Tuesday, November 23, 2004

A View to a Kill - JFK Reloaded is just plain creepy.
This one's all over the news today - a new game that let's you play at assassinating Kennedy. It might sound a bit sick, but the makers have a good point when they remark that this historical event has been depicted in every medium except video games, until now. Why is it that we're happy to watch films, documentaries, news reports, and even fictional shows (Quantum Leap, if anyone's interested) that explore this event, but putting it into a game makes it so much more distasteful? The object of the game is not to kill the president in as brutal a way as possible, it's to explore whether you can do it the way they said it happened. It's a simulation, an exploration of history, and apparently a damn good one at that. But obviously, with the likes of Vice City, Manhunt etc currently getting bad press for the games industry, people are happy to write this one off as an exercise in bad taste. I'd like to think (or at least hope) that it's closer to the educational experience that the designers claim it to be.

Monday, November 22, 2004

OZCHI at Wollongong
It's currently lunchtime at Ozchi - some quick impressions..... About 150 people, mainly Asia-Pacific, some key people (Jenny Preece, Gerhard Fischer) from the US. Conference theme is focussed on communities, with many of the talks so far on covering aspects of this theme. Biggest point so far is that communities and social interaction is much harder than 'conventional' HCI cos we're using techniology to mediate and support human-human interactions, with unknown participants, which is tougher than designing an interface for a set of users.

Friendly, and helpful. Even managed to write my first talk during a slack part this morning, so ahead of myself!

Friday, November 19, 2004

BBC NEWS | Business | Bill Gates 'most spammed person'

This one just amused me. Poor Bill gets 4 million emails a day, and needs an entire department to filter them for him. But look at the end result - the head of Microsoft deals with only 10 emails a day? Seems like his anti-spam filters might be just too efficient!

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Camera phones threat to privacy
The BBC reports on something we've been talking about for ages - the threat to privacy from camera phones. Nothing much new in this, except for an interesting snippet that Samsung (the manufacturers of, amongst other things, camera phones) have banned them from their premises for fear of commercial secrets leaking out. I find that mildly amusing.

Three Reflections on how to Design Well


Kees Dorst's book ("Understanding Design | 150 Reflections on Being a Designer") has many lessons that can help HCI designers. UsabilityNews comments on 3 of them.

The user plan - as well as designing an artifact you are designing how someone uses it - so make it explicit.

The story - sometimes known as design rationale, and the reason I ask all my project students to keep a diary of their decisions and agonisings, so that they can reconstruct this afterwards to allow them to defend their designs.

Problems and solutions as twins - essentially, interpreting the issues can be done in many ways - and the solution will vary. But the soluton has to meet the needs of the users, so it may be necessary to reinterpret the problem in a differnt way to get a better solution.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Absent for a while

Peter will keep on blogging, but in the next few weeks I'll be away in sunny Australia, going to OZCHI and then on to ICCE'04, talking about impairment detection using paper and pencil (a very natural interface), supporting kids with cystic fibrosis with online ocmmunities, and architectures for e-learning (quite a variety of topics, I know). I hope it won't all be work.....

Mobile journalismBBC news tells of how mobile phones are being used to capture images of things as they happen - and invade people's privacy more and more of the time. Whether this is a good or a bad or an inevitable thing depends on your viewpoint. For example, in the UK tabloids ask people to send in images of celebs they have snapped, and in Beijing, mobile phone photos are formal evidence in the courts.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

the konfabulous konfabulator

This could be a real trend setter - interface widgets defined in XML that can hook into all manner of info sources - I've a clock, a weather feed, a news channel, a picture slideshow... it's a bit like Desktop Sidebar, except that all the components are separate.

if you know a little XML and JavaScript, you can define your own widgets in no time. And they're working on a graphical editor.

This is power to the user: the desktop interface becomes filled with really useful bits and pieces that do exactly what you want them do.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Morgan Stanley online security failure

This one's a real case of usability versus security. Morgan Stanley had to do a quick fix on their online credit card service when someone discovered that his log in details were being stored on his PC, so that he only had to enter the first digit of his card number and the rest (including his password) was automatically filled in for him. I think that using your browser store their passwords is a really bad idea, but in all fairness online banking services are supposed to over-ride this setting and not permit the details to be stored. Apparently no other online bank in the UK allows this (or at least no-one admitted it this morning).

The bigger issue here is people trying to make their lives easier by making use of automatic log ins. It doesn't matter how secure a site or service is if someone can steal your laptop and log into your accounts. It doesn't have to be a bank account to cause havoc - what about someone logging on to your Amazon account? So I think that users need to be careful with their passwords, just as service providers need to be careful with their security.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Yacht race sails onto mobiles

I have a strong personal interest in yacht racing; I race most weekends, for example - but it is also at the forefront of mobile communications, especially in extreme environments. The Vendee Globe can be followed on the web with satellite comms providing updates of the boats positions automatically and email and webcams streaming back reports and semi-live images. But now this is being packaged and targetted to mobile devices, giving users the ability to see how Nick Moloney is doing on his boat.

It's interesting, but I'm not sure why I would pay £1.50 a day or £3 per week for the next 3 months to see less good information than I can get for free on the website - the ability to see it when on the train isn't that much value, really.

I've worked in this space too - sometimes as a yacht skipper, but more with looking at how we can best present data to teams of people when racing a yacht. But around alone is a very different issue - 4 hours sleep in every 24 in periods of 20 minutes at a time, vast physical effort and mental stress, keeping on top of the weather and tactical situation. It's living life to the full, for sure.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Comment on computer usage
One of the themes of my work is that computers are much more powerful than we tend to give them credit for, and that mostly they sit around with system idle being the most active - we hardly ever use their full cpu power for much of the time - it's just that when we do want it, we want it all, now!

But this cartoon seems to sum up modern day computing...

Universties, blogs, and understanding the internet
James's weblog recounts a tale only a few steps removed from the Queen of the Sky issues - his University wants him to stop blogging and commenting on things, in this case because they don't like his (appratently misrepresented views) on their e-learning system.

I though Universities were the bastion of free speech, where people gave up fame and money and all that side of things, in order to pursue ideas and talk about them. Even my University is getting in on the act, moving towards a view that the internet is a catalogue shopping store, that we need to present only a coherent online presence, and that it isn't much good for anything else.

We all know differently - new models of communication are developing using new tools, and bloggers are leading the way in experimenting with this medium and media. Sure, some bad stuff is said, and certainly, some stuff should not be hosted on University sites - but this is cutting edge, and Uni's should at least be at the front of the revolution and exploration, not dragging their heels at the back.

I am sure that some harm and damage could be done to a University that allows all this to happen. But I am more sure that this will be far outweighed by the benefits that accrue in both the long and short terms. We must all be sensible, questioning, forthright, and exploratory. And we must have support.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Who's to blame for online freebies?

A chuckle on the way to work this morning: the Times (new compact edition) reports that Sainsburys have been giving away free (or at least very cheap) shopping by releasing e-vouchers that people could apply many times, even across multiple shopping sessions. An online swap-shop for these vouchers quickly sprang up online, and people were soon receiving lots of goods from Sainsbury's without paying for them. One chap reports that he received over £5000 worth of goods. Sainsburys spotted the error (in his case at least) but he argued that there was nothing in their terms & conditions to say the vouchers could not be used in this way.

So the question is, were these happy shoppers doing anything wrong by taking advantage of this loophole? In the eyes of the law, taking something you know is not rightfully yours (like an extra £50 that the bank accidentally puts in your bank account) is equivalent to theft. Is exploiting a loophole like this the same as theft? This isn't the first time shoppers have been happy to take advantage - both Argos and Amazon have made mistakes with online pricing, and had to deal with people snapping up products at ridiculous prices. This situation is only likely to get worse, as people become more savvy with the ways of online shopping. Even if you don't spot a loophole yourself there will always be a website telling you about it.

we make money not art: Not-So-White Walls: Interactive Wallpaper
This interactive large display was talked about at CHI this year, and was developed as part of an EU funded projec ton ubiquitous computing and ambient environments - or at least, something very similar was. It was used to convey presence, activity and other subtle effects in coffee rooms, meeting spaces and corridors, and whilst behind the scenes the technology wasn't pretty, it seemd to work quite well, with people liking having it around. It now seems to be going more commercial.....

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Covert phishing
Even with your wits about you, it might be impossible to avoid the phishers, especially when they employ such devious tricks as this one. A script embedded in an innocent looking email lies dormat until the next time you click your bookmark for your online bank, when it then re-directs you to a fraudulent site. I'm not sure what defence there could be against this - there's no point when you as the user are failing to notice an attack. What this really makes me think is that it is going to become absolutely essential that a website can identify itself as being the genuine article, and that users can be re-assured that what they see is what they want. There are 2 aspects to this. Firstly, we need better security certificate technologies in place so that websites can properly identify themselves, and secondly we need to know how best to represent this to users to gain their trust. But therein lies the problem: when we find out how to get users to trust legitimate sites, the fraudulent ones will start using the same techniques... if I had the answer to this I'm sure I'd be rich by now.

Mobiles double up as bus tickets
One of the first applications of Near Field Communication is to use your mobile as a bus ticket.

From an interaction point of view, using your mobile to pay for small items is very useful - we may soon hardly need pockets full of change - and collaboration with credit card companies means that we can also use them to pay for larger goods too. Having a different device from a credit card is not going to revolutionise shopping, but offering a new way to make small (and even micro) payments is potentially revolutionary. In particularl, now that there may be a cost-effective way to collect money for small services and products, a whole new area of commerce has opened up.



And what is NFC? It's basically a development of the rfid systems we're used to, thoguh these tend to be used only for tracking and security systems in shops at the moment. You wave a device near (a few cm) from a receiver, and, much like short-range bluetooth, information can be exchanged. All the main phone manufacturers and credit card companies are talking to each other about this, so stand by for change - or, perhaps, the end of it.

US blogger fired by her airline
The dangers of blogging - an employee in the US has been fired by her employer for writing a semi-fictional account on her blog.

This raises some very serious issues: ownership of images, freedom of speech, the line between fact and ficton - and all this is closer to home than we may think. The University is developing policy about blogs, and there is concern that freedom of speech will be curtailed by the University's obvious desire to protect its image. I don't think that there is sufficiently contentious material in this blog to cause problems, but I host this on a University site and so there is more scope for them to interfere, should they wish to. If it were my own site, that might be different - but the Queen of the Sky was not hosted by the airline, so who can tell? As a simple protest, I'll not fly Delta Airlines until this is satisfactorily explained. I'm pleased to see she's taking legal action against them.

Monday, November 01, 2004

The Times goes tabloid

People want usable things in everyday life. One reason I tend not to bother buying a newspaper for the train is that broadsheets are really hard to read when you're crammed into 0900 Virgin Sardine Tin (aka Voyager). But common sense has prevailed, and now The Times is going exclusively tabloid, after over 200 years of broadsheet publication. They've been trialling the format for a while now, and a sales jump of 4.5% has convinced them. It's simple - more people bought the newspaper because it's now easier to read.

Apologies from a machine

Computers can be given 'personalities' using a few basic cues that people will respond to. We have an innate tendency to regard other apparently complex entities as being 'human', and so we often interact with technology as if we are interacting with another person (how many times have you cursed your VCR, or thanked a ticket machine?)

A machine that passes itself off as an individual offers a different model of interaction. One of our student bloggers has remarked on a shift of perspective brought about by computers saying "I" rather than "it". At Birmingham New Street station, the automated announcement system can be heard to say "I am very sorry for the delay". Did they choose this option, I wonder, over "We are very sorry for the delay?" Note the difference: the first implies an apologetic individual, the second a faceless corporation. I don't know if they did any user preference testing with this system, but there was a choice there and somebody made it. Being fully aware that this is just a machine doing the announcements, the apologies mean absolutely nothing to me, but I wonder just how apologetic this voice sounds to less frequent travellers.

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