10 December 2006

Reasons to be cheerful (Part I)

As the year comes to a close, the thoughts of many men turn to lists. Since the dawn of time man has sought to categorise and compartmentalise his life, and I am no different. To kick off this festive series of postings, in no particular order I present the Top Ten Things that I have bought this year.

1) MacBook Pro - 17" 2.16 Ghz. I use this almost every day, but not for what I intended. The original thought behind getting the MBP was that with its screen size and powerful intel core duo-ey goodness it would be a perfect mobile studio. I loaded it up with Live, Reason, Recycle and Logic Express in eager anticipation of all the fun that I would have making tunes over the year. Number of tunes made to date: 0. This does not mean that the MBP has been a failure, on the contrary, MacSaber has been one of the best programs ever to run on a computer, providing hours of joy to both me and the Very Understanding Girlfriend. Aside from that there is nothing that I have done on the MBP that I couldn't have easily done on my 12" Powerbook (Or my anglepoise iMac, or even my G4 Cube for that matter). I have no complaints, no burnt lap, no mysterious noises emanating from beneath the keyboard, no unexpected shutdowns, it's just that almost one year on my MBP experience can be described as on the whole rather whelming.

2) iPod HiFi. So good I bought it twice. When Appleologists look back on 2006, they will remember it mostly as the year that Apple went Intel. I, however, will remember it as the year of the HiFi. This happy little box, while being an unapologetic dust magnet, produces a rich sound that fills up the room and has finally relegated my CDs to the back room. I liked the sound so much that I bought a second one for the office. I have it hooked up to my Powerbook's docking station, so that the whole room reverberates with the happy klaxon of my calendar 'gently' reminding me that I am yet again late for another meeting.

3) Nokia N90. I've had this for about six months now and it is both the best phone that I have had, and the worst. I bought it because of its camera features, and with a Carl Zeiss lens you really get more out of it than the 2.0 Megapixels would suggest. The swivel action of the pivoting clamshell as you put it into video camera mode is sweet, and the quality of the video and sound is great. I've taken far more pictures this year with the N90 than with my real camera, and most of the photos on my blog have been taken with it. On the downside, as a phone, it's not so great, which as you can imagine, is a pretty serious downside in a phone. To begin with its too heavy. At first I liked its bulk, as it felt reassuringly solid, the type of phone you could fend off attackers with on a dark and stormy night, however after carrying it around for a few months I feel like my center of gravity has been displaced slightly to the left. Secondly there is no vibrate option. If the phone is in your pocket, you have to have it switched to "outdoor" mode or there is no chance you will hear it. I have missed so many calls from the Very Understanding Girlfriend that at times she thinks I am avoiding her. Finally, and most importantly, it doesn't recover well from going out of coverage. If I walk down a stairwell, or take an elevator, or a heavy cloud passes overhead, I loose signal. As a Meteor customer this is something that you get used to. However, in order to get signal back I have to switch the phone off and on again, which takes over a minute, and of course that assumes that I have actually noticed that I have lost coverage in the first place. I spend most of each working day in the office with a phone that either cannot receive calls, or let me know when it has actually managed to receive one. It takes great pictures though.

4) Moog Voyager. Yup, I too have no feckin' idea why I got this. Can I play the piano? No. It is an amazing keyboard, pure analog Moogy goodness, no digital or 'analog modeling' here, just warm, rich, squelchy tones that would make Dr Who proud (if only he could hear my enthusiastic rendition of his theme tune). Amazing amount of good that does me when I can't play the piano. The lesson to be learned from this is to never, ever go on Ebay after a night in the pub.

5) Mathmos AirSwitch. This is almost too cool to describe, a floor lamp with a motion sensor that lets you switch the lamp on and off, or control the brightness, by waving your hand over the lamp. Freed from the tyranny of a conventional light switch, I can now arrange a home symphony for my friends, simultaneously playing the AirSwitch and my Alesis AirSynth (does the same thing as the light, only with music), imagining myself to be a latter-day Jean Michel Jarre.

6) Tea-stick. It's a cross between a spoon and a tea-strainer. You scoop the tea leaves up with the spoon like part of the stainless steel Tea-stick, slide down a perforated cover, and then place in your cup of boiling water, stirring to get the strength of cuppa that you desire. Works well with heavy teas like Lapsang Souchong, not so well with light leaf teas such as Rooibos. Looks really cool, which at the end of the day is what it is all about really.

7) Budda Bags. When we moved into our house we were surprised when told by any shop we went to that it would take up to three months for any furniture that we ordered to be delivered, leaving us with a couch made of a plank of wood balanced atop two plastic packing cases as our sole concession to comfort in our front room. Salvation came in the form of the Budda Bag, a giant 'bean bag' made from bits of memory foam, not actual beans. I bought two, a three person (our couch) in purple, and a two person (our 'loveseat') in fawn. Without doubt the most comfortable items of furniture that I have ever owned, and almost impossible not to flop out on when first encountered, much in the style of an Olympic High Jumper. However once we acquired real furniture, the size of the Budda Bags became a problem, not to mention the unusual choice of colours that I went for. We have yet to come up with a solution to this problem, as the bags are just too comfortable to do away with, and so the three-person bag continues to sit uneasily like an elephantine purple carbuncle on the face of our living room. Visitors continue to be too polite to comment, but as with such a monstrous growth, they can't help but stare.

8) A €20 hat made in India for less than €0.20. While I am a vocal critic of sweatshop policies and companies that source their goods from them, possibly the best purchase I made this year was an olive wide brimmed hat with the word"Seychelles" stitched on the front by a very talented 6-year old Indian, bought in the gift shop in the domestic terminal of Victoria airport on Mahe, in the Seychelles. Without such a purchase I would have literally fried in the sun at Bird Island. The Seychelles ranges from 30 degrees Celsius in the summer to 30 degrees Celsius in the winter, though I was told by a Seycheloise at our guest house that sometimes at night in the winter they have to put on jumpers and heavy coats as it gets down to 28 or 27 degrees Celsius. Strangely, I have no sympathy.

9) Nintendo Wii. Although this was only released on Friday, and thus the amount of time I am going to spend with it before the end of the year is really limited, this has to be the most fun console experience I have had since I first rented a Sega Megadrive with Sonic the Hedgehog from Xtra-Vision many, many years ago. I am not a gamer, I do not have the patience, the agoraphobia, or feelings of social exclusion that one needs to be a gamer. Also, I have a girlfriend, in fact a Very Understanding Girlfriend, and I use her as my moral compass where many of my purchases are concerned. For example, a Lego Star Wars B-Wing Fighter gets the thumbs up from her (in fact, she bought it for me herself), whereas a second iPod is questioned ("Have you filled up you first one?" she asked, "well, um, no", I replied. "Then why did you get it?" she enquired. "because Steve Jobs said I should get a new one every twelve to eighteen months". "not good enough" came the response. "but, but, um, Steve told me to" " if Steve told you to jump off a cliff, would you do it?" "well, if Steve could show me that my iLife had reached a natural pause..."). The Wii, however, gets a definite "two thumbs good" from the Very Understanding Girlfriend. After jumping around the room last night playing Wii Sports Tennis with her and feeling slightly out of breath, I found myself wondering if there was a way to duplicate this experience outdoors, it could catch on.

10) An Apartment. To be honest this shouldn't really be on the list, as technically we haven't actually bought it yet, but we've been living in it for six months and I'm sure any day now the Government will issue a Floor Certificate, say it is fit to live in, and we will finally be able to draw down the mortgage and sign our lives away into debt. I love our apartment, it's warm, cosy, sustainable and leaves me with a smug sense of satisfaction knowing that the carbon footprint of 50,000 miles of flying that I have made this year has been offset by the solar panels, geothermal heating and recycled rainwater in the toilets. In fact I have such a green balance in my favour that I could go out and drive a Hummer to the shop 50 meters across the street spraying CFC airfresheners out the window while eating a Big Mac. I bet that's how David Cameron feels all the time.


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