Monday, January 18, 2010

Facebook is watching me.

Is technology all over us?

A couple of days ago, while I was having a drink with a friend, he brought the subject of how the fan pages of “my Facebook” were flooding “his Facebook,” even though he doesn’t speak Spanish, and made us wonder if there was such thing as a Master mind behind the friendly Facebook that could tell if I have a new friend or just a new acquaintance.

From the technology perspective, I could see this happening some how easily, of course, I am nothing close to a programmer, but could be something like reading patterns such as this person writes on X person’s wall plus more than 1 email in Y period of time equals a new best friend.

Is our social life as simple as that? This made remember a anecdote of when I was a teenager. When I was probably about 13 years old, I used to have a really good friend in school. We were best buddies since primary school and we continued like that through Secondary school even though we had different classrooms. We used to wait for each other for lunch and sat outside the school at the end of the school day.

Time passed by and towards the end of secondary school, one afternoon after classes, sitting outside as normal, we start fighting and even throw a few punches to the air. The next day we ignored each other and our friends in common asked what happen, but we never really knew what happen. We just never hang out again and by the end of the year we never spoke or saw again. With this story, I want to say that friendships were straight forward, simple and visible to you and your friends.

Those were the days without Facebook that can label us as singles or not, nevertheless predict our relationships. I can’t say I have the certainty that such intelligence system exists, and that there's an evilness behind the social network, monitoring our lives to better target advertisement but it does make me think, if this information is not being used for those purposes, what for then?

An even more annoying function is the suggested friends. I read in the FB official blog, back when they launched the function that this functionality, that it would eventually learn from your patterns, meaning every time you say no to someone, it would learn and not show that person again. But in real life, that just doesn't work. I still get added by random (and I guess purpose-less) people who doesn't know me and doesn't even send messages. The worst is when I delete someone, it keeps suggesting me to re-add this person unless I block him or her.

You can call me paranoiac, but I’ve been thinking about it lately, and I don’t think there is a big difference between the times that I write in my older friends and my new friends. The interestingly part is that I don’t get as many invitations to join my other friends groups as I get to this new friend. Is Facebook suggesting me to move forward or just taking a lucky guess. I will see.

Cheers!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A passport that wants your money.

One of the first things schools and Universities tell to international students on their welcome packs, along with basic survival guidance like registering with the local General Practitioner and the emergency numbers, is to open a bank account. Which in fact, in my opinion, I don’t think it is that important to have it, however it does make life easier, as you get access to other services, like get a gym membership or a mobile contract with hundreds of texts instead of the crazy-expensive “pay as you go”.



The problem is that no one really tells you which bank is best, and I remember when I was asking for a address confirmation letter at my university, that letter needs to be addressed to a particular bank, so I asked the office assistant – which bank would you recommend? And he responds - well I have Barclays.- and  my choice. An interesting way to choose a bank, considering that coming from abroad, and knowing nothing about their brand and reputation and I was going to trust my one-year cost of living to a “stranger”.



Next thing I did was go to a Barclay’s branch but unfortunately, I was told off (after hours of waiting and been pitched about 5 different accounts that “suited me”) because of some problems with my documents and had to return to the university to correct it. Then I remembered that we had HSBC in my country, so my logic was - perhaps it could be easier to move funds to my UK account. So I changed my mind and requested a letter to open a HSBC bank account.



In my experience, HSBC was the quickest banking experience I’ve ever had. Not only at the beginning that I pre-filled my application online, then went to my nearest branch, and got my account in less than 15 minutes with no queuing or waiting, and I think is just great that they have this “Starbucks like-home feeling ” because they all look familiar, they make you feel comfortable and agree in what they sell. Once I was a customer, the Internet banking just works perfectly, no need to carry an annoying and big security device to access to your account.

I wouldn’t dare to say that HSBC is THE best option but they do know how to make it interesting for international students naming their student account as Passport. They basically sign you on a 1-year contract.

The promise is that your account will be easily transferred (but not necessary) to your country once you finish your studies or want to move back. They also welcome you with a “free sim topped up with £10 credit”, which of course is not very free after the of £8 a month. They also give you more useful advice and a few other useless discounts (at least they were for me) like for Western Union to transfer money abroad.

Cheers!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What eBay should learn from retail?

A NonModern shopping approach with a twist.

There’s a say to make a house feel like home, but when you first live on your own, particularly in a foreign country, that can be challenging. I remember apart from finding where to live, which area, zone or what ever, once I sorted that, I found myself in my new room, with a “naked bed”, an empty closet and a dusty desk. I opened my bags and while trying to sort my clothes, I thought – uff I should’ve brought hangers.


But, who brings that sort of stuff in the luggage? When normally, you have to fight the night before with your bags to be able to close it because is already full, on top of the weight limitations and the number of bags.


After struggling for a few days with that, someone told me about Argos, a catalogue for home shopping. To me, the idea of catalogue shopping was rather vintage and just didn’t understand the concept; in my country there is no such thing like them or even if there is, I bet is not as broad and complete like them.


The first time I entered to the shop (or warehouse as I am not sure how to call them because they don’t have a show room), it was very confusing and there was no such thing as “first time here?” or maybe instructions on the wall “starbucks-wise”, they should do something about this, especially in a country with such a high number of immigrants.


Basically you have books on the sides and little red machines that work as stock checkers. You find the product you need, then you type the code and see if it is available, if they do, you write the code in a piece of paper and go to the till and pay, then collect. It sounds easy, but to me it wasn’t the first time as between me being the newbie and also that I was being pushed and shoulder to shoulder by a big woman next to me that was looking for a new laundry airer. Everything was very confusing to me.


Luckily for everybody, they also have an online version of the huge catalogue and a search box that works. In my opinion, that has made it the best place to shop – everything- in Britain. Not because they treat you nicely and offer help when collecting your item, in fact, the shopping experience is completely the opposite, but it is so convenient, and on their website you can read so many reviews about the quality and performance of everything they sell. You can read feedback for simple stuff.


I have bought from travel accessories to kitchenware, and every time I do, I am able to read if it works or not. They normally have several options in the same product category, from cheap to not so cheap, and sometimes the cheap ones work as well as the expensive ones.
Other similar sites in the sense that you can find it all, are eBay but honestly, most of the feedbacks are about sellers performance or quick shipping, not about the actual performance of the product, and if you go through reviews, is not in the same page or so easy to read and find. I guess because I don’t always have the time to research 5 different websites when I want to buy a £2 bike pump.


Cheers!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Rediscovering music in London

No swap or delete, just add more

I have come to the point where I just don’t know how to go from here. Of course deleting my entire music database on my iPod is extreme but now how to also cope with my new music interests. Better yet, how to keep increase my music library without just guessing at the music shop? Not that I particularly shop in them, but the question is how to stay knowing about this infamous bands or artists, even if you don’t know anything about them.

Someone told me about Spotify, a “music on demand and free” program available in the UK and some other countries in the EU. I have been a user of Rhapsody so I am aware of the model, but the new part here is that it is for free. That has been really great as now I am able to hear very different music from what I was used to do. That has answered my question, because basically, it allows you to share playlists, quite handy if you have a friend that is a music finder and likes to share the findings.

Because let me tell you a bit more about me, but I am not sure when is when your music preferences get defined in a person’s life but obviously it has to be at a very early stage, because I have been always a pop person, and my parents say that I used to belt out Gloria, the 80s song by Laura Branigan at the age of 2 or 3. That is hilarious and perhaps the reason why I have always been keen in that type of music. Of course, blame the parents of my bad taste in cheesy and commercial music is easy would say a psychologist.

Over the time I have been keen in listening that sort of music and stick to the Top 40 tunes of the year. I know, there is nothing wrong about it, but it has to be a little bit when you pass the age of 16, or not? I have been thinking about it a lot lately and perhaps the joy comes from the imaginary ride letting myself feel like in a film, obviously a very commercial one.

Since I have been living in London, I have let myself enjoy and try different things and broaden my horizons. People living here is quite unique and you can find people with the most odd or different passions. And you can get a taste of it by just popping to a small gig at local pubs or to a more professional one at the Barbican.

The vast choice of music, voices, instruments, sounds, and etc. is so big, that I understand why we foreigners, and non-born Londoners, get addicted to this city.

Lately, and with little help of the locals, I have been reintroduced to music. Genres I was aware they existed, like jazz or many others that I just wouldn’t be able to say which one is, because I don’t know the name of it or name them wrong. I am still processing and reorganizing my new personal taste; I still like pop, but now I also like other stuff. I am glad sites like Spotify allow me to have more tunes in my mind to musicalize my mind.

One, Two or Three

Stay in touch like if you were at home

When I arrived to the UK, I was unsure about which mobile network choose, and first thing I tried, was to unlock my current mobile, however the dodgy internet cafĂ© that had a sign of unlocking, just couldn’t unlock my Motorola E2, probably because this model was never sold here in the country or not sure about the reason but then, my net step was to I popped in to one a Car phone warehouse shops.

This shops quite an interesting place to buy your mobile because they are resellers and show you all the networks at once, and although I have always been suspicious about resellers, as I always think they have higher prices than the actual shop, which in the case of Carphone, that is actually wrong and they are even cheaper, but that is a different topic, so let me carry on saying that I bought the cheapest mobile at that time, with the Vodafone network, which was a good enough for what I was paying.

I learned that the British mobile market is all about choice, particularly beneficial for consumers as we get cheaper options with tons of minutes to call or to text, basically if you’re only interested in texting and calling locally, which in my opinion, as a foreigner is not really useful because you tend to know very few people and those unlimited text would be just a waste of money, I was more keen in a network that would give me something that I would really like be in contact with my friends and family at home.

Some offer cheap international calls but that’s just good enough, compared to free MSN Messenger or Skype calls offered by Three, and of course I know MSN Messenger and even Skype possibly are not the most popular chats in your country, but luckily for me, at least MSN was so that offer was all I needed to know to choose them although I didn’t know that many people, usually other networks users, say that Three has bad signal problems, but seriously don’t trust them. All of them are about the same.

The best part of it was the free Skype calls even without credit and I have to say that I was even suspicious about the whole free calls thing; but so far and after a year of being a customer of them, I have not had any problems at all. They offer is free and they are for free, no catch at all.

Nowadays, I am completely hooked with this service, basically because I can call my friends when they are online like if I were placing a regular call, out on the streets without any wifi networks or anything else and it works amazingly, although I have to admit I have also increased my spending on Skype credit to make international calls to their landlines, but that’s a rather cheap and convenient way to call them and I don’t have to think about calling cards anymore.

Finally, what made the service worth every pence, is when my parents got a Skype phone to plug to the internet, that made a huge difference and made it even more convenient for family as now, my Mum doesn’t need to go in front of the computer to get my calls. She just picks up the phone as normal and now I just can literally call her daily and nag with her without thinking about the charges ;).

Cheers!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Building a relationship map in a foreign city.

Soulmates
A web site to actually truly find interesting people online.

Let’s start with the idea that meeting people is difficult, and it becomes even more difficult if you are in a foreign country and city. I currently live in London and even in a city so big and so crowded; it has been so difficult to build a friends network from scratch. It’s even more ridiculous how difficult it has been for me to meet the British people. I am glad that is changing and forgive me non-british friends as I am also very happy to be your friend and referring to you in this post.

I wonder how people used to meet people in the past. I have to admit that perhaps I am a case of anti socialism or an early generation net member, as my experience with meeting people on a chat or via email was never something that scared me or raised my suspicions. Although I have to confess that yeas, I had also bad experiences, like photos not matching profiles or crazy people with ridiculous stories, etc. But if it not were because of the Internet, probably my life, as I know it now, wouldn’t be the same, because basically, through online chats I met some of the most important people in my life and that still are part of it.

For those reasons, when I first came to the UK, I had very high expectations about meeting people online as I knew it would play a crucial roll in how my adaptation process would develop.

Over the time I have been an online dater or “friender”, I have witnessed how it has changed from being only a place to meet early Internet adopters to now a very diverse landscape of websites where you can meet people for as crazy as your needs are and you can be as specific as
you may want to be.

Literally it has become like a shopping cart for leads and partners. For example I have no idea what part of my profile triggers ads on my Facebook for people interested other people wearing uniforms, that’s spooky and hilarious but apart from that, there are so many options for whatever your interest are.

I found particularly interesting and genuinely a good place to meet interesting people, no strings attached, in Soulmates at the Guardian.co.uk. Their selling line is “all you need for a good date”, and I have to agree on this. They do deliver really what they sell, and they do it amazingly!
Lately I have caught myself with an addictive behaviour to “meet” (electronically) new people
through this website on a more regular basis. Not all the time I have the time or energy to go and meet in person, but I tend to at least engage in long email discussions which has been rather
fun and on top of that I get to know more about the British culture or at least practice my English!

I think this model works so well basically because in theory, “nicer people” go and read the newspaper, and independent one, etc. and to put it as in “shopping language” its like swapping grocery shopping from Iceland to Mark & Spencer.

Better and more interesting people in general, better and longer conversations, and in the end if you are “shopping” for love, there is a higher chance to find it there instead to the randomness of a night out.

Cheers!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Blackberry sucks and I wish I had my money back!

Thinking about choosing BB or iPhone? Read this first

I have to first say I am a PC user that then converted myself into a Mac, it took me a while but now I feel like a fish in the sea when it comes to my notebook. I just learn to live in a digital world where shutting down my laptop was not required that frequently like I used to do when on Windows, etc.
Since the release of the iPhone, I always wanted one but for one reason or the other, I always procrastinated the decision and I never got it, although I have owned an iPod Touch for long time now, which gives you a little preview of the overall experience of the iPhone. Anyway, about a couple of months ago, i was just tied of using 9 keys to write a text message, so I decided to go for a new mobile, and particularly one with a full keyboard. I came across many options but let's be honest, the decision in the end is whether you want to be a Blackberry AKA Windows or go for an iPhone and be a Mac. I struggle for months in fact before choosing BB or Mac, however I thought well, many people I know have BBs, so BB Chat will be useful, I thought I also wanted to look
more professional, and mainly the main reason I was looking forward to, was to have Skype on my mobile running most of the time, so I could answer internet calls and use my Skype out credit as I was doing since I got my contract with Three. I decided to go for the Blackberry 9000 Bold.
Since the moment I got it, it comes in a very nice box, which it is eye catchy and got excited about it. However, I always felt a bit suspicious and a traitor to my new Mac religion, but I carried on and tried to learn all the new tricks.
Blackberry OS is quite straightforward, so they make their user's manual rather small, however there is no really need to have a very detailed one as most users just don't read manuals I believe, so it was ok. I tried to install a few things, found that iSkoot was the software that I needed to run Skype as I wanted and setup my email.
As for email and basically Facebook and Twitter applications, I have to admit that BBs are the best. They actually deliver a very good service, they are on your screen as soon someone sends you something and you can read it, reply or whatever you want to do with it. Unlike the Apps in the iPhone that just don't run always, so you have to open the Facebook App to know more about FB updates, or the same on Twitter, etc, so you have to be a bit aware of the apps nonetheless open them every time you want to access them instead of magically running behind and buzzing you when they arrive.

All those little stuff have made my life a bit more easy as now I can keep convincing myself that I made a good decision when choosing BB. However, I just can't. I have made a list of things BB does so badly that I believe only Windows users might be more use to or I have become more sensible to that and just can't put up with it.

- Blackberry freezes like a computer with Windows; and what do you have to do when a Windows freezes? Turn it on and off, well, with BB you have to do that as well. Rather frequently I find myself taking out the battery to shut it down because the off key just won't respond.

- Blackberry has a very slow browser / Internet navigation; surfing on a BB is just slow. It just doesn't give you the full experience. It is so slow that you want to throw your handset through the window. The more in a hurry you are, the slower it becomes. Nonetheless the unavailability of surfing the web with tabs as now it is a default option in all new browsers.

- Links in Javascript just doesn't work (I believe is the code BB have problems executing); many webmasters decide to use javascript for their navigational menus and those buttons are just inaccessible via a BB. That is just so frustrating as you are supposed to be sort of surfing in what should behave like a computer with a small screen.

- Uninstalling is just difficult and not friendly at all; you have to go through a lot of steps before being successful, the worst part is that even though you deleted the app, it will stay as an icon in the downloads folder, as a trace of your downloads. I guess that could be to make your life easier if you want to re-install it, however if you are not, it is just a reminder of something you don't want in you phone.

- Again, is a slow device; you start opening programs, and you have to close them all, by going one by one, closing them and sometimes you are just not sure if it is closed or not. In the end if you don't do this, the OS become so slow that you have to pull the battery out to turn it off.

- Life battery is THE WORST EVER I HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED. I have owned a mobile phone since 1996, and i remember my first mobile was a Nec, that looked similar to a brick, horrible and not stylish at all, and I remember that not even with that phone I had to recharge it several times a day. Blackberry phones are just not environmentally conscious at all! I am sure someone else have already thought of that before. To fully use all the capabilities the phone could provide, you would need to carry extra batteries with you and a charger at all times.

- The App Store is just crap and useless. VERY limited options, search box is a stupid box that just doesn't work for for what it is for, so they should just stick to directories, as it is completely disappointing to see the results it brings.

- Same for the Themes and Background site. Their mobile site sucks and their desktop version is about the same so not really a big difference and definitely the worst user experience.

- The professional look that i wanted, is just not enough and now i am stuck with a massive device that looks OK if I am wearing a suit, but can't help but wonder that I look a bit dumb when on my trainers or my PJs. I know this is silly...but when it comes to design I do care about both parts of the product. Deliver the promise on the inside and on the outside, especially if they lately advertise as a young / fun product with cool tunes. They actually are fun, but not cool. And well, I am not even going in detail with all the other problems one could find like difficult to synchronise through Bluetooth with a Mac, bad quality camera, etc. But those problems are not unique of BBs so not really a thing to highlight about them.

I hope this detailed user experience has been helpful. I want to conclude this saying that I am still trying to adapt to the BB but there are things that one should not just get used to like the problems I expressed here.

Introduce me.

First order of business, forgive me if there are some grammatical mistakes in my following posts. I am originally from Mexico City in the great and wonderful country of Mexico. Perhaps you are not familiar with my culture but you may have heard more about the Aztecs or Mayas, so well, that's where I come from. We speak Spanish and I have adopted English as a second language after abducting myself from my country since 2007.

The purpose of this blog is to express my multiple opinions about products, service that I have used or come across while living here in the UK. Some of those products were already available in my country, however it just happens that I became a user now that I live on this latitude.

I tend to express my opinion with very little filtering and editing in my words, I have been writing blogs in Spanish for longer, but this is the first time I do it in English, so please, do not take everything I say as granted as like most of consumers, I tend to build my opinions mainly in my personal and sole experience.

Please, continue reading and comment will be very useful and to engage in discussion. I might be wrong most of the times and you may help me identify my mistakes. Thank you again and welcome to my blog.