Techno­phobe Alan Cochrane has had his strug­gles with gad­getry, but a new low came when he bought a car then found you need a PhD in com­puter sci­ence to drive it

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

Alan Cochrane strug­gles with his new car's gad­gets

Tech­nol­ogy has never been one of my strong points. In that I’m not alone – cer­tainly amongst those of, shall we say, a cer­tain age. It’s true, how­ever, that I did man­age to scrib­ble and send this mis­sive to our il­lus­tri­ous editor via a lap­topthingy, which in mo­ments of high stress I still call a type­writer.

Talk­ing of type­writ­ers, I miss them ter­ri­bly; not so much for their con­ve­nience – the mod­ern way of writ­ing and send­ing is much sim­pler. No, what I miss is their noise. That clack-clack-clack­ing of metal key on pa­per is what I was brought up on in, var­i­ously, Bank Street in Dundee, Albion Street in Glas­gow and – the Street of Dreams – Fleet Street in Lon­don. The racket a score of them made plus the din of a cou­ple of shouty news ed­i­tors and/or sub-ed­i­tors is what I miss most about those pre-com­puter days in the inky-trade.

How­ever, if tech­nol­ogy has trans­formed news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines, it’s noth­ing when com­pared to cars. Now, I don’t mean what goes on un­der the bon­net. That is, and shall re­main, a dark and dis­tant se­cret. It’s what hap­pens in, or more likely be­hind, the dash­board that has thrown me com­pletely. I’ve just about mas­tered the Sat Nav, al­though how it works is a mys­tery, but on tak­ing de­liv­ery of a new car a few months ago I had some­thing like an hour-long pre­sen­ta­tion of all the things its elec­tronic giz­mos could do. It was as­ton­ish­ing; in fact so as­ton­ish­ing that not a sin­gle one of them stuck in my an­cient brain for more than a few sec­onds.

Oh yes – and, of course, there’s a hand­book with ev­ery de­tail to­day’s driver could wish for, but a quick read showed me that some­thing like a Higher Na­tional Diploma in com­puter sci­ence is nec­es­sary be­fore un­der­stand­ing any of it. I think my brother’s got one of those but I’m not ask­ing him for as­sis­tance – he’d just take the Michael.

Per­haps the most em­bar­rass­ing episode oc­curred when David, my ex­cel­lent and help­ful sales­man, asked: ‘What’s this?’ in hold­ing up a CD he’d found on the front seat. I ex­plained it was my favourite record­ing – the Cen­tral Band of the Royal Air Force play­ing mar­vel­lous stuff like ‘Crown Im­pe­rial’, ‘633 Squadron’ and the ‘Dam­busters’ March’. To all of which he replied: ‘Well, you won’t be able to play it in here – there’s no CD player in mod­ern cars.’

That wasn’t too much of a disas­ter for me – Ra­dio Four is per­fectly ad­e­quate. That is not the case, how­ever, for my bet­ter half. She in­sisted that she

couldn’t pos­si­bly drive all the way to Suther­land, as she was about to, with­out ‘her’ mu­sic – you know, stuff like ‘Bach’s Great­est Hits’ blar­ing out in the car. And so, af­ter a mam­moth week­end-long con­sul­ta­tion, in­volv­ing two daugh­ters, a sis­ter and a com­puter pro­gram­mer brother-in-law, some­thing ap­proach­ing a so­lu­tion was reached. This en­tailed, in so far as I fol­lowed things, mu­sic be­ing trans­ferred from CDs to smart phones, via com­put­ers and thus – some­how – to the car.

So far so good? Well, not ex­actly. It wasn’t un­til she reached Ding­wall, which is not ex­actly just round the cor­ner from where we live, that a strange sym­bol ap­peared on the dash­board screen. She clicked on it and guess what? The car was choc-full of her favourite mu­sic! Success – even if we’ve no idea how it was achieved.

There was more con­fu­sion on a long drive to Lon­don when the steer­ing wheel seemed to be fight­ing me when I changed lanes. Whilst I’m sure it wasn’t dan­ger­ous I found it dis­con­cert­ing, es­pe­cially as I hadn’t a clue what it was. A quick call to the dealer – Cle­lands of the Borders

– re­as­sured me that it was a safety mea­sure equipped to en­sure that cars didn’t inadverten­tly slip across mo­tor­way lanes. Of course I could switch it off, they said, but that in­volved me – or at least my wife – go­ing through a short course in com­puter tech­nol­ogy to find the right but­ton to press.

And even if they’ve as­sured me that I’m wrong I’m cer­tain that the voice-ac­ti­vated car phone can’t un­der­stand my Dundee ac­cent.

All of which leads me to sus­pect I’ve be­come some­thing of a reg­u­lar with the ser­vice depart­ment of that deal­er­ship, given that the above are only a few of the ‘crises’ I’ve raised with them and they’ve never, ever been any­thing but help­ful. That’s just as well as I’ve no doubt that there will be many more calls be­fore I find out ev­ery­thing this Volvo – which I’m de­lighted with, by the way – can do.

How­ever, I do think that some form of ro­bot co-driver, which un­der­stands ev­ery­thing that’s go­ing on, should be the next in­stal­la­tion by the man­u­fac­tur­ers. He (or she) could be stored in the boot…

“I’m cer­tain that the voice-ac­ti­vated car phone can’t un­der­stand my Dundee ac­cent

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