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Rants, Comments, Finds, and Tips from the Desk of Michael & Ollerum.

When Mid-Level Employees Screw Their Secretaries in Detroit


When mid-level employees screw their secretaries in Detroit then, almost certainly, there is a ThinkPad lying around somewhere in the corner, wrapped in a Eddie Bauer pouch.

One note here: I wrote this rant in German first and used Kassel. In Germany, the city of Kassel is the synonym for mediocrity, desolation, dullness and ugliness. That’s why, in the 90s, it was the German epicenter for real House/Techno; much like Detroit. And that’s why I used Detroit here. There are probably more cities that would fit the bill but this way you can get the gist…

Not to tread on all those secretaries’ toes – but I’m certain that they are, most probably, mediocrity incarnate as well, since this is happening in a Holiday-Inn Express; on a weekday.

Double, starting at 60 bucks…

In case you missed it – I’m not writing a travel guide for Detroit here. It will also not be an ad for Holiday-Inns (even though I really would love to see such a thing) or the new image campaign for Eddie Bauer pouches and bags.

Since this is a third-rate blog about everything Computer, Internet, and Apple, it can only be about one thing.

And no, I’m not talking about the boring, silver Ford company car either.

Of course, I can only be talking about the ThinkPad here.

This plastic testimonial of mediocrity, covered in dandruff, vegetating unloved in the corner of a run-of-the-mill hotel room somewhere in Detroit, bagged in a second-rate and only half-practical pouch.

On a Tuesday morning…

Stop. I know. You are right. This could also happen on a Wednesday in Des Moines in a Fairfield Inn. But you’re exactly making my point:

This interchangeability. This lovelessness. This same old story.

As we all know, I grew (more or less) up with everything Apple. I also grew up bitching. And now that I’m (more or less) grown up, I’m good at combining those two things even though I always like to pretend that I do it for a reason and with rhythm and rhyme.

But let me tell you something: The moment you look left and right, you stop to bitch and whine pretty fast.

Every couple of years I try to look beyond my own backyard, often when I should be doing some real work and I’m not in the mood; like, really not in the mood.

And with someone else’s backyard I don’t mean Windows. I’m talking about Linux. Linux in all its variants and flavors.

Somehow I really like the idea of open, free, public domain, and furthermore: customizability.

And every couple of years, I quit pretty much immediately and return to my own overgrown backyard. Since I always knew this upfront, I never cared much about the hardware. Some old used ThinkPads are collecting dust here anyway; websites need to be tested and, most importantly, CSV, Excel, and DATEV files for ookkeeapp, Umsatz and Bill.

Since, in the last couple of years, the state of Linux … well, wasn’t actually overwhelming, I never really had to think about it in the first place.

In addition, I always assumed that the ‘newer’ models had to be better; had to be way better.

Otherwise, Lenovo and Co should have been broke by now…

Yes, I know. I’m naïve. But personally I really prefer the term cute…

Anyhow, since I had important and very boring work to do, I decided to once again take a peek at the bordering backyard. Because my hardware was really outdated and I had to get something new for testing purposes anyway, I bought, full of dewy-eyed optimism, a mid-class businesses laptop made by Lenovo.

FYI: Mid-class means about 900 Euro; which would translate into 800 US Dollar, since here in Germany, for whatever stupid reasons, we have to pay 30/40 percent more for hardware, software, and even our own German cars. Just don’t ask why.

For those 900 bucks I got something as thick as my very first PowerBook from 1995 and it was built in a quality as ridiculous as the iBooks in their worst period.

But what shocked me the most was something else: Its background noise - its sound level, in 2014, when equipped with a low voltage i5 in its cheapskate version, combined with a crappy on-board graphics card, mind you!

The fans were constantly spinning and not in a ‘we-have-to-do-that-slowly-because-it’s-our-job’ way. No, in a ‘we-have-to-spin-at-maximum-speed-because-we-had-crappy-engineers-who-gave-a-rat’s-ass’ kinda way. And that way was combined with something our mid-level employee knows too well: The ‘we-have-an-Excel-problem’ way; also known as the ‘fuck-the-quality-we-need-it-cheaper-than-cheap’ way.

For those 900 bucks – wrapped in really wonky plastics – I also got a very low quality 6bit panel with a joke of a resolution and a poor maximum brightness, a ridiculously loud old-school hard drive, and slow four GB of RAM.

In addition, it came with a totally unusable trackpad, not worthy of the name.

Yes, the keyboard was really good and the red dot on the i glowed when the lid was closed. Seriously, that’s all it takes to get four out of five stars in every review I read about it. A good keyboard and a glowing dot.

From me, it didn’t get squat and I brought it back directly the next day.

C’mon, you don’t seriously expect me to waste a single word about those books from Lenovo you can buy for 600, 500, or only 300 bucks? No, you don’t!

In comparison: If you get lucky, you can buy a completely soundless 13″ MacBook Air with better resolution, a fast SSD and, by comparison, an awesome display for just a hundred bucks more. And you will end up with a great quality machine.

In the worst case, you will have to pay 200 bucks more but you will lose almost two inches in thickness and more than two pounds in weight.

Did I already mention that it stays completely silent under a normal workload?

I’m no quitter and since other makers are out of the question (here in Germany) because at least Lenovo is still able to easily and affordably ship their ThinkPads with an US keyboard. Therefore I ended up with one of their signature products for the business class.

It is thinner, quieter (but still far from silent), a little bit better built and that’s about it.

For 100 or 200 bucks more you could get a 15″ MacBook Pro with Retina Display. That would be half as thick, completely silent when used normally, built in an unbeatable quality, and would come with a fast SSD and a great display.

This Lenovo flagship, built from plastic, comes directly from the factory with bumps and scratches, a joke of a display that is completely unusable for even simple photo editing tasks, and is so cheaply and unprotectedly glued to the housing that the old iBooks look really good in comparison. And they weren’t much thicker and heavier, back then.

But in 2014 you still have to peel off four crazy glued stickers from the very frail plastic.

BTW: The fifth star in every review those ThinkPads receive is for their ugly hinges you still have to stare at. Seriously, this is the most important part of every review.

Solid and ugly hinges…

And no, the next part is not a joke: It still has a VGA port! And this fact is, in all seriousness, prominently promoted on its website.

I better not talk about the wobbly trackpad with five(!) integrated buttons which sits so stupidly close to the keyboard that it is simply impossible to type without screwing up the cursor position; even when you tell the software to ignore it while typing. And it is annoyingly loud and feels really cheap.

What I like is the fact that you can easily change the hard drive, the RAM, the mobile broadband module and the battery pack. Since it comes with two batteries, you can swap one while the book is running and if you don’t mind that it will become thicker, a lot thicker, you can attach a battery that will power it for over 15 hours. And yes, after a while you understand why people love that keyboard. It is not as good as the one one my beloved (and still working) PowerBook 1400 has but it is really good.

But the plastic…

At least it comes without optical drive.

Compared to earlier models, it looks simpler; mostly because they finally dropped two or three rows of unnecessary buttons and all of the annoying lights.

Here comes the blast: Because of that many people criticize it. Not because of the crappy display, not because of the plastic, not because of the glue – no, because it is so plain and it doesn’t blink all the time anymore.

Mid-level employees, I will never understand you…

And all this is not even the most important part about such a thing. We need to talk about actually working with it; and therefore we need to talk about the system.

Again, I’m not talking about Windows here and it is not about bashing. But allow me just one quick request:

Please tell me the name of a single Twitter Client for Windows that is not based on Air and Co, half-decent to use, and is comparable to Tweetbot. Just one. Or the name of an app like Sketch or RapidWeaver.

In the last couple of weeks I had to ‘upgrade’ some otherwise talented people with Windows XP panic to Windows 7, and in the time it took to get a single system up and running, I could have easily setup ten Macs.

Yes, you’re right, you mid-level employee: It has gotten better. But better may be enough for you in your world to earn yourself a weekend with the younger secretary in Minneapolis or even a promotion, but, by my account, better still has nothing to do with good.

Shortcuts are still not really well thought out and drag-and-drop is still not working as it could and should. Imagine what a good voice recognition and a system wide dictionary/auto correction etc. could save you - a lot of time and therefore money.

You could drive an Audi as your company car…

Just take the shortcut for closing windows/programs: alt + F4. Seriously? And since Lenovo finally got rid of those additional rows with those almost one hundred additional buttons the F-keys don’t work anymore without using Fn. So, you need to almost break three fingers in order to close one window; a task we perform from a hundred to a thousand times a day.

I know of companies that actually test what their engineers design. Lenovo is clearly not one of them.

Yes, you’re right, you mid-level something, why use a fast shortcut when you can long windedly and time consumingly push the mouse and click the X.

But, as said before, my next door backyard is Linux; for a reason.

And I have to admit: Linux is awesome. Really awesome if you want to waste your time with completely unnecessary tasks. So, if you want to do everything but your real work, get yourself a Linux.

Is it possible that geek or nerd is nothing more than a synonym for a fussbudget?

Setting up your emails, your contacts, and your calendar takes less than three minutes on Mac OS X; including sync. When you are good, you can do that on Windows in less than ten minutes.

With Linux it will take you more than one hour; probably two…

And that’s just the beginning. For the most part, the hardware, and the missing support for it, isn’t a big issue anymore; of course, problems still occur. No, the issue is the software, or to be more precise: the apps. Most Linux desktop environments are more or less polished. But unfortunately one cannot say the same about (third party) apps.

Most of them look and behave like they did ten years ago. Or in other words: they are ugly and overall complicated, if they work at all.

I feel like I’ve been ported back to the good old OS 9 days and to be honest, OS 9, and many of those OS 9 apps, still look more polished and are easier to setup and to use than many ‘new’ Linux counterparts.

And I’m not talking about special, fancy requests and demands here. I’m talking about the very basic stuff, like a working, usable calendar with CalDAV support that doesn’t require installing twenty additional packages and a complete weekend spent in the shallows of the Terminal.

Or what about an email app that supports drag-and-drop for attachments; not to talk about a unified inbox?

Am I really that far off when I want to use a halfway decent Twitter client under Ubuntu or Mint Linux that works and that wasn’t left to retire on a farm upstate years ago?

You want to dim your ThinkPad display the right way? Yes, you can do that – but you have to tamper with the grub files first and then you have test and tweak the settings for about half an hour.

Those things add up; a lot…

After hours, I gave up finding something comparable to my Quick and Dirty in order to easily and quickly edit images for blogging. I spent the next few hours searching for a TextExpander ‘alternative’ and then I spent a while getting it to work more or less - more less than more - because it hadn’t been updated in years.

123 different variants, desktop environments, all of them with their own flaws and shortcomings – but not a single one with a system wide, teachable dictionary and auto-correction.

Yes, I know this sounds trivial. For many things you can find cumbersome solutions and workarounds, many of them without GUI and when they come with one, you can bet your ass that they will look like they were freshly made for Windows 95.

Seriously, that can’t be it! Can it?

Even all the toughened secretaries can’t be satisfied by that…

Recently I started making fun of all the ‘new Markdown apps’ under OS X which are currently springing up like mushrooms and flooding the App Stores. Yes, I’m talking about all those new takes on the good old email program.

But under Linux, no matter if it starts with a K, a U, an X, or tastes like mint, you will end up using Thunderbird. You will also end up using Firefox - that slow, outdated, poor copy of a browser that still can’t render fonts correctly and still can’t display web fonts.

This speaks volumes…

Speaking of mushrooms and Markdown: These lines were written with an app that was last updated in 2008, can’t print, has no preview, no dictionary or auto-correction whatsoever, no recent documents, and, of course, nothing like Versions or Resume; let alone iCloud or Dropbox sync.

But it handles the fullscreen view halfway decently, was installable, and does not crash. And guess what? I was happy to find it after hours of trying, failing, and shouting at the Konsole.

I was happy about a joke of an app that does almost nothing and still manages to displease the fans.

I would kill for something like my Free for Linux and no, FocusWriter unfortunately lacks a lot of important things, like Markdown, and is too buggy.

The App Stores are full of one star ratings for really good apps only because they cost more than 99 cents, have an ugly icon, or for whatever other ridiculous reason spoiled people can come up with.

The best feed reader for Linux in 2014 is crappier (and uglier) than my Futter I wrote for 10.3 as one of my very first apps ten years ago. And still, I was as happy as a pig in shit to find it so that I can, at least, read my feeds.

Seriously? Sync you ask? C’mon! You can be happy if it comes with an integrated browser view, based on an ancient version of Mozilla.

Quick-Look, sophisticated drag-and-drop, clever shortcuts that work without a degree in how to write your Python scripts, gestures, or icons, not designed in the 80s?

Ha! Humility, my friend! Be thankful that you can finally calibrate and profile your display!

But don’t you think for a second that it will be easy to integrate such a profile into Gimp and Co. Those tasks will keep you engaged for another week, or two.

My simple Quick and Dirty can do that with a single click.

While we’re at it: Gimp has not changed in the last decade (well, it is almost two decades now). It is pretty much still everything but user friendly.

I can’t work this way! You can’t work this way! You will never be able to get out of Detroit this way!

In contrast to your iPads and iPhones (at least for the vast majority of us) a computer is still a tool, not a gadget. Therefore it should be, it has to be, something one can actually work with.

I don’t clean my whole kitchen with a toothbrush. I don’t paint my whole flat with a crayon.

But when using a computer, most people actually do exactly this and pay a lot of money for it; on both ends.

For themselves and the work of others.

Would you hire an electrician or a contractor that shows up with a Fisher-Price toolbox and has to charge 120 bucks an hour just because everything takes longer and is more exhausting this way?

I really doubt it!

But when it comes to everything computer, most of us do exactly this…

I don’t want that. I don’t want to work like that. I don’t want you to work like that. What I, instead, want, really would love to do, is to help this sorry affair Linux still is out of its misery.

We all need alternatives and I can clearly see the potential. All we have to do is to trash this Fisher-Price mentality, to spend some money, and to make it right.

Most importantly, this would mean finally writing good developer tools. Yes, I know: Eclipse has a dark theme now and there are three examples available for Qt. But you have to search for them and install them on your own first.

By the time you finally get that crap up and running, Apple has released fifty new, working, and thought-out features for Xcode.

Speaking of Xcode: I know that I constantly bitch about it, or about Apple, when an update for the App Store takes longer than a week.

On the Ubuntu Software Center, it usually takes months…

Is there an Open Source solution on how to win the lottery?

Believe me: All those secretaries would benefit from it. Detroit probably not so much…