January 27, 2005

Separated at Birth: Jakob and Jared

Just got out of a meeting with Jared Spool. Is it just me or are the usability gurus in the world starting to look alike?

Photo of Jared Spool, UIE.comPhoto of Jakob Nielsen, UseIt.com

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January 25, 2005

Miami Vice Season 1 comes to DVD

It's about time!

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January 24, 2005

Mmmm... gourmet hamburger

Quick way to make a pedestrian lunch a bit special: At our cafeteria, the grill guy cooks your burger then sends you off to the salad bar for your mayo, lettuce and tomatoes. By just slipping in some spring mix, argula, and roasted red peppers, you now have a primo lunch instead of something just ok.

That the cafeteria operator buys Niman Ranch burgers is a plus too.

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January 11, 2005

Where'd the ornament box go?

You know you have too much crap in the garage when you seriously consider putting a system like this in place:

photo of Sky-Marx netting in warehouse

Sky-Marx Position Reference System is an array of position markers attached to a support structure, suspended overhead. It offers a method of identifying locations for areas that are otherwise unstructured, such as storerooms, warehouses, and factory floors.

Each position marker contains a bar code and/or human readable text that uniquely identifies the corresponding floor area below it. Markers are attached to a sturdy but lightweight mesh that can be suspended above the area of interest. When an item is placed within the designated area, the closest marker is read and recorded. For users with automated systems, the marker barcode is scanned with a standard bar code scanner.

Now that way, when you're looking to take down the Xmas tree and are searching for the specially compartmented ornament box, you can just query your household Access database (what, you don't have one?) and there you are.

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January 10, 2005

Crawlspace Inspection Robot

So I was scurrying around the crawlspace yesterday, mostly looking for water inflitration after the past series of storms. Found all sorts of problems to fix too, like detached air ducts, bad toilet flanges, and funky wires that I have no idea what they're for.

Couldn't you just take a radio control car chassis, tack on some good lighting (rubberbanding a SureFire on top would do the trick), and a small camcorder, then drive it around down there? You could hook the camcorder up to your big-screen TV if you wanted to, and inspect your crawlspace from the comfort of your media room.

I'm sure someone's already done this. You could just do it as a retrofit kit for the usual toy RC car. You'd want one of the "4x4 truck" models, because you'll be going over pipes and rocky fill and the like. You'd also want to either have a really wide-angle lens, or some way to pan and tilt via RC control too.

A really geeky version would let you control it through a Web browser.

There's gotta be something like this over at Fry's already. All the PL geeks in the Valley would use it to surreptitiously peep at their neighbors or something.

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January 07, 2005

PVC Project: Driving Range Cage

Parking this idea for a rainy day... make your own driving range cage out of PVC pipe.

After all, this one from Costco.com is just some 1.5" Schedule 40:

photo of Costco.com driving range cage

I figure, I could reuse my old sprinkler runs (gotta replace them anyway), get a camo net from Cheaper Than Dirt or something, and for $50 I'd be good to go. The camo net would also serve a dual purpose of shielding my wicked slice from the PGA Wannabee Interdiction overflights.

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January 05, 2005

But....why, Daddy?

So my kid is well into the "...but why?" stage, asking for more details with ever lame answer I serve up. Of course, as an engineer, I do tell her how the clock works when she asks about the time ("...well honey, the case of the clock is injection molded and...").

But no one could do this as well as Calvin's dad. And he's a lawyer. Some of my favorites:

Q. Why does the sky turn red as the sun sets?
A. That's all the oxygen in the atmosphere catching fire.

Q. Where does the sun go when it sets?
A. The sun sets in the west. In Arizona actually, near Flagstaff. That's why the rocks there are so red.

Q. Don't the people get burned up?
A. No, the sun goes out as it sets. That's why it's dark at night.

Q. Doesn't the sun crush the whole state as it lands?
A. Ha ha, of course not. Hold a quarter up. See, the sun's just about the same size.

Q. I thought I read that the sun was really big.
A. You can't believe everything you read, I'm afraid.

Tip o' the hat to Elise for posting these.

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January 04, 2005

Computers for Toddlers

Got into a discussion re. getting kids onto computers at an early age. I always figured that I'd get my kid onto the computer from day 1, so she'd be comfortable using them and would grow up with computer skills.

But now I'm not so sure.

Most of the applications I've seen for kids haven't been that compelling. They're basically edutainment, but could the time spent playing the game (and thus inferring new knowledge or skills) be spent learning that new knowledge in the "real" world? Which is better?

Then there's the notion that kids should learn computer skills, like the motor skills required to manipulate a mouse, or the spatial dynamics of the CRT screen. But I'm beginning to rethink that idea. In the next few years, will WIMP interfaces still rule or will we see new advances in UI tech? Maybe I should spend more time teaching my kid proper diction and vocabulary so she'll be ready for voice input--while the other kids in kindergarten will be tethered to their PCs, she'll be commanding hers while wheeling around the schoolyard on her tricycle. Hah!

As with any parental guidance issue, it's hard to know how much is good and how much more is bad. It would really suck to have carpal tunnel before you hit middle school.

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