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Too Much Tech Makes End Users Blink 241

Posted by Roblimo
from the why-Alice-can't-get-DSL-in-Wonderland- dept.
There's a strange, somewhat funny story in The Washington Post today about how technology is probably going to keep outstripping people's ability to deal with it for many decades to come. It's a long piece, but please bear with it to the end; that's where Jaron Lanier (who some credit with inventing the phrase "virtual reality"), whimsically suggests that, in exchange for being granted U.S. copyright protection, commercial software publishers should have to pay users $1 every time their product screws up. "Instead of hunting down people who smoke pot," Lanier says, "they'd be hunting down people who sell business software that crashes. They'd owe people a buck or go to jail. That's what Washington should be doing."
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Too Much Tech Makes End Users Blink

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Finally another person who understands the TRUTH. I always end up having the same argument with Windows and Mac advocates who beleive abstracting and simplifying a computer user interface is somehow making it MORE powerful, when it reality complexity is proportional to functionality. An SUV that can tow a giant boat will have a special interface for the boat that the operator must know and understand in order for it to work well and yet NOONE complains that it is too complex, and yet computer software MUST have some moron-level graphical abstraction even when the user is doing something very specific.. Why *shouldn't* it be hard to use a tool that is designed for a specific job? Why must we pander to the lowest common denominator instead of encouraging and educating people on how to use computers when it is fully in their best interest to use it properly?
  • I think Spider Robinson said it best about programming a VCR (I don't remember the exact phrasing)

    Not only are people unable to set their watch, twice, and then pick a TV channel, they seem to be proud of it!

    ...and setting the clock is even easier. It's just like... SETTING A CLOCK! I don't see what the problem is.

  • If I remember the details correctly, the Boeing 707's early incarnations had a degree of yaw instability. If you let it get into a severe Dutch roll situation (an instability in flight on the yaw axis), the plane could flip, throw off engines, crash.

    The plane was well under control and test pilots were entirely comfortable with its flight envelope- then, some flights training airline pilots turned sour, with inexperienced pilots allowing too much yaw to develop, causing either emergencies or in one case a full-scale crash with fatalities to the flight crew onboard during the training flight.

    Boeing risked being legally put on the spot and took responsibility for redesigning the rudder, giving more yaw authority and making the dangerous situation less easy for an inexperienced pilot to get into. Boeing covered the costs of this itself, and a good thing too.

    I don't see many software vendors even attempting to be as trustworthy. The software company version of this would be changing the trainee pilots' contracts to say "And if the trainee crashes our expensive aircraft, his estate has to pay for the broken plane! Plus we keep his car."

    *spit*

  • I should clarify: the situation was such that the bean-counters and lawyers at Boeing would have rather _not_ taken any sort of action that even hinted that the crash was Boeing's fault. To redesign the rudder would have meant possibly admitting there was something wrong with it in the first place, a bad tactical move, so the lawyers wanted Boeing to stonewall and say "It was the (dead) pilot's fault! You can't give expensive airplanes to loser pilots like that!"

    Again- the rudder got the redesign. There are times when the bean counters and lawyers SHOULD NOT win. That was one of them. In the software industry the bean counters and lawyers always win...

  • Well, the Arianne 4 (maybe 5) was lost because of a programmer error. Periodically, spacecraft will have some sort of hiccup that involves software, though usually non-fatal.

    More importantly, while it's possible to engineer software to much greater tolerance, it's simply not cost-effective to do so. The teams that code for the space shuttle, for example, write code that's about as bug free as mortal man can hope for. If you employed them to write your web browser, however, you'd have to get $100 from every web user for every new version just to break even. The time between sucessive browser generations would skyrocket-- we'd probably still be using Netscape 2. And forget about support for new features in a timely manner.

    All in all, I'd much rather have a free browser today that does a pretty good job of rendering most any page and crashes periodically than a browser that never crashes but was stuck using 6-year-old technology.

    Of course, I'd make the opposite trade off for the software that operates the jet I fly in!

  • That's a good point. In fact, why don't all the clocks set their own time? I received a clock just like this for Christmas from Radio Shack. Nice LCD clock with the date, time, temperature, etc. It sets the clock automatically from the radio signals it picks up. I've checked it against my NTP time sources and it runs perfectly. I suppose the short answer is that it isn't cheap enough to add in this radio circuitry to make it worth it to manufacturers looking to make a profit. Still, most VCR's probably get hooked up to the cable anyway. My cable box seems to always know what time it is based on what the cable company throws over the line.. why not have something in the VCR that picks that up and sets the time based on that? At least when you set your VCR to record it'd be based on the time the cable company is using. :-)
  • That's why that would never work. It sounds like you have other issues with your computer if it crashes that much. Ever think it might be bad memory or a faulty CPU? Windows2000 for example has only crashed on me once in a year. Maybe your system is faulty?
  • by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Monday March 19, 2001 @12:16PM (#353399)
    Sure it's fair, with enough engineering it would be possable to make software that has no bugs.

    Look at the flight control software for military aircraft and spacecraft. In the Apollo days the number of bugs in the Lunar Module software could be counted on one hand and the astronauts knew what they were and the work arounds.

    How many F-16s, F-22s, B-1Bs, F-117s, Airbuses, etc have been lost to software issues?

    The only ones I know of were the two Saab Grippin and the second F-22A prototype that had landing software issues...that have been fixed. Has the software on Galileo crashed yet since it was launched in 1989? Nope.

    Bugless software can be written, it's just that engineers and marketing don't care enough for the end user to make something that doesn't crash.
  • Do you really believe that most VCR owners actually ever read the manual? Most people never bother - my parents are famous for this. They toss the manual in a drawer somewhere, then complain that they can't figure out how to do X (X being some arbitrary thing, like setting the time, setting up a timed recording, disabling auto-tracking, whatever). Yet do they read the manual? Hell, they wouldn't recognize it if they saw it.

    That's the problem - the "average" user wants products engineered for someone who knows nothing, and is unwilling to educate oneself. The techies are willing to educate themselves to use things, and most (not all, but most) don't expect users to know everything, but at least to be functionally literate, so they can read directions.

    The situation here isn't as opposite as it seems.
    _____
  • Tax alcohol
    tax cigarettes
    tax SUCKY IMPLEMENTATIONS OF GOOD IDEAS!
  • yeah, the only time I ever finished a lego project was when I physically ran out of legos. I would build stuff, and when I was done building it, I would find places to put all those other legos that I had left over - whether they belonged or not.

    Maybe I was a little obsessive/compulsive. . .
  • I generally don't base my VCR (or other equipment) purchases on the quality of a side product.

    I don't buy VCRs for their clocks. If the clock sucks, but the VCR is great, then I just won't use the clock.
  • by Old Man Kensey (5209) on Monday March 19, 2001 @11:16AM (#353407) Homepage
    ...not Michael Lanier, who coined that particular phrase ("virtual reality").
  • I confess more than a little irritation that "engineers" are taking the rap for their PHBs, for the airheads in marketting who care more about releasing a product at the right moment than whether that product is ready for prime time, for designers who care more that there's a cohesive colorscheme than that it presents the user with a compelling metaphor.
    [snip]
    In my experience, coders have immense respect for usability (even those who don't know how to make it themselves) and robustness, but are never taken seriously when they say "no, that's not how we should be doing it; it would be better if...". To blame them as a class for the failures in robustness and usability of their code is salt in the wound.

    I'll buy this "oh, it's not US that makes things suck" argument when nerds agree on whether to use KDE or GNOME.

    Please, spare me. Nerds and engineers are just as much to blame as anybody. To use the KDE/GNOME scism as an example, KDE creates an application environment where programmer can share code and rapidly develop applications that can interact (copy-paste functionality, etc. Basically, duplicate the 1984 Macintosh Toolbox, but anyway...)

    However, KDE uses Qt. Qt is "evil" because it's not Free. God forbid we spend our effort on convincing TrollTech to "free" Qt -- we start another goddamn widget set with GNOME.

    So, while *nix hackers are busily wanking themselves over software licenses and how the bits move in ways that are only interesting to other nerds (a la CORBA), Palm created and fed a market and Microsoft developed the world's best web browser.

    Puhleeze -- as much as I love and identify with engineers, don't feed me this sad story. Expand your mind by studying some of the great designers, learn about user interfaces, absorb a little business (so you'll understand where your PHB is coming from) and make the product great yourself -- or stop bitching.

  • The true problem is the inhearent complexity of software, where any useful integrated program enters the realm of chaos, and exhibits behavior "as if at random". It's digital nature makes it more susceptible. While you can plumb a toilet within wide tolerances, software must be exact. Furthermore, a broken toilet doesn't take the city's sewer system down with it.

    Partially. It's also a function of how software is developed. The process by which a car (or a toaster, or an airplane) is designed, built and assembled is 50 or more years mature. Software (as we know it today, with high-level languages and cheap, ubiquitous hardware) is barely out of it's teens.

    It hasn't been until recently that people could sit down and say "Okay, C sucks, but it's the best we've got, so we standardize on C. For scripting, we use Python. We assume Intel processors and we'll use Linux as the base. From this, build me a software factory" and be able to deliver.

  • Software development can be done like an analog factory. Not all of it, sure -- there is still a need for the lone artist, but certain problems are solvable this way.

    At least, I hope so .. otherwise, we're stuck with this ad hockery that we do now...


  • Hmm, ok, this confuses me. Not only are a lot of the posters complaining that the power outages make it worthless resetting the clock (power outages? I've had one in the last 18 months) but I thought all videos these days set their own clocks? Certainly the three video players I've bought in the last 5 years have (two have been gifts, all three still work).

    Or is that just in the UK?

    ~Cederic
  • In the Apollo days the number of bugs in the Lunar Module software could be counted on one hand and the astronauts knew what they were and the work arounds.
    Yeah, and they had a major one show up during the landing, that the astronauts didn't know the workaround to. Too many interrupts or something like that...
    That wasn't exactly a bug, it was first misinterpreted (due to a inadequate user-interface) during training as an FIRE-IN-HOLE ABORT NECESSARY error condition, but after the proper debriefing, it was properly handled during the actual moon landing.

    --

  • As a last point, there are MANY times when I simply can't find where the headlight switch is in a strange car without some serious searching. Talk about bad UI! It's dark, how am I supposed to find the thing?
    In the olden steam locomotive days, there was a small turbogenerator [nyow.org] that provided electricity to light the headlights, number board, class lights, inspection lights and cab lights.

    Whenever someone climbed aboard an engine at night and needed some light, he only had to reach up and find by touch a cross-shaped valve handle (others valves handles are round) on the turret (that's an auxiliary steam feed from the boiler to power accessories) which fed steam to the turbogenerator, and voilà, he had light without much hassle...

    Perhaps automotive designers oughta be forced to learn running a steam locomotive before being allowed to work...

    --

  • After enough planes crashed in the '50s, he points out, investigators stopped blaming it all on pilot error and insisted that designers start making cockpits easier to understand. You'd think we'd learn.

    Er... I really thought the reason why less planes crash now was because of technology, not because of "Cockpit ease of use". I mean, they gotta be trained for the cockpit right? And I am not a pilot, but I think the older style airplane controls were simpler. I've seen the cockpit of a modern jet plane and it didn't look simple to me..

    Maybe I missed the point, it's happened before.
  • 99 times out of 100, management has to pry the techs' fingers from the code.

    I agree with you up to a certain point. I think there are some engineers who will never "finish" a project unless they're given an end time. We've referred to this as the "Lego" problem -- when we were kids and built something with legos it never got "finished" -- there was ALWAYS some kind of further optimization/coolness/whatever changes that could be made. I emphasize COULD -- you can ALWAYS make something better. Even with the geek's favorite, Linux, Linus has to say "CODE FREEZE" in spite of the developers who know that there's further improvement that could be made.

    Not to defend meddling marketers too much, but many of them do know that if they don't get some product into the market at a certain point in time it won't sell well enough to provide ROI. If it doesn't provide ROI, then nobody has a job.

    Furthermore, we as users are USED to getting slipshod code the first few releases. Be it Windows, Linux, etc -- everybody knows you don't go production in an initial release, you wait until the first patch/service pack (at least).
  • Will RMS be fined 1$ every time any of the GNU utilities crash, or Linus everytime Linux crashes? Sure it doesn't happen ofter, but with the number of people using it... I'll stop writing free software the day a law like that passes...
    Try actually reading the article. Lanier's (presumably tounge-in-cheek) idea is that there should be two classes for software, "creative" and "useful". If you want to legally claim that your software is good for something, then you're legally obligated if it has problems.

    Presumably if you're not trying to make money off of the code, you just call it "creative/experimental" and leave it at that.

    The fact that this is such a crazy, radical, idea probably says a lot about the software industry.

  • Just consider that it may just be too much of a bother. The power goes out every few weeks these days (probably more often this summer) and it's a nuisance to reset the clock. A decent capacitor could hold the time in memory until the power came back on, but most of the VCRs don't bother. If someone had bothered to put any real programming in, they would probably be more than slightly irritated.

    Assuming that just because someone doesn't want to bother, that they can't is silly. Assuming that they should is, at best, rude. Why should someone be expected to use a clock that is that poorly designed? Of course, if you look at it it's annoying, but I chalk that up as one more black mark against the designers.


    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • Outside of thinking that's a petty comment...

    The power didn't go off every couple of weeks until this year. I don't think I'll give up my health plan just to avoid that. I might get a UPS, but I don't think I would bother to put the VCR on it. That would be silly. Personally, I'd rather just file it away in a closet, but others have other opinions, of course.

    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • So one should go out and upgrade one's hardware?

    It might fix the problems that I know about, at a cost, but I wouldn't know what the new problems would be. One of the problems with the upgrade treadmill is that it's expensive. The other one is that one is continually encountering new problems. I'd prefer to limit that to the computers that I deal with. It's hard to track a lot of different areas in detail (actually, it's impossible), and I'd rather pay attention to what I find important. This is what the techno-blink is about. (See caution below.)


    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • Bob Kevoian, of the Bob and Tom show here in Indy, has proposed and implemented a very quick and easy fix for the problem:
    1. He placed a piece of black electricians tape over the clock on his VCR display.
    This simple remedy is very fast, and has no brand requirements. It works on every VCR!

    --
  • I agree... too many stupid people. Stupid people should be forced to wear an "S" on their foreheads, so that the rest of us know to stay the hell away from them!! :) I was at a Wendy's the other day and the person behind the counter, despite having the cash register telling them SPECIFICALLY, could not give me the correct change. People like that shouldn't be allowed to go out in public! They could hurt somebody! :)
  • I really dislike that car analogy that keeps cropping up over the years. First of all, there are many many people who cannot (and will not!!) drive a clutch. Right there you split the use of cars into distinct categories. Pretty much like a PC and a Mac.

    Then consider 18-wheelers - who among us understand how to shift them? Not many. I suppose you could liken them to big UNIX servers.

    Then you have motorcycles. Not a lot of people really can drive those well either. A bit like PDA's.

    As a last point, there are MANY times when I simply can't find where the headlight switch is in a strange car without some serious searching. Talk about bad UI! It's dark, how am I supposed to find the thing?

    So given the million or so things more that computers can do for us than cars, software is looking pretty good next to the pitiful state of all things that drive!

  • and nobody ever died becuase Windows crashed while they were playing Quake

    Oh... Is that what Gates was doing at that demo in Seattle last month. Gee.. guess WindowsXP really WILL take gaming to the next level ;)
  • I have found more times than I care to admit that while I am on the road, I will automatically reach for the Transmission shifter between the seats, only to feel empty air, only to look down sheepishly and find the shifter on the steering column.

    I'll usually remember where the lights are, but the windshield wipers? Nah, if it starts raining I usually need to think to find them. The radio, HAH. I've seen more makes of radio, then I have computers (okay, it feels like it though). What do I do? I usually spend at least five minutes when I get into the rental and try to figure out where eveything is THIS time. Usually helps a little, but not much, and that still doesn't keep me from hitting the high beams when I signal a left turn.
  • There's nothing wrong with the clock-setting procedure you describe. It sounds complicated when you describe it step by step, but anyone willing to fool around for a few seconds would figure it out without reading the instructions.

    You honestly think that the engineers should have added 4 buttons just to set the time of day? Perhaps another 6 for the year, month and day? Maybe three other sets of displays and buttons for different timed recordings? The menu selection style is simple, versatile, and doesn't require extra buttons for every extra feature.

    I think the problem here is more one of poor documentation than poor design.
    ---
  • The problem is poor buying habits. Good interfaces are passed up in favor of tons of unnecessary functionality. If people actually insisted on being able to understand and use software they buy, it would straighten out pretty quickly. Instead, they assume that new is good and more functionality is better. Instead of ridiculing people who buy incompatible software and send out data in unreadable formats, they ridicule people who haven't "kept up" with the newest software.

    Consumers have the bad habit of assuming novelty means progress when they have to encourage progress through intelligent selection.
    ---
  • In the article he's referring to, an important point was made:

    Suppose you have two makes of car: One is completely and totally unsafe - any impact will cause it to violently explode; the other is completely and totally safe - it doesn't matter how hard you hit something, no damage would result whatsoever.

    Now, if you were forced to drive both of these cars for a year, which one would you drive in the safer manner?

    as soon as cars have exterior airbags as well as interior, or some kind of force fields or something, then look out, 'cause it's bumper car time and I intend to be a bumping mofo

    I see we already have your answer - and it's the same as everyone else's.

    So you do believe it, you just don't want to.
  • BIG DISCLAIMER, this software is AS IS. you can't sue us by clicking on this button or buy opening up the software.

  • I recall watching a show on DSC or TLC about the increasing safety of cars causing people to be less worried about being injured in an accident since the airbag would most likely save them.

    Sounds like "Crash". The problem is a bit more general, with safety features becoming instead performance benefits.
    The ideal car from this POV would be a very safe one which felt highly dangerous.

    This article is somewhat similiar in that it forces penalties for bad products. Unfortunately, I think it will take something like what is being proposed to make companies realize that stable software is important.

    This article is somewhat similiar in that it forces penalties for bad products.

    Problem is that since software is licenced it tends to fall into loopholes in laws covering goods and services.
  • Seriously, as long as software companies emphasize release date and features over correctness and user testing,

    It might be interesting to find out what proportion of these "features" are actually "customer driven". And what proportion are "styling" and about making "this year' model".
  • The difference between your average car and your average piece of software is that if the car does break in the first couple of years the car maker will fix it for you.

    Also if they refused they'd end up minus a lot of money and told by a judge they still had to fix the car.
  • At least two crashes, of Airbus aircraft, were caused, at least in part, by bad UI design. One was the flight at the Paris Air Show (IIRC) that went to do a go around, but the pilot had pressed the wrong button (or forgot to press one) and it bellied into the trees. Another one flew into a mountain after the pilot set the wrong glide slope. He hit the right button but was, as I recall, on the wrong screen of the glass cockpit display.
  • That flashing "12:00"

    The 12:00 problem is a simple matter of proper human interface design. Take the typical VCR for example.



    Clock Setting
    Perform clock setting only if the clock has not been set correctly by the Plug & Play setting or if you use a cable box.
    Access the Clock Set screen to perform the Semiauto or Manual Clock Set. Each procedure starts from step 4 after preparation steps below are finished.

    If you use a cable box, set the clock manually. (pg. 12)

    Preparations
    1
    Access Main Menu screen
    Press MENU.
    2
    Access Initial Set screen
    On the front panel:
    Press CH to move the highlight bar (arrow) to "INITIAL SET", then press OK.
    On the Remote:
    Press SHUTTLE PLUS to move the highlight bar (arrow) to "INITIAL SET", then press OK or SHUTTLE PLUS 3.
    3
    Select clock set
    On the front panel:
    Press CH to move the highlight bar (arrow) to "CLOCK SET", then press OK.
    On the Remote:
    Press SHUTTLE PLUS to move the highlight bar (arrow) to "CLOCK SET", then press OK or SHUTTLE PLUS 3.

    "CABLE BOX USERS SET CLOCK MANUALLY"
    appears on the screen for about 5 seconds, then
    the Clock Set screen appears. Turn on the VCR and the TV, and select the VCR channel 3 or 4 (or AV mode) on the TV.


    ... and so on. that was a couple of paragraphs from the "preparing to set the time" section. There are a couple more pages on actually setting the time, either automatically semiautomatically or manually.
    I pulled those from a random manufacturer and a random vcr model's manual which is available as a PDF:
    http://aviator.jvcservice.com/books/model.asp?Mode l=HR-VP48U [jvcservice.com] I was actually looking for a simpler example like 'hold down "STTM" button until hour starts flashing, then press "record" to increase the hours, and "eject" to increase the minutes. If you accidentally go past the time you want go through all the number again to get the one you want.' kind of setting but I see that have outdone me on that one.

    Now, how about something like this for a replacement:

    [Hour +] [Min +]

    1 2 : 0 0

    [Hour -] [Min -]

    The [] symbols indicate a button here. (credit for this layout goes to Jeff Raskin from his book "The Humane Interface." an excellent read.)

    You don't even NEED instructions for that.

  • I'm a contractor. I've had something like 50 to 60 clients in the last 9.75 years, on jobs ranging from one day to 8 mos. I consider it "anthropological research."

    Maybe I have worked for your company!

  • by goliard (46585) on Monday March 19, 2001 @11:59AM (#353454)


    Why on earth does this article pit "engineers" against "people"?

    Where do they get off making no mention of the managers who refuse to pay for real QA? Who micromanage their designers? Who insist "make it blue"?

    Why is there no mention of designers who seem never to have heard the adage "form follows function"?

    I confess more than a little irritation that "engineers" are taking the rap for their PHBs, for the airheads in marketting who care more about releasing a product at the right moment than whether that product is ready for prime time, for designers who care more that there's a cohesive colorscheme than that it presents the user with a compelling metaphor.

    It has never been my experience that it was the techs on a project who wanted to get the project done faster rather than better. 99 times out of 100, management has to pry the techs' fingers from the code ("No, really, code freezes NOW.") Similarly, it's not the techs saying "gee, why waste the money on real QA specialists."

    In my experience, coders have immense respect for usability (even those who don't know how to make it themselves) and robustness, but are never taken seriously when they say "no, that's not how we should be doing it; it would be better if...". To blame them as a class for the failures in robustness and usability of their code is salt in the wound.

  • by Mr. Slippery (47854) <<ten.suomafni> <ta> <smt>> on Monday March 19, 2001 @11:48AM (#353455) Homepage
    If we spent as much time learning about how people interact with technology as we do learning about how to build bigger/faster/better tech, we'd be light years ahead of where we are now.

    I keep hearing about how we need all this human factors research to make computers usable, that interfaces must be "intuitive" and, most of all, standardized.

    Then I get in my car.

    Almost every adult in the USA can operate a car with little difficulty. Yet the interface is not intuitive - press one pedal to make it go, another to make it stop? Turn a vertical wheel to change horizontal direction?

    And the interface is not standardized - a car may have from two to five different foot controls (at least gas and brake, maybe also clutch, parking brake, and high-beam switch), the shifter for an automatic transmission can be on the steering column or the floor, the headlight switch can be on the directional signal switch or on the dash...

    So how is it that most everyone can drive? (Well, can operate the vechicle. People have many driving problems that have nothing to do with operating the vehicle.)

    Partly it's because everyone is familiar with the basics through cultural osmosis - we grow up riding in cars, we see them operated on TV and in movies. And partly we expect and accept that a certain amount of training is needed; few people balk at the idea that a few dozen hours of classroom instruction and supervised driving are a requirement for basic competence.

    Why do we expect computer software to be different?

    Tom Swiss | the infamous tms | http://www.infamous.net/

  • For every innovation that has become an effortless part of people's lives -- the microwave oven, the fiber-tip pen -- there are hundreds of new technologies every year arriving faster than users can assimilate them or their makers can perfect them.

    Now a line has been crossed. With gizmos mutating at wild rates, engineers love the endless stomach-churning ride of creating the firstest with the newest. They've dragged us along with them. We're climbing a slope of interlocking innovations so steep as to seem more like a cliff: Connections that won't, upgrades that can't, hot syncs that don't, standards that never are, wireless transmitters radiating who knows what, new seeds and life-forms burrowing in the ground and whisking through the air.
    Before Bill Joy and Lanier, somebody had already written [panix.com] about this. Read it before offhandedly disregarding and flaming...I think it has many valid points.
  • MENSA members don't watch tv.

    They especially don't need to tape it.

    They also don't speak in absolutes.
  • Look at the flight control software for military aircraft and spacecraft. In the Apollo days the number of bugs in the Lunar Module software could be counted on one hand and the astronauts knew what they were and the work arounds.

    Yeah, and they had a major one show up during the landing, that the astronauts didn't know the workaround to. Too many interrupts or something like that...
  • Don't buy from software companies with such a discalaimer.

    Can you say "Microsoft"? Somehow, I can't see Corporate America dropping MS for that.

  • Yes, they landed safely, but it was serious enough for them to consider aborting.

    And user error shouldn't cause a problem like that!
  • by ktakki (64573) on Monday March 19, 2001 @11:48AM (#353466) Homepage Journal
    JAFR = Just Another Formulaic Rant.

    First of all, the blinking "12:00" is the result of a poor user interface -- buttons with hidden functions that aren't immediately obvious, like using the channel up/down buttons to set the hour.

    So the writer misses the point on that one.

    But what really annoys me is the way the writer trots out the usual suspects: Stewart Brand, Jaron Lanier, Esther Dyson (Negroponte, Joy, and Kurzweil must have been off skiing or something), and adds Through the Looking Glass to show how confoozing this technology stuff is!

    I feel like I've read this same piece a hundred times in the last ten years. Okay, let's take it as a given that there's always going to be a gap between humanity and technology, leaving some people frustrated and confused. And move on.

    As for that blinking VCR [xensei.com], buy a clock.

    Just Another Fucking Rant.

    k.
    --
    "In spite of everything, I still believe that people
    are really good at heart." - Anne Frank
  • at $20,000+ the average car shouldn't break either...

    The difference between your average car and your average piece of software is that if the car does break in the first couple of years the car maker will fix it for you. Microsoft on the other hand, will tell you to live with it or kindly sell you a service pack or SE version of the broken software that makes things worse rather than better.
    _____________

  • You're right of course. I certianly didn't mean that there isn't often a problem between the chair and keyboard. We would all probably be dead by now if you had to teach people how to lower the windows in their car twice a week.

    However, I don't think that that excuses the extremely poor reliability of the average personal computer (especially the onces that the "average guy" gets at Best Buy). There has to be a reason why software companies never offer a warranty on their product. Most people hold car dealers in pretty damn low regard, but have respect for companies like Microsoft. Why is that? You stand a much better chance of having a car dealer stand behind their product than a software maker.
    _____________

  • by decipher_saint (72686) on Monday March 19, 2001 @11:28AM (#353474) Homepage
    I think Darwinism takes care of issues like this, if no one can use the software, it either has to change or die out. Same goes for users, if a user won't upgrade his or her skillset they limit their employability.

    -----

  • It could be argued that grabbing a tiny little knob on the side of a watch, PULLING IT OUT TO EXACTLY THE RIGHT SPOT, and setting the time by turning it most likely (but not necessarily) clockwise it not intiutitve. Add to this that to set the date, the knob need to be pushed HALFWAY in and not all the way in. Plus, my grandma who has arthritis in her hands has no hope of doing any of this, but can press oversized buttons on a digital clock. Plus there is the matter of being able to easily see a bright LED display.

    My only argument here is that what you have described as a good interface, while good for some, is not so good for others. Given that, how does one design a "good" interface for a general purpose item. On the flipside of the coin (and to return to the orignal topic), how could one design an interface for something more targeted like software, but where the end user could range from beginner to expert, and has totally different needs from the software without having to make some sacrifices?

    This is not meant as an attack, but just a counterpoint, and I would love it if you responded.
  • by jason_z28 (73458) on Monday March 19, 2001 @11:18AM (#353477)
    I recall watching a show on DSC or TLC about the increasing safety of cars causing people to be less worried about being injured in an accident since the airbag would most likely save them. A proposal was to put a giant spike on the steering wheel so that if you got into an accident, you were likely to get hurt majorly. Although sadistic, this method would actually work to make people more cautious and safe drivers.

    This article is somewhat similiar in that it forces penalties for bad products. Unfortunately, I think it will take something like what is being proposed to make companies realize that stable software is important.

    Jason
  • by jmv (93421) on Monday March 19, 2001 @12:25PM (#353489) Homepage
    Will RMS be fined 1$ every time any of the GNU utilities crash, or Linus everytime Linux crashes? Sure it doesn't happen ofter, but with the number of people using it...

    I'll stop writing free software the day a law like that passes...
  • >"The fact that you are espousing the view that we shouldn't even try in the software industry sounds to me that you're [name calling omitted]"

    I don't mean to sound like a totally haphazard approach is best. I do believe in standards and requirements (etc...), but they have diminishing returns: For example: if you spend longer in the design phase, you might save some time in the integration and debugging phases, but it's returns diminish radically as you increase the time spent on design (or requirements). Youthful programmers want to spend eternity in the requirements, design, and coding phase... and have a distaste for integration and debugging. The tools provided for software design analysis are a joke. They create more problems than they solve, and are only cost effective when you really have to show due diligence with software that might kill someone (I know: I've both written and used such software)

    In the analog world, a thorough design is measurable, in software, it becomes a black hole.

    >"...and software engineers are not the be-all-end-all of the engineering world."

    I never said, nor believe, otherwise.

    >"And if you're curious as to what I consider as the most complex thing ever developed by Man, it's language."

    Isn't it curious how there can be such a wide range of speech that's still intelligible by even the most ignorant human? That's the great thing about the analog world: tolerances.

    Any attempt we make at computer based speech recognition (AI or neural nets or even patter matching) becomes bogged down in miles of code when we even begin to tolerate variations. While the increase in code seemingly makes software tolerant, it simultaneously increases the complexity and probability of indirect failure.

    When we truly understand analog logic, we'll probably find speech recognition very complex, but not as complex as we made it out to be with digital logic.

  • >You can build "tolerance" into software

    You need to understand that increasing the volume of software and it's complexity may logically cover the assumed problem space more thoroughly, BUT, it simultaneously increases the probability of indirect program failure. Furthermore, you may think you understand the problem space thoroughly, but you can't guarantee it (how often do we see an exactly accurate computation of the wrong problem, i.e. the Hubble Space Telescope mirror was ground within exacting tolerances of the wrong shape).
  • by cworley (96911) on Monday March 19, 2001 @12:11PM (#353504)
    If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, the first woodpecker to come along would destroy civilization!"

    I first heard this user mantra in `82 with my first programming job -- and they said that was an old adage.

    The problem isn't programmers lack of responsiveness to users, as has been suggested for the last 40 years. If that were true, it would have been solved by now.

    The true problem is the inhearent complexity of software, where any useful integrated program enters the realm of chaos, and exhibits behavior "as if at random".

    It's digital nature makes it more susceptible. While you can plumb a toilet within wide tolerances, software must be exact. Furthermore, a broken toilet doesn't take the city's sewer system down with it.

    It's ease of modification makes it even more susceptible. A problem in hardware will be there for years, we'll learn to work around it, and it may become the standard. But with software, the fix (and the next set of bugs) will come with the next upgrade or patch.

    The fellows suggestion that "speech recognition will cure this" is another example of how requirements bloat, to solve "the problems of software usability", exacerbates the problem.

    Some problems need to be blamed on the programmers and management: the Window's kernel hung around much too long. Microsoft kept adding mounds of complexity with small doses of functionality to keep the ever faster processors busy; it was no wonder you couldn't keep it up.

    Open source has been the best solution so far. If it has a problem, the "open hood" policy allows your local mechanic can fix it, or determine what the original programmer wanted the user to do in the first place.

  • I certainly agree with this. One time I was riding with some friends from Ottawa to Waterloo. Half-way there, the driver (and owner) of the car switches with one of the passangers to give her a break. He starts to drive off, shifting from 1st to 2nd. Only he wasn't shifting from 1st to 2nd, he was shifting from 1st to 4th, because on this car 1 2 3 are on the top and 4 5 R are on the bottom. He was used to the 1 3 5 / 2 4 R configuration.

    She told him to stop and drove the rest of the way.

  • ... And many of them are designing products. Let's take that flashing VCR clock for a second. The US Naval observatory broadcasts the atomically correct time all over america. Why can't the VCR set it's own damn clock? I've got better things to do with my time than fiddle with the VCR every time the power blinks. And maybe it's not so bad, setting the time on one VCR. But then there is the OTHER VCR which is a different brand and has a completely different way of setting the clock. Plus the clock on the Microwave, and the other appliances, etc. It's not that I'm too dumb to handle the technology: I'm not. But after the 50th gadget takes up 'just a few minutes' of my time getting it to work correctly, I've had it. Let the damn VCR blink, my daughter wants to play crazy eights.
  • I wonder if the fact that the economy has been so good lately has something to do with all of this. Even now we are still doing well, and people have had more disposable cash to blow on tech toys. Most of these toys aren't really needed (ok , no toy really is but you know what I mean) but people can afford them so they buy them, and then complain when they don't always work properly. I think that maybe when people don't have so much free money to spend, this situation doesn't occur. The toys are bought mainly by the people who realy, really want them who most likely aren't going to complain. By the time a product makes it to the mainstream public it has been refined enough to be used on a regular basis.

    On another note, it's definitely obvious that we are distributing more complicated products to the masses. The main issue then seems to be UI's , think about it, when you are marketing to the average person, some things have to be dumbed down. Not due to the low intelligence of any specific person, but as method of targetting the least (most) common denominator.

  • For almost as long as the average American has been alive, people have been driven nuts by the flashing "12:00" of their videocassette recorder's clock.

    I would like to change this to say, "For almost as long as the average American has been alive, stupid people have been driven nuts by the flashing "12:00" of their videocassette recorder's clock."

    I have never had any problem setting any vcr's clock. Maybe I'm just a supra-genious, but somehow I doubt it. If I were, at least one of my plans to take over the world should have worked by now. But I digress. My point here is that I think this small change helps to better set the mood of the article, and get a little more insight into the perspective of the author.

    Now then. Deliver me 1 mill - er - 100 billion dollars by sundown or I will destroy the city with my fiendishly clever but easily disabled destruction device. MWAHAHAHAHA!
  • Don't forget feature creep, aka Second System Syndrome. Have you seen that episode of the Simpsons where Homer gets to design a car? And he keeps adding every possible thing he thinks might be a good idea, until the car is a complete mess, and ruins the company? This seems rather absurd on the show, but it's run-of-the-mill for software, and it's never the engineers' idea. We don't want the extra work, we'd rather fix what's already there.
  • by portege00 (110414) <npbradshawNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Monday March 19, 2001 @11:19AM (#353514) Homepage

    Is it really fair? You can't possibly say your software is 100 percent reliable. No software is. Not even Linux. That's why the Open Source method is so effective. It weeds out the bugs.

    No matter what you do, there's always something that will cause software to crash. What happens if someone's CPU fan dies, and their OS has a kernel panic because of it? Does the software company owe money even though it's the CPU fan manufactuer's fault?

    Most importantly, where do you draw the line and say, "This is a stupid user error, not a software error." And who makes that call? I certianly would think scandelous home users can't be trusted to do this, nor can big software companies. And what merits a successful recording of crashed software? Logs on a machine that can be altered by the owner? If they couldn't be altered, would you WANT software like that on your PC?

  • <i>"You can't opt out" of this dance with the goddess, says Pamela McCorduck, an author on technology and society.</i><p>
    I would disagree. It's quite easy to opt out:<br>
    <b>Don't buy the technology that offends you.</b> Read consumer-reports types reviews to find out what products won't.<p>
    Go ask the former-Soviets how government regulation of science and technology works. They had all the resources the U.S. did except a free market, but look whose technology is more advanced.<p>
    And yes, there is the "advanced does not mean better" argument, but if that's what you believe why are you on a computer reading this? Buggy software and VCRs blinking 12:00 are by no means necessary for life, and many do without them.<p>
    The thing about computers is that the people who make them think pouring hours of time into using one is <i>fun</i>. The market's response to this was Apple's "Computers for the rest of us" slogan. I'm not sure if they succeeded, though.

  • involving the government. riiiiiiight....

    Seriously, as long as software companies emphasize release date and features over correctness and user testing, bugginess will be the norm. Financial penalties are warranted and effective for some industries (e.g. automotive, where bugs in the system cause fatalities), but unless the software you're making has life-or-death failure consequences it probably doesn't warrant that level of intervention (and nobody ever died becuase Windows crashed while they were playing Quake).


    --
    News for geeks in Austin: www.geekaustin.org [geekaustin.org]
  • If I got paid for my computer crashing I would never use anything other than windows me, netscape, winamp alphas, icq, diviX codecs, and powerDVD.
  • In Canada there is a court case going on. The case is about social hosts (anyone who decides to host a party) being responsible for their social guests (anybody who comes to party) not to get into any kind of trouble after they leave the party.
    Question:
    So imagine - you host a party, 10 people come over, 7 of them drink alcohol, 4 of them really drink alcohol. The party is over, someone who really drunk alcohol starts his/her car and has an accident. Are you responsible?
    Canadian court decided you are responsible (the family who is said to be responsible filed an appeal.)

    I bet you don't see my point, by now I start doubting. But the point is - we all are looking for someone to blame for our problems. It is possible that your software user gets some kind of a problem using your software - the real problem may not the software itself but a combinations of things that lead to the [problem]. There is so much computer software that is designed to do so many things, and things don't go well (especially different software interacting with each other.) It is unfare to ask a software producer to think about every single usage of their software, about every single interaction that can happen between their package and all the other packages in the world. The real software testing happens when hundreds, thousands of people use it and report various bugs. Functionality today is more important than perfect software tomorrow (I don't even know why this is true)
    Anyway, I don't think the software firms will like the government to do something silly like the proposed stuff.
    Good luck
  • by shren (134692) on Monday March 19, 2001 @11:38AM (#353520) Homepage Journal

    If windows changes how secret interface number 27 works, or one of thier public functions, in a future release of windows and that breaks my code, should I be out a buck?

    If someone else releases a piece of software that crashes mine, who owes who a buck, and how would an end user know the difference?

    Doesn't this just encourage computer software developers to make thier software fail as silently as possible, which software developers hate?

    If you feel you've been ripped off, sue. Sue in small claims if you have to, and if you want revenge more than money, sue the president of the company specifically and drag him personally into it, possibly into the courtroom. We don't need new laws for this. We have too many unused or ignored laws as it is.

    (Woah, 0.8 just finished compiling! I can get some work done now!)

  • Why on earth does this article pit "engineers" against "people"?

    Because of one important difference: we (engineers) should know better.

    The managers may be above the engineers on the org chart; but in practice, that is merely a rough abstraction. The guys in the trenches have enormous influence over how a project develops. Anyone who says the engineers' duty is to rotely carry out the designs and requirements handed to them is either naive or hopelessly jaded. A balanced organizaton includes engineering pushing for technical excellence, and demonstrating that it pays off. In fact, good management wants to trust engineers' judgement, because they have expertise that can't be found elsewhere in the company.

    The upshot of this is that engineers do deserve the blunt of the blame for bad software, because we should know better, and we shouldn't allow it. Yes, there are times to compromise in order to get the product into a customers hands. But there are also times to take a stand. And even more important, we should find time on a regular basis to work on things that our managers didn't ask us to do, but will improve software quality. That's not going behind your boss's back, it's part of doing your job. A good manager will respect and appreciate that.

  • I'd like to think that a strong organization can resist the anti-engineers. But in truth, they scare me to death. They seem to have a source of power and persuasion that is foreign to me. They impede technical excellence more thoroughly than managers, marketing, and sales put together. The way to stop them is to get the results they could never achieve and make sure the PHB's see that your methods work, and theirs don't. But it's not easy, and the struggle never ends.

    Nice post.

  • Thousands of people rush out to buy Microsoft Windows ME in a quick "Get Rich" scheme propogated by bill passing the Senate. Yeah I know its a troll but its funny.
  • But all software companies have this (even Mandrake I noticed yesterday), so who do you buy from?
  • But you've forgotten the anti-engineers here. You know the ones. They do appalling work, have the worst ideas and yet they've got their nose so far up the bosses backside that they are the ones that get the important jobs. It would be nice if getting the job done was the primary concern, instead of having your ego wanked by some no-talent asshole. Sorry, but I'm so tired of IT morons.
    The company I first worked for has just installed SAP in 9 months without ANY serious issues. SAP are over the moon. Do you know how they managed it. Because the management assigned their best people to the job, only checked out the work in a general way (i.e. no distracting meetings), listened to the people doing the job and kept the politics bullshit where it belonged - in management meetings.
    Why can't everywhere be like that? It was damn hard work, but I would love to work on a project like that where deadlines are tight and management realises that developers produce their best work at a computer, not being harassed in project meetings.
    Why is this only obvious to us and not to all the management gurus so beloved of PHBs everywhere?
  • I've said this before too.

    How come noone complains that pianos don't have an intuitive user interface. They aren't much more expensive than computers.

    I had ten years of lessons to learn how to play the piano and didn't feel I had to sue the maker because it wasn't obvious.

    That said, at least the maker warranties a piano so if it doesn't perform as specified they fix it for free. [I had to have a string replaced that was incorrectly put in.] Pianos are also open, anyone can take them apart, fix them, copy the design and make it into a T-Shirt if they wish.

  • To exemplify the fault-tolerance of the Apollo craft, Apollo 12 was hit by lightning four minutes after it launched and all of it's systems shut down, but because of the robustness of the systems they were restarted and the rest of the mission went perfectly well.

    --
  • Got any basis for that cost estimate? I just don't see how it would cost $20. It's basically a radio recveiver and a miniscule amount of electronics. Not exactly high technology here...

    --
  • by FortKnox (169099) on Monday March 19, 2001 @11:22AM (#353537) Homepage Journal
    "Instead of hunting down people who smoke pot," Lanier says, "they'd be hunting down people who sell business software that crashes. They'd owe people a buck or go to jail. That's what Washington should be doing."

    Sounds like he came up with this idea when he was high as a kite...

    --
  • Apple does it best with their "Human Interface Guidelines" document.

    ...Except that Aqua doesn't really follow these guidelines. Sure, it looks awesome, but many [asktog.com] will say that it's most prominent feature, the "Dock", is more of a marketing "ooh ahh" then a usable interface.
  • NT actually costs $10,000 per user, but they give you a rebate for the number of outstanding bugs.
  • The problem, he says, is that software writers don't understand humans. "They still don't understand what kind of devices mothers would be able to use. Engineers want to make the neatest gizmo they can, as opposed to the simplest. So they put more tech in than mothers need."After enough planes crashed in the '50s, he points out, investigators stopped blaming it all on pilot error and insisted that designers start making cockpits easier to understand. You'd think we'd learn. Nobody actually sits down and watches a customer try to use this stuff, says Jakob Nielsen, author of "Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity." "Microsoft is among the best software shops on the planet," says Barr, "which is a frightening thought."

    We've arghued this point over and over and over. We run in horror from the prospect of an AOL future.

    Problem is that old stories like "The day the machine died" (or was it "stopped" ?) about a whole world that collapses because of the ultimate system crash seems more and more prescient. And the Marketroids will be selling the benefits of that system to us until it reaches that point.

    A feature, not a bug, indeed.

    but then we do have that problem of people's common misperceptions, in an increasingly illiterate world. The old "Do what I mean not what I say", and, "If what I want is really stupid, don't do it".

    What will the AI machines of the future have to say about that?

  • Do you think you could take my resume to whomever it is you work for? I'm tired of working for The Man and his 9-5 schedule.
  • Hmmm. I just bought a VCR last year, I'm pretty sure it suffers from the lost settings problem. Ditto the microwave. I'm just glad my new VCR doesn't have a blinking clock display at all.

    Either way, what use to actually spend time setting the clock until you may need to use it? I never set a clock like this until I have a reason to. Along this same line, I won't fiddle with the clock on my work phone or car stereo for daylight savings time. There are just too many clocks in life to get uptight about the ones that don't really matter.

    ...which reminds me, it's probably time to figure out how to sync the time on my LAN so that my computers all think it's the same time.
  • Wow....I got something marked as insightful for saying there's too many stupid people? That's pretty dumb...
  • by donutz (195717) on Monday March 19, 2001 @11:19AM (#353556) Homepage Journal
    That flashing "12:00" . . . stands for innovation created without humans in mind.

    Oh c'mon...does this mean everyone who manages to set their VCR clock is automatically a member of MENSA, and will be among the chosen few whisked off to another planet when humankind dooms itself?

    The problem is, as always, just too damn many stupid people.

  • Really, you're talking about two different things here. From the industrial strength perspective, NASA has shown us it is possible to write high quality software. It's just expensive. And low volume.

    But from a high volume perspective, there are is a lot of equipment that runs and runs without crashing. My television, VCR, telephone, hell, even my car all have bits of electronics and software in them, and they're all pretty damn stable.

    The question should really be - show us something as customizable as a computer and see how often it has problems. Back to the car analogy - if you were constantly tweaking your car, adding and subtracting different pieces, you'd expect to have problems.

    Not that I think that the software put out by certain organizations doesn't suck. There just almost is a tradeoff between that same customizability and stability...

  • with their "Human Interface Guidelines" document. Call this a troll or flamebait or whatever, but the fact remains that Apple spends good money on making sure that their software is usable.

    Usability testing is an important, and highly overlooked aspect of software design. Perhaps this wouldn't even be an issue if we allocated some of our development resources to this highly specialized skill.

    Unfortunately, many programmers don't seem to care. I can't count on both hands how many times a programmer at another firm has told me something to the effect that they don't understand colors or graphics. This is entirely obvious when looking at the GUIs that these firms produce. A monkey who calls himself an HTML "designer" doesn't qualify as a usability expert either. There are actually people that are trained in this kind of work, though they are few and far between. Perhaps the real answer lies in colleges. If we teach 'em early on that a product stands a much greater chance for success with good usability, perhaps more students would be interested in the field.

    Just my 2 cents.
  • Jaron Lanier (who some credit with inventing the phrase "virtual reality"), whimsically suggests that, in exchange for being granted U.S. copyright protection, commercial software publishers should have to pay users $1 every time their product screws up.

    And I whimsically suggest that the plaintiff bar will institute a class-action suit for this very thing within the next few years. Did Word crash and take out your work? You're entitled to damages! Did Photoshop mangle your images? Sue!

    Mark my words, this is coming.

  • This constant flood of new tech, means that there is lots of good old tech that people want to get rid of, discontinue, etc.. For example, I was part of a WebPlayer co-op to purchase old discontined Virgin WebPlayers for $100/ ea.. Now I don't know about you, but thats not a bad deal for a 200Mhz box with lcd screen and wireless keyboard, you certainly couldn't build this box yourself for that much - the LCD itself would probably cost that, and it makes a great MP3 jukebox, web-browser & Email terminal..


    --------------------------------------
  • "The true problem is the inhearent complexity of software"

    This is utter bullshit. Airplanes are "inhearently complex" but Boeing doesn't put on into the air until they make sure it can fly for a VERY long time with as low maintaince as possible. I expect all software companies to STOP using it customers as beta testers, and actually test their software before they release it.

  • - there are hundreds of new technologies every year arriving faster than users can assimilate them or their makers can perfect them.

    The nice thing about technology is that nobody expects you to know everything. The other nice thing about technology is that once your involved with a section of technology, it's easier to relate that to other areas.

    The bad thing is that if your involved in technology, your expected to know everything about everything that plugs into a wall. It may be hard to believe but I don't know why the copier isn't working. Sheeshh.

  • by Fatal0E (230910) on Monday March 19, 2001 @11:33AM (#353577)
    Take a look at these two quotes:
    Computer literacy is an excuse for techies to say, 'I don't want to actually have to think this stuff through.' "
    Maybe the answer -- gulp -- is Washington. Perhaps the only way to create plateaus is to mandate them.


    Which is scarier? A class of peeps who are afraid of thinking their way through a problem or a gov't doing it for them? His whole argument boils down to those two lines. I'll agree when he says UI's in general are immature. Fine. But the biggest problem is immaturity. Computers as they exist today are in an immature state where they aren't 'obvious' but gov't is as able to grasp these concepts as well as Joe Trailer-Park Sixpack. A voting body as messed up as congress/senate trying to nail down what "good" is scares the living shit out of me.
    "Me Ted"
  • If I had a dollar for every crash, hiccup, and burp that Windows or Windows software had given me, I could swim in my money like Scrooge McDuck!
  • On a serious note, each time a commercial software product screws up, and costs a company money, that company should sue the product's maker for costs, assuming the product's maker didn't inform the customer of any issue. Quantify all of the times my workstation at work has to be rebooted, VB crashes, etc., as work-hours taken from my productive time. All of that, for all of the people at my company, adds up to many man-hours of work. Since it's all quantifiable, and much of it due to undocumented bugs, Microsoft should be sued, at least yearly, for this cost to my company, and every other company should do the same.
  • Don't buy from software companies with such a discalaimer. Would you buy a car from a company that said that? Don't forget there are inherent warranties on products... car lemon laws, guaranteed returns on faulty items...

    There was a long time when Oracle paid any customer who found a previously unknown bug in their software a $10,000 "reward". While developing software, I stumbled across an undocumented bug that our DBA then tracked down, and he was awarded the $10K. We need more software companies like that.
  • I agree. I won't rant (too much) here, as I've said much the same in previous Slashdot forums.

    My pet peeve with regards to all of this is all of the gurus who promise programming nirvana by following their easy software methods and procedures...Invariably their 'test cases' are very simple systems. Can somebody please point me to some software engineering methodolgy that has scads of successful test cases in real world situations? And very few to no failures? Please? Please?

    Software is complex. The fact that software is built on other software (APIs, OSes, etc) because handling everything is too complex for one team makes things even worse. Other people's bugs become your bugs. Other people's future bugs (at the OS or driver level) become your bugs after your software is written. There are no guarantees. There is no silver bullet to fix this.

    Personally, given the complexity of modern software (and the hardware underneath it, for that matter), I'm surprised anything ever works to the degree it does manage to work at. This goes for Windows as well as UNIX based systems.

  • by Flarg! (265195)
    This is exactly right, and a good point. I've been doing tech support for years. Six years ago, about 70% of new hires had no idea how to use a mouse, or to navigate through Windows (or any GUI, for that matter). They'd see a computer screen and freeze like rabbits. Now, I'd guess it's more like 5%, and people pick up on things much faster. The reason why is probably because more of them have computers at home, or have worked with them in previous positions.

    Of course, the downside of this is that the problems people are having are much more complex in nature!

  • by Flarg! (265195)
    I should point out, before I get some troll karma-whoring nitpicker on my case, that these figures all come from my personal experience and are not part of any "official" survey.
  • by popular (301484) on Monday March 19, 2001 @11:22AM (#353613) Homepage
    Hey, I'm all for high quality software, but if you can show me any other piece of high volume, industrial strength equipment with 95% uptime (not unreasonable at all), then you have a case.

    I used to work at a print shop -- the kind that produces national magazines, like Time or Fortune. I've been in the pressroom, I've been in the bindery, and all those machines go down several times a day. When hundreds of distinct, interlinked processes are happening at once, the failure of one will often shut down the rest.

    I'm sure this applies to factory floors of all kinds, not just the presses, and I might add that most of said equipment costs SIGNIFICANTLY more to purchase and operate.

    --

  • by nate1138 (325593)
    Maybe the reason that technology will continue to outstrip peoples ability to deal with it is the fact that people should not have to deal with it. If we spent as much time learning about how people interact with technology as we do learning about how to build bigger/faster/better tech, we'd be light years ahead of where we are now. The GUI was the first big step, how about the next one??
  • You do have a point. However, there is a big difference between pressing a pedal and reinstalling device drivers because windows screwed up your display and you need 800X600 to make this detailed excel spreadsheet your boss e-mailed you visible as one page. Also, one only really does a handful of tasks in relation to driving, whilst computers encompass a thousand totally unrelated (to the uninitiated) activities. It's really easy to learn 10 simple parts of a task (turn key, press pedal, turn wheel) than it is to learn all of the eccintricities of modern technology (read computers and their offspring). just my opinion tho'

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