Thursday, June 22, 2006

Playaway Digital

On my trip to the UPA 2006 conference, I purchased a nifty little audio book, Cell by Stephen King that came with its own player, earphones and batteries. The player details and other book titles can be found at

All you had to do to get started was pull the battery protector out and hit play. The user interface is intuitive and easy to control, but the simplicity and completeness of the product is what really impressed me.

I am nearing the end of the book and hear are some things I determined are not as good as they could be:

  • battery consumption, the player came with two batteries and I am now on battery number four.

  • If the battery does run out, the player doesn't always remember where you left off. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it doesn't. Not sure why.

  • The black and white LCD display is very hard to read in bright light or no-light.

  • The book chapter identified by the narrator is not the same as the chapter number display on the player. They should come up with a chapter mapping, so if the narrator says "Part 2, Chapter 1" the player displays something like "P2, CH 1".

  • The play button is easily depressed when bumping along in my laptop bag, thus the need for some extra batteries. ;)

  • Overall, a great product and I can't wait to start my own collection! In fact, the playaway website even had suggestions for how to share your titles with others. If you want to swap titles sometime, drop me line - paying shipping is a lot cheaper than buying a new book all the time.

    Tuesday, June 20, 2006

    Power Outage

    As I was working from home this morning, the power suddenly went out. It wasn't raining, nor could I hear thunder and lightning. There is construction out behind our house, so I figured I would don my walking shoes and investigate.

    All the houses along my street were dark, but the construction area was quiet today. The heavy rains last night and sprinkles yet this morning were keeping the heavy equipment parked on higher ground.

    I walked around the block and more quiet houses. A neighbor I hadn't met before was standing at the end of his driveway and asking a question. I held up the universal sign for "just a sec", one finger slightly raised and my hand moving in and out from my body, while I pressed the stop button on my mp3 book, "Cell" by Stephen King.
    Have you seen these new audio books yet? They are basically a mp3 player with one full length book, ear phones, lanyard and triple A batteries. Amazing! If only I could download these books to my iPod, it might be a little cheaper. Removing the plugs from my ears, my neighbor and I confirmed each others suspicions, it wasn't just our own house without power, the whole neighborhood was impacted.

    We stood at the end of his driveway talking about working from home and what we did for a living. He is a main frame, C programmer and he let me know that he thought Java was a waste of time and money when xml, C and others could do the job with a lot less lines of codes. As we were standing there, the Xcel Energy truck pulled up to his power pole, and the neighbor asked jokingly if he had too many computers running. The lineman jumped down from his truck, walked to the base of the pole and lifted a very stiff squirrel by the tail and said "Nope, this thing did it."

    So here we were, standing at the end of the neighbor's driveway, wondering what could of caused this outage, when just 50 feet away, in almost plain sight, lay the answer. The neighbor and I are fairly intelligent human life forms, but we didn't know that the second most common cause of power outage was squirrels, so we didn't look for it or see it. We were also only casually observing the outcome of the outage because there was nothing we could do to fix it.

    I see relationships between daily life and product design all the time. Here is what I learned from discovering that squirrels have a mysterious obsession with transformers:
  • If the user knows a products purpose and use, they will find the features they need in it.

  • The user must feel that the product is something they own or have control of or they will only use your product casually.

  • Make a product self evident and allow it to instruct the user as they are able to tackle more complex features.

  • Make a product personalizable and alllow the user to feel in control of the product.
  • Friday, June 09, 2006

    UPA 2006 International Conference

    Carol Smith and I have been working with a great remote team to plan and present the UPA 2006 conference in Colorado this year. The conference registration desk officially opens on Sunday June 11, with tutorials, workshops, special sessions and the experienced practioner track on June 12 & 13th. The opening reception is Tuesday evening and the regular sessions begin on Wednesday June 14th and run through Friday June 16th.

    This is an annual event that many folks in the field of usability and design anticipate and participate in. It is great opportunity to learn from, be inspired by and motivate others in our profession.

    We have exceeded our goals for attendance this year and expect to be rubbing shoulders with 575+ usability professionals.

    If you are coming to the conference, look for me! I would like to meet you.