Technology User Challenges

Awhile back, a good friend described me as “a Luddite in techie’s clothing.” She might have a point. My biggest challenge at the new job continues to be adjusting to all the new machines required for my job, especially the Mac. Partly that’s because I still have a PC laptop for my home computer, and partly just getting used to a new way of running computers. I am being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century, which is an odd situation for a guy who’s worked in high technology for six years.

The Mac Keyboard

In some ways, the Mac is similar to the PC, in others it is very different. For example it was made clear to me after reading Steve Jobs’ biography that Apple isn’t always interested in developing computer tools that the public wants. As Jobs himself put it, “The public doesn’t know what it wants until we give it to them.” And Jobs was a big believer in touch-based interfaces. I truly believe that if he could have, Jobs would have eliminated the QWERTY keyboard entirely. As it is, Apple removed a lot of keys that I use as a daily part of maneuvering around the screen, and this is not always pleasant for someone who has learned to channel his ideas and thoughts through his fingers in certain reliable and predictable channels, nor has it endeared me to the Mac.

Touch Pads

The touch pad is that smooth, rounded-square mouse controller at the forward part of your Mac (I’m using the Power Book, I believe). Like most Apple products, it has a smooth, almost sensuous texture to it–the iPad, too, has a very smooth tactile interface, but I’ll get to that in due course. I will say this for the Mac touch pad: it works a lot better than the one on my PC: I disabled the one on my personal laptop because it was more trouble than it was worth.

The touch pad is there to help you move the mouse around the screen, but also shrink and expand screens, move them around the page, and also scroll up and scroll down. That’s great, if you have excellent eye-hand coordination. Let me just come right out and say it: I am not very coordinated. Without going into my complete medical history, let’s just say that decades-old thyroid and tremor problems sometimes cause my fingers to go in directions I do not want them to go. I would not make a good freehand artist, and I routinely struggle with penmanship. I maintain a 70-word-per-minute typing speed, which would be faster if I didn’t have to hit backspace so many times to correct errors. In short, I’m a klutz.

Which brings me back to that touch pad. All it takes is for my thumb to brush the touch pad, and suddenly the windows on my screen have gone awry and I have to swiftly recover to figure out how to undo whatever I just did by making X maneuver on the touch pad.

The Apple Mouse

Like the touch pad, the Apple mouse has a very clean, smooth design and is made of a very smooth, high-quality plastic that is incredibly sensitive to finger pressure. Recall my earlier discussion about random finger movements? Right. One little extra twitch or accidental brush across the surface of the contraption, and suddenly I’m two slides down on PowerPoint or suddenly facing a scrambled screen. And just to make things more fun, scrolling on the screen now goes backward from the way it does on my PC (though, in fairness, the “natural direction” scrolling is in keeping with the iPhone and iPad and makes more sense once you get used to it…which is great, until I go back home and work on the PC.

I disabled some of the little “gestures” on the mouse, which Apple allows you to customize, but that hasn’t warmed me to the Mac much better. The best we might manage is a guarded peace.


The iPad is growing on me. My inner neat freak requires that I wipe fingerprints off the screen once a day, but otherwise I’m getting used to it. It has that (patented?) smooth glass texture that allows your fingers to glide across the page and drag things all over the screen. The QWERTY keyboard for typing is just large enough to see and touch all the keys (unlike the iPhone), but just small enough that it doesn’t feel right typing with two hands, as I do on a grownup-sized keyboard.

Transitions from Machine to Machine

Now here’s where it gets a little silly: at work I’ll have my iPhone, iPad, and Power Book all on the desk in front of me. The iPhone is most useful as my “buzzer” to let me know I’ve got an email. So the iPhone will vibrate, causing me to open email on the iPad while I’m using the laptop. Without quite thinking about it, I’ll try to “move” the cursor on the iPad screen with my mouse before remembering that I have to disengage from the mouse and touch the iPad screen. The transition from iPad back to the laptop isn’t much better. I have random fingerprints on the PB screen from when I’ve tried to move something around on the desktop.

The event that prompted this blog, however, happened at home and had nothing to do with the Apple products in my life. My Honda has a remote for locking or unlocking the door, which I use alternately with the physical key. However, I got to my apartment door last night, had my keys out, and hit the button, becoming confused when the door would not unlock.

Go ahead and laugh. One day you’ll get one gadget too many, too. 😛

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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