Working on the web the past few years, I've grown hyperaware of the interfaces I use everyday, and not just those limited to web sites. I'm talking about typical things like supermarket checkouts, automated telephone menu systems, and freeway on-ramps. Why are they constructed the way they are? How do they make you feel? How could they be improved?
So last week, when I had the unfortunate opportunity to go retrieve my towed vehicle, I couldn't help but notice a pattern developing throughout the day, from one interface to another.
You have to go downtown, in a part of town where no one lives, so it's automatically a different part of the city than where you normally hang out. The towing office is located in the same building as the police station, requiring you to go through a series of metal detectors and security checks, while people are being dragged in and yelling in angry outbursts. Once inside, you have to make your way down long, dark, windowless halls. The walls are black marble, and the floors are dark green. When you make it into the room where you must pay, you're met with something resembling a theater box office in prison. Workers sit behind windows of ultra-thick bulletproof glass, with small circular holes for speaking through. To top it off, the bottom four feet of walls and the entire floor is covered with a layer of textured aluminum you might see lining the back of a large truck.
By the time I got in line, I could feel the anger and rage building inside. It was going to cost me over $150, I was taking a couple hours out of my day to do this, and I was in a dark and cold place. The room drove home the point of how powerless everyone was. Even if a gun-toting maniac ripped through the assembled crowd, I could imagine the workers taking a five minute break to hose out the room before getting back to work, taking $150-300 from each and every person waiting in line. The police station was also mere footsteps away, to remind you of what happens to people that can't keep themselves together.
I also noticed that after dealing with getting there, waiting in line, and paying, I was demoralized, powerless, and still very angry, and that feeling prevented any semblance of coherent argument and ensured payment for my wrongdoing. When the room was most busy there were 3 people in front of me and four behind, and two people in line were so angry that they audibly muttered one explicative after another to themselves. These people were not in any position to make valid protests, and the likelihood of them getting the infraction overturned was close to impossible.
Now that I think about it, it's no accident that the entire process came out feeling that way. It's almost engineered for prompt, protest-free payment.

“Let me be by myself

Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze,
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees,
Send me off forever but I ask you please,
Don’t fence me in.

I’ll be thinking of Cole Porter‘s words when we all hit Austin next week. I remember the limitless skies and limitless possibilities, and I hope we can rekindle that again this year.

Finally. Last xmas, I was

Finally. Last xmas, I was wondering why the BattleBots franchise hadn’t released some low-end remote control fighting bots. They’re not due until this summer, but I’m certain they’ll be a popular geek toy. They’ll be like an updated, tech version of rockem sockem robots, and I can almost hear the battles within the office halls now…

I got a laptop at

I got a laptop at work, and it has a trackpad. Although they work better for photoshop, I prefer eraserhead pointers on my notebooks. The reason? My hands accidentally hover over the touchpad and occasionally make phantom clicks. I’ve been looking all night for a touchpad hack, to kill the taps = clicks thing, but now that deja’s newsgroup archive is gone, I can’t find anything.

I was thinking the other day, deja missed their calling on the archive. They could have easily turned it into a money-making treasure trove of ideas. A napster of ideas, if you will, with reimbursements for authors. If there were a paypal or amazon paybox link on deja pages, I’d use them. Often. There have been times where a single newsgroup message saved me hundreds of dollars, days of time, and kept me from pulling my hair out. Most of my deja digging was for the purpose of tech support, and since it came free after some searching labor, I would have gladly kicked the author and deja five bucks for the most useful tips. Deja could have kept most of the money, and paypaled via email the author of the original usenet post. Nowhere near a perfect system, but it’s something.

Anyway, I guess I’m getting to the point of giving up. I have a Dell Inspiron 5000 with trackpad I’d like to disable tapping from producing mouse clicks in Windows 2000, and I’m willing to pay for that tip. Tell you what, I’ll paypal five bucks to the first person that can give me the correct answer. I don’t want to disable the mouse entirely (which can be done in the bios), I merely want to adjust its behavior. The OS control panel doesn’t let me do it, but I bet someone wrote a utility to allow for it. Let me know, and you’ll be five dollars richer.

update: Graham Walker came up with this utility, which I couldn’t track down yesterday. I loaded it and there was an option to kill taps as mouseclicks. See? There’s a market in information bounty hunting, someone just has to tap it.