Sunday, December 19, 2010

Innovation vs Programming

Seems that being able to think of something new became more important then actually executing it around the time I started my undergraduate studies, see it here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Usability from a neuroscience perspective

There are many definitions to usability, I will not try to create one myself, but to explain how I see it.

Whenever users needs to do a specific task with a certain application, they are facing two problems:

  • What to do - this is defined by the user (or for the user by someone else)
  • How do I do it - this is defined by the application developer
In order to solve these problems, the user needs to allocate mental resources. Better usability results in less allocation of mental resources to deal with the second problem.

Basically, usability is about reducing the users' mental burden by providing good answer to the how problem, and thus allowing them to to concentrate on the what problem.

I've used the term "mental resources", so here's a short, not complete list of mental resources ordered by the cost of using them - from the cheapest to the most expensive:

  • Memory:
    • Mechanical - from climbing stairs without thinking about it to typing our thoughts without looking at the keyboard
    • Emotional  - what we feel about things
    • Intellectual - processes in solving problems that we already used and don't need to develop
  • Learning - the process in which we transform something that we don't understand to something that we do
  • Problem solving and creativity - the process in which we're getting from point A to point B,  without initially knowing the way (or even whether point B exists)

Just to illustrate how much energy our brain needs, it is enough to point that during sleep, one third of the body's needed energy is required by the brain. Now think how much energy the brain needs when you are active, receiving constant stimulation from the environment,  remembering  things, and also trying to be focused and do your job.

Thinking is hard and consumes a lot of energy, and we can expect users (as well as any other person) to try to reduce the thinking effort.
Therefore users don't:

  • Read manuals
  • Read all the info given within the application
  • Understand all the symbols in icons
  • Read messages that pop-up
Understanding that each and every call that we do in UI design, affects the price that the users pay in terms of mental resources allocation, is the first step towards having much better and usable applications, and this is what this post is all about.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Going open source

During my M.Sc. studies I've developed an image analysis and data mining software in Matlab.
This software received as its input a set of XYT images of a neuronal network alongside various parameters from the experiment in which these images were taken.
At that stage it allowed the user to do various image manipulations and eventually mark the location of neurons on it.
Once neurons are marked the software extracted the activity pattern of each neuron and mined all the activities of the imaged neurons to find activity patterns of the neuronal network.

I've now decided to keep that software alive and open sourced it. The link to the repository is:

Any contribution is welcome.

BTW - an XYT image is an image that is built from repetitive imaging of the same line (think of video as a repetitive imaging of a plane, then an XYT image is the same, but just a single line within the plane is being imaged), here's an example of such an image:

Which originated from the yellow line in this image:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Speaking out the music

Speaking the song, not singing it, is something that only few can do right.

Here's William Shatner doing the "Common People" in a way that can be described as brilliantly accurate:

Here's another, an older one, that shows that William Shatner's ability to provide this kind of unique interpretation to a song is not new:

Another, not a song, but still brilliantly accurate performance of William Shatner: