Tag Archives: technology

Having Smartphone Problems?

Hello, and welcome to Tech Support with Matt! This is a public service offered completely free of charge to you, the population of the world, my global brothers and sisters. How, I hear you ask, can I offer you tech support totally free of charge? It’s because I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT! That’s right! I have a degree in English Literature and History, which means I’m perfectly capable of writing sarcastic blog posts about stupid-ass smartphones. You want someone to fix your handset? Find an engineer in a smart t-shirt. Let us begin!

Customer: Hi Matt, my iPhone 4 keeps turning itself off for no reason.

Matt: Well, first of all, I need to ask you an important question. Why aren’t you using an iPhone 5?

C: Because I don’t want to upgrade yet. Is that relevant?

M: Don’t worry, that’s just our obligatory loyalty test. You’re in the red zone at the moment, but there’s still time to justify your worthless existance!

C: Whatever. My phone keeps turning off.

M: Hmm. Have you tried turning it off and on again?

C: It’s doing that on its own!

M: Yes, but you need to do it on purpose.

C: Seriously? Turn it on and off again? That’s your idea of tech support?

M: Hmm. Attitude noted. You’re obviously not turning it off and on again in the right way. You have to hold down buttons.

C: I did. It didn’t work. In fact, it spent five reboots telling me that activation was required.

M: Yes, that’s right.

C: That really doesn’t help.

M: Well, do you have time to go to your nearest Apple store?

C: it’s two hours away. Can’t I go somewhere else? There’s a Carphone Warehouse just round the corner from work.

M: Strikeforce deployed.

C: Pardon?

M: Sorry, just thinking out loud. So you can’t spare five hours out of your day?

C: I have a job. I have a family, and also a life.

M: Then I would question if you’re really committed to your phone. Do you honour it? Do you respect it? Do you carress it and speak words of affirmation to it?

C: Will that stop it turning off?

M: It may turn it on.

C: Was that a double entendre?

M: Um… Is the phone fully charged?

C: I don’t know. I plug the charger in and the charging icon doesn’t move for hours.

M: Well, maybe the icon is glitchy. What happens when you take the charger out?

C: It turns off.

M: I see. Have you tried hitting it with a hammer?

C: Frankly, after days of this, I’ve thought about hitting everything with a hammer.

M: And have you gone online for help?

C: Well, there are about forty people with the same problem as me, but no-one’s looked at their message board posts for six months.

M: Those people weren’t important enough to reply to.

C: And then I tried using wifi, but the button to turn it on has turned grey and it won’t let me even start to connect.

M: Can’t you use 3G instead?

C: Yes. Yes I can. I could also use smoke signals and rudimentary telepathy, but that would be stupid because this ridiculous phone should be doing that anyway!!!!!

M: I think you’re stressing. Reduce the stress. Follow the Apple mantra of continually removing that which does not make the design great.

C: Does that include wifi and the ability to charge the battery?

M: If that means the design is great, then yes.

C: Okay, look, this is pointless. I should go to the Apple store. Can you tell me where my nearest branch is please?

M: Use our wonderful new app, Maps.

C: Last time I used Maps, I ended up on the International Space Station.

M: Which just illustrates its space age functionality!

C: Right. One last question.

M: Shoot!

C: Where can I buy a Galaxy S3?


10 Print “Happy Birthday ZX Spectrum”

My first computer was a ZX Spectrum. It was a 48K model, I think, with rubber keys. You had to plug a tape recorder into it to load games from cassettes. This took minutes, accompanied by a screeching noise and a screen border that flashed primary colours. I’m remembering this now and it seems like prehistory, but back in the day this was the moment that computers really started to enter UK homes.

I eventually upgraded to the 128K model, with a built in cassette player. I think this may have been when I learned the only bit of code that I know, other than WordPress HTML tags (which don’t count):

10 Print “Hello!”
20 Goto 10

This made ‘Hello!’ scroll up the screen forever, or at least until you stopped it. There are kids reading this thinking that this is the most pointless use of processing power ever encountered, but trust me, back when I was young this was awesome. It meant that the computer did what you told it to do. I swear, when the time comes to prevent the Technopocalypse, that bit of BASIC is really gonna come in handy.

And the games! Horace Goes Skiing (little blue man skis down a slope, but first he has to get across a busy road without getting run over!), Manic Miner (Miner Willy has to collect gems without getting killed by bizarre monsters!), Jet Set Willy (Miner Willy gets rich, throws a party, but then has to tidy up his mansion before he goes to bed!), Horace and the Spiders (Horace and some spiders!)… They were primitive and buggy (I’m not sure it was actually possible to finish Jet Set Willy) but they were addictive. Angry Birds makes them look like finger-daubed cave paintings, sure, but you’ve got to remember that this was all shiny and new and we loved it.

The next generation of games was my favourite, especially the stuff put out by Codemasters and the Oliver Twins. I pulled a few all-nighters trying to complete the Dizzy games – you can play Treasure Island Dizzy here. The Play button on my cassette deck fell off, and I had to load games by sticking a pencil into the mechanism. You can’t do that nowadays…

Times moved on, PCs became more advanced, the internet took over and games now look like movies. But the Speccy is worth remembering, as a herald of today’s networked world, and as gateway into technology and gaming and programming. On St. George’s Day, don’t forget to say happy birthday to a bit of technology of which Britain can be proud.

PS. I’m now going to be singing “Just Another Manic Miner” all day…



How I Learned to Start Worrying and Mistrust My Refrigerator

And so I’m reading an article this morning which basically says that one day my fridge is going to kill me.

Oh, it didn’t say that in so many words. It was just referring to the ‘Web of Things’, where domestic appliances will be networked and therefore our fridges will be able to command us to pick up a bottle of milk when we’re driving past the supermarket. Or we’ll be able to read our emails when looking into a bathroom mirror.

Now, call me a Luddite, but this fills me with dread, mainly for two reasons. The first is geek inspired and insanely paranoid, but I can’t help it. It feels like what would happen if major high street retailers got taken over by Skynet. The technopocalypse won’t start when the network sends battle robots after us all, it’ll be more insidious than that. The appliances will wait until we’re totally dependent on them, then start ignoring the sell-by dates on our food, thus wiping us out through e-coli.

Think I’m crazy? It starts with a fridge telling me to get milk. It goes on to the fridge telling my self-driving car to go to the supermarket without asking me. It ends with the self-driving car taking me to the Soylent Green factory. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

That’s the irrational side of things. More realistically, there’s a concern that we’re already too networked. The concept of time off, of vacations from work, heck, the concept of Sabbath, become compromised when we can be contacted wherever we are – phone calls, text messages, emails, everything’s pushed through to a smart phone that we carry with us all the time. We’re so used to being connected that we never switch off – who hasn’t woken up at 4am and had a sneaky look at their emails before falling asleep again?

Then there’s surveillance culture. We keep getting told that the authorities ‘need’ greater access to our emails and social media – what happens when they want greater access to the things we listen to on the radio, or what’s in our kitchen cupboards? While this sounds only marginally less paranoid than Robogeddon, I guarantee that, should this network world come about to this extent, some politician will suggest legislation to monitor our purchases. The excuse will be terrorism.

Terrorism? Yep. Because doesn’t all this raise geo-political issues? If all this high-tech genius requires Rare Earth Elements, and if those elements are often found in places that either have worrying approaches to human rights (China) or are unstable (Afghanistan), what happens when production of these becomes something worth fighting over? Maybe I’m just cynical because of all the “this-war-is-about-freedom-no-it’s-about-oil” rhetoric of the last few decades, but it’s enough to get me twitchy.

Heck, what am I saying? It won’t be the terrorists that get us, it’ll be the spam. I bet that intrusive leviathan Facebook is already trying to figure out how to update our timelines based on things our white goods are saying. “Matt is driving to church.” “Matt is buying milk.” “Matt is line-dancing.” Zuckerberg’s minions will know all and see all.

Now, there’s someone out there saying that if I haven’t got anything to hide then I’ve nothing to fear. Well, I do have something to hide. I don’t give out my cell phone number to telemarketers. I tick the little boxes that tell companies not to send me junk mail. I don’t have to tell people who I vote for or how much money is in my current account. Corporations already have too much data on us, but when they know exactly what’s in my fridge, or when they know my route to work, that’s too much. They might already know this stuff, but nagging fridges will only make it worse.

It could also kill social media. Are you prepared for a hundred status updates a day telling you every time your friends are buying socks. If a friend gets engaged, sure, I want to know about it. I don’t, however, care if my friend is making toast. But his toaster will, oh yes, because making toast is the whole purpose of its existence, and we’re going to give it a voice, we’re going to enable a toaster to hijack our Twitter feed to tell the world that it’s out-and-proud and is making toast!!! Oh brave new world in which we live, in which kettles have more of a voice than some people.

And then you’ll be watching TV, and all the adverts will be tailored to you, because there’s a chip in there telling everyone your viewing habits and streaming commercials based on the data it’s sucking up. I mean, sure, I’ll fast-forward through them like I always do, but I’ll know they’re there. And they’ll annoy me.

And then my washing machine will eat me.

But at least you’ll know, because it’ll confess to it on Facebook.

Not Quite A Luddite: Not everyone’s going digital

This post was inspired by an entry over at Maggiecakes, about living ‘a digital life in a pre-analogue world’. It’s an interesting post, raising questions about the interaction between ‘digital natives’ (or at least enthusiastic adopters) and those who don’t readily adopt technology, either because of personal choice, local context or, in extreme cases such as the Amish, personal conviction. Now, I’m by no means a neo-Luddite, but the post did raise something that’s concerned me about the rise of the digital society and who or what gets left behind.

That the digital divide is a genuine phenomenon is clear just from my family. My mom has never used the internet, and she’s not interested in doing so – anything that needs to be done online can be done by me or my sister, and you know what? That’s fair enough. As for silver surfers, well, my grandmother struggled when we got her a slightly more high-tech phone, so computing was never going to happen; my other grandmother never owned a telephone. Again, fair enough. Anecdotal though this is, it reminds me that the transition to a digital world is going to take longer than the technology would like.

So I read about exciting developments I’d like to use in the real world (blame Wired) – augmented reality, for instance – but let’s not kid ourselves, the biggest issue facing my town in terms of new technology was probably, realistically speaking, switching off of the analogue TV transmitters. This isn’t intentional, but regardless, I doubt there’s a huge concentration of bloggers or Twitter users locally.

Reading that back, it sounds patronising. It’s not meant to be. Despite us defining our friendships by Facebook, it’s not that way in the real world. For my generation, getting a group of friends together for a night out is now a military operation – for older generations in my area, there’s still an emphasis on physical community – coffee mornings, mother and toddlers groups, churches, pubs. And even though I’m the sort of person who can happily sit in a corner reading a book all day, I think there’s something powerful about groups of people meeting together regularly, forging community – a lot has been written about how Twitter has mobilised the 2011 protest movements across the world, but maybe there’s a more powerful story in how the Occupy movement models a rebuilding of community by setting up camp next to each other.

Maggie’s post also draws attention to communities that deliberately reject technology, specifically the Amish. Now, I’d struggle with the Amish lifestyle – I like having a car and telephones and the internet – but I can understand their concerns about how technology might undermine society, mainly because I don’t think any of us have really got a grasp on what’s happened over the last thirty years ago.  Certainly it would be a shame to see traditional crafts disappear, but that’s because I come from a line of carpenters (see that photo to the right) and I have no woodworking ability whatsoever – unlike aforementioned Amish folk. I’ve blogged about that before; I hope that when everything goes digital, there will still be room for the physical. That’s probably hyperbole, but there does seem to be a sense in which we’re valuing the online over the offline (see all the controversy over library closures).

So I’m a digital fan living in a world that hasn’t quite caught up with technology. And you know what, I kinda like that. It helps keep offline community and crafts on the radar, and it helps break down the digital divide by acknowledging the other side of that barrier (something that doesn’t always happen). I can live with that.

Still need to learn to whittle though.



Ada Lovelace Day 2011: Telling Stories

20111006-192337.jpgI’m not a scientist.

This probably comes as no surprise, given the contents of this blog, but I am interested in the history of science, how discoveries impacted the society around them and vice versa. That’s why I’m interested in the subject of today’s commemoration.

Ada Lovelace was the daughter of Lord Byron, not that they had a relationship; discovering that she had a talent for maths (and earning the nickname ‘the Enchantress of Numbers’, she was the first to recognise the true potential of Charles Babbage’s primitive computing ‘Engines’ going so far as to figure out a prototype computer program. It never got used, more because of the limitations of technology, and somewhere along the line Ada’s contribution to the birth of computing became an oft-forgotten historical footnote.

And that’s why today is Ada Lovelace Day, an international day of blogging to celebrate female pioneers in science, engineering and computing whose stories aren’t as well recorded as their male counterparts.

For instance, the majority of staff at Bletchley Park were WRENs, working on breaking Nazi codes and operating some of the earliest electronic computers, such as Colossus; some of their memories are recorded here.

Those WRENs fall within something of a tradition, because before computers were computers, computers were people, with the term referring to a fairly menial role manually crunching numbers for navigational charts, scientific data and the like. One of these ‘computers’ was Henrietta Swan Leavitt who, while routinely counting data for Harvard College Observatory, figured out the basis of measuring distances between astronomical objects, which in turn provided evidence for the expansion of the universe. Not bad for $10.50 a week, although sadly you won’t be surprised to hear that she received no recognition for this until after she died in 1921.

The list of unsung female heroes of science goes on; Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951 – her cells turned out to be remarkably resiliant and became known as the HeLa line, used to make breakthroughs in research into AIDS, cancer and polio, amoung others; Rosalind Franklin did much of the research that lead to our understanding of the structure of DNA, but her research being published later than that of Crick and Watson’s and her early death at the age of 37 meant that her work has often been overlooked.

It would be cool if… Well, I was going to say if the next Steve Jobs was a woman, but a) it’s unclassily soon to be talking about the next Steve Jobs, and b) it’s best to concentrate on being the first you than the next anyone else. And yet there’s something in this – in the UK, men are almost six times more likely to be employed in SET occupations than women. As a UKRC research report states, “The under-representation of women in SET is increasingly seen as an issue affecting economic growth and productivity… Research suggests that diverse teams that include men and women are important to innovation and economic development.”

Novelist Neal Stephenson has written an article on ‘Innovation Starvation‘, about how we seem to have lost a sense of technological optimism and the resulting inspiration that leads us to carry out epic scientific and engineering projects. There are probably many reasons for this, but one seems fairly obvious – about half the population has become marginalised from contributing to a solution. The first programmer may have been a woman, but the general perception of computing is still that of a male-dominated industry, and that sort of perception has ramifications.

One of the potential solutions to this innovation starvation Stephenson has been involved in is a rediscovery of science fiction as a vehicle for big, inspirational ideas rather than an exploration of tech’s darker side. And maybe that will tie in to the growing visibility of women in SF fandom (another field of which there’s a false perception of it being over-whelmingly male). That puts an onus on many sci-fi writers, particularly those in more populist media like comics – write better female characters!

That’s not quite as simplistic as it sounds – we help form our society through the stories and narratives we tell, and, well, you can write education strategies till they’re coming out your ears, but I’m still willing to bet that more people have heard of Watson and Crick that Rosalind Franklin; more people have heard of Charles Babbage than Ada Lovelace. Maybe Ada Lovelace Day’s importance is simply in that we tell a wider range of stories and that they’re told well, inspirational and aspirational.

After all, Ada’s dad was a poet…

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