How not to design a User Interface

Some time back I discovered that Windows Vista/7 comes with a command line tool named robocopy with some advanced functionality to copy files and mirror folders. Source control usually makes such tools unnecessary, but I thought it might come in useful nevertheless. So I looked for a GUI wrapper and found this! (I can’t be bothered to remember dozens of command line flags)

This is really an insult to the concept of a Graphical User Interface.

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The Diary of a Young Girl

I had a couple of spare hours at the airport and picked up this remarkable book – The Diary of a Young Girl

The book is a diary maintained over a two year period by Anne Frank, a 13 year old girl forced to go into hiding to escape the persecution of Jews in Nazi-occupied Holland. The afterword states that Anne was captured and killed in a concentration camp.

At over 400 pages, the book is a long but worth-while read. It describes the transformation of a care-free 13 year old girl into a mature and independent woman. As the adults who are in hiding along with Anne (including her parents) are unable to fully come to terms with their difficult conditions and engage in constant bickering, Anne is able to rise above it all. 15 year old Anne has a better understanding of life than most people ever reach. A couple of examples:

While washing up, Bep began talking to Mother and Mrs van Daan about how discouraged she gets. What help did those two offer her? Our tactless mother, especially, only made things go from bad to worse. Do you know what her advice was? That she should think about all the other people in the world who are suffering! How can thinking about the misery of others help if you’re miserable yourself? I said as much. Their response, of course, was that I should stay out of conversations of this sort.!

At such moments I don’t think about all the misery, but about the beauty that still remains. This is where Mother and I differ greatly. Her advice in the face of melancholy is: ‘Think about all the suffering in the world and be thankful you’re not part of it.’ My advice is: ‘Go outside, to the country, enjoy the sun and all nature has to offer. Go outside and try to recapture the happiness within yourself; think of all the beauty in yourself and in everything around you and be happy.’

I don’t think Mother’s advice can be right, because what are you suposed to do if you become part of the suffering? You’d be completely lost. On the contrary, beauty remains, even in misfortune. If you just look for it, you discover more and more happiness and regain your balance. A person who’s happy will make others happy; a person who has courage and faith will never die in misery!

Apart from the value in reading about how Anne copes with the impossible situation she is in, books like this have another great value. They make history real. It is one thing to know that six million Jews were systematically murdered by the Nazis and that the second world war lasted for 6 years. It is quite another thing to understand at a concrete level what this did to individual people.

Government and Industry

A government that controls industry is necessarily a government that is controlled by industry. Just thought of this as I was reading this review of the movie Food Inc.

I admit my expectations were somewhat low. I was anticipating something more along the lines of a Michael Moore’s emotional yet analytically vapid productions, such as Sicko and Capitalism: A Love Story. This film had quite a few negative things to say. However, it is a bit more sober and interesting, even for a laissez-faire capitalist like me.

To see why, consider a few of its themes:

  1. A negative view of the large size of food industry businesses.
  2. A positive view of government power when it’s used to mandate food industry practice.
  3. A negative view of the control of government by the food industry.
  4. A positive view of small/organic/non-factory farming.

Holding both views 2. and 3. involves a contradiction.

Regulations and waste

Here is Raymond Chen describing what the algorithm to select the most frequently used programs list on the Windows Start Menu does not look at:

The precise algorithm that is used for determining which programs go on the MFU over time has been reviewed by government-appointed regulators, who have not raised any concerns over vendor bias.

Just imagine how much time, money and effort is wasted this way.

Altruism

Just happened to read this comment on a post about the relevance of Silverlight (a web software development framework from Microsoft)

It is the same song and dance all over again. The technology names are mere variables in a profit creation algorithm. Geeks love this drama though, as if it matters somehow. If all the time and energy spent discussing this crap was instead spent trying to help the less fortunate live better lives, the world would be a much better place. Oh well, that’s life!

                    — Josh Smith

What??? It is precisely because some people spend time and effort to choose and develop various technologies and make profits that anyone – fortunate or not – is able to live a better life.

For context, the person writing the comment is the owner of a high quality blog on WPF and Silverlight and by all indications loves his work.

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