Technology

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.

COULD YOU REPEAT THAT?

Bad Signal — Someone’s left you a voicemail message, but all you can make out are the last words: “I’m sorry. I should’ve told you months ago. Bye.” Who is it from, and what is this about?


We used to leave messages on our answering machines telling folks to speak slowly and clearly, but too many people thought we were being funny, that leaving a coherent message was a joke. So we get lots of incoherent messages. Usually, with caller ID, we know who called and can retrieve the number, but the contents of the message is gobbledy-gook.

“Garry, your brother called. No idea what he said. Call him, okay?”

“Hey, Jim called about something. Call him when you have a moment.”

“One of your cousins called. They left a message but I can’t dope it out.”

My favorite: “Someone called. Maybe it was important. They left a number but I can’t understand it.  Guess it wasn’t important enough.” Note: If it really is important and we don’t call back? Pick up the phone and call again. Seriously. If it’s that important, make sure we got the message.

If you choose to leave a message, speak up. Clearly. Repeat the phone number at least twice. Don’t forget to include your name — in case we don’t actually know you as well as you think we do.

Don’t mumble.

While we’re on the subject, how about those cell phones, eh? On which you can’t hear anything? From either end? I miss telephones on which you knew you had a connection that wouldn’t drop and on which you could hear what someone said to you — and know they could hear you.

“Can you hear me? Hello? Are you still there?”

It’s 1904 all over again. Without wires or operators.

The other night, my husband and I watched — for the umpteenth time — Meet Me In St. Louis. It’s the old Judy Garland musical. Vincent Minnelli directed it. Great movie, one of our favorites. Terrific songs, Margaret O’Brien about as cute as a kid can be. Nostalgia on the hoof.

The story is set in 1904 when the World’s Fair was coming to St. Louis. Telephones in private homes were the hot new technology. A call from a distant city was a big deal. Early in the story, the oldest sister, Rose, receives a long-distance call from New York.

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FROM “Meet Me In St. Louis” — SCENE: The phone rings.

Rose Smith: Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?

Warren Sheffield: Yes, I can hear you. (Pause)

Rose Smith: What did you say, Warren?

Warren Sheffield: Nothing. I was waiting for you to talk

Rose Smith: Oh. Well, did you want to discuss anything in particular?

Warren Sheffield: What?

Rose Smith: I said, was there anything special you wanted to ask me

Warren Sheffield: I can’t hear you, Rose

Rose Smith: That’s funny. I can hear you plainly

Warren Sheffield: Isn’t this great? Here I am in New York and there you are in St. Louis and it’s just like you’re in the next room.

Rose Smith: What was that?


ANOTHER SCENE: TODAY, MASSACHUSETTS

Me: Hello? Hello? Cherrie?

Cherrie: (Faintly) Hello? I’m in New York … (something I can’t understand) … signal.

Me: Bad signal?

Cherrie: No signal.

Me: How are you?

Cherrie: Tired. Running around.

Me: Miss you.

Cherrie: Miss you too. Having trouble getting a signal here.

Me: We watched “Meet Me In St. Louis” last night. Remember the phone call from New York? We’ve gone back there. Worse. THEY had a better connection.

Cherrie: (Laughter.) You’re right.” (More laughter.)

Me: I don’t think this is progress. (Long pause.) Cherrie? Hello? Are you there? (Long pause.) No, you aren’t there.

(Click. Sigh. Pause. Ring. Ring.)

Me: Cherrie?

Cherrie: Can you hear me?

Me: I can hear you, can you hear ME?

Cherrie: Hello? Hello? (Pause, faint sounds.) Is this better?

Me: Yes. A bit.

Cherrie: I turned my head and lost the signal. Boy, was that perfect timing or what?

Me: We couldn’t have done it better if we’d scripted it.

Cherrie: I’ll call you when I get back. I think I’m  losing … (Silence.)


I love progress. Especially how advanced technology has made everything so much better and easier.

A G-SPOT FINDER APP?

Back when I was very much younger and hornier, there were lots of discussions about The Spot. You know. That critical, yet somehow elusive spot on the female anatomy?

I assumed I knew what everyone was talking even though it never had a name. We never call anything by its proper name because despite there being nothing dirty, offensive, or immoral about using correct names for body parts, we are prissy about sex.

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This bashful unwillingness to just say what we mean produces some bizarre communication problems between the sexes. It’s akin to taking a vacation but not being allowed to say the name of the hotel. You can only identify it as The Resort. You are also forbidden to give the street number. It’s “somewhere on Main Street.” Good luck finding your destination.

It’s not only men who can’t find The Spot on wives or girl friends. It’s also persons of the female persuasion who (apparently) can’t find it on themselves.

Say what? A friend of mind commented that even if the finger can’t figure out which does what, the spot itself should immediately contact the brain with the information — DING, DING, DING, THIS IS THE SPOT!

So what’s with all these girls growing up who can’t find it? I’ll bet every little boy in the world knows where his Spot is. He didn’t have to take a seminar. His brain said “Right here!”

More relationships have been destroyed by a woman’s inability to say “A quarter inch to the left, please” than by adultery. The same people who fight, argue, email, text and post online the most intimate details of their lives, are unable to tell a partner that he (she?) is missing The Spot. Oh puleeze.

I thought we got squared away on this 50 years ago. Or more. Apparently not. What are all the people who can’t find The Spot doing in bed?

The time has come for technology to take a hand (no pun intended). We need an app for that. How about one for the iPhone? Grab your phone and like a Geiger counter, it tells you when you’re hot — and when you’re not.

As you zero in, the Hot Spot Finder App says “YOU HAVE REACHED YOUR DESTINATION!” in stentorian tones. The Hallelujah Chorus starts playing.

Everyone uses a mobile phone for everything, so let’s solve this problem once and for all. Please, give us an app for that!

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

72-Alien_103014_22

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.

A WELL-SPICED SUCCESS STORY

The Spice of Success — If “failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor” (Truman Capote), how spicy do you like your success stories?

I ran this in mid-October, but it is so “on the button” for this prompt (and I have to be out of here shortly to go vote and other early morning stuff) that it seemed a perfect time to post it again.

Tech writing is not the kind of career which grants one victories or notable success stories. It’s a job. A good job if you are lucky. When you do well, you may be rewarded with further employment and a bigger paycheck. Real victories are few and far between. Sweet success moments are too few to count.

This was a big one — maybe the only one of its kind in the 40 years of my professional life — thus worth retelling. Personally, I never get tired of it. Perhaps the scarcity of winning moments makes this one all the more dear.


In the mid 1980s in Israel, I worked at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot with the team developing DB1, the first relational database. Those familiar with databases and their history should go “Ooh, aah.” Feel free to be awed. These are my bona fides certifying my “original geekhood.”

I was never a developer, just a computer-savvy writer, but I worked extensively on Quix, the first real-English query language and documented DB-1. I was eventually put in charge of creating promotional materials to sell the project to IBM. They bought it and from it, DB2 and all other relational databases emerged. Cool beans, right?

Technical writing was new. In 1983, it didn’t have a name. I was a pioneer. I didn’t chop down forests or slaughter aboriginal inhabitants, but I went where no one had gone before. Breaking new ground was exciting and risky.

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The president of the group was named Micah. He was the “money guy.” Micah knew less about computers than me, but wielded serious clout. His money was paying our salaries, rent, and keeping the lights on. The definition of clout.

As the day approached when the team from IBM was due, it was time for me to present the materials I had created with Ruth, a graphic artist who had been my art director at the failed newspaper I’d managed the previous year. (This was well before computers could generate graphics properly.) Ruth was amazing with an airbrush. I’ve never seen better work.

The presentation materials were as perfect as Ruth and I could make them. I had labored over that text and she had done a brilliant job creating graphics that illustrated the product, its unique capabilities and benefits. And so it came time for the pre-IBM all-hands-on-deck meeting.

Micah didn’t like me. His dislike wasn’t based on anything I did or even my disputable personality. He didn’t like women in the workplace. I was undeniably female. As was Ruth. Strike one, strike two. At the meeting, he looked at our materials and announced “We need better material. I’ve heard there’s a real hot-shot in Jerusalem. I’ve seen his work. It’s fantastic. We should hire him.” And he stared at me and sneered.

Onto the table he tossed booklets as well as other promotional and presentation materials for a product being developed in Haifa at the Technion. I looked at the stuff.

“That’s my work, ” I said.

“No it isn’t,” he said firmly. “I’ve heard it was created by the best technical writer in the country.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “Me.”

He was not done with humiliating himself. He insisted a phone be brought to the table and he called his friend Moshe in Jerusalem. I’d worked for Moshe, quitting because although I liked the man, he couldn’t keep his hands to himself. I had a bad-tempered, jealous husband — something I didn’t feel obliged to reveal.

Moshe gave Micah the name of The Hot Shot. It was me.

“Oh,” said Micah. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have to. The deadpan faces around the table were elegant examples of people trying desperately to not laugh. Micah wasn’t a guy you laughed at, not if you wanted to keep your job.

It was a moment of triumph so sweet — so rare — nothing else in my working life came close. I won one for The Team, for professional women everywhere. Eat it, Micah.

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. […]

CLARKE’S THREE LAWS OF PREDICTION

NASA's own time machine

NASA’s own time machine

Formulated by the British author Arthur C. Clarke, these three laws — especially the last one — are accepted as science fiction “fact.”

Clarke’s three laws are so ubiquitous in the literature, they are (with Asimov’s laws of robotry), the basis of many stories by a wide spectrum of authors in the science fiction and fantasy genres.

For your enlightenment:

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Murphy’s Corollary to Clarke’s Law: Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.

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