Monday, 4 June 2007
Dancing with Dinosaurs
'... as the deadly radioactive waves of the mobile fry the soggy remnants of my brain.'
It was when I asked my seven year old to set the video timer so we wouldn’t miss Monty Python, that I realized the writing was well and truly on the wall. I had to admit I just don’t do electronics. Electrics can be bad enough but electronics are totally beyond me.
When my maker was assembling my brain, He must have forgotten to download the software needed to cope with anything digital. Maybe it wasn’t standard spec in those days though annoyingly, many older farts than me often manage computers and stuff with apparent ease.
My problem’s that I’m too logical, while sometimes computers are just plain silly, especially when Bill Gates is involved. Only an unreconstructed nerd would overload the software with so many features that ordinary souls can only manage a tiny proportion of its capacity. Okay, it can do loads of stuff if you want to be a slave to Microsoft and spend your life struggling with it, but I just don’t. And when people tell me to play around with it to find a solution, it really bugs me… playing’s supposed to be fun!
Having burdened us with his monstrous monopoly, I now think the Bill Gates Foundation should give the world free classes on how to work his wretched machines. Like Eve, I’d pick an Apple any day, though I guess that's what caused her all the incompatibility problems.
This biblical note now makes me ask if Gates has God on his side… what else can explain the success of such diabolical products. After all, God himself faces the mother of all data processing problems… like running spread sheets of our manifold sins and wickednesses. Could it be possible that He does it with the assistance of Bill ‘Pearly’ Gates himself? For software does He use God’s Word and Good Works? And was MSDos first developed as the Messianic Saviour Divine Operating System? His systems must be top notch as there’d be the devil to pay if the data gets lost… though I’m sure it never happens. As we all know, Jesus saves!
Yes, for whatever reason, computers have become our masters, controlling our lives, and it makes me mad. When my computer tells me, ‘You have committed an illegal action’ and all my work disappears, I just want to tell it to log off and disappear up its own modem. No foolproof system should lose all your work, say I, the ultimate computer fool.
Running my blog can be a nightmare too because I have to use a digital camera as well as a computer. Digital photography is amazing but it has its problems. They’ve done away with viewfinders and when the light’s behind me as it usually is, you can’t see the image on the digital screen. Then there’s shutter lag. You press the shutter but by the time the camera flashes, the subject’s got up and wandered off. Give me a simple manual camera any day.
Managing my pics on the laptop is a nightmare too. Damn and blogger, posting them onto the blog can sometimes be really difficult. It’s only because it’s so rewarding when I post a new story that I still persist with the thing.
Hotmail’s a horror story too… the screens are an appalling muddle of stuff splashed everywhere in disorder and the processes are utterly unsystematic. To send an attachment for example requires a steeplechase from one command to the next that must have been planned by a committee of gibbons. It’s all so fiendishly user-unfriendly.
Or is it me? Could I be an unfriendly user? Well, I have to admit that if I even look at something electronic, it usually goes wrong and stops working. My computer crashes and all the software has to be reinstalled. My ‘Thai Girl’ email refuses to open. My new TOT IP Star internet hardly works and in two long months of visits by technicians, I’m obliged to pay for a service that doesn’t work. Computers are so frustrating and they dominate my life.
The superb BMW I once had in England fell victim to electronics too. The central locking never worked so you had to climb in through the window, which was fine as the electric windows would never close. I sold the damned thing because of these problems and kept my early seventies MGB. It’s just carried me down to Peter’s place in Devon and it’ll still be running when today’s gleaming machines have all gone because their failed electronics are too expensive to replace.
In Thailand, I’ve just bought a new Toyota pickup and I chose the cheapest model because it has wind up widows. The locking system has special features too. Each door has a dedicated independent operational output… you can open them individually and keep the kids safe inside. You can even operate the locks and the windows when the ignition’s switched off. Quite amazing! I’d have paid extra for this special feature, though in fact it was at least twenty percent cheaper than the next model up the range.
Of course the Thais have to have all the most expensive toys in their chariots. Our friend Prasert spends his life making noodles to pay the finance on his top of the range Nissan pickup, and whenever I see him he gives me a superior sort of grin and makes a window winding gesture at me. I respond with a similar hand gesture that’s more vertical than circular.
Then there’s the car radio. It’s dangerous fiddling with a radio while driving so they make car radios with as many buttons as possible. Why, why, why? Why can’t they design stuff with simplicity as a special feature? Like a wireless you switch on by turning a knob clockwise. Why do we have to spend our lives learning how to use all these wretched things?
No, I’m a techno-phobe, really I’m not! It’s just that it’s all been changing far too fast. I’ve got my head around hi fi and video but now there’s wi fi and DVD to contend with. I’ve got a CD drive, but what’s the difference between DVD and VCD and what’s all this about them only working in particular regions of the world?
The English newspapers I’m reading now have full page ads with mega offers on a huge range of digital gismos and I’ve no idea what half of them do. Everyone’s talking about MP3 and Eye Pods… surely it should be ‘Ear Pods’. And I’m amazed by these new cameras which do such extraordinary things… you can even send emails and make telephone calls with them.
Talking about cameras again, my stone age Pentax of 1974 was the best one I ever had and the new generation of SLRs are awful in comparison. My new automatic Pentax was a total horror, my worst ever. The batteries lasted all of five minutes, the auto-focus never worked properly, (clunk click, clunk, clunk), the digital screen was a mass of incomprehensible symbols only readable with a magnifying glass and it was always breaking down, needing extensive rebuilds. And it has this uncanny way of failing at the worst possible moment. At the millennium, waiting on the Embankment in London for the river of fire on the Thames just before midnight, the wretched thing suddenly ceased to function. But never mind, I told myself as I hurled it into the river, there’s only another thousand years to wait for the next time.
If cameras make me mad, how about automatic washing machines? The one I recently bought in Petersfield has a thirty page handbook in eight languages covering a wide range of different models and it has twenty seven different programme cycles to choose from. You can’t make it do what you want it to but have to choose one of these. For example, the much trumpeted 1200 rev spin only works if you use the three hour, super-heated, global warming wash cycle. Use a shorter cycle and the clothes come out dripping wet because you can’t select a faster spin.
When we were looking for a washing machine in Surin, Cat desperately wanted the conventional ‘Fuzzy Logic’ automatic on offer, but at considerable risk to marital harmony, I insisted on buying something far simpler. It allows users to self-tailor an infinite range of functions and outputs based on your individual needs… its super-advanced technology is your servant and not your master. I think they call it a twin tub.
Which brings me to the small matter of mobile phones. These seem designed to be understood by that portion of the world’s population whose psychology is Finnish. From the Finns I’ve met on Koh Chang, if you’re manic-depressive and drunk by ten in the morning, then maybe you’ll know how to operate them. This’ll help you tackle the impossible task of taking the back off it to put in a new sim card, to understand its wretched little buttons and menus and what it means to be told that ‘you have active diverts’. In a moment of frustration my friend Peter very sensibly threw his mobile phone at the wall, but still it didn’t work properly.
The other thing that annoys me about mobiles is their social impact… my kids and all my Thai friends can now get away with never planning anything in advance. If you’re meeting to go shopping together or whatever, there’s now no need to agree an ETA and the RV point where you’re going to muster. They’ll never commit themselves to a proper plan but just drift around staring silently at their mobiles sending text messages to each other, but somehow they manage to meet up without the slightest difficulty. Plans mean nothing now that you can ‘text me baby one more time’.
I find it extremely irritating that we’re now totally dependent on mobile phones and some of my worst fights with Cat have been caused by their malfunction. Like when one of us forgets to take their mobile with them or the battery’s dead and we’re separated in the teeming ant heap of Bangkok, desperately looking for each other.
‘Why didn’t you charge your battery then? I might have never seen you again!’ I say. Cat is quite offended.
No, it never used to happen like this in the old days. Marriage was easier when the only mobiles were hanging over the baby’s cot and telephones were reliable.
When my mobile doesn’t work, I never know why I can’t get through. There’s a recorded message in Thai and Cat can’t seem to tell me what it’s saying. My blood pressure rises as I try again and Cat laughs at me as my face puckers up behind my shades in a sneer of distaste, the deadly radioactive waves frying the soggy remnants of my brain.
Maybe I’ll never get used to this wretched toy as its real purpose is removing money from my bank account. Anyway, for me, telephones will never be the same since the design museums took away the last of the big black ones with the curly plaited cables… sticking a finger in and dialing used to be such fun.
So how do I now persuade you I’m not a ranting gizmo-phobe? Well, I’ve just written this on my all-singing silver laptop, and I’m an regular internet surfer too. I’m enthralled by the universe of knowledge you can Google up with the click of a mouse even out in the far rice fields of Surin. Yes, I’m a thoroughly modern guy in so very many ways! It’s only grumpy old men who haven’t kept up with the times that sit and grumble at stuff they can’t understand.
Nonetheless, I admit that I do have a soft spot for the older style of interactive verbal dissemination device that my generation called a book. I like books because they never crash, never run out of battery and never accuse me of committing an illegal operation.
There’s one sitting next to me and I’m going to read it when I’ve finished these moanings. About the lessons to be learned from the study of pre-history, it focuses on the impact of constant change in the world and on the failure of species and individuals to adapt to new opportunities and threats. It’s by some old professor of gerontology and it’s called, ‘Dancing with Dinosaurs’.