A Marathon

The reason for all this running—or at least for running such long distances at a time—is that I’ve entered a marathon.

It’s the inaugural Marathon of the North in Sunderland on the 5th of May. Although I’ve lived in London for years, I come from Durham and I’m much looking forward to a run in Sunderland with a route having a nice mixture of coastal and city centre roads.

Informed readers might note that I’ve just turned 40. Running my first marathon a month after my 40th birthday looks like a proper mid-life crisis activity. There’s certainly something in the mid-life bit, though hopefully not the crisis one. I’d like to have run a marathon, and I have the creeping feeling that if I don’t get around to it now I probably won’t ever, because I’m not naturally the sort of fellow who goes in for difficult errands.

At the moment I’m not planning to enter any more at this distance. Taking three hours at a time for a practice run is just too difficult to arrange. I certainly intend to keep running at shorter distances, though, and I’ll be in both the Great North Run this autumn and the 2013 Bath Half marathon—races about which I have a feeling of goodwill and lightness that can probably only be had from the knowledge that the marathon will by then be months behind me.

My marathon entry isn’t dependent on sponsorship, but I would like to raise money for Shelter and I have a JustGiving page for anyone who would like to sponsor me.

“Papermill” and paying for apps

Ryan Bateman writes an interesting piece about Papermill, an Android client for the Instapaper offline web-page reading service (via Daring Fireball).

What makes it so fascinating is the inclusion of actual numbers for both sales figures and (estimated) time spent on development. The results look rather depressing for any developer who likes the idea of providing a straightforward product and charging a reasonable price, rather than using backhanded mechanisms such as in-app sales or advertising.

One subjective point, though: I had never heard of this application, and at $4 it’s the sort of thing I might well pay for myself (as someone who does pay for Android apps).

But:

To get started all you need is an Android 2.2+ device and an Instapaper subscription account. A subscription account costs $1 a month and allows you to use third-party applications (such as Papermill) with your Instapaper account.

So to evaluate Papermill, you not only have to pay for the app, but also go and set up a subscription payment for Instapaper, which is a separate service from a different provider. And Google give you 15 minutes to get a refund if this combination doesn’t work out. (I suppose at least you can get a refund.)

I’m not really surprised that few people actually get around to doing this, no matter how little the sums involved. I think perhaps commentators are making the mistake of assuming most people have already used Instapaper.

Meanwhile in his linking article, John Gruber writes

Apple may never release a new non-high-end phone, but they do have mid-range and low-end smartphone models: the iPhone 4 and 3GS.

The 3GS costs £319 off-contract: that’s about three times what I would think of as a low-end smartphone.

Japan

I’ve just come back from a conference in Kyoto.

I’ve never been to Japan before, so although this was a very brief visit—the four-day conference wasn’t quite enough to get over the jet lag—it was always going to be an interesting one.

Inevitably my perception was coloured by comparison with Taiwan, a place I’ve been to a few times which has seen a certain amount of Japanese influence for obvious historical reasons.

A few things that struck me:

  • It’s quiet. Perhaps this is just Kyoto, but I was surprised by the difference between the harsh door chimes of 7-11 and Circle-K shops in Taiwan, the general outdoor noise, the brash and badly-transcribed classical tunes played by rubbish trucks there, and the quiet door chimes of the same places in Japan, the cheeping road crossings, and surprisingly pleasant tunes on the Metro lines.
  • Similarly, there are hardly any smells. Even the fish stalls on the covered market in central Kyoto don’t smell and there seemed to be few pungent restaurant or snack foods. This in particular makes the place feel unexpectedly local, as if you’d just travelled to another city down the road rather than going half way around the world.
  • Kyoto has a terrific location—a flat valley plain surrounded on three sides by mountains. It has a fairly big city feel (and a greater population than any in the UK except London) but it’s straightforward to get around, there are several small rivers and watercourses dividing it up, and it’s easy to get up into the forested mountains in almost any direction.
  • I couldn’t remember any Japanese. I learned some about a decade ago and could even read a bit but, never putting it to use, I forgot it all again. I had imagined that with a bit of prompting, some of it might come back—but no, not at all. (I wonder how many other things I knew ten years ago I would be completely unable to recall now.)
  • A bit of Chinese was useful though. Not the spoken language (they have nothing in common) but I can recall enough written characters to give a sense of pleasant familiarity to things like street signs. It’s rather nice to be able to see that the Japanese street name you don’t recognise simply means “big west road”. Of course, this probably hinders my remembering any Japanese—when I see 出口 and read it as chukou, my brain isn’t giving itself much chance to remember deguchi.
  • Japanese crispy mackerel skeletons are right up there with pork scratchings as the finest pub foods imaginable.
  • Given the clean and healthy air of the place generally, it seems surprising that you’re allowed to smoke in many cafes and restaurants. Some of my colleagues were absolutely delighted by this.
  • I don’t cope with jet lag as well as I used to, or else my recollection from previous trips to Asia or Australia is flawed—either way, it makes me feel rather old. Though waking up irrevocably at 4am with your body telling you you’ve just had a quick siesta does give you a good opportunity to go for an early-morning run, which is a joy in a place like Kyoto. It’s just a pity about the consequences for the rest of the day.