Foafexperts – The Customer’s Mate Down The Pub is Always Right

Learning

Learning

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.

Pushing The Right Buttons

Keyboard (courtesy of Serif)

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.

Too Many Ideas and Missing The Tree

Forest

Forest

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.

Reclaiming The Evening

Fairground At Night

Fairground Lights

Another of the reasons my blog turned silent for eight months was the fact that I didn’t have time to write it.

There we go, that’s a good enough reason, so let’s move on.

No, actually, let’s not. The reason was that when I got home from work, by the time I’d eaten, by the time I’d watched two hours of TV repeats I then wanted to catch up on some online reading, and I felt tired, so I thought “I haven’t got time, and I can’t think straight” and I went to watch some more repeats on TV instead.

Seven hours passed like nothing and the next thing I know it’s the next morning. A couple of months ago I finally made plans to do something about the cycle of believing that I hadn’t got the time, or the energy. Firstly the tiredness; I bought a new mattress as I thought that the old one (creaking all the time, springs jutting into me) might be disturbing my sleep. The new one is much more comfortable and combined with cutting down on excess light (I tried blacking out the window first to no difference then moved a bedside clock-radio) has made a difference, I feel much less tired and more energised than before in the evenings.

I have been eating Bananas religiously in the mornings which has possibly helped, although getting better sleep has similar benefits for memory, concentration and creativity so it could be either. The other dietary change has been returning to something I used to love when I was younger – a piece of toast and marmalade at supper time (9pm) as such carbohydrates eaten in the late evening can improve sleep some studies have shown.

Finally I changed my behaviour; I told myself to always go home at five o’clock, don’t think “I’ll just sort this out now”. It’s a little thing but it makes me feel that my life is my own as I’m going home to do what I want to do when I want to not when the job lets me, it’s empowering. I’ve also learned not to worry about work issues which drains you emotionally and leaves you feeling mentally exhausted.

I then told myself that I do have time to do stuff in the evenings and proved it – rather than watching a repeated TV show while eating and then watching the whole thing, the mental equivalent of eating one chocolate digestive and then thinking “what the hell, I’ll finish the packet” I told myself to switch the TV off after I’d finished eating then get on with the online stuff – reading, writing etc. Starting earlier gives you a buffer and once it’s done you’ve still got two or three hours left and can even watch a new tv show or two and listen to music or read before going to bed. There’s even time for decluttering if you feel like it.

As I’ve learned that new experiences and learning new information, exploring new frontiers even in an intellectual way can help with cognitive function I’ve also made space in my day for watching the late evening news, something I used to avoid as I felt that I’d just forget everything I’d seen – the side benefit to this is it gives you topics of conversation, something else I always felt I lacked.

I’ve rearranged things too, making tomorrow’s sandwich at the same time as I’m waiting for dinner to finish cooking, and the same with washing pots still in the sink. It’s about efficient use of the time available and the more time you have left over the better you feel, your leisure time feels less like a high-pressure job and you can enjoy it more.

So, right now it’s 20:54 (GMT), I’ll just finish this off and go and get a slice of toast.  Goodnight.

The Speed of Feedback

Radio Daze

Radio Daze

Once upon a time if you wanted to complain about a tv show, or make a suggestion, enter a competition, or send in a drawing you’d done to Blue Peter, you’d send it “on the back of a postcard” or in a “stamped, addressed envelope” to the Beeb or whomever and after a couple of weeks you’d see or hear it on the telly.

Taking off my nostalgia hat and rose-tinted specs I return to today and find that as with so much media feedback or interaction is now lightning fast. Any live show on tv or radio will have email, text and a Twitter feed in front of the presenter so they can receive on the fly praise or abuse dependant on the subject and opinion of the viewer. Sports reporters carry tablets to field questions and comments.

The internet as a communication medium is making media more interactive than ever and allows faster access to those in front of the cameras – particularly useful when it is, for example, politicians being grilled in real-time; no more need to queue up for a place on a Question Time audience.

Of course it’s just as well that not every tweet appears on-screen, or on the speaker – as the Rev Richard Coles said on QI of his twitter feed for Saturday Live on Radio 4 he often received some less than complimentary comments, which I imagine could get distracting and even depressing while trying to present a programme.

The other aspect of course is public voting, though not a new idea (it was phone voting in the old days of course) it seems that everything has to have some public choice built-in rather than the decision as to who’s the best cook, candidate or singer being left to experts. One of the latest examples is that Formula E motor sport features the potentially race-changing Fan Boost, powered by online votes, by popularity, hmm. The problem is when the choice is made with the heart rather than an expert head. But at the end of the day it’s all just entertainment.

As we move towards increasingly connected, two-way tv, I can imagine that these features will become integrated into the remotes, new buttons to like or dislike and as for voting people off shows like Strictly Come Dancing, I’m a Celebrity or Big Brother then the Red Button could have a use metaphorically more like it’s Cold War namesake…

Electric Hands and Aluminium Kitchens

chisels

chisels (Photo credit: The Year of Mud)

I was watching a TV show which showed a restaurant and the customers kept talking about all this “home cooked” food, OK it was a family restaurant, owned by the same family for generations but I was sure that they just showed the food being cooked in a very shiny, very metallic, very up to hygiene standards industrial restaurant kitchen behind the counter.  Do they live upstairs?  I thought.  On other shows this pattern repeated, maybe it’s the decor that’s making people think “home cooked”, don’t they know it’s not the owner’s dining room.

Next up came the description of hand-made food items which again didn’t seem quite what I would call “hand”-made, although hands were involved in some ways, moving the ingredients, pushing the button, turning the handle.

“The meat is still prepared by hand” – the guy pushed a piece of meat into a machine.  No knife, no hammer.

“Hand-cut fries” – the guy pushed a potato into a device and pulled a handle.  Again, no knife.

It’s not just restaurants though, more and more (often expensive and exclusive) things are described as “hand-made” when they’re in fact made by a machine and assembled by hand.  A chair leg hand-turned on a lathe is still hand-made, the hand that guides the chisel, but a cabinet where all the joints are routed by a set machine rather than a hammer and chisel – is that still hand-made?

Eventually I’ve come to the conclusion that the term hand-made, along with home-cooked has come to mean the opposite of “made in a huge mass-production facility in China”.  TV shows have shown examples of some mass-production methods used by food producers, occasionally emphasising the less savoury looking aspects – the infamous “pink goo” – which doesn’t look appetising it’s true but restaurants don’t make food like factories, they mass produce just on a smaller scale, I’ve done a large spaghetti Bolognese at home but not enough for a table for ten at eight.

As well as that people know that fast-food or large chain restaurants have frozen food items shipped in nightly to be warmed up which are as such full of preservatives and evil whereas in a small restaurant the food is made properly, just like you’d have at home, hence home-made.  Even if the mass-produced stuff is 100% beef and the home-made one is just as bad for you if you scoff too many.

Maybe I’m being picky over semantics, again, but even home-made “home-made” food can come from a kit you buy at M&S these days.

In our world where just about everything is manufactured in a factory, see How It’s Made on TV, people are more often craving the hand made for its roughness, lack of uniformity – in things like cakes and chocolate bars, but if you phrase it differently “made by hand” or “hand finished by Barry” suddenly you can charge a fortune for it, whether it’s a watch or an Aston Martin engine.  The irony is that less than forty years ago Fiat ran a campaign for the new Strada expressing how amazing it was that it was Hand Built by Robots.

If you can market something as home-made or hand-made you can imply it’s more wholesome in some way, even if many of the ingredients still contain colourings and preservatives, when used deliberately this way it’s tapping into consumers’ resistance to “processed foods” which are full of salt, fat or MSG.  You can also sell to those following the current fashion of seeking out “authentic” experiences, like rustic furniture, timber sash windows, overpriced hearty bangers and mash or real ale at six pounds a pint – yes you read that right, a pub near here is offering an authentic real ale in a real pub experience for just six quid a go. Again they’re selling people the idea that the past was better, that retro is the way forward, so to speak.

I think I’ll stick to my real real pub across the town at half the price, followed by a decidedly not home-made battered sausage.

 

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Diggin’ The Scene…ry

English: Roadworks

English: Roadworks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the last four weeks the county council has been tearing up and relaying the pavements on the street which is home to the glassworks that keeps me busy during the day.  We’ve got used to the workers now, we’ve given them hot water for tea when their cabin generator wouldn’t work, they’ve patched some potholes on the edge of our car park to make up for the inconvenience of their work.

On Thursday last week they put the top layer of tarmac on a section of path and were rightfully miffed the next morning to see workers belonging to a utility company attacking their less than 20-hour old pavement with a circular saw.  And so it is now, a perfect stretch of path with a cut out bulge of dissimilar tarmac halfway along it like some kind of scab on the landscape.

It’s a long-standing joke in this country that as soon as a road is resurfaced a utility will come along and dig it up again but in my experience this is a record.

It’s also ridiculous in these days, just a few days earlier they wouldn’t even have had to dig up any tarmac.  Surely with that mysterious thing called the Internet some kind of magical central database of roadworks could be maintained so that the likes of Gas and Electricity companies can tweak their schedules to drop pipes and cables into already bare roads.  Going even further, as my dad suggested when I mentioned this to him, when major works are carried out – replacing main drains etc, why not include conduits for current and future services in the same hole?

The answer is probably because creating such resources would cost far more than necessary and be outdated by the time it arrives – designed to run on that latest Microsoft OS, Windows XP I think it is, that’s the future.  Erm, wait, what?

 

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What Do You Mean By Real Criminals?

Day 175 - West Midlands Police - Traffic Officer

Day 175 – West Midlands Police – Traffic Officer (Photo credit: West Midlands Police)

What do the drivers of any of hundreds of cars that pass me on the motorway every year and a man parked on single-yellow lines outside our shop yesterday muttering and throwing his parcel into his car have in common.  They all compalin that motorists are being victimized and targeted (as easy prey) when they’re caught by the fuzz.

For my non-British readership who may not be aware, single-yellow lines on the road are restricted parking, though many people think that parking across the yellow line, half on the road, half on the pavement counteracts these restrictions.  As does putting your hazard lights on.

So many people given speeding fines and parking fines will come out with the old classic saying “I ain’t doing nuffing wrong, officer, why aren’t you out catching real criminals” to the traffic officer whose specific job is catching traffic offenders, many of whom turn out to be real criminals as well, strangely – people who regularly break the law breaking the law, who’d have thought it.  The non-criminal types will usually accuse the police authority of using speeding, parking and crap driving in general as ways of generating easy revenue, without realising that that isn’t quite how police funding works.  Of course they forget that it’s the same traffic officers they’d turn to if they have an accident and need someone to pick up the pieces.

The thing is, if you believe that it’s all about the money then there’s a simple answer: don’t speed, don’t park on yellow lines, drive properly (you can still enjoy yourself) and look after your car.  Simple, no?

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Who Did The Work, Exactly?

Woman with phone screaming.How do you make someone feel like nothing more than an automaton, like some kind of puppet operated by an all-knowing master, how do you make someone feel like they’re pretty worthless?

I’ll tell you.  It’s happened to me, it’s happened to many people I know, it happened to my mum and her colleagues when she was a care assistant at an elderly people’s home.

As the staff member you spend much time finding out information, you carefully manufacture something, you arrange for some work to be done, you do all you can to make an elderly relative’s final months as comfortable as possible – add your own job role here.  At the end of the process the person who you’ve done all this for – i.e. the customer, the client, (in my experience usually well off, a business owner) doesn’t say thankyou to you but instead says, to your face, “oh, pass my thanks on to [insert boss/manager’s name here] and tell them I’ll owe them a bottle of wine for all he/she’s done.”

Well, you’re welcome, you think.  You may not be doing the job for the thanks or praise but a little of your soul gets worn down.

 

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Lunch, Rebooted

On | Off

On | Off (Photo credit: catorze14)

It’s been quite a while since I have written anything.  I’ve sat down at the keyboard and either felt overwhelmed by the amount of stuff to read or been completely lost for anything to say.  Some subjects have seemed too daunting to tackle (for example the very modern issue of governments’ attitudes to what they can just have a look at on the internet, and how similar it seems, superficially, to people who say “if it’s on Facebook then you can do what you like with it) whilst others just didn’t seem wasting what little energy I felt I had on.  I didn’t think it mattered, I watched repeats on TV.

In hindsight I may have been suffering from a bout of depression again, brought on by stress (another issue I intend to tackle on this here blog soon), the feeling that this blog and other things I enjoy being utterly pointless being one indicator.  Something has changed in the last week or so and I feel more ready and able to stand up and be my true self again.  One step at a time.