fighting the lack of good ideas

the future of interfaces

Apple recently introduced a convergent device that is a media player (iPod), cell phone, wifi device, and widget player (mini OS X) – I’m going to call it the iCon (since the current name is under trademark dispute). There’s one whole walloping button. Everything else is done via hand motions. Want to zoom in on an image? Grab it in two places, and slide your finger apart. Want to view a photo or video in quasi-letterbox format? Rotate the iCon 90 degrees and the image magically rotates to maintain viewability.

I wrote an article about the brokenness of current GUIs several months ago, and it was published by the ACM’s Ubiquity. You may find it interesting; you may not. You may want to read it in conjunction with this post – either before or after, doesn’t matter to me.

I wonder, though, where we’re actually going in interface engineering. We’ve been stuck on a handful of very limiting techniques for a very long time (command-line and windowing environments). Why are more interfaces not tried? Why don’t we bother to expand our horizons? I think it’s because we’re afraid to experiment.

Interface design needs a lot of work. But more importantly, it needs people who are willing to try anything at least once.

flat budgets are a good thing

To quote “Science in the News Weekly”, Issue: 3 Volume: 5 –
Federal Budget Freeze Straps American Science

The incoming 110th U.S. Congress has decided to keep most federal agencies operating under their current budgets until the fall, calling for an unexpected belt-tightening that could mean potentially grievous effects for American science, federal and private officials told the New York Times.

Last year Congress passed spending bills only for the military and for domestic security, leaving another nine bills hanging. Without new funding, the affected agencies must operate under their 2006 budgets until the next fiscal year. When the effects of inflation are considered, that means a real reduction in federal financing of 3 percent to 4 percent for most fields of science.

The flat budget is especially disappointing because Congress and the White House had discussed major increases for the physical sciences in 2007, and many schools and federal labs had been preparing for an influx of new funds. Instead, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory will close for a month, and the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at the Brookhaven National Laboratory may shut down, leaving 1,069 specialists in limbo. “Things are pretty miserable for a year in which people talked a lot about regaining our competitive edge,” said Brookhaven director Sam Aronson. “I think all that’s stalled.” ”

I have all sorts of places I could run with this, but there’s only one I want to focus on: not increasing governmental budgets is a Good Thing™. It means that taxes do not need to go up. It also implies that the last budget approval process was generous enough that those receiving funds don’t need more – it might even imply that those who received funds actually acted like a business and tried to come in under (or at) budget.

Budget growth is almost always BAD when the government is doing it. It can be good if somebody else is doing it – but only if it’s justifiable. Spending more money for the sake of spending more money is stupid. Spend more money when a project demands it (ie you’re employing more people or doing good research). Spend the same amount of money (or better yet less money) when at all possible.

This is basic management and economics, folks.