Computer Drama Part 2: Chrome Shiny Chrome

I had resisted the idea of the Chromebook when I originally heard of it.  I applaud any alternative operating system just on principle–competition is healthy–but the idea that the thing would be largely useless unless connected to the internet was kind of a deal breaker.  I was going–or planning to go–enough places that didn’t have reliable wireless internet so, yeah. Notsomuch.

But that was a while ago.  My situation–and Chrome’s–has changed.  It was time to revisit this.  So why was I willing to shuck out for what amounts to a low-end laptop that is limited on program choices? Read the rest of this entry »

Computer Drama: Part 1

My Asus EeePC Netbook (named Inara–all my computers get a name) had a pesky power problem.  For over a year, she has had to be plugged in to operate.  You unplug her and just like unplugging a desktop PC from the wall–she dies.  Even a new battery didn’t help.  This would have been a much bigger deal if I’d been traveling with her more, but those days are over.  She could stay plugged into the wall and still be useful for paying bills while I watched TV in the living room. Read the rest of this entry »

Behold, the Power of the Keyboard

I’m not about to claim this as a reason for my continued lapse in posts, but I will admit that it has probably impacted something about my posting, if only certain typos.

I had a really rotten keyboard.

At some point in the past 5 years (yeah, that long), I wound up with an old, very basic, very non-responsive keyboard attached to the computer from which 75% of my posts came (now 100% because the tiny tiny laptop known on my network as “Inara” shuffled loose the electro-magnetic coil about a month ago and because Asus no longer makes netbooks exactly like her, I am in ponder mode on her eventual replacement….but that’s a topic for another post).  Honestly, the thing had keys that you had to pound to get a letter to appear (even after I cleaned the dust out).  The keys themselves were very shallow and had a poor feel–when you hit a key, you didn’t always have the feeling you’d really hit much more than the surface of the desk.  I lived with it, because, well, my work keyboard was only marginally better and I spend a lot more hours of the day with that machine than this one.

But, last week I carried a box down to the basement (yet another topic for yet another post) and as I made room on the shelf, I stumbled on a half empty box….half empty but for some very serviceable keyboards that I remember having liked (if you are looking shocked at my having a lot of random keyboards in a box in my basement, clearly we’ve never met in real life…I also have boxes of hard drives, video cards, network cards.  If you’re picturing me with horn rimmed glasses you’d be wrong…but if you’re wondering if my Slashdot number is lower than yours, there’s a good chance of that).

So, I brought the old keyboard upstairs, and swapped it for the brick that had been masquerading as an input device.

Cue the chorus of angels.

I’m half tempted to carry this thing back and forth to work.  It’s not that it’s the best keyboard ever, but it’s been this highlight of how sucky my old one was and how much nicer it is to work with an input device that responds appropriately.  I actually want to spend more time working on the computer than I used to.  All of the posts I’ve been scribbling in notebooks for the past months I’m actually willing to type.  I had no idea the amount of reluctance that old thing was causing in my getting things that final step from analog to digital.

It’s not going to cure my posting problems (one day there will be a post about that.  One day),  and it sure won’t cure all my typos (or my grammar and spelling issues) but it sure as heck isn’t going to make it any worse.

Insufficient Payment

First of all, let me apologize for missing my last two posts. I missed Friday because shit happened that made it vitally important I drink several snake bites then come home and lie on the couch with a box of tissues watching Season 2 of Chuck (is anyone else distracted by Chuck’s college girlfriend being the lesbian supervillain from DEBS? Is anyone else pondering the amazing possibilities of a Chuck/DEBS crossover? Has anyone else actually seen DEBS?) Sundays post fell victim to the hard drive in my laptop dying on the day my dissertation proposal was due.

Which brings me to the real point of this post. My wonderful co-blogger Cammy took quite a bit of time out of her weekend and work week to give me advice, research hard drives, assure me that the world was not over… Cammy is my go-to tech support. I’d like to say that I haven’t taken advantage of this in the past. And I’d like to say that I won’t take advantage of it in the future. But while I’m comfortable with lying, Cammy is not. So yeah… I’m a bit of a douche in that department.

So really this post is a giant thank you to all of my friends with useful skills who get taken advantage of. The computer literati, the people with trucks, the amateur mechanics. In addition to holding real jobs they tend to wind up working for us for nothing except gratitude. I mean, I would love to repay in kind, but the bottom line is that while I like to think I’m not totally devoid of skills, I am lacking in skills that would ever be of use to my friends. I have yet to get the call saying, “Hey, I need someone to walk across a loosely tied rope… do you mind?” Chances are minimal of any of my friends ever asking me, “Hey, do you happen to know what tale type this story falls under?” (Okay, that actually sort of did happen once. But only once.) I always hope that my editing skills will be of use to someone, but for better or for worse, all my sciency computery friends are disgustingly well-rounded people who can edit their own cover letters. I pay local friends in homemade ice cream or sorbet, but this is somewhat difficult when the friend in question is two states away.

So I know it’s insufficient payment, but to all those friends who have helped me out of all those jams I would like to say a giant thank you. Us useless folk do notice all you do for us, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.

Time Vampire of the Week: Updates

Ever damn piece of software I own, use, or am forced to tolerate decided it needed a lengthy upgrade this week.

Every.

Damn.

Piece.

Normally, this is a minor annoyance about which I swear briefly, then move on.  But not this week, oh no.  This week the updates have all been long, slow, interfered with my attempts to shut down quickly, and generally made my life a living hell.

I timed it yesterday–I spent 20 minutes on Windows updates (the price I pay for rarely rebooting).  And this when I really just wanted to try and get in to check on an e-mail attachment before I went to work, so I wouldn’t have to look at it on my phone.  After 20 minutes I gave up.  I couldn’t spare more time.

And iTunes.  43 minutes.  To add insult to injury?  That update actually failed for some reason.  Which doesn’t matter because even if it had succeeded, it would still have wanted me to update today because apparently Apple has coders working 24/7/365 on iTunes crap.  It’s actually rare I open the program much anymore because I got so tired of the constant prompt to upgrade.

Adobe wanted to update flash or the reader or something.  And Java, as usual, popped up a damn request to update too.

It’s a bloody miracle I got anything done this week other that waiting on patches to download and install.

Russian is 85% More Fun than HTML

I was going to blog about one of two new delightful conspiracy theories I’ve discovered in recent weeks (I’m not telling what they are.  I may need blog fodder for another Time Vampire.)  But something else has been eating up so much of my time for the past three weeks that it needed to be blogged.

HTML coding.

Does it seem strange this should be something eating up my time?  It should.  I’m a folklorist!  I minored in dance.  My computer requirement was fulfilled by a course that consisted entirely of building a webpage on Microsoft Frontpage.  This is Cammy’s area of expertise (actually Cammy can program in much more advanced languages, that’s not the point).  So why am I doing it?  Because at the moment, it’s my job.  And I’d comfort myself that at least I’m getting paid, except I’m not getting paid.

What I’ve been doing specifically, is formatting a bilingual ethnopoetic transcript for display on a WordPress page.  And while in so many ways WordPress allows for easy copy and paste from MS Word, it does not deal well with such transcripts.  So I’ve been painstakingly fixing the html code line by line.  All the while reminding myself that if I wanted to do html code for the rest of my life I’d have gone into a field that pays a hell of a lot better than folklore.

And yes, html is very easy to learn (though I would argue, difficult to master). And googling is very helpful in problem solving.  But it seems like this should be something for which there is a quick fix.  And I’m going to posit that the reason there isn’t is because it would involve two worlds communicating that don’t like/know how to communicate.  To completely generalize and stereotype:  The sorts of people who work with ethnopoetic transcripts are often also the sorts of people that are… let’s say intimidated by computer coding (it reminds us that we’re stupid, when we’ve spent all that time getting degrees to fool people into thinking we’re not.)  And the sorts of people who write computer code, rarely have occasion to encounter ethnopoetic transcripts and therefore don’t really understand why they must be formatted the way they are (general advice of the internet to me: Don’t format it that way.  Me:  It has to be formatted that way).

So instead, I spend weeks in my office (jamming to my headphones because it’s summer and there’s no one else in the building except the ghost of Richard Dorson) fixing code line by line and thinking “I speak three languages.  And none of them are helping me right now.”

Coffee With…Ada Lovelace

Cammy: Would I have coffee with one of the Patron Saints of Girl!!Geeks the world over?  Hell, yeah.  Ada Lovelace (actually Augusta Ada King nee Byron), born 10 December 1815, was the only legitimate offspring of Lord Byron.  Within a month of her birth, Ada’s parents were separated.  Ada never had a real relationship with her father, something that suited Ada’s mother just fine.  Momma was so concerned that Ada might harbor the insane poet tendencies of her father that she insisted Ada receive education in mathematics, science and logic. This is the kid whose Mom would have shit a brick if someone gave little Ada a “Math is Hard” Barbie.

All this laid the foundation for something amazing.  Something that every woman who’s ever dealt with the chauvenistic ass-hattery of the male-dominated computer science lab:

Ada Lovelace is the worlds first computer programmer.

She corresponded with various and sundry scientific minds of the time, including Charles Babbage, who originated the entire concept of the programmable computer–his “Analytical Engine.”  Italian Mathematician Luigi Menabrea wrote a paper on the Analytical Engine which Ada undertook to translate.  In doing so, she added her own notes in an appendix.  The notes (which were longer than Menabrea’s paper itself) contained Ada’s detailed instructions for calculating Bernoulli’s numbers on the Analytical Engine.  This set of instructions is the first computer program.

The woman is straight-up, undeniable street cred for every woman who’s ever had her presence in the lab questioned (yes, it happens, even today).  For this, I owe her coffee.  Or a beer, or the most expensive wine available at the bar.  And naturally I want to pick her brain about her opinions on women in math and science.  Would she be appalled that we’re not further along on this front?

Kristy: This might be a situation where I’d be more comfortable sending her a nice bottle of wine anonymously from across the bar.  Because everything that Cammy just said about her street cred and badassery is absolutely true.  And I’m, personally appalled that we haven’t made more progress on the women in science front.  Because as many women as have made amazing achievements in the field, I know from my friends that they still get treated too often as second class in the science field.

On the other hand, I outright suck at math and science.  And I spent my whole life being told by guidance counsellors that because I was smart I should concentrate in science (the humanities were for people who weren’t quite as smart).  (My field sits halfway between the humanities and the social sciences.  A generation ago it was just as male dominated as most sciences, but somehow we managed to have more success here.)  And I’ve always felt like I kind of betrayed the sisterhood for not trying to help break some barriers in the science realm.  I am fully aware that between my lack of ability and my lack of desire to be there I would have done more harm than good to the cause of women in science, and yet… I guess I just internalized too many criticisms.

Anyway, my knowledge of Lady Lovelace is limited, but I haven’t seen a single thing to indicate she would be rude to me (hell, in her day my field was classified as a science, so I might look better in her eyes than in my contemporaries).  We can easily avoid the subject of her daddy (I like his poetry, but I’m more than willing to recognize he was a douche.  And an f’ed up one at that).  I just think I’d feel like a loser the whole time.  Yes, I’m neurotic, but there it is.  So… I do want to buy her a drink, I just think I’ll let her and Cammy talk on their own.

A Keen Time Vampire

As a kid, I never had a Nintendo.  My parents are thrifty.  To them, computers should be for doing work, so we had a home PC.  But dedicated gaming consoles?  Not so much.  Eventually they did give in, but Nintendo’s were higher than the Atari 2600.  If they were going to “waste” money on a game console, it was going to be as little as possible.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Atari (viva Ms. Pacman!), but I felt left out of the side-scroll adventure world of Super Mario.

Then came a substitute–something similar, but, honestly, cooler, for the home PC:  Commander Keen.

It had the same side-scroll action as Super Mario, but it was different–and I liked different.  A kid in a Bean & Bacon Mega rocket, crash landed on a planet, battling with wolfmen and toothy-green aliens armed only with a blaster and pogo-stick.

Hours of my life were poured into this game.  My brother and I even managed to find the “secret” level.

And now, far more years having passed than I like to admit, I found out that some clever souls have put Commander Keen online.  Apparently it’s sans sound, but already I’ve wasted several hours of pleasant frustration as I try to get my fingers to replicate the old moves.  I still haven’t found my pogo-stick and I’m getting zapped by the clammy things too often for comfort, but it’s worth it.

Time Vampire of the Week: Lifehacker

This has to be one of the most insidious time vamps I’ve ever dealt with, which makes me love it all the more.

Lifehacker is the best collection of  tips, tricks and tools to make your digital life smoother, easier and more efficient (and sometimes your meat-space life, too).  It’s the site that turned me on to Getting Things Done, and which has given me countless shortcuts I’ve used both at home and at work.

So how does a site that is basically about time management and  doing things faster and better qualify as a sucker of time?

Oh, just visit the link.  It’s like the Lay’s potato chip of sites: you can’t read just one article.  You keep looking, keep learning and before you know it, the most time-beneficial thing you could have happen is a power failure to disconnect you so that you might actually take the stuff you’ve been reading for the past 4 hours and implement it, rather than reading about that better, faster way to keep your Outlook calendar clear of unwanted meetings.

Lifehacker, I love you, but you’re a little bit evil.