Archive for June, 2006

Net Neutrality hope?

Friday, June 23rd, 2006

After the travesty of the House selling out the American public, it is refreshing for the Senate to not pillage us immediately.  The Senate Commerce Committee yesterday delayed their vote on the Telco bill and the Net Neutrality amendment.

Tim Berners-Lee summarized Net Neutrality best:

If I pay to connect to the Net with
a certain quality of service, and you pay to connect with that
or greater quality of service, then we can communicate at that level.

That’s all. Its up to the ISPs to make sure they interoperate so that
that happens.

Net Neutrality is NOT asking for the internet for free.

It’s critical that businesses are not allowed to prioritize packets based on payola. Robert X. Cringley shows the unexpected degradation of traffic shaping in his article today, even when applied by a smart person.  This is not good user experience!

I’m sorry, I just don’t understand how the consumer is supposed to be served by a company that guarantees no privacy and requires accepting this privacy violation as a condition of service.  I have no other phone wires to my house.  Senators, is this not the behavior of a monopolist?

It’s time to call or fax your Senator(s) if you have not done so already.

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Awful Automobile Assumptions

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

Bad user interface isn’t exclusive to software! My family has a Ford Focus wagon, and it has the American Car Vent Affliction. You know, the one where the car knows better than you do what you want…

Well, in case you aren’t familiar, here’s the scenario. I want the air from the outside to blow up in front of me and at my feet, consistently. That means I have the direction knob on Heat/Defrost and life is good. Then a car who needs a smog check pulls in front of me and so I go for the other air control, recirculate, so I can not inhale their exhaust.

Not so fast! Ford has out-thunk me. It is impossible to recycle the air and have the defrost air path at the same time.

Why? I understand the physics, that the windshield would not de-fog as quickly with inside air, but it’s my car. Why does Ford think they know better than the driver? Interlocks on the parking-brake-and-key-removal, OK fine I see the need and the safety improvement. But interlocks on the air direction? Give me a break.
It’s almost as bad in a GM car, where you have air conditioning and the airflow on the same knob. At least the designers don’t fake you out by giving you two controls – they tell you before you buy the car that you’re a lunkhead who can’t handle separate functions.
The imports have this right – two controls, independent function. Let’s see domestics fix this design flaw, please!
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Robotic interfaces

Monday, June 19th, 2006

An article highlighting the challenges of creating a safe user interface for robots interacting with people, with interesting interface insights from the roomba:

“Making sure robots are safe will be critical,” says Colin Angle of
iRobot, which has sold over 2m “Roomba” household-vacuuming robots. But
he argues that his firm’s robots are, in fact, much safer than some
popular toys. “A radio-controlled car controlled by a six-year old is
far more dangerous than a Roomba,” he says. If you tread on a Roomba,
it will not cause you to slip over; instead, a rubber pad on its base
grips the floor and prevents it from moving.

to the sex-toy theorists:

“People are willing to have sex with inflatable dolls, so initially
anything that moves will be an improvement.” To some this may all seem
like harmless fun, but without any kind of regulation it seems only a
matter of time before someone starts selling robotic sex dolls
resembling children, says Dr Christensen.

to the implications for the military:

Is “system malfunction” a justifiable defence for a robotic fighter
plane that contravenes the Geneva Convention and mistakenly fires on
innocent civilians?

Important to think about, and good to see the media publicising the discussion.

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BART breakdowns make for bad user experience

Tuesday, June 13th, 2006

Yesterday and this morning the BART system had a failure, one far more severe than the other.  The different comments from the users (the commuters stranded on the platform) showed the different perceptions of the two outages.  Yesterday the delay was over an hour and a half, and the grumbling from the commuters was significant.  Many people were upset and not afraid of sharing that.  Today, few people mentioned it.  Why?

Communication and recovery time.

Yesterday, there was only sporadic mention of how soon the trains would be running again.  Today, there was an announcement every few minutes with precise data on the next train’s arrival time.  Yesterday a sign showed a train due in 23 minutes – and that was when the system finally admitted there was going to be another train – and trains came 8-10 minutes apart.  The signs only showed one train in the queue… you never knew when the train after the next would arrive.  Today, the signs were showing the normal couple of trains and how fast they were coming.

How to fix it?  At least do damage control.  When you have a bunch of commuters stuck in the system, make a token gesture to say ‘thanks for waiting.’  If they suffer through the delay, make their trip free at the exit turnstile.  If they need to call home to tell their spouse they will be late or if they want to take alternate transportation, let them out of the underground station and reset their card without charging them the exorbitant round-trip fee.

Show that you understand you destroyed an hour of their lives and feel sorry.  Don’t behave as an aloof monopoly, or you’ll drive people back into their cars.

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Security requires user interaction

Tuesday, June 6th, 2006

Computerworld published a weblog entry that posits ‘Security that requires end user attention is not security‘ – and yet that could not be farther from the truth.  The only person who knows the intention of the user is the user, and the point of the OS (or any software) is to obey the user and find the best way to make the intentions into reality.

Vista’s security sounds flawed during the current beta by being overaggressive – which will create a user nightmare if left alone – but that is how you achieve true security.  You turn it all the way on and then select what to allow.  The process of selection is the difficult one, and where Microsoft has actually acknowledged publicly that they are still working on the feature. Let’s be clear – this is a good thing.

I was quick to criticize Microsoft last week, and I continue to have the same opinion… left as it is, the security will be a problem.  They’re not leaving it alone, they’re asking for input and planning to fix it.  Good for them.  I’ll change my opinion when the fixes are in, but acknowledging an issue is the first step to good user behavior.

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Windows Vista Pain

Friday, June 2nd, 2006

I’m impressed – an entire review of the usability issues in Windows Vista.  Microsoft, please start fixing the problems…

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Compilers are an interface abstraction

Thursday, June 1st, 2006

It may be hard for a non-programmer to imagine something as technical as a programming language compiler to be a simplification for users, but it definitely fits the bill.  What’s interesting is that high-level languages have been compiled into assembly code for your CPU to use with really basic instructions, and now it looks like the next wave (part of the Web 2.0 hype) will be to take high-level languages and compile them to a mid-level language, ECMAscript.  And it’s not only happening fast and strong, many companies (Morfik, Google, Microsoft) are now doing it.

Why does that matter to the average user?  In a word, simplification.  If programmers can create good interfaces as quickly (using these tools) as creating bad interfaces, there will be much greater benefit to getting the presentation right.  Look at Google Mail and you can see that it has a number of features not traditionally found in web email clients.  The easier it is to add features and fix interface issues, the faster we will see improvements.

And that’s a good thing.

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