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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Nokia Music Store - comes with disappointment

Nokia launched its Music Store in Singapore today. I got the news through a press release in my emailbox, so I thought I'd check it out. It's always fun to check out new digital initiatives in Singapore, particularly in this case, especially since the juggernaut, Apple's iTunes Store, has yet to even appear on the radar.

Alas, my enthusiasm evaporated when I saw this roadblock:
Nokia Music Store unsupported browser

Oh my stars and garters! Nokia banned me from entering because I don't use a "supported" browser! Nightmares of the 1990s flooded my mind, you know, that period during the browser wars when websites would only work with one browser or another.

Fortunately, I had access to a Windows computer, so I fired up Firefox and loaded the Music Store... oh, silly me, it works only with Internet Explorer. Fine, I'll do what it takes. As Britney Spears sang, I'm a slave for you...

But then, curiosity kills the cat, right? As a consumer, one of the first things I noticed, besides the user interface and featured songs, was the price. Nokia charged $2 per song download. That sounded about reasonable, since Apple charges US$0.99. But $2 is actually a wee bit pricey in Singapore, where an average CD costs less than $20 -- and it contains more than 10 songs! And there's artwork and DRM-free music too.

Ah, digital rights management (DRM), that was another sticking point. The Music Store relies on Microsoft's DRM service through its Windows Media Audio (WMA) format. Since my primary computer is a Mac, WMA would be useless to me. I won't get into an argument here about whether WMA is crap compared to AAC. To a non-audiophile like me, both have sound qualities that are similarly good. So, suffice to say that with its reliance on WMA, I would be even more hard-pressed to justify buying music from Nokia.

So I guess that's it: no Nokia Music Store for me. In baseball parlance, that's three strikes, i.e.
  1. It can only be accessed through Internet Explorer on Windows computers.
  2. Each song costs $2.
  3. It uses WMA for its music format.
Nokia, seriously, I try really hard to give you some love, but you just keep beating me back on my brow. I wanted a cool phone, but your N95 was so bug-filled that I'd rather stay as far away from it as possible. I was greatly excited when you provided free Wifi on public buses, but suffered from too many dropped signals when those buses were moving, which vehicles are supposed to do.

Now, when I contemplate browsing your music catalogue -- and maybe even making a purchase or two if I find those hidden gems, you whack me upside-down with this silly error. Thank goodness, you're still in "beta" version... though I wonder why you'd announce with great fanfare like it's the real thing. Oh, you're treating your users as guinea pigs? Hmm, sounds familiar in the mobile phone industry.

Oh, and with the Music Store launch, I wonder if Nokia will bring its "Comes with Music" program to Singapore. You know, that harebrained idea of giving your customers free lifetime music with every new phone purchase that is likely to bankrupt your company.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Hypermiling: Save fuel -- and money! -- while driving

I came across this fascinating website today: Hypermiling. It lists six tips for saving fuel while driving. Which could save a significant amount of money during these times of constantly rising fuel prices.

Some of the tips are commonsensical. Others need you to wrap your head around. But ultimately, I'm pretty sure that all of them are feasible in Singapore, land of traffic jams, aggressive drivers and ERP.

Here's my summary of the tips:
  1. Know your mileage. Remember: knowledge is power.
  2. Try not to apply the brakes. Braking means surrendering speed that was provided by fuel.
  3. Minimise time spent in a stopped car. Accelerating towards a red light burns fuel unnecessarily for moving and braking (see tip #2).
  4. Keep moving in a traffic jam. Slow down, use buffer space.
  5. Slowly accelerate after stops. When possible, use a rolling start.
  6. Use cruise control to accelerate slowly. If you don't have one, then just accelerate slowly with the pedal.
Aside: For some reason, I kept reading it as "hypermilling", and wondered what milling or a mill had to do with driving!


Friday, April 11, 2008

Crowd mentality and the lack of ideas

I don't understand something. Why do highly respected organisations always jump on board the same boat? I would think that there are enough intelligent and creative individuals in there who would be able to "shake the boat", to extend the metaphor's use.

Case in point: an upcoming website has -- wait for it -- another photo-uploading service! Oh my goodness! How many such services are there already? And more importantly, why is this particular website including it? The response was that the future plans call for it to be used to
  1. teach people how to use other photo-uploading sites, and
  2. build a photo library to be used for, err, research.
Granted, part one of their rationale sounded logical. A lot of photo services, like Flickr and Picasa, may be too complex for "the other 60%". So maybe there is a point in this exercise. You know, instead of just teaching them to use Flickr.

Aside: And why are organisations always quick to say it'll be too difficult to form partnerships, e.g. with Yahoo! Flickr? Did anyone actually pick up the phone to ask? Or send a friendly e-mail?

But assuming that this website's version is easier to use, which it is because of its stripped down capabilities. And assuming that it succeeds at the second part of its rationale, i.e. as part of a, err, catalogue. Further, let me assume that it has successfully targeted at the 60% to use its service. The issue then is:
  • Does this 60% own digital cameras or have access to one, including mobile phones?
  • Do they own computers or have access to one?
  • Do they know how to upload the photos to their computers?
I have a nagging feeling that the organisation is going after a very small, very inaccessible group.

On the other hand, a small part of me is quietly confident that the muckamucks have done their homework and found that this is, indeed, a viable market. In addition, these muckamucks have done their research about their partners' capabilities in using its photo library for educational efforts, e.g. making use of the photos in projects, instead of assuming that their hypothesis is correct.

Will Singaporeans bite? In this, I am actually very confident that they will. The Straits Times' STOMP is proof of it. It has successfully made a viable market of making very public use of amateur photos, and no one has apparently batted an eyelid. Perhaps that's another cue that this organisation took.


Sunday, April 06, 2008

This little kitten mewed loudly

Loud stray kitten
As I approached the bus stand, I heard something loud and raspy, like that of a loud mynah or crow. It turned out to be this little kitten, looking no bigger than a stuffed toy. It was so loud and distinctive that it could be heard over the din of traffic.

Link to video

What was even more intriguing was it had fixed itself on me! At first I thought it was walking in a normal, random pattern. But as I shuffled from one end of the pavement to the other, breadth-wide and length, the little thing followed me as well! I figured it was because I had stood still for a few moments to admire it.

Sensing that I was harmless and lacking any parental figure nearby, it must have thought that I was "safe enough" to be its surrogate parent. It was quite amusing to see it walk ever closer and closer to me, finally daring to walk between my feet!

(BTW I don't remember if "fixed" is the correct word. I remember learning about it in introductory psychology. The classic example given was of a professor who managed to get some baby geese to think that he was their mother!)

Unfortunately, I had to dash off when my bus arrived. I hope that move doesn't make the kitten feel a huge sense of abandonment. Hopefully, its mother arrived soon.