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Friday 22 September 2006

AA batteries that recharge by USB

Here’s a great idea. The top of the rechargeable AA battery flips to reveal a USB plug. You just plug the battery into a spare USB port on your PC and it charges up. Nothing else needed.

AA batteries that can be recharged from a USB port

I love rechargeable batteries. If you take care of them, they can last for years. I have four NiCad batteries that I bought on Old Compton Street in 1992 (was that electrical shop called Rayners?). I think they cost about £10.

For years I used them in my flash-gun. Now I use them in my digital camera. They must have been recharged hundreds of times and still work perfectly.

Imagine the damage to the environment if I had used standard batteries all this time instead and what would the cost have been? Maybe £500?

There are two types of rechargeable AA battery. The older NiCad type and the more recent NiMH. The secret to getting long life out of Nicads is to make sure you always run them down completely before you recharge. Otherwise they develop a ‘memory’ effect, which means you never get a full charge from them again. Whereas the NiMH type can be ‘topped up’ whenever you like.

In fact, my experience so far has been that, if they are looked after, NiCads seem to survive much longer than their NiMH counterparts.

These USBCell batteries are NiMH and cost £12.99 for two. Which isn’t bad if you get a few years of use out of them.


Filed under: Net & technology — GS @ 10:37 am

British taxpayers may have lost £8.4bn to VAT fraudsters

BBC Panorama reports on a European investigation which suggests that a VAT (sales tax) scam may have cost the UK up to £8.4 billion (£8,400,000,000).

The theft comes from so-called ‘carousel fraud’, where crooks repeatedly import and export high value goods such as mobile phones, failing to pay VAT but then claiming it back from the government.

If this figure is true, it amounts to £140 for every person in Britain.


Filed under: Crime,Politics — GS @ 6:29 am
Wednesday 20 September 2006

Mystery calls on my BT phone bill

Tonight I received the latest quarterly telephone bill from British Telecom for the house here.

I arrived here on 29 July. So, as you would expect, there are no calls listed on the bill until 29 July …

That is, except for two calls to the premium rate numbers 09066 361152 and 09066 361153, on the afternoon of 10 July. Total cost for the two short calls, more than £11.

This is most interesting, because there was no one here on 10 July. My dad is the only other person who has a key and he hadn’t visited. He lives by himself fifty miles away, hasn’t been driving any long distances recently and has his own ‘phone.

Furthermore, when I arrived on the 29th July, there was a massive pile of junk mail behind the front door, which wouldn’t have been where it was if anyone had entered the house less than three weeks before.

Phantom calls on my BT phone bill

The ‘phone companies and regulator like to make out that calls can only show on the bill if someone in the household has made the calls.

But here is a case where no calls were made from this number at all for a long period before 29 July 2006, except for these two premium rate calls to consecutive numbers in the space of 20 minutes on one afternoon. If this doesn’t clearly show that phantom calls can and do appear on a ‘phone bill when the household hasn’t made them, I don’t know what will.

I await BT’s response and will share it with you. Meanwhile I just found this:

Phantom phone scam hits another village.

And here’s a House of Commons debate about Premium Rate scams, from 2004.

Update (29 Sep 2006): It turns out the two calls were to adult services. BT has refunded the cost of them but says it can find no evidence that my line has been abused.

To be fair, they have handled this quickly and had suggested I pay the bill minus the two calls, until they finished their investigation.

They offer free barring of UK-based premium-rate calls, so I’ve had that restriction put on both my numbers, as I have no real interest in calling these numbers.

The whole incident has been quite alarming. But I have to be thankful that it was just a few Pounds and not several hundreds…


Filed under: General — GS @ 2:07 am
Thursday 24 August 2006

Greg Palast on ‘The Fear Factory’

I’m going to tell you something which is straight-up heresy: America is not under attack by terrorists. There is no WAR on terror…

Greg Palast on why fear sells better than sex and how The War on Terror is the Weapon of Mass Distraction. Read it here.

Greg Palast’s investigative reports appear on the BBC, in The Guardian and in Harpers. However, research costs money and he ‘ain’t too proud to beg‘.

Work in progress includes:

1. The untold story of the New Orleans flood.
2. Shoplifting your vote: November 2006 fix.
3. The next oil war.
4. [Confidential.]


Filed under: Politics — GS @ 7:57 am
Wednesday 19 July 2006

There’s a £50 fee to be in the Manchester Pride parade this year

If you want to take part in Manchester’s annual gay pride parade this year you will have to pay £50 + VAT. No, this isn’t a fee for businesses — they already pay more than £1000 to be in the parade.

It is a charge for every non-profit group and individual. Whether you are unemployed, disabled, poor, retired, have HIV, you will have to cough up more than fifty quid to walk through the streets of Manchester and celebrate being lesbian or gay.

When I saw the report in this morning’s Independent newspaper, it took my breath away.

It is bad enough that the cynical, money-focused people who run this event these days, fenced off the gay village and introduced an entrance fee back in 2003. In 2006 that entry charge is up 50% for many people, from £10 to £15.

But this latest stunt has to be the final straw. The signs are that they are selling fewer tickets each year. Money raised for charity in 2005 was the lowest figure since 2002. They seek to mislead the public over their costs.

It’s time for everyone to boycott Manchester Pride and force a change and go back to the roots of this event.

I believe that the biggest threat the gay community in Britain faces now, comes from the people who dream up schemes like this. Those who seek to make money from us at every opportunity. They are only interested in people who can pay.

The current organisers have completely lost sight of what Pride means.

How is it that other sections of the community in Manchester can hold parades and events that are free? But when it comes to the gay community we are told we must pay tens of thousands of Pounds in costs for security, street cleaning etc.?

Why is it that the gay village has to be fenced off with a high entry charge because it is serving alcohol, when alcohol can be served at other outdoor events in the city centre which are not fenced off?

If the City Council can tweak the byelaws to block off public roads in the gay village for a whole weekend, how come it can’t tweak the laws that relate to alcohol?

This is discrimination 2006 style. The gay community can be beaten and threatened into paying this money by businesses, the Police and Manchester City Council — all of whom say Pride won’t go ahead unless we agree to their terms (just look back to what happened in 2002 when the event was almost cancelled).

No other section of the community in Manchester is being hit in this way.


Filed under: LGBT,Manchester — GS @ 12:08 am
Thursday 6 July 2006

Rocketbust: the question the articles never asked about Rocketboom

Andrew Baron, the creator and producer of the videoblog show Rocketboom, and Amanda Congdon its star, have parted company according to reports.

In all the hype that surrounded Rocketboom in its first year online, there was one question that always went unanswered.

Print articles and TV reports were in awe of the show. Breathlessly, they told us how it was produced in an ordinary living room, had a quarter of a million viewers each day and yet cost just $20-$50 to make. Some even suggested that the main expense was photographic light-bulbs.

Andrew, the creator and producer of Rocketboom, was quoted as saying he spent some 8-14 hours making each five-minute episode. Which will be no surprise to anyone who has been involved in the time-consuming business of making television programmes or video.

But, as they predicted a rash of ‘user-generated’ Rocketboom-style programmes coming to a website near you, what none of these ‘anyone can do it’ reports ever asked, was how did the people behind Rocketboom pay the rent and buy food?

It was clear that making Rocketboom was a full-time job. After a year, I began to wonder. Did Rocketboom have a financial backer who had given them start-up cash? Was Andrew a rich-kid who didn’t have to worry about earning a living? Were they all on welfare?

Of course money isn’t everything, but eventually it became clear they did want to earn an income from the show.

As a video blog, Rocketboom has been a spectacular success. A phenomenon and I wholeheartedly congratulate Andrew and Amanda on what they did. But, as a business, it represents a missed opportunity of quite staggering proportions. I read they made about $80,000 from the one ad they had so far.

To be running for eighteen months, with 300,000 viewers per day, five days per week, and make only that, is just mind-boggling. With Google ads you can make $500 a year from a website that only gets 50 visitors a day…

History is littered with the tales of people who had great ideas or creativity, but failed to do what was necessary to turn those into an income. Rocketboom gave away its product under a creative commons licence. Its website and show usually carried no ads. It seems to me that the only valuable asset is the ‘brand’ and Amanda Congdon is a huge part of that.

Now the bubble has burst. Occasionally Rocketboom was brilliant (Amanda dancing in Russia), but often it was a bit too off-the-wall and left us scratching our heads in bemusement. Andrew was an expert on the RSS distribution side of things, with the result that Rocketboom was the first to make it big. It was a novelty and highly popular for that reason. That iconic combination of Amanda and the map… They captured a moment in time and I fear that moment is now over.

If I was Amanda, I would start making a new online show right now while she is so much in the public eye. If I was Andrew, I would sell the Rocketboom show, archives (which don’t have a lot of value because they are so topical) and domain name and split the money with Amanda, while they still have the chance to make some money from this. Otherwise Rocketboom is going to begin a slow fade into history without making either of them rich.

The worst thing would be to get tied up in a legal case for several years, by which time there will be nothing left to carve up. Time is of the essence for both of them…


Filed under: Net & technology — GS @ 11:17 am
Friday 28 April 2006

So far Iraq has cost $1000 for every person in the USA

“The Iraq war has already cost the United States $320bn (£180bn), according to an authoritative new report, and even if a troop withdrawal begins this year, the conflict is set to be more expensive in real terms than the Vietnam War, a generation ago…

Iraq will have consumed $101bn in fiscal 2006 alone, almost double the $51bn of 2003…

Even if everything goes relatively smoothly, costs until a phase-out is complete could top $370bn.”

The Independent

Yes, 320 thousand million Dollars so far… Slightly more than one thousand Dollars for every person in the USA.

All for what exactly?

And even more staggering…

‘According to the Treasury Department, the forty-two presidents who held office between 1789 and 2000 borrowed a combined total of $1.01 trillion from foreign governments and financial institutions. But between 2001 and 2005 alone, the Bush White House borrowed $1.05 trillion, more than all of the previous presidencies combined.’

Rolling Stone magazine


Filed under: Politics — GS @ 12:48 am
 
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