Thursday, November 27, 2008

Fourteen Minutes Left

I spent one of my fifteen minutes of fame yesterday. I told a joke to thousands of people nationwide. A lame joke.

I don't listen to Dr. Laura on the radio much, as her show is typically on when I'm at work. But yesterday I had taken the day off, and I was heading to the store to pick up some potatoes for the garlic mashed potatoes that we are going to have today, as we had underestimated how many potatoes we'd need. I flipped on the radio and there was Dr. Laura. I enjoy listening to her show. Maybe it's because she tells it like it is and actually gives good advice, but mostly I think it's because I get some sort of perverse amusement out of listening to her rip into someone who's causing all of their own problems and blaming it on everyone else.

Anyway, she was having her annual “Corny Joke Day;” every year on the day before Thanksgiving, people call in to tell her a corny joke, the cornier the better. Those who get on the air get a prize. So I said to myself, “Self, you know a lot of corny jokes. Why not call in?” In fact, my company had recently published some joke and quote books to give away at trade shows (which you can download for free if you like), so I had plenty of material from which to choose.

So I called. The line was busy the first few times I called in, but on the fourth attempt I got a ring on the other end. After about two minutes, the screener picked up and asked to hear the joke. I told it, and she responded with an odd sound somewhere between a groan and a snort. Either sound is good for a corny joke, I suppose, unless it was a snort of derision. Apparently it wasn't, though, because she took my info and put me in the queue.

I spent the next ten minutes or so listening to the show through my phone, and heard several other corny jokes:

Q. What did Tarzan say when he saw a herd of elephants coming over the hill?
A. “Oh, look, a herd of elephants coming over the hill!”
Q. What did Tarzan say when he saw a herd of elephants coming over the hill wearing sunglasses?
A. Nothing; he didn't recognize them
Q. Why did the mother hen bring her chicks to the eye doctor?
A. To check their peepers.
Q. Why is a blonde's brain the size of a pea in the morning?
A. Their brains swell at night.

Then, before I knew it, I was on:

Q. Why do gorillas have big nostrils?

As she sometimes does with the jokes, Dr. Laura made an attempt at a serious answer, something about allowing them to smell the breeze more easily. But of course, that wasn't the answer.

A. Because they have big fingers.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

It Just Keeps Raining...

My son has finally started crawling. Sort of. While he does have use of his left side, he doesn't use it much when crawling; he sort of drags it. We've already had a therapist coming to see him because of gross motor skill delay. She was concerned about it and suggested that this should be evaluated by his pediatrician. So yesterday the doctor looked him over and said that muscle tone on his left side is less than his right. There could be many different reasons for this, anything from simple preference all the way to a prenatal stroke. He's got an MRI scheduled for December 1, so we'll see.

Gorgeous Wife also had a doctor visit yesterday and was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. As there is no cure, she will have to control it with exercise and medication for the rest of her life.

Cross your fingers for our boy. He's the only hope this family has left for having at least one member that doesn't have an incurable medical condition.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I am a User Interface Snob

What follows is a rant on a geeky topic that most normal people probably don't give a lick about. You have been warned.

One of my pet peeves is a poorly designed user interface, not just for software or web sites, but in physical objects, too. A common example is door handles in public buildings. The two kinds you encounter most often are the vertical handle and the horizonal bar that goes across the entire door. A person encountering the former will automatically tend to feel that the door should be pulled to open it, while the latter causes people to want to push it open. Yet sometimes, you encounter a vertical handle on a door that has to be pushed. They have to put a “PUSH” sign on it so that people will know they have to push it, and you will still be able to see people trying to pull it all day. Instead of putting up a sign, why not just use the right handle?

I ran into another one just now, when scanning a file with the AVG virus/malware scanner. It's nice that it scans for both viruses (Why aren't they called virii?) and spyware, but the results screen leaves something to be desired. It basically says something like this:

Infections found:0
Infected objects removed or healed:0
Not removed or healed:0
Spyware found:0
Spyware removed:0
Not removed:0

Every time that screen comes up, my brain has to sit there and figure out where I'm supposed to look to tell whether it found anything or not. The screen ought to look something like this:


Then there's that recorded voice that tells you, “You must first dial a 1 before calling this number.” Why doesn't the phone system just pretend that you dialed the 1 and connect you? I mean, we have computers now! The system clearly knows what you meant, so why not just do it?

The best interface designers understand how to make things that just do the right thing with a minimum of hand-holding. They don't clutter up an already busy amusement park by putting up a sign that reads “Don't sit on the railing;” they just cover it with bumps or pokey bits that make it incredibly uncomfortable to sit on. They don't write software error messages that just tell you that it didn't like what you did for some arcane, programmery reason; they write ones that tell you what to do about it, or if feasible, make it impossible for you to make the mistake in the first place.

So what do you wish was better designed?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Vote Early and Often

I am so happy. Today is the last day that I have to see political ads.

Seriously, though, if you haven't already, for heaven's sake go vote! I voted early this year, and the lines weren't nearly so bad the news was saying. I spent maybe ten minutes in line. It was a pleasant experience compared to the Driver License Division. Today will be a different story, of course, but please, do your civic duty and vote!