Computers Are Magical; Computers Are Awful

I was reminded of Nikita Prokopov’s classic post today — “People Expect Technology to Suck Because It Actually Sucks” — in much the same way I think of it many days but, and especially, today. These are all things which happened today from when I woke up:

  • I grabbed my phone off my nightstand and launched the CBC News app. A scrolling gesture in the Top Stories feed was misinterpreted as a tap on an ad, which launched Safari. This is a constant problem in many apps but, particularly, in CBC News.

  • Next, I opened the New York Times app. I tapped on a story, then returned to the Today view, which immediately refreshed and showed some different stories.

  • I marked a story within the Times app to read it later. I assumed I would find this in the For You section of the app, but I was wrong. You actually need to be in the Today view and then you must tap the person icon in the upper-right. I am noting this because I will forget it again and refer back to this post.

  • Messaging a friend, I once again noticed that the autocorrect suggestion bubble is sometimes partially obscured by the keyboard. I have predictive text turned off so this is the old-style iOS autocorrect bubble.

  • Partway through my text to my friend, the predictive text bar appears with no particular trigger — for example, I did not type anything like “my address is” — then disappears, then reappears with a button to send money via Apple Pay, which is not supported in Canada.

I brewed some coffee and started my day on my Mac:

  • There was intermittent lag in Bluetooth keyboard entry in MacOS. Running killall Dock seemed to fix it temporarily; connecting my keyboard via a wire and toggling its Bluetooth mode, then disconnecting the wire seems to have corrected it.

  • I was listening to a song in Music, then I paused it to watch a video on YouTube in Safari, then I closed the Safari tab and tapped the play/pause key on my keyboard, which did nothing because it was — according to the audio playback menubar item — still controlling that closed YouTube tab.

  • When performing ripple deletes in a simple Adobe Audition project, there is lag or delay which increases a little bit with each ripple delete. After ten minutes or so of work, it is necessary to restart Audition. I lost an hour today to tracking down and trying to diagnose this problem. It turns out many people have experienced this problem on MacOS and Windows for years, and there does not appear to be a fix.

    Interestingly, Audition does not consume a lot of resources. It uses less than a single CPU core even while doing complex editing, and its RAM consumption is similarly modest. It is just a really, really slow application.

  • OneDrive and fileproviderd put a combined 300% pressure on my CPU while syncing Audition’s temporary files. I do not necessarily need those temporary files to sync, so I pause OneDrive. Then a colleague asks me to share a link to a file and I find that OneDrive cannot generate links while syncing is paused. Resuming syncing causes high CPU consumption for several minutes.

  • I filed a bug report against this with Microsoft. (The relevant Apple one is FB13320112.) The text box was unresponsive, but in a new way compared to the keyboard entry problems I was having earlier.

  • Attempted to launch Audition from Spotlight by typing “aud” which momentarily flashed Audition before changing to Audio MIDI Setup as I hit return.

  • Noticed my free disk space had dropped by over 20 GB in the span of an hour for no clear reason. A brief investigation did not reveal anything immediately, but I got sidetracked by…

  • …a 34 GB folder of cached Apple Music files sitting in a ~/Library/ folder labelled “”. It appears to have been untouched since iTunes became Music but, for some reason, MacOS has not cleared it out.

  • I switched to my laptop to write a post through MarsEdit this evening. There was apparently a configuration change somewhere — probably at my web host — which causes it to return a “403 Forbidden” error when attempting to publish through MarsEdit. I have, as of writing, spent three hours trying to fix this. I finally gave up and asked my web host for help; they fixed it because their support is great.

  • I tried to AirDrop a website from Safari on my iPhone to my wife’s iPhone. It got stuck on “Waiting…”, so I cancelled the AirDrop. Then I navigated away from the page and the AirDrop occurred a beat later.

  • I dismissed a Time Machine notice that my MacBook Pro has not been backed up in about two months. The hard drive attached to my “server” seems to have a problematic connection or board or something else, and it is something I need to fix.

None of the problems above are life-changing, but this list is representative of the kinds of hiccups I experience more-or-less daily. It could be a different mix of things with less or more impact than those above, but these problems often require I spend time trying to diagnose and fix them. Sometimes I can; sometimes, as with the Adobe Audition problem, the tools just suck and I have no recourse.

I know there are real people working on these products, many of whom really do want to make them the very best. I am encouraged by stories like Mark Gurman’s report today in which it seems that Apple has spent a couple of weeks switching from feature development to bug fixing mode for its next major releases. I am grateful for how incredible most of this stuff often is, and I understand things occasionally need fixing. But not like this. The ways in which these things break rob me of confidence in everything I use. I cannot see a good reason I would want to introduce more computers into my life, like with “smart” home devices.

It is amazing what I do every day with the computer on my desk, the one on my lap, and the one in my pocket. But I wish they did everything more reliably, predictably, and consistently. I am prepared to fix things sometimes. I do not understand why I am tending to these things daily like they are made in a shed instead of by some of the world’s most valuable corporations. We, the users, deserve better than this.