All I want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague away kit

Half Man Half Biscuit are an obscure satirical rock band from the 1980s and my husband  wants their “Back in the D.H.S.S.” album for Christmas.

Half+Man+Half+Biscuit+-+Back+Again+In+The+D.H.S.S.+-+LP+RECORD-226238In the olden days, I’d have bought the CD so that he could unwrap something on Christmas Day (before copying it into iTunes and sticking it in a box in the attic).

The modern alternative then became a download straight from iTunes. If I chose this route, I could send my husband a romantic Christmas Day email from the iTunes store to tell him that “All I want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague away kit” and 16 other Half Man Half Biscuit tracks were now in his iTunes library. He says iTunes downloads are too compressed, but I can’t hear the difference and at £7.99 it’s £2 cheaper than buying the CD.

That’s expensive beside this year’s option. Over the last year streaming services like Screen Shot 2013-11-29 at 10.15.33Spotify have started to take over and they are free. A seismic shift is taking place: CD sales are in freefall and iTunes downloads are down for the first time this year. So whilst those of us over 35 (see last week’s blog) are just starting to get our heads around “owning” an intangible download from Apple, those born after 1978 have moved on.

spotify-logo-primary-vertical-light-background-rgbWith Spotify you don’t own the music, but you can listen to any of their 20 million songs whenever you want, so “ownership” becomes a less meaningful concept. If you pay £10 a month for Spotify’s Premium service, the quality is higher than iTunes and you can download tracks for when you’re offline.

We’ve got Spotify in the Fingertips office and the greatest benefit is not cost or convenience, but the way you listen to music. Suddenly you are free to explore, discover and rediscover without the emotional and financial commitment of buying. You can even just set Spotify to auto-pilot and let the “Radio” service select music based on a starter track that you choose.

Spotify Jake BuggToday we listened to Maria Callas (we tried to count how many Maria Callas albums Spotify have, but gave up at 250), Roxette (they’ve got a song called “Fingertips”!), the new Lissie album, Jake Bugg and, yes, Half Man Half Biscuit (they are truly awful). I’d never have bought any of those albums, so although there are lots of people in the music industry who don’t like what’s happened, I think – with the artists getting royalties for being on Spotify – that everyone’s a winner.

The best of both worlds is to combine a streaming service with your own music collection. This is exactly what Apple’s iTunes Radio service will do, if they ever decide to launch it in the UK. In the meantime I’ve taught my husband how to use our Spotify account and bought him a ticket for Half Man Half Biscuit at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. I couldn’t bring myself to buy a Dukla Prague away kit – it’s yellow.

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It’ll be alright really

Douglas-AdamsA couple of years before he died, Douglas Adams wrote

 “I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:


1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is just normal

2. Anything that gets invented between then and when you turn thirty-five is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it.

3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.”

This comes from an article Adams wrote for the Sunday Times in 1999. It’s not really about technology – it’s about how set in our ways and resistant to learning new tricks we all become. It’s worth a read: http://bit.ly/1h70MFz

Here’s some of the things that we’ll take for granted in 10 years time:

Cloud computing – all your photos, files and music stored in your own personal place on the Internet;

Constant wifi – constant connectivity to ultra-fast data; (for some it’s the most basic need: http://bit.ly/19NXYo5)

Streaming music and TV – we’ll have screens rather than “television sets” and those huge collections of CDs and DVDs that we spent decades of pocket money on will all be in a box.

These technologies are becoming mainstream now – time to learn some new tricks.

(Thanks to Chris Lewis for the quote.)

Picture Perfect

This week’s blog is an article that we wrote for the local magazine for our neck-of-the-woods, Absolutely Chiswick….

Wags 1000With 300 million photos added to Facebook every day, are picture gifts the last thing people want for Christmas? Not a bit of it – there are few things as precious as photos: we just need to be selective and turn our best shots into something special.

There are dozens of companies on the Internet and High Street who will turn your photos into Christmas presents like mugs, t-shirts, mouse mats and phone covers. But perhaps the best medium for pictures is still paper: a simple photo book makes a great family gift and a personalised Christmas card will be cherished long after Twelfth Night.

The trick is to improve your shots before you hand them over. The easiest way is with a good computer programme such as Apple’s iPhoto or Picasa. This lets you crop, straighten, remove red-eye, adjust the exposure and add effects – you’ll be amazed at how great your pictures look.

Of course it’s not just this year’s holiday snaps that can be turned into gifts. If you have boxes of old photos under the bed, now’s the time to have them scanned (before they fade). Imagine the delight of reliving the 20th Century with your family this Christmas.

A word of advice: once you’ve done all the hard work, don’t pick the cheapest company to print your mug shots. It’s a competitive market and you’ll get what you pay for.

Lastly, don’t wait until the December rush to start. Give yourself time to sort out your photos and check you are happy with the printed gifts.

Our article finished with a bit of a sales pitch. We now have two state-of-the-art photo scanners at the Fingertips office: a print scanner and a negative/ slide scanner and we were giving them a plug. There are lots of details on our website and for our blog readers we’re offering ⅓ off all scanning up until Christmas.

Grand canyon 1000

Scanned from a print at 1200dpi

Close up

Zoom in at x100 and there’s still not a pixel to be seen.

Top Tips 5 : Getting started with Windows 8.1

Window Start

Those of you who read Top Tips 4 will know we were getting quite grumpy with Microsoft. Two weeks on and our laptop has a new hard drive, we’ve installed Windows 8.1 and we’re almost back on speaking terms with Microsoft. We’ve had 3 days with their new OS.

Here’s what we like:

The Start button – This is the “click here for everything” button in the bottom left corner of your screen. Windows 8 didn’t have one, which was a bit like driving without brakes. With 8.1, the Admin menu is back when you right click – including all the old start button options such as “Control Panel” that you need to stay in control of your computer. In a face-saving move by Microsoft, the left click is reserved for alternating your desktop between the Start screen (see above – the big, brightly coloured square tiles preferred by Microsoft executives and children) and the Windows desktop (see below – the way you expect a computer to look, preferred by grown-ups).Desktop

Start screen – OK, maybe we’re showing our middle-agedness a bit with that last comment. Now that the traditional desktop is just a click away, we quite like the tiled Start Windows 8 App PiningScreen. It is very easy to set up with shortcuts to all our favourite apps (that’s a “programme” for the traditionalists amongst us)  and websites, including a big coloured square that takes us to our preferred desktop.

Here’s how:

click the down arrow (at the bottom left of the Start screen) to bring up the apps screen, click on the app you want and at the bottom of the window choose ‘Pin to Start’ to put a coloured tile on the Start screen and ‘Pin to taskbar’ to put an icon in the taskbar that runs along the bottom of your regular desktop.

Boot to desktop – If you’re not as down with the kids as we are and you just want things to be back to normal, then you can set your computer to skip the big coloured squares altogether and start up with the more familiar desktop:

right click the taskbar (the strip along the bottom of the desktop)

choose Properties then Navigation.

under ‘Start screen’ select

‘When I sign in or close all applications on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start’.

Apps charmsCharms  these are a selection of useful shortcuts. When you are in an app such as Word, either move your mouse up to the top right corner (no click needed) or press the Windows key and the letter C at the same time. Take a minute in each app to familiarise yourself with its Charms – once you start using them, they can save a lot of time.

Keyboard shortcuts  There are 4 other short-cuts that we think are worth learning:

Windows + S (press the Windows button and the letter S at the same time) – this opens a search box: just type in what you are looking for and the computer does all the hard work of finding and remembering where you put something 

Windows + X – this opens the Admin menu – the traditional Start menu mentioned earlier

Windows + I – this opens the Settings menu for the app you are working in, as well as volume, brightness and power 

Windows + H – this is the shortcut to the Share menu, which allows you to instantly send an email with the thing you are working on or post it on a social network 

One to avoid: Windows + Enter – this starts the Narrator reading everything on your screen. To stop it, use Caps+Esc key

That should be enough to get started.

Girl stuff

Stuff & T3 magsI’m a big fan of Stuff magazine and its rival T3. When Fingertips is recommending WiFi speakers or showing our customers how to get their DVD collection onto their iPad, chances are we got our facts from one of them.

Both cover the world of home technology: testing equipment, interviewing industry leaders and keeping us up to date with what’s new and what’s coming. They’re authoritative and informative and they even manage not to be geeky.

But what’s with the girls on the cover?

Stuff Dec

Is tech the exclusive preserve of heterosexual boys? Surely not in 2013.

At Fingertips we are an even mix of men and women and so are our customers. Gender is a total irrelevance. But to Stuff and, to a lesser extent, T3, tech and totty seem to go together like beer and curry.

On a personal level, I don’t have a problem with pictures of pretty girls in any state of undress. I used to work for the UK’s leading pornography seller, WHSmith and I share a house with 2 teenage boys, so I’ve seen worse.

Stuff Pages s4But I do have a problem with Stuff and T3 claiming technology for the lads. It’s so out-of-touch and it’s definitely not harmless fun.

There are countless women who look after every aspect of running a home, apart from the computers and the HiFi. They have a notion that they’re no good with technology – that their husbands will be better. The “it’s not for girls” message has been around a long time, and in some cases it’s worked.

At the Fingertips office, we also find it a little bit demeaning to be caught holding what looks like a lads mag.

Stuff twitter page Interestingly there’s not a girl to be seen on either website (although Stuff’s Twitter page is a different matter- see left). So it would appear that girls are not part of either publication’s proposition, but I suspect the editors are too scared of losing 10% sales to their rival if they drop the cover girl.

So here’s a girly solution for you fellas. Why don’t you talk to each other? You could agree a date and drop the very soft and slightly lame porn at the same moment. You’d even save a bit of money on models fees. Here’s each other’s Twitter details:  @Simon_OW and @lukepeters .