Links and Notes - April 3rd 2021

Usability and alarms

A funny thing happened yesterday. I don't mean funny in the sense of interesting. I mean funny in the sense that we actually had a laugh about it. But it's interesting as well.

A family member needed to wake up at 3 AM in order to go on a long distance trip. They set their alarm, closed their eyes and slept at 10 30 PM. For reasons they couldn't figure out, their alarm went off at 1 30 AM. Unfortunately they couldn't get sleep again, so they stayed awake in the dark till 3 AM came around for real.

What happened?

First the laughs. I was given the phone to examine what had possibly gone wrong. A moment later we realized that it wasn't the alarm that had been set to 3 AM. It was the timer that had been set to 3 hours.

Now the interesting part. How did this happen. This relative knew exactly where the alarm was. They knew what to press. So I watched them use the interface for a couple of seconds before it hit me: the add button which was just blue text was placed right below the timer tab icon. So when trying to "Add" an alarm, the timer was pressed instead.

At first glance, the interface seems alright enough. It's only when you watch someone use it and make an error that you realise how much work needs to go into an interface that feels easy. None of this is a novel thought of course. But it's still fascinating to experience it personally. I'd like to say lesson learnt, but I'd probably make the same mistake if I designed an interface tomorrow.

Beware the throwaway thoughts

I realise the irony in writing this on a blog post where the theme of the series is quick thoughts. But, hear me out when I say it's not the same.[1]

When I wrote this title, I was thinking in terms of Twitter posts. Twitter is cool for sharing quick snippets of information. Not so much nuance. I often see people who will link to an article, much like I do in some of my posts here, and throw in a quick quote or a quippy sentence, and drop it. That's a throwaway thought. You smash something into a quick 280 characters, maybe 1 more for a thread, hit send, and move on. But why beware?

The problem comes when the writer has opted to drop in on a controversial topic, like the cultural rules around freedom of speech[2]. It boggles my mind that they then get all angry when people on Twitter come after them with hard opposing thoughts. You've decided to open a can of worms publicly, support a controversial position, use your voice of authority to do so, on a platform where inability to be nuanced is a feature! And you haven't thought through the consequences of that?

And that's where these posts differ. In order to share my thoughts on the above, and to ensure there's nuance, I had to go more than 500 characters above the tweet limit on the first draft. But it's not just length. It's what's in those characters. On this blog, I won't just share an article with a single quote. I'll share my ideas around it. And if I ever take a controversial position, I'll be sure to go into some kind of depth to outline both my thoughts, and my doubts, my limitations of understanding. You know, nuance.

That's not a simple set and forget. It's designed to have safety through details.

That's not a throwaway thought. Throwaway thoughts are dangerous. Beware of them.

APIIT Toastmasters makes its way to divisional

A very happy day for my wife and me. Over the past week, we mentored a couple of students from the toastmasters club we helped charter in university. The toastmasters organization has an annual international speech competition which starts from clubs and moves through various levels before finally reaching the global stage.

Today was the area level competition, the one right after the club level. 5 clubs send their winning speakers, and at this competition, winner and runner up advance to the next stage. Our club, APIIT Toastmasters, secured second and third place. It would have been great to have secured the top two positions but having one member go through and both our representatives place is still a really happy moment. The club's gone through a rough patch and seemed to have dropped off the radar some time ago. To watch it making its mark again is a big deal.

Even better though was just the pleasure of working with the students to mentor them ahead of the competition. Very little feels as fulfilling as that, especially when the students put in so much effort. In fact, the student who came second today was nothing short of inspiring. He reworked the entire purpose and message of his speech. Fine tuned his delivery, tightened the screws, and got to where he was within just one week. That was such a great experience to work with someone who wasn't afraid to tear up an idea they already had. Someone who was willing to take in feedback, act on it, push back with their own ideas when it made sense. I actually feel like I learnt something from him on how to take feedback well.

Now it's on to divisional level. It would be great to see if we can push someone to district next. But even if we don't, my admiration for these students cannot be diminished.

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Previous links and notes (April 2nd)

Next links and notes (April 4th)

  1. gosh I hate the statement "It's not the same" in most cases. It's constantly used to defensively dismiss comparative arguments. I promise I have my reasons here. ↩︎

  2. This example is based on reality but not on any particular single instance of it. It's happened many times and it's happened across all kinds of different topics. ↩︎

Posted on April 03 2021 by Adnan Issadeen