IN A HALLOWEEN MOOD

We live off the beaten path. Trick-or-treaters don’t come this way because our street has too few houses to make it worth the effort — and because the road is dark. In the name of saving electricity, there are no streetlights in this part of town. We aren’t really in town, except technically. City water pipes don’t come here. We have a fire house nearby in which some trucks live, but no firemen.

72-BillyGoatGruff-1

Not that we have full-time firefighters. We have a fire chief who doubles as the chief of our tiny police department. It’s a quiet town. As in most small towns, volunteers carry the load.

72-Bad-Moon-Monochrome_1

We haven’t had a serious fire in quite a while and hopefully, won’t. Now that we’ve had some rain, the danger of fire has dropped. Good.

72-Bad-Moon-Rising-1

Because Halloween is back and we want all our little ghouls, ghosts, goblins, superheros and fairy princesses to stay safe, suffering nothing worse than sugar overload from too much candy.

72-SunsetZS19-9

THINGS THAT WENT BUMP IN OUR NIGHT

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-legged beasties
And things that go bump in the night
Good Lord, deliver us!
– Traditional Scottish Prayer

I’ve never met a ghoul, and I have questions about long-legged beasties, but I can speak from personal experience about things that go bump in the night. Long ago in a house far away, we had our own ghosts, or at least “night bumpers.”

Brick House HadleyI cannot claim to have seen a ghost, but I lived in a house where we could hear them. It was 1965 when we bought our tidy little brick house. It had been built in 1932. Most of the house was on the ground floor — kitchen, dining room, living room, two bedrooms and the bath. The upper floor had an unfinished attic and a big bedroom. It was a small house. Solid, a short walking distance from the college where my husband worked and where I was finishing my B.A.

The ambiance of the house from the moment we walked into it was cozy. Friendly. It welcomed everyone, made them feel at home. The house had been built by a couple who had lived there for more than 30 years. They had raised children their children and eventually died in that house.

They were not murdered or anything sordid. They merely grew old and passed on in the house they loved. We loved it too.

The house was a bit neglected. Not falling down, but in need of paint and some modernization. Cosmetic fixes. Paint. Floors needed refinishing. The boiler needed updating.

For the first few months, we lived on the ground floor, but we planned to move to the big upstairs bedroom. It was spacious and had windows full of light. We decided to fix it up, give it a coat of paint and redo the floors before settling upstairs.

Shortly after we moved in, our ghosts began to walk. It was startling the first time we heard it. Loud. Clear. Heavy footsteps, like the soles of hard leather shoes or boots. Plus the sharper noise of heels. It turned out everyone — anyone — could hear it. The noise started every night around eight and continued off and on until midnight.

We called the walkers “The Old Man” and “The Old Woman.” They wore different shoes. Her shoes had that sharp sound — high heels on hardwood. His shoes were clunkier, maybe work boots. Both of them had died in the house, so they were prime candidates for ghosthood, especially since no one else had lived in the house until us.

Initially, we heard them upstairs and on the stairway. After we painted the stairs, the footsteps retreated to the upper floor. Once we began painting the bedroom, we heard them for a while longer, but only in the attic. Then, one day, our ghosts were gone. They never came back.

Were they watching to see if we cared for their home? Were we all hallucinating? Maybe the couple who had lived there were watching. Making sure we did right by their house.

I suppose we passed muster and they felt it was okay to leave.

Life is full of stuff that can’t be explained rationally and we didn’t try. But I’ll bet anyone who was in our house during the months our ghosts walked never doubted what they heard.

SORT OF LIKE ENTROPY

I’ve been trying to find a word that describes the process by which an application that used to be great goes downhill. It’s sort of like entropy. But also, sort of not.

Hi-tech venture capital development was my world for more than 30 years. I retired five years ago. Now I watch the process as a consumer. It’s definitely a new angle.

Here’s how it goes. A group of smart computer jocks are hanging out in the garage one day. One of them has a brilliant idea. Another says, “Hey, you know? We could really do that. And sell it. I bet someone would give us money to build it.”

PhotoshopSo they start asking around and eventually find some rich people willing to take a risk (or a tax write-off). Start-up money!

They find affordable quarters, hire a few more people — including me. Now we’re a team. We create a fantastic product, something so forward-thinking and unique, it’s as close to perfect as an application of that kind can be.

After which:

1) They run out of money and everyone regroups — or looks for a new job

2) Against all odds, they sell the product to a couple of big customers and are in business for real.

I’ve been with a lot of start-ups. Too many.

Most of them went under. A couple made enough to keep going but not enough to thrive. A few took off and went on do great things.

Assuming success came and assuming the company only has (so far) one product — what next? How to keep customers coming back and paying more for the same product?

Upgrades.

The initial one or two new versions are free. These usually consist of bug fixes and tweaks to smooth out the interface. Eventually, though, there’s no avoiding it. You need your customers to buy a new version. And the only reason to create a new version is to generate income.

Software companies rely on upgrade income to keep alive, from Apple, to photoshop-CS6Microsoft, to the guys in the cold garage.

The eventual result of this are upgrades which add pointless bells and whistles — without improving the product. Ultimately, though, the upgrades become downgrades. The product’s functionality decreases. The application becomes bloated, overloaded with stuff no one needs or wants.

Look what happened to Microsoft Office. Word was a great text handler, but no longer is. Outlook has noticeably less functionality than it did 8 years ago and it’s harder to use.

You see it happening on WordPress as their “improved, easier blogging experience” isn’t easier and surely is no improvement. There are countless examples, all of which basically demonstrate how companies ruin their own products to create a revenue stream. And of course, also maintaining the image of a forward-moving organization.

Developers get caught between a rock and a hard place. They can’t charge customers for fixing bugs, or at least shouldn’t. And no one is going to pay them more for an unchanged application.

Leasing.

That’s how come Adobe and Microsoft are trying so hard to get us to “rent” our software rather than own it. It’s why Apple’s operating systems become obsolete before you’ve entirely unpacked your new computer.  Everyone is caught in the same loop.

“Leasing” provides a revenue stream. On the positive side, at least companies can stop making destructive “upgrades” to good products (one would hope, anyhow).

Other than leasing, how do you keep money coming in after perfecting your application? You can create ever fancier bells and whistles, but you can’t make people want them.

From the consumer’s point of view, it turns everything into an ongoing expense instead of a final purchase. We find ourselves buying a product again and again — wondering how we got suckered in. Because the latest, greatest version isn’t great. Not even as good.

For some of us, it’s a serious economic issue. We don’t have money to lease everything. We won’t have it in the future. We are stuck. There’s no positive outcome for us.

Is this “software entropy”? Or … what is it? Is there a name for this?

DARK AND STORMY NIGHT

Trio No. 3 – Today you can write about anything, in whatever genre or form, but your post must mention a dark night, your fridge, and tears (of joy or sadness; your call).


It was a dark and stormy night when the power went out. I knew the first windstorm would knock down the line. Why can’t Mass Electric take care of business before it becomes an emergency.

Stormy Skies - By Marilyn Armstrong

I stood with my head leaning on the refrigerator. The big, metal box was silent. Not a hum or a vibration came from his hulking presence. No little happy tune this night. The only sounds I could hear were the howls of the first winter storm of the year.

storm coming

There was nothing I could do but continue to stand there. Lurking, occasionally emitting a soft, gurgling moan. Poor refrigerator. There he stands, messy — covered with magnets, the messages and events of a household on his metal hull while he waits. As do we all for the power to return. Waiting and worrying. How long would this outage last? If I call the power company, they would lie to me or tell me they “were working one it” and they would “let me know” when it was fixed.

Don’t they think I’d notice when the power comes back on? Like when all the lights come back? Not to mention the computers, the heat, and the well pump?

I, with tears of sadness and frustration trailing down my cheeks, knowing all my food is in that fridge … and the electric company is holding it for ransom.

Was my silent fridge crying too? Only the shadow knows and he’s not talking.

february snow 05

THE AMBIVALENCE OF A NEW COMPUTER

side view alienware closeup computer

We all want cool toys. The latest (hugest) iPhone. The hot sports car. We want all of it. Now, please. For this, the credit card was invented. I believe after the world ends and only cockroaches remain, Visa will still be sending threatening letters to cardholders.  The price tag is part of my ambivalence even though I was wild to get my paws on a computer so incredibly hot that it would virtually sear my fingertips. Most of the mixed emotions are because setting up a new computer is a total immersion experience into tasks simultaneously critical and intensely boring.

72-alien-102914_14 computer keyboard

It arrived yesterday. Packed in a beautifully designed box so nice it feels wrong to throw it away. So I haven’t. Yet. It’s on my dining table. Every time I go into the room, I am amazed at how gorgeous it is. That’s just the box.

I was caught short when it arrived. Dell had told me to expect it on or near November 4th. Although I know Dell typically delivers early, this was very early, beating their “expected delivery date” by two weeks. Not that I’m complaining. Just explaining I wasn’t ready to immerse myself in the experience known as “setting up a new computer.” It’s immersive because once you begin, you can’t stop until you are done.

alienware side view computer

Perhaps if you use your computer just a little, swapping to a new computers is a plug-and-play event. Not me. According to my last backup from a couple of days ago, I have 40,000 photographs and 3,000 documents. A lot of stuff. And that’s just data.

Applications needing installation included Photoshop. Lightroom. OpenOffice. Audible. Kindle. Chrome. All the other stuff I’m forgetting. I can’t skip any of it. Setup isn’t only installing. You can’t plunk an application onto the hard drive and you’re done. You have to configure it too. And let’s not forget configuring the computer itself. I have specific preferences for how my computers works. I want it to shut off when I close the lid. Not sleep or hibernate. Turn completely off. I want the power optimized for performance — no dimmed monitors. I want updates to self-install when the computer is not in use and then, only important updates.

I want everything to open with a single mouse click. I need on-screen text bigger than standard. I want the mouse marker thick enough to spot easily amidst text.

I also wanted to make my keyboard glow like a rainbow and the alien head glow green — because on this computer, I can.


alienware computer front full

It was late morning when the carton arrived with DELL splashed across it. My stomach gave a flutter.

Unready though I was, a shiver of excitement with an undercurrent of fear goaded me to action. It unpacked easily. I plugged it in. Turned it on. It went through its self-setup. This is Windows 7 Professional — I’ve never used it before. I’m not clear what the difference is from plain vanilla Windows 7. I’m counting on the computer to know what it needs and where to put it.

72-Alien_103014_20

It asks me to give my new baby a name. I call him “Alien.” What else?

alien specs

Seven hours later, it’s all done but the fine-tuning. I’ve transferred my data from the new external hard drive, programmed my rainbow keyboard (totally cool).

I’ve never had a computer that felt this good under my hands. Beautifully designed and solid. I am surprised how much I miss the larger screen of my 15.6 inch XPS. Alien is 14 inches. Not tiny, but not large. A good portable size and the monitor is remarkably crisp, clear, and non-reflective. I have a 23″ monitor in the other room, so I can always plunk my butt in my office chair and use the big high def monitor. Maybe I will, maybe not.

I have yet to install the printer and I need to make a variety of small adjustments to the computer and various applications. Mostly, it’s done. Including today, it has taken about 10 hours.

Was it worth it?

Alienware keyboard computer side

I love the way Alien feels. I love the keyboard, the graphics. I don’t understand why the hard drive is only 5400 RPS. My XPS is 7200, but that option wasn’t offered on any of the Alienware machines. Why not? So everything is supersonic — except HD read/write. Yes, I can tell the difference. The speakers on this computer are okay, but the ones on the XPS were great. A lot better. If I want better sound, I’ll have to use headphones or a clip-on speaker.

Nothing is perfect. Not the car of your dreams or my new computer, but it’s close. It is definitely what the doctor ordered for what I most need. It handles even the heaviest graphics without a hiccup.

Just to give you an example, while it was importing and sorting 36,000 photographs into Lightroom, the computer also installed 64 Microsoft updates. I turned down its offer to reboot after installing the updates because it was still finishing sorting all my photographs into a continuous timeline, something I’ve wanted to do but never had the strength of character to attempt.

Wow. Really. Wow.