There are some folk who don't see the gem inside my rough exterior who might consider me a hot head. To which I say a hearty "bite me". But let this opinion be a caution that within this blog may lurk items of a venting nature or perhaps those which might be considered a rant. So be it. Proceed with caution. You have been warned.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Personal Space

My office is on the ninth floor. I'm on the elevator an average of eight times a day. In the morning the bank of six elevators gets busy and the load at ground level can be up to twelve people per car. It's fascinating to watch these twelve continually adjust their positions in the car as the car stops at each floor and passengers depart. Similarly to the molecules of compressed gas in a container, as each passenger exits, the remaining passengers execute a little shuffle to insure that the space in the elevator is equally divided among the remaining molecules riders. (unlike molecules, they don't actually bounce off each other - it would be more entertaining if they did). In the evening the reverse occurs, as each rider enters, the people on the elevator shuffle to accommodate the incoming bodies.

There seems to be no demographic for this. Young and old, male and female, the equal distribution of elevator real estate must be maintained. This behavior seems to be somehow automatic. No one looks around as if surveying the amount of space and mentally calculating how much they are allowed. They all stare fixedly at the front of the car (another peculiar elevator behavior) and shuffle to their new positions as if remotely controlled.

Surely there is a study here for a graduate student in sociology or possibly anthropology. Was equal distribution of space important when we lived in caves? Is this a leftover behavior from lizards sharing a den?

Along with pressing the up, down, or floor buttons when they have clearly already been pressed this is another seemingly inexplicable elevator behavior. I find it oddly irritating. Sometimes I have the almost irresistible urge to scream "WAKE UP."

Just sayin'

Friday, April 2, 2010

Software and Scorpions II

Previously I said I wouldn’t beat up on Microsoft since rants berating it abound, but damn, it’s such an easy target. However, I won’t spend anymore time on Windows. Besides, it seems that right now Windows 7 actually turned out pretty well. Of course when everyone is happy and content with Windows 7, all service packs having tweaked the problems prematurely released, Microsoft will announce that it is discontinuing support and everyone will have to move to Windows XK452 or whatever the latest in version naming confusion happens to be.

So let’s move on. I think that we do have to take a look at Microsoft’s approach to actual applications since whatever sloppy and abusive practices that Microsoft gets away with are immediately adopted as acceptable by other major software manufacturers. The applications in Microsoft Office are prime examples. If you have a strangle hold on a suite of business software and are determined to release a new version every two to three years in order to hold people up for from $149 to $679 to stay current, wouldn’t you think that, in order to make the constant upgrading least painful for the user, you would make your software backward compatible? If you would think that then you would be wrong. Access, the notoriously “not trusted for business uses” database application in Office, is well known for upgrades breaking projects developed on previous versions. Even if the upgrade is compatible with previous projects, new versions frequently require relearning the user interface for even the simplest tasks. I work for a company that licenses thousands of copies of Office throughout the world and in fear of the dreaded discontinuation of support for previous versions, it regularly upgrades. Since the days of the first version of Word for Windows, Microsoft has built its Office applications with drop-down menus. Hundreds of thousands of users have learned to operate Word, the most widely used Office application, using these menus. So what does Microsoft do? In the release of Office 2007 menus disappeared to be replaced with the universally hated ribbon. To recall an episode of Seinfeld – “Who, Who does not wish to use thee reebbon?” I don’t!! We’ve had 2007 on the computers in our department, a department dedicated to document production, for over a year, and I still can’t locate some of the features of Word I use frequently without referring to the help. In this department, the adoption of Word 2007 has actually slowed down productivity. This is a prime example of Microsoft giving you things you don’t want or need. Word now contains so many options, many of which even a power user will never need, that finding what you need on a daily basis in the ribbon system has become an obstacle to efficiency. Is any of this constant upgrading, planned obsolescence, and corporate extortion necessary? Actually no. Open Office can do almost everything that a home user and most office users could ever need, including reading and writing Microsoft Office compatible documents at a cost of zero! That’s right, it’s free. When I need office applications at home what should I do, Pay $400+ for the version of MS Office I need or download a free copy of Open Office? Rhetorical question, it’s a no brainer.

If only Microsoft pursued these practices it would be bad enough, but since the largest software company in the world can get away with this, other software companies follow suit. For example, my employer uses a proprietary software package from another large company for absolutely business critical purposes. Upgrades to this product appear annually and entirely new versions appear at intervals. Due to the now common practice pioneered by Microsoft of releasing bug filled software to be repaired at a later date with service packs, a large part of my job consists of troubleshooting bugs in the software, devising work-arounds, engaging in constant haggling with product support and testing the next equally buggy version when it becomes available. While this provides job security for me, multiply me by the thousands of employees needed to do this for hundreds of software packages in hundreds of companies world wide and you have a staggering amount of money being spent on software baby-sitting that could easily be eliminated. It is as if ownership of an automobile entailed the hiring of a technician to always ride along with you to fix things when the car periodically stranded you at the side of the road.

Is there a solution? Sure there is. Don’t upgrade. “But they are going to discontinue support!” Let them. By the time a new version comes out everyone knows what bugs still exist and will never be fixed and how to work around them. It’s the same solution as that to the proliferation of unwanted expensive features on cars. Everyone drive their current car for an additional year. After a year of no car sales, the surviving auto companies would be knocking on front doors to sell safe, inexpensive cars with only the needed features. I don’t need a car that parks itself, and I shouldn’t have to pay for the R&D necessary to produce it. But I digress.

It’s easy to stop this kind of madness, just stop buying the product for a while. Geeks know this and operate their computers with free operating systems running free applications. Maybe the current economic situation will drive more users to solutions like this.

But I doubt it.