My working day starts and ends on the computer. It starts with e-mail telling me where I need to go this what flight plans I need to file. I look at the GFAs and specifically check the weather for the places I'm asked to go, and other places I know we could end up. I pull up NOTAMs for all the major airports in the region, scan them, and then search the resulting list for the strings "CYR" and "fuel" in case I missed something important. Good gods, if someone at Nav Canada would like to become a pilot celebrity and leave a lasting legacy, they could please revamp the existing NOTAM system. But that's the NOTAM experience, not the Windows 8 one. I turn off the computer, eat breakfast, go to the airport and do piloty things to and in the airplane for ten or twelve hours and then shut off the airplane, chock it and go back to the computer. The day ends back on my computer, with my paysheet, my duty time log, and sending base the TTAF hours and a report of any trends or operational issues.
The efficiency of my computer therefore is a determining factor in my ability to enjoy breakfast, and how soon I get to go to bed. My new computer runs Windows 8, the operating system that pretends your computer is a touch screen, just to see how many fingerprints it can trick you into putting on the screen.
It's has pretty giant icons for everything you use, which it helpfully rearranges into the order you use them, so that you won't develop any bad habits like muscle memory based on knowing where the Excel icon was last time you turned it on. Somewhere in there is probably a "Hey Windows, honey, I put those icons there for a reason, don't rearrange them, please" option but I haven't found it. Windows probably doesn't want me to. Windows doesn't even want me to know my own directory structure.
By default, or by some option that seemed perfectly reasonable at the time, Windows slideshows all my photographs in a big thumbnail on the front page. I've got to admit it's kind of cool looking at all my photos, and exciting wondering when a naked one will pop up, but when I click on the displayed photo it doesn't go to that photo. It goes to a different photo, and from that different photo I can click on an arrow and go to an even prettier full screen collage of my photos that come up semi-randomly in date-based themes like "2008" or "November". Half of the photos are either aircraft issues being reported to maintenance or company paperwork--I photograph and e-mail the operational flight plan to the flight follower. The resulting collage is still fascinating, even mesmerizing, because I like my life, but there's no way to interact with the photos. If I see one I like and I want to view it fullscreen, or copy it, or post it on my blog, I can't edit it nor see its file location nor select it in any way.
There's an orange icon (I think they're called something else now) labelled "Trending" and when I first turned the computer on it told me that the trending topics were: Justin Bieber, NHL scores, Canadian dies in Cuba. Those same topics were "trending" for the first five days I had the machine. I thought it was stuck, but couldn't be sure. Justin Bieber and NHL scores are a pretty constant interest of certain, but mostly non overlapping, segments of the population. And Cuba is like Florida and Arizona: a hot place with cheap labour where Canadians go when they're old. People must die there all the time. I'm not sure why it was news. After a few days I clicked on the "Trending" icon, but it didn't tell me more about those things and I didn't care enough to type them into the search engine, so I still don't know, and finally it changed to HIV breakthrough, Queen in hospital, Justin Bieber. I guess it is all Bieber all the time.
As part of the setup process I selected the languages I wanted to be able to type in and there is now a not terribly inconvenient toolbar item that lets me swap among them. This is cool. I specified English as my primary language, so most of my apps default to English, but the aforementioned useless app that displays my photographs, the maps feature, and the news feature are in Russian. I don't know why it hasn't figured out that it's in Canada. It gives me Canadian weather. In Russian. A friend who is a senior Microsoft developer even poked at it, confidently pulled up some settings and was then confused and defeated when it continued to be in Russian. I don't mind. It gives me Russocentric news, which refreshingly only mentions American or Canadian politicians when they actually do something of note, and procuring sex, drugs and hookers don't reach that bar.
I tried for a while to work with that opening screen, the new Microsoft way, but the apps start when you do a gesture, which is all very fine when you have a touch screen to gesture from, but it proves quite difficult to not gesture at the wrong moment when using a touchpad mouse. There's also no Start button and no shut down icon. The power switch I have set to hibernate, not shut down. The best I can tell, if I want to shut down the computer from where I am right now, typing this blog entry into Firefox (Chrome wanted to know too much about me), Microsoft seems to want me to:
- press the Windows key
- move the mouse pointer down to the bottom right corner of the screen and wait a moment for floating icons to appear
- move the mouse up to the floating "Settings" icon and click on it
- click on "Power" in the resulting submenu
- select Shut down from the resulting dropdown.
Who ever would think I would want my Start button back? Back in the '90s I remember being vaguely annoyed at Windows 3.1 for trying to take over the operating system, but then MS-DOS called the shots and you could choose to run Windows or not in any particular session. Even if you had the command "win" in your autoexec.bat, making Windows start up automatically as soon as DOS was running, you could at any time exit Windows and go back to DOS. In later versions Windows became the base of the operating system for the user, so to run DOS commands you had to open a command prompt window within Windows, rather than by quitting Windows. The power of the command prompt is still there. I have a taskbar icon whose target is "C:\Windows\System32\shutdown.exe /p /f". That shuts down the computer, no questions asked, quite promptly on a single click. I love it. The other thing you must learn is Win-D, which exits the opening screen into the desktop or whatever application you were using.
The basic controls move around a little on airplanes. I've used trim located almost everywhere I can reach: left side, right side, behind my elbow on the armrest, roof, floor between the seats, centre console. It's been a wheel and a crank and a bicycle gear shifter, and the throttles have wandered around a little, too, but once I put my hand on them, they seem to work the same way.