SUICIDE OR CUSTOMER SERVICE? CLOSE CALL – Marilyn Armstrong

Just as I was thinking I finally had it all more or less under control, Garry’s iPad decided to NOT work this morning. This is probably because they put a new operating system on it last night. I know this because I went to use my mini and it was getting a new operating system, so I assumed Garry’s was getting one too if not at that precise moment, then sometime really soon

So, when Garry went to use it this morning, nothing worked. It refused his password, didn’t recognize his email. Basically, it was gone. Garry has zero patience with all things mechanical or electronic. The only reason he no longer kills every vacuum cleaner instantly is because I threatened him with permanent injury if he broke another one.

I don’t care how he feels about dirt. You have to empty it even if it is inconvenient and will make the process take an extra five minutes.

Computers? Oh, that is so much worse. I do not believe he is nearly as technologically inept as he seems. He doesn’t like technology, doesn’t want to deal with it, and has no patience with it. He wants to turn it on and after that, it’s supposed to work. Without any problems, ever.

He handed me his iPad. “I don’t have time for this,” he said. We had no plans for the day. It’s just he wanted to take a shower and watch some baseball. What he meant was “You always have time for this, so fix it. I’ll be back later.”

If there was one thing I didn’t want to do, it was call Apple customer service. My eyes rolled back in my head. I pretended I was dead. That didn’t work, so I looked up the number and called Apple. After bypassing the robot (why do I even try to talk to them?), I got a Person.

I told him that I was not in a good mood, that my recent encounters with his colleagues had not been positive, and I wanted this to get fixed really fast or I was going to stuff it back in the box and send it back and then they could figure out what to do with it. I’d had enough.

It didn’t take the 15 minutes I hoped for, but eventually, with repetitions of doing the same things we’d done before (and before and before), eventually, we got it to work. Without a password and no credit card. Loaded with Chrome. Garry’s iCloud email was deleted and if not deleted, no one will ever use it because the only people who know it exists are me and Garry and we aren’t talking.

Meanwhile, Microsoft tried to insert the broken download again. It failed. I ignored it. When they get it to work, I’m sure someone will let me know. Or it would install. I should mention that that’s the last time I let Microsoft mess with my computer. I had to completely revise my sound and they left all kinds of little applications laying around my desktop. If you’re going to borrow my computer for your research, clean up your junk when you’re done.

The Apple guy on the phone this morning was very nice. It was just that he was maybe the fifth or sixth Apple tech in a couple of days — and I’ve had it. NO tolerance left with anyone saying “I know it’s awkward, but that’s how Apple does it” after which he admitted that personally, he uses a PC and finds Macs annoying. Too many fiddly security things.

I said: “Thank you. So far, nothing I’ve done on a Mac has been easier than it was on the PC and as for photography, it’s at least 50% more difficult to do the simplest stuff. I understand about security, but at some point, most of us will ease up on security with the aim of just sending the email without having to enter one more (“Please make it something you will easily remember”) password.

This was also before I discovered my own little mini 4 was going to need to be fixed, too … but by then I was pretty good at it. I’ve had quite a lot of lessons in Mac management the past week.

I think we got it done. But that’s it. I can’t take any more. I’m finished. Not merely is dealing with these people infuriating, but it is incredibly boring. I may not do much with my days, but sitting on the phone arguing with people who know less than I do about computers is not on my list of choices.

You could drive a gal to suicide this way, you know that? I’d rather get my teeth drilled before I deal with customer service again.

Except my doctor’s office. I love them.

HAVE YOU BEEN EATING TIDE? – Marilyn Armstrong

EATING TIDE? I THINK I’VE BEEN EATING COMPUTERS AND OPERATING SYSTEMS

I was trying to figure out if I was writing about idiot teenagers eating Tide pods, or the endless tides of the ocean, or how one day is total insanity and by the next, everything has completely calmed down. In tide, out tide.

Whoever said that getting a Mac was the easiest thing in the world meant well and probably, that was their experience. But life is what it is and it can be very easy or ridiculously — and needlessly — complicated.

I was supposed to get a call from Mac to help me set up my Mac. I had a few questions I needed answered because it has been a long time since I used a Mac … 25 years, maybe more. The machines have undergone substantial changes during that period. One of the things with any new computer that runs on a different system is “what do you call that thing that does that other thing?”

Me and a camera, two matching Scottish terriers, and sunshine through the picture window.

Mostly, I needed to set up preferences and for some reason, my preference file wouldn’t open. It would bounce like it should, but no menu. Just the empty bar and “customize” as the single drop-down option.

I wanted to change the security settings so I would not be limited to ONLY buying things from the Apple App store. It’s a big wide world and I do not like being told what to do by a computer. Any computer. Especially not MY computer.

I wanted to get rid of the password. I need these machines to be something Garry can access in case I’m not sitting next to him to help. There’s information on here he might need and even though he has my password, probably stored in many places, he is unlikely to find the most recent one anyway. Passwords, like the tide, keep changing. Sometimes they really want that underscore or hyphen … and sometimes, only the birth caul, blood of a newborn plus a full enchantment might do the job.


“But make sure it’s something you will find easy to remember.”

Right. And if we insist you change it, don’t use the one before the last. You need a spanking brand new one which can’t be your birthday. Oh, and don’t use a repeated number. Today, a hyphen is a no-no, but for that one, you need a capital letter. But NOT as the first letter of the sequence. Also, the numbers can’t be your birthday.

Do make sure you can easily remember it. Otherwise, all those sticky notes with your passwords scrawled on them is insecure.

Duh.

Also, I wanted to install Chrome because it has everything in it — contacts and saved emails and all that. Not to mention my calendar and bookmarks. Apple does not approve of Chrome, but it actually isn’t because Chrome is a battery hog (it is and we all know it), but because Apple and Google had a decade long court battle over something nerdy and no one actually remembers what it was, but they spent a gazillion dollars fighting over it and to punish users since they can’t do squat to Google, they make it hard for us to use it.

In the newest version of the Macbook Air (and probably all the other Macbooks), anything that doesn’t come from their App store or have their Official Seal of Approval gets rejected out of hand. No matter HOW many times you say “No, really, I want this application,” each time you try to open it, there’s an exhausting list of requirements just to write yourself a note.

The worst installation was Apache OpenOffice (it’s Microsoft Office via open source software). It does everything MS Office does — better — and it has everything you could possibly want. But it’s not on Apple’s approved list and it doesn’t even have a manufacturer’s name on it because — IT’S OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE.

Apple isn’t really “into” open source. They like getting paid and are paranoid about anything you got free from the Internet.

Normally, I can set this stuff up using whatever widget manages preferences. I’ve done this on at least half a dozen different systems. It’s one of the few things that’s usually the same from computer to computer. The icon might change, but basically, the contents are similar enough to figure it out.

I couldn’t get it to open. At all.

They didn’t call me at four and by 4:30, I figured out that they weren’t going to call, so I rebooked for 7:30 and they didn’t call then, either. So finally, I called them. Of course, she had no record of any of my earlier correspondence which was part of setting up the interviews that never happened.

It doesn’t matter who you talk to or whether or not they record it: they never have ANY notes or for that matter, any record that you exist.

I got a lovely woman who after trying 25 different versions of “start-up,” decided I needed a new operating system. Three hours later, I had a newer new operating system, but sadly, no preference file. At which point she moved me to level 2 help.

The guy came on, he said “Hi.”

I said “Hi.”

He asked me to see what happened if I double-clicked the “customize” icon. Lo and behold, a screen opened and each item on it had a click box. And empty click box. He said “Damn, never seen that screen before. Must be new. Hm. Try clicking all the boxes, then click DONE.”

I did it. And voilà. Everything appeared. It took about 30 seconds. Getting rid of my password took another minute. Settling OpenOffice so it would work took another two, maybe three minutes. He said: “I love OpenOffice. It’s great to have a product that lets you do what you want to do.” As opposed to Microsoft which is always sure they know what you want to do before you do it.

He apologized for the entirely unnecessary hours of reinstalling the operating system and I said “Shit happens.”

He said: “Well, you obviously know your way around a computer, so now that you’ve got preferences, I think you’re good to go,” and I was.

The motto of the story is that if you don’t have an answer, there’s no reason to exhaust two people proving that you don’t know the answer. Get someone who does have the answer. I waste almost an entire day and most of an evening on something I could have dealt with in a few minutes.

It wasn’t that it was hard to set up. It was that the person I talked to — and let’s not get into the people who never bothered to call me after sending me copious offers to “help get me set up” — didn’t understand the problem or where to look for the solution.

Meanwhile, I was sure it was something I was doing wrong because I can usually take pretty much any computer and make it work reasonably well in about 15 minutes. I just didn’t find the screen.

Of course, there were no instructions. I’m pretty sure Apple invented the directionless computer. It’s their way of telling you no help will be required. Thanks guys!

So, that was the Apple/Mac part of the story.

There was nothing wrong with the computer. There was nothing wrong with me. There was something wrong with Apple’s communications … and after a brief, yet somehow intense struggle, I got Chrome to run and all is well on the Apple. Or will be soon enough.

Sheesh. What a long, long, long day!


But today was a completely different, yet oddly similar day. In the middle of yesterday’s Apple experience, I got an update from Microsoft that failed. When I ran through the process, they told me I “had to detach my hybrid laptop from its connection to the monitor.”

Uh, no.

So I called them which apparently everyone with a hybrid computer has been doing as this is not personal — it just FEELS personal — but is actually a problem relating to all hybrid dual hard drive laptops. They couldn’t fix it and the people to whom I was speaking weren’t willing to even give it a try. Danger lurks in the dark chambers where the wires and the boards all live … They said they would call me today around 12:30.

By 2:30, I had given up and I wasn’t calling them again. This was their problem, not mine. I went back to writing this post.


I went to take a few pictures of my new computer to add to this post. I processed a few of them and was about to install them in this file when — the phone rang.


Microsoft calling. I had moved all the way up to tech support 3. Whoa! Serious!

They said they might need a while — like maybe half an hour (hah!) — so could they call me back when they finished whatever they were going to do to my computer? I said oh sure, I have another computer.

And – I do. The very same little Mac from which I cannot process photographs. Perhaps this wasn’t the best possible day for me to try to work this out. Possibly, I’m a bit distracted.

Everything about this Mac is, by the way, at least twice as complicated as doing the same thing on a PC. Especially graphics. At least they let me download my Topaz filters — and I only had to do it three times before it “stuck.” Yay me. At the same time, Microsoft is DOING THINGS to my expensive computer including (futilely) reinstalling Windows 10. Again.

Trying to convince Microsoft Edge to work and good luck with that

All I’m trying to do is fix a couple of photographs and export them to Serendipity. On the Mac. Which is not cooperating.

So, while Microsoft was busy installing another new operating system on my PC, I was on the Mac trying to extract one picture without a battle to end time.

It was about three hours before the tester called me back to say the problem was NOT solved, but they are working on it. It might be a few weeks and in the meantime, just ignore everything.

Everything. Does that include supper?

Yesterday was quite a day and today has been a about the same, thanks. At least Microsoft just did the work and I didn’t have to do anything but try to ignore what was happening “over there” on the big computer. A good day for chomping down Tide pods, don’t you think?

I have two expensive computers.

I hate computers.

DOCUMENTATION WITHOUT WORDS ISN’T DOCUMENTATION – Marilyn Armstrong

A couple of weeks ago I bought myself an iPad Mini. It was $100 less on Walmart because it had iOS 9 on it rather than the current iOS 11. Anyone who knows anything about Apple knows it doesn’t matter what iOS is on it.

The moment you turn it on, it will instantly update to the new iOS — even if you would prefer it not do that.

I bought it. Less than $300 with 128 GB innards. Nice cream color. Brand new and their 4-year support was only $40 instead of the $69 Apple charges. Moreover, it’s local. Our nearest Apple outlet is a long drive from here and has been one of the reasons I’ve been loathe to get involved with Apple.

But it turns out, getting customer service is hopeless anyway. Whether it’s local or in some foreign country, service will be awful. Given the awfulness, you might as well pay less.

So now I have this iPad Mini which I got the next day. Cute little thing. We were on our way to visit Tom and Ellen, so instead of unpacking it, I stowed it in my computer bag and took it with me. Tom set it up in a few minutes and voilà. A functional iPad Mini 4.

I looked at it. “So what’s next?”

The cover (yes, purple)

I have no idea what to do with it. I read and listen to Audiobooks on my Kindle. So what do I do with this? My theory had been that I wanted something small and light that would get me into my email and let me correct typos on my blog without hauling 9 pounds of Dell wherever I go. I love my computer, but it weighs like two cinder blocks.

Tom has an iPad (regular size) and he uses it for almost everything. Almost. He also has a keyboard that also works as a case and a stand.

“Should I get the ridiculously expensive Apple keypad for this?” I ask him.

“God no,” he says. I look at his. It was a Logitech. No problem. I’m good with Logitech.

I go home and look it up on Amazon. Instead of $159, it’s $69.95. Except if I don’t mind getting it in purple, it’s $42.50. Purple is good. Goes well with the lovely cream. I order it. This is my “less than $300 solution to the $2000 problem.” What I really need is a lightweight but powerful computer, but that’s big money and we have home repairs lurking.

Maybe more dark violet than purple

It arrived today. In a nicely padded envelope. I open it. Take out the box. Eventually figure out how to open the box (I hate packaging) and remove the item. I’ve read a lot of angry reviews on how easily it breaks. I look at it. Yeah, I can see if you mistreat it, it would break. But in my entire life, I’ve never broken a computer or a cell phone. I take care of my equipment. If it breaks, it’s something internal, not because I dropped it or stepped on it or abused it.

I did notice a couple of people who suggested if everyone would treat their equipment gently, it would last longer. My sentiments exactly.

On the back of the box, it tells me what’s inside — including documentation, the keyboard case and a charging cord.

“Documentation” with REALLY SHORT cord

The documentation is missing the one thing that means documentation to me. No words. It’s a piece of cardboard with small, incomprehensible pictures. Which I follow until I get to a point where all I can say is “WHAT????” I know they want me to do something, but I have no idea what.

Documentation and the cord. Could they have made it any shorter?

I have no idea how to get it to pair with the iPad. It’s a Bluetooth device and I’ve got other Bluetooth stuff. It’s usually pretty easy, but I’m baffled because nothing is happening.

Finally, I say “Screw it.” I open my computer and look for installation instructions for the keyboard. Online. At Logitech.com.

Logitech says:


LOGITECH

Before you connect your iPad mini to the Focus keyboard case, make sure it’s inserted correctly into the case:

1 – Place your iPad mini so the camera lines up with the camera lens cutout on the Focus case.
2 – Snap the corners of the iPad into the holder to secure it.

To connect for the first time

1 – The Focus case doesn’t have an On/Off switch. To turn on your keyboard case, open it and rest the iPad mini on the strip directly above the keyboard. The status indicator on the top right of the keyboard will glow green.
2 – On first connection, your keyboard enters Bluetooth discovery mode and the status indicator will blink blue rapidly.
3 – Go to the Bluetooth settings on your iPad and select Focus Keyboard Case in the Devices list.
4 – If your iPad mini requests a PIN, enter it using the keyboard (not on your iPad mini).

Once the connection is made, the status indicator will turn solid blue. Your keyboard is ready to use.


There were no illustrations. They didn’t need any.

There were other instructions in case you want to connect the same device to a different iPad, but I only have one. It took me about 3 seconds to connect it once I had WORDS as instructions. Two paragraphs of WORDS.

No tiny pictures. One picture in the original “document” which had words in it, but no amount of squinting and changing angles enabled me to read those teeny tiny 4 point letters.

Now I have a lovely purple keyboard case that types. It’s a bit small, but so is the iPad. If I can figure out what to do with the iPad, that will make me happier.

I could use it to play games, but I can play games on my Kindle and my computer. I could watch Netflix, but … why? This is basically the problem I have always had with iPads — not having any idea why I need one and what it can do for me that isn’t already being done by something else.

Tom says I need to mess around with it and find cool stuff for it to do. Okay. I’ll do that. Whatever cool stuff is. It is possible I’m not really cool enough for devices.

HOW DELL DONE ME IN – Marilyn Armstrong

How a vague idea became real when the company you loved gives you the final boot. Dell, Apple, and why Apple has finally won the endless war.


I have been buying Dell computers for more than 20 years. Not only have I always loved how Dell’s were made, but they lasted a long time.

On the other hand, their customer service which had been great, was on a rapid downhill slide for the past 15 (or more) years. Above and beyond liking Dells because there’s no bloatware on them and they are designed to do a job, was their sturdiness. They were business machines for people who took their work seriously, even if their work was a hobby. I’ve used their equipment for work only, for work and play, for whatever I’m currently doing which you can call whatever you like. Dell did the jobs.

The old 14Z in its youth …

Many Dell’s I bought 10 years ago are still working. Some needed a reinstall of the operating system and a couple needed new hard drives, but that was small stuff, all things considered. I really use my computers. I push them hard, I make them work.

Until the past two — expensive — Alienware — machines. The one Garry has lost its battery after less than 3-years. The only other Dell that ever lost a battery lost it after 7 yeas and it was a cheap machine. I replaced it and it works again, though now it seems to be losing its monitor. It’s old. It doesn’t even have Bluetooth, so it has, I think, hit the end of its road. It doesn’t owe me a thing.

When the little old Dell was beginning to display not having enough video to do what I do, I got a new Dell with the biggest NVIDIA video card I could afford and passed the two-year-old Alienware machine to Garry. After which the battery died. It’s pretty new so the price of getting a new battery is high. The battery replacement was more than most laptops.

The old one works, as long as it’s plugged in, so I suppose you could call it a laptop-shaped desktop. It weighs more than most desktops at a solid 9-pounds including its brick.

My new machine is working fine and does what I bought it to do, but I’m out of service contract. The company got in touch (and back in touch, and back in touch) asking me if I wanted a one-year contract for service on the new machine.

Older Alienware

The price? I kid you not: $850 for a single year of service. I had tried to get service from them during my first two years with the computer and they were useless. No one had a clue how a dual hard drive machine worked and all the advice they gave me was wrong. I eventually doped it out myself, but I’m still not really sure it’s backing up the way it should. There are many things about this computer I love, but also a bunch that I don’t.

One of the problems is weight. The thing feels like two cinder-blocks. I have developed significant upper body strength picking it up and moving it off my lap to a side table. Taking it with me when we travel is just this side of a nightmare.

I’m sure most of the weight are the batteries which basically last for just over two hours. Which means effectively, even WITH a working battery, the machine is still a desktop.

I hate new computers. I hate moving material from machine to machine and moving the material from a PC to a Mac doesn’t sound like fun. I’m sure there’s an app for that and I will have to find it because all my photo and writing backups are for PC and won’t run on a Mac.

I’m not a Mac fancier. The loose style that has been typically Mac/Apple since forever annoyed me. I like orderly computers. I like knowing where stuff is, where it belongs. How to find it. Ironically, the recent changes Mac is making to the operating system is going to make them much more PC-like and PCs are making their OS slightly more Mac-ish. The world comes round and round.

Reality bit. I couldn’t keep hauling the big, brawny, 10-pounds of Alienware and moreover, I didn’t want to. I’m not getting younger. Garry’s machine, now that it has to be plugged in, is developing other signs of flakiness that make me wonder if it will survive.

I knew I could not buy another Dell. I’ve used other bloatware special PCs and I won’t go there. Also, I know what I need, which is a honking big piece of video ram and equipment I can pick up which will not dislocate my shoulder from its joint.

Apple.

Then they offered me the Apple Card. Zero percent interest. 18 months.

I got a Macbook Air — as high-end a version of it as you can buy. It isn’t their top machine but it comes with sufficient USB 3 ports and other connectors, like an SC reader slot. Sometimes, the newest machine on the rack isn’t your best choice.

Meanwhile, Garry needed something. I thought long and hard about what Garry really does. After serious thought, I figured he could live his virtual life on an iPad with a keyboard. And enjoy it, too. Meanwhile, as long as the big Alienware works when plugged in, he has a full-size computer to fall back on.

My only question is why does this iPad have a mouse? You can’t use a mouse on an iPad. Even I know that. Did the photographer just happen to have a new mouse to show off?

In the end, you can’t take two heavy computer users and have only one fully functional computer in the house. It won’t work.

I need to point out to Dell that I was about as loyal a customer as you could find. It took them a decade to get me to where I couldn’t deal with their customer service department again. Ever. They did me in.


Mac/Apple did not win my custom. Dell LOST it. 

I’m pretty sure half of Apple’s new recruits are people who just gave up trying to stay with other companies and were driven screaming into the night.

I am one of them.

THE SAME. BUT LOUDER.

There’s a major kerfuffle about the new iPhone 7. I am not an iPhone fan. We’ve owned them, both the four and the five and were underwhelmed. We were much happier back when we could use a Blackberry, a mobile phone that was designed to be used as an actual telephone. You know, with sound you could hear. Even a real keyboard. Since the end of the Blackberry, it has been downhill. Our current phone, a Samsung Galaxy that we picked entirely based on the quality of its sound, is okay. It works and does what we need to do with it. I’m not in love with it, but I’m satisfied that it was almost worth the ridiculous amount it cost.

72-Mobile and regular Phones_08

Which is less than half what the new iPhone 7 will cost.

So what are the new upgrades that make it so special? They dumped the analog earphone jack which everyone used to listen to music. They have, instead, put in another speaker. Which, my good friend the audio engineer says will make its tinny sound louder, but not better. On a more positive note, it will force buyers of the new iPhone to get those expensive blue-tooth earphones which, at $150 a pop, should add a nice pop to Apple’s bottom line.

They have also (finally) made it water-resistant. You can drop it in the toilet, pull it out and go right back to sticking it on your face. What could possibly go wrong with that?

It is heartwarming to see how corporations “get” us and respond to our needs, isn’t it? Have you ordered your iPhone 7 yet? Don’t forget to buy those new blue-tooth earphones! You’re going to need them.

MARILYN GETS AN IPAD

Between the old router going bad and installing the new one, something caused the troubled laptop in my bedroom to go bonkers. It decided every certificate for every application and website I have ever used, or will use, was fraudulent. Although I did my best to fix it and I sort of did, but editing certificates is delicate and tricky.

Google Chrome went berserk and refused to let me connect. To anything. Even after finally finding a way to uninstall Chrome, it took a lot of coaxing before I could get Internet Explorer to run. In this case, the problem turned out to be IE. Its awful design. A feature, not a bug.

ipad3-image

I tried to use my 7-inch Kindle Fire HD to do everything, but it’s too small. I can’t load my website. Since (I believe this fits into the “irony” category) WordPress has “improved” their software to make it “mobile friendly,” it has become actively hostile. WordPress sites used to automatically resize. Now they won’t load at all. I could buy a cheap PC, but they run Windows 8, which I hate. Microsoft says I should want it, but I don’t.

That left me with three choices: Chrome, Kindle, and Apple. I’ve got an Alienware super laptop which I love, so all I need is something basic. To download and listen to audiobooks, check my blog and email, maybe play a game, and take a peek at Facebook.

My first choice would have been the big brother of my Kindle Fire HD, the 9″ version — about the same size as the iPad. But it has limitations. I need to be able to run multiple Audible accounts, which Kindles can’t do. Something to do with the Kindle OS. After a little research, I knew a Chromebook was too limited. It’s not a computer, just a way to connect to the web. Fine, if that’s all you need, but I need more.

I always thought the iPad was overpriced. I still think so, but I found a brand new 64 GB  iPad 3 for the same price as a big Kindle. I’ve had friends extolling the virtues of the iPad for years. I figured I’d get this thing. It would leap from its box and embrace me. Configure itself (like the Kindle really does), then clean my house and cook dinner.

Not exactly.

The iPad comes nicely boxed without any instructions.

These are ALL the instructions that came with my Apple iPad.

These are ALL the instructions that came with my Apple iPad.

If this is the only piece of Internet capable hardware in your possession, you’re shit out of luck. Everything you need is online … where you can’t get until after you set up the iPad. Not as easy as the lack of instructions would suggest.

Our nearest Apple store is more than 60 miles away and you have to make an appointment. They also need an attitude adjustment. The last time I was there, I wanted to install my iPhone into one of their bodily orifices. The limited service combined with their attitude made me less than eager to invest in their equipment. But Microsoft and Windows 8 had me cornered. I ran out of choices.

ipad3-specs

My new iPad did not leap out to embrace me. It was harder to set up than my laptop and much more difficult than the Kindle which doesn’t need any set up. The iPad lost the first two passwords I set. Unlike my PC, you can’t not have a password. You need layers and layers of passwords for everything. When it decided the password with which I’d replaced the initial password also didn’t exist, it asked for my birth date to confirm that I’m me. It then told me my birthday isn’t my birthday.

I don’t know much, but I know my birthday. I’m not sure what to do about it. Lacking any instructions, I can’t get into the computer to correct the misinformation it locked onto. It’s lucky I’m clever with computers. In the end, all computers are more alike than different. Interfaces vary, but under the hood, they work do the same stuff. Including the iPad.

I worked around its refusal to acknowledge my birthday, though I know I’m going to bump into the problem again. If anyone knows how to deal with this, I’d sure like to know. Meanwhile, on my fourth password, it acknowledged it and I moved on. I don’t understand why everything on an iPad requires a password, but it does. Apparently not every time you use it, but when you activate or install anything, it requires one, two, or three passwords. I swear I entered passwords 100 times or more during setup. It fought me tooth and nail about connecting to this website, but when I was ready to fling it out into a snowdrift and leave it for the dogs, it must have heard me thinking.  It gave up the fight and connected. It took another long battle to convince it to accept multiple Audible account, but eventually, it let me download books from more all my accounts. If I could have done this on Kindle, I wouldn’t have gotten the damned iPad.

I installed the latest operating system (8 point something) and it’s working. It only took most of an afternoon, which these days is rather a lot of configuring for a modern computer.

I was so pissed off with it for giving me a hard time, I didn’t want to use it, but I had to give it a fair try. For the last three days, I’ve logged several hours a day scooting around the Internet, downloading books and audiobooks. Listening to books.  Installing stuff. I’m not thrilled with Safari. It’s a bit clunky, though far better than IE. It’s not hard to be better than IE.

It is a great size. Nice big screen. Amazing battery life. Audio is good, though not loud enough. Graphics are high quality. It resists fingerprints better than a Kindle.  It’s slower than my other devices. Surprisingly sluggish when opening applications, downloading, and connecting to the net. It gets there, but I’m not used to waiting.

My expectations may have been unreasonably high. It’s not entirely my fault. With Apple enthusiasts telling me how fantastic the iPad is, how perfect, I expected fantastic.

What I got is a nice, serviceable tablet. It’ll do the job, though I prefer a keyboard and a mouse. My hands are not what they were. Poking at it puts more stress on my arthritic hands than does a mouse. I don’t like virtual keyboards. My fingernails are always too long, fingers inaccurate, imprecise. And the iPad requires a solid poke to respond.

Do I love it? No, but it has a potential — and it isn’t Windows 8.  I’m sure I will make peace with it, but I wish I liked it more.

Would I recommend an iPad? It depends on what you need. I think I made the right choice, maybe the only choice. But if Microsoft would get their act together, I’d gladly return to the fold.

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?

Mending Wall, Robert Frost

Wall by the paddock

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors‘.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

A stone fence along a country road.

A stone fence along a country road.

Editor’s note: Above was originally posted by Marilyn Armstrong

Daily Prompt: Are you being served? Chaos and Madness at AT&T

Shortly before Christmas, Garry and I went somewhere and I forgot to bring my cell phone. I asked Garry if I might use Blackberry Torchhis. I was appalled when I could barely hear anything, even with the volume full up and using the speaker. I realized if I could barely hear it, he couldn’t hear it at all. Which brought me to the inevitable conclusion that Garry needed a new cell phone.

Good wife that I am, I figured I’d get him a new phone with better sound so he would not be stuck trying to hear on a phone with such awful audio.

This was early December and Christmas was a couple of weeks off. How long could it possibly take to get a new cell phone, right?

I went online at AT&T, our long-time carrier. I checked to see if he or I was entitled to an upgrade. It turned out both of us were entitled to upgrades, but my phone is just a year old, I don’t use it very much and although I’m entitled to a new phone, I don’t need one. Garry, on the other hand …

This seemed a fairly straightforward process. I checked to see what phones were available on super special, discovered he could get an updated version of the phone he already has for $29.99, with the usual 2 year committment, but we’ve been with AT&T forever anyhow and I don’t see that any of the other carriers are better … so why not? It was the middle of the night, but I called AT&T and was going to order the new version of the Blackberry Curve … but they wanted a credit card and I was already in bed, so I said I’d call tomorrow. I was too tired to get up and deal with it right then.

When I tried to access the website the next day, I couldn’t. Eventually, I called and discovered it wasn’t me, wasn’t a bad password or my computer. AT&T’s servers were being upgraded. I should have guessed. I should have sensed the crackling of crisis in the air. Why they picked early December to do a massive server upgrade is anyone’s guess. It would not have been my first choice.

Mar-iPhone-0nWhen I started to place the order, AT&T assured me that they needed to charge me $36 for the upgrade fee. “What upgrade?” I asked. “We already have all the services we need. The only service you are providing is putting the phone in a box and mailing it. You said it’s free shipping … but $36 is a shockingly high shipping charge. Since you aren’t providing any other services, that’s the only thing it could be.”

The young lady to whom I was talking said she couldn’t do anything about it, she was not responsible and everyone had to pay the fee. I said that I was not going to pay the fee and frankly, we’ve been long-term customers and this was shabby treatment indeed. I next learned that I was going to have to pay sales tax on the full list price of the phone, even though we all know that NO ONE pays full retail on anything, much less a cell phone upgrade. Thus this $29.99 had spiraled into around $100 …. which is more than our ultra tight budget could afford.

I said I wanted to talk to a supervisor. I was transferred and eventually, disconnected. Called back, went through the whole story again, was told — again — she couldn’t help me. Said she was transferring me to a department that could help me. When I got to that department, I was told it was the wrong department and I was going to have to go back and talk to the original people who had now two? three? times told me they couldn’t help me.

I would have been laughing but time was passing. I had started this on Sunday night and it was Tuesday. Christmas was creeping up on me and I had yet to actually place an order.

I don’t remember all the people I talked to, all the supervisors to whom I was transferred, all the deals I made only to find that the next person I spoke to had never heard anything about it. It has mercifully become a blur. My husband was cranky because he felt, since he hadn’t actually asked for a phone, I had no reason to expect a lot of sympathy or support. I pointed out he did need a phone and just being his wife ought to entitle me to sympathy and support.

It had indeed been my idea to get him a new phone based purely the uselessness of his old one. But that’s sentimental twaddle. I should have waited until he actually asked me for a phone, preferably begged me on bended knee. Generosity. That was my first mistake.

As the tale continued, it became the story without end. So many departments, so many disconnects. I ran down the battery on my cell phone and on the handset of my house phone, then switched to the other handset  And still, no order.

Finally, it was Friday, December 21st. AT&T agreed to waive the charge, give me back a few bucks to compensate for the insane sales tax, and include free shipping. By now, I’d changed from the Blackberry Curve to the iPhone 4 which was on clearance for $0.99 and they swore up and down the east coast I’d have the telephone in my hands on Christmas Eve. Shortly after this amazing promise, I got another call from someone who said whoever promised me Christmas Eve delivery should not have made such a rash promise because who knew if I’d really get the phone? It could be weeks away. Maybe never.

We had been planning to be away from the day after Christmas through the following weekend. If they delivered the phone during that period, it would sit outside in the ice, snow and slush until we got home. But not to worry, she said. If that happened, I could “just send it back.”

I could not cope with the idea of returning the phone. This was bad. Doing it twice would be unbearable. I had been on the telephone with AT&T for more hours in one week than I had been on the phone with everyone else I know during the entire previous year. Granted I’m not on the phone much, but this had eaten at least 25 hours of telephone time … and there seemed to be no end in sight. Ever.

Somewhere during this period, our plans for visiting friends post-Christmas were cancelled because my friend was ill. Despite assurances there was no way I’d get the phone by Christmas Eve followed by equally passionate assurances I definitely would get the phone by Christmas Eve, I simply had no idea when or if I was getting a phone. Would you like to take a guess?

I got the phone Christmas Eve. There it was, a little white box in a bigger brown box. Delivered by FedEx. No bubble pack. Just the phone banging around inside the shipping box. So I waited until the day after Christmas and called about the lack of padding in the box because I didn’t want to wind up with a dead iPhone 4 being told it was somehow my fault. I was assured by someone somewhere that this wouldn’t happen, so I went ahead opened the box and tried setting up the phone.

Nothing worked. What is more, due to the endless legal battles between Google and Apple, Garry’s gmail contact list could not be synchronized with the iPhone.

The first tech support individual, from AT&T, told me that Garry would have to enter all the information by hand. I said “up your nose with a rubber hose” or words to that effect. Garry’s address book has at least 300 entries and I think I’m being conservative. I pointed out that the iPhone is supposed to sync with Outlook and by now, a few disconnects later, I was on the phone with Apple tech support and my cell phone was recharging, the battery having run down to zero again and I was on the second of the two “house phone” handsets, having run through the first phone’s battery. We finally doped out, between him and me, that we had to delete the “cloud” function and NOT synchronize the two email addresses linked to Outlook because it created a conflict and would immediately spew error messages.

When I finally got the iPhone to synchronize with Outlook’s address book, it started demanding a password for voicemail. My head began making a funny buzzing sound that kept getting louder. Were those voices talking to me? Possibly … if only the buzzing would stop and let me think …

Neither Garry nor I has ever needed a password for our voice mail. Not his, not mine, not ever. We didn’t have any passwords to give them. When the Apple tech guy said I’d have to call AT&T to get it sorted out, I went into full meltdown. I could not face another long wait, multiple disconnects … and trying to interface with who knew how many morons before maybe … by New Year’s … I could get through to someone who would  know what the problem was and fix it.

Finally, the fellow at Apple who actually seemed to have at least a pretty good knowledge of the product managed to get the address book issue dealt with … said he himself would call AT&T and put us in a conference call and we’d sort the whole thing out. He said he’d call me back and I begged … I think groveling might better describe it … that he really call me back and not leave me hanging.

This was the day after Christmas, the busiest day of the year for tech support what with everyone getting a telephone, tablet, computer, or some other electronic widget under the tree. Likely this didn’t help. But he called back with a man who was obviously not an entry-level tech support guy. He was a Big Gun. You just knew it. He fixed it. He said it was a software artifact from older phones and he was going to delete it from the system and it would never trouble me again.

Then he gave me a $40 credit giving me a small profit on the transaction unless you count my time as being worth money in which case I’m far behind. Far, very far behind.

Garry has a new cell phone. He said “thank you,” and I said “you’re welcome,” but personally, I think I’ve earned a medal at the very least.

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

So for all the people who told me to “Get a Mac” to solve my problems, I will agree the iPhone is a fine, well-made phone. Was it easy to set up? No. Did it have fewer glitches than my other phones? No. If anything, it had more issues. I got it for a great price and it has, as I had hoped, very loud speakers so Garry can hear it. Hopefully, he’ll get used to the virtual keyboard.

I hate it even more than I hated the tiny raised keys on the Blackberry. I never voluntarily write anything on a cell phone and why Garry does is beyond me.

This whole trial by fire has made me aware of how pathetic my older Blackberry Torch (first generation) is and how I need a new phone. When I’ve recovered from this experience, I will think about replacing it. Why do cell phones need replacing so often? They are so expensive, shouldn’t they last more than a year? Just saying.

Meanwhile, I need to rest and recover my perspective. I have to wait until the story gets funnier. At least until I find my misplaced sense of humor. Then I’ll buy another cell phone.

You must remember this … Techno Memories

I wonder if operating systems will be relevant a few years from now. Change has been a synonym for technology for the past 30 years or more. Change has driven the computer industry. Change is why we need to buy new software, hardware and operating systems.

Change can make things work better, but it’s not unusual to discover that your “upgrade” is a downgrade because what used to work no longer does. You pays your money, you takes your chances.

I grew to adulthood in a pre-computer society. I started working before cable TV, when encyclopedias were huge heavy sets of books and a computer was gigantic and needed a whole building for itself. It ran on punch cards and used machine languages — COBOL and FORTRAN. Decades later, personal computers were still just one step removed from a doorstop, floppy disks were 5-1/2 inches across and really flopped.

Those early machines (personal units, not mainframes) — I hesitate to call them computers — didn’t do much. They didn’t have hard drives. There was no software and no user-friendly interface. I don’t think the concept existed. No WYSIWYG. What you saw was a black screen with lurid green letters that made you feel like you were going blind after an hour or two.

Then everything changed. First there was Apple and then Windows. Windows didn’t work very well at first, but it got better. And even better.

In the beginning, there were different players in the marketplace and many more choices of operating system. Wang and DEC plus a crazy quilt of dedicated word processors and computers made by Commodore, Atari and many others. For a while, I had an Amstrad, a European machine that was almost a computer, kind an intelligent typewriter with a screen. It spit out paper.

Soon everything changed again. Computers started to really do stuff. Magic!

The speed of change accelerated. Technology was in hyperdrive. Then came a thing called the Internet. I had to buy and install Netscape to use it. After I got connected, there wasn’t much going on, but it was cool to just roam around. Mostly, you bumped into other people looking for something interesting. And then came AOL.

You could send electronic mail — email — if you had a friends with computers. You sent them messages over old copper telephone wires and everything happened in slow motion.

Just getting on to the Internet could take … well, let me put it this way. Turn on the computer. Turn on the modem. Go to the kitchen. Prepare dinner. Cook dinner. Serve dinner. Eat dinner. Clean up everything. By the time you got back to your computer, you might have actually managed to connect to something. Or not.

Then suddenly there were ISPs popping up all over the place. I got a super fast modem that ran at a whopping 2400 BPS! Imagine that. I worked in California from my home office in Boston. Cool! Telecommuting was the cat’s pajamas.

By the time my granddaughter was born in 1996, everybody had a computer or two. In her world, computers have always been fast, the Internet has always been the world’s shopping mall. Ebay and Amazon are no big deal.

At age three, she could run basic applications. For her, it’s like electricity was to us: something you use that is always there and always was. I’m sure she can’t imagine a world without it. It’s hard for me to remember that world and I certainly would not want to go back there.

For a brief interval, the rate of change slowed. We drew a collective breath and didn’t have to buy new computers for a couple of years. High speed connections arrived, though most home users didn’t have it right away. Everything kept getting faster and soon, with cable modems, no one could even remember what it was like to try to get onto the Internet using an old telephone line.

Every time you looked around, there was a  new generation of processors, bigger and faster hard drives, amazing super high-definition monitors and speaker systems to knock your socks off.

The Internet became a world-sized shopping mall and overnight, catalogue shopping became website cruising. The Internet was a world unto itself; I played bridge in real-time with a partner who lived on an island off the Pacific coast.

We have computers all over the house and what isn’t a computer is run by a computer or contains a mini computer … microwave ovens, smartphones, digital cameras and GPS units. I have three computers — in my office, living room and bedroom. My husband has two. My granddaughter has 3, but I think a couple of them don’t work any more. My son has two, my daughter in law has one but if she wants another, we have a spares and she can just grab one.

Eight computers are in daily use and only 5 people live here. I feel that we will soon need to get computers for each of the dogs. For all I know, whenever we are out, they go on-line and order stuff. I’m sure Bonnie the Scottie has at least a thousand Facebook friends.

A brief interruption of cable service leaves us wandering around like wraiths, without form or function. Five of the seven primary computers are less than 2 years old  so I figured we were set for a few years at least … but then everything started changing. Again.

Today, it’s all about “the cloud.” It’s still the same old Internet, but “cloud” is the “in” word for stuff stored on external servers. We’re going back to where we began, to using stripped down computers with no hard drives. Instead, everything is stored on someone else’s computer — out there. In the “cloud.” Our data might be anywhere. We have no way of knowing where it lives.

Am I the only one who finds this unnerving?

I can see advantages. When you eliminate memory sucking operating systems and cumbersome installed applications, your computer will run faster. Start-up is instantaneous because your computer doesn’t have to load services and applications. You don’t have to maintain and upgrade big expensive applications and volumes of data. You won’t need ever bigger hard drives, more memory and video RAM. You wind up with faster computers that are less expensive and easier to maintain. It’s a win-win, right?

Or is it?

How much do you trust your Internet service provider?

If your cable company has a bad day or the servers on which you store your critical data go down — even for a short while — you have nothing. As long as everything works like it’s supposed to, it’s hunky dory, but Murphy hasn’t left the building yet.

Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, and will do so at the worst possible time.

Maybe it’s my age showing, but I would prefer to have data on hard drives that I control. That I own.

The idea of entrusting everything —  from my photographs to the manuscript of my book — to an unknown server somewhere in the world scares the Hell out of me. What if the building in which the server storing my stuff burns down? Gets hit by a terrorist attack? Taken down by hackers? You have no way of knowing what country your data is in, how stable its government is, or how good an infrastructure it maintains. You financial data could be in Pakistan, Indonesia, or Kuala Lampur. Or next door.

Is there a compromise possible? Because when I think about entrusting everything to a cloud, I begin to twitch.

How many times have you been unable to access a web page because servers are busy or crashed? The times when their — or your — servers are inaccessible because of maintenance, repair or upgrade. Or those ubiquitous hackers. What if you need a critical piece of data from a server while its offline? It does happen.

My bank was hacked and they had to send me a new card. Several places I shop — Land’s End, for one — were hacked and I had to redo my accounts because they’d been compromised.

If your ISP is down, you are out of business. If you think your cable company has you by the throat now, how much worse will it be if everything you need to run your life and business is dependent on their services? Facebook and Google already have trouble keeping up with the demands on their resources. How will they manage when they have thousands of times more data and tens of millions of users depending on them for everything from email and applications to data retrieval?

Those of you who are old enough to remember the great Northeast power blackout in the mid 1960s know what I mean when I say that overloaded systems can go down like dominoes. I am all in favor working together with my fellow human beings throughout the world, but at a certain point, when does inter-dependency make us excessively vulnerable?

If you put the world’s eggs in one basket, if the basket falls, that’s a hell of a lot of broken eggs. That’s not an omelet — just a mess.

I worked for more than 35 years in development. That was my world and although I’m not an engineer or developer, I know what’s behind a user interface. For example, modern word processors embed commands in text, but behind the interface, it’s entering the same commands I entered directly on the huge IBM mainframe by hand. It’s faster and prettier now. You get to see how your document will look when it’s printed, but it’s nothing but an elegant wrapping on an old familiar box.

My concern is not the graphical user interface (GUI) that overlays our computer (regardless of operating system), but that these new operating systems are designed to work with “The Cloud” … a meaningless term that represents servers located anywhere and everywhere. We don’t have to know where they are; they’re in the Cloud … kind of like Angels and God. We are being herded toward using external storage and we aren’t supposed to be alarmed that we have no control over it.

We use services consisting of server farms located somewhere on the planet. There is where we store our bank records, personal correspondence, photographs … everything. We use these servers directly when we use “the cloud,” but we also use it indirectly because that’s where our bank, our vendors, the places from which we buy goods and services store their data … or more to the point, our data as it pertains to them.

We assume the people from whom server space is leased are dependable, not criminals looking to steal identities and data … and their infrastructure is secure and won’t collapse from a power outage or hacker attack. And finally, we trust our ISPs to deliver the goods, keep us online so we can access the stuff we need.

Charter Communications is my cable company and controls my high-speed internet access, as well as my TV and telephone. I have difficulty controlling the wave of rage I feel when I think about them. How do you feel about your cable company, eh?

Even if the servers that store your stuff are safe, you can’t get there without a high-speed connection and that, my friends, means your local ISP … cable, telephone, satellite, whatever you use. They already have you by the short hairs. You are not independent and you rely on their services. Does that sound like a great idea? It makes me sweaty and itchy.

Anybody anywhere can build a server farm. It’s a great business that requires a bunch of servers, a climate controlled place to put them, and a few IT people to tend the equipment.

Where are these places? Most are in countries whose government is, by any standards, unstable — possibly dangerously so. How good is the infrastructure? Are they in the middle of a war? Are their electrical generating facilities dependable or sufficient? What protection against hackers do they provide? Are they trustworthy? They could as easily be a bunch of criminals and the data they collect is the mother lode.

I’m not comfy with the idea of entrusting a lifetime of my work to unknown, nameless entities. Google uses servers everywhere, as does Amazon. So does every other “cloud” provider. Your data and mine is unlikely to be in one place, either. It is broken into many pieces that are stored wherever it went when you saved it. You will not know and cannot discover where your data is, was, or will be.

I won’t get into how links and pointers let us retrieve data, but the potential for error, loss, and piracy is huge. So, I’m not buying into the Cloud, at least not for anything that really matters to me. Call me cynical, even paranoid … but I think that the computer-using public is buying snake oil. I want my stuff on my own drives. Use the “Cloud,” whatever it really is. But have good, dependable external drives too.

Or, as the Arabs say, trust in God, but tie your camel.

Daily Prompt: Do Not Disturb — Through A Prism

Author John Scalzi in his blog Whatever posted what I think is a sane, intelligent answer to the uproar and outrage over “discovering” that the government is spying on us. The article is titled Hey Scalzi, Don’t You Have Anything Angry to Say About That PRISM Thing? He points out that we all know the government is spying on us. We certainly have to know that Google and Facebook are spying on us. Microsoft has been spying on us for years as has Apple and Amazon. Depending on the security level of your home network, your entire neighborhood could by spying on you. There’s nothing new about this and if you had for some weird reason assumed your government which has been ramping up surveillance activities for more than a decade is not spying on all of us, it leaves only one question: How naïve are you?

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Living where I live and doing what I do, I recognized long ago there is no “off the grid” for me. Unless we were to go live in a cave in the far northern reaches of somewhere or other — if you know Garry and I,  that’s about as unlikely a scenario as anyone could create — I’m no cave dweller. The idea of living anywhere without a high-speed Internet connection gives me the willies.

That the government is using its capabilities to keep an ear and an eye on our transmissions, just in case something sounds suspicious and/or terroristic not only doesn’t surprise me, it would surprise me if they weren’t doing it. Land’s End monitors my purchases and browsing to create advertisements likely to lure me to buy from them. So does L.L. Bean, Dell, Amazon and everyone else from whom I shop. Google probably knows what color underwear I put on this morning. They’ve got my email and every photograph I’ve ever posted. Moreover, like most of the rest of you, I have a blog. Everything I write, every picture I publish goes off into cyberspace where it lives forever. If I Google myself, I find that like a mosquito captured in amber, my previous identities are still floating around out there, unchanged by time.

Years ago I accepted reality. If I want to belong to the world, I’m will be exposed to and by it. If you think otherwise, you are in denial.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

All of those agreements we sign because if we don’t, we can’t use the software or that website, explicitly say we are granting permission to collect information, read our posts, access our applications and mine our data. I am mindful of what I post on the Internet. I write a lot, but I never post anything online that would embarrass me if someone announced it from the pulpit in church. If I have secrets, they stay secrets by the simple, primitive expedient of keeping my mouth shut.

Living out here in the middle of nowhere, we are less invaded by cameras and spy satellites than more heavily populated areas. It’s not because we aren’t as likely as anywhere else to be engaged in some kind of nefarious activity. It’s simply a matter of using available resources. There are only so many cameras and people to monitor them. We just aren’t worth the effort. Besides, if you want to know everything that is going on in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, drop by. Hang around the grocery store for a couple of hours. You’ll know everything and everybody in very short order.

The truth is that I don’t have much to hide. There’s stuff I did in my past that could potentially embarrass me, but it wouldn’t land me in jail. Probably my husband knows more interesting stuff than I do, but he was a reporter for a long time. And he isn’t talking. Not to me, not to anyone. He subscribes to the belief that a secret is something you don’t tell anybody. I’ve been trying to worm information out of him for more than 40 years. He just smiles and keeps watching whatever show is on TV. You have no idea how frustrating I find it, but comforting too. Because he’s not telling anyone my secrets either.

English: The logo of the blogging software Wor...

The government isn’t looking for me. I’m not buying guns, building bombs or selling drugs. I’m not traveling anywhere much, unless you count the occasional friend and doctor’s appointment. You could monitor my telephone traffic 24/7 and learn absolutely nothing because I don’t spend any time on the phone except when arguing with customer service reps, usually the cable company. And while it might be entertaining, it isn’t likely to be particularly exciting or enlightening. It certainly has nothing to do with anybody’s security, not even mine.

Spying? I’m more worried about Facebook and Google, WordPress and Amazon. They really do want to know what I’m doing so they can sell me stuff. They are very good at doing it, too. If the government were to question them, I guess the entire U.S. Government infrastructure would know my shoe size, what software I use to edit photographs and write, and that I still dress in essentially the same styles I was wearing 40 years ago. They’d know what dogs I’ve got, what food they eat. What food we eat, for that matter and probably what medications we take. I cannot imagine what use they might find this information. It doesn’t even interest me much.

This is the world we have chosen, designed and bought into. We have GPS units that broadcast our location to anyone who wants to find us. Virtually all of us have cell phones that are easily tapped and tracked. All of our bank transactions can be accessed by Lord knows how many people. If we are on Social Security and Medicare, the entire government is aware of our income, medical issues and who knows how much more. That would be assuming they are actually interested enough to look, which frankly, I doubt.

My office by window light

My government is not hunting for me. If they were, all they have to do is give me a call or drop by the house. They know where to find me. They know where to find you, too. That they can collect mountains of data is one thing. I very much doubt they have sufficient personnel to sift through more than an infinitesimal percentage of it. And if they are as efficient at mining data as they are at everything else, your guilty secrets are safer with the government than with your best friend.

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No niche for iPad: A cautionary tale on ‘needing a purpose’ | ZDNet

See on Scoop.itBooks, Writing, and Reviews

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After almost two weeks with the latest iPad, I walked back to the Apple Store in Grand Central, New York and handed it back to the blue-blazoned staff hipster who greeted me at the top of the stairs.

“Was there something wrong with it? And, do you need a replacement? We can get you a replacement, no problem,” signaling to holler over a fellow colleague. But I declined.

“There’s nothing wrong with the tablet,” I said. “I suspect it’s actually a problem with me.”

Within the 14-day period in which Apple consumers are granted a stay of financial relief on their purchases, I returned my tablet not with a heavy heart but nonetheless with a feeling of disappointment in myself. It’s not that I didn’t like the iPad. The build quality was excellent, the software functionality was superb, and there was nothing but the highest of intent for burgeoning productivity potential.

It was that I simply didn’t need one. And not just an iPad, a test case as it turns out, but any tablet for that matter.

Cue the back story.

I fell into the Apple ecosystem. At first, anyway. But I don’t think of myself as an Apple user. I am the kind of person who will use whatever tools that are necessary for the job in hand. It just so happens that I’ve become accustomed to the way these devices work together, just as other same-brand ecosystem devices do.

Almost two years ago I bought a MacBook Air. Still to this day, it has become a crucial, necessary, ultra-portable laptop that has, granted with its occasional failings, has served me well. The battery life is acceptable, so long as certain conditions are met, but in spite of the likely unique gripes rather than hindrances, it’s a fine piece of kit.

But above all else, OS X was the driving force for change. Gone are the days where apps weren’t available. That’s the cloud’s business now. And thanks to the App Store, many previously unavailable apps have migrated to the Mac.

Pleased with the design and the quality, but above all else the OS X operating system that had become so simple to use yet powerful by design, I ripped out the cords on my desktop machine — that whizzed and whirred in the corner of my home office with a subtle yet constant background-fading drone — and I replaced it with a Mac mini.

It was all too easy. I looked for a catch, but there wasn’t one.

A staunch Windows user for my adolescent and early adult life, there should’ve been a level of discomfort and disconcertedness. But there wasn’t. With fond memories of blue screens and translucent windows, I began to prefer a sense of simplicity

The last step was my eventual move to the iPhone, albeit for a second time. The first was not the best of experiences but as a result of my confidence in the Apple ecosystem, I thought it was at least worth another try. And it was worth it.

We can tick off the MacBook Air, the Mac mini — and all the peripherals to really go all-in — and the iPhone. (In between, I’d also bought an Apple TV, but it just makes sense when you’re downloading TV and movies). The next logical step, surely, was to get an iPad.

With glee and excitement, I picked it up from the Grand Central store the following day on my way to work. I configured it, I synchronized my music, my pictures, apps and everything else.

And then I went back to work.

Not on my iPad, but my MacBook Air, which I take with me to work. I took my iPad home and it was sat there on my coffee table for three days until I picked it up again. It wasn’t that I was avoiding it, and I wanted to use it, but I didn’t have any particular reason to use it.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the iPad. And, I suspect there is nothing particularly wrong or different with any other tablet. It simply doesn’t fit into my lifestyle.

My iPhone is my primary email communication device, plus my music. That sticks me firmly in the “prosumer” category. But because of my job, I require a keyboard. Granted, typing on the iPad is not the most difficult thing to do in the world, but it’s less natural than a keyboard. I’m automatically drawn to a keyboard.

That said, it’s a fine device but I have, as part of my one-brand ecosystem, other devices that at least for me are better suited for purpose.

Even for “play” and non-work reasons, there was nothing drawing me to it that I couldn’t already do on my ultra-portable iPhone, my keyboard-enabled yet still light and portable MacBook Air, or my work-personal life separating Mac mini that allows me to walk away from it at any point.

If I were a financier, a marketer, or an artist, a tablet may be perfect. But not for me.  And you know what? That’s OK. It’s my problem, and not the fault of the tablet.

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

I find myself increasingly confused. I want something small and light that will do the basic stuff I need to do when I don’t want to haul the big heavy laptop. Usually, that is a trip on which I will not need Photoshop. But nothing seems quite right. What to do?

See on www.zdnet.com