Sunday, 7 June 2009

Don't listen to the nerd!

God forbid I actually give correct advice to people. It seems wallowing in ignorance and suffering the inconvenience of a faulty setting is the 'popular' option over believing anyone who knows what they're talking about. The phrase "cutting your nose off to spite your face" has been adopted as a rule.

Yesterday, in a beer garden, a friend had her netbook out. None of the websites being viewed were being seen in full, and when it came to Facebook, everyone in the photos looked like bulimia sufferers. Also, to read the pages fully, you had to scroll left and right in addition to the usual scroll down.

Now, netbooks by their very nature are low-specification computers. They don't have a lot of features, they will never win-out to a proper laptop, but of course, they are low cost. That's the point of them, they'll come with late 90s technology for half the price of its big brother.

It'd be understandable if my friend's netbook had to display things in obese-o-vision because of no other settings, given the low price she paid for it. However, this was a modern machine, only purchased last year, and it was made with a widescreen-shaped display. The designers would have been pretty retarded if it was limited to stretch-o-scope visuals.

However, having looked at the netbook for her a while back to check the wireless settings, I remember setting the display correctly by increasing the resolution (that's the amount of pixels on the screen). That way she could view 99% of webpages without having to scroll left-and-right, like some kind of tunnel-vision affliction, and that we had left the Land Of The Balloon People.

So, quietly setting the display back to normal, keeping all nerd-fuss to a minimum and no need to even mention the fly-over-everyone's-head merits of 1366 x 768 vs standard VGA, or incomprehensible principles of anamorphic distortion.

And indeed, this is the point that justifies my actions. Web surfing continued, without the horizontal scrolling, and with pictures of people looking relatively slim. This actually continued for about an hour, no problems whatsoever.

Until she closed the browser. Then all hell let loose. "Aaargh, he's been on my computer again!" she shrieked.

It was the desktop background that did it. It wasn't "fitting" the screen. Hmm, I don't know about you, but how often do you sit there looking at your desktop background? It's not even vaguely important. This particular background was obviously made for a 1990s PC, and of course it didn't fit. It didn't matter. It could have been tiled, anyway.

All reasoning would not satisfy the grumbler. The desktop background HAD to fit. It simply had to. A fellow drinker reached over, and went into the settings, and it was back to being a fat and pixelly hell-hole, back to seeing only a portion of any webpage... just so that vital background reaches the edges!

Any attempts to explain what they were doing was insane, was met with glares of disbelief, as though as I was being "nerdy" for the sake of it. She wanted her display to look all stretched, and that was it, simple as that. Never mind it's the equivalent of making your car three-wheeled because you "don't like the look of that ugly fourth wheel". Never mind it's actually proven to affect your eyesight. Her netbook's only major capability of matching a laptop had to be disabled so that a background photo of some palm trees looked okay. And woe betide anyone who knows what she is doing is objectively incorrect.

That's the cruel thing about modern society. You exhibit any knowledge about a particular subject, and you're faced with "nerd", "geek" and "anorak" insults. Intelligence has become the anti-cool. Knowing what you're talking about, is the new social anathema.

Attempt to assist anyone in technological matters, and you may as well empty a box of dandruff over your head, and spray yourself in tramp's body odour.

Actually, even writing this blog posting, what with it having substantially more to say than the entire published output of Heat magazine, may well put me in for more criticism from the folk I refer to.

Strange as it is, there's a quirk in knowledge-o-phobia. It doesn't appear to afflict experts on cars or football. If you can fix a girl's gearbox, well, you'll be in her box, if I may be so crude. Citing the entire first-team line-up for a Premiership team about to play in a cup final gets nods of appreciation from your male brethren.

Computers? Oh, they're cool for wirelessly sending over stag night photos and viewing the latest cat-falls-off-a-table video on YouTube. But don't actually talk about the equipment allowing you to do these things, don't even suggest ways to make things better for them. As I found out, they just don't want to know. Well, until they're unable to connect to the interwebs, then you're in need.

But boy, if you know to use an IP proxy or even record to dual-layer DVD, you may as well join me on Digital Leprosy Island. If you're caught knowing anything more than how to plug in a USB cable, then you're confined to the domain of the "nerd", with armchair psychologists all lining up to label you as terminally suffering from Asperger's Syndrome.

Being right doesn't matter any more, you only have to look the mentality of newspaper letters pages to see that. "Oi fink dat ID cards are good idea, 'cuz like, if you don't have anyfink to hide, you don't have anyfink to fear", "Dat Brazilian guy shouldn't have been here anyway so it don't matter if the police shot him, they were only protecting us from terrorororists". The wilfully ignorant are breeding.

Going back to technology (at the risk of being a social hermit), the widescreen television is now commonplace, and sadly, almost matching the ubiquitity, is the Fat-O-Scope setting. A strange paradox, where people were bothered enough to shell out hundreds on replacing their old boxy 4:3 telly, to one that's displaying exactly the same area of picture information, simply because they've never figured out how to set it correctly.

Given that sets in Currys and Comet are often set to stretched, like a 21st century wacky-house-of-fun distorted mirror, most of the British public think this is the norm. There's a chain pub in town with really expensive widescreen plasmas, and yet, they'll feed in Sky Sports all stretched in that 'techno-lard' setting, so the footballers are kicking an oval, and your head does overtime trying to guess the angle where the ball is really meant to be heading. Five button presses on the remote control would reset it, permanently, correctly.

If you're still not convinced by what I'm saying, there's this conversation from the early 90s that vindicates my views:

Friend: "My mate's got one of those new stereo televisions"
Friend's mum: "Oh, is it any good?"
Friend: "Yeah, sounds a lot better. Only there's this problem."
Friend's mum: "What's that?"
Friend: "When you change channels, it goes silent for a second 'cos it's got to tune into stereo"
Friend's mum: "Ugh, I won't be getting one of those then!"

I have no idea how she feels given every new television set 'suffers' from this. Actually, the minor problem is even more significant with digital television, where you get a blank screen as well as silence for a full second (or more). I've not seen her in ages, maybe she's sheltering hoarding the remaining televisions out there, and creating a petition to prevent the transmitters from going digital-only.

Gah, I jest. Of course not. It's something she got used to. Like yesterday, when the netbook was set up all nicely and the user didn't even notice. The funny thing is, the bloat-o-stretch option is actually a resolution setting for those wanting to connect an old (4:3) monitor to the laptop!

The resolution is actually so low, it was outdated years back in web standards! When you can't even view pages (optimised for huge audiences, every setting approved by committee) in full, you're doing it wrong. Sorry, I appear to be knowing what I'm talking about, and if you're not into web-design, you've probably skipped this paragraph. Or more likely, this entire posting.

I also recall my friend's dad, who had the usual Amstrad stereo music centre from Dixons (it was UK law to own these in the 1980s). He wanted to listen to his cassette music in his lounge, and his kitchen. Rather than buy a cheap portable stereo, he kept the music centre in the lounge, drilled through the kitchen wall, and fitted his left stereo speaker in there. This had the unfortunate effect that both the kitchen and the lounge had to have the same music on at the same time, and you could only ever hear it in mono.

My uncle, a thoroughly intelligent chap who worked at British Aerospace back in the day, is now a gibbering technophobe. He refuses to upgrade to DVD, even though players have been on sale for little more than a tenner, and insists on videotape. He actually stated that DVD is "just a fad". I'm expecting a call a year's time when the local transmitter stops pumping out pictures to his stream-driven telly.

Being an expert (well, a near-expert) on techy matters these days is akin to being Cassandra. You can be right, but you can't be cool. Uttering a word more than three syllables is like farting in a lift.

The fitting end to this mammoth blog posting? All high definition tellies out there force everything on HD channels to be displayed correctly. The broadcasters stick out their old 4:3 programmes with the black areas down the sides, which will piss off the "must fit the screen" brigade, but frankly, the nerds have won. Same thing will apply to computers in the future.

We're right, and you, the Great British public, are wrong. That sounded arrogant, but as the old quote goes, "it ain't bragging if you can back it up". The geek shall inherit the earth. A v-sign to every fool currently watching their soulless diet of mundane soaps and screaming-harpies-in-an-attention-box in distorted bulimiavision.


Mav said...

The question should be, who gets a bloody netbook with Windows on it?

Scribbler said...

That's why they are called preferences - people have them - what's prefered is what is right

Kat Fiction said...

I am duly following the instructions in the title of this blog.

Prodge said...

It's a free country. Anyone is welcome to join in the concept of ignoring people with useful knowledge, as much as they are welcome to slide naked down a hill of sandpaper.

The World Of Dumb never closes its doors.

Prodge said...

Scribbler, I'll have to be pedantic (and thus suffer the "nerd" label some more) and point out they're called settings.

There's a rule in design: Just because you can, it doesn't mean you should.

I used to fix someone's desktop PC on a regular basis, and it was a nightmare.

1) An animated mouse cursor.
2) The system font set to some fancy handwriting was unreadable at 10pt in bitmap.
3) A tiled background from a 30 x 30px photo.

That was migraine inducing!

I think my point is further proven by two famous social networking platforms... MySpace vs Facebook. On one of them you can add in auto-playing music, and customise all the colours/fonts/graphics you like, adjust the layout... the other, you have to abide by their layout.

I honestly do think that is the reason why MySpace is dying. It does have that reputation of being a visual/audio monstrosity, brought about by users with absolutely no design taste.

Scribbler said...

The options you change in the interface are "Settings". How you set them is a "User Preference".

You might want to read a few Design theory articles. :P

(BTW you know I agree on the myspace thing.)


Prodge said...

As I've said, anyone is still free to do what they like with their own equipment.

The girl I described in this posting, along with Kat, have reacted like I'm dictating, North Korean style. Apparently I've "sacrificed" my "good traits", like I can't get them back or something.

If I was to buy a Ferrari, and then fill the engine up with yoghurt, that would be my choice. If I told everyone what I did to my Ferrari, what would be the reaction?

a) "Pete, you're a f**king twat."
b) "Oh, whatever suits you."

I'd put money on it being A (and then some).

If my friends stayed silent on that issue, then they're not very good friends.

The whole point of the blog post is about the piety of those who wilfully ignore expert advice. And yeah, I've done that in the past.

"Preferences" should allow the user to change trivial things like colours and font sizes, but "settings" should be for the important expert type of stuff.

There's a difference between "should I have a red or blue font?" and "let's stick with 256-colour 800 x 600 on this brand new 30-inch 1080HD LCD monitor". Why intentionally cripple your equipment? It is like pouring yoghurt into a car engine.

In the end, the experts win anyway, as I've said with HDTV where the 4:3 programmes get shown with the 'evil' black side bars that the unthinking hate. MySpace losing out to Facebook is a symptom of that - taste does win out eventually.

The 800 x 600 resolution will be phased out too (I'm very surprised it was even on that netbook!), just like the floppy disk, and it'll all be 100% widescreen in the future.