Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sensitivity Programming

Okay. We can talk about people and manners and all, and they will simply do what they want. They're people with free will. Nothing's going to change that, but, I'll tell you, I work with technology a lot. All day long I deal with it at work -- in a school -- and when I am home, technology makes its way into my music.

I implore all computer programmers: start programming some concern into your machines, for heaven's sake. I'm tired of their blank stares; their matter-of-factness; their insolent air of infallibility. Because, I have to tell you, I'm going to pummel the digital stuffing out of one some day.

I deal with a big, fat, amorphous (and, I would argue, slightly confused) monster of a school computer program every day. Every once in a while, I get a call from the main office:

"Hi, uh, Chris? Yeah. The grades for the entire school are missing. Parents are literally at the door with sharp objects and they want blood. Well, your blood, specifically, since you're the academics guy. Did you do anything wrong? No. Well, could you fix that anyway? Great. Lunch later?"

Do I panic? No. I realize that programmers are really smart people. They would never allow a program for school to just lose its grades, even through human error. There is always a way to recover stuff. There's always a fail safe.

So, I spend hours clicking around. When I can't find it, I call an expert. Alas, the expert is baffled. Still, I do not panic. I call a slightly more expertly expert: HE WHO CANNOT BE BAFFLED. He spends hours on the problem and is baffled but consults an even more superlatively expertatious expert.

After a while I get a call. It seems there was an extra space somewhere before the "semester code." In the box where there was an "S1" for semester one, there is a space. The innocent, split-second brushing of the space bar with a thumb -- nothing more. This kept the entire program from reading grades and making them available to the hard-working students and their tuition-paying parents.

Ghastly as it seems, people wanted me to perish at their hands because there is an extra space in a box. Does the computer talk me down in the gentle tones of a doting mother? Does it apologize for being devoid of problem-solving initiative? Do I get a screen box that says: Error message 2845: Dude, I'm sorry. I should have known, like a six-year-old does, that on January 25th the school year cannot be over -- that there had to be grades somewhere. My bad. Sorry for the inconvenience, old chum?

No. I get nothing. Or, I get something like: Error message 4433JJs832=3333#$^: The pathway was discomfited with the eclectic circuit derailment confusticator input matrix 983 and a partridge in a pear tree.

All I'm asking is a little concern -- an apology, artificial or genuine. Surely that can be programmed in, somewhere. Huh?

I could be lying in a dumpster in the back of the school with the ignition key to a Hyundai minivan jammed into my temple right now. How about some digital sympathy from the technologically advanced wonder of science that couldn't look past a lousy SPAAAAACE? God's teeth!!

Life and limb aside, work is work. We leave it behind. We kick off the shoes of the daily grind and slide our weary piggies into the fuzzy slippers of hearth and home.

At the very least, I can get home and retreat to my salvation -- my music. Oddly, I'm not bitter about the day's techno-insanity. I have perspective, you know.  I regroup.

Entering my little gadget-filled studio, with its rows of orderly, shiny dials, I sip from a hot mug of green tea. My comfy clothes are on. I'm good, now. Sitting in front of the control board, I fire up the effects rack, speakers and the computers and prepare to immerse myself in the music project I have been working on for two years. I double-click on the file -- the one that holds the tracks of the emerging CD. What do I get?

The following files could not be opened.

Which files might they be, you ask? Oh, nothing major, just track one; track two; track three; track four; track five; track six; track seven; track eight; track nine; track ten; track eleven. (Oddly, just to prove the Universe is, after all, benevolent, track twelve opens, just fine.)

Mind you, these tracks entailed two solid years of work -- endless hours of playing, recording, mixing; delicate balances of painstaking nuances; un-liftable tomes of creative curse words spontaneously authored, shelved and categorized. Do I get: Error message 5748: Oh, wow -- these are things you have really been working hard on. Sorry. For some reason I can't open them. My mistake, pal. Let me know if I can make it up to you? No. I get: The following files could not be opened. Not even a stinking reason. It would be like Steinbeck's editor, Pat Covici, sending John a letter: "Hey, John. That long manuscript about the grapes or whatever that you sent me? I lost it. Oh Well. See ya." (No comparison of greatness intended.)

But, of course, computers don't make mistakes. People do. Even though it opened just fine the day before and even though I touched absolutely nothing in-between, I am supposed to assume the superiority of the machine and take its condescending error message lying down.

(For the record, I had the tracks saved elsewhere -- the work is safe. But it is the principle of the thing.)

If we are going to have to coexist with these pretenders at humanity -- these insolent square, plastic and metal bullies that act like they can think, at least we can make efforts to program them with defaults that clearly delineate them as our humble servants. I don't want them to make me breakfast. It's just that a little deference and concern, however artificial, would be nice.

I speak, also, out of sincere compassion for the poor computers who, as we who own Louisville Sluggers well know, simply cannot run away.

I feel better now.


  1. You're error message literally made me LOL. "...and a partridge in a pear tree."

  2. Ain't too much changed about the place, eh?

    This is very funny, and a good observation--I would have figured polite language would come long before 3D desktop icons, screensavers, widgets, smidgets, gadgets, etc. in the computer companies' quest of catering to the consumer.

    But then again I'm not particularly "expertatious."

  3. Glad to make you LOL, my dear.

    Yeah, Nck -- manners always seem to come last, don't they? I'll bet Apple put out a computer with fur before this happens.

  4. Drives me crazy -- one of the things I'm responsible for is my company's web content...and every time I try to insert a "please" or "thank you" into the text, the web "experts" come back to me and say that it's bad e-writing to include pleases and thank yous. Umm... huh? Luckily I get to override them.
    -Impudently polite,

  5. Wow -- I figured it was all lack of concern for manners. I never imagined it was considered bad form to be digitally polite. We're strangers in a strange land,THC. Keep overriding!