Will you be buying the new iPhone X?

Here in Ireland the new iPhone X will be available to pre-order from the 27th October at 8.01am.

The iPhone X (the 'X' being a roman numeral, so it's pronounced 'ten') page on the Apple web site already lists the prices as:

  • €1,179 for the 64 GB version
  • €1,349 for the 256 GB version

That's a lot of money for a mobile phone. For comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S8 sells for about €650, and the OnePlus 5 starts at €500 – half the price of the iPhone X. So is this latest iPhone worth the money? Is it twice as good as those Android phones?

No!

Are people still going to queue up to buy it?

Definitely!

The thing is that this is an Apple product, and Apple products are not just phones or computers – they're aspirational items. They are premium products that people are willing to pay premium prices for.

A BMW 5 series costs roughly twice as much as a Skoda Superb. Both are lovely cars, and drive you from A to B in relative comfort. But the BMW isn't twice as good as the Skoda – it isn't twice as fast, or twice as comfortable. So when you buy a BMW you are paying for much more than the car – you are paying for the brand.

You are paying to own a car that proclaims its own expensiveness. That's why premium products have such obvious branding on them. Because after all, why would anyone pay more for a product that looks identical to the much cheaper equivalent?

In the 10 years since Apple first released the iPhone they have successfully positioned it as not just 'a' smartphone, but 'the' smartphone for people to aspire to.

People might justify (to themselves or others) buying the iPhone X for the superior operating system, or because they think it has the best screen, best camera, or best looking handset. But at the end of the day, they are really buying it for what it says about them.

And I don't think there's anything wrong with that. If owning the iPhone X makes them happy, then good. I'm happy for them. I may even take an interest if one of my friends or colleagues gets one – just as I would be interested to look at their brand new BMW – but not enough to part with the cash for either the phone or the car myself.

I used to own an iPhone 3G and an iPhone 4 back in the day – and I still think they're nice devices – but I couldn't justify to myself to keep paying the premium prices for successive iPhones, and I switched over to Android instead.

I guess that value for money matters more to me than brand – even if I do still lust over the latest and greatest technology out there.

Data Roaming in the USA

I go over to the US a few times each year, and I want to continue using the data on my mobile phone. However, roaming data charges can be expensive.

The roaming data charges, per megabyte (for prepay and contract phones) on the Irish networks are:

And as anyone knows, one MB hardly goes anywhere these days. I sometimes use as much as 200MB a day, so if I used my Eir SIM for roaming data, it could cost me over €2,000 a day!

Data Bundles

Of course, there are often roaming data bundles available, but you need to shop around for the best deals, and set them up in advance:

  • Vodafone – Red Roaming – 200MB of data for €2.99 per day
  • Vodafone – Connect Abroad – 100MB of data for €18.45 per day
  • Eir – USA Data Add-on – 200MB of data for €19.99
  • Three – No data bundles available

The Vodafone Red Roaming is clearly the best value for money, and that's the roaming deal I use for my trips. I just need to be careful to ensure that my APN is correctly configured.

Signing up for Red Roaming

Vodafone prepay and contract customers need to elect to use Red Roaming to avail of the roaming deal. It can be set up in the "My Vodafone" self-care web site, or by texting the word 'RED' to 50020 to opt in.

It's worth noting that if you run out of credit on Vodafone prepay you may be automatically de-subscribed from Red Roaming without notification, and then end up paying a lot more for data.

You also need to remember that the 200MB per day allowance runs from midnight to midnight Irish time. So if you're in Los Angeles (8 hours behind Dublin) your allowance runs from 4pm to 4pm each day.

What about a Roaming or USA SIM?

One other option to consider, if you travel a lot is to get a specialist roaming SIM card (available from a number of companies), or a SIM card for a US cellular network.

A typical offer of a specialist Roaming SIM is one from Roam Mobility, where it costs $10 to buy a SIM card, and then another $21.95 to buy 1GB of data. Similarly ZipSIM charges $30 for 1GB of data.

The US network T-Mobile also offers a Prepaid International Tourist Plan, which gives you 3 week of voice, texts and 2GB of data for $30. That's not a bad if you're visiting for more than a few days and also expect to make phones calls and send texts.

Dual SIM Phones

Sometimes the best deal for roaming data is from someone that isn't your regular mobile provider. And unless you fancy switching to another mobile number while you travel, you may want to consider getting a dual-SIM mobile phone.

I have a OnePlus 5 mobile that can take 2 SIM cards. So I have my regular Meteor/Eir SIM for use at home, and a second prepay Vodafone SIM for mobile data roaming.

When I'm travelling, I can have both SIM cards active in my phone at the same time. I can set my Meteor SIM to be used for calls and texts – so that I can contact family and friends – and set the Vodafone SIM to be used for data.

SIM & Network Settings

I just need to remember to switch the mobile data between Meteor and Vodafone each time I get on the plane.

That time I wrote an email system

When I started university back in 1990 the computer systems available were a lot more primitive that today.

Desktop PCs were only made available to college students the year after I joined, so for the first year of my Computer Science studies I only had access to mainframe systems, and in particular a VAX VMS system.

This was the type of terminal I had to use, which had an 80 x 24 character screen.

There was a big darkened room in the basement of my faculty building that housed row upon row of these terminals, and it was common to see student hunched over the machines for hours upon end – although not necessarily doing college work.

We didn't have the internet to distract us, but we make a lot of use of the mainframe's internal email system (called "MAIL") to keep in contract with friends. This was before the days of mobile phones, so the email system was one of the few ways to keep in contact with classmates and friends.

The problem was that the university soon realised that the student's use of email was overwhelming the ageing mainframe system – and so they introduced a daytime email ban. Between the hours of 9.00am to 5.00pm on weekdays students were barred from accessing the email program.

Getting around the ban

Of course, resourceful Computer Science kids like me, with lots of free time on their hands, soon found way to bypass the ban.

We quickly realised that the ban was being enforced by the use of a script – in the VMS language these were called Digital Command Language (DCL) scripts. The script checked the time, checked whether the user was a staff member or not, and then decided whether to run the MAIL program or issue an error message.

And so in order to bypass the ban, all it took was the writing of a slightly modified version of the script that didn't do the staff check. Simple.

Of course, after a while the university IT staff soon realised that students were still accessing the MAIL program, so they tightened up security by implementing changes to the security using access control lists that implemented a more effective ban.

An email program written in DCL

The DCL scripting language was actually quite powerful, and you could write small applications in it. I had grown quite interested in the language during my long hours in the lab and had already written a number of small utilities, such as an application launcher, that a number of my fellow students were using.

So it occurred to me that I might be able to also write a primitive email client as well.

The mechanics of it were actually quite simple. The program would launch a text editor where you would write your message. Then, when the text editor closed, it would save the file in a common directory and prompt the user for a username and email subject. Details of the filename, sending username, recipient's username, and email subject were then written to a log file.

When the recipient then accessed my email program, it would scan through the log file for any matches of their username, and present the details of the emails to them.

The user could then choose from options to delete or reply to the message.

The program was very basic, and not always stable. Some of the time the log file would get corrupted from multiple people trying to write to it at the same time. But for the most part, it served as an effective email system for the couple of hundred students that knew about it.

Short lived success

My basic email system lived for around 6 months, completely undetected by the IT staff, and sent and received in the region of half a million messages. I had to keep clearing down the log file periodically, as it wasn't indexed and a full file scan as the log file grew was taking longer and longer. 

Then at the start of the new academic year – my second year – a revolution happened. A new lab of Windows 3.0 desktop PCs appeared, with the Eudora email client installed and proper POP3 email accounts, and students soon lost interest in using email on the mainframe.

The reduced load on the VMS system meant that the MAIL program restrictions could be lifted, and the need for my email utility disappeared overnight.

In fact, all interest in the lab of VT terminals quickly dried up, as their fixed character screens were viewed as quite primitive in comparison to the GUI available on Windows. But I'll always have a soft spot for VMS mainframe systems and the DCL scripting language.

After university I even tried to get a job with Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) who made the VMS computers – but I suspect I came across too strong in the interview!

Maybe I should look into getting a VM running OpenVMS so that I can revisit the operating system one last time.

Trying out the Gutenberg editor

There seems to have been a few stories appearing recently about the upcoming release of the Gutenberg editor for WordPress. Many reviews have been mixed, and some are downright negative. But rather than relying on someone else's opinion, I thought I'd give it a go myself.

So what is Gutenberg?

Gutenberg is a new post editor for WordPress. It has been designed to replace the existing post editor – also known as the TinyMCE editor – with something a bit more powerful and useful.

Existing TinyMCE Editor

The existing editor will be very familiar to everyone that's used WordPress, and the change over to something new takes some getting used to.

Gutenberg Editor

The biggest change, apart from the cleaner lines and improved layout, is that each title, each paragraph, each quote, and each image on the page are in their own 'block'.

Each block is created by clicking on a little plus symbol (+), and then you select the type of block you want to add. There are a whole load of different types of block:

  • Headings
  • Paragraphs
  • Images
  • Quotes
  • Lists
  • Tables
  • Code blocks
  • Videos

There's also the option to embed things from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and many more sources.

So the idea seems to be to replace a whole lot of extended functionality that was previously achieved using plugins and short codes in the middle of text.

So is it any good?

Well this is the first post I've ever written using Gutenberg, and I like it already. For just writing a normal post full of text, I suppose it's a bit more complicated. But the real power of the editor comes when you want to start adding to the text.

Adding images suddenly becomes easier and more intuitive. And I have a lot more confidence that moving stuff around the page isn't going to mess up all the formatting.

And if I want to do anything fancy like embed a tweet, such as the one below, then Gutenberg really comes into its own. 


So how do you try it out?

It seems that WordPress is gearing up to roll out Gutenberg as its editor in the next major release of the software. Until then, it's available to add to your WordPress install as a plugin, so that you can try it out.

I believe the plugin is still in beta testing at the moment, so maybe don't use it for any critical production sites. But as this blog only gets about 40 visitors a day, I feel pretty safe in using beta code!

Why not give it a go, and let me know what you think in the comments below.