An Open Letter to All Software Developers,

I don’t like changing, shifting, cutsie, idiotic date formats, and I don’t like rounding off much either.

Many systems that provide information on date and time make unwrarented and embarrassingly stupid assumptions about what you want to know. In Movable Type, the system designers assume that if a post is set up for the future by a few days, that I don’t care what time of day it is scheduled for. WTF is that all about??? A scheduled post for two hours from now is listed with the date/time “2 hours from now” but a post scheduled for 48 hours from now is listed as “2 days from now.” Do they not think that I care what time a post on my blog is made public?

Even worse, and for Moveable type, I’d call this a bug because it is just plain wrong, is this: If Post A is coming out in two days, and Post B in three days, and the current time is two days before the midpoint in time between Post A plus Post B, then Moveable Type might say “2 days” for both posts. This looks like both of these posts are coming out on the same day. Fer’instance, if it is now Tuesday, I think (silly me) that “two days from now” is Thursday. If you tell me something is going to happen in two days from now, I think “OK, Thursday.” Then, if you tell me right away that a different thing is also going to happen two days from now, I still think “OK, Thursday.” I can do that all day. See what I’m saying?

With blog posts, I am very interested to know what hour something happens, no matter how far into the future. The older version of Moveable Type had a “batch editor” that allowed me to see and edit a spreadsheet-like form with day and time for each recent or scheduled post all on one page. The new version (4.x) of Movable type does not appear to have this. Correct me if I’m wrong, please. But if I’m not wrong, this is clear evidence that some software designers are just not getting what at least some of us are using this “date and time” variable for. We are not playing around here. We want our data.

I see a similar thing in Evolution, the email client. when I go backwards in time, the date format changes from a time and nothing else, to “Yesterday [time]” to the day of the week and the time, to a calendar date. Why does Evolution think that I have different concepts of scale as time shifts? Why not just have one format, which I can adjust to my liking, and stick with that one format!?!? I mean, seriously, I MIGHT have difference concepts of time as scale shifts. That is how life MIGHT work under some circumstances, but not always for all people under all circumstances. The user should be empowered to make that decision, not some kid in Peoria with a c compiler.

Technorarti is even worse. Technorati uses designators like “A while ago” or “some time in the past.” Morons.

There needs to be a law that all date and time data are taken seriously and not sillified with these odd monikers.

Comments

  1. #1 Woody Tanaka
    February 26, 2009

    Outlook is bad, too. In the inbox, anything from today gets just the time. Anything from “last week” gets the day (not the date) and the time. Anything from before last week gets the day and the date, but not the time.

    Stupid and pointless. Is it so difficult to just put the day, date and time on all of them? No. So do it.

  2. #2 Heraclides
    February 26, 2009

    Even Eudora does this to some extent, although in a way that I’m OK with and in any event they have a Preference to set it to a “fixed” date format, which brings up my point: surely they have preference for this…?

    (Eudora’s default is time; day + time; date + time, in order <24 hours, 24 hours+, >week. Time is always there.)

    Personally, I’m surprised that few used a shorter display of the day to make things shorter.

  3. #3 kevin
    February 26, 2009

    And have you asked the developers to add an option so that it uses some kind of fixed date format at all times? A lot of those things are open source. Which you are supposed to be all cool with.

    And you know what, screw that. Lots of us like the relative scaling effect. The developers wrote it for themselves, not you, so they wrote it the way they want it. If you want it different, go write something yourself, or contribute to the code, or go ask them very nicely if you can buy them a beer and have them add your feature.

  4. #4 chezjake
    February 26, 2009

    I’m with you, Greg. That’s one of the good reasons I use Thunderbird for mail.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    February 26, 2009

    Kevin, don’t be a moron. Here I am writing my feature request on my blog for the whole freaken world to see and for people to comment on. This is much more effective than buying some 14 year old pimplyfaced geek coder a beer. And more legal.

    Obviously, this should be an option. Maybe it is an option. Maybe I just don’t know how to turn it on. Or off.

  6. #6 Silver Fox
    February 26, 2009

    I agree that an option for a fixedor scaled date/time setting of one’s choice would be nice. To find out when my scheduled posts in Blogger are going to post if it isn’t sometime today, I have to go into edit mode to check it.

    Haven’t contacted Blogger about this, yet.

  7. #7 kevin
    February 26, 2009

    Ah, I see you are trying to buy the coders off with, um, encouragement and thanks? Because the “whole freaken world” reads your blog, I’m sure the coders will see it just as soon as school is out for the day and they can, um, check in with the offices in Tokyo, Paris and New York.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    February 26, 2009

    My my, are we cranky today?

  9. #9 Su
    February 26, 2009

    On the entry listing screen: Display Options -> Date Format -> Full

    …will get you a date but space doesn’t allow for a full timestamp in the UI. It’d take a pretty trivial transformer plugin or alt-tmpl to add, though. I’ve done this in the past. Talk to your MT admin person.

    The new version (4.x) of Movable type does not appear to have this. [the batch editor] Correct me if I’m wrong, please.

    You’re wrong *grin*
    Same screen. Select your entries. Then More actions(just above the listing) -> Batch edit entries
    The page documenting this(among other things) seems to be running afoul of a rewrite rule at the moment, but linked for your reference. The matching doc for Pages will work for now. See the section near bottom about editing in bulk.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    February 26, 2009

    You’re wrong *grin*

    Thank you thank you thank you!!!!!!

    Yes, it works, and one gets to select the entries to act on, so you can with a few additonal clicks skip the already published items, fer instance.

    :) :) :) :) :)

  11. #11 Su
    February 26, 2009

    Oops. Forgot to link the Pages doc. Here you go.

  12. #12 Dunc
    February 27, 2009

    You know what really pisses me off? When developers assume that everyone in the world uses that stupid American month/day/year date format. Heck, I’ve seen code that would crash when run under any different locale, because the developers were using the culture-sensitive ToString() method and then manipulating the resulting string on the assumption that it was culture-invariant and always in US format. There’s a perfectly good means of getting the various date components from a DateTime instance without all that stupid mucking about with strings, you morons!

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    February 27, 2009

    I use year, month, day because it is the only correct format.

  14. #14 Jason
    February 27, 2009

    Do I understand correctly that this was a long screaming rant, full of abusive language towards programmers, about the lack of a feature that you just didn’t even really look for? Wow. Just wow. I love the Africa stories, the Franken updates, science-related topics, etc., but these technology posts just seem to be increasingly (insert exasperated but trying not to be offensive adjective).

  15. #15 Greg Laden
    February 27, 2009

    No, Jason, you are not being meta enough in your analysis. It is still the case that most date streams default to the silly version, it is still the case that most date representations are not adjustable, and it is still the case that the silly version being the default is insulting and annoying. And this is an exemplar of a broader problem, that over time in almost any development environment, but especially commercial ones where marketing is the tail wagging the dog, this sort of thing creeps in as soon as one no longer needs new features because the basic problem being addressed by the software has been solved.

    Besides … Me? Rant?

  16. #16 Dunc
    February 27, 2009

    How did Verity Stob put it? “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a simple application in possession of a stable feature set must be in want of an upgrade.”

    Another thing that really annoys me is that we seem to have gone from viewing UI stability as A Good Thing™, to feeling that we have to completely re-work the UI every other release just so that people feel they’ve got something for their upgrade dollars.

  17. #17 Greg Laden
    February 27, 2009

    That has surely been the problem with Windows (and Mac) but not Linux.

    But I’m afraid it may start to be the problem with Linux.

    But there’s always emacs.

  18. #18 Dunc
    February 27, 2009

    Just you wait. Once Linux takes over the desktop, the marketing suits will be all over you too. ;)

  19. #19 Aaron Luchko
    February 27, 2009

    @kevin

    As someone who writes open source software I’m in agreement with Greg.

    Clearly not every user has the time or capabilities to modify a package. If I put out a piece of software I have a certain moral responsibility to support the users who have invested time and effort in my project. I’m not talking free tech support but if there’s a feature that’s easy for my to do, useful for a lot of people, but slightly outside my personal usecase, I should put it in anyways.

    If I waste their time investment with dumb bugs or features they’re fully justified in griping.

    In this case it looks like the feature actually existed which makes sense. The one thing I really like with open source is if a bug really pisses you off, even if you do have the capabilities to fix it, it probably also pisses off someone who does have the capabilities and they will fix it.

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