Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hassles When Using Public Computers

Recently, thanks to the fact that my notebook PC crashed, and thanks to the fact that I haven't had the money with which to pay to have it repaired or replaced, I've been forced to use public computers. It's been better than nothing, but only marginally better.

For one thing, public computers don't usually have all of the software which I had on my own computer. For another thing, the system administrators in charge of such computers typically place restrictions which prevent users from being able to do things they would be able to do with their own computers. As an example, the computer I'm using right now is at the Harold Washington Library. One can only access programs via the Desktop, not via the Start menu. That means that simple programs which come standard with Windows, such as the Calculator, are not available. (Presumably, they're afraid that people will mess with advanced aspects of the computers' setups and create technical problems for them. Unfortunately, that fear isn't completely unwarranted, so I think that it makes sense to restrict access to certain functions and programs, such as the Windows Registry. But I wish they'd do it on a program by program basis, rather than just making it so that people couldn't use the Start menu at all.) Another annoying thing is that one can't right click on or in folders, when viewing their contents, in order to create subfolders or perform other needed functions. Fortunately, I found that it was still possible to create a new subfolder from within Microsoft Word.

I also discovered, to my great irritation, that their version of Microsoft Word doesn't allow one to insert pictures into one's word processed documents. Or not pictures from one's own files (such as JPG photo files), at any rate. It does seem to allow one to insert clip art, but that's not the same thing at all.

One day not long ago, I was able to get a substantial amount of valuable work done by going to Screenz Computing Center on Clark Street. But even their computers have certain restrictions (in terms of access to certain folders on the hard drive), and workarounds are necessary in some cases. Also, they charge $22 for a daily pass. That wouldn't be a big deal if I was working steadily. Then again, if I was working steadily, I could probably afford to fix my own computer, so trips to Screenz would seldom be necessary.

For quite a while, I was using the Mac computers over at the Apple Store on Michigan Avenue, in order to send and receive e-mails, post blog articles, do research and do other things which didn't require the use of peripherals such as a printer or scanner or external drive. It meant having to deal with certain annoying aspects of the Mac operating system, and it meant having to stand up for prolonged periods of time (since they have no seating for those computers), but it saved me the long trip to the library. And they didn't seem to have a problem with the fact that I would sometimes come into the store and spend many hours doing such computer work. That ended this past weekend. A salesman (who, as it turned out, was also the manager of the store) came and asked me to relinquish the Mac I was on so that it could be used for a sales presentation. I was slightly annoyed by the impatient manner in which he made this request, since I was in the middle of an e-mail or a blog post and I needed a minute or two to save everything prior to exiting the system so that I wouldn't lose what I'd been working on, but I did the best I could to comply without complaining, because I understood that the primary function of those computers was to enable sales people to demonstrate the computers to prospective customers. At no point did the salesman/manager say, however, that I couldn't switch to another computer as soon as one became available, in order to do additional work. And my prior experiences in the store had all led me to believe that it was permissible for me to do so. (There was no sign stating that they had any kind of time limit.) So I waited until an additional computer was available, and then resumed my work, using that computer. It happened to be one of the more powerful ones on display, with a really big screen, but the main reason I chose that one was that the keyboard was sufficiently high that I could type onto it without getting carpal tunnel syndrome from an inappropriate positioning of my hands.

The manager came along and asked me to not only leave that workstation, but to leave the store, saying that the computers there were not for personal use (in spite of the fact that tons of people seem to use them for that purpose, and in spite of the fact that they'd known for a long time that I'd been using them for things such as e-mails, and they'd never seemed to have a problem with that before). What bothered me was the hostile tone of voice with which he did so, as if he'd previously asked me to do something and I'd ignored his request. But that wasn't the case. I'd given up my spot on the previous computer, just as he'd asked me to do. So I told him that I didn't understand why he was being so hostile, and he replied by telling me that I was being hostile. That made no sense to me. I wasn't the one who initiated the confrontation, he was. I was just standing there trying to post an innocent article on this blog when he showed up and demanded that I leave.

What was worst, though, was that I got the impression from him that I was now "persona non grata" in the store. He had a security guy show me to the door! One would think that I'd been spitting on the computers or swearing at the customers, to see the way that he treated me. It was a very unpleasant experience, and totally unlike anything I'd experienced in that store in the past.

So it's obvious that my choices, until I'm able to get my computer fixed, are now pretty much limited to what can be done with the computers here at the library, or (on the rare occasions when I can afford the $20 fee) at Screenz. And that stinks.

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