Spoiler : project codenamed houdini

Linux for blind general discussion blinux-list at redhat.com
Sat Oct 7 13:11:36 UTC 2017

Saying that most mediaplayer applications still use tape deck symbols
strikes me as understating the associations and their history.

The use of pointing and arrow-like symbols for indicating direction in
a visual or tactile manner is ancient, probably at least as old as the
first invention of the arrow or spear and possibly even predating the
invention of writing. Pre-modern applications can be found in the
aforementioned weapons, other pointed weapons, the hands of a clock,
the shadow cast by a sundial, the needle of a compass, and probably
many other things I can't think of at the moment.

The association of right with moving forward and  left with moving
backward dates back at least as far as the printing press putting the
written word in the hands of the masses, at least for languages that
are read from left-to-right(which includes English(The modern lingua
franqua of commerce), Latin(the classical lingua franqua of
Scholarship), and most, if not all, other languages that use the Roman
Alphabet). In addition to right pointing arrows being common symbols
for play and fast forward, and left-pointing arrows for rewind, you
often see arrows pointing in such directions on the
First/previous(left arrow) and next/last(right arrow) links in HTML
eBooks that put each chapter on a separate web page.

The association of up and down with increasing and decreasing values
seems rather intuitive, especially for things like floor number or
height, hence the frequent usage of a pair of up and down arrows for
such things as volume, tone, speed, etc. The use of a double arrow to
do something twice is rather intuitive, and having a double-arrow do a
stronger/greater version of what a corresponding single arrow does is
a rather straight forward generalization.

Not saying you couldn't build a media player interface that doesn't
use arrows, but is still easy to learn, but such an interface would
lose tapping into the above associations that span cultures and
centuries, if not millenia, and an interface that used arrows, but
disregarded these associations would have to fight against these
associations and would probably be deemed counter-intuitive no matter
how easy to learn it is.

Granted, even within an interface that works with the above
associations, there's room for experimentation. For example, take how
the Blaze ET and NLS Talking book player handle variable distance fast
forward and rewind:

Blaze ET:
The heart of playback control is handled by a central play/pause/enter
button surrounded by four arrow keys. Up and down arrow cycle options
for how far to jump, and left/right arrows move backwards/forwards by
the selected amount.

The NLS Player just has back, play, and forward buttons. Tapping
forward/back will jump by a given interval the number of times tapped
while holding will produce larger and larger jumps, a control scheme
familiar to anyone who has played a video game with a chargeable

Both schemes are fairly novel yet also feel quite intuitive.

If you actually want to complain about archaic, counter-intuitive
interfaces on modern computers, that save icons are routinely based
off floppy discs and record icons off old-fashioned microphones or
that we still use Qwerty keyboards when they were designed to slow
down typists so they didn't jam early typewriters are probably better
examples. Granted, I'm not sure what you could replace the floppy disk
and microphone icons with(Optical has never been practical for
read/write storage, Most wouldn't recognize a stack of harddrive
platters, flash drives lack a consistent appearance, and SD cards are
kind of non-descript. Modern microphones have the same problems as
flash drives, and who has time to learn Dvorak well enough to switch
to it for daily typing?

Though, now I'm curious. I know those blind from birth who gain sight
late in life can't automatically translate tactile to visual, but do
those blind from birth routinely learn to recognize the letters of the
alphabet and other visual symbols when they are embossed or engraved?


Jeffery Wright
President Emeritus, Nu Nu Chapter, Phi Theta Kappa.
Former Secretary, Student Government Association, College of the Albemarle.

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