Archive for July, 2004

walking etiquette

July 29th, 2004

I don't think many people give much thought to walking, it's such a simple, straightforward activity that there's not much to it, on the surface at least. Yeah, that's until you encounter people with poor walking etiquette. They come in all shapes and forms. Most distinct are those who walk too fast or too slow for you to keep up. Somehow they are oblivious to the fact that different people may enjoy different speeds of walking. It's mostly the fast walkers who do this, if they looked to the side for a minute they would see you taking giant strides trying not to fall behind. But even if they look, it's one of those disapproving looks, could you pick up the pace a little bit you think? The fast walkers are easily identifiable, they always have a purpose to their walking. These aren't the people who go window shopping, no they keep their eyes fixed on their destination. No change of course being made here. Time is money.

On the other side of the equation you have the slow walkers. And this isn't about physical ability or endurance, these people just refuse to speed up no matter what the situation is. It's like going faster would conflict with their religious beliefs, it's not being done. And sometimes you need to pick it up a little, when you have to get somewhere on time. These people never worry about getting anywhere on time. Whatever happens happens. 8 or 8.30, what's the difference anyway? And they are so attached to this notion of never doing anything quicker than they normally do at their casual pace that it's downright hard to shake them. Only a serious threat of missing out on something, or better yet facing a penalty for being late, will sway them from their comfortable path.

Too fast or too slow, that's fairly obvious all things considered. But that's not all, there are certain variations of these trends. For instance, there are people who tell you they can't keep up with you. But instead of stopping or slowing down, like any rational person would expect, they walk at the same speed you do, only 2m behind you to prove their point. Not surprisingly, this doesn't work cause if you can walk at my pace, walking behind me is just a question of displacement, not velocity.

More annoying yet are people who refuse to align with you for any reason at all. If you're walking for more than 30 minutes, inevitably at some point one person will stop for some reason. The excuses are many, tying shoelaces, looking at something you pass by the road etc. Now what would good etiquette entail? Nothing more than slowing down or better yet waiting for that person. It's not rocket science after all. But some people never do that, if you stop you have to race back to catch up with them. And even if you try to influence them, very suggestively stop when they stop to show them how it's done, they don't care. Yes, I see that but I'm not interested. And these people generally don't care about alignment at all. If you stop and don't catch up with them, they will keep walking. Similarly, if they stop and you don't wait, they don't catch up either, just carry on at their own pace.

That is a strange phenomenon. If you're supposed to walk with someone and they have to stop for something, you keep walking and they're too stubborn to catch up with you, then you just end up walking at the same pace several meters apart. Apparently, some people don't see anything wrong with that. And it's too embarrassing to have to point that out, it's just walking after all.

Why are install programs so painful?

July 18th, 2004

Having used a computer the past 11 years of my life, I've come across a plethora of install programs for various software. The absolute majority of them are a pain in the ass, let's face it. The simplest kinds of software, like Winamp, don't exactly require a lot of configuration options, but even those are a pain to use a lot of the time. Very rarely do I see an install program that caters to the user. The occurence is borderline miracle, in fact.

But worst of all, the operating system category. Any OS I have tried my hands on had a fairly long install procedure and just about everyone of them was painful. To make this more intuitive, I'll try to categorize a little.

1. buggy software
This is an immediate show stopper in many cases. If you can't even get the install program to run, there's little hope for you. I've had many experiences of this kind. Off the top of my head, the Windows XP installer will not run if you have a somewhat custom partition scheme with Linux partitions. It won't give you an error (that would be too convenient after all), so the best thing you can do before starting the install is to wipe your drive and try again. I had a reiserfs partition on mine drive, perhaps that's what did it. Another fond memory was the RedHat installer (think it was 8.x), which wouldn't start anaconda because the hardware detection failed at the pcmcia step. Passing the nodetect flag to the kernel didn't work and trying to omit this step was theoretically possible but required a fair bit of skill and determination to hit that F8 none too early and not too late. Finally I did succeed but it took a good hour to get there.

2. horrible design
This is the most prominent deficiency install programs possess. Around 10 out of 10 times, the dialogs are laid out in such a manner that makes it a pain in the ass to use them. The most glaring error is the notion that thou shalt not be blessed with the privilige of navigating both forward and backward in the install steps. Some installers give you an overview of the steps to be carried out first, guide you through them and then offer you a possibility to review your choice. But these are a minority among installers. In many cases, such as the Sun Solaris install I'm conducting at the time of writing, give no such privilige. If I press the wrong key by mistake and bypass the hardware autodetection, there is no way at any point in the installer to go back and fix it.

3. missing functions
In some installers, certain basic functions are just missing. Most recently, when conducting and install of Fedora Core 2, I selected to install no boot loader at all, awaiting the prompt at some point in the install process that would allow me to generate a boot floppy. But it never showed up, it was gone. And given that making a boot floppy in FC2 is as simple as typing one single command, it probably wouldn't have been too much of a problem to throw it in there or at least not take it out. Meanwhile, getting a FC2 bootdisk was far more involved than one might imagine, so in the end I was forced to run the install again, just because that step was missing.

4. bad interface
For those of us who have installed a few programs in our time, the interface of the installer is a key issue in determining how much time and aggravation goes into installing a certain piece of software. For Windows programs, the blatant lack of keyboard shortcuts is a real pain, although this applies to a wide range of "mouse-driven" installers. Omission of reasonable defaults is another annoyance, forcing you to type in or select a certain setting you use over and over again, which might as well have been made easier to define.

5. inflexibility
A close cousin of #2, this one is just about omnipresent. And for once, you can justify that being so, because installers give you a limited set of options to choose from, no matter how you look at it. You would have to do everything manually to allow any possible configuration. So I will go lightly on this step, because it's a tricky one. However, some installers are truly egregious when it comes to giving the user basic flexibility. Things like offering only ext2/3 for filesystem when the distribution has built-in functionality for reiserfs is annoying but no show stopper. But not allowing a custom location for installation destination certainly is.

Apart from the practical side of facilitating a large volume of installs with a well designed interface, the installer is also the first piece of your software that clients see. Evenso, it often seems to be the most neglected of them all. You would think any software vendor would want their software to be easy to install, if not pleasurable. But if the vendors had conducted any kind of feedback program on the installers, they would very well know (perhaps they do) how bad those installers really are.

Besiktas next for Carew

July 14th, 2004

Carew signs for Besiktas It seems that Real Madrid president Florentino Perez (who was just re-elected with 95% of the votes) was on to something. Now Besiktas have adopted this "buy big" mentality. After spending a season on loan at Roma, unwanted by Valencia, he wasn't exactly a Galatico at €3.5m. Nevertheless, he was received like Zidane, a media frenzy at the airport and a mass audience following his every move. He was just officially presented today and he'll be getting a whopping €1.6m/year.

The question is, of course, what did this reasonably talented player, whose repertoire is fairly limited, do to deserve this royal treatment? Well it seems that Besiktas is set on the new "galactic" policy. They wish to sell no less than 150,000 of these shirts, no doubt to cover his wage expenses and then some. But is it going to work?

This whole situation naturally begs the question: what exactly do they expect from Carew? Is he the new Maradona? I conceed I don't know much about Besiktas but Del Bosque must have spoken very warmly about Carew to the fans, in order to make them receive him this way. And hell, he knows how it's done at Real Madrid so why not... apparently Besiktas think they have themselves a new Air Jordan but so far only the shirt numbers match up. That black and white shirt *does* look pretty good on him though..

the wrong number

July 10th, 2004

What is with people dialing the wrong number? I don't understand this phenomenon, how hard is it to dial a number, how hard is it to correctly key an 8 digit sequence? This baffles me because approximately once a month or once in two months, I get a wrong number caller. Once I had a new cellphone, 3 people knew about the number and I got a wrong number call from Denmark. How the hell does that happen? They just dial the wrong prefix by mistake?

What is wrong with these people? I have dialed the wrong number maybe 3 times in my life. And that's a high estimate just to be on the safe side. Meanwhile I get these calls and it's always the same routine, first of all they never introduce themselves. It's always

"Is John there?"

"No, there is no John here."

And damn it, half the time they don't hear that and ask the same question one more time. There is always that element of surprise, like they can't figure out how the universe conspired against them to end up in this situation. You would think that with cellphones, where you have the digits on the display, it shouldn't be too hard for people to check that they have the right number before they start the call. I swear there is no hope.

Even worse are the people who demand to know who they are talking to. Of course, these never introduce themselves either.

"Is Mike there?"

"No, there is no Mike here."

"Then who am I talking to?"

That's right, and when you ask them who they are, they won't tell you, they simply reiterate their demand. Well I'll tell you one thing, you call me and refuse to tell me who you are, I'm returning the favor.

the supermarket

July 9th, 2004

I was at the supermarket the other day and I noticed they started selling medications right at the check out counter now. Which is funny, because that's also where the tobacco is being held. See, you can't buy tobacco products if you're underage, so they keep them in a shelf right above where the sales clerk sits when you check out. And the new thing is that they made room on the far side of the shelves for some pharmaceutical products. Aspirine, paracet, vitamins. And call me crazy but I think I saw cough medicine in that rack as well. Now this state of events could lead you to a number of conclusions...

1. These medications are now also sold exclusively to people of age. So if you got a headache and you go to the store but you don't have your id handy, no can do.

2. Someone decided it's time to heal the smokers. Well smoking has too many negative side effects, among others you have that nasty cough. Some Einstein decided it would be a good idea to get the smokers back on their feet quicker so they could come by the store to get more cigarettes. See how it goes full circle? First you get the poison, you consume that, then you come back for the medicine. And while you're there, why not just load up on the poison as well? So handy when it's all in one place!

And it's probably the tobacco companies that did it, they are now pushing tobacco remedies along with their tobacco. And this should make life all the more convenient for these low scale suicide bombers, now they can get the complete makeover all in one place. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me to find out that the profit from the drugs is higer than it from the tobacco. But if they cut the tobacco, who's gonna buy the medicine?