Woohoo, It’s Cold and Raining!

Rain camera

Rain camera (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

How to guarantee it’s warm and sunny just about every time you step outside your front door…  Buy a nice new wet-weather jacket in June.

It’s a lovely, warm and comfortable jacket and I’ve used it twice during a summer that was much better than the last few years’.  It’s a strange psychological reaction, you’ve bought something new and you want to use it straight away, you want other people to see your bright or shiny new thing but you can’t, it’s frustrating and suddenly you find yourself pleased to see something like the rain that you’d normally moan about.  I suppose it’s the same for someone who bought a convertible car, or a barbecue and a freezer-full of meat just before one of our lousy wet summers.

In the last three weeks I’ve used it twice and now we’re back to summer again, with only three months to Christmas.  Anyone fancy barbecued turkey this year?

All Wrapped Up

Shrink wrapped helicopters

Shrink wrapped helicopters (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ikea have a lot to answer for.  Well, not just Ikea really but retail outlets in general, combined with the general idea of everything being available to conveniently take away.

A while back a customer arrived to collect a mirror, this is a custom mirror, hand-cut, semi-hand-polished, we don’t have off-the-shelf mirrors, or double-glazed units, or windows, the world just isn’t that standardised, as I’ve discussed before.  Anyway, I brought the mirror out and carefully placed it down, sitting on its corner protectors which stop the polished edge being chipped.  “Is that it?”  he boomed.  “That’s the mirror you ordered.”  “But aren’t you going to wrap it up in something, it’s gotta go in my van, what the f**k am I going to do with that?”  I use a question mark there but it may have been a rhetorical question.  I said that we didn’t have any cardboard or bubble wrap.  “Right, I’ll go and sort my van out and wrap it up my f*ing self then.”

Someone else ordering a double-glazing unit recently asked “will it come packaged up?”

This is the thing, if you buy a timber door from a DIY store it’ll probably have a bit of shrink-wrap around it it protects it from rubs but not knocks as such, we don’t have the facilities to package everything and it’s impractical to keep packing materials in all the time, if we do have some card and people ask then we will wrap things up, the problem is the expectation of it being packaged and the reactions if we can’t.

Most of our products are supplied to trade people who turn up prepared, with vehicles suited to the task but more often people turn up in vehicles that are too small for the glass or come without anything to support it at all.  At the opposite end of the scale one customer used to turn up with a specially made tray on the roof of his car for carrying mirrors and another had built a timber support inside his car to move one glass unit – which was an impressive level of preparedness.  Most customers at the moment do come prepared in one way or another, even if it means five minutes of me standing by the car holding the glass while they remove jacks, toolboxes, shopping and so on from the car boot before spreading out an emergency tartan blanket as support.

For the rest though the explanation is the takeaway society – people expecting to not have to do anything themselves, just turn up, have it wheeled out and put in their unprepared car.  Their food comes in packages in the supermarket, their furniture comes in boxes, or delivered in vans, so it comes as a shock to find something that doesn’t conform to their expectations it’s just unfortunate that so many people’s reaction today is not to either ask politely if we might have something to put round the glass, or say that they’d go and get something themselves or a more suitable vehicle but instead to refuse to acknowledge that they may have overlooked the transport issue, to blame the supplier, to lash out with indignation and exclaim angrily that it should be wrapped up, that it’s our duty, that it’s the law – nothing comes unwrapped these days, don’t we know that, it’s a basic human right for goodness sake.

Ahem, sorry.  Anyway, it’s late here so I will just wrap this up for you now.

Hanging On

iPhone Original/3G/4/5

iPhone Original/3G/4/5 (Photo credit: Yutaka Tsutano)

As I write this many, many, many Apple devotees will be glued to their laptop screens, sorry, MacBook screens or iPads relishing the latest “one more thing” revealed by Tim Cook*.  I’ve not gone out of my way to have a look at the new iPhone(s) or whatever, I’m neither an Apple fan or an Apple hater though I’m not a fan of some of their actions surrounding patents though that’s something for another time.

What I’m thinking about is the trend of getting a new gadget every year.

Moore’s Law is an observation that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit tends to double every two years or so, this is usually misquoted as computing power doubles every eighteen-months.  There was a period recently when phone manufacturers seemed to be releasing new phones every month, though in truth they often catered for different markets and budgets, now though every major phone or tablet is refreshed every year, it’s like Christmas – literally, for the manufacturers, in June, August, September.

Computers are less obvious because there is still a steady stream of new models with slightly different cases, tweaked internals, new chipsets.  The common factor is that often the jump in actual power between last year and this isn’t that great, and usually the main difference in phones has been screen size and resolution.

Still though some people feel the need to buy again and often the reason they give is that the new one is so much faster than the old one.  Sometimes I’m sure this is true – as new software and features make an old phone, tablet or pc seem slow, if you’re trying to watch an HD video on an older phone for example but sometimes it can simply be that over time the device starts to feel slow.  When you first got it it was blindingly fast, menus appeared instantaneously and web pages were super-quick to load.  Now though you’re waiting forever.  What’s changed?

Ok, sometimes new software has features that cause an old laptop to chug, some websites (Flickr is a personal annoyance) have redesigned in such a way that you need quite nifty hardware to get a smooth experience, and of course you might only be able to watch a video in SD.  Much of the time though nothing has changed except your perception, you get used to the menu appearing, your memory of the previous computer fades into the mists of time and you don’t have anything to compare your current computer to but…

…the shiny new one at work, or in PC World.  The difference is miniscule, the slow website might still be slow on your new PC but confirmation bias will tell you it’s still faster.

My laptop is from 2008 and with the exception of a couple of websites (do I need to mention Flickr again) it’s still fast enough for everything I do, even my new copy of Photoshop Elements.  My Nexus 7 is less than a year old and has been superseded by a new N7 with an even higher resolution screen – I won’t be “upgrading” because I don’t really need to watch films in even more sparkly high-res on a small screen than before.  My phone is similarly a year old and still feels nippy and crisp, it still does everything I need it to do and I don’t feel the shame of having “last year’s phone” that drives many people to upgrade.  I know that one day my laptop will either completely die or the web will get too much for it to cope with, then I’ll upgrade,  Sometimes it seems that the only upgrade people need is to their need to define themselves by their possessions or their patience, though it does seem that that’s something lacking everywhere these days.

Perhaps I’m in the minority, there will no doubt be lengthy queues outside Apple stores soon.

* – yes, I know “One More Thing” was Steve’s thing, not Tim’s.

Don’t Take My Buttons Away

English: The Nikon D7000 is a 16.2 megapixel d...

English: The Nikon D7000 is a 16.2 megapixel digital single-lens reflex camera. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not alluding to the fact that my trousers would fall down or even that I’m addicted to little discs of chocolate, I’m becoming concerned at the proliferation of touchscreens and the like.

In computers, smartphones, cars and cameras it seems that push buttons and switches are seen as old-fashioned, not versatile enough, not eager to change colour or function at the drop of a hat, they’re so last century but wait a second, they still have value.

Some devices like a digital SLR camera have functions that you need to change quickly attached to a button, you instinctively reach for it with a finger tip, press it, twiddle the input dial and viola you’ve dialed in some exposure compensation.  The process of just knowing where the control is is called muscle memory and it’s very useful, so much so we often don’t realise we’re using it.  I’m using it now, I’m typing this without looking at the keyboard.  Now it’s true that’s possible with a touchscreen but only if you have a physical reference to start from and the display doesn’t change – with an actual button you only need to know it’s near your index finger, you just fish around for a second and know what the right one feels like, on a screen there’s, at the moment, no tactile cues.

The other problem with touchscreens is also that they tend to group all the controls on the back or front of the device so for example on the Samsung Galaxy NX camera, and other touchy-feely controlled cameras you have to take your eye from the viewfinder in order to fit your fingers between the screen and your nose.

So speed and practicality are on the single-minded, independent buttons’ side but what about safety?

Huh? you ask.  I’ve mentioned before how the same principle reduces the amount of time you’re looking away from the road when driving a car with physical controls rather than touchscreens or joystick-driven menus.  Until voice control gets to the KITT-level conversation style I’m not happy giving up my in-car knobs and dials.

As for voice control of phones and cameras, it’s fine until you find yourself trying to adjust a setting on your camera while not wanting to look away from the viewfinder but also being aware that asking your camera nicely if it wouldn’t mind changing the aperture to f/8 might be inappropriate to the setting.

Fashion seems to be pushing tech companies and car makers towards more minimalist devices, their faces just a screen of morphing, interactive controls, often for the sake of it, but good design shouldn’t compromise usability and sometimes the most usable control is the humble physical button.