Happy Sunday! Here's a big word cloud of all Doctor Who (the 'classic series', as it's now rather alarmingly known) serial titles from 1963-1989.

Because people will ask - early stories are listed by their "accepted" titles, so it's An Unearthly Child rather than The Tribe of Gum, and later season-spanning arcs such as The Trial of a Time Lord have all their component stories included. You could probably argue that "Time-Flight" would have been better split into two words, but then you'd probably be arguing all night.

Click for the full-size version, naturellement.

Doctor Who story titles, 1963-1989

The short version of this post:
I'm cutting back on a lot of online activity. If you want to stay in touch you're welcome to add me on Google+ and/or follow me on Twitter. I'm going to be cutting my Twitter follow list way, way back, and my Livejournal and Facebook accounts will be going away entirely. If I stop following you somewhere it's not because I don't love you dearly, it's just because whatever you're writing isn't something I feel I need to follow right now. I just don't have the time to do everything I want to do.

Right. Now that's out of the way, here's the longer version.

I first got onto the Internet in about 1989 or thereabouts. It's hard to put a precise date on that as being "on the Internet" was a far vaguer concept back then. Anyway, that's a long time ago. Social activity on the Internet back then was more leisurely and generally happened through the medium of mailing lists and Usenet posts. Things like talkers and IRC existed but were mostly the reserve of computer science students. The net was still largely a tool.

Fast-forward 20 years. I now have a Twitter account and a Facebook account and a Livejournal account and a Google+ account and a whole bunch of other accounts I'd forget I even have if they didn't occasionally send me email to tell me someone's followed me there (Foursquare, anyone?). I have hundreds of followers on Twitter and follow hundreds myself. Every time someone tweets something Growl pops up in the corner of my Mac's desktop to tell me about it. Every time I'm mentioned in a Facebook post Facebook emails me. Everything is social and someone is always telling me something. Most of it's stuff I don't need to know, but which I feel bizarrely compelled to read anyway, just because it's there in front of me.

This is all manageable and fine even if it gets a bit confusing and distracting at times. After all, who doesn't want to know what all their friends are up to?

Well, it was all manageable and fine, but now I have a daughter. She's seven months old and very cute. And all of a sudden I have a lot less spare time to play with. I realised recently that it now feels like forever since I read anything of real substance longer than a news story. I feel constantly frustrated that I don't have time to get all the thoughts in my head out of there and into blog posts and other places where they belong. My mind is getting stuffed with stupid trivia and constant interruptions. Anything longer than 140 characters seems to be turning into "Too long; didn't read".

Screw it. Enough. I want to spend time with my own thoughts rather than just being constantly bombarded with other people's. I want to talk and have discussions that exist beyond facile 140-character snarks. I want to hear what people think about important stuff, not what minor social infraction has just made them slightly annoyed. Life, in short, is bigger than all this.

Which means it's time to declare social media bankruptcy. I can't follow it all and I don't want to any more. That doesn't mean I don't want to stay in touch with people, but it does mean I want to stay in touch with people in a genuine way, rather than substituting human relationships for a single sentence outlining what someone had for breakfast. I value my friendships too much for them to be reduced to the kind of Friendship Lite they get turned into by this stuff. This isn't intended to be preachy - I know this works just fine for many people and they wouldn't want it to change, but I'm just not one of those people.

I'm therefore going to hold a bonfire of the socials. I'll keep my Twitter account as, well, it's actually a great place to get breaking news stories and updates on what's going on in the Tour de France. I'm going to cut back the personal follows there a lot, though. This isn't because I don't love y'all, it's just because I've got to cut back somewhere. Don't take it personally. I'm keeping my Google+ account as well. This isn't just because I work for Google, though - I genuinely do like the way it works and makes it easy to manage what you want to read and share with people. Anything which wasn't mentioned above will go away, including Facebook, Livejournal and friends.

But what's the positive here? What do I intend to do in return? Well, I've got a political blog I've hardly had a chance to get started yet. There's a lot of thoughts I want to get down both there and here. You might not like them. Indeed, you might not even want to read them anyway. But I really do feel strongly that the prevalance of status updates and tweet-sized soundbites suffocates longer, more considered discussions, so I want to have a go at starting a few of those.

Do keep in touch, though. You've got my email address, Internet.

The thing everyone says to new parents is "So, how's the lack of sleep?". This is particularly common from those all-knowing parents who've had 12 kids already and all sleep in a big family bed, and indeed talk about sleep patterns on the Internet does often veer alarmingly into attachment parenting and co-sleeping. However, we're bad parents and Sophie still needs to be bottle fed anyway so this kind of slightly scary familial utopia is beyond us.

What has made it work for us so far is wildly different circadian rhythms. Years ago I'd happily stay up until 4 in the morning playing with computers then crash for a few hours, but now even on days when I don't have work in the morning I'm still happier being in bed before midnight. This is probably due to the conditioning effect of working day jobs for the last 15 years. Sure, I can still stay up all night if needed, but by and large, yeah, reasonably early nights please. I can even do a reasonable impression of a morning person at times. What I also am, though, is a light sleeper - I'm easily awoken, so the first baby whimpers will have me out of bed even if she was just making a passing remark about the weather and is in fact still fast asleep.

Tara, on the other hand, is an academic through and through. When she doesn't have any fixed morning commitments she'll happily stay up working long into the small hours before sleeping until midday. And when she's sleeping, she sleeps soundly and doesn't wake up for trivialities. If Sophie starts actually crying, she'll be there like a shot, but the usual gurgles and whimpers don't disturb her.

Sophie seems to be more like her father. The current regime she's imposed on us is a feed in the late evenings, then sleep, then a feed sometime around the 2:30-4 mark when she wakes up, then sleep until she wakes up again around 7. This is as close to sleeping through the night as you can expect a month-old baby to get - two solid lumps of 5 hours or thereabouts if we're lucky. I am certain she'll change the rules on us sometime, but we're definitely fortunate to not have her waking up every 2 or 3 hours angrily demanding milk.

What this means is that at least for the time being, we can operate quite a reasonable shift system. Tara takes care of business until going to bed at 4 or (hopefully) earlier if Sophie's had the small-hours feed and is settled, and I take over from there for the morning having hopefully got a good chunk of sleep already. I'm sometimes sleeping on the futon in my study just to make sure of not being woken up by the gurgles. We're both bleary-eyed, but less so than if we were both the sort of people who just have to be in bed by 11 and sleep for eight hours. It's going to be interesting when Tara is at home by herself with Sophie in the daytime as I need to go back to work, but we'll work something out.

The one weird thing is the way in which the quality of my sleep has been affected. I guess it's something to do with an instinctive "is the baby OK?" thing, but I often wake up tense, covered in sweat and with my heart racing. At other times my sleep is shallow and punctuated by vivid dreams. The dreams aren't always pleasant - I woke abruptly at 6 in the morning yesterday from a dream about Social Services taking the baby away (they have no reason to do so in reality, I assure you) and had a minor panic attack which was possibly exacerbated by the unfortunate fact that Tara had got out of bed a while before and so wasn't there. I assumed Social Services had taken her along.

In the very first week after Sophie came home I was stressed enough as to hardly sleep at all. Even when ordered to go and sleep because I was useless otherwise I'd just lie down, close my eyes and not be able to get my brain to shut up. Everything was flashing through there - fragments of songs, random thoughts, hallucinatory flashes before the eyes, you name it. If I dropped off to sleep it would be shallow and fleeting, punctuated with unpleasantly vivid dreams which shocked me back awake again in a shaky, sweaty state. Once the rest of me calmed down over the first couple of weeks my sleep did too, but I've been left understanding how some people might just choose to avoid sleep rather than have that sort of experience.

Still. All going well, in a few months reasonably regular sleep will return. And then we, too, can start making those nostalgic noises at other new parents-to-be about "how those first weeks are so magical", before cackling evilly and running away.

I've been meaning to write something on the subject of having become a parent before As anyone who's ever done so can confirm, though, becoming a parent itself tends to drive other stuff out of your mind for at least the first few weeks. Our daughter Sophie is now four weeks old, having been born at 2:15 in the morning on December the 9th after a lightning-fast labour that surprised everyone involved. One of the most surprised people was Sophie's father, who nearly missed the birth of his daughter by nipping out for a pee. We're getting used to having her around, and she's getting used to being around. The world is clearly still a place with which she's not entirely impressed, though - she has to use her digestive system now, for instance, which regularly causes her to howl with anguish for the lost days in the womb when it was all taken care of for her.

It's a total cliche to say that nothing can quite prepare you for the first week or two at home with your first baby. It's also absolutely true. A newborn baby is driven pretty much by their brain stem alone - it's instinct, instinct, instinct and it's at least a few weeks before the frazzled parents get rewarded with the first coos, gurgles and smiles that suggest there might be an intelligent life form in there after all. Mix into this the stress of disrupted sleep, not having time sometimes for even basic things like showering and eating, and trying to sort out breastfeeding and it's understandable that many parents don't feel they are bonding properly with their newborn and wondering why the hell they got themselves into this. A lot of romantic twaddle has been written on the subject of the first weeks of parenting. I suspect it's been written by people who either haven't had children or who had theirs long enough ago that they're looking back through a nostalgic haze and have forgotten the shattered nights, colicky screaming sessions and utter frustration of the novice parent.

New babies start developing slowly. It takes them some time even to get back to their birth weight, as they lose weight in the first couple of days after birth. The pace of development does pick up, though, I'm assured - they pile on weight and grow and guzzle more milk and grow more and pile on more weight. They start responding more consistently to the world around them, and generally start being fun to be around. Compared to other mammals our newborn young are remarkably helpless and physically undeveloped and remain so for a long time after birth. It's all a tradeoff, though. So much energy and effort is going into maintaining and developing the amazing large brain which makes them human that other stuff has to take a back seat.

This is why I was delighted to realise that Sophie had been born very close to the winter solstice. There's a nice little parallel between the shortest, darkest days of the year and the first days of a newborn baby's life. As the days pass after the solstice they start to get longer, and after a couple of months they're stretching out rapidly as sun and life returns to the world. In the same way, the first days of a newborn show little development or wakefulness, but little by little, starting slowly but then speeding up, they come alive, grow and start to look at the world around them. And once they start doing that, there's no stopping them.

Winter has its charms, but we're all looking forward to spring.

When I was in my teens, around the turn of the 1990s, my dad went to work in the Gulf. Staying in touch was a fairly simple decision. You could have instant, expensive communication (phone calls cost the best part of a 1990-era pound a minute) or cheap, slow communication (write a letter). What this generally meant was a steady flow of flimsy blue aerogrammes supplemented with the odd phone call. If the far-flung family outpost in the UAE wanted anything that wasn't locally available, pretty much the only option was to wait until a trip home (one or two a year at most) or get a visitor to bring it out.

Fast forward a mere twenty years - just over half my lifetime. I'm an expatriate myself, living in Switzerland. If I need a book or whatever that's not in the shops locally a quick Amazon order will make it turn up on the doorstep in a week or so. When I was in California a couple of weeks ago and wanted to talk to the wife back in Zürich I could just pull my phone out of my pocket and set up a video chat in a few seconds. Instant communication is ubiquitous to the extent that people feel at a loss if their cellphone has coverage problems.

Amazing how the future snuck up on us when we weren't looking, eh?

Radio Silence

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It's been terribly quiet over the last few months. This has mainly been due to being terribly busy both at work and outside it, but there seems to be something more to it too.

I am, it is sometimes claimed, terribly opinionated. I have lots of things that I want to write down and inflict on the Internet. Most of these things never make it into actual written words, though.

There's certainly a lack of direction. It's actually pretty hard to write stuff for a blog regularly if the general field of interest one writes about it "whatever comes to mind". It takes amazing self-discipline and the ability to force oneself to stare at an empty screen for hours willing the words to come to make that work. It takes far more to make it work to the extent that it's anything anyone is interested in reading.

Maybe I should specialise.

UPDATE: If you want to see some press reports of the aftermath of Saturday's finish, you can read them (in French) in SudOuestLe Monde (with video), Vosges Matin and Le Progrés (with pictures). 

On Friday evening I realised that there was a stage finish of the Tour de France the next day that was only a few kilometres over the Swiss border. To precise, at a place called Les Rousses that's within striking distance of La Cure, a Swiss railway station. Okay, I thought, I'll take a day trip to see the race, starting early and hopefully gettting back around 11:30pm. Take my camera, station myself about 4km back from the finish line on the last climb, see if I can get some good shots.

The next day I got up early and (after, ironically, calling in at the nearest police station to report the theft of my own bike) took the train to Nyon and thence up the winding narrow-gauge line to La Cure. La Cure is so close to the border you actually emerge from the station between the Swiss and French customs posts, and from there the local organisers of the Tour were laying on a shuttle bus. The shuttle bus arrived and we all piled onto it. It disgorged us about 500m from the finish line, and I made a note of the location for the return journey. A 5km hike up the road later I found a reasonable point from which to observe and photograph the race. The crazily French institution that is the publicity caravan passed with the usual terrifying scrabbling for free stuff, after another hour and a bit the race itself passed (whatever, you can read about that anywhere), then I turned to head back to the finish area for the bus to the station.

I'd timed things so that I'd be walking back to the finish as the major crowds were clearing themselves out of the way and getting shuttled back to the car parks, and to allow a good long buffer period in the event of my not being able to get on the first or even second bus. Plan B was that if it looked insane I could still walk the 10km to La Cure in time to get the last train, even if my feet would be sore.

When I got there there was mayhem - a large meadow full of people waiting for the shuttle buses, which were running on three routes that were only indicated by small signs at the very ends of the field. It seems the traffic congestion was so bad the buses couldn't get through, and also that they'd also massively underestimated the number of buses necessary. Well, okay. I joined the back of the huge crush, intending to wait a few minutes and then start walking if nothing was still happening.

And then the rain began. The thunder had been rolling around for a while, but now the followup appeared in the form of an enormous storm. Picture the scene - two thousand or so people in a small holding field, most of whom hadn't come dressed for rain. I had had the foresight to stuff my waterproof jacket in my bag, so dressed myself up in its Gore-Texy goodness and enjoyed being drier than most people.

And then the rain got heavier. And it got heavier still. And the people in T-shirts and shorts stopped laughing and just started looking scared as the rain turned into hail. Now you've got a huge number of people in a small field, huddled together with no shelter and no buses and nowhere to go, being hammered with hailstones that were, I kid you not, a centimetre or more across. I stood stuck in the middle of all this listening to small children crying all around as thunder hammered around the sky and they got pelted by hailstones, and watching families desperately forming huddles to try and protect their kids from the onslaught. After a while some of the grown-ups started crying along with the kids, and given the sheer misery of the situation and the fact that many of them had nothing but thin T-shirts on I can't blame them. All I could think was "It'll have to stop eventually". And then the hail got harder and heavier for a bit.

The crowd surged occasionally forward as groups moved out onto the road, with the field waterlogged under our feet and rivers of muddy water appearing thanks to the storm. People were getting shoved around, some people were losing their children in the mayhem.. it was, simply, awful. The only good part is that after a while the storm eased off and eventually the rain more or less stopped, creating an opportunity to do something. After a few minutes it was decided that the buses should just be written off and those of us still left should walk up to the finish line complex to get dried off and warmed up. The local sapeurs-pompiers and civil defence people were handing out foil blankets and shuttling elderly people and children up there in ambulances while the rest of us formed a sodden mass trudging refugee-like up to somewhere dry.

We found ourselves herded into a storage garage next to the media centre, which was in a local sports hall. This was a definite improvement as it was shelter, and shortly after that we were told that (as far as I can tell - my French is lousy) there wouldn't be any buses for a while and moved across the road into more comfortable quarters in what had previously been part of the media centre. We got provided with water and something to eat courtesy of the race sponsors, and local volunteers and the Civil Defence were able to get hold of a bunch of towels and bathrobes so the wettest could dry themselves off. They also raided the stores for spare T-shirts and other clothing so at least some people had some dry clothes. We then mostly hung around waiting to see what would happen. I went and sat on the balcony overlooking the media centre and watched the journalists and photographers hard at work in the giant press room - picture a sports hall absolutely full of rows of tables and chairs and you'll get some idea.

Most people wanted to get back to the car parks and drive home, but I now had a worse problem - my last train back home would be long gone by now, and I was going to be stuck for the night somewhere. Quite where I didn't know yet, but I didn't want it to be a bench on the platform at La Cure. As the evening wore on, more people were brought in having been rescued from other place, the buses got reorganised as the traffic cleared from the roads, and people were gradually shuttled back to their car parks from the impromptu reception centre. In the end there was only me left. By now it was about 2200.

To cut a long story short, with the help of a chap with a Tour de France lanyard who seemed able to make stuff happen and one of the local civil defence folks I got a bed for the night at the resort at the finish line. A bed! More than I'd hoped for - I'd only asked for somewhere to sit or crash, but a bed was better than that. I had to pay for it, but when I discovered that the rate (48 euros) included dinner that night and that they were still serving until 2230 I was a happy bunny. I ate and drank (0.25 litres of dodgy vin de table came with dinner at the buffet), then feeling much better but still wet headed for what turned out to be a rather sparse holiday camp room where I had to make my own bed and there weren't any towels as people coming on holiday bring their own.

It turns out my Freitag shoulder bag did a good job of keeping the important things like my iPad dry - a bit of water had got in and ruined a book but that was the worst damage I'd suffered. My camera, fortunately, is weathersealed..

After hanging my wet things around the room I reflected on what a very, very weird day and weirder evening it had been, then feel deeply asleep. In the morning, well, I had breakfast, packed up, then walked the 10km to La Cure in what was becoming an uncomfortably hot day (no local buses were running due to the Tour) and headed for home. Walking long distances in wet socks is not something I recommend. On the way home my train to Nyon got held up for 25 minutes while the police got called to deal with what I presume was an obnoxious fare dodger - the first time I've ever had a train get that heavily delayed in Switzerland. I think that maybe I should have just stayed in bed and hidden under the covers all weekend..

Some people seem to be castigating the organisers of the Tour de France for what happened. Some seem to be castigating the local organisers. In the aftermath, I'm not sure how much castigation is really useful here. Something happened that was a rare combination of force majeure (the storm - rain had been predicted but its ferocity was totally unexpected) and simple bad prediction of traffic (the buses getting stuck in traffic). They certainly should have had more buses and clearly underestimated the numbers and traffic flows. If the storm hadn't happened, all that would have happened would have been a bunch of people being delayed and inconvenienced. It was the storm that was the hard-to-predict factor that combined with the traffic to cause the nightmare. Should the various official Tour vehicles have offered space to people to shelter? I dunno. Maybe.. but when you have thousands of people in trouble, helping three or four won't get you very far, and there's a very real risk of a stampede or a crowd crush which would only make things much, much worse.

Once we got to the sports centre, people were much happier - being warm and out of the rain does that, as does being able to dry off and eat something. Yes, they were frustrated, but the civil defence actually dealt pretty well overall given that they were having to improvise a response to a weird situation. Many people had far worse problems than just being cold and wet - they'd lost family members or even their own children, and the civil defence rightly made it their first priority to reunite people with their families before worrying about the other stuff. People who are cold and wet are miserable, but as long as you make them warmer and drier reasonably quickly nothing worse will happen. Taking care of the most needy first is absolutely fine, and the people I heard complaining about this should be feeling a little embarrassed.

So what did I learn? Well, mostly that you don't just need a Plan A and a Plan B if you intend to rely on public transport to get to the Tour de France, you need a Plan C. I'm a little sunburned and a little blistered from walking 10km this morning in wet socks, and I was certainly pretty smelly by the time I got home thanks to being in clothes that had been repeatedly soaked in both sweat and rain, but I had an exciting adventure (even if I'm not in a hurry to repeat it).

[Note: Damn, I wasn't expecting this to get so many hits (hi there!) or I'd have written something better. I have, however, fixed a couple of the more blatant errors. Feel free to mail me if you want to take me to task for my poor grasp of football terminology.]

A couple of times recently I've heard people complaining that sports coverage in the news is expected to be highly technical and laced with jargon, but that if a science or technology story uses any specialist language or jargon whatsoever it's derided publicly as "elitist" and "inaccessible". 

Let's take a trip to a parallel universe.. (wobbly lines effect)

HOST: In sports news, Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti today heavily criticised a controversial offside decision which denied Didier Drogba a late goal, leaving Chelsea with a 1-all draw against Sunderland. 
INTERCOM: Wait. Hold it. What was all that sports jargon?
HOST: It's just what's in the script. All I did was read it - I've got no idea what it's really on about. 
INTERCOM: Nobody without a PhD in football's going to understand that. Who wrote this crap? It's elitist rubbish, people will just turn off when they hear it. "Late equaliser"? "Offside"? We've got to get this rewritten so it's more accessible.

(time passes..)

HOST: Let's try this again, then. In sports news, a London football referee has reinterpreted the rules of the game in a manner which is causing controversy among the footballing establishment. Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti described the moment the referee revealed his new version of the rule.
ANCELOTTI: Well, obviously the referee called that decision as he saw it, but even I could see three men between Drogba and the goal. It's terrible refereeing, and we're disappointed to have been denied the win because of such a poor decision.
HOST: Hahaha! Wait a moment, Mr Ancelotti - our listeners will need to have some of that egghead jargon explained to them. Can you explain it a little more simply?
ANCELOTTI: Well... the referee decided that Didier was offside, and I don't agree with that decision. It was clear from the replay that the goal should have been given.
HOST: So in layman's terms, what exactly does "offside" mean?
ANCELOTTI: Offside? Well, it means that if there are less than two opposing players between an attacking player and the goal, and the attacking player is in front of the ball...
HOST (interrupts): ... "Goal?" I'm sorry, all this jargon is difficult to understand. Can you put it in the form of a simple, easy-to-grasp metaphor?
ANCELOTTI: ....No.

HOST: Well, let's go to the phones and see what the public think about this. Line 1 - Mick in Surbiton.
MICK IN SURBITON: I just don't see the relevance of this to everyday life. What difference does Mr Ancelotti's work make to the everyday taxpayer? Was this game funded by the government?
HOST: Good point, Mick. Line 2 - yes, Steve in Bromley, you're on the air. What do you think, Steve?
STEVE IN BROMLEY: I think we need to hear the real story here, which is how the footballing establishment refuses to enter into any debate on this alleged "offside" rule. Why should we have this establishment view of how many players need to be between an attacking player and the goalmouth presented as if it's gospel fact? I read an article on the Internet which said there's strong evidence that in fact, four or even five players need to be in front of an attacking player for them not to be offside, and I don't think this is being presented in an unbiased manner. Why should we believe this Ancelotti guy?

HOST: Food for thought, Steve. I believe Mr Ancelotti's still on the line.. Carlo, do you have any response to that?
ANCELOTTI: Well, the offside rule is clearly documented and the vast majority of authorities have agreed that it is being interpreted correctly as "two players" for many years now. There's no real debate as to whether the offside rule exists or how it should be interpreted. That's why I was so disappointed in the referee's decision.
HOST: Let's take another call. Line 3.. Angela, in Newcastle. Hi, Angela!
ANGELA IN NEWCASTLE: Yeah, I'd like to ask why this establishment figure is attacking the referee so viciously. The referee employed an interpretation of the offside rule which most so-called authorities would consider "wrong", but I think that's just a really arrogant view, assuming that this so-called offside rule is as set in stone as they want us to think it is. This referee is just being victimised for being a maverick who brings things out into the open that the money-driven football establishment and the sportswear manufacturers want covered up. I'm certainly going to think twice about letting my children play football now.

HOST: Well, that's all the time we have for now. Later on we'll be holding a Q&A with the referee, who continues to maintain that his "four player" interpretation is supported by the available editions of the rules and that the football establishment is trying to silence his viewpoint. We'll be talking to well-known sports personality Lance Armstrong to hear his reaction, and in our Special Investigation segment we'll be looking at the sometimes controversial history of the offside rule. Please do keep emailing and calling in, especially if the old "two-player" rule has affected you or your family.
I'm only really posting this because I hope I've found a functional blog posting tool for the iPad (Blogpress), I want to try it out, and I'm being prevented from going to bed by the fact that the cat sauntered out a while ago and hasn't yet returned. Having no cat flap sometimes means my sleep patterns are somewhat at the mercy of a small furry tyrant. 

In other news - well, still no iPad buyer's remorse, regardless of how hard some folk have tried to convince me to have some. It really does do pretty much everything I usually want to do when I'm not at my desk, plus it's smaller and massively more portable than a laptop, with better battery life. I could certainly see myself going for a week away (a non-work week away) with just the pad and no laptop. "You can get a laptop for the same money" misses the point, I think - if I wanted to carry a laptop (couple of kilos, needs space to open up, limited battery life) I would, but for the times when I don't the Everything-Slab is the ideal companion machine. 

...and moreover, one really big win is that in most countries you don't have to take it out of your bag at airport security. Given that at pretty much all airports other than Zürich and maybe Schiphol the very concept of airport security fills me with rage, that's pretty much worth the price of admission by itself. It's worth it to give the screeners at Heathrow one less thing to bark at me about.
I think I said I'd post some first impressions of the iPad. Well, here they are. More stream of consciousness than technical rigour, but there are plenty of technical reviews and teardowns out there already if you want to read about the A4 and debate the merits of the micro-SIM.

I will happily admit that I'm sitting on my sofa writing this in Pages on my iPad - typing in horizontal mode is a little slower than using a physical keyboard, but as I'm a touch typist the main issue isn't speed, it's the interruption in flow caused by most punctuation needing a mode switch from the alpha keyboard to numbers 'n' symbols. Other than that, typing flowing text is surprisingly easy.

When I was somewhat younger the legendary Clive Sinclair designed and marketed a portable computer called the Z88. Around that time the famous Tandy model 100 and its friends were also popular. Both these machines were rectangular slabs, with a fairly small oblong LCD display and a full-size keyboard taking up the remainder of the surface. I used to lust after the Z88 in particular, but being young and impoverished I never got one.
CambridgeZ88small.jpgIt was the Z88 I thought of yesterday when playing with the iPad. It's rather smaller than a Z88 and has about a kajillion times as much storage, but in text input mode it's basically a slab with a keyboard (albeit one that appears and disappears) and a display. One big difference is that I'm not so sure how many writers ands journalists are going to use the iPad for taking notes without an external keyboard. Another big difference is that the iPad is way more than a slab with a display. It will let you read, it will show you videos, it will play games, it will read your mail, let you paint pictures, process your photos and write blog posts. It's kind of the Everything-Slab.

This is normally the point at which the Cory Doctorows of this world adjust their ironic spectacles and pronounce in languid tones, barely able to disguise their yawns, that the iPad's "just a media consumption device". While I naturally have the profoundest respect for such clearly superior intellects, I have to disagree. If you only use the built-in apps that may be the case, but that's also the case with most of the computers sold. You can't do that much with a newly installed Windows box, and it's certainly disingenuous at the very least to imply that a newly installed Debian box is much better for the non-nerdy lay user. Sure, Apple is going to be very happy to get the revenue from selling you movies in the iTunes store, but that is just one aspect of the Everything-Slab.

Where the power lies, and where the interesting future lies, is in the apps. You can argue the merits or otherwise of the iPhone OS development process and App Store approvals (me, I think that Apple needs to be a little less heavy-handed and arbitrary, but I'm not entirely convinced a free for all is automatically the best system either), but it is producing results. You can argue if you like that nothing should exist at all unless it's an open source utopia, but like most utopian arguments it's probably unworkable. I'd rather people - ordinary people, mind, not people who scrutinise the licence for every piece of software they use to verify it's 100% free - had access to a great collection of software distributed under a less than perfect set of rules than not.

In short, this is a fascinating and practical device, more so than I had expected it to be, and I look forward to see how its story unfolds. Apple has proved people wrong in the past enough times that I think it's going to be a hit and that people are going to find some very unexpected and interesting things to do with the Everything-Slab. It's not perfect (a camera would certainly have been nice) but as the first version of a new piece of hardware it's really pretty good. The cynics can cynicise all they want, but I think they're wrong.

Final note at editing time - this post was indeed entirely written on the iPad, and typing is much less painful than I'd been led to believe. All I did on my grown-up computer was add the image and a couple of hyperlinks and post the blog entry - Movable Type's editing box doesn't play nicely with the iPad. Guess I should find a blog posting app.

The Z88 image is by Bill Bertram via Wikimedia Commons, and is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 2.5. Thanks, Bill!

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