Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Computing in a human context

The Net is most sluggish in September. ... It makes sense, according to Joe Robinson, who coaches massive corporations like IBM on work-life balance. "I can cite eight studies indicating that performance and productivity go up after vacation," he said. When you return from a long stint at the beach, you're not just recharged, you're more efficient. Even reaction times go up by 30 to 40 percent. It's not surprising then that Internet speeds lag when we're all back from vacay, hustling online, grabbing at that brass ring.

I found this through an article on Lifehacker[2]. It reminds me that software (and computing in general) for humans isn't just about software, or about what people do with software. It's also about humans. Human-friendly computing needs to consider the wider context of a person's human needs.

[1] Burning Question: Does Internet Speed Vary by Season?

[2] Net Speeds Drop in Autumn, But Productivity Rises

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Knowing where your [computer] time goes

Where does the time go? Whether you need to know for billing purposes or just want a better idea of how your work day is split up, you can always answer that question with a good time-tracking application.

I use Ubuntu Linux and I've been using Hamster ( for a couple of weeks now. It sits in a panel on the top of my screen. My favorite feature is that it unobtrusively notifies me every so often about what it thinks I'm doing (i.e. what I told it I'm doing). Now I just need to discipline myself to take 5 seconds and give it accurate information whenever it notifies me.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On socially / environmentally responsible electronics

I was reading an article about how Apple is smart for not getting into the netbook game, because netbooks are a low-margin market (Apple declares war on the entire PC industry - Instead they focus on higher quality, higher-end hardware, and make it really pretty.

This made me think primarily of environmental responsibility (because software for humans is software on platforms friendly to our environment as well). What is a good model and mindset for developing our electronics responsibly? The netbook approach (of low production cost/low profit margin = low price) seems to lead directly to a disposable-electronics situation. Some producers take back electronics, but more often than not these products are disposed of in an unsafe manner (Who takes back their old products -

Apple's approach is appealing because it seems to lead one to view their computer as an investment and not as much disposable. But maybe that's not true; in a consumerist mind where one feels no accountability to ones environment, even investments are disposable. You simply buy at the lowest price possible, regardless of the quality, and then discard when another is available at a low price, like the cavalier manner in which people treat cars--no maintenance or vision of the future. And it's worse with computers and phones, because they're so notoriously unrecycled (because it's not profitable, and everything is driven by monetary profit: E-Waste Problem Overview -

What would be awesome is if there were a company designing electronics that was environmentally conscientious and had Apple's marketing/design sense. A company that designed their products to be able to be recycled. A company that cut down on the hazardous materials used in their products[1]. AND a company that interdependently (not exploitatively) involved itself in the nations from which it acquired its raw materials. And then--and only then--marketed their products as responsible.

Even then though, maybe it's not enough. There are self-proclaimed "green" electronics (i.e. Samsung's Reclaim, Apple's MacBook Air and other products), but if the products are still massively consumed and discarded by a public that's not interested in the conditions under which the materials for their electronics were gathered, or in whether their stuff is gonna end up poisoning people in a landfill, then we're only marginally better off. Is a qualitative change in the relationship of people (note: i consciously said "people" as opposed to "consumers") to their electronics necessary? How would such a change come about?
  • It's not enough to show environmental and human effects of mineral extraction from economically poor, mineral rich countries?
  • It's not enough to show environmental and human effects of using other economically poor countries as dumping grounds for hazardous electronic waste?

[1] Kudos to Apple for making steps in the first two directions (Apple - Environment - We'll see how it turns out...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

iKidNY — "An App That Embraces Change"

...The $2.99 iPhone/iPod Touch app combines Google Maps with a database of 2000 playgrounds, libraries, restaurants, changing tables and subway elevators in New York.

So, say you’re in the Financial District when your diaper disaster strikes. Touch "find closest to me" in the changing-table category, and then follow the path to the Borders at 100 Broadway...

...Since the app went live, she's been collecting more child-friendly locations from the app's users, making iKidNY a community effort.

"For New York Parents, an App That Embraces Change." The New York Times.