Archive for the 'technology' Category

02
Nov
12

The ipod mini that got run over by a car

One day last winter, I watched in horror as my beloved and ever-so-faithful iPod mini got run over by a car.

It happened as I was leaving the Hamburg’s Abaton cinema after wife K and I were through watching Untouchable, one of the best films we’d seen in ages.

It was dark and rainy, and I’d been fiddling with various zippers and clasps getting everything just right before mounting the bike and heading home.

But just as I was heading out onto the street, I hit a bump.  Pothole maybe, perhaps it was just the fall from the curb.  But then I heard a clacking sound as another cyclist who was coming in the opposite direction shouted that something had fallen out of my bag.

I turned around in time for the light to catch the silver outline of the iPod just as the left front tire of a passing car ran right over it.  I saw it bounce up and clack back down again on the wet pavement.   By the time I realised what was happening, the back tire caught it as well.

I swore, propped my bike up against a lamp-post, ran out into the street, scooped up the iPod, swore some more, thrust the iPod into the jacket pocket I should have stashed it into in the first place, and headed home, all the while contemplating what kind of iPod I should start looking for on eBay. Perhaps a used iPod touch?  Or maybe one of the new nanos?  Because the way that thing bounced off the road, there was no way it was going to be good for anything more than a paperweight.

But after I got home and told my tale, I took it out of my pocket, touched the click wheel, and I couldn’t believe it.  It still worked perfectly.  OK, it’s a little scratched up now.  The metal casing’s got a nick or two it didn’t have before, and in places it looks like someone hacked away at it with an ice pick, but by some miracle the screen stayed clear and the click wheel – the Mini’s most sensitive part and one most prone to breakage – is still intact.

It’s a good thing it wasn’t an iPhone or iPod Touch.  Those things are all screen on one side, and I’m sure they’d never have survived such abuse.

It’s also a good thing it was only a car, and not a cement truck passing by.

30
Oct
12

Area man sorts through his sock drawer

Realising that he was 15 minutes late to work the other day because he couldn’t find a matching sock despite a collection of more than 60 pair, area man Bob Frapples, 52, is sorting through his sock drawer.   Frapples, a research scientist with the Institute of Applied Institutional Applications in Hamburg, Germany, says the task he faces is an immense one.

“Look, maybe I’m going fucking colour-blind in my old age, but I just can’t tell them apart anymore,” he laments.  “I mean, look at these things.  One’s blue, the other’s dark blue, that one’s black… you know, I’ve got better things to do that piss around on my day off sorting through socks.”

Frapples is not alone. In a recent poll, 65% of German men said they gave up finding a matching pair the other day and actually put on their Birkenstocks without socks, a major male fashion faux pas in a country that leads the developed world in awkward ways to dress.

Another survey found 35% of men would rather spend money on new socks rather than spend the time sorting through their old ones.

Specialists in the field of household psychology pin the problem on the pervasiveness of technology in modern life.

“People just figure they’ll be able to download some app for this sort of thing one day like they do for everything else, so they let their socks just sit there in the drawer, forever unsorted and ultimately unused,” said Bill Melater, Ph.D.  “Then they find they’re neglecting other household tasks, like getting around to doing the laundry or finally fixing that damned handle on the bathroom door that never seems to close properly.”

Economists have also picked up on the trend and say the growing under-utilisation of sockage in the market might be countered by external forces that will determine whether socks in the future get sorted.

“You might actually begin to entertain the idea,” said Gudeggs Getlaid of the London School of Economics, “that it is starting to look like the initial stages of a budding appearance of a growing societal trend wherein market demand for a strategic fit in the realm of sock drawer logistics is determined not by whether one ends up with two socks that actually match, but…oh…  Oh shit.   I’m terribly sorry. Where was I?”

iPhone developers have picked up on the trend.  One group is now working on an app that could revolutionise the world of sock drawers and free up untold millions of hours now wasted on sorting.

“Alls ya godda do is point the iPhone at your sock drawer, and the app’ll do the rest, OK?” said an excited app man at some Starbucks somewhere. “The app will analyse the colours and sizes, then suggest paired matches on your screen.”

Frapples says he couldn’t be arsed with the iPhone or experts for that matter as he spreads his drawer out over half his living room.  An organised man, his socks are now neatly ordered one beside the other according to length, not colour.

“That breaks it down a bit,” he said on a break for lunch three hours in.   “I figure with my system in place, I’ll be done before it’s time to head to work tomorrow morning.  I’ve already warned my wife that the living room’s a construction zone ’til the job’s over.”

Frapples has brought in extra lighting from neighbouring rooms to help out in the task.  “That helps to tell the difference between dark blue and dark-blue-but-not-that-dark-blue-could-be-black-for-all-I-know,” he said.

So far his method has resulted in about 20 matches.

18
Oct
12

I’m so ashamed of the BlackBerry I don’t own

I love reading articles about tech gear I don’t have and probably won’t be in the market for any time soon.

There’s this howler right now in the New York Times / International Herald Tribune about how BlackBerry owners are so embarrassed and ashamed of their devices because of the many things they can’t do in comparison to an iPhone or other Android device.

BlackBerry outcasts say that they increasingly endure shame and public humiliation as they watch their counterparts use social networking apps that are not available to them, take higher-resolution photos, and effortlessly navigate streets – and the Internet – with better GPS and faster browsing.

In the next sentence we discover how these luckless BlackBerry-owning wretches are forced to do things that most everyone did about five years ago:

This means that they have to request assistance to get directions, book travel, make restaurant reservations or look up sports scores.

God, what a horrible life they must lead.

Imagine having to contact another human being to find out a piece of information, even if it is only to ask another human being with a better device to gather said information from the Internet.

And what about that shame?  Unless you’re psychopathic, shame happens to us all.  We feel shame and even public humiliation when we realise that everyone knows we’ve done something most consider to be wrong.   So should I feel ashamed because I freely admit to my readers that I do not own a BlackBerry, or an iPhone, or an Androgizmoid?  That all I need is a Nokia cellphone and that no, I don’t have an app for whatever it is you’re looking for?  Is it humiliating to do as I’ve always done and look up the sports scores in a newspaper?

And what about holders of older iPhones?  Will they start having to hide them under a book or buy camouflage because their version doesn’t have the fastest connection technology?  Where is this obsession with tech taking us when our measure of our place in society is how many bazillagigabytes of information we can stream while eating ice cream and crossing the street?

I don’t know, maybe living in Germany for 15 years has atrophied my sense of irony, but the tone of the article was pretty straight-forward.  And its message is simple, updated for today: keep up with the Joneses, or feel the shame.  It’s been the same since people first started to wear clothing and seek warm shelter.

I do know that smartphones are capable of transforming the way we live our lives, and maybe mine would change for the better if I got one. The fact that most everyone I know has or wants one makes me wonder how it is I keep missing the point.   I’m tempted sometimes, but for now – just for now – no thanks.  I want to hold on to a bit of my old ways a little longer.  Maybe like the vinyl I listened to while writing this, cellphones will one day come back into fashion and I won’t have to feels like such a schmuck all the time.

31
Aug
11

Almost trampled by fake ugg boots

The red-haired girl needs warm boots for the winter, so we go online for some UGG boots.

“And they’re really a great price,” she says.  “Only 64 euros.”

Completely unaware of the hundreds of sites out there selling fake UGG boots, of which the list at left is merely one page of dozens to scroll through, and also unaware that these boots go for about four times the website’s price in German stores, I go to uggbootssale-de.com, register, and order the boots.

I key in my Mastercard details and hit Payment, but get an error message.  Something about the bank fraud scan failing, and that I should try again with another card.

Hah, but what’s this?  The message is written in sing-song English, has a number to call in case of error with a Chinese country code, and hey, why is there Chinese writing up there in the top corner?

Then I go back for a closer look at this dog’s mess of a website over which I’d just spewed my credit card information right down to the three-digit code on the back.

Now, I’m not saying they’re selling fake UGG boots.  Maybe they actually are the real thing and they just fell off the back of a truck, but take a look at that site.  Gawd, what a mess.  The formatting is all over the place.  The home page is in German, but when you register, you hit a button labeled login in English.

Then when you click on an item to buy, up comes another page with the text in English and the buttons in Italian.  So I now know that Aggiungi al carello means put in shopping cart, sucker.

Already having ignored so many red flags I thought I was standing blindfolded on Tiananmen Square, I write an email anyway asking why, when I key in my credit card details, I get an error message from China.

Back comes the answer overnight:

Dear,
     We have accept  pay with a Mastercard. You can try it again or you can use another card to pay it. Thank you !
 
Right.  Fully aware my credit card could be in danger of being hit for something I now want nothing to do with, I phone Lufthansa’s Card Control hotline.
 
Whenever I buy something online, I get a text message right after it goes through saying what was ordered, where, how much it cost, and the time of transaction.  At the bottom of the message is a number to call.
 
So I called it and got them to temporarily block the card.  I also wrote an email to them detailing the site I’d ordered from, asking them not to process any transaction that might be coming from them.
 
So the red-haired girl gets a lesson, and I get a reminder: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Like this woman who bought an iPad for 180 quid in a McDonald’s parking lot only to find she’d picked up a great bargain on a block of wood. 
30
Mar
11

Apples from Deutsche Telekom: the great bait-and-switch

The other day I saw an advertisement for apples.

The ad said for 35 euro I could get 16 apples every month, plus all the cheddar cheese I want to go with it as long as I eat the cheese in Germany.

Because they looked like good apples, and I was currently only getting around 6, I phoned up a friendly lady who asked for my phone number, clicked away at a computer, then said yes, you can indeed get 16 apples a month, and we’ll set it all up for you.

But three weeks later when the first delivery of apples arrived at my door, all I found were 3 apples.

So I phoned up the lady again and asked her why I didn’t get my 16 apples.

“I don’t know,” she says, “you’ll have to talk to our driver.  Maybe some of the apples fell off the truck”

So she puts me onto the driver who tells me that yes indeed, 3 apples is all I’ll get.  “It’s because the road to your place is too long and bumpy.  The apples fall off all the time.”

“Is it also because there’s sometimes a lot of traffic on the road?”

“No,” he said. “It’s because of the road.”

“But why didn’t the lady who sold me the 16 apples tell me that in the first place?” I asked.   “I can’t be the first person at the end of this road ever to have ordered the 16 apples a month.”

“Yes, but…”

“And the price is exactly the same!” I wailed.  “Had I known, I’d never have ordered the apples!”

“I can’t change the way it’s set up,” said the mechanic., ” but you can go to a shop near your place, and maybe they’ll be able to help you out.”

Still hungry for apple pie I went with my sorry tale to the shop, where another friendly lady behind the counter said, “Well, if you’d have come here first for your apples, we’d have told you right away that you could only have 3 apples where you live.”

“So now I’m stuck with a two-year contract for fewer than 20% of the apples I ordered every month?”

She shook her head sadly.  “Yes, it’s too bad.”

“But if you like, I can offer you 50 apples a month.” she says, perking up.   “They’re delivered over a glass-fibre superhighway direct to your door.  It’ll only cost you 10 euro more a month.”

“But I don’t want 50 apples,” I said. “I’ll probably choke on them.”

“Sorry, that’s all you can get.”

And that, dear readers, is how Deutsche Telekom sells its high-speed VDSL Internet service to those looking for a fast – but not too fast – connection.

I would have been happy with only 6 Mb per second, which is what I was getting with another provider before their service went tits up and they refused to help me because the router I use wasn’t a router that they sell.

But when Telekom offered 16 per second I went for it, because it also offers free telephone calls throughout Germany.

Sure, they said, you can have DSL, but what they didn’t tell me was that because our place is too far from the main switch, I can only get a maximum of 3MB per second.  Sure enough, buried way down in the statement they mailed me after I signed up was a line that says 3MB/second.  I failed to notice that.  They certainly didn’t draw attention to it.  The woman I ordered from over the phone was too busy trying to sell me add-ons I didn’t need to concentrate on what I really wanted: a fast ADSL connection.

So, having given in, I’ve ordered their VDSL 50MB deal.  Fast, I know – too fast for what I need, but what the hell.  I still get the cheese, and maybe I can look up great apple pie recipes a little quicker.

03
Jan
11

2010 blog year in review

After weeks weeks of not posting a thing, I now discover that WordPress.com has taken over this blog.  Or so it seems.  Perhaps it’s their way of reminding me to get my blogging ass back in gear, but some bot over there has seen fit to mail me a ready-made Year in Review post.  Perfect for a bone-lazy blogger like me who’s been wondering when, if ever, that urge to post regularly will ever come back.

Who knows?  Happy New Year anyway.

Snarky comments  in bold are mine.

=======================

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

The Blog Zombie Meter reads: Putrefaction stage

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 110,000 times in 2010. If it were an exhibit at The Louvre Museum, it would take 5 days for that many people to see it.

I’m sure each would demand his entry fee back.  As for the posts themselves, if you were to print out every post in 10-point and glue each word together, you would have enough to string from the Statue of Liberty’s base up to her armpit.  Aren’t stats meaningful?

In 2010, there were 53 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 374 posts. There were 143 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 30mb. That’s about 3 pictures per week.

Troll comments deleted: 13.  Spam referral links: countless.  Estimated date WordPress will do something about spam links: whenever.

The busiest day of the year was February 15th with 647 views. The most popular post that day was Are we raising our kids to be wimps?.

Go to freerangekids for the answer.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were cndrnh.blogspot.com, WordPress Dashboard, raincoaster.com, and toytowngermany.com.

See how important it is to comment on blogs and leave links back to your own on forums?

Some visitors came searching, mostly for the queen, horses jumping, naked 13 year old girls, swallows, and snake head.

That list is so embarrassing, I almost left it out.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Are we raising our kids to be wimps? August 2009
20 comments

2

Europe’s largest-circulation newspaper runs photo of naked 13-year-old June 2008
28 comments

3

Queen Elizabeth Foundation email scam reply December 2007
129 comments

4

10 things I learned about skating in Holland January 2009
51 comments

5

How we nearly tripped over a headless snake that had swallowed a dog whole March 2009
25 comments

Wow, wasn’t that fun?

WordPress.  The blogging platform that’s so good, it writes your blog for you!

25
Nov
10

Why we said no to Google Street View

Call it Blurmany if you will, call us uncool and throw eggs at our apartment building if you love Google so much, but I’m very happy to say I live here.

It didn’t take long for us to decide to say no to Street View.  After all, we already have an unlisted telephone number that’s kept our place reasonably quiet since we applied for it about four years ago.  We no longer get crank calls from drunk jerks in the middle of the night – usually students my wife teaches or once taught – bored out of their minds and playing around with their cellphones.  We also never get telemarketing calls.  I remember in Hong Kong we used to have to rip off five or 10 feet of paper every day from all the junk faxes until we made HongKong Telecom change our number.

With Google Street view, the angle was more subtle.  It’s very unlikely you’ll get hassles just because you’re visible online, and even less likely you’ll be burgled, the politician’s scare tactic of choice when this whole thing blew up in the German media a few months ago.  And as for getting caught sunbathing on the balcony – well, that’s obviously an argument put forth by those who don’t know how Street View works.

Sure it’s great for businesses, but what possible benefit could we, as private individuals living in a private household, obtain by letting Google put up a photo of the place where we spend the greater part of our lives for the whole world to see?   What have we to gain by it?

I could understand it if we were the owners of some boutique called snotty and desperate for a little free on-line publicity, we’d even pay for the right to have our store burst onto the screen with arrows, flashing  lights and pop-ups.

But here I am, some duff who was always taught to be wary of those on the sell side.  Since Google is basically a multi-billion dollar advertising company with the world’s most powerful search engine attached, why on earth would I want to help them?  What’s in it for me?

Even if we were to  ignore the accusations of WiFi network data theft and other questionable goals as their octopus-camera cruised the streets, the ONLY benefit to Street View that we could think if – and the only argument I found online in favour of not opting out – was that perhaps friends and relatives living far away could look you up.

Well, whoop-de-fucking-do.  One photo from the ground floor and a blanket email and that’s taken care of.

Google Street View is merely one more brick in the infrastructure for a much wider array of capabilities not even invented yet that could further erode what few avenues of privacy we have left.   Maybe it’s like trying to turn back the tide, but if we can spit back at it a little, maybe some good will come out of it.




The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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