Results tagged “PARC” from kwc blog

Book: Design of Everyday Things

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meta warned me that when I read The Design of Everyday Things, I would learn very little. This is a compliment to the book, rather than a criticism. We both worked at PARC at the time and much of what is in the book is ingrained within the PARC culture. Thus, to say that I would learn very little is to say how influential the ideas of this book are. According to the Director of User Experience at TiVo, the book is somewhat of a bible. You'll find my own attempt at being Norman in "Affordances of a Seven-Foot Egg."

Another compliment I will pay this book is, in retrospect, the ideas presented seem like commonsense. As Norman dissects bad doors and light switch arrangements, the criticisms are intuitive, yet we must wonder, if this truly was commonsense, why is it so easy to find examples of bad design in everyday things? It's not hard to find a doors with "push" or "pull" signs taped on because the wrong type of handle was used. It's not hard to remember being confronted with an array of light switches and not knowing which light went with which. Sometimes the explanation is that someone was being cheap. Or lazy. But we also see simple principles violated in expensive, intensively designed products like airplanes and cars. Bad design comes with any price tag.

The most valuable aspect of the book for me is that it provides a vocabulary for being more specific about evaluating design. Norman once said something akin to, if it has poor usability, it probably got a design award. We don't do a good job separating out aesthetics and usability when we use the term design. The iPod is cited again and again as an example of "good design," but there are many usability problems. It's mappings are poor: press the center button and the next menu scrolls in from the right; press up and the previous menu scrolls in from the left; pressing left or right changes the track that's playing; rotating the scrollwheel wheel moves a linear menu up and down. The visibility is also poor: two weeks ago I taught two long-time iPod users that you can fast-forward/rewind, rate songs, and view album art if you press the center button while a song is playing.

I look forward to reading Norman's Emotional Design. I'm sure it will provide a vocabulary for discussing the good aspects of the iPod design, and then at last I can make my $billions.

Partial/ongoing notes in the extended.

Bioscanning

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It looks like the PARC-Scripps partnership is finally out in the open. If there was a previous announcement, I missed it. One of the higher-ups at Scripps gave a forum at PARC where he showed off some of the cool stuff they were doing, such as adding new codons + base pairs + tRNA, growing ears on the backs of mice, etc... (though he spoke with such glee that seemed a complete rejection of any social or moral implications of what they were doing). PARC has now been working with Scripps to figure out how to wonderful world of Xerox technology (printers, scanners, etc...) can be merged with the world of biotech to create interesting, and medically useful technologies. This CNET article talks about how PARC is working on tagging cancer cells and then using lasers to try and scan for them in the blood.

BTW - I think it's funny that CNET has to lead there article with "Xerox Palo Alto Research Center," followed in the next paragraph with, "The research center, known as PARC."

Talk: Research cultures

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I was part of a four person panel that gave a talk on research cultures at non-PARC research center. bp posted his notes, where it should be obvious that I had very little to say. The questions focused a lot more on high-level/process questions (e.g. "when do you decide to terminate a project," "what about outsourcing research development to India"). I've only been at SRI for five months working on a single project, which probably didn't make me a very good panel member to answer questions about the research project lifecycle. I was hoping for more "culture" questions so I wouldn't sound so mute. At the very least I had a good time seeing everyone again.

meme propagation

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popout thumbnailOne of the things I was noticing in my feed aggregator was how the "visited US states" meme has been propagating into the various blogging communities I am part of. BP was nice enough to generate a thumbnail for me so that I could view this at a macroscopic level. (He used PARC's Popout Prism to quickly generate the image).

Unfortunately, there's so many other entries in the feed reader that the maps end up squashed, but if you look at the bottom, you can see the first cluster of maps, which is mine, then BP's two maps, and tonya's. After that, there is a slight lull. honeyfields and I bugged meta to do a map as well, so then you see meta's near complete map, followed by jrc's (who reads meta's blog), and ginfiend's (who also reads meta's blog). You can tell by the amount of red in the images that meta clearly wins the contest :). You can see the full feed here (link no longer valid).

popout exampleAs Popout Prism has this neat (and central) feature that highlights keywords in the thumbnail (example of this on the left), I was thinking that it would be interesting to integrate this feature into a feed aggregator. As people in your community start talking about visited states, orkut, or a party you went to the other day, you'd be able to quickly see how hot a particular topic was. If you aggregator was especially smart, it could show you a list of what topics seemed to be hot and let you click on them to highlight them in the thumbnail and on the page. If only there were a freely available server-side toolkit :).

Last day

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Hey y'all - today's my last day at PARC. Next up: three weeks of vacation (inc. Maui), followed by my new job at SRI.

Rescue Bots

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KoKoRo posted links to some videos of some interesting rescue robots with the typical snake- and spider-style. It immediately made me think of PARC's PolyBots. The suprising/cool robot of the bunch was a two-wheelin' jumpin' robot (check out the video): robot

Vampire Ether

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At long last, photos of some early ether (2.94Mbit).

photo

The way the story was retold, the researchers at PARC couldn't figure out how to tap the coax cable with the right impedences (they didn't want to have to cut the cable). One of the researchers suggested looking at a cable parts catalog and they came up with using the vampire taps you can see in the photo.

BTW - Metcalfe prefers calling it 2.94Mbit Ether rather than 3Mbit ether because the rounding error is greater than the speed of ARPANet at the time (if I got my facts right).

It's Ethernet Day

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They're celebrating Ethernet's 30th birthday here at PARC. Celebrations begin in 10 minutes but I thought I'd post some photos of some original ether.

Tomorrow is Ethernet Day!

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Tomorrow is Ethernet's 30th birthday! Celebrations will be held at PARC, with both Boggs and Metcalfe attending. I'm tempted to bring some wirecutters and cut myself a piece of original ether. CNET already has an
interview.