The Desktop Critic: The Desktop Critic's Secret Diary

First, the bad news: this is my last monthly column for Macworld . If that development comes as a shock to you, imagine how it feels to me -- this is the only regular job I've ever had. The brilliant editors and copy editors I've known during my 13 years at this magazine were the teachers who unwittingly prepared me for my new job: weekly personal-technology columnist for the New York Times .

I've just heard that Macworld columnist Andy Ihnatko will be my successor in this space, starting next month. That's great news -- you're in for a hilarious read. But it's not always easy to come up with column ideas that satisfy the requirements of both entertainment and commentary. I thought it'd be nice to give Andy a running start.

So as a parting gesture, I'm opening the pages of my secret journal, the cherished notebook I keep tucked beneath my old Mac IIcx's motherboard. This booklet contains notes to myself -- sketches, snippets, and drafts of upcoming columns.

Introducing People-World Magazine

Note from publisher: "We computers have been dropped, dismantled, and benchmarked -- not to mention abused by toddlers who mistake our drive slots for Gummi Bear dens. Well, now it's our turn: a magazine by Macs, for Macs. Each month, we'll review the people who use us."

Lead review: "Homer Corliss Jr. is a Seattle teenager with greasy palms and an unhealthy fascination with Lara Croft. Rating: 2.5 thumbs." Feature article: "Venting rage is important for any microprocessor-based device; if you keep it all bottled up inside for too long, you'll wind up having a motherboard attack. In this article, we'll examine ways to express your anger -- through random modem disconnects, Type 3 errors, and system lockups."

Macho Cheese

What is it with computer nerds and the terminology they invent? "Surfing the Net" -- gimme a break. How is slumping in a chair waiting for Web pages to download surfing ? CodeWarrior software for programmers, RAM, hard disks, mounting volumes -- the psychosexual terminology of computing: all attempts at using rugged, extreme-sport, masculine terminology to compensate for the lack of actual physical activity in their lives.

Products We'd Like to See

MealMaker Pro, Connectix TimeDoubler, VirtualWife (great for both sexes!), Microsoft Sleep, Quicken for Traffic, IRS Explorer, the Apple iWatch (requires Sense of Humor 2.0 or later).

Females, He-Males, and E-mails

True stories from the bizarre new social world of e-mail correspondence:She was Lyon3: clever, witty, and the belle of the AOL chat rooms. I fell for her like a ton of bricks. But then she showed up on the doorstep of my apartment one day, out of the blue -- bloodshot eyes, spiky orange hair, pierced everywhere. "Hi, I'm Lyon3!" she exclaimed. "I've got a week off from my drug rehab program, so I thought I'd come to New York to see my girlfriend. But she's not home, and you're the only other person I know in New York. Can I crash with you for a while?"

Or the SkiBunny story: She charmed everyone in the chat rooms; she was gorgeous, at least according to the GIF she sent around. One guy was especially fond of her -- until she disappeared. He asked in the chat rooms: "Where's SkiBunny?" E-mail response from BigBertha: "She's fighting leukemia, had to cancel her AOL account to save $$. In fact, her roommates are about to kick her out because she can't pay her rent."

The guy, upset, contacts a roommate, Jenny23: "Don't kick her out; let me help tide her over. What's the rent?" It's $700. He sends it along.

This continues for three months, but then he mentions his generosity online. "Wait," writes another guy. "You're paying her rent? I'm paying her rent!" Another guy: "No, I'm paying her rent!" Of course, it's all a scam; SkiBunny, BigBertha, and Jenny23 are all the same person -- a guy -- who's suckered three different people into sending checks for $700 each month.

Song Spoofs for the New Millennium

Bill Gates, singing to the tune of "I Just Called to Say I Love You": I just called to say I bought you,I just called to say you're unemployed,I just called to say I own you,And to tell you that we're truly overjoyed. . . .
{imageRef("dot")}To the tune of "Eleanor Rigby": Gilbert AmelioPicks up his check from the bank, then he goes on his way,Done for the day!Driving a Lexus,Thanks to the millions he got as his severance pay,For a year's stayAll the Apple chairmen, where do they all come from?All the former chairmen, oh, where have they all gone? . . .
{imageRef("dot")}To the tune of "Memory," from Cats: Memory! It says, "Not enough memory!"

Introducing SimApple

It's the latest in the series of popular Sim games! You're the CEO of America's most loved and hated computer company. Your challenge: manage the company without running it into the ground.

But be careful -- every action has an effect. Make the company profitable? You'll have to fire people and kill off projects that could have turned into home runs. Offer computers in translucent colors? Endure five years of translucent radios, toasters, and sport-utility vehicles. Make the Mac a resounding smash hit, putting $4 billion in the bank? Endure months of death sentences from the media during the tech-stock crash of 2000.

Where Have All the Manuals Gone?

Microsoft Office 2001 comes in a plastic case that looks disturbingly like a toilet seat and barely has room for a drink coaster, let alone a manual. Why don't software companies include user guides any more? In the quantities Microsoft needs, they must cost, what, $1 per box?

Most likely, they're too damned lazy. And besides, "all the other software companies are doing it."

(Note to self: Scrap idea as a column. Start line of books instead. Need a name. Missing Documentation series, Lost Manual series? . . . )

Microsoft Life

A visual column: no words, just an illustration of the Mac program called Life -- the menus and dialog boxes of modern existence.

Under the Job menu, the options are Lucrative And Boring, Creative And Unprofitable, Entrepreneur, and None. Under the Shelter menu are Mortgaged For Life, Shoebox Apartment, and Live With Parents.

Then there's the Love menu, which contains Single By Choice, Hold Out For Soul Mate, and Compromise While You Still Can, as well as the "Sorry, a social error has occurred" message, which gives you three options: Apologize, Restart, and Move Away.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

This whole "Apple is dead" in the current media is great! Dig up old columns from 1996, the ones that mocked the silliness of tech reporters who declared Apple was dying at the first sign of a hangnail, and submit them to Macworld without changing a word -- especially July 1996:

"From the articles we all read early this year, you would have thought that Apple had already burst like a soap bubble and completely vanished. 'Apple has no future,' decided Time magazine. 'The fall of Apple,' gloated Business Week . Never mind that a sales slump has hit all computer companies. . . .

"Even if you believe the Apple empire can evaporate overnight, you'd have a hard time imagining that the Mac will disappear. Macintosh users -- 56 million of us -- buy $12 billion in computers and $1 billion in software each year (says the SPA); critical industries like publishing, science, movies, education, and music rely almost completely on Macs. This is not a computer platform that can be canceled like a TV show."

Make fun of Chicken Little newspaper tech columnists and how they miss the importance of Apple, which standardized the mouse, CD-ROM, icons, menus, fonts, PostScript printing, the Trash Can, and digital video. Point out that without clever technologies debuting on the Mac, these guys could look forward to writing about bleak, uninspired, Windows-based glop for the rest of their lives.

Note to self: Never become one of them.

DAVID POGUE ( www.davidpogue.com ) is the creator of the Missing Manual series ( www.missingmanual.com ). Semper Mac!

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