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Mega Giga Killer

I love what we can do with technology, I love what we can do today and I’m looking forward to tomorrow. But the biggest and most obvious sign of the march of technology is often the worst way to judge it.

People like numbers, people will buy something that’s 1.2 not 1.1, or 200 not 150, so companies will sell products with higher and higher numbers. Far too often numbers mean that the tangible or meaningful developments are disregarded, or even reversed.

What makes 3 megapixels a good camera resolution is the simple binary fact that it (should be) high enough to print at 4×6 inches or to fill a standard desktop screen. When a camera claims that resolution but the prints look blocky, or when a camera claims it can do that resolution but it’s noisy as soon as the sun sets, that’s not progress. The sad truth is that’s exactly what has happened in a lot of cases. The higher the megapixel rating of a camera, the less sensitive each pixel can be so that some 3 megapixel cameras can take far better pictures after dark than a 10 megapixel ones.

What makes VHDSL broadband (AKA FTTC and BT Infinity) good is the simple fact that it’s enough to allow full high-definition video. For the purpose of browsing the web or streaming music, it’s absolutely no different to conventional broadband (ADSL or cable). One lets you do those things just as much as the other.

The pursuit of ‘higher and more’ isn’t completely wrong, but it is a terrible over-simplification. If we forget that a higher resolution video requires more bandwidth (so it looks noticeably soft), we haven’t made progress. If we buy a 10 megapixel camera not 3, but we can’t take photos indoors anymore, that’s one step forward, one step back. If a phone has a gigabyte of RAM, but doesn’t have a decent ringer speaker, that’s one step backward and, well, what can I do with that much RAM that I couldn’t before?

What makes full high-definiton good is not the fact that it has more pixels than standard-def, but that the city-scapes of Gotham in The Dark Knight are beautiful. In The Matrix and Gladiator, the fabric of the clothes becomes visible. Whether it’s the ornate Roman embellishments or the grim rags of the post-apocolyptic real world, the experience is fundamentally more authentic. When upscaled DVDs look better than “HD iPlayer”, something isn’t right. When people spend serious money on bluray editions of films not originally captured at a high-definition resolution, something isn’t right. (Is there any value in The Wire in high-def?)

Annoyingly, companies advertising use-cases often makes things worse for consumers, quite simply because their definition of ‘good enough for X’ often isn’t the same as their customers’. Some camera users don’t care about noise, some can’t stand it. The very best way to solve this problem is to have every consumer purchase go through an industry expert who can analyse a users requirements, that’s just not practical (though I maintain that most people that already know me should check with me before buying a computer).

The simplest thing people should do is disregard any number they see in big writing on a box or leaflet that they can’t translate to something meaningful. Even with money, I think it’s best to think in practical terms; that way a mobile phone is worth a new laptop, or only a few new pairs of socks.


It’s been 10 years since I’ve settled on the alias oxygen84, now I have a near internet-wide monopoly on that particular string.

I can say it’s been more than 10 years with absolute confidence since before I was oxygen84 I was oxygen15, I’m now 26 years old and a few weeks before my 16th birthday I realised that 15 wasn’t perhaps the most sensible suffix.

To save you the ounce of effort required to stalk me, and since there are one or two results on the first page of Google that aren’t me, I am oxygen84 on:

One view of cloud computing

A scenario set in the near future:

Monday morning Jo comes into work, a little more dishevelled than she would like and later than she realises. She walks past her colleagues trying not to look incongruous, they had been been tracking her location on Jackie’s desk (since Jackie was the only one with permission), so they knew exactly when to expect her anyway. Jo’s desk is a mess with every square inch covered in scraps of printed paper, three e-ink readers, and leftovers from lunch on Friday. Her two computer screens float a few inches above the mess, supported by an arm mounted behind her desk. Her keyboard is wireless and she has a mobile phone dock with a wire running up the pole and into the right-hand screen.

She takes her phone from her handbag and places it into the docking station, then looks at her screens expectantly. The phone makes the appropriate ‘screens connected’ bleeps and they blink to life after a few seconds, then it reports a warning “Phone unable to connect to bluetooth keyboard”. She curses to herself, as she did last Thursday when this last happened, and scans the desk for a place to dump the pile of paper directly in front of her. She settles on the floor and wipes the dust away from the wirefree charging surface. The keyboard can last for weeks, but she usually forgets and moves it off the charging surface too soon for it to have charged for more than a few days. She puts her keyboard over the surface and impatiently starts pressing keys. Giving up after a few seconds, she taps the phone’s screen to bring up her email.

“Bluetooth keyboard connected”, the phone reports after a few seconds. She then opens the task switcher to open the remote connection to her cloud desktop. It’s not there, she closed the app on Saturday to free up memory for her daughter’s games, so she reloads it. After four seconds, it’s finished loading, automatically detected her wireless network and established a connection to her cloud desktop. Her cloud desktop is the only place she sees the old-fashioned Windows start menu and grey task bar. The first thing she sees is a Microsoft Word window with an unsaved note to herself saying “Don’t forget to phone Mrs Richards”. She realises her bluetooth headset is still in the car but she doesn’t need to talk and type for this call so she grabs her phone from the dock. The screens blink and report “disconnected” before going into energy saving mode.

After the call she puts the phone back, the remote desktop window springs back into life on the screen and she attempts to close Word. “Would you like to save the document?”, no, she clicks. The document had been there just like the rest of her desktop, untouched since Friday when she grabbed the phone from it’s cradle. 

All of that is possible with current technology. Remote desktop access can easily run on modern smartphones, and the very latest can use an external screen. The companies selling virtualisation obviously have a vested interest, but if fraction of their claims are true it could save companies a huge amount of money on infrastructure and equipment. The key factor for me though is the convenience and security of having a computer in a completely different location to the screen and keyboard accessing it.

Having the thin client (the connector between the internet and the screens) as a smartphone makes sense for a few reasons. Most people have one already, particularly ‘knowledge workers’, and a simple thin client isn’t free; a mobile phone would also act as a security device when not in the office (two-factor authentication, which is far better than a password alone and required by some security standards).


My server direct link (if that doesn’t work use address: port 64738)
My server overview

If you don’t already know, Mumble is an open source, cross platform, online voice chat application.

Android vs. iOS

First a little background; I’ve gone from a Siemens S45, Sony Ericson T610, a Sanyo S750, a Nokia N80, then an iPhone 3G (the day it was available in the UK). Now I’m enjoying the Nexus One with Android.

I find it really hard to say that one is better than the other, which is frustrating because while Android is probably as close as an OS can get to competing against the iPhone, it’s still remarkably different. iOS is slick, sleek and reassuringly reliable. I never feel as though something has gone wrong or it’s done something I really didn’t want it to do. Android is powerful, flexible and delightfully intuitive in a number of ways (though I’ve sworn at it once or twice when it did something unexpected). iOS eschews complexity and only has one button to interact with the OS – Android gives you consistent Back, Menu, Home and Search buttons, as well as a trackball for moving around text. As much as I’d like to, it wouldn’t be right to say that the simplicity of one is better than the flexibility of the other.

The power and flexibility trade-off has consequences though; quite simply, Android is more powerful and therefore a better smartphone, the iPhone is simpler and therefore a better phone. The less technical will probably prefer the iPhone, those that want a smarter phone (email and facebook) would perhaps be better served by the iPhone. Those that want a smartphone (background IM, push news updates) would be better served by Android.

The uncomfortable conclusion is therefore that, in terms of your experience, it’s up to you.

Bollocks to that though, this is my blog and I’ve been apolitical for long enough. There is more than just experience; I would never buy an iPhone now.

I’m not sure I’d have bought the iPhone had I not been comfortable in the knowledge that I’d be able to jailbreak it if I wanted to. I want to be able to use my technology as I see fit. With the iPhone, you’re buying a lump of metal and plastic, an OS, and a manner in which to use that OS.

With an Android phone, you’re buying a lump of metal and plastic that you can use however you see fit. You can hack the OS, you can kill the battery after 6 hours with an app that checks facebook every 10 seconds, you can replace the app that handles SMS with one that crashes every 5 minutes.

In a trade off between freedom and ease of use, I will not always choose freedom, I am happy to use somewhat locked-in technologies in order to get the best experience, but the iPhone is just too far. I want to be able to try beta software, I want to be able to try new ideas to handle SMS messages, and I cannot stomach the idea of having other peoples’ tastes and morals imposed on me.