User Input

User Input: Pet Peeves

See these buttons? All useless. The whole lot of them, not required.

One of the issues in technology and technological design is that there are items that eventually become irrelevant as design progresses. The problem becomes that some of these items are relied on for alternative reasons. The world of computers is a perfect example.

Buttons such as the “insert” or “pause-break” key on a computer’s keyboard have really long-since had no necessary function. But computer programmers have written software that takes advantage of those keys, so computer manufacturers have felt an obligation to leave them on the keyboard. Since they’re there, software programmers will continue to use the buttons. And the cycle will continue again. They really have no purpose anymore, but if anyone ever tried to remove them, there would be wailing and gnashing of teeth the likes of which we haven’t seen since Apple removed the floppy disk drive.

What is your “pet peeve” piece of holdover technology that is still around for absolutely no reason?

[“User Input” is the AtomicToasters Question of the Day™ asking you, the teeming millions, to answer our pressing questions.]

  • tonyola

    No "Scroll Lock" key? That's another mystery key that could be done away with. So could "Num Lock" for that matter. The numeric keypad should be just that – numbers. The arrows, home, end, etc. are all found on keys elsewhere. Also, there are days when I want to take some pliers and yank out "Caps Lock".

    • Google's PC entry doesn't have the Caps Lock key.

      • TechieInHell

        Actually it does, it's just been mapped to the "Google Search" by default, but it is user-configurable back to Caps Lock. This is quite important, since without Caps Lock it will be quite difficult to discern who the 13-year-old morons are in forums.

  • P161911

    I actually use three of those buttons on a fairly regular basis. The delete key is very handy in CAD programs, END comes in handy editing text, and ALT + Prt Scr is useful to copy and paste from websites and programs that don't want you to be able to copy pictures/images. The alt prt scr trick is especially useful for saving a copy off anybody's website that takes your picture and then wants you to buy a copy for ridiculous prices (think theme parks or other tourist traps).

    • tonyola

      But both Windows and OSX have "clip" features that allow you to select all or part of a screen and save it as a graphic. In Windows, it's Ctr-Alt-S. I do agree that Home, End, Page Up, Page Down, and Delete are useful.

    • Slow Joe Crow

      I'll add that ALT + Prt Scr is also very useful for getting any screen shots with the older Apex (now Avocent) KVM switches that used Prt Scr to access the menu system.

  • tiberiusẅisë

    QWERTY format.

  • I never use: F-keys; mousepads; monitor adjustment buttons; parallel port

    There is probably a shit-tonne more, but that is just top of my head.

  • The United States Customary Units system. It's crap. It's utter crap. I'm a proud American and generally do not think other countries do things better than us, but in this matter they do. Particularly if you're an engineer.

    In fact, if I'm working on a project where we have to use English units I'll do all my calculations in metric and convert the results. Slugs? Pound-force vs. pound-mass? A mile is 1760 yards with is 3 feet so a mile is 5280 feet, and a foot is 12? That makes no sense. A kilometer is 1000 meters which is 1000 millimeters.

    The US is the only industrialized nation that doesn't use metric. Yup. It's us and a few third world countries like Elbonia.


    • P161911

      The problem is that most people think in Customary units. I'm an engineer and design in both metric and standard. Everyone has a good mental concept of 3 inches, but not 7.62cm. I instinctively know inches and feet, I have to stop and think about mm, cm, and m. I usually fall back on firearms for off the cuff conversions: 5.56mm = .223", 7.62mm = 0.308", 9mm = 0.355", 10mm = 0.40", 11.25mm = 0.45"

      I'll agree that metric is a whole lot easier, makes digging for wrenches easier too, I don't have to stop and think about fractions down to the 32nd of an inch.

      I'm pretty sure the UK uses a slightly similar bastardized mix of standard and metric too, people give their weight in stones over there for goodness sake!

      Next week on Atomic Toasters: archaic systems of measurement. My personal favorite, Imperial Russian Arshins.

      • OA5599

        I had to change a water pump on my Ramcharger recently, and it required both standard and metric tools to remove all the necessary fasteners. It would have been nice not to have to keep switching wrench sets back and forth.

      • Deartháir

        Come now… most Americans think in Antiquated Units, not most people.
        Around here, the only people who use Antiquated Units are the oldfucker shit-farmers with meshback John Deere caps and a belt-buckle that's hiked up to their nipples. It's quite entertaining, actually. "With this car, you'll get 4.6L/100km, which means with a 55L fuel tank you should get a range of almost 1200 kms!"
        "Son, I has no ideer whut yew jes' said."

      • When it comes to length, I am actually more comfortable with millimeters and centimeters than I am with inches. And cc's make more sense to me than cubic inches. But when it comes to weight, I gotta have ounces and pounds. Kilograms mean absolutely nothing to me.

        • I love the story of the international probe to Mars. The US team was using imperial measurements and the European team was using metric. No one bothered to check and the thing disappeared into the inky blackness of space.

    • Customary units are firmly entrenched in high-resolution USGS maps (the ubiquitous 1:24,000 series), because conversion would not just be a simple matter of changing the scale at the bottom of the sheet. All of the elevation contours would need to be redrawn to reflect a whole-number metric interval, which isn't likely to happen any time soon.

      For me, this means many of my teaching labs "must" be conducted in miles, feet, and inches, to the dismay of all of the international students and a growing number of the US students. Apparently even here, the conversions aren't drilled into everyone in grade school to the extent they used to be.

      To make it even better, we use engineer's scales for the exercises, so the inches are divided into tenths for ease of calculation. Almost metric of us.

    • skitter

      I have no problem with either, as long as I only have to work in one. I've worked for idiots who wanted dual dimensions, including tolerances, but also wouldn't allow the necessary number of decimals.

      I find it's harder to remember the conversion, but easier to keep track of standard units. Take your inch, yard, and mile. The opposite is true of metric prefixes; when presented with ng, μg, and mg, the math is easy, but how many factors of 1000 will I be off by? In both cases, I must consult a table.

      Edit: And it's still harder to get metric hardware in the U.S.

    • Froggmann_


    • ɹǝʌoɹ ǝБuɐɹʇs

      The only industrialized country that doesn't use metric? What about England? In fact, they have it worse than the US. I don't like giving my weight in "stone".

      • FЯeeMan

        Don't forget your Wentworth wrenches on the way to the shed…

  • TechieInHell

    The "Pause" button isn't used a lot, to be true, but it's still useful. It's the only way to literally Pause a computer during POST and hardware initialization. Not too useful on a home PC, but comes in real handy when I need to get the GUID of a new machine without booting all the way in to the OS and running an esoteric script to find it.

    I am quite happy to see that they finally did away with the "Any" key, and most software has been updated to stop asking users to hit it.

  • tiberiusẅisë

    Imagine a machine that had an Any key and a volume that went to 11?

  • OA5599

    <img src=""&gt;

    I'm not really sure what this key on my PC's keyboard does. When I press it, I am neither given a snack to eat nor given directions to the nearest cloverleaf intersection.

    • Deartháir

      When I first got a Mac, it seemed very silly. Then I learned it was the "Command" key. So if you wanted to use a shortcut to get your computer to DO something, it would be the command key. Beside it was the "Alt/Option" key, which was used for alternate or optional characters which I cannot find on a Windows PC. And then the Control key, which had no purpose whatsoever, so I assumed it was like the glass of water that is used as a "control" in a scientific test. It actually made sense, once I figured it out. Then everyone decided they had to start messing with it.

      • TechieInHell

        Back before Windows ruined everything, the Alt key was quite useful on a PC. You could hold down Alt and then use the numeric keypad to type in the decimal value of any ASCII character to then produce that character on demand. Comes in real handy for scholars of Greek economic history that need to express amounts in Drachmas: ₯

    • You're pressing the wrong key. That's the open-apple key, which, being merely an outline, only supplies the user with the absence of a snack. You need an older keyboard which also has the closed-apple key if you want the snack to be made present. I can't help you much with that cloverleaf thingy, but I assume it's a graphical representation of being tied in knots with frustration at not having a closed-apple key.

      <img src="; width="500">

  • Froggmann_

    The 1394 4-connector port found on many laptops. I know it's supposed to be firewire but I have yet to find a firewire peripheral that actually has it.

    • TechieInHell

      If the peripheral is Firewire, then it uses it. You just need the proper cable. (most firewire ports are 6 pin which includes power, so, ok, yeah, that 4 pin connector on your laptop is pretty useless)

    • OA5599

      My D8 camcorder has a 4-pin Firewire port. Around the same time I got the camcorder (1999), I got a computer, which came with one 4-pin and two 6-pin ports. I bought a 4-pin to 6-pin cable, figuring that whatever I needed to hook up, I'd have a cable end that would fit, and a place to plug in the other end.

      A few years later, I bought a VCR/DVD burner/HDD DVR. After I bought it, I wanted to convert some D8 tapes to DVD. There is a Firewire connector on it, but it's 4 pin, so I had to buy a 4-pin to4-pin cable.

  • Froggmann_

    Nope and it's completely useless to anyone who ten-keys on anything OTHER than a laptop numeric keypad.

  • Mad_Hungarian

    I'm trying to recall the last time I used any of the F1 – F12 keys on my desktop, or used them on a laptop for something other than their dedicated alternate function.

    • P161911

      F5 refreshes a web page, other than that……

    • Mr_Biggles

      I use the F keys for gaming. Not saying they couldn't be mapped elsewhere, but at bare minimum quicksave and quickload are there for most shooters.

    • FЯeeMan

      F2 in Windoze to rename items. Use it & F5 all the time.