Usability – Real and Virtual

Alright, fine! I’m back and I should be posting more often, but I’m lazy. Has it ever bothered you that software developers are often terrible at designing interfaces? These guys are, and I am too. But software developers aren’t the only ones…

Microwave Ovens are the worst offenders of keypads on appliances. There is no standard, so it is a free-for-all whenever an appliance maker designs a new oven. Here is the keypad on a 1993 GE SpaceMaker:

Microwave Oven

How do you enter 1:30, judging from this image? You’re thinking “just press 1, 3, 0” but you’d be wrong. Actually, to enter exact cook times on this cooker, you have to press “TIME COOK” first. So for some reason, it is now faster to enter 1:30 by pressing 1 (which gives 1:00) and “ADD 30 SECONDS” (which gives 1:30). A word to GE – number keypads should all work as expected, okay? And we expect them to work when we first press them. Imagine having a cell phone where you had to press a “DIAL NUMBER” button before dialing the number.

I’m a little upset with my microwave, as you can see.

Here’s another useability flaw that I came across today. This is the page shown when you click “Help Center” at buydomains.com, where I have one my domains registered:

BuyDomains.com

As you can see, it presents a FAQ index. But it doesn’t show the most popular FAQs. It does allow for searching the FAQs, but at first glance a user won’t notice that, because it is in a separate box that includes a list of links to other locations. Wonderful. Next you’ll see the “Contact Us” link, which takes you to a webform where you can fill in your name, email, problem description, and “traceroute if it is a connection problem with one of your sites.” Are you kidding me?

They don’t provide any contact email, phone number or IM. A hint to all web startups: make it EASY for the customer to get answers from a real person. FAQs are fun to make, and sometimes fun to read, but are useless when not exhaustive knowledgebases (such as Microsoft’s KB). For a real world metaphor, read on.

You’ve just walked up to the Customer Service desk at your local Walmart SuperCenter. There is no receptionist nor representative. There is no telephone. There is only a 3 ring binder which, upon opening, reveals a list of questions that Walmart customers frequently ask. The top page is an index, and thumbing through it you see answers to all kinds of questions. Not surprisingly, you are unable to find the answer to your question. Now you have noticed that there is a ticket machine. It is tucked away to one corner, so you didn’t even see it when you first approached the desk. You take a ticket, and read the text on the back of the ticket: “Thank you for your inquiry. You should receive a response within the next 48 hours.”

We would never put up with this at Walmart, so why do so many of us put up with it on Customer Support websites?

Goodbye $25 decades-lasting driver’s license; hello evil expensive eight-years-only National ID

http://www.dailystar.com/dailystar/dailystar/84765.php

IANACT, but what’s next? National RFID tags connected to the unabridged demographic data collected by surveys/contests/malware/credit cards/census (sold to the US Federal government for trillions of taxpayers’ dollars and heralded as “National Security”)?

*I am not a conspiracy theorist

Internet Everywhere

Captain’s Log: StarDate, er… June 25th, 2005.

Location: the ocean. Technically speaking, Pacific Beach in sunny San Diego.

I’m blogging in the ocean. Oh yeah. Peace out.

California dreaming, racks, WikiTeam

I’m going to be in San Diego for the next few days. I hope my guitars (I’m taking 3) survive the Yuma desert on the way out there. The Priority band (website’s down, so no link) is playing for a camp at Point Loma. I should be excited, but I’ve done this before, and last time I was large and in charge. This time I’m not only playing guitar, but I’ll also be helping run the behind-the-music show.

As in, racks. Or rather, rack – a very large 20 space rack! We just put this together, and it has everything we could ever need (minus recording equipment). Not to mention it is so pretty, it deserves a unique name and recognition as a work of art. In this case, a picture would speak much better than I, but since the rack is stuffed away in a trailer, you’ll have to wait (I promise I’ll post a pic). This new outboard rack consists of (from top to bottom):

  • Furman Pro Power Conditioner
  • 2 Behringer Multicom Compressor / Limiters (8 channels of compression)
  • 2 Behringer Virtualizer Pro Effects units (4 channels of effects)
  • Numark professional dual-deck CD player (with separate controller space)
  • 3 Behringer Ultragraph dual-channel 31-band graphic equalizers (6 channels of eq)
  • 4U rack drawer with lots of toys (microphones, etc.)
  • Furman Pro Power Conditioner (yes, that means 2!!)

On this trip, we also have the privilege of borrowing 8 Sennheiser Wireless units (with Countryman headsets if needed) and 4 Intelligent sound-sensitive stagelights.

At this point you’re wondering about “WikiTeam” in the title. Well, after some discussion on #ubuntu-doc, the next Ubuntu Documentation Team meeting will decide whether or not to form a new subteam (or possibly a separate team entirely) whose sole responsibility would be Wiki janitorial work. Now, that may not sound very elegant, but I’m really good at it, and it can be hacked on from any computer / platform (read: my Windows laptop). The Ubuntu Wiki needs a lot of help, especially now that it has been converted from Plone to MoinMoin. I see the Wiki as being the centrifuge of knowledge, information and documentation between the forums, the DocTeam, and unofficial documentation. I’m working on debugging various Python scripts that can convert HTML to MoinMoin (and back again) and DocBook to MoinMoin (and back again).

mdke (a DocTeam member) and I are interested in creating the WikiTeam. I hope that the rest of the DocTeam will see the need. Of course, once it passes our internal vote, it may then have to go to the Community Council meeting to be approved officially. Perhaps then I’ll nominate myself for Ubuntu membership. :)

Plasma brainstorming…

I’m really excited about the potential that Plasma will bring to KDE. I’m even more excited that aseigo is looking to the community for ideas and concepts.

This is a brain dump I created using KJots (a very useful note-taking utility): Plasma Applet Ideas

KDE 4 Will Be Awesome

I know, you’ve heard that before. You probably heard that KDE 3 would be awesome, too. But seriously, KDE 4 is going to have major UI/usability/candy/feature improvements. The codebase is now being worked on in SVN.

In the works:

  • Plasma – a unified desktop, kicker panel, system tray, and widget framework. The existing SuperKaramba code will be integrated. Icons and widgets can be seamlessly dragged between the kicker panel and the desktop. They can be made to float above windows or below. In general, this is going to be eyecandy heaven. Hopefully it will run circles around Mac OS X’s Dashboard (which was an indirect ripoff of SuperKaramba).
  • Tenor – a systemwide contextual linkage engine. This goes beyond standard “find” and “locate” frontends, which most desktop search tools are based on. Beagle for GNOME and Spotlight for Mac OS X create an active index of files with existing meta information. Tenor, on the other hand, will be integrated into each KDE application, and will store contextual information never yet seen on any desktop OS. For example, when you receive an email attachment, the following information will follow that file: who sent it, whether they are in your address book, when you received the email, when you first opened the attachment, how you responded to the email (did you send a reply?), and much more. I can’t even think of everything it could do. In addition to the Tenor engine, a content browser (possibly within Konqueror) will provide an easy way to view context-based content. (Think Longhorn, minus the SQL-based WinFS, and add the fact that this will actually have a release date).
  • APPEAL – this project isn’t specific to KDE 4, but will play a major part in getting KDE 4 out the door. APPEAL is a team and collaboration of KDE hackers, artists, and documentation writers, all with the intent of planning the direction of KDE and supporting innovative ideas. APPEAL is planning to support the Tenor and Plasma technologies. Other topics discussed at the first meeting were artwork, human interface guidelines, and groupware applications. It seems like the goal of APPEAL is “to restructure KDE into eye catching, usable interfaces.”
  • Qt-Firefox / KFirefox / KGecko – whatever it will be called, Zack Rusin will be porting Firefox and Gecko to Qt4 by the time KDE 4 rolls around (hopefully sooner). This will enable a lot of fun possibilities, including Konqueror with a Gecko engine, Firefox with a KHTML engine, and full KDE integration in Firefox. Integration means KDE dialogues, KPrinter integration, KGet integration, minimal KIO slave support (not all are appropriate for a web browser), full QT-theme support, and *hopefully* integratation with Konqueror bookmarks/cache/cookies.

Kubuntu Package Menu

I felt the need for a GUI way of installing local packages on Kubuntu. Part of my plan to GUI-ize the “last mile” of CLI (command line interface) functions in Kubuntu. I found one for Debian packages, but it was debianized and wasn’t particularly descriptive. Great GPL’d code, though, so I made my own.

See it at http://kde-apps.org/content/show.php?content=23981

Next on the list: a good way to edit options in all the /etc/*.conf files from a Control Center module. Also, someone needs to add a verbose feature to Kynaptic Package Manager, and a sources.list editor dialogue.