Giving off steam: a random rant



Do you like your kitchen gadgets? Do you see the chefs on TV whisk up a mouthwatering delight with the help of an amazing new electrical device and think ‘That looks useful, I might get one of those’? If so, and you can afford to indulge, then go ahead. I have no problem with your choices so long as you do not suggest that I buy one too. Whilst there are certain housework helpers that I value, I do not find them interesting. I am set in my ways and I am fine with how I am.

So, in case you were ever tempted to suggest that I would find one of these things useful, let me assure you of the following.

  • I do not want a juicer. I am happy to buy the juices that I wish to drink in a carton or bottle. If I wish to be healthier then I will drink water, eat less bread and exercise more.
  • I do not want a slow cooker. I know that plenty of people love these things, good for them. Please stop trying to change the way I cook.
  • I do not want a bread maker. When I make bread from scratch I do it as my mother did and this suits me fine.
  • I do not want a waffle maker, sandwich toaster, popcorn maker, oven that microwaves or microwave that ovens. I can manage to produce food the way I want without any of these devices.
  • I do not want to try out the new whizzy thing that you have just purchased and find amazing. I am somewhat in awe of your ability to store all the whizzy things that you have tried to make me coo over in the past, but I have no interest in filling up my own cupboards in this way.

I own plenty of electrical appliances that I value and would replace if they ceased to work: cooker, hob, fridge, freezer, microwave, kettle, toaster et al. I see no reason to add devices that I am unlikely to use after that first flush of enthusiasm. Believe me, I really wouldn’t use them, even if you think I would.

We live in a consumer society that flourishes because people are willing to try out each new shiny. They believe the hype and enjoy playing with their new toy. When it comes to the latest fad, I am typically curmudgeonly. I have seen too many ‘must have’s come and go, unmissed by those of us who chose not to indulge. If you can afford it, and will derive pleasure from trying these things, then go ahead. All I ask is that you don’t expect me to play along.

I have never understood the appeal of televised cookery programs, perhaps because I don’t enjoy cooking. Mind you, I have never seen the appeal of a large number of televised shows that seem hugely popular: talent shows, reality television, soap operas. I have no interest in antiques, looking inside others homes, tabloid style interview programs or televised sport. This probably explains why I no longer receive broadcast television. The films, dramas and documentaries that I choose to watch can be purchased on DVD.

If I desire background noise then I play music, although more often I enjoy silence. I read, I write, I keep up with current affairs on line.

I was raised in the heart of a stable and loving family who were always trying to turn me into something that I had no wish to be. They wanted me to be happy and believed that this would be achieved if I followed the accepted conventions of the time. It made me resentful, that they couldn’t fully accept me as I was. It made me stubborn, particularly when anyone now tries to tell me what to do.

I do not have a problem with how I am, please don’t try to change me. I do not need a new hobby or a new gadget or to alter the way I cook or clean. I may not be the world’s best housewife, but I get by. Enjoy your new shiny, and let me enjoy my life the way I choose to live it.



Technology and me

This weekend I took delivery of a new mobile phone. It is my first smart phone so, as well as downloading and updating my contacts and personalising the screen and ringtones, I have been learning to link it in to our network and my various social media. So far I am impressed with it’s capabilities and very happy with how easy it is to use. There are still plenty of functions for me to explore but I am enjoying getting to know my new toy.

My usual means of keeping in touch with the cyber world is the Chromebook that I am using now. This is also a fairly recent purchase and I am delighted with it. The build is light, sleek and not too big, it powers up very quickly and it is simple to use. It suits my needs perfectly. Along with my straightforward, point and shoot, digital camera I am equipped with the technology I need. None of it is too complicated but each item does it’s job. This suits me well.

When I was thinking about my requirements for my new phone and looking at the specifications now available for the high end devices that most manufacturers are producing (I do not need all that functionality), I realised that I have been using computers regularly for over thirty years. My children are right; I am a dinosaur.

My first computer was the newly introduced Sinclair ZX Spectrum 16K. I taught myself the Basic programming language and wrote code for simple games on it. I went on to study Computer Science at university where I had access to their mainframe computers, learning to program in Pascal, Fortran and Lisp. My first job in the computing world was for a small engineering firm where I had to work with Assembler programs. I also gained my first experience of 4GL programming on a PC – the company had a selection of IBMs and an Amstrad 1512 which controlled the printers.

I was not a natural programmer. Having worked in the industry for quite a few years I can now see that, whilst many people can learn to program a computer, it takes a certain mindset; a certain type of person; to be a good, intuitive programmer. I am married to such a man. Thankfully I realised early on that this was not the career path that I wished to take and retrained as a Systems Analyst. In this role I could use my knowledge of computing and programming but work with the business side of the industry and with those who used the machines. I enjoyed this work a lot.

During the ten years that I worked in the industry I designed computer systems for IBM mainframes, networked desktop PCs and the growing market of laptops. I helped design software for a sales force who carried their laptops and a small inkjet printer in a specially designed briefcase about the size of a pilots bag. Each sales person was equipped with a mobile phone the size of a brick with a battery life of just a few hours. This portability was innovative at the time but the weight and size of the equipment now seems archaic.

When the price of laptop computers fell sufficiently, my husband bought himself a Dell Latitude with a P3 mobile 1G processor. It still cost about three times as much as a decent laptop would cost today. Twelve years later we still have it and it still works. It struggles to run modern software but, unlike it’s modern equivalents, the build quality was good. We already had a desktop PC and it too was still working when we were forced to upgrade due to lack of processing power. I think that all our computers since have failed in some way – some suddenly and others piecemeal. Those early computers were built much better than their modern equivalents.

When I left full time, paid employment to concentrate on raising my children I only really used our computers for financial (spreadsheets), administrative (writing and printing letters) and social (email) purposes. As the years passed and we were forced to upgrade our hardware due to the ever increasing complexity of the software I started to lose touch with how the operating systems and interfaces functioned. From being something of an expert I have become fairly inept. I do not use the complex functionality available enough to be confident with it.

My teenage children are, of course, very comfortable with modern computer software. They each need their own device to keep up with their schoolwork and use them with ease, confidence and knowledge. They learn to program with a tool called Scratch at school and one of my sons has started teaching himself Java. My husband is still a computer programmer but seems to spend as much of his working life advising and teaching others as actually generating code. My children do not understand how I can struggle to operate new software on a modern laptop when I claim to have worked in the industry. My current computer, my little Chromebook, suits me as much for it’s simplicity as for it’s portability.

Like our first laptop, our first mobile phone (a Nokia 3210) was made to last. We still have it and it still works. The clamshell, slider phone and touch screen devices that came after it as we started to use our phones as back up camera’s, MP3 players and, more recently, for internet access, have all failed in some way before being replaced. I discovered that I do not get on with touch screens when I was given a simple tablet computer around eighteen months ago. Whilst I loved it’s portability and made good use of it to keep in touch when I was out and about or travelling, the touch screen infuriated me. I kept inadvertently pressing the wrong icon and ending up on the wrong screen. It was good for browsing news sites with a lot of text but I found typing on it an irritating and slow process. Only my children use it now; I concede that it is good for playing Angry Birds.

I very much enjoy being connected with the cyber world and make a lot of use of the various social media sites available. I do feel rather ancient knowing that I have seen so many changes in the technology we enjoy today. I get frustrated when a device offers complex functionality but is not intuitive to use for the simple, most used functions. As a front end systems designer that was the most important achievement – that the user could get the machine to help with a task without having to think about it. The machine is a tool. If it becomes too hard for the user it is aimed at to drive then, in my view, it is not fit for purpose.

English: Sinclair 48K ZX Spectrum computer (19...

The day my phone died

This week I suffered a mini disaster when my trusty and much loved Sony Ericsson mobile phone died. There I was, attempting to send a text when, as a new text pinged into my inbox, the screen died. I did all the usual stuff – switch off and on again several times; remove and replace battery; switch on and off a few more times; bash on table in frustration – but to no avail. The lights on the keypad were on but the screen remained annoyingly blank.

I knew that my kids would have just left school for the day and had no idea who had sent the text that had pinged into my inbox as the screen of death took over. Had they lost their bus tickets? Did they have to stay late to complete some work? Did they want permission to visit a friend? Had they been run over / mugged / taken ill and been rushed to hospital? I felt bereft, cut off, and pretty annoyed that the complicated text that I had been about to send to my sister in law was now lost.

A half hour later and my kids were safe home and amused at how upset I was by this technological malfunction. The boys each took the offending device and switched it off and on a few times, removed the battery and tried again, but to no avail. They suggested that I put my SIM card in an old phone, and I was offered the device that my twelve year old had rejected over a year ago. Having got me connected again they lost interest.

I loved my old phone. For a start, I knew how to use it. This replacement just wouldn’t do as it was asked. I also discovered that, although I thought I was always careful to put contact numbers on the SIM memory, recent additions were not there. I no longer had my sister in law’s number for a start so she still hasn’t received that text. Neither did I have the numbers for any of my children’s phones, nor several of my close friends. It seems that other people change their mobile devices rather more regularly than I do.

My husband was a little more sympathetic. His initial reaction was the stark comment that they don’t last forever (why not!), but he then suggested that I pick out a new one. I think he might have tentatively asked if I could make do with the replacement that my son had given me, but he could see I was struggling with that already. We have two of these phones in the house and my husband still uses one. I have never got on with them; operating them seems counter intuitive and they are brick like compared to my much loved but now very dead device.

I have the good fortune to have a cyber friend who has a job reviewing new technology for the media so she knows quite a bit about mobile phones. After a brief exchange on Facebook she pointed me at one that she thought might meet my needs. I read a few reviews and it sounded perfect. The main thing that I didn’t want was a touch screen. I have a tablet computer with a touch screen and don’t get on with it. I mean, I really don’t get on with it. I also have no need for Apps. Actually, I have no idea what these are for.

Having decided on a replacement I stopped grieving for my favoured, faithful old phone (how fickle I am…) and started getting rather excited about the arrival of my new toy. It will be my first smart phone and it looks good too (sorry). I am hoping for a weekend spent reading the instruction manual (does anyone else still do that?), customising the interface and learning how to connect with the world again. In the meantime I need to email a few people to get their not so new mobile phone numbers back.  I just have to work out how I get to our email through the Windows 8 starter screen on the new computer that my husband has spent this week setting up…


The ‘brick’ that my son gave me to replace my sleek and trusty Sony Ericsson – now deceased.