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Nick Harkaway’s Tigerman, & an Audible trial

So, like every other Amazon user I’ve been bombarded with ads for Audible for a little while. They’re tedious and overwhelming and I’ve generally ignored them. But since I’ve started listening to audiobooks whilst I run (or at least, using eBook apps like Kindle to read to me), I finally had cause to consider it more seriously. The free month trial sucked me in and I kicked off with Tigerman, the latest book from Nick Harkaway – an author I’ve respected and admired since the Gone Away World blew my mind a few years back.

It was a wonderful experience.

OK, listening to the audiobook whilst running wasn’t quite as relaxing as nodding off to it as I did as a child, but at least I didn’t have to rewind the tapes the next day to find where I’d dropped off so I could pick up the story again. But it’s amazing how you can lose yourself in a story in a way I’ve not been able to with music (not when exercising, anyway) for years. The voice acting by Matt Bates (this guy, I think) added a dimension to the reading I didn’t quite remember from the audiobooks of my youth… an additional pleasure, perhaps one I can appreciate more having grown accustomed to text-to-speech engines reading stuff to me in a robotic monotone (although Microsoft’s Cortana TTS engine is substantially better than Apple’s iPhone one).

It’s reawakened a love of the audiobook and – having planned to cancel the Audible trial, and gotten as far as hitting ‘cancel / due to the cost’ – I’ve found myself being sucked in by a three month at half price offer. We’ll see if I stick with it beyond that, but Mike Carey’s ‘Girl with all the gifts’ is next on my list and – as an added incentive, to make use of my one credit (audiobook) per month, I need to run through it over the weekends. With a run time of 13 hours, that means at least 120km clocked up on the roads in September…!

Also inspired to find the kids some good audiobooks to listen to…!

Posted in Books, Technology.

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Windows Phone vs iPhone… continued

I’m continuing to love my Lumia 925, but two significant i-events have taken place since I started using it:

1. Apple admitted some of its batteries were flawed and are replacing them for free. I’m sorting that this Sunday.

2. Apple announced an event for 9 September.

So before I completely, 100% commit to this ecosystem switch, I’m going to see what happens on 9 September. But I think – right now – that I’m done with iOS for a year or two, and will probably (only probably) trade up from the 925 to the 930 unless Apple does something really unexpected and wonderful. The rumours – slightly bigger screen, Sapphire glass, the iOS8 features that are already widely reported… don’t do quite enough for me to merit the substantially larger price tag (expecting iPhone to cost around GBP630 vs. Lumia 930s GBP430 list price, and I can already get the Lumia 930 for around GBP 350 on eBay…

Posted in Technology.


Windows Phone 8.1 vs. iOS 7: a personal dilemma

Update 11.08: thanks to Michael, Ivan, Simon and everyone else that’s offered workarounds for my various cons. The Pros list is expanding and I am increasingly sold!! My apologies to Amanda for boring you endlessly with phone chat…

I have been a (reluctantly) loyal iOS devotee since the 3GS came out, and have struggled to even look at rival OS – I was burned by the gradual deterioration of Windows Mobile in the mid 2000s, never convinced by the sluggish responsiveness of even the fastest Android phones (and the updates flowing to my Nexus 7 tablet – a gift – haven’t convinced me it will improve). However, of late, the flagging battery life of my ageing iPhone 5 (needs 2-3 charges a day depending on usage), and the phenomenal lack of joy you get from a new handset (oh… it looks and acts exactly like the old one), as well as the inevitable obsolescence caused by ageing handsets and upgraded operating systems, AND the crippling cost of an upgrade…. well, you get the picture.

TL, DR – I bought an older Lumia 925 handset and am trying it out. If I hate it and go back to the iOS fold, it can go back on eBay and I should make most of my money back (it’s already lost most of its year one resale depreciation value).

So, making a list of the things I like and dislike about it, with a view to weighing them up and thinking about a more permanent ecosystem shift. Let me know if I’ve missed anything to test, or you know a workaround to one of my cons, or you think I’ve missed a ‘pro’ on anything in particular. I’ll update this list ‘live’ over the next few weeks as I test it properly.

Updated list (11.08.14):

Pros

  • Beautiful screen
  • Slick UI, v natural interface, live tiles are helpful, searching through apps is cool
  • Very responsive typing, swype is remarkable
  • Less punishing autocorrect than iOS
  • Battery life is better – not ridiculously so but noticeably. Even running 10k using GPS (1h10 mins of GPS usage) the battery lasts through to the evening. And as you can imagine, with the new OS I am playing with it a LOT and unnecessarily so
  • Here maps is amazing! Local storage limits need to draw on data transfer for a variety of mapping services, e.g. Caledo (run keeper integrated running app)
  • Lock screen / photo rotation feature is lovely – love that it can draw on Facebook albums
  • 4G on O2 (Need iPhone 5S or 6 for that) – blisteringly fast
  • OneDrive >> iCloud as far as I can see, if I can get used to using it
  • IE actually seems pretty fast
  • App multitasking in most regards seems superior – apps genuinely ‘suspend’ unlike the iPhone which seems to have suffered greatly with the introduction of background app refresh. Lovely feature with the voice/music apps that they pause when voice notifications come in (e.g. running app telling you your splits pauses audible whilst playing, or music, or whatever) rather than speaking over it (as iPhone does)
  • I actually already prefer email handling in Windows phone – the left tap / multi-select option is actually quicker to use than repeatedly swipe/deleting emails in iPhone (and I know iPhone has an equivalent, but who uses it?)
  • I also like unlinked mailbox options – didn’t think I would but separating the personal from the professional is good for my work/life balance
  • DLNA projection via Nokia play-to doesn’t require an Apple TV or changing channels – just works. Not for all apps, but to be fair – we mainly use it to share pics and videos
  • 1 year old hardware feels new with new software (unlike Apple, most of the time) although see note re: camera responsiveness
  • Whilst I initially disliked Kindle’s nerfed capabilities (can’t open docs) I’ve discovered Tucan reader – a lovely independent ebook reader that uses the phone’s (amazing) text to speech capabilities to read stuff to you if you need it to. Much better for reading personal docs.
  • Dead heat
  • Cortana seems exactly as useful as Siri, i.e. a little but not ridiculously so. Absence of a ‘timer’ function is a fairly major omission but reminders/alarms work much to the same effect without a real-time countdown.
  • Camera picture quality seems superior but response time is worse than the iPhone so it comes out even – photos blur if you are expecting iPhone style responsiveness and don’t get it. May improve with newer hardware.

Still to be tested: 

  1. Skype video call quality
  2. High contrast mode in bright sunlight.
  3. What else? You tell me!

Cons

  • Few apps I want aren’t there in ‘proper’ versions (Feedly,  Todoist & some random lesser apps) – suspect I just need to ‘re-buy’ the premium versions of some of these. Lots of lesser apps don’t have a decent implementation at all… all in due course, no doubt. I heard that the Windows Phone app store doubled in scope in 12 months and Windows Phone’s market share is up to 10% – pretty remarkable given the trajectory it was on. I hear good things about Universal Apps too.
  • UI in some of the apps a little clunky (Facebook seems less natural)
  • Less punishing autocorrect than iOS (you have to go back through and correct red-underlined words that it doesn’t just guess and change for you, both a pro and a con)
  • Locks you into its ecosystem (as does Apple, to be fair)
  • Much vaunted wireless charing requires an additional case (OK, Apple doesn’t do this)
  • Screen smudging that much more obvious
  • No FaceTime or iMessage or O2 Tugo for offline / interoperating comms with, say, Amanda’s phone…
  • Limited Google ecosystem love – no Google Chrome, no native Gmail app, etc. – and I have in the past been a devotee (though obviously not of Android)
  • Camera lag – probably a consequence of the dated hardware the phone is running on, or the image stabilization which I haven’t turned off.

Original list: posted 6th August 2014

Pros

  • Beautiful screen
  • Slick UI, v natural interface, live tiles are helpful, searching through apps is cool
  • Very responsive typing
  • Less punishing autocorrect than iOS
  • Battery life seems better
  • Lock screen / photo rotation is lovely
  • 4G on O2 (Need iPhone 5S or 6 for that)
  • OneDrive >> iCloud as far as I can see, if I can get used to using it
  • IE actually seems blisteringly fast

As yet untested

  • Battery life – sim card adapter hasn’t arrived yet so can’t give it a proper run-in
  • Photos/camera
  • Cortana vs Siri

Cons

  • Few apps I want aren’t there in ‘proper’ versions (Feedly, Runkeeper doesn’t seem to work, Todoist & some random lesser apps)
  • UI in some of the apps a little clunky (Facebook seems less natural)
  • Less punishing autocorrect than iOS (you have to go back through and correct red-underlined words that it doesn’t just guess and change for you, both a pro and a con)
  • Kindle app doesn’t display documents
  • Haven’t figured out how to get Kindle to read to me yet / accessibility features
  • Email isn’t as intuitive (no ‘swipe to delete’, not clear if I’m archiving, deleting an email doesn’t take you to the next one in your inbox to review)
  • Locks you into its ecosystem (as does Apple, to be fair)
  • No DLNA projection / Apple TV equivalent in the 925 – and I have Apple TV and iPad
  • Much vaunted wireless charing requires an additional case (OK, Apple doesn’t do this)
  • Screen smudging that much more obvious
  • No FaceTime or iMessage or O2 Tugo for offline / interoperating comms with, say, Amanda’s phone…
  • Limited Google ecosystem love – no Google Chrome, no native Gmail app, etc. – and I am a devotee

 

 

Posted in Technology.

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Chapati making

I tried making Chapatis this weekend with the girls. For all my Indian heritage, I’m better at a roast or BBQ than I am at this sort of thing but we gave it a go. All of my output was a little too crunchy – I think down to rolling the chapatis out too thin and not kneading them for long enough to let gluten do whatever it is that gluten does.

Checked out this video guide belatedly and kind of wish I’d watched it in advance now. She makes it look so effortless! Need to give it another go!

Posted in Food.

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Pixelpumper – a Windows Live Writer / Marsedit alternative offline WordPress editor for Mac

I’ve been loath to invest in Marsedit when my blogging is so intermittent and patch but have been enjoying my attempts with Pixelpumper – a super clean, super simple offline blog editor for OSX. It has a clean, modern UI and thus far seems fairly idiot proof.

It is pretty light on options in its free mode (it has a ‘nerd mode’ for the keen, for premium purchase), but thus far is doing a reasonable job at helping me get back into it. It is annoying that ‘CMD-K’ does strikethrough instead of hyperlink, though, will need to figure that one out.

Posted in Software.

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Running again

After my fairly intense training in 2008/9 I’ve had a few years of middling persistence with my running, doing the odd 5-10k training runs and little else. 

With slack control of my diet as well, my fitness has steadily declined and – once again – I’ve had enough. I’m trying to find a new routine that lets me build fitness up again and will refuse to allow ‘being busy’ at work to be an excuse for missing my run efforts. I had set an objective within Runkeeper (1000km this calendar year) which I am quite a long way off hitting, but if I can get to 500km this year (cumulative total) that will still be a pretty good achievement given where I’ve been.

So, 20km this weekend, and hopefully most other weeks to follow (two 5ks and a long slow run), and hopefully some improvements in my speed. Be nice to get to a sub-60 minute 10k again. And then, who knows, perhaps a race or two? Will help if the weather is nice…

Posted in Running.

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Hiatus

This is probably the 10th ‘apologies, I’ve been too busy to post’ post in the 11 year history of this blog. I’ll try to be better; gradually finding an equilibrium between the various things I do.

Life is awesome: kids great, work exciting, gradually getting the running going again, and today I’m going to get a dirty burger for lunch. Where’s the bad?

In the meantime, go read my colleague Nikhol’s blog about food and get hungry in anticipation of Friday lunchtime and the bank holiday weekend.

Good to be back. More coherent posts to follow.

Posted in General update.

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Red boxes and digital government

Budget 2012I’m looking at the digitisation of government quite a lot at the moment for work and red an amusing piece a colleague flagged to us and was amused (but not surprised) to read:

“Nick Herbert, Tory minister for policing and justice until last summer, claimed that he had been better supported in Opposition; indeed, he said, the “sheer clunkiness” of the Whitehall system was revealing. Officials sent him proposals by email, but then printed them off to put in his ministerial red boxes. These should have followed him by car, so he could work on them overnight, but “there weren’t any cars”. He decided to use his iPad – but was told this was banned “because the Chinese might be listening in”. He found it hard to believe that China was terribly interested in our policing policy.”

I’d looked into buying a friend a red box for his birthday and in the course of Googling it I found this post from 2007:

The astonishing figure of £50,000 has been spent by the government on ministerial red boxes in the last few years, as has been revealed by answers to questions asked by Lib Dem MP John Hemming.
Some red boxes cost up to £750, although others costs less than half this.

The Government Digital Service has its work cut out for it – surely even an iPad with extra encryption / management software wouldn’t cost that much money! I don’t know how much has moved on in the last 7 years but if they had rolled out iPads I’m sure we’d have heard about it, and there’d be more ministerial red boxes on eBay!

Posted in Current affairs, Work.

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The spirit of demolish and refurbish

blogdesignOur architect tells us we have entered into the spirit of ‘demolish and refurbish’, which is exciting and terrifying. Having taken on the challenge to create our grand design this year, we’ve been working with our architect, Ian, to try to find a way of structuring our house so that the thousand inconveniences you don’t notice fade away – like ducking out of the kitchen every few minutes to check on Emily, or going down a step, up a step and through three doors to get to the utility room.

The new designs are very exciting, not least because they also afford us the opportunity of clearing out the wallpaper, dated fittings etc, that we have tolerated/not bothered to replace since we moved in. That said, we’re at the ‘conceptual’ stage right now – which is to say, the plans are utterly devoid of any indication of cost, so we have very little idea how much we can afford to achieve. There’s also the practical issue of having to move out for the duration of the renovation…

But; definitely exciting times!

Posted in Home improvement.

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Back posting on @coolsmartphone

After a lengthy bout of busy-ness, I’ve finally made some more contributions to the Coolsmartphone blog. Get over there to read my posts bemoaning the ongoing rubbishness of the iPhone 4S battery life (and my further efforts to resolve it), the beauty and emptiness of social network Path’s app for iOS (shortly before the privacy issues emerged!) and a mini review of Death Rally for iOS (Noel – remember Death Track?).

Coming soon: some posts about my investigations into Google Android as I consider leaving the iOS fold!

Enjoy!

Posted in Technology.

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