World Usability Day

Visit the World Usability Day site and take in the world-wide activities that are happening today. This one sounded entertaining (in Auckland, New Zealand)

A hiliarious remote control shootout! Eight attendees vied for the title of “Owner of the most unusable remote control”.

The winner wasn’t actually the most number of buttons, or the least amount of buttons actually used – but the one that managed to switch off all the electrical equipment in the room through the accidental push of a random button!

Another good resource is Jakob Nielson’s site useit that focuses primarily on web usability. The remarkable thing about this site is that inspite of the fact that web development has been going on for around 10 years, the same mistakes keep getting made over and over again.

If today’s activities inspire you, you might consider joining the Usability Professionals Association.

Book: Ambient Findability

Ambient Findability by Peter Morville is an interesting sounding new book dealing with filtering and ultimately finding the data that you need in the current environment of ‘information overload’. Thus far, the book has received great reviews. Here is a snippit of book description from Amazon:

Morville discusses the Internet, GIS, and other network technologies that are coming together to make unlimited findability possible. He explores how the melding of these innovations impacts society, since Web access is now a standard requirement for successful people and businesses. But before he does that, Morville looks back at the history of wayfinding and human evolution, suggesting that our fear of being lost has driven us to create maps, charts, and now, the mobile Internet.

The book’s central thesis is that information literacy, information architecture, and usability are all critical components of this new world order. Hand in hand with that is the contention that only by planning and designing the best possible software, devices, and Internet, will we be able to maintain this connectivity in the future. Morville’s book is highlighted with full color illustrations and rich examples that bring his prose to life.

This definately a topic of interest to me and I have added this book to my to-be-read queue and Amazon wishlist.

Facilitating Innovation

The FastCompany review of the new book The Ten Faces of Innovation sounds like an interesting read. I personally find dealing with people who are always trying to find a reason to say ‘no’ rather than understanding the strengths and weaknesses of a thought, idea or approach somewhat tedious and backward. They don’t seem to understand that doing the same old thing is not what positions you or your customers for a better future. Perhaps this book will give some additional insight into guiding people to thinking ‘not “no”, but “how”‘.

Innovation is all about people. It is about the roles people can play, the hats they can put on, the personas they can adopt. It is not just about the luminaries of innovation like Thomas Edison, or celebrity CEOs like Steve Jobs and Jeff Immelt. It is about the unsung heroes who work on the front lines of entrepreneurship in action, the countless people and teams who make innovation happen day in and day out.

And by adopting some of these innovation personas, you’ll have a chance to put the devil’s advocate in his place. So when someone says, “Let me play devil’s advocate for a minute” and starts to smother a fragile new idea, someone else in the room may be emboldened to speak up and say, “Let me be an anthropologist for a moment, because I personally have watched our customers suffering silently with this issue for months, and this new idea just might help them.” And if that one voice gives courage to others, maybe someone else will add, “Let’s think like an experimenter for a moment. We could prototype this idea in a week and get a sense of whether we’re onto something good.” The devil’s advocate may never go away, but on a good day, the 10 personas can keep him in his place. Or tell him to go to hell.

A Mobile Phone That Knows You

Perhaps inspired by the James Bond sniper rifle that can only be fired by Bond, researchers in Finland have created a method for you mobile device (a phone most likely) to ‘recognize’ you by the way that you walk.

In the method, sensors measure certain features in the person’s walk and these are compared to values stored in the memory of the device. If the values differ, the device requests an access code. In trials, the method has achieved a success rate of 90%. VTT is applying for a patent for the solution.

Massachusetts Open Document Format

Not surprisingly, Massachusetts has long-standing concerns over Microsoft’s XML schema based document formats and is seeking an open format to preserve current and future documents from patent and other encumbrances by Microsoft. This is actually part of a larger effort to minimize the states dependence on proprietary technologies.

Perhaps one of the most ridiculous parts of this situation is Microsoft’s refusal to support the Open Document format. They already have over twenty different import and export filters in Word. The OD format is similar enough to their not-quite-XML format for it not to be a huge effort for them to create a filter to support OD.

It is pretty easy to see that MS is trying to use it’s market dominance to encumber others intellectual property via their closed, proprietary (and not terribly efficient) document formats.

Electronic Enhancements

I predict that this sort of thing (Wired: Hearing Aids for the unimpaired) will get increasingly popular as people run out of cosmetic surgery options in their quest to be (at least superficially) ‘different’ from others (which paradoxically tends to make them gravitate toward some homogeneous ideal).

Perhaps wearable mods are a step along the path to what William Gibson described in Burning Chrome where electronic mods to the human body become commonplace.

Create Fire from Water

Not sure how efficient this is as it requires 220 volts to operate (manufacturer lists the output at 31,000 BTU). The brilliant part is that 100% of the heat goes into the room that it is in and it produces water vapor as a side effect so it humidifies the room as well.

Elevator ‘Hacking’

This little tidbit seems to be making the rounds on the net:

The designers of some elevators include a hidden feature that is very handy if you’re in a hurry or it’s a busy time in the building (like check-out time in a hotel). While some elevators require a key, others can be put into “Express” mode by pressing the “Door Close” and “Floor” buttons at the same time. This sweeps the car to the floor of your choice and avoids stops at any other floor.

Elevators that have been tested and worked on:
Otis Elevators (All But The Ones Made In 1992),
Dover (Model Numbers: EL546 And ELOD862),
And Most Desert Elevators(All, But Model Numbers ELD5433 And ELF3655)

I might try this out the next time I am in a high rise building (which isn’t too often these days).


Newton, Palm and PSP

As an Apple Newton user from back in the day I was always amazed at the amount of sniping over the Newton when there was no clear, better alternative at the time. I wasn’t even a big Apple fan, but could recognize that the Newton provided the functionality that I wanted. Granted the much derided handwriting recognition took a bit of ‘training’ for the Newt to become more consistent, but for me that was time well spent. Within a few months, I could take meeting notes directly on the Newt with something close to 100% recognition. The ability to draw on the screen along with the text was handy as techies are famous for their napkin-back design sketches.

Supposedly, one of the cures for the ‘poor’ Newton recognition was to use an add in product called Grafitti. This was met with a great deal of hue and cry as the Apple bashers when on about ‘having to learn a new way of writing’ and ‘it should recognize my handwritting — I shouldn’t have to change’. That was all well and good until the first Palm came out and required the use of Graffiti, then suddenly the (not-from-Apple) Palm product was proclaimed the best thing since fish grew legs. Another popular criticism at the time was the the Newton was ‘the wrong form factor’ and that Palm had it all right. I disagree, and feel a bit vidicated with the release of the Sony Playstation Portable (which has nearly the same form factor as the final Newton) and it being hailed as the ‘perfect size’ for a portable unit. Hell, the Newton even had many of the same capabilities, albeit with a monochrome screen.

Around four years ago, I finally gave up and bought a Palm device (m505) to be able to synch up my growing and changing Outlook calendar and not have to carry around marked up printouts of my calendar. I find Graffiti to be a pain, but have forced myself to bend to its requirements. Then I bought a Tungsten T5 because I very much needed the extra storage and wanted to have some wi-fi capability only to find that some genius at Palm had ‘improved’ the handwriting recognition by changing it. Now I find myself writing ‘L’ when I want an ‘I’ and getting some random character when I try to do the old stroke for a ‘T’. Sigh. I just wish that Palm would come out with a patch to keep the T5 from randomly rebooting, locking up and crashing after synching.

In the end, I think that I am going to start exploring a Symbian OS based device, probably a Nokia smart phone. The most promising device (that I have found in my limited research) is the (as yet unreleased in the USA) Nokia 6682.