Monday, July 30, 2012

More Dark Clouds of Technology

It is hard to tell whether the recent degradation of Yahoo! Mail is part of a “perfect storm” conjoined to the release of Mountain Lion. It certainly seems to be the case that Safari has gone through yet another phase of deterioration. The primary difference is that, where you used to be able to see at the bottom of the window where it was hanging, you no longer get that cue.

The good news is that recovery seems to be both simpler and more effective than previously. I have discovered that clicking on the X in the address window now does a more reliable job of enabling the Stop command. You then get the reload arrow, and clicking on it seems to lead to a rapid loading of what you wanted in the first place. Thus, things are better than they were but probably not yet good enough to deserve to be called “improved.”

Yahoo! Mail, on the other hand, seems to be suffering from an acute case of “hyperlink amnesia,” at least on Safari (and I have not tried to test this systematically on other browsers). This is most painful when the Insert Addresses link does not work for composing a mail message. If you need only one address, you can click it in the “new improved” Contacts display (which I actually think is an improvement). If you need to consult multiple addresses, be prepared to open the Contacts in a separate tab and do a lot of copy-and-paste work. Otherwise, you are in a classic SOL situation.

I continue to believe that this is not so much a “perfect storm” as simply a result of engineering talent that is far less skilled than it used to be. This, in turn, is a consequence of tools being more powerful than they used to be. The problem is that, rather than augmenting the skill of the engineers (that great dream that surfaced with the appearance of the mouse at the SRI Augmentation Research Center, Douglas Engelbart’s research project), it seems to be dumbing down the work force. If it can be done by using the right power tool, then it gets done. If it requires more than engaging a single tool, then it is dismissed as too difficult, if not impossible. As a result of too many power tools, no one seems to know what is happening under that metaphorical hood any more; and, to continue that metaphor, one of these days we are going to have a major software product that drives us off a cliff (if that has not already happened).

Meanwhile, most of those academic institutions with reputations for producing quality engineers are turning into Internet-based correspondence schools; so it is hard to imagine that our educational system is going to help solve this problem

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