Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Pervasive technology goes too far?
Is there no limit to the usefulness of pervasive technology? Well, judge for yourself. Technology for biometric monitoring is coupled to location-aware systems and telecomms to provide you with a real feeling of being right there.....

Planet HCI
Now this throws up an interesting dilemma. This website is an aggregator of HCI blogs, and so provides a useful service for people who want a one-stop-shop for an RSS feed, and until half way down the page I was all in favour, and pleased that the HCI commentary was featured.

But then I saw the 'make a donation' button. Now, I don't really understand why someone who is not creating content and not disseminating it in any meaningfully different way should make money our of my writing and blogging. But do I want to stay in this, or not?

And if people subscribe to this feed, then I'll not get notified, so althoguh I may still have the same audience, it'll appear that they've all disappeared. And all this without the owners of planet HCI even emailing me.....

Learning from logo's
The recent rebranding exercise has created a stir within the University, both with students and with staff having a mass debate about all the issues, with some good points (pro and con) hidden amongst the mass of other stuff. I need to check some facts, but I think the best story is still to emerge, relating to foreign understandings of the UB moniker.....

Monday, May 23, 2005

Reasons why I love my Mac Mini less

Been playing with my Mini over the weekend, got Tiger installed, done video editing etc. On the whole, it's a very, very nice machine and OS. it's fast, it's responsive, and it's easy to learn. but as I discovered, this chain of usability is only as strong as its weakest link. when one thing breaks, the whole thing seems like a pain, usually because I'm focused on the specific task that has thrown up the problem. I came across a couple of problems that I really didn't expect from an Apple machine, and they highlight the fact that usability is still a delicate ideal.

Firstly, I spent over an hour trying to get 'direct trimming' working in iMovie. with direct trimming, you can shorten clips without actually chopping bits off them - you're just adjusting the in and out markers. should be easy. move pointer to end of clip, pointer changes, click & drag. but the pointer never changed. took me an hour to find a posting on the Apple site (from a user, not Apple) telling me that I needed to disable 2 options for the display of audio waveforms otherwise direct trimming was not available. why??? this is a terrible example of modeful rather than modeless behaviour - I was unaware of what 'mode' the system was in and that there was a contingency between these functions. it might forgive them if they would just put this in the manual, help screen, or have an official help doc that google could find.

On Sunday I discovered that Tiger was unable to support my CD/DVD writer. this is crazy, because it's a built in Apple drive. again, a long search (2 hours) on Google told me that I needed to repair my disk permissions and restart. this seemed to do the trick, but this really did take expert level user behaviour. I'm disappointed that Apple's very latest OS actually broke support for a built-in drive, and that despite this being a widespread problem, there's no official posting about it.

but to finish on a positive, it's all working now, and it does pretty much everything I need. note to anyone considering a Mini - make sure you get the 80GB hard drive, otherwise you'll find yourself running out of space very quickly. 30GB was gone on mine by Saturday, and that's just basic installs...

Vodafone Launches Back-To-Basics Mobile :
A real sign that companies are paying attention to the fact that many people, in particular the older generation, are fed up with having to keep up with the latest trends in technology, ever increasing options, smaller buttons etc... Vodafone have launched 2 new handsets that offer enhanced usability through providing only a bare minimum of functions (just voice & text) and giving direct access to each. Look at these features:

- Buttons dedicated to a single task
- One button to get to all your messages - when it flashes, press it to retrieve the messages
- A home button to always take you back to the main screen
- A contacts button giving easy access to names and numbers
- A specific button to set the ringing volume
- A single switch to lock your phone to stop you making accidental calls
- Large, clear, high resolution colour screen showing, in plain English, signal strength, battery life, ring tone volume and, if the customer wishes, their phone number
- Large well spaced buttons to avoid misdialling or mistexting

These are all excellent features in terms of improving usability, and they highlight just how bewildering phones without these design features can be. I'd like my phone to be designed like this. There is no reason why a phone can't be this usable *and* still have all the fancy features I use occasionally.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

My new Mac Mini

Reasons why I love my new Mac Mini:

It came in a cute box with a carry handle.
It played Royksopp and said "Bienvenue".
It told me how to connect to my Windows laptop and then copied my photos across without a problem.
It connected instantly to my DV camcorder and imported video without a single config screen.
It did the same thing with my still camera.
It lets me and my wife stay logged in at the same time without needing to close down each other's apps
It was quite cheap (for the spec, and for a Mac).

So far, my only problem is figuring out why transitions aren't working quite right in iMovie, but I'll save my judgement on that one until I can exclude my own stupidity from the equation...

Update: not my stupidity, but rather a stupid setting in iMovie that had defaulted to 29.97fps (US standard) rather than 25fps (Euro/UK standard). this took me a while to figure out, and I'm surprised that I had to fix this. but it's all working seamlessly now.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Subverting online banking for advertising?

I paid for my trip on the M6 Toll road last week using my credit card, and it's come up in my transactions list as "M6 TOLL SWAP TO TAG"

I'm wondering if this them suggesting to me that I buy a tag instead of using my credit card next time, which would make this the first time I've had an advertisement subvert my online banking service.

If it isn't an advert, it could be. Maybe I should patent the idea :)

Monday, May 16, 2005

New weather forecasts

The BBC have replaced the traditional sun, rain, & fog icons with 3D graphics. Why? all I ever want to know about the weather is 'Will it rain tomorrow?'. the old icons gave this information a lot more clearly than the new graphics. they're trying to make the forecast more exciting, but that's not what it should be about. usability and simplicity are the key.

No error?

I guess it was the natural thing to happen. I sit down at my PC each day expecting something bad to happen at some point, and now my applications have started expecting the same thing too. here's a screengrab of EndNote complaining that no error has occurred!

What this peculiar error message should actually say is: "The network drive your libraries are on is not available, but I don't know why."

Friday, May 06, 2005

Update on stuff
About to stop blogging for a week - got a marriage to be at (mine).

What's been happening? Spent ages trying to get WDA working between my Draytek router and my Airport Extreme. Almost there (with beta firmware updates in both the router and airport) but no DHCP working when laptop roams to the airport. Not sure why (and cos it's all beta, so is the documentation, so it is either not working or I've set it up wrongly). Great signal downstairs now, though. Useless, but strong.

2MB connection from my ISP now - well done Plus.net. But now I notice how slow web servers are.....

Student projects suggest there could be an interesting summer ahead - some good ideas and students. Some colleagues moving on, reducing the research environment somewhat. Been starting to write some papers, but really clearing the decks of marking and admin and other stuff. Website coming along (the School's one) but still all back end stuff. But Photoshop has (nearly) turned up so can start being creative now too.....

Too much to do as ever, planning to take on less and less if I can. But potential advisorial role to regional development agency looks interesting and useful..... Flikr have got back to Sylvie and me, so that's a few shared sites we can start to get data off. So many research projects on the go now - need to get some funding in to pursue them all. Watch this space for updates.

PDA sales increase

Sales of PDAs are up, but not the fully-featured, handheld computers that many thought would be the popular 'office in your pocket' accessory. instead, what consumers are going for is the new breed of light-weight device, that does fewer things, and comes a lot cheaper than a full handheld computer. the other driving force seems to be connectivity - people don't want computers in their pocket, they just want to be able to access other information sources, such as email, web etc.

I think with wireless connectivity now offering speeds that can handle enough data for remote desktop and VNC connections, we'll start to see more of this thin client model. I'm increasingly using my laptop as a client for my desktop machine at work, via remote desktop, and you can connect using a PDA as well. at the moment the interface is a cludge though - I'm waiting for a nice pocket sized terminal that will give me a condensed version of what's on my desktop over a wireless link.

Election 2005
I only stayed up late enough to see the first result come in, but I still got to see the full range of different representations that the BBC was using to convey election information. My favourite was the 'virtual battleground', showing vulnerable seats as being closer to enemy borders, ie a Labour seat in danger of being taken by the Tories was very close to the line between the reds and the blues. it was nice - a lot of complex information conveyed in one simple representation. what really helped was then mapping that representation on to the Swingometer, which I have to say has never really made sense to me. maybe John Snow just explains it too quickly.

there was also a brief look at some party leader avatars shuffling their way towards a 3D rendered Downing Street. it looked a bit creepy, but nevertheless it's a good representation, and a lot more entertaining than 3 digits in the corner of the screen. I'm sorry I missed the later races.

in the end though, Labour won, and I guess that's all we need to know. but being able to watch the process is sometimes just as important as being able to see the end result.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Keyboards, keyboards
Love my bluetooth Mac keyboard. Can grab it off the ddesk and move back ,and type regardless. Keystroke action i great soft enough and yet responsibe enough to be tactile. And yet, as you can see from this, there ius something about how the yueys press togewther and their sdpacing that means I make many more typos than I did on my PC jeybosard. I;e not corrected tis entry at all and the error rate is huge!

Informal Learning
Had a meeting today of the project I'm involved in: Mobile learning in informal science settings - and much of the discussion was management of the project, which I'll not bore you with - but we had an interesting debate on what "informal" and "mobile" meant. Informal was both in terms of initiation - outside of a teacher asking for something, basically, and also in terms of process - how the information to address an issue was gathered - which is an interesting distinction. Mobile meant both data gathering - using mbility to do distributed experiments on pollution, for example, and in terms of users who may want information when out and about - and also in terms of mobile users who happened upon static technology, like kiosks. Some interesting issues, for sure.

Kaleidoscope and blogging
As you can see from the above, I've been talknig about blogging and education as part of the HCI Educators workshop and relating it to the design patterns work on learning environments. Fundamentally, the ideas are: can we determine how people use learing technologies (including the internet) to learn stuff? If so, what approaches work for what stuff? Can we abstract the processes and design environments effectively to support this? I'm working from the free-form, internet-based end - others are working on it from the learning environment end.

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