Sunday, January 27, 2008

Theo Jansen's Strandbeests

One of the excellent presentation's at SolidWorks World 2008 was the keynote by Theo Jansen, maker of strange tube sculpture creatures that walk on the sand, powered by wind. The man is brilliantly mad, and his obsession and philosophy are very interesting to see -- apparently for much of the geek world, given his press coverage in recent years (see Wikipedia links).

Worth the videos at TED 2007, and the explanation here on YouTube from ArtFutura for how they walk can be viewed in this Physics Engine demo of a model of one walking over obstacles.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Look Inside SolidWorks

SolidWorks World, the annual user convention for SolidWorks CAD users, is going on now in San Diego. I'm consulting with the company, and have been doing usability research out here. (Rather strangely, I appeared in a photo posted by one of our blogger users here. The gentleman I am talking too was just made extremely happy by a brief chat with the founder of SolidWorks, who remembers his name every time he sees him.)

SolidWorks' latest release featured some major changes to the UI, which caused a bit of a ruckus among the experienced users. Matt Lombard, author of the SolidWorks Bible, is one of the ruckusers. Along with posting pictures of me (hah), Matt also just posted a YouTube interview with one of the best guys at SolidWorks and one of my clients there, Jim Wilkinson. To see some inside scoop on how the company works, you can watch it on YouTube linked from Matt's blog.

A final note: It's a credit to SolidWorks that someone like Jim exists there and has authority. Not only is he a good manager, but he's universally well-respected AND well-liked by everyone who meets him, internally and externally; and he's active in the user forums answering customer questions on top of his ever-expanding day job. Jim saw a need for a usability team long before most CAD companies found out such a thing exists (for the rest of them, that was only 2.5 years ago). Kudos to SolidWorks for having such great employees and managers. It explains a lot about the product success.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Tips for Solo Travelers

An unsolicited link sent to me by another blogger, thinking it might be of interest, and it was-! Don't you love the Internet? Here are 40+ Safety Tips for the Solo Traveler, with special ones for women travelers. I admit to not having thought of or heard of some of these myself. For instance, don't hang the sign outside your hotel door ordering a breakfast for one at 7am; this may advertise to unsavories that you're in your room alone and willing to answer the door at that hour without checking who's there.

The great thing about lists like this, that make you really paranoid, is that you can decide how far you want to go down the risk-avoidance path, and not go that far. Or, maybe, go there if you're in a nasty-looking hotel.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

2007 in Review

One year ago this week, I quit my job and (after a bit of interviewing and thought) decided to consult for a while. It's been a good year! Some of the things I'm pleased with:
  • Five excellent clients, and a couple of potentials I had to turn down because I was booked. Two web consumer startups, and one long-term established software company, whom I am still working with.
  • Several opportunities to work on data mining: web log analysis, survey cluster analyses, and quantitative personas. Very interesting work! (I also took 2 classes from to hone my skills.)
  • A couple of web projects for which I provided the interaction design and project management actually launched in the same year, including the extremely successul NASA Tech Briefs Create the Future Design Contest site. (Winners will be announced this week!)
  • Two publications by yours truly on the politics and skills of UI design: An article in interactions on the difficulties in practicing design today, and an essay in a new book, HCI Remixed: Reflections on Works that Have Influenced the HCI Community (MIT Press 2008). This book is hot off the press and a fascinating read.
  • Incorporation for my consulting business, Ghostweather Research and Design, LLC. Followed by a crash course in accounting for small businesses. Who knew that credits were negative and debits were positive? And that Quickbooks is still a bit hard to use?
  • I gave a handful of local talks at software companies, local design or usability meetings, etc, on design practices or online communities. Some of them are here on my essays page.
  • Some technical fun: Opportunity to use Flash (so far just on small personal projects), Illustrator, PHP, mySQL, Excel with a database backend.
I did not do as much conference travel as I wanted to, but plan to go to CHI in Florence this spring, to help make up for missing it last year. I hope to see you there!

Fate Mag Online: Browse the Weirdness!

Fate Magazine ("True Reports of the Strange and Unknown") has a sample issue up online (it's a big but fast loading PDF). I went in to look at the werewolf folklore article, but ended up reading most of it, because it's just so fun.

There are articles in this one on "Do It Yourself EVP," a fascinating bio piece on Russian psychic-hypnotist-mystic Wolf Grigorievich Messing, and the usual write-in articles from people who believe they've seen the strange and undead. There's even a sidebar on a dog who can predict who's going to die in nursing homes, like the cat Oscar profiled just about everywhere. (Note the difference in how the animals behave. Typical!)

But what made me LOL was the classifieds: Amid sections called "Magick," "Earth Mysteries," "Ghosts," "Occult," "Pyramids," "Voodoo," etc, they still manage to need a section called "Miscellaneous." Equally entertaining are the ads for books and services, sprinkled throughout.

I don't mean to mock too hard, though; I really did enjoy it, and considered getting myself and a relative subscriptions.