Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Diskpart: UI aaargh

Following an Ars Technica guide to create a Windows to Go USB stick I used diskpart for the first time today. Diskpart is a command line tool used to meddle with your with partitions and the MBR and such on your drives. If you don't know what this means the short of it is that it is a set of handy functions that can totally trash your computer if you do the wrong thing. It's a command line tool, so hopefully nobody is going to stumble over it by accident (command lines not being all that supportive of exploration, or provide much information 'scent').

Have a look at this screenshot:

There are two main problems here, one with a lack of system status information, the other a lack of a confirmation prompt before you wipe your drive clean (or do something over fairly difficult to recover from). The former issue means that you might get muddled or lose track of the drive you've selected, or accidently select the wrong drive and not notice. On the plus side there is a feedback message, and it does persist on the screen. Even so you that text could have scrolled off-screen by the time you get around to doing something terminal. It's also an important design principle to provide a confirmation prompt prior to doing something irreversible, or something generally not abortable (even just things that could tie up your computer resources for a long while).

One quick fix here is when you select a disk to include that information in the command line prefix. So once you select 'Disk 2' the command line prefix goes from:

A nice handy reminder and indication of what drive you're currently meddling with. Even better if the utility could make use of the drive labels and/or give some indication of the drive type.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

iPhone niggles

Several years on and several niggles remain (sample size: 1) in the user interaction design:

  1. Access to quick radio (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi) toggles. The desire for this functionality should drop off as the battery life improves
  2. No option to mark emails you've just read as 'unread' to assist with email and task management. Or some other functionality to remind you and help you return to certain emails at a later time.
  3. A conceptual problem here: when wanting to switch to another website I'm forever hitting the home button as though I'm about to switch to another app. Some form of over training or conceptual spillover here.
  4. I frequently hit previous/next track on the lock screen rather than pause. The touch targets need to be further separated to cope with this. The recovery strategy from this error is there, which is good. I should probably check that out systematically as it doesn't always work out for me, but then I'm normally busy going "arrrgh" and frantically stabbing at the screen.
  5. I can see the reasoning behind splitting out iTunesU, though as I'm not interested in anything but the audio material it doesn't really benefit me. Some strange inconsistencies for the behaviour of the play controls (or perhaps which app is hooked up to them) between iTunesU and classic iTunes. Plus I have no idea at times what it is doing with an audio lecture, occasionally behaving as though I'm streaming with a poor connection when the media should all be present and synced already.

  6. Lack of functionality to subscribe to podcasts

Not intended to be exhaustive!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Products that I want #4: Universal remote on my Smart Phone

Why on earth several years on doesn't the iPhone have an IR output to control TVs and such, and to be able to use the touchscreen as a configurable universal remote?

Situation Awareness, Workload, and asking the right question

Sometimes it is important to challenge questions, and explicitly or implicitly point out that the question being asked is wrong.

Once upon a time, on a project far far away....

Measuring Situation Awareness (SA) and Mental Workload (MW) are important ways of gaining insight into how an integrated system (in this sense people using technology to deliver a capability) will perform. Understanding the troughs and peaks of SA and MW is important in evaluating and designing a system in terms of automation and decision support, task and role design, manning levels, and so on. If at a critical point in a task MW is high and SA is low, then clearly this suggests that there may be problem with the capability delivery, and this is a point in the taskflow that is a strong candidate to have some form of intervention. Similarly identifying areas of low MW and high SA might be a candidate of rebalancing workload.

When measuring SA and MW, you want to have representative users, carrying out representative tasks, in a representative environment. The closer you can get to the true system operation, the closer your results will be to the real system operation.

On the aforementioned entirely mythical project one of my colleagues pointed out that it was standard practice to measure the SA and MW of typical/representative end users. The question then asked was to provide a reference to what standard this was stated in.

To ask this question is to misunderstand what the point of measuring SA and MW is. It is a wrong question. If one were evaluating a new Space Shuttle, then one would be interested in understanding the SA and MW of the likely pilots flying the new Space Shuttle, with all their relevant skills, training, experience, and so forth. The SA of Bob in the accounts department is not going to give you insight into how your target user population will actually perform when flying the Space Shuttle mk2.

This is somewhat like being really keen to make sure that people take driving tests, but not being concerned whether the person you are giving a licence to is one of the people who has taken the test.

Sometimes it is better to give people the information they need, rather than the information they want.

Mac Boot Camp Oddity: How to close the window

An oddity with Boot Camp on the Mac: it doesn't have the close window button on the window frame, you have to go into the menu bar to quit. Apple seems a little keen to encourage you to go through with putting Windows on your machine!