Integration

Ever since I started working (well, maybe a little after), I’ve never understood why the PC and the phone have not been integrated.  Why has every desk in the modern world got two pieces of hardware on it?  Well, it’s possible that my wonderment has been answered, as VOIP is becoming more and more prevalent.  Whether it will mean the end of the phone remains to be seen.

Mr. Shanahan has highlighted a nifty piece of hardware integration.  This piece of software to connect the phone and the TV means that your TV displays the name of the person calling while you watch – nice.  I think this is the kind of integration that Microsoft is talking about in its reports of Longhorn, but this won’t be the holy grail, in the same way that XP wasn’t.  Interoperability is hard, as everyone who tries it finds out.  I was reading only today about the battle for a standard in the data storage arena for CDs.

One of the main reasons it is so hard is that everyone is fighting to make their way the standard, often wanting to make it proprietary, thus promoting the development of numerous "standards".  First (at least in my world), there was VHS vs. V2000 vs. Betamax.  Then there was the fight of PCs vs. Macs, Lotus SmartSuite vs. MS Office, mobile phone technologies, music formats, the list goes on.  At a more fundamental level, you’ve got imperial vs. metric – even though imperial was so obviously inferior, it took a lot of effort to get rid of it – heavens, now I’m surrounded by it!  At the end of the day, as we get more developed, catering for what we’ve done beforehand becomes more difficult.  That’s why the home isn’t all controlled from a single remote control, and why we still carry cameras, music players, mobile phones and PDAs predominantly as separate devices (well, I don’t, but you know what I mean).

Talking of the Lotus/Microsoft war, I think I’m in my 16th year of working with spreadsheets – now over half of my life.  (That makes me very happy, btw.)  I remember playing around with my Dad’s Toshiba laptop when I ventured into his office after school (can’t believe he had a laptop in c. 1987/8 – I think it was called a T2000 with 1Mb RAM).  It had an orange-on-black display, and I vividly remember the experience, learning all about what he did, and marvelling at the wonder of this machinery.  Lotus 1-2-3 was all driven through the keyboard, with the slash key bringing up the menu (I remember the first option being Range).  (One of Excel’s big wins was its compatibility with 1-2-3 – to this day, clicking the slash key still prompts the main menu.)  On a later version, there was an add-on called WYSIWYG, which did all of the formatting (actually, I think it just did borders).  I remember fondly the fact that the highlighted cell appeared in orange, and moving to another cell resulted in the previously selected cell slowly fading to black, such was the technology behind the screen.

Maybe without this introduction to the world of insurance, and therefore spreadsheets, I would have chosen a different career path, and missed out on the wonderful world of Excel.  Maybe people wouldn’t buy me geek t-shirts (which I wear regularly, btw) as parting gifts.  Again, thanks Dad!!

Bob l’éponge

Thanks to Elise for pointing out that SpongeBob Square Pants is called Bob l’éponge in France (full name Bob l’Eponge au Pantalon Carré).  I love the fact that this translates as Bob the Sponge, but the phrase Bob l’éponge is equally amusing.  I also remember fondly the fact that in French, trousers are singular.

There remain to be questions about his sexual orientation (orientation sexuelle).

A sad day

There are two stories today that make me sad.

First of all, Auschwitz.  The horror that occurred over 60 years ago in Poland can never be fully appreciated, but the stories that are recounted, generally only every five or ten years when a significant anniversary hits, are a constant reminder of the sheer evil of which humans are capable.

Secondly, today marks Ivan Noble’s final diary.  Ivan has been writing for the BBC about his experiences since being diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2002.  His humour and honesty have resulted in possibly one of the most important ‘blogs of our time (and therefore ever), and he has developed an unparalleled connection with his audience.  Sadly, this is his last diary entry.

He has helped so many by sharing his journey; he will be sorely missed.  He has demonstrated the power of the internet on a sociological level, and has shown how people who have never met can be brought together through a common thread.  Reading this final entry really brought this home to me.  The internet is great for buying books and flights, getting your Excel macros debugged and chatting with your mates.  Yet perhaps this is an example of the internet at its most powerful.  I wish him peace and love over the coming weeks and months.

Immigration

I rarely read the Guardian, either online or otherwise (partly because it costs $8 over here).  Apart from the historical download of the Telegraph’s crossword, I’ve never developed a loyalty or become a regular reader of any online newspapers, mainly because of the sheer quality of the BBC’s site.  However, I definitely appreciate that this somewhat insular approach has limited my exposure to, and appreciation of political insight.

Here is a wonderful example of such insight, from David Aaronovitch at the Guardian.  The news of Michael Howard’s playing of the race/immigration card (delete as applicable) in the lead up to this year’s election passed me by on this side of the Atlantic.  This article is a great dissection of the reality behind the policy.  If you’ve not read it, read it.  Unfortunately, the people who should read this are those very people who will go through life blissfully unaware of the article, with their heads buried in the Express or Mail.

Stay indoors

This is what makes America so special:

"…THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN UPTON NY HAS EXTENDED THE WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY FROM 1 AM TONIGHT THROUGH 4 PM WEDNESDAY…

"SNOW WILL OVERSPREAD THE REGION FROM WEST TO EAST AFTER MIDNIGHT.  COLD SURFACE TEMPERATURES WILL ALLOW FOR THE SNOW TO ACCUMULATE BETWEEN 1 AND 2 INCHES BY MORNING.  THIS WILL RESULT IN SLIPPERY CONDITIONS FOR THE MORNING COMMUTE.  THE ACCUMULATING SNOW WILL THEN CONTINUE WELL INTO WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON BEFORE TAPERING TO JUST SOME VERY LIGHT SNOW OR FLURRIES AFTER 4 PM.  TOTAL SNOW ACCUMULATION IS EXPECTED TO RANGE FROM 2 TO 4 INCHES.  IN ADDITION…SOME LIGHT FREEZING DRIZZLE MAY OCCUR WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON BEFORE THE PRECIPITATION ENDS."

There are two things that make this amusing, possibly three.  First of all, the flowery language is so out of whack with the content.  It seems to have been written by an English major (for that’s what they’re called over here) who has landed a temp job at the US equivalent of the Met office – I’ve never heard of snow tapering before, btw.  Secondly, only America would have such formality of warnings for what can only amount to a snow flurry.  Also, I love the fact that its capitalisation seems to indicate a higher level of authority and severity.

Lunch

Why can’t I get a sandwich smaller than my head for lunch? I miss the egg and cress from Boots. However, please refrain from sending one by mail. If it were to get through customs, I don’t think I’d appreciate it on arrival.

Don’t sleep on the subway; don’t ski in the city

A few things:

– New York seems to cope much better than does London in times of snow.  The ploughs have been out in full force, as have the mini snow-blowers, which are well cool
– Don’t wear cross-country skis in metropolitan areas (especially megalopoles).  They’re entirely unnecessary, and you look silly
– This picture was taken outside our apartment.  The ice has steadily been streaming down the east side of the Hudson for the past 36 hours, with no sign of stopping.

NY Waterway ferry in ice

Hard drive failures are like buses

No sooner had my wife’s hard drive decided to give up its will to live, mine did the same.  I have installed SP2 of Windows XP twice before, only to find that it screws so badly with my wireless connectivity that I had to uninstall.  I tried today for a third time, and the hard drive failure co-incided with the associated reboot.  SP2 was never meant to be.

It’s odd.  On the previous hard drive failure, I was able to recover the necessary data , but the disk was sufficiently corrupt to shun being reformatted.  With this one, I couldn’t even get a DOS prompt when connecting it remotely, but it seems happy to reformat.  My biggest loss is my 25Gb of tunes, all of which are residing quite happily on our iPods, but the restoration of which on to the laptop would require us to get the CDs out of storage from somewhere in the West Ruislip area of London.

New York has been hit hard by the snow today.  It was strange seeing Canal Street utterly deserted earlier this evening, both of traffic and dodgy bag salesmen (adjective applying to both nouns).  The snow ploughs have been out creating drifts as high as SUVs.  Meanwhile, there are blizzard warnings in place for the New York area until midday tomorrow.  I joked that Andy may be diverted to Atlanta, but apparently, the storms have been felt even that far south, with delays at Atlanta’s airport.

If anybody aks you who I am

Well, I don’t think it was as cold last night as it was on Tuesday, but it seems that the lack of wind made the Hudson freeze over.  All of the inlets down the east side of the river were filled with blocks of ice this morning, and the ice encroached some way into what you might call "the main shipping lane".  It was quite an impressive sight from the window.  However, braving the cold today, I believe some of my fingers may need amputation for frost-bite, having had to faff around glovelessly with a faulty PATH card.  Later this evening, my lack of a hat has meant that I believe my ears have now fallen off.  Note to self: buy a hat.  The forecast is for a weekend of snow, so I fully expect Mr. Stephenson to be diverted to Atlanta on his return from the UK on Sunday.

Am I the only person to have noticed the fact that quite a lot of Americans mispronounce the word ask.  They pronounce it the same as axe.  And this isn’t a one off.  I’ve spoken to quite a few Americans who seem to struggle.  I’ve been told that this is a New York thing (maybe thang – who knows?), but I would argue that it is an education thing.  Apparently, it’s an example of metathesis, the behaviour of transposing sounds or letters in the speaking or writing of words – another example being George W. Bush’s pronunciation of nuclear – noo-kyoo-luhr.  Now this (ask) is one of the shortest words known to man.  (OK, so there are a load of two-letter words that seem to be allowed in Scrabble that no one knows the meaning of, but humour me.)  How can one struggle with the ordering of the consonants?  They seem to struggle equally with the words ask and asks.  R. Kelly certainly struggles big time in his uplifting hyperballad The World’s Greatest.

iPod and SpongeBob

On the subway this morning, there was a guy sat down opposite me who had to be the most tired person I have ever seen.  He seemed to be trying to fight his head lolling around, but it was in vain.  It seemed that he was on his way to class (although had probably missed his stop, as we were ploughing through Brooklyn), as he was carrying a book entitled "Pre-calculus".  I don’t hold out much hope for his levels of alertness increasing when he gets there.

Occasionally, by coincidence and nothing more I might add, the music on your iPod perfectly reflects your surroundings.  This morning, just after sitting opposite this guy, Petula Clark chimed in with a lovely rendition of Don’t Sleep In The Subway.  This was succeeded by the wonder that is Guns ‘n Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine, which took me back to my e-Envoy days and Mr. Poole’s highly-irritating ringtone, in full polyphonic glory.  Have you changed it yet, Mark?

SpongeBob (apparently it’s one word with a capital B) is causing a stir again stateside due to his promotion of gay antics.  I love stories like this, which merely highlight that people have got nothing better to do than whinge (an English word, I recently found out).  Get a life…

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