HCI 594: Capstone

I just finished the capstone course. Normally the last class to be taken, but due to it only being offered one time a year, I have one remaining course to complete my masters degree in HCI. It was a tough quarter in part due to a family problem, but also the from amount of work that was needed. I had to go to Japan for a week about midway through, but I was able to finish all the work required. We had to write 3 papers reviewing published research/articles by well known HCI practitioners as well as conduct our own research project and do a write up.

The first review was of a writing by Bruce Tognizzini. Tognazinni is part of the Neilsen, Norman group and a former Apple employee. Several years ago he put out an article called “A Quiz designed to give you Fitts”. In the article he goes over questions that every HCI expert should be able to answer. Well you also have to be a Mac user and being an engineer would probably help (note having a degree in HCI does not necessarily make you an engineer). He uses the article to basically lament the passing of the old Mac OS and how superior it was to the new Mac OS X (and of course Windows). To which I have to say, he is full of carp (sic). While I love Macs and started out in System 5, Mac OS X is light-years beyond the previous OS. He is also on the record as hating the dock (but that is another article), which I also love. So while I respect him for his contributions to the GUI world, I think his emphasis on Fitts is a throw back to mechanical engineering and is not entirely applicable to the web today.

Here is the full review of Tog: Tog: Week 1 [pdf 103k]

The second review was of Chapter 3 from Jeff Raskin’s “The Humane Interface”. Raskin another Apple alum, outlines the need to for modeless interfaces and that he believes there is no such thing as an expert user. Again I can respect the man and his great contributions, but we are given utopian HCI platitudes, that haven’t gained traction despite being known for a decade or more (which is a long time in tech). I completely disagree with not differentiating users and providing different ways to do things. To me this is akin to the idea that all learners learn the same way, which has been shown untrue. While certainly nobody probably knows every feature of a program (except the developers), they can be experts in the use of specific features. Which is in my opinion enough to warrant accommodation different from beginners. Learnability is a key principle of usability and should take into account that people learn in different ways.

Here is the full review of Raskin: Raskin: Week 2 [pdf 106k]

I will wrap up in another post on my final project later….

Who is listening to your iTunes share

lsof | grep iTunes | grep TCP

lsof -i tcp:daap

If you work in a place that allows sharing itunes over the network, you may wonder who is listening to your shared media. Just two different Mac OS X terminal comands needed to find who is listening to your iTunes. There is also a handy app called iTunes Monitor that works quite well and also does the lookup of the ip address. Finally there is a widget iTunes Connection Monitor that allows you to quickly see the ip address and what is being listened to.

IS 512: Groupware/Virtual Collaboration

This was a very good class, as I learned a lot more than I expected and took away some experiences that will significantly help me and those I work for in the future. The interest in applications that allow groups to work together online has been growing, with technology being a limitation on what can be done. However, with advanced web developments, tools, infrastructure and abilities that lower the barrier for implementing this kind of application, this sector is now veritably exploding.

It was a tough quarter on a another level as I changed jobs after being in the same company for over 10 years. So I had to deal with interviewing and departure details, as well as, adjust to a new work place. Interestingly, the class had an immediate effect on my transition. In future interviews, I will be sure to enquire about a companies use of groupware and ways of collaborating virtually. As my new job has required me to work with team members who are located in different buildings and my new boss is in another state. Other valuable learning included a good overview of the current crop of groupware and the actual use of two groupware applications. This class also required a team project, which went really well, in part because of the groupware that we used.

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Two good consumer experiences

I recently had a nice experience as a tech consumer, a lifetime warranty that was honored and a product that worked as advertised for something where there is a lot of debate. First the warranty was for a 1GB ram chip. When I bought my laptop almost two years ago, I bought 2GB of ram from a third party dealer. It was much cheaper than the ram offered by Apple, but of course I would have to install it myself. Which is dead simple as most laptops now make a special door to install ram (it wasn’t always like that… many laptops from the late 90s had to be taken apart to get at the ram). At any rate, late last year one of the ram chips started crapping out. First I would get a kernel panic, which I thought might be something else, but then I noticed after restarting, that the ram read at half the capacity (512 MB). I ran Apple’s hardware diagnostic and it indicated the chip was going bad. Eventually, it just quit working all together. I still had 1GB in the system, so it wasn’t a big deal, but it is nice to not have to close anything during the day as I work. So I missed having the 2GB. I thought I would have to buy a new chip, so I went to check the company I bought the chip from www.4allmemory.com and there on the page was a lifetime warranty link. I checked my original invoice and sure enough, it was covered. So I called half expecting them wanting me to explain the problem and what I did to verify it was the chip and do everything I already did to verify the chip was bad. Instead the friendly person simply said pack it up and send it in, and they will send a replacement. That’s it, no fuss, no hemming or hawing, just great service. Ok, it did take them two weeks to send the replacement, but it was great just to receive it at all.

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HCI 445: Inquiry Methods and Use Analysis

I finally completed the last of the core courses for the HCI program. Now I only need to take two more electives and do the capstone. This last class was definitely one of the better courses I have taken. While it was similar to the HCI 460 course it is different in that it focused more on the the initial user observations whereas 460 was about usability testing methods and reporting. The class started out with us doing our own user observation. This involved finding a task to study a user performing. Then finding a user and arranging a time to observe them.

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CSS hacks/unhacks: using IE conditional code to solve CSS problems

Working on a recent layout, I was finally confronted with the need to have an IE CSS hack. I hate hacks, because they often break with browser updates and aren’t easily remembered. So I avoid them as much as possible. However, I finally succumbed to having to use a hack… except the method I use is not a hack so much as relying on IE functionality. My designs typically can be made to work in Opera, Mozilla/Firefox and Safari browsers very easily, and then occasionally take some head pounding to get to work for IE (first windows then mac). While some might suggest designing for IE first, that is not desirable as I use a mac to develop on, although I do use a PC at work. Also, when resolving a design for IE first, it is tempting to not check the others, as IE is still the browser of the masses. Working with Safari, Mozilla first gets the less numerous browsers out of the way. The additional nightmare of IE is that you have to deal with the subversions, 5.0 does not work the same as 5.5, which is not the same as 6.x (don’t mention 4.x browsers).

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Intel Macs are Here

Intel Macs have been released and they are even better than I could imagine. They came out with a new iMac with dual core Intel and new powerbooks. All the rumor sites were saying that it was going to be the mini or the iBook and all I kept thinking was how could they possibly pass up the PowerBook. It is (or was) their top selling system, which was in fast decline becuase of the aging G4. I just couldn’t see any way for them to do the iBook especially without doing the pro level laptop as well. On the otherhand, while they didn’t do the mini just yet (I think they will have something in April), they did do the iMac, which leaves the PowerMac desktops in a precarious position. They did release a twin-dual core (quad) G5 desktop late last year, so it is still a step up from the single dual core Intel iMac, but how many developers are going to spend time optimizing for the G5 versus the new Intel systems which are the future. Another drawback for the Intel iMacs is the all-in-one form have a limited appeal for thoses who only want a system, so I guess it makes sense. I just wish I had a couple grand to buy one of the new MacBooks… yes, they had to change the name since it no longer has a powerpc chip and everybody is ripping on the name.

At first, I thought the name wasn’t that great either, then I kind of warmed up to it, since they are really nice systems. Then writing this post I realized; What the heck are they going to call the PowerMac once it is switched to Intel? Please not the MacMac Pro! Ah well, despite the name, I may look around for a freelance job or two to do in the evening or weekends to try and get enough money to get one of the new laptops. Don’t know how I will fit that in with school too… I guess I can wait til later this year or next year. Or if anyone wants to donate some money…