Everything There Is To Say About Updating Your Computer’s Security


The major reason to update your operating system these days is security. Computers are insecure and only getting worse. We can see why by considering any given program. If you have a program, it’s because someone wrote it to do something. (We are not going to see natural, farm-raised software for another three, three and a half weeks.) Do you know how many different ways there are for a program to do a thing? There are four. The programmer has doubts the right way got picked.

If the program doesn’t do a good job at that thing, the person who wrote it feels insecure. They have to explain how they know this thing isn’t right, 68 times a day. You can only apologize for the same thing 67 times in a day without it hurting your self-esteem. If it’s a little thing that’s wrong then that’s worse. They figure, this should be easy to fix! Why can’t I do it? So the person writing the program feels like a rank fool. That slips into the code, and your computer feels the insecurity.

If the program does whatever it should do well, you’d think that was great, right? Except no. Then the programmer has to think about how they can make this better. If they don’t, then they have to go work on something else. If they knew how to do that they’d have finished that program instead. So the writer has to work on making this good enough thing better. And you try thinking of an idea that’s even better than the one you had that worked. Do you know how many ways there are to improve a thing you ever did? There are four. Yes, again. So the person can do a couple of updates and make things better. After that every update makes the program a little less good. And then the program knows why you’re putting up with it. It’s because that’s less bad than trying something else. More insecurity.

You know who doesn’t have insecurity? The people who design hammers. Hammers are there to hammer a thing into another thing. If you feel fancy, you can include an option where it un-hammers a thing from another thing. The hammer designer knows the result should do. Once they’ve got a hammer that’s good at doing a thing — hamming — they’re happy. There’s nobody expecting some kind of improvement. If the prospect of an improvement comes along, that’s fine. Then they can go back to the Hammer Design Room. It’s a cheerful reunion. They get to see old friends.

“Dan! Kelly! We haven’t talked since we got that new niobium alloy! That was such a great hammer design time! What have you been up to?” This is the sort of merry little small talk I imagine they get up to. I don’t know what actual small talk is like. But I imagine it involves acknowledging that people have names. Then that you used to interact with people in some way. And then mentioning something you might interact with them about. I don’t know if you would alloy a hammer with niobium, but you know? I don’t know any reason not to, either. “Put your niobium in any hammers you like,” that’s what I say, when nobody else is in the room. And now I’ve said that I should explain that so far as I’m aware I have no financial holdings in the niobium trade. I’m not using my platform to manipulate rare-earth-metal prices. It’s not a rare-earth-metal. And there’s a 25% chance I made up the word “niobium” anyway. I’m pretty sure I didn’t make up the name “Dan”.

Anyway, the Hammer Design Room gets the gang back together. After they catch up there’s talk about whether this is actually going to make better hammers. And if the hammers are better, or what they’re better at. And then there’s hugging all around and promises. This time they’re going to stay in touch. Everybody goes back to making hammers. And there’s no upgrading the hammer until it can’t hamm anymore. You never see a security update for a hammer, not until some fool puts a computer in it. And if someone tries sneaking a computer into your hammer, you can bonk their fingers with it.

So if you’ve neglected your computer’s security updates, try hitting a thing with a hammer. Let’s say that’s my thesis here. Thank you.

Statistics Saturday: Acceptable Answers To The Question ‘How’re You Doing?’


  • Good.
  • Fine.
  • Okay.
  • Fair to middling.
  • Tired.
  • Exhausted.
  • Middling to al dente.
  • Busy.
  • Only crying on the inside.
  • Only crying on the outside.
  • Enraged.
  • Super-enraged.
  • I’m an enormous quivering ball of rage and exhaustion.
  • Middling to angry.
  • About what?
  • Fine, thank you.
  • You too. [ Then a recognition of having said something slightly out of synch with the question, followed by hiding under the bed. ]
  • 7, maybe 7.5.
  • Well done.

Note: “I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you” has never been an acceptable answer. It has been officially deprecated since 1986 and come the end of this calendar year will be expunged from all decent conversation, we hope.

Source: For Spacious Skies: The Uncommon Journey of a Mercury Astronaut, Scott Carpenter and Kris Stoever.

How To Overcome Popularity


If you’ve followed my advice you’ve managed to become more likable all around, and good for that. But people don’t always know how to stop once they start doing a good thing. This is how approximately 16 percent of all our problems came about: we started out doing something good, such as walking a mile each day, and then kept doing it a little more, such as two miles, or three, and before long we were walking 185 miles each day and finding ourselves far out into the ocean before lunch. Similarly, if you’ve been too good at making yourself likable it’s possible you’re spending all your free time and two-thirds of your neighbors’ keeping up with the obligations of being liked, such as asking people how they are, appearing in Likability Day parades, or trying out hats. So here’s some ways to tamp down that excessive popularity.

Likability is made or broken in small talk. Consider when someone asks you how you’re doing: the temptation is to answer “fine” or “okay” or “somebody dropped my computer from a blimp” or “my tire pressure is low”. Any of them serve to make you look like an interesting, involved person. You must crush this at any moment. Respond by looking sheepishly around and checking that it’s actually you being asked about, and if the person insists, answer that they don’t really want to know. Before long, they will. Or won’t. You know what I mean.

It’s possible this won’t be enough, and people will persist in liking you. Then it’s important to start warning them that you are unlikable, and that people shouldn’t like you. Don’t let up on this. Keep sending out the message that people don’t like you, and eventually even the people who do will give up and go on to more likable people, such as people who won’t stop talking about how they hate that Flickr and Google Maps don’t make much sense in the web browser Lynx.

If someone still hasn’t given up talking to you, computers are a great subject to make yourself less likable. This isn’t about how you use them, exactly, but rather just start talking about how foolish people are to ever buy a new computer, for any circumstance, and keep pointing out that whatever old machine they might have is perfectly usable, if you’re willing to put up with Lynx. Be relentless, something like this:

FRIEND: So I’ll be going to Best Buy to test-drive a bunch of laptops this evening.

YOU: Why do that? Your old computer’s still as good as the day you bought it. Better, if you’ve been sensibly upgrading it and keeping it on a fiber-rich software diet.

FRIEND: It was made by Commodore.

YOU: Then it’s got classic-ish lines and a BASIC that in some ways isn’t perfectly horrible.

FRIEND: And the video chip broke so all it shows on the screen is noise.

YOU: Beautiful! You can set up a web server on that, and ssh in for all your computing needs.

FRIEND: It’s a Commodore 16.

YOU: That’s great, think of the novelty value! Everyone who thought those were only made as a prank will be proven wrong. You’ll be Internet Famous if you market it right.

FRIEND: And I already dropped it over a cliff.

YOU: That’ll make such an interesting blog entry about it.

FRIEND: From a blimp.

YOU: See, who’d do that with an iPad mini?

If people persist in liking you through computer talk, shift to grammar. Everyone has something that annoys them about some words: I don’t like the phrase “grow your business” and for absolutely no rational reason. Maybe it’s because it makes me feel like I ought to have a business to grow. Find your own peeve, though, and carry on about that whenever you can. If you can’t think of something you care about, try complaining about the evolution of the word “decimate”. The only times “decimate” has been used to mean “destroy exactly one-tenth and not more or less” since 1732 has been in sentences composed by people complaining about the evolution of the word “decimate”, so it’s a well-established thing that people don’t want to hear about anymore.

If that doesn’t work, keep trying. Remember, any time you make a social interaction into an endurance contest you have already overcome likability, and congratulations on your victory.

I Guess It’s A Compliment?


The DishTV representative wondered where I was from, for the good reason that we had been on the phone for ten minutes waiting for a green bar to finish going across the screen. I wonder how long satellite TV people spend on the phone waiting for people to watch green bars move all the way across the screen. Probably after a long day of this they go home and watch blue dots dripping down screens, for the variety.

But I told her I was from New Jersey, which is true, and she said I didn’t have an accent. I thanked her without having the faintest idea why, and we got the green bar all the way across the screen without having to find any more small talk.