The Editor's Mess
- Written by Scott Meadow
This is the time of year when we're all looking for something new and exciting to pile on our nearly maxed credit cards. Many of you, I'm sure, are eyeing various high-tech devices, such as iPods, TiVos, or even personal computers, especially Windows PCs. You are suckers. Particularly you; I'm talking to you specifically. You are a sucker. Computers are worthless and will only ruin your life like they've ruined everyone else's.
I'm not saying this for my own selfish gain: I am not a "Mac" guy and, in fact, I work in the industry, so this is not helping me personally at all. Even more accurately, you're reading this now thanks to many advanced technologies, which are also crap. You think they're good, but they're worthless. You've been sold a bill of goods, chumply.
You may think I'm crazy, but hear me out. See I came to this realization last night standing in line at OfficeMax, which is probably the only time OfficeMax has ever been the cause of anything inspiring in its entire dreary history. Nobody actually wants to go to OfficeMax, you have to go there. Last night, I had to go because our printer ran out of toner, and luckily for me Canon makes the only printers on the planet that nobody can refill for you cheaply. So off I go to drop $80 on a new cartridge. Ho ho ho.
Standing there, fourth in line to the cattle pen nearest the register, suddenly the woman in the blue shirt shows signs of distress. She's been working here all day, so this amounts to a vacant, Stepford-wives-type look at the register computer while absently punching keys with a single eyebrow raised in Spock-like concern. This goes on for the next 11 minutes. I'm not kidding. Besides the four of us suckers in line, the place is empty.
Over walks the manager. He can't figure it out either. The customer, by this time, is openly speculating on why it's taking so long to credit her company's account for a missing case of copy paper. The manager mumbles something unhelpful and waves over "John," who stops fiddling with the digital camera display (over by "Jeanie," his perky counterpart in copy paper) long enough to saunter over to an open register and offer to take our money, the suckers stuck waiting. He listlessly waves the next person over.
[inset pos=right]Computers stopped improving our everyday lives a long, long time ago. Now they're just pissing us off.[/inset]Fortunately this next guy is paying for his new office chair and three impulse buy DVDs (one of them was "Animal House") with a third-party bad check drawn from a bank in Iran. "John" from digital cameras doesn't know which buttons to press for this scull scratcher, so over goes the manager, who again mumbles something unhelpful and gently bawls out the customer. The customer, by this time, has ceased speaking English and goes on a rant in what appears to be Farsi, but I wasn't the most sober witness and didn't actually care.
More time passes. The Iranian guy eventually produces a Visa (why didn't he do that in the first place?!) and the next sucker steps up after being called several times (he was nodding off). Now I'm only one more person away, and the woman with the copy paper issue is STILL not done. The manager -- clearly not able to help the first time -- decides to give it another try. Ding dong, it's finally my turn. I walk up, pay and leave, 17 minutes older and with nothing to show for it but $500 of aggravation with an $80 toner cartridge on the side.
I'll bet if she had pencil and paper, it would've taken a matter of seconds. As a customer, I couldn't care less what method they use, but one thing is clear: computers stopped improving our everyday lives a long, long time ago. Now they're just pissing us off.
How can I say that? Think computers are wonderful and amazing time savers? Forget about George Jetson for a minute and consider the following four undeniable facts:
1. Nobody really knows how they work.
Whether it's the clerk in OfficeMax or the guy fixing your PC at work, nobody really knows how computers actually work, but everyone thinks they do. They don't. You don't either. Two hundred years ago, these things would be the exclusive domain of wizards and shamans.
Why did you get that blue screen of death last week when you finally started work on your long lost novel after a 13 year hiatus? Why did your hard drive fail last year just before you bought that external backup unit? Why, every now and then, do you just have to reboot to get things unfrozen? Why did these things happen? Why don't they happen all the time, is a more reasonable question, and you don't know the answer to that one either.
Don't worry, neither do I.
Nobody knows. Some people pretend to know, but boil away their bullshit and salesmanship and they're guessing. Bill Gates doesn't know why Windows crashes and neither do the engineers who wrote the damn thing, so you have no hope at all. Even if you could meet a person who did know, you wouldn't like him very much, trust me.
2. They require constant attention for no apparent reason.
Think about another device in your life that asks you every few days to spend an hour or more taking care of it by doing things you don't understand and which could potentially cause the device to stop working entirely, and you have no way of actually knowing what you are doing before you do it. Now imagine that not only is this type of crap expected behavior, nobody ever questions it!
This, by the way, is precisely the point of Window's "Updates," a fabulous little feature that makes sure, unbeknownst to you, that your computers can spontaneously stop working without you having any idea of what happened or why.
"But Scott," you say, "I read the release notes, it said what each patch did!" Yes, that's right you did. Like this one, an actual documented update released by Microsoft today:
"Article ID: 973687 - Last Review: December 1, 2009 - Revision: 2.0
Title: When an application uses MSXML to process XHTML, redundant retrieval requests for well-known DTD files from the W3C Web server cause XHTML parsing to fail on a Windows-based computer
Consider the following scenario:
You run an application on a computer that is running one of the following operating systems:
- Windows XP
- Windows Server 2003
- Windows Vista
- Windows Server 2008
The application uses Microsoft XML Core Services (MSXML) to process XHTML files.
The application generates many requests when it tries to retrieve well known Document Type Definition (DTD) files from a World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web server.
These redundant retrieval requests cause the W3C server to block the DTD requests.
In this scenario, XHTML parsing fails."
Crystal clear isn't it? You can install that patch with confidence since you immediately know how it will affect everything else on your PC, don't you? Who the hell are you kidding? If an XHTML parsing error walked up and bit you on the neck you still couldn't pick it out of a lineup. You think you know what all that gobbledygook says, but you don't. It's okay to admit it. Nobody else does either.
The truth is you have no idea what you're really doing to your PC each time you update it but you do it anyway. These "release notes" are worthless. I'm positive they're not even written for human beings but exclusively designed for people to read out loud to other people to demonstrate how "smart" they are. If you really wanted a human audience, these notes would read like this:
"Article ID: 973687 - Last Review: December 1, 2009 - Revision: 2.0
Title: Your computer spontaneously stops working and you're in a full-blown panic because you have something to do and haven't backed anything up in months.
What to do: try this patch, it might help. It'll at least give you the illusion of doing something to better the situation, even though you might be making it worse. Hell it's worth a shot."
3. People deliberately try to make them crash and generally succeed.
For some reason, people go out of their way -- a long, long way out of their way -- to personally aggravate you by developing viruses, spyware and malware designed to cost you time, money, and gigabytes of your stuff. This prompts you to spend money protecting yourself against these jerks, money you could've spent on something you actually WANTED, and waste hours and hours of your life making sure your computers are protected against the latest threats. What a steamy load of crap.
You can probably tell from my tone that I recently got nailed with a virus. I was surfing the web, minding my own business and not doing anything riskier than hitting various news sites when all of the sudden a screen for "Antivirus Pro" pops up -- software I obviously don't have loaded -- and then proceeds to download a buttload of viruses onto my work computer. It was able to do that because Internet Explorer -- there's an oxymoron for you -- helpfully loads things called "browser helper objects" whenever anyone asks it to. In this case, the thing asking was a nasty piece of malware ("Antivirus Pro") stuck inside a web advertisement, but I.E. didn't know the difference.
This ballooned into a week-long whirlwind tour of my company's I.T. support infrastructure, where more people who don't know anything "helped" me by reformatting my PC and wiping out everything I had on it, rather than actually getting rid of the viruses. When in doubt, blow it up and start again. Turns out the nuclear option is the best answer these professionals have to a virus outbreak.
See they don't know what they're doing and they get paid to know this stuff.
That aside, don't forget whose fault this really is anyway: the virus writers themselves. Who the hell needs this irritation anyway? Imagine using your intellect to irritate and harass people? What a stupid, pointless, asinine way to waste your life. Hey, if the best thing you can come up with is to spend your time, energy and grey-matter on is writing a virus, go hang yourself, mate. You're a waste of space. You're not cute, it's not a challenge, you really are just a weird kind of maladjusted, socially retarded leper. Seriously, give the suicide option a go. We won't miss you.
Even the term is bullshit: "computer virus." A "virus" makes it sound organic and unavoidable, like a cold or something in nature. It's not. It's an expensive, artificial time and money waster designed by cowardly, introverted jerkwads who desperately need to lose their virginity.
4. Connecting them together only made everything much worse.
Using my own inbox as an example, this week I got 37 actual emails and 3,811 spam messages, that's 0.96% of my email that was even potentially useful, and most of those were ads for the latest stupid creation of marketing guys: "Cyber Monday" (which was yesterday and no I didn't participate). So roughly 99.04% of all my email bandwidth and storage is wasted by advertisements for larger personal areas and questionable drug prescriptions. Even if I'm an exceptional example and you all are doing much better, that's still an amazing amount of waste out there all brought about because someone came up with the bright idea of taking all these malfunctioning individual computers and hooking them together. Talk about morons.
Spam, hackers, the rise of identity theft, and websites devoted to the personal grooming habits of celebrities, are all made possible by this horribly mis-managed hodge-podge of fundamentally crappy technologies collectively known as "The Internet," one of mankind's most epic failures responsible for untold trillions in lost productivity since its blighted invention.
It won't be long now when the Internet itself will grind to a halt as an ever increasing tsunami of viruses, malware, spam and spyware eat up the earth's total bandwidth and bring all e-commerce and global information flow to a skidding halt. In the years to follow, mankind will revert to "snail mail" as one of the only trustworthy ways to transport information, and never again will anyone ever be bothered by michael89947aATblahoo.com and his bizarre obsession with the size of my penis.
Ahh, what a glorious dream.
But I doubt it will happen that way. Inevitably some other jerk would invent something else equally or even more complicated and convince us all that we need to buy one to "improve our life." Maybe that's just the way it is. It's certainly the way it is when the foundation of your entire economy is based on people buying crap instead of making crap. I should'a been a hedge-fund manager.
In any case, Merry X-Mas, slappy, and don't forget to reboot before you go to bed.