Wednesday, February 27, 2013

SIGCSE - CS2013 Sustainability Preview

The SIGCSE conference is fast approaching - next week in fact. Everyone I know seems to be scrambling to prepare something for the conference. We will convene in Denver for several days of learning and sharing. For my part, I will be taking part in a panel about the new Social Issues and Professional Practice recommendations for the undergraduate computer science curriculum (CS2013).

My part on the panel will focus on ideas for integrating Sustainability into computing classes. The dynamic of the conversation has shifted in the past few years away from polarization about whether this is relevant or not to "how do I do it?". Herein lies the challenge, the opportunity and the excitingness (I know, not a word) of the whole thing.

What I intend to emphasize in my very short 10 minutes, is that it isn't that alien. We aren't talking about adding a whole lot of content to otherwise crammed classes. In fact, I hope to make the point that if you are already teaching computing, you have most of what you need to teach your students to be sustainable practitioners. There is a logical place for Sustainability in an algorithms class, an architecture class, an AI class, a software engineering class, a graphics class.

My sense is that one of the biggest stumbling blocks for computing faculty who feel unsure of  themselves in this arena is not realizing that this situation is in many ways little different than any other pedagogical challenge. Computing educators are always working to keep on top of the latest technical advances, the latest tips and tricks, the latest exciting contexts and applications. Our community is great at leaping with both feet into creative thinking about pedagogy. Sustainability may at first sound like something unlike what you already do - but this isn't really so.

My gut instinct tells me that Sustainability provides one of the most exciting opportunities for adding both breadth and depth to our programs that has come along in a long time. There are opportunities for demonstrating the relevance of our field to students who care about what they can do to make a difference. There are opportunities for teaching our students to naturally incorporate ethical thinking and behavior into their practice no matter what type of job they ultimately take. There are opportunities for making exciting linkages with colleagues in other fields which can do nothing but help our overall image and impact in and out of the academy.

How am I going to fit all this into 10 minutes? We'll see. Quite the challenge. Join me and my panel colleagues at SIGCSE and we can keep talking about it.

Friday, February 15, 2013

My New Kindle Fire Goes Rogue

Another one of the WIAD (World Information Architecture Day - see my last post) speakers gave me a an unbelievably timely perspective on mobile devices. Greg Nudelman from Design Caffeine streamed in live from the east coast to speak about cross-platform user experiences. Perfect timing because I'm in mobile mobilization mode.
Mobile in So Many Ways
 Greg pointed out that on a small device tapping is easier than swiping because you want one hand optimization for routine tasks. On a larger mobile device people want to use more of their hands (plural) in larger gestures. One of my friends is in the market for a new smartphone and was asking me about the differences between iPhone and Android phones. Dangerous territory to wade into, given the fervor with which people take up their cause. My friend is fairly new to this world and was describing the features she has experienced and likes, such as the ability to flip from landscape to portrait mode. Now that is a nice cross-platform mobile UX feature.

After I mentioned that to her, I took out my new Kindle Fire and started rotating it in a slow circle to see how well it kept up with me turning it around and around. I wished that my recently ordered Google Nexus 4 phone would arrive so I could flip them both together and see if one was more likely to give me motion sickness in a moving car. Both my friend and I get terrible motion sickness so this could be an important mobile UX feature. I wonder if anyone has created an anti-motion sickness mobile app.

Speaking of my new Kindle, I had the most interesting mobile UX nightmare when I first got it a few weeks ago. I was so geekily excited. The first thing I noticed (and was quite amused by) was that all the screen saver advertising was in French. Odd, but ok... (I was most definitely not in France). I poked around, got it set up. I only had to go online to the computer a few times to figure out how to do something - although why I should have had to go into the Amazon customer conversation forum at all is a valid UX question.

Then the real trouble began. There was supposed to be a category for "Kindle Owners Lending Library", and there was supposed to be a free trial month of Amazon Prime. I received email telling me my Amazon Prime had started. The Kindle itself popped up with a message welcoming me to Prime. But there was no Prime and no Kindle Owners Lending Library. There was however, a mysterious note on the Kindle suggesting I get the most out of my service by going local at (Amazon France). In English. The Kindle apparently wanted to see the world.

Enter Nightmare: over the next week, over 8 hours reading Help pages, plus 7 phone calls to Amazon, 3 chat sessions, live conversations with at least 12 Amazon service reps at various nested levels, and each time (each time) I had to repeat the scenario over and over: this is what happened, this is what we have tried so far, this is what is going on, where is my Amazon Prime? Where is the Kindle Owners Lending Library?

We upgraded the OS (which for some reason was a few versions old), hard reset the system, looked at this that and the other things. The service reps were some of the most patient helpful people on this planet but the problem did not get identified. I can't tell you how many times I read out the names of the menus, categorization labels, and navigation aids. I don't fault the Amazon reps at all, because they seemed truly concerned and this was really weird.

Perhaps you have figured out what I eventually figured out: the Kindle had decided I was in France (clue: the French advertising) and placed geographic restrictions on my device.

Even after this dawned on me and I called Amazon to fix it, it took 2 more phone calls over a 24 hour period to get the machine permanently in the US. The first time they switched it to the US, the Kindle took it into its head to put itself back in France as soon as I turned it off. Perhaps it preferred the ambiance over there.

I was about ready to tear my hair out by the end of all this. I finally (knock on wood) have a properly functioning Kindle Fire. If the Kindle ever ever decides that I am in France (or New Zealand or Argentina) I don't know what I'll do. I'm a bit concerned, because I travel internationally sometimes and I planned to bring the Kindle. I'd have to contact Amazon to inquire.

I really like my Kindle I do. I am getting rather attached to it now. I lost over a week of my trial version of Amazon Prime, and I thought about asking Amazon to extend my expiration date, but that would mean having to contact Amazon and talk through this whole experience yet again. That feels a bit traumatic.

Monday, February 11, 2013

World Information Architecture Day - Cool Stuff

15 cities officially celebrated World Information Architecture (IA) Day on Saturday - possibly more than 15, but there were 15 official selected locations for WIAD 2013 around the globe. One of those sites was Los Angeles, sponsored by the User Experience Professionals Association of Los Angeles  (LA-UXPA) and I was there along with several hundred other people.

LA-UXPA did an amazing job. It was a high energy, well organized, event with an incredible amount of useful and thought-provoking information packed into a one full day of interdisciplinary speakers. You see, IA people hark from the arts, law, computing, psychology, design, sciences... I spoke to people from each of those fields. Disney was there (they sponsored  a tasty lunch among other things) along with a host of other generous sponsors. Every time you turned around your brain was being challenged to switch gears to look at things from another perspective. You gotta love this kind of event.

For example, one of the speakers, David Fiorito a self described computer geek, came out from Philadelphia to to talk about "thinking navigation". From his perspective, IA draws heavily on Linguistic Anthropology: recognizing the use of language as a common source of meaning among groups, drawing awareness to cultural meaning systems encoded in words (e.g. symbols) and utilizing ethnography to decode relationships between the symbols (words). To keep you on your toes, David also described IA in terms of ontology, taxonomy and choreography. That last item was a pleasant surprise; I had an immediate mental image of ballerina-like labels and categories (taxonomy) doing pirouettes among each other to tell a story (ontology).

A completely different sort of inspiration landed in my lap during Aaron Irizarry's opening presentation. Recently, I have been pondering how to address concerns in the computing education community about integrating sustainability into the undergraduate curriculum (the topic of my own presentation in a few weeks at SIGCSE 2013). Then Aaron launched into a discussion of tackling the MVP: Minimal Viable Problem.

As in: in an increasingly complex interconnected technology driven world, we will inevitably find ourselves in a room with peers who all want to "address it" but who don't even agree on what "it" is (IA, UX, Design...Sustainability). We struggle to arrive at a common understanding of terms, goals, expected common value of customer/user (student, faculty) experience. What is "it"? What is "its" value? How to respond to "we don't have the resources to do that"?

Is UX valuable? Is IA valuable? Is Sustainability in the Computing Curriculum valuable? Yes. Yes. Yes.

It doesn't matter if we are in industry or academia, if we are talking product development, service provision, or pedagogical content knowledge. So! went off the light bulb hovering over my head! When we are breaking new ground, we often slam into the same communication challenges. Aaron provided some nicely targeted insights into tackling this problem. Little does Aaron know, but he helped me a great deal with plotting and planning my presentation. Thanks Aaron!

There's more to tell about WIAD. I'm still hoarse from all the talking on Saturday. Stay tuned for Part 2!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Family Feud UX Speakeasy Style

My jaw dropped when I looked up and saw Michael Jackson coming down the stairs last night at the monthly San Diego UX Speakeasy meeting. For real. I mean I know MJ passed away a few years ago but this was him, for real....

I gawked all night. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, because this group always manages to have a good time. I was already sporting a large mustache courtesy of the organizing committee. To show what I know about wearing a mustache, I had been about to place it on upside down until a guy wearing a sparkly tiara pointed out my error.

All part of the Girls vs. Guys Family Feud themed meeting (an offbeat acknowledgement of Valentines Day month).

Of course, there was plenty of learning last evening. Activity #1 for the gender-split teams: you have 2 minutes to use your mobile phones to research your assigned UX celebrity/author and report back to the whole group.

I was very pleased to see that there were an equal number of men and women on the list:

A. Cooper                               D. Chiswell
JJ Carret                                 J. Tidwell
J Kolko                                   K. Goodwin
T. Zaki Worfel                         I. Young
L. Wroblewski                        G. Bell
R. Unger                                 S. Wachter-Boettcher

Do you know who each of these people is? 
Do you know what each person authored? 
Do you know which is the list of women and which is the list of men?

Talk about a great warm-up exercise. Then it was on to the real contest. A series of UX questions designed to get each team thinking - but only 60 seconds to come up with one best answer. Michael Jackson kept the contestants honest and on time with his iPad.

Ready to test yourself?

Q. What might the color green represent on an icon or button?

Q. What is the most commonly used mobile application, either pre-loaded or down-loaded, in the United States?

Q. Name a way to encourage your team to think creatively.

Q. Where might you find a company logo other than on a website?

Q. Name a research method that can be used to create or improve the information architecture on a website.

Q. Name something that is normally fond on the home page of a website.

Q. Name one way to make text salient on a computer screen without changing the font size.

Q. How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop?

Q. What is another word for customer?

Q. Name a product or feature you will most likely see and be designing for in the home of the future.

The crowd became increasingly enthusiastic, with plenty of shouting out, contesting the decisions of the judge, and there were reports of some teams ignoring the clock. There were some particularly interesting graphical answers - meaning via the use of pen and markers. One contestant told me this was because she was so inspired by the recent Sketchcamp that now she feels empowered to sketch, draw and doodle in places she never thought of before.

Pink and blue tiaras glittered in the spotlights, mustaches peeled under the force of cognitive sweat.

And the answers are...