Easter Bonnets and Adverse Automation

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A couple of initially unconnected events last week conspired to nudge my brain into some kind of half-awake state where it combined them into a surreal view of "automatic" stuff. One of the events was the return from Tina, our editor and proof-reader, of my article about the Team System Management Model Designer Power Tool (a product that, thankfully, I'm legally permitted to refer to as just "TSMMD" - and will do so from now on). The second event was deciding that I ought to get a laptop sorted ready for an upcoming trip to Redmond. The combined result is some manic ravings on the meanings of stupid words, and the fact that Windows Vista obviously hates me.

TSMMD is a new add-in for Visual Studio Team System that I have been documenting for the previous few CTP releases. It's a really neat tool that allows you to build management models that describe the health states and instrumentation of an application, and then generate the appropriate instrumentation code as part of your VS project (see http://www.codeplex.com/dfo/ for details). The article is one of those "About..." and "Getting Started" things that compares what the product does to some commonplace everyday situation - in this case the way repair shops can do computerized diagnosis of faults in a modern motor car. So the article came back with editorial comments such as "Err...what does this mean?" where I had written stuff like "...without having to look under the bonnet" (Tina asked if I was taking part in an Easter parade), "...hatchback or saloon car" (is this one that has a drinks cabinet built in?), and "...look for some tools in the boot" (surely that's where you keep your feet?). And, of course, "When you say 'motor car' do you mean 'automobile'?"

Some time ago I rambled on about the way that the culture and language in the US and UK are so very similar, and yet so subtly different (see Two Nations Divided by Light Switches). But the one area where almost everything seems to be different is in the realm of motoring. I mean, to me, a car starts with a bonnet and ends with boot. Just like a person (and not necessarily one in an Easter parade). Makes perfect sense. As I said to Tina, here in England we just keep our wellingtons in our boots... except when going to a car boot sale. Why on earth would a car start with a hood and end with a trunk. Sounds more like an elephant going backwards. And what do you call the bit of an open-top sports car that keeps the passengers dry when it rains? Surely that's the hood (as in "It looks like rain, better put the hood up"). Still, I suppose cars have plenty of bits with stupid names anyway. I know that "dashboard" comes from the days of carts and wagons where they nailed a plank across the front to stop galloping (dashing?) horses hooves splashing mud onto the drivers new breeches.

Notice how I avoided saying "trousers" there. I once heard a conference organizer ask all the speakers to wear black pants for their presentations as part of a consistent dress code. I wondered how attendees would know what color underwear I had on. But that's a whole different topic area.

Anyway, getting back to cars, I suppose we now refer to the bit with the speedometer on it as the fascia. However, we still have a "fan belt" even though the radiator fan is electric and the belt drives the alternator and the pumps for the power steering and the air conditioning instead. And it isn't just the car itself. What about how, here in the UK, we have "slip roads" on our motorways? It's not like they are surfaced with super-smooth tarmac (asphalt) so you slide around. I guess the idea is that you use them to slip into the traffic stream (in which case, the way most people drive here, they should be called "barge-in roads"). The US "on-ramp" and "off-ramp" make more sense, even when they don't go uphill or downhill.

And why "freeway" in the US? My experience of driving in Florida is that you have to carry $20 in loose change for the toll booths that they planted every two miles. Although, around where I live, when they build a new bypass round a town or village, everyone refers to it as "the fast road". Even when there's traffic lights every 20 yards and a half-mile tailback most of the day. Again, the words conspire to confuse. "Traffic lights"? A nice sensible term I reckon. Yet when we were working on the Unity Application Block they wrote a sample they called "Stoplight". As the UI was just three oblong colored boxes it took me a while to figure that this was the US equivalent. Is it still a "stop light" when it's showing green?

But enough motoring invectives. The other conspiring event this week was battling, after a few months away from it, with Vista. I have to say that there are lots of things I really love about Vista, but it seems to have been designed to annoy the more technical and experienced computer user. A lot of the aggro is, I know, attributable to my long-established familiarity with XP and its internal workings. Vista is no doubt ideal for the less experienced user, as it hides lots of complexity and presents functionality that works automatically.

Yes, I've finally given up and turned off UAC so I can poke about as required and use weird scripts and macros required for my daily tasks. But it would be really nice to have an "expert" mode that lets you see (and change) all the hidden settings without having to go through several "inexperienced user" screens. I mean, it keeps complaining that my connection to the outside world through my proxy server is "not authenticated" even though it works fine, and I can't find any way to change this. And it won't let my FTP client list files, even though it works fine on the XP machine sitting next to it.

What finally got me going this week, however, it backing up the machine. I carry a small USB disk drive around with a full image of the C: drive that I can restore if it all falls over. For years I've been using TrueImage (see diary entries passim) and it works well. However, when I bought this laptop I paid extra for Vista Ultimate so I'd get the proper built-in backup software to do disk imaging. I imaged the machine when it was new, but the configuration is much changed since then so I thought I'd do a complete new backup. As there isn't a lot of space on the USB drive, I deleted the existing backup first. But Vista still thinks it's there (obviously there's some secret setting somewhere in the O/S, and it's not in the Registry 'cos I searched there) that makes Vista think I have an existing backup. So it will only do an incremental backup - there is no option to say I want a whole new one.

And it also insists on backing up the drive D: restore partition, even though I don't want that backed up. So I ran it anyway, but afterwards all it said was "the backup is complete". Did it do an incremental one or a full one? Did it skip stuff that it thinks is in the backup image I deleted? Will it actually restore to give me a working machine? In the end I deleted the backup and used TrueImage (I've got version 10 and it works fine with Vista). It asks you everything it needs to know to create the kind of image you want, and then just does it. And I've restored machines in the past using it, so I feel comfortable that I can get back to where I was when the sky falls in.

You see, this is where I worry about "automatic" stuff. For some things it seems like a really good idea, and often it "just works". Drifting back to cars, my latest acquisition has automatic climate control that just works. You can, if you wish, dive into the settings and specify hundreds of individual parts of the process, but why bother? Just set the temperature you want and let it get on with it. The car also has automatic window wipers (notice I avoided saying windscreen or windshield), which is great. They wipe the window when it rains.

But it also has automatic headlights that come on when it's dark. And this feature is turned off because I always worry that they'll come on just as I get to a junction and someone will think I'm flashing them and pull out right in front of me. Notice the important point. You can turn off the automation if you don't want it...

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Easter Bonnets and Adverse Automation