The Burlington Bertie Case Chapter 1

 It was a slow morning in Dullsville. One of those days when even the flies are crazy with boredom, and go looking for a strip of fly-paper to commit suicide. In the reception Rita was perfecting her nails, while Jake, my partner, practiced his marksmanship with a rubber band and ruler on the few flies who had not opted for a slow, sticky end. I practiced my imaginary piano. Great instrument – totally portable, never a wrong note, doesn’t disturb the neighbours. And not screechy. Not surprised Sherlock Holmes needed his daily 7 percent opium spike – a badly played fiddle is apt to jangle the nerves. His housekeeper was probably tone deaf and wouldn’t have noticed if he had taken up the bagpipes. Excellent woman that Mrs. Hudson – they don’t make her kind any more.

Just as I got to the tricky bit Rita interrupted. Since she very seldom said anything, naturally I listened.

“Frank, you better come in here, there’s a dog lookin’ for some-one”

Well, we do advertise our services for finding the lost, so I figured a dog qualified for at least five minutes of our time. Besides – the piano would wait.

He sat, bright eyed and bushy tailed, on our reception sofa. We call it a sofa, but it’s none too comfortable, as anyone who’s tried to spend a night on it will testify. Since he had a collar, I checked, just in case we could cut the preliminaries, and get introduced real quick. Nope, he preferred to travel incognito. Still, he looked like he could pay – coat well maintained, all the signs of regular meals. I decided to call him Spencer.

 “Well, Spencer, let’s cut to the chase, pal, the meter’s running. Who are we looking for? Or is it cat troubles?” 

There’s always one involved some-where along the way – more often human than feline. Men and dogs have this bond of unspoken shared experience: cats and women – you can’t live with ‘em, and it’s deadly dull without ‘em. You didn’t know that? Why else d’you think they call dogs MAN’S best friend? That’s one of the perks of being a private-eye – you get time to think, and enjoy these occasional flashes of revelation. Positively apocalyptic.

Spencer tilted his head, ears cocked. I could see he was one heck of a fella with the ladies. Rita broke her vow of silence again. A record – twice in one day.

“Aww, he’s so cute. And he looks thirsty.

Which proved my deduction about his effect on the fairer sex. He already had her eating out of his hand. Or to be more precise, I was about to be sent to the store to bring in suitable doggy delights, so he could eat tidbits from her delicate fingers.

Perfectly on cue, my partner appeared, a leash dangling in his hand. Like most places, we have drawers with all sorts of stuff. Just takes finding. He grinned, and handed it to me. Spencer wagged his tale. We were communicating. I glanced out the window. A beautiful day, blue, cloudless sky, high thirties, perfect – if you were in Hawaii.

“Your client awaits” said my partner, his grin threatening to crack his face in two. So, I took my hat from the stand, attached Spencer to the leash, and we went out.

Having had reasonable experience with creatures of nature, I decided to let him show me where he wanted to go. Usually works, with dogs, horses – and women. And, sure enough, Spencer took me down the path, onto the pavement, and we set off. Downhill, thankfully.

Now that he had a human in tow, Spencer became a dog with purpose. I lengthened my stride to keep up, feeling the first prickles of sweat starting to bead on my back. Fortunately, this is not called Forest Drive for nothing. So we proceeded in a series of spurts – from tree to tree, where Spencer checked his messages, and left a few of his own, while I took advantage of the shade. Besides, this wasn’t exactly rocket science, so I could enjoy the view, and the music. Never needed an iPod, since nature decided to bless me with a memory that has perfect recall – for some things. Never forget a tune, a scene, or a pretty face. Just don’t ask me where my paper-work is.

After two blocks, we got to the park. Deserted on a weekday, just expanses of grass, trees, a middling sized lake with a few water fowl listlessly drifting about, or dozing in the shade of the overhanging willows. Since Spencer gave no indication he was about to take off and lead me on any chase after geese wild or tame, I slipped the leash, curious to see what he would do next. The ducks and geese didn’t even bother to stir. So – my client was well known, and his credentials checked out. Or were on the tolerated list. Never yet met a goose that trusted anyone. Even less when it had goslings.

Spencer deciphered a few more messages, and went for a quick dip to cool off. Sensible fellow. I could see the thermals coming off the concrete paths. Then he came back, and waited expectantly, eyeing the leash. Evidently I was nothing but a walking leash-carrier. Well, in for a penny . . .

When he was re-attached, and indisputably legal on a public thoroughfare, we set off again, across the park, and then back, up Bird Street. A bit of a misnomer since all the birds (of the feathered kind, anyway) used to hang out in Forest Drive. So, if you stood around under trees, you learnt to check the ground for deposit-free zones.

Reaching a narrow lane, he turned in, and stopped outside a double storey house, all old woodwork and ivy, designed by someone who had qualified in the days when good Queen Vic ruled a quarter of the world. Mention her name, and people invariably follow with “We are not amused” in an imitation upper-class Brit accent. Colonials just love to take the mickey. 

I opened the gate, and we went up a tiled path onto a shady verandah. The air was heavy with the smell of blossom, and the lazy buzz of bees. I rang the bell. A trim, immaculately dressed woman answered the door. Bright, sharp eyes, like a bird. I tipped my hat.

“Oh, Charles” she said, “you’ve been swimming again.”

Very acute eyesight.  In this heat water evaporated faster than free beer down at Lancey’s Pub. Just a sprinkling of pond algae on his neck and back. Or – was this a regular ploy, and I had been today’s patsy? She opened the door a fraction more, and said “Come in.” It wasn’t an invitation meant for me.

Charles the wanderer having returned to the bosom of his family, she smiled, sweetly condescending, and closed the door.

As I got to the gate I spotted Charles’ escape route – a hole in the corner, half-hidden by a flowering shrub. I liked his style. A dog with a fine appreciation for the uses of gullible humans. But the name Charles? Nope. No wonder he needed to escape for the occasional distraction. As I turned to latch the gate, he appeared, framed in one of those tall picture windows, and wagged his tail in brief salute. An officer and a gentleman.

As I reached the corner of Bridge and Forest, Jake pulled up in our car.

Glad to see you lost the pooch. Get in. We’ve got a case. Homicide

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Fighting With Cruddy Software – Why Users Have Luddite Moments

My neighbor just acquired a brand new Apple Mac, and I recently spent a very pleasant afternoon looking at some of the features of this awesome machine. She mentioned that it was like “getting a Ferrari” – a little bit scary if you’re used to driving an old clunker. So for the 1st week or so, it sort of “stands on the driveway”, looking beautiful, while you summon up the courage to actually take it out for a spin.

All this led to reminiscing about my first Mac – way back in ’86, when the world was a little less crazy, the love affair with technology was still fresh,  there was hope for great things ahead, an’ I had a lot more hair.

This morning, sat down to work, ran into a glitch, and before long was using language that would make any sailor blush. If there was a button for “I Hate This $tinkin’ Piece of CR%#”, it would be worn out. Which makes you wonder – since this is the age of social media – why isn’t major software coming out with a “Vote” button so users can express their feelings. (Same applies to TV – but that’s another story.) And, forget “Like” versus “Dislike”. That’s a pathetic cop-out. If they really had guts, we’d also see a couple of extra voting options, for example:

  • Hate
  • Detest
  • Include Me In A Class Action Suite Against The Developer

Well – don’t they really want to know what their users think?

Why the antagonism? Well, I’ve been using this software for years. Umpteen upgrades, every one paid for. Its common knowledge the developers have made a whopping pile of money out of this product. But, instead of getting better – it gets worse. It tries to “guess” what I want – and guesses wrong just about every time. Even with simple stuff like “auto highlight”. It tries to force me to produce documents styled the way the developer thinks they should look. That’s invasion of my creative freedom. And, worst of all, it won’t tell me why it’s doing what it does. Sweet Mercy, at least the list numbering still works. ‘Cause, if you read the Tales of Woe on the Web, not even the developers know what ticks there. Except that it’s a time-bomb waiting to happen.

After wasting hours, I’m fuming. Have read the help files, googled, am better informed, but no nearer a solution. And here’s the rub – just remembered that I could do a similar thing on my old Mac – way back then, with eeny-teeny software – and it was just sort of intuitive. Kazaa! And it was done!  So what gives? We have software that takes up humungous space on our Terabyte hard-drives, needs Gigabytes of RAM to run, seems to have every bell and whistle in creation – BUT IT NEVER SEEMS TO BE ABLE TO JUST SIMPLY DO WHAT WE WANT.

Which makes me really look at software. The sort of Business Applications that millions of people use every day. Is it really getting easier to use? Or is it just the same old set of stubborn resistance, hiding under more flashy eye-candy.

Think about your software experience? How much time is actually spent on getting real work done – and how much is spent on fighting with the software? Searching help-files that seem to tell you everything EXCEPT what you need. Getting directions to do all sorts of complicated stuff, but you are trying to do something so simple it should be, well, “intuitive”.

As a developer, I see some of the reasons for the situation. Believe me – it is much EASIER tweaking the ‘eye-candy” stuff. And, since the “user interface” is what the long-suffering “users” get to see, this is considered “improvement”. BUT – to really write software that is truly “intuitive” – this is much more DIFFICULT.

In fact, sometimes it means scrapping virtually an entire development project, and starting again. And some little birdie tweets that this is NOT what the really big developers are going to do. You know the people we’re talking about – the folk who produce major office apps, and the like. And, nope, this is not a “Let’s Hate Microsoft” rant. There are other culprits out there with some really obtuse products. It’s like they create their own little software universe, and on the entry portal is a sign “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here

I rate software on the “Help-File Disuse Index”. If I get my work done, and never need to use the Help-file – the application gets a perfect 10. The more times I need to use Help – the lower the rating. And if I find myself looking up “Help” for the same problem more than thrice – then the rating is pretty close to a fat Zero. Because that feature is evidently really non-intuitive, and actually so obtuse that even the “instructions” didn’t stick. (And, please Mr. Software Developer, don’t try lay the rap on the user. Your job is to enable us to do our job.)

So, what’s your take on the direction software is taking? I mean, the stuff’s been around for decades. Have the developers really learnt anything, in the sense of making software that works WITHOUT a huge fight, or do you still find you’re wasting massive amounts of time, still frustrated and dissatisfied with the results?

In conclusion, remember the Luddites? An early form of protest against the tyranny of industrialization. Maybe it’ll have to get down to that – mobs with pitchforks and burning torches, to get some real changes in the software world.

PS: Interesting . . . the same app’s spell-checker doesn’t recognize the word “Luddite”. Nebuchadnezzar, yes, but not Luddite, or Ludd. Wonder if the developers have an explanation for that little omission. Or are they all bound by “Omerta“? Your guess is as good as mine. And, in a spare moment, you might like to google the Luddites.  For a moment of kinship.

PPS: Happy computing.   Auf Wiedersehen.

Dyslexic Software

WINDOWS DID IT AGAIN. This time the camera was handy and we got the pic documenting the problem. So . . . it’s time to blast the offenders.

Not that this is new. It’s been around since the dinosaurs (Win 95, that I remember, anyway) Each time a new version of Windows hits the streets, it’s the first thing I check. And – yes – it’s still there. A skeleton hiding in the cupboard. One of the most lunatic bits of programming / program design ever to blight this poor world. (And there have been some real boo boos.)

Let me get you into the picture. As anyone who has used Windows (any version) for more than an hour or two knows, mouse actions are divided between the Left and Right buttons. The Left button is used to select items. A double-click with the Left button usually causes an action event – and launches an application, or something like that.  (Microsoft definition)

The Right button brings up the selected item’s property page (Microsoft definition). Which gives you access to functions like Copy, Paste, Delete and RENAME.

HOWEVER – as many people also know (usually from painful experience), if you don’t do your Left button double-click at just the right speed . . . it’s interpreted by the operating system as “rename this object”. Which, as said previously, (and Microsoft agree), is a Right button action. AAAAAAARH!!! Dyslexic software!!!

Talk about this with anyone who has been a system admin, and you will be regaled with at least one story of the funny (and horrible) results of this TOTAL PIECE OF ILL-LOGIC.  You will hear stories about files that “disappeared”; folders ditto, even machines that disappeared off the network map. My favourite is the one about the entire accounting system that crashed. It started generating these really weird, sorta scary but vaguely funny error messages. It rapidly became unfunny.  Accounts department tearing their hair out. Frantic phone calls to the application vendor. People were being asked to check registry settings, scan for viruses, you name it. Someone half-seriously suggested we call in a priest to do an exorcism. The business owner (not a lover of technology at the best of times) was purple in the face, heading for heart-attack.

The actual cause was so simple. A member of staff had been looking for something, and, thanks to the “L/R Button Dyslexia Bug,”  a key folder (well, the accounting package thought so), had been renamed.  (She couldn’t remember what the folder’s original name was, so she called it something like “Unsorted”).  And, Mr Developer, please don’t pass the buck. Your job is to write software that protects the data.  The first thing they teach in programming school)

At another place, pretty much the same thing happened, except the lady re-named the object after herself. (Sensible, come to think of it.)  Note . . . I don’t call her the “person responsible” . . . because she is just one of the countless victims of the highly overpaid people who coded this piece of IMBECILITY.

 Of course, Microsoft is a mega-rich corporation that doesn’t need to listen to people. (And let’s not pretend otherwise – people have been writing about bugs like this ever since Windows 95 days). Which is why I pray for the day that somebody comes along, and gives us a solid, stable, dependable operating system . . . one which actually knows the difference between Left and Right button functions. Roll on the day!!!

Hell’s Teeth – sometimes I find myself longing for the bad ol’ days of the Black Screen. As it is, instead of getting software that simply works dependably, we get stuff with more and more complicated gimmicks. It’s like having a car that regularly breaks down. Every time you send it in to the manufacturer, it comes back with more “features” and a new dashboard – but the problem hasn’t been fixed. 

 All I can say is . . . Microsoft – you may be unspeakably wealthy – but shame on you. The world is confused enough, already.