I was reading a review of a laptop recently and saw the typical inscrutable label for its screen resolution (“QHD”, in this case), and finally decided I should find out what the heck that even means. So I poke around, and discover that it’s a morass of thing with conflicting names and ambiguous naming schemes. Who names these things? Why not just use the actual resolution (i.e., 1920×1080, or whatever it is)? Continue reading
[Surfacing an old post that got lost. Some of the details are no longer current—there have been 6 major versions of OS X since Snow Leopard. In particular, it is now possible to set the owner for a single file, as well as for all files of that type. So it basically works exactly the way I (and others) said it should, 8 years ago. But this discussion is still relevant, even if it is no longer a complaint against OS X, as a discussion of different needs and best practices.]
I seriously contemplated not upgrading to Snow Leopard when I discovered that they’ve changed the behavior so that the Creator Codes associated with files are now overridden by other mechanisms. For those who aren’t familiar, up until Snow Leopard, Mac OS has always kept track of not only what kind of file something is, but what application it was associated with. I’ve always considered that to be a major boon: I can have this html file open with my text editor, so that I can make some more edits, but that html file open up in Safari, because it’s a saved webpage i downloaded. And a few other cases that are really common and fairly important [to me]. There are also lots of other cases that have come up over the years, but at least some of those are probably due to my idiosyncrasies, as much as to genuine efficiencies.
Now, this is not to say that the old way was perfect. In classic Mac OS, it was comparatively difficult to access, much less change, this information—if you knew what you were doing, you could use various tools to get at the otherwise-hidden information, and you could learn what the often-obscure 4-character codes were, but for most people, it was set by applications, and that was it. On the downside, this meant that some applications were excessively possessive about files: just opening a file with that application would change it’s ownership to that application, so that the next time you went to open it, it would launch that program again.
On the upside, every application would automagically tag any file that was actually newly-created with it (as opposed to just opened or edited) as belonging to it. This was particularly a boon for dealing with common filetypes, because sometimes one app would be better for what I wanted, sometimes another. Frex, when writing a PERL script, I might put up with a slightly poorer text editor because it had syntax coloring (while my usual text editor didn’t). But I wouldn’t want to use that for everything. I found myself going back and forth between multiple apps for images, too. And, in particular, I certainly wouldn’t want to have an image I was working on associated with the viewer—or webbrowser—I was using to double-check my work. Mac OS X didn’t make it any easier to access the Creator Codes, but it did provide a functionality to override them. Which, IMHO, was the best of both worlds: by default, you had the associations. If you wanted to change a few files, you could do it. If you wanted to change all your files of a given type to open with a particular app, you could do that, even more easily.
Which, now that I’ve gotten some context out of the way, gets to my point: I can understand why some people prefer the new method, whereby all files of a given type open with one, chosen, application. What I don’t understand is why they are happy that the old method, where some files could be automatically owned by an application, is so reviled. Previously, both possibilities were there: those who wanted to always have a given type of file open with the same app could set it that way. Those who wanted to respect app ownership could set it that way. So it’s not just a case of switching from behavior A to behavior B. We’ve gone from default-A with optional-B, to always-B. Which really irks those who prefer behavior A. And I’m a little lost as to why those who prefer B are so happy, since it didn’t take much effort to get that behavior in the past.
The other, more significant, observation I’ve made comes from reading many blogs, editorials, and attendant comments on the topic. And noting an interesting trend in who prefers what. It seems that it’s not just a matter of whim, but there is a definite situational difference. To whit: those who prefer the all-files-of-one-type-for-one-app are consumers of data. Those who prefer the each-file-to-its-app are creators of data. Now, this is just a generalization, so don’t bother “proving me wrong” by showing that you, personally, defy the categories. Of course you do—lots of people do. For that matter, I don’t think they’re black-and-white categories; most people probably are somewhere between the two poles, so, in that sense, everybody defies the categories. Nonetheless, over and over, those who prefer the new method gave receiving files with undesired Creator Codes as their reason. Those who prefer the old method usually gave creating files [in multiple apps] as their reason. And that certainly matches my preferences. I also think that those who claim that for the vast majority of users, defaulting to a single app is the preferred behavior, are correct. Most people I know don’t even use multiple webbrowsers, something that doesn’t involve associating files or most of the other costs of switching apps [though, admittedly, there is the bookmarks issue—but that’s something that can be solved, if you want to switch between webbrowsers for other reasons].
So, I suggest that there is a fairly easy solution that would make everyone happy: provide some sort of Creator-Code-like functionality that not only makes it possible to associate files in a less fragile way than the current mechanism, but make it possible to make that the default behavior when creating a file.
Then, ignore those associations when transferring files. I’m no programmer, so I couldn’t tell you how to do that. Maybe store them somewhere that isn’t preserved when using http or ftp or MIME encoding, or other file transfer protocals. Maybe specifically put a tag in that the Mac recognizes as itself—so when the OS sees an ownership tag that it didn’t put there, it knows to then ignore any creator codes it does find—maybe even strip them out.
From what I’ve been hearing, that would actually provide the functionality that just about everyone wants, even if it wouldn’t match some of the absolutist—and vitriolic—statements that some have been spouting.
This evening I stumbled into a question thread on Quora about Linux and why it’s so user unfriendly. I thought this was funny because yesterday I decided I wanted to switch my Ubuntu install to use the command key (ergonomically located under my thumb, next to the spacebar) as the primary modifier key, instead of control (awkwardly down in the corners of the keyboard where you basically have to use your pinky finger). A single Google search turned up 3 different ways to do it, 2 of which were pretty easy (edit a clearly-identified line of a clearly-identified config file probably being the easiest). Another 10 minutes of reading those pages and some of the alternate answers, and another Google search later, and I found a little application I could install directly from the App Center in Ubuntu that gives a nice GUI interface to swapping keys around. Voila!
For the past few years, I’ve been trying to figure out how to do the equivalent with Windows 7 and 10. The short answer is: you can’t, without administrative access. With administrative access, it’s a royal pain in the butt, and might require registry hacking, and I have yet to find a step-by-step guide to the exact edits to the registry I’d need to make. (Might be mostly-possible with some commercial macro software, but I don’t use MSWindows at home enough to spend money on it, and can’t install software at work.)
Then I wanted to disable the numlock key (or, more specifically, permanently enable it, so that no matter what I do, I get numbers on the number pad). Again, a quick Google search turned up at least 4 ways to do it, each cleverer than the last. More importantly, that same software I installed a few minutes earlier? It simply has a setting for “numlock always on”.
Again, I’ve been looking for a way to do that with MSWindows for years. I figured out how to have it default to on, which is a huge improvement, but if I accidentally hit the button, it still goes off. There might be commercial macro software that can do the trick, and if I had one of a select set of Microsoft-manufactured keyboards, there’s some configuration software that I could probably do it with, but I haven’t otherwise figured out how to do it.
So, what is “user friendly”? I’d say the friendliest system works the way you would like without you having to do anything. But we have varying tastes, so that can’t always be true. Next best would be learning what you want—OS X used to learn a spelling if you typed the same word a certain number of times, so you didn’t have to explicitly tell it “yes, I mean it, and this is a word, so please learn it and stop trying to turn it into something else”. If that’s not possible—or it fails—easy configurability seems like it would be the next best thing.
(BTW, some of those methods I found for Linux would work on OS X, too. But it’s a moot point because it already disables the stupid numlock key, and has built-in GUI tools for swapping around the modifier keys. I’m genuinely surprised that MS hasn’t added that capability yet, given the number of people who prefer MSWindows for its configurability.)
So, is Windows 10 more user-friendly than Ubuntu? I suppose if you want to do everything the way it defaults, then, yes. But if you don’t…
Defaults tend to run the world and choosing how to set things up from scratch is hard, so it’s worth spending a little extra time to set the defaults in the best possible way. If people are used to something that is awkward, I really don’t know whether the “best possible way” would be to continue that bad design, or to choose the better but unfamiliar design. I’m an Apple user, so I’m used to the notion of throwing out the old way for something new (even if I don’t always agree with Apple on which changes are actually improvements—is there really some reason that going from iOS 8 to iOS 9 they had to reverse the direction you swipe to get to the home screen while within the app switcher?). But maybe if you’re used to having the primary modifier key under your pinky finger, switching it to under your thumb isn’t worth the re-learning unless tendonitis forces you.
iOS 9 introduced a bizarre permissions/sharing problem: Apps that need permission (at least some of them) to access some part of the OS no longer had it. So, Camera+ couldn’t access the camera, Fantastical couldn’t access my calendars. In both cases, the apps had had permission and I’d been using them right before the update. In both cases, the app directed me to go to the Privacy part of the settings and allow access, and in both cases where there should be a list of apps that have asked for or been granted access, there was nothing. I tried wiping and re-installing Fantastical in the hopes that it would trigger a request.
iOS 9.0.1 fixed this for me. The access came back without me even having to authorize it. (iPhone 5, in case it matters)
I’m tossing this up here because I couldn’t find anything online about it. So now there should be at least one Google hit relating to it, if someone else is having the same problem.
Quick thought here: (1) Why do extended keyboards—that is, ones with a separate number pad—even have a Num Lock key any more? (2) Why does Microsoft Windows default to it being off?
I get why there is such a key on keyboards that don’t have a number pad, such as laptops. And it makes perfect sense if the “number pad” keys are also letters and stuff that you’d start with it off. But Windows ought to be smart enough to know the difference and choose appropriately—heck, my Mac can even handle the concept of having numlock on for one keyboard and off for another connected to the same machine simultaneously.
But, more generally, when was the last time a keyboard was made that had a number pad but didn’t have arrow keys? And does anybody ever intentionally turn numlock off for an extended keyboard, in order to use the number pad as arrow keys (interspersed with a bunch of other keys) rather than using the even-closer dedicated arrow keys?
As near as I can tell (based on complaints I hear at work and online), it is solely a historical artifact, whose only purpose now is to screw up passwords and complicate data entry.
And while I’m at it: why isn’t MSWindows, after all these years, smart enough to overrule that (and other modifier keys) in software with an easy-to-use interface? It’s clearly possible (since OS X can do it), so why do I have to do a registry hack or play around in BIOS (or UEFI, or whatever they are these days) settings to fix this idiocy?
The author apparently lives somewhere where issues like 35 deg (Fahrenheit) + windchill are a frequent occurrence (as opposed to 5 deg + windchill). I’ve long said that the number we should stop reporting (or add as a footnote) is air temperature and make wind chill the prominent value. See, here’s the thing: I’m a person, not a pipe or a car or bit of plastic tubing. So what the effective temperature is as perceived by a human is the part that matters. The fact that your car only cares what the air temp is, not the windchill, is true. It’s also less of a concern. There are only a few weeks of the year where it is unclear without checking a forecast whether the air temp is above or below freezing. And your car is far less susceptible to the temperature changes, so precision there is less important. Whereas I need completely different outerwear when it’s 25 [wind chill] than when it’s -5 [wind chill].
Now, if the equation is off, that’s something we should look at. In fact, I didn’t know that it assumes you’re moving—I would think that the least-biased representation of wind chill would be on someone just standing there, not generating any significant heat due to motion.
His argument that the wind chill reading is meaningless because you might be sheltered from the wind or in full sun doesn’t make any sense. The air temp reading also can be off by that same amount if you’re in full sun, and the air temp reading out at the airport is almost inevitably lower than when I’m downtown (and probably higher than if I lived out in the country). This problem of local variability is true whether you’re looking at wind chill or air temp. Mr. Engber is right that it’s not “the same”—I can turn my back to the wind and be a little warmer, whereas if the actual air temp is -40 the only way to keep my nose from freezing is to cover it. But a wind chill of -40 is still a heck of a lot more like an air temp of -40 than it is like an air temp of 0 (even if that is the air temp), even if the equivalence isn’t perfect. And I can’t turn my back if I need to be facing in that direction for whatever reason, at which point I need to cover my nose.
I also don’t know where he lives, but his assertion that the air temp is relatively steady during the day while the wind has significant daily variability is bogus. We routinely have a 20-degree change in air temp over the course of a day here in MN. On a cloudless day, it could easily drop 30 degrees overnight.
Personally, I think we should report the wind chill (or heat index, in the summer) as a big, prominent number, and put the air temp in tiny little type off to the side—exactly the inverse of how temperatures are currently reported. For an average person, wind chill or heat index are the more meaningful number. It’s only for a small subset of people that the air temp is as or more important. And the primary time that that is the case is when it is close to the freezing point. If you have outdoor plants (whether garden or farm), you need to know if there is danger of frost. If it is precipitating and you might be on a road, you need to know if there is danger of ice. But the rest of the time? I don’t care what the air temp is. In fact, unless the air temp is between 30 and 40 (Fahrenheit), I literally don’t even need to know.
Our legal system actively excludes jurors with expertise from cases–we want the experts to be testifying and the jurors to be blank slates, pure reasoning machines without bias that weigh only the facts presented in court. I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering whether this is ever a good idea, but I’m particularly convinced that it’s a poor idea for technical matters. People who don’t understand the difference between copyright and trademark shouldn’t be in the jury for a copyright infringement case, and people who apparently don’t understand that public-key cryptography and secret-key cryptography have about as much in common as a gamalan performance does with Kelly Clarkson’s Breakaway shouldn’t be deciding a crypto patent case. Continue reading
OK, this is something that I find myself frequently saying in short form, so I decided to just write it down and post it here so that I can point people to it in the future.
When people are discussing global warming, I feel like a lot of people, particularly everyday folks who are ambivalent or apathetic on the matter, are getting lost in all the details. And politicians, particularly those that are against doing anything about global warming, seem to jump straight to attacking or supporting specific measures, and forget that those measures are means, not the ends themselves.
But before we can even get to the details, we need to see the big picture. I mean the really big picture: global warming either is or is not occurring, and we either are or are not going to do something about it.