Saturday, July 19, 2008

One Week With the iPhone 3G

One Week

So this is a collection of thoughts and reactions to my first week with the new iPhone 3G. Although there are a number of people here in New Zealand who managed to get the first version if the iPhone during the last year, I have not been one of those. This is my first iPhone.

Deciding to Buy It

The process of deciding to buy, was a real mixture of worry, suspense and even distaste. Here in New Zealand, there is only one Mobile network that currently will run the iPhone, that being Vodafone New Zealand. Also as Apple do not own their own retail chain - only selling direct through a Web site, they t themselves did not participate directly with selling the phone. This left it up to Vodafone themselves very much in charge of how the phone was going to be introduced.

The delay between Apple’s wordwide announcement of the iPhone’s International launch (including that New Zealand would be one of the 20 countries to get it first); and the announcement from Vodafone about prices and plans (only released 3 or so days before the actual release) probably led to a lot of the publicity that the plans and cost announcements finally garnered. There are plenty of online sources for comment about the actual plans including the online forums at Geekzone hosting a huge amount of discussion, so I won’t go into it here. Suffice it to say, that it made a lot of news, not much of it particularly complementary for Vodafone itself.

For me, I had been waiting for quite a while for this sort of device. My old phone was failing and I really needed a newer phone with good capabilities. Given that I use Apple computers a lot, going for an iPhone made a lot of sense - both as I knew the functionality would work and integrate well with my computing environment, but also as I appreciate where Apple seem to be taking this type of device - somewhere which is really quite different in intent from a traditional smart phone. So, I had to reconcile this in some way with the costs associated with getting the phone on a plan that would work for me. Without going into details, I did not sign up for one of the special plans, choosing instead a plan that fitted best what I consider my usage on the phone to be.

Buying It

The phone went on sale here in New Zealand at 1 minute past midnight on the 11th of July - the first country in the world to sell it. Only three stores in the whole country opened at that time though. I was not going to go and queue outside at that time of the morning, preferring instead to get up early and get to a suburban Vodafone retail shop, for their 9am opening. This is what I did - queueing for around 1.5 hours waiting for the shop at the Northlands mall in Christchurch to open. As it happened I was 2nd in line at this particular store and having spent 15-20 minutes in signing up for the contract etc. came out holding my brand new gleaming phone.

The queueing was easy and enjoyable. There were around 10 or so others there by the time the shop opened. We all seemed to get on reasonably well and spent time discussing options, plans, the publicity and associated discussion. (If any of you were there, please drop me a comment).

Using It

The most obvious reaction to actually having an iPhone in your hands for the first time was how different from any other phone I had used, this actually is. The experience is one of understanding suddenly, that the rules have changed and that the possibilities are different from what you imagined. This is something I had not experienced with any gadget since the first Palm I owned, sometime over 10 years ago. I know that for a lot of people who started perhaps with the 1st generation iPhone last year, this may be old news. Indeed it is something I have read and heard a lot about, however understanding this isn’t quite the same until you have held and started using one.

The inbuilt functionality has been written about a lot. For me, the stand-out things are the fact that I can actually browse the web without the restrictions that other mobile devices have. The email client is better than I expected - it’s actually quite usable for the IMAP accounts that I want to use. (I’m rather fussy about email - it takes quite a lot for an email client to be acceptable to me.) The contacts and calendar apps are perfectly usable and offer well done and functional syncing to my computer - something that has been a problem in every other phone I have used. The Google Maps (including the GPS functionality) is extremely useful and functional. The handling of SMS (although managing conversations could be extended more) is still better than on any other phone I have used.

This is not to say that I think it’s perfect. In fact I would go as far to say, that the iPhone reminds me a lot of the early iPods - revolutionary in an interesting way that points towards the future, and for now does very well what it does - but doesn’t do everything. It seems as if Apple have decided to choose the features that they are going to do, they do them to their best capabilities, make them very functional and usable and then leave room for future features to be added. (This is exactly the same as with the iPod line of developments - for example it amazed me how long it took Apple to provide an iPod that would do gapless playback of audio.)

Obviously for now, the main thing with the iPhone 3G is of course the ability to extend the basic functionality via the download-able applications. The App store has been very busy. I don’t want to spend time reviewing it here and now, suffice it to say that to me the extendibility of the phone, because of it’s Internet platform capabilities, is probably the most exciting feature for me. Already I am able to use it with very simple (but nevertheless useful) little tools for interacting with others on the Internet. I’m looking forward to more.


Overall, for the first week - I’m pretty blown away and happy. The device is different from what I expected in detail, but providing all the interest and functionality I had hoped for in the wider sense. I’m looking forward to where the iPhone story goes from here.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Waiting for the iPhone

Yes, so like many of the others waiting for the new iPhone; I’m also waiting. Here in NZ we haven’t had an “official” release of the iPhone. Not that it hasn’t been available. Our open market legal framework allows anyone to bring any device into the country and sell it, as long as they give basic support. Therefore a small number of them have found their way into the country being distributed and sold via online auction sites as well as some Computer parts stores.

However for me, I haven’t been out and got one. Although I’m interested in technology and gadgets, I’m not the type of person who will run out and get the “latest and greatest” just for it’s own sake. Currently, I’ve been using with the Motorola V3X - a phone I bought around 2 years ago. While it was still working, there was no justification to upgrade or change. However recently the V3X has started misbehaving, becoming unreliable, dropping calls, missing txts, turning off at random times and generally giving strong hints that it is no longer in a sufficiently reliable enough state to be in permanent use.

Given the upcoming July 11 launch of the iPhone 3G, I am interested to see whether the pricing and cost model will fit within my budget. Therein of course comes the issue. While Apple have made a big announcement and confirmed the launch date of July 11 and it has been confirmed that Vodafone are the local launch partner - no details of pricing, data costings/plans etc. have been released. Nearly two weeks after the news that NZ is getting the iPhone - no one really knows under what terms it will be available. The only thing that one can hope for is the enigmatic quote from Steve Jobs during his speech; “…in almost every one of these countries, the price is a maximum of $199 all around the world…”. Lots of time and effort, is being spent trying to understand the implications of that. Does this mean $199US converted into local currency? Are we the implied exception to the “almost every one of these countries”? What does this mean for data?

Hopefully Vodafone NZ will announce things soon. To be honest, holding off and missing the opportunity to get anticipatory exposure, is probably hurting them in some way.

For me, I simply need to be able to plan what to do for my increasingly alarming phone situation, to be able to understand whether I can afford an iPhone or whether I should be looking for some other alternative. Hopefully we all find out soon!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Vodafone NZ will now not lock phones

So to follow-up from my previous post about Vodafone now selling locked phones in New Zealand, it seems that the Government’s Commerce Commission (regulatory watchdog) has applied some pressure. “For now” Vodafone will not be proceeding with locking handsets.

Coverage here from Stuff:

Vodafone has backed off a controversial decision to lock its mobile handsets under pressure from the Commerce Commission.

Telecommunications commissioner Ross Patterson told The Independent Financial Review he had expressed concern about Vodafone’s “intentions”. The mobile firm had said it would charge $50 to unlock new handsets from April if people wanted to shift to another mobile provider in New Zealand or use a provider other than Vodafone for overseas roaming.

[From Vodafone relents on mobile lock]

Geekzone again has comment from Paul Brislen from Vodafone:

Here's the link to our letter to the Commerce Commission BEWARE: it's a PDF.

Clearly this is a win for customer feedback. Our customers told us they didn't like the move so we've changed what we're doing.

Any handsets that are locked will be unlocked for free. Just follow the instructions on the box.

The linked PDF says that Vodafone is changing its policy “as a result of the responses it has received from its customers”. It also states that Vodafone had already imported and started selling locked handsets to customers. They will continue to sell those handsets already in their “supply chain”. Any customers who wish to unlock those phones, will be “able to call a freephone number and do so free of charge.” However Vodafone, apparently “reserves the right to review in the future its decision on whether to lock handsets” and also raises the future possibility of “charging differentially for locked and unlocked handsets”.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Comments on the Twitter Outage discussions

So, given the popularity of Twitter there is a lot of commentary going around the blogosphere and tech news communities, due to the last couple of days' outages. The article at Tech Crunch is typical of some of the attempts to characterise the issues. Their article really annoys me.

The source that I spoke to also commented on how ill-prepared the Twitter team were and are for their current and future challenges. The small team contains a handful of engineers, with only a person or two committed to infrastructure and architecture. He goes on to point out that at Digg the team for network and systems alone is bigger than the total engineering team at Twitter, and that at Digg they are lead by well-known “A-list rockstars”.

[From Twitter At Scale: Will It Work?]

This type of journalism really irks me. It's very difficult for anyone to form a reasonable opinion with this type of reporting as it's completely based on hearsay, with no way of validating the comments. Critically, the "expert source" is not named, or quoted in any way that gives the reader any hope of validating the opinion. If a "source" is not prepared to be named and stand up as an "expert" allowing the rest of us to judge their credentials - really we have no option but to disregard the information entirely. The quality of the opinion or accuracy of assessment here simply cannot be determined.

To discuss the ideas from the unamed source; it's really easy to think that all of a company's problems can be solved by "Big Engineering". Often that simply adds complexity to the situation. It seems that Twitter already have a project to improve their site in progres. Trying to add to a development team halfway through what is obviously a project already in train, just does not work. Twitter themselves are quoting a process already in train:

Essentially what has been happening is that we've been trying to make changes in order to improve the long-term reliability of the service. Those changes have introduced instability in the short-term, however. We need to be able to make these kinds of changes and do so without affecting the service. That's our goal and what we're working toward.

[From May 20: Twitter Downtime]

Often as not, a really focussed but small team can do wonders. Just because an application is managing a large scale problem, doesn't imply that the team has to be big.

Tech Crunch goes on to talk about Ruby on Rails.

The problems at Twitter are often attributed to their use of RubyOnRails, a web development framework. Twitter is almost certainly the largest site running on Rails, so fans of the framework and its developers have been quick to deflect the criticism and point it back at the engineers at Twitter. Utilizing a framework that has never conquered large-scale territory must certainly add to the risk and work required to find a solution. As an out-of-the box framework, Rails certainly doesn’t lend itself to large-scale application development, but was a big part of the reason why Twitter could experiment and release early.

Rails has enabled Twitter to prototype quickly, to quickly launch and then to easily iterate with new features. But the old adage of “Good, Fast, Cheap - pick two” certainly applies; and Rails would do itself no harm by conceding that it isn’t a platform that can compete with Java or C when it comes to intensive tasks. Twitter is at a cross-roads as an application and Rails has served its purpose very well to date, but you are unlikely to see a computational cluster built with Ruby at Apache any time soon.

[From Twitter At Scale: Will It Work?]

This comment is simply misleading. Apache is a web server. It is often used in conjunction with the other systems that run sites of this nature. I'm sure that somewhere in the Twitter setup Apache is being run also. The Apache Web site is the place from where you get the software. Whether we'd be likely to see a computational cluster at anytime soon has no bearing whatsoever, as to whether Twitter is engineered well.

In conclusion, I have no idea whether the issues at Twitter are a result of questionable engineering decisions or not. The issue is however, that the FUD from sites like Tech Crunch (who I would expect to have at least made an effort to do some good research on this), doesn't tell me anything more about the situation.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Monteverdi for working


When I'm working, I often like to have some music playing. Nothing too over the top. Most often on a pair of headphones (Sennheiser P100 foldables that go with me wherever the laptop is) so as not to disturb others around me. What I've found, is that for the sake of concentrating on what I'm doing, it helps not to have too much of a strong lyrical or story telling set of music around - particularly if I'm programming, working or concentrating hard on a particular activity.

For quite a while the favourite "working music" has been some type of Baroque music - most often played on original instruments. For quite a while it would inevitably be Bach - most likely one of the Cantatas. Recently it's been Monteverdi. Often the Vespers (Vespro della Beata Vergine - see Monteverdi Vespers for more info), but sometimes other religious motets or one of his Masses.

Although it would seem that my selection seems to be religious in nature, however I don't think that that fact is particularly important. I think it more tends to reflect the composers' of that time and their common interests, in producing a music that was meant for the soul in some way. Most notable, in particular with the early baroque is a different sense of time - a feeling that perhaps has been lost since.

All I know is that at the moment, there is nothing much better for soothing the soul and allowing concentration on intense programming work, than "Ave Maris Stella" from the Vespers.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Lovely day at Governers Bay

Had a nice day with the family today. Went to Governers Bay, at the end of Lyttleton Harbour. Lovely day with gorgeous scenery.

Lyttleton Harbour from Governers Bay

Governers Bay Jetty

Charles Stross - On writing long series' of novels

If you're into Science Fiction novels and you've been asleep for the last few years, you may not have heard of Charles Stross (in which case you really should not get out so much and spend some good quality stay-at-home time reading).

Seriously, if you haven't come across Charles Stross he's one of the most interesting and captivating authors of the last 10 years in the SciFi genre. He has a wonderful collection of books, particularly including a sequence of novels called "The Merchant Princes" series. Therefore when he starts writing (on his blog) about the process of dealing with long large works made from smaller pieces, it's very interesting to hear. It's also worth having a look at the rest of his Blog/Diary online as there are lots of different gems there.


One thing's sure: our willingness to absorb fiction is geared to our attention span. A book in a series might structurally serve as a mere chapter, but it has to deliver as significant a cognitive reward to the readers as any other 300 page book; otherwise they'll feel cheated, after putting 5 hours of their life into reading the thing, and they won't pick up the next volume.

[From Charlie's Diary: Bang, Bucks, and Delivery in Recompense]


Friday, May 09, 2008

Vodafone NZ locking handsets now

The following was posted the other day, so I'm a little late in seeing this - but I still had to comment.

It's amazing how, when push comes to shove (i.e. Vodafone finally gets a GSM network competitor) that the old solutions come out to play. Surely there's someone there with some creativity who can think a little outside the square.

Hi all,

Vodafone’s mobiles are sold exclusively for use on Vodafone New Zealand’s network.

From 1 May we are locking new handsets to our network. All new handsets sold will include information about handset locking and how to unlock handsets.

Locked handsets can be unlocked for a fee of $50.

This is being done to protect the customers’ experience of the Vodafone brand. Vodafone brands its mobiles with both the Vodafone and Vodafone Live! look and feel. If a customers takes a Vodafone mobile to another network, the customer won’t be able to access the Vodafone experience and services.



Paul Brislen
External Communications Manager

[From Vodafone NZ locking handsets]

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Mac OS X 10.5.3 - not yet

It seems that the latest Leopard patch is still being tested. I'm waiting for this one with real interest - hoping it fixes a few of my niggling left-over issues from Leopard.

Ars Technica as always has the good info:

Apple continues seeding test builds of Mac OS X 10.5.3

Vodafone to offer apple iPhone in ten markets - Vodafone NZ

This looks interesting. I'm hoping that the pricing is reasonable and affordable:

Vodafone today announced it has signed an agreement with Apple to sell the iPhone in ten of its markets around the globe. Later this year, Vodafone customers in Australia, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Greece, Italy, India, Portugal, New Zealand, South Africa and Turkey will be able to purchase the iPhone for use on the Vodafone network.

Vodafone to offer apple iPhone in ten markets - Vodafone NZ 3.0 Beta Released

It seems that OpenOffice3 Beta is released with the native Mac Aqua interface. Let’s hope that it turns out all okay. I’ve not been at all impressed with OpenOffice for a while. I actually think it got worse there for a while - particularly on the Mac where everything ended up horrendously slow.

Anyway, have a look at Ars Technica for an in depth look:

First look: 3.0 beta a big step forward

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Photographic Experiences

This year is a little different for me. I've become much more interested in Photography. Well saying that I've become "interested" is a little misleading. I've always been interested - but perhaps I've become more than the "casually interested" me of before - excited being a much better word now.

I've had access to a camera right since I was at least 6 or 7. In fact I recently came across an old photograph of our family with a visiting cousin from back in 1970. There I am at age 6 or so, with a camera hanging on a strap around my neck. Something like an old 35mm Ilford (or maybe Minolta) camera. These days, we'd mistakenly call them a rangefinder camera, however strictly speaking there was no rangefinding capability on it - you had to figure out focus by dead reckoning. All the way when I was growing up, I had a 35mm camera and used to take photos on holiday - using the handheld meter and trying to figure out the distance to focus with best I could. I used to shoot mainly on Agfa 64 slide film.

Having grown up, finished school and gone to University; when I had finished my undergraduate degree, I felt the need for something a little better and more usable as a camera. I'd been looking around at SLR 35mm cameras for a year or two. Finally, I bought a Nikon F301 camera and a couple of lenses. This mainly as I was involved in the creative arts (as a musician and composer) and wanted the ability to document performances, for myself and other creative artist colleagues. From here on, I ended up shooting mainly print film, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was a little cheaper (University students not being known for lots of money), secondly I could shoot faster film which was better for indoor work and thirdly the extra latitude of the film helped get over any inconsistencies that the lighting or situations provoked in getting a good exposure.

Time passes (boy isn't that the truth) and other things become important, like family, work, career etc. The photography, while not at all major, was still there to some extent. Photos of family mainly. The biggest issue, probably was that lack of consistent practice, means that one's skills and confidence with the camera are affected. I ended up not shooting because I was only putting a couple of films through the camera per year. Not enough to be confident of getting the shot or knowing really what I was doing.

Come the new Millenium and I was in a different sort of job. Working for a network development company in a fairly senior role. Travelling on business frequently and needing to document locations and events. Basically the company decided to buy a couple of the new latest Sony Cybershot F-505 Digicams. The first time I used one of these was on a trip to a conference in Europe in 2000. I was with a colleague and we had the camera with us at the time. I remember suddenly understanding the point of the immediacy that digital offered. Being able to see immediately, what had happened. I really enjoyed the experience and became quite excited by the future, until I realised how much still that a digicam cost. On that trip, I took some photos that I really liked (and would like to see again) - but that's the problem when you are sharing a camera with someone else - things get lost along the way. Over the next year or two, I borrowed one of the Sonys here and there for special occasions and found the experience wonderful.

So, somewhere around 2004 we bought a Nikon digital compact, a Coolpix 4300. The prices of digital had been coming down sufficiently that we could afford to do something about having one in the house. Of course this revolutionises how you and the rest of the family relate to photos and photography. The move to having pictures on a computer. The ease of having immediate feedback of what happens and the low cost of taking a photo of any occasion you can think of means that the who family gets much more photographically aware. What it didn't really do however, was give me sufficient flexibility and scope to feel properly creative and able to photograph what I wanted.

Somewhere around the last few months of 2006, I started feeling like I wanted to get back more to the "hobbiest" mode of photography that I had enjoyed when I was younger. To me this meant some sort of decent camera - most likely of the SLR type. Having looked around - I wondered about a so called "Bridge" camera (sometimes called a Super-zoom as they often have fixed lens zooms with a large range). I figured out that given the way photography was going, having a camera with RAW capabilities was much more flexible and most likely the better way to go. Most bridge cameras were in some way compromised, either in image quality, lack of RAW or suffered from noise issues in low light. Having realised this,  I then started concentrating on finding an appropriate DSLR (in kit form) that did what I wanted without breaking the bank. Finally, just before Christmas, I went out and bought a Nikon D50 twin lens kit (18-55mm and 70-300mm zooms included). The reason for buying Nikon was simply that I already had some Nikon 35mm gear, and figured that it was reliable, good quality and I might be able to use some of the lenses I had.

This triggered a year of playing around, using the camera where I had been previously (on holiday and family gatherings) and a little bit of trying out some other things I wouldn't have (see the previous post re: comet photo). I guess that while I had the camera, that wasn't still sufficient. Making time to actually go and do things is important and also working on my skills of "seeing" the photo first, being able to work with composition within the frame was just as important.

So, then we come to this year. I had decided by the end of last year, that I wanted to know more, get involved with others in some way and basically improve my ability to "see" a photo. Basically the aim was to deliberately go and enjoy taking photographs, but also to find some creative outlet and direction for what I was doing. Therefore, this year I've joined the local Photographic Society - looking for enthusiasm, expertise and camaraderie along the way. So far I've found all of that and more. For the first time for quite a while, I've been consistently enthusiastic and excited about photography for 2-3 months now and getting out and taking photos.

I've also started contributing more to Flickr, joining a few groups and enjoying interacting with other photographers there. You will notice that this site now has, a side bar with a slideshow of my current Flickr photos. Please feel free to click through there, and leave comments on individual photos.

So far, that is what there is to say. However if you keep watching the Flickr feed you will see more. Also, I'll see whether I can document and discuss a little more on this blog, some of the experiences as I go on the journey.

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