A midsummer night’s rant

I despise them. I loath them. I hate them. I’m talking of course about computers, specifically windows PCs. Computers were once a blast for me. Tons of fun to play with, I liked them. But that’s back when they were more of a curiosity than a daily necessity. That’s all changed; try applying for a job with out one these days. As a hobby, they’re still fun. As machines we are forced to depend for pretty much everything, they are not ideal Internet platforms and that’s saying it nicely.

What set this latest rant off, somehow, my computer changed the font size and style on me. It took five minutes and dropping everything I was in the middle of doing to try to fix it.  I found ways to reduce it, each letter no longer takes up half the screen, but it looks all fucked up and mutated.

I had no idea why it happened, no idea how to get it back. No viruses showing in scan, no weird settings in control panel or anywhere else I can find. And it’s not like this kind of crap is unusual: this kind of stuff is a daily frustration. Font is an absolutely critical function. I can’t use the PC if I can’t read the letters. If that can be accidentally changed so drastically while typing on the fucking keyboard, goddamnit you drooling idiots, it should be glaringly obvious how to change it back. How could you possibly not know that?

Why, wouldn’t it be amazing if one of those pops up appeared and said “Hey loser, I just randomly changed your font size to legally blind, now it’s so big you can’t use your PC. Do you want it that way, or do you want it back like it was?”

When I say I hate computers, what I really mean is I hate software developers like MSFT and malware writers. Between the two, surfing the Internet or trying to work online has gone from fun and interesting, to barely functional, error prone, endlessly confusing, bugged out, frustrating bullshit. I don’t know if windows developers have admitted this to themselves, but the entire office world struggles every day with their products. They simply cannot seem to produce a reliable, intuitive OS and add ons that can be controlled and trusted working together despite having the kinds of budgets and resources the rest of us dream about.

Just consider MSFT Word. We had a working product, one used by millions and millions of people. It wasn’t great, but we had learned its idiosyncracies over the years. So what did MSFT do in 2010? If I took the toolbar and categories and sub headers of the old Word, cut them all out on individual pieces of paper, put them in a hat and shook them up, and then randomly taped them back onto arbitrary locations on the user interface, I don’t think I could have done worse job. I don’t think I could have made it more confusing and less intuitive, and wasted more millions of man hours relearning a product that worked fine already, than MSFT managed to do.

Worst of all, IT and dev has a real bad tendency to decide, rather than fix their broken shit, it must be the customer’s fault. We’re all just a bunch of dumbasses for not being developers or certified tech support gurus. Who hasn’t encountered the smart-ass IT guy? I wonder how they would feel if their doctor, or their plumber, or their mechanic, treated them with the same smug arrogant contempt they dish out to the rest of us with the kind of enthusiastic gusto only the worst, socially stunted, insecure misfit could acquire during a late and painful puberty? I bet they wouldn’t think that person was smart, I’d wager they wouldn’t be impressed with their intellect or skill. I think they’d think what any well-adjusted decent human would think: such a person is just an inconsiderate asshole that sucks at their job.

And please, spare me the usual bullshit about buying another PC, or getting an Mac, I have three PCs now (Plus a tablet and a phone) and I simply can’t afford a fourth one, nor should I have to! I’m not sure having more inferior products is the way to address having inferior products anyway. Jesus, the more windows PCs I have the more time I spend on them. Keeping them all up and halfway running at work and home has become a full, part-time job. Hell, we’ve all had to become amateur trouble shooters and tier one tech support geeks over the last five years, no matter what we really do for a living. Nearly every goddamn day there’s some needless bullshit, updates that I have no way to know the safety of — is it really Adobe or is it a virus pretending to be?  Jebus H Christ,  I’m connected to the fucking Internet, man, on a broadband network, on a machine running the software they designed, can they really not figure out a way to get that shit to me safely, without me having to do it, using some sort of, I dunno, technology maybe? REALLY?  Because if they can’t figure that out, how the hell do they expect us stupid laypeople to do it?

Yes, I’m sure there’s a reason why my PC just fucked up. Font weirdness like that is a lead pipe cinch sign of infection, malware or spyware or something worse.

As it happens, I am a certified tech support person. I had to run an MSinfo, put it into a parsing program to read all that gunk, review the error logs and start up apps, and lo and behold, there’s an old virus that was ostensibly defanged months ago by up to date AV. But some viral code was left behind, and a windows update interacted with it in a bizarre way, and it fucked up some shit. I’m not sure if this caused the font deal (I’m betting it did), but this supposedly dead, incomplete virus worked hand in hand with a windows update, and for all I know something else, and made a registry edit. I booted this sucker into safe mode with networking, contacted an online script buddy of mine, and downloaded a file to clean it out. That took me an hour, an hour of my precious Friday night, gone. Plus, without much of an idea what to do,  I had to go in and risk editing my goddamn registry file names, and for all I know it inserted or deleted some code in the files themselves.

Just think about that: my parents, my siblings, and most of my friends would not have had a snowball’s chance in hell of figuring this out. And besides, I wouldn’t want them going into their registry and fucking around in the first place. How about you? Maybe you are more like them than me, maybe you’re a medical tech, or an academic, or a massage therapist. Maybe you are a personal trainer or a cook. Maybe you work retail or tutor kids in math or history. Whatever you do, I bet you depend on computers to some degree to do it, and I bet you spend more and more of your time either fixing those computers, or waiting for someone to fix them for you. It’s become absurd, how much time we spend doing this shit, and it’s getting worse every year.

There’s my day tomorrow, Saturday afternoon, spent slogging through code looking for back doors and other fuck ups that I’m really not qualified to deal with. All thanks to a routine MSFT update, an old virus, and an AV program that didn’t get the whole thing or bother to tell me it didn’t get the whole thing.


  1. Trebuchet says

    Always remember: When BillG puts an icon on your desktop and labels it “My Computer”, that’s what he means. It’s not your computer, it’s his.

    Of course, I equally curse Steve Jobs for pricing a superior product, the Mac OS, out of my reach until it was effectively too late for me to change.

  2. throwaway says

    Count me as a supporter of anti-pretification (or dumbification) of UI designs. Applications with pictures for menus and “shortcuts” instead of words or words with pictures. Some only mildly convey what the button does, so you must hover over it until you get some text that tells you that. The artificially minimalist confabulations in MS Word being a prime example.

    And the thing about this minimalistic design crap is that our screens and our resolutions have gotten big enough that screen real estate is not that big of a deal. All that ends up happening is you exchange that pseudo-resource for practical usability, the effect of which is that your working area is .ico sized relative to the room that a mildly functional UI takes up.

  3. throwaway says

    the effect of which is that your working area is .ico sized relative to the room that a mildly functional UI takes up.

    To clear up the ambiguity, I mean that it’s like having all of the stuff you need take up so little room that your work area is like a vast wasteland of non-functional empty space.

  4. den1s says

    I loathe it when suddenly you try to make a question mark and from nowhere comes a weird E with an accent mark. You know what it is by now, for you’ve done this before, but dammit, you just don’t remember what keys to hold down for how long and have to search it again…….. grrrr

  5. wilsim says

    In new browsers, specifically chrome, but also firefox – if you hold down a “ctrl” button and scroll your mouse wheel you can shrink or enlarge the font.

    I don’t know if this is what happened to you, but, there you go.

  6. says

    It is somehow worse when you actually know something about computers and can’t fix your problems, isn’t it? I never bothered to get all the certifications but I took some of the classes as electives, and it kills me when something breaks and I can’t quite figure out why!

  7. says

    As often as I use computers as a tool and a means to an end, it’s been years since I was last happy about them. There’s not much in hardware or software to be enthusiastic about anymore, given how little variety is left and how so many developments have nothing to do with innovation and everything to do about restricting the capabilities or choices of the people who use them.

  8. sithrazer says

    That’s why I have Linux installed on my laptop and keep a couple Linux live cd/dvd’s floating around. I can completely circumvent Windows and fix the problem, instead of having to kludge through workarounds until the problem goes away.

    If the vast majority of games I like to play weren’t made exclusively for Windows (though more and more frequently also being made for Mac) I’d be running Linux on my desktop, too. (and yes, I know about wine, I just haven’t had much luck with it)

    Not to say it’s for everybody, though, or that it’s error-free, but level of stability and appearance/functionality can be controlled with some careful consideration of distributions.

  9. quentinlong says

    Don’t be too quick to discard the possibility of going Mac. You have three PCs; now that Macs use Intel chips, it’s actually feasible (for a given value of “feasible”) for you to install OS X on one of your boxen. I of course have no idea of the relevant particulars in your case, but OS-X-on-PCs is a topic you might want to do a bit of research on. Just sayin’, is all.

  10. Woof says

    I second sithrazer‘s advice: Go Linux.

    I’ve been running Linux Mint (linuxmint.com) for years, and haven’t looked back.

  11. revjimbob says

    “Beep beep beep, oh no heavy, the coins keep coming out, beep beep beep, even the telephone hates me, beep beep beep, I wish there were no machines, and everyone led a pastoral existence, trees and flowers don’t deliberately cool you out and go beep in your ear.”
    Neil – The Young Ones

  12. left0ver1under says

    C. Northcote Parkinson (1909–1993) and others have noted:

    Parkinson’s law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

    Corollary, “Expenditure rises to meet income.”

    In computers: “Programs expand to fill all available memory.”

    I hate the fact that in order to benefit from new versions of operating systems one must always put up with bloatware, the inevitable creeping feature creature. We don’t need flashy and elegant open and closing animations. We don’t need widgets that fidget all over the screen. And we don’t need ten thousand new “features” added on to every new version, each of which adds a new level of complexity and possible bugs, and all will likely never be used.

    I want the ability to remove bloat and simplify the OS. I would rather have a smaller, more reliable, lessy buggy, less flashy OS with all the new features – in short, I want Windows 95 with USB 3.0, Java 6, Flash 11, etc. Or to put it another way, I don’t want a Nissan Skyline and have to learn how to tune it and pay for expensive mechanics. I want a Datsun 240Z with a more efficient engine, anti-rust protection, disk brakes, etc. Why is that too much to ask for?

    As much as PCs can be a pain in the drain, they lack Apple’s worst deliberate failing: Microsnort maintains backwards compatibility. Andrew rightfully rails against Redmond’s bloatware, but at least he can use a previous version of the program.

    If you’re using an Apple, you don’t have that choice. Each new Apple OS version is deliberately designed to be incompatible with old software. If you buy a new OS, you will have to buy new software too. At best, you can use software from one OS generation before.

    On a PC today, you could use software made in 1980 if you needed to. I’ve known people and companies that still use custom made software they run in a DOS command window because it’s cost prohibitive to reprogram and debug it for Windows.

  13. slc1 says

    Relative to software becoming unusable after upgrades to OSX operating systems, there is a feature that the MAC OS has that allows booting from external USB 2/3 or Firewire 400/800 hard drives. All one has to do is load previous version of the operating system on an external hard drive making them bootable. One can then run older versions of software. For instance, MS Office for MAC 2003 can currently run on Snow Leopard but not on Lion. However, one can load Snow Leopard on an external hard drive and run MS Office. The installation of MS Office on the internal hard drive will run just fine.

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