Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Mindless Instruction Manual

So my tendency to ask WHY?, leads me to a pet dislike of mine, and that is having to plow through an instruction manual everytime I buy some or other new gadget. And when life happens to G and I, necessitating a couple of new gadgets in a short time, I tend to go into instruction meltdown.

Don't get me wrong - these manuals don't frighten me - but they both bore and frustrate me with their pointlessness and ambiguity. And the fact that most of them appear to be written by some Far Eastern person as dictated to by an Outer Mongolian Celtic Druid hardly make them any easier to understand.

Now my current crop of unread manuals include one explaining my Canon camera and another concerning our multi-zone DVD player. The Canon manual truly does leave me cold. It tells me every intricate setting I can vary for everything that could possibly happen to the world as currently being peered at through my viewfinder. Sadly, I'm unlikely to be able to make any of these changes in time to catch that elusive picture - which can happen incredibly quickly. I'm also chickening out on that score because I have a sneaking suspicion that I will twiddle some unlikely combination of settings which will either result in the camera taking ridiculously stuffed up pictures, or will cause it to stop working completely. This will result in me having to scratch through the manual to find out how to reset the factory settings. The only thing the manual doesn't tell me is WHY I am going to set these unlikely combinations - in other words it's not going to make me a great photographer knowing when and where the settings apply. Which is sad.

Now the multi-zone DVD player manual makes me grind what remains of my teeth. Reading between the lines, it's basically simple. Plug the wires into the right places and see what the remote control does. Bung in a DVD or CD and viola! Away you go. But I feel the fact that the manual has 25 pages compels me to understand a little more about what it can do. And therefore I try to do this. And everytime I start to read it, the word WHY jumps into my brain, which in self defence closes down and I fall asleep none the wiser.

It's not that the manual in this instance is written in Far-Eastern Cunieform - au contraire! This one seems to be written almost in English - it's an American product - granted it was assembled in the sweatshops of Thailand, before that country was recently submerged, so there is still the chance of Mongolian gobbledegook creeping in. But I will continue.

A couple of examples should suffice :  the choices are wondrous! Consider the section dealing with audio settings (sic) parameters. The virtual surround (I am told), when set to on linear PCM signals of 96Khz or greater are converted to 48Khz. Now, I'm aware that the human frequency threshold of hearing is from around 20Hz to 20Khz. In other words as soon as you get below the bottom threshold level you're getting into subsonic vibration, and above 20Khz (especially for deaf ex-rockers) you can't hear a bloody thing.

So with my mindset firmly in questioning mode (with WHY being my favourite question), I examine this section of the manual and I ask : WHAT is a linear PCM signal? The manual is silent about this important point. What is the significance of signals over 96Khz being converted to 48Khz? Would it be bad to convert a signal of 75Khz to a 48Khz signal? WHAT will happen if it does? And the killer question : given the range of human hearing, I can't hear any of this crap anyway - even the converted lower frequency PCM (?) signal is nearly twice the frequency of the maximum human range of hearing. So WHAT is the point? If the manual told me why a PCM signal is to be desired and WHY it's vital to go through some sort of conversion process, I might resist the temptation to fall asleep. But this is a goner!

How about Dolby Digital Out? It enables me to select whether to output Dolby Digital Audio signals or to convert these into linear PCM (there they are again!) signals. Who knows? WHY? I feel that there is perhaps a part of my youth when I was picking my nose instead of paying attention to the intricacies of linear PCM signals.

How about KURO link? It enables me to select whether to operate the player using the remote control of the AV component connected using an HDMI cable or not. Huh? WHY do I want to operate the player using the remote control blah blah etc. There is only one remote control that uses the particular frequency of the DVD player, and I have it in my hand. The only HDMI cable I know about is the one at the back of the cupboard, connecting the DVD player to the TV. So WHY bother to put this useless piece of information into the manual in the first place? Is there a wondrous new world out there, if I somehow connect something else into my overburdened audiovisual system and instead use a different remote control? I'm wetting my pants in glee at the prospect.

Then there's a section about playing dual discs. It explains in detail what a dual disc is and the fact that the DVD side of the disc can be played. And then says the other side cannot. WHY (there I go again) bother? Why not just tell everyone that the player plays discs in the normal manner expected by the vast majority of DVD players, and leave it at that? If I wasn't (now) made aware of the fact that there are double sided DVD/CD combos out there somewhere (that this particular machine can't play), this section of the manual would be totally superfluous. As it is, it's totally superfluous. It would never have occurred to me to enquire after a player that could play double sided discs.

I am starting to get the feeling that all of this technological bollocks is merely to add "extra features" to make a bigger better viewing experience. A mere DVD player isn't enough. Bullsh*t sells. The problem as I have outlined earlier is that I'm too chicken to try any of these esoteric combinations of settings, since I know it's going to end with a machine that is totally useless. I will then take it back and complain and when the DVD player is tested by someone less technologically challenged than I, it will turn out (of course) that there's nothing wrong with it - you see they know how to reset the DVD player to the factory settings.

One of these days, my son is going to walk in and ask why I'm not using the extra DVD features to make copious plates of curry and rice, or to remotely regulate Cape Town's traffic management system. I will tell him I have a stove and pots for curry and rice, and nothing on earth is ever going to make Cape Town's traffic run properly anyway. DVD players should be kept only for watching DVD's, and instruction manuals can be reduced to at most 2 pages.

I can feel my brain starting to melt again.....

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Y's a Crooked Letter

"Y's a Crooked Letter and you can't make it straight" - so I was told whenever I started to ask awkward questions. However Why? is also for me the most interesting of questions, since the intelligent asking of it, leads to insights into the minds of those who are probably far more insightful than I.

Who?, what?, when? and where? pale into insignificance because their answers are often mere bland nouns while how? begs to be answered with a verb - a simple doing word to be thrown down - a bone with which I should be happy.

But WHY is the important one. It screams to be answered with "because..."  followed by a gusher of wonderful insights and light shed into my darkness which is going to make me a wiser and better person. I love Why? because it is also the most difficult question - it is the question that people wish you wouldn't ask, because in answering it they come to have some insightful moments which maybe point to some of the really really stupid things they have been doing and saying - and they know that you know it.

I love Why? It puts people on the spot - but more importantly it puts myself and my preconceptions on the spot and allows me to see a better way.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A New Day

Every morning is a fresh beginning….


forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.

~ Kahlil Gibran ~


Our garden: Awakened by the morning sun
Pretty: Purrfect Peace
Photos: Mike

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


All my monthly bills were far away
Now it looks as though they're here to stay
Oh I believe in yesterday

Money's not quite what it used to be
There's a default hanging over me
Oh yesterday went suddenly

Why it had to go I don't know
They wouldn't say
They did something wrong
But it's me who has to pay

All the Euro Nations were at play
Now DSK, Lagarde and Trichet
Have made the money fade away

(With apologies to Lennon/McCartney)
It's a bit simplistic, but captures the essence...

And one could ask in the local context why South African banks continue to charge exorbitant fees while paying no interest on credit balances, or why there is such an excessive basis point gap between the prime lending rate and the savings rate (which is nil). Or why the petrol price at the pump continues to grow, despite the ZAR history of holding up against the strong international currencies for the past few years when the dollar price of crude was relatively stable.

And then one might ask just exactly what it is that banks do for you? They certainly don't give you growth on your savings. They don't appear to be a very good risk as a destination for funds, if Euroland is anything to go by. And they're adept at charging fees for everything under the sun. At the end of the day, the funds would actually last longer under the matress. If only we didn't have to have a bank account in order to pay creditors....

But then the government, bank and financial service execs wouldn't get their large annual bonus for the wonderful job they did each year, would they?

And I couldn't bear to have their suffering on my conscience.....