Sunday, October 30, 2005

Psychology is interesting
Human nature; psychology; behaviour - call it what you will, it's very interesting.


P.S. Do Not Click Here!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Blogging frequency
As you'll have noticed, blogging has taken a bit of a back seat recently. The reasons for this are many and varied, but are mainly to do with time pressures. Well, sort of time pressures. I've been thinking about why the frequency has dropped off and decided it's because I'm working more from home. In the office, I'd often be disturbed, interrupted, and generally have my day fragmented, and so had lots of little opportunities to blog. I'd have numerious times when I'd have 10 minutes to kill before something else, so would browse the web, and blog.

I've taken to working from home much more, so am much less interrupted, and hence get lots more done - but crucially, those few psare minutes are not so in evidence, and hence I am blogging less. Not that there's less to say - far from it, all the issues are more relevant day by day - but because it's further from my mind for much of the time. And why am I blogging now? Just come up to check my recent email hasn't bounced, nothing on telly, few minutes to kill.....

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Just got one of these. And for someone used to working with ocntext and location-aware systems, it is quite remarkable.

And why? The obvious reasons, but mainly it has very good intuitive usability, critical for in-car on the move systems. But it raises oske very interesting cognitive and social issues. For example, withi a few hours I was trusting its directions completely, so that I stopped thinking about where I was. I think it could ruin people's spatial awareness and their understandings about the interrelationships between locations. Also, the pointsof interest become critical - we navigated off the motorway to a local petrol station rather than wait for a service station, because it was easy to do - the POIs make off route stuff much closer. And it may be that if you're not in a POI, then you don't exist. So, for example, there are POI databases for Sainsbury's and Tesco's, so it's easy to find the nearest to wherever I happen to be. But there isn't one for Asda, or Waitrose. So guess which supermarkets I'll visit more often? It may be that POI inclusion becomes a key marketing tool for any new business - and then choosing POI databases becomes important, and so a whole new commerical area is born.....

It's also useful for overtaking. Road looks clear, no cars coming, but is there a hidden junction? A quick glance at the screen shows you that there is indeed on ahead, so you back off and do not go. Planning an overtake, but the road bends to the right - will it straighten out soon? A quick glance - yes it will, get ready.....

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

New mechanisms for online banking security

There's talk this week of a new gizmo that increases security for online banking sites, requiring users to enter a one-time key generated by a key-fob device. Great, sounds like fun. Something else to leave at the office, on the sofa, in the dog's basket etc. Seriously, anything that increases security can only be a good thing, but I'm not so worried about my bank knowing I am who I say I am, I'm more worried about knowing that my bank is who they say they are. I can see an obvious extension to the key-fob device that will help reduce phishing attempts: why not have the bank's web site give a code back to you that you put into the keyfob, and you get to find out whether the site is genuine or not? Phishing is a major concern these days, and so far I haven't seen any real action on the part of the banks other than to warn customers about it.

Apple and Disney's two-inch disappointment

Apple's latest video iPod that lets you watch movies & TV on the go (after you've downloaded them) really highlights for me just how desperate media companies are to sell us content is new and varied ways. but the key thing here is not the 'new and varied', which is interesting and deserves some attention, but the sell. Of course companies need to make money otherwise they go bust but the cynic in me really has me shaking my head at the massive amounts of content that are being pushed at us right now, and I wonder how long it will be before people just get completely sick of it. Ringtones, wallpapers, MP3s, video... it's all very expensive, and I refuse to believe that companies are just breaking even on the back of all this. Mobile operators still make a large part of their fortunes from data (and yes, that includes SMS) and when you see that they're charging £2.50 or more for a postage sized image of Beyonce or whoever to spruce up your mobile phone, you've got to wonder if maybe we're all being ripped off. the new iTunes phone is another example - long awaited, and released with much fanfare, the phone is artificially limited to storing 100 songs no matter how much memory you put in it. why? cos Apple don't want you to buy the phone rather than an iPod. this is not progress. too many people have their eye on where the money is, and mine is staying in my pocket.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Doctors to use expert systems to make diagnoses?

I've just completed a questionnaire asking me what my opinion would be of doctors using 'specialist computer systems' to make diagnoses. Would I have less faith in the doctor, or would I think it was OK?

This questionnaire was from an official source, and in the past the results of questionnaires from this source have fed into official survey results, so I thought carefully about this. it's quite possible that the use of expert computer systems for GPs is an option being considered for the NHS. unfortunately the multi-choice format of the question didn't let me fully express my thoughts.

I think I'd approve of my GP using a computer to enhance and confirm her diagnosis, but I wouldn't like them to start out using the computer at the beginning. also, there needs to an element of human contact, otherwise we may as well just go online and use the computer ourselves. if this is option is seriously being considered, I hope they do some more detailed consultation soon...

Friday, October 14, 2005

Hiding behind the virtual shopfront

Online shopping is generally great. It's convenient, easy, and you can often get a good price. But when things go wrong, it's all too easy for companies to hide behind their virtual shopfront, either not responding to emails or responding badly. Companies like dabs, who operate a 'no telephone' policy are particularly tricky to complain to, since the only way to do this is to use their Feedback mechanism on their site, which isn't really a way of making a formal complaint.

I bought some monitor cables from dabs and when they arrived there was a very important detail on the packaging that was not on the dabs web page: the cables won't work with 17" monitors or larger. I asked to return them, saying that the product was misadvertised. No, say dabs, it's your responsibility to ensure the product is as required when you place your order. How can I do that, I asked, if you omit important information? Dabs say, it's your responsibility...

The cables weren't expensive, but I'm cross now so dabs might get a few letters. Their emails are clearly formulaic, and do not address the specific issues raised in my messages. I won't be shopping there again.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Collaborative Programming

I've been spending quite a bit of time lately developing some software for research project, and as I switch back and forth between my code and the various web sites that give me the solutions to my problems I suddenly thought: How on earth did we ever get any programming done without the internet? Some of the problems I have run into (and I'm sure mine are far less complex than for most commercial programmers) would have gone unsolved for a long time, perhaps forever, if I hadn't been able to type a quick search into Google to get the answer. Maybe the complexity and scope of application development has grown in relation to the resources that are now out there to help you get stuff done, but still it's something to ponder.

This thought came back to me today when I saw that Borland have just released a programming environment that supports collaboration with other programmers, directly through the programming interface. I've solved problems before using Remote Assistance in Windows, which lets you share a screen, but the Borland version is another step altogether.

Programming used to the preserve of focused individuals working alone at a single machine. I wonder now if it has its own social ecology growing up all these sites where people explain how to bind a datasource to a listbox in C#.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Blogging for newbies...
My first year tutees have been asked by me to blog (at least twice a week) on University life, their experiences, and anything else relevant. They have begun in different ways - one has put up her personal philosophy - in Russian - and another entry in Italian; another has discusssed details of her lectures. Another has two entries which each say "this is an entry" - whilst another has created the blog but not managed to publish it on the internet. Ah, the whole world is here in a microcosm.....

Monday, October 10, 2005

New Ways to Calm People Down

Fascinating story of a counter-intuitive way to calm someone down. well, OK it's actually about horses but it's relevant :) the idea is that to calm someone down, you don't act all passive and neutral with them, you join in with their frustration or whatever and then when you're 'in' with them you can bring them down from the inside, leading ever so gently and letting them feel in control.

I was just wondering if this could be mapped on to interface design to give user's a sense of perspective and help avoid frustration. imagine - your file doesn't save properly and instead of a poxy error message you get your screen wobbling about and a voice saying 'oh my god I can't believe it's not working AGAIN!'

I guess the problem is that the entity that joins in with your complaining is actually the same entity that just lost your file...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The public as journalists

As we saw with the recent London bombings, sometimes the most powerful images come not from journalists and media services, but from people who are involved and bystanders. The image of the No30 bus that was on every newspaper was taken by a passerby.

Spy Media is the first site that attempts to act as an intermediary between the public who take the images and the media services who use them. After all, just because we're not journalists, why shouldn't we get paid if we take a decent snap of an important event? and just to prove the mercenary nature of it all, SpyMedia of course will take a commission.

now that's all fine. business is business and it takes money to run these sites and I do believe the public should have a chance of being paid for good photography. but what happens if this really catches on, and instead of just groups of paparazzi we get mobs of phone-wielding citizens all desperate to take the best snap. I stopped to help at a car accident last week, partly because I know about bystander apathy and poor old Kitty Genovese (there's one to look up). I can't help wondering if this kind of craze might be one more thing that stops people acting in citizenly ways. instead of helping at car accidents, maybe people will just stop to take a picture instead.


Monday, October 03, 2005

Fashion vs the batteryM

As intimated in previous posts, I've recently bought a new phone, moving from my trusty Nokia 6310i to something I hope will be just as reliable: Nokia's 6230i. My old phone had no camera, no colour screen, no music player, no radio. My new phone has all these things. it's great. I love it. But the problem is, I can't love it for as long. The battery on my old phone would give me at least 7 days standby, and would easily handle 15 mins of calls per day. when the battery was nearly empty, it warned me, but still gave me another 2 days of use, including calls. in 3 years of ownership, my 6310i probably shut down because of a flat battery about 10 times.

the new phone? oh dear. I'm realistic, and I suspected that all the technical wizardry in my new toy might eat up the battery a little bit quicker, but it has been rather a shock to the system to find that my new phone will only go for about 2 days on standby, and less if I'm making calls and taking photos etc. charging isn't too much of a problem, since I'm always within reach of electricity, and I have managed to accumulate 8 Nokia chargers (I'm not sure how). But why does this phone really die to quickly? and what's *really* annoying is that when it tells me the battery is low, it then shuts down without about an hour and I can't make any calls. The 6310 would magically recharge and let me make one (sometimes even 2) calls even after it had shutdown. I guess there just isn't room for that kind of redundancy in this design. it's a smaller unit, hence a smaller battery, and there's a lot more gadgetry to power. personally, I'd prefer a slightly larger handset, with a beefier battery, and the option for a low power mode that doesn't even use the screen when you're not looking at it. it's far too easy to forget to charge this phone, unless I make it a daily chore, which just feels too much like being a slave to the technology.

Personal photo printing

After about 3 years of sticking with the same reliable mobile phone (Nokia's erstwhile 6310i) I finally upgraded to something a little flashier: Nokia's 6230i (the similarity in model numbers belies the differences between the phones). Which feature finally persuaded me to upgrade? Well, it came with a free photo printer of course! You know the sort: a small colour printer that will print my digital snaps onto 6x4 paper. grand - no more hanging around in Boots helping that person who's never used a Kodak kiosk before - they always decide to pop in just ahead of me.

Now, this offer really did seem too good to be true: free phone, free printer, free Bluetooth adapter. Since I really was on the lookput for a new phone anyway, I snapped it up, and my new photo printer arrived this afternoon. It took a couple of failed attempts to get my Mac to see it (slight change in the MacOS X prefs since the manual was written I think) and I got the paper size wrong on the first print, so it only printed half the snap, but after that it's worked fine. one very odd feature of the printer is that when it takes the paper from the tray on the front, it actually winds it through and pushes it out of the back of printer before taking it back in, so as to avoid having to bend the paper around a drum. nice feature, but it doesn't quite fit with where I put the printer, ie up against the wall. I rescued it just in time.

the kodak paper is nice and glossy, and the perforated end strips come off easily leaving barely a ruffle, and the prints themselves are colourful, clear, and they come out quickly. I'm impressed with everything except the price. with the cheapest price I've found for the media packs (you need paper and ink cartridge) I'll be paying about 40p per photo. now, the kiosk in boots does charge 50p a print for under 10 prints (or something like that) but more often than not I just upload my photos to PhotoBox (highly recommended), paying about 15p per print. so at more than double my usual price, this printer is destined to be a novelty item. I'm also slightly concerned about the disposable nature of the ink cartridge - 40 prints per unit is hardly economical nor can it be environmentally friendly!

I was pleasantly suprised to find that when I took the Kodak Bluetooth module (supplied so I can print directly from my mobile phone) and plugged it in to my Mac, I suddenly had Bluetooth on the computer! now that's great, if only I could find something to do with it. sadly, my 6230 isn't compatible with MacOS X's iSync :-(

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