A little bit of creativity and a whole lot of scutwork

July 22nd, 2014

The Fasinatng … Frustrating … Fascinating History of Autocorrect chronicles the work of Microsoft's Dean Hachamovitch, who implemented AutoCorrect back in Microsoft Word 6:

It wasn't long before the team realized that autocorrect could also be used toward less productive – but more delightful – ends. One day Hachamovitch went into his boss's machine and changed the autocorrect dictionary so that any time he typed Dean it was automatically changed to the name of his coworker Mike, and vice versa. (His boss kept both his computer and office locked after that.) Children were even quicker to grasp the comedic ramifications of the new tool. After Hachamovitch went to speak to his daughter's third-grade class, he got emails from parents that read along the lines of "Thank you for coming to talk to my daughter's class, but whenever I try to type her name I find it automatically transforms itself into 'The pretty princess.'"

[Via Longform]

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Emotion detection in a mobile, wearable system

December 9th, 2013

I could have sworn that today's date wasn't April 1st, but Nicholas Carr seems determined to prove me wrong:

If there's one product category ripe for disruptive innovation, it's lingerie. So it comes as no real surprise that Microsoft researchers have developed a smart bra. The self-quantifying garment is designed, write the researchers, to "perform emotion detection in a mobile, wearable system" as a means of triggering "just-in-time interventions to support behavior modification for emotional eating." […]

Just wait for the advertising campaign. Perhaps Microsoft will finally surpass this classic ad for Windows XP.1

  1. Potentially NSFW.

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Die, Monster, Die!

October 13th, 2013

I'm guessing that Charlie Stross has just lost a day's work to Microsoft Word:

I hate Microsoft Word. I want Microsoft Word to die. I hate Microsoft Word with a burning, fiery passion. I hate Microsoft Word the way Winston Smith hated Big Brother. Our reasons are, alarmingly, not dissimilar …

Microsoft Word is a tyrant of the imagination, a petty, unimaginative, inconsistent dictator that is ill-suited to any creative writer's use. Worse: it is a near-monopolist, dominating the word processing field. Its pervasive near-monopoly status has brainwashed software developers to such an extent that few can imagine a word processing tool that exists as anything other than as a shallow imitation of the Redmond Behemoth. […]

He's right, of course. The trouble is, Word's file format is holding hostages, in the form of uncounted millions of documents across hundreds of thousands of companies large and small across Europe and North America and much of the rest of the world. Yes, you could install LibreOffice, or switch to another word processor and access your old files by using file viewers that are more-or-less capable of interpreting both the content and formatting of your old Word documents1, but if you've already paid for Microsoft Office licenses and been able to rely upon most staff being able to get along with Word without the need for any training then that's a hard sell. Good luck persuading everyone to learn MarkDown.

On the other hand, some of the things people use Word for are so fundamentally wrong that anything, not excluding reverting to pen-and-paper, would be preferable.

[Via http://www.antipope.org/charlie/]

  1. You just have to hope that the authors didn't get too ambitious with embedding objects in proprietary Microsoft formats, or rely to heavily on pulling fancy tricks with styles to get their layout pixel-perfect, or fall into one of the hundred or so other traps Microsoft laid for the unwary. Or – heaven help us – use the Save As HTML option to build your web site!

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Uninstalling Windows 8

August 23rd, 2012

This withering review of Windows 8 may or may not turn out to be representative of how the average desktop or laptop PC user is going to feel when they sit down in front of their new or upgraded computer, but it does suggest that Microsoft had better have Windows 8.1 prepped and ready to go very soon after the launch of Windows 8:

The Calendar is unworkable

I've given up entirely on the calendar, because it's terrible. Changing to a week or day view requires a right click to make the control interface appear. I can't work out how to edit an appointment, nor can I work out how to delete an appointment. There's no way to show events from just one calendar. I think it may well be easier to alter my own birthday than to edit when it's currently set for in the Windows 8 calendar. I really want to be making this up.

There's a lot more where that came from.

Remember when Windows 95 came out, and every serious national newspaper1 devoted acres of space2 to the launch of the product that was going to change the face of computing? I wonder what they're going to do for Windows 8, what with it being the most radical shift in how Windows users work since 1995.

[Via Daring Fireball]

  1. In the UK at least – I don't remember how far they went overboard in the USA.
  2. Whole supplements in some cases, and Microsoft even paid for that day's entire run of the Times.

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LET Eggs=N+1. LET Baskets = 1.

August 7th, 2012

Getting beyond the particulars of how Mat Honan had hackers use social engineering to get his passwords reset and his iOS and MacOS devices remote wiped, for my money here's the key lesson of the whole sorry saga:

I bought into the Apple account system originally to buy songs at 99 cents a pop, and over the years that same ID has evolved into a single point of entry that controls my phones, tablets, computers and data-driven life. With this AppleID, someone can make thousands of dollars of purchases in an instant, or do damage at a cost that you can't put a price on.

This isn't just about Apple – it's about all the corporations expanding from their original niches into as many corners of our online life as possible.1 Having a single sign-on is scary, and only gets more so as the uses of that ID expand over time.2

I'd like to think that scares like this would motivate Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and the rest to get this stuff right lest the public be discouraged from signing up for all the different services they offer, but I fear that convenience wins out all too often.

  1. For what it's worth, I haven't enabled iCloud on my Mac Mini or my iPod Touch. Not because I foresaw this sort of problem; it's just that I don't see the benefit of iCloud. I bought my iPod Touch as a replacement PDA, not a device for accessing the internet on the move. In any case, given that when I'm at work I'm not in range of an accessible WiFi service, so my iPod Touch isn't going to be accessing iCloud anyway.
  2. I dread the day when Apple finally make some feature I really want/need insist upon having access to iCloud. That might be my cue to take a close look at whatever the successor to the Nexus 7 turns out to be.

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June 26th, 2012

Jean-Louis Gassée's latest Monday Note shares with us an image forwarded by a colleague which neatly sums up how Microsoft's recently announced Surface tablet PC aims to turn the world of portable computing as we know it upside down:


To be fair, you could draw a similar diagram showing how Apple's current iMac designs – the ones with the computer built into the screen, with nothing on your desktop but your keyboard and trackpad/mouse and possible a cradle for your iPod – pulled off a similar shift in weight distribution by comparison with the traditional beige-box-with-a-monitor=perched-on-top desktop PC.

The difference being that you aren't often forced by circumstances to try to balance an iMac on your knees while typing on the keyboard.1

  1. Obviously, sensible people will leave the keyboard off in such circumstances and just use the Surface's on-screen keyboard. But you just know that a subset of Surface users will give in to the temptation to try and get away with using it like a conventional laptop until they learn their lesson.

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Better left unposted?

August 22nd, 2011

Unedited Thoughts About Technology:


The most mindblowing thing in technology right now is your inability to make products that people love (with very few exceptions). Brilliant, creative people work for you, and they have seriously incredible ideas. You have more money than Jesus Christ's rich uncle. I have these crazy high expectations, these hopes that you'll blow me away and you totally let me down. Just try making something other than an Xbox that I can fall madly in love with, and that more than 5 other people will buy because you didn't wait until 3 years after the rest of the market to launch it? Please? Also: I can't fucking believe you won't have a real tablet until 2012. I guess we can use it to liveblog the end of civilization. It better be so good Jesus Christ himself rides down to earth on it, if you're going to take that long. People like Skype, though, and Windows 8 looks alright maybe, so good job there. I guess.

[Via LinkMachineGo!]

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Bing! Bing! Bing!

July 26th, 2011

In the wake of a tech pundit's suggestion that Microsoft sell off Bing to a suitable buyer – like, say, Apple – John Gruber came up with a truly brilliant idea that would put Bing back in the black PDQ:

They charge pay-per-view admission to listen live to the phone call as Steve Ballmer calls Steve Jobs and pitches him on Apple buying Bing.

Please, please, someone make this happen.

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Native HTML5?

April 16th, 2011

Translation From MS-Speak to English of Selected Portions of Dean Hachamovitch's "Native HTML5" announcement:

Native HTML5 support in Windows with IE9 makes a huge difference in what sites can do.

We're really, really sorry about IE6. Not sorry enough to disable Windows activation and allow all the software pirates in China to upgrade, but sorry nonetheless.

Web sites and HTML5 run best when they run natively, on a browser optimized for the operating system on your device.

I think we can all agree to hate XUL.

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Microsoft's bitch

February 11th, 2011

Translation From PR-Speak to English of Selected Portions of This Morning's Nokia Strategy Press Release:

The Nokia-Microsoft ecosystem targets to deliver differentiated and innovative products and have unrivalled scale, product breadth, geographical reach, and brand identity. With Windows Phone as its primary smartphone platform, Nokia would help drive the future of the platform by leveraging its expertise on hardware optimization, software customization, language support and scale.

With Windows Phone as its primary smartphone platform, Nokia will extend its highly successful concept of pumping out a dozen nearly-identical variations of a single model to the smartphone line, only now we will have an excuse.

[Via The Tao of Mac]

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Anticipating emulation

December 3rd, 2010

Going by the evidence of this screendump from VisualStudio 2003/Window CE it's clear that the authors of Microsoft's programming tools know their customers all too well.

I'm going to have to find an excuse to use "You just had to try, didn't you?" in a dialog box now.

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The Solar System according to Microsoft

July 2nd, 2010

The solar system as seen in Internet Explorer.

[Via kottke.org]

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April 29th, 2010

Having spent a few hours at work today writing Visual Basic code to automate the production of some documents, I was in the perfect frame of mind to appreciate this account of debugging a thoroughly ramshackle VBA project:

A few lines below that, it tried to load a template called lnternationalRefTemplate. He wasted twenty minutes looking through InternationalRefTemplate before he realized that he really should be looking at lnternationRefTemplate. None of which should be confused with InternatinoalRefTemplate, which was an intentional typo used because someone had once locked IntertanionalRefTemplate for an entire weekend and a previous developer needed to make some changes.

Trust me, it gets much, much worse better after that…

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Bob sans Comic Sans

March 29th, 2010

I had no idea that the development of Microsoft Bob also prompted the creation of the world's least favourite font:

In October of 1994, a Microsoft designer named Vincent Connare saw a beta of Bob, and found the use of the staid Times New Roman typeface in its word balloons to be out of whack with the software's playful personality. He began work on an aggressively casual font that wound up being dubbed Comic Sans; it didn't make it into Bob, but was later bundled with Windows itself. Comic Sans ended up as the Microsoft Bob of typefaces: It's famous mostly for being unloved.

If only Bob had taken Comic Sans down with it…

[Via Daring Fireball]

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High quality snark

October 6th, 2009

Mark Pilgrim shares with us his Translation From MS-Speak to English of Selected Portions of Tony Ross' "Distributed Extensibility Submission":

It is a common practice for authors, tool vendors, and library authors to want to extend languages to represent additional information that can’t be adequately described by the standard grammar. […] Here are a few examples that apply to HTML:


  • A HTML document editor adds information about tool settings so that a subsequent editing session can continue with the same settings.

We would very much like Word's "export as HTML" output – which is so proprietary that it has spawned an entire cottage industry dedicated to "cleaning" it – to validate.

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Steve, I'm better than you and I have 40 billion reasons why.

July 26th, 2009

Bill Gates' Facebook page.

[Via Memex 1.1]

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New Modes of Interaction

July 12th, 2009

Dan Bricklin1 has been thinking about some implications of Microsoft Natal and Google Wave:

Every decade or so there has been a change in interaction styles between computers and their users. This change impacts both what the user sees and what the programmer needs to do when architecting an application. This change is brought about by innovations in both hardware and software. At first, mainly new applications are created using this new style, but as time goes on and the style becomes dominant, even older applications need to be re-implemented in the new style.

I believe that we are now at the start of such a change. The recent unveilings, within days of each other, of Google Wave (May 28, 2009) and Microsoft Natal (June 1, 2009), brought this home to me. This essay will explore what this new style of interaction will be like in light of the history of such steps in style, why I feel it is occurring, and when it will have an impact on various constituencies. […]

For the record, I could care less about Project Natal until Microsoft show us how they propose to apply it to non-gaming systems. Google Wave, on the other hand, looks quite fascinating.

  1. a.k.a. the co-inventor of VisiCalc, the first electronic spreadsheet for personal computers.

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Songsmith Ad

January 12th, 2009

There's no denying that Microsoft's Songsmith is a clever bit of software, but they desperately need to come up with a promotional video that's not excruciating to listen to and watch.

No doubt somewhere deep in the bowels of Microsoft's HQ, footage exists of Steve Ballmer demonstrating Songsmith. If so, we can only hope that some benefactor of humanity deletes it before it gets anywhere near YouTube…

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Resistance is futile

August 23rd, 2008

Microsoft vim?

[Via Bifurcated Rivets]

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Apple vs Microsoft

July 8th, 2008

Apple vs Microsoft.

And how would Linux fit into that picture?

I think the Linux equivalent would be a pile of knobs, switches, LEDs and a soldering iron, with a post-it note enscribed with the phrase "man 1 soldering_iron". ;-)

[Via Bifurcated Rivets]

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