So let us for a moment step outside the domain of IS, and talk about -- the telephone company.

I live on the western fringe of the Ft. Worth - Dallas Metromess. During my travels about, I deal regularly with five different area codes:
940 (where I live)
817 (Fort Worth and immediate environs)
214 (South and downtown Dallas and surroundings)
972 (North Dallas, i.e. where most of the technoids live)
903 (East Texas, where my mother lives)

My home phone (798 exchange, Sprint-United) has Extended Calling Area (ECA), i.e. I pay a flat fee for access to some exchanges that would otherwise be toll calls. My work phone (325 exchange, Southwestern Bell) does not have ECA. From both phones, some 817 numbers are "local" (non-toll) and some are toll calls; however, they don't have the same set. This sort of arrangement is common in all exchange areas.

So to call my ISPs secondary access number, from home I dial 817 341 xxxx. That's a local (ECA) call, so it goes through fine. If I try that from work, I get

You must first dial a ONE or a ZERO to complete this call. Please hang up and try your call again.

On the other hand, if I dial 1 817 341 xxxx from home, I get

We're sorreee, your call cannot be completed as dialed. Please check the number and try your call again.

What can we say about this arrangement? Well --

1. It addresses a very real problem.
Giving everybody who needs or wants a line a separate and distinct number is hard anyway, and keeping track of which calls are toll and which flat-fee on top of that is tough. If you complete a toll call when the caller made a mistake, the result ranges from irritation through chargebacks to lawsuits; if you don't charge toll where possible, you lose money (pause while CEOs take their heart medicine.)
2. It exemplifies the Extended Winston Smith Rule.
If the 1 is required, leaving it out is an error. If the 1 is not required, including it is an error. That is, to everything not required is forbidden we add ...and vice versa.
3. If an error is made, the only way out is to start over.
"...and try your call again." That is, RRR.
4. The user has a "simple" alternative.
There are a bit more than 800 valid exchange numbers (out of a thousand three-digit codes.) So if I can remember which exchanges are valid and which aren't (a thousand possibilities), and which exchanges can call each other for a flat fee (roughly 700,000 combinations) in each of five area codes, and whether or not each exchange has ECA, then by memorizing a mere seven million combinations or so, I can always avoid getting the error message -- assuming, of course, that I know the exchange number of the phone I'm calling from, which may not be trivial in the case of e.g. a pay phone.
5. If the luser doesn't choose the "simple" alternative, he or she is to be assaulted and/or insulted.
The singsong superciliousness of the recording makes it clear that We're sorreeee... is a damn lie (the technique L. Neil Smith refers to as "punctuating the sentence with an asshole.") Furthermore, the warning tone is one of the most irritating sounds ever created by human beings and/or their machines; I'm sure the inventor of it is very proud, and possibly got an award of some kind for it, but if I ever find out the name and "usual haunts," he or she better be extremely wary of battered brown Ford pickup trucks.
6. It seems to the user that thousands of programmers and umpteen gazillion dollars' worth of computers ought to be able to do better.
Offhand I can think of two things that would improve this:
  1. Make the sound less obtrusive. A simple beep would be entirely sufficient.
  2. <beep> This is a toll call. If that's OK, press 1. If you misdialed, try again. Would that really be so hard?

This constitutes what I call the Classic DP Solution. How does it relate to IS now?

A little while ago I posted a comment to IWE, the content being the n2th complaint that the command-line utilities of *nix are confusing, inconsistent, and un- or perhaps anti-mnemonic. Another participant kindly posted a reply, reminding me of the existence of alias, and its use to rename the commands to something more convenient or newbie-friendly. He also recommended a useful book for reference.

But -- you don't know anything about me, bar that I'm on the internet and a wise-ass. Let me take on a persona, and see what you think --

Let's see, Generate a Personal Legend...

/usr/local/legend/NewOne>gpl -ckfu `random | person.sort -f`
?????unknown command, file, or type of cheese?????
*****redo from start*****
No, you idiot, it's Legend Generate PLayer. Nuts...
/usr/local/legend/NewOne>lgpl -ckfu `random | person.sort -f`
?????bad option or lunar phase 'c'?????
*****basically I just don't want to do this*****
*****redo from start*****
Damn. Case sensitive, right.
/usr/local/legend/NewOne>lgpl -Ckfu `random | person.sort -f`
!!!!!damn, you got it right!!!!!
!!!!!and only three tries, too!!!!!
!!!!!wait 'til next time, though!!!!!
Hi there! My name is Laurie Womack, and I have a BA in English Literature from NYU, with a minor in Medieval History.

I'm lucky as Hell, and I know it. I have an actual job that doesn't involve either fried meat or taking my clothes off and has something to do with my degree. I read, proofread, and edit slushpile submissions for a publisher of bodice-ripper romantic fiction, and I just got a raise to $12.50 an hour.

My boyfriend makes $9.65 and tips at the Lebanese restaurant, which comes out to about the same as I make total, so between the two of us we can afford an apartment that's pretty nice -- or, well, there aren't too many rats and the cockroaches go away when the lights are on, so it isn't too bad.

Now, what you think I ought to do is --

I take the crosstown bus to Brentanos. Assuming I survive that, I go to the computer department (I've never been over there) and buy a book that costs half a day's salary, on a subject I know nothing about and find crashingly boring, then try to get it home.

Assuming I survive that, I figure out what the commands do now, invent a set of commands that do what I want, and put in all the aliases and test them. Of course, since I don't know jack about computers to start with, I don't really know what I want or might want to do, so I'll probably have to do it over again two or three times. In the meantime, my employer will of course be understanding that I'm fixing the computer instead of doing my job. Since I'm starting from scratch, it could take anywhere from three months to a couple of years to finish.

When I get done, I'll have my computer just the way I want it. Of course, if I go to Jennifer in the next cubicle, she'll have a completely different set, so I won't be able to do anything with my wonderful new commands. But of course, in the process I will have memorized the original ones, so I can use those.

Does anything in that sound unreasonable to you?

Well, yes, Laurie, it sounds unreasonable. You shouldn't have to deal with all that stuff, so what we're going to do is install this nice new NetComputer[TM]. It has this real simple GUI, see, you don't have to learn geekspeak, and all your files get kept on the central server, so you won't lose data any more.
Cool! Sounds like just what I need! Thanks!
Don't mention it.
Uh, wait a minute. Where do the floppies go?
Well, Laurie, you don't put floppies in it. Floppies are bad. They bring in all kinds of viruses and other garbage, you know? It isn't safe.
Oh, I see. Well, OK, but I get one or two floppies a day with stories on, from prospective authors, see? And I have to read them. How do I do that?
You give them to the System Administrator. He'll check them for viruses and so on, and set them up so you can read them.
OK, where's the System Administrator? I have this floppy here. It's from an author in the UP of Michigan, and I've already read the two chapters she sent printed out, and it looks pretty good, and we really need to have something by next Tuesday, so I need to get this on the system.
Uh, the Sysadmin is on vacation.
On vacation? Good for him. When does he get back?
Uh, next Wednesday.
OK, I'll do it myself. Where do I put it?
Oh, you can't do that. You don't have the system password, and the server room is locked up anyway.
Shit. Oh, well, who else can do it for me?
The assistant Sysadmin. She'll be back at nine tomorrow morning.
And lose a whole day? Shit. Oh well...
Hi, this is Laurie, up in Editorial. Are you the assistant sysadmin?
Oh, good. You know that floppy I sent you? I need to read it on my machine.
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