The Good, The Bad, and the Microsoft
The day job has been interesting in the Chinese curse sense, largely due to a certain software juggernaut’s less than ideal approach to documenting its software. To put it simply (for values of simple that a mostly non-technical audience will understand), after spending the better part of two weeks trying to use the software to do something all the marketing says you can do, in a way that all the marketing and the help documents say you can do, yesterday was the day I discovered that yes, you can indeed do all these things, as long as you don’t try to do all of them in the same system.
This is rather like telling a writer that yes, you can use this wonderful piece of software to write your books and set them up for e-publishing, and monitor your sales, while neglecting to mention that the sales monitoring module doesn’t work if you have the novel-writing module enabled, and you need to subscribe to the online e-publishing service to use that part because it’s not supported in the standalone version. And never actually making this clear in any of the documentation.
Yes, software documentation (otherwise known as “those bloody useless excuses for Help files”) does – or should – have a purpose. Its purpose is communicate. What software documentation should communicate is such things as how the software should be used, what it doesn’t do, and what you should not attempt to make it do lest you open a portal to Dread Ry’leh and the gibbering eldritch horrors contained therein decide to make a little tour of Earth, collecting souls along the way. Yours will certainly be the first one on the list, unless you, like me by the end of the day, have become a gibbering eldritch horror and started a soul collection of your own.
On the plus side, the novel-in-progress is past 50,000 words and still going strong. I’m at the first tipping point, with All Hell about to break loose and the tension is winding up nicely. In a few thousand words at most, an extremely one-sided battle will start, and run across multiple threads for the rest of the piece. It’s going to be a long, difficult ride…
So here’s a recent slice, completely out of context, just for the fun of it.
By the time Zofija walked her from her cabin to the armory to have her environment suit fitted, Lida was beginning to be comfortable with controlling the cabin’s functions through her phone. The link between it and the com meant she could take calls with the phone through a familiar interface as long as both were close.
If she thought of it as Bluetooth on steroids, she could make sense of the arrangement.
Trying to match protocols like that must be a nightmare. Some of the coworkers who worked with the UN software had complained about that kind of thing, and they were working with the same basic assumptions. Zofija’s offhand comment that Prussian scientific mathematics used ssirrissian numeric notation – in either base 16 or base 4 – left her wondering how any human managed, especially since regular mathematics used the typical human forms.
Medicine using tiruler notation and binary or octal did not help. Lida barely remembered how mathematics with different bases worked: Prussian Technologists and Hospitalers routinely converted between all five mathematical systems. The consequences of misidentifying the math system in use was enough to send ice cascading down her spine.
Zofija only laughed. “That is why ssirrissians dominate our sciences, as Brothers or citizens, and why tiruler dominate the medicinal arts. They have been working there far longer than humans.” She gave Lida’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. “We make better fighters and we’re capable of being good at most anything with the right training.”
The encouragement helped give Lida the courage to walk into the armory as though she wasn’t terrified of whatever kind of training Ceslaus would be throwing at her.
He grinned at her, apparently seeing through the facade without trying. “Lady Lida, welcome. I feared you might not wish to return.”
She offered the Prussian style equal-to-equal bow. As she understood things, she outranked everyone here except Friedrich, but this was the Clothier’s realm, and as such, she was silently telling him she accepted his sovereignty here when she did this.
American customs were so much simpler. Assume everyone is your equal as a person, shake hands, call them by name unless they tell you otherwise. She’d never joined the military so she lacked the automatic recognition of rank used there.
“I cannot say I am looking forward to this, Lord Ceslaus.” She spoke in a dry tone, but with as much of a smile as she could manage. “It must be done, so best to have it done quickly and correctly, yes?” That was one of Oma’s sayings, complete with the oh-so-Germanic ja? at the end of the sentence.
“Indeed so, Lady.” Ceslaus spread his hands in a gesture of innocence that failed to achieve anything resembling innocence. Him having the weathered appearance of an old sergeant, complete with faded scars, and the build of a tank rather overwhelmed everything else. “I apologize in advance for any missteps: it has been a long time since I needed to work with someone entirely untrained.”
“Of course.” Lida could understand that: she’d been told by a few people now that all Prussians were taught basic combat as part of their schooling, so that if it came to the worst they could all fight effectively. With an ever-present threat like the Dracaener, they’d likely have the social unity they needed to keep people willing to subject themselves to military training and command – not that she hand any illusions that the Order’s leaders were above using propaganda and indoctrination to keep their population willing.
If there was one thing that overrode everything else she’d seen about Prussians, it was that they were willing to do whatever they had to and atone for it later.
The environment suit looked like light armor, and felt like a mix of synthetic fabric and some kind of ceramic. The stand made it look as though it was a set of overlapping pieces, something she soon found was far from the truth.
Ceslaus patiently guided her through clipping each piece on, starting from the boots – sabatons that wrapped around her boots and left no visible seam where they closed or where they hinged. Those connected to greaves to cover her lower legs, and those in turn to poleyns, then cuisses. Each time Lida added a new piece of the suit correctly, it left no visible seam or hinge. The fit was snug without being uncomfortable.
The explanation, that the components of the suit had evolved from the armor of the founding Knights and the names for each component had simply been carried on to the corresponding pieces of more modern armor, helped Lida to see the point of something that had so many pieces. Apparently it was easier and cheaper to make armor that interlocked seamlessly than to make a single large suit, even though a faulty connection meant a dead wearer.
Not that she expected to be dealing with hard vacuum, but it was better to have the protection than not, especially when it was also capable of resisting Dracaener weapons. Not concentrated fire, of course, but stray shots would have no impact.
Once her legs were covered, Ceslaus had Lida run through a series of flexibility exercises to ensure the suit didn’t impact mobility in any way, then brought her back to the stand for the next phase of learning to put the suit on.