There is an old saying in the computer society "Garbage in, Garbage out." Of course the wonderful thing about computers is that they can really make this "A little garbage in and A LOT OF GARBAGE OUT." And when you get the media involved, the little in may be vanishingly nil.
Take for example, a review by PC Magazine of the Amazon Kindle. [Link] For what the article says, it mostly says well. From a hardware sense the Kindle is pretty good, about on a par with the comparable Sony box. But where the review fails dismally is talking constructively about the use of the machine. Yes, there are a lot of titles available. Are very many of them the sort of thing that makes one want the convenience of the Kindle? I fear the answer is a resounding NO, and the magazine once more reveals itself increasingly a publication for the happily ignorant lacking the pretension of either depth or accuracy, appealing only to a class of consumer who knows no better and has no desire to improve.
The distressing thing however, is not the absence of any substantive consideration of content, but the unabashed acceptance of paying for free information. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS and podcast feeds and pay zero (direct) for these; I subscribe to a bunch of blog announcements and pay zero (direct) for these. Of course, I qualify these as direct because I have a substantial indirect charge in that I have to pay my ISP for connection to the internet. OK, so I pay OTELCO what seems to me too much money for the service I obtain. In a comparison with what is available in Greater Metropolitan Arab the figure actually comes in as representative and given the intangible differences between the service climate at OTELCO versus THE CABLE COMPANY, the price is acceptable.
This is the root of my problem with the Kindle, its commitment to a separate network. I first object to not being told that part of what I would be paying for is access to that network, and second to still having to pay for things I get without direct cost as a virtue of access to the internet. I also find their commitment to a proprietary format unacceptable when there is a standard Yankee government format – PDF-Archive – that is better and free for use. And I much prefer the podcast model where I download stuff to my PC and then transfer to my handheld device. Yes, this is not what the Y generation may want but if they will stand for it on their iPods (I use a Creative Zen for reasons I have made quite obvious.) then why not on an eBook reader? Frankly, I find Amazon to be too apparently interested in cash over quality; one of the reasons I prefer to deal with Barnes and Noble even if it is a big box instead of a Mom and Pop.
And while we’re handing out anti-cudos, here’s one for a certain researcher at U Washington. [Link] Seems this fellow is trying to make software more productive – easier to use? – by installing learning capability into it. While we can’t really differ with his comments we do with his conclusions. Yes, computers are stupid and we want to keep them that way. Some of us don’t want appliances, we want tools.
The problem with software is only minusculely the wage serfs who code it. In most cases they are themselves the victims of the misdirected implementations of software engineering practice and corporate greed over substance. (Does anyone recall when an HP calculator would survive a wall bouncing?) The real problem is the user. Yes, the user!
If we would teach people how to write computer code. No, not JAVA or C## or whatever, just plain old BASIC, then we wouldn’t have the problems we have now. As it stands, users of MegaHard’s office suite use an order of magnitude less of the suite’s capabilities than they do of their brain’s. The latter is the result of biology, the former of programming ignorance. If a user can write even very simple programs then they can have constructive mental conversations along the lines of "what should this software do and what should be its features and how should they work?" My experience is that this is a much more fruitful path than suffering through mind destroying rote classes or struggling with dummy books sans preparation.
But there are some very good reasons why not to make software so fungible as to have reordering learning capacity. First it bloats the software even more, a deadly disease with Moore’s law petering out faster than the oil supply. Second, it means that the programs performs differently so that old human learning is made irrelevant and delaying. Overall, not a good strategy!