January 25, 2006

I don’t like Microsoft Word very much, in large part because its default behavior is to assume it knows what you’re trying to do and how you want things formatted. (Search Google for “paperclip.mpeg” for some catharsis.) This default behavior, of course, makes it very easy to make numbered lists and indented paragraphs and the like. The problem is that if you actually know beforehand what you want to write and what layout you want, it’s similarly very easy to end up with Not What You Had In Mind. It’s very frustrating to be in the middle of writing something, making steady progress, when suddenly your formatting changes in a way you weren’t anticipating and could frankly do without, and you lose your train of thought after feeling compelled to immediately undo all the changes that were forced upon you. The program works best when it functions as a tool, not as an entity that tries to predict what you’re intending to do next. I’d rather have to specify each bulleted list I want than unspecify a bunch of bulleted lists that are provided as a “favor” or “time-saver” and accomplish less than nothing.

I bring this up, as it happens, in the context of also hating something else, and for the same reason. I learned to drive on a stick-shift, and in fact I had been driving for years before I ever drove an automatic. I’ve gotten a bunch of experience behind the wheel of an automatic since then, and I must say it reminds me a lot of Microsoft Word’s auto-formatting.

That is to say, I don’t like it.

With a manual transmission, you’re (more or less) in control of the car. With the exception of things like spark advance, which you’re legitimately better off letting an automatic system handle, you tell the car what to do. Barring outside forces, the car won’t start moving without you telling it to, and it certainly won’t change gears without your explicit say-so. The steering wheel, pedals, and shifter are present as tools, meant to make your life easier.

In contrast, driving an automatic relegates you to the position of a passenger, or perhaps more precisely a back-seat driver. You can make suggestions, and if you scream loud enough you can generally exercise veto power, but your control over everything but steering is indirect at best—the car often tells you what to do, instead of the other way around.

You control an automatic with the brake pedal, not the gas. Easing off the brake shouldn’t be interpreted as a signal to accelerate, unless you’re freewheeling downhill, which you probably shouldn’t be doing anyway.

I reserve the right to continue this rant in the future. I don’t like automatic transmissions. Working the clutch in stop-and-go traffic, as I’m now firmly convinced, is a small price to pay for a car that doesn’t think it’s smarter than you are. And I’d like to learn how to use a real camera, one that isn’t just a point-and-shoot “good enough” idiot box. (Though I love my idiot box, and it’s [basically] good enough.)


  • Laurel says:

    Re: cameras: it’s not very hard to learn to use an SLR, and definitely worth it. You should go for it.

    Re: word processors: I like Nisus Writer so very much, but I just realized it’s only available for Mac. Sorry. Word’s awful, though.

    Re: cars: Not driving at all is by far the least annoying.

  • Märt says:

    Re: cameras: I suppose I really should go for it, but I’d have to get a camera first.

    Re: word processors: I wonder if OpenOffice.Org is any good—I keep meaning to try it out. But lately my paper and essay writing has been minimal so I haven’t felt a need to. But if I used a Mac I’d certainly check out Nisus.

    Re: cars: Having lived in Manhattan for 4 years and Tartu for 1, I’m well acquainted with the joys of not driving ;)

  • Aili says:

    Oh stuff it.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Powered by WordPress with Hiperminimalist Theme design by Borja Fernandez.

Entries and comments feeds. Valid XHTML and CSS.