Take (Web) Note

I’ve had an ongoing love/hate relationship with OneNote. It’s an amazing, versatile container for information of all shapes and sizes, but at times, it’s a convoluted mess to manage a collection with such a vast and nebulous scope. While I’ve done a decent job of adopting it as the go-to tool for my personal data horde, I’ve been only marginally successful in convincing my family and colleagues to use it consistently.

OneNote just wants to be your “everything” locker, and consequently, it offers myriad avenues for transporting your precious stuff into its hungry maw. You can insert a screen clipping, use the Send to OneNote tool, email a note to yourself (me@onenote.com), and so on. Over the years, however, I came to rely heavily on using OneNote as a virtual printer, because any Windows application that could print – particularly IE – could easily send its print-ready output to OneNote. It was a pretty excellent solution for online payment receipts, where you really need a printout instead of just a link back to the page.

Windows 8 debuted the OneNote app, which could leverage the Share charm to receive content, but only if the sending app understood how to work with charms. Which is to say, none of them. It’s was kind of a nightmare.

So, I was cautiously optimistic to learn that in Windows 10, Microsoft has once again changed up the way users are supposed to send stuff to OneNote. I’m trying to move to the lightweight touch-first Office apps wherever I can, but OneNote Mobile doesn’t provide the virtual printer. The previous sharing framework is now defunct, so what’s an aspiring note-clipper to do? It took me a few minutes to figure it out, but the answer lies in Edge’s new Web Note feature.

On any page, click the icon to start new Web Note.

The colorful Web Note toolbar is displayed. You can use the tools to markup the page easily. When you’re done, just click the icon.

You’ll see a panel with output options, but the default destination is OneNote (perhaps, it’s no coincidence that the toolbar is OneNote’s signature purple color). Choose a section and click Send.

That’s it! The next time you fire up OneNote, your new web note is there to greet you.

The Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter

Or, How I Learned to Stop Doing Things the Hard Way and Love Miracast

If you’ve followed me for a while, you might know I’m an old Windows Media Center junkie from way back. I’ve been using PCs in one form or another to power my home entertainment experience for about the last 15 years or so. And even before that, I was using computers to accrue and organize my media collection since the mid 90’s. And it’s been something of a love/hate relationship.

Probably the first time I ever saw a Windows PC tethered to a TV was 1996. I was teaching technology classes for a small computer company, and the instructor’s PC in our training lab was mirrored to a hulking CRT display, but the resolution was so fuzzy, you could really only make out the basic shapes. You had to keep a regular monitor on hand to get anything done. But I was fascinated and thought about a day when I’d be able to do something like that in my own home. The same company did a few custom home theater PC installs (mostly for physicians, go figure), using a ridiculous array of parts and software that didn’t fit together very well at all. But I watched the techs and learned a lot.

A few years later I was working for Gateway, and they offered this complete home theater solution called the Destination. It was essentially a custom Windows 98 rig with a huge 32″ TV, surround sound speakers, a wireless keyboard with a trackpad, and remote/trackball thing.

Not pictured: forklift

So, for a couple thousand dollars, you could watch TV through your computer…on a TV. It looked amazing in the showroom, but nobody really bought them.

My first foray into digital home entertainment came in 1999. I was living in an apartment that was so small, there was space in the bedroom for a TV or a computer, but not both. So, I threw a cheap Hauppauge TV capture card into my desktop PC, and with this goofy little included remote, suddenly my 17″ computer monitor could pull double duty. It could record live TV, I suppose, but I didn’t have enough disk space to bother.

Could I BE more nineties?

When Windows XP Media Center Edition débuted in 2003, I knew it’d a game-changer for the way I consumed entertainment. I moved from watching TV and movies and listening to music on my desktop PC to devising increasingly convoluted ways to pipe my content to TV screens throughout the house.

My madness 2.0

First, I tried the Media Center Extender add-on for the Xbox (the original one) that required you to put in a disc every time you wanted to watch something, which was then streamed on-demand from the Media Center PC’s hard drive. The setup also included a Media Center remote and an IR receiver that plugged into one of the console’s available controller ports.

Now you’re playing with POWER!

This was in the era of Core processors and 802.11b wireless networking, so as you can imagine, the overall experience was less than stellar. The MCE setup actually created a hidden user account on the host PC to manage everything. Downstairs, I used included remote to navigate clumsily around the familiar Media Center interface from my PC. But it was such a novel experience, I was hooked. I knew wanted to build my home theater around Windows.

It wasn’t long before I found myself ditching the Xbox and converting an old tower PC to connect directly to my TV. It became the stuff of weekend projects. But it wasn’t easy. Or cheap. I had to buy a better video card. And an S-Video/coax converter. And then a bigger hard drive. And then a sound card that would drive 5.1 speakers.

And this thing, at one point

Then came the accessories – another Media Center remote and keyboard, which required a shared USB-powered IR receiver, and a lot of wires. Oh, so many wires.

But, when it worked, the experience was totally worth it for me. At a time when most people were just discovering the power of using a TiVo set-top box, Windows Media Center let me seamlessly switch between my live and recorded cable TV, radio, my media collection, and – as long as I didn’t mind dropping out of the Media Center application to read tiny text on a CRT – really anything else a PC could do. But it wasn’t without plenty of difficulty, and at times, awkwardness. Boy, was it loud. And hot. Content would intermittently stutter and freeze. Plus, it seemed like whenever the kids wanted to watch SpongeBob, Windows really needed to install a critical update. Try telling a toddler they can’t watch their movie because of a pending reboot. WAF (wife approval factor) was never very high, but we all learned to live with it, partly because it was darn convenient, and partly because by that point, I had invested a small fortune in living the Media Center lifestyle.

Once you go blue, you never have money to go anything else

Performance steadily improved under Windows Vista (which still required a special edition to run Media Center). I moved from a CRT TV set to an LCD, which simplified the wiring somewhat. Then another in the bonus room, and another in the bedroom. By the time Windows 7 rolled out (considered by many to be golden age of Media Center, as it was finally included in virtually every edition), I was running a total of 4 HTPCs around the house, each one with more or less a complete replica of our media library on it. Around the holidays, there was Christmas music playing 24/7 from wherever in the house my wife happened to be.

Somewhere along the way, I made the jump over to digital cable, which rendered all of the DVR features in Media Center kind of useless to me. I wasn’t about to shell out for a CableCARD solution, and besides, the Comcast DVR got the job done.

That slot is actually for your credit card

So, the PCs were now really just for enjoying my media library. Then Pandora happened, then Hulu, and then Netflix. Suddenly, TV seemed the least exciting part of the equation to me. On-demand entertainment was coming of age.

I moved my stuff to a NAS for a while, but after nearly losing everything when a disk died, I ended up installing Windows Home Server on yet another spare PC and moving all my content over there. Personal documents, family pictures and videos, and ripped movies and music lived on the home server, and my family learned to stream content to the room in which we happened to be.

Also this book, which Microsoft published…for reals

And it worked just fine, especially after we finally got an 802.11n wireless router. My wife had never been a big fan of Windows Media Center, but over the years, she had grown accustomed to its quirks (Media Center and I have a lot in common, it seems). I installed Carbonite on the home server right away to ensure everything got backed up to the cloud on a regular schedule.

I also got an Xbox 360 with its greatly improved its role as a native Media Center Extender, but I never bothered much with it. And why would I? I had the real deal – an actual Windows PC connected to each of my TVs.

For people who don’t have a real PC crammed under their TV

When Windows 8 came along, I knew Media Center’s days were numbered. But I didn’t really care. In many ways, it was liberating. It had become something of a limitation to pass every service through its increasingly dated, blue interface. As my Media Center accessories gradually stopped working, I replaced them with newer wireless keyboards that had built-in trackpads, which offered far more versatility in navigation. Windows’ new Start screen full of live tiles and its full-screened modern interface were exceptionally well-suited to the functions I performed with my HTPCs. Suddenly, it was like the entire PC was available to me, and I started branching out to other apps, such as Plex and VLC to manage playback of my media.

Behold, my media center…minus Media Center

Things kind of went off the rails for a bit. I had my new house wired for gigabit Ethernet to get better streaming for my HTPCs. I bought webcams to perch atop every TV in the house, so my family could easily Skype (we almost never Skype). Windows Home Server eventually evolved into Windows Server 2012. And then 2012 R2. I was actually running a Windows domain in the upstairs closet of my house. Like it was the most normal thing ever. Let that sink in for a minute.

Apparently, there are people who still think this is a good idea

But new, online services encouraged me to rethink how I groomed and nurtured my personal media collection on my precious server. I embraced OneDrive in a big way, moving all of my family pictures and videos over to the cloud. Xbox Music matched the tracks in my music library (which was connected to my server, naturally), and Xbox Music Pass filled in the gaps. When my wife and I wanted to rent a movie, we could grab it pretty easily from Xbox Video. I didn’t have to bother installing a bunch of codec packs to play my ripped movies, because VLC could handle just about anything I could throw at it. My kids could launch Netflix directly from the Start screen and navigate to their favorite movies and shows. The Netflix app soon outpaced the old Media Center add-in with better organization and support for multiple profiles. My wife preferred Media Center, though, and she still used it pretty regularly, but eventually she abandoned the PC altogether for iHeartRadio on her iPhone and Netflix on our smart TV, because it was just more convenient. When we occasionally sat down together to watch a downloaded movie, generally it was me who dug into the server and assumed the role of projectionist.

The disk on the home server started sputtering a few months ago, and I finally conceded that expecting my family to log into a Windows domain was probably a bit of overkill. Plus, Carbonite decided that since I was using it on a server, I should be paying SMB prices. So, the server was retired and replaced with a nifty little 3 TB Western Digital My Cloud that just worked. It’s the size of a book. It gobbled up all of the media we were still keeping in house, and it seems to have a never-ending thirst for more.

Pencils and hourglasses for scale

When Windows 10 debuted publicly last week (of course, I’d been testing it since the first Insider builds), I found myself with 3 active HTPCs, a shared family laptop, a tablet, and three phones. I had already overcome my Media Center dependence, but I still had one heck of a convoluted setup, like some bastard Frankenstein’s Monster that just wouldn’t die (and that occasionally terrorized the countryside). Each of those devices had to be migrated to the new OS (hey, it’s free!), and I still have to maintain multiple user accounts on multiple devices, making sure that everyone has access to their own content as well as the shared stuff. You know what’s really fun after being IT support at work all day? Coming home to manage your own home network. Install Windows updates x 3. Reboot the cable modem. Find that episode of Teen Titans. Frankly, it’s exhausting.

Which brings me to my point (and I do have one). A few months ago, I picked up a Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter. It’s this HDMI dongle that you might easily mistake for a Chromecast, but it turned out to be so much more.

It uses a relatively new technology called Miracast, which is the PC-world analog to Apple AirPlay, used to wirelessly stream video and audio to other devices. But unlike AirPlay, it works on anything with an HDMI port, and unlike Chromecast, you’re not limited to awkwardly sharing everything through Chrome. If you’ve ever connected a second monitor to a Windows PC, then you already know enough to use it. There’s virtually no setup; just plug the adapter into an HDMI port and a powered USB port (most new TVs have them), and you’re good to go.

They thought about making it more complicated but decided against it

I originally bought it to connect my tablet to an extra monitor at work, which wasn’t nearly as handy as I thought it would be. It sort of worked under Windows 8.1, but honestly I found it a bit too glitchy and unreliable to be much more than a curiosity. Video would freeze or drop the connection at odd intervals. So, it had ended up in the back of my tech drawer. But after upgrading my Dell tablet to Windows 10, I decided to give it another shot. And it’s like I’m seeing the world through new eyes.

My reaction

This thing rocks. In Windows 10, you just open the Action Center and tap Connect. Choose the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter, and a few seconds later, it’s solidly mirroring your desktop to a second display. So simple. Now, instead of a clunky wireless keyboard pinging a hot, noisy, complicated monster of a shared family HTPC running behind the door of the entertainment cabinet, I have a svelte, little, personal Windows tablet that just throws whatever I happen to be watching to a bigger screen and better speakers.

For the record, not my tablet, not my hands, not my kids (and I don’t even know those bears)

And anyone in the family can connect their own device whenever they want to use it. No more need to keep everyone’s profiles up-to-date and synched across the living room PC, bonus room PC, and bedroom PC. Fewer devices. Less overhead. More personal. Finally, the TV screen is just a wireless display, a shared appliance in the room. The guts are the tablet or your phone, which you take with you. This makes so much sense, it’s kind of ridiculous how I’ve been doing it all these years. And all for about $60 (or less, they’re all over eBay) per TV.

By the way, Windows 10 provides a gorgeous interface. It carries forward all of the Windows 8 goodness, but very little of the weirdness. I can use the full-screen Start menu (yeah, I’m using tablet mode), or I can talk to Cortana to launch apps, which can be dragged around or maximized to fill the screen.

Am I the only one who thinks live tiles are kind of awesome?

With a touch, Windows fades into the background, and now I’m simply enjoying a show on Netflix, listening to Groove Music, or watching a movie stored on the My Cloud that’s quietly perched on the shelf beside the router where my home server used to be. The tablet itself is the remote control, keyboard, mouse, camera, and mic all rolled into one. If I want to Skype, then I’m using the tablet in my hand to do it, instead of a PC across the room. Next track? Simply touch the volume rocker on the tablet to bring up the Now Playing charm and tap the icon. If I want to read my email while watching Netflix, it’s trivial to change the connection to Extend, and now I have two independent displays – one my hand and one across the room. In fact, I’m writing this from the new Word mobile app using a spare Bluetooth keyboard, while some relaxing background music plays on the TV in the living room. My Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet is just the little dynamo that’s pulling it all together wirelessly. And the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter is now a permanent part of my family’s home entertainment solution.

I was so impressed that here I am writing a blog post about my experience, like it’s the most normal thing ever.

This is how you remind me…

Don't Forget!

Just over a week ago, I received a call from my wireless carrier. I had walked into their store a few days earlier and inquired about available discounts. The sales rep helped me to get setup with the correct discount through my employer, and I was on my way. Now, a customer service was calling me to request proof of eligibility. He needed something official, such as a pay stub, to prove I was actually entitled to the discount. Living on the bleeding edge means one doesn’t have much paper lying around, so I told him I’d pull up an electronic copy of a recent stub the next morning at work and send it to him. He gave me a fax number (seriously), which I promptly popped into a note in OneNote on my phone with a reminder to take care of it.

OneNote Banner

Microsoft has repeatedly billed OneNote as one place for all the notes in your life, from grocery lists to reminders, across all your devices. In fact, if you’re a Windows phone user, then you can even voice dictate a note by saying “Note” or “Take a Note” followed by your note. Bing/Cortana will dutifully capture your dictation into a new note in OneNote, complete with an embedded clip of the voice recording.

That’s all fine and good, but fast forward one week, I opened my notebook to look up something completely unrelated, and stumbled across (you guessed it) my “reminder,” much to my chagrin. I took care of faxing the paperwork, muttering curse words all the way, and deleted the note.

OneNote is an awesome note-taking solution, but as a reminder tool, it sucks. A note isn’t the same thing as a task, and I’m angry with myself for conflating the two, but OneNote makes it stupidly easy to do. That missing component in OneNote is  an actual, y’know, reminder, one that surfaces some kind of notification at the right time, and preferably one that keeps nagging you until you take action. The desktop version of OneNote handles this pretty neatly with an integration that flags tasks in OneNote but actually lets Outlook manage the tasks. That way, they show up on Outlook’s unified task list, and Outlook handles the reminders.

The problem with extending something similar to its mobile platform is that, at present, Microsoft doesn’t have just one central, consumer-facing framework for task notifications. Instead, it has three. Microsoft’s consumer Calendar provides marginal support for tasks, but it’s kind of an afterthought feature that puts tasks in a specialized view; they’re not particularly easy to find or set on the phone, and there’s no way to trigger them with voice. OneNote seemed to be Microsoft’s strategy in Windows Phone 8; it’s slick but woefully insufficient in this regard. More recently with Windows Phone 8.1, Cortana seems to be the preferred way to set reminders using the phone; however, she’s currently relegated to a private notebook, and her reminders don’t translate back to your calendar or PC at all. The end result is a rather disjointed mess, where work tasks are generally tracked in Outlook on your PC and buried in the Calendar app’s task view on your phone, while personal tasks may be siloed in Cortana’s notebook, the Calendar’s task view, and/or in OneNote.

No wonder I can’t ever seem to get things done.

Like Father, Unlike Son

Boba Fett and Jango Fett

Boba Fett works for all the reasons that Jango Fett – and by proxy, the prequel story arc – fails. He’s not trying to be cool, but he just is. He’s not the focus of Episode V, but he steals every scene he’s in. The fact that he’s a bounty hunter makes complete sense, given the culture of the Empire and the underworld it has spawned. He’s given special instructions by Vader, so you know he’s a loose cannon, even by bounty hunter standards. He also negotiates with Vader, which lets you know he’s respected. When you look at that tattered armor, you know he’s seen some serious action. But other than that, he’s a complete mystery, so your mind fills in all kinds of gaps. And aside from his stupid swan dive into the Sarlacc in Episode VI, Lucas doesn’t manage to screw him up too much.

On the other hand, Jango Fett (and the plot of the prequels, of which he is a big part) is unnecessarily overproduced. First of all, they call him Jango a lot, which just sounds stupid. Not quite as stupid as calling a grown-ass man “Annie,” but a close second. Other than the scene in Jedi where Han says, “Boba Fett, where?!” (and then proceeds to kill him…by accident), he’s never referred to by name, and certainly never by his first name. He’s just “bounty hunter,” which is completely bad ass.

Jango’s armor is shiny, which speaks volumes about him; this guy’s a poser. Furthermore, Jango has a lot of unnecessary dialog, generally quirky motives, and seems in every possible way to be a square peg shoehorned into a round hole (or no hole, depending on how you want to look at it). I mean, why does he have to be a bounty hunter in the first place? In a relatively peaceful galaxy where the Jedi keep order, is there a huge market for bounty hunters? It just seems like every other person we meet is one, like they’re plumbers or something. Yet if you’re gonna call him a bounty hunter, then make him one. Throughout Episode II, Jango functions more like a mercenary or assassin (that’s not the same thing, BTW).

They go to great lengths to explain how he’s involved with the creation of the clone army, was given his own personal clone to raise as a son, and is important enough to keep on Kamino. Yet they let him go on dangerous missions to assassinate politicians, which he apparently sub-contracts to lesser bounty hunters, then gets all coy when talking with Jedi who can presumably read his mind. Whenever he’s cornered, he tries to run instead of fight, in the process teaching his son some terrible moral lessons, and manages to get hoodwinked by what one would assume is probably the oldest trick in the space combat book. He rounds out his appearance by serving as the personal muscle of a Sith lord (Darth Vader never needed a bodyguard) and then gets summarily beheaded by a Jedi the instant shit gets real on Geonosis. Jango Fett is basically the intersection on the Venn diagram of eye candy and lip service.

And absolutely none of it was necessary. He could have just been some legendary warrior who never appeared on screen, and he instantly would have been 100 times better. He’s the explanation to a question that didn’t need to be asked. And perhaps that’s the general problem with the prequels.

Whoever takes the helm of the Boba Fett spin-off film is going to have to walk a razor-thin tightrope to avoid irreparably damaging this iconic character. He’s worth a lot to me.

A New Chapter

For the past 10 years, I have enjoyed the privilege of calling myself a member of the TeamHealth family. I joined the Integration & Training team on November 29, 2004. I was immediately impressed with this organization, and I remain proud of the integrity and professionalism with which we conduct our business every single day. Over the course of the past decade, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects supporting our operations and administrative staff, as well as our leadership.

TeamHealth has experienced so much growth and change in the last decade; we’ve become better at what we do, and we certainly do a lot more than ever before. Along the way, I have grown with our organization. In May 2012, I moved to the TeamHealth Institute, and I have since gained additional experience working with and supporting our clinical community.

During my tenure, this company has allowed me to develop important technical skills and to gain invaluable experience with our business. I’ve learned something new nearly every day of my time with TeamHealth, and I’ll carry that with me throughout my career. My colleagues have also become my extended family, and together we’ve shared important life milestones and made memories that I’ll always cherish.

I was recently recruited by Scripps Networks Interactive, and they have made an excellent offer for me to join their team. While coming to a decision has not been easy, I have concluded that I need to take this opportunity for the benefit of my career and family. Therefore I will leave TeamHealth, effective Friday, May 9, 2014. In the meantime, I will be busy working with my team to close out any projects and make my transition as seamless as possible for everyone.

I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to have served this company for the past decade. I wish them all continued success and a very bright future.

 

 

Status Check

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.

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.”

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. But I just 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 List

Maybe I just didn’t give being right-handed a chance

For 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 tying 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 “commie.” 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 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