WHY CAN’T IT JUST WORK (REVISITED)

You’ve heard me complain about things that don’t work – programs that are badly written, hardware that breaks, things that conflict in mysterious, unreproducible ways, USB devices that suddenly aren’t recognized, devices that work on one computer but not on the one next to it. It makes people frustrated and angry with their computers.

There’s another category of problem caused by hardware and software that is working exactly as designed – but that still might leave you baffled and upset. Let me give you a marvelous example.

I set up a Windows XP notebook whose only purpose in life will be to sit in a car and run the DeLorme map software and GPS. There’s literally no other software on the notebook, just a fully patched copy of WinXP and the DeLorme suite. The only hardware is the GPS device plugged into a USB port, and an external wireless mouse – not even a printer driver.

A couple of days later my client complains that the map display is jumping all over the place, zooming in and out randomly. Huh? He brings it over and everything works fine while I’m studying it. But sure enough, while we’re chatting the onscreen map starts zooming around, moving left and right and zooming in and out. A “Save” window appears out of nowhere. The light bulb goes on – of course, the mouse cursor is spewing out clicks for some reason.

Uninstall the unnecessary Logitech software for the wireless mouse and temporarily unplug it, turn off the stick pointer in the keyboard that won’t be used. Now there’s nothing but a touchpad in use. I concentrate hard while I’m tweaking a few things and the problem appears to be solved.

Lean back, describe what I’ve been doing – and I’ll be damned! There it goes again!

More time passes while I frantically try to look self-confident. It takes fifteen minutes or more before I bust out laughing and let the tension out of my shoulders. Nothing is broken. The program is working perfectly.

The DeLorme software has a feature for voice recognition – some ability to respond to spoken directions after proper training. The laptop has a built-in microphone. (It’s my old notebook, freshly reformatted. I owned it for years and never knew it had a microphone.) The program was hearing us talk and trying to figure out what to do.

When we uncheck the box for the microphone, the program is immediately back to normal.

An hour or more went by while I searched for that checkbox. Is it a flaw? Should we complain that it doesn’t “just work”? Is it fair for me to bill for that experience? (Yes.) Can you imagine what tech support by phone from India would have been like?

It’s not enough for things to just work. They need to telepathically work the way we want them to work. Right?