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Excuse me, how do I switch it on?

March 19th 2013

by Tony Abbey, NAFEMS Training Manager


One of the most enjoyable aspects of the training that I carry out is the travelling involved. I have been very fortunate to teach in many countries around the world and to visit many interesting places. Often this involves flying into an airport, picking up a rental car and then heading off to my hotel on the first night. One of the great blessings has been the introduction of SatNav or GPS navigation aids. I always carry my own with me and like to have a backup iPhone or similar just in case. Finding a city centre, or very rural, hotel on a dark rainy night is now a lot easier!

However, one of the things that still catches me out from time to time is the rental car. I don’t really mind about shape, colour or model. I am not a car enthusiast, so often can’t even remember what it is I’m driving – I rely on the remote control to remind me! What does concern me though is the layout of the controls and instrumentation inside the car. Over the last couple of years I have had a bewildering array of handbrakes and ignition switches. The handbrakes have varied across a push button, a huge grab handle in the centre console, a door side lever and a foot pedal. Usually with some perseverance I can find out where it is and how to use it – although the grab handle puzzled me for a long time, as I thought it was a coffee cup holder. The ignition switch is more serious, about six months ago I was completely unable to identify where it was, let alone how it worked. A plastic block sitting in the ashtray was clearly involved. I went through my usual mantra; “I am an adult, I am an engineer, I should be able to find this”. Of course the handbook was long gone, so after a frustrating 10 minutes I had to walk back to the dispatcher. The patient young lady showed me how to push the plastic block into a cunningly hidden slit in the dashboard fabric.

That was a very humbling experience and I have always wanted to meet the styling engineers(?) who dream up these layouts. I sound very old here but;” there ought to be a rule that…” I understand the need for innovation and individuality but this has gone a bit too far.

So now the inevitable link to the CAE world! Firing up a user interface on a ‘new to me’ CAD or CAE product can be equally daunting and frustrating. I suppose a common standard would be stifling to innovation and competition – but it really would be nice! 

Perhaps we will reach a point in the future where the operating system or host environment will be able to enforce such commonality. If you remember DOS based word processing software from the 80s; that was pretty horrible. If nothing else Windows has streamlined a lot of the operations and look and feel.

Perhaps it will simply be survival of the fittest. The CAE or CAD software that gives us the easiest and most efficient interface will win. It is quite possible however that it will be so radically innovative that I will have to ask; “Excuse me, how do I switch it on?”

Until next time,
Regards,
Tony