Tag Archives: usability

I’m Going to Miss the iPod Click Wheel

Fifth generation iPodAs I moved our iTunes library last week, I worried that the new system might not be able to sync with the old iPod, but relaxed when I saw that Apple still sold the click-wheel iPod Classic. They discontinued it a few days later, but fortunately we were able to sync the old devices.

Why do I prefer the older iPods with physical buttons and tiny screens?

Because I listen to music in the car, and a touch screen is a terrible interface for quick actions while driving.

While touch screens are better for menus, searches, finding albums, playlists, artists, and just about anything else, they’re actually dangerous for driving. A physical control of some sort is best for any action you might have to take while behind the wheel of a moving car.

Pause/Play, Skip and Volume. Those are the key things you want to be able to do with music without thinking too much about where you’re reaching, or taking your eyes off the road. (Especially if you have a mix of quiet and loud songs.) Volume’s on the dashboard, but it’s so much easier — and safer — to hit an actual button for pause/play or skip than to jab at the touch screen until you get it right.

Reading Les Mis: Paper vs. Pixels

A tablet and a breaking paperback.

When I started my epic re-read of Les Miserables, I was reading an old paperback and tweeting my commentary as I went, then using them as scaffolding for an article at the end of each week. The good thing about that was that I was posting things immediately, though on the downside I did have to condense things into 140 characters (sometimes less, since I was trying to link them together with a #ReadingLesMis hashtag), plus of course everything had to be posted, even if it wasn’t particularly interesting on its own.

After a few weeks, reading in a place with no cell reception had me tapping out my notes offline instead of tweeting. This was actually a big improvement, since it meant I could jot down page numbers as reminders, or thoughts that would go well in an article but not in a tweet, and I could work on refining the article anytime I wanted.


Starting with Part Four, “The Idyll in the Rue Plumet and the Epic of the Rue Saint-Denis,” I’ve been reading a digital edition of the same translation on the Kindle app on my Nexus 7. Instead of tweeting or jotting notes down in an email draft, I’ve been using Kindle’s built-in highlight and notes feature.

It’s easier to carry around than the brick. I’m also reading a lot faster (when I have time to, anyway — ironically, I’ve had less time lately, so overall going is slower), because highlighting a sentence is much less of an interruption than setting the book down and tapping out a note on another device. And I don’t have to worry about worsening that tear in the spine, or the pages flipping back while I’m trying to read.

On the other hand, it means I’ll be doing more work when I write up the articles, because I haven’t started composing my commentary yet — just a few notes and a lot of highlights of items I want to mention or quote. I’m 150 pages past the last commentary I published — the ambush in the slums — which is where I switched to reading on the tablet.

The typos bug me, though. I haven’t seen this problem with other e-books, but this one? My best guess is this was scanned in and run through OCR. It’s the same text, format and typesetting as the Penguin Classics edition, down to the page numbers, but there are a lot of errors that aren’t in that print copy, and they’re all visual similarities, not keyboard misses or autocorrects. In particular, the word “die” has become “the” in at least three places (well, four, since one of them is twice in the same sentence!) in the hundred or so pages I’ve read since switching.

And I do miss the at-a-glance indication of how far I am through a section. Flipping forward to see how many pages to the next break, then back, is a lot easier with paper than swiping your finger across a screen. Plus moving that bookmark is much more satisfying (and motivating) than watching the blue line at the bottom of the screen get longer.

The worst part, though, of reading on the tablet? When time is short, it’s awfully tempting to use that time to catch up on emails or other busy-work instead of detoxing your brain with a book. That’s one case where a dedicated device or a physical book has the advantage.

I’m Weary of This: Seven Things that Just Bug Me

Randy Cassingham of This Is True has been driving a weekly Twitter event he calls Pet Peeve Wednesday, with the hashtag #PPW*. Some items I’ve posted about things that Just Bug Me(tm). I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that they fall into two categories, tech and language.

Tech Annoyances

  • Mobile websites that change the URL so you can’t reshare the page on Twitter without sending desktop users to the mobile site. Or worse: the ones that redirect you from a full article to the front of their mobile site, so you have to hunt around for the article that someone was trying to share with you.
  • New password forms should always spell out the password policy before the user tries to pick something it doesn’t like.
  • If you have to cite a bogus law to claim that your email is not spam (or worse, that recipients can’t callit spam), it’s spam.

Language Annoyances

  • “Weary” means you’re tired of something, not concerned about it. You’re thinking of “wary” or maybe “leery.”
  • If you’re going to reference “Wherefore art thou Romeo?”, remember: she’s asking why, not where. (Think of it this way: The answer to “wherefore?” is “therefore,” and you know what “therefore” means.) It’s a lead-in to the “What’s in a name?” speech.
  • What do people think an “intensive purpose” is, anyway? The real phrase, “for all intents and purposes,” at least makes sense.
  • The word is “foolproof,” as in even a fool can’t mess it up, not “full proof.” (As opposed to what, half-proof?)

*There’s a hashtag collision with both “Pet Peeve Wednesday” and “Prove People Wrong” using the same tag.

Most people don’t know how to use Ctrl+F

Wow: A researcher studying the way people use computers found that most people don’t know how to search for a word on the current page!

Crazy: 90 Percent of People Don’t Know How to Use CTRL+F

Google’s resident search anthropologist, Dan Russell, dropped this incredible statistic on us. And no, he couldn’t believe it either.

To someone used to using computers, it seems so basic, but I guess if no one shows you it’s there, it’s the kind of thing that’s not easy to discover on your own. (via Slashdot)

The article doesn’t actually say which side of the 90/10 split people using toolbar buttons or menu items to search fall on, but it does mention people paging through an entire document to look for something by eye.

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