See you in 2016

November 8, 2013

For reasons partially explained here, I’m moving my blogging efforts – paltry as they may be – back here until, that is, the time comes to choose again…


iPod classic no longer

September 6, 2013

This story in Wired made me ever-so-slightly nostalgic. It seems the iPod ‘Classic’ (the one with the click wheel) is on its way out.

The iPod was once the shining star of Apple’s product kingdom. Announced in 2001, iPod sales were growing, growing, growing up until they peaked in December 2008. Since then, they have been steadily slumping as many potential buyers go for the iPhone or other smartphones instead of a dedicated MP3 player. The numbers have gotten dismal enough that in its second-quarter financial results this year, Apple for the first time left iPod numbers out of the announcement entirely. In parallel, Apple has given the iPhone less time in the limelight at its periodic keynote presentations.

Certainly my own iPod is languishing, unused for several years, at the bottom of a drawer which also houses other bits of kit I can’t quite bring myself to get rid of but no longer have any use for. This is not, actually, because I don’t have music downloaded onto a device at all, but because my Spotify subscription allows me to download for safe-keeping more than I ever really need for times without signal. And I’m – obviously – safe in the knowledge that virtually anything I may wish to listen to is available in the ether. Still it is incredible how quickly a change in available technology has shifted habits around such an integral bit of the aural leisure landscape.

New York City set to elect a local mayor for local people

September 6, 2013

Having paid scant attention – to my shame – to the race to become next mayor of the world’s best city, I enjoyed reading this concise and interesting state-of-the-race-on-eve-of-the-vote piece by Gary Silverman in the FT.

New York City (where else) is set to exit a period during which, by virtue of having successive mayors focused more on the inter/national than the local, the city’s politics have been out of kilter with the norm. Mayor Giuliani showed remarkable leadership during 9/11 and as a result became an established figure on the national stage, and his favoured successer Michael Bloomberg was naturally a ‘big picture mayor’:

Mr Bloomberg’s New York has felt less like his hometown than his laboratory.  Whether he was weaning  the overweight off sugary drinks or looking to stop  the rise of the seas, he played to a bigger audience than the mere 8m souls  traversing the sidewalks of the city.

This is, says Silverman, all set to cease:

The big story of the mayoral campaign (excluding the Anthony  Weiner burlesque) has been the unexpected rise of Bill de Blasio, an underdog Democrat who has gone out of his  way to paint himself as a crusader for the forgotten New York – the  anti-Bloomberg, if you will.

What’s more surprising than the rise of a locally-focused candidate like Mr de Blasio is the fact that it’s taken so long:

The remarkable thing is that we have had wealthy white mayors for so long in a  city that is so black and brown and poor. Descendants of European immigrants are  a minority here. African-Americans and Hispanics make up more than half the  population. Throw in Asians, and you are north of 60 per cent.

Putting aside the differences of the political systems and national geographies (which cause London to dominate the UK more than NYC does the US) and the temporary boost of the Olympics, would we say Boris Johnson is ‘naturally’ inclined to be a Giuliani/Bloomberg or a de Blasio?

Real yanks don’t like trains

August 30, 2013

Residents of the United States really don’t like travelling by train, reports The Economist. Stats abound to prove how different US train travel is from elsewhere:

When you adjust for population, the disparity is even more shocking: per capita, the Japanese, the Swiss, the French, the Danes, the Russians, the Austrians, the Ukrainians, the Belarussians and the Belgians all accounted for more than 1,000 passenger-kilometres by rail in 2011; Americans accounted for 80. Amtrak carries 31m passengers per year. Mozambique’s railways carried 108m passengers in 2011.

Aside from the obvious explanation (America is just so darn big) there are a number more interesting, including most of the track being owned by freight companies, meaning passenger trains get second class status, often delayed by their freighty competitors for trackspace. And, inevitably, train travel has become political, with President Obama backing investment in high speed, thus making opposition to rail the natural Republican stance.

Obama: the most videoed president in history

August 22, 2013

Did you know that President Obama has an official videographer? I found out today, thanks to this NPR article.

Arun Chaudhary spent the entire 2008 campaign and the first two years of the administration filming Obama behind the scenes.

“We are definitely talking about thousands and thousands of hours,” he says, “and that’s just … my camera.”

Chaudhary and his successors have filmed Obama on the basketball court, in the Oval Office and palling around with Elena Kagan seconds before he nominated her to the Supreme Court.

How cool is that? The problem, it transpires, is that the sheer volume will, given the format, make it a nightmare for future historians to navigate:

While the material will go to the National Archives and eventually to the Obama presidential library, Chaudhary says there are crucial differences between official and casual events that make his material much harder to search.

“I could put the text of a speech into a file or something next to the video of the speech … and then when you’re searching for a specific line, it can come up,” he says. “But to actually have someone transcribe every casual conversation the president had with anyone while I was filming, I can tell you would take a long time.”

Those transcripts don’t exist, and nobody plans to create them. The behind-the-scenes footage is labeled by date and place. But beyond that, the contents will remain a mystery until someone combs through and catalogs them.

In the meantime, here’s a really fun compilation clip:

Rabbit hutch homes set to continue

August 21, 2013

So yesterday’s post was a case of ‘too enthusiastic too soon’: the government’s consultation on living space did not, as it happens, go so far as to back standards on room sizes in new build houses in order to reverse the trend towards increasingly hutch-like homes. In covering the news, the Guardian quotes a housebuilder:

Jeff Fairburn, chief executive of Persimmon, which accounts for about 10% of the new homes market, claimed the reduction in house sizes reflected modern preferences and lifestyles. “We have house types to maximise efficiency. [Today] you have living and cooking spaces at the back of houses and less formal dining space. I don’t recognise claims that houses are too small. That is not the feedback we are getting.”

By ‘feedback we’re getting’, you suspect Mr Fairburn means ‘the feedback we choose to listen to’.

We live in the smallest homes in western Europe

August 20, 2013

The FT today covers the news that communities minister Don Foster is launching a ‘space consultation’, which is not quite as exciting as if the policy being consulted on were about whether we should live on Mars, but likely to be more important. As anyone who’s owned, lived in or visited a home on a newly-built estate will recognise all too vividly, modern dwellings have shrunk compared to their forebears. But I was surprised to read by just how much:

Typical new homes in Britain have nearly halved in size over the last 80 years, making them the smallest in western Europe, as builders try to eke greater profits from their plots of land. The average one-bedroom new-build home now offers space equivalent to a Tube carriage. Developers have been forced to deny the use of cut-size furniture and wall mirrors in their show homes to create the illusion of roominess.

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