Friday, August 07, 2009

Just tools

Many blokes have their tool shed, and invest a great deal of effort and money in maintaining and using what they collect. For 25 years I've been fascinated by electronic technology. I've learned about it, messed about with it, spent money on it. Unlike traditional mechanical tools, which change little in form, electronic kit has been changing contrantly in design, content, and pricing in the time I've taken an interest in it.

Today I bought a cut-price consumer bargain mini-PC, twice as powerful and capacious as my previous purchase, and at forty percent of the price I paid two and a half years ago. Did I need it? Probably not right away. Its smaller size will be beneficial when we have to downsize our accomodation next year. Being more powerful, it will enable me to edit video more smoothly, something I hadn't considered attempting a year ago. Its graphics capabilities are so improved as to make it possible and tolerable to watch BBC iPlayer offerings full-screen size without jerkiness. Digital TV on the desktop without the hassle, for things I can be bothered to watch. The purchase of a proper digital telly can wait until the Big Switch-over compels us. Now you can buy pocket sized high quality camcorders for a couple of hundred pounds - I have one on loan. It's proved so easy to get half decent results, I thought it might be worth the effort of learning how to edit footage properly.

Like so many other things that have caught my curiosity over the years, it turns out to be useful eventually, and in unexpected ways. Life might have turned out differently if I'd been able to learn traditional craft skills as easily. Now, I have to set aside some time to get the new machine functioning to my satisfaction, getting rid of rubbish manufacturers package with the machine which one never uses and occupies useful disk space, and installing programs I use because they are most fit for purpose - mostly free and Open Source Software, that continues to evolve and improve through the dialogue between product users and creators.

One of the big stories of technology has been the evolution of software design which is driven more by the desire for excellence in security and functionality than by creation of a viable product for market. Things that aren't always the best can nevertheless end up being popular and selling well. Computer users and consumers get into habits with the same old operating systems and software, and will put up with a third rate product rather than make the effort to learn to use something new that will improve their capability. Having begun with computers as a critical enquirer, I feel I'm lucky to have learned to look at things differently.

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