Category Archives: Rants

Over-Connected?

I recently listed a few pestilences of modern life in my diary.

(1) Corporate arrogance and technology in general… lack of customizability and options; the forced pace of progression (whether real or artificial). Products becoming obsolete long before they’ve actually broken down or outlived their usefulness. I can’t afford to keep updating or subscribing to everything. Things aren’t always matching up so that everything works together at the same time… like camera, different kinds of software, the hardware, scanner, printer… there’s always something that’s not able to use something else because it’s too old. Everything and everybody is supposed to be seamlessly connected, but it’s not working out that way. I’m starting to ask myself why I bother — I’d like to dump all of this stuff and just knit, tend my plants, watch a few DVDs and read paperbacks!

(2) Apps (and subscription software). Sometimes a project is interrupted (temporarily or permanently) because the way the app works changed in an update. It’s not progress to have goal posts constantly moved or options taken away.

(3) Keeping everything in the cloud. Huge security risk. And what happens when we lose connection?

(4) An increasing number of ads. It’s reached an impossible level. It doesn’t help when a website doesn’t let you zoom in on the text… their print is too small and my eyesight is not what it was.

(5) Increasing number of photos, podcasts and embedded videos. When an online news article is packed with them, you have to scroll cautiously to get past these obstacles to the next little dollop of text without losing your place… sometimes needing to scroll slightly back because something on the page changed and pushed all the text away. Some videos I’m able to watch, but a few aren’t captioned, or are captioned poorly. It’s frustrating when everyone’s saying how great a video is, but you don’t know what it’s about.

For poorly captioned videos, I’m thinking mostly of YouTube type captions — automatic? I’d rather have them than nothing, but they are hard to follow because, for instance, ‘Brexit’ becomes ‘breaks it’ or ‘breakfast’, and UKIP becomes ‘you kept’. I can barely remember what was said by the end, whereas I have a clearer grasp of content if I read an article or transcript. I don’t know if others find the same? Possibly too much of my concentration is taken up with decoding the captions — it’s as though there’s a filter between me and the information.

Earlier tonight I found the following two articles, both of which are food for thought. They reminded me of the grumbles listed above. Life doesn’t seem richer or smoother — instead it’s becoming more frustrating and not a little frightening.

The Perils of Globalization: An Interview with Gerry Mander

The New Luddites: Why Former Digital Prophets Are Turning Against Tech

Google Troll

I’ve been not too happy with Google search recently… on fast computers with fast broadband it’s probably pleasant enough to use, but if you have anything less than that, (like I appear to have) it’s annoying wrestling with the ‘instant on’ search. It’s slow and jumpy… and if you switch between on and off, you instantly lose whatever you’ve typed in the search field, and have to type it out again.

I also seem to have more issues than previously with Google assuming I’m looking for X instead of Y, even when it has plenty of sensible results for Y. For instance, I’ve been trying to replace my old ‘cool-bag’ trolley with something sturdy that has good strong wheels (it’s strangely hard to find quality these days). So I called up Google search and typed in ‘picnic trolley’. See picture for the result…

Click image to view more clearly.

(It gave me results for picnic troll, and said I could have results for picnic trolley if I really wanted them, but why would I want those??)

PS Had a horrid migraine today — suspect related to too many peanuts yesterday. I feel it with its teeth in my neck like a vampire, threatening to return, so I wouldn’t be up here at all (would be downstairs half-dozing in front of the TV) if Mum’s cat Meg hadn’t bounced me out of my chair. We nicknamed her the Godfather… you can try to make her leave, but you won’t succeed. She’s too big, old, and determined.

Cold and Tired in Scotland

I think it’s going to be a more relaxed Christmas than usual for us, because of the bad weather. I just think “hey ho, if I don’t have all the gifts, they’ll arrive later.” We all have our excuses ready; we keep being told by various sites and couriers that we might not get our presents in Scotland before Christmas Day, but I’m inclined to think a lot of it is bluster…. just like us when on Christmas Day we are telling our loved ones “sorry, you would have had three extra parcels but they’re still stuck on the motorway. Snow and ice, you know. Not my fault.”

But it was dreadful today… I mean the weather wasn’t snowy but it’s very cold.The local temperature stands at -4 degrees C, and might drop to -6. I’m so glad we got that heating fixed (it broke down, and we were three freeeeeezing days and nights without it! Though the heat is on again, I can feel the ice still tiptoeing up my spine and trying to give me a sly hug… the opposite of that warm furry Cup-a-Soup hug that would leap on you from nowhere when you had a mug of Cup-a-Soup (according to the commercials)). Anyway, we got the bus out to town in the morning, and met my sister for coffee, then drifted round the shops, and I felt awful. It seemed to me we were just going to the same shops and fingering the same goods we did for the past couple of days, and I was very bored and ‘down’. All I wanted to do was go home again. I was looking forward to going home before we even left!

It wasn’t till we DID get back home that I remembered I got up early this morning, and had already been up about 5 hours before we took the morning bus to town! I’m still very sleepy. But I felt fed up anyway, as we were spending ages in shops I didn’t want to be in (lots of waiting near the door looking at the same nasty cardigans and overpriced Christmas baubles for the umpteenth time, trying not to fall asleep on my feet), and then I was being rushed impatiently round those shops that I DID want to be in… At least I managed to get a couple of things which went off (“bleep bleep bleep”) when we were leaving the shop, and we had to have their alarms deactivated as they hadn’t been removed at the till. I don’t know why that always happens to me at least once every Christmas…

Then we went home and sat watching the same old programs we’ve seen millions of times before (Antique Roadshow, Eggheads, Pointless etc) and it was made worse by the Antique Roadshow doing “the ten best…” (pot boiler). If I had control of that remote control, the TV would either be off or I’d be watching something with more meat in it, like a film or a drama… or a DVD if I was desperate. I was looking at a family in the Antique Roadshow having a doll or a bear or something valued, and I was wondering how they could stand there looking so bright-eyed and interested. Surely the ennui of everyday life had got to them too? If they felt it, they didn’t show it, though the mother looked a little further along that road than the child.

My tiredness has turned to headache… I think that means I should have slept but didn’t really. Was dozing off on the sofa then getting up for coffee.

Sorry, I sound very grumbly! I suppose I should try and finish this Christmassy picture… will be back when I have more energy. (Probably 4 a.m. tomorrow morning…)

Arrogant Computers

What I hate about computers is that they are becoming more and more arrogant. They say things like “access denied” while not fully understanding your identity and aims. They do that, for instance, when you are sensibly deleting unwanted system files you have just reluctantly ‘restored’ from an old backup with limited options! Computers should remain accommodating till they know exactly what they are talking about.

What actually provoked this outburst today was a small thing, but it strikes me that it says a lot about the attitudes of computers (or their developers).

I borrowed an old mini camcorder from my sister and discovered the joys of editing home videos in iMovie. I was going to call one project “Where Are They?” But do you know what iMovie said? “You may not use / . * ? : or the return key in names. Please choose another name.”

I was so ruffled I went and did something else for a while. I’m sure there’s a logical reason why we can’t use these characters, but you’ll note that the operative word is ‘can,’ not ‘may’! I would have been less annoyed if the dialogue box had said “certain characters cannot be used.”

Bang

Lovely. We were watching Miss Marple and I was nearly down to the bottom of my glass of white wine when I noticed something. “Did you put anything in the wine?” I said.

“What?” Mum said, looking as though she was going to burst out laughing. “No!…?”

“Well,” I said, “this is either broken glass, or it’s crystallized sugar.”

The glass wasn’t chipped. Nor was the bottle. Mum had finished all of her wine, and there was just a drip left in the bottle. She decided the glass had been in the wine all along. Where’s Miss Marple when you need her?

“We can’t do anything about it,” said Mum. “I won the wine in a raffle, so there’s no taking it back to the shop.”

Anyway, we finished watching Miss Marple, then I went upstairs and deleted 500 MB of defunct volcano files from the computers. (The ‘in between’ stages and editions that didn’t work). After that, I started on my blog post about Hammy the Squirrel and SlartibartfastStop the Cavalry by Jona Lewie was on iTunes.

There was a terrible thud. I leapt up from my chair and rushed downstairs, and Mum was sitting in the armchair, pointing at the window. “It’s fireworks,” she said.
“FIREworks?? I HEARD that one! I thought something had come down with a thud.”
“Like what? Like me?”
“I thought maybe the broken glass had got to you!”
Mum laughed and clutched her stomach.

It must have been right over the house.”
“The whole house shook,” said Mum.
I stared at the ceiling, and sighed. “It shouldn’t be allowed,” I said, feeling that it wasn’t a strong enough statement in the circumstances. But who’s around to hear me ranting and raving?

Forced Reboot

My iMac desktop computer restarted itself in the early hours of this morning. This is the first time I was aware of Windows restarting without permission — and I was surprised. At first I wondered if there had been a power cut during the night. But I knew there hadn’t been, as my Toshiba laptop was still on and logged in.

I normally save my work and turn everything off at night or when going out, but last night I had a Bryce ‘final render’ taking place (probably 12 hours or more).  It’s recommended (by other CGI users) to leave the computer rendering overnight so that you can work during the day. The thing is, there is no autosave of the render, so you have to save it yourself once it’s done.

I got up this morning expecting to see a nice bright picture and a flag saying “this render took 12 hours, 15 minutes and 1 second!” Instead I found myself looking at a desktop with no application open. Furthermore, I wasn’t in Vista any more, I was in Snow Leopard! (I have Bootcamp, so the machine runs both operating systems. A restart in Vista always takes me back to Snow Leopard, unless I’m holding down the Alt key to give me an option).

Talk about confused.

I went back into Vista, and it told me there were Windows updates installing and I was to wait till it was done. Then it let me in, and I found that I’d lost the fine render of overnight… it had reverted back to the rough draft I’d saved earlier. I was absolutely spitting!! I did not realize it could or would reboot without direct permission from me.

I looked online and in fact it seems to be a well-documented issue! It has happened to very many people, some of them losing hours of work. One unfortunate man had his computer shut down in the middle of an important Powerpoint presentation. He said there was a warning notification, but he didn’t see it because he was facing the audience.

The complaints aren’t recent; they’ve been going on for years.

I checked my settings, and the update options are:

  1. Install updates automatically (recommended)
  2. Download updates but let me choose whether to install them
  3. Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them
  4. Never check for updates (not recommended)

I was surprised (after this morning’s experience) that they recommend that you do this automatically and they don’t warn you about the forced reboots. The first ‘recommended’ option should come with a data loss warning. The nearest I found to that issue in the help files was:

“Troubleshoot problems with installing updates. ‘I keep getting prompted to restart my computer to finish installing updates.’ Some updates apply to files or services that Windows is using. These types of updates can’t be installed while Windows is running so you should save your work, close any open programs, and then restart your computer to finish the update process.”

It still doesn’t mention that if you happen not to be around TO save your work, it goes out the window anyway when it reboots without your input!

I’m not going to mess around disabling auto reboot (as some of the other sufferers suggest)… hopefully the problem will be solved if I switch to ‘let me choose whether to download and install updates’, though my mouse hovered over ‘NEVER check for updates’ — I was very tempted! You don’t want your renders interrupted by any sort of activity, and I might still plump for the final option… I’m good about checking for updates myself in any case. In Vista (and probably XP) they should have warned inexperienced users about the ‘auto reboot’ part of installing updates.

I was saying to Mum just now that automatic updates are one thing, but rebooting without permission is another. Maybe I’m behind the times and Windows 7 has a better solution for this… I don’t know.

I’ve read comments from people who say when they pick the second option (‘download updates but allow me to choose when to install’), they have had reboots forced on them anyway. They end up disabling automatic updates altogether — which I’m sure Microsoft would consider a step backwards. I wonder if the same happens with the third option, as it’s not allowed to download anything at all? Fingers crossed it will be OK.

It struck me that the reason I haven’t had this problem before is that I was rendering on my laptop, which is generally not connected to the internet. It presumably tried to get updates, but couldn’t get online and had to go back to just rendering. That’s why it successfully completed a render last night while the Bootcamp Vista did not!

Coffee Shop Mumble

I’m still away on Planet Zog, but I’m sending a quick postcard.

Since the students came back, we’ve been finding it harder to get ourselves a place in a coffee shop. There’s one place in particular we’ve not been in for a while. Mum is still mumbling that she doesn’t know how students can afford it, as none of us older students never used to! Even in the 90s, there was a student I knew who couldn’t afford instant coffee after the price rose. I suppose a good cup of coffee is now seen as a necessity… and laptops and mobile phones may have changed the student culture altogether.

I’m reading the book Starbucked now that Cleopatra has finally died — she was with me so long in the novel Memoirs of Cleopatra that it was like losing a family member! Starbucked is extremely interesting, particularly in its history of coffee and coffee shops, though I still have a rooted dislike for the corporate world….

Anyhoo, we finally found a couple of seats in a local coffee shop today… Mum went to the counter to order, leaving me to hold the seats. There were dirty plates and cups so the seats looked recently vacated. There was also a newspaper on the seat, and two students sitting opposite us.

I used the newspaper to swat a few crumbs off the couch, and sat down with it, then a woman suddenly turned up with a coffee and said something. I didn’t know if she was saying “do you mind if I sit here?” or if she was saying it was her seat in the first place. I said my mother would be sitting in the other seat, but she didn’t say anything… just took the newspaper from me and plonked her mug down anyway. Well, they say actions are louder than words, and that’s when I knew she wasn’t asking to sit there; she had bagsied that spot beforehand with the newspaper!

If Mum had already bought our coffees, we would have been up Shit Creek without a paddle, as there was nowhere else for both of us to sit down, but fortunately she hadn’t reached the head of the queue yet. I rushed up there and stopped her, and we went somewhere else for coffee.

The next place we went to was Costa’s, where we love the coffee anyway, but it was very crowded there too… so stuffy that my specs were steaming up!! Again we left…

Finally we got a little table in a gift shop. It seems incredible now that one of our coffee shops in this town had to close down during the quiet summer months because nobody was visiting it. We missed it before, but we’re missing it even more now.

Over our coffee in the gift shop, I was talking about how the woman in the other place had bagsied the couch with nothing but a newspaper. We both assumed it was left by whoever had just gone away from the used coffee mugs on the table. Mum said, “we don’t do that in this town. I usually leave a coat and a daughter.”

I couldn’t help thinking “yes, but they didn’t work this time, did they!” 🙂

Apple Keyboards

When following instructions or tutorials, it’s always irritated me that I’m told “use the command and the option key on the Mac,” as neither key is marked as such! I can never remember which is which, and always have to guess, trying different key combinations till it works out.

The sharp key is another such… it’s accessible — again can never remember how — but isn’t marked.

A specific instruction wasn’t working for me this time (and might never, as Photoshop Elements 2 is so old), so I looked up ‘Command key‘ in the Wikipedia. It says:

“The Apple symbol was removed in the keyboard’s 2007 redesign, making room for the key’s name to appear. In the US, the keyboard now uses the word “command”; in Europe, the word used now is “cmd” printed on the key. The removal of the symbol triggered a small storm of online protests by Apple aficionados who felt that a unique design feature of the Macintosh was being dropped without a compelling need.”

Typical. I am all for them marking the keys properly, as for absolute years my heart has dropped into my boots whenever someone said “and now press Command-Option!”

(It seems the ‘Option’ key is the one marked Alt).

Ah last… it works!! (I was trying to reset my Photoshop preferences at the startup of the application, and had to hold Option-Command-Shift down and wait, not just press it and let go). Photoshop Elements 2 is old, but not that old.

Meanwhile, I found out this about the Mac sharp (hash) key: to get the sharp symbol, one must press the keys Option and 3 (sinking heart syndrome again) on a UK Mac keyboard. Apparently the US keyboards have it, as Americans are judged to use it more often than us tea-drinkers and porridge-slurpers. 😉

OK, I’ll try to remember that. Which one’s the Option key again…..?

The Best Responses that Aren’t

Was thinking about my last post (The Peruvian Bug that Wasn’t) and it led me to think about how sites like Yahoo Answers have someone ask a question, and the best answer gets voted up to the top of the column, often by the other readers. And there’s nothing more depressing than people voting as ‘the best answer’ a response that appears sensible but is completely mistaken.

Then they close the question so people can’t come along later and challenge it.

I’ve seen that before; the response that sounds something like “dearie, aren’t you just panicking about nothing? These are the facts,” is usually the one that gets voted up, whether or not it’s correct. Perhaps it’s the confident, ‘no-nonsense’ sound of it that encourages people to think they’re listening to someone who knows what he/she is talking about.

Isn’t that how we choose leaders? The one who makes decisions, just like that, and sounds like he knows what he’s doing. Pats everyone on the head and says things will get better.

Mum used to be a nurse. I said to her “how long do germs take to incubate?” and she said “depends on the germ.”

“Oh, I like that answer!” I said. “That’s a good answer!”

“Thanks for the vote,” she said.

A Few More Grumbles

Ah, remembered some of my other niggles.

(1) shop price tags
You know…? When you look to see how much something is, and the price isn’t anywhere to be seen (so I usually don’t buy them). Or, worse, when something is sitting in the wrong place so that you think it is such and such a price, but it’s had the wrong label nearby. Or those price stickies that have the ‘amount of money saved’ in much bigger text than the amount being asked (have to admit I haven’t seen any of those very recently).

Even more confusing are the supermarket labels that say “money off certain product lines” so that you will get money off a 200g tin of beans but not a 400g tin of beans by the same people… you have to pay great attention to the small print. Or you’ll get money off the Grumbling Girl ‘silver line’ beans, but not the Grumbling Girl ‘golden line’ beans… and sometimes you can’t see what on earth the price tag is referring to, because all you see are Grumbling Girl beans, and no mention on the labels of whether they’re silver line or golden line!

(2) tight book shelves
I have a problem with those bookshops where, when you try to slide a book out for a look, it’s wedged in tightly. (In our town the main offender is a charity bookshop). If you’re holding a lot of bags in your other hand, you have to put them down and try again with both hands! Actually if I was only browsing, and am only vaguely interested in the look of a book, I’m liable to stop trying to get it out, and I’ll move on.

Actually it’s not surprising it happens in that particular shop, because they seem to have three or four volunteers! They’re constantly on the go, coming out of the back room with books in their hands, looking for spaces to squeeze them into. If you buy something, they’ll soon plug the so-called gap with another book (or three).

(3) loose books and toppling displays
On the other end of the stratum are the books which are so loosely balanced that they all topple over heavily (or threaten to crash off the end of the shelf) when you try to look at one (this is usually the case with children’s books). Or any sort of display which is too easy to disrupt… such as videos or boxes of jigsaws, all set in a row on their ends, facing outwards. If you take one, you’ll knock over the neighbour, leading to a cascade!

Sometimes I’ve picked up something I’ve nearly knocked over, and replaced it in a safer position, only to find it back and teeering dangerously the next time I visit the shop.

(4) shop displays in general
That goes for racks, baskets and other things that get in your way or make you have to squeeze through a gap. It also goes for advertising boards set out on the pavement and getting in the way of busy shoppers. I’ve seen them cause pavement traffic jams!

(5) ‘missed hospital appointments’ furore
Missed hospital appointments cost money? How? Isn’t this real life? Everybody costs everybody else time and money. And it’s apparently ‘unforgiveable’ to miss an appointment and not phone up to explain we can’t come? Considering we’re talking about people who aren’t well, who may be distressed; some of whom have problems with memory, understanding, mobility, funds (for parking or transport) or communication, the word ‘unforgiveable’ seems to me completely wrong-headed.

Hopefully that’s all the bad air cleared. Now for the blog post I meant to write first thing this morning!! (Perhaps I’ll have some tea first).