Archive for September, 2011

my love affair with GSM hardware

Even more trivial than the last one! Some mobiles I loved.

Samsung ???

This was the first of them all in 2000-2001. A weird reverse-clamshell design that very rapidly developed dodgy contacts in the joint. But eh, I had a real, lasting relationship and I could send her texts from the union!

Siemens c55i

Neat and sort of German. With a big square INTERNET key to remind you that you could look at a small subset of the Web on it, if you wanted to spend an absurd amount of money. I took this one away to Vienna and ran up horrible roaming bills (see above) and went without for six months.

Nokia 3210

First Nokia. Smaller, thinner, more future-y. Lit up like a squid from within.

Nokia 6210

Ah, an enduring design classic. Really great, clicky but soft, good sized keys with lighted markers. Less Star Trek than 2001: A Space Odyssey. Real European design. Series 40 OS. Sound hardware. And when we moved into the new flat, I remembered that Royal Holloway computer centre still had a dialup pool, so we aligned the IR port and dialled in over the circuit voice channel, and we could load the blog. 2003 was a bit late for dialup though.

Nokia 6210i

Same as the 6210 but with a 1.3 megapixel cam. Operators had finally repented of trying to make everyone use MMS and therefore squeeze photos into the size mandated by the 3GPP standards group. Sadly, they also made the keys silvery and destroyed its austerity of design. This was the only one I ever lost, from a boozy working lunch at MCI.

Qtek 8100/HTC Amadeus

Working at MCI made that a nonproblem. Very soon we got one of these as a gimme. Technically this was the first smartphone I had, with MS Windows CE and an SD card slot. The back was designed fairly obviously to look a bit like some Apple products, and the whole thing was meant to be a “music phone”. That didn’t mean it came with any real storage capacity, and I added a 2GB SD card – at the time those cost real money. Having worked out how to configure the data access point, it meant I could read NANOG on the train of a morning until I got banned for three months for swearing. I also managed to permanently reduce the default camera resolution, so a whole holiday’s worth of snaps were thumbnails. It was this phone that I took to Singapore and Cape Town in one month and set my personal record mobile bill of £132.

BlackBerry ?

Vodafone sent us one of the BlackBerrys before they were designed to not be hideous, as a review of their hosted BlackBerry service. This was quite impressive, even if it was hard to stop it getting my colleague Sean Jackson’s e-mail. My partner was horrified by the blinking, commanding red light, I was delighted by the clickwheel. I took it to 3GSM in Barcelona. VF asked us for it back soon afterwards. I wonder why?


I had this one in early 2006. I can find similar ones, but only from at least a year later – or perhaps we got an early prototype? Anyway, it was similar to this one but with even fewer hardware controls, so only the horribly crap touchscreen. The first one I had with a touchscreen, or WiFi. Didn’t really work. It also destroyed the SD card full of songs. Bastards.

HP iPaq 6915w

This one was actually quite impressive in a slightly grim enterprisey way. It provided a touchscreen, a QWERTY keypad, WiFi, and GPS, and it worked when it wasn’t crashing. It also had a hard plastic cover that flipped over the screen. I remember deliberately taking a photo on board a plane from London to Dubai to get a GPS fix, and finding that the camera app would look up photos on Multimap (Multimap!) if it could. Also, looking up questions on the Buddha Bar’s WiFi from IMDB to settle an argument.

HP wanted it back.

BlackBerry Pearl

Around then, RIM discovered product design and suddenly BlackBerry devices didn’t need a tea cosy over them. The first of the new breed was this one, and RIM sent me one, which I took to Cape Town. It worked well and looked good, although it was made of glue and phone calls sounded really odd.

Nokia N73

3 UK announced a new product – the X-Series tariff, which offered Skype! on a mobile. They sent us one. I was impressed and paid for one myself. It was a damn good photo phone and a good all rounder, even if it wasn’t pretty. The Skype implementation was disappointing. But the camera was great.


I went to an Orange UK product launch. They said there were Nokia E61s going, but I got there late and they were all gone. I got one of these instead – a preview of the future, really. Windows again, with a large but not good touchscreen, and a slide-out QWERTY, and basically top specifications in everything, and a handy click-wheel. The first 3G device I had. My sister then needed a phone and the N73 turned up, so I offered her the gadget. She renamed it the Beast of Telecom but used it for ages.

Nokia E65

I changed operator to 3UK for the X series and stayed for the cheap Internet service. The E65 was part of Nokia’s attempt to outcompete RIM on looks – a shiny slide-out device. But the bit that got me was the fact it could read RSS feeds. I could check key blogs on the train!

Nokia E71

Ah, a genuine design classic this one. So much so I’ve still got it. Mine came in a mix of chrome, white plastic and white leather keys on the QWERTY. The late version of Symbian S60 it ran worked very well unless you wanted to write code for it, in which case you were basically in for a world of tiresome. It felt and looked great and everything built in worked great. And you could just USB it to any computer and wvdial it to get online.

Bizarrely, Nokia shipped it with a 200MB(!) SD card with some apps on it, rather like they sent out crappy tinny headphones with “music phones”. Also, the phones socket was at 90 degrees to the phone, so it wouldn’t drop into a pocket and never worked well.
Eventually I dropped it and the screen crazed, and I thought it was time for Android.

Samsung GT-i7500

A hacky mess. No QWERTY, which annoys me. Seriously buggy in every way. Made of tickytacky, ugly. Atrocious battery life and radio performance. Crashy, although that’s the Google’s fault. At least the headphone cockup was avoided. Perhaps some of the ‘droid issues are fixed in updates, but the updates never come. (On the other hand, Nokia announced in about 2008 that you could update your phone’s software to the latest version…but it would overwrite all the data on it. Thanks!)

And if it runs out of internal storage, it silently drops SMS messages. Fail.


So there was this thread with music. It went like this, and then like this, and this, then this, this, this, and finally this. Also a fair amount of stuff about shwi-vet Erik Lund and the most popular man in Britain. But mostly music.

Meanwhile, someone defined a tag for “oh yeah this is funky”.

…like it’s 2008!

Having fixed the Viktorfeed, I notice with some pleasure that the activity levels continue to decline. It looks like the last gang in town is “Reliable Unique Services”, ICAO:RLB, an alias for Rus Aviation, operating five Il-76, a couple of which served with various version of Click Airways.

A good post on the notion of “hard Keynesianism” raises some important questions about the recent past of the Labour Party. Hard Keynesianism is the doctrine that, if the government should run a deficit when there’s a negative output-gap and therefore unemployment, it should run a surplus when there’s a positive output-gap and therefore inflation.

It’s trivially true that the government can’t increase its indebtedness as a share of the economy forever, so obviously if you do any fiscal stimulus at all you need to think about a budget consolidation some time in the future. But the hardness in the hard Keynesianism comes from the idea that the average balance of the government budget ought to be zero. That is to say, between recessions the government should always be running a surplus, and it should just unwind that to deliver stimulus.

There are several problems with this idea. First of all, getting to the point of running a semi-permanent budget surplus is an enormous job and we ought to be very sure it’s a good thing before undertaking it, especially as it involves offering everyone whacking tax rises.

Secondly, big private companies or nationalised industries don’t usually target zero net debt just for the sake of it. After all, if you can get a return on investment higher than the cost of capital, i.e. the interest rate you pay, you ought to raise the capital and invest it. In so far as this doesn’t happen, running the public sector as a structural saver might cost us all in terms of economic growth. It’s not obvious that major infrastructure projects should wait until a recession comes along and gives us an excuse to build.

Thirdly, a permanently reducing supply of government bonds might have unforeseeable consequences in the financial sector. Pension funds are big buyers of government debt because it’s considered relatively safe and it’s available in different maturities, so they can match the flow of income from it to the expected flow of pensions. If it was in short supply, they’d have to pay much more for it, and as a result, pension rates would be worse. Banks park their spare cash in government securities. The Bank of England trades them in order to manage the interest rate. We don’t really know what would happen here.

But finance could react to a shortage of AAA-rated bonds in a couple of ways. One would be to push money into riskier investments. That might in fact help the economy, by getting more money into industry, but you try telling that to people whose savings vanished. Another would be to do what they’re doing now, which is just to sit on their cash and do nothing, so we have a demand-deficient recession. A third would be to do what they did a couple of years ago, and invent new AAA assets. And look how that turned out!

And fourthly, we’d have to think hard about what to do with the surplus money. We couldn’t risk it, and it would have to be liquid so as to be available in a crisis. Obviously, foreign government bonds…you see where I’m going here.

Now, as far as I can see, the main attraction of hard Keynesianism in Britain is either that it sounds easy to sell because it uses the rhetoric of tough-osity, or else that it’s something to throw at Gordon Brown. After all, there is little point complaining about surging public spending in the mid-2000s – because public spending didn’t actually surge in the mid-2000s – or that we can’t plan on expanding the public sector as a percentage of GDP – because it wasn’t historically big or fast-growing in the mid-2000s.

So if your aim is to support the Blairite king-over-the-water, and you’re not willing to simply pretend that there was a public spending blowout in 2005-2006, you need an alternative and hard Keynesianism is it. Oddly, if you take into account some of my objections, you end up with something rather like Gordon Brown’s fiscal rules.

A couple of News of the World things. Just before the Met dropped their effort to bully the Grauniad with the Official Secrets Act, they ran this story about the disastrous attempt to use a supergrass in the Daniel Morgan case. Is this a coincidence? And this quote reads like a Ballardised version of Le Carré:

One of the most “concerning” events for the judge came on 5 September 2006, a month after Eaton was recruited as a supergrass and while officers were still taking his witness statements. Eaton was taken by DCI Cook to a “covert location” near Reading, and left alone in the bedroom of a hotel. He became very distressed and broke down.

Half an hour later Cook – who had been trying to get Eaton to implicate two brothers, Glenn and Garry Vian, in the Morgan murder – sent him a text message that the officer then deleted from his mobile phone, according to the judge’s ruling.

An hour after Eaton had been put into the hotel room he changed his story and prepared a statement implicating the Vian brothers in the murder for the first time.

That’s none other than Dave Cook, the policeman who was being followed around London by the Murdochs’ private investigators in an effort to protect Alex Marunchak, on the instructions of Greg Miskiw. I wonder who else read the text message?

Also, if the police story that a junior officer on the Operation Weeting case launched the OSA effort all on his lonesome while the handover to the new chief was going on is at all true, I think we probably know who one of the moles is.

Did anyone else read this and this and get the horrible feeling that Maurice Glasman is over-promoted, and likely to crash in some really embarrassing way, even more than he has done already? It reminds me a bit of Tony Blair at his elevenarife worst or one of those people who are caught pretending to be commanding the SAS from a Kwik Save in Eccleshill.

Not only was he advising Ed Miliband, but David as well! And it seems he was giving them diametrically opposite advice, as if to find out what would happen! Not only was he an obscure lecturer, but he was literally starving! But when he became a member of the House of Lords, he was able to build a new storey on his house in Hackney!

(Hint: probably best not boast about using your parliamentary attendance-money to build an extension. Just because it’s not a duckhouse…)

Also, this: Rather than giving a single mother housing benefit, Blue Labour is more likely to give her a stake in a community land trust.

Where is all this land in, say, Islington, the borough with two grass football pitches and one of them is Arsenal, coming from? Further, where will she live and how will she avoid eviction during the years the CLT will need to round up financing and fight its way through the planning process before the project even breaks ground? Wouldn’t it be easier if she could just, eh, stay in her home rather than move to some vague new construction project God-knows-where?

Also, I’m sure some of us can relate to this:

Then I suddenly thought of David, and the grief, and James [Purnell], and the party, and the bitterness, and I thought, I’m glad I’m in Shoreditch today.

Just dance, you’ll be OK, right? No, actually, nothing that fun, he was at somebody or other’s wedding and staring at his phone for news.

is this normal?

It seems that the Islington Gazette‘s usually very funny problem page isn’t coming back from their recent re-design. Perhaps I should write and tell them I have a problem.

So, I had a drink with the most popular man in England on Thursday. Something which came up in the conversation was that apparently, some UK and European central institutions’ press offices are handing out “tokens” to lobbyists. Tokens? This meant nothing to me, but apparently what was meant is that they are counting meetings with lobbyists and monitoring the counts to see if they appear to be giving one company or other preferential access. And the reason is that lobbying information is being analysed by journalists and other malcontents with their stinkin’ computer diaries.

Of course, they can always go and meet secretly at White’s or the meeting room of some dreadful wanktank, but they could do that before and they seem to find official lobbying worth their while or else they wouldn’t do it. I suspect that corporate lobbyists are the sort of people whose behaviour is accurately modelled by the toolkit of neoliberal economics, like psychopaths and economists themselves.

In tangentially related news, did you know that there was a serious proposal to rebuild the Houses of Parliament as a Benthamite panopticon in the 1840s? MP Joseph Hume thought Millbank Prison had been such a success that a parliamentary panopticon might be a good idea, or at least he did a piece for Bentham’s Westminster Review arguing for it. Whether he was in earnest or taking the piss I have no idea.

I suppose you could have a single citizen, chosen by lot, at the top of the tower…

This is wrong, not just for the methodological reasons given. The problem is more serious. What’s so great about optimal decisions after all? Absolute optimality has costs.

Specifically, even if consultation doesn’t help you achieve an optimal decision, it may help avoid a decision that is dramatically pessimal for some particular person or group of people. That’s worth something. Economists, especially, ought to remember this as the whole idea of Pareto efficiency comes with Pareto’s further point that a step towards optimal efficiency in any given market is not necessarily a step towards perfection overall.

Further, in practice, people who refuse to consult in the hope of making an optimal decision are quite likely to be rationalising the avoidance of information they don’t like or just their own arrogance. In that case, they’re very likely to make a really bad decision. It’s better to miss the cost-index speed by a couple of knots than stall the plane into the sea. Programmers are taught to remember that premature optimisation is the root of all evil.

A couple of points in the upshot. Do we lose more from not attaining perfection than we do from horrible bungling? For a practical example, are all those superbly conceptualised deadweight losses and x-inefficiencies that are meant to be in the economy in the event of any state intervention whatsoever anywhere near enough to match the lasting losses of financial crisis? Enormous efforts are made to squeeze the long-term unemployed back into the job market. But the numbers are clear – people lose work in recessions and then don’t find it again.

Wouldn’t it be better to hold the line, putting up with one parmesan shaving less on my martini in the good times, rather than waste time and money and bother a lot of poor bastards trying to fix it later? Kurzarbeit beats the piss out of A4E.

More generally, loss-aversion is often considered to be a cognitive bias. One of the things the recurring drama of the rogue trader tells us is that someone who tells you it’s only a little loss and it’s worth it for the potential upside is very often lying or deluded. Isn’t loss aversion actually quite a sensible heuristic for most purposes? After all, many of the things it would warn you against are actually sure losers, like gambling, smoking, and voting Conservative.

That gets me to the final point. How dare anyone have the intellectual dishonesty to argue against social democracy on the grounds that stuff happens and we need safety first and to respect individual variety and old institutions and no plan survives contact with the enemy? Avoiding disasters and silly experiments is our thing, and if that’s conservatism, well, vote Labour.

Of course, my own experiment with voting Lib Dem is exhibit A.


Term-extraction algorithms have the disturbing property of making things sound more interesting than they really are. These are WordPress’s suggested tags for the last blog post:

community organisers, multilateral agreement on investment, plymouth argyle, james purnell, crash investigation

Way more fun than just another future of the Labour Party post. This is of course inherent in the methodology. You’re trying to identify statistically significant variance in the corpus used, so the weirdness pops out from the background. Like teal and orange.