Birders and Lists, Part II

This is the completion of yesterday’s post about computerized birding lists. And since we are writing about a piece of computer software, we’ll start with an axiom: All computer programs have to be written by computer programmers. There is nothing wrong with that. Sadly though, there is a corollary: Anyone who learns the languages of computer programming is no longer able to write intelligible English. Software manuals confirm this. Why this should be so is a mystery, but many laws of nature remain mysteries. Where is the “dark matter” in the Universe? What is it? What exactly is that “dark energy” the Universe is full of. Computer programming is, no doubt, an art and a science requiring intelligence, energy and creativity. But it comes with a price: A Faustian bargain requiring the programmer to sacrifice the ability to communicate intelligibly with the rest of us. Spend your days manipulating ones and zeroes and words will fail you.

Which brings us to AviSys. Here is a screen shot of it. main6cc.gifIt is a complicated program and it comes with a manual written by a programmer. 126 pages. You are invited to “dive in!” But Chapter One, “The Fundamentals” is almost half the book. By page 15 we ostensibly know how to produce 15 different kinds of bird lists and we’ve hardly begun. We’ve also read some interesting prose. Here, for example, is something from page 13,

In that case, if you want to be sure AviSys always
presents the “correct” life records when you ask to see them,
or when you ask “Which of the birds on that trip to Texas last
week were lifers?” enter a /? Attribute into the records of the
same life bird that were not the “real” life records.

Fifty-seven words in that sentence. Not only is the sentence unintelligible, it is misleading. It implies that you can ask AviSys questions in plain English which it will then answer. Not so. In the first place, you don’t ask questions of computer data bases, you “argue” with them. And you sure as hell don’t “argue” with your data base in plain ordinary English. Nope. Here is an example of an argument from the book. “Select my sightings of mature birds constructing nests in fresh water shore or marsh habitat.” Here is what you “argue” to the computer: “/NO/i/nc/FS/or/FM.” Want to find a list of “female birds seen brooding on nests in mountain coniferous forest above 3000 feet elevation?” No problem. Just type /f seen/nb in /MC at /L3. See how easy it is?

There is one clear English sentence in the book. It comes on page 71. It’s about the Help Button. It reads, “It’s always there to provide information — use it.” Sadly, the Help section also was written by a programmer. Then, just when you are getting the hang of things – say by page 95 of the manual – you read,

Important: Double quotes (“) in comments are replaced with single quotes (‘) to maintain file formatting integrity. Place and species names are not checked. If you have edited any of those names with double quotes you should remove them or replace them with single quotes before using the Export facility. Other software chokes on imbedded quotes during import.

We could go on, but you get the idea. It is best summed up by a quotation from the manual itself. It is expressed in the manual as “Blinn’s Fourth Law” and found at page 40. “When a program is designed so that fools can use it, only a fool would want to use it.”

That is known as “an imbedded insult.” You search for it with the command, /scr#*/yu.

Otherwise, it is a good program. Really. It is difficult to imagine a piece of birding data it would not record for you – after you learn the program. If only they would hire the modern day equivalent of Raymond Chandler to write a short, simple explanation of how to use it for us fools.  “Down these mean bytes must click a man who is not himself mean.”

Order from www.avisys.net or 1.800.354.7755 or 505.867.6255.

Another internet-less weekend is in the works for us so we’ll be back Monday to continue our series about birds and sex.

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