Monday, March 17, 2014

Words Going Green, via

St. Patrick's Day is passing by, and in time for that published a list of words used to describe hues of the colour Green. As fascinating as that was, I wanted to see the colours side by side, and for that I started Google searches and used ColorZilla, a colour picker I use with Firefox to aid in website design. I switched to the image search tab on Google, and a lot of the words produced close matching colours, as you might also see from the shades picked out below.

Click on the colour names below to see the interesting history has dug up!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

User Experience Notes from Twitter

I wonder if there are enough opinions on Twitter of various products and services, starting from this one by Sarah Silverman:

Or this:
#thankszuckerberg is usually a friendly place in general however.

A bit too generic, but true nonetheless:

And then I land on the #UXFail, which has more ways to avoid UX Fails than actual fails, like this complicated mess:

Or this lack of communication:
 Proper customer support can of course go a long way, or lead to books like What Would Google Do? or such tweets:

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Pick Me! Highlights of a day going through resumes

Unlike the last time where I had our HR person sort out a spreadsheet for me from the CV/Resumes we received for our Design team, I took on the task myself this year and I am not using a spreadsheet yet. The situation is a bit different this time, where we really want to pick people who will show leadership from the start, unlike last time where we had planned to train people up.

Its unusual to see many CVs where the personality of an applicant is showing through, or showing through in a good light. I am looking for a spark from a piece of paper and in some cases, it was very apparent, and to achieve that, the formatting: the choice of types, colors and layout, and the choice of words can go a long way.

For some time now, I was wondering why no one tries to make a CV that breaks the mold of the black on white, tables and grids, and this time around we received one which did so. Using colors and watermarks, and styles derived from Web 2.0, that applicant made an impression on me. I could criticize the overall design, like the use of the applicant's face outline as a watermark and other things, but, seeing the attempt was enough to make me think this one might be someone worth paying attention to.

One obvious issue is the really poor choice of words and typos. It can start from not modifying the "Objective" section of your CV from the first time you made it, so that when you apply for a web development team, your objective doesn't say you'd like to cure cancer with robotics. Other people, partly due to the cultural traditions possibly, include too much in their "Personal" section - e.g. - "Height: 5 fit" (yes, 'fit'!). The worst typo however is CAREER spelled as CARRIER. Another application said "Expected Salary: Handsome", which I didn't know what to make of. Do I get a handsome salary, or does my boss? Does this applicant deserve the same?

One applicant however impressed us in this regard. This particular applicant's list of experiences and expertise had all the keywords that I had in mind. Whether this applicant actually made the effort to understand what the team does and what we're looking for, I can't say for sure, but I would be pressed to believe it was so! On top of that, there was a very confident smiling photo, where usually I am looking at the grim expressions and awkward head positions of passport photographs. I don't know if a standard was set for CVs to include photographs, but I don't think those passport ones really work.

All in all, my work is not done yet. Next comes the interviews and tests to make sure they're the right people, the right fit for the team. Wish me luck!

  • Check your application time and again to make sure you are covering all the bases.
  • Have a template, but modify it for an application to address their requirements
  • Its worthwhile to have a few people you know are good with English, to review your CV before sending it out 
  • Spell check!
  • Spend some time on the formatting to create a readable and impressive CV

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Taking Notes is Important, Even if from the Social Media!

We have one dangerous trait. We don't mind mediocrity, and make excuses (some may call it providing logic) to let it pass and persist. It is not a trait that we encourage in schools, where getting better grades is of supreme interest to parents, and most teachers do their best in that regard as well. Somehow, its a very visible phenomenon around us.

The author of What Would Google Do?, tells how his bad experience with a Dell laptop led him to vent on his blog, and how that subsequently led to a large following of people with similar experiences. Though that led to highlighting how Google searches for Dell's laptops used to bring out his blog post, its also an indication of the nature of 'social' interactions that the Internet makes possible. In this case, the customers became social on the issue of how Dell laptops were under-performing and it led to serious loss of value for the manufacturers. Almost all good companies now have extensive support channels on the Internet to receive customers' issues and follow up on them. Its what builds a strong brand.

Internet users in Bangladesh are also seeing a rise in the number of services/products that are accessible to them online. More than that, they are also seeing the rising number of advertisements from neighboring India on satellite television, and they are in a position to realize how long a way there is to go. When and how the private web organizations will spring up, probably depends on how soon we can ensure a solid, secure payment/delivery mechanism for products and services here. As far as public services go, the much drummed about 'Digital Bangladesh' is still sluggish and seems misguided.

Not going into the issue what kind of companies were given the projects, and if that is the cause of the 'mediocrity' in this area, I would like to highlight how the involved organizations could take notes on what is happening there from the web itself.

We can all feel that a taskforce might be scanning our social media for anti-government material, or anti-patriotic materials, which might incite violence and other forms of undesirable events. But are they scouring the materials to understand where improvements might be made. That sort of thing, probably falls low on agendas now, and there lies the pity.

I wrote a post down myself on the failures of our 'Digital Bangladesh' to make something that really elevated the quality of a service. Meanwhile, I found my friend pointing out that the Digital Bangladesh website, was actually a screenshot! Well, isn't that a shame! Its been that way for months, since my previous post was made in February of this year.

One point from my post above was to broaden the activities of the post office in carrying paper around to reduce massive amounts of people doing so individually. I found another blogger that pointed out Bangladesh Post Office also has a website, and that its been hacked! Meanwhile, another blog reveals (or confirms) that having computers doesn't necessarily make our lives better, and also reports on an actual expansion of services there.

Recently I went to the website of the National ID project and saw "Nick name" being spelt as 'Nike name". Nothing is more mediocre than a spelling mistake on such a website. The purpose of my visit was to find out how to change my address on the card, and that page had links to two missing forms I should fill out! However, today the files were available for download.

Some of us dearly want our government offices to change the culture of go-slow, or illegal costs, and most people don't know who will really hear their stories and make those changes. Some of us haplessly keep writing on our Facebook, and our blogs about what we're suffering from. All we need now, is someone to take note of them.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

How do you like Google Plus so far?

A friend of mine believes that a lot of sites and companies are now using the g+ button more than the f one that has taken the online social sphere by storm since its inception. Who will take over as the king here, I don't know.

What facebook had over the others (at the time Hi5, Friendster, MySpace, etc) according to me was their simple interface. I disliked MySpace totally for the lack of ease-of-use, and Hi5 and MySpace was okay. Facebook has shown its agility in trying out things and improving their interfaces very quickly (discounting a few bad experiments). It would be anyone's guess that Google would not fall behind in that! The current Gmail interface is useful and the G+ interface got a makeover recently too. However, I am not too happy with it!

Most of what I go over next will refer to this diagram below, where I've marked the areas on the Google Plus page as Main Area, Chat, Circle/Not-in-Circle, and Choices. Click on it to view a larger version.

Focusing on the Main thing
My first point of discomfort, is that the main area sits on the left. Many websites center their content, as that aligns more with where the viewer is probably sitting. With widescreen-equipped laptops, this gets worse. With the Cirlces-bar on its right, combined with the Chat portion, the main area seem to occupy very little space here. The Chat part is static - it doesn't scroll, but the Circles bar does. So, once you scroll down a little, there is an emptiness beside the main area. That makes me wonder, exactly how important that bit of information about who is/isn't in my circles actually is to the user. In the Choices bar, you have an option to edit your Circles, and this info could easily go in there, or in the notifications panels.

I also wonder if the Choices bar could've rested better on the right hand side. One of my theories is that since I use the  mouse or trackpad with my right hand, it feels like I am going a long way to access those options. (I wonder if its the opposite for left-handed computer users. Never really noticed. A bit disgraceful that I didn't).

A Shuffle?
One recommendation, would be to shuffle things about a bit:
 Choices  - Move to just left of the Chat bar
 Circles - Move to the far right, but modify it too - Coming after the next image.
 Main - While doing the shuffle, why not make it a bit wider?!

If the left hand list of circles could be used to filter the feeds from all the contacts, then that'd be a nifty little feature. This is a quick shuffle to see if the usability of the plus interface can be improved. Use of colors here could also emphasize the options on a single post, or the area where the feeds are coming. The use of subdued colors is a bit too much on the page.

Usability is just one aspect of a software. Unfortunately, if we think of Google Plus as being up against Facebook, many other factors need to be considered. Plus doesn't put advertisements around us, but the ones on Facebook aren't actually a bother. Facebook has lots of Apps - is that a plus?!  Then if my friend is right, Plus is finally getting the backing of the online community. Thats the number one thing in this market. As I was telling another friend, if all my friends decided to hang out in Cafe A, its no use if I ended up in Cafe B!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Digital Bangladesh: A Review

I think it took a year after it was announced (4 Mar 2010 as per Google/The Daily Star) that people could make GDs online (A general diary) to announce that this service is being scrapped, for it was not working. This news, however, was within the news of the Police HQ being opened for anyone to make GDs since many reports of lack of cooperation from the police had come up! Instead of curing that ailment, we tried going digital, and we now opened up the HQ for a process that should remain decentralized.

The purpose of any product, including software, is to solve a problem. If you look at the case above, one can easily sense that the problem was not a lack of software. Software developers often see when proposing solutions an inclination to changes in a process that existed in the non-digital way of doing. So, its not to say that software couldn't have solved the problem. As was the hope with the promise of a "Digial Bangladesh", that we'd be able to bypass the corruption and the grim faced people at the government office counters who nonchalantly ignore the people requesting their services.

Dhaka is a prime place for automating services. The greatest benefits would be derived from avoiding long drives from one point of the city to any other point. Even neighboring areas like Banani and Gulshan are far in terms of time if you are going between them by car. Another benefit that citizens would hope for is to avoid the circumstances where they are victim to unlawful payments for services they rightfully deserve. Sometimes they don't want payments, but they also don't want to serve you. From my own experiences and of others, I know sometimes they would just ignore you and carry on a conversation with someone at a nearby desk.

Thus, digitizing the GD process should have involved careful considerations of what was required for it to come of use to the citizens. Issues like authentication and electronic signatures should have been considered and processes redefined and the whole police camp trained to work with it. As far as avoiding traffic goes, digitizing processes in government offices combined with a use of the postal services could simultaneously reduce the amount of people traveling on the roads of Dhaka and also increase the revenues of the postal department. I am suggesting using the postal department in sending final papers, or even something like passports for renewal, etc, back and forth between government offices and the public.

As of now, a lot of the progress so far is having a lot of forms scanned and put up on the respective websites. That is a good start, but one from which we should now evolve to provide further assistance. The government now takes the liberty to sms its citizens about the evils of corruption, but so far not enough was done to root out the go-slow attitude and inefficiencies of the offices where we avail government services. If a service-oriented culture is not harnessed, the computers sent to these offices might never even be turned on.

Also not encouraging is the Digital Bangladesh website itself being so far unavailable for a month.

Road to Digital Bangldesh

Monday, May 25, 2009

Social ICT: Research/Social ICT Entrepreneurship

The research for cheap computing solutions for providing computing services for children from poor families or communities led to the development of the XO laptop from MIT. Similarly, Intel had also run their own research with the same goal. Though, recently both of them lost a bid for providing education computing services to Andhra Pradesh, India to NComputing's solution using virtualization (where each student only has peripherals like a monitor or screen, and a mouse and keyboard, and all computing is done on a central computer. This solution proved cheaper than both XO and Intel, costing $70 per student), nothing can undermine the need for research in areas such as this. Poor countries have less money to spend, and thus the cheaper the technology, the more those societies can reap it's benefits.

Another research project will take us back to the issue of accessibility. As it turned out, two separate researches done in two different continents produced similar results - one in USA and another in Italy. Both developed a system to help navigate people with blindness around an area using RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification). In the case of the research in Italy, they installed RFID transponders into pavements and they each hold an ID. These get activated by chips installed on the tip of the canes and this results in the ID being sent to a smart phone which uses the ID to search a database of locations to retrieve information about the current location and announce it to the person using the cane. This way people with blindness can know where they are, or if they are at a crossing, etc.

A story closer to home is of the work of Tapan Parikh, who helped the fishermen and MFI's (Micro Finance Institute) achieve efficiency in a village in Kerala, India. Without really doing something innovative in terms of creating technology, he thought of a way to harness the computing power of modern cell phones to bring about managerial improvements for self help groups (little groups formed by those taking the loans from MFI with a common goal to achieve).

'Sustainable development' is a term well known, practically, everywhere today. It is a very important fact that development cannot be considered without thinking about whether it is sustainable or not by the community it is being sought out for, and in that scenario, if technology is to be used for the benefit of third world countries, it has to be affordable. This phenomenon has been observed here with mobile phones whose market is now full of different brands of a wide range of prices. So, projects like Tapan's is now easily attainable and sustainable for its target group. Phones with the advent of GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and EDGE (Enhanced Data rate for GSM Evolution) that allow them to access the internet can do a lot to reduce a digital divide. Another aspect in computing is software, which is also getting help achieving sustainability from the open source software development community. Linux has been from a long time ago, been the favorite operating system (OS) of choice in many research circles/academia. As mentioned before the XO Laptop for children in poor areas also used Linux as its platform in helping keep the price of the product low. Considering that the XO and Tapan Parikh's work are quite recent happenings, research along these lines started long before that, at the beginning of the 21st century, a research with the intention to help the poor farmers in India by providing computational power in the form of a simple computer running on a Linux OS. That simple computer was also small, as the size of a PDA, and was aptly named Simputer. Though developments in other ares even half a decade later brought to question the success of the Simputer, it was a deserving research area - reducing the digital divide. The license to develop Simputers were given out to two computers who still continue to manufacturer devices based on the Simputer specifications (search online for the Amida Simputer).

There are also organizations out there who continue to reinforce the use of ICT for social change, for social empowerment. These organizations do their part by showing their appreciation for those who directly contribute towards bringing about social empowerment and change.

A lot of the readers probably heard of the Stockholm Syndrome, and now its time to hear about the Stockholm Challenge. This is a contest that has been taking place since 1994. Its current organizer is The Royal Institute of Technology (KTH for short), which also happens to be a mildly popular destination for students from Bangladesh to go for higher studies. The challenge is meant to promote and appreciate projects in ICT that help sectors in society which might go overlooked normally, to “counteract social and economic disadvantage”. The award is given in six categories:
1.Public Administration, 2. Education, 3. Economic Development,
4. Culture, 5. Health, 6. Environment, and 7. Global Knowledge Partnership (Included from 2008's competition).

The Stockholm Challenge is now a biannual event, and the winners of this challenge receive a trophy and cash prize, and has some big Swedish companies as sponsors – Ericsson and Sida, and the City of Stockholm. Though the competition for the current year is over, our students and researchers of ICT might want to start thinking on whether they are up to this challenge for 2009! Lets hope so.

There is also an annual conference on ICTD, with even biddings taking place to host them. Well known and respected universities like Berkley take part in those bids and host these conferences. 2009's conference is destined to take place in the Qatar campus of another well reputed university of the United States of America - Carnegie Mellon, with none other than Microsoft's Chairman Bill Gates as the keynote speaker. At each of these conferences, many research papers are presented, workshops are held, and panels of researchers are poised to hold discussions on important, novel or unresolved issues on the use of ICT for development. This is also an event that the universities of a country like Bangladesh should be very aware of, and they should organize their students to think about and participate in these kind of events. We are operating in a country where there is a spectrum of economic divide, where the right kind of education is not accessible to most, and bad bureaucracy steals the life of most good intentions. ICT might have a way out from a lot of those used in the right context, or not, and that is the matter of research. The call for papers for the 2009 ICTD conference is open, and the details of this is laid out nicely on their website (Available in the references section below).