Categories
Science

User friendly

Robert Fabricant describes user interaction designers as highly trained tinkerers , with a robust set of prototyping skills that make up for our lack of formal credentials. We find ways to identify user needs, rapidly develop and test solutions, and gather user feedback while relying on the principles found within this book.

The book he talks about is called User Friendly and is written by himself and Cliff Kuang. It is one of the first books about user-friendly design aimed at non-experts. In the book they describe the last 150 years of industrial design with an emphasis on the paradigm of user friendlyness and how it evolved. The book is split up in two parts, the first one is called Easy to Use, the other Easy to Want. Every chapter is named after one principle of user-friendly design like error or trust.

This way of structuring made it a little hard to read for me. You often get the same stories from a different angle, which is a little annoying. But I liked the general way the authors looks at the problem. Coming from science, it was interesting to see practitioners looking at the topic.
I also liked the second part way more than the first, which is mainly because the first part is talking about typical usability flaws like the ridiculous ways in which nuclear power plants were designed making it hard for the engineers working there not blowing up everything. The second part is about the design of products, not only interfaces, putting people first. These topics I think in general are more interesting, it is also what I am dealing with in research.

I liked the book, especially the last part very much. If you are new to user-friendly design it gives a good overview where the field comes from and also why it is still important to create user-friendly products.

Categories
General

Sustainable Software

When we are talking about free software, the point is often that this is more sustainable than proprietary software because everyone can edit the code and even if your company goes bankrupt someone else can take over and go on coding. Actually, in many open source projects there is only one person doing most of the developing work and there is also the risk of abandonware, software that used to be maintained, but the maintainer has moved on and does other stuff now. Still, no one else is taking over the code due to several reasons like bad documentation, complex code, lacking skills. So at the end the whole programm is written new from scratch in the next project (I see this quite a bit in science). Luckily there are institutions like the software sustainability institute tackling some if these especially technical issues, but I want to put more emphasis on social issues.

So actually the question we have to ask: how do we make software more sustainable? I see one crucial point that is true for software as well as any other voluntarily work (be it sports clubs or cultural/political groups): how easy do you attract people and how easy is it to participate in your project? Often, it is only one person working on a project. If this person stops, the whole project goes down. So what should happen? I think there are three more social than technical levels in which many projects might need some improvement:

  1. Community building: it should be easy to join your project. Connect, network with others, show that the atmosphere you do things is nice. Threat people reporting bugs nicely, talk to people and show that you are a person or group of persons it is fun to work with. Remember, people do this often in their free time
  2. Documentation: Make it easy on a technical side to join your project. It should not be easier to re-write the whole software than working on existing code. If you are a political group or other, also document what you do and what you did and why you did it. If you write code, also do this. Also track decisions, you do not want other people to make the same mistakes again.
  3. Financing: yes, financing. How do you expect people to work on things when they still have to pay rent? Therefore it is important to have your project on a stable ground, if you want to have it running. This does not mean that you sell out or try to get rich from ripping of your users, but it means that you think if you want to spend a reasonable amount of your time (or support someone else to spend a reasonable amount of their time for your project and think about putting some money in this). In software this also tackles licenses (another boring topic, I know, but there is also help.)

Summing up, I think we need to talk more about these things when developing free software and I also know that it is not the tasks most programmers are good at, but might be some skills to acquire in the future or attract people having these skills for our projects or software. I also want to show that if you are not a programmer, you can still do very important work in this background.

And even if you do not want to become active in open source software development, there are a lot of clubs, sports teams, political groups that will be happy to use your input and exptertise

Categories
General

Personal state of linux

In this post, I want to give an overview over the linux distributions I am using right now and why I use them.

I am since quite a lot of time using Xubuntu on every computer that is a little bit older or has limited resources. Xubuntu is fast, easy to install and uses litle resources, the in my opinion perfect os for old computers. I switched from Lubuntu to Xubuntu, since I actually liked XFCE more and it seemed more smoothly at that time (2014).

On my working machine, which is an desktop from 2012, I am using right now Ubuntu Budgie. This was due some problems I had on installing Manjaro or Fedora. Ubuntu Budgie runs smoothly, I sometimes have small problems with graphics, but this might be also due to my old graphics card. I also like the interface, which is a good mixture between the more mobile-oriented Gnome and a more desktop-oriented approach. I am also using the LTS-version because I do not want to upgrade the complete os very often. On the other side I switched from Ubuntu to Fedora because I wanted to have the latest software. Right now, I did not miss some newer software on my ubuntu machine.

On my notebooks, I am using Manjaro right now. I switched from Fedora, since I first wanted to try out something new and second, I liked the concept of the rolling release and wanted to try out this. From using it one month, I really like it. You get a lot of updates, but they all work smoothly, so there is not a lot to worry about. One particular thing I like about Manjaro is this layout switcher for gnome, that allows your desktop to look like in certain different ways without any configuration or the re-installation of another desktop.

At the end you really need to think about how stable your system should be. If you want a very stable system where you do not have to worry about (and maybe are a beginner with linux as well), use Ubuntu with some of its flavors or maybe Debian, preferably an LTS-version. If you want to try out new software, but maybe also encounter issues, better use Manjaro or Fedora.

On the software side, I get around with all the different distributions. Sure, the way packages are brought to you is different and the philosophy as well. But most of the larger distributions offer a a lot of software, you can do most of the things with all distributions. Using snap makes specialized or even closed-source software really easy, so you do not have to worry all your favorite programs not running anymore when changing the distribution.