Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The invisible button

I am still using a very old laptop that I am reluctant to give up. For the last few months, it has stopped showing any images.

Today I am at Logan airport, near Boston. Computer scientists hang out at airports all the time. Sometimes it seems that we travel just for the benefit of spending a few hours in airport noise, breathing airport air, and watching airport urban decor. Several times already, I have had chance encounters at airports with people I knew.

Logan has free wifi. To connect, you just need to click on the relevant button on the screen. However, having no images, I do not see the buttons. How, then, can I connect?

The first time it happened, I used trial and error, and spent a long time moving my mouse around the mostly blank screen. Occasionally, it went over something invisible that was clickable. I tried clicking on it, saw what happened next. After a few tries, I found the right place to click on my screen.

The second time, I was with someone else who also had a laptop, and watched on her laptop to see the approximate location of the button I wanted to click. That made it much easier.

Today, the third time, the presentation appeared to have changed (at least, judging from the non-blank parts of the screen), but I simply took my time: whenever the mouse went over something clickable, I left it to hover in place, until, after a moment, a label appeared with a brief description of the functionality of the invisible button. Thus I explored the screen much more efficiently, and only had to click once. It is the first time that I have ever seen those labels to be any good for anything!

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