Stupid Design? No, It’s Energy Saving

I’ve had it with the obsession with Energy Saving, Green Tech.  A couple of years ago I bought a new TV, that evening as I was watching a film to try it out I noticed the screen getting progressively darker until I could hardly see the picture – being a Sunday night I just googled the symptoms and found it was the TV’s default Energy Saving mode – as you watch your eyes are supposed to get used to the light of the picture and so it gradually turns the brightness down to save power.

I turned that off straight away, I squint at nobody, no TV.

Energy saving lightbulbs make things in my kitchen look strange colours – I know this because I put the adjacent non-flourescent bulbs in the living room and my decor is improved somewhat.  I wouldn’t mind bu I haven’t seen much reduction in energy bills.

Finally now I have bought a CD micro system and connected a bluetooth receiver to the Aux input, the first time I tried it it shut itself off.  Odd, I thought but switched it back on, same again, and again with some regularity.  I looked in the manual and sure enough it is designed to switch to standby mode after ten minutes of inactivity.  Now it apparently defines inactivity as not playing a CD – the radio switches off after ten minutes too.  I have one hope left that I haven’t tried and that is a bluetooth adaptor that connects to the iPod dock on the top.

I have wondered if it’s faulty but it does say that this is normal behaviour in the manual, even in the troubleshooting section at the back so I doubt I’ll be sending it back to the seller on Ebay I got it from.  Chalk another lost £30 up to experience.

It may be saving energy to save the planet but if I have to get up and press some buttons every ten minutes – maybe the designers were inspired by the “Lost” island’s countdown clock –  then it’s not saving my energy is it.

Don’t Panic…

…I tell myself.  I recently ordered a number of items from retailers on Ebay, all small, couple of pound items some from the UK some from China.  I haven’t ordered anything from Amazon though – this is important.  I received confirmation emails, then despatch confirmations for all items, from Ebay.

Then I received an email from Amazon saying my order had been despatched.  WHAT ORDER!

Before opening the email I googled the company listed in the email header, it was real, a well-known marketplace seller.  I tentatively opened the email, knowing that in spam or phishing emails the “from” address (amazon.co.uk) can be spoofed.  It was a normal Amazon despatch message containing my home address and sent to my usual email address.  The thing was that there was no products listed at all but there was a link to parcel tracking that I didn’t click of course.

When I eventually checked my real-world mailbox this morning I found a large flat cardboard envelope with Amazon.co.uk emblazoned across it.  Uh, huh?

I opened it and immediately understood.  Inside was a despatch note from the company listed in the email, on Amazon stationery so to speak, and the item I’d ordered from the UK Ebay seller.  I finally realised – the email had said it was from the Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) section – I’d bought from a seller under one name on Ebay but the item was despatched from their stock held in Amazon’s warehouse under a different name.  I hadn’t realised that FBA extended beyond purchases from Amazon Marketplace to Ebay and elsewhere too.

If the product had been listed on the emailI would have realised sooner but as it was I spent yesterday morning changing my Ebay, Paypal and Amazon log-ins and passwords to be on the safe side.

The strange, confusing world of online shopping logistics.

It’s Starting to look a Lot Like… October

Snow Dawn (©2012 by Andy Vickers)

Snow Dawn (©2012 by Andy Vickers)

I’ve just finished work for the holidays, Nat King Cole is on the radio wishing me Merry Christmas yet I’ve just been stood outside on the balcony, drinking tea in the sunshine and I didn’t need a winter coat.

Now in reality it hasn’t regularly snowed at Christmas in this part of Britain for many, many decades – the idea of snow on Christmas day comes in part from Charles Dickens’ whose childhood, at the end of the Little Ice Age, was a time of much snow and where even the Thames would freeze solid – but even so this feels bizarre.

These days I look forward to snow on my birthday, that happens regularly as can be seen in my Christmassy picture above taken on that day in February 2012 .

Anyway, despite the lack of the white stuff here in mid-England I will wish all my readers a Happy Christmas and a wonderful new year.

Dear Google…

Very dear Google, at the moment, it seems.  In both money, time and torn out hair.

Two years ago my folks bought me a Google Nexus 7 (by Asus) for Christmas as I couldn’t afford the £200 cost myself and over those two years it has remained a terrific gadget, so useful to me, checking emails, quick notes into Evernote, streaming my entire, extensive, music collection over a bluetooth speaker system etc, as I’ve mentioned before.

Then Google announced Android 5.0 – Lollypop.  A new look, a new heart, faster, leaner, better – for every device that would take it.  Until I clicked on the download button on the update my Nexus 7 rarely stuttered, only very occasionally did it slow down, usually down to an errant website or, very rarely, a misbehaving app.  Now though it can’t even display Google Earth street views without crashing completely, touches are completely unresponsive, though sometimes it’ll do what I’ve asked a minute or so later.  Google Maps zooms out when I make the gesture to zoom in, bouncing back out to the original map size like it thinks I’ve changed my mind.

I’ve read the forums where others afflicted like myself have tried to suggest fixes – I’ve cleared the cache by booting into its safe mode” and it seemed to work, for a day or so and then we were back to the same sorry state of affairs of frustratedly stabbing at the screen like it’s going to suddenly notice that I’m doing something.  The Jellybean version of android introduced Project Butter which made Android smoother and slicker, I think Lollypop must refer to a toffee apple as this feels more like Project Treacle.

In tech parlance our Nexus 7s (Nexii?) are as good as bricked, and it’s all the more annoying that it’s on Google’s own device – they should know their own hardware.  The Nexus line was originally a kind of reference hardware of sorts, the first out the gate with a new O/S to show how other manufacturers should make their devices.  The thing is that the Nexus devices have been so good and such good value for money that they’ve not been just bought by techies who will accept that they’re using a beta-test device and can get round any bugs, these are mainstream devices with respected names engraved on them, a major update like this shouldn’t effectively break the hardware or ruin the user experience.

To be fair, briefly, it’s not just Google as Apple too have had a similar experience with iOS 8 making many iPhones etc unusable after the update, issues which took some sorting out via various updates.

I have a Sony phone which will never be updated beyond Android 4.3 because Sony doesn’t feel that 4.4 (Kitkat) would run well on it, this I can accept and because of this the Xperia still runs beautifully and unless something I load onto it changes that it will for some time.  I also have a laptop which sometimes loads to a black screen and I can’t log on until I put it to sleep and wake it again and it sometimes crashes yet I don’t mind one bit – because it’s running Windows 10, which is currently only in its experimental, technical preview stage.

That’s the thing pre-beta test operating systems will inevitably contain bugs, that’s the point of beta test software, you use it, you accept it, but Android 5.0 on an older Google device feels like a piece of beta software pushed out as finished.

So Google, please make it work, I can’t afford a Nexus 9, I want my Nexus 7 back.

[Really Google, I mean it, I can barely type at the moment, I’m pleading, hands clasped, on my knees, which are starting to feel sore…]

 

Update:  Ok, so it’s a couple of weeks later, Christmas has been and gone and I’m now less than charitable, my Nexus is still next to useless, every time I go to use it the battery’s flat, it’ll work fine for a while then I’ll try to browse the internet and it’ll start locking up again, sometimes Maps will work, sometimes it won’t.  All I’m thinking now, while looking for contingencies of cheap non-Google tablets (I did find myself thinking “if only I had an iPad” the other day but in reality I’m thinking more the Asus/Acer route), is how long will it be before someone sues Google over this.

End of January – the 5.0.2 update came in, all was fine, it was like having a new tablet again, woohoo!  Then after a couple of weeks it was back to being unresponsive most of the time again.  Seriously, Google, I want my £200 back, plz, k thx for nothing, bye.

March 15th – Android 5.1 “Bug Fixes” Ooh, they’ve fixed it.  No.  Now it’s just as unresponsive as ever and now the Ebay app won’t connect to the internet while Gmail will – it’s fine though if I switch the router off and on again.  Oh joy.

May 26th – There’s an article on Gizmodo about the future of Nexus devices.  I know the future of one Nexus device and it involves a rubbish bin, as I couldn’t in all conscience even give away this now almost bricked slab of glass and plastic to anyone.  It works for looking at Ebay, oh and Gmail but only if I leave it for twenty minutes after it connects to my WiFi in order to let it sort itself out.  If I try to search for something it goes into 1998 PC speed mode when any browser loads, I can barely use the internet on it basically.  Google Maps is the same, most of the time it just locks solid when I try to zoom into a map, after half an hour of forced reboots and trying to ignore it the thing will suddenly work ok, for a while.

I’m at a loss to explain it, as is anyone else.  If this was an Apple device their reputation would be taking a battering.

Anyway, time to save up and move on – Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 it is then.

Free Parking? Of Course, Don’t Even Ask…

English: Car Park £ 200 Presumably a decimal s...

English: Car Park £ 200 Presumably a decimal separator has gone amiss and the fee for using this car park beside the Coast Road is £ 2.00. At this time of the year plenty of free parking is available and the car park is closed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Outside our shop we have a forecourt which is intended for the use of our vans, delivery lorries and of course our customers – for the ease of getting glass into their vehicles without too far to walk.  The road beyond that has parking restrictions enforced with a zero-tolerance approach, and beyond that road is the Royal Mail sorting office which has no customer parking of its own which all leads to people collecting parcels to use our forecourt.

I wouldn’t mind if they’d just ask but despite the big signs saying that it’s for customer parking only these people either assume it’s for customers of Royal Mail too or they just don’t care – I’d say it’s the latter.  Maybe one in fifty will actually ask if it’s ok to park there for five minutes and to be honest as long as they’ve not parked in the way I’ll let them.  The rest though just ignorantly, arrogantly abandon their cars on our land, often actually blocking the entrance completely.  I have even witnessed two visitors to the Royal Mail park side-by-side in the sorting office entrance driveway, blocking it completely so that the delivery vans couldn’t get in or out.

As for our own forecourt invaders, they do it even when some of us are outside at lunch time, often looking at us with an expression of “what?  I can do what I like” on their faces.  We’ve even faced torrents of abuse from people who have blocked the entrance or access to our side gate and been asked to move, politely.  “Oh, for f***’s sake, I’m only collecting a parcel, where the f*** am I supposed to park” they shout.  Anywhere but where you have, without asking permission, would be the appropriate reply but by that time they’ve driven off loudly.

They could park in the nearby supermarket car park, or in the bays down the road but no, they might have to spend two minutes walking and that’d be tragic.  Just today one old BMW driver took the biscuit – he parked up, again avoiding eye contact as if he hasn’t seen me he hasn’t had to ask permission.   He then went and picked up his parcel, returned to his car and then sat, as many do, opening the parcel and inspecting the contents.  What he did next though was unbelievable – he opened the bonnet (hood) of his car and proceeded to fit the items from his parcel into the engine bay of his car – so now we provide not just free parking but free garage space too.  Finally tonight we were parking up the vans and a driver pulled up in our car park right where we were about to put a pickup truck “where can you park?” was again the plea.  Ten minutes later she could have used our land as we’d have gone home but at that moment I directed her along the road.  Edit:  even better than those, a few days after publishing this a couple parked in our car park, didn’t ask permission, visited the post office, came back and dumped the parcel in the car and then walked off down the road and into the town centre, coming back over an hour later.  It’s getting worse.

It’s the same at home.  Our building has eleven allocated spaces for eleven apartments and most evenings and at weekends a number of the spaces will be occupied by cars belonging to people who own houses on the adjacent street.  They buy a house with no off-street parking, on a street with clearly signed parking restrictions and then think “oh, where can I park my car?  I know, in that free parking next door.”  The free parking that everybody in this building pays a premium on the rent for.  These same neighbours are also the ones who think that our building’s communal rubbish skips are available for the overflow from their bins and garden waste too, oh and as with the work car park we provide free workshop space too as one neighbour used our car park, in fact the very space where my Citroen now resides, to replace the cooling pipes of his mid-engined MG-F.  All without asking one person if it was ok to get coolant and other fluids all over our tarmac.

The sheer volume of people who exhibit this lack of basic manners, this sense of entitlement to park where they like is troubling.  I was brought up with the maxim that manners cost nothing, yet today it appears that people seem to think that being polite costs them their very soul.

Square Eyes

Netflix

Netflix (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hi, it’s been a while, how you doing?  While I’ve been away from the blog (it’s been so long I see that WordPress have been in and redecorated the Editor screen) I’ve been watching a lot of tv.

Now I remember when Channel 4 started and Channel Five naturally, then when Freeview digital tv began I wondered whether there would be anything worth watching on. Before digital I used to watch more dramas and things I don';t watch now because there’s more choice and I can find something more to my taste, the last drama series I think I watched was series two of Lost before Channel 4, er, lost it.

Now thanks to BBC2, BBC4, Dave and Quest I have plenty to watch, unfortunately.  Just in the last six weeks there has been something I’ve wanted to watch on every night from seven to nine and the interesting thing is that they were all episodes of the same programmes every night.

This seems to be pandering to people’s cries of “I want more and I want it now”.  Once, when we had five channels, a tv show was on once a week, except the news and weather of course, there was too much of it for one show and we’d forget whether it was going to rain on Thursday.  Soon though soaps started being shown a couple of times a week, then Channel Five brought in striped programming where the same type of show was on at the same time every day.  Now though channels will show a whole series in one go, often a brand new show, an episode a day, seemingly to avoid forfeiting the viewers’ easily distracted attention – oh, won’t somebody please think of the advertising revenue!

Then there’s the extras – first Big Brother gained a post-show pseudo-analytical, comedic Little Brother, as if an hour of housemates wasn’t enough, the X-factor now takes up two evenings as does Strictly Come Dancing in a show of further ratings rivalry.  A cynic might say that all this also cheaply fills up all those fifty channels of digital bandwidth but I couldn’t possibly comment.

Much of this is related to the modern concept of Binge Watching brought about by online and satellite tv Box Sets – which are now even available for brand-new shows so rather than watching a series over half a year (as in the old days of The West Wing or Frasier for example) you can sit for a whole weekend watching episode after episode only stopping for food and toilet breaks, though with some services you can transfer the show to your tablet and keep watching in the loo too – another argument against buying second-hand tablets.  There is even advice for how to wean yourself off the box sets (spoiler alert:  it’s about watching episodes from half-way through, so avoiding the cliffhanger).

The thing is that satiating peoples’ impatience takes away the appreciation and anticipation of something you have to wait for.  If you’re watching the next episode of a drama straight away you’re missing the excitement of finding out what happens next steadily building.  That was what cliffhangers in tv dramas were invented for so next time you’re watching a drama on Netflix remember that the end credits are there for a reason.

Got to go , the repeat of Salvage Hunters is on.

Big Fish, Little Fish

Temporary Cycle Lane Shift Back To Controflow

Temporary Cycle Lane Shift Back To Controflow (Photo credit: samsaundersleeds)

Just a quick thought on various road users and annoyance.  Yesterday a lorry pulled out in front of me on a roundabout while I was in a small works van, by his gesticulating he clearly felt that I shouldn’t have been there.  Some car drivers get annoyed with cyclists because they think they’re getting in the way and shouldn’t be on the road and then this morning whilst on an early morning bike ride in the sunshine I was a bit miffed at having to slow down and wait for a guy (who had been running) wandering along a narrow cycle path with headphones on so he was completely unaware that I was wanting to get past and get home for a cool drink.

Seems we’re just all getting in each others’ way.  C’est la vie.

Edit:  On a serious note I’ve just seen this article which demonstrates the dangers and I’m amazed the cyclist walks away at the end of the video.

Smarterphones

SAM_0227

Sony Smart Tags

It has been a dream for decades of having computers that communicate with each other seamlessly, that can access all your data anywhere and could even be used to communicate.  Now, of course, it’s not a dream, we are living in that shiny, space-age, future… just without the flying cars and moonbases and spandex for everyone – pretty certain I can live without the last one though.

The smartphone is becoming the hub of that new age and they’re becoming smarter at an incredible rate.  My phone for example is location-aware, when it detects my car stereo’s bluetooth receiver I’ve told it to increase the screen brightness and it automatically launches the remote control app so I have full swiping and voice control of my tunes rather than having to look away from the road.  It could also switch on the GPS, launch the sat-nav or whatever else.  It can be set to run the music app when I plug in headphones, automatically adjusting the volume, turning notifications off, changing screen brightness etc, then changing it all back when I unplug them again.

There are apps which can unlock your phone’s lockscreen and set it up for home use as soon as it detects your WiFi, or if it knows you’re home based on GPS, Google Now (and equivalents) can even work out where home and work are.  I’m surprised the thing doesn’t say “ahh, home at last, how about a cup of tea.”  One day it will, and through the Internet of Things it’ll instruct the kettle to switch on too no doubt.

Another technology I was mistrustful of when it’s main use (in tech) was for contactless credit cards is NFC (Near Field Communication) but since buying an NFC equipped bluetooth adaptor for my old home hi-fi and a set of NFC tags to go with the phone I’m a convert to that too.  Once programmed the same app on the phone that detects the car’s bluetooth detects a quick tap of the back of the phone against a specific tag and changes settings or runs an app as required.  I have one that I can tap before leaving the house which activates the mobile data, once home I can tap it again to switch it off – which means I’m not disturbed by emails about sales and “recommendations” from retailers in the middle of the night (I switch the WiFi off at night too).

Apple’s iBeacon technology is allowing retailers to know you’re in store and can provide relevant information to your phone, which has inevitably created some privacy concerns but such is the way with new technology like this.  As I’ve mentioned before apps such as Siri and Google Now tailor the information they give to you based on where you are, pre-emptively giving you travel info for your journey home or tomorrow’s weather.

All this location and context aware gadgetry isn’t just about clever tricks any more, it’s becoming genuinely useful and convenient, giving us devices that adapt to the situation they are in rather than being set up manually at every change.  I used to say that computers aren’t clever enough to know what you want them to do, now though, it looks like they’re getting there.

The World is a Playground… Unfortunately

Wing mirror VW Fox

I’d already had a bad day when I arrived home to see the driver’s side wing mirror hanging forlornly from the door of my car.  I’ve had it nearly ten years, I still enjoy driving it, it’s distinctive, it’s a lovely car if a tad rough (rusty) around the edges.  It’s mine and for someone to physically assault it like this enraged me.

It’s not the first time either, last time though the mirror was saved by its spring-loaded safety mechanism that absorbs the impact and lets you just clip it back.  This time though there was no clipping back and no spring because whoever had hit it this time had done so with enough force to snap the bracket that held the spring.  This time the mirror was dead.

I removed panels, removed the dangling mirror so that the vandals couldn’t have a further kick at it and potentially smash the window with it, unthreaded its control cables so I could fit the parts that attached to the door back, to weather seal the door if nothing else.  Legally I can’t drive it until it has another mirror.  Searches on-line initially showed replacements in the region of £150 (requiring a £300 outlay as they were a newer design) and I thought of again trampling round scrapyards for parts, not relishing that I again turned to Ebay and Amazon and found replacement units for about £30.

So I can fix her, sorry, it.  But I shouldn’t have to, why have I got to spend £30 to repair the results of someone (adult or youth) thinking it’s a good game, clever, fun, big or macho to smash the wing mirror of an old car.  Or kick a wall down, smash a window, pull over a lamp-post…

I can’t begin to imagine how impressed this person’s friends must have been at his (or her) skill at beating up a purple Rover 200.  The next Chuck Norris must live in Newark, clearly.

Crappy Writers

Typebars in a 1920s typewriter

Typebars in a 1920s typewriter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t want to sound all Holier Than Thou in this post, but I’m going to anyway.  I write this blog, by myself, for no money, I am a blogger.  There are many other commercial blogs out there that contain writers who like to say “we’re journalists” but “we’re bloggers” if someone questions their professional standards.

One thing that always provokes the latter is when someone questions the tone of a piece or the non-impartiality of the writer.

One thing that keeps cropping up that bugs me is the use of the word “crappy”, in fact the title of this piece is actually “‘Crappy’ Writers” –  you see, I’m not being personal.  At all.  Honestly.

You see it regularly when describing gear that the writer feels is not to their liking, or is a bit old, and seems to be said in a kind of nod to the knowing audience who would of course all be agreeing.  Recent examples include a preview of an un-released tablet from a company that wasn’t Apple being described as “another crappy tablet” even though the spec hadn’t been announced and nobody had seen it and a photo taken from one aircraft of another which was taken not with a high-end DSLR worth thousands but with a “crappy Canon ELPH”.  Was it an appallingly bad photo?  No, especially as it was taken from a moving aircraft and was a photo of two other moving aircraft.  As we all know “at the end of the day the best camera is the one you have with you.”  In reality at the end of the day the best camera is the one with a tripod, or a flash, the rest of the day anything will do.  Sorry.

The crappy word isn’t always said, I’ve seen articles about a new phone or chipset saying “but if you’re reading this website you won’t want it because it’s a budget phone” oh so being interested in tech is limited to the well-off now is it?

If there’s a justification, then say it’s not a brilliant piece of kit, review it properly but to say that someone’s camera is crappy just because it’s not this year’s wi-fi connected, app enabled wondersnapper is unfair.  As is describing something that’s aimed at the less well off as crappy just because it’s not got a Ultra HD Full-Eyeball Neural Screen.

Not everyone can afford (or be given) the latest, top of the range kit, so how about holding back the longer c-word for the genuinely crap.