Tag Archives: computers

Office Cleanup – For Real This Time

About a year ago, I posted an article about how I was going to clean up my office surroundings.  This went completely into hibernation, and nothing was ever done to complete this monumental task.

That is, until yesterday.  Check out the before and after photos below.
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In Case of Technological Holocaust

Yesterday, our region experienced some high wind activity, and we were left without power at home.  Though my internet devices (modem, routers, wireless access point) are on a battery backup, the outage looked like it was going to last for a little while, so I shut those devices off.

I got to school thinking that I could just do my daily internet rounds from the classroom, only to find that the internet was down on campus.  The campus is supplied by a local ISP which beams microwaves from a distant mountain to a dish on campus.  Of course, the distant mountain was also experiencing high winds, as well as some sleet, so there was no access to the outside world.

Though it’s not as extreme as a Technological Holocaust, being without internet access for 12 hours got me thinking.  What would I–as a knowledge worker–do in a world where technology was rendered unusable?

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The Fear of Using Windows – Part 2: Cost of Ownership

This is Part 2 of “The Fear of Using Windows.” Please read Part 1 if you have not already.

There is a lot more to owning and maintaining a PC than just picking one up from the store and plugging it into the wall. I think the overall lifetime cost of a PC should be considered when purchasing new hardware. Continue reading

The Fear of Using Windows – Part 1: The Three Types of PC Users

I’ve harped heavily here before about how Windows doesn’t work well for people who are just starting out with computers. I’d like to go into a bit more detail about thoughts I’ve had recently and give a little background to what I’m talking about.

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On Interface Design

Lately I’ve been thinking about the way we interact with computers. The concept of the keyboard and mouse is such an abstract idea, that I can understand why it’s daunting to new users. While neural interfaces may be a bit far into the future, I think we can find a happy medium between the abstract concepts in use today and the ultimate in the future of computing.

Multi-touch
I think that current multi-touch technology (see iPhone or Microsoft Surface) is definitely a step in the right direction. Being able to manipulate objects onscreen using your most recognizable input devices (i.e. fingers) is the way to go for current technology.

One major problem I have with multi-touch interfaces is that they still use archaic concepts for manipulating objects. Instead of creating a system from the ground up, it’s basically a retrofit for a concept that’s been around since the 1950s.

While I understand the concepts and why they work with people’s minds, they were created originally to provide a basis for knowledge workers to switch from physical pen-and-paper systems. The concept of files, folders and the desktop all stem from this original set of concepts.

Think of the Children
Have you ever tried to teach a child how to use a modern operating system? A child goes through life learning things in an organic manner that reflects the inner workings of the human mind.

How do you teach a child, who has interacted with the world in a direct manner with immediate results, to learn this whole new world view set in a virtual environment? Obviously, I’ve been asking myself this question while thinking about how to introduce my 2 year old to computers in the future. Maybe by the time he’s ready, we’ll all be using whiz-bang multi-touch interfaces, and the idea will be moot.

Now, that said, of course I’m going to teach him about “modern” GUI concepts, and sit him down in front of a Linux or Mac OS X environment (I couldn’t imagine the damage he’d be able to do with Windows), and show him the importance of these concepts, as well as the abilities of the command line.

What to do?
It’s important to teach our children to draw a line between virtual worlds and the real world, but why does there have to be such a steep learning curve?

Where the “modern” GUI and even the multi-touch interfaces fall flat is in their ability to relate to real-world objects and situations.

What we need in interface design is a completely new set of concepts and core interactions. Microsoft Surface and the iPhone may be steps in the right direction, but as I stated before, they are still built with the idea that you have once used these concepts in a normal keyboard-and-mouse context.

Interaction with virtual objects should be handled just as they are with physical objects to start with. Our brains are not confined to learning in strict folder-and-file systems. Our brains are extremely complex and capable relationship-driven machines.

More relationships, fewer abstract concepts.
This is where I see post-modern computer interfaces going over the next 10 years. I realise that this kind of approach would require some high system requirements, but technology is growing at an astounding rate, and will surely be able to deal with the requirements of such a system in the near future.

Computers should, in the future, be based on natural concepts, rather than abstract concepts that take time to learn.

Just as the modern computer is based on abstract concepts, today’s learning systems are also based on age-old “tricks” to get our children to learn things that are needed in life. Learning systems should be more organic, teaching through association rather than repetition.

There is a great deal of research and reading materials that take on these concepts, but they are far from being adopted as a core structure of our learning systems.

This is something that’s really piqued my interest lately, and I would love to go into some field or venture that takes on some or all of these concepts.

Roundup

Ok, so it’s been far too long since I’ve posted here, and really I have no excuse. Here’s a few articles that have caught my attention recently.

  • No, I Will Not Fix Your Computer – This is a good article for those non-technical people out there. I get caught in the trap all the time to fix computers on the side from my day job, but usually I end up taking way too long and feeling guilty–which results in charging far less for my services than is actually feasible for me as a professional.
  • GraphJam – Not an article per se, but it is a very funny blog for us mathematical types. The readers submit graphs and charts with funny themes which tie-in with various pop culture references.
  • Twitter – Yes, I’ve started using Twitter. It’s really easy to keep in touch, especially if you’re running the TwitterFox Firefox Extension.
  • Text 2 Mind Map – This is a tool that I’ve been using a lot lately. It really helps flesh out ideas in a quick and easy fashion. I can’t wait until you can save your map as a flash file!
  • Cranial Constructs – Here we have a new site that I just recently launched. I’ll do a full writeup about it soon.

So, that’s what’s been in the pipeline for me lately. I enjoyed this little roundup, so I will probably do this again in the future.