Category Archives: Technology

Code to Joy

I reckon that I’ve learnt enough to build my app. But then something extraordinary happens. I look at my blank code editor and my head empties. I look longer and – by some strange quantum effect, I assume – my head seems to empty further. With the training wheels off, I suddenly feel that I know nothing and am panicked by the sensation. FreeCodeCamp’s Larson chuckles when I tell him about this phenomenon.

“The thing that gets lost,” he says, “and which I think is important to know, is that programming is never easy. You’re never doing the same thing twice, because code is infinitely reproducible and if you’ve already solved a problem and you encounter it again, you just use your old solution. So by definition you’re kind of always on this frontier where you’re out of your depth. And one of the things you have to learn is to accept that feeling – of being constantly wrong.”

Which makes coding sound like a branch of Zen Buddhism.

From Code to Joy by Andrew Smith, 1843 Magazine, June/July 2018.

Goodbye Cameras

According to Craig Mod, writing on the New Yorker’s Elements blog, all we really need is a “networked lens”.

Square photo of trees with the text Goodbye, Cameras.
Goodbye Cameras

Makes me want to shout “Up in the sky, look! It’s a camera. It’s a phone. It’s Supercam!”.

Platform with a view

While waiting 15 minutes (!) at the peak of rush-hour for a train one day this week, I had time to capture this view of the sky, including a few of the aircraft in it. London is served by five airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted and London City), and during the day at least, the sky is always full of aircraft. By holding my iPhone up to the sky, the Plane Finder AR app shows me each flight’s details in real-time. Incredible.

A iPhone screen shot of the Plane Finder AR app.
Plane Finder AR screen shot.

Bright Star

Just watched the International Space Station pass directly over the UK. It was 263 miles up, travelling at approximately 17,000 miles per hour. In and out of sight in only 6 minutes. Amazing sight.

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Location, location, location
Google Maps is a dynamic mapping application brought to you by the clever people at … Google. It’s dynamic because you can reposition the map “on the fly” (ie without having to reload your browser), so it’s much quicker than most of the other mapping applications available on the web.

Google has encouraged people to develop their own applications for its maps, and one of the best that I’ve come across in recent weeks is OnOneMap. It describes itself as “the UK’s first property search engine map”, and I can see how it might become an essential resource for anyone hoping to buy property in the UK.

The idea is simple, but new: people and agents with houses to sell inform OnOneMap of the details and OnOneMap displays their properties on Google’s maps. You can filter the properties by many different criteria, not the least of which is price, and then view all the available properties that match your requirements in the neighbourhood of your choice.

Prior to OnOneMap the only way to obtain as comprehensive a list of available properties in a single neighbourhood was to drive around the area looking for “For Sale” signs while compiling your own list with pencil and paper! (Well OK, maybe a pen.) So if good property really is a case of “location, location, location”, OnOneMap should do very well.

Cheap talk

A couple of weeks ago, I read the following sentence in the Economist (see Telecoms and the internet: The meaning of free speech):

The acquisition by eBay of Skype is a helpful reminder to the world’s trillion-dollar telecoms industry that all phone calls will eventually be free.

Free calls struck me as too good to be true, but then last week I discovered that BT has decided to compete directly with Skype by under-cutting its prices significantly until the end of the year. You have to use BT’s VOIP software, known as BT Communicator, but then calls to North America are only 0.5p per minute. Last month calls to Australia were completely free. Perhaps the Economist’s prediction is correct.

Guardian radio?

Yesterday provided yet more evidence that the internet is transforming the media. In this case The Guardian newspaper is behaving like a radio broadcaster. Yesterday’s entry on its Conference Blog (New Labour is really a post-Thatcherite party) contains a link to an audio interview with Tony Benn at this week’s Labour Party conference in Brighton. So if you haven’t time to read the paper, you may find it more convenient to listen to it instead!

BBC Podcasts

A pair of white ear speakers for a personal music player

The BBC has started to provide MP3 recordings of some of its radio programmes. In cyberspace this phenomenon is called “podcasting” (after the ubiquitous Apple iPod which can be used to play these files) and it’s all the rage.

I’m a cynic when it comes to the hype surrounding podcasting. It’s been simple to record radio programmes on tape for most of my life, and it’s been possible to make your own MP3 recordings automatically, using software such as Total Recorder, for several years already. So I find it difficult to get excited about recording them digitally now.

Nevertheless, I welcome the BBC’s initiative, if only because one of my favourite Radio 4 programmes is included in the trial — In Business. See the BBC’s Download and Podcast Trial for more information.