25 April 2007

beam me up snotty

During the mucous-flooded hours of the past few days, I've been obsessed by previous computers I owned. The word processing programs they had were one short step up from a typewriter, but that was exactly what I wanted. We downloaded and installed OpenOffice here, because a former colleague clued me in to the way other proprietary programs collected information and sent it back to the death star to be reviewed by unknown persons for unknown purposes. But that seems to be a bug-for-bug mimic of a badly designed interface. Every time we start a new document, someone has to go find the buried menu with the proper checkboxes (and it isn't with the rest of the preferences) and turn off all that "change my random keyboard-mashing into whatever you think is proper" stuff. I want something to begin instantly when I ask it to, and let me begin typing immediately, before I forget what I wanted to write. Someone is out there now, saying, "If you forget what you wanted to type that quickly, maybe it wasn't worth writing to begin with," and you know what? FUCK YOU. When I decide to use a machine I paid money for, the quality of what I do with it is nobody's business. I want what I want, not what some hand-picked, error-corrected end-user survey said everyone should want.

I read, with some sadness, that Fred Fish passed away a few days ago. Back in the day, I used to mail order 3.5 inch floppies from a catalog. Many of them were from Fred's collection. Those were days before the industry became a giant pissing contest for billionaires. I kind of miss that. I miss being able to understand exactly how the hardware worked, and how to make code directly access it all.

That's a trend--an unfortunate one. Back when I understood the API documents for my computer, I could also look at the engine of my car and piece together how it was supposed to work. It was still simple enough that a non-expert could figure out how the pieces interacted. The last car I had, on the other hand, had a cover over most of the engine to protect it from non-expert's eyes. When I took it in for service, the mechanic attached a cable from the engine to a PC and told me that I didn't really need new spark plug wires (of course, it wasn't wet that day). As a point of interest, the later "technologically improved" vehicle actually got worse mileage than my old '76 Corolla.

So when I hear talk of microprocessor-controlled toasters, I envision a nightmare scene. On a tiny LCD screen, an animated slice of toast would appear when the button to make toast was pressed.

"Hi! It looks like you're trying to make some toast. How can I help you?
  1. Begin toasting bread (current setting: black and completely charred)
  2. View additional settings options
  3. Learn about toast with MSN® food research guides®!"
So you choose 2, the same as every day, to set it back to normal toast, with no burnt parts. After asking, "Are you sure? You can't change this setting after the bread is inserted." the whole thing goes blank, then the user is prompted to unplug the toaster, wait 30 seconds, and plug it back in. This cycle would repeat until the user was faced with a decision between eating toast or being on time for work.

Enough, I suppose. I'll go off and hunt something with a crude stone tool now, and cook it over a newly-discovered fire. And this machine will ask me if I'm sure I want to turn it off, and I will suppress the urge to scream obscenities at it.

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