Friday, October 30, 2015

The Queen of a Hardened Heart

How did we get so callous? So jaded? So uncaring of the plights of others and even ourselves?

When did we learn to close our eyes? Have we become so accustomed to terrible news and tragedy that we shut out the world and seek the safety of our own little circles and tribes? Do we see and hear so much that we can't take it anymore and want to hide in the fallacy of our own manufactured realities?

Forget virtual reality like the Occulus VR and others, many of us are permanently stuck in our personal realities. Fake worlds we build for ourselves with little lies about who we are in them and how people see us. Our own personal Wonderlands with the people we know playing Hatters and Cheshire Cats, nonsensical rules for our tea parties, and make-believe physics for how things work in our own little private worlds that we share with others who see us as a part of their own creation as well.

It feels at times that we are not a world anymore, we are a billion sets of eyes all looking out and each seeing a different one.

Of course in my world there is no suffering, no poverty, no injustice, and no corruption. There are no poor people living on the streets, and no mentally ill denied treatment to help them live normal lives. There is no abuse, no discrimination, and no singling out people to be bullied or insulted because of sex, race, or creed.

No one stands up and defends the bullied, for fear they would become bullied as well. If one person says, "this isn't cool" they will be dumped in with the others and laughed at as well. It is all a game, a heinous party of insults and mockery, and we laugh along drunk on our power to ignore and marginalize.

We laugh with the bullies for what they say to others, like this is somehow unreal and there isn't anyone real on the other side of that abuse. Our world is like the movies, where the actors can say the meanest things to each other for our entertainment and when the cameras stop everything is okay.

We turn off the phone and the computer and the movie is over, right? The homeless aren't still out there, the hungry have food now, or someone isn't crying over someone's savage and senseless attacks. When that little screen goes off, so do all the problems of that world.

Because we don't live in that world, do we?

Absolutely not.

The next time I log on, I will choose the news I want to see, tailor the world to how I wish to see it, and custom build myself a little Wonderland of my own choosing. This is about choice, is it not? I am a consumer, and consumers deserve the right to choose. I am the rabbit running around, and instead of endlessly being late, I am endlessly complaining about choice. My choice! My choice! I need more choice! I can choose to not see things which upset me, choose not to have my views challenged, and choose to silence everyone else who may disagree with me. With just a few clicks of a button it is done.

My own personal world with the Hatters, rabbits and Cheshire Cats of my choosing.

And I the Queen. I sit on my throne and laugh at those who scream "off with their heads" at anyone different than the a royal court custom chosen to fit my view of the world. Of course they would all agree with me, because I didn't pick anyone to be in my court who would think otherwise. Dissent? Off with their heads as I unfriend them and delete their posts.

I am the Queen of Hearts in my own personal Ministry of Truth. I have the power to unsee all whom upset me and challenge my rule.

And my party goes on with laughter and merriment for all whom I choose to exist.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Tablet Mode Windows 10?

Tablet mode kinda sucks in Windows 10.

Seriously, I am finding any touch-based Surface 3 easier to use in desktop mode, even with my fingers.

Some of the apps I use rapidly switch between start menu and app, start menu and app in tablet mode, driving me crazy. Out of tablet mode? They work normally. I get this feeling app developers don't really test with tablet mode at all, and it is rapidly being forgotten.

I am still forced to hunt for tiny spots on the screen with my finger in either mode, so there is no real advantage to tablet mode other than a "hide my desktop" mode that doesn't work well with all apps anyways. Turning off tablet mode has actually made me feel more productive with this device than I have been in weeks. Things work like my desktop. When I get frustrated, I switch to the trackpad and that keyboard might as well be permanently attached.

I still like the ability to run Windows apps, don't get me wrong. It is just I have kinda given up on that dream that any of them will work well with a Windows tablet. For entertainment stuff like movies or books, okay, yes, the touch features work. The tablet is still too bluky and heavy to use without the kickstand for extended viewing or reading, and I find myself wanting a lighter weight solution for a pick-up and read or browse device. You know, you need to look up a recipe, so you pick up something light and instant-on and punch it in? Besides my phone I have lost that capability around the house and I am feeling the burn.

As it is with this device, I have mine wrapped up in a nice leather case and it is basically serving as a heavier-class netbook. And for instant-on Internet searches, I am using my Chromebook, which hurts because I really want a tablet for this.

But I am finding turning off tablet mode has made me a lot happier with Windows 10, and that is kind of a sad thing as I liked Windows 8 on a tablet very much.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Travel with Windows 10 on a Tablet

My Surface 3 has not traveled well on my current trip. To be fair, I gave it a chance and I even got it a new leather folio case, but it now just feels like a sub-par laptop. The touch-screen is nice, I like the size, and it runs well - but it just isn't a tablet anymore. It is a laptop.

I feel this is Windows 10's fault, and I am having real problems with some of the choices Microsoft made. In a desktop configuration with a mouse and keyboard, Windows 10 is better than Windows 7 and I love it. On a tablet, it is just horrible. They changed so much from Windows 8 I am wondering what they were thinking.

Just the "close open applications" interface frustrates me to no end, gone is the Android-style swipe the app away and close gesture, and you are back to clicking the X in the corner. Do you know how stupid it feels to always miss the microscopic X with you finger, accidentally open the application, and then have to go back to the task manager thing just to end up making the same mistake again? It is beyond frustrating and just plain stupid.

And this is in "tablet mode."

I sit here and wonder if I am missing something so obvious, but the default experience with the same machine is much worse from Windows 8. The vertical tile scrolling is painful on a widescreen, and I miss the Windows 8 interface badly. This is made for a mouse, and it feels like they forgot everything they learned with Windows 8.

I am starting to believe Apple is right, you can't mix the user interface paradigms of tablet and PC. What was simple on either a tablet or a PC now becomes something you have to know works this way if the machine is in that mode, or kinda-sorta works that way if the machine is in another mode. things that should be easy on a tablet are hard because this is a hybrid. My phone is easier than this. My workstation with Windows 10 is easier than this. My Mac is easier than this. I can't help from feeling a touch interface just messes things up.

Even Samsung's or Amazon's strange versions of Android are easier.

I want a true tablet again.

Light. A true tablet UI. Something easy to pick up and play. Something widely supported. Something I can just pick up and read a book with when I am bored, or go check Facebook or Wikipedia. Something simple that doesn't require knowledge of how something works in one mode versus another. Something where I am not hunting for a keyboard or a mouse to do something basic.

I like my Surface 3, but it is staying as a Windows 10 laptop. The new case helps, it pulls the floppy device together and makes it a nicely-protected laptop style thing. It is bulky and heavy now, which I lament. Even my Chromebook is lighter and thinner. Even without the case the Surface is bulky and needs the stand constantly. The case is staying on.

It's a nice case though. I like it.

We're not there yet on the convergence of laptop and tablet, and I don't see it happening with this generation of Windows (like we were heading towards with Windows 8). With an iPad or Android device, yes, I see it happening. The UI on either of those is still touch-centric enough to keep a strong design paradigm throughout the experience. There is one way to do something, and you don't need a mouse or trackpad. Keyboards are optional mechanical productivity devices.

It is the curse of providing people who make software with too many options. With Android or iOS, they build an app for touch first. With Windows, touch is an afterthought if an app supports it at all. Yes, my Surface runs desktop apps, but hardly any of my desktop apps work well at all with touch.

With tablets, there are purpose-built apps that do 90% of what my Windows apps do, and they are built for touch. They work. They don't require me to jump through hoops. I can export the data to my workstation if I need to. Why do I need to keep supporting Windows apps on a device that does not support them well at all? Why do I want a device where developers will treat touch as a second-class citizen?

To be productive on a tablet, I want apps that support the tablet.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Thoughts From the Road

A hard life.

It's like you are always moving, heading down some road, and dealing with what's around the next bend. Watch those around you. Signal. Change lanes. Check speed. Put yourself somewhere safe for a while until you do this all again.

The sun comes up, you stop for gas, and get back on the road after a quick stretch.

It wears after a while. You begin to wonder with too much time alone. Your mind wanders. You feel the sting of impatience and there's nothing you can do except move on, on to the next town, and to the next place where you change roads.

There is a lot to see here. Good memories. Places you've never been or maybe have a time too many. Still, it is good to get out and away. It will be better getting home. It has been a long trip already.

Another car to pass, and another corner to wind around. A hill that seems to go on forever. You know the road ahead this time, as this part is familiar. You know how this goes. Over here, a turn there. The same exits. The same hills. A long boring part and a dozen more past that, with only highlights along the way to keep your thoughts preoccupied.

It is those dreams that kill you and keep you going on. Things you wish you could have done, places that you wished you could have been. Thoughts about the future. Escaping. Being free. Being out here, or going somewhere new. Things you wished you could do. Success you chase down these roads and then back to the same old familiar grind.

Back home.

A certainty in comfort. There is nothing like that place. The familiar. The warm blanket of security and days exactly like each other. The routine. The normal. A bed and bath all your own.

Memories fuel your desire. You want to be back there, back home.

There is a little more to do here, and you start to count the hours until the bags are packed and the car is loaded up for the last leg of this journey. The sun sets. Just a little longer.

Enjoy the moment.

The road calls, but there is an eddy of time now to reflect and reminisce. To consider where you have been and what you have done. To relax one last time before there is another car, another turn, and another impossibly long hill to climb.

Patience.

Something mother always used to say. Patience. Waiting for it. Putting in the careful hard work until it's done. Another turn, another stop for gas, and maybe finding a place to grab some food.

You count the hours until home.

The road seems to get longer and longer as the daylight fades.

Just another turn, another long stretch, and I'll be home.

Less is More

I want to experiment with writing less. With making fewer words mean more.

I want to boil things down. To make each word count.

I find more difficulty in being concise with being verbose. There is meaning to impart, and with less words, how is that done? Words must be carefully chosen. The statements I make must be strong enough to stand alone. To excise the extraneous. To trim excess.

To know when to leave something well enough alone.

For a point and a book can become belabored. It can overstay its welcome. It can become too much of a commitment for a reader's investment. It can wander. It can revel in the writer's own wit far too much.

There will be less of what I say, but what you get will be the very best. It shall not waste your time. It shall not wander. It shall not waste its energy carrying fat-filled and self-important prose. In our super-sized world where expectations are delivered in wholesale-club sizes, it is a seemingly impossible task.

To write less.

And to mean more.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Don't Believe Everything You're Linked

"The Internet is Outraged..." begins a headline posted on Facebook by some news organization looking for clicks, and it is usually followed by something some intern somewhere drug up and reposted. It doesn't even have to be outrageous, just mildly provocative, and then all the "news" has to do is sit back and watch the clicks and dollars come in.

That isn't news.

It isn't news.

This is called news organizations shirking their responsibility to provide information, and just sitting back, being lazy, and shitting out clickbait so they can inflate their web numbers and get a couple more bucks.

If that link was even created by a real person.

I seriously don't know what a news site is anymore, there are so many computer-generated pseudo-news sites out there that look real but are probably a product of some AI algorithm and no real person ever touches the content. They just forever skim the turds from most popular posts on Facebook and Twitter and present that as the news.

Breaking news? More like broken news.

And seriously, I couldn't give a damn what the Internet is outraged at today because the truth is it is outraged at everything everyday. And it will be outraged by something new tomorrow. Water is wet. Ice is cold. The Internet is outraged.

And some people bet on that 'outrage' so you will click on that next link, and depositing some virtual advertising coins into some account somewhere. Your eyes and those pop-up ads make you pay as you wait through twenty seconds of ads to end up feeling a little dumber for having clicked on that link.

"But," I hear myself saying, "I wanted to see what the outrage is all about."

Does it really matter? And seriously, why? So you can validate an opinion social media does not care about on an 'outrage' some computer selected as today's clickbait link? It reminds me of those science experiments they did in the 1950's where a rat in a maze would press a button and get fed an addictive substance, and the rat would mindlessly press it over and over again.

Why am I posting this?

Because I just fell for one.

Again.

That isn't news.

That wasn't a real news site.

A computer is creating all of this outrage for us.

Or, as they call it now, 'news.'

Get me out of this maze.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Battle of the Tablets 2015

This is one that I have been thinking about a couple months in with my Microsoft Surface 3 Tablet. We have seen a lot of tablets being released for the holidays, and also Microsoft is heating things up with their hybrid tablet launch. To me, it makes me think about what I like to use tablets for - especially as a writer.

"As a writer" is key here. This does introduce a level of implied functionality and support for accessories such as keyboards, but it also says the entire device has to rise to the level of a dedicated writing device. It has to be comfortable and easy to use. It has to be better than the alternatives. Cost is a factor. The number of devices is a factor. Portability is a factor.

If it can't hold a charge, is so expensive I fear taking it out of the house or leaving it in a hotel room, suffers from weak security, and isn't comfortable to use it is not a portable device. I should be able to unplug it, throw it in a bag, take it to a coffee shop, and instantly and comfortably start working on the device. Have I found a tablet that does that yet?

I have not.

Personally, I use a Chromebook for my on-the-go writing. The Surface 3 is a nice device and it runs Windows apps, but as a writer all I need is Google Docs, Office for the Web, or some other word processor. My Chromebook does what it needs to do, I can get the text out and formatted later, and it has that laptop form factor I love when I need to actually write on my lap.

The Surface 3 runs Windows apps, and I could run everything I need from the device, from idea to store submission. For that, it is a good device and a laptop replacement. The kickstand is not terribly lap-friendly, and it is heavy enough in the wrong places to make the contraption unwieldy when I am on the go. I dislike the traditional password-based security on this device, and it makes having the keyboard on there all the time a necessity because I do not use simple passwords. It is strange, but I am actually finding the Surface-style keyboard to be a larger negative than I expected when it comes to using the device. I would rather have a simple, non-keyboard cover and a fingerprint-enabled security device.

Yes, like the newer iPads.

Number one, they are what I pick up when I don't want to turn on a computer. I am putting a premium on size and weight here. They have to be on instantly, and not feel like you are hefting a slab of lead to get the answer to something you want to Google, or a Wiki page you would like to read on a subject. With my Surface 3 tablet, weight and thickness is admittedly up there, and the might-as-well-be permanently attached keyboard cover feels like a floppy and unwieldy dongle. While I love the keyboard, the entire contraption feels more like a laptop and not a tablet. It is a strange feeling, while I like these as productivity devices, I am a lot less willing to sacrifice comfort to be productive with one device.

It is sort of like answering the question, "What does a tablet do that my phone doesn't?"

For large-format tablets, it is mostly screen size and possibly side-by-side apps. The Surface 3 does a nice job with this. The Surface 3 does not get a spot in my "on the go" bag, like my Chromebook does, which is a negative for me. A Chromebook and any smartphone is a potent combo, and with wi-fi tethering, gives you an anywhere productivity solution as well. For me, the Surface 3 is a 10" tablet replacement for my long-dead Samsung Note 10, and also a Windows netbook replacement for home use only. While I miss having a 10" tablet for the road, it doesn't hurt too much.

Was the Surface 3 a bad purchase? No, I still love the device, and I still use it frequently around the house. It has replaced my Windows notebook actually, and it still is a great device to keep using the productivity apps I like to use on that system. It still feels like a notebook purchase though and not a tablet.

With a more-expensive device, such as a Surface Pro 4, I feel too many eggs are being put in one basket and I don't need that much power on the road. For what I do, write, I just need something basic and no-fuss.

How does a tablet fit into this "on the go" solution? For me, right now, they don't. Right now, I like tablets in the smaller form-factors (such as the 7" Kindle Fire or iPad Mini 4) as entertainment and reading devices. I am more likely to toss a Kindle Paperwhite in my go bag than I am a tablet, and I feel that is where the true battle lies for me. Does a small form-factor tablet beat a large smartphone? Does a small tablet beat the Kindle Paperwhite? For something like a Fire HD 7 and Prime, yes, there is a good value there as an on-the go entertainment device. With an iPad Mini, it is the app ecosystem you are more buying into and not really books or movies. Although Prime works with an iPad, you have to ask yourself is the app ecosystem there worth the extra money to you? It is a value question, really.

With a large smartphone, I don't really need a small form-factor tablet. With a Chromebook, I don't need something expensive for the road. But I still feel there is a gap there in the light and portable 10" area that my dead Samsung Note 10 used to fill for me. I could throw that in my go-bag and feel I was going to use it on a trip, and it was handy to have around. The Surface 3, even though it is 10", is too heavy and bulky to really fit in the 10" tablet space for me. With a tablet, I don't want to be a Windows system administrator, I want simple. I want push a button and on. I want something I can pick up and play with, and not have to kickstand it because it is heavy and bulky.

Yes, I miss my Samsung Note 10. I don't miss it enough to pay a repair cost that I could buy an entirely new tablet for though. When you buy into these devices you need to remember that many of them will break, and the service cost down the road will bite you unless you are in a great warranty and support system. With the Note, I made a mistake and I wasn't, so now I am feeling the pain of that impulse buy. I am more apt to go Apple or Amazon with my next 10" purchase just because of the warranty and support systems (though Amazon's newest budget tablets feel like a step down).

So my current top-10 criteria are:
  1. Size and Weight
  2. Ease of Use
  3. Support and Warranty System
  4. Cost
  5. Web Browsing
  6. Screen and Sound Quality
  7. Entertainment Value
    1. Reading
    2. Movies
    3. Music
  8. Productivity
  9. Apps
  10. Storage Options
An interesting list for this year, and yes, I am still feeling the loss of my Samsung Note 10, since it did most of the top ten well, except for of course, the support and warranty thing. We shall see where this goes.