This is a story on phone menus, though it applies to anything where the user interface can change. I phoned in a refill on a prescription this morning. The phone system lets you choose when you plan on picking it up, presumably so that the pharmacy can prioritize people who are coming in sooner. Generally, it asks you to enter the hour, then #, then 1 for AM or 2 for PM.

I wanted to swing by around noon, so I entered 12, then #, and then without listening for the option, I hit 2. I wanted to pick it up around 12:00 pm.

So I was surprised to hear, “We’re sorry, the pharmacy is not open at midnight.” I flashed back to elementary school, when I was out on the field trying to explain to my friends why noon was 12 PM and not 12 AM as they insisted. Had someone managed to get into a programming position, without clearing that up?

As I re-entered the time, I listened for the options. It turns out that they had anticipated just such confusion, as after I chose 12, the option was, “Please enter 1 for noon, or 2 for midnight.” That works great for people who are using the system for the first time, whether they know noon is PM or not. Unfortunately, for people who have been using it for years and (normally) don’t need to listen to the options, it switches the buttons around. It’s like those WinZip registration dialog boxes that would rearrange the buttons every time, so that you couldn’t just click through, you’d have to pay at least some attention to it.

Of course, then there’s the question of why it even gives you the option for midnight…

Microsoft’s automatic update system is now offering an update to the Windows Installer. That’s the program that handles all those .msi files you use to install new applications, keeps track of what’s currently installed, and lets you uninstall them.

And it needs to reboot after installing?

WHY? What low-level system file did they have to change? There is a Windows Installer service, but it’s not running, and even if it were, they should just be able to restart the service. Why do I have to reboot the entire #@!$ computer because I agreed to install an update to something that isn’t running? Is the design so broken it can’t update itself?

I’ve never had to reboot a Linux box after upgrading RPM, Yum, or Apt (the equivalent software on many Linux systems). Never, in the seven years I’ve been using Linux.

And you know, it would have been nice to know that this update would require a restart before I decided, “what the heck, it doesn’t look like anything that’ll require me to restart, I might as well grab it now.” Telling me that some updates may require a restart is like labeling a box of cookies “Processed in the same state as a peanut farm.” It’s useless. It gets ignored. Kind of like this rant probably will.

Update 1: I’d love to make this change to the dialog box:

No, it’s not F*ing OK but you’re going to make me restart anyway!
Mouldypunk (link dead)

Update 2 (years later): “OK I guess” would have at least been amusing. And thank you sooooo much, Gnome Software, for bringing this behavior to Linux. There’s a reason I still use the command line to install updates.