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Friday, August 24, 2007


Two new gadgets that I can't help talking about. First of all, I picked up my new Nokia N95 the day before I left for the States. Those kind people at O2 gave it to me for nothing -- well, when I say nothing I mean "extending my contract for another year" -- and it arrived bang on time. I could even read the manual on the plane, which is ideal for a nerd like me, so by the time we touched down I had already configured it the way I wanted. It's an outstanding piece of kit. The good points:

  • I love the 2-way slide: open it one way and it's a phone, open it the other way and it's a media player.
  • Nice clear screen, bright and easy to read even for my ageing eyes.
  • It's pretty convenient having satnav built in. The first time I used it -- getting lost in Austin, Texas -- it worked perfectly guiding me to my destination.
  • Good web browser.
  • Mail client works, and it has an Exchange client as well (not tested yet).

The bad points, which it would be remiss of me not to mention:

  • The GPS takes a long time to lock, so if you're in the car and you're lost, you have to pull over and wait a few minutes for it to get a fix. Incidentally, if you want to avoid crippling data charges when using the satnav, you need to download the relevant maps to the memory card in advance. This will quickly mean using up the 1Gb on the microSD card enclosed, so I'd order a 4Gb ASAP.
  • Wifi doesn't work properly. There's a bug which means that some WPA connections don't work.
  • The USB cable does not charge the phone, unlike on my old K800i, which means you need to take the charger with you.
  • It's not really a criticism, but be aware that if you switch on wifi, bluetooth, GPS and 3G, you will need to remember to plug it in for recharging every night!

So will the N95 replace both my old K800i, Palm and iPod. It has already replaced my K800i and Palm, but it's not going to replace the iPod. The iPod just works, beautifully, and the N95 is nowhere near as simple to use. And the Nokia iTunes integration is hopeless on my MacBook Pro. It worked once, but hasn't worked since. So 7/10, must try harder.

The second gadget is US satellite radio. The car I rented has an XM satellite radio. It's wonderful. For anyone who has ever driven down a freeway in the U.S., constantly fiddling with the radio to switch between local FM stations or desperately poor (both in audio quality and content) AM stations, this will be a revelation. You scan first by genres -- comedy, rock, news, whatever -- and then scan for channels within the genre. The reception is excellent, it has been crystal clear throughout the whole trip here: I can't recommend it highly enough.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

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Monday, August 13, 2007

London street scenes no.97

I was wandering across Waterloo Bridge and had a horrible moment of panic when I thought that -- Dr. Who style -- metal men from outer space had invaded...

Metal mickey taking

In the last few days, I've noticed more of them appearing on the tops of buildings around the South Bank. Curiosity drove me to google them, and I found a few other blog postings from other people who had noticed them, but I couldn't find any obvious explanation of what they are. This leads me to suspect that I am in some way paying for them, but if anyone knows any different I'd love to hear more.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Holiday season

I've started my holiday reading for 2007 using my now traditional strategy. Each time I see an interesting review of a book, I add it to my Amazon wishlist. Then, when I order something from Amazon that is less than £15 I go to the wishlist and pick something -- almost at random -- to top up the order so I get the free shipping. I think this is an excellent way to buy books, since it retain serendipity as well as surprise: when an Amazon parcel arrives (which is just about every week in our house) I can never remember exactly what it has in it. That makes it very enjoyable to open to the package. Anyway, when it gets to holiday time then I head over to the wishlist and order half-a-dozen titles from it. The package arrived a couple of days ago. I picked up the first book in the pile and I couldn't put it down: I was up until 1am last night finishing it.

"Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone" (Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait, Andrew Thomson)

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Not only is it extremely well-writen, but it is structured in a very clever way. It intertwines three very personal stories to keep a mounting sense of, well, horror I guess. Yet the narrative is driving and the content fascinating. At the end of the book I felt slightly sick, but I also felt educated and informed, a little more knowledgeable about the world and, unfortunately, its inhabitants. I won't give anything away by saying that the book tells the story of UN personnel and a journey from a sort of idealism and hope (and parties and per-diems) at the beginning in Cambodia (trying to rebuild the country after the "killing fields"), to the UN standing by and allowing genocide in Rwanda (where the scale of the unmechanised slaughter of hundreds of thousands with clubs and machetes is simply mind-boggling) and Bosnia, to the Nigerian UN "peacekeepers" who traded food for sex with children before raping, beheading and sexually mutilating nine year-old girls in Liberia. If there is a central lesson to be learned from the book it is, as one of the writers notes (and many reviewers -- eg, in Samizdata -- picked up), "if blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers arrive and tell you that they are going to protect you, run".

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