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Sunday, 31 October 2010

Mobile Phone in non-Event mini-Crisis

A frantic Google search last night failed to shed any light on what happened to my mobile phone last night, so I'm posting this blog for anyone else who suffers the same thing.

It began with my mobile chirping at me with an unfamiliar sound; not a call or an event or a text. I pressed it to light up the face and got a brief glimpse of a message telling me that F-Secure was active. Then the phone switched off and wouldn't come back on.

Disaster. Had the phone security program decided that the phone had been stolen and so locked it down?

The phone had spent all day connected to my PC, so it should have had a full battery. However, on the off chance I disconnected, then reconnected it. The battery charging indicator came on, though nothing else was happening. After a few minutes I tried to power the phone on, and it came back to life.

I don't know how or why the micro-USB connection decided to blow instead of suck, but that's what must have happened. The battery got empty, the phone tried to warn me, and the message about F-Secure might have been related or just a complete coincidence.

One last thing worth remembering: even with the phone in this state, I could still access the memory card via the PC.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

A New Way to Recycle CDs

Back in the '90s I used to subscribe to a magazine called Classic CD. Every month it would come through my letterbox full of reviews of the latest classical CDs, until one month it vanished forever. I used to scour through those reviews, at first buying a couple of discs a month, then three or four, and finally, with the ease provided by the internet and Amazon, up to half a dozen a time. (This is one reason why I consider paying £10 a month for a Napster or Spotify 'all you can eat' subscription to be blisteringly good value.)

Anyway, accompanying the magazine there was a CD sampling the best albums of the month. Or maybe even two on good months--ah, the anticipation. Over the time of my subscription I accumulated dozens of these discs. The magazines I threw out years ago (recycled, of course), but the CDs were harder to let go. They still worked, and I could play them like any other compendium disc (albeit one where many of the tracks just faded away mid-piece). I rarely did, and the discs inevitably ended up languishing at the back of a drawer.

Fast forward to a fortnight ago. A 2 disc set of the ballet 'Undine' had stuck in my head since I heard it sampled in Classic CD back last century, but I'd never got around to buying it. The music seemed a bit too alien to my taste at the time, and it was priced at around £30. I'd tried looking for it in Napster when I was with them, and Spotify when I moved to that service. Now on the off chance I check again, and it's there.

Brilliant! I've saved thirty big ones. With interest over thirteen years, that's ...

To my surprise I have no difficulty with the music at all now. Indeed, it sounds completely different to my memory of it. This happened before with 'Boston', which I'd heard at a friend's house, and bought several months later only to find it a totally different experience. I didn't like it, and gave up on it on the third playing. Now that turned out to be because the cassette had been wrongly printed: it was in fact 'Abraxas' by Santana, which I only discovered when I purchased the real thing and noticed its stunning similarity to Boston. It must say something significant, but possibly uncomplimentary, about me that I only liked Abraxas when the music matched the album cover. I don't want to consider what exactly it says, so I'll put it down to cognitive dissonance.

Back to Undine. Could it be that it sounded so different to my recollection because the sampler had played me the wrong track? I dug out the CD from the back of the drawer, ripped it onto my hard drive, and played it alongside the Spotify version. No, it was the same piece; my tastes must just have widened over the years.

And now to the original point of this blog entry. If one album I once thought about purchasing is now available for download, why not others? Maybe lots of others. All those albums I toyed with buying but didn't because everyone has to draw a line somewhere between collecting and compulsive behaviour.

So the sampler CDs will get one more outing, a celebration of the effort that those Classic CD reviewers put in every month, for 130 issues.

Friday, 22 October 2010

When The Obvious is Just Not Obvious Enough

Thank you, Orange, thank you so very much.

Just for the record, the missing line of code your programmers are after is:

phoneNumber.replace(' ', '');

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Tales Of The Dying Earth

While researching my last post (i.e. searching in Amazon) I came across a remarkable offer: Jack Vance's Tales of the Dying Earth for just £6.49.

It's made up of all four Dying Earth books: The Eyes of the Overworld, Cugel's Saga, Rhialto the Marvellous, and of course The Dying Earth itself. These were such enjoyable stories. I think they embody Jack Vance's particular writing style more than anything else he wrote. And all that for £6.49.

Also for sale is Songs of the Dying Earth, a collection of tribute stories written by other authors. Projects like this are hard to pull off successfully. The authors run the risk of either missing the essential charm of the original, or looking like a weak pastiche.

Michael Shea wrote a sequel to The Eyes of the Overworld called A Quest for Simbilis, which was well written but fell into the first trap. I can remember nothing at all about it now other than my disappointment. But a few years after that I read his Nifft the Lean, which still sticks in my mind more than two decades later.

I notice there is a sequel to Nifft the Lean. Also, that Songs of the Dying Earth is available for the Kindle.

I suddenly get an overwhelming urge to go back to my backlog of books.

Reading in the Age of Plenty

I have always been a book reader. As a child, and all the way up to my university graduation, I would read pretty well every book that came into my possession. My income was barely sufficient to feed my need for books.

But then I moved into the world of work and salaries, and found I could just buy a book if I felt like it. A single foray into a bookshop might see me coming out with half a dozen new books to read, and the list of unread books started to lengthen.

I still have nearly all of them, piled up in bookcases around the house. For most of them I can even remember where I acquired them. Running the book stall at jumble sales for many years didn't help, as there would usually be some books remaining at the end that I felt inclined to provide a home for.

About the middle of last year I resolved that all new books I bought would go onto a pile in my bedroom, to remind me how much money I was wasting on books that never got read. When one pile had become three piles I decided to pretty well stop buying books until I'd caught up. Somewhat to my surprise this has mostly worked, and the piles are going down. Only Amazon is the loser.

Only now they've brought out a Kindle at a price I'd consider paying (£109). That, plus my natural nerd tendency to want nerd toys, makes me suspect I will soon own one of these devices. But what of my resolution about buying new books? Should I first purchase the eBook versions of the ones on my piles? No. Fortunately I'm too tight for that.

Ah, but I did say I wouldn't 'buy' any new books. Turns out that there are eBooks you don't have to pay for: The Amazon Kindle Store lets you choose from thousands of the most popular classics, all available for free.

Garhh! Are these people mad? The classics! These are books I've spent nearly my whole life thinking I really ought to get round to reading someday before I die. In under an hour I could download more classics than I could read in what's left of my lifetime for no more cost than a few pence on my electricity bill. I'd have to either renounce any pretensions to culture, or admit that the battle to finish reading all my books was finally and definitely lost.

My sole consolation is that e-books do not make a very tall pile.

Defending my Mobile

I've just installed an app on my Nokia smartphone called Anti-theft for Mobile, partly because I've been thinking for a while that I should have some way of protecting my phone in the event of me losing it, but mainly because I found out that it's free from the Nokia OVI store.

Now, if I find I've lost my phone, I can send it a text message to lock it, locate it, or even wipe it clean. Of course, by definition I won't have a mobile phone with me when I realise this, but eventually I'll be able to get my hands on one and send the necessary message.

Two thoughts now occur to me. To begin with, unless I lose my phone in the next few days, I will almost certainly not be able to remember what it is I'm supposed to send to lock the missing mobile. Normally I would make a note of this in my smartphone, but clearly that's not going to cut it in this situation. Secondly, I can't be sure that the program will work unless I test it. However, there are three possible outcomes to this experiment: it might work flawlessly, it might not work at all, or it might lock the phone but not let me unlock it.

As this app must have been downloaded many, many times by now, you'd think I should be reasonably confident that it will work properly. And yet...there are so many times when software has decided to fail on me in ways that (according to Google) nobody else in the world has ever experienced.

My two year contract expires soon and I'll be getting a new phone. Very tempting to think that that would be the ideal time to risk bricking my Nokia.