Change is afoot

I’m not really old enough to remember much about the lead up Labour’s 1997 landslide victory in 1997, and so the feeling of hope that our society could change for the better is not one I’m overly familiar with. Great to have it back.

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First Day in San Francisco

On my first day In San Francisco I decided to visit as much as I could on foot, given my jet lagged body state and the uncompromising value of the pound to the dollar making taxis (even Uber) very expensive. I started off by taking a walk to the Coit Tower. It was only a fifteen minute walk away, but I was quickly astounded by how steep the roads in San Francisco are – some of them even have steps instead of pathways because it would be impossible to walk up. I would not want to drive a manual car over here. With thanks to walking directions on my Apple Watch, I found the tower with no trouble and paid $8 to ride up in the lift. As I’ve always found on my trips to anywhere in the USA, the guides who work at these types of attractions are brilliant – brimming with a genuine love of what they do. The lady looking after the queue was as friendly as ever and gave me plenty of tips for other places to visit after this one. Once at the top of the tower the views were breathtaking – it’s not the tallest building in SF, but nevertheless the view is stunning.

After spending a good 20 minutes taking in the view and getting some good photographs (I was paranoid about dropping my iPhone from the top – I wonder how many people actually do that?) I went back down and headed towards the bay, assuming there would be something interesting to see there. I was not wrong. Pier 39 was brimming with live music (I got a signed CD from a band called The Luck – I’m sure they will be huge one day), performers, shops and stalls selling donuts, cookies, pretzels and everything else you want to eat but know you shouldn’t.
After watching a show and some excellent music, I mooched around for a bit, soaking up the atmosphere, before walking on to Fishermans Wharf. From here I caught a tour boat that took us out under the Golden Gate Bridge and around the former prison island of Alcatraz. It was a really fun trip, and the audio narration was decent. It did start to get rather choppy as we got all the way out to the Golden Gate Bridge, but this only added to the sense of fun.

After this, feeling pretty exhausted (my body thought it was 3am still), I sat looking out over he bay and read a little on my Kindle, soaking up the sun (I am now bright red and have since picked up some some tan lotion from Walgreens!). After this I went and ordered some dinner in the Hard Rock Cafe on Pier 39. I have a thing about Hard Rock Cafe – wherever I see one I’ve not been before I like to visit it. So far I’ve been to about 5 around the world from Florida to Barcelona. I like the fact that they don’t jus pop up in any old place, even if the menu is a little limited. Now feeling tied, my body thinking it was 5am (the locally brewed larger probably didn’t help with the tiredness) I started the two mile walk back to my hotel, where I promptly fell asleep.

7 Years of iPhone

I realised this week that it has been seven years since I got my first iPhone, a 3GS model, back in 2009. I happened to be in the same place, Newport, Isle of Wight, which made me reminisce about how much has changed in 7 years.

Back then I had a Nokia N95, which had a brilliant camera and proper GPS – none of which could be said for the iPhone 3GS. Back then it was so unbelievably cool to be able to download a entire web page on a phone, or even a large file such as a podcast over 3G. My network plan included something like 500MB of data, but I never got anywhere near that limit. My iPhone changed this. At the time I was familiar with iOS, having owned the first generation iPod Touch, so getting a phone that did the same but more – an always-on Internet connection, a compass, a camera, and it was so much faster too (the ‘S’ in 3GS was for ‘speed’ remember) was absolutely brilliant. At the time I’d been working as a junior developer for just over 18 months – my first proper job as I like to say. 

It’s amazing what a difference 7 years makes. Back then, sitting smugly on a train or in a dentist waiting room surfing the Internet was only something us geeks did. Tweeting what you had for lunch was a novelty. Now technology has gone mainstream. Everyone is on the Internet all of the time. The iPhone was to mobile phones as broadband was to the Internet. It redefined normal. 

I do wonder what will be next. Yes there is the cloud, there’s deep learning and VR/AR, but these are technologies that have yet to be productised in the way that capacitive screens and low-powered ARM chips were with the iPhone. All I know it, the world we live in will be exciting in 7 more years. Roll on 2023.

Manic Street Preachers – Swansea Liberty Stadium

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I’ve been a fan of the Manic Street Preachers ever since I heard their first number one hit “If you Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next” back in August 1998, aged 13. I subsequently received the album on which that single resided – “This is My Truth Tell Me Yours” the following Christmas. When was 13 and living in the middle of nowhere, having the means to the get to a shop and buy the CD was not something that occurred frequently. This was before the days of the iTunes Store and downloadable MP3s. Napster wouldn’t be released for another 6 months, and it would take the good part of a day to download an album on a 56K modem. (Not to mention without a CD burner or portable MP3 player, the best you could do with an MP3 was listen to it though some crummy ‘multimedia’ speakers on a PC). I fell in love with the CD. From the opening track “The Everlasting” to the closing “SYMM”, i loved its rich texture and atmosphere. I soon acquired the previous album “Everything Must Go” and shortly after that, the rest of their back catalogue. What drew me to the band was not just the brilliant music, but also the intriguing lyrics about politics, civil wars and depression. A stark contrast to what you’d hear if you tune in to radio back then where the lyrics would be either about a) falling in love b) braking up or c) wanting to have sex (and still today – Capital FM is dire, but thankfully the Internet and BBC 6 Music have balanced things out) Unlike a lot of music around at the time, the Manics’ lyrics were (and still are) staunchly political while also poetic.
So it was with great excitement that I set off for Swansea on the morning of the 28th of May 2016. I’ve seen the Manics plenty of times – at festivals, greatest hits tours, intimate album tours, an entire singles gig at the o2 – but never like this, on their home turf on a beautiful summers day in Swansea. There is something about being a Manics fan that you don’t feel with other bands – you can’t help but have a degree of respect and comradery for anyone you see at the gigs, not just for their good taste, but also their dedication (it’s been 16 years since their commercial peak) and ostensible intellect and curious  mind needed to follow such a band.

The gig started with the first of two support acts – Public Service Broadcasting. I’d seen them support the Manics before and was mildly interested, this time however their music really struck a cord (I’ve since had both their albums on non-stop). They’re an odd band to watch live – a but like I imagine it must be like watching Daft Punk or the Pet Shop Boys – they are pseudo-anonymous and only speak through a computer generated voice. This ties in nicely with the band’s core mastery – putting old public service broadcasts to music. I probably haven’t done it justice the way I’ve just explained it, but suffice to say they’re bloody brilliant so check them out.
Next on to the second and final support act, the Super Furry Animals. I’d never been a fan, and 20 years on from their commercial peak, I can’t say I am now. It was a chance to go and grab a hotdog from the friendly staff at the Liberty Stadium. Finally at about 8PM, the Manics appeared and played the entire album “Everything Must Go”. It flew by. It was odd because the song they nearly always play as a set closer “A Design For Life” is the second track on the album, and it didn’t quite work as well so early on into the gig. But hearing classic such as “Kevin Carter” and “Enola/Alone” which I’d never heard live before was just breathtaking. The highlight for me was the last song on the album, “No Surface All Feeling” for which I was hoping they’d do a 10 minute Swansea special extended version (sadly not). After a 5 minute interval the boys then want on to play a second half, which included the Wales Euro 2016 theme and many other amazing songs. The most memorable moment of the night had to be Nicky Wire, who as the rain started getting heavy shouted in defiance “you’re not going to let the weather spoil the fun” (or words it that effect) – and at that exact moment there was a clap of thunder and flash of lightening. If it hadn’t been so damn loud I’d have sworn it was a special effect and part of the show.

As the rain fell and the night went on the atmosphere was ecstatic – it was like a festival just for fans of the Manic Street Preachers. As “Tolerate” rang out and I left to get the last train, I thought back to that day in 1998 when I first heard the song, and wondered how I would feel back then, aged 13, knowing that I’d one day hear the song live aged 31. Can’t wait for the next gig.

How to make Facebook use less battery on iOS

I’m not a heavy Facebook user, I’ll check it a couple of times a day, perhaps a bit more if I’m on holiday and using it to check into places. For this reason I have the ‘Background App Refresh’ option turned off in iOS settings (under Settings > General). Despite this, when I looked at what was using up all of my battery, I was surprised to find that the biggest offender was not only Facebook, but it was background activity as well!

I suspected that the app was receiving lots of ‘silent notifications’ which can cause the app to wake up and start fetching data in the background, regardless of the ‘Background App Refresh’ setting. To counter this, I decided to uninstall Facebook, wait 24 hours and then reinstall it. Upon launching it for the first time after reinstalling, it asked if I wanted to receive notifications. This time I chose “Don’t Allow”. This means the Facebook app won’t get access to a unique token enabling it to send those silent notifications which I guessed were causing all of this background activity.

Sure enough Facebook is now reportedly using less battery, and none of it is background usage. Waiting 24 hours between deleting the app and reinsalling it is important because otherwise iOS will simply remember your previous notification settings, and not ask you if you’d like to allow them again.

This is based purely on my anecdotal usage, I’d love to know the actual machinism that causes this improvement 

Apple Watch Battery Saving Tips

If you have the smaller version of the Apple Watch, then you may find the battery just about gets you through the day. Over the past 6 weeks of using it I've been experimenting with the various settings to find the best way to save battery life.

Note: Like with battery saving tips for phones, these tips will reduce functionality, so they're not meant for daily use. Apple Watch has a built in power save mode, but with that switched on the watch is less useful than a £10 Casio watch (at least you don't have to press a button to see the screen on one of those!). These tips are meant for those long days or weekends where you want to keep the watch going for as long as possible, while maintaining the fitness tracking and ability to receive notifications (these things are not possible in Power Save mode).

Turn off Wrist Raise

On the watch itself, under Settings > General you can turn off Wrist Raise. This makes the watch a lot less useful because you will have to press a button to see the screen, but if you are out and about on a weekend and don't particularly care about the time, but want to make sure your fitness progress still gets tracked, it's a great way to save significant battery life.

Use the X-Large watch face

If you can do without seeing the weather or other useful widgets on your watch face, the X-Large's use of lots of black and no widgets means it uses far less battery juice, in my experience at least.

Use Power Saving Mode for workouts

In the Apple Watch app on your phone, choose the settings for the 'Workout' app, and select power saving mode. This stops the watch from continuously reading your pulse during workouts – very useful if you're doing long runs or walks, as the heart rate monitor sucks battery life. It will mean however, that your calorie burn stats wont be as accurate.

Turn on Airplane Mode

This one is only slightly better than Power Save mode. You'll still be able to track your activity, receive stand notifications or notifications for appointments already synced to your watch – obviously you wont get any alerts that come from your phone (such as messages). If you're away camping for the weekend, maybe that's OK?

Stay near your phone

I've noticed the battery life is a lot worse when I spend a lot of time away from my desk at work, but leave my phone at my desk. This makes sense – when the phone is within Bluetooth range, the watch will use this connection for things like alerts. When you move away from your phone, it instead has to connect to Wi-Fi directly. Wi-Fi is much less power efficient than Bluetooth.

 

 

iOS 9’s missing multitasking feature

One thing I expected to be in iOS 9 that isn't is a way for a single application to present multiple windows. Mail does this, but I'd like to have seen it made into an API that developers can easily use, and that would allow multiple documents from the same application to be shown side by side. It's still a major productivity drain to have to close your Pages/Word/Pixelmator document if all you want to do is reference another document.

 

 

 

 

Reading v Arsenal – FA Cup Semi Final

What a day. Proud of my local team for managing to hold Arsenal to a draw during the first 90 minutes, and for out playing them for much of the second half. Arsenal are a team who are second in the Premiership and play in the Champion's Leauge – yet Reading came within a whisper of winning. So close… But still a great day out.

How can anyone not get excited as they approach Wembley?
How can anyone not get excited as they approach Wembley?
Anticipation mounts before the game
Anticipation mounts before the game
As the sun sets, and full time approaches, they was still some hope...
As the sun sets, and full time approaches, they was still some hope...