How is it that every book I read by Charles Stross is better than the last one? Do people have no limits?!

Also, is it a bit of Douglas Adams-style misanthropic humor I'm sensing in Singularity Sky (which I've just begun to read but already love, as happened with Accelerando)?


This is the State of the Art?

During an Internet outage at my cousin's a few weeks ago, I got bored and decided to try using (or rather, setting up) my iPhone. I know language conventions dictate that the name of a Cool, New gadget preceded by a possessive adjective (e.g. "my iPhone") implies the speaker is already using said gadget, probably to desocialize and blow up virtual animals using other virtual animals--but I'm not one for conventions. Oh, no. If anything, the rest of this post will prove that.

So I tear its cellophane packaging and open the box inside, trying not to think about how much this has just cost me, if I ever decide to sell the thing. I turn it on, select a language and a region, and see a screen asking me to choose a Wi-Fi connection. Oops. Luckily, there's an alternative: "Set up using iTunes." I take out the USB cable, connect the phone to my MacBook Pro and get ready to watch whatever choreography they have planned together. No such luck: "Please upgrade your iTunes..."

At this time, I'm pondering the nature of this device I paid an honest man's salary for. Is it a mobile telephone? If so, why is it asking for an Internet connection (or, weirdly, an obscure piece of PC software as an alternative?) I had always thought that mobile phones were supposed to make wireless connections, not use them. Maybe I am getting old or falling behind the current technology but in either case, there's nothing I can do right now. I repack and put everything away, and go back to telepathically fixing the Internet connection by means of watching the blinking lights on the front panel of the DSL modem.

A few days later, when I've willed the Internet back into existence, I decide to try again. I pass through the same steps, and then the Wi-Fi one, with ease. But it's not long before the phone asks for a SIM card. Apparently, it has just remembered that it is a phone, after all. And there's a problem: It doesn't recognize the SIM cards in use by all the other mobile phones in existence. Swear, repack, put away...

...and fast forward two weeks, to when I'm back home and near a shop subsidized by my preferred GSM carrier. I go there and buy the special SIM card, return home, put it in. After struggling to set up a Wi-Fi connection (turns out I am behind the current technology, after all) I set out to try setting up my phone once again. After the familiar steps, it asks me for my Apple ID which I'm too happy to supply--I've snagged this Really Cool username, you see: "aib". And which it immediately asks me to change. To an e-mail address. Not sure what this mandatory change is for or what the phone is going to do to my Apple account afterwards, I opt to go back and apply for a new one. It turns out to be the better option, because now I can sign up for this thing called "iCloud e-mail address." Even though "aib" is taken--damn.

A few unimpeding steps later, I'm greeted with what I've learned to recognize as the "home screen" of the iPhone. Finally! I immediately go to "settings" and start customizing my phone. I see a "Twitter" option somewhere and try to turn it on, but the action takes me to the App Store payment settings page. I hadn't realized that the Twitter integration application cost money. Oh, well. I go back to the home screen, where there's an alert waiting for me: "Something About This free iBook application! Get it now?" Despite my feelings about eBooks (and what I suspect iBooks to be) and tempted by the lack of a monetary cost, I tap the "get" button which forwards me to some App Store page.

On the App Store page which reminds me that iBook Something is free, I tap the "install" button (which might've actually read "FREE", I'm not sure) and what comes up next is a surprise: The App Store payment options page, once again. "None" (meaning no payment option) is already selected, but I'm not allowed to proceed. Which means my phone is already asking me for my credit card information...

I give up and postpone the whole ordeal indefinitely, preferably to be retaken at a time in my life when I'm sufficiently happy as to not feel defensive towards my own telephone.