Mary Branscombe (marypcb) wrote,
Mary Branscombe

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utility, futility and fustration: but now I'm eating apples again

Too many solutions are half the answer and that can be worse than no answer at all, because you think you’ve solved your problem so you don’t do it properly.


I left my keys at home today. Two neighbours have keys; one of them was home but of course the keys he has are the old set that only let me into the hall and not the flat. The other neighbour has up-to-date keys but was out. Usually I'd just go to a coffee shop and work (I don't peg Starbucks as a globalising bad influence for having more branches in London than New York because 1. having Starbucks has improved the quality of coffee available generally and 2. they have sofas, WiFi and in some places desks with powerpoints - they're raising the bar on places to get something done when you're between places). This time I had to stay in for a courier, plus I wanted to use the WiFi to grab the files I'd usually have on my laptop or tablet, but this is my first day with a new ThinkPad. Great signal, but I couldn't get a network address; that’s the frustrating bit, along with the fact that the default setting on the ThinkPad is ‘optimise for performance’ not ‘optimise for battery life’ which I think is the wrong default on any portable, so by the time I started trying to connect I was down to 33% battery.


In other respects the ThinkPad seems to be a lovely notebook and a disappointing tablet, because no thought has gone into using it without the keyboard. For example: how do I turn the WiFi off? Software configuration, three levels down in a tab headed Device 3 (I missed the Beware of the Leopard signs). How do I turn screen brightness down? Flip the screen and use the keyboard function keys: pretty futile when I’m in a hurry because trying to quickly cut back on power consumption. Don’t expect me to have prepared everything in advance: give me the tools to work with keyboard or pen as I prefer.


I’m going to implement a half solution to the file problem; stick the basic files on a 1GB flash memory stick and try to remember to update them from time to time. It’s not the real synchronisation I want but it’s useful. To me the utility of a process or a device is not ‘what can it do?’ but ‘what will it let me do?’.  Take the £1.50 apple corer and slicer we bought at Ike yesterday. Usually I’d say it’s plastic tat that duplicates what I can do with a knife because what it does is core and slice an apple. But I saw elimloth’s wife Selene use one last year and I realised what it lets me do is grab an apple and have it sliced up - so I’ll actually eat it rather than leaving it in the fruit bowl - in about 5 seconds. And that means I’ll start eating apples regularly again for the first time since I was 13!


The BlackBerry receives and sends email (except on Oxford Street where I can’t get GPRS for love, money or cursing); what it lets me do is not care if I have an urgent email and a good reason to be out of the house at the same time. Configuring the right soft-key on my Windows Mobile smartphone gives me one key access to my task list; what it lets me do is think of things and write them down really quickly and have them show up in Outlook (this is only wonderfully useful in Outlook 12’s ToDo bar from which I now run my life although I'm looking at add-ons that may do the same thing). Sometimes being useful for one little thing is better than being halfway useful for a whole bunch of stuff.


Tags: design, food, geek, mobile, office, rant, tablet pc, technology, travel

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