Artefacts as reminders - a knot in the handkerchief

I few years ago I read Devina's paper titled "Artefacts as designed, artefacts as used: resources for uncovering activity dynamics". On of the participants in the study put papers that needed immediate attention next day on her chair. Next morning, before sitting on a chair she was reminded by papers there, that they need immediate attention.

But how to remind ourself of random, unrelated things. My grandma used to tie knots in her handkerchief. This antique reminding technique has probably fallen out of fashion with paper tissues. There are a few papers available on this subject:

Recently I participated in a heuristic evaluation of an Android app MyCAPP for collecting and studying You Are Here maps. Since I found a map indoors and the GPS signal could not be picked up, I decided to put the phone on a window shelf in a corridor while a was working a few meters away. I really didn't want to forget my phone there so I needed a reminder. I put a cable tie of my laptop power adapter around a handle of a tea cup. When I was leaving I had to tidy up and put the cable in my bag which involved untying the cup and remembering the phone. Simple, elegant and useful.

Recently I had a conversation about this behaviour with a friend and he told me that he often remembers something while already in bed and because he does not want to wake up he picks a random thing and throws it in the middle of the room. In the morning he sees an unusual thing on the floor and remembers whatever he wanted to be reminded of.

Obelix would say: "Human mind is crazy"

When designing for web, check the page at different resolutions

A few last posts were about me using my Windows laptop. The laptop I'm talking about is a lovely small 12.1 inch (1024x768 resolution) beast with a TFT display. Since resolution is not its strength, browsing the web often includes horizontal scrolling. To make things worse I prefer vertical tabs and thus making my horizontal  screen estate even smaller. This hindered my browsing experience.

An example is a logo of this page on a wide screen:

And the same logo on my 12 inch laptop:

A hot topic nowadays is a notion of W3C One web approach: "The recommendations ... are intended to improve the experience of the Web on mobile devices. While my laptop is not a mobile device (well it can be also seen as such) my web browsing often resembled browsing the web on a large tablet.

There are 2 main approaches to the One web:

  • Responsive web design: adapts the layout to the viewing environment by using fluid, proportion-based grids, flexible images, and CSS3 media queries. This means that a web site has one template for all devices and adapts the content  rendering on the client side based on a screen size.
  • Adaptive web design on the other hand determines the features of the end-user device and provides the content based on these features, usually using JavaScript. This means for example, that a retina screen will receive higher quality images then normal screen.
    It is further divided in (from W3C):
    • Server Side adaptation implies that the content is delivered by the originating content server or application.
    • In-Network adaptation is where the content is altered as it passes through one or more network components. Some network operators, for example, compress images before they are passed over the air to the mobile device.
    • Client Side adaptation consists of the device accepting content and displaying it in an appropriate way for its characteristics.

I wonder how far away are we from the One Web Approach. Big companies have already moved towards this goal (see BBC, Disney and others). But based on my experience, many small companies and organisations can't afford to redesign their web pages. Especially if most of their revenue does not come from the web.

By some prophecies we'll soon live in a mobile only world. I'm a bit sceptic about it. It is good to envision the future. But many such visions (although very interesting) often do not come true (see for example different visions of PIM). For one: such visions usually take into account a "developed world" only. Second: I think that we use different devices for different purposes and tasks. Some tasks are just not easy to perform on small screens or on-screen keyboard. And services should be tailored for this.

Crop PDF (print, split, merge) - my Latex/PDF tool set on Windows

Since I was constrained to Windows for a couple of months I had to find equivalent software to OS X Preview which handles coping, splitting and merging PDFs (among other formats). Maybe it's not the best PDF for OS X but it handles smoothly the three operations I often need.

Why I need to crop PDFs? When writing LaTex documents, tables are a nuisance. The easiest way to make tables is to make them in Calc/Excel, export them as PDF and include them in the LaTex document. I wrote about how to do it here. It is possible to include the whole PDF and crop it in LaTex but I prefer to see the visual result. So I needed to crop my PDFs. I found these:

  • Briss - a cross-platform PDF cropper
  • PDF scissors: a web based open source PDF cropper

I know it is possible to export PDFs directly from Calc/Excel, but I like to have a bit more options. For example I might have more sheets but want to save only a selection to a PDF (like printing only a selection of a spreadsheet). The old PDFCreator I used over a decade ago still exists and came in handy

  • PDF Creator - a printer that prints whatever to a PDF (or other formats)

If you already have a multipage PDF and need to split it:

  • PDFsam - a cross platform PDF split and merge tool

I use TexMaker for writing in LaTeX. It has an in-built embedded PDF viewer but since my Lenovo X61s only supports 1024x768 resolution I needed a different application for viewing PDFs. A viewer needs to update PDFs whenever I recompile the LaTex document (Adobe Reader fails at this :/).

I mentioned many of these tools already in a list of open source PDF applications but wanted to present how I used them for writing and viewing LatTeX documents.

Safety of our personal information in the cloud against capricious online marketplace?

I used Posterous for disseminating my blog posts to a variety of other services. Three (or more) years ago, they advertised this feature all over as they tried to gain more users. I was one of them. Just a week ago when I posted my previous post I was greeted by this message:

Posterous is now closed. Backups are available until May 31.

Posterous was kind enough to provide help to migrate to other services. Some media companies and individuals also posted their solutions. Many claiming that not all of the data could be transferred to other platforms. I was lucky enough I only had links to my own blog there so I haven't lost much (except the links in my old Twitter/Wordpress/Tumblr posts don't work anymore).

I had this conversation on the Twitter about this event with @n0v0id:

@mkljun: Web browsers on Windows OS - comparison of vertical vs. horizontal tabs
@n0v0id: "Posterous Spaces is no longer available"
@mkljun: I know .. I just realised it today ... damn cloud :). Company's gone, personal information's gone :/.
@n0v0id: Yes, that's my experience also. My blog is gone, Google Reader quits, ... Gonna avoid the cloud in the future. Seriously.

The question that comes to mind is: How safe is to rely entirely on the cloud?

1. Pay for the cloud services? There are services that charge users a few bucks a month and claim they'll keep going for decades to come. But is there any guarantee? Suppose I pay and there is not enough users? Suppose I pay, there's enough users but company is not profitable enough in the eyes of stakeholders? Suppose the company is profitable, but a big competitor to some other company which decides to buy it and shut it down.

2. Trust information to a reputable company? Even the giant G has closed a few services in the past. This route has no guarantee either. Remember Buzz and Wave? I used the latter! Gone.

3. Use the cloud but have a local backup? This seems to be the most reasonable path but not an easy-to-implement option for many. My blog for example is hosted at FAMNIT and even if they decide to take it down I still have a copy of my files and my database on my computer. Keep in mind that I keep private things like meeting minutes and research ideas in my blog. So my blog is not only about "how to fix you XY" kind of things.

At the end of the day I like to have a peace of mind. I know my information is platform independent and can be set up anywhere. Even if my web host closes down I can move to another.

There certainly is a need of open standards, portability and greater interoperability on the web. And all this in the light of our privacy and ownership of our personal information.