Hurrah – a cure for range-anxiety

Cygnett 5,000 mAh Portable Power bank.



We may be grumpy old Harrumpfers, but we’ve become avid users of mobile phone technology. On our earlier visits to the UK and Europe, the map/GPS function had become indispensable. I’m a fully paid up, ocean-going, industrial grade range-fretter; if my phone goes below 80%, I start gently sweating, and anything below 50% is just intolerable. Having a rented car meant that recharge was never far away, but when we decided to visit Vienna, where we’d be relying on public transport to get around, range-anxiety kicked in, and I looked for an portable power bank that wouldn’t cost the earth, was easy to use, and would give me at least one entire recharge of an iphone 8 – or half each for two phones.

Between my stepson and the guy at JB Hifi, I settled on the Cygnett 5,000mAh Portable Power Bank, for $40. It promises 1.4 charges, which seemed enough to get both Lynne and I out of trouble. I found it easy to use, robust and travel-worthy in a very “haveable” way, and a great travel accessory.

The Cygnett got its first outing when we flew to Viena from Heathrow, after dropping the car off. A whole 6 hours away from mains power, with no 12V socket to provide comfort, and the need to get an Uber and find our hotel at the end of it!

The Cygnett is about the size of an original iphone, has 2 USB output ports, and comes with a short charging cable with its own USB connector – you need a USB source to charge the Cygnett. It has a blue numerical LED display telling you its percentage charge. With the display showing 100, I stuffed the Cygnett in the pocket of my cargo pants, together with a USB cord and, as an afterthought, its own little charging cord, and set off for the train station.

The whole bundle was like carrying an extra small-format iphone. I first used it on the 2-hour flight, as my incessant consumption of Brexit news drove the battery in my phone down to 75%. Only slightly worried that I might be mistaken for a suicide bomber, I fished the lead out and plugged it in. This produced a familiar and reassuring beep from the phone, and a rate of charge superior, so far as I could tell, to what we get from our mains setup. By the time we arrived in Vienna, my phone was fully charged, and I was experiencing the warm, cuddly feeling we range-aholics get when we know that we’ve got enough of our favourite tipple to get us through the day.

Thereafter, I basically carried the Cygnett around in my pocket, although apart from a day trip to Bratislava we hardly used it. Because that’s half the point of it – just knowing it’s there.

I haven’t tried any of the Cygnett’s competitors – have you? What did you think?

Kitchen Harrumpfs

OK, let’s rip into kitchen design. What do we Harrumpfers want in our kitchens? We want stuff that’s intuitively easy to use. Our eyes are not quite as good as they used to be, so hot/cold water mixers with tiny little red and blue dots to indicate temperature are a pain in the neck – what’s wrong with a bold splash of colour? And when we’ve got a roast in the oven, we want to be able to check the temperature from across the room, rather than having to go to the cooker, bend down and inspect the knob minutely, hoping that the numbers haven’t been worn off the oh-so-stylish brushed steel fascia during cleaning.

So much kitchen design seems to be about concealing function in pursuit of a misguided aesthetic, when what we really want is the exact opposite.

Big knobs, like the ones you used to see in 50s sci-fi movies, with positive action so you know when you have done something.

Simple functions – less is nearly always more!

Big letters and numbers for everything that matters, so that whatever part of our kitchen we’re in, it’s easy to check on what’s going on in all the other parts of it.

In the following posts, I’ll be harrumpfing about different appliances I find pointlessly annoying to use, but I really would like to hear about brands that deserve Hurrahs rather than Harrumpfs, so please send them in.

Laptops

Let’s have a look at what’s right in front of us. This is a picture of my laptop, with power, memory stick and USB mouse disconnected, much as it would be after returning from a meeting. The job of reattaching them ought to be a matter of seconds.

Instead, Acer have deliberately set out to conceal the location and identity of each port, by opting for a sleek, ‘cool’ design ethic.

I have to fiddle around, peering or pawing at its opaque black edges, to discern the precise whereabouts of each socket. Because it’s not enough to know roughly where they are –we’re in “miss is as good as a mile” territory here. You really need them marked, and preferably embossed, too, on the top of the keyboard. But of course that wouldn’t look cool and sleek, would it? Bah, humbug! Harrumpf!

Now, it’s true that my inoperative hand makes this shortcoming particularly irritating for me, but a few harrumpfs with friends suggest that many of them would forgo the “designer” look in favour of clarity, if given the option.

So listen, laptop makers: there’s a market waiting to be tapped for any of you bold enough.

If you know of a good laptop that defies convention by actually telling you where all its bits are, we’d love to review it on Harrumpf.

Rent-a-Nanny – the Volvo V40 experience

My wife and I recently visited the UK for a couple of weeks, and then spent 6 nights in Vienna. Plenty of harrumpfs, and one or two now-that’s-more like-its…

We rented a Volvo V40, but we might as well have rented a Victorian nanny. The safety features on this car are so numerous and so poorly thought-through that they end up being counter-productive.

Vision

Let’s start with the simple business of seeing out of the thing. Most cars have a bit of a blind-spot, but this thing is really a blind spot with portholes.

Now I have no doubt that this car would have protected us admirably if we had crashed it, rolled it, or driven it off a cliff. Which is comforting, for those of us who don’t mind crashing, rolling or driving off cliffs. For those of us who prefer to complete our journeys without these additional excitements, it’s a nightmare, because it’s structural integrity has been achieved by giving it pillars so massive that the windows have all but disappeared.

I’m a tall bloke, and it’s true that that gives me the worst viewpoint, but even ducking my head down to the height of the average driver, the view over my right shoulder, so crucial in safely entering roundabouts, is so restricted as to be positively dangerous. To add insult to injury, it’s got those wide-angle wing-mirrors that distort perspective, so they’re no help in finely judging distances.

Here’s a picture which gives you some idea of the view over your shoulder:

Collision avoidance

The Volvo V40 is stuffed to the gills with sensors. These include sensors in its wing mirrors that glow orange when there’s a car behind you in an adjacent lane.

Thanks, but I’d prefer a flat wing-mirror, plus Mk 1 eyeball, if you please. And no, I don’t need the car to remind me of the need to check that a lane is clear before I move into it. It’s something I’ve been doing for 50 years, and the suggestion that I’m going to forget it just because I get into a Volvo V40 is insulting, as is the implicit suggestion that I should treat the absence of a warning as an unqualified assurance that it’s safe to switch lanes without checking your mirror.

So all the little orange light is doing is reminding me not to do something I’ve never done, and never intend to.

But the worst of this infernal, dangerously misguided nannying is yet to come.

It’s got a collision-detection system which, if it becomes convinced you are about to hit something, makes a loud beeping noise, and sets off a row of flashing red lights right in front of your eyes.

It sounded three times during our two-week rental. On two occasions the cause was never clear to me, and certainly I never hit anything, or saw any obstacle which could prove life-threatening, despite the distraction of an inexplicable burst of lights and beeping.

The third occasion was at a roundabout, where, hampered by the car’s appalling visibility, I was entering a busy roundabout.

I had to negotiate a row of stationary cars already on the roundabout and waiting to leave it to my left, and of course to give way to traffic coming from my right. I found a suitable gap, but it required that I accelerate briskly towards the rear of the queue of stationary cars, which were pointing towards my 10 O’clock, and concentrate hard to get my timing right.

Right in the middle of this moderately exacting manoeuvre, when I wanted all my wits about me, the car decided that the row of stationary traffic to my left, pointing at 45 degrees to my direction of travel, was a serious collision hazard, and set off the beeps and lights. It is difficult to imagine anything more calculated to distract me from my manoeuvre, and cause me to have an accident. Well done, Volvo – just brilliant.

Gearbox

The car had a choice of fully automatic transmission or flappy-paddle sequential gearbox. Being the possessor of only one functioning arm, I used the automatic box. Fine, except that it kept switching, for no apparent reason, to sequential. This meant that I had to either flip it up through the gears sequentially or flog it to the red line to force it to change automatically.

And here’s another picture of the thing – note the almost non-existent quarter-light window:

Come in and have a moan with me…

Thanks for joining me!

I started this thing because I got fed up with frothing at the mouth at the stupidity of so much contemporary design, and decided  that if I had to froth, then I might as well do it among like-minded friends.

So if you have ever frothed, even a little bit, at products or services that seem to embody style at the expense of substance – form at the expense of function – then read on, share my outraged Harrumpf, and send me your own harrumps.

There’d be little point in doing this, though, if it didn’t actively seek to improve design by finding examples of good design, and sharing them with the community. So please, when you spot something really well thought-out, drop me a line.