Archive for July, 2006

Buildings can be good for users?

Sunday, July 30th, 2006

An interesting article about studies that show buildings can increase health, intelligence and productivity.  Light and views always seem to make people happier — look at how hard people fight for the window office or cube — so it doesn’t seem earthshaking that it actually would affect a person working.  The next step is to figure out how to press builders to create wonderful buildings for all, and to advocate businesses to factor that extra productivity into the rent.  I know it would improve my workplace!

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No Net Neutrality? No New Neato Services.

Monday, July 24th, 2006

A great article on a network with gatekeepers: the cell phone internet.

The repercussions of not implementing Network Neutrality are terrifying to contemplate, coming soon to restrict computers near you unless you contact your senators to kill the current Telco bill.  Save the internet, save the users, save yourselves!

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Banner Ad hack hits MySpace users – why?

Monday, July 24th, 2006

A malware-loaded ad was published through a 3rd-party advertising network and exploited MySpace users’ bad patching practices (or choice of vulnerable software, depending on your perspective) and was described in the Washington Post about a week ago.  So, from a user’s perspective, where does the responsibility lie?

I would argue that this failure is on the advertising network.  Some have written about the seeming ‘impossibility’ of monitoring all the different ads that they publish, but is that ever the argument given on television or in a newspaper if a racist, demeaning, or otherwise offensive advertisement is shown? 


Why should the web be any different?  If you are outsourcing editorial control (by using a 3rd party ad network) then the responsibility should be in that contract, and they should be held responsible.  The real issue is the user-unfriendly ads that are being published these days — javascript, cookies, flash, all kinds of uncontrolled coding that can be used for attacks like these.

If you can’t control or scan for the vulnerabilities, the ad network needs to dial it back to only serving images and links.  If you can’t validate the advanced advertisements, go back to the old style and don’t let the advertisers push you beyond the point of control.

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UC3: Leaving users vulnerable

Friday, July 21st, 2006

Security as an afterthought is bad for users:

“The problem here is that a commercial organisation is being given the
task of collecting data on behalf of a foreign government, for which it
gets no financial reward, and which offers no business benefit in
return,” says Laurie. “Naturally, in such a case, they will seek to
minimise their costs, which they do by handing the problem off to the
passengers themselves. This has the neat side-effect of also handing
off liability for data errors.

Check out the full Identity-Theft-Ready horror story of a simple airline passenger. Users are being told data is for one thing and it is used for another, with no incentive for protection. We’re back to unintended consequences…

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Hooray for the EFF!

Friday, July 21st, 2006

News today from the SF Chronicle that the suit against AT&T for exposing customers’ records is going forward.  The judge denied the motion from the company and the government to prevent any discussion of the program, which allegedly exposes all customers to government oversight in the name of finding terrorism.  Good for the EFF for exposing this malarkey, and may you have great success in protecting all of us.

On Beating Software Liability

Wednesday, July 19th, 2006

Schneier notes a funny but inherently scary blog entry about how software vendors could try to avoid product liability, were they ever held accountable for bugs in their software. As a software guy, I can’t possibly fathom how evil I would feel implementing any of these schemes, but I certainly can see the allure from a business-dodge-liability.

This would be a hopelessly horrible user experience but goes back to the danger of unintended consequences.

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BART’s unintended consequences

Monday, July 17th, 2006

Our local regional commuter train system, BART, introduced paid-preferred-spot parking something like a year ago… but I’ve now seen the users working the system and I have to wonder whether the change really improved BART’s revenues.

The deal was $63 per month, and the buyer gets a reserved spot until 10am and avoids the hassles of parking validation.  That’s about $3 per day on a 21-workday month, and looks like all gravy — cash above and beyond the fares — to BART management… until you see the people parking and walking over to the SF casual carpool.

There goes $4.00 for the ride downtown.  By making a revenue-enhancement change, your income goes down

This highlights the dangers of changes that do not benefit users.  They will fight back and find ways around your system.

Contrast this with BART’s long-term parking program, where people can leave their car for trips for a small (smaller than the airport parking) fee.  This seems to be more thought-out, with the user avoiding the airport traffic and parking hassle as well as saving money. 

Always find a way to work with your users!

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iTunes “Restart Song” function missing

Friday, July 7th, 2006

Many many people laud iTunes for the interface, but that does not mean there isn’t room for improvement. Apple is very good at getting the small things right, so these pesky annoyances should be dealt with…

When you’re using iTunes in a minimized-to-system-tray mode, it is impossible to directly start a song over. How many times are people sitting at a desk, listening, and get interrupted by a co-worker? I don’t know about you, but it happens to me daily. I would find a menu option such as “Restart song” far more useful than the “My Rating” option – and it isn’t easy to restart a song in the full-size interface either.

How to fix it in the full interface? Most CD and DVD players use the “rewind” button to skip to the beginning of the current song and a second press to skip to the previous song, or they use two sets of buttons. I think the first option is more elegant, but either would be preferable to having to drag a teeny diamond all the way left in a slider…

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