Archive for February, 2008


Friday, February 29th, 2008

What is this with the ALL CAP DISEASE? Numerous studies have shown that all cap text takes longer to read and much (up to twice) longer to comprehend as compared to mixed capitalized text, not to mention the headaches one gets from reading it in large quantities. Yet, in virtually all cases in which you need to be able to gobble the information very quickly, you get it in ALL CAP. Examples:

  1. Closed Captions for the hearing impaired: they go fast, but you have to struggle with the ALL CAP;
  2. stock tickers;
  3. CNN news feed: it keeps moving, you are fighting to keep up;
  4. Many road signs, in particular the ones that want to alert you to something important, except you need to do it fast because you are driving, you cannot afford taking your eyes off the road for too long, plus you need to get the message quickly, before you passed it. No matter.

How to enter an area code in a touch tone phone?

Friday, February 29th, 2008

I decided to get a couple of corded phones to have around for more secure conversations, in case the batteries on the cordless phone die, and for quick testing purposes. I picked up a couple of GE ones with caller ID — for about $14.00 each; not too bad. Years ago, I remember, you needed to set up a caller ID phone so it can tell local vs. long distance incoming calls. I also remember that the process was counter intuitive — and that’s an understatement. But that was then, and this is now, or is it? Today,  the concept, meaning and importance of area codes is all but gone, pretty much all dialing is 10 digits, and there is far less concern about local vs. long distance calling. I expected, thus, the new phones to not bother with the area code setting. Not so. I also expected that the set up process — if required — would be a bit more intuitive than in the past. Wrong again. So what’s the problem? To enter an area code you need to enter three digits. What’s the most intuitive way to enter three digits in a touch tone phone? Right, punch them on the keypad. Too simple. To set up the caller ID in this genius design you press a button once, upon which a cursor starts blinking. You press another button as many times as the digits is (e.g., for 9 you punch that button nine times), when you have it right you press the previous button again and get the cursor to blink for the second digit. Press the next button seven times to get a 7, then go back and repeat for the third digit. In all, in for my area code I had to press buttons 27 times to enter three digits on a phone that has a numeric keypad. Where is the genius that came up with this design? I’d like a few minutes with him in a closed room.

Signs that don’t provide useful / usable information

Friday, February 29th, 2008

This happened a couple of weeks ago.  I was driving on I-95 North from Washington D.C. back home in Massachusetts. There are two tunnels that cross the Baltimore Harbor, the Harbor Tunnel (I-895) and the Fort McHenry Tunnel (I-695). Usually I prefer to take the Harbor Tunnel, it seems to be faster. But if I have reason to believe (or concrete information) that it will be congested, I’ll skip it and take the other one. In the past, it has saved me time and aggravation. This time, approaching the first tunnel, there are “information” signs informing us: “I-95 tunnel congestion, expect delays.” Great, now I know not to take the tunnel. But wait a second, which tunnel is the “I-95” tunnel? Both are along the I-95, the road to each tunnel has its own unique designation (I-895 and I-695, respectively), but that is NOT in the announcement. So I have to guess which one it is. The previous time I saw this sign I guessed right, this time I guessed wrong, and got stuck. And all because someone decided to skip one digit (or, probably, someone just didn’t think of the consequences of the bad information they were providing, which happens a lot).

The coins conundrum

Friday, February 29th, 2008

Why is it that in every country I can think of and recall its coins

  1. it is almost impossible to read the monetary value of a coin; and
  2. coins’ sizes do not reflect their relative monetary value?

For example, a nickel is larger and heavier than a dime. Go figure!

MS word header definition logic “upside down”

Monday, February 25th, 2008

Here is an example of something that drove me nuts recently. I have an MS Word letterhead with a header. I didn’t create it, someone else did (it’s a standard departmental one, customized with my name and other personal data, and it was created for all of us). By default, when I write a letter that’s longer than one page, it puts the same full header on the following pages as well. That’s not nice. I want the full header to only appear on the first page, and would like to define a separate header for all other pages. Yes, Word has a “different first page header” option, which you can choose through the Header/Footer format menu. But it works “upside down”. If you have already defined your header — which would logically be the header, the one you’d want on your first page, and the one you’d typically define first, when you choose the option to have a different first page header, Word will remove your header from the first page, and will keep it in all other pages; the exact opposite of what you want. There is a workaround (I forget what it is exactly). But what we really need is the logical opposite, something like “different OTHER pages header” — or more control over the header’s placement in general.

Why is it that?

Monday, February 25th, 2008

How often do you ask yourself this question? Probably more often than you even think. Well, so do I. So I’ve decided to do something about it. The first thing I’ve decided to do is to start writing down each time, each situation in which I find myself asking this question. Why? Because becoming aware of a problem and documenting it is an important first step towards fixing it.

We all spend more and more time with “machines”. A lot of those machines today either are computers or are controlled by them. Examples (beside your computers): cell phones, mp3 players, digital cameras, microwave ovens, TV sets, cars. Cars? you say. Yes, cars. A typical late model has about a dozen computers to control fuel injection functions, emission, trip meter, climate control, air bags, stability, ABS, and more. Some of it is hidden from you, the user; much isn’t. Try a new BMW’s i-drive. I haven’t, but everyone who has says it is terrible. Why? because it is overwhelming.

But it goes beyond that. I get frustrated with so many confusing, ambiguous, unclear situations: signs that are hard to read, instructions that make no sense and produce no results, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. You, too, get frustrated with them. How do I know? Because so many people come to me for help with their new (and old) gadgets. I do have a reputation for “getting along” well with them, so everybody, young and old, ask me to help them set up this or that in their gadgets. And while I try to figure out how to, I ask myself dozens of “why is it that?” questions.

So I started writing them down. This space is where I’ll be posting them as they come up. And I’ll ask you to share with me — and your fellow readers — your own “why’s”. And if by some luck we discover a “why” that has been fixed, we’ll let you know too. Hopefully, this will encourage others to also fix their own “why’s.”

So, let’s go.

(P.S. If you ask “why is this blog called ‘quamobrem’ ?” the answer is quamobrem is Latin for …. yes, why)