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New year's resolution revisited

Back on December 29th I came up with a new year's resolution that generated much mirth and hilarity among those who know me: that, subject to certain exceptions (click that link), I would buy no computers during 2010. There was, of course, a loophole for the iPad, because it was obvious that it was coming and equally obvious that if I didn't allow myself an indulgence I'd fail at the first hurdle. There was also a loophole for a replacement mobile phone once my contract expired. And loopholes for replacing kit that goes up in smoke, and for helping out family and friends.

How am I doing, as of the halfway point?

Pretty well, as it happens.

If you looked back at that older entry you'll notice some loopholes. I've exercised them — it was glaringly obvious, for example, that the iPad would blow a hole through a no-new-computers resolution, so I left myself room to not fail at everything else as a result. And I'm upgrading my two-plus year old phone next month, some time after it came out of contract. But the other stuff is pretty much on track. I upgraded my wife's desktop with a couple of bigger hard drives and a larger monitor, and swiped her 5 year old 20" panel for my own desk. I've had to buy some other hard drives as well, notably for my desktop machine (which ate its OCZ SSD twenty four hours before we flew out to Boston). But I've managed, much to my surprise, to go through six months without buying any new computers ...

Unless you consider the edge cases. Consider the Livescribe pen. It's a pen! With the ability to capture anything you scribble on Livescribe paper, and also to record an audio track. But wait, there's more! It's a pen that runs java applications and can do stuff with a speaker and a small OLED display — tap on a pre-printed calculator grid and it shows you the results, for example.

I originally resolved to stop buying new computers in order to put the brakes on a developing bad habit of acquiring machines that duplicated existing functionality. Something radically different from my existing working kit, like the Livescribe pen or the iPad, seemed to fit the exception clause, which is why I felt able to buy one without breaking the resolution. (The "no duplication" thing does, however, effectively forbid me from acquiring another Livescribe pen, or an Android tablet, or similar.)

But the iPad seems to have broken the 30-year death-grip of the window/mouse/icon/pointer paradigm of graphical interaction of the public conception of how we interact with computing devices. And I'm now wondering how far this goes. Is a PogoPlug a computer, within my original ad-hoc definition (it's something with an interactive user interface and the ability to load and run programs at a user's command)? What about a MiFi wireless router, if it can take a micro-SD card and act as a file server? If I (this is admittedly unlikely) buy a new car this year, at what point do the in-car electronics count?

At the end of the day, I haven't bought any laptop or desktop computers for myself, or any PDAs, except for the (one-only) iPad and the (forthcoming) phone. I'm not even going to weasel out of the resolution by upgrading the server this blog runs on (which is leased, so technically I wouldn't be buying a new one) ... but there's definitely more to this than meets the eye!

Meanwhile? One piece of advice — if you're going to attempt a new year's resolution, give yourself permission to climb back on the wagon if you falter briefly. That way, you can try and work on a new behaviour pattern without cracking up at the first obstacle. Hopefully this one is going to stick.



Supposedly RIM is coming out with a Blackberry tablet, which should provide an interesting contrast to the iPad and potential Android & Windows competitors. If Blackberry can make it attractive to the corporate world they'll steal a big chunk of Microsoft's business. Though I doubt it and the iPad would be real competitors.

Out of curiosity, what are you going to upgrade your phone to, or have you decided yet?


I have an unlocked iPhone 4 on order, for delivery a week or so after I get home. And a leather case already waiting for it -- I know about the antenna issue and anyway, I tend to keep my mobiles in a flip-case for protection.

A more interesting question might be what carrier I'm going to end up using ...


Well done. :)

I'm also interested in what phone you're thinking of, an Android? Although I guess with the iPad the need for a vastly functional smart phone's less of an issue.

It's (and there's an ' on the end of the url too)


My wife just got an iPhone 4, and loves it. We're stuck with AT&T because we're in the US, but reception is decent where we are.

The antenna problem is minor if you are in an area with a good signal to begin with. If you're in a marginal area you can end up with dropped calls. If you're using a case it isn't really a problem though.

We've ended up a mixed family as far as mobile OSes go. My wife's brother and I are using Android, my sister and my dad and my wife's dad all use Blackberry, while my wife uses iOS 4.

My wife's younger brother uses a first gen iPhone that he found, jailbroke, and stuck just about every hack he could on it, just to see if he could. I'm not really sure what that counts as. :)


I've got an ipad next to me which is super cute, but I'm very very curious what could be done with a hypothetical android tablet. Having a device that's open to running a small interpreter + editor so I could whip code up to solve a problem would be terrific, but I bet the 1st gen android stuff will suck at things like keyboard integration. :(



I'm passing up the iPad 1.0 -- not buying "beta" kit is a hard personal rule that hasn't failed me yet -- but will almost certainly fail my saving throw vs. gadget when the 2.0 gets here.

Did the same with the "iPhone-type-object" -- waited and went directly to the Taiwan-spec unlocked HTC Hero -- and couldn't be happier with that choice.

Oh, and Charlie? Finally sorted my e-reader issues I bugged you about *last year*! Got a good deal on one of the new Sonys, loving it longtime. My reading-on-public-transport issues are essentially sorted. Can't imagine an iPad 1.0 fulfilling that requirement. Just too damn bulky to hold with one hand while standing -- at least for the length of my commute.


Out of curiosity, what becomes of your old computing gear? I'm imagining an officespace with alternating stacks of books and computer bits.

(Got my copy of "The Fuller Memorandum" the other day, reading will have to wait a bit as I'm in the middle of "The Merchants' War".)


I have been playing with the idea that a personal *computer* is a device that runs programs *and gives the user access to its filesystem*. If it doesn't, it's a "personal accessory" or "personal device" or some such term.

Because, basically, if you can bang on the filesystem then you can make it do whatever you want, all the way down to swapping the OS.

And yes, this means that I could turn my iPhone into a computer by jailbreaking it. So goes the categorization. I can see ways in which it could *stop* making sense (serious hardware-level code-signing requirements; web browsers taking over as the primary software platform) but for the moment it makes sense.

(...See you at Pandemonium tonight, I guess...)


When I read your original pledge, the SheevaPlug/PogoPlug was one of the things that came to my mind, in that it wasn't immediately obvious to me if it fits your definition. Buy one anyway, they seem awesomely useful. I'm buying one before Christmas myself.


Well done on the resolution, and off-topic, I received my copy of "The Fuller Memorandum" two days ago and am loving it. :)


Ah yes. The iPhone 4. A beautiful piece of industrial design, that will spend it's life in a ugly protective case... because it's not properly engineered.

Toughened glass is still vulnerable along it's edges. That stainless steel band will neatly transfer any shock to edge of the glass.

iPhone 4 is the only phone I've ever heard of antenna with it's bare metal exposed.

There must have been one at least smart engineer at Apple who raised his hand and said "Wait a minute, Steve ..." but for doing so promptly had to clear out his desk.


Any phone I buy is going to spend its life in a case. Because? My phones tend to get shoved in a pocket with keys and coins and other sharp things. And smartphones cost about as much as a decent laptop. Worse: if bought on contract, you can't easily replace one within the term of the contract. So I tend to look after them.

The exposed aerial thing is neither here nor there, compared to the shortcomings of other phones that I've put up with in the past ...


How much data do you need a month? The networks have been pulling unlimited tariffs all over the place, but there are still one or two options left for the dedicated.


I've been keeping my phone in a belt case since I first got one. I learned to do this the hard way on department on-call phones back when I was working in site support on a large global intranet. We used a cheap candy-bar form-factor phone, and if I carried it in my pocket two things would happen: the damn thing would dial itself by bumping against the coins and keys and things, and it would get all scratched up from the bumping. When I got an iPhone 3Gs I bought a belt case along with it, to make sure I wouldn't run the risk of scratching up the screen even for a few days. Paying $25 or $30 dollars for a case makes sense when the phone costs several hundred dollars.

In Fuller Memorandum news, my copy finally got here yesterday, and I'm 2/3 done (would have been done already, but I've had a lot of errands to run the last couple of days). So far I love it a lot; at least as much as "The Atrocity Archives", and maybe more than "The Jennifer Morgue". One minor thing I want to thank you for, Charlie: the mention of Dr. Mike. I never met Mike Ford in person, and because I was mostly gafiated from SF fandom for several decades, I didn't even really know about him or his writing until the day after he died. Since then I've been reading every one of his books I could find, and I've been really impressed with the quality of his writing and the depth and breadth of his thinking. Thanks for giving us one more time to remember him.


Lobsters/Accelerando was my first Stross experience, and I'd always pinged you as a Manfred Open Source style champion; This embracing the smooth+shiny by yourself (and Bob H as well) has wrongfooted me a bit :) I'm only halfway into the Fuller Memorandum, so I'm hoping the JesusPhone *is* glamour hexed with creeping evil underneath and Holiness Jobs has neon worms in his eyes ;)


I've been using a digiscribble pen for about 18 months now. It doesn't do the java stuff that your pen does but then it doesnt need any special paper either


Wouldn't it be interesting if the Livescribe pen could be married to the iPad. The paper would need to be transparent film with the printed dots (although a lower resolution might be possible just reading the same on the screen) and the iPad would need to run Java. The tablet form would work well as the platform for making and recording notes with the pen.


My iPhone lives in a pocket, no case, but no other stuff in there, except a plastic voice recorder that is softer than it is.

Seems to work, mostly.


How useful do you find the Livescribe pen, Charlie? Or anyone else? It's the kind of gadget I instinctively want to try, particularly given its unusual form factor, but I thought I might ask here first. What do people use them for? Did you come up with new uses you didn't think about at before buying? Do you carry it everywhere, and if not, what makes you carry it?

Also Charlie, thanks for The Fuller Memorandum - great fun as usual :-) Pity I didn't get the chance to buy it in hardback!


oooh ! long time lurker, suddenly encouraged to type by relevant topic :)

Anyway - digital pens / notebooks - I am a copious note taker and write a hell of a lot of ideas both work, personal etc in loose format on a variety of surfaces, inputs and notebooks.

As such have recently been flirting with the idea of getting a digital pen or notebook type device to capture all this info for me without the various pains of moving it around.

So far the only one that looked vaguely interesting was the Genius G-Note 7100 however I will now take a look at the livescribe - anyone else have any good suggestion's to throw into the pot ?


I was tempted to get a sheevaplug when the 2000 vintage blueberry iMac I was using as a 24/7 home server died but on investigating the forums it seemed they didn't really work that well. Heat problems from trying to make the cases too small and underventilated.

I had the same problem with HomePlug networking over mains (which is great and I need it because of granite walls) where the plugs died after about 18 months because they ran too hot. The anonymous Chinese ones I have now have bigger and better ventilated cases and cost less than the name brands.

So I got a D-Link DNS-323 NAS which runs Linux and can be hacked so I have it running lighthttpd, php and mysql with cron jobs to send reminder emails, check the uptime on my hosted sites and such. £99 + a hard drive and running bash and perl and Python and php. Great fun for fiddling with and I have my Macs for when I need it to Just Work.

A combined sheevaplug/HomePlug that didn't overheat would be neat though. Completely self-contained on a spare socket behind the sofa or whatever.


So no implants/wetware/embedded crystal you're not telling us about?

If not, congratulations. You're halfway there.

At some point, I'd be interested in hearing how your ReStructuredText/Docutils experience worked with Catch 34 (assuming you've achieved enough emotional distance).

Would you do it again? Opt for a slightly more robust markup (Markdown, Sisu, etc)? Been looking at RST for a longer project, but a little lost at the lack of some of the little bits (strikethrough, underline, etc).


Zarf @8: assuming you're the IF Zarf, you may be amused to know that I've spent a good fraction of my interaction time with my recently-acquired new Android phone using it to play your games :-)


"was tempted to get a sheevaplug [...] but on investigating the forums it seemed they didn't really work that well. Heat problems from trying to make the cases too small and underventilated."

Never had any heating problems with mine - it's in a nice well ventilated place though. (It's in the garage, next to the ADSL modem, router, ethernet switches and patch panel).

The biggest "problem" is it not being x86 compatible - If I want to run George 3 on it I have to run the g3ee emulator under wine under qemu - a bit complicated to set up.


Yes, I am the IF Zarf, and I am happy to hear it. :) Enjoy.

(--Andrew Plotkin)


There's a lot of predictions on what the big Apple conference will have tomorrow for the iPhone 4.


Picked up a brand new Desire about a month ago as a business cellphone however am very dissatisfied , firstly i would have about 900 contacts on my previous XDA and was able to view by organisation or personal, not so on Desire only by individual which is of no use especially with no search option either. Android 2.2 is intended to have search facility but not different view option launch date seems to differ each time . Battery pretty good approx 18 hrs medium usage. Bluetooth poor, paired with parrott car kit ok for day or so however won't connect even by unpairing and pairing new, same problem with bluetooth headset........any ideas


woo someone has reverse engineered some crude form of Linux support for the Livescribe; i've been waiting for this day with anticipation!

did your desktop eat its OCZ SSD, or did the OCZ keel over and die? i've been avoiding SSD's for a couple years, until I have some faith their reliability is at least that of the blasphemously temperamental mechanical HD's they are replacing.


Had to check the contact thing on my Droid. I can search, choose to display contacts from specific accounts, and even search by organization. The Droid is a straight Google experience phone. Is the Desire different?

I just pretend that every time Bob loves on the iPhone, he said Android instead. If the phone turns evil in the end, I'll just edit my memory. I am at the half way point, and it's awesome so far.



only by individual which is of no use especially with no search option either

Odd. Android 2.1 has the search option - just use the search button as elsewhere. The edit box even comes up with a 'search contacts' hint.


Both my old (original) iPhone and my current (3G) iPhone have managed to survive without protective armour. I've dropped both several times, and onto some rather hard surfaces, but they keep on keeping on.

I rather like the patina of dents, chips & scratches they've acquired. Gives them character.

Besides, the prices of some of these aftermarket protective items is insulting.

Twenty five quid for a rubber band?... I think not!


Apple is giving away those bumper things to cover the edges to everybody who's bought the iPhone 4. I think I might worry about having the screen scratched or something, too. I have an old Samsung that has a flip top so just the outside is scratched and dented.


The Livescribe pen is great for taking notes in lectures and meetings, particularly if you can't write because you are in a discussion. It makes it easy to get to the ground of things. Notes loose a lot of content. Recently my boss was asking why we had implemented a certain feature. I dug back through my notes and it turned out the he had been at a meeting where this feature was deemed indispensable.

BTW I have file system access on my Android device - I guess that makes it a computer (I also have shell and can ssh)


I don't think "file system access" is a meaningful designation. (Bit of a warning: my keyboard is being flaky, especially the 'd' key, and I haven't been catching all of them. This is ironic given what I'm writing below.)

If you go back and look at the history, the first computers didn't have filesystems. Even when they had hard drives, it was still bare-bones, and programs had specific blocks they use for data. Eventually, this got abstracted so that you could use filenames; this started the process of users being able to control their own data.

When you got to personal computers, it was still very bare: users ran a specific program on a specific file. Or, ran the program, and then opened a specific file. They had to know the path (not a lot of preferences stored in a known location back then, obviously), and the program to run.

Xerox and Apple (and, eventually, Microsoft) change that -- they went to a metaphor. A desktop metaphor, specifically. You operated on files. You might know which application processe it, but you mostly didn't care: you metaphorically "opened" the file via a computer-human interface. (That is, double-clicking an icon.) You might have a case where multiple applications opened the same kind of file, but that was somewhat rare.

The iPhone went away with that. Instead of being a file-centric metaphor, it was instead an application-centric interface. A single application might have multiple documents (whatever those are), or it might not. The user, however, would get at an application's data only through the data.

This isn't a shift from a general-purpose computer to an appliance. It's a shift from one paradigm (I hate having to use that word, but it applies) to another. One of the problems is with forcing people to do the shift, especially when they really want to use the old paradigm. (This happened with the file-centric metaphor as well -- several of the most popular development environments for the Mac were popular because they included a command-line interface.) From my vantage point as an old fogey, I'm somewhat amused by the shift back to "the program magically gets at its data" viewpoint. Someone concerned, as well, I should mention, because, well, I remember those days well. :)

Calling the iPad or iPhone an "appliance" misses out on the fact that it is fully a general-purpose computer. But thinking about it as such is a lot closer to what Apple and developers are trying to do with it -- which, again, is moving away from the file-centric metaphor.

Hm. I just realized that Charlie's pretty much said all this. And better than I did.


I'm surprised we got this far without an explicit mention, but I thought we already had a definition for something that is a computer:


Charlie, I don't think you would break your New Years resolution if you bought a new Bluetooth stereo headset. This would assuage my guilt over me buying mine (a MOTOROKR S305). The iPad and JesusPhone4 were gifts so I didn't break the resolution there, and I love listening to my music w/o wires, talking on the phone w/o grief (I used the earbuds/mic even tho they always fell out of my ears because I hated cleaning face sweat off the phone and putting up with the phone imprint on my face). And it truly pairs with more than one device - a first for me despite manufacturer claims. Thus I happily play games on the iPad with the headphones as well as their uses with the phone. I am not trying to promote any particular device, just trying to be the little red guy on your shoulder with the horns and pitchfork encouraging you to buy the Bluetooth headset of your dreams to keep me rationalizing my having purchased one!


Great job, Charlie!

I'm also doing well with my New Year's Resolution: not buying ice cream. I only buy ice cream if my favorite brand comes out with a new flavor. Or a new size. Or if I have a coupon. Or if, you know, it's really more for my wife.

I haven't broken my resolution once.



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on July 13, 2010 1:23 PM.

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