Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

When Good Computers Behave Badly


Last week’s post said computers can do anything. What they can’t do is be inconsistent—when the hardware is working properly. Only the flaws of programming logic and languages can make this supremely logical device unreliable.

Yet, all around us we have computers behaving badly. Doing things you would not accept from a three-year old. Beyond faulty programming or languages, there’s bad implementation. As an example of the latter, I offer the staggering incompatibilities of browsers and web standards.

I could continue to cite chapter and verse until the cows give up and find another home. But since this is the hundredth post of this blog, I thought I’d try for a larger perspective.

I’ve been in this game, as participant and observer for two years shy of fifty. Did everything from sales to systems programming. I got into personal computers (before IBM called it that) in 1977. Since then I’ve owned enough PCs to lose count. I’ve written and sold software nationally, consulted for big bucks, and resurrected a few machines left for dead. (Link to my C.V.)

Ergo, when I say software is getting worse, you should listen. Also, when I suggest the reasons why, I think I have some insight.

I wrote recently about Adobe adopting a dangerous method for updates, but that wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg. It’s not about what stupidities are being perpetrated. It’s that they are being foisted upon us in lieu of methods that have worked successfully for years.

Progress, for many, is seen as improving upon what works. But there’s a test: Does it really work better? For consumers, that’s the only reason to fix the unbroken. Change for the sake of change, especially cosmetic change, is never progress.

Software, in my not so humble opinion, is getting worse. Change for no good reason is only one indicator. There is another, far more dangerous, trend. Software used to get better the old-fashioned way. Some called it evolution, building on the successes of the past. Practical programmers called it stealing from the best.

Learn from the best and improve if you could. For many decades, this is how programming advanced. No more. Since the last decade, those gains are disappearing; we are regressing not progressing. The knowledge and techniques that took decades to acquire are vanishing faster than yesterday’s news.

Speaking of yesterday’s news, at least you could read a day-old newspaper. What’s fashionable today in web design are fonts you can’t read on any day. This dumb idea comes from a good one: slick, printed magazine pages. Does not translate to computer monitors. Just last week, I discovered Bing and Google are applying this to maps, making road lines impossible to see.

Fashion isn’t progress. By definition, it’s cosmetic change. It’s where we’re headed unless we complain. Your turn.

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One thought on “When Good Computers Behave Badly

  1. someoneattheeastendofIten on said:

    Congrats on 100!

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