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James Heslin
I try not to be that guy, but it's really difficult sometimes.
I try not to be that guy, but it's really difficult sometimes.

James's posts

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Coding tip: Leave your code in a broken state

Here's a little practice I do. Before I take a break, or before I finish for the day, I like to leave code broken. As in, cannot compile. And with a note indicating what needs to be done next. This makes it easy to get into coding mode when you start again, because you have a direct goal instead of having to do a big planning session in your head.

The idea came from Richard Gabriel's "Patterns of Software", where he explains he always leaves his writing in the middle of a paragraph. I've done that quite often too, since reading that.

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Possibly the most ironic +1 I have ever given. But necessary.
I've been a Facebook user since the very early days, and today I've decided to quit. I'm outlining the main reason for anyone curious as to why. This is not about ownership of my data, it's also not about Timeline, or the IPO or the adverts. It's about the user experience.

Specific complaints will be numbered, to assist discussion.

In summary:

1: Lack of control over the data stream Facebook helps create
2: Silent removal of features
3: Forced adoption of new systems
4: Misguidance to potential correspondents
5: Essentially 3 and 4
6: Unreliability as an information system
7: Hostility to power users

- Messages and Data Control - 

This is not a question of 'who owns my data', while I'm generally against most useless IP laws, I understand and have no problem with granting Facebook usage rights to the material I upload, it's the price I pay for their hosting and distribution services.

My problem is the lack of control Facebook gives me over the data stream that it helps create. My Gmail account is a maze of labels, filters, automatic actions and other such mechanisms that control how I see my email, where I see it and how it's stored. I set each of these systems up for a particular reason, and they allow me to read and manage the large amount of email I receive effectively. Facebook provides no such features (1).

Worse, features which I previously used, such as 'email me a copy of each message and let me reply via email' have silently disappeared (2). The new system to alert senders that their message has been 'read' completely disrupts the way I work, was not something I agreed to and is not something I can disable (3). I like to glance at alerts, and reply when it suits me. I also like to keep the alert around until I take action on it, this means I can get to my inbox, see a list of things I need to reply to, do so, and then archive them. Since I've already gotten the alert I'm rarely surprised.

This is exactly how I work in Gmail, seemingly it's such a popular way to handle messages it even has a name: 'inbox zero'. Facebook's system is hostile to this way of working. The 'read' alert is Facebook sending a message to another user, regarding my actions, without my authorisation. That's not going to fly. In addition, since I don't work with messages the way it expects me to, it sends false signals to my correspondents, suggesting that I have deliberately not responded to them, when in fact a response is forthcoming at a time that suits me. If the message is unwanted, I definitely do not want that 'read' alert sent. Yet it will be. 

You'll find it is impossible to disable messaging altogether (4), meaning that I have no way of guiding people into sending me an actual email versus the internal messaging system. If I were to change email accounts, I could set up an auto-responder, or a forwarder easily. There are no such facilities in Facebook messaging. The only way I could post a notice to any would be correspondents is by changing my cover photo, hardly an appropriate solution.

Facebook recently introduced their Facebook mail addresses, automatically 'granting' ('foisting' is more accurate) each user a account. I did not ask for this. I do not want this (5). This confuses would-be-correspondents with additional options for contacting me, lesser options since the message won't go through my custom and reliable Gmail setup and will therefore be delayed or possibly missed. Yet it is there.

Facebook Messages does not have the search capability of Gmail. It does not have as good a user interface either. If I have content in messages that I wish to access, it becomes painful to access it. 

Facebook users sometimes change their names. I don't really understand why, but they do. This plays havoc with how I work as I can no longer find them. Their action has changed the working of my data interface. I put some data somewhere, and now it has changed, without alerting me. This is bad. (6).

The entire Facebook user interface is constantly changing, options are moved, added, and removed without any notice or explanation. My memory of where to change a particular setting is being invalidated, continuously (7). Many of these changes have the potential to cause accidental privacy breaches. Most infuriatingly, I have often rummaged for a setting I had customised, only to resort to Googling for it and discovering that it had been removed. Silent loss of functionality.

- Miscellaneous Complaints -

Following is a collection of other, more specific issues I have encountered. These in themselves were not significant enough to drive me away. That honour is entirely for the messaging system. Nonetheless, they are frustrating.

-- The 'Like' System --

I do not like it. I don't care how many people like a post, mine or someone else's. What does it matter? Should I crave likes? Use them as feedback on what I should post? What is the reasoning behind them? 

Websites, external to Facebook now have 'Like' buttons, which I often use. But why? And for what?

-- Photographs --

I'm a photographer, I take photographs for myself. To be able to share them with others is nice, but ultimately secondary. Facebook has seemingly unlimited photo hosting, which is nice. The photo interface is poor however, poor in uploading, poor in viewing, poor in sharing. I don't always want comments on my work, it adds visual clutter, and it's an entirely visual medium so that counts. I don't want the viewer's eye darting to the 'Like' counts, 'well done', 'great shot' comments, and the profile picture of their author. I'd like it to remain on the work. I certainly don't want anyone tagged. Yet all of this is there. I know it's not a photography gallery, but wouldn't it be nice? 

Why are all cover photos public? Why do I always have to scroll up a little to see them? Aren't they meant to be at the top of the page? 

In addition, why do public viewers see the count of the number of profile pictures in my profile pictures album, when they may only be able to actually view a subset of that total count?

Has anyone ever been pleased to have been tagged in a photograph? Or just relieved that it wasn't terribly embarrassing.

-- Frequent Profile Picture Changes --

I understand why, but it's still annoying. Especially if I'm using Facebook as a contact list. Same problem as (6). Gmail's contact system lets me assign an image to a contact. One that stays the same.

-- Search Interface --

It's poor. Google know the value of this, and have a lot of design time making the results interface look good. Facebook's results page looks terrible. The results themselves are equally poor. 

-- Automatically Inferring and Sharing My Location --

I'm familiar with Foursquare, I don't use it. If I want to share where I am I will do so, but IP address geolocation or GPS based location from mobile posts is not something I'm interested in. That it saves these and creates a map that others may see (presumably with controllable privacy) is also something I do not want. Did not ask for. Can not remove. 

-- Invitations to Events, and Subsequent Harassment --

I don't think Facebook was prepared for the switch in the usage of the events system. It went from a way to organise parties to a way to promote commercial events. I get a lot of these commercial invites from 'friends' who have some vested interest, that's fine, I'm okay with that. My issue is that I receive updates on these events, which I have not agreed to attend. These updates are the magnitude ramblings of the thousands of other people invited to this event, I don't know them, why would I care to see what they're saying?

I know I can 'unsubscribe' from the event, but I didn't subscribe in the first place. I don't want to RSVP, I want to ignore. I believe that's an option somewhere but any further action, such as updates, from an event I did not solicit is out of the question, and a constant source of annoyance in my notification list. 

-- Basic Info --

Have you looked at the 'basic info' Facebook asks? Your religion, your political views, the languages you speak, where you have, and are now living, what your favourite quotations are. Those are not so basic. Yes you can tweak them, but aspects like religion and politics are fundamentally mislabelled as 'basic'.

-- Facebook Chat --

It's all messages now, which I have discussed, but if I'm dropping in to skim a news feed or check on notifications I don't want to be ambushed by a friend that has suddenly noticed I'm online. "Sorry, can't stop to chat" isn't something we say too often in real life, but becomes a pretty common occurrence if you leave chat on. (I do not).

-- Unwanted or Surprise Friend Requests --

If I don't recognise the name, it would be helpful to view the person's profile to jog my memory. But I can't, because we're not friends. What I can do, is confirm the request, relegate them to a restricted list, hop into their profile, browse around, and either 'unfriend' them, or put them on a normal list. All of this must be done while they are not online, or things will get awkward. Especially if you have chat turned on. I don't know if this leaves an activity trail of 'Hugh is now friends with X'. This mechanism is terrible, and should be changed.

-- Notes --

What are notes for?

-- Sounds for Alerts --

This 'feature' was 'silently' (har, har) added recently. I normally browse Facebook with many tabs open. Each tab receives the same audio alert for the trivial action of someone 'liking' something I have posted. I did not ask for this. I was not asked about this. This does not suit my needs. At least I can turn it off. 

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Pre-alpha of my Pygame game engine is up on GitHub! Snazzy docs are in /html folder.

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Only fun if you like Doctor Who and Community, but in my group of friends that's not too rash an assumption.

Ten years ago today I came home from school and distinctly remember asking my mum why she was crying in the car.

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The Ennis Open Fair is on today from eleven AM to six PM.
Pretty busy already at ten. Who knew there were so many small businesses about the place?
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