Seven Stupid Computing Problems We Will Apparently Never Fix

Posted by: Rea Maor In: Humor - Sunday, July 4th, 2010

Sure, there are problems in computer science which are inherently difficult to solve and may never be solved even by our top engineers and professors. We’re not talking about those. We’re talking about stuff we know how to solve, stuff that doesn’t even count as needing “solving”, and we just keep being stupid about them anyway.

Email Spam

Obvious solution: Universal death penalty for spam.

Does everybody hate spam? Does it get you really, really angry? Does it get everybody you know angry? Don’t we all spend hours and days every year arguing in forums about what to do about it? Finally, isn’t this one crime which is easily identified and the detection of which would never produce a false positive? Police can use your IP address to pin you down in a matter of minutes should you commit any of a dozen other crimes online, but somehow you can send 40,000 emails per hour and nobody can find you. We have hundreds of laws making it illegal to do things like take drugs or watch naughty movies or other things which most people don’t care about. But we’ll never simply fix spamming.

Character Sets / Text Encoding / Universal Fonts

Obvious solution: Implement Unicode right. Install 10,000 fonts on each computer at the factory. Bake it in at the hardware level.

Display text! Just… text! What’s so hard about this? We have factories embedding a font and character set into the computer already – it’s called “BIOS” and it has a standard language and monospace character set embedded in the motherboard. When you turn a computer on, this is what it uses to display those first boot messages, along with the extra screens you get should you enter BIOS configuration. So why can’t we just make that a Unicode character set and BE DONE WITH IT??? No more black-diamond-with-a-question-mark on web pages, no more not being able to display the different kinds of quotes and apostrophes, no more having to redeclare your locale and download a codec and font set just to read two languages – if you could even read this, you have experienced a miracle of being able to display the text correctly which the web still gets wrong daily!

Markup Languages

Obvious solution: Oh, just quit being stupid!

If you “view source” on this page, you’ll find HTML, CSS, and Javascript at the most basic. Things like Actionscript to run the Flash banner and perhaps some XML to make it AJAX-y. From the server side, what you can’t see, that’s an addition of PHP to render the whole page, and a side helping of SQL to retrieve the data to go into the page… Did you keep count? That’s seven languages to display ONE web page!!! I’m flabbergasted. There’s languages like C and Python that can handle all of that at once. Aliens from space, examining how we send communication back and forth using this system, would conclude that we are idiots incapable of making toast without setting ourselves on fire.

Software Bloat

Obvious solution: Write smaller, simpler programs.

Nope, can’t have that! Thirty years ago, we were screaming for more powerful computers to run the 5-megabyte programs we had then. Today, we’re screaming for new computers to run the 5-gigabyte programs we run now. We still use the same features we used thirty years ago; the only thing changed is how much memory it takes to do the same thing.

Profitable Streaming Media

Obvious solution: Charge a regular subscription; all-you-can-download.

This is another one of those “What’s so hard about this?” problems. You pay a regular subscription for newspapers, magazines, cable television, and so on… there are some music and media services online beginning to wake up to this, but still the whole web is this big snarled up mess of sites that can’t make a profit, sites that want too much profit, and other site stealing content from the first two groups and sharing it for free.


Obvious solution: Just follow them.

Isn’t it amazing how many standards we have, for everything from RSS to compilers, and nobody follows them in the tiniest, most coincidental way? Why, why, why do we write them?

Getting Users To Learn Anything

Obvious solution: Read the manuals.

Isn’t it amazing how many computer books we have on the shelves at the bookstores and libraries, with everything from Email for Dummies to passing your A+ Certs, and we still have users going “How do I computer?” Why, why, why do we bother to write them?

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