IRA ends its armed campaign


All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms.

All Volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means. Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever.

With all of these new suicide bombers giving terrorists a bad name, what else are ya gonna do?

(On the non-cynical front: yay.)

Imogen Heap

Imogen Heap - Speak For YourselfListening to Zane Lowe on Radio 1 this evening, I heard a song that completely blew me away: “Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap from her album Speak For Yourself. It’s a far out, haunting, electronic a cappella that I don’t completely understand, but can’t get out of my head. There isn’t even a melody to it–it’s just there, and it’s awesome.

If you’ve got RealPlayer (hack, spit) installed, you can listen to Zane’s show from this evening (26 July) on the BBC web site for the next week. The “Hide And Seek” is on about 40 minutes in.

3G network pricing: welcome to 1993!

It was in the spring of 1993 that I first got online with my own modem. Until then, I’d relied on the terminals and workstations at uni for my email fix. But my last year was over, I was moving to Edinburgh, and there were several weeks to go before our wedding and the subsequent end to two years of a trans-atlantic romance. Phone calls to the US were still expensive in those days, so Compuserve it was.

At the time, Compuserve used a differential pricing structure based on the speed at which you connected to their servers. The faster your modem, the more you paid per hour of connection time. Effectively, they were charging you for the data you transferred, much like the 3G networks are doing right now. Let’s compare them, shall we?

In 1993, I was using a 2400bps modem, and I think that Compuserve charged me somewhere in the region of £3 per hour in addition to my monthly subscription charge. 2400bps is 0.4Kb/s. Assuming a maxed-out, steady connection, you could download a megabyte in an hour. £3 per MB, then.

I called in to my local Vodafone shop this afternoon, and got them to clear up some questions I had about my new Nokia 6680. One of these was, now that I’ve got this fancy new internet-capable phone, how much do I pay for data transfers? The answer: £2.35 per megabyte, including VAT.

Technology moves on; the cost of being an early adopter doesn’t.

Because of inflation, a pound is worth less now than it was back then, but the amount of relevant data you can get with that pound is also less. In 1993, the data you got over the internet was text, and a megabyte is a hell of a lot of text. In 2005, we have photo-filled web pages, streaming radio, podcasts, and movie trailers to download. A megabyte does not go a long way. Consider a single visit to the BBC News home page. At about 100KB, that’s 23p straight into Vodafone’s coffers. Ka-ching!

Sure, there are sites that will serve you up content specially downsized for mobile use, but the networks are pushing all of the bells and whistles pretty heavily. And with the 3G networks being almost as fast as broadband, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you can use the mobile internet in the same way as you can at your desktop. All I can say is: you’d better have deep pockets. (How the hell do they expect anyone to actually watch a whole movie on their phone at those prices?)

Here’s one final comparison: our web hosting package costs about £10 a month, and with that we get 20GB of bandwidth. That’s about 0.05p per megabyte. The cost of downloading data over the 3G network is thus almost 5000 times as expensive as serving it up.

New phone time: Nokia 6680

Nokia 6680My new phone arrived on Friday, and I’ve been playing about with it some over the weekend. It’s a replacement for the Motorola v525 I got at the beginning of last year, and I’m really struggling to think why it has taken me this long to change it. Although my initial impression of the v525 was favourable, long term use was proving dangerous to my sanity and temper. “Possessed by the Devil” and “loathesome piece of shit” are some of the nicer things I’ve had to say about it over the last year and a half.

My main criteria for this new phone were:

  • It had to be a Nokia. After that experience with a Motorola phone, I was in desperate need of some Finnish lovin’.
  • It had to have a decent camera on it.
  • It had to do email nicely. Sending a photo in an email should be utterly painless. Reading email likewise.
  • A decent mobile web browser: i.e. Opera pre-installed, or the ability to run it.
  • Did I mention it had to be a Nokia?

After a bit of research, I narrowed the choice down to a few models. And after a bit more research, I decided it would be fun to get something top-of-the range, instead of the more basic models I usually pick. The Nokia 6680 is a 3G phone with video capabilities, a 1.3 Megapixel camera and a lower-res front-facing camera, a gorgeous high-colour screen, and it runs Symbian OS, so there are a large number of third-party applications I can install on it.

My initial impression of the phone after using some of the basic features (making and receiving calls, adding contacts, taking and storing pictures, and browsing through them afterwards) was blessed relief. The user interface for doing all of these things was simple, comfortable, and intuitive.

Unfortunately, neither the phone’s manual, nor the Nokia PC Suite software for connecting the phone to a PC were up to the same standard. Despite being able to make use of a full qwerty keyboard, using the software to add a new contact on the PC is not noticeably faster than entering one on the phone. (Really!) Also, Vodafone has customized the crap out of the default Nokia interface, so icons and applications aren’t where the manual says they should be. Yet even without this shuffling and shoogling, the manual would still fit Joel Spolsky’s guidelines for uselessness in technical writing:

When you don’t have a spec, what happens with the poor technical writers is the funniest (in a sad kind of way). Tech writers often don’t have the political clout to interrupt programmers. In many companies, if tech writers get in the habit of interrupting programmers to ask how something is supposed to work, the programmers go to their managers and cry about how they can’t get any work done because of these [expletive deleted] writers, and could they please keep them away, and the managers, trying to improve productivity, forbid the tech writers to waste any more of their precious programmers’ time. You can always tell these companies, because the help files and the manuals don’t give you any more information than you can figure out from the screen. When you see a message on a screen which says

  • Would you like to enable LRF-1914 support?

… and you click “Help”, a tragicomic help topic comes up which says something like

  • Allows you to choose between LRF-1914 support (default) or no LRF-1914 support. If you want LRF-1914 support, choose “Yes” or press “Y”. If you don’t want  LRF-1914 support, choose “No” or press “N”.

Um, thanks. It’s pretty obvious here that the technical writer was trying to cover up the fact that they didn’t know what LRF-1914 support is. They couldn’t ask the programmer, because (a) they’re embarrassed, or (b) the programmer is in Hyderabad and they’re in London, or (c) they have been prohibited by management from interrupting the programmer, or any other number of corporate pathologies too numerous to mention, but the fundamental problem is that there wasn’t a spec.

Vodafone’s web site offers no more help, with the result that after two days of mucking about, I still don’t know what the difference is between connecting to the internet with an “Internet” and a “WAP” connection. Is one faster than the other? More expensive? Who knows. I’ll probably head into the Vodafone shop on Princes St tomorrow and ask a real person.

Which brings me round to the final part of the story: actually buying the phone. I went into the Vodafone shop last week, and told the guy there that I wanted to buy a Nokia 6680. He plugged my details into his terminal, and came up with a price of £250. Pretty steep.

“But wait,” he said. “If you call up the Vodafone Business customer service number, they’ll probably be able to quote you a better price.”

And sure enough, when I called Vodafone directly, I got offered exactly the same phone for just £100. No haggling or complaining needed.

To which I say: great! But also: huh? This was a Vodafone shop I went to, not a generic mobile phone store that supplies contracts and phones for all the different networks. And their high street price was two-and-a-half times more expensive than their phone in price? Are they plugged in to the same back-end systems, or what?

Defiant normality

Over on Making Light, Abi uses the wonderful term “defiant normality” to describe the behaviour of Londoners following yesterday’s bombings. This fits in with a lot of the other responses I’ve been seeing in the news and on blogs. Tim Worstall wrote one of the best (Via The Guardian’s news blog):

Many thanks for the kind words and to those who have emailed offering condolences and prayers. I have a prediction to make, that tomorrow we’ll find out whether Britons are, still, in fact, Britons. Many years ago I was working in The City and there were two events that made travel into work almost impossible.

The first was a series of storms that brought down power lines, blocked train routes and so on. Not surprisingly, the place was empty the next day. Why bother to struggle through?

The other event was an IRA bomb which caused massive damage and loss of life. Trains were disrupted, travel to work the next day was horribly difficult and yet there were more people at work than on a normal day. There was no co-ordination to this, no instructions went out, but it appeared that people were crawling off their sick beds in order to be there at work the next day, thrusting their mewling and pewling infants into the arms of anyone at all so that they could be there.

Yes, we’ll take an excuse for a day off, throw a sickie. But you threaten us, try to kill us? Kill and injure some of us?

Fuck you, sunshine.

We’ll not be having that.

No grand demonstrations, few warlike chants, a desire for revenge, of course, but the reaction of the average man and woman in the street? Yes, you’ve tried it now bugger off. We’re not scared, no, you won’t change us. Even if we are scared, you can still bugger off.

Britain has thirty years of coping with terrorist bombings, and we will deal with these new attacks accordingly. The police and security services will hunt down the perpetrators and try to bring them to justice. Despite MI5 having the word “military” in its abbreviation, this is not a military issue. There are no countries to invade, because this is not a war. These terrorists are nothing more than criminal scum. Let’s not elevate them beyond that. They deserve no more status, and no less disgust.