To Bell Sympatico in a Handbasket: A New Outlook for Outlook 2003

It never ceases to amaze me how seemingly intractable problems can be so troublesome on one day and essentially resolve themselves in a flash the next.

digital overlord
The Digital Overlord

Yesterday, in addition to offering up nearly 2,800 words on the subject of my adventures with murderous aquatic pets, I also spent a significant amount of time (perhaps three and a half precious vacation-day hours) trying to batter it into Microsoft Outlook’s electronic brain that I would like it very much if it would perform its designated function and actually pick up my freaking email for me.   The problem arose when Spouse and I departed our previous residence for the friendly environs of Juniorvania;  in this particular section of the province, there is currently no one offering cable internet access, so our choices for broadband internet access were relatively limited:  we had to choose the one that rhymes with “Bell Sympatico”.  No, wait, that’s not a rhyme, that’s the name.  Dammit.

Because Bell is incapable of correctly performing, on the first attempt, even the most modestly difficult customer service task (such as “signing up a new customer”), and because their incompetence in this regard seemed to be the straw that was breaking the camel’s back (or, more accurately, asploding this particular camel’s brain), Spouse ended up taking over the task of enlisting us in Ma Bell’s Internet army.  The account, therefore, was in her name.  To the victor go the spoils, and Spouse’s prize for her perserverance in the face of ridiculous stupidity was assignment of the initial email address associated with the account.  The Sympatico service actually comes with a complement of 9 additional mailboxes, but the user is responsible for setting those up once the physical service is attached.  I consider myself somewhat technically proficient but I have to confess that I was not able to meet the challenge, initially, of wading through the Sympatico propaganda to learn the arcana associated with this minor task – getting myself an email address.

RUNTIME error.

Anger. Frustration. Despair.

These are the emotions experienced by an otherwise rational person trying to decipher the apocryphal meaning concealed deep beneath the outer veneer of something disguised as language and otherwise known as a “simple” introduction to any programming language. Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful that my fellow netizens – some of them, anyway – have taken the time to write pages and tutorials detailing their knowledge and understanding of such subjects in an organized way; that is one of the things that makes the open source community such a wonder for me. There is a pervasive ethos that is all about helping the other guy understand how things – code – work, or at least trying to do so. I have benefitted greatly from the knowledge and wisdom of others in this way, and I recognize that when one is presented with an equine gift, one ought not to studiously examine the nag’s teeth.

But dude. If you’re going to take the time to write, in your “PHP 101” materials, the following sentence:

My goal in this series of tutorials is very simple: I’ll be teaching you the basics of using PHP, and showing you why I think it’s the best possible tool for Web application development today. I’ll be making no assumptions about your level of knowledge, other than that you can understand basic HTML and have a sense of humor.

you should probably wait for a little bit longer than, oh, say THE NEXT PARAGRAPH to drop the term “development environment” on me. I need the Fisher-Price beginning.

You know, I like to think that I’m a little more tech savvy than the ordinary guy; I operate and maintain this site, I’ve used open source software to convert .avi files from PAL to NTSC style video (and to re-synch the audio thereafter), I can bluff my way through simple image editing with the GIMP, I can spot (and trace) a simple spoofed email, and I taught myself my first programming language (FORTRAN) when I was ten, from a book that my Dad had brought home from work; I didn’t have a computer to actually run the programs I wrote in response to the “Problems” in the text, but my solutions were identical to those set out in the “Answers” portion of the book and by the time BASIC came along and I managed to somehow get a little face time with a Radio Shack TRS-80, I had an appreciation for the beauty of well-written code that I think was somewhat uncommon among fourteen year olds in 1980. All of that experience tells me that “development environment” likely has something to do with describing the virtual box within which the php code that I want to write will be created. I’m even relatively certain that the virtual box needs to be built “on” the web server that’s going to ultimately execute the php code that I write.

But I wish to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that I wasn’t already guessing about shit like this, two paragraphs in to the lesson. I might have a little more confidence that this learning exercise isn’t going to be excruciatingly painful. Is it so hard to simply say, “Look, you’re going to need a place to write this code, and that place can’t be on your local computer, the one you have on your desk or your lap or whatever – it needs to be on something zippy and powerful like a web server, so you’re going to need to download an application and then put it on your server to make sure you’ve got a little php sandbox to play in.”


UPDATE: 10:45 p.m. and I’ve finished the first lesson. I have to give the author his props, the rest of the lesson was generally very comprehensible and not nearly the exercise in Stalinist self-denial I was expecting. It would seem, however, judging by some of the comments at the bottom of the post, that I’m not the only one who had a little trouble getting started:

Sunday, October 15, 2006


9:54PM PDT · Anonymous User [unregistered]

I say this guide need more ‘explanation’.