Psychology, Tech

Poor Memory in The Internet Age

A woman thinking

A woman thinking (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a ridiculously bad memory which is a problem in an age where we are bombarded with information that we have to remember for work or at home. This is why I’m writing this on a notepad in the bath, before I forget it.

My poor short-term recall is one of the main reasons I’m single. I am pathologically terrified of small-talk or rather my inability to spontaneously make it.

My last few relationships have been generally been with confident and, most importantly, talkative women as I am a good listener. I have however a limited list of subjects to start or continue a conversation with in those rosy early days of a relationship because I can’t remember what I’ve been previously told and can’t remember subjects to make conversations about such as things happening in the news or in a magazine I’ve read, or gossip about friends.

My problem is in my brain’s ability to tag memories as important, most things just enter and go straight to long term memory without being registered as being sufficiently important to remember a few hours or a day or so down the line. I can remember taking a photo of a scene when I’m in the same spot again or an obscure fact if I’m reminded of it but just picking out a random fact is just impossible.

My memory requires a prompt to recall anything and even then sometimes it takes a while to drag the relevant facts to the front, and if the event that I need to remember happened while I was very busy then recalling it becomes extremely difficult unless I’ve made some effort to definitely remember it.

It’s bad enough trying to remember what I’ve read in a magazine as the first article has been forgotten as I’ve read the second but the volume of information available via the internet makes it even worse and trying to remember facts to write into blog posts is a nightmare.  The anxiety of not being able to remember what I want to say is part of why I put off writing and instead employ decoy habits to distract me from what I want to do which is write.  Some say the internet will cause us to stop remembering facts and rely on Google instead but that’s a different problem, what if you don’t even remember what you wanted to find?

There are techniques to alleviate the problem, from focussing more on the information being received, thinking about it before moving onto the next thing, associating the information with an image in the mind, writing things down, and more that I, to be honest, can’t remember.  I have notebooks, both paper and Evernote- based, filled with disjointed information which I can, one day pull together into something interesting and useful but the first step is overcoming the fear of not knowing what to say.  Eating more healthily, exercise and getting enough sleep are also meant to be beneficial and I keep telling myself that my memory is getting better as with so many mind related issues often believing you can do something is half the battle.

Tech, Uncategorized

It Just Works

English: 2008 Computex: ASUS SP-BT23 Bluetooth...

English: 2008 Computex: ASUS SP-BT23 Bluetooth Speaker. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The phrase “it just works” is one of Apple’s key marketing ideas and it encompasses the concept that users should be able to pick up an iPhone, iPad and use it, without any instructions and if they want to connect it to their Macbook, their Airplay speakers or to another iDevice then that will all Just Work too.  They achieve this by having a limited range of products and by using mostly proprietary standards – like Airplay – and because of these two things the technology doesn’t have to deal with the massive variations of hardware encountered by other devices; one Apple device knows what another one is called and how it talks, so to speak, already.

The thing is this illusion, that this is as a result of their products being better designed, is a half-truth – competing technologies only tend to require a couple of clicks to work together, like getting my Sony phone to play music via my bluetooth headset adaptor or hi-fi adaptor – all I need to do is press a button on the adaptor and select the output source on the phone, or my tablet, or laptop even.  The thing is that there is an increasing expectation that you shouldn’t need to do anything yourself to make it work, even if it is just pressing a button.

To this ends we see products like a set of £1200 speakers which, instead of connecting via bluetooth, require a dongle to be plugged into the bottom of your phone or tablet like some kind of digital limpet, making your device more cumbersome but meaning that all you have to do is plug it in.  A case of making it easy taking precedence over the handling of the technology.  And then there’s another side to all this – the ecosystem.  Apple in particular make all these add-ons, or licence the technology to other companies to make docks etc, that all work seamlessly together but the same limitation to Apple hardware that makes it possible for it to all work together means it’d be awfully expensive to switch brands later.

The situation in the Android/PC camp though is improving though.  Near Field Communication (NFC) tech is allowing speakers and more that connect using bluetooth via a simple tap of the phone on the top of the peripheral, the proximity allowing the two devices to know that they’re compatible and meant to be together, like silicon blind-date, if you like.  I have a smart BluRay player that has a companion Android app that automatically found and connected to the player via the WiFi network and on a similar vein modern WiFi routers can even connect to devices automatically using Wireless Protected Setup – although the latter still needs some user input, after all it’s not practical to carry your desktop PC and tap it on the router.  Another example is the WiFi printer that only requires a single button press to connect to your PC the first time it’s installed.

The dream of smart appliances all talking to each other via wireless networks is starting to come true but for it to be truly universal manufacturers need to use open standards and as users we need to accept that sometimes we’ll need to read the manual, or on-screen instructions, and push some buttons to help them along.

Psychology, Society, Tech

Stealth Advertising

English: QWERTY keyboard, on 2007 Sony Vaio la...

English: QWERTY keyboard, on 2007 Sony Vaio laptop computer. Français : Le clavier QWERTY d’un ordinateur portable Sony Vaio de 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In magazines you see “features” which are in fact adverts, you can tell what they are because they will say “advertisement feature” somewhere, yet on the internet some advertisers seem to be able to get away with insidious tactics.

Download pages are often a minefield of big colourful buttons marked “download” only one of which will be the actual thing you want to download, the others being adverts for security scanners, toolbars and other such extraneous stuff that end up clogging up the computer at best and costing the unsuspecting user cash at worst.  I have noticed that these stealth ads have leaked out onto other parts of the web, I saw one that was designed to look exactly like the placeholder box you see when a browser plug-in has crashed, complete with worrying words like “your computer needs an upgrade”.  Being an old hand at this computing malarkey I recognised it for what it was and ignored it but someone less knowledgable might click on it and download the scanning tool or whatever it was, again often paying for it too – even if it was simply by it being ad-supported, thinking that it was essential.

This is the same tactic used by virus writers, using authentic looking error messages to panic un-knowledgable users into a download.  This rarely works in the real world, if you saw in a magazine a box that said “your heating has failed, you need to upgrade it now or your house will explode” you’d know instantly it was absolute bull, the tactics in that world are to plant seeds of doubt “has your boiler been serviced recently?  Could it be a potential killer?  Bwah ha ha ha ha.”  But the immediacy of computers and the internet, combined with the still mysterious nature of how they work to some people makes getting the sale that much simpler.

The message is clear; be careful what you click on.  Unless ad-funded toolbars are your thing, of course.

Disclaimer – I know not what adverts appear below this post as I have no control over them but it would be supremely ironic if there’s a box down there, right now urging you to click it to fix errors with your pc…

Music, Psychology, Tech

The Joys and Perils of the MP3 Shuffle


mixtape (Photo credit: miss_rogue)

Before digital music you’d select your evening’s musical entertainment based on your mood, selecting an appropriate album or maybe even a mixtape.  If you’re unfamiliar with what a mixtape is ask a grown-up, and by the way you’re making me feel old.

Anyway, for the last decade we’ve been increasingly able to digitally store our hundreds of albums in one place and play them at our convenience without once having to get up and change the disc though up until very recently the devices that could store literally everything you have were expensive.  Now though things have changed, personally I have my entire 6,300 track collection taking up one-third of my Google Play Music store even if it did take a couple of weeks, on-and-off to upload.

Modern MP3 players now have decent, large displays, and of course phones and tablets have music player apps so you can idly scroll though lists of albums and tracks and then feel the unbridled joy of seeing a track you haven’t heard for ages and instantly enjoying it.  Having your entire collection there at your fingertips can rekindle your love of the music and bring back, Proust-like, memories of summers listening endlessly to a favourite album.

Then, if you’re brave, there’s the ability to not just shuffle tracks on an album or a playlist or the limited selection on a device, a selection carefully, er, selected for a particular mood or whatever stage in your life you’re at, but your entire musical history.  It has been said that MP3 players have a mystical ability to choose appropriate music for your situation, my car stereo has done that to me many times – played a song that has reminded me of lost love or given me hope when I’m down, and when it has thousands of tracks, all personal to you, to choose from anything can happen.

You sit down to listen to some tunes, your device plays some great songs, many you’d forgotten about, you feel fantastic.  Then it happens, the first bars of a song play and before you can hit “skip” you’ve got tears pouring down your face as the song so intimately linked to a person or event, to feelings of loss and grief come flooding back.  I’ll be honest it happens to me, “My Immortal” by Evanescence does it to me every time.  Sometimes though even this can be cathartic, reminding you of the good times too.

Blog on The Landscape, Politics, Psychology, Society, Tech

Waste to Watts

Teesside Waste to Energy Power Station at Have...

Teesside Waste to Energy Power Station at Haverton Hill near Billingham. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the UK there have been regular plans to build waste incinerators which have always failed because locals near where they were planned always made the same arguments “what if they burn something hazardous”  “the smell will be unbearable” and so on.  Often it seems to be just a case of “not in my back yard” a phrase that afflicts so many development plans in our country.  Though in the past many incinerators in this country haven’t had the best record for cleanliness.

Such plants were generally only for waste disposal but in northern mainland Europe they think differently about their waste.

As Gizmodo reports Norway’s capital, Oslo, has a waste problem – they don’t have enough.  Half of the city’s population is powered and warmed by rubbish.  In the area there are 400 waste-to-energy plants converting household waste, industrial scrap and even medical waste into power.  Northern Europe produces about 150 millions tonnes of burnable waste to feed plants that were built to take 700 million tonnes and now they’re looking to import waste from other countries – the UK for example exports about 1,000 tonnes annually.

The plants operate in a similar way to fossil fuel power stations: burning fuel to heat water into steam to drive turbines and they’re between 14 to 28 percent electrically efficient but they also use the waste gasses to heat water and then condense the fumes to produce biogas used in metro busses.  What remains is ash and some remaining gas, contaminants and toxins tend to be destroyed in the process.

The system clearly works yet were still cramming more and more waste into landfills.  Our local councils’ recycling schemes help with reducing the level of dumped waste but actually using the waste as a resource instead of something to be buried, out of sight, out of mind until the area is eventually redeveloped into a combined recreation area/ticking time bomb of methane-fuelled fury would be even better.  There are waste-to-energy plants in this country, such as the one pictured above, but really we need to get behind this concept on a wider scale.

But again we come up against the nimbys who want power plants to be out of sight, out of mind too, preferably large, fossil fuelled, pollution spewing and far, far away, in someone else’s back yard.  The thing is that many smaller plants, although costly in setup, could eventually reap benefits for us all – cheaper electricity, cheaper heating and less trash heaps.

We’re demanding more and more power but we’re not willing to pay the price financially or in terms of our urban landscape.  Designers can make even the most industrial of buildings look attractive so the argument against the plants comes back to the idea that “they’re burning dirty waste near my home” – but as the Oslo example shows that argument is becoming, well, rubbish.

Gadgets, Tech, Uncategorized

If You Liked It Then You Shoulda Put a Case on It

Case Mate iPhone case

Case Mate iPhone case (Photo credit: The Style PA)  

My first mobile phone was a Motorola in 1998, it was about the same size and shape as a hot-dog bun but weighed significantly more, it had a single line display and a pull-out aerial that the instructions warned you not to touch in use for reasons that seemed unnecessarily sinister at the time and was so solid that it felt like if you dropped it the surface onto which it fell would suffer more than the phone.

Today though advances in materials and phone technology have given us phones that we cosset and cradle like tiny woodland creatures.  Just a couple of days ago my belt buckle, for reasons only known to it, decided to attack my Xperia which was in my pocket, I heard the metal hit the glass screen.  I winced as I pulled the phone out.  Thankfully it wasn’t damaged, working in the glass industry I should have had a bit more confidence in its direct impact resistance but had it been hit from the side it might have been a different story.

We hear stories of iPhones’ metal bodies scratching and the anodization flaking off, of screens being cracked by light falls onto floors and so on, often very soon after getting the thing.  Product designers for Apple, Samsung, HTC, Sony etc spend months meticulously researching and creating these shiny devices and the first thing people feel the need to do is clamp them inside cases meticulously created in parallel by case designers.  It is a bizarre paradox that people buy something and the appearance of it is part of the decision but then have to hide it away to maintain its integrity.  I put my phone in a fleece-lined sleeve when it’s in my bag or in a pocket sans-keys etc otherwise but I still feel anxious when it’s in my hand, constantly thinking of how much a new screen would be.  This anxiety has also created the new market of gadget insurance.

Fashions don’t help, so many phones are now made with shiny, glossy materials which are not exactly the best at adhering to either your hand or a surface.  At this point I will defer to the commenters of Gizmodo UK:

ollypercival “I CANNOT BELIEVE how slippery the N4 is. I put it down on what I swear is a flat surface and 5 minutes later I hear the clunk of it hitting the floor. I actually got the spirit level out to check I wasn’t going mental.  If it’s on my bedside table and someone calls me, it’s practically in the bathroom before I can catch up with it.”

hyperspacey “My manager warned me to keep an eye on it seeing as it’s like an air-hockey puck with a death wish.”

Ebbysantos “I’ve not got a case for it, I just can’t get used to the things, plus what’s the point of covering such a pretty thing with a utilitarian bit of plastic?  Would be like putting Jennifer Lawrence in a bright yellow waterproof onesie!”


Psychology, Society, Work

Unrealistic Expectations

Clock watcher

Clock watcher (Photo credit: Craig A Rodway)

It was once accepted that the average working day was nine-to-five, now it’s about eight-to-five, five-thirty at most.  Most people accept that everyone works generally those same hours but there seems to be an increasing expectation, perhaps perpetuated by supermarkets that are open either twenty-four hours or until late, that companies should work round the customers’ work hours.

You might expect a company to provide an emergency service, plumbing or electrics for example, but I’ve heard of people who were waiting for a visit for something non-urgent actually saying “well it’s ok, he can still come out at six or seven o’clock” – oh, can he?  Like the person carrying out the visit doesn’t have a home life to go to when his actual working day finishes.  The same goes for people who work during the day who often won’t actually ask “do you do evenings?” but just say “you’ll have to come out after six o’clock because I work.”  This just takes the old idea of “the customer is always right” to new levels as people behave increasingly selfishly, with little consideration to other people’s lives.

If I need to have some work done then I arrange to have a day off, so the work can be done in normal hours, unless it’s really an emergency.  If it’s non-urgent and I have no holidays left then it can wait.


Dance Like No One Is Watching – De stress Your Life

Very good advice

Talin Orfali Ghazarian

In life some of us tend to lose sight of what is beneficial for us and our well-being and a lot of us are so busy with our daily routine, busy life schedules, balancing work, school, family, friends, activities, travel time, and balancing of just time for yourself. Some of us get distracted and get stressed out and think so much about things and don’t have the energy to do what you want to do sometimes, and life’s challenges get in the way with providing for your family and for yourself and it takes a lot to make ends meet for some and it is a crazy time in life where prices and cost of living is increasing year by year and it has become so difficult and were all going crazy with how to keep up, and among so many things in our lives. I know it’s a challenge…

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