There is a term in the world of mysterious Fortean events to describe the sort of story that starts with “Apparently…” and is about some paranormal event witnessed by a “Friend of a Friend” hence they are called “foaftales”. It seems though that the foafs have moved beyond the esoteric and become experts on absolutely everything. Maybe it’s the internet’s illusion of knowledge – you can of course search and find many true answers on the net can’t you – but more often you encounter members of the public with no prior involvement in the industry they’re dealing with telling the person with many years of experience either what they know or how to do their job. As they say a little knowledge is a bad thing.
For example a customer who when told they need safety glass in a door replies angrily “it doesn’t need toughened, it’s only an internal timber door” or others who say “the double glazed units were obviously made wrong because they’re not supposed to break down (get condensation inside) at all, I know how they work” to the one who wanted a sealed unit straight away “I shouldn’t have to wait, I know how long they take to make” – really, would you like a job? I also encountered a customer with no prior experience of double-glazed glass units who insisted that I was measuring the thickness of the unit he’d brought in wrongly, as was an equally experienced colleague, and told me I needed to get a measuring caliper – I did and came up with the same measurement, surprisingly.
Part of this is someone who knows a little about a subject who wants to show off to their friend that they’re some kind of expert, other times it may be someone trying to promote themselves by appearing knowledgable. Sometimes the person may be trying to help but more often than not, they’re not.
So many people seem to have a father-in-law who’s “in the trade” and knows that what you’re saying is wrong – this is almost always just a feeble attempt to prove that they haven’t made a mistake. As for said expert often, who am I kidding, mostly, it turns out that they’ve either done a bit of DIY or they’re a joiner when the problem would be, for example, brickwork related, or worse still related to making the windows which is like a taxi driver saying that he’s an expert in assembling radios. I’m a glass cutter by profession, I know next to nothing about making Murano glass vases so I wouldn’t try to tell a glass blower how to suck eggs, if you see what I mean.
The internet is a global community and a place where, through ordinary communication, we can learn about other cultures.
However, I have noticed a subtle trend in where articles republished to a localised blog (say from MyTechBlog US to MyTechBlog UK) with all references to dollars, potato chips, inches and Walmart being altered to pounds, crisps, centimetres and Asda are guaranteed to receive comments along the lines of “for goodness sake chaps, can’t you anglicise this a tad”, or words to that effect. If however this is done to an article written by an American living in New York, talking about a new product and suddenly uses English terms it can jar a little and in some ways seems false, like watching a film where the lead characters words have been dubbed badly, but only on every tenth word. “I’m off to the pub on 25th Avenue to watch the game and have a steak and a pint” – I know there are pubs in the US and they serve pints but we know the generally accepted terms are bar and beer – how do I know this, I watch American TV shows where Americans use American English.
I’ll admit that sometimes you have to edit for regional sensibilities and to avoid offence (the word fanny comes to mind) but even a brief explanation “I put it under the grill (or broiler)” works. Of course if a really obscure word crops up, we do have this wonderful thing called the internet on which you can find an explanation – I even recently found a guidebook for London that contained a handy US-UK translation section in the back containing such items as “First Floor = Second Floor” “Jumper = Sweater” “Gob = Mouth” and “Pissed = Drunk” oh and “Bit of Alright = Attractive (of girls)”.
I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that it does niggle (slightly annoy) me when people in this country replace perfectly adequate words we have used happily for years with specifically American alternatives such as saying “going on vacation” rather than “going on holiday” but we have also adopted many useful Americanisms and anyway it is a two-way street as our US friends now have to contend with their word for crisps now appearing over there in Fish ‘n Chips which should surely be Fish ‘n Fries?
Sunset over the Trent (© Andy Vickers)
I’ve just spent an hour doing something magical that everyone should try – nothing. I’ve just sat in silence with a cup of tea and watched the sunset without the modern nagging, guilty feeling that I should be doing something else, and without defaulting to the usual time-filler of watching something on TV or idly clicking around on the internet. In that time I let my mind wander, I thought through something that I needed to sort out in my mind, I just didn’t try to guide my thoughts too much.
Decades ago it was said that automation would give people more leisure time and they’d be able to relax more and be happier. Now though even at home we feel we must be doing something; if it’s not cleaning or cooking it’s watching the latest must-watch TV series, or catching up with Facebook or Twitter, or blogging (ahem), even holidays or days out have to be awesome experiences. When you’re not working you should be socializing or partying or at least telling everyone who you’re not with what you’re doing via social media – if TV ads are to be believed.
Creativity and relaxation are enhanced by not having distractions so taking some time out has many benefits. Time is precious and sometimes doing nothing isn’t wasting time, doing something, anything, for the sake of it however, is.
Keyboard (courtesy of Serif)
It may sound slightly obsessive but my search for the ideal keyboard is more drawn out than my search for the perfect pen.
The fashion today, often wrongly attributed to Apple, is for the flat, minimalist, chiclet keyboards which were originally applied to cheaper home computers in the 70s and 80s but made popular more recently by Sony’s Vaio laptop range however the best keyboards I’d used were classic IBMs. The first PC I owned myself was a 486DX based IBM, a huge beige box with a battered compact keyboard, a version of the PS/2 keyboard (the model M2, or so I’ve just been informed by Google Image Search). I also own an earlier IBM too though I’ve not actually used it.
It was a great keyboard to use and since then the only keyboard that came close to it was a cheap one that cost less than a fiver from Argos (it was replaced when my new PC came without PS/2 ports – I couldn’t find an adaptor). This was true until a few days ago when the Lenovo one I’m using now was delivered which I bought because it’s one of the descendants of those IBM PS/2s. You can tell.
One important aspect of a keyboard is comfort and this is lacking in most modern keyboards, the Lenovo for example has good key travel, good cushioning and good return response which results in comfortable typing over long periods without numb fingertips while still retaining a pleasing clicking sound which is subtle and low-pitched, a kind of burble when you’re typing quickly which is almost a vocalisation of the words you’re pouring into the on-screen page. I also find that the tall key caps mean you hit two keys at once less often, the one you’re just touching stays put and guides your finger down with the one you were aiming for. These are the qualities I liked with the IBM keyboards and had been missing in the many others I’ve tried over the years. Modern flat keyboards are all very well but many can be less accurate, harsher or squishier, just not as satisfying to use for long periods, even if by the same token many are, to be fair, really quite good – I own one bluetooth one for the Nexus 7 which has a nice clicky feel to it but even that’s just not the same.
Of course there are the even more expensive keyboards with the same kind of mechanical keyswitches that old keyboards possessed which are beloved of gamers for their millisecond accuracy but I don’t need that level of sophistication.
Keyboards like the Lenovo aren’t pretty or cool and minimalist but they work, and despite being low-cost they don’t sacrifice comfort and accuracy and that’s what’s important. The daft thing is that they’re so old-fashioned looking they’re at risk of becoming popular as retro tech.
I’m struggling again with productivity, I have too many proto-articles and as such when I sit down to write I get struck with something called Workload Paralysis which is basically the inability to begin because there are too many places to start. I also forget what I could write about as my notes app and notebook have too narrow a window to show me my options, I can’t see everything in one glance – I need an overview, a priority schedule – which is something that technology isn’t brilliant at.
As I can’t find space for a full size whiteboard I’ve bought a white clipboard and some fineline whiteboard pens – onto this clipboard I will write one-liners – article titles that is, not quips. This way I’m hoping to be able to get some inspiration without having to scan through pages of paper or lists of notes on a screen.
This is why I’m still a firm believer in the physical and tangible media in concert with technology rather than as a replacement across the board, just sometimes it’s easier to deal with words on paper, they’re often much quicker to access, handle or process. And in my case having the ideas list on a screen doesn’t just mean I can’t see the forest for the trees, I often can’t even see the tree.
Bluetooth – FM Bridge v2.0
I’ve owned the Citroen for eighteen months now and for most of that time I’ve been plugging a strange contraption (above) into its cigarette lighter socket. Like most modern cars the radio/cd player is highly integrated into the car’s systems, being used to display more than just the time and track on its remote display, therefore it’s not recommended (though not impossible with the right adaptor) to replace it.
Putting an aftermarket cd player would also spoil the lines of the dashboard so if I wanted to do more than play cds I had to come up with an alternative solution to playing my music from my phone through the radio. First I tried a plug-in FM transmitted which worked well enough but it was a bit of a faff, plugging in various cables, next came a simpler FM transmitter that plugged directly into the top of the phone, powered by a splitter cable. Better but not perfect – I want less cables. I had a small bluetooth receiver and I could plug the transmitter into that, power both with a splitter and voila, bluetooth from the phone to the adaptor, FM to the radio.
Bluetooth – FM Bridge v1.0
Still not ideal though, it was a bit untidy – plus the button on the Bluetooth made it too easy to redial the last number used instead of switching it off.
Next, by chance, I bought a usb-powered bluetooth receiver (the white bit in the middle) from China on Ebay for a few quid. After wondering why I’d bought it other than the fact that I thought it was a cool thing the lightbulb moment happened. If I got a three-port car USB power supply I could plug a lead to the phone in, the USB Bluetooth Receiver and finally with a very short USB lead, the FM transmitter that plugged into the top of the bluetooth receiver. In one neat tower that plugs into the lighter socket I have everything I need. I don’t have to switch this one on and off even, if it’s left in the socket it all comes on with the car’s ignition.
The phone is set up to automatically launch the music app and start playing music as soon as it detects and connects to the Bluetooth adaptor and I can control the volume of the radio from the steering wheel while swiping the screen to change tracks.
Now, of course, you can buy the same setup as a single device that attaches to your dashboard but it was still immensely satisfying to make something that did the job from these various disparate modules – all bought for a few quid each off Ebay. The joy of tinkering is still with us.
Books (Image Courtesy of Serif)
One advantage of a paper book on a bookshelf (or a to-read pile, depending on how tidy/organised you are) is that you don’t forget you’ve bought it.
While recently considering my nature and my problems with small-talk and even with publishing my thoughts on this very blog I started thinking again about the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking and I thought “I must get that” so I looked through my entire Amazon wish list where I was sure I’d logged it but it wasn’t there. I was briefly puzzled and searched for it. When the page came up there were the words “You purchased this item on November 1st 2015” – of course I had, it’s sitting on my Kindle, forgotten because it’s not sitting visibly in front of me.
I do love reading, as much as writing, and I haven’t been doing it as much as I’d like recently for various reasons including the old favourite of “not having time” – i.e. not making time, but at least if you have something in front of you, taking up space, it can prod you occasionally to pick it up and do something with it. So it seems that Kindle is also both wonderful but also a procrastination tool par excellence.
Now you could say that these two things make the Kindle (and other e-book readers) a potential voyage of discovery into piles of books bought on a whim, clicked on because they were free, or randomly downloaded while drunk but left alone it’s potentially also a black hole of unlearned knowledge and undiscovered worlds.
Check your libraries regularly people.
Stopwatch (image courtesy of Serif)
I had a problem, a big though not what you would call serious or important problem. It was one that my psyche would not let me sweep under the carpet, or rather, delete. For literally years I would just skim websites and rather than read articles I’d click “Read Later” – that’s how long ago it was, the Firefox extension (and later Android app) was still called Read It Later rather than it’s more famous current name of Pocket.
I just couldn’t be bothered to read stuff, I just wanted to passively watch TV even though I knew that I enjoyed learning and reading interesting articles. I’d look at articles I thought would be too long to read, or watch, and I’d just again think “can’t be bothered” and clicked “LATER!” I often made the mistake of looking at a news article that had links to more, each of which ended in a click on “Add to Pocket”. So the Pocket became bigger. Over 1,300 items bigger.
Like tomorrow, later never comes though so you eventually have to either read it all or delete stuff.
It took over a year of Saturday and Sunday mornings to read, watch and if necessary bookmark or log them in Evernote. At Christmas last year I finally returned to the blank sheet and Pocket was sat there encouraging me to add things to it again. I have vowed never to get there again – I use Pocket to transfer links from my tablet to the desktop to read or watch on the bigger screen and use it to put aside long articles, or complex ones that I’d want to absorb properly that I’d have more time to read at the weekend but never as a replacement for reading stuff, for procrastination.
As for link-heavy sites, well I either try to be disciplined and either not click on the stuff the site thinks I might be interested in, or I cheat and cover the links up with Windows Task Manager – set to stay in front of other windows. Another help in this is Firefox’s Reading Mode, as long as you can click it before seeing the other articles. Due to my earlier effort to reclaim my evening time I now know that I have time to read articles and do anything else I want, I don’t need to procrastinate and tell myself I’ll have to read it later.
It’s just as well I wasn’t buying newspapers between 2012 and 2014 I’d be buried in newsprint by now.
Wishing all my readers a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Now, where are those chocolates…😉
Thanks to two fantastic experts on the internet I have my Nexus 7 tablet running just like it did on Christmas day in 2012 when I got it. Woohoo.
The process of “downgrading” from the problematic (to put it politely) Android 5 Lollipop (not so much the sweet as the bitter medicine) to the much better version 4 (Kitkat – always preferred chocolate anyway) was, as described in most places, a pain in the neck requiring the use of the Android SDK, digging into long-forgotten MS-DOS territory of environment variables etc, and command prompts. The post I found linked to a document on Google Docs that the author (Techno Bill) had written which streamlined the process.
Having followed the instructions for collecting the required files in a folder on my PC’s C: drive, and eventually managing to install the necessary drivers, thanks to the second online saviour, I fired up a command prompt in windows and was taken back to my earliest days of PC computing – typing commands and seeing the remote device respond accordingly. It was, strangely, fun. Back to the old days, typing commands, like we had to once upon a time, as manually as you can without resorting to machine code.
A few commands and a bit of waiting later and I hit the return key on the last command of the actual process of flashing Android 4.4.4 back on it. This was the no-turning-back point, if it worked all would be well, if not, I’d be off to Argos tomorrow to buy a new Samsung…
I have never been so pleased to see the old google animated flower type loading screen, or that old home screen (after the initial setup, naturally). Instantly I knew it was right again. Even as it started to update the default apps, and Gmail looked for all the unread email I’d ignored for the last few years, it was so much quicker – under Lollipop I’d have to wait half an hour before I could use it after switching on the WiFi but the re-Kitkatified (?) Nexus was flying within seconds.
Yet another example of the wonder that is the collective fount of knowledge that is the internet. No more thoughts of buying a new tablet, the Nexus is back.