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I phone, you phone

So, I’ve got an iPhone. I walked into the O2 shop near work the other day, and came out half an hour later with an 8 GB phone and a £30-a-month contract.

The device itself is a thing of beauty, in both hardware and software terms.

iTunes, however, is an ugly piece of dingbat’s kidneys.

Don’t get me wrong: it does its thing well, from playing music, through purchases, to synchronisation. But my god, it looks ugly.

And nor do I like the way it presents the music it knows about; but then, I’ve never seen an application that does that very well.

As to typing with the on-screen keyboard, well, it’s actually not that bad; it’s never going to. Be fast, bit there are some smart optimisations, like automatically switching back from the symbol keyboard to the letter one when you hit space after a comma, or immediately after you type an apostrophe.

And I almost cry with happiness every time I see the transition from one app to another.

ETA: As you can see from the typoes above, I wrote that on the shiny device. I’ll leave them in for posterity.

Mad bampot on a rope

Went to see Man on Wire last night, the documentary about Philippe Petit’s 1974 high-wire walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. It’s a great film. I was a bit worried that it would be kind of dull, since we already knew the story. But it’s paced like a thriller, complete with starting near the climax and then flashing back to fill in the back story.

I did have a few moments of gut-wrenching horror (I’m not good with ridiculous heights, even when it’s just images of other people experiencing them), but overall found it absolutely amazing, and touching. Great music, too.

There was a poignant moment when they showed documentary footage of the construction of the twin towers. Seeing pre-formed steel sections being lifted into place; sections that I last saw white-hot and crashing to the ground.

Exciting times

These are exciting times in Hackney. Not only has my son just started secondary school today (where did those eleven years go?) but it seems that we are getting a new bookshop near the top of our road.

This is big news indeed. Our little corner of Lower Clapton is characterised more by chicken-based fast-food joints and kebab shops. A children’s bookshop opened on nearby Chatsworth Road a year or two ago (my daughter was their first customer). There was a brief, exciting moment last year when something that looked like a bookshop opened up on Lower Clapton Road, but it turned out to be a religious booksop, specialising the the Christian field.

But today I went up to get my hair cut, and I noticed a new sign up: Pages of Hackney. A new bookshop on the Lower Clapton Road, opening on Saturday 13th September. Excellent news.

Not so good is that Saf’s Barbers is “closed until further notice”. I hope everything’s all right. I still have shaggy hair, which never looks good when it’s receding.

A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket (Books, 2008, 10)

This is actually thirteen books, not just one. I’ve been reading it with my son over a period of several months. He, of course, had already read it, but we like reading together, and I was keen to know the rest of the story, after seeing the film (which is based on the events of the first three books).

Anyway, we finally got to the end, and, while I enjoyed it, I think that Mr Snicket has the not uncommon problem of difficulty with endings.

Or maybe not: he left lots (and lots, and lots) of loose ends flying. But that might be deliberate, and isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But he seeds so many clues and events throughout the first twelve books that, starting the thirteenth, you wonder how he’s going to bring them all together, and then - he just doesn’t.

Part of the narrative concerns the fact that stories don’t really have starts and finishes, and that a relatively inconsequential moment in your life could be the start or end of someone else’s story, and so on. All very well, but I get the sense that he rather tacked that on to excuse the lack of an ending.

That said, it’s a great story if you’re reading to kids who love language (or if you’re reading it yourself and do); though some, I’m sure, would get annoyed with his repeated “… which is a phrase which here means…” riff, or some of his other running gags. Me, I loved it.

Most importantly, the three Baudelaire orphans are engaging characters: smart, kind, wise (and noble enough) children, caught up in a world of sadness and madness, where almost all the adults who aren’t out to get them are too stupid to help them.

Adults don’t come out of A Series of Unfortunate Events at all well, in fact. Those that aren’t stupid are evil. Those that are neither tend to end up dead, or disappeared. And everyone gets betrayed, and their hearts broken.

Am I telling too much, here? Probably not: Lemony warns us, right from the blurb on The Bad Beginning: if you’re looking for a happy tale, there are plenty of others on the shelves.

While Mr Snicket tries to discourage reading these terrible books at every turn, though, they come highly recommended by me.

The London cabbie: good and bad

We experienced the best and worst of the London cabbie last night: from not taking a fare because to do so would have been a rip-off, to attempted murder.

We were going to an exhibition opening, and had got off the bus wildly too early. We were walking in the right direction, but weren’t quite sure where the gallery was, and we were running late. So we flagged down a passing cab and asked for the street. “It’s just over there,” he said, pointing, “Don’t waste your money.”

It was, indeed, just over there. Admirable behaviour, I thought, as he could easily have made a few quid taking us there.

After we left and were walking to the bus stop, there was an altercation between a cab driver and a cyclist. I didn’t see how it started, but there was shouting and gesticulation, and the cabbie started to get out of his cab.

The cyclist headed off up the road, and suddenly the cabbie roared off after him. It looked like nothing less than an attempt to run the cyclist down.

I guess the cabbie came to his senses, because I don’t think he actually hit the guy. The cyclist very sensibly got off the road and cycled down the pavement in the opposite direction. The cab zoomed off up the road, to fast and too far away for me to get its number, unfortunately. I had my phone out ready to call the cops.

The cyclist seemed to be OK, physically at least. We saw him back on the road and heading in the direction he had been going. It’s scary to think, though, that you could either be that cyclist, or get into that guy’s cab.

What’s that stand for?

I remember several years ago when the right answer to this was given wrong on ??University Challenge??; but you’d think that, after all this time, ??The Guardian??’s Technology section would “know what URL stands for”:

Tip: it’s uniform, not universal.

It is immensely annoying that you can’t just download and install Firefox 3 on Linux (at least the Xandros distro that comes with the Eee PC) without having to install something called Gtk+ 2.10. Not least because you can’t just apt-get install the latter: you have to build it from source, and handle countless dependencies. Really, I thought we were supposed to have got past all that shit.

This page details the steps.