Archives for July 2008

The iPhone won't be challenging the Nintendo DS any time soon

So... airports... hanging about... I decided to buy a game for my iPod Touch and chose Bejewelled 2. It's nice looking, fun to play, it reminds my why I should never go near that game on my computer because it's a huge time sink.

I guess I played for about 40 minutes before my fully-charged touch batteries were down to <20% and I got the battery warning.

I don't own a DS but I hear you can get in the region of 10+ hours of play time, maybe as many 14 with the brightness down. My Touch could maybe do an hour. Battery life seems fine for other things: browsing, watching movies, playing music. But whatever Bejewelled was doing (using the 3D processor maybe?) ate the battery with fava beans and a nice Chianti.

Maybe the iPhone has a better battery than the Touch but I can't imagine it's much more than 2x better. My Touch is also getting on for 9 months old so it's battery is probably 15% from it's new capacity. Even so you're looking at a device that may go 3 hours tops.

I don't think Nintendo have much to worry about at this point.

27/07/2008 14:04 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Why I might end up getting an iPhone 3G after-all

In yesterdays chaos having a good information source at my fingertips could have been a help in giving me some options. Unfortunately I had my Nokia N73 on T-Mobile.

Between getting "No network" messages (despite the phone claiming to have a full 3G signal) and the craptacular browser on the N73 I was able to get nowhere at all.

Whatever mobile gateway T-Mobile uses is utterly shit. Mobile gateway errors have plagued my entire year of service with them.

This combined with the small screen, unfriendly browser, and ridicuolous pointing, clicking, and hapless text entry make it a most frustrating device to use.

Pre-iPhone you could live with that because you knew there was nothing better (Windows mobile? Please be serious...) but it's a whole different deal to live with it now.

I still wish there was a more expensive 12 month contract option or pay&go but with my contract coming up on August 3rd I am wavering again.

27/07/2008 13:56 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Thanks for nothing Air France

Yesterday I was supposed to meet R in Paris. I had debated taking Eurostar but it's no cheaper than flying, no quicker, and I only live 25 minutes from Heathrow.

I was duly at Heathrow at 5.40am for the 7.40 AF1781 flight to Paris and, despite the chaos that is Air Frances so called "check-in system" I was in the departure lounge in good time for the, then 20 minutes delayed, take-off and looking forward to being there.

We pushed off and rolled onto the jetway. Where we sat for about 20 minutes. I was trying to doze anyway so it took me a while to notice that something was amiss. This was as close I would get to Paris that day.

After some time the captain came on to say that the engine ignition computer had failed and that they would be towing us back to the stand to get an engineer on board to fix it. What followed was a cycle of ever more depressing announcements about some issue that would be known in 5-10 minutes and, 25 minutes later, coming on to say it hadn't worked and they were trying something else. All the time I was willing the engines to start.

To no avail. In the end he announced that a new engine computer would have be flown in from Paris and fitted and we had to get off the plane. At this point I think we all sort of expected we would be kept together and made comfortable until something could be done.

It is at this point that Air France totally and utterly failed every single passenger on board.

We were instead directed back through the border and all the way back to the Air France ticket desk where we assembled into the hugest queue you can imagine. I spent two and a half hours shuffling along and I wasn't even at the back.

By the time I got to the front, hours after I should have landed in Paris, the best flight on offer was a 6pm departure. And I was lucky, lots of other people had missed connecting flights for holiday or home. The family in front of me had two very disappointed children.

Maybe it was having served a lot of, increasingly ill-tempered people for 2.5 hours, but I didn't feel a lot of sympathy for my position when I reached the front of the queue. It's entirely Air Frances fault though, I had no sympathy for them at all.

There were lots of Air France people in the terminal but frankly they all seemed pretty blasé about our problems. We were given £10 food vouchers which was fine for those people who could actually leave the queue (i.e. not me) but other than that they did nothing.

In particular they didn't offer drinks, didn't help anyone to sit down who might need it, and made no attempt to optimize the process (a first plan might have been to separate those heading to Paris from those flying through Paris for whom there might have been alternatives). The only information we got was handed down from those ahead of us in the queue.

I left LHR some 8 hours after I arrived, exhausted and thoroughly dejected. I've flown Air France a few times but have no intention of doing so again. You see what a company is really like when things go wrong. Today Air France failed every single passenger of that plane and made no attempt to fix the problems they caused.

Thanks for nothing Air France.

27/07/2008 13:34 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Maybe time to find a new ISP

My, my, but the BPI has been busy lately. I'm just reading a PC World article on an issue that I am surprised hasn't gotten more prominent coverage:

Britain's six biggest ISPs, the Government and the British Phonographic Institute (BPI) today signed a Memorandum of Understanding in which they pledged to "significantly reduce illegal file sharing".

Offenders may find their internet connection is throttled, or may even have their traffic "filtered" to prevent media files from being downloaded. Thousands of letters are expected to be sent to customers of the big six in the coming weeks, warning them of evidence of illegal file sharing on their connection.

This sounds a lot like my ISP, Nildram (who are part of Pipex and, hence, of Tiscali), that I pay good money to every month, has agreed to spy on me on behalf of the music industry's. If so then way to go. I've opened a support question about it. Let's see what they have to say.

26/07/2008 22:50 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:


I took a couple of days off at the beginning of the week in order to unwind and, quick as boiled asparagus, I have come down with gastroenteritis. The doctor recommended eating nothing (no problem, i have zero appetite) and drinking lots of fluids.

I'm taking this rehydration remedy:

  • 1 spoon table salt
  • 8 spoons granulated sugar
  • 1 banana
  • 1 litre of water

The salt makes it borderline repulsive. It's like drinking some kind of seawater pena colada. I'm almost through my first litre and while I still feel bad I'm hoping for the best.

In other news I appear to have "ruptured the capsule around the middle joint" of one of my knuckles so I'm really feeling in the wars right now.

24/07/2008 20:59 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Bloody socialists

So the music industry is lobbying government to tax every internet user £30 per year to cover the cost of illegal music sharing? What a surprise.

Ministers are backing proposals that would enable millions of broadband users to pay an annual levy which would allow them to copy as much – previously illegal – music from the internet as they wanted. The money raised would be channelled back to the rights-holders, with artists responsible for the most popular songs receiving a bigger slice of the cash.

Who could see this as anything other than absurd? The music industry, running shy of any kind of business model that continues their fat profits in isolation of the value they offer, once again seeks draconian state powers to affect us all: downloaders and non-downloaders alike.

And why not? This will turn into a huge money tap for them. Once people know "it's okay" to download they probably will. This in turn will lead to the music lobby complaining that £30 isn't enough and pretty soon we'll have a nice state funded music business that will hang around our necks forever.

Look for the film lobby to get in one this one while the going is good.


24/07/2008 14:38 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

100% Really? Are you sure?

It seems a little ironic to declare you are 100% complete

Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!

and, after 31 minutes mark you, still be saying "Almost ready." The best part is that this is a 40s long 1.2mb QT video at 640x480.

How on earth do people upload anything substantial to Vimeo?

Update: I had a long chat with one of the Vimeo community managers and it turns out that I just got unlucky and happened to try my first uploads while they were having some kind of system-wide problem. Hopefully it'll be fixed soon.

23/07/2008 22:16 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Neat Ruby tricks for a Saturday morning

This one is from Jonathan Palardy:

# The next Monday that falls on a 17th:
s = stream_from( ).filter {|date| == 17 && date.cwday == 1 }
# => "2008-11-17"

His Ruby streams code turns a stream into a function to which decorator filters can be applied. I have no immediate practical application myself (Jonathan's was related to treating time as an infinite stream of days of which some are more interesting than others) but I liked it anyway.

19/07/2008 10:50 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Dr. Horrible

Usually I hate musicals but, in Dr. Horrible's sing-along-blog, Joss Whedon manages once again to make something I love (with props to Alan for the link).

18/07/2008 11:48 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Those 2G iPhones are worth their weight in gold

I've been watching a lot of 2G iPhones on eBay and the average sale price is £238. I'm watching 8 that haven't ended yet and they average about £180. Okay one of those just went for £211.

That seems crazy to me. Assume you pick one of these up and get a cheap pay&go tariff (say £5/mth) plus a data bolt-on (£10/mth). That makes TCO over 18 months £508.

Now if you're pursuing this strategy you're probably not intending to hold on to the device for 18 months, let's say 8 months. Long enough that you might have an outside shot at an iPhone 3G (as in 3rd generation). That comes to £358.

Now a new iPhone 3G will run you -at a minimum - £99 plus £540 in monthly fees for a total cost of £639.

So your wait & see 2G strategy costs you 56% the cost of a new iPhone for only 44% the total usage (8 mths instead of 18). If this was the same device that'd be okay but you're getting a second hand device, older model, that may well be out of warranty much of that time. Waiting Apple/O2 out is starting to sound like a pretty expensive option.

And this assumes a probably impossible low of £5/mth on pay&go. If we say £10 instead you come out at £398 which is 62% of the cost for 44% of the time. Maybe it's Alan coaxing me but the 3G iPhone is starting to sound like a better deal. All except the 18-month contract part.

Maybe my figures are wrong?

If not it seems to me that people are wayy overpaying for 2G iPhones.

For the record when I set out on this path my gut instinct on the value of a 2G iPhone topped out about £85 which is not a million miles from Kottke's gut instinct that they'd be worth no more than $150. (Thanks Stu for the link). Kottke later realises the same thing I did, our gut instinct is dead wrong.

18/07/2008 09:13 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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iPhone musings

I think if I had been here on the fateful day then the hype would have carried me over the threshold holding an iPhone 3G. Although I have heard that there are 3G iPhone available from the Apple store in London I wasn't willing to make a pilgrimage and O2 are out, at least, anywhere I might reasonably drive to. Being forced to wait has given me the luxury of taking a deep breath and re-evaluating what I want.

I had only recently taken out a contract with T-Mobile when the first iPhone came out. At that time and for the money I don't think I could have afforded one then anyway. When the iPhone 3G was announced it was just a month before this contract expires so I thought the timing was perfect.

But the reviews of the 3G have really given me pause for thought.

Top on the list is battery life. My N73, bless it's irritating little transistors, easily gives me 3 days between charges. This can probably be best explained by the fact that the N73 is so annoying to use that I do as little as possible with it. Based on my use of my iPod Touch lately (and especially post-Appstore) I don't think that it a safe assumption for a 3G iphone.

So I am looking at those claimed 5hrs of internet usage very carefully. I am also weighing up that this is with a perfectly fresh battery. Even in "perfect" conditions a lithium Ion battery will lose 20% of its capacity in the first year. Factoring in real-life conditions that means that over the 18 month contract O2 will force on me I can expect the battery to lose 30%-38% of it's capacity.

If, as is usually the case, I don't get Apple's claimed 5 hours on day one that means I could be looking at less than 3 hours by the time I am looking for a new contract. Is that good enough? I don't know but I'm not immediately convinced. Do Apple replace batteries for "normal wear"? I'm guessing not.

Then there is the contract. All iPhone 3G contracts are minimum 18 months. That's 6 months longer than I care for (and certainly 6 months longer than the warranty). I'd rather get a little less subsidy and settle on a 12 month contract. Why isn't that an option? I see they are suggesting a pay&go option will appear some time in the year. That might be more attractive.

Lastly there is the shell. I've played with Paolo's 2G iPhone a few times and I love how it looks and feels. The iPhone 3G is nice (I messed with a display unit in a store) but I really wish it was flat, I hate the curved back. I'm ambivalent about the plasticness.

I am seriously considering skipping the iPhone 3G at this point and seeing what happens. It's still an attractive item and might be convincing with a different deal. But right now I am not completely persuaded. I'm interested in the pay&go possibility on O2, possible christmas deals after the rush has died down and they feel the need to boost sales again, a refreshed model maybe with better battery life. Who knows what might happen in the next 6 months.

But that leaves me with an N73 I don't want to use on a £35/mth web&walk tariff that I don't get best use out of (although it did help me through my month-of-no-broadband). I'm wondering about picking up a 2G iphone on a pay as you go tariff (e.g. the O2 pay&go with the £10 data option) and waiting.

Anyone I know want to sell me their 2G iphone?

16/07/2008 12:08 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Promoting the law

Whilst I may disagree with certain laws or legal systems from time to time I am convinced that a code of laws is the basis of a fair society, by which I not only mean from one individual to another but also between the individual and the state (for as long as we have such a notion, I'm guessing it will outlive me).

It seems to me self-evident that it's a good thing that an individual who feels they have been wronged can turn to the courts for protection even from the state that supposedly governs in their interest.

How much more then should I support the idea of a court that can be brought to intervene when a government is suspected of the murder and rape of it's own citizens?

I know about Sudan only as much as looking at Google Maps and Wikipedia can tell you. Sudan is, essentially, two countries: one, to the north, predominantly Muslim while the other, to the south, is a mixture of Christians and animists. Whether we British through our historic interference in the area made things worse or not, it's a mess today and a whole lot of people seem to be dying.

Therefore I support Avaaz's cause to support the International Criminal Court and have made a donation to support their work in promoting the ICC.

I hope you will read what Avaaz have to say about the region and their aims and think about supporting them also.

16/07/2008 10:19 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Smalltalk on Objective-C

This looks interesting:

This week, I committed the first version of the Smalltalk compiler I have been working on to Étoilé svn. Unlike other Smalltalk implementations, this is designed from the ground up for interoperability. Smalltalk objects are compiled (to native code) as Objective-C objects. This means that they can subclass Objective-C objects, and can even implement categories on Objective-C objects. There is no C function interface - if you want to call C functions then call them from Objective-C.

The compiler is in three components. SmalltalkKit contains everything required to take a string containing Smalltalk code and compile it to a set of Objective-C objects.

The Support library contains things needed by Smalltalk but not Objective-C. The most important class here is the BlockClosure class, which implements a Smalltalk block as an Objective-C object with a function pointer as an instance variable and pointers to bound variables and space for promoting other variables (eliminating the need for garbage collected stack frames). There are also a few categories, such as map: and related methods on NSArray which take blocks as arguments. Note that these are implemented in Objective-C even though they are used by Smalltalk - they could, in most cases, easily be implemented in Smalltalk instead.

Compiled Smalltalk on top of Objective-C? Damn! I wish I had time to look more closely but I haven't even had time to pursue Nu. I note in passing that it's implemented using LLVM which is something else I wish I had time to explore.

14/07/2008 10:47 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

See the musical hexes

Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!

Drawn in OmniGraffle Pro 4.

13/07/2008 12:00 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Having to make do

I was out of the country (in sunny Verona in fact) yesterday for a off-site meeting so no queuing for an iPhone-3G for me. This morning I find that O2 are out of stock.

Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!


Oh well, I paid £5.99 instead to upgrade my iPodTouch to 2.0 firmware. That's downloaded and my Touch is backing up now. At least I should get to play with the app store today.

12/07/2008 10:03 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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iChat has very poor AIM

Since I bought my first Mac I have switched from having multiple instant messenger accounts to just using iChat with AIM. It was a bit of a "badge of ownership" thing I guess and, what the hell, it worked really well.

Lately, however, AIM has come to mean seeing:

Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!

a lot. Several times per-week at least, often several times per-day.

In this case I sent two messages and got the error after sending the second. Did the first arrive? Who can tell.

Also as time has gone on iChat has not improved very much. It still works well enough for basic chatting but I don't see anything really value added over other clients I've used. iChat still feels very 2005 to me.

So I find myself thinking about dumping AIM, and possibly iChat, and moving to something else.

One simple option would be to switch to iChat+Jabber. However I have found iChat very unreliable using my GTalk account (which is, I think, Jabber). That might be a Google issue I guess. To find out I'd have to swich to some other Jabber server. I'm also unclear about how many of my useful contacts have a Jabber account.

It's all really just a pain. If AIM would be reliable then my motivation to switch would not pass the inertial threshold. Maybe there is a way to improve AIM reliability?

09/07/2008 11:12 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

The real meaning of IT

This is the government. To be a DBA you have to, (a) have a computer science degree, and (b) be very skilled at filling out the paperwork.

Desire or ability to build quality computer systems is a serious handicap to anyone working in a government IT job. Those kind of people tend to not be willing to spend their entire day filling out paperwork describing what the system would do if we ever got around to actually building it, how it would interact with all the other systems that will never actually be built, and how it would comply with all the applicable regulations written by bureaucrats who have no idea how to build computer systems. Those people always want to rush off and really build something. They cling to naive ideas that one could design a computer system with less than 10 pages of documentation per line of code, or that there should be more programmers than managers on a project.

From a comment to a daily WTF

08/07/2008 22:11 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Some ideas stay good

Russel Beattie says of the Twitter+Summize deal:

I think if Twitter doesn't end up buying Summize, or even if they do that they should re-focus a lot of their effort in this area as this stuff is valuable to a ton of other services out there. (This was no doubt Summize's original business plan...). I just have that gut feeling of its inherent value, and it seems huge to me. Imagine a "topic engine" that did nothing but scour the latest blog posts, tweets, forum posts, etc. and created live topic lists for tons of areas? Like Nielson on steroids. It seems to me it'd be a really valuable position to be in: "Why is that important? Oh, Summize said it was."

I think he'd dead right.

I've thought such a thing was a great idea, in one form or another, for quite a few years now and even had a shot at building it. Russell's being all retro by calling it a topic engine but the key point is that you go beyond simply knowing that something is tagged (not very interesting) to combining tag information in a way that adds value.

Om Malik seems to suggest that Summize are going a step deeper than surface topics:

"We monitor collective attitudes being expressed right now on the web," is how Summize describes itself. In other words, it can quickly look at data coming from conversational sources - RSS feeds and Twitter tweets - and offer a quick opinion as to what is being talked about.

Opinion is, semantically, a step up from the kind of topics most people are dealing with and is a good deal more useful besides.

It remains to be seen just how useful Summize's analysis is but I find it interesting.

08/07/2008 21:32 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Where did we go wrong?

Will Shipley on bug hunting:

Software is written by humans. Humans get tired. Humans become discouraged. They aren't perfect beings. As developers, we want to pretend this isn't so, that our software springs from our head whole and immaculate like the goddess Athena. Customers don't want to hear us admit that we fail.

Shipley is always good value when he talks about the realities of development.

08/07/2008 12:29 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

What's the big deal?

I just caught part of a PM news item about the current debate in the Church of England about the status of women bishops. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth accompanied by implied threats from both sides.

I think this captures, in a nutshell, one of the things I like least about organized religions: that they are far more concerned with the internal politics of the group than any supposed mission of the group of as a whole.

07/07/2008 17:55 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Beautiful thoughts

Tom Taylor gave what sounds like it would have been a very interesting talk 'Delighting with Data' to the Oxford Geek night on Jun 25th last:

But sometimes we geeks forget about all the delightful and beautiful things we can build. The things that aren't necessarily useful or purposeful, but pointless, silly and wonderful. So, I'm talking about building beautiful things out of (sometimes) boring data sources. I'll be talking less about design and visualisation, and more about projects and 'things'.

I've never come across Tom before but he seems an interesting fellow and some of the applications that he's built, simple though they be, are inventive and interesting. It's a lesson to someone like me who is more prone to grand designs that never amount to anything real.

Coincidentally my copy of 'Practical Ruby Projects' by Topher Cyll just dropped through the door this morning. I'd come across Topher's name and the book was reccomended as a Ruby tinkerer's delight.

Over my life I've had a lot of periods where I have felt creative but the last few years I have struggled to capture that feeling.

I want it back.

Here's to beautiful thoughts and making them happen.

02/07/2008 14:03 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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