Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “Smartphones”

The 1950s and today

Sixty years ago my father gave me a pocket diary that some business firm he dealt with had given him, and I began recording what I did each day. Well, some days.

Since then I’ve transcribed most of my old hard copy diaries into a database, and each day I look back to see what I was doing 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 years ago. Sixty years ago today I didn’t do much that was worth recording. But sixty years ago yesterday I went to the circus with Elizabeth Dods. She was 14 and I was 11, and she was crazy about horses, and used to come to ride ours. She eventually married Frank Hodgkinson (and her brother David married Frank’s sister Vanessa) and I lost touch with them.

1950sBut today someone posted this on Facebook which got me thinking about the 1950s again, and the differences between the 1950s and today.

And thinking about the differences between the 1950s and today, I think that graphic on the right is pretty accurate. The thing that was most inconceivable about today back then, the thing that never entered even our wildest dreams, was the personal computer, and the computing power now incorporated into cell phones.

Back then computers were enormously expensive machines that filled whole rooms. They operated with valves, because I think transistors were only developed in the late 1950s.

I remember standing in our cow paddock one night, probably in 1952 or 1953, looking at the rising full moon and the stars, and a friend, Eddy Viles, said, “One day soon a rocket is going to the moon.”

That was conceivable. And before the 50s were out, by the time I was 16, the first artificial satellite was launched, Sputnik I. It caused such excitement that we used to rush out of prep at school to see it fly over. And within 12 years a rocket had reached the moon, and much of it was controlled by computers, but personal computers were still unimaginable.

De Havilland Comet

De Havilland Comet

One of the things that still amazes me is the development of passenger airliners. In 1952 we had jet airliners, and three times a week the De Havilland Comet I used to fly over our house from Palmietfonein, south of Johannesburg, to the still uncompleted Jan Smuts (now O.R. Tambo) airport in Kempton Park. The runways at the old Palmietfontein airport were long enough for the Comet to land, but not long enough for it to take off fully loaded, so it had to fly empty to Jan Smuts and load up there.

Less than fifty years before the Comet, the Wright brothers had not yet made the first powered flight in a heavier than air aircraft. Compare their machine with the Comet, and ask what someone fifty years earlier might have imagined.

More time has passed since the Comet I began regular flights between London and Johannesburg and today than passed between the the Wright brothers and the Comet I, and in the 60 years since the Comet I the changes in aircraft design have been minimal. A Boeing 747 is bigger, but the main design difference is that the engines are in nascelles under the wings rather than in the wings themselves. The biggest changes are inside, not seen in the external view — in the navigational equipment, which brings us again to computers. I think the Comet I still had an astrodome in the roof, for the navigator to take sightings of the stars, and that was in fact a fatal flaw, for metal fatigue in some of the joints caused some of the early Comets to crash.

But looking again at the Comet, I think that people born the early 1890s saw more change in their life time than any generation before or since.

Someone born in 1893 would have been 10 when the Wright brothers flew, might have been a fighter pilot in the First World War, would have been 60 when the Comet flew, and might have travelled on it as a passenger. They would have been 76 when men first stepped on the moon, and might have used a personal computer before their 90th birthday.

My love-hate relationship with my Android cell phone

A few months ago I started getting notices that my cell phone was due for an “upgrade”. I had “upgraded” it two years ago, found that it was in fact a downgrade (the camera on the new phone was completely useless), so I kept the old one, and gave the new one to my son, who didn’t care whether the camera worked or not.

This time I looked at what was on offer, and was after the one with the best camera specification. And the only one that fitted the bill was an HTC Cha Cha, which had, so it said, a 5 megapixel camera, which was the same as Val’s old Samsung, which I had inherited last time she upgraded. So that’s what I went home with.

I also bought a magazine-sized book on how to use an Android phone, since that’s what it was. It seems that the more complicated the phone, the less they tell you about how to use it. So i bought the extra book and began to read it.

I’ve had my new phone for about 3 months now, and, book or no book, I’m still battling to use it.

This one has a QWERTY keyboard. That looked nice. I could get an “s” by pressing once instead of four times. What was not apparent at first sight, though, was that unless I was using the phone lying flat on my back in bed, with the bedside light on, I could not see the number buttons. Presbyopia and all that. And since some numeric key pads have 789 on the top row, and others have 123, you can’t really learn to do it by feel. That was probably the most stupid design decision of the 20th century.

It has a special blue button for sending pictures to Facebook. That looked as if it could be nice, except that it only worked about one time in 5. It has a button on the screen that you press to take a photo. It works about one time in five too. I once took a photo and then pressed the Face book button to send it, and it took a photo of the floor when I pressed the Facebook button and wanted to send that.

It did send the photo I took in church last night, while waiting for the service to begin. It never did begin; our priest, Fr Athanasius, was stuck in traffic for two hours, so we had the agape meal and went home.

But still, It should be possible to get the photos off it with the cable, if it takes them in the first place, that is. And, for all that it is supposed to be a 5 megapixel camera, the quality of the pictures isn’t much better than the cheap Nokia I traded in for it.

Then this morning it rang. I pressed the green button to answer the phone and lifted it to my ear. It was still ringing. Pressed the button again, lifted it to my ear, and it was still ringing. Pressed it again, lifted it to my ear, and heard a remote phone ringing. So maybe it was a missed call, and was calling back. No, it was calling back to someone who had not called me today.

I hear the phone beep, and it tells me there is an SMS. I press the message to read it and it tells me to pull the ring to unlock the phone. I [pull the ring, but then the message disappears. But there is a little thing telling me that there is 1 message. I press it. Nothing. I press it again. Nothing. I press it again, and get a message to say that I can move the button that is telling me that I have a message that I want to read. But it won’t let me read the message that I want to read, just move the button telling me that there is a message.

And if want to send an SMS? The old Nokia Dumbphone would give me a list of contacts in alphabetical order, and I could send a message. If they were lower down in the alphabet, I could press the first letter of their surname and it would take me there. But not this one. This one gives me everything in no order, and lots ofpeople it has pulled in from Facebook and Gmail, who I don’t have phone numbers for because they live in other countries.

My daughter hears I have an Android phone and phones me and tells me of all the wonderful apps that I can download. Apps? Who needs apps? I’d be happy just to be able to make and receive phone calls, and to send and receive SMSs without being asked if I want to move buttons first. And to take decent photos.

And then, to crown it all, I get an SMS, from Vodacom, my service provider. They say that they hope I have enjoyed using the PROMDATA service, and that I can continue to use it by paying the regular rates.

Huh?

I never heard of this PROMDATA service, and have no idea what I am supposed to be enjoying.

I go to their website, and got and make a cup of coffee while it loads. I search for PROMDATA, and go and clean my teeth while waiting for the answer to load. Not found. It seems that their Website has never heard of PROMDATA either.

I search around and click on a link to email them. After getting tired of waiting for it to load, I went to the kitchen and made a couple of slices of toast. Got back to the computer, and see that the page still hasn’t loaded, so call up my e-mail program and dash off an e-mail asking about PROMDATA to help@vodacom.co.za, and cc it to support, info and a few other possibilities.

A slice of toast later the e-mail page has finished loading, so I copy the mail message I sent with my e-mail program, and paste it there. Send it. Ten minutes later it’s back with a problem. It must have a 10-digit cellphone number. I count the digits I entered. Ten. What now? Oh, perhaps it doesn’t like the dashes. Remove dashes and resend.

Ten minutes later it suggests that before sending I should look at their help pages to make sure that they don’t have the answer to my question. One must not waste the precious time of the underpaid people at their call centre, you know. I look through some of the irrelevant questions to which they have given splendidly accurate answers. None of them say what PROMDATA is, and if they did, surely their search function would have found it 40 minutes ago? Surely? Surely?

So eventually it sends that too.

It has taken me about an hour to ask the meaning of one stupid SMS that they sent me. Not to find the meaning, just to ask about it.

In the mean time, if you have tried to phone me, and I haven’t answered, then it may be because I didn’t hear the phone ring (because I forgot to switch it back from “vibrate” after church), or because I heard it ring, and pressed the answer button, but it kept on ringing, or because it was waiting for me to move some button around the screen, or trying to determine whether I was at the gasworks.

Just send me an e-mail instead.

And preferably in plain text, without all those trade mark Euro thingies in it[1].

I just love 20-year-old technology, like e-mail. It’s so much quicker and easier.

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Notes

[1] The trade mark Euro things are another problem, and nothing to do with cell phones. It’s just that some people send e-mails full of Trade Mark and Euro symbols, sometimes in the middle of words, which makes their messages hard to read.

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