A mobile life

I’ve always been a techno-junky, at least as long as I can remember. It’s taken the rest of the world a long time to catch up, but thankfully Sheldon, Leonard, Howard and Rajesh are showing the world just how cool us über-nerds are. (That’s The Big Bang Theory for anyone who spent 2012 living on Mars.)

It was Star Trek that did it, I think. Between the communicator, the tricorder and the universal translator there was never much chance for an inquisitive sort like me, who was convinced that aliens were waiting to land, if not here already. (I never bought the theory that the planet was being run by giant lizards. That seemed a little silly. Like David Icke – who I foggily remember for his sports commentary on Grandstand, not the Illuminati.) And for interest, How Stuff Works has a a fascinating article on the 100 Star Trek technologies that have come into being

I remember the first mobile phone I had.

It was Dad’s phone that he passed over to me when I started work. It was a Nokia, a 2140 on the Orange network – the only phone available on Orange when the network launched in 1994. Those of you who had one may remember the retractable antenna. I remember how cool it felt when several  people, a lot older than me, and a lot more important, needed to make phone calls whilst we were stuck in a meeting. Their surprise when I pulled out a cell phone (!) was very gratifying in a geeky, nerdy kind of way.

After that there was no stopping me. Mobile phones and mini-computing became technological areas of fascination and over the years I acquired a series of mobile phones, mini-computers and tablets.

This morning, in the cab on the way to church, a guy on Radio 5 was talking about wearable computers the size of a stud earring that he thinks will be the norm by 2040, which will contain more computing power than every device in the average home today. He was saying, quite straight-forwardly, than in 15-20 years we will have electronic circuitry printed directly onto our skin and that transaction by reading this circuitry will be quite normal. The stud earrings will create local networks to allow off-grid information exchange, ostensibly to protect privacy.

If that sounds insane, you should know that the EES (Electrical Epidermal System) is already here, designed two years ago by engineers John Rogers  and Todd Coleman to collect information on your vital organs and transmit it back wirelessly to a computer.

I wonder if the sense of incredulity I felt was anything like that of those who shook their heads and wondered why on earth I thought I needed a phone in my pocket? Perhaps such imprints and implants will indeed be the norm, even in my lifetime, and we will dispense with our mobiles and games consoles.

In the meantime, here is a gallery of the phones and associated gizmos that, over the years, have led to technology becoming hard-wired into my social and professional life.

Oh… And a small legacy of one of my favourite phones, the Nokia N70 – the picture of Portreath at the top of the blog was taken on it, a good few years ago now.

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Yet another good reason (or five!) why not to get an iPhone #iphone #n900

So buying a phone really shouldn’t be a political exercise, should it?

The fact is, though, that the iPhone is the epitome of the corporatisation of our social networks, looking to control and mould the way we interact rather than giving us a tool to empower us creatively. You’ll probably read this as just another anti-iPhone rant from the Nokia-owning geek, but the Free Software Foundation provide some pretty compelling reasons for thinking twice about chaining yourself to the Apple cart (and WTH do I have to pay more for a crappier contract if I want an iPhone, eh O2?):

You can do what you like with an iPhone – as long as Steve Jobs wants you to do it. The FSF captures the sentiment perfectly:

“The iPhone is an attack on very old and fundamental values — the value of people having control over their stuff rather than their stuff having control over them, the right to freely communicate and share with others, and the importance of privacy.”

Contrast that with Nokia and its approach to the N900:

“The N900 is the most powerful device Nokia has ever created, and it’s built with Maemo software – which is completely open source.

What’s great about this is that it means the N900 can be taken apart and rebuilt, or modded into something entirely new – capable of doing things no device has ever done before.

But things like what? Well, that’s exactly what we asked teams of hackers all around the world. In response, we got hundreds of inspiring dreams and visions.

Now we’re down to 5 teams whose visions are becoming a reality. And this site will follow them every step of the way. ”

Basically, Nokia take the most powerful phone-tablet-thingy they’ve ever designed and, instead of having a precious hissy fit at the thought there might be people out there cleverer than they are, say “Here you go world… play with it!”

Visit MAEMO.org and you will find something quite unique – users, developers and corporate reps all on the same boards, talking about what applications they want and need and some volunteering to do the coding – and finding ways to make this little technological marvel do the most incredible things.

As someone who admires the ingenuity and creativity of individuals – and wishes he could code for toffee – there is no contest.

Besides, I remember the video. And I’d not be seen dead in an Escort:

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Apples aren’t always green: one more reason why I am glad I got a Nokia #n900 #iphone #greenpeace #green

It’s a peripheral consideration for many when making a choice as to the make of phone to buy – and it certainly wasn’t one of mine. However, I have since discovered the Greenpeace International guide to Greener Electronics and I will be paying more attention in future to the companies I buy from.

I am simply glad that Nokia beats the competition by a mile.

If you go to the Greener Electronics page, you will see the little graphic of a hand-held device. Click the number 13 to see the latest report, from September 2009. With a complex formula for scoring the major companies out of ten, Nokia is the only company to score more than 7.

You can read Greenpeace International’s report on Nokia, which puts them 1st, and see how they arrived at the score of 7.5, by clicking on the thumbnail below:

By contrast, Apple may have improved its standing from 11th to 9th, but, by clicking on the thumbnail below, you can see its score is still a paltry 4.9:

Power Geek Enthusiast vs. Flash Git competition aside, there is a real issue here about the ways in which companies that manufacture mass market devices for international distribution respond to real world concerns such as the environmental impact of their commercial activities. If those issues interest you, you can read the full Greenpeace International report by clicking on the thumbnail below:

So there we go.

Apples aren’t always green…

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Apples, escorts and the perils of sticky fingers #n900 #iphone

So I did it.

It felt like a betrayal.

Very mucky. And it cost a lot (when I am used to getting it “free”).

Absolutely fed up with O2‘s hopeless upgrade options, I decided to buy a new phone. Apparently I have been eligible for an upgrade since 2006. That simply isn’t so, as I have had two phones since then,  but neither appear to be registered on their system. No matter how many times I tell them, each call to their perky, perfectly-mannered team (“FFS, yes, you can call me Ben!”) is like a bizarrely personal production of Groundhog Day for phone geeks.

So, having read completely contrary accounts as to whether O2 intend to offer the phone I wanted, and thinking I might try speaking Esperanto to the customer services team next time to see if I can be any more comprehensible, I took the plunge and ordered online from Nokia. My N900 arrived promptly and, after a couple of days playing with it, I can safely say it is the most fascinating and powerful little gadget I’ve ever had.

To be clear: I am in love. Not the girly sort of romantic love that geekdom is infamously inept at. This is hardcore, soul-shaking gizmo love. Processing passion. Firmware rapture.

Of course, some people don’t get phones (I need to be careful here as the über geeks will remind me the N900 is not a mobile phone but an internet tablet with mobile telephony added). So I thought I would try a car analogy – with a view to winding up iPhone users.  I should warn that this enterprise comes with health warnings: I don’t drive.

The Workhorse

I think most ordinary folk are happy enough to own a phone that makes calls and that can send the occasional text message. They are after something simple and basic and functional. They are not interested in hacking it to pieces (we are talking coding, programming and general fiddling here rather than kindling axes) and are content for it to simply work.

That is: WORK.

This sort of phone is so common – because it is such a good ordinary workhorse – that it is practically invisible. To my mind this is the Ford Fiesta of phones: the Nokia N1100. If they were insects they would be Water Bears (that’s tardigrades to all you biologists)  – prolific, unnoticed and utterly survivable.  Thousands of aunties and grandparents the world over keep them neatly packed in their boxes  for “emergencies”. Others, who have long since upgraded, have their N1100s languishing in a drawer – but only in stasis, ready to be reanimated the moment that flash capacitive screen decides it has been subject to one sticky finger too many.

The Flash Git

For some, the priorities are different. Being cool is a very serious consideration, particularly if “cool” can be dressed up as “useful“.

I can’t help it but every time I think of the iPhone I get this image of 1985, getting the bus to the Romford ABC to see Rocky IV and pimped out Ford Escorts (believe me – it is as bad as it sounds). All the cool kids have one – boy do you know they have one. And all the rest of us loser kids should want one (I did my 80s casual clothes shopping at Liberal Party jumble sales on a Saturday morning so no iPhone for guessing which category I fall into).

I don’t know if it is the contrarian in me, but for that reason alone I’ve held out against the entreaties of the Esperanto speakers of O2 and the various friends and colleagues who have evangelised about their iPhones and resisted the temptation to join the iHerd. XR3i, spoilers, alloy wheels, Ghia, Cabriolet… The iPhone has it all and in spades and just as the 80s cool kids used to congregate in gangs to check out the latest in Escort bling, so now iPhone users entertain their mates with their iFart and iSteam apps.

And yes – it is cool.

And no – I can’t pull it off.

(I also admit to a modicum of nervousness at this particular analogy as there is  probably an equation that relates the number of iPhone-owning friends and relatives I have to my Escort-loving girlfriend in order to produce an accurate indication of the likely diminution of my social circle.)

The  Power Geek Enthusiast

So this is where the self-styled l33t haxx0r ends up.

It’s not simple or bling that counts here.

To qualify for the ultra special category of Power Geek Enthusiast, you need raw horsepower, complexity and a love of Saturday mornings drowning in invective, epithets and machine love as you tinker under the bonnet. For me, the N900 is the Ford Capri of mobile phones (and yes – for me it is still easiest to call it a mobile phone). Why have a 1.6L when you can pack a 3.0 V6? The N900 is the sort of gadget those of us who fantasize about being secret agents have dreamed of – a phone and pocket computer combined, which we can use to save the world. Let’s face it. You wouldn’t have caught Bodie and Doyle driving Escorts – they were Capri men through and through (if you don’t believe me, you can check out their carpool here). If The Professionals were reinvented for the 21st Century you can bet your ass they’d be carrying N900s – not iPhones!

Read this piece from one Capri lover. Feel the passion? It could never be an iPhone.

Actually, sod saving the world. The N900 is for all those of us who believe that one day we might just take over the world – and need a super-techno gadget to help us do so…

And just in case any of you think you still want to chance an iPhone, just take a look at this clip below… Go on… I tell you – all the uncool kids are laughing now!

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