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3

Outside of time : reflections on the programming life

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Ullman, E. (2017). Outside of time : reflections on the programming life. In Ullman, E. Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology. MCD, pp. 3-17

9

Quietly, I say, "You know, that's what the Nazis did."

They all look at me in disgust. It's the look boys give a girl who has interrupted a burping contest. One says, "This is something my wife would say."

When he says "wife," there is no love, warmth, or goodness in it. In this engineer's mouth, "wife" means wet diapers and dirty dishes. It means someone angry with you for losing track of time and missing dinner. Someone sentimental. In his mind (for the moment), "wife" signifies all programming-party-pooping, illogical things in the universe.

Still, I persist. "It started as just an idea for the Nazis, too, you know."

The engineer makes a reply that sounds like a retch. "This is how I know you're not a real techie," he says.

ooof

—p.9 by Ellen Ullman 1 year, 5 months ago

Quietly, I say, "You know, that's what the Nazis did."

They all look at me in disgust. It's the look boys give a girl who has interrupted a burping contest. One says, "This is something my wife would say."

When he says "wife," there is no love, warmth, or goodness in it. In this engineer's mouth, "wife" means wet diapers and dirty dishes. It means someone angry with you for losing track of time and missing dinner. Someone sentimental. In his mind (for the moment), "wife" signifies all programming-party-pooping, illogical things in the universe.

Still, I persist. "It started as just an idea for the Nazis, too, you know."

The engineer makes a reply that sounds like a retch. "This is how I know you're not a real techie," he says.

ooof

—p.9 by Ellen Ullman 1 year, 5 months ago
16

To build such a crash-resistant system, the designer must be able to imagine - and disallow - the dumbest action. He or she cannot simply rely on the user's intelligence: who knows who will be on the other side of the program? Besides, teh user's intellligence is not quantifiable; it's not programmable; it cannot protect hte system. The real task is to forget about the intelligent person on the other side and think of every single stupid thing anyone might possibly do.

In the designer's mind, gradually, over months and years, there is created a vision of the user as imbecile. The imbecile vision is mandatory. No good, crash-resistant system can be built except if it's done for an idiot. The prettier the user interface, and the fewer odd replies the system allows you to make, the dumber you once appeared in the mind of the designer.

The designer's contempt for your intelligence is mostly hidden deep in the code. But, now and then, the disdain surfaces. Here's a small example: You're trying to do something simple, like back up files on your Mac. The program proceeds for a while, then encounters an error. Your disk is defective, says a message, and below the message is a single button. You absolutely must click this button. If you don't click it, the program hangs there indefinitely. [...] You must say, "OK."

relevant to PEBKAC

—p.16 by Ellen Ullman 1 year, 5 months ago

To build such a crash-resistant system, the designer must be able to imagine - and disallow - the dumbest action. He or she cannot simply rely on the user's intelligence: who knows who will be on the other side of the program? Besides, teh user's intellligence is not quantifiable; it's not programmable; it cannot protect hte system. The real task is to forget about the intelligent person on the other side and think of every single stupid thing anyone might possibly do.

In the designer's mind, gradually, over months and years, there is created a vision of the user as imbecile. The imbecile vision is mandatory. No good, crash-resistant system can be built except if it's done for an idiot. The prettier the user interface, and the fewer odd replies the system allows you to make, the dumber you once appeared in the mind of the designer.

The designer's contempt for your intelligence is mostly hidden deep in the code. But, now and then, the disdain surfaces. Here's a small example: You're trying to do something simple, like back up files on your Mac. The program proceeds for a while, then encounters an error. Your disk is defective, says a message, and below the message is a single button. You absolutely must click this button. If you don't click it, the program hangs there indefinitely. [...] You must say, "OK."

relevant to PEBKAC

—p.16 by Ellen Ullman 1 year, 5 months ago