Friday, April 30, 2010

A matter of self-Ctrl

Since getting her new Dell Inspiron 1545 in December, I’ve been listening to a steady trickle of complaints from my girlfriend about how it seems to have a life of its own. Browser tabs opening and closing, text randomly being cut and pasted, and most upsettingly: windows closing without warning, eviscerating filled text boxes.

I give my girlfriend more credit than most (as she generally deserves it more than most) but experience has shown that whenever anyone starts complaining about a “stupid computer”, a stupid user is most likely to be the culprit. Since the problem only occurred intermittently during typing, and as every one of the seemingly autonomous actions the computer was taking could be prompted by holding Ctrl and pressing a certain key, I quickly arrived at the conclusion that she was accidentally hitting the ctrl key during her furious typing sessions.

When I tried typing on her computer, I had no difficulties, and while I was never thrashing out long essays or blog posts, it galvanised the notion that user-error was to blame, not a malevolent computer exercising its free will. I explained to her about all the Ctrl-key related shortcuts, and told her to be more careful with how she rested her hands on the keyboard, and congratulated myself on another mystery solved.

About two months later, she brought up the issue again. I stood over her, dictating an absurd narrative that spoke highly of me, and she hammered away at the keys at a frenetic pace that left me little time to ponder synonyms for ‘magnanimous’. Eventually, the font on the screen flashed blue then disappeared. She screamed a triumphant “A-HA!” and pointed at the screen. I told her that she had hit ‘Ctrl-A’ to ‘select all’, then kept typing, and that she should ‘Ctrl-Z’ to get her work back. Her 'proof' debunked, I saw fit to reiterate the ‘hotkey’ lesson from before, blaming her woes on a misplaced pinkie. She glumly accepted my diagnosis.

Two more months passed by, and after a busy semester and a half of typing on this laptop, she told me again that she was still having trouble. She had been filling in some schoolwork into an online form and the window closed on her, setting her back a few minutes. After she provided a swift rebuttal to my light scolding for not doing her work on Word then copying/pasting, I decided I should humour her with some troubleshooting over the phone.

Even though it had been the first thing I did when I was setting up her computer, I talked her through the steps of disabling Stickykeys. She got to the appropriate screen, and sure enough, all the relevant boxes were unchecked, except one, which related to ‘Function keys’. I told her to disable it to see if it made a difference. She quickly rattled off some text, and observed no issues. She seemed enthused, optimistic, and above all, grateful that I stopped trying to convince her that her sloppy typing style was causing the trouble.

It was nice to see her so happy.

I got a text message from her the following day – her text messages are generally characterised by tongue-in-cheek petnames and frenzied over-punctuation – the message I got that day did not match her trademark style:
Had no troubles today, but I did trigger a load of shortcuts right after we talked yesterday. It’s my right pinky finger hitting control. I’ll have to change my typing habits

“It’s my right pinky finger”. “I did trigger a load of shortcuts”. She was finally taking responsibility for her typing quirks – I should have felt relieved, and yet, this crestfallen text message broke my little heart.

Realizing I had broke my girlfriend flipped a switch in my head, surely there’s some problem with the laptop – nobody could have these kind of issues five months later, especially not a good typist like her. My girlfriend's too smart for this kind of stuff.

For the first time ever, I googled the problem.

Son of a bitch! I hadn’t even finished typing and the problem was popping up at me. Within fourteen seconds of beginning the investigation, I had found a sure-fire solution.

Dozens of people were crying bloody murder about the problem, many of whom had resorted to sending the computer back to Dell up to four times for repair / replacement. In the end, what solved it for them was disabling a setting on the touchpad that makes the computer act as though the Ctrl key has been pressed.

Bugger. All the vitriol and anguish thrown around on the Dell support forums, and I treated my girlfriend’s gently raised-issues as an opportunity to pontificate on ‘hotkeys’ used by ‘powerusers’.

I don’t know what the lesson is to be learnt here. Maybe it’s that I’m capable of being a good boyfriend to my girlfriend, but it only kicks in after I’ve broken her spirit, leaving me to remould her as I see fit.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

As seen on TV: Part Deux

Laugh all you want, but my mother still loves her Snuggie, and her continued enjoyment of this fine as-seen-on-TV product has piqued my curiosity about their other offerings, so today I’m going to regale you with yet another item I picked up in a US pharmacy that prompted an intrigued “hrrrmmmmmnn”.


The Product: HD Vision Wrap Arounds

The contraption: Sunglasses. Sunglasses that apparently offer ‘clarity that you have never experienced’, ‘enhance your vision’, act ‘just like High Definition TV’, while being ‘lightweight and durable’ and offering a ‘Modern European Style.’ Sounds too good to be true!

The pitch: You’ve heard of high-definition television, right? It’s new and cutting edge, just like you want to be. Sadly, your new television is outputting images at 720p, but your old-fogey eyes are only capable of handling 480i. Wouldn’t it be great if you could wear something on your face that would make your eyes capable of high-definition? Instead of doing crazy sci-fi stuff involving bending light and focusing images for your retina, how about you wear a pair of sunglasses with an amber hue? This way, when you go outside wearing sunglasses, it won’t seem as dark! It’s high definition!

The target market: Impressionable cretins with such a fundamental misunderstanding of what ‘High-Definition’ means that they will pay $20 for a crap pair of shades off the telly-box.

The video:

Why I opted out: I'm not one for jumping the gun. HD? Pshaw! I've had HD on my computer monitor since before Y2K. Early adopters always get burned - I'm holding out for the revolutionary new product seen in these leaked photos from the As-Seen-On-TV warehouse:

And of course, the phrase that all this brought to mind:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Entry Redacted: Post-hoc quality control

It's time for some more meta-blogging, dear reader!

I write about some pretty mundane stuff on this website, but I'd like to think that most of it is packaged in a way that makes it worthwhile. When considering an entry, I first ask myself if I'd be interested in reading about it if it was written by someone I don't know.

I try to avoid blogging about work, or my personal life in general, but I find myself revisiting my long-term, long-distance relationship regularly. When I'm writing about idly passing a day on the couch watching movies and TV shows with my lady, what I'm interested in is the deconstruction of this act, and finding the value that's devoid of sentiment. More recently, when discussing the logical-absurdity of sentimental value, I shared a vignette that illustrated the shared cognitive dissonance between two otherwise-rational adults who struggled to part with an item of legal tender, because of an emotional attachment that had formed for odd reasons. That's a direct juxtaposition between sentimental and monetary value! That's compelling stuff! Well, it is to me anyhow.

I try to keep the 'dear diary' stuff to a minimum, and I know it does occasionally creep in when I'm failing to hit my (laughably small) 5-posts a month target as I try to explain myself to the hypothetical slighted-reader, but I'm trying to get out of that habit. A week ago, I posted a screengrab taken from Facebook of something that pissed me off. I made no attempt to make the post worthwhile, I just put it up there to vent my anger.

It's since been taken down, the first post I've ever deleted from this blog since I started almost four years ago. If I were to go back and critically examine every post I've done with today's criteria of 'worthwhileness', I'm sure I could excise an awful lot more, but that's all for the time being.

I'm curious to hear from the other bloggers who read this: how do you self-govern? Do you have a hypothetical reader in mind when writing?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Annoying habits my girlfriend is beating out of me: Episode 1

My girlfriend is pretty spectacular. Smart, sociable, conscientious. Me? Not so much. I like to think that this makes us a well-balanced, fully funtional unit, but she's decided that my inability to negotiate through the most mundane of human-interactions without incident is a character flaw, rather than the endearing quirk I keep telling her it is.

I've noticed lately that she's taken a more proactive approach to eliminating my autistic proclivities, which I can only ascribe to the sudden realisation that she's already invested three years in me, and will forever be regarded as sullied in the eyes of all other men.

Today, I'll tell you about one such quirk, starting with the background:

During the academic year of 2006/2007 I racked up an impressive tally of air-miles, and often found myself rushing through busy airport terminals to catch connecting flights. It was always a pain that most time was spent at the security checkpoints, and I'd often find myself running towards my gate whilst fastening my belt.

It makes sense, right? Everybody in the airport has jumped through the same hoops you did, so anyone looking at the man walking through the terminal dressing himself should be able to deduct that he just came through security and is rushing to his gate.

Well, eventually I made it a policy to save time in all my belt-buckling endeavours when leaving security checkpoints; regardless of whether I was in a panicked dash to the gate, or leisurely browsing through duty-free shops, I'd be seen adjusting my pants.

I realised that I had hit the nadir of this slippery slope when walking out of a cinema water-closet towards my patiently waiting ladyfriend. She had her shoulders agressively hunched in puzzlement and asked me "what the hell" I was doing.

I wondered if I had left something hanging out as I tightened my belt, then realised that the kerfuffle was over the habit I paid little attention to. A time-saving habit from my 'airport' programming had permeated every occurrence of my belt refastening.

The trouble with these behavioural abnormalities is that since I only get to see my ladyfriend for a few days every few months, the inevitable relapses mean that we often retread the same territory, only with increasing exasperation on her part.

Most guys I know love saving time, and we often share little tips to shave a few seconds off daily routines (like flushing the toilet during the final 15% of urination so you can just zip up and walk away), and it seems to me that the problem lies with society, not me, so finding the right motivational angle proves difficult for my stalwart woman-friend.

To wean off breaking the unwritten law of society pertaining to correct belt-usage, she's tried vocal indignation, silent disgruntlement, and attempted to shame me in front of her friends, all to no avail.

A few months ago, we were visiting her friends who had just got married, moved in together, and were generally getting well into the 'grown up' phase of their lives. After returning to the living room, where all eyes were fixed on the TV, my beloved spun around with a big smile on her face. Her eyes met mine, then flicked down to see that I was still getting dressed. She turned back towards the TV, visibly disappointed, and for the first time, I felt a pang of shame.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

As seen on TV. Which makes it good, right?

After months of derisive snorts at the Snuggie and its purveyors, I bought one for my mother last Christmas. It turned out to be one of the few gifts that's resonated with her, and I still find myself showered with gratitude for this thoughtful gift well into the new year. The Snuggie far exceeded my expectations, and now I'm investigating what other as-seen-on-TV products I should consider purchasing with an open mind.

The product: Bottle Top, which I encountered during my last trip to the States in late March:

The premise: ‘Turn your your drink can into a bottle!’

The contraption: A plastic doodad that looks like the top of a bottle which clasps on to a soda can, imbuing it with it all the conveniences associated with drinking from a resealable bottle.

The pitch: Are you too stupid and uncoordinated to drink from a soda can? Is your lack of intellect so overpowering that you continue to buy soda cans, knowing that your handicap prevents you from drinking out of anything other than a bottle? Do you make a habit of drinking from soda cans that have been left out, only to find yourself repulsed by the lack of carbonation left within? Do you regularly place your open cans in the door of your refrigerator with nothing to hold them steady, then complain about the mess it caused all by itself?

Well suffer no more, thanks to Bottle Top!

The video:

Why I opted out: If I purchased directly from the website, I get a free soda-can-pull-tab-opener. I'm not making this shit up (and yes, the video makes it appear really difficult to open a soda can with just your bare hands).

"But wait! There's more!"


Part of the website that makes me think they don't take it seriously either: "just snap on Bottle Top™ and your done."