First Direct Internet Banking Plus – Application Shortcut

I have recently tried using the First Direct  Internet banking plus application, which works very well.

However I am lazy and want to have to have to go to the first direct website all the time, to launch the app. Also, I don’t use IE as my default web browser and the direct link on the first direct page is hidden by JavaScript. Which means it’s not possible to use a normal web shortcut.

After some experimentation, I found creating the application shortcut with the below code works well:

"C:Program Files (x86)Internet Exploreriexplore.exe" https://internetbankingplus2.firstdirect.com/ibplus/homePage_10.jsp

(this is a shortcut for a 64-bit system hence the (x86), if on a 32-bit system modify the link accordingly)

Google and the Username Conundrum

The web is still a relatively new occurrence,  being publicly available for at most 15 years. During this time the Web has seen staggering growth, that has seen it come to the centre of society due its impact on the economy, communications, socialising etc. However this is not to say there haven’t been problems, there have been plenty, although the one issue I want to mention here is with usernames.

With the web being at most 15 years old, it is almost impossible to get usernames you’d actually want on popular services such as Google. I realise this is something that affects all popular service and it’s unfair to focus on solely on Google, however it easier to focus on one service and it is with Google that I find this annoyance with usernames most acutely.

As of now it is pretty much impossible to get any decent email address on Gmail, at least if you have an Anglo name. Have fun trying to get [email protected] or any other combination of initials or letters that are vaguely recognisable without having to resort to adding random numbers/letters at the end e.g. [email protected], which not only looks stupid is starting to become a barrier to usability, as the more random character that are introduced the greater the possibility of transcription errors when people write down the address.

We are having this problem now with only 15 years on the web and 25% of the world population on-line. The proportion of the global population using the web will only grow as it becomes more fundamental to the functioning of society, the global population itself could grow to as high as 10.5 billion by 2050, this is compounded in that future generations will likely use the web to a greater extent than current generations.

So how can a web service provider like Google address this? In the example of Gmail they could possibly add more available domains on top of gmail.com, but I expect this will only partially help. One way to counter this, at least in the medium term is to allow users to use their own domains with Gmail, this is of course possible now with Google Apps. However this is a very business/institution focused service and doesn’t account for people using it for personal use. However the fact remains that many people use apps for personal use and this likely to grow as the pressure on traditional usernames increases.

It seems to me that Google should take notice of this trend and create an apps product targeted at personal/family use, which enables full integration with Google’s existing services. Otherwise it takes the risk of alienating users who may move elsewhere.

Why Google Apps Sucks for Non-Business Users

I recently shifted to the Google Eco-System in a big way and have generally been pleased with the results. Gmail is substantially better than Hotmail and I have started to use Google Calendar which can sync with my Windows mobile device (I don’t believe MS Live calendar can do this).

However, there are have been a couple of especially irritating issues, which is due to my use of Google Apps. The crux of the problem, is that the Google Apps account is not perceived to be a “Google account”  by Google. So in order to access Google services other than those available through Apps, you will have to create a Google account.

Naturally I already had a Google account, but thought i’d set up a new one with my Apps email in order to keep everything together (or so I thought!). This is where the issues start, as when you create a Google account, it also creates a contact list for that Google account, separate to the contact list in the Apps account.

So because of this I can use Google Reader with my Google Account, but can’t use the social features with the contact list in my Apps account. I also can’t link faces to Apps contacts in Picasa. I’m sure there are other areas where this is an issue, but this the most I have come up with so far.

Needless to say this incredibly annoying, especially when it comes from Google, a company that claims to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful“. Unfortunately they aren’t doing a very good job of organising Google Apps data and making it available to their own products.

Google Voice + Truphone Local Anywhere: A match made in heaven?

Google Voice and Truphone Local Anywhere both look set to have a significant impact on the mobile market. Even though neither have fully launched as of yet, they have managed to generate a fair amount of interest (especially Google Voice).

I believe both these services have a good chance of being successful in their own right, however I think both could complement each other if combined into a product which leverages the unique strengths of the other.

Why Google Voice should integrate with Truphone Local Anywhere

One of the biggest possible constraints to the rollout of Google Voice, in markets besides the US, will probably be the need to integrate with the local PSTN network in each country. Instead of doing all the leg work itself, Google Voice could plug-in to the Truphone MVNO architecture which can offer global PSTN coverage in one fell swoop.

Truphone integration could also enable Google Voice to be less reliant on mobile data connections by utilising Truphone’s sim technology. Google could then market itself as a truly global phone company.

Why Truphone should integrate with Google Voice

Google Voice could really complement the Local Anywhere product, the features added by Voice through the web app would make the product far more compelling as well as provide a unique selling point over other roaming sim providers. The halo effect from integrating with a Google product could also drive a lot more attention to Truphone.

Other companies integrating with Google Voice is not unheard of, for example Gizmo 5 has enabled integration with Google Voice already.

Transcoding video from Windows Home Server to an Xbox 360 (Via a Vista desktop)

I have owned a Windows Home Server (WHS) for quite a while now and a year or so ago I bought an Xbox 360 to accompany it, mainly for the media streaming capabilities. However trying to setup streaming to the 360 proved to incredibly annoying. This is mainly due to the fact that the various codec and container support of the default solution of using the 360 as a media centre extender is supremely crap, which when faced with my media collection which has a large number of Anime in various containers like .mkv with sever al variants of codecs with subtitle file on top led to situation which it had no hope in dealing with.
The only real chance of getting this media to display on the 360 without going through and re-encoding my media is to transcode, at the time the program I used to attempt this was Tversity. However even this had problems, namely getting Tversity to recognise .mkv files was inordinately hard and forget about trying to get subtitles to work.
So I gave up on streaming nirvana until the past week where I thought i’d have another stab at it, hoping that the general situation for streaming to the 360 would have improved. After a couple of days of messing around I have finally managed to find a solution that will not only stream all my media to the 360 but also embed soft-subs as well!
I will outline the process I followed to achieve this below, but the main reason for my current success, I believe, is replacing Tversity as the media server/transcoder with PS3 Media Server (ironic I know). I installed PS3 Media centre on my desktop instead of the WHS because the processor is far more powerful, and you will require a decent processor to enable effective transcoding, however if you have a decent processor in your WHS you could probably just install PS3 Media Centre on it and not need the desktop.
Steps I followed:
Install PS3 Media Server
Install AVISynth 2.5.7, which can be found here<http://www.davieslim.com/u.php?123> (apparently 2.5.8 may not work well with PS3 Media centre)
Install a codec pack, I use CCCP
Set up the FFDShow Audio Mixer to 2/0/0 Stereo
Set “Autoload VS Filter” to true
(Optional) Configure Haali Splitter, I suggest the following If your watch anime:
Audio Language Priority: jpn
Subtitle Language Priority: eng

I have owned a Windows Home Server (WHS) for quite a while now and a year or so ago I bought an Xbox 360 to accompany it, mainly for the media streaming capabilities. However trying to setup streaming to the 360 proved to incredibly annoying. This is mainly due to the fact that the codec and container support of the default solution: using the 360 as a media centre extender, is supremely crap, which when faced with my media collection which has a large number of Anime files in various containers like .mkv with various codec types and soft subtitle files on top, led to situation in which it failed miserably.

The only real chance of getting this media to display on the 360, without going through and re-encoding all my media, is to transcode. At the time the program I used to attempt this was Tversity. However even this had problems, namely getting Tversity to recognise .mkv files was inordinately hard and forget about trying to get soft-subs to work.

So I gave up on streaming nirvana, until the past week where I thought i’d have another stab at it, hoping that the general situation for streaming to the 360 would have improved. After a couple of days of messing around, I have finally managed to find a solution that will not only stream all my media to the 360, but also embed soft-subs as well!

I will outline the process I followed to achieve this below, but the main reason for my current success, I believe, is replacing Tversity as the media server/transcoder with PS3 Media Server (ironic I know). I installed PS3 Media Server on my desktop instead of the WHS because the processor is far more powerful, and you will require a decent processor to enable effective transcoding, however if you have a decent processor in your WHS you could probably just install PS3 Media Server on it without needing the desktop.

The steps I followed:

  • Install PS3 Media Server
  • Install AVISynth 2.5.7, which can be found here (apparently 2.5.8 may not work well with PS3 Media Server)
  • Install a codec pack, I use CCCP
  • In CCP settings: Set the FFDShow Audio Mixer to 2/0/0 Stereo
  • In CCP settings: Set “Autoload VS Filter” to true
  • In PS3 Media Server, select the folders you want to share to your 360
  • (Optional) In Haali settings: Configure audio/subtitles language priorities, I suggest the following If you watch anime:
    • Audio Language Priority: jpn
    • Subtitle Language Priority: eng

You should now be able to access the media server via UPNP on your 360 (assuming your network is setup correctly), PS3 Media Server will display the folder structure of your media collection on the 360, but will also include a “TRANSCODE” folder in each folder, this allows you to select different transcode options for each individual video file from the 360 itself, I use the “Avisynth/MEncoder” option most of the time, as it tends to give the best results.

A simple backup solution for Gmail

I have previously never bothered as I have always thought the chances of a company like Microsoft or Google losing email to be quite remote, however this is more an attitude born of laziness rather than good sense, as a quick search will show mistakes can happen.
So with this in mind, I set about finding the easiest way to backup my Gmail account. I came across a solution (that suits me at least), which leverage my old Hotmail account. All I did was setup the Hotmail account to collect mail from my Gmail account via POP and dump it in a newly created folder called “Gmail Backup”. I selected “Enable POP for all mail (even mail that’s already been downloaded)” in the pop settings so it would pull all the mail in the Gmail account to the Hotmail account.
I’ve found this to work really well, as it will pull down not only the email received at the Gmail account, but also all the email I send from the account. Granted the mail on the Hotmail end is completely unstructured (i.e. no labels or differentiation between sent and received mail) but it’s better than nothing and best of all it works completely automatically without any input from me required.
Hopefully this will prove a fairly resilient system, as I imagine the chances of Microsoft and Google both destroying/losing/incinerating my email, at the same time, to be vanishingly small. Or perhaps I’m being lazy again…

Having recently moved to Gmail from Hotmail, I thought I should tackle another email related task I’ve been putting off, namely setting up a backup regime for my email.

I have previously never bothered as I have always thought the chances of a company like Microsoft or Google losing email to be quite remote, however this is more an attitude born of laziness than good sense, as a quick search will show mistakes can happen.

So with this in mind, I set about finding the easiest way to backup my Gmail account. I came across a simple solution (that suits me at least), which leverages my old Hotmail account. All I did was setup the Hotmail account to collect mail from my Gmail account via POP and dump it in a newly created folder called “Gmail Backup”. I selected “Enable POP for all mail (even mail that’s already been downloaded)” in the pop settings so it would pull all the mail in the Gmail account to the Hotmail account.

I’ve found this to work really well, as it will pull down not only the email received at the Gmail account, but also all the email I send from the account. Granted the mail on the Hotmail end is completely unstructured (i.e. no labels or differentiation between sent and received mail) but it’s better than nothing and best of all it works completely automatically without any input from me required.

Hopefully this will prove a fairly resilient system, as I imagine the chances of Microsoft and Google both destroying/losing/incinerating my email, at the same time, to be vanishingly small. Or perhaps I’m being lazy again…


Truphone Local Anywhere

I recently came across a very interesting service called Truphone Local Anywhere. Although it hasn’t launched as yet (supposedly sometime this year), it has the potential to really shake things up in the mobile market.

Essentially the service uses the existing global MVNO<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_virtual_network_operator> infrastructure Truphone received through its acquisition <http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/04/11/truphone_sim4travel/> of Sim4Travel last year, to provide a sim that allows you to have multiple inbound numbers.
These numbers can be in several different countries, for instance you could have number in the UK and France, where ringing either number would call your mobile phone wherever you can get mobile reception with Sim4Travel (which is pretty much anywhere in the world!). The main benefit of this is that people can call you at local rates even if you are abroad, and you don’t have to pay the extortionate roaming rates that traditional mobile carriers charge.
This video gives an overview of the service:
<Insert Video>
However information regarding the details of the service is still a bit sparse, things i’d like know:
Will you be able to interface with the service via SIP(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Session_Initiation_Protocol)? e.g. if I already have a DDI<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct_Dial-In> will I be able to forward it to the local anywhere service to answer calls?
Will I be able to get land line numbers for it as well as mobile numbers? Having land line number could save callers a lot of money, potentially allowing people to call your mobile for free (if the land line plan includes free calls to land line numbers)
Will the service support data as well as calls and texts, if so will it enable realistic usage (e.g. being able to by usage in gigabytes) at reasonable cost?
Will it be possible to sign up to contracts (perhaps rolling 30 day contracts) to secure better pricing?
Will there be any integration with the Truphone phone client e.g. could the voip client transparently handover calls to the gsm network when you go out of wifi range?
Will call charges be the same as Sim4Travel? How will the extra inbound numbers be priced, or will that be recouped through call charges?
If you port your number to the service, can you port it back out to another mobile carrier as per normal? e.g. using a PAC code
Could you have more than one number in a specific country e.g. one for personal use and one for business?
Will it be possible to integrate the service with ENUM<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telephone_Number_Mapping>

Essentially the service uses the existing global MVNO infrastructure Truphone received through its acquisition of Sim4Travel last year, to provide a sim that allows you to have multiple inbound numbers.

These numbers can be in several different countries, for instance you could have a number in the UK and France, where ringing either number would call your mobile phone wherever you can get mobile reception with Sim4Travel (which is pretty much anywhere in the world!). The main benefit of this is that people can call you at local rates even if you are abroad, and you don’t have to pay the extortionate roaming rates that traditional mobile carriers charge.

This video gives an intro to the service:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rY_R6yNNlVQ[/youtube]

However information regarding the details of the service is still a bit sparse, things i’d like know:

  • Will you be able to interface with the service via SIP? e.g. if I already have a DDI will I be able to forward it to the local anywhere service to answer calls?
  • Will I be able to get land line numbers for it as well as mobile numbers? Having land line number could save callers a lot of money, potentially allowing people to call your mobile for free (if their land line plan includes free calls to land line numbers)
  • Will the service support data as well as calls and texts, and if so will it enable realistic usage (e.g. being able to buy usage in gigabytes) at reasonable cost?
  • Will it be possible to sign up to contracts (perhaps rolling 30 day contracts) to secure better pricing?
  • Will there be any integration with the Truphone phone client e.g. could the voip client transparently handover calls to the gsm network when you go out of wifi range?
  • Will call charges be the same as Sim4Travel? How will the extra inbound numbers be priced, or will that be recouped through call charges?
  • If you port your number to the service, can you port it back out to another mobile carrier as per normal? e.g. using a PAC code
  • Could you have more than one number in one country e.g. one for personal use and one for business?
  • Will it be possible to integrate the service with ENUM?

Moving from Hotmail to Gmail

Over the last couple of days I have been making the transition from Hotmail to Gmail (using google apps) for my main personal email address.

The main reason I decided to do this, is that i’m planning on getting an Android powered phone in the next couple of months, and the integration between the Android OS and the google applications is a big draw for me. However the extra functionality Gmail has over Hotmail is also appreciated.

Exporting Mail From Hotmail

As far as I know, the only way to export all your mail from Hotmail is to use microsoft outlook connector (you may be able to use the POP access if you store all your mail in your inbox, but I didn’t want to destroy my folder structure to try it).

Outlook connector, as the name suggests, is a plugin that connects outlook (in my case Outlook 2007) to the Hotmail service. It allows you to sync mail (preserving folder structure), contacts and calendar data into Outlook. It will take a while to download all your mail, especially if you have a lot. After it has fully downloaded, I would suggest taking a backup of the data by exporting the entire Hotmail mail box to a .PST file, so if things go pear-shaped you’ve got something to fall back on.

At this point I setup IMAP support for my Gmail account in Outlook (instructions here) and setup labels in Gmail that corresponded to my folders in hotmail. All you need to do then, is to copy the mail from the Hotmail folders to the corresponding IMAP folders (which should have appeared in Outlook after you set them up in Gmail). If you do this though, transfer only small groups of messages at a time, as it takes ages to upload to Gmail, and apparently Gmail limits the number of emails you can upload during a given time period and blocks you out.

Another issue to lookout for, is that Outlook connector has a nasty habit of sometimes incorrectly downloading mail. It will sometimes download blank mail instead of the actual mail in your account, which is incredibly annoying (I think around 30-50 messages of around 3000 emails where blank). I tried re-downloading by deleting my Hotmail account and adding it again, however this seems to make things worse with more blank email being downloaded.

Exporting Contact Information from Hotmail

This was fairly straight forward, you just export your Hotmail contacts in a .csv file (options > more options > Export Contacts), which can then be imported into Google Contact manager.

Conclusions/Lessons Learned

Exporting email from Hotmail to Gmail using the above method took absolutely  ages, if i’d known how long it would take, I would have been very tempted to give up my folder structure, move all my email into the inbox and get gmail to import it all via POP (assuming Hotmail will make the entire inbox available through POP). This would have lost my folder structure, but it would have been a lot quicker, and I wouldn’t have  had the issue of losing some of my email to the Outlook connector blank email problem. Suffice to say even with the loss of some email, i’m very glad to have escaped Hotmail. Gmail is by far the better product, i’m very tempted to upgrade to a payed account in order to get the outlook sync and Postini features.

Another surprising development, was that the data syncing capabilities of Google apps with Windows Mobile 6.1  are far better than that with Hotmail! I will put a post up about that at some point.

Chrome OS on the way, great, now where is Gdrive?

With Chrome OS announced and due at some point next year, you have to wonder where the often hinted at Gdrive is.

I have tried using several file sync tools but i’m not especially happy with any of them:

Live Mesh: 5 gigabytes of storage and winmo support is good, but no linux support, and has a habit of caneing my broadband connection

Live Sync: No cloud storage, but seems to handle syncing better than live mesh

Dropbox: Has file versioning, but no p2p syncing and only 2gb on free version

Awesome features that Google could bring to the table:

  • Tons of free storage, do what Gmail did for webmail and blow other providers away
  • Web storage exposed to OS through a network-share
  • Have P2P support, allow certain folders in network share only P2P with no cloud storage (like Live Mesh)
  • “Delta-Sync” i.e. only sync changes in the files and not transfer the whole file again
  • File versioning,  really great feature, wish Live Mesh had this
  • Intelligent Integration with mobile/netbook OS’s like android and eventually Chrome OS, I.E. these generally tend to be highly storage restricted environments so I would definitely wouldn’t want to try and push all my videos to the device, however I would like to view what videos are on my gdrive and possibly stream them to the mobile device. Could also possibly have a “cache mode” on the mobile device where I can allow it to have certain amount of storage (say 100mb) so requested file could be pulled into the cache and then older/less used files deleted as cache is filled up. This would work really well for music as well
  • Linux support, no brainer really with Chrome OS coming out
  • WHS support, ok this is not going to happen, but let us have multiple Gdrive shares available on one machine at once and i’m sure something could be hacked together