Why I ‘m trying to tap more and click less (with my trackpad)

savian glover

My MacBook Pro spent a couple of days this week hanging out with the service folks at Nashville’s MacAuthority.

The less-than year-old (so therefore in warranty) MacBook needed its trackpad replaced. It seemed odd to me that something so new would need to be replaced.

Because the malfunction coincided with the announcement that Apple is coming out with a peripheral device for its desktop machines called the “magic trackpad,” I had just looked at that Apple.com page and had noticed that, unlike on my MacBook Pro, there seems to be no way to actually “click” the new device — everything is done with tapping. (Thanks to a comment below, I stand corrected. I should always try out a device before deciding what I think it does or doesn’t do. It clearly says the entire pad “clicks.” )

Over the years of using each new generation of Macs, I have typically brought along my “legacy methods” of controlling them from one generation to the next. Usually, any major change in interface is gradual or extremely intuitive, so I wondered how such an ingrained user-interface action as “clicking” could be missing from the “magic trackpad.” (This is something akin to what hard-core geeks experience when some obscure key-command doesn’t work the way they expect it to.)

It was only then, months — perhaps years — after using the current model trackpad, that I, in a classic “duh” moment, realized I have been “clicking” my trackpad when I should have been “tapping” it hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times a week.

Now, the difference in clicking and tapping may not sound like a big deal, but “tapping” is electronic and “clicking” is mechanical. The life time of a trackpad is probably related to a specific number of “clicks” while the number of “taps” is likely many times that.

After getting my MacBook home and diving into the whole “tapping thing” at a much deeper level, I realized that, had they chosen to, the MacAuthority service people could have pulled a Steve Jobs on me and said, “Hey, you voided the warranty by clicking it too much.”* But, in this case, they honored my warranty and didn’t charge me for the repair.

Even though they’ll fix it if “clicking” is the way I want to control it rather than tapping, I’m working on tapping more and clicking less. But old user-interactions are hard to give up. Even when Apple (as they do in the “systems preference” trackpad controller) bakes how-to video into the interface for setting ones preferences (which is, by the way, a rather impressive user-aid), I imagine there are lots of people who use “click and drag” commands rather than the “tap-tap/hold-drag-tap” method.

But the time for “tapping” is nigh, people. You probably need to learn to master the tap. Why? For two reasons: Your MacBook trackpad will last longer and, more importantly, you’ll be preparing yourself for life without a mouse. That’s right. We’re moving to a “click-free” world where tapping (and then gestures with our hands or eyes) will mean there is no reason for a mouse. Learning to tap will help you get there quicker. (But, don’t worry, mouse users — I’m sure you’ll be able use your mice for a long, long time.)

Bottomline: Even if your name is not Rex, you have to remember that old dogs need to constantly learn new tricks. (And Apple needs to make a bigger deal about “no more clicking.”)

*To knee-jerks: That is a joke. It is a reference to Steve Jobs saying “you’re holding it wrong” and Apple saying that jail-breaking an iPhone voids the warranty. It’s just a joke, and, come to think of it, a very lame one. I apologize to fanboys that I even included it.

The web is a place. This blog is me.

Recently, I read a post by Alexandra Samuel that appeared on the Harvard Business Review’s website. While the subject line started off, “10 Reasons…”, something I doubt she ever starts an “IRL” (in real life) conversation with, the rest of the subject line has stuck with me since first reading it: …”Stop Apologizing for Your Online Life.”


“It’s time to start living in 21st century reality: a reality that is both on- and offline. Acknowledge online life as real, and the Internet’s transformative potential opens up.”

When presenting to groups on the topic of how web content is different from content one creates for other media, I try to stress the importance of thinking of the web as a place, not merely as a media “platform” or “channel.” While many of my generational peers (people old enough to have children in college and their early 20s) think the divide between themselves and their children’s generation is a “technology” thing, I argue  it’s a difference in the perception of what technology enables, rather than some difference in an innate (and imaginary) comprehension of technology that people of a certain generation seem “born with.”

When you stop thinking of the web as merely a medium and think of it also as a place, you’ll better understand what’s taking place.

You need to realize that a blog and Twitter and Flickr and YouTube can be more than mere publishing platforms, they can become platforms for personal expression and observation and eye-witness and opinion and conversation. While the web provides the potential for professional and gifted creators to create in new ways and for new audiences, it also provides all of us with the potential to be just who we are to whomever we want to be.

When you finally come to realize that what you’re capable of doing on the web transcends writing or blogging or tweeting, but has the potential of being who you are, you’ll get it — or, more accurately, you’ll get what it is for you.

And yes, I made it all the way to the bottom of this post without once using the word existentialism.

Techmeme receives a love letter from the New York Times

I’ve tried many times over the years to kick my habit of checking in numerous times a day to see what’s on Techmeme. I’ve always failed.

Because I was an early fan of Gabe Rivera and his approach to aggregating and ranking news (and rumors) that are trending on the corner of the web where I hang out, I’ve seen a long parade of startups and giant companies launch things that were going to be techmeme-killers. Of course, that means none of the techmeme-killers did the -kill thing.

Today, the New York Times has a feature on Techmeme (with cameo appearances by the other “meme” sites from Gabe that follow politics, entertainment, baseball and media news).

It’s one of those kinds of stories I sometimes jokingly refer to on this blog and on Twitter as “love letters.” It is a glowing piece — about as glowing as Gabe’s face is from the reflection of his computer monitor’s screen in the photo accompanying it.

I could point out some of the downsides of Techmeme, for example, the way some people seem to write “for it” — so that certain voices are systematically (or, algorithmically) seem to have too much influence on what is news. As I’ve talked with Gabe about this on several occasions, I know he’s committed to finding ways — including human intervention — to address the games people play to influence his algorithms.

But my point in blogging about this is not to say, “yeah, but.” My point is to note that this is the kind of technology “start-up” story I trust in the New York Times.

It is NOT one of those kind of NYT stories that appears about a company you’ve never heard of, that hasn’t yet developed a product — but just happens to be an idea from some notable people who have had previous success (and access to New York Times writers) — are useless. Pre-launch coverage in the NYT is often the worst thing that can happen to a startup. Early failures (the kind any startup must face) are  better addressed in obscurity, I believe.

Gabe has been working on Techmeme, et al. (Indeed, his political site, Memeorandum, was launched before Techmeme) for what seems to be like forever — at least six years that I can recall.

I’m sure he’s turned down lots of offers from big companies who would have totally screwed up what he and two others are capable of doing (and, for most of those years, just him).

He has stayed independent and built what I feel certain is a very profitable business by doing it his way — including low overhead.

I like that. And I like Gabe.

Oh, and I like that when something I write makes it to Techmeme, it drives more traffic to this blog than anything else I do. (But I still don’t write about stuff “just because it’s on Techmeme.”)

Congratulations, Gabe. Well deserved.

Asking the wrong question: Will Tablets Close the Book on e-Readers?

On the “Knowledge @Wharton” website, a recently posted commentary poses this question in the headline: “Will Tablets Close the Book on e-Readers?

That’s the wrong question. (And I’m even overlooking my belief that any headline in the form of a question displays editorial wussiness. Personally, I prefer reading things that provide answers, not that ask questions.)

Whenever it comes to any technology, in the long run, the new will always replace the old. But as John Maynard Keynes said, “In the long run, we are all dead.” So it’s always a matter of when and not if. Timing is everything. I believe eBook readers will be around for a long time — if their price drops to the price of, say, a Gillette razor.

For me, the iPad replaced an eBook reader instantly. (In reality, I guess I made that decision two years before such a thing as the iPad existed.) However, as I’ve written about before, Amazon’s Kindle apps for the iPad and iPhone are how I read most books.

For those of us who have followed a couple of decades of predictions of what the future holds for eBooks — and digital media, in general — there is great irony in the notion that eBook readers, which are finally and somewhat remarkably even perceived as being alive, could now be subject to a debate about their demise. (Context: A few weeks before the announcement of the Kindle, a book called Print is Dead devoted an entire chapter to explaining why the eBook revolution “didn’t happen” — one of my all-time favorite examples of bad timing. In other words, even the most passionate digital book advocates had just about given up on eBook readers.)

So, because I don’t ask questions on this blog, but provide answers: here’s the answer:

In the future, there will be all sorts of devices that will replace the way we do things today. You’ll wear some of them like glasses. Some may be handheld or “pico” projection devices that will be controlled by voice or hand gestures. Some day, you may even wear contact lenses with built-in circuits and LEDs — correcting vision and providing an interface to all known media at the same time.

In the future, our choices won’t be between tablet devices and ebook readers.

Geez, what a boring future that would be.

Later: I’ve been asked, “So what is the right answer?” if @Wharton asked the wrong one. I think my point is, there is no question. Things always change. And, alas and clichéish, they stay the same. But perhaps the real question is: Will flying cars do away with non-flying cars?

A WordPress plugin for adding the Facebook Like button to your blog

like thumb graphic

[Note: This post is rated: Geek.]

While I know in doing so, I’m supporting Facebook’s march towards turning the “social” part of the internet into a corporate-state, I nonetheless decided to add a Facebook “like” button to each post on RexBlog so I could understand what life will be like in the future when we must choose among three chips to have embedded in our foreheads: Google’s, Facebook’s or the CIA’s.*

The information on Facebook.com about adding the button seems fairly simple and I’m comfortable with cutting and pasting code in/on WordPress* files. But I have a rule that goes somehthing like this: If I can’t get a coding thing to work within five minutes, then it’s over my head and I’ll wait until the weekend to tackle it.

And that’s what happened with the Facebook “Like button.”

So, last night (Friday), I asked Nashville WordPress developer Mitch Canter (@studionashvegas), if he could recommend a WordPress plugin for adding the “Like” button.

Well, as it says in the good e-book, “Ask, and it shall be given.” Sometime during the late night/early morning, Mitch created such a plugin and I’ve just installed it — and it passed my five-minute test.

If you have a self-hosted WordPress site and know how to install plugins, you’ll know what to do. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then don’t try this at home.

Thanks, Mitch. I like it.

*Kidding aside, there are some important issues anyone who uses Facebook should review regarding privacy and how information about you is collected and used. Here are a couple of blog posts to read:

NYT Gadgetwise Blog: “How to Opt-Out of Facebook’s Instant Personalization”

Lifehacker.com: “Restore Your Privacy on Facebook”

**Wordpress is the open-source software on which RexBlog runs.