Mystery Mode

Every now and then my kids get hyper with the TV remote control and inadvertently bump a button(s) to put the TV in some weird mode. Sometimes it takes hours of experimentation to find and undo the MysteryMode. (see also http://www.artlebedev.com/everything/pultius/ )

My first encounter with MicrosoftWord gave me the same thing. It went into Outline Mode after a bad keystroke, and I had no idea what had happened, for I never used nor needed Outline Mode. I had to call for help and felt like a dumbshit.

People's fear of technology is often influenced by fear of accidently getting into Mystery Mode.

I don't know of any easy solution. One potential solution is standard "reset" icon, but resetting all the settings back to factory defaults may make the problem even worse if it depends on custom settings to work in specific situations.

Perhaps a distinctive ModeIndicator? is needed - not some dinky little icon thing in the status bar, but a big label that says "FOO MODE [Disable?]" in the corner of the window. Of course this would work a lot better on Microsoft Word than a television.


"Calling for help and feeling like a dumbshit" is exactly what should happen to a user who fails to RtFm. When it's our product, we don't hesitate to make bad jokes about users who don't read the manual and can't find the Help button. Your discomfort is their revenge.

Word has four presentation modes - each useful in its own way (maybe not the Web Page mode: who in their right mind would use Word as a web page editor?). Which modes should have a big idiot button in the corner to "disable" the mode? What mode should take over? Different users have different preferences. Most prefer the 100% WYSIWYG print image mode, I prefer the "Normal" mode, and I know one guy who always works in outline mode until final touch-up. Word remembers how you left the mode the last time you used it and starts up with it next time. Does it really need another Preferences setting to tell it what to do when I click on the "Disable Foo Mode" idiot button?

When it's not a bug, Mystery Mode is a conventional mode described in the book that you didn't read and so don't know how you got there and don't know how to change it. There is an obvious fix. -- mt

There ain't no flippin' manual to flip through for MicrosoftWord. Its built-in web-pagish help and Mr. Clippy are worthless unless you know how to ask the appropriate questions, i.e., you already know the vocabulary, know the modes. You wanna manual? You have to shell out $45 for "Word Super Bible in 7 Seconds", and who's going to do that when 99% of Word customers only see it as a threateningly glorified typewriter? "Styles"? Did someone say "styles"? -- ElizabethWiethoff

Finding the solution in the manual would probably require a SequentialSearch?. When I read manuals I generally skip features I am not going to be using any time soon because if I try to learn every feature I will be overloaded with info. Further, it was DOS-Word, so it was not obvious it was in "outline mode". -- BlackHat


I live in MysteryMode. I'm not surprised by it any more. I'm surprised when things make sense for a moment or two. That seductive IllusionOfControl, that lulling FalseSenseOfSecurity? ... that's what really gets me in trouble. --PeterMerel


Occasionally, something can be made so simple that it's literally not smart enough to make a particular mistake. (Is there a famous quote that sounds something like this? Or am I mis-remembering the TwoWaysToDesign C.A.R. Hoare quote?)

If a compiler doesn't bother doing any optimizations, then it won't make any optimization-related mistakes.

If a British police officer carries only a baton and tear gas, he can't shoot himself in the foot with it.

If a something has no memory at all (such as a radio or a toaster or a light bulb), it's impossible for it to get wedged into the "wrong" state. Actually, toasters have a couple kinds of memory. They remember crumbs from previous slices of bread, and they remember how long they are supposed to toast or how hot they are supposed to get. These memories let them literally get wedged in the wrong state.

If a system is ModeLess, it's impossible to get stuck in MysteryMode.

You might be thinking of JefRaskin, discussing TheHumaneInterface.

I find a television MysteryMode orders of magnitude more complex and time-consuming than any MysteryMode Microsoft has produced. Complex remotes are a horrible UI design.

I actually owned a TV with a modal remote once - there were so many functions that each button had to serve three purposes. A slide switch at the side of the buttons changed between the three modes; the function labels were printed on two plastic things (attached to the top of the control with a hinge) that flipped down and fitted over the buttons, like one of those things you can put around the F-keys on a keyboard. Of course, the plastic label things weren't connected to the switch mechanism, so it was possible to get the modes mixed up if you weren't looking carefully. Horrible, horrible thing. -- EarleMartin

you of course get additional 'fun' if your MysteryMode happens to be an UnreachableState? in the hardware (and there is slopy hardware design that doesnt return you to a reachable state with out reset/power cycling etc.)

This is why I like formal design methods so much, particularly AbstractStateMachines and, to a lesser extent, DesignByContract techniques. Mode transitions just leap out at you; most of your function definitions have guard predicates, and it's pretty easy to see which boolean values are missing tests for both true and false states, which ranged variables are missing subranges, etc. It actually makes writing accidentally buggy code hard to do, particularly once you get a system down.
See Also: DeltaConfigurationList
AprilZeroSix

CategoryUserInterface

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