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It doth suck and, verily, doth it blow


Today’s the day I had to show my current multimedia dingus to the client. It’s basically a little interactive thing that asks a question, stores the answer, shows a video, and gives some feedback, times ten. Easy, right?

Then the artistic genius building the kiosk decided he wants it to run vertically. Like, portrait. Computers do not do this, says I. Well — says he — I’ve never done it before, either, but I think you build it sideways and we’ll physically rotate the monitor. Oh, and no touchscreen — we’re tucking the computer out of sight and giving you three hardwired buttons. Three whole buttons. This’ll be packed with interactive functionality.

Um. Monitor #2 will rotate (I have three monitors — worship me), but you can’t design rotated. Up/down arrows become side-to-side arrows, the mouse is all over the joint. I can rotate the monitor to run the application, but I have to design it sideways and crane. Fabulous.

I had to bribe the video guys to use their +3 Video Editing mojo to rotate all my .avi files for me. My primitive video stuff doesn’t have a “make it sideways” spell. I’ve been excreting building supplies over this for a week.

So today I pitch it to the client — no, the client, the client’s boss, and the client’s boss’ boss. The latter is a woman whose name strikes fear in the hearts of cubiclemonkeys everywhere. Say it aloud and hear the gentle pitter-pat of ass-cheeks clenching. She isn’t a cruel woman. She’s that potent combination of stupid and powerful. This is cubiclemonkey kryptonite.

They gather in my office. I rotate the monitor for them, and in so doing somehow hit a button that kills the signal. It goes black. I have a feeling now is a really bad time to figure out what all those little buttons at the bottom of the monitor do. Time rubberbands while I punch buttons and sweat, though it might’ve been kinder if I hadn’t gotten it working eventually.

I love working for a research and engineering company. I love learning about geeky, science-ish things. But there’s no getting around it: engineers hate subtlety. I designed an interface of duotoned photographs: all muted blue and dusty red. Earthy variations on our corporate colors, with a nice, bangy video window in front.

“My eye goes right to the video window in the middle”
“Excellent! That’s just what I intended.”
“But I can’t really see the photos in the background that well.”
“Excellent! That’s just what I intended.”
“Change it!”

They discuss among themselves what color goes best with red and blue. Something nice and bright. Orange? Yellow? And then one of them leans forward says, “you know those web sites where there’s text and it’s on this sort of lozenge thing and it’s tumbling over and over — can we have one of those animations?” Something inside of me rolled over, pulled the covers over its head and cried itself to sleep.

I had originally promised them a bunch of functionality, but I presumed I had a full keyboard to work with. Now I have three buttons: “yes” “no” and “reset.”

So they’re all like, “can we skip to specific scenarios?”
And I’m like, “no. I have three buttons, and they’re totally spoken for.”
“Can we have a demo mode?”
“No, I only have three buttons.”
“Can we have a help screen?”
“I have three buttons.”
“Can we have fast forward?”
“Yes, sure, if you can fast forward with your mind.”

Thank you, Ace, for planting that dangerously insubordinate snark in my brain.

It got back to me later that they were, on the whole, pleased. I mean, I’m going to have to rape and pillage my own design, but I’ve been professionally outraging my artistic sensibilities for decades. I’m getting good at it.

And, anyhow, it’s Friday. Like I give a rat’s ass about anything on Friday.


Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: March 30, 2007, 10:42 am

You point out a growing problem in the world today: Rat’s asses that aren’t given.

Fewer and fewer folk are giving these precious and valuable commodities to society. The poor are especially hard-hit – having no rat’s asses of their own, let alone to give.

So if you give a rat’s ass – thank you. If not, consider giving rat’s asses – and give generously.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 30, 2007, 11:21 am

I have the assorted parts of many small, innocent animals. I find one on the kitchen rug most mornings. I really, really hope the cats are doing that.

Comment from nbpundit
Time: March 30, 2007, 1:53 pm

You haven’t enough monitors, there’s room for more
at the bottom of your keyboard. Who gives a rat’s ass?
Not me.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: March 30, 2007, 2:38 pm

You should got a real job, instead.

Personally, I find living down a hole and eating worms is very fulfilling.

Then again, you don’t get three monitors.

Comment from Enas Yorl
Time: March 30, 2007, 3:39 pm

Are those cups and saucers stacked up back there? On the little television thingy? And a Teletubbie clock? I got you beat for desk clutteryness though.

Good luck on the next round of revisions, and I hope they don’t decide to change everything at the last minute and go with a completely different style.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 30, 2007, 3:52 pm

You forgot to mention the giant rubber rat on top of the monitor. You correctly identified everything else, though. I’m amazed it went this long without mention of my rat. I’m rather hurt. He came all the way from England and he’s an antique (well, he was bought in an antique store). Rather bizarrely, I’m told someone in IS has his absolute twin.

I read a survey many years ago — like, in the ’80s — the conclusion of which was that something stunning like 70% of all computer monitors at that time had a rubber rat on them. I happened to have a rubber rat on mine when I read it. I have had some variety of rubber rat (and occasionally a family of them) ever since, but I don’t think I’ll do better than this one.

The Teletubbies clock is set to British time, by the way. It seemed only right.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: March 30, 2007, 3:58 pm

I think I’m suffering from monitor-envy.

But – I must admit – I, too, do not give a rat’s ass.

Yes I do.

What the eff do you do with three monitors? In my day a man had one monitor – only one! – and was grateful to have even that! And they only showed one color!

I bet one is hooked to a vid camera shoved somewhere…uh…vulgar.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 30, 2007, 4:16 pm

One holds the thing I’m building, one holds the program that’s building the thing I’m building, and the third one is usually running episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

If you’ve never had multiple monitors, it’s really fun. WindowsXP got this right, at least. You can have up to eight — as many as you’ve got computer slots for video cards. In the regular video settings window, you have all these little boxes representing your monitors. You move them around until they match the size and arrangement of your monitors. Then the whole thing becomes one big giant Windows desktop. You grab things from one monitor and just mouse them over to another, like it’s one big contiguous surface. So you can run different programs in different windows, or different parts of the same program in different windows.

If you’ve got any old spare video cards and monitors lying around, try it.

Comment from geoff
Time: March 30, 2007, 4:33 pm

I’m an R&D type myself, so I’d be your worst nightmare as far as “Gee, can we…?” type questions. Fun to see it from the other perspective.

Comment from Enas Yorl
Time: March 30, 2007, 5:12 pm

The rat – of course! Sorry, I was going to say something about it but the Teletubbies kicked it out of my mind. I have a rubber alligator on my computer.

Ditto the multi-monitor recommendation. Our IT budget is handled by another department and they’ve seemingly got bags of money lying around. A few months ago they were like “Y’all want dual montitors for everyone? With 19 inch flat screens?” We said “Sure!” I wouldn’t dream of going back to just one again.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: March 30, 2007, 5:55 pm

Oh, no! I have an old video card. I have an old 20″ Nokia tube monitor. I’m running XP. It’s Friday. Its raining outside. I’m retired. I have about 10% of a life.

I. Will. Resist.

BTW: If you’re watching MST3000 at work, you should get a raise. I loved that series the first 1-2 years. It was soooo stupid. And – at the time – such an original idea. I mean, who hasn’t sat with friends and made comments about some dumb flick on the tube? They commercialized it.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: March 31, 2007, 7:16 pm

Ok – you win. Two monitors are friggin’ neat. I bet three are even better.

Damn it! I’m moving soon (I hope), and will now have to account for 2-3 monitors on my desk when I set my stuff up again. Guess I better get a bigger desk. Or some of those swinging arm mounts, maybe? Oy!

Argh! Its all Weasel’s fault. I cherished my ignorance.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: April 1, 2007, 5:12 am

Very important datum: if you ever go back to one monitor, move everything from your extra monitors onto your main monitor first. Otherwise, when you unhook the extras, all your stuff is lost in Neverland.

Some programs, like Photoshop, are designed to be well behaved with multiple monitors. You can pull the various floating tool bars right outside the main window and put them on an extra monitor. This is better than just maximizing it across two monitors — if the two are different aspect ratios, it’s messy. But I stranded my toolbars in the fourth dimension when my second monitor at home died.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: April 1, 2007, 6:59 am

Boy! am I glad I read Weasel this morning before cleaning up my PC tinker-mess….and removing the clunky 2nd monitor from my desk. I could have been doomed. Where is that paypal tip jar? Hmmm….

My Maroon Sense(tm) is not detecting it. Is it hiding in plain sight?

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