One Hundred And Sixty

When I first went to university, in 1999, I got my first mobile phone. Back then, messaging features on mobiles were a bit more simplistic than they are today.

For example, phones were only just starting to appear that could handle multi-SMS messages. For those without this feature there was a new skill to be learned.

With practice, we got to be particularly good at cutting out messages down to the requisite number of characters to fit into a single SMS: just 160 characters.

We even learned how to meaningfully split messages in our heads, with indicators (ellipses, or numbers showing message parts), to carry longer concepts. (4/19)

Even when multi-message capable phones came out (I got one in 2000), these skills were still useful. At 10p or 12p per message, you soon learned to be concise.

Nowadays, this skill has lost its value. With more and more people having “unlimited SMS” plans or enormous quantities of credits, there’s no need to be brief.

If you’ve got an iPhone, you don’t even get told how long your message is, I hear. You just keep typing. And that’s not uncommon on other kinds of handset too.

Your phone’s still splitting your message up, in the background. Putting markers in, so that other phones can understand. And these markers are human-readable.

Just in case your message is going to a phone that’s over about 12 years old, your smartphone makes sure that the markers would be understood by humans. (9/19)

So now we’ve got smartphones talking to each other in a language that humans designed to talk to one another in. Does that feel really strange to anybody else?

I looked at my phone while I wrote a message, today. I noticed that number in the corner, that indicated that my message would span 3 texts. And I didn’t care.

Why would I? It’s a vestige of an older form of communication. Someday, it’ll look as primitive as the paintings on the walls of caves, daubed by early humans.

But for now, I remember. And, somehow, the skill I learned all those years ago – a trick that’s alien to almost anybody younger than me – has a new, fresh use.

Twitter. 140 character messages. A little bit less than a text, which seems strange. Are they really trying to make us even more brief than those early phones?

The skill is still the same. Think ahead. Prune. Plan. Snip. And, if you absolutely must span several messages, make it clear to your reader so that they know.

I see a whole new generation of people learning this skill that I once learned. It’s not the same (it never will be): they don’t pay 10p every time they tweet.

But you know what? It’s just as pointless now as it was the first time around. If you want to say something, say it. If 36p is too much, risk a 10-second call!

And in the case of the Twitter generation: if your message doesn’t fit on Twitter, then it probably doesn’t belong on Twitter. I’m a 160-character-or-more man.

I’m not sure I’m cut out for the Twitterverse with its 140-character limits. But it’s nice to remember how to think in 160, just like I have in this blog post.

Searching For A Virgin

You just can’t rely on GMail’s “contacts” search any more. Look what it came up with:

Not a result I'd commonly associate with the word "virgin".

With apologies to those of you who won’t “get” this: the person who came up in the search results is a name that is far, far away, in my mind, from the word “virgin”.

In not-completely-unrelated news, I use a program called SwiftKey X on my phone, which uses Markov chains (as I’ve described before) to intelligently suggest word completion and entire words and phrases based on the language I naturally use. I had the software thoroughly parse my text messages, emails, and even this blog to help it learn my language patterns. And recently, while writing a text message to my housemate Paul, it suggested the following sentence as the content of my message:

I am a beautiful person.

I have no idea where it got the idea that that’s something I’m liable to say with any regularity. Except now that it’s appeared on my blog, it will. It’s all gone a little recursive.

Beware: Necrophiliac Paramedics!

A conversation I had this morning with JTA, via text message:

I sent:

Boiler update: this is getting silly. The probability-weighted Markov-chain based predictive text system I’m using this morning saw me type “boi” and suggested “Boiler update:”? /sighs/
On the upside, I’ve successfully arranged for the new distributor valve to be installed on Friday, when I’ll be around.

To give a little background, we’re having trouble with the boiler on Earth. You may have observed that it broke last year, and then again this year: well – it’s still broken, really. Nowadays it’ll only produce a little hot water at a time, and makes a noise like that scene in Titanic where the ship begins to tear in two. You know – a bad noise for a boiler to make. Over the last two or three weeks we’ve repeatedly fought to get it repaired, but it’s been challenging: more on that in a different blog post, if JTA doesn’t get there first.

JTA replied:

On the plus side, at least this saga is overriding your phone’s memory of your previous life as a male prostitute. :-)

I was once mistaken for a gay prostitute, actually – by a gay prostitute – but that’s another story, I guess. In any case, I responded:

Until now! you’ve just mentioned that again, which means it’ll be the “last message received” when the paramedics go through my phone if I’m killed on the way to work this morning. And they’ll say, “yeah; I’d pay to have sex with him.”

Quickly followed by:

And his mate will say:
“Now he’s dead, you don’t HAVE to pay.”
If my corpse is raped by a paramedic, I’m blaming you.

To which JTA said:

You’re talking about people who drive blacked out vans full of drugs. I’m pretty sure they never pay.

From prostitution to necrophilia to date rape over the course of only a handful of text messages. What a great start to a Wednesday morning. I do like the image of an ambulance as “a blacked out van full of drugs,” though…

Orange Gives Me 80p For No Apparent Reason

[this post was lost during a server failure on Sunday 11th July 2004; it was recovered on 21st March 2012]

Today, Orange sent me a text message apologising for charging me for two picture messages earlier this year, and have apparently credited me 80p as a gesture of compensation. The Register reports that this has happened to others, too, but I can’t help but feel that Orange’s mistake is even larger than they thought it was – I never recieved these picture messages in the first place!

I’m tempted to call them and complain that I didn’t ever recieve the two picture messages for which I’m having my money refunded, but as I’m not even sure that I was charged for them, either (can’t see it on my bill), I’ll probably lose me free 80p if I do. Decisions, decisions.

In other news, comment-heavy discussion on the difference between Christianity and Islam on Alec’s LiveJournal [link updated to use Web Archive, which still holds a copy]. Take a look.

Easter Break

I’m sitting doing some work on a web site for one of our clients, and Reb (you know, the ex-girlfriend) sends me another text message:

you around for easter? xx

As it happens, I won’t be. I could go visit my family for Easter, but this would result in two things happening:

  1. My family would eat lots of chocolate, and I wouldn’t, on account of the fact that if I did my head would explode and I would die horribley.
  2. I’d have to meet up with Reb.

I think I’ll stay in Aberystwyth. I’ve got heaps of work to do, anyway.

Kit and I ate at Burger King this evening, and each had one of their fantastic new special offer “Tex-Mex” burgers. They’re like their quarter-pounders, but with spicy cheese and spicy relish and… fresh jalapeno peppers instead of gherkins. Sweet.

Spent most of the evening playing the Alpha test of YoHoHo! Puzzle Pirates, which seems to occupy most of my time and probably my internet bandwidth at the moment. Ho hum.

A Message From Reb

I received an interesting text message from my ex-girlfriend Reb today. It read:

I was thinking, you know how you used to say i could have your diaries when you died. can i still? not that i wish you dead or anything, i was just wondering.

Yeh; sure – it sounds like you love me to pieces, my dear. This, interestingly, is the latest in a short string of text messages, including one that asked if I had any pornographic videos (I asked why she wanted to know, to which she didn’t respond), and one which asked if I ever missed talking to her (I responded to say “Rarely, and briefly.”).

And let’s just get this straight: “not that i wish you dead or anything”. What kind of person says something like that? I’m not sure whether I’m to be scared or amused!

What’s going on in her mind? Suggestions welcome.