For Want of a Nail


For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For want of a horse the knight was lost,
For want of a knight the battle was lost,
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.

(This post is probably not going to go where you think it will go…)

Act I: Nailed

Scene 1

I have been using Microsoft Office ’97/2003 since… well, you know… and have learned exactly how to get done what needed to get done. In particular, whenever I needed to insert a figure, a table or some other feature that wasn’t in the body of the text onto a page, I knew to choose a ‘frame’. Inside the frame went the feature, along with a caption, a separator, miscellaneous formatting and whathaveyou. I could then format the frame, position the frame, lock the frame and so on. Microsoft, for some reason, didn’t seem to place as much importance on frames as I did, evidently, because with each successive version,  ‘frames’ got harder and harder to implement.

Recently, I found myself collaborating with others on writing projects —patent applications, SBIR proposals, group reports— where the other participants wanted to be able to track changes. And also, they were sending me *.docx files that I was converting and sending back as *.doc files that they were converting … all that re-translation was reducing the edited files to gibberish (at least to our computers, which tended to lock up or crash on opening up the files).

I decided I had to upgrade Microsoft Office. I chose Office 2010. I got it on sale.

Scene 2

My long-suffering bride’s Windows Vista laptop failed catastrophically (I think it was the cable that went to the display) so we ‘upgraded’ to a Windows 8 (not 8.1 yetlaptop. Boy, talk about losing a shoe! She had learned to cope with Vista, and she could at least turn the old computer off, or find where her files were kept. When 8.1 came out, things got better, but she still to this day uses her laptop as a last resort, preferring the I-pad instead. I adapted to 8.1 fairly easily, so when my Windows 7 laptop (with the ‘Γ’ key located between ‘W’ and ‘R’ where there used to be an ‘E’) started doing funny things, I found a good deal on a Windows 8.1 laptop and began making my switch-over.

Since I couldn’t locate a deal on Office 2010, I purchased and installed Office 2013. Since we use our High Gain 4G  hot spot (more on that later) for internet access, we have a data budget. I decided against Office 365 for this reason. (Cloud storage is also a bad idea if you are trying to limit gratuitous background internet usage.)

Scene 3

Things went ‘okay’ while I was transitioning to Office 2010, but as soon as I loaded Office 2013, everything slowed to a crawl. Even (and especially) my laptop. With Office 2010 at least I was able to eventually find and implement frames. It is absolutely gone from 2013, as near as I can tell. But the worst thing was that Microsoft had already decided for me that I (along with everyone else) needed their cloud storage and they were going to concentrate all my resources on getting it for me.

My zippy new computer was acting as if it had spyware installed. I learned how to disable SkyDrive, but also performed a full virus scan, just to be on the safe side.

Meanwhile, Word 2013 seems more like a theme park than a productivity tool to me. All that Gee! Whiz! is covering up where I need to go.

Act II: All is Lost!

 Scene 1

In hope of keeping pace with customers and collaborators I had inadvertently sabotaged my whole program. This morning the fruitlessness of my effort to compose a new product brief (What good are good ideas if nobody knows about them?) became overwhelming. So I closed the program and went to the kitchen for a cup of coffee.

We recently moved into a house whose kitchen has not been updated since the twentieth century. The layout is little better than the galley kitchen in our travel trailer, plus the appliances are showing their age. We are in the very early stages of remodeling it, which means we will have to learn how to operate new (Gee! Whiz!) appliances, live with new energy-efficient lighting and update the electrical system to the latest code requirements.

We could, I suppose, just replace the dishwasher and the microwave, then the wall oven when it wears out, then the light fixtures when you can’t get the bulbs for them any more… but we won’t, because we also want features in our cabinets that weren’t available in the late ’80’s and we miss the convenience that upgraded wiring will bring.

So, we’ll have to close the kitchen for awhile; meal productivity will come to a halt.

Scene 2

I came back to the computer and searched the internet for help formatting my woeful *.docx… Nothing, nada, zip… There has evidently been a complete dislocation between the way I used to use Microsoft Word and the way(s) it can be used nowadays. Right at this moment, this feels threatening. Extremely threatening. But then I realize something—

I am looking at the ‘kitchen’ from the microwave’s point of view.

I have a fallback position: I can go get the old laptop with the ‘Γ’ where ‘E’ used to be and I can hammer out my product note. So all is not lost, yet. For now, I am choosing to disregard the urgency of the new product brief and delve into the workings of this new application in its new operating system.

Scene 3

Here’s what I realized: Going back to the old OS and the old productivity tool is like diligently preventing the “want of a nail.” What if the Kingdom is lost anyway, does the metaphorical wanting nail matter at all?

Think ‘Kodak’.

New products are not needed in the Old Kingdom. The New Kingdom will be a kingdom without horseshoes, even if there will still be plenty of horse sh!t to go around, I am sure. I —we— have an opportunity to change Microsoft’s corporate mind about how they foist their new products on us, precisely because they are having difficulty adjusting to the New Kingdom, too.

So now we can get back to figuring out what will replace all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, eh?

Epilogue

Perhaps Microsoft (and MS Office) will go the way of Kodak, Commodore, Enron, Oldsmobile, …, perhaps not. But certainly things will change.

This apparent chain of causality that we see whenever dislocation halts our program is (I have decided) to be ignored. Instead, when we perceive the “want of a nail” effect, we should be making preparations to leave that kingdom.

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