Monday, 27 May 2013


For the past couple of years I've survived without having a computer on a desk at home.  Or even a decently-sized rectangular desk at a reasonable height.  Now with the rise of laptops and popularity of reclining on a sofa one may think this not really a problem, at least, when I took on the shoebox-in-shepherds bush that was to be my abode I rationalized away that the provided sofa looked comfy, and my netbook was cute.  Besides, if the worst came to the worst (and it did) my computer is small, that the chest of drawers can fit a monitor keyboard and mouse on top, and that standing up to code/browse/spotify would have a side benefit of keeping me fit, or something.  What I had forgotten to take into account is that desk space is useful to keep other transient items on when using the keyboard.  A glass of water, a snack (currently soya-coated savoury seed mix), a pad of paper, a pen, etc.  A chest of drawers doesn't really provide the space to hold all these things, and allow you much room to use a mouse!

A new setup
Lesson learned.  I've just spent the last bank-holiday weekend, and most of the weekend preceding it setting up my new room in my new flat.  A desk, a chair (oh how I've missed these) at the correct height to use (that only took two attempts walks to argos to get right), a keyboard.  What more could you want?  Oh - a mouse?  Ah, not really enough horizontal space on this desk for that and the keyboard and for you to sit towards the edge of the desk that feels right.  A journey to PC World and a trackball is acquired. Ok, great, everything's ready to go.  What else, oh, yeah, internet?

Now at this point, everything that could go wrong, went wrong.  Forgive me for venting some frustration, but arghghg!  First - on the (completely reasonable and fairly prompt) day that BT were supposed to activate our internet connection they instead decided to disconnect our phone line. Second - three days later, the engineer that was supposed to come out and look at the problem was cancelled.  Why? - The fault was mistakenly reported as fixed in the meantime.  Third - three days later (again) the engineer comes and fixes the line and broadband is established! Huzzah!  So I connect and upgrade my machine.  Only now my computer's wireless card stops working!  Fourth - a trip to PC world to get a piece of kit that will absolutely definitely work with our setup yields a piece of hardware that half works.  And by that I mean it will give me an internet connection for  five minutes and then resets for literally a second, and the works fine for five minutes.

Now in reality, this isn't a problem - iPlayer still works (it just pauses occasionally), and the odd webpage needs refreshing.  There were (well, there still are) about a million things I wanted to do this weekend that didn't even involve the internet.  But the knowledge of an incomplete set-up, that was waiting to distract me with an unnecessary buffering ring or missing web-page alert at any second, really broke any flow I could get into.  Similarly, the stress of worrying whether my mouse would hit the windowsill was probably more problematic than the restriction in movement by the adjacent windowsill.  I've found this hindering worry-of-distraction in several other places as-well, notifications (email, IM, SMS, facebook, twitter, etc) are like poison to me. Not only do I catch myself checking these systems in-case I've missed something, I'm also checking my phone hasn't gone away so I don't miss things as they happen.  Heck, even the incessant on-the-minute-every-minute beeping of the microwave after my porridge has finished, but deliberately ignored so it may cool down, keeps me from leaving the kitchen so I can open the microwave door to shut it up before it even has a chance to complain.

All these problems have solutions - for every mouse, there's a trackball; for every broken internet device, there's a lovely walk in the sun back to PCWorld, followed by exchanges with three sales reps to replace the device; and for every notification there's a silence button and an attempt to realise that if anything urgent happens that needs me, I'll get a phone call.  Hmm. Unfortunately I've not yet found a way to silence the microwave.

On a lighter note, in amongst all the to and fro to PC World, a graphics tablet caught my eye.  After trawling through the collected works of Tufte, my ideas for projects have been gaining a slightly more graphicsy angle so I could just about rationalize the decision to get one.  They are devices I like having around, even though I know I don't use them anywhere like as often, or as well, as I should - text editors really should find some way to integrate pressure sensitivity into their interfaces somehow!  Anyway, with the sun pouring through the window, and a spare 30 minutes set aside to playing with it and a paint program, I managed to draw something abstract (I don't claim that it's any good).

"The Journey" or "Green Cat".