Thursday, January 26


I have a confession...I really don't get technology. I have covered most of my ignorance by learning just enough to get by, but that's all there is. I know pretty well Flickr, NetnewsWire Lite, itunes, ical and all my other regular places of interest and could even show someone else how to get by there as well. Someone asks me about the memory, speed, whatever (I don't even know what they ask), about my computer and I get what I'm sure is a lovely dear-in-the-headlights look. I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, but computers do not help me feel so, if I am required to go outside of my zone of knowledge and comfort. For example, let's take browsers. I use the one my husband says is the one I really should use. It has been Firefox for some time now. I have gotten to know and appreciate Firefox and don't care to change. Except that Firefox keeps crashing and doing dohickish things. Like a few minutes ago, I went to Blogger to write a new post (although I have had major writers block & didn't know what I'd type about until the following minute or two took place). The message read "Sorry - Blogger is down for maintenance for thirty minutes, 4:00-4:30 PST." That's okay, I understand the need for a break. But it's 10:15 in the morning. So, I moved over to Safari, the browser I used prior to Firefox and the one in which my husband now lauds as much more reliable ("they fixed the bugs" or something like that). But Safari doesn't remember my password, which I know I have used many times before. After, oh, fifteen password attempts and checking back with Firefox, who still thinks it is in the four o'clock hour, I cracked the password code. But on Safari, in this little box where I am composing my post, there aren't the great little formatting buttons like in Firefox. So if I want to italicize something, I have to actually write out code or something (you know, e.g. *9:"yourareamoron"). I just want to highlight the word and press the little "i". How come this browser doesn't have that? I don't get it. If all of the tech-savvy geeks of this world are really so smart, couldn't they just make stuff that works and is somewhat intuitive to understand? It just shouldn't be this hard - even for me.


Glenn said...

No tech stuff here - just that you gave me a laugh. "Dear in the headlights" would be your husband just before you run over him. Deer in the headlights would be a cute animal locked on to your lights just before you hit it. Either way it is a mess. You choose, do you run over your dear or do you hit a deer? Or is it that your husband is an animal? Hmmmm?

Allan said...

Dear in the headlines, that's me.

Kristi brings up some totally valid points. Online software, no matter how elegant or perfect, is subject to the limitations of browser support and bugs - and they all have bugs.

I've been using Camino on the Mac at work (I hacked it to pose as Firefox for using Gmail and others), which is great as an all-around Mac browser.

Safari (2.x, only on Mac OS X 10.4) is, in general, a superb browser. For Flash sites in particular it's the best on the Mac. Firefox is awesome, with loads of extensions, but a little behind the curve on the Mac.
So, I usually end up using several for different things. It's crazy.

Safari has great plugins and other features - why does blogger and Gmail not give you all the features (buttons) that other browsers get? It's quite standards-compliant, why doesn't it get the love?

kristi w said...

Which headlines are you a dear in exactly, Allan?'s not just me! Thank you both for the mocking.

After Allan's first paragraph, I start hearing Charlie Brown teacher, "Wa wa wa wa..."

Cheryl said...

I'm with you Kristi--User friendly should actually be clarified into two different terms. 1. Cheryl User Friendly (meaning any old Joe can do this) or 2. Allan User Friendly (meaning you must be...well...Allan:-))
BTW, I took a lovely computer programming course in college. I was an exemplary student. Learned all the jargon (DOS--which is VERY helpful to me now:-(. Madly took notes in class. Dutifully showed up at the lab. Typed stuff on the computer. never worked. I always had to ask the computeroids in my class to help me. And sure enough...everytime...they'd spout off phrases (wa,wa,wa,wa...) type in some code that they just happened to KNOW in their computeroid brain and wahlah--a running program.
Still happens to me today...there is ALWAYS some unknown and secret key to the problem that only those in the computer club are told. I really think they have a secret society. "Here's the answer fellow geeks." "Share it sparingly." "We don't want to lose our control of the world." :-)

Jason Hill said...

Hmm. I'm with Allan since I get it. So probably most of what I type in this comment will be received with the Charlie-Brown-teacher-voice-filter, but here goes.

We really are trying to make it easier for you. Did you know that there was a time when no browser could remember any password for you? A time when if you wanted to italicize a word the best you could do was put asterisks around it? A time when if you wanted to put your thoughts onto a website for the whole word to see you'd have to write each page's code in files on your computer that you would have to figure out how to get (or post) onto some server somewhere that would be charging you money for the service of frustrating you with slow connections and abismal support?

What we have now ROCKS.

But not because the mechanism is easier. No things are better because we have all of you non geek types putting your thoughts and stories out there for us to read.

See, back before, when it was all code and geeky-talk, there were a bunch of sites witten by the only people who could figure it all out, and all we had to talk about was computer games and rock and roll.

Now we have stories that keep us connected, and I think it is *great*.

I wish I could help you with some explaination about why it still seems frustrating at times, but I'm afraid I'd just be shining my headlights in your direction. I will promise you that it most certainly, without a doubt, will get better.

rebecca marie said...

i *still* use asterisks sometimes, because frankly, it's easier.

Glenn said...

For me high tech is the teacher saying, "write within the lines! Remember we have a war on (WWII) and there is a paper shortage, so use only one line (narrow line paper) for your capitals. When we went from ink pens to ball point, now that was high tech.

Just to illustrate where I am on the curve, I get my advice from Kristi, which I find beyond me at times. When my help comes from Allan, he usually finishes his expaination about the time I figure out his first sentence which may be as simple as, "to begin with, click on........"

Allan White said...

Cheryl, you are cracking me up! Miss you sista. DOS sux0rs!

No doubt, great progress has been made. But it's still not enough. Jman, the "before" time you describe simply didn't exist for most people who are attracted to blogging these days. Blogging mushroomed and passed the tipping point, partly because the tools got simple enough for non-techies to "get", let alone use. Before that, blogging and web publishing was generally restricted to the geek realm. Heck, I even resisted touching HTML until Dreamweaver came out. Too messy.

It's not just web apps. It's computing in general. The entire computer software industry thrives on adding more and more features and complexity - it's what we engineers *do*. This is a great endless cycle for developers, but who speaks for users? Ok, usability experts maybe, but who can afford them?

It's very difficult for me to put myself in the shoes of non-techie users sometimes when I'm developing a website. Things that seem totally sensible to me might be very confusing to my mom. I have to work hard to come at it from a new angle.

There are encouraging signs. Frustrated users are speaking up. The geeks are learning that people actually prefer usable products! They vote with their wallets, too.

I see other "less is more" trends, too, and not just in software. I see our society resisting the "Super-Size It" mentality in commercials and spirituality.

Speaking of Markup (the asterisk thing): that's tired. Wired: MarkDown.

Allan White said...

Oops - "usable products" (Basecamp) should have pointed here. We use it for work and PUMP project management.

PapaPeters said...

Hmmm though I think regular old ie is pretty decent (i know booo hisss) I understand the complaint. I actually think that not only is the recently available tech stuff easy I think its a bit to easy. With the ease of modern tech you also lose alot of flexibility. I'm interested to see the next line of brwsers that come up with a new windows which should be coming soon.

Jason Hill said...

I know that the 'before' time that I described did not exist for the majority of bloggers today, Al. Which is why I described it.

When someone is frustrated with their current tools, it is, IMHO, advantageous to step back and see where we came from. Not to say, "You've got it so good, stop your complaining." But instead, look where we were compared to where we are now. You can be sure that in a short time things will be even better.

Where we fail as geeks is deciding where to draw the line of knowledge. Cheryl mentioned this when she suggested that we have secrets that we don't tell every user. In a sense she is right. We try to provide tools that let users do things in the computer world that shelter them from having to learning any behind-the-curtain knowledge.

We want to make it easier by providing a button that with one click will italicise the selected text. This shields the user from learning HTML, but when the button is unavailable due to an outage or a browser thingy, the user is stuck. It reminds me of a kid who can't do long division without a calculator.

What we should do is teach people that with 7 short keystrokes they can italicize anything they want. Modify it a little bit and they can get bold. Modify it again and add one more attribute and they can make their own link, all without a handy button to help them.

Now don't misunderstand me, the handy buttons are great, just like calculators. But, if we move the line of knowledge back a smidge, we empower people to format their posts when the tools aren't around.

Of course this is a two-way street. Doing long division is hard, and when your teacher describes it you can't just pass a note to your friend in the next desk that says, "Wha, whah, wha, whah, whah, whah", because one day you may be stuck without a calculator. So, you have to be willing to test a few formatting tricks and figure them out. I'm not saying you will have to give up the handy buttons, but adding a few more tools to your box will smooth your journey.

Whatever you do don't let any of us geeky types keep you from sharing your thoughts and experiences with us.

kristi w said...

I write a cute little post about a few inconsistencies of life, and it turns all serious!

I don't think everyone needs to learn html. Knowing basic math, reading and other basics of education is apples to the oranges of html. You don't expect someone who uses English as a new second language to diagram the Declaration of Independence. Or to do long division.

And, just because they may not be able to diagram Paul's works, does not mean that they are less intelligent nor does it give me right to a superiority complex- and issue that seems to plauge many tech-savvy folks [ooh - did I just say that out loud?].

Allan White said...

I think there's a distinct difference of interest between geeks and non-geeks. Not one of intelligence, but interest. Writers want to write, and want punctuation, capitals, bold and italic (and - perhaps even - lists!). They just want to write.

Writing markup, in these people's perspective, is a flow-interrupting task that they want little to do with.

I think HTML will be around, in some form, for a long time. I also think that the need to know HTML - for formatting - will decrease with improved web tools.

However, doing web development for a living does require going deeper - there's amazing stuff under the hood of a site that few people see or care about. All they know is that it works - or doesn't.

Allan White said...

Apple recently introduced iWeb for easy web publishing. They're not the first to try a product like this, but it's a sign that they think it's important enough in the consumer space to create an app for easy web publishing - with little exposure to code.

Reminds me of a consumer-oriented Contribute.

kristi w said...

Oh, and Happy Birthday Jason! :-)

randy said...

When I hear the word technology I think of Napoleon Dynamite!

Steve Maxwell said...

Kristi, you rock. Your posts just bring it out in people. Let me tell you all what you do. You get know Kristi, Allan, J - Hill, Glenn, Ry Peters, Cheryl, and any other geniuos that commented here and that way what ever it is you need you can just call and ask. Besides I already know about html (how to make lunch) I do it everyday. :-) All of you made me laugh so much. Peace

Jason Hill said...

Remember when I promised you in a comment that it would get better? Well it just did. When I logged into blogger today it told me they are now auto-saving posts. That's cool.