Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The 'Nudge' Button -- Somebody Please Invent It!

Following is a post I wrote a few years ago when I was working for TMCnet. Since then, this piece has disappeared, so I wanted to make sure it was preserved somewhere.

Transferred over 31 March 2009 from Al Bredenberg's VOIP and CRM Blog (linking here to the Wayback Machine archived version):

I love the "Undo" function. It doesn't always work the way you expect it to, and it doesn't always work the same from one application to another, but it's a great idea that helps the user in many circumstances in many applications.

I wish somebody would invent a similar function called "Nudge."

Does your computer ever get stuck? You know what I mean. The hourglass just keeps spinning, or the hard drive just keeps clicking, or the progress bar will only go so far and then it stops. You have a sense that the application you're using or the process your computer is executing has just reached an impasse of some kind. You're not exactly sure, though. Should you call up Task Manager and abort the process? Or should you shut down the computer entirely? Or should you just be patient and go take a bathroom break or get a cup of coffee? (That usually doesn't work, does it? You come back and it's still stuck.)

Well, the "Nudge" function would allow you to bump the process along. You just click the "Nudge" button, and that makes the computer realize, "Oh, yeah, I got stuck in circular thinking. I'm actually supposed to be doing some work here." Then it recovers and gets the process moving again.

It would be built into operating systems and APIs and would work in all programs and across all computing processes. Somebody else should probably decide what the icon should look like. Maybe an elbow?

AB -- 10/10/05

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Stupid Things Windows Still Does Under Vista

[Updated 6 May 2010]

I've been using Windows Vista on a new Dell Dimension desktop machine now for about a week, and I thought it would be useful to start keeping track of the really stupid things that Microsoft did not fix in its Windows operating system and Office applications

1. MIA text in text selection

Often when you select a block of text, one or more words will somehow disappear from the selection and get unselected by the time you try to copy it and paste it to somewhere else. It is as if a little gremlin tinkered with the selection to make sure you are not actually able to copy everything you want to.

2. Templates that are impossible to change

It is harder than ever to get rid of the silly complicated formatting in the Normal template in Word so that I can just type my documents in the simple way I like them in nice readable Times New Roman font.

3. Making Google Ask Permission Over and Over

Google Toolbar needs to update, but for some reason Windows bothers me and tells me I have to give my permission. And it does it twice right in a row.

4. Impossible Networking

If it were possible, networking is even harder to figure out in Vista than in XP. I don't want to have to administer a network (or a computer either, for that matter) -- I just want all my machines to work together.

5. Assumption that you are in a corporate setting

When Windows has a problem it can't fix by itself, often the error message says I should get help from my "Administrator." Yeah, right. Hello, Administrator? Administrator? Anybody there?

6. Blitzing your work during restart

Windows has to restart in order to finalize certain updates, which happens frequently. The OS still isn't smart enough to reopen all programs that were running when it decided to restart. As an online knowledge worker, I keep certain web sites open all the time, so every time Windows restarts I have to go find them all again. Also, I often need a certain web page open for reference for a day or two while I'm working on something. So if Windows needs to restart during the night, I lose any open work like that.

7. Thinking you want to rename folders

If you don't double-click just the right way, Windows thinks you are trying to rename a folder instead of open it. Several times I have almost renamed my hard drive!

AB -- Originally posted 18 March 2007, updated 6 May 2010

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Peak Oil Notes

Just wanted to pin down a couple of resources on the topic of peak oil -- the idea that world demand for oil will bump up against the limit of what can be extracted, refined and distributed, resulting in catastrophic shortages. Most advocates I have encountered think this will happen soon.

This is an item that aired on NPR today on Weekend Edition:

Here is a report from energy consulting firm CERA taking serious issue with the peak oil argument:

Chris Martensen's Crash Course in Economics lays out much of the reasoning behind peak oil thinking, as well as some very interesting ideas about the broader economic environment and limits to growth. Martensen's course is also an interesting approach to presenting information.

AB -- 12/13/08

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Is Your Program a YASATDOOT?

YASATDOOT = Yet Another Software Application That Does Only One Thing

This thought came to me when I received today's email from PC World Daily Downloads spotlighting Duplicates.NET, a program that can identify duplicate files with the same contents but different names. Sounds like a really useful little program somebody wrote because he has a very specific need for it. And sure, he might as well make it available to others, as long as it's all written and ready to go.

But it occurs to me that I see a lot of software applications that only do one thing. Problem is that any application carries its baggage -- installation time, learning curve, hard drive space, cognitive friction -- so the user is likely to skip over a one-off program like this, however useful, given the baggage factor.

Nevertheless, I have nothing but best wishes for the author of Duplicates.NET and hope his creation finds a niche.

AB -- 10-19-06

Friday, June 23, 2006

Great Innovations: Customer-Proof Packaging

I think we have packaging engineers to thank for the customer-proof plastic packaging that has penetrated the market over about the past 20 years. Thanks to this innovation, every consumer now needs to keep a Jaws of Life in his kitchen drawer and faces the daily possibility of acquiring a life-threatening laceration during the process of extracting a new ballpoint pen or a set of headphones.

AB -- 6/23/06

Monday, February 06, 2006

Shneiderman Announces Report on Creativity Support Tools

Ben Shneiderman of of the University of Maryland Department of Computer Science sent out an announcement today about the release of an important report on creativity support tools. This is an emerging class of tools that supports knowledge and creative workers by helping them generate and work with ideas, collaborate and share knowledge in new ways.

The complete report is available at this web site on the Workshop on Creativity Support Tools.

These excerpts from Shneiderman's announcement will give you an idea of the topic of the report (80 pages):

"Enthusiasts envision accelerating innovation through advanced science collaboratories, design environments, open source communities, and knowledge management tools. They promote idea generation and brainstorming tools for divergent thinking followed by knowledge organization and concept mapping software for convergent processing ....

"The promise of making more people more creative more of the time is compelling, but research on creativity support tools is just beginning. Proposed support tools are meant to serve individuals as they grapple with problems, as well as cross-disciplinary teams working in close collaboration even when separated by distance. Even more ambitious is the provision of social creativity support tools for larger communities working in rich socio-technical environments over longer time periods."

AB -- 2/6/06

Friday, January 27, 2006

Will Platforms Multiply?

Recently I've been noodling around with an idea not even half-formed about the possible future development of technology platforms. It seems to me that convergence could make it possible for the same kinds of services to be delivered over a growing number of competing platforms that are becoming increasingly flexible, powerful and capable of carrying growing numbers of services.

Some of the services needed -- following is a mix of consumer and business services, but both categories could potentially be delivered via the same platform/vehicle/environment:
  • Voice
  • Video
  • Music
  • Entertainment
  • Contacts
  • Relationship management
  • Web
  • Messaging
  • Productivity applications
  • Financial management

Normally when we think about platforms we kind of think about operating systems -- Windows vs. Mac vs. Linux (et al).

But other market entrants are beginning to position themselves as environments that can act as non-OS platforms -- Google, Salesforce and iPod, for example. Is it possible that other vehicles could emerge that could deliver all kinds of services in such as way that the user really no longer needs to think in terms of being a "computer user" or "using Windows"?

Well, I told you this idea was not even half-formed. But at least now it is recorded for further future noodling.

AB -- 1/27/06