Saturday, September 21, 2013

Technophenia ...

So I have my little Samsung Series 3 laptop running Windows 8 (for my sins, but in my defense Windows 7 is no longer available on new machines) - in fact I have two of them, but I really need to get around to nuking the other one from orbit and installing Fedora on it so that I have a backup Linux development system - and generally speaking I rather like it. It's small and light, despite having a 17" screen, and it has a proper keyboard with a numeric keypad and everything so that it's actually useable. As opposed to the big Asus which is much bigger and twice as heavy: this I could live with, but they let a lunatic design the keyboard layout.

I mean, do these people not have usability labs? You know, those sordid little rooms lit by a single grimy 40W incandescent bulb where they lock innocent passers-by in with a computer and see how they get on with simple tasks? I have to believe not, for on this particular machine, despite having about an acre of space, some absolute bloody genius decided that it would be a brilliant idea to arrange things so that at the right-hand side of the function key strip there would be the "Print Screen" key (pretty useless), a dedicated "Scroll Lock" key (even more useless - if anyone has actually found a use for it do let me know), and the third key would be "Delete/Insert".

To get to the insert function you must hold down the "Fn" key, which means that if, like me, you use the keyboard editing shortcuts a lot you are holding down three keys at once just to copy a bit of text in, and half the time you forget the "Fn" key and wind up deleting stuff instead ... I mean, how stupid is that? Are there really people who think that "Insert" is less important than a tits-on-bull "Scroll Lock"? Is this what happens when you let graduates of industrial design courses loose in the real world? I bet they're laughing their heads off in global Orbiting HQ somewhere over Taipei, as they gather round the water cooler trying to think of something they can do to top that.

"Hey, you see Ho Chin got the monthly innovation award again for that stupid Delete/Insert key thing?"

"Yeah, the guy's a genius alright, but I've got a better one. We've replaced the "Tab" key with a big picture of a daisy - we call it the "Splat!" key - which brings up a random picture of a cuddly puppy from the internets when you press it, and you have to hold down Ctrl and Right-shift and then press the letter T to get a tab ..." 

"What with, your nose? And if you have a really disgusting cold? Oh yes, I see where you're going here ..."

That is not the point. The point is that the Samsung is not half bad, but ... as is my wont, first thing I did was install Firefox on it along with everything else, and it all worked: until I went back to a page I'd already visited and it came up blank. On to another page, and it came up unformatted. WTF? This kept happening, and I eventually learnt that I had to clear the cache, and things would be alright again for a bit.

So I installed Chrome, grumbling and mumble-fucking, and the same thing happened. Finally I gave up and started googling busily, and discovered - rather to my surprise - that this is a known issue with some of the crapware that comes pre-installed on the machine: the inaptly named "Samsung Support Centre". Uninstall that, and lo! the problem disappears.

The moral of this little story, if there is one, is that a) Samsung make really crap software - they just don't seem to be able to get it right, whether it's a phone or a PC, and b) it's not always what you think it is.

Come to that, when I get a new phone - sometime in the not too distant future - I will probably get a Samsung again because I quite like the hardware, but it will be one of the Android variety. I have spent five years, more or less, trying to love Bada - their stupidly named home-grown phone OS - and the soul-destroyingly awful Kies PC software that comes with it, but I just can't do it anymore. It used to be, back when Android was a quick cheap kludge (which some would argue it still is, but let's not go there) that it was a slicker, better system: that is no longer true, and the bugs - sorry, "features" - have worn me down.

Like the memo app, which in principle lets you make little memos. In truth, it does this - as it says on the tin - but woe betide ye should you want to edit one. I have, for instance, on more than one occasion deleted a few sentences by selecting and tapping "Delete", then started typing away and a few paragraphs later lo! the text I've just typed disappears and what I'd deleted comes back from the dead. Sometimes this happens without even deleting anything. I have noticed, though, that it's less frequent if you hold the phone in portrait orientation - probably because that makes the soft keyboard impossible to use. Whatever, it's a right bastard because I haven't spent five minutes typing busily away just to have it all disappear on me for no apparent reason, now have I?

How about the really cute glitch in the call log handling, whereby when the call log gets full it shows up as being empty. Which means that you cannot fix the problem by deleting older entries because as it's empty, there's no option to delete anything. Reasonable, no? Sometimes you can work around this by deleting items from the missed call log, sometimes not: otherwise you can try removing the SIM card, turning it on, then off, putting the SIM card back, turning it on ... it has worked for me. Or a factory reset does the job too.

Or let's pretend you are cleaning up your texts: might have three or four hundred or maybe, like me (I don't do housekeeping) you have a thousand. There is indeed a checkbox to select all messages, but it is only available when you've scrolled - very tediously - up to the top of the list.

(Don't ask me what cretin came up with that great idea. Also, don't ask me why you have to scroll up and down by flicking your bloody finger up and down the screen like someone with Parkinson's, why are there no page up/down buttons? Or a scroll bar that follows yer finger? I don't know; I'm not the frikkin half-wit who designed the user interface. But if ever I meet him - in a dark alley somewhere, or a sound-proofed room; maybe an unused usability lab - I will find out.)

So let's say you've spent five minutes getting to the top of the list, five messages at a time, and have pressed the "Select all" button. Miraculously, all the messages you can see are in fact selected, or at least there's a little tick next to each one - but there are some messages you want to keep (typically more recent ones, at the bottom of the list, so let's spend five minutes scrolling back down, shall we? Nothing better to do) so you start unchecking them, and then someone rings you, or sends you a text. Do you know what happens? Yes, the phone makes a noise - we know that - but it will also unselect all the messages and take you back down to the bottom of the list.

What bloody idiot thought of that? Have these fiendishly cunning Orientals never heard of bloody multi-tasking, for god's sake? I mean, it's not as though just because a new e-mail comes in on my laptop that I lose the last ten minute's work I put in on Excel, now is it? (Mind you, back in the day ...) Is it so goddamn difficult to have the phone swap over to handle the incoming call and then, when you're done, swap back to where you were? Hell, I can do that: surely something with a 2.4GHz quad-core processor and more RAM than you can shake a stick at could handle it?

Whatever, autumn is i-cumen and the times they are a-changing and it's getting kind of cold around here - only about 26° in the verandah, so Sustaining Food appropriate to such weather is de rigeur. Luckily lamb shanks are still more or less affordable in our little corner of Ole Yurrup, so before we took Shaun off to get tutored (regular appointment, every Wednesday evening) I browned a couple in the smaller of my Ikea inox pots, then fished them out and stuck in some bacon chunks to sizzle and render. Added some sliced carrots and let that lot brown gently, then some crushed juniper berries, chopped garlic, herbes de Provence and sprinkle with flour.

A couple of glasses of red wine go in next - let that boil uncovered for a few minutes to get rid of the alcohol or it will taste bitter, trust me - then stick the shanks back in, cover, and let simmer very gently for an hour and a half. Stirring occasionally, to make sure the sauce doesn't stick too much. Personally, I rather like dumplings with something like that, but Margo won't touch those and anyway steamed ratte go quite well, so that's what happened.

Some years back SKY magazine ran an occasional series on Holiday Jobs From Hell; my favourite was the guy who went to Israel to work on a kibbutz one summer. It wasn't actually mentioned in the job description (and who could blame them, sales would plummet?), but they reared turkeys and one of his jobs was to collect semen for artificial insemination. Which involves taking the bird under your arm, and fondling it ... he swore that by the end of the summer he had only to approach the enclosure and two elderly arthritic male turkeys would come rushing up to him with eager gobbles of glee, impatient for their daily dose of masturbation.

Along those same lines, in the Jobs You Don't Want department: rubbing cortisone cream onto your dog's dick. Don't ask. Please.

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