreciate it if you would look in to this for me. I really have enjoyed using LoveFilm's service over the past few years, but this experience is putting me off. I may consider cancelling my subscription if I don't get the next Battlestar Gallactica DVD soon, and I fear that jobs at LoveFilm may be put at risk by the loss of my £7.82 payment every month. I couldn't cope with having that on my conscience Yousaf.

Yours Sincerely


--- On Wed, 1/7/09, wrote:

Subject: Re: Feedback:: Re: Film and TV queries: Battlestar Gallactica - LF8230560TID
Date: Wednesday, 1 July, 2009, 5:06 AM

Dear Steven,

Thank you for your email.

We would like to confirm to you that that the priority system is not intended as a way
of queuing your selection exactly in the order you wish to see them. Instead it is only intended as more of a 'preference'
system, by which customers can indicate which films from their selection they would prefer to see, from those that we have available in stock to dispatch to you at the time your last return is received.

Please understand that although your priority titles selection serves as an indication to us of which titles you would prefer to see first, I'm afraid we are unable to guarantee the dispatch of any particular title within any time frame. As we do not offer a 'Title-on-demand' service, the allocation of titles from your list on the day of dispatch is simply dependent on availability. If none of your priority 1 titles are in stock on that day, we will send you an alternative from your list.

I'm afraid it is the nature of our system, that we are unable to guarantee that we will always be able to send you any one particular disc (or priority of disc) at any one time. We simply cannot do so as we only have a finite stock of
any disc, and it is impossible to predict when the ones you want to rent will be in stock. This is especially true of new releases, which are always the most heavily requested for the limited stocks we have. Because we know this is not possible to offer this guarantee, we have the selection list system, and not an order queue. We will always dispatch you a priority 1 DVD if it is available, but if not we will dispatch a priority 2, and if that is not available, then a priority 3.

Hope this has answered your query. Should you have any more questions, please do let us know and we will be happy to assist you further.

Please let us know if this answered your question.
If yes, click here:

If no, click

Kind regards,

Customer Services
Find the films you want to watch

LOVEFiLM UK Limited is a company registered in England and Wales.
Registered Number: 06528297.
Registered Office: No. 9, 6 Portal Way, London W3 6RU, United Kingdom.

Major Groove wrote:

> For the love of the Almighty I have still not been sent the next BSG DVD!
> What happened? Did you get a cheap batch that only had one copy of S03 DVD3??? I had them one after the other then I have to wait months for this one!

Tuesday 7 July 2009

N97 or iPhone (or G1)

I've had my N95 for over 2 years now. That's at least 6 months longer than the minimum 18 month contract I had when I got the N95.

When the N95 was announced I couldn't wait to get it. A phone with GPS - it seemed brilliant! When I got it I was actually pretty pissed off. The GPS barely worked and it was only when I hacked the phone and installed new firmware that it would actually get a GPS signal in any reasonable amount of time.

That made me pissed off at Nokia, for releasing a phone that I don't think worked properly out of the box, and at Orange for being so damn slow with their firmware updates that I had to hack the phone to get a decent firmware update. Oh, and of course Orange removed the Voip software from the phone because, "it would confuse customers" or something like that. Yeah, not because they were scared of nobody ever paying for a call again, eh?

However, since getting that firmware update I've been pretty happy with the N95. It's a pretty decent music player, the GPS works ok especially with Google Maps (what is the point in Nokia Maps unless you are in a no signal area?).

Now I would like a new phone but I don't know which one to get. iPhone 3G S, Nokia N97 or the Google G1 phone. It's difficult to find objective, comparative reviews. People who are fans of one, seem to be haters of the others. Lots of the reviews, are actually just comparisons of the specifications. I want to know what they are like to live with.

iPhone I would like because the UI and apps look great. But I don't want to feel like I'm jumping on a crowded bandwagon.

Nokia - well I've had Nokias for years now, but they never seem quite perfect. I don't understand how they manage that, being the biggest phone company in the world. I kind of like it that it is European. I've always thought it was cool that a kinda random country like Finland ended up spawning the world's biggest phone company.

G1 - well I don't know much about it.

Hopefully some really objective phone reviewer will happen along this post and make a recommendation.

Saturday 27 June 2009

Gilbert O' Sullivan - Sleeveface

Gilbert O' Sullivan
Originally uploaded by major_grooves
Just looking through some of my pics on Flickr and I thought I would blog this one up again.

Sunday 31 May 2009

Dr Renwick Wine

Dr Renwick Wine
Originally uploaded by major_grooves
I was walking past Oddbins and the sign outside had a special offer on "Dr Renwick" wine. Well of course I had to go in and buy a couple!

"In 1856 Dr Thomas Renwick gave his name to the small settlement of Renwick town that is now the heart of Marlborough's wine growing region. Our family vineyards, once part of the Doctor's pastoral land holdings, have responded well to our bio-friendly vineyard practices.

The resulting wines display a richness of flavour with great character and depth... we are sure the good Doctor, a wine enthusiast himself, would have approved."

Wednesday 29 April 2009

Running Windows Media Player and iTunes on the same computer. Possible?

Apple Store - Sydney
Originally uploaded by sHzaam!
I wonder if it's possible to run iTunes and Windows Media Player as the music players of choice on the same music, in different accounts, on the same PC.

Ever since W won a iPod Touch at a conference, she has had to use iTunes to organise her music and transfer tunes to her device. I, on the other hand, have always used Windows Media Player. So we both built up music collections in our own accounts on my PC, with the added complication that I started ripping my CDs as .wma files, then changes to .mp3 and W started out with .aac before I changed it to .mp3 in an attempt to at least have some consistency between our collections.

However the collections ended up a mess, with both of us having the same music ripped in different formats, so I decided to wipe both our music collections and start again.

I thought that if I set both iTunes and Windows Media Player to rip tunes to the shared "Public Music" folder, then both programmes would be able to read and use the music. Then anything one of us ripped in our own account would be available to the other.

However, it seems that unless iTunes did the ripping, then it won't acknowledge the music is there. Windows Media Player will, but you have to tell it to look in the folder again to realise there is more music there. (I think that is how it ended up - I actually tried this a few months ago) So it didn't work, and my dream for a gloriously harmonised music collection embracing both Apple and Microsoft and bringing them together like quarrelling cousins, has failed.

So my question is: what should I do to arrange my music in two different accounts on the same PC. Is it not possible to do this using different programmes? Should I just swallow my pride, become an Apple fan-boi and start using iTunes? If I use iTunes should I "future-proof" my collection (or rather "Apple-proof") and rip it all as mp3? What do people do?

Any advice would be very welcome. No suggestions for WinAmp please!

btw I listen to my music on a Nokia N95, and intend getting a Nokia N97 when it comes out. I can't deny being tempted by the iPhone though, but I still don't want to be a fan-boi...

The ultimate vision is to have all the music running on one computer, and having a nice Squeezebox system set up.

Monday 27 April 2009

Lovefilm no-return envelopes Film Desktop
Originally uploaded by lildude
As someone who enjoys (and whose job involves) data analysis, I imagine that one of the cool things about running a huge business to consumer internet company, apart from the pots of cash, is the chance to analyse customer data and work out its affect on revenue.

Where do your customers come from? What sites refer the most paying customers? How long do they stay on the site?

What's more interesting than analysing the data, is making changes to your website and your business and seeing the effect that this has on customers. For example, does moving the "buy now" button to a different part of the screen increase conversion rates, how does a customer sign-up process affect customers completing their purchases?

These changes can mean millions of pounds of extra revenue for internet companies. Of course not all customer behaviour changes involve the website itself.

LoveFilm has recently made a change to the way its service works. It's quite a subtle change, but I have no doubt that it means extra revenue for them.

It used to be that if you received two DVDs at the same time from LoveFilm, you would also receive an extra return envelope with your DVDs, in addition to the envelope it arrives in, which you usually convert in to a return envelope. LoveFilm are desperate for you to return as many DVDs in one envelope as possible. Obviously sending two DVDs back in one envelope means that their postage costs are halved.

Fair enough. When I did happen to watch two DVDs in short succession, I would return them in the same envelope. However, like most people I usually watch them at least a few days apart. Once I've watched one, I want it sent back so I can get the next semi-surprise DVD as soon as possible.

But that doesn't help LoveFilm's bottom line.

So, recently they have stopped sending you a spare envelope as standard. This means that if Lovefilm sends you two DVDs at once, you can't necessarily just watch your DVDs and send them back as you watch them. Of course, they say you can send them back Freepost in your own envelope, but that costs me an envelope, and you can be sure that most people won't be bothered to do that.

The obvious cost saving is reduced postage costs, but I do wonder if they save more money by altering customer viewing habits. If you wait till you've watched both DVDs before sending them back then you hang on to your DVDs longer, which means less DVDs get posted out, which means less handling costs and less DVDs need to be held by Lovefilm.

What really annoys me, is that Lovefilm claim that you can still request an extra return envelope to be sent. At first it was quite easy to request an extra return envelope. My memory might be playing tricks on me but I am sure you used to just have to click a button requesting a new envelope. Now, however you have to search around the website to get any info about it, and eventually if you dig enough you will find that to get a return envelope you have to send them an email asking for one.

/edit Thanks to the comment from the helpful LoveFilm user experience bod below, I have now been shown that there is in fact still an easy link to request an extra envelope. Doh! I've clicked it so only time will tell if I receive one.

I have done this two or three times, and each time I get an email back telling me I will receive an extra return envelope with my next DVD. I have yet to receive an extra return envelope.

It's not that it hugely bothers me - I've been maxing my account out on Battlestar Galactica recently anyway! It's just irritating that Lovefilm have moved in to that phase of their success cycle when they do things that are just irritating to customers, but which probably result in higher revenues for the company. We've seen Ebay do it in spectacular style, by giving the impression that they almost want to alienate their entire customer base. It would be a shame if Lovefilm went the same way.

That said, I'd say about 1 in 4 of the DVDs I receive these days are nearly unwatchable. I'm sure it didn't use to be so bad.

and another question - if the DVD pouch doesn't mention the DVD on it, does it really matter to return it in the same pouch? I can't see any kind of chip in them...

eventually DVD postal services will die off just like visiting your local Blockbuster. We'll all be downloading all our movies (legally that is). I wonder if Lovefilm will still be around then...

Monday 13 April 2009

We be gardening

After having abandoned the garden more or less for the last 3.5 years, W and I decided that we would try to rescue the vegetable patch and grow some food.

Last weekend W spent ages weeding and digging the patch. Today, we went to the garden centre and bought loads of seedlings, some compost, a spade and a few other bits and bobs.

I have to say, I think it's looking pretty good!

Sunday 15 March 2009

Off of

I listen to Chris Moyles in the car every morning. I do genuinely think he is funny and enjoy listening to his show.

However, because I have not yet bothered setting any radio stations on my car radio, I am stuck on Radio 1 all the time, which means that on the way home I am stuck listening to Scott Mills.

He can be funny, but he is mostly irritating. He's quite puerile, and I can imagine he would be the sort of person you would really want to slap in person.

There is one thing he keeps saying that is really annoying me:

"Off of"

It's the sort of thing Americans say - e.g. "that's Rachel off of Friends".

Occasional use I think is excusable. I'm pretty sure I have said it in the past. However, he seems to be making a point of saying it as often as possible, which is really annoying. All of his radio team seem to be saying it too, presumably sub-conscious copying.

What really gets me is when he uses it in other situations, e.g. "We have James off of Oxford on the line now". WTF?!

What is he doing? He just sounds like a desperate idiot when he speaks like that. I'm not saying BBC radio presenters need to use Queen's English, but they could do with not being morons.

Nonspherical femoral head shape

I went back to Wimbledon Clinic the other day to see the consultant physiotherapist who specialises in patella-femoral problems.

This was in fact the longest consultation I have had - 90 minutes. Went through quite a lot of the usual tests, but then she also started testing my hip strength. Apparently my left hip is super weak. I had to lie on my side and raise my leg, then she pushed down on my leg and I had to resist the movement. On my right side I could resist the push, on the left side - nothing.

So she thinks what might be causing my problem is my left femur is turning inwards due to the weakness, which then puts the kneecap under pressure. That, coupled with my dodgy gait, means sore knees.

She also put me forward for a hip X-ray as I also complain on hip pain. In the mobility tests I had extremely immobile hips, but it didn't seem to be due to muscle tightness - just the physical limitation of how far my legs could move.

I got a CD with the X-rays in the post the other day. What a lovely pelvis I have! I got a phone call from my consultant the other day to talk me through the results. So, apparently I have nonspherical femoral head shape, which explains why my hips are so inflexible.

That would explain the following:

  • When everyone else was doing side-kicks at Ju-Jitsu aiming for the solar plexus, I could only aim for ankles.
  • I can't really sit with my legs crossed.
  • When rock climbing, I can't spread my legs with my feet facing in opposite directions when bridging. I had to adapt and have both feet pointing the same way.
  • I have real trouble getting my leg over a motorbike.
  • On some bikes, I get incredibly uncomfortable as the fuel tank spreads my legs too far. I can only ride skinny bikes!
It doesn't change anything and the consultant says it's nothing to worry about unless I start getting more hip pain, but it's nice to know what has made me so inflexible all these years.

So now I am a bit more of an intense physio programme to build up my left quad as well as my outer hip muscle. I will also be having more physio in Oxford to follow a new programme that my London physio has drawn up for me after seeing the X-rays.

Only problem is that I only have £88 of my BUPA out-patients money left, so hopefully I don't need much more done this year or it could get pricey!

Thursday 19 February 2009

My left foot

Smiling thumb :)
Originally uploaded by Pitel
One curious side-effect of the orthotic insoles I am now wearing, is that I have started going through my left socks at an alarming rate.

I bought some new socks a couple of weeks ago, and I am going through the left sock after about 4 wears!

This could end up costing a bit!

Note: that is not my foot in the pic. :)

Monday 9 February 2009

BBC Complaint Response

I received a reply to my complaint to the BBC:


Thanks for your e-mail.

I understand you feel we show a lack of understanding and disrespect for the people of Scotland through our coverage of Scottish Premier League football and our specific coverage of Rangers and Celtic.

It's worth noting that over time supporters from a number of different clubs contact us about the placement of their team in the programme. It proves that we cannot please all the fans all the time.

I do understand that this is a matter you feel strongly about and to this end please be assured I've registered your complaint on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that's circulated to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers.

I'd like to reiterate that all feedback we receive, whether positive or negative is always appreciated. We're committed to developing better links with you, our audience.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us with your comments.


BBC Complaints

Basically - tough luck! I doubt Rangers and Celtic supporters ever have cause to complain. Just all us diddy teams! Oh well. Business as usual.

Thursday 5 February 2009

Google Latitude: Creepy but Cool?

I've just added Google Latitude to my phone. Latitude is an new addition to Google Maps which allows you to see where your friends are at any given time. Your phone's location is determined by your triangulated distance from phone masts (to give an approximate location) or your phone's GPS.

You can change you privacy setting so certain people, or no-one can see where you are, or you can limit it to just say what city you are in.

In theory it sounds quite cool - you can look at your map and see that mayeb your friends are nearby and might fancy meeting up for a drink. It would also be quite cool for companies that want to track field engineers but don't want to shell out for expensive fleet tracking software. You can integrate Latitude with your iGoogle page so see where all your "friends" (or employees) are on your computer.

On the other hand it is quite creepy. Always being tracked? It takes Facebook stalking to the next level. With this you literally could hunt someone down! Hmmm... dubious.

I have added it for now. I doubt I have enough techie/geeky friends to make much use of this!

W makes a good point - this is a bit like like the Marauder's map from Harry Potter.

/edit - now that I think about it - for all the paranoid parents out there this will be a god-sent!

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Ringgo result!

I'm happy to report that Ringgo got my PCN cancelled! :)

Tuesday 20 January 2009

Knee progress

I went to see a new surgeon today at the Wimbledon Clinic.

The surgeon I saw was very good and agreed my case was a very difficult one. He has referred me to a consultant physiotherapist who specialises in kneecap overload. I will apparently be getting a 1h session in a couple of weeks, through which I will be given a pretty intensive physio programme that I will have to follow.

He does think that that should help the pain in my knee and return strength to my left leg.

I also had a follow up for the orthotic inserts and had my foot force measured again, and they do appear to be helping my dodgy gait.

So, I have high hopes for the new physio regime. Positive mental attitude!

Ringgo my arse!

Originally uploaded by salimfadhley
Like I said I love technology but it hates me.

I've been using Ringgo for a few months to pay for parking by SMS. Usually I use it when I am travelling for work to London by train. There is a code displayed on the platform which lets you get the parking for a bit cheaper so genuine commuters benefit.

Occasionally when I am out and about I will use the service to pay for my own parking (the charge goes to my personal credit card).

Today I used it when I went to visit Robbie in Chiswick. When I went back to the car there was an attendant giving me a ticket. "But I've used Ringgo", I protested in vain.

Turns out I entered my reg. number wrong. Clever. I was able to show him the payment confirmation on my phone but he had already written the ticket so I have to appeal. I am assuming I will win the appeal, as I did actually pay for the parking.

I should have just paid for a normal ticket. I'm not sure why I didn't. You have to pay extra for the "privilege" of using Ringgo.

My fault, but once again I am getting bitten in the arse by my eagerness to adopt technology. Maybe it's a sign?

LoveHate Technology

I love technology but technology seems to want to kick my arse whenever I get near it.

Take my relationship with TomTom: almost everytime I try to rely on it, it let's me down. I spend ages with back and forth emails to TomTom support trying to get the damn thing to work. Eventually I gave up and told them I wanted to send it back for repair. I'd only used it about 2 dozen times in its lifetime.

TomTom received my SatNav (in Glenrothes!) but then I heard nothing from them again. I asked them the other day what was going on and they replied that they had meant to tell me they were going to charge me for an out-of-warranty repair, but seeing as they had forgotten to they would do it for free. Nice one! Actually, they sent me a brand new unit!. Result! Shame I don't actually have a bike anymore, but I have bought the car adaptor kit for it.

I test it on the way home from work and it is fine. Then when I plug it in to the computer and it says it needs to do an update. Okey-dokey I let it update away, thinking taht with a clean new unit everything will be ok.

Then this morning I have to drive from Oxford to Wimbledon for an appointment about my knee. I decide that this time I can rely on TomTom to guide me there. Except now the damn thing won't turn the GPS on! I drive all the way down the M40 with it unable to find any satellites ("Poor GPS signal. Are you indoors?" No, I'm flippin' not!). Eventually on the M4 I pull into the services, where lovely Anita from WH Smith gives me her name badge to reset the TomTom (from now on I will always carry a paperclip in the car!). After two goes I give up and walk back to the car - lo and behold it gets a lock!

Thankfully it now manages to guide me to the clinic with only 15min to spare.

Then I use it again afterwards and it manages to guide me to Chiswick where I meet Robbie for lunch. Then, when I try to use it to get out of London, it fails again. Cue phone call to Robbie asking if I can pop in to his school to nick a paperclip. I will forever be grateful to the acting urchins on Chiswick for donating a paperclip to me.

Without TomTom I would not have found the clinic, nor Robbie's school. I am now going to have to get back on to TomTom support to report this latest problem, and I am sure they will have me plugging the damn thing in to the computer to roll-back the upgrade. Fantastic!

TomToms should come with a paperclip as standard.

Sunday 18 January 2009

BBC Complaint

I've just sent in this complant to the BBC. I'll post up any reply I get:

There is often a perception that the BBC is too London and England centric, and ignores Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. A typical complainant might say that Andy Murray is referred to as British when he wins and Scottish when he loses. I think this type of accusation is generally unfair.

However, there is one area where the BBC shows a lack of understanding and disrespect for the people of Scotland. That is in its coverage of the Scottish Premier League football.

I have got used to the fact that you will only ever seen footage of Rangers and/or Celtic on BBC news programmes. I can just about justify that with these two teams having the largest support in Scotland.

Although the SPL is in general treated like a sideshow, what does particularly annoy me is when you treat the rest of the SPL as if it does not exist.

For example today on Radio 1, I twice heard the newsreader mention that Celtic was playing Aberdeen. Not once did they mention that Motherwell were also playing Dundee United.

To be that shows a complete disrespect to Scotland and Scottish football (granted the quality isn't great!) - the assuption that there are only two teams in Scotland is both insulting and patronising.

I suggest that if you are ever going to mention a Celtic/Rangers game in the SPL, you have the courtesy to mention the rest of the teams playing.