Zone38 Presents...
Letters to the World

31-Jul-2001

A few days ago I

Filed under: General — codeman38 @ 9:49 pm

A few days ago I ranted about non-intuitive designs for user interfaces; today, while fumbling around trying to find the settings for the Opera web browser, I discovered another example.

Why can’t programmers decide where to put the menu item for Preferences?

Some programs file the command under a menu labeled “Tools” or, better yet, “Options”. After all, the preferences dialog box is a tool that you use to set various options within the program. Other software assumes that since you want to edit your preferences, one’s first instinct will be to look under the “Edit” menu. Now those choices are fine and dandy, yes…but then there are the others.

First of all, I’ve seen a few programs in which the programmers hid the preferences command under the “View” menu. Now, I could understand this decision if you wanted to change only the preferences relating to how one views a document; but otherwise, I think it’s a rather illogical place to put that command. Who in their right mind only wants to view their preferences, without any thought of possibly changing them?

And even worse, I’ve seen one or two programs–such as Lotus SmartSuite and the aforementioned web browser–in which the preferences command has been buried within the “File” menu. Sure, it may be because File is usually the first option on the menu bar and that it’s the first place some people would look; still, though, what exactly does the word “file” have to do with setting preferences? If I wanted to look at preferences related to file management, maybe I’d look there– but going there to set my default fonts, configure my e-mail, and adjust the screen layout? It just doesn’t make sense.

Ah, the joys of computer software. It’s no wonder we get anecdotes like those in Computer Stupidities when things are so unintuitive to begin with…

28-Jul-2001

Two random thoughts which occurred

Filed under: General — codeman38 @ 2:18 am

Two random thoughts which occurred to me while watching Excite’s Search Ticker scroll by during a fit of boredom:

  1. Why isn’t “Tucson” pronounced the way it looks like it should be? I mean, I could very easily understand if it were pronounced “TUCK-sun”, and it’s not that much more difficult to see how it might be pronounced “TUKE-sahn”. But what caused the “c” to drop out of the pronunciation entirely? Granted, there’s probably an answer out there on the Internet waiting for me to stumble across it, but I’m feeling rather lazy right this moment, and besides, the computer on which I’m typing this is somewhat of a dinosaur.
  2. Though in my opinion they’re both rather stupid names for telephone companies, “Cingular” just marginally beats out “Verizon” as being the more inane of the two. I mean, at least Verizon, in all its meaninglessness, doesn’t also manage to look like a careless, idiotic typographical error. But regardless, the two names do have one thing in common: as Dave Barry pointed out in one of his columns recently, neither sounds like it might actually be the name of a phone company. Heh.

25-Jul-2001

While attempting to satisfy my

Filed under: General — codeman38 @ 11:00 pm

While attempting to satisfy my appetite for trivial knowledge (in preparation for the upcoming Jeopardy tryouts, natch), I came across this rather unusual Trivial Pursuit card which proves that sometimes life really does imitate Seinfeld. (Y’know…the episode with the boy in a plastic bubble and the trivia answer which was printed as “Moops” instead of “Moors”…)

Don’t see what’s so odd about it? Look at the last three questions and their corresponding answers. George Foreman would be flattered to learn that his name has become an expression for a physical resemblance, but he’d probably be equally disappointed to learn that resuscitation has stolen at least one major claim of his boxing career. 🙂

24-Jul-2001

What the Interface Hall of

Filed under: General — codeman38 @ 4:41 pm

What the Interface Hall of Shame is to computer software, Bad Designs is to the user interfaces found on “real-world” devices. Ah, the frustration we all experience when things just aren’t as intuitive as they seem…

I’ve had plenty of experience with nonintuitive interfaces, but perhaps my all-time favorite was an error message in a custom software application which shall remain unnamed. As it was an old DOS-based program, there were lots of little kludges that had been made to ensure it worked correctly in a multi-tasked Windows environment; one of them was to confirm that no other instances of the program were running if it hadn’t been exited completely. Considering the frequent nature of crashes and the like, it was an error which appeared quite frequently; and the logical choice, at a prompt asking whether another instance of the program was active, would be to hit the N key for “no”. But that didn’t work; it only caused the program to bail out. The only way to actually enter the program when that error displayed was to type…a lowercase “q”. I’m still trying to figure out the logic behind that one, honestly…

And also, don’t even get me started on those TV remotes which, rather than having a single power button, have a huge OFF button and a far-less-conspicuous ON button. I once stayed in a hotel that had such a TV, and had been fooling with the remote for several minutes trying to get the TV to come on until a roommate explained that hitting the ON button would probably be more effective than repeatedly pressing OFF. D’oh. I don’t notice these things, seriously!

And why can’t computer manufacturers decide where to put the backslash key on computer keyboards? I’ve seen it above the Enter key, to the right of the right Shift key, between the plus sign and backspace, and on one of my older computers, between Ctrl and Alt. Wouldn’t be so irritating if backslashes weren’t used so often in Windows path names…<sigh> And it’s even worse on laptop keyboards, where even Ctrl and ~ can be hard to find. Grr. OK, enough ranting for now…

23-Jul-2001

OK, this is interesting. My

Filed under: General — codeman38 @ 3:55 pm

OK, this is interesting. My long-distance girlfriend Kat just informed me via Instant Messenger that she’d been picked to audition for the Jeopardy college tournament on August 26. And, though I somehow haven’t mentioned it yet on the blog (how could I forget to?!), I’ve been picked to try out on the same date.

Coincidence? Eh, you decide. But I surely can’t wait for that day to come, for a number of reasons… 🙂

13-Jul-2001

OK, so I said I’d

Filed under: General — codeman38 @ 6:27 pm

OK, so I said I’d mention how my driving lesson and college orientation went. So here goes…

I’ll start with my driving lesson, which took place yesterday (Thursday) afternoon. Though it was only an hour long, I can already tell that future private driving lessons will be well worth the price. Suffice it to say that yesterday’s lesson went far better than the lessons my dad’s given me in the past; among other things, there was quite a bit less yelling on the instructor’s part, if you get my drift. 🙂 And not only that, even I felt rather comfortable behind the wheel, something which typically isn’t the case; I had no difficulty staying in the center of the lane or making turns onto traffic-filled roads, and in addition I learned how to better judge my speed while making turns. I even managed to parallel park on my first attempt! ::gasp:: So yes, I do get the feeling that these people really know what they’re doing; in fact, I think that I’ll probably learn enough in only a few more hours’ worth of lessons to finally attempt to take the driving exam, heh.

So why didn’t I post about my successful driving experience yesterday? Simple, really: because I had to get some sleep. After all, I had to get up for summer orientation at Mercer University this morning; and granted, it was a tad inconvenient waking at about 6:00 so that I could be ready in time, but orientation still went rather well nonetheless. I got my class schedule more or less settled; though I’m a little worried that I’m overloading myself by taking too many credit hours of music performance, they’re required courses if I want to have a double major in computer science and music. I guess I’ll figure out whether I need to slack off and switch to a minor in music performance when the fall semester comes around, heh… In addition, I managed to make friends with quite a few fellow Mercerians whom I’d never met before, and continued to talk with those whom I did already know.

So yeah, the day did go rather well, though I’m way too tired now and wouldn’t mind just going to bed early– a result, no doubt, of the combination of my waking early this morning and the near-oppressive Georgia heat in which I stood for a large portion of today’s orientation. Ah, well– after all, what do you expect when it’s Friday the 13th? 🙂

09-Jul-2001

What’s wrong with copy protection?

Filed under: General — codeman38 @ 5:54 pm

What’s wrong with copy protection? Quite a lot, according to John Gilmore of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. A rather interesting article, and I can only encourage you to read it. For instance, did you know that the FCC has prohibited manufacturers of recording devices from allowing end users to record HDTV broadcasts? With the FCC and technology companies in cahoots, the situation is becoming rather Big-Brother-esque. And the more I read about these issues, the more libertarian my own personal views become…

And while I’m on the subject of copy protection, I can’t resist mentioning Microsoft’s new Product Activation system– the controversial anti-piracy technology present in Office XP and the upcoming Windows XP. It’s not that I’m against Microsoft’s goal of combating software piracy, necessarily; rather, it’s that the whole system makes product installation quite difficult for millions of law-abiding end users because of the transgressions of considerably fewer casual software pirates, and that there are still many flaws in the product activation program itself. PC World magazine has written a reasonably objective article on the Product Activation controversy; I encourage everyone to read this too, heh.

Incidentally, according to the PC World article, Product Activation for those without Internet access entails "reading a 50-digit installation ID number on your screen to [a tech support] operator, who will read back a 42-digit number for you to type on the screen." Ack. Better hope D-Link gets to work on an XP-compatible driver for my Ethernet card. 🙂

01-Jul-2001

Ingredients of Happy Fun Ball

Filed under: General — codeman38 @ 7:16 pm

Ingredients of Happy Fun Ball include an unknown glowing substance which fell to Earth, presumably from outer space. … Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.
— from an old Saturday Night Live commercial parody

OK, class, today’s topic is– if you haven’t already guessed– TV commercials. Specifically, those prescription drug commercials that have recently started appearing everywhere on the airwaves.

The thing about them is that, under American law, advertisers have several choices if they want to sell prescription drugs on television: They can opt to name the product but not actually specify what it does, or they can do exactly the opposite, with no restrictions whatsoever. However, because our society is so litigious, if the advertiser wishes to mention both the product’s name and its purpose, the ad must also include a long, ridiculous, and sometimes just downright scary list of the drug’s side effects, often more than a bit reminiscent of the Happy Fun Ball skit linked above. I mean, it’s just so incongruous– we see all this imagery of people living such a nice, happy, joyous life, and then we’re told by the announcer that in some people the drug may cause chronic side effects and even death. Yeah, talk about nice and joyous.

Thus the advertisers often take the easy way out and just mention the drug’s name without mentioning what it does. But in my opinion, that’s even more pointless than having to read the whole riot act regarding the drug’s side effects. Usually the copy for these commercials is written something like: “Ask your doctor about Soditol and see if it’s right for you”– or even worse, “These people have tried Soditol; why haven’t you?” I’ll tell you why: I haven’t the slightest clue what in the world the blasted drug is for! I really don’t want to go into the doctor’s office and accidentally embarrass myself by asking for some sort of medication for PMS…

And don’t even get me started on infomercials. That’s another rant entirely, which I’ll probably get around to in a few days…

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