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Bug of the moment 2008-02-02

Something that must cross many of our minds when we encounter a strange bug in a program or Web site is, “is this just me?” It is always a toss up. If we assume that it’s a common problem, everyone will deny encountering any such bug. If we write it off as another peculiarity of our own computer set-up (that self-deprecating way that we feel we’ve caused all our own problems by doing this and that) we find out that in fact it’s pretty widespread (like a misbehaving Full Articles link). Am I the only person for whom the Show Desktop button in Windows 2000 sometimes makes the taskbar disappear too?

I use Pidgin chat client for all my instant messaging needs. Mostly it works pretty well these days, but MSN continues to prove to be a problem. Saying nothing about random errors caused by Microsoft’s banned words list, I often find myself staring at connection errors:

Normally the solution is to disable (i.e. disconnect from) and re-enable (reconnect) MSN, and re-send the message. In this case, though, I’ve reconnected twice (where it shows that bob has signed on) and still I cannot send anything. I’ve been talking to PhAtfiSh just fine over the same network, so the network appears to be up and running.

The time span suggests that Bob hasn’t “cloaked off” (a bizarre trick a friend uses to disconnect without the server noticing, so that he times out six minutes later) or crashed out.

The presence list may be corrupted at Microsoft’s end. Pidgin may be at fault here. I don’t know. I just know that fifty minutes after I first messaged Bob, he’s still showing online and yet, something is completely screwed somewhere.

I’ve always wished that computers and the software therein could be held to higher levels of accountability. The 0830 into town rear-ends you in the morning traffic: “bus error”. All the money in your bank account goes missing: the cashier just shrugs and dismisses it with “an unspecified account error has occurred”. The police find a person dead in their home and they close the case with ‘The human “Fred” has unexpectedly quit’ (and just like my Mac, the Reopen button will do absolutely nothing).

Human beings hold each other fully accountable for what they’ve done, but computer software – something we spend an inordinate amount of our lives interacting with, and on which the world is growing ever more dependent – gets away with murder and we treat it like it’s perfectly normal.

Something I just thought I’d share. One of the things I loved about the Macintosh back when I was new to Macs, was being able to turn on the computer with a key on the keyboard. The same key can also be used to rapidly bring up a restart/sleep/shutdown dialog:

Apple decided that what everyone most wanted to do with the spare key on the keyboard was eject the optical drive tray (perfect if you have a slot-loading machine) so the power button passed away. However, although you can no longer boot a Mac with it, if you still have a keyboard with this key on it, my beloved power dialog box still exists:

Bless it.

Posted 2nd February 2008 – Comments and questions?