Reading is a pleasure and a skill

“My grafted, spasmodic, online style, while appropriate for much of my day’s ordinary reading, had been transferred indiscriminately to all of my reading, rending my former immersion in more difficult texts less and less satisfying,” she writes. Wolf soon tried again, forcing herself to start with 20-minute intervals, and managed to recover her “former reading self.”

I’ve found that my appetite for reading as much information as quickly as possible, all of it screen based, has affected my ability to read more difficult texts as well. I consider it more a problem with patience – something that can be solved my taking a deep breathe, slowing down, and taking the time to wade through writing with more substance.

Wolf recommends that early-childhood education continue to focus on print materials, with digital devices and lessons added over time. That includes how to code — essential for learning “that sequence matters,” whether it’s in a piece of writing or a piece of software — and how to handle time and distractions. (Sign me up.) Wolf calls for teachers to be better trained to use technology effectively in classrooms. Handing out iPads does not teach children how to read well on those devices or manage time on them. That requires active guidance from adults in the classroom and at home. She also wants more (and is involved in) research on how best to support learners, including people with dyslexia, who are not served by traditional approaches to literacy. It’s one of the brightest prospects sparked by the digital leap.

Both of my kids are required to read from print materials everyday which is more of a challenge than it should be; my son is more enamoured with the sliding images under glass devices, and my daughter, who used to read multiple novels a day, but has since discovered the joy of online Chinese comics.

Book review of Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World by Maryanne Wolf

Leave Your Own Beliefs Behind

In Dan Saffer’s book, Designing for Interaction: Creating Smart Applications and Clever Devices, he interviews well-known researcher and speaker Brenda Laurel, PhD. He asked her what designers should look for when doing research. Her answer emphasizes the importance of shedding assumptions and precepts before asking research questions.

“The first step is to deliberately identify one’s own biases and beliefs about the subject of study and to ‘hang them at the door’ so as to avoid self-fulfilling prophecies. One must then frame the research question and carefully identify the audiences, contexts, and research methods that are most likely to yield actionable results. Those last two words are the most important: actionable results. Often, the success of a research program hangs upon how the question is framed: ‘why don’t girls play computer games?’ vs. ‘how does play vary by gender?’”
Indi Young

Apple Books Delete Category

I generally don’t spend much time managing my large collection of ebooks in Apple “Books” but today as I decided to create some semblance of order, I realized that you can delete category names without confirmation.

In my perhaps old school experience with usability all destructive actions should be accompanied by a confirmation dialog. If I had deleted the category in error, then all of my work categorizing would have been in vain, resulting in user frustration and a poor experience. Incidentally, the undo button doesn’t work either (though the menu will flash, indicating that they action was registered). This is not software design at it’s finest.

Update: This behaviour is only exhibited when their are no items in the category or you have checked the “Do not ask me again” item. So not as big a deal as I had previously imagined.

Race experience

Post race

I ran the PEI marathon yesterday and my fears of it being this years worst decision were exaggerated and unfounded. It went well, with the usual couple of incidents that always happen in any event I participate in that requires so much preparation.

My official time and pace are quite bit off from my watch due to what must have been the longest in the woods pit stop I’ve ever had – thank you middle age. Since I started the race under hydrated I have no idea how it happened but it did. Also, I developed some problems with my left hamstring. A huge cramp mid stride can send you to the pavement but luckily I caught it in time.

PEI is a lovely place to run. The North Shore, the fall foliage, and the guy who kept appearing on the side of the road fulfilling our desire for “more cowbell’ made for a great experience. It was very cold and I was very reluctant to get off the heated bus to run but I’ll take the cold over extreme heat any day.

I stuck to my plan and surprisingly accomplished my event goal. The lack of a more complete training regime means I’m pretty sore today and have been forced me to sit and rest. But I believe I have even longer and faster races ahead of me, my heart and lungs are never pushed to capacity. It’s a matter of getting stronger and somehow remaining active through the coming winter months.

As Donald Norman said in 1990, “The real problem with the interface is that it is an interface. Interfaces get in the way. I don’t want to focus my energies on an interface. I want to focus on the job…I don’t want to think of myself as using a computer, I want to think of myself as doing my job.”

It’s time for us to move beyond screen-based thinking. Because when we think in screens, we design based upon a model that is inherently unnatural, inhumane, and has diminishing returns. It requires a great deal of talent, money and time to make these systems somewhat usable, and after all that effort, the software can sadly, only truly improve with a major overhaul.
The best interface is no interface

twitter in mouth

This past week or so I’ve come to realize why I have over the years developed the habit of listening more, talking less. It’s sounds like a good rule, as many could stand to stop talking so much, but I developed this primarily to avoid feelings of regret due to saying (or writing) dumb or misconstrued crap. Afterwards I would also suffer from an over-analysis of the things I should have said but didn’t.

That’s what happened recently on twitter. First was my expression of amazement that people still read magazines enough to actually subscribe; part of my exasperation that my son taking part in a magazine subscription donation drive to raise money ostensively for his school. I wasn’t interested in buying and from my experience selling subscriptions over 25 years ago, it’s an extremely hard sell. Anyway, my tone was off and I received a quick rebuke from a parent who was likely a supporter of the initiative.

The other incident was a short commentary on my experience at various gatherings throughout the city – again a question of tone. The reaction in this case was far more conciliatory, which made me regret my post more. There needs to be an edit button.

Perhaps the fact that when I sit down to write, it’s still early in the AM, when the effects of caffeine are at their strongest has some influence. I’ve turned off auto-complete, which should force me to take the time to think, but that hasn’t had any meaningful effect.

We all should take the time to think before we write, some like me should perhaps stay away from the immediacy of twitter et al., lest I come across as the cranky old curmudgeon I may one day become.

Pictures under glass is not the future

What did you feel? Did it feel glassy? Did it have no connection whatsoever with the task you were performing?

I call this technology Pictures Under Glass. Pictures Under Glass sacrifice all the tactile richness of working with our hands, offering instead a hokey visual facade.

Is that so bad, to dump the tactile for the visual? Try this: close your eyes and tie your shoelaces. No problem at all, right? Now, how well do you think you could tie your shoes if your arm was asleep? Or even if your fingers were numb? When working with our hands, touch does the driving, and vision helps out from the back seat.

Pictures Under Glass is an interaction paradigm of permanent numbness. It’s a Novocaine drip to the wrist. It denies our hands what they do best. And yet, it’s the star player in every Vision Of The Future.

To me, claiming that Pictures Under Glass is the future of interaction is like claiming that black-and-white is the future of photography. It’s obviously a transitional technology. And the sooner we transition, the better.
A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design

I’ve likely linked to this before (it’s from 7 years ago), but I’ve always liked this description of the current obsession with pictures under glass UI paradigm. I love the tactile, the information provided by it far more than what is afforded on by sliding onscreen.

Giving thanks and feigned apology

We have a lot to be thankful for. A life thus far filled with rich experiences, food to eat, a warm place to live, and healthy family and friends.

This past long weekend was spent at friends and relatives dinner tables eating wonderfully prepared food and enjoying some non-work related conversation. It was a welcome respite, especially since I have found myself recently a bit out of sorts, a combination of reverse-culture shock and the stresses of being alone in the house with two warring teenage kids.

Eating copious amounts of good food that others have prepared does wonders for your temperament.

Yesterday was my turn to prepare dinner, as I invited “the old folks” over for some turkey and the traditional fixings that they might enjoy. No one starved but I lack the patience or skill to prepare these types of meals.

Unfortunately the weekend didn’t have a happy ending. In the early afternoon, my son and I were butting heads and he decided to walk to the Stratford library, where he might use a computer without my restrictions. I knew the library was closed but thought him taking a short walk might be good for both of us. On his way home he walked by a house just when the owner of a large German Shepherd opened the door to let their dog outside. The dog charged and attacked Camren, breaking the skin, and leaving a large painful bruise (and torn pants). The owner feigned an apology and my son hobbled home.

Later we drove back to the scene, and I realized that this was the same dog that when outside on lease, would threaten me every time I ran past the same house.

I contacted the RCMP and we are going through the process that the Island provides for such instances. It’s sad, a dog like this is a threat, and I’m hoping that the dog can be properly cared for either by it’s current or future owner.


The Japanese have a word, Tsundoku, for the act of acquiring books but letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them.

The word “doku” can be used as a verb to mean “reading”. According to Prof Gerstle, the “tsun” in “tsundoku” originates in “tsumu” – a word meaning “to pile up”. So when put together, “tsundoku” has the meaning of buying reading material and piling it up.

I also have had this habit. Our home in Taiwan was wall to ceiling with books, and while most of them belonged to our kids, it was my wife and I who got it all started. As time went on I would continue to buy books of interest, but lack the time to read them. Here on PEI I have a number of boxes in storage, containing an older collection, that are waiting for us to have a more permanent home. Most of my reading these days is digital, which I think is a shame, as there is lasting value in the worn pages of a paper bound book, value which isn’t so apparent when your collection is all stored digitally.

A marathon in the making

A photo taken at the Xiamen Marathon expo in 2017. I had plans to run my way across China but life got in the way.

I just registered to run the PEI marathon on the 14th. This may go down as one the worst decisions I have made this year, as my running has been off, training pretty much non-existent, and my diet still on it’s summer on PEI mode.

Last year I was overcoming a couple injuries and so was motivated to workout 3-5 hours a day. I went to physio, yoga, lifted weights, did body weight training, stretched, and ran a training program. For an amateur I was somewhat obsessed and work was admittedly not my focus. Since I ran the race last February, their have been far too many more important distractions – moving your family around the world can have that effect and I haven’t been nearly as dedicated. I’ve put in the miles, somewhat following a 16 week program, but it’s been a struggle to lace up my shoes. My heart just hasn’t been in it. Luckily I have thus far remained injury free.

My last marathon was a complete success, I was slow by design, experienced none of the “bonk” that runners experience, and except for the last 5K, it felt easy.

This time I expect a great deal of discomfort and am participating to experience the great Island views, to feel tested, and to experience my twice yearly challenge. I’ll leave the PB’s and hopes for a Boston qualifying time for another race.

User test session surprises

I am gearing up for a series of user interviews/test sessions slated tentatively for the end of this month. It’s been awhile since I’ve done one, over a year, and while it exists in muscle memory, the actual design of the sessions requires some review. Especially since the sessions will be facilitated by someone other than myself, someone with no background in running such sessions. Indi Young’s book Mental Models has a couple good short chapters on interviewing users which I often refer back to time and time again.

As I was sharing my plan prior to a stand-up meeting yesterday, I recounted how illustrative these sessions can be. You can craft what you consider to be the most elegant interface you have ever created, perfectly suited to the target customer, only to have a participant tell you bluntly that it sucks. Of course they don’t come out and say so, such cut and dry responses are not so useful, but the sessions are such a great way to learn what works and what doesn’t. And they keep you focused on what design is really about, creating “things” for someone other than yourself.

The above video is a short excerpt from one such session in many years ago. As I related yesterday, this test came as a total surprise. At the time I was creating a number of hardware based prototypes – embedding pressure sensors into everyday objects, in this case pillows, in order to control software. I created a version for Adults which use a complex sensor to control the creation of music, and a basic on/off sensor fashioned from a keyboard logic board, to control a children’s musical game. The game was extremely simple – the kids just had to reorder the elements of a song by sitting on pillows. It was a musical memory game but played on a larger scale. The software ran on an iMac but I envisioned it running on a console or PC.

My expectation was that the kids would be bored and that my concept was flawed. But within the scope of this test, the opposite proved to be true (later it was abandoned as my intuition proved accurate).

This is what I like most about user research, discovering these insights and surprises when watching people use a product. It’s a great way to learn about people, and of course, whether its a formal or informal session, an essential part of creating a usable product.

Data is not information

Before Evernote, which I am now weaning myself off of, I used to keep copious amounts of notes as plain text files, usually loosely organized by project. Unfortunately being a poor excuse of a student or academic I often forgot to include any valuable meta-data as to it’s origin. I’m assuming that the text fragment below is from a textbook of some sort, likely written by Richard Saul Wurman or Edward Tufte, as I read most of their books at that time.

This is paramount to realize. Though we use the two terms interchangeably in our culture-mostly to glorify data that has no right to be ennobled-they mean distinctly different things.

Data is raw an often overabundant. While it may have meaning to experts, it is, for the most part, only the building blocks on which relevance is built. It also should never be produced for delivery in raw form to an audience-because it has no inherent value. Until it is transformed into information (with context), it’s meaning is of little value and only contributes to the anxiety we feel dealing with so much information in our lives.

An unfortunate fallacy we live under is that this is an “Age of Information.”

Never before has so much data been produced. Yet our lives are not enhanced by any of it. Worse, this situation will only become more pervasive.
What we tend to measure is only data and while this has increased in our society, it has not-and cannot-improve productivity or anything else because it lacks the value to do so, or the value to make meaningful change. Once we re-educate ourselves as to what information really is, then we may be able to find the opportunities for increased understanding and productivity.

Data is so uninforming that we can liken it to heavy-winter clothing, enshrouding us as we interact with each other, It doesn’t completely stop us from communicating, but it makes it much more difficult, and it surely makes any complex interactions more laborious.

I haven’t thought too deeply about this in what feels like a hundred years, but somehow the DIKW pyramid reared it’s head when talking to the kids about Youtube and all the fake crap on social media.

The real problem isn’t the DIKW’s hijacking of the word “knowledge” but its implication that knowledge derives from filtering information. It doesn’t. We can learn some facts by combing through databases. We can see some true correlations by running sophisticated algorithms over massive amounts of information. All that’s good.

But knowledge is not a result merely of filtering or algorithms. It results from a far more complex process that is social, goal-driven, contextual, and culturally-bound. We get to knowledge — especially “actionable” knowledge — by having desires and curiosity, through plotting and play, by being wrong more often than right, by talking with others and forming social bonds, by applying methods and then backing away from them, by calculation and serendipity, by rationality and intuition, by institutional processes and social roles. Most important in this regard, where the decisions are tough and knowledge is hard to come by, knowledge is not determined by information, for it is the knowing process that first decides which information is relevant, and how it is to be used.

Problems with the Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom Hierarchy

Physical product noises

The noises made by physical products are not just part of their charm and emotional engagement. These noises provide clues to help us understand how the product works. We’ve often used these sounds in digital products but as time goes by they lose their significance to the listener – does a spinning dial in an app. need to map to an analog dial to reinforce it’s function?

Conserve the sound« is an online museum for vanishing and endangered sounds. The sound of a dial telephone, a walkman, a analog typewriter, a pay phone, a 56k modem, a nuclear power plant or even a cell phone keypad are partially already gone or are about to disappear from our daily life.

Accompanying the archive people are interviewed and give an insight in to the world of disappearing sounds.

Great project. I can guarantee my kids would not be able to recognize the majority of these products by sound alone.

Conserve the sound

The books

I’ve modified my page of recommended reading after noticing that the layout was broken, I suspect due to javascript, but it could have been some mistake on my part. Anyway, the grid masonry foolishness is gone and has been replaced with other foolishness. There is still some work to do with the assets but it will need to wait until my next period of task avoidance; which come as soon as tomorrow.

What this short experience has taught me is that I should either make a concerted effort to re-learn/learn development for the web or rely on a platform that delivers webpages not filled with massive amounts of cruft. Or I suppose I could just settle for the stasis quo. I suspect I will somehow find the time before Christmas to learn once again how to write clean simple mark-up for the web.

Looking at the list of books I also realized just how much my reading habits have changed over the years. My copies of “the polar bear book” and Interface Culture are worn out, but as time as passed I’ve moved more and more from deep slow reading, to referencing and skimming. This can’t be a good thing, but in my defence, some of those books, though important, are really really boring. Anyone who has made it through, cover to cover, the book “Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things” deserves some kind of a prize.

To change the mindset of your stakeholders from being naysayers to being advocates for user research, you must help them understand how research can add value to their product and that learnings from user research are an indispensable asset to a product team.

If I had this skill when I was freelancing full-time, I might not have watched as that period of my career floundered out of my own boredom. Without the clients to support UX methods of some sort, the problems and solutions all started to seem the same. But it was a hard sell then (and my business development skills were exceptionally poor) – anything that wasn’t writing code or creating concrete deliverables was deemed un-billable.

UX Research Is Essential to Product Success


This of all the photos I have taken of Catriona these now 15 years wouldn’t rank anywhere near the most “share-worthy”. Taken inside the environment we built to house my tangible interface exhibition, the work in which she inspired by her love of making music, with all manner of objects found around our home. She, and Camren, have continued to inspire me and send us in all kinds of directions that we would never have had the joy of exploring if we hadn’t had them. She’s 15 today, and adamant to follow her own path, which is exactly as it should be.

Work the algorithms

Emphasis mine

When has the CBC become like Buzzfeed and other purveyors of clickbait journalism? In what would otherwise sound like a great opportunity for anyone with writing and social ability, the CBC seems to illustrate it’s determination to join the ranks of Buzzfeed, Huffpost, Dailymail, et al. Why not just be open in their requirements – Write click worthy headlines to drive traffic to our website and A/B test outlandish copy to see which performs best. I expect more from a public funded organization such as this.

Social Editor/Presenter (English Services) – CHA00070

Jordan Peterson as bedtime author

In some political circles admitting that I read from Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life for my son’s bedtime story would constitute a form of child abuse. But thats exactly what I did these past nights, delving right into how we are related to lobsters and tying in our usual talks about zombies (which seems to weave in well with Peterson’s storylines). The whole lobsters brains exploding is perfect stuff for young boys.

Though perhaps beyond the age of having a bedtime story my son always loved listening to my wife read to him in English, a great contrast to his daily use of Chinese, and wonderful mom and son time. They have continued this night time tradition despite being 13 hrs apart, but sometimes the stars don’t align, and we can’t find the time to connect via FaceTime. So I have been filling in.

I’ve seen Jordan Peterson called all manner of vile terms, often from people who prove they are unfamiliar with anything he has written beyond the occasional soundbite. Personally I’ve found him to be a skilled debater and I can find a number of things he has said or written that make particular sense to me. I’ve long hoped that someone far more intelligent than I would debunk him on facts, not ideology, but I haven’t had the privilege of witnessing it. I do find his writing a weird mixture of his interpretation of research, oversimplifications, weak attempts at humour, and conjecture as statement of fact.

I like exposing myself to all kinds of ideas (I like Jocko Willik too), especially from those who are so different from myself, or have ideas I might not readily agree. I would hope my children might do the same, and would study with an open mind the works of a wide range of thought leaders, forming their own opinions. Which is one of the reasons we head to church on Sundays, where they revel in the glow of liberal Canadian ideals, wrapped in a conservative establishment.

After I read chapter 1 of Jordan Peterson’s book, I wanted to discuss the lobsters, wrens, and the more complicated stories within, and what it all might possibly mean. But my son had already fallen asleep which might just make Jordan the best bedtime storyteller ever.

Design for the ears to provide information, to communicate and to experience.

I haven’t finished absorbing all that is contained in the article but it’s really worth digging into if you have any interest in the UX of sound. Sharing this also gives me a chance to complain about the poor sound UX (is that a term?) of Walmart in Charlottetown’s credit/debit card terminals. That extra beep drives me crazy as it infers an error.

As we move into an artificially intelligent world whose logics of operation often exceed our own understanding, perhaps we should linger a bit longer on those blips and clicks. Compressed within the beep is a whole symphony of historical resonances, socio-technical rhythms, political timbres, and cultural harmonies. Rather than simply signaling completion, marking a job done right, a beep instead intones the complex nature of our relationships to technology — and the material world more generally.

Things that Beep: A Brief History of Product Sound Design

One reason not to choose Public Mobile

I gave both my kids accounts with Public Mobile when they arrived in PEI for a combination of reasons: the price came slightly under any family plan offered by other providers, they supported their older iPhones, and I saw the lack of interaction with store personnel as a big positive. The fact that their website, with it’s wireframe aesthetic, seemed more task focused as compared to the others Campbell alphabet soup approach, worked in their favour too.

But, my son hasn’t had any data in what would appear to be over a month. We utilize all the features of the iOS platform, including the blue bubbles of iMessage, location sharing and etc. When these features never worked for him I figured he had just turned something off, and I didn’t have time to investigate further. It nows seems this is something with Public Mobile.

I’ve never had a network problem, at least in the past 10 years, that a simple restart wouldn’t fix. The problem seems a bit deeper this time and after spending 40 minutes on the community website looking for answers, the required course of action, I am left with the same unresolved problem.

This “You’re the boss when it comes to your account” philosophy sounds nice if the service works as advertised, but if you loathe troubleshooting mundane problems such as this, or don’t have time to waste it might be worth investigating someone else.

The index card was a product of the Enlightenment, conceived by one of its towering figures: Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist, physician, and the father of modern taxonomy. But like all information systems, the index card had unexpected political implications, too: It helped set the stage for categorizing people, and for the prejudice and violence that comes along with such classification.

How the Index Card Cataloged the World

Whereby I torture my son into recording a video

We spent some time on the North Shore on Sunday and it was surprisingly pleasant. It’s a surprise as I hadn’t considered a beach visit during any time other than the summer. It’s a bit like beaches cease to exist once the cold comes – except in Thailand of course, where the beaches become more enjoyable and exist all year round.

My son’s interest in becoming a Youtube star has waned, he blames the fact that we don’t have our old iMac here, but I suspect it’s just part of his changing interests