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It takes me back to when our children were young.  Then the reason we not that infrequently found ourselves in McDonalds was that they had reliably clean and usable baby changing facilities when that wasn’t that common.

Tonight I had other dependents’ needs to service and again McDonalds was the answer.  This time instead of the reasonable needs of one or two human “reines bébés” (king/queen baby as we were told the French term their toddlers and youngsters), it was IT “reines bébés”.

Hence I found myself doing a 5km round trip from the campsite to McDonalds, my face burning with embarrassment (OK, that might really have been the sun I’ve absorbed today).

Why you may well ask?  Well, because the wifi here works (but only for one machine at a time and then only if it decides you’ve logged out the first: nothing to do with whether the first was disconnected or not).  To be fair, it doesn’t seem a bad connection here and it’s 24 hours for three Euros, but the crunch was that it seemed to block DropBox uploads and they seem to be the only way I can get ‘photos off my camera.  This came on top of the IT challenge yesterday which was that the system on that campsite was strictly one wifi connection per ticket and clearly logged the MAC address so I stuck with working on this, my touring laptop and didn’t at four Euros per ticket, and with only about six ‘photos from the day and all of the same dolmen, I opted to leave ‘photos.  It hadn’t helped that it had taken two tickets (they didn’t charge for the second) as the password for the first simply didn’t work.

Tonight I didn’t have that many more ‘photos, and it turned out that a lot of them were complete rubbish, but I did want to upload them and see them so … off to McDonalds I went and got a very cheap coffee and well over an hour of fairly fast internet for three devices.

How is it that we seem to have, or certainly I seem to have, put myself in some sort of tortured slave relationship with IT a lot of the time?  It, and oh boy that it, or that IT, covers a multitude or things, so rarely seems to just work, or not to just work, reliably, every time, year in, year out.  When  I started with computers (first year at university, 1975, but in earnest, in my last year of pre-clinical university, 77-78) they were pretty primitive by modern standards but boy if things wouldn’t work, it was always because I’d done something wrong.  The first computer I bought was one of the world’s first “portables”: an Osbourne II weighing 27lbs, i.e. 12.3kg. (Hm, cursory search finds only this about the Osbourne I, I’m sure mine was 27lbs not 24 and I know it had double sided 5.25″ disk drives not the Osbourne I’s single sided: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osborne_1.)  I loved that thing and it just worked.  OK, I didn’t switch it on for 24 hours after my sister poured water into it watering my plants but I stood it upside down and the water came out and we put it next to a radiator and it dried out and went on working for some years.  When I finally sold it and unscrewed the case to see what wonders I was selling (to a someone already buying it as a historical but working curio really), I could see the limescale marks on the circuit boards where the water had dried.

I had had it several years and really had just worked.  By then I was learning a lot about stats and programming writing myself a very simple stats package as nothing really existed for such beasts.  I had just encountered SPSS on mainframes at the time.  I was programming in the database package, dBase II, which came with it and for the first time in my life I found a bug in a programme.  I can’t now remember what it was that didn’t work in dBase II but it was unequivocally a bug in it as opposed to the umpteen bugs I kept writing.  (One thing I learned at the time was that I am a very, very mediocre, OK, frankly, a very bad, programmer!)

Oh boy I look back on those times with rose coloured glasses I’m sure, but I do think we have gone up an evolutionary blind alley with our current dependency on IT (and other technology, products and services) that simply aren’t reliable, user friendly or built to last). How we back ourselves out of the blind alley is a hard question: the sort of evolution of human cultural systems doesn’t have the harsh relentless logic of Darwin’s biological evolution nor the relatively simple genetics that underpin his system, though he didn’t know it.  (OK, I accept, it’s not the simple Mendelian genetics I learned at school and med school now we understand more about gene regulation, but the “genetics” of what we buy, what we use, how we choose to communicate etc., is a very different beast.)

Ah well, I got to experience McDonalds for the first time in perhaps 15 years.  Now it’s time to turn this machine off as it’s the strongest bit of light pollution near me on the campsite and I might just, for the third night in a row, see a very faint milky way if I do turn it off and am lucky.  Good night!

    3 Comments

  1. Chris why don’t you get a smart phone ? You can take pictures, write your blog, get unlimited 3G data and use it for so many other purposes including making coffee!!! ☺️Happy cycling!

    • I love your irrepressible optimism Haroula. I know I’m a bit of a dinosaur but I do have a smart phone (well, a Samsung Galaxy J5, fairly smart if not absolutely the latest and most expensive). It’s doing all my ‘photos and that’s OK but I don’t think you can upload those ‘photos directly to the blog as they’re too big for the file size limit. I’d also hate to edit the blog or even do all my daily Emails on that keyboard so I’m also using a tablet (Samsung Galaxy Tab S2, sticking with relatively open source android) and a Windoze laptop (Lenovo ThinkPad S2). I can edit the ‘photos on the laptop and I can really see enough to plan routes halfway safely on it and Gooogle Maps allows me to alter its suggested routes on there which it doesn’t on the other two. The tablet sort of insurance and it does allow you to see enough map when Google maps gets you lost (see http://www.psyctc.org/pelerinage2016/why-do-i-say-she-about-google-maps-my-it-succubus/. I also reckon it gives me some redundancy but that’s only when I have wifi, when I don’t, the smart ‘phone is the single point of failure. I hit that yesterday when the temperature was boiling (38?) and sitting in the black handlebar bag and trying to keep up with the route boiled its brains and it just shut down completely with a flash of a message about overheating. Rather scarily, when it came back it had obvious heatstroke being disoriented in time (saying it was 01:00), place (actually, that’s not entirely fair, GPS worked still and accurately, however google maps on the ‘phone had so little map in cache that it couldn’t say where we were). To cap it all, it was pretty disoriented in person having forgotten that it depends on a Tesco account for 3G so I was stuck with a skeletal map, no 3G (not even GPRS) and only emergency ‘phone calls. Fortunately, that one bit of map showed one town name I needed and I managed to find a way there and later it cooled down and regained full orientation. I think maybe paper maps and a fountain pen and buying stamps would have had more resilience! However, here I am, with open wifi at a campsite, the ‘phone is uploading the ‘photos, I’m replying to you on the laptop and the tablet is just twiddling its registers at the moment.

      Can you explain “get unlimited 3G” please? Now I know you travel the world so clearly you have found something I haven’t. I’m taking advantage of Tesco having had a rush of blood to the head and offering pretty good 3G etc. but they want to renege on that and I think the other UK providers were charging an arm and a leg. Tell us how to get affordable and unlimited 3G please!

  2. I recently (yesterday) went to MacDonalds too after a lot of years of not doing this. We went to see some friends in Bradford which was ace but then in trying to feel ok enough to exist, the MacDonalds was the nearest thing. I robot ate to be honest – didn’t really want the food and what I originally ordered Jon had to take back cos it was so horrible. Scarily, the staff didn’t quibble or have any issue with this – you could say that the cardboard box was dinted and you would have got another one. Had a conversation with Jon about this and how the culture of the place doesn’t promote any kind of staff wellbeing and feeling valued and I felt really sad about that.
    In terms of the 3G thing – I think if you sign up to a french mobile communication provider then the 3G would be super cheap. We experienced this a bit when travelling – beyond the free wifi, having a local sim card makes a massive difference. As far as I know (and you know) there’s no cheap/free UK providers.

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