2010-01-27

The most anticipated tablet since Moses


...and yet, there's nothing new.



Don't get me wrong, I'm still excited to see this happen, but for probably a different reason from a lot of other people.

I was an iPod holdout for the longest time, my longest-serving and most awesome MP3 player was the iRiver H120. I loved that device. It had a real-life remote control, tactile, that I could use with one hand without having to look at it. It had a decent (for the time) 20GB of storage, and it was reasonably priced.

However, it would never have existed without the iPod.

Similarly (and I know I'm biased here), anyone who used webmail before April 1, 2004 (the launch of GMail), was used to having 10MB of storage, or less. Now, the idea of using 10MB of storage, or paying for 250MB (as you could with Yahoo Mail) is laughable. Now Hotmail offers 5GB, 500 times as much storage as they used to.

However, it wouldn't have happened without GMail.

If you needed another example, check out pricing for 3G data in both Europe and the US. 5 years ago. I remember being quoted ludicrous charges per KB, or if you were a large enterprise, you could get 1GB of data for maybe 50 euro on top of your existing plan. Cue the iPhone -- people's demand for 3G bandwidth skyrockets, prices come down. Suddenly producing a smartphone is a lot more lucrative because your average joe has one.

Wouldn't have happened without the iPhone. See what I'm getting at?

These companies and products are doing what you might call 'writing on the wall'. So everyone else can see it. It is now okay to produce tablets, for people who don't particularly want a laptop. Laptops still exist because they originally made them in that form factor because the parts inside were annoying.

So, I won't be buying an iPad, for a couple of reasons. One, Apple have gone way overboard gouging for money. No iChat, so you have to use SMS and keep Apple's carrier partners happy. Their own book store, when the iPhone kindle app works fine (I'd be interested to see if it keeps working or gets a hi-res version).

Their stuff in general is lowest common denominator consumer stuff, not necessarily ground-breaking in terms of function. Don't get me wrong, I own a 64GB iPod Touch, and it's very, very nice. However, as regards innovation in function or tech? No, not really.

Perhaps their biggest contribution to the progress of tech is to make smaller components cheaper and more cost-effective to make, and to make cool tech ubiquitous and in demand. The industry usually follows with genuinely good tech (like the iRiver), and we all step up, because we see the writing on the wall.

Tablets, for me, won't become compelling until they become general-purpose home computers. A tablet, for me, will have to do this:
  • Dock. With mini-DVI and bluetooth for keyboard maybe (so I can use it as a home computer). We can do this now. I want to be able to throw away my laptop and desktop.
  • Fold up, so I don't have to have a giant case for it. Foldable screens are coming.
  • Have a non-crippled OS, Like Chrome OS (for a generic internet tablet) or Android (for a proper computer). Hell, I'll even take Linux or Windows if it does what I want and I can write software for it outside a cage.
  • Be provider agnostic in all respects. Support any software writable for the platform.
  • Multitask. Seriously, Apple. I shouldn't have to even mention this. This is like saying "It should have an on switch".
All this is going to be doable in the next few years. Most of it's doable now, if people bit the bullet and just sold devices, without trying to grab onto you as a customer and not let go, and without trying to strongarm your use case.

Let's just hope the manufacturers and software people with a bit of vision aimed toward letting people do what people want will take the enthusiasm and the place now hopefully carved out in the collective psyche for a tablet make something that's truly revolutionary.

2010-01-20

Jet Set Willy

This trip (I'm in Seattle for 2 weeks, with a few days in California in the middle) is a lot more relaxed and less annoying, mainly due to experience (It's trip #16 to the states in the last few years) and optimisation of stuff. I've spent zero cash so far, and the first piece of actual paperwork was from Budget for the rental car. I've been trying to work with zero paperwork this time, Through using Tripit and Evernote on the Nexus One (although Tripit's iPhone app is also great).

Been meaning to write this stuff down for a while. A lot of youse reading this know all this already, but it appears that even these days when it's unusual to meet someone who isn't a regular plane traveller, some of them don't get the fundamentals.

A few tips for the regular transatlantic traveller to make things a little less annoying. Some of this is Dublin-specific:

1. Learn to Drive

If you're a Dublin person, chances are reasonably likely that you don't know how to drive, and/or don't have a reason to. I've only had a driver's license for about 3 years, because previous to that I lived in town. Even if you've no intention of driving in town, getting your license can be done relatively easily. Do your theory test, get lessons, get license.

Driving in the states is a piece of piss. People talk a lot about how Californian drivers are mad, etc, but they're actually talking about not indicating when merging, going too fast, and other stuff that's actually pretty normal for Ireland. If you've driven in Dublin city centre at all, California (and America in general) is a cakewalk.

2. Packing (i.e. Leave shit at home)

This is a list of things you don't need for a 2-week trip to the states:
  • Towels
  • More than a couple of changes of clothes.
  • More than one spare pair of shoes (pack your larger pair).
  • Every goddamned cable you own.
  • Giant bottle of shower spooge/shampoo.
Here's what goes in my carry-on:
  • Laptop
  • Kindle
  • Headphones/iPod
  • Passport/Drivers license
And in the hold:

  • PSU for laptop
  • 3-5 changes of clothes
  • Spare shoes
  • Small toilet bag with small razor, meds, deodorant stick, toothbrush.
  • Assorted cables - Phone charger, ipod cable, etc.
This time round I also brought my GPS for driving in California, which I can usually leave out.

I flipping hate people who bring those giant rolly bags on the plane with them. I particularly hate people who bring a bag so heavy they can't lift it. Protip: If you're unable to hold your carry-on bag above your head, it's too heavy.

Oh, and don't put a laptop or anything else of immediate value in your hold luggage. Baggage handlers nick shit ("Oh no!" I hear you cry "So prejudiced!". Well, they do, and having magnanimously placed expensive shit in your hold luggage because you're not prejudiced won't get you your laptop back).

Also, don't put stuff you'll need right away in your hold luggage. It can go missing for up to several days, and possibly longer. This includes stuff like work ID badge, drivers license, etc. It also includes your car and house keys on the way back :-)

3. Checking in, security, and using your waiting-around time

Checking in online is grand if you like paperwork. Most airlines allow you to book seats online without checking in (BA let you pay money, about 20 quid per leg, which is well worth it on an 11-hour flight). I did that this time, which worked out pretty well.

You don't need the email or any printouts to check in, you just need the PNR reference, which if you use Tripit will be right there on your phone. Even at that, all I did was scan my passport this time in the wee machine and it was all good.

When you go to drop your bag in, and you see a big line at the economy/premium economy, and no line at the Business bag drop, chance your arm. The Aer Lingus guys in Dublin never care.

Before you get to security, you're usually standing in line for 5-10 minutes. By the time you get to the end of this line, you should have two things, one in each hand: Your boarding card inside your passport, and your carry-on bag with all your stuff in it. Including pocket contents, phone, jacket, hat, belt, everything.

Don't take your shoes off unless you're told to, most airports either do or don't ask at random intervals. I've seen entire lines of people with their shoes in their hands fumbling through, when I just walked through with shoes on.

Wait until the guy waves you through the scanner. Nothing pisses them off more than people walking through unexpectedly. If the thing goes off, ask them what to do. Some will send you back, some will just use the wand.

When you get through security, grab your stuff from the trays and get out of there. Don't go re-arranging your stuff before moving away. Most airports have benches or chairs right after security for doing this. If you want, just head a bit down the way before re-arranging yourself. Nobody cares that you're not wearing a belt or shoes, you just went through security.

Airports mean a lot of waiting around. I usually leave a good bit of time to get into the airport, through security, and have some decompression time. Get a large bottle of water for the plane so you don't have to bother the flight attendants.

In general, being on a plane is very light on activity, so if you're planning on sleeping, don't eat a lot, and eat light foods before flying. Dublin's pre-flight eating options appear to specialise in the biggest Irish breakfast you can possibly eat, which is in general the last thing you want to be eating getting on a long-haul flight.

Another Dublin-tip: Even if you're not going through security in Dublin, go into the 'form-filling area' in the B terminal and fill out your visa waiver and customs forms now. It's a pain in the hole to do it on the plane later. This also kills some time.

Another pro-tip: Your plane is SEATED. Being first in line to board doesn't mean you win anything. The overhead baggage bins are never 'full', and if you've got a sensibly sized carry-on, it should fit under the seat in front of you anyway. Usually if the overhead bins are starting to fill, the flight attendants will ask people to put their 'personal item' under the seat anyway, leaving room for you.

4. Don't be a stupid arsehole

Read the customs and visa waiver form before filling it in. Fill it in properly. You'll be sent to the back of the line if you screw up in even the tiniest way.

Do. Not. Lie. To. The. Immigration. Dude. Do not sass, or in any way antagonise them, because you just signed a form saying you agree not to question their decision.

Being unsure of where you're going means you stand out of the way of people who are.

5. Flying

If you're nervous of flying, go to your doctor. Doctors don't care about prescribing Xanax or Valium or something. Make sure you're not driving right after. Take it 45 minutes or so before takeoff to cover takeoff in the fuzzy period between when it kicks in and when it wears off.

Booze when flying is in general a bad idea. Airlines only serve booze on long haul flights any more because people expect it, and nobody wants to be the first airline to stop doing it. It dehydrates you, and at best it sends you to sleep for an hour or two and then you feel shitty for the other 5-7 hours of the flight.

That turned into slightly more of a rant than I had expected, of course. My general bugbear with flying is that it's not a big deal. People make such a rigmarole about doing it, taking half their worldly possessions, running round all freaked out in airports, etc. It's basically equivalent to taking a slightly less bumpy and longer bus to somewhere. Hopefully at least some of the above has been useful, at least.

2010-01-05

Think


I had thought that in the 13 or so years since I left secondary school that they would have progressed from rote learning, but apparently not.



This is long overdue, and what the chamber says makes a lot of sense. I did mediocre-wise at school, and mediocre-wise at College, because regurgitation is key in Irish education. The viewpoint is that if you get through a course, you're set for life in a cushy job. This is brought home as complete bollocks to a lot of graduates these days, and rightly so.

One of my big frustrations with college (and after college) was that people had the expectation that they should be able to learn off what was in lectures and pass a course. The biggest uproar in my college class was when Mark Humphrys set a question on an AI exam that was actually not unlike those "Google Interview Questions" you see knocking around. The man got eaten alive for setting something that wasn't "in the notes", and I was disgusted by it.

The sign above is from IBM HQ -- they were above doorways and in visible places in IBM, to remind you to think. Don't just do your job. Don't do just enough, and don't expect to succeed by remembering. Think.

2010-01-02

Arab Sheiks, Hindu Sikhs, Jesus Freaks




Colm has posted a good run-down with some excellent points of the problems seen with the blasphemy.ie campaign as it stands.

I somewhat agree, but I'm also of the opinion that the response has to be somewhat tempered, in order to not have yourself branded a crazy fringe group. The statements (quoted, not illegal, some quite tame) don't go far enough, but the context is important. The Dermot Ahern one is quite reaching, and probably not illegal. They probably would have gotten more mileage from me if they'd gotten behind the likes of the infamous Muhammad cartoons, or the murdered Dutch film-maker (whose name escapes me). But of course, muslim-bashing is a touchy subject and doesn't get you in mainstream news sources.

I'm also not convinced this is a PR coup. For the most part, stories sell themselves, and a reasoned but moderate view is a pretty good way to make media outlets yawn and move on. In the past year, I've spent a good few mornings on the phone with Joe Duffy's or Gerry Ryan's researchers offering a completely rational view on Airsoft, its legality, its place in society. None of this ever appeared on radio, because they were hoping I was a giant IRA nut or a crazy shut-in. The best way to make your story boring is to talk sense. You need to shout louder and be heard without losing your credibility. This is the hard part.

I think possibly the best thing blasphemy.ie can do right now (right after they get a better hosting plan) is to follow up while the public eye is on them with something a lot meatier. This is a pretty feeble attempt to get prosecuted. There are more laws than most of us have ever read that are never intended to be enforced, and I suspect this is one of them.