Murder… In Space!

Friday night was Murder… In Space!, our most recent murder mystery party. This is the second of our murder mystery nights that I’ve been the author of (the first one was Murder In The Reign Of Terror), and I took a lot of what I learned from the experience of writing and co-hosting of that mystery… and then disregarded about half of it.

Dan in contemplation
Me as the hologram of Ground Control Director Dan Griffin

One of the things that I thought we’d do differently from normal was a more “freeform” roleplaying experience. Instead of communal debates punctuated with pre-scripted dialogues, I wanted to create an atmosphere that felt more… like a group of people trapped together, where one is a murderer! I wanted distrust and backstabbing, secrets and lies. So instead of scripting dialogues and drip-feeding clues to the players between courses, I gave a lot more information “up front” and relied on the characters to develop their own social interactions, with mixed success.

Adam and Claire
Captain Rusty Schweiper (Adam) issues a mission patch to reporter Robyn Morse (Claire)

As I expected, I disregarded my own suggestion to myself to refrain from committing to a date for the event until I’d written at least half of the materials. Unfortunately, this was coupled with my incorrect assumption that writing a murder mystery in which I didn’t pre-script the dialogues would be somehow easier or faster than the contrary. Also my mistake in thinking that writing for ten people would only be 25% harder than writing for eight (in actual fact, complexity grows exponentially, because each person you add to a murder mystery has a theoretical relationship with everybody added before them).

The players sat around many red pieces of paper.
Little red pieces of paper abound in the early stages of the game

The game proved challenging early on. Without the structure of initial dialogue and with no formal introduction phase, it took some time for the players to get into character and to understand what it was that they wanted to achieve and how they might go about it. In addition, a lot of the characters held their cards very close to their chest, metaphorically-speaking, to being with, resulting in a great shortage of “free” information during the first half of the game. However, the “space age” multicoloured cocktails did their work quickly, and after a sufficiency of liquid lubrication virtually everybody was slotting into their position in the group.

Ruth in a lab coat.
Helen Shaman (Ruth), the biologist

Once the players got into the swing of things, including (for those who’d attended this kind of event before) culturing an understanding that it was encouraged, perhaps even necessary, to meet up with fellow crewmembers in smaller groups and swap information and plot items – something that was new to this particular adventure – everything went a lot more smoothly. As I’d hoped, characters would take time to creep away in twos and threes and gossip about the others behind their backs. At least one character attempted to eavesdrop on others’ conversations, which was particularly amazing to see. In addition to the usual goal of “detect the murderer”/”make a clean getaway”, I’d issued each character with a set of secondary (and tertiary) goals that they’d like to achieve, typically related to learning something, preventing others from learning something, or acquiring or retaining a particular plot item. Some characters had more complex goals, relating to keeping the blame on or off particular other characters, making good early guesses, or being the first to achieve particular milestones. I felt that this added a richness to the characters which is otherwise sometimes lacking, and it seemed to work particularly well for helping the players play their roles, although I should probably have put the goals higher up on each player’s character sheet in order to make it clearer how important they were to the overall plot.

Claire, Matt and JTA in the kitchen
Robyn Morse (Claire), Sir Richard Virgin (Matt P), and Steven Win (JTA) in a private discussion

As usual, it was inspiring to see characters I’d invented brought to life in the interpretation of their players. As with Murder In The Reign Of Terror, I’d quite-deliberately avoided assigning characters to players, instead letting Ruth do that based on my preliminary character descriptions, thereby providing me with a number of surprises (and an even greater number of interesting coincidences) when it came to seeing how everybody chose to portray my ideas. Particular credit must go to Matt R for his stunning performance as the self-aware android, TALOS-III, and to Adam for the extraordinary amount of effort he put into his costume (including a silver jumpsuit, “moon boots”, and a cap and t-shirt emblazoned with his name, insignia, and the mission name). That said, everybody did an amazing job of making their character believable and love (or hate)-able for the characteristics they portrayed: there were moments at which it was easy to forget that this was all make-believe.

Adam's trainers, spray-painted silver.
Adam’s “moon boots”

As usual, Ruth put an unbelievable amount of work into making the food fit the theme, and she’d tried to have food that represented the nationalities of all of the astronauts present, in addition to making the food look like “space food”, even where it wasn’t (which resulted in the up-side that the foil containers out of which dinner was served needed no washing up when the party was finished). She’d also put a lot of thought into “space age” drinks, which mostly consisted of brightly-coloured cocktails prepared from ingredients brought by individual guests, which worked really well (although I apologise for the disparity that I’ve since discovered in the varied prices of the drinks people were asked to bring).

Paul is the murderer, and everybody points at him.
Pointing at the murderer, pilot James McDivvy.

As seems to have become traditional – although I swear that this is just another one of those coincidences – Paul‘s character, James McDivvy, turned out to be the murderer: he’d poisoned the victim using carbon monoxide in his space suit’s air supply when he went for a spacewalk. In the photo above he’s seen holding a data disk containing the program that controls the TALOS-III android: he played upon the fact that nobody could find it to imply that whoever had it must have somehow used it to reprogram the android to perform the murder, playing upon everybody’s natural suspicion of the creepy robot amongst them, and this worked well for him, distracting many of the others from the evidence that would have implicated him. You can also clearly see Rory‘s (Akiyama Toyohiro) fabulous SG-1/Japanese space geek costume, including his digital scrolling Twitter feed hanging around his neck.

Angharad
Angharad (Svetlana Svetyona), a first-time Murder Night attendee

As usual, there are lessons to be learned. In the hope that I’ll pay some attention to myself next time (yes, there’ll be a “next time”, hopefully before I leave Aber – and I’m hoping to make something even bigger and cooler out of it), I’d like Future Dan to remember the following lessons:

  • I know you’ll ignore this anyway, Future Dan, but do not commit to a date for a murder mystery until you’ve got at least half of it written already. There’s lots of stress, lots of panic, and a higher freqency of typos and other embarassing mistakes when you write the last few thousand words in the last day or two.
  • Similarly, have more leeway for additional characters: I know it feels like “wasted words” to write for characters who’ll probably never be used, but it’s better to plan for about 10% of your cast to be playing optional characters, so that when they pull out (or more people want to come) you’re already prepared.
  • Plan for a structured introduction round in which the host more-fully explains “the story so far”, and perhaps pre-script the first conversation(s) that players are likely to engage in, in order to make breaking into character a little less like diving in at the deep end.

Anybody got any other suggestions or feedback? Leave me a comment!

Further reading

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Murder… in SPACE!

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

This repost was published in hindsight, on 20 March 2019.

Rory wrote:

Awesome murder mystery, props to Dan for writing and hosting. I’ll post some photos when I’m more sober. It wasn’t until I got home that I realised I’d probably been at the space cocktails a bit too much >_< Until next time Akiyama Toyohiro is signing off!

Cross-reference: Murder… In Space.

SuperGenPass In MicroB On The Nokia N900/Maemo

In the unlikely event that I’m not the only person who uses SuperGenPass to manage my passwords and MicroB on Maemo on my Nokia N900, here’s a few tips that I thought I’d share (they’re also valid on the N800 and N810 and “hacker edition” N770s, too, I expect):

  • You don’t have a Bookmarks Toolbar (where would you put it on a 3½ inch screen?), so once you’ve customised your SuperGenPass bookmarklet, you’ll need to click-and-hold on the generated link, and then select “Add bookmark” to save it to your bookmarks).
  • Use it as normal: either fill your master password into the form and click your Bookmarks menu and select the bookmarklet, or select the bookmarklet and give it your master password. Don’t forget when using complex forms or changing passwords that Maemo provides a full clipboard so you can copy/paste passwords around where the need arises (thankfully quite rarely).
  • If you’re irritated by the “You have requested an encrypted page that contains some unencrypted information” warnings that you see when logging into SSL-secured websites (and the fact that unlike desktop Firefox, you can’t turn it off from the settings), here’s how you disable it:
    • Enter the web address – about:config
    • Agree to the warning page, if you’re presented with one
    • Type “security.warn_viewing_mixed” into the search box, or browse the properties list for that option
    • Select it by clicking on it, and tap the Enter key to toggle it from true to false.
  • I don’t yet know the reason for the fleeting “Maximum number of characters reached” message, but it doesn’t seem to impact on functionality of SuperGenPass. Does anybody else know what it’s about or how it can be suppressed?

Late For The Altar

Yesterday, I didn’t go to a wedding.

Act One – Not Going To A Wedding

The happy couple.

The wedding was Andy and Siâns, of course, and they got married yesterday in Cardiff. Unfortunately, Ruth, JTA and I’s plans to go down there were conspired against by the combined forces of all of the worst luck imaginable. Allow me to elaborate.

The plan was simple. As soon as JTA could finish work, we’d suit-up, hop into Miriam (Ruth & JTA’s loveable, quirky litle car), and rocket down to Cardiff to join the party. And it could have gone so well, as a plan – JTA managed to finish work early, I dug out one of the most awesome ties ever, we’d even packed up a stack of inflatable beds so that anybody else who was planning to crash on the happy couple’s living room floor could also sleep in comfort.

But the problem was Miriam. Miriam, you little beast! She’d apparently been “sounding funny” during Ruth’s trip over to Aber on Thursday night, and – as a precaution – we decided to take her for a quick run out along the A44 to check that she was going to be okay for the journey to Cardiff. The plan wouldn’t be foiled even if there was a problem: we already had a backup plan to rent a car (probably for a whole week, as Ruth and JTA will somehow need to get to and from Oxford over the coming week).

It turns out that Ruth getting a second opinion – mine – was a good idea: yes, Miriam “sounds funny”, if by “sounds funny” you mean “judders and vibrates once you get above about 1000 revs, increasingly violently as you get above third gear, and ocassionally cuts out entirely at higher speeds.” Honestly, I suspect she might have been safe, but she certainly wasn’t healthy, so, after (correctly, it later turns out) guessing that the problem was that one or more cylinders were periodically (read: virtually always) failing to fire, we ditched her and went looking for a rental.

We toddled along to Europcar (don’t be fooled by the picture: that’s not what Aberystwyth Europcar’s offices look like), and asked what they had available for hire for a week. “Nothing,” came the reply. “What about just for today?” we asked. “Nothing,” came the reply, again, “We always sell out at about this time on a Friday.”

They suggested we try Hertz out in Llanbadarn, so I gave them a bell. “You want it for today, do you?” came the reply, in a distinctly Welsh accent twinged with only a little incredulity. There was the sound of paperwork being filed in the background. “I’m afraid we’ve got nothing at all today.”

“Is there anybody else I could try, other than you and Europcar?” I asked, “We’re trying to get to a wedding in Cardiff and our car has broken down.”

“You might try – what are they called? – AV Van Hire, out in Glanyrafon. I think that they used to have a car that they used to rent out, sometimes.” This was our last chance, so I thanks the lady from Hertz and went about phoning her competitor in the industrial estate.

I explained the situation to the friendly-sounding man who answered the phone.

“Yeah. We’ve got a Ford Galaxy here that you can borrow.”

“Really? That’s great! How much for a day’s rental?”

“Yell you what – you get over here and we’ll talk about that when you get here.” Hmm. Not sure how to take that – leaves the opportunity to haggle, I suppose, but he could be the kind who wants to size-up his customers first, and the fact that I’m wearing a suit won’t necessarily work financially in our favour. Still, running out of options at this point, so Ruth & I grabbed JTA and jumped into a taxi out to the industrial estate.

Finding the place was more than a little challenging. The taxi driver didn’t know where they were, so eventually we just had him drop us off at the DHL Parcel Depot and called the rental place again. He said he’d send round the car to pick us up, and a few minutes later it arrived.

The Galaxy had taken a bump at some point in it's life, so - not wanting to risk being ripped-off for causing damage that already existed - I took this picture

“It’s… big,” said Ruth, as we hopped into the Ford Galaxy (Mk2). And she was right – you could comfortably seat seven in this beast. Bear in mind that Miriam’s a very small car – she sometimes look as if the two rear passenger doors were added as an afterthought – and you can see why what is, essentially, only a little smaller than a minibus, might be a little intimidating to her.

The chap at the rental place was as friendly as he’d sounded, and, after talking a little about fuel economy and turning circles, made us a really good offer. “Great,” I said, “We’ll take it!” We wandered upstairs into the plywood “office” that hung above their maintenance garage.

“Have you got your license?” he asked, and Ruth produced hers. He started tapping details into a computer and filling out forms, and then stopped and looked at it again. “Umm: how long have you been driving?” he asked.

“18 months,” she said.

“And you?” he said to JTA.

“17?” he guessed, and then checked his license to confirm that this guess was correct. The friendly man turned to me.

“I’m taking my test next month,” I replied.

He pointed at the documents in front of him, where it clearly stated that while the insurance company that they used could insure anybody over the age of 21, they needed to have two years of driving experience. He flicked backward and forth through the paperwork, looking for an exception clause (they were a reasonably liberal-minded insurer, even willing to take on drivers with convictions, but had no flexibility on this one clause… unlike, we later learned, Europcar’s insurers), before giving up.

And that was that. Our last hope, sat out in their driveway, ready for us to rent but illegal for us to take off the premises: as good as useless. We’d checked the public transport options already and determined that the best we could hope to achieve might be to arrive at Andy & Sian’s house right as they happy couple would be retiring to their matrimonial bed (can you think of a better way to make yourself welcome than that?), and that’s if there weren’t any delays. Dejected, we finally gave up. The friendly man had one of his employees (possibly his son?) drive us back to Aber.

Act Two – Doing Something Else Instead

So, in true Friday night tradition, we did what we usually do: had Troma Night, our regular weekly film night. Of course, few could make it (just Sam; Paul visited briefly; and Kit and Fiona turned up late on). In accordance with the prophecy, and perhaps a little in order to feel like we were less-badly separated from our friends on their special day, we themed Troma Night around them.

We stayed in our wedding-wear, watched films about weddings, toasted the happy couple, and wallowed in the fact that we could’t be there with them. Briefly – and with thanks to Matt R – we got to speak to the bride by phone and wish her well, which was nice, but it’s not quite the same. We promise that we’ll try to get down there and visit you sometime soon!

Champagne and flowers at Troma Night 290
Folks Dressed-Up At Troma Night 290
Some Of The Films For Troma Night 290
Ruth pops open (yet) another bottle of bubbly at Troma Night 290
Sam arrives at Troma Night 290 - for those of you who haven't met Sam yet, he's the leader of a small nocturnal group of filing-cabinet kickers up on campus, if you know what I mean.
Dan and Ruth at Troma Night 290
JTA and Ruth at Troma Night 290
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Smell Of Gas

The other evening, I was woken (yes, I was asleep at 6pm, might blog about why that was on a later date) by a man from one of the energy companies trying to get me to consider changing my gas supply to them. I’m not keen on door-to-door sales at the best of times, which, coupled with my why-have-you-woken-me-up attitude and a hint of my mischievousness, lead to a conversation that I’m sure he won’t soon forget.

Gas Man:
Hi, I’m from [name of energy company – he was keen to show off his shiny ID badge] and… oh; I’m sorry, have I just woken you up? Is this a bad time?

Dan:
/yawning/ Yeah, but I’m up now. What can I do for you?

Gas Man:
I might be able to save you money on your gas bill. Can I ask who you’re with now?

Dan:
I’m with [name of my energy company].

Gas Man:
Right, and do you pay quarterly or monthly?

Dan:
Monthly, by direct debit.

Gas Man:
Okay. Do you know how much you spend per month on gas?

Dan:
Hey, do you have any samples?

Gas Man:
What? Umm… I’ve got a leaflet if you’d like…

Dan:
No: samples. Of the gas your company provides.

Gas Man:
/laughing it off as a joke/ Ha! No… so do you know how much your average bill…

Dan:
/completely serious face/ I’m afraid I’d have to smell your gas before I could make any kind of decision.

Gas Man:
/stunned silence/

Dan:
I’ve been with a few different gas companies over the years. When I first moved in I was with [name of energy company]. Their gas smelled like walnuts, and I don’t like walnuts, so I switched to [name of another energy company], and their gas used to smell like cottage cheese, which was fine, but eventually it started smelling like it had gone off which means it probably was actual cottage cheese: which is great, but you can’t just put cottage cheese in your pipe and never replace it, can you? So that’s when I switched to [name of my energy company], about three months ago. Their gas smells like watermelons, which is perfectly good. I like watermelons.

/pause/

So you see; I couldn’t possibly buy your company’s gas unless I could smell it first.

/I continue staring at him with wide, “I inhale flammable gases for fun” look/

Gas Man:
Umm. All the gas is the same. It doesn’t matter which company supplies it: it’s all the same gas.

Dan:
Oh.

/puzzled look/

Then I guess I’ll stick with the gas I’ve got, if yours is no different. Goodbye.

/closes door/

(I assumed he’d already have head of this, of course)

Nokia N900

I’ve just got myself a new mobile phone, and I thought I’d spend a moment to gloat about some of it’s more awesome features (and mutter under my breath about a few of the things that are less-fabulous about it).

So, my new phone is a Nokia N900. You’re not likely to have seen many of these floating around, yet, because they’re new to the UK and they’re currently in somewhat short supply, but thanks to some careful negotiation I’ve gotten my clammy mits on one just a little ahead of the curve.

I’m now loathe to say what I was initially inclined to about it – that it’s quite a remarkable phone – because it’s not really a phone (although it is quite remarkable). As somebody who has always gone for smartphones with heaps of geeky features, I’ve often gone through conversations like the one in the comic, above: where somebody has said “but can it make calls?” These comments tend to come from people who want a phone that makes calls, maybe sends texts, and little else, and often this “purist” view of mobile telephony somebody gives them a strange superiority complex (or perhaps it’s just a backlash against the feature-creep of modern portable devices: who knows). As for me, I don’t care – I want all of those extra features. I couldn’t imagine any more owning a phone without – at least – a fully-featured web browser, camera, bluetooth, wifi, and the capability for me to install (and ideally develop) my own applications onto it, such as connectivity tools, an instant messenger, and so on.

A Nokia N900 on a phone call

However, the Nokia N900 is the first communicator – yes, that’s the word I’m going to use, instead – where I’ve honestly felt that the telephony features “come second”. I suppose it’s the result of the natural progression of Nokia’s Nxxx range of PDAs that this should be the case – the N900 is the first in the series to actually support use of a mobile phone network at all; at least directly. In the device’s default configuration, out-of-the-box, supposing you wanted to make a cellular call, you’d need to:

  1. Switch desktops (by “swiping” one desktop along) or access the applications menu (by tapping the on-screen button for that purpose).
  2. Tap the “Phone” icon, which by default sits in 6th place on the list. Yes, 6th.
  3. Dial the number you wanted to call.

That’s about 66% steps more than just about any other phone ever made. (okay, there’s actually a faster way, but supposing you wanted to exclusively use the touch-screen interface, the above instructions are correct) I know a lot of people who would be put off by that, but I’m not one of them: I’m well past the point where phone calls are the primary thing I use my phone for!

There’s a few things that make the Nokia N900 remarkable by comparison to the phones I’ve had before:

Touchscreen (& hidden keyboard)

Superficially, the major change to my previous phones is the addition of a touchscreen, which seems to be The Thing if you want to make a smartphone these days, thanks to Apple’s innovations in that area. Unusually, the N900 also has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. The slide-out keyboard takes some getting used to, because it’s best operated by your thumbs, which isn’t the way I’m used to using a keyboad. It also makes the phone almost twice as thick as the iPhone and slightly thicker than the HTC Magic, which may be a turn-off to those who like their devices skinny (again, not something that’s ever been a concern to me).

I’m quite pleased with the touchscreen. There’s a stylus embedded in the edge of the case (this is a resistive touchscreen, not a capacitative one like the iPhone, so a stylus can be used), which can be good for clicking tiny links on web pages without zooming in, sketching, and so on, but mostly I’ve just been using my big chunky fingers and that’s worked fine. While the hardware’s multitouch-capable, the factory-installed software isn’t (more on that later), presumably to avoid a lawsuit (there are a lot of complicated patents in that area right now), but having never owned a multitouch-capable phone I don’t miss it. Instead, there’s a good deal of standardised gestures – for example, drawing a spiral in a clockwise or anticlockwise direction can be used to zoom in and out.

The keyboard noticibly lacks a tab key, norkies (angle-brackets), and a few other uncommon pieces of punctuation, which is slightly disappointing (for a geek phone!), because acessing these using the alternate method is just slightly slower than would be ideal. Perhaps these could have been supplied as “special” characters on some of the keys which have no alternate function (e.g. the cursor keys): still, it should be reasonably easy to write this kind of functionality.

Operating System & architecture

Maemo OS screenshot

A particularly unusual feature of the Nokia N900 is it’s choice of operating system. It’s not that Linux-based smartphones are particularly rare per se – after all, Google Android is Linux-powered and the iPhone OS is based on a BSD kernel – but the thinking that’s behind the N900 that is unusual. You see, the N900 gives you root as-standard. If you want to install a different Linux distribution or completely change the one that comes with the device, you can – without “jailbreaking” the device or invalidating your warranty. The standard operating system for the N900, Maemo 5, is based on Debian Linux but with Matchbox and Hildon providing the GUI. This means that the entire operating system is open-source and virtually free of patents and restrictions, and the community support is quite significant. Plus, there’s something distinctly sexy about opening up a terminal on your new phone and typing “sudo apt-get install dosbox” onto it, and a few minutes later having a fully-functional DOS emulator running in your pocket.

I suppose you have to be my kind of geek to truly appreciate that.

Fresh from the factory, the N900 comes with the usual selection of tools – phone, SMS (Nokia have finally improved their stone-age predictive text system to a modern one with support for word-completion, Markov chains, and so on), address book, web browser (based on Mozilla Firefox, and with Flash 9.6 support – there’s nothing quite like watching Flash videos on your mobile, stutter-free), etc. There’s quite a lot more reliance on the community than on other devices: for example, despite the inlusion of an FM tuner in the hardware, there’s no software to support it unless you install it yourself. As a Linux geek, that suits me down to the ground, but this isn’t a phone for everybody – it’ll never be popular and it won’t hit the mainstream in the way that the iPhone and Android-powered phones have.

Want support for Ogg Vorbis in your media player (damn right you do): just install a community-supported codec package. Same goes for video formats, whatever applications or games you want, and so on. There’s a package to readily allow plain old Debian repo packages to “just work” on it, too, without recompilation, so there’s an immense number of applications already available without even having to go near the Ovi Store, Nokia’s answer to the Android Marketplace and the Apple App Store.

The hardware

Nokia N900 with keybord extended

If you’re the kind of geek who cares, the hardware for this device is really quite spectacular. But if you’re that kind of geek, you already know where to look it up… and if you’re not, you don’t need me to repeat it. Suffice to say that the N900 is nippy and responsive even when performing intensive tasks (like simultaneously restoring archives from parity files while listening to radio repeats on iPlayer and playing 3D-accelerated video games), thanks to a generous amount of RAM and a good seperation of responsibilities between the three (yes, three) individual processor cores.

This is a geek’s device, and it comes with all kinds of surprising extras for developers to tap into. As well as Bluetooth, the tilt sensors and accelerometers (some idiot has already written an app that detects how high you can throw your N900 based on what planet you’re on and the accelerometer readings – sounds like a quick way to break your new toy, to me!), two cameras (one a 5MP one, like the high-end Nseries phones), it’s even got an infared transmitter, so you’re only a copy of LIRC away from a universal remote, too.

Thanks to last year’s industry standards agreement, the N900 uses the new “standardised” mobile phone charger, so at least you shouldn’t have to throw out your charger ever again (at least, until mobile phones start charging by induction, as standard), and you’ll always be able to charge from USB. But in a genuine bit of Nokia care, the N900 box also contains an adapter that can be used to convert any old-style or even old-old-style Nokia charger into the new standard format, which is a world of awesome (what else was I going to do with my collection of Nokia chargers?). Thanks for thinking of us, Nokia. Oh: and the environment, I guess.

And now, the things I don’t like

It’s not all rainbows and kittens, though. There’s a few things about the N900 that haven’t won all of my praise and support just yet:

  • Why do virtually all of the default apps run exclusively in either “portrait” or “landscape” mode? Some applications will automatically switch when you rotate the phone, but not all of them: personally, I like to be able to browse the web in “portrait” from time to time! I’m sure it’ll be patched soon enough, but it’s a minor annoyance for now.
  • It would have been nice to have a physical “Task Manager” button on the device, for when a full-screen application has made the standard one inaccessible (this isn’t the iPhone – this is a true multitasking machine – so being able to switch apps “fast” would be nice, like we could on Symbian). On the other hand, there’s an app for that.
  • There’s no native A2DP support, so those “next track”/”previous track” buttons on your Bluetooth headset are officially useless. Would this really have been so hard to have in the standard package? Can somebody write it, please?
  • There are a few teething bugs in the first release of the Mail For Exchange package, which I use to synchronise my address book and calendar with my online accounts, resulting in some synchronisations simply failing (although failing-safely, of course: no data was damaged). Considering that Nokia have had working code to do this for several years now, porting it and then testing the port really shouldn’t have been so difficult.

So there we have it

An official thumbs-up from me, so long as you’re a geek and don’t mind the fact that this phone is – for the next month or two, I suspect – going have have the kinds of teething problems I’ve listed above. I’ll reiterate that this isn’t a phone for a regular Joe: if you’re not going to appreciate the freedom you’ve got with a device like this, you’d be better to save your money and get a HTC Nexus One or iPhone 3GS, or hold on for a couple of months and check out the spectacular-looking Sony Ericcson XPERIA X10.

The N900 is a phone for people with balls and a passion for the most open of open-source. And it’s awesome.

In Which I Express Praise For My Sister

Normal blogging will resume shortly, but I just wanted to quickly take advantage of a period of strong mobile signal as I sit on this Thames Travel bus (oh yeah: I’m in Oxford for a few days) to share with you a feeling of warm fuzziness I experienced earlier today. (note: this blog post took a few days to get “finished”: I’m now stuck in a small town outside Oxford by heavy snow)

In her latest blog post, my sister Becky writes about achieving a couple of things on her “to-do before I die” list. And when I read about her revelations about the nature of domestic abuse and her selfless willingness to go out  of her way to help her fellow man, I was filled with an immense sense of pride.

I’ll remind you that, unlike about a fifth of the regular readers of this blog, my sister has no formal training or experience in active listening or counselling skills. She’s never been taught how to listen without prejudice, how to build rapport, or how to show empathy. She knows that this certainly isn’t part of her job description. What we’re looking at there is plain old, genuine human compassion. And it makes me proud not only of her – as my sister – but also of humankind in general, that this kind of caring for one another still exists, even for a stranger, within the general population. That’s simply awesome.

In other not-dissimilar human-compassion related news, Ruth and I were offered a lift – saving us a two-mile walk through the snow, after midnight – by two complete strangers the other night, after our bus was cancelled. It’s been a good week for stories of people being nice to one another, both in my immediate experience and in the news. I like it.