Posts about usability

Christian Science Monitor Scientific Literacy Quiz

This is a nice science quiz that you should learn from while taking it (unless you are extremely knowledgeable already and know every answer).

It is multiple choice, and even on some I got right, I wasn’t completely sure between two choices for example (What is the heaviest noble gas?). I managed to guess pretty well but also missed a couple.

It has one hugely annoying usability failure: after answering the question it loads a new page with the right answer and you have to click again to get the next question. Doing this for 50 questions is extremely tiresome and pointless. They correct answer could be shown at the top and also show the next question.

Some questions in the quiz:

  1. Newton’s First Law of Motion describes what phenomenon?
  2. What word, which comes from a Greek term meaning “good kernel,” describes an organism whose cells contain chromosomes inside a nucleus bounded by a membrane, as distinguished from bacterial forms of life?
  3. DNA contains adenine, cytosine, guanine, and what other nucleotide base, which is not found in RNA? (I had no idea on this one)
  4. What term describes the single initial cell of a new organism that has been produced by means of sexual reproduction?
  5. What term for an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter gets its name from a line in James Joyce’s 1939 novel “Finnegans Wake”?

I managed to get 39 right, which honestly include lots of educated guesses and lucky guesses. It almost seemed the test was 30% on your ability to translate Greek or Latin. Overall I think it was difficult and I was lucky to get 39 right. It would be nice to show participant results like an earlier Science Knowledge Quiz did. Percentage getting each question would be interesting too, along with the distribution of answers.

They do provide all your answers (and the correct answers) on one page once you finish (with is a nice usability touch).

Related: Nearly Half of Adults in the USA Don’t Know How Long it Takes the Earth to Circle the SunTen Things Everyone Should Know About ScienceUnderstanding the Evolution of Human Beings by Country

Bacteria Living Inside Animals Cells

Interesting discussion on the bacteria living inside our cells. For example, many plants have bacteria that get inside the root system and then help fix nitrogen for the plant. Some sea slugs take the chloroplasts from algae they eat and incorporate it themselves, allowing them to get energy from light (photosynthesis): they become photosynthetic slugs.

Adults need science education more than kids do is also a good segment. And I agree strongly that we (as individuals and society) lose a great deal when we fail to help people enjoy learning about science during their whole lives.

I also like the usability of this widget above, where it lets you include the internal links easily into a video.

Related: Symbiotic relationship between ants and bacteriaBiologists Identified a New Way in Which Bacteria Hijack Healthy CellsUsing Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into CellsThe Economic Consequences of Investing in Science Education

Friday Fun: Cats and Kids with iPads

So usable 2 year olds and cats can use them. Fun. Apple sold 500,000 in the first week and demand has outstripped their capacity to produce so they are delaying the international launch of iPad by one month, until the end of May. Google is rumored to have a similar device based on their open Android operating system. Let the games begin. I must admit the iPad seems fun but it seems mainly like hype to me. But I can believe tablet-netbooks could evolve into very cool and popular devices.

Related: Hammer and Feather Drop on MoonDolphin Plays with Air Bubble RingsChimpanzee Riding a Segway
Continue reading

Google Social Circle Results

I haven’t paid much attention to this before: Google showing results based on your social network. In genera,l I think Google is doing great stuff. Their approach to profiles, buzz, search wiki, and social stuff in general however, I find poor (extremely poorly when I see how well they do so much else). They are too borg-like in their insistence you do things exactly as proscribed by them. They opt you in far to often, in the way they want – completely and with few, if any, options. They don’t provide good tools to let you manage your profile and connections. The Google profile itself is extremely lame.

It is very silly that they don’t let you create personas you want to use and let you use them as you want. They force you to use the Google account you are logged in as to access Google services as the profile used in Google searches. I don’t want or need the 2 tied together. And I would much prefer a way to switch between my personas by search (or buzz [though I dropped it because it was so inflexible] or whatever). I know which persona I want for a specific search. This seems like a very obvious thing lots of people would want to do. Google’s whole monolithic, one-very-rigid-size-fits-all social solutions don’t allow this. It is a fundamental flaw. Without fixing the flexibility of social services from Google I see them having trouble succeeding in that area. On the other hand much else of what they do is fantastic.

The way their search wiki stuff works is very similar: inflexible. They seem focused on do it how we want which is not, I think, the way most people want. Their social solutions are very all or nothing. They want people to behave how Google wants. For that reason after short attempts to try Google’s social efforts I give up. I keep hoping they will become more flexible and user friendly but keep being disappointed.

This is the network of connections Google uses to identify relevant social search results. It is based on a combination of the following:

  • Direct connections from your Google chat buddies and contacts (5)
  • Direct connections from links listed on your Google profile (0) such as Twitter and FriendFeed
  • Secondary connections (252) that are publicly associated with your direct connections
  • In addition to web pages from your social circle, posts from your Google Reader subscriptions may also appear in your social search results.

Google Social Search is a feature designed to help you discover relevant publicly-accessible content from your social circle, a set of online friends and contacts. The idea is that content from your friends and social contacts is often more relevant to you than content from strangers. For example, a movie review from an expert is useful, but a movie review from your best friend can be even better.

Related: Ideas for Improving Google (2006)Web search improvement (2005)Google Wave Developer Preview WebcastGmail FailureGoogle Should Stay True to Their Management Practicespost about Google, focused on management practices

See video on Google social search:
Continue reading

EngineerGirl Essay: The Cure to Vitamin D Deficiency

photo of Kate YuhasKate Yuhas, an eighth-grader at Brighton’s Scranton Middle School, Michigan. Photo courtesy Kate Yuhas.

Brighton eighth-grader rewarded for her love for science

Thirteen-year-old Kate Yuhas, who plans to be an environmental engineer someday, has loved science since she was little.

Yuhas received an honorable mention certificate from the National Academy of Engineering’s EngineerGirl! Web site Imagine That! Engineering Innovation Essay Contest for her essay on a tanning booth that helps people produce vitamin D. “My whole life I’ve been interested in science,” Yuhas said. “I really like helping the environment and eating organic.”

“Kate has a talent for science and math, and she’s won medals at Science Olympiad,” said her mom, Johanna, who coaches the team. “Kate has always had science-themed parties. My husband and I are both engineers, and we talk a lot about science at home.”

The essay contest asked participants to consider one of three images on the EngineerGirl! site and to discuss its potential purposes and functions using engineering creativity.

Read Kate’s essay: The Cure to Vitamin D Deficiency

What can help prevent MS, high blood pressure, and several autoimmune diseases? The answer to that question would be Vitamin D, which you can get in three ways: food, supplements, and the sun. 70 percent of Americans lack adequate amounts of Vitamin D. The reason is that people just don’t get enough sun. That’s why my invention would be so helpful. It is a special tanning booth that only gives out the specific amount of UVB rays, the type of UV rays that is needed to produce Vitamin D, which you need.

The Engineer Girl website has done a smart thing and posted all the essays online. It is a simple act but one so often other organizations fail to do in similar circumstances.

Related: Students Create “Disappearing” Nail PolishTinker School: Engineering CampScience for KidsBuilding minds by building robotsKids on Scientists: Before and After

Google Wave Developer Preview Webcast

Google Wave is a new tool for communication and collaboration on the web, coming later this year. The presentation was given at Google I/O 2009. The demo shows what is possible in a HTML 5 browser. They are developing this as an open access project. The creative team is lead by the creators for Google Maps (brothers Lars and Jens Rasmussen) and product manager Stephanie Hannon.

A wave is equal parts conversation and document. People can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.

A wave is shared. Any participant can reply anywhere in the message, edit the content and add participants at any point in the process. Then playback lets anyone rewind the wave to see who said what and when.

A wave is live. With live transmission as you type, participants on a wave can have faster conversations, see edits and interact with extensions in real-time.

Very cool stuff. The super easy blog interaction is great. And the user experience with notification and collaborative editing seems excellent. The playback feature to view changes seems good though that is still an area I worry about on heavily collaborative work. Hopefully they let you see like all change x person made, search changes…

They also have a very cool context sensitive spell checker that can highlight mis-spelled words that are another dictionary word but not right in the context used (about 44:30 in the webcast).

For software developer readers they also highly recommended the Google Web Development Kit, which they used heavily on this project.

Related: Joel Spolsky Webcast on Creating Social Web ResourcesRead the Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog in 35 LanguagesLarry Page and Sergey Brin Interview WebcastGoogle Should Stay True to Their Management Practices

Went Walkabout. Brought back Google Wave.
Continue reading

Meeting the Challenge of Simplicity

Interesting webcast by Meeting the Challenge of Simplicity by Giles Colborne. This session addresses abstract notion of simplicity, looks at why it is critical in modern UI design and answers questions: Why does simplicity matter? Is there a meaningful definition of simplicity? Why do design processes and good intentions undermine simplicity? What processes and techniques can software developers use to achieve simplicity?

InfoQ is a great site for watching presentations online. With a simple but superior interface showing a live video with a separate area showing the current slides.

Related: posts on usabilityDesigning In ErrorsUsability FailuresEngineering a Better World: Bike Corn-ShellerComplicating Simplicity

Data Analysts Captivated by R’s Power

Data Analysts Captivated by R’s Power

data mining has entered a golden age, whether being used to set ad prices, find new drugs more quickly or fine-tune financial models. Companies as diverse as Google, Pfizer, Merck, Bank of America, the InterContinental Hotels Group and Shell use it.

Close to 1,600 different packages reside on just one of the many Web sites devoted to R, and the number of packages has grown exponentially. One package, called BiodiversityR, offers a graphical interface aimed at making calculations of environmental trends easier.

Another package, called Emu, analyzes speech patterns, while GenABEL is used to study the human genome. The financial services community has demonstrated a particular affinity for R; dozens of packages exist for derivatives analysis alone. “The great beauty of R is that you can modify it to do all sorts of things,” said Hal Varian, chief economist at Google. “And you have a lot of prepackaged stuff that’s already available, so you’re standing on the shoulders of giants.”

R first appeared in 1996, when the statistics professors Ross Ihaka and Robert Gentleman of the University of Auckland in New Zealand released the code as a free software package. According to them, the notion of devising something like R sprang up during a hallway conversation. They both wanted technology better suited for their statistics students, who needed to analyze data and produce graphical models of the information. Most comparable software had been designed by computer scientists and proved hard to use.

R is another example of great, free, open source software. See R packages for Statistics for Experimenters.

via: R in the news

Related: Mistakes in Experimental Design and InterpretationData Based Decision Making at GoogleFreeware Math ProgramsHow Large Quantities of Information Change Everything

Read the Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog in 35 Languages

I have added a Google gadget to the right side column of the Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog that translates our blog into 35 languages. I have been proving a direct link to 6 languages, so this is a great increase in languages covered.

All that is required to add this capability to your site is add a short bit of javascript from the Google Translate gadget site. And as they add more languages that additional coverage will automatically be reflected on your site.

The usability of the Google translate is excellent, I think. If you are reading the translated page, say in Chinese, and you follow a link to another page on our site it translates that page for you automatically.

I hope you enjoy this new capability.

Related: Funding Google Gadget DevelopmentGoogle Offers $10 Million in Awards for Google Phone DevelopmentMarissa Mayer on Innovation at GoogleIs Google Overpriced?Javascript books

Perceptions v. Objective Reality

User Interface Matters by Colleen Dick:

the earliest Hewlett Packard programmable calculators in the early 80’s. When engaging in lengthy number crunching, the calculator would print “crunching” (or processing, or something) on the display, and every few seconds it would add a dot, so the user would know something was happening.

HP engineers discovered that if they completely decoupled the display while serious crunching was going on, they could make the computations run 30-40% faster. Naturally they assumed the users would appreciate such a significant speed increase, so on their next revision, they just shut the screen down on lengthy computations.

Users complained about the slowdown! These are HP early adopters, mind you, mostly “rational” scientists and engineers. Remember, when objectively measured, the computations were measurably and significantly faster when the screen was decoupled!

In subjective time, the computations seemed slower without the feedback, even though in objective time we know they were faster.

There are times when objective improvement is most important, but there are also plenty of times when subjective improvement is more important. Often this difference is ignored.

Related: Packaging Improves Foot “Taste”The Psychology of Too Much Choice

Engineer Your Life

Engineer Your Life is an outreach initiative committed to sharing with college-bound young women the opportunities available to them in the world of engineering. Unfortunately they chose to use flash content and the website fails to follow simple usability guidelines (basic stuff like human readable urls, links that work without javascript…) but there is decent content. The use of flash and failing to pay attention to usability are highly correlated in my experience. The site profiles 12 engineers including Judy Lee:

Judy’s enthusiasm paid off. A few months later, the IKEA engineer asked her to design a children’s play mat. Judy was thrilled and soon found herself in IKEA headquarters in Sweden, where she worked with a team of engineers and product developers. It was at this moment that she realized her ideal job was one that truly offered a balance between creativity and problem solving.

Designing for IKEA
Judy began her new project by thinking about the way kids play. “I realized that kids today play indoors a lot. Maybe because the world seems a little more dangerous and parents are more protective. So I knew that this mat had to incorporate some kind of physical play element.” Rather than a static mat, Judy designed one resembling a giant lazy Susan that kids could spin around on. “Once I had the concept, the mechanical engineer in me took over. I needed something simple. Simplicity is awesome. My mat is basically two injection-molded pieces of plastic that spin on a set of interior wheels.”

Judy will never forget the experience of seeing her mat in an IKEA store. “It was incredible,” she recalls, “and it was such important validation for me that my ideas matter, they’re good, and they’re marketable.”

Dream Job at IDEO
Today, Judy has found her dream job in Palo Alto, California, at a company called IDEO, one of the country’s most innovative design firms. IDEO hires engineers, designers, psychologists, and businesspeople who work in teams to develop cutting-edge products (they created Apple Computer’s first mouse, for example). Judy designs children’s toys, pet products, and packaging for over-the-counter drugs and food. “I feel pretty lucky to have such a creative and interesting job. I’m surrounded by brilliant people. It doesn’t really seem like work. It’s just plain fun!”

Related: Beloit College: Girls and Women in ScienceWomen Choosing Other Fields Over Engineering and MathNASA You Have a ProblemGirls Sweep Top Honors at Siemens Competition in Math, Science and TechnologyWomen Working in Scienceother posts on poor usability

  • Recent Comments:

    • Anders Jytzler: I love this! Imagine how much of the ocean we haven’t explored yet. Combined with...
    • Maureen Coffey: Wound healing is actually an interesting subject. Both astronauts, who though having a...
    • Anonymous: That’s great news for engineers! Although I bet there is good amount of variability for...
    • Anonymous: Neat project, thanks for sharing! Projects like this are a great opportunity for students from...
    • Roni: your article was really good thank you
    • sandybrown: RoboBoat is a powerful technology.it’s also challenges and competitive.really...
    • batu: It looks good.Planes are well now but boats are new.I hope it will development
    • Angela: Video lectures are very good. Video easily understood and clear. I love this style of expression,...
  • Recent Trackbacks:

  • Links