Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I calibrate my day with strangers

I walk to work.  It’s a nice walk, along the Thames, over Tower Bridge, and along the Thames again.

I aim to get into the office at the same time every day, but lethargy and Radio 4 often cause delays in getting out of the house.

As I’m walking, a torrent of people walk past me the other way, and after doing the same walk for a while you start to notice people who do the same walk every day.

I don’t tend to wear a watch these days – mostly because all my watches need the batteries replacing – and so the only thing with a clock on it as I’m walking into work is my phone.  My phone is busy doing other things – like playing ABBA and AC/DC songs at me to quicken my step to work – and so I have to rely on other signs to tell whether I’m running late or early.

And this is where my three strangers come into things.  These three people seem to walk the same route every day, at pretty much the same time.  By looking at how close to the flat I pass them, I can work out whether I’m running late or early compared with them; the closer to the flat I see them, the later I’m running!

Of course, they may be running late or early themselves, but if I see all three of them earlier in my walk than I would like, that’s a pretty good sign that I’m running late!

So who are these strangers?  Well I don’t know – I’ve no idea.  Don’t know their names, where they come from, or even where they are going on their morning commute. 

There’s the Welsh guy.  I’ve no idea whether he’s Welsh or not, but he looks Welsh.  So I’ve decided he’s Welsh.  Let’s call him Rhys.  He’s dressed smartly on Fridays, but not the other days of the week.  What kind of job would require you to do that?

There’s the Japanese guy. He’s quite short, and carries a brown briefcase and wears a suit every day.

Then there’s the ginger guy who has a woman with him some days, and not others.  He’s always smartly dressed, and seems to be the most reliable of the three as a calibrator of the time.

You see, I worry that I’m sounding like a stalker here.  But let me assure you I’m not.  I’ve no intention of finding out anything more about these people than I know already – which is largely nothing – except that one of them is Welsh – although I don’t even know that, I suppose.

Would I recognise them if I saw them out of context?  And what would I say to them if I met them at a party or in a work context? 

And are they watching me every morning and thinking “that guy who quite often carries badminton equipment of a morning isn’t a very reliable way of calibrating whether I’m running late!”

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A book I didn’t like

I read a lot of books.  Not as many as I’d like to – but that’s mostly because of my high ambition level when it comes to reading lots of books rather than a lack of reading.

Sometimes I read books which teach me things, and sometimes I read books which make me think.  But sometimes I just like to read a good story.  No messages, no agenda, just a good story.

One of my favourite books is “Haunted” by James Herbert.  It doesn’t pretend to preach any message, nor to stimulate any intellectual debate.  It’s just a great ghost story.

However, I’ve found other James Herbert’s books disappointing.  The sequel to “Haunted” – which is so forgettable that I’ve forgotten its name – was terrible.  As was “The Secret of Crickley Hall” which I just finished reading.

I’ve literally taken this book around the world with me.  I’ve carted it in my suitcase to provide reading on a long-haul flight home many times, and never started reading it.  Until the middle of last week, that is.  One evening, I just decided that enough was enough, and the cover had been staring at me for too long – I had to read the damned thing!

And so I did.  And now wish I hadn’t. 

The story itself is OK.  Pretty standard stuff about a haunted house and a family who move there.  But the way the story is told leaves nothing to the imagination.  There is no attempt to present imagery and emotion; simply 600 pages (yes, really!) of factual description of what’s happening.  Facts are flagged up by incongruous statements in the middle of a description passage.  There’s no attempt to conceal which facts are later relevant to the plot, and which are merely background.  There’s no thought involved and absolutely no twists in the tale at all.

“Gabe was a man.  He was an engineer.  He makes clever things which go in the sea to generate energy.  He rents a house to live in whilst working away from London.  There are ghosts.  Some people who you thought are dead are not dead.  Nothing really happens for 500 pages or so, except a few things moving around in a spooky house and ghost noises echoing on stone stairs.  Then there’s a rather anti-climactic ending and an overly soppy emotional bit in the last 50 pages.  Then an unnecessary epilogue which any decent author would’ve written up as the closing chapters of the book.”

The whole book has an unfinished feel to it.  It reads like the rough draft James Herbert put together to define the story.  Like a sculptor who fashions a block of marble into the rough shape of a man before taking a smaller chisel and spending years on the detail.  James Herbert didn’t bother with the detail, and simply sent off the rough cut to his publisher.

I like books which take me with me to the locations involved.  I want to be able to close my eyes and picture where the characters are standing, what they look like and how they sound.  I want the climax of the book to grip me so that I actually care what happens to the characters.  I want the book to make me smile, and maybe make me cry.  This book did none of that.

I finished reading the book for two reasons.  Firstly, I hoped that it may improve; that something may happen unexpectedly and inject some feeling into the experience.  And secondly, my natural curiosity wanted to have some resolution to the story.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of that, either!

So, all in all, I feel let down.  A book which has been staring at me for years finally read and I really wish I hadn’t bothered.  Such a shame.

Friday, August 14, 2009

I’m a published Android developer…

It’s true. I am. 

A few months ago, I did a little experiment with a “Hello World” application.  Working here at Symbian, it was interesting to get a taste of the development experiences across a couple of other platforms.  Of course, what you can learn by writing a “Hello World” application is limited – but then again so is my ability to write code these days, so I’m not the right person to judge the ease of coding for that platform anyway…

Part of this experiment was to see how easy it is to get your application to market, and I decided to publish my Hello World application up on the Android Market – just to see how easy it is to do.

I published it and foolishly forgot to un-publish it.  And that’s when the madness started.

I should explain – my application displays a graphic (the Symbian Heart Logo, in fact) in the centre of the screen and nothing more. Literally nothing more.  My application has no functionality.

To emphasise this fact, when I published it on the Android Market I wrote in the release notes - “Please don't download and install this application, as it doesn't actually do anything other than display a picture.”

Whether through curiosity of why there’s an application displaying a Symbian Logo published for Android or the same bloody-mindedness which forces people to touch a surface marked “wet paint” just to check my application was downloaded.  A lot.

At the time of writing, the application was published for a week or so at first, and then republished during an internal presentation.  So it’s been up and down for a while. 

So how many people have downloaded this?  Well currently it stands at 1059 downloads with 102 active installs.  Cool, eh?

If you want to find the application on your G1, it’s not that easy – it’s buried in the “demo” section of the market several screens-worth of scrolling down – yet over 1000 people have found it, and over 100 of them still have it on their phones.

But that’s not the weird part.  So far, we can explain this all away by invoking mention of natural curiosity.

The second most weird thing about this little tale is the volume of email I’m still receiving about this application.  In fact, writing in here was prompted by the three emails I received overnight saying “I love your application. Can you tell me how to use it please?”.  Mostly I reply to polite point out that it’s only a “Hello World” application and doesn’t actually do anything – but I’m very tempted to conduct a small email survey amongst those who’ve downloaded the application to find out why they downloaded it, and what they expected it to do given the clear message in the release notes.

But the weirdest thing is yet to come.  Of the 1000+ downloads, 79 people have given a rating to my application.  And the rating – well it’s currently sitting at 4 out of 5.  I won’t even try to explain that.

So – what do I make of all this?  Well firstly, it’s obvious that people with Android phones do download and install applications – for 1000 of them to have found this anonymous little thing and installed it there must be many multiples of that who install the useful and popular applications.  But on the flip-side, I can’t help feeling that if 1000 people will download and install an application which does nothing, that may indicate a paucity of the “useful and popular” applications to get the attention of users before they get to applications like mine at the bottom.

But the biggest conclusion I’ve come to so far is that I really should’ve charged £1 for my application and made some money out of it ;-)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

“Boo!”

A few times over the past few weeks, I’ve come into direct contact with Audioboo.  It’s a fascinating idea – basically you record a couple of minutes of your speaking – or someone else speaking – or the noise going on around you. 

I first came across the idea when Stephen Fry posted a link on Twitter to his thoughts on Clement Freud’s funeral service.  A few other people were using it to capture their thoughts, but I didn’t think much more of it.

And then they cropped up in my professional life a month or so ago.  Currently, they produce an application for the iPhone to allow you to capture your thoughts directly, but that means that non-iPhone can’t join in the fun.

As well as working at Symbian, I’m also a keen user of Symbian phones, and so AudioBoo has been beyond me for the moment.  A few weeks ago, I went over to visit them with a colleague to talk to them about how to get Symbian users involved in the Audioboo experience.  And then last week I had the pleasure of attending a soirĂ©e thrown by the guys and girls of Audioboo and got to meet lots of avid users.  It’s was fascinating to see people using it to do things other than waffle into a microphone for a couple of minutes.

Of course, with all of these great ideas, there comes the question at some point of how to make money from it.  It’s not just a question for Audioboo of course, even the mighty Twitter have that problem to face.  And we’ve seen in the past few days with the news from tr.im that shortening URLs isn’t an easy thing to make money from either.

But the practicalities of economics aside, I’m dying to get started with AudioBoo.  I haven’t yet decided what I’ll be Boo-ing (is that the right verb) about – but that’s not the point is it?

One piece of good news – for us Symbian users anyway – is that the wonderful Gravity is likely to include Audioboo integration at some point in the near future – at which point you’ll by hearing my dulcet tones at a desktop near you.  Now – what to say, what to say..?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Toilet etiquette

If you’re a man, and you’re standing in a bar with a bottle of beer in your hand, and you need to go to the toilet.  What do you do with the beer?  Do you take it with you into the toilet (a bit weird) or leave it out in the bar (only for it to vanish before you return).

How about if you’re at a buffet carrying a tray full of food – you certainly can’t take the plate of food into the toilet with you, but where are you going to leave it?

OK – you could leave it with a friend.

But how about if you’re at the local shopping centre and you’ve been food shopping.  You’re on your own, but need the loo before you head home.  It somehow feels wrong to take your food shopping into the toilets with you – but if you leave it outside, the bomb squad will probably close the place down and blow up your loaf of bread in this paranoid age.

Can anyone advice on the correct etiquette?

The end of free news? I think not…

I read with interest today that Mr Mudoch (spot the Roger Taylor reference if you dare) has declared that free news is at an end - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8186701.stm

Maybe access to The Times and The Sun will no longer be free, but one man cannot declare the end of free news, no matter how much of the media he controls.

News happens and nowadays it’s on Twitter before the newspapers even know it’s happened.

Yesterday, some gunshots were fired quite close to where I work.  I had been reading about it for 45 minutes on Twitter before BBC News picked up on it.  And Sky News weren’t much ahead on that – but more interestingly when Sky News reported on it, then did so by taking pictures and videos I’d previously seen on Twitter.

Rupert Murdoch claims that other news organisations will follow suit when they see the success he makes of charging for access to his sites.  Maybe he’s missed the fact that one of the key conversations happening in the online community over the past few years has been trying to solve the conundrum of giving stuff away free, yet still making money for it.  Charging for content is not even an option considered by most people with an online presence anymore.

Does Rupert Murdoch know something the rest of us don’t, or is he really so arrogant to think that he can lead news organisations back into a world where they require a credit card number in return for their output?