Saturday, June 30, 2007


I'm almost to ...


... my 1,000th post. ...


... If I try really hard ...


... I just might make it.

Friday, June 29, 2007

To sheep, perchance to dream

Headline of the week.

Lange announces

I'll have more later on the Outpost website about Mike Lange's announcement this morning for the U.S. Senate against Max Baucus. Brief highlights:

1. He said he has zero money but expects to start raising campaign funds when the new reporting period opens on Sunday.

2. He works four 10-hour shifts a week as a pipefitter, so he will have three days a week to campaign. Plus, he said, his employer gave him four months off during the session and is likely to be willing to give him more time.

3. On Iraq: "Americans have had enough of it." He called for securing Iraq's borders and seeking international help to restore and maintain order.

4. He called for reforms of NAFTA and other trade agreements and of the No Child Left Behind act.

5. His best answer, I thought, was on the question of how he can get by the notoriety he acquired during the legislative session. He didn't sound very sorry for what he said about Gov. Brian Schweitzer, but he continued to express regret for the words he used to say them. He called his tirade a "mulligan," one that Republicans will forgive him but one that cannot be repeated.

To speak or not to speak

Interesting post at Electric City Weblog on whether the Great Falls City Commission can legally order someone removed for exceeding the three-minute time limit for public comments.

The issue may be even larger than the post indicates. At a free information seminar I attended with John Shontz, who used to be the lawyer for the Montana Newspaper Association, he raised doubts that any speaker time limit is permissible in Montana, given the state's guarantees of the public's right to participate in making decisions.

If somebody pushed it, city council meetings might come to resemble the old Crow Tribal Council meetings, where people spoke for as long as they felt moved to do so.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Lange for Senate

Mike Lange has called a press conference for tomorrow morning to announce his run for Congress.

The link

The link seems to be down to the new Outpost website. Here it is.

There is some good stuff in this week's issue, including Clawson's column about John Bohlinger, some good stories by T.J. Gilles on the housing situation in Billings and Paul Driscoll's sharp new cartoon. Give it a look.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Stubborn Cal

It could be that an argument can be made against allowing consumers, rather than cable companies, to decide what channels should be allowed into their homes, but Cal Thomas can't seem to think of one.

I mulled over his attempts at an argument this morning while reading the Gazette as I nodded off to sleep after putting another Outpost to bed. That's a harsh rule of journalism: The paper always goes to bed before the editor does. So I was about 80 percent asleep while trying to decipher his column, but his arguments appear to be these:

1. If people could choose which channels to subscribe to, they would have to make hard decisions. Cable providers should protect them from those decisions.

2. If people could make their own cable choices, they would actually have less freedom to choose than if the choices were restricted to a limited menu offered by the cable companies.

3. A la carte cable options would be bad for business because people might not make the choices that businesses want them to make.

4. Most American households don't have children under age 18. It isn't clear to me what this has to do with anything, but it seems to be important to Cal.

5. If people could choose their own channels, they might choose not to subscribe to Fox News or religious networks. Then what would the world come to?

6. People would have to pay as much to get the 20 channels they wanted as they now do to get 150 channels they never watch. So I could get, say, the English language version of Al Jazeera, a couple of German stations, a sports channel or two, C-SPAN and a few movie channels for the same price as I now pay to get the Shopping Network and a hundred or so variations on old history documentaries, recycled sitcoms and tips on cooking and home renovations. That would be awful.

7. The whole thing is a plot by the government to control our lives and limit our information choices. How allowing people to make their own choices expands the power of government is another one of those sweet mysteries, penetrable to Cal Thomas but cloaked in mist for the rest of us.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

My kind of place

I have heard several people who have never visited 12th Planet say, "It's not my kind of place." That's sort of how I felt, but as a highly trained professional journalist, I try not to let my biases influence my perceptions, so I have steadfastly withheld judgment.

Last night I actually went into 12th Planet for the first time, thanks to an invitation from Connoisseur Media, which was celebrating its first anniversary in Billings. It was fairly impressive: colorful lights, multi-media screens, a three-level layout with bar and stage. A bit classy for the likes of me, but there's no reason why I shouldn't step up in class in my old age.

So I wandered over to the bar to cash in one of my free drink tickets for a beer. By my count, the bar had 18 beer spigots. Fifteen of them were for Bud or Bud Light. One was for Miller Lite, one for Coors Light and one lonely tap for Blue Moon.

I thought, "This is not my kind of place."

Promotional bust

The 5:01 blog says that last weekend's Crash Boom Bang concert apparently was a bust. Some commenters blame poor promotion, a motion I second. I heard about it only in passing and spent half an hour late last Tuesday on the internet trying to track down information. I found only a tiny, nearly unreadable, copy of a poster on a MySpace site. And the internet, apparently, is the only place the concert was promoted.

It continues to amaze me how clueless some concert promoters are. You'd think that anybody who has ever even stood within 25 feet of Tim Goodridge would know better.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Defunding Cheney

The proposal to strip funding from Dick Cheney's office may be a political gimmick, but the graphic makes it all worthwhile.

Casidee Riley

Casidee Riley, once a regular in local theater productions and the star of a Billings-based movie, "So You've Downloaded a Demon," is in LA. You can find an interview of her here. More here.


To use Quickbooks payroll, I had to buy Quickbooks 2007. To use Quickbooks 2007, I had to buy Microsoft Office 2007. Now that I have Microsoft Office 2007, I have to buy Quickbooks payroll.

And so it goes. Since Friday, I have mostly been relearning computer programs that I had used without problems for 10 years. In Word 97, for example, I used to close files by clicking on an x in the top right corner. In Word 2007, I have to click on a logo in the top left corner, then click on the Close command.

In Word 97, headers and footers were under the View menu. Not a terribly logical place to put them, but nevertheless I found them and learned how to use them. In Word 2007, headers and footers are under the Insert menu. Not a terribly logical place to put them, and I had to learn to find them all over again.

And, of course, the mail merge interface between Quickbooks and Word no longer works the same way and often doesn't work at all. I spent about three hours on Friday writing subscription renewal letters, a job that normally takes a half-hour or less. I finally got it to work by ignoring the instructions, which were worse than worthless because they provided not just unhelpful information but quite self-evidently bad information that reduced the chances of getting the program to work. One of the bright spots of Quickbooks used to be the thorough and easy-to-follow instructions. That's long gone, and Microsoft instructions retain their perfect record: Never once, in 10 years of using Word, have I ever found a useful piece of information in the Help section. The Help appears to have been designed for some totally unrelated program.

So I am out several hundred bucks, and many hours of lost productivity, paying for stuff I already owned and relearning stuff I already had learned. At the same time, we are still fiddling with the new website, which actually is shaping up a little every day and now can carry breaking news. I spent yesterday afternoon and this morning adding links to the link section. The links are far from complete, and suggestions are welcome.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Joe Galloway

I wasn't going to blog about this exchange, but it has been haunting me, so I will at least link to it. You people who think the MSM don't know war never met Joe Galloway.

Galloway, by the way, is a bit of a home boy. He attended Victoria College, where I spent part of an unhappy semester, and he's from Cuero, Texas, if memory serves, a few miles up U.S. 87 from my hometown. In those days, we called U.S. 87 the Cuero Highway or, on longer trips, the San Antonio Highway. Now I call it the Billings Highway.

Be nice!

I was planning to make fun of this letter to the editor, but City Lights beat me to it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Free tickets

Free tickets for the July 11 Billings Mustangs game that the Downtown Billings Association and the Outpost are sponsoring have arrived. Stop by the office at 1833 Grand Ave. and pick up a few.

Questions for Romney

Left in the West has a few questions for Mitt Romney when he is in Great Falls this weekend for the Republican convention. Two questions I would like to ask are omitted:

1. In a recent presidential debate, you said that Saddam Hussein wouldn't open up his country to weapons inspectors. But weapons inspectors were there until the eve of the war. Why did you say that?

2. In a recent presidential debate, you said you would like to double the size of Guantanamo. Recently, Colin Powell said he would like to close it not tomorrow but this afternoon. Explain why you are right and he is wrong.

Power of the blog

Just a month ago, I was complaining about Albertsons preferred savings cards. Today comes this.

I shouldn't take all of the credit. This outfit has something to do with it -- and gets a hat tip for pointing out the story. Also I think I saw a story the last time this came up that said Albertsons had discontinued the cards in stores in the Northwest, although not in Montana. I can't find the link now, but I don't think I dreamed it.

Brain dead

Sounds like the Montana Republican Party is seriously brain dead. Since when is a political convention a private party?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

On bias

Montana Headlines has a thoughtful post (meaning, I agree with it) on media bias. He cites a Jay Cost piece that makes a point I have been pounding on for years: Sure, media bias exists, but the left-right bias that gets all of the attention is only a tiny, and not terribly relevant, part of the picture.

Progressively tense

I'm not a Fox News basher, but one thing Fox does on radio irritates the heck out of me. It broadcasts most of its news in the progressive tense. So we get, "The president meeting with Tony Blair" rather than "The president met with Tony Blair" or "The president is meeting with Tony Blair" or "The president will meet with Tony Blair," any of which would be more precise than the vague progressive. But then, the motto is "fair and balanced," not "accurate and precise."

I advise my English students to avoid the progressive tense because it is unclear and wordy. I sometimes point out to them, and I always point out to my German students, that German has no progressive tense at all -- and nobody ever misses it.

Now Fox is pounding the progressive tense into their impressionable heads, for no other reason, I suppose, than that the past tense sounds so, well, past. Fox, I can forgive you for Bill O'Reilly, but not for this.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Finally finished reading Anthony Shadid's "Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War." It's a valuable book in several respects, perhaps most as a counterpoint to Thomas Ricks' "Fiasco." "Fiasco" is essentially a military history of the war; Shadid focuses exclusively on the sentiments of the Iraqi people themselves.

In one memorable scene, Ricks is walking at the front of a military patrol shortly after the fall of Saddam, interviewing soldiers who tell him that 85 percent of the Iraqi people fully support the U.S. invasion. At the back of the patrol, Shadid, who speaks Arabic, is interviewing Iraqis who present a far more skeptical picture -- even at that early date, Shadid says, no more than half of those he interviewed expressed support for the invasion.

Shadid also thoroughly outlines the history of Iraqi misery and repression, especially over the last 35 years. The Iran-Iraq War, a vague footnote in most Americans' memories, looms huge in the reactions and fears of Iraqis. The utter chaos of the post-war occupation, Iraqi skepticism over U.S. intentions, and the competing factions within Iraq all get thorough coverage.

The most useful thing the book does is this: It reminds us that the war isn't just about the troops. It's about a lot of suffering people, doing their best to scrape together some kind of order out of years of chaos. Sadly, it is this aspect of the war that often seems to be totally forgotten in this country, both by the anti-war left and the pro-war neocons. Shadid reminds us that when we say it's better to fight terrorists over there than here, that has real, and deadly, consequences for a lot of people who deserve better.

On duty

Pulled jury duty again today. This is the sixth time I have been called since I was selected for the pool in Judge Susan Watters' court. I was excused once because I had to give a German final that day, so I am 0-for-5 -- five times in the pool, never picked for the jury. Several other potential jurors present today had been called as often, and a couple already had served on juries. One had served on two.

The first case involved a couple seeking damages from the state for an adopted child with preexisting problems. Another was a slip-and-fall case at The Rex. One was a tampering case involving a guy who scared me a little. One was this notorious DUI case. Sitting through voir dire gave me no particular insight into the merits of any of these cases, other than a better than average basis on which to judge the jurisprudential merit of the defendant's alleged offer in the latter case (none of your business, but thanks for asking).

Today's case had to do with assessing damages from a car accident involving a Gazette sales rep. The trial was expected to run four days, apparently with much of the time taken up by testimony and depositions from medical experts. That would have been about three days more than I suspect I would care to hear. I wasted much of the last hour of questioning wondering who would fill my 14-hour delivery day on Thursday.

I've never served on a jury and wouldn't mind doing it. But the jury selection process is an odd combination of appreciation and intimidation. Lawyers and the judge always talk about how grateful they are for our service, but they can send out the cops if we don't show up. They say how important jurors are for the process, then they keep us cooling our heels with no explanation for a half-hour or longer.

And the whole process is a little bit fun, a little bit boring and a little bit nerve wracking. I'm happy to serve, but I will be happier when I am done.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Quickbooks update

I expressed my frustration below with Quickbooks and Intuit. Just so you know, I have been using the new version for a couple of weeks now, and it is inferior in every detectable respect to the version it replaced. I have to suspect that Quickbooks is deliberately making its products worse. Some other complainers say that is so it can sell more updates to fix the problems it creates. I don't doubt it.

So my system has slowed to a crawl, the program takes up far more space on my computer, and I am having to relearn much of what I already knew so I can adjust to all of the pointless changes. It even looks uglier.

My payroll subscription expires in a couple of weeks, and I have been trying to get the company to tell me what assurances I have that it won't arbitrarily wipe the tax tables out of my system again whenever it chooses. Of course, Intuit refuses to answer that question.

So today I learn that the letter-writing function of the program no longer works. For that, I have to upgrade my version of Microsoft Word. More hassle, more annoyance, more expense -- all so I can continue to enjoy continued degradation of service.

Never, ever, ever buy from Intuit.

Wal-Mart revisited

An anonymous commenter on the immigration post below writes, "If you wish to make a moral argument against Wal-Mart, go for it."

I've never had much interest in making a moral case against Wal-Mart. My distaste for the world's largest retailer stems largely from other grounds:

1. Aesthetic. We create the world we live in by where we choose to shop. 24th and King is not my idea of a livable neighborhood.

2. Historical. I cut my journalistic teeth in East Texas when Wal-Mart was spreading rapidly to every city and burg, gobbling up mom and pops by the score. The experience left a bad taste in my mouth that has never quite gone away.

3. Practical. As a small business owner, I try to do business with people who do business with me. Wal-Mart never will.

4. Geopolitical. I just don't feel like propping up the Chinese government with my retail dollars.

5. Personal. I try to support businesses that offer jobs I might want to have someday. I don't want to work for Wal-Mart.

To the extent that I make a moral case against Wal-Mart, it has mostly to do with all of the lawsuits against it for unpaid overtime. Wal-Mart denies it has a policy of forcing people to work for free, but I worked for a company that operated in just the same manner, and it isn't right.

Two statistics in the new Harper's Index bolster my arguments. One is from a Civic Economics study that found that 68 cents of every dollar spent in a locally owned Chicago store is retained or recirculated in the community. Only 43 cents of every dollar spent in a chain store in Chicago stays there.

In practical terms, to cite another Civic Economics study, this one of San Francisco, if local merchants in San Francisco were able to increase their market share by 10 percent, 1,295 jobs would be created.

The other Harper's statistic came from Wal-Mart Watch, which says that Wal-Mart avoided more than $400 million in state taxes last year by renting stories from shell companies it created. That's not immoral, maybe, but close enough.

Stop the killing

Dave Budge quotes, with at least halfhearted approval, this post from Powerline. But the quote strikes me as entirely wrong, for a couple of reasons.

1. It's never too late in the day to decide that killing is a bad idea. It may be too late for one's own redemption (a strict reading of the New Testament suggests it's never too late even for that), but it's certainly never too late for the sake of the world and of those who remain unkilled.

2. The kids shown in the picture presumably did none of the killing. If we are going to stop the killing, then starting with the good intentions of innocent children seems as promising a place as any to begin.

Friday, June 15, 2007


Comments are up and apparently running at the new Outpost website. Enjoy.


Wildly hilarious, and eerily true.

Bumper sticker

Thursday Delivery Day Bumper Sticker of the Week: "'The universe is wider than our view of it.' -- Henry David Thoreau"

Thursday, June 14, 2007

News needed

If anybody has anymore information about this story or this one, I would like to hear it.

I should mention that James Klessens did return my call after the paper was put to bed. Like Mr. Adams, he didn't wish to comment about the case because of pending or prospective legal action.

Super heroes

This letter to the editor by the mayor was right on target and closely paralleled my thoughts when I read the letter criticizing him for failing to attend Memorial Day events.

If you read The Outpost's Memorial Day calendar, you noticed that we had no events honoring veterans listed. That's not because we hate veterans but because no one bothered to tell us that any events were going on, even though this is probably the only newspaper in town actually run by a veteran and even though I could make a good case that the people most likely to attend such events are also the people most likely to read The Outpost. Maybe the events were reported on TV; I rarely get home in time to watch the news. Maybe they were in The Gazette; although I am a faithful Gazette reader, I don't read every story every day, and I may have missed this one. So I didn't know.

In all my newspaper years, it has never much bothered me when people complain about failure to cover an event. Since you can't be everywhere, such disappointments are inevitable. At least the readers' willingness to complain shows they still care.

But I haven't much use for people who can't be bothered to tell you about an event in advance but still have the energy to complain afterward that you weren't there. It's too much to ask that we be both omniscient and omnipresent. Even in the comic books, most of the heroes have only one super power.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A salesman has his day

This You Tube clip shivered the peach pit that is left of my soul.

The cost of immigration

I'm sure this piece will get picked apart, but the fundamental point strikes me as pretty unassailable.

It refreshed my memory about a point I have raised here before: If buying cheap consumer goods made by foreign workers is good for the American economy, why isn't it good to import foreign workers and have them make the goods here?

When I raised that question at the Aging Writers Kaffee Klatsch a couple of weeks ago, someone who shall remain nameless (because it was Jim Larson) said that the reason is that when aliens are here, we have to provide them with certain benefits, such as access to schools and emergency medical care. When they stay in their own countries, that's not our problem.

Is the calculation really that cold? Is the real reason we are worried about illegal immigrants that we can't exploit them sufficiently? Come on, Wal-Mart shoppers, straighten me out.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Radio in decline

As I was driving to the bank a few minutes ago, I heard a news report on health damage to veterans who served in the Gulf War. At first, I wasn't sure what station it was, but after a minute or so, it became unmistakable. The scientist being interviewed was given uninterrupted time to speak. The reporter asked serious questions and waited through in-depth, serious answers before speaking again. Obviously, it had to be NPR. Within 60 seconds, the whole approach to the report had exhibited a sense of depth, of restraint and thoroughness that simply would be unimaginable in modern commercial radio.

Which left me just one question: Why?

Monday, June 11, 2007

The first step

The truth is out: Ed Kemmick is an addict.

Constitutional question

The Wyoming law that determines how Sen. Craig Thomas' successor will be selected may be unconstitutional.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

How to fold a diaper

Some regular e-mailers include quotes with their submissions. I just got one of the best yet:
Spread the diaper in the position of the diamond with you at bat. Then fold second base down to home and set the baby on the pitcher's mound. Put first base and third together, bring up home plate and pin the three together. Of course, in case of rain, you gotta call the game and start all over again.
~Jimmy Piersal, 1968

What's right is right

What's Right in Montana is back in business.

Push polling

Montana Democrats have just issued a warning that Republicans are using push polling to attack Max Baucus and Brian Schweitzer. They are asking anyone who gets a call to write down exactly what was said and contact the state party at or at (406) 442-9520.

Anybody had a call?

Kid torture

A thought too hideous to contemplate: Is the U.S. government torturing children?

Bumper sticker of the week

Last week's Delivery Day Bumper Sticker of the Week: "When will the rhetorical questions ever end?"

Actually, now that I think of it, I'm not certain that quote is 100 percent accurate, and I'm not even sure I saw it on a bumper sticker. But I saw it, or something similar, somewhere.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The disappearing cinema

The Missoula Independent explains why all of the movie screens seem to be showing the same movies. For your reading pleasure, I compiled the numbers for Billings here.

Don't ask

City Lights links to an op-ed piece about the military's don't ask, don't tell policy, which has cost us 58 Arabic linguists and essentially left the American military speechless in Iraq.

Like the op-ed writer, I attended the Defense Language Institute but in an era when the draft was on, and the policy was don't tell and don't let anybody find out. So I had two thoughts about this piece:

1. What in the heck was going on in those Arabic language barracks?

2. In those days, public calumny of gays was so strong that lots of gays allowed themselves to be conscripted rather than admit their sexual orientation. So it was sort of just taken for granted that the homosexual composition of the military was roughly equal to the homosexual composition of America as a whole. No soldier I knew ever admitted to being gay, and maybe nobody was, but there were always stories. In fact, one guy about whom the most stories probably swirled turned out to cash in on most G.I.s' California dreaming: He fell in love with a Monterey girl.

In short, anxiety about gays in the Army was roughly equivalent to anxiety about gays in real life, and no big deal anyway you looked at it. So how did it become a principle worth compromising our military capability over?

Blog power

Last week I whined about how tough it to deliver newspapers all day long and urged everybody to pick up a copy just so I would feel better. This week, although I haven't run the numbers, my seat-of-the-pants estimate is that as many as 500 more papers were picked up than last week. I feel great! Thanks.

P.S. Some of the improved pickup may have had to do with this story, which drew more response than anything I have written in a good long while. One fellow even stopped by to drop off a note saying how much he liked the story -- and left a $10 check inside, made out to me, not the company.

The funny thing about the response is that I never felt real good about how the piece turned out when I wrote it for Montana Quarterly. I thought seriously about not reprinting it in the Outpost.

So you never know. But I suspect here that the response had much more to do with the remarkable subject than with any skill on the part of the writer.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

New page

You can see the rudiments of the new Outpost web page here. I spent a good chunk of yesterday trying to get the blog up and running over there and made some progress but haven't figured out how to make the comments function work.

Obviously, this is a work in progress, and we welcome advice and assistance. Within a few days, I hope, we will be updating the news daily over there and blogging as well.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Business bashing redux

Back on May 20, I quoted Webb Brown of the Montana Chamber of Commerce, who quoted Jon Bennion of the Chamber as saying the "vicious" attitude of the Legislature toward business during this session was a shock. I said I couldn't recall hearing much business bashing.

Today, Mr. Bennion replies, in part:
I'd just point you to the blog that I do ( and have you go through the last five months of posts. That should answer your question regarding my comments. I was at the capitol everyday and attended hundreds of hearings and floor debates. I tried to post as often as time would allow.

Also, the Chamber plans to release its 2007 Voting Review of the legislature and the governor this week. That should also provide you with more info.

I don't have time today to go through five months of posts, but I would have to say that at a quick glance I didn't see a lot of verbal bashing on his site, although he does discuss many bills that the Chamber didn't like.

More rigorous researchers can check for themselves, and in any case the blog itself is of considerable interest as one insider's view of what went on.

Petition time

If you are interested in helping the Green Party get back on the ballot in Montana, go here. Or you can contact Chris Frazier at

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Hero worship

Words I never expected to write: Pat Buchanan is my hero (thanks to Jackie Corr).

Interviewing 'improved'

I used to regularly read Jeff Jarvis' BuzzMachine, but he wore me out. His boundless enthusiasm about the new media world exhausted me, and his occasional thimbles of insight are often buried under gallons of blather. I cut back to once a week, just to keep up, and finally quit reading him altogether.

But I was drawn back by a link at PressThink to this post, in which Mr. Jarvis waxes enthusiastic about improving interviews by conducting them via e-mail. My direct response is in his comments, I post here simply to add one example that helps make my case for the superiority of live interviews.

Back in Texas, I once profiled a longtime city council member who had been defeated for re-election. The upset had shocked and hurt him, and it was quite a while before he would even consent to an interview. But he was a colorful character (at one city council meeting, he had suggested an ordinance barring people from being poor) and he eventually came around.

Sitting at his kitchen table, we were wading through his biography, including time he had spent in the military as a demolitions expert. As he told me about that, he raised one hand, which was missing several fingers.

"Not much of an expert," he said.

Such moments, I suspect, will never be duplicated in the world of e-mail interviews.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Death penalty reconsidered

From the Spokane office of the Better Business Bureau comes word of a scam targeting military spouses. The caller claims to be from the Red Cross with news that the spouse's soldier in Iraq had been wounded and transported to Germany for medical care. The scammer then asks for Social Security information to get the treatment started.

That's why I oppose the death penalty. For some crimes, it simply isn't cruel enough.


No sooner had I finished whining yesterday about how much I had to do than I sat down to work on payroll. I use Quickbooks Pro, and I pay Intuit $200 a year to keep withholding tax tables up to date.

Of course, there was a problem. I have the 2004 version of Quickbooks, and I had been notified that it would no longer have access to payroll updates after May 31. It's Quickbooks' way of guaranteeing that it can sell enough new software to recoup the cost of creating useless updates every year.

I wasn't happy about that because I had absolutely no desire to change my version of Quickbooks. I didn't care if they dropped tech support for old versions because I never use tech support. I didn't care about having the latest version because the version I had worked just fine. And I didn't care much about losing access to payroll updates, even though I would still be paying for the updates for a couple of more months. It would be a problem eventually, I supposed, but not between May 31, the last day I had access, and June 1, the day I did payroll.

What I didn't realize was that not only would I lose access to new updates, but I also lost access to all of the updates I have been paying $16.58 a month for all these years. That information, which my money apparently only rented but did not purchase, simply disappeared. My withholding levels went to zero for every employee. My Quickbooks program, which I had carefully maintained, learned and updated for three years, had suddenly become worthless.

So I spent a half-hour wrangling with two different service reps, an hour and a half downloading a new Quickbooks version and at least an hour updating file formats to be compatible with the new version -- the old files weren't compatible with the new version, which makes the guarantee for the new version worthless. So like it or not, I'm out $170 to own an expensive new piece of software that I neither needed nor wanted and that, so far as I can tell, runs slower and is less convenient than the version it replaced. And I got payroll done three hours late, in part because I couldn't see the computer screen because of all the steam pouring out of my ears.

Somebody please explain to me why I am wrong to be unhappy about this. To me it is no different than if automobile manufacturers, in order to pay for ongoing R&D, simply placed a small incendiary device inside every vehicle so that it would blow into pieces every three years. In fact, that's sort of what the big American manufacturers used to do until the Japanese proved that there is money to be made in building cars that last.

The Quickbooks people apparently haven't learned that lesson. I used to praise Quickbooks as the only piece of software I owned that was both understandable and useful. I will never praise it again. Quickbooks turned a loyal customer into an enemy. Nice going, guys.

SIDEBAR: One alternative is to simply get the tax table information and enter it into an Excel spreadsheet, then compute each employee's payroll taxes manually each pay period. Then my money goes to Bill Gates instead of the geeks at Intuit, which doesn't make me a heck of a lot happier. Early one Wednesday a few weeks ago, I was struggling desperately on deadline to get the paper out -- I had been working about 16 hours and had eight pages to go with about five hours to get them done. Suddenly my computer flashed me a message: Windows had downloaded an important new update and needed to restart the computer. Would I like to restart now or wait until later? Naturally, I clicked later. About five minutes later, I got the message again. Then again. And again. For a couple of hours, the message popped up every few minutes with no way to make it go away.

Finally, I had to go to the other computer to print out some pages. While I was gone, of course, the message popped up again. When I didn't answer, it restarted my computer and closed all my programs, wasting whatever hadn't been saved.

What the heck? Bill Gates, you may own the world, but you don't own my computer. Keep your grimy hands off.

Friday, June 01, 2007

A day in the life

Warning: This post contains whining.

We were shorthanded yesterday, so I delivered papers for 15 hours, plus an hour or so this morning to finish up. This afternoon I'm scrambling to make payroll. Then I have to do the monthly billing in time for Monday's mail and get next week's paper going. This week I used up the last of my stockpiled stories, so I start with no stories and no art. To top it off, I have jury duty on Monday morning. So much for my summer ambition to take a day off every week. Anybody want to buy a small business?

Actually, the point, if any -- and I realize I'm probably preaching mostly to the choir here, if even the choir shows up -- is that if you think this venture deserves any support at all, then make a point of picking up a paper every week and urging others to do so. You don't even have to read it -- I will never know one way or the other -- but nothing eases those long delivery days like finding an empty rack at every stop. It costs you nothing and makes what's left of my life worth living. And the trees will be grateful to know that they have not died in vain.

Outpost delivery Thursday

Bumper sticker of the day: "When evolution is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve."