Monday, October 20, 2008

Bus driving sadists

So I get on a bus and sit down. At the next stop, a little old lady gets on, complete with doddery legs and zimme-style shopping trolley. She pays and starts to totter down the bus's aisle.

Does the driver stop and wait for her to find a seat before accelerating away? Of course not, he mashes the accelerator and the little old lady is literally thrown five feet horizontally, slamming her - fortunately - into a waiting seat.

We checked and she was OK, but I bet she was shaken. The company involved was Reading Buses and I've seen similar near-injuries almost every time I travel with them. RB, if you're reading this, please train your drivers better.

Or maybe next time, you'll be defending them in court...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The great HTML misconception

As someone writing in a version of SGML back in 1988, I instantly recognised HTML when it appeared in the early 1990s and was able to be quite productive. The essential idea, that of separating content from formatting, was much the same. You wrote text, added structure in the form of headings, lists and tables and then it was up to whatever you sent it to, to render it in appropriate fonts, typefaces and so on. All very neat.

But bit by bit the language became corrupted, with Netscape starting the rot, as I recall. From the earliest 'font' tags to later table madness and then finally HTML being bastardised into a page layout tool by people who had spectacularly missed the point of a 'Mark up Language' in the first place.

The end result is HTML which is nigh on unreadable to the naked eye. And a job for a computer to render reliably, which is partly why web sites look different in different browsers, even now in 2008.

Thankfully, the common sense that is CSS came along to partially save the day, although most web pages are still uncomfortable hybrids of old HTML, new CSS and bodged DIV and table layout. In short, it's a royal mess.

Hopefully, CSS will win out in the end and pages will get purer again? Hopefully. In the meantime, I continue to hand-code my main web page (3-Lib) in raw HTML and the code loads like lightning on most desktop and mobile devices... Not that anyone appreciates it these days...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Why Linux was a consumer disaster ten years ago and why it's still a disaster

OK, I'm bound to annoy a few Linux fans with this, but hey, I need to vent. After having numerous frustrations with Windows Vista (perhaps exacerbated by a failing hard disk, admittedly) and a frustrating lack of speed, I borrowed an Apple MacBook for a while. Very pretty, fabulous hardware and terrific for most ordinary people. Except that I'm not ordinary, wanting to manage lots of files in lots of projects, use FTP and advanced image editing and much more. I found ways to do everything on the MacBook but it wasn't all plain sailing. And Apple's hardware costs a fortune.

So I turned, out of curiosity, to the Asus Eee PC, picking a 701 up from eBay. Great little toy, I thought. Except that with Firefox, Skype and OpenOffice pre-installed, it was quite a bit more than a toy. Maybe Linux really can start to get more into people's homes, I thought....

The trouble is that as soon as something goes wrong, in my case a 'broken' pre-installed game and needing to install a FTP client, neither of which seemed too outrageous to need to get working, you're required to leave the cosy 'Easy desktop' and get down and dirty with the most obtuse and terse command lines I've ever used.

Bear in mind that I've used DOS, VAX/VMS, HP1000 and more computers that you've had hot dinners. So I don't mind the odd vaguely intuitive command line. But being told, on an obscure forum post that you need to type:

# dd if=all.img of=/dev/sdx
(modify sdx to suit)
# sudo apt-get -jvdg tel.deb

is just plain silly. At least DOS and VAX/VMS had proper English commands - you could abbreviate them if you wanted, but when explaining something you usually put in the full version, e.g. $print job1/exclude=contents/route_printer=LN04 - that sort of thing. You could see (and remember) what you were doing.

So Linux requiring users to occasionally dip into a command line interface (terminal) is not in itself a showstopper - but the sheer inaccessibility of the language/commands used certainly is.

I consider myself a bit of a geek and can muddle through on almost any computer. But the Eee game still doesn't run and I still haven't got FTP working on the Eee 701.

If I can't do it, the man in the High Street doesn't stand a chance. The Eee has sold well and my daughter loves it, for example. But there's no way in hell that a Linux-based device like this can replace a Windows PC or Mac for most households.

Friday, October 03, 2008

'Unknown error'?? But, but...

Just got this in Apple's iTunes. How can the error be 'unknown' if the software knows to put the error dialog up and knows the error code? Can't it just look up what this code MEANS?

It's idiocies like this that make me despair of the computer world sometimes.....