October 12, 2012

When was the last time you used the CAPS lock key? Not by accident, on purpose. Did you ever think to yourself “whew, having that key really saved me”? Maybe you were writing dialogue for TV, HBO, or SNL. Maybe you were working for NASA or the FCC. Maybe you just had an MRI. Did you or anyone else reach for the CAPS key?

The CAPS key is constantly getting in my way. Left of the letter “a”. Not just any letter but a vowel, and the second most used at that. As a fast typist I hit it often enough that sometimes I wish it were another letter “a”. To help me with what seems to be my second most missed key. Why didn’t they put it out of the way, say next to the “q”?

At first I was thinking we can put it to better use. Make it the “u” with the two dots over it. Or the “e” with the backwards slash. They’d get a lot more use if they were more readily available. Or maybe assign it “LOL” so we’re more inclined to lighten things up.

But let’s face it, ours has become a lower case world. URL address links are all lower case. Excessive use of CAPS is considered yelling. Capital initials aren’t even used in e-mail addresses. If it wasn’t for the ongoing use of acronyms we’d likely be declaring capital letters an endangered species.

So if you believe in evolution and the morphing of fins into limbs then you should notice there is no CAPS key on the iPad keyboard. Sure, you can double up on SHIFT (word typed with the shift key), but that just shows adaptation as a precursor towards losing it. Of course I am way ahead of them for I have been removing the CAPS key from my laptops for years. Darwin would be proud.

If “they” can remove PLUTO and change the makeup of an entire solar system, why can’t “we” remove a key and change the keyboard. If not at least leave it up to the user to decide. Let’s put personAL Back in the personAL COMPUTER!

Damn, there’s that CAPS key again…

Hackers versus Humans

September 21, 2012

I had a desktop with an online anti-virus subscription and up to date mal-ware software. I am conscious of where I surf, what I fill out, and who I clear thru my spam folder.  Despite all that I got the SVC host virus and nearly 150 other “gifts”.  I had no choice and was forced to retire that desktop.

I replaced it with a laptop, got another online-refreshed anti-virus subscription, and installed more mal-ware software. I kept it up to date and paid for the subscriptions. That lasted nearly 18 months until I got the dreaded File Recovery virus and at least 7 other “gifts”.  Despite a system restore to a previous point, additional software, various tricks, all manner of safe modes, and the efforts of the Geek Squad, the recurring blue-screen-of-death won. The laptop drive couldn’t be wiped, it had to be replaced. Due to that the system couldn’t be fully restored without purchasing a CD from the manufacturer, who empathized with my sense of urgency by offering to ship it to me via UPS ground for free.

Each day thousands suffer a similar fate, with many worse off due to phishing and all manner of other intrusions brought upon by the new spate of aggressive cyber-crime perpetrators who don’t even have to leave their home. Conservative estimates run into the billions of dollars annually, notwithstanding the tremendous waste of time, and the ruination of one’s business or personal life. It’s as if you’re being run over by your own PC without an airbag.

Enough is enough. It’s time we sent a message that everyone can understand and show first-hand the ramifications for their actions. Despite any misgivings I may have had in the past due to the foibles of the modern legal system and the potential for wrongly accused, I am now formally promoting the adoption of the death penalty for these crimes against humanity. That’s right, open up the docket at The Hague, and let’s begin the process of defending ourselves where all-the-world can see.

To date if you get caught performing computer crimes you more than likely ended up with a fine (that you paid from what you stole) and a high paying job at a security company. That’s like hiring a murderer to become a police officer or an arsonist to become a fireman. What a great deterrent.

Instead, hang the Hackers from the rafters by their fingers using USB cables and Velcro and beat them with the keyboard they used to code the Virus. Line up sufferers and hurl some mice. Make it a reality TV experience and let the audience vote for the punisher who wrecks the perpetrators credit. Watch together as their balance goes to zero thru reimbursements to victims while their name gets red-flagged at TRW. Forward every e-mail and publish every photo. Name their names. Destroy all electronic records except for the conviction notice and death certificate as their legacy. Then pull the switch. Using an app from someone’s smart phone they cracked.  And let them hear that noise a drive makes during its last spin.

Lest you think an eye-for-an-eye prehistoric and uncivilized go check your ATM transaction log, credit card bills, and your hidden system files to confirm you are amongst the minority who has yet to discover they’ve been hacked. If you can’t find it then you didn’t look hard enough (Hint: HKEY_LOCAL _MACHINE.SYSTEM=IS_HOSED). And just because you have a Mac doesn’t mean you’re safe, just complacent. Unless you’re brave enough to raise your hand because you’re already one of us.

How Cellular Pay As You Go Should Work

September 7, 2012

The Wired Conservation Society has declared the pay phone an endangered species. Poachers have been selling their parts to the video terminal manufacturers, handsets to Co-Los for tile lifters, and keys are quickly becoming popular as piercings. Unlike other nearly extinct technologies such as cassette tapes, typewriters, and the white Rhino, a pay phone is a means for instant and reliable communication.

You dropped a coin in the slot and you made a phone call. Change your mind, get your change. No answer, no problem, no charge, unless you got their answering machine (projected extinction 2037). You knew how much it cost, you paid for it, once you connected, it worked. Imagine that. Need more time, add some coins, and the call keeps going. Until you’re finished!

So why don’t we hold the cell phone companies to the same standard? Why pay for something which works maybe half the time? Did a weatherman design this? “That’s cellphone service” is something we just accept. If I rear-end the CEO of Sprint’s limo do I get out and say “that’s brake pads”?

Hey, hook me right up on a cellphone call, let me have a “conversation” (a verbal exchange of non-acronymic words between parties with patience the only limit), and I’ll gladly pay the bill. If I gotta make four cutoff callbacks, leave two half false voice mails, or there’s any mention of the words “hear me”, “bars”, or “dead spot” before staring down in disbelief at my cellphone, and I’ll let you know how much I thought it was worth.

No more plans or half-pages of non-sensical tariff explanations like the farmers landline non-use subsidy and 9-1-1 without ads. No more rolling over on your friends or family. No more waiting until 7 to start your weekend.

Keep it simple.

Just add a coin slot on the side of my cellphone, and I’ll pay, as you go. That’s right, be the Mabel of the new millennium, and you can keep the change.

The Case Conspiracy

August 24, 2012

Look at any cellphone provider’s web site for a new phone and you will see they are only charging you a fraction of what that phone actually costs. At least according to them that is. I’ve heard the iPhone we all bought for $199 actually costs the carrier closer to $600. So how could they possibly be making any profit?

Welcome to (trumpets please) The Case Conspiracy.

You know you’re not leaving the cell phone store without a lecture on the need to protect your device. This includes the dreaded extended warranty doomsday diatribe, followed by case coercion, and for the finale the screen protector prophecy. After all, to replace your device is hundreds more than you paid, and how stupid would you be knowing you’re going to drop it at some point without having protection in advance.

I confess I caved on my iPhone having heard horror stories of shattered screens and inadvertent personal flotation devices, further reinforced by the spare no-frills prehistoric folding phone my salesperson whipped out as evidence of his current impending repair. I went for the hat trick, getting the case-screen combo and the extended warranty. I couldn’t wait to read the list of exclusions for the warranty because it just sounds so perfect in the store…whatever happens, wink-wink, we’ll fix it! Really? So basically if I actually carry the phone anywhere it likely isn’t going to last, so therefore I should pay extra in advance to pre-repair it, when it’s something that isn’t going to last as long as I expected in the first place. Great, where do I sign!

Had I not been in a hurry to transfer everything to my new iPhone and get back to work I may have thrown my phone against the store wall before I left just to see if they’d honor the extended warranty right then and there. Given my ongoing frustration trying to type on glass, I could certainly see myself exercising my sidearm fastball relay-into­-the-wall after the umpteenth incorrect auto-correct and random fat finger cut and paste yields yet another SENT nonsensical response.

But I digress.

So my theory is each cell phone manufacturer owns a case supply company whom they give exclusive rights to producing their uniquely formed series of covers for their devices. That $20 rubber cover you bought costs about 30 cents to make. Sell a few million of those in a bunch of colors and you’re quickly making up the so-called lost margin. This is why instead of including a cover with the device you’ve no choice but to buy one. Not sure? Go read the fine print on your warranty and you’ll see the exclusions for anything outside of a defect, normal wear and tear, or proper handling…unless covered by a suitable case. It’s clearly stated in plain olde English in standard 2 point Helvetica font on page 497: thou shalt buy a case for thy cellphone and thou shalt not bear false witness against thy carrier if thou droppeth thy phone.

Again, (trumpets please) welcome to The Case Conspiracy. Nightline here we come.


August 10, 2012

When I first got my iPad 2 I had to acclimate, as I’m natively a PC person. I’m used to turning on my laptop when I leave home so it is ready to use when I get to the office after my morning commute.

Upon quickly climbing the initial iPad learning curve I went right to the App store, tearing through the categories and lists, while focusing most of my efforts on the free stuff. After a long flurry of swipes, taps, and scrolls I had upwards of 200 apps. It made a nice dent in my 32GB. I went through the three clocks, five calculators, two compasses, and four picture editors. I watched TV, jammed on pianos, drew pictures, and gazed at the constellations. I launched birds, sliced fruit, dismembered zombies, and jumped, shot, soared, volleyed, and tapped like a human woodpecker. I cautiously synced some iTunes from my 112.92GB library. I tried to learn to be more productive the “Apple way”.

Three days later I surfaced and took a break. As I ate, which I do European style, I noticed my left wrist felt funny and my left shoulder was sore. I thought about it and recalled I hadn’t had much real physical activity the last few days. Hmmm. I did the slow motion circles pitchers do when their arms hurt and noticed when I brought my shoulder forward and turned my hand to face me it was at its worst. I was in pain and I was baffled.

I completed my break and having taken care of a few other things returned to the iPad. As soon as I picked it up, turned it on, and sat down holding it to face me the rush of pain returned. And then it dawned on me: I had Carpal Tablet Syndrome. The weight of the device and the new and somewhat awkward manner I held it in had led to a major case of CTS. I crossed my leg over my knee and laid the iPad on it so I could surf and see if others had suffered the same fate. Alas there was no, no symptom or condition listed at WedMD, or a thread at any site where I could learn further or discuss it with the alias-based, self-empowered, so-called experts of the world. It was not covered by an HMO, a PPO, or could be treated by a DO or a DPT. I knew I had to do something.

I decided I would combine my IT analysis skills with my background in sports and training. I needed to start out small and work my way up to the iPad. Though tempted, I opted not to use an app to track it.

For the first week I went back to using my Blackberry. Holding it in similar fashion to the iPad I started out doing three sets of 20 minute reps reading stories at ESPN and MLB and worked up to ten sets of 30 minute reps catching up on RSS feeds and articles at the Onion. Those first few days were a struggle as my CTS tried to discourage me at every turn. By Thursday I had hit the wall but pushed through it somehow. My recollection of Friday is still a blur, as was my vision, and I slept most of that weekend.

The second week I moved up to a Kindle, opting for the black and white version to train my eyes for the contrast of the higher resolution iPad screen. Though I had some lingering pain from my CTS I was gaining strength. I read 17 books that week and by early in the third week was able to do 100 Kindle curls and 50 app crunches without cracking a knuckle several times a day. My left arm was starting to show some new muscle tone and I could balance a stylus on my left wrist for hours at a time.

While I was tempted to jump directly to the iPad I knew I needed to establish endurance as I had no intention of returning it. So as an interim measure I opted for a Dell tablet, using my connections as Value Added Reseller to obtain a free loaner under the auspices of introducing it to a long-term client. It was heavier and bulkier than the Kindle and closer to the shape and size of the iPad. For the next week I split my routine into morning and evening training sessions, reading over a dozen ePapers daily and commenting on article after article, liking and disliking, and occasionally getting into a debate.

By the end of the fourth week I had made significant progress. I was feeling as strong scrolling in any direction as I ever did. But I knew there was still one test left, one hurdle to leap, one final challenge to get me ready. So rather than take the weekend off as I had been doing previously, I spent the entire weekend on eBay. I bid on over 1200 items that were under 15 minutes from closing, winning 27. Most items were under $10 but I did try harder for a Bentley and GI Joe with the Kung Fu Grip in its original case, just to further sharpen my fine motor skills. By Sunday night I felt ready. My CTS was becoming a distant memory.

It’s been nearly six months since my month of tablet training and I have to say I am much better for it. My CTS is thankfully dormant though I know once you’ve had it, it can flare up at any time. I’ve settled into a regular pattern of iPad usage and with my upgrade to v5 am able to change wrist positions more frequently to match the associated swiping motion. At times I feel the Cloud has lifted the weight off my shoulders. While I still rotate through many of the free apps, I’ve actually purchased a few. I am much more utile with the device and have even learned a few shortcuts. For sure Solitaire is much clearer and easier to play on the iPad than on my Blackberry. Unfortunately the end of my right index finger seems to have lost some of its sensitivity and the knuckles behind it are feeling sore. I wonder if I’ve developed an index Pointing Angular Disorder?