Man vs. Terminal Services Session

Friend-of-the-blog Jason Guy was an early influence on my decision to switch over to the Apple ecosphere back in 2004. A recent email from him somehow perfectly illustrates the difference in corporations’ business ethics, their notions of efficiency and respect for the customer, and the overall usability of their products. I’ll just let Jason explain:

It’s (thankfully) quite rare that I get involved in administrating a PC at the part-time office, but I can think of no better tribute to Steve Jobs than the labyrinthine ‘dialogue’ to which I was subjected this morning. This is long, but I hope entertaining. As for the details, I had ample opportunity to take meticulous notes while on hold: I exaggerate nothing. Seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up. I mean the error messages, alone – who writes this stuff?

Tech Support Email: According to our records, you are running an out-of-date desktop package. You must download the latest update (Vista Backup v1.3) by November 2, 2011. If you do not download the required software update by November 2, 2011, you will no longer be able to connect to the network. To do so, go to Start > Utilities > Software OnDemand > Vista Backup v1.3. [I did so.]

Error Popup: The program you’ve requested to run cannot be run because Configuration Manager is busy running other software. Please close all other windows and try running it at another time. For further assistance call your help desk. [There were no other windows open; repeated attempts to run the software resulted in the same error.]

Help Desk [in India]:ThankyouforcallingmynameisPradeepJiwangaginAlliousingintoitisapleasuretoserveyouhowcanIhelpyoutoday?

Me: Hello, I received an email this morning informing me that I had to install an update by November 2nd or be unable to connect to the network. When I tried to do so, an error message told me I couldn’t because Configuration Manager was busy; as there are no other windows open, it said I should call you.

Pradeep: Andthatisthereasonforyourcall?

Me: … Yes.

Pradeep: Andwhatistheerrormessageyou’vereceived?

Me: Uh … that the program I am trying to run cannot be run because Configuration Manager is busy …

Pradeep: So,you’retryingtoinstallnewsoftware?

Me: Yes.

Pradeep: Holdonaminute,please.

Announcer [the hold music is The QVC Shopping Network]: … that’s right, this is buttersoft, just buttersoft next to your skin! And these Bruce McCowsky bags are amazingly only $35 a month!

Bruce: That’s right, Ann, my bags normally retail for $200-$300, but – this is amazing – I mean, you’re giving them away for $35 a month. Frankly, I’m shocked –

Pradeep:HelloMrGuythankyouforwaitingonline,canyoutellmewhat systemyouarerunning?

Me: Vista. I’d tell you the version number, but I’m stuck in this error dialogue; should I click ‘Okay’ and find out the version?

Preadeep: No, MrGuy,thatisalright,VistaiswhatIneededtoknow,pleaseholdonamoment,isthatokay?MrGuy, isthatokay toaskyoutostayonthelineamomentlonger?

Me: Oh, yes … sure.

Pradeep: ThankyouverymuchforyourpatienceMrGuy,itwillbejustamomentlonger.

Me: Okay.

Pradeep: ThankyouagainMrGuy,justamoment,please.

Bruce: … and check this out, this is our latest in a color we’re calling ‘Indigo Blue’ – it’s not blue, but it’s not quite black – and it’s just so rich, I mean look at that saturation!

Ann: You’re right, and the leather, it’s just … you know, it puddles, it actually puddles.

Bruce: You are so right, Ann, and look at this. You see these here on the bottom, I’ve added pleats to make the bag more feminine –

Pradeep:HelloMrJasonGuy,thankyouforyourwaiting,it’sapleasuretohaveyouontheline,canyoutellmeplease, isitcorrectthatyou’retryingtodownloadsoftwareandcannot?

Me: … yes.


Me: No.But I’ll gladly do that if it might help.I’ll restart.

Pradeep:ThankyouMrGuy,whileit’srestarting,I’lljustberesearchingmyconfirmation. [That’s right – ‘researching my confirmation’. I go to Start > Restart.]

Ann: … Nutmeg, Slate, Seafoam, Ochre, Black, Stone, and Pewter –

Bruce: And we’re calling this one ‘Cabernet’ –

Ann: Oh, I know, it’s hard to keep anything in stock that’s Cabernet! And this one here is Thyme, that’s t-h-y-m-e, like the spice –

Pradeep: HelloMrGuy? Thankyouforwaiting, whatistheerroryouarenowgetting? [My computer had restarted, and I had clicked Start > Utilities > Software OnDemand …, only now where there previously was a list of updates including my much-sought-after Vista Backup v1.3, there was simply a line of text: “There are no updates available during a Terminal Services Session.”]

Me: … Uh.Well, I can’t even attempt to run my requested software, as the list of updates is now blank; it says … “no updates available during a Terminal Services Session.” I’m not familiar with that term. Am I in a Terminal Services Session?

Pradeep: …

Me: So, I don’t know, I can’t get to the error because I can’t run the software that generates the error telling me it can’t run … what’s a Terminal Services Session?

Pradeep: I’msorryMrGuy,youarehavingtroubleinstallingnewsoftware,whatistheerroryouarereceiving?

Me: Well … [I closed the window, clicked Start > Utilities > Software OnDemand, ‘… no updates available …’] Uh, yeah, now the list of things I could run is – uh, absent. It still says …”Terminal Services Session” where there used to be a list.

Pradeep: HoldonMrGuy,doyoumindifIputyouonholdjustonemoretime,we’realmostdone.

Me: No, that’s fi-

Bruce: … and I’m telling you nobody knows fashion better than me, and everything now is about the animal look – I just love hers, look at that, the animal piping!?

Ann: That’s right, Bruce. And I love it, too. You know, when a woman wears all neutral tones, and then there’s that one pop of color –

Pradeep: HelloMrGuy,thankyouforholdingonsopatiently,Ithinksomeoneneedstoactuallybethereatthecomputer, soIamgoingtogenerateaticketnumber,andsendthisdowntothelocalguys,holdonplease,justonemoment.

Bruce: And look at the hardware!

Ann: So, if you want to go with something that’s traditional but trendy, then you go with the black-multi … oh, wait, which one’s gone? Oh, it’s the cabernet, and what’s low now? Ah, the thyme, that’s t-h-y-m-e, as in the herb … that’s now low –

Pradeep: SorryMrGuytoplaceyouintheholdinglineagain, butIhavehereontheline, a Concern Resolve Expert, hello,goaheadplease …

Concern Resolve Expert:HelloMrGuy, Iunderstandyou’rehavingtroubleinstallingnewsoftware?

Me: Yes … I received an email informing me that I had to install an update by November 2nd or be unable to connect to the network. When I tried to, an error message told me I couldn’t because Configuration Manager was busy. Now, when I go to the Software OnDemand menu, I can’t select an update because it says I’m in a Terminal Services Session.

Concern Resolve Expert:ThankyouMrGuy, canyoupleasejustdescribetheerroryou’rereceivingwhenyoutrytoinstallthesoftware.

Me: Sure … uh, let me back up … so my email told me to click Start > Utilities > Software OnDemand > Vista Backup v1.3 … oh, there it is … oh, and now it’s working. ‘Running Software Update: Vista Backup v1.3’ … oh, good. … ‘The vacuum cleaner, when demonstrated for the repairman, will function perfectly’ …

Concern Resolve Expert: I’msorry … ?

Me: No, nothing. We’re all good. Oh, yes … it’s working. Thank you very much. I’m a happy camper.

Concern Resolve Expert: AndsoamI,MrGuy. ThankyouforcallingSupportServices,isthereanythingelseIcandoforyoutoday?

Me: No thank you. Have a great day.

Concern Resolve Expert: You,too,MrGuy. Itisapleasuretoserviceyourcall.

And I hung up. The screen said: “Time Until Complete: 1 hour 50 minutes 0 seconds.” Fifteen minutes later it still said that, but then snapped to attention with a new dialogue box: “Update Complete! You have been updated to Vista Backup v1.3. Your computer will restart automatically.” Upon restart a dialogue box said, “Please wait while your network state is detected,” and a progress bar reported, “Time Until Done: Approximately 15 Minutes.” Thirty seconds later I was staring at my desktop, everything seemingly in order.

Total time top to bottom, just under 45 minutes, during which I typed each chapter, knocked out several other little tasks, and billed each and every moment. Conversely, for the thousands of hours I’ve spent in front of my Mac doing none of the above, thank you Steve Jobs.

Love, /J.

Thank you, indeed.

Notice the absurdity isn’t the fault of Pradeep and his colleagues, even though we frustrated Americans can tend to blame our foreign messengers, as it were. The fault rests in the process into which they have been enveloped, the system, devised by probably well-meaning mortals, that suffers from such a lack of cohesion, that every person, every point in the system, is baffled by it.


It’s Not Really about the Toy

I have it in my mind that I must have a particular piece of expensive technology — never mind the specific device. What’s important is that I’ve identified it as The One True Device that will jump-start my creativity, and spur me to be more productive in my various passions. Without it, my creative life is on hold.

Which is, of course, ridiculous. And I’m only now beginning to see how my brain is trying to justify getting the dopamine squirt of a retail high. No doubt, the Device that I yearn for would, no doubt, facilitate the work I want to be doing more so than my existing toys, but its absence is by no means preventing me from doing these things. Far from it. But in a funny way, I think that my subconscious’s attempts to vindicate a potential weighty purchase has caused me to eschew certain kinds of creative work in order to make the case to my conscious mind that this Device is, in fact, necessary.

But look. If I’m moved to create, it shouldn’t matter what tools I have at my disposal. When I was a teenager just learning to play guitar and write songs, I used whatever cheap, junky, jury rigged recording apparatus I could get my hands on. When I was able to upgrade my technology (starting with a hand-me-down 4-track recorder from my dad, which was awesome), I used it to its limits. Instead of waiting until I had a certain piece of equipment, I took what hodgepodge of tools I had on hand and made due. If I believe anything about art, it’s that limitations, imposed parameters, breed creativity: the less you have to work with, the more you rely on your imagination and ingenuity, and the more personal and meaningful of a product you make. Often, anyway.

So if I’m not moved enough now to do my creating — my writing, recording, what have you — with the equipment I have, no new toy is going to fix that. It will only make it more pleasant, but not necessarily better.

That said, I’d still really like that Device.

The Internet is as Exhausting as You Make It

In the consistently-fascinating journal n+1, Alice Gregory insightfully expounds on the modern race to keep pace with the imagined expectations of the social digital world.

I have the sensation, as do my friends, that to function as a proficient human, you must both “keep up” with the internet and pursue more serious, analog interests. I blog about real life; I talk about the internet. It’s so exhausting to exist on both registers, especially while holding down a job. It feels like tedious work to be merely conversationally competent. I make myself schedules, breaking down my commute to its most elemental parts and assigning each leg of my journey something different to absorb: podcast, Instapaper article, real novel of real worth, real magazine of dubious worth. I’m pretty tired by the time I get to work at 9 AM.

I have felt this pressure myself, the desire to maintain a respectable degree of relevance online means, even for a lowly, largely-unknown individual, generating content on a regular basis. And I often fail. But I intentionally used the word “imagined” in the first sentence to describe the expectations, because they are just that. No one is forced — or even asked — to be social networking machines, or reliable human e-periodicals. If we take part, if we struggle to tread water, it’s because we choose to.

But Gregory sees it differently, writing as though she has little choice. In the context of a novel review, she writes:

Shteyngart [the novel’s author] says the first thing that happened when he bought an iPhone “was that New York fell away … It disappeared. Poof.” That’s the first thing I noticed too: the city disappeared, along with any will to experience. New York, so densely populated and supposedly sleepless, must be the most efficient place to hone observational powers. But those powers are now dulled in me. I find myself preferring the blogs of remote strangers to my own observations of present ones. Gone are the tacit alliances with fellow subway riders, the brief evolution of sympathy with pedestrians. That predictable progress of unspoken affinity is now interrupted by an impulse to either refresh a page or to take a website-worthy photo. I have the nervous hand-tics of a junkie.  For someone whose interest in other people’s private lives was once endless, I sure do ignore them a lot now.

To which I would say: Then leave the phone in your pocket. If these “analog” interactions are so important to a given person’s humanity, then allow for them. Embrace them. And as the other riders with whom you share the subway stare into their own iPhones, accept that this is the new reality that you are presented with to observe, one in which the private lives that interest you so now have a new factor.

But if you actually prefer the life of the iPhone, if it actually suits you, despite whatever preconceived notions you have of yourself or what you are “supposed” to prefer, embrace that, and make it your own. Not by some unwritten (or unblogged) standard of content generation consistency, but by the e-periodical that is you. If nothing else, the Internet allows us the space to give as much of ourselves as we wish: no more and no less.

Topping Off at the Ebook Station

Booksquare’s Kassia Krozser is on to something. In a larger post on the necessity of physical booksellers, she adds in a parenthetical:

. . . I would not mind the ability to purchase Kindle-compatible ebooks from my indie booksellers. . . . it would be lovely if all the Kindle owners out there — the ones who, you know, don’t have a friggin’ clue about formats and DRM and compatibility — could shop at your store. Seriously, you want to focus on a problem? Focus. On. This. Now. Please. Thank. You.

This set off a light bulb in my head. Just because the content on a given device is digital, there’s no reason why there can’t be a physical place in which people can interact, learn about, and buy that content.

Think of software. Yes, it’s easier to quickly download something off the Internet, but sometimes, regardless of a bevy of consumer ratings and professional reviews, you need to talk to something who knows what’s what in order to make sure you get the right product. We’re already used to this. It’s only recently that software was primarily purchased remotely. But people still have the option of going to a brick-and-mortar store and chatting up an employee to get some help.

The only difference in Krozser’s scenario is that if an independent bookseller offered ebooks, one would presumably have it installed onto their device right there in the store rather than doing so at home. Even better! I would love the idea of a bookstore I could visit, browse their physical library, get ideas, and then have the option of beaming a new book right to my Kindle, with credit for the sale going to the bookseller. Bookstores could be places where one buys dead-tree codices, and where folks top off their e-readers. Why not?

Hell, it’s not like it would use up shelf space.



I am not reading a book.

Washington, DC is shut down today, and besides doing some catch-up work here and there, I essentially have a bonus day off. Hooray! What a rare and often-wished-for opportunity to do some quiet, relaxed book reading! Visit my Goodreads page and you can see that I am juggling several books that I have yet to complete, and I have a list a mile long of “to-reads” as yet un-attempted. The baby is sleeping (scratch that, back in a second…)

[Two hours later]

Anyway. The point being, on this snow-blanketed day, there’s far more time than usual to engage in some literary imbibing. But here I am on the Web, blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, poking around the RSS reader, etc. I know that the act of reading doesn’t require a herculean effort, but lately the energy, attention span, and patience it requires has eluded me. And I love reading (once I’m into it)! It’s that kick-start that is so difficult, particularly if I’m not totally enthralled by my current book.

There’s just so much *other* reading to be done! Not only is there blog and article reading online, but there are tweets (that lead to more blogs and articles), my various magazine subscriptions (which, since I am paying for them, I feel obliged to read), and since I do communications for a lobbying organization, I have to step up the pace on regular news consumption (major newspapers, aggregators, etc.). The latter one alone takes whatever quiet time my rain ride to work allows me.

While I genuinely love the act of reading, books are falling by the wayside. I own a Kindle (which I adore), I have a slew of books in my library I’m dying to get to, myriad Christmas and birthday-gifted books that others thought I’d enjoy, so I have to get to those, plus the backpack-full of books I’m still in the middle of. Meanwhile, I read about people who read several books a week, and my friend Ryan is doing a blog project on reading 100 books in a year. Another friend I have through Twitter is doing only about half that, a book a week for a year. I could never do that!

Part of it, I imagine, is that I don’t read much fiction. Anecdotally, I hear that fiction goes by more quickly than nonfiction, but I can hardly put that to the test, as I have as my current fiction selection War and Peace, and I’ve resolved, for no other reason than the novelty of it, to read it entirely on the iPhone—I wanted to really see if there was truth to the iPhone-as-e-reader cliché that says, yes, the iPhone is great for reading, “…but you wouldn’t want to read War and Peace on it!”

I’m getting off-track somewhat. Even when I do get to reading a book, it’s sparse. Too often, I read 10 or so pages before I get too sleepy, or I’m distracted by email/baby/life. And let’s be honest, even those magazines often don’t get the attention their subscription prices deserve, and the newspaper is often merely scanned and discarded. I think that in terms of word count, I read more from blog posts and articles about reading, ebooks, and publishing (a recent but I think enduring fascination of mine) than I do from actual books themselves.

One might think, well, Paul, you just don’t like books that much. But I know that’s not true—I know that good books move and enrich me more than just about any other medium I consume (perhaps tied with music, something else that has suffered since I stopped being a twenty-something). Perhaps part of the problem is the commitment of time necessary to complete a book, but I mainly mean those books that turn out to be only okay. I recently read A Tale of Two Cities for the first time (part of my attempt to catch up with all those books I was assigned in high school and fobbed off due to my shameful degree of laziness) and I couldn’t put it down. It was one of those moments in life when a piece of art truly changes you and affects you at your core. That’s not happening with any of the books I have in the pipeline right now, but nor should I expect so. Some books—most books that I pick up, thankfully—are “just good.” And that should be good enough to keep me at it.

Which, of course, still lands me into conflict with the realities of how many hours there are in a day and all the other text-based commitments I already have.

I’m not like those who lament the “shortening” of certain types of discourse through technology. Mark Ambinder of The Atlantic (one of those aforementioned subscribed-to magazines) recently explained to Michael Kinsley what his reading day is like, and it rang familiar to me to a certain extent. Though I don’t rely on Twitter nearly to the degree Ambinder does, I still understand how valuable it has become, and I certainly value the relationships—new kinds of relationships—that I have developed on that platform. As I noted, Twitter is not really about short bursts of blather for me (though it is also that), but the tweets serve as little windows into deeper reading I would otherwise miss, and a chance for me to share with my 1000+ followers the work I am doing and writing by others that I find compelling enough to warrant others’ attention. Facebook is similar for me, though more lighthearted and social in nature. [Follow me on Twitter here!]

But maintaining these gardens takes time, it takes thought. I enjoy the back-and-forth flow of information so much that I have felt compelled to start a Tumblr blog just to catch the things I don’t know what else to do with (a quote that is too long for Twitter, an article that doesn’t suit my blog or my Facebook audience, etc.)—and on this, I am essentially copying Text Patterns’ Alan Jacobs and his use of Tumblr, or somewhat mimicking the short-burst blogging style of Andrew Sullivan.

So I heartily embrace social media, social reading and social writing. I’m extremely fortunate to be alive and of the age to participate at such a time as this. But it must be said that it only enables one of my pre-existing conditions: laziness. My dad, a voracious reader himself whom I can only dream of matching in terms of quantity, is befuddled by my use of the word “lazy” in this context. Reading is the fun part of the day, he says. There is no effort involved for him; it is always the
path of least resistance and the greatest return.

But my personality, my attention span, my physiology, my habits have not developed that way (all of which, almost, is my own fault). Books suffer, which really means that I suffer, depriving myself of what they hold. I should be reading right now, but instead, I’m sitting here writing about how I don’t read.

Perhaps my only avenue to mitigating this concern is to learn speed reading. Hm. Now, when would I find the time to do that?

Oh, and I want to learn French, too. Can we please just add an extra day onto the weekend?

Would that even help?