Sunday, 28 October 2012

Being myself – Rib and the mobile phone.

I, like most people, am many things inside. For some time I have been going through a minor, but important crisis. It concerns my mobile phone, but is really about something a little more fundamental.

I hate texting. No, let me rephrase that: I hate texting on phones that do not have a QUERTY keyboard. To me it is like eating with chopsticks. I can do that quite well – but why? Give me a knife and fork anytime (except in China).

A while ago I found a phone that had a neat slide out QWERTY keyboard of reasonable size and yet also seemed to be a decent phone. It was obsolete, but I bought one through eBay. I tried to like it but it was rubbish. It had touch-sensitive features that self-activated. You never knew quite what it was doing. I soon sold it again through eBay.

I was then persuaded by a convincing sales lady to renew my contract with Vodafone and get a ‘free’ HTC Wildfire phone. She said that I would get used to its touch sensitive keyboard and anyway I could return it within a week if I didn’t like it. Enamoured at first by its location and maps function, that first week seemed to fly by. For a moment I forgot the main thing that I want a mobile phone for: to make and take calls and send the occasional text without thumbing a stupid numeric keypad.

This HTC thing may be good at Internet access, social networking and location based applications – but as phone it is crap, really crap. It made long calls to the local hospital on its own! One lasted for six hours and Vodafone charged me £100 for the call. It took a great deal of time and effort to get my money back. I never once managed to enter a telephone number without multiple errors and erasures. It needed constant cosseting; the battery needed recharging most days and software updates kept a ‘coming. I began to send weird texts and got worried replies. Once I sent a message to my granddaughter accidentally signed myself Rib rather than Rob, so she now calls me Rib! Incoming calls were a trial; mostly it decided to reject them when I actually wanted to answer them.

I sold my ‘smartphone’ back to Vodafone for a pitiful £20 and the chipper shop assistant who sorted that out whilst listening to my story of gloom with tolerant sympathy commented:

“I’ve got a button phone myself. “Only the high end phones are any good with touch.”

Well, I am too mean to buy an iPhone - impressed as I am the tricks that one friend plays with his - so I bought a Blackberry look-alike, new, for £14 on the net. Hey, it actually makes and takes calls without a hitch. It has a battery life to die for and a QWERTY keypad for texts. I feel so happy. I really like this little phone – it even has a usable camera and Internet access should a want it.

Am I, for many years a key teacher of the - then new - third generation mobile technology, becoming an atavist?  Probably, but it is really great to make and take calls again. After all, I was a telephone engineer once so maybe I’m simply being myself. Roll on 4G and all the good things that it will bring to an eager user community who perhaps do not regards telephone calls as a terribly important part of a mobile phone.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Blow out and feeding children to lions

The ferry is just leaving a grey windswept Dover as I write this. The journey to the port was eventful. Just over eight months ago I commenced the same journey – pulling a loaded trailer behind our small motor caravan. This time I am pulling another trailer with a similar load: it contains a concrete mixer, generator and rotovator to replace some of the things stolen from my building site in Spain. The “new” trailer is smaller and quite invisible when towing so, as part of its renovations, I added a pole to one corner so that I could see what the trailer was up to as I sped along. Good job too. Soon after leaving the M25 on the way to Dover I glanced, for the hundredth time, at the pole and it suddenly dipped and slanted to one side. This was followed by a loud grinding sound. I pulled quickly off the motorway into the hard shoulder and stepped out into the driving rain, careful to stand well back from the heavy traffic thundering by.

The nearside tyre of the trailer had burst spectacularly destroying the flimsy mudguard and wrapping the deflated innertube so tightly around the axle such that it jammed the wheel which then ground itself against the road: all destroyed. Luckily I had a spare, but it took me a good while to cut away the innertube and to run back to retrieve the remains of the mudguard. Good start! But it could have been worse.

I am concerned about taking all this replacement stuff over to Spain. An old song or recording keeps running through my head. It’s about a couple who visit the local zoo with their son Arthur. Their disaster was far worse than a burst tyre: the lion ate Arthur. Towards the end of the recording the zoo keeper apologises for the sad loss, offers his condolences and a sum of money to the parents and then, rather insensitively, encourages the mother to have another son. Her reply is classic: “To feed ruddy lions, not I”.

Will I just be feeding the criminals with more contraband to sell? Well, much of it is secondhand this time and I do have some ideas about security. The problem is that nothing short of viscous guard dogs will deter determined thieves. Yesterday, on my last tour in Oxford for a while, we watched a man cut away a heavy lock from a bicycle. He was not a criminal. The bicycle’s owner, who had clearly mislaid her keys, had called him. The scary thing was that he used a portable angle grinder to cut through the lock in less than three minutes. What chance have I got? One idea is to erect a very strong door with heavy slide locks – at least the bastards would have to work hard for their spoil. Onward across the waves and byways of France and to Spain!