Hockey and Dog Fight

Did you know that, Canadians have a unique sport that they call hockey but bears little resemblance to what the rest of the world calls hockey?

It’s a sport where you can choose to hit the ball into the net with a stick just like regular hockey, or the more popular option is to just go beat your opponent up. Violence is acceptable and appreciated. Players often fight when they lose, when they win, when they feel like they are unfairly treated, when they are happy, for personal reasons, for team revenge, or just, in general, whenever they feel like it. Teams even have “goons”, people that have questionable playing skills, and exist for the sole reason of provoking and fighting opponents! People regularly get sent to hospital. There has also been a few recorded deaths. Serious injuries are pretty common. People have had their neck broken and their career end when some bastard (by whom I mean Bertuzzi, of course) decides to jump on them. And fans cheer for it!!! The league doesn’t care. They are making their money.

Seriously, hasn’t it disgusted you already?

It says a lot about a nation when the national sport has to resort to violence. It says a lot about the people when sheer blood and gore still entertain them.

Why don’t we bring back public beheading while we are at it? Or gladiators?

No other hockey league tolerates and encourages violence like the NHL. In just about any other sport, if you show the level of aggression they regularly do in Canadian hockey, you’ll get kicked out immediately, maybe with suspension. In Canadian hockey, the referees stand there and watch. And fans cheer.

Even in inherently “violent” contact sports like American football, they don’t fight like dogs like those NHL players do. They are civilized adults that can control their temper, and play within the rules. Not a bunch of big babies.

I don’t buy that team solidarity bullshit. Are they trying to build a hockey team or a mafia?

And then we have elementary school kids that fight in their hockey games. They are learning an invaluable lesson from the pros – if you can’t win on skill, just go beat them up.

In the Olympics games they were a lot less tolerant on violence. Even they know to be ashamed of it. Afterall, we are a peaceful nation. No way we will allow violence in a perfectly civilized game like hockey?

I probably would’ve loved hockey if not for NHL. It’s a very interesting sport (hockey, not Canadian hockey).

Art of Wiping Butt

How do you wipe your butt?

This question has bugged me for ages, and I was just thinking about it today while wiping my butt, and thought I would blog about it =D

I think it’s one of those things that you think everyone does it the same way as you do, but in reality probably not.

It’s a bit of a dark art because people don’t generally talk about it. It’s like a family thing. Parents teach children, children teach grandchildren… etc. I imagine after so many generations, different families must have developed very different ways of wiping butt.

Want to know if your ancestors came from Africa? No problem! Just go watch them wipe their butts.

On a more serious note, if everyone does it a different way, by definition, most people aren’t doing it in the optimal way.

I think the most important choice in butt wiping is how many sheets of toilet paper to begin with, and how to fold.

I always fold by half every time. This is not the most efficient use of toilet paper, but I find it difficult to just fold part of it, because to only fold part of it, you’ll have to wipe off-center (of the strip of toilet paper), and if the water level is high, the longer end can dip into the water. That is gross.

So I fold by half.

For the number of sheets, I’ve always used 4 until a few years ago, then I switched to 3. I think 3 is better because when you fold by half, there will be no crack in the middle. So it doesn’t rip as easily.

But is that optimal? let’s find out.

If we assume I can do a last wipe with an area of a half sheet of TP, and I start after one fold (to make it thicker), the number of wipes I can do with n sheets is –


and the average number of wipes per sheet, r, is


and the derivative


And we have the local maximum –

That means, if we round it to whole sheets, the most efficient way is to take one sheet every time, and use it once! That’s a ratio of 1 wipe per sheet.

Which makes sense.

If we take the 3 sheets example, we get first wipe at 1.5 sheets, second wipe at 0.75 sheets, then we are done. That’s 0.66 wipes per sheet. For 4 sheets it’s 0.75 wipes per sheet. But obviously it will only go down from there on, since it’s logarithmic.

I should try it out. 1 sheet at a time.

On Design

I’ve just finished reading a book on user interface design principles – The Design of Everyday Things by Dr. Donald Norman. A very famous book by a very famous author in this field (cognitive sciences), written in the early 1990s.

It does have some very good points, but I won’t particularly recommend it unless you are into this kind of things, because the writing style is somewhat plain, and very repetitive.

Here is my attempt at a 30 seconds summary (most of the examples are straight from the book) –

What makes a good design?
Visibility – controls have to be visible. For example, give closets a handle bar.

Make it “natural” for the user to do the right thing – for example, on the side of the door where you want the user to push, give it a large panel. On the side you want the user to pull, give it a handle bar. No “push”/”pull” labeling needed.

Natural mapping – the arrangement of the controls, and what they do, should correspond to the “mental image” the user have of the system. That’s what makes some interfaces more intuitive than others. Avoid arbitrary mappings. For example, if you have 4 knobs that control 4 stoves, arrange them in the same pattern as the 4 stoves. This way the user can easily remember which knob controls which stove, and no labeling is needed. Arrange light switches to mimic how the lights are themselves physically arranged. On the other hand, if you have 4 switches in your house that controls 4 lights, and 1 that controls a current through your cute kitten, don’t use 5 identical switches arranged with equal spacing. People will group them together mentally, and when they see the first 4 all turn on a light, they will try the last one.

Assume the user will make mistakes – make most mistakes cheaply (in terms of effort/time) reversible, and irreversible ones very hard to make. Don’t allow flicking a switch to crash an airplane.

Provide immediate feedback – let the user know their action has taken effect. Silence is not golden. Don’t put the light switch of a room in another room. Don’t tell the user to press an arbitrary sequence of keys, and only give feedback at the end. Don’t put a “turn the light on after 5 minutes” button. If you do, at least add an LED that turns on immediately.

Exploit cultural constraints – Left knob controls hot water, right knob controls cold water. Don’t reverse them for no reason. And don’t arrange them up and down. This is knowledge in the culture, everyone already has it. Don’t make a knob look like a push button, vv.

That’s all I remember off the top of my head.

Now, let’s look at an example of a terrible design.

Apple’s spanking new Magic Mouse –

They took out all the buttons, and replaced it with a big multi-touch surface (and call it the best invention in 21st century, the thing that will change our lives forever, and give our lives new meanings, yada yada, etc).

How many good design principles did it violate? Let’s see.

1) No visibility. The user doesn’t know where to click. There are no clearly (or ANY) distinguished buttons, or scroll wheel. The whole surface is uniform. Best example of flushing usability down the drain for aesthetics. You can also not find the buttons by touch.

2) No feedback. When you click it, you won’t know you clicked it. There is no haptic (touch) feedback. You have to guess.

3) Arbitrary mapping. There is no way to tell which way points forward (this is from reviews). To do a middle button click (which is admittedly not so common in Mac, but very common in UNIX/Linux), you need to hold down the ctrl key (where did that come from?).

It’s also uncomfortable to hold, and scrolling occasionally triggers clicks (this is from reviews).

Yes, it’s truly a new invention. No one has done it before. Just like how no one has tried to build a house out of poop. It doesn’t work. People haven’t done many things not because they never thought of it, but because it doesn’t make sense.

What do you get from all this uncomfortable compromises? Exactly nothing. Horizontal scrolling? Many mice have that already. Nothing new.

People have used buttons on mice for decades, without much change. That says quite a lot about the design.

A button is cheap, findable by touch, gives ample feedback, and is durable. What more can you ask for?

They are just changing for the sake of changing. They couldn’t think of a way to improve it, so they go the other way. That’s a whole lot easier.

I imagine it will be a negative example in design textbooks for years to come.

By the way, the iPhone 4 antenna incident. Did you see how dirty it was at their press conference? They tried to shift attention to a totally unrelated issue (flesh blocking RF because of high water content – everyone knows that), when the REAL issue is how fingers can easily bridge the 2 antennas, as well as ruining the impedance matching. If the issue is really just flesh blocking RF, bumpers wouldn’t have helped at all. Then they went into this everyone-lies-about-signal-strength-and-now-we-are-correcting-it business, when THEY were the ones lying about signal strength. Seriously, there are more honourable ways of doing business.

I love how half of my posts deteriorate into Apple-rant. I shall stop now. They are not worth my time.