ESC!Webs Blogitorials

Monday, April 10, 2006

Why They're Not Called "Catpads"

Our cat, Alexi, has always been really interested in the computer -- even as a kitten. Well, if not the computer itself, then the act of interfering with our USE of the computer.

Most of the time he'll perch up on the back of my chair as I work or keep my lap warm in winter, but once in a while he just HAS to get on the desk and wend his way around my mouse and keyboard and, ultimately, block my view of the screen.

Today I'd had enough and said, "Look cat, if you want to work on the computer, let's work on the computer" and I took his paw to my laptop's trackpad and tried to make the mouse cursor move on screen. To my amazement it didn't work.

Without getting too technical, a trackpad works -- not by pressure or heat -- but by "electrical capacitance." Essentially there's a grid of wires that pass a charge through your finger so that when your finger passes over them, it can measure where on the grid your finger is located and transfer that information to the computer. That's the gist anyway.

But Alexi's paw didn't allow for this to happen!

Now, because the trackpad relies on this current to be able to pass through your finger, it won't work if you have gloves on or try to use a pen cap on it. Since Alexi has long hair on his paws, I carefully pushed it aside and made sure his paw pads (toes) touched the pad directly. Still nothing.

By now he was getting quite annoyed with me so I let him down, but my question remains: Why can't a cat use a laptop's trackpad?!?

Of course YOUR question still remains as well: "Just how on earth did I manage to get a cat to even attempt to use a trackpad?"

Well, let's just say I'm glad no one was video taping it.

Now ... where's the Bactine?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Dumb Things Corporations Tell Us #3

Today I set out to replace a new clothes washer because our previous one gave up the ghost and, as all things are in this throwaway society, it will cost more than a brand new one to get it fixed. Silly me for not paying the "protection" money ... uh, er, buying the extended "warranty."

Anyway, I went to Sears and found a great deal on one of their many Kenmore (see Whirlpool) models. Upon check out, there was a slight glitch in the process in that the register told the clerk to call a number, verify it was me making the purchase and then get an approval code.

Okay. I've worked retail and I know the drill. This is a major purchase so the credit card company is probably just verifying it's me.

And that, indeed, appeared to be the case because the purchase went through at that point without further complication.

Until I went to PetSmart and my card was flat out denied. After paying with another card, I went out to the car and immediately called Chase to find out what the deal was.

It turns out that because I bought gas the same day I purchased the clothes washer, their "security" system was triggered and flagged the card as potentially stolen. So they froze it.

Here's where it gets dumb.

The "Chase representative" on the other end of the conversation with a customer who was obviously upset told me the following:

1) The fact that I bought gas before buying the washer is what triggered the alert.

Right. I can verify that it's entirely possible to use the card to drive all the way to Minneasota, blow a gob of cash at the Mall of America and then drive home without ONE security alerty being triggered. (Because we all know the first place a thief would NEVER go is the Mall of America!) BUT if I buy gas for MY car at the same gas station I ALWAYS go to and then buy a washing machine and have it delivered to MY home ... well, that's the FIRST thing a card thief would do. Of COURSE!

2) The purchase at Sears did not match my normal purchasing patterns.

Well DUH! It's a washing machine! WHO buys washers as part of their normal pattern?

3) I didn't TELL them I was going to make a purchase of this size.

I'm sorry, but where in my customer agreement does it say that I need to ask permission before using my credit card? Okay, I'll put it in writing here for them. Please Chase Bank? May I pleeeeeeease buy a new washing machine to replace my old one? I PROMISE I'll pay you back ... I'll use my allowance! Really!

So there you have it. I should point out that it's not just Chase who does this. I had the exact same "gas station" trigger pulled on my CitiBank card a number of years back.

Hmm. I wonder if CitiBank noticed I stopped using their card then? Probabaly not.

Well you know my ol' saying. Screw me once ... well, just screw me once and I never use your service again.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Happy Birthday Apple!

Today, April 1st, marks Apple Computer's 30th birthday.

It seems strange, doesn't it, to celebrate a computer manufacturer's BIRTHDAY. Most, I expect, would note an anniversary of incorporation or some such dealy, but not with Apple. No, it's a birthday.

I have to admit I'm not as big a zealot as many of Apple's "enthusiasts," but Apple has played quite a role in my love of computers and, ultimately, my career choices. Let me explain:

If you were to ask me outright, I'd say that I'm a "Sinclair" guy. The first personal computer I ever owned was a Sinclair ZX80 purchased from my friend Ray F. The transaction took place in the school cafeteria in high school. I believe I paid around $70 for it. Shortly after that, I moved to the American version of the Sinclair ZX81, the Timex/Sinclair 1000, which I purchased from Osco using money earned from bottle returns. It was a $100 computer and I think I earned 80 cents per 8 pack of bottles. In 1983, I moved to the TS 2068 color computer and finally to the Sinclair QL. Soon the "IBM PC" revolution took place and somewhere around the middle of college, with the slow demise of Sinclair, I finally switched to a PC. More in a moment.

In any event, long before the ZX80, my first personal computer experience came in 7th grade when a couple of brand spanking new (and extremely expensive) Apple II+ computers were installed in the "library." I remember spending a lot of time playing "Lemonade Stand" as well as tinkering around with various graphical applications such as Logo. I would spend as much time on the computers as possible with my friend Scott R. and we'd even continue at his folks house where his Dad had an Apple II as well (being Principal had its perks I suppose).

In high school, I got my first real (paying) job. It was as a lab supervisor in the North building of my high school. Of course the lab was filled with Apple IIe computers and I spent a good part of my time working out Print Shop problems and printer issues. This also afforded me my first opportunity to pop open an Apple and get to the "guts" inside.

At the same time, the main library at the high school's campus got in, not a Macintosh, but a Lisa. Wow! That was an awesome computer and I was lucky enough to get to play around with it for a few minutes, but I recall that it was "for the teachers" so I never really got to fully experience this precursor to the Mac as it was too expensive to let the kids use it.

In college, I brought my trusty T/S 2068 with me, but one of the reasons I had so much trouble with my accounting and calculus classes was because I spent so much time helping Tina M. with her "computer graphics" course. This involved not only work on her Apple IIgs, but the occasional trip to the computer lab to get some hands on work with an early Apple Macintosh (512? Plus? -- I don't remember.)

So, really, for the first 10+ years of my love affair with computers, I was a Sinclair and Apple guy! I guess I never really thought about how much of a role Apple played in those years until I sat down to type this entry. Unfortunately, the Mac (and IIe) was always too expensive for me to own, so I traveled the route of DOS / GEM / Windows which allowed me to build my own computers and thereby save a bunch of money for things like ... food. And shelter.

I always thought Windows was somewhat of a pain in the ass, but in August of 95 when Windows 95 hit the streets, I became more of a proponent of Microsoft products for the home. Mostly, I think, because they were "more affordable." Windows 98 was the best OS Microsoft made for home users and soon we all looked forward to Windows 2000 after the much more difficult to use but more powerful, Windows NT (Microsoft's fork of OS/2) attempted to make inroads in our homes and businesses.

Over in the Mac camp, however, OS 8 and OS 9 were pretty stuck in the 80's/early 90's where I last used them. There was little support for running multiple applications at the same time and the interface was suffering from age.

Soon "we" all moved on to Windows XP, but it turns out Apple had a few aces up its sleeve as well. And their trump card was OS X. A 'written from the ground up' replacement for the beleaguered OS 9.

When both Windows XP and OS X came out in 2001, we IT guys tried to show that XP was superior to Apple's product, but over the years, as Microsoft kept sticking its foot up its own ass over and over and over again while Apple managed to release multiple revisions of its OS with greater improvements in usability and security, I quickly realized that I would soon need to switch back to my original path and abandon my foolish trip down the "shortcut" path that was Windows.

So here I am, on Apple's 30th anniversary, waiting for a 17" MacBook Pro to be released so I can replace this Windows laptop I've been using the last few years with something much more stable, secure and fun to use than anything Microsoft could dish up. After 11 years of Windows 9X and NT/XP, I'm tired of dealing with the constant security problems and I honestly don't think "Vista" is going to be any better.

So here's to you Apple on your 30th birthday! Thanks for the memories past ... and memories yet to come.