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Friday, 19 September 2014

well, you say you want a federation

307 years and still counting. Yes, I woke to still being in the UK this morning, based on the last 5.3% of the Scottish votes.

The voting gap sounds bigger because of the way it gets represented, but undoubtedly the last 191,969 'No' votes from a voting capacity of 4.24 million still decided it.

The surviving politicians have been quick to move to the next stage of 'devolution' bringing up a question that has languished since, oh, 1977.

We are now being promised answers to all kinds of issues by November 2014. Nothing unrealistic or distracting in these moves of course. There'll also be plenty of arguments for the media to recycle - will anyone bring up the Stone of Scone?.

I predict some speedily arranged new field appointments including democracy task forces or similar sounding edifices (no, I didn't say artifices).

Probably, by November it will have to be along the lines of a plan for a plan.

Or maybe to incept a plan of how to make a plan of a plan. But maybe I'm entering unconstructed dream space when I say that.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

nothing belongs on a poker table but cards, chips and whiskey

We've just seen the NT production of Tennessee Williams 'A Streetcar named Desire' which has Gillian Anderson playing Blanche DuBois.

It's been running at the Young Vic, although we actually tried out the NT Live screening of it, which was a very interesting experience.

First, the play. A real tour-de-force for Anderson, from the time she tidily arrives at the New Orleans split house of her sister Stella (Vanessa Kirby) and seeks the Jim Beam from the cupboard under the sink.

Then we watch an alcoholic decline in her fortune, interspersed with squandered saving moments.

Blanche wants the lights dimmed, symbolising a reduction in truth, although it's more about an escape from realism.

"I don't want realism. I want magic. …I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don't tell truth, I tell what ought to be truth…."

Her sister's husband Stanley Kowalski (Ben Foster) is altogether more worldly, wanting to know where the family property has gone, harking to the New Orleans Napoleonic Code of 'what's yours is mine', for what he considers is his share of the (non-existent) family fortune.

The catalyst of Stanley sets a path towards Blanche's self-destruction, along with the twisting revelations from her life before arriving in New Orleans.

There's plenty of brilliant lines delivered, sometimes at a whipcrack pace that leaves one reeling from the need to process as the story moves along.

"…...Soft people have got to shimmer and glow. They've got to put on soft colors, the colors of butterfly wings..." before the demise of Blanche towards living in the bath with a glass of bourbon.

It's been set in a supposedly modern time, although the scripting is original with arcane phone numbers 'Magnolia 1234' etc. some dated expressions and cordless but not cellular phones. For me, this didn't matter one jot and the sparseness of the unwalled setting gave mental licence to edit for the key aspects.

And that's where the NT Live big screening comes in.

It allowed an added intimacy as the camera action stalked in amongst the actors. Still very much a play, it gave stunning perspectives that would never be seen in a conventional production. The Young Vic set revolved too, spinning slowly in its slightly addled state, with the skeletal walls providing ways to see every angle on what was happening.

I loved this way to watch this play. It won't replace conventional theatre, but was a fascinating and appropriate alternative way to see this production, allowing every aspect to be scrutinised. The production anyway calls for the various monologues to be widely delivered and the Young Vic audience in the round formed the bubble of a world representing the New Orleans Quarter.

This was a kind of 'for one day only' thing, but I shall watch out for others.

Monday, 15 September 2014

office, hotels and cycling statistics

City Hall
I've made several adjustments to plans this year as a result of work, which has taken me away from home more than I'd originally predicted. I notice I've somehow moved through all of the loyalty card stages of a particular hotel chain, from their lowest card right up to platinum.

Not that it makes much difference, although it's sometimes hard to believe it was only this year that I started that particular block of work. It almost seems a longer time ago.

My time away from home is reflected in my cycling stats for the year, which are somewhere around the 2,800 mile level at the moment.

It's quite a way down from the same period last year. I think I finished last year somewhere over 6000 miles, whereas I'm guessing I'll be around 4,000 miles this year.

I only monitor the mileage clocked up via the little Garmin unit on the handlebars, but I've been doing that for at least the last three years now, so have a base of interesting data.

My stats are still considerably above the UK cycling average, which is a surprisingly low 79 miles per year with only 7-8% of the population cycling 3 times a week.

And across my three years of counting, I've only had one bicycle disappear: the heavy green one, which vanished without trace.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

reading the tealeaves: app interface revision for Apple watch?

There's something that's bothering me about the Watch interface.

It's like we've somehow returned to 1990.

The days when Snap's 'The Power' with its computer technology beginning ruled Top of the Pops and One Direction were yet to be born.

In those days, computer interfaces with WIMP (Windows, Icons, Mouse and Pointer) were still 'under development'. The novelty of a freely customisable desktop meant that people would add as much as possible to make it easy to access their preferred programs (it was a while before they could be called Apps in the mainstream).

We used to get something like this:

Slightly, messy, but it took while before everyone stockpiled programs, notably via the bloatware CDs and DVD free with many magazines of the time.

The next few years saw the march of the icons across the desktop and when Kodiak appeared on the Mac in 2000, there was similar experimentation, although the Mac also had to wait for its applications to slowly arrive.

Windows spruced up their interface for Neptune (later sunk without trace) and Whistler, which evolved into Windows XP and from then right the way through to Windows 7 it's been 'Game On' for some types of users to add as many icons as possible to the desktop.

Let's take a look at a few examples; it's like reading tealeaves, only with desktops.
This one is pretty tidy.

Probably just on the edge of running into unmanageability. For me, this would be way too many icons on display though. I'd have at least a 'desktop tidy' folder where I could park some of the less used references. I suspect the fish acts as a sort of border patrol for what's acceptable.
Okay, I think this one has tipped over the edge.

It's full house.

"I think we're gonna need a bigger screen" etc.

Perhaps the progressive march of folders at the left of the screen have been some attempt to tidy it up.
This next one really flaunts it.

"I know I've filled the screen, but I'm adept at the user interface, see I can move the task bar to the left"

See where I'm going with this?

Flat interface and people that want everything to hand? It happened when the iPhone was introduced, before sufficient multiple pages and folders appeared.

I suspect the Watch has some similar challenges?

Let's continue a little further...This is one of my personal favourites, and not just because it's on a Mac.
I'll call this one "You're having a laugh."

We get a proper left brain/right brain thing going on.

The Mac has an easy ability to put things into little heaps on the desktop (I do this all the time), but also to remember that its a temporary thing whilst organising. Therefore the following isn't ideal:
Messy desktop
On Windows, most people have a 'snap to grid' function to automatically tidy the desktop, so an equivalent result may look like this:
Both of the last two examples are pretty full of icons, and I can't help wondering the exact point where 'needle in a haystack' starts to play.

I suppose the stuff at the top left and bottom right are the areas that get selected the most?

And that brings us back to the Watch.

The S1 SoC (System on a Chip) will limit the available memory for applications in the first release.

It'll still seem like a bonkers amount. Whaaaat? That much memory? 64-bit processing? For a watch?

My 1990s point is that it's a flat watchworld at the moment. As things develop, will the interface evolve from flat? How much is it needed on wearable technology? It doesn't take long to list a few App classes. Time, Health, Payments, Transit, Social, Telephony, (Photography-V2), Speech, Location, P2P...The list goes on.

So this could easily create clutter and consequent usability challenges. It will be interesting to see how this plays out by Version 2.

Look at my screen grab below. It's already happening...

Friday, 12 September 2014

Quickly designed Apps for the Watch

I've invented some Apps for the new Watch.

The first is called iSpacer. It's a black circle that doesn't do anything. It requires multiple installations around the edge of the visible Appspace on the fascia of the watch. It's only purpose is to take control of the space immediately around the main six/eight Apps that surround the watch App. It's there to declutter the face of the watch.

The next one is called iFolder. It's another circle, that this time lets you dig deep. Basically a folder selector so that instead of everything being on a flat watchworld, it's possible to drop down a level into a folder containing a related class of Apps.

iSpacer and iFolder can also be combined to create iWorld which provides the de-clutter circle, but this time with clickable drop down folders on each of the segments- it all works from the crown, or from the clickable front surface of the watch. Think planar.
By the time the slimline Watch Air appears (thinner, better battery life, extra bright screen for outdoor viewing, front facing camera, health functions that can run for extended periods without access to iPhone), everyone will be using iSpacer, iFolder and iWorld.

Maybe I'll put the revenue generated towards another kind of planar. One of those biomorphic Marc Newson iJets.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

stunt squirrels

I see the Queen will stay out of the Scottish debate, what with being above politics and all that.

Like many Londoners, I'm used to seeing the Queen being driven around for state occasions, in fancy looking Rollers or even fancier horse drawn carriages.

It contrasts with a different royal experience when in rashbre north, which is along the road from Balmoral on Royal Deeside. Quite a few of the local shops in Ballater have royal crests over their doors, as the household pops out for flowers, groceries and the other day-to-day essentials of castle living.
And instead of being driven about, Her Majesty might be behind the wheel of a vehicle tailored for the Scottish terrain.

We accidentally followed her along a road once. It was the backroad to Balmoral, on the south side of the Dee. That's where I found out about the stunt squirrels.

The royal Land Rover pulled on to the road ahead of us and made off briskly in the direction of Balmoral. We were following at a conservative distance, and losing ground to the vehicle in front.

Then, suddenly, the stunt squirrels appeared.

Red squirrels of course, they dived across the road in front of us. We had to stop and in that fleeting moment the Land Rover was able to twist around the next corner and out of sight, never to be seen again.

We haven't worked out whether the squirrels are kept in special chutes, or perhaps pop up from silos, but they certainly do the trick to encourage a decent distance and suitable escape for the royal vehicle.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

too late to put the toothpaste back in the tube?

The 'United Kingdom' news is filled with commentary about the Scottish vote next week.

And I see Downing Street is flying the Saltire this afternoon. I say flying, it's more like hanging, because of the lack of breeze.

I'm not so sure these last minute gestures will compete with the £4.5m "Yes" funding (around 80% of the total) from those two Scottish £160m Eurolottery winners.

Down south, it's all been fairly slow burn until these last few days. The first TV debate wasn't even aired south of the border.

Westminster politicos have only cautiously made visits north, instead thinking "Who can we send up there who seems properly Scottish?"

That is until we get tomorrow's tokenistically skipped PM Question Time, permitting the Cameron/Clegg/Miliband trio a fly-by to passionately discuss asymmetric federalism over neeps an' tatties.
Assuming it is level-pegging with 20% undecided swing voters at the moment, presumably WIIFM (Whats In It For Me) arguments will play out over the next few days?

So pick a topic: economy; governance; energy; wages; health; education; currency; defence; setup cost and latency, or pick a novelty: border crossings; driving on the wrong side of the road; international roaming charges. Then add a bit of hearts over minds...you get the picture.

We won't get back to rashbre north in lovely Ballater until after it's all decided, whichever way.

Meantime, I could wonder whether my existing toothpaste packaging will need to be upgraded? It currently has 10 languages on the front and 12 countries' worth of explanations of the ingredients on the back.

At this rate, maybe it will need 13 countries by St Andrew's Day?

you've gotta haptic to 'em, great taptics

insert timely statement here

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Lightroom and Aperture along a cloudy edge

Since I set up Lightroom 5 as a test replacement for Aperture for my photographs, I've had to rethink my backup strategy. Lightroom backs up its catalog, but not the related photos. Aperture backs everything into its vaults. So I needed an additional backup regime for the Lightroom photos.

I'm using Chronosync which requires individual folder hierarchies to be nominated for backup. It can be scheduled and will only copy changes, set by user preference. It seems very reliable and will retry if a disk or machine is offline. The end result is also a recognisable folder and file format, which is reassuring when thinking about recovery.

The initial backup of Lightroom took a few hours across the home network. I also made a further backup of Aperture using Chronosync. Aperture's backup took 2-3 days, but the way that Aperture stores the individual photos in its folder structure meant there were over 2 million items to copy. Given there are around 100,000 images, that's a lot of extra objects.
The files are now stored in a workspace, on a fileserver and on a separate backup server. Everything is RAID5 and I've added dual disk redundancy to the two server environments.

It got me thinking about my early home computer systems, back in the days of proper floppy disks. That's the type that do actually bend. Type in 'floppy disk' nowadays to google and most of the images that come back are of the IBM-style 1.3MB diskettes.

My original hard-disk enabled computer had two drives with a total capacity of 30MB. That's about the size of a single photograph as a raw file from a fancy camera nowadays. Back in the day, the 30MB seemed like a decent amount of space, although the Apps were 'green screen' and the games were retro blocky graphics. Even in the early PC days, it was commonplace to have a pile of 15-20 diskettes to load to install, say, MS Office.

Fast forward to now. No DVD drives (let alone CD or diskette drives) on many modern systems. Storage being measured not in Megabytes, not even Gigabytes, nowadays its Terabytes and discussion of Exabytes. As iPhones start to use 128GB storage, it's with over 4000 times the storage of that ancient home computer.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

I finally see castles in the sky

I didn't see any advertising about the programme dramatising the invention of what later became known as radar, which screened earlier in the week. Fortunately it created enough interference for me to download it to watch later.

A cracking little story about Scotsman Robert Watson-Watt, who led the team that designed what later became known as radar. This version was used to defend the British coastline in World War II. Eddie Izzard played Watson-Watt in what was a kind of 'weathermen vs the toffs' story about the project.

It started as an unworkable British ministry plan to produce a 'death ray' by focusing energy onto a target, and turned into overcoming multiple hurdles to piece together the components to build radar.

Izzard's character was tracking thunderstorms using an oscilloscope bridged the ideas to what became the plane detection technology. He walks around with lots of papers, presumably containing contemporaneous references to similar investigations conducted in other countries.

His team had the big breakthrough moments such as using pulses to preserve the otherwise exploding valve amplifiers and using a weatherman inspired trick to bounce signals from the ionosphere to get range. His and Arnold Wilkin's design used short wave radio signals to detect incoming planes 60 miles as the basis for a 20 minute scramble warning during the Battle of Britain.

Some of the story-telling would have befitted a similar yarn told in an old black-and-white war movie, but this didn't detract from something both entertaining and informative.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

jean pocket upgrade for iPhone 6

It's still a few days before the iPhone 6/Air and its companion device appear, but the phenomenon of early queues to get them has already started.

Television reports show a small row of camper beds outside the Apple Store on 5th Avenue already. Brilliantly, the lady at the front of the line is using her global TV interviews to promote an App. Come on Regent Street, opportunity awaits.

The phenomenon this time is that the device hasn't even been announced.

Sure, there's the Russian video of a complete prototype and plastic protective cases are already on sale on Amazon, for immediate delivery.

The headline news seems to be that it will be a little bigger (grr. yet another car kit swap out?), have a better camera with image stabilisation (and a little ring on the case where the lens sticks out. Hmmm).

It's expected there'll be a new glass Apple badge presumably to support NFC and/or inductive charging through the aluminium case? As Marques explains, even if the screen glass is tougher, it will still scratch if wrapped in sandpaper - although the scratching will sound different.
I use the iPhone all the time, but there's a few things that often don't get mentioned.

1) The look of an iPhone is great in the store. Nearly everyone I know then adds a case to protect it. And guess what? the showroom look is then hidden by leather, plastic or a flappy wallet thingy.

2) Like many using it as work tool, I have one of those Mophie battery expanders. It means I can get 2 days at a squeeze, but one day could sometimes be tricky otherwise - if there were a few long conference calls or similar. I wonder how a bigger high resolution screen and a thinner form factor will affect the new one?

3) The device should really pass the jeans pocket test. If it won't fit into a pocket, then it's starting to become a small tablet, rather than a phone. The iPhone 5s is already borderline. The Samsung PingPong doesn't make it. I hope Apple are onto this?

Which ever way, I suspect we'll all need deep pockets.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014


I see this hypnotic little movie from Life of Shannon has already played 19 million loops.