Monday, January 29, 2018

19th Nervous Breakdown ...

The world has become a slightly more boring place, as one more of life's little mysteries has been resolved. Here at The Shamblings™ we is technologically advanced, having as we do a cargo-cult doorbell consisting of a huge box with a bell and a transformer in it inside, and an actual bell-push at the front door: it has never worked. One day, a while back, I got annoyed with this and dragged out the multimeter and a few screwdrivers and the power drill, then drilled out the rusting screws that held the 70's-era bell-push in its cavity in the wall.

Great crumbs of rusted metal fell out, and it became clear to me that the ends of the copper wires that had once been connected to what was once a button had long since ceased to function as conductors, so I headed off to the hardware store and got a stainless steel plate to cover up the gaping and now superfluous hole and a new button with a handy light in it so it can be seen in the dark and a handful of screws and bolts to hold the whole thing together - bloody miracle, it all worked! And it carried on doing so, for a while, until it stopped.

A few weeks of that and it started, quite of its own accord, to work again: we were happy and then it stopped - once more - and stubbornly stayed like that. I checked everything I could think of: there was 220V going into the bell and 10V coming out of the transformer, I had more-or-less 10V at the switch, but no ding!dong! Then three days ago it worked.

You take this sort of thing with mild pleasure, and above all you don't ask questions ... halfway up the wall in the living room, just by the door, there's a block of three light switches and an extremely inconveniently placed power point: I guess it's there so that the little electrons come tumbling out downhill and so are not tired when it comes time for them to make the vacuum cleaner work, or something like that. One of the switches is for the central light inside, one is for the light in the verandah, and the other one - we never worked that out, could turn it on or off and it made neither a tot nor a jittle of difference.

So last night, as I was heading outside on my own business (emptying cooking oil down the storm drain BAD TREVOR! if you must know), I noticed that it was on, so as it serves no useful purpose I turned it off, and at the door saw that the doorbell was not working anymore. Yes, some unsung genius had decided way back when to wire the neutral side of the bell-push switch through a light switch inside the house, to what end I simply cannot imagine. There you have it, now we know.

Whatever, the ageing Asus laptop I use for all my Linux development is starting to warn me about unrecoverable hard drive errors, so rather than waiting until the old beast falls flat on her face and then have to do everything in a mad rush I thought I'd take the new (almost unopened) Asus that I bought a few months ago, for just such an occasion as this, and set it up as a dual-boot Windows/Linux system. Aren't I brave?

Every year, for almost as far back as I can remember, some wittering know-nothing cretin tech pundit has been proclaiming this to be "the year of Linux on the desktop". And every single year, this has signally turned out not to be the case. Having just survived - and I mean, "just" - installing a bog-standard Fedora 27 installation, I can honestly say that there are five reasons for this: in order, they are The. Fucking. Shitty. GNOME. Shell.

There we are, I've said it. The thing is, professional developers actually have the advantage of what they call, in the trade, a "useability lab". This is a thing where innocent people are pulled in off the street and forced to use software - as it might be, the latest version of Office - until their eyes boil out of their sockets while people in serious white lab-coats and armed with clipboards observe their suffering and make snarky remarks. The point is that the happy team who develop GNOME do not have one of these, and I truly believe that they live in some sort of echo chamber and are convinced that they are right.

Even when it comes to having big blobby icons that were designed by a four year-old with access to too many Crayola sets, the belief that swapping between mouse and keyboard to get anything done is ergonomic and - my personal favourite - scroll bars that disappear when you're not looking at them. Nice one, guys! Yeah, I know, I could spend a week or so spelunking about and installing five zillion add-ons and customising it to my wishes, but I'm lazy and do not want to have to do this.

Nor, I suspect, do 90% of the 80% of computer users who are used to Windoze, and that sheer weirdness unfamiliarity is why they're not going to switch. And I certainly won't push anyone I know to do so, not even hint that such a thing is possible; I know damn well I'd wind up spending most of my time as unpaid tech support.

Another thing I really hate for its sheer Byzantine complexity, but am forced to use, is Eclipse. The keyboard shortcuts are unobvious, there are always at least three ways of doing anything - each less intuitive than the others - and to top it off, it's useless out of the box. You have to install some add-ons - for C/C++ f'r'nstance - which is OKish, but first you have to work out how to do that. Simple enough, it's an option under the "Help" menu. Obviously. Then you have to guess which of the 15 or so packages to install: the documentation speaks airily of a "C/C++ CDT" but that's not actually in the list ... small wonder I'm on meds.

Also, the UI "designers" thought that having loads of teeny icons everywhere would be a really good idea, doubtless on the principle that icons make up some sort of universal language. This is true enough - for a given value of "true" - most of them are in fact either incomprehensible or misleading no matter what your native tongue may be. Click on the wrong one and you may discover that you've irreversibly reformatted your entire project in conformity with the Strunk & White style guidelines from 1959.

And even trying to rearrange windows in the workspace to suit your preferences is an exercise in frustration: you have sod-all visual feedback and what you do get just shows you what it feels like doing, not what you actually want it to do. Guess I should add Lisinopril to the shopping list.

Never mind, there is good news anyway because it's an ill wind that blows up nobody's arse, also there's a silver cloud to every lining; I can now buy vegetarian pesto at the local supermarket. What the hell do they put in the standard version, I wonder?

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