Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Encouraging elegent design from programmers

I've just created my first application for my Mac, using Apple's own bundled Xcode development suite. I have to say there's more of a learning curve to it than Visual Studio, but once I'd got my head around the way it works I got on OK. The idea is the same as Visual Studio - you draw an interface, and then link elements within that interface to code that does the work. This linking is far more involved in Xcode, but what really pleased me was the way the interface builder helps out with spacing of interface elements, to help you design a nicely laid out GUI. Now, if I could just get something that could advise me on how to write decent Java code...

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Nanny state
One of the things that really annoys me is the nanny state. I amy go into details at another time, but I appear to be too pissed to type correcxtly so I'll keep this brief.

Weirdness/nannyness number 1: on a bottle of Timotei shampoo that's in our bathroom (vanilla and something, for smooth hair, if you're interested) - "This is not a food product". Blimey, I'm now stuck for dinner.....

Weirdness number two: just seen on the BBC weather site: "The BBC production team work with the forecasters to make sure that the editorial line 'fits' with the BBC's output for the day". For the weather? Howdo you make the weather fit the editorial line? All is fine and dandy, make it sunny for goodness sake?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Blogging bombing
It's been not quite the usual week in the blogosphere, with close to home terrorism focussing the mind on issues outside HCI and blogging and a technical life - more emphasis on the central tenats of life, death, uncertainty and attitudes.

But the blogosphere has not been silent on the issue, and after the 2 minutes silence today, it seems appropriate to look at the way that people have adapted to the recent events. The BBC has run a decent story on how bloggers have responded to the terrorists. There is also a meta-story here, in that blogs have become the voice of the nation (for some at least), responding with more authority, more wit, and more hard-hitting than any politician can. Blogs are now used as news sources by major organisations, often being the first location of first-person reports on things, and updated as regularly as the Reuters or PA newswire - maybe without quite the same level of veracity, but often with more..... Consider the response on We're not which uses the power of the internet to provide an ever-increasing archive of photos of people passing on their individual message to the terrorists.

Our thoughts are with all those killed and injured, particularly in London, but also around the world, in such terrorist attacks. But our attitudes are also closely allied to those collated in Uncle Steve's journal - many humourous.....

I quote:

"The BBC paused news coverage to show *Eastenders*. That'd be the nationwide fear, terror and panic, then."

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Technology gets in the way of research

I've spent a good part of today trying to submit a research proposal using EPSRC's online submission system. It's a nice idea - it gives you small chunks of the form to fill in, calculates financial details like overheads etc, and then you end up with a nice polished form to submit in the end.

But it's far from perfect. The web site has a number of basic usability problems, like navigation problems, and nonsensical ways of adding new items. The biggest problem is that it doesn't tell you about problems with your submission until you specifically press the Validate button. so at 16:00 I found out that my account doesn't have the right priveleges to include my own name on the form, even though I'm the one submitting it. it could have told me that when I first added my name.

Other problems relate to a basic lack of flexibility - in trying to add referees to the form I found I could only add people registered on the EPSRC system. this precludes anyone outside the UK, and also I'm sure there are a good many people missing from the database.

In short, it's a nice try, and it's easier than submitting 8 copies of a printed form (which is what you used to do) but the inherent rigidity that's been designed into the system makes it hard to do what you want.

Lessons from the castle

Recently we’ve been running some trials of our context-aware guide at Nottingham Castle Museum Gallery, and I’ve just finished reviewing the video footage of people using the device. we learned a lot from actually running these trials in a field setting rather than a lab (eg: never trust peer-to-peer WLAN on an iPAQ) but one of the over-arching lessons was somewhat non-intuitive and unexpected. we worked hard to develop a system that had lots of options and would give users a lot of flexibility, then we trimmed it down to make it on a handheld device. then we trimmed it down some more to make our trials simpler. and we still found that people thought it was too complicated for them. it looks like most people see the potential for technology to give them enhanced experiences, but they want something that does things in a very simple way. the other thing we learned is that simple interfaces don’t mean simple code, and getting an intuitive interface to work involves a lot of head-scratching and non-intuitive code.

Who can you trust?

I'm happy today. A new router arrived this morning, and my broadband connection is working again. But what a saga it has been to get this sorted! And who can you trust to give you a straight answer?

First off, I don't trust BT 'Technical' support. They initially told me my broadband wasn't working because I had a firewall, and I had to turn it off so that my broadband would work again. I didn't even bother arguing with that, I just asked to speak to someone else (who told me the problem was my Sky box, even though it wasn't connected at the time).

Secondly, I don't trust Netgear, the people who made my router, because I had to spend half an hour on the phone to somewhere in India just to get them to give me permission to send my router back for a replacement, and when I sent it they denied having received it. Good job I had proof of delivery - I got them to fedEx me a new router by getting a guy in Southall to type my reference number into the Royal Mail web site.

And I don't trust the BT engineer who came to test my line. He said it was working fine, which it seems to be now with a new router, but he also said there was 'no way' my line would support 1Mbps. odd then that when I plugged in my new router this morning I find I have been upgraded to 1Mbps (as per BT's automatic upgrade programme), and it's working perfectly.

well we'll see if that continues. the lesson is: no-one really knows what they're talking about, especially the guy who told me to turn off my firewall.

Friday, July 08, 2005

A lament for broadband

My broadband connection has gone bung this week, after a month of unreliable connections. After several phonecalls to BT and engineer’s visit, I have been told that my modem is probably to blame, so it’s being replaced under warranty, but that’s going to take a while. in the meantime, it’s back to dial-up (gulp).

The first challenge was how to sign up for an internet connection, if you don’t have an internet connection. this is the only time I have ever found myself wishing I had received a free sign-up disc in the post. I was hoping there would some kind of wizard or trial package on my machine which would at least get me online long enough to find a dial-up ISP, but I couldn’t find one. so I resorted to physical means: I got in my car and drove to the UK’s Provider of Everything (otherwise known as Tesco supermarket). they had a sign-up disc, and they also sold me a modem cable (which I discovered I didn’t have at home – that’s how long I’ve been on broadband!). when I ordered my new computer, I even contemplated not having a modem installed, even though it was a no-cost option, just for the sake of ‘tidiness’. how foolish that would have been.

so here I am, back to pay-as-you-go dial-up, costing me 3p a minute and giving me a whopping 48kbps. now I’ll be honest – for most webpages I have been pleasantly surprised by the speed of download. but speed is not really the main benefit for broadband for me, not consistently anyway. the main thing for me is not having to worry about price per minute and being able to use my phone at the same time. but when I do want the speed, I really miss it, like when someone casually sends me a 5MB mail attachment, or I want to download something from iTunes. it turns out that lots of nice things on my computer kind of depend on the internet as well, such as track names for CDs, and up-to-date help files. I’m sure I could manage fine without broadband if I had to, but after 4 years of having it, I just don’t want to be without it!

Monday, July 04, 2005

Change of car time

We've swapped cars again - now got a Lotus Elise. From an interaction perspective, it's low on electronic gizmos and suchlike, but high on feedback and sensitivity to the road. It's not practical, not roomy, but is economical, and fun. Oh yes, it's fun :-)

Royal College of Art Students exhibit tomorrow's designs
Interactivity is at the fore in some of the designs that indicate what the future may hold. Nothing dramatic here, except perhaps the ultimate in wearable computing: an in-mouth mobile, but an emphasis on detail and subtle effects shows that the aesthetics of interaction are key, coupled with some innovative ideas - and superb execution.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Publishing calendars on a Mac without .mac services
Good article on how to set up your mac web server to publish your ical calendars on the web automatically without needing to pay for .mac. You also need phpicalendar or a similar calendar parsing package to create the webpage, but it's all pretty straightforward to install.....

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