being the hydrant for technology’s dog

some days you’re the dog, some days you’re the hydrant.
this piece of wisdom was passed on to me some time ago, and i’ve found it a useful mantra. it helps remind me about life’s little ups and downs.

for the past few days, it’s been technology that’s the dog, and i’ve been the hydrant. so i’m just gonna vent the old spleen a bit, and move on to smaller and better things.

ansgt part I: the woes of software upgrades, aka "it used to work"
in my job as web [insert vague, new economy adjective here], i use a lot of software. sometimes it uses me, too, but we won’t go into that. one tool that i use all the time is BBEdit, a great piece of text editing software if ever there was…

now, bbedit upgraded recently. they added some really essential, neato stuff (like a document drawer to mimic tabbed browsing), so i plunked down my upgrade dollars and bought the new version (my second paid upgrade this year, i might add). with a flutter in my heart and bumble bees in my fingers, i installed and started bbediting, and boy was i happy.

until i realized it doesn’t quite work the way it used to. in fact, it’s sort of broken. ok, let’s call it the way it is – at least one major feature appears almost completely broken, downgrading me from a sledgehammer to a spoon.

i bought it last week, and there’s already an update (read: patch). i’m suspecting there will be several others. fortunately, these will be free for awhile until we get beyond the we-rushed-to-release-a-product-and-didn’t-QA-enough stage.

it just makes me mad. i know software development is hard, but don’t break stuff that already worked…
ADDENDUM: i submitted a bug report to Barebones Software, and not only did they respond promptly, but they fixed the bug, came out with a new maintenance release (8.0.2), and then notified me. now that’s what i call service!!

angst part II – the saga of the sick mac
i upgraded my mac recently. it’s pretty swell, except for when it crashes, or when all my Apple applications stop working for no apparent reason.

the culprit? i have no idea about the crashes. i’ll take that as a total mystery and just live with it (for now). as far as the apps, i have yet to discover the true problem, but i know what fixes it – dumping my font cache. now there’s a logical connection if ever there was one: applications won’t open? clean your font cache!! grrr.
deal with it, or….??
that’s the only resolution i can see: deal with it.

i work with computers all day, every day, and can deal, for the most part (present rant = part of dealing with it, thank you). but what about people who don’t? it’s no wonder my mom won’t get a computer – she’s terrified of doing something wrong. look at your computer sideways and over the edge to meltdown it goes.

computers have come an amazing distance in the last 20 years…unbelievable, actually. one might think that over time, things will get more stable, more solid, and nothing will go wrong. one might be right, but i suspect one is more likely wrong.

computers (and home-computer environments, in general) seem to be systems with emergent properties. it’s impossible to imagine (and test for) all possible permutations of computer hardware and software (built with very little quality control or standards). let’s not even talk about all the possibilities for user behavior. as a result, crazy things happen that no one can predict, and this often means that things crash, applications stop working, bad (and often expensive) sh*t happens.

programmers at the application layer can try to build fault-tolerant apps that can handle exceptions and errors, but they can’t control anything that happens with the hardware. similarly, some guy at Intel designing a chip can only do so much when it comes to stopping programmers from writing bad code (another post coming about this soon).
my personal prediction is that computers will remain fragile as they get more and more complex, and as we ask them to be more powerful, more central, multifaceted tools. it’s pretty hard to imagine don norman’s invisible computer, or the time when we come to think of computers like we do the telephone.

don’t get me wrong – computers are transformative tools, and our lives are enriched because of them. but they still really piss me off sometimes.

i think i’ll go read a book.

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