Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dear Computer Guy - U.S. version

An occasional consumer advice column for those in need of computer assistance:

Dear Computer Guy:

I live in Washington, D. C. and for the last seven years I’ve been using Bush II as my operating system. Despite experiencing a number of problems, I’ve still been pleased with this OS due primarily to the generous ongoing rebates and tax refunds. Should I stick with Bush II for the next few years?

Wondering in Washington

Dear Wondering:

Consider yourself lucky; you’re one of the few Bush II users who hasn’t been burned. What started out as a promising new OS back in 2001 has turned into a bug-filled, error-prone system. The Afghan patch released in 2002 initially appeared to fix some of the problems. However, the hastily-planned and ill-fated Iraqi version has proved to be disastrous for most non-corporate users.

Recent defections from the company that makes this product suggest that it is definitely in decline. Both their top marketing strategist and senior in-house counsel recently resigned and rumor has it that more bodies are looking to jump ship.

If you can squeeze another year of useful life out of Bush II, hang on for now. But if you see a new operating system on sale next fall, I’d go for it.

The Computer Guy

Dear Computer Guy:

Some years ago, I purchased the Clinton word processing software package. It gave me reliable service for most of the 90s but I haven’t used it now in more than six years. I hear there’s a new Clinton 2.0 version coming out. Is it as good as the original?

Wordless in Seattle

Dear Wordless:

That’s a tough question. First of all, let’s be clear. Clinton 2.0 is a completely different product from version 1.0. Basically, only the name is the same. Whereas, for its time, Clinton 1.0 had all the bells and whistles and lots of marketing pizzaz, version 2.0 is definitely not as flashy although undoubtedly more stable.

Some beta testers in New York said they liked the trial version of Clinton 2.0 that was offered only in their state for the last few years. But others have questioned the reliability of its technical support. Some users have reported a repeated failure by the company to admit past programming errors and rectify clearly faulty positions.

On the other hand, it appears that purchasers of Clinton 2.0 will still have access to version 1.0 as well. However, since it’s still not clear whether the two versions are even compatible, it may be wise to hold off and check for the availability of the new Obama product or the redesigned Edwards package.

The Computer Guy

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Dear Computer Guy

An occasional consumer advice column for those in need of computer assistance:

Dear Computer Guy:

I bought the Canada’s New Government software package a year and a half ago and already I’ve had to pay extra for version 2.0. Now they’ve just released version 3.0. Do I have to upgrade again?

A Concerned Canadian

Dear Concerned Canadian:

Although the chief designer of this software is touting the latest release as having a whole new look and feel, from what I can see it’s just a minor reshuffling of a few directories. While it’s true that the defense registry has been replaced, the underlying problem still remains. Until the designer decides to include a "mission aborted" error routine, version 3.0 will still be using way too many resources for little or no performance enhancement.

The addition of the new "Maximemizer" feature may attract a few more French-speaking customers in Quebec. However, the absence of a long term programming strategy will likely keep Canada’s New Government in a minority sales position.

Unless the design chief decides to yield some creative control to the members of his team, don’t look for any dramatic improvements in this product any time soon. In fact, there’s no longer much new in Canada’s New Government. Hold on to your money and wait for a new release of that old standby software package Liberal Majority. Once they unload their current CEO, the next version could be a winner.

The Computer Guy

Dear Computer Guy:

A year and a half ago I bought a new anti-virus protection service from an Ottawa-based company. They guaranteed me that no matter how big and profitable my enterprise grew, I wouldn’t have to pay anything extra for the protection of my resources. Now they’re telling me that I can’t have both. What recourse do I have?

Jinxed in St. John’s

Dear Jinxed:

I’m sorry to report that you’re out of luck. You’re just the latest customer to be taken in by this unscrupulous outfit. For years now, this federally-based operation has promised anything to get customers to sign on. Once they do, however, all bets are off. The company then starts asking for what they call "equalization payments." And the better you do or the more resources you find, the more you pay. Check the fine print in your license agreement. Sadly, it’s all there in black and white.

The Computer Guy

Dear Computer Guy:

Despite experiencing a number of problems, I’ve still been pleased with this OS due primarily to the generous ongoing rebates and tax refunds. Should I stick with Bush II for the next few years?

Nervous in New York

Dear Nervous:

Consider yourself lucky; you’re one of the few Bush II users who hasn’t been burned. What started out as a promising new OS back in 2001 has turned into a bug-filled, error-prone system. The Afghan patch released in 2002 initially appeared to fix some of the problems. However, the hastily-planned and ill-fated Iraqi version has proved to be disastrous for most non-corporate users.

Recent defections from the company that makes this product suggest that it is definitely in decline. Both their top marketing strategist and senior in-house counsel recently resigned and rumor has it that more bodies are looking to jump ship.
If you can squeeze another year of useful life out of Bush II, hang on for now. But if you see a new operating system on sale next fall, I’d go for it.

The Computer Guy

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Lotto 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

The public hears that Karl Rove is resigning in order to spend more time with his family. But Washington insiders know that the real reason Mr. Rove is leaving is because he won the latest round of Lotto 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue - the unofficial White House lottery.

Ever since the President’s approval rating nosedived below 30%, the Bush Administration has been looking for a fair and orderly way to govern the departure of those lining up to jump ship. As one official noted: "It’s kind of like our own personal exit strategy designed to steer clear of an unwanted surge."

To avoid the embarrassment of mass resignations, President Bush got all staffers to agree to the lottery option. Every two months, a new name is drawn and the winner gets to resign in order to "spend more time with his family."

The first winner was former Presidential counsel Dan Bartlett whose name was drawn in June. Officially, Mr. Bartlett left to spend more time with his family. But unofficially, he was thrilled to be the first one to escape.

This month’s winner, of course, is Karl Rove. Whether or not his family will be happy to see more of him, Mr. Rove is tickled pink to get out. "What with all those investigations and allegations," said Rove. "The timing couldn’t have been better."

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Counsel to the President Harriet Miers have been excluded from the lottery since neither has a family to spend more time with. Not surprisingly, both women say they love their job and expect to stay on until January 20, 2009 or until the President wins the lottery, whichever comes first.

Disappointed once again was Alberto Gonzales. Desperate to get out, the Attorney General will have to spend at least another two months fighting off subpoenas from Congressional committees. Everyone is reportedly pulling for Mr. Gonzales including the President.

"Heck, I’d like to win the lottery as much as the next guy," said Mr. Bush. "But if anyone deserves it now, it’s Al."

President Bush may get his first wish if the latest rumor turns out to be true. Seldom reliable sources have revealed that Dick Cheney has substituted another "W" ball for his in the lottery hopper.

"I think I’m the man for the top job," said the Vice President. "After all, even my own family doesn’t want to spend more time with me."

Monday, August 13, 2007

Re-branding the Government

After eighteen months in power, Canadians are getting a little tired of "Canada’s New Government." The slogan that originally helped contrast the new Conservative government with the just-defeated Liberals has now worn out its welcome.

Apparently the Tories are aware of the problem and have secretly engaged focus groups to test out some brand new slogans. Seldom reliable sources have leaked the following results of those marketing tests:

Canada’s Right Government
Initially this slogan tested well by yielding a strong image of a government committed to doing the right thing. But as focus groups spent more time examining the phrase, they eventually started associating it with a small-c conservative, right-of-center government. Apparently not the way to go for a party looking to achieve majority status.

Canada’s Majority in Waiting
Here’s an expression that succinctly captures the essence of Stephen Harper’s fondest aim: to win a majority government. Unfortunately, though, it also succinctly captures Mr. Harper’s arrogance and contempt for the electorate. Not seen as a good fit on any bumper sticker soon.

Canada’s Same Old Government
Warm, friendly and reassuring, this four-word saying gave focus group participants a nice, secure feeling associated with stability and the maintenance of the status quo. But on further reflection, most of those folks started asking if the slogan meant that whoever was in power was going to govern like the Liberals. Ultimately not a winning phrase.

Canada’s Only Government
Initially, those interviewed liked this one since it suggested strength in the face of weakness and decisiveness instead of the opposition parties’ wimpiness. In the end, however, it seemed that folks didn’t really take to the one-party, dictatorial rule this phrase strongly implies.

Canada’s American Government
Although this candidate garnered full marks for honesty, it didn’t give anyone a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Canada’s Afghan Government
This one was d.o.a.

New Tory
Party functionaries liked this one. It’s short, punchy and suitably vague. Sadly, it didn’t do well with focus groups, perhaps because of its similarity to New Coke.

A Tim Hortons Government
Potential voters were vague as to what this slogan actually meant. But follow-up questions revealed that most got a warm, sugary feeling and their eyes glazed over in contentment. Subject to licensing availability, this one could be a winner.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Workplace Prison

The great myth of the workplace is that everybody should have a meaningful job that they love. The reality is that most of us see our job as a kind of sentence in a minimum security prison.

Don’t believe me? Just listen to how people talk at work.

"How many years have you got in?" "When do you get out?" "We’re breaking out at midnight, Rocky."

Well maybe you don’t hear that last one too often. But you get the idea.

Work, for most of us, is not that soul-satisfying, world-saving experience we read about in the "Careers" section of the daily newspaper. Rather, it’s usually a mind-numbing, soul-crushing, eight-hour daily sentence that we have to serve in order to get food, shelter and that big-screen plasma TV we’ve had our eye on.

Think about it. Most of us have a booth or a chair or a cubicle that we have to be in for a set period of time for five or six days a week. We get exercise breaks, a lunch break and, if we’re lucky, a weekend pass.

That doesn’t sound like work; that sounds like prison. And with prison comes a warden or, in the argot of the workplace, your supervisor. She’s the one who decides when you have your breaks, if you’ll get that weekend pass and what time the lights go out.

And if your workplace is like most, it’s populated with the same folks you find in prison. There’s the guards or, as you might know them, middle management. They carry out the warden’s orders and think they’ve got actual authority. But like prison guards, their authority is more imaginary than real. In fact, since they put in the same or longer hours than you do, they’re basically just prisoners with higher pay.

Then there’s the stool pigeon or snitch, the guy who rats on you to get special treatment from the guards. You know him as the office suck or the brown-noser. Same person; different title. But like the stoolie, Mr. Brown-noser usually gets his in the end.

Day-to-day activity at work is pretty much the same as in prison. You’re usually pushing paper, working the cash or manning the phone, all workplace equivalents to making license plates or working in the prison laundry.

Play by the rules and you get rewarded. It might be a good evaluation, an enclosed office or a minor promotion. Just like in prison where the prisoner with good behavior might get his own cell or become the warden’s "trusty."

And if you break the rules, you get punished. That means a black mark on your record or, if you’ve been really bad, you have to work alone. Kind of like solitary confinement, if you will.
The older you get, the more your thoughts center on "getting out." The big question becomes: do you have to serve your full sentence or can you get paroled? Except you might know it as early retirement.

Like the folks behind bars, you soon learn to keep your mouth shut and do your time. Keep your nose clean and your head down and you’ll eventually be free.

But don’t despair. As inmates will tell you, if you don’t obsess about getting out, the days pass more quickly. As they say in the slammer, that’s easy time.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

A Congressional Declaration of Independence

IN CONGRESS, August 4, 2007.

The unanimous Declaration of the two Houses of the Congress of the united States of America:

When in the Course of Washington events, it becomes necessary for one branch of government to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the Constitution, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and the Founding Fathers entitle them, they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all branches of government are created equal, that ours in particular was supposed to have the unalienable Right to declare war, fund war and decide when a war would end. --That to secure this balance of powers, Governments are structured among Men in varying ways, dividing the powers gained from the consent of the governed between the various branches to ensure no one branch shall prevail. --That whenever any one branch of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the Offended Branch to reassert its authority. The history of the present King George is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

- He has ignored the United Nations and unilaterally entered into war with no good reason or direct provocation.
- He has misled the citizenry with false allegations concerning weapons of mass destruction.
- He has falsely asserted connections between Iraq and al Qaeda.
- He has imperilled the security of the nation through his reckless acts of preemptive war.
- He has relieved the rich of their fair tax burden to the detriment of the middle class.
- He has crippled the economy through his irresponsible tax cuts and spending.
- He has diminished the rights of the citizenry.
- He has pandered to religious fundamentalists and endangered the rights of minorities, women and gays.
- He has converted the Supreme Court into an executive rubber stamp.
- He has sought to subvert the separation of church and state.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms but our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A King whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the Congress of these united States of America, solemnly publish and declare, That we as legislators ought to be Free to assert our rights as stated in the Constitution of these United States and thereby halt this King’s reckless War. We undertake therefore to read the Constitution and maybe even pursue the action necessary to exercise the duly assigned powers granted us under that document.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

How Stupid Are We?

I like to think that I’m a reasonably intelligent fellow. But the longer I live, the more I question not only my native intelligence but also that of my fellow Canadians.

After all, where else would you find a nation of educated sheep who week after week fill their gas tanks with dollar a litre gas with hardly a whimper? Notwithstanding that the price of crude oil is lower than it was a year ago, the retail price keeps going up. Petroleum industry execs tell us that the current situation is all because of market demands and refining capacity and we accept that lame excuse and go on paying exorbitant prices at the pump.

And we’re the same Milquetoasts who let banks tack on fee after user fee and dole out minuscule interest rates on savings accounts in the face of record-breaking profits. The financial community assures us that they can’t make a go of it unless they can increase their customer charges and we do nothing except watch them laughing all the way to their own bank.

The height of this institutional arrogance is the recent offer by one unnamed, two-initialled bank to give a free iPod to anyone who becomes a new customer. What does this say to existing customers who have loyally conducted their business with that bank for years? It says we don’t really care about you because we know you’re too stupid to do anything about it.

Banks and oil executives at least try to justify their usurious ways. But book sellers don’t even bother making excuses. Despite a Canadian dollar that’s almost at par with its U. S. counterpart, publishers continue to feature Canadian pricing that’s typically 40% above the listed American price.

If a best seller lists for $19.99 American, we shouldn’t mind paying $21.99 Canadian. But to fork out $27.99 is outright highway robbery. Yet we just accept this gross inequity and continue to fill the coffers of the publishers without complaint.

Doctors are another group that make us look stupid and gullible. Whenever they don’t like the employment deal offered here in Canada, some of them just up and leave for greener pastures in the United States.

Given that a doctor’s medical education is heavily subsidized by you and me as taxpayers, why would we allow them to thumb their noses at us and leave? Shouldn’t we be demanding a payback of the hundreds of thousands of dollars we invested in them before letting them quit the country? Or shouldn’t we at least require all medical students to sign on for five years of practise in under-served areas before setting them free?
The Stanley Cup is another example of our naivete and stupidity. As I recall, Lord Stanley donated the Cup to the champion ice hockey team of Canada, not the winner of the National Hockey League playoffs. Why would we allow our national trophy to be governed by a rinky-dink league that bends over backwards to accommodate its seldom-watched, American-based teams?

The NHL’s hold on the Stanley Cup is tenuous, at best. All it would take would be a concerted effort by a few diehard Canadian hockey fans to bring the trophy back home. But don’t hold your breath waiting for that day to arrive.

We Canadians have a reputation for being polite and nice. To outsiders, that’s how it appears. But the truth is that we’re not so much nice and polite as just downright stupid. Americans don’t tolerate being treated like second-class citizens by corporations and government. Why should we? So let’s start grousing and complaining. And let’s start taking some positive action. If that giant bookstore won’t sell you the book at a fair exchange on the U. S. dollar, don’t buy it. If that unnamed bank won’t give you an iPod, take your business elsewhere. Lobby for the return of a nationally-owned oil company and fight for provisions that will ensure doctors serve the citizens who paid for their education. Who knows? We might even get smart enough to start a professional Canadian Hockey League and take back the Stanley Cup once and for all. Then again, given our world-leading levels of marijuana consumption, maybe we’re just destined to be dopes.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Random Theatrics

"Ballet and music fans at home and abroad are eagerly awaiting Thursday evening's premiere of the Alberta Ballet production set to the artwork and music of Joni Mitchell."
- CBC.ca Arts - February 8, 2007

"Canadian director David Cronenberg has teamed up with tenor Placido Domingo and Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore to create an opera based on Cronenberg's 1986 movie, The Fly."
- CBC.ca Arts - February 17, 2007

Today’s impresarios don’t wait for artistic minds to create. Instead they randomly generate ideas for new theatrical and musical creations. Check out these upcoming productions:

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Broadway meets Wall Street in this highly entertaining musical version of everybody’s favorite self-help tome. Slated for a fall opening in the famed Gershwin Theatre, "7 Habits" features a storyline by author Steven R. Covey and a half dozen catchy tunes by the self-help composing team of Marvin Hamlisch and Barry Manilow. From the haunting "Time Management Matrix" to the show-stopping "Sell! Sell! Sell!", this soon-to-be-blockbuster will have patrons humming themselves to a brand new life.

Marley and Me
Not since "Cats" has there been an anthropomorphic animal production that touches the soul like "Marley and Me." This elaborate modern dance production features the steps and missteps of America’s favorite dog as presented by the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Backed by a twenty-member canine chorus, Marley sings and dances his way into your heart as the entire troupe does a marvelous job of portraying a dog’s life through dance. Eating, chewing, biting, barking and outright disobedience. They’re all brought to life on the dance stage thanks to the unique choreography of the soon-to-be-famous team of Fido and Rex. Opens October 5th for a limited engagement at the Tribeca Performing Acts Center and Animal Shelter.

The Metropolitan Opera Company is thrilled to announce that it will be adapting the venerable film comedy "Spaceballs" to the stage for its upcoming season. "We have long admired the cinematic work of Mr. Mel Brooks," said the Met’s artistic director. "First with ‘The Producers’ and more recently with ‘Young Frankenstein’, he has demonstrated a proven track record when it comes to translating film to live theater. We anticipate similar success with our operatic version of one of the lesser known works from his oeuvre." Rick Moranis is expected to reprise his role as Dark Helmet. Sadly, Joan Rivers is reportedly unavailable for the part of Dot Matrix but negotiations are underway to engage Dom DeLuise to sing the role of Pizza the Hutt.

Harry Potter’s Planets Like Gustav Holst’s famed seven-movement orchestral suite, the seven books of the Harry Potter series lend themselves perfectly to a new symphonic work. The New York Philharmonic will perform the world premiere of this five-hour piece jointly conducted by Loren Maazel and Sting. J. K. Rowling composed the score which reportedly helped fill the empty days for the retired author after the self-inflicted death of her favorite character Dumbledore. Each movement is named after one of the seven Harry Potter books except for the finale which is called "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Unending Residuals."

The CBS Evening News
The story of the Tiffany network’s famed newscast told in dance by the Joffrey Ballet. The principal dancers play the roles of the CBS anchors from Edward R. Murrow to Katie Couric while dancing with portable teleprompters. Relive American history in the televised era through elaborately mimed renditions of everything from the Bay of Pigs fiasco to the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s history like you’ve never seen it before and likely will never see it again.

Springtime for Hitler
This Broadway season promises to be wall-to-wall Mel Brooks with another celluloid to stage transformation. But instead of adapting another of Mr. Brooks’s movies, famed producer Harold Prince has captured the "play within the play", the unexpected smash musical at the heart of "The Producers." Not satisfied with simply staging the original Nazi-themed musical, Prince has rewritten the work as a serious drama. Look for either Richard Gere or Tony Danza to be cast as the misunderstood f├╝hrer.