Monday, 21 November 2016

Tech disruption, deluge disruption

I woke up with a nose bleed in the night, and fortunately it didn't last long, but as a result I slept uneasily, hoping to avoid a repeat performance. There was a repeat, however, as I was drinking coffee at the end of breakfast, and incautiously blew my nose, having forgotten about the night incident. It was a heavier bleed and took longer to quench. Most disconcerting.

Despite today's torrential rain, Owain decided to come over from Bristol to see us on his day off. After his phone call, I took Clare by car into town for her swimming session, then drove out to Staples on Western Avenue to get a spare flash drive and SD card. The one I took with me on my Spanish trips this year is already full with backups of the photos I took there, and I still hadn't replaced with spare card I carry in my wallet as  'insurance' against forgetting to replace one extracted from a camera and accidentally left inserted in a computer when leaving the house on a photo expedition. It's something I have done three times, if not more this year. Distraction? Forgetfulness? Ageing? Who knows. It's taken me long enough to remember to buy one. 

I got two Toshiba branded 16gb flash devices for a tenner. Two 4gb devices for the same price would have been reasonable to pay two years ago. The same flash drive in Spain cost just under €5. Here, also on special offer, £2.99. How quickly the consumer technology market is disrupted by innovation, demand and pricing changes! Perhaps you wouldn't notice this if you only changed computers every 4-5 years, but now phones set the pace, with the expectation of changing devices in 18-24 months as battery life diminishes. 

There's now an array of sub-£200 windows laptops, using flash memory rather than mechanical hard drives, due to increased capacity, faster silicon memory chips flooding the market, at a lower cost than cheap mass manufactured mechanical hard drives. Will more people acquire the habit of exchanging these every couple of years? Especially as hard wired battery death approaches? The consumer PC market has shrunk much of late. People aren't buying, even when they can afford to. Phones and tablets can be effective replacements, but I believe there's more to this reluctance.

Apart from price, average consumers have limited needs, invest time and energy learning to use their PC well, why change it if it's not broken? New operating systems and software upgrades demand extra time to set up and re-learn, getting in the way of quick and easy habitual usage. This is confusing annoying and a deterrent to upgrading. Cloud storage makes data access equally possible on different devices. It doesn't do the same for software use learned a decade or longer ago, still serviceable. I believe tech innovators are in denial about this where mass markets are concerned. The business world showed significant reluctance to move up from Windows 7 to Windows 10. Quite apart from the cost of upgrading, there's a cost of improving the skill-set of the work force with ever costly training. Speed, capacity, security, a reproducible user interface experience are all to be welcomed and invested in, but innovation in the sphere of usability has a bigger impact and requires investment which may not be seen as worthwhile if it disrupts business workflow. When will tech innovators learn? 

I left the store and headed out into the traffic, which was unusually slow moving, and no wonder, as the turning that would take me back in the direction of Cardiff Central Station was partly flooded. It's that time when drains need clearing frequently of falling leaves, and if they get washed off the pavements before they can be collected, they soon cover and block roadside drains when rainfall is this heavy. All the way back into town the gutters were awash, making it hard for motorists and for pedestrians even harder to get about. I was most thankful our venerable Golf didn't react badly to the excess of water.

Owain texted me his arrival time but it was impossible to reach the Taff Embankment where we were to meet before him. I was only a few minutes late, as traffic flow improved a little. Sensibly Owain had an umbrella with him, and was standing patiently where I could see him and collect him. Clare wasn't far behind us returning by bus from her swim. It was good to spend the afternoon together. Owain's been learning how to use Google Analytics in the course of his web content management work, and looking after his own media music and culture blog as well. He showed me me how this worked, which gave me a insight into what kind of information about us and our browsing habits is collected from each and every web page visited.

Unfortunately he couldn't stay for supper as he had things to do back in Bristol in the evening. Later on the news I heard that Bristol Temple Mead railway station had been closed temporarily, as there was passenger overcrowding, caused by delays on services where lines had been flooded in the South West. He texted to say that his train had been subjected to a long delay in getting into the station, as a result of unaffected services having to wait outside the station. A story no doubt repeated in many other places around the country. No doubt, some will grumble about apparent national unpreparedness for the impact of 'extreme weather events', but regardless of present ability to predict and warn about coming severe weather, nobody can precisely determine how it is going to affect specific places and what the knock-on consequences will be. Emergency planners work to cover every kind of scenario, but in the end expecting the unexpected is as much an art as a predictive science.

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