Ray Sullivan publishes science based fiction adventures on Amazon, Smashwords, Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, WH Smith and other good eBook retailers as e-books. Additionally all of his books are available in paperback on Amazon. He also muses on technology, posts comedic books in serial format and discusses the world of self publishing.
Karen sat outside of doctor Samuel Jackson’s office, facing
the nurse who was scribbling frantically onto a piece of scrap paper,
desperately attempting to make her biro work. Eventually Karen leaned forward,
half crouching, and offered her own pen. The nurse smiled faintly and took the
proffered instrument, carefully replacing her own useless instrument in the top
pocket of her tunic top. She wrote a couple of words on a multiple page form,
flicked the top and second pages up to check that she had pressed hard enough,
then, satisfied that she had succeeded, handed the pen back.
‘I don’t expect the doctor will be long, he’s got a
visitor,’ she explained vaguely. Karen briefly considered the illogical nature
of the statement, but decided to ignore it; she would wait as long as she
cared, but no longer. She hadn’t asked to speak to the doctor, but had been
passed from main reception to psychiatric department to nurse cum receptionist
without a clue as to John Staples’ whereabouts. The nurse had stonewalled her
effectively, and had busied herself with various administrative tasks for the
last half hour. Karen had read some of the articles in the assembled magazines
but had tired of the predominantly car orientated subject matter. She had
considered phoning her mother to ask if the kids were behaving themselves,
deciding against it in case she lost her slot. Suddenly the office door opened.
Doctor Sam Jackson stood, shaking hands with another man who looked to be more
interested in Karen than in his host. Sam beckoned to Karen while finishing his
conversation off with the departing visitor.
‘Do come in, Mrs Howells, I’ll be with you in a moment.’ He
looked at the departing visitor. ‘It has been a pleasure to see you again
Martin, I’ll phone with that information as soon as possible,’ said Sam,
shaking hands with the quiet, curious man leaving his office. Martin viewed
Karen carefully, unblinkingly, running his eyes down and up her body without
any outward appearance of discretion, more like an antique collector evaluating
a piece of furniture than a man checking out a woman. Surprisingly, realised
Karen, she did not feel embarrassed or threatened by this overt show of
interest. Perhaps the blatant ogling by Alan at the weekend had hardened her to
this kind of attention. Whatever the reason, the man called Martin carried out
the one up and down survey, appearing to log all the salient details carefully
as he went and, nodding with a cold, thin smile left her with the doctor. Sam
waved expansively to Karen with his left hand while shaking her hand with his
‘Please come in,’ he insisted, smiling in a practised
manner. Karen smoothed her skirt down with her free hand, and then followed the
direction indicated. The room was reasonably modern; an older leather chair
behind the ubiquitous grey office desk brought a degree of personality into the
room. The walls were adorned with framed posters depicting pioneers of clinical
psychology, along with quotations from these persons. Karen didn’t know this,
but was soon appraised enthusiastically by Sam.
‘That one,’ he said pointing at an old monochrome image,
‘is Sigmund Freud. I expect you’ve heard of him, most people have. I don’t
personally agree with much of his findings, but he was a pioneer and most of
what we do today is based in some way on his approach.’ Karen nodded, caught in
the man’s enthusiasm, noting the quotation in script below the image “Anatomy
is destiny”. Sam didn’t refer to that text, but hurried across the room to
another monochromatic representation . ‘This one is of Alfred Adler, who
famously said “we cannot think, feel, or act without the perception of some
goal”, which I think is a simple, basic statement that took most of mankind to
realise.’ Sam raised his hands in an impromptu demonstration that implied that
a great truth had been divulged. He waved to Karen to sit down in the chair
obliquely positioned in relation to his leather swivelling device. She
gratefully obliged, feeling that she had learned enough about his profession’s
history for one session. Sam eased himself down into his seat, supporting his
lean body carefully as he lowered himself. Karen couldn’t have realised it but
he had been badly bruised during the altercation on Friday evening, and only
pig-headed stubbornness had prevented him from seeing a medic.
‘Of course, I’m a slightly different breed to those two,’
he continued on his pet subject, ‘I’m what is called a clinical psychiatrist
whereas those two,’ he waved his hand once more, this time towards the two
posters, ‘would be called psychologists in today’s parlance. If Freud had been
in this seat then we would be discussing sex by now, the man was obsessed with
‘Aren’t most men,’ interjected Karen, feeling slightly
uncomfortable with the sudden change of subject. Sam laughed.
‘Sigmund would have liked you, you’re not a devotee hoping
to catch me bad mouthing him, are you?’ Karen found herself shaking her head,
not realising the irony of what she had said but pleased the subject had
drifted away from the brief intensity she had detected. She decided it was time
to raise the subject of John Staples.
‘Doctor Jackson, I know you’re busy and I have to pick my
children up from my mother’s house. I’ve been trying to find out about a man I
understand you treated last week; John Staples.’ She placed her hands firmly,
palms down on her thighs, momentarily straightening a crease in her skirt.
Sam’s eyes followed her hands, lingering on her lap before he spoke.
‘Mrs Howells, are you a relative of Mr Staples?’ he asked,
clasping both hands together as if in prayer. Karen shook her head slowly.
‘No, but he works with my husband, we’re taking care of his
house and pets and we feel we ought to know how he’s doing and when he will be
out of hospital. To tell you the truth, Doctor, I don’t think he has any living
relatives, not close ones anyway.’ Sam looked back up, passing Karen’s face and
fixing on a point just below the ceiling at the far end of the room.
‘Ok, I’ll tell you what I can, but you must appreciate that
I’m bound by protocols, including ones that force me to respect patient
privacy,’ Sam said carefully, not looking Karen in the eyes until the last
word. Karen felt her face flush as she realised she was going to be stonewalled
‘You told my husband that John was being taken to a
hospital in Warrington. We’ve phoned every hospital within ten miles of there,
private and public, with nobody admitting knowledge of him.’ She had leant
forward during this exchange, forcing Sam to look directly into her eyes
throughout. Sam paused before responding.
‘I don’t think I said anything about Warrington, in fact I
don’t recall speaking with your husband, Mrs Howells. Mr Staples spoke with
somebody from his works using my phone, to arrange the sick leave and care of a
cat. I presume that was your husband he spoke to, but if he mentioned
Warrington then I can only assume he had misunderstood what I had just told
him. Either that or he didn’t want your husband to know where he would be this
‘He is very stressed, and it isn’t uncommon for patients in
that condition to want to put some distance between their work and their
private life. But I can assure you that Mr Staples is receiving top class care
and my understanding is that he had a very comfortable weekend. Other than that
I’m afraid I cannot divulge, not because I enjoy being secretive but because I
have my patient’s interests at heart and partly because I realise that you are
not entitled to any further information. You’re not related, and I think you
should be aware that Mr Staples has nominated relatives to be informed of any
developments, but I appreciate and understand your concern.’ Sam fished inside
his wallet and pulled out his business card. On the back he hastily wrote down
a number. Take this, it’s my card and on the back I’ve written my mobile number
down. I should warn you that it is frequently off, that’s normal procedure in a
hospital and I often forget to turn it back on.’ Sam leaned back into the
leather chair, failing to suppress the smugness he felt inside. Karen felt her
anger rise and had to check herself before speaking.
‘I don’t believe you, Doctor Jackson, but I can see that I
won’t get any further with you now.’ She picked up the card that had been slid
towards her and held it up defiantly. ‘When I know what you’ve done to John
Staples I’ll be calling back, and by God you’d better be ready.’ Grasping the
card tight Karen stood up and stormed out of the room, leaving the door swung
wide upon its hinges.
Many years ago I was the technical specialist on an engineering project for the Royal Air Force. Not only did I monitor the technical specification, the design development, the manufacture and the testing programme but I had to review the deliverable technical documents. Imagine the smile on my face when I read the formal proposal included the memorable line 'and we will ensure the documents will be checked for correct spelling and grammer [sic]'. I can't say my response to that specification ensured that I didn't have to return too many submissions for spelling and grammatical errors, but I'm sure that the supplier at least tried to trap the more obvious ones.
I probably took more pleasure out of that typo than I should have. I guess it was the irony. It seems I'm not the only spelling monitor on the block, though. A Twitter account, @yourinamerica, has sprung up and is dedicated to literally one spelling error that turns up often enough in Social Media, the use of 'your' instead of 'you're'. Now it doesn't take a lot of trawling through Twitter to find a whole lot of similar spelling issues and don't get me started on Facebook...
But the interesting thing about this is not that someone felt incensed enough to spend their evenings spanking Twitter users for one specific typo - let's not forget that many Tweets are made on mobile phones so some slack could be let out to the offenders - however after three days and sixty remonstrating Tweets the account had attracted 8000 followers. Eight thousand people felt sufficiently moved to search out and push the Follow button. Of all the millions of Twitter subscribers out there, with the exception of the celebrity accounts it is almost unheard of that degree of success in attracting Followers. That's a lot of Schadenfreunde.
When Mashable reported the story it opened a floodgate of comments and probably swelled the Follow list of @yourinamerica even more - I didn't follow as I'm in the UK and anyway the subject matter is too narrow for me. Not that Twitter users aren't strangers to narrow subject matters! However the comments indicated that there's scope for dozens of similar Twitter accounts. I'm not sure we need one for every misspelling trend, but seeing as 'your versus you're' is already trending, why not?
If you want a one-stop nuclear option to spelling gaffes, though, then why not add a link to Lynne Truss' 'Eat Shoots and Leaves' book? You could Tweet the link if you're feeling brave!
Alan had tried the hospital for information as well, but
had treated the reluctance to reveal information with professional admiration.
He had learned to avoid taking such responses personally, indeed he often had
to do the same to protect others’ confidentiality. The nurse had been polite
but firm, both attributes necessary to ward persistent enquirers off, and he
had learned to use them, too, in his line of work.
Deciding against breakfast he left his flat, wrapped in a
camel coat stained with take away food and stale beer, witness to many nights
of pub crawling and frequent visitations upon fast food establishments
afterwards. He would need to spend the morning in the office completing his
reports on the factory explosion, among others.
The events surrounding John Staples had provided a welcome
diversion, in fact an absorbing change to a fairly humdrum routine. Although
accidents as dramatic as the one at the factory were a rarity, the procedure he
followed was routine and it was all a matter of scale after that. Moreover it
all ended up in paperwork, and although Alan was very good at sifting through
detail, he was notoriously reluctant to produce the endless documentation that
followed all incidents large and small. False alarms were particularly
irritating to him, providing a double whammy of wasting his time, usually in
inclement weather long after the pubs had opened, and resulting in the same
paper chase that a major disaster warranted.
At least Staples’ problem had proven interesting, if not
bizarre. He had absolutely no intentions of mentioning Staples’ revelations,
his notebook or his incarceration in the local hospital beyond the statistical
reference to the non emergency treatment carried out. Staples would be lumped,
injury-wise, with the two ladies from the canteen treated for shock and their
colleague who suffered from minor scalds occasioned when she spilled tea over
her hand accidentally when the explosion had taken place. He would be named in
the technical report, though, as the last maintenance fitter to work on the
fixture prior to the accident. However, Alan was convinced in his own mind that
Staples had simply carried out all he had been required to do; the explosion
was a result of a poor design coupled with a tragic string of events.
Sat at his desk, waiting for the computer to complete its
start up checks, Alan allowed his mind to drift back to Saturday night. He knew
he irritated Karen; he had that effect on many women. But he knew she would be
intrigued by him even if his tendency to linger below the neckline was
blatantly obvious, experience told him that. And even if he was wrong, which he
believed he rarely was, he’d enjoyed the view and the whisky. Eventually the
computer was ready, the word processor loaded and a blank, white screen
beckoned. Alan sighed heavily and started to type.
Given that three years ago the tablet market was a euphemism for drug dealing, it's remarkable that we now regard the iPad, Kindle Fire and Nexus tablets as part of the technical equipment furniture. Thanks to Amazon's notorious reluctance to talk numbers even with shareholders - how irritating that must be - we don't know how many Kindle Fires have been sold but we do know it must be a few by the amount we see turning up in public. However we do know that Apple have shifted over 100 million iPads of various designs so that sets the baseline down. Various industry estimates suggest that there are about 140 million tablets in use today worldwide and recent figures suggest that between Apple, Amazon and Google they hope to shift between 15 and 30 million units before Christmas day. Looking at the adverts on TV and the conversations I seem to drift into they are probably correct.
My instinct is that some of these purchases are going to be at the expense of dedicated eReaders, another market that didn't exist until relatively recently and one that seems about to disappear at the very point that it matures. Many potential eReader customers are eyeing the lower cost tablets and deciding that the extra utility and marginal extra cost is worth sacrificing the battery life and sunlight reading benefits for. I've said on several occasions that eReaders will sell well this year, after all there are some real good budget models available for cash strapped consumers to buy, but this will be their peak. From January, it'll be tablets we'll see being read on the bus and tube.
So how big is this market? One analyst has recently suggested that it is already at saturation point based on the contention that there are only so many people prepared to use a tablet in lieu of a conventional computer. I disagree, but I see where he was coming from. You see, tablets are not a replacement for laptops, not yet. Sure you can type on an iPad or Nexus, I've written blog entries on mine before now, but for most of my writing, either this blog or my novel writing, I turn to my trusty laptop with MS Word loaded on. When I balance the home accounts I don't try and do that on an iPad, I need Excel. And if I want to print something off, regardless of where it came from, how it originated, I don't even consider the Nexus.
But these are technological hurdles that will be overcome in the next couple of years and it isn't the case that the tablets are short of capability - email is a breeze, watching movies, all those apps, surfing the Net, jotting down notes, engaging on Twitter, abusing on Facebook - in fact most of the things we do on our laptops for a large part of their life, only more conveniently - no long winded boot sequences for starters, always on and ready to roll.
In fact tablets and traditional computers can sit side by side and actually complement each other nicely, thank you. It's probable that future generations of tablets will render the traditional computer redundant, but for now they not only co-exist harmoniously, they complement each other. Which means that probably everyone who uses a computer will find a use for a tablet. And many of those who don't generally use a computer will still find a tablet useful - witness the growing number of silver surfers who have eschewed the use of computers who are now engaging with iPads, surfing the Net and poking each other on Facebook. And there's evidence to suggest that kids are being given tablets for their own use by grandparents who hope they will help with the homework. Parents know better, but hey ho.
And let's not forget the eBook market which is fast approaching parity with the print market and will overtake it in a couple of years. We may prefer to write our books on laptops, but tablets are how they will be read.
So how big is the tablet market? Well, at least as big as the home computer market has been up to now with the addition of the reluctant pensioners and the kids who wouldn't traditionally have been given their own PC. That's one big market that is going to keep on growing through 2013 and probably won't stabilise until 2014 or beyond.
Jack slammed the phone down into its cradle with a force
that caused Karen to jump and spill the milk she was pouring onto her cereal.
‘Bastards,’ he exclaimed, ‘they won’t tell you a thing. I
have to let them know all about me; if they phone the works and ask the most
outrageous questions they get all the information on me they want, no questions
asked. My name, age, inside leg measurement, home phone number – you name it.’
‘Who would know your inside leg measurement? Not that new
receptionist, I hope,’ quipped Karen, trying to diffuse his anger. It didn’t
‘All I wanted was to know how to contact Jackson, not his
flaming medical history. They won’t confirm whether John is still a patient,
suggesting “I call the main administration department after nine o’clock,”’ he
mimicked. ‘If I had the time today, I’d call in myself and ask the bastard
exactly what he thinks he’s playing at.’ Jack looked at his watch, shook his
head and took a desperate swig of his tea. ‘I wouldn’t mind, but how am I to
know how long I need to feed that cat of his for.’ Karen looked up
questioningly. ‘I know, I know, its not important, not on its own, its just so
flaming ignorant.’ Jack pulled his jacket from the back of the kitchen chair,
stuffed his car keys into his mouth while he struggled to get his arms in and
looked around desperately for his wallet. Picking it up he kissed Karen and the
kids and made to leave, his hand on the handle when she spoke:
‘I’ll go and see him. The doctor I mean, not the cat.’ Jack
‘I thought you said we shouldn’t get involved,’ he said.
‘I still think that, but its too late in many ways. We are
involved. Anyway, you’ve got enough on your plate and I’m at a loose end today.
I’ll drive you to work, pop into mum’s on the way back for a cuppa and then see
if I get any joy from the hospital. At least I won’t have as an abrasive manner
as you, that tends to get results you know,’ Karen stated with a hint of
sarcasm. Jack considered the offer for a moment before deciding it could be a
good idea, if only to keep his blood pressure in check.
‘OK, but any problems phone me, I’m on my mobile.’
‘And I’ll have the car, so I’d be better off calling
anybody other than you,’ retorted Karen. Jack, realising she was in one of her
mischievous moods, nodded and threw her the car keys.
There's no doubt that tablets are coming into their own. Compared to comparable technologies from the past their adoption has been nothing short of phenomenal.
Apple, of course, kicked it off with the iPad. Well, if you ignore the tablet devices that were used on Star Trek, which I understand inspired the Kindle family that are now adding to the tablet expansion. And definitely if you ignore the 1981 radio/book/TV and eventually cinematic phenomenon, the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. I think Douglas Adams should really get some credit for inventing the genre, but hey, that's life, I guess.
So have we finished with the old forms of computing? Well I suspect the bottom has fallen out of the desktop market to a significant degree. Of course there's a lot of roles for computing that don't require portable devices and some would suggest that office equipment have their advantages for not being portable. Plus, I think it's fair to say that although tablet screens can be fast, sharp and very intuitive with their capacitive stretch and slide they're also too small for some applications.
Now I'm a moderate computer user - in my day job I use Word, Excel, Outlook plus some proprietary programs. As a preference I extend my desktop screen from my laptop computer to increase the real estate I can use as I often have multiple Word, Excel and Outlook windows open. I could double the size on both screens and still want more. Tablet screens are great if you're able to do just one task on a screen at a time, but true multi-tasking is currently a challenge for the genre.
I think that tablets will increase in functionality over the next year and we may start to see iPad+ sized screens arriving - the Microsoft Surface pushes the size boundaries slightly but loses something with its unusual screen format. However, who knows what Surface 2 will look like? There will inevitably be a bleed across the technologies, and again the Surface has nodded towards this. I don't think Microsoft have got it right, but I'm sure we're going to see a lot of innovation in the near future.
What would work for me would be a tablet computer I can take out to business meetings, capable of running MS Office applications, connectable to a projector and able to run proprietary software. Back at the office it would be able to hook up to a full keyboard and mouse plus a full size screen that is also a capacitative screen. As a minimum it would be possible to use the extended screen setup in the same way I use my current setup, but able to drag windows across to other parts of the screen, stretch images to get a better detailed view and generally have an enhanced experience that brings the benefits of both paradigms.
Can Apple or Google deliver this level of functionality coupled with the security required of a business level computing system? Of course, all it takes is cash and time. Can they beat Microsoft to the table? Unless they are working towards this standard already, and are quite a long way down the development route, probably not. Will Microsoft regain its market position if it is the only company pursuing this route? Probably not fully and I expect that one or both of Apple and Google will be barking at Microsoft's shirt tails pretty soon anyway.
So tablets aren't the end-game, in my opinion, although I fully believe they are pointing towards the future. We're in for an exciting time ahead in the next two years and I think that all tablet makers should prepare their customers for the ride. Taking a leaf out of Douglas Adams I would support all tablets sold from now on having the words 'Don't Panic' emblazoned across the front screen. It might just help.
A year ago the answer to this question would have been obvious. Amazon entered the tablet market a full eighteen months after Apple launched the iPad, they pitched in with a pint sized version of Apple's quart, a size that Steve Jobs had said wouldn't cut it, and they pitched in where others had tried and failed.
And a week after the Kindle Fire launch I'd have still come to the same conclusion. The initial reviews were lack-lustre, faintly damning. Probably unfairly as most online reviews were comparing the Amazon product against the full sized iPad.
However consumers look at tech a bit differently to reviewers. For one thing, they tend to have to buy their own kit themselves. That makes us mortals compare things in the real world. Sure, product A may transfer data a millisecond faster internally than product B, but it's 33% cheaper, so I'll hang around for a few more milliseconds, right?
And Steve Jobs was wrong about the screen size, as Apple have belatedly admitted by releasing the iPad mini.
So, a year on and there's been a lot of developments in the tablet world. First off, not only have Amazon released an improved version of the Kindle Fire, they've released it world-wide. Also, Google have weighed into the battle with their Nexus range that builds a family ranging from the near five inch mobile phone, through the mini tablet Nexus 7 right up to the iPad challenging Nexus 10.
Now Amazon are wading into that battle with the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 - not quite as large as the iPad, but large enough to matter.
But it's the numbers that tell the bigger story. First, Apple are still leading the pack, which in case you didn't know, is a race between two operating systems - Apple's iOS and Google's Android. Sure, Amazon have skinned their Kindle Fire Android OS to make it almost their own, but it's Android at its core.
A year ago Apple had about two thirds of the tablet market to itself - it probably felt more than that because the remaining third was spread across a multitude of manufacturers and devices. Now it holds just over fifty percent, still highly commendable but steadily going south. Google are denting the numbers, but it's the Amazon Fire that's making the big difference. In just under twelve months they've gone from zero to hero, or to 54% of the Android market. I think they will both increase their Android share and narrow the gap between themselves and Apple over the coming Holidays. Apple have probably had their sales boost with the iPad mini and will see sales level out, whereas the competition in the Android tablet market coupled with the lower level of brand dominance will lead the late shoppers to lever last minute bargains as they hunt for a neat present for loved ones.
Google will probably nibble a bit more from Apple, too, as will the Nook devices from Barnes & Noble that are struggling to be perceived as more than glorified eReaders due to their affiliation with a bookseller - like that logic works against Amazon!
Will Amazon overtake Apple in the tablet market? Not in the near future, but possibly they could challenge Apple's dominance in the medium term. This could be the most interesting development in the short history of tablet computing yet.
According to some analysts, the Black Friday sales saw tablets overtake laptop sales for the first time in the US. Of course, we'll have to wait for the sales figures to be returned and ratified but the projections are indicating a 3:2 ratio.
I can't say I'm surprised and if you've been reading my blog for the last year you would know why - I've been saying that this is going to be the year of the tablet, forecasting a surge before the holidays since last January.
And of course, it's not only the Apple iPad that is pushing the concept forward now - over 100 million units strong - but also the iPad mini, the Amazon Fire and the Google Nexus. The consumer is spoilt for choice across all price points as we lunge towards the Christmas period.
But it's not just the sexy attractiveness of the tablets that has pushed them ahead of the laptops, nor the convenience of using a hand-held device anywhere to do, well, pretty much anything apart from word processing, crunching numbers in a spreadsheet and printing off the results. So, OK, tablets still have a few challenges to overcome but they're pretty cool and great fun to use. They're also great for reading books and magazines as well as watching movies so their utility is pretty much unbeatable.
The real kicker in the laptop/tablet race that I hadn't realised was taking place is that we all pretty much have laptops, netbooks and even some dust gathering desktops at home already. Outside of the serious gamer applications, the laptops are now keeping pace with technology better than ever. Sure, Microsoft are still trying to develop operating systems that suck every last megabyte of RAM, ROM and hard drive capacity but most of us are finding that whatever legacy version we are using is adequate, or have moved over to Linux. Even the old chestnut of needing to upgrade on a regular basis because of hard drive capacity being overtaken by software and file storage is becoming a thing of the past as the low cost flash drives and cloud based storage becomes mainstream.
So the real reason that tablets overtook laptops is that everyone has a laptop or two - some new, many getting on a bit (maybe two years' old?), grandparents have them, for goodness sake and even their grandchildren have their cast-offs (grief). But not everyone has a tablet, not yet. OK, some folks will be on their second iPad - some will be on their fourth, for no other reason that there have been four iterations, but despite Apple's best endeavours there are plenty of people who don't have a tablet yet.
I knew that tablets would take off, the Kindle Fire last year sounded the challenge loud and clear. I've been quite upfront with my contention that this will be both the best year for dedicated eReaders and their peak as well, but I didn't guess that laptop sales would be a casualty. But I guess when we look back, it was inevitable.
Sam sat at his desk early on Monday, approximately two
hours before John would be taken from Fylingdales medical facility to York
General Hospital under the guise of a military medical emergency. They had, of
course, asked Sam to arrange for this procedure, a routine scan, before he
brought John up. He had prevaricated, concerned that pushing such a request
through as a priority would be viewed suspiciously without supporting evidence.
And it would have needed a second opinion from another doctor within the
hospital to obtain the short notice authorisation.
His weekend had been almost as much a blur as John’s, the
self administered chemicals dispensed in bars and across the off-license
counter mimicking the loss of time remarkably closely. Except he did remember
Sunday, or at least the latter half. Coming to on his couch, the TV silently
flickering an old black and white movie in front of him, he had slowly sat up
from the position he had lain motionless in for hours, his left side screaming
pain as he pushed himself up. His head had been splitting and the wine bottles
strewn across the carpet, complete with red stains adjacent, bore testimony to
his excess. But then he had started to think.
Probably, he had reasoned, he had blown it. As much as it
pained him, they were almost certainly right to exclude him for the time being.
He had no idea how far advanced they now were with the procedure, and they knew
little of him since leaving the programme. Hell, the MRI scan was a luxury when
he had been running tests on candidates, reserved for only the most likely, and
then only after extensive data collection. Now it was the first port of call,
as far as they were concerned, as it was for many in his profession these days.
They had told him the programme had virtually stopped, that it had been dormant
for years, but they were able to react swiftly to his phone call, provide
resources, persuade the military to let them use facilities. And all of this
was essentially overnight. Looking back, as Sam did that Sunday, it didn’t ring
as true as he had thought.
He decided, that afternoon, that he should have done as
requested. But his pride had been dented by the realisation that they didn’t
need him. Not at present anyway. If he had hung on in there, shown his mettle,
his resolve, and perhaps just a little humility they may have considered
letting him in a little further. After all, that was what he wanted, to be part
of the team again, carrying out ground breaking research. But instead he had
Sam had left the bottle alone after that, sinking copious
quantities on non-alcoholic drinks and moderate numbers of aspirins. By late
evening he had lain in his bath, relaxing to the sound of popular classical
themes, gathering his thoughts. And now he was sat at his desk, earlier than
ever recorded by the electronic booking system used within the department,
beating his receptionist by three quarters of an hour. He couldn’t carry out
much in the way of damage limitation, but he reckoned they would still need
him, later perhaps than sooner. He would contact Michael this morning and try
to put things straight. Then he would leave it awhile. He leant back into the
worn leather chair he had taken from position to position as he had worked
around the country, listening to the comforting creak as the hide stretched and
micro-pores broke bonds that had been formed in manufacture. Then he started as
the phone rang.
Apple products are expensive. There I've said it and will probably find myself thrown in the dock for mentioning it. But it's true. Unfortunately they are in a fantastic bargaining position that their competitors can only dream of.
The Apple belief is that a computer needs to be more than the sum of its parts - which is why they control the hardware design and the software production - sure, they let outsiders produce Apps for the tablet devices but they vet the products and charge to let them on their network. There's no renegade programming going on that they don't sanction.
What you get with Apple is a whole environment - starting with a device, be it a Macbook Air, an iPad, iPad mini, iPod and, when they start digitising desserts, the iPud probably. Then they add the software which is generally considered a good thing, but we'll gloss over iOS 6 for now as it will probably be superseded before I push the 'Publish' button on this blog entry anyway.
On top of the hardware and software there is an overlayer of support in the iCloud. Up there, wherever that is, you store your iTunes, naturally, plus your iBooks, your personal photos, your calendar entries and anything else they can suck up out of your iDevices. I'm not being negative, it's amazing how they do this because they then allow all of your data to be shared by all of your Apple devices. Hence the bigger than the sum of its parts claim above.
But, despite all of these things, they are bloody expensive.
Well, if you are harbouring a desire to own an Apple-like device, perhaps to use for yourself or to share with a loved one as a present then Friday 23rd November 2011 could be a date to circle on your calendar. I know it's short notice, but I'm a Brit and still trying to get my head around the Black Friday thing. Because Apple don't limit the traditional post Thanksgiving shopping spree to just the US, they extend it even to the far flung shores we call the UK.
At the time of writing there isn't any specific details about the discounts being offered for one day from this notoriously expensive company with virtually no track record of offering bargains, but traditionally they offer between 10% and 15%, which is £40 - £50 on better spec iPads.
Save the date and, if you are in the market for an Apple product right now, save yourself some cash.
John Staples’ recollections for that weekend were vague,
confusing assortments of medical comings and goings, needles and drips, white
clinical sheets and firm but musty smelling pillows. He had been aware of
travelling further than expected, but the heat of the car and the rhythmic
pound of the three litre engine had conspired with the sedative to weigh his
thoughts into a dark, comfortable marshmallow-like sensation. The fracas at the
main gate had passed him by, although he would later remember being manhandled
and dragged out into a cold, still evening. For some time he assumed that it
had been a dream, or even one of his experiences. Saturday passed as though on
fast forward and slow motion combined, Sunday never existed. John spoke clearly
for the first time on Monday, suddenly aware of lying on a trolley, a cool
draught raking his legs as they forged onwards, the mists of the weekend
parting as the drugs were permitted to eke away, his consciousness being
allowed to re-assert itself. The voices of the medical orderlies and the
purpose of their errand slowly filtering into his thoughts, dominating and
shaping his priorities.
We are rapidly approaching that time of year when folks think it appropriate to make forecasts about the future. Generally these are baloney and manage to give astrology a good name, or at least a better name. I've two main issues with them. The first is the ridiculous notion that the end of one year and therefore the start of a new year is a sensible point to make these predictions - let's be real here folks, the New Year is just an arbitrary point in time that is only significant because we start drinking in one year and don't stop until the next. Actually, I think I understand it now!
The second point is probably the main one. If I or one of the other hundred or thousand people who claim to have forecasts for the future were actually in receipt of certain knowledge we wouldn't be posting the predictions in a blog, we'd be buying and selling shares with every penny we had to our names.
Still, it does seem appropriate as we approach the end of the year to make some predictions. So this is just for fun, right? Don't go buying shares off the back of my opinions. But if you do and I'm right, well you know where to find me. Cash or cheques are fine by me.
My top six predictions for 2013
1. Apple will still be here
No, really. Sure it's going to be one heck of a year for Apple, but they'll survive. iOS 7 will be launched in January - it'll actually be iOS 5 in essence but probably will have Apple Maps included and working. It'll also have most of the 'enhancements' included in iOS6 reverted to how they were until iOS 6 was released. By March there will be rumours of a new iPhone - look I never said this was going to be an innovative look into the future - but the phone won't arrive until August. Maybe it'll have thought control? Apple haven't got that many more new ways to go. Stock price will rise and fall. Probably in that order.
2. Amazon will still be here
No, really. 2013 will be a bit of a disappointing year for Amazon because they had intended to rule the world by the end of this year, but will be two countries short of the full set. To be fair, North Korea and Iran have always been a bit difficult to anticipate. The Kindle will still be the best selling dedicated eReader - that's the good news. The bad news, for various reasons, is that dedicated eReaders will be in general decline having peaked at Christmas 2012. The Kindle Fire will be the new entry level device for reading eBooks by September or December - I must dust this crystal ball before moving on to number 3. However, one of the big players - maybe Amazon, possibly Apple, probably Google will launch a tablet that can be read in sunlight. Stock price will rise and rise, probably in that order.
3. Google will still be here
But I guess you knew that. Google+ will be clinging on, but really it won't make any impact during 2013. Google will do one of two things this year. They will either use their formidable financial muscle to buy Facebook and rebrand it FB Google+ or they will save some money and develop a time machine, go back a few years and buy Facebook. Or maybe they'll go back even further and create Facebook. Their family of tablets will fight like hell all year for market share, but really that battle is between Apple and Amazon for the majority of the year. There will be at least two new releases of the Android OS, both with stupid names that should be unforgettable but will just blend in with the older names. Their share price will be quoted in scientific notation. Greece will buy one share in January with the intention of selling it before the end of December and sorting out the deficit in one move. They will probably have some change to spread around as well.
4. Facebook will still be here
It's a close call, but it will manage to hang on one more year. It will be a challenging year for FB, but not terminally so. The challenge won't come from another social network but from a public that becomes jaded with the whole social network paradigm. Either Facebook or Get Me out of Here - I'm a Celebrity will look like it will fail just after 2013 is over. Facebook will announce, probably in the autumn, that they are introducing a thought controlled version to use with the 3D holographic tablets Apple will announce in the late summer. Did I forget to mention Apple will announce the i3DPad in item 1? Well, they will, but it won't exist until 2014 so that's for another almanac. Stock price will fall until they unfriend the bankers.
5. Twitter will still be here
But nobody will understand why. So nothing new there. Twitter will continue to innovate and may stretch the letter count up to 141 characters by the end of the year, but this will bring enormous bugs in its wake. Twitter will end up in court defending account holders who have inadvertently defamed British politicians - like that's an easy task - but nobody will understand why they do this. Stephen Fry will threaten to leave Twitter again and the share price will tumble. Stephen Fry will eventually relent and share price will tumble further.
6. Microsoft will still be here
No kidding. More importantly the Surface Tablet will see version 2, Windows 8 will see Service Pack 2 by mid year and some confidence, obviously misplaced, will return to Microsoft. The Surface will be pushed as the serious tablet for business use, will be tied strongly to Microsoft Exchange and will have the full suite of MS security built in to instil business confidence. Consequently it will run like a dog with one leg, will install service updates virtually every time it is switched on and will reboot without warning most days, generally when in the middle of a critical transaction. MS Exchange users won't even notice. Share price will change, up or down, probably both, possibly simultaneously.
Karen sat listening to the two men, that Saturday night,
trying to work out whether they were blowing the whole thing out of proportion
or whether there was something worthy of absorbing her husband’s time to the
extent that it had. It had been the strangest of weeks, with the accident
killing one of Jack’s workers and seriously injuring another, creating a
maelstrom of work and associated activities for him to plough through in order
to keep the factory working. That should have been enough for any man to worry
about in his position, but there was this strange business with the man John
Staples. She had heard all of the evidence and couldn’t make up her mind; one
minute she was convinced he was responsible, in a deliberate manner, the next
she was convinced that any involvement by him, if any, was incidental. Then
there was this strange new friend of Jack’s, who he had been exceptionally
disparaging about only a few days earlier. Now he sat on their chair, drank
(lots) of their beer, looked at her in a lingering way that she didn’t enjoy
and was now keeping both of them up far later than they would ever think of
staying up, even at the weekend.
‘So, where are we then?’ asked Jack, sipping at his beer.
Alan sat motionless for a few moments before answering:
‘Well, I think I’m satisfied, once again, that the accident
was simply that. No matter what any of us think about this Staples guy, his
notebook and his stories, there isn’t a shred of evidence to suggest he
tampered with any of that system. It’s not even that he could just be clever,
it now seems that the installation design was flawed from the outset.’
‘I should have spotted that, or at least taken notice of
what he had said last year,’ muttered Jack, in embarrassment.
‘Don’t be so hard on yourself,’ replied Alan, sinking a
draught of lager. ‘That installation has been there for more than five years,
you’re the third or maybe fourth maintenance manager in charge of it in that
time and countless numbers of well qualified fitters have worked on it.
‘Of more importance to me, and of course to you, is that I
have enough evidence for the Coroner to suggest a verdict of accidental death.
You’ve already had the new system designed for greater safety and had all the
other existing plant systems double checked, so that will bode well with him at
the hearing. Your records are exemplary and the degree of co-operation you
showed was exceptional. You did alright.’ Jack reached over for Alan’s glass
once the speech was over.
‘Thanks for that, now get off your soap-box,’ he said,
blushing a little. Karen took both glasses of him and asked, half-heartedly if
they wanted another drink. Despite not having met Alan before, she wasn’t too
surprised that he was still game.
‘Perhaps a little one,’ he suggested, looking across at
Jack with a twinkle in his eye, ‘if that’s not a problem.’ Jack caught Karen’s
look, and in his heart he knew he was going to regret such a late night in the
morning, especially after the night out at the pub.
‘I’ll sort them,’ he said, retrieving the glasses that
Karen had picked up, leaving the room to try and find the Whisky left over from
last New Year. Karen sat self consciously, her hands extended, palms together,
trapped between her legs. Alan, in contrast, seemed extra-ordinarily relaxed,
even if he wasn’t saying anything. He reminded Karen of a man sat on a veranda
watching a warm sunset, at ease with life and feeling no need to talk. As it
was evident that Jack was having difficulty in finding the Whisky, or perhaps
the tumblers she thought, hearing the clanking of various glasses from the
kitchen, she decided to re-open the conversation.
‘What about this man’s claims?’ she asked, looking askance
at the photocopied notebook sheets strewn over the coffee table. Alan leaned
forward, pulling a couple of loose sheets towards him and splaying them like
outsize playing cards.
‘There’s something there, I’m sure of that, but I’m
buggered if I know what to make of it. I think Jack’s more convinced about the
stories than I am, but then again, I’ve never spoken with the man.
‘The trouble is, there’s no sensible, rational explanation
for what he’s claiming. I suspect he’s a bit of a mental case, if you’ll excuse
my judgemental tone, but beyond that…’ Alan tailed off as Jack returned,
holding two half-full tumblers of Whisky, narrowly avoiding spilling any on the
carpet. Alan stood up and took his off Jack before any was wasted, not counting
the amount he assumed Jack was about to waste on himself.
‘What say you, Jack? What do you make of Staples and his
stories?’ Jack asked, sitting back in the chair, resting the tumbler on the arm
carefully. Jack pondered as he lowered himself a little clumsily into his seat
alongside Karen, who had just poured the remains of the wine bottle into her
‘I agree, it’s difficult to make any sense of what he says,
but perhaps he’s just twisting it a little – OK, a lot – and it has something
‘Whatever truth or otherwise is in his stories I have to
say I’m a bit concerned over that hospital, though. To get two consultants’
appointments in one week must qualify for a record by any standard, even with
different consultants. but to have the consultant then drive him somewhere else
is a tad fishy. I’d like to get to the bottom of that one, I feel somehow
responsible for Staples.’ Jack could feel the whisky going to his head, and
could faintly hear the ringing sound he heard whenever he was approaching
drunk. He knew that if it got any louder he would be staggering around, and
slurring his speech. Alan was nodding, and Karen, sipping her wine, asked:
‘What can you do about it?’ Alan, draining his whisky and
leaning forward said:
‘I’ll tell you what we can do about it. Jack, have you any
more of this fine whisky? It’s Oban, if I’m not mistaken.’ Alan leaned back as
Jack padded off to refill their glasses, preparing to explain what he had found
out since Friday morning.