Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Fact as the Window to Truth

Truth and fact are not always the same thing.  The latter often is a window to the former.

A black man is pursued and captured by four cops in Minneapolis.  One of the policemen detains him prone facedown on the ground by placing a kneehold on his neck.  The man exclaims that he cannot breathe.  The three other police ask the small crowd to step back; a number of the bystanders are recording video on their phones.  After a short period of time, the man lay silent.  He is declared dead at the hospital.

Times have not changed.  This brutal treatment of a black man is not new. History is just on video now.

White America has always treated African-Americans, hispanics, people of color, as inferior humans.  We have been racist since the beginning of our history, believing we white-skinned descendents of Europe are superior because of our culture, our education, our bloodlines, our self-definition of success.

Yes, this is a broadstroke.  It does not apply to all white Americans, just as the stereotypes we hold are inappropriately applied to people of color.

But the death of this one man is more than fact.  His full story – his life, his history, and his death -- are another symbol of a broader truth about racism in America.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020


The back deck is so much better in May.  We have had a stretch of 10 sunny, increasingly warm days. All of which Pam has spent in the gardens, expanding to the east, rearranging plants using her ‘poke and hope’ methodology that rarely fails.  And if it does, she does not mope, as plants are fungible and flexible.  The rich green explodes everywhere, from the depth of the lawn to the expanse of the hostas.

The chipmunks flourish to the point where we implement traps to cut down on their incursion into soft parts of the gardens.  They know no boundaries, of course, so even if we capture a few, they may be part of families that live on the other side of our fences.  Our clans know where to hide out in their own tunnels, knowing full well exactly where the best meals can be found.

These critters have a different sense of ‘shelter-in-place’.  They are in constant shelter mode, having made numerous entry holes into their underground tunnels.  Their virus is the collection of predators that stalk them – although I am not sure that our suburbia contains that many threats.  I have seen a hawk swoop over the lawn and pluck a chipmunk off the lawn, and we have a fox family that lives in the gully beyond the houses across the street.  Other than that, we humans are the largest threat they seem to have.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Unwarranted Hubris

I helped out a friend with his computer recently.  Bob has a desktop computer of considerable age, probably about 10-12 years old.  It runs WindowsXP, which is three versions old by now. 

Bob is a minimalist user.  He checks email on Outlook Express, looks up the weather using Chrome, and plays Hearts and Solitaire, which were both standard games that came with Windows back in the day.

We have discussed upgrading his desktop for a few months, and I figured I could configure a newer Windows setup to mimic his current XP layout.  He recently gave me the go-ahead to pursue an upgrade.

It proved to be an adventure, one from which I learned a lesson.
I purchased a refurbished HP desktop online.  It was a smaller system unit than the current one, which was a plus.  I could trace all the input cords for his existing keyboard, mouse, monitor, and network router, all of which worked fine with no new drivers. It used Windows7, which was sufficient.

From that point on, trouble ensued.  It took two attempts to activate the Windows7 license, which involved inputting a 15-number key from a sticker on the side of the CPU. 

It did not come with Outlook Express, as that had been discontinued from XP to Win7; Microsoft replaced it with Windows Live mail, which was not included in this installation.  I set up an instance of in IE browser, and tried to make it look like Outlook Express.  But the Outlook mail display looked different, and I had failed to realize that he had a small address book on his previous Outlook – which meant he would have to re-add his correspondents.

He likes Chrome, which was easy enough to download and install.  However, the input search line for Google did not retain the characters as he typed – they repeated directly into the URL box.  The former could be enlarged so Bob could see it better; the URL could not.

Our next issue was the games.  Neither the classic Solitaire nor Hearts from previous Windows were retained in Win7.  Attempts to search and download old versions from the web met with either online games from third parties, or links to Windows10 games.  We did find a version of Hearts which seemed to work, but no Solitaire.

By the end of Day1, we had wiled away 3 hours in setting up the new installation.  He did not have everything he had on the XP configuration, and the functions that were there had differences in access and visuals.  He had one missing game, no address book, and a search engine that worked differently.

I went back on Saturday to see what I could improve.  Things didn’t get better.  Still found no Solitaire that would work.  Couldn’t improve the Chrome search issue or expand the size of the URL.

None of this was Bob's fault.  He said he was OK with the screen and he could adapt to the changes. I had him try all functions.  It was clearly slow to get around on the screen, but he wanted to forge forward rather than go back to the older desktop.

At least that’s what I told myself.

Monday morning came with a more traumatic event.  No internet access, no email since Sunday afternoon.  Nothing worked.  I went to investigate.  His computer had network connection, but no internet access – a configuration I have witnessed before myself, but I could not remember how it resolves.  I ran the few remediation steps that I knew, to no avail.  We determined that I should bring back the previous computer and hook it up.  At a minimum, this would identify whether it was the software or the modem that was the culprit.

The previous computer booted up cleanly.  But the network issue still displayed, so the next target was the modem/wireless router.  We called the modem owner, Spectrum, and their automated system sent a reboot/configure code to the modem.  The internet connection returned.

Nothing in this episode pointed to the new computer or its configuration as a problem.  But this was another event in an accumulation of issues, and it seemed time to fall back to a system that worked.  We kept the older computer unit in place.

Bob is much happier, and more comfortable, using the WindowsXP screens, Outlook Express, Chrome and the small number of software tools that he needs.  The fonts, the screen sizes, the link placements are all familiar and sized for him. 

I realized that I had displayed too much hubris in pushing for an upgrade to Bob’s computer. My technology skills were not good enough to decipher all the problems.  Worse, I had forgotten the most important rule in information technology:  it’s not about the technology, it’s about the user and his ability to use the technology to meet his needs.  I messed with that part of the equation.