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Grumpy tech guy: Top tech annoyances and their solutions

I just can’t imagine a world without tech. Tasks as simple as going out to meet up with friends without a smartphone is chaos in the making - how on earth did I manage before the smartphone? Then again I used to lug around a bag full of bulky rectangular plastic things that each held 90 minutes of music. These had to be turned over because each side only held 45 minutes of music. 

For all that we get out of tech, it can also be beyond annoying. Here are my top tech annoyances.

This has to be THE most overused and abused word online - ever. 

Lets get one thing straight here. Free rarely ever means free online. I can live with adverts for free apps - developers need to eat too. There's a place in hell for developers who think hidden gotchas will persuade me to pay for a free download. Telling  consumers up front that "premium features" cost, would mean most would feel less ripped off and more inclined to spend. While NZ has solid consumer protection laws, the Internet extends beyond our borders. It is only as ethical as its least opportunistic marketer. Many have the scruples of a dog on a putting green.

The sheer amount of dodgy online marketers means its impossible to avoid bogus deals. Your best bet is adopt a cynical mindset when online. If something sounds too good to be true it most likely is. If you must download a so called “free” app/widget or whatever, do some research first. Also have a good spyware/malware scanner installed  (they're often free too).

In theory app stores sound fantastic. They provide a single stop solution for finding apps. The apps are meant to be vetted which should help keep the rubbish at bay. Trouble is this so often isn’t the case. I've lost count of the apps installed on my smartphone that bore little to no relation to their app store descriptions. Worse still, many sport hidden fishhooks such as in-app purchases. (Parent with kids and credit cards have found this to their detriment). Again opportunistic online marketers…sigh

Read the user reviews and comments before downloading any apps. If an app doesn't deliver on its marketing hype, post a shitty review and encourage other users to avoid it. If enough of us do this, the app will either get fixed or pulled. Either way, others will think twice before downloading.

This gets my goat. I’m waiting a near eternity for a webpage to load. The video advert embedded in the page plays straight away, slowing everything else down.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the video was amusing, relevant or dare I say it, even interesting. Its usually pushing some lame corporate blah blah that I just don’t give a shit about. Meanwhile the wait continues as the page takes forever to load and the video plays without a glitch. Why do these crapulent adverts always play while YouTube  stutters and splutters? Gahhh!

Two words: Add Blockers. You may need a specific blocker for a specific site but boy can they make a difference. Not only will the site not be cluttered with endless garish adverts but it'll also load faster. You’ll also use less data too. Some sites may refuse to let you in unless you disable your ad-blocker, my advice is simple - screw them! If they didn’t bombard us with crapulent in-your-face adverts we wouldn’t need ad-blockers would we?

There is no excuse for this one. Many people make do with tiny broadband data allowances. Massive Software updates can be tens of gigabytes and consume vast amounts of data. The upshot being that small broadband data allowances get blown to smithereens. I recently had 3 updates for a new game and my gaming console - each came to a whopping 2.5GB.  This was for a single game title. For security improvements and patches updates are a good thing. But 2.5GB? That’s just taking the proverbial. The annoying thing isn’t that this costs people money thanks to blown data allowances. These excessive updates should be avoidable. If software companies focused on testing rather than pushing out bug ridden apps at a break-neck pace we wouldn't need so many updates would we?

Unfortunately there's little that we can do as the answer lies in software houses changing their shitty business practices. One thing that will make a difference is not rushing to be the first kid on the block with this new game/app or whatever. If enough of us do this, then software developers are likely to rush products to market and spend a little more time testing and bug fixing. Whatever you do though, always install updates as most will patch security vulnerabilities.

Chaos ensued when file formats for a certain productivity suite were changed in a recent release. Just as annoying was the move from one connector to another for the release of a popular smartphone. Now we could be looking at something similar with headphone sockets.

These shenanigans render a huge number of accessories obsolete. It forces their owners to go out and spend a pile of cash when their previous accessories worked just fine. Debate aside about this being good business or straight out greed, it is just  annoying.

Vote with your wallet. Rewarding such shitty business practices is self-defeating as you’re only encouraging manufacturers to do it all over again. If enough of us say “No” then planned obsolescence will become far less prevalent.

The sad irony of fan boys is this. They’re often so fanatical about a particular gadget that they scare people away. This is of course the opposite of what most fan boys hope to achieve. I won’t even get into how tedious online arguments are between rival fan boy camps. Take it from the rest us – we just don’t care.

Ignore them. Don't wade into fan boy debates. Doing so lends credibility to what is nothing more than a bunch of sad train-spotters arguing over which is best. Treat these losers like the sad-act kids they are.

What’s annoying about wireless? For a start there’s stubborn Bluetooth widgets that refuse to pair because the day has a “Y” in it. Then there’s Wi-Fi that works in every part of the house – except where I most often sit. ‘Nuf said eh.

There are many solutions for this most vexing issue. You could invest in Wi-Fi range extenders. They rarely work as advertised, and introduce more latency and complexity into your network.  Try installing a Wi-Fi monitoring app on your smartphone. It'll identify which Wi-Fi channel has the least interference from your your neighbours. Mains Ethernet adaptors are also a possible solution. They send data over your homes mains wiring. Netgear's soon to launch Orbi wireless routers set up a wireless mesh network which should help kill Wi-Fi blind-spots.

Affordable colour printing has become a huge part of our day-to-day lives. Knocking out a colour brochure or printing a photo was unimaginable not so long ago. But there are downsides. Ink often costs more than some high-end perfumes. The inkjet business model revolves around dirt-cheap printers and bat-shit crazy prices for ink.

At one large retailer I recently saw colour photo capable inkjet printers on sale for a mere $45. People were buying 4-5 of them at once. It was cheaper to buy the printers and toss them than to buy replacement ink cartridges. I dread to think of the impacts of this on the environment.

Do some research before buying your printer. Epson’s eco series hold a colossal amount of ink and its ink tanks are re-fillable. This stops a lot of plastic going into landfills. Where possible, use a re-inker. Their inks are rarely as good as those from the manufacturer, but they cost a fraction of the manufacturers ink too.

Having a home cinema in one’s lounge is brilliant. At least that is until something needs to get disconnected/reconnected. Then it’s a cable spaghetti nightmare. HDMI should have resulted in a significant reduction in cable clutter but alas the rear of my AV rack looks like a Heinz-Watties factory has exploded. What a shame wireless technologies are also total suckage.

There is no easy solution to this vexing issue. Cable ties are your friend as are labelers. Tie cables in groups and to label them. The amount of time this saves is amazing. Where possible, move to HDMI. This should decrease your cable count by up to two thirds. One HDMI cable will deliver video and both audio channels.

One of the most annoying consequences of downloading “free” software is shovel-ware.

By shovel-ware I mean digital detritus such as toolbars and other garbage you didn’t ask for installed on your computer as part of a so-called “free” download (see above). A few months and many downloads later, your browser can become so gummed up with unwanted shovel-ware that it hardly works.

Getting rid of shovel-ware is about as much fun a DIY cranial lobotomy done with a blunt garden shovel. There are tons of utilities out there to de crappify your PC but, many also install shovel-ware. Your best bet is to avoid shovel-ware in the first place. 

Downloading free apps from unknown sites is asking for trouble. so-called Even big name sites are also practicing this dodgy art. Cnet has been one of the worst offenders. I use Cnet to find out about an app, downloading it from the developers to avoid unwanted shovel-ware. Before downloading, check around to see if shovel-ware is an issue. During the installation process, also don't agree to any "would you like XYZ installed on your computer" requests.

When things go wrong (as they do with tech), your only real option often involves calling a help desk. Some are great. Others not so much.  Hearing my phone connect to an international line that sounds like bottom of a urinal in a busy pub on the other side of the planet is the first sign I’m dealing with the latter over the former.

Once connected I end up talking to someone called "Chuck" who learnt a few words of English watching chuck Norris flicks at the cinema. I can't understand them and they don’t have a clue what I’m on about. Most of the time they don’t care either.

Several hours later we’ve usually gone through every repetition and variation of how to spell my name, the products serial number and my email address. Phonetic spelling and smoke signals help, but it still takes forever and is about as much fun as indoor hot-air ballooning.

Then comes the excruciating part of explaining the actual problem. I consider resorting to sign language, even though I am on a phone. An hour or so later the call ends and the problem is still unresolved. I’m usually given a case number that is never used for anything.

Don’t buy products that use third world sweatshop labour as IT support. Before choosing my ISP I eliminated all providers who didn’t operate a New Zealand helpdesk. The difference has been incredible. While some corporates think they’re saving a few bucks with third world help desks, the reality is that they’re laughing at their customers. There isn’t any other explanation.

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