A reluctant technophile disses cell phones

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I like the latest technologies as much as anyone. As I type this, I am using a Bravia hooked up to a quad-core PC using an HDMI cable, and have it hooked up to the ‘net with a wi-fi connection. And I know that most of my equipment can’t be bought new anymore. I have always realised that it is hopeless to keep up with the latest developments, or even to keep up with the news of it.

I like to choose my technologies carefully, for things that really make my life easier, saving work, time, and money. For me, devices have to do more than just look flashy.  I never lock into long-term contracts with cell phones, and like the idea of “unlocked” cell phones. I think control over a device that you paid for is a human right, and it is the only decent thing to do with a device that a user purportedly owns. A cell phone shouldn’t own you. Or “pwn” you, to be more precise. Most of these cell phones are made of delicate plastic, with large glass touch screens that could not survive a drop of 3 feet. You might drop your phone at least once in that time, meaning for part of the life of your 3-year contract, you’re stuck paying for a phone that is no longer useable, while you have to go pay for another one. If that isn’t financial enslavement for inferior-quality devices, nothing is.

OK, So I am trying to build a home theatre with a quad-core system box …

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And part of such a home theatre would consist of a way to hook up the Bravia I bought on sale to the mainboard, which has HDMI on it. My strategy was to enjoy both cable and “free” internet television through either the keyboard or the remote device. So, then there was the TV Tuner card I had to configure. Windows Media Center said that my card “could not be configured in Canada”. I phone the retailer who sold me the card, and indeed they too found to their horror that it could not be configured with Windows Media. I was instructed to send it back and get a replacement.

I think I am an unfortunate victim of “trade barriers”. Perhaps some CRTC regulation is preventing Windows from allowing this card to work, so by law, Windows is telling me that it is a criminal offense to configure my card.

I check out the card, and it is from AverMedia, a comapny based in Taipei, Taiwan. Well, what competition is left in Canada if Chinese-made TV tuner cards are left out? There are a host of brands provided by Happauge (based in Long Island last I heard), but I think that is it for any major brands. Yes, if you’re Canadian, you buy either American or Chinese. Since you can’t buy Chinese, it’s American or nothing. Not that I expect there to be any Canadian brands, but, I am suprised to see a lack of any European brands at the stores I visited.

Maybe it’s nice to hear once in a while that the Chinese are not given too much of an easy ride in our economy. But this time, I got burned by that idea.

The TI-NSpire: On the bright side

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I have said much that I think needed to be said about the down sides of the NSpire CAS calculator. This was because I had heard enough promotional peddling from other people about this calculator that I thought the air needed to be cleared and people be brought down to earth about the calculator. I had gotten enough hits on this topic that I thought others must be concerned as I am too.

This time, though, I would like to say a few things about this calculator that make the CAS indispensible. For Grade 12 math, I find that, because the CAS hands you the answers, it is easy to make questions for the students using it. Also, when it comes time to correct, I can enter a calculation a student gives me which I hand’t thought  of, and quickly check if 1) expressions are equivalent to my answer key; 2) their calculations lead to the same answer as mine when it becomes unclear, and the student hasn’t explained their logic. Marks come off whenever students make me go to this trouble, but it is good for assigning partial marks, and saves me lots of time.

I was also able to write answer keys very quickly for things that would take some time in calculating and be more error-prone, such as cross-products and simultaneous equations in three unknowns. The latter could be found using the rref() (that is, “reduced row-echelon form”)  function and converting the equation system into a matrix.

Even as I have computer-based software such as Maple that already has a CAS, the NSpire CAS is much more portable, enabling me to do quick solving or graphs anywhere so there is less of a need to have to lug my laptop around all the time.

Getting rid of the cell phone

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Cell phone contracts are easy to get. Companies these days make cell phones very affordable. They are eager to sell you value-added services that you never needed to use prior to the purchase, and you are hit with a bill that can go upwards of $45 per month.

But what if you are like me? You have the cell phone, and now you realise that it is a ball and chain. I don’t just mean the contract; there is also the fact that you can be anywhere and people can get in touch with you. Well, what happened to concepts like privacy? Are there still places left on this planet where people won’t be texting me or phoning me, or emailing me? I need space; I need quiet time. I need a little freedom. I need to get rid of the damn cell phone.

Getting rid of the cell phone takes real mental discipline and concentration. The first time I tried this, I had to get past Emily, the automated Bell Telephone Fairy. The fairy could grant me three wishes, but cutting my cell phone wasn’t one of them. It didn’t understand me when I gave her a voice command to “BUG OFF!” so she sent me to a human.

From then on, I had to endure an onslaught of sales pitches as to how I can improve my cell phone experience by changing my package selections. But they didn’t see the main point: I have a land line, which in effect means that Bell dings me twice each month. I pay them $100 a month just in phone bills. They could not see that this was entirely unacceptable. They also didn’t see that this was my sense of rational decision-making and rational budgeting at work. That wasn’t allowed to enter the conversation either, no matter how rational I tried to sound. Then, they asked me for my password to get into my private account (all this was over the phone after all). I vaguely remembered making this password 6 months or more previous, but I had no idea what it was, and told them.

So, I was told that the only way I could cancel my account was to show up at a Bell shop, and show them some ID. So, weeks passed until I thought once again to go through with it, and when I did, I had to endure yet another sales pitch similar to the telephone ordeal, and finally we got down to business, and I showed them my ID. I brought my cell phone with me, but they weren’t interested in looking at it. They told me that I had to complete the billing cycle, and in 6 weeks, I would be free.

Of course, this 6 weeks did not go by quietly. I got brochures telling me to come back, we’re sorry, we didn’t mean to piss you off; I got a “courtesy” call asking me to reconsider, and after fighting them off bravely, I reached my summit, the top of the hill: NO MORE CELL PHONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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