Manual is optional,
but that box should have a big label "Press to Start" (or similar) with an arrow pointing to the button.
We've all been there, that's why we bought the labeling machine!
After a week of global chaos, put it all behind you with another instalment of On Call, The Register's weekly tale of readers who were asked to tackle IT turmoil and emerged triumphant. This week, meet "Karl" who wrote to tell us his experience working for a large pharmaceutical firm in the 1980s. "I had written a program for …
I worked at a hospital which had to leave portable x-ray machines in a basement corridor that was open for general use (though not advertised!) Signs of increasing levels of frustration and anger appeared over the years instructing, warning, begging and even pleading for people NOT to mess with the controls. The last new notice I saw (which obviously was the one that worked) said "Please feel free to play with these controls - we are short of bodies for dissection classes"
Bit of a tangent, but I do field archery, and competition days are basically simulated hunting through private woodland areas. Obviously we have agreements with landowners, insurance etc. and a jolly good time is had by all.
There is only one fly in the ointment: hikers. Most are fine and happy to take the alternate route provided for their safety, but some get VERY belligerent about finding private footpaths closed for the day, stubbornly ignoring all warning signs adorned with skull and crossbones announcing 'Archery in Progress: Danger Of Death' placed to keep them wandering across shooting lines through the trees.
Eventually we did find something that worked - signs with biohazard markers reading "Chemical spraying in progress, danger of skin irritation." I don't think I'll ever understand why itchy skin a scarier prospect that getting shot, but that's humans for you...
Greater numbers of digits are always scarier, in my experience. I recall two models of generator in use at different times on a site, in the same safety compound, both clearly labelled with danger signs. The first genny was additionally labelled '1000kVA', the second '1MW'. Once the second replaced the first it became a popular choice as a bicycle park, because clearly all those safety bars and hurricane fencing are intended for use with bike locks -- especially the door, because there's already an example of how to use a padlock there.
My father used to work at UCL, in a lab run by a very senior Professor. The Prof. was an extremely honest man, and would never tell a lie, not even a little fib. He was annoyed that the cleaning staff would come in after hours and mess up his carefully arranged papers on his desk, so he hit upon a cunning plan (TM). He went into my father's workshop and borrowed a large capacitor, which he placed in the centre of his desk, on top of the papers. He attached a hand written label bearing the words "Danger, 4,000 microFarads" and left for the evening. Next morning, he found his papers untouched.
No manual supplied…….Yep been there, had a bloke years ago who knew who had a large tower computer. He’d bought it second hand from a company and had seen it working there fine, so he’d parted with the money. Once there he’d tried to power it on and nothing happened. He’d tried a different lead changed the fuse etc. but all to no avail.
So he called me and asked for help, whereupon I suggested all the things he’d already tried. So I trudged over there and am greeted with a look of despair. I finally see the thing and it is a beast, comes up to my waist has a CD Rom drive and a few slots for hard drives on the front. I looked at the back and he has indeed plugged in the cable correctly.
However there’s more than one power switch one at the front and one at the back under a plastic flip cover. After almost slicing my fingers on a sharp bit of the case it is opened and there’s a surprise inside. A UPS is in the very bottom of the thing and has been sitting there the whole time. The cable connecting the UPS with the actual computer is also plugged in but the second ‘hidden’ power switch is off.
I explained that both switches need to be on which he is surprised about. The other one is under a cover and he can just leave it on. Satisfied we go for a drink and then I went home. Then the next day I hear from him again and the thing isn’t powering on again. I ask if both switches are on and there’s a long sigh. He says he turned off the other switch as he didn’t need the “other thing” on.
I said it was a UPS and he tells me he still doesn’t want it on. I said he might if he actually understood what a UPS was rather than just saying he did. I explained if there was a power cut he’d have time to save everything and power the computer down before the power died from the UPS. He was very pleased about that. I said he’d need one for the monitor too but I think that went in one ear and out the other.
I have learned from long experience that rather than demonstrating the button press, it would have been much better for him to make them press the button themselves (as well as making them go through all other necessary procedures under supervision). This tends to make it stick in the mind a little better.
for a long long time in education there has been an understanding of learning styles. Some people learn best auditory, others by reading. Some prefer visual. Some are kinesthetic. Most people are a combination of styles. So the best way to teach is by lecture and text, then some sort of example like an instructional video, and then hands on.
Cattle-prod category: users that went through lecture, visual and practical training and still miss-report what they actually did when complaining that the product/system doesn't work.
Sadly, you have cattle-prod category users almost everywhere, with slightly elevated chances to find them in middle to upper manglement.
I've never done a study on it, but my experience as a teacher is that students don't all learn equally effectively when taught the same way. Changing the approach for different students works better. Too bad it's all anecdotal and therefore not statistically significant. I wonder what percent of teachers reach the same unscientific conclusion? :)
Giving information to people in various different ways is certainly a good idea; I'd always rather have the option of learning something from a few different perspectives and then maybe one of them will make it stick. However, that doesn't mean that VAK is actually a thing. I can conclusively say from experience that people have different personalities (duh), but that doesn't mean that the Enneagram makes any sense at all (in any way, shape, or form, whatsoever...).
"I'd always rather have the option of learning something from a few different perspectives and then maybe one of them will make it stick."
Impossible to test for. More likely is that using multiple learning methods is that subsequent ones are simply reinforcing what you already learned. Since you can't unlearn something, there's no way to tell which method works best.
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Reductio ad absurdum: let us start from the proposition that everyone has a learning style that's written in stone. Then, all we need do is find a counterexample: me. Sometimes I want to read to understand something; sometimes I want a picture or diagram; sometimes I want it explained to me; sometimes I want to try it myself. Sometimes, I want a combination of these things. My learning style is not set in stone, therefore the original proposition is incorrect. Q.E.D. ∎
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Referencing no different learning styles, here's a counter example I just dealt with:
Graduate level IT related class. For a project the professor posted written instructions and a video example. Cue lots of screaming back and forth as 1/3 of the class was claiming the project was impossible, 2/3 saying that everything worked fine. Oh, and the Professor claimed that everything was working fine.
It winds up the written instructions were obsolete as both the UI and many of the functions had changed with a recent update. There were no notes that the video superseded the written instructions. When the cause was discovered the professor shrugged her shoulders and claimed that "everyone should have watched the video. No one actually reads the instructions." She appeared to have trouble initially conceiving that some of the class would rather spend 15 minutes reading the material as opposed to 1+ hours watching a video.
Yes, that! Likes and Subscribes don't translate in the quality or even future production of "more great content". Neither metric tells you anything about other videos they produce(d). Even the advertisers are more interested in accumulated views. They don't care if people "like" or "subscribe".
I've just watched your video showing me how to replace the pump on my Bosch washing machine. Thank you very much, you just saved me a lot of money. But that does not mean I have any need or even interest in your upcoming video on replacing the thermocouple on a Worcester combi boiler - nor probably any other video you ever have, or ever will publish.
To be fair, YouTube gives the publisher an opportunity to monetize the information they're sharing without costing the viewer anything but time.
If I get to save £100 callout fee for the cost of having to watch a video, I can live with that. But on the other hand when all I want to do is add a transparency channel to an image layer in GIMP then it's just f***ing annoying to have to sit through 10 minutes of something that starts with "Hey guys, whassup?"
My God, if only I had a dime for every time I had to explain that I'd rather spend a couple of minutes reading the pertinent information over watching an insufferable, hour long video. Without fail, the videos are varying levels of terrible: horrible editing, narration, video quality, an insufferable amount of time getting to the point, inappropriate/irritating "musical" scores... they're all there in varying degrees.
Well, I'd have a lot of dimes!
When I started computers 65 years ago there were no classes, videos etc. You just had a well written manual. Now the manuals are not well-written - just examples etc. and videos. Also, I discovered when teaching that the current crop of kits don't seem to be able to absorb material from the written page.
"rather spend 15 minutes reading the material as opposed to 1+ hours watching a video."
The YouTube generation? Millions of long winded "instructional" YouTube videos that for most people can be distilled down a few minutes of reading text and looking at diagrams on a simple static webpage which can easily be referred to at a glance rather than spending some minutes trying to find the spot in the video that has the bit of info you need to refresh :-)
Videos, audiobooks and podcasts are generally a terrible way to impart information, with some specific exceptions such as if is useful to have a visual example. Personally, I read faster than people speak, and if I missed something its just a matter of looking back up the page.
If it matters - put it in writing. Anything else isnt even piss in the wind.
Some people may struggle with written comprehension - they will be struggling anyway, and eliminating accents makes understanding simpler even for non native users.
This is true.It went through the school systems a decade or so back. At one point some schools ( with the do-the-latest-thing-look-at-me type heads and senior staff) had kids wearing badges saying "I'm a visual learner" etc. But, the weakness in that became instantly obvious- as in how the fuck do you know that little Johnny is a so called visual learner? Let alone where on the scale he is, i.e. even advocates for that concept couldn't say that it was absolute every one - or almost everyone having just one learning style And in fact the whole idea turned out to be unscientific faddy bollocks any way, as previous post noted..
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Thumbs up for that approach. Our official training process for our production equipment is something like:
1) Tell them what to do.
2) Demonstrate what to do
3) Ask if they have questions
4) Have them do the process
5) Correct any issues
6) Periodically come back and re-verify they're correctly following the procedure
7) Have them train you on the operation.
This sounds like the Scout method of training, i.e. plan do review, where you explain what is expected, give an example, get the youth member to replicate it, keep them repeating it, then get them to train a younger member. Finally the review is done to ensure that there are no areas for improvement in the methodology or training.
Nice theory, but I've seen people who were confused about what to press 30 seconds after they pressed it. Some people are intentionally obtuse about anything related to computers; they flat out refuse to learn how to use them, because they want nothing to do with that "fancy contraption." It isn't a lack of capability, they're likely to tell you "its not in my job description."
Hey, you're describing my wife!
She will ask me or one of the kids to put a DVD on, find stuff on streaming media, filter her email, change the time on her alarm clock and many other things 'because she doesn't know how' (even having been told how, many, many times).
But set up a horrendously complex computerized sewing machine that I look at with bemusement? No problem.
She's just not interested in some processes.
It was beginning to infect the kids (they're not really kids any more, just still living at home!) until I started not doing some things for them unless they had tried and had problems. And guess what, they didn't have problems (or if they did, I would work them through with them), and they just started doing the things by themselves. Now, I've even lost track of the hardware in their gaming rigs.
I wonder if it would work getting them out of the house if we stopped feeding them and doing their washing?
Indeed, some people very obviously flat-out refuse to learn anything they don't want to, no matter how idiotically simple, insisting the entire time that they "can't". It doesn't matter that were that actually true they should absolutely not be allowed to get out of bed in the morning - they just are these special snowflakes who "can't" learn this one simple thing.
Had a similar issue with a button. Many, many, many years ago had a support call saying the monitor wasn't working.
Went through the usual routine, "Is it plugged into the mains? Is the monitor switched on?".
After a while I wandered over to the next building to have a look, turned the monitor on to see what, if anything happens and lo and behold, it was working fine.
Back in the late 90s I had to go on site to a hospital north of London to do some work on storage array used in a new X-ray system. The on-site engineer told me of the fun they had building a new server room for this equipment. They put the racks in, then realised there was no power to connect anything to. Took all equipment out and fix. Repeat - no networking. Repeat - no aircon. Months later they finally got all the services they needed installed, and then the aircon leaked and soaked everything,
I had sort of the same experience a couple of decades back. Hardware management had been outsourced to a IT consultancy. My dedicated contact dropped me an email letting me know our shiny new server had been received, configured and commissioned and was now available for use, heck they even provided me the IP address they had allocated for it.
I emailed back asking to check the IP because I wasn't getting a ping back from the machine, "Oh, no you won't. The machine hasn't been networked!" It's a server! In a server room! You've allocated an IP address but not connected it to the network ... in what way is this available for use???
Many years ago the company I was working for bought a quantity of Compaq servers, free-standing racks and UPSen. Also they bought the services of 'an experienced installer company' who had the remit of plugging everything together so that all we needed to do was do the network cabling and turn on the servers. This despite the fact that we were quite adept at doing said installation (and in fact had already done several such installs).
Apparently, the reason using the external company was 'liability' - if we put them in and something went wrong, the company would have no-one to sue to recoup the costs of the project.
They duely turned up on-site and assembled the racks themselves. Then came a strange request - they wanted a ladder for one of their staff...
So we went away and found a step ladder (signed for in triplicate - yes it *was* that sort of place) and took it back to the server room. Out of curiosity, I lurked after handing the ladder over - I was curious.
Apparently, they needed it because they were installing the UPS *in the top of the rack* and one of their staff was too short to do it.
That install came to a screeching halt at that point after I had informed them in no uncertain terms that the UPS should *never* be in the top of the rack as it would make the rack far too top-heavy and any attempt to move them would almost certainly result in the rack toppling on whoever was trying to move it. In the end, I had to get my manager (who had sign-off on the install) and make him understand just why it was a very, very bad idea. The key phrase was "employee lawsuit for damages due to negligence by the employer".. It turned out that the team foreman had utterly misunderstood the layout diagramme.
He got them to put the UPS' in the proper place (2 hours of work) and the fit-out eventually finished and they got their sign-off so they could get paid. We then went over the racks with a fine-tooth comb and spent the next few hours fixing their mess (retaining bolts with no nuts on, KVM shelf not installed correctly etc etc).
In the end it probably cost the company twice as much as having us doing the install would have done. But at least they had someone they could sue if the racks got damaged..
I left for pastures new shortly after that.
The problem there is that you fixed it.
You should have not changed anything, but prepared a document listing every problem, with photographs. Then insisted that the installers come back to fix their work.
That would have made it obvious to everyone just how incompetent they were, and what a bad decision hiring them was.
Trained someone to use a system where there was a large KVM switch in use. Something like five computers were going in to a six port KVM but there was definitely one free one. First time they’re using it on their own and I get a call to say it isn’t working. The empty port was being used by this employee and they’d forgotten that they needed to select 3. They’d watched me select 3 but I’d only pressed the button once to get to 3 so that was exactly what they’d done, pressed it once. I pointed to the KVM counted three LED’s along and said to make sure the correct one was lit, pressing the button enough times to get it there.
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I may have met your trainee but probably not, a very similar thing happened here. They person in question was given a demonstration of what they needed to do. He’s shown how to plug patch cables in, which for most ain’t exactly rocket science. He’s also shown the port numbers above each port on the switch. He has a go on a unit on the bench in the IT room and he’s okay doing it. He’s told it’s vital to plug the patch cable into the correct port. He’s then tested in the ground floor room on a live unit and seems ok. Told that these ports upstairs will currently be empty so no need to unplug anything. He’s got the correct port on each unit downstairs, so is he confident he can do this on his own? Yeah he barks.
He’s plugging in a patch cable into a switch on one of the higher I.e. management floors and one a floor below. He’s then sent with a list of port numbers and patch cables upstairs. The switch rooms are all in the same place on each floor so it should be as easy as pie. A call comes in minutes later though that a management PA has lost connection to the internet. Two of us go to check and discover he’s not looked at the port numbers at all. He’s used the same first port in the switches in both rooms.
He doesn’t seem to understand that it ain’t going to work like that. Tells us it’s the same ports we used downstairs so what’s the problem? The fact he’d had to unplug things hadn’t worried him at all, but it worried us. We had to be gentle because his dad was in senior management and this was supposed to be a work experience day. He was given less difficult tasks to do under heavy supervision for the rest of the day he was with us. Made a good coffee though.
His dad came down at the end of the day to collect him. He said he hoped his offspring hadn’t been a pain despite not being the sharpest tool in the box. “Won’t be applying to Oxbridge” was the phrase that stuck in our minds.
My eldest daughter was taking a course in Electrical Engineering to GCE "A" Level at school. As part of the course, she was sent to a large electrical manufacturing company in the town for "Work Experience". She was allocated to one of the Senior Development Engineers (who just happened to be her uncle) and was given hands on experience synthesizing Variable Voltage, Variable Frequency (VVVF) output from a fixed frequency input by means of chopping the inputs directly. When she returned to school and was asked to explain what she had learned, she gave a very lucid and creditable lecture to the assembled sixth formers and staff, but afterwards was told to forget everything she had learned about three phase electricity, as the "A" Level syllabus did not get beyond single phase.
In ancient times, I came to a place that had two Apple computers (before Mac), with monitors stood on them. Since the cables were quite long, some idiot had put the monitor connected to the left computer onto the right computer and the other way round. I turned out the computer on the left and the monitor on the left - no picture. Took me a while to figure out, because that wasn't the stupidity I expected.
We had those at school. 15-year-old me somehow became the on-site fix-it for the computer lab aka four brand new Apple ][e with two 5.25" floppy drives each, running UCSD Pascal.
The Apple full-height, 143 KB floppy drives were noisy as hell, so some bright... person... thought that a bit of lube would help. So they put some light machine oil on a floppy and put it in. Didn't work, of course...
In the end, I spent an afternoon with a screwdriver and a bottle of 99% Isopropanol, cleaning the mess from the disk drives (and applying a tiny bit of silicone lube on the spiral that drove the head positioning where it belonged). Drive still worked when I left school over 3 years later.
> embarrassing situation where you slip
Early days at work after leaving school. one of the stores walkways on the factory floor had been painted (Red) and taped off..so naturally I used the other door, walked along the stores corridor to the part I wanted which was opposite the door to the painted walkway...
You have probably already seen it coming, exiting I went straight out of the door (can't remember if there was a notice but it was not blocked off) and ended up on my arse in the newly painted red paint.
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President Schwarzenegger puts it succinctly in The Simpsons Movie. He is presented with five options for containing the presumed environmental issue in Springfield and picks one without even opening the materials:
"I was elected to lead, not to read."
The design is really bad when it is not obvious and intuitive for the user that a button must be pressed.
This is basic interaction design. But I digress, not many machines or programs are actually designed to be used. One could almost say, they are not fit for purpose. Tell tale of bad design is when the user needs to bend to the machine's way.
One silver lining, maybe... you get to spend the night at a hotel at somebody else's expense ;-)
If I have to look in the manual (absolute last resort of course) it's a really bad design!
One of Apricot's IBM compatibles had the power switch on the back. It was a grey plastic rectangle with a slightly stepped outer edge, just the right size and shape to look like the cover over a 9-pin serial port or similar. I made very sure when I installed the machine that the customer staff knew exactly where it was.
More intuitive was an HP tower with the power button at the top (right next to the floppy eject button - a molly-guard was deployed on our in-house machine). We had a phone call from a customer late one afternoon, bearing in mind this was the days of hard power switches.
Customer : "How do i turn the computer off?"
Us: "Errm, press the same button as you did this morning!"
Customer: "Yes, I know that, but I've forgotten where it is!"
It takes a special kind to forget, in 8 hours, where a power button is when it's on the front of a tower system in the most obvious place possible!
That's the order of the day now, even for simple devices. I bought a radio alarm clock recently, that has two arrays of small flush buttons to control its settings. All the buttons perform more than one function depending both on the "mode" entered by pressing another button and how long the button is held down, and most of the alternative functions of each button are irrelevant to each other (e.g. one button turns on the radio if pressed for any length of time, but turns off the radio if pressed for more than 1 sec or changes the waveband if pressed briefly). So you always have to read the "manual" sheet. I only solved some of the problem by sticking plastic blobs on some of the buttons (along the lnes of the beer taps on the controls at Three Mile Island).
The controls of most digital cameras are just as poorly designed. My Nikon digital camera has a small rotary/four way press/centre press button positioned so you can't use it conveniently while holding the camera to your eye, and that effective 6-control abomination has a vast mode-dependent set of independent functions. My old Nikon film camera had a set of intuitive single function controls all of which were under the hand while shooting.
Not progress but regress.
By that metric, 486-era cases for IBM Aptiva desktops were a disaster.
Well, they WERE indeed.
But IBM knew how to do the manuals back then. Fully illustrated, dummy proof. It was a full brochure notebook worthy of instructions, each task separated by topic.
And I'm not even mentioning the mega-binders of the era.
My solution to that alarm clock problem is to use a Raspberry Pi with an RPF 7" display. All the "controls" are set up in crontab. Since ssh is enabled, I can "control" it from the PC I'm normally using.
So if one morning you decide to have an extra ten minute snooze, you crawl out of bed, boot the PC, ssh to the alarm clock, edit crontab, log out, get back into bed and hope to drift for a bit, even though you're now wondering if you needed to correct for the end of Summer Time...
I used to have a Nokia VT220 compatible terminal next to my bed. Nice for late-night/early-morning system maintenance and email.
Nowadays, my DIY alarm clock (also ESP8266 based) can be controlled via Alexa and FHEM. It will slowly dim up the LED lighting, starting 20 minutes before I'm supposed to get up.
Needlessly complext technology? You bet.
Well, this comes with instructions, but frankly has no need of them. If a purchaser needs instructions for one of these then I think they should not be out of the house alone....
It can be done.
Now can anyone find a wall socket digital timer that is as intuitive to use as the old tick-tock, pull out the little cams and switch for on, off, timer.
I've been waiting for a long time now :-|
> beer taps on the controls at Three Mile Island
Can't find that reference, but did spot this little piece on bad buttons.
Get a fujifilm. They are brilliant and intuitive cameras. My only gripe is there is always one programmable shortcut button that requires an extra finger between index and thumb to use, and the default setting for it is either iso setting or manual focus assist.
So not always needed, but when i do, buggered if i can find it without taking it away from my eye and losing the shot.
And who decided to on/off switch should be around the shutter release, just behind the control wheel on the grip bulge, finger for the control wheel and presto turn the camera off....
Why did manufacturers collectively decide the sensible left shoulder/top plate proper 'clicky' switch was apparently in the 'wrong' place...
one function depending both on the "mode" entered by pressing another button
You will find that this is a consequence of using programmable micro controller chips, the fewer pins one has the cheaper it is to produce so they make the switches multi-function depending on the mode to use as few as possible.
It also means that they can put loads of functionality in the device (microwave ovens with loads of cooking programs spring to mind - has anyone ever actually used one?) as it is just software which is a one time cost to develop.
The designing is actually quite clever, you can do a lot with a device with just 8 pins but it is horrible for the end user to operate.
Our Dash Cam is a bit like that. You can't access the menu- using the actual menu button- if it's recording, which it does automatically. But none of the buttons is specifically to stop the recording. Or indeed labelled stop. Somehow, I eventually manage to press a button that stops recording, with trial and error, when I need the menu. Then the menu has two tabs needing to move left or right between them. but there's no < > buttons only up and down, and they only work within the tabs. So more random presses. A right pain when the sodding thing is fixed/close to the windscreen.
On the latest HP Z-Book work provided me, I couldn't find the power button - why because it was one of the function buttons on top row of keyboard and sits between the "PrtScn" & "Del" buttons. I'm just glad I rarely use it open using built in keyboard
Our corporate image also comes with a util that gives us temporary local admin.
Which can be turned into permanent admin by using it to log in as local admin and add your user account to the admin group...
(This was strongly hinted at by the corporate IT people when they handed over the laptop, but despite this and most of the people in my company being pretty smart, you'd be amazed how few people actually worked that out.)
I have one too. The one I hated the most was the HP programmable key software, which watches for F12 and, if you've accidentally put the keys into function key mode, would launch some kind of programmable function. That function for me is not installed, so it spawns a window telling me that the tool I need to program a function hasn't been installed, and if you press the key multiple times, you get multiple windows that you have to close individually. Fortunately my employer trusts us engineers with admin access so I could find the service responsible for that craziness and disable it. Now it does nothing, which indicates that I need to press FN+shift again to make those keys resume their OS functions.
My Dell laptop had the paint coming off the left shift key, resulting in a fairly bright keyboard backlight "spotlight".
I should have just taped it over, but warranty! So I had Dell fix it. Big mistake.
First time the guy came to exchange the keyboard. Afterwards, it felt a bit wobbly, but okay, maybe that's expected. Only that the thing bluescreened several times during the following week. Crash dumps were inconclusive. Once it even complained abot the hard sisk (M.2 SSD) gone missing and refused to boot, but recovered after a bit of prodding.
Back to IT it went, and I got a loaner. Their tests did not show anything wrong.
Dell came again, a scant two weeks belatedly, and fixed it again.
Turned out the keyboard was very loose, and the case screws were loose too - except the one that was missing altogether. Our IT guy tightened everything, and it has been stable for two weeks now.
My theory is that the technician, and I'm using that term loosely, did not tighten the screws sufficiently on the first visit, causing any slight warping of the case to slightly disconnect the SSD.
It's not even new!!! I remember comping across a Tulip laptop many years ago. Not sure of the CPU, possibly an 8086. It had a monochrome LCD "CGA" 640x200 display which should help date it. The "power button" was the space bar. with tiny, tiny, almost microscopic yellow power symbol on the front chamfered edge.
The funniest one was, as a field engineer, I looked after pretty much anything PC or peripheral related and dealt with many makes and models of dot matrix printers, the vast majority of which had a small mains power rocker switch along the bottom casing, either left or right side. Until one day I came across an IBM ProPrinter. So I spend a good 5 minutes feeling all around the edges looking for the power button without success. It was cunning hidden on the top casing of the printer in full view. The "standard" Big Red Switch IBM were famous for back in the day :-) Clearly my brain was not properly engaged that day and was running on auto-pilot, blanking out anything unexpected and concentrating only on the usual, expected situation. A genuine "blind spot" :-)
Part of the problem is that terms like "obvious" and "intuitive" are based on experience. If you have experience driving one type of car, it's obvious and intuitive how to drive another, despite minor differences in the control layout.
If you've never driven a car before, god help you if you try to drive it without instruction.
If you've never driven a car before, god help you if you try to drive it without instruction.
Most people alive today have grown up in and around cars to some degree. I suspect the majority of people would figure it out after a few minutes.
On the other hand, try asking someone to saddle a horse these days and see how far they get. I wouldn't have a clue where to begin.
Although it's been a few years, I can saddle a horse but I admit that I could not find the mechanism to open the door on a 'modern' car. My experience over the years has taught me how to get into 'older' cars by all sorts of tricks but now it takes my five-year old grandson to show me how to get into and out of a machine which should be the epitome of 'intuitive'.
Anyway, it's a good excuse to be chauffeured ------->
On the other hand, try asking someone to saddle a horse these days and see how far they get. I wouldn't have a clue where to begin.
I've actually sort of done this.
When trying to put the bridle (eg head harness) an a horse on to lead it out of it's stall to it's dinner it got fed up and deliberately pushed it's head around so that the Bridle that i'd put on very badly wrong fell on the floor.
I picked it back up, and the horse then immediately pushed it's head in it correctly, tossed it's head to get the straps in the right place and then gave me a cold glare that clearly communicated "now do it up and take me to my dinner. Immediately".
I suspect that if i'd have been trying to do something the horse didn't want to do then it'd have been a bit more of a fight.
"On the other hand, try asking someone to saddle a horse these days and see how far they get. I wouldn't have a clue where to begin."
Simple - the saddle goes on top of the horse.
Now a double bridle - that is tricky, and easy to get in a tangle. And driving harness can be really complicated.
MY mother loved horses and at an early age told me it was important, when saddling the horse, to give it a knee in the belly to get it to exhale before you try to snug the girth up tight. Otherwise, horses, being clever if not smart, suck in a lungful of air, so when you "tighten" the girth, it's comfortable for them. Then they get the additional fun of watching you fall off when the saddle slips around the side.
Though interesting, this information has never actually come in handy during my life. I have discovered, however, that electronics work much better when plugged in.
Simple - the saddle goes on top of the horse.
If you're paying attention, it's pretty obvious that it only fits properly one way around on the horse, but I'd give the average person only a 50% chance of putting it the right way around first time.
And if it was one of my users I'd probably drop that down to 10%, and be suprised that they hadn't tried putting it on a cow or something.
Hmm and when you try to fasten the saddle, the horse will suck its breath in so the saddle ends up loose and if you would then try to get on, hilarity will ensue. If the horse does that, wait till it turns red in its face and breath out - then yank the strap - then he won’t do it with you again.
Most people alive today have grown up in and around cars to some degree. I suspect the majority of people would figure it out after a few minutes.
Unless you've never driven a car that has a "Start" button instead of a keyhole. That is about as non-intuitive as is possible. And then you're battling the giant multi function knobs for windshield wipers and lights, which change with every car maker. Up? Down? In? Out? Turn clockwise? Turn counterclockwise?
Then there's the moment at a stop light when the engine just stops running with no warning or sign why! Or figuring out how to turn off all of the stupid beeping warnings for things that shouldn't need a warning.
Trust me, if your driving experience predates about the year 2000 there's a lot that's not obvious.
Mine has two engine states: "Engine running" and "engine officially running". The engine stops at traffic lights and comes on again when you drive. When stopped, the engine isn't running but it is "officially running". When you park the car, the engine will stop but it's still officially running, so you have to press to Start/Stop button to stop it officially, or it might turn itself on again.
I have two recent examples
Coffee machine at our house has three buttons, each with some cartoon on them that may have meant something to the product designers but not to anyone else. The middle button is the one that starts the brewing. The other two don't. It took many times for my parents to remember which one to hit. I've seen similar machines with a label maker arrow to the button that makes the coffee come out, likely with a "push this one" note.
And my kid #2 just learned to drive. Started out on a recent car with the keyless fob and they did great. Get back into my old car (2001) to learn manual transmission and I handed her the key. We sat there for a while while she figured out what to do with it. That made me feel pretty old.
CommVault backup software is like this. A bunch of icons for status fields of tapes. No text when you hover over them either, so you have to remember what the hell they mean, and it's not always obvious. Or consistent. And no I don't want to keep referring to a cheat sheet somewhere to figure it out.
It's like Emojis. We spent all this time coming up with standard symbols (letters) which we can group into things (words) and now we have Emojis where you have to remember what the hell each is, and what they mean and they're all slightly different. Or completely different (eggplant anyone?) depending on context. Sucks.
So how do I say "Get off my lawn!" in Emjoi?
"And my kid #2 just learned to drive. Started out on a recent car with the keyless fob and they did great. Get back into my old car (2001) to learn manual transmission and I handed her the key. We sat there for a while while she figured out what to do with it. That made me feel pretty old."
On a similar note, young lady driving up a major trunk road at night with no headlights on. Eventually managed to get her to pull over and it turned out she'd only ever driven cars with automatic headlights. While her one was in the garage, she'd been given a car which needed some sort of old fashioned switch thingy to turn them on and couldn't find it, although she did say she'd tried everything on the steering wheels stalks. That particular make of car had a rotary knob at the bottom right of the dash, just above knee height.
I did have a similar experience myself ones. A hire car which had "hidden" the light switch somewhere I#d never seen before. But at least I had the sense to pull over as soon as it was becoming dusk and spend 5 minutes looking for it rather than driving down a 70mph road with no lights on!!
I'll bet on a VW Touareg as the young lady's courtesy car.
My mother-in-law has the same, and it's rare enough that I drive her car that I have to go searching for the sodding switch every bloody time. Even worse, the left stalk has an icon similar to a headlight on it, where the headlight controls are on every other car I drive, seemingly just to screw with me.
I have a vintage car which never had an ignition key. The only key is used for unlocking the doors, and is 6 inches long.
There are several engine controls to play with before using the foot-operated starter switch if you actually want to go anywhere.
Hardly intuitive, but more fun than most cars.
When I was 10, my friend and I were playing inside his dad's old truck, parked in his driveway in front of the closed garage doors. The key was in its ignition lock, but it merely controlled an engine enable/disable function. It turned out:
1) the floor-mounted gearshift was in gear, and,
2) the key was in the "run" position.
We were discussing what various controls did. I pointed out the flexible "boot" covering the shaft of what obviously was the windscreen cleaner-fluid (foot-operated) pump on the floor. Demonstrating this, I stomped down on the "pump". The engine went gah-wooh, gah-wooh, gah-wooh as the truck lurched forward, propelled by the starter motor. I yanked my foot off the "pump" as soon as I realized what was happening, and the truck stopped just a couple inches in front of the closed garage door. When his father returned that evening, he noticed the new position of his truck, questioned us, then banned us from ever again playing in his truck.
Unless you've never driven a car that has a "Start" button instead of a keyhole.
Actually, my E-type had a keyhole for the ignition key, and also a "Start" button to turn the engine over to start it.
It's not that interesting, but I just wanted an excuse to mention that I once owned an E-type.
"Trust me, if your driving experience predates about the year 2000 there's a lot that's not obvious."
Or, something as simple as a tap (or faucet in new El Reg style). Motorway services and "executive" toilets seem to be a hotbed for "innovative" design of the humble tap such that it's very much not intuitive how to get water to come out of them. And despite the budget for the new fancy taps, when they fail, they get replaced with bog standard "push to operate" ones because the maintenance budget can't stretch to the unique and expensive parts to repair or the even more expensive like-for-like replacement.
Or, for that matter, a truly vintage car before controls were standardised. Need to advance or retard the spark as it warms up? There's a nice brass control on the steering wheel for that! Or it it a foot pedal? Or something like a handbrake? I bet few people could even start the engine on a car of that sort of vintage. I'd be one of them too!
All true. Actually, different cultures result in different designs.
That said, there are universal truths in design. You design for a target group which has a certain amount of knowledge. That you use; just like a driver's license. For example, there are prerequisites before you can use lab equipment.
However, the lab equipment must support the human process. All too often it is the human who has to support the machine's process. And that part is a design universal, regardless of culture or experience; design must support the human process.
I have been in the industry as long in this century as the last.
Old style phone I have no problem with - hell, I programmed some of them!
However, modern smart phone are the bane of my life. I often have to ask my children when I can't find some simple function.
Instructions along the line of ...
"swipe left 3 times, find the little gear wheel, 3rd option down, go down to the third page of settings, choose XYZ button, then choose the correct option from the drop-down - it's obvious!"
...drive me up the wall!
When I was 14, and my sister was 12, our dad decided to reduce the phone bill by padlocking the dial. Having found out what loop-disconnect dialling was, I just used to lift up the receiver and, now having a dialling tone, tap out the number on one of the little things that held it up. I later found out that this is called 'switch hook dialling'. I was told by someone that in the UK, it used to be possible to make calls from payphones) by tapping the switch hook without depositing coins. Used to be an offence, apparently.
(An elderly relative trained operators on exchanges that used such lines)
*One of my relatives had one still in its originally installed place on the wall in his farmhouse in the 1970s ( see The Telephone File: GPO Phone No. 11 ). I'm pretty sure it wasn't attached to a working line at the time.
"I'm pretty sure it wasn't attached to a working line at the time."
Don't be so sure, my uncle has an ancient pulse dial phone (the old bakelite type with the little drawer underneath for phone numbers) up until about 5 years ago when thet had to replace it because they needed an emergency system fitting (both he and my late aunt were well into their 80s at the time). This does now mean that he can have Internet...
The small community where my parents grew up has one of the last party line telephone systems in the United States. We decommissioned it "officially" in 1972. After disconnection, $TELCO left us the obsolete equipment to dispose of as we saw fit.
Unofficially, it still works between two dozenish homes, mostly family members. It is possible to call me there by dialing one of two numbers we maintain specifically for the purpose, and then having the operator (or a computer, on the second line) patch from $TELCO to our party line and then ring the requested number.
In the other direction, four short rings automatically patches you to an outside line, normally used for emergencies only these days (thus the computer controlled line ... the human operator is an elderly cousin). Then you rattle the hook to tell the computer what number to dial. Yes, it's slow to dial out ... but it has saved lives on at least two occasions; cell phones don't work well or at all in this part of the Mendocino County back woods.
Mostly it's used for birthdays, anniversaries and other family stuff like that. My "number" (inherited from my Grandfather) is two shorts & two longs.
 Don't panic ... it's legal, I built a couple of optically isolated circuits specifically for the purpose.
I've virtually given up, I'm proudly the luddite of the office. I can do a lot in vis studio , or vs code , or npp++ , or SSMS
... but I just cannot bear learning smartphone apps , even gmail , Id rather get mail on a desktop with all the buttons on display. Most of the time with these things its not a case of "which button / menu?" , more often its:
" there are zero controls ?? wtf am i supposed to do with that ??"
I felt slightly vindicated / outraged when googling how to "mark all as read" to stop the phone constantly informing me I had hundreds of mails - i found out that:
"You cant do this on the mobile app , please log onto your computer and go to gmail"
"swipe left 3 times, find the little gear wheel, 3rd option down, go down to the third page of settings, choose XYZ button, then choose the correct option from the drop-down - it's obvious!"
Obvious...until the next version of the OS comes along and it's all changed for no obvious or useful reason...because.
"Part of the problem is that terms like "obvious" and "intuitive" are based on experience"
Not essentially (except for the absolute basics). Supposing you know anything at all about photography, if on your camera you have a knob marked in shutter speeds that just adjusts shutter speed, a ring on the lens marked in apertures that only adjusts the lens aperture and another ring on the lens marked in metres that just adjusts focus, that's intuitive. If you have one small unmarked somewhat inaccessible 6 way button that does all this and much more depending on the sequence in which you press or rotate it and you have to refer to a separate screen to see what's happening, that's not intuitive.
You should have bought a Pentax DSLR then. One mode dial, two or more function dials (depending on model). Lots of dedicated buttons (that are re-assignable if you really want to) plus the dreaded 6 way switch if you really want to get into the advanced stuff.
Pentax is well known for its ergonomic designs.
A Model T Ford would give any modern driver trouble
"On the floor of the Model T are three pedals which stick out. This car has only two speeds forward. To get the low speed, you step on the left-hand pedal, push it all the way down, and the car moves forward in low gear. To get high speed, you release the hand brake, and the left pedal, then you’re in high speed. So there you have it. Push down for low, lift up for high. On the right-hand side, you have a conventional brake pedal. When you want to stop, you step on it, just like in a modern car. Now, can you guess what the center pedal is for? Of course, when you want to back up, you step on the reverse pedal, and back the car goes. Now you notice that with two good feet, you can go forward or back very rapidly in sequence, something you cannot do with any modern car."
My parents have a sit on garden mower with 1 "rocking" pedal which you press forwards to go forwards and back (with your heel) to go backwards. There is a brake pedal you can use in emergencies but you rarely need it and the gearing is continuously variable. I wish I could get this in a car - 1 pedal driving in EVs comes close....
Honda 50s and Honda 110s had a "rocking" gearshift pedal. A toe-tap shifts it up one gear, and a heel-tap shifts it down one gear. Very easy to use -- and made me wonder why full-sized motorcycles had, and still have, those nasty "one down and four up"-style shifters, where you have to hook your left toe under the shifter and pull (hard!) up to upshift.
You can tell motorcycle riders by the shifter-abraded crease across the top of their left boot.
Normally, i could agree but as far as the article says, there was sufficient training for the users. the call on the airport is also described as having the question wether the button was pressed in it, so no excuse there.
I can relate that a new, shiny, horrifically technical blackbox is not something everyone would confidently touch as i have seen this tech allergic approach often enough but as the story is told, there really is no excuse for the prospective user left.
You dont even need to go high tech. I had the case of a landlord, completely helpless because a main circuit breaker was tripped. Inexperience was the issue here, he did not dare to press the lever above the tripping point, fearing the mechanical resistance might lead to a broken lever if he pressed too hard.
Dont mock him, he did everything right. Tried to assess and remedy the situation as good as he could and call for help before risking to do damage.
Inscription issues however, were not to blame.
If you have an enormous budget you can design something for a specific use, order tooling for manufacture and a year or two later have something ready that does the job without any help from the user. In the real world, delivery must be this month or the customer will go elsewhere. If you divide NRE costs by even a whole hundred customers they will put the phone down as soon as you mention the price. The only practical solution for a small market is to adapt what is mass produced, available and cheap. That will inevitably lead to compromises in usability - and even more so in the '80s when 3d printers did not grow on trees and a smart phone app was slightly less practical than a whole major Amazon data centre.
The label printer mentioned above is a good solution. An instruction card is pushing your luck and a whole 4 page user manual is going too far. On top of that, you have to deal with computer illiteracy. Here is an example from the '90s: the customer had bought an external hard disk and successfully plugged it in. He was calling and asking politely why his floppy disks where not loading and saving faster as a result. For '80s, you are looking for things more like "remove floppy disk 1 and insert disk 2". Missing out the first part of those instructions would lead to technical support calls - but the user could easily get to disk 4 before calling.
"Even worse is the modern fad for printers to have a sole single unlabelled button"
Worse again, on one of the most commonly encountered POS card terminals, when you insert your card and the transaction is recognised the display states "Press OK to confirm". Unfortunately, there isn't a button labelled "OK" - it's labelled "Enter".
I have an AOC monitor that has one button, on the bottom edge, that lights up green when the monitor is on. If I press it in certain ways I can apparently adjust stuff, but it also functions as the on-off button.
I leave it on - it's working fine at the moment, and I dare not press the button to turn it off in case I press it wrong and mess up the settings.
I probably have a manual somewhere, with three pages of English instructions buried among 4795 pages of other languages.
the customer had bought an external hard disk and successfully plugged it in. He was calling and asking politely why his floppy disks where not loading and saving faster as a result.
Thats fantastic , you can just picture the conversation with someone telling him how a hdd would speed things up : )
Except when it's a laptop and the BIOS config has set the function keys to act as multimedia keys instead and you have the press the Fn key plus a function key to get the function of the function key you expect instead of turning the WiFi off or volume up/down or switch the display to a non-existent external screen :-)
I think the problem is the instruction "the button must be pushed in" ... I'd guess that the button appeared flush to the surrounding surface but is that pushed in from its other state where the button sticks out from the surface or not pushed in as in the pushed in state it would be recessed. Doing a simple demo to show how the machine worked seems to be the obvious but of training that "Karl" failed to do.
When you try to open a MS365 file on your phone. You need to press an "open" button after a preview is displayed.
However, as the preview is loading a "delete" button is in exactly the same place as the "open" button appears a fraction of a second later.
Get the timing wrong and panic ensues.
Why MS, Why?
Dear God yes, and save me from software designed by some silicon valley boy genius who has never actually done anything out in the real world. Or from the people who decide that a basically functional app or program just has to be redesigned from the ground up, losing the two or three functions that I use several times every day.
Or the seemingly endless string of companies for whom "Testing" means "It works for me" instead of "Let's run this by a room full of ordinary end users and see what goes wrong."
Or the endless runaround of "only works if you log in with a Google ID", or "Has to validate using a text message to your cel phone, but the cel phone number has to be xxx-xxx-xxxx or it is rejected."
Or, inevitably, the stupid form or app just doesn't work, and neither the app nor the web site offers any support except a brain dead chat-bot.
I hit this one recently; quarantine in Hong Kong. You had to have 4 successive negative PCR tests, which had to be done at either the quarantine hotel or at an official centre. The results were notified via SMS, and as part of the registration process, you had to give a mobile phone number. Snag was, I only had my UK phone; it (although supposedly unlocked) wouldn't accept a Hong Kong SIM (but that's another story) and the registration process would only accept Hong Kong or Chinese international dialling codes! I ended up buying a very cheap, non-smartphone just so I could receive those texts.
"... my UK phone; it (although supposedly unlocked) wouldn't accept a Hong Kong SIM ..."
Leaving aside the artificial locking bullshit, the phone has to support the frequency band(s) the provider uses. If their towers use bands A, B, and C, but your phone only does D, E, and F, you're SOL.
https://willmyphonework.net is a useful resource.
"Dear God yes, and save me from software designed by some silicon valley boy genius who has never actually done anything out in the real world."
Ah, like one of our work apps that used to have a back button that took you back to the menu. The left facing arrow, commonly identified in most software as "back" has been replaced by three horizontal lines in a stylised "menu" or list (and for some odd reason called a "hamburger menu"). Now, technically, it IS taking me to a menu, ie the front page of the app which is a menu of icons to select from, but that particular icon is pretty much standardised these days such that clicking on it one expects a drop-down menu of options.
 I'm not sure I've ever seen or eaten a hamburger. AFAIK they are made with beef :-)
 I've had things called chickenburgers, turkeyburgers and even fishburgers, but I'm not sure they are really burgers as they are invariable coated in breadcrumbs or batter.
Dell tower computer in the office, under the desk in a dark corner. The on/off button is a 1cm flush mounted thing, the same color as the rest of the case. It does helpfully light up once you turn the computer on.
Much fun trying to refuel a rental car. Could not find the release button for the fuel door. Turns out it was in the glove box.
"the glove box"
Thanks. I would never have thought to look there, but now I will. When I borrowed a car in 2021, I called the owner because I couldn't find the fuel door release. The car didn't have one.
I think people expect too much from intuition. Intuition is entirely based on experience, and something just a little bit different from every example you have ever seen can be impossible to use -- at first.
You are right, to a point. Ovens for example, never have a simple way to set the bloody clock, they ALWAYS have some weird thing that involves pressing 3 buttons at once and then turning two knobs simultaneously while casting the runes. However, requiring a single button to be pressed, and having taught the people how to do it... is not the same.
As a good example of the thing you were on about, take me, a rightpondian, when moving to the states, trying to program a VCR... i was a 20something at the time, so well capable of programming a VCR. Except not this recalcitrant one. My non tech savvy wife set it in moments.
The issue? It was 2pm, it refused to accept 14:00 as the time, the NEXT page after the one i couldn't get past, asked for AM/PM!
> Ovens for example, never have a simple way to set the bloody clock, they ALWAYS have some weird thing that involves pressing 3 buttons at once and then turning two knobs simultaneously while casting the runes.
Ours isn't too bad. The function knob on the left has six settings, going clockwise they are Fast Set, Slow, Time, Oven, Mind, Set. Time (in the vertical position) is the normal setting and just displays the current time. The ones before Time are for fast (1 hr/step) and slow (1 min/step) increments to the clock. The ones on the other side are for the automatic start or stop (I don't even know which) function that we never use. So it's just "turn it two steps to the left until it gets to the hour you want, one step back to the right until it gets to the right minute, then back to the central position." The only hard part is timing the turns so that it stops on the number you want, but if you miss it you just have to go around again.
We had a high-profile customer making a transition from their own internal world-wide network to a more commercial T-carrier based system. The company I worked for supplied the necessary gear to interface between $TELCO and their own equipment. This wasn't pre-Internet, but it was before the general use of the Internet for routing internal traffic around the world, so all their WAN links were supplied by one $TELCO or another. Call it mid 1980s.
Our customer service got a phone call from the customer allowing as to how one of their offices in Sydney, Australia refused to see the rest of the world. Customer service called me (the primary TAC Engineer for the customer), and I eyeballed it. Digging into the network, I could see that a loopback switch in the Sydney office was thrown, it would need to be flipped back to connect their LAN to their WAN. I informed customer service, and figured that was the end of it. Until about two hours later when my Boss wandered in and asked what I knew about Sydney being down. I blinked three or four times to reboot (kernel hacking again, probably) and told him I had located the cause and informed our guys as to the fix, and then got on with putting out fires elsewhere.
He replied that apparently the dude in charge of the Sydney office didn't like the answer, had called his Boss, who called his Boss, who called the director of the Australian branch, who called the owner of our company, who was informed by our CS guys that I was responsible, and so now my Boss had been put in charge of fixing it. He wasn't happy. So using my TAC access, I showed him the "fault". He expressed disbelief. And called the owner down to my office. The owner (the engineer who founded the company, and a real tech, not just a suit) also expressed disbelief. I believe his actual words were "What the fuck are those useless fucks doing?" ...
ANYway, he called the director of the Australian branch (just a suit, apparently), who got all shouty and demanded an immediate fix, now, or we'd lose the entire contract if he had anything to say about it. Our owner tried to calm him down, but the dude wasn't having any of it ... so to make a long(er) story short(er), he promised to "put his best man on it" ... and I got sent to Sydney on the next flight. Out of San Francisco. First Class. At very short notice. To flip a switch. With invoice in hand, to be presented personally to the Director in Oz. I honestly thought he was going to take a swing at me when he read it ... it was a tick over $20,000 ... in mid-1980s dollars. Broken down in glorious detail. To flip a switch.
But wait ... it gets better! When I was at the airport heading home (having been in Australia for maybe 2 hours total), I got called to the proverbial White Courtesy Phone. Seems a different branch of the very same company had a similar problem, this time in a satellite office outside Boca Raton, Florida. I called my Boss and asked something like "WTF‽‽‽". He tiredly allowed as to how he personally had checked, and indeed it was the exact same issue. Our owner had asked if I wouldn't mind doing the hono(u)rs ... a completely different Director had called and threatened him in a similar manner to the first. So instead of taking the long east-bound flight home six hours later, I had to take an immediate West-bound flight, changing planes in Jakarta and London, to Florida. Arriving somewhat cranky & disheveled in Boca, I was rather pleased with the similar result (one switch, and out), except I didn't feel physically threatened after the Director read the invoice. This one just went white and slumped in his chair. I excused myself.
Back to the airport, and home to California. Still First Class. Four+ days on the road, literally once around the world, no hotel rooms, not a single proper meal, showering in airports, just to flip two switches. Such was the life of a field engineer. Tell that to kids these days ...
 This was in the halcyon days before ubiquitous cell phone, and I had left my DynaTAC at home ... it not only wouldn't have worked in Oz, it probably would have been confiscated at the airport.
I used to work for a compay that sold conveyancing systems running on the Pick Operating System. We had an urgent call from one of the clients to say the terminals were working, but the main console wasn't. I rushed over, walked in the office and said "You've moved that", pointing at the box and console. The client said, "We were really careful when we moved it. The console is connected but it won't display anything. I slid the brightness control on the monitor to the middle position and presto - it lit up. We decided not to charge them for a service call....
Years ago we had a similar problem. There was a problem with the call recorder in a remote site and the only solution was to reboot it. Now the guy on site wasn’t technical and in the same rack was the primary mpls router for the site.
So a plan was formed we asked him to take a photograph of the rack and email it down to us.
This done we edited the photo and highlighted exactly which device needed to be restarted, we then sent the picture back and told him to print it out (the site had colour printers so it should have been ok)
He does this gets to the rack and (well you have probably guessed) flicks the wrong switch and brings down a call centre of 400 agents for the next 5 minutes until all the phones had resynced and they could start taking calls again….
A lifetime ago - my first role out of university - I was working for a startup-sized company (ie: me, the boss and the secretary) making HR software. In fact, I had been employed specifically to build what the boss had envisaged as the company's flagship product: a system for managing an organisation's training records.
Now this was around the time that the NHS had finally had enough of waiting for the long-promised, organisation-wide, "manage everything" system, and in desperation were starting to look elsewehere. And since we were cheap (trying to get a toehold in the market) we ended up with several hospitals on the books. And since this was the era of desktop applications, I typically had to go down and do the installations and setup.
So one afternoon at about 4:00pm, I get a call from a hospital that I had been at a week or so previously to install a system upgrade that included a huge summary report that they had specifically requested and I had demoed to them at the time. "The new report doesn't work!" the voice wails from the other end of the line, "we need you to come out and take a look!"
I ask them to read out the error message they're seeing - no dice: "I'm not at my desk, can you please just come out and take a look?"
After about five minutes, the boss intervenes - surprise, surprise, I'm going to take a look. Except that since the hospital in question is over two hours drive away: no problem, the boss gets me a hotel room so I can be on-site first thing in the morning. So I've driven out to the hotel and had a nice evening out.
9:00am the next morning, I'm on site bright and early - right, let's take a look at this error! The manager who had called in the problem takes me up to the HR office and back to the computer I had been at mere days before when I'd showed her the report. I fire everything up, kick off the report and - lo and behold - an alert pops up!
"That's the error!" says the HR manager, pointing at the screen.
It was all I could do not to laugh hysterically. The alert in question was the same one that I had demoed to her when I installed the update:
"This report scans all historical records and may take some time to run. Proceed? [OK] [Cancel]"
I once had a user with a "non-standard issue" monitor(graphic designer). It had a finicky power button, with a LED light. Problem was you could press the button, and it would change color amber, green, but the monitor would sometimes stay dark for up to a minute before lighting up, or you could fiddle with the button and it would turn amber, green, display on in a few seconds Then when you would hit the power button to shut it off, it would go to amber, green, and display on again... and sometimes stay dark until you had left the room.
We had a brand new HR system for entering end of year results. As there was no save button I assumed it was autosaved.
I submitted my results, and my boss came back and said it was empty.... so I redid it ( well... I wrote it in a file and cut and pasted it).
I submitted it. My boss came back saying it was still empty.
I phoned the help desk. They said "It is really easy ... just press the save button". "What save button said I...".
"If you make the window full screen, you get a full set of buttons"
As my window was always small (to reflect its importance) I did not get the buttons.
The person in charge of the app asked me for feedback on the tool... and I gave it ( over 50 comments before I got bored)
- if you press the help button - it clears your entry field.
- What does this icon of a dog's face mean, why isn't there a hover text to tell me.
- The colours used are hard to read (especially if you are colour blind)
- The fonts are not good for people with dyslexia.
I didn't hear from the person again.
That was an issue with the UK COVID vaccination booking system. You went through several pages selecting location date and time for vaccination followed by pages where it offered to text you reminders etc followed by a final page saying "this is your booking" with location date and time ... and then a "click here to confirm" box. Sadly the easy the page rendered meant you often had to scroll down to see this box. I didn't and turned up for my first vaccination to find they had no record of my booking .... wasn't and issue as they were able to fit me in and they also said that this was a common issue. I then needed to book my second appointment and by then I think they had added "confirm by clicking the box at the bottom of this page" to the top of the final page
Better than the first cut at ours, which asked you to "pick a site", then went through entering all your particulars and asked you to chose a date from the available ones below...then kicked you back to the welcome screen with a message that there were no appointments available on that date.
Rinse and repeat....*everything*, including entering all your particulars again
IIRC, back in the day, CRT Monitors had the power button and the brightness button all rolled into one. You could hear a notch while turning it to get it on, and the brightness would increase as you turned it.
You can see where this is going.
The following generations that never met these monitors, plus the habit of dimming down monitors, made sure younger folks forgot to turn their monitors on. Was it though? Anyway, iirc means exactly my memory is sketchy.
These days I leave the monitors on, and let the lack of signal from the pc do its thing to power saving features of said monitor.
Often it was a "joke" played by a co-worker that ended up going too far once the support engineer has been called so no one would admit to it. I used to point out in a nice clear and loudish tone that this was user error, not covered by the service contract and for them to expect a £120 invoice for the call-out, while surreptitious glancing around the open plan office and often noting at least one head suddenly bobbing down in embarrassment. Depending on the customer and if it was a repeat incident, we may or may not have actually charged them, but we always made sure the site contact was made aware of it.
Princeton amber-screen PC monitors had a brightness control/power switch. You pulled the knob OUT to switch on the power, you pushed the knob IN to switch off the power, and you rotated the knob clockwise to increase the brightness.
I was sent on a road trip with a new monitor to swap with the reportedly-broken monitor. When I arrived, I saw the glowing green power LED was lit, I stepped up to the monitor and turned up the brightness, and ... it was not broken. The previous user had turned down the brightness and gone to lunch. (It was the console display for a character-based XENIX system, which had no screen-saver.)
.......almost all of which comes from computer-related businesses selling.......you guessed......computer stuff!!
In the dim and distant past, there was a tradition associated with anything new to the user:
(1) Face time training....where.....
(2) The user was first TOLD what was going on.....
(3) ....and then the user got to develop muscle-memory by DOING STUFF!!!.......
(4) ....and then there was often a MANUAL (you know....printed stuff with pictures and an index)!!
But not today.......since Bill Gates told us (in 1990) that everything in Windows was "intuitively obvious")......things have gone downhill.....
(5) Julie Larson Green and the "ribbon" which was alleged to be "better" than "that old menu stuff"......when it was transparently even more clunky than menus!!
(6) Steve Sinofsky and the complete disaster that was Windows 8 and the widely hated "Start Button"!!
(7) And now we have endless corporate "UI designers" foisting the latest "touch", "swipe"....and the latest colours....you know "flat buttons" etc......
How on earth did we get here? Is any of this actually adding any value?
So when I write a memo -- is the latest GUI (consuming many GB of memory on a 2GHz CPU) actually adding any value over Wordstar in the early 1980's?
......or is this all just a ramp for billions of dollars for Apple and the network companies?
Theyve got rid of the f8*&king save dialog in office !!! This is even more infuriating than scrapping the start menu in windows 8
Now in ,say ,Excel you find "save as" on that stupid f**king ribbon thing and guess what happens - Some totally unfamiliar screen pops up with a incomprehensible array of guesses about what you MIGHT be trying to do!!
its fucking clippy all over again but made mandatory!
You have have to REALLY search for the secret tiny "more options" text and click on it to dig out the actual controls to direct the machine to save your file in the place you choose in the format you want
I spent longer in front line support than anyone should ever have to thankyou . Decades.
I think it has instilled and understanding and sense of duty towards the people we are actually supporting that *some of* my new colleagues , who have barely ever worked with the frontline people doing the primary work , haven't got. (its user error! close that! not us! tell em to got the official' takes weeks' route! etc )
I dont see how microsoft changing the layout every ten minutes helps.
The ONLY thing I ask of end users is they understand what a filepath is. Its the key to knowing where your shit is .
All of Microsoft's (and others ) attempts to undermine that principle (Library folders ! ffs! ) is basically just shooting everyone in the foot and "enabling" IT illiteracy.
"Now in ,say ,Excel you find "save as" on that stupid f**king ribbon thing and guess what happens - Some totally unfamiliar screen pops up with a incomprehensible array of guesses about what you MIGHT be trying to do!!"
maybe it's a version thing, but on my works laptop, the only place I use MS Office apps, ALT-F S still saves the file. ALT-F A brings op the Save As dialogue page (note, not a box, and entire page!) with so many options it's confusing, but at least the file name box is easy to find, followed by Enter.
Been there, got the t-shirt.
A/V install in a conference centre with around 12 meeting rooms. Philips Prontos to control the A/V equipment in each.
The largest 3 meeting rooms could be combined into one room, and had an AMX system to control the combined equipment. AMX RF wireless touch panel was about £2500 in the early 2000's.
Panicked phone call one morning that the AMX remote wasn't charging and they had bookings that needed it. Anything changed? Of course not.
The site wasn't far off my normal commute anyway, so agreed to stop on my way to the office.
I walked in and main reception had been totally reorganised with the remotes all now neatly up on a shelf. The AMX remote was plugged into the answering machine power supply, despite the AMX charger lead (now plugged into the answering machine) even being labeled as being for the AMX system.
"Sadly" for them the voltages/polarities had not been kind and it had blown the charging circuit of the AMX panel. They'd started getting awkward about paying the bills, so the replacement panel wasn't delivered until the for it payment had cleared. I don't know what they did in the meantime.
Nothing can be done about users who lie to you. I write meticulous documentation for the programs I write but you cannot expect a generation who grew up with "manual-less" smartphones to be able to read. It's a phenomenon I call "transliteracy" - people who can read but don't. Good luck, people, The next generation of software/hardware will replace most user interactions. Enjoy that barista job.
Oh... Memories of my HellDesk days:
User calls in with a (common) problem -> Talk them through the dialogs and options, they "uh-huh" and "got it" until you get to an informational screen and ask them what it says. Then you get "Well, I'm not at my computer, I'm [at work/ on vacation/ driving(?!)]".
Some of the very worst users I've come accross are the 'Professional' types (Doctors, Lawyers, Teachers) whose view is 'If I can do XXXXX then this computer can't be difficult" and then proceed to totally stuff it up and blame the tech for not making it so they could operate it without intervention and NEVER FOLLOW ANY TROUBLESHOOTING STEPS OFFERED!!! Then they say "Of course I've tried that I'm a XXXX"
In the 90's working for a reseller, we had one of the largest retailers in the US as a customer. We were also on the hook to provide maintenance for the PC's in 1000's of stores nation wide.
A request came in along with supplies to add a sticker to the Enter key on each and every keyboard that said "Any".
Because the users could not find the "Any" key when prompted "Push Any Key"
Similar with the message "Press the Enter key". Sometimes it says "Return", not "Enter" on the key. Or has the left arrow with the vertical bar on. Some people can't learn multiple meanings for the same thing. The information simply doesn't "stick". Even asking them to press the Space Bar can be confusing.
The showroom salesman came to install it and couldn't get it connected to the internet. It got freeview channels and the guests were arriving so we booted him out with 30 days no fault return.
No manual in the box, the help button needed the internet to help!
Explained to the guests and they were knackered from fighting the M5 so we said we'd pop round some time and try and get it working. I spent about 5 hrs on the companies web site trying to get some help and got no-where. The guests were up with the lark the next day so popped over to discover smart telly working like a dream on the internet. Found out the guest had the same telly at home and had had the same problems but managed to sort it out. Promised to write it down for us for when it invariable goes titsup but cleaners threw out the instructions!
and users and cattle prods. kerrrrrzzzzzaaaappppAiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
My tale of woe comes from 2 jobs ago....... machine has a sliding safety door, operator has to press a button on the control to release the lock on the door to open it.
Get a call 2 hours after teaching him the basics............. door has jammed and he cant shut it.................
Wander over(cattle prod set to yellow alert) seems the door is off the runners and stuck plus the lock fingers are bent/broken
"I couldn't get the door open.. it was jammed... so I pulled it extra hard" (cattle prod to red alert) "I pressed the button but the door was still jammed"
"Did you?" I said , while turning the cattle prod to stun
"well i dunno AIIiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee"
Took me 3 hrs to get make a new set of lock fingers and get that door back on the runners...
That operator never forgot instructions again..
Yes. my instructions are almost always ignored.
To be fair I document compulsively and few want to wade thru the details
and I'm just as bad as any other end user...
Many times I read just the first few lines of instructions before jumping right into a process.. only to have to back up and reread entirely anyway.
I was doing IT support in a university Teacher Education area. We had a frantic call from a "teacher of science teachers" stating that he couldn't get the video projector working in one of the tutorial rooms. (See last week's on call re "if it plugs in to a power point, it's an IT problem").
I arrived to find a wannabe science teacher standing on a table faffing with the controls on the ceiling mounted projector. Much wailing 'we tried everything'.
The AMX panel (colour touch screen) that normally controlled the system had failed and had been removed. Next to the empty space on the wall that the panel would normally occupy were neatly writing instructions, complete with a drawing of the projector remote control and arrows indicating which buttons to push in which order. The remote control for the projector was neatly arranged on the bench.
So... I picked up the remote control and pushed the two buttons on it in the order indicated in the instructions on the wall. The video projector sprung to life and the day was saved. Bear in mind that the lecturer had a PhD and all the students in the room were studying to be science teachers.
And again I cite the senior leader in the secondary school in which I started my career simultaneously unable to work his VCR whilst loudly lambasting the IT function for stability and quality in a very public setting. At which point having looked for a good 30 seconds, I "just not quietly enough" reminded him that for a VCR to function, one must insert the tape which was sat on his desk.
For many users the fear of doing the wrong thing and killing the computer is paralysing.
When PCs were still expensive and rare that was a very common problem. Users wouldn't dare touch the thing in case they broke it. Some of those early machines in small offices never never got used. No one dared to take the responsibility.
You may think you've explained which button to press. What they've heard is "I have to remember to press the right scary button".
Before you've left the building they'll be thinking "Oh God, did he say that one or this one?"
Unfortunately the complexity of user interfaces is dictated by sales droids. They need the bells and whistles to justify the new and improved, and vice versa. A microwave oven I had in the late 70's had three controls: a logarithmic (mechanical) timer that had a wide spread between 1 & 2 minutes, but about the same between 20 and 25, an "intensity" control (I usually kept it at 100%) and a "go" button. I have yet to see modern design that is any better, and I've seen lots worse. The same holds for user interfaces, you get "modern" ones that have so many controls you need a five yer old to understand them, probably ALL dictated by someone who wants to justify a price increase.
Remember when a radio had TWO controls. Just a tune control for the station, and a volume control. Not much has improved on it since!
>>Remember when a radio had TWO controls. Just a tune control for the station, and a volume control.
Hardly - that times, just like any of all these "good, old and simple times", never existed.
I've fiddled with every generation of radio from the 1950s to now and even the tube driven radios my grandparents still had in the 1970s (these devices were as long lived as they were huge, heavy and ugly. My in laws had one that would still work in the 2000s with a "new" set of valves.) Had at least four band select buttons, tone, volume and frequency knobs and of course a power button, often with a stand-by option to keep the cathodes in the vacuum tubes warm. Late 1960-80s portable transistor radios had lots of buttons, too. The most simplistic were 1980s to 90s HiFi tuners. They used to have one large knob (or two buttons) for frequency, a couple of memory buttons and at least an AM/FM toggle but definitely no volume knob.
As a kid, I had a MW only transistor radio. Had two controls. One, a combined volume and on/off switch, and the other a tuning dial. The only other thing was a socket to plug an ear piece in.
And of course there was the Sinclair matchbox radio that only had one control, for tuning. You turned it on by plugging the ear piece in!
I have a little guitar practice amp. It's built into a glass jar with the speaker replacing the lid (it's one of these two piece lids which was a metal disk, and a screw ring to keep it on, the speaker replaces the metal disk.
This has no controls, just a socket to plug the guitar cord in, which also turns it on. I just had to buy it when I saw it because it is so elegant and simple.
That jar is called a Mason Jar ... they are used for home canning. The two piece lid consists of the "lid" and the "ring". The jar and the ring are re-usable, the lid is replaced every time you re-use the jar to preserve food.
A company called Trash Amps used to sell the guts and speaker as kits, you supply the jar (will work with any standard wide-mouth canning jar). I got mine as a birthday gift from my Daughter about ten years ago. As you can imagine, the sound isn't exactly fit as a reference source, but it's more than adequate for practice. I swapped out the standard AAA batteries for rechargeables, and added a recharging jack in the lid.
A quick glance at DDG suggests that they no longer sell the one I have, they've downgraded it to use BlueTooth, and now it has a big, ugly switch sticking out the top. If you want one of these things, I suggest you find an original (maybe on fleabay?). Easily worth $25 or so, just for the novelty value. Recommended.
 Or make your own ... it's just a simple high-gain amp, a two inch speaker, a jack, battery holder, and some wire.
I am looking at half a dozen 9V transistor radios, all from different manufacturers, vintage late '50s to mid '70s. All of them have just an on/off+volume knob and a tuner dial for the AM band. They also all have both a built-in speaker and an earphone jack. Plugging in the earphone turns off the speaker. They all still work quite nicely.
I listen to baseball games on a late '30s Philco tube (valve) radio when I'm up at my place in Fort Bragg. It's kinda nice, because it's the same radio that my grandfather introduced me to the SF Giants on when I were a nipper. Big, Art Deco "Cathedral" floor-standing bit of walnut furniture, 85 or 90 lbs worth. With two controls ... on/off-volume and AM tuning.
"Just note it was before remote login"
No. We've been using remote login for well over half a century. In fact, the very first event across the (D)ARPANET was a login attempt. It failed, but the second attempt succeeded. You can read about it here. That was the 29th of October, 1969.
For those of you who don't like pointy-clicky and prefer copy-pasta, here ya go:
There are (I suspect) many key and button combinations that I don't know despite working with computers every day. One that always gets me is the "WiFi On/Off" control that was grafted onto laptops some years ago when the "its going to crash the plane / we're all going to die" scare first happened. (These days WiFi is perfectly OK provided you pay for it.) Since it was a bit of a kludge nobody thought to tell the driver what the switch setting was and often the switch was just a key combination -- Alt-something or another -- in the BIOS. Endless frustration (especially as you needed to get online to read the manual to tell you what/where the damn thing was).
Designers (and I'm one) must remember that users aren't enthusiasts. They just want something to work. to do a job. The knack is to make everything obvious (and don't get too creative -- leave that for the internals).
Oh God! The Horror. The Nightmare. The number of times a staff member had to call me because the internet wasn't working. They'd accidentally hit the key combination that turned it off. And it was seldom obvious. And not quite frequent enough for me to immediately remember it, at first.
Rented an early Subaru when in N’orlins for a conference. Drove off and eventually needed petrol. Couldn’t find how to open the damn flap.
Nice chap at garage called local dealer- “how do you fill up one o’them Subarus?” “That’s all right sir, it’s pre-installed at the factory.” Smartarse...turned out you pushed the same tiny lever you pulled to open the bonnet.
I used to do staff support for a University. Part of my job was to work late one night a week, as we had lectures until 9pm.
One particularly cold, foggy, icy night, I got a call from a building at the other end of the campus, saying the projector had failed in one of the lecture theatres. I wrapped up, pick up a portable projector (which, in those days, were not as portable as today, often weighing a good few kilos) and a laptop, with all the connecting cables. Went out. Made the mistake of looking at one of our buildings, which scared the crap out of me. The building are slightly gothic in design, and usually brightly lit. However, the lights on the side of the building I was on had failed, so all I saw was an ominous silhouette in the fog.
Anyhow, I walked slowly and carefully over the other side of the campus, very aware I was carrying thousands of pounds worth of equipment. Got to the lecture theatre, went to set up the laptop and projector. Only to find the lecturer had forgotten to flick the switch to turn the lecturer's AV station on. I flicked said switch, and after about two minutes of various fans spinning up, then spinning down, the retractable screen lowered into place (it was motorised and retracted into the ceiling when not in use) and PC and projector were both available.
The lecturer apologised when I explained this. The thing is, the lecturer had been using this equipment for several years, and everything I'd done was printed on a notice on the desk next to the control panel, so he had no excuse.
I politely said good bye, and made my way slowly back to my office, carrying the equipment I'd just taken over needlessly.
I was suprised to see this, but there exists a device that plugs in between your keyboard and a computer, and records your keystrokes, playing the recording back to the PC when a given event happens (perhaps at a certain time, or if someone flicks a switch). The idea behind it? You can set it up on a computer controlled factory machine that just needs someone to press a few keys every so often. Sounds like it was needed here.