4 Lessons from a 96-Year-Old Grandpa on Learning to Adopt Technology

June 30, 2011

Derek over at consumer bell has the story of a 96-year-old explainer of technology. Bill Sleepers of Seattle is apparently not only an adopter of current technology, but also teaches others in his retirement community. Derek says Bill offers a few important realizations: Read the rest of this entry »

Intermediate PC Users do Dot-to-Dots

June 27, 2011

Question: What makes the difference between a beginner and intermediate PC user?

Answer: concept chaining.

Do you remember doing dot-to-dot puzzles?  You have to be able to connect multiple dots to understand the complete picture.

Photo of a dot to dot puzzle from a childrens activity book

Proficient PC users leverage the same problem-solving skills. Read the rest of this entry »

The Top 15 Most Important Understandings Needed for Solid PC Literacy

June 10, 2011

What are the most crucial concepts that a newcomer to PCs would have to master in order to gain foundational computer literacy? Put on your “I know absolutely nothing about a PC” hat and consider the following. (If you need help finding such a hat, visit your nearest senior center for an eye-opening reminder of just how much you’ve already internalized and likely take for granted daily.) So, like a traditional Top 10 list (but with 5 more) ponder this…. Read the rest of this entry »

Good or Bad: Windows 8 for newcomers

June 7, 2011

Colleagues John and Ryan were discussing these early videos showing off Windows 8 features. Specifically, in Building “Windows 8,” by Microsoft’s own admission, their upcoming OS sports a major UI change, drawing inspiration from touch-devices (both phones and tablets). My thoughts:

First, as a long-time PC user myself, having a multitasking, highly powerful PC with a visual contextual “heads-up display” interface to programs/apps is exciting. It’s the stuff power users and PC enthusiasts drool over. I can immediately think, “Wow. Fast, visual access to information like never before.” As an existing user and student of interface concepts, I can quickly adapt my mental model to make sense of the “status” and “access” conventions employed by Microsoft’s “tiles” interface concept.

Second, it occurs to me that as an observer of technology on the behalf of new and confused users, Microsoft has clearly followed Apple into the “new mainstream,” focusing on serving existing users more than newcomers. This partially leaves me wondering who now thinks of the unskilled users and newer adopters. (See Mac vs. Windows for newcomer usability for my historical opinion.) Yet, I certainly won’t be a doomsayer about this. I’m going to hope that some of the trade-offs for easy information access and one-touch selection overcome the additional evolutionary stair steps Microsoft is adding that might otherwise hamper those who haven’t been along for the entire PC ride.

But third, and most importantly, Read the rest of this entry »

The best (and most fun) explanation of screen resolution ever

June 3, 2011

Author’s Note: There is a more recent post on this subject that includes a video explanation based on the pinscreen examples mentioned below: Screen Resolution Explained.


Have you ever struggled to explain computer screen resolution?

Yesterday a colleague and I were discussing the challenge of PC users with computer screen resolution set to 800×600 pixels. Yes, I know that’s very low resolution by modern standards (especially with relatively inexpensive large LCD screen availability), but I’m pretty sure the end users in this case had no idea how to change their computer’s screen settings (if they even knew it was possible.) This is certainly not the first conversation I’ve had on resolution. Resolution confuses a lot of people. After all, you couldn’t change your television’s resolution, so it never occurs to PC users that anything about the display might be changeable.

Now, it’s not hard to show users photos of different computers running the same content at different screen resolutions to help them understand that the computer can display things differently. But if you really need someone to understand the concept of resolution, you have your work cut out for you. For years I also struggled with this task until I happened across the best prop-analogy ever for explaining resolution. Back when I worked for the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, they were starting to build a new hands-on science center for students. One of their exhibits featured a display about resolution, and they found a clever and fun way to convey the concept: pinscreens. (You’ve likely seen one of the handheld models in a novelty or museum store, or the large tables at Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida.) One unit used traditional pins, but the other was a special model custom-built to use roofing nails instead. The dimensions of both units being the same, the only difference was in the size of the “head” and the number of pins/nails that fit on the screen. Viola! A prop-analogy for explaining computer screen resolution! Thanks, Fermilab!

So the next time you’re facing this task, get yourself a traditional pinscreen to explain high resolution and whip up a quick low-resolution example with a box of roofing nails and small sheet of cardboard. Your learners will “get the picture” more clearly, and you’ll get to have fun making impressions at the same time.

Author’s Note: Check out Screen Resolution Explained, a video in which I took my own advice and built the nail-based pinscreen.