Category Archives: Electronics

English as a Foreign Language

My lovely father gifted me a Kindle book this morning – “Notes From A Big Country” by Bill Bryson, in case you’re interested. It was every bit as good as he said it was going to be; so good, in fact, that I found myself reading out a passage to Hubby before I’d even reached the second page. As I did so, our Kinect overheard me.

The Kinect and I have a tumultuous relationship. For those of you who have yet to sample the delights of its technological prowess, a Kinect is a little black box that attaches to your Xbox console, designed with the power to overhear everything you say, spy on you in your underpants and respond to its observations as it sees fit. Largely by opening applications on demand, but only when it feels like it.

Over the past two years, I have come to accept that my voice, specifically my accent, renders it utterly incapable of functioning. In response, I’ve taken to putting on a (really bad) accent when I’m alone in the house, just to save myself the 10 minutes of “Play… play… PLAY… Xbox, play. Just PLAY, would you. PLAAAAY” I’m forced to go through when I want to watch a tellybox show. I’ve made my peace, albeit unwillingly, with the knowledge that, for the rest of my days, I will be deliberately misunderstood by a stubborn and highly primitive AI.

I was not, however, prepared for this:

What happens when your Kinect can't understand you

Eager to please as always, our Kinect immediately assumed I needed its assistance and, because really the only help a Kinect can offer is to dash off to the depths of the internet on your behalf, leaped gallantly to its search screen, where it diligently recorded everything it thought I had said.

I stress the word “thought”, because I have no idea what a joory is, nor why the Kinect is resolute in its refusal to admit that the words coming out of my mouth are, indeed, the English language. I did mention Florida, but I have never knowingly discussed akosuahs (largely because I don’t know what they are, either).

In conclusion, I can express no surprise whatsoever that no search results were found.


Bastard Electronics

Another lesson learned today. The PAL-to-NTSC adaptor box thingum arrived, with which we had planned to set up my DVD player so as to spend many a happy hour wading our way through my DVD collection (which, of course, is all the wrong region code for US players).

It didn’t seem to work. No matter which colour of wire we plugged into which colour of hole, using whichever set of connectors, it stayed black and white. Until, that was, we realised that the player’s menu system allowed one to switch between PAL and NTSC and all we’d been doing by fussing with an adaptor was confusing the poor sod.

My £1000 computer: required a small black hole and plug adaptor.

My £250 Xbox: required a small black hole, PAL-to-NTSC and plug adaptor.

My £250 coffee machine: required a small black hole and plug adaptor.

And yet my £20 DVD player from Argos required nothing more than a different plug before it was raring to get going. The lesson we learned today? Cheaper is quite frankly better.

Spanky and the Small Black Hole

When it comes to electronics, our countries are of an accord, for the most part, yes? No. Because, now mine have arrived, I have entered The Era of the Useless Plug.

It’s not that my things won’t run here, because they will. Just that one must have the patience of all the saints, the voltage know-how of an electrician and the cash resources of Vatican City to make them do so. I was aware of the problem before I left, but did not fully appreciate the aggravation it would cause.

Exhibit 1: The Xbox
I brought my Xbox with me on the plane, because, frankly, I wasn’t prepared to go longer than a week without it. I figured I would, with the help of the spare power pack from Hubby’s old Xbox, which has a broken hard drive, be able to use it. But no, apparently Microsoft foresaw such flagrant misuse of the immigration system and made power cords so very slightly different in shape that they could not be plugged into one another. Foiled the bastards, though, by attaching my Xbox’s hard drive to Hubby’s spare rest-of-machine. Differing Voltage System: 0; Me: 1.

Exhibit 2: The Coffee Machine
My manager at Amazon, in an effort to cement in my mind that I had the all-time greatest job, rewarded my departure with the gift of a De’Longhi Icona coffee machine. By way of background: my role in the team was as a sort of ambassador for De’Longhi and Kenwood, which meant creating content for those brands. I fell wildly in love with the Icona range because they are, quite frankly, the most stylish pieces of kitchen equipment ever devised. Kitchen porn, if you will.

Knowing this, and knowing that spending nine hours a day thinking about coffee had made me an addict, my wonderful manager gave me her Icona. Best gift ever, but one with a workload attached: those things hoover up 1.1 Watts, which meant I would need an industrial voltage converter to make it work. Did that put me off? Did it fuck: straight into the pack-down it went, and a loving hug it received when it reached the other end. Because, you see, I figured I was going to need a converter the size of my backside anyway, because of…

Exhibit 3: The PC
I have an XPS, a power-hungry beast of a computer that’s been serving my needs since my birthday in 2007. I named it Spanky the Beautiful Computer, because it was speedy enough to make me do that goggle-eyed thing small children do when they watch Toy Story. It’s still my faithful companion and greatest inanimate love because, though no longer capable of standing on top of the range, it remains as trustworthy as it always was. I can say this with particular faith now it has, like the cast of The Incredible Journey, made its long and tricky way back to me across the miles.

Small Black Hole

I in no way begrudge it the huge, unwieldy, expensive device I was required to buy just to wake it up. It might look like something from the original series of Star Trek, and it might weigh enough to earn it the title “Small Black Hole”, but it makes my Spanky happy, and can be whisked off into the kitchen when the urge for a cappuccino hits. Another win for the voltage challenged.

Exhibit 4: The Wireless Adaptor
I thought it was over, but was merely a hopeful pup mistaking a copse for the end of the woods. Spanky was up and running, but refused point blank to recognise the presence of an intermaweb. When he did, he would forget he’d seen it about 10 minutes later and pretend he’d no idea what one was. So we were forced to shell out obscene numbers of dollar bills on a brand new wireless sticky-doo-dah, which promptly claimed ALL THE IP ADDRESSES and refused to allow anything else on the intermanet. We’ve sort of fixed that, but every so often Spanky makes a grab for the bandwidth and has to be put down for a nap.

Exhibit 4: The DVD Player (Plus! Xbox Part 2)
Still not over. I brought my DVD player with me, so I could partake of my movie collection despite the region code. I was punch-pleased to discover it worked without the need for the Small Black Hole, less pleased to find out that it will only play in black and white. As will my original Xbox, which I booted up, using the Small Black Hole, in the hope I could finally finish off my region-specific version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Apparently I am still in need of a PAL-to-NTSC converter before my electronic journey is complete.Moral of the story: It is almost certainly cheaper and/or less annoying to buy new electronic items when switching between parallel worlds.

Better moral of the story: With a little time, effort and investment, you can please your faithful electronic companions and indulge in coffee-based treats at your leisure.