This article was written for the ‘Without the Internet’ series. I’ve been without a fixed Internet connection at home for about five weeks, but I’ve received an estimate and my Internet’s on the way.
When I moved from Amsterdam-Noord to Haarlem a month ago, I decided that it was in my best interests to join a gym (Dutch: sportschool, less commonly healthcenter). My apartment in Haarlem has no secure cycle parking and my recumbent (Dutch: ligfiets) sits unused in my flat. I knew, with all certainly, that I would gain weight and become obese if I didn’t get my fair share of exercise and I felt that the walk to and from the station every day simply wasn’t going to be enough. So I joined a gym – and it later turned out that my boss – concerned about his employees’ health, as any executive should be – is willing to pay two-thirds of the cost of my subscription. Goed zo.
But getting back to the point of this series – how I’m dealing with not having a fixed Internet connection – the treadmills (Dutch: loopbanden) at my gym have on them an Internet application, which one can use to browse the Internet. It’s not a stripped-down version of the Internet, but the browser’s part of a wider kiosk-style interface – one can watch television or listen to the radio by plugging headphones into the bottom of the screen, and information about one’s workout (not the right word when you’re only jogging) can be overlaid anf hidden as one sees fit. (Sorry.)
The browser ‘frame’ is roughly 800 x 600 pixels, which is one of a number of technical and practical limitations of the machines but, for most people, checking Facebook or browsing nrc.next is all one needs and can be done with relative ease. But I’m not “most people” and I see chances for improvement in software. Here’s a little list I compiled (something I’ve been spending the last fortnight almost doing at work):
- one cannot select text in input fields. Well, one can but you can’t then delete it – only overwrite it with more text. Say you were writing a quick email and you wanted to take a sentence out. While you can drag over the text to select it, iOS-style, you have to at least replace it with a space character.
- the keyboard interface hasn’t been rigorously tested either. One submits text to forms, rather than writing in them directly and after the preview field above the touchscreen keyboard is constantly resizing what one’s entered as one types more; after six or seven words, given the movement of jogging, it becomes very difficult to read what has been written. This means submitting text in six- or seven-word chunks, which isn’t the best way of writing …but the longer you stay on the treadmill, the better; no?
- again relating to the physical motion of jogging or running… even on the largest text size, which one can change with the large ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ keys provided, it’s a little difficult to read a 200-word summary of a physics paper in Google Reader (for example). Different websites have different standard ‘starting’ font sizes, and so following the article through to its source usually gets over the problem I have specific to Google Reader, but I’m there to clear my feeds and get through as many posts as I can; clicking through, reading the post and going back is a slow and irritating process.
- as far as I know, there’s no support for Flash nor any of video elements but I’ve never watched any videos online on the machines. There is a button with a speaker symbol and the word “WEB” written immediately underneath it for (I assume) muting and unmuting web content but, again, I’ve never had a chance to play content so I wouldn’t know whether that button …well, works or not but its presence suggests that at least playing audio from the browser is possible.
But not everybody wants to do everything they can do at home (or, in my case, at work) on a computer attached to a treadmill. But I’d at least like to see how many emails from people (as opposed to automated emails) I have, or to bookmark decent texts for reading tomorrow on my Kindle on the forty-minute train journey into work… but if I can’t get the job done in however many minutes, I’ll just add extra minutes to the clock and keep running.
Just as trivia, I wrote most of this post by dictation-transcription while handwashing my clothes for the first time – handwashing for the first time that is. It takes an hour to do a dozen items (from the first plunge into soapy water to putting them on the radiator after rinsing them out in the shower) so I might as well dictate a blog post or technical document to myself while I knead away, transcribing it at a less soapy time.