Visualizing Social Networks
With high hopes, I visited another site run by a different guy, www.NetVis.org, to attempt my own less ambitious social network analysis. After a struggle involving browser and Java versions, bit depths, resolutions, etc, only the demo and home page examples worked—not any of my data. The 3 public data sets I tried failed, resulting in "0" for all variables, with no coordinates for the visualizing stage to draw. It drew a little yellow dot. (See screenshot).
So I clicked on Feedback to ask what the heck was going on. It popped up a window with a form. Halfway through filling it out, it closed itself. Did the site designer mean to do that?
The site is a cool concept, but the execution frustrated me. I hope he gets it working better. I found what I believe is the designer's email address on a site he linked to, and emailed him about it.
Posted by Chad Lundgren on Friday, June 28, 2002 (Link)
Self-Righteousness is a Drug
Outrage rang forth from the nation's capital at Wednesday's court ruling that the pledge of allegiance is unconstitutional. All the congressman beat their breasts, said the pledge on the Capitol's steps, and passed resolutions, high on self-righteousness.
"High" is not a metaphor. Self-righteousness is anger at the out-group, self-congratulation at your chosen status, blended with your group's approval, all shaken[Link removed 03/24/2004] , not stirred, into a lovely but toxic drug cocktail using drugs already in the brain. I remember from when I was religious.
So no, the ruling is not silly or the pledge trivial. The ruling won't stand in the current group-think environment, in which political cartoonists are being persecuted and most news articles didn't quote anyone in favor of the decision. CNN quoted U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan professing bewilderment.
Group-think is not patriotism—America was founded on dissent! Criticizing the President is different from criticizing the constitution, or the democratic ideal of the United States, both of which I'm patriotic about. No "war on terrorism" is worth destroying either.
Posted by Chad Lundgren on Thursday, June 27, 2002 (Link)
So Salon.com had an article I wanted to read, but a Flash ad with Don Rickles shilling for some Vegas tie-in popped up, covering the content.
How appropriate that an insult comedian appears in this ad. I wrote Salon.com a while back complaining about this kind of ad and received a reply saying, Yahoo's doing it, the ad market's soft, we have to.
Nathan Shedroff's excellent article Computer Human Values asks "...What type of person is your interface most like? Is it helpful or boorish?" A site devoted to Rickles—The Hockey Puck—plays a sound file at you.
I'm going to start calling these obnoxious Flash ads "Insult Ads".
Posted by Chad Lundgren on Tuesday, June 25, 2002 (Link)
Fascists R Us
I plan to keep Zen Haiku mostly on usability and information architecture, but I couldn't let this go by: The daypop top 40 links brings the distressing news that the FBI is rifling through library and book store records. Oh, it's all for terrorists, innocent people need not worry. Terrorists have replaced kids as the justification du jour for privacy invasion.
The terrorist argument is a retread of "If you're don't have anything to hide, why do you care?" Come on! A desire for privacy is normal: there are legitimate reasons not to disclose personal information. Anyone can be made to look bad: I like the expression No man is a hero to his valet although I've never had one.
Another argument implies you're paranoid & narcissistic: Why are you so special that the government care about you? The answer of course is that I'm not special. That's the point. The FBI doesn't have to care who anybody is, they can just rifle through big lists. For great demolitions of anti-privacy arguments, I recommend Phil Agre's writings.
Is it just me, or has the county gone mad? If we become as fascist as the terrorists, we lose. I'm old enough have been part of the blue ribbon protest against the original "Communications Decency Act". This current state of affairs worries me more. The first time I heard about Homeland Security I laughed. No one would really pick a name so obviously Orwellian.
Posted by Chad Lundgren on Monday, June 24, 2002 (Link)
In the censorship rather than the privacy invasion, vein:
It turns out that video editing, (which has been around for a while, is more popular than ever. A new chain out of Utah called Cleanflicks, edits their customers' videos for them [Update: 09/18/2003: Link to Nando Times story removed, since they shut down their site]. It's not censorship, but it's damn close. Even closer is the way VH1 plays the video for Smash Mouth's Walking on the Sun. The lyrics contain two "toke" references and two "crack" references. But the crack references are clearly anti-crack: "Put away the crack before the crack puts you away" while the toke references are not. Guess which audio gets cut?
Google That Tune!
Google often feels like an extension of my brain. I want some technical trick I've forgotten--it's there. I rarely use bookmarks--it's easier to google it.
It's so good, I invented the Radio Free Santa Fe game. Using only lyrics, find those lyrics as well as the song name and artirst while the song plays. More mainstream stations, with their hit songs, offer little challenge. Only Radio Free Santa Fe's eclectic play list is challenging enough.
But marring this blissful cybernetic union is that Google doesn't really understand language. I want to say, I mean "pitch" as a noun, not as a verb; I mean "id" not "ID" as in "ID Card." Maybe if English weren't so weird, with nouns verbing themselves and verbs pulling a noun switch--all blissfully free of endings--this understanding would be easier to automate. Understanding language is hard, but then again, so was search pre-Google.
Speaking of automation, I'm curious how much hand-editing Google does to throw out bogus results. I was convinced that the attempt to Google bomb Versign had not worked, but as of today (early June 24th, 2002) the posting about their negligence is on the second page of results for "Verisign".
Posted by Chad Lundgren on Monday, June 24, 2002 (Link)
A Slow Fandango
So I finally broke down and bought a ticket on Fandango.com.
It was not pleasant. First, the site is slow, and I used a high-speed connection.
I typed the movie I wanted to see tomorrow (Minority Report) and as I expected it wanted a zip code and the day. So I entered the Zip code, and picked the day with the dropdown menu. As I did so, it submitted the page, so I figured it was trying to help. Except it then asks for a zip code, which I've already entered.
Separate forms? But why have the zip code form use a Go button and the other not use a Go button if that's not the case? It should support entering data one field at a time, or both fields at once. It should never lose the zip code I just typed.
So I finally pick a showing, and then the real fun begins. I want it to remember me, but I don't want to join their marketroid "Spam me with movie news" club. So I punch everything in, with that checkbox carefully left unchecked.
There was no message at the top of the page telling me there was anything wrong. The error messages next to the fields themselves are so small I don't even see them, and assumed it was broken and resubmitted a couple of times.
Again it makes me re-enter something I'd already entered: the looong credit card number, because I'd forgotten the password.
Then I enter the password right and forget the credit card number. The password fields and error messages are below the stupid club verbiage, not below the remember me verbiage. It takes a while before I get everything squared away.
The tickets are not refundable, it turns out when I poke into the customer service area. At least the tickets are printable finally. But wait, the so-called "printer friendly" page—a separate web page—spills on to two printed pages. Come on, I've designed web pages to print to a set number of pages, it's not that hard.
This after I realize I have to switch back behind the firewall to print, and have a bad moment where I'm convinced my computer is going to crash. Fortunately, you can go back and print receipts, but that was clear to me, and Internet Explorer 6 failed miserably at saving the page.
Posted by Chad Lundgren on Saturday, June 22, 2002 (Link)
Lying for fun and profit
To me, the only question worth asking about people's lying behaviors is, how are they doing it? If they're only doing it to be polite or to make themselves look better, and they're not going against any of their firmly held beliefs, it's harmless. But if they make a habit of not standing up for their beliefs, and always saying what they think people want to hear, then it can become destructive.
For an excellent book with the theme of why a simplistic view of lying is a bad thing, check out James Morrow's City of Truth.
Not that I would know anything about lying for the wrong reasons. One of the reasons I started a blog was so that I could say what I wanted to say without worrying about being political or whatnot like I do when I'm doing stuff at work. I've deliberately not emailed my co-workers about it for that very reason. If I want to say something potentially controversial I don't want to have to worry about offending someone. I'm well aware that various people such as Cameron Barrett of CamWorld fame have been fired for their online stuff. I've decided I'll talk about whatever I want, including work, as long as I'm sufficiently vague about specific clients.
The other thing I should mention in this moment of partial disclosure, is that I've never been comfortable with the spill your guts kind of web log. It just seems too Jerry Springer-esque to me. It's one thing to email a friend or at least an acquaintance some shocking email or other, but to just post it out there for the world to see just smacks to me of a perverse narcissism, in assuming the world cares about your woes, and complete lack of a normal desire for a normal amount of privacy.
It may have made a bit of sense way back when the web was mostly university types with some government types mixed in, but now that the web is a big wide-open place that basically anyone can get to, it seems like walking down a major street and blaring stuff like "I have psoriasis, oh the heartbreak" at the top of your lungs.
Posted by Chad Lundgren on Friday, June 14, 2002 (Link)
Skin cancer 'gene' breakthrough
"Scientists have discovered a common element in 70% of malignant skin cancers which could become a revolutionary new treatment."
(via bottomquark) I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the low point is about 5000 feet, and I'm melanin-deficient, so this is good news. We had one of our former Congressman, Congressman Schiff, die of skin cancer not long after he starting looking into the whole Roswell matter to be opened. Very X-Files. As I suspected, the conspiracy buffs loved it.
Posted by Chad Lundgren on Wednesday, June 12, 2002 (Link)
So I noticed when looking at the stats that a robot called SlySearch had stopped by my web site. (Update 3/25/2003: It's now call TurnItInBot). It turns out to be a bot that's indexing the web, looking for stuff that students might be plagiarizing. The page describing what it does is pretty well done, except for the enormous text headline with an underline under it. Why do people underline text on the web? Are they trying to make people mad when they move their mouse and discover it's not a link?
The site professors use to check up on their students is Turnitin.com.
Posted by Chad Lundgren on Wednesday, June 12, 2002 (Link)
The Usability of Curbs
When I first learned driving, what most worried me was left turns, especially in the inside lane. Why is this a problem?
Cars do not turn at 90 degree angles! Why are curbs made like this? Some curbs are good: here in Albuquerque, the left turn from San Mateo to Academy features a nice, rounded curb. Contrast this with another left from I-25 to Montgomery, where an obnoxious 90 degree curb is crumbling—from large trucks slamming into it, I like to think.
Speaking of bad road design, it's well known that bad usability kills, in this case, John Denver in the experimental plane he was flying. Just up the road from the "nice curb" on San Mateo [Link updated to Yahoo! maps 03/25/2004] the road is inclined, creating a decent optical illusion of two lanes. A large, crude-looking sign at the exit warns about the existence of three lanes. This exit is shared by a Taco Cabana and an upscale car dealership [Update: 09/18/2003: The Upscale car dealership link was removed, since it appear no longer to exist] that uses frames.
This frame usage obscures that the finance form is really submitted securely. All many users see is a warning that you're ending up on a non-secure page after having visited a secure page, people might be trying to steal your info, do you mind? This is because they are using a third party provider and the thanks page is back on the original auto dealer site.
Posted by Chad Lundgren on Thursday, June 6, 2002 (Link)
So I'm frustrated about work lately. I am the recognized usability person, but am not consulted until late in the process. My boss mentioned explaining to a client that bugs take much more to fix later in the process. I mentioned the same was true of usability.
I'm trying to get involved earlier, but the idea that a regular employee should be in charge of organizing a site isn't an idea that's bought off on. I feel like I'm doing what Scott Berkun called, in a somewhat different context, turd polishing. I can't make the changes that will actually make a difference, only try to limit the damage.
I looked at a competitor's horrible interface for an online application. The buttons had purple text with a black background. No, I'm not kidding. Even worse, though, from my point of view, was how muddy the progression from screen to screen was. There were simply too many ways of going ahead, and the meaning of the labels was unclear.
But we're being influenced by the button layout, if not the horrific button colors. I said, Hey, we aren't making the same aesthetic mistake, why should we make the usability mistakes they're making. I said, You
rip off are influenced by Amazon, not those godawful home pages with the animated rainbows. So the layout was changed, I think, somewhat, but not to anything that felt anywhere close to right.
On a usability test for another site I worked on, after the usability test, I did a brief Q and A, sort of like Contextual Inquiry only not as structured, as I hadn't read that yet. The user had the completely unreasonble view that our web site should be faster than the old way of doing it which involved phone calls and postal mail.