picture of people using the mobile phones on york railway station.

Eyes down. (That’s Ron Mitchell centre-stage 😉

James Clay’s recent e-Learning Stuff blog post – prompted the following reply from me on Facebook:

I so agree James. It’s almost like 10 years ago when we couldn’t assume that learners (or their teachers) could (or would) be able to get on the net.

Now that everyone pretty much ‘can’ get on the net and mainly ‘do’ get on the net for social purposes – we similarly assume that they are savvy enough to deal with lack of or no connectivity, JAVA updates, Adobe updates and the like, all of which take up time – always at the most inconvenient, obtrusive “ffs leave me alone” time.

I leave train journeys for ‘Office’ stuff and reading now – I never try because it’s just so depressing.

He’d talked about how unreliable getting on line was during the times he had to take part in online courses. Whilst I am not taking part in such a course, I have exactly the same frustration – as I’m sure do most travelling (peripatetic) workers who rely on the internet for collaboration and communication.

I am working away all of this week, in Maidenhead.  Whilst I’m working in the college I’m so full on that I am unable to access my emails, reply to FB or Twitter ‘stuff’, blog or – anything that would, if sat in my office at home, effect an immediate response. So that sort of thing has to wait until I’m sat in my Travelodge bedroom, walking the streets or sat in a pub.

In my Travelodge bedroom (which may itself evoke another blog post) I have a wide variety of ‘pay for me‘ services available and I’m not paying for those – they are just as unreliable as the train WiFis. However, I do have a ‘3’ pay as you go MiFi which rarely lets me down when it has good reception and I’m not in a moving vehicle. I’m using MiFi as I type this. So – pretty good service, but I have to wait until I’m static, have switched it on and I’m connected.

Walking the streets – the MiFi would probably be ok, but why would I carry my laptop or iPad around with my, typing in the streets? I could use my iPhone, but the clue is in the name: when you’re walking, it’s really only any good as a phone. When you’re sat still and doing anything other than texting or reading emails on the iPhone 3GS, it’s only any good as a phone (and therefore discarded from this tirade).

So, the pub (and many other out-and-about establishments) provide access to The Cloud or similar services (e.g. BT Total Broadband). And, I use them. But. They are so erratic. I tried to upload a photo to Instagram the other night but it just wouldn’t go. I’ve no idea why, I had good connection to The Cloud  but – nothing. It’s not the first time I’ve had trouble with Instagram.

The same occurred when I wanted to share a passage I’d read in the Kindle Book I was reading – “sorry, something has gone wrong” – Amazon, the cheeky sods even sent me emails each time I tried, to say “sorry, something went wrong, please try again” (I can’t. I’ve finished the damn book now grrrr).

So, when I’m away from home I become a frustrated communicator/collaborator. When I’m abroad, it’s even harder.

Washing machine

We keep our washing machine and dryer in a small room at the end of our entrance corridor. We call this our utility room. At one time, the corridor would have been a gap between the garage and the house but someone, a long time ago, brought it into the house by covering the gap and making the garage become ‘attached’. Where there used to be steps down to the back of the house (when the corridor was a gap!) there is now a utility room! Before that, when we moved in, it was a WC.

Why am I telling you this? Well, despite its convenience (we just have to pop out of what was the original main door and into the corridor and there we are) it’s still outside the main house. It has no central heating and by extension of the corridor, has a flat roof. For most of the year, it’s cold enough to store vegetables, beer and soft drinks in there. Brilliant. But occasionally this is not a good thing!

Yesterday the pipes froze.

It’s not the first time this has happened, although in January last, when it happened for the first time, we thought we’d fixed it by lagging the pipes in the garage (which feed this room) and doing whatever we needed to keep the flow flowing. However, I’d forgotten that part of the solution was to close the utility room window. With temperatures reaching lows not experienced in almost 50 years [Huddersfield Examiner] and the corridor radiator doing its best to melt the snow on the flat roof directly above it, the worst was bound to happen.

So I had to light the calor gas fire in the garage to warm those pipe through (the lagging didn’t help this process) and then I had to try and find a way of defrosting the 40 centimetres of pipe in the utility room that feed the washing machine. This was tricky because I don’t have any manly plumbing tools like a blow-torch (I used to have, but only used it for browning crème brulee). What I did find however was a 1200 watt patio/garage heater. We’d never used this before because when Sharon bought it, she thought it was a light. When I’d seen the ‘1200 watt’ on the box my wallet clenched! So it has never been used. Until yesterday.

You’re supposed to mount these things and keep them away from all living or inflammable tissue. I tried it in the garage first, balanced on an old vice (the only metal/steel thing I could find in my garage that might fit the bill!) and it certainly threw out more heat than the calor gas fire but was party to melting a plastic foot stand which Sharon uses in there (she’s only tiny). Whoops. So now, when I brought it into the house (the utility room) I was extra careful. This time I caused no damage but made all the room smell like I’d been stripping paint from the doors.

Apparently it’s the coldest start to winter in almost 50 years. [Huddersfield Examiner] I remember 1963 and for a child it was great fun with lots of snow and ice to slide on. Some drivers at that time (I suspect it was the milk float but can’t remember) had snow chains on their wheel. Whatever happened to snow chains?

For winter to come this early, before my birthday in December, is very unusual, so I suppose we’d better knuckle down and keep as warm as we can. But what about those who can’t? People still have to work – will our infrastructure we robust enough to support those who need to work? What about the elderly? My parents will still try to go out every day, partly because they always have and partly because they don’t have to turn their heating on if they are out. And: what about the footpaths – who clears those? When we were sliding down the footpaths in 1963 the house owners (the tenants really, no one owned council houses back then) would come out and spread ashes on the public path. This made our young lives pretty miserable but made sure that the footpaths were safe for everyone (workers, the elderly, young mums etc.) else to walk on.

But we have no ashes any more.

And councils are in the middle of laying off a good percentage of their staff.



So, once again, a BBC news item has sparked off a Sugden rant.

How many of us I wonder, actually need the amount of packaging we get? More importantly, how many of us care? For me, there are too ways of looking at this: there is the packaging that something needs; for example to stop it from becoming damaged, stolen, dusty, touched (in the case of food), licked (food again – and possibly some technological items?), tarnished or maybe just to hide an undistinguished or ugly product. Then there is the packaging that vendors use for reasons known only to themselves!

Food packaging is improving (slowly) and things like tomatoes can once again be picked up and popped into a paper bag (by the customer) in an increasing number of supermarkets. There are still some tomatoes – an by extension other types of fresh food – that are presented to us in the same way that Apple (computers, not food) present their own wares – in designer fashioned, cushioned boxes that are worth just as much as the product. This is an affront to the environment and should be banned. The food industry hides behind ‘required legislation’ – but even this allows for some common sense.

However, my rant today is based on three purchases I have made over the last 24 hours.

Yesterday, I bought a Belkin Express Card media reader. The product itself is about 3″ long and 1.24″ wide, but the packaging it comes in is akin to a straightjacket which only real men with real tools should attempt to open. People may have lost fingers (possibly arms) attempting to open one of these rigid plastic oubliettes. Well I could call them oubliettes except there is no trapdoor or other visible means of entry to the prisoner inside. You start cutting with scissors and give up when two pairs of these have broken; you then tear at the tiny bits that have given away to the scissors and subsequently lose digits and limbs, or at the very least copious amounts of blood. Then you give up and phone a real man with real tools. I managed to complete the job with one last swing of my not-used-much-now meat cleaver. But even then, the amount of packaging inside was excessive. Why do I need instructions to put an Express Card into an Express Card slot? The only instruction required is that printed on the card itself: <- This end into PC |  This end for media ->

I had also ordered a new camera from Amazon, along with an external hard disk (with which to back up my Vista laptop – which is going back to its makers for repair). I was much happier with most of the packaging used here – mainly because I was able to open it. Nevertheless it was still excessive and sadly, mainly plastic. To be fair, Amazon’s own packaging was no more than needed – a sturdy box with crumpled up brown paper to stop movement in transit. The Amazon packaging wasn’t helped by the size of each product.  Each of these were packed in figure hugging plastic coffins. When I opened the box, my camera was presented to me on a cardboard mount – to make it look better when I opened it I suspect. But why? I already liked the look of the camera from my time online completing the purchase. Why do the manufacturers not think ‘he/she knows what it looks like, he/she knows what he/she can do with it, why don’t we pop it into a carry case which can be used later (after all such a case is designed to protect the camera from bumps, dust and licking), pop it into a padded brown envelope and Bob’s your uncle‘. Then there wouldn’t be the need for all this packaging.

The three small items I bought would fit (unwrapped) into a pint pot – why then, do I need a wheelbarrow to dispose of the packaging?