Software idiocy

I can’t remember if I have already blogged about this, but it happens to me frequently, so I should make sure it stays on record.

Here you have someone with a tech support question on a forum. He claims that this or that feature does not work with the said software program. Apparently, the reason is because the feature does not exist, rather than not working because of a bug.

What pisses me off is when readers reply to that forum post with elaborate hoops of how to make it work. It might be as simple as installing another utility to do the specific work before loading the file again to the main app, or it might involve several new apps or libraries, or it might be as complex as modifying source code, or applying patches and then re-compiling.

This bothers me. I don’t like it when people are suggesting crazy things to Joe Users. I like simplicity, and I like offering simple solutions too. For example, when someone says that “Sony Vegas won’t read my Canon digicam’s MJPEG files”, I simply reply: “Because of a silly reason Vegas won’t do it, so use another video editor”.

However, people won’t reply the same thing. Because they have INVESTED to that software themselves, they take the selfish approach of proving to themselves that their choice was right. And so they reply: “you do this, then you do that, then you re-encode like this, and then you load it to Vegas”. While this might take HOURS to do each time (especially re-encodings), they will persist on suggesting it. They obviously show no respect to the user and his valuable time.

How fucked up this is? I mean, think about it. Instead of telling the poor person to go use the right tool for the job (in this case would be another video app, OR, buying a real camcorder instead of using a digicam to do video), they tell him to go get 5 more tools, glue them together in a specific order, sacrifice a goat, wait a few more hours, and then have it done. It just doesn’t make sense to me. It is beyond my comprehension how far software users will go to defend their own choices.

Same goes for Linux users of course. There was this guy in a forum a few years back who was in need of a professional movie-scripting app, and instead of telling the poor fella “use Mac or Windows, there are such apps there”, they replied to him “Oh, Emacs will do it. Just script it”.

What the fuck?


Adam wrote on July 10th, 2007 at 1:13 AM PST:

I think you have it a little wrong. I do disagree with you on some OSNews matters, sure, but I’m truly not responding with malice or that in mind at all right now. If you want me to be truthful, I think my replies are harsher because I’ve watched you become less and less flexible and more and more narrow-minded.

As this piece displays, something VERY simple — “a tad annoying” at best — has you totally worked into a tizzy. All I’ve done is disagree with you and you now feel I’m out of line.

Lately, on this blog, you’ve been very vocal about all the things you hate with VERY little room for actual debate. You’re not interested in real discussion, just posting your opinion and pointing out why others are wrong. I guess that’s fine, this is your blog, after all, but then why allow comments at all if all you’re going to do is torment and chastise your commenters? This is not the essence of the Eugenia I befriended and grew to admire.

You have sloshed around really harsh words for developers of projects I really like. You have been very critical of things and you don’t respond very nicely when people disagree. I call you on that, because someone should.

But if you prefer, I can simply stop commenting.

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on July 10th, 2007 at 1:22 AM PST:

My blog was always the same ranting place that it is today. I am always vocal about everything I felt like commenting on, in the same manner that I always have (”fierce” that is). It’s probably your perception of me that changed, not my blog posts. Go ahead and read posts of mine from 2002 and you will see the same kind of writing style there too.

And what you call “narrow-minded”, I call “logical”.

Feel free to go back on topic btw.

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on July 10th, 2007 at 1:43 AM PST:

BTW, what you are saying is that I am “over reacting” about this issue. Personally, I think I am not. I frequent forums a lot, and I see the problem daily. After 10 years on the net, it just bothers me. It shows no courteous behavior towards normal users. To me, this is a social problem in the internet world, not just an “annoying detail”.

Also, I should remind you that this blog is called “RANTS and thoughts”.

JBQ said it well earlier:

“Many users asking for help would like to be told upfront “I don’t know of any easy solution with the software that you have – I can try to guide you through a complex solution, but it’s going to take hours of your time, are you sure that you want to be doing this?”

The fundamental issues with those discussion boards is the people asking the questions aren’t using the software in the same way as those giving the answers.

It’s common for lusers to ask, and for tinkerers to answer – and those two groups might not be aware that the “others” might behave very differently.

Sometimes you’ll find a rare example of someone who knows the difference. That’s e.g. the case of the person giving great details about what they know before asking about what they don’t know, or the case of the person answering “there’s no reasonable solution for you”.”

peejay wrote on July 10th, 2007 at 2:09 AM PST:

Why you’re both right (or both wrong).

Lately I wanted to experiment with losslessly encoding my CDs. Not because I think I can even tell the difference between 128kbps and 192kbps, but because I realized that some of my older rips were quite badly done, and…I wanted to try something new.

I use iTunes, ever since I got an iPod about a year ago (even though I rarely use the iPod anymore), so that is my “invested” program (playlists, general usage knowledge, etc): so of course my first thought was to use that to do the ripping (lossless AAC). So I started that way, at everything went fine until it encountered a dirty/scratched CD. Then I had a lossless copy of a terrible rip. Pointless.

So I switched to trying Exact Audio Copy, which both tries to do error correction, and at least notifies you if the rip had errors that couldn’t be fixed (rather than just blindly ripping, leaving you to find out later during listening). I tried to find a way to make it do lossless AAC, but at best I could only find some “geeky” hacks which came from old websites, saying you needed at least iTunes 4.2 or so (current is 7.3) because their command-line app just used a passthrough to iTunes to do the encoding. With so little documentation, I decided it was too much for me if I were going to use it for anything serious, so I looked into FLAC.

EAC support for FLAC isn’t directly built in, but at least there are plenty of websites explaining the setup process in detail. It took me a minimal amount of time to configure (aka cut and paste into) EAC to get me encoding FLACs. That leaves me with error corrected, lossless music…that no longer plays in iTunes.

Time to look for a new player, I think. I download foobar2000 and add my FLAC folder to it, and things play just fine. I rip another CD and re-add the folder and: I get duplicates of everything in my list. Unlike iTunes, which recognizes what files are already in my library. So I try Songbird (only a developer release) which looks to be like an iTunes replacement (which can handle playing FLAC). Well, it plays them, but instead of nicely tagged music (which worked in foobar), I get the filename listed as the title, and nothing else. Is it because I need to invest the time to learn how to use these programs? Maybe, but perhaps that same amount of time could’ve been used to get the AAC encoding working in EAC. Which is the better option?

“If it doesn’t work, don’t use it” fails here, because by switching from AAC to FLAC, or from iTunes to another player both create problems at least as big if not bigger than the one I am trying to get away from. The truth is, we *are* invested in the programs we use frequently, because for every one frustrating, impossible problem, there are fifty things that work exactly the way we want them to, and it rarely makes sense to jump ship and lose those things, too. But it is also the right answer: it was the solution I tried in both cases (if it doesn’t rip correctly, don’t use it; if it doesn’t play FLAC, don’t use it), and it is the answer I would want to hear on a forum (just use X, it does everything you need). And what happens when your hack stops working? Then you’re back in the same situation again, except now it’s even harder to leave your invested program.

The problem is, no solution (changing programs, using hacks, writing your own software) is going to be easy, and therefore, whether you’re geeky or not, you’re very likely to be in some way unsatisfied with any answer you get. ;)

Tom Dison wrote on July 10th, 2007 at 3:52 AM PST:

I think I understand what Eugenia is getting at. In my area, we have a lot of “fix it” radio talk shows where people call in for help for little problems around the house and garden. The advice is always practical, reasonable and doable by the average user, even though the host is usually a highly-trained professional. Instead, many forums are full of “tinkerers” who just love to muck around with things trying to get them to work. If they have to compile a new kernel, create a cron job and muck around with Perl to get a common feature working, they think that is just a marvelous way to spend the afternoon. However, that kind of advice is totally useless to 99% of users. Just point them to something that works.

BTW, this is also true in the developer world. Some developers just love to whip up masterful creations of intricate code. They think nothing of chaining together complicated scripts, stored-procedures and piles of code modules. While that is fine for your own pet projects, it really isn’t appropriate for most business applications. Simplicity and maintainability are more valuable than complexity and elegance.

The KISS priciple comes up in so many places!

mikesum32 wrote on July 10th, 2007 at 5:06 AM PST:

I have a problem with Irfanview, but one moderators in the forum want to argue about whether some standard GIF tag is some weird feature, when it’s been around since 1989. Ifranview is a really good image viewer, but where is the developer ?

mikesum32 wrote on July 10th, 2007 at 6:43 AM PST:

So do just decide at random when comments require approval ?

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on July 10th, 2007 at 6:55 AM PST:

No, I don’t decide anything. The algorithm does. You had a bloody HTML tag left OPENED and so the software thought that it was spam, and sent it to me for approval. So, stop second guessing me, or creating a feeling of “conspiracy theories about Eugenia’s tactics”, cause I don’t like these. You should not even have posted that, if you had a problem with the site, you email me, you don’t post off topic about what YOU THINK it happened instead of what it actually happened. If your A HREF tag was closed (I had to fix it afterwards), your comment would have been live immediately.

mikesum32 wrote on July 10th, 2007 at 7:33 AM PST:

Okay, sorry. I guess my copy and paste skills need work. :-)

h3rman wrote on July 10th, 2007 at 7:57 AM PST:

I’ve noticed that some people have unconsciously taken Eugenia’s advice and started advising people to, for example, “just install another Linux distro” if they have problems with the one they’re using. For example, a certain program is not available as a ready to install binary on distro X, but it is on distro Y, they say, just install Y.

While this is actually often the quickest way to fix things, since modern Linux distros are installed in a breeze most of the time, it is also a bit primitive. And it’s only a matter of time before something else works less well on the distro that is then picked.

So in that case, even if girl or guy asking the question is terrified of anything resembling the command line, I’d rather go throught the ordeal of letting him/her compile the program. Which often means you have to sort of explain even stuff like ls, cd, pwd, tar, su -.
Maybe that’s called investing in the user.

By the way, I totally hate the expression “Joe User”. Could someone put that on the Index? :)

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on July 10th, 2007 at 8:02 AM PST:

>“just install another Linux distro”

I never suggest that. If something doesn’t work on the top-3 Linux distros, then I suggest Mac or Windows.

h3rman wrote on July 10th, 2007 at 8:24 AM PST:

>”If something doesn’t work on the top-3 Linux distros, then I suggest Mac or Windows.”

People that can’t get, say, aMule to work on their ol’ SuSE 9.3 usually have *not* already tried Fedora 6 or Ubuntu Edgy or something to get it to work. :)
I admit, these days I just advise people to install CentOS 5 if they don’t appear to be too keen on upgrading every year or using the latest Gnome all the time, and if they don’t like bugs.
But where I live, people don’t buy an Apple pc (btw, the iBook G4 + Tiger I’ve got is the most stable thing I’ve seen around, I don’t expect the Mactels to match that) just because a guy like me tells ‘em to do so. And they have usually just run away *from* Windows.

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on July 10th, 2007 at 8:32 AM PST:

>And they have usually just run away *from* Windows.

Just because they ran away from it, doesn’t mean they don’t want to go back if it does the job better than in another OS. I don’t see any legitimate “user-oriented” reason today (as long as hardware works well) to run away from Windows except security reasons. Now, if their job can’t be done well on another OS, it is more advisable to give them a clue on how to secure their Windows, rather than run another OS that won’t do what they ultimately want. So IMO, running BACK to Windows is always an option.

Richard wrote on July 10th, 2007 at 9:23 AM PST:

Just download the GNU C Compiler, with as little as about 10 years of devoted training you should be able to write any piece of software you desire, no need for any additional tools. :-P

IanSVT wrote on July 10th, 2007 at 11:38 AM PST:

Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work out that the best way is the easiest. Certainly the purchase of new hardware and a new OS could be overkill when you’re simply having an issue copying pictures from a digital camera or something simple like that. On the flip side, changing an OS on a server running critical apps/services is a very difficult task. Sometimes the complicated solution is far easier to achieve than ripping a server out and replacing the OS/hardware. Sounds counter intuitive for sure, but workplace political boobery and uptime requirements really put the clamp down ripping and replacing servers. I suspect more so for clusters.

Clearly you post was pointed at a normal user on a desktop computer or laptop and not at the data center. But it’s easy to see how people wouldn’t just switch systems for a single issue.

JBQ wrote on July 10th, 2007 at 12:20 PM PST:

We all know “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but we often forget “if it ain’t working, don’t use it” (a.k.a. “doctor, it hurts when I move this way / don’t move this way, then”)

Adam wrote on July 10th, 2007 at 12:32 PM PST:

I would argue that by saying “They obviously show no respect to the user” that you are being a little hypocritical here. Maybe some people just WANT to do it for the sake of doing it. Half the reason I ever got into alternative OSs was curiosity. It had NOTHING to do with “right tool for the job.” Not everyone wants to be so coldly cut and dry as you.

I would say you’re being disrespectful to users by suggesting they are out of line for using a discussion board for discussion. You can answer however you want or not at all, but leave other people to have the discussion they want. That doesn’t make software suck or people idiots. If you truly thought that, it would suggest you’re a little too vain.

Geeks are geeks because of curiosity, ingenuity, and creativity. Your direction recently suggests you are morphing into a streamliner, maybe leaving behind some of that geek essence.

Simplicity may be something you like, but forcing it onto others can be perceived as selfish and dictatorial.

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on July 10th, 2007 at 12:40 PM PST:

No, Adam, people DO NOT want to do things just in the sake of doing things. **I am not talking about geeks**, I am talking about Joe Users (clearly indicated in my blog post).

I am talking about NORMAL everyday people, asking a naive question on a board they found suitable and had just registered at. Now, the people who REPLY there might not be Joe Users. Most are geeks, or people who WOULD go the elaborate path of making something work. I’ve been guilty of elaborate jobs myself to get things working (most recently, my effort to extract the 24p stream out of a 24f stream).

But normal people, people who OBVIOUSLY (based on their naive forum posts) don’t have much experience on what is what, THESE people don’t want to go through hoops to get something working. THESE people want things DONE.

And to get things done in one go, we, the rest users, MUST suggest the easiest way out. Otherwise, we would be disrespectful to these Joe Users.

So, for the 3rd time you reply in a blog post of mine without having understood what I am talking about. You are slapping me and patronizing me while thinking that I am talking about geeks. *I am not*. Instead, I am talking about the other, 99% of the population.

> I would say you’re being disrespectful to users by suggesting they are out of line for using a discussion board for discussion.

Sorry, but the specific forum posts were NOT posted by their originators for “generic discussion” or for philosophical reasons. They were posted because they needed a CLEAR CUT answer.

I’d say you are out of line here.

Adam wrote on July 10th, 2007 at 12:50 PM PST:

Eugenia, this is a nice, calm conversation… how can I be “out of line” for simply responding to you?

You are not a native English speaker, yet you quite readily accuse people of “not understanding you” – that’s your problem, not ours. You posted your thoughts online and people respond to what you write…. if you don’t want that, simply don’t allow comments or try to explain yourself better.

I feel you are simply wrong about this. Some people DO want to try new things and expand on things. I am getting ready to do some carpentry around the house. I am not a carpenter. I do not have to do it, I can afford to hire someone. But I want to know how to do it — just for the sake of it. So I can say I did. Because I’m interested in trying it. So you are wrong about me, Eugenia. And I think lots of other people.

You may be referring to single incident and trying to generalize it. But I simply disagree with what you’ve asserted. If I posted something saying “how do I get this app to do X?” and someone said “you don’t, use Y” I’d probably do Y. But if someone had an interesting way to make X work… I’d want to know. Just because you don’t doesn’t mean the entire internet must stop to obey.

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on July 10th, 2007 at 12:58 PM PST:

>how can I be “out of line” for simply responding to you?

The way you responded was not exactly “friendly”. As far as I am concerned, you carry baggage against me because of our disagreements on osnews matters in the past. I have observed it in the past few months in the way you reply on my blog. We are simply not compatible on how we “see” others and situations. You trust people. I don’t.

>But I want to know how to do it —

You are referring to a hobby. Besides, if you find a show-stopper during your hobby, you would want to know the easy way out of the problem, not the elaborate way of doing so. If a $20 tool will do what you want, you probably going to shed the cash and buy it, not spend 5 hours of hard work just because you are using the wrong tool.

>I’d want to know.

I don’t. If there is an easier, cheaper, better way of doing something, I’d want to use that method, not the elaborated one. I know of NO ONE who would want to go through hoops to get something working while there is another, cleaner method.

If you are, you are the first one.

IanSVT wrote on July 11th, 2007 at 6:57 AM PST:

I wouldn’t worry, I heard he was a lousy git anyway.

Thom Holwerda wrote on July 11th, 2007 at 9:56 AM PST:

That poor goat…

Comments are closed as this blog post is now archived.

Lines, paragraphs break automatically. HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

The URI to TrackBack this blog entry is this. And here is the RSS 2.0 for comments on this post.