Thursday, January 14, 2010

Annoyances

The world is full of minor irritations; things which could have been much nicer had a little bit of extra thought thought been put in at the design stage. Here's my list of them, starting with laptop computers.

Laptop Computers
  • Why isn't there a switch or light sensor to turn off or dim those flashing LED lights for power, hard drive,networks etc. at night? Ever slept in a room with a laptop which has been left on to run a malware scan?
  • Laptops are named as such because they can be used on your lap. So it isn't a good idea to put sockets, buttons and DVD drives at the front edge where they will dig into you when you do use them on your lap.
  • Why aren't ALL laptops made with the ability to switch off the screen quickly?
  • There are now 750GB hard drives available for laptops so it takes a special kind of idiot to design one with a 120GB (or less) hard drive.
  • Painting a laptop? It may look nice for a while but paint wears off and black plastic showing through a silver 'Paint job' makes a laptop look really scruffy. (HP please note!)
  • Cordless mice WILL be dropped - lots of times. Build them so that they can take it and so that they don't burst open and spill the batteries. (Microsoft please note!) Put buttons where you can use them but not where you constantly press them accidentally.
  • No-one in their right mind carries a 17" laptop around with the lid closed and using it as an mp3 player. (Dell please note!)
  • Air vents should NOT be placed where they will be blocked if a laptop is used on a lap.
  • Why aren't instructions provided which tell people how to clean out air vents and why it's desirable to do so?
  • Why aren't all laptop screws inserted using an anti-shake fluid such as Locktight so that they don't work loose and drop out?
  • It's NOT a good idea to lightly solder a power socket directly to the motherboard of a laptop so that if the power plug is knocked it breaks the socket away from the motherboard. (Toshiba please note!)
  • Which clot is it who thinks mice, USB hubs and the like MUST have multi-colour LEDs built into them? What exactly does this achieve?
Websites
  • OK I'm unusual in that I have a laptop with a 1920 x 1200 pixel resolution screen. I HATE websites which don't cater for this screen size and which display everything in a narrow band down the middle of the screen. Take for instance the .net magazine website (which really aught to know better) Here it is displayed full screen on my computer:

    Now at least if you magnify the text you can still read the site but look what happens if you display the HP website full screen on my computer and magnify the text:

    ...and they pay people to produce a mess like this?
  • Again I'm unusual because I live out in the country away from any towns or villages. This means my house has a name not a number and does not have a street or district. It does however have a UK postcode not a five number zip code. You wouldn't believe the number of websites I go to where if you fill out an address form to buy something they can't cope with an address like mine. I get:
    Please insert house number
    Please enter street
    Please enter a valid zip code
  • Even worse are the sites with incomplete postcode data. For some reason about 20% of the sites I visit insist my postcode isn't real. When eventually I give up and ring them they usually ask "Is it a new house?"
    "Fairly new. " I respond, "It was built in 1860."

Domestic appliances
  • People WILL hang on the doors of tumble driers so why are the hinges not made stronger?
  • The light bulb lighting the inside of a microwave will eventually burn out and you shouldn't have to dismantle the whole thing to replace it.
  • Hotplates on stoves don't look hot. Would it be too difficult to fit a warning light which will only go out when they are cool enough to touch?
  • What idiot designed a plastic bottle shelf for a fridge which isn't strong enough to take the weight of the bottles it contains. (Whirlpool please note!)
  • Painting instructions in the outside of a deep fat fryer where they get greasy and can only be cleaned with an abrasive cleaner is a rotten idea. (Breville please note!)
  • Can no-one invent an automatic toaster which toasts the first slice as well as the rest?
  • Vacuum cleaners which sound like a jet engine taking off should not be made without ear defenders being provided. (Dyson please note!) Have you ever noticed you don't hear them in the adverts?
  • The person who came up with the idea of region codes for DVDs needs to be 2nd in line for shooting come the revolution. First place should be reserved for the designer of DVD players which lock to a region but claim to be 'multi-region'.
  • PLEASE will someone produce a remote control for TVs, DVD players, satellite receivers etc. which is programmable and has an LCD display to tell you what the functions are. It shouldn't cost £30 or more! How about one which beeps to help you find it in the same way you can find the portable phone.
Computer software
  • Computer games which contain anti-piracy (drm) software such as Securom should have this clearly labelled on the OUTSIDE of the case. Come to think of it, let's make Securom's designers first in line for shooting.
Politics
  • I will probably vote for any politician who can answer any question with a simple 'yes' or 'no'.
  • We have democracy all wrong. The last person we need as President or Prime Minister is the megalomaniac who wants to be President or Prime Minister! Presidents and Prime Ministers should be dragged kicking and screaming to the job.
  • I will definitely vote for any politician who suggests hanging as a suitable punishment for spammers. After all, annoying 2 billion people has to be a good reason for this punishment.
Sticky Labels
  • I just bought a cyclists water bottle from my local branch of Tesco. Nice bottle design but some idiot felt it needed to have a large, ugly, self-adhesive label which proved impossible to remove easily and which left the bottle so sticky that it would stay stuck to a hand which had gripped it. Now I know I can remove the stickyness with iso-propyl alcohol or methylated spirits but that would be absorbed by the plastic bottle and add an unpleasant flavour to the bottle's contents and in any case should I be forced to do that? All this person has done is to ensure I NEVER buy a second one! Listen morons - put the non-adhesive label, along with the bottle in one of those mesh nets Tesco sell onions in.

I'm sure you can think of lots of other annoyances. Why not add them here.

Monday, January 11, 2010

NPower - How to shoot yourself in the foot

A while ago I watched an advert for NPower in a survey. I hope that it's not one they are using on TV because it re-enforced my opinion of how the energy provider just doesn't care about it's customers.

A 'Wallice and Grommet' style NPower worker walked in from the pouring rain, leaving the garden gate and front door wide open. Then, with a stupid grin on his face, he marched down the hall without wiping his feet.

"He might get in but he wouldn't get out in one piece" said my wife. "So much for saving energy" I thought.

Who thought up this rubbish? Did they imagine it would succeed in making the public think well of NPower? It certainly makes me remember the name but NOT in a positive way... but then NPower are good at doing that.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Driving in snow and ice

1st January 2010 saw what is considered 'heavy' snowfalls in most of the UK. In my own area of Northumberland six inches had fallen by lunchtime. As usual it brought chaos on the roads since snow has been a rarity in the UK for some time and most drivers just don't have a clue about how to drive on snow and ice. A few, who live high enough and are old enough or have lived elsewhere where snow is common have the skill but still become stuck behind those who slide and skid.

I was one of them on New Year's Eve in Newcastle when I spent 30 minutes making a 2 mile journey up Dunston Bank. It was covered in ice and although I didn't get stuck I had to dodge around other cars which were sliding all over the place.

So what is the secret? It's easy - you slow down. Although it is counter intuitive, if you start to get wheel-spin you ease off on the accelerator (gas pedal) and run your engine just a little faster than you need to prevent the engine stalling. Keep in the highest gear possible and if you start to slide, DON'T add power.

When going downhill leave a large gap in front. ABS brakes will help but if your car isn't fitted with them then brake very gently. If you start to slide, take your foot off the brake and let the wheels start turning and tyres start gripping before trying to brake again. This is vital since you have no control over your car's direction once the wheels have locked. If it's really icy then pulse the brake gently rather than braking steadily.

Obviously this is no time to have to do an emergency stop so LEAVE THAT GAP and think well ahead. Assume the worst. That driver at the junction ahead will try to pull out in front of you, the guy you are about to overtake will slide sideways across your path and the guy coming down the hill towards you thinks he can control his skid by braking hard and sliding into you.

If you do get stuck there are three things you should be carrying in your boot which can help.

  1. a shovel

  2. a large piece of a cardboard box

  3. a bag of cat litter

Use the shovel to dig a path clear.
Place the cardboard under the wheel which is slipping.
Cat litter makes good grit to get you traction and is a lot lighter than grit or salt.

You might also want to plan for the worst and carry some tea light candles. They don't take up much space but if you get stranded will provide light and a surprising amount of warmth.

So where did I pick up the skill? I was raised on a hill farm 1,700 feet up in the Pennine Hills and have also spent 3 winters in Canada. I'm old enough to remember the 1963 winter too so 6 inches of snow is nothing!

By the way - if you think winter is bad this year - 'you ain't seen nuthin yet!'