Bad User Experience

You may have heard of this new-fangled thing from Microsoft called Silverlight. Well, I decided to take a look at it the other day, and when I tried to install it, I was greeted with this unfriendly screen:

Install Failed

Well, actually it’s not very unfriendly, but it certainly was unhelpful. Why did the install fail? Why couldn’t Microsoft Silverlight be installed on my computer?

I had to click on “More information” to find out that the reason the install failed was because I already had Silverlight installed.

Fair enough, but why couldn’t it just tell me that? Isn’t detecting that the software you’re installing is already installed a basic function of installation programs?

It turns out that I had gotten Silverlight somehow when I was browsing Microsoft’s website in Internet Explorer – which of course lets you install Silverlight right then and there. When I later went back to the site in Firefox (my browser of choice after all), it prompted me to install Silverlight again – I guess Silverlight doesn’t work in Firefox? So I downloaded the setup file, and the result was the screen you just saw.

In this day and age, there really is no excuse for this sort of thing. The installer clearly knew that Silverlight was already installed on my computer – the “More information” link took me directly to a page that told me so, so the information was there. Why it didn’t just tell me is beyond me. As far as a user experience goes, it would be better to get a screen that says “You’ve already installed Silverlight” instead of a scary screen that says “Installation failed.”  I mean, “failed” is such a strong word… a scary word.

Microsoft should know better – it does know better – and I can only hope that someone over there will think twice about the user experience they’ve created.

On the other hand, if this sort of behavior looks familiar – like, maybe, it is something your installer does – you might want to think twice about your user experience, too!

I’m Sorry, but Windows Vista still seems too slow

I was downloading a file in Windows Vista today – I would say it was a “medium-sized” file that took no time at all on my super-fast cable modem connection to download.

However, once it was done, this popped up:

Calculating Time Remaining

This new dialog took longer to calculate the time remaining to copy the file from whatever insane temp folder Internet Explorer had used to its actual user-selected destination than it did to download the original file (which was not that small).

I just don’t understand why this takes so long! It literally took less time to download the file from the Internet than it did to put it in its final destination. Shouldn’t the reverse be true?

Yet another reason why I am not upgrading to Vista. With any luck, by the time I’m forced to upgrade, Microsoft will have come out with Vista’s successor – which I hope will be, y’know, better than its predecessor (unlike Vista itself).

They Don’t Make ’em Like They Used To

remoteYesterday I found that the Belkin Wireless Router I’d been using as a wireless access point had completely died on me. It simply would not power on – I don’t know if the problem was in the device itself or in its power adapter, but in either case – I had no wireless in my house. While this isn’t a problem for me personally (my computer is hard-wired into the network), it is a problem for Amanda, who often works from her laptop at home – and that connects wirelessly.

With a snow storm (supposedly) on the way, and thus the possibility that she’d be working from home, I needed to get wireless access working again.

First though, a little background.

I’ve been using a Netgear RT314 4-port 10/100 Ethernet Router since around 1997, and I’d never had any problems with it. Being that a router is generally a solid-state electronic component, I had always assumed all routers (and switches and hubs) were just the same – they’d die when their electronics shorted out, but if that didn’t happen they’d last basically forever.

About 2 years ago a good friend of mine got me the Belkin wireless router – I don’t now recall what model (it’s in the trash). Ironically, it didn’t work well as a router – in fact, it didn’t work at all as a router. I never had a high regard for the Belkin brand (as far as routers go, anyway) so I just switched it to “wireless access point mode,” a feature that was very handy. In this mode, all the “router” features were turned off, and it functioned just like a simple wireless access point. Perfect!

So when the Belkin died, I was in no rush to buy another of the same brand – and given the choice between the other 2 leaders (Netgear and Linksys), I’d personally go with Netgear – so that’s what I did.

Given that I had no problems with my current router, I was hesitant to go out and buy a whole new router – why buy what I don’t need, right? But to my surprise, simple, dumb wireless access points cost more than a similar wireless router! So, given the choice between paying more for less, or paying less and getting more, I opted for the latter and picked up a Netgear WGR614 Wireless-G Router. I suppose you could call it the spiritual decedent of my venerable old RT314.

Now, I could have used the new router as a wireless access point and not given up my old RT314 – it would’ve been a little weird, but it would have worked. However, after much consideration, I finally decided to retire the RT313 and let the new kid on the block take on the leading role.

Whatever anyone else says, the setup for the Netgear is quite simple. (Simpler than the Belkin’s setup – which was awful, that’s for sure!) I of course skipped the whole “insert this CD before attaching your router” instructions – I’m a professional IT-type person; I know how these things work.

My old Netgear used the 192.168.0.x IP address range- unlike the dominant Linksys, which always used 192.168.1.x. (I know this because I’ve set up VPN access for people before, and having the right subnet makes a difference.) I was therefore surprised when I noticed the new router used the 192.168.1.x range – I guess they decided to jump on the bandwagon with that one. Still, I like being different (and I have other reasons), so I switched it back – fortunately they still let you do this.

After that, it was just a simple task of entering all my settings from the old router – port forwarding mostly, and of course the whole reason for doing all this – wireless! The web-based configuration for Netgear has gotten a bit “flashy” compared to the old RT314, but that’s to be expected, I suppose. Still, it worked well, no problems and no surprises.

So now, the job of my Internet gateway (starkeith-gw.starkeith.net) and my wireless access point (Aether) are being performed by one device.

As time goes by, we’ll see how well this new router holds up. I’ve heard stories of routers that need to be reset every few days, or that die out after a certain amount of data/packets are sent, or other such nonsense. I think many of these problems come from newer routers and devices trying to do too much, or being made with firmware that was rushed into production, without proper testing.

My old RT314 never had to be reset. Ever.

Oh, I’d had to reset modems before – cable modems (back when cable Internet was still very new) and DSL modems (from time to time) – but never the router.

We’ll see if this new one holds up to the high standard set by its predecessor. Here’s hoping!

Icon courtesy of the Crystal Icon Set.

UPDATE: The Saga Continues

Why do Governments and Corporations become Evil?

The corporate motto of Google, Inc. is “Don’t be Evil.” While this might seem like playful banter from an amazingly successful company, it actually says something deep and meaningful about human society – namely, that organizations; be they corporations, religious groups, or governments; over time become “evil.”

The corporate motto of Google, Inc. is “Don’t be Evil.” While this might seem like playful banter from an amazingly successful company, it actually says something deep and meaningful about human society – namely, that organizations; be they corporations, religious groups, or governments; over time become “evil.”

Why is this? No corporation starts out with the intent of becoming evil, governments are not (typically) founded to repress their people. So why does it happen?

To explain this, we need to think of corporations, religious groups, and governments as something more than just “organizations.” When a group becomes large enough, it ceases to be a simple group and takes on a “persona” of its own – in effect, becoming a “person.” (Corporations are explicitly people – they are legally structured as such to protect the people who work for them from being liable for the corporation’s actions – at least, mostly.)

Now, most people are inherently “good,” more or less. So how can an organization built up from good people become evil?

When a group becomes large enough, it ceases to be the sum of the wills and desires of the people within it, and instead becomes the sum of the “wills” and “desires” built into it by the rules and regulations that organize it. In corporations, this is the by-laws and the desire of stockholders for higher profits and a return on their investment. In governments, this is laws and regulations. Even when started with the best of intentions, unless those intentions are explicitly written into the very fabric of the organization (i.e. the rules, by-laws, or whatnot), there will be no trace of those intentions in the final “product,” that is, the organization that is created over time by those rules.

Try to think of an organization you think is “evil.” Maybe it’s Microsoft, or maybe it’s Exxon, or a RJ Reynolds (the tobacco company), or even the United States Government. Now think of that company as if it were a person unto itself. Try to describe it as if it were a person, with feelings and intentions and desires. You’ll see some very startling results. The “person” you’ll find yourself describing is single-minded, with no morals, no concept of right or wrong – just a single-minded intent for profit (in the case of companies) or control (in the case of governments).

This is why they are evil. They were all founded with the best of intentions, by generally “good” people. They may even still be controlled by generally “good” people, but they have taken on a life of their own. Without explicit restraints, they will pursue their goals without concern for anyone or any thing. They are not people, after all – they are something both more and less than a person. A juggernaut, sacrificing whatever stands in their way. Even when people try to do good things, the overwhelming pressure of their “goals” (i.e. profit or control) leads them to do things that no one would expect a person in their right mind to do. Corporations destroy environments, cheat and lie to gain market share, and destroy lives. Governments try to control every aspect of their citizens’ lives, and regulate everything in sight.

Now, you might try and stop me here and say that things aren’t as bad as I’m suggesting. Corporations haven’t reduced the Earth to a smoldering wasteland, after all. However, corporations have external limits and restraints placed on them by governments – generally representing the will of the people, but not always – and these limits and restraints, if you look at them closely, are almost always in the realm of what, for lack of a better term, I will call “morality.” When it comes to governments, we (here in the US at least) are lucky that our particular system of government has checks and balances on its own power built right in to help keep it under control, and representing the will of the people, rather than its own overwhelming desire for power. Although these checks and balances will eventually fail – after all, “morality” was not written into the constitution, and without it, even the best system will fall into tyranny. (The only “outside” influence for governments is, ironically, revolution by its people or, in a lesser sense, conquest by another country.)

This is a sobering thought, but there is a grain of wisdom in it as well, one that Google has taken to heart (although I don’t know if they fully appreciate it). The only way to prevent organizations from becoming evil is to imbue them with a sense of morality from the start – be it a corporate mantra to “not be evil,” or explicit restraints in the form of constitutions, amendments, by-laws, or what have you.

Of course, it is not just the nature of organizations to become evil in and of themselves – there are always some “bad seeds” in there somewhere, people with “evil” intentions do slip between the cracks, and it is their intentions which become amplified and personified by the group. What is the saying, “those who most desire power are least qualified to possess it?” Without explicit protection against “those who most desire power,” most organizations will end up in the control of such people – those who are, by definition, the least qualified to possess it.

It will be interesting to watch events unfold in the near future for me. I predict that we are on the verge of some radical changes in our society. Government has gone from a very good thing into a very “bad” thing. I look at the actions of the United States worldwide lately, and see only an organization seeking to maintain its own power, its “status quo,” while systematically taking control away from its own people, and regulating every aspect of their life – for no other reason than “government exists to govern.” This principle, taken to its logical conclusion, leads us down a road towards a future shockingly like the future predicted in George Orwell’s 1984. Similarly, corporations will continue to behave like spoiled children, with no concern for others – sacrificing innovation, the environment, and employees – all in the name of the almighty dollar. Even with a caring and understanding CEO, a corporation cannot escape its will, because a CEO is typically beholden to a board of directors, which is in turn beholden to stockholders, who are – in a large, publicly traded company, anyway – a large group. And as we have seen, large groups, large organizations without “morality,” always end up being… evil.

More on the “Missing Children”

We are rearing our children in captivity — their habitat shrinking almost daily. In 1970 the average nine-year-old girl would have been free to wander 840 metres from her front door. By 1997 it was 280 metres. Now the limit appears to have come down to the front doorstep.

From Bruce Schneier’s blog:

We are rearing our children in captivity — their habitat shrinking almost daily.

In 1970 the average nine-year-old girl would have been free to wander 840 metres from her front door. By 1997 it was 280 metres.

Now the limit appears to have come down to the front doorstep.

[…]

The picket fence marks the limit of their play area. They wouldn’t dare venture beyond it.

“You might get kidnapped or taken by a stranger,” says Jojo.

“In the park you might get raped,” agrees Holly.

Don’t they yearn to go off to the woods, to climb trees and get muddy?

No, they tell me. The woods are scary. Climbing trees is dangerous. Muddy clothes get you in trouble.

One wonders what they think of Just William, Swallows And Amazons or The Famous Five — fictional tales of strange children from another time, an age of adventures where parents apparently allowed their offspring to be out all day and didn’t worry about a bit of mud.

There is increasing concern that today’s “cotton-wool kids” are having their development hampered.

They are likely to be risk-averse, stifled by fears which are more phobic than real.

This seems to fit well with what I observed the other day – and it makes me sad.