Sunday, February 05, 2006

Pet peeves

The following things drive me crazy.

Ambiguous date formats. What does 06/05/04 mean? Would that be June 5th, 2004? Or maybe May 6th, 2004? Or maybe May 4th, 2006? From time to time people say—with a straight face, no less—"... but that's the international standard!" Enough already! Dates should be written in an easy-to-read, unambigous format like 05-Jun-2006, and software should default to this. I wonder what the cumulative cost to humanity of ambiguous date formats has been? (Perhaps similar to the total cost due to the MS-DOS convention of having filenames with no more than 8 characters followed by a 3-character extension? How much frustration could they have saved by making it 16 characters instead of 8?)

Speaking of dates, how about the fact that the boxes videotapes and DVDs come in don't usually list the year the movie was released. Or if they do, it's in microscopic print. I guess they don't want you to realize the movie is 10 years old. But other information is usually hard to find too, like the running time and the aspect ratio.

Speaking of DVDs, the onscreen menus on DVDs drive me nuts! Why on earth couldn't they have just designed a good, standardized interface for all DVDs? Instead, every DVD's menu is a puzzle. Ok, some of the menus are kind of artistic, but you know, I can live without that.

Even more maddening is the evil "no, you can't do that" thing on DVDs, that sometimes won't let you skip a preview or something. I bought the !@#* thing—I should be able to skip whatever I want!

And then there's CD cases where the songs are listed without the track numbers. Oooh, how sophisticated—not! It's actually useful to know that a particular song is track number 13. Otherwise, every time I want to play the song I have to count through to figure that out. Or remember that it's number 13—as if I don't have enough trivia in my head already.

Whew! There ... that feels better. If anyone else would like to join in the therapy session, please do. Or if you disagree with something I've said, please correct me!
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Anonymous Wilte said...

I always hate cd's where the last song lasts 30 minutes when in fact it is a 4 minute song, then 24 minutes of silence, and at the end 2 minutes of music. It totally ruins the shuffle function. What's the point? It has been done, so stop the gimmick!

2:46 PM, February 05, 2006  
Blogger StephenH said...

Gee Nick, you sound bitter!
Perhaps it would help if you keep that "Enemy of the State" DVD for a while...
on 13/13/13 watch scene #13 backwards...that's sure to give you all the answers!

6:10 PM, February 05, 2006  
Anonymous Mohammed TA said...

As far as date format is concerned, I guess its all got to do with the absence of explicit international standardisation, and that too for some (good?) reason --For then, Gregorian, Chinese or Hegira?
Sometimes a lack of consensus is a beautiful thing :)
Doesn't it beat reason to learn that when 3.5 million vehicles per year travel to and fro between UK and France via the Channel tunnel, the two countries have cars driving on different sides of the road? The confusion could be lethal! But, perhaps it defacto is not.
In short, date format heterogeneity is a natural consequence of events...attempts to homogenise will most likely welcome dispute -- lets just let it be :)

8:14 PM, February 06, 2006  
Blogger Nick Barrowman said...

Ow! I'm getting a headache looking at your icon, Stephen.

Regarding heterogeneity in date formats, I agree that variety can be a good thing. For example, the United States is a kind of natural experiment for all sorts of things: state laws, social services, economic policies, etc. The most successful approaches can then become evident (though sadly the evidence is often assiduously ignored).

Often, however, heterogeneity is wasteful and counterproductive, and some pretty stupid things can become entrenched simply because "it's tradition." (To me, this is the essential flaw of conservatism. While I'm sympathetic to the idea of retaining what's been proven to work, I don't see the point of keeping something for the sole reason that it's familiar.)

Admittedly, premature standardization can be counterproductive too. But once the evidence is in — it's time to switch. Inevitably, some will protest that "it's too much trouble!" It seems to be human nature to put much more weight on short-term convenience than long-term benefits. That's one reason credit cards are so popular. But at some point, reason should prevail. I think we've long since reached that point with date formats.

9:59 PM, February 06, 2006  
Blogger skysong said...

I totally agree with the date pet peeve :) Unfortunatly, I have the problem of remembering to stay to one format with my own stuff, so I am always confused at home as well as out in the real world :D

5:03 PM, February 25, 2006  
Blogger Nick Barrowman said...

I hate to admit it, but the date format I recommend has one clear disadvantage: filenames with the date in them don't sort in the right order (conventionally filenames are just sorted alphanumerically). In contrast, alphanumeric sorting of dates in the form yy-mm-dd does work.

This is a bit of a pain. Of course a little smarts built into software would fix that: in the event that unambiguous date formats are present this should be detected and the correct sorting applied. I think computers should adapt to humans, not the other way round!

10:10 PM, February 25, 2006  
Anonymous Robopeter said...

Actually, There is an international standard for date formats, which the great wellspring of knowledge that is Wikipedia tells me is defined under ISO 8601. The formate is YYYY-MM-DD, to which we can add a time, secure in the knowledge that our measurements will be stated in order of decreasing magnitude.
Whether the great unwashed decides to use this date format is entirely another matter.

12:18 PM, December 21, 2008  
Blogger Nick Barrowman said...

Ay, there's the rub! Expressing date and time in decreasing order of magnitude is perfectly sensible. But people don't use that format consistently.

At least the ISO standard uses a 4-digit year. But I'm a proponent of systems that are so unambiguous even I can't get mixed up by them!

7:26 PM, December 21, 2008  
Anonymous Nancy Gonzalez said...

Hey, Nick... I blogged about my pet peeves, too. Every blogger should vent these at least once. Enjoy your blog! Nancy Gonzalez

10:47 AM, March 01, 2009  
Blogger Nick Barrowman said...


I enjoyed your pet peeves. As I commented on your blog, there's nothing I like more than a fine whine!

8:26 PM, March 01, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen to all of those.. the dates for sure. I do use the ISO standard for shorthand dates that do not have letters in them (Which very much have their place) YYYY-MM-DD. Decreasing order of magnitude (in seconds (handy for programing)) of the unit the number represents.

I have yet to figure out how someone could think that either of these was a good idea. MM/DD/YY, DD/MM//YY ??????? why? Im just waiting for the next idiot to try to corrupt the ISO standard to YYYY-DD-MM just to F*** everyone up.

9:24 PM, February 14, 2014  
Blogger Duncan Richardson said...

Mohammed TA 8:14 PM, February 06, 2006 vehicles that travel between UK and France through the Channel Tunnel are carried on railway trains so there is no problem re. driving on left or right.

6:10 PM, July 24, 2016  
Blogger Robert said...

Stumbled onto this page by accident today, and couldn't agree with you more about all of these... though the second and fifth pet peeves don't bother me anymore since I've gone entirely digital with music and video. But thank you!

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