breaking point

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 April, 2008, 12:00am

I write this article with a simple text program because Microsoft Word was running agonisingly slow, crashed and then retrieved a copy of the wrong document.

I upgraded to a newer version but the crashes started happening more often - almost every sentence - cementing my suspicion that software applications and gadgets are as rickety as ever.

This trend has continued amid the steady, worldwide adoption of Windows XP and Mac OS X, a pair of operating systems touted as making computing as seamless an experience as watching television or pouring a beer. (Cue peels of bitter laughter.)

I find both systems bedevilled by an array of glitches, although neither of them goes down in the apocalyptic grit-your-teeth-and-reboot sense. No matter how many defrags and virus scans I run, both systems make up for not bombing with program crashes and bizarre behaviour that suggest I need to hire some kind of computer counsellor.

Beyond personal computing, the situation is only a shade better. My BlackBerry Pearl smartphone, which has yet to celebrate its first birthday, has an infuriating glitch: its trackball refuses to scroll sideways. This makes typing text messages and notes tricky but it also puts many programs out of easy reach, forcing me to execute some Rubik's Cube-style manoeuvres.

The fun really starts when I want to transfer a note from the handset via USB cable onto my desktop PC. First, I plug in the cable and my PowerBook blacks out. After restarting, I click the synchronise tab in my transfer program, Missing Sync. Since that strategy never works first time, I yank out the cable at least twice and click again repeatedly.

If that works, the notepad application meant to run with Missing Sync freezes and I must quit and restart at least twice before the words tapped into my phone finally appear on my screen. Pencil and paper are a tempting alternative.

Maybe I should also use my trusty old Olympus roll-film camera. This snapper worked like a dream, unlike my point-and-shoot Casio Exilim digital camera. I bought the Exilim three months ago, seduced by its 8.1-megapixel picture resolution and anti-shake feature. This camera now just stares blankly at the ceiling, in need of a miracle. When turned on, the Exilim fizzes and whirrs. The screen then alerts me to a lens error and commands me to power the device off and on. I have tried that fix about 100 times, along with scores more suggested in online 'victim' forums.

The camera is kaput and under warranty. Casio might fix the fault if I return from my travels in time to dig up the receipt but some sources say the company does not mend lens faults if there exists any suspicion the owner dropped the device, which I haven't.

I blame a default feature that activates the camera when the main play or record button beside the LCD screen is pressed. As a result, if you lean against something while the camera is in your pocket, you risk activating the lens and blocking its progress as it sprouts from its casing. Another cursed consumer in an Exilim forum says, 'The lens error happens too frequently - and at the worst possible times; like on the Star Ferry in Hong Kong.'

Supposedly, the solution is to apply pressure to the lens until you hear a pop. I will need a stiff drink before I try that warranty-voiding tack.

I document these hassles partly to moan about the consumer electronics industry being awash with dodgy design and partly to wonder whether I have been hit by a tech hex.

Sure, the march of progress gives consumers what they expect: more for less money. But it would be appreciated if deep into this century's first decade, manufacturers showed more respect for that apparently obsolescent virtue called quality control.