Thursday, December 21, 2006

New issue of American Scientist Not any articles of really archaeological interest, though Why We Develop Food Allergies may be of some interest.

And there's an interview with Steven Casey who has written on design issues. Lawdy, I could go on about this, especially with software. Anyone remember Ami Pro, the word processor from Lotus? Beautiful piece of work it was. I'd been using WordPerfect 5.1 for a long time on an old Leading Edge PC (DOS! monochrome monitor! phosphorescent green!) and really quite liked it. Then everything was switching to Windows 3.x (gag) and I had to as well. WP didn't really have a good Winblows product at the time, and I always hated Word (still do, mostly) but then I discovered Ami Pro. It was one of the first WYSIWYG (bonus for those who know what that means) (actually, maybe not, it means you're an old nerd) word processors on the PC side of things. Very well designed. They made the interface such that the tasks you do 90% of the time were readily available and easy to figure out. Other less-used tasks were more in the background but still pretty easy to locate help on how to do it. It wasn't terribly pretty, but it was really a joy to use. Like WP 5.1 ended up being, you got used to not paying attention to the software itself, but on the words you were writing. That's the sign of a good application: you forget it's there and concentrate on the work you're doing. That generally necessitates a fairly clean interface, with just a few buttons and status bars visible at any time. Keyboard shortcuts ought to be useful as well.

A couple of years ago, I also had the misfortune to shop for a new alarm clock radio. Admission: I hate buzzing, beeping, clanging, ringing LOUD alarm clocks. I am not one of those people that needs a brass band and a physical action (i.e., turning it off) to get out of bed in the morning. I like a radio that will just bring me awake and be somewhat pleasant to listen to for a minute or two. I also like one that's easy to set, reset, turn off, etc. And one that sounds reasonably well.

That is a difficult set of criteria anymore. Ended up going through three different makes/models before finding one that is marginally acceptable. One had a brilliant feature: gradually increasing the volume so you wake up more gently. And it really good sound quality. Great, right? Except: they didn't provide a way to set the maximum volume. So unless you turn it OFF it gets so loud it practically shakes you out of bed. Worst part was that it said on the packaging that it had an adjustable volume (liars). A second one had a similar feature that, ahem, let you adjust the maximum volume. . . .but only by physically hitting a button when it got loud enough for you. No, I don't want to have to hit a stupid button to keep it from blowing out my eardrums every morning, thank you very much.
The latest version sounds okay, doesn't have the gradual volume feature, but at least it requires nothing in the way of physical action. It's trouble is that it's got so many features and buttons and what-not that I have to read the manual to figure out what sequence of actions to perform to turn the damn alarm off so it won't go off on a weekday that I don't have to get up. I do have a backup in another room that is easy to program, but it sounds like a transistor radio from 1965.

Okay, gripe session off. Next time: The ideal design for the urinal.