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Saturday, 25 October 2014

Trouser shopping — a reflection

I do not enjoy trouser shopping. Other items of clothing either come in well-defined sizes, or a coat, say, I can slip on by the rack. Trousers are harder. You have to find some promising candidates, then go off to a tiny cubicle and get half undressed to try them on. And if you don't like those ones, you have to get redressed and start the whole thing over again. In my opinion, only shoe purchasing is more irritating, where you need to get someone to help you before you can even get started. (Unless you happen to only have a left leg, I suppose.)

My ideal would be to go into the store, take off my shoes and trousers, and then wander around trying on pairs until I found the ones I want. Well, you'd think people had never seen a man in underpants before!

What I look for in trousers has altered significantly in recent years (and I'm not talking about flexible waistbands, although these should not be sneared at). One thing I really dislike in trousers nowadays are buttoned flies. When I first bought a pair with buttons up the front I thought it was quaint and amusing, that is until I needed to get in there in a hurry. That's when I realised why humanity had invented zips in the first place. They're not much fun buttoning up either, especially in cold weather when your fingers are numb.

Went I went trouser shopping last week I had a newer consideration in mind: would the pockets be big enough to fit my next mobile phone, now that the tendency is for them to look like small tablets. I don't even know for sure yet that I want a 6" phone, but I do know that my phone has to be able to accompany me wherever I go. As if anticipating the recent announcements from Apple and Google, all the trousers I looked at had capacious side pockets.

Another sign of the times: in Debenhams they have a QR code in the changing rooms so that you could download their wonderful Debenhams app. And on one pair of trousers a tag suggested I might like to text a number to donate three pounds to a marine conservation charity. As I was just about to make a considerably bigger donation to Debenhams, I passed on that one. The connection between marine conservation and what I wear on my legs wasn't obvious; perhaps the idea is that people will feel less guilty about spending a large amount of money on clothing is they donate a small amount to charity, thus allowing them to spend even more on clothes.

Some things, though, never change. As usual it seemed that an army of similar sized people had visited the shops just before me, leaving mostly trousers too wide or too short for yours truly. Or I'd find some with plenty in my size, but I wouldn't be seen dead in them. Not that I'll get much say in the matter.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Who says gas bills are rising?

A stunning letter from energy supplier SSE:

Although we've been in our new house for four months, it's taken that long for our new energy supplier, Good Energy, to take over the supply of gas and electricity from SSE, who were handling things when we moved in. In fact it had taken so long that we'd had interim bills from SSE, and duly paid them of course. As they'd estimated our usage, we received a refund for the electricity, but with the gas I reckoned we would end up owing them money at the end. And so we did: one whole penny.

It doesn't take much of a brain to work out that SSE will be costing themselves dozens of times this amount just by mailing to tell me. When I ring up their 0800 number to make the payment, that will cost them some more, and their bank will no doubt charge them a bit more for the privilege of receiving my penny. The blindingly obvious decision should be to write off final bills that are less than the cost of collecting them. So what's gone wrong?

Well, looking at the three pages of colour printout that allegedly "explain my bill in detail", I think the blame lies with those fiends incarnate, the computer programmers.

A couple of months ago the bill we received estimated a usage of £91.64. But now, the bill for that period has been revised to £57.31, with an additional bill from then to the date of termination of £34.34. Total: £91.65! But our final meter reading was eight units more than their estimate in August, and eight units surely cost more than £0.01, so I'm guessing that their billing software spotted that it wasn't worth sorting things out, and fudged the revised bill so that the final total would equal the amount we'd already paid. Alas, some rounding error has left them still short of that extremely expensive penny.

If I'm right, I should have received a final bill of £0.00. Still costly to tell me about, but they would at least have been saved the phone bill and the bank charge. No wonder they offer £46 a year off if you go paperless.

It says "If you'd like to discuss your payment options, please give us a call." Oh, I'm really tempted, but all my previous attempts to talk to a human being on their 0800 number have just resulted in my left ear getting very hot from having a phone jammed into it for 15 minutes. To add insult to injury, their muzak is exceptionally annoying even by muzak standards, and it's interrupted every thirty seconds by a voice telling me that I'm going to get connected real soon.

Now, I just need to remember to actually pay the bill.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

The Future—Today!

We watched the pilot episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" this week. Made in the year 1987 and set in the year 2364, I felt it held up quite well, allowing for some shaky characterisation that you might expect in a first episode. One bit made me laugh though. Commander Riker stops a crewman to ask if he knows where Data is. The crewman takes pleasure in showing him how you can tap a huge panel on the wall and then ask the ship's computer to tell you Data's location. It even displayed moving lights to point you in the right direction.

27 years ago the show's writers thought that this would be cutting edge technology in the late 24th century. Today millions of people have got the same technology sitting in their pockets. Out by three and a half centuries!

We haven't got holodecks yet, but VR headsets are starting to make a real impact, while 3D printers are clearly replicators in the making (no pun intended). Even more than when we were sending rockets to the moon, it feels like I'm living in the Future.

Guess it will still be a few years though before I can tell a kettle to make me a cup of "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot".

Thursday, 21 August 2014

A Curious Optical Illusion Caused by my Spectacles

Sat in a presentation a few days ago I started to get distracted by an odd effect outside. I was in an upstairs room sat on the other side of the room from the window. Outside was a golf course. I was looking at the tiny white dots on the green, presuming they were gold balls but unable to work out why they looked so small. Later on a miniature golfer landed a shot in a bunker. He recovered nicely, tidied up the sand with the miniature rake that had been left there, and moved on. Later still other miniature golfers came and went; some even had a miniature golf buggy.

During a break I wandered over to the window. Now that I could see the drop to the ground, everything looked the right size. It seemed that I had been misjudging distances, thinking things were nearer than they really were, so that they appeared shrunken. When the presentation restarted, I tried to make the golf course look the right size by sheer force of will. It didn't work.

The answer came to me half an hour later, when I happened to take off my varifocals—suddenly the golf course was looking normal. And when I'd stood up earlier, naturally I'd removed my glasses. At this point I confess to missing a bit of the presentation while I experimented pushing my glasses up and down my nose. There was no obvious magnification going on, and although the varifocals do make distant objects appear slightly higher up, I couldn't see how that could be confusing my brain in this way.

I think I worked out what was going on when I noticed how a bit of rough grass changed when I was using my specs: a blur of light green colours changed into distinct blades of grass. My theory is that because the glasses made things more distinct, my brain was fooled into thinking they must be much nearer than they actually were. The only thing that bothers me is that I've been wearing these specs for almost a couple of years now (note to self: book annual appointment at the opticians), but this is the first time I've noticed this effect. My guess is that it was a particular combination of circumstances that generated it, namely having in my near view something (the rough grass) that changed so dramatically when I was using my lenses.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Re-reading Big Cyril

As my book clear-out continues, I find an old copy of 'Big Cyril', the auto-biography of Cyril Smith, one time MP and now apparently also a serial child abuser. I remember this as being quite an entertaining read, back in the day. One bit sprang to mind, so I had a quick look in the index: "sacked from Boards of Governors of twenty-three schools", p 101.

Having been a Labour councillor in Rochdale, Cyril Smith had gone independent in 1966, costing Labour of control of the council. In 1972 they got it back and took action against him, dismissing him as Chair of the Education Committee, and "sacking" him from the Youth Committee, Youth Employment Committee, the Committee of Rochdale Youth Orchestra, the Committee of the Youth Theatre Workshop, and the Boards of Governors of twenty-nine (sic) schools, which I had visited so assiduously as Mayor. Yes, I'm sure he did.

It would be nice to think that someone in the Labour Party knew about his activities and was trying to put some distance between the youth of Rochdale and their future MP. However, I think simple revenge on the man who had deprived them of power for several years would be adequate explanation for their behaviour.

Interesting though how different this page reads in the light of the recent revelations.

Oh, wait. I've just spotted an index entry for Jimmy Saville. Smith met him and even appeared on his TV programme once. He has this to say about him: Jimmy Saville admits openly that his work as a disc jockey is a joke, but his record of public service and charity must be unequalled. Sadly it turns out it was, but for all the wrong reasons.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Speeding up my Nexus 7

I bought one of the original Nexus 7 models last year and, like many others like me, found it gets slower with use. There have been ups and downs. When it installed Android Kitkat it seemed to me to be running faster, while installing the new Google Now launcher made it pretty well grind to a halt.

Recently it's been getting worse again, and last week it reached the point where I felt I had to google the problem again (on a different machine) to look for some explanation. You get a lot of suggestions doing this, some more plausible than others, and some more work than others. I don't want to have to do a factory reset, nor I am thrilled by the idea of having to root my Nexus so I can run someone's clever "speed up your device" app. (To be fair, the app may indeed be really clever, it's the rooting bit I have issues with). In truth, the most common suggestions were ones I'd already tried, or they assumed you were running out of RAM or storage space, which I definitely wasn't.

So I went into Settings and tried to spot apps that were using up suspicious amounts of CPU time. Nothing obvious, and I was out of ideas, so I resorted to uninstalling stuff I don't use much. That didn't seem to help, until I disabled (not uninstalled, just disabled) Screebl Pro. If you haven't heard of this, it's an excellent app that senses when you're holding your device and then stops it switching off the display. Now I noticed a substantial improvement, and a week later the Nexus is still running well.

I have to mention that earlier today I thought I should do the reverse experiment and re-enable Screebl Pro. This had no apparent effect on the speed, which leaves me a little confused. It may be that it was something else I tried that did the speed up, but I only noticed it after disabling Screebl. Or it may be something about leaving Screebl on for a long time that made my Nexus 7 go so slowly. Either way, I thought I'd put this out on the web. If your Nexus 7 is moving like treacle and you've got Screebl installed, it's the work of a moment to try disabling it. If it works for you, great. Otherwise I'd suggest removing some apps.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

And a Farewell to Maps Too

Following on from my last blog, we are also throwing out the collection of maps and guidebooks we've accumulated during holidays to exotic (but more often less than exotic) lands. Who needs a phrase book now when you've got a smartphone in your pocket that can translate for you? And do we actually need to keep that city street plan of Budapest anymore? Even if we ever do go back there, Google Maps will help us get around far more easily than that map, which we've probably left behind in the hotel room anyway.

Like I noted in my blog on aerogrammes, maps and guides are fast becoming superseded by technology.