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Friday, June 21, 2002

Meddlesome Software

Here's an example of what irritates me about the endless stream of software "upgrades" that yearly hurl themselves at my computers. I'm now working with Microsoft Word 2002. I'm building an outline. Whenever I hit "Tab" to indent a bullet, Word automatically converts my bullet point from a nice black dot into a sissified "o", and indents it about half a mile. My old Word didn't do this. My old Word knew its place. The new Word suffers from the delusion that it is my collaborative partner. The democratic workplace has finally come to my computer, and I don't like it one bit.

So here's what I'm wondering: did the people at Microsoft conduct a survey that I got left out of, wherein they asked lots of customers who make outlines whether they preferred this postmodern indentation system to the old method of indenting a quarter-inch and leaving the freaking bullet point alone?

I'm thinking not. I think instead some poor sap was instructed by headquarters to churn out yet another version of the software, so they can sell it in bulk for way too much money to thousands of IT purchasers desperate not to spend less than last year and thereby have next year's budget cut, so their service personnel can then take up my valuable work time installing the new beast on my computer, so I can in turn spend more time trying to do my job. Said poor sap looks at the current version of Word, verifies that it still puts letters on the screen in pretty much 100% correspondence to what one types, and sits there, befuddled, perhaps for hours. Then he begins to tinker with the program, desperately looking for anything that will enable Microsoft to pretend that they've contributed to the GNP by developing a "new" version of their software.

So, millions of man-hours later, Poor Sap has been promoted, while I sit in front of my computer, trying to do what I used to do perfectly well on a much older version of Word, only now I feel like a bomber pilot weaving through bursts of flak in the form of an excessively peppy paper clip creature who occasionally pops up to ask whether I'd like help writing my letter, squiggly lines under my text to alert me to my repeated (and relished) violations of sixth-grade writing style and politically correct language, and compulsory auto-formatting of things I don't want formatted, especially by someone whose sense of style is akin to Martha Stewart on crack. In short, I'm getting insight into why so many people enjoyed seeing Microsoft on the receiving end of the overreaching Clinton Anti-Trust Division's poker stick -- it wasn't because they were all jealous of Bill Gates, it was because they hate, as any freedom-loving American would, the repeated intrusions on their thoughts and productivity generated by Microsoft's hyperactive, "interactive" software.

I hope the periodic retro trends that afflict American products will soon visit office software, perhaps in the form of a "classic" Office package that is just plain less, well, meddlesome. Now that's a new and improved product I could get behind. And I'm sure my IT guy would be willing to buy it, so long as the price is high enough.

posted by Woodlief | link | (7) comments

Monday, June 17, 2002

Observations While Traveling

I. I have an undeniable truth to convey to you about airplane behavior: anyone who puts his seat all the way back when there is someone behind him is boorish and self-centered, ill-equipped to function in civil society, and likely suffering from mental and sexual dysfunction as well.

II. A sight I'll not soon forget: in the St. Louis airport, I passed a massage station with two customers contorted over straddling devices. Masseuses the size of sumo wrestlers grunted over them, their fat rippling in wide waves as they used beefy hands and elbows to work over their victims, who evinced a mixture of shock and embarrassment.

III. I probably travel more than most of you, so I don't know if you've noticed; the airlines have stopped feeding us. Oh sure, they still fling a bag of pretzels your way, to be consumed with a spritz of liquid insufficient even for a Presbyterian baptism, but most no longer serve you a sandwich during mealtimes.

Now admittedly in the case of some airlines this is no great loss; I recall Continental serving a foul-smelling mystery meat embedded with brownish-yellow lettuce and shrouded in a tortilla wrap far too colorful not to arouse suspicion. But it's the stealth with which this small entitlement was eliminated that irks me. I've sat near countless travelers on mealtime flights in the last few weeks who are surprised to learn they won't be fed. They were counting on it; otherwise they would have eaten something beforehand, or brought food aboard.

Being a vindictive person by nature and nurture, it occurred to me that punishment is in order. What better way to punish the airlines for revoking our food privileges without warning than to bring aboard our messiest possible meals? What follows is a short primer on the best foods for such an undertaking:

Potato chips: The chip is overlooked as a messmaker. It crumbles, sure, but it also slathers the fingers in a greasy residue that is resilient against removal except when offered the opportunity to attach itself to fabrics, like the back of an airplane seat.

Pizza: This item offers the grease appeal of the potato chip, with the added weapon of random sauce leakage. Be sure to eat it while leaning forward.

White-cheese popcorn: The "cheese" is really a powder finer than talcum; it seeps into fabrics and establishes itself, leaving a faint white shadow impervious to brushing.

Overripe peaches: Not only will the juice run down your forearms, off your elbows, and on to both armrests, but when you are done, you can stuff the pit into the magazine pocket. A twofer.

Pork fritters: Designed by the devil himself, the pork fritter is the ultimate weapon for airplane interior defacement. Be sure to eat it without a napkin, towards the end of your flight (so the fat won't have time to congeal on your fingers). As you exit, place your hands just below the overhead luggage compartment on either side, and walk forward slowly. Depending on how fast the fumigation crews work, this can take a plane out of commission for the better part of a week.

IV. I took my family on this last trip, and had an interesting encounter with a couple of embittered feminists who sat in front of us, yapping the whole flight about the social construction of gender and the socially embedded nature of the male hierarchy. Towards the end of the flight, Eli started to cry for lack of a nap. As we stood in line waiting to exit the plane, one of them turned and said, "You should have a girl; they're better behaved." Her 200-pound love interest, smug in her tinted eyeglasses and nouveau peasant wear, nodded sagely.

What they didn't realize is that they were dealing with a Southerner, for whom the subtle insult is an art form honed at countless church socials and Sunday fried chicken dinners. So I replied: "Yes girls and boys are very different."

The patronizing smiles melted off their faces and were replaced by tight-lipped anger. They were caught in the great feminist lie, of course, which is that women are somehow both exquisitely different from men, yet somehow only "women" by virtue of oppressive social construction. This is the turd floating in the punch bowl at the lesbian faculty summer solstice mixer, if you will, and it's really bad taste to point it out.

Pointing things out in bad taste, of course, is my raison d'etre.

posted by Woodlief | link | (14) comments