Apple linux

On being a late adopter II

The story of Flash on the iPhone is interesting.

I don’t want flash on my iPhone, to be honest, and I don’t want it for all the reasons Steve Jobs said in his essay yesterday. Firefox is a lot more stable if you don’t install flash, so is Chrome. Apple say that Flash is the number one reason for crash reports in OS X.

However, I said in my last thoughts on the subject that the iPhone isn’t very ideologically sound. I cut out the paragraph explaining that, because it distracted from the main point, but it’s probably worthwhile anyway. One of the main complaints about the iPhone from both a metaphorical software point of you and a literal hardware perspective, is that that it lives in a hermatically sealed environment. Partly, this is a function a phone OS developed in the US mobile market, which has always been more closed than the European one. You can make less hermetically sealled by jailbreaking it, but the process of Jailbreaking an iPhone is basically a three-shell game with firmware revisions, and if this doesn’t go 100% smoothly you may end up with a phone that no longer has any concept of such things as “how to respond to the on switch”. Apple’s approach appears to be to make this three-shell game slightly more complicated – more out of due-diligence to the phone companies who say you can’t run custom software on a phone than because they hate us – but every so often do things like rewrite the entire bootloader to make it 30% faster, with the side effect that there are now *five* shells and two of them are made out of explosives.

All of this is because most of the US phone network is built of sticky-back plastic, string, hope and tangerines; and this has traditionally lead to the US phone networks making an absolute – and somewhat paranoid – ruling that nothing not personally signed off by the network could be executed on a phone , just in case it went ballywacky and managed to bring down the entire local phone network (GSM, the mobile phone network protocol we use in Europe and that is beginning to take hold in the states, has a couple more safeguards). This has existed since days of Java apps. The years before the iPhone, where people could grab java games and apps and put them on their phone? The US missed 90% of that, because building an app for java in the states meant submitting every new build (and a java app needs to have several different builds for each version, because no two phones have the same capabilities) though an expensive, arbitrary and somewhat brittle certification process *per network* whose phones you wanted to run on. This is why the iPhone was such a revelation to the US market, it was a phone that didn’t suck on a fundamental level (Most .eu phones – being GSM – didn’t make it to the states. The most popular phone up until the iPhone there was, I believe, the Motorola Razr, which is a device with a user interface that actively wishes you to THROW THE PHONE UPON THE FLOOR AND STAMP ON IT WITH MIGHTY BOOTS).

Anyway, the upshot of this was that the iPhone had no capability to add software on launch – it was scary enough as it was for AT&T, being a phone they didn’t have enough control over – but even when they added the App Store for revision 2 it had no hooks for it to take over any of the phone’s basic features. In fact, the App Store official policy states that you cannot post to the store any app that duplicates existing iPhone functionality, and even if you could, there simply aren’t the “hooks” in the system to say “When you get a phone call, run this app instead of Phone”, or even “Use this app instead of the email client”.

Most of the reason for that appears to be control-freakery. Apple’s primary selling point is simplicity of use, that you do not need to know how to work it to work it, and stopping an arbitary app you install from being able to modify what happens when you click on an email address in an SMS is part of it. There is a way that an iPhone works, and this is it, everything else is in its own little sandbox.

Recently, they’ve made steps towards building a climbing frame in the sandbox that things have to build upon. The idea of an app that works the same on Android as on Palm as on iPhone isn’t good for them, because it won’t follow the UI guidelines for iPhone applications in order that, by having used an iPhone application, you roughly know what this button on this other application is going to do. This is actually important to Apple, which is part of the reason they put the block on cross-compiling applications. I agree with this, for the most part. The easist route for an app *should* be the one that follows the UI guidelines for what they are releasing it on, and doesn’t look entirely out of place on the phone.

However, it should be a fence. A short fence, white picket, which can – if necessary – be stepped over. It should not be a wall. For example, Safari and iTunes for Windows both look exactly the same as their Apple counterparts. Partly because maintaining one lot of code is easier, partly because they’re adverts for how shiny a real mac would look. They both follow some guidelines – the window manipulation buttons aren’t arbitary trafic lights, the application closes when you press the close button (not just the window), iTunes even integrates with the taskbar to provide a mini-player when minimised, if you want it to. Microsoft didn’t block iTunes from Windows because it looks entirely out of place (Which is fortunate, otherwise they’d have had to block Steam, Xfire, Winamp, Sonique, and thousands of apps down the line, including Office 2010. Also IE8).

So, basically, it’s not your decision, Steve. It should be mine.

That’s why I’ve just ordered an HTC Desire. I may go back to the iPhone, but at least this way I can pick my own variety of battery drain for a while.

Current Affairs

Bacon Non-Profit

…[I]mmigration minister Meg Hillier tells voters in Dagenham, […]. “We fingerprint anyone who comes in for over six months. Foreigners now have to carry special national identity cards.” [Guardian Opinion, Apr 26th]

We treat immigrants like criminals, and then we are suprised when some of them act like criminals.

Soon we shall treat *everyone* like criminals!

Vote labour. Woo.

Is it me, or does the word “Foreigner” now automatically come with its own greasy mark when used in the press?


Not Asleep

It’s a quarter to two.

My sleep pattern can take quite a beating if it has to, providing it averages out to more than six hours a night over a couple of weeks. In fact, I can stay awake for as long as necessary and still get up the next morning, so long as there are four hours between me and regaining my sense of the world. This regain has to happen tomorrow morning at six AM, because that will mean that the domino effect of my morning will finally see me at my desk at 8am ready for another week’s work.

This means that, without a fail, I need to fall asleep by 2am. Minimum.

However, somewhere in E5 there is a car alarm going off.

It’s not anywhere nearby. It’s on the edge of hearing, the quietest it could possibly be to still be entirely obvious. A shrill two tone trill, splitting the universe into two parts, the ones who are sleeping though it, and the ones who cannot sleep because of it.Fifteen minutes ago it was annoying. Now, it’s maddening.

It’s not intrusive, really. If I follow a train of thought, get distracted, consider butterflies or rainstorms or sheep or toasters, get distracted by my newest coding problem then the noise fades out of my forebrain and it stops being a bother, until I realise “hey!, the car alarm isn’t bothering me anymore!”

And there it is.

I put a pillow over my head, and the sound is muffled but present. I stick a finger in my ear. The sound is gone, but I cannot sleep like this.

The inevitable future dawns on me, and I spend a few more moments under the warm duvet, dreaming up increasingly elaborate Rube-Goldberg contraptions involving car alarms and their absent owners, now present.

I am not usually a single issue voter, but right now I could happily vote for the BNP if they had a policy on deporting people who don’t turn off their car alarms. Given that this is Hackney, one of the most richly multicultural places in the country, it’s entirely possible that -tangentially, and in this case – they do.

As I say, maddening.

A dramatic flourish sends my duvet into a far corner, fyr still snug under hers, and I attempt to find my headphones to block out the noise.

I pad around in the darkness.
It appears to be coming from the East. That is, if I go to the south facing kitchen window, I cannot hear it. Our room faces East, though.

The headphones are not where they are supposed to be.

Occasionally, I suffer from tinnitus, imaginary bells on the edge of my hearing in my case sounding like a sine wave in the back of my head. Somehow, the car alarm is worse. I know the tinnitus is temporary, imaginary, and I am experienced though many long years of blocking it out of myconscious mind. The car alarm’s constant and abiding trill begins to cut though my skull like a blunt sawblade.

The headphones are not where they shouldn’t be – but invariably almost always are – either.

It’s 2am.

I consider waking my PC up. Whining on twitter about the noise. Using the “Vote for the BNP” line above, probably. Hacking away at Piracy Inc for a little longer, maybe I can fix the bug with the suicidal ex-captains stabbing themselves in the head. Maybe I shouldn’t.

It’s gone.

For a moment I stand their, stock still in my dressing gown. I just got distracted again, did I filter it out? It should be… there.

It’s not. There is silence all around. I step out onto the balcony, away from the faint hum of the computer fans, and into the deep and well lit background of a London night where there is no noise but the wind in the trees far below me, the distinct flap of the flag hanging from the balcony below ours, and the sounds of a city that never sleeps,

doing its best to try.


An unexpected box

“Good morning”

“Ah. Good morning, Fiscal responsibility. I was wondering if you’d be visiting me”.

“May I ask you a question in its simple, most basic form?”

“You may”.

“What in the name of currency is that?”

“It is a box. I can tell by some of the cardboard, and having seen a number of boxes in my time”.

“And this box, as you mention, this box with the cardboard that you recognise. Is it an expensive box?”

“Hmm. Not really, angel. I could imagine that some of the colour printing on the side isn’t cheap, but generally I would not expect this box to break the bank. of course, to a small creature, this could be some kind of home, and therefore the value of it could be as of all things. It’s kind of perspective dependant, oh angel of prudence.”

“We need new glasses. You remember the new glasses thing, yes?”

“The way we don’t want glasses that are slowly sandpapering the side of our head? I am well aware of that.”

“And we were not spending our money because we haven’t had a full month’s pay since we got made redundant, yes?”

“Alas, this is also true. woe betide the winds of fate that led us here.”

“And we paid back several due debts this month, and need to pay off credit cards. yes?”

“Your words contain the ring of truth with such a pure and just tone that full choirs of cherubim and seraphim flock to your every word”.

“So why is there a large box saying ‘ROCK BAND’ in the hallway?”


“You may well say ‘Ah’, coder-boy.”

“They were on special offer?”


“Well… We were playing Guitar Hero, and it was great and everything, but the Wii version of GH3 doesn’t do downloadables, which is a bit crap, and Fyr likes playing the drums and it has a microphone and you can sing at it and its higherresandIdon’tusethe360enoughandandand…”


“And I can’t buy an iPad yet.”

“So you bought an entire Rock Band kit. Which is a four foot long by foot square box of plastic instruments.”

“I tripped.”


“Tripped. Fell on my keyboard. Accidentally searched eBay, ordered the item, typed in my paypal password, waited for them to send me the SMS key for the transaction, typed that in, reentered my credit card details, confirmed it and the newer address, then finally confirmed the entire transaction.”


“I am quite productively accident prone.”

“And now?”

“and now I know the truth in it’s purest form.”

“which is?”

“That I still suck at drums in Rock Band.”

Apple linux

On being a late adopter

I have an iPhone.

I didn’t get a first version iPhone, partly because I wasn’t convinced. I got a 3G one once they came out, and it’s a thing I require now. I have gone somewhat beyond the first stage of iPhonicness, where there is no moment where you are sitting down and not playing with it. I still play, obviously, but I attempt to put it away occasionally.

Anyway, my contract on it ran out in January, so I’ve been thinking about an upgrade, and because I am a geek I’ve been looking at Android phones, and with the HTC Desire, I think I have found a winner for my next phone.

It’s an iPhone.

The Android phones are nice, in fact they’re pretty awesome. The UI is progressing in leaps and bounds, and the hardware is getting more and more impressive. That’s actually part of the problem, in fact. When I started thinking “I need to get a new phone, what can Android get me now?” it was the Droid – the Milestone, when it was eventually released here – and then as my contract expired, Google announced the Nexus one. I thougt originally that the release date of the Nexus One was a cool bit of timing, exactly 18 months after the release of the iPhone 3G, which was the standard contract length O2 were offering for it. I was ready to sign up, switch to T-Mobile, and go. But it didn’t release here, only in the US. It may have released here by now, but I no longer care, because the upgraded model, better in every respect, has launched in the form of the HTC Desire.

That, from the Droid to the Nexus One to the Desire, is three major leaps in Android hardware in nine months, and I will be really unsuprised if another one isn’t announced in June, around the same time the new iPhone is announced.

The iPhone isn’t perfect. I mean, physically it pretty much is, and technologically it’s awesome too, but it’s not ideologically sound. The closed in hardware and software model is not one I like, but to be entirely honest for a device that I will be quite literally using and relying on every single day, I care a great deal about the UI, and the joined-up-ness of the software, but I do also care about the openness. A bit.

I’m also literally invested in the Apple platform, having bought a number of Apps over the last 22 months.

In July, the new iPhone OS 4 will be released, and many of the new features won’t work with my phone. Importantly, Multitasking won’t, because it has half the processing power and memory of the current model iPhone (and probably a quarter of what the next model up will have). But for a year, it was the best model available and would run everything. One of the standard anti-mac-fanboy rants is that there’s an upgraded model out before you’ve bought the current one, but if I buy the new iPhone in June, I can be pretty sure it’ll be the best iPhone for at least a year, and a supported platform for another after that. If I bought an Android phone today, it’ll not be able to run the newest stuff in six months time – possibly including OS updates – and by the time an 18 month contract expires I’ll be eight revisions behind, assuming advancements at current rates.

But we shall see what the next announcement will bring.

Current Affairs Larp

Life Imitates Roleplay

Easter weekend, as I said, I was at a LARP Event. At that event, there was a central plot point of a volcano that could erupt at any moment, causing chaos and confusion.

Since the event, I have been communicating, In character, with various people in the wake of the actual eruption and the chaos and confusion it has caused.

The last week has, therefore, suffered several important boundary issues.

My favourite photo of the volcano.

dreams Personal

Sleep Paralyisis

I am entirely normal.

I mean, apart from the hanging around on the internet, Larp, computer games, geekdom, occasional discussions on world domination, I’m a normal person. Straight white male, aged 18-35. I suffer from mild, annoying, middle class live problems, like not having enough olive oil left, or the terror of running out of asparagus before your party. I suffer from mild dyslexia, I need to wear glasses or else I may trip over things that would escape my unassisted vision. Like lorries, for example.

Pablo Picasso's Girl Asleep at a Table, Photo by wallyg on flickr (cc licenced)
However, I do actually suffer from one thing that is both cool and terrifying, and because I’ve run out of other things to say, I shall talk to you about it.

There doesn’t seem to be much of a pattern to it. It started just after I left home, then went away for years. It hardly ever happens unless I’m the only person in the house, except when it doesn’t. This is what happens: I am asleep, I am partway though a dream, I will have rescued the kitten from the flaming toaster house; swam away from the double-deckered carrot prancing down the River Medway; Crash landed my toffee bathtub; Won the grand prize for the inadvised application of Latin; Shot down the last specification clause with a final piece of badly formed XML; caught the breadmaker; something like that. My dream will have been happening…

And I’m awake. Hi, real world. Interesting. So, yes, this one doesn’t have those purple hydronic houses, does it? Pity, they were cool. And I suppose that means the liason I arranged with thingy from the whatsit film isn’t going to happen, is it? Oh, thingy. Who was it? Er… can see her face, but the name… no, where’d her face go. It was, er.. what colour were the hydronic houses? What’s hydronics? Something? about?

houses? with the filmstar?

And the dream fades into the bleak hole of subconcious and the details spiral into each other and thin out over the universe, tying my concious awareness of my subconcious into an impenetrable package which fades in the sunlight. I’m awake.

And I can’t move.

Sleep Paralysis, I discovered a few years later, is when your brain is out of REM sleep mode, but your body hasn’t recieved the code that means “we’ve stopped dreaming now, you should listen to what we’re saying again”. Usually I can move, open and focus my eyes. Sometimes I can just focus on things. Sometimes my eyes are closed.

I can’t move.

Not a finger on my hand will listen to the commands, no toe will retreat to the warmth of the duvet it was recently denied. Instructions sent to lift my arm, shift my weight, lift my head… none. Non responsive.

Now is the time when you must visualise with complete and total clarity the image of the cover of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Because the thing it is tempting to do now is panic. The first time this happened was, without doubt, the single scariest moment of my life, because there is no way to tell how long this will last. It only ever happens when I’m alone, so the thought begins with “Er. I hope this goes away before I starve” and spirals up from there. How many days until someone realises you’re dead? What if it’s sooner? If you can’t communicate will they realise you’re still there? How? does this go away?

What the fuck just happened?

Are you going to end today in a hospital as the doctors declare you a vegatable and turn off things keeping you alive?

But there’s a worse thing than being trapped inside a panicing mind.

Your body isn’t panicing.

It’s really eerie to have your brain circling itself in abject terror and you not being able to hyperventalate, no cold sweat, breathing steady and regular, even if you think about it as hard as you can.

And you calm down. You force yourself to calm down. This will be over. It will be fine. And you relax, you meditate, you roll onto your back and breathe a calming breath…

…and you moved. it’s gone, and you didn’t even see it go.

And you forget about it, and all the feelings it brings, until it comes back.

Current Affairs

Vote Early, Vote Often

Vote for Burns by laverrue on Flickr
One of the things I dislike about our country’s governmental system is the way that electing a competent MP is detrimental to the local representation. I would like to think that the people we elect into power are able to represent our best interests, even if some of them don’t, and have thought for a while that anyone who is a minister for something-or-other is going to find themselves hard pressed to represent anything local at all. I was still somewhat surprised to read this, however:

(An interview of Meg Hillier with Blood & Property)
Blood and Property: How does your job as a minister fit in with your job as a constituency MP?
Meg Hiller: The difference is that I can’t speak about issues in the chamber of the House of Commons that aren’t related to my ministerial portfolio or department.
So I can’t ask questions in the House on certain issues but that’s not necessarily a problem because there are other ways I can raise them. For example, on the Crown Estate proposals, which is a big issue in the constituency, threatening to sell off its property in Victoria Park, I’m working very closely with the other MPs involved who are not ministers. We’re working together but they’re speaking and I’m supporting.

MPs who are ministers “can’t speak” on local issues. We elect them into a position of local responsibility, and they get promoted into silence. This is really, really stupid.

On the other side of my local ward is Denny de la Haye, an Independent candidate who is standing on a platform more like Athenian democracy. He intends, should he be elected into parliament, to vote on any issues put in front of him based on what local people decide, via his website. There are a number of issues he feels strongly enough about to exclude from this system. This appears to be much like the swedish “Demoex” political party, but – beyond reading their wikipedia page – I don’t know very much about them.

The downside of such a system is that part of the social contract of the elected officials is to make unpopular decisions that are for the good of the future, rather than suffer “tyranny of the majority” type problems, but the political climate is so horribly poisonous right now, with the average person’s trust in MPs trashed by allegation upon allegation upon scandal upon duck-house, that the idea of a more direct line into government could reinforce the idea that they do indeed work for us.

The ward I live in is fairly safe for Labour, so it’s possibly a doomed attempt on his part, and I need to research his opponents more, but it’s an interesting experiment.


Lifestream & Git

The first company I ever coded for had a CVS server on a redhat box under my desk. I learnt roughly how CVS worked, and mostly how good it was for tracking changes, and how horrible I found the merge process.

At my next company, I couldn’t see a way that CVS would be very useful (I was wrong) but when we ported my pet project from one language to another we added a CVS repository, and that worked well. I found out about SVN, but didn’t have time to implement it, though I used it at home.

Trutap used Subversion extensively, branching trunk for every milestone, the milestone for every ticket. Merging was a pain in the arse, and one person ended up on dedicated “merge” duty. I learnt how useful properly done SCM could be.

Current company I started at with a free reign, and decided the way forward was Git. I’ve used SVN for a while, but the only way I’ve seen it work really well – the trutap method – works even better – and a hell of a lot more naturally – as a Git repository. I have drunk from the Git kool-aid, and it is both delicious and refreshing. A few days later I found that dotwaffle – who worked there before I did – had the same idea and had already set up a central git repository somewhere else.

It follows, then, that I have pretty much abandoned my self-maintained and dodgy subversion server, and shifted all my various code projects over to “Github”: where they can languish in an unfinished state on someone else’s repository. This now includes all the code behind the “Lifestream” box to the right of this post, in the unlikely event you’re viewing it on my site.


Outstanding in my field

I am back from Maelstrom.

Mud, glorious mud
Mud, glorious mud
The weather was horrid. The fact that the longest event of the year – four days, Friday to Monday, rather than the Friday to Sunday of most events – ends up being both the first event and the one most likely to have the worst of all possible weather for camping in is somewhat unfortunate. During the day was blustery this time, but not terribly cold. The nights, however, were freezing, even with my awesome fluffy sleeping bag, roll mat and two blankets (Yes, I had some stuff under me as well as over me. The main problem appears to be that the sleeping back is great at keeping heat in, but I wasn’t generating enough).

On top of the weather, people have been planning this event for six months, and old grudges have solidified. Plus, people want to keep moving to keep warm, and thus the first event has, in recent years, generally been the one with the highest death count. This event was no difficult, set on a volcanic island, almost all of the population of the game ended up running off site as fast as they could collect their loved things and ones, slightly ahead of a predicted volcanic eruption.

So, generally, I didn’t have a wonderful event, but my character had an *awesome* time, where long-term planned stuff started working, he had people to be angry at and people to negotiate with. I just wish the bastard had made more time for minor things like feeding his physical representation…

Ah well, 59 days, 20 hours, 29 minutes until the next one.