Dave Barry in Cyberspace

This is an old book, published in 1996. My wife found it in a Goodwill store and thought I might enjoy it. I did enjoy it, enormously, because Dave Barry is genuinely funny. But there’s an important lesson in this book:

Many of the things he makes fun of are still true!

Here are a few revealing quotes from the book:

Desktop computers provide an excellent interoffice communications capability because you can stick Post-It notes on the screen.

Laptop computers don’t have the same display quality, but they do pack an astounding amount of computing power into a lightweight, notebook-sized unit that is unbelievably easy to steal. 

So I called the Technical Support Hotline number. I expected a long wait, but I was pleasantly surprised when I was immediately answered, by a courteous, efficient, and highly knowledgeable recorded voice informing me that all the Technical Support Representatives were busy… It turned out that reaching an actual Technical Support Representative was about as easy as reaching the Pope, the difference being that if you ever did reach the Pope, he would probably be more helpful. The representative I finally spoke to, after maybe seventeen years on hold (This is hyperbole, or gross exaggeration for comic effect. The actual wait was fourteen years.) , basically took the position that (1) there was no problem; and (2) it was my fault. 

There is no end to the ways in which computer programs can screw each other up. I regularly read Internet user groups filled with messages from people trying to solve software incompatibility problems that, in terms of complexity, make the US tax code look like Dr. Seuss.

The computer world has a language all its own, just like Hungary, the difference being that if you hang around Hungarians long enough, you eventually start to understand what they’re talking about, whereas the language used in the computer world is specifically designed to prevent this from happening. 

Without software, a computer is just a lump of plastic; whereas with software, it’s a lump of plastic that can permanently destroy critical data. 

The most popular operating system in world history as of 10:30 AM today is Windows 95, but there are many other options, including Windows 3.1, Windows 3.11, Windows 3.111, Windows for Workgroups, Windows for Groups That Mainly Just Screw Around, Windows for Repeat Offenders, Lo-Fat Windows, and The Artist Formerly Known as Windows… And of course there is the Apple operating system, or “Apple operating system” for your hippie beatnik weirdo loner narcotics-ingesting communistic types of Apple-owning individuals who are frankly too wussy to handle the challenge of hand-to-hand combat with computer systems spefically designed to thwart them.

You should get a “full-featured” word processor, defined as “a word processor that has thousands of functions that you will never have any conceivable use for”. A good rule of thumb is: If it takes you about three weeks of practicing eight hours a day before you can successfully type and print out a simple sentence, then you have a “full-featured” word processor. 

The fact that this book is still funny twenty years after it was written demonstrates just how bad the software user interface designers are.