Friday, 24 December 2010

Smartphone, n.: A device with not quite the lot

Picture this: you're shopping for a new luxury car, and the salesman is explaining that the seat can be adjusted in seven different ways via the one control and it can save settings for seven different people, and the steering wheel can control the radio, gears, cruise control and climate control, and it can steer itself between the lines and control distance to the car in front via radar, and...

Then you notice that it doesn't have an interior rear-view mirror and the wing mirrors are adjusted manually. The salesman looks baffled and says "It's got mirrors, doesn't it?"

That's how I feel we're being treated by smartphone manufacturers.

Item: HTC still hasn't worked out how to build a decent loudspeaker or camera.

Item: Nexus S, built by Samsung to be Google's next developer phone, doesn't have a memory card slot.

Item: my current shiny, with which I am still mostly very happy, the Nokia N900, doesn't have a now-and-even-when-it-was-new standard magnetometer to go with its not having MMS inbuilt and the version of Ovi Maps installed not having any facility for storing bookmarks.

Seriously, what are the thought processes going on in their heads?

With the iPhone, you knew you weren't going to get a feature until Apple was good and ready to give it to you, and that's a perfectly fair and reasonable decision.

With Windows Phone 7, they appear to have deliberately decided to cripple it by denying it memory cards or cut and paste and, well, at least they're being consistent.

But nobody else has that explanation. Even when you get the hardware it may not be activated - the N900 has FM transmitters and receivers, but there was no radio software in early firmwares to use the receiver.

Then there's Samsung, who produced one of the best mobile phone cameras in the i8910 but haven't put anything remotely as worthy in any Android phone.

Then you have screens. Motorola came out with the XT720, which had all the potential to be a great tablet phone, with good speaker and even good camera. And a screen so mirror-finish you can't use it outdoors in sunlight.

Even Nokia have been guilty of this, perversely removing the sunlight-friendly transflective layer from the N97 mini.

There appears to be a "95 per cent" attitude in the technology world at the moment. Apple gives you 95 per cent of the features you want, but does them really well. Everyone else tries to give you all the features, but only gets it 95 per cent correct.

Only one company seems to have the commitment and meticulous dedication to engineering perfection that even justifies a label like "flagship" and they're such control freaks I couldn't justify giving them money even if I could justify their prices.

And yes, I'm aware of the irony.

It's been a truism for a while now that Nokia doesn't release new phones when they're finished - you need to wait for a couple of firmware releases for that.

At the same time, the hardware set of top Android phones is the reason I've bought two more Nokias in a row. Samsung and Motorola are getting very close to convincing me, but Motorola have done stupid, unfriendly things with locked bootloaders - preventing custom firmwares while not committing to prompt and guaranteed updates themselves - and Samsung goes and does something like the Nexus S with no card slot and an average camera.

What I want is an N900, next generation, all updated and upgraded hardware, maybe the N8 camera (we can dream), still the keyboard, and Maemo 6, not MeeGo. And now that's doomed forever. Do I think the first MeeGo device will be worthy, and complete?

Don't make me laugh bitterly.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Motorcycle accidents in the media: Part 24

A sense of inevitable horror lead me to search and, guess what?

There has been at least one 24-cylinder motorbike made.

It has 24 chainsaw engines, was built by their manufacturer as an advertising stunt, basically, and apparently they all have to be pull started.

I almost wish I didn't know that.

At the other end of the scale, we have two stories concerning the same scooter.

From ABC: Scooter road rage driver loses appeal (December 8).

First of all, that headline is ambiguous about whether the scooter was the perpetrator or the victim. Yes, it says "driver", but stranger things have been done in the non-specialist media.

The summary is: A "pensioner" (at 50, that surely means either a disability pension or self-funded retiree because he's not yet eligible for the aged pension) chased a former work colleague in his car, shouted death threats and then ran over his scooter three or four times.

For this, he was sentenced to 18 months in jail and that, to a rider, is actually gratifying to see.

The driver argued his sentence was excessive but his appeal was unanimously rejected, and that forces me to ask: If you chase someone while shouting death threats, force them to take evasive action in fear of their life, and then destroy property, what exactly is an "appropriate" sentence?

The article is quite clean and, apart from the headline, unproblematic, but I can guarantee you there will have been riders reading it thinking "Yep, they really are out to get us."

The Courier Mail had a different and more informative take, published on the same day, with Road rage driver ran over man's scooter four times, then exchanges punches.

In this case, "Road rage driver" is clearer, but the entire headline is still too long and the comma is completely misplaced.

As the article points out, the case deals with using a vehicle as a weapon. All vehicles are always potential weapons. More people need to remember that.

There are a lot more details in this story and it is better for them. However, it is not so cleanly written and almost falls into the old "He said... then... then..." tedious-to-read list problem that commonly afflicts court reports where a record of events needs to be reported clear of any editorialising or risk of being held in contempt of court.

There are also some areas where punctuation actually would have been a good idea.

And while we're talking about appropriateness of sentencing, the comments on this article are entertaining as well: "Should have been longer," "Suck it up and deal with it," and the nicely worded "reckless endangerment and childish behaviour have no place in society."

Alas, most articles deal with deaths.

The CM has Motorcyclist killed in Bundaberg (December 9), a startlingly efficient headlines.

He was negotiating a bend on Quay  St (which appears to be straight with a slight curve) when he struck a guard rail and fell down an embankment.

Once again, we have the old nonsense of "his bike lost control and crashed."

I'm also not sure if Bundaberg, which is coastal, is really "central Queensland".

If I'm nitpicking, the third sentence needs the first "and" replaced by a comma.

From the ABC, a two-paragraph story: Man dies in quad bike accident (December 12).

Does that suggest to you that there were four bikes involved in one accident? I'm no expert, but the basic rule of thumb is to hyphenate compound adjectives and "quad bike" is, in this case, the adjective to the noun "accident", meaning "quad-bike accident" would make fractionally more sense.

As rules of thumb go, however, there are always debates ongoing.

I'll avoid arguing whether a quad is a bike.

I will point out that "was thrown from" is perilously close to ascribing intent to the quad, and that "thrown from it and pinned down by the vehicle" is a clumsy sentence construction.

Because that was short, one more:

On December 13 (not a Friday, sadly), after an RSS headline of "Two road deaths in southeast," which is perfectly fine, the Courier Mail give us Crash kills motorcyclist on Pacific Motorway at Pimpama; driver at Helensvale dies after his car leaves suburban road.

A truck, a minibus and a motorbike collided. It's like the start to a bad joke. No indication of how three vehicles came to come together, but it should surprise nobody that the rider died.

The editing in this article is not quite as I would do it, and there's an extra blank line towards the end, something the Mail does fairly regularly. I thought I would have a quick peak at the page source and noticed that HTML for a sidebar had been inserted in the middle of the article text.

I suggest there needs to be some debugging of the website management software.

For the sheer scale of the accident, this article begs out for a follow up.

Search This Blog