Alarming News: I like Morgan Freeberg. A lot.
Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler: We were following a trackback and thinking "hmmm... this is a bloody excellent post!", and then we realized that it was just part III of, well, three...Damn. I wish I'd written those.
Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler: ...I just remembered that I found a new blog a short while ago, House of Eratosthenes, that I really like. I like his common sense approach and his curiosity when it comes to why people believe what they believe rather than just what they believe.
Brutally Honest: Morgan Freeberg is an intriguing guy...[he] asks great questions and answers others with style, flair, reason and wit. On the blogroll he goes. Make him a part of your regular blogospheric reading. I certainly will.
Brutally Honest: Morgan Freeberg is brilliant.
Common Sense Junction: Misha @ Anti-Idiotarian never ceases to amaze me. He keeps finding other good blogs. I went over to A.I. this morning for my daily Misha fix and he had found this guy named Morgan Freeberg in Fair Oaks, California, that has a blog, House of Eratosthenes. Freeberg says its "The Blog That Nobody Reads" but it may now become the blog that everybody reads.
Jaded Haven: Good God, Morgan, you cover a topic from front to back with a screwy thoroughness I find mind boggling. I'm in awe of your thought proccesses, my friend, you're an exceptional talent. You start by throwing in the kitchen sink, tie in someone's syphilitic uncle, bend around a rip tide of brilliance and bring it all home in a neat, diamond dripping package of an exceptionally readable moment of damn fine wordsmithing. I love reading you.
Mein Blogovault: Make "the Blog that No One Reads" one of your daily reads.
Philmon: When Morgan meanders, stick with him - he's got a point and it'll be worth it in the end. He's not a hit-and-run snarky quip kind of guy. The pieces all fall into place like tumblers in a lock and bang! He's opened a cognative door for you.
Rightlinx: Morgan at House of Eratosthenes is one of the best writers out there. I read him nearly every day because he manages to provide an interesting perspective, even though I don't always agree.
Poetic Justice: Cletus! Ah gots a laiv one fer yew...
Had a rather interesting conversation over at the Hello Kitty of Blogging yesterday, which I started after experiencing some everyday-life frustration.
I played a video game, which of course essentially means goofing off — using technology. Then I attended to some businessin’, again using technology. My irritation detonated while in the second of those two activities, during which time not only did seemingly everything in the world go wrong, but I experienced a pretty-much-constant confusion about states of things. States of sessions, states of pages, states of widgets. Seems I never was quite clear on what was doing/expecting what. And I’m talking specifically about web portal stuff. There is a question about whether I’m really logged in when I think I am…whether such-and-such a field has been properly filled in…oh, you need to read our terms of service before clicking that button, and now that you’ve clicked to read our TOS we’ve helpfully wiped out some fields that you have to fill in again.
Your response to CAPTCHA is not an accurate interpretation of the letters and numbers displayed on your screen, please try again. Oops, please try again. Please try again please try again please try again…
I find this aggravating because, having mucked about somewhat with the intricacies of 3D rendering, I have an understanding of what’s going on at the “bleeding edge” and what an organization has to do to meet with these arcane concepts, for just the visual experience of playing the game. It involves considerable effort just to get everything coordinated. And yet this common pattern holds up, that if your effort has to do with goofing off, then everything works great. And if it doesn’t, there is hell to pay even though the situation under which things hiccup just a tiny bit, could fairly be called an “edge case.” Like: Lara Croft can navigate through the lava level properly on PS2, PS3, and XBox, but on the PC download her foot gets stuck in the crack in the floor and you have to re-load…or the camera angle is causing a bit of frustration. Given a set of circumstances like those, the game will be ripped up one side and down another in the reviews, even if everything else is working perfectly. That’s goofing off. When you do things that actually make the household go, nobody gives a rip about edge cases. Even when you’re not trying to do anything exotic at all, everything goes wrong, and what’s worse is, the things that are busted with the system that cause these things to go wrong, stay busted. For months. Years. Years and years and years.
But have you ever tried to give money to your phone company…over the phone? Yes, I’d like to pay my bill. I’d like to pay my bill. Pay my bill. Pay bill. PAY. BILL!
I’m fond of an anecdote from many years ago during my server engineer days. That company was a sprawling health insurance leviathan, and miles away from us at company headquarters, the CEO popped in to work one morning to find the security guard in the lobby playing Solitaire. The Information Technology department got a thumpin’, because the boss wasn’t quite hip to the idea of Windows 95 being all intricately hooked up to its core parts…which included the silly games Microsoft had been throwing in there. Which didn’t stop him from sounding off and demanding action immediately. Yeah, that was one of the ones that came to me, I’m such a lucky stiff…but I certainly understand the frustration. What ticked the old man off was, all these other applications that had to do with work, there were problems galore but — I remember these words vividly — “Lord knows, we can make these games go without a hitch.” Yes there’s a lot of ignorance in there. But I see a valid complaint there as well, or valid feelings at the very least.
Goofing off goes “without a hitch.” Getting money moved around for purposes of staying alive & fed, or keeping the lights turned on…I’m afraid I just don’t understand. The algorithms for session key exchange, authentication, block cipher encryption and hash, those are very mature and capable, we have a pretty good idea of how we want them to work. That’s a different chapter of my work history, but I’ve had to get my hands dirty with all that stuff as well. There is some good, sound technology here. But the layers on top of it, where the web pages are put together and the users are prompted to fill things out, that’s just the worst godawful mess, and you don’t need to understand how things fit together to realize this. Just go through the user experience. Nobody’s doing it right anywhere, it seems. If, that is, the object of the exercise has something to do with “real” work.
For goofing off, everything is hammered together and “built so that it stays built.” The user is free to concentrate on his own shortcomings, and it is implicitly understood that the silly smarmy back-talking bitch Lara Croft did leap in the direction you told her to, and her dead body lies in a sloppy heap at the bottom of the valley because you told her to leap in the wrong direction. Oh, we say things to the contrary all the time. But we know the guy holding the controller is the real problem. Or he’d better be; one little flaw with camera angles in one platform port, even a platform “nobody” is actually using — there’s hell to pay.
It’s not because the experience is inherently frustrating, or the game players lack the maturity to deal with it. That’s one of the few enriching qualities that the games bring. They teach kids, if it seems to be impossible, just try and try again and you’ll get it. There is some value in this. But it has not escaped my notice that if the experience for the user is frustrating, but properly so, with the game doing everything correctly none of this frustration is held against the game. Even when the users sound off with their most base passions in a forum somewhere, nobody was rooked by the game — it’s just a “tough level.” I’m sure the players sometimes do lack maturity. Or, at least, I do on occasion. But it doesn’t affect anything in the interaction.
It’s not because of the competition angle. When I first heard that, I thought it made a lot of sense. If the game is all cocked up, people will learn all about that before they even buy it, whereas the phone company and the power company and the cable company each have a monopoly. The problem with that idea is with the cell phones. Competition among the carriers, and among the hardware platforms, is fierce. Even within that environment the pattern persists, on both sides. Ever have a problem playing Angry Birds? I haven’t heard of anyone saying they have. But, for the utilitarian stuff suddenly it all falls apart. My wife has to go to the retail outlet today, to yell at them about her lack of ability to check messages on our home answering system. Once again, it’s a completely stupid problem: She dials in the pass code, and after three seconds the keypad on her own phone dims out. It makes for a lively performance from the passenger seat while I’m driving, I can tell you. Crap like that. It doesn’t happen with games.
Ever. Like the boss said, Lord knows we can make ‘em go without a hitch.
It isn’t because of complexity. The games are doing amazing things. Just the technology that is involved in rendering a triangle is a science unto itself. And then there are all these methods for storing and retrieving and properly distorting textures when viewed with the light source behind it, or through vapor or water. That automated idiot who takes my credit card number for the phone company doesn’t have to deal with any of that.
I believe, since this tends to always be the case, the things that we build reflect our character; the watch is the image of the watchmaker. And maybe it is just frustration being channeled here, like the frustration of that CEO thundering away in the e-mail. But it seems to me that for the present time, goofing off is where the priority is. When I see people tackle problems that have something to do with accepting my money, or with giving me some, time after time when the problems are being “solved” in some way they’re being solved by way of chopping at the leafy part of the weed. Problem A is brought about by Problem B, without Problem B taking place Problem A would never have happened — nevertheless, all of the few resources marshaled to address this, are directed toward Problem A, with little to no concern about making sure it never happens again. And thirty days later, it does happen. It isn’t long before the consumer figures out that success is mainly involved with avoiding being an edge-case. And, I think this has to do with the long-standing complaint about our societal hostility toward masculinity, our subconscious desire to destroy it: I’ve lately started to think the incapable robot who can’t understand my voice, at the phone company, can’t understand me because I’m a bass-to-baritone. Men these days don’t talk that way. Much more common to hear the “manly” voice confining itself, having been properly chastened like a well-behaved dog staying off the furniture, to about an octave above Middle C. The system carries no burden to handle edge cases, the burden is on the user to avoid being one. I’m thinking the wife should be taking care of this bill payment, and perhaps the end of our frustration lies in that direction.
While the games keep right on working. Edge cases and all. “Without a hitch.”
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