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just try everything

there is an option during an interaction with a particular screen, page, interface, device, port, socket, panel, window etc., that can be so effective that its a wonder we don’t do it from the outset and avoid all that well-thought-out user experience nonsense. its the option I most often select when I’m beginning to feel the vein on my forehead and there’s small beads of ‘stay calm’ sweat forming on my temples. more often than not, its when I’m trying to find the enhancements panel in window media player, or wondering why on earth something that used to be quite so simple in windows XP needs to be quite so appallingly difficult in vista, but quite often, its at the point when I have piece of hardware A that need to somehow interface with hardware B in order to successfully deliver experience C.

its normally at that point I just try everything. this is actually more successful with hardware issues since notwithstanding the screwdriver/electrical outlet scenario, most should-be-compatible-somehow hardware interfaces allow you do mash them together in any number of ways before doing it the right way. things don’t really get broken much and there’s not very often a knock-on effect to other resources. consider my vein-throbber today. I was only trying to wire in my previously perfectly serviceable 5:1 speaker system into the back of my new desktop system – both dell. of course, since the last computer, they’ve changed the sound card interface and so it all looks a bit different, although its all a bit the same, its just that the 6 jacks plugs and 1 I/O cable for the front left, front right, rear left, rear right, center, subwoofer (I have to say them all out loud like that because the old soundcard configuration utility spoke them out like that like some teutonic sat-nav for audio hardware) now don’t have the same number of sockets and boards and interfaces and things like that to plug into. but they have some of them. needless to say, crawling around the back of a PC with a torch when you’re supposed to be analysing financial consultancy data outputs doesn’t really have a long attention span, so the temples are glistening pretty quickly. I tried a few insertions and extracted myself from under the desk, hitting my head in the process, to see what was coming out, but it was variously a fuzzed warbled cross-phased back-to-front tinny bass calamity of an Aimee Mann track. 3 or 4 swaps and re-insertions and head bangs and torch positionings later, there really wasn’t any progress, and the markings on the interface panel that were supposed to somehow help me out were just making it worse, since they just appeared to be crop circles to me. its at that point I decided it was probably worth the risk to my 800 quid desktop if I just tried everything and anything and just wrapped this sorry exercise up.

needless to say, as soon as I just randomly flapped about with whatever cables and plugs I had in my white-knuckled fist at the time and crammed them into the nearest probable orifice, then hey presto, goodbye caroline. I should have just done that in the first place and saved myself the bother. which is what I subsequently did with windows media player. so craftily obfuscated are the enhancements that rather than navigate a series of contextual menus or follow a meaningfully and meticulously signposted user journey to the graphic equaliser of beelzebub, I just randomly clicked all the buttons on my mouse at stupid speed across all the panels in the media player container. and it worked. I saw a fleeting reference to a fly-out menu that said ‘enhancements…’ and followed that menu thing all the way to frequency nirvana.

so now I’ve got my sound balanced exactly how I want it, and my speakers are working just fine thank you. once I’ve rebuilt the music library I deleted in the process, it’ll be great.

listening post: nothing – I deleted it all

touche touchy touchpad

I’m not entirely sure whether this is a failing on my part or a failing on their part, but since there was a failure, I’m going to blame them, but I’ve only just realised after about 4 years that there is a key on my laptop which toggles the touchpad on and off which sounds like it might be a good idea which it probably is if you know that that is indeed what it does. which I didn’t. until yesterday.

I expect that if I’d been through all the options in the documentation I would have known about this key from day one, but just to be clear, it isn’t a key which just does one thing, like, say, a mahoosive windows key next to your space bar that you keep pressing my mistake. no, this is a softhard key. not a shifted or ctrl-alted regular key, but a key magically enabled with a combination of the ‘fn’ key and F7. in other words, fn-F7. which looks like it should be the mathematical evaluation of the number of ‘f’s I used trying to figure it out, but it in fact just a combination key press that you actually can’t perform with one hand. which is why it should be difficult to do. and obvious what it does.

I should point out that this is just one of a number of function keys mapped to the F keys that do useful things, like swap displays (glyph of a monitor), adjust volume (glyph of a speaker), adjust brightness (glyph of a sun thing), suspend, resume, shut down, etc. (glyphs of Zzzs, standby buttons, etc.), but this one has the least recognisable representation of its consequent action, to the point where I just assumed it did something I would never want to do. knowing now that it might actually be useful is too late, since I’ve already somehow used it by mistake to disable a hardware component that is actually useful resulting in me reinstalling drivers, users, and very nearly the entire operating system. why not just search online for this annoyance and surely someone else will have come across it? well, this isn’t exactly the people’s choice of laptops – acer ferrari 5000 – nice as it is. the only thing you’ll find online is reviews about how nice it is, albeit with a bit of a sticky touchpad, and instructions on how to disassemble it. its just a badly designed button. and it had me fooled.

I’d love to show you exactly what this offending item looks like, but frankly, I can’t quite summon the energy to photograph it, edit it and upload it, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. suffice to say, the graphical representation of someone using a touchpad, in light blue, on the F7 key of my laptop, looks a bit like a canary on a wing mirror. I mean, I know what its supposed to be now.

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