Thursday, 2 July 2009

NOT PJ: Form Fights Function

_BernardDarntonThis week Bernard Darnton pretends to get all fired up.

For millennia people have gazed into the fire and pondered. I ponder why we went to all the effort of inventing gas fires only to put fake ceramic logs in them.

The flame effect gas fires aren’t quite as naff as the “flame effect” bar heaters with the red lightbulb and rotating tin foil in the back that I remember from my childhood, but it’s still an odd thing to do.

Gazing into the flames, I realise that the attraction is gazing into the flames. But what irks me is that those flames come at a hefty price, namely that they stop the heater from heating anything. In technical terms: blue flames are hot, orange flames are not.

Fake-log gas fires aren’t quite as inefficient as real open fires but they’re as bad as you get down here, with Environment Canterbury (that’s marketing bollocks for “Canterbury Regional Council”) banning wood fires. They may be inefficient but it’s unfortunately rare to run into an old mate down at the pub who has a trailer-load of old electricity going spare.

Fire Our previous house had a much better gas heater. It wasn’t much to look at but it chucked out the heat like a Syrian nuclear reactor during an Israeli Air Force visit. Sadly, that house was afflicted by the fake log heater’s cultural cousin, the light fitting shaped like a candlestick, with all those little lightbulbs shaped like flames. Seriously – what sort of befuddled Jim Anderton think-alike looks at a lightbulb and says, “Bloody Thomas Edison. I wish we could go back to candles.”

A thing should do what it does well and good design should enhance that, not counter or cripple it. So many things are backwards-looking, ill thought out, or come from Korea and play silly tinkly tunes the moment they do anything, looking for praise like an attention deficient child, that it’s an absolute joy to see, hear, or touch something that has been well designed.

ipod-new However, even things that are famous for their great design have failings. My iPod for example: it has this desire to “shuffle” the tracks it plays, i.e. play them in whatever order it feels like. This is great if you just want music as background noise but it’s a pain in the arse when you’re listening to Teach Yourself Italian lessons. One moment you’re stumbling through “buongiorno!” and “arrivederci!” and the next moment all hell breaks loose: Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai per una selva oscura che la diritta via era smarrita. You what? You’re not the only one who’s lost.

For all the iPod’s cleverness in only having one button it could do with another “just do what I bloody expect you to” button.

Actually, the iPod design should stay just as it is otherwise it would end up looking like every other cheap knock-off MP3 player that needs a space shuttle licence to drive it. But you can’t please everyone all the time. Especially not grumpy buggers who like to rant about how crap everything is just to stay warm. If only I could download a flame effect program from the iPhone App Store…

* * Read Bernard Darnton’s column every Thursday here at NOT PC * *

1 comment:

  1. The problem with the ipod designers is that they seem to be afflicted with the notion that fewer buttons = easier to use. They are wrong. The latest ipod has no buttons at all, and it's all but completely impossible to do anything with.


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