Menu Depth As Measure of Depth of Care

Dana Chisnell's post "Where Do Heuristics Come From" (5 May 2009) stemmed from her work at NIST, where she was tasked to develop guidelines for voting system documentation (vote.nist.gov). Her commentary attempts to sort out the various sources for web usability heuristics (she regards these as "accepted guidelines "). She cites these three sources: folk wisdom, specialist experience and research. Tempting as it is to point out that research seeks to encompass both folk wisdom and specialist experience, it's more interesting that Chisnell points to Miller (1956), whose work is highlighted by this modest blog, as representative of the research category.

The usefulness of Miller's "suggestive" observation, goes directly to a set of use cases Chisnell identifies: web site usability for seniors. In addition to her own work at NIST, she lists AARP's "Older, Wiser, Wired" resources and guidelines from the National Institute on Aging. My mother was into her 80's and prided herself on being computer literate -- especially in comparison to her peers. When her macular degeneration began to interfere with her ability to read a computer screen, she relied increasingly upon inference and memory to help anticipate or guess what she couldn't fully read. When other strategies failed, she relied on memory, and menu length (as well as label length) could be the difference between reading a web page and giving up in frustration. This continued to be true even after her computer was decked out with AI Squared's ZoomText. The cognitive cueing and sensible layout for a page could be more important than any single phrase on the site.
* Post originally cited by Thunder Lizard Digest (19 May 2009)


Gilmore Girls' DVD End Darkens Household

A dark cloud has descended upon the household as two female co-occupants mourn the end of their DVD playback of the (for them) fabled TV series Gilmore Girls. Setting aside for the moment the obvious mother-daughter, mother-teen, Ivy League college aspirant parallels, Gilmore Girls scripts did sometimes merit Wikipedia's accolade for "fast dialogue and endless run-on sentences." Some of the more notable dialog has been captured for posterity at Bookrags, for example, a recollection by Luke of when he and Lorelai first met.

Lorelai: I was just trying to remember the first time we met. It must have been at Luke's, right?
Luke: It was at Luke's, it was at lunch, it was a very busy day. The place was packed. And this person...
Lorelai: Oh, is it me? Is it me?
Luke: This person comes tearing into the place, in a caffeine frenzy...
Lorelai: Ooh, it's me!
Luke: I'm with a customer, she interrupts me, wild-eyed, begging for coffee. So I tell her to wait her turn. Then she starts following me around, talking a mile a minute, saying God knows what. Finally I turn to her, and tell her she's being annoying. Sit down, shut up, and I'll get to her when I get to her.
Lorelai: You know, I bet she took that very well, 'cause she sounds just delightful...
Luke: She asked me my birthday. I wouldn't tell her, she wouldn't stop talking, finally I gave in. I told her my birthday. She went and got the newspaper, opened it up to the horoscopes page, wrote something down, tore it out, handed it to me. So I was looking at this piece of paper in my hand, and under Scorpio, she had written: 'You will meet an annoying woman. Give her coffee, and she'll go away.' So I gave her coffee.
Lorelai: But she didn't go away!
Luke: She told me to hold onto that horoscope, put it in my wallet, and one day it would bring me luck.
[Luke takes his wallet out and shows Lorelai the horoscope.]
Lorelai: Boy, I will say anything for a cup of coffee! (long pause) I can't believe you kept this. You kept this in your wallet? You kept this in your wallet...
Luke: Eight years.
Lorelai: Eight years...

Which is to say, seven plus or minus two years.

Though the household elder is tempted to cite instead Timothy Busfield's Elliot Weston and Peter Horton's Gary Shepherd in Thirty Something or Don Cheadle's John Littleton in Picket Fences, these now-ancient references have left said housemates unpersuaded. Which leaves, for comparison purposes, the more recent memory of high-minded but admittedly implausible court elocutionist Alan Shore (James Spader) in Boston Legal to carry the mantle of prose aimed several literary meters above common parlance.

Lauren Graham photo from Wikipedia.


Brainstorming in Sevens

Today a popular post cited by Delicious, L. Fabry's Forensic Scientist blog, collects no fewer than a hundred tips by others on the subject of brainstorming. Not surprisingly, two of the 10 listed are seven-tip suggestions.

One is "Seven Secrets to Good Brainstorming," published in 2007 in Fast Company, and authored by Linda Tischler.

Another is JPB's (Jeffrey Baumgartner) article, a "Step by Step Guide to Brainstorming."

There are four posts with six tips, one with eight tips, and two with five.

The Magical Number guru suggests that brainstorming processes and topics be organized in groups of seven.


World "Regions"

Most school children are taught that there are seven continents. The notion is not without its detractors, as the Wikipedia entry notes: continental regions are "identified by convention rather than adherence to the ideal criterion that each be a discrete landmass, separated by water from others."

But there's little denying the usefulness of this shorthand. For example, speaking of US Special Forces deployments after some draw-downs of troop levels in Iraq, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations Capabilities Kalev Sepp was reported by Navy Times to have indicated that Special Forces levels might actually increase in Iraq and elsewhere.

He further indicated that areas of expertise might be shifted for some undetermined period of time to meet the particular needs of specific regions. To make this point, Sepp told the National Defense Industrial Association in a February 2009 meeting:

There are five Special Forces groups, ... but there are seven regions of the world to cover. Each of these regions is different, so in preparing for the future, we have to consider a realignment. ... After the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are quelled, we anticipate shifting [Special Forces] from North Africa and the Middle East to Southeast Asia and the East Asian littoral.


"Seven Dirty Words"

Stand-up comedian George Carlin loved to play with language, or rather the way that words and expressions reverberate and richochet. Skits sometimes included rhyme -- something not intrinsically funny, but he used rhythm and rhyme to gather a certain momentum through the course of a story. His skits exhibited a sense of balance and symmetry of form and length. As the Writer's Almanac noted on May 12, 2009:

. . . he was the first person to host Saturday Night Live. He had a famous "Seven Dirty Words" routine in the 1970s. He would say, "There are 400,000 words in the English language, and there are seven of them you can't say on television. What a ratio that is: 399,993 to seven. They must really be bad." And then he would list all seven.


XP's "Mainstream Support" Lifetime Ends at an Elderly Seven

According to Computerworld, Microsoft's mainstream support for XP, which ended in April 2009, lasted seven years. "Mainstream support" refers to non-security updates, which are provided free for Microsoft products under mainstream support. Security updates will continue to be offered by the Company until 2014, according to the authors.

The story includes a link to a July 2007 [sic] Computerworld article, "How to make Windows XP last for the next seven years."


Quality Organization Operates with Seven "Vice-Chairs"

The Quality Management Division of the American Society for Quality is organized into seven committees [Quality Management Forum, Spring 2009, Vol 35(1)]:
  • membership
  • marketing
  • print initiatives
  • face-to-face initiatives
  • e-based initiatives
  • operations
  • technical committees


Pon farr: The Every-Seven Lethal Passion

It gets serious every seven years. In Star Trek mythology, Vulcan males go into heat every seven years in a ritual called Pon farr. So bad, in fact, that they die if they can't find a suitable mate.

Marketplace reports that Genki Wear is marketing a perfume for women named Pon farr.

And lest it be thought a coincidence, the Star Trek series Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager each lasted seven seasons.