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Why can't computer systems stop trying to guess what I want (and often failing)

edited 2014-07-15 13:14:29 in Tech

I just got a new cell phone.

The contacts were uploaded from my old phone.

The new phone apparently guessed (correctly) that I had my contacts listed in Lastname Firstname order.  (I say "apparently" because I'm not sure if this is what happened, but it seems to be the case.)

However, it forces all contacts to be in Firstname Lastname format.  I do have the option of displaying Lastname first, which then causes them to be displayed generally correctly.  However, it still misparses some things.  For example, I used to have a number with the name "Toshiba Tech Support".  This got ported over as the name "Tech Support Toshiba".  When I ask it to display Lastname first, it instead says "Toshiba, Tech Support".

When I try to change the name, it only says "Tech Support Toshiba" -- it implicitly believes that that has separate Lastname and Firstname fields, but doesn't show them as separately editable.  If I change the name to "Toshiba Tech Support", it thinks that Support is the Lastname, and then display-by-Lastname becomes "Support, Toshiba Tech".

For my phone, this is actually relatively mild of a problem.  This is because I've already pre-labeled all my contacts Lastname first, and there are only a few oddballs.  For my mom's phone, however...you get strange phenomena like "& Jill Jack" for a contact previously known as "Jack & Jill".


Computers, please stop trying to guess what my needs are.  I understand the technology.  Just do whatever it is I ask you to do, and stop trying to be too smart by half.  Please.  It just makes things worse.

Programmers, please stop making programs that do this.  Or at least make it possible to turn it off.  Because it's really freakin' annoying.


  • edited 2014-07-15 13:56:54
    a little muffled

    Heh, I've meant to make this thread a couple of times after my run-ins with this sort of thing. "Do what I mean" never works, period. The canoical example is this one, of course.

    For what it works, programmers rarely build this kind of functionality into programs meant for their own use or for other programmers, so I'd suggest that it's largely managers who are responsible for this.

  • BeeBee
    edited 2014-07-17 00:41:25

    For the record, us programmers are usually ordered to do "usability" changes.  We rarely have much say in the matter once a UI lead has spoken unless it would cause significant stability or performance problems.

    This particular case though seems like inconsistent standards as industries develop.  IIRC it's standard practice by now to display contact lists by first name -- at least in situations where the list is expected to be short (phone contacts) or searchable (Outlook contacts).  It gets kludged back to last-first a lot in longer catalogs where you're expected to interface with older DBs or have duplicate names.

  • “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl

    For the record, us programmers are usually ordered to do "usability" changes. We rarely have much say in the matter once a UI lead has spoken unless it would cause significant stability or performance problems.

    I've noticed this kind of thing a lot: people want to blame bad design decisions on "programmers" without realizing that programmers themselves are only one of several groups that contributes to the final product.

  • BeeBee
    edited 2014-07-17 22:31:01

    You're also starting to see a lot of databases start to abandon two-name schemata altogether, because there's really not much point for it in most cases and it makes you keep an extra superfluous index to have good search performance.  So this might have been a hidden format conversion.

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