This Monstrosity

When Apple removed the 3.5mm jack from the iPhone, I was annoyed. They'd bought Beats, and I assumed (still do) it was a long term play to only allow Beats to have officially endorsed Lightning headphones, and effectively erase most of a market. Given my reasonably heavy personal investment in headphones, this is irritating. I mean sure I could have just not bought a new iPhone but come on.

Apple's inclusion of a Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter with new iPhones solves half a problem - you can now use your headphones. Unless your battery is about to die - then you have to use that Lightning port to charge. Super courageous.

If you trawl head-fi, or keep reading here, you'll discover that Apple's USB-3 Camera Connection Kit will allow you to use a low-powered USB device, and daisy-chain Lightning, meaning that you can charge and run a low-power USB DAC to give you that 3.5mm port. I mean, sure, it looks ridiculous, but you can do it.

It's still pretty early for this configuration, but more and more stuff is coming out. USB DACs aren't exactly a new concept, but powered ones are another thing to charge, and I can't be bothered with that, so I went for the AudioQuest Dragonfly Red, and if you ignore all the inconvenience, the audio quality is noticeably better, especially with a decent pair of headphones. I'd love to give the Chord Mojo a proper spin, but I'd rather have a Nintendo Switch so that's going to have to wait.


I got an Apple Watch

When it comes to first gen Apple products, I'm like Nicholas Cage in Bangkok Dangerous: I have a very specific set of rules from which I do not deviate under any circumstances. Unless of course Apple releases a new product, then I will buy it. I diet between meals. I am a pointless pile of space where willpower once resided.

I can't really say that a smart watch is something I've wanted for a long time. I used a Pebble for a while and, though there were cool things about it, I felt like an utter twat with it on my wrist. Smart watches represent an intimate over-reliance on technology that I find quite gross. Not only that, but they solve a problem that only exists because someone once said "god, isn't it a pain to keep checking your notifications on your phone all the time?". Why, yes it is. So, let's not do that any more. Or, y'know, let's get a mini iPhone and strap it to our wrists instead. OK.

I digress.

Apple releases a new product that I see straight through, don't really want, don't need even a little bit but fuck me if I'm not refreshing the damn store at 8am to be one of the first lemmings to preorder the stupid thing. It's a good job I got up early; I've got to make up a list of plausible reasons for this ridiculous purchase.

Fast forward 4-6 weeks of refreshing my order status page and reading lukewarm reviews penned by people who wore the thing for a day and were disappointed that their friends didn't suddenly think they were Don Fucking Draper. I wasn't expecting a whole load. I wasn't expecting much anyway - I mean my watches in the past have always just sorta sat on my wrist and kept time so that I didn't have to. If the watch can do that, it's met my requirements.

One thing I've learned from never not buying first gen Apple products is that you set your expectations low. If the thing turns on, you win.

So I've been wearing this thing for a week, and the most unsurprising thing is that no-one seems to care. I haven't been approached like someone who appeared on Hollyoaks for a short arc by some weirdo who's impressed that I bought a thing. It's not absolutely crazy.

I don't think I'm using Apple Watch like people either expect to or are. For instance; there are two scenarios when I will even engage with it: 1. when I want to know the time and I am not already looking at a screen that has that information on it, and 2. when I want to perform a small task on my phone by proxy without expending the enormous amounts of energy one expends when getting their phone out of their pocket. That's it. I'm not browsing my Instagram or Twitter. I'm not raising or training a virtual dragon (and if you are, just fucking stop it now). I am not even making calls (because I thought it would feel badass but actually it feels immensely douchey).

This limited use case has a couple of side effects: 1. the battery easily lasts all day. Like using it in this way it would go the full 24, and 2. I don't feel like I've wasted a load of money. I wanted it to do two things, and it does them.

And that's my review, really. If you feel like you're always flipping your iPhone out of your pocket to read notifications and then spinning your iPhone back into your pocket, this is pretty good at helping you dial back that modern-day gunslinger crap. If you're interested in knowing the number of calories you burned in a day, and an approximate figure just won't cut it, this might be for you (also, getting a hobby might be for you). If you're just too fucking cool and you're looking for a device to take the edge off that, this is definitely the device for you.

Let's just settle this now. Smart watches are not now, and never will be cool. The same as smart glasses are not cool and Smart cars are not cool (they're not), smart watches are just not cool. I wish I could tell you why this is, but I can't. I don't care if Beyoncé wears one, she's the coolest person in the world. She's got cool to spare. Whilst you are wearing a smart watch, you are objectively less cool than whilst you are not. There may be some residual uncool left on you after you take one off, or it may be bound to your DNA the first time you wear one. I don't have sufficient data to comment, but there are definitely risks involved.

But I do like the thing. Not enough to take responsibility for recommending one. God no. But I like mine and I'm probably going to keep wearing it. The important thing is if I forget to charge it and I have to wear a dumb watch, I'm not going to have a panic attack. So that's nice.

Just because I've wasted enough of your time rambling without a strong narrative and you've probably got stuff to do, here's some stupid shit this watch does that will annoy you:

  • People can send you little drawings they did with their finger. They play out in real time, as if the person were sensually doodling on your wrist. It is weird.
  • People can send you a series of taps. Do we need to establish new etiquette surrounding taps? What's that, Lassie? Timmy's stuck in the well again?
  • People can send you a series of vibrations that represents their heartbeat. When Apple announced this, I was like "kay, that's a bit weird", and when someone sent me their heartbeat, I was like "kay, this is a bit weird". It has become my goal to send someone my heartbeat should I ever have a heart attack. I hope Apple is working on this feature.
  • There are a load of apps that you will never use, but you cannot delete or hide them. This is an Apple product, after all.
  • This device is going to piss you off if you try to use it when you have poor or no internet connectivity. Nothing runs locally on this thing - it's always nagging at your phone when you want to know something. The latency of Bluetooth and a slow internet connection is going to annoy a load of people. I'm fortunate to live in an area with decent 3G and occasional 4G so it's been OK but others will hate this about the watch.

I think that's about it for now. Dictated but not read.


Rooms of the House

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My last iPod was called Wildlife, after the La Dispute album (my phone is Vega and my iPad Altair, since you asked). I recently lost Wildlife somewhere in our house. Since I can't justify spending money to subsidise my own stupidity, I've gone for this pre-loved little number, replete with scratches, to save me some time.

This iPod is called Rooms of the House, after the La Dispute album, and the fact that Wildlife is probably somewhere in my house.


Train companions

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Riding trains alone is boring, but it doesn't have to be.


First Impressions on Lion

OS X has been my operating system of choice since Tiger. It represented a realisation that you can have decent portable hardware and a great-looking interface that gave me quick access to the things I used most, whilst maintaining relatively easy access to things I didn't. I have always been pleased with OS X as an operating system, which is why I continue to use it professionally and in my leisure time today.

OS X Lion (10.7) brings a number of changes, presumably inspired by the fact that Apple's touchscreen devices have been so popular. After an afternoon's use, I am under the impression that a future generation of tablet computers will run this a convergence of this and iOS. By that time, I will not be using OS X as my main operating system.

Things I don't like about OS X Lion

Spaces. The concept of multiple desktops has been a staple of my computer usage since before Apple cribbed the idea from Linux. In a previous job, I used an Ubuntu-powered computer, where I discovered spaces and how much easier they can make your computing life. Until today, I ran a 6-desktop configuration in two rows of three desktops. I did this so that I had quick access to Desktop 4 (web browsers) from Desktop 1 (text editor) and quick access from Desktop 1 to Desktop 2 (databases and terminals). If you're interested, 3 is virtual machines and image editing, 5 is IM clients, notes and RSS and 6 is iTunes and stuff I don't really touch regularly.

Apple has completely removed the ability to configure Spaces with Lion. You get one row of desktops and that's it. This completely cripples my usage of the concept. I can access web browsers and terminals from text editors, but then I have to skip through two spaces from an IM client to get to a web browser. I seriously cannot justify - further than wanting a nice, pretty, single line of desktops in the abortion that is Mission Control - this decision. It's completely ridiculous!

Spaces also had a cool little feature where you could view your whole grid from way above, then invoke Exposé and move individual windows between desktops. This, too, is totally gone. In order to view a desktop's open windows, you have to invoke Mission Control whilst said desktop is selected.

Mission Control suggests to me that Spaces and Exposé had a child and found out that they were cousins when it was already too late to terminate the poor, unfortunate bastard.

Scrolling has now been inverted. To scroll down, you sweep up; to scroll left, you sweep right. Disabled (it didn't instinctively occur to me that Apple would allow you to disable this. My past, PC-using self would be very disappointed in me).

New Mail.app is nothing really to write home about. Still no ability to arbitrarily file things using only the keyboard. It's like Apple saw Sparrow and decided they would make something with a worse UI. I'll stick to GMail web UI, thanks.

iCal promised to bring a fantastic new UI. It's basically the same as old iCal, except they've made it look more like a leather journal with pages torn out of it.

Your username now appears constantly in the menu bar, with no apparent way to hide it. I am the only user of this computer and I know my name, thanks, Apple. Update: Maxim Harper tells me that you can remove this by CMD-dragging on the name. Thank Christ!

To view the desktop, you now have to "spread with thumb and three fingers", which is just about as difficult as it sounds. Rather than sweep up with four fingers, which was super easy to do on a whim.

CoreAnimation pervades your entire experience in Lion. It makes every single little thing you try to do take just that little bit longer. You do things by Apple's rhythm, now, punk. Pages turn, things zip about and flash and fade in-and-out. Why? I have no idea. I thought Windows 7 was a little over-animation-y, but this is ridiculous. Interface animation adds nothing to your ability to accomplish a task. If you want to stare at a pretty rectangle for a bit, buy some tropical fish.

Things I like about Lion

LaunchBar still works.