Archive: Computer Collector Newsletter / Technology Rewind, Jan. 2004 - March 2006

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Jef Raskin on ZoomWorld, the Bone Fone, and More

by Evan Koblentz

EK: How has HCI changed, for better or worse,since The Humane Interface was first published?

JR: It's been only 4 years since it was published, but the book has had four printings in English and has been translated into Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, Italian, Korean, German, Dutch, Russian, and new translations are under way. It is in useat over 100 universities. I have been invited to teach cognetics, based on my book, at a number of major colleges, including Stanford, the University of Chicago, and Indiana University. While it is too soon to say what effect it may have, at least we know that it is being widely read in the HCI community.

EK: What's the status of ZoomWorld ever becoming a commercial browser, from yourself or others?

JR: That's hard to say. If I find funding or a company or institution that will support its development, it is likely to become a reality.

EK: Mobile devices like PDAs, cell phones, MP3 players, and flash memory gadgets are becoming more common. How do your strategies for HCI fit into these products?

JR: This is another question that requires a book-length answer. Zooming is ideal for working with small displays, and any product works better with uses if it is built in aEKord with what we know about human behavior and performance from studies of cognetics.

EK: Japan's Tu-Ka cellular company now sells a retail version of a bone-conduction phone. They say it's a "new" technology. What's your understanding of when bone conduction was invented, by who, and why?

JR: Bone conduction has been used for at least 50 years. I have no idea when it was invented or by whom, and do not have time right now to do historical research (I am more future- than past oriented). But "throat mikes" were available in the 1940s.

EK: Does bone conduction affect a device's HCI engineering? How will it fare in popular appeal, compared to something equally sci-fi, like speech recognition?

JR: It is not a major development. Its advantages are that only one person can hear it. It does not affect the cognetic engineering at all. It is just an earphone replacement.

EK: Bone conduction is all about input, what do you consider to be an output equivalent?

JR: The throat microphone picks up speech that others who are nearby can't hear. It is also relatively insensitive to ambient noise.

EK: If people who collect computers decide to focus on I/O technologies, what else should they look for, besides the obvious things like early mouses?

JR: That's a question for a historian. I wonder if in some room at Penn State there's the graphic input device that I built back in 1965 or 1966.

EK: Which term do you prefer - mouses or mice?

JR: Neither. I prefer "graphic input device" or "GID". I have used both "mouses" and "mice" depending on what would make the meaning clearerin context.

EK: Do you personally collect vintage computers? What are your favorites besides the Mac and the Canon Cat?

JR: I am not a collector. I do have my Apple I, Apple II s/n 0002 (0001 is in a museum), the millionth Mac, and a few other "collectibles". But that's only because I have not taken the time to find a buyer. None of them are favorites because I don't use them. They all have emotional value for me and inspire waves of nostalgia, but I never take them out of their boxes and look at them. They'd be better in a collection or a museum where others could see them. They all work, by the way.

EK: Beyond your history with microcomputers and my own preference for handhelds, many people in our hobby focus on minis, which have traditional control panels. What are the HCI lessons of, say, the PDP series?

JR: The PDP series, the DG Nova, the Altair, and all those bit-at-a-time interfaces are pre-HCI. They were built before there was such a discipline. The early personal computers were designed by people who had to struggle just to get the things to work, and there was little energy or thought given to interface design. They soon disappeared because they were too cumbersome to use.