Friday, April 27, 2012

How to Present Data, Poorly

I found a 2010 Computer article on "emotional and cognitive overload" (ECO) pretty interesting, at least in part because this is a sort of overload I often feel. The authors point out that one source of ECO is the need to deal with ever-changing web interfaces, best exemplified in my recent experience with the nonsensical changes to Gmail, Google Docs, Blogger, etc., though Gnome is another good example.

I read the article with great interest until the authors started presenting their data. One of their graphs appears to the right. It purports to show the effects of ECO as a function of age. It appears to actually show that the prevalance of feeling of being overloaded and of not being overloaded decrease and then increase together. This seems odd, but the figure is not explained in the text. So then the obvious question is what the units to the left are. This is also not explained in the article. So it appears that they tossed a meaningless graphic in that neither supports nor contradicts their contention that "both young and old suffer from ECO with information technology."

I am not saying the authors are wrong, but rather that this glitch in their presentation should never have gotten past the reviewers or the editors. Computer is usually better than this.

The article is A. Rutkowski and C. Saunders, "Growing Pains with Information Overload," Computer, June 2010.

Gmail Button Labels

Gmail has a "feature" that allows one to change the obscure button pictographs back to readable labels, and sometimes it even works. In Firefox I find myself having to refresh pages to get the labels to show instead of the execrable pictographs. I don't want to have to refresh just to know which frigging button archives a message.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

New Gmail Stinks Maximally

First impression after spending ten minutes looking for a way to revert back to the much more usable older interface was where's my calendar gadget. My next impression is that I just replied to an e-mail, and there's no god-damned archive button.

I'm sure one of those obscure pictographs will perform the archive function, but doesn't Google have a single software engineer who has spent even a minute thinking about usability??

Friday, April 20, 2012

Google F'ing With Blogger Again

Google, over the last several months never hesitating to replace a decent user interface with a bad one, is again F'ing with the blogger interface. Lovely (not). Why the rush away from usability?

Antiques from the Late '80s and Early '90s

Remember books? The paper kind? How about Borders Book Shop. At the end of the '80s and perhaps into the '90s I visited the Border's store in Ann Arbor occasionally. It was by far my favorite bookstore (Books, Strings and Things in Blacksburg had closed by then). In the '90s Borders opened a store in Columbus, just about 4 blocks from my apartment on Greentree Ct. Anyhow, it's a fair bet that neither store remains. Here are some bookmarks that recently caught my eye:

These are what bookmarks used to look like, even before Mosaic and Netscape.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

US Cell Phone Usage

This morning on NPR Wendy Kaufman said there are over 300M cell phone users in the US. This is an implausible claim on the face of it, so I decides to look at the numbers. First, the census bureau estimates about 312M people in the US. Infoplease estimates just over 300M cell phone users in the US in 2010, So are we to believe that 96% of Americans have cell phones? Including small children, the very poor, and the elderly? Infoplease says their source is CTIA—The Wireless Association, but they don't give a link or anything else. Still, since Infoplease was the first result in my Google search, it's quite possibly the sole source of a typically poorly-researched NPR story. My guess is that the 300M number is really the number of cell phones in the US, not the number of cell phone users. But that's just a guess. My other observation is that it comes from an industry body, so it may very well be an over-estimate, counting, e.g., dead phones in drawers, etc.

The NPR story:

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Atmospheric CO2

In my lifetime the atmospheric CO2 concentration has risen about 24%. Of course the fossil fuel industry and their lackeys still want you to believe that this has nothing to do with global warming. See

Monday, April 2, 2012

Yet Again, I Love XKCD

Today's XKCD is entitled Umwelt and has the mouseover text Umwelt is the idea that because their senses pick up on different things, different animals in the same ecosystem actually live in very different worlds. Everything about you shapes the world you inhabit--from your ideology to your glasses prescription to your web browser.

I didn't immediately realize what's going on with this one, but this is what it looks like in Opera, which is how I first viewed it:

Somehow when I first viewed it, I didn't notice the width, and only saw the leftmost two frames.
It turns out that a different image is displayed in Chrome:

This is different, apparently a case of umwelt. So, what's it look like using Firefox?

Someday soon I'll be near an Internet Explorer, and will look then. The address of this XKCD is