Google’s planning to take over your Internet Explorer browser. Do you even know what that means?

This is a long musing on the basic understanding that people have about computers.

It started when I read an article (“Chrome for Clunkers”: Google’s ingenious plan to spruce up outdated versions of Internet Explorer..) sent to me by someone in the tech support department at work — the same tech support department where I worked for 7 years.

Included with this article is this very interesting video…. which explains why I am a pain in the ass about having technology that works on our clients’ machines, whether they know it or not.

Now let’s say I’m one of the folks from the video you just watched. I’m “not computer savvy”. “I’m not a computer person.” I probably know that the internet is connected to my computer and that web pages are on the internet. I probably have heard of Google, Internet Explorer, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, and a couple of other computer or internet related terms. When asked what browser I’m using, I might answer “Google”, “Yahoo”, Outlook”, or my personal favorites “Office” or “Word”. (Yes, when working tech support I did in fact get these answers regularly, or worse. I know I’m dating myself here, but no, “Pentium” is not your web browser either.) In really bad scary cases, when asked what operating system I run, I’ll answer “Dell”.

Hopefully, I understand what a “program” or an “application” is, probably because I have to go to my Applications folder to double-click an application. If I work in an office, there’s a better chance that I’m more computer-savvy than I think I am — I know what Word is, and how to run it, how to switch to other applications, and that new applications or updates require you to install them. But I can’t clear my cache (or even tell you what it is) without help, and even when I do know how I don’t always know why, I know that the tech support guy at [name company here] told me to do it. I probably know I have an internet service provider because I pay them, but I might not know what kind of internet connection I have. I’m not really sure where my computer ends and the Internet starts, unless it’s not working, and then I can tell because my computer ends where the error messages start.

I’m a firm believer in computer-voodoo. The last time I had X problem I cleared the cache, and it worked, even though the problem was with Word recognizing my printer. So I do it every time. I always close the windows in a certain order because one time I didn’t and the computer crashed and it took me three days to get it running again. I don’t let anyone on the home phone when I’m on the internet, even though my ISP is a cable provider, because 3 years ago when we were on dial-up it didn’t work, and a few weeks ago Susie answered the phone while I was online and the computer caught a virus.

If I knew the answer to the question, “what is a web browser?” I wouldn’t need to ask. But the Internet knows everything, so I’d open my web browser by clicking the blue E and type “what is a web browser” into a search field.

If I’m using Yahoo, I get 2 sponsored links by Microsoft for downloading Internet Explorer 8 (that don’t explain what a web browser is), 2 sponsored links by companies trying to fix my web browser (that don’t explain what it is), and then an article by Wikipedia that is so text-dense and jargon-heavy that you need a grade 12 reading level to slog through (according to MS Word’s Flesch scale, anyway). So we’ll grade that as “not useful”.

Next up: this beast, where the content is useful (assuming you know what the world wide web is and why you’d want to translate it from code) but the layout and the absolute vomit of text on the screen are so bad that I couldn’t slog through it without using Readability. We’ll grade that “mostly helpful” if I have the patience to digest ye olde wall o text, but it does nothing to tell me my next most natural question: what is my web browser?

And finally (because I couldn’t torture myself much longer), there’s this article by About, which once again assumes you know what the Web, but at least doesn’t make things worse by adding a bunch of jargon, at least for a few paragraphs.

Switch to Bing… and I found mostly links to places to download web browsers (all of which assume you know what one is), as well as the aforementioned article from Wikipedia. Grr.

So… switch to Google… and I found this:

Made by “some folks at Google”, this video at least gets to the heart of the problem — people don’t know a browser from a search engine from anything else. The 1-minute video addresses that basic misunderstanding and gives folks a leg to stand on. Finally! A+++ will watch again.

But to be honest, the whole experience made me sad.

People need, and expect, their computers to “just work”. They believe that they shouldn’t have to know how the inside of their computer functions any more than they need to know how their car’s catalytic converter functions. Yet, the level of understanding that many people have about their computers is more equivalent to understanding whether they’re driving an automatic or a stick shift, and whether satellite radio is pulling music in from outer space or there are 10,000 tiny bands stored in the trunk playing on demand.

We, as web designers, architects, developers, etc. need to produce pages that “just work”. We need them to “just work” in a cost-effective manner — we can’t spend thousands of dollars testing software that nobody’s using. And we want to move on to developing for the front edge of technology, where things are faster, more stable, more effective, and easier to use. In fact, they’re easier for us to use to develop web pages that are faster and easier for our users to use.

But we need to do something about the “I’m not a computer person” crowd — the ones that “aren’t internet savvy”, who use Internet Explorer 6 because they can’t upgrade, or they’re afraid to upgrade, or they just don’t know better. They’re standing in their own way, and they don’t even know it.

My question, and I have no answers, is how do we get normal not-using-computers-all-day people to understand their machines well enough that they’re not looking for the 10,000 bands in their trunk? How do we help people get out of their own way so their computers just work?

On the other side of the clutter problem.

Thursday I found the living room and my desk. Now technically I have two desks – there’s the new computer desk, and there’s the old do-all-the-mail-and-stuff desk. The old desk was buried under a stack of paperwork about two feet high, prior to Thursday.

It took all day (and I mean ALL day) but I processed about six months of filing, including creating new empty files for 2008, cleaned my desks, took care of all the paperwork, and put away everything in the household financial category.

It also generated about three bags of trash and the breaking down of a ton of cardboard (Amazon is my friend, but the other side of Christmas usually looks like I’ve been running a warehouse), which was too bad because trash is usually picked on on Thursday at 6 AM. So everything I’ve processed since then has to sit out in the trash closet until Monday when they come again.

Yesterday Nighthawk wasn’t feeling well, so instead of continuing the decluttering, I played Final Fantasy XII for eight hours or so. I’m now about to break 160 hours, and and on my way down to the Feywood for the first plot-related time. I’m also around level 60. Yes, I’m doing way too much, and yes, you probably could have beat the game twice in the same amount of time. But I’m happy.

Yesterday evening my kid sister and her awesome boyfriend came over and picked up an old G3 450 Mac that we always said we were going to donate to a school but didn’t actually accomplish until after the schools said nothing lower than a G4 please, a PC case we’d never gotten around to using, about six or eight games, and an assortment of other oddball things that we didn’t need but that college students are always glad to take for free. As for me, I was just happy to get them out of my house.

After that, I went out for drinks and snacks and dessert with my friend Steen and we had a great girls’ night out over at Applebees, land of the half-price appetizers after 9pm. Their mini-desserts rock, too.

JessieDog wasn’t feeling well last night and wouldn’t settle down in the bedroom where my nice warm husband and nice soft bed are located. Around 4:30 I brought her downstairs and by 5:30 we were curled up together on the sofa fast asleep. I love the time I spend with her cuddling like that but would have loved it more if it hadn’t been on what’s rapidly becoming the sofa from hell.

Today I putzed around the house for a little while, and then decided that my back and knees weren’t going to recover from the sofa that rapidly, so I might as well wreck them further. I emptied every single cabinet in the kitchen including the food cabinets, and cleaned out the refrigerator. The entire first floor looked like a kitchen had exploded.

The thing about two people living in a house as compared to five, is that with five people there’s always someone who’s eventually desperate enough to eat food before it spoils. With two people, you buy something because it looked delicious at the time, but three days later it doesn’t sound as good or you get invited out instead or whatever. As time goes by, that food doesn’t necessarily leave (especially not dry goods) but it doesn’t get eaten either… and eventually you don’t have room for the new food you do eat, but there’s “nothing to eat” in the house either. That’s when it’s time to audit the fridge and cabinets, and that resulted in a bag of disgusting items exiting earlier today. (I’m pretty sure that Thanksgiving’s egg nog had reached the Bronze era of tool development.)

JessieDog managed tog get herself trapped in the maze of stuff four times during this process.

Once the food was put away I was able to weed through the equipment zoo and pull the duplicates — cake pans that had been replaced with new silicone, a coffee maker that had bit the dust, the foreman grill being replaced by the cuisinart grill, four basting brushes… That was the easy stuff.

Then I had the hard decisions to make. Do I really need four glass casserole dishes? Why keep a peanutbutter stirrer that I’d never use? How many coffee mugs are too many? Would Mom and Dad use these six bottles of spices that I accidentally bought twice faster than Nighthawk and I? Where’s the dog now?

Having put away the mass majority of the mess, I took a nice interlude to my folks’ place, where we enjoyed plum pudding and played killer bunnies with all the expansion decks for the first time. That rocked.

Then, returned home and put away the rest of the kitchen, took out the other two bags of trash (the trash men are going to have a coronary on monday), straightened up outside, boxed up six boxes (small ones) of the kitchen supplies I no longer need so they can go to my siblings and/or goodwill in the near future, hauled everything upstairs for storage, and finally sat down.

My house is as close to clean as it’s going to get for a good long time. And that’s good because my back and knees will kill me if I do much more than that.

It’s totally liberating, though, to be able to find the things I use. Most things didn’t move at all, but those that did were either moved to reachable locations, or disposed of altogether so I can reach things. I can find things. Things aren’t crushing other things. Every food item in the house is currently edible. I don’t have three bottles of cinnamon. The dog can find the floor. There are files for the filing, and there aren’t boxes stacked in front of the filing cabinets. All the computers are actually being used actively.

And having done all of that, I can enjoy the last three days of my weekend knowing that I’ll be going into the new year lighter and more ready to face the world.

After I sleep, that is.

It never rains but it goes and rains harder

So Nighthawk’s home and slowly regaining his voice, still nowhere near 100% but a lot better than he was a week ago. (Well, not a whole week ago. Exactly this time last Monday they hadn’t made the first cut yet and he was feeling fine. But, you know, a week ago by say, 1:00.)

It’s a good thing that he’s feeling so well, too, because our heater just quit and he’s sitting at home under a massive pile of blankets waiting for the repairman.

The freakin’ heater was only just installed in June-ish, so I’m a bit perturbed. It does explain why we’ve spent the past few days noticing that the heater seems to run an awful lot and it still seems cold. I don’t think the ice building up on the outside of the condenser was exactly an advertised feature, either.

At least it’s almost sunny out….

Things I learned today.

Today I learned:

  • When you describe your symptoms to your OB-GYN’s office and they say, “Oh, we want to see you right away!” they really mean, “Unless you changed insurance recently and we don’t take your new stuff. Then you can kiss off. Or pay out-of-pocket. Your choice.”
  • Cheddar cheese ramen is very hot and very filling, but won’t be enough food to get you from 12:30 pm to 9:30 pm. Two cans of coca cola and a reece’s fast break are also required.
  • HP computers boot too damn fast for you to spot the “press this for boot list” key if you don’t know where to look on the screen.
    • It’s worse if your co-worker is yelling to press “delete” because that’s what his computer at home uses but the ones at work use f-9.
    • PC users are used to this kind of bios crap. Mac users hold down the C key when they want to boot from CD. We’re spoiled.
  • Even though the PS2 port for keyboard and mouse are the same shape, PCs get really pissy when you get the two plugs confused.
  • Even I can install Windows XP.
  • When you call your boss at 9:30 at night, he doesn’t expect you to tell him that you’re just now leaving work, especially if your shift was supposed to end at 7.
  • The steak sandwich place closes at 10. Domino’s does not.
  • Sometimes Friday can feel like a week unto itself.

Deflating Wheels

On Philly Future someone linked to a website pleading the Phillies to fire Chris Wheeler from the Phillies announcing team. Why? Because it’s been leaked that the Phillies are talking about putting Wheels on for all 9 innings of each game, and moving Larry Anderson to strictly radio annoucement.

Now, an argument can be made that in some ways, Chris Wheeler is a better “announcer” than Larry Anderson. He’s got an extensive memory of Phillies history and current events around the league.

But really, his ability to announce isn’t the part that is up for debate in the minds of most Phillies fans I know. The part for debate is whether he’s actually worth listening to. I can’t tell you how many years I’ve spent listening to games and hearing Wheeler complain about a decision the umpires made or a choice the manager made where Wheeler was just plain wrong, and anyone who was capable of seeing the replay on their television was capable of seeing it. Wheeler is too often a complainer and a homer and an idiot.

Larry Anderson, on the other hand, has never pretended to play the role of the full announcer – he’s an excellent color commentator, leaving the announcing of balls and strikes and such to Harry Kalas or Scott Graham. He’s frequently played the same role for nationally-televised games — never asked to be the announcer, but providing color to broadcasts for Fox Sports when the Phillies have played. He’s fun to listen to.

Phillies fans like Anderson. We’re not so hot on Wheeler. For that matter, rumor has it that those preferences follow for the staff in the booth. I’m strongly hoping the Phillies organization thinks hard about the decisions they make for staffing the booth this year — they won’t drive more people to the stadium by annoying the hell out of them at home.


So I was writing – but I didn’t start until after 10 and sometime around 1 an old friend popped online to say hi, and well, one thing led to another and the next thing I know I’m reading his blog until 3 am. I can’t say I followed all of his writing – seeing as I’m not up on either the latest political scandals or on off-Broadway theater – but he’s still very well-spoken and entertaining. Oh, and he linked to this and this which I thought y’all might find interesting as well.

On a totally different note, the web usability geek in me was amused at the serious cognitive dissonanace I hit when I first started reading Matt’s blog, because he’s using the same Blogger template as my friend Ginia and the two couldn’t be much more different. So, backgrounds and fonts and such really do make an impression – guess I’d better get off my butt and finish tweaking the design and layout for this place. The forum template I’m desigining is functional but essentially a disaster.

And it’s obvious that I’m rambling at this point (I think I’m allowed; it’s 3:20 am after all), here’s a quick wrap-up of the Thanksgiving holiday for those who are interested.

First, I forgot to take pictures. My apologies.

Wednesday I made the mashed potatoes and the sweet potatoes, an act that was punctuated by my overheating my favorite Corning dish empty on a burner I thought I’d shut off and then attempting to pick up the superheated ceramic – which resulted in a small burn on my right hand and my favorite dish in razor-sharp shards all over the kitchen floor. But since it was superheated, they were melted to the kitchen floor. High quality linoleum in the kitchen, obviously. I’m still damned pissed at myself for the carelessness, but have stopped beating myself up because I’m the only one hurt and that’s minor.

Thursday was Thanksgiving itself, which went off pretty much without a hitch. Alton Brown’s turkey brine recipes are excellent, by the way. My family and Nighthawk’s converged here to eat and I think everyone had a pretty good time.

Friday, both Nighthawk and I felt run over by a bus – exhaustion, stress, etc. and slept in late, accomplished nothing. Sinus/migraine all day, possibly dehydration, hard to tell ’cause I can’t concentrate through the pain to analyze it.

Now it’s 3:30 Saturday and I need to sleep. By Tuesday (my next day back at work) my sleep schedule will be total hell. Whee.

Bad Hoof

So a few weeks ago the arch of my right foot started to ache — not all the time, but sometimes when I walk on it funny or I’m on it too long. I stopped exercising to give it a chance to heal, but it’s been two weeks and healing has not accomplished itself according to plan. Went to the doctor today and he’s diagnosed tendon pulls with a possible very small fracture as well. X-rays were accomplished before work and all it theoretically going according to the new plan: advil, and heel cups in my shoes.

Of course it doesn’t help that the heel cup, while probably helping the tendons quite a bit, are making the bone ache like all hell.

What’s annoying (outside of the pain and inconvenience) is that I can’t walk the dog. But maybe that’s a blessing in disguise, considering that she’s currently scheduled for a specialist appointment later this week for a bad shoulder.

Anyway, today’s afternoon forecast is slightly grouchy with a chance of grousing, well on until morning.