Daily Archives: April 11, 2011

Things that are broken because we fixed them

A lot of things are broken because we fixed them. Somewhere out there is a web site that specializes in listing these things; Please let me know if you have a link, I can’t find it at the moment. There is a web site that specializes in these things called “This is Broken” run by Set Godin (see video below). Anyway, it is annoying when some advancement causes something to not work. And it is especially annoying when the advancement is something that specifically should cause something to be improved in a certain direction and instead it gets unproved, er, messed up in that direction.

Examples are myriad but I’ll give you just a couple here.

I just looked up “Zoonosis” in Wikipedia because I wanted to see if I could get a quick and dirty list of diseases that we get from domesticated animals to throw on a slide I’m making for a lecture. If I cared a lot about this I’d go get a PhD in the subject and then make the ultimate perfect and most authoritative possible slide, but what I really want to do is to make sure that the list I already have in my head does not have anything obvious missing or wrong, and I want to do that without standing up and walking across the room to dig out any of a dozen books or thirty or fourty papers I have on shelves or in file cabinets, or search through my hard drive or Google Scholar for the 20 or 30 electronic or on line references that would be embedded among or mixed up with stuff I did not want, in order to spend two hours researching and verifying.

And on the Wikipedia page for Zoonosis there is a list of animals that are implicated in human diseases. It looks like this:


Now, in theory, since this is the internet and this is an encyclopedia of sorts I’m looking at and information should be all organized and stuff, I should be able to click on “cattle” (for example) and get a list of cattle related diseases sometimes transmitted to humans.

That would be good. But no. What I get when I click on “cattle” is the wikipedia page on cattle, on which there is no information about diseases transmitted to humans. Information Technology Fail.

One could argue that making the Wikipedia page on Zoonosis half-baked is somehow the correct thing to do, and I’m sure there are those who will. They’d be wrong. This is not the time and place for Wikipedia to tell me it has a page on cows. Jeesh. It is the time and place to give me organized information, that it knows about and probably has somewhere.

A second example is different structurally and while the wikipedia zoonosis example may be flawed, this one is not. If you use Netflix you will probably know what I’m talking about the moment I mention the word “series” or the phrase “tv series.” Series …. like “House” or “Betwitched” or “MI-5” or “Law And Order: Criminal Intent” are things where there is one name (given just now) followed by another phrase such as “season 1” and then “season 1” and so on. Then, within a season, there is “episode 1” and “episode 2” and so on, and often those episodes are named. So there may be a series called “Murder on the Maya Riviera” which ran for three seasons and included episodes such as “Murder on the Maya Riviera: Season 2, Episode 7 ‘Killer Coral'” and an episode called “Murder on the Maya Riviera: Season 3, Episode 1 ‘Pedro is not Dead'” and so on.

Netflix does recognize that episodes are grouped into seasons (but see below) but it does not recognize that a series has multiple seasons. So, when looking at a set or list of items from a series, you can’t always tell what you are looking at because of truncation of the absurdly long names that result from this hierarchical structure. You can’t tell “Murder on the Maya Riviera: Episo…” from “Murder on the Maya Riviera: Episo….” See what I mean?

Also, when searching for or otherwise managing such things, it would simply be easier if the entity that is the series was considered as one thing. There are complexities in doing this (i.e., earlier episodes are available on instant view, others on DVD only, etc.) but that is really unimportant. Such complexities can be managed. Honestly. They can be.

(Note: DVD only series are not grouped by year … they are subgrouped because a typical DVD holds only a few episodes. This adds to the length of the actual naming of the item, and to further annoying confusion.)

There’s more. There’s lots more stuff that’s got broken when it got fixed. One could develop an entire web site on this topic. In fact, some guy did. Here’s his Ted Talk.