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18 May 2016 @ 06:55 am
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Whenever I get a new version of Word, I have to go through it and disable a number of the automatic things it thinks I want it to do. Here’s something I wrote about that years ago.
I've been complaining about the annoyances I have in dealing with the new computer interfaces, and Avram Grumer has explained it to me: Computers are evolving into Little Black Bags.

The Little Black Bag, in C.M. Kornbluth's short story of that title, was a device that did most of a doctor's work by itself. In a world where humanity had gotten so stupid that doctors could barely follow simple commands, the Bag would do most of the work and enforce upon its moronic human partner the Hippocratic injunction to "Do no harm."

Now imagine being a real doctor in that society, trying to use a Little Black Bag. The machine would try to keep you from doing things it considered unsafe, even if you knew you could do them safely. It would do things it thought you wanted to, even if you really didn't. You would have to try to figure out ways to ignore or circumvent these alleged aids.

Avram came up with this image when people at his company were drawing up a contract and attempting to include in it that essential element in the structure of many contracts, a lower-case roman-numeral 1 within parentheses, thusly: (i).

Their state-of-the-art Windows computer refused to let them do it, as would any computer with Word 7 or higher, unless it's been fiddled with. Its artificial "intelligence" is sure that a lower-case i by itself (or even with parens around it) is an error for the first person singular pronoun, and it grabs your ears corrects that for you. And keeps correcting it.

Fortunately, there are ways to deal with that, changing defaults and Preferences and such. I had no trouble performing the forbidden acts I was discussing above; I trust that the doctors using the Little Black Bags will have the same options.

Are we surprised that computers are treated as powerful but dangerous instruments to be carefully protected from what might be done with them by people who are not terribly bright? Look at it this way: What's the name of the best-known series of computer guidebooks? "The Marching Dummies" doesn't alliterate, but it's a future that's being planned for.
Computers evolve, which is why the word upgrade is so scary, and each new version of Word has new disimprovements to disable. When I want to begin a line with an asterisk followed by a tab, I want to begin a line with an asterisk followed by a tab, rather than starting a bullet list, and I have now gotten that message across. A while back, I tried to type a few hyphens on a new line to indicate a change of subject, and Word insisted on not only turning it into a solid line across the page but making it something that cannot be highlighted and deleted. I have now found out that this documented bug is called a guide line, and I think I have made it stop.
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Kalimac: puzzlekalimac on May 18th, 2016 03:15 pm (UTC)
Then there are the things that you're delighted to discover it can do for you, but you stumbled across them via typographical error, and thus have no idea how to reproduce the command.
Avram Grumer: Post-It Portraitagrumer on May 18th, 2016 05:23 pm (UTC)
I’ve pretty much abandoned word processors altogether, in favor of just writing everything down in plain text, using Markdown for formatting.

I have no memory of the incident you describe, with the contract, but it sounds entirely plausible. The weird thing is that Microsoft Word version 5 for Macintosh (the best word processor ever created for the Mac) had an outline mode where it would handle element numbering automatically, including the bit where it uses different kinds of numbering for different levels of hierarchy, including lower-case roman numerals if you got down that far. Maybe Word just expected everyone to use outline mode for contracts. Or Microsoft figured all lawyers used Word Perfect.
El Coyote Gordo: computer foxsupergee on May 18th, 2016 05:27 pm (UTC)
It goes back a while. I believe you were working with womzilla at Crossover.
Sue Burkemount_oregano on May 18th, 2016 09:19 pm (UTC)
WordPerfect! I get total control.

I have had to use Word for various jobs, sometimes for very intense formatting. I hate it. It's far too "helpful."
El Coyote Gordo: coy1supergee on May 19th, 2016 12:15 am (UTC)
WordPerfect was wonderful after it stopped asking if we REALLY wanted to do things. (Default: No) Does it still Reveal Codes?
Sue Burkemount_oregano on May 19th, 2016 06:31 am (UTC)
Yep, it still has Reveal Codes -- and boasts about it in its advertising. The latest WP version has a variety of nice new options, too, such as where to dock the reveal codes and how much detail to show.

Johnjohnpalmer on June 6th, 2016 03:21 pm (UTC)
This is one of the reasons I'm finding it so annoying that Microsoft is pushing the subscription service. "You'll always have the
"LATEST,
"GREATEST,
"MOST AWE-INSPIRING,
"... set of ways in which we auto-change your data in ways *we* think you *must* want because!"

(I don't normally end a sentence with "because" - to me, the word demands follow-up. In this case, it seems appropriate.)