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Crash Course on Computers

[My column in the Sunday magazine.]

In science fiction movies, computers always become smarter and smarter, until they achieve consciousness, at which point they get the bright idea of exterminating the human race. No one's ever invented a fully functioning science fiction computer that didn't have a serious hankering for homicide. They're like silicon sharks.

And they're always good at what they do. Terminators are admirably efficient at going back in time to kill the parents of the boy who will later lead the human insurrection. And the Matrix is what engineers would call a "robust" system for turning humans into batteries for powering yet more machines.

Here's what's missing from this futuristic vision: You, waiting in line yet again at Best Buy, wondering if the techies have fixed your #$%@#$ laptop.

In the real world of the 21st century, the only thing computers kill efficiently is themselves. We've created a generation of suicidal, reflexively crashing machines. I'd do anything to own a computer like HAL in "2001: A Space Odyssey," which, though sociopathic, at least would tell you to your face that he saw you talking smack about him and is therefore not going to open the pod bay doors.

I had to take my laptop to the computer geeks because I kept getting the BSOD -- the Blue Screen of Death. That's literally what it's called. It's a bunch of words and a blue background that flashes when the whole thing crashes.

"Your operating system is corrupt," a computer technician informed me in a monotone. I felt the sting of the verdict. The language of computer malfunction is never reassuring. "You might have a virus" has become such a common phrase in our society it ought to be engraved on our coins. If not a virus, you might have a worm. Or you've been invaded by a Trojan. The techies all but say, "Your laptop has an oozing, suppurating lesion."

It's a tough job, working at the computer help desk. Every customer shows up crazy-mad. The fellow behind the desk didn't cause the problem, and might actually fix it, but he still gets yelled at, because he's the human face of an entire universe of dysfunctional machines -- of corrupt, vile, putrescent operating systems. And you can't yell at the machine, since, even if it hadn't ceased to function altogether, it was never a good listener.

After my laptop problems, I called one of the leading technologists in the country: Jaron Lanier, inventor of the concept of virtual reality. Lanier is blunt about what's happening today with computers: "The software continues to suck."

Corporations rush new software to market even though it's crashy and kludgy and totally verklempt. We're still at the beginning of a long process -- stuck in the Model T era of information technology. Sure, computer chips steadily improve, but the codes are buggier than ever. "Hardware does get better -- that's called Moore's Law," Lanier said. "Software gets worse, and that doesn't have a name, because it's embarrassing."

Lanier has a profound conclusion: Computers are fundamentally misdesigned. The founders of the industry used 19th century technologies such as telephone and telegraph lines as their inspiration. As a result, computers analyze linear streams of data. One mistake anywhere along the line, and you may get BSOD'd. It would have been smarter to make machines that respond to patterns, that sense many things at once and get a general feel for things. Computers would thus exist, Lanier has written, in "a world of approximation rather than perfection."

This is how humans survive. We're pattern recognizers. We're touchy-feely, not linear. We don't try to be perfect -- we just bumble along, and we don't let a mistake here and there crash our entire existence. The most sophisticated robot in the world can't navigate a room full of furniture as well as a human toddler can.

So even as we hate ourselves for being unable to figure out why our computer has crashed again, we can be proud that the human mind is niftier than anything you can buy from Dell or Hewlett-Packard.

I'm replacing the corrupt operating system, and if that doesn't work, I'll terminate the laptop outright. Show it who's boss -- still.

By Joel Achenbach  |  June 18, 2006; 8:29 PM ET
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Next: Spontaneous Parthenogenesis


Heh . . . heh heh heh . . .
He said "putrescent."

Posted by: Achenfan | June 18, 2006 8:37 PM | Report abuse

Joel writes:
"In science fiction movies, computers always become smarter and smarter, until they achieve consciousness, at which point they get the bright idea of exterminating the human race."

NYT tonight:
June 18, 2006
North Korea Appears Set to Launch Missile

WASHINGTON, June 18 -- North Korea appears to have completed fueling of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States, American officials said today, a move that greatly increases the probability that Pyongyang will actually go ahead with a launch.

After analyzing satellite images, American officials said they believed that booster rockets were loaded onto a launch pad and fuel tanks fitted to a missile at a site in North Korea's remote east coast. Fueling a missile is generally considered close to an irreversible step, since it is very hard to siphon fuel back out.

The fueling set off a flurry of diplomatic activity over the weekend, as officials from the United States, Japan and China worked furiously to try to forestall a launch. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke to her Japanese and Chinese counterparts, urging the Chinese, in particular, to try to pressure North Korea against firing its Taepodong 2 missile.

Posted by: Loomis | June 18, 2006 8:47 PM | Report abuse

"The founders of the industry used 19th century technologies such as telephone and telegraph lines as their inspiration. As a result, computers analyze linear streams of data."

Parallel processing, anyone?

Posted by: Loomis | June 18, 2006 8:49 PM | Report abuse

Joel - I feel your pain.

I have something to say, even though I am utterly sure it will land me in a world of - the French have a word for it - MERDE.

I'll say it quietly, gently. sincerely...

Macs don't get the blue screen of death.

If you had one of the new MacBooks, you could run that Bill Gates stuff if you really had to, but would also be able to use Mac OS X which is, in the eyes of many, the bee's knees.

This is not meant to be one of those obnoxious, partisan, flame-baiting platform-war inducing screeds... I just really think that if you tried it, you might be a happy camper.

And if you wrote about the experience... you could even deduct the purchase. :)

Good luck, Joel, and I do love the boodle.

Posted by: Randy Walters | June 18, 2006 8:53 PM | Report abuse

kb, I'm writing in answer to your excellent tribute to your dad on the Father's Day Boodle. We were out and about indulging my husband's Father's Day wishes and stumbled on a few interesting sites and did a little exploring.

On the way home my son said, "Well.. I can add all that to the list of stuff I wouldn't have learned if I had been in school today."

Posted by: TBG | June 18, 2006 8:54 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Randy Walters... you are a very smart man... that's what I've been trying to get across to the boodlers for ages. Get a Mac and you'll be in heaven!!!... and you can run Microsoft Office on it so for you PC users... no worries mate!

Posted by: Miss Toronto | June 18, 2006 9:25 PM | Report abuse

Randy... Miss T... Boodlers all...

I will attest to the genius of Mac use:

Posted by: Anonymous | June 18, 2006 9:51 PM | Report abuse

"Your operating system is corrupt"

I thought we were going to stay away from the red meat political issues for awhile.

I refuse to buy into the cult of Mac. My wife has a G4 Powerbook that exhibits all sorts of odd behavior. We have yet to finish the iPhoto album she started a year ago, because the rendering engine chokes once the album gets beyond a certain length.

She used iMovie to transfer her students' PowerPoint presentations to a VCR and all sorts of digital artifacts would randomly appear.

Macs may not display the BSD, but they do lock up, trash data, and get corrupted. They just do it much more elegantly and politely.

Posted by: yellojkt | June 18, 2006 10:13 PM | Report abuse

And we just got back from the Fathers Day bicycle ride. We went to Friendship Park at the south end of BWI and rode the BWI trail clockwise until we go to the B&A trail and took that south to Brusters Ice Cream in Glen Burnie. All athletic activities should end with enough caloric intake to make it a net positive.

Posted by: yellojkt | June 18, 2006 10:21 PM | Report abuse

yello, I've been programming PCs since 1980 (every version of DOS, Windows and OS/2, a couple of Linux distribs), and I'm extremely happy with the new Macs. They're not perfect, but they're real nice. I suggest repairing the permissions, that's usually what fouls them up when people try to deal with a Berkeley Unix system like an appliance... they do want to be shut down properly and all. You hold down C or S or something to force a repair on boot up, or check the diskutil options.

Posted by: Error Flynn | June 18, 2006 11:04 PM | Report abuse

My father (definitely not "dad") liked fine craftsmanship and lured me into projects like making a telescope mirror, which turned out to be surprisingly feasible. He was utterly negative about social ritual, including high school sports. I now suspect this may have had something to do with his experience during the second World War. He had been been put into several colleges, prsumably in expectation that he'd be trained for occupation duty. Until the military needed troops and he became a medic in the Pacific. I doubt that a stint in Korea as a young dentist helped much, either.

He was one of the first to buy a VCR, but later had to abandon it as dementia made using it impossible. So he missed personal computers. I guess the software messes would have driven him nuts.

Myself, I use simple stuff every day: Word, Lotus Notes, a bit of GIS. Maybe I should encourage my home hard drive to die once again, to prompt purchase of that Mac.

Meanwhile, the home agriculture project is moving ahead. I now have a very hardy Mexican-Caribbean avocado and a compact anti-squirrel mango. You harvest the fruit while ripe but green, then ripen it in paper bags indoors.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | June 19, 2006 1:15 AM | Report abuse

A reminder for all of you great people:
Cell phone numbers will be published to telemarketers in the next couple weeks. Call 888-382-1222 from your cell to register it on the national no-call list! It's fast and easy.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 19, 2006 7:37 AM | Report abuse

I like my mangoes on the green and sour side. Mangoes in south Florida are like tomatoes in Maryland. The people that grow them end up with so many they have to give them away to neighbors and coworkers. Not that I minded that at mango season. See, I can say nice things about Florida if I want to.

Mac bashing: There are curently two phantom files in the "Trash" that my wife can't get rid of. The files don't exist, can't be found or restored; they just add two clicks to the process everytime she empties the trash.

I'm sure I could get on tech support and spend an hour digging around the root directory and fix it, but you can't have it both ways. Either Macs are easy to use and idiot-proof or they are highly disguised UNIX clones that let you do anything. Don't sell us both side of that double think at once.

They are opening an Apple store in The Mall in Columbia. My wife can't wait. She just wishes it would happen before school starts again in the fall.

Posted by: yellojkt | June 19, 2006 8:38 AM | Report abuse

It's not a cult, yellojkt, it's freedom from the tyranny of Micro$oft. I've had to support thousands of PeeCees, Macs, and various flavors of Unix boxes over the past 15 years, and can state unequivocally that Apple products require about 1/100th of the attention of PCs. The other Unix workstations are even less pesky because the people who are using them are usually engineers who can deal with their own problems.

When a virus/worm gets loose on our corporate network, I'm the only one getting any work done (except that I'm usually helping the PC users recover, because I'm nice that way, and hardly ever gloat.)


Posted by: Pixel | June 19, 2006 8:43 AM | Report abuse


From Snopes:

Claim: Cell phone users must register their numbers with the national "Do Not Call" directory to prevent their cell phone numbers from being released to telemarketers.

Status: False.

Get the story here:

Posted by: TBG | June 19, 2006 8:50 AM | Report abuse

We see Dave and Frank through the porthole of the pod from Hal's point of view and learn that Hal has been lip reading their conversation. Does anyone know what Dave and Frank were saying in that specific fragment of conversation, assuming that it was not a repeat of the conversation we have already heard? I always suspected that Kubrick put something in there extra for people who could lip read.

Posted by: miamibob | June 19, 2006 8:51 AM | Report abuse

I don't think any of us want to re-hash that crap from the other day, Joel, but I thought I'd point out a few errors and debatable points in Hugh Hewitt's dazzling command of military history. I've read a lot about Guadalcanal over the years, and I thought I smelled a few problems in what he was saying, so, being an amateur military historian myself, I did a little checking. So this may be a bit long and detailed, but generally it shows Hewitt doesn't know what he's talking about. I know how that will come as a shock to many of you.

In the interests of completeness, and so there's no accusation of taking things out of context, I'm going to quote big chunks of stuff. First, here's Hewitt's exchange with Joel about fiascos and Guadalcanal, from Hewitt's own transcript:

HH: But I want to have more of a conversation, Joel. These are honest questions, trying to plumb whether or not you have a clue what you're talking about. Was Guadalcanal a fiasco, Joel?

JA: You mean in World War II?

HH: Yeah.

JA: No.

HH: Absolutely it was. It was an utter and complete fiasco from the first landing...

JA: How did we get to Guadalcanal?

HH: Because I'm trying to establish fiascoes, or tactical errors, of which...


OK, some necessary background. Guadalcanal wasn't a battle, it was what is called a "campaign," a series of battles (Aug. 7, 1942-February 9, 1943). In this case, the Guadalcanal campaign was about six months long, and featured no less than six major sea battles, four major land battles (and many, many lesser fights and skirmishes, but four is the generally accepted number of major land battles: Tenaru River, Bloody Ridge, Mantanikau River, and the late October second attempt to re-take Henderson Field, aka Maruyama's Attack), and many, many air battles and bombing raids that are very difficult to quantify or categorize into "single" air battles.
Of the six naval battles, we (the U.S. Navy, aided by British and Australian ships) lost three battles (Savo Island, Santa Cruz Islands, Tassafaronga), drew one (Eastern Solomons), and won two (Cape Esperance aka 2nd Savo Island, and the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, aka 3rd Savo Island, a two-part affair over four days that broke the back of the Japanese Navy in the area). (In fact, the first part of that battle was so complex and shrouded in "the fog of war" that we didn't even know if we'd "won" or "lost" until after the war was over and we had access to enough Japanese records to figure out the score. Turns out we in fact "lost," but at the time thought we'd won.) The U.S. Army and Marines won all four land battles, albeit some were mighty close. In the air, Allied aircraft won the air overall.

Yes, there were many, many blunders, errors, mistakes, timidity, etc., on both sides. Historians pretty generally agree that if the Allies made mistakes, the Japanese made even more, and the only reason we won is because the Japanese blundered even more than we did.

For instance, here's historian Eric Hammel summing up the significance of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal:

"On November 12, 1942, the [Japanese] had the better ships and the better tactics. After November 15, 1942, its leaders lost heart and it lacked the strategic depth to face the burgeoning U.S. Navy and its vastly improving weapons and tactics. The Japanese never got better while, after November 1942, the U.S. Navy never stopped getting better."

Here's a good analysis from the Navy Historical Center Web site at www (dot) history (dot)

"The early phases of the [campaign] have the odd sense of being a bloody comedy, where the arrogant Japanese consistently underestimated their enemy and failed to take adequate actions to deal with them, while the Americans came close to simply giving away the campaign through bumbling, timidity, and indecision. It might be said that the Americans won the Guadalcanal campaign simply because they bumbled less than the Japanese.

"However, in a broader sense, the Americans demonstrated a clear grasp of the art of war. The Japanese were not being entirely complacent in assuming that the Americans would not take the offensive against them until well into 1943, since there were senior officers in the American high command who assumed the same thing. They were pushed into action by aggressive leaders like MacArthur and King, who wanted to hit the Japanese as fast as they could. Neither the US Navy nor the Marines were really ready to take the offensive in August 1942, and their preparations and training were inadequate. But they took the initiative and, despite major reverses, held on to it to the end of the campaign. This decisiveness more than compensated for all the bumbling."


Finally, there is this indisputable fact: after 6 months of fighting the US won, and the Japanese lost. A few additional points:

(1) The initial intelligence, that the Japanese were building an airstrip, was correct.

(2) The analysis and conclusion of that report was correct: we couldn't let them keep that airfield and had to take it away from them.

(3) There was no alternative method of dealing with that problem: we had to take the field and the island.

(4) The campaign received the absolute maximum available support and resources (which at times wasn't much, but that's all there was).

(5) The conclusion therefore is that the overall campaign was NOT "an utter and complete fiasco from the first landing...," despite setbacks which included the worst sea battle defeat in U.S. Navy history. If it had been such a fiasco, by definition (my definition, anyway), we'd have lost. We didn't.

Given this much information, I believe people possess enough information to make their own decision as to whether Guadalcanal was, as Hewitt claims, "an utter and complete fiasco from the first landing..." Guadalcanal is regarded as the turning point of the entire war in the Pacific, so one has to wonder exactly how utter and complete a fiasco it must have been.

Oh, a little bit about that first landing that was the fiasco Hewitt mentions: It was unopposed on Guadalcanal itself, and among the ELEVEN THOUSAND MARINES WHO LANDED (yes, I am shouting here) there were zero casualties. Zero. None. Not one. Nada. Zilch. Zip. Sound like a "fiasco" to you? Here's a little more detail, from a very good site at http://www (dot) vectorsite (dot) net/tw2guad_1.html:

"The landing on Guadalcanal itself was unopposed and there were no Marine casualties. The Japanese on the island were mostly poorly-armed construction engineers, many of them impressed Korean laborers, and took off into the jungle in surprise. Things didn't remain quiet for long. Two hours after the first landing, the invasion fleet received a message from Paul Mason, an Australian coastwatcher on Bougainville, that 24 Japanese torpedo bombers were headed their way.

"Actually, there were 27 Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" twin-engine bombers, plus an escort consisting of Mitsubishi Zero fighters. They had been preparing for a raid on New Guinea from Rabaul, but were hastily reassigned to attack the American fleet instead, even though Guadalcanal was 1,050 kilometers (650 miles) away and they were certain to run out of fuel. The Japanese aircraft were loaded with bombs and not torpedoes, making attacks on ships difficult, but they did what they could against the twisting and turning Allied vessels, antiaircraft fire, and Grumman F4F Wildcat carrier fighters.

"A second wave of Japanese bombers followed two hours later, but though the attacks sent the Allied ships into wild maneuvers, disorganizing the landing, the bombers did no serious damage. Air battles would continue through the next day, with the Japanese losing 42 aircraft, many of them simply running out of gas, with the US Navy losing a destroyer and a transport, plus 21 fighters."

"The Marines suffered no casualties on Guadalcanal all through D-Day, and by the evening of 7 August there were 11,000 of them ashore. During the night, the inexperienced Marines were easily spooked by strange jungle sounds and prone to fire into the bush at nothing in particular. The next day, they moved inland against Henderson Field itself and captured it with little resistance.

"The airfield was actually almost complete. The Marines had arrived just at the right time to steal it from the Japanese. The Japanese had been too surprised to destroy their equipment and supplies before they were evicted, so the Marines also obtained trucks and construction equipment; fuel, construction materials, and large stocks of food; and even an ice-making machine. The Marines put up a sign:

TOJO ICE FACTORY -- Under New Management

"The Marines had taken Guadalcanal easily. Keeping it was not going to be as easy."


Some fiasco, alright. Two ineffective air strikes of which we had advance warning, and we knocked out their planes at a 2-1 ratio over our losses. Hewitt is clearly clueless about the first landing.

On nearby Tulagi, invaded the same day, here's what happened: "For 31 hours the Japanese on Tulagi held out against the Marines, charging them suicidally over the old cricket field and then firing on them from caves until the Marines blasted them out with dynamite charges. The Japanese put up a similarly stubborn fight on Gavutu and Tanambogo, assisted by the fact that the two little islands were surrounded by coral reefs and the only places to land were fearfully exposed to fire.

"The Marines lost 144 men killed and 194 wounded. There were about 800 Japanese on the three little islands. About 700 of them were killed, with only 23 captured, and only three of those voluntarily surrendering. The survivors fled to Florida Island; cleaning them out would take several weeks."

A touger fight, by all means, but over in 31 hours with Japanese losses more than three times ours. (That ration, BTW, is usually exactly opposite on attack versus defense.)

Yes, the first landings were indeed a fiasco. For the Japanese. Nice call, there, Hugh.

Not content with his discussion with Joel, Hewitt then interviewed Christopher Hitchens, during which this exchange occurred:

HH: But all wars have that [blunders and mistakes, etc.]. I pointed out Guadalcanal to [Joel]was a complete botch from beginning to end, but a necessary part of victory.

CH: Well, then we agree on that. How did he take it?

HH: I'm not quite sure he understood why Guadalcanal was a complete botch, but..."

After Hewitt's initial exchange with Joel quoted at the top of this post, Hewitt had this to say:

HH: ...There are lots of second guessing. But given any kind of war, and given every fiasco, and I mean, there are much bigger fiascoes than Guadalcanal in World War II. There's the fiasco of a training exercise off of Britain in advance of D-Day, which I believe killed more people than have died in this entire war.

Let's just ignore Hewitt saying that Guadalcanal was an "utter and complete fiasco" a little earlier, and now says there were fiascoes that were even uttererererer and completerererer.

I love the one he picked. Here Hewitt is referring to the disaster at Slapton Sands, a major training exercise and rehearsal landing called Exercise Tiger to prepare for D-Day. Elements of the 4th Infrantry Division were practicing the landing on the south coast of England at a place called Slapton Sands. The first wave of soldiers had gotten ashore successfully, and a second wave of follow-up and support people were being brought ashore in 8 big landing craft called LSTs. And indeed there were two major foul-ups, as we shall see.

Here's what happened: A flotilla of nine German E-boats (kinda bigger and meaner than American PT-Boats, but close enough for this discussion) on routine patrol picked up some radio chatter, and set out to investigate. When the Germans saw the LSTs, they thought they were destroyers, and launched an immediate torpedo attack. Torpedoes struck three LSTs. One was damaged but made it back to port with some casualties; a second caught fire and later sank, and a third sank in 6 minutes. Sailors as well as embarked soldiers from the 4th Inf. went into the water and many were drowned; the total casualties came to 749 killed, and about 300 injured. It was, indeed, a disaster.

Now, about the mistakes, from an article from the Navy Historical Center:

"Although there were a number of British picket ships stationed off the south coast, including some facing Cherbourg, only two vessels were assigned to accompany the convoy -- a corvette and a World War I-era destroyer. Damaged in a collision, the destroyer put into port, and a replacement vessel came to the scene too late.

"Because of a typographical error in orders, the U.S. LSTs were on a radio frequency different from the corvette and the British naval headquarters ashore. When one of the picket ships spotted German torpedo boats soon after midnight, a report quickly reached the British corvette but not the LSTs. Assuming the U.S. vessels had received the same report, the commander of the corvette made no effort to raise them.

"Whether an absence of either or both of those factors would have had any effect on the tragic events that followed would be impossible to say -- but probably not. The tragedy off Slapton Sands was simply one of those cruel happenstances of war."


The money line: "would be impossible to say -- but probably not."

Was Slapton Sands both a tragedy and a disaster? Undoubtedly. It was the worst training accident/incident of WWII. But a fiasco? That's your call.

Now here's what's interesting: note the casualty figure: 749 dead. Hewitt says, "which I believe killed more people than have died in this entire war." You could play fast and lose and say "killed in this entire war" means both sides, and civilians as well, and nobody knows that number, but even Bush put Iraqis killed at 30,000, and some say more than 100,000. But let's not even go there. I'm reasonably certain Hewitt meant U.S. military casualties, even though that's not what he said, but which at the moment stands at about 2,500. And you can start playing all sorts of games with Iraqi casualty figures, but it is sufficient for these purposes to use 2,500, and Slapton Sands at 749, and declare Hewitt's military history and/or recollection to be thoroughly faulty.

All in all, I'd say the interview was pretty much a complete and utter fiasco for Hewitt, fact-wise. But that's just me. Here's Hewitt's own words to Joel: "These are honest questions, trying to plumb whether or not you have a clue what you're talking about."

Posted by: Curmudgeon | June 19, 2006 9:05 AM | Report abuse


Your experience from the trenches is valid. Macs are tougher to crash because there are fewer ways to screw them up. They are very powerful machines with enormous training wheels and bumper guards in place.

A lot of my complaints about Macs is the lack of software depth and being hamstung into doing things the way Apple developers think they should be done. I despise the way iPhoto stores and organizes files. It makes me (the novice Mac user) pull my hair out in frustraion trying to sort through these fictitious groups that are really just aliases to the date-organized files.

I see the power in being able to have the same photo in different groups without having copies of the file all over the hard drive, but it runs counter to my PC directory structure paradigm. When I want to back up a directory of jpg's in Windoze, I just drag it to the CD-ROM knowing that it will faithfully, dutifully and stupidly copy the files warts and all. With iPhotos, it is an enormous task with a bunch of hoops to jump through and I am never certain it's been done right.

My wife has had to buy lots of add-ins and accessories just to get things a little more streamlined. For example, she keeps school pictures and personal pictures on her machine and it is tough to keep the two independent with out lots of library swapping.

And please correct me if I ever say anything positive about Micro$ucks. I have just resigned myself to the Kafka-esque futility of fighting the system. I would love to learn Linux and repartition my boot sector for multiple operating systems, but the learning curve is too steep for my task oriented needs.

Posted by: yellojkt | June 19, 2006 9:25 AM | Report abuse

I'm all for progress, but do miss the clickety-clack of typewriters. And that little bell that rang when you got close to the right hand margin. ( "One ringy-dingy"). Having played piano as a child and snare drum in the high school band, typing 120 correct words per minute was a breeze. After blushing and stuttering, eyes downcast, through interviews, it was that score on typing tests that landed me every office job I applied for. I overheard one potential boss say "She doesn't have much of a personality, but dang can she type!" Unlike computer keyboards, mouses and such, on typewriters, I could get a rhythm going quite similar to our school band's jazzy marching cadence. Sometimes we turned our drums sideways and beat out the rhythm on the mother of pearl surface
"clicketyclicketyclickety". So cool. Strangely enough, having never been there nor read the Washington Post until a couple of years ago, "Washington D.C." was my favorite word to type. Was this a prediction of things (Joel's kit and kaboodle?) to come?

Posted by: Nani | June 19, 2006 9:29 AM | Report abuse

I am sure that many of you know this, but Clarke picked the name HAL because it was one step above IBM. He even makes reference to this in the sequel 2010.

I have worked with both Macs and PCs. The WINTEL world has always been a crazy playground full of strange Rube Goldberg contraptions. The opportunities to dig around and get your hands dirty have always seemed greater with a PC than with the more sterile and controlled Mac.

Nowadays, however, the PC operating systems seem so tightly bound to the hardware that the opportunities for mischief are much less. In this the two worlds seem to be actually converging.

Of course, here at work the hot new thing is LINUX. The advocates of this system are easy to spot on account of their hooded robes. I have attempted to penetrate this mysterious society of command-line gurus, but they are a surly bunch.

Frankly, they scare me.

Posted by: RD Padouk | June 19, 2006 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Nani - there are actually PC freeware programs that make MS Word sound like a typewriter, right down to that little bell. I used to run one on my desktop machine at home. It amused the offspring no end.

Posted by: RD Padouk | June 19, 2006 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the histroy lesson 'mudge. My knowledge of Guadacanal is pretty much limited to "Ba Ba Black Sheep" starring Robert Condrad.

I never understood what the Guadacanal battles 60 years ago have to do with us trying to suppress an insurgency in Iraq, except that Hugh has a confident, if wrong, grasp on the minutia of military history.

We might as well argue about the tactical errors of Hannibal. It still wouldn't change the fact that war elephants are AWESOME!

Posted by: yellojkt | June 19, 2006 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Nani, I used to have a few simple programs that artificially produced typewriter clacking sounds and carriage returns on my early computers--pretty cool, but you got tired of it after a while. (Being a born-and-bred 100-lb. cast-iron Underwood user from way back myself, which always had a great carriage return when you slapped that baby with your left hand, or grabbed the top of a triple carbon and yanked it out the top, spinning the carriage. Ahh...nostalgia!)

I started out on Macs, and loved them dearly, but was dragged kicking and screaming into the PC world. I liken it to those old stories of wagontrain settlers' children who were kidnapped by Indians and made to grow in an alien culture, led by a cruel chief name Scar. Where was freakin' John Wayne when we really needed him? Now Scar rules. Sheesh. Some stories don't have proper endings.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | June 19, 2006 9:44 AM | Report abuse

"...we bury ourselves and bury ourselves to make us better and better."
From "The Confidence Man," Herman Melville.

Posted by: cookkenusa | June 19, 2006 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Curmudgeon, thank you for clearing that up. I do love learning something new every day, and you just write so well.

yello - dunno if this will help with your wife's trash emptying probs, but FWIW:

I agree that Macs aren't 100% perfect, but they're as close as it gets for now. I'm just as comfortable with a Unix command-line environment and since OSX lets me have one, it's the best of both worlds.

I also have a dual-partitioned PC with Ubuntu Linux & Win2K or whatever it is this month. It took me awhile to get the Ubuntu partition to behave hospitably and soon after that, the Windows partition got corrupted and the whole machine had to be reimaged, destroying all my config work on the Linux partition. Sigh. I miss my Sun workstation, where I could do something like this:

pixel$ uptime

9:48 up 482 days, 16:12, 2 users, load averages: 0.15 0.36 0.50


Posted by: Pixel | June 19, 2006 9:51 AM | Report abuse

RD, I am still laughing at your description of the Linux crowd. My husbands friends are all mostly IT people, your description of some of them is bang on.

Posted by: dmd | June 19, 2006 9:58 AM | Report abuse

>When I want to back up a directory of jpg's in Windoze, I just drag it to the CD-ROM knowing that it will faithfully, dutifully and stupidly copy the files warts and all.

Yeah, that's just what I do. You're not REQUIRED to use iPhoto, but I have to say I've never had any trouble burning a CDROM from a photo album.

>I would love to learn Linux and repartition my boot sector for multiple operating systems, but the learning curve is too steep for my task oriented needs.

Try the Ubuntu distribution ( and look for the "Desktop CD" disk. I haven't gotten around to it yet but apparently you can run the thing w/o actually permanently installing it to see how it likes your hardware.

Posted by: Error Flynn | June 19, 2006 10:00 AM | Report abuse

I was told, a number of times, that my Oscoda, Michigan accent sounded like HAL. Maybe I should have done recordings for Metro or Orlando Airport--HAL might have a bit of authority.

Back to mangos. Florida's dry-winter climate is like India's, so mangos feel at home. It's kinda nice how the mangos program themselves to plump up their fruits with the arrival of the monsoon rains.

Because hurricane Andrew destroyed the local commercial mango industry, backyard mangos are a necessity. I guess there must be differing opinions as to whether mangos or mamey sapotes (the Cuban national fruit) make the better milkshakes.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | June 19, 2006 10:05 AM | Report abuse

"tactical mistakes of Hannibal"? I'm not sure that there are any documented tactical mistakes by Hannibal. The man was freakin' brilliant, in an Evil Overlord kind of way. Unfortunately for him, he was only an Evil Middle-Level Manager, not an Overlord. The Romans figured this out, and sent an expeditionary force back to Carthage and applied pressure on the home office, until the actual Evil Overlords called for Hannibal to come home, even as Hannibal was having his elephant-powered bulldozers prepared for scraping Rome off the face of the Earth. So, Hannibal came home and was forced to invade in order to reach his own city. The Romans, not being complete twits, even though they were not so good as Hannibal, finally beat him there. Hannibal's strategic mistake was to fail to realize that the legitimacy of kings is decided by the winner of the fight. A Hannibal with Rome in his hands wouldn't have to listen to any whining from Carthage, he would rule the world.

Posted by: StorytellerTim | June 19, 2006 10:06 AM | Report abuse

How 'bout them Nats? Yowsa!

Posted by: Curmudgeon | June 19, 2006 10:18 AM | Report abuse

My gripe about the Windows/PC world is that there seems now to be a lack of backward compatibility. I was dumb and happy with my Win98 until I bought my wife an iPod clone for Christmas. The program disk would not work, because it would not recognize 98; I had to go out and buy a new XP OS. Loading that, in turn, started generating these continuing error messages which were eventually traced to an old HP printer driver. I eventually had to wipe every HP driver out of the system to make sure I "got" everything, then reload my scanner again. I'm now seriously thinking of going Mac when we get our new home box.

Posted by: ebtnut | June 19, 2006 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Mickelson at the 18th, now there's a fiasco. He pulled a Tin Cup. I wonder if anyone went looking for Greg Norman to get a sympathetic comment?

Thanks Mudge for that history lesson on Guadalcanal.

Posted by: Achenbach | June 19, 2006 10:27 AM | Report abuse

This history of the Punic Wars is pretty funny. I can't vouch for its accuracy since Robert Conrad never starred in a television about Hannibal.

Posted by: yellojkt | June 19, 2006 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Years ago, after Norman's collapse at the Masters, I wrote a story on golf and failure. Here's an excerpt:

What these naysayers fail to realize is that golf is not about a physical event at all. It is not about the ball, the clubs, the greens and bunkers and fairways.

It's about the mind. This is why people become obsessed with golf: There is no team, only the individual, only the beloved self embroiled in a war against failure.

Golf is a medium through which you can discover your inner loser.

Curtis Strange had hit into a bunker. It was the last hole of his round Thursday at TPC at Avenel and he stood, at that point, at even par. (Golf is a sport that sets a standard: For most golfers, your skill is measured in terms of how badly you fail to meet that standard. Your personal golf rating is called your "handicap.")

Being in a sand trap is usually no problem for pro golfers, but Strange's ball was on a downslope at the rear, practically up against a cliff, almost unhittable. Compounding the challenge, a pond lay just beyond the hole. The normal golfer, hacking around once or twice a week, would face all sorts of hideous possibilities. Any ball managing to get out of the trap would almost certainly go into the pond across the green. Such a situation could easily lead to the dreaded septuple bogey.

Strange spent several minutes glaring in disbelief at the geometry of the situation. He tugged on his earlobe. He had been a great golfer once. He had been a champion! Twice, indeed in successive years, he won the U.S. Open. But in recent years, he's lost his winning touch. Last fall he fell apart in the final three holes of his match at the Ryder Cup, blowing a huge lead and allowing the Europeans to beat the U.S. team.

Finally he got down in the bunker, fashioned a stance as best he could -- right leg precipitously higher than the left -- and took his best whack. Sand sprayed into the air. From amid the cloud the ball appeared, nabbed the edge of the green, bounced slightly and rolled to a spot five feet from the hole, an unbelievably brilliant shot.

And then he missed the putt. The ball hit the edge of the hole and "lipped out," as they say.


Did he do something wrong with his hips, his wrist, his shoulders? Did he peek at the hole as he struck the ball? Did some facial muscle twitch inappropriately, skewing the putt by 0.05 degrees?

It's one of those golf mysteries. Strange signed his card, a 72, one over par, and got into a cart to go back to the clubhouse.

"Even though I hit a good shot, you gotta make a putt," he said, sagging, "and I don't ever seem to do that anymore."

A fan said to the former champion, "They'll start falling again."

Strange said, "Just tell me when, so I don't slit my wrists."

A tournament official approached.

"Mr. Strange, I'm sorry, but that's the media cart, we need to use it."

They were kicking him out of the cart! They needed it to transport some other guy, some young stud who shot five under. The press wanted to talk to the hot young guy, not Curtis Strange. This young guy was someone who thinks failure is just a temporary phase on the way to success. He doesn't yet realize that it's success that's temporary.

The former champion sighed. "Just tell me which one to use," he said, and walked off to find a cart that would take him.

Posted by: Achenbach | June 19, 2006 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Yello, try holding down the option key when selecting "empty trash"--that might get rid of the ghost files.

Like others have said, I don't want to start a platform war, but...

When I was teaching high school, I had to maintain both Mac and PCs. If I ever doubted Macs, that cured me (and back then, Mac viruses were still pretty common). While Macs are far from perfect, in general I still find them much better for a user standpoint than Windows.

Virginia, in a fit of corporate sponsorship that I find amazing, has now dictated that all state computers will be PCs, and refuses to support Macs at all (not that they ever did), or to replace the ones we have with new Macs. Since, for scientists, a lot of our software is exclusive to Macs, I end up using my own iBook at work.

I hated iPhoto at first. Since I do tons of photo work, I use Photoshop, and don't like all the editing tools in iPhoto. But I needed the file organization. The problem was, I'm a control freak, and didn't like blindly turning over my file management to iPhoto. I finally bit the bullet and did it, and now I quite like it. I index with keywords like crazy. Being a geek, my photos are indexed based on things like taxonomy and geologic time period.

This really helps when, for example, I have 2 hours to prepare a Powerpoint on the Cretaceous Period.

Posted by: Dooley | June 19, 2006 10:33 AM | Report abuse

Miamibob, have you done a Google search on that? I bet someone has decoded it.

Posted by: Achenbach | June 19, 2006 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Yes, I have Googled this problem, but no one, that I have been able to uncover, has ever mentioned this question.

Posted by: miamibob | June 19, 2006 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Ach, I tend to agree with you. I like science fiction when it is done well. But look. Most of this stuff today having to do with computers, robots, androids and cyborgs is hopelessly dark and improbable.

The future is more accurately predictable by simply learning from the past. Look at us in comparison to past empires for example. We have educated professional politicians out there making laughably absurd statements concerning American "exceptionalism"--an arrogant presumption that God has singled us out for a noble mission to bring freedom and self-determination to the world--even at the pint of a gun if necessary.

It never seems to occur to these politicians that Rome and Great Britain had similar delusions that they were set apart by whatever Providences they believed in, to civilize the rest of the world.

Want to know what our future is? Forget about dark, hi-tech farces like Terminator and Robocop and read what happened to Greece, Egypt, Rome and Great Britain, the historical minute that they took it upon export themselves.

Posted by: Jaxas | June 19, 2006 10:42 AM | Report abuse

>Golf is a medium through which you can discover your inner loser<

I am in a work golf tournament tomorrow, somehow I think this phrase best sums up how I will do.

Posted by: dmd | June 19, 2006 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Once upon a time I decided it would be cool to golf because I had heard it was a mental game. Besides, my father-in-law golfs, and I figured it would be one of those bonding-type experiences.

We went to the driving range where it quickly became obvious that I was a threat to public safety. Other golfers actually waited rather than take a position next to me. In desperation, my father-in-law spent several days trying to get me to master the fundamentals. He talked about carrying a platter of food, and follow through, and hip position.

It was hopeless. Finally he gave up and decided to wait a few years and start fresh with my son.

Yes, golf may be mental. Yet for some of us the body still gets in the way.

Posted by: RD Padouk | June 19, 2006 10:51 AM | Report abuse

My husband watched Mickelson in replay and still suffered agonies just watching it happen. He called me away from doing the dishes, it was so important. Normally he avoids even knowing where I am, where the kitchen is, when there are dishes to be done.

Posted by: dr | June 19, 2006 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Gosh Joel, that reminds me of the Wimbledon 1980 4th set epic tiebreaker between 4 time champ Bjorn Borg and newcomer, John McEnroe. It went on and on, the heat and humidity intense. Between sets the players poured buckets of water over their heads. What a heartbreaker when McEnroe slammed that final volley. After it was all over, however, the media sought out Borg, who sadly declined comments, saying "It is John's day."

Posted by: Nani | June 19, 2006 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Golf, like heroin, is a hobby I refuse to even try. I fear that I may like it, and my family, career, and personal life cannot handle the financial and logistical implications of that radical a change in lifestyle.

Posted by: yellojkt | June 19, 2006 10:58 AM | Report abuse

I actually have a set of clubs, and every once in awhile attempt to hit a few balls into the neighbors' corn field.

It's pretty ugly.

Especially when I see a friend knocks 3 balls to within 18 inches of each other, at night, after a fair amount of beers.

Re. HAL, I believe Kubric is actually replaying what we've heard from a different angle but I'd have to look again to be sure.

Posted by: Error Flynn | June 19, 2006 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I like the comparison between golf and heroin.

Neither my dad nor I play golf, but once when I was in high school we played nine holes in Roanoke just for fun--we both were atheletes--how badly could we do?

It's a miracle no one died. One of my balls landed in a strip mall parking lot on the other side of the highway. And that wasn't the worst one from either of us. On nine holes, I can't remember my score, but I know it was double digits above par. And I only lost by one stroke.

It was great fun, though, and the looks from the other golfers (if I can include us in that category) were priceless. In the interest of public safety I haven't played since.

Posted by: Dooley | June 19, 2006 11:13 AM | Report abuse

I thought that Micro$oft blew it when, way back, they refused to have a meaningful file structure and organization.

Posted by: Dolphin Michael | June 19, 2006 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Residents living along fairways despise young men who have lots of power but no control. Balls everywhere, especially smashing into houses. I don't know if the new hurricane-resistant windows help.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | June 19, 2006 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Ah-h-h-h-h, golf. So many ways to humble yourself. There are definitly those to whom the game comes easily, just as there are those who can hit a big-league curve ball 410 feet, or those who can swish the three from half-court. There are those who, with lessons and practice, can get to single-digit handicaps. And then there are we who make sure no one is standing even with or anywhere forward of the location of our ball in case we actually launch it perpendicular to the line of play (I've done this). However, once in a great while something happens--like chipping from off the green into the hole for a real birdie, and you think maybe there is some hope here somewhere.

Posted by: ebtnut | June 19, 2006 11:24 AM | Report abuse

This weekend was a step back in time for me. We went camping at a lovely lake far into the mountains, possibly the only place in North America where it is used less now than it was 10 years ago. No one wants to go off the highways anymore and traverse the unmaintined road less traveled to get to a place with no water hookups and no electricity, and bathrooms that consist of drop toilets. In return, we hearty few are treated to unparralled scenery, fine fishing, wildlife in extreme abundance, and solitude. My husband knew that he would be missing the game (6th game of the Stanley Cup finals, of course) but wanted to get away.

Radio signals get into that far corner now, and so by campfire light, continuing a tradition started by Foster Hewitt, and continued most ably by Rod Phillips, we listened to the hockey game.

Everyone should do that sometime. Not while driving, not for convenience, but just because. Just listen to the game on the radio. It adds a whole new dimension to whatever sport you really love.

Posted by: dr | June 19, 2006 11:33 AM | Report abuse

*whispering very, very quietly, so as not to distrub any one lining up a putt* A 2-1 series sweep over the Yankees. Yesterday Zimmerman hit a walk-off 2-run homer.


Posted by: Curmudgeon | June 19, 2006 11:35 AM | Report abuse

I'm with ya, yellojkt. I long ago decided that the world would be a safer and happier place if I refrained from deer hunting and golfing. I respect both activities too much to dishonor either with my utter lack of skill. Now, ice fishing, I might try that someday.

Posted by: CowTown | June 19, 2006 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Nice post dr; I could see streams, tall trees, and you all there by the campfire. I even glimpsed a moose with a grand rack of horns! Didja see him? Oh I love doing things "just because".

Posted by: Nani | June 19, 2006 11:41 AM | Report abuse

CowTown, remember global warming.

Posted by: Dolphin Michael | June 19, 2006 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Golf is a good game for deprecating all over yourself. "I'm such an idiot," Phil said afterwards. "What kind of shot is that," the dour Scotsman asked on the 18th. "Tiger, you *#$##$#," is a common Woodsism.

Self-deprecation is useful if you can't get anyone else to do it to you face-to-face.

Posted by: kindathinker | June 19, 2006 11:42 AM | Report abuse

ebtnut, this is why yellojkt's heroin comparison was so apt: "you think maybe there is some hope here somewhere."

You are doomed.

Posted by: ScienceTim | June 19, 2006 11:42 AM | Report abuse

1. Mudge, great history points. Personally, I stand by my comment way back then that the point HH tried to make by referring to a battle was a flawed analogy. But then again, I've already shook the dust off my sandals on that topic.

2. Also to Mudge, great post on your dad. You just can't say enough about how volunteers and people involved in the community are so important.

3. Rome and Carthage. Now there's a topic. Someday, given a decent segue and some time I'll expand on my theory that the U.S. is in many ways more like Carthage than Rome.

Hannibal's reputation for brillance is tempered by Zama, though.

StorytellerTim, little known fact that Rome used PCs and Carthage used Macs.

5. I don't have much to offer on the PC/Mac debate. The conversion of everyone from film to digital is interesting, and I've certainly been part of that. I'm still waiting to hear a story about someone whose entire digital film library gets trashed due to virus. That would be devastating. Back-up, back-up, back-up.

6. Hockey, of course. If you've never or rarely watched a game, watch this one tonight. Game 7, deciding game of the entire series. Tonight at 8 EDT.

Posted by: SonofCarl | June 19, 2006 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Golf is game best played by persons who aren't me. Golf is a game best enjoyed by most everyone else who isn't me.

Posted by: ScienceTim | June 19, 2006 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I do golf but my goal is to keep everyone laughing. It would not be wrong to say that my average golf shot is be 6 feet. Golf is a really great upper body workout if you have to swing a thousand times on 18 holes.

I also should take the time to brag. I got a birdie once.

Landed right on the green and one putted straight in to that little hole. I did this on a real golf course with 3 other golfers (the ones who like to laugh at me) watching in awe. None of them hit the green, and indeed I don't think the others made par that hole. I may have torn a hole in the fabric of reality, but it was my one and only great hole in golf.

Posted by: dr | June 19, 2006 11:46 AM | Report abuse

SonofCarl, is hockey the game where the players resort to hockeystickticuffs when someone makes a foul or something doesn't go their way?

Posted by: Nani | June 19, 2006 11:50 AM | Report abuse

See, Tim, I'm not alone. dr, maybe we should amuse each other sometime ;-)

Posted by: ebtnut | June 19, 2006 11:50 AM | Report abuse

ebtnut, I once saw a golf shirt that had the following on it that summed up the game, and its addictive properties:

I hate golf
I hate golf
I hate golf
Nice shot
I love golf

Posted by: SonofCarl | June 19, 2006 11:54 AM | Report abuse

dr, ebtnut, I with you also I am not a very good golfer but hit just enough good shots to think that someday if I play often enough I might break 100. I keep my goals small that way I can enjoy the game. Most important you cannot take yourself to seriously, laughing at yourself makes the silly mistakes much easier.

Posted by: dmd | June 19, 2006 11:57 AM | Report abuse

IBM and NASA chose HAL as the name of the programming language created for the AP101 computers that ran the Space Shuttle flight control system, roughly 30 years ago.

Posted by: jg | June 19, 2006 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Nani, hockey is the sport where they resort to other stuff if the hockeystickticuffs don't go their way.

Posted by: SonofCarl | June 19, 2006 11:59 AM | Report abuse

It's not like I lack the physical capacity to golf, it's just that I can't get the ball to go straight without the helpful points of reference provided by miniature windmills, concrete channels, and carpeted mini-bunkers.

Posted by: CowTown | June 19, 2006 12:10 PM | Report abuse

One more thing about HH.. didn't anyone else think his idea that Ohio is the "real" Mother of Presidents a little lame? Because Virginia's first presidents were born under English rule that means they didn't come from Virginia? Huh?

Now, if someone would just talk a little about Rome and Carthage....

Posted by: TBG | June 19, 2006 12:14 PM | Report abuse

I went to one of those time-share demonstrations in return for a free overnight and dinner at VA beach. Several grueling hours with the sales lady, my wife and I finally got to tour the model condo. I wanted to get out of it gracefully and get my $75 deposit back, but I knew it wasn't going to be that easy. I finally got my break. In an attempt to be friendly, the sales lady asked if I liked to play golf. I laughed good and hard. She blew it, and she knew it. Whew!Just give me my money back, free dinner and room for the night, thanks!

Posted by: Pat | June 19, 2006 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Due to some work I'm doing with a colleague I've gagged and gotten Word (I generally use WordPerfect, which I've been using since the creation). I absolutely HATE it. Because it presumes everything and thinks it's MUCH smarter than I am, I have now disabled everything in it, so far to my satisfaction. One of my clients told me that when my current lease runs out (in less than two years now), I must (MUST) get a Mac. Yep, I think so too. It does, however, stress me a bit that those software providers which used to write software for both systems have capitulated and write only for PCs now. Maybe the Intel chip now on the Macs will alleviate my anxiety about that. But it will, indeed, increase my anxiety over the crashability issues so prevalent in PCs.

Mudgie, you are still aces in my book. I had an interesting discussion recently with an 89-year old man who served in WWII. He told me that only people who served in combat should be able to lead the country. I suggested that a military dictatorship was not particularly to my liking, and that to get "new blood" we would be compelled to create situations where blood would be shed. Hmmm.

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | June 19, 2006 12:20 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if a a golf tourney by distance would be do-able? An Achengolf tourney. Best Prizes to the worst score? And it would have to be on the cheapest public course in whatever area of the country you live in. Mini golf included of course.

Of course, like true sportsmen we would only tell the absolute truth.

Posted by: dr | June 19, 2006 12:25 PM | Report abuse

firstimeblogger, don't you just HATE that talking paper clip!!!??

I'm sure you'll join me in a short moment of silence while we remember WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS. Ah, the good old days.

Posted by: kbertocci | June 19, 2006 12:27 PM | Report abuse

>moment of silence while we remember WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS

While I appreciate the thought when I think of WordPerfect I think of two words:

"Reveal Codes"

What a pain if you accidentally dropped a few empty font or formatting codes in there... it would often look peachy on the screen and just totally foul up the printer.

What you really need is... WordStar!

Posted by: Error Flynn | June 19, 2006 12:43 PM | Report abuse

WordPerfect really did go downhill when it moved to Windows. But at least it kept the old keystrokes. Unfortunately, I think it lost the cool shortcut system for doing foreign diacritical marks. Czech was easy!

Surfers complain bitterly that many airlines are much more generous about fees (or lack of fees) for golf bags than for surfboards.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | June 19, 2006 12:46 PM | Report abuse

firsttimeblogger, be forewarned that we here in the Mac world still use lots of Microsoft software, as well. It's a necessity for interoperability, since our agency also has had directives to select just one commercial operating system (and it isn't the Mac), unless we can show a specialized need. There are a shocking number of Macs that are critically necessary for "instrument control."

Unfortunately, most of the alternative word-processors and spreadsheets that once existed for the Mac have been pushed out of the market by the might of Microsoft. We still have the problem of Word installing with a zillion undesirable automatic features turned on, which you need to track down and turn off, both for security and for sanity. Preferences for program setup are accessed in at least three places that I know of, so it can be a challenge to locate the thing that you want to change.

And, like any computer system, there can be problems. An oddity, that I don't understand, is that people who don't know much about computers seem to get more problems, of greater severity, even though timidity keeps them from really stressing the machine (you would think). I hardly ever have a problem with my Mac. I mostly just make sure that I keep my virus definitions up to date, ignore phishing attacks, and install all the packages that appear as Software Updates from Apple. You would think that my cavalier attitude would open me to problems. My boss, who understands little, always asks me if the software updates are a good idea, refuses to install the updates for software he doesn't consciously use, and so on. He has constant problems that I have never heard of anyone else having. His e-mail software becomes corrupted. He has multiple computers because he has trouble with the concept of committing to a new computer, so he moves things over one file at a time, when he is working on them. He always has three active versions of a current document, and he can never be certain which one is most up to date. It's a horror. He always seems to have one computer behaving unpredictably, failing to boot, that sort of thing. It only happens to him, nobody else. It takes a special talent.

Posted by: ScienceTim | June 19, 2006 12:46 PM | Report abuse

While we are airing greivances and demonstrating feats of strength (if hitting a small round ball with a device highly unsuited to the task qualifies), the MSWord habit of second guessing what you intend is beyond frustrating. I have learned tricks on how to force it to double space between items in a numbered list because there must be a straightforward way that is just too hard to learn.

My wife was a WP5.1 DOS Master and could make those Alt-F key combinations just sing. Now its tough to find which hidden pull down list the command you want is buried in. Death by featuritis.

Firefox's View Selection Source is the HTML version of Reveal Codes and just as handy.

Posted by: yellojkt | June 19, 2006 1:04 PM | Report abuse

It's all very well to say that computers should have been based on recognizing patterns, but (despite some hype) no one has any idea of how to do this with anything like human proficiency.
The people who are working on this (including me) are at about the same technical level as the guys who used to stick feathers in wax wings, and jump off the cliff, waving their arms wildly.

Posted by: peter | June 19, 2006 1:08 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to commit deadly acts on that paperclip.

We use both Word and WordPerfect in our offices but only in the most basic, of basic of ways.

I know nothing fancy, but I have committed errors and fatal mistakes in all kinds of software. Committing mistakes is what I am good at. I think its connected to my incapacity with golf.

The perfect job for me would be product testing for software makers.

Posted by: dr | June 19, 2006 1:17 PM | Report abuse

dr, where did you camp? My friend and I try to do a good backpacking trip every year and this year we're going to Yoho.

Posted by: SonofCarl | June 19, 2006 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Entirely off-topic (like that's something new), but my Sitemeter is spinning off the dial today with people looking for the subtitle to a Rupert Holmes hit. Some confluence of keywords in a blogpost I did months ago about cheesy 70s song is sending them to my site.

Is there some sort of web scavenger hunt that I should be aware of? As a trivia question, it seems pretty easy to me, especially since I like getting caught in the rain and the feel of the ocean and the taste of champagne.

Trivia questions should have a twist or an "I didn't know that" factor. They should also be Google®proof by requiring multiple levels of knowledge. Like:

What member of the original Broadway cast in a Tony award winning musical written by Rupert Holmes was also in a show based on a Stephen King novel?

I just had nobody else to share this with. Thanks for indulging me.

Posted by: yellojkt | June 19, 2006 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Hello, my friends. Just got back from VBS, and so sleepy. We're busy, and I need a nap, real bad. I see the subject is computers, and I know absolutely nothing about them. Almost terrified of computers. I think it has something to do with age. What will happen if North Korea does test their missile? Well, I just wanted to check in, will try later if I'm not knocked out. In this life, and the life to come, God loves you more than you can imagine through Him, that died for all, Christ Jesus.

Mudge that was the best history lesson. You're good. Love learning something new.

Posted by: Cassandra S | June 19, 2006 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Why don't you guys turn the Word paperclip OFF if you don't like it?

My brother-in-law is a clone of ScienceTim's boss. Each time he has a problem, (which only he gets,) he buys a new computer. And he only gave up WordPerfect for Dos 5.1 about two years ago!

Posted by: nellie | June 19, 2006 1:48 PM | Report abuse

I've been using WordPerfect 3.5 for the Mac and they discontinued it sometime in the mid-90s. The problem is that I've written incredibly complicated macros to do all my work for me and I don't want to figure out how to translate them (read: re-write them) into another macro language.

I mean these things are pages long and turn rough copy into beautifully coded works of art. All at the pull of a drop-down menu. Once those babies are pulled into Quark they look like finished pages.

And I refuse to use Word. I even open the files (created in Word and sent to me by writers) in Mac's TextEdit program rather than even open them in Word. There's just something about those MS applications that drives me crazy. They make all the bells and whistles the default, assuming that the user is so stupid that he can't find the settings on his own.

I guess I'll have to figure out something soon since the new MacIntels don't support the Classic OS.

(For those of you who don't know what the heck I'm talking about and are skimming this post, just remember I did the same with the golf posts.)

Posted by: TBG | June 19, 2006 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Oh, yes, Nellie, I do turn it off. (dr, that's just a right click to hide, and you only have to tell it three times or so and then it will go away). But it does come back--I have killed it many times. It's the underlying logic that is so irritating, like when you type "Dear" at the top of the page and the little guy pops up and says, "Oh! It looks like you're writing a letter! Shall I jump in and help you with that?!" Even though you turn it off, it's too late: you already know that the software designers expected the users of the product to be morons. It's depressing.

And of course, I know people who absolutely love Mr. Paper Clip, and his friend the Smiley Star and so on. I don't know anybody who uses the little Einstein guy, though.

Posted by: kbertocci | June 19, 2006 2:05 PM | Report abuse

TBG: What were we, separated at birth?

I also had a whole library of complicated macros that I wrote for WP5.1--they were so beautiful that even after we went to Windows I saved them and I have a little file folder shrine for them. They were interactive--I created them to make our complicated form documents (contracts, proposals) "automated." ANYWAY, you can do all kinds of great things with macros and MSWord, if you learn BASIC--or Visual Basic, I guess it is. I haven't done that. I am so resentful that they made the macro creation process so complicated, when it was completely straightforward before. (Of course I know how to create macros, but to edit them or to do anything complicated with them, you have to use BASIC.)

...And I apologize to anyone who is bored or irritated by this post, won't do it anymore.

Posted by: kbertocci | June 19, 2006 2:16 PM | Report abuse

About that paperclip--to really kill it, you have to go into the Help menu and turn it off completely. (I think that's where you go. I don't even have the "Assistant" installed, but when I look under the Help menu there is an option to "Show the Assistant" which probably toggles to "Get that @$#!#$ Paperclip Off My Screen".)

Turning it off when it appears is the equivalent of a "Go away kid, you're bothering me." What you really need is the garlic/sharpened stake/silver bullet approach of telling Word not to turn it on to begin with.

Word can be annoying if you go along with the preset "features," but it's not too hard to customize it to your own preferences if you play around with it.

Posted by: Boodleaire | June 19, 2006 2:26 PM | Report abuse

I agree that WP 5.1 for DOS was a sweetspot. Everything after that is naught but decay and decadence. (Sort of like Rome.) For years I maintained an older computer so that I could run WP 5.1, as well as certain DOS programs like El-Fish. (Actually, it was mostly for El-Fish.) Alas, one day, without warning, the harddrive seized up. I miss that machine. Almost as much as I do El-Fish.

Posted by: RD Padouk | June 19, 2006 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Ever since I dropped out of college, I've made a living off of programming computers. DOS, WP 5.1, Turbo Pascal were king. Then came Windows 3.1. Boy did that operating system stink. It took 5 minutes to boot the stupid machine, but everybody liked the silly pictures. I took a serius career hit, but still survived. I learned one very important lesson about developing software applications for clients though, it's more important that the program look good rather than function correctly. No wunder why software sucks. Visual people... well, I ain't never.

Posted by: Pat | June 19, 2006 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Mmmmmmmm -- nice to know I'm not alone out there. Actually, with respect to the diacritical marks, I've created the capability of changing keyboards - there's a keyboard icon down on my task bar and whenever I write something, say, in Swedish with the ö or ä or å, I just change my keyboard. Letter placements on the keyboard take a little getting used to (especially in French, where it's all over the place (haven't they ever heard of QWERTY?)), but once you're there, it's easy. Also, in WordPerfect, you can get into different international character sets pretty easily.

Now, back to what you were doing. . . .

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | June 19, 2006 2:33 PM | Report abuse

I must defend Word, I have used WordPerfect, AmiPro and many others but always preferred Word. Although I use it less now I always found it much easier to customize than WordPerfect, that and the reveal codes feature in WordPerfect drove me nuts. However, I rarely use Words preset features or style sheets - much easier to create your own.

I guess like most those there is little in life that can please all.

Posted by: dmd | June 19, 2006 2:35 PM | Report abuse

New kit!

Posted by: Boodleaire | June 19, 2006 2:36 PM | Report abuse

But what's with the time stamp?

Posted by: RD Padouk | June 19, 2006 2:36 PM | Report abuse

I hate the paperclip--always turn it off immediately when I install the program (Word for Mac also has it).

A Mac alternative to Windows is Pages. It's written by Apple for Mac only, and comes bundled with a Powerpoint competitor called Keynote for around $80 (instead of $300). It works pretty well, although if you're familiar with word it takes some getting used to, as the control layout and organization is pretty different. It's worse than word at tables, but better for inserting photos and for text manipulation (like changing line spacing, etc). And best of all, the files can be exported to Word format, and there don't appear to be any compatability problems, even with Word for Windows.

I still haven't decided for sure which I like better, and I'm using both for now. But, with Pages I'm using Version 1.1, and for Word, I don't know, something like Version ten thousand, and already Pages works at least as well.

Other than that, I don't know of any other full-feature word processors for Mac.

Posted by: Dooley | June 19, 2006 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Hey Cassandra, all this computer lingo is making me sleepy too. I haven't the foggiest notion what anyone is talking about. Mr. Paper Clip is annoying and he isn't even cute. Now a little Rita Hayworth Gilda character flipping her magnificent red tresses or a Jimmy Cagney Yankee Doodle Dandy tripping the light fantastic across our screens would be neat.

Posted by: Nani | June 19, 2006 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Three crashes later, I'm learning that it's always a hardware problem for me.

RAM sick on crash #1
RAM sick on crash #2

Having finally learned something, on crash #3 I was discussing the problem at the local geek store and the woman said "do you have any burned out capacitors on your motherboard?"

So I came home and opened up the PC and although I wasn't sure I'd know a capacitor when I saw one, lo and behold, there were three electronics parts the size of a 22 bullet oozing brown goo at their heads. Nearby were some NOT oozing goo. For comparison purposes.

Diagnosis solved. New motherboard. I like others suspect viruses (virii?)and the NSA but so far it's always boring old hardware failures. Hope this helps.

Posted by: Jumper | June 19, 2006 4:21 PM | Report abuse

I've spent the last two months (and two new hard drives later) trying to deal with the BSOD (including the trip to Best Buy that was exactly like what you experienced). Unfortunatly, the problem seems to be unfixable. With each new hard drive, I become once again hopeful, only to be disappointed again when I encounter the BSOD. Here's an article a friend sent that explaines the futility of trying to fight the problem with your computer once you find out it is inflicted with the BSOD:

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that's the reality of the situation.

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