Advocacy

You’re undoubtedly familiar with `OS wars’ and `editor wars’ in which partisans of various pieces of computer software argue over which is best. If not, here’s a short summary:

One person will disparage software X, pointing out a feature F and complaining that is it a big problem. Partisans of X will reply in one of three ways:

The poke-in-the-eye-with-a-sharp-stick answer: “Well, Y sucks even worse!” (Not really to the point.)

The best-of-all-possible-worlds answer: “Well, that’s the price you pay for G and H.” (Begs the
question of whether you couldn’t have G and H even without F.)

The that’s-not-a-bug-it’s-a-feature answer: “What’s wrong with F? F is GREAT!” It is this last answer that is the basis for the game of Advocacy.

Advocacy goes like this: An apparently stupid variation or feature of a common technology is selected; either it is drawn from a book of examples specially prepared for this game, or one of the players just makes one up.

The example is announced to the rest of the players. The formula is:

“On the version of X that I use, it is like Y instead of the more usual Z. This is much better than the usual arrangement because…”

The other players anonymously contribute reasons why Y is good and Z is bad. Players vote on the `best’ (most ingenious, most absurd, etc.) reasons. The owner of the best reason gets a reward and possibly gets to select the next technology feature.

For example: “On my keyboard, the numbers keys are in the order 8642019753. This is much better than the usual 1234567890 because…”

  • …because the commonly typed digits in the calendar year, 19 and 20, are always right under your index fingers.
  • …because the labor of typing the digits is distributed evenly between the two hands, instead of being given more to the left hand than to the right.
  • …because if you mispress a key, the resulting digit is always quite different from the one you should have pressed, making it more likely that the error will be detected—except in the 1/0 case. But often the transposition of a 0 with a 1 is often in a number like 1,000,000, where it will be quite obvious.

No doubt the ingenious readers of this page will be able to come up with better justifications.

I find this particular example very funny; I’m sure with just a little effort, one could come up with a hundred examples that are much more amusing. For example:

  • All the commands in my operating system are made of punctuation characters only, rather than of letters.
  • The disk drives on my computer lose all the information stored on them when you turn off the power.
  • My computer is controlled by foot pedals instead of a keyboard…
  • The school of therapy to which my analyst subscribes believes that the best path to mental health is to re-enact the source of the patient’s trauma in the doctor’s office…
  • To type an extended command in my favorite editor, you must hold down one key with your left pinky while typing a multi-word sequence of letters with the other fingers.
  • The seat on my bicycle faces backwards instead of forwards…
  • My diet consists only of raisins and frankfurters…

(Experienced players are invited to spot the ringer in the list above.)

Thanks to Mark-Jason Dominus for this wonderful game.  He also runs an ongoing mailing-list Advocacy game from his site.  For information on how to join it, and for other tidbits such as a gameplay examples, see his site!