Category Archives: Electronics

Left To My Own Devices

During my regular morning perusal of I came across a rather depressing story. I know there have been many of late, but this  had nothing to do with the daily flood of diarrohea from SCROTUS. On the technology page I read that Apple has stopped making the iPod Nano and Shuffle, the last two stand – alone MP3  players in their catalogue. I am sure that this item didn’t create even the tiniest blip on the personal radars of most people, but it took the edge off my day for a number of reasons.

I should point out that I understand why Apple did this: they want the iPhone to be all things to all people, and want everyone to rely on their little block of plastic, glass and silicon for everything.  From an economic perspective it makes sense, as simplifying product lines improves efficiency and simplifies the supply chain, but it left me feeling cold. Let me explain:

I’m an alien. I was born on the planet analogue and for many years lived a conventional life among humans, blending in ( apart from the Aspergers) and getting by. I had a very large vinyl collection, and it gave me great comfort. to quote the band Cornershop, “Everyone needs a bosom for a pillow, mine’s on the 45”, even though it occupied more of my bedroom than I did. I ignored CDs until it was too late,and managed to survive the 90’s by pretty much ignoring contemporary music. My life changed when my then Father In Law bought me a third generation iPod after my then wife asked him what version would be best for my commute.  I was faced with the opportunity to put more  music in my shirt pocket than I could put in my bedroom, and I embraced it without question. I was stunned, don’t get me wrong, but the ability to hold 30 days of non stop music in my hand was more than I could believe.

In my youth I owned a Walkman. Every Saturday I would have to decide which four tapes  I  would put into the pockets of my Italian army combat jacket  before I took the train into Liverpool to spend my money on music. It was not a simple task: : picking the wrong tape meant I would be stuck listening to something for which  I wasn’t in the mood, and let’s face it, that really stinks. The iPod gave me the opportunity to change my mind and to create playlists longer than half a dozen compilation tapes. Lest you think I put my past behind me, think again. I have two large boxes stuffed with C 90 tapes stored in the closet and three, yes, count ’em, three functioning Walkmen, as well as two boom boxes.  My first iPod had a duff battery, but the second one lasted well, especially after my son replaced the corrupt hard drive that after almost 10 years finally gave up the ghost. I also bought one of the last generation models, as 160 GB should keep me going for some time, and when I bought it, I regarded my 80 GB model as beyond repair. I also have  a couple of shuffles, a 1GB and a newer 2GB model which I used to use exclusively for podcasts on my commute. I could clip the iPod to the headphone cord, and if wearing earbuds, it took up almost no space in whatever bag or Eastern European military map case I happened to be using that day.

It seems to me that the life cycles of electronic devices are getting shorter. We have become as accustomed to the concept of this year’s iPhone model as we have to the idea of this year’s new car model. A practice, I hasten to point out, which began in the 1920’s once sales began to level off. I mean, do we really need a new model phone every year? I’m still using a Galaxy 3, and it serves me darn well. In fact, I don’t even use all the functions, so in some respects, it is more than I need.

Phone batteries have a crappy lifespan, and the fact that I get a weeks’ worth of normal use out of  my iPod between charges is something I appreciate. I also appreciate the fact that it is a single function device, and therefore is subject to the inverse law of “The less there is to go wrong, the less there is to go wrong” I now have four devices that should last me a good 20 years between them, and I wonder how many of you can say the same things about your new iPhone? Do you know anyone who still uses a first generation iPhone? No, you don’t.

You’ll have to excuse me. I’m in the mood to listen to some original recordings of Caruso, but I just can’t find the right wax cylinder.

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Computer World.

I grew up in a time before the reality of the desktop computer. And before you ask, no, I didn’t grow up before the invention of the steam engine, although I may have some difficulty in convincing my kids of that fact.  Until I was about 16 they simply didn’t exist except as cobbled together kits assembled by the most severely socially inept. Indeed, my school of 1,500 had four of the very earliest Macintoshes and they were only available to those students who were enrolled in the Advanced Maths class that went beyond the usual curriculum ( think AP).

The first desktop I ever owned was a 486/66 that was the fastest and most powerful one we could find, and had a massive 16 Gigs of RAM. Wow!  So as you can see, I don’t have the technical background that my kids have. I manage to install updates, games and the suchlike but beyond that I am lost which is why I turn to my son for tech support. Just to give you an example: I bought a printer about 18 months ago, installed the driver and plugged the computer in to it as I didn’t want to mess with wireless set up when it sat just four feet from the computer. I tried, and failed miserably to get my laptop to connect wirelessly and just decided to give up. Of course, my son took one look at it and fixed the issue in about five minutes and I’ve never looked back. I haven’t the heart to tell him that I’ve never needed to print from the laptop but that’s not the point. However, seeing as he configured the wifi network in my new house he has more than earned his corn.

Things chugged along nicely after that apart from the frustration of trying to watch the English football on Saturday mornings ( See “Football Crazy and “World Cup Willie”) with all the attendant problems of dropped feeds and delays. By the start of this year both my desktop and laptop were six years old and sorely in need of replacement, especially as the failing backlight on the desktop screen threatened to induce a Grand Mal seizure every time I switched on. Both were duly replaced with new models of significantly greater power which were unpacked and powered up before I reached my first and much anticipated stumbling block; transferring over my old data and files. Naturally my son was very excited at the prospect of being in charge of such a task, so I handed over my new 1.5 Tb external hard drive and set him running.

Of course,everything went smoothly and he was very happy that I was willing to step aside and rely on his innate expertise. There was only one minor drawback in that the desktop wouldn’t display on the T.V. despite our best efforts – well, his best and my worst.( The reason for this is that my laptop has a display port rather than and HDMI port so the sound doesn’t transfer and requires me to plug external speakers into the laptop.) In these situations I usually put it down to user incompetence, but seeing as my very own tech guru couldn’t work it out I steeled my nerves and called HP online support. I spent over an hour texting with a very nice chap somewhere in Bangalore who after much investigation informed me that my computer lacked a dedicated video card and hence simply wouldn’t do what I wanted it to. ( I’ve had girlfriends like that, but that’s a different story).  Ah well, lesson learned.

On the upside however, the desktop has the capacity to run newer games, so I indulged myself by buying the five most recent releases in the “Call Of Duty” franchise that my old machine just couldn’t handle. Oh, if you know of anyone who’s in need of a heavy duty 50 foot nylon coated HDMI cable let me know as I know where they can get one at a very reasonable price – “Never fired, only dropped once” as the old joke goes.

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Food Glorious Food.

As most of you are aware, I like my food, and it shows. I have always appreciated a well stocked larder, especially now as I live in an active earthquake zone. The old house had a huge Sub Zero brand refrigerator which pretty much set the standard for fresh food storage. My current place came with a Hotpoint of indifferent appearance and lacking even an ice maker though I managed somehow. Initially I was having a heck of a problem with ice buildup in the freezer compartment, though this problem was solved by the maintenance guy plugging the hole in the rear of the unit which provides access for the water pipe to the non existent ice maker. Problem solved, or so I thought.

Not only did ice continue to build up, this time around the door rather than the rear, but the fridge compartment was not cold enough to even stop the butter from softening. Once again I put in a maintenance request and after the usual game of phone tag spoke with the coordinator we agreed that as I am now out of the house 12 hours a day ( see “Career Opportunities”) I would empty the fridge, putting the perishables in coolers on the kitchen counter and that he and his team would replace them once the work was completed. This seemed fair as the job would involve removing the old fridge and bringing in a loaner while repairs were undertaken, especially as they would have to lug loaner up the stairs.

Having removed the bookshelves and shoe rack from hallway the previous evening, I dutifully packed the coolers and left them on the counter before heading off to work. Little did I know that the coordinators’ words would be so prescient: when making the arrangements, he said “Everything will be back in the fridge, just not in the right place” Ooooh, how half right he was.

I returned 36 hours later, having spent the previous evening with my sweetie and barely had time to drop off my bags before heading out to pick up the kids for dinner when my eyes were greeted by guess what? The full coolers sitting on the counter where I had left them a day and a half previously! Let me repeat that. The entire contents of my fridge had been      left  un-refrigerated  for 36 hours.  As you can imagine, this made me very unhappy as I now had absolutely nothing to give the kids for dinner. At least the trip to and from their house gave me a chance to calm down a bit. I called the guy in charge and was greeted by his voice mail. I didn’t swear, largely because the kids were in the room, but I made  clear in no uncertain terms my anger and outrage at the situation. I also made it patently clear that the management company would be paying not only for the full replacement cost of the contents, but also any meals I had to buy as a consequence.  I believe the phrase “Epic fail” was used several times in my message, but I was so angry I can’t give an accurate count.

After we returned from the diner, “Moe” (not his real name) called, apologised and admitted full culpability, which assuaged me somewhat, as did his promise to “Take care of things”.  I took the opportunity to email him and his boss regarding what I expected, and was met with no resistance at all. I think it fair to say that I was abrupt, direct and forthright in my email, but at least I managed to avoid obscenity or the use of outright threats, which is quite an achievement, considering the circumstances.

It took me about a week and a half and several trips to replace the contents, made easier by the fact that I’d made sure to document every spoiled item before making trips to the dumpster  and email the list to the interested parties. Leaving aside the time, mileage, wear and tear and general mental anguish, the total came to $480. I know this sounds like a lot, and it is, but as I was buying new to replace used, as it were, it all added up. I can’t really walk into the store, buy a quart of milk and then ask the checkout guy to pour out 2 1/2 pints, can I? Of course, I kept all my receipts both for shopping and meals so that I could back up my claim. I expected a quick resolution, but it took a little over three weeks for the cheque to arrive, and only then after I’d dropped all attempts at humour and understanding and threw a bit of snippiness into my third email on the subject.

Needless to say, I could have done without all the grief involved in all this, but at least I ended up with a fridge full of brand new food and in rather more quantity that prior to the “Great melt” of ’15.  I suppose I should be grateful that I lost only the contents of my fridge and not the contents of my drinks cabinet. Had the latter occurred, not only would I have been considerably angrier, but the replacement cost would have run well into four figures, something for which I’m sure the property managers are extremely grateful.

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I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass.

As you may neither remember nor care, it took me a long time to switch to a smart phone, and all was well until  I broke the screen this summer. I knew it would happen eventually, but was pissed off at the way it happened. My sweetie and I were relaxing on the floating dock on the lake when the phone fell out of the pocket of my cargo shorts, hitting the concrete after a fall of just a few inches. Bugger. I am a congenital phone dropper, and dropped my flip phone regularly, never incurring anything more significant than the odd scratch, so this was a real annoyance to me. Eventually I bought a replacement screen, and even more eventually installed it. So far, so good.

Barely a week later, however, I broke it again, finding a full width crack after taking it out of my pocket. Son of a bitch! But this time when I replaced the screen  it remained dark, despite the phone being on. Motherfucker! Cut to the chase: I had to buy a new phone as the third replacement screen didn’t resolve the issue. To make matters worse, I was unable to retrieve any data, pics or videos from the old phone. Motherfucking son of a bitch!!

The result was that I was without a phone for almost a month. I could still receive calls, but that was all, and then only by swiping hopefully at the blank screen and hoping for the best. It wasn’t too bad except for not being able to text my sweetie or look up info on IMDB as I’m not the sort of person who lives his life online and can’t imagine not being able to use Facebook or Foursquare 20 times a day. The only thing that really pisses me off is that I have lost all the photos I took when my dad was here and when we went to Kauai in the summer. My calendar is never particularly full and I have so few apps that they don’t even fill one screen so there is very little hardship involved in getting the new device up and running. I can’t get a new phone until my contract runs out in July, but just having shelled out for a new device I’m disinclined to get a new one. I realise that it is a sunk cost and that sunk costs are irrelevant, but seeing as my last two phones lasted me a total of ten years I’d like to get my money’s worth out of this one. I don’t need a higher resolution camera, I don’t watch video on my phone, don’t use streaming music services and don’t play games on it. In all probability I will wait a couple of years, wait for the latest model to hit the stores and then buy the one it replaces that no one wants and is virtually free. Assuming of course that I don’t break this one, although it gives me an idea about what I can do with all that bubble wrap that is left over from Christmas.

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