New Classics Added

I’ve posted some old columns in the classic section, dated with their original publication date.

The Big Cloud
My last printed Gigglebytes column, from 2008
Billy the Chilly
Dr. Seuss parable about Bill Gates, from 1995
Decimated Decade
My 10th anniversary column, written in 1996. This one contains links to several other old columns that I just posted.

Bill Moyer, George Washington, Abe Lincoln, and Twitter

Bill Moyer ended his show last week with some very funny thoughts on Twitter.

You can watch the whole spiel here (pbs.org apparently doesn’t offer embed codes for their videos).

Or just cut to the funny stuff below.

The Big Cloud

It was 3:00am. The streets were deserted. The fog was as thick and impenetrable as a tech support phone mail system. Somewhere in the distance, an iPod was playing a weary, bluesy tune, and I wondered what it sounded like to the misguided soul wearing those earbuds–assuming that misguided soul had any hearing left.

I was heading back to my office after a tough case. Some college kid spilled three pints of beer into his laptop. The hard drive hadn’t been backed up, of course. Luckily, the dope was smart enough to call me. I was able to recover 89 percent of the data, and 63 percent of the beer.

The name is Rowe. Mack Rowe. Private consultant.

I turned the corner and walked into a reddish, sandstone building. Holding my throbbing nose, I found the door and walked up to my office on the fifth floor.

She was waiting for me in the hallway. “Mr. Rowe,” she asked.

I noticed her immediately–and not only because she was calling me by name. She looked as sleek as a MacBook Air, and twice as expensive, with legs as long as a white paper on Recommended Security Precautions For Financial Institutions Hoping To Increase Their Presence on the Worldwide Web.

I let her into my office and sat down at my desk. “What can I do for you, sweetheart?” I asked as I poured myself a scotch with one hand and rolled a cigarette with the other.

“My name is Lulu Lacross, and I need to know the whereabouts of my data.”

I looked up at her as I put down my soaked cigarette paper and shot-glass of tobacco. “Hard drive flew south for the winter?”

“My hard drive is fine,” she told me. “It’s just that my data isn’t on it. Hasn’t been in awhile. I’ve been using online applications.”

I shuddered. Poor thing.

“When did you notice that you couldn’t access your data?” I asked.

“Oh, I can access it just fine,” she told me. “But I worry. Back when I used local applications, I knew that my documents were in My Documents. Every five minutes, HackupBackup for Paranoids copied it to another location on my hard drive. As an extra precaution, at the end of every day, I’d plug in an external hard drive and run Blackhole Backup. I’d follow that with burning everything to DVD.

“But last month I switched to online tools. I don’t know where my files are physically stored, if they’re getting backed up, or even whether they’re lonely. I don’t even know whether they belong to me, legally speaking.”

“Google apps?” I asked. She shook her head. “Office Live?” Negative, again. “Joe’s Bar, Grill, and Internet Application?” Not that one, ether. “Okay, sis, who’s online apps are you using?”

“Softpopsoftwaredotcom.com,” she told me.

I sighed. This was going to be a tough one.

Hardboiled Softpop

The next day I paid a visit to Softpop’s worldwide headquarters–a suburban house just outside of town. I rang the bell and a middle-aged man with a bewildered expression answered the door.

“Softpopsoftwaredotcom.com?” I asked. He nodded. “My name is Rowe. Mack Rowe. Private consultant.”

He smiled broadly, grabbed my arm, and pulled me inside. “Mack! How nice of you to come by.” He was dragging me down the hall to his office. “Call me Norman. I’ve just got to show you my new iPhone program for viewing widescreen movies. Much better than turning the phone sideways! I use three iPhones standing side-by-side. I’m calling it Softpop CineiPhoneRama!”

I shook my arm lose and confronted him. “Forget the iPhone, Norman. I want to know what you’ve done with Lulu Lacross’ data.”

He looked at me, confused, then he smiled. “Of course, Lulu Lacross. She’s using my suite of Internet apps.”

“You know all your customers by name?”

“Well, you can’t expect us to have a one-to-one relationship with every customers. For instance, if she called Tech Support, she’d get our slave laborer in Bombay. But I try to know all three of our customers by name.”

By now we were in his office and he sat down behind the desk as he continued talking. “Her data is perfectly safe. It resides on that XT clone in the corner. That 20MB hard drive hasn’t failed me in more than 20 years.”

“And she can access it any time she wants?”

“Of course. Until we change our policies. It’s all spelled out in our End User Licensing Agreement.” He handed me a stack of papers as thick as a phone book. It was filled with impenetrable legalize printed in very small type.

He handed me a ballpoint pen as I studied the text. “Here. It will help if you underline key phrases.”

I absentmindedly clicked the top of the pen and began to underline a sentence about first-born children.

“You did it!” he cried triumphantly! “You just clicked the EULA. That means I own your data. I own your surfing habits. I own you.”

Something here made me suspicious.

He handed me a box of Oreos. “Here, have a cookie. Have lots of cookies. That way I can track you. Goodbye.”

I left his house, somewhat dazed and confused. Somewhere in the distance, Windows was booting up.

——————————————–

Dear Readers:

My first Gigglebytes column appeared in 1986 in the San Francisco Bay Area Computer Currents. Like the vast majority of periodicals that have carried the column over the last 22 years, that one no longer exists. I have decided to discontinue this column to save the Sunday Business Post from a similar fate.

Seriously, I’m giving up this column for personal and professional reasons. Thank you for reading it and (I hope) find it amusing.

The Big Cloud: One last adventure in the casebook of Mack Rowe

It was 3:00am. The streets were deserted. The fog was as thick and impenetrable as a tech support phone mail system. Somewhere in the distance, an iPod was playing a weary, bluesy tune, and I wondered what it sounded like to the misguided soul wearing those earbuds–assuming that misguided soul had any hearing left.

I was heading back to my office after a tough case. Some college kid spilled three pints of beer into his laptop. The hard drive hadn’t been backed up, of course. Luckily, the dope was smart enough to call me. I was able to recover 89 percent of the data, and 63 percent of the beer.

The name is Rowe. Mack Rowe. Private consultant.

I turned the corner and walked into a reddish, sandstone building. Holding my throbbing nose, I found the door and walked up to my office on the fifth floor.

She was waiting for me in the hallway. “Mr. Rowe,” she asked.

I noticed her immediately–and not only because she was calling me by name. She looked as sleek as a MacBook Air, and twice as expensive, with legs as long as a white paper on Recommended Security Precautions For Financial Institutions Hoping To Increase Their Presence on the Worldwide Web.

I let her into my office and sat down at my desk. “What can I do for you, sweetheart?” I asked as I poured myself a scotch with one hand and rolled a cigarette with the other.

“My name is Lulu Lacross, and I need to know the whereabouts of my data.”

I looked up at her as I put down my soaked cigarette paper and shot-glass of tobacco. “Hard drive flew south for the winter?”

“My hard drive is fine,” she told me. “It’s just that my data isn’t on it. Hasn’t been in awhile. I’ve been using online applications.”

I shuddered. Poor thing.

“When did you notice that you couldn’t access your data?” I asked.

“Oh, I can access it just fine,” she told me. “But I worry. Back when I used local applications, I knew that my documents were in My Documents. Every five minutes, HackupBackup for Paranoids copied it to another location on my hard drive. As an extra precaution, at the end of every day, I’d plug in an external hard drive and run Blackhole Backup. I’d follow that with burning everything to DVD.

“But last month I switched to online tools. I don’t know where my files are physically stored, if they’re getting backed up, or even whether they’re lonely. I don’t even know whether they belong to me, legally speaking.”

“Google apps?” I asked. She shook her head. “Office Live?” Negative, again. “Joe’s Bar, Grill, and Internet Application?” Not that one, ether. “Okay, sis, who’s online apps are you using?”

“Softpopsoftwaredotcom.com,” she told me.

I sighed. This was going to be a tough one.

Hardboiled Softpop

The next day I paid a visit to Softpop’s worldwide headquarters–a suburban house just outside of town. I rang the bell and a middle-aged man with a bewildered expression answered the door.

“Softpopsoftwaredotcom.com?” I asked. He nodded. “My name is Rowe. Mack Rowe. Private consultant.”

He smiled broadly, grabbed my arm, and pulled me inside. “Mack! How nice of you to come by.” He was dragging me down the hall to his office. “Call me Norman. I’ve just got to show you my new iPhone program for viewing widescreen movies. Much better than turning the phone sideways! I use three iPhones standing side-by-side. I’m calling it Softpop CineiPhoneRama!”

I shook my arm lose and confronted him. “Forget the iPhone, Norman. I want to know what you’ve done with Lulu Lacross’ data.”

He looked at me, confused, then he smiled. “Of course, Lulu Lacross. She’s using my suite of Internet apps.”

“You know all your customers by name?”

“Well, you can’t expect us to have a one-to-one relationship with every customers. For instance, if she called Tech Support, she’d get our slave laborer in Bombay. But I try to know all three of our customers by name.”

By now we were in his office and he sat down behind the desk as he continued talking. “Her data is perfectly safe. It resides on that XT clone in the corner. That 20MB hard drive hasn’t failed me in more than 20 years.”

“And she can access it any time she wants?”

“Of course. Until we change our policies. It’s all spelled out in our End User Licensing Agreement.” He handed me a stack of papers as thick as a phone book. It was filled with impenetrable legalize printed in very small type.

He handed me a ballpoint pen as I studied the text. “Here. It will help if you underline key phrases.”

I absentmindedly clicked the top of the pen and began to underline a sentence about first-born children.

“You did it!” he cried triumphantly! “You just clicked the EULA. That means I own your data. I own your surfing habits. I own you.”

Something here made me suspicious.

He handed me a box of Oreos. “Here, have a cookie. Have lots of cookies. That way I can track you. Goodbye.”

I left his house, somewhat dazed and confused. Somewhere in the distance, Windows was booting up.

——————————————–

Dear Readers:

My first Gigglebytes column appeared in 1986 in the San Francisco Bay Area Computer Currents. Like the vast majority of periodicals that have carried the column over the last 22 years, that one no longer exists. I have decided to discontinue this column to save the Sunday Business Post from a similar fate.

Seriously, I’m giving up this column for personal and professional reasons. Thank you for reading it and (I hope) find it amusing.

Poetic Frustration

You’ve called Krell Komputer, Customer Care.
We’ll make you happy or we’ll make you swear.

Hi, I ordered your desktop, the Power Machine
With 12 USB ports and 20-inch screen.
The box came today and I opened it quick,
I pulled out the Styrofoam, ten inches thick,
Found the mouse and the keyboard, that big LCD.
But one thing was lacking; you left out the PC.

Left out the PC? Now that’s some displacement.
But we’ll fix you up; send you out a replacement.
Whoops! I cannot do it; this is customer care.
We’re here to take phone calls, not ship out the ware.
We’re not here to help when the system, it fails.
Since you bought a computer, you should have called Sales.

I must call again? Just the thought makes me cold.
For eighteen full minutes I waited on hold.

You need not call again, nor this time need you wait,
I’ll transfer you over and put you through straight.
I’ll tell your whole story to Stanley or Leon,
And you’ll have your PC in the flash of an eon.

Well, alright. If it must be, I’ll…my, she was bold.
Before I consented she put me on hold.

(23 minutes later)

You’ve called Krell Komputers, my name, it is Eddy,
The Department of Sales, have your credit card ready.

I’m not here to buy, not this time, not this minute.
You shipped me a box. No computer was in it.
I want what I bought; it’s that simple and clean.
I want my Krell Deluxe fast Power Machine.

I can see why you’re angry; we’re the ones that did err.
But this isn’t for Sales; please call Customer Care.

That’s who I just called! What I’m telling is true!
I tried Customer Care and they sent me to you!

This is Customer Care’s job. I’m not being brash.
I’m not here to solve problems; I’m here to take cash.
I’m speaking the truth; I’m a really straight shooter.
Only Customer Care can replace your computer.
But I’ll tell you what: I will stay on the phone.
We’ll do this together. You won’t be alone.

(45 minutes later)

You’ve called Krell Komputer, Customer Care.
We’ll make you happy or we’ll make you swear.

I’ve been on the phone now, an hour or more.
Are you the same person I spoke to before?
I hope so. This hassle will soon make me cry.

An hour? No way! Our turnover’s too high.

Alright, then, I’ll tell you; I’ll start at the top,
‘Though I fear that this phone call will end in a flop.
I bought a computer, I bought it from Krell;
In the box that you sent me, no PC did dwell.
A keyboard and mouse, yes, so true I could hug ‘em,
An LCD too, but with no place to plug ‘em.
The PC is not there. It’s a thing I ain’t got.
But it’s paid for, so please, won’t you send what I bought?

This is Customer Care, you need someone in Sales.
I’ll transfer you, but will you stop with these wails?

I’m wailing because you folks make my heart droop.
My life has turned into an infinite loop!
I won’t go to Sales! Won’t you please help me out?

Let me ask you one question and please do not shout.
This computer you don’t have-the source of your rage-
Can you use it to look at an Internet page?

Of course I cannot. What a question is that?
No computer! No browser! No e-mail! No chat!

The PC ain’t working, from keyboard to port?
I’ll transfer you gladly to Techie Support.

To Techie Support? But I…cursed is my fate!
She’s put me on hold. Well, I guess I must wait.

(63 minutes later)

Welcome to Krell’s Technologic Support.
What is the problem you wish to report?
We’ll find a solution that’s easy and true,
Or we’ll bring you a death screen with white text on blue.

I bought a computer, I bought it from Krell,
And you’ve all turned my life into one living hell.
The box, it arrived and I opened it wide
To find keyboard and mouse but no PC inside.
I’ve been on the phone now for hours so long,
That I could have watched Jackson’s remake of King Kong.
But I would be happy; yes, I’d dance with glee
If you would just please mail my PC to me.

Are you saying we shipped you a box that was bare?

No. Keyboard and mouse, and a screen were all there.

And was there a disc labeled Rescue CD?

Let me check. Yes there is. But what good can it be?

What good? Why you’re saved? Put it into the drive,
Reboot while you cry “I’m so glad I’m alive!”
This disc, will work wonders just like a magician,
Returning your system to fact’ry condition.

What system? What drive? Why can’t you understand
That I have no PC? Your advise should be banned!
Factory condition? Can you possibly get
That my PC has not left the factory yet?

Yes, I understand why you’re angry today?
But I simply said what they trained me to say.
Customer Care’s what you need; I’ve been told.
I’ll transfer you there. Wait a minute on hold.

(98 minutes later)

You’ve called Krell Komputer, Customer Care.
We’ll make you happy or we’ll make you swear.
We’ve made good on our promise; for that we’re quite proud.
Your cursing is coming through clear and quite loud.

(Phone hangs up)

Longhorn and Bull

Tired of viruses? Of lost files? Of Windows freezing up because your firewall is incompatible with your printer driver (before you updated it, the firewall was incompatible with the firewall). Do you want an operating system that’s easy, stable, and secure, but you’d rather give money to Bill Gates then Steve Jobs?
Have no fear. The operating system you seek is on the horizon. As you read this, Microsoft is busy creating the absolutely flawless next version of Windows. Codenamed Longwait, it will probably be released under the moniker Windows 2005…06…07.
(Why the codename? Because it’s a secret. No one is supposed to know about this version except Bill Gates, Microsoft’s programmers, and people who read articles like this.)
Let’s look at the many wonderful features that Longwait has to offer:
Users want security and stability, so it’s hardly surprising that the first thing you notice when you boot Longwait are the beautiful icons (assuming, of course, that it boots). Folders now look like the Mona Lisa. My Computer (renamed Bill’s Computer) is based on Goya’s The Incantation. The Systray’s tiny Windows Messenger icon is an accurate reproduction of the Sistine Chapel.

Hide and Seek
On a less visible level, Microsoft is revamping the file system, replacing the warn-out NTFS with WinSLS (Win Some Lose Some). More than just a file system, WinSLS promises to be an organizational storage platform where clusters of data (called “files”) can be grouped together in superclusters (expected to be named “folders”), then permanently stored in a special off-the-drive state (commonly referred to as “lost”).
Searching a WinSLS-formatted hard drive will be as easy as watching an annoying, animated puppy. Search for “Aunt Frederick,” and you’ll get every file that mentions her name. Not only that, but you’ll get every photo on your hard drive that includes Aunt Frederick, as well as those of people with similar complexions. Not good enough? You can refine your photo searches by right-clicking each of your photos, selecting Properties, clicking the People tab, and typing “Aunt Frederick” into the list of people who are not in that particular picture.
There’s no question about it: WinSLS is one of the most important and vital improvements within the Longwait package. Microsoft is now promising that WinSLS will not be part of the initial release. Even without WinSLS, Longwait will make file management manageable. For instance, click on a drive in Windows Explorer and you’ll see a bar graph of the drive’s used and free space—a major productivity gain over XP’s pie chart.
And you can forget about confusing drive letters like C:. Longwait will identify drives by meaningful tags like 0A88C507-9D61-49C2-AC98-CFF2B996F9FD.
Look at the desk or table where you keep your computer. Notice how the phone, the monitor, and the plate with yesterday’s food rise above the flat surface to varying heights? Technically speaking, this effect is called a “3D desktop.” Longwait will offer the same capability. You’ll be able to bring document windows up close so that you can study them in detail, or send them far away so that you can lose them under bills that you should have paid six months ago. You can even turn them on their side, allowing you to examine them from a unique, never-before-visible angle where they become—to use the technical term—”a line.”
And if the line is too wide, you can make the window disappear. Each window on the Longwait desktop has a slider for setting its “transparency level.” If the slider is all the way up, the window looks normal. Lower it a bit, and you can sort of see what’s underneath. Bring it all the way down, and the window disappears completely—along with the slider needed to make it visible again. For years now, user interface experts have called for a “transparent” operating system. With Longwait, Microsoft finally delivers on this never-made promise, offering a desktop where nothing is visible.
Security Blanket
What about security? Longwait will feature a built-in firewall guaranteed to let any data out of your system, plus a Security Center window to tell you things you already know. It also offers a good deal that isn’t in XP SP2.
For one thing, everything on your hard drive will be encrypted, including the program used for decryption, insuring that no one will ever access your sensitive data. And preparing a used Longwait computer for a new owner will be easier than ever—a Wipe Hard Drive button will sit right next to Turn Off Computer.
To protect computers from their users, Longwait will offer what Microsoft is calling Least Likely User Accounts. This setting will block people from doing anything potentially dangerous, such as formatting the hard drive, editing the Registry, or simultaneously running two Microsoft Office applications. But these users will still be able to, for instance, add a printer driver—a task that everyone agrees is perfectly safe.
Administrators will have no trouble remotely gaining full control of a system with a Least Likely user logged on. All they will have to do is send a single e-mail to that system with a subject line containing the word “v1agra.”
There’s no question about it: Longwait is the perfect version of Windows. It’s stable, secure, and 100-percent bug free. And it will remain that way right up until the day before it goes on sale.

Managing Time Management

The deadline was fast approaching. In 24 hours I would have to present my report on the correlation between budget shortfalls and middle manager suicides. I still had 15 slides to create, and just couldn’t create the image I needed of a man in a suit jumping off the descending end of a line graph.
And that wasn’t all. The Sith Lords were on the verge of crushing the Jedi, and I would soon have to choose between the light side or the dark.
At that very moment my boss entered the cubicle (speak of the dark side of the force). I Alt-Tabbed to PowerPoint, spun around to face him, and smiled with all the sincerity of a cat with a goldfish in its mouth.
“George,” he said, “we want to use you for a little experiment.” I tensed up, but I needn’t have worried; this time they weren’t going to try exchanging my brain with a monkey’s. “Ralph from IS here is going to install a new program on your computer, TimeTattler 2. It will efficientize and productivitize your workday throughput by maximizing buzzword usage—No, that was last week. By tracking how much time you spend on any particular application.”
“Of course,” I said, wondering how I was going to hide Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords from the IS geek looking hungrily at my PC. “Should I reformat the hard drive, first?”
Big Software is Watching You
The answer was “No.” I was shooed away for twenty minutes. When I returned, Ralph, the IS geek, was just rebooting. “All yours,” he said cheerily as he got up. “And by the way, you really can’t trust Darth Sion.”
I sat down and checked my e-mail. There was a long message from my wife. We needed to make an appointment to meet with the school counselor to discuss little Elmer’s tendency to talk out of turn in class—usually correcting the teacher.
I was about to click the Reply button when a message box popped up onscreen. “You have spent the last 3 minutes and 14.834 seconds in a non-business-related activity. Click the ‘I Apologize’ button to avoid trouble.”
I clicked the button and the message box disappeared, along with the window displaying my wife’s e-mail. I brought it up again and up came another TimeTattler 2005 message box: “You have attempted to return to a non-business-related activity for which you have already been digitally reprimanded. Click the ‘I Humbly Apologize’ button or I’m going to tell on you!”
I clicked the button and another message appeared: “Too late.”
“George!” It was my boss, suddenly at the cubicle entrance. I turned around and was relieved to see that he was all smiles. “This TimeTattler program is fantastic! It reported to me right away that you were reading e-mail from your wife, and even gave me the text of both the message and your likely answer. Isn’t that wonderful?! If you do that again, you’re fired.”
He walked cheerfully away.
I loaded my presentation into PowerPoint, clicked a few buttons, and phoned my wife. I was leaving a message on her voicemail when TimeTattler popped up another message: “You have not used your keyboard or mouse in 20 seconds. I must therefore assume that you are making a personal phone call. Click the ‘I Humbly Apologize While Groveling on the Floor and Kissing Your Virtual, Non-Existent Toes.’”
This time I clicked quickly, then returned to my slide. But I was stuck. I didn’t have all the facts necessary to make an informed judgment about cause and effect. Were managers killing themselves because sales were down, or did their deaths somehow suppress sales?
Enforcement
I was sitting in front of the PC, contemplating this problem, when my PC’s speakers went off like a police siren and TimeTattler put up another message: “You’ve had it, buster!” There was no Apology option this time, just OK and a button with language I can’t repeat here. Soon my boss appeared, followed by representatives of IP, Personnel, and the Fumigation Department. No one was smiling. “Okay, George, explain yourself!”
“I was working on my presentation,” I exclaimed, “and I stopped to think about…”
“Think?! I hired you to evaluate our situation and make recommendations, not think!
“Your time with us is over,” he continued. “I’m going back to my office to fill out your termination papers—just as soon as I’ve finished going over the latest sales figures.”
That was the last I ever saw of him alive.
The advantage of a dead boss, aside from not getting fired, is that you get to go home early. “Take the rest of the day off,” the Personnel Director told us. “Relax, enjoy yourself, appreciate life, and be sure to take your work home.”
As I left my office, Ralph from IS handed me a CD. “TimeTattler 2005,” he told me. “So you can work more efficiently at home.” As soon as I got home, I booted my PC and put the TimeTattler CD to good use—as a coaster. It must have helped; an hour later the presentation was done.
The next day, my presentation went off without a hitch (and, more impressively, without a suicide). In fact, the company heads were so impressed that they offered me my old boss’ job. I declined.
Now, life is good. My new boss is a very nice, deeply depressed alcoholic. Little Elmer is keeping his mouth shut. And TimeTattler 2005? It no longer bothers me. I simply changed The Sith Lords’ file name to powerpnt.exe.


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