The weekly update will have to wait for tomorrow, because right now it’s lame, and I have much work to do this evening. About the John Edwards choice I have nothing to say that hasn’t been said elsewhere, but I do find it amusing that these guys are all so steeeenking rich. You have a guy whose wife is worth a cool billion and another guy with several dozen million running on a platform of hiking taxes on people who make 200K. Class warfare, man!

Anyway, here we go. Rant & post, unedited. Begin:

You’ll never hear me say that Microsoft is evil. Have you studied evil? Philosophically, it’s remarkably coherent and efficient. Simple. Messy, yes, but there’s an underlying logic. Microsoft is evil? You wish.

I don’t have the usual raving hatred for Microsoft that results from constant use of its products. I’m a Mac guy. I write in Word, a decent enough word-processing program – it has 293,941 more features than I require and some baffling features I cannot shut off. Would you like me to indent this numbered series for you, sir? No. Fine, I shall indent them to the best of my ability. No, don’t. I see you have typed the number two followed by a period – now you sit right back while I indent. No! Knock it off! But otherwise it’s fine. I don’t use Internet Explorer, because it’s ugly as a flaming monkey butt and thinks that the Mac interface means you stick gummi icons everywhere. Plus, it has 17 toolbars, and for all I know installs back doors in my system that let Bulgarian virus writers use my machine to park code that hoovers up credit-card numbers and resells them to Burmese pimp-rings. You never know. I use Windows at work. The interface hails from 1998, because institutional upgrades are a big thing; we’ll probably go straight to Longhorn. In 2009.

So I’m not a big fan. But I will come to their defense for the anti-trust suits. Minnesota just settled a suit with the state of Minnesota, where millions of consumers were apparently forced at gunpoint to buy Windows machines. Microsoft once again promised to hand over its wallet if the kicking stopped, and agreed to remain rolled in a fetal position until the money is counted. The verdict was around eleventy trillion dollars or so. When it came to distribute the organs of the corpose the lawyers got the liver, spleen, lungs and most of the brain; the consumers got some regulatory glands, some teeth and a selection of minor toes. I think we get a certificate for ten bucks off on future Microsoft purchases. If the consumers don’t claim the money, some goes back to Bill and some goes to an education fund. The trick, of course, is to get people to claim their money. Florida lead the pack: 18 % of the consumers stepped forward. Obviously they need higher participation rates, since it looks bad when you advocate on behalf of an Inflamed Public that turns out to be utterly indifferent to the supposed offense. So the state has come up with a novel means of informing citizens that Microsoft owes them money. It was buried at the end of the story in the local paper last week.

The state will subpoena local computer resellers to learn who bought PCs.

Maybe it’s just me, but: imagine the outcry if the Justice department decided it wanted a database of computer ownership in America. Who had what. Oh no you don’t would be the general reaction, even if people couldn’t quite explain why they didn’t like the idea. It smacks of typewriter-registration laws in totalitarian states, even though we all know no one will kick down the door and demand to know where you put that 386 you bought in ‘92. But this is the mindset of the well-intentioned government lawyer: gee, people might not claim their rebates. How about we use the power of the state to force private businesses to turn over customer lists so we can mail informational material to computer owners? It’s for their own good. Who could complain?


And double grrr: have I mentioned my ongoing war with the satellite installers? I really cannot complain, since we’re talking esoteric toys here. It has to do with the HDTV upgrade. The last piece in the system arrived a few weeks ago – an HDTV TiVo. My gift to myself after signing the last book contract. I called DirecTV to install a new dish and upgrade an outlet. They sent a guy. He said the roof was too high; he needed a bigger ladder. Rescheduled the install. Another team shows up, wires everything according to my wishes. The HDTV TiVo finally arrives; I plug it in, and it doesn’t work because the installers screwed up. Rescheduled the install. A team shows up. They said the roof was too high. They needed a bigger ladder. I had told the dispatchers they’d need a forty-footer, but this was somehow forgotten. Rescheduled the install. A team shows up. They can’t fix the problem without installing a multiplexer, because the previous team installed a diplexer, don’t you know. That’s going to cost you.

I call DirecTV. They agree that the first team screwed up; they’d eat the install cost if I paid for the multiplexer. Fine. Rescheduled the install. I made a point of stressing the need for a taller ladder. They understood.

Last Friday the installer dispatcher contacts me to confirm the date and time. I note that I need a taller ladder. She is surprised – first she’s heard of it! She promises to add it to the work order.

Today the install team shows up. They walk around, peer up at the roof, make notes. The crew chief comes to my door: we don’t have a tall enough ladder.

I taste blood and bile. I note that I had specifically requested a taller ladder. He shows me the notes on the sheet: there it is, you sure did ask for it, but we only have one ladder, and it’s on another job. I ask for the name and number of his supervisor, and bid him good day.

Call supervisor. “Well, we only have one 40-foot ladder,” he says, “and it’s on another job.”

Pause. “And this is my problem, how?”

“Well, to be honest in 30 percent of the cases, they don’t really need a ladder that tall, even if it says they do.”

“But I do. If they' d called first I could have told them that.”

“Well, I don’t know what I can do, since the other ladder is in Burnsville.”

Pause. “And this is my problem, why?” I know, I know – I wasn’t being Mr. Nice. I wasn’t nasty or abusive or loud or hectoring, but this guy was being a total prack for no reason. He didn’t care. Hey, who has the tall house? You have the tall house. Deal with it. He said he’d call his field manager. Fine. You do that. The field manager calls me back – from Burnsville! He can be at Jasperwood at four. Fine. Well, not fine, since I’ve eked out five three-hour periods to wait for these guys, and this morning they were supposed to come at 9 but came at 1:30, but fine.

I call DirecTV, explain my situation kindly but firmly. They offer to repay me with three months of Showtime. As the customer rep explains what she wants to give me, I flip over to the Showtime channel. Black screen. When I agree to be mollified with 90 days of sweet premium cable, she types something on her end and spang! The pictures appear in my living room. Remarkable. They do control the vertical. They do control the horizontal.

Four o’clock comes and goes. Five o’clock. Five thirty. I use caller ID to find the number of the field manager; I leave a message. I call the dispatcher, who tells me the field manager is caught up in traffic. His tone of voice: screw you and dish you sailed in on.

Six o’clock. The installer arrives. He looks at the roof. “They didn’t need a forty footer for this one,” he says. He gets to work.

Then the rain starts. He’s up there on my roof in the rain, and I am certain that the logical conclusion to this day is Mr. Installer falling two stories into the hosta bed. While he’s up there, the phone rings: it’s a guy in Fargo, North Dakota. I’ve never met him, but I did once mention some anti-Bush T-Shirts he produced in a Star Trib column, and he has been to my website and liked my designs and my Fargo stuff, and he was genuinely sorry that he was not the cable installer. See, I’d misdialed the field manager’s number and got a guy in Fargo. The Fargo guy mentions a friend’s website – I might like it! I’m jotting down the URL when caller ID beeps in. I say goodbye, take the call.

It’s the installer, calling from my roof. The ladder slipped. He can’t get down. Could I help?


“Who was that?” my wife asked.

“First it was an anti-Bush guy in Fargo, then it was the DirecTV guy up on the roof on his cell. He's stranded.”


The installer comes in, checks everything. Nothing works. The dish can’t find the bird. He roots around, discovers more bass-ackwardry committed by the first installer, fixes it. Voila. By now it’s 7:30. He’s had a long day. He’s soaking wet. He has a wife and kid at home, waiting. “Did I need a multiplexer?” I ask; he says no. So there’s no additional expense for me. Great. I do the right thing, get out my wallet, and give him some extra green. Half the cost of the multiplexer. Whatever the hell that is.

Before he goes we check the system out. We run through the channels. We’re missing the off-air HDTV feeds from the antennae. We’re missing 20 channels.

“Give me my money back,” I say. We laugh. It's a Larry David moment. If I were Larry David I would have made a concise logical argument for getting my tip back. Cue the oompah music, next scene. Love that Lar!

He’s coming back tomorrow to fix it. Probably have to run an extra line off the antennae into an HDTV splitter: sixty bucks.
One service call turned into seven. One three-hour wait window turned into 21 hours. I can still see the original installer who screwed everything up – scrawny, nervy, tar-stained teeth, a lummox associate whom you expected to say “I will do a good job George I will get the diplexer from the van and I will hold it and pet it and hold it and pet it.”

All so I can call up the HDTV feeds, and think:

Golf. Again. I hate golf.


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