I bought a Kindle in October.


A Kindle is a ebook-focused tablet computer with an e-ink screen. This means the screen isn’t like a normal monitor, lit from the back, but instead changing the page means the graphics stuff draws the screen and then turns off, so keeping the same page up means instead of having to redraw it sixty times a second, you leave it alone. Net result is that eink displays are a lot slower to redraw (you can physically see the screen refresh and redraw), but the display costs nothing to run, so battery life is really impressive.

The battery life on a Kindle is a month of daily use, if you turn the wifi off. If you turn the wifi on, it’ll only last three weeks.


The lack of backlight does mean you can’t see it in the dark, but it does also mean you can read it in bright sunlight. Amazon sell cases with built-in lights. I have one of these, it’s great.

The Kindle does not, will not, has not, shall not force you to buy all your ebooks from Amazon’s kindle store. It reads most ebook formats natively – although doesn’t like font-embedded PDFs very much – and for everything else you can run it though Calibre. If you plug it into your computer it’ll appear as an external drive, and you can put books on it that way.

Books you buy from the Amazon Kindle Store are encumbered with a form of DRM that has not been reverse engineered yet. They will be available to any Kindle software you attach to your Amazon account (The kindle itself, sure, but also the phone, iPad and desktop apps) up to five devices. They are locked to your account, although Amazon are bringing a form of lending service in.

Free books (Amazon offer quite a few of these) still have the DRM.

The Kindle will play MP3s (better than my Desire, as it happens). It’ll read aloud any book that the publisher hasn’t said “that will canabalise our audiobook sales” on (which is, yes, bullshit).

The Kindle has a webkit-based web browser that will happily display wikipedia.

When you register a Kindle on your Amazon account you get a magic email address. Anything sent to that email address from addresses you specify will appear on your Kindle. If you have a 3G kindle this will happen rapidly and will cost you money (based on document size). If your kindle is on Wifi this will never cost you a penny. (There is another magic email address you can send stuff to which will only ever transmit over wifi).

If you read to page 245 of your book and the kindle can phone home, it will tell the server this. If you then pick up your phone or iPad and open the same book, it’ll ask if you want to pick up where you left off on the Kindle. This works both ways.

It comes with minesweeper, and you can buy scrabble for it.

It comes with both an American and a British dictionary to look up words, including ones in the book you’re reading.

It is not “the same” as a normal book. It costs as much as ten new books, it can hold thousands. You can’t see how far you are in it by looking at it (you have to look at the bottom of the screen). You don’t get the feeling of turning the page, but you do get to turn the text size up if it’s too early/late/monday to focus.

Also, it means I always have… 84 possible books on hand right now. And counting.


Semiperfect square pyramidal number

On this day, Fifty years ago, Elvis was the top of the UK charts with “Are you lonesome tonight”

On this day, Forty years ago, Charles Manson was convicted of murder.

On this day, Thirty years ago, I was born.

An average apple tree – I assume in a spherical orchard of uniform density – planted on that day would have yielded 2,664.234 kg. apples, which could have sold for $10,630.30 and fed 4,470 people. Presumably people who did not get sick of apples. This entirely stupid fact brought to you by snackyspores and pokemybirthday.

Happy birthday to me.


How to use Twitter

This is not what to use twitter for. That may come later, thinking about it.


You’ll notice people putting things like #stuffmydogate in their messages. These are hashtags, and they’re not special, they just provide a handy and unique thing to search for to find more things along the same theme. So all the messages about the trial where someone got lawyered for a terrorism joke get tagged #twitterjoketrial. Handily, Twitter itself – and most clients – will link such words to a realtime twitter search for the use of that tag. They’re not registered anywhere, but their nature tends to mean they become trending topics if they take off.


Originally, Twitter didn’t support any reply mechanism, but people started prefixing their messages with @username if they wanted to direct them. Twitter noticed this, and provided highlighting for this behavior, and eventually changed the system so that if someone else on your list starts a message with an @username to someone you don’t follow, you never see it.

Clients and the web interface offer you a “reply” button, which appears to just prefix a new message with “@username: “, this is actually hiding stuff as the “reply” function sends a hidden field identifying the message you’re replying to, which in turn allows the interface to show “this message is a reply to that specific message”. Generally, if you’re replying to a person, just create a new message and start with @person. If you’re replying to a message, use the reply button on your client.


Maximum username size on twitter is 15 (a few people have ones longer than this due to bugs that have cropped up over the years, but you shouldn’t be able to create them). If you’ve ever wondered why Twitter is 140 characters, it’s because the original system was designed to work over SMS as a primary medium. To send a direct message, you had to write “DM USERNAME your message goes here”. Messages are 140 messages to always comfortably fit into this format.


Twitter lists are groups of twitter users maintained by a specific user. You can subscribe to one of these lists in various clients and when you view them (in a column in Tweetdeck, for example) you switch to a kind of alternate timeline where you only see these people.

Following prolific people

There are various people on twitter who talk an awful lot of crap an awful lot of the time. Stephen Fry is an awesome human being and Kevin Smith is tremendously entertaining, but once they get their text on they can quite comfortably drown out everyone else you follow. My advice here is not to. “Follow” is a specific action, it means they appear in your main timeline. Personally, I try to keep my main timeline clear so I have a snowball’s chance in a supernova of keeping up with it (I try, and I fail. I directly follow 339 people right now). Prolific people and people who I want to read but don’t care that much about get relegated to lists as defined above. This way I can happily turn on notifications for my main timeline, and check the celebrity list every so often.

This approach works very well with the various fictional groups on Twitter, too. For example, the main characters of Questionable Content have their own twitter accounts, and reading them in the list makes a lot more narrative sense than mixed in with #whatmydogate from the rest of the twitterarti.

Current Affairs tv

10 O'Clock Live

The Daily Show is a program I like a lot. 10 O’Clock Live is trying, somewhat self consciously, to be a British Daily Show, and both passes and fails.

The Daily Show format, for those who haven’t seen it, is a 20 minute show (not including ad breaks) monday though thursday. It starts with analysis of the day’s news, underlining hypocracy and general asshattery. The middle section is then either an expansion of a single news story or a staff contribution piece, either in the studio or pre-taped. It then closes with an interview of someone who is currently on the movie/book pimping train or politically interesting. Close show, go home.

10 O’Clock Live, a show difficult to abreviate, attempts to pour a whole week of this format into an hour. So you have three interviews (Two politically interesting, one generically so) some satirical analysis of the news, and four or so feature pieces. It’s not quite tight enough – though a lot of that’s first night stuff – but more importantly, the balance of very worthy real news bits to comedy isn’t there yet.

The Daily Show works best when it’s satire satire satire ha ha look at the democrats being useless satire satire satire republicans love guns satire satire so what’s your new movie about satire satire satire why the fuck are the senate blocking a bill to pay for healthcare for 9/11 first respondents?

There’s the funny, or the jokes at least even when the funny’s not quite there. There’s the pre-recorded interviews with patently crazy people, the analysis of which people have used cross-hairs in political imagery over the last ten years, and then every so often they will do a gut-punch and do something absolutely seriously. The Daily Show is known for being a hard show for political guests, because Stewart *will* ask the question about why you, personally, allowed the banking system to collapse. He will drag it back to jokes if it loses them, or tries to, but still ask the question. It’s a steel football with a soft rubber coating, bouncy and fun until it hits you.

10 O’Clock Live hit the ground with a scattershot of satirical headlines and one-liners from Carr, a decent monologue feature piece on Sarah Palin, and then fell apart with a poorly managed round-table on bankers bonuses with a lot of interesting points all spoken over each other. Feature piece on Tunisa framed as a holiday destination, another on Sudan framed as a celebrity break-up story, and some all-too-brief actual discussion on the stories of the day in a round table with all the presenters.

It goes on like that, too. Four decent comedy minds who seem to care about current affairs (I assume Lauren Laverne does, but currently she is entirely wasted, performing almost nothing at all save “Hello”, “Goodbye” and “Here is the next thing”), but the satire bits are short and variable, and the current affairs bits unwieldy and long.

David Mitchell’s interview with the Minister of State for Universities, David Willitt, was very interesting, in that he asked a lot of the straight questions people want answers to, and pretty much got them (They are not, IMO, good answers, but that’s politics) and would have made a good ending for a show that had brought the funny, but the funny was drowned in the interviews and the unfunny.

They have four main presenters, who interact with each other well on other shows, but in this all have entirely separate pieces and never the twain shall meet, save in brief round-table discussions which barely get interesting before they move onto the next thing.

It’s too slow in some places, too quick in others, and doesn’t go above the funny line enough to balance out the less entertaining bits. Nevertheless, if it’s given the space to evolve and grow (possibly getting rid of the Live bit to allow for some editing) and learns how to use the talent more effectively, it could be really good.

It’ll hit 40D in a couple of hours, apparently, you can watch it there.


Android's not as good

I’m giving up on Android. It’s good enough for now, and I won’t immediately go out and replace it with an iPhone 4, but come the next iPhone revision, I think I’ll be back to being an Apple customer.

These are some of the reasons why:

Upgrading to Gingerbread has increased my battery life by 100%. My phone will now go a couple of days without a charge, but it still goes from 100% to 20% over many hours, then ticks down the last 20% over ten minutes. This is shit.

The music player skips and bounces around sometimes if something else wants to do anything else. This is shit. If it’s due to the expensive SD card I bought not being quite expensive enough, that is more shit, not less.

The media syncing system, even with doubletwist airsync, is comparatively shit.

The music player will pick up every sound file on the device, from other program’s podcasts down to voice recordings. This is shit.

The market is filled with shit. A search for a popular item will result in the item – somewhere – and dozens of “$popular_app Wallpaper” or more subtle customer gouging shit.

The market support is beyond shit. I expect a support request email to result in user-blaming boilerplate text, because I am trained to expect little from technical support, but to respond to a reply with *more* user blaming boilerplate that doesn’t actually answer my question is just shit.

I did a factory reset of my phone, and now all the Marketplace items I bought before I did the reset are gone from my “Downloads” section, but it will let me download them again, happily adding them to the same google account I bought them from in the first place. This is shit.

When I finally get a reply about the above problem from the aforementioned support ticket, and ask when, roughly, it might be fixed I am told:

Unfortunately, we are unable to comment on the exact timing of the fix because of different variables affecting the roll out.

…which is shit.

The upgrade path is shit. As soon as HTC decide they can’t be arsed with the Desire upgrades anymore (a process I expect to happen before Gingerbread is officially released) I’ll never get an official update again, and I’m lucky that I don’t have an operator as an extra level in that. For all people complain about Apple’s “Another model along shortly” attitude, they’ve supply major OS updates for two years for each phone.

There is no good time to buy an android phone. Anything you buy will be succeeded in weeks, if not days. This is shit.

The Hardware UX standard design is shit. You cannot predict which buttons are on the phone in which order, whether they’re hard or soft or what. Good UX means avoiding metaphor-shear and maintaining consistant rulesets, and Apple’s good at that, there is probably a button *here* which will take you back a screen, *this* button will take you back to this place. Just the Back button in android could take you back to the last application you used, the last screen you saw in this application, the home screen of your current application, back a web page, or the home screen of the whole phone. This is shit.

There are two email applications on every phone. One is for GMail, one for IMAP. Widgets use one or the other, and every app which wants to send an email has to ask every time. This is shit.

If you try to open an MP3 attachment from the GMail program, the temporary file is deleted before the Android Music App can see it. This is shit (and stops me getting phone messages).

A cheap MicroUSB cable appears to have a 50/50 chance of carrying a charge. This isn’t really anything to do with Android’s fault, but is still shit.

Every so often I’ll answer a call and the UI will change to the “You’re on a phone call” one, but the phone will still be ringing and I can’t answer it anymore.

My phone has gigabytes of storage in it, but only a few hundred megs of app storage space, because every tin-pot application believes it has a divine right to hinder sleep mode, and therefore refuses to go on the SD Card. That I have to care about this is shit.

My Android has never failed to wake me up because the year or timezone changed. It has, however, failed to wake me up because it spontaneously crashed necessitating a battery removal at roughly 3am.

The default array of apps that HTC supplied with my phone (like the Facebook app that’s not as good as the official one, and the twitter one that’s not as good as the official one, and the Flickr one tha…) cannot be prevented from wasting the limited app space I have. This is shit.

MobileSafari has a useful thing: If you double-tap on a block level element, it zooms the view-port to match the width of it. In the Android browser, double tapping zooms the page in a lot. This is shit.

Gestures on the Android are almost always “I am doing this gesture to make the phone perform this action” rather than “I am performing this action”. Zoom and Rotate in particular suffer from the classic shower-tap problem of requiring a massive amount of micro-dexterity to get the effect you want.

None of these are deal-breakers. They’re bugs, annoyances, or lack of joined up thinking. But what I need out of a phone is to be able to pull it out, do the thing I wanted, then put it away again. Joined Up Thinking is the very thing I actually *need* it to do. The lack of system-level design (both UI design and hardware-spec) makes a day with android just a little more frustrating than the same day with the iPhone.



Wouldn’t it be nice if you could throw files into an Amazon S3 instance and it would become a podcast? That’s what I thought.


UI Design

Zen and zen were travelling from the frozen wastes of point A into the distant sands of point B, when Zen, who was driving, took a right turn off the straight road.

“But friend” said zen, “this road goes where we are going”

“Aha” said Zen, “but there is a statue in the middle of the road ahead, and by this road we avoid the traffic queues that form around it”.

“But friend,” said zen, “They removed the statue ages ago, and now this road is rough and poorly surfaced”.

“Oh”, said Zen, and then, after a while, “I liked that statue.”

“and I wish they’d resurface the roads.”