Backspace x 10000: a true story about the value of highlighting & modifying

July 3, 2012

The following sounds like it belongs in the annals of computing lore along with other Tales of Tech Urban Legends like the infamous “cupholder” CD-ROM drive incident. But I swear I am not making this up.

Years ago a trustworthy colleague told me the true story of one coworker who seemed to take forever meeting deadlines when they involved composing and editing documents in a word processing program. Upon investigation, it was discovered that anytime the coworker found a mistake in a document, she would Backspace, Backspace, Backspace, Backspace, Backspace, Backspace, Backspace, Backspace, Backspace, Backspace over every single letter in the document until she had erased all words up to the typo. She would then begin re-typing the remainder of the document, additional errors would inevitably ensue, and she would again resort to backspacing over all her work. If only she had known the core computing concepts — highlighting and modifying — at her disposal. Just a small bit of knowledge explained the right way would have saved her much time, carpal tunnel surgery, and a lot of new Backspace keys.

I’ve never forgotten that story. It became the genesis for one of the first prop-based analogies I conceived to explain the concept of soft text when writing The Ultimate PC Primer. Here’s the introductory lesson in video form, something I whipped up to commemorate the book’s anniversary and the memory of that funny story that started it all:

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 »

What is MP3? — A salad-dressing analogy

October 20, 2008

What is MP3? Why is it such a big deal? Have you ever fielded these questions from those unfamiliar with the modern digital music scene? There is a pretty simple analogy you can use to explain it, but it requires a short set-up so that your learner understands the historical hurdle MP3 helped to overcome. Read the rest of this entry »