One Small Step for a Man…

Last night, I made what may be an important move in my attempt to get my electronic life under control. I separated my work e-mail from my personal e-mail.

I’ve complained for months that I’m overwhelmed by my e-mail load. I’m also overwhelmed by my browser tabs and my text documents. Things are out of control. I’ve been paying Michael and Lisa to help me at Get Rich Slowly, but I’ve done a poor job of giving them assignments because I’m buried by all the stuff. I don’t know what they should be doing!

Worse, I’ve turned into a terrible correspondent with my friends. It’s one thing to be slow with my GRS e-mail, but it’s a shame when messages from Dave or Andrew or you get lost in the swamp that is my inbox.

So, in an effort to take control, I’ve told my desktop computer to stop checking foldedspace e-mail. I’ve told my laptop to only check foldedspace e-mail. What’s more, after two years of having a zillion open browser tabs, the laptop now has none. The browser is in its default state, ready for me to poke around. If I use it for work, I’ll try to work on one task at a time, and try to finish that task before moving on.

I don’t have all the text documents closed on the laptop yet, but I think I can get there over the weekend. I may just zip them up and e-mail them to the work machine. What’s another ten text documents when I already have nearly 100 open?

Anyhow, what I’m trying to say is: I’ve begun to compartmentalize my work life and my social life. I’m hoping this leads to a revitalization of the latter. Work has been my whole life for too long…

All in My Head

For the past couple of days, I’ve been sitting in the den next to the DSL modem and the wireless router. “What are you doing in there?” Kris asked yesterday afternoon. It’s not a place I normally sit.

“I found an ethernet cable,” I told her, “so I plugged directly into the router. I know I shouldn’t care, but it’s faster. It’s a zippier internet connection.”

And so I’ve been sitting in my easy chair, writing about money, writing about fitness, writing about writing. I’ve been enjoying my zippy connection.

This afternoon, I had to boot up Windows to work on some programming for Custom Box Service. (I’m done there, by the way! I’m semi-officially a full-time writer.) When it came time to upload the program to our server, Windows didn’t want to recognize the network connection. I unplugged the ethernet cable and tweaked the connection from the control panel to upload via wireless. Then I plugged the cable back in.

And so I’ve returned to a wired existence. Except maybe not.

Just now I got up to let the cats outside and to get a handful of almonds. When I came back to my chair, I was puzzled to see that the network cable was unplugged. “How’d that happen?” I wondered.

When I went to plug the cable into my computer, I discovered it already was! This was the end that was supposedly plugged into the router!

That’s right — for the past two days, I’ve been enjoying a placebo effect while computing.

My Own Special Circle of Hell

David, the new salesman at Custom Box Service (my replacement), starts work on Wednesday. To prepare for his arrival, we’re buying lots of new toys: a new Honda Element, a new computer, a new office. (Well, the new office is still several months out, but it’s in the cards.)

Jeff took care of the car, but it’s my responsibility to set up the new computer. Should be easy, right? I’ve been working with computers all my life. I did computer consulting for several years.


It’s been a long time since I set up a new PC, and the experience hasn’t improved at all. This machine is a new HP purchased from Fry’s Electronics. I didn’t think setting up a new PC could get any more frustrating than it used to be. I was wrong.

First of all, Windows Vista is a mess. How did Microsoft even think it was okay to release this? It’s ugly, slow (even on a fresh out-of-the-box computer), and clunky. I’ve managed to revert to many of the “classic” (Windows 2000-era) display preferences, but not everything gives me that option.

Worse, there’s a mind-numbing quantity of desktop apps and taskbar icons. I tried to remove some of the taskbar widgets (Yahoo! search, in particular), but they keep coming back. Also, why is there even a caps-lock and scroll-lock indicator in the taskbar? That’s insane.

I’m also baffled by the number of security programs a new PC comes with. Do you know how many my new Mac comes with? Zero. Nada. Zilch.

After getting the machine set up today, I realized I needed another network cable, some speakers, and a copy of Microsoft Office, so I made another trip to Fry’s. Networking went fine. But when I went to install the speakers, I was shocked by how short the cords were. Am I expected to set the things on the floor? Nick traded speakers with me, but that didn’t help. His speakers don’t work on David’s computer. Neither do the backup set of speakers we have. Ugh.

Meanwhile, we couldn’t figure out how to open the goddamn Microsoft Office box. Why should it be so difficult to figure this stuff out? It took three of us ten minutes to open the thing. I’m not kidding.

Then when I went to install Office, I couldn’t. It was an upgrade version, which I already knew, but it wouldn’t recognize that I had a version of Works. At the Microsoft web site, I was instructed to download a patch that would force the installer to recognize Works. But the patch couldn’t find Works, either! And it wanted a CD! A CD that HP conveniently didn’t provide with the computer.

Finally I found a solution. We own a copy of Microsoft Frontpage 2000 which we never really used. Fortunately, it too qualifies for the upgrade. I installed Frontpage, and then installed Office. End of story, right?


Next I had trouble getting David’s e-mail set up. And the Visual Basic program that I wrote to provide quotes for customers doesn’t want to work on his machine.

Eventually I just gave up. We’ll fix this stuff on Wednesday.

1979 Jerry Pournelle Interview on the Future of Computers

David H. must have had a lot of free time lately. He’s dug up a lot of good stuff. Though some of this is destined for GRS or GFS, here’s one video that doesn’t have a good home besides foldedspace.

In this clip from 1979, talk show host Tom Snyder speaks with scientist Durk Pearson and science fiction author Jerry Pournelle about the future of publishing, computers, and technology. Look at them predict the internet!

I love the part where Pournelle whips out his pocket calculator and says something like, “In 1952, ENIAC took up a field house. Governments paid millions of dollars to use this machine. This pocket calculator cost $249 and anyone can use it.”

I also like Pournelle’s pipe. When was the last time you saw an intelligent, well-to-do man smoking on television? It’s now an activity reserved for the poor or the evil.

Requiem for a Friend

Five years ago I returned from the dark side, leaving the PC fold to re-enter the Macintosh flock. My first Mac upon return was a 700mhz iBook g3. It was a fine computer, though a little slow. (I bought at the low-end of the spectrum — not the best idea under normal circumstances, and even a little less advisable with Macs.)

My little iBook was a good and faithful servant. It did develop a problem with its screen just outside the warranty, but I could work around that. For years, this site was maintained on the iBook.

With time, however, I got other Macs. My iBook took a backseat. I dragged it out under those rare circumstances in which I needed a backup laptop. But mostly it gathered dust.

Talking with Tiffany recently, she mentioned that her old PC laptop was on its last legs. “I’m thinking about getting a Mac,” she told me.

“I have a Mac!” I told her. “You can have it.” I was glad to have a new home for my little friend, the iBook.

On Friday night, I went over to Tiff’s and installed a spare wireless router I’d been saving. We got the iBook set up and ready to go. Things were good.

Today, though, Tiffany went to download the latest software updates and the computer froze. Macs don’t freeze. (Well, they do, but rarely, and not like this.) She turned the computer off and attempted to restart it with the power button. No luck. She called me and in a small voice said, “I broke your computer.”

Having worked with computers for over a decade, I found it unlikely that she’d broken anything. “Bring it over,” I said, and so she did.

I spent half an hour taking the thing apart, testing various pieces. No luck. My little iBook is well and truly dead. Poor little iBook. It was a good friend. Now, however, it’s destined for the computer graveyard…

Queen of the Night

Kris and I have owned cats for fifteen years now. (Or maybe I should say that cats have owned us.) For fifteen years, we’ve struggled to get a good night’s sleep.

Tintin wasn’t so bad. He wasn’t much of a bed sleeper. But when he did sleep on the bed, he was a nuisance. He had “pokey paws”. When he stood on you, it was as if he were channeling all of his mass into four very sharp points.

When Toto came along, she was an immediate nuisance. We slept on a futon at the time, and that little black kitten would crawl on us at night, cuddling up under our chins to suckle on the fringe of one of our blankets. When I couldn’t take her sucking, purring, and kneading anymore, I’d hurl her to the foot of the bed. But she’d march right back up to suck on the fringe some more.

As she grew older, the fringe sucking stopped. But she developed other bad habits. She began to paw paw paw Kris’ hair in the middle of the night. While this sounds cute, it has always kept Kris awake. And Kris, in her infinite wisdom, sees fit to then wake me to tell me that she can’t sleep. Ugh.

Toto has always loved the bed, but this has become even more pronounced since we moved to the new house. She sleeps there all day. She sleeps there all night. It’s her throne. She’s the Queen of the Night.

Lately, our three boys have become bed monsters, too.

Simon isn’t so bad. He sleeps at Kris’ feet and is relatively still. He’s just a dead weight.

Nemo, however, is a nuisance. He has some of the same pokey paws that Tintin used to have, but more of a problem is that he picks some inconvenient spot at about waist level and plants himself there. He’s immovable. Immovable, that is, until Toto realizes he’s there and begins hissing and growling at him. Then he skitters away with a squeak.

Max, on the other hand, sleeps at my feet. Or with my feet. Or something. Basically, he waits for me to move my toes, and then he chomps. It’s not too painful — just annoying.

The real problem, though, is that when all four cats are on the bed at once, there isn’t any room for the humans. This makes the humans cranky!

In fact, Kris has been so cranky about the cats lately that she’s banned them from the bedroom. Oh, Toto can still have the bed during the day (Queen of the Light!), but when bedtime comes, she’s moved to the futon in the TV room. She wasn’t happy at first (nor were her brothers), but she’s learned to accept this, I think. I’m glad. Now, for the first time in fifteen years, we’re starting to get sound nights of sleep.

The Curse of E-Mail

I now declare e-mail bankruptcy every month or two. Things are that bad.

The last time I did this was September 26th. Things were fine for a few days. I stayed on top of things. Then earlier this week, my life all of a sudden went into busy mode again. Monday was busy at Custom Box. Yesterday I spent several hours trying to write a pair of essays for Get Rich Slowly. Today I had to make a sales call, and that took all morning.

The net effect of this is that I’m now behind on e-mail again. I started the evening with more than 100 messages in my inbox. These are not spam messages. These are not blog comments. These are actual messages that merit a reply of some sort. I’ve already filtered out the other stuff. I spent two hours tonight acting on the messages, and I’ve managed to whittle the total down to 58. But that’s still 58 messages that need some sort of action. Even if each message only takes an average of three minutes, that’s three hours I still need to find to work on e-mail.

I need a secretary.