Micro, not Nano

Another day, another Apple rumour. You can’t beat a good Apple rumour, can you? They’re such fun, because they almost always boil down to someone quoting someone else who’d heard that someone had actually seen something but in fact had read an article in which some analyst had said that Apple would be FOOLS if the iPhone 5 didn’t have a 3D display like the Nintendo 3DS.

In fact when Apple rumours are based on actual facts, such as Gizmodo’s, ahem, liberated iPhone 4 last year, it kind of spoils the fun. I want to have fun with conjecture and plenty of over-enthusiastic speculation, leading up to a big reveal that’s either a completely exciting surprise or an utter disappointment. Rather than, ‘Oh, it’s that exact thing that they said it’d be on that website. Well, great.’ Fuck that. Either give me a gushing great nerdgasm or grind my rather reasonable expectations into the dirt. Where Apple’s concerned I’ll accept no middle ground, because that’s where I’m perfectly adequately served by Microsoft, thank you very much.

So, this morning some guy said that Apple was making the iPhone Nano or something. More than that I’m not really sure about; I found a news story, clocked something about a price point of around £125, then got to the word ‘analyst’ and immediately stopped paying attention. Maybe Apple’s working on a budget iPhone, maybe it isn’t, but I’m guessing that this so-called analyst has about as much concrete information on it as I do.

And me, I don’t have a clue. No idea whatsoever. However, I do reckon it’d make a lot of sense. Apple’s basically owned the smartphone market for, what, the last four years, but now the opposition’s starting to catch up and things aren’t looking quite so cushy for the Cupertino mob from here on in. In particular the new Microsoft/Nokia hook-up. I had a brief go on Windows Phone 7 the other week and it’s really very nice. Apple’s going to have to fight for smartphone market share now.

It makes perfect sense for Apple to diversify its phone operations; it’s a model that worked for the iPod and it ought to work for the iPhone. The thing I don’t really buy is the Nano bit. The iPod Nano got a hell of a revision last year and it’s not a form factor that lends itself to a phone. Tricky nomenclature, Nano; you’d expect the phone to look like the iPod, and that just wouldn’t work, would it?

I like the cut of the current Nano’s jib, though, and I could see that body (or perhaps a slightly larger one) encased in a more phone-shaped mount that would also serve to take care of all that telephone hardware that I imagine wouldn’t fit into an actual Nano’s case. It’d run the same slimmed-down iOS that the Nano does, probably upgraded and ready for its own apps. You’d be able to use the screen as a keypad and, vitally, be able to type on it as well, which would affect the minimum size. Minimal web functionality, good SMS and MMS usability, crappy little camera and a speaker for blasting out N-Dubz from the back of the bus. Because obviously this one’s aimed at the kids.

It’d look a bit like this:

The Game Boy Micro’s a great shape to borrow, or at least start from. Screen in the middle then use the ends for your microphone and speaker and all those other necessary phone things. You could call it the iPhone Micro and the kids would love it. It wouldn’t look like their parents’ iPhones but it’d have that Apple cachet, it’d do all the things they wanted from a phone, it’d come in a range of colours, and it’d give Apple a huge chunk of the lower end of the phone market.

At least, that’s my analysis.

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John Lennon – an alternate timeline

So, what if John Lennon hadn’t got shot on 8 December 1980? Here’s what I think might have happened.

8 December 1980: John Lennon has a nice evening in. Mark Chapman is arrested for loitering outside the Dakota building, discovered to be carrying a gun, and subsequently committed to a mental institution.

30 March 1981: Shot dead by John Hinckley, Jr. It later transpires that Hinckley did it to impress Jodie Foster.

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Giving up smoking is easy

I gave up smoking. And it’s been fine. No, honestly.

Which goes against expectations a little. I’ve been smoking for around 20 years and I’d tried giving up once before, about 18 years ago. Felt dreadful, got a mouthful of ulcers, lasted about two or three days, didn’t try it again. Instead I accepted my lot as a hopeless nicotine addict and got on with life.

In recent years I’d come up with a vague notion that I’d give up smoking when I hit 42, what with 42 being the number 42 and all that. It made a sort of geeky, numerological kind of sense, plus it had the added benefit of being just enough of a long way off not to have to worry about too much. Except it started to become a little close for comfort (not that close, but definitely impending) and over the last few months I must have subconsciously decided to get it over and done with.

It helped that there was a perfect opportunity for getting it done: Philippa was off to Australia for three weeks to visit her half-sister, meaning I’d have the place to myself and the freedom to be as fucking irritable as I wanted, without the added distraction of having to field, through gritted teeth, well-meaning enquiries as to how I was getting on. It would probably be ghastly, but after three weeks I’d be over the worst of it and it’d be a nice surprise for Philippa when she got back.

Everyone knows that giving up is hard. There’s a whole industry built up around it being really really difficult. And so I prepared well. Philippa was leaving on the Saturday lunchtime so I figured I’d run out of cigarettes that morning and have things coincide a little.

Then at Sainsbury’s after she’d left I changed my mind and bought two packets. But! Crucially I also picked up some nicotine gum – one enormous box of the full strength stuff, which I guessed might be enough to get me through the living hell of nicotine withdrawal. Then I looked at the instructions, decided that full strength was probably a bit much considering I’d been on the ultra-weedy Silk Cut Juniors for years, and got an enormous box of the half-strength.

All that remained was to finish off the two packs that I’d bought on the Saturday. Which took me through to 8.00 on Tuesday morning, when I smoked the last one. No real sense of ceremony; finished it, had my breakfast, loaded my pockets with nicotine gum and headed off to work with a vague sense of foreboding.

I managed to hold on until about 12.00 before breaking out the nicotine gum. I dealt with the lack of fag breaks at work by going out and walking a lap of the building, which proved to be a fairly decent displacement activity. Felt a bit spaced out and edgy, but just hit the gum when it got a bit much. I got through four pieces on day one.

Day two, I got through another four pieces. Then I did some sums and realised that each piece supposedly delivers the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of Silk Cut Juniors. So I gave up the nicotine gum. Day three was fine. As was day four and every day after.

Sorry about that.

There I was, totally geared up for hell week, and all I got was a couple of days feeling a bit ropey. The hardest bit was telling my brain to fuck off every time it told me that it was time for a fag. “It’s time for a fag!” No it isn’t, brain. Fuck off. “Oh, all right; better have a fag then!” No. Fuck off. “Sorry about that. Is it time for a fag now?” Etc. It was non-stop for a while then started tailing off around day three.

So what’s the trick? I’ve compiled a handy checklist of what I think worked for me. Should you want to knock the fags on the head, give it a go.

1: Switch down to the junior fags. There’s your preparation stage for you. Since we’re mostly dealing with nicotine withdrawal, get yourself used to less nicotine. If you’re on 20 or fewer Silk Cut Silvers a day, the rest is going to be relatively painless.

2: Pick a date for giving up, then change your mind at the last minute if you want to. Because you can, and because you’ll feel slightly disappointed with yourself and that little bit more resolved to do it properly.

3: Smoke all your cigarettes. Don’t leave any squirreled away just in case. Don’t make a big gesture of tossing a half-finished pack in the rubbish. As it is there’ll come a point where you’ll be checking the empty packets in the bin to see if there are any forgotten fags in them. The simple fact is that you can’t smoke if you don’t have any cigarettes, and it’s not as if you’re going to buy any, is it?

4: Get nicotine gum. Not patches. Patches seem to be based around the premise of giving up gently over an extended period. Fuck that. Nicotine withdrawal takes 72 hours, max. I was through the worst of it after 48. Buy the smallest pack you can get of the 2mg stuff, and have a piece when you feel like climbing the walls. You’ll still end up throwing a load of the stuff out.

5: Displacement activities. Have some ready. I did laps of the office instead of having fag breaks at work. At home, I stayed away from my PC, which is where the ashtray was situated, as much as I could, and watched more telly instead.

6: Most importantly, you have to want to give up. That’s what it all comes down to. Smoking’s an entirely selfish pleasure, and you need your own selfish reasons for giving up. If someone’s badgering you into doing it, don’t bother. You’ll quickly find a reason to fail. Me, I seem to have already decided that I was done with smoking, and that made the whole giving up business that much more straightforward.

And that’s pretty much it. A bit of half-arsed preparation, a genuine will to give up and up to 72 hours of things being a bit shit is what it boils down to. I’ve had worse colds.

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We play combination

Rarities compilations never really work out to be quite as good an idea as they might seem, because in nearly all instances they’re a collection of songs that simply didn’t make the grade. It’s not often that you forget you recorded something ace, is it? Who can honestly claim that V.U. is their favourite Velvet Underground album? (*edit* Haha, plenty of people, it turns out. Bad example conjured in haste. And I suppose if any band  was going to lose ace stuff, it’d be the Velvets) And who rates Free as a Bird as anything other than a demo polished within an inch of its life to end up sounding like a second-rate ELO number? Rarities are the last refuge of record companies that have run out of new track listings to make up yet another greatest hits compilation.

Shits & Giggles is the second Kleptones album to come out this year, and for want of a better phrase it’s a rarities compilation – 20 tracks dating back to 2004 that didn’t fit the albums.

Maddeningly, it’s excellent.

It really shouldn’t be. It’s hard enough to take one song, add it to another song, and not end up with a bad noise. Making a mash-up track tends to go like this: you get the idea that Song A would go nicely with Song B, and in your head it sounds fantastic. That’s because your brain’s really good at distorting reality and auto-compensating for differences in key, tempo, rhythm, timbre and a billion other things. Once you get beyond idle daydreaming and actually try to fit the things together, you need to be really lucky or really good – or a bit of both – to come up with anything other than an abomination.

Four albums – two of them doubles – plus an EP and two mix sets; that’s just showing off. To have enough left over to make another album is a statistical fucking impossibility. And yet here we are. 20 tracks rescued from the Kleptones vaults, and not a dud among them.

It’s a very different Kleptones album; stylistically it’s all over the place, like a Now That’s What I Call Music compilation from a parallel universe, made up of carefully blended songs that you’d never thought should fit together, but which really, really do. Grafting Elton’s Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting to Billy Idol’s White Wedding is something that should never occur to a sane human being. Pat Benatar and Kraftwerk shouldn’t be suitable bedfellows. And a combination of Ke$ha’s Tik Tok and Dizzee Rascal’s Flex shouldn’t be the catchiest damn song I’ve heard in months.

But yet again, it all works. In Shits & Giggles you’ll find more musical genres than are likely to exist in your entire music collection, living together in perfect harmony. The only track that even comes close to not working that well is the finale, Unwanted Whisper, and you have to love it anyway since it’s a shameless inversion of 24 Hours’ wonderfully cheesy Careless or Dead.

And before you even get to that there are nineteen great tracks that’ll have you thoroughly enjoying artists that you’d never normally listen to. I thought that dub wasn’t my thing, but a threesome of tracks about halfway through – The Clash and Red Hot Chili Peppers given a damn good dubbing – has me wondering what I’ve been missing.

Then there are the two missing tracks from A Night at the Hip Hopera; both of them great and omitted purely to keep the running time down to a CD length. That’s a real shame, particularly in the case of Kill, a merciless evisceration of music industry corruption that seems to me to be a natural companion piece to the album’s last track, Question.

I don’t know how he does it. Eric Kleptone gives the impression of not only knowing all the music, but also knowing how to cut it up, fit it together differently and come up with something special.

Every. Bloody. Time.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Download Shits & Giggles here, or just press the big Play button below and listen away.

Shits & Giggles by The Kleptones

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So I got an iPad

I’m reasonably sure that at some point, maybe even on the day that the iPad was officially announced, I stated that it looked like a really impressive piece of kit, but that I didn’t need one and I probably wouldn’t be getting one. At least, not on launch day.

It’s now the week after the UK launch and I’m sitting on the sofa, typing this on my iPad. The first thing to point out is that it’s astonishingly pleasant to type on. A touch screen interface shouldn’t be this good as a typing surface. I’m not the world’s fastest typist; I get by at a reasonable speed with something similar to, but which isn’t, touch typing. I’d never pass any secretarial exams but I can get words into a word processor at a rate that doesn’t leave my brain hanging around waiting for my fingers to catch up and losing my train of thought. And so far I’m finding that I can hammer the words out at a similar speed on the iPad’s onscreen keyboard. I reckon that, keyboard oddities notwithstanding (like having to shift to different virtual keyboards for numbers and symbols), I can type on this about as fast as I can type on my laptop keyboard. My laptop keyboard’s a bit rubbish, though.

Getting ahead of myself, though. So, yeah, despite what I told myself, I bought an iPad on launch day. There are mitigating circumstances. Firstly, I sit next to MacFormat magazine and they’ve had them in since a few days after they went on sale in the States. So I’ve had ample opportunity to play with one over the past few weeks. My initial reaction was basically yes, very nice, maybe a little on the heavy side, I’ll probably wait until OS4 comes out and see how it goes then.

You see, the thing is that I’d want it to be a laptop replacement, and for an iPad to be that it’d have to be capable of at least a bit of multi-tasking. Old-skool as I am, I’d want it running Colloquy in the background and not disconnecting when I then want to look at something else for a bit.

Not a laptop replacement yet, then. Still, it is a very nice piece of kit, and ever since the US launch it’s been impossible to avoid the cascade of breathless opinion pieces on just how lovely the iPad is. It all adds up, especially when there’s one sitting on the desk behind you, looking lovely. But I held out. I made a point of not pre-ordering one. I chuckled quietly at the spectacle of chums ordering them from the States at ludicrous mark-ups. I noted the  arrival of the first person in the queue outside the Apple Store on Regent Street on Thursday night with another quiet chuckle. Woke up on Friday morning with a day off booked, saw another chum’s tweeting from the queue outside the Bath branch and was very pleased not to be there.

I had to go into town that day, though; family get-together the next day and I needed to get an extra birthday present for my nephew and niece. And I made myself a deal: once I got into town I’d swing by the Apple Store and, if they had any iPads left – which obviously they wouldn’t, given the delivery delays for people who’d pre-ordered too late – then I’d buy a 32GB wifi model. A pretty safe bet, I’m sure you’ll agree.

I didn’t go in early or anything; I don’t think I left the house until half past eleven, and even though I’d heard that the new branch of PC World opposite the Apple Store had a big sign outside shouting IPADS IN STOCK, I figured my money was safe. I strolled over from the car park, noted a lack of crowd outside the Apple Store – although the crowd barriers were still outside, left over from the queue earlier that morning – and walked in to be greeted by a member of staff in what I assume is traditional Apple Store fashion.

“Got any left?” I asked.

“Yes!”

Hell and damnation.

And so, five minutes later – after as pleasant a shopping experience as it’s possible to have – I walked out with an iPad. Didn’t bother with any accessories; I figured that I’d leave it for the time being and see whether the need for any extras presented itself. So far I’m happy with the basic setup.

Setting the thing up was straightforward enough, once I’d pulled iTunes out of yet another flat spin. Twice last week it managed to have a panic and mess up its library; the second time when I got home and wanted to set the iPad up. So instead of getting straight down to business I had to wait around for ages while iTunes rebuilt its library. iTunes on the PC is a flaky piece of shit – a massive resource hog with a tendency to skip if I expect it to do anything so advanced as play music on my laptop – but I’m stuck with it. It did its best to set up the iPad from an iPhone backup but failed to carry across any contacts and only copied over some of the apps. On close inspection I discovered that at some point iTunes had stopped syncing my iPhone apps. Brilliant! And now I can’t resync it because it’ll delete everything that isn’t synced. Magic!

UPDATE – okay, sorted that out after a hunt through iTunes help and figured out how to transfer apps from my phone onto my laptop. Phew!

What it did manage to do was sync my entire iPhone playlist, which I didn’t actually want it to do as I can’t really see the iPad functioning as a music player. I’ve since created a separate iPad playlist, and now there’s plenty of room on it.

So. What’s it like? My opinion’s pretty much unchanged; it’s a lovely piece of kit with some really nice touches, such as the secret apostrophe on the keyboard that you access by sliding your finger up from the comma. The touchscreen’s incredibly responsive and, as I’ve mentioned, great for typing on. I reckon I’ve found the perfect environment for using the iPad: here on the sofa. I’ve never really been one for sitting with a laptop actually on my lap, but this feels, well, right.

Haven’t gone mad on apps. The best thing I’ve picked up so far is Pages, which is frankly a steal. It just works, without any Word bloat; just enough features for me, and probably a few that I’ll never use. The only thing that it’s lacking as far as I’m concerned is a word count.

Other useful apps have been Colloquy and Tweetdeck; still waiting on a Facebook app and a non-broken WordPress app, and really everything else I’ve picked up has been for mucking about with. Stuff like the Korg Electribe, Magic Piano, the Guardian’s Eyewitness app. None of it essential, all of it good for playing with. As time goes by I’m sure I’ll find more stuff I can’t live without.

So far, so good, then. What I think it all boils down to is that what it does, the iPad does brilliantly, and a few months down the line when there’ll be more apps and OS4 it’ll be even better. Am I kicking myself over my impulse purchase? Absolutely not. Could I live without it? At the moment, absolutely. Ask me again in a few weeks, though, and you’ll probably get a different answer.

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Cross-dominance

Now here’s a peculiar thing. Back in the early days of videogaming, when it was all Ataris and Spectrums and C64s, when you had a joystick you’d hold it with your left hand (with a thumb on the fire button, usually) and move the stick with your right. I’m assuming right-handedness; if you weren’t right-handed then you most likely had to do exactly the same thing unless you managed to find a stick with fire buttons on both sides or one mounted on top of the stick.

However, arcade games since the dawn of time have put the stick to the left and the buttons to the right. And roughly from the NES onwards, console controllers have had directional controls on the left, buttons on the right. And now of course controllers have sticks mounted on both sides to go with their plethora of buttons, but the dominant stick is the one on the left.

This is important stuff. No, really. Because your left hand is operated by the right side of your brain, and your right hand is operated by the left. And in most cases each hand has its own specialities, so you’ll write with one hand but, for example, do the fingerwork on a stringed instrument with your left. You can’t just start writing with your other hand, or pick up a left-handed guitar and expect to get a tune out of it.

I’m reasonably certain, though, that if I handed you an old-skool joystick you’d automatically hold it the right way; not only that, I imagine that, given a game that could be played on either a modern or old-fashioned controller, you’d play it just as well with either, despite your entire control surface having been flipped horizontally.

Isn’t that weird? I think that’s fucking weird. And it gets weirder. Take a game like Robotron or Geometry Wars, that give you a directional control for each hand. Being confronted with that control scheme for the first time is a nightmare and takes a lot of getting used to. I just attempted an experiment, mucking about with X-Arcade config files to try and flip the stick assignation, to see if I played it any differently with the sticks the other way around. Couldn’t find the right config to edit, though. I might have to look into it further, because I never feel quite in control in Robotron, and I’d like to know if switching the sticks makes any difference.

The peculiar thing is that there doesn’t seem to be any logical scheme to all this. Take the Guitar Hero controller. Buttons on the left, strummy thing and whammy bar on the right. DJ Hero: buttons and turntable on the right, everything else on the left. You can’t categorically state that either hand is better at the more intricate or important operations. Unless you’re playing a first-person shooter as God meant you to play it, on a PC.

I played Doom entirely on keyboard. It wasn’t until QTest appeared and I was getting my arse handed to me in deathmatch that I was forced to adopt the mouse and keyboard style, and it was a nightmare to get the hang of, but I got there. And there’s no way I could just switch that set of controls around. Using a mouse with my left hand feels wrong, wrong, wrong.

And another thing: if I’m playing an FPS on a console, I invert my Y-axis for looking. If I’m playing on a PC, I don’t.

So then, what have we learned today? That the human brain is weird. You can apparently muck it about in some ways but not in others – at least, not easily. What I’d like to know, though, is whether there’s any kind of schema to this or if it’s all hackable. Is it true cross-dominance or is your brain still treating one hand as dominant to an extent?

There’s probably a PhD thesis in this. Shame I’m not remotely qualified.

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No Man But a Blockhead (or, It’s not you, it’s me)

I need to think this thing through.

Which isn’t ideal as there’s this right old #oneaday quitting spree going at the moment; lots of people hitting the wall. Fair enough; if you can’t hack it, you can’t hack it. I’m the last person to judge you in that respect. But if you’re seeing other people drop out, that kind of makes it that little bit easier to give up yourself. Safety in numbers.

Bar the odd day when I’m completely stumped for a subject and the words just aren’t coming, I could keep on doing this until the end of the year. I need to know why I’m doing it, though. I need a reason to keep on with this thing that’s taking up sizeable chunks of my downtime. I value my downtime, and, “Because I said I would on the internets,” isn’t reason enough.

And it sure as hell isn’t for the pageviews.

So basically I’m doing this for me, and I have this feeling that a lot of this current setup isn’t much use to me, that I should be trying to write something different, maybe something I can actually use. Trouble is, I’m not sure that whatever it is would be something I’d want to put online. Not yet, anyway.

So as of now, some (or most or all or perhaps not that many) of my #oneadays will be private entries, purely for my benefit, and whatever appears here will be stuff that I haven’t hammered out in a rush to get something the fuck online. That way, we all win.

See you when I see you.

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