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Monday, 22 September 2014

Enjoying The Bone Clocks, but now a dilemma...

I've been reading the polyphonic adventure of David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks, but still have a way to go.

I've just noticed that it is being serialised starting Monday night on Radio 4, which presents me with a kind of dilemma.

Should I listen to the radio adaptation, which has the potential to overtake my reading speed? Or should I ignore it until I've finished the book?

I'm enjoying the multi-perspective and multi-timed story telling, which began in 1984 and has been jumping forward in roughly ten year increments, from different narrative points of view. It's compellingly written with sudden moments where everything pivots onto another plane, as well as various clues being dropped into the storyline ahead of later reveals.

David Mitchell also wrote 'The Cloud Atlas', which I haven't read, and to be honest I gave up when watching the movie. My guess is that the prior book started out with similar multiple point of views but somehow the movie struggled.

Mitchell has created very accessible characterisations. The initially 15 year old heroine of Holly gets a somewhat Roald Dahl styled start (No spoiler to say that Dahl would say 'Kill the parents' as a quick way to give young protagonists free will). By the first 10% (Kindle-speak) the story is jagging off unexpectedly.

The thinking explores connections and arcs much broader than the grounded start. From very early in the book there's hints of strange and paranormal topics, which I'm expecting to clarify over the last third of the book.

"she’s sort of sketched onto the corner where nobody’ll spot her"

Weirdly, in just looking for a cover art image to head this blog post, I notice the alternative U.S. cover actually has a series of arcs. Like those strange enamel black and white labyrinth signs in tube stations, the book is messing with my mind in a good way.

I'm trying not to give too much away. Suffice to say we get straightforward human interest, mysticism, academe, conflict, humour, economic catastrophe and metaphysics. And I've still got a decent chunk left to read.

A thoroughly enjoyable page turner, with (so far?) a positive heart.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

goofing around with an iClone 6

iClone 6
Aside from the rather early Xmas displays, I also passed by an Apple store yesterday. There was a long patient looking line of people standing outside waiting to pick up their new pre-ordered (pre-ordained?) iPhones*.

The 6 appears to be winning over the 6 Plus, but that could be a supply thing.

I should explain that I've had an iPhone 6 shaped device for some time.

When I'm in New York I like to visit Canal Street to see what kinds of special offers are available. It usually comprises sunglasses or similar which bear the name of a famous brand, the packaging of a famous brand, but for some reason are on sale for, oh, 'ten dollar'. Maybe 'two for 18 dollar'.

My iPhone shaped device has similar cloned origins. It's from a Chinese company that produced their iPhone 6 clone back in July. It's quad processor, 13 Megapixel camera, dual SIM and runs on Android 4.4.2 (KitKat), with an iOS shell. There were two USB lightning cables and a charger (they'd be £45 from Apple) and some awful-looking headphones in the box.

To my surprise it is genuinely quite usable. All the standard smartphone capabilities work. It downloads Apps from Google Play store and they install and work correctly. The 'OK, Google' speech recognition works. The iOS style display can be toggled back and forth, so the phone can look like it's running both Android and Apple operating systems.

It won't replace my regular phone, but as a way to continue to use an old pay as you go SIM, it cost less than a burner from Tesco. It's only borderline pocketable though.
Goophone iClone 6
* The line I saw was quite a lot shorter than on launch day outside the Regents Street store. There's a video of it here, which is like a mini tour of Regents Street, Hanover Street, Hanover Square and Brook Street.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

too early for Santa sightings?

I know it's a bit of a messy photograph, but I snapped it hurriedly as I walked past the front of a shop today. Notice anything abnormal?

It's September.

There's reindeer and fir trees in the display.

Oh, and a little Santa Claus popping out of the chimney.

It seems a bit early to be checking xmasclock.com

Friday, 19 September 2014

well, you say you want a federation

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

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

The surviving politicians have been quick to move to the next stage of 'devolution' bringing up a question that has languished since, oh, 1977. Yes, the wonks are looking for the next political advantages.

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 18 September 2014

time to delete a few more apps

A useful change in the iPhone operating system is the ability to add a different keyboard.

I've noticed others using the Swype-type keyboards for a while on Android and thought the idea was pretty good.

I've settled for the free Swiftkey at the moment, which can be a keyboard and also does a pretty good job letting the words be predicted by dragging a finger across the keyboard area. It learns new words fast, too.

The new iOS 8 is also a perfect catalyst for me to delete a few of the unused apps sitting on my phone and iPad.

Aside from Swiftkey, my only other recent addition has been the freemium Moleskine app, which may be a replacement for the little notebooks which I've used for several years.

I've also been playing around with that Moleskine smart paper with Evernote and wonder if that will eventually be the way to go...Write on the paper and it appears in a document in the phone...Maybe I'll use it to make a list of the Apps to delete.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 15 September 2014

office, hotels and cycling statistics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 12 September 2014

Quickly designed Apps for the Watch

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 11 September 2014

stunt squirrels

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

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

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

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

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

Then, suddenly, the stunt squirrels appeared.

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

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

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

too late to put the toothpaste back in the tube?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

you've gotta haptic to 'em, great taptics

insert timely statement here

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Lightroom and Aperture along a cloudy edge

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

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

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

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

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

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