log (2009/04/17 to 2009/04/23)

So I am on this train, a train that goes from somewhere in or near Washington, D.C., to (at least) Pennsylvania Station in New York City. When I got on the train, the conductor lady told everyone going in the door that I was going in that this car is the Quiet Car, and no cell phones or long conversations are allowed. And on the ceiling there are signs hanging down at each end of the car, saying that this car is the Quet Car, and no loud talking or cell phones are allowed. And as the conductor lady checked overyone's ticket, she told every person seated in the car that this car is the Quiet Car. And the lady in the seat ahead of me said "does that mean we can't use cell phones?" and the conductor lady said yes, that's what it means, and if the lady wants to use her cell phone, there are two other cars in that direction that she can move to.

I like the Quiet Car. *8)

So as we're pulling out of the station the lady in the seat ahead of me calls someone on her cell phone and leaves a message, saying that she's on the train, and she's running a little late because mumble, and she just wanted to let you know.

And then a little later as I'm falling pleasantly asleep in the Quiet Car the lady in the seat ahead of me's cell phone rings loudly, and she answers it and begins a long conversation about how this person has been visiting this other person, and she talked to this third person who she hasn't spoken to in years, and you know how it is when someone is in that sort of circumstances, and really it's hard to believe.

And about fifteen minutes later, when we're pulling out of another station, and the lady in the seat ahead of me is still chatting merrily away, the conductor lady goes by, and the man in the tie in the seat across the aisle from me catches her eye and sort of nods at the lady in the seat ahead of me, and the conductor lady goes up, and leans over, and says very definitely "I'm sorry, ma'am."

And I figure she's going to make the lady in the seat ahead of me stop using her cell phone, and she does do that, but she also makes her get up, and leave the car ("I'm sorry ma'am, but I need you out of here, we had this conversation earlier.") Which I thought was sort of amusingly harsh, but also gratifying.

Silly lady.

Did you know Baltimore has a Pennsylvania Station also? How confusing!

I wonder if there is a Pennsylvania Station in Pennsylvania.

I am writing this on the train (as you may have deduced), and on the train there is no network connection, and my computer and my cell phone are not clever enough to produce one (I suppose using my cell phone that way in the Quiet Car would be okay, since it would be quiet), so I don't know when I'll be posting this. Given when various trains are supposed to arrive in various places and all, it might not be until technically Thursday (or if I decide I'm sleepy when I get home it might not be until actually Thursday), but that's okay. It's Wednesday now.

Looking through my "to record in the weblog someday maybe" files, I come across a very good example of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Part of the problem, Green said, is that the government has changed the money so much to foil counterfeiting. With all the new bills out there, citizens and even many police officers don't know what they're supposed to look like.

I had this same thought last time I took this train trip, in fact; at one or more stages of the trip some ticket-device gave me in change some round metal coin-like things with pictures of United States Presidents on one side, and like an eagle or something plausible like that on the other, with words on them claiming that they are worth one dollar. I had never heard of any such coin in circulation, but hey they're chaning the money all the time these days, so who knows?

Later on I looked them up, and they turn out to be real! But really, how can one be sure?

Notice: this machine gives change in the new "square pieces of cardboard with 'One Doller' written on them in crayon" coins.

Sure, okay, whatever...

Today we present just a Mark Aster classic, which for some reason I found myself thinking of this morning.


She has the most valuable thing in the world. Right now, she's got it in her right front pants pocket.

I don't begrudge her having it; she deserves it if anyone does. But I wish she'd take better care of it. It pains me to watch her, sometimes, casually showing it to her friends, juggling it idly between her palms as she stands in the bus station talking into the payphone. Once she almost left it behind on a table in some bar. A guy sitting at the next table noticed it, picked it up, handed it to her. "Oh, thanks," she said. How could she even let him touch it?

The worst was last night, big party at Jamison's, and at the height of it I saw her, probably drunk, hilarity burning around her, writhing through the crowd and clapping to the music with her hands over her head. Then she took it out of her pocket and started to break off little pieces of it! It was awful. She handed one to the boy who'd brought her to the party, pressing it into his palm. She gave another one to some sweaty stranger dancing next to her, needing a shave, probably smelly and illiterate, maybe homicidal. Just gave him a piece of it, like it was a nacho. Another piece she slipped between her lips and shifted around with her tongue. I thought my heart would break.

I sat down next to her later on, in a lull, determined finally to say something to her.

"Shouldn't you be more careful with that?" I said, unable to think of any way to make my case more subtly, "It's the most precious thing in the world."

She looked at me, her eyes a little red, her face a little sweaty, shiny, so alive. She started to say something, stopped, shook her head. "You can really be a jerk," she said. But she smiled.

Welcome once again to the apparently every other Sunday weblog! *8)

The secret other-words weblog has more recent updates on the doings of Dale and Spennix and associates; The doings of ordinary atomic-world David are not nearly as well chronicled lately.

M is just back from a few days visiting a friend up North. We have a new little round oak table in the living room (replacing a rather battered-by-now white Ikea thing), discovered on sale cheap at some northern antique store. We have had take-out from the local BBQ place, and are lying around typing; M is catching up with days worth of email and Google Reader and IMing the college girl, the little boy is writing a paragraph for Spanish, and I am writing in this here weblog.

I had a bottle of Anchor Steam with dinner; my doctor says I should have a drink a day for the sake of my blood pressure or cholesterol or something. I usually stick to Bailey's Irish Cream or some other sweet liqueur, because the sweetness masks the taste of the alcohol, but once in awhile I like a microbrew. (More for the fun names than the taste; most alcohol tastes like lighter fluid to me, which I really regret sometimes, given all the interesting culture surrounding booze.)

Isn't that fascinating? *8)

On the Omegle phenomenon mentioned last time, here's Robot Stranger dot com, a site that shows the results of setting what looks like a rather slapdash Bayesian generator loose on Omegle. Not too fascinating so far, but the idea does appeal.

Metahumor 'o the Day: You've seen one or two or ten of those YouTube videos that put more or less amusing subtitles under the Hitler bunker scene from Der Untergang? Well here it is commenting on itself. Which is always worth a look.

Ironic Thoughtcrime o' the Day (well, o' the Day back in 1907): the Lamentabili Sane, which includes on the list of false propositions which are "condemned and proscribed":

57. The Church has shown that she is hostile to the progress of the natural and theological sciences.

You are prohibited from thinking that you are prohibited from thinking!

Heartwarming Robot Stories o' the Day: Tweenbots.

Site with random and sometimes tasteless silly pictures o' the (hmm) Hour: Picture is Unrelated.

And finally a User Interface Quandary: we've been using Pandora dot com quite a bit lately ('cause it's free an' places music an' all), and on the Pandora dot com music player there's a button that has a "play" symbol on it, and also a "pause" symbol.

At any given time, one of these symbols is grey, and one is sort of dull orange or bright brown. The question is: does the colorful symbol represent the current state of the player, or does it represent what will happen if you push the button?

I've been using Pandora for a few weeks now, and I still can't remember.

Okay, let's check. Click, click. Apparently it represents the curent state of the player. So if it's playing, the "play" symbol will be bright, despite the fact that the button is actually a pause button. And if it's paused the "pause" symbol will be bright, even though the button is a "play" button.

I've seen other things like this, where there is a button that says "On" or "Off" depending on the state of the thing, and it's always very confusing. Either it says "Off" when the thing is on, and "On" when the thing is off, or you have to push a button that says "Off" to turn it on, and a button that says "On" to turn it off. Neither is very sensible.

The problem is that seeing what state the system is in now, and finding the device (the affordance!) to put it into a new state, are two different activities, and the same label can't really do both. (Well, the button could say "the system is now ON; click me to turn it OFF", or vice-versa, but that's a lota text.) So designers shouldn't do this, even if it does seem to save them screen real estate and visual complexity.

Is this a well-known UI faux pas, or did I just make it up?