Friday, August 21, 2009

Invisible support

posted Fri, 09 Jul 2004

I knew it was going to be a bad day yesterday when I got out of the gym shower after my morning constitutional in the pool and discovered I had forgotten to pack a bra in my gym bag the night before. I had my shoes, my pantyhose, my suit and my blouse – just no bra.

I’ve forgotten such essentials a few times before – pantyhose, socks, panties – so I have learned to keep a few extras stuffed in the pocket of the bag, but I guess the last time I forgot my bra and had to use the spare (a year ago?), I forgot to replace it.

Turns out I was indeed right – this was a portent of worse to come.

You know how annoying Microsoft can be? “It looks like you are writing a letter! Do you need help?” asks that stupid dancing paper clip. No! I don’t need help. I know how to write a letter. Go away.

I start typing a word and Word decides to finish it. Bill, just so you know – sometimes “dec” is for “decade,” not “December.” And if I capitalize or don’t capitalize, it is a decision I am making with full awareness of the consequences. Microsoft does not need to correct me. I do the grammar crime, I’ll do the time.

If I close a document, I get a frantic message. Am I SURE that I want to do that? Yes! I am sure! If I didn’t want to close the program, I would not have moved the courser to the “x” in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen and clicked.

This kind of help I don’t need. What I do need is a warning when I am about to do something that will lead to the wrong numbers for a report for a bigwig. A report I had told him airily the night before, Oh, sure, I can get that data for you in a about two seconds (snapping my fingers for emphasis). I am the data queen.

I tried to blame the error – which he found, not me – on a bug in Crystal reports and even sent a request for help to the company IT department. What, indeed, is this bug that is causing the price per unit to be so wrong?

The IT guy called me after looking at my query. Could it be, perhaps, that instead of summing all the sales information per unit before calculating the per-unit price that I had just copied the last line in each grouping?

Oh. Yes. That would make a difference.

Now, wouldn’t that be a useful place for a program to interrupt? “Not to intrude, but if you are calculating an average price per unit and you are adding the number of units, shouldn’t you also add the sales dollars rather than just copying the last sales figure in the list?” That’s the sort of help I need.

There are so many other places in life that a discreet warning would be useful. We all already know that pregnant women shouldn’t smoke or drink. I know I shouldn’t use a hairdryer while I am in the bathtub (with water in the tub, I gather). I know I can’t put a Winnebago on cruise control and then step away from the steering wheel to make myself a cup of coffee.

These things are all obvious. What would be truly helpful would be a warnings from everyday items right before I am about to do something dumb. From the washing machine: “Putting that red shirt in with your whites is going to give you pink underwear!” Or from the fridge: “Don’t open that container of milk. It’s spoiled.” From the mixing bowl: “You realize you forgot to put the sugar in this cake, right?”

Or from my gym bag: “Don’t you want to pack appropriate foundation garments?” That would be useful.

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