bookmark_borderAutomatically broken


ATTN: People who make video softwareses!
I know you all read my posts, so I thought I would mention this here.I know it makes you feel cool to just use the names of Chip Jewelry for output settings, but some of us actually want to know what those settings mean.

Seeing as you require me to put in the resolution, framerate, aspect, etc. in order to IMPORT, you can assume that I will want to know what those numbers are for EXPORT.

If audio software worked like this, you’d have presets like:

  • I have mpenge disks on my turntable spindle
  • “Audiophile” who likes vinyl (ironic)
  • “Audiophile” who likes vinyl (old)
  • “Audiophile” who likes vinyl (clean-shaven)
  • “Audiophile” who likes vinyl (bearded)
  • “Audiophile” who likes vinyl (because pictures on the cover!)
  • Liquid metal cables and blue felt pen on the CD
  • Metal guy (80’s)
  • Metal guy (90’s)
  • Metal guy (00’s)
  • Compressed all to ratshit, like on the radio
  • Streaming
  • Leave my shit alone and just render a .wav file (hidden deep in settings)

bookmark_borderWhy they come in boxes

Does not come with wafers
Does not come with wafers.

Just opened up a brand-new Lenovo laptop running Win7 to set up for someone who just bought it. I do this kind of thing for people.

If you are planning to do this yourself, try this: When you buy the laptop, ask the person selling it if you can just go ahead and open it right there in the store and try it out.

Not the demo on the shelf, the new computer you just bought.

This should be no problem.  Batteries aren’t the temperamental pains they used to be—you can, in most cases, just take the thing out of the box, plug it in, and start it up.  Most stores have wi-fi all over the place.  You should be able to fire up your new machine, get online, get to know it a bit, and start enjoying computing fun, You could even do your registration.

You’d think that would be pretty cool.  You’d think that would actually help sell computers. But of course, that isn’t what happens at all

What happens, with Windows machines anyway, is that you will spend the first hour with your new laptop wading through the crap adware the manufacturer included, saying “No” to all the “Do you want to activate/buy this thing you’ve never heard of?” dialogs, downloading updates, having the machine do a bunch of stuff without knowing what it is, and wondering why the thing is so slow.

Hint: It will quite slow until it has been running and online for at least half an hour, and then restarted at least once.

Normally, you HAVE to do all this crap when you get home. At that point, you are excited about your machine, then surprised, then annoyed, then frustrated, but you’ve already bought the damn thing, so you just eat your lemons.

It seems odd that your first day or so with your spanky new computer is going to be the worst time you spend with it until it either gets bogged down with cruft or malware, or the fan dies.

If you spent your first few minutes on a new laptop in a store, there’s pretty much no way you would leave with the machine. And if you were watching someone else go through this, you probably wouldn’t want to buy the machine in the first place.

At this point, if you have owned a computer and paid any attention at all to it, you might be thinking “Yes.  This is exactly what happens. That’s just how it is.  SO?”

Well, after 30-odd years of consumer computing, it is just incredible that this is how it is.

bookmark_borderIt’s so hard to swim cross the mainstream

HOORAH!  Ubuntu is now a sure-nuff mainstream operating system!  Here’s a transcript of a conversation I had with it just the other day.  I couldn’t figure out why it felt so familiar, but then I realised that it’s the same conversation I’ve had with the more popular operating systems.

a picture
Find one in every car

netdud: Hello Ubuntu computer I use for three things! I would like to do one of those things now.

Computer: This version of Ubuntu is no longer supported

netdud: Hey, good to know. Anyway, if we could just do the thing

You should totally upgrade.

Yeah. I don’t really use this machine for anything but those three things, and it doesn’t see the outside world, so it really doesn’t matter

We’ve got a whole bunch of stuff that’s new and doesn’t look anything like the version you’re using. You totally want that!

No. I don’t. Can I just do the thing…

Computer: We’ve cloud got cloud the cloud cloud services cloud TOTALLY cloud integrated cloud into cloud the operating system.

netdud: That sounds horrible.

Computer: We’ve got the awesome Unity interface, for people who can’t use computers, and don’t want to buy a tablet that does much.

netdud: Oh right! Took me a couple of hours to get that utter toss off this machine last time. No. Not interested

Computer: Your version isn’t safe.

netdud: What?

Computer: Yeah–the version you’re using right now, if you keep using it, uh, all kinds of bad things are going to go unpatched.

netdud: BS

Computer: I’m totally SRS! Also, cloud!

netdud: FINE. I just want to do my one thing!

Computer: OK! I’ll just sort out all the stuff you don’t need–

netdud: HEY! WHAT? No! Just leave stuff alone and change the OS crap you need

Computer: Uninstalling GNOME files, removing My SQL…

netdud: What the WHAT? GET OUTTA THERE!

Computer: Download complete. Installing the upgrades. About 6 hours remaining.

netdud: WHAAT?

Computer: About three hours remaining

netdud: OK. That’s better. I guess. For an OS I need to do THREE THINGS

Computer: About five hours remaining.

netdud: Oh. We’re doing that, are we?

Computer: About three hours remaining.

netdud: Whatever

Computer: Unable to delete the directory containing the thing that we are replacing with another thing that does the same thing but has a new name you won’t remember. So I’m just going to leave that directory full of old junk for you. I’m sure you’ll enjoy nothing more than reading all the log files for this six hour install, so of course you will find all the directories I left like this.

netdud: Yeah. I love doing stuff like that. You’ve got my number there.

Computer: Moving obsolete conf file [XXX] out of the way.

netdud: Did you REALLY just say that?

Computer: Moving obsolete conf file [XXy] out of the way.

netdud: What the hell does that even MEAN? Did you go to “Bad command or file name” University or something?

Computer: Moving obsolete conf file [XyX] out of the way.

netdud: Again?

Computer: I’m going to fill the screen with those. You can read all about it later in the log file I guess.

netdud: Sorry–missed that. Just decided it was a good time to get a drink

Computer: About 1 hour and 27 minutes remaining.

netdud: I just wanted to..

Computer: Now I’m replacing a whole shit-ton of packages like GREP and Chrome and fonts that you already had, but I just stopped updating them because you didn’t upgrade the entire OS.

netdud: Yeah. Woulda sucked to just get those a bit at a time, in the background. On a machine that runs 24/7.

Computer: About three hours remaining.

netdud: It’s like I don’t even know you any more, dude.

Computer: I’m installing the Wifis and Bluetooth support. Yes, I DO still have the list of hardware currently on the machine, but I didn’t look at it. Just installing stuff. That’s what I do.

netdud: This box doesn’t even have… Nevermind

Computer: Also replacing the eleventy-billion printer drivers we installed with the last upgrade with eleventy billion printer drivers which are not ALL the same as the last ones, just in case you suddenly want to use eleventy-billion printers right after this upgrade.

netdud: That’s awesome! Thanks! But the driver that worked perfectly with the one printer I actually use, that’ll still work fine, right? Because that’s one of the three things that I…

Computer: About one hour and twenty minutes remaining.

netdud: Why am I excited that this is suddenly going to take on a stupid amount of time, instead of a ridiculously stupid amount of time?

Computer: Moving on–remember that package you tried, and then found out that the project was discontinued, and that it didn’t work anyway? I just replaced it with the point release you didn’t bother upgrading to because it was discontinued.

netdud: Thank you for that. As I recall, that package wasn’t part of the distribution

Computer: Just one of the services we do on upgrade.

netdud: Oh, I can see your point–that’s just the sort of thing you SHOULD add to a 1.5 gig, four-hour automatic upgrade. I’d hate to go through all this and find out I’m a version behind on software you don’t support and doesn’t work. What would my friends say when I try to tell them how user-friendly Ubuntu is?

Computer: I’m replacing the LAME codec right now. The old one was working fine, but there’s a new one.

netdud: Why are you doing that?

Computer: Because I’m going alphabetically.

netdud: Good plan. And I mean, what are the chances that someone would have a problem with the awesome sound subsystem on Linux, and have to do some bodgy junk to get it running? You should TOTALLY screw around with the stuff and set it up in a nice generic way to use a sound card I don’t have installed, and move all my codecs somewhere exciting.

Computer: Updating your version of OpenOffice.

netdud: Really? Why? What does that have with the operating system?

Computer: We include it WITH the operating system!

netdud: Yeah, but that means I already HAVE it. Why are you including a new install of the fattest piece of bloatware on the entire system with an OS upgrade?

Computer: Same amount of time remaining as the last four times you looked, even though the list of things I am doing keeps changing.

netdud: I’m going to bed. Check on you in the morning.

Computer: I’m going to change some config files, and I need you to tell I can replace them. Or you can tell me to keep the old ones. I’m not going to tell you if the old ones might have a different effect after the upgrade.

netdud: Hang on–let me see the two files

Computer: I can let you compare the two by dropping them in a big long vertical window with codes in front to show what each file says.

netdud: Can I see them side-by-side?

Computer: Don’t be ridiculous! What good would that do?

netdud: Uh, let’s keep the old ones

Computer: I will accept that with an off-putting ease, making you wonder why I didn’t just keep the old one as a matter of course. But you will pay, stupid. You will pay.

netdud: I’m really sleepy. I’m going to bed

Computer: Hang on–I want to show you how I am testing for the right audio drivers by saying that things are failing, and then test a bunch of drivers that have brand names not even remotely related to this machine.

netdud: Wait–I’ve never even owned a Dell laptop!

Computer: I don’t blame you–that driver is teh fail!

netdud: Cool, thought you were losing your mind.

Computer: I’ve installed the HP Crudsucker 760 driver, it’s totes wikkid!

netdud: That’s a laptop! This machine is an old desktop!

Computer: So that should have the sound squared away. I’m just going to tell you there are 24 minutes remaining for the next 24 minutes.

netdud: All the hope in me has died. I feel strangely free.

Computer: I’m going to leave a sentence that ends with the word “completed” on the screen, and but the fans are all going to come on like mad and the drive light is going to stay lit for the next three minutes straight. Everything’s fine though.

netdud: So sleepy

Computer: Hey–you want this old config file? Looks like the only difference between it and the new one is that the old one is set up to run headless.

netdud: Yeah–this machine only runs headless.

Computer: Y’don’t say. Wow. If I knew that before I started, there’d be no need to keep stopping and waiting for you to compare conf files and click yes.

Gosh, that would really be something.

Computer:  Hey!  Why don’t you go to bed and I’ll just sit here with this dialogue box waiting for your input and the drive light and all the fans going full blast.

netdud:  No, I’ll sit up here with you. I’ve suddenly got a bunch of reading to do about unpopular Linux distros..

bookmark_borderUpgrading to worse

It all starts with my mother. Now with more better than nothing!

My mother has an Intel Mac Mini that she got a few years ago. It works like a champ, and she has had fewer problems with it than any other computer she has ever had.  She does not have the need, interest, eyesight, or digital dexterity to use chip jewelry.

Before she got the Mac, she was using a Windows 98SE machine.  It was old, she’d had it quite a while, and it worked just dandy for her.  She liked it very much, and was pretty choked when she finally had to replace it.

There were two programs that she particularly liked on her Windows machine:  Quicken, and Maximizer. Maximizer is/was contact management software, which she used as an address book, calendar, to-do list and more.  (I used to work at the company that made Maximizer).  These two programs, along with a Web browser, email client, and some Word-compatible word processor, were pretty much all she used on the computer.

They don’t make a Canadian version of Quicken for Mac. Maximizer has unfortunately remained convinced that their only market is Windows users (too bad, as it was very useful stuff, and there was nothing quite like it).  Mom had to make a decision, and at the time, any new Windows machine she got would have run XP, which was as different to her as anything else would be. Also, I was using a Mac as a daily driver, and I’m the one who gets called when Mom has questions.  So Mom went with the Mac because the reasons for doing so were stronger.  It doesn’t matter whether you agree with this or not.

It is hard to explain to people who don’t know much about computers but actually think about what they are buying why computer X can’t run the same software as computer Y.  Normally, when dealing with boring products that perform a function, we define product Foo as being “better” than product Bar largely because Foo can do everything that Bar can do, and/or do more than that, or do it better.

You know–“This vacuum can pick up everything that vacuum can, AND it can pick up bigger things, and it can do stairs and it filters more crap out of the air.  So it’s better and it costs more.”

But because the personal computing market has been fundamentally defined by operating systems, we’ve been comparing apples to oranges (sorry) the whole time.  You can not buy an operating system that does everything the other operating systems do AND more.  Not simply.  And shut up about virtualization unless you are willing  to go set it up for my mom.

We use really screwy metrics to make our purchase decisions for personal computers, like:

  1. Computer X is faster (which is usually irrelevant, as all options are usually faster than the user needs)
  2. Computer X is what more people use (which is irrelevant, if you are only using formats that are cross-compatible)
  3. Computer X has more software titles available (which is irrelevant, because most people use their computer for a very small number of tasks, and almost becomes  a contradiction of #2 anyway)
  4. Computer X is ready for the next operating system (which is a really stupid argument, because despite what you see in ads from operating system manufacturers, most normal people don’t buy computers in order to get an operating system. They buy computers to do things.)

I used to look down my nose at people who bought computers because they looked nice, or were thin, or fit in their luggage, or matched their eyes. But you know, those are probably more reasonable arguments in most cases than any of the four above.  You’re better off making sure you like the screen, the keyboard and the mouse than the processor.

But let’s get back to Mom’s problem.  Last year, a friend of Mom’s sent her a Flash e-card.  It was one of those nice advent calendar thingies. It looks like an old town. You go to the calendar every day in December, and you click on the number of that day, and something nice happens–some decorations go up, some birds fly around.  It’s a sweet little thing.

This year, Mom got two of them.  She followed the link to get the cards, and was told that she didn’t have a compatible version of Flash. So she tried to update her Flash plug-in and was told that she didn’t have a compatible version of her browser. She tried another browser, and got the same message. So she tried to update her browser, and was told that the browser no longer supported her version of the operating system.

So there we are: Mom has to install a new version of her operating system JUST TO RUN AN E-CARD.

  • Does the e-card even use the new features of Flash?  Who can say?
  • Does the browser actually need its new features to run the Flash plug-in? Who can say?
  • Does the browser actually need all the functions of the new operating system just to run the Flash plug-in?  Who can say?

But nobody is going to say, and it wouldn’t matter if they did, because the answer is still “Install a new version of the operating system.”

Despite what it looks like in the ads, updating or installing a new O/S is not a super-fun happy time. You should back up your stuff first.  No matter what, a bunch of your settings will change, and a bunch of stuff will be in a different place, or have different names, than what you were used to.  It takes a long time too.  Oh yeah–and it costs money.  I live about half a continent away from Mom, so I have to bug a friend to help her out with this.

Yes, the easy way to look at this is particular problem is “It’s not worth it just for an e-card.”  But while it’s a masterfully-chosen example, it’s not just e-cards that this affects. I have recording hardware and perfectly functional computers in my basement which are no longer considered usable because they are no longer supported by operating systems.  The recording hardware and software I use on the current Mac I am writing this on will stop working if I “upgrade” the operating system.

It works just fine now.  And after I upgrade, it won’t work at all.

And the only solution is to buy more stuff–stuff that doesn’t work as well for me as the stuff I am using, by the way.  And of course, the new operating system does more, but not necessarily more of what I want it to do, and it does so at the cost of performance on the computer I am using.

In short, upgrading will make this computer worse.

Everything all the way along here is broken, as far as the user is concerned. Every link of this annoying chain of compromise was forged by a decision that something was more important than providing actual daily value to the user. And the user is the customer.

Here I go again: Software companies exist to make money.  They want to sell a new version of the same thing on a regular basis to an ever-increasing user base. I say that so often that even I am tired of hearing it, and I love the sound of my own typing.  It’s true though, and there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the idea.  The problem is that the model operating system manufacturers use is more appropriate to applications than operating systems.   I believe it was JWZ who said “My application shouldn’t break just because you did something as trivial as replace an operating system.”  I think he was going at that from a different angle, but it still obtains.

And it could get worse.  There is some conjecture that Microsoft wants to move to an annual OS update schedule like Apple’s. That’s a new operating system every 12 months. That’s an ASS-TON  (Kelvin) of broken drivers, suddenly obsolete software and hardware, and seriously non-productive users. Which is nothing but good news for hardware and software manufacturers and IT types, and thus pits them squarely against users.

You should not need to buy a bunch of new stuff just because a small thing on your computer has changed.  And when you get new stuff, it should work better than the old stuff.  All rationalizations about why this is not so ONLY make sense if you accept that this broken system is how It Has To Be.  It is not.

Right now, personal computing (including mobile) is a marketing scheme that happens to involve computers, and it is hurting itself and its users.

I had an idea though.  I’ll get to that next time.

bookmark_borderSo the maples formed a union

It's simple math

You should read this article if you are a Facebook user of any kind. It will let you know a bit about what is going on with FB, and why your newsfeed doesn’t behave the same way it used to:

I end up of two minds on this. I am always a fan of small things that fit well [underwear joke redacted], and rarely a fan of mass-marketed things that will do anything to fit everyone inside them [Madonna joke redacted].

That means I get particularly frustrated by situations like this, when small things make the decision to risk their value on big things. It’s a common mistake, and a usually leads to noble but futile gestures. Lemme ‘splain.

First I will say that FB has always been an OK site for “social media” (Which you may read as “mostly pointless conversation between people bored at work and/or school”). It started out as a really pretty good social media site and keeps getting worse, but if you keep your friends count low, lock and block just about every stupid new thing offered, stay on top of the privacy settings and and ignore almost everything but the middle of the page, it’s still OK.

All FB really does is combine a bunch of functionality that we have had for quite a long time in Interweebs years. It’s a threaded discussion board with a clunky interface that makes it hard to contextualise past conversations combined with a clunky text chat interface combined with a media gallery with a confusing interface combined with a shared calendar that only provides you with one view. There are very simple games and apps, which can only work inside FB inside a browser, and minimal user customisation of the interface is offered.

It is not rocket surgery. It’s just really big. Particularly, it’s really, really, really big in the back end [Mix-a-Lot joke redacted]. And it keeps getting bigger, because it keeps every little bit of data that anyone puts into it, and there are over a billion accounts.

Facebook started out as a thing that a few people used, became thing that lots of people used, and is now a thing that almost everyone expects everyone is using. It did this very quickly, without any real idea idea of how to monetise the thing. All of that would be just fine–the same thing happened with fire, shaving and sidewalks.

The problem is, the dominant mentality in technology business is that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing for far more money than it’s worth. Facebook became ridiculously, unworthily popular, with ridiculous, unsustainable growth, so the only possible business decision was apparently to figure out a way to value Facebook at a number so ridiculously ridiculous that the popularity and growth looked relatively sane and reliable.

But even people who can’t remember ten years ago couldn’t justify a value that ridiculously ridiculous without some kind of plan to explicitly generate revenue. So FB tacked on more advertising, which they tried to tie into all the data that people were voluntarily providing, just like the Googles. And they tried to partner with other sites by sharing data about who went where in order to make it easier to use that data to shove advertising in users’ faces.

FB then discovered that they would have to strike a balance between just using that data to shove advertising in users’ faces, and making it look like that wasn’t actually what they were doing. This is largely accomplished by trying something, gauging the response, and, if the response is dangerously negative, undoing what they did and issuing statements with the words “take our users’ privacy very seriously.”

Facebook’s latest attempt to make money involves controlling which of their users see which posts, and charging for access to user eyeballs.

Quick recap: All FB has going for it is its user base: FB adds practically NO value beyond that, has no other unique technology. FBs history has been one long story of trying to figure out how to convert that base into value, and doing just slightly more than failing at it. The overwhelming majority of FB users are on FB because “Everyone is on FB.” And as we’ve seen repeatedly with Internet stuff, that can change pretty fast.

Which brings us back to this article. I feel the writer’s pain here, really I do, but I think the focus is simply misplaced, and overly narrow. Sure, it sucks to have 53,000 users and not be able to reach them for free any more. But you are on a closed, proprietary system on which everything is controlled by a third party who does not share your agenda. Or even care about it. In fact, they are trying to subvert it.

People trying to sell things on FB are a tiny minority of users. And they are competing with FB itself for the same value that FB is trying to find in its users.

As well, despite the fact that “everyone” is on FB, lots of other social media platforms have buttloads of users. So anyone who depends solely on FB as a key part of their on-going marketing is more than a bit of a chump.

Putting it bluntly, using Facebook–or any one social media platform–as a key part of any long-term business plan is a really, really, really stupid idea.

And there are lots of alternatives.

I’ll say it yet again: All Facebook has of any potential value is a user base. They need to monetise that base. They plan to do that with advertising. It is hard to think of anything that they would care about less than a bunch of other companies being able to advertise for free on Facebook.

So sure. Get your 53,000 FB likers mad. Hope that some percentage of them get all up in arms. But understand that, even if they ALL do, that will be a whopping 0.0000053% of FB’s user base. And if you throw in all of George Takei’s 2.8 million likes, you would be almost up to .28%. If all the folks trying to advertise for free on FB with big like lists who are not willing to pay for placement gang up as much as they can, it is doubtful that they would mobilise even 2% of FB’s user base.

And there ARE companies out there who would be willing to pay the stupid rates that FB wants for featured posts. Big companies. Remember what made you think that FB was a good advertising platform? It was because you were on a level playing field where you could reach people who knew you better than those big companies.  It was somewhere big companies couldn’t out-spend you for customer attention.

Well, now they can, and they are loving it.

Facebook, a public company that is trying desperately to look like it has a plan to make billions and billions in value can not shitcan any part of that plan over 2% of their users whining that someone can’t get free value out of Facebook. Especially not if big companies are paying value into Facebook

I sound pretty cold here. I’m trying to be. I also sound like I’m against these smaller companies finding a way to reach people with their products. I am not. I do think that depending on Facebook to act in anyone’s interest but Facebook’s is utterly foolish, and standing too close to a flailing giant is a great way to get trod upon.

I really hope I am wrong here. I really, really do. But if you are small and what you do has real value, then you need to spend your resources finding another way to reach users, and just take what you can get for free from Facebook, with the understanding that what Facebook does for free will get smaller and smaller as time goes on.


bookmark_borderPatently Obvious
(via /.)

Everything I have read about this particular bit of patent nonsense (ha!) has come at this issue from the perspective of “Shutting down compooters is hard!”

No-one seems to be coming at this from the perspective of “Granting a patent on something like this shutdown method is exactly why the patent system in these parts is broken.”

Computers need to shut down. And it might be more difficult than you thought. But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean that brilliance is required to do it.   Shoveling wet gravel is difficult. So is finding Amanda Tapping’s phone number (seriously–call me babe!). But neither task is necessarily accomplished by novel method that confers a unique advantage to anyone.

By the same token, there is nothing novel in this approach to shutting down.  It’s just thorough. This might be an improved method of getting something to do what it’s supposed to do, but there’s no new work here.  It just sucks less by doing things that should be done. And fer chrissakes–all this does is turn off stuff you turned on! You can’t get a patent turning off a light.  The fact that you used to turn off the light by throwing slices of ham at the switch from across the room, and now you just walk over and flip the switch doesn’t make flipping the switch any more impressive.

Now, if you invented a new design for a switch, that would be novel. But turning things off that you turned on, with the same results that you’ve been promising for years, is not novel.

Granting a patent to do something prosaic, non-sucktastic fashion just creates another barrier that prevents other people from not sucking. That’s a great advantage for whoever manages to patent it first, but as for as advancing things for society in general, encouraging competition, or any other thing that patents are supposed to accomplish, it’s completely counter-productive.  The bar just gets lower, the members of the Bar Association get richer, and that’s about all I have to say before I head out to the bar.

I believe it was the great thinker netdudicus who once said “Any sufficiently idiotic person will see pretty much anything that works as magical.”