Friday, September 30, 2011

Settings and options in software

This is a bit counter intuitive but obvious once you think about it. "Normal" users don't play with software options, they consider the system as a "black box".  This suggests something about their mental model of the system. My guess would be that their understanding of the functional model is very shallow and so they cannot understand the impact of a "general" option that would modify behavior across multiple usage sessions.  I wonder how familiar a users needs to be with a system before they would feel comfortable to modify the settings.

Programmers and such are in the minority and tend to fiddle with the options... who knew.  They tend to generalist about system behavior and become familiar with multiple similar systems.

Familiarity breeds ... familiarity....

The takeaway being that time spent exposing general settings and treating it as part of the UI for casual users are probably wasted.  Options need to be presented to users in ways that are part of  their sessional workflow and are "within context" for what they are doing "Now". Only familiar users will be able to form and thus wish to set a preference for some particular variant behaviour.

So no more hidden settings dialogs. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Neural Chips

This looks like an interesting bit of kit. 

Semantics of "Technical Debit"

Good semantic analysis of the concept of "technical debit".  Makes a clear distinction between deciding to take on debit as a strategic gamble and the other common use of the term to describe a mess created via unprofessional behaviour for no gain.

The best part is the point about a debit being a strategic gamble that has a probability of win/loss, while a mess is always a loss.  

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Big data patterns

Some good thoughts on large scale data driven apps here.

Data Recovery Event...

Service I'm using in anger.  Bad things happen to people who don't back up... and get distracted by work and stuff....

Yah Fear me. I am geek and know all... who am I kidding? Current generation hard drives are way beyond my capability to recover.... I bow to the professionals and suck up the cost as a learning experience. Long story... don't ask.

Geek dad ideas

Some good geek dad ideas. 

Good security blog

Having read posts on this security blog accidentally for a few years, I'm really enjoying the quality of the writing and work. Good depth, fairly thought and some interesting lateral investigation. This is what journalism used to be. 

Contrast that with the embarrassing episode of "Insight" that Jenny Brokey hosted the night before last on SBS on the topic of Hacktivism.  It was the usual arguments about semantics, generalisations and conflicts of values.  Mix in a bit of inarticulate rambling and you get.... rubbish. Some of the guests were just childish. 

Personal Data Stores

Found an interesting list of projects in the personal data store/identity space.
Lots of good ideas here. Well written docs.
This one looks a little raw at the moment but the idea is good.
Kind of overview organisation. In a decentralized, disorganized ecosystem...
Interesting group....
Project VRM.  Another interesting idea....

Monday, September 19, 2011

Broken Comments on Blogger blogs

I have finally figured out why I could not post comments on my own blogs.  Bloody Abine/TACO add-in for FireFox was blocking third party cookies on this site.  Unblocking them turned out to be .... complicated due to the totally crap interface in the add-in... but it seems to be working now. 
Finally I can post all those insightful responses to the few people who have considered my rants provocative enough to comment upon... or spam... depends on your point of view...

"Whats wrong with this sentence" or my rant on novelty in my work...

I found a sentence in a blog post that bugs me. The post is interesting and on another topic, its just this one sentence that irritated something that has been cooking for a while... (Just to be clear, this post has nothing to do with the other post and does not comment upon the other posts, content, author, style etc.  It's just been triggered by a juxtaposition of words that happened to occur in the other post.  Ok, the sentence follows...

"We're also not looking to add to our team, and if we decided we did want to grow I expect we wouldn't have any trouble finding someone who was looking for a well-paying job in manhattan using very cool technology. "( From "Life after Pair Programming" by Jay Fields)

Why does this sentence bug me?

1. A programming job is about location, pay and tools/technology?

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.  I've seen this sentiment in a number of places... but at its heart it points out the rotten issues at the heart of so many IT (other) jobs.  No passion.  How can you work on a job that you are not interested in the content first and foremost?  Or at least willing to talk about it first and foremost?  While its nice to have location, pay and technology... these are side benefits. (true they may tip the balance and rightly should... ) but not really mentioning the topic, subject or content of the task seems to be suggesting that its really not much of a highlight.

2.  Perhaps this sentence illustrates whats wrong with my job?
Is the content in my job really that .... note worthy? Is this, like everything else, fundamentally about me? (Probably...)  Am I just unhappy, grumpy, pissed off, tired, sick and seeing the meaningless repetition in my work?  Hell yes...

Does this mean that I have mastered everything in my world? Mostly.  I think the kind of surprises that show up in your work are very illustrative about your level of mastery. 

How novel are the problems you encounter? I have constructed a scale... from not novel to really truly novel. The scale is based on three dimensions.  (Experience with solving, Tools to solve, Domain Knowledge about)

The Experience dimension

This moves from ... "Its all new" to "I remember solving this yesterday".  Essentially, its about how much your memory is involved in the solution.

The Tools dimension

This dimension moves from .... "No currently known process to solve this" to "I have a debugged script that will do this with a single button click".  A simple metric in IT land would be the number of mouse clicks/keystrokes required to affect a solve.

The Domain Knowledge dimension

This dimension moves from .... "I  have only the general working vocabulary to start to talk about/search for this topic" to "I can describe it using 3 or less key words and get a solve in the top couple of pages on " .  Once you can explain something, deeply, succinctly and thoroughly to someone else (or to a search engine)... you own it. It's no longer novel or hard.

So how does all this come together?

Well you build a table in excel, record a set of problems that arrive in a give time frame and score those suckers on the three dimensions above.  Use a 5 or 7 point likert scale for fun and see how novel your job really is.  You can repeat this sampling strategy at various intervals and test hypothesis such as

H0: My job is getting more novel.
H1: Nope.. I'm getting more experienced.

(You should see the experience scores going up while the others stay constant)

H0: Coffee is making me stupid.
H1: Nope.  I was this stupid all along.

(You should see all measures stay constant. Combine with varying (and recording) your coffee intake over time.)

Many other fun experiments can be done using this scale....

But really, whats my take away from this all.... mainly that I'm feeling sick (true) and miserable and probably should not design experiments to evaluate anything in this condition..... shutting up now.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

There is some interesting little insights in this post about designing from the interface backward.  Kind of like using a use-case but faster and less formal.

Thinking about it, I have used this style of design a few times but never thought about it in this way.  Interesting.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Blog Spawn

I have decided that rather than trying to manage one blog using tags to sort the posts, its easier to enforce some physical separation and maintain three blogs. (Cause complexity is soooo much better....)  So with that in mind I've created two new blogs, one for all the noise on my work software and one specifically for PointLightLab.  While I like tags and the ability to sort and group, the tools for their use on the blogger platform are not as rich as they need to be...
Anyway we'll see how this plan works out...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Syntax Highlighting in Blogger

I found this setup quite useful for formatting code snippits in blog posts.  I use the <pre>
tags wrapped around the raw text of the code. (Not sure what the guy is talking about using the <script> tags... as that seems broken) You may also need this tool to deal with any angle brakets (such as inline xml....)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Blogs for Academics

This is an idea I've been trying to communicate for a while.  More clearly articulated as usual.