Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “pet peeves”

The proliferation of unreadable e-mail

I’m getting more and more unreadable e-mails.

About a month ago I noted that WordPress’s response forms, which used to be a useful feature, are now unreadable and unusable.

More and more people seem to be sending e-mails with little more than long URLs that take up several lines of text, and make the actual message, if any, very hard to read, and have to be copied and pasted into a web browser because they haven’t bothered to enclose them in angle brackets. Don’t they know that Tiny URL is free? — please use it.

And then more and more people, especially church organisations and banks and the like, are sending HTML-only messages that are not only very hard to read, but also contain Lazy HTML, which prompts my mail reader to display the following warning:

What’s more, these messages are usually sent from a no-reply e-mail address, so you can’t even ask for clarification.

Whenever that warning pops up, I usually delete the message unread.

If they really wanted me to read the message, they would not have:

  1. Disguised it to make it look like spam or malware
  2. Deliberately made it hard to read
  3. Made it “no-reply” so you can’t ask for clarification

So if you are sending e-mails, please remember some courtesy rules:

  • No Lazy HTML
  • No HTML-only messages
  • No long URLS

To which I might add “No Comic Sans”, except that if you feel an irresistible compulsion to use HTML in e-mails, Comic Sans is a lot more readable than some of the squitty and faint fonts that some commercial firms feel compelled to use.


Nauseating words

I’ve occasionally read articles about words that people hate. Apparently one of the most disliked words in the English language is “moist”.

But this article reminded me of two of my least favourite words — 2 New ‘Harry Potter’ Books Are Coming This October:

Harry Potter fans have yet another reason to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the iconic wizarding franchise: They’re getting two new books this October.

For me two of the most nauseating words are “franchise” and “brands”, but “iconic” comes a pretty close third.

Harry Potter is a fictional character in a series of books. Why call him a “franchise”? Why are so many sports teams called “franchises” nowadays. These words do have proper uses. I have no objection to referring to a fast-food joint like KFC as a “franchise” where it means that they have been licensed to use the KFC brand and logos even though they are independently owned. But call it a franchise when referring to their business model;, not to the stuff they sell (ground up chicken beaks and gizzards called “nuggets”).

But how many authors have been licensed to write Harry Potter books? How many sports teams around the world (or even the UK) have been licensed to call themselves “Manchester United” or “Norwich City”? As far as I know, one and one only in each instance. That doesn’t make them a franchise, or anything remotely like it.

And all this talk about “brands” — are you interested in “brands”? Yes, I’ve seen online questionnaires that ask that. Should I say yes, I’m interested in brands. I really do prefer KFC to Ford, for example. Fried chicken gets me from A to B so much faster than a motor car, Dettol plays much better cricket than the Titans.

But perhaps I’m alone in this. “Brands”, “franchise” and “iconic” don’t seem to have made these lists, no matter how high they are on mine “Moist” And 28 Other Gross-Sounding English Words That Everyone Hates | Thought Catalog, and 11 Gross-Sounding Words Everyone Hates To Hear, According To Science.

The SAfm radio station has a Sunday morning programme on media, and “brands” feature pretty prominently in it.

Samuel Maverick

It all makes me rather sympathetic to Samuel Maverick, whose name entered the English language because he never branded his cattle. Unbranded cattle that did not belong in the herd were called “mavericks”. Later it came to be applied to people who didn’t follow the herd, like politicians who didn’t toe (or nowadays “tow”) the party line. Like Makhosi Khoza. I suppose that’s why I like to read the Daily Maverick. And why I would like to see Makhosi Khoza as our next president.

So the more talk I hear of “brands”, the more I think of Samuel Maverick. No matter what else he did, he made an important and much-needed contribution to the English language.


When I got my first computer some 30 years ago (a NewBrain with a whopping 32k of memory) one of the things people used to say when one got stuck was RTFM — Read The F*** Manual (where “f” was a variable to which you could assign a word of your choosing).

In other words, when all else fails, read the instructions.

Now, however, there are no instructions to read.

We recently installed Microsoft Office 2010.

It is useful for reading those .docx files people keep sending me.

But Microsoft office has no manual. There are no instuctions to read.

Recently a document opened with a fat blue stripe down the right-hand side. I wanted to get rid of it. When I hovered my cursor over it, it said “markup area”. So I typed “markup area” into the help file to find out what it is, and how to get rid of it. Nothing, zero, zilch.

My daughter has been raving about Microsoft OneNote, that comes with MS Office. It sounded interesting, so I had a look at it. It has a blurb that tells you how easy it is to use. You just dump all your information into it. That’s a bit like telling you to toss all your stuff into an abandoned well and cover it up. It’s easy to put it in, but not to get it out again.

I browsed through the computer books in a bookshop the other day.

There was not one on how to use Microsoft OneNote. There were books on MS Office on offer, ranging in price from expensive to exorbitant. Only the exorbitant ones mentioned OneNote on the cover, and I couldn’t look inside to see how many pages they devoted to it because the whole thing was wrapped in plastic.

But there were whole books on how to use Facebook and Twitter.

Back in the 80s we bought computer books to learn how to use computers and programs. But now you can only get manuals for web sites.

I wondered why anyone would need a manual for a web site, when you can’t get a manual for a program. Then I saw this:

This applicaticon will be able to:

  • Read Tweets from your timeline.
  • See who you follow, and follow new people.
  • Update your profile.
  • Post Tweets for you.

That was from Mashable. All I wanted to do was vote for something, once, yet in order to do that I had to let them do all that. I had to allow them to update my profile — so hey, if someone at Mashable wants to update my profile to say that I’m an international money launderer, wanted in sixteen principalities and native states, I must let them do it? Not a chance.

There are two buttons – Save and Cancel. I click Cancel — but no, they won’t let me do that before I’ve filled in my e-mail and password. Eventually I entered a bogus username and eight asterisks for my password (Ha! Those password crackers will never guess that!). Then I could click cancel and depart.

So perhaps one does need a manual to understand web sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Only problem is they keep changing them, so the book is probably out of date before you’ve bought it.

For weeks Facebook has been telling me that I can no longer notify people about my blog posts in my “Notes”, but I will still be able to do it on my “Wall” but when I want to share something that someone else has written by putting it on my “Wall” it tells me it has been posted to my “Profile”. So are Walls, Profiles and Notes all the same thing?

Perhaps I really do need to RTFM.

Meanwhile, instead of OneNote, I’ll continue to use askSam, which I’ve been using for the last 20 years, and I still haven’t managed to exhaust its capabilities.

Parents keep child’s gender under wraps – Yahoo! News

If gender is the social construction of sex, isn’t this child too young to have a gender yet?

Parents keep child’s gender under wraps – Yahoo! News:

When many couples have a baby, they send out an email to family and friends that fills them in on the key details: name, gender, birth weight, that sort of thing. (You know the drill: ‘Both Mom and little Ethan are doing great!’)

But the email sent recently by Kathy Witterick and David Stocker of Toronto, Canada to announce the birth of their baby, Storm, was missing one important piece of information. ‘We’ve decided not to share Storm’s sex for now–a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime (a more progressive place? …),’ it said.

That’s right. They’re not saying whether Storm is a boy or a girl.

Is the use of “sex” and “gender” in this article an instance of what Fowler calls “elegant variation”? Or have the words become completely interchangeable? Or is it just that journalists nowadays don’t know what the words mean.

I get mildly annoyed when forms ask for my gender, and offer the alternatives of “Male” and “Female”.

“Male” is not a gender; male is a SEX.

Male and female are sexes.
The genders are masculine, feminine and neuter.

Too many toolbars

I wish software marketers would learn that if there is one thing that most computer users don’t need, it is yet another tool bar.

Yet today I got yet another semi-spam message advising me of a new “must have” toolbar. Do they really think I am desperate to look at a screen full of tool bars, most of them with links to the same search engines, and the same other useless stuff?

Worst of all are the ones that install their toolbars along with their programs, without asking if you want it. And then they don’t go away. Firefox asks me if I want to uninstall add-ons that I want and use, but on the junk ones that I’d love to get rid of the “uninstall” option is usually greyed out, and one can just disable it or enable it. And I keep getting notes advising me of updates to the toolbars that I don’t want and can’t uninstall.

One of the problems with too many toolbars is that some web sites (often those of the people who automatically install unwanted tookbars) have pop-up windows that demand a response, but you can’t see what response is needed because the buttons for responding are hidden below the bottom of the screen, and you can’t scroll down the window to see them, and you can’t move the window up above the numerous toolbars.

Some virus writer is going to make a killing one day by writing a program that claims to be able to remove unwanted toolbars, just like a lot of the anti-spam programs that actually transmit viruses.

That’s my pet peeve of the day. I feel better now.

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