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.

Categories
Science

Open Science Barcamp 2020

This year, I attended again the barcamp open science in Berlin. Due to corona, there were less people than last year, but the experience was still really cool. It is always nice to meet people and chat about open science. In all sessions there were pads where people could add their notes. There are also interviews on Open Science Radio.

The day started with the ignition talk by Birgit Schmidt, who works at University of Göttingen, State and University Library, you can also get the slides. She summarized the actual state of open access science publishing and put emphasis on putting this into the bigger picture and connected this topic with issues about funding as well as open peer review.

I attended four sessions: One about findability of research software, one about diamond open access and two about digital humanities. It seemed to me that this year the barcamp was more focused on certain topics, which way either because of less participants due to the beginning of the corona crisis or because the people attending were more focused on their topics.

Findability of research software is in my opinion a very interesting topic. For an information scientist, software is not findable just because it is on GitHub. On GitHub there are no identifiers, no keywords and often it is also not clear whether the software is still maintained or works with on an actual environment. Therefore I can easily relate to the summary we found in the pad: Research software is often not formally published at all (even though it is available, e.g. via GitHub), or published in specific Software journals (which are not common in all disciplines). This is a problem on two levels

  1.  Existing software cannot be adequately found and people work on the same issues without being able to build on pre-existing work.
  2. It is difficult to get proper credit for your research software and link it to the existing reputation system (that is very much focussed on reputation by formal publication in a journal).

Diamond open access was new to me. Basically it means that you try to keep the licenses of the articles also in your hands and try to do all the publishing process within the community in order to get rid of big journals. So the only infrastructure you have to provide externally is a publication system. For this, there exists especially one system: ojs (open journal systems), which is free software and runs on a server. I really liked this approach because it tackles some problems that still exist with open access nowadays like publication fees and the fact that publishers take your intellectual property away from you. The downside of course are the costs for the infrastructure: I do not have a clear number, but there needs some effort to be put into the hosting and providing of the system, so you also need (public) money or great efforts from within the community in order to run these systems. There are actually some projects even at DIPF doing this and I think it will be interesting to see in the future what happens to these projects.

The workshops about digital humanities were sometimes a little bit challenging. We had started with several discussions what might be problems when it comes to open research in digital humanities and we also have to acknowledge that other fields (especially in the natural sciences) are ahead of the humanities. This lead to interesting discussions in the workshops and still the problems that most of the people attending the open science barcamp do have a background in natural sciences or engineering, where open science is way more established than in the humanities.

I think in digital humanities there are actually two things happening: First, there is the will of a lot of people to make their research more open (I can see this when I talk to people during my dissertation). On the other side, we are also in the middle of the digitization of the field, so there is a lot of stuff tried out as well as researched. I would also argue it is not true that there is not so much open science going on in DH. Just think about all the projects to digitize old writings or the corpora created in linguistics. We see a lot of these processes and actually I think it is really interesting to be in these processes now to see what is possible and what is not possible in the future.

Summing up, it was a great event like last year, and thanks a lot to the organizers.

Categories
News

Apple

I am not what you would consider a fanboy of apple. I only have one apple device, but I am not planning in buying more and I also do not buy stuff because it says that certain brand. Still, I want to write about apple today because I think they have archived some interesting stuff in two areas and this also intersects very much with our notion of digitization.

These two areas are headphones and watches. Both fields already had very strong players when apple entered the market. Still, they became very successful.

Concerning watches, there was the news that apple sold more watches than the entire swiss watch industry, including fancy names like Rolex. While this is still, great, I think they are not entirely stealing the business of these brands. They steal the business of watches in a certain price range by offering a product that is capable of more functions and interacts well with all your other devices.

I do not think that people rather buy an apple watch, when they wanted to buy a Rolex before, but people who before wanted to buy a dumb watch for maybe 500$ now tend to rather buy an apple watch, that they can use for fitness tracking and is connected to their phone.

Another field is headphones. A long time, there was no a big improvement in headphones. People had their wired headphones attached to their phones, some nerdy people had more expensive headphones, but that was basically it. It just started when there were wireless headphones. These headphones did maybe not offer better sound, but they have the advantage you do not need to worry about cable and other stuff. Again, this was not to tackle the high-prices headphones of the big brands, but rather the mid-priced customers (although they are quite expensive at the end).

With this, they made people buy more expensive headphones and at the end crushed many headphone manufacturers. This video also explains this very well.

It is interesting to see how Apple found their way into these quite markets where there was a lot of electronics already inside, but not so much fancy computational parts. They entered the markets and also changed these markets by providing new product types the old companies did not offer. And yet, they are very successful doing this. Let’s see if in the future other companies manage to revolutionize these markets again.

Categories
General

My musical discoveries 2019

It is the end of the year and I want to use this time to look back at cool new music that came out and cool music that is maybe not so new, but I discovered new. It is kind of hard to tell what was the best new stuff, so I decided to make this list. Here we go:

The first band is Five Finger Death Punch. I knew their name, but did never listen to them. During the year I discovered them and since I got a weak spot for hard/heavy music that is just without a lot of thinking straight into the face, I began to like them.

Long distance calling: Their new album Stummfilm is just great, I also got more into instrumental metal/post-metal this year. This is one of the bands I can highly recommend in this genre.

If you put mongolian folk music and rock together, nothing can go wrong. Just check out The Hu:

The Gardener & The Tree: Their latest album came out 2018, but nevertheless worth noticing: Indie-Folk from Switzerland:

The Pineapple Thief: These guys are – as you might indicate by the appreviation PT a progressive rock band from England, their style is close to porcupine Tree. This is not the worst combination and also the drummer of Porcupine Tree joined them for their concerts this year, which I also attended.

Atmosphere: They are a HipHop band from Minnepolis, making more underground-consciuos rap:

Amon Amarth: I have to admit, I never got into their music and thought that this viking stuff is a little bit childish. But “Twilight of the thunder god” is simply a great song:

Another band I just discovered thanks to a great recommendation of a friend is The National. Indie/progressive? Rock from the US, again a really great concert this year, with maybe the best and clearest sound I have ever heard. Officially they call it Indie Rock, but I am not a big fan of Indie Rock and for me it is way more. Better just listen:

Jinjer play metalcore/progressive metal and have maybe the best female singer in metal right now:

Alcest: The last band is if you need some black metal for dark winter nights or black winter days?? here is it. enjoy 🙂

Categories
General

Why political discussions on Twitter don’t work

Twitter and social media are everywhere. It also seems that political discussions are mainly driven by Twitter and other platforms. Let’s just have a look who is on Twitter in Germany: Only 8% of Germans do have an account on Twitter. Probably this population is even screwed to people who are young, do have higher education and/or work on media jobs. In the US this looks different, there are close to 50 million active users, so one in every six Americans uses Twitter.

But still, it is now possible to talk directly to your politicians and tell them what YOU think and what is important. This means that politics comes down to the “ordinary people”. Well, after looking at who is on Twitter, it is evident that this is (at least for Germany) not true. Furthermore, I think that some (especially complex) discussions are better not done online in general. There are many reasons for this, I think three are most relevant:

  • Audience
  • Trolling
  • Attention

Audience

Everyone working in sales or marketing knows: defining a target audience is really hard: Who do you want to sell your product to? How should use your software? These questions are not easy. If you are on an open social network, this gets even harder. You do not know if your political views about migration are read by white supremacists or Antifa people. Which brings us to the issue that there is constant misunderstanding. This is sometimes intended, but maybe often not. With a joke you might be in some friendship circles a funny guy, in other a nazi, or you might be considered left-wing by some people, but think your opinion is quite moderate or even conservative. A nice piece about this is this article about PewDiePie who became a symbol of white supremacists. Although you probably have to admit that PewDiePie himself does not really know what he believes.

Trolling

Trolling is also a great problem. People troll because they want to annoy people, maybe just for fund and yes, some might even get paid to do it. I personally respect trolling as a social mechanism that can be very well played. See for this this great presentation. The issue is also not new, you had trolls since the internet started. What is the problem now? When I first used the internet, it was mainly forums where discussion happened. When you were annoyed of the trolls, you could ban them, some forums also created places where trolls could do their trolling without annoying other people. Another rule was not to feed them. Just ignoring helped quite well. What is different now? On Social Media, you cannot just open hashtags or sub-forums where the trolls can live. They still stay in your newsfeed. Yes, you can block them manually, but this is also very time-consuming. Second, trolls get fed no matter what. This old machinery of not-feeding seems to scale very bad. The trolls always find someone who is obsessed with their trolling and so they win. Sadly, the mechanisms of attendance play very well for trolls, too:

Attendance

We all know Twitter and other services sell our attendance to their ad-buyers. (Just read the book The attention merchants by Tim Wu, if you are more interested) Based on this, it is important for these platforms that we spend more time there in order to make more money. So there is an incentive for them to keep us as long as possible on the platform and probably also show opinions that are more controversial, maybe polemic, but probably not focused on a good discussion. If we look at this from the other side, it also gets clear what you have to do if you want to have a lot of followers: produce content that the services rank high and show it often to people. There you are, you produce polemic, polarizing content in order to get ranked higher by Twitter and reach a higher audience.

Summing up, we see why so few people I know in personal do political stuff on twitter. I personally enjoy the discussions about information science, user experience or data science on Twitter a lot, but this is mainly because the audience is clear and there are close to none trolls. Therefore Twitter is for me a great professional tool, but not a digital place to have political discussions. It might make sense also for the media to not see is as this.

Categories
General

Minimalism/Frugalism

I would not consider myself a big minimalist, but after living two months on stuff I could fit into one suitcase and watching some videos about it, I am quite confident to talk about my experiences. I also try to have a quite minimalist lifestyle back in Germany, though.

First, what does it mean? Basically, if you click through Youtube, you find people showing how they got rid of stuff (mostly clothes), room tours through quite empty flats and experiences of people telling that they felt better than before.

I like this approach to have less and therefore not having stuff with me that I need to care about because they need space or I have to take care about them while cleaning them or – with electronic devices – updating. This saves you a lot of time and you can concentrate on things (or people) that are important for you, rather than something that is not important for you (anymore)It really has the potential to make your life easier.

But actually I do not agree with the way of getting rid of things. I actually think it is sometimes also smart to keep things than giving them away now and buying them back later, at least from an economical point of view. One pattern that arose was the people were at the beginning talking a lot how great their life is with fewer stuff, but after a while they see they might need more stuff and so minimalism helps them to find a good balance how much to own.

While clicking through Youtube I found the interviews most interesting where people give a review after living this lifestyle for a certain time. Many got to have more stuff than after they cleaned everything. I do not know how much stuff I own, but I in general like to keep it small and every once in a while I try to get rid of stuff I do not need anymore. Still, I think it makes most sense not to buy everything.

Good links to start are this video in German as well as Minimalismus-Podcast and The Minimalists.

Frugalism

Which brings me to a trend you see often when you look these videos: Frugalism or FIRE, which means Financial Independence Retire Early. The idea behind it is, to save money while you are young, invest into stock exchange, get rich and not work anymore afterwards. The good point again is to see what you really need and then think about if you really have to spend money on this. The bad thing still is that you still have to earn a lot of money, which might be possible for college graduates in their twenties, but not for everyone. For instance, if you need 15.000€ a year, you need to have 25x that sum because the idea is that your stocks raise in value by 4% a year. So you can take out 15.000€ a year while your money in total does not change. So you need to have 15.000€x25=375.000€, which is a lot.

The FIRE folks argue, you can create this amount by investing in stock exchange and get a good interest rate from there: They calculate with 8%, which seems quite accurate, but you still need to earn quite well, so you can invest in the stock exchange.

What I am taking from it? The concept to get an overview of your finance as well as the stuff you own is really great. Many people do not even track their spending, which is actually quite easy, there are a lot of apps around there where you can add your spending, define budgets or even synchronize directly with your bank account. A good video to start is How to be a financial minimalist.

Summing up, I think both concepts are quite good, you see many people putting it into the extremes, but this is not necessary. Integrating at least a little bit of frugality and minimalism into your life might help spend less time on things you don’t like and make your life easier. Still, a good guidance for how much is Marie Kondos:„Does it spark joy?“

Categories
Science

DHD 2019

Last week the conference DHD 2019, the German digital humanities conference took place in Frankfurt.

One remarkable discussion I heard was from a panel about 3D-modelling and the reconstruction of buildings. People in this panel were talking about the problems their field has and one was the lack of standards. As we all can imagine it is really hard to reconstruct old objects and buildings.

Some buildings have been re-build, destroyed or have never been built at all. This creates many uncertainties when it comes to questions like: How did the building originally look? Was it built as the architect intended it to be built? If we then look at standards, we see the importance. With a standard, one could exactly see what the other researcher wanted to show with their modelling and exchange and shared work would also be easier.

Another interesting talk was the keynote by Jana Diesner. She talked about her research in computational social science at the University of Illinois. She at first urged for a better collaboration between computational social sciences and digital humanities. This I also think is really important and there are certain fields that are quite close. Actually I think that maybe some of my research more falls in the field of computational social sciences than digital humanities because my institute is still focused on social sciences and the experts in my field are also doing qualitative social science research. The other thing I found remarkable are her stories about the ischool she is working at. In the US, there are many ischools now. The concept (as I understood it) is to bring researchers from different fields like social sciences, information science, computer science and psychology to do research in the broader sense about information. This can be a very fruitful combination because it also brings together new methods and ideas, which always helps to open our minds for difficult questions.

I did not attend so much of the conference because it was just next to my office and I had other stuff to do, but a really cool thing was the poster-slam and the poster session itself. It is just nice to look at posters and being able to discuss research directly with the researchers in a private way and it is also a nicer communication than just via journal articles and presentations.

Categories
News

Semantic MediaWiki Conference (SMWCon) 2018

Semantic Media Wiki Conference (SMWCon) 2018 took place in Regensburg. In this post, I highlight some of the talks I liked or where I want to share my opinion on. Sorry if I did not talk about yours. This is no critique, rather due to my limited time ;))

The first day was all about business applications. It seemed to me that there were a lot of efforts to somehow standardize solutions for project management, technical documentation and other stuff. One remarkable thing was the project zoGewoon, where the company put a lot of effort in design and usability of the system. This turned out to be very interaction and easy to do, which makes sense for the target group being people with disabilities looking for a place to live. Another cool thing was the Extension VEForAll that introduces Visual Editor working within Forms. This is not possible yet and gives a great advantage when it comes to usability because Page Forms as well as the visual editor helps a lot to make editing wiki pages easier.

The keynote was about how language shapes perception. Marc van Hoof linked this from Orwell’s distopia of Newspeak to the way how we organize knowledge in ontologies. He also votes for a user-centred way of naming and creating these ontologies in order to make it easier for users to perceive information and link this to their everyday lifes. This also leads to the concept of folksonomies, although my impression was that Folksonomies are below the hype time, but maybe they come back…

On the second day my favorite talk was the presentation of the new features of Semantic MediaWiki 3.0. There were several cool things like the improvement of the list format and data tables format. Also you can enter now semantic querys in the search field directly. Karsten also visited the Wikimedia technical conference and said that MWcore will be more open to wishes of third parties, which is remarkable.

On the breaks the big topics were of course the new features in SMW 3.0 like migration and new features. Another topic was (maybe because there were many people from companies and not so much from research) the way of telling people of smw (and then also selling it). It was kind of consensus, that people tend not to talk about wikis anymore, but knowledge management systems. First, because people tend to think about wikipedia when it comes to the openness but also because there are many ways of tweaking input (thanks to forms) and style (thanks to tweeki and Chameleon) were can customize the system very much and be a lot freer than only provide a clone of Wikipedia.

Viktor Schelling talked about WSForm, which might replace page forms and does some stuff very good, like providing templates at every page and not only Template-Pages. I am very excited to see their release and try it out.Talking about graphs, Sebastian Schmid has an improvement for Result formats, which is using the library mermaid, which can display graphs, the one basic principle of knowledge organisation in SMW. I am happy to see the application of this because there is lot of graph data stored in SMWs out there.

At the end it was two nice days in the beautiful city of Regensburg. The conference dinner was really nice in the old city centre of Regensburg. Also thanks to the people at Gesinn.it and TechBase Regensburg for organizing and providing the place.