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.

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.

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.

JUST A FEW MINUTES

Flash Talk - You’re about to enter a room full of strangers, where you will have exactly four minutes to tell a story that would convey who you really are. What’s your story?


computer and keyboard

“Good morning. You are,” glancing at my résumé on his desk, “Marilyn Armstrong. And you’re here about the … ” pausing to look at another piece of paper, “Technical writing position.”

“Technical writer,” I nod. “That’s me.”

“Tell me about yourself.”

The dreaded moment. What do they want to really know? Theoretically, all they need is whether I can do the work, which obviously I can. My credentials speak for themselves. They want to know if I’ll ‘fit in’ to their ‘corporate culture.’ Whether they or the other people in the department will like me.

Competency? They could give a rat’s ass. It’s all about being likable and I don’t feel convivial. I hate interviews. Even when I’m doing the interviewing.

Speaking of which, I have a heartbeat to turn this around. “I’d appreciate your telling me something about your company and the position before I proceed,” I respond. I’m smiling broadly. Very phony too. Because I already know this job is not for me. It’s too corporate, too stitched up and formal. I can tell by the clothing everyone is wearing. By the cubicles I passed that are so antiseptic, it doesn’t look like anyone works in them. No pictures on the walls. No toys on the desk. No happy murmur of people hanging out near the coffee machine. And as far as I can tell … no coffee machine to hang out by. High tech is fueled by coffee and take-out pizza. If there’s no coffee machine, that’s a very bad sign.

“Blah blah yada yada blah blah blah,” he says.

“Yada yada blah blah,” I respond.

“I can do this job,” I finally say, tired of the crap and getting a headache. “I know database design, object-linked and relational. I can write a manual from preface to index as long as I have periodic access to the design engineers and a playpen for testing.”

“You want to get hands on?” he says. Alarmed.

“I won’t write about a product I have never tested,” I say. “I write manuals, not fiction.”

“The engineers can tell you how it works.”

“The engineers will tell me how they think it is going to work. Between that and reality can lie a vast wasteland into which customers — your customers — can wander and never be seen again. Think of me as a double threat — writer and beta tester in one adorable package,” and I give him another smile.

He is perturbed. It turns out they don’t have a working prototype. No one is exactly sure what the user interface will look like because … they haven’t created it yet. And all the engineers are Russian, which is fine, except they are creating the GUI and they don’t write English so good, you know? Did you ever wonder about those inscrutable menu selections? This is how they got there.

And the completely irrational placement of critical functions? No user (not an engineer or developer) tested the product before release. Seemed okay to them, you know?

And so it goes, and so it went. And that’s why the manual that (maybe) came with your expensive device or software seems to bear no resemblance to how it really works. Because I didn’t write it.

The ‘Internet Slowdown’ Is Coming: Tech Giants to Protest FCC’s Net Neutrality Proposal

 THE FIGHT FOR NET NEUTRALITY IS EVERYONE’S FIGHT

Etsy, Kickstarter are holding a day of action on September 10 as the deadline approaches for public comments on the proposed ‘fast lane’ rules.

Source: www.entrepreneur.com

This is a fight we cannot afford to lose. No matter how little of the technology you understand, we all use it. Cell phones, Netflix and other WiFi television connectors, computers, Kindles. Much of our lives are based on the availability of fast, dependable Internet connections.

If we lose this fight, we will be looking back on these days as those glorious days when we were all equal on the net … because we won’t be any longer.

See on Scoop.itIn and About the News

NEED TO KNOW (NCIS, 2012) AND MY PACEMAKER

EPISODE: Need to Know (2012) – SHORT SYNOPSIS:

Alan Katzenbach, a lawyer, waits for Gibbs with his client, a chief petty officer named Leland Wiley. Wiley was busted for drugs and wants to trade his info — which he says is about national security. It concerns Agah Bayar, the arms dealer. Gibbs is interested. Wiley comes over to talk, but grabs his heart and drops to the ground.

ncis-need-to-know

Gibbs comes for the update from Ducky. Turns out, Wiley had top security clearance and his workstation is locked down. They haven’t been able to connect him to Bayar yet.

Abby calls Gibbs to the lab. She tells him Wiley’s pacemaker was linked into a computer to monitor it. Someone hacked in and jacked his heart rate up to 400 beats per minute.

“Somebody murdered Wiley by remote control,” she says.


What does this have to do with me?

Well, glad you asked. This episode so intrigued the heart surgery team at Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston (where I had all that heart surgery last March), that they decided to find out if it really could be done. One of the people that performed the experiment was my surgeon.

They did it. My surgeon did point out as far as they could tell, to actually hack a pacemaker you had to be no more than a couple of feet from it. Nonetheless, they made the manufacturer change the programming.

In theory, nobody can hack my pacemaker.

I find this comforting. Garry finds it disturbing and I suppose I can see where he’s coming from. He doesn’t like thinking about the mechanical and electronic stuff that keeps me alive. It would creep me out too, but I’m a bit of a geek.

RBB-pacemaker

I find the technology sufficiently interesting to overcome its inherent creepiness. It is creepy. However, it doesn’t matter. No matter how I feel about it, I’ve got this thing in my chest. It keeps my heart beating. If my heart beat on its own, I wouldn’t need the pacemaker.

Every time I go for a pacemaker checkup, they use a little machine and briefly stop the pacemaker to see if my heart will beat without it. My heart stops beating. Talk about creepy. It is a very unpleasant — and indescribable — sensation. Anyone with a pacemaker knows what I mean.

The blue tooth remote functions still work. They are (in theory) more secure than they were a couple of years ago, before the NCIS episode aired and the guys got curious about it. Remote functionality is important. After all, I might need a tune-up. Blue tooth lets my doctor access my pacemaker from … how far? I don’t actually know. A considerable distance, whatever that is.

Garry — again — doesn’t want to know about it. I pointed out if someone murders me, this is potentially important evidence. He would still rather not think about it.

So there we are. Too creepy?

I can feel my pacemaker. It sits on my left shoulder. The outline is visible. I can feel the wires, the connections through my skin. I find it impossible to ignore. I might as well find it interesting. It’s part of me, after all.