Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Documents, spreadsheets, and presentations

This is a good time in the semester to review students' options for common tasks like word processing, spreadsheeting, and presenting.

Microsoft is encouraging students to "steal" Office for $59.95. Frugal users of the free demo versions may be able to get through the semester before reaching the 25 use limit:
Eligible students may have free access to Microsoft® Office Ultimate 2007 Trial for a limited amount of time. Each trial provides (1) 25 application launches (each launch of an individual Office Ultimate application is counted as one launch) before the software goes into reduced functionality mode (at which time your software behaves similarly to a viewer, you cannot save modifications to documents or create any new documents, and additional functionality might be reduced)...

A free alternative is Google Docs, and with a recently added presentation tool, you have the triumvirate of word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations anywhere you are online and have a web browser. If you aren't doing anything too fancy, you should be able to load your Microsoft Office files into Google Docs. It's also easy to share all of the above with other users. And, it's free.

Another free alternative (if you are comfortable with installing open source software) is OpenOffice. A plus for OpenOffice is it's multiplatform.

More open source software: for Macs, for Windows.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sakai usability, short low fidelity training videos

Michael Feldstein has hope that Sakai's user experience is getting the attention it needs so much of:
Sakai has had some fairly serious usability problems since its inception. The development community has been aware of these problems for some time; however, the efforts toward improving the situation have been sporadic and fragile to date. Today, I’m happy to point to some tangible signs that this is changing, and that we have a good chance of seeing some real improvement starting with the next release.
(For all you HCI students out there, they even do UX walkthroughs).

Speaking of users, the Common Craft Show is a nice example of short online training videos that remind me of the interface development technique of paper prototyping. You should watch this one about social networking and Note that they provide captioned versions, and a transcript. (I show a bit of Jakob Nielsen's video about paper prototyping to my HCI class, it's amusing).

Two bonus things:
  1. The author of Debunking the myths of innovation is interviewed on the UIE site. Here's a couple of sentences:
    I think it's pretty rare that "the best" idea among experts in any field becomes the dominant, mass popular leader. HTML is not the "best" programming language. Certainly few computer scientists believe Microsoft Windows is the best operating system, and very few doctors believe Airborne is the best cold remedy.

  2. The New York Times has given up its online paid service Times Select. Now your T-Fried is free, but you will see ads :)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Two things I learned today

Since you learn something new every day, and I learned two things today, I am going to take tomorrow off.

First, I learned about this interesting cross-platform, web-based drawing tool called gliffy (you can see a demo video).

The second thing I learned about are funkenrings. Penn Gillette suggested it to mythbuster Adam as an inexpensive way to add sparkle to the practical jokes on the electricians and sound people. Funkenrings are discussed about 34 minutes and 50 seconds into this interview of Adam on Penn's defunct radio show.

Tickets are on sale for the Mythbusters' Fresno State visit on 12 February 2008. If you are really into this, you can see Penn, Adam, Jamie, and Kari on YouTube.

I'm kidding about taking tomorrow off :)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Classic books and new citations

Over a year ago I posted about the effort to put classic computer science books into the ACM Digital Library. Now you can peruse the ACM Classic book series, including the Macintosh human interface guidelines, Essays in computer science, The elements of programming style, Cryptography and data security (I knew it well in UCSB days), Papert's Mindstorms, The multics system, and others. If you are a Fresno State person you can access the classics here, and if you aren't, you can go here.

The ACM also semi-quietly announced that online publication is primary, with hardcopy "simply a secondary distribution mechanism unbundled from the official publication in the DL" [Digital Library]. You can read the short article here or if you are a Fresno State person, here. The new style bibliographic entry looks like

Demaine, E. D., Iacono, J., and Langerman, S. 2007. Retroactive data structures. ACM Trans. Algor. 3, 2, Article 13 (May 2007), 20 pages. DOI = 10.1145/1240233.1240236.

Note the DOI.

Avionics, datelines, and shopping carts

The Risks Digest (volume 24, issue 58) described the F-22 Raptor software glitching at the international date line when the planes were going from Hawaii to Okinawa. Pretty interesting (and there is a footnote about the apocryphal F-16 that flipped crossing the equator). Someone who worked on the F-22 system responded to the reports.

Another short, interesting article is in the September 2007 IEEE Computer. "Online experiments: Lessons learned" is about testing prototype interfaces and systems. Here's two paragraphs:
Experimenters often ignore secondary metrics that impact the user experience such as JavaScript errors, customer-service calls, and Web-page loading time. Experiments at showed that every 100-ms increase in the page load time decreased sales by 1 percent, while similar work at Google revealed that a 500-ms increase in the search-results display time reduced revenue by 20 percent.

You can read it here (or if you want to see the official citation, it's here).

Speaking of JavaScript, Jim Horning noticed his typing deteriorating, so went to a doctor for neurological testing. The diagnosis was IE 7. See his message and follow-up. All you really need is a mid-1980s Mac anyway.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Outposts, process, and brains

Microsoft is opening a software development outpost in Honolulu. I didn't know they had such things, but the article says there are also groups in Reno and Fargo.

Something else that caught my eye recently was a three paragraph column in the September Harvard Business Review about process improvement. The webpage might say something like "subscribe to read the rest of the article" but you've already read it on the preview page, it really is only three paragraphs long :)

And I'm not sure why, but I was reminded again of Oliver Sacks (you'll remember that I mentioned him back in April). His The man who mistook his wife for a hat is one of the influential books on my academic career (and in 2006 was named number 18 on Discover magazine's top 25 science books of all time). The book, and access to colleagues and interesting data at the UCSF Fresno Medical Education Program inspired a short presentation that we never got to follow-up. Anyway, Sacks was recently appointed an "artist" at Columbia University, so he can do what he wants :)

Sacks isn't a great speaker, but he seems a lot better than when I saw him at Caltech. He gave a interesting, about 25 minute long, keynote at an MIT conference about disabilities and technology. You can click on the button to go straight to the keynote (but why is MIT using Real video format?) -- and John Hockenberry is pretty good too (he talks about how typewriters were initially hyped as a way for the blind to write).

The New Yorker also has audio of an interview where Sacks talks about music and the mind -- it's amusing.

One other crazy thing: When in Tuscon as one of ACM's judges for the 1996 International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) I drove out to Biosphere 2 to peek in the windows (and buy a refrigerator magnet memento). Biospshere 2 was sold this summer to housing developers, although the University of Arizona says they will continue research in the big greenhouse.