Monday, 26 December 2016

I Capture The Castle

I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith

Finally finished this gem after having it for 4 years (a World Book Night present from my old Warwick friend, Ruth). Really enjoyable, and difficult not to fall in love with its lead, Cassandra (as I'm sure its writer, Dodie Smith, intended).

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Dear Jeremy

[Sent in response to a rallying "united we stand ..." missive from JC]

Dear Jeremy,

Thank you for your message. I agree strongly with the sentiment – we do need to be united. However, being united needs to apply more broadly than the Labour Party’s base. And appealing to the wider British public requires a recognition and engagement with the issues that they – rightly or wrongly – consider serious. In the recent referendum that you mention, your leadership of the Labour Party ignored this engagement. It preferred instead to focus on a message that clearly had no traction with the wider public and with, in particular, the Party’s historic base. With such a narrow loss of the referendum (a less than 5% swing of Leavers would have done it), it is difficult not to conclude that your leadership – or the lack thereof – is, at least in part, a contributing factor. For an issue as central to the progressive cause as EU membership this is completely unacceptable. Your leadership at this time has helped undercut the very livelihood and future of our young – among whom are the core constituents of the Momentum organisation that supports you. While you may very well be successful at rallying these very people, you should reflect on how your actions have helped to disenfranchise them. Being united means reaching out beyond the base, and you are doing nothing to achieve this. Again, please reflect on your actions.


A new toy

[A posted review of my new toy]

This is my third Windows Phone (Lumia 800 to Lumia 925 to Lumia 950), and each iteration has - in my experience - been better than the last.

I delayed upgrading from my Lumia 925 because there appeared to be some downsides with Windows 10 Mobile (namely that it seemed to be a work-in-progress), but in the end I needn't have worried. While it's not perfect, it's a solid step upwards with only a few deficiencies relative to Windows Phone 8.1. The only noticeable glitches I've seen so far are occasional - and temporary - freezes, where it feels like the phone may be waking up (a legacy of W10M's origin with W10 on desktop PCs?), and the app-killing interface being slow - though this has the feel of being designed-in (= a future fix?) rather than an actual glitch. In any case, as W10M shares the kernal of W10, I would expect that Microsoft will be giving W10M much better and more consistent support than it did WP8.1 (which was still a pretty great OS).

As for the phone itself, the only downside is that its body - wholly plastic rather than part metal - is a little less premium, though I was well aware of this aspect before purchasing. The rest of the hardware is great, with a great screen (including Glance and fantastically dark blacks), an excellent camera (though this has been the case with Lumias since the start), a replacable battery (no equivalent in Lumia 925), an expansion slot (no equivalent in Lumia 925) and a much zippier GPS sensor (judging from the performance of the sat-nav app). As the camera has also been slightly repositioned, it's also nice to finally be able to use some little lenses that I've got with it (and, finally, a selfie stick).

One brand new feature worth a mention is so-called Continuum. This lets you plug the phone into a small dock and then connect it to a monitor or TV (e.g. via HDMI), and then use it as if it was a PC. While not all of the apps work in this framework, a lot do, and it has potential if you don't want to lump around a laptop or tablet computer. One of the most convincing things I've done with this is access and interact my desktop computer via the TeamViewer app - this works just brilliantly. If you're a business user, it's worth seeking out a demonstration of this feature, as it's really quite unique. (I should quickly add that the dock isn't free - unless, that is, you're able to take advantage of the same Microsoft deal that I was!)

While the app gap remains (if this bothers you; it probably doesn't by now if you're with Windows), it feels slightly narrower with W10M, and I've noticed upgrades with certain apps that never made it to my Lumia 925 (e.g. Instagram, sat-nav). Most of the apps that I used on WP8.1 on my Lumia 925 seem to have transitioned well to W10M, and I've found a few nice new ones to fill some minor gaps. The only omission I've felt so far is that the post-Nokia sat-nav app - while great, and much faster than before - doesn't appear to have the traffic function of its Nokia precursor.

Anyway, overall, I'd really rate this phone. It's not perfect, but no phone I've used is. And the unique interface that attracted me to Windows in the first place still stands out (and is pretty much better than ever). But be aware that the body isn't quite so premium as earlier models, and that the app gap hasn't much changed. But if you can overlook these relatively minor downsides, it's a definite step up from previous models.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Is it just me, or are there a lot of dead celebrities at the moment?

If nothing else, 2016 is shaping up as a bumper year for dead celebrities. At the moment, it feels like you can't listen to the radio or turn on the television without hearing of the death of some luminary. It probably started with Bowie. Unexpected both because of his relatively slight age (69) as well as his then-recent album release. But since then a litany of famous figures have popped their clogs. Earlier this week, we had a double whammy, with Ronnie Corbett and Zaha Hadid joining the choir invisible on the same day.

So, is this a real thing? Or is it just my perception and bad memory that make it feel like there are a lot more famous dead people right about now? And leaving aside this first order question by assuming the affirmative, what could explain the seeming upswing in reported mortality of musicians, artists, comedians, architects, and so on?

There is obviously a sensible, analytical route to the answer based on careful study of media reporting of expired stars in previous years. But I'm too lazy for that, so am going to stick to baseless speculation and armchair argument. To wit, I'm assuming that I'm right about the numbers - and why wouldn't I do that? - and focusing instead on what's behind it all. Or what could be behind it all if I'm honest.

The simplest explanation is that, as time passes, we should expect to hear of more celebrity deaths simply because the human population of Earth - and, presumably, that of human celebrities (we don't know any alien ones yet) - is still very much on the up.

A more conspiratorial explanation is that the contrasting costs of proper journalism and lazy, echo chamber journalism, mean that when filling a news schedule, the temptation is focus on easily-assembled items on dead famous people. Go to the clips archive, ring a few of their upset friends, job done. However, I'm going to discount this one since - being a BBC fanboy - I'm pretty sure that this can't cover all the bases (although I'm still suspicious of how the media picks topics to cover).

A further explanation - and my favourite - is that the dominant factor is that we now have many more celebrities per head of population than we did in the past, and that we should expect this to occur. Essentially, with the advents of mass publishing, radio, cinema, television and now the internet, there are now far more routes by which everyday people can be elevated to the realms of celebrity. That is, to have some sort of following beyond that of the people they know and interact with (let's not get sniffy about "celebrity"). And then, ipso facto, the population of people in the public consciousness - and that of their obituaries - will inevitably rise.

In essence, this is a corollary of Andy Warhol's famous / infamous statement concerning "15 minutes of fame".

Of course, all of this is wholly based on idle speculation on my part, and I certainly won't be following it up to work out how wrong I am - and why would I do that? But I am still interesting in knowing if this really is "a thing", or if it really is "just me".