Why can’t things just work?

My lifelong battle with technology of any kind appears to be continuing.

And I am definitely on the losing side of this latest skirmish.

I am one of those people who never expect anything to ‘just work’. And even if it does, I hover around nervously waiting for it to fail. Instruction books are normally about as much use as toilet paper, and the two fail-safes seem to always be ‘Factory Reset’, or ‘Turn it off, then turn it on again’.

After a lifetime of being let down by everything from a mobile phone, to the air-conditioning system in my car, the latest assault troops in technology’s personal war against me are revealed as a recently-purchased PVR, my Kindle Fire Tablet, and the miniature camera delivered just this week.

When I got the camera, it seemed to be working fine. I even discovered (eventually) how to change the German menu language into English.
Keen to try it out, I put it on charge.

The next day, it wouldn’t turn on.
So I plugged in the charging cable, and it worked.
I pulled out the charging cable, and it went black.

It seems that the supplied battery, apparently new in its packet, had not taken any charge at all. This despite the flashing light showing it was charging, then stopping flashing, to let me know it had charged. So I have a camera that works, as long as it is connected to its one-metre charging cable. Short of buying a five-mile long cable to trail behind me on my countryside walks, I seem to have two options. The first is to return it and try to get a refund. That might be tricky, from a German seller who does not trade in my language. Besides, I waited years to get one of these, and they are as rare as hen’s teeth. The next option is to consider that it might be a battery failure, and to buy a brand-new replacement battery online for very little money. So that’s what I have done.

Fingers crossed that the camera actually recognises the new battery when it arrives…

On to more technology, the Amazon Fire tablet. This actually worked pretty well from day one. However, early attempts at reading books on the Kindle App showed pages advancing at will, even when I wasn’t touching the screen. Sometimes, they flew by so fast, they almost got to the end of the book! I was constantly having to restart the books, and then ‘flick-forward’ to where I had been reading. Perhaps I was giving off a lot of ‘electricity’? I had no idea why it was happening. I was just about to consider returning the thing to Amazon, when that glitch stopped, and I enjoyed many months of ‘normal’ Kindle reading. On Wednesday night, the dreaded ‘flick-forward’ started again, happening before my eyes when I was not even actually touching the thing, just holding it by the protective case.

Unable to face the stress of trying to sort it out late at night, I turned off the bedside light and went to sleep.

Last night, I wanted to check the time of a TV programme on the PVR that we use to view and record all our television through. The machine is only six months old, and I have already suffered one compulsory ‘Factory Reset’. When I pressed the button for the Electronic Programme Guide on the remote control, only one channel (out of more than 100 available) was displayed. Naturally, it wasn’t the channel I was interested in. I checked through the instruction book, to find absolutely no mention of any fault like this. As I followed the suggestion that I could alternatively source the channel information via the device’s main menu, the screen went blank.

So that was it. No TV, unable to record anything, and a small black electronic device sitting there sniggering through its metaphorical fingers at me.

I remembered Fail Safe Option Two. The power was disconnected, then reconnected.

After a lot of strange whirring noises and an indicator light flickering on and off, it came back on. With a fully functional programme guide too.

But I know it’s only playing with me…

So, whoever you are, you Gods of Technology, I surrender. My hands are up, the white flag is flying, and I have had enough.
My capitulation is complete. You win, I’m a loser. I admit it. You are the boss, not me.

Now will you please just work?

Life before gadgets

Many things that are considered to be normal everyday items now didn’t exist in my youth. The idea of owning a machine to wash your clothes was something that didn’t even enter the heads of the adults in my family, and we didn’t get one until 1968. Likewise a machine to wash plates, dishes, and cutlery. That was something I didn’t see until the late 1970s, and to this day, I have never owned one.

The one thing we did have was an electric 2-slice toaster. This appeared around the time of my tenth birthday, and seemed like something from the future to me back then. I was so excited to watch the toast pop up when it was done, it was not uncommon for me to toast a few slices even when I didn’t want to eat them. The one in my kitchen in Beetley at the moment is virtually identical to that first one in 1962, showing that a good design never needs to be altered.

Just because gadgets started to arrive on the scene didn’t mean they appeared in our houses. Things like electric food mixers were incredibly expensive then, and well beyond the financial reach of working-class families. Electric knives, electric can-openers, such things were even laughed at, when we had perfectly serviceable knives and can-openers that we could use with our hands. Plug-in crock pots, slow-cookers, they just took up space on worktops, and we already had casserole dishes that could be put into the oven.

The proliferation of gadgets appeared like an unstoppable tidal wave though, and it became harder to resist. One day, I arrived home from school to find that virtually everything in the kitchen was now stored in a Tupperware container. From my breakfast cereal to Oxo cubes, they all had a perfectly airtight-sealed place on a shelf. Not long after that, small wire devices turned up, propped over each of the heating radiators. They were to be used for drying clothes during bad weather, turning every room into a miniature laundry.

When I no longer saw the kettle standing on the cooker hob, I was told that we now had an electric one instead. Very noisy in operation, and not much faster to boil water than the one we had used all my life until then, it now took up valuable space in the kitchen. And we had to have one. Because everyone else did. The next arrival was an electric hand mixer. My Mum was a keen cake-maker, and she loved the twin-head mixer that saved her the effort of spending so much time with a hand-whisk.

TV advertising soon embraced the sales of all sorts of weird and wonderful ‘must-have’ gadgets. One really crazy one I remember my mum buying was a plastic tray to make slicing a cucumber supposedly ‘easier’. The vegetable was placed inside, and a knife could be used in the numerous slots, leaving her with a perfect, evenly-sliced sliced cucumber. To me, it looked no different to how it had been sliced previously, but she was delighted with her purchase.

I will spare you a list of the many useless items that followed. Things like an inflatable ‘bath-pillow’ that fixed to the bath with suction cups, or trays that hung upside down in the fridge to store cooked meats. But they came thick and fast.

All of a sudden, it seemed that nobody could remember a time without such wonderful gadgets. How did we ever cope?

Power Hungry

Just before 5:30 yesterday evening, the power went off here. We are lucky not to get that many power cuts, but that also means that when we do, they are all the more unexpected, and irritating. I usually expect the electricity to come back on within half an hour or so, but after about twenty minutes, I received a text message from the power company. It was an ‘unplanned outage’, and I could find out more by following a website link attached to the message.

I was unable to do that using my ‘smart’ phone, as the phone signal wasn’t strong enough to download the information. We have a signal booster to cure this localised issue, but of course that requires power to work. Back to the old Catch 22 of an online life. No electricity equals no Internet. Although it wasn’t unduly cold, it was a dull and dank evening, so the room soon became dark. Candles were an option, but we thought we might save them for later, just in case. Besides, we were planning to go out yesterday, to social function; musical entertainment and a barbecue, organised by the local British Legion. We had bought the tickets earlier this week, and thought it might make a change.

Trouble was, Julie could not have a shower, then dry her hair. The shower is powered by electricity, to make sure it works with good pressure. She could have had a bath, using a jug to wash her hair, but it would then take ages to dry, and would be harder to style. Nothing to do but wait for the power to return. At 7:20, a neighbour called round. She told us that she had been able to contact the power company using an old style phone, and they told her the line was down to this area, and would not be back on until 9:30 at the earliest. So, the idea of going to the barbecue was scrapped, as for all we knew they had no power there, and Julie wasn’t happy to go with ‘mad hair’ anyway.

What to do for dinner then? The cooker is all-electric, so that was out of the question. The toaster is electric, so we couldn’t even have toast. I keep microwave meals for a speedy dinner solution, but the microwave is also electric, so no joy there. We have a portable camping gas stove for emergencies, but best to keep that in reserve for a harsh winter. I decided to drive out in the car, and see what was open to provide a take-away meal from a restaurant. A mile up the road, the local Thai was ablaze with light, so I went in. They were surprised to hear about the power cut, which must have been extremely local to just one side of one road. Our side of our road, unfortunately. I bought a meal, and took it home. We were very happy to demolish the food, as it was well over an hour past our usual dinner time.

As it was now almost dark, a few candles were alight, and we wondered what to do with the rest of the evening. Reading by using a torch or candle is not an option with my eyesight, and with no TV or computer, it was actually quite pleasant to just sit quietly for a while. I had the brainwave of using one of Julie’s tablets to read a Kindle book. None of them had enough power left to operate, but even if they had, I would have needed the wi-fi to be working, to be able to log on. Then I remembered the laptop, tucked away for computing emergencies. We could watch a DVD film on that, to while away the last couple of hours of power cut time. No chance though, as it hadn’t been fully charged, so wouldn’t stay on.

As promised, the power returned at 9:30. Lights came on, the TV restarted, and Julie began to plug all her devices into the assorted chargers around the room.

Life had returned to the 21st century, once again reminding us that without electricity, we are as good as helpless.