Posts about poor 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

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

NASA You Have a Problem

Go to NASA’s web site. Use the security settings that are most intelligent to use, the NoScript plugin for Firefox, and NASA makes this bold pointy haired boss statement at the top of every page:

“There’s a problem with your browser or settings.

Your browser or your browser’s settings are not supported. To get the best experience possible, please download a compatible browser. If you know your browser is up to date, you should check to ensure that javascript is enabled.”

Well no, there is no problem with my browser settings. And I am using the latest version of the most popular browser. 0 for 2 phb. What you mean to say is: I am so lame I hired someone who designed our web site so it fails to work properly without javascript enabled.

Jeez, get someone who know how to program a web site that just works. Any marginally competent individual can have your site work for any modern browser and then add in extra features people can take advantage using javascript, or flash or whatever extra things you want. It is amazing that an agency that is suppose to know about technology can do such a lame job of producing a web site. They do manage to provide good content for their web site (probably the content is provided by engineers while some phb decides they know what is best for the web site code).

Related: Astronaut and EarthUsability Failures at the Royal Society Web SiteNSF Usability FailureWebcasts by Chemistry and Physics Nobel Laureates

Thousands of Spiders Build Huge Web

Thousands of spiders worked together to build huge web (site broke link so I removed it) by Anna Tinsley:

But Tuesday afternoon, thousands of Texas spiders were back at it, working to rebuild an immense spider web at Lake Tawakoni State Park that at one time stretched about 200 yards, covering bushes and trees to create a creepy canopy.

Researchers say they now believe thousands of spiders from different species worked together to make one huge web — much different from the traditional individual webs that would normally be woven. Together, they’ve built and rebuilt a web that has caught countless bugs and the attention of people nationwide. “These spiders seem to be working together to build it back,” said Zach Lewis, an office clerk at the park. “It’s really something to see.

“It looked just like a spider would have jumped from tree to tree with a can of silly string.” Researchers say it likely took 1 1/2 to two months to weave such a large web.

He found spiders from 12 families, with the most prevalent being from the Tetragnathidae family. Identified spiders were funnel web weavers, sac spiders, orb weavers, mesh web weavers, wolf spiders, pirate spiders, jumping spiders and long-jawed orb weavers, according to the researchers’ report.

“With the amount of rain that has occurred this year and the huge food supply available, it just created the right condition for all of this,” he said. “It’s possible we’ll see it again. But this happened to be a year where the conditions were right.”

Related: 60 Acre (24 hectare) Spider WebSpider ThreadGiant Wasp Nests

Big Atlantic Sharks Disappearing, Study Warns

Tiger Shark

Big Atlantic sharks disappearing, study warns (phb broke link so I removed it):

Humans, mainly those in countries with a craving for shark-fin soup, have devoured so many of the oceans’ top predators that it has rattled the length of the marine food chain, according to a study to be published today in the prestigious journal Science. While previous studies have calculated declines by half or more, this one argues that seven of the largest sharks along the Atlantic Coast have all but vanished because of overfishing — down as much as 99 percent for bull, dusky and smooth hammerheads over the last 35 years.

The study’s premise: As larger sharks disappeared, smaller ones and rays, both often prey, exploded over the same period. One in particular, the cownose ray, perpetuated to the point that by 2004 it gulped down much of the scallop population in Chesapeake Bay. ”I think that’s just the tip of an iceberg,” Fordham said. “There are so many connections we don’t understand. Sharks keep the oceans in balance.”

Photo by Jim Winstead

Related: As large sharks go away, scallops, clams followArctic Sharks50 New Species Found in Indonesia Reefs

Cancer-Killing Virus

Scientists Say Cancer-Killing Virus Developed (site broke the link so I removed it)

South Korean scientists have said they have developed a new genetically altered strain of virus which is highly efficient in targeting and killing cancer cells. The new therapy developed by the team from Yonsei University uses a genetically-engineered form of the adenovirus, which normally causes colds.

The adenovirus was implanted with a human gene that is related to the production of relaxin, a hormone associated with pregnancy. When injected into cancerous tumors, the virus quickly multiplies in the cancer cells and kills them, the team said.

There are many more wonderful announcements than wonderful treatments. Still this is one in the long line of potentially wonderful treatments. If it turns out to be successful the whole world will benefit. That we all will benefit from such breakthroughs is why I am glad so many countries are investing in science and engineering (also see: Worldwide Science and Engineering Doctoral Degree Data).

340 Years of Royal Society Journals Online

The complete archive (from 1665) of the Royal Society journals, is freely available electronically for two months. You can try using the Journal archive – it sure does have spectacular content, if only you can unearth it:

The archive contains seminal research papers including accounts of Michael Faraday’s groundbreaking series of electrical experiments, Isaac Newton’s invention of the reflecting telescope, and the first research paper published by Stephen Hawking.

Note to anyone with scientific content of high value that decides to allow internet access. Please contact Google and have them help you make it available online. They don’t have any official program to do so, but for collections of enough merit I can’t imagine you would have any trouble getting some Google engineer to take on the project.
Continue reading

Giant Wasp Nests

Giant wasp nest

Giant nests perplex experts (site broke link so I removed it):

The largest nest Ray has inspected this year filled the interior of a weathered 1955 Chevrolet parked in a rural Elmore County barn. That nest was about the size of a tire in the rear floor seven weeks ago, but quickly spread to fill the entire vehicle, the property owner, Harry Coker, said. Four satellite nests around it have gotten into the eaves of the barn, about 300 yards from his home.

Super-size that nest!, July 21st:

The super-sized nests may contain as many as 100,000. One mammoth nest discovered in South Carolina contained roughly a quarter-million workers and as many as 100 queens.

Ray fears some of these nests may not even reach maximum size until late July or August.

One other finding has intrigued Ray and other researchers: the presence of satellite nests in close proximity to the large nest.

China Builds a Better Internet

China Builds a Better Internet (site broke the link so I removed it)

China is looking to become a scientific leader, with projects like China’s Next Generation Internet, to strengthen their economy by creating

its own scientific and technological breakthroughs—using a new and improved version of today’s dominant innovation platform, the Internet. “CNGI is the culmination of this revolutionary plan” to turn China into the world’s innovation capital, says Wu Hequan, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

The United States’ reluctance to invest in IPv6 makes it more likely that China will be in a position to gain the first-mover advantage it seeks. A draft version of a January 2006 report by the Department of Commerce on IPv6 contained a section on competitiveness that highlighted several threats to U.S. Internet leadership, including a further shift of high-tech R&D and product innovation eastward and less available investment capital because of the higher costs of maintaining IPv4 networks. What remains to be seen is whether China can develop the services that take advantage of the next-generation Internet. But China’s researchers are already working on it. At the IPv6 Global Summit in April, China’s major telecommunications and Internet companies got up on stage one by one and told the audience that they have research facilities dedicated to developing these services.

IPv6 is coming, in fact it is already here, though in a limited way. The work started in 1994 when the IPv6 working group was established and proposed standard adopted by the Internet Engineering Steering Group.

IEEE-USA chief calls for IPv6 adoption:

Adoption of a next-generation Internet Protocol by China, Japan and South Korea and other Asian countries should raised questions about U.S. innovation policy, the president of IEEE-USA told an IPv6 conference here Friday