I can figure out how to do most things, no matter how complicated, if I put my mind to them. There's no shortage of challenges. There's my home computer, and my work computer, my cell phone, various entertainment electronics, a minivan bristling with options, kid toys, and so on. I spend half of my day figuring out why my technology isn't acting the way I think it should.

And then there is the complexity of general living, including my various business ventures, and lately the overwhelming complexity of building a house. My desk is normally a blizzard of paperwork ranging from taxes, to contracts, to payroll, and health insurance issues. It's all under control, mostly.

This brings me to my Bluetooth headset for my cell phone. I bought one that is allegedly a good brand. The interface involves pushing the body of the earpiece in just the right place, without the benefit of a visible button or one that you can feel with your finger. Where you press, and when you press, depends on the context. Is a call incoming, or are you making one, or hanging up, or turning it on, or what? And sometimes you are required to hold a button for a longer period of time to get a different result than you would get by briefly pressing it.

And so it sits on my nightstand, mocking me. The user manual has long been sacrificed to the random clutter of some junk drawer or other, never again to be seen. I have tried using the device a few times, but I find the interface impenetrable. Sure, I could hunt down the manual, and spend an afternoon memorizing the sequence of events, having people call me just to practice. But I don't memorize well. I can remember a new concept forever, but I don't remember my home phone number because I don't call it. This thing has been sanitized of all concepts. It wins.

Likewise, I have never been able to back up the data on my computer. Ever. In concept, it's pretty simple. You buy the backup media, fire up the backup software, set some options, and off it goes. Over the years I have tried perhaps 20 different backup media, and half a dozen backup software solutions. So far, none have worked. It's always a different reason. Sometimes my backup disk is empty but it acts as if it is full. Sometimes the software appears to be properly scheduled but just refuses to run. Sometimes it runs but only backs up a tiny file or two and then quits.

Again, I could figure out how to solve this backup issue. It is well within my capability. But instead I will just copy the most important of my files manually to another disk and call it good, as I have for the past 20 years. And I will simply not answer my phone if it rings while I am driving. I just don't have time to fix these problems.

You might have noticed that I publish entire links in this blog instead of embedding them in a highlighted word that you can click. That's because sometimes the software lets me do it the right way and sometimes not, for reasons I could figure out if I spent a day or two trying.

I worry that the list of things I don't have time to figure out is growing. Is there some sort of saturation point where I just say screw it and go live in the woods?

(P.S. I tried to review this post before publishing it but today the blogging software only shows me advertising instead of a preview. I could spend today figuring out why, or I could just publish without previewing it. Guess which one I did.)
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Apr 4, 2010
Backups are hard, it's a major thing to do them really well.

If you make backups but don't test them regularly, you don't really have backups.

If you make backups and test them, but don't try to do full restores regularly you still don't really have backups.

The reason most home users don't do backups is simple, doing them well enough to be useful is too much of a pain in the ass
Sep 15, 2009
We'd love to offer you a free license of NetCDP Online backup you can try.

Just have a Amazon S3 account or an NAS account, add your account information, which is all you need to do and your files are backed up and protected automatically and continuously. There really is nothing for you to learn or do.

Jul 6, 2009
Is it just me or do half of the posts that you have received sound like advertisements... this goes with your blog about shopping, and how it's broken. Did real ordinary people post these messages, or did sneaky people trying to advertise their wares post these messages? How can you tell?

Frankly, regarding learning, either get someone to come to your home and show you how to backup your software, or set it up for you, or read the manual. Skip the next movie, and setup your software. You are a syndicated cartoonist, you do lectures and fly everywhere, have many books published... you can probably afford to hire a neighbour nerd to come over, and quickly show you how to setup your software to work right. Even get them to purchase the proper equipment. Their time is pennies in your pocket, you wealthy syndicated cartoonist. They could probably tell you how to use your headset as well. Maybe make you a little post-it note to put in your car that says "Hold button for three seconds to mute... blah blah blah".

Jun 29, 2009
Didn't you address this issue in The Dilbert Future? I think you used the example of using your airline !$%*!$
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 27, 2009
I have to comment. I have to comment to say - people like YOU DRIVE ME NUTS! ha . Just Kidding (sort of). I had to laugh at the bluetooth headset since my husband cannot ever make his work. I have to do it every time for for him. This is a harvard graduate - granted - class of '64. But I'm not THAT much younger!
I agree with one of the previous posters - I would NOT be able to give up on the headset - I would Make it work - Along with all the other gadgets around me.
I really wonder what is the difference? I am not as articulate as my dear husband (certainly not as smart in SOME things) but I CAN figure out how things work.
Some say its a 'competitive nature' that I have - tho I don't see it - that makes me persevere through setting up a router, a bluetooth, a google API map. I cannot just give up. I cannot let that little gadget get the best of me.
I've also found its better to do it yourself - that way (normally) you'll never forget how to do it the second time.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 27, 2009
This is why most people don't work on their own cars anymore, except for really basic stuff. The things are controlled by so many interdependent computers, sensors, and relays, that if you mess with one then you'll mess with the whole system and end up firing your airbags when you try to turn on the AC. It's all part of an evil plan to ensure the total helplessness of the human race when faced with malfunctioning technology. Resistance is futile...

And when it comes to manuals, remember that they are usually written by a tech writer who, though he or she may be competent, is assigned the laziest, dumbest schlub off the assembly line to provide the technical input (he's the one they want to get rid of for the day). Even more fun if the manual has been subsequently translated from Korean to Urdu to Swedish to English.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 27, 2009
The syndrome you describe brings to mind Alvin Toffler's "Third Wave." Eventually we all decide that the cost-benefit curve no longer justifies adding some bit of random knowledge or technology into our lives. Just like science builds upon the discoveries of earlier research, losing the cutting edge builds upon losing itself. Eventually our cutting edge begins to look more like a spork.
The adoption of change is a young man's game. As we age our priorities change and we just don't care about <whatever> as much. I personally wish I could figure out how to set up a home server, but its easier to just buy everyone in the house a laptop and let them fend for themselves.
As an aside, the idea Webgrunt has above (fourth post) sounds good. Kinda like Dummy-Certified. Or Ease-of-Use Certified. Use whatever euphemism you like, but still a good idea.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 27, 2009
Part of the problem is usually that the product designer is trying to solve a different problem in designing it than you are in using it, at a variety of different levels. For one thing, they don't always need to make products - especially high tech ones - usable in order to sell them. For another, they don't always design these things in the wild: a bluetooth headset is for handsfree calls right? But what if you are listening to music? What if your phone is connected to something else with bluetooth at the same time? To complicate things further, if the product is supposed to communicate with other things, there might be a whole lot of reasons why it doesn't work ranging from bad protocol implementations on other (or their own) devices to an evil desire to lock the user into their company's products.

For example, my bluetooth-related requirements are pretty simple, yet it has not been easy to put a workable solution together. I'm almost but not quite there.

I want to listen to audiable's audiobooks on my phone, using bluetooth headphones when I'm walking about and on my car stereo when I'm driving. When calls come in, I want the audiobook to stop playing, rather than just mute (so I don't lose my place) and for the call to kick in instead (both on the headphones and in the car.) I want to be able to voice dial without having to set up different numbers on my phone and car stereo.

Is this too much to ask? Almost. I've managed to get a car stereo that works nicely, although it will only voice dial numbers stored in the stereo itself, so I have to mess about when a number changes. I have an android phone, which usually works beautifully with the stereo: it connects automatically and resumes playing the audiobook from the last position. It handles calls beautifully. However, there is no audiable client for android, so I have to mess about stripping the drm out of the books, just so I can listen to them in the way I want. My headphones tend to work fine as well with this phone (although I went through a couple of phones that didn't implement the right bluetooth profiles). However, occasionally and for reasons I don't understand, the phone will refuse to connect to either or both. Sometimes, turning the phone off and on works, sometimes it seems to forget the pairing and I have to pair it again.

My point is this: what seems like a straightforward thing to want to do, which seems perfectly in line with what bluetooth and these devices are intended for, is far harder and more annoying than it needs to be, partly because the designers didn't have this particular application in mind.

There are ways to build stuff that would make this kind of thing a lot easier and more reliable, but there's no real payoff for either the manufacturer or the designer.
Jun 26, 2009
Try Jungle Disk for your backups. No hardware needed; it backs up your files to the Amazon S3 cloud. Very cheap and easy to use.
Jun 26, 2009
That is how ordinary people turn into clueless senior citizens. Sorry.
Jun 26, 2009
Scott -

As a marketing guy in high tech companies for about 30 years now, your work has entertained and amused me considerably. (20 of those years were in HP's cubicle farm - you can imagine how well I relate to some of your strips)

Can I return the favor now? I'd like to give you a solution to your backup problem I work for a company (http://www.rebit.com) that solves the backup problem for people like you... people who need a backup solution that's as easy to use as the automatic transmission on their car. Buy an external hard drive loaded with Rebit, plug it in, and forget it. Everything on your computer - everything - will be backed up, continuously. No settings. No schedules. No choosing file types or folders. Just plug it in.

Some people are going to recommend online backup such as Mozy or Dropbox.... I also recommend these, but only for offsite storage of irreplaceable data that you might need to recover in case your home or office burns down or is broken into. For real time backup and recovery of operational files, and the ability to restore your computer to it's original state in case of a crash, there is no substitute for local backup to an external hard drive, and there is no solution easier to use than Rebit that provides as deep of protection - all your files, all your programs and their settings, your OS, it's updates/patches, etc. will all be protected.

Scott, you have my email from my registration... contact me directly, and I will ship you a Rebit backup drive at no charge - I'd be pleased to have a way to say "thanks" for all the !$%*!$ you've given me.

Norton Ewart
Rebit, Inc.
Jun 26, 2009
Several have commented on how many people's VCRs continue to flash 12:00 - 12:00 - 12:00.

I'll admit that some of my appliances are doing that right now, but not because I CAN'T or even WON'T set them.

My alarm clock has a 9-volt battery, so that, if the power fails, it can keep track of time through the outage. The clock sells for $9.95.

But my much more expensive microwave, VCR, coffeemaker, stove, DVR, and probably one or two other appliances ARE NOT DESIGNED to allow a simple battery backup of the clock.

We lost power yesterday for a few seconds, and are expecting thunderstorms again today, so there's no point in setting all of them. Againl

It's not you, Scott. Like many others, I also haven't mastered my Bluetooth. It talks to my phone OK, but, like Scott, I haven't figured out the proper drumbeat to accept an incoming call without hanging up on them. So I just use the phone to accept the call, and then use the Bluetooth hands-free. (It lives, not on my dresser, but in the sunglass compartment of my car, BTW).

Like I said, it's not that we're not smart enough to figure it out (given time), but that the DESIGNERS aren't smart enough to add simple features (like TWO buttons to the Bluetooth, just like my phone has), so that things are truly intuitive.

In general, I blame Microsoft. They set the standard for how "intuitive" technology is supposed to be; how helpful customer support is to be; how clear manuals are; and so on.

+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 26, 2009
I think that this post about technology and the previous post about Iran may be related. Perhaps the Iranian board of elections has new vote counting software, but nobody read the instructions. When the software returned ridiculous numbers, the vote counters responsible just said "Screw it, send the numbers to the supreme leader and he can deal with it". Maybe a copy of the instructions for the vote counting software should have also been sent to the supreme leader.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 26, 2009
I admire the way you set your priorities. But I'm still glad that you are a comic writer and not a software engineer for, let's say, aeroplanes.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 26, 2009
I haven't read the other comments, so others may have suggested this. In fact I'm sure of it. Get a Mac. It comes with software to automatically backup any changes you make. Even if you just use the defaults...

On the PC, AutoSave automatically saves any changed files but does require some setup.

And no more excuses about lost manuals. Almost every manual and user guide is available on the web. What you can use as an excuse is that you can't remember a zillion inane commands to do things that you'll never need to do.

I know, boring comment.

+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 26, 2009
Wish you a Gloomy Negative Christmas. Among the things listed here, I wish you give up your current blogging software and go back to typepad.
Jun 25, 2009
I second the poster who suggested Mozy. I *think* it's available for Macs, and I know it's available for PCs.

Since you describe an epidemic of bumps in the road in getting back ups to work, this one might not work either, but 2gb is free. Upgrading to unlimited is reasonably priced, at least to me and I'm broke. But I figure if I use it once if something happens to my main hard drive, it does pay for itself.

I have an external hard drive too that is great and easy to use, but if the house burns down, it doesn't necessarily survive along with the other computers.

I would guess if you actually did a back up, that no matter the service or type you use, if you have a lot to back up, it'll take a long, long time. My back up to Mozy took 3 days.
Jun 25, 2009
I'm pretty sure that's just what it feels like to get old, Scott
Jun 25, 2009
Scott, I went over to Best Buy in Pleasant Hill & bought a Seagate FreeAgent portable thing;


Every month, I just copy the folder where all my good stuff is, iTunes and JPEGs, and copy it into the Seagate thing. Everything's all on there. You're supposed to be able to plug it in and 'sync' it, so it just adds new stuff not added since the last 'sync;' but 'syncs' are confusing, so I just copy and paste the whole thing.

Works like a charm, like 70 bucks I think.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 25, 2009
I wouldn't be able to just shelve the Blutooth gizmo. It would drive me nuts. I would either have to figure out how to work it, or junk it and buy another one I could work.

As far as the other things about doing things the hard way, that doesn't actually bother me at all, as long as I can make things do what i want.

And do'nt go running off to the words, imagine yourself sitting in the cold and dark fruitlessly banging a knife against a piece of flint trying to start a fire. What do you do when that doesn't work? Go back to society or start kidnpping smokers to steal their matches?
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