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#863: The Only Intuitive Interface is..., My Favorite Software: Revisited, Bowie in Space?

 
     
 

Hello all,

Another week, and except on paper, we seem no closer to spring than we were in January. I think I am getting a touch of cabin fever…or perhaps am just anxious to get rolling on all the back yard projects that have been rattling around in my head.

In the very near future, the service department will be busier then we have been recently. There are some exciting things happening in our department. (Exciting to me, anyway.)

By way of her last job, my wife introduced me to the Toyota method of what is known as “lean manufacturing.” It is a collaborative method of reducing wasted efforts by considering every step of a process in the context that every action should contribute to providing value to customers.

I find the the concept and practice fascinating and look forward to being able to serve our customers not only faster, but better as well. And soon in warmer weather.

Thanks for reading,

Liam
liam@smalldog.com

 
   
     
  The Only Intuitive Interface is...  
   
  finger swipe

Speaking with an elementary school teacher friend of mine recently, I was somewhat saddened to hear his observations about human computer interaction exhibited by some of our youngest computer users.

He revealed to me that his five and six year-old students, when asked to navigate to a website, enter www.google.com in the address bar of the web browser and then, in the search field below the colorful “Google” logo, enter the url provided. To me, and I suspect many of the readers of this newsletter, that anecdote will make you cringe a little bit. Along the same lines, he said that the children will often click and click again, expecting instantaneous response, without taking note of the loading indicators present within the web browser window’s interface.

As someone who spends much of his time instructing users on how to more effectively interact with the technology around them, I come across some common misconceptions and bad habits among users born in the 20th century as well. While I haven’t performed any usability studies, fluency with computer technology is arguably dependent on whether or how early such technology was made available in your lifetime.

This is not to say that a “digital immigrant” could not become more proficient or fluent than a “digital native” but I think you could expect a “digital native” to have less to adapt to (the technological norm that a younger person is born into does provide a certain advantage). The question is whether fluency increases linearly over time or if we have somehow done some disservice to our youngest digital citizens with our personal biases.

Undoubtedly, computer technology has become more and more usable over time. Computers no longer require user assembly. Nor do they require users to write their own software. A combination of hardware, software, and network infrastructure improvements have resulted in a vastly lower barrier of entry than what was present ten, twenty, or thirty years ago, and thus, adoption rates of new technology are much faster than ever before. And it is the job of software developers and interaction designers to invite these new users into a better user experience. Hearing the anecdote from my friend, I believe we can call into question the linear nature of technological fluency as more people become “digital natives.”

First, I think we can look toward software UI/UX design as still having a long way to go toward becoming more discoverable, more opaque, and more “intuitive.” The problem is complex. One could argue that a user’s visiting Google.com in order to navigate anywhere else on the web is not creating a poor experience (ultimately, the user is brought where they want to go, creating a positive reinforcement that is productive in perpetuating the behavior).

However, it reveals a deficiency in one’s mental model of the technology one interacts with. I would argue that while software UI/UX design does have some distance to travel and can succeed in providing more user friendly interaction, the burden does not rest solely on the developers.

While the origin of the quote is not entirely known, many technologists have argued something to the effect of, “The only ‘intuitive’ interface is the nipple. After that, it’s all learned.” This means that it’s up to us to learn about the tools we use in order to become more proficient users. I believe that as computer technology does become more ubiquitous, in order for an individual to maintain an even basic understanding of the environment they inhabit, it will become even more important to become fluent. While the consequences of not being able to distinguish between an advertisement and a search result after submitting a query on Google are small, it’s an unfortunate thing to hear that some of our youngest users are not being taught some basic “web smarts.”

By making technology more usable, we have gotten it into more hands, but we have not created more understanding. So how do we best combat these sort of depressing trends? I believe organizations like Code.org have the right idea — that bringing computer programming to educational environments will provide opportunities for children to gain an understanding of the world around them.

Steve Jobs thought of coding as a liberal art — teaching one how to think. I believe that if we can introduce more people to coding, we can reverse technological ignorance and inspire more creative thinking in our world.

 
   
     
  My Favorite Software: Revisited  
   
 

A few weeks ago, an older article of mine was republished, and in it, I described some of my favorite third-party software. Since it’s a bit dated now, I think it is time to start a new list! I’m going straight to my Applications folder and see what stands out. Here are some of my favorites, in alphabetical order:

Ableton Live 9: https://www.ableton.com/en/live/new-in-9/

I was an electronic music DJ from about 1993 to 2001. When I stopped buying vinyl, I started buying music production software, and Ableton Live was my first purchase. I think I still have my box from their very first version. I’ve just recently upgraded to the brand new version 9 and I really look forward to getting back into making music after a long hiatus. Ableton Live offers a different way to look at live performance and studio production, and the newest update offers some very cool additions.

BBEdit: http://www.barebones.com/products/bbedit/

This is another program I have been using for many years, since well before OS X. While I have bought and enjoyed competitors like TextMate, I keep coming back to BBEdit for all of my text editing needs. Whether editing system files for work, or doing hobbyist web development at home, BBEdit is my go-to choice, especially since I can trigger it from the command line and easily save files that need root permission to edit. I don’t like word processing. I like text editing.

Carbon Copy Cloner: http://www.bombich.com

This is now my favorite hard drive cloning tool with its ability to create recovery partitions on Lion and Mountain Lion clones. I was happy to pay for it when it became a commercial app. It is worth every penny. SuperDuper comes a very close second.

Pixa: http://www.pixa-app.com

I like to collect images, mostly cool desktop pictures, or sailing photos. While my own photos go in iPhoto, I like to keep track of my found images, and Pixa is a very useful tool. I’m just getting to know it, but I like the interface and the speed. You can use Finder folders, tags, and projects to organize your images.

Plex: http://www.plexapp.com

I use Plex Media Server to serve up video files from my Mac mini to some of my devices in the house or on the road. The Plex client runs on Macs, PCs, Linux, iPad, iPhone, and jailbroken Apple TV. While I probably do more with iTunes and its sharing, Plex offers some unique features that cover a lot of ground that iTunes doesn’t. For instance, I can use it to watch an MKV format video on my non-jailbroken iPad, since the Plex software transcodes it in the mini before sending it over the air to my iPad.

Seasonality Core: http://getseasonality.com/core

As a sailor and road warrior, I like to know the weather. I like cylinder graphs for wind, particle animation for weather patterns, and being able to customize the interface. Seasonality does all these things and is fun to use. There is also an iPad app called Seasonality Go which I also like.

Transmit: http://panic.com/transmit/

Moving files to and from my web server calls for a reliable tool with an easy interface, and Transmit does the job very well. I have tried almost all the graphical FTP tools over the years, and Transmit has long been my number one choice.

 
   
     
  Bowie in Space?  
   
 

Last week, an undersea exploration crew, funded and directed by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, recovered two engines believed to be from Saturn V rockets used in the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. The F-1 Rocket Engines were pulled from the sea floor of the coast of Florida about 2.5 miles bellow the Atlantic Ocean.

Something interesting to me and hard to comprehend in today’s computer age is the power of the Apollo guidance computer that sent the astronauts to the moon 40 years ago compared to the power of modern computers.

The processing power of the Apollo 11 computer was 2.048 MHz. Today’s average computer CPU processing power is 2-3 GHz with multiple cores which can double or quadruple that power. For interested minds, one gigahertz is equal to one thousand megahertz, which is thousands of times faster merely in the number of cycles per second.

The Apollo computer had 32 Kilowords of fixed memory for storage and four Kilowords of usable processing ram. It is very hard to compare that ram to todays ram but if you did it would be millions of times more powerful. -editor’s note: four Kilowords is equal to 1.49e-5 GB.

Other advances in architecture of RAM and processors make any real comparison to modern day computers almost impossible. It would be like comparing the Wright flyer to the Saturn rocket that hurled Apollo 11 into space in the first place. Moore’s Law (created by Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel) states that computer power doubles approximately every 18 months. That has held true so far; perhaps in another 40 years, we will wonder how we ever used something as clunky as a MacBook Air.

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/03/jeff-bezos-apollo/

 
   
     
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