The College Papers: Impressions on “History of Computers & User Interface Images & Symbols”

For my second assignment in Human-Computer Interaction, I was tasked with watching computer scientist Alan Kay’s 1987 presentation “History of Computers & User Interface Images & Symbols” and reacting to it. Warning: Nerdy computer stuff ahead.

School: University of Southern Mississippi

Course: ITC 361 Human-Computer Interaction

Instructor: Professor Gudla

Date: February 5, 2021

Score: 100

Assignment 2

While watching the video of Alan Kay’s 1987 lecture “History of Computers & User Interface Images & Symbols,” I was absolutely stunned at the hardware and software capabilities of early computing technology of the 1960s and ’70s.

The fact that most of the first biomedical “PCs” from the 1960s were still in use over twenty years later was astounding. Despite the machines’ bulkiness, their hardware and software were clearly stable enough to sustain long-term utilization.

Ivan Sutherland’s 1962 Sketch Pad was perhaps even more incredible. The ability to so easily render and manipulate design sketches in digital form seems decades ahead of its time, and the program itself seemed, in many ways, more intuitive than many of the programs we use today.

But for me, perhaps the pièce de résistance of the lecture was the 1968 footage of Douglas Engelbart’s massive computing demonstration. Engelbart’s mouse-plus-five-pad keyboard rig, designed for easy, bi-dexterity editing and command operation and centered by a full keyboard for typing, is a striking design that, again, seems a more efficient setup than most of us run today.

Even more fantastic was Engelbart’s incorporation of real-time collaborative elements, that allowed not only written exchanges between station displays but audio and video feeds as well, decades before such features were readily used in work environments. As Kay observed, the system that Engelbart envisioned and almost completely realized in these demonstrations, was continuing to stump the industry nearly two decades later. 

Two more philosophical elements in Kay’s lecture also stood out to me. First, in conducting a post-mortem on his failed 1967 Flex Machine design, Kay realized that instead of thinking of older computers as “trains” and his efforts to develop a personal computer as “building a car,” he needed to start thinking of computers as media, something which even a child could use. This epiphany changed Kay’s entire thought process and greatly aided his research and development models moving forward.

The second item that the piqued my interest was a quote by Marshall McLuhan: “We don’t know who discovered water, but we know it wasn’t the fish.” Meaning, experts are often so immersed in their field, that they lose objectivity and can’t see opportunities, solutions, or problems. Having been both the oblivious expert, lost in the work, and the objective outsider who could see the things that the experts missed, the quote resonated with me on multiple levels.

*Note: Unfortunately, Disqus comments have stopped loading on new blog posts, and I have yet to resolve the issue. If you’d like to reach out for any reason, please feel free to drop me a note via the Contact Form! – Cole

The College Papers: Using Apple TV Desktop App Version for Mac OS

As I mentioned in my inaugural “College Papers” post, I wrote several super-nerdy tech papers for Human-Computer Interaction in my first semester, and I’ve decided to include them in this series. The first assignment involved choosing a product, observing users’ interaction with that product, and noting any problems that arise during use. I chose Apple TV’s desktop app for Mac.

It’s a brisk read, but, once again, super nerdy. You’ve been warned.

School: University of Southern Mississippi

Course: ITC 361 Human-Computer Interaction

Instructor: Professor Gudla

Date: February 1, 2021

Score: 100

Using Apple TV Desktop App Version for Mac OS‌

Product description and user interaction:

Apple TV desktop app is the native app which individuals can use to stream, purchase, and download videos on a Mac. The app also allows users to add and view local videos files (downloaded purchases, DVR content, home movies, etc.) to the TV library, a feature previously handled by the discontinued iTunes desktop app. 

Utility problems:

Regular use reveals two major problems for users with a large local library. First, unlike Apple TV’s counterpart app (Apple Music desktop), Apple TV’s search feature does not allow for local library searching, instead, pulling only from the Apple TV store when users click the search bar. This forces users to either scroll through the library, genres, categories, or playlists to locate a particular video whether local or in cloud. 

Second, there also appears to be a major bug in loading the video library. If the app is closed while open to the TV Shows library category, the next time the app is launched, the library takes an inordinate amount of time (sometimes upwards of an hour) to load, and the app is locked until the TV Shows category loads. 

Results and cues:

These inconveniences sometimes lead to users abandoning the app, opting instead to play local files via QuickTime, load physical media, or stream content via web browser. Cues left from previous users indicative of utility issues include browser windows left open to streaming services, DVD/Blu-ray cases lying on computer desk, and a locked TV app still attempting to load the library.

*Note: Unfortunately, Disqus comments have stopped loading on new blog posts, and I have yet to resolve the issue. If you’d like to reach out for any reason, please feel free to drop me a note via the Contact Form! – Cole

Cell Phone Use Creating “Horns” on Human Skulls? Hmmmm.

Last week, a 2018 study (no, it isn’t new) started making waves around the world. Sensationalized in headlines as “Phones Growing Horns on Young People,” the study actually deals with the development of bone spurs, abnormal but not uncommon tissue protrusions, between the base of the skull and spine and the subsequent hypothesis that the growths may be caused by prolonged head bowing in connection with phone use.

Now, this story interests me for many reasons. First, I’ve had bone spurs myself, though not in the cranial/spinal region. Second, I’ve always found it simultaneously hilarious and shameful when the media publishes purposefully misleading headlines. Third, I love when “medical science” reports new findings so I can begin waiting for later studies that disprove those findings. (Case in point: Last year, new research was published indicating that the long-recommended aspirin a day for heart attack prevention can actually be detrimental to health!) And finally, I seriously think that excessive cell phone use, particularly among millennials and post-millennials, is an alarming epidemic, for the disconnection from reality it engenders if nothing else. (Pastime suggestion: Engage a teen-to-twenties individual in conversation and time how long that person maintains discourse and eye contact before clocking out to check an e-device.)

But despite erroneous headlines, poor reporting, and my mistrust of “scientific studies,” the hypothesis actually makes sense to me because of my personal experience with and knowledge of bone spur development. I also believe that constantly repeating an activity that the human body is not made to constantly repeat will inevitably yield negative repercussions. It also makes sense that, even though regular cellular usage has been around for 20+ years, overuse would just now become a problem because, in the ‘90s, cell phones were actually used as phones for phone calls, not as 24-hr., handheld television screens. It further follows that the 30 and under crowd would be the most affected demographic because it comprises the first generations to grow up with near-unlimited access to mobile devices and use them during times when bodies would be in a state of growth and tissues would be delicate and malleable.

However, regardless how much the study seemed to make sense to me, after a 24-hr. digestion, the media lashed back at itself, declaring the entire report a hoax. One headline boldly proclaimed the affair “debunked,” yet, towards the end of the accompanying article, the piece actually confirms the hypothesis to be valid! It just isn’t supported enough by data at this time due to dubious methodology used in this particular research. Bottom line: Mobile devices may be causing health problems, but this study doesn’t prove it.

So, at the end of this internet firestorm, I still believe the same things I believed at the beginning:

1. Bone spurs are not cool.

2. The media will spin a story any way they want regardless of facts.

3. Science is great but a long way from having all the answers.


4. Folks should try putting down the phone/tablet and living in the real world once in a while. Who knows? They just might enjoy it.