Born Sleepy

December 16, 2011

I now have the registration for the domain, so in the next few days this site will be moving over to The original address should continue to work.

That means that you can also reach me at sam AT if you really want to (but I’ll continue to use my address as my default).


November 16, 2011

This not very exciting story caught my attention this morning, as it occurred to me that this sort of behaviour is a pretty good barometer of Apple’s post-Jobs health.

If you can’t be bothered to follow the link, it’s basically about the fact that negotiations between Apple and the Japanese mobile phone carrier have stalled because Apple have a long-standing policy of not allowing carriers to pre-install software on the phone.

This kind of junk-ware (often characterised as helpful, but typically just a vehicle for marketing and cross-promotion), is endemic on many other phones and on Windows PCs, and it really, really sucks.

I don’t worry too much about things like product innovation at Apple continuing after Steve. I worry a lot more about Apple losing the independence of spirit and strength of character that allows them to overturn the business orthodoxy and do things in the right way for the optimum user experience.

If Apple ever start allowing carriers to pre-install software on the iPhone, or partners to put stickers on the box, it will be a sign that the end is nigh.


November 09, 2011

There’s a big furore in Britain at the moment about the fact that FIFA have told the England and Wales football teams that they can’t wear poppies on their shirts during their upcoming international fixtures.

For those who don’t know, the red poppy is worn by many people at this time of year here in commemoration of Remembrance Day.

It’s understandable that there is strong feeling, given that war (and death) are emotive topics at the best of times, but the level of debate on this topic has been incredibly poor. The typical reaction has been along the predictable lines of “this is political correctness gone mad”, “who are FIFA to interfere”, and so on. Even the prime minister got in on the act today. I believe that this is misguided.

The basis of FIFA’s decision is a broader rule that they have of “member nations not adorning their shirts with ‘commercial’, ‘political’, or ‘religious’ symbols or messages”.

Most people here are interpreting it as FIFA saying that wearing poppies is “political”, in the sense that it indicates some political allegiance within UK politics, or perhaps some more philosophical allegiance in favour of war in general, or one or more of the wars we’ve been involved in specifically. To some extent that might even be true - although it’s fair to say that many people wear the poppy as a general recognition of the pain, suffering and sacrifice of war on all sides - but in any case it’s totally missing the point.

The point is that what is a “war” is subjective, what is a “just war” is even more subjective, and who “the fallen” might includes depends entirely on your point of view.

If you allow the England team to wear poppies, you’d have to allow players from any nation in the world wearing items commemorating their own particular conflicts. Other parts of the world might regard these conflicts as anything but just - they might involve alleged genocide, terrorism, and so on.

Simply calling something a war is a political act.

FIFA aren’t passing judgement on any particular war, they’re enforcing a general rule precisely in order to avoid having to do that.

For once in my life, I’m surprised to find myself agreeing with Sepp Blatter and company!


I pretty much stopped reading traditional newspapers many years ago (Caroline gets the Grauniad Guardian every Saturday, and that’s my only regular exposure).

I am a news junkie though, and as well as listening to a lot of BBC Radio (4 & 5), I fairly regularly check the Guardian and BBC news websites, and subscribe to a whole ton of RSS feeds, which I read on my iPad and my laptop.

I don’t generally use iPad news apps. I actually did some work on the Telegraph and Economist iPad editions, so I have them on my iPad, but I rarely remember to launch them!

Recently though, the Guardian released a new iPad application, and I’ve been trying it out.

The application is perfectly functional, but the main thing that it has reinforced in my mind is just how outdated the concept of a daily edition of a newspaper feels. Most, if not all, of the iPad versions of daily newspapers religiously reproduce this model in their electronic incarnations. Why?

The front page, whilst a fine tradition in print, isn’t actually that useful in an electronic context. Yes it highlights one or two major stories, but the rest of it is filled with links to the lead items on other sections. I suspect that, like me, most of us don’t read all of the sections, so half of what the front page contains won’t be of interest to any given user. An auto-generated front page based on some combination of the popularity of current articles and a history of what I’ve read in the past would probably do a much better job for me.

The idea of taking a daily snapshot in time and calling it “today’s” news also seems anachronistic in a world where breaking news is available the instant it happens.

Admittedly, a well informed and considered editorial or newspaper article can present a much more coherent picture of a story than the sort of inane verbal diarrhoea that you normal get from rolling-news reporters “on the scene” regurgitating third hand information because nobody actually knows what’s happening.

A daily edition isn’t required for that though - all you need is some actual facts and the kind of intelligent analysis of the overall picture that a bit of distance and a few hours reflection will give. Inserting a pause for intelligent though doesn’t have to require waiting for the next day. In any case, newspapers are perfectly capable of producing drivel too if a news event happens to occur at the right point in their daily cycle where they have time to get a story in but not enough time to actually know anything meaningful about it.

The obsession with daily editions tends to shape the architecture of the applications too. You often have to download the content for a whole edition at once. This is like having to put up with the cascade of sections in a modern Sunday paper - most of which go straight into the recycling. Bandwidth may be relatively cheap, but it still feels a bit pointless that I must wait for an app to download some stuff about gardening that I will never read! The waste of resources involved in real newspapers is one of the reasons I stopped buying them - and yet we’re doing our best to reproduce that waste digitally.

Daily editions also impose an cut-off on the life of articles. If the navigation of a newspaper app forces me to choose a day first, then a section, then a story, I won’t get to see yesterday’s stories unless I deliberately choose to look at yesterday’s edition first - and why would I do that until I know what’s in today’s edition?

In a world where I already know that I won’t have time to read everything, this compartmentalising of stories into days has the useful effect of cutting down the overall volume, but it’s cutting it down using the wrong criteria. If I’m looking at the sports section and I’ve been out of touch for a week, I don’t just want yesterday’s results, but I’d be happy to never be shown anything about horse racing. Similarly if I want to read some book reviews, I’d probably prefer to pick a genre first, and not have to select them based on the date they were published.

It’s early days yet, but I really think it would be good to see newspaper publishers take a more creative approach to re-packing their content for the digital era. I do see value in some human mediation - suggesting interesting stories for me and arranging the content in a suggested order in the way that editors do on physical papers - but I’d like to see it happen in more imaginative ways, rather than continuing to work within restrictions that no longer apply.


The recent death of Steve Jobs is very sad, and I like many other people in the world of Mac and iOS software development would like to acknowledge how much the products that he helped to create changed my life. My sympathy goes out to his family and close friends.

A post on this topic by Jeff LaMarche crystallised something that I’ve been feeling though about the coverage of Steve’s death.

I’ve heard and read many heartfelt expressions of sadness from people - at his loss, and of respect for the work that he did and the impact that he had on their life.

However I’ve also heard some hyperbolic statements, mostly by prominent public figures, that made me feel a little uneasy.

My experience is that excessive eulogising can be a burden too if you lose someone close to you.

It is nice to remember the good sides of someone, but it’s unreal to pretend that they didn’t have quirks and flaws, and it can get a bit painful if you feel that someone is being turned into something that they weren’t. If you lose someone close, you want to remember them as they were - a human being - and not as some sort of mythical paragon.

Of course in this case it is very complicated because Steve has such a public profile and genuinely was a hero to many.

I suppose I just wish that people would limit themselves in these cases to saying what a good effect someone had on their own lives - and leave speculation about their overall place in history, or the effect they had on society as a whole, for another day (and the perspective that a bit more time will bring).