Tag Archives: technology - Page 3

Changing My Tune With A New Band

I posted before about the recent death and dismemberment of the Microsoft Band.  I had pretty much given up on fitness tracking and fitness in general about a year ago.  In that time, as you might expect with someone not as young anymore, with more health issues than none, it had a detrimental effect on my wellbeing.

Without dwelling on the negative aspects of that situation, I powered back on again.  With a new blog tagline to lead the way, I began mentally preparing myself for change.  Positive change, I mean.  I’ve had plenty of other changes already.  Along the way, I happened to see something about a high-feature, low-cost fitness tracker, the Huawei Band 3 Pro.  Very interesting.

In my mind, I was just imagining it as the next version of the MS Band (which stopped at v2), but the design was more standard – no extra bits in the strap and clasp.  But, it did have the one feature that kept me from immediately replacing my MS Band – built in GPS.  And the price was about 25% what I paid for my last MS Band.  And it’s waterproof, which doesn’t mean much to me, but might for others.

I bit the bullet the other day and ordered one, in blue of course.  I’ll be able to use it this weekend.  In the meantime, I’ve begun walking on work breaks again, which is something that ended with the departure of AK, right around the time I gave up on my Band.  Of course I would begin this just as the furnace of summer heat is kicking on.  But a start is a start; building momentum and all that shit.

So, to remember a little about my last post, I’m putting my trust in a new company to let me use their hardware and software for as long as I can.  Will the hardware outlast the software this time?  We’ll have to see.  At least I won’t have paid too much for the experiment.

I Made It Work Again

Over the weekend, I made a roadtrip in the interest of thrift shopping.  It was a generally easy-going, low-stress trip that turned up plenty of CDs, mostly smooth-sided cases.  Along the way, I also picked up an early CD player, 30 years old, for $7.  I figured it would be interesting to have an opportunity to experience newer and older players and see if I could determine sonic differences between them.  The price was good, so why not?

When I got it home and fired it up, I found out why not.  It wasn’t operational.  When powered up, it would immediately eject the CD tray.  Pushing the close button did nothing.  If you pulled the tray out a little further, the close button would work, but after a second or two, the tray would eject again.  Huh.

My first thought was that there were some sensors that were dirty.  The ones that tell the player when the tray is fully opened or fully closed.  It seemed like something I could fix.  So I opened the case and disassembled the tray assembly.  I didn’t really see any sensors like I expected.  I did see a pressure switch that would toggle when the drawer was open or closed.  Opening and closing the drawer, I could see that when closing, the switch was not being contacted.  I think I was on the right track here.

Considering why the drawer wouldn’t close fully, I had a memory of a web page I had read about CD player troubleshooting and the primary takeaway was that the great majority of player failures can be fixed by replacing the drive belts.  I inspected the drawer assembly and found only a single belt.  It seemed to be in good condition, maybe a little loose, I don’t really know.  But I figured I could change it out easily and maybe that would do it.

I ordered a pack of various sized belts from Amazon and they arrived the next day.  Without too much trouble, I installed a new belt of near the same size, maybe a little smaller.  The reassembly was a little sketchy since I wasn’t exactly sure where to set the gear so that the open/closed pressure switch would get hit in both directions.  But for my first test, the drawer stayed closed when I powered on, which it should because the switch indicated the door was closed.  I pushed the open/close button and the drawer ejected.  I checked the switch and it indicated the drawer was fully open.  I pushed the open/close button again at the drawer closed.  Then I saw something I hadn’t seen in previous attempts: the laser lens moved up and down trying to focus on a non-existent CD.  And the drawer stayed closed.  I ejected the tray and put a CD in.  I closed the tray and the CD spun up.  I pressed play, the CD spun and the display counted up the time.  I fixed it!

That’s a plenty good feeling to repair something so easily, just a single part replacement and the part was a tiny piece of rubber.

From The New To The Old

Looking back, the last couple of years has been actually a pretty big upheaval in my media consumption world.  Starting it off, on Black Thursday in 2016, I got televisions.  For ages, I had an old tube TV I never watched.  And that was interesting for a while.  I never did much with it.

A few months later after getting these TVs, I got a game system – a Wii.  Snicker all you want, but it was, and occasionally still is, fun.  If nothing else, it gave the TV a reason to exist.  A few months after that, I bought a couple of Roku sticks, which I plugged into the TV, giving the TV more reason to exist.  Finally, this year, I implemented the Plex server on my network, so I can stream music to the Rokus that are on the TVs.  And all this time, I’ve had a old home theater system with a 5-disc DVD changer and VCR, with 5.1 speakers.

Despite having all this possibility, things are kind of a mess.  The biggest problem is the sound system.  If I watch the Roku or listen to Plex through the Roku, I can only get sound through the TV speakers.  If I watch a DVD, I have to mute the TV speakers because it doubles the HT 5.1 system.  If I play the Wii, I have to turn on the HT system and mute the TV.

The root problem is that the TV needs to be the center hub of all video and audio and the audio from the TV needs to be routed to the HT system.  Because the HT system is downstream from the TV, if the HT system is serving audio and video back to the TV, it will short circuit the audio path and playback will perform as expected.

So, evaluating my options, I have two older components that need integrated with a newer component.  In this case, the TV will be the hub for audio and video, but the Wii and the HT system are only analog.  This affects the signal path in two places.  I only have one analog input to my TV, so either the Wii or the HT system will have to have the signal converted from component (RCA) to HDMI.  Then, the only audio output from the TV is digital optical, so I need another conversion from optical (SPDIF) to RCA.  Upconverting one direction and downconverting the other.  Ridiculous.

Finally, I’m not entirely sure the digital output from the TV will be unmixed, meaning that if I turn the TV speakers off, or mute them or turn down the volume, will the digital signal still be sent or will it be muted?

The optimistic end result is that audio from all sources: Roku/Plex, Wii, and DVD will all go through the HT speaker system’s Aux input.  When a DVD is played, the HT system will still play through the speakers and when the DVD is not played, it should return to Aux.  Maybe I’ll have to change the input on the HT remote.

Fortunately, the converters aren’t very expensive, less than $15 each.  Here’s to hoping it all works…

Migrating Music

I had mentioned in my last post that I was testing out the possibilities of streaming my music collection throughout my house and elsewhere.  The experiment has been pretty successful and I believe the cat is all the happier for it.  Some of the “phase 2” features I’ve been digging into haven’t been as easy to implement as I would have hoped, but there’s no rush on any of those.  But in the process of learning and applying, I made what could be considered a radical change to my music collection.

In long-ago posts, I’d talked about ripping my CDs to MP3, then re-ripping them in WMA Lossless only to delete it all and keep my MP3s.  Then the light bulb came on and I re-ripped them again to WMA Lossless and have kept that library for years now.  It’s grown to nearly 450GB and has served me well all this time.

Why WMA Lossless?  Well, I was in the Zune ecosystem all that time.  The Zune software was compatible with WMA and it was the only way to get lossless files onto the players.  For many years the open source crows have been squawking, “FLAC! FLAC, FLAC!” and I have been ignoring them.  Because of Zune, of course, but also, all the available FLAC music players sucked.

But finally, Microsoft caved to the pressure and built FLAC support into Windows 10, and the Groove player also now supports FLAC.  I still had my WMA library and was fine with it.  But in reality, I didn’t really use the Zune software much anymore, I just used VLC (which supports FLAC) instead. 

During my experimentation with Plex, I enjoyed a neat little feature that lets you see the current server activity.  That means I can watch the living room TV’s stream and see what song my cat is currently listening to.  Something that caught my attention on that screen was a status that said “Transcoding WMALOSSLESS to AAC”.  This was mildly concerning.  It meant that my media server was spending extra CPU converting my media files to a format the Roku on the TV could handle.  My server is pretty beefy, so like I say, it was only mildly concerning.  However, when I streamed my library to the GF’s Roku on her TV, I experienced some slight dropouts or other minor disruptions in the audio.  I wasn’t sure if this was a bandwidth problem or a conversion problem.  I read up a little on FLAC and it seemed FLAC might be a better choice for efficient decoding and possibly for streaming.

I gave this a little consideration.  If I converted my entire library to FLAC, it’s likely I wouldn’t need to do any transcoding anymore.  I could still play my files with VLC or Groove or Plex – no more Zune devices.  Is there really any downside anymore?  And so, I downloaded a program to batch convert my entire collection to FLAC.  It was about 4 hours of processing time, which actually isn’t too bad.  All the metadata was preserved (and some bad data was exposed along the way).  And I saved about 50GB of drive space, too.  I deleted my old WMA files and replaced them all with FLAC.

Because my collection was all new files, I had to refresh the Plex database, which probably means I’ll have to clean up the artwork again, but that’s fine.  I also need to rebuild the playlists I’d been curating, which is more of a bummer, but hopefully it’s a chance to do it better this time.  I quickly recreated the cat’s playlist and when I streamed it to the TV this morning, the activity monitor in Plex stated “Direct Play”.  No more transcoding – success!

Because I’m generally a contrarian, it hurts just a tiny bit to fall in with the FLAC crowd, because they’ve always been a bit pompous, like “if you’re not using FLAC, you’re an idiot” in the same way Linux people tout the wonders of their chosen OS.  But, the solution is working and I can’t complain about that.  So, now I have an Android phone and a music collection in FLAC.  I suppose the next thing I need to do is start coding in PHP and Angular.JS.

He Just Snapped

Just so we’re clear where I’m coming from, I’m old.  In Internet years, I’m a fossil.  But I am an active user of technology, so I do have at least a small idea of what’s going on in the world.  Because of my age, a lot of things fall into the “I don’t understand this” bucket.  Not because I don’t understand how to use it, it’s more an issue of why would you use it.

I’ve only recently gotten into the modern phone game (meaning Android), having been a Windows Phone user for its limited lifespan.  And I recall one must-have app that caused a lot of WP users to move on to Android or iPhone – Snapchat.  So when I did upgrade to a can-do mobile OS, I was sure to install and utilize Snapchat.  Snapchat falls so hard into the “I don’t understand this” bucket, it punches a hole through the bottom.

First, the app offends me from a technical perspective.  I do understand that all modern applications have eschewed any form of friendly UI design and that design quality is called “clean” or “immersive”.  That design style involves removing all identifying command buttons, so you have mystery navigation where you have to randomly tap and swipe to figure out what the apps capabilities are. This app is no different.  Resource-wise, Snapchat is a killer.  I will give this a pass because the real-time video filters are impressive.  But, man, it hurts my phone.

Next, the app offends me as a photographer.  Here is the full text of their website home page:

Snap Inc. is a camera company.

We believe that reinventing the camera represents our greatest opportunity to improve the way people live and communicate.

We contribute to human progress by empowering people to express themselves, live in the moment, learn about the world, and have fun together.

I am painfully aware that the word “photography” is not used anywhere in that manifesto.  And if you wanted to take issue with my issue about Snapchat offending me as a photographer, you could use that against me.  But for the main populace, a camera is the gateway to photography.  And photography is about recording a moment in time.  And what does Snapchat do?  It makes photos that disappear.  That’s the opposite of photography.

An advertisement for Snapchat says: “It’s a camera for talking because a Snap says more than a text.” This is probably true in the sense that a picture is worth a thousand words.  But if that picture disappears, your words have been lost.  You have said nothing of value.  The ad also says, “So, yeah, Snapchat is a camera—where how you feel matters more than how you look.”  This is clearly a dig at Instagram.  I have read elsewhere that Snapchat is intended to be used spontaneously instead of having heavily “produced” photos like those in Instagram.  But that goes back to recording a moment.  You plan and produce an Instagram shot to capture a mood (or feeling) to be shared. So yeah, Snapchat is a camera, where how you look or feel doesn’t matter.

Next, the app offends me as a communicator.  If you haven’t noticed, I blog.  I also email and text.  When I write something, I am creating something.  It’s meant to persist.  And what happens in Snapchat?  It doesn’t.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s a picture or a chat, it’s all disposable.  It’s “living in the moment” as Snap wants you to.  It’s a YO-fucking-LO, get out of jail free card, where your past can’t be brought up to hold you accountable for your actions.  At the same time, it’s an admission that you don’t matter.  The things you create are not worth permanence.  The past is useless and there is no reason to preserve it.  How depressing.  And maybe that’s how things are for the youth of today.

But how about those filters?  I said, they are impressive.  It’s a very clever use of technology, but it’s also pointless.  The issues I take with Snapchat dovetail nicely with the filters.  “…How you feel matters more than how you look.”  Oh really?  I’m going to call bullshit on an app that distorts every face into an anime-grade caricature, smoothing out skin blemishes, enlarging eyes, contouring cheeks – it’s all about how you look.

But it doesn’t really matter anyway, because it’s all transitory.  The silly augmentation filters, while good for a laugh today, are going to be the MySpace embarrassment of the future, if any images manage to survive.  Wait and see.

Expired Insurance

My computer is down.  Well, one of my computers is down – the main one, the desktop, the one I do all my serious stuff on (even blogging).  My house has been a hotbox for some time now and until the new AC unit gets installed, there’s not a whole lot I can do.

When I came home last night, I shook the mouse to wake things up.  I hit the keyboard.  I noticed everything was strangely quiet.  I pushed the power button on the tower.  Getting annoyed, I pushed the power on the UPS.  Nothing is starting up.  And it comes to me quickly, then.  The power supply is dead.  It’s not an uncommon occurrence and it’s one that most people don’t give much consideration.  But not me.  I’ve had times when my power supply dies and it becomes a scramble to get a new one to get back up and running quickly.

And the last time it happened, I said I wasn’t going to be scrambling anymore, so I bought a spare power supply and left it in its box in the closet.  If my computer ever decided to crap out again, ha.  I was going to bring it right back.

But that night, I just wasn’t in the mood.  I had settled down with a nice snack at my desk and was munching on the apple slices staring at my dead tower.  In my head, I ran through the hassle of changing the power unit.  Not only all the cords and cables plugged into the back of the tower, but all the wire runs and connections inside the tower, too.  I continued to eat apple slices and procrastinate as much as possible, because I just wanted to do stuff.  Not that stuff.

Finally, I got down on the floor and started yanking cables out the back.  Might as well get this over with.  I took the tower out to the kitchen where there’s good light and a big work surface.  Popped the case open and started unrouting all the power cables.  Inside the case was a collection of dust, which is expected and was all cleaned out.  Ready to go?  Let’s start the bullshit of putting in the replacement.

I went to the closet, fished out the spare power supply and noticed, huh, it’s a 430 watt unit.  The one I just took out is a 500 watt.  Part of me was concerned because I did have a lot of hard drives in the tower, along with other modern pieces that might use a lot of power.  But it should be fine.  It will probably be at its limit, though.

I open the box and pull the new power supply out and take it to the tower.  Then I see that this just isn’t going to work.  The power supply was too old for my tower.  When I bought the power supply, which was many years ago, the power standards were different.  I wouldn’t be able to power my hard drives with this power supply.

The replacement power supply had a bunch of:

 256px-molex_female_connectorwhen I really needed a bunch of:sata-hard-drive-power-cable-connector

So I was stuck.  Off to Amazon to buy two new power supplies: one for now and one for later.  Am I dumb for possibly getting myself stuck in the same situation next time?  I don’t think so.  It’s just an insurance policy.  You may never use it, but you pay for it in the rare event you need it.  Some people carry spare tires in their car.  I don’t have anything in my car and luckily have never needed it.  The one time I had a flat, I filled the tire up and drove the car really slowly to the service center.  If the situation’s ever really bad, I’ll just call roadside assistance from my insurance company.

But anyway, this time, my insurance policy was expired.  I tried to cash in on the policy and it was invalid.  So I bought another policy.  It will be in tomorrow.

All Things Must Pass

It was a little over a year ago that I knew my phone was obsolete.  I was one of the few, brave Windows Phone users remaining and Microsoft had announced that there was a Samsung Android phone being sold as a “Microsoft Edition”.  That simply meant the phone was preloaded with all the MS Android apps and you could get assistance on using it at a Microsoft store.  Whee.

And this change was a surprise, but not really so, since there was a Microsoft division that was doing nothing but writing nice software for Android and iOS and not writing anything for Windows Phone.  The up-and-coming mobile powerhouse apps hadn’t been developing for Windows Phone for a very long time.  But none of that was a concern for me, since all I needed was a way to call, text, read email, and browse the web when I was bored.  And play Solitaire. A Windows Phone did all that just fine.  Until it didn’t.  And that became infuriating, because I don’t ask much from my phone.

Early in my WP days, I used to visit Yahoo’s news site, but then Yahoo changed something and the pages started locking up, where I couldn’t scroll anymore.  So, I switched to MSN and happily used their news site for many years.  Recently, though, an odd bug started happening.  After a minute or so on a page, the page would reload, sending me back to the top of the article.  And it would happen again a minute or so later.  And again.  Then the browser would literally give up.  It would display this message:

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Now, there’s a message to piss off your users.  “We’re having trouble so we’re not going to try anymore.”  And when you clicked Back, you didn’t return to the previous page, your history was wiped out and you went back to the Start page.  Keep in mind, this is a Microsoft device, using a Microsoft web browser on a Microsoft website.  And it doesn’t work.  I’ve determined the root cause of the bug is the advertisements injected into the page by script, but without any ad-blocker or other customizations, a fix is out of my control.

Another recent shutdown Microsoft did was of Zune>XBox Music>Groove Music.  I don’t use streaming services, so I didn’t think it was a big deal.  But I also didn’t think it was going to affect Cortana’s music search feature (which is like Shazam).  I searched for a song recently and I got:

wp_ss_20180427_0001

Good job finding that song.

So that’s it.  I made up my mind I’m going to do what Microsoft wants me to do, switch to Android.  Now, where before I had a few available models of Windows Phone, I now have a choice of probably thousands of phones.  Which one should I get?  As a creature of habit, I chose a new model from an old company.  The Nokia 6.1.

Soon, I’m going to be able to be up-to-date on all the apps.  I can start collecting rewards from stores and restaurants.  I can start tracking this and that through apps.  I can use any fitness tracker I want.  I can play games – all the games.  I won’t have to get all pissed off and feel left out when I see:

image

And hopefully, I can browse a goddamn web site without the pages reloading until the browser just shits the bed.

I ordered the phone on Amazon for all of $287, which I think is pretty cheap.  What do current phones go for now?  A good place to buy Android phones is the Microsoft Store.  Let’s see.  5 models for sale:  1 Windows Phone (out of stock), 3 Android Samsungs, and 1 Android Razor.  They are priced from $699 to $929.  Nope, I will not be getting any of those.  I don’t need a $1000 Solitaire game device.

Back To The 90’s

In the 90’s, the meteoric rise of the Internet and mobile technology ushered in the age of communication.  This caused a massive increase in the ways we were able to communicate.  We had mobile phone calls and texting for offline communications, then online, we had email, IRC, IM, Usenet, message boards, and some others.  Every single one of these had their best use cases.  Some endured, and some faded out.

20-some odd years later, what does the landscape look like?  Texting has endured offline, and online, it seems like things have coalesced around FB Messenger, Snapchat, and WhatsApp.  The individual messenger apps of old, like AIM, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo! Messenger had faded away.  The new breed of messenger is part of a larger social platform, where your friends and other contacts gather.

It’s no big revelation that there are some privacy concerns with joining a social media platform, which is one reason I ditched them en masse many years ago.  And each time I hear something come up about Facebook, I am just grateful I left when I did.  But that also means that I am cut off from any social communication – well, cut off from any on that particular platform.  Snapchat is a little closer to a peer-to-peer communication client, but still has this concept of a “wall”, where you blast out your life to the world.  That’s not what I’m looking for.

In a parallel world, there has been a growing concern over our IM client at work.  We all understood that all our chats were logged and could be reviewed at any time, but as time went on, it felt like it was a growing liability.  A transition to a new chat client sort of increased that paranoia.

In my personal, parallel word, the GF and I were growing weary of Skype.  The application was unreliable and felt like it was constantly doing updates.  One time, I answered an incoming call, and Skype decided to do an update right then, hanging up the call and shutting down to update itself.  That’s some bullshit, there.

So, with a desire to have simple person-to-person chats, a IM client external to work, and something more stable, led me to revisit an old, old, old IM client: ICQ.  I found my original login information from an old backup and correctly guessed my password from 20 years ago.

It’s hard to believe how the chat landscape has changed.  Windows/Live/MSN Messenger is completely gone.  AIM is gone as well.  Yahoo messenger is still around, but… Yahoo.  ugh.  Staying away from FB, because it’s just a big ad server.  There’s not much left.  It seems the big chat client independent of a social media site is Jabber, which isn’t really a chat platform, it’s a chat client for the XMPP chat protocol.  I did enough research into it to determine it’s just a step too far into geekdom.  I was looking for a plug and play solution, and ICQ fit the bill.

For my work needs, that is, to chat without the company logging our conversations, ICQ was as simple as it could get and although the interface is a little bulky, it accomplishes its goals.  Its simplicity meant it was quickly adopted and used.

For my personal needs – getting rid of Skype – it is actually superior.  The one thing that the GF and I do regularly is video call on Skype.  And I just want to say that a single great feature on one client can completely eliminate the other option.  In this case, during a brief video chat test, I found ICQ’s split screen view.  Skype always keeps your video in a tiny window tucked in the corner of your caller’s video screen.  And if the Skype client isn’t focused, your caller’s video is shrunk down to a tiny window and stuck in the corner of your monitor.

Maybe that works for most people, but when I experienced the split screen view, it was a game changer.  That is the view that I always thought should be used, but I’d never experienced it before.

Minty Fresh

It’s been four years since my last attempt at creating a bare minimum Linux Internet machine.  I figured I would give it another try.  All my previous attempts were either failures, or they left me with a laptop that I didn’t know what to do with.

This time, I am creating a travel laptop that is just for Internet.  And for anything else, I’ll connect to my home machine with TeamViewer.  So that limits the installs I have to make down to:

  • Web browser – Now that I use Vivaldi for everything, I don’t have to worry about the differences between IE and whatever else I have available on Linux.
  • KeePass – I need to log in to websites, of course.  And the KeePass database is held in the cloud, which means I need…
  • DropBox – I had the foresight to use DropBox instead of OneDrive when I first set up KeePass.  Although there are OneDrive clients for Linux, none are official MS products.
  • IM – A chat client for keeping in touch when I am on the road.
  • VLC – For playing music and videos.  Fortunately, it is cross-platform.
  • Some image viewer – Still evaluating which one to use…

And that’s all.  I’m pretty much in Netbook territory here, but this is a spare laptop and I should make some use out of it.  It won’t be my bedside laptop, since I need some other software there that isn’t Linux friendly.  But anyway, this post is about Linux Mint.

In my prior adventures with Linux, both Ubuntu and Mint, the install process and compatibility issues were an absolute clusterfuck.  This time around, I blindly installed the latest Mint version on a USB stick and ran with it.  The Mint OS loaded up without a single hiccup and I had sound and network in the Live CD desktop.  That is a very positive sign.  So without any other testing, I chose to install the OS, completely erasing the hard drive.  That’s usually when things go south, but to my amazement, within 15 minutes of starting this whole process, I was on a functional Mint desktop with no strange errors, warnings, or bugs.

I started right away downloading and installing the software I needed, which wasn’t much.  I learned quickly what worked well and what I should not bother investigating further.  Some things I will eventually need to learn more about – the things that Windows makes so easy, like setting a program to launch at startup.  Some things involving permissions were a pain, but I also have an appreciation for security, so it’s ok.

And now, I’m writing this post on my Mint laptop, connected to my Windows desktop via TeamViewer.  It’s been almost pleasant.  And while I still can’t recommend Ubuntu or Mint to a neophyte, because I wouldn’t be able to assist them if they had issues, I applaud the Linux teams for the progress they have made in the four years since I last attempted this experiment.

The Worst Developer

I think it’s a universal truth that no matter where you work, you hate the software that you have to use.  And it’s even more true when that software is written internally, meaning not store-bought or otherwise 3rd party.  As someone who writes this type of software that everyone hates, I can understand the frustrations.  But this story is about the software that I didn’t write, but was written by and for the company I was working for.

The particular software was primarily written by one person, who had been with the company since the start, which was decades.  I was supposed to create the software that would replace it, but the company went under before that came to fruition.  However, I did have enough of an opportunity to shed a ray of hope that better things were coming, at least software-wise.

The purpose of this maligned software was order entry and contact management.  It was used by the sales force to create quotes, sales, credit memos, and also to track membership for the company’s special program.  For as long as I could discern, there was friction between the sales team and management.  Aside from mutual distrust, there was also resentment in that the company wanted to micromanage how things were done on the floor.

The company came up with a very precise, very specific way of selling from which no one was to deviate.  And the software was written entirely to enforce that specific methodology.  The people on the sales floor obviously didn’t subscribe to this methodology and simply felt that they were being treated as human robots, without any free will to conduct the sales transaction in the way they felt comfortable doing.  The software developer constantly complained that the users were not using the software correctly and were always figuring out loopholes, which became bugs.

I have a lasting impression from my first few days working there when I was in training for that software.  That impression was validated by another user near the end of my time at the company.  After sitting through the training session, I felt like a complete idiot.  I didn’t understand anything.  Nothing made sense.  And it was all because the software was written so terribly.  And that feeling made me question my capabilities for working at that company.  I tried to reassure myself that it was just because I was unfamiliar with the industry, but the user that confirmed my feelings was an industry pro and couldn’t understand the software either.

There were many issues that I took with the software.  The first was the ridiculous color scheme and color choices throughout.  It screamed “amateur”, and when I’ve been formally trained to write professional business software, this was not acceptable.  Required fields were highlighted – in yellow.  And not pastel yellow, the eye-bleeding danger yellow.

image

Taking that issue further, there were many dialogs that used “folksy” language.  There was no “Cancel” button.  Instead, you had a “Forget It” button.  Unless it was a “Never Mind” button (which has a keyboard shortcut of Alt-V, because Alt-N to suggest “No” would be too much for a user to understand).

image2 image1

You had an option to “Undo Previous Whoops” on a dialog that asked specifically, “What Do You Want To Do?”

image3

Here’s some messages the application could pop up:

  • Programmer Goof – Trying to use Add code for something else!
  • This Credit Memo will result in a net credit to the member of $x.xx. Is this what you intended?
  • Does Member desire a refund check from Corporate?
  • Is this Credit Memo being created to "Undo" this Sales Order as though it never existed?
  • Whoops — too many windows are open.  Close some windows and try again.
  • You have tried to pick up more than was ordered. Please RTFS and re-enter valid amount in correct box. (The application’s name started with “F”, which was a convenient out if he was ever accused of telling the user to “read the fucking screen”.)

I mentioned that the software was written to enforce the sales procedure as defined by the company.  This actually caused a big headache at one point because they changed policy one time which required a lot of code changes to support it.  But anyway, when you would start a new sale or quote, you would be prompted with question after question about how the sales was to take place.  These questions were supposed to be asked to the customer, which would prep the sales form with certain data.  As you would suspect, the questions were all worded folksy and unprofessionally, and most were pointless, only nagging at the sales person to upsell this or that and don’t forget to ask about this.  Some examples:

  • Don’t forget SUNDRIES!!!
  • We’re Pushin’ Cushion!!!
  • How ya gonna Cut it, Glue it and Dress it Up???
  • Whatcha gonna put it on?  How you gonna seal it?
  • What’s gonna keep it down?
  • How you gonna keep it quiet?
  • How you gonna cut it, glue it and finish it off?
  • What’s gonna keep it from slidin’ around?

Because the entire process was so drawn out and pointless, the sales staff started memorizing the keystrokes that would let them fly through the popups and just get to a blank sales form.  The developer, when he learned of this practice, was furious.  They were skipping over all the hard work he put in to make them do their job correctly – the only way to do it correctly.  So he took action.  To keep them from skipping through the screens, he randomized the buttons on the popups.

Yes, it may sound absolutely incredible, but this developer literally made the application more difficult to use on purpose by changing the interface to require the user to read the screen.  What was lost on him was that the user wasn’t reading the questions on the screen, they were only reading the buttons to find out what they had to click next.  And if they misread anything, they got a sales form that wasn’t what they needed and had to start over.

And this developer was very proud of his work.  He had defeated the users.  And that really was his only goal.  Not to make things better; only to win.  And when he wins, everyone else loses.