TACHYON WAVES, WARP DRIVE, AND INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINES

Garry and I have been watching “Star Trek: Next Generation.” We missed the show’s initial run. 1987 through 1994 were our busiest years. Rebuilding a life. Restarting a career. Buying houses. Getting married. Moving. Moving again.

Watching TV wasn’t a big item on our agenda.

BBC America is showing the series, albeit not in any particular order. We are catching up, watching two or three episodes per night.

star trek next gen cast

They do a lot of tech talk on the Enterprise. I accept it with alacrity. No problem. Pass the warp drive. I’ll have a side order of tachyon particles. I understand that science as well as I understand ours.

Which is to say, not at all. Tachyon energy is crucial to all kinds of weaponry and fuel. They are part of what powers the warp engines on the Enterprise. The warp engines are what lets the Enterprise be the Enterprise, travel at speeds faster than light … fast enough to explore the universe. Slither through wormholes. Travel through time.

For your information, a tachyon particle moves faster than light. The complementary particle types are luxon (particles which move at the speed of light) and bradyon (particles which move slower than light). If you live in the Star Trek universe, tachyon particles are as common as dirt. Or electricity.

I understand exactly as much about tachyon waves and warp drives as I do about the internal combustion engine. True, I studied this stuff in junior high school (middle school to you kids). The information didn’t “take,” and whatever is going on under my car’s hood is a mystery. As is the electricity that powers this computer. As is all technology.

enterprise next gen

Effectively, everything is a mystery. I understand the technology of the 24th century exactly as well (and as much) as I understand the technology of the 21st. I am equally comfortable in both.

How many of you know how the stuff you use all the time works? I know how software is designed, how code is written and compiled. I used to know how to do a little coding. In the end, though, I have no idea why code does anything. Why, when you compile a program, does it work? It’s just text. Why does it do what it does?

Why does anything work? Tachyon particles, warp drives, internal combustion engines, electricity, cell phones, WiFi. It’s all the same. Magic.

And now, back to the Enterprise, already in progress.

DISIMPROVEMENT 101

It’s a trend. Developers and software companies, from the corporate level down think we are stupid. That we need everything to be made very simple lest we be overwhelmed by too many choices, too much information.

Statistics on the old, unimproved stats screen
Statistics on the old, unimproved stats screen – showing just about everything at a glance

How do I know this? Because the trend in software from most mainstream companies (excluding Adobe, which possibly accounts for their phenomenal success) has been to automate everything.

New disimproved stats page, showing less information in a thoroughly inconvenient format
New disimproved stats page, showing less information in a thoroughly inconvenient format

To leave us with few — or no — choices. Because if we have choices, we’ll screw it up, right? Because, we are stupid.

WordPress, not content with their poorly received “improved posting experience” which caused near insurrection by bloggers, has come up with an “upgraded stats page.” It’s even worse than the “improved posting experience.” Hard to believe, but it’s true.

Commonsense says an upgraded stats page contains more and/or better data. Perhaps a faster response time with improved navigation.

You would be wrong. Instead, we are getting much less information, no navigation other than scrolling (a lot of scrolling) and a slightly slower connection.

Why? Does it not occur to WordPress to test this stuff with users before dumping it on us and telling us these downgrades are really upgrades? How stupid do they think we are?

Seriously guys … how about some beta testing? Surely that would cost nothing but a little bit of time. I’m sure most, if not all, of us would happily do your beta testing. For free. Just ask. Really.

I am not stupid. Or a newbie. Neither are most of the people with whom I connect with on WordPress. If you want to put out a “statistics lite” version for your baby bloggers, that’s fine. Offer it as an option to those who feel less is more.

I don’t think the new page is easier to understand or better in any way at all. It’s less informative and has lots of links for people who are clueless about blogging without providing anything useful to experienced bloggers. That’s a world away from better. Less is not more, not if you are talking about statistics.

Better ought to mean more statistics, additional layers of information. It should include improved navigation tools — and scrolling isn’t navigation.

A bigger typeface doesn’t improve the quality of the data, especially if you’ve eliminated everything but data for one previous week.

Yup, that’s right. You can’t get stats on previous years. No depth. No way to chart overall progress unless your blog is a week old.

It’s sad. Unnecessary. And infuriating.

For other opinions, see If It Ain’t Broke, Fix It Anyway and My iPod Has Issues – WordPress Has Joined the Crazy Club.

THE “MISSING” REPORT

I sat here last night. Pondering the differences between this computer which runs Windows 7 Professional and all my other computers which run Windows 7 Home Premium. That was the precise moment I realized I had not the slightest idea where I’d put the system disks for this computer.

And then there is the software and the manuals for all the applications I no longer use, books, a few antiques, and more, mostly obsolete, software. And one music box.
Software and the manuals for applications I no longer use, books, a few antiques, and more, mostly obsolete, software. And one music box.

It was alarming. It got more alarming the more I thought about it. I also realized I had no idea where I put the system disk for Windows 7 I installed on another laptop. For that matter, I was a little hazy on where to find the disks for any of our computers. The only stuff I can locate quickly is for a computer I no longer own, but gave to my granddaughter.

I have every version of Quicken I ever bought — a lot of Quicken — and I no longer use Quicken. I do know where my DVDs for Photoshop are. I have located at least half a dozen versions of Scrabble, none of which run on this operating system.

Sometime around midnight, I went into a frenzy of searching for the system disks for this computer because I doubt they are replaceable. Garry found them, on the keyboard of the electric organ (as opposed to the piano).

I must have been in some kind of daze when I did the setup on this computer. Normally, I take system disks, put them in a manila envelope, label them in big fat markers as “red laptop” or “silver XPS” or “Garry’s 14Z.”

So many computers have come and gone, I have system software for computers that left my possession years ago. I’m not sure what “Garry’s 14Z means, because at some point, his 14Z had to be reloaded and I gave him my 14z. After repair, what had been his 14Z became my “spare laptop,” the one I use to listen to audiobooks as I fall asleep. Or make a final check of email late at night. So what, exactly does “Garry’s 14Z” mean? My bedroom computer or his laptop?

I have every version of old software I used. Manuals too. Empty boxes for each camera I bought. Which is a lot of cameras and a lot of boxes. I have empty Kindle boxes back to the first keyboard Kindle I owned.

I should throw at least some of the stuff away. I finally got rid of the boxes of floppy disks as I no longer have any way to read them. But I kept CDs of documents and photos going back more than a decade, even though I have this same data on three different external hard drives.

No wonder I can’t find anything. Between junk and having become increasingly distracted and absent-minded, important pieces of my life are vanishing.

Everything is “somewhere.” Nothing is lost. Just … missing. I can’t even blame it on the pixies. It’s definitely me.

A Final Note: I bought the carved zebras (in the photograph) at a yard sale 7 or 8 years ago. While I was running my online shop, I got a call from the buyer for a major (you’d know the name) retailer. She wanted 3,000 of each. Sadly, I only had those two. They are one of a kind hand-carvings.

We all wait for our ship to come in. Mine came. I couldn’t board. It left without me. That’s the way my life goes.

END OF THE WINDOWS ROAD?

It appears to be the end of the road for me and Windows.

I’m just bought what I suspect will be my last Windows machine, the most powerful Alienware computer I could configure — or afford. It had better last a long time. I’ve tried using Windows 8.1 on Microsoft tablets (two of them) as well as my friend’s desktop. I hate it.

alienware side view computer

From everything I have read, the worst of the problems of Windows 8 will morph into “features” on Win 10, the classic “smoke and mirrors” approach to software.

“Oh, it isn’t a bug … IT’S A FEATURE!”

You got that right. It’s not that Microsoft has made it impossible to run non-Microsoft products on my computer .They are protecting me from the big, bad, world. Nor will they provide me with alternative software to perform those tasks. Microsoft wants me locked into their universe and I must use their applications to do whatever I want or need to do.

If by some chance I have a twisted urge to do other things and Microsoft doesn’t have appropriate applications or tools? Gee, that’s too bad. Microsoft has set the bar, made the rules. All you zombies will march in step and pay us for the privilege.

Not this zombie. Nor a whole lot of my fellow zombies.

Mind you I am no super fan of Mac, either. I have a heavy investment in Windows-based software, which is how come I have put up with this crap so far. But there is a line over which you cannot push me because I won’t let you.

You cannot tell me to live in your universe to the exclusion of all others “for my own safety.” No matter what you believe, it’s my world too. My computer. My money. My investment, work, effort, creativity. You cannot, will not force me to do it your way. This is not happening. Thanks for warning me.

I’ll start saving now for the investment I will have to make in the future to change to a different system. And shame on you writers for not doping out the obvious end result of this shill game … the end of freedom of choice for anyone who buys into the Microsoft system.

And so, Mr. Bott, author of “Microsoft reveals audacious plans to tighten security with Windows 10” — the latest in a long line of ZDNet shill articles about the wonders of Windows 10: What happened to journalistic ethics? Did they pay you to lose them or just make it clear you have to tow the party line or else? I can’t believe you actually believe the drivel you’re writing.

When I started in the high-tech writing biz, we limited shilling for sponsored products to the “new products” columns. We didn’t feature them. We were encouraged to use our best judgment and commonsense when writing lead articles.

I’m embarrassed to have been a member of the same profession. Ashamed. You should be too.

I AM OBSOLETE. AGAIN.

PhotoshopWhen I got my new computer, I decided to try Adobe’s 30-day free trial for photographers. Find out first-hand how I feel about their subscription service.

It was everything I expected it to be, nothing I hoped it might be. Which means I hated it. Because it’s online, it takes significantly longer to open and close than your own software.

It didn’t work with my NIK filters (though the NIK people assure me they are working on a solution to that), so I felt as if half my tools were missing. The software would not remember my library locations, no matter how many times I opened it.

And of course, without a WiFi connection, your tools don’t exist. Vapor-ware has finally come of age.

The third day after signing on, I signed off. Adobe has the absolutely worst, most inept customer service I’ve yet to experience — and that’s saying a lot. Long telephone wait times (“Your business is so important to us that we have put you on hold and play merry tunes to keep you grinding your teeth”) combined with operators who don’t know anything about the products they are supposed to service.

Nothing. At all. “How can I help you?” is a trick question. No matter how simple the question, they have to go ask someone, leaving you on hold. Again. It took hours to cancel the contract with me giving them every possible identifying detail of the contract. It doesn’t bode well for customer support should you decide to subscribe long-term.

It’s all part of the plot to make repairable equipment obsolete … probably to make us obsolete too.

A year ago, ZDNet declared:

The repairable PC is dead

… Amazon … launched their Workspaces offering yesterday. (It) provides a remote Windows environment … to run all your business-critical and personal applications in EC2.

Amazon is certainly not the first service provider to do this, but its endorsement of the technology speaks volumes about where we as an industry are going.

You don’t need an expandable, serviceable PC to get to that desktop and the applications that are hosted there. Indeed, Windows still serves a very key role in that scenario, but within the datacenter and public clouds. —  From ZDNet, November 15, 2013

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They keep telling us we are obsolete. So far, they’ve been wrong, but they’ll keep at it until eventually, they will make it true. Now that subscription is the “way to go” in the software biz, those of us who can’t afford subscriptions will inevitably fall behind. There will be no place for us in the new scheme of things.

I don’t mind old versions of applications if my tools get the job done. I have gone for years without upgrading. But corporations don’t make big money selling software to folks like me.

Enter subscriptions. No more nasty upgrades. We’ll always have “the latest version” (assuming this is a good thing, which I doubt) because we will rent software, not own it.

If you are one of millions of computer users living on a fixed income — or merely poor — this is terrible news.

If you’re barely surviving, subscribing isn’t an option.

When my PCs stop working, as one of them recently did, before replacing it, I call Jeremy, the computer fix-it guy.  He comes to the house. Replaces the broken bits. Cleans out viruses and generally tunes it up. I give him a hundred bucks, he gives me a card with his number on it so if the problems come back, he will come back too, no charge.

I don’t quickly decide to dump my equipment. There has to be a problem that can’t be worked around or fixed. I can’t afford to replace things only because I want something new and shiny. The computer that was not working for me has been re-homed with my granddaughter. Eventually it will need to be reloaded, but if she treats it gently, it will last for years. Despite its inadequate graphics card.

Aside from not having money to replace things on a whim, I hate the whole idea of disposing of stuff so casually. I deplore our throwaway society and its mindset. It’s destroying our planet, trashing the environment. Polluting landfills. Making a profligate society even more wasteful.

It’s the definition of how we’ve gone wrong.

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Does no one in the computer industry look at the effects of their business in a social context? Does no one recognize a moral parameter to business at all? Do they not realize what a dangerous path we are treading?

If one thing is going to doom our world, throwing stuff away rather than fixing it will put us on the fast track to doom.

Long time ago when Garry and I were working a ridiculous number of hours, we started using paper plates to avoid washing dishes. After a while, I found myself washing the paper plates. I couldn’t bear to throw them out.

That was when I rediscovered the concept of reusability. I remembered I had real dishes in my cupboard. I could wash and use them again! Revelation!

We are turning into a world of paper plate users. Everything, from your car to your computer, to your kitchen appliances is junk. If it stops working, dump it. Don’t even think about fixing it.

Change your cell phone every six months. Toss the old one. When in doubt, throw it out.

Because we hold fast to the myth that somewhere on our planet, there is a giant, bottomless hole into which the trash goes. It will never fill up, so we don’t have to worry about conserving resources. If only it were true.

TECHNOLOGY CHANGES. PEOPLE DON’T.

Buyers, Beware? — The year is 2214. Your computer’s dusty hard drive has resurfaced at an antique store. Write a note to the curious buyer explaining what he or she will find there.


Yesterday, I transferred ownership of the my Dell XPS laptop to the (hopefully) loving arms of my granddaughter. Kaity’s computer up and died. It was the computer I gave her when she started high school 3 years ago. It was a cheap computer. I’m surprised it lasted this long.

dell xps 15r

The XPS she inherited is not a cheap computer. Top of the line, state of the art when I bought it. With a fast 750 (7200) GB hard drive, 8 gigs of RAM, and an Intel Core i7 processor. It is still superior to most of the crap they are selling these days. Fatal flaw? Graphics-cum-audio card. When I bought it, it was the only choice. They didn’t offer another video card and no other card fits in its slot, so upgrading was not an option. How Apple of them!

It wasn’t a big issue in the beginning, but as photography has gained prominence in my world, the inadequacies of the graphics card have become serious. Blue screens follow every use of Photoshop. Recovering from these crashes is harder each time. The card shares space with sound, so I can’t listen to an audiobook while photo editing. It kind of took the fun out of it.

With no way to fix it, I reluctantly replaced it.

Yesterday, Kaity dropped by to collect the computer and snag a few bucks to put gas in her car. I hoped to reload it before passing it on (I have the original windows installation disk) but life got in the way. The operating system is cranky. With a reload, it could easily run for years … as long as Kaity understands its limitations, doesn’t mistreat it, allow it to overheat, or drop it.

What’s on that hard drive?

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39,000 (give or take a few hundred) photographs. No worries, mate. I transferred all of them to external drives. They are as safe as modern technology can make them. There are also 3000 documents including my novel, illustrations, covers, and the stuff I put to together to promote it … before I got cancer and somehow the book wasn’t all that important.

Applications. Card games. Scrabble. Photoshop. Lightroom. Chrome. Specialized software for Canon. Software for Panasonic and Olympus cameras.

Since Photoshop CS5, I haven’t needed the special Olympus software anyhow. Maybe I deleted it. Not sure. Buried in there are also versions of Photoshop Elements and Corel PaintShop Pro which were my fallback positions until I got my own Adobe licenses.

72-Peacham-SundayB_068

Open Office is on that drive. I stopped liking what Microsoft did to MS Office. I found Open Office and have been using it for the past decade. Price? Free, but they appreciate contributions from developers and civilians. It will open and edit documents created by pretty much any office application, except Framemaker (Adobe) and no one uses Frame except weirdos like me.

Tens of thousands of system files. Windows is bloated. Somewhere in every Windows computer are every other version of Windows. Microsoft does not clean up their code. Ever.

The computer Kaity inherited is a time capsule. You can see the changes computers have gone through in their passage from office machines to the one thing we can’t live without.

200 years from now? The hard drive (or whatever they will call it) will be made of different stuff. It will easily contain a universe of data with no moving parts. It won’t ever wear out but it will become obsolete every couple of years anyway because the profit motive won’t disappear either.

theater district boston night

A personal computer (maybe called something else but performing the same functions) will be part of everyone’s life. As will a communication device and a personal vehicle. There’ll be many kinds of media players. If not TVs, then something which performs entertainment functions. Everything we have now will be there in the future.

We will need food, shelter, transportation, entertainment, ways to organize and distribute information. We will read and write. We will have old and new ways to create art. People will live in old houses they restored and modern houses with all the bells and whistles — just like they do now and always have. We will build places to live, furniture, and toys for children.

These things define us as people.

Unless we make our planet unlivable, we will change the form of what we use, but the functions will continue. Technology changes. People don’t.

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?