My Kingdom (Sanity?) for a Stop Watch

More features is not necessarily better. Sometimes simple is best.

Last month the storytellers’ stopwatch died. I volunteered to get a new one, for tonight’s performance. Easy, right?

I bought one the next day. Cheap. Oops. But in the end it made little difference. That was Tempo brand.

The buttons had very little movement to them. You couldn’t tell by feel whether you’d pressed one. Arthritic hands and poor eyes, anyone? That describes several tellers, and many of the rest are valiantly fighting the day it will apply to them.

At first I ignored the manual. It will get lost in the bottom of the gig bag and the other readers won’t read it. As long as I didn’t touch the Mode button, things were good. It worked much like Dad’s old stopwatch and my Timex wristwatch. If I did touch it, things went wonky till I pressed it several more times.

Three days ago I read the manual. From left-to-right, the buttons were labeled C,B,A. The rest of the manual had maybe 100 words, and no way to tell, based on the current screen, where in a sequence of steps you were. After much trial and error, I set the time. Except I hadn’t, so I set it again. 8:30.

Last night at 8:30 I heard a soft beeping and tracked it down to the stopwatch. I was alert enough to realize, “I must have somehow set the alarm.” I poked at the buttons, then opened the manual. Nowhere in the 100 words were written, “If the screen looks like this, do that to get back to neutral mode.” It did say that, in at least one mode, pressing C and B together would turn off the alarm. Or it would turn on the hourly chime.

Canadian Tire accepted the return. I was willing to just tell them to send word up to their buyers, if they could, that this product shouldn’t be rebought, but they refunded my money. It helped that the buttons were so clearly flakey and the light button broken. (For all they know, we wanted a free stopwatch for the month.)

The only other stopwatch there was a fancier model of the same brand. Three rows of numbers.

The Source (formerly Radio Shack) was helpful. They’re used to dealing with seniors. After opening two different brands we found the same chips were used as the Tempo model. Three buttons, B and C to turn chimes on and off. Buttons didn’t say “set” or “move to next field” (or something to that effect). The manuals were written by the same person (buttons labeled B,C,A), but at least they described what the screen should look like at each step in the process. I suspect it was the same words, but with added pictures. The brands were Nextar and Walk&Run.

But, turning off the alarm or getting out of “set time/alarm/date” mode was still going to be a matter of luck rather than planning. Desparate, I bought the cheapest with a decent feel.

The only sports store on the route home also had nothing that fit the bill. (I started the conversation by saying I wanted just a timer, no alarm to go off and confuse the issue. They knew right away they had nothing.)

My Timex wristwatch, on the other hand, has four buttons and is easy to use. The buttons have three labels — one for each mode. If you get stuck in the wrong mode, just press Mode to get out of it. The manual goes through each mode. The screen tells you which mode you’re in. Maybe it’s easy because I got my first Timex back when my brain worked properly, but I never have a problem with it, and my second Timex, with more features, was equally easy to use. So’s my son’s, and it has even more features.

Today I can’t say, “If I can’t figure it out…” since I’m decidedly not at my best. I didn’t take the time to make a flowchart of the procedure or to put it through all its paces.

But I shouldn’t have to.

Stopwatches aren’t the only things that have almost random procedures. Some computer OS’s. Many cell phones. My MIL got a new oven for the cottage. I’m a Professional Engineer and still need to review the instructions every summer. My MIL no longer bakes while at the cottage.

All of these problems would be easy to fix if the designers bothered.

1) A button that sets it back to “default”, no matter what mode you managed to create.

2) No “within three seconds” or “press two buttons at once”. The only exception to this is “expert” mode. Even then, if anyone other than the repair person is to use it, label it on the device.

Karma would be for those designers to have to deal with their designs when they are tired and grumpy. Reality will be they’ve made their millions and hire a teenager.

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