understanding user interfaces, part 1

As much as I dislike rants on this blog, there’s nothing worse about local public transport in the Rhein-Main area (Frankfurt am Main et al) than this ticket machine in use at all metro stations:

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Even though the menu is available in different languages, obtaining a valid ticket is really complicated for those who do not know how to operate it.

  1. for tickets within the City area of Frankfurt am Main, just press the “Einzelfahrt Frankfurt” button which is the 7th (red) button on the left column.
  2. for tickets to destinations outside of the City area, one has to choose it from the list on the left (note: not all are listed!), type in the corresponding 4-digit number and choose “Einzelfahrt” (first red button on the left column marked with an adult icon/pictogram).

As you can see from the picture, the machine also accepts banknotes, chip cards and certain mobiles. Pls also note the already mentioned coin-scratch-area to the right of the coin slot which – for some reasons – is ALWAYS on the same spot with all machines.

RMV apparently knows how bad their machines are – which is why they’ve published a detailed explanation online.

What I dislike about these machines:

Why make it complicated if it can be done way easier instead? Just put a coloured map of destinations on the left and assign 4-5 buttons on the column to the right that correspond to the coloured destinations.

Why do they offer the (rather primitive, no-touch-) screen in five different languages (German, English, French, Italian, Spanish and Turkish) if the rest of the machine is kept in German only?

If they’re already using pictograms for language symbols and age groups, why can’t they extend this to the overall interface?

Too many buttons are confusing! After all, you just want customers to obtain a valid ticket. 4-5 buttons are enough!

Do not offer too many steps during the ticket-selection-process. Instead, use something like this:

  1. Destination?: Where do you want to go? 1-5 price groups, not more!
  2. Discount?: Adult or child (~ discounted tariff for disabled, elderly, students, children, etc.)?
  3. Payment?: Insert money (bank notes, coins, chip cards, mobile RFID chips, etc.)
  4. Done!

Sometimes I just wish I was working in automation engineering (instead of in the field of ecological sanitation systems) and could approach the RMV with a simple upgrade proposal for a better user interface on their ticket vending machines. And this although I am not even an Apple user :-) and since there are others out there who are real professionals for keeping things really simple. Much like the upcoming elections in the US, anything is better and will be an improvement to the existing system. Right now the purchase of tickets through these machines is more complicated for most customers than programming your VCR.

Also, if I was into automation engineering and had to deliver a diploma thesis, I’d cover this subject.

p.s.: The red little sticker next to the mirrored image of yours truly & “Wählen Sie bitte Ihr Fahrziel” actually indicates when it was cleaned (!) for the last time.

Blackberries

Talking about (urban) alottment gardens the other day, one of the advantages of living in downtown Frankfurt am Main is that there’s this special park in the neighbourhood which used to be a nursery a looooong time ago. After it had closed many years ago, the biggest part of the garden was turned into a public park, the other part into a *wilderness* with lots of small paths and a diverse flora & fauna.

In other words: there’s this public shamba next door that delivers free food for those who just don’t see a green wilderness but instead an ideal source of natural ingredients for the afternoon tea healthy drinks!

Because just like Ishtar, I also prefer fresh food! :-)

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After picking a bag full of fresh blackberries, we decided to use half of them to create a milk-shake. And since I like to try out new stuff, I also added oats and some leaves of fresh lemon balm:

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Now, what do I do with the other half? A blackberry-pancake? Blackberry sorbet? Blackberry salad with lovage (from the garden)? Blackberry cake?

[edit: I eventually mixed the remaining blackberries with an apple, some milk (rice) pudding and some shots from a French & evil almond cognac.]

Yes We Can

How do I explain this?

Those tables full of bananas should be interesting enough for a blog post (at least to me), but maybe I should start with my own little story:

Last year in March upon returning from Kenya, I realized I should cough up some mbeca and invest them into a good pair of running shoes – which I actually never had before, only “cross trainers”, which are like heavy weight shoes used for a firm stand while playing tennis (@ Impala Club when that membership fee was still affordable).
Shortly after their purchase, they quickly started to rot in the darkest corner of my closet, even though I took them with me to Frankfurt. Keeping your running shoes around is a perfect reminder that will nag on your conscience: Yeah, I should do more sports and well…oh…there’s something online I’ll still need to check out…oh…I am too tired today.

Some days ago, I reactivated my almost new running shoes and started jogging. I did this because a) it feels good, b) I am slightly overweight *cough* *cough* and c) I’d registered for the JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge 2008 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany – which is “an annual series of 3.5-mile (5.63 km) road footraces” taking place in 12 different cities worldwide.

Mind you, I may be good at other things, but I am bloody beginner when it comes to doing sports (ok, tennis back in the days and some beloved swimming from time to time), but it also started way back in school when I used to be the last one selected for teams. You know it yourself how mean kids may be – if you’re bad at sports, you’ll always be an outsider in some way, especially if your sports teacher is the same who teaches you mathematics. This teacher actually advised me after graduation not to study any scientific subject and, fortunately, I didnt listen to him. Obviously, there was still an open issue on this for me and I needed to prove it to myself that my teacher was wrong in 1996. A personal affair, if you will.

Now, running. Damn, it feels so good. The last time I had tried that was in Nairobi, trying to find a good route without potholes. But still, running never was THE sport for me, and this although it’s just very simple and you won’t even require proper shoes or other equipment. Just start, set yourself a target, see how it works, et voilá.

Ok, back to the JPMorgan Chase. When I came to Frankfurt in June 2007, I didn’t have time to register for the 2007 Chase and consequently had to witness it from the sidewalk. I did see a lot of other – overweight – ppl taking part, and – considering the relatively low 5,6km distance – realized that IF these ppl are taking part, I should also try it.

So here you go:

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What you receive is a bag with a T-Shirt, your starting number, some free magazines on running and some glucose. Approx. 10% of your starting fee will be donated to a charity organisation and you get the chance to actually run together with the CEO of your company (cool guy, btw, he beat me by 4 minutes) and around 73.718 other ppl from 2.589 (more or less competing) companies.

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RUN LOCAL WORK GLOBAL – our motto (sic!)….

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and too….

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…many…

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…runners.

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73.719 runners are A LOT!

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They actually had two starting points due the huge amounts of ppl. The Chase started at 7:30pm, but I only managed to cross the line at 8:20pm….

It really is a huge events, even with half-naked Brasilian ladies at the road side doing some samba for those who like it… some companies also seem to invest a lot of money into this event and equip their staff with shirts and other corporate things. Actually, it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.

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After around 40 minutes, I eventually managed to pass the finishing line. Not bad for a beginner, if I may say so. With such a huge amount of ppl on the road, it really isnt that easy to run with no obstacles in the way, but still, great fun, some sports and:

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Lots of waste….

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Lots of empty bottles…and….

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BANANAS from here up to the end of the world.

Now you know where they are eaten.

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My plan actually included providing you with a link to the fabulous Nokia Sportstracker website and my profile there, but do to the narrow roads in downtown Frankfurt, GPS reception was a bit distorted on my N95, so Sportstracker didn’t work. If you own a modern Nokia S60 phone and enjoy running, this little utility really adds value to your phone. Used it the other day to track my speed and distance.

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After the Chase, we enjoyed some good beers and watched Turkey scoring a 2:1 against Switzerland. What you see in the pic above is the illuminated opera of Frankfurt. Liked the colours.

Ok, the JPMorgan Chase was great fun and I think I’ll be at it again next year – and in the meantime, I’ll have to train for October, because that’s when I’ll have a little 10km competition with members of my extended family. So yes, if you want it, you can do it.

n.b.: other positive side-effects of a regular running habit: you get to sweat much less and/or start sweating at a much later point while walking around under the sunshine. In other words, this whole ecosystem inside my body has improved and will certainly continue to improve. For a non-sportive person like me, this improvement is the biggest advantage.

Zattoo Beta 3

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Zattoo (Inet live stream) vs. ProgDVB (DVB-T client), delay of 1-2 seconds…

Wer es braucht und so wie ich kein reguläres Fernsehempfangsgerät hat, wer seinen in ca. 40 cm Entfernung liegenden DVB-T USB Empfänger aus Bequemlichkeit nicht einstecken möchte weil da die Senderwahl jedes Mal einige Sekunden in Anspruch nimmt, oder wer auch einfach nur seinen supi Breitbandanschluss ausnutzen möchte, der kann sich jetzt bei Zattoo endlich auch deutsche Sender übers Internet anschauen.

Letztens habe ich das ja heimlich am Arbeitsplatz ausprobiert, ging natürlich nicht da Port gesperrt, aber trotzdem: läuft wohl auch vom USB Stick. Empfangstechnisch je nach Inetanbindung, Inettraffic und Senderwahl unterschiedliche Qualität, geringe Verzögerungen und Bild/Ton-Qualität (für mein Verständnis) gut.

Bei Zattoo ist die Senderauswahl wohl IP bezogen, d.h., in Kenia wird man hiermit sicherlich keine deutschen Sender empfangen können – wäre aber mal interessant zu testen. Harry, hol schon mal die DSL scratch card… :-)

Neben Zattoo als Internet-TV-clients gibts natürlich noch AnyTV, Joost und das neue Livestation. Oh, sehe gerade dass die aus ihrer Beta Alpha raus sind. Na fein. Ach ja, “streaming video” gibt es ja schon seit einer Ewigkeit, siehe auch Winamp & Shoutcast. Jedoch alles nicht so hübsch verpackt wie in den o.g. Oberflächen & nicht in ähnlicher (P2P) Übertragungstechnik. Erst recht nicht *live* und mit deutschsprachigen Inhalten.

Für mich als alten Funkfreund ist das alles nicht so doll – Antenne basteln und aufm Dach rumtoben fand ich da früher irgendwie spannender. Vor allem: erinnert sich jemand noch an die UMTS vs. WiFi Debatte? Mit UMTS hat es ja ewig gedauert – bis es zwischenzeitlich von freien, lokalen WLANs in der Praxis überholt wurde. Bei Handies gibt es ja zZt auch diese DVB-H Diskussion, also TV Empfang übers Handy, allerdings gibt es schon für die S60 Handyplattform (zB Nokia N95 & Co.) “live streaming” übers Mobilfunknetz. Sicher, live streaming verursacht immer noch einen hohen Datenverkehr = Kosten, aber irgendwann wird es auch bezahlbare und richtige Datenflatrates für den Mobilfunk geben.

Zattoo ist jetzt also in der neuen Beta 3.10 erschienen und mit einem richtig fetten Angebot an lokalen Sendern durchaus interessant.

Irgendwann werden sie uns fürs Fernsehen bezahlen, da bin ich mir sicher. Bis dahin genieße ich noch die Unabhängigkeit von diesem Zwang & der Hardware im Zimmer und schaue bei Bedarf trotzdem gerne mal kurz rein. Und dafür ist Zattoo ideal…