Who am I to complain?


Three weeks ago as I was kvetching about the design change in Experts Exchange, someone pointed out that blogsperiment’s gray type over a dark background wasn’t precisely readable.

True. So, for the three people (counting myself) that read this blog, I hope you like the new theme. I’m not nuts about it but then, there’s a good reason why newspapers have white backgrounds…

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Posted in Design. 1 Comment »

I’ve had it with vmware


…and linux, as a TRULY viable alternative to Windows (or, gasp, a mac), is in the dog house right now.

A few days ago Fedora, on my main computer, decided it was time to run a number of updates. I think the kernel was part of this particular round, as it required a reboot.
Today, as I set to do some bookkeeping, I fired up vmware player, but it didn’t work. I got a message about an update, then a message about the update not being able to run and then nothing.

I ran into something similar some months ago and documented how I solved it, but what had previously worked, for some reason, didn’t anymore.

For the next several hours I tried different things, googled the hell out of the problem to no avail and, in the end, decided it was high time that I post my problem in vmware’s forums. This was this morning. So far, my question’s been read about a dozen times and whoever knows how to solve this particular problem is probably busy helping other users with their own problems, as not a single reply has been posted. Most importantly, not a single vmware support employee has bothered to drop by to offer support or even acknowledge the problem, and this is on a non-free product.

This isn’t anything new in the Linux netherworld, where many of the programs I rely on came to be because someone whoever knows how to write them happened to have the same problems I encountered. Of course, the quality is directly proportional to how anal that programmer actually is. The most extreme case of this I’ve seen so far was Wine on Debian: the volunteer that maintained that package fell off the edge of the earth and as a result Debian has no Wine unless you’re willing to jump through fiery hoops.

To put the whole situation mildly, I’m fucking sick of how often a trivial task becomes an ordeal because all of a sudden I have to deal with dependencies, updates, and plain bugs. All in the name of an operating system that’s [so far] impervious to viruses and doesn’t require hardware worthy of science fiction to run reasonably well.

I’m calling Red Hat’s pre-sales department before the week is over to see if $300 will at least get me some decent support for a year, until I’m truly comfortable here instead of spending a good chunk of my billable hours dealing with hobby-ware.

Wide screens are better because we say so


There was a time when both TV’s and computer screens shared proportions. 4:3 to be exact. For those that don’t get fractions, if your screen was 40” wide, it’d have to be 30” tall to follow the 4:3 ratio.

Movies were always different. Mostly because it is trivial to stretch a white canvas much wider than it is higher across a theater hall.

To show a movie made for cinema on a TV screen required that either the top and bottom be unused (black bands above and below the image) or that the sides of the image be cropped and viewers would be happy because not a single square inch of their brand-new 60” projection screen was being wasted.

DVD’s apparently forced the issue as, out of respect to the original, they would present the movie in all its wide glory, wasting about 30% of screen real estate.

TV’s then started being manufactured in the now ubiquitous 16:9 format, which was actually proposed back in the 70’s (the HDTV standard), which was all good. The 16:9 standard was actually proposed as a compromise between the 4:3 format common at the time and the formats used by most movies, which weren’t actually 16:9 (and still arent – see wikipedia to learn more than you ever cared about this and other trivial things that are unlikely to impress the beautiful brunette at the end of the bar).

But why computers? You’re probably wondering. Especially when most work done on computers (written documents) has always followed a tall, rather than wide, format.

When in doubt, as they say, follow the money. The cost of manufacturing an LCD screen is directly proportional to its surface area. Manufacturing a 14” screen with the new 16:9 ratio costs about 10% less than manufacturing the same screen using the 4:3 proportions (you get roughly 10% less pixels on a wide screen than on a 4:3 screen with the same diagonal dimension).

That’s how we ended up doing most of our work in wide-format screens (and wasting about 30% of their useful area because most of what people do in computers, other than watching movies, is better suited to taller display areas, and that’s without counting the space lost to tool bars and “ribbons” running ACROSS the screen as opposed to from top to bottom on one side). Utilitarian design is a dead art, me thinks.

I can just picture someone pointing this out at a board meeting and asking “But what will users say?” and just as easily I can picture someone else saying “They’ll love it… because we say so.”

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