Michael Patkin's

Ergonomist's touch of class

Publication history, Reflections & comments



Surgery & ergonomics


Information design

Editorials, book reviews




THERE is this splendid man living in Whyalla, South Australia, called Michael Patkin. He knows more about ergonomics than any person I have ever met and writes and speaks on the subject in an entertaining fashion.

He works from "Ergon House" in Whyalla, which shows his dedication to the subject.

We keep in touch by correspondence and telephone calls. He tells me the latest in ergonomics, which is the science of designing machines so that they are easy to use. I tell him what is happening in the computer world.

Michael Patkin does not accept loosely-worded claims. When I wrote that I typed "one-and-a-half times faster on a Micro Writer", he sent me a sharp note: "I think it is going,to be important to validate any future claims."

Two weeks ago, I wrote that I thought the keys on the Dulmont Magnum portable computer :a little stiff for my tastes. Which brought another message from Whyalla.
"The key stiffness on the Dulmont Magnum: Enclosed is the Patkin Patent Key Stiffness Measurer."

Inside the envelope was this wonderous device made from a ballpoint pen, some Sellotape and a collection of 20 cent pieces.

Driven by curiosity, I telephoned him to ask him how it worked. He told me that the full details will be revealed in an article in Computerworld in a special supplement in August. But the basics are as follows:

1. A 20c piece weighs 11.3178.
2. Half a dozen of these taped to an old ballpoint pen give a weight of about 70g. If this is suspended by a length of tape over a computer key it provides a go/no-go gauge for judging the stiffness of keys at this level. If the key depresses then the weight required is 708 or less. If the key does not depress then it requires more than 70g.
3. You can make other gauges for 90g, 100g and so on.
4. The ideal force is between 508 and long. The Micro Writer is 258 at the further edge of the key, 358 at the nearer edge.
5. It is legal to use coins in this way because they are not being permanently defaced.
6.. If a coin has lost weight due to passing through a poker machine in NSW, the milling around the edge will show it.
7. This is the cheapest meter on the market.
8. When you have finished, you can get your money back.

That is what the man told me, and he is right.
Using the Patkin Push Perceptor in various weights I found that my Apple keyboard comes in at 70g, the Hitachi MB1600 comes in at 55g and the Dulmont Magnum needs 126g.

I am enraptured with the elegance and simplicity of this device.

No more shall I say, "I found the keys rather light to the touch." Instead you will read the scientific judgment that: "On the Patkin Patent Push Perceptor the reading was 55g." Much more convincing.




Patkin's ergonomic masterpiece . . .

This piece was written by Gareth Powell, at that time the flamboyant editor of the Computers section of the Australian each Tuesday.

He had redently moved from Hong Kong, had his Rolls Royce unloaded from the ship in style, and ordered Chinese restaurant food in fluent Cantonese.

For various reasons the happy relationship I had with him didn't last, and he also moved on to other publishing ventures in the computing industry. However I still treasure his comments at the time.

June 9 1984