Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Understanding Usability

I got a double whammy of bad news today. First of all, our CS 337 project got a D because the grader couldn't compile it (though it works flawlessly for us), and I'm having to dispute that now. Second of all, we didn't make Texas Revue and it saddens and frustrates me at the same time. We put so much effort into it and it was truly funny and looked good, but they were too dim-witted to see that. To top it off, I've spent all day working on a differential equation that I still haven't solved. It's not all bad news though, Joel Splosky put up a new post in that fanciful blog of his with a one sentence summary of usability: "Something is usable if it behaves exactly as expected." Maybe that sounds too obvious or maybe it sounds too simple, but that really is what it is. He gives a great example of a Windows user having severe issues on a Mac, and it's all because it doesn't behave as he expected. Of course in that case, I'd argue that their target audience isn't said Windows user, but it should be if they want to gain market share. Now they're in a hole though since they have too loyal a fanbase to change up their UI to match Windows better. This is a design issue, namely usability. This is why companies have whole divisions just for Quality Assurance (QA), and in today's day and age it has really come to the forefront of software engineering. If you want a prime example of good usability, then I give you Mozilla Firefox. Here's something very usable to newbies and IE veterans alike, and I'm sure they thought that through ahead of time.

Click to enlargeI don't own any portable game systems because I feel like I wouldn't play it enough and that the games are too short, but I have to admit that the new DS Lite looks dead sexy. You can see a video of it in action here and you can read some hands-on impressions over here. Also looking good is Microsoft's Origami, which CNet has a few choice pictures of (in its actual iteration, not the concept designs). I personally like the way it looks, and it seems to be quite portable. However, it's going to have to be pretty cheap to sell well (as I've said before). Verizon customers will soon be able to schedule recordings on their TiVo box using their cell phone, which is an innovation that I'm sure many of us have been waiting years for (at least for VCRs). Google inadvertently let the cat out of the bag regarding online storage through some online notes for a presentation they recently gave hinting strongly about it. Given that GMail is 2GB itself, such a service wouldn't really surprise me. If you need another reason to hate Clear Channel: they're forcing XM to attach commercials to their stations that are run by Clear Channel. This cannot be good for their competition with Sirius. Lastly, uTorrent has a new version out and it has a lot of great improvements from the last version, and it's still under 1 MB.

I still have a lab to do, so I'm going to move briskly through the movie news. The best piece of news today, in my opinion, was a great new trailer for Mission Impossible: 3 straight from Japan. If that doesn't get you pumped for it (despite being at AOL), nothing will. Hot off the release of yesterday's X3 trailer, IGN spoke with Aaron Stanford, who plays Pyro in the movie. I mention this because his contract stipulates that he has to come back for a fourth movie, which could mean that they could scrap this one after its release as being a part of the storyline and make a fourth one if they really wanted because I'm sure that other cast members have similar clauses. Indiana Jones fans will be frustrated to know that the fourth film is going to be delayed a little more so that another writer can fix up the script a little more, and so I'm expecting it to be one Hell of a screenplay. Lastly, Matthew Vaughn (of Layer Cake fame and would-be director of X3) is going to be working on a film called Stardust with Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert DeNiro among others. It's an interesting mix of fantasy and fairy tale that I'm very intrigued about.

Now for the Tuesday Twosome:

1. Do you have stickers on your car? If so, what are they of?
I just have a window sticker that says "Texas" in burnt orange with the old-school longhorn picture on it.

2. Do you have posters/art in your bedroom? If so, what are they of?
I have a few. I have a Batman Begins poster (the one of him in the batcave), a Kill Bill Volume 2 poster (the most popular one), and a Silent Hill 3 one that I pulled out of a gaming magazine.

3. Do you tend to be outspoken about all you believe or are you cautious in expressing your opinions? Why?
I'm usually pretty outspoken, even if I may be wrong. If I don't know much about it then I'll likely be more cautious about it, but if I have a strong opinion then I'm not afraid to express it.

4. When you hear misinformation, are you more likely to correct it or let it go? Why?
I'm more likely to correct it because letting bad information be propagated is kind of annoying.

5. What is more annoying to you, someone that is so passionate about their beliefs, they tend to express their beliefs all of the time, or someone that is passive?
Probably someone that is passive. If your beliefs are different from mine that's fine, as long as you can back them up and you really feel strongly about them. If it's something important (like religion) and you're just totally complacent, it's kind of sad in a way.

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