Drifting

It was never my intention to neglect this place so badly, however when I look back at the date on the last post, it makes me realise two things: firstly, that I've not written anything for almost a year, and secondly, that time moves so very, very quickly. Which I guess is mostly the point.

I know exactly why things stopped when they did: I decided to start my own company. The two are inextricably linked, there's no getting away from it. I have attempted to sit down now and again and put my mind to adding words to paper, or type to a screen more like, but every time I've gone to write something, I've felt guilty that I'm not concentrating on the business, pushing any thoughts of writing firmly to one side.

It's a shame really. I mean, writing was the thing I thought I'd end up doing professionally. I remember a childhood of endless words, endless pages of words and sentences and paragraphs; mostly nonsense not worth the paper they were written on, but some genuine nuggets of inspiration here and there. So now, when I look back at those eager childhood eyes of mine, I do wonder what younger-me would have said to older-me if I'd somehow managed to head back in time and tell him it wasn't going to happen how he thought. To be honest, I was so certain of what I wanted to do and where I was going back then, I'd have laughed at older-me and told him where to stick it.

So here we are. Years and years have passed since those early forays into writing, and many careers and step-changes have occurred since. And no doubt, there'll be many more to come. I think one thing is for certain: 'transience' should have been my middle name.

I don't often talk about this particular trait of mine, especially now when I'm at the very beginning of something fresh and new and visceral, but I know myself too well, so it's impossible to hide: I will get bored and I will move on, I just know it. In fact, it's already started. Umlaut, my little graphic design studio, began with solely graphic design, then we expanded into web and app design, and now we're on to the very beginnings of fashion design. And when all the different types of design have run out, no doubt I'll find something else. Or at least work out ways to expand, contract, or morph Umlaut into something entirely different. It's just who I am.

Some say it's because I get bored easily, but I don't think that's it. I think it's more the thought of stagnating, of getting too comfortable with something and forgetting how to be really great at it. I once thought I wanted to run a huge company, be the big cheese at the top of some table somewhere, but those daydreams were apparently transient too, as they've long, long gone. Now, the thought of owning anything for too long, seeing it become misshapen and overgrown with bureaucratic claptrap, makes me feel nauseous just thinking about it.

I guess then a year since the last post really isn't as surprising as perhaps I may have deluded myself to believe. What's more surprising is that here I am, after all that time passing, writing something again. It mayn't have been particularly well written, it mayn't have been the next Odyssey, but it's felt good to give it another whirl, it really has.

Maybe transience is a two-way street, then? Does it work in reverse?

Kevlar jackets

Some time ago, I had an idea to reboot podcasting. Sick to the back teeth of mid-flow ad reads, I wanted to see if people would be willing to pay directly for podcasts. In the end, the whole thing was shelved. It was never going to work.

Since then, I've struggled to launch anything. Umlaut, my latest concept, has for many different reasons, taken a hell of lot longer to launch than I had hoped. Sure, there's been some fairly solid reasons for the delay, not least of which getting my equipment nicked that contained within it, among other things, the whole of the Umlaut project. But one of the biggest reasons for not launching when I thought I would was it has taken me not an inconsequential amount of time to work out how to fund it.

You see, the thing is this: I hate fucking ads. Or rather, it's the the very concept of advertising that infuriates me. You can euphemise until the cows come home, but 'advertising' is simply a more palatable term for 'coercion', or 'manipulation', or frankly, 'harassment'. From time to time, ads may be engaging, or well-thought out, or potentially even delightful, but no matter what fanciful adjective you apply, the simple fact remains: somebody or some entity is targeting you to part with your money by buying something you didn't want in the first place. Rather than allowing people to make up their own minds about what they want, or need, or desire, instead we are force-fed mountains and mountains of bullshit, in the hope that eventually, inevitably, somebody will buckle and press the button. And because we're only human, at one time or another, after we've had it rammed down our throats for long enough, that impulse to press the button becomes so strong it cannot be ignored any longer. Two days later, a knock on the door, and we have another piece of crap we feel guilty for buying.

Advertising sucks.

Modern computers should not creak and shudder and cry out for mercy when browsing the web.

Little surprise then, that on the web, where 'advertising' has been taken to a whole other level, consumers, and even corporations such as Apple, are taking a stand. Ad blockers are everywhere. They are the kevlar jackets of the internet, and I wouldn't leave the house without mine.

As contrary as it may sound: I do love the web. Whilst mostly everybody else I know has joined the app gold rush (and look how that's turning out), I've remained in webland, mostly pratting about on my own. It's not as bustling over here as it used to be, let me tell you. However, the web is what I learnt first, and it's where I've settled. And I know its time is finite, and I know this choice will have me left high and dry eventually, but you know what: that isn't my fault. It's the fault of those advertisers.

Modern computers should not creak and shudder and cry out for mercy when browsing the web. We're browsing the web for pity's sake, not launching a spacecraft into space, or attempting to crack the Enigma code. This is a simple operation made gruelling. Nobody would ever ask you wade through treacle, so for what in the world are we having to endure this nonsense?

As advertising on the web has rusted away its foundations, so the people who frequent it have left. You wouldn't enter a room with no walls and a hole in the floor. Instead they seek out packages of the web in friendly little apps. Advertising has pushed people away. And the more they are pushed, the more the web falls into decay. Thanks a bunch.

I know people need to make a living. I know people need an income from somewhere. But if breaking the bond between provider and consumer by strong-arming advertising in the middle is the only way that that income can be acquired, then I'm sorry, but find something else to do. Allowing other entities into your space to make a penny here or there, is not acceptable. You shouldn't lower yourself to becoming somebody else's gofer. While they sit drinking their margaritas on the beach, you're left with reading out their crap on your podcast. Or adding their wanker jargon to your thing. Or crowding out your incredible content with their bullshit mythology.

I may be behind in my launch plans. I may have overstepped the endurance levels of those people waiting for me to release Umlaut into the wild. But here's the thing: if I have to resort to advertising to make this thing work, then I'd rather it sit on the shelf for the rest of eternity.

I am not going to contribute to the ever-approaching end life of the web. I am not going to subject my potential audience to this crap. And neither should you.

Fashionably late

You walk past the bouncers and hand over your membership card. On the monitor above the kiosk, you can see that the party started some time ago, what with the swell of people writhing to the beat. It's busy, way busier than usual. The bass is in the walls, that dull thud keeping everybody in time. It's not an amazing tune, but to this crowd, who grew up on tunes like this, it's a sure-fire favourite.

"What's the occasion?"
"You mean you don't know?", says the girl at the kiosk, handing back the card.
"No. Who they here for?"
She cocks her head in embarrassment, for you or for herself, it's not quite clear. She looks back.
"You."

You walk through the doors and join the masses. You've placed but one foot on the dance floor, however in one swooping motion, all eyes are on you; the dj, seemingly having noticed your arrival too, has mixed into your favourite track.

You look down at yourself. Your hair was recently cut, but it's not that different to everybody else's. It can't be that. You've bought new threads, and while a little more on point than those around you maybe, they're not that much further on. The nose ring? Well, it's a little out there, but it's not like you've changed your entire face. What's going on?

You decide to head to the bar. Your favourite drink has already been mixed and is waiting. What the…?

As you move deeper into the club, despite the masses still burning their stares into the back of your head, the girls giving you the look, the guys too, you can't help noticing the odd person who is clearly less than captivated. 'What have I done? Have I got something on my face or something? How the hell have I pissed those guys off?'

"It must be a real bitch."
You turn round. The crowds are still looking. Your tracks are still being played. Your drink is somehow full again. This guy is smiling, not unkindly.
"What do you mean?"
"You come dressed like that, you look like that, you dance like that."

You try to tell him your clothes might be new, but that they aren't that different, your hair might be newly cut, but the style isn't all that dissimilar, that you haven't even had the chance to dance yet, but he's not finished.

"Oh, and you're late. Nothing like making an entrance." He winks, and smiles again. He moves closer so only you can hear what he says next: "People dig that kind of shit. Kudos."

Apple Music: Apple doing what Apple does best. Kudos indeed.

Restitution

Recently, I visited Barcelona, then hopped on a plane, and flew straight to Berlin. The brief was simple: stay with friends in Barcelona, go to Primavera Sound, a festival out there, and let off some steam. Recharge, refresh, reconfigure. Then, once that was out of my system, pop over to Berlin, my most favourite city on the planet, and work. On Umlaut. Write some articles. Meet people. The whole nine yards.

I was excited. I'd not been out of the country in quite some time. Holding down a full-time job and starting your own business really don't lend themselves greatly to free-time. So this was a treat. A week in each city, and back. Nothing too expensive. Nothing too extravagant. Nothing too extraordinary.

In retrospect, touching down in Barcelona should have been an omen really. As I queued at passport control, I realised I didn't have my passport. En route, I'd popped it, and my iPad, in the holder on the back of the chair in front of me. And having now disembarked and been shuttled across the concrete to the airport, much rifling through my hand luggage revealed my blunder.

Panic set in. I couldn't go back and I categorically couldn't go forward. What in my right mind had I been thinking? Slightly hysterical, I pushed passed the queues of disgruntled people, and explained my predicament to the security guard. He laughed. He actually laughed.

An hour and a half later, passport firmly in my hand once more, I was able to make my way to baggage reclaim and liberate my solitary suitcase that had been forlornly circling the carousel over and over and over again.

I had been incredibly excited about the prospect of flying alone. Surprisingly, it had been the first time I'd ever done it. You know how it is flying with friends or family; no matter how much you love them their constant: 'Have you got your passport?', 'You did check in, right?', 'Where's the boarding passes?' is less than complimentary to the situation. Now I realise it had been that nagging that had saved me from myself all those past flights; I should really learn to stop moaning about the moaning.

Four days later, and I'm exhausted. Utterly spent. It's been night after night of very late (or early) partying at Primavera Sound. Despite best efforts, and despite having wanted to see many of the bands, I saw very little of anything. Drink, drink, and more drink kind of does that to you. And the rest. But, I was happy. Good times with good friends and new friends too; it's what holidays are all about.

As we leave the festival site for the very last time then, the sun coming up over the brow of the hill, the morning air cool, but a reprieve, after the blazing temperatures of the past few days, I'm beaming, I'm surrounded by happy, chattering people, and I can safely say: that was pretty-damn epic. Now for a day or two's rest before heading on to Berlin. Seriously, what do I have to complain about?

Returning to the apartment, somebody puts on the kettle; we're English, tea is always comforting, no matter what time it might be; and I head to my room to rid myself of my, by now, hanging festival gear.

We'd opened the door at the road, no problem. We'd swiped the electronic keycard at the apartment door, no problem. We'd walked in, made a drink, chatted, sat in the front room, no problem.

I was catatonic. I had no idea what to do. Who to call. Where to go. How to even begin to process it. It was miserable.

You see, when you're broken into, you expect signs. You expect disturbance, and mess, and things out of place. So, to have been in the apartment some twenty minutes before I realised my MacBook Pro had vanished, and the currency I'd been keeping, stupidly, in my room; it felt like somebody had just smashed me between the eyes. And, having had a drink or two too many to boot, I suddenly, and rather dramatically, went into meltdown.

Thankfully, luckily, up until that point, I'd never experienced burglary before. In fact, if I think back, somehow I've managed to get to thirty without ever being the victim of any kind of crime. I'm nothing but grateful. In the afterglow of what had been such a phenomenal experience, I just don't think I was ready for it. There were no signs of break-in. Literally nothing. And yet, things were missing. As we searched the other rooms, it became abundantly clear that my things were not the only items that had been swiped.

It felt personal. Like somebody had somehow invaded my space and taken something from me that wasn't theirs. My photos were on that laptop. My past. My future. All my work. Everything. And though it's all backed up and can be retrieved at the touch of a button, in that moment, it felt as if somebody had stolen my entire life from me.

I was catatonic. I had no idea what to do. Who to call. Where to go. How to even begin to process it. It was miserable.

It's amazing to look back at that and think about how the human mind works. Just a second before I walked into that room and discovered what had happened, Barcelona was incredible. I was having the best time. A second after, and I felt incredibly uneasy, unsafe, and uninterested in being there any longer. At the flick of a switch, my brain had reinterepreted the entire experience and labelled everything as 'bad'.

The next night I couldn't sleep in that room, and the night after that we moved out whoelsale and stayed at a friend's; if somebody could get into that apartment without a trace of a break-in, as unlikely as it were that they might come back, how would we ever know? It was awful. It was a little unnerving at times. Sadly, I don't think I'll ever return to Barcelona.

So what has this experience taught me?

Firstly, that taking expensive equipment on holiday, unless entirely necessary, is stupid. Sure, I had work to do, sure I needed it for my Berlin stretch of the trip, but seriously, perhaps not taking the machine that has all my life contained within it with me, is probably something I should consider for the future. A secondary device, whilst at first blush, extravagant, is also likely one way of future-proofing my emotions for the longterm; I seriously don't want to have to go through all of that again, let me tell you.

Secondly, that no matter how safe you think you are, you probably aren't. Taking our environment for granted is something we all do; seeing the best in people to a flaw is perhaps not the best move. What happened has absolutely made me check things more often: is the door locked (I checked it enough already), do I have everything I set out with, if all went badly wrong, could I get home again; it's a sad indictment on our species, but there it is unfortunately.

Thirdly, that having Berlin to look forward to following this mini-disaster was exactly what I needed. In the heat of the moment, all I wanted to do was return home and pretend like it had never happened; with some gentle nudging from loved ones and some appreciation for how idiotic an idea that was, I went to Berlin, and yet again, had a phenomenal time, met some incredible people, and despite the loss of my prized possession, got some work done nevertheless.

And finally, that getting quite so attached to inanimate objects is not a good call. I need to learn that these beautiful things we're so lucky to have are just things: they assist, they ameliorate, they open up the world to us. But they shouldn't be all-consuming. There is life beyond pixels and bits. I was living it, right up until that point. I should get from behind the screen more often.

Despite having just said that, I'm now typing this article on a new MacBook Pro. A 13" model with ForceTouch and all the modern bells and whistles. My old 15" was four years old, it was getting long in the tooth, and it was a pain to cart around with me. If anything, I've been forced to reassess my needs, and I'm more than content with this new addition to my life. All's well that ends well.

Oh, and one more thing: don't leave your passport on a plane. Jesus, that's just dumb.

A Disunited Kingdom

We were told it would be close. We were told there was nothing in it. We were told we would have another hung parliament. Clearly, predicting the future is still something of which we're not particularly capable.

With a (slim) overall majority, the Conservatives will wield power for another five years. The will of the people made it so. And yet, despite that being an utter revelation, to the Tories as much as anybody, for me, that's not the most pressing concern this country needs to face. Rather, within the next five years, despite protestations to the contrary, this country will face two questions, the answers to which could alter irrevocably the very fabric of these islands:

  1. Does Scotland remain part of the UK?
  2. Does the UK remain part of the European Union?

And for me, if the answer to either of those questions is 'no', then the future of this country is very bleak indeed.

Those that have known me for any length of time, know that 'patriotism' is not at the top of my belief system. They also know that I have supported the Tories for most of my life. So what I have just said may seem somewhat paradoxical. Believe me, it's taken some time to understand this feeling myself. But I think I can explain.

I have no allegiance to the United Kingdom, nor its values. The plight of many countries is immutably linked to the decisions, and actions, that this country has taken. I find them hard to bear, and I find their scars painful. And that's nothing, compared to the wounds of those that have been affected. But, for now, I live here, and I, like anybody else on this planet, crave a stable, secure, safe environment in which to live, one where I can fulfil my dreams, and realise my aspirations. So, despite my loathing of our past mistakes, I have to believe that our future can be brighter. And that my future, by extension, can share in that brightness.

So, you could say: 'Well what has Scotland leaving got to do with you and your future?' Or: 'What does being part of the EU do to ameliorate your prospects?' And there was a time where I could understand those views, and in some ways, support them. But after the contention of this last election, I don't think I could look myself in the eye if I continued to do so.

I believe we had the right outcome for our country. David Cameron has a proven track record of ensuring that this country can pay its way in the world. But some would argue, that to simply look at finances is to miss the egregious acts against the poor, and the social implications of such cuts. However, I would argue this: in a capitalist world, which this undeniably is, to disregard the ability to pay our way is to sentence this country to yet more cuts in the future, to yet more austerity in the future, to yet more hard times in the future. We put it right now, and we put it right for the future. Without an economy, we have nothing, and that's why, despite the difficulty that many have faced, we must continue down this path, if we are ever to stand a chance of righting the ship; we must face this burden so that future generations do not have to.

The desire to stand alone is admirable, but it isn’t intelligent.

Despite believing in Cameron's credentials, the price of power has been great. Politically, the UK is truly disunited. In Scotland, nationalists have taken all but two seats. In England and Wales, the Tories reign supreme. Labour is fading, and the Liberal Democrats are going the way of the dodo. The north-south divide has never been more opaque.

Some are calling for 'English votes for English people'. If Scotland has the right to govern itself within the union of this country, then why shouldn't England have the self-same right? And Wales? And Northern Ireland? And the allure of such a belief is almost tangible. But, I must admit, in the greatest misstep of Cameron's previous tenure, he nationalised England against Scotland, drew a line in the sand, and made the split of our country yet more possible. I believe he should be in power, but what he did to hold on to that power, well, that could be his undying legacy.

He has also called for an in-out referendum on our membership of the EU. Essentially, next year, or the year after, the people will decide whether we go it alone, or whether we stay with our European partners. Some say the very thought of such a referendum is terrifying, that to allow the people a say is to open up our country to unneeded uncertainty, and a complete meltdown of our country, were we to exit. And I don't disagree with the effects of an 'out' vote, but I do believe that to simply deny the people their say, to sweep the issue under the carpet, is to deny that the issue exists. But it does. And it isn't dissipating.

So if Cameron were the reason for the rebirth of nationalism, and if he is the arbiter of the European referendum, then surely he's the reason for both issues in the first place? Well, no. Scottish nationalism has been on the rise for decades, indeed, English nationalism likewise. In this election, Labour's stronghold in Scotland was decimated, and that has nothing to do with Cameron or the Tories. On Europe, Cameron has been extremely vocal in his belief that we should remain within a (reformed) European Union, so there's no denying that cohesiveness is inbuilt in his psyche. But, it would be naive not to grasp that both issues are linked, and that the Tories have absolutely used uncertainty on both counts, as a tool to remain in power. The price may be high, but I still believe that the price for an alternative outcome would have been yet higher.

David Cameron should never be underestimated. He is clever. He has conviction. And he can mould reality to his way of thinking. The illusion of nationalism is in the air, but with the appropriate levels of respect for Scotland's choice, and the required level of devolution that is being demanded, he'll quash that, I have no doubt. He has given the people a referendum, the illusion of choice, but Cameron will have galvanised the people against an exit well before a cross has to be put in a box; he's presided over one referendum's outcome already, he'll do it again.

So what of the future of our country? I understand the desire to go it alone. I comprehend why that may seem appealing. But division has never been a proponent of accord: conflict engenders conflict, battle engenders battle, war engenders war. The desire to stand alone is admirable, but it's not intelligent. Short-term nationalism does not make for long-term prosperity, security, or cohesiveness. This may seem crazy, entirely leftfield, but one day, the very idea of 'country', of these arbitrary lines across our maps, will cease to exist entirely. In the centuries to come, future generations will look back at our myopic vision of the globe, and laugh. In the face of continued globalisation, in the face of a stronger world, not just a stronger country, there is no place for nationalism.

We are better off together. All of us.

Shadows

As recent as the 60s, men looking for men in Manchester used to head to the shadows of the canal side. The mills of the industrial revolution that lined its banks had closed some years past, as waterways had given ground to roads. Huddled under the bridges, this was where men exposed themselves to real danger. It was a part of town to which not many cared, or dared, to venture. Back then, your proclivities were not yours and yours alone, but a matter for the police, and possibly court, should the law so desire to make an example of you; lest we forget, this was about the period in which Alan Turing had been chemically castrated for such 'homosexual acts'. It was a world a million miles apart from what the UK is striving so articulately to be today. And it's a world yet further from what Manchester has already become.

As the decades passed, Canal Street became a hub for gay men and women. The oddment of watering holes that had once stood over the canal side became many, and soon it was no longer necessary to dart in the dead of night from one to the other, your life literally on the line. It had transformed into a place of solace, of comfort, of acceptance, of geniality, of celebration, of enjoyment. It was a place where you could be who you felt you were without fear of recrimination. Canal Street was vital.

Today, it wouldn't be too far a stretch to claim that Manchester is up there with the most accepting cities in the UK. Not just for gay people, but generally; these few cities have rich heritages that scrub back many, many decades, and it shows quite clearly in the psyche of today's populaces. It may still not be the norm for two guys to walk down a street hand-in-hand, but that's more an overhang of the past rather than an indictment of people's attitudes; gay people have not felt comfortable doing such a thing for so long, it's simply not a thing many would think to do. Nobody would bat an eyelid if they did though.

Sure, Manchester is not perfect. It's not some Mecca for homosexuality, as much as the 90s 'Gaychester' moniker might have had you believe. But it's a damned sight better than most, and it's one of only a handful of places on the planet I've lived, or visited, where I've felt entirely like this was home. It's unsurprising then, that it gets continued coverage to this end.

Nowadays though, it's not the narrow-mindedness, shortsightedness, or non-empathetic nature of onlookers, that attempts to arrest this incredible progression. Gay people are now found the city over. Heading out on a Saturday night is not a case of autopiloting yourself to Canal Street, god forbid; anywhere and everywhere is more or less fair game.

You see, the biggest problem these days, is Canal Street itself.

Recently, on Russell T Davis's latest drama, Cucumber, one of the lead actors is quoted as saying something along the lines of: 'Canal Street isn't what it used to be. Everybody goes to the Northern Quarter these days.' And it's not wrong. The Northern Quarter, Manchester's oh-so-very-hipster locale, is the destination to be. It grows seemingly everyday with new eateries and bars and clubs and whatnot, and no matter who you are, it seems like that's where you end up. It's incredible. And I'm hardly the only one who thinks that.

The fact that Cucumber gives over more of its screen time to the Northern Quarter than Canal Street, says everything. Nearly twenty years ago, Russell T Davis himself filmed his seminal series, Queer As Folk, a show that more or less played out its entire story on Canal Street. Art then, really does imitate life.

But in some ways I can’t help thinking: thank god for that.

Canal Street of times past, once the epicentre of gay social culture, has steadily become somewhat of a joke. Go anywhere near it these days, and once you've fought your way through the tribes of hen parties, lager louts, and drunks taking a dump in the canal, what's left is simply unremarkable, a street indistinguishable in the miasma of indistinguishable streets. Cheap drinks, cheap music, and cheap entertainment. No amount of historical import can survive such a reality.

But in some ways, I can't help thinking: thank god for that.

Don't get me wrong, I acknowledge what that street did for gay people over the years. It was needed. It was required. It was imperative. I went there myself, due in part, to what I believed it could afford me. But now, I can't help thinking that all segregation does these days, is segregate. And by stark contrast to its roots, its original purpose, its entire reason for conception; now that street is simply a peculiarity of the city we could well do without.

To this day, there are bars on Canal Street that operate a 'men only' policy. If you're a woman, you're refused entry, and if by some miracle you're admitted, you're refused a drink, even if you're with a man. Others yet claim to be 'members only' establishments. What they say is that if your face isn't known, then you may be refused entry. What it actually means is that if the bouncers don't think you look 'gay enough', they have the right to turn you away.

The fact that these practices exist, is deplorable, and denegrates the entire premise on which that place was built. Flip it on its head: visualise 'straight bars' doing that. In fact, contemplate the notion of a 'straight bar' at all. Can you imagine what would happen? What people would say? What angst that would cause? We didn't strive all this time to simply impose the same prejudices that have for so long prejudiced us; that wasn't the point; that wasn't the aim; this isn't an eye for an eye. And yet on that street, it happens every Saturday night.

Maybe I'm wrong. I'm 30 now, I have an established group of friends, I'm 'out', and I have nothing to hide. So perhaps I'm just the wrong demographic. Maybe I'm missing the point, because the point isn't important to me anymore. Or perhaps I'm lucky, and the acceptance I enjoy in 2015 is not the same experience for everybody else.

Of course all of the above applies. Of course, there are still people that live in fear, that don't have it good. But what I'm entirely convinced of, is that to continue down this street, is a mistake. And the fact that gay people have moved on, and that establishment after establishment on Canal Street finds itself either with a shrinking clientele, or indeed closed, says that I'm not missing the point by much.

One thing is for certain: we shouldn't be hiding in the shadows anymore. The shadows are no longer the respite they once were. Nowadays, it's the shadows that are the problem.

Journey

This weekend I am meeting with a local creative agency to share concepts and designs for the launch of Umlaut. It marks a year and a half of hard slog, intense self-effacing pessimism, and multiple occasions where I've been all but certain I was going to admit defeat on the entire premise of earning my keep entirely at my own volition.

To say it hasn't been easy is to significantly underestimate the intensity of what I have felt at times. It's the hardest work I've ever done in my life. And the most rewarding.

Umlaut won't launch for another few months yet. But when it does, I'll be the proudest father on the planet. Having children is not a decision taken lightly, and securing their ongoing happiness, healthiness, and prosperity, is likewise a challenge, of priorities and practicalities. I get the feeling working for myself is going to be no different.

Apart from the smallest of hints as to what Umlaut is going to be, I've kept the entire thing under wraps all this time. Purposefully not updating the website, purposefully not updating Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, and purposefully disappearing for many, many months; Umlaut's impetus to be on this earth has been communicated to but a very few individuals, none of which have any clue what the thing is, as it's completely dissimilar to what I intimated it would be all those moons ago.

I am incredibly proud though. And I am incredibly excited to reveal, and to share, and to let you judge it for yourself. And given the journey from inception to right this very second, what once felt like a monumental struggle, now has an almost calming inevitability about it.

And very, very soon, what was once a void of almost complete silence, won't be quiet any longer.

2014

2014 has been a tale of two halves. One half was incredibly positive: I set up my own company, the offline part of which has been trading officially for one month now. I couldn't be prouder. And Umlaut, the online part, will up and running in the early part of 2015. The other half was devastating, and came with a huge amount of personal cost. In 2015 I can only hope that there's more of the former and less, but perferably none, of the latter.

And that's all there is to say, really. Here we go again.

Me

It was cold. Exhalation steamed up my visor. For ten seconds or so, the road in front of me disappeared, slowly coming back into view as the vapour evaporated. Not that it would have made much difference; the tears that had been smarting my eyes for the past forty-five minutes were rendering me visionless nonetheless.

It was cold. My hands wrapped in a paltry excuse for gloves were barely controlling the handle bars. At least the engine was keeping my legs warm; versus the sleet that was battering me seemingly from all angles however, I had half a mind to tell it it was fighting a losing battle.

It was cold. I had no idea where I was driving, I hadn't thought that far ahead. I hadn't really thought at all. Which was why I was careering through the driving snow on a two-bit moped, freezing to death, wondering what the hell I thought I was playing at. My visor had fogged over again. A screeching filled my ears. The handle bars were not responding to my commands. Before I could perform any form of evasive manoeuvres, my balance had overshot and I was flung over the bars like a stone being released from a slingshot.

***

When I found out about the Internet, I immediately wanted to be a part of it. Hell, I had no idea what that meant, but I sure wanted to know more. Even in the early days, the very notion of being able to converse with somebody on the other side of the world, jeez, that was truly magical.

One of the byproducts of chatting this way that had been totally unforeseen to me however, was the ability to obscure who you were. Never before but on the Internet has the ability to shed yourself of you, and reinvent yourself as him, been so incidental to achieve. The digital flattening of our social hierarchy obfuscates identity yet further by allowing you to play at the same level as the big guns. You can be anybody. Say anything. Do almost whatever you like.

I know a fair few people from the Internet these days, and though I converse with them everyday of my life, can I categorically, unambiguously, comprehensibly say, that I know who any of these people are? If they, like me, have been hiding their real self all this time, who's to say the people I thought I were speaking to are really them at all?

Since the very beginning of my time in this online world I've come to love so much, I've lied, I've connived, and I've sidestepped. I've told half-truths, or no truth. I've misguided, and I've purposefully, fallaciously, said and done things that if I were to say or do those self-same things in the real world, my friends and family would wonder, quite reasonably, if I'd lost my mind.

I've never thought to talk about it before, because quite frankly, it's not a part of me that I consciously contemplate all that often. But, it seems like, what with a few of my closest Twitter friends peeling back the veneer of late, and with Tim's recent announcement: now is as good a time as ever.

You see, for the longest time, I've had it in my head that if I come out with it, I won't anymore be that guy who is starting his own online company, or that guy who posts more pictures to Instagram than he really should, or that guy who recently bought the iPhone Surfboard, no, what I fear most of all is all of that will be washed away, and instead, I'll be that gay guy that's starting that thing, or the one with all the gay pictures of himself on Instagram, or you know the one I'm talking about, that guy who bought the iPhone 6+. The gay one. And that's the last thing I want: Marked. Branded. Put in a box.

A few people online know already. And the thing is, that asinine internal monologue of mine that has been eating me up ever since I started lying in this way, has never manifested itself with any of those few people that know. It seems like they couldn't care less, and my worries about what might happen, were all for nought.

But that doesn't rescind the fact that professing my sexuality to the world at large isn't difficult. Jesus, it is. Telling the odd person here and there is not the same as penning it in black and white, evermore available to anybody who may want to know. This article has been written, deleted, rewritten, and sworn at, more than anything else I've published in my life; you just never know once the cat is out of the bag how people are going to react, so I've come to think, I suppose, that if you don't provide the opportunity for reaction in the first place, then that's the easiest route, right?

Wrong.

It might be easy. But it's not right. Not any longer. This is who I am, and over there, in OfflineWorld, there are no lies or deception. Everybody knows. So here in Internetland, I don't want to have to lie about who I really am either.

The thing is, I am incredibly happy to be who I am. Being gay is a part of me that I like. Don't get me wrong, there's parts of me I wish I could change, but being gay isn't one of them. I like it. I love it. I cherish it everyday. It colours my life, it informs everything that I do, it makes me who I am. It has been a more-than-occasionally torrid road to get to this point, and I have no doubt that's coloured my perception of how people might react online if I told them, but now that I'm at this point in my life, I feel more comfortable in my own skin than I've ever done before. And I wouldn't change it for the world, even if I could.

***

It was stupid. The handle bars were mangled. The engine was leaking oil. I was miles away from anywhere. I tried to start her up, but she was having none of it. The cold was leaking in through the crack in my visor. I was going to have to push her.

It was idiotic. Now I really was crying. When I'd written that note and left it on mum's bedside table, the only thing I wanted to do was get as far away from her as I possibly could. She was going to be mad. She was going to scream. She wasn't going to understand. Now, as the snow continued to freeze me from the outside in, there was only one person that I wanted.

It was mindless. As I went to put the key in the front door, my hand was trembling. Whether from the cold or the inevitability of the situation before me, I couldn't tell. But nobody was home. Christ, what had I done? Hours later, my bedroom door swung open, and I could hear sobbing. I pretended to be asleep. I was braced for impact. When mum put her arm around me I was stunned. What had just happened? When she grabbed hold of me and hauled me towards her, embracing me and telling me time and time again that she loved me, I realised exactly what had happened: I'd been a total dick.

Old habits die hard. Here I am again, hiding my full self from you, writing another note of confession. But in doing so, I hope you can look past the lies. Mum told me that night that she'd always known I was gay, she was just waiting for me to tell her in my own good time. Maybe you already knew too, or maybe that's an intuition only mother's carry, who knows. But now the two halves of my self have been sewn back together, online and offline one and the same for the first time ever, I feel like finally, I can just get on with being me.

Time to get back to creating that company I keep harping on about. Time to post another photo to Instagram. Time to wax lyrical about the greatest phone I ever owned. And so the world keeps spinning.

Invasion

Back at the beginning of this year, high talk centred on a potentially new category of personal computer: wearables. One loose comment from an Apple official galvanised more or less every major player bar Apple itself to immediately roll out their wares. Fast-forward to September and that circle is complete.

At the time, I was fairly derrogatory towards this new category. My post centred on two main premises: purpose and personalisation. Firstly, I was concerned that notifications would be too much for the average human to bear, constantly bothering you, averting your attention, ruining your life. And secondly, I argued that technology companies were unable to change their ways enough to move from uniformity of product to personalised, wearable, fashion.

On the latter, I was fairly wrong [1].

I've been following Apple for quite some time now; I should have known better that were any technology company to breakthrough at any fundamental level into the fashion industry, then it would be this one. As soon as Marc Newson entered stage left, I knew my comments were outdated.

On the former however, I'm more right than I could ever have known.

Notifications are the bane of modern life. Be it an email, a reminder, a tweet; notifications bombard our lives at a rate that is entirely unfathomable to me. When I'm sat in front of my Mac and I don't respond immediately to a notification, every device in the house rings out, shaking the walls, petrifying the cat, disturbing my inner peace. In Manchester we have many canals, and alongside those canals are very narrow, pedestrian pavements. Many times I can be walking with my earbuds in, music up, totally oblivious to the world around me. Until the guy on the bike who has been hurtling along at some indecent speed, given his surroundings, has to wrench on the brakes, and starts clinging and clanging his bell, shouting maledictions at me, and all but pushing me in the disease-infested drink. For me, that is what notifications are: obstruction, obscenity, and abomination.

My aversion has become so intense, I've resolved to switching on permanently Do Not Disturb on every device bar my phone. And even then, most of the time, it's on silent, without vibration. Fearing the worst, that it may just be me losing the plot, over-exaggerating, or coalescing some new brand of OCD, I turned to Twitter to validate my state of mind: turns out, from conversations of late, I'm far from alone.

It’s amazing what you can do from your wrist.
— Tim Cook

So here we are with Apple Watch, the latest and greatest offering from Apple since sliced bread [2]. Apparently, it's going to revolutionise our world. I mean, taking my phone out of my pocket and touching my finger to the Home button was incredibly difficult and time-consuming. What I needed was a device that costs the same as a flight to the other side of the world to solve this problem for me. In the words of Tim, on stage: "It's amazing what you can do from your wrist." But I digress.

Apple Watch takes notifications to another level. Not only can you receive all the guff you were already drowning under, but now you can tap somebody to get their attention, and send crude images of fish, flowers, or penises, to your closest and most dearest family and friends.

Let me say right now: the idea of Apple Watch tapping my wrist is tantamount to Chinese water torture. All this talk of haptic feedback has raddled our brains. I did it myself; I sat watching the keynote in total awe. "Ooos" and "whoas" and saliva dribbling down my face were all in play, until afterwards, when Tim's adopted reality-distortion field [3] finally wore away and I saw the real world for what it actually is. And at that point I hid under the bed in total silence, hoping the lambs would stop screaming.

In seriousness for a moment, this invasion on our lives is a concern I hold deeply. I have no doubt in my mind that this is another device that will operate Do Not Disturb functionality, but use of such a feature seems ludicrous in a device where one of its primary functions is to alert you, more than any other device we've owned up until this point. If we revert to my real world scenario sat in front of the Mac, when the bells and whistles of all my other Apple devices reap out like Westminster Abbey every two minutes anyway, who cares whether I'm receiving discreet tapping on my wrist or not? Sure, I get it may have a use on the bus or the train or at a restaurant when you're eating with a table full of people, and the last thing you want is your phone beeping and popping and carrying on, but seriously, if you're in any of those situations and the urge to respond is just too great, how hard is it to take out your phone? And let's be honest, replying in any meaningful way is going to require a visit to your phone screen nonetheless, so why not just use the phone from the start?

Of course, I'm acutely aware that this is not the only use case for this technology, indeed Tim, in a style which was intensely reminiscent of, and a heartwarming homage to, Steve's 2007 launch of iPhone, demarked three main use cases for this device. And actually, the other two I can totally entertain. But unfortunately, I stand by what I said in January: think about all the notifications you currently receive, and then think about how many of those you actually need. Until those two numbers are anywhere close to each other, this channel of delivery is not for me.

I look on eagerly to 2.0, when I believe the platform will have matured somewhat, and particularly the health benefits of this category will really be coming alive. Maybe then, as I did with iPad, I'll jump onboard. But for now, you can keep your tapping, you really can.


[1] - And by 'fairly', I mean 'entirely'.

[2] - I'm pretty certain they're using that line somewhere on apple.com. Has to be better than 'bigger than bigger'...

[3] - Steve will never be surmounted on his ability to warp reality, but lordy lord has Tim been taking lessons.

So far

On 9 September, it all kicks off again. With the inevitable release of new products almost guaranteed, fanboys; I presume you can have fangirls, fanpeople, fan-…anyway, enough… As I was saying, fans the world over will be digging deep into their pockets, smashing open their piggybanks, and wetting their beds for weeks when sparkly new devices grace the world stage for the very first time.

I'm excited this year, it has to be said. A larger iPhone appeals to me [1]. (For a second time, we'll conveniently forget Steve Jobs's pre-iPhone 5 adage on how the iPhone in its current form factor is the perfectly-sized phone.) More than anything though, I look forward to what Jony Ive has managed to achieve. It's a pure joy when the new iPhone is revealed in all its glory, and immediately I'm trying to work out how he did that, what he made it from, and what effects his cues will have on design the world over.

So, exciting times ahead.

Every year though, just before both WWDC and the autumn keynote ('fall keynote' for you lovely people across the water, I guess), I rewatch the prior keynote, firstly to put me in the mood for what is to come, but more importantly, to remind myself of what went before.

Lost in the frenetics of all our lives, is the 2014 WWDC bumper edition, perhaps the most accomplished post-Jobs keynote to date. And it struck me, rewatching it yesterday evening, that we are in grave, grave danger of forgetting just how colossal that keynote actually was. Presentationally sure, but release-wise: it was simply breath-taking.

How I have the nerve to sum up this feat of ingenuity in just one paragraph is beyond me.

So yesterday, there I am with my feet up, popcorn flowing, enough thin Coke to sink a ship [2], and I was blown away by the magnitude of what was included; it's only when you view again as Craig Federighi reels off new feature after new feature after new API after new programming language after, after, after, after, that suddenly, you think: how the hell did Apple find the time for all of that new stuff?

Sure, I'm not blind to the fact that elements such as the new programming language, Swift, had been in the tank for years, but even so, to bring everything together at exactly the right time, and package it in a way that was understandable to the masses; you have to take off your hat to whomever was pinning all of that together.

Not only did we have a rewrite of an entire programming language, we had a redesign of an entire operating system. We had features that bring integration between iOS and OS X closer and closer and closer. We had little, but significant, details that will make working with iOS devices so much more inviting. And we had over 4000 brand new APIs that will permit developers to push the envelope of what has been possible further than ever before. How I have the nerve to sum up this feat of ingenuity in just one paragraph is beyond me.

So, on 9 September, when you're sitting down in front of your Apple TV, or watching avidly on the tube on your iPhone, or when you and your coworkers have surrounded the closest office Mac and are glued to that screen, just remember: this was all possible because of what happened before it, and what happened before it was huge, in anybody's book.


[1] - There is a caveat: if the new form factor equates to additional real estate, fine. It it's simply the old screen magnified to fit the form factor, then I'm sticking where I am.

[2] - This is not true. It was me and the cat. I don't even like Coke, thin or otherwise [3].

[3] - 'Thin Coke' = Diet Coke. 'Fat Coke' = that stuff that degreases toilets.

Diversity

Earlier this week, Apple released its latest diversity statement, and straight off the bat, Tim highlighted the fact that he isn't satisfied with what the numbers show: primarily that Apple is not as diverse as he would like, or more correctly, if the mantra that 'inclusion inspires innovation' is more than just a clever way of using a sentence in which all three words prefix with 'in-', then more diversity must find its way into the halls of Apple for 'innovation' to blossom yet further.

Apple now employs 98,000 individuals [1]; this is not a small organisation by any estimation. Equally, Microsoft employs 128,000 [2], ExxonMobil 75,000 [3], and HSBC some 263,000 [4]. And what tends to happen when companies reach these meteoric employee counts is they begin to fret the minutiae of what the public thinks of them. And one of the ways this obsession manifests itself is through the publication of a 'diversity and inclusion' statement.

Microsoft provides a video that discusses what you envisage when you think of Africa: Poverty. Desperation. Microsoft changing the continent. HSBC provides an infographic that champions the fact that more than half its workforce is women. Exxon provides some gobbledegook that starts: "Regarding the importance of leveraging employee networks..." after which point I gave up trying to understand. And Apple, well Apple comes out and says very candidly that where it is right now is not where it wants to be.

In essence, all of these companies are communicating to the public that diversity is a priority. And so it should be: to argue that homogeny is a good thing is to argue that flying to the Moon is without risk. And yet, what Apple says it is going to do strikes me as entirely the wrong tack.

Tim states: "We've been working hard for quite some time to improve [diversity]. We are making progress, and we’re committed to being as innovative in advancing diversity as we are in developing our products." And this statement could be found, in differing phraseology, on the diversity and inclusion pages of all the companies I've discussed thus far. And indeed, many more.

But these words strike me as shortsighted, and ultimately, damaging. What Tim has admitted is that the statistics are not where he wants them to be, therefore his mission is to somehow change them. And that's my problem: when did intervention ever work?

The fact is, Apple is currently top heavy with straight white men. This is not a situation that has happened quickly, but one that has developed over the lifetime of the company. It is therefore assumed that should the current employment practices continue, straight white men will prevail at Apple. That it to say, the current employment practices have to change in order to attract people from other backgrounds; more of the same garners more of the same.

Imagine then, the situation: a straight white man applies for a job at ABC Ltd. A lesbian black woman also applies. Throughout the interview process, the man demonstrates that he is more capable at this particular role than the woman. The woman gets the job.

That is the issue. That is the problem. That is not the answer.

These things take time. They take patience. And they take dedication.

And yet, you see it everywhere. The British government recently reshuffled the cabinet, with David Cameron placing more women into prominent roles than he has ever done before. Tick. Huge tick. But, in order to turn on a ninepence like this, in order for his outlook to change in the course of just one cabinet reshuffle, something at the heart of his recruitment strategy must have altered. And if that alteration was only brought about because he believed he needed to satisfy a quota, or to provide the public with an assurance that he is a man that believes in diversity, then that is as asinine, if not worse, than the status quo.

Having people in your organisation from different backgrounds, with different religions, viewpoints, opinions, sexualities, colours, creeds, cultures; all of that leads to a deeper and richer framework on which you can build your success. But to force that change because of an obsession with what the public may think of you, is entirely the wrong way to go about making that change. And to disregard certain ethnic groups in order to favour others is not just wrong ethically and morally, it's also illegal in most of the world. So, to favour the straight white man is wrong. But to disfavour the straight white man is also wrong.

And that is why the only way to create a more diverse workforce, is to allow that to happen organically over the course of time. Sure, I'm not naive enough to think that all companies have policies that permit every diversity an equal footing, it's clear they don't, which is why they write these statements in the first place. But intervention, force, or blatant manufacturing of the outcome is not the answer. To do so undoubtedly at some point will result in the employment of somebody who is less suited to that position than another. And fundamentally, that is a problem for any company: diversity should never trump ability. Ability should always trump everything else, otherwise, where does that leave your company?

Equally however, I admit this is not an easy situation to overcome. These things take time. They take patience. And they take dedication.

Large companies believe that the public will think worse of them if they don't act immediately. And that's where these U-turns, quick changes in policy, or frantic action to prove and commit to diversity come into play. And sure, they're right: the public does not think highly of homogenous companies.

But the question should really be: if you're 'deeply dedicated to diversity', why did you let this situation manifest itself in the first place? [5]


[1] Diversity [2] Facts About Microsoft [3] Number of employees at ExxonMobil [4] About HSBC [5] Some people call this practice 'positive discrimation'. I don't: there is nothing positive about discrimation, no matter what form it takes.

Exaggerated

When a car piles into the one you're sat in, you know about it. Shards of glass. Metal where metal shouldn't be. Legs in very peculiar angles. Blackouts. Whiteouts. Ringing in your ears. Jelly beans all over the floor.

The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated. Nearly not so, but so all the same. If fate wants rid of me, it's gonna take more than that.

Numerical

Many, many moons ago, I dabbled in iOS development. At the time, everybody seemed to be jumping on, but, holding me back was not only my fears that it would just be a passing fad (how wrong I was), but I also found the whole process nightmarishly difficult. I'd approached it all wrong, at the time not understanding the concepts of object-oriented programming, thinking I could just jump in and somehow it would all fall into place, and, like a house of cards, eventually it all came crashing down.

Since then, I've watched with intrigue as numerous friends have entered this shiny land of the App Store, and today, it was the turn of one such friend: Andrew J Clark.

Most of you will know him from The Menu Bar, but I first 'met' Andrew when he was putting together his precursor to TMB: I Like This... Podcast. I now recall a very in depth discussion about the technicalities of podcasting, mic technique, and goodness knows what else. But it wasn't any of that which stayed with me, in fact I'd forgotten that conversation had happened at all until right this moment; what did stick with me however was his innate confidence and an instinctive tenacity that was immediately compelling. Fast-forward to today, and that particular cocktail of talent and creativity comes to us again, this time in the shape of Numerical.

Should calculators look delicious?

Should calculators look delicious?

"You mean I read all that for a review on another calculator app?"

Well yes, actually, you did. You see, I imagine it's pretty easy to pass off a calculator app as somewhat inferior to 'real iOS development', whatever that means. The staple of iOS programming textbooks the world over, it is likely the first app that many have pieced together, bashing out example code without really understanding what they do, what all those square braces are for, or quite why you need at least fifty lines of code to add 2 and 2 together (sorry kids, that's just Objective C for you). It's at this point, like me, that many reevaluate the way they're going to make their fortune, and burn the textbook in their backyard for fear that it might crawl into bed one night and strangle them in their sleep. However others don't heed the warnings and release the dirge they created anyway, thus the App Store is bloated with a billion fakealators you wouldn't trust to spell 'boobies', let alone use to actually add numbers together.

So when Andrew asked me to beta test his first iOS app, it was with a modicum of trepidation that I discovered he actually wanted to release his calculator... Was I right to be wary?

First impressions

Launching Numerical for the first time reveals the app's rather beautiful icon centre-stage, a nod to what is to come, followed by a fade to the main window of the app itself. As you'd expect from a calculator app, it makes use of every pixel on the screen, with the top quarter given over to output and the bottom three quarters, there or thereabouts, reserved for input, and interestingly, proportionally identical to iOS's Calculator. Helvetica Neue Ultra Light is the typeface of choice, again, in sync with Apple.

I know which looks more akin to iOS7 to me.

I know which looks more akin to iOS7 to me.

But there the similarities end.

Immediately noticeable is not the functions of the calculator, but the stunning colour scheme Andrew has chosen. Awash with a gorgeous gradient (I'd hazard a very bad guess at #fc5c41 through #de3fa0), it helps not only to attract a certain intrigue to the app (should calculator apps look delicious?), but also to visually separate both input and output; it's immediately clear what is where. Gradients came and went in the early 2000s when back-bedroom Photoshoppers plastered everything imaginable in the damned things, yet Apple, with its penchant for revitalising times past and making them cool again, has made a statement with eye-popping gradients in iOS7 and so here, I can see the appeal immediately. In fact, in comparison to Numerical, you suddenly realise how out of place Apple's own offering actually looks, a relic of a time past itself, when compared with the zing and pop throughout the rest of the OS.

Intuitively appreciative of the user

Well, it adds things up, which is a good start, I guess.

On first launch, the output display is filled with a mini-tutorial, that gives you insight into the gestures that can be employed to both navigate through the app as well as some neat touches such as swiping down to start a new equation with the currently displayed answer and swiping up to save the entire equation to a history page. It's touches like these that demonstrate a thoughtful approach to how calculators currently work, and their foibles. Everyday I type out an equation, write down the answer, clear the memory, and then type out a new equation with that answer. With Numerical, all of that nonsense is no more.

And it's around that point it hits you that Andrew has quite frankly lost his mind.

You see, I've never been good at maths (we spell it with an 's' here in the UK; god knows why, ask the Queen). That said, I like to think that I have at least a basic understanding of how an equation works. At least the last time I checked, what happens on one side of an equation has to be equally matched with what happens on the other. So yes, contrary to popular belief, 2 + 2 will equal 4 and 3 - 3 will equal, err...

Hmm...

Anyway, the point is this: in Numerical, there is no ability to type in an equal sign and round out the equation. It simply doesn't exist (believe me, I checked). And rather than calling out the insanity of its creator as I so unashamedly just did, that's actually the genius of this app: Andrew has eradicated redundancy, removed complication, and put simply, thought about the user. Sure, an equation has to be able to equal, but why should the user have to worry about that? It is the part of an equation that must happen in every instance, so why can't the app take care of that repetitive burden?

Numerical does just that. Add two numbers together, and by the power of witchcraft, the answer appears up top. Plus, take the equals sign out of the equation (see what I did there?) and you suddenly have room for keys that would normally be left out, or otherwise relegated to a different view.

It’s the small things.

But aspects of this app's intrinsic usability don't stop there. Dependant on the part of the equation you're at, certain keys will grey out, visually cueing you for what you need to input next. Just tapped an operator? They grey out. Just tapped an opening parenthesis? Well duh, the closed one isn't needed yet. Just hit the decimal point? Come on, what kind of idiot types two points in succession?

One thing infuriates me about traditional calculators: unless you spend more on a scientific version that is both cumbersome and, outside a nuclear test-site, frankly unneeded, you have no idea what you've already pressed. Make one mistake, and it's game over and you must start over. With Numerical, in one iPhone-sized display, you have both answers and equations displayed prominently, one above another, seemingly without any sacrifice in usability or legibility. For me, a guy with fat fingers and a terrible memory, who should probably wear glasses, this feature is a winner.

Packaged with the main view of the app is a secondary window (swipe from the left edge) that lists all your previously completed equations. Traditionally of course, your Casio would have room for one answer in memory, but it had no way of storing how that number was reached: again, Numerical comes to the rescue. It's the small things.

With every up...

So there's a but coming, right? Well, yes and no: none of this is major.

First impressions count. Everybody remembers the intro videos from their Macs of old. Ken Segall once talked eloquently about how much time, money, and effort, Apple spent on getting those very few seconds absolutely perfect, and, when you compare the duration of those videos to the total usage time you'll get out of your Mac, you can see right there, exactly what Apple thinks is important, and why their products have the appeal that they do. I'm not saying Numerical should have a million-dollar video to talk you through the features of a calculator app, absolutely not, but it does seem like the tutorial is perhaps unfinished business. It's minor, but compared with the elegance of the rest of the app, it does seem a little out-of-place. Oh and a thing only a language student such as myself would say: why are 'Left', 'Right', 'Up', 'Down' and 'History Page' capitalised mid-sentence? I know, I'm splitting hairs.

Secondly, to sounds. I'll state upfront, I've never been a fan. I turn off key clicks on every device I own, if an app has an option to silence sounds, I'll take it, and if a website employs any aural output, big or small, I'll click away. I hate the shutter sound when you press the power button on your iPhone, the swoosh when you send email from Mail, and that interminable system sound when you power on your Mac. To date, only Tweetbot is the exception to that rule. I have no idea why its sounds seem to resonate with me when others don't, but it seems like it will stay that way. It's not that the sounds in Numerical are offensive, they're just not for me, and, with no ability to turn them off from within the app, the only response is to silence my phone, which is not a solution that fits every scenario. I can understand that aural feedback may be desired, or even required, but with a display that gives you all the insight into key presses that you need, I do wonder if it's a step too far. (Of course I'm acutely aware that I entirely railroad accessibility by making this point, but even then, there's better ways to point user's in the right direction.)

And finally, to Helvetica. Within this review, I've already stated that Andrew has accented the design cues of iOS7 to his advantage with this app, and here I am using the exact same argument against him in the use of iOS7's system font. Well, yes and no. With the gradient, Andrew took it from one section of iOS7 (system apps) and applied it in a different situation (within the app itself). That I like. It calls out the aesthetic and uses it in new and unanticipated ways. With Helvetica however, and especially with Helvetica Neue Ultra Light, it just seems a bit, well, 'samey'. Don't get me wrong, there are some great touches here: Andrew took the time to replace Ultra Light's standard comma and period with much more, visually distinguished variants (a trick that Apple also employs in Calculator itself), however as much as I am an ardent fan of Helvetica, it is just...Helvetica.

A calculator without equal

So, adding it all up (even I winced at that one), it's clear that Numerical is head and shoulders above what the App Store already has to offer. Every element of design, in how it looks, and how it works, has been carefully considered, and there is a plethora of intuitive touches that make using the app so simple and so joyful.

Andrew has clearly thought out the schema of standard calculators and ameliorated current functionality with a superset of design elements that come straight from the heart of somebody who understands modern UI/UX principles, so much so that Numerical features proudly on my first screen of apps and will be replacing the system calculator for all tasks from this point forward.

Sure, there could be (tiny, incy-wincy) improvements, and from a 2.0 maybe everything from more scientific functionality through to variations on colour schemes could be options, but hell, what do I know? This is after all Andrew's first app; all you've got to do is look at Numerical and you see into the mind of somebody who 'gets it'.

And of course, there's at least a smidgen of envy in that he persevered when I did not. Goddamn clever-arsed, Australian, podcasting, iOS developing, s...

Numerical is available now in the App Store for £1.99.