Articles tagged with "rant"

I miss VGA: On using computers when you don't want to

I am constantly having issues with HDMI and I never really know what the actual issue is. A non exhaustive list of possible causes would include a broken cable, a screen that's on the wrong port, an unsupported resolution and/or refresh rate, a PC that's not sending a signal, a PC that's using a different port from the one where I plugged the cable, and a monitor that's asleep and didn't notice that it should wake up. Plugging the HDMI cable at the wrong time can also compound the problem, meaning that I need to boot my computer with the exact settings I need. Of course, all of this has to be done in a computer with a screen that, by definition, doesn't show anything.

You know what has gotten me out of this problem more than once? VGA. Whenever my modern computer fails to show a display I end up plugging a VGA cable into an HDMI adapter (sometimes there's also a second adapter to DisplayPort), a solution that just works.

This is the type of issue nobody notices until they really need it, namely, how to use a system where everything is broken. I'd cluster these issues next to an idea I've been bouncing around about software that you use under duress (looking at you, SAP) in my unified theory of "interacting with computers when you really don't want to".

Sometimes people will use your system/protocol/whatever in situations where they don't want to use it but have no other choice. Think of a work meeting where the other part is using a tool you hate (a.k.a. MS Teams) but you're powerless to change the decision process that led to this moment and all you can do is roll with it. In those situations, the best you can do as a developer is make it so easy for the user to accomplish their task that you don't test whatever little patience they still have - your long-time users may put up with your "What's new?" pop-ups, but your other users will be thankful if you spare them.

Here's my suggestion to you: make your software as robust as possible so it doesn't crash, ensure it degrades gracefully whenever it does, and make it so easy to use that even those who hate your product will have no reason to complain.

Returning to Monkey Island

I have just finished playing Return to Monkey Island (RtMI). This is the culmination of a 30+ years journey, and it is only fair that I dedicate a couple lines to it. In short: of all the Monkey Islands I played, I just had to pay for the worst one1. I should have read the Wikipedia page and be done with it.

Also note that Yahtzee from Zero Punctuation made a lot of the same points I'm about to make, but of course he did it better.

Turbulent times ahead

Let's start with the easier stuff: is the game fun? Does it live up to its legacy? And what happened with that controversy about the art?2

Regarding the art, I disagree with the main complaints but I also have my own. On the topic of pixel art I side with series' creator Ron Gilbert: Monkey Island 1 and 2 were not supposed to be "pixel art games", but rather the best that technology could offer at the time. And while the final art style is not for me, I can nonetheless appreciate that the game has a personality. And I definitely disapprove of online abuse in any way. What I do object to, however, is the animation. Characters in RtMI look, feel, and move like paper dolls, a style that is cheap to animate but with the downside of also looking cheap. 1997's Curse of Monkey Island may not have been an "official" Ron Gilbert game, but that game was gorgeous and I'd pick it over RtMI every time.

As for the game itself, I'm struggling figuring out who is it for: it plays like the kind of game I'd recommend a beginner (puzzles are pretty easy), but beginners are not known for jumping straight into episode 5 of a saga. And veterans of the series have cut their teeth with much harder stuff. Sure, the scurvy puzzle is a good return to form, but if you are looking for multi-layered puzzles and rich, entertaining conversations with multiple characters then this is not the game you're looking for. There is no pixel-hunting, which is nice, but this is an innovation we had already seen in Thimbleweed Park.

The story and progression of the game is fine, just not great. There is humor in it, just not as much as I'd like3. As for its legacy, most of your favorites are back but relegated to minor roles. I feel particularly bad about Murray and Elaine - Murray doesn't do much, and Elaine is just here to be a mother figure for Guybrush and say "that's nice, honey" here and there. If this were your first Monkey Island game, the scene where she takes out her sword and fights would probably strike you as entirely out of character.

No game for old men

But my real problem with RtMI is its atmosphere. The game feels done with itself from the very beginning, and I got the constant impression of a game developed by people who would prefer me to do something else with my life4. The world of RtMI is falling apart, full of graffiti and derelict buildings. Our beloved characters have moved on and no one outside Guybrush and LeChuck even cares about the Secret of Monkey Island anymore, a fact that they'll repeat at every chance.

Which brings me to the whole reason for buying the game, namely, finding out what the Secret of Monkey Island is (which I won't spoil here). I am not against the conclusion itself - the idea presented in RtMI has been floating around forums for decades, I've made my peace with it long ago, and I had already accepted it as canon. My problem is that it is presented in the meanest and most unsatisfactory way possible. When Guybrush (minor spoiler!) says "I'm ready to go", Elaine's condescending "Good. Me too" sounds less like an ending and more like the game designers telling me to go away. Hell, even Guybrush's son calls them on it.

Interestingly enough, my main (positive) emotional reactions came not from where the game went but rather from where I thought the game would go. More than once I thought that Guybrush would lose Elaine, and I also occasionally worried that my choices would lead me to a bad ending. I'm glad neither of those things happened, and yet I can't shake the feeling that I put more thought into the story than the designers did.

End of an era

I have often told people on the internet to stop buying bad games, a concept that gamers refuse to accept for some reason. And I know that, if you have been waiting like me for a resolution to the Secret of Monkey Island, then nothing I write will dissuade you from playing the game. But honestly, from a fan to another? You might be better reading an online walkthrough and/or watching a video of the last 5 minutes. Nothing in this game is likely to have any influence in the future of the series anyway (assuming there is a future), and honestly I don't think I have it in me to keep listening to my once-beloved characters telling me how much they don't care.

I will always have a soft spot for Monkey Island, and I am glad that we finally got an official resolution. I just wish it was delivered in something other than a tired man telling me to get off his lawn and move on with my life.


  1. Yes, I pirated the other ones, but that's okay - I pledged enough for Thimbleweed Park that I got a Certificate of Absolution out of it.
  2. Make sure to follow this comic and its sequel on the topic.
  3. While I'll always defend that Monkey Island I and II are hilarious, I should publicly accept that one of my favorite jokes is this scene from Curse of Monkey Island (about 40 seconds, Guybrush's third response).
  4. Of course, I don't know what Ron Gilbert was actually thinking, and based on his articles on his website he seems like a nice man. Which makes the whole thing even more baffling: either he's tired of it all and never let on, or he isn't and made a mean game by mistake.

Why the music industry still won't take my money?

Remember this post where I complained that the music industry won't take my money? Well, it's that time of year again.

As you may remember from following me on Mastodon, I bought an Alexa, set it up in Spanish, and almost went insane due to how bad it was. So I did what every normal person would do in this case and I gifted to my mom. This Alexa slept in an Argentinean drawer for a long time, until one day I finally convinced my family to stop worrying about breaking it. Today it works mostly as a voice-activated music player for my nieces.

We have established before that I am an idiot, and because I'm an idiot I decided to set up Spotify (with a family plan) instead of Apple Music. I already have a rocky situation with Spotify, which is why I am not shocked at all to learn that, just like Amazon and Warner before them, Spotify will not take my money:

  • I cannot pay for my mom's plan because my card is German and the account is not. And the device's IP is obviously in Argentina.
  • I cannot use an Argentinean credit card, because I don't have one.
  • I cannot use the other available methods because they require me to physically go to a store in another continent.
  • I cannot pay with a gift card - even suggesting this as a possible feature will get your request closed without review.
  • I can try to set the account to a German one, but as the tech support representative would put it, "you can give it a try, however that is something we are unable to guarantee that will work". Also, I fear this may cause Alexa to start speaking in German, and my mom won't be amused by that.

So once again I am trying to give a company money -- no, scratch that: I am trying to give a company money THAT'S WORTH MORE THAN THE MONEY THEY WANT (Argentinean pesos are not super hot right now), and yet they won't listen to reason. The Spotify forums are full of threads where the best answer you'll get is a "Community Legend" saying that it sucks to be you.

The most likely end of this story is that I'll wire some money over Western Union and one of my relatives will go to a store to pay the bill. My time will be wasted, I'll lose some money in the exchange, my relative's time will be also wasted, and Spotify will receive money in a currency that's devaluating at a 10% monthly rate.

Great job, Spotify.

On physical books and horses

I originally envisioned this post as a two-part brain dump, but then I realized that the type of people interested in libraries are also the type of people who aren't bothered by long text. So this post will be longer than usual.

Now that we are almost a quarter into the 21st century it is perhaps time to have the talk: what do we do with our public libraries?

I'd like to start by pointing out that I love libraries. I love the feeling of being surrounded by books, picking one of them at random and reading a couple pages -- sometimes I put the book back after a few seconds, and sometimes I rush to the nearest chair and remain there until it's dark outside. Having said that, I also realize that I'm only focusing on what libraries are instead of what they could be.

Part I: books

Physical books are awesome: paper is relatively inexpensive, lasts a long time, doesn't hurt your eyes, can survive some natural disasters, requires no electricity, an can be easily recycled if a book is really bad. Having said that, paper is also heavy, flammable, and duplicating its content takes work.

A book's physicality is both its blessing and its curse. The New York Society Library acquires 4800 books a year, meaning that they also need a plan for getting rid of 4800 books a year. What happens to those books is a touchy subject. History is full of brilliant artists who didn't get recognized during their time, but 90% of all books are crap. How to strike a balance between both extremes is a full-time job.

I am a fan of physical books. But I wouldn't be honest if I didn't consider that maybe I like them just because that's what I grew up with, the same way my dad's coworkers rejected computers because a calculator was all they ever needed. And I am willing to bet that, about a hundred years ago, someone somewhere must have rejected cars for being cold and boring in comparison to the horse they brushed and cuddled every day.

It isn't hard to imagine a library without physical books. You would simply show up to the reception desk, pick a tablet (or bring your own), sit in one of the multiple available couches (with all the books gone, there's plenty room for them), and browse the virtual catalog. No need for queues, no book needs ever be thrown away, and you could even do it from the comfort of your house.

(Note that "don't throw anything away" sounds suspiciously similar to hoarding, but we won't get into that today)

But this is where I worry: why stop there? If you can check out books from anywhere, why even have a building? Just make it a webpage that everyone can access. All you need to do is add Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) and you no longer need to worry about people making unauthorized copies and/or lending your books to non-members. It is also a very convenient way of getting rid of problematic books: one simple command and voilĂ !, the book is gone from every library in the country. And as a plus, you don't need to fight anymore with those pesky librarians who refuse to hand over library records without a court order.

Which touches on an important point: that if you were to invent the concept of a library today, you would be labeled a pirate and sued. A library is an inconvenient institution: it is not run for profit, it facilitates copyrighted material, and it provides access to dangerous ideas to anyone. If I were me, I would be scared of tinkering with such an important institution and risk breaking it forever.

Part II: activities

Whenever I think about what an ideal library would look like, I always come back to the same example: the Vancouver Public Library. If all you had was a VPL card and time, you could learn music theory, learn how to play an instrument (which you can borrow on the fourth floor), record a podcast with your progress in the recording booths, design an album cover in their computers (don't know how? there's a book for that), and eventually release your album. Not many other institution offer this much knowledge for free.

The VPL (and others like this, such as the Cologne Library) go straight to the core of a different concept of library: not a place to store books, but rather a place to explore ideas. And while in theory you could also do that with a virtual library, I wouldn't discount the power of moving your physical body somewhere. Once you are inside the library, a part of you knows that you are there with a purpose.

No one I know associates libraries with activities, but they definitely associate them with the idea of a safe, quiet place to study. Which is, once again, a blessing and a curse: the space you need for your activities is space you take away from the books. And just as important for this discussion, it is space: if you have tried to rent even a moderately sized empty room you'll know that it doesn't come cheap.

Perhaps I am conflating too many ideas. Perhaps the world doesn't needs a library-makerspace-coworking space. And yet, the idea of a Library as a "Temple of knowledge" is all my nerd brain ever wanted.

Part III: the Metaverse and Zoom meetings

This is the part where Mark Zuckerberg shows up and says "something something THE METAVERSE". And he could have a point: if you are not at least intrigued by the idea of reading a (virtual) book while sitting (virtually) in the Library of Babel you need to catch up. But until the day comes when we all wear Metaglasses (R) all the time, we could take about their little sibling the smartphone.

Have you tried working in a library in the past months? I have, and I tell you, it's a challenge. This was not a problem 4 years ago, when all I needed was fast internet and power for my notebook. But in a post-pandemic world where everyone and their dog want to rope me into Zoom meetings this is no longer enough: meetings require sound-proof cabins in short notice, and they are very scarce. The Staatsbibliothek Berlins has six such cabins for all of their members (split into 4 and 2 between its two buildings) and trust me, they are not even close to enough.

And so, the only people who can currently accept a phone call in a library are Olympic sprinters who can run down four flight of stairs in less time than it takes for a call to go to voicemail (ask me how I know this!). I imagine libraries will eventually adapt - if anything, those six cabins in the StaaBi did come from somewhere. But again, each one of those cabins takes away space from "regular" book readers, who may argue that libraries are not WeWork and that I should go somewhere else.


I believe books will still be an integral part of our daily lives way into the 22nd century and further. Sure, eventually all new books will be digitized and nothing will be lost ever again, but the value of holding a book in your hands cannot be matched. And in a time when sharing is no longer caring, I am not counting on any better replacement coming anytime soon.

I love my local library - I like the small ones, I like the big ones, and I definitely like the VPL. And precisely because I like them I can't stop wondering whether I'm the old guy who complains about cars while brushing his horse. But what does the future of the library look like? Is it in the comfort of my home? Is it in my pocket? Is it inside incredibly expensive VR glasses? Or is the future of my library the exact same place where it was the last couple hundred years? Sure, sometimes one of them catches fire, but doesn't everything? And it's not like we can't just rebuild them. Lucky for us, manuscripts don't burn.

Microsoft Teams sucks

If you told me I was going to die in the next 24hs, asked me to guess what from, and it was a working day of the week, "MS-Teams-induced aneurysm" would definitely be in my top 5 guesses.

I know what you are thinking: "he's exaggerating - no software can be that bad". This reveals one of two possible scenarios: either you don't use Teams in your daily work, or you do use it but you only pretend to work. Don't worry, your secret is safe with me. But just in case, please take a seat and let me tell you all about Teams.

First and foremost, Teams is where information goes to die. If I need a piece of information I know exists, I have to identify the Account (I have 2), the Team (around 25 and growing), the Channel (around 5 per team but only two in actual use) and the media type (was it in a chat? a wiki? a file? If so, in which folder?), all of which are just slow enough to make it frustrating but not slow enough for my office to ditch it (assuming they could and wanted to, which then can't and don't want to). And with a search function that works ~20 percent of the time, it's not unusual for me to just give up. "It's somewhere in our Teams channel" is what I tell people when I don't actually care about whether they find what they need or not. And if I'm looking for something said in a person-to-person Chat, this is different from a Channel chat and I need a different window altogether.

Chat brings us to notifications. Teams is the only tool I know that will display up to four notifications for a single event and leave more than one on. If someone sends a message during a meeting, Teams will display a box in the notification area, play a sound, add an indicator to the task bar, and a second indicator to the meeting windows. Your window will resemble a Christmas tree until you open the chat window, even if you already clicked on the very first notification box. As far as Teams is concerned, a single unread chat is the most important thing that has ever existed, and it will not rest until you've clicked on it.

The system requirements are also an issue, but all things considered they are a minor one. Sure, I cannot calculate the number of hours that I lost waiting for things to load, but I can at least estimate how much my employer had to pay to replace an otherwise perfectly good computer. And yet,if I only consider them a minor issue it's because they pale in comparison to the hours I wasted doing things the Teams way, a burden no hardware upgrade can relieve.

Teams empowers you to go through the motions of work without actually getting anything done. No project can start without yet-another useless channel, a bunch of documents you'll never find, a to-do list hidden at least four levels deep into the interface, and a collaborative editor that ruins your formatting until you open the desktop app. But it takes a strong company leader to stand to Microsoft, and those don't come easy nor cheap. Once your company has willingly chained itself to a Teams-based working environment, your fate is tied to that sinking ship.

And yet, the worst aspect of Teams had escaped me until today when a friend pointed it out: that we started using it because Microsoft imposed it on us right at the beginning of the pandemic. I guess some Microsoft salesman decided that the pandemic was not hard enough on us as it was, and that's why they decided to add a buggy, resource-hungry tool as the cherry on top of the pandemic dessert. I have not yet received my check for working as an alpha tester for a terrible tool I didn't want, and I am starting to believe that I might never get it.

Friends don't let friends implement MS Teams in their organizations. If you are going to choose a collaboration tool that sucks, you might as well choose one that's lighter on resources and less annoying. Even yelling at your coworkers down the hall is better, even if they are in another building.

Just say no to Teams.