Friday, February 07, 2003

Today I had the opportunity to attend a talk given by Saul Greenberg of the University of Calgary. The talk was hosted by my employer. Along with 20 or so other SMARTians I had the good fortune to spend the morning discussing Graphical User Interfaces: Design and Usability with a focus on task-centered system design.

It was a fascinating session. There were many salient points raised over the course of the morning and I could go on forever, here's a partial list:

  • Observing "users" in their "natural environment" is key to understanding specific tasks and how you expect your system to be used. Consider "concrete examples with real people" throughout the design process.

  • Design must consider all "human factors" from the beginning. By the time a hardware or software development process reaches the alpha or beta phase -- it is "too late," and extremely expensive to make significant changes in the system.

  • "low-tech" or "office supply" methods -- sticky notes, paper, cardborad, glue-sticks and scissors -- can be less intimidating to "users" and more effective for making and testing prototypes

  • conduct "walk-through evaluations" of your system on one of the scenarios you've developed -- "can you build a believable story that motivates the user's actions?" and "can you rely on user's expected knowledge and training about [your] system?" -- if not, "you've located a problem in the interface!"

Very fascinating and useful stuff -- I'd like to thank Dr. Saul Greenberg for the session and Shannon Goodman and SMART Technologies Inc. for the opportunity to attend. This was a fantastic re-introduction to human computer interfaces for me and I look forward to leveraging today's information in the consideration of HCI and the application of Dr. Greenberg's methods.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

Had a great experience chatting with classmate James Mercer and students of his at Arnprior District High School (ADHS) today.

We managed to get video pictures of your faithful scribe -- the request of the gang at ADHS, I promise you -- across the 'net.

To begin we tried to open NetMeeting from within MSN Messenger, but firewall and proxy prevented this.

I then opened a conference on the Sametime server we have at SMART and we met there. Still couldn't get the video across. NeMeeting told me it was sending video and I was watching the feed, but it wasn't being received. "no truth in advertising" I typed in chat at the time.

BridgitTM to the rescue.

Once those in Arnprior, ON opened my e-mail invitation they were able to see the "live feed" from my shared desktop webcam in Calgary, AB. Worked like a charm.

NOTE: It is strongly suggested that chat or voice be part of any synchronous data conferencing you are planning. It's important to be able to communicate along the way when getting participants connected to your conference. "Voice" -- a telephone call -- is usually how this is handled, although we proved today that chat works too.

Here's a link to a SMART Ideas(R) project I started following today's chat. I'm looking forward to submissions from the crew in "the 'prior."1

1. I grew up in Renfrew, ON which is the next Ottawa Valley town "up the line."
The two towns have been known as the "the 'prior" and "the 'frew" since lumberjacks roamed the area.

Monday, February 03, 2003

A couple of more thoughts about the avalanche mentioned in yesterday's post.

The seven students who perished were among a group of 17. All of whom were buried. Two guides higher up the mountain when the slide hit were on the scene in minutes. The first person they uncovered had a satellite phone which was used to call for help. Participants of a near-by avalanche recovery training exercise were air-lifted in to help find and extricate 10 of those under the snow -- this according to a report on last night's CBC news.

Perhaps most tragically of all is that this is the second slide to kill seven people in the space of two weeks, in the mountains close to Revelstoke, B.C. The January 29, 2003 "on-line" edition of the Revelstoke Times Review contains details of an avalanche which killed seven. Sadly, the February 5, 2003 edition will contain another story of seven deaths in an avalanche.

Sunday, February 02, 2003

It wasn't until much later in the day yesterday that I heard news. After learning of the loss of the space shuttle Columbia and 7 astronauts and an avalanche west of Calgary that claimed the lives of 7 students. I can now understand why colleagues may not have been able to chat yesterday, and I'm embarassed that it was such a big deal to me at the time.

The tragic deaths of the Columbia crew over Texas and the students from Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School on a field trip near Revelstoke, B.C. certainly add a perspective to my "connection problems" that I didn't have yesterday.

My condolences to the families and friends of those lost in each of these tragedies.