My views on pocket telephones have not changed since I wrote this article on the people who use them. The fact that anti-social low-life have started using them to play music from their iPods makes them an even greater bane of our life. I really was very optimistic that I would be the last man on the planet to own a pocket telephone.
(A few days after writing the following article I unexpectedly received a present in the post. The actual item is a three-quarters of an inch thick rubber band that you wear round the head to attach a mobile phone so you can use it in hands-free mode. It is the ultimate nerd accessory.
However, yesterday, 9th November, 2006, will always be remembered as a millstone in my life. Yes I did mean that, millstone, not milestone. The Lady Boss had decided that I should have a pocket telephone, for use on the occasions when I'm out of the office. Yesterday was the day it arrived. I opened the box, without using the manual.
I inserted the battery without using the manual. I plugged the phone into the charger without using a manual. I was left with a small rubber band which I threw away, and a small plastic bag which soon joined the rubber band. All I had left was a small piece of plastic about an inch long and half-an-inch wide. Being worldly wise I'd heard mention of these things called Sim cards. I must admit that I had to use the manual to find out where to stick it! (It apparently stands for Subscriber Identity Module.)
Incidentally, I call it a manual, it's about three inches square, and 40 pages thick. At home I have got a telephone handset attached by a curly cable to a base station with a keypad. Several years ago it replaced a similar model with a very user friendly dial. I have vague memories, from the age of about five or six, of an adult spending 30 seconds teaching me how to use this device.
I digress. The Sim card apparently stores some of my data. Anyway, I unplugged the mains charger, removed the battery, and inserted the Sim card. Earlier this week I searched the Internet for some software allowing me to convert digital photographs into a movie, with sound of my own choosing. I downloaded the software, and started to install it. I was then shown a message telling me that I needed to validate my copy of Microsoft Windows before I could use the software. I followed brief instructions on how to achieve this. Then I started using Photo Story 3. To cut a long and only slightly relevant story short, after about 40 minutes I had produced a truly excellent 39 second film made up from about two dozen photographs of Alice's nephew Christopher using a swing ball racquet to impersonate the latest rock guitar god. Without resorting to any tutorial I set the length of time for which I wanted each photograph to appear, how I wanted each photograph to fade into the next, and then edited a sound file in another application, so that I could have the last 39 seconds of Sabre Dance by Love Sculpture to use as the soundtrack to the film. Having worked in IT for 25 years I expect to be able to use most electronic products or software intuitively, only resorting to a manual in times of desperation.
Anyway I digress. That's the second time that’s happened. Perhaps it's because I can't face up to fully recounting the three hours that I spent yesterday morning trying to come to grips with my mobile phone. I left the phone charging for a while, occasionally checking to see if it was ready for use. Eventually I was able to switch it on. It had 10 small but vaguely functional buttons each containing a digit, and the use of these seemed obvious. There was also a button with a green handset, the type with which I am so familiar. There is also a similar button with a red handset. For some bizarre reason you use the red button to turn the phone both on and off. This concept seems a little bizarre, however after using Microsoft Windows, where you use the Start icon to switch it off, I can believe anything!
The first thing that I wanted to achieve was to activate a security function, so that I can enter a PIN known only to me so that my telephone cannot be used if stolen. I'd had a quick flick through the manual, before returning it to my desk as a coffee mat. I'm an IT professional! I don't need a little booklet! I made two or three attempts at entering the PIN in the appropriate place, without paying too much attention to the prompts on the screen. Eventually I saw a rather unfriendly message "Enter PUK code". I flicked through the manual, rescued the empty box from the litter bin, and was still none the wiser. I then typed "Enter PUK code" into Google on my desktop PC. A lot of people have searched on Google for this phrase! Apparently it's a super security feature intended to make life difficult for people that have problems implementing the first security feature! Many hundreds of Web pages were keen to advise me to contact the service provider, in this case Vodafone. The dispatch note which came with my phone had a statement at the bottom, telling me to contact the help desk if I needed help. I dialled the number, I was then taken through the normal multiple choice voicemail system before speaking to a real person who asked me for the number of my mobile phone.
I then spent the next several seconds reading out an extremely long telephone number. (I must digress for a moment, to report a true incident from a pub in Dorset where Alice and I were on holiday last week. Three very elderly old boys were sitting around a table, talking about contacting each other. In a wonderful broad local accent I heard one of them say "I only ever call him at home because his mobile phone number is too long for me to remember.” A true story I promise you.
Miss Vodafone then told me that my number wasn't on her system and that I would need to call another extremely long phone number. Isn't that always the way! I dialled the long number, went through another voicemail system and this time spoke to Mr Vodafone. He then gave me another a long number which I had to key into my phone to unlock the security function, before finally entering my PIN.
If you've come this far you will be aware that I hate the ring tones of mobile phones. Like most sane people I find them rude and intrusive. I then selected the Change Tone option on the phone and played each of the in-built tones to try and find the least unpleasant sounding one. I settled for one which sounded like a middle-class front doorbell. I subsequently found out that the phone has the option for me to use polyphonic ring tones(!) comprised of up to 20 simultaneous self-composed notes. This morning I couldn't even spell cacophony.
As I said earlier, a lifetime working with computer software has made me somewhat familiar with how all these products should work. My next challenge was to try and specify that I wanted incoming calls to be redirected to voicemail if the phone wasn't answered or was engaged. He-he! This seemed like an easy one as I imagine most people would want to do this! I did various combinations of left and right scrolling arrows, up and down scrolling arrows, a coffee break, answered the desktop telephone, before finding a message prompting me to enter my mailbox number. I decided to use number one for my first mailbox number. I entered 1, and pressed the button with the green handset on. A pretty little pattern appeared, shortly followed by a message saying Function Not Completed.
At this point I flicked through the manual before calling the Vodafone help desk. Once again I was asked for my mobile telephone number, and once again it wasn't on their system! So once again I called another very long Vodafone number. And spoke to Miss Vodafone again. She assured me that my phone was already set up for voicemail and that I didn't need to do what I had just done. I then explained that I had just done it though! She then tried to confuse me by telling me that voicemail set up is different with some other service providers such as O2. Now, by this time I was getting rather fed up, as I think you can probably tell, so I decided it was time for a bit of a wind-up. I said to Miss Vodafone what is O2? She replied, "You know, - O2". I denied any knowledge of this mysterious O2. I said do you mean U2? We both got a bit bored with this game and she told me that my voicemail was correctly set up.
Now we all know that things work while you're talking to help desk staff, but go wrong immediately afterwards. So I said "Oh let me test that I can divert my messages to voicemail". Once again I got the message saying that the operation could not be performed. Miss Vodafone assured me that I did not need to try and do this. She immediately asked me if there was anything else that she could help me with. I replied negatively. At this point we decided on a trial separation.
At this point, dear reader, the memories of the stress of yesterday prevent me from going on further.
One final thought, this morning I was in my office, getting steadily more annoyed by the silly computer voice coming in from the street below, two floors down. Why can't these people keep their silly voices quieter? Eventually I realised that the voice was actually coming from my desk drawer. I pulled the drawer open, but failed miserably because the middle drawer was already half-an-inch open and my desk has this thing that stops you opening a drawer when another drawer is already open. Anyway that's another story. I picked up the phone, for this is what was generating the irritating noise, and I heard it telling me to wake up. I have no recollection of falling asleep. I have no recollection of setting an alarm for 11 minutes past nine this morning, but I do remember setting the date for 9th November yesterday. Perhaps the two events are related. I guess I'll never know for certain. I then spent the next 10 minutes trying to stop the phone telling me to wake up, and also making sure it wasn't going to tell me to wake up again tomorrow morning. I then put the phone under a load of folders and closed and locked my desk drawer.
If it takes me, a so-called computer expert, over three hours and more grey hairs than you'd find on an elderly badger, to set up the telephone, it's frightening to think how much time the rest of you have spent.