[MUD-Dev] When the interface becomes the challenge.

J C Lawrence claw at 2wire.com
Tue Jul 3 20:14:48 New Zealand Standard Time 2001

On Thu, 28 Jun 2001 11:16:43 -0400 
Edward Glowacki <glowack2 at msu.edu> wrote:
> Quoted from Andrew Wilson on Wed, Jun 27, 2001 at 11:37:43AM
> +0100:

> I use vi or vim as my primary editor for email and such...

Long time XEmacs user here.  You can find my XEmacs configs here:


> ... and I get tripped up all the time between insert and command
> modes...

I'd assert that modal interfaces are generically bad.  They are
implicitly arbitrary at a UI level.

> After reading "The Design of Everyday Things", I'll never look at
> a door the same way again, especially if I ever ask myself, "Push
> or pull?"

<kof> I've found that it doesn't take many people walking through a
plate glass door before they fix the UI.  I've had to do the same
with my kids running through the downstairs screen door.

ObExperiment: Take an arbitrary teenager.  Present them with a
rotary dial telephone.  Ask them to dial a number.  See if they can
figure it out.  I've found that almost all are flummoxed.

> Even in something as laid back as email, I've found a good
> interface makes a lot of difference.  

Recently I lead a charge to add quote colourising to exmh (the mail
client/MUA I use) on the exmh-users list.  I added several features
such as having different levels of quotes coloured differently, the
quote prefix character separately coloured, coloured signatures,
coloured list footers, coloured headers and fields for MS Outlook
headers, etc etc:


The relevant tcl script/add-on is here (colour configs in the second


(There's currently an effort to merge this into base exmh)

I've previously used MUAs that colourised quotes and soundly
disliked the feature, finding it distracting and visually confusing.
This time I find the feature amazingly useful and pleasing.  It has
sped my mail processing rate significantly and made a notable
subjective difference to the way I read mail.  Very pleasing.  I'm
not sure what the critical difference is this time versus the
previous implementations..

Small changes.  Big effects.

> Right now I'm using MUTT to do email because it threads messages
> (which is essential with the volume of traffic and depth of
> threads on this list!!! ;) ),

Oddly enough thread support is one of those thing I make sure to
turn off.  

> ... but I don't feel as good using it as I did when I used PINE.
> PINE just *felt* good to use, and I never felt like a stray
> keystroke was going to hurt anything.  With Mutt, I'm not so
> confident.  

I suspect the critical fact is that Mutt has a far larger feature
set that you are comfortably familiar with and so you suspect that
any errant action on your part may invoke a feature that you both do
not know and do not know how to rescue/exit from.

> They should be running the show, and the computer should be
> adapted to the way *they* work instead of them adapting to the way
> the computer works.

I usually phrase this in terms of tool building and tool builders.
I am a tool builder.  I make and use tools.  Many of the tools I use
I built.  The computer is a tool that I use to build other tools.
As such, I use the computer to build tools to build other tools
with, and I build the computer into a tool to enable me to work the
way I deem best.  In the end everything is a tool and therefore
subject to customisation and tailoring to the job at hand.

J C Lawrence                                       claw at kanga.nu
---------(*)                          http://www.kanga.nu/~claw/
The pressure to survive and rhetoric may make strange bedfellows
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