BBB III TTT SSS BBB Y Y TTT EEE SSS
B B I T S B B Y Y T E S ONLINE EDITION
BBB I T SSS AND BBB YYY T EEE SSS VOL 1, NUMBER 6
B B I T S B B Y T E S 8/16/93
BBB III T SSS BBB Y T EEE SSS
Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler. - Albert Einstein
The comfort of a good fit between man and machines seems largely
absent in the technology of the information age. Consider the digital
wristwatch: people generally care less about knowing the time to the
nanosecond than about seeing how long they've got until lunch. Some
experts say the solution to this predicament is user-centered design.
Elementary as that sounds, it could drastically revamp American
business. (SOURCE: "The Complexity Problem," John Sedgewick, The
Atlantic, March 1993, p.96)
The Art of Programming
A program should be light and agile, it's subroutines connected like a
string of pearls. The spirit and intent of the program should be
retained throughout. There should be neither too little nor too much,
neither needless loops nor useless variables, neither lack of
structure nor overwhelming rigidity.
A program should follow 'The Law of Least Astonishment.' What is this
law? It is simply that the program should always respond to the user
in the way that astonishes him least.
A program, no matter how complex, should act as a single unit. The
program should be directed by the logic within rather than by outward
If the program fails in these requirements, it will be in a state of
disorder and confusion. The only way to correct this is to rewrite the
(from The Tao of Programming by Geoffrey James [Info Books, 1987.
ISBN 0-931137-07-795. $7.95])
It's No Secret
Three years ago, Mitch Kapor stood up at Esther Dyson's conference and
spoke about the "secret shame" of the PC industry: PCs were too hard
to use, and none of us was willing to admit it. Mitch was right. We
were all participating in a shameful scam - pretending that computers
were easy to use when most of us knew differently from personal
experience. ("The Secret Shame of Client/Server Development,"
Patricia B. Seybold, Computerworld, 8/9/93)
How To Really Screw Things Up
According to the book _The Design of Everyday Things_ by Donald A.
Norman (see B&B Bookshelf), here's how to really mess up a system
MAKE THINGS INVISIBLE. Don't let the user know what operation to do,
and don't offer feedback. Do not provide a help function.
BE ARBITRARY. Pick command names and user actions that don't make
intuitive sense. See how many alt-shift-cntl-PFkey functions you can
come up with. Be creative. Neatness does not count.
BE INCONSISTENT. Use a bunch of different rules. Create inconsistency
in the way things are done in different modes.
MAKE OPERATIONS UNINTELLIGIBLE. Use unusual language, abbreviations,
and cryptic error messages. ("One item could not be deleted because it
was missing." - Mac System 7.0b1 error message)
BE IMPOLITE. Treat users like the pond scum you know they are.
MAKE OPERATIONS DANGEROUS. Make it easy to destroy important work. Do
*not* provide an undo function.
On the other hand, if good design is considered a plus at your shop,
the following qualities may be desirable:
VISIBILITY. Tell the users what's going on and what their options are.
A GOOD CONCEPTUAL MODEL. Try thinking about the problem at hand for a
while *before* you start to code. Talk to the users about the process
you are trying to codify.
GOOD MAPPINGS. Users can help determine the relationship between
actions and results; controls and effects; and the system state and
what is visible on-screen. Yes, the user is your *friend*.
FEEDBACK. Let the users know the results of their actions.
GOOD ERROR HANDLING. "If an error is possible, someone will make it.
The designer must assume that all possible errors will occur and
design so as to minimize the chance of error in the first place, or
its effects once it gets made. Errors should be easy to detect, they
should have minimal consequences, and, if possible, their effects
should be reversible." (Donald Norman)
(SOURCE: Computerworld, 7/5/93, p.72)
Mainframe Continues Its Death Throes
Forrester Research, Inc. has released a report entitled _The
Mainframe's Fate_, which concludes that mainframe computers, once the
mainstay of corporate computing, are slowly fading into irrelevance.
Despite what diehard 'big iron' supporters may say, as the world moves
to client/server computing, distributed computing and smaller, cheaper
hardware, mainframes will put out to pasture. In fact, some already
have been and many more will follow. Of the fifty Fortune 500
companies surveyed, 10% had already pulled the plug on their
mainframes, and another 18% were actively seeking to reduce their
dependence on mainframes. The report does not, however predict the
mainframe's extinction any time soon. It will continue to see some use
as a central data warehouse. However, a new class of corporate servers
will emerge using the most powerful of today's processors, in many
cases using multiple processors. These will probably pound the final
nail in the coffin and bring to end the stone ages of the Information
Age. (SOURCE: Newsbytes 8/5/93)
Kick Them While They're Down Department
Concerning recent announcements of a layoff of 2,500 employees by
Apple, Jay Leno recently quipped they were achieving their longtime
dream of becoming the same size as IBM. Hi - oooooh!
Q: What is the difference between Jurassic Park and IBM?
A: One is a high-tech theme park for dinosaurs and the other is a
movie by Steven Spielberg. Ba-bing!
NEW PRODUCTS AND SERVICES:
+BLUE LIGHT SPECIAL. Here's a little more information on the new laser
from IBM (B&B v1#4). The blue light laser based system could put 6.5
gigabytes on a 5-1/2 inch optical disk. This is 5 times the density of
current devices. IBM scientists hope to have a commercial version of
this technology in 4 or 5 years. (SOURCE: Computerworld 8/9/93, p. 31)
+NEWTON IS HERE. I would be remiss if I did not mention that Apple's
Newton Message Pad is out at last. The verdict is not in yet - I have
seen both glowing praise and less than wonderful reviews of the most
prominent of a new breed of personal digital assistants (PDAs). The
$700 package learns to read your handwriting, will automatically add
an appointment to your calendar based on a note, or dial a phone or
send a fax. Future versions will feature wireless messaging
capabilities. Currently Newtons can talk to each other via infrared
links. Third party manufacturers will be providing add-on products and
software to extend the Newton Pad's functionality. Keeping in mind
that these devices are in their infancy, I expect to see Artificial
Intelligence techniques applied to these gizmos, making them true
personal assistants in the future, capable of initiating actions with
minimal input from the user. For example, the head office schedules an
important out of town meeting at the last minute . Your PDA sees it is
a priority one event. It books a plane flight, adding the flight
information to your calendar, informs the office via email that you
won't be at the office tomorrow, reschedules meetings by sending
participants a message, perhaps checking with their PDAs for a
convenient time, and updates your schedule accordingly. For us more
academic types, PDAs will initiate searches for citations or other
pieces of information needed from the networks. More on PDAs and
intelligent agent technology in an upcoming B&B ONLINE.
+THE MOTHER OF ALL STORAGE DEVICES. A commercial patent has been
granted to EMASS corporation, for a technology that can store up to
10,000 terabytes of computer data in a device called the DataLibrary
archive. A terabyte is one trillion bytes, or the equivalent of about
500 billion pages of text. For those with more modest storage needs
the company plans to offer the Data Tower archive, a phone booth-sized
structure that stores 6 terabytes of data. The high-speed ER90 tape
drive can operate at 15 megabytes per second, and the D2 DataCassettes
store up to 25 gigabytes on a VHS-size cassette. Mind you, the
machines are not ready to ship yet, and the technology is not cheap.
A six terabyte system will cost over $1 million, depending on the
configuration of the system. (CONTACT: EMASS Systems, 214/272-0515,
fax 214/205-7200) (SOURCE: Newsbytes 8/13/93)
+VR FOR THE MASSES. Sega will be releasing the first mass market
virtual reality product in time for Christmas gift-giving. The Sega
Virtual Reality Stuntmaster, a combination goggle/headphone add-on for
the Sega Genesis game system, will retail for about $200. It
comes with a game called "Nuclear Rush," that will put users in the
middle of the action, with 360-degree stereoscopic view and realistic
sound placement - you'll be able to hear them gaining on you.
(SOURCES: Philadelphia Inquirer, Tower Records Pulse September 1993)
+FREE EMAIL SYSTEM. Pegasus Mail, or PMail, is a native Novell Inc.
Message Handling Service (MHS) mailer that does not require Novell's
MHS to run. It runs on the PC and MacIntosh platforms. The program's
developer, David Harris, first released PMail in 1990, and currently
supports the product over the Internet with the aid of the PMail
User's Group. Though the program is free, Harris sells licensees to
make unlimited copies of the manual for $275 "to cover development
costs." The article I am reading goes on to quote enthusiastic users
who say the package is better than many commercial offerings. Users
include the state government of Minnesota, the Department of Defense/
Navy at Charleston SC, Cambridge Systematics in Cambridge MA, and
Alberta Power, Ltd. Version 3.0 is due out this month.
(CONTACT: email@example.com) (SOURCE: INFOWORLD 7/26/93, p.8)
+MICKEY MOUSE GOES ONLINE... The Walt Disney Co. took its first small
step online, as its Disney Adventures magazine signed to make the
publication available through the America Online service. They join
Time Magazine (B&Bv1#4), WIRED Magazine (B&Bv1#3), Cable News Network,
The San Jose Mercury News, and Knight-Ridder and Tribune newspapers,
all of which have or will soon have online versions on America Online.
Industry analysts predict that major media companies like Disney and
Time Inc. will be major players as content providers to the online
market in coming years. Alliances with existing online companies are
the first step toward reaching this growing market. In a related
story, Disney Computer Software has also entered into a three-way
alliance with Sega Enterprises and Virgin Games to develope movie-
based game software for Sega's pocket game machine. The first product,
due in October, is a game version of Aladdin, Disney's hit movie, and
will feature high resolution, fast moving animation at a rate of 60
screens per second. This is more than twice the speed of a television
or a movie. Disney animators will provide the animation.
(SOURCE: Newsbytes News Service 8/5/93, 8/10/93)
Highway To A Wasteland?
Will the cost of the much ballyhooed data superhighway - as much as
$25 billion - encourage the risk-sharing alliances of cable, computer,
and telephone companies to try to recoup their investment by focusing
entirely on sales of movies, home shopping, and interactive games at
the expense of consumer control? "Unless some social or public
interest goals are established now, I'm afraid this information
superhighway will simply end up deepening the ocean of
commercialization that we have fallen into," says Berkeley journalism
professor Ben Bagdikian. ("What So Proudly We Logged On," Tom Abate,
San Francisco Examiner, 7/4/93, p. E1)
IRS Employees Caught With Their Hands In The Electronic Cookie Jar
An internal IRS report reveals that almost 370 IRS employees at the
regional headquarters in Atlanta have been snooping into taxpayer
records - just for kicks. They were examining the personal tax records
of friends, enemies, neighbors, and even celebrities without agency
authorization. The more ambitious ones even set up a side-line
altering reports which resulted in lower tax obligations in exchange
for payments. Many civil-liberties concerns have been raised over the
move to provide more information online so government agents and the
public can quickly access more information. Not surprisingly, it looks
as if these groups are right to be concerned. Nearly half of the more
than 100-thousand IRS employees currently have access to these files,
and if the same pattern applies to the other regional offices, it is
possible that more than 1,000 IRS employees may be routinely be
looking at private records. Sen. John Glenn (D- Ohio), chairman of
the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, is calling for an expanded
investigation. Two employees have already been indicted, and as many
as 80 others are under investigation for possible criminal
prosecution. (SOURCES: E-D-U-P-A-G-E 8/5/93, Newsbytes 8/3/93,
Information Week 8/9/93)
SIGGRAPH '93, the premier conference on computer graphics and
interactive techniques, has come and gone, and from the sound of it,
it was a doozy this year, with an emphasis on interactivity and not
a little weirdness, which is enough right there to give it the B&B
seal of approval. Held near Disneyland in sunny Anaheim, California,
games, entertainment, and education were the themes of the show.
- The Silicon Graphics exhibit, inspired by the movie Jurassic Park,
which gave show goers a chance to enter a giant box and climb into a
saddled teradactyl. Of the groups who entered the box only three were
allowed to actually ride, but onlookers saw the virtual scene as well.
- Evens and Sutherland offered a chance to take a virtual hang-glider
ride through a crowded city-scape. Participants were helped into
body-length slings that hung them suspended in front of a viewing
screen. They controlled their movement through the space via a hang-
glider bar they grasped with both hands. Stereo speakers provided the
sound. Riders reported that the sensation of hang-gliding was very
real despite the comic book appearance of the city landscape through
which they flew.
- In the electronic art area, sinners of all denominations could stop
in at an electronic confessional. Based on the confessions of the
Catholic church, the automated religion kiosk, called "Catholic Turing
Test" by Gregory P. Garvey, was a thin, shiny, black plastic structure
with a red neon cross at the top and a red kneeling bench in front.
The program started by asking how long it had been since you'd last
been to confession (answers were typed in). Sins were then selected
from a menu and penitents were told at the end of the confession what
type of sins they were and how many "Hail Marys" were needed for
penance. I swear I'm not making this up.
- At a group of tables, show goers who sat down to relax were
eventually bumped and mumbled at by what appeared to be a giant
bowling ball. Called "Adelbrecht" by designer Martin Spanjaard, the
mobile robot moved around under its own power, bumping into chairs and
people, changing direction all the while making beeping and whirring
noises, and mumbling unintelligible speech to show goers.
- The "Neuro Baby" was a monitor in a crib that displayed a pink,
cartoonish, buggy-eyed "baby" face that bounced around on the screen
and responded to attendees who bent down to speak into a microphone by
the crib. The baby laughed, cried, said "Hi," rolled its eyes, and
even got red-faced mad when the Newsbytes reporter laughed at it.
The voice analysis was performed by a neural network emulator that
converted voice input into "emotional" patterns to which the computer
had been "taught" to respond. A Silicon Graphics Iris 4D was used to
generate the image of the baby.
There were also lectures and conferences and a well stocked job
postings board to be found at SIGGRAPH. The keynote speaker was Trip
Hawkins, president, chief executive officer (CEO) of 3DO, and chairman
of computer game maker Electronic Arts. SIGGRAPH '94 has been announced
for July 24-29 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida.
(SOURCE: Newsbytes 8/5/93)
Bits and Bytes Bookshelf:
The Psychology of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman [Basic Books,
Things That Make Us Smart: Defending Human Attributes In The Age of
The Machine by Donald A. Norman [Addison-Wesley, 1993. $22.95]
- Two books that belong on every designer's shelf. In a world of VCRs
with their clocks perpetually blinking at 12:00, cognitive scientist
Norman explains how to design things that work *with* human nature
instead of against it as so many objects and programs do. Filled with
many amusing anecdotes we can all relate to, these books entertain
and teach good design principles. The second book is more computer-
(from Dijanta Majumder's review in Information Week, 5/31/93, p.66):
Norman says he's Pro-human rather than anti-technology, and his book
celebrates human foibles: "A machine is not distractible: My computer
will continue doing its job even as the building burns down... We
might rejoice in the fact that people are attentive to their
surroundings and to new events."
Kick Them Even If They're Not Down Department
Q: What is the difference between Jurassic Park and Microsoft?
A: One is a high-tech theme park dominated by expensive, nasty,
hungry, predatory monsters that will destroy anything they can get
their teeth into... and the other is a movie by Stephen Speilberg.
### ADMINISTRIVIA ###
REQUEST FOR CONTRIBUTIONS. Start spreadin' the news... B&B is always
on the lookout for interesting material for publication. In September
I am planning a 'theme' issue on education, retraining, and lifelong
learning. Do you have any interesting snippets along those lines? I
have a scanner, the material need not be in an electronic format. Send
paper to my snailmail address. Contributors will be gratefully
acknowledged. Speaking of which...
THANKS! The person who contributed the Picasso quote at the top of
v1 #4 was Philip Fitzgerald. Thanks, Philip! There's a room with
your name on it in the pink pyramid of love. Thanks also to Craig
Dunn from the Almac BBS (the largest online service in Europe) for
turning me on to the Usenet newsgroup alt.quotations. The two Jurassic
park riddles came from the August '93 edition of RAndY s RumOR RaG,
an electronic magazine available on various local BBS's, GEnie, and
America Online as well as in Modem News. Andy can be reached at
BITS AND BYTES ONLINE, a weekly electronic newsletter, is the
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(I said that last week but I was lying. This time my sincerity is
unquestionable.) Questions, comments and feedback are always welcome.
See you next week! ===============================================
Jay Machado = (Copyleft 1993 Jay Machado) *UNALTERED* =
1529 Dogwood Drive = electronic distribution of this file for =
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====================== = the contents of this document. The =
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Herb.Peyerl@ = Resistance is futile. We will assimilate =
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=============== end of Bits and Bytes Online V1, #6.==================