26 March 2007

Throwin' Thom Off His Game

max thom stahl
10:46 hi

10:55 hi
10:55 wait, hi? that's not how max greets me.

max thom stahl
10:55 hahahahaha
10:55 I know.
10:55 It's how max throws you off his game.

10:56 yeah, and that's how max makes me lose the fucking game, god damn you.

24 March 2007

Crazy Dreams

oh god I had the most bizarre dream last night!

I was some kind of rogue secret agent of some sort, or maybe a mercenary of some sort. Something. I was walking through the city at night, and I think people were chasing after me or something, because I had all these weird capsules in a special briefcase on me and some weird equipment. It started to rain and right afterwards thousands of mushrooms started to come up, then they got larger and there were two kinds. Once the mushrooms had grown to a certain size, I sat down among a group of them and I opened my case and took out a syringe and one of the capsules, which was just a cylinder with clear tubes suspended in a fluid, and the whole thing was wrapped in a porous material that I guess was impermeable to the substance in the cylinder. Anyways I went through this process where I'd take one of the large flat mushrooms growing out of the ground vertically (they reminded me of . . . I can't remember the species name but I remember this whole thing so vividly I could look them up; they looked like sea fans but in mushroom form). I'd take one of those and I'd place it on top of one of the large toadstool-style mushrooms and I'd inject some of the liquid in the tiny tubes inside the cylinder into both of them, but through the same hole. Some kind of weird biochemical process would happen and then these little spores would come out, and turn into these little creatures that were like banana slugs but much thicker and they could move much faster. I had control over them and I'd send them behind me to slow down whoever it was that was chasing me. It was kinda crazy, 'cause I controlled them using voice commands and a playstation 2 controller.

Eventually I got to this bridge and I had like a billion of those things trailing behind me, following me 'cause I guess they'd dispatched with whoever was after me, and there was another agent on the other side of the bridge. We had this weird showdown situation going on, and I don't really know what was up with it because I woke up around this point in the dream.

Just lately I've started dreaming again, which is a pretty good feeling for me because I stopped for a long long time. I just kinda wish my dreams could be less bizarre from time to time....

17 March 2007

My new best friend

I was at Costco earlier today, and you know how when you're at Costco, somehow prices don't mean anything and all you tend to think about is how discounted everything is. You don't pay any attention to the $300 worth of toilet paper and sausage in your cart at all.

Well, I got something more than toilet paper this time. I got a Roomba and it's the cutest thing ever!!! I'm gonna decorate it with googly eyes and fur! Great times.

Next post will be less dorky, I promise. Until then, space cadets.

16 March 2007

In Hot Pursuit of the Edge

Human interface design is one of those things I hardly get to write about, but it's been on my mind of late. It's come to my attention, particularly of late, that there's something definitely wrong with how people are forced to interact with the Web.

Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the markup language that drives the web for the most part, was originally invented by Tim Berners-Lee ([1], [2]) in the early 90s as a method of disseminating documents that had cross-references in them among his colleagues. Since then it's been published as a standard and constantly developed and paired with other technologies like XML and CSS, as well as dynamic scripting languages like JavaScript. It is still, however, primarily a language for marking up text for easy display on the web, just as languages like LaTeX are used to mark up documents for printing ([3]).

I would say that for most of the content of the Internet, this is just fine. People can access most sites kind of like they would interact with a book or a magazine. Clicking on links is a shortcut to page-turning, and content is presented like print is. But why should the other percentage, which is growing larger day by day particularly when we hear all this talk of AJAX and Web 2.0 awesomeness, still have to behave like that? In just the same way that users form expectations of how applications behave (mac users like to see "Preferences" under the "Edit" or Apple menus; PC users like to see them hiding under "Tools") depending on their experience, the same goes for Internet users. Users really like to see their websites broken into sections, and these sections broken into sections possibly, and they like to see navigation options between them displayed at the top of the page. Users have grown to like multicolumn layouts, and they've grown to dislike framesets ([4], [5]). That's all well and good.

My question, right now, is this: why do we have to always put nav links at top, have little cross-links in the body, and have a page layout that expands vertically, with only one column of text? Why can't I have, say, a picture gallery that's 600 pixels tall and 1300 pixels wide, scrolling from left to right? For me, that would be more intuitive. You're then interacting with a web page like you "interact" with the walls of an art gallery. Your mouse's position can tell the application where you want to go and what you want to look like, perhaps with a smaller version of it down below, scaled to view, so that the user can skip around via thumbnail links. If you're looking at a chart with relational data or a network topology displayed on it, why shouldn't you be able to click and drag the elements around to get a better view of them? Why can't you zoom in for more detail directly there on the page without having to go to another page that displays details?

You can. The only thing holding everyone back is that nobody's done any of this before. If your new system is intuitive and beautiful, if it's captivating and keeps people interested, then why not try it? The problem with interface design on the Web today is that nobody's trying anything, and it's really starting to bug me. This is not at all to say that nobody anywhere is trying anything at all to push the envelope. I'm just saying that I don't think anyone's trying anything that's truly unique to the Web, any kinds of interaction you can't find elsewhere in a better form.

I want to take the web and do something with it that nobody's thought of doing before, presented in a way that no one has ever seen but that they'll understand immediately. It should beckon users further into the interface without having some kind of annoying guide (Clippy, anyone? [6]). It should encourage users to play around and see what kinds of features they can discover on their own. A good interface should also prioritize so that features users want should never be more than two clicks away. It needs to retain the consistence of other user interfaces while at the same time increasing, overall, the variety of interactions possible.

That's all I've got for now. Give me a couple of weeks and then I'll show how I put all this into practice. Later, space cadets.