Archive for September, 2013

iOS7, further thoughts

Posted: September 30, 2013 in Random wifflings
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I’m getting to grips with iOS7 a little more. It’s growing on me, well, I should say the functionality of it is. There are lots of good little bits to it. Nice shortcuts to often used controls that were previously scattered willy-nilly across a dozen screens and handy buttons within apps to get to similarly frequently used functions speak to me of some clever, joined-up thinking. I’ve noticed that it’s appreciably faster too.

But the look of it? And all those crazy screen wipes? Nah.

Yesterday I was at Games Day, the first one I’ve been to for a few years, and the first I’ve attended as a Black Library author (I tried to figure out how many I’d been to in total. Around ten, I think, including a couple back in the 1980s). I heard a lot of kind words about my work and that really does swell the old authorial ego. Another author might say that the quiet satisfaction of putting words on a page is enough. Bunkum! I say. Like all entertainers, writers are show offs, so thanks for helping me feed my pathology. It keeps me off the streets.

I did do my Horus Heresy seminar in the end, by the way, and this time I did have something to say, much to my surprise. The fear of messing up is receding. I suppose I’ll be doing some more of those, then.

I’ll be at the Black Library weekender 2-3rd November. I am very much looking forward to that.

Oh, and I didn’t buy anything. I didn’t get finished until 3.30pm, by which time the store part had closed up for the day! I was most miffed, although my wife was pleased. (Never mind, I’ll be off to the store in town for those Morgul Knights…)

I’ll be at Games Day tomorrow, signing some books and hobnobbing with anyone who would like their hobs nobbled. Come and say hi. I don’t know if I’m appearing on any seminars; I was originally down for one, but I asked to be taken off it. Not because I’m scared of crowds or was having a prima donna fit or anything, it’s just that it was about the Horus Heresy. Having written precisely two and a half short pieces of fiction for that setting, and having been to none of the planning meetings, I didn’t feel I’d have much to add (which is exactly what happened the last two times I was on HH seminars). And I couldn’t sit there being a pretty face, as I ain’t that pretty.
But I’ll be there at the tables, and when I’m not I’ll be wandering about, trying very hard not spend all my money on toy soldiers like everyone else. My wife would be most displeased in a “What do you mean? Magic beans?” kind of manner if I blew my cash. Only in this case, if I tossed a handful of Space Marines into the garden, they’d not grown into a giant money tree.
Still, it’s Games Day! I’ve got to get something, haven’t I? I’m getting the nerd sweats thinking about what toys to buy…

We’re creatures of circumstance, you and I, our every thought a product of evolution-forged genes, cultural imprinting, and personal histories. I don’t trust what I think or what I feel. One has to distance oneself from one’s opinions and emotions and examine them from outside. “Why do I think that? Why do I feel this way?” These are questions I ask myself all the time. Especially when I’m walking the dog, or when there’s nothing on the telly. Or my wife has been mean to me.

I make irrational snap decisions, I am judgemental and dismissive. Everything I can conceive of comes freighted with unwelcome baggage. Only by confronting the irrational with rationality – and then recognise that rationality to be the product of that selfsame, fundamental irrationality – can one even hope to find the smallest chance at objectivity.

So I’ve given it a few days, and I have decided: I’m not very keen on iOS7‘s weirdly toytown design choices. I thought I didn’t like it when I first updated, but decided to give it some time (see above, you dig?). Now I’m pretty sure I actually don’t like it. No, screw pretty sure, I don’t.

Is it the fact that the new interface hurts my eyes? Is it that it’s weirdly floaty in a science-fictionally cool, but not very user-friendly kind of way? Is it that the screens and various elements sweep over each other like badly executed edit wipes in a Star Wars movie? Is it that, as someone put it on Twitter, it makes my iPhone look like the toy idea of a phone from Peppa Pig magazine? (I should have favourited this tweet, so I could give due credit. If it was you, let me know. It made me laugh. Ironically, it was that tweet that made me finally click “update”. I am dangerously contrary). I have thought on the probability that I’m just reacting with jerking knees to the shock of the new, and have tried to weigh my opinions accordingly.

I still don’t like it.

After a long love affair, Apple appears to have shot skeuomorphism directly in the temple. I can see why. Perhaps the old interface, with its cosy, snug-bar aesthetic, did look a little fusty and old-fashioned. Perhaps it really is time to abandon the stabilisers of the familiar and ride off assuredly on the bicycles of new technology, our jacked-in heads held high. But it did work on the iPhone (and still does on my iPad), and the new one doesn’t work as well. I have not a clue about the new features. Like everyone else, I barely skim-read the proud proclamation accompanying the update. I just clicked “update” and “I have read your 33 pages of user agreement” (Of course I didn’t! Does anyone? When Apple come to collect my first-born, no doubt I’ll wish I had). Now I’m aged 40, and probably not fit to programme an antique VCR, I doubt I’ll find the new doodads easily. Perhaps I’ll ask a reader of Peppa Pig magazine to help me.

So I’m judging this update entirely on the look and immediate usability of it. I am sure 80% of this opinion is still “Urgh, it’s new. Don’t like it. Don’t LIKE IT!” rather than anything grown up. But 20% of it is “Ow! My fucking eyes!”, and that’s not good for something dependent on interaction with eyes.

The interface has all the hallmarks of something that has been prompted by a sudden desire to be different. It is a design led, rather than utility led, effort. I’ve been involved in a few of them myself, some even worked. But just because that green baize gaming table was a step too far (and it really was, I mean, really), it doesn’t mean you should burn the whole damn thing down to the ground.

No doubt in three months I’ll sheepishly re-read this and ajudge my past self very wrong, but until then, future me, I remain grumpily unconvinced.

Here’s a review of Stephen Baxter’s Proxima that I did for SFX magazine. An interesting one for me as, entirely coincidentally, Baxter tackles some of the same issues and ideas in Proxima that I did in Crash.

Proxima by Stephen Baxter REVIEW | SFX.

My short story “iRobot” is available to listen to this very day on excellent free audio magazine Starship Sofa. Originally published in Interzone #244, it’s been transformed into sound waves by the marvellous vocal cords of Nick Camm. Go check it out.

It’s the first time I’ve heard a story of mine read out. There was the one audio drama for Black Library’s advent run last year – “Strike and Fade” – but hearing prose spoken is a different experience to listening to a script. An interesting exercise, very useful to me in revealing what works and what doesn’t within the story and, indeed, in my writing style. Overall, I’m very happy with it, so I’ll say thanks to the guys at Starship Sofa for featuring me, and quietly sign out.