interface cruft versus my mom

I read this article, When good interfaces go crufty, and it all sounded pretty right to me, but really just a rather longwinded way of saying:

  • We ought to get rid of the Save and Quit commands;
  • It's stupid that file requestor dialogs and the desktop/finder are two totally different ways of doing the exact same thing;
  • Microsoft really, really sucks, and so do Gnome and KDE.

All true, but not exactly earth-shattering revelations, so I didn't bother passing it along, but it's been picking at my brain for the rest of the day, mostly because I recently got my mom a new computer.

She had been using a truly ancient Mac for a long time, and nothing worked any more. She wasn't able to get any version of Netscape newer than 2.0 installed on it, and she wasn't able to enable her ISP's spam-blocking feature, because it used an SSL page, and her copy of Netscape's root cert had long since expired. Faced with the prospects of either trying to explain this to her, or update the cert myself, I just bought her a new iMac with OSX.

She's aghast at the idea that this perfectly good computer is totally obsolete, only six years later. As well she should be. But, oh well, it is.

Anyway, the point of this story is, in the intervening six years, the file save dialog has changed who-knows-how-many times, and she keeps ending up trying to save things and losing them, because it seems to like to default to putting things in "Documents" instead of back in whatever directory they came from. Or something like that.

So today she proudly told me that she'd gotten it all figured out. She said, "now I just always save everything to `Desktop' and then I can see where it is: once I save it, I drag it to the right folder!"

Now, that's just... so wrong. But hey, she made it work. Go mom.

It struck me that this was a perfect example of the result of the kind of cruft that Matthew Thomas was talking about, above: there's an interface she's familiar with, and that's pretty discoverable: icons on the desktop, and dragging things around. And there's this second interface for doing exactly the same thing that works totally differently, and is highly non-discoverable. So she found that it was easier to just always use the familar interface.

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looking for ice on Mercury [...] In 1991, ground-based radar observations detected something shiny near the poles. Scientists suspect the highly reflective material to be ice. [...] Mercury does not make ice. Its axis of rotation does not precess like Earth's, so its poles have been pointing in the same direction ever since the planet was formed. Therefore, scientists figure that ice might have been deposited on Mercury by comets and other remnants of the early solar system and might have survived for a long time out of direct sunlight in the shadowy corners of deep craters.


A dream of flying in Flash

This is great: FlyGuy

Cory summed it up quite nicely:

FlyGuy is a n utterly enchanting little Flash app. In it, you are a pudgy salaryman who flys through an amazing, Hypercard-like monochrome line art fantasyland, sailing through the sky, through space, and eventually landing up in a tropical paradise where the monkey dances the hula all night long. Playing with this app made me feel like Tuttle in Brazil, having a dream of flying.

I especially enjoyed rocking out with the aliens.


routing around RSS damage

I can't sleep, so pardon me while I punditate.

The latest trend over in syn_promo seems to be, "gosh, when we add RSS feeds of sites, we'd better make sure the author is ok with that first!" This because some doofus had a hissy fit when he found that -- gasp! -- someone was actually making use of the RSS feed that he himself provided, in exactly the way that RSS was intended to be used. He later retracted his hissy fit, but now everyone is all paranoid about checking first before adding feeds.

I think this is completely silly, but I can also see that this isn't going to go away: as time goes on, and as RSS gets more popular, more people are going to be bitchy about who aggregates it for whom, and are going to bend over backwards to break things (like the oh-so-many sites that already provide crippled RSS feeds that include only the first few words of the entry, making you click through to actually get any coherent content.)

My prediction: LiveJournal in particular, and RSS-aggregation sites in general, will cease to be useful as a tool for combining the updates from many different sites. It's the late-90s "portal" game all over again, but in reverse: where it used to be that people like Netscape and Yahoo and Alta Vista were trying to prevent you from ever visiting anyone else's server, now all the little guys are trying to get you to hit their server instead of viewing a cached copy elsewhere (which is mystifying, in these days of zero banner-ad revenue.)

And yet, it's really convenient to have one place to go to read all of your subscriptions.

So when that happens, people like me (those with the time and skill to do so) will stop using publicly-available web sites like LJ to aggregate things, and will end up setting our home pages to be local files instead. When it comes to it -- when the only way to get a decent RSS feed of a site is to roll your own and keep it secret -- those of us who are able will use tools like Cheesegrater and Portalizer (or their hypothetical less-halfassed descendants) to scrape other sites and combine them locally, forging user-agent strings as necessary so that our cron jobs don't look like robots, but just look like eager humans wastefully hitting reload. Then we'll have our aggregation and convenience. We'll also have the aggravation of chasing the tail-lights of HTML changes, but we'll do it anyway, because the short-sighted will have left us no better choice.

Shame for everyone else, though: the folks who don't have the time or skill to do this kind of thing.

Like Gilmore said, "The Internet treats censorship as damage, and routes around it."

(Yeah, censorship isn't really the right word, whatever. Perhaps a more apt quote would be the Jeff Goldblum character in Jurassic Park: "life finds a way." You'll often hear cypherpunk weenies with poorly-thought-out philosophies trot out "information wants to be free" as some kind of pseudo-socialist Utopian vision, but the point is, information "wants" to be free in the same way nature "abhors" a vacuum: it's not some moral view, it's just the natural state of affairs. It's the path of least resistance. It is "the sound of inevitability.")

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my life is a comedy

I decided to get rzr_grl a car stereo for Christmas. The stereo in her car only has cassette, and as far as I can tell, she only owns one cassette (Best of Prince or something. Nothing against the Purple Doily mind you, but really.) So I ordered one that plays MP3 CDRs; I have one in my car, and it's just great.

I ordered it in early December, and when she left to go visit her family last week, I finally mailed the online store to find out where the hell it was. "Oh, we'll be shipping those out some time in January." Nice. So I canceled the order, and bought one in person, two hours later. (Aren't we in the future yet?)

Fortunately, she had decided to leave her car and car keys at my house without me having to concoct some reason that I should have a copy of the keys!

So I patched together the proper cable and installed it in her car (even running a power line through the firewall to the battery, because try though I might, I couldn't talk myself into ignoring the manual's admonition not to use the power available behind the dash.)

However, as I mentioned in the subject, my life is a comedy. I've known this for some time, I've come to expect it, and sometimes, I try to intervene before the rules of dramatic structure take things in a direction I don't want them to go.

So I didn't actually install the stereo in the car the day after she left: I got it hooked up and saw it work, then I took it inside, planning on installing it on the afternoon before she came back into town. Why? Because it would have been really funny if I were to install this stereo, and then it got stolen while sitting in the car for five days before she even got to see it. That would have been hilarious, and so it was, of course, inevitable.

So last night, I made the trip out to feed her cat. It was wet and cold out, so I decided to take my car instead of bicycling, because I'm a lazy fatass.

    Wait for it...

Yes, my stereo was stolen, some time after I dropped her off at the airport.

Same stereo. Different car.

The hand of fate will not be thwarted.


So today I finished installing her stereo, and picked her up at the airport in my car. We made it all the way home before she noticed that my car had a gaping hole where the stereo should be! "Um, where's your stereo?" she asked. "Yeah, Merry Fucking Christmas. Apparently I gave it to some crackhead."

So we stopped off at my place, and then went over to her place in her car to feed the cat again. This time she noticed the blank plate in the car right away! She looked at it with horror, then realized it was flat, not a hole, then looked confusedly at me, and I handed her the faceplate (with a little duct tape bow and everything.)

    "Wow!" she said. She looked at it. "Is this the same kind of stereo as yours?"


    Pause. "Is this your stereo?"

    "No, that part was true!"

Then her car wouldn't start.


(Well, it did eventually. But clearly that was the end of the chapter.)

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