Saturday, April 12, 2014

Technology is now too complicated for many people

Found this article from the Guardian last autumn which perfectly illustrates the points I was rambling on about yesterday:

What are the options for elderly internet users?

If you are ageing, or have cognitive or sensory difficulties, or problems with fine motor co-ordination (ie hand and arm movements) computer technology is just too complicated.

When I went over to PC World (I know, I know, but there was really nowhere else) yesterday afternoon to pick up the barebones computer (this one, in case anyone else wants a sensibly-priced simple life) that had been delivered there (why they could deliver to a shop by courier in 17 hours but not to my home until next week baffles me), there was a long queue of people awaiting 'tech support'. From snippets of conversation I overheard, seemingly mostly for Windows 8 problems. Probably a dozen people, mostly clutching older looking PCs and laptops, that had obviously been updated from XP or an earlier OS and they weren't at all happy. One 50-something woman who'd bought a new PC last week was telling them in a very loud voice that she wanted a refund, and the old one she'd taken in for disposal back. They were trying to convince her to find someone to show her how it worked. "That's my point!" she screamed, "I have been using computers for 15 years and I shouldn't NEED to get my grandson to show me how it works!" The queue made sympathetic noises.

Microsoft's biggest con for a long time, discontinuing support for the OS on a quarter of the world's PCs and peddling myths about vulnerability that many took seriously and immediately acted.


Friday, April 11, 2014

The Friday Questions

(There are questions right down at the end of this missive that you may be able to kindly help me with if you haven't got the time or inclination for a long brain-dump for posterity saga...)

Where have the nearly 6 weeks since we got back from South Africa gone?

Ah, now, wait, that's probably the question you've been asking, isn't it?

Earlier in the week I said this to someone who asked: "Sorry to worry you folks - quite a lot of 'things that unfortunately can't be blogged about as they would Google too easily' and there would be far too many swear words in them - all externally driven and all outside of our control/ability to solve going on, plus technology is giving me a hard time, and my default/coping mode these days is to walk away."

Yesterday the technology malfunction turned into a technology total failure. Yes, XP support ended on Tuesday, but, given that a quarter of the world's computers still use it (including most of those in the developing world, and many of those used by small businesses, which lack of finance means won't be updated any time soon), one would hope that the OS on my main PC wouldn't refuse to boot the very next time that it was turned on. Coincidence maybe, but I knew as I clicked the button that I shouldn't have downloaded the last 'update' for XP that Microsoft released. I have a strong suspicion that update said "KILL COMPUTER" (although there is no evidence for this from other reports according to Google). Or else it was the computer's heart taking umbrage at me looking at an article on changing to Linux.

I don't know who technology is meant to help. It surely isn't the user. Most of it is now just too complicated for 90% of its users, 90% of the time.

I hate the new car I got at the end of October, because it doesn't work/drive as well as the 13 year old model it replaced, and the controls and displays are hard-to-use, unintuitive to set up, and mostly just totally unnecessary. Not to mention downright dangerous to attempt to use while driving along.

I hate new computers, mostly because they come pre-installed with loads of crap (eg 'free' trial versions of software) that can never be completely cleared. But also because 'support' (and later, spare parts) is only available on premium rate numbers from little men in Mumbai, who know less than I do, reading from scripts in some language that is not what I'd call English.

The main reason I put off buying a new PC, despite increasingly frequent problems making it obvious that it was increasingly urgent to so do, was because I have lots of old software that I know doesn't run on anything other than XP. Several of the programs are no longer produced, and use file formats that are obsolete, so unreadable by any other newer program. This software is needed for all our leaflets, letterheads, cards, jar labels, and, mostly, my second brain - aka my 18 years of carefully filed emails, that are in .dbx format that is now totally unreadable in anything but Outlook Express. Ergo, most of what I need to do on a computer these days.

After past computer disasters, all my data is on external hard drives. One for pictures and the other for documents. The few bits of data that went onto the PC were fully backed up just before we went away. So, as I've had that machine on maybe 4 or 5 times in the past 5 weeks, I've lost very little data. The only important and irreplaceable thing is some recent email discussion with Defra about preservation of h3dg3rows in rural areas that don't exist on my netbook email - and that is a huge loss in the light of current sad developments in this area. And all the passwords which were auto-stored in the system, are now only stored within the ginormous email files, inaccessible by anything other than OE, which doesn't run on Win7 or Win8. Paper is best, of course, but I lazily gave up diligently keeping the card index about 5 years ago. Some is there, but it's incomplete.

Changing passwords involves knowing where to go to get a new password sent by email, and which email address one has registered with in the first place. As soon as a new password is generated, access to that site is then blocked from any other device (which has autostored the password), until one has reset the password. The new password that one may or may not manage to retrieve from email. Which may or may not be accessible if you don't know the password to webmail.

Modern technology certainly isn't made for anyone with any kind of physical or eyesight problem.

I can't use touch screens reliably (my fingers are too dry and too cold). I can't always co-ordinate the two sides of my body well enough to use a trackball (especially when I am tired). I can't read small screens. So, I need devices operated via keyboards and mice, with large screens that don't flicker (ie the Sony screen that I currently have), and the ability to run voice activated software.

No-one will ever persuade me that cloud storage or web-based email is the way to go. My data and my security are much better under my control. I'd rather use my own domains' email facilties and download everything to my own machines.

No-one will ever persuade me that Windows 8 is a good idea (even the 8.1 version where Microsoft begin to acknowledge the error of their ways in attempting to force a visual touchy interface on users who would have bought iCrap if that's what they'd wanted).

But, those who make technology don't want me to work in the way that has worked wonderfully for me for the past 19 years. They think they know what is best for me, but they don't. Plus, I know far too much about Big Brother's Brothers' nasty surveillance habits to want to follow the pack.

Now, yesterday I spent more time on the internet than I've spent, in total, in the past couple of months. The day, planned for planting, wool carding and holiday photo filing, had to be surrendered to research and finding and ordering new hardware and software. I was bemused by how frequently Mr BW and I, working independently, on separate machines in separate rooms, came up with the same potential solutions to the same questions.

I'm more and more frustrated by the difficulty in finding good information when searching the internet. I have Google set up to return 100 results, rather than the default 10, and I have every adblocker and popupblocker known to Witchkind, but, even so, by the time that one has trawled through all the advertising and the paid-for-dross forced up the returns list by paid-for unscrupulous SEO, it's really hard to find good info written by real people who know what they are talking about. One can't even trust blog posts these days as some people have no scruples and will say anything if they're sent a freebie or sponsored text to publish.

Anyway, we eventually decided to go with the cheapest, most basic solution, first. If that doesn't work, or doesn't work well enough, we will try something else. But, why pay high hundreds for something that one will never use to its potential?

Hopefully by 7pm tonight I shall have everything I need to solve the Main PC problem. New blank barebones PC. Copy of Windows 7 Pro (which should be able to run my old software in its XP mode). (Aside - why is Win7 software twice the price of Win8, and why have Microsoft restricted its availability to non-physical-premises sources? Things are usually cheaper when they have been superseded). Mr BW can get a (legitimate) download of Office 2013 for £8.95 through work. I/we have set up many PCs in my time, including ones running Win7.

I have loads of links to 'useful information' saved from yesterday's research, but, I'm just wondering if anyone has any first-hand personal experience or recommendations on:

  1. Installing Windows 7 Pro onto a blank barebones PC (NB the required answer isn't 'don't try'; despite info saying it's put disc in, let it do its stuff, then search for any missing drivers, I have already been warned ;)) And... once one has installed the Win7 OS on a barebones PC, how does one get online to download a browser (ie FF), without a browser?

  2. Email client (Pop3, not web based, and definitely not googlemail, yahoo, hotmail or any other similar product). I have Thunderbird on my 2nd Netbook that already runs Win 7 (the only machine that is still reliably working), but I failed miserably to set it up effectively so don't use it. I could use Outlook - presuming it comes in Office 2013, I've not checked - (just for email, don't need all the other included junk), or get something else. I need to be able to set it up to send out of various (of my own domain) addresses that aren't the one that receives messages. Future-proofing the file storage format, so that the current situation doesn't recur, is high priority here.

  3. (Which may be tied to 2) Importing Outlook Express .dbx format files into an email client that uses a different file format (it can be done, I have lots of instruction links saved, it's just which is the easiest and most reliable way).

  4. Best firewall, antivirus, antispyware, anti-popup, anti tracking, anti-all-advertising programmes. I've been using (successfully and without problem) the free versions of AVG virus, Zone Alarm firewall, Ghostery and a couple of others I can't remember. But I have no idea what is current thinking, or what works well on Win7. Free, but no advertising or nasty data collection potential (I know that there is never any such thing as a free lunch, but...)

All comments from anyone else who finds the evolution of technology utterly unhelpful and unnecessary for anyone seeking a simple life, doing just basic things, and preferring to make their own entertainment rather than expecting it to come out of a box, are welcomed ;) It's not that I don't know the potential of what it will do... it's just that I neither want, nor need, it to.

Comments about iCrap or online storage or Windows 8 being better will be subject to spells and/or deleted. Presuming that I can find the necessary passwords to so do ;)


Monday, April 7, 2014

Thought for the day

We live in an age of digital dementia causing us to turn to a keypad for our every requirement. This overlooks the fact that you can converse five times faster than you can type.

- Mike Gooley