August 10th, 2006

Brian and Anne

Usability, obsession, and a new SF book

Last night I went downtown for a talk by Tom Brinks, presented by MOCHI and the Michigan UPA, which I think you should soon be able to hear as a Design Critique podcast. The title of Tom's talk was "Obsession: Finding the Sympathetic Heart of Design" and it focused on how there is an appropriateness of form to content, and of content to audience, that creates a kind of "fit" to the particular geek-dom and aesthetics of the audience. This in part explains why people love ugly websites (because they work anyway and let them do something they geek out about), why pretty websites fail (if they don't have their concept/focus right, or expressed well), and how taking a taoist (or Wabi-sabi) approach to user experience design might be one road to success (CF Eric Boersma's illustration of this as regards Web 2.0). I need to remember to check out MOCHI's new blog too.

Afterwards I walked across campus to stop by Borders to pick up a used copy of The Past Through Tomorrow that I'd ordered because the copy I've loaned out hasn't come back, and also to pick up this most attractive copy of skzbrust's new book, Dzur. It was a lovely evening for walking and people watching, and getting new books was a nice way to cap it off.

I was pleased and surprized to see Bill and I listed on the acknowledgements page on Dzur. I had almost forgotten that we helped Steve out with some computer stuff last year. Unlike many people on the list, we weren't helping him with his operating system or his printer problems or anything like that. What we did was collaborate to write him an emacs macro to convert his Borland Sprint mark-up into .rtf sufficiently that he could use Open Office to format his files for printing. Borland Sprint is an old DOS word processor that Steve used as a text formatter back in the day, and I understand DDB had set him up with emacs shortcuts that would put in the appropriate control-code mark-up for italics and such so that Steve could compose in emacs, his preferred editor. I figured out the .rtf format and Bill and I together created an emacs macro that would leave Steve's original document alone while creating a new .rtf file for printing. Bill is a wiz with emacs macros. I also gave Steve occassional long-distance tutorials on how to use Open Office, since he was unfamiliar with the Office way of thinking about things and yet wanted to use the chapters feature and such.

Ultimately the right fix would be for new .emacs settings that would use the keystrokes Steve's familiar with to embed his file with .rtf markup instead of Sprint control characters, but we're pleased that this stopgap measure has been helpful to him so far.
Sarah's painting

since it's such a nice time for flying...


I just made my reservations to fly to the East coast next week to visit with gerisullivan and see Bill for the first time since June 26. We'll pick him up from somewhere on the trail on Friday and I'll deliver him back there on Monday after dropping Geri off at the airport (she's going to Worldcon. Right now though I envy her her worldcon attendance I do not envy the long flight if the ban on carry-on liquids is still in effect).

I'm flying out Friday, August 18 on a 7:30 am flight, returning Monday evening at 7:25 pm. Please let me know if you'd be up for giving me a ride to or from the airport.