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Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Re-reading Big Cyril

As my book clear-out continues, I find an old copy of 'Big Cyril', the auto-biography of Cyril Smith, one time MP and now apparently also a serial child abuser. I remember this as being quite an entertaining read, back in the day. One bit sprang to mind, so I had a quick look in the index: "sacked from Boards of Governors of twenty-three schools", p 101.

Having been a Labour councillor in Rochdale, Cyril Smith had gone independent in 1966, costing Labour of control of the council. In 1972 they got it back and took action against him, dismissing him as Chair of the Education Committee, and "sacking" him from the Youth Committee, Youth Employment Committee, the Committee of Rochdale Youth Orchestra, the Committee of the Youth Theatre Workshop, and the Boards of Governors of twenty-nine (sic) schools, which I had visited so assiduously as Mayor. Yes, I'm sure he did.

It would be nice to think that someone in the Labour Party knew about his activities and was trying to put some distance between the youth of Rochdale and their future MP. However, I think simple revenge on the man who had deprived them of power for several years would be adequate explanation for their behaviour.

Interesting though how different this page reads in the light of the recent revelations.

Oh, wait. I've just spotted an index entry for Jimmy Saville. Smith met him and even appeared on his TV programme once. He has this to say about him: Jimmy Saville admits openly that his work as a disc jockey is a joke, but his record of public service and charity must be unequalled. Sadly it turns out it was, but for all the wrong reasons.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Speeding up my Nexus 7

I bought one of the original Nexus 7 models last year and, like many others like me, found it gets slower with use. There have been ups and downs. When it installed Android Kitkat it seemed to me to be running faster, while installing the new Google Now launcher made it pretty well grind to a halt.

Recently it's been getting worse again, and last week it reached the point where I felt I had to google the problem again (on a different machine) to look for some explanation. You get a lot of suggestions doing this, some more plausible than others, and some more work than others. I don't want to have to do a factory reset, nor I am thrilled by the idea of having to root my Nexus so I can run someone's clever "speed up your device" app. (To be fair, the app may indeed be really clever, it's the rooting bit I have issues with). In truth, the most common suggestions were ones I'd already tried, or they assumed you were running out of RAM or storage space, which I definitely wasn't.

So I went into Settings and tried to spot apps that were using up suspicious amounts of CPU time. Nothing obvious, and I was out of ideas, so I resorted to uninstalling stuff I don't use much. That didn't seem to help, until I disabled (not uninstalled, just disabled) Screebl Pro. If you haven't heard of this, it's an excellent app that senses when you're holding your device and then stops it switching off the display. Now I noticed a substantial improvement, and a week later the Nexus is still running well.

I have to mention that earlier today I thought I should do the reverse experiment and re-enable Screebl Pro. This had no apparent effect on the speed, which leaves me a little confused. It may be that it was something else I tried that did the speed up, but I only noticed it after disabling Screebl. Or it may be something about leaving Screebl on for a long time that made my Nexus 7 go so slowly. Either way, I thought I'd put this out on the web. If your Nexus 7 is moving like treacle and you've got Screebl installed, it's the work of a moment to try disabling it. If it works for you, great. Otherwise I'd suggest removing some apps.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

And a Farewell to Maps Too

Following on from my last blog, we are also throwing out the collection of maps and guidebooks we've accumulated during holidays to exotic (but more often less than exotic) lands. Who needs a phrase book now when you've got a smartphone in your pocket that can translate for you? And do we actually need to keep that city street plan of Budapest anymore? Even if we ever do go back there, Google Maps will help us get around far more easily than that map, which we've probably left behind in the hotel room anyway.

Like I noted in my blog on aerogrammes, maps and guides are fast becoming superseded by technology.

A Farewell To Books

So after the longest continuous period of my life spent living in the same house, we are moving into York in a few weeks time (subject to contract, etc., etc.). We’re not particularly hoarders, but after nearly 18 years, stuff has accumulated. In previous moves the question has been: what can’t we be bothered paying someone to move from one loft or garage into another? The question is even more relevant this time round, as we won’t have a garage anymore, nor much of a loft either. The cull begins.

Mostly I find getting rid of belongings quite therapeutic, with one large exception: my beloved books. I've been collecting since I was a child. I don’t know how many I’ve got, but the number will be well into four figures. There are shelves and shelves of books, with more books stacked up behind them if the shelf is deep enough. Other books sit in boxes in the loft, some unopened since they were put there in 1996.

It’s time for me to face some facts. I probably have enough unread books to keep me going till I die, and that’s assuming I don’t want to re-read any. In practice, nearly all the books I read from one month to the next are brand new ones, so what are the odds of me re-reading any or getting round to reading books which I bought in a book sale thirty years ago and have never opened since?

But it’s still going to be hard to reverse the habits of over four decades.

I begin to go through my collection. For some books it’s easy: they've fallen apart or the paper’s gone all orange, so they can go. Other’s are out of copyright, and it turns out I can get them for free off the internet. Bye, bye that copy of Little Dorrit, and the James Joyce book I was sure I’d read one day.

Dozens of others I haven’t looked at in 30 or 40 years. Yes, I enjoyed them at the time, but in truth I will never find time to read them again. All these can go too.

As the piles of culled books mount up I start to have doubts. Here I am going through hundreds of books that I know I read, even remember enjoying, but now can recall next to nothing of their contents. Reading is something that has taken up a substantial chunk of my free time, but if I can remember so little of it, what exactly was the point?

For the fiction it’s arguably not so bad: the enjoyment is largely in the reading itself. But I read a lot of non-fiction too; was it really a waste of time? Perhaps not—maybe I take in more than I realise. As a teenager I read Arnold Toynbee’s “Mankind & Mother Earth”, but never quite finished it. When I sat down a decade later to do the job properly, I was pleasantly surprised to find that some of the author’s arguments I had taken on board, without realising their source. Osmosis might be my ally sometimes, though nowadays I make notes as I go through a book, and review them later to try to lock more of the book’s content into that space between my ears.

More doubts now: how can I be really sure I won’t want to revisit these books one day? Would it cost much if I did? A small and doubtless unrepresentative sample on the web provides some hope. Many of the titles are available on the Kindle for just two or three pounds. And wait, there’s more: there are now online subscription services for books. Like with Spotify for music, you can pay a monthly subscription to an online library and read as many of their titles as you want. Scribd charge $9 a month, and I see seven of the books I'm chucking out straightaway on their front page. Oyster Books is another one. There’s even a Mills & Boon subscription service (which I mention purely for the sake of illustration).

In fact, it dawns on me that I’m already using two limited book subscription services. For a decade or so I've been a subscriber to the O’Reilly Safari technical library (which has saved me a small fortune on books about programming), while my Amazon Prime subscription lets me “borrow” one book a month on my Kindle. Their choice of books is fairly limited (I've only used it once), but I'm happy to see that it does include several I'm chucking out. I suspect time is on my side here, and the availability of books by subscription will continue to expand. Not brand new ones perhaps, but that doesn't matter as it's the older books I'm interested in, like the books I bought as a teenager for 30 or 40 pence.

So it looks like technology is going to let me get rid of my books after all without too many sad goodbyes—more like "Au Revoir".