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Lost Time

Iíve suffered my share of grief dealing with Microsofttm software glitches over the years: the devastating "blue screen specials"; the pain of losing my last half-hourís worth of hard-fought thinking down the drain when the software locks up unexpectedly; the interminable and agonizingly slow disk-checking that occurs when recovering from an "improper shutdown" -- infuriatingly, never due to my impropriety, although the arrogant MS messages always imply that was the case. Not to mention the deeply disturbing registry flummoxes; the bogus popup warnings; the stupid "help" avatars that need to be continually stomped back off the screen (but will never completely die, die, die); and all manner of sleazy, confusing and unsolicited decision boxes that try to insinuate even more dysfunctional MS products into my "default" world.

In 2005, Fortunetm magazine gave Bill Gatesí net worth as 46.5 billion dollars. Heíll be 49 years old this year, on October 18th. If he never made another penny of income, interest or dividends, and lived to be 85 years old, he could spend $142,000 an hour and not run out of money. Thatís one big tip to the guy thatíll be cleaning out his bedpan in the morningÖ

Well, my career and intellect is not so vaulting as is his. I pull in less than $50 an hour, before taxes. I figure Iíve easily lost 10 hours of my time over the last 10 years, sacrificed on the altar of MS product deficiencies. Thatís probably a gross underestimate -- but letís figure that comes out to $500 worth of my lost time.

Now I can and do fritter away 10 hours of my life quickly and often, doing nothing at all productive. But thatís not the point. The 10 hours Iím talking about here are the ones where Iím trying (sometimes desperately, under pressure) to be productive.

There are 600 million PCs running Windowstm, worldwide. If we can assume that each has a human user, and that all of those poor souls have experienced approximately the same misfortunes with MS Windowstm products as have I, that comes out to 6 billion man-hours of lost time over the last 10 years. Being an egalitarian at my core, I have no reason to believe that anyone elseís time is worth less than mine. So I figure that comes out to 6 billion hours X $50 per hour = $300,000,000,000 worth of a truly precious global commodity irretrievably lost.

In an ideal world, providers of goods and services ought to make up for the losses caused by deficiencies in their products. Personally, Iíd love to submit an invoice to Microsofttm for my own portion. If everyone did so, Mr. Gates would definitely need to take a second job to cover off his obligations. Heíd have to pick it up a notch. In my mindís eye, I can see him selling late-night slurpies at a 7-11tm store, trying to make ends meet. Maybe Melinda can help him stock the shelvesÖ

Of course, there is this fine print on just about all product warranty tags that claims the company "has no liability for consequential damages." An example of consequential damage is when your carís gas tank spontaneously explodes, and then you get runover by a passing truck as you scrabble out of the burning hulk. Sorry, partner, not our fault you got creamed. A more prosaic example is if you lose a million-dollar contract because your frickiní MS Wordtm program locked up and ate your proposal at the last minute.

I realize this diatribe is unfairly mean-spirited. PCs have become integral to our work lives. Thatís because they are indeed so very productive Ė assuming that what is being produced using them has anything to do with needful work. To be fair, Microsoft -- more than any other company -- has made this innovative technology truly usable by the world at large. The fact that we gripe about the softwareís aggravating shortcomings only means that we depend so heavily upon it. In truth, for every hour lost fighting the annoying glitches, we enjoy hundreds of hours of seamless, increased productivity.

All the same, it doesnít explain why the glitches happen just when you canít afford them to happen. If you were a paranoid sort (as I am), you might suspect that there is a special logic routine in your MS product that can detect Ė perhaps by the unusually frenetic pace of keypresses Ė that the piece of work being produced is important. A subtle change is then made in a randomizer variable that induces more and more likelihood that the program will loop into a craftily devised, hidden program submodule. There resides a cadre of error codes, normally at rest and dormant. They are enjoying their time off, perhaps drinking coffee and smoking. But once the program manages to loop there, alarms ring and one of these poor shlubs is grabbed by the collar and thrust forward into a popup window. The little error codeís fate is sealed, and the user cannot save him. Neither press of "yes", nor press of "no", nor press of "cancel" will give him succor. Only by the sacrificial action of "CTRL-ALT-DEL" will he be expunged. We can only be grateful that he has no software connection to the audio output circuit, there to voice his final agony as he descends into the nothingness of the null-variable inferno -- echoed by the userís screams, lamenting his own lost work. It just ainít fairÖ

OK, perhaps I'm getting a little too carried away here. I mean, whatís the chance, for example, that MS Wordtm will decide to eat this docum


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