Zeno's Paradox
While critical thinking may not make up for a lack of knowledge, it is essential for gaining knowledge.
Friday, November 22, 2002:  


Paul O’Neill: Values into Action
Every company parrots the same phrase: "Our most important asset is our people." Real leaders know how to prove it, said U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Paul H. O'Neill, who spoke to students at HBS recently.

..."I told the financial staff that if anyone ever calculated how much money we were saving by being safe, they were fired," O'Neill said. "I didn't lay down rules like that very often, but I'll tell you why I did it: because I didn't want [employees] to think they were being asked to do something because management was trying to think how to save money. I didn't care, and I was prepared to accept the consequences of spending whatever it took to become the safest company in the world."
A little too much praise for O'Neill for my liking, rather than better and further discussion of the topic. And obviously there is politics here...
While I like the article, his anecdotes don't "prove it." I don't see any real alternative to his situation with the division president.

    -  Ron  2:39 PM

Wednesday, November 20, 2002:  

And Now for Something Completely Different:

Boilerplate: Mechanical Marvel of the Nineteenth Century
Boilerplate was a mechanical man developed by Professor Archibald Campion during the 1880s and unveiled at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.
Built in a small Chicago laboratory, Boilerplate was originally designed as a prototype soldier for use in resolving the conflicts of nations. Although it was the only such prototype, Boilerplate was eventually able to exercise its proposed function by participating in several combat actions.
An amazing work of Internet fiction. At what point does a website become a work of interactive fiction? And how should it identify itself as fiction?

    -  Ron  4:08 PM


Human Factors, Critical Thinking:

Spanking Jakob Nielsen - (John Rhodes - WebWord)
While I think intranet usability is extremely important, I do not think we are being given the full picture of intranet productivity, savings, benefits, and costs. While I admit to saying that usability can save a company, it is not everything. There are other things we should consider. At a minimum in this case, we must consider that Jakob Nielsen is too myopic about the benefits of usability to the point of being just plain wrong. Jakob Nielsen is selling us a dream.
    Information quality:   High - Good analysis of the many problems in Nielsen's argument.
    Propaganda quality:  Medium - The title is the worst of it.
    Propaganda level:     Medium.

Intranet Usability: The Trillion-Dollar Question - (Jakob Nielsen)
If we improved all the intranets in the world to the usability level achieved by the best 25% in our study, the world economy would save $311,294,070,513 per year for the sixteen test tasks alone. Adding the likely savings from company-specific tasks leads us to an estimated $600 billion in total annual productivity improvements. This level of intranet productivity is a modest goal; we could realistically achieve it with an investment of about $31 billion per year in intranet usability.

Assuming further usability improvements -- up to the very best level we found for each study task -- could save the world economy $1.3 trillion per year when we include estimated improvements in company-specific tasks.
Irresponsible. I assume Nielsen is marketing toward credulous intranet designers and managers, otherwise I'm at a loss to explain why Nielsen would write such an article. Perhaps he's just grandstanding for some attention? Does he consider how damaging this can be to his credibility, or to that of other usability practitioners?

    Information quality:   Low - Conviently overlooks costs, risks, and alternatives.
    Propaganda quality:  Low - Worse than his usual self-promotion.
    Propaganda level:     High - Grandstanding.

    -  Ron  3:59 PM


Human Factors, Critical Thinking:

Miller's 7+-2 Doesn't Apply
(This is a slight update to my previous entries on Miller's 7+-2)

7+-2 is not an accurate measure of any human capacity limit.

7+-2 does not apply to any design problems or solutions.

The widespread use of 7+-2 in design shows that designers want to appear familiar with research while they remain ignorant of it.

References on Miller's 7+-2 and why it does not apply:

How to improve design decisions by reducing reliance on superstition by Dr. Robert Bailey.
At least partially because of the success of Miller’s paper, the number “seven” is now almost universally and erroneously accepted as the human capacity limit for a wide range of issues.
The Magical Number 4 in Short-term Memory by Prof. Nelson Cowan.
Although Miller (1956) offered his magical number only as a rhetorical device, the number did serve to characterize performance in many tasks. It has been taken more literally as a memory limit by many researchers.
The Myth of "Seven, Plus or Minus 2" by James Kalbach
While Miller's "Magic (7±2)" principle reminds us of moderation, it is not appropriate for fundamental navigation decisions and leads to an arbitrary "one-size-fits-all" solution. In no event should it be taken as an absolute law.
3.14159, 42, and 7±2:
Three Numbers That (Should) Have Nothing To Do With User Interface Design
by Denny C. LeCompte.
The fame of Miller's number would be a wonderful thing if not for a couple of problems. First, at least in private settings, the magical number is often invoked inappropriately. For example, an individual may claim that a web page should have no more than 7±2 links on it. As will be discussed in more detail, nothing Miller said lends support to such a statement. Second, even when it is cited correctly, Miller's work is discussed as if the scientific understanding of short-term memory had not advanced at all in the last half century. In fact, an analysis of Miller's original paper and of subsequent scientific research suggests that 7±2 is no more relevant to user interface design than is Douglas Adams' facetious 42.
The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two by Prof. George A. Miller
Everybody knows that there is a finite span of immediate memory and that for a lot of different kinds of test materials this span is about seven items in length. I have just shown you that there is a span of absolute judgment that can distinguish about seven categories and that there is a span of attention that will encompass about six objects at a glance. What is more natural than to think that all three of these spans are different aspects of a single underlying process? And that is a fundamental mistake, as I shall be at some pains to demonstrate.
When in doubt, read the original article!

    -  Ron  10:11 AM

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