Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Yahoo! makes me a grumpy old emailer

This morning Yahoo! Mail 'upgraded' me to its new Gmail-like email. There was no choice. If I wanted to use my account, I'd have to accept the change.

I was first offered the new-look email a couple of years ago. I tried it then on the promise that I could switch back to what they called Classic email, which I did.

Apart from being resistant to any kind of change, I didn't like having ads where previously there had been none.

Yahoo! tried to soften me up for the inevitable with this email a couple of days ago:

"We appreciate that you have been with Yahoo! Mail for the past 13 years. We are looking forward to bringing you an even faster, safer, easier-to-use Yahoo! Mail very soon."

13 years! Blimey, has it really been that long? Because of course Yahoo! was itself a new-fangled replacement to my original Freeserve email address.

I'm glad to find that my account still includes at least most of my old emails. The earliest in the Inbox is from April 2001 (only 10 years ago): it's from a friend in New York, asking "How are things in England?  All we hear about is mountains of dead cows." Ah, those were the days!

I see that the Sent box goes back to March 1999 (still only 12 years).

I have alway liked email, and if anyone asked me, I'd advise them to try it and whatever else they might want on the internet.

But I still think there's something a bit nauseating about the saintly Martha Lane Fox's admonishment of those who haven't got themselves online yet.

It's "disappointing, depressing and I find shocking," she said today, that almost nine million people in Britain have never been online. These people say they have no use for the internet, and are the targets - willing or not - of her campaign, Race Online 2012 with its "one-on-one tailored personal inspiration" to make people want to use the internet. Perlease! Why shouldn't these people carry on in their own sweet low-tech way if that's what they want?

Come to think of it, I'm not sure whether I'm more turned off by MLF's indignant complaints against innocent non-internet users or by Yahoo!'s slippery sales pitch for its new email, which completely fails to mention that my Inbox will be boxed in by distracting animations of the Samsung tablet and other things I don't want.

Sorry Martha: that I haven't yet realised that I want.

Still, I shouldn't be too grumpy. 13, or even 11, years of free email with no ads isn't bad.

Below: Classic Yahoo! Mail:

And the new version: 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Early days of Apple: Wozniak on Jobs and Gates

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, talks about how Apple and Microsoft started from the world of hobby computers.

He refers to founding Apple with Jobs around 2.30 and about the supposed rivalry between Jobs and Gates at 8.30.

The interview was filmed for a programme I made about Bill Gates in 2008.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Flood in Hammersmith this afternoon

You were warned:

It was under the railway on Leamore Street - presumably a combination of heavy rain and a blocked drain. Luckily there's a raised footpath for pedestrians (and cyclists like me ...surely justified this time?)

And this what it normally looks like, according to Google Maps:

Friday, August 5, 2011

Dahlia, grown from seed, with great difficulty

One one plant survived the slugs to flower:

On the trail of Chekhov

Reading Chekhov: A Critical JourneyReading Chekhov: A Critical Journey by Janet Malcolm

Janet Malcolm made a journey through Russia in the Yeltsin era in pursuit of a better understanding of Chekhov. This slim volume is a record of her travels and thoughts about the writer and his work. It strikes me as a book written to give a tangible purpose to a journey she wanted to make.

Her critical analysis, which pulls together a close reading of many of Chekhov's stories and plays as well as examining the various strands of thought from critics over the years, is artfully integrated with amusing tales of her guides and drivers, and encounters in post-Soviet Russia (the maid whose room at the end of the hotel corridor is filled with a luxuriant grape vine...)

Malcolm is a wonderfully confident and unshowy prose writer, perhaps influenced by Chekhov's own advice that a writer can't do too much abridging of a first draft, even to the point he felt he'd reached sometimes, of being left with passages that read more like a cryptic summary of his original intention.

Chekhov loved Tolstoy but was ambivalent about Dostoyevsky's darker world - although Malcolm argues convincingly that Dostoyevsky had a detectable influence on Chekhov's generally flatter, less full-blooded visions.

If you want a gentle introduction to Chekhov the writer, and to give yourself the desire to pick up his books, Reading Chekhov works well.

And if you want an example of how a writer can be both personal and restrained, vivid and yet utterly free of self-indulgence in travel writing, Malcolm is a wonderful model.

View all my reviews

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Birth of the smartphone, death of the daydream

Forty per cent of Britons now have smartphones. We're addicted to them according to a new survey.

But that isn't news of course, because whenever two or three are gathered together, one or two of them are pecking away at some kind of mobile device.

Where once you might have taken a moment to examine your fingernails, stare into space or whistle a tune through pursed lips, today there's stuff to be done while you're waiting. 

Take me: I've got two games of Words with Friends for Android on the go, and I constantly feel that my opponents (who I have never spoken to about the games, although one is a real friend), are thinking I take ages making my next move. 

And then there are tweets to be read or written, news feeds to be checked and possibly 'liked' on Facebook, photos to be taken, edited, uploaded, and apps to be downloaded. (I've got a quiz about national capitals, which fills in any idle minute educationally.) And of course, there's email to read and write. 

In fact, waiting time has gone from downtime to too-much-to-do time. 

So when can we just do nothing - and think nothing - any more? When can we let our minds roam freely so that our unconscious can untangle some seemingly intractable problem that our stressed-out, logical brain can't solve? 

There's always gardening. 

Remember, nobody is going to find themselves on their deathbed wishing 'if only I'd tweeted more...'

It is exactly a hundred years since the Welsh poet W.H.Davies (above) published his poem, Leisure - but it's really coming into its own in the age of the smartphone: 


What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.