May 26, 2004

I can't let you do that Dave

Today's little annoyance has been error messages. Specifically, error messages written in the first person.

Of course, everyone who uses computers is going to hate error messages. They show up when you least need them, when something happens that isn't supposed to, or the programmer didn't mean to happen. Generally speaking, an error message means trouble.

Don't get me wrong; error messages do have their purposes. As a programmer I find them highly useful for debugging code before it gets released (yes, before...), and of course they do have massive entertainment potential (see razorhead's post on breadcrumbing). Personal favourites are the universal catch all 'You should not be seeing this message' and the ever useful 'An unknown error has occurred in an unknown file'.

But what's with messages like 'I can't find the file...' or 'I don't understand your request'? In my experience they don't add any usability to an application, other than giving a thin facade of intelligence that becomes instantly transparent when the application tries to chew on its own threads and ends up in a big smoking heap. Programs don't need a personality. In this age of ubiquitous computing, it's very important to maintain a healthy emotional distance from our PC.

Example: I'm willing to bet that most users spend more time in contact with the keyboard than they do stroking their house pets. Runtime errors are frustrating, if your cat suffered a fatal exception error and tried to reboot itself, it'd really bother you wouldn't it? And that's a good thing. What if PCs were really personable? Would people start to be closer to their computer than their cat? If the person sitting next to me at work started to stroke his keyboard with slippers on, I'd have to switch desks. Or offices.

Not sure where I was going with this...oh well...

Worse still are errors coded in the first person plural. 'We could not validate your password'. 'We are unable to connect you at this time'. One PC, one processor, one modem. Who is this army of unspecified agents trying to dial into my ISP? Or perhaps it's an attempt at diluting blame, like it's partly your fault.

'Forgotten our password have we...?'

Either take some responsibility or bring back the good old 'INVALID STUFF' error please.


May 17, 2004

Better plot, more bugs, less guns

I'd like to take this opportunity to plug Stuart's summer project, The Gap Year Diaries. Over the course of the next few months he'll be blogging his journal from travels around Europe during the summer of his Gap year, anniversary style. I've been told that I've got a walk on part coming up but despite best efforts the budget wouldn't stretch to casting Edward Norton as me.

Still, from what I know there are some good tales just itching to be told, so get over there!

Fresh meat for the grinder

Unless you're a die hard film fanatic, you'd be forgiven for not noticing last weeks release of the sequel to Paul Verhoeven's 1997 cult sci-fi 'Starship Troopers'. With the loss of the original director, cast and budget the inventively titled 'Starship Troopers 2' was probably always doomed to a do-not-pass-box-office straight to video release pretty much world-wide, so I shouldn't really have been surprised when it showed up un-announced on the shelves of Blockbuster on Sunday.

With the only trailer lasting a glorious 15 seconds I really should have known better, but on the strength (?) of that, and seeing as a number of previews listed it as 'not too shabby' I figured I had nothing to lose from renting it.

This was not the first time I've been wrong.

A friend of mine pointed out that maybe that I may have been better off watching something billed as 'a cinematic triumph'. 'Not too shabby' could easily be equated to 'better than root canal', and isn't really a sign of theatrical genius.

Point taken.

May 14, 2004

Touched wood

Turns out my 'wooden' desk is really made of some kind of laminate covered chipboard. Touch it all you like, but the bad stuff still happens.

May 13, 2004

Justin (case)

A little red button with an eternity of uncertainty behind it. You press it, the sound stops, the picture dissolves into black, and you head to off to bed with the promise of rest and relaxation. But the television can't sleep. Despite its appearance it isn't off. It's been in that one spot for three years and it knows that once that light goes out, no-one's coming back till morning. But it doesn't care. It sits there waiting, with one little red eye open, just on the off chance that you decide to come down in the middle of the night with a need for instantaneous discovery channel.

Standby. It's when you foolishly volunteer to be the person they call when there's a problem and no-one else can help. A bit like the A-Team.

The first night was the worst. Lying there, the eerie little eye of my mobile blinking away at me. It's not going to ring. It never rings after midnight, and even when it does I don't have to answer it. But tonight is different, I must answer. They need me. They're putting a lot of faith in me. I can't let them down...

The second night was similar, but I turned the phone round so it couldn't stare at me anymore. Now the picture of my niece on the nightstand flashes at me. I rolled over and slept on my left shoulder for the first time in two years.

Tonight will be different. I'm staying awake as long as I feel is responsible on a school night. I've restrung my guitar, written emails to old friends, reorganised my CD collection. I'm tired. I will sleep. They probably won't call.

I mean, what could possibly go wrong...?

May 07, 2004

Shear or fear

Hairdressers freak me out man. The next time you're sitting in that chair, idly chatting about your holiday or whatever, remember the following things:

First up, you're now effectively trapped. Sitting in an adjustable metal chair only a few hinges shy of the ones you get at the dentist and part way through a similarly specialised procedure that stylists spend years learning how to do effectively.

Second: Attractive, charming and witty though they may be, the person standing behind you making small talk is a stranger. You've never met them before nor engaged them in any conversation deeper than a paddling pool. Your common interest in summer destinations aside, you have absolutely no idea what they are capable of.

However, you can be sure that they are trained in the art of camouflage and well versed in the arts of deception and disguise. They are highly skilled in the creative use of potentially toxic chemicals and, most importantly, they are more practiced in the use of sharp metal implements than most chefs and even your average career assassin.

And right now, they're holding one right next to your ear.

May 04, 2004

Close Shave

Well, that was a bank holiday weekend. The weather was pretty poor, but consider it a practice run for the one at the end of the month. And lets face it, all practices feel like little achievements.

Stu came to stay on Friday. I fed him incredibly bland food and then we went on a lovely circular conversation by way of my local, though some high school memories skirting around our respective social situations and ending up at the ferry terminal, where I left him with some new tunes and a hangover.

Anyone who tried to get in contact with him over the weekend may have had trouble on account of his poor mobile not being used to struggling with the awesome power of the electric mast of doom outside my bedroom and the battery going flat. Rest assured, he's back on form. Give him a call. If you're reaaally lucky he'll tell you all about this swell American girl he's met...

Yesterday night I discovered that the average Supergrass fan is 2 to 3 inches taller than me, which when you're at a gig is at best inconvenient and at worst bloody annoying. That said, most of them were still hiding in the bar while the support act, the 22-20s, were on so at least I got to enjoy them. Overall a good gig.

Finally, not getting out gave me the motivation to install blacklist on the weekend, which was just in time to stop a flood of about 100 spam comments today. Remind me to buy those nice people a beer. If anyone has trouble posting comments that don't refer to anatomical enlargements or dubious pharmaceuticals, do let me know. Thanks.