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Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Funnest Volume Knob in the Whole World

My job description includes "knows how to create fun software." Some days this makes me happy, other days it stresses me out. Lately it's been stressing me out. As a consequence, I've been paying a lot of attention to what's fun. Of course, that pretty much sucks the fun right out of everything, but it's been educational.

I've spent that last fifteen minutes or so trying to figure out what's so fun about my Griffin PowerMate. The PowerMate is a USB controller that looks like a volume knob torn off the front of a 70's era stereo. I got mine a couple years ago to use with iTunes, and it's been quitely amusing me ever since. The controller is generic (the driver lets you assign the various rotation and pressing combinations to pretty much anything you want), but I just use mine as a volume knob.

It's a fairly hefty block of machined aluminium, rotates smoothly with just enough drag to give it a feeling of quality, and does a serviceable job of controlling the volume. But that makes it "satisfying", which isn't exactly the same thing as "fun".

It's a little surprising at first. You don't expect to see what is obviously a volume knob sitting on a desk attached to your computer. The incongruity is definitely part of fun, but the novelty wears off. On the other hand, when somebody new sees it, they generally comment, which briefly reactivates the novely aspect.

Oh yeah, and it pulsates.

The base is a translucent rubber substance, and there are a pair of blue LEDs inside, so the knob sits on a glowing blue base. The LEDs fade on and off in a three second cycle, and get brighter the higher the volume is set.

The pulsing is suprisingly un-annoying. It turns out to be subtle enough to generally ignore, but obvious enough to notice if you're looking at it. And it's fun. I'm not quite sure why, but there's something entertaining about it. Sort of like watching a fire.

So, we've got:
  • Functional (it does what it needs to do)
  • Satisfying (it does it with style)
  • Novel (reinforced by the comments of people who haven't seen it before)
  • Hypnotic (pulsing blue glow clouds the mind)
Which, in this case, adds up to the world's funnest volume knob. I'm not entirely satisfied with the "Hypnotic" attribute, I think it's worth a little more thought, but perhaps it should wait until I've picked apart more fun computer-related experiences.


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