It’s a #BlogEATBlog World….four people, hotdog toppings and a Sunday in Brick Lane

Posted by Chris Green on Tuesday March 13 @ 9:53 pm

This past Sunday I was fortunate enough to take part in the third heat of #BlogEATBlog, a good natured cooking contest involving some of the web’s leading food bloggers and tweeters, and the superb hot dogs of Big Apple Hot Dogs.

The task was straightforward – make my own gourmet topping for a gourmet hot dog. Trust me, it’s not as easy as it looks.

After multiple test runs and a frantic Saturday producing litres of the final mixture, I had produced my ultimate hot dog topping – a creation I’ve called Damson Relish:

Recipe (made in small batches)

  • 2kg Home Made Gherkins – diced
  • 800g Red Onions – Coarse Chopped
  • 20 Red Chillis – finely chopped
  • 20 Green Chillis – finely chopped
  • 200ml – 10yr Old Single Malt Scotch – we used Ardbeg
  • 1litre Damson Mixture
  • Rosemary – to taste
  • Cumin – to taste
  • Paprika – to taste
  • Cajun Spices – to taste
  • Salt – to taste
  • 40 Rashers of Smoked Streaky Bacon

After two weeks of pickling in a secret mixture of vinegar, spices and seeds in the cupboard where we keep the snow shovel, vacuum cleaner and the electricity meter, drain the gherkins and dice into nice big chunks, then fry off the excess moisture and put to once side.

Coarsely chop the onions and then marinate in the Scotch. Hold back some of the scotch for use later.

Finely chop the chillis, mix with the marinated onions and lightly fry off the excess moisture.

Recombine the gherkins on a low heat, add salt and spices to taste and stir in.

Then add the Damson mixture and simmer on a low heat.

Add in the rest of the Scotch once the mixture starts to thicken. Then allow the mixture to simmer and thcken some more until sticky.

Rest and cool.

You then end up with something like this:

Thanks to Sue Aron at The Art of Puddings for the help on the Damson mixture front.

On the morning of the contest, I crispy fried the bacon and blitzed it into small pieces for sprinkling on top of the mixture.

So, having created the mixture and loaded it into Tupperware boxes, I headed to Brick Lane’s Vibe Bar where I met up with Abiye Cole from Big Apple Hot Dogs (@bigapplehotdogs) and the three other competitors.

In addition to me, three other contenders took part in this heat (the third of four heats), each bringing an excellent, homemade and exciting twist to topping a hot dog.

First up was Paul Lomax (@paullomax) with his Canadian-inspired Poutine Hot Dog. A mixture of homemade cheese curds, gravy and crunchy topping went into this one. By far the most unusual, and very tasty too. Great combination of textures and favours.

Next was Rose (@_RosieT) with her classic Chilli Cheese Dog, with a mixture of yellow and red cheese, this not only tasted nice, but had a classic American look.

Finally we have Sam (@steampie) with his Bourbon Bacon Marmalade with Crispy Leeks. Delicious topping, and the Crispy Leeks were fantastic. We were adding them to everything at one point, and they make a great bar snack on their own.

Here are all four toppings on Abiye’s amazing fresh hot dogs.

My hot dog is liberally topped with the Damson Relish, then topped off with sprinkled crispy bacon to add a nice smoky, salty bacon crunch. Frying off the gherkins ensures they retain their crunch, even after the cooking and combining with the sauce mixture. The chillies add a small amount of heat, but mostly contribute flavour and colour, while the ‘drunken onions’ that were combined with a generous potion of peaty, smoky Scotch proved to be a real winner with the customers, as well as adding a unique flavour to the overall relish.

Overall I was really pleased with how the relish turned out. The feedback from the many Big Apple Hot Dogs customers that opted to have my topping on all or part of their hot dog was really positive, as has been the feedback on Twitter.

The winner of my heat has yet to be announced, but whoever it is, along with the winners of the previous two heats and this coming Sunday’s fourth heat, they will go through to a grand final to become overall champion and have their name added to Abiye’s cart. It’s not about the prize, it’s about the build :)

If you came along and tried the toppings, do please vote on Twitter using the hashtag #BlogEATBlog.

Thanks to everyone who participated and to all the people who made the journey to Brick Lane to try the hot dogs. We had a great time and I hope you did too!

An idea for Apple: An ultra low-cost ARM-based PC for the masses

Posted by Chris Green on Thursday February 9 @ 6:00 pm

Maybe it was due to the cold I’m currently struggling with, or a by-product of the medicine I’m taking for it, or it could just be my brain’s attempt to keep me sane while I power through exhaustion until my holiday in May – but last night I had the most peculiar, vivid and financially plausible technology dream ever.

Let me explain…..

I dreamt, in surprising detail, that Apple had launched an ultra low-cost desktop PC/media player called the iSocket (yes, the name is terrible, but stick with it), which had a striking resemblance to the company’s AirPort Expresspocket Wifi router.

However, instead of containing a Wifi router, the casing in fact contains a very small, basic but effective ARM-based PC, not unlike the one about to go on sale from the Raspberry Pi project. Only Apple’s one ran a complete version of iOS along with the Apple TV big screen media player interface, giving you all the capabilities of an Apple TV, but also the full iOS application set and the ability to buy and install additional apps like you would on an iPhone or iPod Touch does.

The iSocket featured a HDMI connector (with audio), 3.5mm audio out, two USB ports, an Ethernet port, an SD card slot and a mains plug. It also had built-in Wifi and on-board Bluetooth, should you prefer to connect a keyboard and mouse to it wirelessly. As previously mentioned the chassis was a slightly oversized version of the Airport Express, with the intention that you plug the device straight into the wall socket, keeping it neat and tidy, as well as keeping it compact and reducing the production cost by keeping everything on one very simple motherboard.

Ultimately, what we are talking about here is an Apple TV with some additional connectors, a different casing, and a full iPod Touch-style iOS build embedded, rather than the cut down media player version of iOS currently used in the Apple TV.

The most curious thing about the iSocket was the price. In the dream, Apple planned to sell this device for $1, working on the basis that the hiding it would take on the initial hardware sale would be more than clawed back through the combination of higher app and content sales. Or even content subscriptions…..

When I woke up this morning, I was so convinced of the detail and plausibility of the dream, I had to go and double-check that it wasn’t a real product that had been announced overnight by Apple and that I’d heard about on the radio or TV while sleeping.

Suffice to say the iSocket had not been launched by Apple, and neither had it launched any other $1 ultra-basic PC with a less stupid name than the one my lucid sleep-deprived brain conjured up.

But, it is a plausible device, and the $1 price tag isn’t completely mad either. With Apple’s gargantuan cash reserves, the company could afford to take a massive up-front hit to seed these devices globally, in order to achieve longer-term recurring revenues. However, whether it would fit Apple’s product strategy or be deemed too geeky for a company that is now firmly in the mainstream is unclear.

Apple’s interest in desktop computing has waned in recent years, as demonstrated by the slowing in development of its iMac, Mac Pro and Mac Mini products. You can’t blame the company – desktop PC sales are in decline globally. The big money and big interest right now is in portable devices like laptops, tablets and smartphones. However, desktop computing is still a cost-effective starting point for the next generation of software developers to start (it’s where I started, writing software for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore Amiga and early Windows PCs). Also, desktop PC technology does make for a good media player platform – and internet-connected media players are growing in popularity thanks to ubiquitous broadband availability and the growth in online content delivery services such as iTunes, LoveFilm and Netflix.

Also, a low-cost, small and simple to deploy desktop computer wouldn’t hurt Apple’s market share in emerging economies where a £1,500 MacBook Pro or £600 Mac Mini just won’t fly in volume just yet, but a cheap and cheerful ARM-based iOS desktop mated to a cheap monitor or flat panel TV will, seeding interest and desire for bigger, more expensive Apple products in the future. Finally, a very cheap, discreet PC connected to a TV would be appealing to those put off by the complexity and cumbersome look and feel of Windows and MacOS laptops.

The guys working on the Raspberry Pi project have already demonstrated that you can build and sell – profitably – a decent spec ARM-based micro computer for about $25 (£17). On that basis, the likes of Apple could easily sell a similar device, running iOS or an embedded ARM-port of full MacOS X, as a loss-leader for $1. Such a device, due to its minimal on-board storage, would be heavily reliant on either external storage drives or Apple’s iCloud service for storage and file-sharing (another upsell opportunity), while the ability to access and purchase (or rent) content and apps from the iTunes Music and App Stores would generate suitable additional revenue to more than offset the initial loss on the hardware.

Contrary to the company’s current strategy, iOS apps are extremely well-suited to a TV/Living Room environment and are a more friendly way of delivering Internet-based services into a non-computing environment than a web browser on a big-screen TV.

Apple then gets to make massive inroads into the consumer PC space and complete the integration of Apple mobile devices within the home, but moreover, gets to move even more into the home media player space than it has achieved so far with the Apple TV devices.

Yes, there is all likelihood that Apple is going to launch a TV with all of the above integrated into it. But as we have seen with Freeview boxes, until people are ready to replace their TV, bring them along for the ride with an external box that does everything the integrated unit can do, rather than just the limited Apple TV feature set we have today.

In the meantime, as I mentioned earlier in this post, the first Raspberry Pi devices are set to go on sale very soon – I think they will be extremely interesting and disruptive devices. If I’m quick enough, I plan on purchasing a couple.

Until then, I’ll keep dreaming of the Apple iSocket, or at the very least, a price cut for the Mac Mini.

Steve Jobs: One Man, One Incredible Vision

Posted by Chris Green on Thursday October 6 @ 10:14 am

stevejobs

People come and go throughout our lives and throughout history. Yet, while we are here we all change the world by our actions, hopefully for the better. Be it building a loving family and helping to bring new life into the world, building a stable business that creates work and better lives for others, creating new technologies, new ideas and new approaches that change and improve the way we did things before, or simply changing the world by making the people around you smile. The things we do define us and define the world we live in and leave behind. While we all make a contribution, the impact that some make on the lives of all of us can be simply staggering.

Steve Jobs was one of those people. As co-founder of Apple Computer (now Apple Inc) he helped bring about a new era in computing, shaping the way we would use personal computers for decades to follow, while showing that computers could be a thing of beauty on the outside, as well as incredible inside. He also played a key role in transforming computing from geek hobby into an aspirational mainstream activity.

Even after he was ousted from Apple, his wonder and excitement about technology refused to wilt, leading him to found NeXT and invest in Pixar Animation Studios, creating not only the technology that would later become the foundation of MacOS X and help save Apple, but also the animation technology (and of course bringing together talented people) that delivered some of the most popular family movies in modern history, bringing joy to millions and raising the bar for what can be achieved with computer generated imagery and animation.

His return to Apple unquestionably helped save the company, which was on the brink despite the efforts of previous CEO Gil Amelio to steady a sinking ship. On his return, Jobs not only brought fresh ideas and new approaches with him, he helped inspire a demoralised workforce, and encouraged them to do more and do better with the limited resources left at the company.

The subsequent products that Apple produced, while not necessarily technologically advanced, achieved an important goal – they changed the way we lived, worked, communicated and had fun – all for the better. The iMac, which helped kill off the anonymous beige box design ethos of personal computers, or the MacBook, that helped trigger a massive shift towards portable computing among both consumers and business users. Then there was the iPod. Not that advanced, and among the last products to market, it was the one that learned from the mistakes of its predecessors. Combining good looks, massive storage, and ease of use. When combined with a revamped iTunes app and one-click purchasing of music, it revolutionised the way we chose, purchased and listened to music and audio content.

The iPhone has had a profound effect on the mobile phone industry, While still accounting for a small percentage of the overall market, it is still a very lucrative product and has not only become a must-have item, it has inspired the rest of the industry to raise its game and advance product development far beyond where it would be today without such robust and creative competition from Apple.

As for the iPad, it is another example of a product and market sector (tablet computers) that Apple has achieved huge success with where others have failed, doing so by creating something that did not fall foul of the mistakes made by those before it. I would be absolutely lost without my iPad 2 – it goes with me almost everywhere.

These are just a few of the creations that Apple produced during Steve’s second period at the company, and all were produced with Steve taking a major hands-on role in their design, usability testing and even the packaging. Steve believed that every Apple product should feel special every time you use it, including when you unbox it for the first time. It is an approach that always appealed to my child-like wonder of technology and something that is neglected by so many other companies.

Steve Jobs has always been at the top of the list of people that have inspired me to do more, do better and to be passionate and excited about technology and what it can do for the greater good. His passing is deeply sad, but at the same time we should try not to dwell on the fact he is no longer with us, but be happy that for 56 years he was here and during that time he had a profound and positive effect on the way millions of us live and enjoy our daily lives.

As I write this, I am sitting at a desk surrounded by Apple technology. From my MacBook laptop to my iPad 2, to my iPhone and my iPod, Apple is a major part of my life thanks to Steve Jobs and his vision, determination and passion for technology. Most of us will have at least one piece of Apple technology in active use, or have done so in the past. That alone speaks volumes for the lasting legacy created by Steve’s work.

Steve Jobs showed the world (and me) how to “Think Different” and with it, he changed the world, for the better.

Thank You, Steve.

How do you solve a problem like Ocado?

Posted by Chris Green on Wednesday March 24 @ 10:09 pm

For the last few months we’ve been experimenting with online grocery ordering with Ocado. We say experimenting as the whole saga has been far from a convenient, pain-free and polished service. Rather it’s been like using a buggy early beta release of a piece of software.

For those who do not use or know about Ocado, let me explain the origins. Ocado is an online grocery firm that resells the usual name brand items, along with its own small range of own-brand goods and a vast selection of own-brand goods from upmarket supermarket chain Waitrose. One of the original investors in Ocado was John Lewis, parent company of Waitrose (hence the link-up). The John Lewis stake in Ocado is now controlled by the John Lewis Pension Fund.

In our fairly short tenure as a customer we’ve had over a dozen deliveries. We’ve also had an unprecedented reoccurring problem with goods turning up damaged. We’ve even had an incident where fresh fruit arrived so mouldy, some items had already turned to mulch, plus a couple of incidents of bakery goods turning up completely stale and a few items that never turned up at all (but remained on the bill). Around £80 of food and non-food items have been compromised across our dozen-or-so deliveries to date. It’s a large amount of money to have to refund to one customer, and can’t be helping Ocado’s bottom line. It is also problematic as it undermines the main point of online grocery ordering – we buy online and have it delivered to our home so we don’t have to go to the store (for various reasons we rarely have time anymore). Yet with the high degree of damaged goods, we still end up regularly hitting a traditional supermarket to replace damaged, missing or otherwise compromised items.

We would like to add at this point that this blog post is in no way intended as an effort to solicit any form of additional compensation, free gift or inducement from Ocado. In each incident of damaged or otherwise unusable goods, Ocado’s customer service department has always responded quickly and courteously, and has always offered a sensible resolution to the problem at the time, be that a refund or replacement. However, the repeated problems suggest that our past feedback hasn’t filtered through from front-line customer services to the people who need to know (and who can make changes to solve potentially systemic quality and product damage issues).

Instead, this blog post is intended as an attempt to offer detailed, constructive business feedback to Ocado on what is and isn’t working in our individual experience so that improvements can be made and the good stuff continued. We are also doing this in public so that others can learn from our experiences and to stimulate sensible discussion about online grocery shopping in general. However, we would like to avoid a repeat of a recent incident on Ocado’s Facebook page, where we tried to offer up some honest and constructive feedback on a small issue and our post was immediately hijacked by a small group of ‘fans’ who seemed unable to cope with the idea that someone’s Ocado experience was less than perfect and proceeded to carry out the internet equivalent of a public stoning. While I am delighted to find that someone somewhere is receiving the Ocado experience I would dearly love myself, to blindly accuse others of lying about their own, lesser experience of the company is childish at best.

This post is a realistic account based on our personal experience alone. Your experience of Ocado may well differ, and may well be far better than our experience. In which case we envy you, and would dearly love to have your delivery driver or drivers cover our area. It does not mean our account is not an accurate one. Sadly, it is. But it can be made better! That is what we want to achieve here. Ocado, we hope you see this. Our first delivery from Ocado, and the driver who brought it was fantastic. It went rapidly downhill from there. We want the first-delivery Ocado experience back and we know Ocado can and wants to reproduce it. We are also happy to work with Ocado to try and find out what’s going wrong so it can be rectified.

We really like the Ocado philosophy and business model (and the food it sells), and really want the company to succeed. Ocado is a great example of British business innovation and it fulfils a clear need in the marketplace. When the process works, it works incredibly well (not to mention that it fits my lifestyle perfectly, when it works). What seems to be lacking, based on our personal experience, is consistency and reliability.

Supermarket home delivery is a booming business in the UK right now. The current crop of services started in the late 90s when frozen food retailer Iceland launched a pure delivery-only service (you still had to go to the shop and pick your own goods and go through the till, but a man in a van would then deliver the items to your home – great for people without a car); a bit like Ikea, but for food.

Others soon followed and the likes of Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s now all offer online ordering and home delivery of groceries for a nominal fee. Then there’s Ocado.

Founded in 2002 by a group of ex-Goldman Sachs bankers, Ocado set out to do things better, which meant doing some things differently. Being the first new supermarket to enter the crowded UK grocery market in a generation was never going to be an easy task, so the Ocado proposition had to be both compelling and eye-catching to attract customer interest, and it is.

Ocado is the only 100% internet-based grocery retailer in the UK. As such it differs significantly from the established bricks & mortar retailers in terms of how it goes from initial order to front door delivery.

The Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury online ordering and delivery services all work on the basis of your internet order being passed to your local store, where a staff member wanders the aisles selecting the items you requested from the shelves and choosing alternatives for items that are out of stock. These items are then packed in bags and crates before being handed off to a van driver for delivery to the customer’s home or other nominated address. On delivery, the customer can then opt to reject inappropriate or unwanted substitution items, damaged or poor quality goods.

There are obvious benefits to this approach. It retains the ‘local’ aspect of the interaction between retailer and customer. It also maintains a level of continuity and familiarity between delivery drivers and customers, building up trust and confidence in the service if deliveries are done well. For the retailer, it keeps costs down as they can leverage existing stock, supermarkets and in some cases staff, minimising cost exposure and allowing the service to operate on fairly low minimum spends and delivery charges while still making a profit or breaking even.

Ocado takes a very different and more centralised approach. Orders are placed online and are fulfilled from a single warehouse regardless of where the delivery address is (Note: Ocado does not yet have nationwide coverage, with coverage focussed largely on the South, South East, North West and Midlands, but still expanding).

Ocado has built a purpose-built, semi-automated picking and packing facility in Hatfield that can only be described as a work of complete genius. Plastic crates are filled with carrier bags (three bags fit into one crate), the crates are bar-coded and assigned to each order. The crates then zip around the warehouse on conveyor belts and slides in a manner not too dissimilar to how your luggage is routed around the bowels of an airport. Along the way the crates stop off at the various aisles where your chosen goods are located. Members of staff in each aisle pick the items you require off the shelf, pop them into the bags in the crates, log they’ve done it on the computer system and send the crate back on its journey.

The computer system provides suggestions to the pickers on alternative items if something is out of stock, helping to reduce the number of inappropriate or illogical substitution choices. Furthermore, by centralising the stock and the picking in one place, and not having to compete with in-person shoppers for the stock on the shelves, Ocado has a massive advantage over the established supermarkets – it can more accurately manage and report stock availability at the time the order is placed, taking into account when the order is scheduled for delivery.

Centralisation, paired with very effective customer relationship management (CRM), order processing and stock control systems means that the company knows exactly how much of an item it has in stock, its sell-by date, when the next delivery is due in, how many orders there are for that item and when they are due to be delivered. As well as having hard data on availability vs demand, the company can make pretty accurate predictions on future demand based on historical data and sales trends, allowing it to order quantities more accurately to service expected future demand, while minimising waste from items going out-of-date and unsold on the shelves. The approach also lends itself well to just-in-time ordering, meaning that Ocado doesn’t always have to stock and store goods in massive bulk, goods can stay at the supplier until they are actually needed on-site at Ocado’s Hatfield warehouse. There are also significant operational, purchasing and staffing economies of scale associated with the single central warehouse model.

Once all your items have been picked and packed, the crates reunite at the end of the process, where they are loaded onto a van and shipped off for delivery by one of Ocado’s army of delivery drivers, using a massive fleet of custom-built Mercedes-Benz refrigerated delivery vans, painted in an array of bright colours. Most even have names – my last order was delivered in a van called Laura Lemon, the order prior to that was delivered in a van called Kai Cabbage.

Last year (2009) Ocado enjoyed significant growth in customers, sales and turnover – including a bumper Christmas – and continued to expand its fleet of vans and drivers. It has also continued to expand its network of satellite distribution centres. In order to expand Ocado’s coverage area, but retain the single warehouse concept, Ocado has opened a number of satellite distribution points to enable it to reach into additional regions. Rather than load all its delivery vans at Hatfield before setting out around the country, orders destined for an area covered by one of these satellite distribution centres are picked and packed as normal in Hatfield, before being transferred en-masse via a large lorry to the satellite centre. There, the crates containing the shopping are transferred to the smaller delivery vans, which in turn deliver the goods to the customer’s home.

As a customer that appears to be served from one of these satellite depots, rather than direct from Hatfield, we think this is where the Ocado experience might be starting to break down.

Maybe it is the additional journey and transfer process that our shopping goes through (being moved by large lorry from Hatfield to White City, then being reloaded onto a small van) that is causing so much stuff to be damaged? Maybe it’s a mechanical problem within the Hatfield fulfilment centre? Or maybe it’s down to aggressive handling by the drivers or the original pickers and packers?

As a customer, ultimately we do not know where the problem is, and don’t really care, as the mechanics of Ocado’s process should be transparent to the customer. What we do care about is getting the problems worked out of the system so that we can obtain a reliable flow of undamaged deliveries from Ocado for a long time to come.

Issues such as rotten fruit and stale baked goods seem easier to determine. That problem stems either from the supplier, or that these perishable goods are not being stored properly in Hatfield. It is also possible that Ocado’s stock control processes are failing and these items are hanging around for too long. Storage problems seem more likely, but we are purely guessing as to exactly which of these is the actual cause.

Another area of concern is the delivery drivers. Again, it is hard to identify the root cause for what we are about to say (and would appreciate not going through another public stoning), but by-and-large the drivers that have delivered to our home, with the exception of our very first delivery, have been pretty awful. Maybe it is because the drivers are based at a satellite depot and thus don’t feel like part of the Ocado corporate family and don’t subscribe to the philosophy? Perhaps the satellite depot structure has created malaise leading to less oversight and monitoring, higher staff turnover, less training and less overall enforcement of standards and expectations of the delivery drivers?

We have had drivers that have man-handled goods, drivers who could not speak English, drivers that turned up at the wrong time without warning, drivers who refused to wait for a few seconds while we checked for broken fragile goods (really, we realise you have other deliveries to make, but there’s no need to rush a delivery like it’s a Formula 1 pit stop – no wonder things keep getting damaged), and drivers who continually refuse to take the old Ocado carrier bags away for recycling (a significant differentiator of the Ocado experience is its commitment to recycling the many carrier bags it uses to pack the shopping in).

Sure, the bags are bio-degradable so dumping them in the rubbish isn’t so bad, but when part of the Ocado delivery service (which can cost up to £6.49 for a single delivery) is to take away the Ocado bags from the previous delivery, it is frustrating when it doesn’t happen. Especially when you have made the effort to hand the bags to the driver and he still manages to put them down and leave without them. We are not the most eco-conscious people in the world, but try to do our bit and even we know it’s wasteful to dump something like a carrier bag into landfill when the grocery delivery service is supposed to reprocess and remanufacture them. Again, we don’t know why so many of the drivers we’ve had are reluctant to take the Ocado carrier bags away, but in our experience, many are.

To be clear, especially to the Facebook lunatics, we are referring only to the drivers that have delivered to our home. We cannot comment on drivers that have never delivered to us and do not wish to tar all Ocado drivers with the same brush. We would hope that the vast majority of Ocado drivers are like our first driver – polite, careful, considerate, helpful and most important, passionate about their job. The guy really cared about doing a good job and ensuring the customer was happy, taking extra time to talk new customers through every little detail. It is good customer service you seldom see anymore and it’s good to know it’s alive and well somewhere within Ocado. It is the sort of service that makes us want to be loyal customers, and perhaps it is the pursuit of that service again that has led us to be so patient and to persevere for so long with Ocado.

Alas, that perseverance may be coming to an end. Our delivery experiences have been a challenge, while the juvenile reaction to our Facebook feedback has sadly left us with a very negative view of Ocado – particularly given its failure to police its own Facebook page and its encouragement of the mob of immature individuals hurling abuse and unsubstantiated (and quite frankly criminal) accusations.

Also, we are currently trialling Ocado’s Delivery Pass deal. This is another excellent Ocado service innovation, whereby for a monthly subscription fee (or annual payment), you incur no individual delivery charges, regardless of when you opt for delivery. It also means you can order as little as £40 of goods (orders between £40 and £65 usually carry an additional delivery surcharge when paying for individual deliveries), which again suits our needs well as a weekly Ocado shop of around £45-£50 pretty much covers our grocery needs.

We began a one month free trial of Delivery Pass back at the beginning of March, and have had three deliveries in that time. So far, one delivery had nearly £20 of damaged and missing items (including a badly damaged frying pan), and the two most recent deliveries had no product problems at all (though on both occasions the driver left behind our carrier bags having been handed them). What is likely to be our final order of the trial is coming this Saturday, and it is this delivery that will determine whether we commit to the 12-month minimum Delivery Pass contract or walk away, perhaps completely, from Ocado.

The thing is we really want to continue as an Ocado customer and as a Delivery Pass subscriber. However, there is an obvious reluctance to commit to a 12-month minimum term if we are going to have to spend time every delivery logging claims for damaged goods, and paying £9.99 a month for the privilege of chasing down refunds and replacing damaged items. With all the problems we’ve had so far, and the fact that in four months we’ve only had two consecutive deliveries without damaged goods, our patience is wearing thin and we are starting to resign ourselves to the fact that we’ll have to trawl around a traditional supermarket – sadly not a Waitrose – again instead of having quality produce delivered to our door by Ocado.

So we say this in closing – Ocado, we are loyal and committed customers that want to support your business and spend money with you, so please don’t ignore our feedback and instead show us the same level of commitment we are showing you. Please sort it out; please retain us as a customer!

Full disclosure: Prior to becoming a journalist I worked in the grocery retail industry. I also advised WebVan, a dot com-era grocery delivery service in the US on media issues.

Got a BlackBerry? Want a BlackBerry? If so, buy this book!

Posted by Chris Green on Tuesday February 10 @ 1:44 pm

One of my last projects of 2008 has now gone on sale – it is a bookazine devoted to one of my favourite technology subjects – the BlackBerry.

You can buy The Ultimate BlackBerry Guide from those nice people at Amazon.co.uk, where it is currently on sale with an equally nice online discount.

The book will tell you everything you need to know, from handy shortcuts to undocumented features, along with tips on the best third party software and games available for the current range of devices. There is even a section dedicated to using your BlackBerry with a Mac.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this book possible. It was hard work, but I hope you will agree it was worth it.

Things I’ve Learned This Week…

Posted by Chris Green on Monday June 30 @ 1:56 pm

Yes, I know its only Monday, but that doesn’t mean I can’t resurrect my favourite list-based rant format. Christ knows I need something to get me motivated today:

  1. That study is not going to tidy itself.
  2. 90 per cent of the world is populated by very nice people
  3. 5 per cent are idiots
  4. 3 per cent voted for Bush – they need to be shot first come the revolution
  5. 1.5 per cent bought Betamax – need I say more
  6. The remaining 0.5 per cent are rude/prickly/overly aggressive/piss people off/don’t appreciate the situation (delete as appropriate). I haven’t decided what to do with these ones yet – might sell them on eBay.
  7. eBay rocks!
  8. I didn’t want a walnut-effect steering wheel, what I really wanted/needed was a new leather one.
  9. I’m sure Euro 2008 was a feast of football, but it failed to do anything for me 
  10. Not enough going on at Frightfest to justify a full festival pass this year, but I’ll be there for at least half the event.
  11. Jeremy Clarkson actually said something useful…when was the last time you just went for a drive……It’s been too long.
  12. Mmmmmmm…….cheese!
  13. Lovefilm sucks! If it improves, I’ll stay, otherwise I’m off
  14. Busy busy week this week.
  15. I need a new phone. I want a Nokia E71, but given my network provider only seems to add new handsets a year after everyone else, and has a hatred of anything with a keyboard, I’m not holding my breath.
  16. Finally did an iTunes movie rental on Saturday – the whole experience was surprisingly good.
  17. Despite being a Tesco loyalist, I am thinking about defecting to Asda.
  18. Not spending enough time blogging or Twittering. Need to sort both out.
  19. Need to find a nice place to stay in Northern France for a long weekend, somewhere that’s big for food and drink would be a huge bonus.

Celebrate the 80s

Posted by Chris Green on Friday June 20 @ 10:59 pm

Celebrate the 80s front cover

It’s the perfect gift for birthdays, christenings, grduation, or just a good read if you are stoned or just miss the greatest decade since we all realised the world isn’t flat.

Written by members of the greatest generation (those of us who grew up in the 80s), and edited by my friend and colleague Simon Brew, this book is the definitive guide to all things 80s – TV shows, music, films and proper computer games (the ones that came on tapes).

You can buy Celebrate the 80s now from Amazon.co.uk.

And yes, I did write some of it.

Seriously, its a brilliant book and it will bring back some fantastic memories, and a few that will make you cringe as well. Find out what all your 80s big and small screen favourites are doing now (not all of them are flipping burgers for a living) and read some exclusive interviews with the people who pioneered 80s entertainment.

WARNING: This book does contain a picture of me, with a mullet!

A day without my mobile phone

Posted by Chris Green on Wednesday April 30 @ 8:37 am

For the first time in years (far longer than I can actually remember for sure), I’ve forgotten to take my mobile phone with me. As I am now half way along my journey to work, this means I will be separated from my phone until at least 7pm today.

I already feel a bit cut-off, but that will soon change when I get into the office. For now, I’m making do with my 3G modm and the MacBook, which is how I am doing today’s post.

Suffice to say, if you need to reach me today, you will actually need to call my office landline for a change, rather than going straight to my mobile.

I do get rather fed up with people, usually work contacts, who insist on using my mobile phone number as the primary way of contacting me for work-related queries (and I’m talking about the pointless stuff like “did you get the press release we sent you a week ago” rather than the more useful “My client is running late for his lunch meeting with you”.

I have a perfectly good landline in my office – please use it in the first instance. The mobile is there so that you can get hold of me if it is urgent, or if you have genuinely failed to get me on the landline first – don’t just bypss my office number altogether.

I do reject about 70 per cent of the calls I get to my mobile number during office hours anyway (and definitely bounce unknown and withheld numbers straight to voicemail unless I’m not sat at my desk, then I will answer), so chances are you’ll still only end up talking to my voicemail before you talk to me, so you may as well talk to my office voicemail if it is not time critical – it’s more likely to get a reply, or at least listened to before my mobile voicemail will.

Coca Cola – now DOS compatible!

Posted by Chris Green on Wednesday February 27 @ 10:18 pm

Coca Cola is DOS Compatible in Spain

Originally uploaded by Ewan Spence.


Just finished a Skype chat with Ewan Spence, who is over in Spain at a media conference. Our VoIP call was interrupted by Ewan cracking up, when he spotted this DOS reference on the bottle of Coke we was chugging.

Yes, it’s a geek joke – and it’s a funny one!

Buy my stuff!

Posted by Chris Green on Thursday January 24 @ 5:23 pm

iPod 60GB

I’m having a bit of an iPod clear-out, having realised that I own more iPods than I could possibly make use of.

The stuff is listed on eBay, and all proceeds will be used to buy shiny new Apple items, such as a 160GB iPod Classic, and if there’s anything left over, a second composite video cable and power adapter for it.

http://search.ebay.co.uk/_W0QQfgtpZ1QQfrppZ25QQsassZchrisgreen1

Everything has been looked after, in most cases you’d struggle to tell it has been used at all as I keep all my iPods in cases as I am paranoid about scratching them.

And before anyone asks – I am not selling the engraved Nano I was given just before Christmas – as the guys in the office will confirm, I’m keeping that and use it every day!

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