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Author Topic: Overloaded Buttons  (Read 3186 times)
WA2ASB
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« on: May 01, 2013, 08:18:20 PM »

I'm retired now, but I spent most of my life as a computer programmer: first on operating systems, then main-frame applications, and finally on Windows' applications.  Writing Windows' applications I quickly learned one thing: "never overload buttons".  When a user presses a button it should only do one thing and always that thing.  The results of pressing the button should never change based on the context of when it was pressed.  Dang good rule.  I followed it and had a lot of happy customers over the years.

After a hiatus of several years and finally having some investments pay off, I'm back in the Ham Radio game.  Today the UPS guy delivered my new Elecraft KX3.  Good: lots of buttons.

My first problem (other than not reading the manual - hey, I'm an old dog and old habits are hard to break) was noticing a knob that had the words "PWR" below it.  I pressed it.  It clicked, but nothing happened.

Hmmm, noticed knobs on side.  Turned them, opened the case and no batteries.  Inserted batteries, pressed "PWR" knob.  Still nothing.  OK, so you have to read the manual.  (Never had to do that with the old Drake TR4-CW or the even older Heathkits.

After doing just a little reading, before my eyes started to cross from too much Scotch (I know: "too much Scotch" is an oxymoron), I came to realize that the engineers have drastically overloaded buttons and knobs on this little sucker.

So, if you are like me, and have been around since spark-gap transmitters and would be pulling out your hair, if you had any left, don't despair.  The problem isn't you, it is the way that they have designed this equipment.  "If we add these functions, we will have a step up on the competition".

I need a new cat's whisker.
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TANAKASAN
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« Reply #1 on: May 02, 2013, 12:36:07 AM »

WA2ASB, THANK YOU!

It's great to find someone else who realizes that a good user interface is more important than all the other bells and whistles that manufacturers add to rigs. One control, one function, it's a mantra that should be enforced until the people making the rigs gets it right. My old Corsair II, one control one function, my homebrew rigs, one control one function, the homebrew rig from Marcus VE7CA which was featured on QST, one control one function. See a trend here? Think about the controls on an aircraft, one control one function because when they get this wrong people die.

A friend of mine has the full Elecraft K3 lineup. The engineering inside is very good but I hate the control panel ergonomics (or the lack of them) with a passion. The power button is in the wrong place, it sometimes takes multiple button pushes and looking at the display to change modes and some buttons have three functions.

I feel your pain. The only thing I can suggest is that you sit down with the manual and a glass of Talisker and work your way through both of them, slowly.

Tanakasan
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K1CJS
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« Reply #2 on: May 02, 2013, 04:06:45 AM »

An aside, if I may offer it--When I saw the words 'overloaded buttons', the first thing I thought of was the shirt buttons of some of our fellow hams!   Grin  Take care and 73!
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KV7W
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« Reply #3 on: May 05, 2013, 07:27:35 PM »

I'm surprised nobody brought up, "this is the future - get used to multifunction menus."

Multifunction is non-intuitive; it's nothing more than cheap, poor design. If you've been a ham for awhile a radio's basic and semi-advanced features should be easy to work after a few minutes.

Here's an example. There are thousands of different years, makes and models of cars out there. If you have been driving for awhile I have no doubt I could toss you my car keys to go to the store. You could unlock it, open the door, adjust the seat and the mirrors, latch the seat belt, start it, turn on the radio and tune to a station, use the brakes and shift - even steer the darn thing! That should take you a couple minutes and the next time you drove my car you would be even faster - even if it was a few months or a year between. That's good design. All cars are a little different, yet they spend millions to design.

On the other hand, seldom used features on a car don't get much money spent on design. If I tossed you the keys and asked you to set the clock on the radio - could you do it in 20 seconds? Why not? There's only a few second functions to figure out. If you did figure it out, could you do it again in a year? That's what you get with no design thought. If they put no thought into the design of a car other than mechanics - they would be out of business.

Yet, we have ham radios with high prices for cheap parts and little design. We keep buying the features. Yaesu is a good example. Not only do they skimp on ergonomic design, they skimp on mechanic as well. But man, they sure look good.
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K1CJS
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« Reply #4 on: May 06, 2013, 04:33:21 AM »

...Yet, we have ham radios with high prices for cheap parts and little design.

Its been said many, many times.  Ham radio transceivers are a small, small market.  Also, if compared to radios of years ago and keeping in mind inflation, ham radios today are CHEAP compared to older radios, and they have a lot more features.  It's been said that a good set of Collins radios would sell for much, MUCH more than a moderately priced ham rig today at today's prices.

Quote
We keep buying the features. Yaesu is a good example. Not only do they skimp on ergonomic design, they skimp on mechanic as well. But man, they sure look good.

Rig manufacturers do market studies, and include what the public wants on these rigs.  Saner hams don't want some of the bells and whistles that are available on rigs today, but there are those who do--and the manufacturers listen to them.  The multifunction designs are trying to do more for those hams and still keep the prices within reach of most.  Don't blame poor design--intricate menu systems are needed so the manufacturers can try to give the majority what they want while keeping the price of the rigs low. 

As far as the statements about skimping...  Well, the only thing that can be said about that is the makers of just about every electronic device made skimp on one or more things in their devices--ham radio sets aren't any different.

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WA2ASB
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« Reply #5 on: May 06, 2013, 05:15:30 AM »

Everyone reading this has a computer.  Personal computers are very cheap compared to Ham Radio Equipment. 

I recently bought an Escort 9500ix that has a lot of features.  By using combinations of button presses you can set it up the way you want it or you can connect it to your computer and configure it through the computer.  To me this is the way to go.

By having the menus on the computer they can explain the function of the entry so you don't have to look through a manual (if you can remember where you left the manual), and it can be a very easy setup. 

I agree about the prices.  I'd hate to think what my Drake transceiver and linear would cost in today's weak dollar.
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AA4PB
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« Reply #6 on: May 06, 2013, 09:44:47 AM »

It's all about trade-offs. If you want one function per button then you either have to limit the total number of functions or you have to have a lot of buttons. A lot of buttons means a larger front panel and added cost. Limited functions generally mean that the customers will go to you competitors who offer lots of functions for the same cost.

I had a customer who insisted that the device had no more that three buttons but didn't want to give up any functions. I told him I could do it with only two buttons, Next and OK. You keep pressing the Next button until you see the function you want and then press OK in order to activate that function. It may be intuitive to a new user but it requires a lot of button presses to activate most functions and experienced users soon become very annoyed. I made a quick mock up of the display and he soon decided that it was not such a good idea.
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NI0C
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« Reply #7 on: May 06, 2013, 10:43:27 AM »

I'm surprised no one has yet mentioned that most of the buttons on Elecraft radios have one function for a "TAP" and another function for a "HOLD."  I don't have a manual in front of me to look up the exact duration of a "Hold" versus a "Tap."

73,
Chuck  NI0C
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N6AJR
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« Reply #8 on: May 06, 2013, 11:04:26 AM »

I have had many many radios.  Everything from a swan 3 drifty, to several of the ft 101's, to ft 990s, to ic 746 pros, to 756's,  Pegasus's, Flex SDR radios, and so on.  My current pile in the shack is a ts 2000 for uhf/vhf, and a Orion for HF, and it has a 6 m inverter. I love the layout on the Orion. You have a dedicated button for most functions, such as the audio button which brings up a list of audio  functions  on the screen.  This is the best answer to one button, many functions.  The 746 and 756 had something similar.  SO I say check out Ten Tec, they do this well.
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KV7W
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« Reply #9 on: May 06, 2013, 02:15:01 PM »

Quote
Its been said many, many times.  Ham radio transceivers are a small, small market.  Also, if compared to radios of years ago and keeping in mind inflation, ham radios today are CHEAP compared to older radios, and they have a lot more features.  It's been said that a good set of Collins radios would sell for much, MUCH more than a moderately priced ham rig today at today's prices.

This argument gets used often; small market and the relative value of money. Sounds really good and is probably why it's used a lot. It just doesn't hold up.

It would be nice to look at Collins' books from years ago and just see what their profit margin was. Expensive labor, no surface mount, little to no automation - every letter had to be hand typed. Just because we are automated today and reels of surface mounts components cost what a air cap used to does not mean they need to skimp on design.

As far as a small market - Collins would have loved to have the market today. Not only is the US market larger, it's more of an international market now. Instead of comparing price from then and now a comparison of profit margin would be a better test. If market cap and margin are relatively greater now than they were then, then there's no excuse not to have good design.

There's an old story about Henry Ford; not sure how true it is or even know all the details - The engineers were designing the carburetor for the Model T and called Henry over to marvel at their creation. He looked at it as the team of engineers beamed with pride. After a minute he said that there are seven moving parts. One of the engineers replied that there were only seven.

Henry told them that the customer would be out in the middle of nowhere in many cases, far from a service shop. Anything that broke on the car would probably have to be repaired in a field someplace by someone whose previous experience was with a horse. These guys need to be able to work on my cars - I want two moving parts on the carburetor.

The engineers were pretty upset by this, but went back to work. They never did get 2 parts, but made it work just as well with 3 moving parts.

There will still be a few Model Ts running around in a hundred years, how many FT-857s will still be on the air?
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K1CJS
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« Reply #10 on: May 07, 2013, 04:11:39 AM »

...Just because we are automated today and reels of surface mounts components cost what a air cap used to does not mean they need to skimp on design....

Skimping, as you call it, is done on just about every manufactured thing made.  It can be as simple as using a cheaper ink and printing method on a panel--that wears off before the device end life or using the smallest gauge wire that will work instead of using heavier wire that will last.  These days its all about the profit margin of the manufacturers.  It may cost them an extra 2 cents to do something a way that will last a lot longer, and to us, that 2 cents is not a good enough reason for it to be done the cheaper way.  To them, however, on a run of 100,000 units, that 2 cents translates to $2000.00!

They're going to save money one way or the other, and if they can save $2,000 on that run they're going to do it--whether we end users think it's a bad idea or not!
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AA4PB
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« Reply #11 on: May 07, 2013, 06:20:28 AM »

... and we consumers generally encourage that behavior by looking for the most features for the lowest cost without considering the quality of the things that we cannot see. As a general rule, the mfg who charges less for outwardly the same radio will sell more of them. The exception is when the quality is so poor that word gets around.

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K1CJS
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« Reply #12 on: May 13, 2013, 03:56:57 AM »

....As a general rule, the mfg who charges less for outwardly the same radio will sell more of them. The exception is when the quality is so poor that word gets around....

The perfect example of this is the cheap HTs coming out of China right now.  There are those of us who see the light behind the bargain, and those of us who ignore that light for the sake of a few bucks--and complain mightily later on!
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KE7TMA
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« Reply #13 on: May 23, 2013, 12:12:14 AM »

I just got myself a KX3 as well and I think it is great.  A massive improvement over my old FT-817.

Anyway, if you want a buttload of buttons there are many radios on the market to cater to your wishes.  If you wanted a load of buttons, why in the world did you buy a transceiver aimed at portable use?

I bought a Miata but now I don't know how I will get a half ton of gravel into it like I could with the pickup!

I'm sorry but if you are going to bellyache about something like this you deserve a bit of ribbing.
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W1JKA
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« Reply #14 on: May 23, 2013, 03:29:41 AM »

I have three rigs and each have only one dual function button(On/Off)then go into automatic operation mode,I can operate CW on 3 bands 20/30/40M and make contacts with tuned pieces of wire,strange isn't it? BTW the rigs are MFJ Cubs.
« Last Edit: May 23, 2013, 03:58:55 AM by W1JKA » Logged
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