Microsoft’s Keyboard for Giants

Microsoft have been in the hardware business since 1982. The majority of their hardware designs are for mice and keyboards, and I’ve owned a few over the years. The last set that I bought was the Arc Keyboard and Arc Mouse for our HTPC. I liked the minimalist design and small dimensions of the Arc Keyboard, and the Arc Mouse is neat, but I need to put the mouse down onto a flat surface to use it.

Now, Microsoft has announced a new All-in-One Media keyboard. It combines a keyboard and an integrated multi-touch trackpad in one, with dedicated keys for Windows 8.1 and media controls. Sounds like an ideal device as an upgrade for our HTPC. I’m already often using the Arc Keyboard with my ThinkPad Tablet 2 when I want to type long documents.

I’m just a bit surprised that the A-i-O Media Keyboard is not backlit. I would have thought that this would be a natural design feature for a keyboard intended to be used with HPTCs in a darkened room.

I also notice that Microsoft have apparently built this keyboard for giants. According to the current product page, the keyboard is huge: 30.56 inches wide by 10.98 inches deep. This must be an error; the metric measurements are a much more reasonable 36.68 cms. by 13.18 cms.

Keyboard 01

Posted in Computers and Internet | 5 Comments

Music and Windows Phone

Back in the days of Windows Phone 7, Microsoft’s Zune application was used to copy or synchronise media (music, photos, videos and podcasts) between your PC’s media libraries and your Windows Phone. When I had a Nokia Lumia 800 (which used Windows Phone 7.8), it was wonderfully easy to transfer music and podcasts from my libraries to my phone and to manage them on my phone with it.

Then I upgraded to a Nokia Lumia 1020, which uses Windows Phone 8, and found that I’d need to change the media management software, because Zune doesn’t work with Windows Phone 8. Microsoft has released a new generation of media management software for use with Windows Phone 8.

Microsoft make two versions of this media management software for Windows, a desktop application and a Modern UI App.

I have tried both of them, and I’m here to tell you that they are both absolutely abysmal. Microsoft should really be embarrassed at how bad they are.

Here’s a screenshot of Zune displaying some of my music albums. To copy an album across to the phone, I simply drag and drop the albums onto the icon of the phone:

Zune 04

Here’s the equivalent screen of the new desktop application:

Zune 06

For a start, there’s no way of displaying albums; only a list of genres and artists. Secondly, there’s no display of Album Art, which I find gives me useful visual cues. Thirdly, if I select a genre, then the list displayed under Artists does not change to display only those items (songs) that are tagged with the relevant genre, so I have no way of knowing the specifics of what I am about to sync. Also, I have no way of knowing how much space will be required on my phone.

If you think this is bad, here’s the equivalent opening screenshot of the Modern UI App when adding music to your phone:

Zune 07

The problem is that Microsoft has focused on its subscription-based cloud service for music – Xbox Music – and forgotten about those of us who have our own music collections or have no interest in paying a monthly subscription fee. If you are a subscriber to the Xbox Music service, then you can download music from the service directly to your Windows Phone 8 device. But if you are not a subscriber, Microsoft will point you in the direction of one of their media management software applications to transfer music to your phone, and using them is a horribly painful process.

Fortunately, I have discovered that there is another alternative; and that is Microsoft’s good old Windows Media Player. It knows about Windows Phone 8 devices, and can sync to them with ease. I can display my music collection by Album, Artist, Genre, Rating, even by Composer (none of the other Microsoft applications can do this), and sync my selection to my phone with ease.

Zune 08

You can also use it to browse the content of your Windows Phone and manage your media on the phone if you so wish. Here’s the Album view:

Zune 09

And here’s the photos on my phone:

Zune 11

By way of contrast, here’s what you see when you use Microsoft’s brand spanking new desktop application for Windows Phone to browse your photos:

Zune 12

Yup, it can’t even display thumbnails of your photos… As I say, Microsoft should be thoroughly ashamed of this rubbish.

I’ll be sticking to Windows Media Player for managing the music media on my phone from now on.

There’s a sting in the tail I’m afraid for those of you who are using a Windows device running Windows RT, such as the Surface 2. Windows Media Player isn’t available for Windows RT. I’m afraid you are stuck with Microsoft’s abysmal Windows Phone App.

Posted in Computers and Internet, Consumer Electronics, Music | 4 Comments

First Day Out

Our neighbour has a herd of dairy cattle. During the winter, they are kept indoors, but come the spring, they are let out to graze in his fields. Today was the first time they were let out this year, and you can see from the videos that they are pleased to be out in the fields. In the second video, near the start, if you watch it fullscreen, you can just see a couple of hares running to avoid getting trampled on by a cow weighing 500 kg.

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Posted in Events, Nature | Leave a comment

Welcome, England and Wales…

…you finally made it. At midnight on Saturday 29 March 2014, same-sex couples in England and Wales will be able to legally tie the knot. It’s been a long, hard battle for them to get equality, but the day has finally come. England and Wales join the other fifteen countries that recognise same-sex marriage.

It’s also refreshing to see that the Church of England has thrown in the towel, and that the current Archbishop of Canterbury has publicly signalled the end of the Church of England’s resistance to same-sex marriage. Mind you, the global Anglican Church still has plenty of spleen and venom to vent on the issue, so now the fight moves elsewhere.

In the meantime, congratulations to those who are preparing to get married. Sandi Toksvig has an excellent article on what it means to her.

Posted in LGBT Politics, Society | Leave a comment

Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent

Back in 1959, when I was ten years old, I went to our local cinema and saw Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. I was utterly mesmerised by it. Two things gripped me, and never let me go: the look of the film, and the music. Well, the music was by Tchaikovsky, after all, and it merely confirmed to me that classical music was worth listening to.

The look of the film was extraordinary. The backgrounds were styled after the illustrations in medieval Books of Hours. For Sleeping Beauty, although Disney’s regular production designer was in charge of the film’s overall look, the film’s colour stylist and chief background designer was Eyvind Earle. His work was detailed, heavily stylised, and brought a real sense of landscape into the film.

Sleeping Beauty 01

There was a terrific villainess as well – the bad fairy, and in Disney’s version, she had a name: Maleficent. And now, she’s back – there’s a new Disney live-action film coming out in May this year, with Angelina Jolie as the eponymous villainess. I must admit that the film’s trailer looks as though it may actually give the old film a run for its money.

Posted in Film, Music | 3 Comments

Geert and Gedogen

Gedogen is one of those (many?) Dutch words that is somewhat difficult to translate. On the face of it, it means to tolerate, permit, suffer and allow. However, there is something lurking behind those straightforward definitions; an additional layer of meaning that indicates that the tolerance, the permission and so forth are granted, well, perhaps not grudgingly per se, but perhaps almost in spite of the thing that is being tolerated. There’s a sense of turning a blind eye to behaviour that, strictly speaking, is illegal, or should not be condoned, but which one tolerates out of a sense of liberalism and of a sense of “live and let live”.

Someone who has been the beneficiary of much gedogen is the Dutch populist politician Geert Wilders. He, on the other hand, exhibits near zero gedogen for his targets: immigrants, Muslims and Moroccans.

We’ve just had elections here in the Netherlands for the town councils (the Gemeenten), and Wilders’ party fielded candidates in just two places: The Hague and Almere. During the campaign, Wilders went on record as saying that voters in The Hague should vote for a city with lower taxes and, if possible, fewer Moroccans. As a result, one Labour candidate (Fouad Sidhali) tweeted a comparison of Wilders to Hitler, a statement he later withdrew after criticism from senior Labour officials, saying the comparison had been unjustified.

I found it fascinating to observe the media and politicians exhibiting gedogen towards Wilders by focusing on Sidhali’s tweet, rather than the initial remark by Wilders. It was as though Wilders was the injured party, rather than Sidhali, who had probably responded with understandable exasperation over yet more of Wilders’ xenophobic rhetoric.

Wilders then (oh so predictably) responded by saying Fouad Sidali’s rethink was sensible but that ‘it would have been more sensible to leave for Morocco’.

And so it goes. Geert grins under the grace of gedogen.

But perhaps a line has now been crossed. During last night’s after-election celebrations in the Hague, Wilder asked his supporters ‘and do you want more or fewer Moroccans in your city and in the Netherlands?’ To which the crowd chanted ‘fewer, fewer, fewer’. ‘ We’ll arrange that,’ Wilders said with a faint smile (or was it a smirk?) when the chanting died down.

I would like to think that people are beginning to think that enough is enough, and that the emperor has no clothes, other than rags of xenophobia and racism. We will see what happens during the European elections in May.

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RIP, Clarissa

Clarissa Dickson Wright has died. The phrases: “larger than life” and “a true British eccentric” fitted her like gloves. It was almost 20 years ago that she, together with Jennifer Paterson (also, alas, dead) roared onto British TV with an unlikely cookery programme called Two Fat Ladies. It was an instant hit, and I have all their cookery books lined up on the shelf in the kitchen for occasional reference.

Dickson Wright had an appalling childhood caused by an alcoholic and violent father. Her full name, as befitting the larger than life moniker, was Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson Wright.

Whilst I did not agree with her on certain issues, she was undoubtedly a formidable woman, and life will be duller without her.

Posted in Books, Food and drink | Leave a comment