back to article 'Grey technology' should be the new black

My dad seems to have a propensity for breaking the all of the kit we’ve given him to allow us to have a trans-oceanic video chat pretty much any time either of us wants. Apple’s Facetime came along just around the time I moved to Australia. Skype had already been around for years. Between these two we’ve been able to keep our …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thank you for a thoughtful article

    Most of the time people want to vent their frustrations on anyone and anything they can yell "fake news" at over the Intratubes, so once in a while it's nice to be nice in between the fighty-bitey.

    Anyway, I think the solutions are coming along soon. Many of us from the early Internet and computer industry *cough* 1980s *cough* are getting on in years, but are still active in the industry as a whole, and as we age so will our solutions and other ideas. So, whereas my mom and dad are useless when trying to do something as simple as a text message, I think my generation will be a bit further along and more able to adapt, or adopt, the latest user interfaces, as well as participate in their design. I can't imagine ever retiring from such an interesting and overall lucrative industry. Then again, I didn't save much for retirement anyway, so I BETTER keep going, if I know what's good for me! ;)

    Trivia; Fighty Bitey was the name of one of Frank Zappa's cats.

    1. Loud Speaker

      Re: Thank you for a thoughtful article

      The early computer years were the 60's, not the 80's. There is no excuse for the "Computers are a young people's thing" argument to justify ageism now. It might have been true in 1944, but that is over 60 years ago. Some of us have been writing Fortran for over 50 years!

      My Mother, now age 90, has been an Apple user since there was Apple. She has several iPads, but also Parkinsons. I am not an Apple user since I designed disk controllers for the Apple ][. I was shocked to find that there is NO Apple setting that would enable her to use the touch screen with shaking hands. She needs a motion stabilizer like image stabilization on cameras. I would think this would be really useful on public transport for normal people too - not just the 10 million people with Parkinsons.

      As for Siri - I speak standard English with a Cambridge accent - as clear and posh as you can get - and my experience of voice recognition is just like the sketch with the guy from "one foot in the grave" - I have never known it work, not even once. "Please say in a few works why you are calling BT today?" - "Broadband problems?" - "I am sorry, I don't understand, can you say it again please?" Come on - BT you know I am calling cos the broadband doesn't work. It never bloody works. You have sold me a crock of shite. Just get an engineer on the line - preferably one who knows what DNS is, and can complain about how BT cant operate nameservers to save their lives to someone with clout.

      1. Nonymous Crowd Nerd

        Re: Thank you for a thoughtful article

        Calling BT. In a way this is off-topic, but in a way it's not. Some way into a call to BT I once had occasion to point out to the guy that I'd recorded his not-so-accurate comments from earlier in the call. He got very cross, accused me of criminally recording him without a formal message to that effect and rang off. Therefore ... in response to "Please say in a few words..." I always start my response with "Broadband problems - I record my calls." And several times this has come in handy later on. And there is way this is on-topic, because this and many other little tricks for handling call centre staff are totally alien to my parents who always approach these people with what might be seen as either niceness or naivety. Sometimes this works, of course, but at other times they get fobbed off with a second class service. It's not just the machine user interface that is sometimes more difficult to cope with than it used to be.

        1. David Beck

          Re: Thank you for a thoughtful article

          I'm surprised the call didn't start with the disclaimer, "For training purposes this call may be recorded". I consider this permission to record, if they didn't mean it as permission there are many ways to express the alternative meanings without confusion.

          1. hairydog

            Re: Thank you for a thoughtful article

            You don't need permission to record a call.

            The law says that ONE of the parties of the call has to know it is being recorded. The call centre operative may not know for certain whether or not it is recorded, so you are told.

            If you record a call you are involved in, you must know it is being recorded. The other person doesn't legally have to know, though it may be polite to inform them.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Thank you for a thoughtful article

        "Some of us have been writing Fortran for over 50 years!"

        In all sorts of languages.

        Mines the one with box of cards in the pocket.

        1. kiwimuso

          Re: Thank you for a thoughtful article

          @ Doctor Syntax

          Oh, come on. Assembly language is the ONLY way to prove your credentials as an early programmer.

          Oh, unless you wanna mention RPG. Awful bloody language, but I suppose it worked, sort of, as an early "higher level" language. I could never get my head around RPG.

          I have written in PL/I, Cobol as higher level languages, and IBM Assembler as well as 8086 Assembler (I think it was). Plus one or two other one-off hybrid languages.

          Mines the one with IBM Principles Of Operation Manual in the pocket.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Thank you for a thoughtful article

            @kiwimuso - pah! I did a certain amount of 6502 machine code, as well a assembler. And I were a next-generation programmer, never saw one o'they old-fashioned punch-cards in my working life (though I did have to boot a mini-computer from a hexpad for a couple of years, and its error messages were on ticker tape) (chuckle).

            Aye, excellent article. I finally had to start using the magnify text commands on teh PCs I use a couple of months ago, and guess what? Some software and many websites don,t really seem to like the experience of being thus embiggened.

            As for phones - and I'm being serious here, this isnt one of my usal old biddy 'new tech pahhh!' wibbles - I would actually LIKE to have a phone on which I can, if need be, send and receive emails as well as text messages and maybe even look at websites now and then. But it needs to have a battery life of at least a week (preferably a month), a decent keyboard, and a nice clear zoomable display. Or, I'm willing to give up the ability to use the web and have an 8-like LED display. Or a leccy-paper display, whatever will get me text without burning through teh batteries at a great rate of knots. I need to be able to simply and easily set alrams to remind me of things I need to do and places I need to go. And I can't afford multi-hundreds of pounds for such a phone plus tens of pounds per month for the displeasure of it doing its own thing at the operators pleasure and running out of charge every other day.

            I've also a tin ear for some non-UK accents, and struggle with the 'press 1 for this, 2 for that..' systems (I dunno why but they give me an aural equivalent of what dazzle camouflage does to the eye - it's damned unsettling) if they go deeper than one choice. Yep, I need a world designed a little differently, or I'm going to be regressing to a time when we wrote letters to each other... :-}

    2. kiwimuso

      Re: Thank you for a thoughtful article

      Speaking as someone from the 60's IT era with an appropriate age (Ahem) can I remind some of these web designers and people who commission them, that there is a considerable merit in the old KISS principle. Just because you CAN put in flashy web design, or so-called "modern" (whatever that means) colour combinations, doesn't mean you should!

      While yellow writing on a gray/grey background (or vice versa) might look stunning from a designer point of view, or as I have struck on a menu, brown on a beige background, they are bloody hard to read, and my eyesight isn't that bad, as I've worn contact lenses for 56 years, and kept them up to date. Some colours should only be put together if trendily decorating a room or some such, if you want to get a message across - with clarity, they just should never be utilised in a "writing on coloured background" situation.

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    1. Blinkered

      It's not all about the buttons...

      Is this not where the great Siri and Alexis step up and interface more with the other devices we have.

      'Alexis - can you load up facetime and call my son - I need a lightbulb changed.' Then have the AI power up the laptop or whatever and load facetime (other brands exist) - although I can imagine a lot of mischief when the dementia sets in.

      I shudder at the thought but I guess in 20 years a lot of our care of the elderly will by taken care of by robots and AIs.

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: It's not all about the buttons...

        Voice control is no solutions.


        GUIs and UI design have got MUCH WORSE since 1990s. Everything is designed on initial impact, not usability.

        Nielsen Norman Group is like a voice crying in the wilderness.

        Flat Icons, Flat UIs, abstract over simplified icons, removing the simple two bright and two dim lines from every "button". No mainstream smartphones with buttons. Grey text on white, or dark grey on black, gratuitous changes to location of stuff on newer versions. Ribbon instead of conventional Menus.

        I could go on. But most new GUIs, OS versions etc are now barely usable for anyone. Even with Mate Desktop and Redmond theme (Win9x - NT4/XP) many applications ignore desktop theme and do their own thing. Stupid GUI and scroll bars on Firefox needing two plugins to nearly fix. Stupid GUI changes on Thunderbird, "Concept style" flat GUI on calculator.

        Windows is a downhill slide XP -> Vista -> Win7 (though you can disable stupid Aero), Win8 and insane Win10 like Win 1.0 with no sensible theme/GUI modification.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: It's not all about the buttons...

          "Stupid GUI and scroll bars on Firefox needing two plugins to nearly fix. Stupid GUI changes on Thunderbird"

          Kill two birds with one stone. Install Seamonkey.

        2. barbara.hudson

          Re: It's not all about the buttons...

          Toggles that go sideways so you don't know which position is "on" instead of a simple checkbox. "Gestures" with limited or no discovery. Change for the sake of change. "Material Design" - which is so badly designed from a usability perspective. Images that only have text on them (and no alt text) - but "We need images to have the maximum impact, and so people will share the image instead of just copy-pasta the message."

          <p>Web sites that don't work if you disable images, even though it's a total waste of bandwidth in most cases.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's not all about the buttons...

        "t of our care of the elderly will by taken care of by robots and AIs." yOU MEAN ROBOTS AND AYE-AYES, REALLY.

    2. SwitchedOn

      Re: "Grey" tech should be Top tech.

      I have already complained to the webmasters of several websites about their non-sensically SMALL type that many people can't read, and also those that have on their website, or on things you need to print out, GREY text! It is a pisser, and although I am not yet quite "grey" I have complained ahead of time, as I can still see such text -- just. But yes, it is a totally short-sighted (!) and self-centred policy -- obviously the guys that do the programming have NO CONCEPT about the existence of anybody else more than about 10 years older than them! Their stupidity and lack of empathy and fore-sight appalls me...

      And actually, I don't know if it is just my screen (on a Lenovo T420) but even THIS website has pretty close to TINY letters! Only after I've hit Ctrl + three times is it anywhere near reasonable. This MAY be a question of settings, but I have seen many websites where the (small) text is all down one side, with NOTHING on the other! I mean, what's the bloody point? They obviously have plenty of space to ENLARGE the text, and spread it further across the page. But they don't.

      Stupid, or what?

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: "Grey" tech should be Top tech.

        What you are noticing on the T420 is one of the effects of higher resolution display panels, exacerbated by 16x9 screen aspect ratios.

        Back in the days of the Thinkpads up to the T60, the screen resolution for most systems was 1024x768 (obviously there were laptops with higher resolutions, but this was a common panel resolution).

        Being 4x3 aspect ration, the 768 pixels were spread over ~8.5 inches, giving you a DPI of about 90. The T430 I am currently using is 1600x900, and the vertical height of the screen is ~6.7 inches, giving a DPI of around 134.

        So you have 132 more vertical pixels in 1,8" less space. If you do not tell the software that it has a higher resolution screen, it will by default choose the same font size (measured in pixels) as it did before, making the characters only about half of the size of an older Thinkpad, and the web site you are looking at has no way of knowing that the font size it's using comes out smaller.

        So, it's not only (or I would possibly say at all) your eyes that are making the Register more difficult to read,

        Back in the days of X11, the DPI setting of the screen was set (in, you have to create an xorg.conf and override the DPI setting) so when you selected a character point size (like Courier 10), you actually got the characters approximately the same size on screens of different resolutions. Point size should be measured in 1/72" (in modern typography) units, and should allow resolution independent character sizing!

        I have often commented on the apparent pointlessness of full HD or higher screens on laptops or 'phones, and this just makes my point IMHO.

  3. ecofeco Silver badge

    The answer is simple

    Larger text. Less multi-tiered menus. Less steps to get a task accomplished. More testing before releasing shit code. More intuitive interface instead of having to guess the fucking secret word or symbol.

    I'll keep banging this drum until it sinks in: the customer does not want complicated shit. But don't take it from me, take it from the literally thousands of people I've had to help and support who've told me so.

    All the customer focus groups and surveys aren't going to tell you shit when you slant them and load the questions.

    When it comes to computers, customer do not want complicated shit. Neither do most IT departments.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: The answer is simple

      And one other thing: the phone is NOT the fucking center of the universe. In fact, it is the shitiest platform ever invented for digital productivity.

      The text is to small

      The image is too small

      The connectivity is unreliable

      Battery life is too short

      Complex tasks take too long - buried menu hell

      The keyboard is fucking ridiculous for anything that is not short or brief.

      1. Denarius Silver badge

        Re: The answer is simple

        you forgot screens invisible to any ages eyes in daylight. Hunting for dark shadows to read an SMS in the Oz summer is so irritating. Yet the original Dell Streak has a transflective screen that was quite readable the brighter the light got.

      2. Konnekt

        Phones are not the answer

        I totally agree, ecofeco.

        We started designing our Konnekt face-to-face calling product for 69-99 year-olds based on a tablet (which is already bigger than a phone). Our trialists said exactly what you said, and more:

        1. Eyesight. We need a bigger screen with HUGE text.

        2. Hearing. You want us to use Skype? Give us something we can hear ringing from 3 rooms away. Real speakers.

        3. Shaky hands. Gloves. Prosthetics. We struggle with capacitive touch-screens. BIG buttons please.

        4. We don't want a computer. Or anything that smells like one. No keyboard. No mouse. No icons. No menus. Why can't it work like our toaster, or our old telephone?

        5. Pop-ups are scary. OS update requests. Call quality surveys. Notifications. Ads. The unexpected is unwanted.

        6. Connectors. We don't want them. Even your shiny ones that go in two ways. Just leave it plugged in, where we like to sit. Or we'll leave it on the couch, where there's poor Wi-Fi, where it'll go flat.

        7. Support. We hate bothering our kids. We're embarrassed to call help lines. We want to see the nice man who installed it, who doesn't makes us feel silly.

        8. INDEPENDENCE. Simplicity is good. If it simply works all the time, we feel like the masters of our own destiny.



        1. ecofeco Silver badge

          Re: Phones are not the answer

          Good for you! Glad to hear someone doing something about the ridiculousness of it all.

    2. Loud Speaker

      Re: The answer is simple

      Less multi-tiered menus. Less steps to get a task accomplished.

      These are contradictory requirements. A hierarchical menu structure using words structure will get you there faster than one damn great long list, or a face-full of indistinguishable purple "flat" icons.

      1. ecofeco Silver badge

        Re: The answer is simple

        Not what I meant at all. As you point out, a long word list is even worse.

        But you have illustrated the problem: most people can no longer conceive an efficient menu.

    3. barbara.hudson

      Re: The answer is simple

      Back in the days of text-based menus and user input screens, we managed to get complicated things done with simple layouts - a top menu with highlighted keyboard shortcuts, maybe a few drop-down menus, some popup messages, a status line that gave the user feedback about what they were doing or some help.

      Ad by remapping the video card glyphs we could have radio buttons, real arrow heads, and a real arrow or hand as a cursor. Ditto for remapping the color set to give you 16 shades from a palette of 262k (no more ugly cyan and magenta). The user could select their color map and all their applications would look the same. User customization, not designer customization.

      Now? Everyone has to be different. And this month has to be different from last month. And the next release has to be unrecognizable - how else can "we" (the jerks pushing this) justify our jobs?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Current pet peeves:

    Some of these are general complaints that I've had about the Web for years. As I get older, though, some of these are becoming more than merely annoying.

    * Web pages that override the settings that underline links, insist that the unvisited and visited links are that same color. Same for the web sites that become, essentially, unnavigable if you dare to set preferred colors in your browser.

    * Web sites that don't allow you to easily change the font and its size.

    * Speaking of fonts... what the eff is up with the gray50 (or even lighter) text on white backgrounds?

    * Just a single comment on Javascript: use less of it! As a user of a Javascript blocker, I'm running into more and more web sites that won't render pixel one without having Javascript enabled. Enough is enough.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Current pet peeves:

      UI design utter shit these days. Guess the secret word or symbol is becoming immediate grounds for dismissal and instant abandonment for me these days unless I have no choice and MUST use the software.

      I'm fucking sick of it.

      1. Loud Speaker

        Re: Current pet peeves:

        Guess the secret word? Surely this is a job for a robot?

    2. a_yank_lurker

      Re: Current pet peeves:

      Keep the UI consistent between releases. A menu and GUI one is familiar with is easier to navigate (from memory) than any theoretically "better" GUI. Remember the GUI paradigm was developed by some very wise people in the 60's and 70's.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Current pet peeves:

        "Remember the GUI paradigm was developed by some very wise people in the 60's and 70's."

        Remember also that the concept of separation between interface and implementation was also developed by some very wise people at that time.

        The thinking was that if needed the implementation could change whilst the interface remained consistent so that users didn't have to adapt to a new implementation. The whole concept was functional.

        Consistency is a functional requirement of an interface.

        Unfortunately it seems we have software put together by numpties who still wouldn't recognise a functional requirement if it reared up and bit them in the arse - as it's quite likely to do eventually if ignored.

    3. Gray

      Re: Current pet peeves:

      I'll take Firefox as my prime example: the unpredictably changing UI seems to be the project of a horde of summer-vacation 13-year-old school kiddies. "Let's change these menu/icon/commands and see how 'kewl' it is! Just for giggles & funsie's!" That crock of crap moved me over to Pale Moon, and a Classic UI add-on.

      The other utter pile of crap is the 8-inch Android tablet I was persuaded to buy by my younger offspring, again because: "Kewl, Dad ... you'll love it!" Yeh, right. That comment about the "secret symbol" or the "hidden word" or the "two-finger double-direction spiral swipe" to initiate the most basic functions. The UI of every app bears no relation to any other app, and all seem best suited to a cage full of spastic shit-flinging monkeys.

      Postscript: fer crissakes! Can't anybody design an audio alarm 'beeper' that is less than effing 12 khz? That's about 10 khz above my hearing-impaired range. It's no fun to walk into a room and everybody under the age of 40 shouts, "Turn off that damned wrist alarm!"

      (Age: 76 & still exhaling warm air. Not totally tech-ignorant: I got here, didn't I?)

      1. Charles 9

        Re: Current pet peeves:

        I think below 12kHz people disregard it as background and sleep through it. If a jarring sound doesn't work for you, then a sound-based alarm probably won't work for you anymore.

    4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Current pet peeves:

      Just a single comment on Javascript: use a lot less less of it!

    5. Trigonoceps occipitalis

      Re: Current pet peeves:

      "* Speaking of fonts... what the eff is up with the gray50 (or even lighter) text on white backgrounds?"

      There was a fashion for light blue text on a dark blue background in the '80s. This was done because the then state of the art in photocopiers prevented copying tech handbooks etc. There is some woeful ignorance of UIs if that is a current anti pirate measure. I want to add 2 or more effs.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Doro is a brand that produces products that help the aged.

    My Doro 810 phone (not smart) has been the best I have so far owned. Reasonable size keys for texting and a bright screen with a large font. It even has "emergency contact" and "carer" remote management features. There is a charger stand so you don't have to fiddle with the micro-USB connector. The clam case shape and texture makes it easy to handle - my previous "pretty" phone was like a slippery bar of soap.

    Reaching the biblical life span hasn't affected my ability to trouble-shoot and program. I retired because the irregular hours and stress were obviously damaging my health. Youngsters thought that cutting corners was a quicker way to advance their careers - so I left them to it.

    1. Mage Silver badge


      Except most Doro are only GSM and here in Ireland operators only have to give 6 month notice to replace GSM with 3G or 4G. No requirement to warn Retail two years in advance (See SOGA).

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Websites that break core URL links for no reason

    Why are there web standards for everything except quick links to 'contact us' etc... Something as brutally simple as Sure certain businesses want to hide from customers (M$ etc), but its done anyway without thinking... It'd be interesting to see published benchmarks of families of CEO's searching their corporate website for active and accurate contact info...

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Websites that break core URL links for no reason

      Most websites are controlled by marketing.

      That should tell you all you need to know right there.

    2. kiwimuso

      Re: Websites that break core URL links for no reason

      "Something as brutally simple as

      One of my pet peeves. Actually a lot more than that.

      The one I hate is the contact "form" where before you can even start typing in your complaint/query/feedback you are given a drop down list of Categories, Having selected a category, you get another drop-down list from which to select some other pointless sub-category or something.

      Why is it, that whoever designs (and I use that word VERY loosely) these things think that they know better than I do about what I want to say. And yeah, I know why they do it, but even an "other" category would be helpful. Then they can learn what other categories should be added.

      The other day I wanted to report to my ISP a rejected email from the ISP that a friend in the U.S. uses, and to which I have been sending, successfully, emails for years. Suddenly mine are being rejected for some spurious reason (in my mind, anyway) such as "could be Spam" or the IP address might be faked. WTF!!!! You have been accepting emails from this range of IP addresses for several years.

      When I went to the U.S. website to report it, they wanted all sorts of information, such as IP address range, which of course, I didn't know, so I go to my ISP website to report it to be met by the above load of rubbish, with nary a choice for "report an apparent crap address" or similar.

      Even worse, no ability to forward the rejection email, so they can see for themselves.

      Why not allow the ability for attachments!! Grumble, grumble, bitch, bitch.

      I eventually replied to an email received from someone in India on their helpdesk, reiterating the problem, and attaching the rejection email. Finally got an adequate reply, but doubt if I will be advised that it has been sorted.

      I guess I'll just have to keep sending him stuff to both of his addresses until such time that his primary ISP isn't rejecting them.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'I don't believe it' ... (One Foot In The Grave)

    Video games that don't let you skip intro sequences or cut-scenes. Who has patience for this? Most video games don't even let you skip the training levels! Talk about nannying gamers, c'mon!

    1. VinceH

      Re: 'I don't believe it' ... (One Foot In The Grave)

      "Video games that don't let you skip intro sequences or cut-scenes. Who has patience for this? Most video games don't even let you skip the training levels! Talk about nannying gamers, c'mon!"

      In some games, that nannying continues right through to the end - when facing the final bad guy or whatever, instead of simply using the skills, weapons or whatever you've picked up/earned throughout the game, you're told to "Press <particular button> now!" during that final confrontation. React quick enough each time, you win.


  8. CommsFogey

    When I was looking for a mobile for my mum, I went to the society for the blind, to see what they recommended for people with poor sight (they cover this as well as blind, and no, I cant remember the organisation's new name either- apologies).

    They had a large keycaps print keyboard, and large print (and raised moulding letter) land line and mobile phones.

    For myself, now I need reading glasses,whereas I used to print out in 4 point text to save paper. Heck I can still write in 4 point text.

    And I agree with I think everything the author and the commentaries wrote. UI changes, not respecting web zoom,...

    And for oldish history, I think it was GEMOS that had a setting for how much details the menus and apps had - 3 choices (basic, intermediate and advanced?) with progressively more changeable options in each level.

    (And the pain of MS Word having multiple incompatible ways of achieving the same effect.)

  9. shrdlu

    For what it's worth

    A partially-sighted friend is very pleased with the keyboard I bought him. I found it in a local toy shop. It's twice the size of a standard keyboard, fluorescent green with large colour-coded keys. There are assistive technology products made in small numbers for those with special needs so the technology does already exist.

    1. riparian zone

      Re: For what it's worth

      Not necessarily. I work a lot with VIPs (Visually Impaired People), and older people - this is a great keyboard in different versions of high contrast. Some keyboards come with an overlay grid to help with targeting.

  10. Andy Non Silver badge

    Important safety information:

    (Subsequent text far too small to read, so booklet accompanying product is completely useless.)

    Sigh. I don't even have defective vision as such, just normal eyesight for my age. Even with reading spectacles, the text in many brochures/booklets/leaflets is far too small to read without straining to figure out each word.

    Nowadays, manufacturers seem to design leaflet text to be only read by eagle-eyed twenty year-olds.

    On the plus side, a few provide links to online PDF versions of their product brochures/booklets, so I can view the text at a comfortable size. However, many do not.

    1. Alister

      Re: Important safety information:

      Nowadays, manufacturers seem to design leaflet text to be only read by eagle-eyed twenty year-olds.

      I think it's more that manufacturers design leaflet text in the expectation that nobody will actually bother to read it anymore...

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Important safety information:

      When I first studied and worked in graphic design, the rule was that 6pt type or anything smaller was never to be used. It only existed as an example of what NOT to use. The only exceptions were the small print in contracts.

      Now it is almost the rule that it be used everywhere.

      My rule is that if I can cover or mostly obscure a single letter with the tip of my ballpoint pen, the designer (or the person who approved the design) should be killed.

      1. barbara.hudson

        Re: Important safety information:

        And yet 6 point font is grounds for invalidating a contract under the consumer protection laws here, because it's too damn small for many people to read.

    3. hairydog

      Re: Important safety information:

      There's an app for that!

      Seriously, when I want to read very small text, I use my smartphone.

      Either the excellent (and free) Magnifier app, or take a photo and zoom in to look at the image.

    4. barbara.hudson

      Re: Important safety information:

      It's all over the place. White text on an orange background in tiny tiny font smaller than the fine print in an insurance contract. For cooking instructions. The only solution is to take a picture and zoom in.

      Fake "open here" and "tear here" directions for opening a package. The worst offender was Quaker Oats boxes with a phony series of lines in a semi-circle that looked like you could just push in and the underlying box would be die-cut to open (examining the box showed it wasn't die-cut or pre-scored or anything).

      "Resealable" bags that are only resealable if you didn't use the "tear open here" slit.

      Touch screens on everything so you have to look to see what you're doing instead of relying on feel and memory - and much more susceptible to "oops I hit a bump" input errors.

      Touch screens that stop working properly if you get more than a few raindrops on them.

      Emojis. And more emojis. Making it even harder to communicate (seriously - an avocado is really a penis??? If your penis looks like an avocado emoji, hie thee forthwith to an apothecary, before it falls off).

  11. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Android vs age

    My father in law has got one and the UI is just so much fail wrapped up into one device it's incredible. Tiny refresh icons on widgets on the lock screen. The three soft buttons are now just non-informative shapes. Default incoming calls notify rather than pop up a big call screen if you're doing something else. I've lost count of the amount of badly distributed settings spread between loads of menus (amazingly enough the privacy options are hardest to find). Floating circular buttons.

    Added to that the capacitive screens don't work very well with oldsters' fingers.

    Nobody in Silly Valley did user testing and it seems everybody's okay with it.

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: Android vs age

      We have a fairly recent non-smart 40" Toshiba. It's brilliant. The new 43" Sony was to replace it, but it's in the bedroom as the Program guide text is too small (too small there too), the GUI is garbage and it's not in Internet anyway as our broadband hasn't enough cap for video.

      Android TV seems designed and tested by people that only use the TV as big smartphone.

    2. Trigonoceps occipitalis

      Re: Android vs age

      I have heard that an auto manufacturer (Ford?) had an "Old Suit". Young, svelte designers were made to ware it during development. Joint movement and stiffness could be set for typical of age, say 40, 50, 60 ,etc. Did wonders for practicality of cars.

      We need some IT equivalent, say:

      Various specs to blur and restrict vision

      Vibrators on arms to simulate various tremors (no potential for misuse what so ever)

      Ear muffs

      Semi gags to modify the voice

      A bag connected to a tap that needs emptying every half hour or so

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Android vs age

        I have heard that an auto manufacturer (Ford?) had an "Old Suit". Young, svelte designers were made to ware it during development.


        Various specs to blur and restrict vision

        I'd like to borrow that as punishment for whatever eejits specify the horrible plastic bags supermarkets provide for self-service veg. etc.

        BTW, add thick gloves to the spec.

      2. Konnekt

        Re: Android vs age

        occipitalis: I love this idea! I'm going to institute it here in our company.

        I want to add two more items to your list:

        1. Three shots of gin to simulate fading short-term memories.

        2. Mandatory morning phone calls to the Support line of an ISP or global bank, to nurture a growing impatience with unhelpful young 'help' staff, some called "Billy" or "Bob" or "Candy", some with thick accents, all of whom talk too quickly, over a long-distance connection with huge voice delays.

        (Tongue in cheek)



        1. ecofeco Silver badge

          Re: Android vs age

          Been dealing with number 2 all week. It's even more rage inducing because I work in tech support. I get better understanding from the employee at the fast food drive through than those fuckers.

    3. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Android vs age

      <i?Nobody in Silly Valley did user testing and it seems everybody's okay with it.</i>

      Oh they tested it. This is the desired result.

      Many university UI design courses all geared to making the user experience complicated in order to deliberately capture the users' attention. This is due to the now prevalent advertising revenue software business model. No exaggeration. This is a real thing.

    4. Konnekt

      Re: Android vs age

      Dan: Capacitive screens. You're absolutely right! ALL Apple devices and 99% of Android / Windows touchscreen devices use capacitive screens.

      You can't use them with a gloved hand, with a prosthetic limb, with a mouth-operated pointer, with any old object, or with a bandaged hand. They are extremely sensitive... which is great for gamers but not for those with shaky hands or poor eyesight.

      Before we released our product, we looked high and low for a big, resistive touchscreen.

      One of our users, June, has to wear gloves on her tender 80+ year-old hands. There was a lump in my throat when I watched her successfully call her interstate son with a "handful of gloved fingers". Smiles all round! These are the moments we live for.

      Everything is perfect for June except for one thing: Her aged care home IT department insists on logging off every single resident, once a month, to help prevent fraud and reduce their workload. Gosh. Gosh. Gosh! Try telling a 90-year-old's 60-year-old son that he has to ring the Home's nursing staff every 30 days, BEG them to go plug a keyboard into his Mum's video phone, and go through an antiquated, browser-based login procedure that I haven't seen since I last stayed in a cheap hotel.

      So... we now provide Internet for our customers, as an option. The benefits have been huge: When the videophone doesn't work, there's just one number to call.

      Oh, and I like the word "gold" better than "grey".



    5. riparian zone

      Re: Android vs age

      Big buttons app is the thing to use...does what it says on the tin..

  12. herman Silver badge

    A decade ago at General Dynamics, I worked with a middle aged software guy who used a 20 inch monitor to display type about 100 mm high, to read at a distance of about 100 mm. At the time, that was only possible with a Sparc Station.

  13. Dan McIntyre

    Nice to see this kind if piece on the Reg.

    As a 40-year-old disabled man (physically and mentally) I myself use a few pieces of this grey tech in order to be able to interact with the world and to work (IT support for a hospital).

    What I'd like to see is the costs reduced in line with other tech hardware and software. Seems that the moment you add words like "assistive" or "disability" to anything that's a green light to up the cost 10x or more.

    As an example I use a screen reader and magnifier called Zoomtext. It has a host of fantastic features that are really useful and make working at a PC much easier for me but it costs an absolute fortune.

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Zooming Text

      Yet Windows and Linux has had a magnifier (and screen readers) "built in" for maybe 15 years. They don't seem very usable.

      1. riparian zone

        Re: Zooming Text

        Windows magnifier has been quite reasonable since Windows 8 (the only saving grace) and also the SAPI voices have improved too. I want to like the Linux magnifiers, but found them to be terrible. Vinux is a good starter for a baseline for an older user .

    2. druck Silver badge

      The reason for assistive technology costing 10x more is because it either qualifies for direct government subsidies to individuals, or disability discrimination law means businesses have to provide it for employees that require it.

      Some products such as full screen readers are very complex products which are expensive develop and keep up to date with every change to the underlying operating system, so would not be cheap under any circumstances. But subsidies or captive markets really put those extra zeros on the end.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "Some products such as full screen readers are very complex products which are expensive develop and keep up to date with every change to the underlying operating system"

        So have the OS provide a consistent interface for it.

        Consistency: that's what interfaces are for, as per my previous comment.

    3. ecofeco Silver badge

      Win 7. Control key+ mouse scroll wheel is zoom/magnify. Built right in. Use anywhere.

      Most programs also use this standard. Not all, but most.

      1. riparian zone

        ah, but had to have Aero theme used, which meant high contrast not available...and some graphics cards *won't work* with it.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I, as one of the late 70 early 80 age group and still working in IT, would like to add some thoughts to this.

    As the years have progressed the size of my monitor has also. A 15" was fine when I was in my 30s, then I progresses to a 17" and on to a 19" and now have a 28" 16:10 unit (can we have more 16:10 monitors rather than the stupid 16:9 variety?).

    The keyboard I use is one with good mechanical 'clikey' keys but they are becoming harder to find now unless you want to pay through the nose for 'gamer' keyboards.

    Mice were never a good idea as a pointing device and I have always used a trackball, I wish I still had my early unit with the 7cm size ball but that went when serial ports disappeared from most motherboards. My 4cm kingston is a reasonable compromise at the moment.

    Tablets and smart phones are a different matter. I would go as far as saying any tablet with a screen less than 12" and without a wacom style precision stylus is useless. The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 meets this requirement but try and buy one !!!. My smart phone is only used to make and receive phone calls (the screen is useless for doing anything else).

    As others have said, it appears that physical equipment design and UI design has been taken over by 13 to 15 year olds looking for kool things rather than engineers that want things to work. Get the engineers back in control rather than the marketing wonks and IT equipment and software will start progressing again and be useful to us older people.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Not just useful to older people, but useful in general.

      A recent business report shows that McDonald's attributed some of their increase in profits by simplifying the order taking in their stores. It was as simple as INCREASING THE FONT SIZE of the order system. That was it. It was reported this increased order accuracy by almost 100% resulting is more satisfied customers, faster order fulfillment and less rework for incorrect orders.

      To which I thought "Well fucking DUH!"

      1. Diogenes

        I would like to take whoever designed the menu display panels at our local Maccas out behind the shelter sheds & show them the error of their ways with a baseball bat. You get about half of it read - and screen is replaced. A few of my students works at Maccas and they get complaints all the time about that, and it slows them down taking orders as well. Oh that looked edible, "how may I help you?", "Can I please have a "doh", hang on for the screen with the name of what I wanted"... watch a screen for the brekkie menu, then another for their sponsorships then ah right screen , scanning scanning yes ,"Can I please have a 'expeletive' - just a coffee please"

        1. ecofeco Silver badge

          Marketing again.

          Marketing has no fucking business touching anything that requires customer interaction. Ever.

  15. PaulyV

    Ageing tech users

    Could not agree more. I hope we can ensure more is in place as I approach my later life.

    I spent the last 20 years watching and helping my increasingly housebound Dad get to grips with his laptop, the internet, a mobile phone etc. Sometimes it was funny, sometimes encouraging and sometimes downright disappointing.

    His 17 inch Asus laptop fared quite well over the years, although its touch pad became increasingly difficult to use with his very arthritic fingers. Catching a palm across it could easily highlight and magically delete the 4 paragraphs of text he had spent the previous 45 minutes painstakingly entering.

    Windows was also okay but once it started prompting him to upgrade to 10 on a regular basis it became more of a hassle until we disabled it. He used the AOL browser most of all as he had learned his way around it in the late 90's when he had more dexterity. I rather think he imagined AOL WAS the internet despite my explaining the concept of a browser on many occasions.

    Smart phones were out the question, as was texting but he did have a natty Binatone mobile featuring large buttons which lived in his pocket. A bargain at £25.

    His last Christmas brought an Amazon Fire his way as a toe in the waters of tablet computing. Holding it was impossible, as was typing anything on it given the accuracy required on-screen, but a stylus and stand helped those issues to some extent. Far from ideal though and I can see a change coming surely. It was not as if he did not want to communicate and understand these devices. His last 3 years of life alone resulted in close to 10000 posts on the Guardian forums, this despite being only able to type a single letter every 5 seconds or so as he dallied his way around the keyboard.

    Some things will never change however - at aged 80 he did manage to inexplicably change the language on the Amazon Fire to German all on his own thereby bricking it until I visited him once again...

  16. ted frater

    Theres always someone worse off than yourself

    29.1.1934 was the day my mum saidI came into this world, so it was this Sunday I was blessed with my 83rd b/day!

    And it was good to read this article as im now spending more time at my laptop generally upsetting folk with a geriatric's complaints about the world in general.

    so as per my heading, im so lucky to be still able to type as i learned some 62 yrs ago on a underwood mech typewriter preparing duty rosters for my squadron, when not actively doing my trade as a flight eng. Re mobile phones, and the lack of proper keyboards like they used to be! nokia 9210 communicator is was my favorite for texting and phone calls.

    We of this older generation do have the resources to buy what suit us but the makers of handsets just follow fasion as opposed to function.

    Its the spacing between the keys thats important.

    Ive been a contributor to the Reg for rather a long time and constantly beef about the lack of function over form. Gess im spoiled coming from the world of aviation.

    So lets keep up the pressure on makers to meet our needs. Just maybe they too will be like us somewhat impared in so many ways.

    thanks for reading.


    in Dorset


    PS, it takes me as long to correct the typos as typing it up in the first


    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Theres always someone worse off than yourself

      Key spacing is very important. I type mush faster on a keyboard that has a decent space between the keys. There will never a cure for my mild dyslexia, but keyboard spacing is a must.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Twice rejected.... What's so wrong with this post reg team?????

    Smart TV's behaving badly

    Forced TV Ads / IoT slurping: Who wants to spend their grey years messing with the overpriced TV to stop it phoning home and serving up inescapable Ads?

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Twice rejected.... What's so wrong with this post reg team?????

      Were you trying to wrap those URLs as full-on HTML links? I don't think you're allowed HTML A/C.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Smart TV's behaving badly

    Forced TV Ads / IoT slurping: Who wants to spend their grey years messing with the overpriced TV to stop it phoning home and serving up inescapable Ads? Not allowed link but search on:

    "Philips Android TV Philips Smart TVs will start showing targeted ads in Europe

    Samsung Smart TV Samsung is putting ads in your Smart TV interface"

  19. itzman
    IT Angle

    its a total farce.

    1/. trying to find a mobile hone for a 90 year old. no smarts. found one with big keys, but the instruction manual was in such small print that the only option was to scan it and blow it up to a readable font

    2/. new iphone 5 for 75 year old. instructions 'insert sim card in phone'. That took over an hour before the totally obscure means to do this was revealed by a google search on an already working computer..

    Its not just the elderly: I am an IT professional, but frankly the IOS/android metaphor is badly implemented and shoddy as hell.

    The consumer-tech emperor has no clothes.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: its a total farce.

      Consumer tech is utter shit.

  20. chivo243 Silver badge

    Less able every day

    Raises finger, joins support group.

  21. knottedhandkerchief

    Just bought a Chromebook for my mother's 80th birthday. She's never used a computer before, but wanted to keep in touch, see family photos etc. Loved the "what's that jiggling fly thing?" (it was the mouse cursor). Looked up some introductory books for Chromebook - and even they assumed too much, e.g. started comparing them with PCs, Macs, talk about USB sockets etc. But she's pleased, and will learn bit by bit.

    I still have my final year BSc project thesis - hand-written assembler, which I manually converted into machine code for entry with a hexadecimal keyboard into an UV-EEPROM.

  22. martinusher Silver badge

    There is stuff out there.....

    I'm a paid up member of AARP and their magazine regularly features adverts for simplified phones and computers. The phones -- smart or flip -- feature a thinned down user interface and larger buttons and icons. Similarly the computer they offer is an all-in-one that has a reduced subset of applications, again with larger icons.

    I don't know how good any of this stuff is; its a bit gimmicky for me (and I'm not *that* old!). But its a starting point. It also points to one of my pet peeves about modern applications software -- too gimmicky, too fiddly, too bulky and too buggy.

  23. riparian zone

    Best article in some time.

    It touches on a lot of things wrong with consumer tech and the cult of youth that its seemingly engineered for. I write about some of my findings,this piece being a constant reminder that accessible tech can be reasonable in cost if a person is not completely blind. Win 8, NVDA can work reasonably well, but OSX has everything of a high standard built in...More older people should use Dolphin Guide, which is like a retro system in itself..shame it is so expensive. Tablets are okay for many, but need a stylus and a good chat about ipad neck.

  24. finkelstein

    getting old

    This is a great article and highlights the fact that not only are many computer programmes designed by geeks for geeks, they are designed for young geeks..

    Many of my generation struggle with the complexities of the computer age, and our creaking memory circuits mean that we DON'T adapt to rapidly changing technology. I personally hate it when having just figured out how to perform a particular task on my computer, along comes another sneaky update and changes everything. They don't ask if you wanted the update, they just do it; and throw your life into confusion. I would guess that most of the people who contact their tech support are elderly people who simply can't cope with what they see as unnecessary change.

    Both Microsoft and Apple are really missing a trick by not consulting us oldies and asking us what really irritates them about using their computers. I have found Apple to be most sympathetic to my comments -although they don't seem to do anything about it!). If they offered a simplified or basic OS for older folk who just want to use the basic features of a personal computer, they would do very well.

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