Saturday, November 28, 2015

Beware the Free

As a boy, I enjoyed puzzles. The process of taking something apart and putting it back together was great fun, and nourished my still-developing brain.

Puzzles also encouraged deductive reasoning. Developing a way to sort through hundreds of pieces and plan the puzzle's reconstruction. Finding the road to make order out of chaos.

But as an adult? I hate them.

OK. Let me clarify. I hate puzzles when they're not labeled as such. Windows 10 makes a great example.

First off, I don't have a touch screen computer. I don't even have a touch screen phone, which, judging from the horrified reactions it generates in my fellow human beings, is probably something I should apologize in public for.

This guaranteed I would be mystified by Windows 8.1.

Swiping with a corded mouse ranks just below my ability to lip read on the hopelessness scale. Especially when my mate and I are at parties and she wants to tell me something from across the room. It is awkward. 

Instead of yielding effortless navigation, it produces violent mouse-shaking and unmuted profanity.

Adding to its impenetrability is the fact that when I bought a new computer, I thoughtlessly denied the industry an opportunity to sell me a new monitor, since the old one worked just fine.

So the aspect ratio Microsoft anticipates in its consumers is lacking, leaving me with sawed-off images that are equally frustrating, especially when x-ing out becomes a blind game of pin the cursor on the icon.

The heart of eight's failure is that its smart phone-inspired navigation is designed for people who mostly aren't using computers. It is designed for people who use smart phones and tablets. It doesn't transfer to a PC.

I feel as if I have been found guilty in the court of consumerism for failing to keep up with the latest and greatest technology.

Sentencing is set at Windows 10.

It's a measure of Microsoft's desperation to bury Windows 8.1 that Windows 10 was rush released and offered as a free download.

It is a measure of my desperation that I bit.

Windows 10 couldn't be worse than 8.1, could it?

The good news is that Windows 10 doesn't require users to swipe. The bad news is that significant portions of it frequently don't work.

In my estimation, e-mail is a basic and fundamental component of a personal computer. A company like Microsoft should have it down cold—but they don't. It is the IT equivalent of a car-marker struggling to produce a reliable cupholder.

Outlook comes and goes, syncs and un-syncs. Messages disappear and re-appear (even the deleted ones). Eventually the envelope icon at the base of the screen vanished altogether, leaving me scrambling to access my e-mail.

If e-mail is a struggle, you can imagine what happens to something like Cortana, a multi-lingual interactive personal assistant also available on X-box, Android and iOS.

Nothing brightens my day like the dozen or so times I have received this message: CRITICAL ERROR Start Menu and CORTANA aren't working. We'll try to fix it the next time you log on. SIGN OUT NOW.

While I appreciate Microsoft trying, the message doesn't inspire a great deal of confidence. You'll try to have it fixed? Because I need it now. Which is kind of why I attempted to log on in the first place.

Cortana can spend the rest of the year in Ibiza for all I care, but I confess to being rather fond of my start menu. Computing is really tough without it.

(I did finally locate a fix, which was to repeatedly strike the F8 key. To date, neither the message nor the problem has reappeared.)

Feel like a movie? Flip a coin and pray that Windows 10 isn't having artistic differences with Power DVD. I'll never forget the night I spent half an hour fighting to hear the poignant dialog and Quincy Jones' score to The Pawnbroker.

I'm trying to remember how many times I struggled to watch (and hear) a DVD with Windows XP, but I can't. Which is mostly because it never happened.

Then there's the disabled news function, the disabled maps function, the disabled photo function and, for a time, the inexplicable disabling of Windows Media Player. Not to mention the creeping sense that anything could go at any time.

It doesn't lead one to believe that one's computer is especially reliable.

I could always remove Windows 10. But yanking out the second floor of the John Hancock Building would be easier. The removal of Windows 10 guts your computer, leaving you to reinstall several vital components yourself.

This succinctly answers the question how much time can I devote to fixing/repairing/maintaining my complimentary upgrade?

A long time ago, I was told that we get what we pay for. And lest we forget, Windows 10 is free.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Buy Now, Don't Win and Don't Get Paid

The biggest question Illinois Lottery players used to have was will I win? 

Today, it's will I be paid?

In the titanic budget standoff between business-friendly governor Bruce Rauner and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, much has been sacrificed. 

While essential services have mostly remained intact, the cash drought has already eliminated child care services (since restored), senior programs and emergency housing while threatening much, much more.

Yet the struggle continues: whether to abolish unions and their collective bargaining power and rebuild Illinois on the backs of the poor, the elderly and children, or continue the extravagant spending necessary to fulfill promises made to public-sector unions while preserving the state's monopolistic Democratic infrastructure.

Oh, the tyranny of choice.

Not so difficult is recognizing the tawdry conduct of the state's lottery board.

Namely, that the board continues to solicit the purchase of lottery tickets, knowing no payment will be forthcoming until the state's budget impasse is settled. It's not too far removed from a drug dealer supplying his clients even though they can't pay, for fear they'll sober up and cease consuming his product.

Would it be unseemly to suggest that a ticket out of town might be the best lottery prize of all?

Even if a budget is decided on, it's tough to see settling with lottery winners ranking very high on the state's to-do list. Compared to bridge repair and medicaid payments and keeping gas in state trooper's cars, it just doesn't rate.

And maybe it shouldn't.

But don't take out full-page ads in major metropolitan newspapers asking the citizens of Illinois to continue buying out of some vague and misplaced notion of loyalty. Couldn't you at least buy us dinner before you, well...you know.

Assuming the budget stalemate continues into spring (which doesn't exactly require the imagination of Leonardo da Vinci or Walt Disney), it might be interesting if Illinoisans adopted a similar tact.

Go ahead and continue taxing us. When we make it. When we spend it. When we save it. While we're alive and when we die. Tax, tax, tax, all day long.

But come that special day in April, don't expect us to pay. Because we're broke, too.

Would an IOU suffice?

Some of us are confused about what it is we're paying for, which from here mostly appears as sustaining a power struggle between two very well-off and very powerful politicians with two distinctly unappealing agendas.

Illinois' birthday is December 3rd. Anyone for a party?


Thursday, November 12, 2015

The 140 Carat Diamond

I'm not a fan of Twitter. Never have been.

Pandering to America's collective ADHD mentality seems just a step or two removed from Wall Street traders dabbling in prescription drugs. As destructive to our brittle literacy as mobile texting devices are to vehicular safety.

A one-hundred and forty character limit? Really?

Why not demand that oil paintings be done on 5” x 5” canvases? Or that symphonies be no more than two minutes long? How about limiting writers to just one-third of their native tongue's vocabulary?

Ceilings on expression just never appealed to me. Especially when they concern the written word. It's censorship made seductive because it carries the new car smell of freshly-hatched technology.

So it was with some surprise that I found myself fist-pumping the air after reading a tweet shared by Eric Zorn, he of the Chicago Tribune and the highly worthwhile Change of Subject column. Zorn uncovered a gentleman by the name of Andrew Bradley, who tweets as Betty Bowers.

With a concision and articulation that rivals great poetry, Bradley crystallized the Republican dichotomy found in their confusing and contradictory stands on religion, abortion and gay marriage with the following:

Religious freedom means no American can be forced to deliver a wedding cake—just a rapist's baby.”

Okay. So maybe I was wrong. Some folks can say a lot with a few words. 

But not me. I need a picture. Or a thousand words.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Wa Wa Wa

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus is having a hissy fit. 

CNBC (the cable network televising the Republican debates) has been accused of not being Fox. Moderators have been called disrespectful. Furthermore, it has been alleged they are asking challenging questions instead of acting as a public relations advance team for Republican campaigns.

And if this doesn't constitute an all-out war on Republicans, venue thermostats are set too high. 

It's enough to make a candidate throw in their monogrammed Ralph Lauren towels.

We at The Square Peg would like to offer a solution, as well as a few questions we feel will pave the way to a kinder, gentler debate experience for our overwhelmed Republican friends.

First, sunburn-inducing TV lights and reckless thermostat settings hold hidden advantages for Republican candidates in that the reptilian nature of many Republican candidates can be minimized at higher temperatures when they can blink and actually turn their heads.

Secondly, through our extensive global network and the miracle of cryogenics, The Square Peg has been able to locate several eighteenth-century geishas fluent in English to serve as future debate moderators. Compliance has no greater emissary than these kimono-clad icons of man-pleasing servility.

Lastly, here are our suggestions for Republican-friendly debate questions. We are confident no one (with the possible exception of Ben Carson) will find fault with them. 

After all, we at The Square Peg only want Republicans to be happy. And comfortable.


1. My name is ____________.

2. Concord, New Hampshire is the capital of which state?

3. Water is: a.) a liquid b.) a solid c.) a gas.

4. Show me your right hand.

5. Inhale is to exhale as inhale is to ___________.

6. If Ted has two balls and Marco has two balls and Donald swipes four balls, how many balls will Ted and Marco have left?

7. Complete this sequence: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, ___.

8. My birthday is _____________.

9. February is: a.) cold b.) the second month of the year c.) a and b

10. Who's buried in Grant's tomb?