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well, this is embarrasing, firefox

I used to put hidden messages in programs. I’d wait for unsuspecting users to generate an error and then display something like “I’m sorry, you can’t do that, that’s rubbish”, or “Please enter a number. Not a name. Least of all your name”, or “Boing! Not Correct!”. but then, see, I was just writing some subroutine in a telnet client or something which only worked on a single server that a handful of people had the misfortune to interact with. I was young. it was funny. once.

since then, I’ve often seen similar mildly-amusing-once-if-that messages generated by alert conditions or error messaging in applications that I’m trying to use to achieve some workpath goal. not necessarily a particularly important goal, but all the same, its during an interaction I’m having using an application I’m trusting to just enable me to get on with it. usually its just a trivial cuteness, like an ‘oops!’ when I’m trying out the beta of brizzly and it fails to do something because the twitter api has prolapsed. sometimes its more terse and slightly more annoying, like a ‘something is wrong’ followed by a calamitous fail that condemns my unsaved spreadsheet formulas to an inglorious uncertain document recovery undeadness. but sometimes, its an overly smug acknowledgement that something went wrong but, hey, its ok, because things go wrong, right? we don’t know why, but, you know, never mind.

I do mind. I am slightly irritated that it is acceptable that an error condition can be apparently rendered less important simply by adding a spoonful of pith and a continue button. I’d almost prefer a window.open() with a stack trace dump in it, which, if you don’t know what that is, is as dull as it sounds, but at least its specific, and relevant. the latest incarnation of this creeping error-as-friend experience that I’ve been invited to share is the ‘well, this is embarrassing’ condition as blarted out by the most recent release of firefox. simply put, if firefox crashes unceremoniously, probably because my laptop battery has run out or something, then the next time it starts, it throws a mini hissy fit and refuses to load the tabbed content it apparently knows that it should be loading. which it finds embarrassing. maybe not as embarrassing as the fact that I seemed to be preoccupied with pubs and hardware last time firefox crashed, but, ooh, sorry, a bit embarrassing, all the same. I mean, the rest of the error is quite specific and possibly even quite helpful, but nonetheless, the context in which it sits is now one of over-friendly banter, which does nothing to reassure me at all.

I might be being a tad over-zealous. after all, its just a little jokey headline. but I’ve now seen it about 9 times. and its starting to grate. and that’s my point, such as I ever make a coherent one. be careful where you pith.

touche touchy touchpad

I’m not entirely sure whether this is a failing on my part or a failing on their part, but since there was a failure, I’m going to blame them, but I’ve only just realised after about 4 years that there is a key on my laptop which toggles the touchpad on and off which sounds like it might be a good idea which it probably is if you know that that is indeed what it does. which I didn’t. until yesterday.

I expect that if I’d been through all the options in the documentation I would have known about this key from day one, but just to be clear, it isn’t a key which just does one thing, like, say, a mahoosive windows key next to your space bar that you keep pressing my mistake. no, this is a softhard key. not a shifted or ctrl-alted regular key, but a key magically enabled with a combination of the ‘fn’ key and F7. in other words, fn-F7. which looks like it should be the mathematical evaluation of the number of ‘f’s I used trying to figure it out, but it in fact just a combination key press that you actually can’t perform with one hand. which is why it should be difficult to do. and obvious what it does.

I should point out that this is just one of a number of function keys mapped to the F keys that do useful things, like swap displays (glyph of a monitor), adjust volume (glyph of a speaker), adjust brightness (glyph of a sun thing), suspend, resume, shut down, etc. (glyphs of Zzzs, standby buttons, etc.), but this one has the least recognisable representation of its consequent action, to the point where I just assumed it did something I would never want to do. knowing now that it might actually be useful is too late, since I’ve already somehow used it by mistake to disable a hardware component that is actually useful resulting in me reinstalling drivers, users, and very nearly the entire operating system. why not just search online for this annoyance and surely someone else will have come across it? well, this isn’t exactly the people’s choice of laptops – acer ferrari 5000 – nice as it is. the only thing you’ll find online is reviews about how nice it is, albeit with a bit of a sticky touchpad, and instructions on how to disassemble it. its just a badly designed button. and it had me fooled.

I’d love to show you exactly what this offending item looks like, but frankly, I can’t quite summon the energy to photograph it, edit it and upload it, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. suffice to say, the graphical representation of someone using a touchpad, in light blue, on the F7 key of my laptop, looks a bit like a canary on a wing mirror. I mean, I know what its supposed to be now.

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