Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Developing User Interfaces

My buddy Craig put a note up on his blog with two links talking about the same issue. One was a developer griping about how he couldn't make any progress at the big company he was working for. The other talked about how the resulting user interface was too complicated. Both are good reads.

I agree with the developer. No matter how important you might think the design is, this is no way to run a business. Eight people worked for over a year to produce a simple menu. Developers actually want to get things done. Managers don't seem to understand this. A good manager gets a good developer to achieve good performance by getting out of their way. Most managers seem to think that they have to coax, cajole, or even threaten their staff. Very strange. My own performance has now varied by a factor of about thirty, by any measure. It hasn't been a matter of motivation, or being a team player or the tools provided, or even clarity of purpose. It has been entirely how much red tape is required. The less the better. Managers seem to think of their job as important. But their job is overhead, which should be minimized.

I mostly agree with Joel on this one. For an end user application, simplicity is king. My own Ipod Shuffle has a power switch. It's a three position switch. The three positions are off, sequential, and shuffle. The off position should have been eliminated. For one thing, it's unreliable. If i pause the device, it will eventually turn itself off. When i turn it back on with the play button, it picks up where it left off. But, if i turn it off with the switch, every now and then, when i turn it back on, it starts at the beginning of the first track, or worse, it starts at the beginning of a random track (because it's pretty easy to switch it to shuffle mode). Since there's no display on the Shuffle, and since i may have 50 tracks on it, and since the fast forward isn't all that fast, it can take twenty minutes to get back to where i was. So, i don't use off anymore. The other things that should have been fixed are the fast forward and rewind features. Rewind should be able to dig into the end of the previous track. For some of the two hour podcasts i listen to, failure to start where i left off after about, oh, an hour and 50 minutes, is frustratingly painful. In fact, faced with this, i mostly either skip the rest of the program or use a real computer for the last bit. Both reverse and fast forward need to be able to speed up (by skipping more content) in some reasonable way. What did Apple do instead with the new Shuffle? They removed the built-in USB connection. Now you need an extra dohickey to put more stuff on it. Apple also seems to want to add even more DRM to their stuff. I don't use DRM content. I won't be upgrading.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Welcome to dump grief
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where it’s on-topic.

Monday, November 20, 2006


Heads! You're going to have an above average day!

Over the past few weeks, i've run an experiment. In the morning, shortly after waking up, i flip a coin. It either says heads or tails. In fact, the coin i use has no possibility of landing on the edge. I've told myself that if it says heads then i'll have a good day. If it says tails, then i'll have a below average day. There are no average days with this scheme. The idea is to track the coin toss, to see how good a predictor it really is.

During the first week, i was surprised at how good a predictor is was. During the second week, i made extra sure that i used the same coin, for fear that the magic was only present in the first, one and only magic coin. And, i took extra care not to toss the coin more than once in a day, lest the coin become tired, or something else might happen to prevent it's magic from working. More on the magic coin in a moment. During the third week, i was looking for a coin with heads on both sides. These days were clearly better.

Well, they were better except for today. This afternoon, i feel the weight of the flu on me again, and i had the runs a couple times - quite painful, and it left me drained. The coin said heads. Well, the coin was tossed in the morning, and the morning was really quite good. After all, i'd had a good night's sleep. Let's see what the coin says now about the afternoon: Heads again. Well, maybe i'm under the weather, but i can still be upbeat, right? Yes, and that's why i'm looking for a coin with heads on both sides.

Superstition is easy to generate. And, when looking for patterns, you are very likely to find them, even if they do not exist. When you look up at the stars, there are at least three dippers. The Big Dipper (part of Ursa Major), the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor), and the Pleiades (M45) all have a dipper pattern. The stars are random, but here's a repeating pattern of not just two or three stars, but Seven Stars. How likely is that?

The coin i'm using is a program on my Palm Pilot. Now, i have two Palms. They're both quite old, and getting unreliable. I use one as a backup for the other. So they have identical programs and data. The better of the two is used as the primary. I recently switched primary and secondary. The other one hasn't gotten any better... The upshot is that i could probably get a program that always says Heads. I'm a web programmer, and could put up a trivial program that does this. In fact, any static web page will do. So when you want to know how your day will turn out, look up this web page. Your answer has been conveniently placed at the top, and in the title.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

What to get me for Xmas

No, i'm not a topologist, but this is really cool, if expensive. It's a Drinking Mug Klein Bottle. Doubles as a barometer, for spooky weather prediction. One can even drink tea in it, though reading tea leaves won't predict the weather with as much reliability.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Monday, Monday

Yesterday was a day off at the biggest of the big three US Automotive companies. We got the day off to vote, which took all of a half hour. One supposes that if i had to vote in the morning or evening, then it would have taken much longer. If that's the price of democracy - having a day off from time to time, i suppose that's OK.

In any case, today feels like a Monday. Which means that this week has two Mondays. When i mentioned this to a random passer by at the soda vending machine, he said, "Well that's not right. We ought to have two Fridays." To which, i replied that this Monday we had this week on Monday was also a Friday. Figure that one out.

To have two Fridays in a week, you have to take off, not Tuesday, but Wednesday. This avoids having a day that is both the beginning of the week and the end of the week at the same time. Naturally, if you have a Wednesday off, you complain that you can't really do anything with it, like go up North and do some wilderness trip in a canoe or something, and it just breaks up the week for nothing. If you figure out some solution to this dilemma, let me know.