Friday, August 16, 2013


In which I shake my cane and grumble

I like computers, they are a very useful tool.  They enable me to write much more easily and swiftly than by hand, they can run amazing games, and with the internet allow me to research far beyond what I could do on my own.  On the other than, they can be quite frustrating.
One of my greatest annoyances with a computer is inconsistent speed.  I don't mind a slow computer being slow, but when a fast computer is, without warning or apparent reason, slow, that's very annoying to me.  If it weren't an inanimate object, I'd suspect stubbornness or contrariness.  Sometimes I do anyway, knowing better.
Another annoyance for me is when a computer won't do what you tell it to.  You've experienced this, when you tell it to open something or do something and it sits grinding away doing something else, not responding.  I cannot for the life of me understand how a computer capable of processing numbers at speeds so fast humans cannot even truly comprehend them can take 5-10 seconds to open a menu.
I understand that computers really don't "multiprocess" but do things one at a time, swapping very rapidly back and forth, so it can appear to be at the same time.  And I understand that a difficult or complex operation takes time for a system to complete.
What I don't understand is why that process has to complete before it obeys my input.  After all, that's the entire point of a user interface, be it typing or graphical.  At no time, ever, should a computer ever be too busy to do what its been told to do.  When I hit the "x" to close a browser, it should close that instant rather than finishing loading some flash program or whatever the heck its doing.  When I hit that "stop loading" button, it should stop loading, not grind 20 seconds more trying to get that last little bit put on the screen.
In other words, on top of everything else the computer does, running in the background, there should be a system which instantly and without delay obeys input by the user.  This should have top and first priority, and be the first and most important thing the computer does in every single operation.  No matter what.  It should pause everything else its doing and obey that command, then go back to its other operations.  Is that truly such a radical and difficult concept?
Another annoyance is the load priorities for webpages.  When I go to a website, I want the meat of the site to load, and not the chaff.  I understand that websites love their ads and flashy gimmicks and such and want them up there to hopefully make money, but at no point should I have to wait looking at a blank or mostly-blank screen as doubleclick loads or cookies are read, or what have you.  This is like turning your TV on and getting annoying advertising sound while the screen is black, warming up.
Load up the webpage then the other crap.  If you have flash or something on the page, load up everything else first.  Nobody likes browsing the internet and having nothing happen on the screen as it loads up stupid ads.  Bad enough pop ups and other nonsense insist on invading your computer.
Youu know what I don't want to see in computer innovation?  What Hollywood seems to think computers will be next.  I remember well when DOS was the main operating system for PCs and you typed in commands.  It was fast, clean, and took up almost none of your hard drive.  Graphical User Interfaces took over mostly because they were easier for someone without any training to use, and they looked "cooler."
The next wave seems to be frantic gesturing and yelling at your computer, if sci fi movies are to be believed.  And there's absolutely nothing gained and much lost from this interface.  It might look dramatic for Tom Cruise to wave his arms around like a conductor to browse through files on a screen that would give epic eyestrain in Minority Report but its an idiotic interface.  In what possible way is using your arms to gesture files around superior to doing the same thing using a mouse?
OK you get a workout and it looks good on film.  When Robert Downy jr designs a new gauntlet in Iron Man by gesticulating madly like a guy being chased by bees, it looks more interesting than an engineer with a tablet or bent over a mouse clicking.  But that doesn't make it feasible or even desirable in person.
And speaking to your computer instead of typing or clicking?  Does anyone really want the entire world to hear them telling their PC to go to My Little Pony sites and search for remedies to hemorrhoids?
One thing computers really ought to have from sci fi movies is something I've written about before.  When a computer goes wrong in a movie or book, what's the first thing people do?  Run to a store?  Search online for a forum?  Kick the thing across the room and replace it (if its an Apple product)?
No, they command the computer to do an "diagnostic" and check its self.  And the computer reports "damage in main coolant system, explosion imminent."  Why doesn't every computer made, Mac or PC, have this? Why doesn't any computer made have this (well one has, see below)?  Why do I have to pay extra and download extra files just to get my computer to do what every single system in every single sci fi literature ever produced does?
I should be able to fire up a program that checks the stability of my memory, how fast things load, how efficiently things are running, what's having problems, why my mouse isn't working right, and so on.  It should be able to scan everything on the system and report hardware and software information, and it should be able to do so out of the box.  Sure, there are a few tools, but nothing like the all-encompassing diagnostic system of these computers.
And its not like this is beyond the capability of computers today.  You can technically get the programs to do all this, they just cost extra.  Every time a new operating system comes out, its 50% bigger and hogs even more of your hard drive and memory.  Instead of making the windows seem translucent and 3d, which is utterly useless, how about this basic and obvious tool?? 
I did have one computer that did this, an IBM Thinkpad from about 1998.  It had a tool that you could run before the operating system even loaded which would check the battery, memory, screen, everything.  It's just such an obvious thing, what's the hold up?
Everything that goes into computer design lately seems to be about speed and appearance, as if every other thing has been handled and now its down to graphic design.  Hey guys, there are still some basic nuts and bolts left unfinished here.  Get cracking.


Anonymous Eric said...

"Every time a new operating system comes out, its 50% bigger and hogs even more of your hard drive and memory."

Microsoft has actually been streamlining the system resources that Windows uses, ever since Vista. I have a Dell laptop I purchased in 2006 that was always clunky with Vista, even after I maxed out the memory. I upgraded to Windows 7 and it ran impressively. Recently I put Windows 8 on it... now it runs like a cheetah. I have a similarly configured laptop running Ubuntu Linux, and it gives me way more problems than my Windows 8 box.

Windows 8 has it's own problems, but hogging system resources doesn't seem to be one of them.

7:53 AM, August 20, 2013  

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