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?

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.

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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.

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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.

THE END OF THE ROAD FOR WINDOWS AND ME

Summary: Windows 10 will build in standards-based two-factor authentication to every device, effectively neutering most phishing attacks and password database breaches. The company also announced new features aimed at securing corporate machines from malware attacks and data leaks.

screenshot-www.zdnet.com 2014-10-23 12-39-55

The summary of Ed Bott’s column on the upcoming Windows 10 appalled me. Sickened me. Frightened me. The rest of the article confirmed my worst fears. I’m walking the final piece of road with Microsoft. The end of the road for me and Windows.

IN WITH THE NEW

The handwriting has been on my wall for a while.

Since April, my primary computer has been my Dell XPS 15 laptop. It has a fast motherboard, 8 GB RAM, 750 GB at 7500 HD, a backlit keyboard, high def monitor, a DVD that plays Blu-Ray, and a 9-cell battery. It weighs like a cannonball.

I use a lap desk with two fans to cool it. I treat it well, keep it clean. It’s never been dropped.

WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

Glad you asked. The graphics card is inadequate. It’s a card with both sound and graphics on it, so I can’t listen to anything while I work in Photoshop. And even so, it locks. It used to recover and knowing the source of the problem, (insufficient video RAM), I rebooted frequently. Mostly, it was okay. Lately, it has stopped recovering. It goes down, stays down. Hard crashes and blue screens of death.

Last week, it gave me a black screen — fatal error — which told me it did not recognize its power source. It was plugged into an AC outlet, so I suspect the battery is starting to go.

For months now, it has refused to install Microsoft updates, except antivirus. I figured I didn’t really need the updates, but I’d have to be stupid to not see the warnings. My faithful laptop is getting tired. Some day soon, it’s going to quit.

SO WHAT DID YOU ORDER? TELL ALL, PLEASE!

Possibly for the first time, I got enough computer to do what I need to do. It’s a gaming laptop, Alienware 14. It has 16 gigs of RAM, a dedicated 2 gig video card. DVD reader/writer. High definition graphics. Heavier than I’d like at 6 pounds, but nothing lighter had all the features I want.

Alienware14-laptops

It looks like my new computer will be my last Windows machine. It’s the most powerful Alienware computer I could configure — based on Windows 7. It had better last a long time because I’ve tried using Windows 8 on Microsoft’s tablets (1 running RT and the other running Windows 8.1). I’ve also put in some time using my friend’s Windows 8.1 desktop.

I hated it. From Mr. Bott’s description, the worst of the problems of Windows 8 will become “the features” of Windows 10 or whatever they decide to call it. This is not a new approach in the high-tech world, mind you. It’s a classic, the “smoke and mirrors” approach.

“OH NO, that isn’t a bug … IT’S A FEATURE!”

You heard me right. It isn’t that Microsoft has made it impossible to run non-Microsoft products on that computer you bought. They are protecting you from the big, bad, world. Nor are they are providing you with a viable alternative to the way you used to work. They are requiring you play in their ballpark. A tiny world that has limited tools and applications to do whatever it is you do. If you want to do other things and they don’t have what you need? Gee … I guess that’s too bad. Microsoft figures it can set the rules. They own you. All you zombies will march in step and pay them money for the privilege.

Not this zombie. And not a whole lot of my fellow zombies. Mind you I am no great fan of Mac, either. I have a heavy investment in windows-based software, which is how come I have put up with all this crap so far … but there is a line over which you cannot push me. You cannot tell me I have to live in your universe to the exclusion of all others “for my own safety.” If my mother couldn’t do it, Microsoft definitely cannot.

No matter what you believe, it’s MY world. MY computer. MY money. MY investment, work, effort, and creativity. You will not force me to do it your way. This is not happening. Thanks for warning me, though. I’ll start saving now for the huge investment I will have to make in the future to change to a different system. And shame on all you tech authors for trying to sell this as a good thing. For not saying that the obvious end result of this shill game is the end of freedom of choice for anyone who buys into Microsoft’s new operating systems.

And so, Mr. Bott, you who wrote this article for ZDnet — Whatever happened to your journalistic ethics? Did they pay you to dump them or merely 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 biz as a writer, we limited the shilling for sponsored products to the “new products” columns and didn’t feature the lies. We were encouraged to use judgment and commonsense when writing lead articles because we still thought our subscribers were the people to whom we answered.

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


In conjunction with today’s Daily Prompt – Ready, Set, Done – free writing exercise. I think this may have taken more than 10 minutes (but not much more) and it is I have to say.

IN WITH THE NEW

The handwriting has been on my wall for a while.

Since April, my primary computer has been my Dell XPS 15 laptop. It has a fast motherboard, 8 GB RAM, 750 GB at 7500 HD, a backlit keyboard, high def monitor, a DVD that plays Blu-Ray, and a 9-cell battery. It weighs like a cannonball.

I use a lap desk with two fans to cool it. I treat it well, keep it clean. It’s never been dropped.

WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

Glad you asked. The graphics card is inadequate. It’s a card with both sound and graphics on it, so I can’t listen to anything while I work in Photoshop. And even so, it locks. It used to recover and knowing the source of the problem, (insufficient video RAM), I rebooted frequently. Mostly, it was okay. Lately, it has stopped recovering. It goes down, stays down. Hard crashes and blue screens of death.

Alienware14-laptops

Last week, it gave me a black screen — fatal error — which told me it did not recognize its power source. It was plugged into an AC outlet, so I suspect the battery is starting to go.

For months now, it has refused to install Microsoft updates, except antivirus. I figured I didn’t really need the updates, but I’d have to be stupid to not see the warnings. My faithful laptop is getting tired. Some day soon, it’s going to quit.

I bought this computer in March 2012. It was refurbished, a year old when I got it. Buying refurbished let me buy more computer. I had gotten serious about blogging. Also, recently out of the hospital. I had (have) a desktop, but I needed a laptop. This was top of the line then, and if you look at the specs, it is still better than 90% of the new computers on the market … except it has grown old. For two and a half years, this laptop has taken whatever I threw at it without (much) complaint. What it did in the year before I got it, I have no way of knowing except that it had some mileage on it.

I could wait until it dies. Probably in the middle of writing a post. Not a smart move, especially considering the issues swirling around Microsoft. Namely, Windows 8. I hate Windows 8.

BUT WHY DON’T YOU BUY A MAC?

Alienware14-keyboard

With all of its quirks, Microsoft never screwed me over the way Apple did. Every expensive Apple computer I bought was obsolete mere weeks after buying it. Apple always assured me the new machine would be upgradeable. They lied. In 1999, they did it again. I had barely had time to set up the new system before Apple made it obsolete.

“This is,” I said aloud, “the last time Apple is going to screw me.”

I donated the Apple to my alma mater. I bought the most powerful Windows 98 PC I could afford, which — with upgrades — ran flawlessly for 6 years. I never bought another Macintosh product until an iPhone snuck into my world a year ago.

I want nothing to do with Macs. I don’t like the inaccessibility of the operating system or the hardware. I don’t find it intuitive. I find it confusing and annoying. I want a PC, thank you. But not Windows 8. From what I’m hearing, I don’t want the upcoming Windows 10, either.

BUY NOW OR DIE LATER

Which put me into a bind. Windows 7 machines are disappearing. Even a few weeks ago, there were more choices. Despite the other issues we have, I need a new laptop. This is what credit is for … and that’s why I buy from Dell. Because when no one else would give me credit, they did.

alienware-back

SO WHAT DID YOU ORDER? TELL ALL, PLEASE!

Possibly for the first time, I got enough computer to do what I need to do. It’s a gaming laptop, Alienware 14. It has 16 gigs of RAM, a dedicated 2 gig video card. DVD reader/writer. High definition graphics. Heavier than I’d like at 6 pounds, but nothing lighter had all the features I want.

Here are the specs for my fellow geeks:

  • 4th Gen Intel Core i7-4710MQ processor (6MB Cache, up to 3.5GHz w/ Turbo Boost)
  • 14.0 inch WLED FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS Anti-Glare Display
  • 16GB Dual Channel DDR3L 1600MHz (2x8GB)
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 765M with 2GB GDDR5
  • Intel 802.11n/ac Wireless and Bluetooth 4.0 driver
  • 1TB 5400RPM SATA 6Gb/s
  • Windows 7 Professional 64 bit Service Pack 1, English, w/Media
  • Optical Drive : Slot-Loading 8x SuperMulti Drive (DVD/R/RW)
  • Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 @ 5GHz + Bluetooth 4.0
  • Backlit English Keyboard
  • US 110V Power Cord
  • Battery : Primary 6-cell 69W/HR
  • Power Supply : Alienware 150W AC Adapter
  • Alienware 14 Silver Anodized Aluminum

It won’t be here till the beginning of November, but I think I’m good until then. I sure hope so!

Oh, they threw in a free 7″ Android tablet. I don’t know what I’ll do with it, but I guess I’ll figure it out. And a $150 gift card. For accessories.

COILS, LOOPS, TANGLES, AND WIRE

Cee’s Odd Ball Photo Challenge: Week 34

I think every photographer has a few subjects that he or she just loves shooting, but no one quite “gets it.” Except me … and other photographers.

My oddball thing are wires, hoses, knots, rope, and other things that are complicated and twisted. Tangles of things, including roads. There’s no logical reason why I find these interesting to shoot, but I do. And, here are a few!

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wires and blue sky

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old number two coil hose

cows in the pasture

JUMPING ON THE BANDWAGON

Avant Garde – From your musical tastes to your political views, were you ever way ahead of the rest of us, adopting the new and the emerging before everyone else? (Daily Prompt)


96-PhoneAndComputer-1

That’s an interesting questions. What makes it interesting is I’m not sure where “everyone else” was. I knew where I was at. I knew where my personal friends were, what they liked, what they were “into.” How do you know if your taste in art is avant-garde or merely different? If everyone eventually decides what you liked is what they like, does that mean you were ahead of your time? What if you have obscure taste in art or literature and it never becomes popular?

Is there a “standard”? A set of cultural norms of which one can be ahead or behind?

After I got involved in high-tech, I was probably somewhere on the leading edge of that, but I was never way out in front. I was computer savvy when most people weren’t — yet — but the masses would catch up with me in short order, and surpass me in many areas.

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I was always retarded about music. I like (liked)(will like) classical and folk plus some other rock n’ roll that (for whatever reason) speaks to me. I liked the Beatles and the Stones, but there was nothing avant-garde about that. Art? I was (am) pretty much stuck in the impressionist era, which is not merely not avant-garde. It isn’t even garde. If the year had been 1875, I would have been a trendsetter, but I was a hundred years late for that.

robby and bouquet

I’ve always been good at seeing where things were going, what the world (specifically technology) would be in another 10, 20, 50 years. Being able to see future directions didn’t (doesn’t) mean I was (am) trendy or liked the directions I saw. It was obvious to me from the first time I put my hands on a computer that this was the way the world would go. I was in love with computers from the beginning and there was never any question in my mind that was the way of the future.

I saw cell phones too as the future. Useful, though I didn’t personally like them. I found them intrusive, invasive — and still do. It didn’t stop me from getting one for Garry as soon as they were became available. Mobile phones were a huge help to him professionally. I don’t think that made me avant-garde, just practical.

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If you want avant-garde, look to leaders, bellwethers, trendsetters — developers, thinkers, authors, artists, writers, musicians. People who create. These are the true trend setters who move our culture in new directions. It’s not people like me. I’m just an “adopter.” A bandwagon jumper. Computers are the only “bandwagon” I jumped on ahead of the rest of the world, but my motivations had nothing to do with style or fashion. I saw it as the way the world was going and an avenue to make a living. It was an opportunity.

I am not a fashionista or a leader. I am practical. I adopt what suits me and mine. I’m not arty or trendy. I use and enjoy that which will improve my life, ignore what I don’t find appealing or useful.

Probably I am the exactly opposite of avant-garde, wouldn’t you say?

WINNING

SWEEPING MOTIONS: My desk and bedroom are fine. Even our car is tidy. I’m sure I have a messy closet somewhere. It’s my brain which could use a thorough tidying. Here’s a great memory moment from the clutter of my brain. One of my favorites.


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.

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.