Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category

Get a Life!

Tuesday, June 18th, 1996

(This column first appeared in the June 18, 1996 issue of PC Graphics Report)

As many of you may know, my wife and I, and our company at the time, host an annual summer party in New Hampshire in order to get people from diverse backgrounds together in an informal setting. Every year we strive to come up with a humorous, and occasionally though provoking invitation. This year was no different, except that over half of our invitations were sent via e-mail. (If you haven’t received one, don’t feel slighted—I had to leave my old contact database behind when I left Panacea/Spacetec—if you’re going to be in the Boston area the weekend of July 20th, drop me a note at

The attempt at humor in this year’s invitation was a supposed announcement of a new Stroke of Color product called “LiveChat!”:

If you’re into the Internet and a Technoid, here’s what LiveChat! is all about:

LiveChat! is the latest evolutionary step in Internet and networking technologies, offering a revolutionary new way for technoids and technophobes alike to communicate with one another. Best of all, while imminently portable, LiveChat! is also very economical (you’ll see how inexpensive it is when you join us), and it doesn’t even require costly hardware.

LiveChat! offers real-time “chat room” capabilities, with life-like avatars, and positional sound. Navigation is very natural, and full multimedia feedback is offered at all times. We believe when you experience LiveChat!, you’ll agree it takes the “Virtual” out of Virtual Reality! The only caveat is we haven’t found a good way to make it work under water, but we’re working on it.

If you’re woefully Internet illiterate and have no idea what was just said above, here’s LiveChat! explained for you:

LiveChat! was designed to help bring our techie friends away from their keyboards, computers, and Internet communications, and get them back into the real world, communicating with other human beings, face-to-face. LiveChat! is just what it sounds like—chatting and talking with other people, live and in person. Just don’t tell the techies that—many of them will prefer to think they are checking out some new cool technology, and we wouldn’t want to disappoint them, at least not until we’ve gotten a few beers into them.

We figured anyone reading the last paragraph of the description would understand LiveChat! was a joke. However, that was not to be. I got several heated requests from people who wanted a prerelease of LiveChat! so they could check it out before the party. The unfortunate part of this was they were completely serious. One person got so belligerent about the whole matter, especially after I suggested they reread the above item again, I had to send out an extremely detailed clarification of LiveChat! to make sure everyonerealized it was not a product, just a joke.

Of course, the clarification of LiveChat! evoked dozens of responses from people who had to be sure to let me know they weren’t fooled and knew it was a joke all along, as well as several sheepish replies of “Oh! I get it…”

Now, what does this tell us?

First, if you’re trying to relay a message containing humor and innuendo to computer folks, don’t be subtle. This, of course, has the potential side effect of removing the humor and innuendo from the message, which seems rather tragic.

Second, computer folks, especially those involved in Internet technology, appear to suffer from occupational dyslexia—reading more into something than is actually there, and ignoring facts which seem inconsistent with their own computer induced realities.

Third, and most importantly, man does not live by technology alone. In other words, for all of you who, after reading the above description of LiveChat!, still don’t understand it to be a metaphor for old-fashioned human, face to face social discourse, I suggest you go and get a life, preferably one that involves exposure to the outdoors and a lack of computers, at least occasionally.

For my part, I’m getting a life by going on vacation. Back in a few weeks…

Evangelists on Every Corner

Tuesday, November 1st, 1994

(This column first appeared in Vol. 6-2 of the Panacea Perspective, circa November, 1994)

It started a few years ago. Certain large companies such as Apple and Microsoft started blessing key employees with the spiritual title of “Evangelist”. It was the Evangelist’s mission to go forth and spread the gospel of whatever product and/or philosophy the company wanted the masses to worship.

At first, it was a novelty. You’d get a business card, read the title (“Software Evangelist”, etc.) and a beatific smile would form on your face, expressing a sentiment similar to that of your grandmother about to pinch your cheeks and tell you how much you’ve grown since she’s last seen you. In other words, it was cute.

But, as time has shown with Barney the Purple Dinosaur, even cuteness has its limits when it goes ballistic and is perpetually “in your face”. Nowadays, it seems like everyone has an evangelical title of some sort. The irony of the whole thing is that in the 80s, evangelists (of the television kind) were perpetually paraded in front of us as examples of the depravity of human nature. Do we really want technology evangelists associated with the likes of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Oral Roberts, or Jimmy Swaggert?

What does the title of Evangelist really mean in our industry? A quote from a recent elevated Microsoft evangelist was “Whenever Microsoft designates a person to be an evangelist in a given technology, it means that Microsoft intends to dominate that technology area in the near future.” That’s an uncommonly honest and blunt definition, but it does say it all.

However, with the blatant overuse of the Evangelist title, it’s not clear that all companies who employ evangelists have the position as clearly defined as Microsoft. So, as a means to allow companies with differing philosophies to better categorize there employees, we’d like to suggest the following new generation of secular/semi-secular technology titles (imagine them preceded by “Software”, “Hardware”, etc.):

  • Agnostic – Believes in the concept of the technology but not necessarily the implementation. An example would be someone who believes in 32-bit operating systems, but doesn’t really believe in Windows NT, Windows 95, or OS/2 as the proper solution.
  • Anarchist – Believes in whatever seems appropriate at the moment, especially if other people don’t believe in it. May get violent if lots of others actively disagree with them. Amiga fans and people who promote hardware locks fall into this category.
  • Atheist – Doesn’t believe in the technology at all and can’t understand why anyone actually does believe. Workstation Evangelists tend to be PC Atheists.
  • Believer – Someone converted by an Evangelist or the like. Probably brainwashed to the point that they don’t question anything – they accept what they are told without needing supporting facts.
  • Buddhist – Believes in all technologies, and that with time and inner awareness all technologies will ultimately become one. One could argue that Bill Gates could be deemed part-Buddhist as he believes that all technologies will ultimately become Microsoft’s.
  • Communist – Feels that all technology belongs to a single entity, no matter who actually developed it, and that the entity should use such technology to benefit the entity, which should benefit all those associated with the entity. Software pirates occasionally are part of this category.
  • Deity – This is the most knowledgeable person, world- wide, in a given technology field. No one else comes close to that person. This should be an earned position, over  many years of effort, and not given lightly. Sometimes also referred to as God.
  • Democrat – Believes that no matter what the technology is (although it tends to be quite bulky and ill-defined), it should cost more than it brings in, while being freely available to any group of people who claim that they need it, as long as they aren’t rich. Such technology should also be administered by as many people as possible. Coincidentally, the National Information Infrastructure seems to fit the type of technology a Democrat would promote.
  • Gadfly – Is excited about every new technology that comes along, but just for a brief period of time (i.e. until the next cool technology is presented). However, during the brief period of excitement, they evangelize with the best of the dedicated Evangelists. Editors and writers for computer publications are frequently Gadflies.
  • Hippie – Truly feels that all technology should be freely available to all those who want it, and everyone should be happy as a result. Ever hear of the Free Software Foundation and GNU?
  • Libertarian – Doesn’t care what technology anyone else believes in or promotes as long it doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s way of life. Libertarians are proud of the fact that they still use DOS and don’t buy the latest upgrades.
  • Luddite – Fears all technology and wants to see it destroyed. These people are all either locked up or lurking just around the corner.
  • Mercenary – Will evangelize any technology for a reward, usually monetary. Could be one technology one day, and a competing technology the next. Mercenaries frequently take the guise of independent PR & marketing professionals, although some employees have been known to assume the role as well, usually with disastrous results for the employer.
  • Nihilist – Wants to destroy all technology for the sake of its destruction. May pair with the Luddite for convenience’s sake. Needless to say, you don’t want a Nihilist working for you.
  • Preacher – An Evangelist in training.
  • Prophet – An Evangelist whose technologies have time and time again becoming the leading technologies in the market on their own merit. There’s also the False Prophet, who has managed to evangelize leading technologies by coercion instead of merit, and done so many times (see Terrorist).
  • Republican – Believes that while technology can be a good thing, it’s best not to rush things too much. Technologies should be thoroughly analyzed to make sure that  they are safe to start using, and should be administered by lots of smaller disparate groups that should be able to communicate with one another. COBOL is still widely used because of Republicans. Opposite of the Democrat.
  • Scrooge – Favorite line is “bah-humbug” in response to a question about the latest technologies. Also known as an un-Believer. Opposite of the Gadfly.
  • Terrorist – An Evangelist that’s gone over the edge in trying to convert the faithful to his or her technology. Uses market pressure, coercion, threats, and unethical means to force people to adopt his or her view. This title may also be applied to marketing and sales people, as the Terrorist does not need to really have a technical background. Terrorists may also be Mercenaries.
  • Worshipper – A Believer that is too far gone to even consider questioning reality, even as it changes around them. Fans of Gadflies are sometimes Worshippers.

This should certainly provide business card printers with a new wealth of business.

I Have a Problem With My TV

Sunday, May 1st, 1994

(This column first appeared in Vol. 6-1 of the Panacea Perspective, circa May, 1994)

On a dreary Thursday night, sometime around 1997:

“Hi, this is Microsony Technical Support, how can I help you?”

“Well, this evening when I turned on my new TV, it looked kinda funny – all sorts of weird color and little square boxes with pictures in them. After a little while, it showed a box that said something about a General Protection Failure? And then, after I whacked it on the side like I used to with my old TV, the screen went black and now I can’t get Seinfeld anymore. Wait… it’s not completely black, there’s some letters in the corner. There’s a “C”, a couple of dots – one above the other, and this arrow head. What’s that all mean?”

“Sir, have you tried rebooting your TV?”

“Eh? Whatcha talking about? I told you I already booted it on the side, and then it went black! You want me to do it again?”

Welcome to the new age of the Intelligent TV (ITV), based on some Intel or PowerPC processor, running some type of GUI operating system (Windows for TVs perhaps)? Currently, the average TV viewer can’t even get rid of the flashing “12:00” on his VCR, so how can companies expect consumers to be able to deal with complex computer technology, such as what one would find in the set-tops and TVs of the late ’90s?

  • Installation – Since ITVs are going to have to be attached to a cable network of some sort, just think of what cable companies are going to have to go through to verify a stable, viable network connection in the home.
  • Network Crashes – If Joe Blow (who also makes a point of informing you how knowledgeable he is about cabling his A/V equipment) next door mucks about with his cable wiring, he could take the whole network down. And, there are a lot of Joe Blow’s out there…
  • TV Use Training Seminars – with some of the remote controls companies are bandying about these days, it’ll take several weeks of night classes for today’s “Flashing 12:00” victim to cope with them. And with the apparent need for differentiation set-top manufacturers seem to have, you’ll need different classes for each brand.
  • Boot times – If it takes my Pentium system 10 seconds to boot into DOS, imagine how much longer it might take to boot with a slower CPU running a GUI OS, just like the TVs of tomorrow are supposed to be using? Might make the warm-up period of vacuum tube TVs look downright speedy.
  • Boot failures – These could be memory related, or time- outs trying to load data off the cable network, or the dog sitting on the remote control issuing conflicting requests. The more complex the ITV device is, the more likely it is that something will go wrong.
  • Data Entry – How’s this even going to get done? With a large percentage of viewers considered functionally illiterate, a keyboard isn’t going to be that reliable, and anything less will frustrate the more literate users.
  • Maze-itis – Navigating will be challenging, and time consuming, without some significant improvements in proposed channel navigation user interfaces. Taking TV Guide, and making it into a paged menu with big text just doesn’t cut it, because NTSC TV quality is so lousy for small print.
  • Technical Support – as gadgets get less intuitive and more complicated, the amount of technical support users will require will increase. Imagine how a user of a new TV would respond to a $60-90/hour support fee (using a common software support model), just for a phone call to find out why his ITV crashed.
  • Viruses – These could be really nasty, such as ones which take stored credit card information (from your ITV’s Home Shopping registration record) and start charging up a storm. Of course, viruses would probably have lots of options, including randomizing your channel selections (you select channel 2, it brings up channel 5), or translating all your on-ITV viewing guides into another language. Such viruses could be easily transmitted, since ITVs will be able to download new software on the fly from the cable system server.
  • Backups – how do you backup your latest TV Software or the archives you’ve made of your latest on-line chats?

I’m sure there are many more pitfalls we haven’t yet even begun to think of. What it all points to is that intelligent, advanced TVs are going to require intelligent, advanced consumers. What percentage of the North American could be even loosely categorized like that? Suddenly the market potential of ITVs looks a lot less attractive.