Cranky like Sizzles

I love computers. I’ve had one since I was 7 – my parents bought a ZX81, with no sound, no colour, and a 16k RAM pack that crashed the computer if you wobbled it slightly, killing that program you’d spent hours typing in. I fondly remember the smell of cooking circuits and the gentle hum of the power pack. And the dreadful sinking feeling when I dropped the power pack and the computer wouldn’t power-up. And the giddy feeling when my next-door neighbour, who was also a radio ham, helped me build a new power-pack from a circuit diagram.

So I’ve bought a new computer with a hefty motherboard and a fast new (loud) graphics card and it’s all shiny and I’m digging using Windows 7 because I’ve never had a computer that had enough welly to actually run the current version of Windows. But the closer something becomes to being user-friendly, the more small things stick out.

For example, Flash CS5 treats its panels as separate windows, and there are problems switching between them. I’m very used to using the Flash shortcuts (V for the arrow tool, B for brush, Z for zoom, L for lassoo and so on) but here they stop working unless you click on the main stage window first, meaning that if you’ve got the zoom tool selected but want to change to the brush tool, you press B and click on the main stage and it zooms away from where you want to be. It’s only a minor thing but over thousands and thousands of clicks and taps it becomes really frustrating!

Other annoyances include text selection in some programs. I used to know how it worked – you select a bunch of text, but then decide you want to simply move the cursor to the beginning of the text. So you press the left cursor key, but instead it moves you back one space from the end of the selection – I can’t see any context in which this would be useful, but it’s now entirely ubiquitous, and it really burns me up.

Maybe I’m getting old and cranky, like Sizzles, but the areas you have to click on to perform certain tasks seems to be really small. From scrolling all the way up to the top right of the screen to click on a square the size of a small bluebottle, to selecting the two-pixel width edge of a window to resize it, to moving the mouse cursor in small increments and notice when it changes to the double-headed arrow so you can drag the divider between panes, it’s all getting to be a bit of a pain in the arse.

I try to get away from the computer as much as I can – I’ve set up a sit/stand desk in an alcove which is basically deep shelves and a tall stool. I stood up at the desk for a few months but in the end my back felt like it was going to give out so I bought a cheap stool from Argos, which is doing a pretty good job, except it’s too tall to put my feet on anything except the curved strut about a foot off the ground, which is slightly too high for comfort – when I rest my bare feet on it they go numb after a few minutes. When I have my Wacom tablet out for animation there isn’t enough room to pull the keyboard close enough, so after an hour of animating, holding my left hand in the classic “Flash animator’s claw” I get a seized-up shoulder and neck. I obviously have terrible ergonomic shortcomings but can’t figure out what else to do about it!

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