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Showing posts from June, 2011

The future of books

At a dinner party recently after I revealed the fact that I was a software developer for a Library Management System the person asked me what I felt the future of books was.  Their interest was primarily in respect to what impact ebook readers like the Kindle might have to libraries and books.

Well this is a pretty open ended question and I would like to divide this into numerous topic areas.  Although this blog post will only scratch the surface I am hopeful it will emphasis that it is a much more diverse future pattern than many "death of the library" posts are suggesting.

I feel the main areas for discussion in terms of libraries and ebooks are as follows;  Fiction versus non-fiction,  public versus private libraries,  technology change in respect to electronic reading devices, first world versus the rest of the world, reference versus study material.

Fiction versus non-fiction

If we look at current ebook sales, verses physical copy sales we see and interesting fact, that …

Its good to learn - Pretty Shadow effects with just one DIV!

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Wow the internet has come a long way, I remember when all the top designers were using 4-5 divs just to create rounded corners around a single page element.  Now with the magic of CSS3 you can create a beautiful "up-turned corners" with only one div!

The basis of the up-turned corner is 3 angled shadow effects.  Now doing this with an image can be fairly effective, but not only is that "cheating", it is not the cleanest, simplest low bandwidth method.  With just a minor CSS trick you can have such an effect without images and all the extra bandwidth, late loading, etc issues that can occur.

So how do you get 3 different shadow angles on a single DIV?

The answer is to apply two classes to the DIV.  This way you can use the :before and :after selectors along with the content attribute to create 3 distinct shadows.  You can then use the transform property to rotate the before and after DIVs to create a lovely shadow on any CSS3 compliant browser.

So our HTML is incre…

Do I still want windows 8?

Further research has shown me that if you "jailbreak" an iPad and purchase a camera adapter you can link it to external USB storage, which as I stated was one of my main problems with the iPad.

However, this still does not endear me towards the iPad.  The fact that you have to "break" Apple's security restrictions just to perform what I would consider as required functionality is a big strike against the product.  If Apple dropped their restrictions then perhaps I could be tempted, but I prefer being supplied a device which I have more control over than one that operates in an Apple only paradigm...

With Windows 8 rumoured to be available in 2012 Q1 I will find out if my wait was worth it, or if I should have been on the "Apple cart" this whole time.

I want windows 8

I watched the windows 8 preview again and I cant wait to pick up a Windows 8 tablet.  I know the iPad 2 is already out, looks beautiful and is a relatively reasonable £400, but it is not quite for me.  There are several aspects I do not like, but mainly it comes down to two aspects.

Fixed storage size.  If I purchase a 32gb model then that is all I have.  OK I could rip it open and put a new flash drive in, but not really the way I wanted to go...

iOS.  There are many plus points, but overall I like the existing applications I use, I like the freedom of Windows and Android too much.

Now you might wonder why would I not look at the Galaxy 10.1 and 8.9.  Well I have and lovely they are too, but again no USB storage, storage is fixed.  At the windows manufacturer conference the tablets all demonstrated the ability to connect to USB peripherals, and this for me is a very big deal!

I have seen suggestions that a Sept 2011 release date for tablets is not out of the question...I know that is…

Can't we make it a little more Google?

As I work for a Library Management software vendor it is perhaps not surprising that I have some what of an interest in search technologies.  However, what I believe is surprising is the lack of interest many software packages seem to have in this technology.  In the "Information Age" search technology is perhaps the king of all technologies.
Search technology has grown up a lot in the last few years, perhaps Google's dominance and wealth from being a market leader in this technology has elevated the lowly searches status, but quite simply I wonder why it has been neglected for so long.
I remember a time of using multiple web search engines, Webcrawler was my early favourite, but Altavista soon became superior, then it was a 50/50 battle with Altavista and Yahoo, and then all of a sudden Google came from no where and won.  Anyway early searches tended to follow the wildcard boolean search paradigm.  i.e. you had to be very specific a search for child would not return any r…

Web typography - in a quandry

It is considered somewhat of a typographic rule that

“Anything from 45 to 75 characters is widely regarded as a satisfactory length of line for a single-column page set in a serifed text face in a text size. The 66-character line (counting both letters and spaces) is widely regarded as ideal. For multiple column work, a better average is 40 to 50 characters.”

What I am musing over is appropriate behaviour for web applications with "liquid layouts" and columns which can contain multiple lines of text.  Essentially the choice boils down to prescribing a value (or range) for the column to fit to, or allowing the text to fill the remaining view port space available, given sensible element spacing.  Perhaps it is better to create a simple pros/cons list and attempt to weigh up the balance in favour of one approach or another.

Pros

The end user is completely in control, they can adjust the view port to fit the text to the level of their choosing, a value that they are happy with, w…

The 4 most common UI mistakes

Design being a reflection of the data function rather than user goal oriented

I mentioned this is a previous blog, but my example was perhaps a little too far from home for most people so I will give an example of a Microsoft Excel behaviour that has been generating support calls for a very long time, and I truly do not know why it has not been changed.

For as long as I can remember when entering a purely numeric value with leading zeros into Excel the zeros the column type automatically changes to number and the zeros are removed.

Now I am assuming that if the column type is number then the values in the column can be stored more efficiently (as integers represented by bits rather than a strong) and that math calculations can be performed more efficiently and accurately. If this is the case then the turning into numbers has a potential data function benefit, but for the end user it is almost always conflicting with their goal.  Typing in a phone number or a barcode, which are surely …

QI lied to me, how could they

I watched an episode quite a long time ago and was facinated to hear that apparently Florence Nightingale invented bar charts.  I found it interesting that it was in the early 1800s that bar charts were first used. 

Well apparently William Playfair preceded her significantly with a published barchart in 1801, which given Florence Nightingale was born 1820 was defintely ahead of her.

QI how could you, actually I have always wondered about some of the facts that make it on to QI, perhaps I should research more.

For anyone interested in early visual representations of information then I found this site particularly interesting.

Why America why?

You throw our tea away, well that is upsetting but I will get over it, but seriously US to UK pricing is simply upsetting.

Sony announced their new handheld games console at $299.  A quick currency conversion puts that at £182.58.  So where does Amazon's £279.99 price come from?

Well I am not into handheld gaming consoles, but I am more upset by the principle of the matter...

UX No.1 enemy

From my experience the number one enemy to good UI and UX is when the interface becomes a reflection of the underlying data rather than the users perceptions and goals.

I once had to test a piece of software that was meant to be an emergency application for when server access failed.  It was designed to run standalone and then the data could be uploaded to the server when it was back online so that network outages would have a temporary method to allow work to continue.

Now the single biggest problem with this software is that the user interface was developed based on the steps the database required rather than the steps that the user should perform.

Uploading the offline data should have been a relatively easy process but instead it was an extremely painful process demonstrating a huge lack of user empath throughout.

Stage 1 was a form to define the offline data outage.  Then there was a second form where you imported the data files.  Then you had a third form to check the validity o…

Convergent design

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I am sure I am not the only person who has read about Apple's legal action against Samsung with some interest. Interestingly perhaps I have purchased both a Galaxy S and an iPhone 4, but I was certainly not confused about my purchase and I was certainly aware of the differences between the two phones.  Actually most people I know who know nothing about phones purchased an iPhone, those that did know something about phones made a conscious choice between primarily HTC, Apple and Samsung for the most appropriate phone for their purposes.

Now I have no real knowledge of patent law, so I do not know how much of a case Apple have, but looking at the filing there are some minor technical inaccuracies, some design decisions that I consider significantly different and of the few similarities from my perspective I believe they could easily be explained with convergent design.

Perhaps the most obvious "copy" is the green phone call icon.  Now, while you could easily claim they are…

It can’t be that difficult to do this, can it?

Thought I would just mention that there is a general lack of empathy in the world.  The title phrase

It can't be that difficult to do this, can it?
This is often an upsetting phrase to here for a programmer.  It borders on insulting the programmers intelligence.  Ok it may be a few steps away from you're an idiot and you really should be able to do this easily if you had an ounce of intelligence, but it is not far away enough from this phrase that it does not have the ability to grate or offend.  A slightly more empathic phrase would be more a long the lines of

is this possible, how much work would it take
I can put together a word processor that would make those of the 60s look appalling with little work at all, but just because in my field a lot of the work of the 60s has dated fast I would not assume the same of other fields.  The first successful moon landing was more than 50 years ago I would never say to a rocket scientist in my ignorance of their tasks,

landing on the moon…

User interface design insipration

I recently read an article by Bret Victor titled Magic Ink Information Software and the Graphical Interface.  It further reinforced to me several very important aspects of software design.
It is vital to focus on the user's goals when designing UI interactionsFailure to empathise with a user leads to significant design flawsTeam contribution can lead to a design which is greater than any one designer can achieveA few pages into his article there is a critique on Amazons results design.  There are several salient points that can be taken away from the criticism, however, I feel there are a couple of incorrect design decisions, and perhaps not a coherent focus on the most important point.
The main criticism was the inappropriate use of space and not providing the correct information at the correct point in time.  While this is a reasonable point to make, I feel a more advanced criticism would be to look at the user goals of someone viewing that information before moving on to the assu…

X500 HDMI connection

Well it took quite some time to get an X500 Toshiba laptop to connect to a Pioneer PDP-4270XD plasma TV, so in case you are suffering the same issue of no display being output through the HDMI socket you might like me find that the problem was due to an old bios...  Updating the BIOS was all that was required to get the system to output to the TV.

Also to avoid vertical refresh issues it appears necessary to "extend the desktop" rather than mirror it to the TV.  Not sure why that is the case, might investigate this at a later date.

During my investigation I undated the Nvidia drivers etc.  I have noticed that some of my HDMI cables do not work with the X500 laptop, but do work with other devices successfully, so if you are still having problems try another cable as well before you give up.