What happened to the Pandas?

The more astute amongst you may have noticed that in my recent post on “Coffee and Pandas“, the title characters – “The Pandas” – didn’t feature particularly heavily in the actual article itself.

Of course, many of you wouldn’t have noticed anything special about Pandas apart from the cute panda picture at the start.

That’s probably being a bit liberal with the word “many” – as “many” is a subset of a universal set “people with nothing better to do” that read this blog. Come to think of it, the strict definition of the universal set I have used (the bit in quotes) is a bit lax too – as it would include quite a large percentage of the world’s populace. My hit counter doesn’t support such a position… unless it has flicked back around to zero a couple of times. That must have been what has happened.

We should also consider the intersect of those that did spot that pandas were not in my article, but know me well enough to be aware that, from time to time, I will freely hazard a panda or two for no rational or explicable reason – and so they choose not to comment.

I don’t particularly like pandas, by the way. They just seem a little less threatening than grizzlies and are more obstinate than teddies.

Oh, and if you are browsing this article for technical content – the bit about set theory above is about as far as this one goes. Note that I have filed it under by “Whimsical” category to indicate that it includes no useful content of any sort.

Anyway, I did start the previous article with pandas in mind. But as is oft the case, I found myself wrapped up in so much of the preamble, that I never made it to the bit about pandas. And this entry seems to be heading in the same direction. Although, technically, there is quite a lot about pandas already. Just not the bits that I had in mind at the start. Of the previous article. And this one.

Back to coffee (don’t worry, I am sure the pandas are on the way). So I go to the coffee machine. This is a different occasion to my previous coffee social disaster – and this time, there is no one at the coffee machine. No opportunity to redefine the boundaries of polite conversation – just me, the coffee machine and 60p in exact change.

I put a 50p coin in to the machine. It drops straight through to the coin return. I’m not exactly cognisant as this is early in the day so as a reflex reaction I scoop up the coin and pop it back in. It drops straight through to the coin return. Again.

Somewhere in a cortex or some kind of lobe – electrons dance around and blow raspberries at each other.

I don’t have another 50p – but I do have a cunning plan. If I can entice the machine to accept a 10p, maybe it will get greedy and swallow the 50p quickly afterwards. There is no technological or rational explanation for why this should work. But, admit it – you have fallen for this appealing logic yourself, haven’t you? Well, if not – perhaps a slight deviation of it. This includes warming a coin up with your hands, blowing on it, licking it or giving it a little back spin with your finger as you pop it in. I really hope that no one quotes me on this out of context.

I confidently pop the 10p in to the coffee machine.

It drops straight through to the coin return.

One day – just one day – you would think I might get coffee without social anxiety or a nasty metallic taste on my tongue.

A sudden thought occurs before I resort to consuming small change. Maybe something written on the front of the coffee machine might offer some helpful advice?

Before you scoff – have you ever read the instructions on a coffee machine? No?

Well, although we all take coffee machines for granted, they are advanced devices managing harmful, noxious and searing substances to channel them in to polyurethane conical receptors which are transitioned across a failsafe hazard interface. It has taken decades of painstaking development and refinement to evolve a level of environmental manipulation, artificial intelligence and raw computing power to control all this with such utter sublime subtlety that we can take it for granted. But all the same, I’m sure they read the instructions for the Space Shuttle before take off.

I scan the instructions and notice the words “Insert Mug” on the coffee machine display.

How absolutely bloody stupid. And what is that supposed to mean anyway? Is it inviting me to squeeze my face past the drip dray? I certainly feel like a mug. Is it any wonder that people get themselves killed with these idiotic contraptions?!!!?!

That’s when I notice the stack of thick foamy cups next to the machine. I’m sure that they weren’t there yesterday. And they are cups for crying out loud.

Now my definition of a mug is a heavy ceramic affair with a suitable loopy handle. Either that, or someone who fails to get coffee out of a perfectly serviceable coffee machine.

I just stand there, confused. Is it a mug, or isn’t it?

“Hi Mark, how’s the coffee?”, a friend chirps in as he walks over.

I have completely no answer.

Damn, damn, damn, damn….

Coffee and Cake!

In order to recover from my ‘near coffee experience’ as documented in my previous post and to celebrate the first drop of code at a major project I am working on, I have bought cakes.

If you aren’t working on a major project, then there is no chance of cake.

If you are working on a major project, then your chance of cake increases depending on how close to Swindon you are.

To compensate those that are neither near Swindon or on a major project – or those that are, but aren’t in Swindon today, here is a picture of a cake.

...and I don't even like chocolate



Coffee and Pandas

Cute PandaOk, so the app production line has been eerily silent for the past couple of months, I’d have to admit. I have been developing a concept that I thought was quite unique and froody – but then saw that there was not just one app, but a whole genre of apps that essentially were based on the same root idea. And what is more, they sucked.

So, back to the drawing board. Although I was out at ‘Zizzi’ in Kenilworth last night having a rather pleasant Italian in some rather pleasant company and happened across the germ of an idea that was, in a nutshell, rather pleasant. Or at least it will be when I have figured out how to do it.

So that leaves me at something of a loose end as to what to write on the blog just now. Earlier in the week I had a rather pleasant evening in Leamington at ‘Voodoo’. Actually, you know what – it wasn’t pleasant, because nothing pleasant ever happens at Voodoo. In fact, it was more of an entertaining evening in the fun-fun-fun sense of the word. I happened across a leaving do for an old friend who had a dozen or so other old friends along to see him off. Why is it that friends don’t get younger? Something to do with the uni-directional Shott vector on the space-time inversion axis I suspect. Anyway, Martin Favor was one of these friends and he gently grabbed my by the lapels and politely asked why I hadn’t done any blog entries recently. Now there’s an avid fan for you.

To be fair to Martin, he was not the first to remark on the blog. I’ve literally had an email demanding to know when the next issuance will be forthcoming. It was from Nick Dyer. Thank’s Nick – if ever I am famous, you will be on the VIP list. I will do my best not to confuse this with the RIP list or things might turn out bad.

Anyway, I finally hit upon and idea for this entry. As with most things when trying to actually do something or think of something – I decided to get a coffee.

That was the idea, by the way – get a coffee.

Now most people wander up to a coffee machine and press a button (sometimes two or even three on the posh ones), get their coffee and wander off again. Occasionally, they are pressed in to polite conversation that will cover either:

  1. The weather
  2. What happened on the weekend
  3. What is going to happen on the next weekend
  4. What the weather was like on either the preceding or will be on the next weekend
  5. What day of the week it is and why this is a good or bad thing (…including weather)
  6. How bad the coffee is.

Technically, it is a complete social taboo to talk about anything other than these things. You probably don’t even realise that you are conforming to these social norms.

“Ah Ha!”, I hear you say (though not actually as that would mean I was stalking you or the placing of listening devices), “but I was talking about football at the coffee machine – so there!”.

Uh huh? And when exactly did this football take place? Did you, by any chance, happen to mention the weather too – and, come to think of it, this coffee is pretty awful, isn’t it?

I like to think that I am a bit of a maverick – not constrained by social norms. Having absolutely no regard for convention I set it in my mind to get a coffee and to break the rules. Ok, hardly trail blazing stuff – but I am sure that even Monty Python had to start somewhere. You don’t think they were able to openly discuss taxidermy in public without first hazarding the use of a spoon instead of a fork for the consumption of peas, do you?

But how to break this mould – what could I do at a coffee machine that hadn’t ever been done before? Thinking like you are doing right now might get me arrested – and remember this was just a first step, right?

So first I had to approach the coffee machine. The plan extended about as far as that – walk to the machine.

I was in luck – there were two people I knew at the coffee machine. How terrifying might it have been if someone unknown was lurking there. I mean, a stranger might not exactly react predictably. Which isn’t to say that a friend would – only they would have the context of the rest of my unusual behaviour with which to place this event. This has the reassuring effect of cushioning the impact of social anarchism on their psyche – and quite possibly averting brain damage.

I approached the coffee machine and steeled myself for the radical.

“I hear the weather is going to be good this weekend”, my friend proffered.

My mind raced.

“Yeah”, I reply, “better than last weekend. Thank goodness it’s Thursday – how’s the coffee?”

Damn, damn, damn, damn…

That’s one small step for mac…

The Apple Store in Solihull
Go in for a phone, come out with an addiction

OK, I admit it – Apple stuff is kind of OK. Surprisingly OK actually. For years I have sneered at the one button mouse, sniggered at the £2000+ laptops and lumped the likes of Steve Jobs in to the same bucket as bad boy Bill. But after a flash of light and a brain bobble brought about by fatigue and overdosing on Starbucks coffee standing in a queue to reel in the last 32Gb iPhone on sale at the Apple store in Solihull, I have seen the leopard. He was white, spotty and his name is Phil. 

After spending weeks and weeks getting my iPhone just the way I want it, breaking it, restoring it from backup, fixing the backup, restoring it again from backup, upgrading it, restoring it from backup one more time and finally getting it just the way I want it again, I found myself thinking about the next exciting challenge that I could sink my teeth in to. After I had backed up my phone, of course. 

At work people were asking some important questions. I wasn’t particularly interested in those, but I was interested in other ones about how the pervasive technologies of the iPhone and iPad might make a difference in industry. In the past, the Nokia N95 had brought together a phone, GPS, Wi-Fi, 3G, accelerometer, camera and even (ultimately) the OVI application store. It might not have been the first, but it was the first I owned. I remember the sense of excitement there was with the arrival of the initial batch of super java enabled smartphones. Well, OK, I don’t get out much. But I was excited even if no-one else was and I set about thinking of the dramatic ways in which these devices would change the world to be smarter, more interconnected and enriching for Swedish people. 

Nokia N95
The Nokia N95 - What else could you ever possibly need?

And yet, although the N95 version of Tetris was rather good, there really wasn’t a killer app that shaped the way we do business or changed the lives of the chattering middle classes. Even Swedish people weren’t that overwhelmed by it and so deposited their money instead in safe high interest Icelandic financial instruments. These days, of course, the iPhone and the iPad don’t appear to have much more to offer than the original batch of smartphones – including the original iPhone up to the 3G. 

Except, of course, the latest incarnations do everything just a little bit better. They are just a little bit faster, with a bit of a better screen, with better this and better that and a generous helping of something or the other.  Could the sum of this be more than something “better”? Could this be something that transcends the hype? Could the promise offered to the world by a bunch of Swedes be realised by a gaggle of Californian techno-hippies? Could this be a tipping point? 

Maybe, maybe not – but it interests me enough to chip in and find out for myself. And to this end I set about figuring out how to build apps for the iPhone and iPad – iOS. I’m just at the start of the journey – but was surprised by the level of interest shown in what I was up to. So – I’m going to spend the next couple of posts catching up to where I am – setting up the development environment and installing my first test app on my phone from the iOS tutorial – and then you can tag along for the ride  to see where it goes from there. 

Should be fun.