Sunday, November 19, 2006

Wii Consider the Implications...

I've never been a fan of console games, in spite of the kids having bought an xbox and borrowed a friend's gamecube. But this Wii thing looks interesting, since it actually requires you to move something more than your digits.

One thing that always kept my interest in arcade games was the quality of input devices. Driving games like OutRunner that slam you to the side when you turn hard, and a game I spent (too) many quarters on Hard Drivin', the first one with a decent physics engine and a steering wheel with force feedback. More recently, I like to play Police 911, with the excellent interface that detects your body position and uses that to control the point of view of the camera. (Konami has brought out a PlayStation 2 version of it, I haven't played it).

The Wii looks attractive to me both as a player and as a parent. The idea that a kid has to get out of his chair and move around to use the Wii's wireless motion-detector controls has got to be a step in the right direction, both in terms of game play, but more in the realm of actually developing some physical skill and expending some calories. If that looks promising, it might be the first video game console we have in the house that the parents are actually happy to buy...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

In the Beginning...

Our younger son Elia is starting to study for his Bar Mitzvah, and today's group class was about how regular people can read and interpret the Torah without having to be scholars. The first five lines of the Torah cover the few (microseconds? millenia?) of the creation of the universe. As we discussed whether this refers to creation of earth or the entire universe, and what the authors might mean when the story says light was created the first day, but the sun was not created until the fourth, another thought occurred to me.

The story of Genesis (B'reysheet in Hebrew) can be thought of fundamentally by the numbers, zero, one and two.

What was before the universe? Some would say - nothing, or zero. Hard for most of us finite beings to think if nothing existing, and perhaps rather than nothing, there was only one thing - what the Kabbalh calls "Ein Sof" - without end. Rather than zero - nothing - the Ein Sof is one. United in its one-ness.

It's only when creation starts that the one-ness of the Universe gets split into two. And forever more, this universe wrestles with duality - light & dark, good & evil, heaven & earth, body & mind. B'reysheet introduces the beauty and tragedy of the world - it is created by splitting the one into two. As someone who seems to have spent a lot of my adult life trying to bring diverging things together that I think belong that way, whether they are human struggles, product messaging, or user interfaces and underlying computer systems, the struggle to return to the One seems to pervade many aspects of my life.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Google Shortcuts

I saw a great sign of simplicity in the last few months with the Vancouver CJA campaign "Live Generously." Rather than put a complete url on a billboard that people race by every morining on the way to work, they did something simple and remarkable. They bought the ad words "Live Generously" from Google AdWords, and then put the phrase, "for more information, google "Live Generously"

Now that "googling" has entered the list of verbs in common use, this is very effective technique to quickly and easily map a catchy phrase into a complicated url.

Neon's Gone Generic

I see them everywhere now. Stop reading this or you'll see them too.

No, not Starbucks, although those things are multiplying like rabbits. I'm talking about the inescapable trend of neon (and now faux neon) open signs that hang in many store windows. They follow the same prescription: red neon for open (actually all neon signs are red, the other colors use other gases, Argon for blue, Krypton for white, Xenon for purple)

Now don't get me wrong, I love neon signs. I have a similar affinity and nostalgia for them as I do for coffee but maybe there is a link between neon open signs and Starbucks after all.

Ya, that's it - it's another niche thing that has gone mainstream. While many more people now can drink espresso, and can see a neon sign in their neighborhood, part of the cachet, the magic of it is lost. Neon signs have had a Vancouver history, whimsy, and a night-time celebration during our long, dark winters.

Sadly though, the blue-red open signs that dot the street fronts now are so commoditized and generic that they actually might create a negative wave, an anti-nostalgia for this once briliant commercial art form.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Apple's iPhone - Can't be Soon Enough

The growing momentum about the not-so-secret iPhone adds serious cred to the idea of Apple introducing its own phone.

This is great news for the ease of use of cell phones, and a death-knell for the Blackberry users who think obscure knowledge of how to turn off their ringer is somehow a badge of honor.

Dave Pogue's most recent public rage against the cellphone user interface is one signpost along the path, and even mac-agnostic Joel Spolsky delivers a bitingly critical review of a free Samsung phone he was sent. But of the Apple iPhone, you can count on a few things for certain.

1. The iPhone will sport an iPod like user interface, and be like an iPod that you can make phone calls with. It will be a humble phone.
2. The integration with iTunes will be superb, scrolling through the store and listening to previews like the web experience.
3. The iPhone will sync contacts with Address Book (and Outlook on Windows?), and hopefull iSync will finally be useful.
4. It will have Bluetooth and the awesome feature, of having the id of the caller appear on your computer without having to unleash your phone, will become ubiquitous and indispensable.
5. You'll be able to access your phone book and reach anyone on it will take less than 5 seconds, 2 scrolls, and 1 button press.
6. The iPhone will support both the bluetooth wireless headset and stereo specs. so your experience of listening to tunes and switching to take an incoming call will be apple-smooth, getting to choose whether the music pauses while you take a call, dims to background level behind the conversation, or mixes in with the call so your caller can hear what you're listening to.

Several other vendors have apparently created small network brands, buying a share of bandwidth from the larger cellular coverage networks, but this might be Apple's Achilles Heel in the venture, for as good as the user experience will be with the iPhone, if the carrier reception is poor or easily overloaded, listening to the cool tunes will be cold comfort.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Coke Blek

My love affair with coffee didn't actually start when my folks allowed me my first cup at 16. Think of it as an engine on idle, awaiting the lead foot to stomp down on the accelerator. The seeds of my coffee-love were planted many years before, on entering the now-lost Java Shoppe in downtown Edmonton in the 1960's. The exotic aroma of newly roasted beans, cinammon, and espresso settled into a deep place in my hind-brain, and got all connected-up with a nurtured indelible memory of a sunny Saturday morning adventure of a 9 year-old with my Mom & Dad. In those days, espresso was a rare indulgence, and the machine to squeeze out those precious drops of super-concentrated coffee essence were the size of a 50-gallon drum, usually encased in copper and brass, with a perched eagle on top in full wing flight. I had no desire to drink the stuff, just the smell, the dark interior shot with beams of sunlight, and the alternating wafts of coffee and cigarette smoke made the whole experience surreal and memory-misted.

Italy took me to another coffee level in 1977, when I backpacked through Europe on my pre-university Eurail-Hostel sojourn. We took the night-train from Roma to Firenze, arriving at 6am Sunday morning. Stumbling off the train after the conductor gave us a 2-minute warrning to get up, dressed and packed, we stood on the platform looking up at the morning sky, and watched the stream of people heading for the cafe. There, the animated waitress was slinging the "cappuccio" and a bar full of bleary-eyed travellers were being transformed from zombiehood to several rungs up the evolutionary ladder. Two spoons full of sugar, and that small cup solidifed a feeling of well-being (and settled an uneasy stomach) that monks have to spend years in meditation to achieve.

Of course, twenty years later, Starbucks has commoditized and packaged that experience, but it still retains much of its original allure. But whether or not you think Starbucks is over-roasted crap or a good cuppa, we can certainly find lots of REAL BAD COFFEE. Real Bad Coffee (RBC) can most likely be found in the following places:
1. school cafeterias
2. coin-operated offee machines
3. offices that pride themselves at providing their employeess with "free coffee"
Real Bad Coffee has some basic characteristics. It comes from robusta beans; high caffeine; high acid acrid chunks of brown stuff. It has been dripped from tap water through water reservoirs and taps that haven't been cleaned since they were installed. The check-out people wouldn't drink it even if it's free.

Coca-cola, on the other hand, is also part of my growing up experience, and while it doesn't carry the semi-spiritual patina that coffee does for me, it is up there in list. Coke would like-to-buy-the-world-a-Coke, and the Real Thing, and all that, and who cares what the taste-test says, I ain't drinking Pepsi (ha, Brand Autopsy tells me I'm already doin' that, if Frappucino is bottled by Pepsi!). Coke is the pickup, and man, nothing cuts the grease of food-fair chinese combos than a can of Coke.

So when I heard about Coke Blak, I dreamed about what it might be like. My two favorite black liquids - together. I imaged a bottle of frappucino, with a coke twist. I imagined classic coke, with a shot of sweetened espresso dripped into it.

So, after cruising ebay for a while looking for the early versions, Sol brought a bottle he picked at 7-11. After leaving it for a night in the fridge to settle, I popped it open today. It is so bad, I can't hardly even write about it. Imagine Diet Coke, then you took the worst cafeteria coffee you could find, boiled it down, and poured it in the bottle. Unintegrated, vile, caustic. Unbelievable.

Well, they totally missed MY demographic. Perhaps someone will like it...

Friday, August 18, 2006

Peace It Together - The Movie(s)

Creative Peace Network Society is proud to present…
Peace it Together 2006!
Reel Perspectives by Palestinian, Israeli and Canadian Youth

Please join us at the world premier screening of seven short films about the Middle East through the lenses of 30 young people.

The films will be the result of a two-week program called Peace it Together. In partnership with the UBC School of Music's Young Artist Experience, chamber musicians will add some beautiful interludes

When: Sunday evening, August 20, at 7:00 PM
Where: Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, 2750 Granville Street
Tickets: $15.00 (general admission) at the door 604 280 4444
Arts Club Theatre box office 604 687 1644

For more information, contact
See our website

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Day 1 - Mohammed arrives

Our Palestinian guest Mohammed Shaqura arrived yesterday and after adjusting to his jet lag, seems to be getting a bit more at home in our house. They flew by way of Jordan, Amsterdam, then Vancouver so it's not hard to see why fatigue was the dominant feeling as they arrived. So far, we're concentrating on communicating, and connecting on our most common themes - tech, coffee, music, and movies. Starting with the basics - shower and sleep, and moving on to rechargeable batteries and ac adaptors. It was great to see him "perc-up" after this morning's double-latte and I got to listen to some contemporary Lebanese music. Sol & I watched the DVD "Promises" late last night and about halfway through it, Mohammed woke up (about midnite our time) and came downstairs so we watched the end of it together.

Monday, July 31, 2006

The Canadian, the Israeli and the Palestinian

Sounds like the beginning of a joke, but in our case it's true. We'll be housing two teenagers, one from Jerusalem and the other from Bethlehem in the Palestinian territories, as part of the creative peace network. This was all set up months before the rockets starting landing in Israel, and the invasion of Lebanon, so what looked at the outset as chance to open an initial dialog has taken on a whole new level.

Still, it's all going ahead and we'll head out to the airport this week to pick up Mohammed and Nadav, and see where that all goes.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Apple's Unnanounced Gem - TrackPak

Apple is usually terrific at promoting new capabilities of new software and hardware offerings, but I stumbled across this one, that I had not even heard about, at the San Francisco Apple store last week. It's not an Apple product per se, but it is so cool, I'd have thought they might promote it.

Being from Vancouver, I love San Francisco, and need no more than a mention of a chance to go there for a quick trip. Last week's American Advertising Federation was my latest excuse. In for a couple nights at the small boutique Harbor Court Hotel and a wonderful dinner thanks to my colleague Mark from Adobe (thanks, Mark!) at the Ozumo experience (they don't even call it a restaurant!).

With a couple hours to kill, I walked down Market St. to O'Farrell and past the (sadly) now-closed FAO Schwartz to the newer toy store, at Apple. Wondering around the new macbooks, climbing the green glass stairs, perusing the racks, I saw what looked like a new Jam Pack, those collections of loops for making songs in GarageBand.

But no, this wasn't yet another collection of tubas, oboes, and funky world-drum beats. It was TrackPak, something I had only dreamed would be offered one day, but a dream come true for guitarists old enough to remember when Eric Clapton played with Cream.

TrackPak is a digital version of some of the Master Tracks of various themes. I bought the Classic Rock version with tracks like Sunshine of Your Love, Smoke on the Water, and Sweet Home Alabama. These are songs I spent hours with, my guitar on my lap and picking up the needle on records to pick out every note of the solos. They are slightly mixed down from the master tapes, but you can still solo out the lead and rhythm guitars, drums, and bass.

For musicians who want to hear the detail on these classic tracks, TrackPak is a great deal. It will also make a great addition to our GarageBand remixes, where we can now sample a snippet from a solo without having to pull in all the other tracks as well.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Sub-ether Hotel Networking

A little known fact for mac users in hotels with wired internet access.

iTunes music sharing and iChat work even if you haven't paid for the internet access.

Sure, if you want to google something you need to pony up the $10 to get outside the firewall, but sitting here in the Chicago Westin for a conference, I have access to a bunch of excellent iTunes playlists to engage in that most esoteric of hotel-bound, stuck-in-your-room-doing-email, people-sports; what's in YOUR itunes list?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Websites as graphics

The fact that website are hierarchical structures is obvious, but what isn't obvious is how beautiful a site can be when its representation is abstracted away from the html into the tagged structure itself. Such is the result from Websites as graphs. Above is a picture of this blog site. Sala has some fine examples. Now if I could just get the url for each node so I could decipher the back links...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Secrets of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Yes, it is true, I have seen the vision of the final book in the Potter series. I'll tell you about it if you promise not to say anything to anyone else...

1. Dumbledore is not dead. Snape and he set it up to allay suspicion. See North by Northwest by Alfred Hitchcock.
2. Snape is actually a good guy, who was redeemed from death-eater status by the the love he felt for Lily, before she became Harry's mother. Dumbledore knows this, and they have worked together to manage his appearance as a double-agent.
3. The fact that Harry has "his mother's eyes" is a reminder to Snape of his responsibility to protect him.
4. Voldemort is destroyed by the thing he never understood - love, sacrifice and friendship.
5. Harry will have to die to kill Voldemort, like Neo and Smith in The Matrix.
6. Hermione and Ron get married and have wild kids with curly red hair - ok, maybe not.
7. Petunia is committed to protecting Harry because Dumbledore has enabled it to protect him, and out of shame for how she treated Lily.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

MacBook Pro can Safe/Deep Sleep (Hibernate)

I have both an IBM Thinkpad running Windows XP/Pro and a MacBook Pro, so spend lots of time hoppin from one (the PC for scheduling and Office, and some Explorer-only websites) and my MacBook, for Creative Suite and Flash testing. Hopping from one to the other gives me lots of opportunities to appreciate the integrity of the Mac OS, things like being able to actually copy and paste reliably from any application to any other. Once in a while, there is a cool thing in Windows that I like that is worth mentioning and eventually, it moves across to the Apple side as well. The best known one of course is the Alt-Tab application switching, but another one I came to depend on was "Hibernate". Hibernate is a power-saving mode that copies the contents of RAM onto the hard drive, then shuts down. Starting up is much faster than rebooting Windows, and it was essential given that sleep mode on my IBM laptop would exhaust the battery in about 3 hours.

In Mac OS 10.4.3 and later a hibernate mode has been enabled, but apparently won't be official for a while yet. Still, I've been messing around with a little Dashboard widget called Deep Sleep that lets you deep sleep your Powerbook/Macbook. Andrew Escobar has a very clear description of how to set this up from your command line. I prefer the hibernatemode 3, which puts the mac into your standard sleep more, and when the battery gets low, automatically goes into the deep sleep.

I like the deep sleep mode not so much for the reboot/wakeup speed, since OS X boots up pretty quickly, but that I don't have to relaunch my applications and can leave documents open.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Sims 'R Us Pt. II

They were all dead.

Well, as dead as you can call a simulated life form.

A quicksort of the full entity list showed that every one of them had kicked out of their event loops, that is, they were without the event thread that animates them - the causal agent that triggers the repeated loop of micro-introspection of a sim - am I happy? am I fed?

Tailing through the history log showed they all stopped from exceeding their pain threshold index. They'd been murdered. All of them. All but one. There was one remaining thread, a single sim that was left, running a basic eat/sleep cycle. Was this the murderer? What motive could he have had? Sol ran the regression playback and looked for clues. But without the chronology, the clues were lost, the trail - cold.

Cold. That definitely described the feeling of looking at the aftermath of this simuation run. Something very cold happened here. But where does the warmth come from? What prevents people from actually doing this - destroying everyone ouside their family group. Isn't that just what survival dictates? Sure, he could add an altruism factor to each sim, and crank it up to the level where they all put the interests of their neighbors ahead of themselves, but that seems as artificial as this mass extinction. What are the balancing forces in real life he can convey to his newly-enhanced sim world?

Start with the basic externalities, he thought as he cracked his knuckles and launched the editor. Drive to survive, need to reproduce, compulsion to protect offspring. Maybe a couple more; babies are really cute, and health needs a good environment. That might do it. Round two, file, save, open, start. Sit back.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Sims 'R Us

It seemed like a minute ago that he had cracked the wrapper of his new Sims 10 game chip, and thumbed his print to unlock the copy protection, but after 12 hours straight, Sol Hackmer looked in disbelief at his flex-screen, seeing at a glance how to make this game way more interesting than even the AI that had replaced Will the Maker had intended. There before him, softly glowing on his lap in organic led luminescence, was the core values matrix template for the autonomy engine, the controller core for the hundreds of microdecisions each Sim can make. "Hundreds?" Sol mused, thinking that was woefully inadequate to describe the behavioural matrix of a human, why it was hardly enough to motivate the thousands of simants that he steered into the great Ant War of 1993 when his hand was smaller than the mouse he used to play the game. The cvm was very simple - love, fear, satisfaction, hunger, bladder size; just enough to make these little puppets manipulable, but not rich enough to make them well, interesting. "Let's see how interesting these things could get," he mused as he coded up a complex web of interrelated, but somehow, more primal, values into the matrix. Starting with the basics: need to survive, nutrition, sensual index linked to physical limits, he started the more intricate code for recursive and iterative loops; pineal balance controller, pituitary regulator. He paused, hours later, stretching his fingers, reaching back to pick up another Dr. Pepper Zero, and the classic text by Norman and Litwack from his pre-med classes. Suddenly all that started to make sense to him, how the thoughts, motivation, and state of self-awareness and satisfaction could be modelled so completely by the hormonal interplay in the bloodstream. The further he worked into the night, the simpler the code became, but the cross-linkages held the complexity. The network was the system. The sun snooped over his shoulder as it rose and shone through his apartment window, and he thought it might be good enough. Randomize the parametric variations, initialize normal Gaussian distribution, and he was done. Time to set them going. He created a few thousand enhanced Sims, and set them about their day, as he set out toward his own. What he'd come back to later that day would be etched in his mind forever.

Friday, March 17, 2006

iPod battery bad? Might not be the battery.

Lithium Ion batteries are pretty impressive for having much better performance than NiMh or NiCd, but they have an inherent problem of not being able to charge to the same level over time. While there are many sites that decry Apple's handling of the battery issue, other pages focus on the hardware issues around the batteries.

I beg to differ.

Whatever problems are endemic to lithium-based batteries, the problem is compounded by Apple's poor battery management hardware and software, a problem I am familiar with that seems to to have gone unresolved by subsequent iPod software versions.

You might ask, who are you to accuse Apple, the greatest user interface design company in the entire known universe, that their software is less than prisitine? Well, a few years ago, a small group at Creo built a little pda-like device we code-named metabadge, which was powered by a lithium ion polymer battery, and we learned some stuff about battery management that Apple should know.

The first is to know that when you build a device that uses lithium batteries, you need to include room for the battery management hardware - a complete tiny microprocessor system whose job is to allow this battery to get charged without exploding, and discharge without burning up. This is a good thing to have.

The second thing to know is that is takes a bit of time after you start up to assess the battery condition. Unfortunately the iPod software appears to decide way too quickly what the state of the battery is, and then (sometimes) catches up to reality. You know this is a problem when you wake up your ipod after charging and it shows a very low battery level. How can that be? It was charging overnight! If you are lucky, then over the next few minutes, the battery monitor will start to show the battery having a growing amount of charge, even though the charger is unplugged! If you're unlucky, then the dreaded "Your ipod battery is out of power" screen comes up.

Many people are replacing their ipod batteries, and some of them may not be neccessary, or even provide better results. Until Apple fixes the battery management system, users may be misled into thinking they have reached the end of their battery's life-cycle when in fact the battery is fine, but the software is telling them different.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Shaw Digital HD Review - mostly sucks

Last year I bought a shiny big LCD TV that was not just HD-ready, but has a built in HD tuner. This is a feature. Unless you are Canadian, in which case it appears that you have wasted your money.

The friendly neighborhood state monopoly of Shaw cable insists that you buy yet another huge outboard space hog from Motorola. While the CRTC allows cable companies the option of supporting the tiny cable card, or the gargantuan and expensive outboard digital cable box, Shaw only chooses to support the latter. I'm looking for a petition to join.

So having exhausted all the alternatives, of which there are, let me see... none, I dragged home this huge package and hooked it up to my tv using the 5 wires of high-quality component video and stero pair. What do I find? Well, of the 9 stations that broadcast HD, most of the programs seem to be HD but not 16:9, instead taking the familar 4:3 ratio.

What's much worse, is the standard 75 or so channels look TERRIBLE! They are washed out, full of moire, and subjected to smoothing then "sharpening" that makes every face look wrinked and every edge wavy. When you plug the same cable plugged straight into the analog tuner, there is no comparison - the analog signal is far better quality. The only advantage to watching the stations on digital - you can see the show name and episode summary. That's a high price to pay for low video quality.

It's suprising and disappointing that the digitization and compression that Shaw is using to send digital cable compared to analog degrades the signal so much. The repair technicians will say it's not a problem with the equipment, the help staff will tell me no one has ever complained about that before, so I will go back to analog cable on my HD tv set, and once in a while when there is something in true HD on one of the several 3xx channels, I'll dust off the HD digital cable box and watch.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

King Solomon and the Tim Hortons Cup

Today's CBC story from Quebec about the Roll up the Rim cup is a pretty clear example of unclear thinking about ethics, and the conflicts we get into when money colors our values of doing the "right" thing.

A 10-year old girl picks up a cup from the garbage and when she finds that she can't "roll the rim" she askes her 12-year old friend for help. When they see the cup wins a $28,000 RAV4 they take it to their teacher who calls the parents. The mom of the 12-year old claims she deserves it. The dad of the 10-year old was going to claim it and share some.

All the pointers on my ethical compass go with the finder. The 10-year old is the one who identified the potential win, and put her hand in the garbage can to retrieve the chance. Everyone else is a help. Her helpful friend did not find the cup, which is the key point. No more than the teacher can claim a piece because she made a phone call.

When you read that the 12-year-old's mother called a radio station for "legal advice" it seems pretty clear (albeit from this one article's representation) who is being a "mensch" and who is grabbing for cash.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Mac Mini Media Center - Where Is It?

Ok, Apple, listen up. We've drunk the kool-aid, we have our iMacs and iPods, I even keep the boxes because their designed to be prettier than my office chair, and you can show them off to your friends.

But you have to help me out with the media center thing. It's driving me nuts. There aren't many companies on the planet who could get this stuff together, and G-d knows you may have Steve and 173 engineers working on it already, so maybe this is old news, but - I need a really elegant solution to the living room media center. I even know what it looks like, and what the heck, I'll tell anyone.

I just want one box by my tv. One small box. Oh, and it has to be pretty. And have a simple remote control. Y'know, the Mac Mini gets close. But it is missing one thing. It doesn't do cable.

Yes, I know it is messy and frought with peril. It might even put you at odds with Motorola, that communications giant that in spite of great hardware technology can't build a user interface, an iTunes phone, or a remote control as simple as Apple's. The convertor box they want to put in my house is huge and ugly. Who needs buttons and displays on the thing - cable boxes should be unseen and unheard.

But at least it's easy to say what the Apple Mac Mini Media Center has to hook up to. The DVI connector might get augmented to HDMI so I don't need audio cables as well to my nifty HD LCD TV, but most of all it has to have an f-connector, and a slot for the cable card, once Shaw catches up to the 21st century and moves to renting cable cards instead of selling behemoth ugly black boxes.

Then, and only then, might you be able to start positioning those great Apple LCD monitors in the same room as the flurry of Aquos, Brevia and assorted devicia flowing into the living rooms of the world.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

David Emerson and Canadian Politics

I didn't anticipate adding political content to this blog, but then I didn't anticipate such a close-to-home scandal that would upset me so much. David Emerson's defection to the Conservative party of Canada after serving as a Liberal strikes deeply into the meat of the Canadian political carcass, and shows us how broken the political machine is in the 21st century.

Let me first reiterate that David Emerson seems like a smart and intelligent person. That he will do generally good things for Vancouver, the 2010 Olympics, and our dispute with the U.S. on softwood lumber, there seems to be a sense that he is a good person for these jobs.

The problem as I see it is that it appears opportunistic for Emerson to change parties after the election. If he was so sure it was the right thing for the consituency and for Canada to be with the ruling party, maybe he should have just said that what was what he was going to do during the election campaign. Instead, he joined the "anything but the conservatives" tirade the liberals were proposing.

The solution then is about fixing the Canadian political party system. It's just broken. Forcing people of good concience to vote against their better judgement in order to be affiliated with a political party is a compromise in integrity I for one don't want to see people striving for integrity in government to have to make.

If David Emerson is the best man for the job, he should go back to being a Liberal, as he was elected, and Steven Harper should have the courage to be a prime minister who can appoint a cabinet minister from the opposition. That would be integrity.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Completeness vs. Consistency

In the spring of 1982 I read a book that changed the way I look at design. The book was Douglas Hofstader's Gödel, Escher and Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. It came out while I was in university and I promised myself I would take some time one day to actually study it, and do the exercise it describes. I indeed had that chance, thanks to my folks, during a week long retreat in Banff, where I booked into one of the log cabins on Mt. Rundle (now replaced by luxury condos) and alternated between days spent hiking the trails around town, and evenings drinking strong coffee and studying GEB. Hofstader tied together many threads that I had briefly encountered through my undergrad, linking computer concepts of recursion to their parallels in art and music, in a way that captivated my imagination.

Recently I've been working with designers and developers on a new application, and it's been instructive to reflect back to Gödel's Theorem, although of course I am probably using it totally out of context, and incorrectly, to boot. Anywho, the idea that stayed with me is that a formal system of logic can either be complete, or consistent, but not both. As it turns out, mathematics is one of those formal logic systems, and it is consistent, but not complete. That is, it does not have any contradictions (if you find one then you have only proved your premise is incorrect), but there are some mathematical truths that we can't discover.

While this fact doesn't keep me awake at night worried about unprovable truths, it did strike me today that when we are designing user interface systems for humans to use, they very much prefer systems that are consistent than ones that are complete. Few people have the expectations of gadgets or software doing everything, but there is a high expectation of consistency, that they should be true to an underlying model. The best systems have an underlying model, or metaphor, that resonates so strongly with users that they call it "intuitive".

What does an intuitive user interface mean? I believe that it presents a user illusion of an underlying metaphor that is analogous to some other activity in users' lives, and provides clues that reinforce the learnability of that metaphor, and functions that act in accordance with it.

As designers we should choose consistency over completeness ("let's just add this one extra feature...") and as users we should demand it.