Have You Talked To Your Computer Lately?

There should be an image here!For posts to this site, I try to write about things that are immediately useful for seniors — or anyone else, I suppose, but seniors primarily. Immediately useful things are good, but sometimes one must invest effort in doing things that might not seem immediately useful, but which pay off in the long run.

Convincing casual computer users to practice skills which do not solve an immediate problem can be difficult. Most users learn only those things that they need to accomplish an immediate goal. This leaves the gaps in their knowledge, and actually prevents them from learning what they could do if they had invested more time.

For instance, this paragraph is being written by my computer using speech recognition. I am investing time and energy in becoming proficient at it. Since starting to write this section, I have not touched the keyboard or mouse. This has been a big challenge. The last time I tried speech recognition, things did not go very well. The software package was Dragon Naturally Speaking. That was several years ago. I have not tried their products recently, so they are probably much improved. This paragraph is being written by the speech recognition program that comes standard with Vista and Windows 7. You can find it hidden away in the accessibility section. It can also be installed in XP from Microsoft as a free download. [It might be private-labelled Dragon software — I no not know. Stranger things have happened.]

When you enable speech recognition, a tutorial is available to help you learn the basic commands. This is cleverly combined with a learning program which allows the computer to understand the way you speak while you are learning what it expects for commands. This tutorial is mercifully short compared to the early training programs of the first speech recognition applications.

Immediately after finishing the short tutorial, you can start dictating emails, letters, and generally do anything you would do with a keyboard or mouse. The main difficulty for me is to remember to insert punctuation marks as commands (!). Yes, every punctuation mark including the open and close parentheses has been entered by speaking a command (PERIOD for “.” etc.).

Is this awkward or difficult? Yes, it is a little awkward at first. I had visions of Victor Borge. But remember how hard it was for you to learn to write with pen and pencil. We spent hours copying letters and trying to write as children. I type very fast with the standard keyboard, but I paid dearly to gain that skill. It did not come naturally. By any reasonable standard, speech recognition has become a useful tool more quickly and with less effort by me than the equivalent level of expertise in writing with pen or typewriter. Speech recognition leverages off skills that you use daily, but typing is an isolated skill that must be learned for itself. BTW, I include mouse usage as part of typing. Even though a mouse seems more natural than a keyboard, try teaching a roomful of novices how to use one when they have never done it.

In addition to dictating everything here, I saved a draft, opened a browser, and surfed the Internet without using my keyboard. The only real problem I’ve had is fielding a phone call while dictating and forgetting to tell the computer to stop listening!

What do you think? Is the effort to use speech recognition an investment or playing? Is there a difference? Have you had experience with other systems?

Conserve electricity: My homepage is iGoogle. When it comes up, on the left side is a graph of the hourly usage of electricity in our house — not history, I mean the usage up to about 12 hours ago. This happens automatically because I established an online account with SDG&E (see their website to learn how to do it). Then enable this function through iGoogle. Not all utilities offer this service. SDG&E is able to offer it because it installed the new smart meters and because it agreed to cooperate with Google to evaluate whether people will use it. Want to see your electricity usage? It is free. I installed it as a conservation tool, but it has other uses. When we were in Colorado, I knew that our agents had a showing of our house because they turned the lights on.

[Photo above by James Vaughan / CC BY-ND 2.0]

Tips For Using Your Keyboard Properly

There should be an image here!If you experience any soreness in your wrists, hands and arms after spending time on your computer, consider that your workspace may not be all that ergonomic. Believe it or not, it’s very easy to injure your wrists if you don’t use your keyboard properly.

To avoid injury or discomfort, consider these tips:

  • Your keyboard should be directly in front of you.
  • Your keyboard should be at elbow level and close enough that your upper arms are relaxed at your sides.
  • Make sure your shoulders, arms and hands are relaxed when you’re typing.
  • Keep your wrists straight while typing.
  • Make sure you take short frequent breaks to give your wrists a break. This is extremely important if you spend long periods of time on your computer.
  • Be sure to keep your hands and wrists above slightly above the keyboard, instead of resting them on the surface while you type.

[Photo above by Dimitri N / CC BY-ND 2.0]

Tips For Using Your Keyboard Properly

There should be an image here!If you experience any soreness in your wrists, hands and arms after spending time on your computer, consider that your workspace may not be all that ergonomic. Believe it or not, it’s very easy to injure your wrists if you don’t use your keyboard properly.

To avoid injury or discomfort, consider these tips:

  • Your keyboard should be directly in front of you.
  • Your keyboard should be at elbow level and close enough that your upper arms are relaxed at your sides.
  • Make sure your shoulders, arms and hands are relaxed when you’re typing.
  • Keep your wrists straight while typing.
  • Make sure you take short frequent breaks to give your wrists a break. This is extremely important if you spend long periods of time on your computer.
  • Be sure to keep your hands and wrists above slightly above the keyboard, instead of resting them on the surface while you type.

[Photo above by Dimitri N / CC BY-ND 2.0]

[awsbullet:3M Ergonomic Mouse]

The Man Who Lied To His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships

There should be an image here!The driver was insistent: “A woman should not be giving directions.” Despite the customer service rep’s reassurance that the navigation system in his car wasn’t actually a woman — just a computer with a female voice — the driver (and many others like him) refused to listen. There was only one person for BMW to call for help: Clifford Nass, one of the world’s leading experts on how people interact with technology.

After two decades of studying problems like BMW’s GPS system, Microsoft’s Clippy (the most reviled animated character of all time), and online evaluations that lead people to lie to their laptops, Nass has developed a powerful theory: Our brains can’t fundamentally distinguish between interacting with people and interacting with devices. We will “protect” a computer’s feelings, feel flattered by a brown-nosing piece of software, and even do favors for technology that has been “nice” to us. All without even realizing it.

In his research at Stanford, Nass has leveraged our fundamentally social relationship with computers to develop and test a series of essential rules for effective human relationships. He has found that the most powerful strategies for working with people aren’t really that complicated, and can be learned from watching what succeeds and fails in technology interfaces. In other words, if a computer can make friends, build teams, and calm powerful emotions, so can any of us.

In The Man Who Lied To His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships, Nass’s studies reveal many surprising conclusions, such as:

  • Mixing criticism into praise — a popular tactic for managers — is a destructive method of evaluation.
  • Opposites don’t attract — except when one gradually changes to become more like other.
  • Flattery works — even when the recipient knows it’s fake.
  • Team-building exercises don’t build teams — but the right t-shirt can.
  • Misery loves company — but only if the company is miserable, too.

Nass’s discoveries push the boundaries of both psychology and technology and provide nothing less than a new blueprint for successful human relationships.

Wired For Speech: How Voice Activates And Advances The Human-Computer Relationship

There should be an image here!Interfaces that talk and listen are populating computers, cars, call centers, and even home appliances and toys, but voice interfaces invariably frustrate rather than help. In Wired for Speech, Clifford Nass and Scott Brave reveal how interactive voice technologies can readily and effectively tap into the automatic responses all speech — whether from human or machine — evokes. Wired for Speech demonstrates that people are “voice-activated”: we respond to voice technologies as we respond to actual people and behave as we would in any social situation. By leveraging this powerful finding, voice interfaces can truly emerge as the next frontier for efficient, user-friendly technology.

Wired for Speech presents new theories and experiments and applies them to critical issues concerning how people interact with technology-based voices. It considers how people respond to a female voice in e-commerce (does stereotyping matter?), how a car’s voice can promote safer driving (are “happy” cars better cars?), whether synthetic voices have personality and emotion (is sounding like a person always good?), whether an automated call center should apologize when it cannot understand a spoken request (“To Err is Interface; To Blame, Complex”), and much more. Nass and Brave’s deep understanding of both social science and design, drawn from ten years of research at Nass’s Stanford laboratory, produces results that often challenge conventional wisdom and common design practices. These insights will help designers and marketers build better interfaces, scientists construct better theories, and everyone gain better understandings of the future of the machines that speak with us.

Wired For Speech: How Voice Activates And Advances The Human-Computer Relationship

There should be an image here!Interfaces that talk and listen are populating computers, cars, call centers, and even home appliances and toys, but voice interfaces invariably frustrate rather than help. In Wired for Speech, Clifford Nass and Scott Brave reveal how interactive voice technologies can readily and effectively tap into the automatic responses all speech — whether from human or machine — evokes. Wired for Speech demonstrates that people are “voice-activated”: we respond to voice technologies as we respond to actual people and behave as we would in any social situation. By leveraging this powerful finding, voice interfaces can truly emerge as the next frontier for efficient, user-friendly technology.

Wired for Speech presents new theories and experiments and applies them to critical issues concerning how people interact with technology-based voices. It considers how people respond to a female voice in e-commerce (does stereotyping matter?), how a car’s voice can promote safer driving (are “happy” cars better cars?), whether synthetic voices have personality and emotion (is sounding like a person always good?), whether an automated call center should apologize when it cannot understand a spoken request (“To Err is Interface; To Blame, Complex”), and much more. Nass and Brave’s deep understanding of both social science and design, drawn from ten years of research at Nass’s Stanford laboratory, produces results that often challenge conventional wisdom and common design practices. These insights will help designers and marketers build better interfaces, scientists construct better theories, and everyone gain better understandings of the future of the machines that speak with us.

The Man Who Lied To His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships

There should be an image here!The driver was insistent: “A woman should not be giving directions.” Despite the customer service rep’s reassurance that the navigation system in his car wasn’t actually a woman — just a computer with a female voice — the driver (and many others like him) refused to listen. There was only one person for BMW to call for help: Clifford Nass, one of the world’s leading experts on how people interact with technology.

After two decades of studying problems like BMW’s GPS system, Microsoft’s Clippy (the most reviled animated character of all time), and online evaluations that lead people to lie to their laptops, Nass has developed a powerful theory: Our brains can’t fundamentally distinguish between interacting with people and interacting with devices. We will “protect” a computer’s feelings, feel flattered by a brown-nosing piece of software, and even do favors for technology that has been “nice” to us. All without even realizing it.

In his research at Stanford, Nass has leveraged our fundamentally social relationship with computers to develop and test a series of essential rules for effective human relationships. He has found that the most powerful strategies for working with people aren’t really that complicated, and can be learned from watching what succeeds and fails in technology interfaces. In other words, if a computer can make friends, build teams, and calm powerful emotions, so can any of us.

In The Man Who Lied To His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships, Nass’s studies reveal many surprising conclusions, such as:

  • Mixing criticism into praise — a popular tactic for managers — is a destructive method of evaluation.
  • Opposites don’t attract — except when one gradually changes to become more like other.
  • Flattery works — even when the recipient knows it’s fake.
  • Team-building exercises don’t build teams — but the right t-shirt can.
  • Misery loves company — but only if the company is miserable, too.

Nass’s discoveries push the boundaries of both psychology and technology and provide nothing less than a new blueprint for successful human relationships.

MockFlow

When a developer or designer wants to create a software or Web interface, do you think they just dive in and start creating something as if it’s going to be final? Many of us have done this before, and as we know from experience, there’s a reason why planning is important. By taking the time to sketch out a basic (but detailed) look to work with, you’re able to let others see it, get feedback, and make the decision once you’re comfortable to move forward. Wireframes are very familiar to a lot of developers and designers, and MockFlow makes creating wireframe mockups very simple.

The tool is based online, and the available components can be used to drag together an interface rather quickly. Pages and links may be used to make the mockups interactive, and when you’ve made something that you think is ready for others to review, you just share it with them and see what they think. I like the way samples of familiar software and Web site interfaces have been built using MockFlow to show what’s possible.

Mozilla Firefox 3.7 – Redesign To Suport Windows Aero & More

The folks over at Mozilla, the creators of the popular browser called Firefox, may be working on a redesign of their interface [GUI] in version 3.7. The new eye candy features such as Aero Glass and Aero Peak will only be available for those using Windows Vista or Windows 7.

According to an article over at Softpedia it states that:

Still, it must be emphasized that the initial windows theme mockups for Firefox 3.7 are nothing more than drafts, and that, in this regard, the concepts could differ from the final revamp of the open source browser. “These are not final! they are only for brainstorming/exploration!” a message on the website reads.

Here are the main aspects of the Firefox 3.7 GUI redesign: “1.Embracing Glass: Toolbar and Tabs using Glass. Buttons translucent and slightly glossy to meld with the toolbar. Raised 3D lookachieve tactile ‘feel.’ 2.Tools/Bookmark Bar: Connecting the Tools button to the side of the Window to emphasize the fact that it is used for customizing and changing the UI. Adding a button next to that to toggle the Bookmarks Bar which is turned off by default. 3.Page Button: Connect the Page button to the left side of the tab area. Directly connected to the Page.”

But before you Windows XP people wonder if your version will still be supported, the answer is yes. The new Firefox will work with XP minus the Aero stuff. I look forward to seeing the new GUI for Firefox and I believe it is a step in the right direction.

What do you think?

Comments as always re welcome.

Source.

Just A Keyboard?

What is with people and their crazy keyboard needs these days? Not to say that I am not very particular as I have grown to a point that on a desktop, I am only using i-rocks keyboards due to their layout and overall feel. But at what point do we draw the line?

A Klingon keyboard… seriously? I mean I can see the argument that Klingons need a usable keyboard just like the rest of us, but being they are not real, this seems rather silly to argue it any further. No, I am all for the Optimus Maximus keyboard as at least it provides a clear function for its user. But it does seem like these days, anything goes with regard to crazy keyboard designs.

So how about you? See any long term value or purpose in buying specialty keyboards? Perhaps they are able to increase your productivity? Yeah, I am not buying into it either. Still, you have to admit, some of those Steam Punk keyboards are pretty darn sweet!

AVG Free Edition Version 8 Available For Download

Today is the day that AVG releases their latest version of AVG Free Edition 8. I went to their web site and downloaded the latest edition and noted that it is 45.6MB [though another link indicated the file to be 46.1MB] in size. I was actually surprised that the download speed was over 370 kb since I thought that the servers at AVG would be overloaded with users trying to get the latest and greatest. Maybe I just lucked out and hit the servers when they were not busy. :-)

I tried doing an install without installing AVG 7.5. Nope. You need to uninstall AVG 7.5 first [I choose to keep my settings and dump anything in the vault] , reboot, and install 8.0. During installation I was asked if I wished to install the ‘toolbar’ to monitor links. I personally choose not to do this since I’m currently using McAfee Site Advisor and testing WOT. But if you have no site monitoring software installed, I would recommend this option as well.

After the install completed an update was compelted and I did a scan of the system which came up clean.

For the next week or so I’ll be playing with the new GUI since everything has been changed, which for the most part, appears to be very user friendly thus far. Oh yes, this is a complete suite. Anti-virus, spyware & web link checker. Not bad for a freebie. But like with any software, time will tell just how good it is.

Review next week.

Comments welcome.

Get AVG Free Edition from here.

PS My buddy Dennis said that he needed to install a patch for Vista in order to get AVG 8 working. Patch is here.  Thanks Den.

[tags]avg, free, edition, new, version, 8, spyware, links, blockers, gui, interface, [/tags]

RealWorld Cursor Editor v2007.1

RealWorld Cursor Editor can create and edit static and animated Windows cursors. A drag-and-drop based interface allows users to easily reorder, duplicate, or append frames to animated cursors. Images in cursors can be modified by drawing tools such as lines, curves, polygons, rectangles, or ellipses.

[9.8M] [WinXP/Vista] [FREE]

This May Sound Weird And Creepy, But…

Do you enjoy touching your computers? That may sound weird and creepy, but I’m not talking about touching your computers in general. Instead, I’m referring to the way in which you interact with them. For many of us, the keyboard and mouse are still our primary methods of interacting with computers, and they work just fine. If you’re a little adventurous, you may have either looked into or tried some of the alternative and futuristic interfaces that promise to become a bigger part of our lives in the near future. Whether that will actually happen or not remains to be seen, but it’s definitely interesting stuff.

For example, Microsoft recently unveiled one of its latest products called Surface, and although it may just look like a coffee table at first, there’s obviously a lot more going on under the, well, surface. With Surface, you won’t be bothered with any cables, keyboards, or pointing devices because the only things that you need to interact with the screen are your fingers.

Do you want to view the photos from your digital camera? Simple, just place your camera on top of the table and your pictures will pour out onto the screen for you to interact with in a variety of ways. You can even transfer the photos to your cell phone by placing it on the surface and dragging them over to the phone. Once again, this is all taking place with the help of your fingers. To get a better idea of how this works and what the possibilities are, you really should visit the Microsoft Surface Web site and view the videos. The product may be expensive and primarily intended for commercial use at this time, but that doesn’t cheapen the fact that it’s amazing.

In other news, I’ve been using a Tablet PC running Windows Vista for the past few days, and although I was fairly skeptical about using a tablet for more than a couple of minutes, I have to say that I’m becoming a fan of the interface. For me, it’s certainly not practical at all times, but its fun and helpful periodically. I especially like the potential that this type of thing has for presentations, demos, and so on. I know that the Tablet PC is nothing new, but it just goes to show that we’re now touching our computers more than we were a few years ago.

Going back to the Microsoft Surface, which operating system do you think is behind this incredible device? Sure enough, a modified version of Vista is at its core, so anyone that still doubts Vista’s capabilities should really reconsider their viewpoint. The OS may not be perfect, but it’s certainly powerful in a number of ways, and Surface is proof of that point.

This announcement from Microsoft has shown that it’s interested in touchscreen technology in a big way. In terms of what Apple has shown us in this area, the only thing that we can really point to at this time is the iPhone because it still hasn’t released an official Mac Tablet (although Axiotron has developed a modified MacBook touchscreen computer called the ModBook). Microsoft has already shown off the touch technology incorporated into Vista, but now it’s time for Apple to really gain some presence in this area. I know I’m not the only person that’s interested in a Mac Tablet.

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[tags]interface, surface, keyboard, mouse, touchscreen[/tags]