technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
Simple gray rule

Dr. Gizmo

Readers take shots at Dr. Gizmo 

Here are some of my favorites among the barbs and brickbats tossed my way over the years. 

By Dr. Gizmo

Originally published in the Syracuse Newspapers and on Syracuse Online.

So blame it on me 

I sent you a disk so you could put a fractal program on it and the disk came back wrinkled in three places -- totally unusable. I won't be quick to send you another disk.-- R.M., Oswego

I suppose you expect me to apologize, but the real culprit is the post office. Besides, it was a free service, done on my own time. That means you got what you paid for even if you got nothing. I sent you another disk anyway. Next time you look a gift horse in the mouth, smile.

Get off my high horse? 

You don't know what you're talking about. I'm a research scientist who uses computers and I'm know my subject thoroughly. You, however, do not. Those of us in the computer industry try to be patient with reporters who misunderstand computers. We realize they are trying hard to grasp the subject.

But you don't fit into that category. Your lack of information is very apparent. If you'll stop giving advice about computers, I'll agree not to write newspaper articles. -- P.K., Dallas.

You represent everything that is wrong with the technical community. You assume that anyone who does not have the proper shingle hanging on the office wall -- the one that says "DOCTOR OF PSYCHOBABBLE, Technocrat University" -- is automatically a dullard.

I've got news for you, pal. An education is a dangerous thing, especially when it makes you smug. Let me fill you in on something. I write for the people who work for a living, the ones who don't have the time to take a course in Preemptive Regurgitational Electrotherapy just to get their stereo to pick up the right station. They want their information short, sweet and straight.

If that doesn't suit you, too bad.

Am I Losing my head? 

Why is the top of your head cut off in the photo that runs with your "Technofile" column? -- S.K, Cortland.

Why did you write to me on a paper towel?

An airhead idea? 

You wrote that AM stereo was "an airhead idea -- take something that sounds bad out of one speaker and make it sound bad out of two." But you're wrong. There are over 15 million AM stereo receivers in the U.S., mostly in cars and trucks, and as many as 600 stations broadcasting AM stereo. The FCC has approved an "NRSC transmission" standard that gives AM radio hi-fi sound up to 10 kHz.

Music on AM stereo using this system really sounds good! I am sending you a Dolby cassette recording of AM stereo from KEX, a local station. -- E.G.N, Portland, Ore.

I played your tape. It sounded awful. I doubt that the problem was in my Nakamichi cassette desk or in the TDK SA tape, so I remain convinced that AM stereo is twice as bad as AM monaural -- which is already so lousy that nobody except talk-radio fans care about it any more.

There's no doubt AM radio can sound good if everything is right -- ultra-wide-band transmitter, a special receiver and a stormless night. But this new so-called "standard" does nothing to improve AM's fidelity.

I'm a jerk, and that's that 

You're really dumb. You're a jerk. You wouldn't know the difference between good 8mm camcorders and Swiss cheese. Stick to writing about PCs, doc. At least then you can keep Microsoft junkies happy. - No name or address

The doctor loves mail like this. Folks who think their opinions don't merit a name and address are what this country needs. They send off a letter, then crawl back under a rock. Now that's backbone!

I sold out to the Mafia 

You sold out to the VHS Mafia. The best camcorders are 8mm. All you have to do is look at the new Sony models. Who would want to buy a dinosaur VHS camcorder when the 8mm ones are so much better? -- No name, Syracuse.

You're right. A guy carrying a violin case came to my door and slipped me my monthly bribe just a few minutes ago. He also said if I ever say a good thing about Sony 8mm camcorders, he'd break my leg.

So let me explain this whole thing without mentioning S--y camcorders. I actually like 8mm; it allows the camcorders to be very small and the picture quality can be very good. But full-size VHS camcorders are my first choice because the tapes are playable on any VHS VCR. VHS-C camcorders come in second, since their tapes can be played on a VCR with an adapter.

But if that doesn't matter to you, there's no reason not to choose an 8mm camcorder. As long as the guy with the violin case will let you, that is.

Not only a jerk. I'm a wimp, too 

I say, beware of wimpy reviewers who are scared to mention brand names. The mark of a useful reviewer is the ability to put himself in the shoes of readers. You, on the other hand, can't seem to rise above your own narrow concerns and interests. -- T.R., no address

Macho, T.R.! I loved the way you had the courage of your convictions. Next time, leave an address so I can mail you some crow.

What good is my dumb advice, anyway? 

You don't know what you're talking about. You told everybody to buy VHS-C (for "crappy") camcorders and S-VHS (for "stupid") VCRs, and both of them are dead or dying. I suppose the next thing you'll try to sell is a bridge somewhere. -- No name, Syracuse.

The good doctor would rather have seen a name at the end of this letter, but the topic deserves discussion anyway.

First, success in the marketplace is up to the public, not me. Second, VHS-C camcorders haven't died, but they're losing ground to 8mm models. I still like VHS-C, although the best 8mm models have better sound quality.

Third, Super VHS (S-VHS) seems to have been abandoned by the commercial tape duplicators, and that's a shame. I've come across only two S-VHS prerecorded tapes. And VCR manufacturers should have been able to incorporate S-VHS in ALL their top models by now, but they apparently figured most video fans don't care whether the picture is better.

It slid right past me 

Doc, your memory is failing faster than your math skills. All slide rules have two moving parts, not one. The slide and the cursor both move. - C.E.S., Liverpool

Actually, if a device has, say, two parts, and one of them moves, it actually has two moving parts - each one moves in relationship to the other. So maybe I should have said a couple of weeks ago that slide rules have three moving parts.

But I'll admit the truth on this one. Slide rules couldn't work very well with only one moving part.

PC Magazine knows better than I do. I don't know beans 

I saw in PC Magazine some advice that is the opposite of what you have been saying. The article said computers and peripherals waste a lot of electricity when they are kept on all the time. The people who wrote the article are experts, and they certainly must know what they are saying.

You, on the other hand, don't know beans from electrons when it comes to saving energy. You've said many times that people should leave their computers and other equipment on all the time. This is clearly a waste of energy. - W.R., Syracuse

Phooey. What I actually said was something else, and I'll repeat it. If you use your computer every day, it will last longer and run better if you leave it on all the time. If you aren't going to use your computer for a couple of days, turn it off.

Of course it takes more electrical energy to run something than it does when you keep it turned off. But it may not take more total energy, and that's the real point. An appliance of any kind that lasts longer can cost less over its lifetime than one that needs repair and replacement, when the labor and energy costs of fixing and manufacturing are factored in.

Am I getting paid by the word? 

Are you getting paid by the word? If so, you should get something deducted from your pay for your preposterous claims in your article on finding a PC suited for your needs.

Your claim that Windows won't run very well on a cheap '386 PC is false. Even on an older '386SX-16, Windows performs satisfactorily. And your assertion that a cheap '386 doesn't need more than 2 megabytes of memory is dumb. Memory of 4 to 8 megabytes is optimum. And the notion that 80 megabytes of hard drive space is OK for a cheap '386 is wrong, too. Those who choose a '386 should get the largest hard drive they can afford. -W.F.T., Liverpool

W.F.T.'s comments included more than these remarks, but they were his main points. Letters like this are the most difficult for a writer to deal with, because they are evidence that the reader missed the entire point of the article. And that, of course, means the article may not have been clear enough.

I don't recommend that anyone who wants to run Windows buy an 80386 PC. I said that in the article. So if you aren't going to run Windows, you can save money by leaving out the extra memory and the extra hard-drive space.

Sure, a '386 computer can do wonders. So can an old IBM XT. So can my nephew's Atari 800XL. That does not mean I will recommend that anyone buy an XT or an Atari XL. I stand by what I said: Buy a '386 only if you want the cheapest way of getting into PC computing, but buy a 486 if you intend to run Windows.

By the way, the doctor gets paid by the operation, naturally.

Macs (and nostalgia) aren't what they used to be 

I recently received via snail-mail a copy of your article "Think Twice Before Buying a Mac over a PC," sent by a relative in New York.

I'm sure you've been inundated by Mac people calling you every name in the book. I will refrain from name-calling, although your article does bring about a certain emotional response. Rather, I'm sending you some information about Apple that is verifiable via the list of sources found at the end of the piece.

Truthfully, I found your article to be short-sighted and uninformed. I would ask if you ever used a Macintosh or did you simply repeat the old cliches that others in the media have written? Without prior use of a Mac, vis a vis, ease of use, software abundance, performance curves, etc., you end up sounding like a blind man describing the color blue. (By using a Mac, I mean for longer than typing a letter or playing a game once.)

Please read over the details below, and perhaps then, you'll be able to undo the injustice to potential new computer users who may believe everything in your article. -- T.W., via e-mail

The doctor could publish e-mail responses from Apple owners from now until the end of the century and still not get all of them in, so we'll try to close off the debate on a calm note.

T.W.'s note (we're leaving out the attached article) is typical of the comments and complaints from Mac fans.

They say two things: First, that Macs are special, and why doesn't the press understand that? And second, that Macs are superior in a number of ways. Macs aren't special any more. They used to be. If there is one point Mac owners need to understand, it's this: Macs are wonderful, but they are not the be-all and end-all computers they once were. Other computers have closed the gap.

Nor are Macs clearly superior, when you add up everything a computer is supposed to do. There's no question that Macs are easier to use overall, and that's a very important point. But for many users, especially those who are willing to learn a few sophisticated ways of working with a computer, Macs are not easier to use than Windows 95 PCs. They simply cannot do some of the things modern users expect from a computer, especially in regard to multitasking. That makes them much harder to use when you need to do complicated operations, to give just one example.

Yes, the doctor has used Macintoshes, from the first Mac more than a decade ago to the latest crop of PowerMacs. What others in the press say is of no importance, as anyone who has followed the perambulations of the doctor and his sidekick will attest. The doctor knows what blue looks like. And he knows what bad marketing and stagnant design look like, too.

Copyright © 1998, Al Fasoldt.

Portions Copyright © 1984-1997, The Syracuse Newspapers.

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