El Coyote Gordo (supergee) wrote,
El Coyote Gordo


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.
Tags: disimprovements
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