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January/Febuary 2000  
Happy New Century! 

In this issue...

Editor´s Notes  
 by Marsha Brandsdorfer  

The End Task Procedure Ctrl+Alt+Del 
 by George Henderson  

 Review of "Hollywood Screenwriter" 
 by Marsha Brandsdorfer  

Technology Flaws 
 by Keith Fenwick  

Review of "The Software Conspiracy"  
size="-1"> by Marsha Brandsdorfer  

Print on Demand  
 by Keith Fenwick 

Calendar  

 

Editor´s Notes   
 by Marsha Brandsdorfer    

Hardware Crash is every computer user´s nightmare, and I had first hand experience of what it looks and feels like.  I felt very vulnerable, frustrated, and angry when this catastrophe happened to me recently. 
On Saturday, November 13, 1999, moments after adding new software to my computer, and then playing around on the Internet (CompuServe), with no warning at all my brand new "emachines" computer locked.  I pressed Control-Alt-Delete, and nothing happened.  I turned off the computer.  I waited a minute or two and turned it back on.  When I turned it back on, the computer started to do a scan-clean up, but then it locked during that process.  All this while, the computer was making a very strange churning sound.  I left the computer alone for ten, fifteen minutes, then I turned the machine off again.  Again, it started to do a scan clean-up, but locked again, making churning noises.  I tried again and got some bizarre message on DOS.  I called emachines technical support.  I spoke to a nice man named David.  We tried to install the "Restore CD," but the computer was not able to read the information from the CD.  He said, "Hold on, I have to talk to my manager."  When he came back on the line, he said, "Are you sitting down?" 

Yes, I had experienced first-hand what I have heard spoken about in years.  My hard drive crashed.  It was dead, a wet rag and useless. 
I went back to the store to exchange the computer, but the store's policy is to only exchange computers within two weeks of purchase, and mine was bought three weeks prior.  But, obviously having the hard drive crash on me meant that I was sold a lemon, so the manager agreed to exchange it.  However, he was out of stock and sent me to another companion store 20 miles south.  I drove there and that manager was reluctant to make the exchange.  But, I reminded him firmly that the previous store manager said that it was okay, so he did make the exchange.  So far, it is working okay and I've installed WordPerfect 8.0 word processing program and a program called Hollywood Screenwriter which is reviewed in this club newsletter.  I hope I don't have problems with this new hard drive. 

Fortunately, I did not have a lot of files on the other hard drive, although I did lose items such as e-mail from Juno.  Juno´s free e-mail service stores e-mail on the hard drive, and I had lost some documents I wrote in Microsoft Works, but I knew it could have been much, much, worse. 

At the time, my feelings were of anger and frustration, but now that it´s over, I am fearful of it happening again, and I also know now what it means to have a hard drive crash, die, burn, and now take "backing-up" very seriously. 

Why I bought a new computer in the first place, was due to hardware problems as well.  The comport on my 4-1/2 year old lap top died, without warning as well.  One day I was doing my e-mail; the next day, my e-mail service Juno told me that it could not find my modem.  Since I depend on communicating via e-mail to friends and e-mail pals every day, I was anxious to get it fixed.  I called our computer club web master, Lee Hill and he gave me fee technical support, but even over the phone, nothing we could try would work.  I tried buying a new modem (PCMCIA card).  I brought the computer over Lee´s house and we tried installing this new PCMCIA and its software to no avail.  We had fiddled around for hours.  Finally, Lee told me that perhaps now I should buy a new computer.  Days later he suggested the new e-One put out by a company called emachines.  He said it looks like an I-Mac, but it is an IBM compatible.  I went over to Circuit City, a store that sells these computers.  I looked at the laptops; I looked at the e-One; I looked at Hewlett-Packard, other emachines and other computers.  Finally, I decided on desktop, emachines etower 400i3 PC (32 MB, 4.3 GB, 56K Modem) which came installed with Windows 98 (version 2), Microsoft Works, a few other programs and a $400 CompuServe rebate if I would agree to use CompuServe Internet service for a minimum of three years.  The price of the computer, a new emachines 14" monitor, a power surge protector, and mouse pad came to just under $700 with tax.  I also bought a new Canon BJC-2000 color printer in early December from Office Max for $100, plus tax.  The printer head broke on my Canon BJ-30.  Oh well, I might as well enter the next century with the new and latest updated, but affordable equipment. 

I took that computer home and my friend Jim visiting from Arizona, who had gone with me to the store to watch me spend my money, helped me set up the computer.  It was very confusing for me with all those wires.  The laptop had only a plug for the power (when not using battery), and a plug for the printer and that was it.  As of now, I´m still using my Juno address ( as my main e-mail address, but I also have a CompuServe address (  It´s convenient to be able to check out web sites on the Internet from home, without having to go to the library for this anymore.  It´s also convenient that I have a CD Rom drive now, so I can install new software.  I was very limited in my laptop because I did not have a CD Rom drive, and now almost all new software is on CD Rom.  Since getting this new hard drive, I´ve installed (and reviewed for this issue) Hollywood Screenwriter.  I actually received this software several months ago and I was unable to review it earlier since I did not have access to a CD Rom drive.  I have also installed Corel WordPerfect 8.0, which I bought inexpensively at Software Outlet Center, 182 El Camino Real, South San Francisco, California. 

Although this computer comes installed with a writing program, Microsoft Works, I like WordPerfect 8.0 much better.  I use it at work as well.  My favorite feature is the "Reveal Codes," so if you screw up, perhaps you can figure out what went wrong. 
I´ll never find out what went wrong with the previous hard drive.  I doubt the software I was installing had anything to do with it.  I do think that the hard drive was "sick" anyway, since I´ve heard that churning, grinding noise before.  I´m still holding on to my laptop and may try and sell it later on down the line.  I have not made a decision since I don´t think I would get much money for it.  I do miss Windows 3.11, since I´ve been using it at home for those 4-1/2 years while on the laptop.  But, now my eyes are no longer strained, since I am looking at a bigger monitor, and everything, including the word processing is much faster on this more powerful machine.  I hope my new toy does not have anymore major problems and lasts me for a long time. 

I hope that everyone had a successful New Year´s Eve and of course, now we will find out if anyone suffered any Y2K problems. 

If you had any personal computer problems or had any computer problems at work or with anyone you do business with, please contact me.  I would like to insert your stories in the next issue I edit, which is the May/June 2000 issue.  Bob Wallace will be discussing Y2K at our January meeting. 
This issue seems to have a theme.  Other than the review of "Hollywood Screenwriter," I´ve dedicated this issue to problems with technology and what the future holds, both good and bad.  Please see Keith Fenwick´s articles.  George Henderson appropriately contributed a timely article for this issue on the "end-task" function of "Control-Alt-Del," and you might want to have a look at his informative article.  This function is used when the software program you are using "freezes up."  You would need to use this function in order to get out of this position and gain back control of your computer.  George writes that it is important to use the end task function for "shutting down one´s programs that are running in the background," which you may need to do for adding new software programs or doing backups. 
As we enter the new century, although we have gone a long way with technology, we still have a long way to go to improve. 

Thank you for having me as your alternative editor.  Judy Oliphant suggested I use a smaller font then the last issue I put together.  I´m still pretty much experimenting.  I do hope you like this second issue I put together.  As a reminder, the next issue for March/April will be edited by Bob Wallace, so be sure to send him your articles and input.  His address is: Bob Wallace, 4003 Branson Drive, San Mateo, California 94403; e-mail address:  bwallace @slip.net. 

New memberships and renewals at $25.00 a year may also be addressed to: Bob Wallace at 4003 Branson Drive, San Mateo, California 94403. 



"The End Task Procedure 
Ctrl+Alt+Del" 

My George L. Henderson 

Whenever a user dowloads from the Internet, loads a new program into one's computer, or backups one's hard drive onto a backup tape, it is absolutely essential that the user shut down all the programs that are running at that time.  These programs are not only the application programs that the user may be using, such as a word-processor program, spreadsheet program, etc., but also the programs that are running in the background.  These programs that are running in the background are not readily apparent to the user that anything is running, such as an antivirus program and other utility programs.  When one loads a new program into one's computer, one will almost always encounter the following message during the preliminary stages of the loading operation: 

 "It is strongly recommended that you exit all Windows Programs before using the Setup Program" 
 The words "strongly recommended" that are used in this statement, are very close in meaning to the words "absolutely essential."  They were not inserted into the installation procedure of a new program just to fill up space, but to bring one's attention to something that is extremely important.  By not paying attention to what this statement is trying to tell you, could be disastrous to your computer's health.  Unfortunately, the recommendation does not go into any details on how one goes about exiting all Windows Programs, nor what pitfalls may be forthcoming if one does not heed the warning.  Also, the recommendation does not make it very clear that there are programs running in the background that must be removed also.  The chances that something may happen to one's computer if one does not follow the above recommendation are small, however if something does go wrong, it could be catastrophic, such as not being able to get back to one's Desk Top.  What happens when one of these programs turns on, even for only a fraction of a second, will temporarily halt the downloading, loading a new program, or backup procedure, and thereby prevent a file, or a portion of a file, from being loaded onto the user's hard drive.  Such a condition may prevent the program from operating properly, or contaminate one's hard drive by having only part of a file being loaded.  This portion of a file may appear to an antivirus program as a virus, because it would be unrecognizable.  This procedure is applicable only to computers that are running Windows 95 or Windows 98. 

The process of shutting down these programs that are running in the background is only a temporary measure.  As soon as the user reboots or restarts one's computer, all these programs that were running in the background will be loaded again during the process of loading windows.  It is impossible for anyone to damage or corrupt their computer in any manner by using this procedure.  One is not removing any programs permanently from one's memory or hard drive, only temporarily turning them off. 

 The procedure for shutting down one's programs that are running in the background on one's computer is as follows (Clicking the mouse in this paper shall mean clicking the left button on the mouse one time, unless noted otherwise): 
 
1.  Shut down all application programs, such as one's word-processor program,  spreadsheet program, etc., so that all that is showing on the monitor screen is one's Desk Top. 

2.  Click on the keys "Ctrl," "Alt," and "Del," simultaneously on one's keyboard. 

3.  This operation will bring up a Window that has the title "Close Program" on the Title Bar in the upper left-hand corner of the window. In the tabulation portion of the window is a list of all the programs that are running in the background on one's computer. Unfortunately, the names that are shown in this list are not clearly identifiable with any particular program that is running in the background.  Do not worry about this. There are three buttons on the bottom of the window which are titled "End Task," "Shut Down," and "Cancel." 

4.  NOTE: There is a warning statement just above the three buttons, which states "WARNING: Pressing CTRL+ALT+DEL again will restart your computer.  You will loose unsaved information in all programs that are running." This is about the worst thing that could possibly happen in this procedure, which is not a catastrophe.  It means that if one presses the CTR+ALT+DEL buttons while this window (Close Program Window) is open, one's computer will shut down.  One has only to restart the computer in order to bring it back to the Desk Top and back into a normal running condition.  Any and all tasks that had been terminated during the process of ending the tasks procedure will all be restored.  It just means one has to start all over again in terminating the various tasks, in order to complete the operation. 

5.  In order to remove the Close Program Window from the Desk Top, if one needs to terminate the End-Task Procedure at any time without completing the procedure, is to just press either the "Cancel" button or the x-button at the top right-hand corner of the window. 

6.  In order to close any of the programs that are listed in the window, one must highlight that particular program first by either using the "up" or "down" arrow button on the keyboard or by clicking on the program with the mouse.  After one of the programs has been highlighted, click on the "End Task" button.  The Close Program Window will disappear from the Desk Top. Click again on the "Ctrl," "Alt," and "Del," buttons simultaneously, and the Close Program Window will reappear.  You will now notice that the program that you selected to end is no longer on the list, which indicates that this program has been indeed closed. However, there will be several of these programs that will not close when one goes through this procedure for the first time for any of these particular programs, and therefore one must repeat the procedure for these particular programs.  It is therefore necessary to remember which program one has selected to be closed, each time one performs this procedure, and then check the list to determine if it has been removed when one opens the Close Program Window again.  For these cases, the procedure must be repeated again, which will remove the "Close Program" window again.  This time do not click on the "Ctrl," "Alt," and "Del," buttons but wait a few seconds, until another window will appear on the Desk Top, usually at the upper left-hand corner, with the title of the program that one is attempting to close, on the upper left-hand corner of the Title Bar.  There will be a statement stating that the program is not responding, etc., along with two buttons on the bottom right of the window, titled "End Task" and "Cancel."  Clicking on the "End Task" button will definitely close this particular program.  By clicking on the "Cancel" button, one will have to start over again in order to close this particular program. 

7.  Repeat the procedure in 6 above for each of the programs in the list that should be terminated.  Unfortunately, one can not select more than one program at a time in order to close them, therefore the procedure must be performed one program at a time. 

8.  There are two programs that one must never close, and these are "Explorer" and "Systray".  Explorer is the computer's operating system, such as Windows 95, and if one should inadvertently end the task of this program, then one has just closed down the operation of one's computer. There may be some wavy lines, or something similar to this, appear on the monitor screen if this happens, but nothing intelligible.  If this should happen, it is not a catastrophe, one just has to start over again.  If one has a RESET button on one's computer, then just press this button, and one's system will eventually return to one's Desk Top again.  If one does not have a RESET button, then turn your computer off, wait for about 10 seconds, and then turn it back on again. In either case, one will return to your original Desk Top, as if nothing had happened, except you must start all over again in closing one's programs that are running in the background.  All the programs that were terminated will now be back and running again in the background.  Everyone may not have "Systray" in their list.  If one doesn't, then don't worry about it. 

9.  After one has closed all the programs except Explorer and Systray, bring back the Close Program Window one last time in order to check and to be sure that everything has been removed from the list, except for Explorer and Systray.  If only Explorer and Systray are the only programs remaining, then in order to close out the Close Program Window as the final operation, click on the "Cancel" button, which will make the Close Program Window disappear, and one will now be ready for either downloading, loading a new program, or backing up one's hard drive.  Be very careful at this stage not to inadvertently click on the "End Task" button after one has checked one's results, because this will closed down your computer, since the "Explorer" is highlighted by default, and one may not be cognizant of this.  This is an easy mistake to make. 

10.  There is one more program that must also be shut down which does not show on the list in the Close Program Window, and that is the "Screen Saver" Program.  One closes down this program by clicking on the "Start" button, then moves the mouse arrow to "Settings" on the Start Menu, and then clicks on the "Control Panel" on the Submenu, which will bring up the Control Panel Window.  Double click on the "Display" icon, which looks like a Computer Monitor, and then click on the "Screen Saver" Tab.  Under the title "Screen Saver" in the middle of the window, click on the down button at the right side of the title box. Scroll up the scroll bar on the right under the down arrow until the title "(None)" appears.  Click on this title, which will now show a blank screen in the Preview Screen above.  Then go to the bottom of the window, and click on the OK button.  One's Screen Saver is now turned off.  To turn it back on again, after one has completed downloading, loading a new program, or backing up one's hard drive, just reverse this entire procedure. 

11.  After one has finished downloading, loading a new program, or backing up one's hard drive, one should reboot one's computer by shutting it down by means of the normal shut-down procedure.  In most cases, one will not arrive at the screen title which states: "It's now safe to turn off your computer," because this feature is part of one of the programs that one has terminated.  In such a case, either click on the RESET button on one's computer, or shut if off and start it again after waiting about 10 seconds. Be sure to wait a few seconds before pressing the RESET button or turning the computer off, in order to make sure everything has been shut down properly. 

12. After one reboots their computer, everything will be restored to its original configuration, and all the tasks that one had terminated will be loaded back into one's computer again and operating in the background. Everything, that is, except one's Screen Saver. Once you are back to the Desk Top, one should put the Screen Saver back on again so as not to forget it. 



Review of 'Hollywood Screenwriter'" 
By Marsha Brandsdorfer  
 
Hollywood Screenwriter (Version 3.0) is a software program designed to help a writer format scripts for television, movies, and plays.  It is on one CD rom which is easy to insert into your computer.  However, you must make sure to keep the CD Rom, for each time you need to use the program, it does tell you to install the CD Rom.  The goal of this software is to help would-be screen writers in submitting their scripts in proper formats to publishers and producers.  This program is extremely helpful for those who want to professionally write; however, you can experiment and play with this software for fun too.  Use it to write scripts for a writer's group too. 

I recently reviewed Final Draft from a competitive company, which also is a software package for writing screen plays.  I think this program is similar, but even easier to use.  My promotion copy did not come with a manual, but after my experience of using Final Draft, I was able to figure out how to use this program. 

The program gives sample scripts to help you format your script.  To write the below, I used the format the program gave for the TV show, "Caroline In the City."  It does tell you to re-save the samples immediately so as not to override them.  To find the samples, I clicked in the menu bar under "load format" and I was given many samples of TV scripts.  I used the format and typed over it with what I wanted to write.  You can easily switch around action, dialogue, etc., if you want, by clicking on the "change element" feature.  This way you are not restricted.  The program gives you "pop-up" reminders, asking you "fade in," "make a scene a shot,"etc.  There are some icons on the menu bar, including "undo," "cut," "copy," and "paste."  The program's spell check feature is great and very attractive.  When I spell checked my document, a huge orange/yellow arrow pointed to each incorrect word that needed changing.  Never has a spell checking feature been so pretty.  There is a "search" and "replace" feature.  I would think that this is especially important with script writing.  For instance, if you misspell a name, you can search and replace, to make sure the correct name is now consistent. 

I tried to copy my document over to "Rich Text," so I could adapt it to Word Perfect; however, all I got was "unknown format" and was unable to change it. 

So, I've retyped my sample here.  It will give you an idea of what Hollywood Screenwriter can do.  However, the script writing program will center everything for you, etc., automatically. 
---------------------- 

A DAY IN THE LIFE 

EPISODE TITLE: When one Life Owes Another 

COLD OPENING 
FADE IN: 

EXT. HIGHWAY - NIGHT (NIGHT 1) 
(Marsha, Lee, extras driving other cars nearby) 

MARSHA AND LEE ARE SITTING IN HER CAR ON HIGHWAY 280 NORTH; MARSHA IS DRIVING HER SMALL 1994 GEO METRO. 

LEE 

What's that on the road?  It looks like a deer! 

MARSHA 

Oh no, Lee!  It looks like we're going to hit it! 

FADE OUT. 
END OF COLD OPENING 
---------------------------- 
ACT ONE 

SCENE A 
FADE IN: 
INT. HALLWAY/INT. HOSPITAL - LATE (NIGHT 1) 
(Marsha, Lee) 

LEE IS VISITING WITH MARSHA IN THE HOSPITAL.  SHE IS LAYING ON HER BACK IN A BED.  SHE APPEARS OKAY, EXCEPT FOR LOOKING TIRED. 

MARSHA 

We were lucky Lee.  I'm glad you grabbed the wheel from me to sway away from that deer, but I do have a broken rib now from the steering wheel.  The doctors have given me pain killers. 

LEE 

(Pours Marsha some cold water from a container sitting on a nearby desk) Here, drink this.  Your lips look dry; you must be thirsty. 

A NURSE WALKS INTO THE ROOM. 
--------------------- 
You can obtain your copy of Hollywood Screenwriter from Screenplay Systems, Inc., 150 E. Olive Avenue, Suite 203, Burbank, California 91502, phone number: 818/843-6557.  Their web page is   The software costs approximately $100. 
_____________________________________________________ 
"Technology Flaws" By Keith Fenwich 

 By day I work as a driver contractor to a major New Zealand company delivering parcels.  In the jargon of the industry I'm called a courier; in reality I'm actually involved in what has become an express parcel service and is almost bordering on what could be called general cartage.  Such is the competitiveness of the New Zealand transport industry that companies have to find new ways of meeting customer freight requirements, trimming costs, or adding value to their service. Instead of just handling small parcels and courier packs, I have to deal with all kinds of freight including the proverbial kitchen sink. 

The company I work for has invested heavily in technology as a means of obtaining a competitive advantage over its competitors.  One of my customers remarked recently that my barcode scanner was like an extension of my hand because I'm always carrying it or shoving it in the face of one of his staff to obtain a signature for a delivery of an item.  From a customer or public perspective, this barcode scanner is the most obvious evidence of the investment in technology of both the company and the contracted drivers.  We have to buy, or in most cases, lease or rent the equipment in gaining a technological and competitive edge on opposition companies. 

In simple terms, the delivery and pickup data that I collect using the barcode scanner is transmitted via a mobile data terminal that sits on the dashboard of my van to our customer service center and anyone else that requires the data.  For example, we could also scan the pumps at service stations so that the data could be sent to the fuel company to assess whether the tanks need filling or monitor newspaper deliveries and sales volumes at shops. 

The primary purpose of the barcode scanner and mobile data terminal is to give real time tracking of freight in our system so that customers can obtain proofs of delivery or other information. The whole system is further enhanced by Internet interfaces that allow customers to check the status of their product without requiring the assistance of a real customer service representative.  Representatives who in the not too far removed old days would have had to laboriously check the paper equivalent of pick up or delivery information or call a driver to check that a pick up or delivery had been made. 

From a contractor's point of view, the system is great; it's simply scan and forget and there's no shagging about with lots of paper that you have to hand into the office several times a day.  From a customer's point of view, the system is great as well because if it's utilized properly then all kinds of information is only a fingertip away. 

Unfortunately, like any system, our system has a few flaws that means that we probably haven't got the edge over our opposition that we should have.  On one hand many of my fellow contractors don't understand how the correct utilization of this technology can both assist their customers and enhance their own businesses; on the other there are hardware and software issues with the technology itself. 

Too cut a long story short, the barcode scanner that I use isn't robust enough for the role that it is employed for and mine is in the process of failing completely.   This wouldn't be so bad if a spare scanner was available to replace mine, but the numbers of scanners failing for one reason or another around the Auckland region alone means that I'm at the bottom of a long waiting list that could take weeks to clear. 

  The difficulties I'm having with my barcode scanner highlight just how dependent I am on this technology and how difficult life can become when it fails.  If the scanner fails completely before a spare becomes available, it will just make my job that much harder.  My own difficulties also highlight just how dependent many of us are on technology of one kind or another in our working and personal lives. It's not an uncommon event to visit customers to pick up items only to find that there is nothing to dispatch because the computers that they use to generate orders are down.  And we all know the frustration of suddenly finding our computers suddenly refusing to work for no apparent reason, just as we complete an important letter or halfway through a download. 

The more reliant we are on technology for whatever reason, the greater the impact it has on us when it fails.  The problem isn't so much the technology itself, but the fact that in many cases it isn't as reliable as it should be as in the case of our barcode scanners.  There is some fundamental design flaws in the software or hardware used to operate it.  The potential problems associated with the missed name Y2K bug are another good example of how various issues sometimes aren't thought through well enough when technology is designed and implemented. 

I'm not a Luddite by any means, but it's a little disturbing to realize just how reliant we are on various forms of technology in our lives and how the failure of some of this technology can affect us.  It's not so bad if our washing machine fails or if our home PC decides to go on strike for some reason.  However, if a company cannot supply any product because the system they use to generate order and billing information crashes for a week, then the stakes are a lot higher.  It's evident that much of the technology we use from our home PC's to very sophisticated systems used in business aren't as reliable as we have been led to believe.  Many of us are being sold technology as a means of enhancing our personal and business lives that isn't as reliable as it should be. 

I don't know what the answer to this increasingly important issue is.  I certainly want to use my barcode scanner, but I also want it to work properly every time I switch it on.  Perhaps the answer lies in thinking through all the issues associated with implementing new technology of any kind instead of rushing headlong into setting up new systems to gain an advantage over competitors, rival suppliers, or developers.  We should have adequate backup systems available if the technology fails.  Actually being in charge of technology rather than being controlled by it is also a matter that will become more important as we implement ever more sophisticated systems.  Unless the planet is devastated by some future unknowable catastrophe that obliterates life as we know it in the western world, nothing is going to stop the advance of technological development.  I just hope that at some future time when we are finally visited by travelers from elsewhere in the universe that they don't discover a highly evolved technological society empty of people. 

http://home.iprolink.co.nz/~sam/soapbox.htm 
mailto:sam@iprolink.co.nz 
sams soapbox (C) Copyright 1999 Published by K.Fenwick, P.O. Box 90312 
Auckland N.Z. 



"Review of "The Software Conspiracy, 
 Book by Mark Minasi"                       By Marsha Brandsdorfer  

What a great book!  "The Software Conspiracy" by Mark Minasi uncovers the truth behind the software industry.  Written in easy layman terms, Minasi says that the "conspiracy" has to do with profits.  Like any other business, software companies are aiming to make money the fastest way they know how.  Many times this means releasing software to the public that has problems, or "bugs," which are software defects.  Minasi stresses that it isn't just "Microsoft" that "has the corner on bugs"   (Introduction, page xv), but that most software companies have this problem.  He says that "Software entrepreneurs (are) making millions of dollars in profits but claiming that they don't have the time and money to include quality in their design specifications." (Ibid, page xiv).  Minasi wanted to know why software companies are able to "get away with this" (Ibid, page xiv), and that's what his book is about. 
why software companies are able to "get away with this" (Ibid, page xiv), and that's what his book is about. 

Minasi explains that software defects, also know as "bugs" may cause our computers to "freeze up" on us, while we are in a program.  For instance, I find that this happens a great deal with WordPerfect.  When WordPerfect "freezes up," this causes my computer to stop responding.   Sometimes I get the "hour glass" symbol which just sits on my screen which feels like infinity.  Unless I use Control-Alt-Del, it will be infinity.  When I hit Control-Alt-Del, I am told that the program I am using is "not responding," as if I did not know that already!  Then, I have to "end task" and shut down my program altogether, losing whatever work I hadn't saved already.  Sometimes the computer "freezes up" or "locks" wherein I have to shut the entire computer down and reboot.  This is caused by "bugs." 

Minasi tells us that the computer user accepts "bugs" as standard. He says that most people have "fostering low expectations about computer reliability." (Page 7).  The computer user/consumer accepts that bugs are okay and that since most computers and software are unreliable anyway, that there is nothing we can do about it.  Minasi believes that if the consumer did not accept bugs, then software companies would have to put out better software. 

Minasi admits that he realizes that software can be difficult to write.  "Programming is a job that allows the joy of creation, and no one wants to create low-quality stuff." (Page 13)  But as with any other job, sometimes, you just have to do what the employer wants and move on to the next project.  He feels that some of the reasons that software has problems is because a) people look for the features that software provides, accept that as a motivation to buy the software, and they do not look for quality and reliability as they should, so the programmers provide this and then move on to the next task; b) the licensing agreements that consumers are pretty much forced to accept before using software have limitations; c) the consumer cannot "return" software once it is opened and the software vendor usually does not accept software returns once the package is opened; and d) most software magazines do not like to print bad reviews on software warning the consumer of potential problems. 

The author states that upgrades aren't necessarily better versions of a program.  Sometimes upgrades just have more features and "new software not only introduces new bugs, it creates costs in terms of needs for new training and, usually, new hardware, as newer software tends to be slower software." (Page 17). I agree with Minasi that a consumer should not assume that an upgrade necessarily means "better."  Hopefully, better, but you can not assume this.  I think an upgrade just means "different," perhaps more changes, more features.  I bought an answering machine once that had a lot of features, as it was a newer model than the one I had already had.  However, I actually did not like the new features, so I returned it. 

The problem with software, Minasi says in his book is that you don't always have a choice on what features you want or don't want.  He uses the analogy of buying a car.  You can see the features and some you may not want.  You may say, "Okay, I don't want that car alarm." Or, "I don't want manual transmission, I want automatic transmission."  But, with software, you get the features whether you want them or not.  But Minasi states that a new car's main features should include safety and reliability.  He says that new software should include reliability, and usually it does not. 

He has a chapter on why there are bugs in programs in the first place.  He explains that a computer program is essentially "a set of instructions that describe how to get a particular task done.  But the instructions must describe how to accomplish that task exactly, and that's where the problem arises." (Page 27) 

For instance, he gives the example wherein he asks the reader to write a list of detailed and exact instructions for starting up a car and backing it out of a driveway.  He then asks the reader, if they remembered to tell the driver to fasten his/her seatbelt.  He asks whether the reader remembered to  also include an instruction for the very small number of cars that lack seatbelts.  "Or did you forget?," he asks. (Page 27) 

Minasi says, "By the way, computer professionals don't usually take the time to say "step-by-step explanations,' as they have a handy word that means the same thing: algorithms....After developing an algorithm, programers take the next step: converting the algorithm to a programming language... Computers don't take direction in English; they take it in any number of specialized languages designed specifically for computers, called "programming languages.'" (Pages 28 & 29). 

The author states that despite years of programming, some programs have "yielded some patterns and recurring sources for bugs." (Page 31).  He mentioned the four most notorious bugs.  First of all is the year 2000 bug, which the media has since termed the Y2K bug.  This newsletter will be issued right after the New Year, so by then we'll know what problems the Y2K bug may have created for the world.  This has to do with that the fact that not all computers are year 2000 compliant.  Minasi explains that second, there are other date bugs.  Some programs have trouble with leap years, for example. 

Another common defect has to do with "limited precision bugs."  The author gives an excellent example, by describing his calculator.  "Why does my calculator only display ten digits?  Because adding more digits would require more circuits in the calculator, which would drive up the calculator's cost, and the manufacturer (probably correctly) made the decision that the vast majority of its customers would need no more (and would be willing to pay for no more) than ten digits of precision." (Page 36) 

He says that the limiting of precision or digits on his calculator has not caused him any problems, but he says it could be crucial in the space program, where precise calculations are needed. 

Lastly, "the most frustrating kind of error is called a syntax error." (Page 38) This is where software may indicate a period where a semi-colon is needed, etc.  I'm not sure I've seen a program that does this; however, I know that WordPerfect 8.0 and Word 97 have a "self-correcting" feature, which can be annoying when you are trying to type something and it changes it, because it thinks it is wrong.  I've typed the first letter in a word in small caps and the software automatically changed it to large caps, thinking that is the way it should be, and vice-versa. 

Minasi feels that since software defects (bugs) sometimes tend to show patterns, such as the notorious bugs listed above, that software can be perfected with progress.  He suggests that one way to do this is to document defects when designing and testing programs.  However, Minasi says that most software companies do not do this because programmers do not like this; it makes them feel like they are being monitored and managed.  Minasi says this is a poor excuse because most people don't enjoy this, so why should programmers be different?  He says that there are a shortage of programmers in many different fields, and so the programmers have the upper hand.  They can threaten to leave and go to another job, if a manager states that he will begin monitoring the programmer's work.  Plus, since there really is no way to measure how long a project is going to take anyway, programmers feel it is difficult to try and measure the process.  "Talk to a software company about why its people don't use quality processes...and you won't hear the reasons you just read.  Instead of the reasons, you'll hear the excuses: it would cost too much...people don't want/need that much reliability in their word processor/Web browser/e-mail program..."(Page 59) 

The author feels this is nonsense, of course.  Good enough software is not good enough. 

Minasi says that software companies/vendors also want to "control how you use their products" in their software licensing.  (Page 93)  Minasi has a entire section in his book about licensing, which he is totally against. 

He writes, "Virtually every software license I've ever seen tries to limit your ability to rent or lease the software.  Some licenses actually claim that you cannot sell or give away the software without the vendor's permission.  In other words, I can sell you my old computer but I can't sell you the programs on that computer.  Just imagine if booksellers tried this.  Libraries wouldn't exist.  Used bookstores wouldn't exist." (Page 93) 

He says "Why is the industry playing such hardball? Why do companies want software licenses to be so anticonsumer?" (Page 129) Minasi says that the software companies do this because they can do it. 

So, how can the consumer fight back?  Minasi says that the consumer should expect more.  He says consumers should "let the managers of computer magazines know that quality's important to you and so you need to know how good a product really is or isn't. Write a letter to the editor of your favorite computer periodical and urge him or her to print the bad as well as the good." (Page 189)   He does suggest that the media can have a strong influence. 

Also, he suggests contacting your representatives at the state and federal level.  He says to ask them to advocate such laws as: a) requiring software companies to make known bugs public knowledge; b) require the companies to make the terms of software licenses available to the consumer before he/she purchases the software; and c) require software companies to support older software releases for at least ten years, so that upgrades are not necessary, due to lack of technical support. 

In the meantime, he stresses a good defense on using the present software is to back-up your data often. 
This book was an excellent eye-opener, because as you can see, Minasi brings up may good points, and wants to show the public that they do not have to be accepting to the ways of software industry as they presently are structured.  Perhaps things will change in the next few years.  I highly recommend this book. 



 "Print on Demand" by Keith Fenwick 

The other day, I picked up an previous issue of Time (August 8 1999), and flicking through it I found an interesting article on a publishing process known as Print on Demand or POD.  The POD process involves storing a book digitally, which can then be printed off on a machine that prints and binds a quality soft cover or paperback book.  The machine that makes this possible apparently resembles half a dozen copiers lined up end to end which can print up to 800 pages a minute.  The beauty of this system is that it allows print runs of books, even a book at a time, to be printed and sold in small quantities - almost instantly.  Not only are the digitally stored books available as paperbacks but they are also available as Etexts.  This technology system along with the imminent arrival of cheap versatile palmtop or mini computers is set to  revolutionize the book publishing industry.  The full Time Magazine article " The 60-Second Book" by Walter Kirn, as reported in the 8/2/99 issue can be found at http://www.1stbooks.com/time.htm. 
Along with other forms of electronic publishing, POD has the potential do away with the local bookshop.  Or maybe not.  One of the problems that businesses and consumers are grappling with today is how this kind of technology is going to affect the way we shop.  Already we can go to places like http://www.amazon.comAmazon.com or locally in New Zealand at http://www.flyingpig.co.nz to buy CD's, books, and videos and participate in auctions. Apart from needing a computer and an Internet connection to shop this way, there's something to be said for actually going out to shop.  Shopping malls, the supermarket, or the local bookstore aren't likely to become a thing of the past anytime soon, but their role and appearance is probably going to be vastly different from the one they fill today. 
In the years to come instead of going to a bookshop with shelves crammed full of books when we are looking for something to read, we may instead find a shop with a few shelves of best sellers and books by proven authors printed and published in the conventional manner.  This bookshop of the future will also have some kind of publicity and browsing system that will allow us to search through title lists of every book that's ever been written.  When we find something we like, the look of it can then be spat out using the POD technology or we may prefer an Etexts version that we can read via whatever computerized system we have at our disposal. 
The advantages of this kind of technology for all concerned are obvious.  Writers struggling to get published and get any kind of publicity now have another avenue to explore in terms of self-publishing. It is pertinent to note that many well known writers originally self published their work. For a list of these writers and some popular titles that originally got exposure through self-publishing visit http://www.1stbooks.com/bigbooks.htm.  In the future, bookshops won't need to keep hundreds of titles in stock and can print off even fairly obscure or out of print titles at the flick of a switch.  There are even advantages for publishers who now don't have to run the risk of printing large runs of books that may not sell but can easily supply any demand for a particular title.  Imagine the potential cost savings that will result in the publishing and distribution process and the forests that will be left standing as a result.  Will it mean cheaper books?  That remains to be seen, but that should be the case.  The Time article suggests that the traditional publishing industry turns over something like US$27.5 billion.  I don't know whether this figure relates to the United States alone or reflects the size of the industry internationally which includes magazines and newspapers and electronic media.  But by any stretch of the imagination publishing is a huge industry and as this kind of technology becomes more prevalent it is in for a huge shake up. 

The changes that are going to be wrought through this new technology in the publishing industry and most likely the movie and music industries for example are not just going to be economic ones.  The ability to use many different channels to publish and distribute work is going to have big advantages for writers, the movie producers, and musicians, to get their work out into the public eye.  On the other hand, it maybe more difficult to retain control over how they are recompensed for their work given how easy it is to copy electronic products and set up bootleg or pirate distribution systems. This is something that the music industry is grappling with given the recent and largely free MP3 music files over the Internet.  These new production and distribution systems will also give us as consumers far more choice in where, how and what we read, watch and listen to, hopefully at a lower cost than we now pay.  Not only will the middlemen, the publishers and distribution companies have to ponder the economic side of the situation but they will also have to assess their role in publicizing work.  The consumers' ability to choose might alter the whole industry conception of what is popular and what isn't, what's a surefire seller and what's not.  This is something that may make the publishing of large conventional runs of so called popular authors or even producing a so-called blockbuster movie a very risky business. 

While people are trying to use the Internet as a means to get rich quickly in the way people flocked to gold rushes last century, I'm always getting e-mail encouraging me to join various MLM, chain letter or other pyramid types schemes.  It's slowly becoming clear what the Internet as a whole can do for established businesses and what niches are available for new ones.  Products like books in digital or conventional form, music, software, and services like cyber sex are naturals for the growing e-commerce, because they are easily portable, low cost and also don't cost a lot to ship around the world.  If I go shopping for a book over the Internet, I'm most likely looking for something specific or by a particular author. If I don't like the book when it arrives I can toss it in a corner and not worry about it.  It would be a different story if I bought a car or a house over the Internet sight unseen bar what I saw via my computer and then suddenly realized that it wasn't what I was really after.  But what the Internet does do for me with these large ticket items is allow me to make an initial enquiry in regards to matters like price, specifications, and gives me some idea of what's available without having to endure the hard sell approach of a real estate agent or a car salesperson.  In it's present state of evolution the Internet and it's associated electronic or technological developments offer new means of communicating between individuals and businesses and opens up a lot of opportunities in the dissemination of ideas and information in a way that has never been possible until now.  Everyone from a multinational corporation to a farmer trying to promote his bed and breakfast operation in 
Whykickamoocow can cheaply and effectively promote themselves to the world.  The Internet is also a great vehicle for buying and selling low cost and easily portable products and ordering products where the consumer knows exactly what he is getting.  Ordering stationery products, for example, or the distribution of data between a client and a supplier so that stocks are kept at an optimum level. Home grocery shopping is already a reality, though as far as I'm concerned the packing and delivery costs outweigh the utility of having my groceries delivered to me. 

In terms of technology like the POD system and the use of the Internet, I started to think about what other kinds of products would be naturals for this kind of treatment.  Sometime fairly soon it should be possible to order customized clothing and shoes via the Internet or via some other kind of electronic system.  We can already purchase clothing and shoes over the Internet of course, but it's still a hit and miss system unless you know exactly what you want.  The key word here is customization.  It shouldn't be too hard to develop a person's physical profile that can be stored at a virtual tailor's or clothing shop along with dislikes and likes in terms of style and the content of an existing wardrobe.  Then when a person needs to purchase new clothing, whether it be undergarments or shoes, a coat, or a new suit he simply places an order to a fully automated system which would manufacture the product and despatch it.  Imagine having that favorite pair of strides eternally or being able to change your image with the click of a mouse button.  If the publishing industry is about to undergo vast change in the way it operates, then industries like clothing manufacturing can't be too far behind. 

The implications of these changes in the way we buy sell and create all manner of products are going to be far reaching. Recently for example, I read an article about a shopping mall owner in the United States that had forbidden any of its tenants to use any form of Internet-related advertising because it was worried about the impact of the surge in Internet shopping on its own business.  Property companies with large portfolios of commercial property are going to have to reassess the role of shops and malls in the economy of the 21st century and beyond.  The role of the shop won't die; they may become more specialized or fulfill a different role and shop owners and their landlords will need to look at new methods of attracting and retaining customers. 

The changes we will also have a profound affect on whole economies. Computerization of the clothing manufacturing industry will reverse the flow of garments from the sweatshops of poorer parts of the world into the wealthier western countries, because initially only the western nations will have the infrastructure and the sophistication to develop these systems.  The changing economy will also have an affect on transport companies and their delivery systems, on warehousing and storage companies, and on the suppliers of raw materials as it becomes more critical to have product delivered on time and have the flexibility to cope with sudden increases in demand. 

It's a sobering thought to wonder just how as individuals we will fit into this new world that is slowly developing around us.  The development of this kind of super-industrial age is going to affect us wherever we live and the real challenge for humanity over the next centuries is how people are going to fit into it.  Although the present trend is for people to be working longer and harder at some point in the future, there are going to be less jobs available as whole industries are automated and the need for human input is reduced.  In such a scenario the jobs will be at the high end and low end of the present employment spectrum and there maybe never enough of them to go around.  What are the rest of us going to do and how are we going to derive an income to be a part of this new age? 

http://home.iprolink.co.nz/~sam/soapbox.htm 
mailto:sam@iprolink.co.nz 
sams soapbox (C) Copyright 1999 Published by K.Fenwick, P.O. Box 90312 
Auckland N.Z. 
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CALENDAR 

Meetings are always the second Thursday of the month at 222 Laurel Street, at 7:30 p.m.  Cross streets are Oak and Hull.  Please do not park directly in front of the building.  You may park at the lot behind the stores at Oak and El Camino, or park down the street, parking in front of the building is reserved for residents of the complex.  Look for signs leading to the meeting room. 

January 13, 2000: "In January, we are going to have as our speaker, Bob Wallace talking about Y2K problems.  If any one has any problems with their computers, they are invited to bring them in at that meeting and we will see if we can fix it."  - Judy Oliphant 

February 10, 2000: At the time of publication, scheduling had not been determined.  Lee Hill suggests checking our club web site for an update.  Remember, it is www.sfpcc.org.  You can also check out Judy Oliphant's page, which is: www.sirius.com/~jlo. 
 - ed.   

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