October 2012

Volume 27 Number 10

Don't Get Me Started - Brain Droppings

By David Platt | October 2012

David PlattOver the course of a year many ideas occur to me that are important, but aren’t substantial enough to merit a full column. I’ve collected these thoughts here, in the inaugural edition of what will be my annual “Brain Droppings” column. I plan to make this a pillar of my editorial year (the other being, of course, my April Fool’s Day column). Use the comment feature on the Web site to tell me which of the following ideas resonate with you.

Many computer games display the elapsed time on their victory screens, for example, “Congratulations, you solved the puzzle in 12 minutes 15 seconds.” Suppose instead it said, “Congratulations, you just wasted 12:15 of your life that you’ll never get back again. Nice work, doofus.”

Microsoft Word didn’t recognize the word “doofus” in the previous sentence.

The mechanical hard disk is now dead. Solid-state drives rule. But do we still have to call them disks, even though they’re not circular anymore?

I was a physics major as an undergraduate, so I’m following the Higgs boson discovery with some interest. I once asked a high-­energy physicist what he’d do when they finally found everything in the atom. He thought a second, then said: “First, we have one hell of a party. And then we all go look for new jobs.”

I’ve had enough. The next time I sit in a presentation and the speaker just reads off his PowerPoint bullets, I’m going to call him on it. In the middle of his session, publicly and brutally. Make sure that speaker isn’t you. Read my March 2011 column (msdn.microsoft.com/magazine/gg650665) for starters.

It should not take four Windows processes to run a graphics adapter, but Intel on my ThinkPad does: igfxpers, igfxtray, hkcmd, igfxsrvc. Guys, get with it, OK?

Here are two things I teach my daughters: Anything worth doing is worth overdoing. And anything worth fighting for is worth fighting dirty for.

When Microsoft Word upgraded versions some time ago, the desktop icon changed from a freestanding light-blue W to a dark-blue W with a box around it. An IT director once told me: “I have 60,000 users in my admin space. Do you have any idea how long it takes and how much it costs me to tell 60,000 people that the thing they used to get from the light-blue W they now get from the dark-blue W with the box around it? I wish I could send Microsoft the bill for my cost of just that one change.”

I cringe every time I see a new technology intended for use by the driver of a car. It’s not just the Ford SYNC that runs on Microsoft Windows Embedded Automotive (“Would you like today’s horoscope? What’s your sign?” My reply: “Caution, Merging Traffic”). This is a problem everywhere. How about we use today’s technology to help the driver do a better job of not killing himself and others, instead of distracting him even more? Like short-­circuiting the driver’s cell phone so it doesn’t ring, and automatically replying, “Sorry, he’s busy driving now. I’ll have him call you as soon as he stops.” In fact, every design meeting on automotive technology should close with the question, “Are the design decisions we’ve just made going to kill more people or fewer?”

The official kilogram seems to be losing mass. I’d be lying if I said I was losing a lot of sleep over this.

If you say, “We’ll just train the users,” you’re barking up the wrong tree. Go back and figure out how to build your app so that it will just work.

I’d like to remove the function MessageBox from the Windows API. It’s just too easy to pop up a box saying, “Error 15. You’re toast. [OK],” instead of making the effort to explain the problem in terms of the user’s mental model, not the program’s implementation model. Better yet, figure out how to avoid that error in the first place.

David S. Platt teaches programming .NET at Harvard University Extension School and at companies all over the world. He’s the author of 11 programming books, including “Why Software Sucks” (Addison-Wesley Professional, 2006) and “Introducing Microsoft .NET” (Microsoft Press, 2002). Microsoft named him a Software Legend in 2002. He wonders whether he should tape down two of his daughter’s fingers so she learns how to count in octal. You can contact him at rollthunder.com.