[Beowulf] While the knives are out... Wulf Keepers

Jim Lux James.P.Lux at jpl.nasa.gov
Mon Aug 21 23:03:28 PDT 2006

At 09:28 PM 8/21/2006, Mark Hahn wrote:
>>Speaker asks all the people in the audience: "Those of you with manual 
>>transmissions in your car, raise your hand."
>>3/4 of the audience raises their hand.
>>Speaker: "YOU, with your hands waving in the air, are NOT the people who 
>>should be designing the user interfaces.
>I find this asinine.  yes, there's a nugget of truth there,
>but it's not true that such people are necessarily bad at designing UIs.
>he's implying that if someone does anything "the hard way",
>then they're incapable of comprehending the "easy" one.
>that's just stupid.

I think it's more just a recognition of the fact that programmers (as a 
stereotyped class.. we will allow overloading in the OO sense) tend to get 
caught up in the elegance and flexibility and power of a possible UI, 
sometimes losing sight of the fact that for many, many applications (not 
compilers, etc.) you really only want to give the user the opportunity to 
do the "right thing" at any given time.  The "bail out" option for the 
abnormal cases doesn't need the cleverness and sophistication, because, 
hopefully, it's used infrequently, and, in fact, just because of that, 
maybe it shouldn't be too clever.

>>Build them, fine, but I want the application to be like an automatic 
>>transmission.. puts the power to the wheels in an optimum fashion and I 
>>don't have to think about it, manipulate it, etc."
>the reason it's a great anecdote is that it _almost_ addresses an 
>interesting topic.  the topic is manual/automatic vs expertise. it's not 
>true, for instance, that I have to think about driving manual - I've been 
>doing it for a good number of years and and I'm quite certain I
>shift better than automatic (at least the version found on mid-range cars).

>expertise of this sort is not terribly deep - practice it and it'll be 
>downloaded into your cerebellum.  the usual car clutch/stick arrangement is
>not necessarily an optimal UI, but it's clearly something that is not hard to
>automatize.  expertise (in this sense, often used in psych) is no more or
>less than transforming a task that requires high-level executive supervision
>to one which acts almost like a "brain reflex".  ("motor program" is actually
>a phrase used in the field!)

Yes, but you've been "extensively trained" on that one instance, in a 
particular set of driving regimes.  If you were faced with a highly unusual 
situation (say, avoiding a terrorist roadblock intent on kidnapping), you 
might wish you had the automatic, where you could just stab and steer.

This is why they use automatic transmissions in police cars, and have nifty 
stick-shakers, etc., in modern aircraft.

>computers are the same.  QWERTY is not a great layout, but I'll bet almost
>all of you use it.  does that mean that you're disqualified from designing
>UIs now?

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