Usability Professionals' Desktops

Some time ago (in the days before XP in fact…) I posted to this group asking for people to send me screen dumps of their desktop environments (a la K10k) with the aim of discovering if we practise what we preach in usability … how usable were our desk environments. Well, I was digging out some old back-up CDs the other day and came across the folder with these in and realised I’d done nothing about it. I have pixelated the icons in order to preserve anonymity and can now present a crude slideshow site of them for your interest. I’m more than happy to accept more of these, preferably JPEGs re-sized down to 1024x768 (if smaller than that then no-need to resize upwards). I will reach a server limit and will have to stop at some point but am happy to form a collection. Please post comments on the blog, I look forward to reading them …. Do you recognise your old desktop amongst this lot?

UPDATE: If you want to send me your desktops ... email desktops AT smorgasbord-design dot co dot uk ...

» If you can't view snipurls then the full link is here


Daisy Duke

A childhood fan of the Dukes of Hazzard, I can now enjoy it as an adult. Especially this frankly fantastic video ("These Boots Are Made For Walkin'") from Jessica Simpson as Daisy Duke.

Comments without logging-in

You can now post comments on the blog without logging in ... there's a rhyme in there somewhere.

Idioms, Idiosyncrasies and more Service Failures

ome days you have nothing to say other days you have plenty to say… today is fortunately the latter.

Came across this site this morning whilst trying to determine where we got the phrase “How d’you like them apples” … didn’t give me the answer (we can assume American origin though) but it’s still an entertaining trawl through some of our bizarre idioms.

Secondly, why is it that I continue to measure temperature in two different ways during the year? When I watch the forecast during the winter I want to know how close to ‘0’ it is, but in the summer I want to know how close to ‘100’ it is, despite these being on different scales. The spring and autumn are clearly a difficult time for me, temperature wise. I don’t know whether to think in terms of Celsius or Fahrenheit and invariably can’t rationalise it in my head. In the past year I’ve tried to be disciplined and stick to Celsius but then the forecasters in the summer always say, “that’s .. in Fahrenheit” which makes me think that everyone does it. It is surely borne out of our tendency to make things simple and linear. For instance 0(ºC) represents cold much better than 32(ºF) and 100(ºF) represents hot much better than 37.78(ºC).

Have been thinking of getting a Digital Camera to play with and three stand out to me: Fuji S5500, Canon A520 and Nikon 5900. I’ve been really impressed with DPReview (despite being an American site) for their reviews and WarehouseExpress for their range and prices – though their website is a shambles …. They need to radically simplify their menu structure and devote more room to products and less to site ‘furniture’, margins and white-space.

Talking of which, try looking for Adult Education classes in language in Ipswich via the council website – absolutely shocking. I gave up. Now, I consider myself to be a power-user of the web, having experienced all manner of sites, navigation systems, information architecture and the like but it amazes me that a governmental site that should be so easy to navigate – especially when looking for educational resources (imagine the educationally-poor resident looking through the site at a local library).

Finally, another adventure with ‘onerailway this morning. Vandals damaged signal equipment between Diss and Norwich so we were chucked off the train at Stowmarket to wait for buses … that were busy on the school run … 45 minutes later we all filed back on to the platform to catch a train to Norwich … delayed by a good one and a half hours. Can’t blame ‘one’ for the vandalism but can blame them for inept and almost silent handling of the issue. If buses aren’t going to run, get people in taxis and pay for it. That’s what exceptional customer service and ‘going the extra mile’ is about and that’s what the rail industry needs to start doing. Talking of which, still had no response to my email to their customer service department about the fire on the train earlier in the week.


Everything Bad Is Good For You

Not known for its journalistic insight, Metro nevertheless resounds each morning with the sort of easily digestible trivia normally reserved for the likes of Heat, Now, Closer etc. This is an effective way to spend a 45 minute journey, one can almost get cover to cover in the time it takes my train to drag its sorry weight north to Norwich. This morning, however, something other than yet another picture of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes caught my eye … a 60 second interview with Steven Johnson, author of "Everything Bad Is Good For You".

60 seconds has always been a bit of an understatement, it’s clearly nothing like a 60 second interview. Whatever ends up in the printed copy is expanded upon online too. Which gives you, dear blog aficionado, the opportunity to
read what Steven had to say. It’s quite interesting. His basic premise is that the increased use of video games and the increase of complicated plotlines in TV drama is indicative and instrumental in the rise of IQ amongst Western populations. He cites the intellectual differences between Dallas and The Sopranos (to which I’d add 24 vs. The A-Team) and the video games of the 80s (PacMan) compared to those of today, (e.g. Halo). Clearly, today’s games and TV shows are more complicated and Johnson’s reasons (interwoven plotlines, multitasking etc. etc.) on the surface appear rather interesting. I do want to read the book myself before I comment further but I do have some concerns with his theory.

For example, the undeniable complexity of the Shakespearean dénouement was enjoyed by wide audiences in the sixteenth century (and even wider audiences since), there’s been substantial plotline complexity in popular novels for centuries but no-one’s made this link before … is Johnson suggesting that the birth of TV/video games first brought about an intellectual slump (70s & 80s) as people switched from reading to watching and playing? Presumably the last twenty years has seen this rise? I think Johnson could be focussing too much on his own generation and comparing it to today’s instead of looking for a pattern across a broader time frame. How can he be sure it’s TV and video games and not the wholesale improvement in Western educational standards? Sure, playing video games may improve systematic intelligence (as typified in the male brain) but are these at the expense of emotional intelligence (as typified in the female brain) Does this correlate with rise of autism – the consequence of the ‘extreme male brain’ [c.f.
Sacha Baron-Cohen]. Is the reverse true of watching TV or are we still storing up untold problems with a decline in social interaction? I shall order the book and make more informed judgement.

On to lighter things. Metro today also tells us of
Mark McGowan, an artist apparently, who intends to pour 15 million litres of water down the drain over the course of a year (by leaving a tap running) to raise the issue of water wastage. As the poisonous Mail reader might exclaim: “World’s gone mad I tell you.” However, never fear, it appears the local water company are trying to put a tap-ban on him. So, point made I presume Mark? For the record, Mark’s the Grade A idiot that pushed a monkey nut along the road in protest at student poverty and, a couple of months ago, told everyone he’d keyed cars for an art project only to retract that statement when challenged by Police.


Innovation Capture

At work we've been thinking about capturing creative energy and innovation from our front-line staff. I read this article and it made me think in simple terms, is a pad and paper enough for capturing innovation? What do we do with it once it's captured? what if all the suggestions are rubbish and who are we to decide that they are rubbish?

My idea, not exactly a bombshell, is to develop a think-pad ... effectively a re-writable mouse pad that's formed of sheets of 80gsm paper and glue-bound so that you can tear them off when full. If you put just enough prompts on there then hopefully people fill them in during the day. If you formalise the process with a reporting line (every evening a line manager collects up the top-sheets and reviews them in the next day's ten-minute meeting) then the ideas get an audience. As long as this feedback is owned and acted upon then momentum is maintained huh? It even regains some valuable desk 'real estate' ... linking in with the 5S guide to visual management.

Are there any fatal flaws in this plan?

Walsh Western, Dell and the Dodgy Delivery

When I got my Dell Inspiron laptop a couple of years ago I had a nightmare with the courier service who actually delivered it. I always thought it was Walsh Western. This is simply down to the fact that it's Walsh Western whose site Dell direct you to to track your order. From the page they send you to you can see minute by minute reports as to where the package is, how many boxes it contains etc. Naturally you assume Walsh Western are thus 'responsible' for your thousand(s) pound PC. Wrong, it's actually just a logistics company that get the PC from Ireland to the UK courier hubs. From there a local carrier delivers it, so when things go wrong, customers are contacting WW and moaning and yet it's another carrier who are screwing things up. Surely this reflects badly on WW and Dell? If you Google for Walsh Western and Dell you get all manner of blogs with negative comments, not good.

The reason I raise this is because my Dad's awaiting his delivery of a new Dell XPS Gen 5 tomorrow evening and my bad experience two years ago has meant he's now trying to find out who the courier is to ensure they're on the ball. I shall update y'all tomorrow with what happens.


Off to the Isles of Scilly next week (don't call it the Scilly Isles) where I've been a few times in the past. Keep checking the webcam (really just a daily photo) to see what the weather's doing. Am hoping to take the laptop and digital camera too, doubt I'll be uploading whilst there but hope to have a good set of pictures to show on return.



Fire on one railway

On the 08:09 service from Ipswich to Norwich this morning I was lucky enough to experience a fire in the carriage I was sitting in.

Just North of Diss (the penultimate stop) I noticed smoke leaking from a vent in the middle of the carriage. A brief nod and the words ‘is that smoke?’ from a fellow passenger prompted me to bound up the train (I was in the carriage next to the buffet car – [in Norfolk dialect the buffy car]) to summon the guard who was part way through a tabloid in his guard’s office. The pair of us trawled through the carriages, hampered by the slow retracting doors and arrived back to find every passenger still sat there amongst what was now thick noxious smoke. He evacuated the carriage – to the adjacent one – and proceeded to attempt to turn something off. Within 5 minutes we were in Norwich and a fellow passenger indicated to me that the carriage was now ‘foggy’, it was more than that, it was filled with smoke so much so that you couldn’t see the other end of it.

I find it incredible that one continue to operate this ageing rolling stock and that such basic procedures such as a carriage fire are dealt with in a seemingly ad-hoc way. As Virgin roll-out their Pendolino trains across their service (though they do have their problems ), we’re stuck with their cast-offs. Back in the early part of the year, with the new livery being phased in, we were told to expect refurbished trains on the inter city line. This morning, a small fire could have gutted one of the carriages for them. Once it got to Norwich they should have shunted it to one side and let it burn.

What’s even more disturbing though is the passenger apathy. Anyone would think a fire to be a serious event. Not so the seasoned commuter, so used to train failures and train company ineptitude it’s now classed as all part of the experience. For my £200+ per month I’d expect more too but I’m not prepared to inhale smoke for 20 minutes just because it’s not worth making a fuss over.


Optimax, An Appraisal

I don’t have a great car (though I do long for one) but nevertheless treat the one I’ve got with respect. Respect in terms of fuel means a regular diet of Shell Optimax. Many of my friends and colleagues assume that I’ve been suckered by the Ferrari-orientated marketing hype and that my 10 year old Volkswagen with its ageing 1.6litre lump will not benefit from this premium fuel. But this is where they’re wrong. Being a bit of a geek, I monitor my fuel consumption with religious zeal. The average cost of Optimax for me over the last year has been about 90p. On average a tank takes me 307.77 miles at 38.39 MPG, an average cost per mile of 11p. Compare this to combination of Esso Super and BP Ultimate (90p, 220 miles at 35.29 MPG, 12p per mile). At 12k miles per annum that’s £120 saved, not to mention the hidden benefits of reduced engine wear. When I hear Novas, Micras and Corsas tearing round the Ipswich one-way system with their exhausts popping and grumbling I can’t help but smile to think of their tanks filled with inferior supermarket fuel (84p, 294.20 miles at 38.09 MPG, 10p per mile). Honest John’s column in the Sunday Telegraph and his website generally shows a dislike for cheap supermarket grade (RON 95) fuel. Optimax gives noticeably more power too. Now, as a premier Optimax customer I get a swanky loyalty card and even more Airmiles. Lovely. By the way I’ve got the Lotus Exige Optimax Card if anyone needs it …