Nokia’s Last Hurrah

N9 © Nokia

There’s no argument, the N9 is a beautiful device. It’s almost hypnotically attractive, better perhaps than even the iPhone at the magical trick of making you feel that this is how phones were always meant to look. Sculpted from curved glass and a single block of matte polycarbonate, graced with a simple, powerful new operating system, this is the most radically restrained design that Nokia has ever produced. Aesthetically, that is; from a feature viewpoint it’s downright exuberant. All in all, a tour de force of phone engineering.

Only one question really: What exactly is it for?

This is not the first of Nokia’s new Windows phones, rather it is the first with MeeGo. First, and quite possibly last. For MeeGo is the operating system that Nokia were developing to take on the iPhone. Until they lost their nerve, decided it couldn’t possibly be done in time to save the company, and let themselves be bought into Windows Phone 7 instead.

And yet here’s a MeeGo phone, somehow ready before any Windows one. What exactly happened there?

It had to be this way. If the Windows device had come out first, MeeGo might have been allowed to drift on without ever becoming finished product, and MeeGo was the one chance Nokia’s designers had to prove to the world – and to their boss – that they could have taken on Apple and won.

Launching an already doomed product might seem a bizarre expense for an already beleaguered company, but not bringing MeeGo to fruition also had a price – one that might have been paid in resignations. The N9 may best be understood as a magnificent gift; from Nokia’s management, to Nokia’s talent.

Something Weird In The Graveyard

Brendan and his monks' ship is carried by a gi...
OK, this time this image is relevant...

Well all right, there are probably countless oddities in any graveyard. For example this cherub. It has a head of short curls of course, but at the back its hair is shoulder length. Presumably this serves to strengthen the figure’s neck. The unfortunate result though is an angel with a mullet, sure sign that heaven has gone to the dogs.

But not far from my own father’s grave – which we are here to tend – is a tiny new one, less I think than two feet long. On the simple wooden marker, not one name but two. And they are Dutch – Henk and Aukje Fase.

Dramatic explanations like an unnamed child – or even a pet – leap to mind, but either would be in breach of some basic Christian graveyard ideas. A more sober theory is that the tiny grave contains an urn of ashes; an unusual arrangement here but one I believe is allowed now. Two names though. You sense a story – and hope it’s not that they died together. That’s rarely good.

Perhaps it had been their wish, once they were both gone, for their ashes to be mingled and interred here. I wouldn’t blame them, it is a beautiful place. The grounds of a monastery founded by Saint Brendan the Navigator, a man who in the Sixth Century set out on a voyage to Paradise. Or possibly America. Intriguingly, there is a very old Dutch version of the legend., and in it he specifically leaves from here in Galway.

But there’s too much death altogether this week. My girlfriend just lost a cousin who was only my age. And a cousin of my mother’s mother has just died. That’s my cousin twice removed I think. Ok, fairly distant; sitting in this graveyard I’m probably surrounded by people I’m more closely related to than that. I wouldn’t have remarked on her at all were it not for the fact that she lived to be one hundred and five.

That’s a proper go.

Something Weird In The Graveyard

Brendan and his monks' ship is carried by a gi...
OK, this time this image is relevant...

Well all right, there are probably countless oddities in any graveyard. For example this cherub. It has a head of short curls of course, but at the back its hair is shoulder length. Presumably this serves to strengthen the figure’s neck. The unfortunate result though is an angel with a mullet, sure sign that heaven has gone to the dogs.

But not far from my own father’s grave – which we are here to tend – is a tiny new one, less I think than two feet long. On the simple wooden marker, not one name but two. And they are Dutch – Henk and Aukje Fase.

Dramatic explanations like an unnamed child – or even a pet – leap to mind, but either would be in breach of some basic Christian graveyard ideas. A more sober theory is that the tiny grave contains an urn of ashes; an unusual arrangement here but one I believe is allowed now. Two names though. You sense a story – and hope it’s not that they died together. That’s rarely good.

Perhaps it had been their wish, once they were both gone, for their ashes to be mingled and interred here. I wouldn’t blame them, it is a beautiful place. The grounds of a monastery founded by Saint Brendan the Navigator, a man who in the Sixth Century set out on a voyage to Paradise. Or possibly America. Intriguingly, there is a very old Dutch version of the legend., and in it he specifically leaves from here in Galway.

But there’s too much death altogether this week. My girlfriend just lost a cousin who was only my age. And a cousin of my mother’s mother has just died. That’s my cousin twice removed I think. Ok, fairly distant; sitting in this graveyard I’m probably surrounded by people I’m more closely related to than that. I wouldn’t have remarked on her at all were it not for the fact that she lived to be one hundred and five.

That’s a proper go.

What Phone Is Right For You? 6 – Paradigm Shift Hits The Fan

Siemens "Fernscheiber 100" teletype....
Humble, and Deeply Unattractive, Origins

Though the iPhone changed personal computing forever, its significance was not immediately grasped even by Apple’s competitors – perhaps particularly by them. Sure, the likes of Nokia and Blackberry probably appreciated the threat it represented in the high-end smartphone sector. Almost beyond doubt, Google saw the potential it had to control a huge slice of the market for Internet services. Microsoft would have recognised a major new extension of Apple’s many-tentacled marketing strategy.

What may have taken longer to sink in was the fact that Apple was taking them all on at once… As the iPad and its imitators demonstrate, the iPhone was harbinger of a new and very significant generation of devices – one that would break personal computing free from its clumsy origins.

For half a century, computers have followed essentially the same design paradigm. This is strange when you think about it, because they could really use almost any. All the operator is doing fundamentally is putting numbers in and getting numbers out, there must be a million ways to do that. Many were explored in the early years: dials, punched cards, paper tapes, patch cables, levers, bells, rows of switches and lights. The possibilities were endless – and deeply unstandardised.

Then some pioneer had the brilliant idea of using a teleprinter. You may not even remember these, they’re now almost extinct, but the teleprinter (also called teletype or telex) is essentially a networked, motorised typewriter. You type on your terminal, the one at the recipient’s end rattles off a printed message. The bright idea was to wire one of these up to a computer so its keyboard could be used for input and its printer for output. Using a pre-existing technology not only meant a big cost saving, but harnessed a recognised interface metaphor that users could grasp immediately. Replacing the printed paper display with text on a TV-like monitor made it all the more familiar and friendly. This metaphor was so effective that it has basically gone unchanged ever since. Even devices as svelte as the iMac or petite as a netbook are, under the skin, just fancy telex machines – like a shape-changing alien from a SciFi cartoon, unable to prevent hints of its true nature showing through its disguise.

There have been attempts to break the mould; perhaps the most effective was the use of pen input on devices like the PDA or Tablet PC. But that was just swapping the restrictions of one metaphor for those of another. What Apple realised was simple but profound – you could design a device without metaphor. Let the application in use dictate the interface; the device itself should come with as few restrictions or presuppositions as possible. Beyond the necessary limitations of form factor – it must be this size if you want to carry it as a phone, this size if you want to read comfortably and so on – it should be as reconfigurable as possible. Thus the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad family is a device as rich in possibility as we have ever had, and perhaps ever will until we figure out how to make shape-changing hardware.

But just because it’s revolutionary, that doesn’t necessarily mean the iPhone is the best phone you can get. And while some rivals still seem to be in shock even now, one company was ready to respond to and rival Apple’s innovation. One company may already be beating them at their own game.

What Phone Is Right For You? 6 – Paradigm Shift Hits The Fan

Siemens "Fernscheiber 100" teletype....
Humble, and Deeply Unattractive, Origins

Though the iPhone changed personal computing forever, its significance was not immediately grasped even by Apple’s competitors – perhaps particularly by them. Sure, the likes of Nokia and Blackberry probably appreciated the threat it represented in the high-end smartphone sector. Almost beyond doubt, Google saw the potential it had to control a huge slice of the market for Internet services. Microsoft would have recognised a major new extension of Apple’s many-tentacled marketing strategy.

What may have taken longer to sink in was the fact that Apple was taking them all on at once… As the iPad and its imitators demonstrate, the iPhone was harbinger of a new and very significant generation of devices – one that would break personal computing free from its clumsy origins.

For half a century, computers have followed essentially the same design paradigm. This is strange when you think about it, because they could really use almost any. All the operator is doing fundamentally is putting numbers in and getting numbers out, there must be a million ways to do that. Many were explored in the early years: dials, punched cards, paper tapes, patch cables, levers, bells, rows of switches and lights. The possibilities were endless – and deeply unstandardised.

Then some pioneer had the brilliant idea of using a teleprinter. You may not even remember these, they’re now almost extinct, but the teleprinter (also called teletype or telex) is essentially a networked, motorised typewriter. You type on your terminal, the one at the recipient’s end rattles off a printed message. The bright idea was to wire one of these up to a computer so its keyboard could be used for input and its printer for output. Using a pre-existing technology not only meant a big cost saving, but harnessed a recognised interface metaphor that users could grasp immediately. Replacing the printed paper display with text on a TV-like monitor made it all the more familiar and friendly. This metaphor was so effective that it has basically gone unchanged ever since. Even devices as svelte as the iMac or petite as a netbook are, under the skin, just fancy telex machines – like a shape-changing alien from a SciFi cartoon, unable to prevent hints of its true nature showing through its disguise.

There have been attempts to break the mould; perhaps the most effective was the use of pen input on devices like the PDA or Tablet PC. But that was just swapping the restrictions of one metaphor for those of another. What Apple realised was simple but profound – you could design a device without metaphor. Let the application in use dictate the interface; the device itself should come with as few restrictions or presuppositions as possible. Beyond the necessary limitations of form factor – it must be this size if you want to carry it as a phone, this size if you want to read comfortably and so on – it should be as reconfigurable as possible. Thus the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad family is a device as rich in possibility as we have ever had, and perhaps ever will until we figure out how to make shape-changing hardware.

But just because it’s revolutionary, that doesn’t necessarily mean the iPhone is the best phone you can get. And while some rivals still seem to be in shock even now, one company was ready to respond to and rival Apple’s innovation. One company may already be beating them at their own game.

Bus Vignette

The young guy on the bus with dirty clothes and an unmanaged beard keeps drinking from a water bottle and glancing at me with wild eyes. I’m worried he wants to tell me about the vaccine against religious fundamentalism or something of that class. But instead he’s taken out a magazine called “Love It“.

Subheading: Real Life & Celebs.

Shows you how you can be wrong about someone. I’d thought he was just a drug-addled paranoiac, but it turns out there’s no hope for him.

Bus Vignette

The young guy on the bus with dirty clothes and an unmanaged beard keeps drinking from a water bottle and glancing at me with wild eyes. I’m worried he wants to tell me about the vaccine against religious fundamentalism or something of that class. But instead he’s taken out a magazine called “Love It“.

Subheading: Real Life & Celebs.

Shows you how you can be wrong about someone. I’d thought he was just a drug-addled paranoiac, but it turns out there’s no hope for him.

Ulysses

Was fixing someone’s e-book reader, so for the day that’s in it I put on a copy of Ulysses. I’ll be surprised if he actually reads it on his Spanish holiday of course, but at least I committed larceny against the Joyce estate, something I feel is all our duty. This is the last chance in fact as next year the work will finally be free from copyright, which will take the fun out of it.

On the other hand it may help bring an end to the Great Ulysses Wank, the interminable argument about what is the one true and sole definitive version of a fictional work much revised by the author himself. This quote from Wikipedia should give you the flavour:

According to Joyce scholar Jack Dalton, the first edition of Ulysses contained over two thousand errors but was still the most accurate edition published. As each subsequent edition attempted to correct these mistakes, it incorporated more of its own. Hans Walter Gabler‘s 1984 edition was the most sustained attempt to produce a corrected text, but it received much criticism, most notably from John Kidd. Kidd’s main theoretical criticism is of Gabler’s choice of a patchwork of manuscripts as his copy-text (the base edition with which the editor compares each variant), but this fault stems from an assumption of the Anglo-American tradition of scholarly editing rather than the blend of French and German editorial theories that actually lay behind Gabler’s reasoning.

I can actually hear the skin-on-skin fiction.

 

The Brain – Your Body’s Attic Space

Modified version of an image originally upload...
That's Where I Left My Keys

So I’m working through the wreckage of my past, found dumped in a dozen broken cardboard boxes. This is a fascinating process for me because basically I have no memory. I’m not an amnesia victim, I’ve never had a traumatic brain injury. Well you know, as far as I can say. I just don’t remember things much. This leads to strange revelations, like coming across a comic strip that I have no recollection of seeing before, but which was quite clearly written and drawn by me. The old made new. What’s especially great is if one of these actually makes me laugh.

It’s all right to laugh at your own jokes when you don’t remember being the person who made them.

God my drawing used to be awful though. Stupid I know, but it gets me down. I know I am not by any means a good artist now; my drawing is merely adequate to the task, but I don’t mind that. And it’s not the fact that I wasn’t any good as a child. Why would I be? What’s depressing is that I thought I was.

Seems I really was a fairly bright kid though. I came across a Mensa entrance test that I’d taken but never submitted. Yeah, I considered applying to Mensa once. But then I figured, it’s a club that admits the smartest two percent of the population. Why slum it?

Also there was the small matter of a fee. I looked through it again. Some questions seemed pretty damn difficult even to adult me. In fact I’m not sure if I’d do any better now than I would’ve at fourteen.

Which is also depressing.

I thought I would reproduce one of the questions here. I think I know what the answer is meant to be, but I’m not completely sure there isn’t more than one solution:

In my aquarium I have all together in the same tank (1) garpa fish, which will eat both tennel fish and eels, (2) tennel fish, which eat eels, and (3) eels, which will feed on the dead bodies of garpa fish. The tennel fish can swim much too fast to be caught by the garpa fish, even in a tank. If no other food is given, which will be the last kind (or kinds) of fish left alive in the tank?

  1. Eels.
  2. Garpa fish and tennel fish.
  3. Tennel fish.
  4. Garpa fish.
  5. Tennel fish and eels.

Answer that, and you might be Mensa material. Though do bear in mind that the word means ‘table’.

Attic

Club Senseless Iguana
Not actually a comic that was in the attic because those haven't been scanned so far, but the nearest thing I have to hand... Click for bigger view.

It’s a job I have been quite literally putting off for years. No, decades. Clearing up the attic. There’s little in there except the debris of my and my brother’s respective childhoods. Children’s storybooks, school exercise books, diaries, chemicals, that sort of thing. Many of the comic strips we drew as kids too. Stuff now in a state of considerable disorganisation. I mean considerable. At some point a bird built a huge nest in the middle of it.

I hope it was a bird.

Stuff that is either worthless or priceless, depending on your viewpoint and/or mood. So I’m not cleaning out so much as cleaning and putting back in. It’s an archival exercise really – finding out what’s here, categorizing it in case anyone ever, you know, actually wants it for something, and securing it from further depredations by moisture and lifeforms.

Repairing the damage these did in the past is a big part of it too. Many of the books are slightly foxed, and thoroughly badgered. It’s amazing how many ways paper can go wrong, particularly the fungoid ways. I’m now familiar with an enormous variety of moulds, smuts, blights and ergots. If I spontaneously disintegrate into a puddle of decay, you’ll know why. Then there are the ones that have been mined by bookworms. Actually that’s a misnomer, there’s no such thing as a bookworm. The holes are made by woodworm, for whom paper must be literally fast food, a sort of habitable cheeseburger. And behold, keep turning the pages and you reach the  mummified bodies of fat little worms, starved to death with their mouths full.

Vitamin tree deficiency.