Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bugs and Spirit - a year later

I came across this post from a test blog where I don't publish. It is too funny and still too true. (The next major version of the famous program has fixed a few errors in right to left and left to right but still manages to print the right to left words correctly on the printer and then reverse them when printing to Portable Document Format  (.pdf) - so it is useless with this error.)

Here's the original post.

I wonder if the next generation will be able to handle the inheritance of software from the previous. How often will they mutter at the errors and shortcomings of their forebears. Forbearance may be in as short supply as knowledge.

For the record, software taught us our fallibility. I suspect it will continue so to teach. Most recently, besides following up and taking responsibility for my own errors, omissions, and accidental oversights, I have had the opportunity to see how confused left and right can be in the management of words on the page. How can I define the problem when successive versions of famous programs cannot handle the terrible complexity of left to right and right to left processing in the same document.

But let's give credit: they have tried - even though copy and paste sometimes reverses words, sometimes does not, and sometimes reverses letters. And having landed in the target document, the host program (vintage circa 2007-2008) sometimes cannot tell the difference between one word and another. Double-click, which usually selects a word, selects part of one word and part of another. The left hand part of the software is not letting the right hand know where it is!

To which hand do I submit the error report? To the source (which is correct in its apparent form) or to the target? And if I dared find the right forum, how long would it take to get a resolution?

I reported a problem some time ago to a major vendor. After dozens of clarifying emails, they finally 'got it' and said they had corrected the font spacing error. Well, I guess it depends on what platform you are using. It has never worked for me. I gave up. I still use the old run time where it works. Of course, all these combinations of complex cultural mixes are bound to create difficult software problems and mutual incompatibilities in format of the clipboard, and tables about fonts that refresh on some platforms and not others.

Even for the local single supplier of software, the process of managing and correcting software changes and fixes is one that has to be passed on to the next generation. What is it like? I think it is more like learning a language of courage than like following procedures. Procedures are important. Copy management is important. Knowing the history (source libraries) and the definitions (data models) are important. But there is no substitute for courage, learning, experimentation, patience, empathy, forbearance and discrimination - all features of the human enterprise that are of the spirit.