Archive for June, 2005

One of the best lessons I ever learned was “Life Isn’t Fair”. I was raised with the warped idea that you should always get what you deserve. While this concept may work with computers (they are so damned literal), I know not to take fair for granite.

Another tenet of mine is that “Anything is possible”. When I put these two philosophies together, I’m usually quite happy with the results. I know it takes hard work to make the impossible happen, and I see progress as a gift for persistence.

Yesterday, I was hit in the head with a brick that read “NOT FAIR”. I think you can still see the backwards imprint of those words on my forehead. What surprised me more than being hit by the brick was my current inability to remember that “anything is possible”.

Perhaps this brick hit too close to my heart and I’m afraid to believe. Damn, that is so unlike me. It is the antithesis of how I want to live.

So, I breathe in and I breathe out…and I keep repeating “this too shall pass”. Maybe in a few days I’ll be brave enough to believe.

There is a new choice in mobile computing for the museum market. Adocere has developed a mid-size mobile device called the Weblet. It is a delicious cross between a tablet and a PDA. The 8.5″ screen certainly had my designer drooling. My response? A nice new addition to my toolkit.

How will I decide what device to recommend for a project? I’ll determine which device can make the interactive content accessible to the visitor in the most transparent way. Screen size, processing power, battery life, form factor, weight and cost will all be considered. The visitor’s needs and the content parameters will dictate the best device(s).

Advantages of the Weblet that I see already:

  • Bigger screen (compared to PDA) for more flexibility in displaying content
  • Easier to multi-use the exact same content on the Weblet & desktop/laptop
  • Awesome battery life – at least 5 hours already!
  • Case designed as needed, not stuck with consumer buttons for calendar, contacts…
  • Better price point than tablets
  • Lighter than tablet/laptop

But I’m still in love with PDAs when they meet my needs. Personally, I think the form factor of PDAs can’t be beat. They are light enough to be held or worn around the neck without fatigue. The screen size on a PDA is plenty big to share information without distracting from museum objects.

Luckily, I’m good at separating my personal opinion from my professional opinion. Because when it comes right down to it, it doesn’t matter what I like, it matters what YOU like.

Are you using color alone to convey information? I was. I prefer my links with text-decoration: none. So, how can you tell if something is a link? By color alone! Uh oh. Yes, I just changed the css on this blog to include border-bottom: 1px dotted gray for links.

But I’ll admit, I paused before making this change. Why? Because, I really find that underlined links make the page look too cluttered. Look at CNN for example. After sleeping on this issue I decided on this philosophy:

  • I will underline links when they are found in context
  • I may or may not underline links when they are found in obvious navigation bars

Joe Clark has an excellent discussion on the topic of underlining links in Chapter 9 of Building Accessible Websites.

And I’m sure that cute little dotted line will grow on me. So, how ’bout you? Do you underline your links? If not, will you consider adding the underline to make your pages more accessible?

P.S. Ahhhh, the joys of being able to make this change on my site without having to ask anyone’s opinion. Now, let’s see how long it takes me to get this change on my employer’s site.

authentic pair of Jon Hick's socks

The magic sox,
the magic sox,
I now have
the magic sox!

Now the test will be,
Do these sox
feel right on me?

Are they sox
to be framed?
or shared with all
who played this game?

Will I wear them
in a box?
Will you wear them
with a fox?

Would I? Could I?
In a car?
Wear them!
Wear them!
Here they are.

I do so like
My new firesox!
Thank you!
Thank you,
Hicks & Clarke!

Help Cameron Marlow at MIT collect data for his dissertation on blogging. Cameron is the creator of Blogdex. His dissertation is focused on :

“understanding the way that weblogs are affecting the way we communicate with each other. Specifically we are interested in issues of demographics, communication behaviors, experience with weblogs and other technology, and the meaning of various types of social links within the blogosphere.”

So, if you’ve got a few minutes…let your voice be heard!

MIT Weblog Survey

What will the university experience be like in the year 2020? How might technology change learning, teaching and research? Will we have electronic mentors and custom fit courses? Will backpacks become a thing of the past as we turn to e-books and digital ink? Will virtual classes replace physical classrooms?

To be effective, universities must research these questions right now (no, make that yesterday)! Put the latest technology in the hands of talented students, faculty and staff and challenge them to see how then can not only enhance the university experience, but transform it.

In the Spring of 2001, I was handed a fantastic opportunity to help create a vision of the year 2015 for campus leaders at the Chancellor’s Council annual meeting. Rather than just talk about what it might be like, VP Dan Updegrove proposed that we let them experience the vision by placing 200 handheld wireless computers filled with delicious content that would illustrate our vision.

In a period of 2 months, we acquired 200 wireless iPAQ 3670’s (yes, it was better than Christmas), designed a Pocket IE version of the conference packet, created a list of PPC friendly websites for wireless browsing and loaded the devices with pictures, five UT songs, four videos and 10 full e-books and a dictionary. City maps for Austin, Houston and Dallas were created for Pocket Streets. We even made mobile versions of the academic calendar, campus maps, football schedule, and personalized student schedule and assignments.

The most exciting moment of the preparations (at least for me) was the wireless test. We hauled all the units down to the main conference room and slammed the access points with 200 simultaneous requests. While each access point could technically support 1024 clients, a limit of 70 clients provided reasonable response time.

But the real test was when we handed the devices to the conference participants. Every one received an iPAQ (for the weekend) and was given a short tutorial (or written instructions) on how to use the device. Some novices were hesitant. All save one warmed to their iPAQ.

The iPAQ experience was judged highly successful by the conference organizers. The attendees were impressed with how quickly they learned to use the device. They were dazzled with the e-books and the fact that so many could fit on one device. They played the videos and the music over and over again. Most importantly, the council members saw the power of wireless computing and learned that with just a simple tap on the screen, they really could surf the wireless internet. The iPAQs became the stars of the show by putting each attendee in the driver’s seat. Council members became participants, not passive listeners. They engaged, they learned, they experienced the UT@2015 vision first hand.

After the event, the 200 devices were seeded around campus, so students, faculty and staff could experiment with how this technology could transform the college experience. I’ll share the findings of this research in future posts.

But for now, I want to stop and ponder what the university will be like in 2020. How will technology enhance or transform the university experience? What concerns do you have relating to the virtual university?

I’ve been thinking a lot about sex gender. While I’ve never encountered any glass ceilings because I’m a girl…the recent discussions (boys clubs , man whitey & sexist goes to alaska) about “where are the women of the web” got me to thinking. What are the statistics for women in the high tech field?

When I look around my work place (University of Texas at Austin, Information Technology), I see more women than men. In fact, my current team (web technology team) used to have only one guy…and we jokingly called ourselves “the harem”.

According to the US Department of Labor’s report on Women in High Tech Jobs, in 2001, 30 percent of computer systems analysts, engineers, and scientists were women. In addition, 25 percent of computer programmers were women. By comparison, among all other engineering specialties, women represented fewer than 11 percent. So, in my eyes, girls are making wonderful progess in high tech careers and being the optimist that I am, I expect this trend to continue.

But it does take more than optimism to make progress. I personally believe the keys to appropriately increasing the numbers of women in the high tech field are as follows:

  • Early empowerment in school – encourage all children to develop their skills in mathematics, science and technology. A great example of a program geared for girls in Austin is GirlStart.
  • Role models – provide positive role models that inspire any child with the ability to pursue their dreams.
  • Focus on Ability, Talent and Quality Results.

Because when it gets right down to it…it doesn’t matter a bit what equipment we have below the belt (at least when it comes to getting things accomplished on the web). What matters is the quality of your braincells and your ability to “make it so”.

Can a monitor ever be too big? A computer ever too fast? NEVER! And while I’m achingly fond of handheld computers, I’m awed by the massive power and size of the Texas Advanced Computer Center’s Visualization Laboratory.

This mind boggling display of technology exists to provide tools that make it feasible for researchers to explore large amounts of data on very large display screens. Scientist use the Viz Lab to see their data in amazing new ways…leading them to discoveries in fields like computational engineering, mathematics, biology, geology and chemistry. Imagine, being able to explore the vastness of the galaxy or the microscopic intricacies of a human cell.

The lab is housed in a room that resembles a personal media room on steroids with a 180-degree cylindrical screen. How big is the screen? Are you sitting down? Would you believe 10-foot-high with a diameter of 24-feet? The images are projected from three front projectors and ten multiple screen rear projectors. This 2,900 square-foot lab sits on some of the most amazing hardware on the planet.

Maverick, our terascale remote visualization system, consists of a Sun E25K with 128 processors, 512 Gigabytes of shared memory, and with access to over a Terabyte of storage. The cpu deployed in the system is Sun SPARC IV processor technology, with a clock speed of 1.05 GHz, and capable of issuing 2 floating point operations per clock tick.

I’ll never forget the day I donned the 3D glasses and watched live renderings of complex data on the screen. If a “picture is worth a thousand words”, than a 3D live rendering is priceless!

What I love even more, is thinking about what’s next? What exciting creative experiences could we create given this amazing technology? How could we use these tools to explore the arts? I’ve heard that a dancer has used the lab with a 3D tracking system to dance with technology.

So, the next time you are in Austin, along with sightseeing at Zilker Park, Toy Joy and Sixth Street, drop me a line and I’ll sign us up for a field trip to the Viz Lab!

P.S. No, the 3D glasses are not the kind you use in the movie theatre, they are CrystalEyes LCD glasses for stereoscopic viewing.