Archive for October, 2007

Blister packs – my fury

Monday, October 29th, 2007

There is a famous bit of television regarding a cardboard milk carton. An executive from the company that made them, agreed to come into the television studio to demonstrate how easy they were to open. This was as a result of countless people complaining they found them difficult to open without spilling the contents.

If you know the piece of film I am referring to you will be chuckling already. If you don’t know the piece of film, you will be chuckling already because you will be anticipating the result. Sure enough the executive made a right hash of it and spilt milk onto the table – just like everyone else had complained about. This told a lot about the executive

  • he didn’t bother to research his subject matter
  • he clearly got his milk in glass bottles or it was provided for him in easy pour jugs by servants, as he was totally inexperienced in the practicalities of his own product.
  • This is a classic case of compartmentalised design. It was the manufacturers job to produce a convenient (for the supermarket) package for liquids as cheaply as possible. What happens after that is not their problem.

    This is not new. The can opener was invented years after the invention of the can.

    The same is true today of blister packs. I can see we’re going to have to invite an executive from the plastics industry into the television studio…

    Here is my complaint. I bought an expensive tooth brush recently which was neatly packaged in a see through blister pack.

    Now some blister packs have a seal at the back which can be prised open using only nails and fingers to reveal what is in effect a lid, with easy access to the contents. I don’t have an issue with them. But this one encasing the tooth brush had no such easy access. Maybe it was a security issue, or maybe it was just an economy measure, at any rate I was going to need power tools to get into this plastic sarcophagus.

    I used to have a joke about buying a Swiss army knife that came in a blister pack. You needed a Swiss army knife to get into it.

    I did in fact attack it with a Stanley knife. This was difficult and dangerous both for me and the contents of the package as the packaging was uneven in its surfaces and tough to cut. The knife was in danger of slipping onto my finger or damaging the surface of the brush.

    Eventually I managed to hack a jagged childlike incision around the product, which allowed me to prize apart the sharp edged plastic, nearly cutting my fingers, and wrench out the precious brush. I’ll bet everyone who reads this knows exactly what I’m talking about.

    I was incensed. What sort of manufacturer produces a product in this day and age that has no recognised standard solution at the other end? That is like discovering a wonderfully cheap source of energy but ignoring the unfortunate drawback of the toxic waste it produces and for which there is no recognised standard way of disposal. Oh wait a minute, that’s the nuclear industry.

    Hmm. Maybe they used this same design team to develop blister packs.

    Converting VHS to digital format

    Friday, October 26th, 2007

    Here is something that works. It took a lot of internet digging to find this out but it was really simple in the end.

    First I bought a brand new VCR for £60. This was to ensure I got the best possible transfer of data from the video tape. When I bought it (I wasn’t even sure you could still get them) I was hoping there would be a really useful modern socket on the VCR for getting the signal out, after all, the only people who can be buying these machines now are those who are desperate to reformat their old tapes, but no such luck, nothing apart from the standard SCART socket. It did have some phono sockets but they were ‘in’ only; like, sure, people are still going to preserve their treasured memories onto VHS! What were the designers thinking?

    Most of the internet information I came across then blithely said “connect the VCR to your camcorder” as if this was a breeze. On inspection though, at least with my set-up, this would require a lead that had SCART at one end and Firewire at the other, a combination about as likely as a comedy double act made up of George Bush and Osama Bin Laden.

    The alternative was to connect the VCR to my hard disk/dvd recorder and at least get the tapes onto dvd. A simple SCART lead was all that was required.

    Great, I now had my old VHS tapes on dvd which is as far as most people want to go, but I wanted to edit the old VHS stuff using imovie. How could I get it off the dvd into my computer?

    Again, much internet digging produced widely conflicting advice and a likely candidate; a piece of free software called HandBrake. This worked seamlessly and had plenty of options available, most of which I didn’t understand. Apparently though, the .avi format produces the best quality results. It was a slow process, but hey, the quality was acceptable and I can now edit those old VHS archives.

    This is a Mac link for HandBrake but I believe it is available for Windows too.

    Television

    Sunday, October 21st, 2007

    Has anybody else noticed this – when you ask friends and colleagues about their television viewing habits, more and more claim they don’t watch much? A few of the people I spoke to even admitted that they didn’t have a television.

    Someone I was speaking with today likened television to being an open sewer flowing through his living room. He only had a television for the sake of his children.

    This was a revelation. I had come to the conclusion some time ago that all the output from the tv channels was propaganda of one sort or another – propaganda promoting democracy or capitalism is still propaganda, and I had started to limit my viewing to mostly natural history and science programmes. I also never believe anything I see on television now unless I have experienced it myself first hand.

    It was heartening to realise that other people have also seen through the insidious brainwashing techniques of television. With time and the internet, the power of the media moguls will slowly be eroded.

    But only slowly.

    The recent debacle with premium rate ‘phone ins highlights the problem. Asking people to ‘phone in when they have no chance of winning is, put simply, fraud. It is a criminal offence. And yet (as far as I am aware) no one in television has even been sacked, let alone charged for this offence. Why is that?

    The best we can hope for is that yet more people come to realise what a cynical, perfidious whore they have invited into their living rooms.

    The hypocrisy of fashion

    Friday, October 19th, 2007

    Talk about skating on thin ice.

    There was a story on the radio about black models in the fashion industry complaining that they didn’t get their fair share of magazine covers. Some wags were even suggesting that legislation should be introduced to force the magazines to allocate a certain percentage of the covers for black models.

    I had to check my calendar that it wasn’t April the 1st such was my incredulity.

    Where shall I start.

    Well, this is the fashion industry we are talking about, probably the most facile, fatuous and fickle industry you can imagine. Logic and rational are words that don’t exist in this environment. One of the black models being interviewed actually pointed out that the number of magazine covers given to them doesn’t reflect the black population of the UK. It must have taken a will of iron for the interviewer not to point out that the covers don’t reflect the obese or the ‘ugly’ population of the UK either. This same model also complained that the magazines weren’t prepared to take any risks.

    Indeed, why don’t they use fat people – or was she only talking about white models versus black models?

    And I thought magazines were a commercial enterprise trying to make a profit. What they put in or on the magazine is up to them. What has legislation got to do with it?

    The speciousness of the argument was revealed at the end when an editor described how covers are heavily researched now and it is celebrities that people want to see on them. Beautiful models – black or white, are old hat.

    That’s fashion for you.

    Left brain vs Right brain

    Monday, October 15th, 2007

    Here is a great piece of science fun. Find out if you are left of right brained. I’m a right brainer (no surprises there).

    The politics of fat

    Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

    Some of you will no doubt recognise moments from this story.

    In a book I was reading, the author told a true story of being best man at a wedding and embarrassing the line up by asking a large lady he didn’t know, when the baby was due. She replied she wasn’t pregnant.

    But instead of huge embarrassment, why couldn’t he have simply asked, “How can you tell?” Or she simply reply, “I’m not pregnant, I’m just fat.”

    I’m sure I’ve read of one fat woman who went to the toilet and came back out with a new born baby – her own! Apparently she had no idea she was pregnant.

    Amusing stories aside, an intriguing serious issue is at the heart of this. What is it with the fat condition? It’s like the elephant in the room story (that’s either a brilliant analogy, unfortunate or both); everyone knows the woman is fat but they have to studiously ignore the fact at all costs. What is going on?

    Presumably, If you have a guest who is in a wheelchair, you don’t pretend that they can walk and expect them to use the stairs. If they have to use a ramp why isn’t everyone excruciatingly embarrassed about asking them if they need any help? Maybe some people are.

    Equally, if it is known a guest has a drink problem, you avoid giving them alcoholic drinks and might even ask them not to have any (if you invite them at all).

    So why is it politically incorrect to say to say to a fat person in a fast food establishment “don’t you think you’ve had enough?” What is the correct term for a fat person anyway – clinically obese? Is the word ‘fat’ pejorative now?

    Is it not their problem that they are fat? Is it the fault of the fast food companies or the media for making them want this junk? How many people can really have a medical condition that makes them fat?

    It’s not even that they are victimised, in some parts of the first world, the obese heavily outweigh the not so obese (hardly anyone in the first world today is the weight they should be, and yes, I confess to being several pounds over my ideal weight).

    There is something taboo about discussing obesity. It opens up a whole barrel of worms. Is it wrong to be fat? If we all agree it is okay to be whatever shape, size, weight, look, you want to be in today’s society then why was this author embarrassed about making a perfectly understandable assumption?

    Are we embarrassed because it is not okay to be fat? Is fat a moral issue? We are constantly shown images in the media of the starving poor in the third world – should we be ashamed to have so much when they have so little?

    Only now are people waking up to the causal issues. Obesity is a terrible indictment of our modern society, it shows everything about it is going wrong, from globalisation to television viewing habits.

    People get fat for a reason. It is not a lifestyle choice. Every fat person would rather be thin. Fat people eat because there is nothing more interesting going on in their lives than food. Multinationals and governments prefer this, they like passive people.

    Next time you eat a burger, remember it’s not just ‘food’, it’s an anaesthetic injection dispensed by your power hungry overlords.

    Philips Onis 6311 cordless telephone

    Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

    As an old telephone, (eight years old maybe) the on/off button on the handset has become temperamental (planned obsolescence?). I managed to find a workaround for turning the phone on using the speaker button but I still had to turn it off using the on/off button. Sometimes it’s impossible to turn it off using that button when the phone is cold and you have to switch off the power supply instead (which loses the date stamp for the answer machine).

    I investigated getting an additional handset thinking I could use that as the regular telephone and keep the old handset as the answer machine control as that did not require the use of the on/off button.

    Philips told me that the model was too old to be compatible with any of the new telephones they make as they had rewritten the software. This means I will have to throw out the handset and the answer machine base even though the base is perfectly usable.

    How hard is it to write software that accommodates ‘old’ equipment (remember eight years old!)?

    This is irresponsible business practice and should be outlawed. I want to conserve the earths resources and Philips is preventing me from doing so. At the very least, a manufacturer should be obliged to accept returned obsolete equipment that they have produced for disposal (at their cost) or for recycling. In this way, they might be a bit more careful when writing new software to ensure it encompasses ‘old’ equipment.