creativity, Tech, Work

The Universal Instruction Manual

DIY

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

I still have a copy of a book that was once the bible for anyone who built or fixed PCs, it weighed about a kilogram and was roughly two inches thick, could break your toe if you dropped it on your foot and doubled as a doorstop when a new edition replaced it. It was one of many such books, many of which are still updated and published today, which were the go-to place for guidance when the machine or network you were fixing wasn’t cooperating. I have similar books for DIY and cookery as many people do. I also used to maintain lists and folders of useful settings and tips that I’ve either found or worked out but I find that I’m referring to these less as the smartphone is taking over.

I recently set up my new laptop and there are a couple of things I like to tweak on any new Windows setup but as it’s been a while since I last did it I couldn’t remember where the settings were – especially as one, the setting for turning the Caps Lock key off with the Shift key as on an old manual typewriter, seems to keep moving to different dialogs. Not a problem, I just picked up the phone and searched for it and the answer was provided via Google. Other search engines are available, of course.

The internet is an amazing resource for learning in this way, I developed an Access-based database ten years ago by doing the same thing, searching for how other people have achieved the action I wanted, whatever your struggling with someone will have a suggestion or a whole tutorial. At work I’ve found instructions on changing the side indicator lens on one of the vans and at home how to reset the service indicator on my old car. Naturally there are instructions for exercise, positive thinking, painting, brewing, relaxing, productivity, using tools and how to do home repairs – as we noticed from the number of people during the first Covid lockdown attempting their own glazing. The other advantage of the internet is that you not only have words and pictures but video too.

As well as the amount of crowdsourced instructions manufacturers also have their product manuals online too, which is useful if, like me, you can never find the manual for something you’ve not used for ten years – like my car battery charger I needed during the first lockdown which is an old piece of equipment yet the manual was there on the manufacturer’s website, which saved me half an hour of looking through a large box of instruction sheets.

I have another book that is called “How to do just about everything” – well, the internet on a smartphone is like having a million page illustrated book in your pocket called “Now we really mean how to do everything”.

Of course not everything in life should be attempted without professional training – gas repair and dentistry come to mind – also not all the advice and instructions are entirely accurate or advisable and as the saying goes “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”, but as with going to the pub it’s all about knowing your limits.

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Fashion, Tech, Work

Oh For Fax Sake

Apparently the NHS is the biggest purchaser of fax machines in the UK. “What?” people cry, “why are they wasting tax-payers money on last century technology, it’s a scandal.” No it’s not, it’s because, fundamentally, it just works. Two machines connected by a phone line, you can send a message in seconds. In the pre-mobile days there were all kinds of fax-based services, one example that I’ve recently seen reminded of via a 1996 back issue was Fortean Times magazine’s FortFax service that allowed you to dial up and request articles be sent back to you.  

Of course though time and tech moves on and email has largely replaced faxing as I think people see it as obsolete because it’s an old technology, it’s monochrome and it’s paper based but at least modern ones use proper paper rather than the crinkly, fading thermal paper of old.  In addition companies only tend to have one fax machine so it’s inefficient to go to the machine to send a fax and have someone regularly empty it’s in-tray, so to speak.

For text you can, of course type out an email but it’s often still slower than writing out a fax unless you’ve been on Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing recently. The main advantage though is if you want to send a drawing as to email it you’d have to scan it, attach the scan to an email, type the email explaining what the drawing it and then send it to someone who has to open it, assuming they have the software to open the scan if it’s an Adobe document for example, then print it if they need the hard copy. With a fax you draw it on the paper, type the fax number and send. Simple and classic. I’m only moving, reluctantly, to scanning and emailing because the fax machine’s on its last legs.

I have found, admittedly that Email does has its advantages, like traceability and searchability and using templates for common emails like orders, quotes etc speeds up the process somewhat but it depends on individual circumstances. At the end of the day if it were still working and the people we sent faxes to still used faxes themselves then we’d still be using it – it seems that the fax has become a still useful, but niche, technology.

One day, like vinyl and 35mm film, it’ll become fashionable, probably amongst hipsters and their like, as an analogue, “authentic” communication method and there’ll be an app to send digitally crinkly and barely readable facsimile faxes, perhaps.

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Productivity, Tech, Work

The Joy of Clouds

Cloud and Tree

Image by Bessi from Pixabay

When I was at school thirty years ago I learnt all about mainframe computers and binary code, today they probably teach kids about how to use templates in Word to do everything for you and how to get emoticons on their iPads. When I left school I was sent on a YTS scheme placement at a letting agent whose computers were green-screen dumb terminals connected to the aforementioned mainframe-type network. These terminals didn’t store data themselves but stored what you entered on a central server computer, and we had to enter data from index cards onto the computer and write the record number the terminal gave you on the card, if you forgot you had to ask everyone else what numbers they had in order to work out which number you’d missed.

Since then we’ve been through a long era where the data you’re using is either held on the computer you’re sat in front of or a local server which creates a problem of having to transfer data to a new computer when the old one becomes too slow or losing it altogether when it dies completely. Then there is the problem of the software that accesses the data – constant upgrades, new file formats etc. The solution is cloud computing and is amazing. At home I use gmail which I can access from my PC, laptop, phone or tablet, at work we use Office 365 for email which removed the problem of having all our email on an old and creaky email server and even worse problem of some machines downloading the emails so they were not on the server at all. Now a new PC just means a download of a decent browser and log-in. I can even access my work emails from home if necessary – when we’ve had internet outages for example.

Even accounts software is moving online now so businesses can have the added security of not having all their eggs in one vulnerable server, so to speak, with the same benefit of being accessible anywhere, even from a phone app. There is the risk of hackers but that’s the same with a local internet connected server and usually the company providing the software will have good security on their servers, you’d hope.

The downside is often that unless the service is advertising funded the you’ll have to pay for a full-fat version of the service, free users will have limitations – such as the Evernote I’m writing this on which limits me to two computers. Before this limit was introduced I could start a post on my tablet, edit it on the laptop in Norfolk and finish and post it from the desktop at home. Now it’s just the laptop as a sofa based solution.

All these modern “terminal” solutions have removed the need for an all-for-one computer holding everything, I can put my best photos on Flickr, my writings on Evernote and so on, all backed-up online and accessible anywhere. Other services such as Google, Siri and Cortana enable you to bring a map up and then send directions to your phone from your computer, or send them to anyone else. I can instantly take a photo of something I need to describe and email it from the same device to whoever needs to see it.

Some software still, for me, works best as what was called a native app on a computer – such as a standalone word processor, spreadsheet, desktop publishing app or photo editor due to how web pages are constructed but as web languages continue to evolve and new technologies blur the lines between web pages and apps further maybe it will finally become unnoticeable. The idea of Software as a Service is how Microsoft distributes Windows 10 now, charging for new licences for each new computer but an existing PC will always have the most up to date version until it stops working. Web based office suites, online word processors and so on, are the basis of the likes of Chromebooks – where everything is stored and runs online and perhaps this is the way computing is going, software will never be out of date your data will never end up in a format you can’t open but you have to keep paying a subscription to access it, unless you accept banner adverts whenever you’re editing your latest monthly report.

Cloud computing has its advantages but also potential pitfalls, privacy is a concern for some but as so many online services have just shut up shop, with users’ photos and so on disappearing into the ether you do wonder whether the convenience is entirely worth it. It may be, but only if there’s the option to download your documents and use them without an internet connection, as you can still currently do with the likes of Evernote and OneDrive which synchronise locally automatically. Most importantly I’d prefer to be able to create home backups against a hacker holding everyone’s data to ransom, a mouse chewing through a power cable in a datacentre or a massive solar outburst wiping out the internet – in which case, however, we’d have much worse to worry about.

So cloud computing is the future but like tightrope walking it’s better with a safety net.

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Gadgets, Music, Outdoors, Society, Tech, Work

Bored On The Fourth Of July?

Beach

Image by Terri Cnudde from Pixabay

Not really. I actually wrote this a few summers ago while I was on holiday and pretty much disconnected from the internet, something that many people can’t deal with anymore, as evidenced by people I see leaving shops or the Royal Mail parcel collection point and immediately reaching for their smartphones.

Instead I was using an energy efficient, wireless information transmission media to give me something to do when not watching ships go by, fishermen fishing or birds swooping around – reading books and magazines. It was great, relaxing, not feeling that I should be doing anything else. I did even less in the afternoon after arriving – simply sitting in the sun watching the occasional boat go by and listening to the waves and birds. Me and my folks had walked into the nearby town, eaten fish and chips by the sea and done some shopping.

I wasn’t completely electronics-free, I had access to a digital TV to watch Antiques Roadtrip and thousands of songs stored on my phone to listen to but mostly I was only doing these things later in the evening, after Cider-O’Clock, when the sun was setting and, to paraphrase the cricket, bad light stops reading. If I’d relied on internet streaming services I’d have no music or TV.

If I stood in the right place I could get a faint 4G signal and my phone beeped a few urgent notifications at me but I didn’t feel the need to leap on them like my life depended on them, like they were some kind of life-sustaining manna from the cloud. For many today though the lack of connection would be unbearable – no way to know what everyone else is doing, no way of telling anyone what they’re doing – OMG people will think I’ve disappeared, or that I’m upset with them, I’ll lose their interest, or worst of all, I’ll fall off their news feeds, arghh. Some people would even worry that they’d miss something important from their work, that they should be available, just in case.

People who spend too much time online call this a digital detox but for me it wasn’t too different from being at home really, though it was refreshing to be away from the lure of Ebay – bargain hunter that I am it’s easy to just sit looking for stuff I don’t really need or in the end never actually buy. As it was the holiday was timed perfectly as at home I was still sorting out and reducing unnecessary stuff following my house move so if I’d been at home I’d have spent every spare moment digitising paperwork to then recycle.

So as the Americans celebrated their independence day (no comment) I celebrated my independence from their digital monoliths with a cider by the sea and sunset.

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Music, Productivity, Science, Tech, Work

The Technology of Staying Apart

high angle view of woman sitting at desk

Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.com

Traditional industries such as the one I am in don’t allow working from home, we sell glass, I haven’t got the room for the cutting table. Cloud based working though has allowed many businesses to continue through the current pandemic, many of whom have been critical. The internet of course has been fantastically useful at home for entertainment, education and information. It has been amazing how a number of technologies which once seemed niche have suddenly come of age.

Remote working has evolved quickly in the last few years thanks to Cloud Computing – information and even applications that you access on a computer being stored on servers somewhere else in the world, connected via the internet rather than being in the same building or on the computer itself – from the old days of clunky low-bandwidth video calling and rudimentary remote control to full team working and sharing of screens and data enabling full real-time collaboration where all participants can manipulate data in a shared space while discussing it as though in the same room. The most important area where this technology is critical is the efforts to develop a vaccine where data can be shared instantly.
  The advent of internet phones and internet based systems used by large companies has allowed call centres to be distributed, you might ring British Gas or Severn Trent Water – as I did about a blocked drain – and it seems like you’re talking to a chap in a big room full of people but maybe the background noise doesn’t seem the same, maybe that’s because he’s in his kitchen at home, in his slippers. Because the booking system for the engineers relies on internet-connected servers rather than the old wired connections within a building the computer used can be anywhere. Internet phones are the same, plug one into any internet connection and the traditional landline phone number associated with it can be used to ring it, anywhere on the planet.
  It was also a momentous day when Prime Minister’s Questions was carried out for the first time ever with barely any MPs present in the house of commons – most of them attending via video link. This could be a hint at how to do things in the future, cut travel costs and make sure that all the MPs can be there wherever they are. In fact already there are rumours (some are calling them conspiracy theories already) that universities are looking at this situation as a model for future methods of delivering lectures and that this could usher in a new business structure where companies have their workers at home all the time and wouldn’t need large offices just facilities for the servers and spaces for face-to-face meetings. The number of people commuting could be reduced too reducing road traffic and pollution as everyday work, meetings and even conferences and presentations can be done online as more people have now had to learn how to do it, the tv joke of someone sat in a suit and tie up top with pyjamas below the desk could, in the future, become normal. The nightmare flipside is being asked to take your phone and laptop on holiday with you – just in case we need you to take a few calls – ha, don’t think so.

Beyond work video calling, such as by Zoom, Skype or Facebook’s standalone devices keep family and friends in contact alongside normal phones. Online shopping allows people to get essentials while in isolation. Even volunteering, whether on a local scale or the NHS’ system has enabled volunteers to be notified on their mobile apps if someone needs medication delivering, taking to an appointment or just needs a chat with someone. Technology has truly enabled everyone to pull together and feel closer together while staying apart.
  Radio stations have set up micro studios in presenters houses, TV presenters have similarly done shows from home, adverts for TV and radio have been made remotely, many using footage from smartphones including shows specially for the lockdown including cookery and craft shows. Stock footage and image libraries have clearly been plundered for many of these lockdown-specific adverts.
  Have I Got News For You, which I just happened to see on the BBC the other night has the usual studio setup with the presenter in the middle and the two teams of panellists either side but with the guests on superimposed monitor screens instead of being present which looked surreal as they still cut to each guest as if they were there rather than showing their image full-screen.
  BBC4 have made a short series of programmes “Museums in Quarantine” featuring art experts exploring closed museums either via their online presence or via special permission to visit on their own providing a different viewpoint and something interesting to watch.
  Then there was the remotely recorded, distributed benefit concert Together At Home, which seemed to gether more comments on the artists’ homes, or home studios, than anything regarding their performances.
  Formula One and Formula E have held simulator based virtual races, using the already realistic training sims the drivers use before each race to practice for the first practice on the real thing. And even the Grand National was held virtually, all thanks to the still increasing power of computers that pack the graphical power of what used to fill a room into a desktop box – or rather a server rack full of them.

Magazines such as Fortean Times have been able to distribute their operation to their staff’s homes, having prepared years ago to be able to do so so apart from the printing and distribution the magazine can still be produced – and were even prepared for if it had to become online only for a while as they provided temporary free access to the digital edition for us subscribers. Again this is thanks to being able to create the various bits on PCs at home and then bringing them together via the Cloud, or email, into a print magazine via Desktop Publishing which is then sent digitally to the printers where the ethereal finally becomes the physical and drops on our doormat without any hint of disruption.

Home schooling has become the norm and there are numerous online resources for all ages, many of which have either always been free or have been while our lockdowns have been in place, with even the BBC providing what they’ve called Bitesize Daily – short educational programmes, as well as other online courses being provided free for people staying home to have something educational to do.  Online gaming has continued to bring people together, even if they are marauding across a virtual battlefield.  If there’s been nothing to watch on TV then there’s been the seemingly infinite resource of learning, entertainment and cat videos, YouTube to fall back on. 

There had been initial problems with systems for remote working struggling with the extra demand, such as with Microsoft Teams, but the providers have been able to quickly adapt to cope. Zoom has proved controversial too due to government security concerns concerning the encryption keys sometimes going through Chinese servers.

On the inevitable dark side of things criminals have been trying to use the pandemic to con people but again technology has also helped against the online threats, Google’s Gmail for example has blocked 18 million malware and phishing attacks per day through use of machine learning to teach the system what to look out for. A massive number of emails and messages have been pretending to be from the WHO so much so that efforts have been made to specifically filter such messages to confirm authenticity.

Other technology that even I have dismissed in the past has suddenly become very useful and even I’ve used it. Contactless payment is particularly useful when food shopping, I criticised this when it came out for its potential for theft from your cards but even I have used it throughout. Online banking – which I still won’t use personally – is undeniably useful in reducing the number of people needing to use physical banks, where you have to use the ATMs for all transactions now – which of course can now take deposits, carry out transfers and so on as well as doling out cash.

It’s not only tech that seems to be, by good fortune, in place just when needed the TV channel Dave in the UK has been partnering with the Campaign Against Living Miserably for a number of months now to make people aware of the importance of staying in touch with those friends or family who are alone and at this time it’s an all the more important cause.

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Health, Psychology, Society, Work

A Crisis Brings Out The Best in People

Flowers

Flowers

I originally wrote a piece about how it felt like our nation had lost our legendary stoicism and blitz spirit and become selfish and cynical in the face of a global pandemic, hence the title being ironically wrong, but thankfully the good has now far outweighed the bad so, the revised version.

We started March with a looming, glowering storm approaching called COVID-19 and numerous selfish individuals made grocery shopping look like an episode of Supermarket Sweep thinking that of course, and I quote, “there wouldn’t be any food in two weeks time”. Though food didn’t seem to be on most of their minds as across the world people hoarded toilet rolls – why they’d need them without food is anyone’s guess. in the U.S. of course people hoarded guns and ammo, presumably in case someone came to take away their bog rolls.

As we know, despite supermarkets telling us that they’d got warehouses full of everything we’d need while being locked away for six months, the hoarding soon extended to milk, pasta, bread and nappies. When the pubs closed down so the hoarders stockpiled beer too, then gin, rum and lastly cider. I drink cider so I’m ok with enough for my occasional can in the fridge. I’m alright Jack (Daniels).

After six weeks we got the queuing back but this time at reopened DIY stores and household waste centres as people were desperate to clear out the stuff they’d been, er, clearing out for six weeks.

I spoke to a woman on the till at the height of the panic buying, she looked exhausted and had had a bad day, it was worse than the pre-Christmas rush and she said she’d had enough of working in retail, it was the final straw. Then the hoarders left an NHS nurse in tears because after working all day to help people she couldn’t get food for her tea. Further it descended into the same people shouting at shop staff because they couldn’t get what they wanted and after limits were imposed on how much you could buy people tried going back with multiple trolleys – one man locally went back to the same till with a second trolley full and was refused, as was a man with a trolley full of toilet roll. It is a sad reflection on these parts of our society that the CEO of Asda had to go on TV adverts asking people not to abuse his staff.

But of course it wasn’t just shop staff, at first a number of Asians in Britain were verbally or physically attacked with comments such as “take your coronavirus home” being spat at them by the idiots, then the shop staff trying to make sure everyone has food, some staff of non-essential businesses had been abused for cancelling work and closing, and then after shops prioritised NHS staff in stores other shoppers had been heard to abuse them too just for being prioritised, commenting “so what” and so on. These people would be the first crying for NHS help should they fall ill, and would be demanding priority treatment.

We had people stealing milk bottles from doorsteps. A pub in Scotland delivering free meals to NHS staff received a torrent of online abuse for doing it. And the people who think this is just a free holiday and restrictions don’t apply to them, because they’re special or too “badass” to catch, carry and transmit the virus so they continue to gather together. And as for the people caught licking a phonebox in our town, well in addition to being made to clean it it would be ironic if they caught the virus from the phonebox wouldn’t it.

The latest thing is people believing conspiracy theories that 5G mobile is to blame for coronavirus and destroying the phone masts that ultimately our emergency services also rely on. It doesn’t help that these theories are being peddled by ill-informed celebrities on social media, because of course they’d be an expert on the subject so they must be right, right? As for the other conspiracy theories, well, it’d take the rest of the lockdown period to read them all.

But then the good in our country started to show. I’ve noticed most people being polite and considerate, saying thankyou, saying “morning” when you pass them while getting your government authorised exercise and smiling. Hundreds of thousands of people have volunteered to help the NHS, delivering prescriptions, taking patients to appointments, calling vulnerable people on the phone just to chat. Local groups have launched to help people, do shopping for them, walk dogs. Individuals and supermarkets have helped foodbanks. Pubs have become corner shops, restaurants became takeaways. Private healthcare companies are helping support the NHS, St John’s Ambulance volunteers are operating their ambulances alongside the NHS’ own service, and even Formula 1 teams have offered to build ventilators for hospitals. Airbus have deployed test aircraft to transport supplies. Passenger aircraft have been turned into cargo planes for medical supplies. A McDonald’s has become a drive-through testing station. The response has been amazing.

Like in wartime when car manufacturers made tanks and aircraft fashion clothes factories have started making medical gowns for the hospitals. Individual companies and even schools have donated PPE to hospitals.

The Queen has given speeches to rally the country in unison, invoking the wartime spirit, saying “And those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any. That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterise this country.” As a nation we are showing that we do indeed still have that spirit in abundance.

Every Thursday night we clap for carers, round here it has expanded to honk for hospitals, fireworks for frontliners too. We see rainbows painted by kids in house windows and attached to fences, even out in the countryside where I ride my bike. My parents saw, the other night, two dinosaurs walking along their street to give people a smile. Whole streets are singing outside their front doors.

People have raised huge sums for the NHS and charities via social media, including a Notts man who raised over £150,000 by camping in the garden, and Captain Tom, the 99 year old Army veteren who voluntarily raised over £30million by completing 100 laps of his garden, then gets a song to number one, the oldest person ever to achieve that. We’ve had improvised comedy nights, adverts encouraging working together.
Organisations supporting the vulnerable and desperately in need of help in this situation have continued to support everyone they can.  Communities have been helping each other to get through the crisis.

Internet services providers have beefed up their services and prioritised users to provide for remote working. Facebook has just announced that they’ll be flagging whether you’ve looked at any misleading information about coronavirus on their platform. The technology companies are enabling communications that enable the world to carry on better than we could otherwise have done, and allowed many who would otherwise be isolated to not be.

Shortly before we were Furloughed I spoke to a delivery driver who was moved because of people thanking him for carrying on and doing a wonderful job in enabling the country to carry on, which extends to posties and lorry drivers, shop staff, bin men and other key workers who we all should be grateful to and thank sincerely.
So yes we have seen we still have a strong community spirit, and judging by the Coronavirus jokes on Facebook, our sense of humour.

I think this characterises us, when times are tough we suddenly stand up and make things brighter, whether it’s a war, or a economic downturn or a pandemic we do what we can to make our country bright – in the landscape of flowerbeds or painted rainbows and our spirits through smiling and joking about it, dancing and singing in the street – whatever we need to do to try to keep each other going.

As Winston Churchill once said “makes you proud to be British.”

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Business, Psychology, Society, Work

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.

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creativity, Gadgets, Psychology, Tech, Uncategorized, Work

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.

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creativity, Gadgets, Meta, Productivity, Psychology, Tech, Uncategorized, Work

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.

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Health, Psychology, Science, Society, Work

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.

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