[lug] Excellent Rant

rm at mamma.varadinet.de rm at mamma.varadinet.de
Tue Mar 20 04:22:21 MST 2001

On Tue, Mar 20, 2001 at 02:37:20AM -0700, Nate Duehr wrote:
> On Mon, Mar 19, 2001 at 08:57:40PM -0700, Justin Simoni wrote:
> > I find its funny, that the original rant is from a person who I beleive
> > proclaims himself as a computer expert, and I'm sure works with and develops
> > computer applications. The person who he was using as an example couldn't
> > use a computer efficiently. This means him, or someone like him didn't do a
> > very good job making the program. instead of helping him, he ridiculus him,
> > not to his face, but behind his back, he can't take the fact that this
> > person isn't as educated in this certain tool as he is.
> The vast majority of the problems (as the original poster was trying to
> point out) in "this is too hard to use" is that in order to create
> something useful on a computer you need a very broad depth of knowledge
> about the system and how it works.  

I don't agree with that. I've seem _many_ people who use their
computer for just one or two tasks, are perfectly happy with what
they can do with it and save a lot of time. It's clear that for
'us' the computer is a mighty tool that can be shaped to do all
sorts of wounderfull (or desasterous) things, but we should realize
and accept that for others the thing is just jet another tool.

> In order to use computer business applications these days, the user 
> interface has been simplified to (as one person put it) point-and-drool.
> The gap between the complex world of the programmer and the 
> point-and-drool world of the business software (read: MS Office) end-user
> is widening and the programmer in this rant is simply pointing out that 
> part of the problem is the inability or lack of desire of the end-user 
> to learn any more than absolutely necessary about their machine they use
> every day.  

Of course, but this is the fate of all highly developed technology.
We as westerners tend to separate tasks and to specialize. This does
seem to have certain advantages, as well as disadvantages (but this
isn't neccessarily the place to discuss social/ethnological issues).
Take as a first example the car: 
 - First stage: even driving required highly specialized operators
   (called "chauffeurs" in accordance to steamboats and lokomotives).
   Mercedes gave every chaufeur long training (including full dis/assembly
   of the full vehicle). This somehow reminds me of the IBM/370
   operator manuals ...

 - Second stage: mere mortals learned to drive. The first ones where
   enthusiasts doing it as a hobby. In this stage (1920-1950, or 1990
   in eastern europe :-) drivers still knew how their engines worked
   and where able to fix substantial parts of their vehicle (exchanging
   transmission, steering or brakes wasn't too unusual).
 - Today: cars are so loaded with 'hightech' that even common repair-
   men can't fix everything. Some parts are just sent to the specialist.

Now, before 'we' get to proud (being the 'knowing ones'): I guess
most of us have done some 'low-level' programming--kernel stuff,
asembler, bootsectors etc. But (and now i speak only for myself)
i realize that the gap between hardware design and programing is 
opening up as much as it is between programming and end users.
I think i understand what's going on in a Motorola 6800, but a
new Pentium class porcessor with it's execution pipelines, lookaheads,
cacheing etc. is something competely different. I just don't have the
time to keep up with all of this. 
I guess  the end users think the same: since the box is only a tool
after all, why should the spend such a lot of time to get a 
'deep' understanding. I'm actually glad if they spend their time
trying to understand their bussiness (heck, i'd prefer a doctor that
knows all kinds of symtoms to one that knows the cacheing algorythm
of his disk controller).

> He's lamenting that with only a LITTLE more work, the Office drones 
> could learn how to do something really useful with their machines, but
> they plod along oblivious to the fact that the world doesn't end at
> OfficeWare.

Maybe, but maybe he's lamenting that for some the central part
of his worklive is just periferal. 

> Many today claim (and many of the general public believe) that a year
> in training toward some certification and one can "catch up" to the
> ten-year computer user in understanding and knowledge.  The industry
> is lying to itself to make the shortage of QUALIFIED professionals seem
> easier to bear, methinks.

Yes, i'd agree with that. There's a certain lack of insight in our 
society--expertise takes time (i used to teach and have to say that
most kids today don't want to spend the time and energy that it takes
to aquire certain tasks. I personaly blame this on the 'Edutainment'
tendnecies in todays education).
This remainds me of a Dilbert cartoon: "Teach me how to be an
engineer, ... even if it takes a whole day"

> > I guess no one thinks computers should be as easy to use as possible, I
> > think this should be the entire goal. Why make someone learn an entire new
> > way of doing things just to interact with a tool?  An example would be a new
> > phone we just got for my house. It has 30 buttons on the damn thing, 30
> > buttons! Its a phone. people call me, I pick it up. I can't even do that, I
> > have to push a button to do its simplest task.
> I don't think computers are difficult to use.  I'll gladly leave making
> them easier to use to someone else.  I couldn't care less if someone
> finds them "difficult".  That is unless I have a personal relationship
> with that person and WANT to teach them something new, but I usually
> reserve that kind of enthusiam for someone who's already shown a
> personal interest in learning on their own.  No use reaching to help
> someone out who's not reaching back.

Maybe we should stop talking about 'computer'. This is a way too
broad term. Anything from a Palm to an IBM/390 falls under it.
The problem i see is (and here i can agree with the rant):
People got used to the click-'n-drool. They actually can
acomplish what they want with little effort. Some companies
(no names here ...) started giving the same interface to rather
complex applications (server configuration/ networking etc.)
Unfortunately, people assume that because of similarity of the
interface the complexity of the task is comparable. This is 
why we meet such a lot of "WinNT sysadmins" that don't really
deserve that title (on a sidenote: i've met many who where
aware of this fact but got pushed into this place by an administration
that listened more to MS marketing than to their own employes).
If the space shuttle had the same interface than a normal
VCR im shuer some idiot would try to fly one ("Hey look,
this is jus tlike my Sony play station ..").

> Now when it comes to making the thing easier for ME to use, yes.  I'll
> do it.  And because of my bent toward open-source, I'll probably share
> any knowledge of how to make things easier with anyone who asks.  But I
> have no driving goal to "make computers easier" for anyone who finds
> them difficult to use.  My 83 year-old grandfather uses a computer.  He
> started learning 3 years ago.  He's at about the same stage I was 3
> years into my computer journey, and I think he's doing GREAT.  But I've
> never once made it any "easier" for him.  No special user interface, no
> special treatment, no dumbing down of his desktop for him to learn it.
> Just some extra time with him once in a while to answer questions.  But
> the difference between him and most people is that he HAS questions.  He
> WANTS to learn.

Yes, but i think we need to accept that not having questions is a 
valid way of live to. If your grandfather is so similar to you this 
is nice, but don't expect it from others. I would consider myself
compulsively curious, but i try not to expect others to be like 
this. In _my_ profession it shure helps (and i would expect at least
a certain amount of curiosity from any scientist), but maybe others
have different, equaly valid interests.

> (I also don't think a phone with 30 buttons is difficult to use, but I
> usually use all the features on such devices and I read the manual to
> every complex device I purchase.  If you don't like them, don't buy
> them.  There are plenty of phones without 30 buttons available on the
> market, but you may have to give up some features.)

Right, but he touches an important point: creeping featuritis. Somehow
the number of 'features' became the wounder weopon of marketing
(do you watch TV commercials ?). Vacuum cleaners / hair dryer (no joke!),
text editor/spreadsheet/database/presentation program/organizer ...
It's interesting to see that even MS turned away fron this and claims
that MS OfficeXS will concentrate on the few features most of us need.
BTW, in good interface design the number of features doesn't _have_
to be a relation of the number of buttons ...

> > Think of all the things you interact with in your life. Doors, spoons,
> > sidewalks, pencils, computers. What's the most complicated of these things?
> > Which one can you live without? I don't think i can live without a pencil or
> > a pen. I can certainly can do without a computer, since it creates more work
> > than I put into it.
> So if you've come to the conclusion that computers are a negative impact
> on your life, why are you typing the e-mail?  Not being silly here, but
> seriously.  Get out -- enjoy the sunshine, get away from the thing.
> It's no more intelligent than the desk it's sitting on without you to
> add intelligence to its use.  Just like an airplane, it'll crash without
> a pilot.
> If you want to make it into something or make it do something
> useful, that's good enough reason to continue using it.
> > oh well, I hope this hasn't turned into a rant on my part, but I just want
> > to get some of these ideas out, since simplicity and capability don't repel
> > each other, they complement each other.   anyways, OSX out in 5 days,
> OSX does look pretty, I'll hand it that -- we'll see how it does.

Ralf Mattes

More information about the LUG mailing list