Bitter Grounds - espresso fueled ramblings

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

“Drive like lightening” - building a better screwdriver

How’s this for a piece of cool technology?  Image of a Robertson screw courtesy By User:Saforrest - Taken by User:Saforrest on 9 October 2007, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2888264

How many of us have cursed the traditional flathead screwdriver- usually that nanosecond you feel it slip in the groove and you know you’re about to suffer a disgustingly, ugly hand wound. Or cursed the Philips screw because the little star shape became damaged when the driver slipped.  There have been many attempts at improving the basic screw and my favourite is a Canadian invention – the Robertson:

Image of P. L. Robertson's patent illustration of Robertson Screw @1908

Why is this a perfect example of great tech at work? The design improves on an old idea - slip a screwdriver into the snug little square head and you can get an amazing amount of power behind it. Well, plus, for people like me who are a menace around power tools of all sorts, you never run the risk of the drill winging off creating embarrassing divots along the woodwork. There is a reason I don’t do home repairs.  But I’ll leave that for another tale.

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In honour of Exploding Battery Week – a little history on the development of batteries

Every time you fire up your phone, stop and offer thanks to English chemist and all around polymath, John Frederick Daniell (1790–1845). He’s the dapper dude to the right. Photo of John Frederick Daniell British chemist  No, he didn’t design the first battery, he was second, but his design has been described as the first practical battery.  Alessandro Volta (volt .. volta … get it?) developed the first battery.  

Daniell was a typical 19th century intellectual – a busy, active mind that wasn’t constrained by one discipline – chemistry, physics, meteorological, climatology and a little bit of geology thrown in.  He started his career working at a sugar works where he developed a technique for clarifying sugar.  He later went on to patent his idea. I tried to find the patent, but had no luck. Anyone want to fund a trip to the UK archives? I think I could spend a lifetime there looking at patents. Anyway, while working at the sugar plant, he attended lectures at the Great Windmill Street Anatomical School in London.  It was there that his interest in chemistry was encouraged.  He sat in on lectures by William Thomas Brande, chemist, author of the Manual of Chemistry and later professor at the Royal Institute. The Great Windmill had a powerful influence on Daniell’s passion for chemistry. While there, he formed a lasting friendship with both Brande and Michael Faraday – a name that should ring a bell or two with most of you.   

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Technological marvels – lowly & underappreciated pencil sharpener

We don’t spend much time thinking about the little bits of technology that make life easier, do we? Here’s a case – the pencil sharpener. When was the last time you thought about one, other when you couldn’t find it and cursed the blunt point on your pencil?  Here’s my favourite:

photo of Staedtler pencil sharpenerThe little metal Staedtler sharpener. I own 5 of them, including 2 hole, single hole and covered sharpeners. Oh and I have 2 of their beautiful mechanical pencils and about 20 of the Mars Lumograph pencils. I have a thing for tidy, beautiful examples of technology that works. I also have a thing for Staedtler. The first time I saw a Staedtler sharpener, I coveted it. I was in the library and watched, with envy as someone whipped out a little perfect work of technological art and sharpened pencils. I leaned over the table and asked him where he got it.  I was awestruck. When I finally found one I bought it. It was beautiful.  The little metal body makes it durable - can’t tell you how many of those dreaded little plastic ones I’ve crushed over the years.  And quite honestly, the plastic sharpeners are crap, they break off the point because the angle of the blade is often just off enough that it gouges out chunks of pencil. The little Staedtler shaves off thin slivers of wood and hones pencil leads to a perfect point. Maybe I should just retitle this "Ode to a pencil sharpener" and be done with it.  The angle and quality of the blade, durability of the casing, the ridges on the sides to make holding it easier - everything about the sharpener is “right”.

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The obligatory update on my Acer phone – next time I’ll polish my crystal ball

Good news – it’s back. Acer shipped me a brand spanking new M330 to replace the wonky one. For reasons that will remain a mystery, the new one came all the way from Texas rather than locally. That’s not an issue, it arrived in record time so seriously who cares. I’m just a bit bemused.

Acer, replaced it with no quibbles, which was expected. However, I am annoyed by the process. When you send something in for repairs, you are assigned a case ID that lets you go online and track the status of repairs. That’s great … as long as the form actually gives real progress reports. They received the phone Monday morning and by Wednesday morning, it was marked “Closed” with no updates or explanations. Nothing. No indication as to what’s going on or the status of the phone. Was it being returned as is? Was it repaired and being returned? Was it being replaced? When could I expect it back? Nothing. I waited a few hours, hoping the system would update and give me details. By 1pm I decided to contact Acer.

Well… that introduced a new level of frustration. First thing I did was give a case id number and said it’s marked closed, but that doesn’t really tell me a thing. Is it being returned repaired/replaced or being sent back as is? Seemed like a pretty clear question to me. The person asked for the serial number for confirmation, which I supplied. But for some reason all this was a rocket science level query that set off cascading nonsense which I’ll list here:

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This is irritating pt 2 - Acer phone funeral

Well, guess what? The wonky touchscreen issue I wrote about last Thurs had nothing to do with the updates. (read the article here). It was indeed a coincidence and my beloved little Acer M330 was malfunctioning. Oh Acer, I hardly knew you! sigh.

I tried a full reset to factory specs and the problem became progressively worse at a rapid pace. I contacted Acer via their support chat (after being disconnected twice by the same support person, which left me very pissed off by the way Acer). But the second person I dealt with went over a few steps and quickly said it was a hardware issue. The screen alignment is completely fucked (my words, not hers). So, I packaged it up and shipped it off to them Friday afternoon. Bugger. I have been without a functioning phone since Thurs.  Still no word on it's status.  I hadn't realised how many customers used text messaging until I didn't have it. Not to mention the ease of having my calendar and customer emails and addresses so handy. What a bother. The phone was less than 2 months old. I realise shit happens and it's under warranty, but well crap.

So, my phone is in the hands of Acer. Hopefully they will be fast and simply replace the phone. 

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Win 10 mobile update Aug - Well this is irritating

Installed the latest rounds of Windows 10 mobile updates for my Acer phone and woke up to a 1/2 functioning unit. Yea, I'm pissed off. A number of apps that worked yesterday have been rendered non functional. But the worse part is the smart screen sensitivity. It seems to have adjusted itself so when I type, anything on the bottom 2 rows of the keyboard has to be precisly tapped at the top part of the letter or I end up hitting the space bar or exiting the screen. I thought, at first, I had a bad case of fumble fingers, but after testing email, the store, couple of apps, I'm sure it's something about the update. The alignment of where the keys are is off kilter.

I figured out part of the touch screen issue. The update readjusted the screen size to 150% (recommended), a size I never use. I adjusted the screen back down to 125% and touch screen issue seems to be resolved most apps, except for the browser. Oddly enough it's still a mess when it comes to tapping. The apps are still wonkier than hell. I'm not sure what I'll do, but I suspect I'll reset the phone tonight and leave out the last update. Either that or I'll force the Windows Aniversary update. I'm also working on the notion that there is a slim chance the update isn't the culprite and perhaps something is wrong with the phone itself.  Be a hell of a coincidence if that's the case. I'll let you know tomorrow.

And while I'm ranting, why are the only two options available for screen adjustments 125% and 150%? Where is 100%? If the ability to set the screen to 100% doesn't exist, that means the 125% option is, in fact, the default 100%. This type of shit drives me up a wall. 

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“We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.”

 ― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

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