nifty ideas. lofty thoughts. silly comments

#Mani(a)c Miner

There's nothing wrong with Edvard Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King. It's a lovely piece of music.

There's nothing wrong with Sinclair's ZX Spectrum. It's a lovely piece of hardware.

There's very little wrong with Matthew Smith's Manic Miner. It's a lovely game.

Unfortunately, the game tries to combine music and gameplay on the humble Spectrum. It's an experience that makes me want to glue my ears shut with expanding foam. But listen for yourself...

From time to time, life can be challenging. Repairing a broken down washing machine or tiling the roof after an autumn storm isn't everybody's cup of tea.

Fortunately, the Internet is rife with “amazing” life hacks that help you finish the most tedious chores in next to no time.

The logic behind these hacks seems to be that the most basic tasks of daily life are easier to achieve if you engage in some overly complicated 10 minute crafts.

super hack

One quick search in YouTube shows such fascinating hacks as:

  • Slicing a banana with a deck of cards (Part II: Clean a deck of cards using Lego bricks and a Chihuahua)
  • Build a makeshift vacuum cleaner using nothing more than a PC fan, 7 empty water bottles, 50 meters of aluminum foil and a diesel generator
  • Multiply two numbers using an ancient Chinese method than requires a 2 m2 piece of paper, a ruler, and 5 pencils
  • Turn a mars bar into a Q-tip

Is the touchscreen the most over-hyped GUI invention of all time?

Operating a mobile phone by dragging your fingers over the screen is like changing a TV channel by licking the remote control. It simply doesn't make sense.

BTW, neither does making a phone call by holding a 6 inch screen to your ear...

I received a special invitation in my inbox today. It was sent by my dear friends at AliExpress and explained that I should backup my important data (a very good idea), preferably with a storage devices by one of their vendors (not quite such a good idea).

Given the somewhat suspect quality of the genuine Samsung gazillobyte SD cards you can buy from the Chinese website, I very much doubt that I should move years a holiday pictures to a $26.99 KingDian SSD drive.

Bad bad SSD

What I am doing, on the other hand, is to backup my important data to, a zero-knowledge cloud storage platform. Hopefully, they do not get their hardware from AliExpress...

I'm on the move. The only “computers” that are accessible are my phone and a tablet. Neither of them features a physical keyboard.

So, how do I write? Poke one letter at a time on a tiny screen? Try to swype my way through some complex thoughts? Maybe even try vice definition voice recognition?

The point is, when it comes to creating text nothing beats a physical keyboard.

On a related note: Some time ago, I saw the Lenovo Yoga Tab at the airport and fell in love with it's Halo keyboard.

I needed one of those!

I also need to learn to think before I buy stuff.

Long story short, while the tablet itself is super cool looking, the typing experience is mediocre at best. It's like typing on the table in front of you. Only with a lag and the need to constantly check where your fingers are.

The ancients knew a thing or two. Especially, if we look at Alcuin, an English scholar, who was Charlemagne's advisor/teacher about 1200 years ago.

Even though the following bon mot doesn't exactly roll of the tongue, it has more than a grain of truth to it:

Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit.

In case your Latin is a little rusty let me freely translate this phrase for you:

Don't listen to the people who insist that the public opinion equals godly wisdom. The plebs are always crazy about starting a big fuss.

It almost sounds as if Alcuin knew about public Internet forums and Average Joe's Facebook comments...

Or is the simple truth that mankind has changed very little over the course of the last millennium?

As a rule of thumb: If you hear something being demanded by the “man on the street” it's probably worth thinking about doing the exact opposite.

Simply follow these steps and any project will be done before you know it.

  1. Call a contractor
  2. Explain the job that needs to be done
  3. Be prepared to be yelled at because the job is too small / too big / otherwise unacceptable
  4. Once the job has been approved take a holiday and stay at home between next Tuesday and November in order to wait for the contractor
  5. Once your patience runs out call the contractor again
  6. Explain the job one more time
  7. Make sure that this time he writes down your address and telephone number
  8. Repeat steps 4 to 8 as applicable
  9. Once the work is finished check the results
  10. Hire another contractor to fix the mess that the first one has made

The other day, I visited a Computer Museum in Kiel, Germany and had the chance to look at (and play with) the Cambridge Z88.

Cambridge Z88

I have secretly lusted over this computer for quite a while and even contacted a seller in the UK who had the machine available. From the reviews and descriptions I found on the Internet it sounded like the perfect mobile word processor with a rubbery, but very usable, keyboard.

But boy, was I underwhelmed! Trying to write anything was like typing on a pocket calculator.

I have always like Clive Sinclair's machines, from my first ZX81 to the QL, despite all their quirks. And even though I would still like to own a Z88 I am quite happy that I don't have to produce text on those mushy keys.

Having said that: Is there any dedicated (and affordable) mobile word processing hardware out there? I already do own a Pomera DM100, a Japanese only note taking device, that is let down by its lackluster keyboard.

The digitization of our daily lives seems unstoppable. And, generally speaking, I don't have a problem with that. Being born without any sense of direction, GPS has made my trips to friends, restaurants, or holiday destinations much easier. Digital photos are a blessing (again, generally speaking) and I do prefer a word processor to a typewriter.

My only concern is that digitization reduces the half life of about any product to little more than two years.

I can live with buying a new mobile phone or a camera when the (built-in) battery dies or the file format becomes obsolete. But I'd rather not buy a new car on a semiannual basis. My last car was a mechanical beast that lasted almost 20 years. But what do I do when the CPU in my current model goes wonky after some seasons in the rain?

Sure, exchanging a chip is easier than replacing a drive train, but what about DRM and other digital protection schemes? If you think you we will be able to replace the main screen of your car with a better third-party equivalent try to install a cheap ink cartridge into your printer. You see where I'm going with this?

There's quite a few things that I would consider shocking.

A camel being able to play “Flight of the Bumblebee” with its hoofs tied behind its back for example.

Or a three year old inventing a cold fusion reactor the size of a Camembert.

YouTube videos, Facebook posts, and Twitter retweets on the other hand are hardly ever shocking. Neither are revelations about new dietary discoveries.