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Pod Delusion Episode 41

I’m on The Pod Delusion again this week, talking about something… esoteric. And a bit political. Why not have a listen?

I may or may not post an edited transcript on here at some point… I promised a while ago to make a point of doing so, but haven’t been great at keeping it up 😉

This post was filed under: Diary Style Notes, Writing Elsewhere, .

Why I switched from BlackBerry to iPhone

A couple of days ago, I wrote about my switch from PC to Mac, and said I’d also explain how I’d come to switch form BlackBerry to iPhone. So here I go…

Vodafone Logo

Vodafone Logo

Back in December 2008, I was using a Nokia 6110 Navigator, and felt I needed an upgrade to something a little more modern and useful – so I started looking. I decided that I needed a true smartphone, and felt that I probably wanted something on the Vodafone network as I knew them and liked them.

That ruled the iPhone out. But I’d decided I didn’t really want one of those anyway – I wasn’t entirely sold on the idea of a touch screen, and heck, this was a phone that couldn’t handle MMS or cut-and-paste. In many ways, it would be a downgrade.

However, I was attracted by the iPhone’s big screen… and also by the idea of a BlackBerry, which I’d heard were ‘rock solid’ for email – and email was one of the big things I wanted my new phone to do better. So I looked at the newly released BlackBerry Storm, and quickly came to love it.

I’d read all the negative reviews, but playing with it repeatedly in-store reassured me that it was right for me. The ‘click’ of the screen helped me to overcome my fears about using a touchscreen, and the reputation for rock-solid email convinced me further.

In March 2009, as I blogged at the time, I upgraded.

BlackBerry Storm

BlackBerry Storm

And I loved it. It connected with most of my email accounts out of the box (with the exception of my NHSmail account, which I never anticipated it connecting to), and it worked exactly as I wanted it to. The SurePress screen was a massive hit. The battery life wasn’t great, but I’d planned for that and bought a charging dock to keep next to my bed, and used the phone as my alarm clock. The perfect solution.

But over the next 12 months, things began to niggle me. The Storm crashed quite regularly – perhaps once a day, a battery-pull would be necessary to reboot the device to get it working again. And rebooting a Storm is not exactly an instantaneous process. Syncing the phone over-the-air worked brilliantly for my Calendar and Contacts, but when I wanted to connect to my PC to transfer photos from the device, it was more than a little laborious.

As time went on, I simply became more and more frustrated with the device, and had my mind set on a high-end QWERTY BlackBerry as my next phone of choice.

But then, I discovered Mac. I bought my MacBook Pro, and started playing with the iPhones in the Apple Store. I discovered that my previous complaints about the iPhone had largely been fixed, and that typing on a touch-screen was actually quite easy. The seamless syncing between my new MacBook and the iPhone also seemed attractive. The seeds were inevitably planted.

Whilst particularly frustrated with my Storm one day, I vented my anger through twitter, citing my frustration with the Storm and desire for an iPhone. Having seen my Tweet, in a show of exemplary customer service, Vodafone called me, and within the week I had a shiny new iPhone 3GS (and, as it happens, Vodafone also reduced my monthly contract cost).

And, much like the switch from PC to Mac, it wasn’t until I started using it that I realised what I had been missing.

iPhone 3GS

iPhone 3GS

The iPhone just works in a way that the BlackBerry didn’t. As per the comment on my previous post, the iPhone is more transparent to the task than the BlackBerry could ever hope to have been.

The App Store makes the iPhone sing in a way that the App World could never do for the BlackBerry. The App Store experience is seamless, the App World experience, well, isn’t, to say the least.

And, perhaps most surprisingly, since the release of iOS4, the iPhone connects to all of my email accounts – including NHSmail – without a hitch. Surprisingly, I think the iPhone has actually surpassed the BlackBerry for email solidity.

The MacBook syncing is as straight-forward as I’d hoped, and typing is as easy as it seemed in the shop. And I’ve never had to perform any equivalent to the constant battery-pulls I had to endure with the Storm.

Once again, Apple has won me over simply through offering the better user experience. I can’t quite say that I don’t miss anything from the Storm, but there is only one thing that I miss – the little notification LED on the top of the device. But then, I’d had to hack that with BeBuzz to make it useful to me. All-in-all, there’s no question in my mind – I prefer the iPhone.

Also, Vodafone has amazed me through their exceptional level of customer service – a level of service which has improved immeasurably from a couple of years ago to become truly First Class. I was impressed when they upgraded me to the Storm, but this time even more so – picking up on a single tweet and responding to it in such a supra-satisfactory way is truly impressive of any company, and has certainly guaranteed my custom for many more years to come.

This post was filed under: Reviews, Technology, , , , , , .

Brown’s record-breaking nose-picking

I’ve just noticed that my (infamous) YouTube video of Gordon Brown picking his nose has now been viewed over half a million times – 581,610 times to be precise – on YouTube alone. That’s on top of it’s appearance on Newsnight, and pretty much everywhere in 2007. It’s had 2,584 comments – more than the rest of the site put together.

It’s quite clearly the most successful thing ever to come from this site: A video of someone picking their nose. Crazy!

This post was filed under: Diary Style Notes, Politics, Site Updates, , , .

Taking the Apple: Why I moved to the dark side

Apple Logo

Apple Logo

Twelve months ago, I was ‘a PC’, as the ads would have it. I’d used Windows for most of my computing life, and had no real reason to change. To me, Macs were incompatible with everything I use, great for graphic design and little else, and owned only by pretentious idiots with more money than technological sense.

Now, I have a MacBook Pro and and iPhone.

So what changed? How did Ballmer lose his grip on me in the face of the cult of Jobs? Well, I came to the dawning realisation that Apple products are better for my needs.

My old Toshiba laptop was happily running along on Windows XP, but nearing the end of its lifespan. After four years of abuse, it was running slowly, becoming occasionally tempremental, and making worrying noises now and again. I decided it was time for a new one.

At the same time, I’d be trying to find the perfect operating system for my Acer Netbook. It came with a fairly rubbish pre-installed flavour of Linux, and I’d been experimenting with Ubuntu, Moblin, even Windows 7 (which ran so slowly it was comical). I had come to realise that operating systems could be done better than Windows – though I wasn’t sure I was ready to leap to Linux for the purposes of my main computer system.

One of the most negative aspects of my experience with Windows XP on the laptop was it’s constant nagging. Everytime I opened the lid of the laptop, it would have a handful of messages to tell me it had connected to a wireless network, updated its virus scanner, and an update or six were available – which would probably require a reboot taking at least ten minutes. My limited experience of Windows 7 on other computers and on my netbook hardly convinced me that Microsoft had reversed this trend.

What I needed, I realised, was an operating system that gets the hell out of my way, and just lets me do what I want to do – much like Moblin on the netbook.

Now around this time, many of my online acquantances were changing to MacBooks. I was mildly curious about this, but I was fairly sure that Mac wasn’t for me. I didn’t want the hassle of converting documents to use them on Windows machines, having to find alternatives to the software I use that are ‘Mac Compatabile’, and peripherals probably wouldn’t work with it either. No, I was sure I wanted to stick to Windows.

Then, with curious timing, an Apple Store opened near me. Being a bit of a tech-head, of course I naturally went to have a look. Initially, I gawped from outside at the hoards of people, wondering how people could spend so much money on such ‘toys’ instead of proper computers.

MacBook Pro

MacBook Pro

Within a couple of weeks, I ventured inside. Having never really examined one in the ‘flesh’ before, I was amazed by the MacBook Pro. It was a thing of beauty. It wasn’t a noisy great hulking grey plastic lump of ‘tech’ like my laptop. It was metal, and shiny, and sleek. It looked like it had been designed, rather than just being the result of an unholy union between screen and keyboard. It impressed.

Still, I scoffed at the large trackpad. Recalling that Macs have only one mouse button, I assumed one had to tap to click, and no right-click would be possible. I’ll admit to being more than a little impressed when I tried it, and found that the trackpad actually physically clicked…

And, over time, the seed planted by the Apple Store grew. I learned that that right-clicking was not only possible, but easy – just click with two fingers. I noticed how the Macs sped along, even when multitasking, compared to my slow, clunking laptop. And gestures like two-fingered scrolling and four-fingers for exposĂ© came naturally, even from just playing in the shop.

More than anything, the more I learned about Mac OSX, the more I felt some design had gone into that too. It didn’t feel like the latest iteration of something that had gone on forever. It felt thought-through, somehow fluid, and complete. It just worked, and kept the hell out of the way.

I was given yet more confidence to make the switch by the support offered by the Apple Store. The idea that they were there, on hand, to help with any questions or struggles I had was manifestly reassuring. And the idea of being able to take a misbehaving laptop straight to the Genius Bar for repair sold me too.

So, after a little research, I took the plunge. I made a Personal Shopping appointment, took along my NHS ID and got a hefty discount off a new MacBook Pro. The shopping experience itself was brilliant. I had an attentive assistant’s undivided attention, and he was clearly knowledgable. He knew all about the machines, how they worked, and how to do stuff on them.

He didn’t try to up-sell – despite me expecting him to, when I asked if the 13″ would meet all of my needs. Ask that in PC World, and they’ll undoubtedly try to sell something horrendously overpowered to bulk up the sales figures.

The guy was trying to tell me all about the benefits of iLife – I wasn’t really interested, I assumed this was Apple’s version of bloatware that I’d remove within days.

He offered to take in my old laptop and transfer everything across, but I figured that I could do that myself – though he assured me that they’d be there if I got stuck.

I got the MacBook home, and loved it. Transferring everything across was easy, especially as most of my documents and the like are stored with DropBox. Transferring music involved a simple iTunes backup on the old computer, and restore on the new one. Easy.

The ‘bloatware’ of iLife turned out to be excellent. I use Mail, Address Book, Calendar, iPhoto, and iMovie regularly, and GarageBand for podcasting. Everything stays in sync with my Google services flawlessly – I now rarely find myself logging in to the Google Apps online.

I was initially frustrated by the lack of a “maximise” button on the Mac, but once you’re used to working in windows that are only as big as they need to be, you quickly learn to appreciate the advatanges of working in multiple windows. As I write this, I have a couple of chats window open on the right of the screen – something I never would have done under Windows XP as I would naturally have maximised this one window. I’ve also adopted this new-found multitasking behaviour on the Windows systems at work – and often try to stroke the mouse, as I do my Magic Mouse at home!

Whilst I have iWork on the MacBook, I also bought Office for Mac for pennies via NHS Discount, and find myself using that instead. Again, the layout of the software is rather different to what I’m used to under Windows, but it is in many ways more intuitive through being less formal and more fluid. Writing a PowerPoint presentation a few weeks ago seemed easier on Office for Mac than on regular Office – even though it’s regular Office that I’m used to. And I had no problem at all loading it onto a memory stick and presenting it at work.

MacOSX does what I wanted – stays out of the way. And I’ve come to appreciate that features like exposĂ©, which look like flashy gimmicks in the shop, are invaluable – I actually don’t know how I managed without it! And I can honestly say that I haven’t found anything – anything – that I could do on the PC but can’t do on the Mac.

So, laptop wise, I’m a Mac Convert. I prefer the way Macs work, look, and feel. They are a better match for me than Windows PCs – though I accept that some will prefer the latter – I’m a convert, not a cult member.

I was going to write about how I was later converted from Blackberry to iPhone, too, but given the length of this post, I think that will just have to wait till another day.

This post was filed under: Reviews, Technology, , , , , , , , , .

The Haltons and calling eleven-year-olds “fat”

A story is doing the rounds today, much like recent similar stories, about a child called Tom Halton and receipt of a letter telling his parents that his BMI was higher than expected for his age.

Before I go any further with this post, I need to point out that the BBC are talking rubbish about the story. Their second paragraph:

Tom Halton, 11, of Barnsley was told he was overweight after taking part in a national scheme which measured children’s body mass index.

Not true. The letter was sent to Tom’s parents, not Tom. They chose to share it with him. This upset Tom, and he didn’t eat his dinner that night.

The facts are these: Tom’s BMI is heavier than 93% of children his age. The World Health Organisation classifies him as overweight. An increased childhood BMI is associated with lifelong adult illness, in particular Type II Diabetes.

Yes, there are problems with using BMI for purposes like these, particularly in children, and the letter should have acknowledged those more clearly. But it is wrong to simply ignore the best indicators we have in children of their future adult health.

Tom’s dad said:

These letters are doing more harm than good. You might as well send a T shirt with FATTY on it. The impression it gives is that your child is fat, it’s your fault and they will die from a horrible disease.

The letter is not the best written in the world, but it makes the point fairly clearly that the high BMI increased Tom’s risk of future illness. Which, to be blunt, it does.

As for the T-shirt comment, it strikes me firstly that it was the parents who shared this letter with their child, and have now plastered him over the papers with headlines calling him “fat”. Why?

I note that the “grovelling apology” from the DoH actually apologises for causing the parents offence if they felt their parenting skills were being derided – which is not suggested at any point in the letter.

So where do Dan and Tracy Halton suggest we go from here? I’m genuinely interested to hear their views – and yours. Do we inform parents of modifiable statistical risks to their children’s health and wellbeing, or not? If so, how do we go about it? Is writing to parents not the best way to tackle this? Would individual consultation where the full facts could be clearly explained be a better option? Or does that come across as being “summoned to the headmaster’s office”, and yet more punitive (and expensive)?

What do we do? How do we tackle this? I’d love to know your thoughts.

This post was filed under: Health, , , , , .

A little Monday morning inspiration…

Back in 2003, I pointed readers in the direction of a Guardian interview, by Decca Aitkenhead, with a teenage mother called Hannah White. She gave birth to Ebony in the middle of her GCSEs, and still managed to get great results.

The comment thread on my post turned into something of a support forum for teenage mums, which offers fascinating reading in itself. Hannah came along and contributed from time to time, but towards the end of last year it kind of petered out.

But now, Hannah herself has posted on there again, letting us know that she’s now got her degree and has started working full time in neurosciences, as Ebony has just turned five.

I just think this goes to show how the stereotypes of teenage parents can so often be wide of the mark.

Congratulations, Hannah, and all the best for the future. 🙂

This post was filed under: Classic Posts, Health, Media, , , , , .

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