Older blog entries for moshez (starting at number 29)

Thoughts About Usability

I am a very introspective person. When I feel a certain way, I would like to understand why I feel that way. I have wondered why I am so often irritated by people talking about usability in free software. An example of such an article (and a fairly good one, at that) is available from the GNOME Usability Project. I was trying to understand what the core of my irritation with the article. Then I stumbled on this gem:

Most of us probably want people to operate our programs, we desire "users"

And then it hit me. I don't.

I honestly don't care whether people use my programs. I write them to solve a problem. If the problem later comes up for someone else, I will point them at the solution I wrote (or helped write). Then, if it works for them, fine. If it doesn't, they're free to hack on it until it does solve their problem. They can, of course, not use it at all -- in which case I will usualy dismiss them as idiots, because I've already solved the problem, and move on with my life.

The only usability I care about is mine. I want to be able to use the programs I write. If nobody else can use it, that's perfectly fine -- as Franky says in Rocky Horror Picture Show: "I didn't make him.... for you!" [and the callback: "but she gets him anyway"]. This sums up my feelings. I don't make programs for others -- but they get them anyway, because I am careful to license them freely.

All this, of course, doesn't mean I don't care about bug reports. I try to keep my code clean and bug-free as I can. But, if there is a disagreement about what the program should do, at that point I will turn a deaf ear towards my users.

movement: I hoped it was obvious my lynx comment was somewhat tongue in cheek. Lynx is, of course, my browser of choice. Actually, I am not sure what "usability" problems lynx has, but hell, I am sure it has.

But I am quite certain it would be amusing to see MichaelCrawford submitting bugs to the lynx project along the same lines (I'm starting to think that his reports are being extremely unfair to his wife by portraying her in a classical sexist way as the "helpless female". One must wonder if she actually reads these bug reports, and if she does, what she thinks of her husband publically announces to the world that she is in tears.) Anyway, I use mozilla on my work machine, and I think I had one crash in a few months of using it, so as far as stability goes, I really can't complain -- my vague memories from my IE on Windows using time seem to indicate that this IE crashes more, so if we limit ourself to defining "qualities" by "number of crashes on preferred platform", Mozilla would get the upper hand. I also think mozilla is usable, but since I think vi, screen, zwm and differential topology are all perfectly usable and intuitive, you may freely disregard my opinion as someone whose mind is so Twisted to be actually sprained.

Gagh, I feel like I'm abusing my "Master" status (wtf is up with that?) by posting this, but whatever.

MichaelCrawford: I've seen you plugging (supposedly "subtly", but you're unsubtle even for a geek) your "skills" for a few years now, under the guise of writing "useful" and "informative" comments. Yet, for all that, I have yet to see one significant contribution from you to anything free software. I suppose I should make a technical exception to the "LinuxQuality" project, which is a contribution, perhaps, in the sense that like many other projects, it sits there gathering dust after you have finished your initial zest for contribution. The difference is that LinuxQuality rots on somewhere else than SourceForge. Yay.

So, let me recap, before I spout some more vitriol: you have achieved your Master status under somewhat false pretenses, you have made no worthwhile contributions to free software, you continuously whine about free software lacking quality (and your solution is to "lets all test the 2.4 linux kernel) and you confuse between usability flaws (where the software works fine and passes any conceivable test, but is hard to use) and crashes. You continuously whine about the supposedly high-quality of MacOS and BeOS, but you also try to tell them how to run their business (other people reading this: Michael has links to where he explains to MacOS and BeOS how to run their business on his site, if you care).

Now, your wife is in tears because IE has holes and Mozilla crashes. I am sure your wife is a perfectly intelligent person, and since she doesn't whine on public forums, I'll also assume she is nice and will conduct no personal assault on her person. However, perhaps in the interest of honesty, you might want to tell your wife to go ahead and use IE on Windows, if the only reason she's avoiding it is the security hole. Windows is inherently so unsafe, she shouldn't really count on avoiding using IE to save her from any malicious crackers. In fact, IE is relatively safe, as you'd need to own a malicious site (dangerous) or crack a benign site (and if you can do that, you can probably crack into your wife computer directly).

Alternatively, you can convert your wife wholly to Linux, with either Konqueror or Mozilla as her desktop. I'm sure (well, more like fervently hope, God knows I have no evidence) that you are competent enough to set it up for her and I'm certain you care about her enough to spend the two hours it takes to install Debian. Now, Debian is not imprevious to security problems. Hell, I get mail every two days about a security vulnerability. However, the Debian organization is careful and responsive to security threats, so your wife will probably be as protected as she can be with a computer which actually does something and connected to the internet.

As an added bonus, whenever your wife gets tired of bloatware like Moz or Konq, she can use what I use daily to browse the web -- lynx. Lynx, how do I love thee, let me count the ways. Since most web designers are totally incompetent idiots (well, this is the top 10% really, the rest are totally incompetent untrained monkeys), lynx just ignores their "design decisions" and displays their content. Since your wife designs web sites, I'm sure she would be interested to check that even without all the glitzy features, her site is still usable. So it's, basically, a win-win situation.

If your wife really really needs IE occasionally, to check the web site still loads OK, you can always just use VMWare to bring up Windows inside the Linux box.

As an alternative, you can put your money where your mouth is. Rewrite Mozilla on top of ZooLib. Surely, with ZooLib's wonderful abstractions, soon there'll be no more bugs in Mozilla, right?

But I am sorry for that last quip. Making fun of C++ is just not nice.

This is not really a diary entry, but rather a request for help: I couldn't find Fefe's address anywhere, and I want to contact him. So I decided a good way would to be to put in a diary entry to get into "recent entries". If anyone reading this has any connection to Fefe, please e-mail me at find-fefe@zadka.site.co.il. Thanks in advance.

Yesterday I was in Tel-Aviv meeting with clients. After the meeting, I met with Rami and Hezi for lunch. It was a lot of fun -- we made jokes, ate good food, and I started admiring Hezi for the way he talks to women. On the bus back I saw someone reading an article which started "XML is a new programming language". I guess they just s/Java/XML/ to last year's article. I restrained myself from telling him not to waste his time, and instead continued reading "Always Coming Home". I called up Chen to say hello and promise to give her the book when I'm done with it.

OK, back from reserves service in a hole in the south. Actually, it was kind of fun. The guys with me were Rami (an apprentice accountant with a nice wife), Hezi (apprentice lawyer), Liron (insurance salesmen) (and yes, I know of no sharkier professions), Yaniv (learning EE, and yes, I still look up to EEs), Nati (learning software engineering) and Meni (lerning mechanical engineering). We had lots of time to sleep, talk, do some (don't laugh) male bonding. We invented the "uniform scale" for women: a woman is x if x of the women are less beautiful then her. Actually, for convinence we scale x up by 10. So 5, say, means half the women are less beautiful then her. Watching TV and arguing about numbers was fun. Every now and the a number, say "8" was thrown. "No, 7". "Well, maybe I'd give her 7.5", and so on. I also managed to read tons of science fiction, and even get a taste for Haykus. We argued about history, philosophy and religion. Explained what stock and stock options are, and what is topology. How to form a non-profit, and how to prove 2 to the aleph null is larger then aleph null. We had a trivia of the day every day, ate fine meat and (don't tell) even drank fine beer. We played backgammon till the dice were raw. Loads and loads of fun. It's amazing what fun we had, in that hell hole in the south. Today I went out with Stav and Ira. We drank some, talked some, and sang "Sheker Hakhen" (by "Hasaruf") together, feeling it to be somewhat relevant. Long live the ex-club!

Today, for the first time in my life, I met a client. It was fun. Well, on the bus to Tel-Aviv I met a friend of mine from the army, and we spent the ride talking. He told me some army horror stories. Scary! Well, then I manage to get to the client. I installed some software, configured it a bit, and after ~7 hours, I left. Then I remebered why I hate Tel-Aviv: you can never find a bus station. Oh, well.

Yesterday Stav and I went downtown to drink and talk. We had lots of fun -- I taught him what Guiness untabbed is (strong and good), I drank Fuzzy navel. The barwoman at Mike's Place is simple way, and I mean *way* cute. It was fun just listening to the band, looking at her, and trying to reinvent Linux with Stav. There were two cute girls in a table next to us. When one of them went <some place> the other started to offer her pizza to everyone there. Fun fun. Well, the one who constantly left looked really good, so when Stav and I decided to leave, I left a note on her jacket asking her to call me. I then found her outside and told her I left a note on her jacket. Well, so far, no call. Oh, well. Anyway, then we decided we want to go some place else with food, so we went to Riff Raff. There we talked about reconstructing technology, including settling in place. Then we talked some more, and went to the Cave pub. There the waitress was not cute at all, but the drinks were all right. We drank a bit, talked some more, and staggered to a taxi home. Today I woke up with the predictable headache, and got a clean slate on my mail. MUTT rulez! And I'm logged in to #debian for the first time. Loads of fun!

Yesterday night Ira invited me over to see "First Strike", a Jacky Chan movie. It was my first Jacky Chan, but Ira kept complaining that they have too much pseudo-plot and too little fights. What fights were in the movie were simply great. Then we saw "Nikita -- The TV Series" or something like that. It's really got no connection to the original movie, but was cute nonetheless. Then we saw some Michael J. Fox movie about ghosts...funny, like a parody of "Sixth Sense", only it was before it.

Yesterday was also the day I finally finished Stav's books -- all eight of them, which meant that I can do more then one book/day. Perhaps I'll finish the Amber decalogy before my trip to Amsterdam. (Or perhaps I'll do the finish up on the plane -- always something good to do on flights).

Yesterday was a lot of fun. Ira, Stav and I went to Abu-Gosh to eat some humus and then baqlava. We met with Eitan there and had lots of fun. Then we came back to my place, and talked a lot until my family decided to go out to dinner -- so I shooed Adi and Ira away, and went to eat. We went to "Anashim" in Ein-Karem, and I had a sushi platter. Good for the soul...

Now that it's the promgrenade season, we have lots of ripe promgrenades. I spent all morning peeling them, with the necessary periodic sampling. Now we have >3kg of peeled promgrenades waiting for me. It sounds like a lot, but you can easily kill a kg of promgrenade while talking to someone. Luckily, I'm peeling them faster then they are being eaten -- for the moment.

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