Ben Langhinrichs

June, 2003
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Genii Weblog


Civility in critiquing the ideas of others is no vice. Rudeness in defending your own ideas is no virtue.


Sun 22 Jun 2003, 11:37 PM
We like to play board games at my house, lots of different kinds of board games, and I have noticed that while some have directions on the box, many others do not.  This brings to mind a connection with software.  When the software is first installed, the directions are readily at hand, and can be followed easily, but all too often, software is being used by someone who doesn't have the directions with them.  With board games, this amounts to having lost the enclosed sheet of paper which detailed the instructions.  If the board game has the directions printed on the box, they are always there and easily accessible.  If not, you better hope that the person who used it before was organized.

With software, we developers often rail on people to RTFM, as if that is enough.  It may be a reasonable expectation  for developers (or programmers or consultants), but for users, it just isn't.  They may not have a manual, and asking them to search through a large, complex help file is a little like asking a second grader who wants to know the spelling of a word to "look it up in the dictionary".  Somebody older might guesstimate, but a second grader is likely to say, "I can't look it up because I don't know how to spell it".

So what is the answer.  Typically, context sensitive help is the closest to printing the directions on the box, but it is often very difficult to know the context well enough.  You almost need to know what the user did before they got wherever they are to give proper assistance.  I am not sure what the best answer to this, so I'll give two.  

Artificial Intelligence/Expert Systems - It seems that if a user follows a certain sequence of steps, then looks for help, a lot can be guessed about what they wanted to find.  It might be possible to build a system that followed the steps a user took, and "learned" what answers worked for them (I'm not sure whether they would have to click on a button to say "this answer helped after looking through several, or whether you should look at the last Help document they found or some other heuristic).  This is  pretty complex bit of programming, and requires storing a lot of information, but could be a useful approach for a product like Lotus Notes.

Über-Related Topics - Too often, related help topics are created by the developer, who is thinking of related code.  What I think might be useful is something more akin to Amazon.com's "People who bought this book also bought...".  What if the related topics for help documents were dynamic (or one set of them were), and reflected the idea that people who read this help also read these others?  Could that be used, like Baynesian filters in a way, to self determine in an organization what help topics might be useful for a person looking at this topic, even if the two do not appear connected to the developer?

Copyright © 2003 Genii Software Ltd.

Thu 19 Jun 2003, 04:51 PM
My friends and co-Penumbra members Rocky Oliver and Brian Benz have a new book out called the Lotus Notes and Domino 6 Programming Bible, and I can't wait to see it.  While I have used ND 6 more and more, there is so much there that I know I have missed a lot, and knowing Rocky and Brian, I anticipate learning a lot from it.  Unfortunately, they have had a copy ready for me at various events, and I keep missing them.  Bummer.  Well, maybe this will prompt them to send me my copy.

Please, I need my LND6PB!

Copyright © 2003 Genii Software Ltd.

Mon 16 Jun 2003, 12:55 AM
Well, today was Father's Day, which I normally dislike, but we had a great day.  We all went for a long walk/bike ride, I took one son for a swim and helped another with his programming.  Best of all, my kids bought me a bike.  I haven't had a bike since I was 15 years old, and I have wanted one for a while, so we went and found a great new bicycle.  Now, those who know me may guess that it would have to be a big bike, as I am 6' 6 1/2" (approx 2 meters for those who use the metric system) and weigh 260 lbs (115kg ?).  It is a big bike, but I love it.  I have already put about fifteen miles on it, and am looking forward to exploring much further afield than I have while walking, which I do a lot as well.  What a great present!  And what a great day.

Copyright © 2003 Genii Software Ltd.

Thu 12 Jun 2003, 09:52 PM
So in this rather silly thread in the R4 & 5 Gold forum, I was mentioning a product that I made long ago (read the thread if you must know, as I can't bear to repeat it) that I still use, and was wondering if it was the oldest executable I still use on a regular basis.  It isn't, as it is from 1991, and I have an executable from 1989 that I still use fairly regularly.  Anyway, I wondered about others.  What is the oldest executable you use?  Not the oldest you can find on your system, although you're perfectly free to tell me that too, but the oldest that you actually use.  Older than 1989?  Older the 1995?  Come on folks, don't be shy.

Copyright © 2003 Genii Software Ltd.

Tue 10 Jun 2003, 02:42 PM
ArtichokeSupporting your children's schools takes some odd forms.  My son's second grade teacher has told them frequently during the year that her favorite vegetable was artichokes.  Many of the kids had never tasted an artichoke, and were not even sure what it looked like, so she decided to have an artichoke party as the year was drawing to a close.  Since we live across the street from the school, we voluntered (read "my wife volunteered me") to cook the artichokes and carry them over at 2:30 in time for the party.  Butter and such were melted at school.  So, a few minutes ago, I carried over the four artichokes I had been cooking, and entered the classroom to find the teacher reading a slightly adapted Dr. Seuss tale, Green Artichokes and Ham, to psychologically prepare the kids for their artichoke feast.

It reminds me of some Penumbra meetings.  Not sure why.

Copyright © 2003 Genii Software Ltd.

Thu 5 Jun 2003, 10:32 PM
OK, here is another, much sillier quiz, courtesy of Chris King.
Which OS are You?
Which OS are You?

Copyright © 2003 Genii Software Ltd.