Friday 28 October 2016

Overnight success.

I used to be a Mac fan. Many years ago, they made better machines with a better operating system than the competition. As they became more popular, they started making overpriced crap. And their influence forced Microsoft to up their game in the OS stakes.

I've had a Surface Pro for a couple of years. It is a really really damn nice machine. It's the sort of thing Apple would have made once upon a time but don't any more. They've just launched a new phone and laptop, and, due to the incompatibility of the connectors, you can't charge the phone from the laptop. They've famously got rid of the headphone jack from their phones: they claim that their new connector provides better audio. Their new laptop still has the old headphone jack — i.e., according to their own hype, inferior sound. I think it's fair to say that Steve Jobs wouldn't have stood for this sort of sloppiness.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's new Surface Studio looks amazing. A square aim at Apple's core market, there. And a bloody good aim, too. The Dial is bloody cool. I'd be amazed if half the developers on the planey haven't already started thinking of ways to integrate it into new things. Could be a really interesting gaming controller, for a start, and perfect for music-making software.

The interesting thing about the Surface was the way it was derided as a flop when it first launched. Apple have built so much of their reputation around the business plan of launching a product and selling a bazillion inside a week that the entire tech industry has decided that that's the only way to do things. Microsoft took a completely different approach: launch something quite cool, watch it to see how it does, listen to feedback, tweak, repeat. They were quite open about not caring whether the Surface made a profit in its first couple of years, while tech journalists derided the "flop" and insisted the Surface was a failed project that would have to be abandoned. They didn't care when they had to write down a load of inventory. They didn't abandon the project. Just kept tweaking. And now the Surface is considered a cool and desirable machine, just like a Mac. I find it has wow factor, too: when geeks see me using one, they ask to have a look.

I'm glad Microsoft succeeded in this way — not just because I like my Surface, but because, even if I didn't, I think it's healthy for the industry to be reminded that a successful gadget doesn't have to go from nothing to everywhere overnight. Good things can be built slowly.

Thursday 27 October 2016

More on democracy.

The Guardian (and others, but let's put the boot in where it's most deserved) are breathlessly reporting that they've obtained a leaked recording which shows that Theresa May didn't support Brexit! This is being treated as some sort of scoop for some reason. Don't understand it myself. Yes, she was pro-Remain. It wasn't a secret: she said so publicly at the time. She was on the Remain side in the Referendum. I assume she voted Remain. We all knew it. What's next? Secret footage of Michael Gove saying he thinks schools could be improved?

Let's leave aside the rather obvious facts: that May only stood as leader as a direct result of the Brexit vote; that the whole and only reason the post was vacant was that Cameron was pro-Remain; that the whole point of her candidacy was "I will deliver what the people have voted for"; that, if she hadn't offered that, she couldn't have won; that therefore whether she thinks the people were right to vote the way we did is secondary. Because, even if none of that were true, it still wouldn't actually matter.

This is the great strength of democracy: that it harnesses politicians' desire for power. The whole point of democracy is that you achieve power by doing what the electorate want. In non-democracies, you achieve power by trampling all over the public. As long as they have to persuade voters, it simply does not matter whether a politician bases their policy on a deep-seated conviction or a fervent desire to do good or a cynical unprincipled hunger for power or even a lunatic conspiracy theory — because not enough voters will ever share the same conviction or altruism or conspiracy theory, and certainly not an overwhelming desire to give as much power as possible to that one politician. It doesn't matter what the voters' motives are, either — an idea the Remnants are having real trouble with. In a democracy, motives are pooled and mixed and diluted till they may as well not exist. Which is why it's so rare for democracies to give rise to significant crazed extremist movements.

Maybe Theresa May doesn't want any of what she's currently working for. Maybe she would rather the UK stay in the EU but is willing to bury her own convictions in order to get the top job. Maybe she's a power-hungry narcissist who hates us all. Yet she is still, in order to grab power, having to do what the electorate clearly voted for.

This is a feature, not a bug.


Here's what Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, said on Radio 4 about Heathrow the other day:

One of the things Heathrow have been looking at is doing what many other airports have done around the world, which is to build the runway over the top of the road rather than underneath it.

I have to admit I'm quite surprised that the idea of an underground runway was even being considered. It's probably for the best that they've decided against it.

Thursday 13 October 2016

A song.

As long-time readers — as if I have any — may know, as well as ranting about politics and whining about my lunch, I make music. Well, on the faint off-chance that you're remotely interested, I hereby announce that I'm in a new band, called Mašīna, and we have made this, which is quite good:


An apology.

I would like to apologise.

Back when Gayle Newland was sent down, I was quite rude about the jury and the Crown Prosecution Service. The Court of Appeal, in rightly overturning her appalling conviction today, says that I should have been rude about the judge as well. An unforgivable oversight on my part. I'm truly sorry.