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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.



( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
18th Jan, 2006 19:52 (UTC)
Am fond of multiple gadgets that each do one thing well. When I was shopping for a new PDA, a lot of friends advised me to get an integrated phone/PDA device: but I use the two quite differently, at different times, for different things, and the additional functionality offered by the 2-in-1 device is outweighed by the additional risk of loss or damage to both 'functions' at once. Similarly, don't want a new MP3 player that stores text or photos: that's what I have the PDA for.
Ease of use, and ergonomic design, will always be a winner in my book: would rather have those than cutting-edge Difficult Stuff.
18th Jan, 2006 23:07 (UTC)
I used to think exactly that way about the phone-PDA thing, but for one factor. A smartphone with a bluetooth headset that does voice-activated dialling is 95% perfect by my criteria. The smartphone lives in your bag, and you do most of your phoning via headset (one touch receive, speak-to-dial outging calls) and you only get it out and use the large form factor when you want to use it as a PDA.

There is a small drawback in that nobody seems to make a combination that actually works, although I'm holding on for the Treo 700p.
19th Jan, 2006 12:56 (UTC)
depends on what you primarily use your phone for! I very seldom make or receive actual calls: I mostly use text-messaging. It's more like a portable answerphone / mini-email than anything, and it certainly stays in my bag 90% of the time. When it doesn't, it's small enough to hold in one clenched hand without risk of being attacked for it. (And it's not a very high-spec phone, so less of a mugger-magnet.)
18th Jan, 2006 20:38 (UTC)
I'm also fond of multiple gadgets that do things the way I want them to without compromising. I carry both a simple cell phone and a high-quality camera -- that way I get both cheap phone service and good pictures, without paying for bandwidth I don't use. I have a Nokia 770 tablet that works for computer-type tasks without being crippled like a cell phone or dumbed-down like a PDA. It will probably end up replacing a PDA, because it's more like the desktop computer that I'm used to.

The Nokia 770, by the way, is by far the best tablet computer I've seen. That's because it doesn't have a keyboard: the UI is designed from the ground up to use the touch screen exclusively. Like Palm, except that it's running a real OS. That means that you can, for example, point the browser (Opera, currently) at a local web server that provides the same web services that your intranet would.
18th Jan, 2006 22:12 (UTC)
Take the £1.50 apple corer and slicer

One of these by any chance? Trust Ikea to have two product lines that are identical in price and everything except colour and give them two completely different names!
18th Jan, 2006 23:03 (UTC)
GoodGrips also has/rebadges them.
19th Jan, 2006 12:36 (UTC)
I'm sure they're not £1.49 from GoodGrips (but they'll probably be nicer to hold if your hands aren't in good shape)
19th Jan, 2006 13:26 (UTC)
Charm. So why isn't the other one Quark, or Strangeness at least?
18th Jan, 2006 23:03 (UTC)
> 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!

shame it won't wash and dry it first, too.
19th Jan, 2006 12:34 (UTC)
I have to admit, if there isn't mud on it, I tend not to wash it...
19th Jan, 2006 12:52 (UTC)
You're relying on everyone in the chain responsible for getting the apple to you to have washed their hands after visiting the toilet? How very trusting :-)
19th Jan, 2006 13:24 (UTC)
I think of it as keeping my immune system up to snuff ;-)

my grandmother used to say that you have to eat a peck of dirt before you die. By all reports she was an accurate woman who could measure 6oz of flour for a cake by eye; I'm sure she knew quite how large a peck really is!

19th Jan, 2006 13:25 (UTC)
A peck is one thing. An E. coli infection is quite another.
19th Jan, 2006 13:27 (UTC)
A peck is a quarter of a bushel!
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )


full steam ahead
Mary Branscombe
Simon & Mary

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