Tag Archives: interface

I am an explorer!

So I spent 30 minutes collecting outstanding screen shots in Far Cry 3, including a really cool lost abandoned hotel section that you aren’t supposed to interact with… and then I alt-tabbed and figured out I was doing it wrong and it only saved the first capture. SADFACE. I could write on how this is an interface fail… or install Camtasia… or be a productive citizen/PhD student and not play more computer games.

Anyway I was going to explain how it’s a really amazing looking game and how I wonder if money could be made just creating really impressive-looking fantasy landscapes, minus the violence (Tom Fairbanksonian). This abandoned hotel I found was probably for a level or section that they removed or never finished, but you can wing-suit (yes, you get one of those!) or hang-glide on top of it and find yourself floating in mid-air on top of holes in the roof or balconies. It’s just a glitch, but I found it refreshing to be able to discover something I wasn’t supposed to in a game – often these days they’re so scripted and controlled that sort of thing is really hard to do, usually the kind of activity saved for people who do nothing but mess around in games all day.

SO since I don’t have my own pictures for you I’ve just included some taken by others below. Cheers!

PS – this game teaches you to do a lot of drugs, but if you have sex with the lady who wants you to cheat on/kill your GF you die, so… MORALZ!!

PPS – I played a lot of this game as my dad built furniture watching the Rambo trilogy, and, I must say, this game is much better than those movies in all ways

Unbaby Almost

About a month ago I was tickled to discover Unbaby.me, a plugin for Facebook that attempts to detect pictures of babies and replace them with an image feed of your choosing. It’s a neat idea, but the system fails on two accounts:

1) It traces words and phrases like “OMG SO CUTE!!! 🙂 🙂 :)” to determine if a picture is likely a baby. This takes out small furry animals as collateral damage, which I’m actually okay with, and also sometimes pictures of people. Sorry Ashley Bradarich, you’re still a celebrity but I love you for it. Your devil-angel photo is certainly TOO CUTE FOR WORDS HOLY GAWDS!!1!.

2) I set mine to relay the amazing website designs image feed on DeviantArt but since people there don’t understand what categories are I get results like the following:

See, this is my kind of information science. IR can be so much more fun than convoluted math equations.

Distributed Community-Based Archival for Retail/Consumption History

I was out helping a friend shop for shoes the other day, and, as I often do when facing a moment of boredom, checked in on my phone with Foursquare and took a picture of where I was. Not of people, of course, because that would be creepy, but of a colorful display of heels.

But then I got to thinking about that. I’m odd – that is strange, because I try to post a picture most of the time I check in somewhere. Over time I’ve accumulated a kind of history of my life, but a very corporate-consumer kind of one, as stores and restaurants are the places that are most easily checked in to. In a sense it’s a very different kind of photo history than those we more purposefully curate – as opposed to taking pictures of friends and family or events for instance.

BUT – what if we all did this, all of the time? Not only would we be able to look back and know something about store layouts, aesthetic and product trends at a given moment in our past, but with enough people taking pictures and attaching them to metadata (location, time, date, store) automatically we’d have a kind of social history that would be much more owned by the public than a given specific company (save for maybe Foursquare, but the photos are also stored on our personal devices, at least for now, until Apple finds a way to lock that out too). Clearly we could all be just taking pictures of the world around us all of the time, but Foursquare is a way to provide incentive and encourage it.

SO – I think the next logical step would be to see if you could build off of the FourSquare API to sort, archive and store all of these photos in a format that would help them to tell stories. Not unlike when you see pictures people have taken attached to Google Maps, but with a lot more of them for any given specific place – you can imagine Starbucks in May 2010, November 2010, January 2011, and so on, with different angles and emphasis. You could then page up Starbucks and see a visual history of it in an instant. Neat! Crowd-sourcing! Useful? Maybe not. But the kind of thing us information scientists who think about social behaviors might dig.

The “Public” Like

Most people know me as a blatant and outgoing extrovert, and, well, I am, but that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes become concerned about the impressions others have of me. I’ve found out the hard way a few times over the past few years just how much age and optimism can affect me professionally.

I love social features on websites such as ‘like’ buttons, but I also know they come with a sort of tax. Sure ad robots will track my every move to sell me widgets, but I’m really not all that worried about that. It’s more that if I post a picture on Facebook or let it be known I read a certain article I generally have to assume professors, students and friends of all levels are likely able to see what I’m doing. Take today – I have an old volleyball injury that comes back to bug my knee from time to time. I went to go find some videos on post-injury knee exercises and found a guy who did a great series. He clearly put a lot of time and effort into these videos, and I want to thank him and help promote him with a like. But, GASP, if I like it others will see. Suddenly it’s clear I’m not doing my dissertation, I’m not being a normal scholar (academics don’t exercise, how dare!) and people might suddenly get worried about my knee health when they ought not to.

Now, I know what you’re all thinking: just don’t be friends with some people, or manage your contacts into privacy groups. Yes, while that works for those of you with just a few close friends it doesn’t suit my personality – I want to remember all the people I meet and I want to be broadly accessible and friendly! I want to keep track of 1300 some people on Facebook but I don’t want to have to manage each one in terms of exposure risk.

What I would enjoy, instead of complicated and time-intensive policy controls, is the ability to like, read, download or promote something anonymously. Yes, take a walk back to the 1990’s internet, but with a twist.

Why this feature is frequently unavailable seems obvious at first – scam robots would love to inflate like counts and marketers can’t make money off of such general data… BUT:

What if it was just on the public-people side? The marketers can still know I’m liking whatever it is, fine. They already have a gagillion tons of data about me. The sysadmins can block spammer scammers by only allowing you to anonymously like something once when logged in (and therefore only once per account). Just make it a drop-down or check box, simple as that. In the user interface experience people would see that some number of others liked whatever their item was, but just not be able to see who for those who chose to like it anonymously. Anyone else with me?

I imagine not, most of you aren’t sold on the part where the marketers get your data. I just figure we’ve already lost that battle. Ahhh well, happy Monday everyone!

Truly Creative Fonts

Back in 1998 I discovered Word 97’s Symbols font and went totally wild with what I thought could be an excellent secret code. Using font sets as arrays of icons or images is nothing particularly new:

But I’ve discovered some more interesting/innovative uses of fonts lately:

Braille dots - good for a materials printer!

Musical notes - one octave only?

Letter gestures for touch interfaces

For long-form sign-language

Make a picture of a key you type


Usability FAIL: Drupal vs. WordPress Themes

I’m working with the CU Community Fab Lab this summer (oooh, I should post on that!) and we’re working on redoing their website to make it a more rich portrayal of the Fab Lab experience and spirit. In other words their current website is overly complex and lacking in pictures. So I’ve been tinkering with Drupal installs lately… and my conclusion is that the wonderboy CMS somehow manages to offer an overwhelming number of options and yet simultaneously lack the most needed information interfaces.

Say you want to setup Drupal, and like most people, want to check out what it could potentially look like before you do. You Google Drupal Themes and find their theme page:

Note the amazing amount of themes available, with a huge amount of documentation available about each… and NO PICTURES. WHAT? I know many people think that having a wealth of text content and metadata is efficient, but I would argue that in this case the most efficient (functional, effective, enjoyable, usable) way to search for website appearance options is with visual displays of data in the form of pictures.

So I thought, “Well, while that makes it very hard to browse through maybe I can see what they look like individually.” TURNS OUT NO:

Most of the themes have thumbnails that don’t actually show they they look like live. Those that do have pictures typically have very small ones.

I am completely baffled at how such a widely-known and well-supported open source project like Drupal could lack such a basic functionality. I ought not complain too much though, I could personally go through and take screen shots of all of the thousand or so themes on a XAMPP install and send them to their web team. Or, they could do the smart thing, which would be to require all theme authors to post a picture of their theme in action. Distributed work FTW. I don’t brandish enough geek-clout to convince them to do this, sadly.

Luckily, WordPress comes to our rescue:

And on the zoom:

Note the ratings, integrated user support, metadata and the at-this-point beautiful preview button.

Next time I’ll have to compare the two for speed, a contest where Drupal wins hands-down.

Windows 8 Customer Preview Review

I’m in the midst of testing the Windows 8 Customer Preview. Some notes on my experience, in no particular order. Clearly they don’t have power users in mind!


  1. UI needs work but is a good start
  2. Not enough non-MS app support yet
  3. Buggy
  4. Need more ability to customize things
  5. A good OS for tablets, phones, and media centers, not powerful computers

Look and Feel + Interaction

  • Great for everything MS
  • Poor for apps that are not MS
  • Give me more power to customize the Metro UI start screen
  • Show active Metro UI apps in a flyout on the taskbar
  • Right-side gesture options don’t work well if you have a dual-display to the right
  • Why repeat my task bar on both screens?
  • App-switching on the left of the Metro UI is good
  • Make folders on the search menu in Metro UI collapsed by default – I don’t need a screen full of dutch language manuals for Nero
  • Provide more windows-button hotkey bindings and shortcuts (customizable??)
  • Can we integrate the whole control panel into Metro?
  • Overall performance dropped ~10% according to benchmarks, can’t feel it though

MS Apps that are useful

  • Explorer file transfer management is MUCH IMPROVED
  • Internet Explorer’s interface is good…
  • Bing Weather
  • Built-in PDF and ISO readers
  • System Rating – look I’m no longer the fastest possible!

MS Apps that need improvement

  • App store – very little selection, give me the big names
  • Maps – way worse than Google’s, let me manually input my location
  • Photos – let me add/remove sources to my liking, and pick what goes in the live tile
  • Videos/Music – let me control directory sources from Metro UI

Some stuff doesn’t launch

  • Daemon Tools (SPTD 1.8 can’t be layered with 4.10 anymore)
  • PowerDVD 11 (updated to a mid-level patch, probably works with a new one)
  • Can’t recognize my Hercules webcam
  • I’d bet most antivirus won’t work, I’m using AVG

Some stuff crashes

  • Creative volume control (crashes at shutdown, works otherwise)
  • LOL skin changer (.NET framework issues, can’t import skins)

Weird behaviors that have happened randomly, without repeat

  • Drag and drop stopped working
  • Couldn’t see files through Windows Explorer
  • Icon images on Control Panel
  • Bluray burner disconnected randomly while burning with Nero 10, disc toasted

Things they need to put back in

  • Recently used documents as sub-menus on start items
  • Make it easier for me to get to sleep/shutdown/restart

Things I haven’t played much with

  • Anything that makes me sign into a MS Live account
  • MS Email
  • Skydrive
  • Internet Explorer compatibility


Monkey controls robot with its brain

“Duke University”:http://duke.edu, in conjunction with Japan Science and Technology Agency (“JST”:http://www.jst.go.jp/EN/) have developed a way to translate complex brain signals into slightly less complex computer outputs in order to control a robot. The science is a bit beyond me but it seems pretty simple at a basic level: Monkeys walking on a treadmill produce certain brain waves associated with walking which are measured and then transmitted to a pair of robotic legs that mimic the monkey’s motion. The truly spectacular part of this experiment happened when the experimenters turned off the monkeys treadmill but found a way to keep the monkey thinking about walking. The robot kept going!

What does this mean? Well, for now it might not mean much, but eventually it could mean that people who become paralysed might one day be able to bypass the spine and control prosthetic limbs straight from the brain. This same sort of remote control might also be used for remote control of robots in hazardous work environments or even robotic soldiers, the sky’s the limit.

To learn more, see Duke’s “medical news site”:http://www.dukemednews.org/news/article.php?id=10218 or watch their video below: