Posts tagged “laptop”

ChittahChattah Quickies

The Mechanic Muse – From Scroll to Screen [] – It’s easy to get caught up in the user interface changes that digital technology brings to everyday activities like reading, but of course there are very cool precursors (if you will) in the history of book design.

But so far the great e-book debate has barely touched on the most important feature that the codex introduced: the nonlinear reading that so impressed St. Augustine. If the fable of the scroll and codex has a moral, this is it. We usually associate digital technology with nonlinearity, the forking paths that Web surfers beat through the Internet’s underbrush as they click from link to link. But e-books and nonlinearity don’t turn out to be very compatible. Trying to jump from place to place in a long document like a novel is painfully awkward on an e-reader, like trying to play the piano with numb fingers. You either creep through the book incrementally, page by page, or leap wildly from point to point and search term to search term. It’s no wonder that the rise of e-reading has revived two words for classical-era reading technologies: scroll and tablet. That’s the kind of reading you do in an e-book. The codex is built for nonlinear reading – not the way a Web surfer does it, aimlessly questing from document to document, but the way a deep reader does it, navigating the network of internal connections that exists within a single rich document like a novel. Indeed, the codex isn’t just another format, it’s the one for which the novel is optimized. The contemporary novel’s dense, layered language took root and grew in the codex, and it demands the kind of navigation that only the codex provides

Thanks, Ilya!

Ultrabook: Intel’s $300 million plan to beat Apple at its own game [Ars Technica] – Although a divergence from the main theme of the post, the author’s narrative of trying to make a laptop purchase online is hilarious and depressing all at the same time.

The options I get are just… meaningless. Yes, I want “Everyday Computing,” so I want an Inspiron. But hang on, I also want “Design & Performance,” so I want an XPS. Wait a second, I want “Thin & Powerful,” too. So maybe I want a Z Series? But the only line that apparently matches my broad search criteria-lightweight, 11-14″-I wouldn’t even consider because I don’t want a “gaming” laptop, and so I’m never going to click Alienware! Is this the best way to sell laptops? Create a bunch of categories with arbitrary, overlapping labels, and just hope that buyers manage to fight through the system to find something that isn’t wretched? Maybe HP will be better… no, not really. Their site has some outright weirdnesses (yes, I’m in the UK, and yes, we’re metric, but no, I don’t want my screen measured diagonally in centimeters; we don’t do that). The same odd labels cover everything-I know I don’t want “Mini/Netbook,” but I want both “Everyday Computing” (that term again) and “High performance” (because I don’t want it to be slow, do I?). And who knows what “Envy” means? When I tick my screen size and weight boxes, I get back a crop of lousy netbooks that are almost the complete opposite of what I want.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Laptops Look like Race Cars — And Not in a Good Way [] – [Pogue on the ridiculous sticker-on-laptops package] As A.M.D. points out, it’s like buying a new, luxury car­ and discovering that it comes with non-removable bumper stickers that promote the motor oil, the floor mat maker, the windshield-fluid company and the pine tree air freshener you have no intention of ever using….A.M.D.’s research shows that consumers hate the stickers (duh). But they’re not going away, for one simple reason: There’s big money involved. I(Apple famously refuses to put Intel stickers on its computers, even though there’s Intel inside. In doing so, it leaves millions of dollars a year on the table.)…In 2011, A.M.D. will switch to new stickers that peel off easily, leaving no residue; after that, it’s considering eliminating the sticker program altogether. In the meanwhile, it’s going to make affixing its stickers optional. If a computer company chooses not to use the A.M.D. stickers, A.M.D. will still pay it the same marketing dollars to use in other ways.
  • [from steve_portigal] DROID DOES – [Of course this advertising copy is at least partly tongue-in-cheek but I really have to wonder why – even as a joke – this is the sort of thing that we supposedly want out of our devices. The radio ad goes even further, giving voice to the implicit message here by promising to turn you into a machine. Verizon's raison d'etre is to sell phones, I know, but ulp, people, ulp. As we grapple with where we're at with this digi-firehose, Droid is putting a mecha-stake in the ground for us] Turns your eyes into captivated apertures of ecstasy. Its web-busting speed turns your arms into blistering, churning pistons. It’s power, intelligence and intuition. It’s not a better phone. It’s a better you….Its power, ability, brains and skill turn you into a web-rocketing, message-crafting super-you…with web-browsing speed that shoots you from zero to sixty in nanoseconds. It has an intuitive QWERTY keyboard that turns your thumbs into twin, text turbines and steaming diesel email engines.
  • [from steve_portigal] Robert Krulwich on Wondering [Frank Chimero] – Noticing is tough, yet rewarding work, and it begs to be documented. We’ve more tools than ever to do so…Maybe if the noticing started to arrange into larger patterns or there got to be a lot of documentation, I could maybe even print up a book of all the things I had noticed. And wouldn’t that be a nice thing to have on the bookshelf? My Year of Noticing and Wondering — 2010. As a person constantly in a position to produce words or designs or ideas, or whatever it may be, it feels good to give myself permission to kick back and inquisitively absorb things as they come. Part of noticing isn’t seeking, it’s highly reliant on serendipity and unexpected relevancy.

Sexy Ergonomics

I was shopping for laptops recently, and was shocked by how difficult it was to find a reasonably priced model with a comfortable keyboard and trackpad, and a front edge that was wrist-friendly. The experience made me wonder why so little attention seemed to be being paid to such a fundamental aspect of the product.

Why don’t ergonomics have more sex appeal? Shouldn’t a well-designed physical interfacing of human and built object be one of the most valued aspects of design? While in truth ergonomics are interwoven (or should be) with aesthetics and materials, our excitement seems to gravitate towards how things look and feel, or cleverness of concept, rather than how well they work with us.

A quick read through this recent interview with Jonathan Ive on Core77 reveals a worshipful discussion of iPhone 4 materials.

It is this sort of materials obsession and constant experimentation that led to a decision to use scratch-resistant aluminosilicate glass for the front and back of the phone, as well as developing their own variant of stainless steel to edge the device.

I had to travel all the way back to 2007 to find someone talking specifically about a sexy merger of design and ergonomics/usability.

Is it that when ergonomics work, they are invisible? That they generally succeed by creating an absence of negative experience, but don’t extend into the realm of pleasure creation, where they might generate more attention?

Dieter Rams’ “weniger, aber besser (less, but better)” design philosophy – and indeed Jonathan Ive’s as well – heads in a similar direction – the absence of superfluous elements, but yet we still find it sexy.

Perhaps part of the picture is the lack of sex appeal that discussions of ergonomics tend to have. Is this an issue of professional culture? What is more important than objects that – never mind giving us pleasure – at the very least don’t injure us? Maybe that’s it – it’s too serious an aspect of design to engender the fun spirit we find in aesthetics?

The movie Waterworld (one of a handful of movies-most-people-think-are-bad that I like), while over the top and mostly quite silly, nicely illustrates the balletic relationship of person and object that good ergonomics make possible, as Kevin Costner’s character Mariner single-handedly sails and otherwise operates his boat throughout the film. The boat’s steampunk aesthetic won’t be for everyone, but it’s perfectly designed to work with the needs of its user, and to me there’s something really sexy about that.


We were on Kauai for only a few hours when we saw this young woman in a cafe in an extremely small town. I got a kick out of how universal the behavior is, no matter where you go, you’ll see someone hanging in a coffee shop with their laptop.

A little Econ 101

The New York Times takes a quick look at how companies manage pricing of equivalent goods and services, and how people perceive value.

Although some people care a great deal about cutting-edge hardware and software, others would happily settle for simpler machines if that meant lower prices. Offering discounts to buyers of traditional white machines enables Apple to expand its market. And this reduces its cost per unit sold, freeing resources to develop even more sophisticated machines.

No user serviceable parts inside

I replaced the hard drive in my Dell laptop yesterday. I knew that most desktop PCs were pretty straightforward for opening up and swapping out components (although my recent foray into replacing a hard drive in my deskop was a bit of a challenge, requiring going to find some archived discussions from others who had the same model computer), but always assumed that laptops were sealed and ready-for-technicians only.

Dell actually includes step-by-step instructions on how to do it. I had to remove the keyboard, the palm rest panel, and then the drive itself. The instructions seemed to miss a step but I figured it out. It was fairly easy and it worked right the first time. Kind of a neat design thing; making it non-trivial but straightforward enough that a non-mechanical and timid (but desperate) type like myself could actually do it.

Now I wonder if I can replace the drive in my old Sony VAIO 505 laptop; and make a backup system for myself?

Pulling the plugs

Virginia Postrel in the NYT on the promise of wireless technology, selling the story of wireless, and the glum reality of a tethered techno life:
That, of course, is also the promise of wireless technology – to cut the ties that literally bind us to our desks, our homes, our mundane existences. Marketers take that promise and try to distill it into glamorous images that will inspire us to take the wireless plunge. It isn’t an easy task.


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