Tag Archives: Similar products

Safe Charging Your Gadget

You’ve seen those little lockers in malls, restaurants and supermarkets where you can store and recharge your phone. Well now you can do the same thing with your laptop. The newspaper Bury St. Edmunds Today reports of an invention by local firm Helmsman, the SafeCharge locker:

Safecharge

The locker enables laptops, iPods, mobile phones and power tools to be safely stored away, while also being charged at the same time. Similar products do exist, the paper says, but SafeCharge “has a separate door for each laptop, giving large businesses and schools greater peace of mind.”

A Jef Raskin Interview From A Year Ago

I only just found out that Jef Raskin passed away last month. I thought I would post an email interview I had with him a year ago to illustrate some of his thinking in his last year:

On Mar 9, 2004, at 7:22 AM, Jeremy Wagstaff wrote:

Jef, sounds better if I send the questions by email… I have greatly enjoyed your book, a real eye-opener, although unfortunately time constraints may mean I am not able to digest as thoroughly as I should have. So please forgive any questions below which could be answered by a closer reading of your book! — Would you mind giving a brief elaboration of your comment that ‘I have learned a great deal about interface design, human psychology, and human physiology since creating the Macintosh project a quarter century ago — and even then I wanted to use the mouse far less than the larger role given to it by later workers at Apple’. What have you learned, exactly? Where are we going wrong with the use of the mouse?

To ask what I have learned, exactly, is answered by my book and articles. There is no short answer that fulfills the requested “exactly”. It is now well established (I sent you the latest and best reference) that mouse use should be minimized, and it has been long known (since at least the 1980s) how slow mouse operations are. The problem has been that keyboard-based solutions have been even worse in terms of learnability and memorability. But the mouse (or other pointing device; I prefer tablets for drawing and a good trackball for pointing, but that’s personal preference) is essential for graphics. THE is designed to use both the keyboard and the mouse where they are appropriate and not use them where they are not; and I have found pleasant solutions that make THE both learnable and memorable — as testing has shown.

But the most important things I have learned are those involving how humans learn and work. Applying that research-based knowledge and using the quantitative tools that have been developed facilitate the development of much better interfaces than we now have. – When you say ‘It is still the case that most of what we do with computers (estimates are typically 80% to 85% on a time basis) involves the creation, reading, and editing of text. And for this kind of work, the mouse is usually inappropriate’ could you give examples? Do you mean users should use more keystroke combinations?

Using the rather arbitrary keystroke combinations now available is a finger-twisting exercise that is frustrated by the inconsistent way they are used in different applications. Often there are no keyboard methods for some tasks. The present ad hoc keystroke combinations are pathetic. Users should demand better software, there is no way to use the present interfaces well.

I was going to suggest in my column that users make a better distinction between tasks, i.e. between a) thought flow tasks — writing, mainly — where reaching for the mouse could only distract and disrupt thought, and therefore should be avoided and b) housekeeping tasks, where the visual GUI could be made more use of via the mouse than it is — for example, by dragging things between windows. But perhaps I’m barking up the wrong tree, or confusing people further?

I don’t think that that advice makes sense. For one thing, most housekeeping tasks should also be keyboard-based.

 As an ‘occasional’ RSI sufferer I’m fully with you on the mouse issue, and have recommended on a couple of occasions to cut back on mouse usage. So I worry that with the above recommendation I might be making things worse. But while there are some great programs out there which can significantly cut down on mouse usage to do ‘housekeeping tasks’  — I can’t see any way of avoiding some tasks altogether. Or am I not thinking far ahead enough?

Another question that requires a longer answer than you can possibly use. Sometimes difficult problems don’t have answers that can be put into a pithy paragraph or two. The specs for just the text portions of THE run to over 40 pages, and in those pages are very specific answers to your questions. I don’t know about “ahead” but you are only beginning to think outside the restrictive GUI box. It’s hard to understand a new world when you’ve spent years in the old.

 Finally, leading on from that, what will the interface of the near future look like? What can people expect, and how can they help make that day arrive sooner? Are there any specific tips you could offer users who don’t want to wait for changes in their GUI?

In the near future, people will use today’s GUIs. Taking a longer term view, I hope that developers will read books, of which mine is but one example, about how people really interact with computers and other similar products instead of using the present half-facts or outright false beliefs about what makes an interface work. If I find the support and/or sufficient volunteers, I will get THE out into the world, and people will gradually move to it because it is significantly better.

I can’t help current GUI users; I search through my Windows for Dummies and Macs for Dummies type books and try to learn how to use them effectively, but they are so wrong from the getgo that there’s only so much a user can do to make them better.

Loose Wire — Are You Being Read Or Completely Ignored?

Ever found yourself wondering if the e-mail you sent your boss/aunt/long-lost friend was actually read? Here’s some new software to help you keep tabs

By Jeremy Wagstaff, 22 May 2003

This column first appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review
(Copyright (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc., used with permission)

If you have any obsessive/compulsive tendencies, you probably should stop reading now. If you don’t, I have a solution to questions you’re bound to have asked yourself at one point or another, such as “Has the boss read my e-mail asking for a raise yet?” or “How can I check that everyone got the invite to my Tupperware party?” and “Why hasn’t Auntie Mabel thanked me for my thoughtful, but somewhat cheap, birthday e-greeting?”. The answer: MSGTAG.

No, it’s not compulsory labelling for monosodium glutamate, that charming flavour enhancer. MSGTAG is short for MessageTag, and it’s a way to see whether or not e-mails have been read by the recipient. Right now, if you send an e-mail you have little or no way of checking whether someone received it, let alone actually read it. Some programs allow you to request an automatic acknowledgement that an e-mail’s been received — or even opened — but the option depends a lot on what software the recipient is using, and the settings. Most of the time you’re firing blind when you send an e-mail.

Enter MessageTag, from New Zealand software-development company eCOSM Ltd. Install the MSGTAG software and, in most cases, it will automatically reconfigure your e-mail software to add a glob of code to the bottom of any e-mail you send (to those of you in the know, it’s an HTML image reference) which assigns the e-mail a unique ID number. When the recipient opens their e-mail, the glob of code sends a message back to the MSGTAG server, or computer. That computer makes a note of the ID, and the time the message was received. It then matches the ID with the MSGTAG user, and the matching e-mail, and notifies the user the e-mail has been opened, and when. Voila.

I found it worked like a charm. The free version does the final step — sending a notification that an e-mail has been opened — by e-mail, whereas the fully functioning version, called MSGTAG Status, runs a separate program that lists all the e-mails you’ve sent, and then flags those that have been opened.

To me it’s a very useful tool. Having to alert friends that a party had been cancelled at the last minute, I was able to monitor who had opened their e-mails and who hadn’t. Sending e-mail to PR folk suddenly gets a lot easier since I can tell who has opened it and who is ignoring me, and who has either moved, died, or hasn’t yet figured how to use the e-mail program.

The basic idea is not new. Several other companies offer similar products: the most promising, HaveTheyReadItYet (www.havetheyreadityet.com), only works with Outlook and Outlook Express for now, though other versions are planned. The free version allows users to monitor the progress of five e-mails at a time; more than that and you have to buy digital stamps at $5 each. Another option is SentThere , which allows you either to send and monitor e-mails in the same way as MSGTAG, or to use a special mini-e-mail program. I couldn’t get this one to work. Other products, such as South Korea-based Postel and OpenTrace didn’t respond to e-mail queries, an irony not lost on me.

Still, after using MSGTAG for a week, I was hooked. Which is where the obsessive/compulsive bit comes in. I found myself eagerly monitoring my “Status” window to see whether my e-mail had been read, and then found myself wondering why the person hadn’t replied immediately. One guy, a friend I hadn’t heard from for nearly a decade, opened my mail but still, nearly a week on, hasn’t written back. He is definitely not coming to my wedding, if I have one. I can see all sorts of new neuroses coming out of all this.

That’s not the only danger. Privacy advocates claim it’s an invasion of privacy to covertly monitor when an e-mail is read. Beyond that, the argument goes, users could also find out other information about, for example, whether and to whom the e-mail may be forwarded and how long they spent reading the e-mail (“What? They only spent 10 seconds reading my account of my summer trip to Graceland?”).

I don’t really see this is a privacy issue. Send a text message from many hand-phones and you can obtain a message informing you of its delivery — which only works when the phone is switched on and in the coverage area. Likewise, sending registered mail, or packages, enables the sender to obtain similar information. Users may take some getting used to this, but I think it can only enhance the usefulness of e-mail to have some way of checking whether it actually ended up where it was supposed to.

That said, I do have some gripes: At $60 the Status program is a bit steep. And it will only work if you are using HTML e-mail — the fancy version where you can change font styles, insert pictures and view Web-page-style newsletters. And MSGTAG won’t, for now, work on Microsoft Exchange servers, undermining its effectiveness for corporate users. Having said all that, I found most MSGTAG e-mails worked, and now I’m not sure what I’ll do without it. Of course, I’m now losing sleep sitting in front of the PC monitoring whether my e-mails are getting read. Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.

June 26 2003: MSGTAG is no longer available in a free version. Read on here.