Monday, October 31, 2005

Antigonish

Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn't there;
He wasn't there again today,
Oh, how I wish he'd go away!
—Mearns

Thursday, October 13, 2005

True scene

A reception room in a government office. Gray carpet, gray chairs. The sound of rain. It is a few minutes before two o'clock.

A Man walks up to the counter and speaks to a young woman behind the plastic window.

Man. How much is this going to cost?

Young Clerk. A hundred fifty dollars —

Man. Oh boy. I thought you said it was one twenty five.

Young Clerk. It's a hundred twenty five for the request and twenty five for processing. Now, do you want it expedited?

Man. What does that mean? I mean, I know what expedited means, but —

Young Clerk. If you get it expedited, you can get it tomorrow. If not, we send it out in three weeks.

Man. I can’t get it today?

Young Clerk. If you had come before twelve pm, we could have done same day. It's too late now.

Pause.

Young Clerk. That will be a hundred seventy-five dollars, fill out this—

Man. A hundred seventy five dollars, I thought before you said a hundred fifty.

Young Clerk. There’s a twenty five dollar fee for expedited.

Pause.

Young Clerk. Take one of these forms.

Man takes the form, sits down next to me and starts to work on the form.

Man (To himself? To me?) I wish I had gotten here before two.

A few minutes later, the man walks up to the counter and addresses a somewhat older woman. The Young Clerk has left the area.

Man. I just want to say, I got here before two. I'm only going to say it, I got here before two. It's only two ten now and I’ve had time to read this form, fill it out, and that's got to take more than ten minutes. So I had to be here before two.

The Older Clerk is silent.

Man. I just had to say it, I was here before two.

A Voice, from the back room. What was at two?

Man. The other woman said that I could get this done today if I came in before two. I just had to say, I was here before two.

Older Clerk. You want this done same day?

Man. Yes.

Older Clerk. We can do it same day until three.

Pause.

Man.I can see you are in a position of — authority. Why did she — the other lady — say two?

Older Clerk. Who said that? I'll talk to her. We can do same day up until three. (She takes the man's papers.)That’ll be two hundred dollars.

Man. Two hundred? Oh man. Every time I come up here, it’s another twenty five. She told me a hundred seventy five.

Older Clerk. That's not for the same day service. Same day is twenty five extra.

Pause.

Older Clerk. I'll break it down for you, it’s a hundred twenty five for the request, …

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The city that loves you back

Sandwich dispute turns deadly for Brewerytown deli worker:
The customer said he wanted the sandwich prepared a specific way, which irritated the employee, who said he did not need to be told how to make a sandwich, according to police. Police said they did not know what type of sandwich was being prepared.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Warranty rhymes with free

So the problem was the hard drive. And they must have been right, because here's what happened. They put in a new hard drive, and then it didn't work because there was a problem with the RAM. So they fixed the RAM. And since I had a new hard drive, my computer worked again. I'm glad they figured out I needed a new hard drive.

UPDATE 10/21: I should have titled this post "I'm glad they didn't have to fix the logic board."

Thursday, October 06, 2005

I changed my mind.

I'm all for evolution. Although really I'm more of a Murphy's man, myself.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

It was Col. Panic, in the computer room, with a monkey wrench

I don’t talk about them much, but I have strong opinions about human-computer interface design. I am also a lifelong Macintosh aficionado, and I believe that Apple Human Interface Guidelines: The Apple Desktop Interface (1987) is a neglected classic.

One of the original ideas for the Mac was that it would be an "appliance" computer, whose users would exclusively experience its simple graphical/spatial "surface" rather than its complicated digital/linear innards. Over the years, Apple has leapt through hoops to maintain the illusion of simplicity, even though its modern operating system has Unix under the hood, making it achingly nerd-worthy.

Although this illusion is often beneficial and even elegant, many computer-savvy people interpret it as condescension. I think this feeling of being condescended to is the source of much of the hatred of Macs that's out there. Although I generally disapprove of that response, let me tell you now: Sometimes, I understand how they feel.

Case in point, the following error message, which has been showing up on my Powerbook at boot:



It would be polite to call this a "headscratcher." Now, it turns out that this screen indicates something known as a kernel panic, a Unix term for a certain rare kind of system error. The interesting thing is that Apple has changed the error message. In earlier versions of OS X, a kernel panic caused potentially useful diagnostic information to be displayed, like this:



The information previously displayed is now logged to an obscure location (especially unhelpful if, as in my case, it is impossible to boot the computer and read the logfile). Fitting into bad Apple stereotypes like a huckster into a plaid suit, this change (a) prettied things up while (b) hiding any useful information and (c) stating the infuriatingly obvious. We mustn't frighten the users.

You can witness the evolution here. Myself, I'd prefer some intelligent design.