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Postgrad Twits

How it all ends no one can know.

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Back in the good old days, when men were still men and women still women and there was no in-between, IT was ruled by twerpy (male) nerds with crewcuts, short-sleeved white shirts, and black horn-rimmed glasses. IBM COBOL code was riddled with GOTOs but boy was it meticulous. IBM didn't fuck up.

IBM got so big, and had so many platforms and gizmos to support those platforms, that things were on the verge of getting messy.

It was time to 'standardise'. So IBM established a standard. Systems Application Architecture with the subcategory Common User Access.

A lot of clumsy enterprises try to get fancy, and create programming standards after the fact. They're like press conferences at a film festival.

But IBM's SAA/CUA reads like the real thing. They weren't trying to win an Academy Award. They were trying to standardise things before the situation got out of hand.

There are rules in the CUA. Rules of logic. Based on fundamentals of human-machine interaction. Simple things, such as reading top to bottom and left to right. Such as putting pushbuttons together. Such as grouping functions. Such as not forcing the user to skip halfway from the Hamptons to Newark to find another button.

Such as doing things 'intuitively'. As with the short-lived PC/IX, of which one reviewer frankly said: 'with this one, you don't need a user manual, everything is right where you'd expect it'.

That's the CUA Recognition Principle, by the way. The user should find things where the user expects to find them. If a particular class of function is normally found in the Hamptons, the users should not be forced to take a shuttle to Newark.

Ultimately it's about being thoughtful and intelligent. Stupid misfits not suited for interface design should go elsewhere.

Banks, like them or hate them, perhaps more likely hate them, end up doing some things right. They know discretion. They know 'OPM'. They know the crucial importance of semblance.

But Internet startups, often taking on tasks similar to banks, don't know jack shit about things like that. Over the years, with help from some high-profile MSM journos, we've tracked down so many fucktards that it's not funny. How about putting super-secret passwords in the RRL seen in the browser location bar? Oh yeah.

The same goes for basic user interface design. Good design is meant to make things easier for the user. If the user is happy, he's going to like your program. Some web interfaces, some modern ones, are still good, really good. But others, concocted by postgrad twits who think they know everything, are so ridiculous to their roots that there's no way to begin and it becomes impossible to end.

It's a popular 'secure' webmail service that's prompted this screed. Couple this with the new 'plumbers pipe' approach to customer support and you have a three-star Guide Michelin recipe for disaster.

How it all ends no one can know.

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John Cattelin
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