Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Slashdot Bingo

How to play: Whenever someone invokes one of these topics in the comments on Slashdot, place a token on the corresponding square! Stack two tokens if the subject of the reference has nothing at all to do with the subject of the article. Five in a row and you win!

Remember to shout "Bingo!"

Monday, February 11, 2008

Why Isn't There a 'Presentation Mode?'

After so many years of Power Point presentations and public screens controlled by computers, it is a mystery to me why there still is no such thing as a "presentation mode." You ought to be able to tell the operating system, "No matter what happens, don't bother me. Don't display any message boxes, don't put anything on top of the current application, and don't steal the foreground focus."

It's a big problem when a Windows machine is embedded in an outdoor video display. It's set up to give the impression that it works seamlessly, like a TV. Then a software glitch happens and Windows shows its ugly face. Like this:


You would think that if the operating system cannot be counted on to not interrupt you, presentation software might at least try to give the illusion that the only thing going on is the content of the presentation. Bah! Some of the worst offenders are applications interrupting themselves with update requests. I can't count how many times I've seen a professor try to begin a slide presentation from a PDF file when his slides are covered up with this obscenity:

How come Adobe can't figure out how worthless this dialog is? The person who programmed it seems to think that the user is going to say, "Oh, a dialog box. I love dialog boxes. Let's see what this one says..." And then they think the user is going to carefully read it and consider all the choices.

F**k no, man! Here's what really happens:

User: "OMG! WTF! Did I break something? Where'd this error message come from? Where's my presentation? Update who, what? No! Cancel! Go away!"

Anytime a program shows a dialog message, I think, "ah, this application was programmed by idiots." They're idiots because they don't understand two essential facts:

1. Users do not read message boxes. Ever. Seriously. I'm a computer geek, and I don't read the damn things.

2. The mere fact you're popping up a dialog box carries an unintentional message by itself. Whether you mean to or not, you will lead the user to believe he did something wrong. That message carries the same weight no matter how friendly you make the words inside the box. See rule #1.

Before I go too far on this tangent, my point is that most interruptions are unnecessary. (Adobe, if you need the updates, get them automatically, and if you don't need them, don't ask!) Of the questions that are necessary to ask, well then you're just screwed, because nobody will read it.

So why isn't there a Presentation mode? There are times when an interruption is not just annoying, it's completely unacceptable. How about no interruptions whenever an application is running full screen mode? Or give us a key combination, or a taskbar shortcut, to turn off interruptions? Why not?

Friday, February 8, 2008

I Don't Do House Calls

I wish I could help, but I have to tell you up front that it's unlikely I'll have the time, sorry. With the utmost respect and kindness, I must demur that if I did have some free time, I wouldn't spend it on a service call.

I apologize for this drawn-out "no", but you have opened up a subject which has a long and ghastly history for me. I used to help friends & family with their computers at home, and after much work and frustration I decided it is not something I'm willing to do anymore. I'm sure you would be willing to pay a reasonable amount, but the trouble is the reasonable amount to charge for such a service doesn't come close to the time and stress involved.

I gently suggest that if you knew what you were asking for, you would not ask: the job is akin to separating all the white and black granules out of a pepper shaker into equal piles with tweezers and a magnifying glass. It will require the utmost concentration, but teach me nothing.

I understand the plight you are in, because computers rarely work right, and it is difficult to find someone willing and able to look at them for you. I feel the utmost sympathy for you and the millions of other people like you who have trouble with them; clearly things need to improve. If I am ever in a position to effect a change, I promise I will do what I can to fix those design flaws that cause you so much grief, and try to bridge the disconnect between computers and ordinary people.

But just because I've worked hard to become proficient with computers, doesn't mean I have to feel obligated to do additional work just because I have the ability. I may have the ability, but if I answered every request like this that I get - and I can't walk down the street without being hounded by requests for computer help - then I would never do anything else.

I'll tell you what I am willing to do for you. Send me an email, and describe your problem. If it is something I can advise you on, I will give you all the advice I can - for free - when I have time. Just don't ask for house calls.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Pro Tip: Setting Your Clock

User interfaces of clock radios are so bad, I'll do anything to avoid interacting with them.

Here's one way to avoid having to figure out how to set your clock: if you ever have to unplug your clock to move it, wait until midnight. That way when the clock flashes "12:00 a.m." after you plug it back in, it will already be the right time!

Now I just have to wait until 7 o'clock tomorrow morning to set the alarm...