Archive for October, 2009

When will people stand up for themselves?

Monday, October 26th, 2009

The sad truth is that generally wars are not won  by people dying for their country or their beliefs. Wars are won by people willing and able to make other people die for their country or beliefs. This is of course why we are still in Iraq and Afghanistan. The “other side” is more than willing to kill other people while the people we are supposedly fighting with (as opposed to against) are either unwilling or unable to do the same.

I was listening to a news report on Afghanistan this morning. People are talking about Taliban setting up road blocks. Well why doesn’t the first person through a Taliban roadblock go to the nearest village and come back with 50 armed men and blow the roadblock away? Well obviously because there are not 50 men armed, ready, willing and able to make that sort of thing happen. Why not? It’s not like the Afghan people are known for being cowards and unarmed. To the contrary the Afghans have a long reputation for being fierce and fearless fighters. Is that a myth? Listening to the news you would have to conclude so.

And the government? Bah, in both Iraq and Afghanistan it appears that government officials are more interested in retaining power and feathering their own nests than providing good honest government and taking care of their people. No wonder the people are not that interested in protecting the government. And yet they show little interest in raising up and voting in honest people either.

Corrupt governments are a problem everywhere of course. But if you notice they are more common in less developed areas. Coincidence? I think not. I think these areas remain under developed precisely because the people there are unwilling to get rid of their corrupt governments. 

Oh I hear the lines about the government has all the power, all the guns, and blah blah blah. This of course explains why communism is still rampant in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and East Germany. And also why the north American colonies are still firmly under the control and the incredibly powerful empire of Great Britain. What was I thinking?

Oh wait, there is no more USSR and East Germany has been part of a united and Democratic Germany for years now. I’m pretty use the north American British colonies have been independent for a couple of years as well. Weird. None of that should be possible.

I have long ago lost patience with Iraq and Afghanistan. The people there seem all too willing to let the Islamic militants kill them and to let the US and others die trying to protect them. I say we let them decide on their own what they want. If they want to have an Islamic militant dictatorship let them have it. Of course they should also know that if their government attacks the US we’ll not feel too sorry for them when we have to bomb the heck out of their country to stop it all. It is after all what they, if not actually want, are willing to put up with.

Who Designed That User Interface

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

One of the problems with knowing something about programming, computers and user interface design is that when you run into a poor design in the real world it really makes you wonder. I get this every time I use an ATM. Some of the commands require you to press buttons on the side of the screen and some on the keypad. Not all of these make sense. For example, given there is an enter key on the key pad why do they often have you push a button on the side of the screen? Why not use that enter button?

And data entry. The instructions say that the amount must be in a multiple of $20. Fine so why does the user interface even allow you to enter data in the ones column and the cents columns? Shouldn’t what ever first number you press show up in the tens digit column? I haven’t tried to enter invalid data though. The way things are I am just too afraid of the possible consequences. I haven’t been burned by these poor interfaces so maybe there are enough fail safes and data checking to prevent most errors. But still a poor interface should be a concern for everyone who uses a system.

I’ve been thinking I’d like to mock up my idea of how an ATM interface should work. I think it would make an interesting classroom project. But I want to also think about other common ways people interact with computers. Point of sale machines possibly? I remember an interesting soda (pop for some of you, Coke for you in Atlanta, tonic for New Englanders) dispensing machine interface project. That might be interesting. And pizza orders are common.

But real existing interfaces that are redesigned and imagined by students seem to me to be the best idea. What sort of examples should I be looking at?