Note: Anything in the following that might remotely resemble an opinion is mine and mine alone, and reflects neither the stuff nor the things of the Microsoft Corporation, its subsidiaries, associates, customers, antitrust investigators, or anyone who ever has or has not actually heard of the company.
A while back, somebody sent us a fax. Faxes, or facsimile transmittals, for the cognoscenti, all go to one place at Microsoft, and are then routed individually thanks to the tireless efforts of our crack team of certified faxographists. If a fax isn’t specifically addressed to an employee by name, sometimes it takes a little while to find the right person, but, eventually, they get there.
(Postal mail works the same way … the customer who sent back their boxed copy of Combat Flight Simulator 3 to "Microsoft" with a piece of paper taped to it that read "won’t download" with no other identifying information would be happy to know that it arrived on my desk just about one week after it was sent. This timeliness is appreciated on my end as well, since the sooner something like that arrives, the sooner I can start spending weeks and weeks frowning at it, wondering exactly what it is I’m supposed to do about it.)
Anyway, so I got this fax from someone who identified themselves as a pilot and Flight Simulator customer who had some questions about our latest release related to an upcoming book that he’ll be self-publishing and selling out of a van down by the river. Click the thumbnail to see the actual fax, censored so I can take the moral high ground and avoid a lawsuit.
I made the call, and it was answered promptly by a reasonable-sounding gentleman who seemed glad that I was able to make the time to contact him.
He was right, it was brief. Of his promised 3-5 minutes, he spent three of them berating me for the fact that a company as high-tech as Microsoft had to rely on something as archaic and "totally 1975" as a fax. He was wondering why he hadn’t been able to simply reach us directly by phone, a method that I didn’t point out is archaic and "totally 1876". I did, however, suggest that he could have gone to our website and clicked the link to send us an email, something that might be charitably referred to as "fairly 1995 or so", at which point he changed the subject.
The subject to which he changed was a question of realism. He said a few kind things about our products and the time and energy he presumed we spend on details and things, but said that there was one gigantic, glaring error.
My first thought was "Only one? You’re not paying attention!" My second through fifth thoughts were quick guesses as to where we had failed this particular pilot-author. Stalls and spins? SIDS and STARS? Winds aloft? No yaw string on the glider?
I could have been precisely none more wrong.
"Now, I got my numbers straight from the FAA – you can check them yourself", he said. "According to their statistics, only 2% of all the commercial pilots in the US are <edited> or women. In FSX, though, when I look at the exteriors of the airplanes and see the pilots inside, they’re 25% <edited> or women. My book is about how political correctness is ruining this country, and I’d like to know whose idea it was to make this one area so unrealistic? Is it company policy, just somebody’s idea, or is it part of your settlement agreement with the government?"
Never mind the fact that I dislike political correctness more than most, personally (though people like this make curmudgeons like me look squishily sensitive and fanatically open-minded.)
Never mind the fact that we sell Flight Simulator all over the world, so US-only statistics are bogus to begin with.
Never mind the fact that we sell many times as many copies as there are pilots in the world, so, if the appearance of the figures in the cockpits were to reflect anything, it would be our customer base.
Never mind the fact that the makeup of the characters modeled in FSX was all but random – if there was an edict, it was something like "Let’s show more than just middle-aged white guys flying the airplanes", and it would have come from retired FS artist and middle-aged white guy Jason Waskey.
No, let’s set all that aside.
Let’s also forget terrorism, high gas prices, sub-prime mortgages, the falling dollar, our own apparently anti-competitive tendencies to charge too much money for some things and too little for others, people with mullets, war, and the impending return of the Camaro, and pretend that political correctness is the thing that’s actually ruining this country.
Having swept the elephants in the room under a rug, I’m left with one question:
Is there anyone, anywhere who actually thinks that some textures wrapped around a handful of polygons and viewed through a virtual camera system that doesn’t let you get that close anyway could actually influence anything?
Well, okay, yes.
And he’s writing a book. A book that I, on behalf of Microsoft, declined to support, with Herculean politeness.
I won’t mention his name here, tempting as it is. But I will say that when one
Googles performs a Windows Live Search for his name, it turns out that he runs a consulting company that trains sales people by modifying their thoughts and institutionalizing behaviors to help them better connect with their customers.
I wonder if he teaches a section on what to do when you get a fax from someone like him?