The Fall of Monkey Boy

Posted by: Rea Maor In: Microsoft and Windows

Ah, the legend of Monkey Boy! Steve Ballmer, current sitting CEO of Microsoft, earned this nickname for his famous onstage rants at Microsoft events, such as the infamous “developers, Developers, DEVELOPERS!” chant.

Monkey Boy has drawn criticism lately, because his steering of the good ship Microsoft since taking the helm from Bill Gates has met more than a few icebergs. The stockholders, hallowed by their name, are tired of the smell of burning money. And Ballmer has fired back at them.

That link is especially telling in his response. “You tell me if I lack energy, conviction or we’re not driving all the change we need to drive.”, he says. No, Primate One, nobody denies that you have energy. You’re a Tazmanian Devil of energy, whirling through rocks and trees and leaving a path of carnage everywhere you go. And nobody doubts your conviction, nobody that opinionated could be anything but convicted. You’re even brassy as a doorknob with the ‘change’ part.

The point that Steve Ballmer is missing is that energy, conviction, and change are not Microsoft’s problems. Microsoft was a fluke, an accident. It came along at the right time in history. The computer revolution would have happened anyway; Microsoft just happened to be there with Windows ready to surf that wave to the top. But, like all waves, there’s now nowhere to go but down. You can’t keep getting bigger and bigger after you’ve eaten the whole world.

Moreover, like something that’s too big to steer any more, Microsoft is being eaten alive on the mobile market. Apple is shining with custom-built little gadgets. Open source competitors are moving into embedded systems left and right, while Microsoft is doing good if anything it makes can fit onto a terabyte these days. Bloat. That’s the company’s problem: bloat, bloat, bloat, bloat, bloat.

Ballmer has also opened a website for anyone to comment on what he should talk about at meetings, nervously proffering himself before his hostile audience. That, at least, is a step forward. Anything that makes Monkey Boy shut his mouth and open his ears is a good thing.

PEBKAC Needs To Make A Comeback

Posted by: Rea Maor In: Computers and Technology

‘PEBKAC’ is an acronym standing for “Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair” and was once a standard IT code for “We can’t solve the problem on our end”. It’s one of the canonical geek insults. And really, isn’t it getting time to be a little more frank with users again?

Like this little story over at InfoWorld, telling of the user, “Jane”, “who thinks she can do no wrong. A problem is never her fault.” Yeah, and show me a user who doesn’t believe that???

If you fix computers for a living, or work in any kind of tech support, or answer the phones on a help desk, you know that your whole user base is made of “Jane”s. Great classic user excuses include “I didn’t touch anything!”, “There must have been a power glitch!”, and “It just crashes for no reason!”

Heck, play an online game in any community and you’ll hear a stack of canonical excuses people use for losing a video game: “They were camping!”, “I was distracted by an IM!”, “This map sucks!”, “Frickin’ lag!” Never is it – “Oh, well, I lost. I guess I was not the best player.” This is the blameless society culture picking up technology: Nothing is ever anybody’s fault. You see this happening when education debates pop up during election season in Western countries: “If I failed to pass the test, it’s the test’s fault.” Echo that to the computer desktop, and now it’s “The user clicked the wrong button; it’s the interface’s fault for not being intuitive enough.”

Sound familiar? Right, except nobody puts up with this abuse as gladly as the IT field does.

Hackerspaces Around The World

Posted by: Rea Maor In: Computers and Technology

A “hackerspace” is an informal gathering place for a club of electronics and computing enthusiasts. A broader definition is “a place to foster a collaborative environment wherein people can explore and create intersections between technology, science, art, and culture.” It’s a common term on places like Make Magazine and Boing-Boing.

You’re picturing a basement cave filled with gadgets and neckbeards tweaking away with soldering irons and breadboards, aren’t you? Well, you’re not far off.

Tokyo Hackerspace is a great example, with members playing with everything from robotics to geiger counters (in light of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that triggered nuclear plant emergencies). The projects page lists “Solar cell phone chargers”, a “Smart White Cane Project” (to provide better assistance to the blind), and “Michael Jackson Tribute Concert LED Clothing”. Yeah, that’s our kind of party!

In Denmark, there’s Labitat in Copenhagen, Denmark, with a Twitter feed, Vimeo account, and Flickr pool to show off their projects, and also a Wiki’ed TODO list. Then there’s Hal9k in Aalborg, Denmark. Going by their projects list, they’re looking to bring about a “Hovercraft”, a “Thermal Camera”, and a “Solar Death Ray”. So apparently James Bond moved to Denmark and this is where Q gets all his ideas.

Dublin, Ireland, hosts “TOG”, which isn’t the most appetizing name. But it’s the only hackerspace we’ve seen so far with its own constitution, which includes “To foster the idea of knowledge sharing and continued education within the community, and the general public.” and “To promote and support the use and development of open technologies, standards, and ideas by the community, the general public, and other bodies.”

Sao Paulo, Brazil, hosts the Garoa Hacker Clube, an “open and collaborative infrastructure provider for technology enthusiasts that create projects related to many areas such as security, harware, electronics, robotics, modelism, software, biology, music, arts and whatever can be imagined.”

Berlin, Germany, has C-Base, and they win the award for spookiest and most futuristic website yet. Amongst their claims to fame are the founding of the German Pirate Party, filming episodes of the German TV series Tatort, and a persistent myth about a buried space station. Keep in mind that Germany in the modern time is one country with a healthy pro-science culture – we have to give them that much.

That’s just a small sampling of what’s out there. There’s also the Hackerspace Wiki, which lists organizations like these everywhere. Check to see if there’s one near you, and if there isn’t – why not start one?