Ready Player One / Ernest Cline

on 17 November 2015

I’m no sci-fi fan, and fantasy definitely isn’t my thing, so I was surprised to quite enjoy Ready Player One, Ernest Cline’s first novel.

It’s a strange book. The writing style is very much teen-lit - probably aimed at 14-20 year olds. But the book is literally a catalogue of detailed 80s pop culture references - music, games, books, anime. Those who are old enough to enjoy the 80s stuff are surely too old for the boy-meets-world bland storytelling. I’m not sure how the two have reconciled to create an audience for this book but they certainly have.

It’s 2045 and the world is looking grim. We’ve used up all the oil and urbanisation has run rampant. Urban poverty is huge. Our protagonist Wade lives on the 22nd level of a stack - a tower made up of RVs. Like most of the world he spends his days immersed in a virtual reality game called the OASIS.

The uber-billionaire co-founder of the OASIS has died leaving an 80’s based easter egg hunt with his fortune and controlling shares in the OASIS as a prize.

The plotline is tenuous. The characters are one-dimensional knock-offs from Harry Potter. The dialogue could have come from any teen novel of the last 20 years.

But the world Cline builds is fascinating. And the virtual reality aspects feel within the realms of plausibility given that Facebook own John Carmack’s Occulus Rift.

The book gave me some perspective on MMORPGs, fantasy games and cosplay. None of which I’ve so far understood.

I can’t think that I learned anything much from it. But the final half was a page turner and I definitely felt immersed in a dystopian future world.

Book: Down to the sea in ships - Horatio Clare

on 13 September 2015

Clare got himself installed as writer-in-residence for Danish shipping giant Maersk.

He first travelled from Felixstowe to LA on the huge Gerd, a 9,000 TEU container ship built in 2006.

Later, feeling that he wanted to experience storms and the more grimy end of seafaring, he took to the smaller, and rustier, Maersk Pembroke on its route between Rotterdam and Montreal.

  • Filipinos make up the biggest proportion of crew and are paid significantly less than their European and Indian colleagues for exactly the same work.
  • There’s very little shore leave from container ships - they are generally docked and loaded in just a few hours.
  • Taking a ship into port in the US involves a lot of bureaucracy. All food must be sealed and locked away, the whole ship must be cleaned, any wildlife must be removed, and the rudder needs fully testing before a ship can approach the shore.
  • Birds land on ships in port and survive the journey from port to port.
  • Officers on ships work in watches of four hours on and eight hours off. Junior officers work the 8-12 watch as senior officers are most likely to be available.
  • Ships are flagged in convenience countries not just for tax reasons, but also because investigations are unlikely to be carried out in the event of an accident.

The book was easy reading but Clare focused on the people and, depressingly, on the loss of life at sea. He never missed an opportunity to talk of people being drowned, crushed, or fried. There was also little on the business side of things, the art of navigation or engineering. Labour issues and the history of deaths at sea were the main focus.

Nomad phone

on 30 June 2015

The GSM unit on my iPhone 5S has stopped working. Everything else works fine (though the battery life is down to about six hours.) So I’m basically without connectivity outside the house. Not receiving phone calls isn’t a major problem, but lack of data is critical.

I’d like to buy a mobile phone which constantly seeks wifi connectivity when roaming. It should have the software to automatically and silently connect through common gateways (The Cloud, McDonalds, BT Openzone, etc.) It would also hold a database of wifi credentials that people have shared, similar to Wifi Skeleton Key

It’s a bit late now that roaming charges are about to tumble within the EU, but this would be a boon for travellers and people looking to avoid mobile contracts.

Where is the digital wallet?

Where is the digital wallet?

on 30 April 2015

In May 2007, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs did a joint interview on stage. The unannounced, but highly anticipated, iPhone was tucked out of site in the pocket of Steve’s jeans.

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates looking comfortable.

Walt Mossberg asked Bill:

Q Isn’t a phone just a computer in a different form factor? Five years out, what are the core functions of the device we call a cell phone?

A How quickly all these things that have been somewhat specialised - the navigation device, the digital wallet, the phone, the digital camera, the video camera) - How quickly those all come together… that’s hard to chart out. But eventually you’ll be able to pick something that has the capability to do every one of those things. And yet given the small size you still won’t want to edit your homework or edit a movie on a screen of that size. And so you’ll have something else that lets you do the reading and the editing and those things. Now if we could ever get a screen that could just roll out like a scroll, the you might be able to have a device that did everything.

It’s eight years on, and everything Bill Gates predicted is now a given on all phones. With one exception: the digital wallet. Apple Pay, Bitcoin, or perhaps Paypal, could all be considered forms of a digital wallet - but none of them are even close to being universally adopted. And yet there has been no hardware problem to solve and neither computing power nor connectivity are the stumbling block.

When I think of the multi-year efforts involved in building up worldwide maps and route planning, or fitting an HD video camera into something the size of a fingernail, it staggers me that we’re still all carrying a wallet and a phone. And mostly the wallet is chunkier and weighs more than the phone.


on 27 April 2015

When I grew up the only people who recycled were middle-class ex-hippies who drank a lot of wine and ate a lot of jam. We’d go to the bottle bank and I’d relish throwing those glass receptacles as hard as I could.

We’d put our rubbish in a big black plastic bag and leave it on the street. I guess they just buried the whole thing - bag and all.

Blue-peter would have an annual recycling drive - and there was a company called Alucan that would park in the car park of kwik-save and pay 0.5p per can.

Wheelie bins were quite exciting when they arrived. Our doorbell rang once and outside I found a teenager handcuffed to our wheelie bin. I hacksawed him free as he sheepishly said his mates had done it. Probably.

In about 2005 we all started recycling and now I find it amazing that we just trashed everything for years and years.

I’m quite proud that mine is the generation that grew into recycling - everyone younger than me will have grown up with it. I’m sure we’re not there yet, and maybe I’m becoming old, but there’s a satisfaction in having a place for everything and everything in its place.

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