Wed, 5 Dec 2007

Rant: Why I Hate Computer Companies

— SjG @ 2:28 pm

So, last night, I had a nasty situation with a Vista Home Basic install. It wanted to install some important security updates, and, after rebooting, it said:

“The Windows Vista Home Premium product key you typed is invalid for activation.”

It offered me three options: Access with reduced functionality (e.g., only use Internet Explorer, and for no more than an hour at a time); Type a new product key; Contact Microsoft to try to resolve the issue. I tried option three. I spoke with someone in Bangalore who got peeved with me when my screen didn’t match what it was supposed to look like according to his script.

It was a little Kafkaesque. I’d read to him every word on the screen, and he’d say “OK, click on the activation button,” which was not one of the items available. I’d say that I’d just read everything that was on the screen, and he’d say “no, you should have an activation button.”

He kept wanting to fob me off to a different customer service group who only answer the phones between 8am and 5pm (this was at 9pm). I explained that I couldn’t use the machine, and I didn’t want to wait until the next day, but he kept giving me nonsensical orders: “Well, don’t reboot, then.” I’m not sure he ever really had a handle on what was wrong. Eventually, he seemed to have a new idea, and said the problem could only be handled by a different group, and he’d connect me with them. Then he forwarded the call to the group who was closed for the night; their system told me to call back the next day, and hung up on me.

Bloody Microsoft! I called again, and got another agent who explained that I must not have a genuine copy of Vista, and only the other group could help me. In other words, their copy protection scheme thinks I’m a thief, so I’m screwed until they feel like helping me.

I was able to roll back to a backed-up disk state from before the upgrades, and could successfully boot. I installed the Genuine Advantage utility, which verified that I did, in fact, have a legit copy. When I installed the security updates one at a time, I was successful. No activation issues. I still don’t know what went wrong. There went three hours I’ll never get back.

Lest I sound like I’m exclusively Microsoft bashing, lemme start on Apple.

I placed an order for iLife ’08 and Leopard. When the box arrived, it contained only iLife. So when I called to complain, they said they’d investigate and follow up. But what that meant is that they then went into some lengthy dialog with FedEx about whose fault it was — whether it had been stolen from the box (no evidence whatsoever to support this idea), or simply the box had not been packed correctly. It took almost three weeks to resolve, and a replacement should be arriving tomorrow. Now, I can understand this kind of process if, say, I’d ordered a $2000 notebook and it had gone missing, or even a $250 iPod. But a software DVD? That costs them fifty cents or less to print? Why not just start by sending a replacement?

Grumble grumble grumble.

And dodn’t get me started on those people at Red Hat, who didn’t include the ponies and rainbows in the last ISO I downloaded!

Lord Jim

— SjG @ 11:17 am

Joseph Conrad, edition of 1917, read as an eBook from

(I started writing this a month ago, and it’s been languishing in the “finish me!” queue ever since.)

Ah, Lord Jim, the bane of Ms. Vessey’s Junior English class. When I read the book then, it was under protest. The rules were as follows: every sentence would be extracted for symbolic analysis, and an elaborate cross-referencing would ensue. Thus, it came to the point that if Conrad mentioned anything to do with light, weather, color, temperature, etc, he was clearly telling us how to decode the secrets of the next paragraph.

The direct reading of the text was a rewarding experience which was sullied by over-analysis. Sure, Conrad conveyed mood and texture via the “symbols” were were forced to identify, but I didn’t (and don’t) believe that he coded a whole parallel story sub rosa into the text.

Upon re-reading, I was struck by a number of unrelated things that escaped me in my first reading. I was interested in the depictions of Islam in the Indonesian islands, as well as the descriptions of the lawless Straits of Malacca from a hundred years ago. Some things don’t change. Conrad used a very descriptive vocabulary, and had an aptitude for portraying the strange kinds of characters who inhabit the real world — the kind of people we meet frequently, and think “he’s kind of odd, isn’t he?”

Especially with the theme of conformity and individualism, Conrad seems to be pointing out that “normal” is like a mathematical normal, in that any given constituent is not going to be smack dab in the middle of the mainstream. So normal society is made up of people who are by and large similar in attitudes and behavior, but who each have their quirks and eccentricities.

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