Tech lover wears peeves on his sleeve


Published: Monday, January 22, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 22, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
I once had a dream about computer code used to create programs. I sometimes get misty-eyed thinking of my first computer. As a kid, I hung out near a Dumpster behind an electronics company.
So I take a back seat to no one in loving technology.
But there is so much that I hate, too. Today, I plan to rant.
Here's what really bugs me:
  • Tiny stuff.
    OK, so my aging eyes are partially responsible, but there's too much small stuff in the tech world. I have trouble pushing one button at a time on my pint-sized cellphone. The type on some Web pages is so small I have to strain to read it. My MP3 player is smaller than my car keys and just as easy to lose.
    Even my cordless telephone at home gets lost in my palm - when I hold it to my ear, my mouth is so far from the microphone that I sound as if I'm calling from a cavern.
    My message to manufacturers: Being able to make some device tiny doesn't mean that it's a good idea.
  • Nagging.
    My Norton anti-spam program - it does a fine job of tackling the almost impossible task of filtering out spam - starts nagging me to renew the subscription for updates 30 days before it expires.
    That's fairly typical of how software manufacturers use these little pop-up notices. I don't like to be nagged. Think how life would be if mortgage companies started nagging you about your house payment a month before it is due. Or if your car's dashboard flashed a message saying it's time to pay the car note. These nag screens inspire me but not in the way that helps the revenue stream of the software manufacturer that uses them.
  • Wall warts.
    These are the small transformers that plug into the wall to convert AC house current to lower voltages. They are used to power your cellphone recharger, your network router, your MP3 player ... the list goes on.
    In my household, we need separate wall warts for each of the three cellphones. The battery charger for my digital camera needs a fourth wall wart. Still other gadgets require their own wall wart. That's way too many warts.
    What the world needs is a universal wall wart - one that works with all cellphones, all network routers, all MP3 players. The manufacturers need to get together and settle on one universal unit.
  • Wall warts, continued.
    I'm not done with this rant yet. Since the "wart" part - the black box that contains the transformer - is large, it often takes up the space for two plugs on conventional outlets. Why not put the large "wart" part in the middle of the wire and use a normal-sized plug? I've seen it done but not often enough to suit me.
  • Difficult music sites.
    Look, I understand why music companies and performing artists want to be paid for the songs they publish. But I can't understand why music download sites make buying songs so difficult. If I go to the iTunes site - the worst of the lot - there's a terrific selection. But I don't use an iPod, and none of them works with my MP3 player.
    Even at the Wal-Mart site, the one I use, I have to go through weird and unnecessary steps to use the music I just purchased.
    For instance, to activate the license that lets the song work on my player, I have to actually play the song on my computer before transferring it to my MP3 player.
    All this makes me yearn for the illegal days when downloading a tune was easy. Why can't the big merchants be as smart as the crooks?
    I realize we are dealing with complex devices and computers these days. But there is no excuse for making using them so complicated.
    My wife graduated from Cal-Berkeley with honors, but she often has to confer with me when using some function on the HDTV. I get e-mail from smart people who feel intimidated by everything from computers to TVs.
    Complex technology can be made to work simply. Think of the telephone.
    Your call may literally bounce around the world through a network every bit as complicated as the Internet. But no user's manual is needed. Just push a few buttons and you're talking.
    Of course, when it comes to getting help with technology, you're lucky if there's a way to make a free call to a real person. Often you're charged, or you're expected to use e-mail. The often inept and confusing replies would be good for a laugh, if things weren't so danged sad.
    That's my rant. Maybe there are gadgets or technologies that make you mad. I'll be glad to loan you my soapbox if you like. Just post your gripes on my technology blog at www.ajc.com/blogs/content/shared-blogs/ajc/technobuddy/.
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