ON THE TOOLS OF MY TRADE—AND MY LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH THEM.
I think it's fair to say that personal computers have become the most empowering tool we've ever created. They're tools of communication, they're tools of creativity, and they can be shaped by their user.
I have been using MS Windows Live Writer to blog in—and love it—but several things about it drive me nuts:
· I don’t know where it stores its files.
· It doesn’t make local storage clear and intuitive.
· It only lists 9 recently used files—so that if you blog ahead, as I like to do sometimes, and have, for instance, 12 blogs—you will still only see 9. The titles of the remaining 3 will not be seen. In effect, files appear to vanish. They don’t of course, but I don’t quite understand the logic of when they appear and when they don’t (assuming there is some).
· MS don’t seem to be either supporting or developing it.
· There isn’t an adequate help menu.
Since Windows Live Writer is free, I probably have no right to complain, but I do wish MS had finished the job and made it more usable—even if they charged for it.
I’m now going to try drafting my blogs in MS Word and we’ll see how that works out. At least I should be able to keep track of all my blogs by title—which will be a great relief. I get a sinking feeling when work vanishes—or appears to vanish.
I’ve been using a computer since 1986 so you would think I would have mastered the things by now. I haven’t. I have no natural talent for computing at all. On top of that, I suffer from a form of dyslexia which makes the situation even worse. For instance, I have great trouble with file management even though I understand the tree system perfectly well. But I have a tendency to forget the names of the files I set up.
Yes, even I am shaking my head at that one.
One of the advantages of working in a conventional office is that there is normally computer support available—either on a formal or informal basis. When you work by yourself, as I do, it is all too easy for little problems to become big ones—and, right now, I don’t have an always-on-tap guru (a deficiency I am currently in the process of remedying).
I really did grow up in the age of the dip pen and liquid ink—though I graduated to a fountain pen when I was about ten. This was cutting-edge technology in its day, I can tell you. Later, I adopted ball-points for routine use. I couldn’t write as elegantly, but I had got fed up having ink-stained fingers all the time.
When I started using a computer in 1986, I couldn’t believe how user unfriendly the things were. It seemed clear that the people who designed them lived in their own nerdy world—and had no interest at all in usability. And on top of that, they used their own terminology. You didn’t switch on, or start, a computer. You ‘booted up.’ As far as I was concerned, that just made an alien world, even crazier.
The most maddening thing about computers, in my opinion, is the constant change. I tend to believe that a craftsman should be so familiar with his tools that their use becomes intuitive. That means you can focus on the task at hand—not on learning how your electric drill works.
I feel just the same about writing. I want to focus on the task of converting thought into entertaining words—which is hard enough, let me stress—not on trying to figure out how the latest Windows works (assuming it does work—something that was not overly common in its earlier incarnations).
I have never been able to do that with computers. As fast as I have mastered something, it has changed—and normally I have been left trailing (despite my endless investment in expensive computer books).
I still trail, but have made my peace with this nerdy world because—for all the frustrations—it has transformed my life to great advantage. I still make a meal out of the simplest things (though not all the time) but my productivity has rocketed. I now use dozens of programs—adequately if not well. What is more, computers have made the internet possible—and as a consequence:
· The publishing world has been turned upside down (a long overdue development)
· I can now communicate directly with my readers.
· I can sell directly to my readers.
· I can keep better informed.
· The pace of research has been transformed.
Given all that, I no longer want to shoot Bill Gates. That said, when I think back to the earlier, terrible, days of Windows, the urge has a tendency to re-emerge. I just re-boot my brain, and the urge passes.
VOR words 906.
This is also the previous format (so long). Still, I thought it was fun.