Bad Design Thought: The Gas Pump Fallacy

2015-07-05 20.40.47

It goes like this: You walk up to the gas pump, swipe your card, push the regular button, put the fill nozzle into your car, pull the lever, and nothing. Why? You look at the screen, and there scrolling on the screen is a message, “Remove Nozzle Then Select Grade”. You selected grade, then removed nozzle. How could you? You uncultured brute. Which brings me to the bad design trope:

The Gas Pump Fallacy: “Enforcing order to an input when the order needed is arbitrary, or blocking one input for an equivalent input when both are acceptable”

The pump could just as easily have asked you to select grade then remove the nozzle. As far as the software and valves are considered it’s meaningless. The pump needs two pieces of information, “the nozzle is out,” and “the grade is selected”. Since these are binary conditions that have to be met to begin, the order is arbitrary.

“Alright”, you say, “but I have to ask the user to give me the input, shouldn’t the order match the request?”

Well, no. Ask the user to input the information in whatever order you want, but accept it in whatever order it’s given. Another example of this design done right is the automatic registers at, specifically, Walmart. The register needs to know when to start scanning items. It figures this out by waiting for an interaction. The Walmart register lets you scan an item to begin the process, or it lets you push the start button. It offers you both, but accepts and needs one. The Kroger terminals, however, will not start scanning till you push the start button.

Finally, a third example of this being applied in software is the iPhone lock screen. If your fingerprint isn’t recognized the iPhone happily swipes the screen for you to the PIN input. However, even though the touch-id is no longer prompted for, the iPhone will still accept and is looking for a proper fingerprint input. The coder could have easily justified accepting only the pin at that point for security or code reasons, but it would not have improved the interaction.

The gas pump is the best example I could think of. This is because the user will develop a pattern based on the pump they are most used to. It is a common object and the designer has no control over the patterns they learn. A good designer will recognize when the pattern is meaningless and design a pattern agnostic system. Forcing a user’s hand is meaningless, the best interaction is one where the object being interacted with vanishes into the background, and only it’s function is left visible. A good toaster toasts bread. It has a lever and a knob. It does not force you to attach it to your WiFi before beginning the toast cycle.


The applications that make me love windows.

Well it’s that time of year again where windows needs a good ole’ reinstall. So I thought I’d take the time to write down the apps that transform it into an OS that, despite a bit of love-hate, I pick over any other: I used to love Linux. I used to love it so much I ran Gentoo with xmonad and compiled nightly. Now I just can’t stand to go back. Now, I do have to add the disclaimer that my day job is Design Engineer, and Solidworks doesn’t run on Linux. But I think even if I did, it would be a hard sell. Windows has a high degree of Just Works for a lot of stuff. Printers, WiFi, Graphics, Games, etc. Also, since XP, 7, and now 10. Windows has been comparatively, lightweight in feel to other OS’s. Though this is probably a matter of computer specs and personal perception. Ubuntu, has been by far the least responsive OS I’ve ever tried. OSX is super nice, but has less Just Workiness than Windows (and less software I need).

I’ve left of a bunch of programs that are a little more cross-platform, and wouldn’t really sway me one way or another. For example, GIMP for image editing, or inkscape for vector editing. Likewise, PyCharm, Python, etc. These are all pretty cross-platform, and don’t specifically improve the Operating System experience or fill a gap in it’s usefulness enough to push it one way or another. VLC, FastCopy, etc , however, does dramatically affect how useful I find windows. Some apps, like rescue-time, have an extra bit of Just Works on windows that brings it onto the list.

Installing Windows

I highly recommend installing from USB, it’s faster and less hassle. Plus, my laptop didn’t come with an install disk, so to use my legal windows license I have to pirate an ISO (thanks for shutting down Digitalriver, Microsoft, I know you secretly hate me, but it really means a lot more when you show it through action).To make the bootable stick I’ve always had good luck with Rufus .

  • Internet

    • Browsing: I use Chrome. It works great on windows. Firefox is great and has much better plugins, but it renders stuff wrong. It alternates between being phenomenal and being IE6. Opera, I just don’t know. Edge is alright, but basic.
    • Torrents: I have to get my illegal disk to use my legal license somehow: I like Tixati, it’s riddled with programmer art, and even worse, programmer interface design, but it just works and is lightweight.
  • Utilities

    • Compressed Files: Can’t get better than 7-zip. Fast, always works, and never ever pops up anything. Looking at you winrar-zip-whatever >:(
    • Screen Shots: Windows default screenshot behavior is dumb. Press Print Screen, Open Pain, Copy, Ruin Image with Clunky Interface, Rage. I really like, and have bought a license for Screenpresso. It does video, takes screenshots of regions of the page, automatically scrolls through websites to take a shot of the whole page, and just works. It looks like super sketchy software from the 00’s but it ain’t. Great stuff.
    • File Copying: I’m running windows 10 now, and it still sucks at copying files larger than a kilobyte. Especially over the network or to a thumb drive. So I always install FastCopy. It’s a bit clunky, but super lightweight and copies and deletes large files nicely. Highly recommend installing the shell extensions. The website looks sketchy, but it’s just Japanese.
    • Tiling Window Management: I love WinSplit Revolution. It’s the reason I bought a 15″ laptop (for the numpad). It lets you press Ctrl-Alt-numpad and arrange your windows nicely in regions. Great for coding or research. Unfortunately development stopped, but it still works on Windows 10. You have to get it from CNET. Don’t use their downloader.
    • Hard Drive Management: Where did all my space go? Windows can’t tell you, but nothing is better at answering this than SpaceMonger. If you search you can find a free version. I paid for a license.
  • Productivity:

    • Time Management: The internet is distraction. Try out rescue time. It’s great at making you feel guilty.
    • Office: Microsoft Office: I pay for this. That’s how much I prefer it over the alternatives. It just works. Also, no one has come close to Excel yet. (Especially not google docs, you should be ashamed Google.)
    • Cloud Storage and Versioning: I use dropbox and git. I do every single bit of work in my dropbox. When my computer dies my files remain. It’s great. Haven’t lost work from a computer crash in years. Though… Dropbox, do I really have to edit the selective sync settings from my computer? Why can’t I store that on the cloud? Also, Carousel is poop.
  • Media:

    • Videos: VLC. There is no other choice for windows, and that is okay.
    • Music: Spotify Web Player and SoundCloud Web Player. No need to install anything.
    • Things that need work, Image Viewer: Honestly, there’s nothing that is any good. They either support anything and have the worst interface in the world (I’m looking at you ifranview, the 90’s are gone), try to take over every image operation performed on your computer, or support nothing and suck: The built in windows viewer. Just rage. That’s all you can do. The new Windows 10 viewer finally supports animated gifs, but it’s interface is terrible (as my rule describes). It is the least terrible. But really, no OS has this down yet.
  • Windows 10:

    • Multiple Desktops: Technically windows has supported multiple desktops for a while, but in a hack-y way. This actually works pretty well in 10, though it always forgets where it’s supposed to put my chrome windows after a wake-up cycle.
    • Better File Explorer, Better Command Prompts. Windows is taking some hits and it’s nice.
    • Things that need work, More Dumb Bullshit: Bing, Cortana, Ads in the weather app. Yea, well, Windows is the ultimate design by committee. However, that committee also decides to not do a lot of stuff too. Which is why windows XP, 7, and now 10, were really nice and stable. 7 being the king of any OS I have ever used (It broke Linux desktop’s uptime record for my house.)