If you have a computer connected to the Internet (and honestly, who in 2012 has a computer that isn't hooked up?), the companies who have software you installed are spying on you.
You know it, I know it. Every once in a while, they use your connection to the World Wide Web to see what version you have of their stuff and if it isn't brand spanking new, they'll ask if you want to download the latest.
If you are anything like me, your average reply to this question is somewhere on the continuum between "no" and "FUCK NO, GO DIE!".
Your software is old, but it's still working. Usually, it doesn't cost you anything but time when these snoops ask to you to please take their upgraded stuff, but bitter experience has probably taught you that sometimes an upgrade is nothing of the sort and software that worked fine is replaced with software that is glitchy on your machine.
It is not completely the fault of the company that writes the software. Everyone has a computer set-up that is unique, and some unexpected combo of software and hardware might act in unhappy ways with the new software you just uploaded.
Last month, I got some unexpected cash. With some of it, I bought a new bike. I also decided to get a C compiler so I could write programs that would do computations that would be cumbersome in Excel. At $2,000, C compilers are crazy expensive for a hobbyist like me, but since I am in academia, I can get a discount that chops the price down to less than $200.
So far so good.
To install the new compiler, I needed to upgrade my operating system to OSX Lion. It doesn't cost much at about $30, but it's a ginormous program and takes about eight hours to download.
As the law of cognitive dissonance tells us, once I've bitten the bullet for a $200 program I need, I'm not going to dig my feet in and not pay for the OS, whose cost is 15% of the original purchase, roughly the ratio of a tip compared to a full meal.
So now my machine is running the latest and greatest, OSX Lion.
So far, not so much yay. Since it's been downloaded, my computer has acted up in new and truly annoying ways. It may be pure coincidence, but the operating system is the heart, soul, nervous system and blood stream of the computer. The glitches have involved the mouse, the modem, the printer and downloads from iTunes, parts of the computer that have been relatively worry free after a rough patch when I bought the machine two years ago. My friend Art had a suggestion and I followed it, running some diagnostic software. That was this afternoon. I'll keep you posted on the progress.
It may all be coincidence. Maybe two year old hardware is ancient nowadays, but I'm used to keeping hardware for about five to ten years. I would be really disappointed if consumers have to upgrade hardware as often as high tech businesses do. Even though I got a nice windfall, I am not made of money and I'm glad when the computer on my desk works. It's a tool, not a status symbol for me. I don't want to be constantly asked to buy stuff I don't need.
This blog is still alive, just in semi-hibernation.
When I want to write something longer than a tweet about something other than math or sci-fi, here is where I'll write it.