Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Basic Income and borrowing from the future

When I look at economic growth numbers for the United States over the past century, I sometimes get the sense that we as a country have stumbled and for a while now have been trying to sprint faster and faster so that we can avoid doing a face-plant. The face-plant isn't inevitable, if we can just pick up enough speed, and if we don't run into anything...

One non-show-stopper obstacle that affected us has been the introduction of the standard 40-hour work week, whereas in previous times working much longer than that wasn't uncommon. Also getting rid of a lot of child labor affected us. But we've compensated with adding women to the workforce, and the tremendous amount of power the computing and automation ages have given us. Individuals have also compensated by going deeply into debt, borrowing from the future that in theory will have access to more resources than the present. But it still seems like we're barely capable of sustaining our incredible growth, and recessions like the kind we're more or less out of have almost ended us.

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User testing ought to include extra dimensions on the User attribute

Disclaimer: I'm not a designer, but I wear the hat from time to time. I think by now in 2013 a majority of interface designers have arrived at the conclusion that user testing is really important to help shape an interface and designers who don't do user testing are met with "wat?" as the response. This user testing can take many forms: from hallway usability testing with an actual web mockup, or paper and sticky notes, or a whiteboard, to live A/B testing, and beyond. Designers try to find the best interface for everyone, and that's what gets deployed.

There's a problem, though: some users are different in important ways. Is the user young and presumably knowledgeable about modern UI idioms (like pinch-to-zoom), or is the user old and this is their first time with a touch device? Is the user English-speaking or alternate-language-speaking? Is the user introverted or extroverted? Is the user an active user or infrequently-active user? Is the user a "technical/power user" or a "non-technical user"? Don't you think it's worth exploring alternate designs for each of those alternate categories? You should be exploring alternate designs anyway, but if you have some theory driving some of your choices, you can apply what theories say about different user groups.

For instance, generally "flat" designs work better for technical users who are willing to spend some time learning and remembering where everything is on the screen, and "nested" designs work better for non-technical users where they are presented with only a very limited set of choices. Sometimes you might want to support just one or the other: for instance, who would design an airplane cockpit for someone who's not a pilot? And who would design an installation wizard with all sorts of power user features and a single screen when almost every user just wants to install the thing and go through the steps as quickly as possible, with the only choice they want to have being the "Next" button?

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Kings make swift policy changes

In a democracy, or any form of government that relies on voting to get anything done (such as America's "constitutional representative republic"), it's really hard to change anything about society. This includes a resistance to changing the 'good' things about society (perhaps an indication why it took so long for the US constitution to just be slightly ignored during the civil war to more or less completely ignored in our present time), but it also includes a resistance to changing the 'bad' things about society. To escape the issues of good and bad, it also makes it hard to change stupid and smart things about society.

With an absolute monarch, his word is law. The stability of his beliefs is all the protection his subjects have against change. Therefore it's very important that an intelligent monarch is in charge. Suppose a kingdom had a king with multiple personality disorder -- not a very good choice! One day gay marriage is okay, the next day people of the same sex caught holding hands are sentenced to prison for 5 years. Suppose instead the king represents the best the kingdom has to offer: he is a man of many talents, possesses an even temperament, has a high IQ, and so on... Now suppose other smart people in the country start believing something about the society is stupid. Such as daylight savings time. They make some noise, and they only have to convince the king that it's stupid, and the king being a smart individual will tend to agree with other smart people, and daylight savings time could be abolished overnight.

Contrast that with the US, where "pretty much everyone" who is intelligent or who has thought about the matter thinks DST is a dumb idea, yet no one seems to have the authority to end it. A few states have individually ended it, which just makes matters even worse for the rest of us. What would it take to end it nation-wide? In theory, enough political pressure to make Congress get around to drafting a bill that ends it and voting on it. I hope the word "Congress" has made the reader sigh and start imagining all the bureaucracy and arguing and politicking that would have to go on to even have a chance. The bill would need to go through committees and avoid getting extra stuff added on, but it would be attractive because if "both parties want it" they both have an incentive to add party-line things to it and then complain the other party is rejecting the thing they both want when really they're rejecting the add-on that opposes their party's beliefs. Ugh. This is what democracy has wrought! I'd much rather have the king who, in his wisdom, would see that DST is pointless, write up a one-page document saying as much and setting a fixed time(s)-of-the-land forever more (or until he changes his mind, which if he's smart he wouldn't do without good reason), and that would be that.

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