Thursday, August 23, 2012


I'm an old guy.

There are things that old guys know. One of those things is, what a chair is for.

I own a business that helps other businesses decide whether or not they are in the chair business, or some other enterprise. These isn't as simple as it may look to the outsider. In business, what you may choose to do on the day of your founding, may not be what you end up doing, years later. IBM is one of those enterprises. I still own several Selectric II's. The finest typewriter ever built. But, within years of the Selectric II's introduction, a cheaper variant, using the Daisy Wheel was introduced. And when word processors came around, the early variant of what we would now recognize as the home computer, it was the Daisy Wheel that was used in early letter typing. In 1978, I used one of the first Wangs to put out a mass mailing piece. Remarkable piece of machinery. I could type up a letter and leave a blank field that would be filled out from a data base of names, street addresses, city and state. Garbage In/Garbage Out was prevalent at the time, since simple inputting errors would produce egregious errors, such as "Dear Mr. SusanandJamesSmith."

Being one of the first guys to put his hands on the machinery, I worked hard to make sure that my data bases were clean and clear. The Wang could only do so much. Care on data entry was an enormous responsibility, and since my client was dependent upon my skill, I only had one goal; perfection.

Typewriters were, at the time, perfect. What wasn't perfect at times was the typist.

What Wang Labs introduced was the possibility of perfection. An individually typewritten letter, to a discreet individual. Load the data base, stack in the paper, and let 'er fly! Carpal tunnel, high thee to a nunnery!

When it worked, the results were extraordinary. Personalised invitations to be a part of something greater than themselves. From a regional/national campaign. Add a blue ink "signature," and you have a personal appeal to someone who would have never expected to be singled out for attention. The Wang was brilliant.

At the same time, advances in printing technology was occurring. Machines were being built that allowed one to create fonts for ad copy that allowed one to type in copy, and end up with a tape that allowed for the first instance of "cut and paste." Aesthetics existed before, but it required an art department to produce camera ready fonts for non-standard fonts. Now, you could print up to 20 pt. tapes with your copy, and simply take a blade and move your copy around your white sheet. San serif? No problem. Peter Max?

Take a back seat.

So, for some forty years, I've been earning my living from simple things; who are you, what do you do, and what do you offer others? The field of enterprise I've belonged to has been for years under assault. Somehow, letting people know who you are, what you do, and what you offer to others is a sinful enterprise. The reduction of this process? Advertising.

Since Marshall McLuhan's book, "The Medium is the Massage," the value of truth and promise has been undermined by a Chomsky-like re-telling of fables. That is, if it is a commercial message, it must be false.

It is "commercial speech." And back in the early part of the Twentieth Century, commercial speech has found not to have First Amendment protection. I bring this up in order to establish one single thing.

Most speech is commercial speech.

It is either intended to generate a transaction, or to culminate a transaction. It's what speech does. I'm not talking about mere utterances. "How are you?" Polite, but a mere utterance. Devoid of intent, other than to recognize the existence of another. Just about anything else out of your mouth is either an entreaty to a transaction, or a response to a transaction. Have I asked you for your interest in my predicament? Have I told you of how your predicament has created a response? Non-transactional speech is pretty boring, innit? Even the "nice shoes" has a transaction in mind.

So, let's talk about Windows.

I don't mind that Microsoft has a need to generate revenue. We've moved from Smith-Corona to Windows or Apple and printers. I haven't tried to purchase a typewriter recently, but something tells me, there are still typewriters being made and sold. There are "apps" available, to make your keyboard typing sound like the classic typewriter. How coochy is that?

My point is, why does Windows have to obsolete their products? Why can't we purchase a product, software, and not be able to rely upon that software to do a job? I quit buying HP printers when, after a two-year period and and upgrade to XP (which I didn't want to make), I found that my Desktop Jetprinter was no longer supported by HP.

I buy office equipment. Thirty years ago, when you bought office equipment, you expected the lifetime of that equipment to be 15 to 30 years. Today, when you buy anything, you cannot be sure of the lifespan of the product you're purchasing.

Which is why I like chairs. I want to upgrade a chair? Buy a pillow.

But I know why I bought a chair. Someplace to plant my butt.

There is a whirlwind of "new" products and technologies that are being offered on the Market these days. Perhaps, a maelstrom. It isn't the first time that a lot of new, competing technologies have been offered. Just look at the late '70's and early '80's and word processing. A Wang machine cost tens of thousands of dollars. At the time, it was cheaper than paying a pool of typists to re-create a single letter. And would work around the clock, without complaint.

Cloud computing is not "just over the horizon." Too many of my friends are moving their businesses to the cloud. Which, to me, is kind of ironic.

When I had my first Trash 80, all of my programs were run off discs. That is, they weren't "resident" programs. And I could do a lot with under a meg of ram.

Because the app wasn't resident on my system. With a dual disk drive, I could work with a program on one drive, and write to the other. So, cloud computing is kind of a laugh for me. R/W processes could/should be faster, and yet a person should be able to maintain proprietary control over his own machines. The drive for cloud computing is simply an hat-tip to an older technology, that promises greater control over personal privacy.

I recently bought a server from a company that wanted to move to another location. I don't have it installed yet, but what I'm hoping for, is a central place where apps can be installed and accessed with a ring with a much lighter OS. And firewalled. Why would you ever put your data in a place that wasn't under your control?

I know what chairs do. What I'm not sure of is what the cloud does.


MAX Redline said...

I think that you played with your Wang is more than we needed to know.

I began working with computers in 1976. We used dm printers for output. I never did use a daisy-wheel printer - I migrated straight to ij.

But built-in obsolescence is a timeless strategy. Would you use an Apple Lisa today?

You may recall the fast and furious lawsuits by Apple against Microsoft for allegedly copying the "look and feel" of the Apple GUI interface (which Apple appropriated from PARC/Xerox). The argument was that allowing MS to prevail would stifle innovation. Apple lost.

And innovation continued, with new Macs, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, etc. Today, Apple's suing Samsung, using the same argument: Samsung's tablets will stifle innovation.

It didn't play last time. Why not let the marketplace decide which features it prefers?

T. D. said...

"Why would you ever put your data in a place that wasn't under your control?" Indeed!

Heh. I remember using a typing machine that used paper tape to type up contracts. You just cut out any bad parts and spliced the tape to make a "perfect" document. Since these were BLM contracts which used a lot of the same language, it was a real boon.

ZZMike said...

A writer noted that a computer (= word processor) is not so much a device for writing words as it is for erasing them and moving them around.

I remember a short time Way Back When, when you wanted to make copies, you thought about it ahead of time and got some "carbon paper", which let you make up to 3 (4 if you were lucky) copies - in real time.

If you blew it on that last line, there was nothing to do but start over.

I also have doubts about putting data "in the cloud". Even if they convince me that the encryption is unbreakable, and that things are backed up every 5 minutes, I still worry about that one time when the power goes out.

I even worry about my Gmail. With a few gigabytes of mail, if it all went away, I'd be unhappy. And I can't get to it offline. (I hear there's a "Gmail Offline", but haven't studied it.)

I'm in Windows, mainly from inertia - Windows Vista Basic does almost everything I need done, it's never crashed, and I can be patient when needed. What I don't appreciate is Microsoft's "life and death" cycle, where my Vista will eventually become "unsupported". I'm certain that if they could figure a way to make it self-destruct after N years, they would. (It's quite possible, but I think the PR backlash wold hurt them.)

But that's small potatoes compared to Apple's new-release cycle.