My Status is the Baddest

A friend on Facebook recently asked me about my status updates. He said he very much enjoyed them and wanted to know whether they were spontaneous, carefully thought out and stored in some huge database, or whether I stole them from some website. I thought about a simple answer like “yep, sometimes, and never,” but something inspired me to give him a buck-fifty answer. After all, he was asking a question about my favorite subject (a.k.a., me). So here’s what I told him…

Back in the days of Messenger around the office, I had this running “status update” shtick. It made for good laughs, and I became that zany guy around the office who always had something goofy on his Messenger status. When Windows Live came along, and later Facebook and Twitter, I guess I just sort of kept the tradition going. It became far easier to write a sentence here and there than to maintain lengthy blog posts that few people would bother reading. Mobile completely changed the way I approached sharing, because I could fire off a line practically in real time.

I won’t go so far as to say I’ve never “repurposed” someone else’s content to get a laugh, but by and large, the stuff I put out on social media is my own stuff…for better or worse. I retweet when appropriate and when I do reuse something out of context, I try to be careful to provide attribution. One guy I followed on Twitter got eviscerated last year for plagiarism, and it just destroyed his credibility. He defended that since he wasn’t making money off of it, he could borrow and riff on other people’s (mostly professional comedians’) material, but the dude had to leave Twitter and roam the earth like Cain. It was pitiful. Then this past year, Shia LaBeouf happened. Really, passing off someone else’s stuff as your own, when it’s connected to the source materials via world’s most searchable database takes serious balls. Some time later, I noticed that one of my friends seemed to be killing it on Facebook, but then I looked closer and all of his updates were from an app called “Funny Status Updates for Android.” Groan. Even if a joke falls flat (and I hate to call them jokes, they’re really more like observations), then I’d rather it be mine to own.

I love memes, because they represent an idea that people can build upon. Sometimes, I will do that. You can take a way of phrasing something (such-and-such is probably the worst thing in the history of ever) and put your own spin on it (“Meatloaf is probably the worst thing in the history of ever. You decide whether I’m talking about the dish or the singer.”), but that’s about as far as I’ll go. First and foremost, I want my updates to be authentic, and then hopefully also funny…or at least quirky.

My best updates are an extension of the stuff that happens around the house or the office throughout the day. Otherwise, I feel like they come off as someone trying too hard. And honestly, there’s nothing less funny than somebody trying too hard to be funny (people’s exhibit A: Carrot Top). Self-deprecation is one of my staples, because I’m the one person I can always tease without getting hurt feelings. I’m also genuinely goofy, but I’m probably not quite as socially inept as I seem online. My updates generally do reflect my personal attitudes, but sometimes they’re tongue-in-cheek. And I’ll absolutely give credit to my wife, Ginny, for being my creative inspiration (much to her chagrin, I’m sure) and sometimes the outright co-author for many of my updates. “You can’t post that!” is a common utterance around our household.

Most of the time, updates go straight from my brain through my hand and into my phone in less than 2 minutes (fat fingering aside), but I do keep a running OneNote page called “Musings” where I jot down incomplete thoughts throughout the day, until I’ve had a chance to craft them a bit more. Timing is everything; on more than one occasion, I’ve forgotten and subsequently missed an opportunity. Case in point, the morning after this year’s Super Bowl, I forgot to post:

“Somewhere in the third world this morning, a child is wondering why there’s a demon horse on his new t-shirt.”

There are some that I just haven’t figured out how to phrase quite yet, like this:

“Something about plants being chock full of stem cells.”

I also have a few tucked away that will probably never see the light of day, at least not under this persona. I don’t really filter who sees this stuff, so my rule of thumb is not to embarrass my grandma too much. Maybe I’ll have to invent a fake Twitter handle for my “after dark” material.

Why can’t you run legacy software in Windows RT?

Surface running Windows RT I was discussing the merits of Windows RT with a colleague, and the conversation came to that old chestnut about how Windows RT can’t run so-called “legacy” (x86) software. I got a Surface RT back in February, and pretty much the first thing I did (after unboxing it) was to try to install a classic Windows title, which of course, failed miserably. Today I posited that it might be possible to run portable x86 apps on the platform. Again I was met with the same failure. Which got me thinking, why exactly can’t Windows RT run x86 programs?

I understand that Windows RT is designed for ARM and that’s a completely different platform with a different instruction set, etc. It would be like saying “why can’t a Mac or Linux program run on a Windows PC? Or vice-versa?” It really has nothing to do with whether you can/need to install files on the host OS, but rather whether the OS knows what to do with the instructions that the program is attempting to execute. And remember, the application software doesn’t really communicate directly with the hardware layer anyway; that’s what the OS is for. And the truth is that you can run software on a non-native OS, but you need an emulator (BlueStacks) or virtual machine (Parallels, VM Ware) to do it.

So here’s my quasi-technical perspective on the issue. Windows RT has a Windows desktop. Now especially after having used Windows RT for the better part of a year, you’d have a hard time convincing me that Microsoft completely re-coded the Windows desktop to run on ARM. It just doesn’t make sense, either logistically or functionally. Windows represents the culmination of over two decades of development. You don’t re-build all that completely for ARM in 18 months. And even if you did, there’s a ton of settings, utilities, etc., in the RT desktop that would have no business in a true ARM environment. If you were building a legacy desktop from scratch to support Office, IE, and maybe a few file operations, you wouldn’t go to the trouble of rewriting the entire Windows 7-era speech recognition engine or the Task Scheduler – stuff that you’d really have no need to run on RT devices. Let alone re-building the core Office programs specifically for this environment. So that tells me there’s probably some kind of emulation layer that exists, which allows the Windows x86 code to run on ARM. And that makes the limitation that Microsoft put on traditional x86 desktop software (whether installed or portable) seem completely artificial. Did you notice that when you try to install an x86 application on the desktop in Windows RT, the popup that says “This app can’t run on your PC” uses the new modern UI? That screams “gatekeeper” to me.

Call me a conspiracy theorist if you want, but it’s more likely that Microsoft didn’t want to damage the value proposition they had carefully constructed for Windows RT. After all, if RT could run any x86 software on low-powered ARM devices (even if it was sluggish), then they’d have a hard time selling casual users on a full-blown version of Windows that only runs on a “real PC.” Besides, banning x86 software from RT set a nice low bar for the platform; if you expected to run all your legacy software, and then the experience wasn’t so great, guess who gets the blame? (Hint: it’s Windows)

Look, I appreciate Windows RT and I love my Surface RT. I believe in Microsoft’s long-term vision for it in the post-PC landscape. If it could run a couple of my favorite desktop apps, it’d be all I need. Microsoft should have said, “Hey, we’ve got a version of Windows that can run on top of ARM. It’s designed to work with our new Windows Store apps. If you want to install legacy apps that weren’t designed to run on this thing, then give it a whirl. Your mileage may vary, and if it doesn’t work, don’t blame us.” I think there’s a handful of us that would be OK taking that risk. And my gut tells me it can be done. Here’s hoping someone cracks that nut before RT becomes extinct.

A blog by any other name…

So Internet, I’m really trying to get back in the habit of blogging, and I think a rebrand might help me. Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?

When I started this blog back in 2006 on Windows Live Spaces, I just called it “Greg’s Space,” because I’m all about sticking with the default choices (it makes me feel safe, seriously – every PowerPoint is in Calibri). For a while there, I got all creative with it, and changed the name to “Hello, World,” because that’s the output traditionally written by every developer’s first program.

header.pngRemember this era?

A few years later, the blog’s name changed again to “Since You Asked,” because it’s one of those conversational qualifiers for telling someone exactly what you think, but in the most passively aggressive way possible (see also, “Bless his heart”). I liked the idea that this was a personal space where folks who were interested in my opinions could come and read them. Obviously, in the last few years, I’ve had very few blog-worthy opinions to share.

Fast forward to today. My pal Sam was doodling on my whiteboard, and he joked that “gregsedwards” (my original Hotmail username and sort-of brand pretty much everywhere online) looks like “Greg Said Words.”

WP_20131008_001

Exhibit A
(Sam is actually a chimpanzee who has learned to manipulate human tools)

Do you ever have one of those “a-ha” moments? It just struck me that the brand I’ve been cultivating for the past several years would make a great name for the ol’ bloggity blog. So, welcome netizens to the new (but sadly not really improved) blog, “Greg Said Words.”

I wanna go back (go back) and do it all over…

I hate when streaming services use greatest hits albums. It really screws with date-based listening. When I’m in the middle of a 1995 playlist and get a track from 1983, because it was included on a greatest hits album released that year, that really grinds my gears.

I’ve worked very hard to make sure each track in my music collection is properly tagged according to the album on which it was originally released. With the shift over to cloud-based music management, a lot of that’s out the window. Grrr…

Also, my diamond shoes are too tight and my wallet is too small for all these fifties.

Welcome back, blogger

Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back... Blogging has been a longtime hobby of mine, dating back to 2006, when I started my Windows Live Spaces blog. In fact, it evolved into the blog you’re reading now. I find blogging to be a great way to share tips and tricks about my geeky pursuits, even if my posts don’t find a wide audience. Moreover, it helps me to organize and archive my thoughts.

And for a couple of years, I kept it up pretty regularly. At least a couple of times a week, I could be counted on to crank out a techie rant or goofy observation, and people from all over the world would pop over to leave their comments. And then my kids came along. And then Facebook and Twitter happened. Suddenly, spending an hour every night meticulously crafting a post with inline images and stylish layouts became a luxury I couldn’t justify. In those few moments between burping, baths, and bedtimes, banging out a few 140-character updates seemed like a much more realistic endeavor. And surprisingly, I found that even though I wasn’t blogging nearly as often, I was actually sharing more information via Facebook and Twitter with a wider audience on a more diverse set of topics.

For a blogger, using a system like Twitter to communicate (and I mean to actually communicate an idea, not just share a link or picture) is quite a challenge, because it really forces you to get to the point. It’s like writing haiku; there’s an elegance in the simplicity, but to master the form, you must first unlearn all the literary trappings you’ve spent a lifetime accumulating.

And yet I feel like there’s still a place for traditional blogging in my life. WordPress has some nice hooks into my other social circles for promoting and sharing new posts. Thanks to mobile apps, it’s easier than ever to post quick updates in the go. In fact, I’m composing this post on a svelte little Wordpress app running on my Microsoft Surface RT. So, I hope to start blogging again with more frequency, even if there’s little hope my posts will be any more interesting to read. You’ve been warned. 😉

Coming out of the closet

For many years, I’ve kept a secret that only my close family and a few open-minded friends know. But I feel it’s time to be honest with all of you, because you deserve to know who I really am. No more avoiding the subject. No more smiling politely and remaining silent when the topic comes up in mixed conversation. No more avoiding family gatherings because I’m afraid someone will call me a derogatory name.

I’m finally ready to admit publicly that I’m left-handed.

That’s right folks, I’m a lefty. I curl my left hand over when I write. I use left-handed scissors. I catch with my right and throw with my left. My mouse buttons are backwards. I can’t use spiral-bound notebooks.

I can remember when I was a little boy, and I first realized I might be left-handed. I was coloring with all the other kids in kindergarten, and it just didn’t feel natural to me. Sure, my blue ducky looked good enough to earn a gold star from the teacher, but I knew in my heart that something just was missing. The crayon felt awkward in my right hand. Across the table, I made eye contact with another boy, and I could tell he felt the same way. Call it intuition, or maybe some kind of radar. When nobody was watching, we quietly slipped our crayons into our left hands and colored. It was glorious. For the first time in my life, I just felt right, er left…you know what I mean.

To Do ListFor a long time, I tried to ignore it. I tried to forget how wonderful it felt to use my left hand, how much easier it made just about everything in my life. With my left hand, I could butter my bread, comb my hair, and even write my name legibly. By the time I was six or seven, I couldn’t deny it any longer. Besides, people were worrying I had some sort of palsy. I finally had to tell my mom that her only son was a left-handed. I was so worried, but she just smiled at me. “I know,” she replied with tears welling up in her eyes. “Somehow, I’ve always known.” She hugged me close, and I felt validated.

Thankfully, my parents were supportive of my alternative lifestyle, even when my grandmother tried to discourage it. “Better put an end to that boy using his left hand,” she protested. ”He’ll never fit in.” She actually suggested tieing an oven mitt over my left hand. That’s supposedly how they handled odd behaviors back in her day, when folks wouldn’t put up with such nonsense.

When rumors started circulating at our church that the Edwards boy was left-handed, people called me all sorts of horrible names like “sinister,” “southpaw,” and “liberal.” Parents wouldn’t let their kids play with me anymore, because they were afraid I might turn them into lefties, too. The minister cited Bible verses that he said clearly demonstrated how God favored the right-handed. You know what? Turns out that hypocrite was a flaming lefty his whole life! Anyway, we stopped attending services shortly thereafter.

Participating in sports was always tough for me. In baseball, I had to use a special glove and stand on the other side of the batting box. But the stereotypes were definitely the worst part. One day, I heard my own father tell the coach, “Why don’t you put him on first base? His kind is really good in that position.” His kind?! Is that how my father sees me now? I know I’m still his son and he loves me, but things between us have just been different ever since. In my heart, I know he’d prefer a normal, right-handed boy to make him proud.

I found acceptance among my friends. They didn’t care that I held my fork backwards or couldn’t drink from a regular mug. But I was still living a lie.

Once I got to college, the world really opened up. There were clubs and bars that were friendly to people like me. Most of my professors were openly left-handed, and I learned that many famous politicians, artists, and intellectuals have been left-handed throughout history. I discovered that there are a lot of different philosophies in this great, big world, and there are people out there who are into way freakier shit than just being left-handed. I met one guy who did calligraphy…with his feet.

Today, I’m happily married to a wonderful right-handed woman who loves me for who I am and doesn’t judge me, because I leave the panhandle on the wrong side of the stove or put my toothbrush on the wrong side of the sink. To the outside world, I appear perfectly “normal.” I’ve learned to golf right-handed, and I wear a watch on my left arm. Thank goodness for computers, because I seldom have to bother writing with a pen or pencil anymore. In our home, we’ve decided that we’ll be open with our kids about handedness, and if one of them decides to become a lefty, we’ll just accept it. But I better not catch them trying to be ambidextrous, cause that’s just plain wrong. Sorry if that sounds judgmental, but you gotta draw the line somewhere, people.

The Leftorium
Contrary to popular opinion, left-handed people are not more likely to have moustaches.

Yes, society has come a long way in how it view us lefties. Studies have found that around 10% of people are left-handed, and while evidence suggests lefties are just “born that way,” others believe it’s a conscious lifestyle choice. Isn’t that just ridiculous?

Nevertheless, it’s becoming more mainstream every day. We even have our own observance day, August 13. In larger cities, you might find people marching in a left-handed pride parade. No longer can you could be discharged from the military for being left-handed. We’ve even had left-handed presidents. But we still have a long way to go. For instance, did you know that most public places are not required to recognize left-handedness? Desks in our public schools are right-handed. Doors across this great nation are designed to be opened with the right hand. People almost universally offer you their right hand to shake. Cup designers still put the handle on the right. Books are designed to be read left to right. In most churches, you can forget about being accepted if you’re openly left-handed. Lefties can’t even hold public office in Tennessee (no wait, that’s atheists). Did you know there’s even a chicken restaurant that openly opposes left-handed people on moral grounds? True story (mostly).

Have it your way

In response to the outcry over the removal of the Start menu in the recent Windows 8 previews, Microsoft has announced that they are restoring a key piece of classic functionality before the final release of the highly anticipated operating system this fall.

“We’re listening to our customers.” said Richard Astley, Vice-president of the Consumer Review and Appeasement Program at Microsoft. “We’ve heard that it scares them to death when you change even the slightest thing that’s familiar to them, even when it’s a key part of a revolutionary and ambitious operating system that’s designed for devices they haven’t even seen yet.”

Metro Start ScreenInstead of the simple touch-friendly Metro Start screen included in early previews of Windows 8, which features interactive live tiles for glance-and-go information, the classic Start menu relied on layers of folders to organize programs into a labyrinthine mess that made your PC feel truly personal. “Just finding your favorite programs could take dozens of clicks,” said Astley. “Our customers told us that it really helped them pass the time while waiting for their Adobe products to update each day.”

While Microsoft had conducted thousands of person-hours of research and gathered mountains of telemetry data over several years showing consumers seldom clicked any of those deeply buried shortcuts, they realized that people just inherently want to boot up a computer and spend several minutes mindlessly looking for that misplaced shortcut to Spotify.

So, is Microsoft bringing back the classic Start menu? “No,” replied Astley, “We’re going to give our customers something even better. The message we’ve heard from them that classic is what they really want, so we’re reaching way back into Windows’ cachet of classic tools. That’s right, Program Manager is coming back to Windows 8.”

Program Manager was the primary interface used in the Windows 3.x family of operating systems. Instead of the Start menu’s hierarchical, branching lists, it presented users with a mess of program group icons, each of which opened into another mess of windows, full of additional program icons. “It’s essentially the iOS 5 home screen,” explained Astley. “Seems to work for Apple, so we figured what the hell. Better to be safe than sorry.”

When users boot into the final release of Windows 8 on their PCs and tablets later this year, they’ll be presented with a very simple, logical grid of shortcuts to their favorite programs, in all their 8-bit glory. It was originally designed for 640 x 480 VGA displays, so it should look really sick on an HD retina display. Veteran users will be delighted to see favorite groups, including Main, Accessories, Games, and StartUp. Each group will open a separate window with links to favorite “apps,” including Paint, Minesweeper, and of course, PIF Editor. Clicking icons will launch additional windows containing your apps. Somewhere, under that endless and cluttered pile of windows, the Program Manager will be waiting when you want to switch to another app.

Here’s the early prototype Astley provided:

ProgMan8

“Where I can find an app for forearm hair removal?”

Gone are innovative Metro features such as live tiles, gestures, and the Charms bar. The Program Manager was designed for a time when most PCs could only hold fewer than a dozen programs, so the interface doesn’t provide any mechanism for searching. And since sharing information in the days of Program Manager meant copying it onto a floppy disk and walking it down the hall to your coworker’s office, Microsoft has also eliminated any capabilities to post to popular social networks. “Social networks, you mean like the office water cooler?,” responded a confused Astley. “I don’t know about that, but it should be easy to defragment your hard disk weekly with the MS-DOS utilities we’re planning to include.”

“We have realized how just important Internet access has become to customers over the last two decades,” said Astley. “That’s why we’ve included the Network group from Windows for Workgroups. We’re not entirely sure about modern web browsers, but Telnet is pretty reliable and should work just fine for all your USENET groups.”

When asked how the classic Program Manager would translate to a touch-friendly experience for tablet users, Astley responded, “Oh no, we don’t think it’ll be easy to use at all. Oh, hell no. We expect users will probably spend even more time trying to figure out how to separate groups after they accidentally drag their icons into the wrong window. Also, Program Manager was never designed for multi-touch, so we’re just crossing our fingers that it’ll work at all.”

“We’re expecting it to be a total clusterf***,” responded Astley. “But hey, the customer is always right…right?”

Happy April Fools Day, nerds. Sarcastic smile