It is time for something new

“Progress, for the sake of progress, should be discouraged” – the character Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter series.

Today, my leisure time organization launched their new membership administration website. Change has always been a very peculiar thing in the world. First of all, from an organizational point of view, it comes with risk which can be avoided, so the improvement should be bigger than the risk it takes to implement the change. On a more individual level, change has always divided people into two groups: the change adorers, who welcome the new situation, and the change haters, who detest the new situation or, in most cases, just simply don’t want to change.

The psychological interest in the last group has grown over the years, especially with the development and change of technologies in recent years. According to theory, change has three stages: the unfreeze stage, in which the audience of the change is prepared for the change, the change stage, in which the change is implemented, and the freeze change, in which the day-to-day activities are resumed, with the change implemented. In a way, change has always met its resistance during all three of its stages, whether the change is an improvement or not. If you’re changing any functionality in your software or tool, be prepared to lose some of your customers just because of it.

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Control your home in the palm of your hand

While I’m driving home in my car, I push the “call” button on hands free set and call “home”, instead of calling with my girlfriend, a computerized male answers the phone. I tell the thing on the other side that I will be home in five minutes and would like a cup of coffee ready and the temperature to be 20 degrees centigrade. I hang up the phone and after five minutes, as I enter the door, I can hear the coffee machine buzzing for the last second and look at the temperature gauge on the wall: 20 degrees exactly, just the way I like it.

Does this sound as a far-fetched idea to you? You might not believe it, but it is more recent future than you think. The field of domotics aims to make your house and life integrated, as it is one single machine, supporting you and enabling you to do almost everything automated. Program your computer to make a cup of coffee when the morning alarm sounds, be able to call home and have a cup of coffee, or an entire meal ready for you. Take a look in the fridge from work so you know which groceries to get. Today it is already possible to control the temperature at home from an iPad App while you’re on vacation, and watch the home security video from the bed in your hotel. The future of computing is in your walls, your furniture and your household machinery.

The pocket knife of the internet

Originally, my interest in user interface design came from the poor design of websites. Back then, websites had poor designs (even poorer than nowadays) and were hard to navigate. Every website has its own method to deal with the problems of limited screen real estate and too much functionality. A nice example of a good way to do this is Google. pocketknifeThe products and possibilities they offer keep growing, but the complexity of their products has been stripped down to a minimum. A nice example of this is their main page, where there are two buttons and a menu bar. The design of their menu bar has been based on a swiss army knife, take out what you need, everything opens in a new tab, and whenever you are done using it, put it back again. I think this is a good example of a design of a big complex website.

Don’t think about…

“Don’t think about pink elephants” – George Lakoff

This is something you probably have seen before, it’s called the Ironic Process theory. Tell someone to not think about something, and they will think about it. It is the basis of a lot of wrong behavior, like the “do not enter” sign on many doors, or the traffic sign telling you’re not allowed to drive down a certain road. Though it is often seen in small children (try to make them to not go somewhere) it is common in adults alike. And from it results a credo: if you don’t want someone to do something, make it impossible to do that, putting up a sign has contradictory effect, if the sign is read at all.

On the other hand, this theory could be of some use, from a marketing perspective for example. Apple is using this method widely in their marketing campaign, do not tell anything about your products and almost every tech magazine is talking about them, forbid users to jailbreak their iPhone and a lot of customers are trying.

Let the museum come to you

I admit, museums aren’t the most popular day activity. So a post about museums is a challenge, but I like a challenge.

Today I ran into this museum website: http://www.computerhistory.org . It’s both a museum you can visit (located in california) as it is a website about the history of the thing you are reading this from – whether it is a computer, laptop, a handheld tablet/phone or something different entirely. Apart from being a very good example of a poor website design (I got lost in five minutes, try to stay on longer), it has a few online exhibits ranging from the marketing side of the computer to the technical details of a silicon chip. It’s worth checking out to find out where the thing you are holding actually came from, and you’re done browsing Wikipedia.

What you inherit from your previous owner is…

I think that a student room or studio is one of the biggest hand-me downs in The Netherlands. The many times such a room has been handed down from previous owners is uncountable – and I don’t want to know to be honest. So whenever you change something in your room, you might want to consider the next owners: is this of any use to them? Maybe consider the building owner or maintainer, is this something you could sell to them after your use, like a brand new wooden floor? In my girlfriend’s studio, I found something of which the use seems quite useless, two power plugs against the ceiling on places where I’d guess a previous owner saw the use of putting a power plug over there, but we keep guessing at the point of it. Got any ideas? The only idea i can think of is a light, but where would you put the lightswitch?Jump to the ceiling and put it on (or off)?

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The 10 nastiest feedback mistakes

I think it’s a part of every soft skill course, giving feedback. When something goes wrong or happens, your pc or gadget gives you feedback about what happened, but my oh my, those programmers could do with a decent course in soft skills.

10: Feedback is misspelled
Usually, this is the source for some humor, but it is simply ugly when there are spelling mistakes in your feedback.

9: Feedback is warning you for something that is a 1 in a million case
Ever unplugged a USB drive without unmounting it first? And, what happened? What is that warning for?

8: Feedback gives you the illusion of choice
A feedback window telling you that the download completed successfully, with both an “ok” and “cancel” button. What’s the difference?

7: Feedback is abundant
“Program closed successfully” or “goodbye” messages when you’re closing a program. I really detest the “are you sure?” message when I try to power-off my phone, sometimes it’s still there the next morning.

6: Feedback is not there though it should
Logical result of someone being to scared of number 7, oh you expected an e-mail that your order was received? To bad.

5: Feedback is unclear
Ever saw a 0x34669-something error? There you go, you don’t have a clue what to do with that.

4: Feedback is simply wrong
Ever saw the message “program closed successfully” after a dozen error messages? Been there, and it’s nasty. Ever installed a program and got the message “installation successful”? That’s where you have to be extra carefull.

3:Feedback is not configurable
I don’t want to hear all your mistakes or get notified every time I get a message. I want to be able to turn these off.

2: Feedback is to prominent
Your entire PC hangs because some weird program thinks it needs your attention. Let me decide that. Web pages in IE tend to jump to the front when the page is loaded. Incredibly annoying.

1: Feedback is not imminent
When you click a button, the click should be shown immediately, not hang the program for a minute. Ever tried to click a button a gazillion times because nothing happened? This is the cause. This is the most time-consuming and frustrating activity you can have on your computer. If something went wrong, I want to know it, and I want to know right now.