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Knobs. There aren't enough knobs in this world. There once was a time when the world was full of them but now, when we need them more than ever, we are virtually knobless. What am I talking about? I'm talking about dials, analog volume knobs, and iPod clickwheels: anything round that you twiddle. Their use is simple: the greater the twiddling, the greater the effect and the faster the twiddling, the faster the effect. That's it.

But apparently the world's electronics manufacturers have decided that simple is not what you need. Where there once was a little volume wheel on anything that made noise: radios, TVs, portable music players etc. Now there are buttons which I assure you are not as good at all.

Let's look at the example of how manufactures have "improved" adjusting settings on computer monitors.

Before, if you wanted the display to be brighter, you'd look for the little picture of a sun or light bulb or whatever it is beneath the display and turn the knob. Easy. If you turned the wrong way, you'd notice right away and just start turning the other way. It's so fast you don't even think about it. It's so intuitive; it's weird to even write about it.

But look at what we have now. Buttons. So you want a brighter screen do you? Well, there is no longer a direct way to get it. Now you must start with the menu button followed by reading the choices on the screen. At this point, you would have been finished the old fashioned way. But the new and improved way needs more work.

OK, so you find brightness on the menu and press the down arrow button a few times until you highlight it. Oh, you overshoot it because you're impatient and all you wanted to do was to just frikkin brighten the screen a little anyway, so you press up and get to where you want to be.

OK, so now what? The menu is still on the screen. You don't want a menu on the screen, you just wanted to brighten it. This sucks. Do you press menu again? Do you navigate to "Exit"? Do you look for an Enter button? Well, unfortunately, it depends on your monitor. Any skill you picked up with one will probably just be a hindrance the next time you use a friend's PC, one at the library, or wherever. Pressing menu again might abort the whole procedure, might enter your setting, or might just display the menu in your face for that much longer. Who knows?

So what do I see most people do in this situation? They accept the monitor settings as they are because it isn’t worth the hassle of going through the menu. That's progress.

My otherwise wonderful IBM ThinkPad makes me press "Fn Delete" for increasing the volume and "Fn Insert" to decrease it. Yeah, that makes sense. There's also a little picture of a water faucet on my "F8" key. No idea what that does. As for brightness? "Fn F5" and "Fn F6" of course.

How about when you accidentally leave your MP3 player on full volume and press play and blast your eardrums. Yes, everyone enjoys holding down the "volume down" button for 2 or 3 seconds while their ears bleed. No one needs something as easy as a wheel to quickly flick to your desired volume.

That is, unless you have an iPod. Yes, somehow Apple has figured out this whole "the wheel is good" secret and is laughing all the way to the bank.

As for the other manufacturers? I can just hear their designers now: "I think if we made the volume buttons red and transparent then we'd beat the iPod" "No, the volume buttons must be blue and glow!"

Sure this is somewhat trivial as the worst that could happen is getting eye-strain from your monitor or minor hearing loss from your MP3 player, but imagine if this “progress” influenced car manufacturers. “Steering wheel?” the car sales associate would cry, “look at these backlit left and right buttons! They glow! So pretty.”

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