WHAT NOT TO DO WHILE RUNNING DIAGNOSTICS – Marilyn Armstrong

Why is my computer freezing and sending me blue screens? I guess I should run some system diagnostics. I ran them recently and I was assured everything is hunky dory.

If it’s so hunky and dory, why does it keep freezing?

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FREEZE!

No, Marilyn! You cannot run diagnostics while surfing.  Bad Marilyn.

MORE FREEZING! 

No. You must not check email. Okay, check it, but don’t send anything. Shoot. Frozen again.

PUZZLEMENT

Why is it prompting me to update the drivers I just updated? Should I do it again? Nah. Waste of time.

BAFFLED CONFUSION

Why is Dell installing the software again? This is the fifth time. It’s installed. Geez. It’s just doing this to aggravate me.

HEADACHE, POUND, POUND, THUD

I need lunch. Afraid to leave the computer. Who knows what mischief it might get into?

STOMACH GURGLING

Bathroom, I don’t care what’s going on. I gotta go NOW. Computer? Sit! Stay! Don’t do anything while I’m gone.

FREEZE!

I guess no matter how boring it is, I should NOT play Bridge while running diagnostics.

ANOTHER FREEZE!

I suppose this means running diagnostics is not a perfect opportunity to thoroughly clean the keyboard.

HUH?

My system is fine. Absolutely nothing wrong. So what’s with all those Blue Screens of Death referencing my video card? Let’s stress test the video card.

ZZZ

This is more boring than watching paint dry. Are we there yet?

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RESULTS!

Everything is freaking fine. I’ll tell myself that the next time it locks up. Thanks for nothing. Another afternoon I can never get back.

EPILOGUE

It turns out that the fancy sound I use is part of the video card. This is the “fancy” sound most people only use when they are playing video games. I use it all the time because the sound is so much better than the standard sound. But, that means I really am using my video card for the sound I’m playing — while I’m photo-processing.

So if I’m listening to an audiobook while trying to process photographs using both Photoshop and Topaz filters, everything runs fine unless there’s a particularly big draw on the memory. Then, it just locks up the computer. Sometimes it brings up the blue screen, indicating a video card problem. It isn’t video or at least, it isn’t only the video.

It’s the combination of video and audio together.

The answer? I could choose to not use the fancy audio sound which runs on the big graphics card. Except, I don’t like the other sound.

Better yet, I can play the book on my Kindle and process photographs on the computer. The audio doesn’t use much memory, but Photoshop with Topaz uses a ton of it. And I’ve got 16 gigs of memory on this computer. It was a lot worse on the old computer which had a mere 12 gigs.

CONTRASTING HARDWARE?

FOWC with Fandango — Hardware

RDP # Tuesday: CONTRAST

Is contrasting hardware when your pots or cutlery doesn’t match? Or you are wearing orange plaid pants and a polka dot shirt? Where no matter what you buy, it is inevitably the wrong color, but it’s too expensive to throw it away and it works, so you might as well use it?

Our house is mismatched in every way and I have long since given up trying to make anything coördinate with anything else. If it’s at least something of the same style, more or less, that will have to do.

You know what hardware does match?

The tech stuff. Computers. Tablets.

Garry has an iPad and I have a mini iPad (for which I have yet to find any use). We both have Alienware computers. I have a Mac Air in the bedroom, as well as a Kindle. There are two more Kindles in the living room, not to mention a TV, speakers, and something sort of like a stereo system.

Macbook Air 13

On a more personal level, Garry and I contrast nicely. Two out of three dogs are quite perfectly matched and none of them uses any hardware.

I have no idea why I’m writing this. It’s just a heap of words. There’s so much going on in the world and this has nothing to do with any of it.

Meanwhile, Garry doesn’t feel well, though I’m the one with the doctor’s appointment. I think we are both suffering from the fierce embrace of the killer weeds of autumn. Garry thinks “he’s got something.” If he does, you can be sure I will have it too in a few days. That’s one of the really nifty things about living together all the time. We share. Everything. Always.

Logitech Mouse

So now I’ve been prompted and I have no idea why except I figured I should write something and I had nothing to say. Or, more to the point, everything on my mind requires actual research and thought and planning and I just don’t have the time to do that today.

Maybe tomorrow.

ALIENWARE 15 R3 — THE GOOD AND THE HUH?

I always have very mixed feelings when I realize I’m going to have to buy a new primary computer. I love technology and I love computers. I love gadgets and widgets and cameras and lenses and software. From the first day I put my fingers on a computer keyboard, I knew I’d found my place in the new order. Computers felt like “home” from the first day.

New computer

However, getting a new primary computer that will be your everything computer is a big deal.

I’m not talking about a tablet. Or a Kindle. Or an old computer you want to keep because it contains software you can’t buy anymore and which you like better than “new improved” versions.

No, in this case, I’m talking about the one item of equipment that you use all the time for years on end. It’s the constant use computer. The machine on which you blog. Take care of your daily business. Banking, shopping, email, photography. It’s where you process pictures. Where you have software and filters. It’s where you write. Design books. It is important.

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Getting a new computer up to speed, configured the way you want it has always been a process that takes anywhere from a few hours to several months of tweaking. In this case, it also involved getting used to a new operating system — Windows 10 Pro up from Windows 7 Pro.

PERFECTLY FROM THE DAY I TOOK IT OUT OF THE BOX

This computer worked absolutely perfectly from the day I got it. There was no start-up time, except the time it took me to figure out where the new stuff was on this computer that was somewhere else on my earlier computers. If I didn’t feel I need to know what’s going on inside, I need not have bothered to find out anything. I’m still finding out things, though more now than before since that BIOS download the other day, but that’s a different issue.

THINGS THEY COULD DO BETTER — AND PROBABLY WILL

The C-port “Thunderbolt” replacements for the USB drives are not very sturdy. They work, but they are fragile. I’m sure they will be improved with time, but as of today’s writing, they should have included more USB ports. I have added hubs, but the lack of a CD drive for a camera card is a real pain in my butt. They should put it back.

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It won’t help me much. However, for future computers … put the CD drive back. Add at least two or three more USB ports. There are a lot of items that only work properly in a USB port. Eventually, maybe everything will love these new ports, but they don’t love them today. My external hard drives and my DVD/CD drive won’t work in the C port … and of course, I also need something for the CD flash card too. In theory, you can use a hub, then put stuff them through the C port, but that’s really stupid. Too many hubs, too much stuff. I’m sure I am not the only one complaining about this.

A FEW QUESTIONS ANSWERED BEFORE YOU ASK THEM

Why did I stay with Windows rather than getting a Mac? Because I actually prefer Windows. It’s a structured, work-oriented system. Its design and the way I think work well together. I have owned Macs and used them, but in the end, I’m much more comfortable on Windows. I’m task oriented. The Mac with its “do your own thing” unstructured style doesn’t mesh well with my style. Of course, there’s also the software I own that runs on Windows, but won’t run on a Mac.

I am not a hardware kind of gal. You won’t find me rewiring anything or prying open the case to get at the innards. Software? No problem.

Hardware? Call the guy with the toolkit. The second-hand market it good for people who aren’t afraid of getting down and dirty with the guts of the hardware, but I’m not one of them … so new was the way to go for me. Windows PC. High end. New.

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My previous Alienware laptop was very satisfactory, but technology has been whipping along at light speed for the past few years. The computer was more than two operating systems behind. I was not interested in overlaying a new operating system on the old one. I tried that and failed. Badly. It was also getting difficult to run new software on the older system. It ran, but not run well. Frustrating and annoying, but the development world is not interested in my opinion.

OTHER QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Why Windows 10 Pro you ask? Over the decades, I’ve found the “professional” versions of Microsoft operating systems are more stable and much less buggy than the “home” version of the same OS.

Every version of Windows has essentially the same stuff in it, but the menus change. The most alarming difference for more was the complete removal of the “Restore” and “system configuration” menus which has been part of Windows since the beginning. The pieces are now parceled out to other menus (Systems and Task Manager).

HOW DOES IT DO?

It boots up in fewer than 10 seconds. I don’t know how many different windows I could open, but whatever it is, I haven’t found it yet.

THE GOOD AND THE WHAT-THE-HELL?

I would have gone all the way and said this is the best computer I’ve ever had. Basically, it still is, but that download the other day from Microsoft was evil. I’m still recovering from it. To be fair, things seem to be working more or less normally — again.

It’s a great computer.

The problem is, you never know what kind of rat poison you’re going to get in downloads from home base. Apple has done it, Windows has done it more. They really need to step back and ponder users and what we need.


THE PARTS AND PIECES:

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  • 16GB DDR4 at 2133MHz (2x8GB)
  • English Backlit Keyboard, powered by AlienFX
  • NVIDIA(R) GeForce(R) GTX 1060 with 6GB GDDR5
  • N1435 & N1535 Wireless Driver
  • 256GB PCIe SSD (Boot) + 1TB 7200RPM SATA 6Gb/s (Storage)
  • Windows 10 Pro (64bit) English
  • Killer 1435 802.11ac 2×2 WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1
  • Intel(R)Core(TM) i5-6300HQ (Quad-Core, 6MB Cache, up to 3.2GHz w/Turbo Boost, Base frequency 2.3GHz)
  • 15.6 inch FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS Anti-Glare 300-nits Display
  • Lithium Ion (68 Wh) Battery

IF YOU DO A LOT OF STUFF ON THE COMPUTER, A GOOD ONE IS WORTH THE MONEY

The computer I had before this one is now Garry’s computer. Aside from not handling newer applications well, it’s a fine computer and will last a very long time, especially with Garry using it. Even if it needs a hard drive or something else, it’s more than worth repairing. You can’t say that about a lot of the cheap, cheesy computers.

They are cheap, but they aren’t good. And they won’t stand up to repair.

VALUE VERSUS PRICE

I am still computer shopping. Online. Been doing it for weeks. Maybe months. Online is the only way these days, now that real computer stores have disappeared.

But that’s okay. I like comparing stuff online. I can see the prices and features, try out all the different configurations. Read user reviews which range wildly from “this computer is a total piece of garbage” to “this is the best computer ever made anywhere” —  and they are reviewing the same computer. In the end, you have to take all the reviews with more than a few grains of salt. “Garbage” and “great” are relative to the expectations of the reviewer.

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There are people who will decide a computer is worthless because they don’t like the keyboard layout and others who will think it’s great despite having had to do substantial reconfiguration and upgrades on it.

I just want it to work well, all the time, and not give me any back talk. Also, I understand that the specifications are not the whole story. They ought to be, but there’s more to a great computer than its components.

WHAT I NEED

A big, fast hard drive. Preferably two of them: a solid state drive (SSD) for booting plus a big ass 7200 RPM mechanical drive for storage. The drive on this machine is getting full. I never thought it could happen, but photographs take up a lot of space. Even with backups and off-loading some stuff to external drives, 120,000 photographs takes up a lot of space.  And there will always be more.

MEMORY 

I have 12 gigabytes in this computer. I want 16 in a new one. I want at least 4GB of dedicated Video RAM (VRAM) in my next computer. I’ve got 2 in this model, but more is better. “Shared graphics” when you use Photoshop and filters results in Blue Screens of Death, locked up systems, and sudden, unplanned system reboots.

side view alienware closeup computer

Then there’s the size problem. All of this would be easy (and a lot cheaper) if I wanted a desktop. You get a lot more for your money when you buy a desktop rather than a laptop. But I don’t want to go back to being alone in my office all day because that’s where my desk is. I also know, because Tom told me, that I could get a desktop and use it as my server. Then, I could use a laptop — any laptop — as a work station.

I’m not hardware savvy enough to do the setup. I know people who can … but they don’t live nearby. I need something which will work out of the box.

LAPTOP – SMALL AND LIGHT

The lighter, the better. I’m not getting any younger. I can’t go “tablet” because I can’t edit pictures on a tablet. Tablets don’t have SD card slots or sufficient graphic support to run the software I use. Besides: I’m a mouse and keyboard kind of gal. The whole finger-poking thing doesn’t do it for me. I have tablets and a phone, so I do understand how they work. For me, typing on a virtual keyboard is torture. Even playing a simple game on a tablet is painful.

The smaller and lighter machines do not have all the features I want, so it won’t be an ultra-light laptop. Compromise will be required.

my office and desktop computer

Next, there’s monitor quality and size. Most manufacturers are offering super high-definition monitors today. I run this computer at 1920 X 1080. It can run at a higher resolution and I tried it, but it made everything is so tiny, I couldn’t see it. You could give me the highest resolution monitor in the world, but my eyes are not going to be any better than they are now. This is as resolved as I can actually use.

The things I want, make it difficult to avoid getting the other stuff I don’t want. Or need.

It’s won’t be a Mac, either. Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, there is no known way to transfer formatted text from PC to Mac without losing the formatting. You can convert all your documents into PDFs, but I don’t want to do that.

I’m a writer. My work is not optional.

NUMBERS. GIVE ME NUMBERS.

So finally, back to “value.” Money. Cost. Price.

I want a super high-end laptop — at about half what it actually costs. I can get what I want for the bargain price of around $1500 on sale. That would be a top quality machine from a dependable company with a solid reputation and a service department in North America. When all is said and done, I want this computer with more memory, bigger graphics card, and a faster hard drive.

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I don’t have $1500. I could finance it, but they make you pay the money back. If they would give me the money, I could work with that.

So, my solution is — I’m not getting a new computer. Not until I have no choice. What I can afford does not offer me the value I need. If I can’t afford what I need, there’s no point in getting anything.

Value versus cost.

Maybe prices will drop or I’ll win the lottery. Of course, I’d first have to buy a ticket.

VALUE | THE DAILY POST

GLORIA MUNDI! NEW ROUTER, NOT SICK!

Our intermittent connection problem went critical. We had been having connection issues since before Christmas, but I thought it was an outside problem. Charter being Charter, as it were.

netgear ac750 router

It took a bit of tracking down, but eventually, we realized that the old Linksys was in its sixth year, which for computer gear so critical to everything we use, is ancient. And it was failing.

Charter has been ramping up their broadband speed for the past year, so I knew it was likely the old router couldn’t handle the higher speed. But it was more than that. It was not broadcasting a strong enough signal. Diagnosis: Tired old router needs replacement and honorable retirement.

Amazon isn’t cheaper for everything, but for electronics, they usually have the best prices and selection. If you have Amazon Prime, they are offer the fastest delivery at no charge.

I’m a real fan of Amazon. They honor their promises. If you don’t get your package, they send another. If the product doesn’t work, they refund your money or send a replacement — your choice. They are nice when you call with a problem. Rather than go over to our local Best Buy or Walmart, we went online.

We were right. Amazon had great prices on a huge selection of routers. There were so many to choose from … and the technology has changed so much since the last time we installed a router … most of our time was spent trying to figure out what the descriptions meant, and which router was the right one for our house.

Owen said NetGear was easiest to install. Even though we’d been using Linksys for so many years. Since he was doing the installation, I saw no reason to argue the point.

We settled on NETGEAR AC750 Dual Band Wi-Fi Gigabit Router (R6050). At $81.99 plus tax, with free 2-day shipping, it seemed likely to do the job. We ordered it Saturday and surprise! It arrived this morning, Monday. No, I didn’t pay extra for speedy shipping. Amazon is very fast.

It’s installed. It took about an hour, including some hassling with the wireless printer and some more hassling with the Roku. There’s one more Roku in the bedroom I will have to reset plus three Kindles. Owen’s has hooked up his laptop and tablet. My three computers and Garry’s two are also up and running.

Do you think we have enough wireless stuff around here?

The router works really well. No dead spots in the house anymore! Not one, not anywhere. Finally, we have full coverage through both floors and in every room.

What could NetGear do to improve the experience? Provide better instructions!

Every problem we encountered was not a problem. It was just something for which no instructions or explanation is provided. I know everyone thinks tech writers are obsolete. I AM a tech writer. But seriously, folks. How much could it cost to hire a tech writer for a couple of days to write proper, English-language instructions? We work cheap!

Reading through reviews on Amazon, I’m betting 90% of the complaints were failures to understand what to do. Better instructions would solve the problem.

Can you say “Happy Ending?” Sometimes, things work out better than you expect. This is one of those times!

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.

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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?

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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.

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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 ANOTHER DAY

I needed a white plastic cover for a two-plug electric outlet. A simple thing. Costs less than a dollar anywhere they are sold. But the hardware store in Northbridge closed while I was out of commission and it isn’t the sort of thing they sell at the grocery store. I wasn’t eager to tackle Walmart.

I decided not to think about it and instead go to the fish store in Rhode Island. We used to go there all the time, but life got complicated, difficult. We stopped going most places. A few weeks ago, Garry decided to see if they were still in business. It had been that long.

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Turns out it is indeed still open — since 1964. On the way, I saw the feed & grain cum nursery cum hardware place. I had forgotten it was there — made a mental note to stop on the way back to buy the outlet cover.

We bought a lot of stuff at the fish store. A little more expensive than the grocery, but a better selection. And the owner actually knows something about fish.

Then we hit the feed & grain hardware and nursery. Got the plastic cover for the outlet. It cost 41 cents. Garry had a dollar in his pocket and got change. Deal done. This must be the only thing you can still buy for less than half a dollar.

I had a camera and the nursery beckoned. Garry loved the cactus. They look just like the ones in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance because it is the same cactus. I thought it would be a great addition to our little in-house plant collection. A handsome cactus indeed.

While I was checking to see how much they wanted for it, I got a handful of tiny, soft, painful thorns. I’m still pulling them out of my hand and I barely grazed it.

“You can have the cactus,” I said to Garry. “But you’ll have to care for it. It obviously doesn’t like me.” We took a temporary pass on it, but maybe we’ll go back. It’s a beauty.

It’s Not Your Equipment … It’s a Lack of Documentation! – Marilyn Armstrong

Maybe I should just give up, but I spent my career writing material to help folks use complicated equipment and sometimes very obscure software.

I should probably start by mentioning that I’ve fought this battle for long years … and was utterly defeated. About 7 or 8 years ago, high-tech companies, in a money crunch and driven by that bottom line that seems to be the only thing that matters anymore, began to eliminate technical writers. Entire departments were dismantled and eliminated. Jobs disappeared and what remained paid so badly it was insulting.

A decision had been made at the corporate level: YOU don’t need documentation. No matter how complicated or expensive the equipment or software you purchase may be, don’t need documentation. Companies provide the minimum the law requires or they can get away with. Quality is no object nor usability. Information is limited to basic stuff like how to install a battery and if you are lucky, where the compartment is.

I was a technical writer for about 75% of my career, the rest being divided between journalism, editing, promotions and advertising. But mostly, I wrote documentation and I though my work mattered. Probably naive, but I believe that if I documented a system, it should be well written, clear, organized, and useful., When a user needed to find something, it would be in the book and in the online help. It would be easy to find. I carefully avoided using mysterious search parameters that could be deduced via a psychic link to my brain. If you knew what you wanted, I made it easy for you to find it.

I was proud of my work. I still believe the fundamental goal of documentation is to make complicated things simple. Not necessarily easy because sometimes, the product was not easy to use, but that didn’t mean that it had to be hard to understand. My documentation was good for another reason: I used the product and tested what I wrote to make sure it was true. This testing makes the difference between a pile useless gibberish and a manual.

Thus, when you get something that appears to be documentation, stop and read it. Appearances are deceiving. Most “manuals”  are generated, not written, and never checked for accuracy or usability. Such “manuals” are as likely to increase your confusion as provide illumination.

I bought a PEN EP3 camera from Olympus. Seven months and hundreds of photographs later, it remains one of the mysteries of my world. It takes wonderful pictures, and it has hundreds of functions. I haven’t the slightest idea how to find most functions and have no idea what to do with them if I could find them.

I grew up in a pre-digital world. I know F-stop, depth-of-field, shutter speed, aperture and focus, film speed and composition. I have a good eye. I’m no genius, but my pictures are pretty and I enjoy taking them.

He solves the problem the way most do: Automatic everything, then shoot.

New digital cameras have a vast and overwhelming array of functions, most of which you or I will never use or need. I believe they are there entirely to impress us with the super high tech-ness of the equipment. I doubt that even the designers — especially the designers — expects us to actually use them. Which is good, because I don’t know what they are supposed to do anyhow or why I would need them. Ansel Adams didn’t need them. Neither did Edward Weston. Neither do I. But, the more you pay for a camera, the more of these obscure functions you get and I figure that the least they owe me is an explanation of what these setting do and how to find them.

I’m not sure whether to curse or say thank you. Maybe if Olympus provided a manual that explained these options, I’d be grateful, but that is not happening.

I spent half our shooting time trying to find the menu to change the ISO.

This is true of cameras, but the lack of documentation on your computer is actually worse … much worse because most of us depend on our computers. We need them to work and we need to have some control over the environment in which we work. Configuration of our computers to suit our needs is not a minor detail: it’s the difference between having a tool that does what you need and one which is a burden … an enemy with which you do daily battle.

I spent all last night — until dawn — trying to figure out how to turn off the touchscreen functions of my monitor. Before Mac users jump in and point out that it’s because Windows doesn’t work, that’s irrelevant and untrue. Windows works fine. It’s just that the company doesn’t provide any written documentation. There is embedded information in the operating system, but much of it isn’t logically arranged. It’s rather like looking for your car keys after you’ve dropped them someplace you don’t normally put them. You know they’re in the house, but where? It could be years before you find them..

On a new computer, you typically get an “introductory” video and that’s pretty much it. I watched it. It showed me in exquisite detail how to do what I already knew how to do.

Operating systems are designed to be used the way the system’s developers expect you to use it. If you prefer a different setup, trouble starts. The only way to figure out how to do something differently is to keep querying the system and hope you’ll stumble on the right  key word — the word that will bring up the information you need. What is most frustrating is that you are sure it IS there, but whether or not you will ever find it is a different issue.

If you are sufficiently persistent and a bit lucky, you will eventually find a mystery menu after which you fix your problem in a few seconds.

Last night, I searched, searched again and again. It didn’t call Dell because I knew the support person wouldn’t know the answer either. They pretty much never do.

So I tried one word combination after another, recombining them in the hope that it would lead to a menu buried in the system. There had to be a way to deactivate touch input.

Around 5 in the morning, I found it. It took me less than 30 seconds to eliminate the problem that had been driving me nuts since I got the computer. Now, it’s a monitor. A great, high-definition, 23-inch monitor that’s a joy to work on and makes photo editing a pleasure. No more configuration by crawling insect. I am mistress of my virtual world at last!

A technical writers earns less than an entry-level developer. I understand the guys in India who provide telephone tech support work cheap, but I bet a tech writer would cost less than a network of telephone support no matter how cheaply they work.

Assuming you are under warranty and you can get through the voice mail  maze … and further assuming you get someone who understands the problem and don’t get blown off because software is not part of your warranty (Note: If someone can tell me how, without using software, you can determine if you have a hardware problem, I’d like to hear it) … Round and around you go.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Would it blow the budget to hire a competent technical writer to embed online help that will live on even after the warranty period is over? Wouldn’t it be nice to help users avoid needless aggravation and not wind up with angry, frustrated, exhausted, and homicidal customers whose problems remain unsolved?

Granting that many home users have a limited understanding of how their computers work and for them, it wouldn’t much matter what documentation you supply. Most problems result from insufficient understanding of a product or process. If you are talking about a novice user, perhaps more information wouldn’t help. But …

I’m not inexperienced and I still can’t find essential information I need to configure my monitor. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect a menu on the control panel that I could use to configure the monitor’s capabilities, not merely its resolution but any other functions it may have. Functions not available on a particular model could be grayed out. How about that?

There is nothing wrong with my computer that better organized and easier to find information would not solve..

Every issue I’ve had over the last 5 or 6 years was ultimately fixed with a few clicks of the mouse. The problem was never something broken. It was always lack of documentation.

That pisses me off. Because tech writers — even highly experienced ones — work pretty cheap. Users do need documentation, and not just for software and computers. We need documents that let us use our cameras and telephones and DVD players and all those other pricey little devices that we own and often, don’t know how to use. Online FAQs are insufficient.

This is an old battle I’ve already lost. I know it’s hopeless. I find it infuriating that I can barely figure out my telephone without customer support, so rather than spend time on the phone with customer service, I don’t use anything I can’t easily configure.

I had to buy a separate book on how to use Photoshop and another for my first camera. I was able to get some help from a fellow user of my new camera, but that only goes so far. For my PEN P3 camera, there IS no customer support nor any after market book. I depend, as Blanche DuBois said, “… on the kindness of strangers.”.

My camera will remain a mystery until someone writes a “Dummies” book for it. Hopefully I’ll still own the it when the book finally gets published.

It’s not fair. The reason they get away with it is because we let them. Think about it.

So how did I finally figure it out? The “monitor” menu should have been a gateway, but was useless. The only thing you can the “Monitor” menu lets you do is lower your screen’s resolution. That’s useless.

Finally, I typed: Touchscreen.

Up came something that I hadn’t considered. Flicks. Now, for me? That means the movies. Having never used it, I had no idea it had anything to do with the monitor or its touchscreen technology. Once I got to “Flicks,”, I started opening menus and voilà, there were two check boxes allowing me to toggle an option:

  • Enable finger as pointing device.
  • Do not allow finger as pointing device.

I un-checked the first one by checking the second. I clicked “Apply.” As the sun rose in the east, my problem was solved and I went to bed, to sleep, perchance to dream  … of murder, destruction and vengeance.

REVIEW: THE DELL VENUE PRO 8 TABLET

After the Kindle HDX washed out, I had a hole where a small, portable web-capable device should be. With hospitalization soon, I wanted to be able to do small footprint basic computing. My laptop is great, but too big and heavy for a hospital bed.

I’ve been using the Dell Venue Pro 8 every day for the past few weeks. I no longer find myself shouting at it — big improvement. The real problems were solved when Dell installed new drivers. The rest of the issues have gone away as I’ve gotten to know the hardware and operating system.

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I remain underwhelmed by Windows 8. It offers no advantage over Windows 7, at least to customers. My son pointed out it offers value to Microsoft by making everything proprietary. It blocks you from using applications not made specifically for Windows 8. Considering the whole advantage to Windows has always been its universality, this is a strange, self-destructive direction for Microsoft. They have a new CEO. Let’s see if he gets the company back on a sensible course. Otherwise, this will likely be my last Windows device. Sad, after such a long relationship.

Technically, you can run standard Windows applications on any Windows 8 machine, tablet or otherwise. Practically speaking, it’s not true. Some things run. Most don’t. The Venue 8 only lets you install by download, which eliminates a lot of my software by default. Most of the other applications I use on Windows 7 don’t run on 8 — or run so poorly it isn’t worth the effort. It’s ironic. Just as Apple is opening up their platform to all kinds of applications, Microsoft has gone the other way.

The tablet’s native software runs well. The email app is fine. IE runs smoothly. You better like IE because you won’t be using Firefox or Chrome — neither runs on the tablet. I’m not a big gamer, so the lack of games doesn’t bother me as much as it aggravates others, but still. Aside from Solitaire, there are no games. You can’t even get a download of Scrabble. That’s rough.

Photography apps? None worth the effort. I won’t be taking a lot of pictures using the onboard camera (which works pretty well), or uploading photographs to the tablet — even for viewing. There’s no USB port, no slot for an SD card other than one micro card which is an extension slot for memory.

If you want to play games, read books, watch movies, listen to music? The Kindle Fire HD (the old version, not the HDX), is just $139 from Amazon. It’s a far better choice for entertainment. Not as good for email and other Internet activities … but for entertainment, it’s a winner.

The Dell Venue Pro 8 is solidly built. It feels great in hand. It seamlessly connected to Netflix. Watching movies is easy. You can listen to music on Amazon’s Cloud Player, but it’s not straightforward. Microsoft really wants you to use its own software … but I find it confusing, complicated and lacking documentation or instructions, ultimately incomprehensible. It’s inexcusable to provide so little support.

The (free) copy of MS Office installed without a hitch. I don’t know if I’ll get out much use from it. That’s not what I bought the tablet for. I found a bunch of other useful small applications. Solitaire, a clock, calendar, alarm and stopwatch and installed them without incident. I uninstalled a few things too. Installation and uninstallation is really easy. And fast. If only there were more apps!

The speakers are great, though not terribly loud. Which is fine. I can use earphones if I need it louder. For such a little tablet, the graphics are fantastic. I watched “Jack Reacher” on Netflix and enjoyed it. My website looks great.

The cameras (1 front, 1 back) work but the lack of editing software limits their usefulness. It would be okay for Skyping — probably — but I don’t Skype, so it’s moot. The video camera seems fine as does the voice recorder, though I have little use for either.

It’s got a lot of bells and whistles, some of which I might use yet it’s missing important basic tools. Not being able to edit its own photos is bad, but not being able to upload my photos at all? Worse. All for the want of a USB port.

It’s good for reading (Kindle and maybe other reader apps), watching a movie on Netflix. I don’t know about other services but you can’t watch Amazon Prime. Or I can’t figure out how.

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It’s good for quick emails. I’m disinclined to write much on a virtual keyboard. I can  do small amounts of web editing but wouldn’t want to do more. But not because the tablet won’t. It loads this website fast and switches to editing mode with no problem.

The Venue Pro 8 is too small for web editing. It’s too small for a lot of things. My son has a 10″ device and he can do a lot more. The “OK” boxes and other targets on-screen are tiny. Even using a stylus, I miss as often as I hit. Fine editing is out of the question. That is not the fault of the tablet. I chose this size. I knew it would have limitations. I was right.

There are no after market accessories — yet. Well,  there’s one, but it doesn’t work. I bought a secondary market keyboard — blue tooth — and returned it. It wasn’t broken, but you had to enter a generated key code. You couldn’t see the code because the virtual keyboard popped up and blocked it. By the time you got the keyboard out of the way, the code was gone. The codes are good for only 30 seconds. I don’t understand why they designed it like that. Just provide a printed code. Why make me jump through hoops to sync a keyboard?

Dell sells a keyboard that apparently works, but it’s $99. Too expensive. I’ll do without. I don’t know how well any blue tooth accessory will install. If it includes a “time out” code, it won’t. It’s a tactical rather than technical problem, but it stopped me.

If anyone wants to point out how I could use my iPhone, may I remind you I find an 8″ tablet too small. Do you think the iPhone would be better? Think before commenting.

Summary

What I like:

  • Great graphics
  • Excellent sound
  • Good camera and video (but no editing tools)
  • Free Microsoft Office, email and other workaday stuff
  • Fine build
  • No problem loading websites
  • Fast boot time; almost instant
  • Long battery life and short recharging cycle
  • Comes with a charger.

What I don’t like:

  • No USB port
  • No SD card slot
  • The cord is too short. Really, would it have broken the bank to add a foot and make it reach my desk from the electrical outlet? Serious inconvenience
  • No documentation. The PDF is just generated data. Useless
  • Windows 8.1 sucks
  • The graphical Interface feels like a bunch of pieces stuck together without a cohesive concept.

Related articles:

DELL VENUE PRO 8 TABLET – UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL | Serendipity

DELL VENUE PRO 8 TABLET – UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

Not long ago, I chronicled my adventure with Dell Customer Disservice and Dell Technical nonSupport. A few days later, I wrote ASK A SIMPLE QUESTION, GET A SIMPLE — WRONG — ANSWER. The following day, my Dell Venue Pro 8 tablet arrived. Such a little package. Well, what did I expect? It’s just a wee bit bigger than a Kindle.

dell-venue-8-pro

Why Do I Always Have Be the Fixer?

Yesterday was computer fixing day. My son used to be a professional computer repair guy but has apparently forgotten everything he ever knew. He handed me his laptop. Seven hours later, it was running pretty well, though it could use a full reload of the OS which I’m not going to do. Still, I think it’s at least a working computer.

With all the jokes they make about Old People and computers, how come I’m the ONLY one in this 3-generation household who understands how computers work? How come, huh? I wanted to beat the kid (all 6’4″ 240 lbs of nearly bald 44-year-old kid) to death with that 15″ laptop. I’m definitely getting old and cranky.

Back to the Review (Already In Progress)

The Dell Venue Pro 8 is well-built. It has a lovely, solid, silky feel. It easily connected to the Kindle application and Netflix. Without a hiccup. Chrome, on the other hand, would not work and I gave up. Some battles aren’t worth the effort. The (free) copy of MS Office installed without a hitch too. Eventually I found a variety of other useful applications, a reasonable version of Solitaire, a clock, calendar, alarm and stopwatch and installed them too. I uninstalled a few things I didn’t have any use for. Installation and uninstallation is really easy. And fast.

The tablet wasn’t working quite as it should. It dropped its Internet connection each time it went to sleep and it wasn’t sensitive enough to touch.

This meant – OMG!!!! – another call to Dell’s tech support. I didn’t hesitate. I have learned that thinking about it will make the inevitably horrible experience even worse. Moreover, I have no intention of keeping the tablet if it isn’t going to work properly.

The problems weren’t big ones, but they were annoying. Mostly I like the tablet. Good speakers, exceptional graphics. Watched “Jack Reacher” on Netflix. Not bad. The sound isn’t as loud as I might like, but the quality is excellent and it has an earphone jack. The cameras (1 front, 1 back) work pretty well, even in low light. I haven’t tried the video camera or the voice recorder yet. Overall, it’s got a lot of bells and whistles I might really use (be still my heart).

Tech Support Again (Oy)

I am not going to go into details. Suffice to say, I was on the phone with this doofus for 4-1/2 hours. When the conversation started I had 2 relatively minor issues. After he fixed things (reinstalling the drivers, etc.), the tablet was dead. Unresponsive. He said he wanted to try one more thing. It was getting late, past dinner time and I said, “No, I’ve had enough. Either you put me on with someone who actually knows what needs to be done and can speak English well enough for us to understand each other (this guy not only didn’t speak English, he didn’t understand it either) or I swear I will return this tablet to Dell, explain that YOU are the reason why and never, ever buy anything from Dell again in this lifetime.” Which, if I didn’t get my blood pressure under control, might not be very long.

He threw in the towel and passed me to a Supervisor. Who spoke and understood English. And knew how to get the tablet up and running.

The secret of getting a dead Windows 8 computer up and running is 3 successive cold reboots. Third time, it goes into “self-repair and diagnostic mode” — the new version of Safe Mode.  Which doesn’t require a password. So finally, I was able to adjust the setting after which it began to connect automatically to WiFi. Problem solved.

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Next, I insisted I make the table NOT password protected. Which is when I discovered Windows 8.1 is still — as all Windows have been — a hack over DOS. It was comforting in a weird way. There was the old DOS prompt in its little black window, like an old friend. It meant I was not really learning a new OS. I was just learning to work around the changed GUI. I felt better.

Eliminating Password Protection

For anyone who wants to get rid of password protection in Windows 8.1, here’s how to do it:

(1) Use Search to find the command prompt. Start typing “Command” and before you hit the second “m,” you’ll see command prompt as a clickable link. Click it.

(2) Type: control userpasswords2

(3) Up comes a little window, a little window you’ve seen on every version of Windows since 3.1.

(4) UNCHECK “require all users to have a password,” then enter your password as requested. Exit all the way out and reboot. That should do it. Sometimes you have to do it twice.

Win 8.1 has the identical sub-structure as every version of Windows. Control panel, menus, SysConfig, Uninstall. It’s all there, buried a level deeper under a new — pointless and unattractive — user interface. You can change the interface using “Personalize” and make it less ugly.

My over all opinion of Windows 8.1 remains unchanged. It is not an improvement over 7. If anything, it’s a step backward. It requires significant relearning without offering any noticeable advantage to users. After you get the hang of it, it’s not hard to work with, but it’s unnecessary and adds an unfamiliar layer to what ought to be simple.

Summary

What I like:

  • Great graphics
  • Excellent sound
  • Surprisingly good camera and video
  • Useful apps that work and most of them are free
  • Feels nice to the touch with a fine build quality
  • Good battery life.

What I don’t like:

  • The cord is much too short. Really, would it have broken the bank to add a foot and make it reach my desk from the electrical outlet? This is a serious inconvenience, not a quibble
  • Horrible documentation. I’ve seen the PDF and it isn’t much more informative than the leaflet. It’s not that Win 8 is difficult. The documentation is totally inadequate
  • I don’t like Windows 8.1. Now that I can use it, it’s a lot of flash and dash. It isn’t an improvement over Windows 7 — quite the opposite. Sorry dudes. I still don’t understand why you took a good OS (Win 7) and made it harder to use
  • The graphical Interface is neither tablet or user-friendly. It doesn’t feel integrated or smooth. More like a bunch of pieces stuck together without a cohesive concept.

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.

Notes to Self (While Running System Diagnostics)

Why is my computer freezing and sending me blue screens? I guess I should run some system diagnostics. I ran them a month ago and it said everything is hunky dory. If it’s so hunky and dory, why does it keep freezing?

Diagnostics-89

(FREEZE!!)

NO, Marilyn! You cannot run diagnostics while surfing.  Bad Marilyn.

(FREEZE!!) 

NO you cannot check email. Okay, check, but don’t send anything. Ow. Frozen again.

(PUZZLEMENT)

Why is it prompting me to update the drivers I just updated? Should I do it again? Nah. Waste of time.

Diagnostic-4

(BAFFLED CONFUSION)

Why is Dell installing the software again? This is the fifth time. It’s installed. Geez. It’s just doing this to aggravate me.

(HEADACHE, POUND, POUND, THUD)

I need lunch. Afraid to leave the computer. Who knows what mischief it might get into?

(STOMACH GURGLING)

Bathroom, I don’t care what’s going on. I gotta go NOW. Computer? Sit! Stay! Don’t do anything while I’m gone.

(FREEZE!!)

I guess no matter how boring it is, I should NOT play Scrabble while running diagnostics.

Diagnostic-7

(FREEZE!!) 

I suppose this means running diagnostics is not a perfect opportunity to thoroughly clean the keyboard.

(HUH??) 

My system is fine. Absolutely nothing wrong. So what’s with all those Blue Screens of Death referencing my video card? Huh? Let’s stress test the video card.

(ZZ)

This is more boring than watching paint dry. Are we there yet?

Diagnostics-91

(RESULTS!)

Everything is freaking fine. I’ll tell myself that the next time it locks up. Thanks for nothing. Another afternoon I can never get back.