Category Archives: Computing


Ergonomics – The Human Factor

By Jim Oren

(This Article was excerpted from the Antic Online’s Professional GEM Column)
Reprinted without permission from STart Magazine Volume 4 No 1 (August 1989)

A reader of a novel or science fiction story must suspend disbelief to participate in the story. If the author’s grammar or plot it clumsy, it jars the reader and breaks down the illusion., pulling the reader out of the story. Similarity, a software designer who fails to pay attention to the speed and consistency of a program’s interface will distract users from the programs functions and detract from the care that has been lavished on the function of the program.

Making an interface fast and useable is often treated as a black art.. It isn’t – there are well known methods derived from the field of ergonomics, the study of interaction between man and machine. The ergonomics of the human computer interface were studied extensively at Xerox PARC, the birthplace of the Alto, Star and smalltalk systems which led to the Macintosh and the Atari ST. The designers of these original systems knew and applied the principles of ergonomics.

What follows is a short venture into the world of ergonomics. You will find more than the usual quota of math, slated with examples of real design problems. But there is no way print can convey the vibrancy and tactile pleasure of a good interface, or the sullen boredom of a bad one.. The best way to make ergonomics real is to look for your own examples . Get out your favorite arcade game and see if you can spot some of these principles in action. Dig out the most annoying program in your reject pile and look for the mistakes. Then look at your own with a critical eye.


We’ll start right at the users fingers with the basic equation governing the positioning of the mouse, Fitt’s Law:

T = I x LOG2(D/S + 0.5)

T is the amount of time to move to a target
D is the distance of the target from the current position.
S is the size of the target, stated in equivalent units.
LOG2 is the base 2 (binary) logarithm function
I is a proportional constant, about 100 milliseconds per bit, which corresponds to the human’s “clock rate” for making incremental movements.

We can squeeze an amazing amount of information out of this formula when attempting to speed up an interface. Since motion time goes up with distance, we should arrange the screen with the usual working area near the center, so the mouse will have to move a smaller distance on average from a selected object to a menu or panel. Likewise, any items which are usually used together should be placed together. The most common operations will have the greater impact on speed, so they should be closest to the working area and perhaps larger than other icons or menu entries. If you want to have all operations take about the same time, then the targets furthest from the working area should be larger, and those closer may be proportionately smaller.

Consider the implications for dialogs. Small check boxes are out. Large buttons which are easy to hit are in. There should be ample space between selectable items to allow for positioning errors. Dangerous options should be widely separated from common selections.


If you used the ST desktop for any period of time you’ve probably noticed that your fingers know where to find the file menu. This phenomenon is sometimes called “muscle memory” and its rate of onset is given by the Power Law of Practice:

T(n) = Y(1) x n-a

T(n) is the time on the nth trial
T(1) is the time in the first trial, and is approximately 0.4.

The first thing to note about the power law is that it only works if a target stays in the same place. This should be a potent argument against rearranging icons , menus , or dialogs without some explicit request by the user. The time to hit a target which moves around arbitrarily will always be T(1).


Just as fingers are the way the user sends data to the computer so the eyes are the channel from the machine. The rate at which information may be passed to the user is determined by the “cycle time” of the user’s visual processor. Experimental results show that this time ranges between 50 and 200 milliseconds.

Events separated by 50 milliseconds or less are always perceived as a single event. Those separated by more than 200 milliseconds are always seen as separate.

Suppose that your application ‘s interface contains an icon which should be inverted when the mouse passes over it. We know that flipping it within 1/20th of a second is necessary and sufficient. Therefore if a “first cut” at the program achieves this performance, there is no need for further optimization, unless you want to interleave with other operations.

If it falls short, it will be necessary to do some assembly coding to achieve a smooth feel.

On the other hand, two actions which you want to appear distinct or convey two different pieces of information must be separated by an absolute minimum of a fifth of a second, even assuming that they occur in an identical location on which the users attention is already focused.

It should be quickly added that stimulus enhancement will only work when it unambiguously draws attention to the target. Three or four blinking objects scattered around the screen are confusing, and worse than no enhancement at all.

Short Term Memory

Both the information gathered by he eyes and movement commands on their way to the hand pass through short term memory (also called working memory). The amount of information that can be held in short term memory at any one time is limited. You can demonstrate this limit on yourself by attempting to type a sheet of random numbers by looking back and forth from the numbers to the screen. If you see like most people, you will be able to remember between five and nine numbers at a time. So universal is this finding that it is sometimes called “the magic number seven, plus or minus two”.

he shirt-term capacity sets a limit on the number of choices which the user can be expected to grasp at once. It suggests that the number of independent choices in a menu should be around seven, and never exceed nine. If this limit is exceeded then the user will have to take several glances, with pauses to think in order to make a choice.


The effective capacity of short term memory can be increased when several related items are mentally grouped as a “chunk”. A well designed interface should promote the use of chunking as a strategy by the user. One easy way is to gather together related options in a single place. This is one reason that like commands are grouped into a single menu which is hidden except for the title . If all the menu options were “in the open” the user would be overwhelmed with dozens of alternatives at once. Instead a “show info” command, for instance becomes two chunks: pick file menu, then pick show.

Sometimes the interface can accomplish the chunking for the user. Consider the difference between a slider bar in a GEM program and a three digit entry field in a text mode application. Obviously, the GEM user has fewer decisions to make in order to set the associated variable.


This article is a modest sampler from a much larger field. The Card, Moran and Newell book was the primary source for this article.

Stuart K Card, Thomas P Moran & Allen Newell :
The Psychology of Human-Computer Interaction
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, New Jersey 1983
(fundamental and indispensable. This volume of experimental results make it weighty. The good parts are at the beginning and end)

Macintosh User Interface Guidelines – Inside Macintosh
Apple Computer, Inc. 1984
(Though not everything translates this is a fine piece of principled design work)

James D Foley, Victor L Wallace and Peggy Chan
The Human Factors of Computer Graphics Interaction Techniques
IEEE Computer Graphics (CG&A) Nov 1984 pp 13-48
(A good overview, including higher level topics. Excellent bibliography)

J D Foley and A Van Dam
Fundamentals of interactive computer graphics.
Addison Wesley 1984, Chapters 5 and 6
(If you can’t get the article above, read this. If you are designing graphics applications, buy the whole book. Staggering bibliography)

Ben Shneiderman
Direct Manipulation : A step Beyond Programming Languages
IEEE Computer August 1983 pp57-69
(What do Pac-man and Visicalc have in common ? Shneiderman’s analysis is vital to creating hot interfaces.

Oren, Tim
Professional GEM
Antic Online, Compuserve
(The complete text of this article and several others on the same topic are included in Tim’s Professional GEM column in the index section of Antic Online. Log onto CumpuServe and type GO ANTIC)

Tim Oren was a member of the original GEM Team at Digital Research and designed the GEM resource Construction Set, later ported to the Atari ST. After leaving DRI he designed the GEM version of KnowledgeSet’s Graphic Knowledge Retrieval System, one of the first hypertext systems available for CD-ROM. At the same time he was the author of the Professional GEM series of online columns in Antic Online and contributor to the inaugural issues of Start. Tim is currently employed by Apple computer’s Advanced Technology Group, where he leads a project in multimedia information retrieval. (1989)


Rules of the Screen

Stolen from the Internet

follow a set of (largely unwritten) rules that have been developed over the last ten years. Uniquely, this article takes a look at both the rules and their basis in psychology.

The elements you see in modern user interfaces (windows, menus, icons, etc) were founded on basic, psychological principles – eg, people are better at recognition than recall.

Psychologists spend their time devising deceptively simple experiments using, as their laboratory equipment, people’s heads. Some of their discoveries do not seem earth-shattering (it is, apparently, harder to remember “The man looked at the sign” than “The fat man looked at the sign warning of thin ice.”) Over time, they have built up a model of the mind that is far from the powerful, flexible superbrain we might think humans possess. Rather, it is quirky, fallible, distracted and often downright cantankerous-more Homer Simpson than Side-Show Bob.

One of the earlier findings was that people are considerably better at recognition than recall. Ask me to describe the icon for ‘set foreground colour to match this’ and I’ll have difficulty, but show me a palette of icons and I’ll pick out the pipette. Or, at least, I will if I’ve used it before. This is the fundamental principle behind both icons and menus: having people choose from a list they’ve seen before is far easier than having them type long strings of ill-remembered commands. Information in the world is easier on users than information in the head. Not just easier, but quicker too; measured in microseconds, recognition beats recall hands down.

Research is ongoing-new techniques and interface ‘widgets’ are introduced with each new operating system release. Some are successful and others die out.

Of course, every application now uses menus and icons, but there is more to it than that. Further research shows that it’s easier to find what you’re looking for when items are sorted into meaningful groups. If that seems obvious, watch someone using menus. They will frequently look in two or more menus before finding what they’re looking for, no matter how many times they’ve seen it before. Are the menus grouped in a way that is meaningful for the user or for the developer? Or for a designer in search of elegant simplicity-one set of menus across different applications, achieved by making their names as bland as possible.

What the user sees…
The key to a successful interface is determining the predominant user type-beginner, intermediate or expert-and considering what users are thinking when they use an application.

Diversity of users is a key problem for the visual interface designer.
Typically, users are segmented into three capability levels: beginner, intermediate and expert. These levels can be applied to three domains: computing in general, a specific operating system and a specific application. You can be an expert Windows user but a beginner at Excel, for instance; or you could be an expert user of your company’s order entry system but oblivious to everything outside it (there are users who believe the order entry system is the computer). ‘Expert’ here means ‘thoroughly familiar with’, rather than the usual sense of ‘world’s leading authority’.

A common mistake is to focus too much on the beginner, forgetting that the user will progress to an intermediate level fairly swiftly and will then be held up by features designed for beginners.

Beginners get a lot of attention, but in fact there are not many of them around, simply because they learn. For the custom business applications we are concerned with, users are almost entirely intermediates learning to become experts since they use the software nearly every day. If you design your interface for beginners, it will quickly be viewed as tiresome by most of its users. Instead, your application should quietly introduce itself and aim to make users intermediates as soon as possible.

Before looking at which interface features favour the different user types, consider what users are thinking when they use an application. Broadly, a user will have one of three questions:

What can I do with this application?
How do I achieve this specific task?
If I rummage around, what will I find?

1) and (3) might seem trivial, but they are enormously important in transforming beginners into intermediates and intermediates into experts. That said, you don’t need to build much direct support for them. The crucial question is (2)-to see why, we need a model.

When you want to do something, say read a book after dark, you go through four steps (what follows is a simplified version of a model introduced by interface design guru Don Norman).

First, you determine a goal; in our example it might be “make it lighter, so I can read.” You then translate the goal into one or more actions such as “get out of the chair and turn on the light” or “ask someone else to turn on the light.”

When the action has been carried out you look for feedback, in this case it gets lighter. Finally you evaluate whether the goal has been achieved.
Users apply a four-step sequence when trying to carry out a task on an application-goal, action, feedback and evaluation.

The channel most appropriate for completing a task varies with the user type: menus cater well for beginners, keyboard short cuts are for experts and the still controversial toolbar is aimed at the largest user group-the intermediates.
That might seem like an awful lot of thinking just to turn on a light, but of course for such simple actions it’s all subconscious. The same goal-action-feedback-evaluation sequence applies to users trying to carry out tasks with your application. Typically, two problem areas arise: my goal is to send a mail message, but how do I do it (the ‘gulf of execution’); and I think I just sent one, but how can I be sure (the ‘gulf of evaluation’)? The first of these is our old friend (2) from the discussion above and is by far the most common, and most serious, interface problem.

When you want to offer your users a way of completing a task, you have four main channels to choose from: menus, the keyboard, a toolbar or direct manipulation with the mouse. For some tasks, such as resizing a window or typing a letter, the choice is obvious (though ibm’s ageing CUA guidelines still insist that everything should be possible from the keyboard—have you ever tried resizing a window from the keyboard?). For commands, though, the choice is menu, keyboard and/or toolbar. Interface gurus agree that menus cater well for beginners and keyboard shortcuts are for experts, but this leaves our main target group, the intermediates. It was for this group that the toolbar was invented.
However, it doesn’t boil down to building an interface exclusively for one user type-it’s more a question of getting the right mix. Inter-mediates will quickly get accustomed to toolbars and accompanying tooltips. This frees menus up to teach beginners.

The argument against toolbars runs like this: they waste screen real estate, the icons are too small to be recognizable and, since users can’t figure out how to customise them, they usually feature the wrong set of commands. The argument in favour is more practical: once people start using a toolbar, they can’t live without them. Microsoft neatly solved the recognisability problem with ‘tooltips’-the label that appears if you hold the mouse over a toolbar icon for a couple of seconds. In fact, if you put the most commonly used commands on a toolbar (preferably customisable, though this can be hard work for developers and users alike) as well as giving them keyboard shortcuts, you have freed your menu bar to do what it does best: teach beginners. Faced with a tight budget, custom software developers often drop niceties like toolbars and right mouse-button shortcuts (the fifth channel). This is a mistake.

There are a number of further aspects to consider when examining command channels-affordance, the way in which an object’s appearance hints at what you can do with it, and pliancy, the way an object highlights itself or produces an entire menu when the pointer moves near it.

Before leaving the important topic of command channels, let’s look at two other aspects, one very old and one new. Direct manipulation (mousing an object) usually involves drag-and-drop. Though drag-and-drop has been around as long as guis, users have trouble with it. The problem seems to be with affordance, the way in which an object’s appearance hints at what you can do with it. In the real world, for instance, handles afford pulling. This makes handles on doors that need pushing pretty annoying (the designer probably thought this was a small price to pay to avoid the ugliness of a metal plate for pushing). Icons of files, just like real world files, do afford ‘physical’ drag-and-drop between folders or into the wastebasket. But chunks of text do not afford dragging to somewhere else in a document—so this should be an optional feature, aimed at experts. The rule is, except where drag-and-drop is clearly an ideal solution (such as rescheduling events in a diary application), avoid making your users do it.

Affordance is also behind a much more recent development: pliancy, or having an object highlight itself when the pointer is moved near it. The buttons in Internet Explorer are a good example of this—they change from subtle monotone to 3D colour whenever the pointer is within clicking distance.

Some objects go further than this, producing whole menus without being clicked (see Microsoft Encarta, for instance). This can be somewhat unnerving at first, but offers both ease-of-use to beginners and speed-of-use to everyone.

For speed users, Apple’s single menu bar is faster than menus mounted on windows. The keyboard, of course, beats both and ones with a Dvorak layout are faster than QWERTY, but only by 10%.

On the subject of speed, here are a couple of other research findings that will be of interest in situations where every microsecond counts (high volume data entry, for example). First, mouse usage.

Fitt’s Law says that the time it takes to click an object is proportional to the distance the pointer has to move and the size of the target. This explains the surprising fact that Apple’s single menu bar is more efficient than Microsoft’s one-per-window paradigm. Apple users need much less accuracy to hit the target: they simply wham the pointer off the top of the screen. In effect, their target is several times larger. (Windows 95 uses the same trick for its Task bar.)

Second, keyboard layout: isn’t it about time we did away with those silly QWERTY keyboards? In fact, an Alpha layout would be no quicker to learn (you might know the alphabet, but that doesn’t help significantly when the sequence is broken into three rows) and actually slower for experts.

The Dvorak layout, based on statistical analysis of key usage, would be fastest, but only 10% better than QWERTY.

The problem with overlapping windows
Overlapping windows were developed during the backlash against character-based terminals. In fact, it is rare that a user needs to view more than one window at once. This fact is exploited by browser-centric applications.

Ever since we had GUIs, we had overlapping windows. There is, of late, a growing feeling that this was a wrong turn in the history of visual interfaces. People are most effective when they are in a state of ‘flow’—ie, focused on a single task without interruption. Having to find a window somewhere behind the front one is an interruption. So is a dialog box or an error message (more of these later).

If you have three sets of papers on your desk, each relating to a different task, you do not put them on top of each other, you arrange them in separate piles and shift your focus from one to the other only when changing tasks. Nor do sequences in movies appear from behind each other and then drop into the background. This just isn’t how your mind works: attention is serial. Tellingly, the most successful application ever, the web browser, uses a serial, single-window idiom.

There are situations where you focus on more than one thing at once: when comparing, say, or copying from one place to another. Which is why overlapping windows work best where they were first applied: file managers like Apple’s Finder.

In those days you could run only one application, so it was difficult to get confused. As PCs became able to run several applications, a slew of interface innovations were thrown at the problem of managing them: Apple’s application menu with Hide and Show, Microsoft’s ALT-TAB and, more recently and most successfully, the Task bar.

For designers of custom applications, the task is somewhat simpler as they can assume that the user concentrates on a single application.

Forcing a user to move between windows and dialogs in the course of completing a single task is at first confusing and then annoying-the activity is surplus to the task.
If you are designing a custom application (other than a small utility), you can make the simplifying assumption that, if a user is working with your application, they are not doing anything else. So use the whole screen. Some gurus go further than this. Alan Cooper (creator of Visual Basic) suggests the following way of thinking about dialog boxes: imagine each window is a different room. If I visited your home and you demanded we move to a different room to shake hands, I would consider that eccentric at first and, pretty soon, downright annoying.

Of course, if we decided to start a new task, such as eating dinner, I would think nothing of moving to the dining room (not that I want to suggest that eating at your place would be a ‘task’).

If your user wants to do something they consider part of the same task, such as change font or view more detail, don’t give them a dialog box, let them do it right there in the window they already have. Reserve dialogs for new goals, such as starting a new search, not new functions. Some applications make you fight through several layers of nested dialogs, which is like finding yourself in the room under the stairs in the cellar just because you asked the time. Still others lure you into a false sense of security with commands like “New Table” which produces, not a table, but a dialog asking you about that table you requested.

There are still a number of common pitfalls designers tend to fall into-boundaries between new tasks, default settings, undo options and poor error messages.

Users will come up with a myriad of task variances which will drive the requirement analyst mad, but in practice users will take the default option 95% of the time. Toolbars are recently starting to get this right.
While many dialogs can be replaced with objects in the main window (on a toolbar, for instance), many more aren’t needed at all. Software designers do not distinguish between the occasional and the frequent: if something happens at all, the application has to cope with it. If you want to wind up a requirements analyst, neglect to tell them something and, when they find out about it, say “well it doesn’t happen very often so I didn’t think it was worth mentioning.” Yet this is how users really think, so when they choose Print, asking them stupid questions such as “where?” and “how many copies?” is annoying. They take the defaults 95% of the time. Print buttons on toolbars have recently started getting this right—they just print. If you really want multiple copies, you go and find the menu entry. A famous dialog in an early version of Excel would appear every time you tried to clear a cell and ask what, exactly, you wanted to get rid of—the contents? or maybe just the formatting? Getting just a little cleverer with defaults (remembering what the user told you last time, for instance) can make a big difference.

All too often designers use error messages as a get out for poor design. With a well designed application, a user sees an error message so rarely that, when they do, they really sit up and take notice.

Some confirmation dialogs and error messages are even worse. Users who have made what psychologists call a slip—deleting the wrong thing, say—will simply confirm the slip when asked. What they need is a way to undo, though this is a notoriously difficult thing to implement. A classic confirmation dialog in an early database application (we couldn’t find a screen shot) said “Continuing may corrupt the database” at which point the user could choose between two buttons, one labelled “Yes” and the other “No.” Kafka-esque error messages like this, many of which are simply unnecessary, seem deliberately worded to offend.

Don Norman’s Six Slips (from The Design of Everyday Things)
Capture errors A frequently performed activity takes over from (captures) the one you intended. For example, driving your car to the supermarket and finding yourself at the office.
Description errors You perform the correct action but on the wrong object due to their similarities. For example, putting your dirty washing into the tumble drier rather than the washing machine.
Data-driven errors The arrival of sensory data triggers an automatic action, and this disrupts an ongoing action sequence. For example, you spill your drink when someone asks you the time.
Associative activation errors Internal events (thoughts) can also trigger automatic actions— eg, you think of something you ought not say, then say it (the classic Freudian slip).
Loss-of-activation errors You are half-way through an action sequence and realise you have no idea why you started. For example, you find yourself walking into the kitchen but have no idea why you are there.
Mode errors A device, say your video recorder, has more than one mode of operation and the same action has different results in different modes. This is probably the most common slip caused by poor visual interface design.

Trying to be helpful

A common problem faced by beginners on their way to intermediate status is information or ‘button’ overload.

A number of UI features have been designed specially for beginners such as help, wizards and tips. For custom business applications our objective with beginners is to make them intermediates. Training courses, whilst efficient, are quickly forgotten. What is needed is ‘Just In Time’ training.

Keeping in line with a person’s natural learning process-declarative then procedural knowledge phases-a ‘Just in Time’ training method supports the user’s progression from beginner to intermediate far more effectively.

When faced with a new environment, people perceive its complexity to be higher the more buttons there are to press. This is why the ‘simplest’ telephones have just the digits 0-9, *, # and ‘R’. They are, of course, almost impossible to use. The easiest interface, which would ironically be perceived as horribly complex, would be one button per function. On screen, the designer is able to hide functions until they are needed (depending on the user’s current task, for example) so there is no excuse for overloading buttons with several functions.

After overcoming their initial impression, people first pick up declarative knowledge—a real world example would be what a bicycle is and the parts it is made of. Only later does their knowledge become procedural—how to ride a bike ‘without thinking’. Beginners have to plod through each step; experts rely on subconscious (and much faster) procedural knowledge.
Help has also evolved from being a mere reference tool to a more active task orientated search function.

Help, which has been around for ever, has only recently become helpful. This is a result of a move away from pure reference help (mainly declarative) and a new focus on how to achieve specific tasks (much easier to make procedural). Some help is now ‘active’ in the sense that it will take actions for you, such as opening a control panel, if asked. Since this makes for a fast payoff, users who previously thought help was for dummies will now make the investment when they are stuck.

Tips (shortcuts suggested by the software, often as a result of watching what you are doing) and tool tips are further examples of the blurring boundary between functionality and help. The trend is towards help that is ‘in your face’-a trend that is being accelerated by the World Wide Web for two reasons: the search idiom is becoming ingrained (so searching for help is too) and applications are decomposing into applets so users will need guidance to fit them back together.

Also classified as ‘active help’ are wizards and, although they take the user through the whole task quite simply, they do little to teach him how to complete the task himself.

Wizards are another example of active help, though these bring problems. Using a wizard, you quickly complete a task but you learn little about how. If anything, you are left more impressed by the mystery of it all. This makes wizards good for situations where learning is not the objective: infrequent tasks, say, or infrequent users. Over-reliance on wizards has resulted in some lazy design.

The processes by which these rules of the screen are reached are not laid out or even chronological for that matter. They are, more often than not, found by trial and error, with the outcome confirmed or refuted once the user gets his hands on the application.

In case you think that any of this is obvious, you should bear in mind that grown adults have spent days arguing over such things as whether there should even be a right mouse-button, let alone when to use it. The argument is now irrelevant, of course, since 95% of users have one. This is typical of how user interface progresses: gurus pontificate, academics research (into technology on which they get educational discount rather than technology everyone else is using) and try to prove ideas that are already out of date, developers try their best to follow the written guidelines and a vendor, usually Microsoft or Apple, makes the whole lot irrelevant by introducing an innovation which users, voting with their fingers, make or break overnight. Someone then quietly rewrites the guidelines to fit. This is the context in which designers work. If you have a serious yearning to invent UI rather than apply it well, you should move to the West coast.


Deponia (2012)
Rufus, ill-tempered and entirely too convinced of his own greatness, lives in the most remote sector of the garbage-covered planet Deponia. He dreams of a better life in the floating cities of wealth and beauty high above the planet surface. When a lovely young woman falls from these privileged spheres down into a neighboring trash heap, Rufus sees his chance to escort her back home. However, getting her there safe and sound will involve a wild chase across Deponia full of twists, turns and mystifying mix-ups…

Chaos on Deponia (2012)
Some time has passed since the last game, but Rufus is still attempting to escape the trash-filled Deponia to the skybound Elysium. The lovely Goal returns to the planet’s surface, and her damaged brain implant continues to spell trouble for itts inhabitants, this time in a literal split-personality kind of way that greatly impacts puzzle solutions and her relationship with Rufus as well.

Goodbly Deponia (2013)
Reaching Elysium and saving Deponia seem to be just within arm’s reach for Rufus and Goal. But Rufus’s innate talent for chaos and mayhem also seems to have reached a whole new level. And so, instead of his great triumph, a crippling setback awaits. For the first time, Rufus is ridden by self-doubt. Of course, he wouldn’t be Rufus if he let that get the best of him. To tackle this new heap of problems, however, one Rufus just isn’t enough…



The first game was OK, the main character, Rufus being a tolerable jerk. The great cartoon styled graphics and the other characters balanced the nature of Rufus. He seemed to be at least apparent of his own flaws.

In the second shorter game he had become repulsive and starting to get really annoying. However in the third game, he continues in the same vein, his unrelenting revolting attitude brings the tone of the game down from being a comedy, to borderline racist and offensive.

As adventure games, there is are faults in all of them. One solved puzzle does not lead naturally to a clue for the next. So when you finally stumble on the solution for a situation, there’s never a sense of progression, of having achieved – instead the game either bends the plot to have your success be a failure, or it just ticks a mystery box and then leaves you equally lost.

The game’s penultimate chapter – an absolutely enormous section – has you playing as three different characters, each in their own sprawling location, with an inventory that’s shared to ensure maximum confusion and dead-ends. Figuring out what to do next is a needle in a haystack, and so very often those needles are entirely nonsensical.  So many puzzles require you gather a bunch items without being given any clue why you’re after them .

It’s such a huge failure of adventure design.

If it wasn’t for the walk-through to get through the narrative, I would have abandoned the series after the first game.


Birth of the Spreadsheet

Many years ago at the dawn of the microcomputer age my school sent a party of sixth formers to the University of Canterbury for an open day. The one thing I can still remember is the computing department.

Here we were shown all the latest hardware before seeing the business end of the system, the terminals.

For the next hour a post-grad student showed us the latest game, the awesome “Star Trek”. We spent time being shown how to get around the universe in double quick time, and how to
eliminate as many Klingons as possible. Since then the game has evolved into what we now know as the spreadsheet.

The Universe has grown from a small 8*8 grid to something like 256*8000, but the objective remains the same. Just hop to a solar system (cell) have a look around, eliminate any nasty
Klingons (formulas that don’t work), refuel (press “recalculate”) and move somewhere else. The “End” key is just another way of entering hyperspace and moving instantly to another galaxy
without messing about with all the arrow keys.

But remember the ultimate terror of the universe, the dreaded “circular formula”. It’s just like the Klingon universe, you know it’s there somewhere, it has to be destroyed, but all
the wisdom of Spock isn’t going to tell you where to look.

Just try running Lotus 123 under PC Ditto on your Atari and you will hear a strange noise. Listen carefully and you will find it’s Scotty whispering “you can’t push her any faster Jim”.

Of course everyone knows that the Atari pointer was inspired by a computer designer working late at night who happened to stare thoughtfully at a plan of Starship Enterprise hung on the wall.

Those of you that remember the old version of Star Trek will be pleased to know that it has turned up in the cover disk of the May 1990 issue of ST User.

PC Club 2004

Review of a Christchurch PC Club Meeting

Thursday 4 November 2004
Graeme Stewart (club president) showed us his toys. He started with a few USB micro drives, explaining that he used them to transfer his personal files between work and home. He had a problem with windows not recognizing the new drive letter for the microdrive, other programs found it but not in the windows setting. The problem was rectified when the discovered that TWEAKUI has deactivated the drive letter. Something used in older versions of Windows to speed up operations as this stopped windows scanning all possible drives.

He showed a how Roboform (fills HTML forms) and Leechget (downloader) worked.
Then his most interesting toy, a photographic printer. He used to use a ink-jet to print photos, but found that unless used frequently, the jets clogged and he needed a new cartridge.

The HiTi 630PL printer doesn’t have that problem. It is a home printer for about $400 that produces continuous tone prints that are identical to those produced by a commercial photolab. The 6×4 paper and printing cartridge comes in packs of 50 for $80 ($1.60 per sheet). Graeme had his camera and took a photo of the group. In a few minutes he had a print. Great little printer for home use. The only problem I have is that it doesn’t print images large enough for my CD covers. However its big brother, the 730PL prints on 6×8 paper, just the size I need.

After the talk I met a interesting chap, John Everingham, webmaster of the Elvis Costello Home Page.

A very impressive site with lots of info. He is doing CD covers like me, but all his are of bootleg Elvis Costello shows.

Creating a Web Page

Part 1 – What Not to Do – 2016-01-03

The proposal is that I can take Genealogical info from Legacy Family Tree and get it on a web page. I did this many years ago, each page had to be transferred via FTP to the served. With over 2,000 pages this took a longtime. It should be easier in 2015 with the site building software now in use.

I found software that should do this:

It uses WordPress. So off to their site…….
I started with a free site and put some basic pages up. After a few hours I was getting familiar with the software and producing nice pages that worked fine on the PC and phone.

The first problem was that the free site would not allow the customization to add plugins, so I upgraded to their Premium $99 ($150 NZ) option. This should allow the use of the plugin. But it didn’t appear to be an option. Weird.

After more extensive reading I found that there are two different versions of WordPress. The software running on their site is different to that that other hosting sites use. So despite paying for their service, it wouldn’t work. Fortunately I could get a refund, so three hours after starting I was finished with the WordPress site. The site building software I liked, so I needed a web host that used WordPress.

Continue reading Creating a Web Page

Watery Sunday

A very wet and raining sunday.
Perfect for working on a web site !

New resolution: One Post Per Day …. to infinity and back.

I’m going to be trawling back through stuff I have written –

reviews, notes, artwork, photographs etc


First Post

Resolution, to get a website online in 2016 !

Previous History Online

(Written 22/4/2005)

The genesis of this site was formed about 10 years ago when I did a web page design for the Christchurch OS/2 Users Group. The design was not used, but was put on a friends University of Canterbury private web space some years later. When that ceased, I had no where to put my work and it languished in my backups for some time.

Several years ago I started to collect and collate information for my family genealogy. Originally this was done in a small OS/2 program that worked brilliantly. Last year, when I got a new PC, all the data was transferred to Legacy Family Tree and work continued until the family tree eventually spanned about 500 years and had over 2,000 names. The original intention was to put this on CD for distribution, however when I found that web hosting prices had come down to a price where I could put large volumes of data on a site for minimal cost, the design of this web site began.

I have also been writing snippets of humour, stories and even a poem (I promise that this will be the only one I will inflict on the world). There have been digital photos and CD interface designs through the recent years.Unless otherwise stated, all the text and images are my own mess.

At last, I can collect everything together and present to the Internet world a compilation of my work.

This is the ‘first pass’ of designing the site. More will be added soon.

Any (helpful) comments are welcome

Nigel Baker 22/04/2005


19 April 2005
Site activated, uploading of web pages commences. Problems with links and images as the server is UNIX and filenames are case sensitive. Begin fixing problems

23 April 2005
Officially ready !
Links and images fixed. Initial emails sent out.

24 April 2005
Guards, Albert Terrace letter, Hopwood Story, SM58, Baker/Preston Wedding photos & Thornycroft Farm.

26 April 2005
Another set of photographs added to the archive.

1 May 2005
Added first of the music reviews. Updated this page.

18 September 2005
Now have Broadband with new email.
Email addresses changed

16 October 2005
Tom Baker’s Birthday added to features

11 September 2006
After expired, the site became unusable.
New Domain name registered with NZ Web I.T.

19 December 2006
Woolscours of New Zealand Updated

25 December 2006
Added photos from Christmas Day and Jane & Bridgitte’s Wedding Photos