Tag Archives: review

How to argue with a cat

Anyone else read Scott Adams’ blog? The guy who does Dilbert? He seems to have gone off the rails a bit recently with all his Trump stuff but the idea behind some of it — the art of persuasion — is potentially interesting. I wanted to learn more.

Jay Heinrichs’ “How to argue with a cat” seemed like a good introduction, in that it didn’t look too sleazy or too serious. As an added bonus, it’s also very short.

It’s well written, humorous (“But most of us humans look ridiculous when we swivel our ears,” “Cats rarely change their expression. That’s one reason they look so dignified. It also helps them hide their ploys.”), entertaining and clearly organised, so I wish I could recommend it more. However, I’m not really sure how much new I learned by reading it. If you’re truly a beginner — maybe I knew more than I thought — it’s possibly worth a read otherwise you might want to consider something a little more advanced.

Yeah Yeah Yeah

If you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to pop music, from the 1950s to around 2010, Bob Stanley’s “Yeah Yeah Yeah” is it. It’s roughly chronological and covers everything from the introduction of vinyl (the “official” start of pop music) to downloads (the end).

Every page leaves you with a list of songs you want to listen to. The volume is such that you’ll never get around to finding all of them but I did end up listening to a bunch of stuff that I wouldn’t ordinarily have thought to. Ironically, by being published in 2014 it misses the mainstreaming of the very streaming services that allowed me to do that!

No genre is left uncovered and it’s all nicely pieced together, connecting the people and the styles. It’s enthusiastically, if not well, written and very thorough. You probably already know if you’ll like it.

The Establishment

The Establishment” by Owen Jones is another Brexit-inspired read, though it was actually written before the referendum and some of it has dated remarkably quickly because of that.

It reads like a long Guardian article. Or, maybe, as a collection of Guardian columns strung together, in the sense that some turns of phrase seem to repeat often. If they’d not been in one book it might have been less noticeable? And the politics are similarly left-leaning.

Overall it’s an easy read if you agree with the thrust of the argument that the West is controlled by the wealthy. It’s supported by copious notes but many are from newspapers rather then original research so I’m not sure how convincing they are.

To me the weakest bit was the “conclusions” section where suggestions are made for fixing things, but that’s probably because I wasn’t convinced they were the right ones. Of course, like any armchair pundit, however, I don’t have any better ones…

Solo

I don’t normally read “franchise” books. I’ve avoided Star Wars, Star Trek and Doctor Who spin-offs but thought I’d try “Solo” featuring James Bond, mostly as as it was written by William Boyd who is one of my favourite authors.

It was a quick read, some nice twists. It has more gruesome violence than you get in the movies, which surprised me. Fleming purists may argue that it’s not the Bond of the books, but nothing offended me.

Overall not one of Boyd’s more memorable books but enjoyable.

Nintendo Switch

This was all set to be a story of how much the whole family were enjoying the Nintendo Switch. While that’s true, there’s another side. We’ll get to that but let’s start with the good stuff.

Long story short: after just over a week, we’re all getting a lot out of it. The games are fun, even my three year old gets a kick driving Princess Peach around what looks like Sugar Rush from Wreck-It Ralph.

I should probably qualify our enthusiasm. I’ve never owned a games console before. I play Real Racing 3 and Monument Valley on my iPad; I have played Worms (a lot) and various others going back to Bomb Jack on my Sinclair Spectrum. I’m not on the same page as the people comparing frame rates and polygons per second unfavourably with the Xbox and PS4.

What I do care about are fun games, preferably multiplayer — sat around the TV rather than online — that can be played by all ages without requiring much effort to get started.

We’ve mostly played Mario Kart connected to the TV, using the steering wheel accessory, in two player mode. I was tempted to get a couple more joycons so all four of us could play together until I saw how much they cost!

Overall it Just Works. Even a software update was quick and simple. (Top tip: when setting it up, do it handheld rather than docked with the TV. That way you can enter your Wifi and account passwords with the touchscreen keyboard.) The graphics are beautiful (probably more a function of Nintendo’s designers than hardware prowess) and the sound adds to the experience, in contrast to many iOS games where it’s irritating or distracting.

Away from the TV, the screen size is great for handheld play though the console is a little thick and heavy compared with an iPad. I found that it’s a little too small to comfortably play multi-user but it does work and when the TV is in use it’s good enough. Maybe that’s to be expected but you can’t blame me for thoroughly play testing it!

For the first week problems I saw were largely quibbles or recent launch issues.

In the “quibbles” column is the little door that covers the cartridge slot. While the rest of the console feels well made, the door feel loose and cheap. Worse, if you pull out the cartridge without first quitting the game it complains, just like a Mac does when you yank a USB drive out. Since Nintendo have control over both the hardware and software you’d think there might be a better solution.

Also, the dock is, if not wrong, then at least a bit odd. It’s the same height of the console itself which means that when you put the machine in it, the top sticks out by a couple of centimetres. It’s not broken since it’s fully functional, it just doesn’t seem very elegant.

Under “recent launch” I’d put some of the pairing issues I’ve seen with the joycons, especially when trying to use the sticks separately in Mario Kart. I’m hoping, presuming, that this is a fixable software glitch.

As I hinted at in the first paragraph, in the second week things took a turn for the worse. I fired up ARMS but couldn’t start it.

After a while debugging, I figured out that the L button on the left joycon no longer worked. I was pretty relaxed about it initially, assuming it was a software glitch that could be fixed by some combination of fiddling around and searching the internet.

I tried re-pairing the joycons. Disconnecting and reconnecting. Restarting the Switch. Checking for software updates. I tried resetting the Switch back to Factory Defaults. Nothing.

Scouring the internet, I found that this was quite a common problem with early units and that people were having to return them. This sucked.

As I hate call centres, I fired off a quick email to support. In hindsight this was the wrong approach. It took nearly a week for them to respond and when they did they said it would cost £35 to repair. Not only was this poor service but it goes against consumer protection laws!

I picked up the phone and called support, girding myself for a long call and a fight. Neither materialised, thankfully.

The call was picked up straight away and was answered by someone not religiously following a script. She connected the dots to my email and, after prompting, explained that the email meant that if I’d dropped the joycon and broke it that way I might have to pay; it was CYA text masquerading as the main message.

Then she volunteered that, so soon after purchase, I might be better just returning to the retailer. (I knew that this was the correct process but I had still been hoping that you could control-alt-delete the joycon and magically get it working again without sending it anywhere. Anyway, it’s good that I didn’t have to press for this.)

Amazon, of course, had no difficulty accepting a return. However they did have a problem sending a replacement unit, indeed they contacted me to say they had no idea when they would get any in stock.

The perils of being an early adaptor of an in-demand product I guess.

This whole experience has also shown an odd shortcoming in the software that I’d not previously noticed: there is no way to back up your game progress. The Switch is internet enabled (obviously) and is quite insistent that you create a Nintendo account, but nothing gets saved to the cloud.

The Switch also has an SD card slot but there’s no way to copy state over, just screenshots as far as I can tell. (Maybe I’m too old but I’m not sure I get the importance of game screen shots. Why is there a hardware button dedicated to it?!)

As of yesterday, there’s a happy ending to my first few weeks with the device. Amazon got a new batch of Switches in stock sooner than they were expecting so, until I get around to returning the original unit, we currently have two machines.

We spent a while last night, er, testing the new joycons with ARMS and I can confirm that they work as expected. This morning we combined the joycons from the new console with the working one from the old and had a three-player game of Mario Kart. This pushes me ever so closer to buying that second set of joycons…

So despite the problems, we all still like it. That, I think, says a lot.

iPhone 6s

I wasn’t sure that I wanted a “big” iPhone as I was perfectly happy with the 4” form-factor. But if I was going to get a new phone and the new ones are bigger, I reasoned, I may as well go really big and go for a 6s Plus. On paper it made perfect sense.

Then I played with one in an Apple Store and I laughed. In practice it was comically big. I really didn’t want a phone I could only realistically use with two hands.

In many ways, my main complaint with the iPhone 6S is the same. It’s a lot bigger and I can only just use it one handed. Even a couple of months in, I think I still want a 4” phone.

Which is not to say that it’s not good. The camera is excellent. It’s much faster than my old 5. It’s my first device with Touch ID, and it’s great. Going back to punching in my PIN code every time would get annoying very quickly.

At launch I thought that 3D Touch would be a game changer and that Live Photos were a gimmick. I may have had that the wrong way around. The problem with 3D touch is that it’s not available everywhere, so you quickly forget to use it. This is not entirely Apples fault. Even my own apps don’t fully support 3D Touch yet. Live Photos, on the other hand, “just work” and they do capture a moment in a way that a simple photo doesn’t. They’re good for those serendipitous moments that you wouldn’t try to record a video of.

Overall I like it, but with more reservations than I’ve had with any of my previous iPhones after a couple of months with it.