(Small) digital disappointments | Peter van Ooijen


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My last post was around the US (Christmas) holiday season. Now the European (summer) holiday is there it is really time for a new one. I’ve been busy on a rather complicated project of which the contents are changing and changing. More or less the usual, doing loads of the usual stuff. I do  have writings on (fluent) nHibernate, (asp.net and Telerik ) MVC up my sleeve. They all served me well and deserve some more attention.

Before I start exploring there is something  I want to get of my chest. Perhaps I’m beginning to look forward to my retirement, but as said in the title, I am somewhat disappointed in the digital age as it evolves.

What happened to our ears ?

In my last post I had great fun playing with Amplitube , a way to plug a (electric) guitar into an iPad. Since then I’ve also plugged a real electric guitar in and linked the iPad to my HiFi. Which was a great disappointment sounding dull and flat. Trying out other similar devices I found out it takes Amplitube on a full Mac or even better a hardware modeller like the Line-6 Pod HD to get something which sounds good over something more than a set of regular earphones.

Which reminded me of the days of the introduction of the CD player. Being an audiophile I had been looking out to that. When the first digital players finally arrived it was a huge disappointment, they sounded just as good as any middle of the road analog turntable. It took years for a good, and alas expensive, CD player to match, let alone surpass, our analog Denon-Stanton combinations.

What happened to the beauty of good sound ? These days everybody seems to be satisfied with the sound of the speaker of their phone. Or at best the sound of a mini audio set stashed away behind the sofa.

What happened to our eyes ?

Before the emergence of digital photography photographers feared the end of their hobby as world supplies of silver (required for producing analog film) were running out. Digital imaging has made great progress. In contrast to audio I dare say the quality of  today’s high end camera’s outshines analog. I prefer a Nikon or Canon sensor over Ekta- or Kodachrome Smile .

These days everybody has a camera on their phone. That’s great, it has been an eye-witness to things which would else remain hidden from the world. What worries me is that almost everybody is using it all of the time. For instance at a concert. Instead of undergoing the real life experience a majority of the audience is watching through the LCD of their Nokia. Isn’t that somewhat of a tunnel vision ? While right next to them a big camera is recording the event in HD, available at Amazon (or the pirate bay..)  next week.

What happened to software development ?

Also software development didn’t quite follow the path I hoped it would take. Starting (in the PC world) we had to work with “languages” like dBase. Which was completely interpreted and any keyword could also be written using just it’s first four characters. Needless to say it was always somewhat of a mystery what your (or even harder someone else’s prg file given to you) was going to do. Thank goodness tools like Delphi gave a far better grip on development as your code was digitally evaluated by the compiler before it would even run. Later unit testing also provided a way to digitally check what your code would do after passing the check on being syntactically correct.

Since then the landscape has, IMHO, shifted backwards again. The main reason is in essence a good one, it’s the web. Your code, or a least a part of it, is going to run in an environment unknown to you. Being a browser of any kind. Or a mobile OS of any kind. Also when developing mobile apps you’re thrown back on browsers to pimp it. (In this post there’s an iPhone example.) So despite all the beauty of C# you have to rely on interpreted markup and JavaScript running in an unknown, perhaps even hostile, environment which is very hard to test. Alas, a C# runtime on every digital device is a dream with not a great expectation to become reality. 

Another thing which makes me scratch my head is “Convention over configuration”. This is a good thing when applied well. The conventions are clearly written out and the tools know how to work with them. Take the way Resharper handles the conventions of asp.net mvc. Resharper knows how to match controller actions with views and knows when there is something missing. But when the conventions are not clearly defined, aka undocumented, things get really messy. For instance, parts of the Telerik MVC api follows “conventions” and these are not always to well documented. In one place I found I hade to name my parameter exactly as in (the one and only) example, else I would bounce into a quite enigmatic jQuery error. There I felt myself back in the old days, abandoned by all tools.

Looking ahead

Although somewhat disappointed, I don’t want to complain. It’s just life. We need dreams what could be done in the digital age. And we need real soft- and hardware to throw us back on our feet again.  And we need each other, FI in blog posts, to get and keep these things working. Next time I’ll bring you a more useful story.