Tag Archives: technology

The little phone layouts that couldn’t…


Always interesting to see other versions of things now ubiquitous. Such as this great Gizmodo post on The Atlantic:

If you look at the layout of the number buttons on a phone — smart, cell, landline, what have you — the number buttons will feature, almost inevitably, a uniform layout. Ten digits, laid out on a three-by-three grid, with the tenth tacked on on the bottom. The numbers ascending from left to right, and from top to bottom.

This layout is so standardized that we barely think about it. But it was, in the 1950s, the result of a good deal of strategizing and testing on the part of people at Bell Labs. Numberphile has dug up an amazing paper – published in the July 1960 issue of “The Bell System Technical Journal” — that details the various alternative designs the Bell engineers considered. Among them: “the staircase” (II-B in the image above), “the ten-pin” (III-B, reminiscent of bowling-pin configurations), “the rainbow” (II-C), and various other versions that mimicked the circular logic of the existing dialing technology: the rotary.

Everything was on the table for the layout of the ten buttons; the researchers’ only objective was to find the configuration that would be as user-friendly, and efficient, as possible. So they ran tests. They experimented. They sought input. They briefly considered a layout that mimicked a cross.

And in the end, though, Numberphile’s Sarah Wiseman notes, it became a run-off between the traditional calculator layout and the telephone layout we know today. And the victory was a matter of efficiency. “They did compare the telephone layout and the calculator layout,” she says, “and they found the calculator layout was slower.”

Via Paleofuture/Gizmodo

The story of the ESC key…

[by Pagan Kennedy, in The New York Times]

“It’s the ‘Hey, you! Listen to me’ key,” says Jack Dennerlein of the Harvard School of Public Health. According to Dennerlein, an expert on how humans interact with computers, the escape key helped drive the computer revolution of the 1970s and ’80s. “It says to the computer: ‘Stop what you’re doing. I need to take control.’ ” In other words, it reminds the machine that it has a human master. If the astronauts in “2001: A Space Odyssey” had an ESC key, Dennerlein points out, they could have stopped the rogue computer Hal in an instant.

The key was born in 1960, when an I.B.M. programmer named Bob Bemer was trying to solve a Tower of Babel problem: computers from different manufacturers communicated in a variety of codes. Bemer invented the ESC key as way for programmers to switch from one kind of code to another. Later on, when computer codes were standardized (an effort in which Bemer played a leading role), ESC became a kind of “interrupt” button on the PC — a way to poke the computer and say, “Cut it out.”

Why “escape”? Bemer could have used another word — say, “interrupt” — but he opted for “ESC,” a tiny monument to his own angst. Bemer was a worrier. In the 1970s, he began warning about the Y2K bug, explaining to Richard Nixon’s advisers the computer disaster that could occur in the year 2000. Today, with our relatively stable computers, few of us need the panic button. But Bob Frankston, a pioneering programmer, says he still uses the ESC key. “There’s something nice about having a get-me-the-hell-out-of-here key.”


Joseph Kaye is a senior scientist at Yahoo! Research.

Why do outmoded keys, like ESC, persist? Our devices have legacies built into them. For more than a hundred years, when you wanted to write something, you sat down in front of a typewriter. But computers look different now — they’re like smartphones. It will be interesting to see whether in 10 or 15 years the whole idea of a keyboard will seem strange. We might be saying, “Remember when we used to type things?”

How would we control computers in this future-without-typing? Think of the Wii and Kinect, or even specialized input devices for games like Guitar Hero or Dance Dance Revolution. All might be bellwethers for the rest of computing. We might see a rise in all sorts of input, like voice recognition and audio control — think about Siri.

“Ball” by Everynone – video made (mostly) with Google images

Lovely idea. Directed by Daniel Mercadante, using images found (mostly) with Google image search.

Music: J.S. Bach – “Nun Freut Euch”
Performed by: Grigory Sokolov


World’s Smallest Stop-Motion Animation

“Professor Fletcher’s invention of the CellScope, which is a Nokia device with a microscope attachment, was the inspiration for a teeny-tiny film created by Sumo Science at Aardman. It stars a 9mm girl called Dot as she struggles through a microscopic world. All the minuscule detail was shot using CellScope technology and a Nokia N8, with its 12 megapixel camera and Carl Zeiss optics.” — Nokia