Monday, February 28, 2005

CiteULike: A free online service to organize your academic papers
I quite like this. A shared web resource that grabs the bibliographic data off a site and allows you to store them on the web and share them with others - ideal for group working and collaboration. But whilst it produces Endnote and BiBTeX format output, it duplicates much of Endnote's functionality. And unless it will import my current Endnote reference library (1839 references and growing fast) it can't be my main repository. However, it will probably get used when I am trawling round adding new refs, as it makes it much easier than cutting and pasting the information in by hand.

It's different to Furl (which we wrote about a while ago) which archives sites in one place and allows you to browse them at your leisure. And whilst Furl sounds great, and I can think of examples when I could usefully use it (e.g. when looking up stuff on some weird topic that I won;t look up again for ages, if ever - which wireless router to buy, for example), I've not used it since I wrote about it. I have a folder marked 'Fragments' in my Favourites, and clear it out occasionally, which seems to do the trick.....

Solutions to net security fears
With the ever-increasing risk of attacks and phising scams, it was with some incredulity that I saw, when I logged on to my e-banking with a major bank (no names, no pack drill, but think of black horses and you get the idea) and they asked me to enter my password so that they could communicate with me via email. Now, one of the reasons I've not been scammed online (as far as I know) is because I know my bank won't email me to ask me to verify my address or something - and yet here they are wanting me to sign up for just such a service. Fine if it had encryption so that only I could receive it - but this for open email communication. Not my idea of a sensible approach. If it's important, they'll ring me - or send the boys round - but at least they won't get all my details off the net.

Mobiles 'part of social fabric'
The BBC reports the not unspprising fact that mobile phones are a critical part of our everyday lives. They also had a recent report that suggested that the only contacts book that people had was in their phones, and that if they lost their phones then they would lose their friends too.

I think that the key issue with phone numbers is that there are one or two you know really well - your parents, your partner - and you can enter that as quickly as navigate a menu of names, so you do. But for your friends, you never know their numbers - we don't access people via numbers any more, thankfully; we look them up by name and dial them. This means having cool numbers is now no longer necessary, or even useful, and number portability isnot so vital for people.

Microsoft IM release almost here - silicon.com
Microsoft are starting to talk about their new version of IM (so the rumours have it) which uses information from personal info managers such as Outlook to decide whether to route things to your mobile or to your desktop. It also incorporates notions of 'presence', I presume better than the explicit instructions you have to give IM (which are, nevertheless, useful) - a little like Nokia on some of their phones. Context is making its way into the user sphere at last - though I have my doubts about some of this, since fail-soft systems are needed where mistakes are not important. I can see horrible synchronisation problems and missed messages and so on in the current scenarios.

BPS Research Digest

The British Psychology Society release a monthly 'research digest' which often contains items relevant (or which can be made relevant) to human-computer interaction. Several postings on this blog have been inspired by entries in this digest. Now you can get straight to the source through this BPS research digest blog - but remember to come back here for comment and interpretation from the HCI perspective :)

Friday, February 25, 2005

Orange vs orange - the juicy details
Think of an orange brand. (No, not the University of Birmingham - or at least, Buzz - though we did use the consultants who did.....)

yes, Orange. Mobile phone operator, were Hutchinson, then independent, then Fench, then independent.

Think of another. Easy. No, really, Easy...

Easy[Jet/Car/Everything] is also branded in orange livery. And they are now thinking of hitting the mobile marketplace as a network provider. Could be interesting, as the silicon.com article above points out. Logos are like the ones below - and the colours really are that close.

Brand wars are here to stay.


Pick a number - mobile gaming heats up - silicon.com
Juniper Research reports that gambling via mobiles with increase tenfold over the next four years. Lotteries are expected to lead the way, because of the slightly disturbing notion that they are more acceptable to gevernment (does anyone else smell corruption?) than other forms. Europe and Asia-Pacific are expected to lead the charge, with tighter laws in China and the US restricting their participation - but where there is big money there is big potential for law changes.

New anti-terror laws
A big issue for the UK public. The Government have rushed through anti-terror laws in an attempt to control potential terror suspects, and there are so many problems... Making law based on cases or situations is not a good idea - it is too specific and has all sorts of unintended consequences. Giving powers to elected politicians to restrain the freedoms of individuals is, fundamentally, wrong, and the separation between political and legal arenas that the UK has followed for a long while is worth retaining. The government has even got into hot water for abolishing the role of the lord Chancellor, devastating years of tradition, but it did this in a effort to separate the judicary from the political arenas. Northern Ireland terrorism never sparked such enthusiasm for giving politicians so much power.

I have little problem with allowing more evidence in courts - phone taps are a key example, but there are lots of others - and I have little problem with having an alternaltive form of court; secure, private, protecting any intelligence sources necessary - but at least a system separate from the mysterious world of politics.

Why is this relevant in an HCI blog? Well, partly cos it's my HCI blog, but also because the government keeps hiding behind technology - tracking, identify cards, and so on. Technology rarely provides a perfect solution to all problems, and certainly not to issues such as this. And if (when) it goes wrong, technology is an easy scapegoat, rather than the politician. Not the role we want technology to play in our society, I think.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Project Philosophy, Usability and To-Do's
Micah Alpern's perspective on his rather cool blog search tool - searching not only your own blog, but the blog of those you read. And he works for ebay, too, so we may see those garish colours disappearing :-)

Unwanted context awareness

Google have come under criticism (see The Times Online) recently for their AutoLink system, which automatically inserts relevant links into the web page you're looking at, so that addresses become hotlinked to maps, ISBN numbers to Amazon product listings etc. Sounds like a good idea to me! But the objection is that it is Google who determine what links should be used, so they choose the map provider, they choose Amazon over Blackwells etc. Context aware applications can provide us with much needed help and support right where we need it most: just under our mouse pointers, but ultimately we as users need to be the ones in control of what help is provided, otherwise we're just signing up a new form of advertising.

Gizmodo : Paris Hilton's Sidekick II Hacked: What About Yours?
The dangers of entrusting your personal information to remote servers are illustrated well in Gizmodo's report on Paris Hilton revealing all (how unusual) by having her personal data hacked off a T-Mobile site that stores it for you. Now, call me a confirmed cynic, but since she is hardly publicity-shy, one does have to be just a little suspicious of the claims.

I'm waiting for her comments on the story - the last time her Blackberry was hacked, a source said
“It became obvious to her what was going on,” says the source. “She was pretty upset about it. It’s one thing to have people looking at your sex tapes, but having people reading your personal e-mails is a real invasion of privacy.”

Global blogger action day called
The BBC is reporting that concerted blogging action to highlight the plight of two Iranian bloggers is needed. It is certainly true that blogging can get you into trouble - an air hostess lost her jobas the result of her blog too.

Freedom of speech and expression are at stake. The monopoly of the media giants and the politicians over the public media are at stake. Or maybe it's all a storm in a tea-cup?

Trouble with broadband

I've had ADSL broadband for over a year now, and barring a few brief moments of down-time it's been reliable and trouble-free. Last month we decided to go digital with our TV as well, and installed a Sky box. Now, Sky require that this box is connected to a telephone line at all times, so that they can collect billing information etc from the box itself. It was easy enough to run an extension lead from the telephone socket to the Sky box, but ever since then our broadband connection has become extremely unreliable. BT (my BB provider) tell me that their tests indicate there is interference on the incoming signal, which could be due to the recently installed extension cable. Their recommended solution is to use Cat 5 cabling for the extension, which is shielded, unlike plain old telephone cable. Fair enough, for someone like me: telling me to fit Cat 5 cabling means I start looking around for some and then get a cable made up, but it's not so easy for a less techy user. Cat 5 cable is easy to buy, but not with telephone connectors on the end. My second thought is that ADSL broadband, whilst being quite a remarkable technology when you think about what it does, is still quite fragile, and is subject to the random interference that affects our relatively old-fashioned telephone systems. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so having high quality cabling in the street is not much good when the wiring in the house is actually incapable of supporting high speed digital data. Apparently my cheap ADSL filters could be contributing to my problems, but how was I to know that there are different grades of filter? I just fitted what came with my router! I'm just wondering how far the broadband revolution will go before we need some of genuine revolution of our aging telephone network. Might WiMax be the answer?

Monday, February 14, 2005

What to see at 3GSM mobile show
At last, the phone manufacturers have started to understand that people are not interested in the technologies but in what they can do with them, and so are thinking about integrating wi-fi and 3G services. An incidentally, if you are thinking of getting a 3G phone, don't ask anyone in the shop for information as they don't know anything, which is weird given how much the licences cost. There's clearly not such a great push - or maybe they are just treating it as another technology and I shouldn't be worried about the details (minor things, like coverage :-)).

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Gumption: Serendipity: A Wireless, Proximity-Based Dating Service
Looks very similar to the bluedating service we have developed here - and gone further with, too - and no need for a central server in our implementation either, which Serendipity seems to need.....

BBC - Radio 4 - Friday
From Arial to Wide Latin (11:00, Radio 4) is likely to be an entertaining look at the influence of typography on our lives, and how font choices send messages about what we are saying as well as the words do.

A key issue for designers and web designers, it is of general interest to HCI people because of the social impact that information presentation can have. Worth a listen, I reckon, if you're near a radio or an internet connection for half an hour tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Upgrade Conspiracy

I'm fairly certain that Microsoft aren't in cahoots with Apple over this one, but all the same I feel like I'm being ganged up on to force me to upgrade. I have a perfectly serviceable iMac at home, which has served me quite happily running MacOS 9 for the last 3 years. Why would I pay to upgrade to OS X? there has been no reason until now. I have suddenly found that Hotmail (which gets regular use in our household) no longer works properly with IE on the Mac, and there are no newer versions available for MacOS 9. Hotmail is not adhering to good practice of web page compatibility, and is instead relying on some tricks that only newer browsers can do. Fine, offer those fancy drop down menus, but I'd like a plain old version that works on my Mac please.

Hungry - out of feeds
I decided to update my copy of Desktop Sidebar a few days ago - I wanted one of the new panels in there, and my older version didn't support it. For those that don't know, Sidebar collates information from a variety of internet and desktop resources (weather, photos, IM contacts, and so on) and displays them in a compact strip down the edge of the screen.

I ran the uninstaller, which failed, telling me it needed a fine in my Temp directory - well, when I was running out of space I deleted all the stuff in my Temp directory. So I deleted the programs manually, and downloaded the new version. But when installing it, it couldn't find that same Temp file either, and then told me I had to hand edit the registry. But that's disabled by our sys admins.....

Why is everything so complex? Who on earth stores critical files in a Temp directory?

And on that note, why does Microsoft insist that Messenger is installed on the C: drive? You can't put it anywhere else. Usability, anyone?

But back to the thrust of this rant :-) I now no longer have a working version of Sidebar, and so nowhere for my RSS feeds to appear, impining on my consciousness. I don't really want to invest the time in going out to the sites themselves - the feeds were a kind of temptation, easily ignored if I was busy or they didn't seem interesting, but fantastic for alterting me to opportune news and so on. Without them, I have a much poorer internet existence.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Accessibility for all

I logged on to Birmingham University's e-journals directory this morning to find a big bold link to 'ADA compliant version'. Being a bit overdue with a trip to the opticians for some new lenses (and having had maybe just one too many single malts last night), I decided that perhaps something in large print and with a simpler layout than the default navigation page for this site would be easier on my eyes, and I was right. The ADA version gave me a quick A-Z navigation page and a nice big box that said "Journal title". Just what I needed. I don't think I'll be using the standard version again until I really need all the fancy options it gives me, and I don't think that will be any time soon. Accessibility for all is a good thing.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Hack your car: BBC NEWS | Technology | Clever cars taking to the road

Who'd have thought it? Cars might be all about software rather than hardware. This latest idea is to fit every car with a standard engine, with the performance then being determined by what grade of software you have installed. Higher performance software comes at a higher cost. No mention here of the fact that this kind of thing has been going on for years, with people replacing the chips that hold the engine management system's look-up tables for speed, engine timing, fuel consumption etc, with sportier options that forsake efficiency for pulling power. These chips are generally not manufacturer standard and I'm fairly sure that if a car is released that can be upgraded through software then it won't be the manufacturer's upgrades that get installed.

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