Explaining Open Source software

July 25, 2011

I was recently asked to explain Open Source software. I’ve always been a big fan of Open Source because it has been an invaluable helper on a number of occasions. In fact, the interior of The Ultimate PC Primer was produced entirely with Open Source products — OpenOffice for composing the manuscript and final page layout and Inkscape for all the illustrations. As an explainer, however, I can understand why software newcomers might be a little confused by the concept of Open Source.

In The Ultimate PC Primer, I liken software to Read the rest of this entry »


Myths and Truths of Explaining Technology to Kids

July 19, 2011

I often find misconceptions of how much children need technology explained. In fact, I recently had lunch with my colleague, Ryan, who formerly taught computing skills to young children in a school. He confirmed that kids are often initially just as confused or uncomfortable as older adopters of a new technology. Yet, there are two myths I hear repeated again and again by older colleagues… Read the rest of this entry »


Analogies/Metaphors of Technology

July 14, 2011

At a friend’s suggestion, I’ve started reading Mike Kuniavsky’s book, Smart Things: Ubiquitous Computing User Experience Design. Though focused more on design of future computing, Kuniavsky dedicates an entire chapter to metaphors in computing. The brief chapter provides some great history behind the use of metaphor in computing and also divides metaphors into helpful classifications. What I found most interesting in the chapter was the observation of how metaphors and analogies have impacted the user experience, for better or worse. Yet, what I found most encouraging was that Kuniavsky opens the chapter with a nod to the same reason I based The Ultimate PC Primer on analogies and metaphors — that they’re a helpful way to bridge the known with the unknown.

Metaphors are widely employed in technology and learning, but how does one select the most effective analogy or metaphor? Here are a few tips to keep in mind when using analogies to explain technology: Read the rest of this entry »


First Contact: 60-year-old, meet computer

July 8, 2011

Over on Borris’ Blog, there’s a fresh story of Joe, a 60-year old who experiences a PC for the first time. It’s an incredible blow-by-blow report of what a PC looks like to a total newcomer.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise me. If I had a way to contact Joe, I’d mail him a copy of The Ultimate PC Primer. Speaking of the book…

I’m actually looking for people just like Joe to be a part of some case studies to document the effectiveness of The Ultimate PC Primer, a little like usability studies but much less focused on specific tasks.  Here’s the premise: While in front of a PC, ask a simple set of questions of the newcomer. (I expect the initial responses to be much like Joe’s: “I don’t know what anything means.”) Give them a few weeks to read the book, and then ask the same set of questions again. Ideally, I’d like to capture the responses in video form. If you know anyone who is willing to participate and fits a “Joe” type of profile, drop me a line.