Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmx DOT com

Science in London: The 2016 scientific society talks in London blog post

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Oops button for computers

My mum once suggested to me that there should be an 'oops' button on her computer so that she'd be able to click it and see whatever it was that she'd done that made something go a bit wrong.

Sounds like a brilliant idea.

I can do Ctrl Z one or more times to undo whatever it is that I've done by accident but sometimes my mum was a bit flummoxed by her computer, with the cursor leaping about somewhere, or a toolbar opening or disappearing unexpectedly. Her laptop's 'synaptic pointing device' (the bit you have in front of the spacebar if you don't have a mouse) was a bit too sensitive perhaps.

For less confident users, a button that you can press which will tell you what steps have recently been taken might be quite helpful. This information is evidently accessible, after all Ctrl+Z wouldn't work without it, and I understand there are malicious programmes which can harvest keystrokes.

Is there something hidden on computers that can be brought to the fore? It would need also to record inadvertent mouse clicks too (eg if you accidentally clicked on a link and couldn't understand why, not realising that when you clicked into another window the bit you clicked on was an active link).


  1. I think every computer user has wished for an "Oops" button, but unfortunately certain actions can be problematic to undo, especially with systems that have rapidly-changing state e.g. databases.

    One thing that does spring to mind is this "stop sending mail you later regret" plugin for Gmail; more preventative than undo though.

    How about a real-world "Oops" button, much more useful...

  2. True... but doesn't have to permit an undo function (though that would be nice). It could just say "the reason that your toolbar's closed is because you just did XYZ" Suggesting a fix would be a bonus but I think my mum just wanted to know what it was that she'd done in the first place :)

  3. Yes indeed -- it is very frustrating not being able to undo something and also not knowing exactly what you did in the first place!

    I suppose this all comes back to interaction design principles: how the user gets appropriate feedback from the interface and also the semantics of undo functionality. Alan Dix has done a lot of research in this area, especially on whether the presence of undo encourages exploratory (risky) behaviour.

  4. My big bugbear is accidentally drag/dropping files, closing windows or clicking the wrong option on drop down menus etc. Although it may not be possible to undo all actions. An oops button that listed the last x actions would be a great help in working out what I had done.
    How I long for the good old days of real computers when a log file of all user actions was printed to the console printer.
    Essential for checking actions/responses that had scrolled of the screen.

  5. @ Retrophile +1. I hate when I do that. Also, when you commit an "Oops", Murphy's law applies. That is, the thing I click on accidentally is the one thing that, without fail, will hang the browser, or other program, for five full minutes, while the computer tries, in vain, to do something which a.)it cannot do (for unknown reasons) and b.)I really didn't want to do.

    "Ooops! Noooo! I didn't mean to click on that 11.5 GB PDF! Make it stop!!"


Comment policy: I enthusiastically welcome corrections and I entertain polite disagreement ;) Because of the nature of this blog it attracts a LOT - 5 a day at the moment - of spam comments (I write about spam practices,misleading marketing and unevidenced quackery) and so I'm more likely to post a pasted version of your comment, removing any hyperlinks.

Comments written in ALL CAPS LOCK will be deleted and I won't publish any pro-homeopathy comments, that ship has sailed I'm afraid (it's nonsense).