Misunderstanding Computers

Why do we insist on seeing the computer as a magic box for controlling other people?
Why do we want so much to control others when we won't control ourselves?

Computer memory is just fancy paper, CPUs are just fancy pens with fancy erasers, and the network is just a fancy backyard fence.
コンピュータの記憶というものはただ改良した紙ですし、CPU 何て特長ある筆に特殊の消しゴムがついたものにすぎないし、ネットワークそのものは裏庭の塀が少し拡大されたものぐらいです。

(original post/元の投稿 -- defining computers site/コンピュータを定義しようのサイト)

Monday, August 18, 2014

No Gestures Please! The Tablet UI Is Not a UI.

When I first tried an iPad at the Apple Store in Shinsaibashi (Why does the facade of that store remind me of the 1984 commercial?), I found the interface a disappointment.

I have since purchased an Android tablet. Since I paid money for it, I have been motivated to learn how to use it.

I keep finding places that contradict user interface design principles in disturbing ways. Maddening ways. Ways that make me shrug and say, oh, well, I guess I didn't want to do that anyway.

One thing a user interface should never do is delete, without recourse, without confirmation from the user.

Today, I was answering a post on the debian-user mail list. Someone had asked about stable desktop software for ARM processor machines, and noted that the only currently stable, installable desktop is XFCE4. I was going to respond with a note that I find XFCE good enough, significantly more useable than Gnome3.

The screen is dirty. Okay. I know that dirty screens cause problems.

The system hit some snag, where it couldn't track in real time to my attempt to push the message up the screen so I would have room to type. As a result, the tablet interpreted my effort to drag as a "gesture" that means "Throw this away!"

Unfortunately, it was not even kind enough to put the thing in the trashbox.

While I was searching for it, I discovered another post that apparently had made it to the trashbox in response to some misinterpreted gesture. I tried to select it and use a pop-up menu to put it back in the debian mail list folder, but the system hiccuped again. And it interpreted its own hiccup to drop the post in a random folder. I think I was able, after wasting several minutes, to find the second post and put it back where it belonged.

This is scary stuff.

Well, maybe not completely evil. One of the problems with computers is that it's easy to think they allow us to become control-freaks with impunity. God needs ways to keep us humble, and to remind us that some uses of our time are more wasteful when we accomplish what we intended to accomplish.

Still, there is a fundamental problem with gestures as a part of the UI. Even if I train the machine, a flick that means "toss it in the round file" in one place may just mean "Move up the message thread tree" in another.

And if the the CPU hiccups (because of events like a packet arriving at the wireless port, say), it's literally impossible to track a gesture meaningfully.

Trackpads, with their tap interface and more recent scroll interface, are hard enough to control. But this goes beyond getting used to.

Touchscreens have been heralded as the replacement for the mouse. Heaven help us should that happen.