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Power to turn

By SoupIsGood Food, (soup@macedition.com), July 2, 2002

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Is there anything niftier than the Griffin PowerMate? You really have to admire a product whose predominant selling point is that it is, above all else, a Really Neat Thing. Oh, sure, you can use it as a budget jog dial for iMovie, or even Final Cut Pro. You can con Purchasing into getting you one to use as an ergonomic scroll system for massive programming projects, or to combine it with Quickeys as a lightning–quick way to cycle through lots of open windows or palettes. But – you can also use it for completely useless things, like playing Tempest in MacMame, or a version of Shufflepuck from ’87. You can use it to change the volume in iTunes, but that’s lame – use it to cycle through playlists and songs instead! Why should iPod owners have all the fun?

The PowerMate opens up a whole new vista for alternative input devices. “Alternative Input Devices” has long been a deeply serious term, involving breathy, starry–eyed prognostication from computer science big–brains of all stripes. Usually it involves something like a glove with a lot of wires and making gangsta signs with your fingers to get the computer to do stuff, or strapping electrodes to your head to get a beep out of your computer if you think really hard at it. The PowerMate eschews this visionary purity, and goes for something that any evolved ape worth its opposable thumbs can grok: a big shiny knob with a blinky light.

This is the epitome of human-computer interaction as pioneered by Apple. A human is not an abstract intellect that can easily communicate fully-conceived, deliberate acts. We like messing around with stuff until it jiggles into place. We think with our hands as much as with our heads, and tactile feedback is a powerful way to communicate exactly what we want.

The way forward on this bold new path of human–computer interface is easy to speculate upon. I’ts hard to beat a big lever. Who can resist a big, round, jolly, candy–like button? Or six? Add in a tiny LED display, and you can have each one display the appropriate operation. Can Hurst get in on the act?

Well? Is there anything niftier? What simple machine would you like to see outfitted with a USB cable? Post below!

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