Category Archives: Opinion

Print Books Will Never Die

I think the “death of printed books” argument is over-indulged. The printed book market is changing, that’s for sure, but it will not ever disappear. Overall, the economy has had more impact on how and when people purchase books, than the electronic book readers are.

I have Kindle DX, and I use it sometimes, but generally, I’d rather have a print book in my hands, and I think this is true of the majority of people. I have friends who have Sony readers, Kindles, and other eBook readers. I have a coworker who reads eBooks on her iPaq organizer, or on her video iPod, or iTouch/iPhone. For every way to read a book, there are multiple options to do so. There is very little difference in eBooks today than there was 10 years ago, to be honest. Up until portable readers were available, people were reading eBooks on their computers, or accessing them on computers at public and college/university libraries.

As a published author, I do not view any of these methods for reading my material as negative. If people are reading my stuff, then the goal has been accomplished. It matters little to me whether they are buying my self-published anthology on Lulu, my print book at Barnes and Noble, reading my blogs online, or downloading my eBook on their Kindle, PC, or other device. In fact, the more ways they have access to my writing, the happier I am going to be. Will the Kindle, or any electronic eBook reader, kill off printed books? Hardly, no more than eBooks, PDF’s, and having access to scanners and Torrent sites have.

What needs to be understood is that the business model is changing, and traditional print sellers need to adjust to those changes and make new opportunities for themselves. Barnes and Noble has done this by linking up with a manufacturer that can provide an eBook reader. They are late in the game to do so, but they have done it.

So think about the last 10 “books” you bought, whether they were electronic or hard copy. Out of my last ten, 2 were on the Kindle, and 8 were hard copy. Three of those hard copies I purchased used at, 2 from the thrift store down the street from my house, and three brand new from Barnes and Noble brick and mortar store. Within the last year, I’ve purchased PDF eBooks online at various sites, as well. My bookshelves are never empty, any more than the hard drive on my computer where I store downloaded eBooks. No matter how I buy a book, an author is getting paid, even by association, and that part is what is most important, in the end.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

I have been using Facebook for a couple of years, since my teens signed onto it. It started out that I was just trying to keep an eye on their online activities; I banned them from MySpace because of safety concerns, but Facebook had a few more safety features that a mom could love.

But of course, once I started using it, I ended up with lots of other people on my friends’ list. People that I work with, people that I socialize with, people in my spiritual community, some members of my extended family, the usual suspects. These are all people I know in real life.

An interesting thing that I’ve noticed lately is that my circle of friends intersect. My daughter’s best friend is in the same dance group as a friend of mine, and both are on my friends’ list, and several of my friends are in my spiritual community and also work at companies I interact with. It’s a bit of a small world when it comes to these intersecting circles of friends.

And recently, friends of mine who were a couple are no longer a couple, and one half of the duo is now dating someone else that is within my friends’ circle. So now, a particular post of mine may get responded to by the male half of the ex-couple, the female half of the ex-couple, and the new half of the newly-formed couple. All of these intersections create some incredibly surprising tension. And of course, I’m friends with all of them.

Once you break up with someone, and you delete them from your friends’ list, that is no guarantee that you won’t still hear about them, or hear from them indirectly, through your other friends. As our circles cross and intersect, more and more of these connections get made, whether we like it or not. Privacy settings can help, and you can “hide” posts from certain people, but that doesn’t mean that other person isn’t hearing about you the same way you were/are hearing about them. And this doesn’t necessarily apply to just romantic relationships; it can apply to friendships as well. I myself have been removed from someone’s friends’ list after a falling out, yet I hear all about this person, and see her responses to mutual friends’ posts regularly.

This has created a new world for many of us. BF (Before Facebook) it was easy enough to not have direct or indirect contact with an ex; now, it isn’t even a possibility to lock that person out of your life completely. Breaking up is not only hard, but probably impossible to do completely. And short of deleting your profile and coming up with an alter-ego, there is really no easy answer.

Saying goodbye on Facebook really isn’t goodbye; it’s more like “see you later.”

Conserving Power

I have just spent a nightmare six weeks at work while we moved a computer lab and two dozen faculty and staff offices within a building.  Through a seemingly random series of stops and starts, we have finally landed in our new homes, beaten and battered, but not broken.  I have sore knees, sore muscles, and bumps on my head from crawling around under desks.  And as we re-acclimate to our new surroundings, I am realizing that moving computers is never simple.

And my biggest complaint?  Cable management.  Particularly, why are we still having to plug in two power cords for every PC we install?  One for the CPU, one for the monitor.  In this day and age, why have we not reached a place where we can plug in one power cord?  Realigning power was our number one issue during the move; for every PC there had to be at least two free power outlets.  Our safety inspectors do not want us using power strips or surge protectors, but we really have no choice when there is one wall outlet and two computers.  And in reality, the draw on the wall outlet is not significant.  One pc and one monitor, plus maybe a set of speakers, is not really an issue.  So why, oh why, have we not figured out how to power the entire PC including a monitor and speakers, on one power cord?

There was a reason I liked our all-in-one machines from Gateway a few years back.  And why I like my laptop so much:  one cord.  Just one.

Birth, Growth, and a Mid-Life Crisis

My first use of the “Internet” was preparing and submitting payroll through a dialup system when I worked for the state.  It was somewhere around 1985 and I had to wonder how “great” this thing was going to be when it took over an hour to submit a few timesheets into a non-local mainframe.  I was an administrative assistant in those days, and my favorite work tool was my IBM Selectric II typewriter (with correction).

Not too long after that, I got a job at the Red Cross, where there was a computer on every admin assistant’s desk.  By the early 90’s, I was working for a Pharmacy College in their pharmacological database design division, which was funded by pharmaceutical companies in a grant setting.  We created and maintained databases of information related to reactions to medication, as well as studies and data on sales (or lack thereof).  We also maintained a series of bulletin board systems that frequently turned into sex chats.  Those pharmacists…they are a wild bunch!

But those years at the Pharmacy college were what led me to my love of the Internet, and why I still spend an inordinate amount of time there.  In those early days, web pages were being designed, website domains were being purchased (for a lot more money then than they are now), and early development was occurring.  My boss, a rather forward-thinking guy, saw the potential and had us working on web pages in short order.  Those were the days.  Grey background, white or black letters, no images.  Really great reading material – if you wanted to fall asleep!

Ah, how things have changed.  In a few very short years, we now have a system that is used by over a billion people, in all countries on earth.  We watch goofy videos, we share our personal anxieties on social networking sites, we post pictures of our kids or the latest crop of tomatoes on our blogs, and get all the news that is the news from thousands of television/radio/newspaper websites.

Some of us would say that the World Wide Web is in a bit of a crisis these days.  It has grown so fast, and so broadly, that sometimes the technology and legislation haven’t been able to keep up.  Those early days saw explosions of innovation and design and development, completely unfettered by government or regulatory control.  If it was possible with the bandwidth and browser capability, then it could happen.  However, today we are facing more and more regulation, both from the government and from unlikely places like the RIAA, MPAA, ISP’s, and media sources (the AP comes to mind).  The amount of push-back these days is sometimes staggering.  One of the most disconcerting things about the current growth of the Internet is the amount of regulation and “no, you can’t do that” activities.  It is stifling, if not outright killing, innovation in the web space.

It is a mid-life crisis of sorts, and maybe a bit of “going back to the beginning” and removing some of those regulations and controls will open up innovation once again.  After all, haven’t we proven that no matter what obstacles we want to put in place, users and providers will find a way around it?  Is it maybe time to stop worrying about what we need to control, and instead provide the kind of innovative ideas and content people are looking for?  The Internet is not going to die, and it’s not going away either, and no matter how much certain parts of the Internet are despised by certain people, the fact remains that all of this content is popular because of demand from the user side.

The Internet needs a sportscar with the top down, needs to grow out its hair, wear lime-green shorts, and live a little.  That’s what mid-life crises are for.   The Internet is due for its mid-life changes.

Without Customers and Clients, We Have Nothing to Do

customerserviceOne of the more important things I do in my day job is to be sure our clients/customers get what they are expecting.  As an educational institution, our customers are faculty and staff.  They come to us with their needs, and sometimes with their wants, and we, as the IT department, need to be open to their needs and their wants, and provide the solutions they are asking for.

This doesn’t mean they always get what they want, but it does mean that we do our very best not to stand in the way of instruction and academic freedom.  We, as IT people, do not get to choose what the client wants to teach, or have available to them, in the classroom.  Our job is to support their teaching needs.

And that includes putting in software that we may personally not like or prefer.  I have had ongoing push-back from two of my technicians who do not like deploying Firefox in our classroom environments.  There is some cause for their concern, as two of our faculty/student browser-based pieces of software only work with Internet Explorer 7 and not with Firefox.  But in general, Firefox is the preferred browser for most of our students and as much as half our faculty. So the solution is to deploy both Internet Explorer and Firefox.   These two technicians do not like Firefox, and find every excuse to come back to me and tell me why they can’t put it in a particular classroom they are working on, coming up with technical reasons or blatantly personal reasons why they cannot deploy the software.

And they are entitled to their opinion.  But my customer is not me or my technicians.  My customer is the instructor or staff member who needs and/or wants this for their classroom.  We can make recommendations and suggestions, but when it comes down to brass tacks, the word “no” cannot be in our vocabulary.  The customer gets what they ask for, 99.99% of the time.  Our ability to provide what the customer wants is what guarantees our jobs aren’t outsourced to someone who will provide what the customer wants.

Without my customers’ happiness, I don’t have a job.  And I’d rather keep mine right now, all things considered.

Apple Needs to Grow Up

appleApple has done its best to thwart the running of iTunes syncing on the Palm Pre this morning.  There will likely be a workaround within a few days, but in the long run, what the heck is Apple thinking?

We can’t use iTunes syncing unless it is on an Apple device?  What kind of logic is that?  Those of us using the FREE iTunes software on our computers (that may or may not be Macs, mine isn’t) use it for a reason.  We may buy music through iTunes, schedule podcast downloading, and use it to keep our (sometimes) extensive music libraries in one place.  I currently sync my iTunes purchases and downloads through a Dell computer.  I also have a Sony Ericcson Walman phone, and I’d love to be able to sync a few things there, as well, but that’s not possible because Apple locks it out.  I happen to have a high-end iPod that I sync everything to, but not everyone can afford that, or may have other reasons for using different smart phones/devices for their syncing. I know many companies that provide Blackberries or Palm services to their employees, who should then be able to take advantage of the availability of syncing with products they are already using, like iTunes.

What is it to Apple whether or not the person syncing their iTunes library to a device is using an iPod or another branded electronic device?  I realize they would prefer that everyone own an iPod, Touch, or iPhone.  It’s the same as Kelloggs wishing we all ate Special K for breakfast instead of Cheerios or a store brand of Lucky Charms.  But in the big picture, is it really worth Apple’s reputation  to be so heavy-handed about denying use of their products with anything but their own proprietary brand of portable player?  I know it certainly does not endear me to Apple, or their products, and leaves a pretty bad taste in my mouth.

Many of these walled garden attitudes need to go the way of the dinosaur, in my opinion.

Is Twitter a Fad, or Here to Stay?

twitterThis will likely be the shortest article I’ll have ever written.  Longer than 140 characters, but still, short.

The question is, is Twitter a fad, or here to stay?  I saw a reference to Twitter as a fad in a recent article in the USAToday.  The author of the article was interviewing Robert Bartholomew about the book he just co-authored, Outbreak!, The Encyclopedia of Extraordinary Social Behavior.  The Encyclopedia is a compendium of public overreactions to events or occurrences.  The author asks about Twitter and whether it is a fad, and Bartholomew’s answer:

“Most fads are not social delusions but are short-term infatuations. Only time will tell whether Twitter is a fad and will go the way of the CB radio after a year or two of intense interest or if it will become a more permanent fixture of our social landscape. Fads typically offer status but quickly fade when ‘everyone’s doing it’ and hence loses its novelty.”

That’s exactly how I feel about it.  I am not a Twitterer, yet.  And I don’t know if I will be, but I’m often slow to jump on fadish bandwagons.  I’m waiting to see if it will be something that would be valuable to me to use, or just another time-waster like Facebook and MySpace and LinkedIn  have turned out to be for me.  Remember when LinkedIn was “the next great thing?” Yeah, me too.

Why Should I Get Excited About a Google Operating System?

I, along with every other geek this week, have invariably heard about the new operating system to be produced by Google.  I have read multiple articles and really haven’t formed an opinion one way or the other about whether it will be good or not.

My real concern is about the ability of any operating system to truly overtake Windows as a standard.  As much as we hate Windows and complain about the things that don’t work or get broken, the fact is, Windows is a known commodity, and the majority of users we will work with will be Windows-literate.  Changing how they think, and operate, a computer, is a daunting task, and not one I will undertake lightly.  [Yes, I am deliberately and knowingly leaving out the Mac discussion for this article.]

I am my family’s de facto technical adviser and repair-woman.  When I get a call from my mother in Florida, I have to try to walk her through a fix or software setting via the phone.  She has used Windows the last 8 years.  My dad, who lives about an hour away, and his wife, both use Windows machines.  I have two brothers who also live within a few hours, who use Windows machines.  Needless to say, I’ve gotten really good at talking them through minor issues over the phone.  They understand most of the processes they are being asked to do, and can muddle their way through with my instructions.

I cannot imagine teaching any of these people how to use Linux.  One of the reasons I’ve not personally embraced it is because of all the “tinkering” that must be done to make changes, get programs to work properly, have all of your features available, etc.  Linux is not intuitive, and intensely harder to manage overall because of the hands-on adjustments you have to make to it.  And that’s okay for a geek, but not so good for the everyday user who just wants to sit down and surf the ‘net, type an email, or manipulate a photo or two from their digital cameras.

So when I look at Google’s offer of an operating system, I am more or less shrugging my shoulders and thinking “big deal.”  Another thing to learn, that may or may not be any easier to navigate and support than another free operating system already available (Linux).  I don’t see wide-spread acceptance of any new operating system at this point, despite the foibles and flaws of Windows.  At this point in the game, it is a little late to be putting Windows back in the barn and getting people to convert to something completely different.

Of course, I could be wrong.  It would be nice to think I’m wrong.  But it’s got to be more than “hey look, it’s FREE” to get me to look twice.  Because for all intents and purposes, Windows is free too, because it comes already installed on most new computers.  I know it’s not technically free, but the perception is that it’s free.  So Google’s new operating system has got to be bang-up better than what we already have to even have a chance of cracking the market and becoming a Windows killer.

And I have yet to see the app come along that can completely submerse Windows or other Microsoft software from majority use.  The fact remains that most businesses and home computers are loaded with Windows and Microsoft Office and Microsoft Internet Explorer, and that the majority of people are using those products in their daily lives.

Google’s got a very tough row to hoe with this one.

All I Want is a Program to do__________.

When a product or service becomes cumbersome, users stop using it unless they are forced to use it (Microsoft Office 2007 is a fine example of being forced to use something).  I am a big fan of having little programs or services to do things, but more often than not, using the program or service becomes cumbersome, and I dump it or simply stop using it when I find something less cumbersome.

Take Delicious, for example.  I got a Delicious account four years or more ago, and saved all my bookmarks there, presumably for ease of use as I traveled between different PC’s and desktops.  I work with two desktops and one laptop at work, and at home a laptop and one desktop share my workload.  It was frustrating to have different sets of bookmarks on five different machines, not to mention that when I went to work on someone else’s machine, all the bookmarks I normally coasted to were not available to me.  So Delicious was the answer.

That is, if I could remember exactly where to place the dots in in the address bar. That was the first straw for me, in a long line of straws that saw me using it less and less, until I realized I hadn’t logged into it for a year.  All I wanted was a place to save bookmarks  out in the ether, where I could easily access them from whatever pc I happened to be sitting at.  I didn’t need to share them, tag them, sort them, or do anything else with them.  Just wanted a list of my bookmarks where I could get to them, easily and quickly.  I ended up starting a locked personal blogspot account where I could put links in an ongoing post that I update over and over with new links.  It’s the easiest way for me to get to what I need.  No bells, no whistles, limited choices and decisions to make.

I’m simple like that.  I want a clean interface, a clean experience, just get me to the meat and potatoes of what I want.  It is one of the reasons I use Open Office for my personal work, and for about half my business-related work.  We are forced to use Microsoft Office 2007 for internal communication, but for much of what I do externally, I stick with Open Office, which gives me a quick, clean interface with all the tools right at my fingertips and no guessing about where they moved page settings or print settings.  It is why I use the dumbed down versions of many pieces of software, including CoffeeCup FTP for moving files to my server, an ancient version of HotMetal Pro for creating html files, and more.  The simpler the better.  I am not fond of navigating through what I don’t need to get to what I do need.

Delicious could be a better product.  I’m a fan of widgets that work simply, like the one from (drag and drop to the widget on the screen).  If Delicious had such a widget, I’d probably use it.  But for now, my little blogspot blog will have to do as a simple way to get my bookmarks to a place where I can use them.

Computer repair shops: the 21st Century’s car mechanic

One of the worst feelings a person can have is seeking the repair of a product that they have a limited knowledge of how it works. How do they know what they are being told is true? How much does it really cost to fix? How will I know if they really replaced anything and it was just a loose screw causing the problem?
I talk to home and small business computer users daily in the course of my job and the one thing I continue to see is how much they distrust any IT person they come in contact with.
I can’t blame them as they may have seen the same stories on the news about the big box computer stores and national computer repair companies and what their technicians have been caught doing to users and their computers.
The more disturbing thing I’m see is how mom and pop repair stores are selling these people bootleg copies of software and loading up corporate networks with “Free for personal use” software.
I had a client ask me how much it would cost to replace Vista on the machine she had bought a few months back. I told her is would be the cost of a copy of XP plus the install time, she turns to me and says, “My old IT guy was able to upgrade our four of our other machines from Windows 2000 for $35 each.”  At that point I looked at the machines and each one of them had the same CD-Key and an activation hack loaded.
I believe independent shops are hurting themselves and others in the field by devaluing the cost of their services and in the end leaving the customer in a bad situation as well as perpetuating the myth that IT people are arrogant and will sell them what ever snake oil tonic they have to make a quick buck.
The main thing I think people should look for when seeking computer repair outside the home is personal recommendations. Talk to your friends and family and see who they have used in the past. Nothing beats the one-on-one interaction with a repairman as well as how they talk to their customers and explain the problems and possible solutions. Also if they say they need to replace a part, ask for the old one back even you have no plan to keep it.
Thankfully I have never been in the situation where I have had to rely on a total stranger to fix a computer of mine that contains family photos, banking information, personal emails and whatever else passes through my computer on a daily basis.
What experiences have you or your friends and family had with these shops and what are your tips on finding a quality shop?
As always I can be reached at jparie (at) gmail (dot) com.