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Blog : Posts tagged with 'gadgets'

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Hardware

In which FP’s disbelief loses some of its suspension


Just recently, we’ve been spending a lot of time sat indoors in front of the telly, watching season one of The Wire, which a friend was kind enough to buy us on DVD, saying: “it’s the sort of thing you’ll like”. And, indeed, it’s very good. I’m not normally a fan of police dramas; but The Wire is good enough to stand as a drama on its own without the “police procedural” aspect of the show.

One little tiny thing, though, made me think: bah. One little detail they slipped up on: right at the start, in the opening credits. It’s the curse of knowing too much about anything, being able to spot the detail mistakes in any sort of fiction. The Wire is so named because a lot of the police’s evidence comes from phone tapping;* the credits features closeups of surveillance equipment,** phone-tap gear, spectroscopic voice analysis screenshots, and so on. Including this gadget:

Screen capture from The Wire's opening credits

That thing at top right. It’s got lots of nice blinky LEDs – you can’t see on a still, obviously, but the lights move in a regular step. Problem is, I know, from work, exactly what that is. Lots of computer geeks will. It’s a cable tester – you can just about make out the words on it – for 4-pair cable, the sort used mostly for Ethernet.*** I keep one in my toolkit, with the cable crimps, because it’s invaluable to check if you’ve crimped a good joint. It’s also absolutely no use for tapping a public phone. Ah well. Just that one little mistake by a set dresser, and it disappointed me a little.

* Hopefully that isn’t giving too much away there.

** One thing that puzzled us: if it’s set in this decade, why do all the cops use 1970s-era Nikon cameras for surveillance, and not the equivalent digitals? Or, for that matter, why are they forced to write up reports on Smith-Coronas?

*** Or, to be fair, for some office phone systems. It’s also worth pointing out that although it’s used for Ethernet cable it doesn’t prove a cable is good for Ethernet – it’s easy to make a cable that will pass this (electrical) test but not work as a network cable.

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Devotion

In which The Parents are keeping track of all the numbers


The Parents have always been fans of gadgetry. Moreover, whenever they get a new gadget, they become strangely devoted to it. I can still remember, when I was small, and The Parents bought a dehumidifier. My mother set it up in the middle of the kitchen with its back off, sat down in front of it on the uncomfortable kitchen stool, and watched it operate: watched the ice slowly and imperceptibly build up on its freezing tubes, before melting off again into the collection bucket.

My dad’s always been worse, if anything, so I knew what would happen as soon as his latest toy was fitted. A solar water heating system, complete with dials and gauges and sensors and settings to tweak. As soon as someone gets in the shower, Dad is in the airing cupboard watching all the sensors slowly change, checking that the solar pump starts up at the right point,* watching the water tank temperature, the solar collector temperature, the glycol flow rate, the system pressure, monitoring all the dials he possibly can. And, as soon as you get out of the shower: “Was it hot enough? The tank temperature was down to fifteen degrees – the pump activity reached 90% because the collector was still up around thirty”.

He loves it; he loves tracking all the various numbers. But, as a wise person once said: just because something is measurable, or tweakable, doesn’t mean it’s worth measuring or tweaking.** Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be surprised if, the next time I see him, he’s started drawing graphs.

* Yes, we have an energy-efficient environmentally friendly solar water-heating system now: so why does it need an electric pump, powered by our local gas-fired power station no doubt, to run it?

** I have no idea who first said that, but I’m sure I first read it in Essential System Administration.

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