Labor Day, Time for Fun and Reflection

A lot of Americans don’t realize it, but Labor day does have a significance other than getting a day off to celebrate the end of summer. I talked about some of the history behind Labor Day last year in my Labor Day, Eh? post. The day has been celebrated since September 5th, 1882, when the first parade took place in Union Square. At the time I wrote the post, I didn’t realize that the organizers had chosen the date because it’s halfway between Independence Day and Thanksgiving. I’m sure there is quite a lot I don’t know about Labor Day, but I do know that it’s a celebration of the contribution organized labor has made to our society.

Interestingly enough, Europe celebrates the contribution of organized labor on May Day. May 1st was chosen as a day to recognize labor because it was the start of the new contract each year. I’m sure that with anarchists, Marxists, and other groups claiming May Day as their own, organized labor in this country wanted some other day to recognize the contributions of the worker. Even so, May 1st is still celebrated in Europe and other locations as the International Worker’s Day. Labor Day serves the same purpose in this country. Honoring those who leave their home country to come and benefit a different country’s economy is important. These people often leave everything behind, in the hopes of starting a new life. However, they often come to the country with no financial assistance. Many of them are without credit histories, meaning that they will struggle to take out loans for housing. However, by reading this website here, workers can receive some financial advice to set them up for this new opportunity.

This year, I took another look at Labor Day through the eyes of Samuel Gompers, a 19th century labor organizer (he was the first president of the American Federation of Labor, the AFL). He published an article on September 4th, 1910 in the New York Times about the significance of Labor day that makes something about this particular holiday clear, “It differs essentially from some of the ex holidays of the year in that it glorifies no armed conflicts or battles of man’s prowess over man.” This particular holiday isn’t the result of any religion or other inclination of some subset of mankind-it truly is a holiday for everyone. In reading about Samuel Gompers and seeing his vision through the articles he wrote, I see a different version of labor than it exists today.

During the 19th century, people worked long hours for incredibly low pay. Many people made so little they couldn’t afford to buy decent food, lived in hovels, and barely had clothes on their backs. Samuel Gompers, and many like him, worked hard to obtain worker rights to decent pay and shorter working hours. He truly was a visionary and I’m glad that he was instrumental in making work conditions so much better for the rest of us. I just wish that some of his other goals and ideals had come true.

Monday is truly a time of reflection. It’s a time when you should consider the plight of the working person in today’s world. However, it’s also a time of fun. You may very well decide to march in a parade, celebrate with a picnic, or simply fire up the barbecue as I plan to do. The important point is to remember why the holiday exists and to tell others about it. When a holiday becomes meaningless, the reasons for celebrating it become lost in the shuffle and we all lose something. Labor Day is too important a holiday for that.

With this in mind, I’ll be taking a holiday on Monday. Rest assured that you’ll see my usual blog post on Tuesday. In the meantime, read up on Labor Day and take a little time to think about the contributions that organized labor has made.


Considering the Effects of Technology on Animals

It was an innocent act—incredibly funny, in fact that led me to think about the topic of today’s post. I had recently installed new UPSs for our computers. The addition allowed me to plug the speakers in for my wife’s system. She has a program named Catz installed on her machine. They’re virtual cats, of course, that you feed and pet just like the real thing. The cats will play on screen while you work away. Every once in a while, you can take a break to see them do some of the oddest things you’ve ever seen. Our real cat, Smucker, hadn’t ever heard Catz before. When he heard them for the first time, he was intrigued. At some point, I walked near my wife’s office and heard the most horrid banging. Naturally I stopped to investigate and there was Smucker, banging on those speakers for all he was worth, trying the get the cats out .

The technology you use can produce hilarious events with your animals because the animal has no clue that it’s technology, and not the real world. Over the years our cats and dogs have interacted with animals on TV, tried to make sense of plush toys that also purr, and wondered about our sanity in associating with the vacuum. For the most part, our dogs and cats have been curious, we’ve been entertained, and no one has gotten hurt.

I know that technology has had a beneficial affects on our animals in many cases. For example, research into new materials has garnered long lasting and easy-to-clean rubber buckets for our chickens (see Review of Weather Proof Rubber Pan). All of our animals have benefited from the research we perform online—something that wouldn’t have been possible even a few years ago. Technology helps us create better environments for our animals and to feed them better food. The vet that cares for our animals relies on modern technology for shots and general care. In short, our animals have a better life because of technology.

However, I also started to consider the negative aspects of technology. When a human plays music too loud, doesn’t it also affect our animal’s hearing? While we put the dogs up when working with yard equipment, the chickens and rabbits remain outside. Does the use of these items affect their hearing and potentially cause other problems? I’ve been spending considerable time thinking about these issues as of late because technology can be a two-edged sword in many ways. Because animals have no way of telling us how technology affects them, we often have to rely on our senses to detect changes in them. For example, the rabbits do get quite nervous when I drive right next to their cage with my garden tractor. I changed that behavior this year and started using the hand mower or my weed whacker—the rabbits do seem a bit less nervous.

Sometimes the technology meant for direct use with animals can be harmful too. For example, reading the list of ingredients for some animal food should tell you that the food isn’t truly beneficial. It may be an inexpensive way to feed your animal, but it’s not a good way to meet their dietary needs. We tend to try to feed our animals things they would naturally eat, even though technology says that we really need to use some specially formulated food instead. In fact, we’ve found that we can save money and still give our animals a better life by not following the technological route in this case. We provide our animals with kitchen scraps of all sorts, along with access to grass, insects, and all sorts of other natural foods—none of which costs us a penny, but is healthier for the animal.

A major problem for me is that there isn’t a lot of research available on the problems that technology can cause when it comes to animals. As a result, I spend a lot of time seeing how the animals react to the techniques we employ to make their lives better. How is your use of technology affecting your animals? Let me know your perspective at [email protected].


How the Internet Affects the Information You Receive

For many years now (centuries, in fact) professional authors, editors, and production staff have worked hard to provide you, the reader, with high-quality material. It isn’t always error free (see Errors in Writing), but these paid professionals do their best to assure the material you get is of the best possible quality. The Internet has changed all that. Today, anyone can write anything and publish it online. Search engines ensure that people can find the information, and you now have the option of reading information that has never been verified, edited, or checked in any way for accuracy or fitness of purpose. We have traded quality for quantity.

I’ve realized that there was a problem for a long time now. Sales of articles, white papers, books, and other forms of writing have declined for all authors for quite some time because people feel they shouldn’t have to pay for something they can obtain free. It’s true, a bargain is always appealing no matter what that bargain might be. However, there is a hidden price for this free material and I’m also pleased to find that some media sources are trying to open a forum for discussing the costs of free writing. The latest article I’ve read on the topic, “Today’s Internet: All the fake news that’s fit to publish,” discusses the topic in clear terms. I strongly encourage everyone to read it because the article does accurately describe the cost to you, as a reader, of the free information available online.

Before the e-mails start popping up in my inbox, yes, I do have a vested interest in convincing you that buying a book is superior to obtaining the information online. After all, I’ve written 90 books to date and I’m currently engaged in writing book 91. It would be remiss of me not to mention that your purchase does help me pay my mortgage and electrical bill. However, my goal in writing this piece is not to line my pockets—I’m truly interested in helping you obtain the best information possible because you need good information to make good decisions. In fact, look at my past blog posts and you’ll find that the quality of your reading experience has always been my prime consideration. I write books because I enjoy writing and knowing that my writing helps people. There are other ways I could earn a living (such as consulting) that would put far more money in my pocket than writing does.

There is always going to be a certain amount of angst over buying something that you can possibly get free. People often make house and auto repairs themselves or ask Jane down the street to do it for them to avoid paying a professional to perform the task. Likewise, you have the option of using the free online sources of information to avoid paying professional authors to obtain, verify, and write that information for you. The quality of the material you receive will generally reflect the source that you obtain it from. Of course, there are people who do write quality material online and provide it to you free (in many cases, through the support of a vendor or organization). The point is that you need to find an information source you can trust in order to use that information to make decisions or learn new skills.

One additional benefit of relying on a professional author that you don’t obtain with an Internet source is support. Most professional authors will post addenda, answer questions, and provide value-added materials, much as I do in this blog, as part of publisher-supported sites, and through e-mail. When working with an Internet author, questions are often ignored and remain unanswered years after they’re asked. The price you pay for a book or other professionally written material includes support that you probably won’t get from other sources. As with anything in life, you must consider the tradeoffs of the decisions you make.

How do you feel about the quality of information you receive from the Internet? Do you see any benefit at all from buying books written by a professional? As I seek better ways to serve your needs, the answers to these questions are becoming increasingly important to me. Let me know your thoughts on the topic at [email protected].


Enjoying the Night Sounds

The country has its own set of unique night sounds. Unlike the city, where the sounds of traffic and people talking in whispered tones are pretty much mundane and expected, country sounds vary night-by-night. In fact, the noise of scurrying, shrieking, chirping, and trilling all add to the appeal of a night in the country. Of course, everyone knows about the crickets, but I assure you that the country has much more to offer than that.

The night before last, we hear the songs of coyotes. Some people get this picture of Wile-E-Coyote, super genius, and that’s not even close to what a real coyote is like. Even though they have been known to kill farm animals, we’ve never actually had a problem with coyotes. It’s far more likely that a raccoon, fox, or weasel will kill our chickens. The sound of coyote is similar to a yip or howl, and they produce a sort of sing-song chaotic sound that’s interesting to hear. We can listen to the coyotes for hours and only become a bit concerned when they get near, which they seldom do.

Sometimes we hear a rabbit’s shriek when a raccoon, fox, or weasel manages to sneak up and get it. The first time you hear the shriek, you wonder what could make such a horrible sound-high-pitched and chilling to the bone. The sound is meant to be piercing and warns other rabbits in the area to get away. A smart predator gets the rabbit without allowing it to make a sound so that it can get other rabbits in the same evening. When we hear the shriek, we know that it’s an unlucky hunter, or perhaps a young one.

Last night, we heard an entirely new sound. Never before have we heard the mating calls of owls. Yes, we’ve heard the terror inducing scream of the screech owl or the harmonious hoot of a barn owl, but never a mating call. It took a while for me to realize what I was hearing. The male started things off with a quick repertoire of hoots that sounded more like Morse code than an owl-dot-dot-dot-dash (the number 4). As the sound got closer, I heard a female reply with a more standard (and less frantic) set of hoots. However, even the female provided hoots in sets, rather than singularly as is usual. The two kept hooting at each other until I could hear that the loudness of the hoots was the same, then the couple flew off to parts unknown.

Our woods are packed with wildlife, much of which comes out to play at dusk. The night sounds tell us that the woods that seem devoid of much life during the day really do have a considerable host occupying them. All these sounds of life keep us entertained and some make us wary. There are times when our dogs warn us of intrusions we must investigate carefully. The night is when our world comes alive with life of all sorts. What kinds of sounds do you hear in the night? Let me know at [email protected].


Considering the Effects of Short Rain Bursts

As many people know, the Midwest is suffering through a terrible drought at the moment. The forecast calls for the drought to last through October as a minimum, so there isn’t any relief in sight. What many people don’t realize is that some parts of the Midwest actually have received some rain, but the rain hasn’t been especially helpful. There are a number of issues to consider and I’m sure I haven’t reasoned them all out. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that even the best irrigation can’t completely replace rain. If your business is crop production then you need to ensure that the plant irrigation is as constant as possible. Cannabis businesses have started using a grow room design, which deals with water treatment amongst other things in an attempt to create crop consistency. With the limits of irrigation in mind, here are some of the conclusions I’ve come to during this particularly hot summer.

The first is that the main problem with irrigation is water temperature. I had wondered about this for a long time, but I’ve come to the conclusion that watering with a sprinkler uses cold water that could actually shock the plants. Rain water usually comes down warmed a little anyway. To test this out, at least partially, I watered part of our corn row using water warmed by the sun in our hose and the other part of the row using cold water. The warmed water has grown larger, more robust plants. Now, there could be other factors that affect our corn, such as quality differences in the soil in one part of the garden as contrasted to another part, but on the surface, it appears that anyone who uses warmed water (such as that found in a rain barrel), has an advantage over someone who irrigates with well water (such as I do).

Second, irrigation water lacks mineral content. I’m starting to think that rain water must pick up a certain amount of nutrients from the air that the water from our hose doesn’t provide. I’d need to back this up with some sort of laboratory analysis though and I’m not even sure where to send a sample. Even so, it does seem as if there is some nutritional factor in rain water that doesn’t appear in well water. At least I’m not fighting the chlorine and other additives of city water.

Third, there is no lightning when you irrigate. Lightning releases nitrogen into the soil. Plants absolutely must have nitrogen to grow well. You can artificially supply this nutrition with fertilizer, but there seems to be a difference between fertilized plants and those that receive the nitrogen naturally. I don’t use any commercial fertilizer on my garden, but I do supplement the garden with compost and I do things like plant winter rye to improve the quality of my soil.

Fourth, irrigation applies the water in an unnatural way. Rather than having randomly sized droplets provide the water at varying speeds over the relatively long time of a summer storm, irrigation uses uniformly sizes water droplets that apply water at a consistent rate over a short time. The water from rain seems to penetrate deeper for a given amount of water than irrigation does (as checked by digging into the garden after each event and actually measuring the penetration using a ruler). Penetration is a key here because surface penetration tends to promote weed growth, rather than nourish your plants.

I’m currently working to quantify my observations so that I can better understand the role of rain in promoting good garden growth, but this summer has provided me with some insights into how global warming will ultimately change our world. Even if we overcome the effects of droughts created by global warming by using irrigation, the overall effect is still going to be a loss of robust plant growth in the garden. Yes, you’ll get most plants to grow, but not in the same way as they would with just the right amount of rain. Let me know your thoughts about irrigation versus natural rainfall at [email protected].


Dealing with System Differences in Books

It’s unlikely that there are two computer systems on the planet that are precisely the same. Even if the two systems have precisely the same hardware and software, and the administrator configuring the systems uses an image file so that every setting is in precisely the same place, the two systems will have differences. It could be something as simple as the memory delay for one system is just a tad different than the other system. In fact, timing issues cause programmers more headaches than you might think. Environmental factors also play a role in how two systems work. The temperature in one room might be higher than another—affecting the way the systems work. Everything else considered, the users interacting with the systems will be different. The user is part of the system, after all. Therefore, no matter how hard you try to create two systems that are precisely the same, you’ll fail because there are simply too many variables to consider. These differences, no matter how small and subtle, affect how I write my books. The procedures I write for my books must work well for a wide variety of systems, including the users who are using the book to learn how to perform a task.

Let me state up front that there is always a possibility that a procedure you find in one of my books may not work on your particular system, no matter how much time and effort I put into creating the best procedure possible. I apologize in advance for any errors on my part that hinder your learning. It’s never my goal to make things difficult for anyone—quite the contrary, I take great pleasure in making your life easier. One of the reasons I created my beta reader program is to reduce errors in my books. Another reason is to reduce the chance that you’ll encounter problems with procedures in my books due to system differences. More beta readers mean more test systems and a lower probability that some oddity will get past everyone and make it into my books.

However, the fact remains that no amount of effort on my part will ever produce a procedure that always works on absolutely every system on the planet because each system is unique. I can’t possibly test the procedure on absolutely every system out there—much as hardware vendors can’t foresee potential conflicts or software vendors can’t predict a particular system combination that will cause an application to fail. In fact, given the limited resources at my disposal, it’s quite possible that you’ll encounter a problem with a procedure. When this happens, I invite you to contact me at [email protected]. We’ll work together on a solution to the problem you’re experiencing with the procedure. When a problem is severe enough, I’ll post an update for that book on my blog so that everyone can benefit. After all, the purpose of my books is to help you learn how to do something interesting with your computer system.

There are a few things you can do to reduce the potential for problems with the procedures in my books. The following list contains the difficulties that I encounter most often and solving these issues often helps my readers get back on track with the book.

  • Use the software and hardware that the book is designed to work with. Older or newer versions of software and hardware often work differently and cause the procedure to fail.
  • Read the steps carefully and verify that your display looks similar to the one in the book. Differences between my system and your system will sometimes mean that your screen will look a little different from mine, but the screens should at least look similar.
  • Make sure you have the knowledge required to use the book. I’ve been trying to become more careful in stating the knowledge a reader needs as part of the book’s introduction. If you don’t have this knowledge, you’ll find that you have a hard time learning the material.
  • Check your system for failures. In some cases, a reader’s system isn’t working right in the first place and the failure of the procedure merely mirrors this fact.

I always want to hear from my readers. Your e-mails to me brighten my day because I know someone is using the material I’ve worked so hard to create. I’m quite serious when I say, “Contact Me, Please!” Please do make sure to follow the guidelines in my Sending Comments on My Books post when sending me e-mail so that I have the information needed to help you as quickly as possible.

Keeping Your Animals Healthy in Hot Weather

It’s incredibly important to keep your animals cool in hot weather. Just as you need to keep your cool, animals need to keep cool too. The same sorts of heat-related problems that affect you, affect your animals. However, there is one important difference. Unlike you, your animals have no way to communicate that they’re hot. Sometimes people misread the signs until the animal dies, which is incredibly sad.

You might think that air conditioning would solve all of your problems. However, I’ve noted that some animals, like some people, don’t do all that well in air conditioning. So, besides being incredibly expensive, you could end up doing your animals more harm than good. There are better options for keeping your animals cool. With advancements being made all the time in this area of ‘refrigeration technology’, it will only become more adapted for general use over time, keeping you and your animals cool in the summer months without any ill effects or significant financial impact. In fact, developments in the use of natural CO2 are enabling high energy efficiency and enormous cooling capacity meaning that the future of air conditioning is bright. Take a look at these Air Conditioning Facts for German Readers on Solaranlagen Portal to keep up to date with the latest.

Water, lots of it, is an essential element in keeping your animals cool. The water should be kept fresh at all times, which means changing the water three or four times a day for most animals. It helps to put the water in some sort of bucket, instead of a water bottle. Yes, the bottle does keep the water cleaner, but the animal can’t access the water when you put it in a bottle. Think about your methods of keeping cool. When you want to stay cool, just drinking water doesn’t do enough most of the time, you want to put a little on your body too. Animals like to have water for more than just their drinking needs too.

Cats seem to be the least affected by heat in our experience. You need to allow them a cool place and lots of water. Don’t be surprised if you find the cat lying in the bathtub, on the shower floor, on your tiles, or anywhere else there is a smooth cool surface. Placing the water near this surface means the cat expends less energy finding something to drink. Cats will overheat rather than splash water on themselves. Sometimes you need to give them a helping hand (hoping that they don’t scratch too much in the return). Cats prefer cool, not cold, water. Running water (as in one of those bubbler bowls) is better than stagnant water.

Dogs seem to like a bit of a breeze and copious quantities of water. Sometimes our dogs will lie right in front of a fan in order to grab some breeze. Many dogs also love ice. In hot weather, ensuring they are kept cool is very important to their health. Whether that’d mean applying dog conditioner after giving them a bath, topping up their water supply or providing air conditioning, these are just some steps that can keep your dog feeling cool throughout the summer months.

We’ll put ice in their water bowls to get the water ice cold. Our border collie is especially adept at grabbing ice cubes and grinding them up. A big issue is keeping your dogs quiet in hot weather. A dog will hurt itself, rather than disappoint master. Master needs to understand that and keep the dog as quiet as possible. Misting your dog does seem to help. In fact, I don’t know of many dogs who don’t enjoy getting completely wet during hot weather (try one of the many dog pools available on the market). Some dogs don’t do well in air condition. I know that our beagle gets a sinus condition from the air conditioner.

Rabbits do well in air conditioning for the most part, which means getting Air Conditioning Repair done before the season starts is very important. We’ll bring our most vulnerable rabbits inside during especially hot weather. Bucks need the cooling more than the does do (a buck can become sterile if he gets too hot). Younger rabbits need cooling more than older rabbits. It’s essential that you not keep rabbits together during extreme heat. For some odd reason, they’ll pile on top of each other-hastening the inevitable. We’ve tried freezing drink bottles (mostly full of water with a little air gap at the top) and placing them in the cages. It works quite well. The rabbits will lie next to the bottles and use them for cooling. Expect to go through a number of these bottles. The rabbits also seem to delight in chewing holes in the bottles.

Chickens apparently don’t sweat. They actually fan out the feathers to allow for cooling and will pant much like a dog does. We’ve tried misting the chickens with mixed results. However, we have discovered that chickens will cool themselves by wading in cold water, leading me to believe that chickens cool themselves through their feet. Spraying the feet also seems to have a good effect. Once I discovered that chickens hate to get their feathers wet, but delight in cool feet, I was able to redirect the spray from a hose to more effectively cool them. We have also employed fans to help the chickens cool themselves. They’ll sit in front of the fan, feathers fluffed, gathering as much of the breeze as possible. Chickens don’t seem to do well in air conditioning. Chickens do need more fresh, cool, water than most animals do and expect that water to get quite dirty between refills.

The one constant that we’re finding is that eating generates heat. We’re finding that withholding food until the evening hours seems to help every animal we work with to stay cooler. In fact, chickens will often die immediately after a meal when the weather is too hot from a heart attack (a condition known as flip). Wait until evening, when it’s cooler, to feed your animals during the summer and you’ll keep them a lot cooler during the day. As an alternative, try feeding your animal in the extreme morning hours (before the sun rises, if possible). Don’t feed your animal during the hottest hours of the day.

The point is that you must discover how your animals get cool. Each animal will also have personal preferences. Observe your animals closely to ensure it stays cool in a way that works with its body type. Some animals like misting, others don’t. Some can tolerate air conditioning, others can’t. If you know that your animal can cope in air conditioning, and does better with it when the weather is hot, then make sure that it is working perfectly during the hot weather. If it breaks you should get it fixed by someone like this air conditioning repair Jacksonville has to offer. Water is always a primary ingredient to keeping your animals cool and making that water accessible is incredibly important. The number one thing we’ve found out though is that animals will also try to tell you in a non-vocal manner when it doesn’t like the manner of cooling you’ve chosen. Find something that works. Let me know about your experiences with animal cooling at [email protected].

Dealing with Timing Issues in the Garden

Timing can be everything when it comes to food. This summer we’re experiencing a number of timing issues, just as we do every other summer. The first timing issue is getting too much food to process at one time. We finally had success growing cantaloupe this summer and had planned for the fruit to grow at a rate that would allow us to harvest a little cantaloupe at a time. The squash vine borers that killed all three of our cantaloupe vines had a different idea. At first I thought that the cantaloupe was a complete loss because the cantaloupes weren’t full sized. However, after waiting for a while, we found that the cantaloupes ripened just fine on the vines-they’re just a little small. Unfortunately, they all ripened at the same time. We saved some for eating now, but Rebecca is busy pickling the rest so we can eat them during the winter. The point is that when you get an overflow of items, try to find a way to quickly preserve them of later use.

Before I get a number of e-mails about potentially swapping the cantaloupes with other people, the cantaloupes were indeed small and not quite as flavorful as we would have liked. Pickling them made up for these deficiencies. I only trade high quality items with other people because I expect them to do the same for me.

There are pesticides I could have used to prevent this problem, but Rebecca and I don’t believe in using pesticides except as an absolute last choice. If we had to, we would Check out these organic pesticides rather than mass produced, chemically filled pesticides. In this case, we would have had to preemptively applied the pesticide in order to prevent the damage (one day the plants were fine, the next they were dead). We won’t do that because of the potential damage to the pollinators and the contamination of the food.

Meanwhile, some people have given up on their tomatoes this year because they simply didn’t want to grow in the combination of high heat and lack of water. With the short rainstorms we’ve had, the addition of lightning, and some good irrigation, our tomatoes are finally taking off. Yes, we’ll get the tomatoes late in the season, but the weather service is predicting a warm fall, so the choice to keep our tomatoes turned out to be a good one. Sometimes you have to be patient and wait for the right conditions to happen for your plants. Unfortunately, it appears that a number of other items are also going to ripen late, so I foresee having to juggle more than the usual number of late season processing needs this year. In fact, we may have to ask for a little neighborly help to make everything work out right.

Our okra is producing slowly, but consistently this year. In fact, I think this will turn out to be one of the best years we’ve ever had. However, the slow intake of okra is causing us some problems because we had decided to pickle some of our okra this year and there isn’t enough okra at any given time to pickle. The solution for this problem is to gather the okra each day and freeze it. When we have enough okra to pickle, we’ll defrost the entire lot, and get the pickling done the same day. I’m thinking that we’ll notice a small loss in quality, but probably not enough for anyone else to notice.

Timing is an essential part of planning the garden, the harvest, and the food processing. Your garden is unlikely to know or care about your plans, however, so you have to remain flexible. When you encounter a problem of too much, too little, or not enough at the right time, think about solutions that will help you overcome these problems, rather than fret over a situation you can’t change anyway. Let me know about your garden timing issues at [email protected].


Pondering the Death of the Desktop Computer

Being an author of computer books makes me naturally curious about the health of certain technologies. After all, I need to know what to write about next. Lately there has been all sorts of ruckus generated about the death of the desktop computer. Many people claim that the desktop computer is on its last legs with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. The expression is cliched and so are the arguments about the desktop computer you’re probably using at work most of the time.

At issue is whether everyone can use a small device to perform all of their work. From some of what I read, I get a picture of a teenager texting a tome the size of War and Piece on a smartphone. (You can even find articles that tell you how to replace your laptop with a smartphone.) The moment that the visualization is complete, I admit that I get a good laugh from the picture. Imagine for a moment seeing someone’s thumbs flying at a speed that defies imagination for months on end to complete the book. The whole idea is ludicrous, but I’m sure someone will try it and succeed as a proof of concept.

You can create a Dick Tracy style computer in a watch. The technology has no size restriction. In fact, I’m not entirely sure that you’d even require the space consumed by the entire watch anymore. The problem isn’t one of making the technology small enough, but one of allowing a human to interact with the technology safely. The reason that the teenage texting of War and Peace brings tearful laughter to my eyes is the insanity of even attempting it. At issue are repetitive stress injuries and special needs.

Desktop computers provide an instrument that is large enough for most people to interact with successfully without incurring almost immediate trauma. That trauma occurs even with this form factor should tell you something. In order to work successfully for long periods of time, the environment must suit the human form factor—something that smaller devices simply can’t provide. As keyboards get smaller and people start typing in crouched or other uncomfortable positions, the opportunity for serious injury increases. In short, the reason the desktop computer won’t go away completely is that people need something large enough to perform large quantities of useful work successfully.

The issue of special needs would seem to seal the deal for desktop computers. People constantly complain about the size of smartphone screens—how the text is nearly impossible to see. It’s hard to believe that anyone would seriously consider trying to write large documents, work on graphics, or create presentations on such a small display. In fact, as the population ages, I see a problem performing even minor tasks with the small screen in some cases. People simply won’t be able to see the display to use it.

It was with great interest that I recently read a post entitled, “Post-PC Bunkum” by John Dvorak. In it, John mentions something that should make everyone aware that the desktop computer isn’t going away—it has become a commodity. It has become something that most people are familiar with and have in their home, office, or both. The desktop computer has almost become a refrigerator in terms of ubiquity in the home and office environment. However, the reason most people are uncomfortable with the desktop computer is that it truly is a complex device capable of performing some truly amazing feats in the right hands. People want to make tasks and their environment mindlessly simple and the desktop computer doesn’t do that for them. Even so, I doubt very much we’ll see the desktop go away anytime soon.

What is your take on the death of the desktop computer? What sorts of devices do you work with to perform most of your tasks? What sorts of tasks do you perform most often? Let me know at [email protected].


Thinking About Robotic Physicians

I have had a long term interest in enhancing the human condition using technology in a positive way (which is the main reason I wrote Accessibility for Everybody). For example, I explored how exoskeletons can help those who don’t have use of their legs to walk as if they did. The Robotics in Your Future post started things off though by reviewing the topic of robotics as they relate to humans. Recently I read an article about robotic physicians in ComputerWorld. The robot is simply a method for a real person to interact with a patient over a distance. Using the robot’s functionality, a doctor can perform a number of checks on a patient and learn what has gone wrong. The technology is obviously in its infancy at this point, but I already had questions about it as soon as I read the article.

While writing Determining When Technology Hurts, I tried to consider the negative aspects of a particular technology. For example, a doctor doesn’t have a face-to-face environment in which to interact with the patient in this case. Consequently, the doctor could miss subtle cues as to the actual issues that a patient faces. This sort of technology depends on the doctor’s ability to use instruments that are attached to a robot in a remote location. The doctor may not even know whether the instruments are fully functional and providing accurate information. I’m sure the technology will eventually include safeguards (and may even include some now), but these concerns are something that we as a society must ponder before making the technology generally available. Of course, there is the major issue of dealing with the human reaction to a robotic doctor. I’m sure many people will refuse to the submit to the cold hand of technology in place of the warm hands of a real doctor.

Even with these concerns, however, there is real potential for the robotic physician. For one thing, you can find any number of articles online about the expected shortfall in doctors. There simply won’t be enough doctors to go around at some point. Some plans for addressing this shortfall include using nurses to perform more of the work normally associated with doctors. Of course, because a nurse doesn’t have the same level of training, there are some serious issues with this approach. The robotic physician could help address the shortfall, especially in rural areas where patients typically have to wait now for the one day a week that a specialist visits.

The robotic physician could also fill in when there is no doctor available. Smaller, isolated communities could finally have a doctor available, even if that doctor isn’t physically present. A robotic doctor will also be necessary as our ventures into space increase. It’s also easy to imagine larger nursing homes staffing a robotic doctor who could help with critical patients until physical help can arrive and take over. The loss of life will be reduced in such situations because the doctor could be there in seconds. In short, this is an exciting development in technology that will have practical uses as long as we’re careful in applying it.

How would you react to a robotic doctor? Would you even let it touch you? I would imagine that human reluctance will be one of the major issues we’ll have to overcome, but I’d like to hear your take on the matter at [email protected].