29 october 2004: and then there were none
flipsockgrrl @ gmail .com
New(ish) article: testing for the fun factor (and why Halo is so very playable)
Three little webbers, all in a row...
Then Stephen (far left of picture) took his web development skills to the Victorian Parliament...
Margaret (that's me) joined Melbourne University's nascent web centre (now grown to 12 people and in the throes of implementing a new content management system)...
...and now the lovely Warren has accepted a job at Melbourne University's Law School, managing online resources for teaching and learning. Congratulations, mate, and welcome to Melbourne Uni!
28 October 2004 | top of page
The Victorian Supreme Court is hearing evidence about the Melbourne Unviersity Student Union's financial problems, caused mainly by a failed deal to underwrite construction of student housing in Carlton.
"Distinguish or perish" is the message from the federal government's higher education reforms. The marketing and communication director is an important role at most universities (except the one where I work: we don't have such a beastie at present). If any of them set up circuses in the centre of the national capital, we should probably start to worry.
"Converting university teaching to technology-based systems is an expensive process. Where can institutions look for evidence about the likely reactions of faculty [staff] to new methods and for advice about how to maximize the chances that faculty will adopt them?" Start by looking at adoption by business and individuals of high technology products.
27 October 2004 | top of page
The new head of the Australian Research Council wants to review how research is funded. Peter Hoj suggested the ARC spends too much on assessing grant applications through peer review, and questioned the appropriate balance between discovery and linkage grants, whether more money should be earmarked for early career research, and the merit in co-investing in research facilities.
"Scientists at Ohio State University fed honey bees different amounts of alcohol and watched how long they spent walking, flying, grooming or just lying on their backs." Unsurprisingly, they found the more alcohol a bee consumed, the more legless it became. Sounds like a Friday-night-at-the-pub research project to me. (thanks, Paul)
According to the UN's annual census of the world's robot population, there are now 607,000 "automated domestic robots" out there, and robot density in Spain is higher than in France.
The Huygens probe is about to drift into Titan's atmosphere. It nearly didn't, because its system designers forgot to allow for the Doppler effect.
Hiding in plain sight: what steganography is, and how it works in a digital world.
Flores islanders have legends about little people called Ebu Gogo. The myths say Ebu Gogo were alive when Dutch explorers arrived in Indonesia a few hundred years ago and the very last legend featuring the mythical creatures dates to 100 years ago. Now University of New England archaeologists have found a new species of humans, one metre tall, who lived on the island at recently as 12,000 years ago.
29 October 2004 | top of page
In Victoria, 41 per cent of small to medium IT businesses have partnerships with a university or TAFE. Most collaboration is in the form of staff development rather than commercialisation activities.
Synthesising reality, a how-to guide from the Bush White House: "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality--judiciously, as you will--we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
Sometimes businesses forget that customers matter: they produce "websites that mirror the organization's internal structure; tax forms filled with jargon and needless complexity; cell phone rate plans that are structured for the benefit of the carrier's network; health insurance claims rejected for arbitrary bureaucratic reasons..." It's like thinking the Sun revolves around the Earth. (thanks, Yun-Joo)
Are you real? These days, if you apply for a desk job it's quite likely the prospective employer will google you. Clive Thompson observes: "And increasingly I find that when I do a search for someone on Google and can't find anything about them--not a single page--I'm quite freaked out. It's like running into some 'lost man' from a 1960s cold-war spy novel, somebody who has deliberately adopted a new identity and erased all tracks of themselves. Not being visible on Google now seems kind of antisocial: In a digital age, it's simply not polite."
A couple of years ago, the idea of a corporate weblog was almost unheard-of (unless you had read the Cluetrain Manifesto). This year, the idea caught on and "in the past 6 months there has been a rise in corporate blogging. And it continues to grow, from CEOs to the analyst level. And it will grow and grow and grow, until it just is. Then we will all start fidgeting while we go through the next online evolution."
29 October 2004 | top of page
Despite the frequently-reported death of email, 72 per cent of 9-19 year olds in Britain who use the Internet at least once a week send and receive email, while only 55 per cent use instant messaging. This increases to 87 per cent and 72 per cent respectively for 16-17 year olds.
Here's an unobtrusive way to help users find their way around your large, complex web site: put a task-oriented, mini sitemap on the bottom of every page. Flickr's doing a version of it already, and Matt Jones has done the hard work for you: he's user-tested the concept and written up some stuff about spatial metaphors and wayfinding that you can use as a basis for further development. Grab the idea, use it and let Jones know how it goes.
In usability testing, it's tempting to ask people to find particular pieces of information on a web site or in a computer application. The results are easy to measure and report on, but something's missing: with this sort of question, you won't actually learn what information users of the site/program really need to find.
A nifty Google cartography hack "takes a starting street and finds streets which intersect with it. Traversing the streets in a breadth-first manner, further intersections are discovered. Eventually a connected graph is produced showing the interconnectivity of streets flowing from the starting street." Requires Java Runtime Environment ( a version more recent than 1.3.x). (thanks, Fraser)
A new email discussion list for Australian users of the JAWS screen reader, and for people who design software or web sites that need to be accessible for vision-impaired people. In Australia, that means all publicly-available web sites, especially government and education sites.
If architects had to work like web designers... (thanks, Yun-Joo)
A just-the-essentials reading kit for web designers.
From the British Library: a comparison of digital and print formats for long-term preservation of archives.
Where project management, usability and user-centred design meet, interesting things happen. (OK, interesting to me, anyway.)
"We talk a lot in HCI and usability circles about 'preaching to the choir', but software and web development conferences are really where the important congregation can be found." After all, they're the ones who actually build the user interfaces.
How to manage a large, decentralised web site: it's a balancing act between control and flexibility.
What words to use in your metadata? Take some tips from your web users.
29 October 2004 | top of page
Matt Jones has a neologism: pipothesis, "an idea or hypothesis that has been built from information directly received without feedback or reflection from another."
"Since earliest youth, when first I broached the dusty tomes of Paracelsus, natural philosophy has been my chief delight. To divine the secret of the vital spark has been my sole study; my sole ambition—too bold, too unholy to speak aloud!—to bring inanimate matter to life. Last night, my studies bore fruit. The events of which I write were set in motion by a summons I received, yesterday morning, from the Honorable Mr. B—, Member of Congress from the State of Texas..."
"'The airport is at once a place, a system, a cultural artifact that brings us face-to-face with the advantages as well as the frustrations of modernity.' Or perhaps the frustration stems from a more vaporous cultural anxiety: that we have reached our final destination, that we may never inhabit so modern a place again."
"The anonymity of the airport is what gives it its special charm. There is nothing in particular about airports. But lingering just under the surface is an excitement. That is the excitement of the connection implicit in airports. They are one step away from somewhere, potentially, radically different. The soothing emptiness of airports is the emptiness that precedes the fulfillment of a promise. Anything that one might purchase at an airport is immediately three and a half times more pleasing for being purchased there. Things taste better, clothes look sharper, useless objects maintain a charming aura that drops away from them as soon as they leave the space of the airport."
"In Greeneland, the moral weather is perpetually gray. Fidelity and loyalty are impossible ideals... Salvation is fleeting, while damnation is a permanent temptation, rarely resisted, if not actively courted... Evil and decay aroused Greene's imagination; as Milton did with Satan, he gives his wicked characters and dodgy dealers all the best lines."
"Elvis and JFK, both alive and in nursing homes, fight for the souls of their fellow residents as they battle an ancient Egyptian Mummy." With a synopsis like that, how could you *not* rent this DVD?
The British Library has started collecting old emails and digital documents from artists, writers, scientists and politicians. Like other digital archivists, digital manuscripts curator Jeremy John has run into a problem: he needs old computers and assorted other hardware (cables and the like) to access and read the old data. (via Collision Detection)
29 October 2004 | top of page
A walking tour of London: "Orangey-Brown Street was bombed flat during the Second World War, but still has treats in store for fans of modern architecture. Chief among these is Lactose House, which is designed in the Brutalist-Minimal Style. It was opened by the Mayor of Southwark in 1966, who, along with the other dignitaries in attendance, promptly realised that its rough-hewn concrete form was far too minimal to include decorations like doors or windows. It is believed that the architect may still be inside."
The soysauce warrior, Kikkoman, versus Banana and Frozen Shrimp. (Requires Flash and sound)
Twenty years ago Robert Axelrod showed how cooperation "could emerge from egoistic maximizers through a prisioner's dilemma tournament. The tournament's winning strategy 'Tit-for-tat... illuminated phenomenon [sic] as diverse as salmon mating habits and spontaneous cease-fires in World War I.... Ever since the tournament, new strategies for maximizing payoffs in an iterated prisioners' dilemma are developed all the time, but 'tit-for-tat' has consistently outperformed all challengers... until now."
Sometimes, when surfing the web, one hits a rock. A really big, scary rock:
(Where's Sergeant Detritus when we need him?)
Beverly Mitchell came home from holidays "to find a stranger living there, wearing her clothes, changing utilities into her name and even ripping out carpet and repainting a room she didn't like... Douglas County [Georgia, USA] authorities say they can't explain why Beverly Valentine, 54, broke into an empty home and started acting like it was her own."
29 October 2004 | top of page
17 Dec: the
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