Preamble: my content It has been a while since I’ve written a general “what I’m working on” post, so I’m fixing that now. It has been a busy year — I last published a newsletter in March 2021, and I didn’t get back to writing — primarily technical writing– until … Continue reading What I’ve been doing in 2022 (so far)
A couple of years ago, I picked up a simple LED nightlight on Amazon, with the intention of hacking it into something else. The lamp could be powered with AAA batteries or a micro-USB connection, and contained multicolour LEDs that shone up into a perspex … Continue reading I made a Wi-Fi controlled Owl lamp
One year ago, my brother left us.
One year ago. Today. Christmas Eve. That evening, as a family, we were in the hospice with him, and I drove away mid-evening to go home and get some food, and shortly after I got home, I got the call.
Many years ago, almost to the day, my mother and I left a ward in the Royal Hampshire County Hospital on the night of Christmas Day, 2000, we drove home, went to bed, and just after midnight, the telephone rang. I took that call. Boxing Day, 2000. That was the night that my father died.
Cancer is a fucker, and brain tumours are terrible, terrible things, and more research is needed, and more science is needed, but we’ve moved on so far already from 20 years past. That doesn’t make our family experience any better, it’s just a statement – please help to donate to good cancer charities that are funding science to help to improve these things.
Stu and I were never BEST friends, but especially after I left home for university, we were friends. Good friends. We’d bonded before that over video games (he was the one back in the 80s who had the TV in his room, and the SNES, and the PS1, and we played Metal Gear Solid and Super Mario Kart and all sorts sitting on his bed). When I went to university away from home for the first time and felt lonely, I wrote him letters, with song lyrics that spoke to me at the time. Looking back, firstly I can’t even imagine writing letters anymore (email, anyone?!) but, also, I remember when Pulp Fiction came out in the cinema and at the same time Pulp the indie band were becoming big, and they had the hit Common People, and Stu insisted the Pulp song was from the Pulp Fiction movie that he hadn’t seen… 🤣
The night before Stu got married, he and I were just at his place and we played video games and had a few beers and we were brothers and that just felt brilliant and all our teenage and pre-teen rivalries weren’t even relevant.
We bonded more with his children becoming part of my life, and me becoming closer to his inherited family, all of whom are the most wonderful people.
I’m writing this today, because I love him; and I miss him; and he was a stupid silly fun bloke who loved his family more than everything and anything else. And he was ridiculously clever and knew more about finance and insurance and basically anything technical that wasn’t to do with computers, than I will EVER know. Please forgive me this indulgence.
I love you Stu, and we all miss you, and this stupid biological nonsense is not fair to anyone, not least your incredible girls. You’ve left them such a fabulous platform and legacy and set of principles. You’ll never cease to be proud, my friend, and I’ll never cease to be your brother and to look after your girls.
On Saturday, I attended the Unite for Europe March in London.
It was the first time I’ve ever taken part in an organised protest or march, and it was probably also the first time I’ve ever felt strongly enough about an issue to feel motivated to do so.
As I walked from the Tube to the meeting point at the start of the route, I was thinking about all we’ll lose as we head into this coming week, towards Mrs May’s intended date for triggering Article 50 and starting the two years of exit negotiations.
My father was born into a world that within weeks, was plunged into the Second World War. My grandparents must have spent some time hiding in shelters with their children, my father and uncle, the fear and uncertainty something I cannot imagine. My mother was born into the hesitant peace that came immediately after that conflict, and the years of austerity, rationing and rebuilding that followed, as borders closed and dangers loomed in the east.
And then came the Treaty of Rome, and the start of 60 years of peace, cooperation and (relative) economic stability, in a continent previously torn by wars and economic rivalries.
By contrast to my parents, I was born into a nation that was by then already a member of the EU. I’ve held the rights of an EU citizen since 1993 when those rights were established by treaty. So, for my entire working life I’ve enjoyed the benefits of freedom of movement, freedom from discrimination based on my nationality within the EU, and rights to consular protection abroad (among others). It makes me incredibly sad that the rising tides of nationalism in individual member states are starting to dilute these feelings of freedom and partnership that have been hard-won through (initially) post-war negotiation, and then expanded through the end of the Cold War to our neighbours further across the continent.
It’s fairly clear that in the nine months since the referendum took place, every one of the main planks of the groups advocating that Britain should leave the EU have been thoroughly dismantled or proven as falsehoods — most famously the £350 million per week we’d get back to put into the NHS, which was a claim withdrawn on day 1 after the result. Given that many of the staff of the NHS choose to live and work in the UK but come from outside, we can also guess that things will become even further strained as the Government refuses to guarantee the rights of existing EU citizens. There may be a large fee of billions to pay to get out, but we just don’t know yet, and probably will not through the coming (doubtless even more uncertain) two years ahead. Some of the UK regions and industries significantly dependent on EU grants and funding have started to realise the austerity they face in the future. Immigration has yet to be proven a failed policy, and our terrorists have consistently been home-grown.
Not only that, but those in favour of the exit appear intent on trampling on genuinely useful rules agreed across the EU, such as protecting wildlife habitats and regulating drug trials. My mind boggles as to what comes after our EU rights are stripped and businesses are given free reign to profit in any ways they choose… there’s nothing to fear in the past, but a leap into the dark unknown ahead.
I’m appalled that a minority voting outcome for an advisory process to Parliament has led us down this sad path, and it is largely those under 40 who will pay the price for this in the coming decades.
The march on Saturday was glorious, with a far larger turnout than the organisers expected, and with people coming to London from across the country to join together to speak for Europe. A source of joy and love.
For the moment, I’m proud to be a European citizen. I celebrate all of my friends and colleagues who decided to come to the UK to work and live here, and long (I hope) may they do so. The EU is far from perfect, and could do with many structural reforms and revisions, but I applaud what it has brought to this continent of ours for the past 60 years — peace, freedom, friendship, greater understanding, opportunity, and prosperity.
Happy birthday, EU!
(originally posted on Medium)
Three weeks ago, as I was leaving Tokyo after my first trip to Japan, I accidentally abandoned my iPhone in the back of a cab as I ran into the airport. The sinking feeling crossed with panic as I realised it was no longer in my pocket, was compounded by the fact that it carried my electronic boarding pass, TripIt itinerary with flight details, my Apple Pay wallet, lots of podcasts and music for the flight, and of course my main means of communication with home via iMessage, email or phone.
When I went back to the kerbside, the taxi had already left, and I quickly resigned myself that it was probably a lost cause.
The only other time I’d managed to leave my iPhone somewhere while travelling, was on the top deck of a late-night bus in London. When I got home, I used Find my iPhone to make it ring loudly, and the bus driver was good enough to take it to the bus station for me to collect in the morning.
This time, I was more limited — although I could still use Find my iPhone, I didn’t have time or means to do it before take-off, and my phone itself had data roaming disabled, so unless it made it back to the hotel where it had last connected to wifi, it was pretty unlikely to receive the messages to disable itself or wipe my data.
When I got back to the UK, I did go ahead and set everything as lost in iCloud, and also Tweeted, and posted about my loss on Facebook. Several people commented “hey, this is Japan… you might be surprised!”. A colleague I’d been travelling with had me send him a photo of the taxi receipt via direct message, succeeded in contacting the driver, and recovered my phone! 🙇 After that, it was a simple (!) matter of colleagues passing it between themselves until I arrived here, in São Paulo Brazil, to meet the person who was currently in possession of my device.
By the time I realised that my phone wasn’t lost forever, I’d also decided that I could avoid an insurance claim (although I probably would have used that opportunity to upgrade from an iPhone 6 to a 6S Plus, so the silver-lined cloud of Japanese kindness wasn’t as shiny as it might have been!).
I needed my phone for SMS. Most of my online accounts are protected by two-factor authentication, so I needed a way to receive text messages. I also needed to be able to do a bunch of things on the move (more on this in a moment). My initial stopgap solution was to cancel my Three SIM, get a new one, and shove it into an older iPhone 5 that we had laying around at home — annoyingly though, it was locked to a corporate Vodafone contract and my new SIM wouldn’t work! So, although I could pull down a bunch of apps and use the older iPhone on wifi, it wasn’t going to help with that SMS issue. The other solution I came up with there was to use the nano-SIM in an adapter inside my older Nexus 5 — which meant I had mobile data and SMS available, but it would be on Android. I’d be dual-wielding my mobile weapons for a little while.
Three weeks, two phones
My regular iPhone 6 has 438 (!) applications installed. No, I’m absolutely sure I don’t use most of them regularly; and yes, I really should get around to clearing that down; but hey, 128Gb is a lot of storage, and I use my phone for lots and lots of things on a daily basis.
I wasn’t about to restore my entire device onto a smaller, older iPhone 5, but after a fortnight, here’s what I came up with as my minimum viable set of apps I needed.
Almost the very first thing I did was to drag the majority of Apple-installed apps into an “Apple” folder, to get them out of the way (how I wish they could be removed or fully hidden).
After that, getting the Google suite (Gmail, Chrome, Calendar) installed and then back up-and-running by coordinating 2FA challenges with my Android phone, got me a long way back towards where I wanted to be. I’m a social kind of guy, so Twitter, Swarm, Facebook, Instagram and Periscope were instant re-installs, too.
In terms of other apps worth calling out here:
- Citymapper is probably the #1 essential app I use daily, in as many cities as I can, where it is available and when I’m travelling. One of the best pieces of technology in my life. Use It.
- Solitaire is basic, but to be honest, one of a relatively small number of games that don’t maddeningly insist on network access, meaning that I can play a quick diverting game on the Tube.
- Evernote is my external brain — I love it — and I automate a lot of the contents using IFTTT recipes as well.
- 1Password is another essential install, and part of my workflow across my devices. I try to never know my passwords.
- Spotify. I use iTunes Match and have a lot of content of my own music library over in there, but I don’t subscribe to Apple Music and haven’t even tried the trial yet. Spotify. Is. Awesome.
- Mondo is an incredible new banking app that I absolutely love. As soon as they get a full license for current accounts, I can easily see myself moving much of my day-to-day banking over there — this is fintech disruption done from the user perspective.
The other pain point I encountered in this three week digital wilderness trial, was what to do about my Apple Watch! As soon as I lost the original iPhone, I found myself unable to change the timezone on my Watch — in the Watch UI, it only locally offers the option to put the clock forward, not backwards. In the end, the only good solution I could see was to reset the Watch, re-pair it as new with the older iPhone, and then set it up again. Today, once I got the original phone back, I had to go through the same dance, although I restored from the most recent backup on the iPhone 5, so the setup wasn’t quite as annoying. Still… this doesn’t seem well thought-through, Apple please take note.
What about Android?
Android remains interesting and useful to me, and in particular the Lollipop and Marshmallow releases have moved it forward a long way in user experience. I support developers on many platforms, and it is important to me to have a Nexus device in my life, even as a secondary device. I’ve loved using my Nexus 5 more during these past few weeks, but I still find the plethora of messaging apps, inconsistency in finding settings, and annoying UI differences between apps outside of the Material redesign ecosystem, to be hugely irritating.
Another thing that annoyed me on both of my fallback devices was the lack of that magical Touch ID! I’m so used to just holding my phone and being able to use it, that the screen swipe / PIN dance was a big challenge to adjust back to. Amazing how quickly technology becomes part of the daily wallpaper when it is simple and useful.
That being said, it might even be time to update my Nexus to a 5X or 6P to make use of some of those newer features on that platform, as well…
Thanks to Aman, Lia, the Japanese taxi driver, and the corporate donor of my backup phone…
I just installed 138 app updates on my iPhone 6.
Modern life is good-ish.