Using official terminology to minimize understanding

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

Well, that’s a fun new failure mode


When you add a person to (or remove from) a meeting in Outlook, but make no other changes, sometimes it automatically sends the update to all attendees, and sometimes it puts up a little dialog box asking whether you want to send the update to all attendees or just the new people.
send to all attendees
After years of experimenting, I have given up trying to predict whether or not it will give you that option.

Continue reading

Define “User Friendly”

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 Revokes Permissions?

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.

Whyfor Num Lock?

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? 

Windchill Matters More

This essay against reporting wind chill factor just popped up again.

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.