Friday, September 03, 2010

Computer Megalomania

I recently got in an email debate about the merits of Linux with a few friends (you know who you are). It made me think about exactly what it is that I have against Linux. As it turns out, I am a Linux fan. Linux kicks ass for software developers. No argument. It has come a long way, baby, and it's damn good. Impressive, even.


My personal interest, however, is in human-computer interaction in the consumer space (for regular non-software-engineer people). I don't want Linux (as a desktop user interface) to make any headway in the consumer space. Here's why.

I am looking forward to a time when the "art of setting up your computer just how you like it" is a truly lost art - only found among software people. In my (and several others') opinion, computers are not something that should be celebrated, but something that you should be able to use as an invisible tool to get other things done worth celebrating. For example, making photos, movies, music, art - or writing great novels, designing a faster car, discovering new maths and science and medicine, etc. Today, the use-model of the computer is WAY too much of a megalomanic to get out of the way of most people's creative and/or intellectual pursuits. So much potential energy is stuck at the top of the reservoir because the tools of the day require too much investment to use.

The term "[computer] techie" bothers me on so many levels... You should be able to use a computer for great things (unrelated to building computers and/or software) and understand very little about them. A great user experience means the thing you were trying to get done was not effortless - but all of your effort was spent on the *thing*, not on trying to get the computer to do the thing. To me, today's computing metaphor is as ridiculous as a carpenter spending their whole day messing with the cool knobs and settings on their tools, rather than building awesome cabinetry. Computers need to do a better job at becoming invisible and allow the user to focus on their art.

Linux is wonderful on the server - where it invisibly crunches numbers and processes vast streams of data. The reason I don't like it on the desktop, is that it comes from and is shaped by a group of people that view personal computing very much from a "software techie" perspective. That simple passive label alone "popular among techies", is a damning mark in my eyes. I don't want Linux on the desktop to do well (outside of the software engineering world), because that means computers are becoming less and less transparent - rather than more transparent as they should (in my opinion).

All that said, I like Apple's approach at re-inventing the whole computing thing as a mega-simplified interface that is far more intuitive than what we regard as classical "computers". I do love Macs and OS X for a bunch of reasons, but the real future of computing looks a heck of a lot more like iOS. And frankly, Android. The user model is very similar between them, but Android still suffers from that "techie" thing that I honestly hope cleans up.


I can't wait to see what people make and invent and discover when the full breadth of computing power is available to them without the overhead of "modern" computer UI megalomania.

Several of my "techie" software friends are annoyed that new computer users of the future (our children) are going to grow up in a world where computers aren't to be tinkered with, but used to do real stuff. I personally find that future to be a much better one - with more creative things happening in the world that don't directly pertain to computers themselves. The software industry will shrink somewhat (perhaps), because the creative intellectual talent will be busy using computers to build more interesting things.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Random thoughts on caffeine: USA soccer

You might think this post is related to caffeine, but I assure you it is not. The title merely reflects the fact that I had a thai iced tea with dinner, and I normally don't drink any caffeine at all - thus I am awake and should be asleep. "thoughts on caffeine" are the thoughts coursing through my noggin using caffeine jet propulsion.

So... I wanted to make a few points about US soccer. I am posting this because the website is soliciting folks to produce a video on YouTube describing your "favorite moments" from the USA's "fantastic" World Cup run in South Africa. People are talking about Landon's goal in the last second against Algeria - which popped the US from possibly OUT to 1st in Group C in an instant. That was pretty cool. I was pretty stoked at that moment, I must admit...

But... As an avid soccer fan, and a die-hard 100% USA soccer fan (MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR FAN), I am a bit miffed about the post-cup reaction to the USA's "great" performance. Don't get me wrong. Don't jump to conclusions without reading this. Please pay attention.

The media is really excited at our amazing and skilled soccer team that so dramatically defeated England, Slovenia, and Algeria during the group stage, and blah blah blah. I think we sucked. Really really badly. I think we perhaps had our worst performance yet on the world stage, and for some reason - somehow - somebody is using a Jedi mind-trick on the general populace to make them think we played well. I watched the games - every second of them - and some of them more than once. We sucked. We didn't even show up until the second half for most of the games - scratch that - any of the games. We played brilliant for spans of up to (but not including) one minute at a time. We had some great segments of panic from behind and try try try to attack - but failed. I saw about 10 great plays by our guys in the whole tournament. The rest of the time it was WTF? My view of the tournament is for some reason at great odds with the US media's assessment of our play.

Okay. So again to be clear - I am an absolute 100% die-hard USA soccer fan. I love our guys. I love our potential. I will wear red, white, and blue and scream until my throat bleeds every time they play. The problem is, I want to see them play like they did at last year's Confederation Cup, except when the real chips are on the table. We beat Spain. We were up 2-0 against Brazil at half-time. Perhaps the loss of that game was foreshadowing of the stellar play we'd see this year in South Africa.

For some reason they didn't perform well this year and it really bums me out. The USA should have been eliminated by Holland in the semi-finals. That's where their potential should have led them. Instead they absolutely LUCKED into winning Group C and got their ass kicked in their first elimination game by a team they should have crushed.

The USA did not perform well at the World Cup this year. We sucked. It's a shame, because we honestly have a lot more talent than was shown in this tournament, but for some reason the lads were sleeping at the switch until the dying moments of a few of the games. Disappointing.

I'm not going to single out any players - though I do have opinions - I just think we weren't into it for some reason. Vuvuzela noise? Who knows. I am just really confused by the media's ignorance of the game of soccer to not realize how poorly we did. I know the guys know, but I hope they do enjoy this media tidal wave and get as much good press for soccer in USA as possible. I'll sit over here with the real soccer folks and just smile and hope for better times ahead.

We totally *can* kick ass on the world stage. We just haven't yet.

- Joe