Thursday, October 26, 2006

Tactile computing

Life in the lab is just humming along this month. I think I’ve finally licked the alkali problem, but we won’t get to test until sometime next month. Ultra low-level alkali measurements just don’t interest that many people.

I’ve also been spending time running SHRIMP I, the original Sensitive, High-Resolution Ion Micro Probe. SI is a grand old machine, built before the era of modern computing. It is manually controlled. Instead of clicking on a flat screen, it uses dials and wheels and knobs for everything. Opening the sample lock requires spinning a huge valve crank with both hands, reminiscent of diving in a U-boat, or operating a 19th century steam engine.

One of the problems with the computer age is that computer interfaces are so anti-tactile. You just click stuff on screens. There is no texture, no clutching or smashing or tasting, like in the rest of geology. Visualization only goes so far in a science where grasping concepts and feeling out hypotheses is so important.

Of course, it would be unblog-like for me to simply complain about something in this medium without attempting a solution. So I will try to interface my computer with my rock hammer. A tap seems to have no effect, but if I take a hefty swing, then-


Mr. Orange said...

I can't agree with you more about the non-tactile nature of computers. It's not just the tactile, either - I'm scared some day hard drives will become inaudible, and then how will I know if my cranky laptop is actually starting up, or if my external drive has successfully parked itself?

Nowadays you have people actively trying to restore to us the secondary signals machines used to give off; witness the Wifi Bunny:

Lab Lemming said...

Dear Mr. Orange,
The technology of wifi has not yet reached this godforsaken corner of Australia. So if you want to stimulate your bunny in Canberra, you'll need to stick a wire up its butt.

As for secondary signal noises, the artificial shutter snap recording played by digital cameras has to be up there in terms of annoying fakery.