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Posts Tagged ‘Software’

Note to Airtel

Go to this Airtel SMS FAQ and click the Expand All button and scroll down a bit. One of the questions you’ll see is this (emphasis mine):

Q: I don’t like the content I am getting.
A: You can select your interests by logging on to the SMS2.0 website on http://www.sms2.in.

Note to Airtel: Provide user with the URL.

There are others like this on the page, which you can try and find if you are so inclined.

I just think it’s funny that the internal communication between a vendor and a client made it to a web page. Clearly, this was a feature that wasn’t supposed to be out there.

Note to Airtel: Remove the notes.

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Usability reading recommendation

I’ve posted about this in the past, but it bears repeating. Joel Spolsky’s book User Interface Design for Programmers should be mandatory reading for any programmer who comes within half a mile of a user interface. Make that a mile.

Heck, anyone with a passing interest in user interfaces should also read the stuff. It’s freely available online, it’s well-written, and it’s useful. What more could anyone want?

Seriously.

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The abuse of dialog boxes

David Chisnall, who writes a column on InformIT, has a nice piece this week about one of his pet peeves, dialog boxes, and how they are misused.

Putting simple yes or no options in a dialog box ignores one very important fact; namely, that users almost never actually bother to read the text. When they do, they read it quickly and may miss something important. When a user quits an application, it might pop up a dialog box asking “Are you sure you want to quit without saving? (Yes/No)” or “Do you want to save before exiting? (Yes/No).” The user recognizes some version of save in either message and probably won’t bother reading the rest in detail, with a 50% chance of hitting the right button.

Instead of Yes/No, the buttons could be Save/Quit (or Save/Don’t Save). In this case, it wouldn’t matter what the rest of the text said. The user can infer the long description from the verbs in the button labels. This approach also helps save time for the user, which is important in a good user interface.

You probably have faced this sort of problem at an ATM or some software dialog box. What you don’t want to do as a developer is to confuse your users. No confusion, great combination… or something like that.

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Goodbye Netscape

Netscape was the browser that first connected me to the wonderful world of the Internet, so there was a slight twinge of sadness when I read RIP: Netscape browser, 13:

Netscape Navigator, the world’s first commercial Web browser and the launch pad of the Internet boom, will be pulled off life support Feb. 1 after a 13-year run.

Its current caretakers, Time Warner Inc.’s AOL, decided to kill further development and technical support to focus on growing the company as an advertising business. Netscape’s usage dwindled with Microsoft Corp.’s entry into the browser business, and Netscape all but faded away following the birth of its open-source cousin, Firefox

Of course, this is not surprising considering how Netscape had fallen off the radar despite attempts to revive it. I used Netscape for several years (starting in 1996) and even when IE was all over the place, I somehow preferred using Netscape. Heck, I used Netscape for checking email, for reading newsgroups, in addition to surfing the Web. Good times but they’re long gone.

Just like the Netscape I remember. Rest in Peace.

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Be careful about your captchas

I’ve written about captchas before, but this post (may not be safe for work) is a “novel” approach to defeating captchas.

A nifty little program which Trend Micro detects as TROJ_CAPTCHAR.A disguises itself as a strip-tease game, wherein a scantily-clad “Melissa” agrees to take off a little bit of her clothing. However, for her to strut her stuff, users must identify the letters hidden within a CAPTCHA. Input the letters correctly, press “go” and “Melissa” reveals more of herself.

However, the “answers” are then sent to a remote server, where a malicious user eagerly awaits them. The “strip-tease” game is actually a ploy by ingenious malware authors to identify and match ambigious CAPTCHA images from legitimate sites, using the unsuspecting user as the decoder of the said image.

I am not sure if this would work to “decode” the captchas all the time because I know that some sites generate a different captcha image if you take too long to fill in the information. Still, it would work in some cases and it’s a scheme to be careful about because you could see variations on the scheme to trap people. (Via Seth Godin)

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PrevRSI: RSI Prevention

PrevRSI, like Workrave, is another RSI tool is free to use. PrevRSI sits in your system tray and pops up with reminders telling you to take breaks.

You can set up mini-breaks and a long break and decide whether you want to ignore or continue breaks, etc. PrevRSI is not as feature-rich as Workrave but it has worked well enough for me. PrevRSI also uses less memory than Workrave, something that I like, probably at the cost of not having the better UI and more features that Workrave does.

I’ve been using it for the last couple of weeks and it’s been working just fine. Try it, you might like it too.

PS: Even if you do not suffer from RSI-related problems, it’s a good idea to take adequate breaks to ensure that you do not fall into the RSI trap.

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On hearing classical music every day at midnight, our hero, JoS, decides to investigate. He finds the culprit. Excerpts follow:

“Oh, that thing? I have no idea how to use that thing. I never use it,” she said. “I’ll disconnect it completely.”

“Not necessary,” I said, and turned off the alarm, set the volume to zero, and, in my late-onset OCD, set the clock to the exact time.

Mrs. C was terribly apologetic, but it really wasn’t her fault. It took me—me!—quite a while to figure out how to operate the damn clock radio, and let me tell you, sonny boy, I know a thing or two about clock radios. The UI was terrible. Your average little old lady didn’t stand a chance.

Is it the clock radio’s fault? Sort of. It was too hard to use. It had an alarm that continued to go off daily even if nobody touched it the day before, which is not the greatest idea. And there’s no reason to reset the alarm time to midnight after a power outage. 7:00 am would be a completely civilized default.

Somehow, over the last few weeks, I’ve become hypercritical. I’m always looking for flaws in things, and when I find them, I become single-minded about fixing them. It’s a particular frame of mind, actually, that software developers get into when they’re in the final debugging phase of a new product.

It’s hard enough to write well, Joel does it when he’s writing about software and makes it interesting, which is remarkable. Read A game of inches by our regularly featured detective Joel.

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