Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd

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Picked this up to read on holiday and wasn’t quite sure if it was going to be my cup of tea. It seemed to feature a lot of African chimpanzee watching and this is what I wasn’t at all sure about.

Couldn’t have been more wrong. Strong female lead – a chimpanzee watcher, yes, but also good scientist in a facility who are not quite straight with their research data. And her relationship with a slightly mad mathematician making up more of the storyline than I thought at the outset.

Good stuff and definitely an author to read more of.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.
Purchased on 6th February 2010.

Even The Dogs by Jon McGregor

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I didn’t remember that after reading If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things I’d written…. ‘Jon McGregor’s next book will very probably be on my “buy instantly in hardback the second it comes out” list.’ ….but I did remember enjoying it and I bought this as soon as I saw it in the bookshop. It’s not a hardback but some kind of bendy fabric covered not quite a paperback. This edition came out a week before I bought it, I’m not sure if there was a proper hardback released before it. Anyway, I think I more or less did as I said I would do.

While this book didn’t engage me as ferociously as the previous book I still enjoyed it. The bitty narrative was great and just the kind of thing I was expecting although I did find it a bit impenetrable in places. I found myself flipping back from time to time to reread a previous passage now I’d deciphered the relationship of the characters to each other and to the story. The story centres on the death of a more or less housebound alcoholic and you piece together his life and that of his family and friends, most of whom are heroin users, as you hear different fragments of the story from different people.

It doesn’t sound like it’s going to be hugely interesting and I wonder if I’d have picked the book up if I hadn’t previously liked the author’s work. The multiple voices and jigsaw type storytelling works really well though. And I’ll definitely stick with my view from the last book and will buy McGregor’s next book more or less as soon as it’s out in whatever passes for hardback these days too.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.
Purchased on 6th February 2010.

Why I Want an iPad

Two and half years ago, or thereabouts, I paid very little attention to the launch of the iPhone. Smartphones seemed to be all over the place but none was the kind of mini computer that I was dreaming of.

In 2007 I’d been running a web company for nearly a decade and had spent the whole time leaping from one internet connection to the next, borrowing computers from friends and family, hulking around a heavy laptop and trying to keep connected on the move, patching together Palm organizers and Nokia phones to get a flaky internet connection and try to keep my web servers up and running at all times. I’d made myself ill worrying about my business’s welfare in the midst of moving house and I’d pretty much given up on the mobile internet malarkey and had decided that I’d had enough of the cutting edge of technology.

It was only when I began to stumble over comments like

So in conclusion, the iPhone is nice from start to finish, but Safari is really the thing that turns it from a phone into a mini-laptop.

from Matt Haughey that I began to realise that this might just be the thing I’d been waiting for.

I had to wait until the phone arrived in the UK in November 2007 when the iPhone became the first gadget I ever went out to buy on release day. This was the original 2G version before the launch of the app store. A pretty looking mobile phone with a standard set of apps on it. Safari however was all I wanted. The web in my pocket – more than that – my web in my pocket. I loved it and have barely been separated from it since.

It’s difficult to explain to people who don’t live in a web based world, or even a web based small business world how much this working mobile connectivity means to me. It’s not just a fancy gadget. Pretty much everything I need to do on a daily basis I do in a web browser and having my iPhone in my pocket has kept me sane and improved my life no end over the past couple of years.

As the iPhone has developed I’ve added apps and upgraded. My little phone that can is now my satnav when I’m driving, my music player (I never saw the point in the iPod after an early encounter with a Diamond Rio player), my main email sorting client, my main news reading device, my main games machine, my recipe book, my notebook, and I could keep adding to this list for some time.

I was quite excited about the launch of what everyone hoped would be Apple’s stunning new tablet PC. What I thought I wanted was jazzy new software to make the iPhone better. I don’t like the “search through the icon laden desktop” style of app organization and use the Spotlight search to find what I want 95% of the time. I don’t like not being able to do two things simultaneously. I want multitasking so I can keep an iSSH terminal session open while I check web pages in Safari. I don’t mind being limited to 8 open web pages in Safari, I wouldn’t mind being limited to 2 or 3 open apps.

The iPad as oversized iPhone initially underwhelmed me. I wanted a more powerful, better looking operating system and I didn’t want another system that was locked down to only running Apple approved applications.

Despite this I still want an iPad. Why? It only took a little thought for me to realise that a good web browser is really all I want. And a bigger screen will make everything that much easier. Easier for me to write my own personalised web apps to do exactly what I want to do. Back to where I started with the iPhone really.

Another minor detail that makes a difference: Chargers have been the bane of my life when travelling for too long. I’m really pleased to see that the iPad uses the same little charger as my iPhone – no big chunky plug to drag around. My MacBook’s charger is small-ish compared with the huge bricks previous laptops have had but is still a pain to transport.

One thing I’m not happy with is that it doesn’t look like the iPad will support a Dvorak keyboard layout. My iPhone supports a shed load of foreign keyboard layouts but not this variation on an English keyboard. It doesn’t make any difference on the iPhone as you can’t touch type on it but it will make a difference to typing on an iPad.

There’s been a lot of talk about the iPad – good talk, bad talk and indifferent talk – and I’m looking forward to seeing what really happens when people start to get their hands on them. Including me, I think.