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.

Working on a laptop in the sun

Working on a laptop in the sun

on 19 April 2015

It’s just after ten in the morning and I’m sitting on my balcony writing this. The sun is blazing, I’ve got a good cup of coffee. It’s perfection. Last summer I spent two months in Ibiza working on the beach and making friends the the local lizards.

Lizard vs coffee

I thought I’d share a few tips I’ve picked up for working while sunbathing.

(I had a quick look around and other articles recommend working in the shade. Bollocks to that. You could always wear this laptop sock.)

Seeing the screen

  • Back up. Sitting by the pool in the sun, sipping a cocktail is a high risk environment. It’s like something out of a Health & Safety advert - “circle the risks here”. So do a laptop backup.
  • Face the sun. I move around like a human sundial to keep it directly in front of me.
  • Clean the screen. This makes a huge difference. Little bits of dirt that are barely noticeable indoors wreak havoc with your eyes outside. Wiping the screen down with glass cleaner massively improves readability.
  • Wear a dark T-shirt or no T-shirt. Don’t wear white. The less light that is reflecting off the screen, the better you can see it. And along those lines…
  • Prefer working with a dark wall behind you. Again, minimise the amount of light being reflected into the screen.
  • Use a white background in whatever program you are using. I work in VIM and change my theme to habiLight which provides the highest contrast I have found.
  • I tend to make a cardboard hood that fits around the laptop screen. Yes, I look like a loony typing on a fake laptop made out of cardboard. No, I couldn’t give a shit. Even just a piece of cardboard put behind the screen cuts down on the amount of sun being reflected off the keyboard. This is a big deal on Macbooks because the Aluminium is like a mirror.
A piece of cardboard behind the laptop makes a great difference
  • Sunglasses probably help. I don’t wear them but only because I don’t own a pair.
  • Make sure the screen brightness is set to max. My laptop turns its brightness down if a menacing cloud comes overhead.

I find that Macbook screens work better than other laptops - despite their high reflectivity. I think this is because they tend to be brighter than any other screen I’ve used. A non-relective screen with the same brightness would probably be best.

Protecting the laptop

Another reason I keep a piece of cardboard behind the laptop is to keep it cool.

Don’t forget your phone. Far too many times I forget all about my phone and pick it up an hour later to find it’s roasting and there’s a message on the screen to say it’s overheated. This probably explains my dismal battery life.

The eternal HTML vs Markdown vs Text dilemma

on 18 April 2015

I’ve just been working on adding SVG images to How a Car Works.

As usual, I feel like I’m banging my head against the wall on the best way to store and edit the content of the articles. I’ve tried HTML, Markdown, HTML again with Redactor as the editor, now I’m finding once again that redactor is mangling my HTML source.

“Ahaa!”, I just thought, “I’ll store the articles as HTML files and then I can edit them in VIM or wherever I want.” But not being stored in the database means the articles won’t be searchable.

So now I’m thinking the optimal workflow might be to store all the articles as HTML files. And then each time a file changes, I repopulate the DB with a plaintext version. This allows me to put the articles in version control and to run batch jobs against them. They’d also be synched between my local machine and the production system - at the moment I don’t sync the two DBs.

I’m going to have a bath and think about it.

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