Driving in the U.K. as simple as your PC

“Too many roads in too small a space.” That’s what I was told when I finally arrived to my hotel near Glasgow after driving from Manchester. But did it have to be this way?

Expert knowledge is required to drive in the U.K. I am familiar with driving on the other side of the road so, after my 10-hour flight from Vancouver, I sat for a couple of minutes in the driver’s side of the rental car and let it all sink in. Stick shift? Over there. Radio tuner and CD player? Good. Rear view mirror? Over there, but looking very out of place. Control mechanism for the rear windshield wiper? Not a clue. Reverse gear? Always a tricky one. Good grief, don’t tell me I have to read the manual. Oh yeah … pretend you’re putting it into first gear and then slide up that ring thingy on the stick. How intuitive.

Finding your way to any point in the U.K. is not so much a matter of obtaining directions and following them, as it is collecting a variety of opinions (of varying quality) and synthesizing them into a consensus. Accuracy is always a wild card. Sounds like project management.

Furthermore, assumptions — even ones as basic as the acceleration of gravity is 9.8 m/s2 and water is wet — are made at your peril. For example, when I am told to find Trafford Road, and even have a map with the street clearly marked on it, it is unwise to expect an actual road sign.

To be fair, there was a road sign but only after a variety of turns had inextricably committed you to being on Trafford Road. I wanted to write to the Manchester city council and suggest that the first road sign on Trafford Road be changed to “Congratulations on finding Trafford Road.”

But what does this have to do with software? No one would describe Windows or any of the Office products as lean, tightly written or streamlined. ‘Bloated’ is used in the press and over-engineered is a term I apply to Outlook … along with some other epithets.

It’s like the roads in the U.K. Not only did they pave the cow paths, but they must have also had a lot of cows. In the case of an Office product, there are too many features on the pull down menu; Microsoft’s solution is to hide the ones you haven’t used recently.

This is like taking down the road sign for Trafford Road just because not enough people take that route. Part of why it’s hard to teach people Windows products is because of too many choices. In Word you can set up a table of data in several different ways using a combination of mouse clicks and keyboard shortcuts. People have their opinions as to the fastest way to create a table, but all that really means is that it’s the fastest way they can do it.

This principle holds true in obtaining directions from people. “Why did you direct me to The Flaming Bastard Tulip Hotel (name changed for legal and comedic reasons) via Old Trafford when the guy at the filling (gas or ‘petrol’) station advised me to take the Trafford Centre exit off the motorway?”

The answer you receive will be a delusional lie, but loosely translates to: “I’ve never taken that route before; my way is therefore faster because it would take longer for me to go an unfamiliar way.”

My only conclusion is that I wish I hadn’t gone on that trip because every time I use Windows, I can’t help but think of driving around and around and around that damn roundabout wondering where the hell the road signs went.

Ford is a consultant in Vancouver who recommends traveling in places with road signs. Robert@quokkasystems.com.

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