% fortune -ae paul murphy

It's obvious, therefore it's true

I just demonstrated my status as a luddite by buying a used Sony CD-500 camera specifically to get my pictures directly on a CD instead of having to worry about airport and other x-ray devices affecting memory stick storage. As coincidence would have it, therefore, I happened to be thinking about the MacOS X vs Vista question while idly flipping through the camera manual - and something I found there led me to think about the general question: can a billion people be wrong?

Part of the answer, of course, is that where the mass media get involved in opinion leadership they tend to select only those things about an issue that fit their own political viewpoint and so you usually get a resounding yes simply because the public has no other usual sources of information.

Everybody knows, for example:

  1. That we eat fat. That being fat (or having some kinds of fat in your blood) is bad. And therefore that eating fat is bad.

  2. That human activity releases greenhouse gases. That there appears to be a world wide warming trend. And therefore that the warming trend is bad and that Americans are responsible.

  3. That cell phones and other wireless devices emit high frequency energy. That only Mossad targets have been known to drop dead on turning one on. And therefore that high frequency emissions are harmless.

These are all gross simplifications filtered to support pre-existing opinions and then sold to an unsuspecting public. Thus the first one exemplifies magical thinking: coincidence taken as causation despite the absence of mechanism; the second one combines hypocrisy and wishful thinking with a carefully cultivated ignorance of inconvenient truths including similar warming trends taking place on other planets and in our own past; while the third one asserts the impossible: that a negative has been proven.

And in that same vein we keep hearing the claim that Windows must be the best available desktop because vastly more people use it rather than either Linux or MacOS X. Great, except that there's no actual evidence being presented - just the assumption that other people's decisions must have been based on real evidence and the chicken and egg effect of suppliers catering to the mass market preferentially providing software for Windows.

In other words, what's fundamentally wrong here is the same thing that characterises the three examples of media supported illusion mentioned above: wishful thinking, fact filtering, and the confusion of causation with consequence.

The real evidence, whether on fat consumption, global warming, radiological emissions, or Windows points the other way - and that brings me back to Sony's camera manual. Page 91 of this manual starts a section entitled "Copy images into your computer using a USB connection."

For Windows, Sony tells you to first install "PTP manager" - that takes ten steps and a reboot, along with nearly two pages to explain. Next you install "ImageMixer" -and do another reboot. Once you're all set-up, copying images requires you to traverse four (6 with XP auto play) screens, clicking next each time. In total it takes Sony a bit over five pages to get through the PC process.

And the Mac process detailed on the upper left corner of page 97?

  1. Connect your camera to your computer
  2. Connect the USB cable
  3. Copy the images using image capture

Note that there are actually only two steps here: connect the USB cable and tell imagecapture where to put the images, and whether to work silently and in the background the next time the cable gets plugged in.

So, can two hundred million Windows users be wrong? Kind of a no brainer isn't it?

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specialising in Unix and Unix-related management issues.