Saturday, September 14, 2013

Hair triggers and fire hoses

very fast repeating keyboard keys??????????????

When you type the word "key", the time that lapses between your keystrokes can be used by the computer for other tasks.  The computer can perform many things at a much greater speed than a human can. I am reminded of what is essentially a John Henry and the steam engine problem each time I accidentally hold down a key on the keyboard for that extra moment and get a string of repeated lettersssssssssssssssssssssssss.

Sometimes, when people are looking for an image of a superhuman device or setup, they mention firehoses.  I have never actually held a firehose that was transporting a full load of water at fire-fighting pressure but I can imagine the difficulty of getting a leetle drink of water from a hose that has a tremendous stream of water coming.  Maybe it is enough water pressure that a finger accidentally dangled in front of the nozzle would get torn off or sprained. Clearly, trying to get a cupful of water without having the cup blown out of your hand or damaged would be a challenge.

A gun that can be fired with very, very little pressure on the trigger, a tv rewind that gets back to the first screen too quickly - many things can be built on a non-human scale of power or speed.  Somewhere I read that cars would not be involved in accidents if a very sharp bayonet was built on the steering column of the car, aimed at the chest of the driver.

A wise friend said the other day that we have to reserve our health decisions for ourselves to make, keeping our physicians' advice in mind but still making the final decisions.  I totally agree and in a similar way, we have to refuse to use technology that is too fast, too powerful, too intrusive or otherwise does not suit our needs.  We are not always in a position to make design decisions on our own but as consumers, users and technology critics, we can put aside items that are too small, too heavy, too fast or slow, too loud or soft, too expensive.

Some tender-hearted people tend to blame themselves for technology difficulties.  "I just don't have a head for computers", I hear.  It is true that if you never take the time to learn what a device can do, how to change its settings, you aren't giving it and its designers a chance.  But if you try slow your mouse down, you look up "mouse speed" in Google, maybe ask the local librarian for a book on your device and you still can't find a way to make a desired change, it may be time to get something different.

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