Assisted Computing: Keeping On Keeping On

Last time you remember, I laid out my vision for Assisted Computing™. It’s been going fabulously. Here are the most recent developments.

I installed the smart speaker in my father’s assisted living apartment, and gave him the iPad Mini with the AC remote control app. I wasn’t sure he’d actually use it. If he perceives tech to be too complex, as he did with the original Bose user interface, he just puts it down as says to hell with it. But this one is rock solid simple. Just tap a button, the music plays. Tap another one and it stops. That’s it. So he’s actually using it. I passed the first and biggest hurdle.

I’m finding out interesting things about his usage pattern. I put radio stations on three of the buttons (“Classical”, “Jazz”, etc.) figuring he’d run them as background music. But he rarely does that. He likes button 4, which says, “Call Dave”.  He calls or emails me with the music he wants, and I from my own computer, I put it onto that button’s Spotify playlist.  He’s been going back over his favorite musicals, like Paint Your Wagon.

It’s not just, or even mostly, having music.   It’s what specific pieces of music mean to him. “I believe Paint Your Wagon was one of the first shows mom and I saw together, if not the very first,” he wrote me. She died about 6 weeks ago, and this helps him feel her still near. That, my friends, is the major benefit of AC: the human connections it enables.

Of course, I’m constantly being reminded that neither I, nor you, nor anyone else, gets anything right the first time.  After first listening to PYW, Dad replied: “Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I think you have the soundtrack of the movie version, and I wanted the original Broadway cast.”  Picky, picky. I found the OBC for him and replaced the ersatz version. Now we’re moving on with old favorites like South Pacific, Fanny, and Company.

My next AC target is Zoom. Seniors love Zoom video calls. But they find Zoom hard to use (albeit light years ahead of Google Hangouts or Skype). They have to keep track of the meeting access link, which typically arrives in their email, and hence moves around as more emails come in. And they find the meeting controls cryptic and confusing.

Zoom has an API that allows programmatic access to its capabilities.  I wrote a Zoom launcher app for Windows (Figure 1, below). Instead of having to search emails for a cryptic URL link, the user launches a desktop app that and sees pictures of the people he’ll talk to. The Zoom meeting room for my siblings and me is on the left. The one on the right belongs to the family of his sister, my Aunt Saretta.  In accordance with the First Principle of AC, the Assistor sets these up, using a separate screen (not shown).

Figure 1

Assisted Computing Zoom Launcher Screen

Senior users don’t need or want most of Zoom’s meeting controls. They find Speaker View confusing (“Wait a minute, where did Jenny go?”), so I automatically start the meeting in Gallery (“Brady Bunch”) View. They don’t care about the chat window, or the recorder, or muting the audio or stopping the video – they just want to talk with their grandkids. The only control they really NEED– the irreducible essence, as per the second law of AC – is the red Leave button. And when they need it, they shouldn’t have to hunt around for it. So the meeting screen should look something like Figure  2 below: full screen at all times, gallery view at all times, Leave button shown at all times, and never anything else.

Figure 2: AC Zoom Meeting Screen

Full Screen Gallery View With Leave Button Visible, and Never Anything Else

( I think we were celebrating National Dorky Hat Day on this call.)

But wait! I hear you say. What if the user wants to mute to take a cell phone call, or stop the video to take the spinach out of their teeth? Anyone wanting those features can use the regular Zoom app. Simplicity, and hence usability, matters more.

I was able to programmatically control the Zoom window mostly as I wanted. But I still had trouble with a few pieces. If anyone knows of a Zoom API guru who could guide me through that, I’d appreciate if you could refer them to me.

If you’d like to hear more about AC, or just see me live and in concert for the sheer pain of it, I’m doing a Zoom presentation for my good friends in Greece, the Thessaloniki .NET and UX meetups. It’s happening on Thursday July 16, starting at 1930 Greek time (1230 US Eastern time), and will be given in English. Information and registration is online at  .

And I’m already gearing up for my fall class at Harvard University Extension School, CSCI E-34 User Experience Engineering, starting Monday August 31. Live lectures happen 1920 – 2120 US Eastern time, and they’ll be recorded for on-demand viewing if that time’s not convenient. I’ve got a lot of great new stuff lined up – a class on Assisted Computing, another on Repairing the World, interesting guest speakers. Information is at , and registration starts July 20.  Be there! Aloha!

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  1. My wife is in rehab due to complications from heart ablation surgery. Due to Covid, the rehab facility does not allow visitors. I gave up on Zoom chats with her as although I can get it to work, I can find no way to make it work for her when I’m not present. Please let us know if you create an app for Android in the near fugure.


    1. Mark, I’ll definitely put that in the hopper for projects to work on. FWIW, here’s one thought, just in case you haven’t tried it. My father is locked up in his assisted living with no visitors, also for Covid, and we keep him company with Zoom calls. The activities staff in the living center would start the call for him on his iPhone, and then later his Macbook. After a while, he became able to do his own. But he had a lot of help for some weeks. Is there anything like that available to your wife in the rehab center? It doesn’t take a full tech support person or an RN. Any self-respecting teenager ought to be able to do it. I wish your wife a speedy recovery, and a speedy reunion to both of you.


      1. Thank you, Dave. I’ll ask the nurses’ station and my wife about it. We should be able to Zoom on our Android phones if she can get some help with it I would think.
        Good luck with your dad.


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