One of my favorite websites was formerly known as “The Daily WTF”—until the proprietor, Alex, got too embarrassed having to explain to his relatives what it stood for, and made up the backronym “Worse Than Failure”. The site entertains me with regular exhibits of poor programming. And one of my favorite recurring features at Worse Than Failure is the Representative Line: “A single line of code from a large application that somehow manages to provide an almost endless insight into the pain that its maintainers face each day.”
On April 29th, Josh Hancock, relief pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, got drunk and got behind the wheel. He was at twice the legal blood alcohol limit, speeding, on his cell phone, and not wearing his seatbelt. He got in a wreck and he died: he drove his car right into a flatbed tow truck. They later also found marijuana in his car. This wasn’t his first drunk-driving incident. The tow-truck driver was a good Samaritan who’d stopped to help a man in a Geo Metro who had been involved in a prior accident.
Here’s a Representative Lawsuit, which can provide a terrible insight into what’s ailing Americans today. On May 24th, Josh Hancock’s father, Dean, filed suit against the following people, blaming them for his son’s wrongful death:
Dean Hancock said in a statement that the “facts and circumstances” of Josh’s death “have caused great pain to all of Josh’s family.” As administrator of his son’s estate, Dean Hancock said he has an obligation to represent the family on all issues, “including any legal actions necessary against those who contributed to the untimely and unnecessary death.”
The terrible insight provided by this Representative Lawsuit is that for some people, nothing bad that happens to their golden children is ever their fault. Everything bad that happens is caused by other people, and there is no such thing as personal responsibility. There is only the responsibility of others to be psychic, and foretell that our spoiled, elite spawn is careening erratically down the freeway, and you filthy peasants stranded in your Geo Metros should make way for their highnesses.
Let’s get one thing straight that shouldn’t need saying. There is one and only one person responsible for Josh Hancock’s death: Josh himself. It is a pity that he is dead, but it is not in any way surprising. That someone who repeatedly got behind the wheel drunk, possibly stoned, didn’t wear a seatbelt, and jibber-jabbered on his cell phone instead of minding his vehicle is now fertilizing daisies is an outcome as likely as getting pregnant on the rhythm method. So why is Dean Hancock seeking to drag all these parties through ruinous, expensive litigation? Josh’s death wasn’t wrongful—it was an inevitable result of the choices he was making.
Mind you, I am not complaining about the court system. I do have many complaints about our legal regime, but the fact is, the legal system is nothing more than a stage, and the actors are writing their own scripts. I don’t blame the Laugh Factory for Michael Richards’s tirade, or his poor judgement. But I am complaining about Dean Hancock, whose grief should not excuse his outrageous abuse of the legal system. And I am also complaining about his legal team, who do not have the excuse of grief. I hope they at least tried to dissuade him. Lawyers, help me out here: sometimes you just have to tell the client they’re wrong, correct?
What kind of effect will this irresponsible suit have on the willingness of people to be good Samaritans? I guarantee that regardless of the outcome of the case, Eddie’s Towing and probably the majority of tow-truck companies have now forbidden their drivers to be good Samaritans. Litigation is just a threat too onerous to expose yourself to, just for the sake of helping someone in need. Does Dean Hancock know that he is pissing in society’s common well? Does he even care, or is he just lawsuit-happy? I hope the effects of frivolous litigation such as his come back to bite him in a time of need and helplessness. I hope that when someone who can assist him comes across him, he just keeps driving, shy of a lawsuit.
By the way, the Missouri Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control has exonerated Mike Shannon’s.
Josh Hancock ruined his own life, and that of his family. His father is now determined to ruin a few more people's lives to make them pay for being in the area when his son made his series of very bad decisions. What he's doing is almost as bad as what his son did. Just let it go, Dean. It won't bring him back, and you're making a fool out of yourself. Even if your lawyers think they can convince a carefully hand-picked jury of emotional simpletons otherwise, it doesn't change the fact that you're wrong to pursue this suit. And congratulations on filing a lawsuit that crystallizes so eloquently what's wrong with the way modern Americans perceive reality.
He deserves worse, Assistant Hillsborough County Attorney Shawn Sweeney told the judge.So he wasn't torturing the baby, he was just expressing his frustration. Got it.
“Mariah was essentially in the same pain, every time she breathed, every time she moved,” Sweeney said.
“The defendant essentially tortured this baby until she stopped crying and stopped responding to human contact . . . This is a 12-week-old baby who had essentially given up,” Sweeney said.
“There’s just no prison sentence long enough.”
Meza’s lawyers, public defender Jacki Smith and Julia Nye, took exception to the term “torture,” noting that Meza was never accused of hurting Mariah on purpose, or even knowingly. The three first-degree assault charges to which he pleaded guilty state he acted recklessly, they noted.
“Torture is a purposeful act,” Smith said. “Mr. Meza did not intend to hurt his daughter. He was a young, inexperienced, frustrated first-time father.”
I like how people always insult themselves when they’re asking me questions about computer stuff. “I’m so bad at this.” “I’m such an idiot with computers”. It gets even better when the computer is misbehaving and needs to be spanked—people think they need the spanking. “I screwed everything up!” And then they come up with a voodoo explanation for why they broke it. Well, yes, sometimes you really did screw up and it really was your fault, but most of the time, I’m putting my money on lousy software as the problem.
The voodoo people come up with is great. You know how some folks with OCD might wash their hands 90 times an hour, and they won’t step on the sidewalk cracks? I observe people who are perfectly well-adjusted using their computers, and they have all these habits that are like reaching around the back of your head to rub your left ear with your right hand. If I point out that they aren’t necessary, they’ll have one of two responses. Either they’ll swear by it and justify it based on one flukey thing that happened that one time because it REALLY screwed things up, and now that they do it the roundabout way the computer behaves, or they’ll be embarrassed and refrain from doing it as long as I’m looking. When I’m not looking they’ll go right back to it. It makes no sense, but if I’ve tried to help and they’re happy doing it that way, who am I to keep harping on it? Let it be.
One mildly interesting phenomenon is that a misbehaving computer will fix itself when I’m watching. Someone will tell me that whenever they try to do X, their address book is deleted or their computer goes up in flames or something. So I’ll come over to watch them doing X, so I can see it for myself. It won’t happen. And they’ll tell me my presence must have scared the computer straight, and they’ll swear that they’re doing exactly the way they always do it. They’ll try it again a few times and it’ll work flawlessly every time. They’re embarrassed and apologize for bothering me about nothing. The minute I leave, it starts happening again. Go figure, right? The reason for that is that people are suddenly very self-conscious when they’re performing for me, so they’ll do it differently…without even knowing that they are.
Back to the ritual self-flagellation: it really cracks me up. I mean, I’m a twerpysomething who has basically accomplished nothing important in life. I write desktop and web-based software, and I blogtend. Previously I waited tables, made espresso drinks, washed dishes…you name it, I probably did it for a while as I drifted through my early adulthood. There’s nothing wrong with any of those jobs, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with honest work, period. I’m proud of myself and I loved the things I did and gave them my all. But it just doesn’t measure up to what some of the people I support accomplish. I’ve never saved a life, healed a disease, killed a bad guy, or educated a child. And yet—when they need help with their computers, medical doctors and investment bankers, accomplished professionals in their fields, highly educated and skilled human beings who have titles and degrees are respected by their peers, mothers and fathers, professors and judges, grown men and women—all of them are cussing themselves out, humbling themselves, and confiding in me in frustration that “I’m such a moron.”
It’s not like any of this crap really makes sense. User interface decisions are usually arbitrary. They could just as easily have made it behave some completely different way, and no one would have challenged the decision much. Not only are they arbitrary, but given a set of arbitrary choices, programmers usually decide to implement the worst one possible. We love complexity for its own sake. Seriously, there’s no there there. The metaphors we make you learn are mostly moronic and derivative. We do it because we look down on you and think you’re too stupid and easily intimidated by what’s going on. And then our shabby metaphors break, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, because none of this makes any sense, and therefore you, the user, feel stupid and helpless. Well, I would feel stupid and helpless too if reality was less like itself, and more like Microsoft Windows.
A couple of days ago a friend from bloggie emailed me in a panic, because she had accidentally moved her Windows taskbar to the left side of the screen. That strip across the bottom that has the Start button, Quick Launch bar, buttons representing application windows that you are running, the notification area/system tray, and so forth? That whole thing is the taskbar. She was trying to highlight some text in her browser or something, and inadvertently dragged it off to the left. This is something that happens to Windows users a lot, and the fix is easy: just drag it back, and to stop it from happening again, you just right click the taskbar and lock it. But! If you didn’t know that you can move it back: result PANIC. Why is it even possible to drag the dang thing in the first place? I’ll tell you why: because some control freak of a programmer on that particular team didn’t agree with the decision to put it at the bottom. He wanted it at the top or on the side or something. To end the argument, everyone agreed to make it configurable, so the user could decide where to put it. This is how a lot of user interface decisions get made. A prima donna won’t go along with a completely trivial and useless decision, so in order to move forward, they make it configurable. In order to avoid being unpopular with Prissy Programmer Pete, his manager inflicts a needless choice on everyone who uses the program for all eternity. God help us. That’s atrocious enough, considering the location of the taskbar doesn’t affect anyone’s productivity. But the truly unforgivable decision was to leave it unlocked by default. So that someone who didn’t know it could be dragged could, 3 years into using the same computer every day with the taskbar at the bottom, can completely panic when it suddenly moves over to the left. Nice trap-door. Thanks a lot, jerks.
The most irritating thing to me is $12/hr tech support people who snicker about their clueless users. Who make ten times as much money as they do, and have a life outside of computers, and are accomplished and worthy of social respect. To a certain kind of weenie, you are a worthless human being if you don’t understand every persnickety thing about your computer. I guess what I’m trying to say is, people who use computers use them to help them get their job done. They’re good at whatever it is they do, and the computer isn’t the whole world to them. It’s just a tool. Meanwhile, the computer is the whole world to many technology professionals. So don’t whip yourself when the computer does something inexplicable and you have to ask someone like me to help you. If the computer is mumbling and incoherent, and drooling into its shirt, that doesn’t mean you should apologize to it for being so deaf.
I am overweight. Unimaginable! But I finally had to face facts. My legendary metabolism has, at long last, capitulated like a Frenchman. It was done in by a combination of my sedentary lifestyle and my poor diet. I was also having sleeping problems. Not enough of it. Too much of it at the wrong hours.
I never thought I’d have a beer belly, since I used to regularly eat truly obscene amounts of bad-for-me, greasy, disgusting fast food and still feel hungry pretty quickly. My personal best/worst is scarfing more than 20 tacos in a single sitting. No matter what I ate, I still resembled a bulimic twig. I guess something changed! Prosperity has made me insomniac, fat, and weak, and I am a useless, yet vain creature, so it’s time to get fit. I’ve started hitting the gym every day to try to improve the situation. It’s been about a month since I started going, I guess—and I feel like a
million thousand bucks, although I’m still pretty flabby and weak. True to my nerdy nature, I wanted to quantify my progress. The human hamster wheels don’t give you an accurate guess as to how many calories you’ve burned in your workout unless you put in your weight and age (and even then, I doubt it’s truly accurate, but I’ll take what I can get), so I asked at the gym to find out where I could weigh myself. They told me there was a scale in the men’s locker room, so off I went.
I was appalled by it. It was what I think of as a “doctor’s scale”, although I haven’t been to a doctor in a long time—quacks, the lot of them—and zorkie has since informed me that they typically have modern scales now. I hate those things with the sliding lumps! I used it for two days and gave up. It should not take minutes of fiddling with sliding lumps to find out how much I weigh. I am not patient by nature. In fact I can’t believe that I’m not already Adonis after a month of hitting the gym; what a gyp! GQ—call me. By the way, I weigh 205 pounds, give or take a few-pound fluctuation that would show up as noise on the trendline I will eventually plot once I have accumulated sufficient data (nerd, man. I’m tellin’ ya). I’m about 6-foot-3, and according to some chart on the internet that I found by Googling, I should weigh from 167 pounds up to 182 pounds. Wow! I didn’t think I was that much overweight. It’s just a cute little beer belly, I pleaded with the chart on the website.
You’ll pay for this, Al Gore.
I decided to get my own damn scale. I went to Bed Bath and Beyond, expecting to spend something like 10 or 20 bucks. Well! They started about $40 at waist level, and the ones at eye-level were about $80-$100. What the hey? Nothing makes me feel more like a loser than what you crazy Americans spend on stuff. I mean really! Are you people that frigging rich?! Fuckin’ A! I’m going back to Jordan. Where what you crazy white people spend on a simple freaking scale is a doctor’s salary for a month. They were all digital too, with hilarious warnings. Well first of all, one of the $80 ones said it required 4 AA batteries, not included. Nice! I get an overpriced scale to weigh myself, and all of a sudden I have yet another set of batteries to worry about. The $100 scale had a lithium battery, included, that would allegedly last a lifetime. Improvement, I guess. All these junky Made-In-China ripoffs had hilarious warnings on them. “Do not use if you have a cardiac pacemaker”—maybe that’s Dick Cheney’s problem! So what happens here? I just don’t see the chain of causality. I can’t imagine how standing on a digital scale could possibly affect your pacemaker. You get on a digital scale and it reaches up your leg and makes your heart burst? What about static electricity, is it even worse for your pacemaker if you were scuffing your feet before you stepped on the scale? But an even funnier warning was “Do not use if you are pregnant”. Hwat? This has to be a joke! I think the warnings must have been written by a husband who was sick of his pregnant wife thinking she’s fat because of the baby’s weight, or else digital scales cause spontaneous abortions and birth deformities. I mean really!
This is progress, America? People are so scared of reading a needle on a dial that they’ll pay $100 for a digital readout? Or does a digital readout mean the scale is more accurate because it’s digital? Gosh, it’s a miracle people were able to get any accurate science done before digital readouts were invented! Rest in peace, Douglas Adams:
Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.
He wrote that sometime in the late 70’s. Since then, the “pretty neat idea” has only metastasized. Digital scales that require batteries, stop your heart, and abort your baby! Progress!
I eventually located a proper scale, with a needle on a dial and a pricetag that did not offend my tawdry penurious tendencies. It was on the bottom rack of the shelf where people’s feet can kick it, so you have to stoop over, and there was only one model. If you want to spend $40, there are about three or four models, and four or five models at $80, and one model at $100. I imagine the psychological retailer’s trick at work here (other than eye-level placement) is that the $80 model seems like the moderate choice. Not too cheap, not too ostentatious. You terrorist bastards! I’ll see you in hell.
The scale I finally bought was a Homedics model. It cost a double sawbuck. Even the box seemed to be made of cheapier* material, and when I got the scale out (there was no display model to molest, because that’s reserved for the respectable models) it felt cheap as crap and was ugly besides. It works great, though! Now, I can tell exactly how little progress I’m making in the comfort of my own bathroom. I weigh myself, hairy, ugly, and naked, every morning before going to the gym and I write it down on that day’s index card. When I come back from the gym I write the details of my workout (calories burned, miles ran) and at night, what I ate and drank that day. Index cards are great. Don’t give me any of this PDA crap. When I have enough index cards accumulated I’ll plot everything on the computer but for now it’s all on paper. And there’s nothing wrong with that, you goddamned digital brownshirts.
Take your progress and shove it. If I ever own a watch, and that’ll be a cold day in hell, it will be normal and analog, with no battery and a stem winder and a real action inside it. Did you know that there are digital-analog watches? You can buy a watch that looks normal with a 12-face and a big hand and a little hand and it moves the hands around the face, and it’s really lying to you, it’s actually keeping the time digitally inside, and it just moves the hands around with battery power instead of a spring action. What a grotesque fraud! Like a pre-op tranny who will do everything with you except let you put your hand between her legs. And isn’t it funny that the real scales are the cheap crappy ones, and the cheap, crappy watches are the digital ones?
Screw technology. I’m gonna start blogging on an abacus.
*Silence, pedant! Cheapier is most definitely a word. It means “more cheapy”.
Switzerland already allows physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients under certain circumstances. The Federal Tribunal's decision puts mental illnesses on the same level as physical ones.
"It must be recognized that an incurable, permanent, serious mental disorder can cause similar suffering as a physical (disorder), making life appear unbearable to the patient in the long term," the ruling said.
"If the death wish is based on an autonomous decision which takes all circumstances into account, then a mentally ill person can be prescribed sodium-pentobarbital and thereby assisted in suicide," it added.
“Hey you, over here, don’t turn around. Do you hear me? Do you ever think about murder? Committing the ultimate crime? I do. All the time. I get paid to think about it. I’m a best selling crime writer. Watch me and other masters of crime fiction....”They're running these ads in Barnes and Nobles. I guess I'll shop exclusively at Borders or Amazon.com, then. Or maybe I'll go to Barnes and Noble and make a scene when the voices start in on me. I like making scenes.