About

I'm Mike Pope. I live in the Seattle area. I've been a technical writer and editor for over 30 years. I'm interested in software, language, music, movies, books, motorcycles, travel, and ... well, lots of stuff.

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Deeply held beliefs of any kind prevent you from being open to experience, which is why I find all firmly held ideological positions questionable. [...] One of the signs of a damaged ego is absolute certainty.

Milton Glaser



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Blog Statistics

Dates
First entry - 6/27/2003
Most recent entry - 9/21/2018

Totals
Posts - 2522
Comments - 2582
Hits - 2,081,216

Averages
Entries/day - 0.45
Comments/entry - 1.02
Hits/day - 374

Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 8:07 PM Pacific


  12:14 AM

Renowned linguist Geoffrey Pullum fumes about something we all know a great deal about, namely dialog boxes that are confusing. In his case, the dialog box says this, apparently:
Mail has been updated. Do you want to allow the new version to access the same keychain items (such as passwords) as the previous version?

This change is permanent and affects all keychain items used by Mail.

[Don't Change] [Change All]
Pullum asks the obvious question: "Which of those is supposed to mean 'Yes, allow the new version access to the old passwords', and which is 'No, I have changed my mind about this, don't allow access?'?"

Pullum then makes what seems like a slightly odd observation here: "Let me add that the operating system that has done this to me is OS X, running on my Apple Macintosh G4 notebook computer — superb software running on a marvellous machine. It is just astounding that anyone uses Windows machines at all anymore, given that both OS X and Linux are of such overwhelmingly superior quality."

Do I follow this right? OS X presents a terrible error message, and it's amazing that people still use Windows?

Anyway, he closes with this statement, at which I shall choose to take personal affront, whaddya think?
It appears that in software development divisions there is typically no one technically trained in syntax, semantics, and pragmatics overseeing the choice of language in the dialog boxes and help panels that are written. The problem is that in most software divisions, the team has no linguist (or linguistically sophisticated technical writer — the degrees held matter less for this purpose than the linguistic acumen)[1].
One bad dialog box == no writers or UI designers who know syntax anywhere in the industry. Uh-huh. I guess if his taxi driver gets lost, no one in the city knows how to drive. Maybe Pullum ought to come on over and get a tour through the Windows UI guidelines sometime, which are the basis for the 99.99% of dialog boxes that no one ever has a problem with (including localizers). Hey, maybe those OS X UI desgners can come with him! :-)

Update Bill Poser follows up by quoting UI guidelines from, lessee, Apple, KDE Linux, and GNOME Linux. Welp, I guess that covers the field of people who ever design UI. Ha. (For the curious, 594 pages of Windows UI design guidelines available here. Windows Vista UX guidelines here. Note that neither set of guidelines is guaranteed to be free of the influence of anyone "technically trained in syntax, semantics, and pragmatics," sorry.)


[1] Actually, we have a name for people with some interest (but not necessarily a degree) in syntax, semantics, and pragmatics ... we call them "editors."

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