The Difference…

workOver the last week, my Honda CR-V (aka The Excelsior) had been starting up just a little more sluggishly with each trip.  Eventually, it got to the point where it just barely started, but as is human nature, I figured that it would last just long enough to get to get the battery looked at.

Of course, I waited one trip too many and eventually it didn’t start at all one night.  Click-click-click-click-click was all I heard.

After getting a jump-start from a neighbor (always have cables in your vehicle, folks) I went to the auto parts store where I had replaced the original battery a few years prior.  I had a strong suspicion that the battery was dead, but when the gentleman asked if I would like to have it tested, it placed just enough doubt in my mind to make me think that might not be the case.  I didn’t want it to be something else, because as far as car repairs go, replacing a battery is on the fairly inexpensive scale, and it can be done by one’s self, assuming the vehicle can be taken to a good battery or vice-versa.

The gentleman grabbed a tester and followed me out to my noble (if not currently unreliable) steed.  I popped the hood and proceeded to let the gentleman do his job.  He attached the clips to the battery terminals and proceeded to push some buttons on the device.  After a few moments he told me the battery was good and asked if I wanted him to test other ‘start the car’ parts.  I said yes, and he asked me to start the vehicle.  I made a crack about ‘I hope it starts,’ but much to my surprise, it started with no hesitation.  A few moments and button presses later, the man told me that the alternator and starter were probably okay, too.  I thanked him for his time and went on my merry (if slightly worried) way to the grocery store, where the car started again without issue.  What the heck was wrong with my car?

As folks are oft to do these days, I went onto social media to share my ambivalence over the situation.  Friends offered advice and their own tales of automotive experiences, both good and bad.  One friend mentioned that a similar problem had been caused by loose terminal connectors.  This idea sounded intriguing to me, as I had recalled my interior lights flashing during the process of having it jumped, and so I resolved to investigate them come the morning.  I didn’t park the Excelsior in the garage because I had a feeling I was going to need another jump-start.

The next morning, I hopped into my trusty steed to go have some breakfast and was greeted by the clicking noise again.  No big deal, it’s the terminals, right?  Wrong.  Nothing was loose and there was no corrosion to be found.  It has to be the battery, I thought, but what the guy last night told me it was good.  I frumped for a while as I searched for nearby mechanics and groused over the pile of money I anticipated I was going to have to spend.

Finally, I decided to get a second opinion.

I got a jump-start from a different neighbor, and observed that both times we had to let my vehicle sit for a while and charge up.  The thought of it has to be the battery kept bouncing in my head as I drove to a different auto parts store.  I walked inside and asked to have my battery checked.  This time around, the tech got a frumpy look on her face when she saw my terminals.  The connectors to the Excelsior’s battery have these plastic covers that were getting in the way of the clips, meaning she could only reliably attach the clips to the screws that kept the connectors attached.  “I don’t like taking a reading from the screws, the reading is sometimes wrong,” She said.  The tech did her best to adjust the tester clip, but was not completely satisfied with the result: “I’m not getting a good reading, can you take the battery out?” She asked.

I said sure, and proceeded to do so, with the tools I keep inside the vehicle.  I also had to borrow a pair of pliers, but eventually dislodged the battery and took it inside the store.  The tech did her thing, and sure enough, the battery was bad.  Fortunately, I had purchased the ‘three-year replacement’ battery the last time and I received a new one free of charge.  I installed it myself, which was only fair since I had taken the old one out, and now my trusty steed is trusty once again.

I figured that it would be a good idea to let the tech know about my experience the night before.  We both agreed that the other guy just didn’t know about the screws providing unreliable readings.

And thus we have the difference between somebody who only knows how to follow instructions, and somebody that actually knows what they are doing because they have learned how things really work.

Whether they are fixing cars or computers, a good tech will have more in-depth knowledge about the things that they repair than someone who is only taught how to fix things or is working off a script.  When the ‘usual steps’ don’t work, a good tech can think things though and improvise to find a solution.  A bad tech only knows how to follow instructions, and when those instructions don’t do the job, they’re stuck, and so are you.

It’s the Apps, Stupid!

windowsAfter months of learning to live with Windows 8 on the desktop, I picked up an ASUS VivoTab 8 tablet back in early 2015.  Finally, I would get to experience Windows 8 with a touchscreen, just like God Microsoft had intended!

As much as I like to think that I ‘got’ Windows 8 before, using it with a touch screen was wonderful.  No more fumbling with sides and screen corners!  The stupid charms on the right side of the screen finally made sense and I could bring them up by swiping in from the right side instead of madly fumbling around for for the magic spot with my mouse!  Life was great!

That euphoria lasted for about five minutes until I tried to pull up the News app and it crashed.  I checked for app updates in the Store, and there were none to be had.  So much for that.

I am totally on board with the idea that there should be desktop apps Just like the ones we have on our phones and tablets.  I shouldn’t have to go back to my web browser to do things.  Indeed, I would love nothing better than pick up my Windows 8 tablet and left-swipe from app to app to get things done instead of having to go back to Ye Olde Desktop unless I want to.

Unfortunately, Microsoft’s apps suck.  Everywhere.  They sucked on Windows Phone, sucked on Windows 8 and continue to suck on Windows 10.  Until they stop sucking, I’ll find myself going back to my desktop and my browser or using my iPhone or iPad.  Don’t like it, Microsoft?  THEN MAKE YOUR APPS STOP SUCKING!

Upgrade or Die!

YOU GET NOTHING! YOU LOSE! GOOD DAY, SIR!

There are many common terms that have different meanings when put into the context of computers.  To most people, “monitor” means to keep an eye on something, but to us IT Guys, its a display device.  “Legacy” is another one of those terms; in the computer world, it is a nice way of saying “obsolete.”  I learned this at a previous support job where the company pushed and pushed for its customers to upgrade (and spend more money on) the Latest and Greatest version of their software, but there were plenty of hangers-on that were content to use older versions.  That’s the way it was, it worked, and they liked it.

Eventually, a new service pack or new version of Windows would come along that would completely break the software, and there wasn’t much else we could tell those guys besides “well, you need to upgrade.”  The customers would get mad and stomp their feet and demand that we fix it right away, but 95% of the time, that wasn’t going to happen.  If the customer didn’t upgrade, they were out of luck.  On a certain level, I can understand the desire to not change something that works (heck, I still use Microsoft Money 2000 and WinAmp 2.9), but at the same time, nearly all computer software will eventually go off into the night of obsolescence because eventually the developer will decide that it isn’t worth the expense of continuing development and support.

One common customer response I would hear (and still do) to this situation was that we were awful people that wanted them to spend more money.  To that, I say: I’m sorry, but this is a BUSINESS, it exists to create a product, provide a service, and make money.  If we don’t make money by releasing new products and lose money by devoting too many resources to old software, we go out of business and all lose our jobs.  Yeah, it royally sucks for users (I myself had a printer that was ‘orphaned’ when Windows Vista came around) but it is a necessary part of the software “circle of life.”

At least that’s how it should work, but instead, many companies insist on continuing to support outdated software, and continue to sell it in many cases.  The end result is that tech support gets driven bonkers trying to support the old stuff on top of all the new stuff that comes out and it can get overwhelming.  It also results in poorer customer service because techs have to take extra customer time to dig into knowledgebases and ask senior techs about programs that were written for Windows 95.

This is one of the few things I love about Apple.  Instead of letting software linger around and stink up the place like old cheese, they have the cojones to tell their customers that the bar is closing, its lights out, so go to the newer nicer bar down the street or go home.  They did it when they nuked support for ‘classic’ Mac applications in Leopard, and again by no longer supporting PowerPC applications in Lion.  In both cases they waited until four years until after the product was discontinued before pulling the plug and did not hesitate to do so.

In the short term, yes, some customers will be upset and some will go to competitors, but in the long-term, the company can continue to move forward as opposed to having the dead weight of zombie software hanging around their necks like an albatross.  I guess we can put this in the “painfully obvious observation that senior management never gets” file.  I can’t wait to see what happens when Windows XP support goes away in 2014…or maybe I can.

Why a Tablet?

I have been thinking about getting a tablet as of late, going as far as to even take one for a test drive not too long ago. Of course, the question then becomes “Why?”  Here are my reasons for wanting to “small-grade” down to a tablet:

I DON’T REALLY DO A LOT WITH MY LAPTOP

When I am on the road with my laptop, I increasingly find myself either doing stuff inside of a web browser or in Microsoft Word.  I don’t play games with it, I don’t do any programming (yet!) and except for the occasional trip to YouTube, I don’t watch very many movies or videos.  All of the “big stuff,” such as editing audio or video, I do on my desktop, which has plenty of horsepower and a nice, big 24-inch screen.

PHONE TOO SMALL, LAPTOP TOO BIG

I have owned smartphones for about four years now, with my first one being a Windows Mobile 6 phone that I had before my current Samsung Moment running Android.  They work okay, but their screens and keyboards are just too small to type on for extended periods of time.  I am due for an upgrade soon and am leaning towards a phone with a larger screen, but even then I don’t think that they will not be big enough to use for any extended length of time.  As I mentioned in my Vizio Tablet review, I tend to carry a lot of crap in my laptop bag, which even at 12-inches, makes more cumbersome to lug around than it should be.  A tablet, on the other hand, would be more usable than a phone because of its smaller screen, and more portable than a laptop.  It should be the best of both worlds.

INSTANT-ON

Ideas don’t wait, so when something pops in my head I want to be able to jot it down before it gets lost with all of the other stuff being tossed around in the clothes dryer that is my brain.  While Windows 7 is nice, it does take a while to boot up and shut down.  With a tablet, I can turn it on at the touch of a button, type down whatever Big Idea I have, put it back into sleep mode and then get back to using the crapper or whatever it was I was doing when inspiration struck.

BACK TO A DUMB PHONE

These days, Wi-Fi is widespread enough to the point where it’s available nearly everywhere you go.  For those times when WiFi isn’t available, I have a pre-paid MiFi device which works well, even in the hole in the Internet that is my hometown.  Since an Android tablet can to do everything that my phone can do, there doesn’t seem to be much point in carrying an Android phone.  Thus, I should be able to ‘downgrade’ my phone to a more basic model that does not require a data plan which should save a few bucks in the long term, especially since Sprint is bumping up the price of the their smartphone plans another 10 bucks.

So there you have it, four reasons I will be soon purchasing an Android tablet.  I’m looking forward to having the near-ultimate in portability in the palm of my hand!  Move over, laptop!