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Too Much Tech Makes End Users Blink

Roblimo posted more than 13 years ago | from the why-Alice-can't-get-DSL-in-Wonderland- dept.

Technology 241

There's a strange, somewhat funny story in The Washington Post today about how technology is probably going to keep outstripping people's ability to deal with it for many decades to come. It's a long piece, but please bear with it to the end; that's where Jaron Lanier (who some credit with inventing the phrase "virtual reality"), whimsically suggests that, in exchange for being granted U.S. copyright protection, commercial software publishers should have to pay users $1 every time their product screws up. "Instead of hunting down people who smoke pot," Lanier says, "they'd be hunting down people who sell business software that crashes. They'd owe people a buck or go to jail. That's what Washington should be doing."

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Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#353392)

Finally another person who understands the TRUTH. I always end up having the same argument with Windows and Mac advocates who beleive abstracting and simplifying a computer user interface is somehow making it MORE powerful, when it reality complexity is proportional to functionality. An SUV that can tow a giant boat will have a special interface for the boat that the operator must know and understand in order for it to work well and yet NOONE complains that it is too complex, and yet computer software MUST have some moron-level graphical abstraction even when the user is doing something very specific.. Why *shouldn't* it be hard to use a tool that is designed for a specific job? Why must we pander to the lowest common denominator instead of encouraging and educating people on how to use computers when it is fully in their best interest to use it properly?

Yep - Fair (3)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 13 years ago | (#353399)

Sure it's fair, with enough engineering it would be possable to make software that has no bugs.

Look at the flight control software for military aircraft and spacecraft. In the Apollo days the number of bugs in the Lunar Module software could be counted on one hand and the astronauts knew what they were and the work arounds.

How many F-16s, F-22s, B-1Bs, F-117s, Airbuses, etc have been lost to software issues?

The only ones I know of were the two Saab Grippin and the second F-22A prototype that had landing software issues...that have been fixed. Has the software on Galileo crashed yet since it was launched in 1989? Nope.

Bugless software can be written, it's just that engineers and marketing don't care enough for the end user to make something that doesn't crash.

Sucky implementation tax (1)

DataPath (1111) | more than 13 years ago | (#353401)

Tax alcohol
tax cigarettes

Re:Blinking 12:00 (2)

GrenDel Fuego (2558) | more than 13 years ago | (#353403)

I generally don't base my VCR (or other equipment) purchases on the quality of a side product.

I don't buy VCRs for their clocks. If the clock sucks, but the VCR is great, then I just won't use the clock.

Re:Blinking 12:00 (1)

cdipierr (4045) | more than 13 years ago | (#353404)

Except of course that with any modern VCR the time doesn't get reset on power outages, or even an extended unplugged time. Ah well, your loss.

Re:Features vs bugs. (1)

leoc (4746) | more than 13 years ago | (#353405)

I think it was a Varley short story that I recall where the world is run by a single massive conscious AI that takes care of all of our information needs and is SO GOOD at being a "user interface" that most people treat it as their best friend. Anyway, the thing eventually becomes depressed and by subtlely manipulating people makes them kill themselves. Cool story. Read it like 10 years ago so I don't recall exactly what it was...

Copyrights (1)

Glytch (4881) | more than 13 years ago | (#353406)

This might encourage people to respect copyrights a little more. You won't get the compensation money if it's an unregistered copy.

But it'll never happen anyway. Can you honestly expect a certain large purveyor of desktop operating systems to let this kind of law pass in the US Congress?

I thought it was Jaron... (3)

Old Man Kensey (5209) | more than 13 years ago | (#353407)

...not Michael Lanier, who coined that particular phrase ("virtual reality").

I don't understand (2)

Aggrazel (13616) | more than 13 years ago | (#353419)

After enough planes crashed in the '50s, he points out, investigators stopped blaming it all on pilot error and insisted that designers start making cockpits easier to understand. You'd think we'd learn.

Er... I really thought the reason why less planes crash now was because of technology, not because of "Cockpit ease of use". I mean, they gotta be trained for the cockpit right? And I am not a pilot, but I think the older style airplane controls were simpler. I've seen the cockpit of a modern jet plane and it didn't look simple to me..

Maybe I missed the point, it's happened before.

Re:Blinking 12:00 (2)

HiThere (15173) | more than 13 years ago | (#353424)

Just consider that it may just be too much of a bother. The power goes out every few weeks these days (probably more often this summer) and it's a nuisance to reset the clock. A decent capacitor could hold the time in memory until the power came back on, but most of the VCRs don't bother. If someone had bothered to put any real programming in, they would probably be more than slightly irritated.

Assuming that just because someone doesn't want to bother, that they can't is silly. Assuming that they should is, at best, rude. Why should someone be expected to use a clock that is that poorly designed? Of course, if you look at it it's annoying, but I chalk that up as one more black mark against the designers.

Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.

Easy Fix (2)

sharkey (16670) | more than 13 years ago | (#353428)

Bob Kevoian, of the Bob and Tom show here in Indy, has proposed and implemented a very quick and easy fix for the problem:
  1. He placed a piece of black electricians tape over the clock on his VCR display.
This simple remedy is very fast, and has no brand requirements. It works on every VCR!


Re:Is This Fair? (1)

Ralph Wiggam (22354) | more than 13 years ago | (#353433)

"This is a stupid user error, not a software error."

A stupid user error is a software error. If the user can't accomplish what they're trying to do because they're stupid and/or won't read the manual, then it's the user's fault. If the software actually crashes, no matter what the user did, I consider it a design failure. A programmer's first duty should be to protect the user from themselves.


Real cause of Seattle Quake unveiled! (2)

powerlord (28156) | more than 13 years ago | (#353435)

and nobody ever died becuase Windows crashed while they were playing Quake

Oh... Is that what Gates was doing at that demo in Seattle last month. Gee.. guess WindowsXP really WILL take gaming to the next level ;)

Re:$1 Fines (2)

segmond (34052) | more than 13 years ago | (#353440)

BIG DISCLAIMER, this software is AS IS. you can't sue us by clicking on this button or buy opening up the software.

Re:Blinking 12:00 (1)

Tower (37395) | more than 13 years ago | (#353446)

most of the VCRs sold now automatically set the time from a broadcast signal... Anything over $70(US) should do that...

Users fustrations (1)

GoofyBoy (44399) | more than 13 years ago | (#353449)

they'd be hunting down people who sell business software that crashes

It sounds like SOMEONE lost a whole lot of work due to a BSOD.

:) :) :)

Only two sides to this story? (5)

goliard (46585) | more than 13 years ago | (#353454)

Why on earth does this article pit "engineers" against "people"?

Where do they get off making no mention of the managers who refuse to pay for real QA? Who micromanage their designers? Who insist "make it blue"?

Why is there no mention of designers who seem never to have heard the adage "form follows function"?

I confess more than a little irritation that "engineers" are taking the rap for their PHBs, for the airheads in marketting who care more about releasing a product at the right moment than whether that product is ready for prime time, for designers who care more that there's a cohesive colorscheme than that it presents the user with a compelling metaphor.

It has never been my experience that it was the techs on a project who wanted to get the project done faster rather than better. 99 times out of 100, management has to pry the techs' fingers from the code ("No, really, code freezes NOW.") Similarly, it's not the techs saying "gee, why waste the money on real QA specialists."

In my experience, coders have immense respect for usability (even those who don't know how to make it themselves) and robustness, but are never taken seriously when they say "no, that's not how we should be doing it; it would be better if...". To blame them as a class for the failures in robustness and usability of their code is salt in the wound.

Re:UI (5)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 13 years ago | (#353455)

If we spent as much time learning about how people interact with technology as we do learning about how to build bigger/faster/better tech, we'd be light years ahead of where we are now.

I keep hearing about how we need all this human factors research to make computers usable, that interfaces must be "intuitive" and, most of all, standardized.

Then I get in my car.

Almost every adult in the USA can operate a car with little difficulty. Yet the interface is not intuitive - press one pedal to make it go, another to make it stop? Turn a vertical wheel to change horizontal direction?

And the interface is not standardized - a car may have from two to five different foot controls (at least gas and brake, maybe also clutch, parking brake, and high-beam switch), the shifter for an automatic transmission can be on the steering column or the floor, the headlight switch can be on the directional signal switch or on the dash...

So how is it that most everyone can drive? (Well, can operate the vechicle. People have many driving problems that have nothing to do with operating the vehicle.)

Partly it's because everyone is familiar with the basics through cultural osmosis - we grow up riding in cars, we see them operated on TV and in movies. And partly we expect and accept that a certain amount of training is needed; few people balk at the idea that a few dozen hours of classroom instruction and supervised driving are a requirement for basic competence.

Why do we expect computer software to be different?

Tom Swiss | the infamous tms |

Re:Blinking 12:00 (2)

Buck2 (50253) | more than 13 years ago | (#353457)

MENSA members don't watch tv.

They especially don't need to tape it.

They also don't speak in absolutes.

Re:Blinking 12:00 (1)

T3kno (51315) | more than 13 years ago | (#353458)

My problem is not the VCR, what I can't figure out is why I get a hot, fresh pot of coffee every morning at 3:16am, and a loaf of bread at 4:17pm every second tuesday. :)

Re:Blinking 12:00 (1)

Snard (61584) | more than 13 years ago | (#353462)

That also ignores people who (like myself) may have decided that they already too many clocks in their house that need setting after each power outage, and who don't bother programming their VCR's to tape anything, because there's nothing worth taping...


Re:Yep - Fair (2)

sconeu (64226) | more than 13 years ago | (#353463)

Look at the flight control software for military aircraft and spacecraft. In the Apollo days the number of bugs in the Lunar Module software could be counted on one hand and the astronauts knew what they were and the work arounds.

Yeah, and they had a major one show up during the landing, that the astronauts didn't know the workaround to. Too many interrupts or something like that...

Re:Disclaimer (2)

sconeu (64226) | more than 13 years ago | (#353464)

Don't buy from software companies with such a discalaimer.

Can you say "Microsoft"? Somehow, I can't see Corporate America dropping MS for that.

JAFR. (3)

ktakki (64573) | more than 13 years ago | (#353466)

JAFR = Just Another Formulaic Rant.

First of all, the blinking "12:00" is the result of a poor user interface -- buttons with hidden functions that aren't immediately obvious, like using the channel up/down buttons to set the hour.

So the writer misses the point on that one.

But what really annoys me is the way the writer trots out the usual suspects: Stewart Brand, Jaron Lanier, Esther Dyson (Negroponte, Joy, and Kurzweil must have been off skiing or something), and adds Through the Looking Glass to show how confoozing this technology stuff is!

I feel like I've read this same piece a hundred times in the last ten years. Okay, let's take it as a given that there's always going to be a gap between humanity and technology, leaving some people frustrated and confused. And move on.

As for that blinking VCR [] , buy a clock.

Just Another Fucking Rant.

"In spite of everything, I still believe that people
are really good at heart." - Anne Frank

Re:Blinking 12:00 (1)

mcjulio (68237) | more than 13 years ago | (#353468)

It could similarly be argued that pushing buttons on a digital clock is a perfect metaphor for what is actually going on, the toggling of tiny electrical switches on and off, on and off...

Darwinism and software (3)

decipher_saint (72686) | more than 13 years ago | (#353474)

I think Darwinism takes care of issues like this, if no one can use the software, it either has to change or die out. Same goes for users, if a user won't upgrade his or her skillset they limit their employability.


Re:Blinking 12:00 (2)

bendawg (72695) | more than 13 years ago | (#353475)

It could be argued that grabbing a tiny little knob on the side of a watch, PULLING IT OUT TO EXACTLY THE RIGHT SPOT, and setting the time by turning it most likely (but not necessarily) clockwise it not intiutitve. Add to this that to set the date, the knob need to be pushed HALFWAY in and not all the way in. Plus, my grandma who has arthritis in her hands has no hope of doing any of this, but can press oversized buttons on a digital clock. Plus there is the matter of being able to easily see a bright LED display.

My only argument here is that what you have described as a good interface, while good for some, is not so good for others. Given that, how does one design a "good" interface for a general purpose item. On the flipside of the coin (and to return to the orignal topic), how could one design an interface for something more targeted like software, but where the end user could range from beginner to expert, and has totally different needs from the software without having to make some sacrifices?

This is not meant as an attack, but just a counterpoint, and I would love it if you responded.

Re:Sort of off topic (1)

jason_z28 (73458) | more than 13 years ago | (#353476)

I don't think you understood my point. Drivers and software companies feel safe. The the safer we make cars, the more people feel they can get away with. The same with software companies. They can make crappy products because there is no risk. There is no risk to driving a car that is very safe, and there is no risk in making crappy software. Penalties will enforce people to drive better, and companies to make better software. A spike on the steering wheel of a bad driver is the penalty for poor driving. A $1 fine for every crash is the penalty for every crappy product. Or maybe we could put spikes on the steering wheels of the product managers of the crappy products.

Bringing the two things together, cars and computers work closer and closer together everyday. Cars such as the Corvette us throttle by wire. The gas pedal is no longer mechanical, it is computer controlled. What happens when software in the computers of cars becomes so large and complex that it becomes buggy and the car's computer crashes and the car goes out of control? In a world without penalties, things get chaotic. Just look at the current state of Microsoft products.


Sort of off topic (4)

jason_z28 (73458) | more than 13 years ago | (#353477)

I recall watching a show on DSC or TLC about the increasing safety of cars causing people to be less worried about being injured in an accident since the airbag would most likely save them. A proposal was to put a giant spike on the steering wheel so that if you got into an accident, you were likely to get hurt majorly. Although sadistic, this method would actually work to make people more cautious and safe drivers.

This article is somewhat similiar in that it forces penalties for bad products. Unfortunately, I think it will take something like what is being proposed to make companies realize that stable software is important.


Re:increased software efficiency by... (1)

cheese63 (74259) | more than 13 years ago | (#353478)

at $200us windows shouldnt crash
at $20,000+ the average car shouldn't break either...

Re:Only two sides to this story? (1)

graniteMonkey (87619) | more than 13 years ago | (#353481)

You must've been conducting industrial espionage to discover the corporate structure of the company I work for. Either that, or my company got their tips from the same "...For Total Idiots" series of books. ;)

Re:Blinking 12:00 (1)

nublord (88026) | more than 13 years ago | (#353482)

So buy a VCR that does save the time. And don't say it can't be done - mine stores the date/time for up to 30 days with no power.

If you don't want crappy products (VCRs that don't save the time) then don't buy them. Every time you buy a crappy product you send the company the message "Hey, produce crap. I don't care."

Re:WRONG (1)

nublord (88026) | more than 13 years ago | (#353483)

No, it's because they are to stupid. Trust me - 99% of society is alive out of pure luck - not because they are smart.

Re:Blinking 12:00 (1)

nublord (88026) | more than 13 years ago | (#353484)

Sounds like you're buying to many gadgets. If you don't have the time to make them work properly then where do you find the time to use them at all???

What about Open Source/Free Software (4)

jmv (93421) | more than 13 years ago | (#353489)

Will RMS be fined 1$ every time any of the GNU utilities crash, or Linus everytime Linux crashes? Sure it doesn't happen ofter, but with the number of people using it...

I'll stop writing free software the day a law like that passes...

Re:Sort of off topic (1)

TheCarp (96830) | more than 13 years ago | (#353494)

Oh sure, youll get 20,000 hits alright. But the real question is, how many of them will be porn sites?

(who just couldn't resist)

Re:sigh... (1)

TheCarp (96830) | more than 13 years ago | (#353495)


I knew there was a reason that it always seems like the same person volunteers to be the one to show up early and meet the Feild Circus Tech when we have a serious problem with one of our servers.

I gotta start volunteering for those then


If builders built buildings as programmers... (3)

cworley (96911) | more than 13 years ago | (#353504)

If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, the first woodpecker to come along would destroy civilization!"

I first heard this user mantra in `82 with my first programming job -- and they said that was an old adage.

The problem isn't programmers lack of responsiveness to users, as has been suggested for the last 40 years. If that were true, it would have been solved by now.

The true problem is the inhearent complexity of software, where any useful integrated program enters the realm of chaos, and exhibits behavior "as if at random".

It's digital nature makes it more susceptible. While you can plumb a toilet within wide tolerances, software must be exact. Furthermore, a broken toilet doesn't take the city's sewer system down with it.

It's ease of modification makes it even more susceptible. A problem in hardware will be there for years, we'll learn to work around it, and it may become the standard. But with software, the fix (and the next set of bugs) will come with the next upgrade or patch.

The fellows suggestion that "speech recognition will cure this" is another example of how requirements bloat, to solve "the problems of software usability", exacerbates the problem.

Some problems need to be blamed on the programmers and management: the Window's kernel hung around much too long. Microsoft kept adding mounds of complexity with small doses of functionality to keep the ever faster processors busy; it was no wonder you couldn't keep it up.

Open source has been the best solution so far. If it has a problem, the "open hood" policy allows your local mechanic can fix it, or determine what the original programmer wanted the user to do in the first place.

Re:Blinking 12:00 (2)

kiick (102190) | more than 13 years ago | (#353508)

... And many of them are designing products. Let's take that flashing VCR clock for a second. The US Naval observatory broadcasts the atomically correct time all over america. Why can't the VCR set it's own damn clock? I've got better things to do with my time than fiddle with the VCR every time the power blinks. And maybe it's not so bad, setting the time on one VCR. But then there is the OTHER VCR which is a different brand and has a completely different way of setting the clock. Plus the clock on the Microwave, and the other appliances, etc. It's not that I'm too dumb to handle the technology: I'm not. But after the 50th gadget takes up 'just a few minutes' of my time getting it to work correctly, I've had it. Let the damn VCR blink, my daughter wants to play crazy eights.

Re:Apple does it best (1)

Mordred (104619) | more than 13 years ago | (#353509)

While I suppose I don't really qualify as a User Interface expert i do agree with you completely on this. I took a Human-Computer Interaction course in college and was surprised at the relative obviousness of it all... and how so few of my colleagues REALLY got it. My work is mainly involved with User Interfaces in programming environments so I put this kind of stuff to use everyday, and am constantly amazed at the bad interfaces engineers come up with. Ugly is one thing, but many of them seem to get bad design down to an artform.

Macintosh has understood the principles of ease-of-use well, although they're lacking considerably in the power department. Microsoft actually does reasonably well in both categories, whereas Linux and it's ilk seem to ignore usability all together. Once people realize that the interface is just as important as the nifty features hidden underneath, software will be much friendlier for all involved.


Economy (2)

jgerman (106518) | more than 13 years ago | (#353511)

I wonder if the fact that the economy has been so good lately has something to do with all of this. Even now we are still doing well, and people have had more disposable cash to blow on tech toys. Most of these toys aren't really needed (ok , no toy really is but you know what I mean) but people can afford them so they buy them, and then complain when they don't always work properly. I think that maybe when people don't have so much free money to spend, this situation doesn't occur. The toys are bought mainly by the people who realy, really want them who most likely aren't going to complain. By the time a product makes it to the mainstream public it has been refined enough to be used on a regular basis.

On another note, it's definitely obvious that we are distributing more complicated products to the masses. The main issue then seems to be UI's , think about it, when you are marketing to the average person, some things have to be dumbed down. Not due to the low intelligence of any specific person, but as method of targetting the least (most) common denominator.

Amendment (2)

mmmmbeer (107215) | more than 13 years ago | (#353512)

For almost as long as the average American has been alive, people have been driven nuts by the flashing "12:00" of their videocassette recorder's clock.

I would like to change this to say, "For almost as long as the average American has been alive, stupid people have been driven nuts by the flashing "12:00" of their videocassette recorder's clock."

I have never had any problem setting any vcr's clock. Maybe I'm just a supra-genious, but somehow I doubt it. If I were, at least one of my plans to take over the world should have worked by now. But I digress. My point here is that I think this small change helps to better set the mood of the article, and get a little more insight into the perspective of the author.

Now then. Deliver me 1 mill - er - 100 billion dollars by sundown or I will destroy the city with my fiendishly clever but easily disabled destruction device. MWAHAHAHAHA!

Is This Fair? (3)

portege00 (110414) | more than 13 years ago | (#353514)

Is it really fair? You can't possibly say your software is 100 percent reliable. No software is. Not even Linux. That's why the Open Source method is so effective. It weeds out the bugs.

No matter what you do, there's always something that will cause software to crash. What happens if someone's CPU fan dies, and their OS has a kernel panic because of it? Does the software company owe money even though it's the CPU fan manufactuer's fault?

Most importantly, where do you draw the line and say, "This is a stupid user error, not a software error." And who makes that call? I certianly would think scandelous home users can't be trusted to do this, nor can big software companies. And what merits a successful recording of crashed software? Logs on a machine that can be altered by the owner? If they couldn't be altered, would you WANT software like that on your PC?

can't opt out? (2)

wunderhorn1 (114559) | more than 13 years ago | (#353515)

<i>"You can't opt out" of this dance with the goddess, says Pamela McCorduck, an author on technology and society.</i><p>
I would disagree. It's quite easy to opt out:<br>
<b>Don't buy the technology that offends you.</b> Read consumer-reports types reviews to find out what products won't.<p>
Go ask the former-Soviets how government regulation of science and technology works. They had all the resources the U.S. did except a free market, but look whose technology is more advanced.<p>
And yes, there is the "advanced does not mean better" argument, but if that's what you believe why are you on a computer reading this? Buggy software and VCRs blinking 12:00 are by no means necessary for life, and many do without them.<p>
The thing about computers is that the people who make them think pouring hours of time into using one is <i>fun</i>. The market's response to this was Apple's "Computers for the rest of us" slogan. I'm not sure if they succeeded, though.

No offense but... (1)

Dr. Nonsense (116117) | more than 13 years ago | (#353516)

I'm just curious where you got the "Michael" in your mistake... even the article you're pointing to is correct in stating Jaron as his first name, and there is no "Michael" in the article.

Just curious... is there something we don't know?
(people have already pointed out the correction.)

increased software efficiency by... (4)

StandardDeviant (122674) | more than 13 years ago | (#353517)

involving the government. riiiiiiight....

Seriously, as long as software companies emphasize release date and features over correctness and user testing, bugginess will be the norm. Financial penalties are warranted and effective for some industries (e.g. automotive, where bugs in the system cause fatalities), but unless the software you're making has life-or-death failure consequences it probably doesn't warrant that level of intervention (and nobody ever died becuase Windows crashed while they were playing Quake).

News for geeks in Austin: []

Imagine this: (2)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 13 years ago | (#353519)

In Canada there is a court case going on. The case is about social hosts (anyone who decides to host a party) being responsible for their social guests (anybody who comes to party) not to get into any kind of trouble after they leave the party.
So imagine - you host a party, 10 people come over, 7 of them drink alcohol, 4 of them really drink alcohol. The party is over, someone who really drunk alcohol starts his/her car and has an accident. Are you responsible?
Canadian court decided you are responsible (the family who is said to be responsible filed an appeal.)

I bet you don't see my point, by now I start doubting. But the point is - we all are looking for someone to blame for our problems. It is possible that your software user gets some kind of a problem using your software - the real problem may not the software itself but a combinations of things that lead to the [problem]. There is so much computer software that is designed to do so many things, and things don't go well (especially different software interacting with each other.) It is unfare to ask a software producer to think about every single usage of their software, about every single interaction that can happen between their package and all the other packages in the world. The real software testing happens when hundreds, thousands of people use it and report various bugs. Functionality today is more important than perfect software tomorrow (I don't even know why this is true)
Anyway, I don't think the software firms will like the government to do something silly like the proposed stuff.
Good luck

But, what *makes* software crash? (4)

shren (134692) | more than 13 years ago | (#353520)

If windows changes how secret interface number 27 works, or one of thier public functions, in a future release of windows and that breaks my code, should I be out a buck?

If someone else releases a piece of software that crashes mine, who owes who a buck, and how would an end user know the difference?

Doesn't this just encourage computer software developers to make thier software fail as silently as possible, which software developers hate?

If you feel you've been ripped off, sue. Sue in small claims if you have to, and if you want revenge more than money, sue the president of the company specifically and drag him personally into it, possibly into the courtroom. We don't need new laws for this. We have too many unused or ignored laws as it is.

(Woah, 0.8 just finished compiling! I can get some work done now!)

In related news .... (2)

Emugamer (143719) | more than 13 years ago | (#353524)

Thousands of people rush out to buy Microsoft Windows ME in a quick "Get Rich" scheme propogated by bill passing the Senate. Yeah I know its a troll but its funny.

Re:Is This Fair? (1)

JCMay (158033) | more than 13 years ago | (#353530)

Hooray! I was about to say that, but you beat me to the punch! I wish people like Agilent and Ansoft would learn these little facts.

I love some of Ansoft's error messages I get when using Maxwell. "A port has two vertices that have the same coordinates. Please fix it." Which port? If they're the same, can't you just remove one? What's the deal, Ansoft?!?

Re:Darwinism and software (1)

albamuth (166801) | more than 13 years ago | (#353533)

Unfortunately, the people most likely to understand and use software are the least likely to reproduce. People who don't have a computer (ie those with lower income backgrounds and correspondingly less education) tend to have a lot of babies, earlier.

Besides, Darwinism is a completely discredited and passe social theory, whilest natural selection is just one evolutionary mechanism amoungst dozens.

Gov't and the Technology Industry (1)

EraseEraseMe (167638) | more than 13 years ago | (#353536)

During the high times, the "Dotcom Bubble" if you will, the US government wouldn't dare legislate protection for consumers for fear of slowing the rapid growth and revenue from a seemingly giant potential. Protection for the large businesses in order to ensure jobs, wealth, etc etc.

Now that the industry in general has poo-pooed on itself, government may take steps, to correct the mistakes of late. It probably doesn't look too highly on a pampered industry, who lobbies furiously to protect its intellectual property, but then, at the first sign of potential revenue losses, lays off quite substantial amounts of staff.

What?? (3)

FortKnox (169099) | more than 13 years ago | (#353537)

"Instead of hunting down people who smoke pot," Lanier says, "they'd be hunting down people who sell business software that crashes. They'd owe people a buck or go to jail. That's what Washington should be doing."

Sounds like he came up with this idea when he was high as a kite...


umm... (1)

loraksus (171574) | more than 13 years ago | (#353538)

Cars? Trucks?
Keyboards, mice.
My friggin microwave and coffee maker.
The milk stirring things at the cheese factory.
The 7-11 video cameras (except when they save 12hrs on video onto a standard tape, and then re-record it...)
Conveyor systems.

Fine, the bindery, those are kinda "fun" to work with, but think about the printing press - I worked at a paper, and the damn thing never died. If there was an error it was a "stupid user" error - i.e. pages stuck together, crap in the spools, etc..
Though calculate the number of magazines that went through the machine successfuly.

You know that software is really sloppy, cause most users are idiots - I don't need to start a discussion on that topic.

BUT, the fact is that most things work at least 95% of the time - in the industry and at home.

I have a shotgun, a shovel and 30 acres behind the barn.

Re:Apple does it best (2)

tshak (173364) | more than 13 years ago | (#353539)

Apple does it best with their "Human Interface Guidelines" document.

...Except that Aqua doesn't really follow these guidelines. Sure, it looks awesome, but many [] will say that it's most prominent feature, the "Dock", is more of a marketing "ooh ahh" then a usable interface.

Amazing potential here: (1)

noahbagels (177540) | more than 13 years ago | (#353540)

We're gonna put Bill Gates in the Poor-house!

Microsoft pays up front... (2)

Timodious (178572) | more than 13 years ago | (#353541)

NT actually costs $10,000 per user, but they give you a rebate for the number of outstanding bugs.

Re:Blinking 12:00 (1)

Bingo Foo (179380) | more than 13 years ago | (#353542)

A lot of new VCRs will automatically set the clock from an embedded time code in broadcast TV. My VCR (a $60 model that I bought two months ago) says in the instructions to turn the channel to PBS and wait a few minutes for the time code to be broadcast. Then voila! your clock is set.

No innovation, indeed.

Bingo Foo


The idiots have taken over the asylum (1)

sane? (179855) | more than 13 years ago | (#353543)

They say you have to be computer-literate. They're wrong. Computer literacy is an excuse for techies to say, 'I don't want to actually have to think this stuff through.'

Do we really want to end up like the car manufacturers, who's idea of development is the cup holder?

Sure computers are difficult to use, because they are some of the most complex machines we have ever built. Why should we expect them to be easy to use? Try picking up a musical instrument and getting a tune out of it without training. Instead you pick up your CD Player.

I predict that high tech stuff will split into two development paths. One focusing on minimum functionality, maximum useability. The other maximum functionality, and the useability can go hang. Both are workable, and profitable, business models.

Actually, isn't that one of the differences between Windows and Linux - except that Microsoft haven't really ever understood useability?

Features vs bugs. (2)

Alien54 (180860) | more than 13 years ago | (#353544)

The problem, he says, is that software writers don't understand humans. "They still don't understand what kind of devices mothers would be able to use. Engineers want to make the neatest gizmo they can, as opposed to the simplest. So they put more tech in than mothers need."After enough planes crashed in the '50s, he points out, investigators stopped blaming it all on pilot error and insisted that designers start making cockpits easier to understand. You'd think we'd learn. Nobody actually sits down and watches a customer try to use this stuff, says Jakob Nielsen, author of "Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity." "Microsoft is among the best software shops on the planet," says Barr, "which is a frightening thought."

We've arghued this point over and over and over. We run in horror from the prospect of an AOL future.

Problem is that old stories like "The day the machine died" (or was it "stopped" ?) about a whole world that collapses because of the ultimate system crash seems more and more prescient. And the Marketroids will be selling the benefits of that system to us until it reaches that point.

A feature, not a bug, indeed.

but then we do have that problem of people's common misperceptions, in an increasingly illiterate world. The old "Do what I mean not what I say", and, "If what I want is really stupid, don't do it".

What will the AI machines of the future have to say about that?

Re:Apple does it best (1)

pressman (182919) | more than 13 years ago | (#353545)

You nailed it on the head. I very frequently have to deal with programmers who push functionality instead of usability.

Personally, I'd rather have a program that worked properly and easily rather than a high-powered app that requires a PHD to use. That's why I use Adobe apps on the Mac platform. They just work and never crash my machine and the learning curve between apps in minimal. If you know the tool set in one app, you pretty much know the tool set in all the others.

Granted, I use Macromedia products all the time as well because of their capabilities, but I spend much more energy swearing at Flash and Dreamweaver than I do at Photoshop and Illustrator.

I won't even go into the usability of MS' products!

Re:Blinking 12:00 (2)

whimmel (189969) | more than 13 years ago | (#353548)

Do you think you could take my resume to whomever it is you work for? I'm tired of working for The Man and his 9-5 schedule.

Re:$1 Fines (1)

scott1853 (194884) | more than 13 years ago | (#353551)

Uh, you use VB. You deserve what you get.

Re:Blinking 12:00 (2)

ichimunki (194887) | more than 13 years ago | (#353552)

Hmmm. I just bought a VCR last year, I'm pretty sure it suffers from the lost settings problem. Ditto the microwave. I'm just glad my new VCR doesn't have a blinking clock display at all.

Either way, what use to actually spend time setting the clock until you may need to use it? I never set a clock like this until I have a reason to. Along this same line, I won't fiddle with the clock on my work phone or car stereo for daylight savings time. There are just too many clocks in life to get uptight about the ones that don't really matter.

...which reminds me, it's probably time to figure out how to sync the time on my LAN so that my computers all think it's the same time.

Re:Blinking 12:00 (1)

donutz (195717) | more than 13 years ago | (#353553)

How do you decide when your product is "dumbed down" enough? Should we be making cool gizmos instantly useable to your average blue collar Joe Schmoe? Or a little more difficult than that? I mean, if learning to set your VCR, or operate your PC, or turn off the god-damned annoying features of MS Office, or whatever it is makes your brain form a couple new synapses, are you really all that much worse off?

Re:WRONG (1)

donutz (195717) | more than 13 years ago | (#353554)

If you don't have time to set your VCR's clock (I can do it in well under a minute, I think, though I've never timed it), then you're living your life wrong. I mean, what's wrong with a little time out now and again? (mental note...throw in some quote about sniffing the roses or something).

Re:Blinking 12:00 (2)

donutz (195717) | more than 13 years ago | (#353555)

Wow....I got something marked as insightful for saying there's too many stupid people? That's pretty dumb...

Blinking 12:00 (4)

donutz (195717) | more than 13 years ago | (#353556)

That flashing "12:00" . . . stands for innovation created without humans in mind.

Oh c'mon...does this mean everyone who manages to set their VCR clock is automatically a member of MENSA, and will be among the chosen few whisked off to another planet when humankind dooms itself?

The problem is, as always, just too damn many stupid people.

Why Industrial Strength? (2)

pendrake (200392) | more than 13 years ago | (#353559)

Really, you're talking about two different things here. From the industrial strength perspective, NASA has shown us it is possible to write high quality software. It's just expensive. And low volume.

But from a high volume perspective, there are is a lot of equipment that runs and runs without crashing. My television, VCR, telephone, hell, even my car all have bits of electronics and software in them, and they're all pretty damn stable.

The question should really be - show us something as customizable as a computer and see how often it has problems. Back to the car analogy - if you were constantly tweaking your car, adding and subtracting different pieces, you'd expect to have problems.

Not that I think that the software put out by certain organizations doesn't suck. There just almost is a tradeoff between that same customizability and stability...

Re:Only two sides to this story? (1)

Scooby71 (200937) | more than 13 years ago | (#353560)

Cost is a very important issue here. We all curse MS and the stability of Windows, but stability comes at a price - would Windows have achieved the pentration that it has if it was 3x as expensive? Windows is usable and somewhat unstable, Linux less than usable and more stable.

I work for a specialist consultancy that only do QA and software testing. The majority of our work is either where the software is business critical or where the client has sufficient funds that they prefer to pay for assurance over the quality of their code - often both. Unfortunately testing is neither cheap nor fast.

It should be seen as part of the cost of development not as an unneccesary overhead, but many people don't view it that way.

Re:sigh... (1)

ColdGrits (204506) | more than 13 years ago | (#353561)

I can tell that you have never spent $100,000 on software then, if THAT is what you think will happen when the inevitable bugs appear.


Apple does it best (2)

graveyhead (210996) | more than 13 years ago | (#353562)

with their "Human Interface Guidelines" document. Call this a troll or flamebait or whatever, but the fact remains that Apple spends good money on making sure that their software is usable.

Usability testing is an important, and highly overlooked aspect of software design. Perhaps this wouldn't even be an issue if we allocated some of our development resources to this highly specialized skill.

Unfortunately, many programmers don't seem to care. I can't count on both hands how many times a programmer at another firm has told me something to the effect that they don't understand colors or graphics. This is entirely obvious when looking at the GUIs that these firms produce. A monkey who calls himself an HTML "designer" doesn't qualify as a usability expert either. There are actually people that are trained in this kind of work, though they are few and far between. Perhaps the real answer lies in colleges. If we teach 'em early on that a product stands a much greater chance for success with good usability, perhaps more students would be interested in the field.

Just my 2 cents.

Uh huh (2)

Vassily Overveight (211619) | more than 13 years ago | (#353564)

Jaron Lanier (who some credit with inventing the phrase "virtual reality"), whimsically suggests that, in exchange for being granted U.S. copyright protection, commercial software publishers should have to pay users $1 every time their product screws up.

And I whimsically suggest that the plaintiff bar will institute a class-action suit for this very thing within the next few years. Did Word crash and take out your work? You're entitled to damages! Did Photoshop mangle your images? Sue!

Mark my words, this is coming.

Yes, but look at the bright side.. (2)

PHr0D (212586) | more than 13 years ago | (#353565)

This constant flood of new tech, means that there is lots of good old tech that people want to get rid of, discontinue, etc.. For example, I was part of a WebPlayer co-op to purchase old discontined Virgin WebPlayers for $100/ ea.. Now I don't know about you, but thats not a bad deal for a 200Mhz box with lcd screen and wireless keyboard, you certainly couldn't build this box yourself for that much - the LCD itself would probably cost that, and it makes a great MP3 jukebox, web-browser & Email terminal..


Re:Blinking 12:00 (1)

Rudeboy777 (214749) | more than 13 years ago | (#353566)

I would have given it "+1 Stating the obvious to a community notorious for missing the forest for the trees"

Re:Sort of off topic (1)

Philbert Desenex (219355) | more than 13 years ago | (#353569)

the increasing safety of cars causing people to be less worried about being injured in an accident since the airbag would most likely save them

This phenomenon goes by the name of Homeostasis of Risk. Psychologists and economists investigate it, and if you stick that phrase in google, you'll get 20,000 hits. Some of the hits even look informative.

Why, why, why? (2)

canning (228134) | more than 13 years ago | (#353573)

- there are hundreds of new technologies every year arriving faster than users can assimilate them or their makers can perfect them.

The nice thing about technology is that nobody expects you to know everything. The other nice thing about technology is that once your involved with a section of technology, it's easier to relate that to other areas.

The bad thing is that if your involved in technology, your expected to know everything about everything that plugs into a wall. It may be hard to believe but I don't know why the copier isn't working. Sheeshh.

Re:Blinking 12:00 (1)

marc987 (228873) | more than 13 years ago | (#353574)

The problem is, as always, just too damn many stupid people.

And what is the right ration of intelligent to stupid people.

Choose Your Poison (3)

Fatal0E (230910) | more than 13 years ago | (#353577)

Take a look at these two quotes:
Computer literacy is an excuse for techies to say, 'I don't want to actually have to think this stuff through.' "
Maybe the answer -- gulp -- is Washington. Perhaps the only way to create plateaus is to mandate them.

Which is scarier? A class of peeps who are afraid of thinking their way through a problem or a gov't doing it for them? His whole argument boils down to those two lines. I'll agree when he says UI's in general are immature. Fine. But the biggest problem is immaturity. Computers as they exist today are in an immature state where they aren't 'obvious' but gov't is as able to grasp these concepts as well as Joe Trailer-Park Sixpack. A voting body as messed up as congress/senate trying to nail down what "good" is scares the living shit out of me.
"Me Ted"

Re:sigh... (1)

NineNine (235196) | more than 13 years ago | (#353579)

The difference is that with industrial equipment, if you have a problem, you can usually call the manufacturer, and they'll have somebody out there to fix it within a day. I don't know of a single software company that will do that.

stupid people (1)

NineNine (235196) | more than 13 years ago | (#353580)

The problem is, as always, just too damn many stupid people

Well, actually, you need to keep SOME stupid people around. Otherwise, who would do menial tasks for us? As long as they're pacified (that's what TV and religion is for), they're very useful. I'm sure as hell not going to dig the foundation for my house. I'll just have some stupid people do it for me.

Better than an episode of Ducktales! (2)

Bonker (243350) | more than 13 years ago | (#353589)

If I had a dollar for every crash, hiccup, and burp that Windows or Windows software had given me, I could swim in my money like Scrooge McDuck!

here is my take on the matter: (1)

Pheersum (243554) | more than 13 years ago | (#353590)

< )
( \

I think that the penis bird perfectly expressespeoples thoughts on the situation of technology. It's either a tool, or a toy. No Joe Blow takes it as crucial to life. They either create amusing things like penis birds, or do their work with it.

< )
( \

Re:Blinking 12:00 (1)

Tin Weasil (246885) | more than 13 years ago | (#353592)


As a member of MENSA, I am very proud to have a VCR clock that blinks 12:00.

Why am I going to waste my time to set a clock that is just going to get reset everytime the power goes out? Setting the VCR clock is a waste of time for me because I never use the "timed recording" feature. In fact, I live in my own little world where the time of day is of no consequence. I go to sleep when I am tired and get up when I awake.


Re:Is This Fair? (1)

Tin Weasil (246885) | more than 13 years ago | (#353593)

Good point. Just thought I would give you some feedback since you haven't been moderated up.

$1 Fines (2)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 13 years ago | (#353595)

On a serious note, each time a commercial software product screws up, and costs a company money, that company should sue the product's maker for costs, assuming the product's maker didn't inform the customer of any issue. Quantify all of the times my workstation at work has to be rebooted, VB crashes, etc., as work-hours taken from my productive time. All of that, for all of the people at my company, adds up to many man-hours of work. Since it's all quantifiable, and much of it due to undocumented bugs, Microsoft should be sued, at least yearly, for this cost to my company, and every other company should do the same.

Disclaimer (2)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 13 years ago | (#353596)

Don't buy from software companies with such a discalaimer. Would you buy a car from a company that said that? Don't forget there are inherent warranties on products... car lemon laws, guaranteed returns on faulty items...

There was a long time when Oracle paid any customer who found a previously unknown bug in their software a $10,000 "reward". While developing software, I stumbled across an undocumented bug that our DBA then tracked down, and he was awarded the $10K. We need more software companies like that.

Automation Nation (1)

Art_XIV (249990) | more than 13 years ago | (#353598)

The regional chain of "Giant Eagle" grocery stores conspired... err... decided to install "automated" check-out lines in their stores. They are of the touch-screen-scanner-scale sort.

I was immensely pleased with the automated lines. I can zip through them much faster than a normal line. But... It seems that I am always stuck behind someone who can't figure the dang things out. Always!

Does this require a variation of Murphy's Law?

Art_XIV's Corollary - An indivdual's gains from technical aptitude will always be offset by another individual's technical ineptitude.

Re:Blinking 12:00 (1)

eXtro (258933) | more than 13 years ago | (#353601)

No, it doesn't mean you're MENSA, but it still doesn't mean its a good interface. A good interface is intuitive. Almost anybody can grasp setting an analog watch, even little kids. Your rotate a knob and the hands move. The action is a metaphor for what you're doing.

Most digital timepieces have a couple of buttons. One puts it into programming mode and cycles through am/pm, hours and minutes. The other causes a number to increment. It distances the user from manipulating the time by requiring you to use a tool for what might be a frequent occurence. Sure, the tool is just a pen or something else to depress the tiny unlabeled buttons, but its still an obstacle. The interface was designed to be dirt cheap, not easy to use.

As a further insult VCR manufacturers can't be bothered to invest a quarter for a decent capacitor to backup the time and program data. So even if people do make it past the inane obstacles their reward is a flashing 12:00 at the next power failure.

And in other news... (1)

TDScott (260197) | more than 13 years ago | (#353603)

Microsoft Corporation [NASDAQ:RPOFF] today went bankrupt after being forced to pay $1 to a customer every time their software crashed. A distraught CEO, William Gates III, was left in shock today. He was quoted as saying "how can $500 billion disappear so fast?" before running and sobbing in a corner.

I'm sorry, I couldn't resist.

Here's your login (1)

typical geek (261980) | more than 13 years ago | (#353604)

if you get prompted for one to get to the Washington post site


yer welcome

Re:UI (2)

Flarg! (265195) | more than 13 years ago | (#353606)

This is exactly right, and a good point. I've been doing tech support for years. Six years ago, about 70% of new hires had no idea how to use a mouse, or to navigate through Windows (or any GUI, for that matter). They'd see a computer screen and freeze like rabbits. Now, I'd guess it's more like 5%, and people pick up on things much faster. The reason why is probably because more of them have computers at home, or have worked with them in previous positions.

Of course, the downside of this is that the problems people are having are much more complex in nature!

Re:UI (2)

Flarg! (265195) | more than 13 years ago | (#353607)

I should point out, before I get some troll karma-whoring nitpicker on my case, that these figures all come from my personal experience and are not part of any "official" survey.


crudmonky (301152) | more than 13 years ago | (#353610)

It's not that people are too stupid to do it, they just don't have time. If they really wanted to set the clock, they could.

sigh... (4)

popular (301484) | more than 13 years ago | (#353613)

Hey, I'm all for high quality software, but if you can show me any other piece of high volume, industrial strength equipment with 95% uptime (not unreasonable at all), then you have a case.

I used to work at a print shop -- the kind that produces national magazines, like Time or Fortune. I've been in the pressroom, I've been in the bindery, and all those machines go down several times a day. When hundreds of distinct, interlinked processes are happening at once, the failure of one will often shut down the rest.

I'm sure this applies to factory floors of all kinds, not just the presses, and I might add that most of said equipment costs SIGNIFICANTLY more to purchase and operate.


Nifty concept, but a lot of room for exploitation (1)

oooga (307220) | more than 13 years ago | (#353614)

Michael Lanier whimsically suggests that, in exchange for being granted U.S. copyright protection, commercial software publishers should have to pay users $1 every time their product screws up.

Except that then, you'd begin seeing spam mail like MAKE WINDOWS SCREW UP BILLIONS OF TIMES PER SECOND!!!! MAKE $$$ FROM YOUR OWN HOME!!!! Are we willing to put up with that?

Re:increased software efficiency by... (1)

CrackElf (318113) | more than 13 years ago | (#353620)

at $200us windows shouldnt crash. I think that accountability is a good idea. After all, if your fridge dies every 2-5 hours and spoils the food in it, it would be unquestionable that sueing would quickly ensue. m$ to makes a product which can kill a db / spreadsheet / doc every 2-5 hours and it is ok. Now some if this is normal, but a lot of it is laziness and lack of testing. And, on top of that, it doesnt matter what you use it for, esp since a quake player probably didnt get the corprate discount that a corp. aquired.


the greatness of Carmack? (1)

PorcelainLabrador (321065) | more than 13 years ago | (#353625)

Using that idea, can you imagine how long development time would be?? Assuming that implementation in today's world takes about 1/10 as long as testing, with this model people would be too scared to do anything less than test for a year =)

Personally, I can live with minor bugs and hiccups in software, given the alternative of waiting an extra 6 months for someone to work out every last bug.

I know this is a little testy topic, pitting Carmacks vs Sweeneys... But you have to admit, software isn't doing to poorly these days, given the amount of complexity we have created for ourselves.

UI (2)

nate1138 (325593) | more than 13 years ago | (#353631)

Maybe the reason that technology will continue to outstrip peoples ability to deal with it is the fact that people should not have to deal with it. If we spent as much time learning about how people interact with technology as we do learning about how to build bigger/faster/better tech, we'd be light years ahead of where we are now. The GUI was the first big step, how about the next one??

Re:UI (2)

nate1138 (325593) | more than 13 years ago | (#353632)

You do have a point. However, there is a big difference between pressing a pedal and reinstalling device drivers because windows screwed up your display and you need 800X600 to make this detailed excel spreadsheet your boss e-mailed you visible as one page. Also, one only really does a handful of tasks in relation to driving, whilst computers encompass a thousand totally unrelated (to the uninitiated) activities. It's really easy to learn 10 simple parts of a task (turn key, press pedal, turn wheel) than it is to learn all of the eccintricities of modern technology (read computers and their offspring). just my opinion tho'
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