Sunday, September 27, 2009

It's all about Sketching...

In my design class, we've mostly been reading ACM documents on design. Last week, we got a number of new documents, with one by Bill Buxton (it's at this link) that sort of blew me away. What was fantastic was not only that they used sketching for user interface design (which is something that I've been doing naturally for a while), but that they studied how sketching interfaces informed people about a direction, and how sketches from one set of proto-designers influenced the next. It was a fascinating article, and made me hunger for more.

So I picked up a copy of Bill Buxton's book "Sketching User Experiences", and am blown away. This book is very different from the article I read, but is inspiring in a completely different way. It describes the difference between people that think they design, and actual designers. It describes the difference between a sketch and a composition. In short, it describes differences that are hard to put into words, but that we all have been sure existed. This is a sort of business-lite version of what the guy seems to be thinking, but it is lucid and thought-provoking.

The dude is pretty brilliant.


p.s.: After scrapping with Google over finding the article for 15 minutes, I decided to try Worked immediately, and gave me a like that was actually useful (vs. the POS that Google tried to get me to use). Maybe Microsoft has something there...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fire bad, Flash good...

First shot, thanks to my friends for the image contents. It's all fun, right?

I could get used to this thing...


Summer Snow...

Yeah, this was yesterday. Last day of summer.

Doesn't make sense to me, either.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dr. D, I presume?

OK, this is going to be a rather pointless blog entry, but I need to do something to cheer myself up after a horrible, horrible Packers Experience today. Luckily, my kids came to the rescue - with a great new episode of Phineas and Ferb. Among the many shows they watch, few are favorites for all three, and no other show can consistently make me gut-laugh.

In addition to it just being funny, it features one of the best evil character names ever: Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz. It's impossible to say "Doofenscmirtz" without giggling, and it's been the thing that has kept me from jumping off the roof this evening.

Thanks Disney!


Friday, September 18, 2009

My Life With Zork

In addition to getting some background on HCI in yesterday's class, we also discussed early computer gaming. Our assignment was to find an online version of Zork and play/map it for an hour or two. I made an off-hand remark something like "I've put more hours into Zork than some of you have been alive!", which got a few chuckles and some patronizing glances.

But I was just being truthful!

When I first started computing (with an Apple //e), Zork was among my first purchases. I had seen Adventure/Dungeon on minicomputers (DEC systems) in the past, but had never played one personally. I was hooked, spending hours upon hours mapping my progress, trying different flavors of verbiage and trying to get through those "twisty little passages" to finish up the game. I got a hint from a local Apple bulletin board (does anyone remember those anymore?), and finally put it to rest. Of course, that led to the purchase of Zork 2, Zork 3 and a ton of other Infocom games - all text based, and all very, very difficult.

Often, when people talk about the Zork series, they talk about the primitive user interface and the fact that it seemed to be "stolen" from the public game "Adventure". What they don't understand is that the innovation in these games wasn't about the story (although Zork 2 and 3 extended the story extensively); rather, it was about improvements in the text parser, and trying to get to the point of natural language commands.

At the time, everyone thought that natural language would be the be-all and end-all of computing. If we could only talk to the computer like they did in Star Trek NG, we would be saved! Each version of Zork had a better parsing engine, and the computer mags would breathlessly proclaim the vast language and syntax that each new version contained. Alas, the result of this effort was Infocom's Cornerstone database, which tried to put a natural (Zork-influenced) language in front of a database system. I was one of the four people that bought that thing (which led to Infocom's demise, really), and I never was able to make sense of it. Perhaps the most useful thing it its (very attractive) box was a "Don't Panic!" button that told of the software's heritage. It was good advice.

Alas, at some point the natural language front-end was proven to be pointless, leading instead to visually-accessible databases (led by Reflex, one of my favorite software packages ever) and proto-programming interfaces for databases (SQL, primarily). But an interesting stage of computer history, that's for sure!


Thursday, September 17, 2009

¡Hola DMS!

Well, I've gone and done it. I'm now a grad student, which means I automatically have a craving for Ramen Noodles In A Cup, beer from a funnel and women that can recite poetry from memory. Or something like that.

Actually, I'm a week in and already I'm finding it a mind-expanding experience. Last night, in a design class, we ended up chattering about semantics - and specifically the verbage used to communicate the expansion of meaning for an idea. Hard to explain in a blog, but it was inspiring and fun - thanks mostly to the interesting and embracing style of the professor (Rafael Fajardo).

Today, in our Introduction to Technical Foundations (!) class, there was a discussion about the origins of HCI (Human Computer Interface), going back to the dark ages of Douglas Engelbart and the original mouse. It's hard to believe how close I am in age to that group of Big Brains, but it was great to get the review. Also, it was interesting to see how many of the original "gestures" obviously resonated with the human brain, leading us to embrace the very first methods for graphical selection, movement and alteration.

I leave you there, but beg that you take the opportunity to check out The Demo, a page dedicated to the original demo of the mouse (and some other, not so successful bits) on this Stanford page.