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Below are the 3 most recent journal entries recorded in Intellectuals Anonymous!!!'s LiveJournal:

Tuesday, December 13th, 2005
11:14 pm
Wikipedia Furor...
Um, this is just sad... Slashdot

No time to write much at the moment, but any thoughts?
Saturday, December 10th, 2005
6:12 pm
White on Black Text and the Perils of Insulting the Users Intelligence
At the dawn of time, computers were equipped with relatively primitive (by today's standards) monochrome CRT screens. And all consoles were, sensibly, white on black. Now far be it for me to guess exactly why they decided to do it that way, suffice to say this was right for a couple of simple technical reasons:
  • Due to the nature of older phosphor coating it probably made sense to light as few points at a time as possible to avoid excessive screen burn in.

  • Besides the above, the scanning algorithm to display the positive image of a character may have just simpler than to display the negative.

Bear in mind that I am just speculating above. Nevertheless while the above may or may not be valid technical reasons there is one glaringly obvious physiological one... eye strain. Staring at a bright white screen is just downright painful, especially for somebody like me who spends a lot of time in front of computers and has pretty sensitive eyes in the first place, I can't even go outdoors without sunglasses.

The question therefore becomes: Why in the hell are most user interfaces now black on white? Why the hell must I constantly be plagued by text editors intent on searing my corneas? Heck, some of them even give dozens of options to manipulate every single aspect of text font and colour except background colour!!! WHY!!!

Well, I for one blame WYSIWIG. It's this goddam desire to make computers "user-friendly " and "easy-to-use" which leads to most of the confusion and pain for computer users in general. I don't bloody well want my word processor to emulate a piece of paper because I am not friggin' typing on a piece of paper. Paper is white because bleaching is infinitely cheaper and easier than dying paper black. And black ink is a hell of a lot cheaper and easier to produce than opaque white. The same does not apply for computers though, they can just as easily display whatever colour they want, so why the hell is everything so bright? Most of the time with no option to change.

As I was saying, I have this niggling feeling that it is the unstated yet powerful design goal to make computer things seem analogous to "everyday items" like paper, filing cabinets, desktops, rubbish bins, mailboxes and so on. What this inevitably means is that users begin to believe the lies, which inevitably leads to confusion when the often highly condescending metaphors begin to break down. This leads to a user interface arms race, with designers, and unfortunately coders as well, constantly striving to cram in more pretty bells and whistles - while neglecting to actually harden up the underlying system - and users leaning more and more on the flimsy crutches provided until inevitably something gives and disaster strikes. Just ask the next dumb user where they saved the important document they were just working on, they probably won't have a clue, you had just better hope My Documents doesn't pull some ridiculous stunt and hide you files all over the place. Hopefully they didn't wave the mouse around and click too much of it could conceivably be in almost any path. Want more? Just look at these tales .

I believe everyday computer users will continue to be frightened by computers and abuse them in ever more creative and stunning ways so long as this constant emphasis is placed on trying to wrap everything up in silly gui metaphors. At some point people have to actually knuckle down and learn a few basic principles and they will find themselves greatly empowered and able to go more than ten minutes without blowing away an appendage or two.

End of Part One. Stay tuned for my riveting expose of why I believe the command line is still the superior computer interface and mastery of it should be required before users are allowed to graduate to using guis. Also in Part Two: Why WYSIWIG sucks and the merits of a proper typesetting language a la Latex.
Tuesday, November 29th, 2005
10:53 pm
So last night I was listening to the radio, NPR from from America to be precise. Two items really stood out. The first was all about the issue of border control and some hare-brained wall-building scheme or other, and the second was about legislation regarding abortion with all the usual nonsense being bandied about by the pro-whatnots. Now before I go any further I would like to make the following thing very clear:

*This post is not about either border control or abortion!*

These are both the kind of topics which get more than enough hot air pumped out and neither is really worth anybody's time or effort discussing here. So zip it.

Anyway what struck me about the treatment of these two topics was the overall attitudes and worldviews expressed by the various protagonists. Actually let's face it this was public radio, everybody was an antagonist. With regards to the border control it was something to the effect of: "Well we can't have people coming here and working without papers so we are going to clamp down on employers taking on illegals over the Mexican border" yadda yadda yadda. Interestingly there was no explicit logical appeal such as "They are stealing out jobs" or anything, it was pretty much just "Well that's the law, we can't have people working without papers". I'm sure anybody can fill in details for themselves about border crossing and immigrant labour and the poor in South America etc. And the abortion issue, well I'm sure you know exactly what was said on both sides so I won't repeat it, it's been done to death many many times over.

Anyway what struck me in both these cases was the underlying general assumption that the speakers held that they in fact had any say whatsoever over other peoples lives. Think about that phrase carefully for a moment... Does that uppity guy in Texas or Colarado or wherever really have any say in whether or not some poor (in both senses of the word) mexican is allowed to come and work for a living on the other side of some imaginary line in the dirt? Of course there are laws against it we all know that, but fundamentally where do people get this notion that they have any right to say what other people can or cannot do? Take the abortion. Now the whole country's population must be prevented from having access to abortion because a few religious nuts say so (again this is NOT an invitation to discuss the merits of abortion, I know perfectly well that I am glibly skipping over complex topics but it is all in aid of a completely different point so sit tight and read on).

All of these concepts stem from a very fundamental view of the world, one where people believe there is this need for there to be "laws" so everybody knows what is "right" and we can punish the "bad" etc. Essentially people believe that because a whole bunch of them supposedly elected some other arbitrary person or persons to be there "leader" in a democracy, they now personally have a say, however tiny, in everybody else's lives. You now have this magical power where by "exercising your vote" you can have some minuscule effect on the lives of everybody else who lives within that tract of dirt you call a country. Why?

The fact of the matter is that the concept that people normally refer to as "government" is only allowed to exist because it doesn't interfere too much with everyday life. In as much as it does interfere, it is totally, and rightly, ignored.

Take traffic laws. I often walk with people in car parks. Some people gladly walk around without taking the slightest heed of the large chunks of metal moving around them because "pedestrians have right of way". No. Some piece of paper in a government archive somewhere has some words to this effect. This piece of paper is however totally wrong. It fails to acknowledge the fact that people don't run over cars. But people like to trust it because it makes there life simpler. More black and white. Less thought is needed if the "law" says that you can hapilly walk in front of cars and they will always stop for you. And so it is with much of the law. People like to have it because it makes them feel safe, but in reality it is only a collection of words on paper. You still have to think for yourself at some point.

I know I may be rambling a bit and it is getting pretty late so I am going to give it a break for now. I hope I haven't said anything too stupid and I apologise for not putting a bit more effort into structure, perhaps if anybody would like to chip in some editing that would be great.

How's that for a topic equusaustralus?

Current Mood: high and mighty
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