Powers Unfiltered

An entrepreneur’s journey into grid computing and partnering with Microsoft, by John Powers

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Asking for Help

June 5th, 2006 · 6 Comments

I have a better-than-usual relationship with my current laptop — a Dell Lattitude D610.  It’s my one work machine — at the office, at home, on planes, at conferences, etc.  It’s a year-old, right-down-the-middle combination of fast-enough and light-enough and nice-enough-screen to be a good place to put my work life.  It’s been very reliable (ok, I guess that proves I’m not superstitious), and on top of all that it has had very, very good battery life.

But one way it likes to achieve that very, very good battery life is to dim the screen instantly whenever it is unplugged from AC power.  This is fine in the office — if I care, I can just move my power cord — but sometimes annoying on planes, and often annoying at home.  Today, for example, I took it outside while I was half-watching my kids play in the pool — and of course, it’s too dim to see very well, even in the shade, on a bright sunny day. 

On at least four or five occassions in the past, I have looked in the control panel for power management, and the control panel for display, and deep inside device manager, and all over the place without finding a way to control screen brightness.  So today I finally asked for help.  I Googled a few combinations of D610, power, dim, brightness, battery, etc., and in a minute or two found an answer on a Dell forum:  power all the way down, restart, go to the bios, jump through a bunch of hoops, and voila.  “Stupid that you have to do all that,” thought I, “but I suppose . . .” 

As I was contemplating the number of programs I had open, weighing all the work I’d have to save before shutting down, and the stupidity of having to go through this nonsense just to control screen brightness, I chanced to see the NEXT entry in the same forum:

Alternatively, you can also change the brightness while the system is up and running by pressing the Fn and up or down arrow.  This will change the brightness on both AC and battery power, depending on what the system is running on at the time you adjust it.

And sure enough, there on my up and down arrow keys are little blue icons that look for all the world like “brightness up” and “brightness down” symbols, right where they’ve been for a year.  So not only does it pay to ask for help, it pays to listen to more than one answer. 

I have been thinking about what this means about how we as designers of products hit the right balance of usability, documentation, feature set, and so on — not to mention how we as users of products decide where to spend our efforts on improving our own experiences with a product (or not). 

But mostly, I’m glad it’s easy to ask for help, I’m glad there are folks out there willing to provide help, and I should quit being so bullheaded and take advantage of the resources available. 

And — look for more outdoor posting ahead.

Tags: Usability

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Travis // Jul 3, 2006 at 6:31 pm

    Thanks for the posting, I have been looking for this exact same thing, and now that I’ve read this, it’s just so darn simple! Another tip that I just found out because of this is to check out the other Dell QuickSet options by double clicking the little QS (blue Q, yellow S) icon in your system tray. That has the brightness settings in it as well.

  • 2 Santosh // Jul 5, 2006 at 6:09 pm

    Thanks for the posting. I was looking for how much time my battery will last in one charge and stumbled onto your post.
    This is exactly the issue we were talking about an hour before. This is so easy !!! Incidently I also work in the product support field with lot of engineering.

  • 3 Paul Ford // Sep 12, 2006 at 7:17 am

    Thanks from me too. I was just sitting in the garden squinting at the screen, unable to find the brightness settings. And yet, they are quite clearly marked on the keyoard!

  • 4 Peter the Fist // Dec 8, 2006 at 3:00 am

    Hey – this is the reason why I love google. And now that you mention it, it really is so darn obvious.

  • 5 dan // Mar 26, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    Thank you so much for posting this. I, too, googled the screen brightness issue as I just bought a d610 used and couldn’t get any love in the computer’s help files. Here you are and my issue is solved so easily!

  • 6 Eric // Jul 10, 2008 at 3:47 am

    This has been a nuisance to me for years. I can’t believe how easy this was to adjust. Thank you so much for the posting!

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