Apple computing linux

iPhone vs Android, Round One, Initialisation

So, a couple of weeks ago, Apple announced that the iPad release date for the UK was delayed. Deprived of my chance of a shiny new gadget, and on top of the news that the new iPhone 4 release Just Won’t Work in most respects on my phone which as of the announcement was only one revision behind current, I gave in, bit the bullet, and bought an HTC Desire on a non-contract basis. Starting now, I’m going to bring together my thoughts on the differences. Some of these things are a perspective thing, possibly. I’ve been using an iPhone for close to two years, and the Android for less than a month. On the other hand, my Android device is brand new, and my iPhone is nearly two revisions out of date.


Boxed 2 Around two years ago, I eventually got an iPhone. Apple’s industrial design goes all the way to the box, which is made of high quality cardboard, opens easily, and feels high quality. The Desire box clearly takes inspiration from it, although with a more traditional – for phones – slide out packaging. One of the neat things about the apple box is the way the inside of the top is padded where it touches the screen, avoiding the need for cheap plastic film to protect it in transit. The HTC box is still a step above most phone boxes, however.

Out of the box, the iPhone turns on, and contains a semi-charged battery.

Unboxed 1

Out of the box, once you’ve taken the back off, installed the battery (and memory card if you need one), the Desire also turns on and contains a semi-charged battery. The Desire’s back case removal seems flimsy and breakable, and while you’re only going to need to remove it for rare things – new sim, new memory card, swapping batteries – it’s something of a point of worry. Maybe it’s more sturdy than I credit it for.

The iPhone box contains a special glorified pin for poking into the hole to eject the battery and install the sim.

From a usability point of view, the iPhone wins this. Putting aside the argument about user-replaceable batteries and memory cards (That’ll come later) getting the HTC from box to turn-on was faffy and required dealing with cheap, plasticky components that made me feel like I was breaking the phone. Not a wonderful start, however:

First Boot

I turned on the Android device. I was taken though a slightly under-brief tutorial on how to use the on-screen keyboard (it’s interesting that Apple don’t do this. They give you a keyboard, and expect their usability design to do the rest. The Android keyboard is almost exactly the same, but they don’t trust their own design enough to expect you to be able to use it. On the alternate, the “hold to select special symbols” functionality is explicitly covered in the tutorial, and is the one thing iPhone users used to miss. The 3GS may have fixed this somehow). During a setup wizard thing, I gave it my Google Apps account details and the wifi password, and it slurped down my contacts and emails. It asked for twitter, flickr and facebook accounts, and I gave it these too, and then it slurped down contact photos from facebook for anyone who put their mobile numbers into their profile. It showed me how to use the wigetized home screen, and then left me to it.

I turned on the iPhone. It demanded to be connected to iTunes. I was on a train, and my computer was far away. I turned it back off, put it in its box, in its bag, and sat quietly reading my new phone contract until I got home.

First Boot 1

Advantage Android, I feel.

Once home, and the phone was connected to iTunes, it ran roughly the same as the android thing without the tutorial (There’s a mini-tutorial in a manual that comes with it). I used NuevaSync to treat my google account as an exchange account, which gave me all the automatic syncing I mentioned above (There’s now a way to do this natively using Google, but it never worked for me as well as Nueva does). The Facebook app for iPhone does the contact picture syncing I mentioned (and by the same method, linking contacts to facebook profiles via a “fb://$fbid” URL in the “URLs” section).

Sync or Swim

One of my primary uses for my phone is as a media player, so I wish to be able to sync my music and videos as painlessly as possible. All my music already being in iTunes (with complicated inter-layered automatic playlists, like “Stuff you rate highly but haven’t listened to in a while, plus some new, unrated, stuff.”) iTunes sync is most handy. By default, Android’s music, video and podcast sync is the most old-school thing imaginable, mount as USB device, drag, drop. This works, but has no real “sync” support. Better is DoubleTwist, an app that is  attempting to make music sync on the Android as painless as the iPhone. It has successfully imported my iTunes playlists (mostly. No folder support, and imports automatic playlists as flat) and synced the ones I selected across. It even supports updating podcasts, though it appears to put them straight into the music application and there’s no tracking of what’s been listened to or not. There’s no two-way syncing at all, in fact. Also, Doubletwist is slower than wading though frozen treacle.

Given that the iPhone inherits a lot of this structure from the iPods, it’s no real suprise that being able to sync your own music and song metadata to and from the device is one of the iPhone’s highlights, but the rest of the industry has had eight years to make this stuff even slightly more palatable than dragging files hither and yon; and to launch a “competitor” to the iPhone while thinking that this stuff in any way doesn’t matter is just astoundingly stupid. That Android even needs Doubletwist to exist is proof that Google have missed much of what made the iPhone quite so popular, and even if it didn’t there’s more.

End of part one

Coming up: The phone as a phone, actually using the phone, using it as a media player, apps, app stores, app markets, and WHY THE FUCK HASN’T ANDROID MARKET GOT AN “INSTALL ALL UPDATES BUTTON?”



The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has this to say on the subject of flying

There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. Pick a nice day, [The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] suggests, and try it.

The first part is easy. All it requires is simply the ability to throw yourself forward with all your weight, and the willingness not to mind that it’s going to hurt.

That is, it’s going to hurt if you fail to miss the ground. Most people fail to miss the ground, and if they are really trying properly, the likelihood is that they will fail to miss it fairly hard.

Clearly, it is the second part, the missing, which presents the difficulties.

One problem is that you have to miss the ground accidentally. It’s no good deliberately intending to miss the ground because you won’t. You have to have your attention suddenly distracted by something else when you’re halfway there, so that you are no longer thinking about falling, or about the ground, or about how much it’s going to hurt if you fail to miss it.

It is notoriously difficult to prize your attention away from these three things during the split second you have at your disposal. Hence most people’s failure, and their eventual disillusionment with this exhilarating and spectacular sport.

If, however, you are lucky enough to have your attention momentarily distracted at the crucial moment by, say, a gorgeous pair of legs (tentacles, pseudopodia, according to phyllum and/or personal inclination) or a bomb going off in your vicinty, or by suddenly spotting an extremely rare species of beetle crawling along a nearby twig, then in your astonishment you will miss the ground completely and remain bobbing just a few inches above it in what might seem to be a slightly foolish manner.

This is a moment for superb and delicate concentration. Bob and float, float and bob. Ignore all consideration of your own weight simply let yourself waft higher. Do not listen to what anybody says to you at this point because they are unlikely to say anything helpful. They are most likely to say something along the lines of “Good God, you can’t possibly be flying!” It is vitally important not to believe them or they will suddenly be right.

Waft higher and higher. Try a few swoops, gentle ones at first, then drift above the treetops breathing regularly.


When you have done this a few times you will find the moment of distraction rapidly easier and easier to achieve.

You will then learn all sorts of things about how to control your flight, your speed, your maneuverability, and the trick usually lies in not thinking too hard about whatever you want to do, but just allowing it to happen as if it were going to anyway.

You will also learn about how to land properly, which is something you will almost certainly screw up, and screw up badly, on your first attempt.

There are private clubs you can join which help you achieve the all-important moment of distraction. They hire people with surprising bodies or opinions to leap out from behind bushes and exhibit and/or explain them at the critical moments. Few genuine hitchhikers will be able to afford to join these clubs, but some may be able to get temporary employment at them.



I was asleep.

It’s been a long week, and going back to bed at midday seemed like the best option. However, real life had other ideas, and so, there was a knock at the door.

“Hi. Are you Nicholas Avenell?”
“Er, yes.”
“I live next door, we keep on getting Virgin Media bills addressed to you. We’ve tried phoning them and getting them to change the address, but maybe you’d have more luck”
“That’s odd. I’ve also been getting Virgin Media bills.”
“We’ve been getting ours too.”
“Strange. Thanks, I’ll give them a ring.”

So I found an piece of paper with my account number on it and phoned the number. When we moved here (in Juneish) I transferred the existing account to the new flat. I should point out that VM were calm, courteous and helpful though the following exchange, and the use of lolcat is a grave disservice to them. However:

“Hai. I can has accont number ant passward?”
“The password is ‘*******'”
“Hai. Dis is support, I am support cat. Your troubles, show them to me”
“I have this bill. My neighbours are also getting this bill. Please fix this.”
“Hokay. Plz hold.”

(I am put though a rendition of a White Stripes single that has been subjected to the kind of compression that makes sound engineers become alcoholics)

“Hokay. Can haz account number?”
“Can has neighbours address?”
“Can has your address?”
“Hold plz”

(Once again, another otherwise innocent tune is ground into dust before my ears)

“I dose not understand. Supervisor does not understand. Manager does not understand. Nobodi understands me. Woe.”
“Hmm. Okay, I’m going to see if I can dig out one of my old bills to see how long this has been going on”
“Hold please”

(The supportdrone is put though the kind of silence that people who have been put through Virgin’s hold music long for)

“Hmm. So I have two bills in front of me. One has my address, the other my neighbours. One has account number , the other account number ”
“Found anything?”
“Invisible disconnection! Both accounts still active!”

And then I was escalated with the force of a thousand rockets, or – more obviously – at the force of the discovery that someone has been quite staggeringly incompetent and hoping to hell it wasn’t them. Support forwarded me to Home Moving. Home Moving forwarded me to Collections. Collections forwarded me to someone with a name. Turns out when I “transferred” my account, they actually just duplicated my existing account with the new address, and didn’t shut down the old one. Also, due to another screwup, the new billing address for the old account – which I’d given as a “final bill” address – went to my neighbours. I have been paying twice for the last nine months or so (I didn’t notice because it’s Direct Debit, and they come out sufficiently far apart in the month that they’re on separate pages of the statement. I need to pay more attention).

I am getting a large cheque. Today could be worse

Current Affairs

Don't split the party

When I was looking at my candidates for parliament a while ago I mentioned Denny de la Haye, who was running on a platform of direct democracy, and where people who live here decided what he did. I liked the concept enough to vote for him, as did almost a hundred other people. Sadly, a hundred people does not a revolution make, and labour – after an epic amount of time counting the votes, Sunderland South Hackney is not – and whilst it’s nice to see my vote as a noticeable part of a number in such contexts, it’s not really that helpful.

One of the problems with being an independent is that you have to shout a lot louder than the other parties, and you have to do it with fewer resources. You lose the advantage of people who will “always” vote with ‘their’ party – right or wrong – and instead you get your name on a ballot without a pithy reminder of who you are, putting deed poll changes aside for the time being.

At the time of the post, I compared Denny’s platform to the Sweden DemoEx movement, and it would appear that I’m not the only person to see the resemblance, as Denny has got permission from them to form a UK branch of the party. With four prospective MPs so far, and discussion on proportional representation going higher (though not far enough), it’s still an interesting idea.

LUGRadio social Travel


or “What I did on my holidays, by Nicholas Avenell aged 29 and a bit

One of the interesting things about London is that it has a kind of black hole effect. Most of the time, things come to you instead of you having to actually leave London, and I realised this week that – save for LARP excursions – I haven’t actually left the city boundaries since Christmas. Part of this is that I don’t find London the least bit boring, but when I was invited to D and Sarah’s housewarming in Glasgow, I decided to stretch my horizons a bit and go from a flat city to a more hilly one.

I’ve taken three plane trips in my adult life. To and from Amsterdam, and a Newcastle -> London plane one christmas when I was bored of trains. For this reason, I took the train this time. The price worked out almost exactly the same, but the amount of faff around getting in to and though an airport disuades me, even when I don’t factor in volcano ash or my environmental footprint. Besides, on modern trains I could sit, code and spod on the Internet, which is close to what I’d be doing at home anyway.

Yeah, not so much. Internet was terminally flakey, and my netbook’s screen was rendered unreadable by the position of the sun. On the way to the station I popped into an art shop, and replaced my much-missed japanese brush pen, and so I ended up spending the journey mostly relearning how to draw using it, being bored at Twitter, watching the scenery tick by both from the window and on my phone’s GPS + Google Maps. Even when the sun wasn’t stopping me, it turns out that the new version of PHP (which my laptop now runs) doesn’t like my favoured database abstraction library, which was last updated in 2007. I may end up having to rewrite Plank’s database stack to either use a different abstraction library (I dislike most of the others), or take over this one. Neither prospect appeals to me, and appealed even less on a train at 10am on a saturday.

However, going up by train give me a chance to watch the countrycide. Great sweeping vistas of fields and drystone walling, like someone was shooting a live action version of Postman Pat; The flat horizon of the north sea, suicidal kayakers bouncing off the coastline; the great cathedral in Durham. Shiny things.

Glasgow was quite shiny too. I hit the city with just enough time to make a pillgramage of a kind to Demijohn to buy a housewarming gift. London’s kind of skewed my idea of “a big city” and so I decided to walk it. Glasgow has several things London does not. It has, noticably, more people with red hair, slightly fewer kebab shops per square mile, and also hills.

London is mostly pretty flat. Glasgow isn’t. After a while of walking up and down hills in straight lines, I took a radical step. Cannot, apparently, go over the hills. Don’t have time to go though the hills. Have to go though them. Fortunatly, I was assisted in this regard by the fact that Glasgow has a toy underground system. It’s like the tube, but everything is built to around 6/8ths scale. So cute!

Later I was informed that this was mostly because London digs the tunnels out of mud. Scotland, being brewed from SOLID ROCK and girders, is harder to dig tunnels in. This is fair enough, but still, diddy toy trains! Also, apparently they used to be pulled around by giant cables powered by even more giant steam engines, which is significantly more interesting.

Then there was a party, which contained beer and wine and Guitar Hero and lovely people, some of whom I even remember the names of, and finally there was sleep and an EPIC journey home.

escape Piracy Inc

The origins of Piracy, Inc.

About five years ago, I was watching an F1 parade and I had a Grand Idea. I would build a game based on the idea of being an F1 manager, only with more interesting things, like alien technology. The USP would be that on a saturday the people in your league would race, and you would be able to make decisions on the fly as to your strategy and tactics. I did some diagrams and thoughts around this, build up a prototype, plugged some numbers in, rewrote it all in OO PHP, buried it in soft peat for a couple of years, realised I wasn’t interested enough in F1 to make a game about it, even with alien technology. It was called Racr, and it would have had a new name before release. The codename before Racr was “Escape” because it’s close to F1.

Three years ago, I was signing up to a webhost in order to take advantage of their “100GB Web Space!” promotion to solve my backup problem. My backup problem – at the time – being the reasonably traditional “I don’t have any backups”. Part of the package was a domain, which I needed to choose on the spot. By this method, I bought the domain, and my mind started to whirr a bit.

I took some of the files from Racr, filed the serial numbers off, plugged in some pirates and monkeys, and had a better idea. Piracy Inc. Now, mentioning projects on here has been a death knell for them for a while, but with any luck this will stop here. Having written a couple of abstract scripts and some ideas, I started coding it about three years ago in Django, because it was New and Cool. Unfortunatly, the webhost I was with for the domain didn’t support Django very well, and I spent most of my development time dealling with differences between my local environment and the live one, Cpanal funtimes, reasons why fcgi had broken today and, on top of this, learning a brand new envrironment which was rapidly drifting towards 1.0 and kept on rendering the foundations of what I was trying to learn obsolete. I could have stuck with a single version, but a) I was trying to learn how to do this, and learning the Wrong Way to do it was a waste of time, and b) I was trying to build For The Ages, and doing it in a way I *knew* I would have to rewrite quite soon was pointless too. A lot of this was because development tended to be in bursts of a few days every month or so, but in the end I spent more time fighting the development environment than coding things, and gave up.

At the end of January last year I sat down and Did Stuff. I wanted to write this thing, and what I know how to write is PHP web applications. I’ve used most of the PHP frameworks, and I’ve got major problems with most of them. Zend pulls things out of thin air too often, Code Igniter has a Mahoosive God Object problem (They do not, obviously, see it as such), and all the others tend to have a 4mb footprint before you can write “Hello World”, so I decided to do this freestyle, building an MVC framework as I went. Obviously, for a full professional project, I’d highly recommend using an existing framework and staying within it, because the flexibility and things you may lose by doing this are ofset by the fact that multiple people have to work on it and understand it. However, I also believe that it’s important to understand where the problems with writing a framework are, and the line between a design decision and a pile of crap. Actually trying to do it all yourself gives you a far better perspective of why you wouldn’t want to.

Within six hours of starting the new version, I had decided to split out the framework into a different project, which is called Plank (Because it’s what a game about Pirates is built on). It’s designed to be light, flexible, and include the ability to use almost any Zend Framework plugin. I suggest you don’t even think about using it, it’s not even close to stable or ready.

Anyway, so I’ve been working on that, and some of it has been fun and interesting. A couple of weeks ago I had a problem with suicidal ex-captains shooting themselves in the head, and yesterday I attempted to rebuild an economy from scratch.

Current Affairs


49% of my current constituancy voted four years ago. They voted for Labour, well, enough of them did.

58.9% of my current constituancy voted yesterday. Enough of them also voted for Labour for Meg to keep her chair, but it took ages to find this out. Mostly, it took ages because the polling stations were unable to cope with the demand.

Unable to cope.

40% of the people in this area could not be bothered to walk, put six ticks in six boxes, and decide who would help rule the country on their behalf, nor their local council. That’s quite good.

Why is it good? Well, with 60% of the area voting, there were multi-hour queues and people being unable to vote because of the cut-off time. Imagine what would happen if the entire area gave a fuck? Where would we be now?

Because of the fact that 10% more people gave a fuck, we didn’t get either General or Local election results until 15:00, at which point we learnt that Labour had won the whole shooting-match for our local area. Independent Candidate Denny de la Haye, who campaigned on a platform of direct democracy, got 96 votes including mine and his. Another candidate was down under the party alias of “Direct Democracy (Communist) Party” got 202 votes, and I can’t help but wonder if some of that is from people who meant to vote for Denny. OTOH the member standing for the Communist League got 102 votes by themselves, so possibly not. Hackney’s non-major-party list appears somewhat oversubscribed, with 12 different possible MPs to choose from, 5 of which I’d never heard of before I saw the final candidate list.

(Yes, we had two different communist factions standing against each other. No, I do not feel the need to make a joke about them working together.)

Generally the entire election has been one large advert for Proportional Representation, unless you’re in one of the top two parties, and even one of those has seen the light.

Talking about seeing the light, Barking and Dagenham cleaned their council of BNP members, and a record turnout saw Nick Griffin personally told to fuck off where he came from.

In the end, it appears a lot of the people who said “I agree with Nick” went and bottled it in the booth, leaving LibDems short on seats, but it also gave a new set of people an appreciation for the online echo-chamber: Sadly it doesn’t extend to the real world every time.

And finally, the ghost writer who wrote Danny Dyer’s column for Zoo magazine got Danny Dyer some kind of record for worst advice in an ‘advice’ column – a hotly-contested award. The magazine has a) made a donation to Woman’s Aid, b) Apologised completely for the entire massive-ratings-boosting encounter, c) Stopped paying Danny Dyer not to write a column with his name and image on it, d) Pointed the army of justy angry critics at a man who is guilty of allowing someone else to write under his name and, basically, said “Go, sic him!”




Originally uploaded by swanksalot

If you complain,

but don’t engage

when you can,

you are part of the problem,

and your opinion,

while I respect it,

is invalid.

You can spoil your ballot

or vote for the bastards I don’t like,

I don’t really care

(Except I do, just a bit)

but if you’re not counted,

then you don’t count.


And a small foam axe

On my home from work last week, I went via Asda.

Specifically, I went via Asda to pick up for that evening, milk and bread.

I bought some food for that evening, a George Foreman Grill to replace the broken one my brother bought me for christmas many years ago, Green Apple vodka, coke, lemonade, elixir of holy hand grenade, pizza, duck, pasta, a kitchen timer, a pizza cutter, seven pairs of socks,

and a small foam axe:

Not a coat of arms

I am aware that there is a rule of “Do not go shopping when you are hungry”. I’m pretty sure I need to expand that to “Do not go shopping when you’re distractable” or possibly just “Do not go shopping when you are me”.

Apple windows

On being a late adopter III

Depite my great and brand new phone and its wonderous open-sorcery, I still don’t hate Apple.

I mean, I assume my new phone is great, as I write this it still hasn’t arrived.

I said, at the end of that article, that the choice of whether I wanted to waste my battery life is mine, the choice of what I install on my computer is mine. This is because I am a geek, and it matters to me.

I actually believe that there is not a right to tinker. In fact, having worked Desktop Support for a while in both professional and power-user contexts, I am firmly of the opinion that the right to tinker by someone who “knows better” than the guy who set up the system is, sometimes, to be nuked. From orbit. Twice.

In fact, the concept of giving a barely-computer-literate a machine that will work one way, can do the things it should do and also let them change the wallpaper, is a Very Good Idea, because it would minimise the amount of time I, or someone like me, spent on the phone or in a dusty back-office attempting to work out how to revirginise the PC in front of me.

(My favourite, ever, was a machine with a Windows 2000 install where they had infected it with a couple of buckets of spyware, and then ran out of diskspace as the porn-bot-net it was running filled up the hard drive. They had then seen the “Compress Drive” option when looking for ways of gaining space back. As a result, you had a PC running out of memory, where all its swap files needed to be decompressed in memory before access. It ran like almsot frozen blackstrap molasses)

One of the favourite metaphors surrounding the closedness of the iPhone & iPad ecosystems (For those of you playing at home, the iPad and iPhone can only get software via the “App Store”, which required apple vet every piece of software available. The vetting process is currently inconsistant, which is bad, but there is no other way to install stuff, which people see as worse) is that of the car engine, and how this turns the computer industry from the old days where you could see where all the bits went, into the modern car industry where everything is hermatically sealled under a plastic case. The complaint is that the barrier to tinker with your stuff is now higher.

I can accept some of this. I have been tinkering with computers for longer than I can remember. one of my earliest memories is crawling along the carpet to behind the sofa, and pressing the magic button on the white thing that made the numbers go to zero. This – I found out many years later – was the tape counter on a Commadore 64. My first computer was this same C64, where the entire interface *was* a Basic input shell. Shift Run-Stop, Press Play on Tape. I can see how people would say that this meant more people would become computer programmers when they grew up, but I think we’ve already passed that. With PCs up until Windows 95 and the Rise of the Mac, you *had* to learn the basic concepts of computer command lines to use them, be it the ability to type “cd gamesDoom” “doom2” or the inner workings of the config.sys file on the boot disk you created for when you wanted to play Theme Park.

The rise of GUIs pushed a lot of the people who would have become programmers, I think, to having their first experience of source code to be HTML. It just shifts a bit, and if it means that people do not have to understand how a computer works in order to use it, that’s possibly even better. To continue the car simile for a bit, it’s not as if the rise of BMW-type sealled engine blocks entirely removed the people who know how your car works. I’m pretty sure that the people with the mental tendancy to tinker with code aren’t going to be put off forever because their phone or their video player doesn’t compile things for them, as they’ll gravitate to the ones that do, and if it means that I can know my non-existant Uncle Martin has bought an iPad and I won’t be spending the 27th December scrubbing spyware from it, so much to the better.