>Ashley Highfield – the end of an era | PDA: The Digital Content Blog | Guardian Unlimited

>Ashley Highfield – the end of an era | PDA: The Digital Content Blog | Guardian Unlimited

When I worked at the BBC, he once gave me a bottle of champagne for overseeing the successful relaunch of one of their websites. Quite a few others got them too so I am not special or anything.

Not long after that, he masterminded the budget cuts that led to my site being closed.

What a man!

>Help Twits

HELP! clanged The Beatles irritatingly at the beginning of their 60s hit. (Incidentally, sure I once heard a version of Help! that began with the, or a something like, the James Bond theme, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Help. How can four letters so arranged prove to be so important (if they save your life) also be so irritating that you want to grab an axe and go on a rampage after trying to use Twitter‘s help functionality?

Help functionality has never worked that well IMHO. After being invited to start Twittering, I decided to personalise my account and add a background image. Did the usual, uploaded it, and no surprise, pic didn’t appear. I rinsed and repeated this several times to make sure I wasn’t showing my age but still go the same result.

Twitter’s help, powered by the surely ironically named Get Satisfaction seems to be some kind of live help functionality. Post your question and it all starts spinning into life. And spinning, and loading, and fetching, and probably carrying too. I stared at the screen for five minutes, curiosity driving me by then, before deciding to give up.

I decided to click on the See all discussions link and landed on a baffling page. Few of the links here worked. One that did displayed all tags and, by golly, clicking on the design tag I found a post related to my problem. Sadly, I was confronted by this chappie:

Would you trust him? His name is Biz Stone. I ask again, would you trust him? His solution to the missing background image problem? “You should be able to fix it by going through and picking some custom colors and then saving that design. Let me know if it works.” That’s the kind of informed, fluent tech speak that solves problems quickly. No one had replied to him.

Stangely enough, I followed his suggestion and at first, nothing worked. I came back a few hours later, however, and lo! My background image was in place.

All of which leaves me wondering if Biz’s somewhat stoneish, surfdude-esque ways might be better than the slick, “I’ll keep using your name because it makes us seem really professional”, ultra-service minded types one is usually confronted with in human help.

Now all I have to do is figure out exactly how Twitter will make my life better. I am sure they can tell me on their site.

A Help desk:

>Can Google Hear Me – Trying to get Google’s attention through the Internet

>Can Google Hear Me – Trying to get Google’s attention through the Internet

The story is as interesting as the idea these fellows have. Having played around the with the BookLamp interface and even with its very limited scope right now, you can see the potential. Backed by an Amazon or a Google, I’d probably use this a lot. I didn’t believe I’d use music recommendations anywhere near as much as I actually do, even paying for a subscription, and I’d take a chance on books the same way. I know it’s not as instant as a song but that doesn’t put me off. I know my tastes in books if I can find new, good stuff, I would for sure take a (cost-free) punt on this service.

Good luck to you, chaps.

>Buying a car in Denmark – the truth

A combination of new job and, er, suppressed wanting, found me in a car showroom last Sunday. Your Danish car dealership, being in a country where Saturday still counts for something (not my choice, but there you go), is open Mon-Fri plus Sunday. These hardworking salesmen need time off too.

I’d arranged to test drive a Mitsubishi Colt, one of the more affordable cars one can pick from in this land of high tax. I’d called in advance to book the test but was told it wasn’t necessary. Just bring your driving licence. So I showed up, mooched around the Colts, sat inside one and inhaled new car, then went and asked for a test drive. They photocopied my licence then handed me a set of keys. “Take the one outside,” said Leif, the grey, middle-aged seller. I walked outside, saw the car, and got in. So he wasn’t coming with me? I’d be left to my own devices? And what about guarantees, waivers, and other documentation I’d signed in England when I’d last test driven a car? Naw. No problem. Maybe I am out of touch, probably am, but this seemed a splendid idea to me. Alone, I could thrash the beast to within an inch of its life – so I did.

It responded wonderfully, throaty roar in first, sashaying through corners, almost as fast in reverse as forward. Half an hour later, I cornered back into the dealership and told Leif, “I’ll buy it.” He seemed perturbed at my decision (he didn’t know I’d done hours of research online), but then shrugged like a Finn and walked past the hospitality table (open bottles of wine for potential punters to guzzle!) and we sat at a desk. Ten minutes later, it was done. I’d bought a brand new, black Colt 1.1 Insport with three years fully comp insurance, three years pan-European breakdown cover, air conditioning as an extra, and the equivalent of £300 delivery charge for the sum of £16,000. Leif never tried to sell me credit, spoilers, fancy wheels or any other garbage.

“It’s a Mitsubishi,” was about all he said, a little glumly. “It’s a good car.” I could tell it pained him to shake on the deal.

Knock off a grand for the equivalent UK fully comp insurance for three years and it works out at about £7000 more than the UK Colt. Mine has more stuff on it (I get an MP3 player and eight million speakers, air con, and refrigerated glove box – whoopee) but yes, I know, not seven grand’s worth of more stuff. They say new car tax in Denmark is 180%. Maybe it is, I can’t be arsed to calculate back to see. Point is, you won’t get around it so if you want a new motor, you pay it. You have to stop comparing.

Where am I going? A few weeks back, I asked my Danish colleagues about car taxes before I purchased. In true Danish tradition (ie, always answer with the negatives), they all launched into uninformed terror tales of the costs, the extortion, how you will never be able to afford it, and waxing lyrical about their hatred for all those low-lifes who buy cars with yellow number plates (signifying no more than two people are allowed in the car at any one time, thus qualifying for a substantial tax break). One said to me, “Put aside DKK4000 (£400) a month for a car!” Another claimed, “The weight of the car. You have to pay tax on that!” One more hollered, “The green tax! That has to be paid.” “The car bill is one we pay and don’t look at,” said the same numpty who claimed it would cost me 400 knicker a month to keep a set of wheels on the road.

I asked about road tax. “I don’t know,” they said. One didn’t even know what car she drove!

So, here for the record, is the deal with Danish new car tax as March 2008: you pay a tax on the car that’s in the quoted price of the car, that’s why they are expensive. You cannot escape it (unless you want yellow plates). Accept it. Consider it part of the purchase price. After that, you pay one tax and one tax alone and that is based on emissions. The lower the emissions, the lower the tax. (A 1.1 Colt sets you back £150 a year.) There’s no road tax like in the UK. There’s no weight tax (phased out a decade ago and replaced with emissions or green tax). There’s no 180% tax on top of the quoted price of the car. It is actually remarkable simple. Expensive, but simple.

Fuel is currently cheaper than the UK, so yah-boo-sucks to you. Think about that when you’re spending the seven grand I had to give to the Danish government. Eh? Oh.

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>Amazo the Amazing Amazon!

> Behold! Amazo the Amazing Amazon! Found deep in the darkest twists and turns of the Amazon, Amazo was curled under gnarled tree, snivelling in his own mess. The good people at Amazon, watch-spammers extraordinaire, tossed a dozen gas bombs at him, tied him up in a boat, and brought him back to the USA.

He is forced to work as a predictor, a fortune teller if you will, telling Amazon exactly what their customers need.

Yes, you are right. Mrs Castro Glugger has lost her watch and is in need of another. How did they know?

>Time Amazon copped on

I bought Mrs Castro Glugger a watch sometime ago. Must be getting on for five or six months, I reckon. She paid for it, of course. But I did the actual buying – complex button-clicking upon king retailer Amazon’s multi-paged site. A week or so later, her little silver watch popped through the letterbox. She was happy. I suppose Amazon were happy. And I was happy (my wife being happy makes me happy – marriage is like that; you want as little grief as possible).

Since then, I must have had at least half a dozen spammish mails from Amazon asking if I want to buy another watch. Do you know what? I did. I bought digitals, analogues, Mickey Mouse watches, boys watches, girls watches, antique watches, movie tie-in watches, wrist watches, and Swatches. I now have more watches than they do. Each time I get an email from them telling me about the latest new watch, I one-click-order immediately, then reply to their mail saying, “Thank you. My watch collection is getting bigger.”

They always reply offering me another watch.

But you see the point of my latest, pointless (see what I did there?) wittering? Damn them. Damn them all. If I wasn’t so lazy, I’d amend my preferences…

>On shutting up, comrade

>You’ll pardon my cheap, unnecessary and outdated reference to ‘comrade’ in the title as I continue to write about the behaviour of Russians and other former Soviet Union bloc country nationals who happen to attend the same Danish class as me.

I shall be unpleasant and continue to say they all behave in a similar fashion by talking endlessly to each other throughout each class. “Nyet! Da!” and other goddamn commie talk expressions and comments presumably about learning Danish (but probably plotting revolution, or worse, westernisation) all get in the way of the rest of us honest joes struggling to get to grips with the gutteral slurrings that are the national tongue of Denmark.

I would not be writing this if I hadn’t observed it in all of them in my class. They joined one by one, then quickly grouped in collectives. This is not unusual in language classes, and I myself often sit next to a fellow English chap (when he bothers to show up, the lightweight). It can be helpful to have someone from home with whom you can foul-up and look stupid with.

But then chattering started. I hit back, shooting glances across the room but they hit their target. Indirectly, the teacher caught them and she became my ally in classroom cold war conflict. Interrupting their yakking (surely a pun!), she asked them questions, then watched as they struggled.

And struggle they did, for along with their endless rabbit, all of them are possessed with an arrogance when it comes to their command of Danish. I was thrown out of my last language school for being so crap, I was slowing everyone up. The Russian scientist (I was instantly suspicious) took to reaching over and actually writing in my notebook corrections to my exercises! In my current class, another did the same! But they aren’t as good as they think, and sounding like a frustrated schoolmaster, I suggest they quit talking among themselves and concentrate on the language.

Now, excuse me while I go off and punish myself and dream of being more than I ever will be.

>On Indian food in Denmark

>Where I work, the canteen folk stick a little sign over so-called hot dishes, if they make a curry or suchlike. First time I saw these, I thought, better go easy. A few moúth-fulls later, I was searching the condiments trolley (it’s that posh) looking for something that might give this poor excuse for a curry something close to a bit of pep.

Suffice to say, I found none. Another time, I order an Indian takeaway. By the time I got over the shock of the cost (c£25 for two dishes, and I mean two, with two measly portions of rice), again I had the same lame attempt at making me sweat (truth be told, the bill did that).

What a relief, then, that I found this maharajah
among websites

What bliss! I now made several of these and yet to be disappointed. And the lamb rogan josh tonight was a blinder.

They can’t do spicy food in Denmark. They’re scared of it.