[ExI] The Field of HCI

Tomasz Rola rtomek at ceti.pl
Sat Feb 2 19:05:08 UTC 2013

On Sat, 2 Feb 2013, BillK wrote:

> I find it interesting that Norman doesn't much like the latest fad for 
> 'gestural' interfaces. I also find the idea of waving my hands about 
> instead of pressing a button to be a step backwards. Just because the 
> new touch sensitive screens allow you to do new things doesn't mean that 
> you should do them. The poor sales of Windows 8 and Surface tablets may 
> indicate that the public doesn't really like it much either.

> Norman has an essay up here -
> <http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/gestural_interfaces.html>

Very interesting read. Myself I am not a huge enthusiast of current 
trends, and I stay reserved even to trends of past two decades :-).

I don't mean to convert anybody but just to give some kind of separate 
voice, here's brief description of my HCI.

I use Linux and on top of this, X Window System with FVWM windows manager. 
I configured them to the point where I really don't need a mouse so much. 
I start a lot of terminal emulators and emacs instances, so X works for me 
mostly as terminal multiplier. I could easily do without X, just switching 
consoles, but I already use screen and I have nothing against starting 
excess terminals, grouping them by means of virtual desktops, whereas with 
consoles I would have to content myself with only 20-60 of them, and 
poorly grouped. Poor grouping is not effective so I'd rather avoid this, 
even thou I usually only use 10-15-20 or so terminals on average day (this 
includes emacs windows).

I consider mouse to be an obstacle. I configured things so I don't have to 
click much, clicking takes too much time. Yes, really. And gestures are 
out of question. When I want to do something, I type in commands. When 
there is too many of them and/or it's going to be repeated, I write shell 
script. I see no way in which mouse, gestures and whatnot could beat this 
(I understand such claims to be PR BS and treat them as such). Maybe 
telepathic interface could. Especially if used for text typing and 
terminal selection.  But I still use a mouse for selecting terminals, with 
focus-follows-mouse feature - for this, mouse is great. And for copy-paste 
between terminals. For a while, I have no intention to use tiling WM, but 
maybe I'll try one day.

I don't KDE, I don't Gnome, I don't Windows. No dock. Menus on desktop - 
configured about decade ago, but rarely used nowadays. The only graphical 
program that I use daily is gkrellm, a hardware monitor. It is not ideal 
but works and gives me some dials to have a quick look on (temperatures, 
voltages, clocks, cpu & io activity, this kind of stuff). I also use Opera 
for browsing, but I could do without (youtube looks better with movies, 
but that is no priority).

All of this might look awkward but for me it is not. On the contrary, 
heavy reliance on GUI and mouse feels very awkward to me. Almost 
physically awkward - things simply don't fly when I have to use Windows. 
The choices I make wrt to interface have nothing to do with low hardware. 
I write this on 4 cpu, 12gig machine with 20'' lcd. There are better 
machines on desks of some people reading these words, but mine is not very 
bad either. At the same time, if there is such need ever, I could scale 
back to any reasonable hardware produced during last 30 years (but I could 
ever so easily scale up to any reasonable hw produced in the next 1000 
years - good luck doing the same with Windows). After all, my needs are 
simple - just a bunch of vt100 terminals or equivalent and few megabytes 
of ram to run emacs and Common Lisp - but I guess I could replace emacs 
with vim and still be good (after I crawl out of vim beginner's lair). The 
only pain would be the need to print all the pdfs I gather(ed). Anything 
else, including writing books full of pleasant pictures and equations, can 
be done on vt100. Actually, it can be done with punched cards if one is 
properly motivated.

I think my definition of functionality is very different from what 
mainstream says on this. But being mainstream is not a priority. Power is. 
Computer was invented to give me power. GUI was invented to take it away. 
Sounds like a joke, doesn't it? Think twice.

Computer, for me at least, is all about working with universe of abstract 
things. Numbers, strings - but also functions, structures and sets. 
Squeezing them to fit the idea of desk with stacks of paper and a trash 
(really? who keeps trash can on his desk?) sounds so debilitating. The 
same can be said about so called cyberspace, as pictured by the movies and 
adapted by designer mob. I mean, I like idea of design, and when I feel 
like relaxing I sometimes go to places like core77.com but really, 
flashing balls, stars, cyber-sky-scrapers? It is not the real meat, just 
some plastic lookalike. Most of the time, it looks as stupid as film about 
dating/love/something in which a guy goes on a date to restaurant and 
starts from filling a doll with some air to sit in front of him. I guess 
aliens would see no difference. I guess majority of humans are aliens in 
the world of computers, so they have no problem with bad design. They just 
learn to live with it.

Tomasz Rola

** A C programmer asked whether computer had Buddha's nature.      **
** As the answer, master did "rm -rif" on the programmer's home    **
** directory. And then the C programmer became enlightened...      **
**                                                                 **
** Tomasz Rola          mailto:tomasz_rola at bigfoot.com             **

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