Humans rely on habit and muscle memory to accomplish every day tasks.

Ergonomists know every detail about how we interact with our tools. Frederick Winslow Taylor who earned a degree in mechanical engineering by correspondence at Stevens Institute of Technology, pioneered the “Scientific Management” method to find the optimum method for carrying out pretty much any job. During WWII, a young lieutenant named Alphonse Chapanis eliminated most “pilot error” by de-confusing airplane controls.

In about 1973, a fellow on my pit crew installed the shift linkage backwards on the race car. I went out and shifted from third gear to first when I thought I was grabbing fourth. Surprised pretty much everyone including the engine builder when that about stood the car on its nose.

“A good driver should be able to adjust,” he said.

No. A good driver should be able to concentrate on pointing the car, not on where the next gear might be this week.

Big consumer companies employ most of the (working) ergonomists in the universe. Heck, I’d bet a doughnut that two or three of them work for Microsoft. Why are these consumer companies so blind to the way we accomplish everyday tasks? Why do they want us to keep adjusting to different shift linkages?

Liz Arden mentioned this morning that Google™ has changed its Latitudinal Check In so she can’t just poke a button on her desktop any more.

Not a biggie in the grand scheme of things but it fits the age old question, why did they have to fix something that weren’t broke?

Google had trained us to use their service one way and now they want us to do it some other way for no reason other than that they can.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes wrote three years ago that Windows 7’s changes “suggest … that Microsoft is putting design ahead of usability.” Ya think? Apple afficionados say the same thing about the company Mr. Jobs built on the perfect User Interface. I Googled “Lion annoyances” and came up with about 297,000 results which is far fewer than the 1,540,000 results I found for “Windows 7 annoyances.” An entire industry has had to spring up to publish quick cures and workarounds for the two most “popular” computer operating systems.

Lion changed the three finger salute of Snow Leopard to two fingers, and reserved the three finger gesture for Mission Control. In Windows 7, you can’t tell which programs are actually running on the Taskbar and which are just links since some, like Internet Exploder, add an identical button for every open window and some, like WordPerfect and Dreamweaver, simply change the look of the one button so you know what to push. Microsoft also moved all the files around in Windows 7 so “My Documents” is now just another broken link and your IT department can’t find anything without retraining.

Microsoft and Apple had trained us to use our computers one way and now they want us to do it some other way for no reason other than that they can.

And who ever heard of pushing “START” to turn off the engine.

Oh. That’s how keyless cars work now, too.

Every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet

NPR jumped on that bandwagon last week when Science Friday changed its website. “Redesigned with you in mind” is its new banner.

You maybe, but not me. It is now totally buggered.

I don’t subscribe to many podcasts because I don’t necessarily listen to every show and have enough clutter on both my hard drive and my broadband connection to want it filled with stuff I don’t use. SciFri trained me to go to their site to download the segments I want to hear each week. It was fast. It was accurate. It was scientific.

SciFri had trained us to listen one way and now they want us to do it some other way for no reason other than that they can.

Like host Ira Flatow’s approach to Global Warming, the site is no longer fast, nor accurate, nor scientific. In fact, of the two segments I grabbed last week, one had pieces of three with one piece repeated and the other was screwy. [ed. note: see the update from NPR in the Comments section below.]


I can fix this by teaching the companies just one word but I don’t work cheap.

4 thoughts on “Changes

  1. FIRST: Reverse gear shifting: In 1953, one of the hottest cars alive was the Oldsmobile Delta 88 two-door coupe. I have no idea what size the motor was, but you could stick your head down into the carburator. Anyway, a friend of mine deliberately reversed his stering column shifting sequence. Back then it was a hoot to drive.

    But things are different as you get older. I recently got Windows 7 and everything is different. My toolbar is incomprehendable, and the onscreen words are different; and after 8 weeks I am still lost.

    Last weekend I was fiddling with my cheap cell phone and it started making musical noises that I did not know it could do. I pushed a few more buttons to make it stop, and I will not mess with it like that again.

    A few minutes ago, while in the process of writing this message, my cell phone rang in the other room; and before I could find it and say hello, the caller hung up. My son once told me that there is an onscreen record of missed calls, but I cannot find it. I’m sure if it was important the party will call back.

    This morning I went to the bank and decided to try their coffee while I was waiting. It was a different machine, and I could not make it work. I watched a Viet guy come up and get a cup, so I tried again. No dice. I did without.

    Why do they change things? I know, I know…they do it because they can.

    Coffee is bad for the prostate anyway, they say.

    — George

  2. My grandfather had a ’50 Olds with the Rocket V8 engine. Hot car. The Super 88 and the top-line 98 of 1953 shared that engine with a high lift cam and a Quadri-Jet four-barrel carb. That overhead valve V8 displaced about 304 and made 165 horsepower! The Hudson Hornet whipped ’em on the track, though.

    Just 15 years later, Chevrolet put an OHV 5-liter V8 (based on the different block they introduced in ’55) in a Camaro Z28 that Rod & Truck estimated at 350 BHP, more than twice as much as the Rocket 88. RPO Z28 cost $358.10 and there were only 602 of the cars built that year.

    That “small block” V8 became the GM corporate standard and was, in fact, the subject of a class action suit when GM installed it in a series of Oldsmobiles; my uncle had one of those. It has been replaced by the LS-series but GM still makes the mouse motor in Mexico as an aftermarket replacement. Over 90,000,000 carbureted or fuel injected small blocks have come off the line since ’55 and the Chevrolet 4.3L 90° V6 (still in production) is this original small block with cylinders #3 and #6 lopped off.

  3. I had been pre-warned about Lion’s upcoming radical changes. The lovely folk following Mr. Jobs’ directives sought to merge the tablet computing experience with the desktop computing experience. They released a desktop OS with Tablet-style gestures as the default setting. Note that their tablet, the iPad, was still being sold with a version of iOS, not with Lion. So Apple is expecting its customers to change a lifetime of expectation on how one logically scrolls through a document or webpage (you roll the mouse wheel from top to bottom) into how one might view a page on a tablet or smartphone (you “push” the page “up” the screen), that is, you roll the mouse wheel from bottom to top. Counterintuitive. But, because they can, and they wish to, they are expecting people will just adjust to the change.

    Don’t even get me started on Ira Flatow’s Science Friday! Somebody got the bright idea to change the way the podcast was put together a while back. After repeated attempts to ‘adjust’, I gave up on it and no longer listen. I wrote a note to them, telling them of my decision, and why. Much later Ira’s flacks wrote an explanation that essentially said, “Don’t like it? Tough shit. Our best friends and we do. Live with it. Besides,” they went on to whine, “It costs us MONEY to do it the way you want to.” Except it doesn’t. They were already doing it the way I wanted to, and went to extra expense to do it the bolloxed way.

    Right way: break Ira’s broadcast into a separate downloadable segment per topic covered. People who listen to podcasts as they drive will not have to be distracted by hitting the “scroll forward, scroll forward, scroll forward” button or, heaven forbid, having to manually “scrub” the scroll forward hoping to find the right breaking point. They can just, well, drive, knowing they have only those episodes they are interested in.

    Wrong way: bunch them all together broken up by hour. An hour filled with three stories, only one of which interests you.

    Benefits to NPR of right way: three-six chances to insert a non-advertisement advertisement. Detriments to NPR or wrong way: one opportunity to insert the blah blah supporter announcement and a lot of pissed off listeners who stop listening and write nasty-grams.

    Later I went to provide more feedback but could no longer find a way to do that. They either removed it or cleverly hid it.

    Ira and his staff and management suck bright green lobster floats.

  4. [For the record, Joe painted his balls yellow.]

    The new Sci Fri website gave me about that same level of irritation as the upside down shifter so I tried to comment about it on Ira’s blog. Except I couldn’t because Ira’s blog forbids comments. I’m thinking NPR loves to criticize the rest of us but can’t stand the heat on their own.

    Oh well. I wrote NPR an email and pointed them here. Be interesting to see if they care.


    Leslie Harris Taylor at SciFri cares and has posted a link in the comments section. “You can download mp3s of recent stories,” she wrote, “at the Science Friday Audio Podcast.”

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