Friday, November 18, 2011

The great Evil that threatens our World

Being an examination of the nature of this Evil, what must be done to Combat it, your part in said struggle, &c.

Many people have a ready answer to which one thing they'd like to un-invent. It can range from Pokemon (not that I have any use for the little blighters, but I don't begrudge anyone the fun they derive from catching 'em all) through automated phone systems designed to keep you from reaching a human (tempting...) all the way up to nuclear weapons. My prime candidate, though, is rather close to home, and almost all of you will have encountered it: the Snooze button.

Why is the Snooze button evil? Simple. It encourages sloth, it annoys anyone who can hear your alarm clock, and it's a device that trains you to do exactly the wrong thing. Alarm clocks are supposed to wake you up; they generally don't. They instead train you to smack the Snooze button several times, until you blearily raise your head, see the time, and realise with a scream that you should have been at work some unconscionable time ago. Why is this? Because you can't count when you're asleep. You don't realise that you've smacked that damned button ten times, because you never really wake up. Then, when you realise you're doing this, you decide "I smack the snooze button n times, so I should set my alarm n times the snooze timer earlier to make sure I get up at the right time". What happens next? You smack the button even more times, and you still get to work late. You're just more grumpy because your sleep wasn't as good, thanks to the regular rises to smack the damn button.

So how do we fix this? Step one: STOP HITTING THE BUTTON. That's trite, of course; how do we stop it? Well, first: go to bed earlier. You need enough sleep, and setting the alarm earlier doesn't help; try to work into a pattern so your natural sleeping habits wake you up around the right time. Second: set the alarm later. I'm not expecting this right away, but your objective is to have the alarm set to go off at your "get up or get fired" time, and wake up before it every morning. You do not want to know what your alarm clock sounds like. Try to break the snooze button reflex. Instead, treat the alarm clock as the last resort it's meant to be. If you hear it, if it goes off, you're doing it wrong.

Believe me, those who live close enough to hear your alarm clock will be grateful.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Reflections on unfamiliarity

So, on Halloween, many things happened. Some of them happened to me; for instance, I went into the City and attended an interview with US Customs and Immigration, and (assuming the cross-checking officer approves) I'm in the run-up to becoming a US citizen. Unfortunately, when I got back to my car afterwards, in the time it had been parked, the speedometer had given up the ghost. There was no obvious smell of magic smoke, but it must have leaked out somehow; the needle sat stubbornly on the pin, the odometer tumblers rolled not at all, and I was forced to use guesswork and the tachometer to judge my speed. I didn't get pulled over, so it was OK, but that was mildly harrowing. I'd forgotten that my smartphone has GPS and the ability to install useful applications, so it wasn't until the next day that I had a GPS-based substitute running. However, that was only going to be a temporary fix, since I'd been using the trip odometer as a proxy for the broken fuel gauge (which I really will pull and fix one of these days) and so I now had an indeterminate amount of fuel. So, into the repair shop my car went, and they had to send the parts out to be fixed. For over a week, I didn't have my car; but I did have the ability to borrow the LA's car.

Now, the LA's car is quite nice, and most definitely more modern than mine (roughly 50% more power from a very similar engine capacity, thanks to more efficient burning and better breathing from 4 valves per cylinder to my two; various fancy aids for monitoring things like tyre pressure; everything run by computers) but I was finding it tricky. For a start, I've got a couple of orders of magnitude more time and distance at the wheel of my car than I have at the wheel of anything else, and it shows. Among the things I was finding tricky on the LA's car were achieving a comfortable seating position (I've been spoiled by Volvo), knowing where the ends of the car were (the bonnet line is quite high and drops sharply; I don't have visual reference, and while the back of my car is invisible from the driver's seat I can still tell where it is from familiarity; the LA's car is a couple of feet shorter, so I don't have that dialled in), getting it in gear (going from a straight track and a button to a zigzag track), speed control (her car is equipped with an electronic throttle module; there's a Hall sensor which determines pedal position, and sends appropriate signals to a stepper motor controlling the throttle plate; meanwhile, my car has a Bowden cable, which makes for FAR more feedback through the pedal), gentle starts (between the extra power, the electronic throttle, and the front-wheel-drive, I was repeatedly spinning wheels or getting torque steer), interior control placement (just about everything is slightly different, which puts me on edge; having to remember that the two most-used wiper settings are reversed, for example, that the headlamps are turned on by twisting the stalk rather than a dash switch I've not touched in months, that the doors are locked by something akin to a window switch, and so on for approximately everything on the car) and the big one: visibility. Her car is a sporty, low-slung little number, which means a low H-point, a heavily raked windscreen, and a high beltline. Add in the enormously thick pillars to accommodate rollover protection and side curtain airbags, and I was struggling to see anything. The A-pillars gave me blind spots which could hide a bus, the doors came up to shoulder height, the C-pillars were horrific, and I felt as though I was trying to drive a postbox.

Fortunately for my nerves, yesterday I was able to collect my car and return to driving comfortably. It may be the last iteration of a design which began in the early 1980s, with engine technology which was conservative in the 1970s when it was new, but it's my car, and I know how large it is in much the same way as I know how broad my shoulders are.