A year in review
A year in review
Late January 2013 I installed Rescue Time on all my laptops and over the course of the year I monitored the ways I used my time. Below you'll see the weekly bar chart of where my time went. Blue is good productive time, red not so much. If you consider yourself a highly productive person, this is how you can take it to the next level: measure everything and adapt.
In the middle of September you can see I got pretty serious about using my computer time better. But I fell off the wagon after Xmas and burned a lot of time organizing my music collection. New headphones.
Not much more commentary needed really. Do I regret the thirteen man weeks spent attending meetings? Perhaps, but over the course of the year I really dialed back on wasteful meetings and "missed" many of them. A dozen man weeks reading and composing email? That comes with being management and a decision maker. This communication load is pretty lean considering the environment.
So just half of my year was spent on administrivia. I thought it was higher than that; it felt like much more than half. I guess from my personal engineering perspective which only values making new things, I truly begrudge the time spent just talking about making new things.
I shouldn't beat myself up so much. The team performed quite well. We hit our marks this year and the fact of the matter is that this was no accident.
Degrees of Separation
Degrees of Separation
Look, I feel tired of telling you all this, but Mouse Hover and Mouse Over was deprecated in 2008. Five years later and you are still designing with this interaction, and you’re doing it wrong. Stop. Clean out your desk. Go home and rethink your life.
A lesson that continues to elude many HMI designers: Touch is King.
It all starts with the Mouse. Our legacy of computer interfaces and the people currently in HMI decision making positions solved the Mouse user interface so thoroughly that now all HMI designs look like mouse designs. And the worst offenders are Hover and Mouse Over. If you find yourself using that kit in the 21st century, stop. Just stop.
The mouse for the longest time felt like an intuitive interface control. You move a little hand sized object on your desk and the pointer on the screen updates to match the movement. We reduced the latency so that they two things appear to be in perfect synchronization and that made the learning curve small. As the learning curve shrinks, and the intuitiveness increases. People get it. Move your pointer by moving the mouse. So, we have something close to 30 years of the Mouse as the gold standard for the most intuitive HMI. It’s no wonder that all of our design schools, our ways of thinking, and our default software layouts are rooted by this Mouse legacy.
Then came Touch.
Many people don't fully understand why they love their iPhone. Some think it’s the apps, some think the build quality, some the industrial design. But Love is an emotion that comes from the direct connection to the device. A connection that only touch provides. We no longer have the mouse pointer as an avatar for ourselves within the computer, instead the computer and the person are directly connecting in the most sensual way. I touch it, it understands me. It’s Love.
It’s the removal of that last degree of separation that makes Touch the ultimate HMI.
I acquired my insight by building the best example of the worst HMI possible. The most evil and tortuous HMI design ever created is the On Screen Keyboard (OSK) being controlled by a 4 way infrared remote control. I spent weeks on a system like this. I studied OSK layouts to optimize for the fewest 4 way button presses. I wrote simulation software to empirically test new layouts. I simulated typing out the English dictionary, password rainbow tables, and other sample text likely to pass through the OSK. The goal was to make the OSK not suck and I failed. What I learned is that it is impossible to make the OSK not suck.
We've all done it, and we all hate it: typing in a long WIFI password into the "Smart TV" using only the remote control: first of all we have a blinking cursor in the text field. That is our first avatar. Then the OSK pops up and we have a focus highlight covering the character that would be sent to our first avatar if we press select on the remote. The focus highlight is the second avatar, and it controls the first. We control the second with only up/down/left/right. That’s two degrees of separation keeping our intentions away from the machine we want to control.
No one can ever love through a proxy, and the reason we hate onscreen keyboards on the TV is because it requires us to love through TWO proxies.
Let's look at that Mouse again. When you map hand movements to a pointer on the screen, you've added one degree of separation and the love for the machine is lost. It's like poking at your screen with a long stick.
Consider those touch interfaces again with the degrees of separation frame of reference: When nothing separates you from the machine you feel connected to it and that connection is pure and real. There are no proxy stand-ins. No avatars projected onto the machine. Just a direct connection between the human and the machine. It’s Love.
Dead Man Switch
Dead Man Switch
A morbid topic but still an important consideration: What happens to your digital assets when you die?
The Dead Man's Switch for software has not really appealed to me. The reason I hesitate to build one is I fear that it will go off before I die through some accident or neglect on my part. So, I operate without one... for now.
The critical problem that needs solving revolves around passwords. How should you pass on the keys to the digital kingdom when you yourself pass on? The simple form of a software dead man switch detects your death through a time delay based on system inactivity. When the timer goes off, your passwords transfer to the next of kin. I've worked in software long enough to know that this solution will have bugs and the false reporting of my death will result in unexpected password transfers...
Enter Team Password Manager. A nifty little bit of software that allows for group sharing of passwords. The existence of this tool makes me wonder why we need to wait for the unfortunate end to trigger the sharing of our secrets. If the legacy can be trusted to one individual upon your death, then if you choose wisely, you should be able to trust them with your secrets while you live. With the passwords, any skilled individual could retrieve or continue to operate the electronic legacy.
A new idea worth exploring further: Sharing these secrets early could enable new modes of collaboration that our systems prohibit today.
A lesson: You can't cheat your way up a learning curve.
I bought a simple theme for a throw away website that turned into a fun side project. With new requirements coming in, and a complete and utter lack of understanding of how the theme works, I found myself stuck.
Two weeks later my struggle to avoid learning jquery and bootstrap have produced nothing of value. A heartfelt sigh, capitulation, and acceptance now has me climbing that slow ramp back into productivity. (jquery and bootstrap are properly good BTW) I'm more impressed with both as I dig in, and thus I'm forced to admit that my initial resistance has cost me two weeks. I could have jumped in enthusiastically, but instead I dug in with both heels and refused to budge... Hopefully this lesson wont be lost on me, and the next time I'm forced to explore new tech and I will do so with an open mind.
(I'm staring at you Coffee Script and only slight glancing at you Ruby)
Back to the drawing board
Back to the drawing board
I've neglected my drawing practice for almost two months in favor of other tasks. (above: the happy results now that I've returned to the weekly habit) That first hippo I find both terrible and awesome at the same time. Not at all what I wanted to produce, but the comic book like features with the angry emotion seems to make it a special accident. The last one shows how a little bit of practice affects results; an almost accurate rendering of the original Dexter hippo.
Not bad for a couple hours of effort.