Culture Other

he just doesn’t get it

Creative have launched a competitor to the video-capable iPod. It looks rather like the iPod except clumsier and uglier. But this is the bit I thought was extraordinary:

Creative are touting the Zen as a far more powerful player than Apple’s offering, with additional functions such as FM radio and a built-in mic.

“We are focused on the technology,” he said. “This is still a technology marketplace.”

“This is the key difference between a technology company and a branding company,” he said, taking a side-swipe at Apple’s successful marketing campaign for its iPod.

Firstly – the iPod does what it does very well. What makes Mr Sim think people want additional functions? But more to the point – how many millions of units do Apple have to ship, and what proportion of the market do they have to win, before their competitors come to terms with the fact that all consumer products are brand items, and bought as much because people like them as for what they can do? We’re not talking about coal-fired power stations or aircraft carriers here, we’re talking about something that people are buying for entertainment, that they carry around every day in their pocket. Car companies get it – that people want cars that look nice, have the right associations (yes, Mr Sim, that’s branding) and that they enjoy owning. If that’s true for a £20,000 car, it’s certainly true for a £200 mp3 player. That’s not much more than a pair of trainers. If the chairman of Nike suggested that branding was unimportant, we’d all assume he’d lost his marbles.

Nature Other

wireless networks, bunnies

I’ve spent most of the afternoon browsing around the web looking for the best way to fix the wireless network* so that it works everywhere it needs to. I’ve now officially lost the will to live. Here’s a calming picture of some bunnies:


*The problem is that the current router (a Belkin F5D7630, since you ask) isn’t very flexible or upgradeable – you can’t plug in an antenna, and Belkin’s own range extender thingy doesn’t work with it. So whatever I do is going to involve buying a new base station. My instinct is to just buy Apple stuff, since all the computers are Macs and will play nicely with it. An Airport Extreme base station and an Airport Express to act as a range extender would (probably) sort out the problem. And they look pretty. But they’re more expensive than the competition. There are various MIMO/Pre-N routers whch should have greater range and might sort out the problem – but if they didn’t, I’d be back where I started, except 60 quid down.

Culture Other

On the subject of iTunes

I’m sure this is old news to a lot of you, but humour me.

I’m amazed by how much it has changed my listening experience, having all my music on the computer. I didn’t actually intend to put all my music on the hard disk when I got the computer – the CD player is within easy reach of my desk anyway, and I don’t have an mp3 player – but I tried it out mainly because I wanted to play with the software on my new machine. What makes the difference isn’t the way that all your music is at your fingertips, although that’s nice. It’s that I have a whole load of albums which I like, but don’t particularly want to listen to all of at once. The simple fact that the computer mixes up tracks from different albums breathes life into your collection, just because you don’t have to take the decision to listen to a whole hour of acid house, or Breton folk, or early blues, or whatever it might be.

I thought that if was going to make a lot of use of the playlist function it would be making playlists like ‘funky stuff’ or ‘easy-cheesy’ or ‘Americana’: specific selections to suit my mood. In fact my main playlist completely ignores genre and mood; it consists of a combination of:

high-rated songs that haven’t been played for four days
unrated songs that haven’t been played for two weeks
current favourites

Oddly enough, the fact that the playlist might go ‘Charles Aznavour – The Prodigy – Bob Marley’ isn’t as much of a problem as I would have expected. I thought that switching between wildly different kinds of music would just be annoying – but actually I quite like the variety.


日本語 and all that jazz

I’ve just been learning about the internationalisation features in OS X. Which are cool. Since I can’t actually read and write Chinese or Tamil or Cherokee, I don’t have much use for them, but it’s nice that they’re integrated into the system. I guess I might occasionally use it for typing out bits of Anglo-Saxon – the Mac OS was never very good at handling þ and ð and ȝ, but now it’s been made fairly easy. Look, π in Gujarati: ૩.૧૪૧૫૯૨૬૫૩૫૮૯૭૯ (etc)

The only annoyance is that I don’t seem to be able to use them in Gimp and Inkscape, which aren’t Mac native of course, so that means my neato idea for a T-shirt design which includes some katakana is just a bit tougher to do. I expect I can find a work-around.


Why no FTP software in OSX?

OSX 10.4 comes with buckets-full of gizmos. So why no FTP client? Surely it’s not that unusual or super-technical to want to use FTP to send files to a server?

Me Other

Old computers

I know there’s not much more boring than people going on about how much computers have changed. But having just bought a new computer, I’m in the mood to do it anyway. The very first computer we had in the house was my brother’s ZX81:

[picture of ZX81]

The ZX81 came with 1Kb of RAM. As a comparison, my current computer has 512Mb, so that’s approximately 500000 times more powerful. However, help was at hand if you needed to do more demanding tasks – we had a memory expansion pack for the ZX81 that boosted it to a heady 8Kb of memory. No hard disk, obviously – it used audio cassettes to store software.

Despite 3D Monster Maze, which seemed genuinely scary at the time (yeah, I know, it seems a bit pathetic now, but I was only about 8, and computers were still a brave new world for all of us) the appeal of the ZX81 was basically the idea of having a computer at home and learning how to do simple programming. The next computer, a Spectrum, actually had some quite good games. Relatively speaking. But then it did have a mighty 48K of memory, and a colour display. There’s a review from 1982 which you can read here that draws attention to its “powerful colour and sound commands”. As you can see, we were easily impressed in those days:

Anyway, my brother and I did eventually (1988, probably) buy a proper computer – an Apple Macintosh IIcx. We shelled out a bit extra to get 8Mb of RAM and the ability to display 256 colours; I can’t remember exactly what it came to, but it would have been three or four thousand pounds, so my new computer has 64 times as much memory for less than a third of the cost. Not even allowing for inflation. Those were the days when I was pretty excited by the very idea that you could store samples of sound on a computer, and we used to have all these little two or three second snatches of dialogue from Monty Python and 2001 and suchlike. The idea that one day you’d be able to store your entire music collection on your computer’s hard disk, let alone on a little thing like an iPod, would have astounded me. Or at least, even then it was pretty clear that things were moving quickly, so perhaps I wouldn’t have been astounded. Impressed, though. Still, even if I wasn’t able to edit movies on it, it was up to the job of running Freehand and Word and so on – all of which I naturally pirated from my school’s computing or design departments. In fact, I imagine we got a Mac in the first place because the schools we went to used them. Those were the days when Macs were much much nicer than PCs (which were referred to as ‘IBM compatible’ at the time, before Microsoft took over the world), because PCs still made you do everything through the command line.

Anyway. About the only relic I’ve got from that time is this self-portrait from 1989 (when I was 14), which I did on a piece of software called Digital Darkroom. I didn’t actually use DD for photo-editing; apart from anything else, I didn’t have a scanner and digital cameras hadn’t been invented. I just used it as a painting program. The picture is in black and white, not because of any aesthetic choice on my part but because with only 256 colours to play with, it was bloody difficult to work in colour. It seems to be slightly posterised – I’m sure it originally had more shades of grey – but I can no longer open the original file and this version is the only one I’ve got:


I may try to do a new self-portrait in Gimp; it would be a good way of getting a feel for the software. I’m not sure I’ve still got the knack of drawing with a mouse, but computers are so much more forgiving than, for example, paints.

One final thought – I appreciate that computers have come a long way since then, and I’m very much enjoying my lovely fast new machine, but is it really necessary that the built-in calculator is using 15Mb of memory? 15Mb? I used to run Word and Freehand together on a machine which only had a total of 8Mb.