Sunday, October 31, 2010

A few vicious thoughts on ergonomy ...

 Actually, I should probably have titled this "I really, really need to wash my car". But that's not going to happen any time in the immediate future: it'll start raining sometime soon anyway, so what's the point?

Going to moan some more: not only have I had to get my new PC fit for purpose (and don't get me on to the subject of the keyboard, which is really really cheap and flexy) but I'm trying to get used to a new phone, which is kind of more urgent. Computers I can chop and change and run in parallel, but I've only got one SIM card ...

Anyway, the old Samsung UGH600 fell once too often: it's survived 1-metre falls onto concrete and tarmac, been sat on, wedged into the car seat, you name it, but the other day it fell two inches onto the floor, landed screen-side down on a dust-mote and whee! there's a big shatter mark on the screen. This, I thought, is the beginning of the end, so I went looking for a new one. No-one, apparently, does dumb phones anymore: at least, the only slider phone I could find that actually had a keyboard (I'll pass on a RIM, thanks) was pink and had Hello Kitty! stamped all over it. And whilst I don't mind being considered a bit odd, that might have been a bit much to bring out in meetings.

So I gritted my teeth and ordered a Samsung Wave, which arrived this morning, and I'm trying to get things transferred. And I have come, once again, to the conclusion that although Samsung make good phones, they make really ratshit software. The last lot that came with the old phone was counter-intuitive and bad: this is evil, or at least soul-destroying. Let me explain.

First of all, the old software would - sometimes - let you save your contacts and then export them to a CSV file. Messages, on the other hand, were much more random, and if ever you had multi-part messages (ie anything over 160 characters) you could forget about them, because Samsung's own software couldn't handle them. (It's not as though it's bloody rocket science, is it? It's been happening for years, for god's sake.) So I kissed my messages goodbye, but I did have the phonebook.

I thought I'd start from scratch, so I installed the new software (called Kies, what kind of a name is that?) and thought to myself  "Right! I shall create myself a new phonebook!". That was a mistake, because you can't. Your only option is to open a phonebook file, and if you type in a new name it will spit at you and say the file doesn't exist. Which is true, but rather misses the point. OK, let's try exporting the old phonebook. (From the home machine, on the first floor, of course.) Try as a Windows Address Book format: well and good, but the new software doesn't recognise that (damn, didn't look at the recognised files extensions). Go back upstairs, try as .vcf format: one entry per phonebook entry, and it seems I have to import each one individually. Let's try another trip and .csv format: yes, that works! Sort of.

Importing the .csv requires you to give the field mapping, so you have to check back to the .csv to get the column names and say what phonebook field you want each one to correspond to. Considering that, in many cases, the names are the same, you'd think this could have been automated, but apparently that was too difficult. So we go through that rather boring procedure and hit the button and lo! I have all my entries. Some of which have no phone numbers. At this point, I was happy that the machine hadn't melted down, so that was OK.

The new software gives you a nice spread-sheet style list of entries and you can in fact click on a cell (say, for mobile number) and an edit field opens, but you can't type anything into it. So that's a fat lot of bloody good. If you double-click on a line, though, a data-entry form will in fact pop up and you can type stuff in, but it has a few idiosyncracies of its own. For one thing, it requires a mobile number. (As does the import process: this is apparently why some of my entries had no number. No mobe, no numbers at all.) This is odd, because the phone itself doesn't care. But the software does.

It also has a really innovative, possibly even ground-breaking feature (I'd say it was magical, but I think Steve Jobs has patented that one), and I'm sure that back at orbiting corporate HQ in Seoul they're really pleased with it: when you edit a field with data already in it you can put the cursor where you want and start typing. (I did this because I had some numbers without the international dialling prefix, which is handy to have if I'm calling France from Switzerland, for instance.) But don't type more than one character, because once you've done that the cursor will automatically skip to the end of the data entry field! So to delete the leading zero and add the "+33" prefix takes four keystrokes and four mousie move/clicks. And you have to use the mouse, 'cos the cursor keys seem to be disabled inside the field.  Should probably count my blessings that the TAB key still navigates from field to field. I mean, what demented cretin came up with that one? Don't these idiots have a usability lab? Are they all high on crystal meth? Do they just not care?

Still not quite at the end of my pains, for having got most of the entries up-to-date on the PC you're now faced with the hurdle of getting them transferred to the phone. So you plug the phone in with the handy USB cable, Windows sees it and will let me copy files to and fro, but the phone says it can't log on in Kies mode until I have killed all running applications (how do I do that? Where's the bloody manual? Where's the task manager?) and the mother-loving PC software doesn't want to know anyway.

So I check the manual and hold the menu button down for five seconds until the task manager appears and gives me the option of killing all running processes: which, despite warnings about losing any unsaved data, I do. Happily. The phone is happy: it connects. The PC software still sees nothing. I unplug, I replug, I kill the PC software and restart it: by some miracle, the two enter into contact and bodily fluids (or whatever) are exchanged. I may now transfer my half-assed and incomplete phonebook over, and I do this with some alacrity before the frikkin' software decides it doesn't wanna.

So what sort of company ships software that will only connect to their own hardware when it feels like it, and the wind is blowing in the right direction? Well, I can name you one. For no extra charge, I can also name you a piece of software that's getting uninstalled in the next five minutes.

Surprisingly enough, getting my Dalek ringtone over was a piece of cake: just copied the MP3 file over with Windows and picked it on the phone (under "Sound/Profile/Normal/Ringtone", but I suppose I can live with that). Have to choose something else for my wakeup alarm, though. I really do not want to wake up every morning to shrill cries of "Exterminate! Exterminate!".

Then on the actual phone side, OK, it's a soft keyboard and you can pick the language and everything. 'Cos it's a smartphone, you see. So I thought I'd set it up with a French keyboard, because the accents come in handy - like frak, 'cos the only difference is that the layout is azerty rather than qwerty, you're still not getting any accents. Can't get them if you go into handwriting entry mode either (which otherwise works rather well): only way I've found so far is to go into keypad entry mode where it emulates a bog-standard dumb-phone and you click six times on e to get é, and if I wanted to do that I wouldn't have got a bloody smartphone, would I?

One reason Mother Theresa got beatified was that she didn't have a smartphone.

End of rant.

In other, family-related news, we apparently get to see Malyon over, before, or after Christmas. Should, by some quirk of fate, Tony get his passport, we'll see him as well. Personally, I have this nagging feeling that he's doing everything he can to not get his passport, so as to avoid meeting us. Probably a wise move, all things considered: no point in being disillusioned when still so young.

And then Malyon apparently hikes off (canoes off) to the middle of the Ecuadorian jungle in June/July 2011, to count bugs in the rain-forest canopy. Or that's what she says. (Actually, what she really said was "I'll mainly be working on frogs." Which is rather ambiguous and, if you happen to be a frog, more than a little worrying. I don't honestly want to know.)

Tomorrow being Saturday it's off to the market again, as usual: Margo's in Nantes, Sophie's down south at Cap d'Agde, so my options are limited. I shall have to go drinking with Bryan. I'll let you know how it all works out.

As it happens, not so well. Bryan was off kayaking up the coastline or doing a couple of lengths of lac du Bourget, or whatever he does in his spare time (when not trying to pick up waitresses), so I was condemned to drink une blanche all by my lonesome, looking out over the deserted terrace.

Still, not a complete waste of a day, as I picked up some collier d'agneau (that's neck of lamb, to you, don't bother googling it) at Mr. B's, and Carrefour were hocking off two chickens for the price of one (sailing close to the wind on the DLC, but what the hell ...) so after taking Jeremy up to the optician's to order some glasses and contacts I started cooking. Which I personally find rather a comforting thing to do.

The chooks found their way into a roasting pan with some potatoes and seemed happy with that: godnose what I'm going to do with the leftovers. Strip the meat from the bones, freeze it and turn it into an enormous chicken strudel at some point, no doubt.

The lamb is still simmering slowly on the range, turned into a navarin: floured, browned savagely, then drowned in white wine along with some carrots, potatoes and herbs. Should be fit to eat tomorrow night: when I don't have Jeremy, as he's been invited to sleep over at a friend's. More bloody leftovers.

There was also half a tin of apricots in the fridge, left over from a clafouti a couple of months back (only joking), so the obvious thing to do with that was to make a bretonne. Now there are two ways you can go about this: traditionally you'd make a thick slab of sweet short pastry (but using shortbread dough would elevate it to ther realms of the sublime), stick some apricots on top, and bake it.

This is all very well as far as it goes, but not, in my humble opinion, sufficient. I make something more like a kuchen: flour, butter, sugar, an egg and yeast revived in milk to make something approaching a brioche dough. (For a proper kuchen you'd also put in grated lemon peel. I have a little bottle of natural lemon oil, which works rather well.) This you shall flatten out into a round in the base of a springform cake tin and, when risen, shall ye put the apricots on top. After which you just have to strew sugar, cinnamon and powdered almonds all over before sticking it into the oven for half an hour.

And it doesn't mind if it's sitting next to a couple of chickens.


  1. I must say you worry me - for you see, I have a Samsung phone myself :) Nice little flip-top jobbie, had it 3 years so far & the only sign that I will eventually have to sign up to Telecon's accursed XT network (apart from the fact that they're bluddy well going to make us all do it) is a very gradual decline in the battery's ability to hold its charge. Mind you, it doesn't do half the things that yours appears to permit. (Nor do I want it to.)

    But, OTOH, the daughter has recently had to acquire a new phone on account of her 6-year-old one becoming deader than a parrot. She also got a flip-top Samsung but that's about where the similarities end - apparently it's a real bitch to navigate & she still hasn't worked out how to change the volume of the ringtones...

    I do hope Mally will blog about her Ecuadorian adventures. & I look forward to hearing about your encounter with Tony. (I still remember our sister's husband, before he actually reached that exalted state, saying that after meeting the male members of our family he was relieved to find that I was relatively normal... Mind you I think he'd caught Dad on one of his bad, nobody's-good-enough-for-my-daughter days :) And this is not to cast nasturtiums on you & the other brother :) :)

  2. Also, when did Malyon become a frog specialist? Last I heard she was studying neuropsych.

  3. Yeah, that sort of evolved into marine biology, with option in saving the whales. What for I'm not sure, but I rather suspect it's for eating, later on when we've run out of cows.