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.  

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Sending a message to those elected to Act

This morning we mailed letters to nine members of Congress from New York.  The letters laid out arguments in favor of legislative action which would restrict the use of automatic weapons in our country.  The letters are based upon an earlier blogpost, "Militia of One".

We sent the letters to nine House members whose voting records have been in opposition to gun control legislation over the past few years.  A recent NPR article does a nice job of describing all pertinent federal laws and previous bills, going back to the Brady bill in the 1980s.  It also lists how all members have voted on these bills, by state.

I encourage folks to contact their members about this issue.  Regardless of how you stand, now is the time to raise our voices with those who we have elected to set policy.  Certainly, Pam and I have certain feelings about this issue.  Our representatives need to take action of some type.  "No action" is also an action; but with this issue, like so many, it is absconding with their responsibility.

The text of our letter follows.  Feel free to use this text, or any part thereof.

I cannot own a live grenade.  I cannot legally buy one. 

This certainly makes sense.  A single grenade has the power to kill multiple people.  The consequences are deadly. 

So why should it be legal to own an automatic rifle that can kill multiple people in a matter of seconds?  Why should an individual be permitted to own and use a military-style weapon?  Why can an individual accumulate so much weaponry that he becomes a one-man militia? 

Assault rifles must be banned in this country.  The consequences of their proliferation – their use as killing machines that take large numbers of innocent lives in a matter of minutes – far outweigh constitutional debates over language written 225 years ago.  In 1785, it took a person several minutes to reload a rifle after firing once.  Today, one pull of a trigger can result in a dozen deaths in seconds.

The individuals who carried out the most recent mass murders were sitting on multiple rifles, handguns, automatic pistols, cartridges, and explosives.  They intended to kill as many people as possible in a short burst of violence. The litany of one-person militias is long and violent, with myriad apparent motives: Parkland High School, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Orlando, Virginia Tech, San Bernadino, Sutherland Springs.

Motives are a factor. Mental health is a factor.  Political extremism and terrorism are factors. 
No matter how one stands on the Second Amendment to the Constitution, one fact is clear: the United States has the largest rate of gun ownership in the world, and the highest rate of deaths due to guns in the world.  Regardless of how we interpret our right to arms, we are using guns for destruction of life at an incredibly high rate.

Our country has engaged in a 30-year debate over guns, one of the most polarizing conversations in our society.  We interpret the language of the Second Amendment in ways that buttress our own side of the debate.  Every word and comma get parsed, even to the point of arguing what a word meant in the English language of the 1790s.

But there is a large chasm between "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms" and the ability of an individual to become a militia-of-one who can destroy many lives in seconds.  Common sense has been lost.

Congress can save thousands of lives by banning the sale, ownership, and use of automatic assault rifles.  You have a responsibility to pass laws that protect lives.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Musings on the Edges of Darkness

At the time of night-prayer, as the sun slides down,
The route the senses walk on closes,
the route to be invisible opens.
Rumi, Persian poet, 1207-1273

Early January, and the days are lopsided with dark hours.  We have gone through the holidays, when Christmas lights break through the winter darkness.  They stretch as white, blue, and red strings along roofs, adorning fences, rolled in circles around trees of all sizes.  But now they start to fade as people either pull them down or just stop hitting the switch that covered the dark winter night for a few festive weeks.

For some odd reason, I am reading Burning the Midnight Oil: Illuminating Words for the Long Night's Journey Into Day during this dark time of year.  It is a collection of essays, poems, and stories about lives during the darkness, written by insomniac writers of the past and present.  They range from Rumi poetry, to Richard Byrd's account of sleep in an Arctic shelter, to the Mohawk native Americans and their origin story from the stars.

Many of the authors speak of the incredible expanse and power of the nighttime sky.  The naturalist Rachel Carson writes of camping on the headland of a bay, where "the horizons were remote and distant rims on the edge of space.  Millions of stars blazed in darkness and on the far shore a few lights burned in cottages.  Otherwise there was no reminder of human life."  She laments how so many people take all this for granted.

It occurred to me that if this were a sight that could be seen only once in a century, this little headland would be thronged with spectators.  But it can be seen many scores of nights in any year, and so the lights burned in the cottages and the inhabitants probably gave not a thought to the beauty overhead.

Other writers note the power of the night to stir our senses.  The explorer Byrd lived alone in the Arctic for six months, and led a highly routinized existence in order to survive.  "My whole life here in a sense is an experiment in harmony....But a man can live a lifetime in a few half-dreaming moments of introspection between going to bed and falling asleep: a lifetime reordered and edited to satisfy the ever-changing demands of the mind."

I grew up on the edge of a small village, where the night sky was rarely thinned out by light pollution.  The stars were sharp and distinct.  Winter could be the most striking time to scan the heavens, as the air seemed so crisp and clear.  The snow cover created a white expanse underfoot that created a reverse of the dark sky with its millions of white dots.

During other seasons, darkness would arrive later and conjure up other ghosts.  We lived directly next to the village cemetery, bordered by an open field next to our house where we played baseball or kickball. For us neighborhood kids, dusk meant our ballgames would end and we would move to someone else's yard to play kick-the-can or capture-the-flag.  While the cemetery field was great for any type of game, the proximity to hundreds of gravesites at night added a spooky dimension to night games.  Being kids, we would make eerie noises or joke about midnight walks between headstones; but none of us would actually venture there.

Now I am in my 60s, and the darkness has other affects. Nighttime noise comes in different sizes -- the house siding crackling in extreme winter cold, or the train rolling between hills across the valley.  But that's not what makes my sleep restless or keeps me awake at 4:00am.  The darkness limits external vision and seems to enhance the visions or pictures that arise internally in the mind and heart.  Those thoughts start rolling around the internal senses, ranging from angst to hope to wonder.

When the morning light arrives, the darkness is chased.  The night visions no longer seem overwhelming or unmanageable.  I do not blame the darkness, as if it were an evil magician.  Even as a kid, I knew that we could still play in the dark.